*I haven’t told this story in a long time, but the #yesallwomen trend on Twitter made me realize that experience is part of something evil that has been institutionalized by our culture. I was furious when it happened, and I am furious still. But now I have a better understanding of the potency of this story when added to the voice of the many who have begun to speak. So I will share it.*
Years ago I used to stop every morning on my way to work at the same bagel store for breakfast. It was in a free-standing building that housed two businesses I frequented often — the bagel store, and the woman-owned hair salon I’d been going to for years.
The bagel store was owned by a young guy and his wife, and they had a staff of Spanish speaking guys who worked with them. It was the typical friendly, neighborhood breakfast joint. Cops often hung out off to the side of the line, chatting with the owners. Lines were often out the door. But they knew their regulars, and by the time I got up to the counter my order was always ready. It was that kind of place.
On Saturday mornings I would order 2 taylor ham, egg and cheese sandwiches — one with ketchup for my husband and one without for me. While the food cooked I would chat with the owners. The bagel guy would ask me questions, we’d joke around. We were all so friendly that we even talked about going out for some drinks together — the four of us. The bagel guy and his wife, me and my husband.
When I kicked my husband out, the bagel guy noticed I only ordered one sandwich. He and his wife made the usual sympathetic noises.
We continued to be friendly each morning as I got my solitary bagel, as I started dating a new guy, as I got my new job. Every morning, the bagel guy and his wife were a part of my landscape. Their coffee was amazing and their bagels a yeasty heaven. It was a happy way to start the day, with the friendly chit chat and the smiles and great service from the shy Spanish speaking guys in the back. There was one in particular, who was a little shyer than the rest whenever I came in, but so sweet, so kind. I don’t think I ever knew his name, but I will always remember his smile fondly.
The bagel guy started talking more and more about us going out, but he started to wait until his wife went in the back before he did.
And here we come, to the point of no return. It was a typical busy morning, and I was on my way to work. By the time I got up to the counter, most of the customers had cleared out and my order was ready. As I paid, the bagel guy watched his wife go in the back and then said to me, “No seriously, when are we going out?”
He knew about my boyfriend (who is now my husband). I said, “Sure, the four of us should get together. It’d be fun.” Then his wife came back out, and I left to head to work.
I was in my car, putting my bags of food on the seat when a knock on my window made me jump. I hadn’t seen the bagel guy follow me out of the store and approach my car. I rolled down my window, figuring I had forgotten something. He said, “No seriously. When are we going out? Because I don’t know about you, but I know what you do to me.” Then he stepped back and pointed to the erection that was obvious in his sweatpants — he moved it around a little. “Look,” he said. “Look what you do to me.”
“Get out of here!” I said, my mouth open in shock. I could not believe what he was doing. He started backing away, saying, “I can’t help it. It’s what you do to me.” I backed my car out of the driveway, and felt dirty, like I’d been assaulted, the whole way to work. For the first few hours of work I had a hard time concentrating. I told my boss and co-worker about what happened and they both immediately said I was to never go back to that bagel store. I know it may sound stupid, but I mourned the loss of my morning ritual, the friendly banter and the awesome food.
A few days later, I was sitting with my mom in her bedroom, chatting. My parents owned a two-family home — I lived in the apartment upstairs. There was a knock on the door. A few minutes later, my father came in and said, “Kerry, that guy from the bagel store is looking for you.”
I had told my mother about what happened, and I looked at her in horror. How did he know where I lived? I had been working out in my apartment upstairs and it was a hot day. I was dressed in a tiny tank top and shorts — there was no way I was going out to talk to him. I told my father to tell him I wasn’t home, then called my boyfriend Michael. He told me to call the police immediately, then he came right over.
I decided to go to the police station myself because I didn’t want all the drama of a cop car in front of the house. The neighborhood was small and nosy. As I began to tell my story to the large, blonde haired, blue eyed police officer, I started by telling him which bagel store I frequented. When I told him the story, he asked me, “Which guy at the store was it?” I told him. He said, “Wow. I thought for sure you were going to say it was one of the Hispanic guys in the back.”
A spark of ire raised up in me as I thought of my shy friend’s sweet smile — this young man who never treated me with anything but respect and a sweet sort of kindness had been automatically assumed guilty over the white business owner simply because of the color of his skin and the language he spoke. It was disturbing — and yet I felt powerless to call him on his attitude because of my situation.
He told me I could do one of two things. I could file an official complaint, which would then require an investigation, or I could file a “yellow card”. A yellow card is a way for the police department to register a history of stalking and harassment without actually filing charges, so that if the time came that charges would be filed, there would be a record. They would go and talk to him, “unofficially”, and tell him to leave me alone. I chose to the yellow card. (Let me say that this all happened a long time ago, and my memory of unimportant details, like the color of the card, may be off. It may have been a blue card, or a red one. The point is the point, and I think you get the point.)
As our conversation drew to a close, he advised me that while I had every right to return to the bagel store, I really shouldn’t. That’s when I said, “What about getting my hair done? I’ve been going to the hair salon next door for years. I really like the owner of that salon and I love my hair stylist.”
The cop said, “I think you should look into getting a new hairstylist.”
I thought about it. So the logic here is, a white male business owner can not control what’s in his pants, so the woman he victimized is expected to no longer frequent a different business because he might see her and once again lose control, and it would therefore be the woman’s fault. Also, two other women, who have nothing to do with this situation, should be negatively impacted economically by losing this woman’s business so that she doesn’t inadvertently cause the white male business owner to lose control of what’s in his pants.
All hail the bagel guy’s misbehaving penis. God forbid we should try to tame that thing.
I looked at the cop and said, “Do you know how angry that makes me?”
He shrugged and said, “What are you gonna do? If you don’t want it to happen again, you shouldn’t go near the place.” Then he again expressed surprise that it wasn’t the Latinos.
I continued to be angry. And eventually, I said, Screw that. I went back to my hairstylists, albeit with a lot of fear and anxiety. But there was no way in hell I was going to allow that man’s penis to rule my life that way. Everyone — my boss, my co-workers, even my mother — told me I should not get my hair done at the same salon.
Michael always went with me, and it’s one of the reasons he is my husband today. He understood why it was important for me to not accept responsibility for this man’s actions. We always attempted to park on the side of the hair salon whenever possible. One time, I was sitting in my stylist’s chair when the bagel guy walked past the window and saw me. He walked right up to the window and stared in at me. I told my stylist what had happened, so she moved over to block his view. When she moved again, he was gone.
Another time, we had to park right in front of the bagel store — it was the only spot. The lump in my stomach was a tight knot of fear, but I was absolutely adamant that this man and his penis would not stop me. Michael was with me. The bagel guy and his wife were standing in the doorway as we got out of the car and walked quickly toward the hair salon. I heard the bagel guy’s wife say, “Hey, that’s Kerry!” And I saw the dirty look the bagel guy gave me. I was shaking by the time I got to the salon, but I was also victorious.
Eventually, they sold the store and I never saw them again. I continued to go to my hair salon until I moved. I never really talked about the incident in a public way in all these years, and I tried to protect the bagel guy’s wife. But I also realized that in doing so, I was protect him too. I mean no disrespect to his beautiful wife, but it’s time to name the bagel guy. In the interest of all women — #yesallwomen — it’s time to name him.
His name is Sal.