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November 20, 2011

I Molested a Coworker, Too





Probably not regarded as a faux-gay friend by his accusers.


All this talk about Herman Cain running his hands under skirts and dragging women's heads toward his groin brings back memories of the days when I, too, used to inflict unwanted physical contact upon a certain female coworker.

To be specific, I squeezed the boobs of a fellow editor at the Mankato State University Reporter back in the late Seventies.*

I feel bad about it. Let me put that right up front. The fact that I suffered no consequences for my boorish actions scarcely makes the memory of those actions any less mortifying. I wish it could be undone. And I was twenty-two or twenty-three at the time and already balding, so it’s not like I could pass it off as a youthful indiscretion, right?

Mindy was Arts & Entertainment Editor and I was Copy Editor. We were assigned desks facing each other in the middle of the office. It would require a woman's perspective to say whether or not the Reporter office in that era constituted a hostile work environment, but for what it’s worth, I recall there being roughly as many female employees as male. Our honcho, the editor-in-chief, was a hard-nosed, savvy woman known to hurl staplers in moments of pique.**

I can’t say for sure how many boob-squeezing incidents there were, where they took place, or who might have seen them. I would probably remember the details more clearly had there been some sort of hearing that culminated in my shelling out tens of thousands of dollars to secure Mindy’s silence. That sort of thing tends to focus the mind, I should think, despite evidence to the contrary. For the record, I’m guessing that I transgressed between five and ten times, sometimes in the Reporter office, and generally if not always when no one was looking, as that would jibe with my cowardly MO.

Mindy was an attractive young lady, to be sure: prim, tall, blonde, excellent posture. She had never joined a sorority but I suspect that in her early college years, before the Reporter brought us together, she had at least contemplated “Greek life,” and certainly would have been welcomed into that demimonde. She had a boyfriend at some out-of-state school whom I knew only from photos, who dressed like an Esquire model and drove a hot car.

When I remember Mindy, I honestly don’t think first about her boobs or the squeezing of them, or even about her general attractiveness. (Whatever embryonic physical desire I might have once nurtured for her was rudely snuffed out by the pictures of that too-perfect boyfriend. Suffice it to say that I dreaded comparative judgments on my performance in those days.). What I do remember is fun times with her in Mass Comm classes and at Reporter functions, and long, desultory hours at our desks characterized by idle banter and stapler dodging.

I’d like to think—and really do believe—that she remembers me in the same benign terms. Case in point: Some years after graduation, while I was in Japan, she called the Muggins homestead in Illinois, hoping to rope me into some sort of newspaper staff reunion. I’m quite sure this was a legitimate invitation and not a pretext to lure me somewhere so that she could repeatedly shoot her old abuser in the face the way Billy Crudup et al did to the child-raping Kevin Bacon in Sleepers. (Ironically, these phone calls to Illinois persisted to the point where my sainted mother felt harassed by Mindy.)

Like a long series of women I would befriend before and after Mindy, I think she came to regard me as a sort of prototype for the One Gay Friend that was soon to become the fashionable woman’s must-have accessory, albeit an O.G.F. that had not yet gotten in touch with his own gayness and thus overcompensated by groping lady-parts. No truly heterosexual man, these women quite rationally theorized, could possibly be so utterly inept at heterosexuality.***

This is not to imply that Mindy was on board with my fondling of her. Far from it. Indeed, one of the few episodes that I can recall in any detail, one which occurred in the office, resulted in the rushing of all her blood to her face, the involuntary shaking of her curly blonde locks, and a sharp, shrill insistence that I back off.

Those of you who have been visiting this site and/or reading my books long enough to have some species of morbid sympathy for the Josh Muggins “character” will at this point be rooting for this story to veer toward some sort of respectable ending, or at least a digestible one, in rather the same way that viewers of The Sopranos used to convince themselves that the therapy was finally making Tony a better man. See there? He’s trying to avert a mob war! Specifically, you may be hoping to read the following:

* That I apologized for my gross misconduct

* That I never groped Mindy again

* That we forged a working relationship based on mutual trust and respect


…to which I can only say, “Well…” and then pause to add, “ah…” Let me break it down:

I apologized for my gross misconduct

I may have done so on the occasion that she quite rightly lost her temper with me. The words “I’m sorry!” tend to pop out of my mouth unbidden when I’m getting yelled at by a lady, or even when merely glanced at by one. It’s a wussie reflex, don’t you know. I wouldn't swear to it on Letterman, though--or even on Fox News. This one's a toss-up.

I never groped Mindy again

Sorry, but no.

Shortly before my graduation, Mindy invited me to her Devonshire apartment for a private home-cooked dinner. What unfolded then was a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing evening with plenty of wine and unguarded conversation and precisely zero sexual tension on either side.

As she showed me out the door, her body language suggested receptiveness to a peck on the cheek or even on the lips. So I leaned in and, of course, gave her the full-frontal double-honk instead. On that occasion, she favored me with the remark (and I’m roughly paraphrasing here) “Oh, you!” as I capered toward the parking lot tittering like the overgrown eleven-year-old that I was then and, alas, still am today.

We developed a working relationship based on mutual trust and respect

Um...

I liked Mindy immensely; perhaps even loved her by some definition of the word; and always thoroughly enjoyed her company. But respecting her work was something I could never quite bring myself to do. Her straight reportage was competent enough but Fate had consigned her to the position of Arts & Entertainment editor, wherein the bulk of her writing took the form of reviews. And she was a ghastly critic.

The theater people were especially brutish to her. They bullied her into praising their every production, then mocked her for the superficiality of her praise. In retrospect, Mindy was much less abused by a faux-gay friend like me than she would have been by the real thing.

Then again, maybe not: At the end of the year, when we cobbled together our annual self-parody issue, I published a send-up of a Mindy review under the banner headline “Mindy Says Play ‘Good’.” The piece had Mindy doling out typically Mindy-esque banal accolades to the theater people for their production of Hamlet, while lamenting the playwright’s tendency to resort to tired clichés like “To thine own self be true.”

I neglected to inform Mindy of the parody until layout was complete, and she was not pleased. “But isn’t it great,” I suggested, “that we'll still be friends even after I’ve humiliated you in front of thousands of readers?”

“Oh, yes!” she spat at me. “Isn’t that great.”

I sort of regret doing that, too, though I confess that the memory makes me smile.





* Now, this is not to be confused with the time that I squeezed one boob of a recent alumna of the Japanese university at which I was teaching at the time. I’ve already bored you with that old chestnut. (See Chapter 7 of How to Pick Up Japanese Chicks and Doom Your Immortal Soul.) This was an earlier adventure in unsolicited feel-copping.



** And these were your industrial strength, Seventies-vintage, all-metal staplers, mind you—the kind that doubled as paperweights. Not your namyb-pamby post-millennial plastic-cased models.



*** And indeed, there is abundant evidence that even the gayest of gay men enjoy a good boob-honk now and then.