My first boss out of college was an enormous man, well over 300 pounds, but with dainty feet encased in expensive black loafers. He had thick white hair puffed up in a pompadour, and gold chains around a neck that looked like a melting layer cake. Most arresting of all, his left eye was nothing but the white, the sclera, with a pale blue iris barely visible underneath, like a blue plate seen through a poached egg. His other eye was a vivid blue, and he combined them to great effect, leering and bugging the good eye, or squinting with a practiced devilishness, while the other, the poached egg eye, gazed blankly into nowhere. It was transfixing.
He had a patch—brushed leather with gold initials—but rarely wore it. “When I go on a sales call,” he explained to me one day, leaning forward in a rush of cologne, “I come in, shake hands, and sit down with a smile. But all they can do is look at the eye. They’re hooked. I don’t need a killer opening line or a gimmick to get their attention—I’ve got it. I keep it. And the next time I call, they remember me.”
During my first few months there, I often had to contend with his pathological need for an audience. He even concocted some pretense for having me sit through a court hearing so he could impress me with his testimony, delivered slowly and dramatically à la William Shatner. In this case, one of six or seven in which he was embroiled, he was suing his landlords because they were trying to evict him for not paying his rent.
Sexual harassment hadn’t yet crept into public awareness, and I had no idea what was going on, not until the day he yanked me onto his lap and kissed me. “I may be an old man,” he said, his mismatched eyes half closed in a twisted imitation of a sultry look, “but I’ve still got it. It’ll be fireworks, baby, all night long.”
That I was surprised, even shocked, at his attack shows how young and naïve I was. I mumbled some excuse, some demure protest, and fled, spitting to get the taste out of my mouth. Then, as women have done for thousands of years, I went back to work—disgusted, angry, but ultimately passive. It never occurred to me to do anything about it, to quit in protest or horror (I wasn’t that traumatized) or to complain to anyone, not even his wife, a sweet, pretty woman who, even through her habitual fog (probably from Valium, that decade’s happy drug of choice), already knew about her husband’s philandering.