click here for pt 1
A few things became official around that time.
1- I was officially single. I’d told Maggie that I didn’t think it was working out. That our relationship had become too much of a strain for me and that I needed to focus more on my studies. She was angry. Bitter, even. She blamed me for her being fired. Despite doing all kinds of things to try and flush years of Hydro use out of system, her urinalysis had shown enough to make her in violation of the company’s policy. Somehow she’d made the leap of reason that if I had dimed on Theo then she wouldn’t have been tested. She insisted that I had sacrificed her to uphold some kind of black code among “brothers.” I told her that was absurd, that her testing was directly related to Tom’s disapproval of us being a couple. “You’re a fucking coward,” she’d screamed. “Just like Malik!”
2- I was officially unemployed. I wasn’t fired from L&T, but the environment had become so hostile and restrictive that I quit.
And 3- (And this is the one that was probably the hidden cause behind the other two) I no longer liked or trusted white people. I didn’t hate them. I didn’t want to bring harm to them. I just wasn’t inclined to extend to them the benefit of the doubt or to unnecessarily be around them.
A number of things had brought me to that point, but my altercation with Cheryl was the clincher.
Cheryl was my manager at Lord & Taylor’s, a white woman. Most of the managers there were. (The rest were white men.) She managed the entire Clinique counter, so she was actually mine and Maggie’s boss. And, she was cool as hell! If I wanted overtime, she was the one to ask and more often than not would hook me up. If I needed a day off to cram for a test or write a paper, she would help me out, no questions asked.
She answered to the Cosmetics buyer…a really difficult woman, so she was always under duress. But, she never took it out on me or the other staff.
I liked her. I really did. We had developed a very good relationship. She was strictly business, cold even, with most people but with me she would share parts of her personality that she would never share with the others. No one else would ever guess she liked to go to night clubs and pick up guys and drank Tequila like a Mexican fish. I wasn’t sure why she’d confided in me but I tend to have that effect on people so I never really questioned it.
And I never shared her secrets with anyone. People would say, “how can you work for that women…she’s like Nurse Ratched.”
But, she was nothing like that, really. She just looked it.
After the Theo the thief scandal there was a big change to the security procedures at the job. It was even rumored that hidden security cameras had been strategically installed. Every single piece of stock was inventoried so regularly that it would now take mere hours instead of days to notice shortages. The atmosphere had become suffocating in there. But, I rolled with it cuz I needed the job.
That is, until I noticed that along with the security changes, Cheryl’s behavior towards me had changed, as well. No more chats. No more smiles. No more flexibility. I figured that the head of security, that bastard Tom, had told her something like I was a suspect or that she should be extra vigilant with the cosmetic stocks for whatever reason.
For extra vigilant is what she’d become! Damn near paranoid. And the behavior seemed to be directed at me and me alone.
One day, I spoke to her about it, cuz it had kind of hurt my feelings.
“Cheryl”, I said to her. “Why do I have to come to you every time I need the key to the stock cage?”
“It’s the new procedure. You know that.”
“No,” I sang, softly, trying to handle this situation delicately. A good relationship hung in the balance. “The new procedure calls for the keys to be signed in and out. You don’t need to be in the middle. Besides, every time I interrupt you for the keys it distracts you from other important matters, doesn’t it?”
“That’s not your concern, Loco” she said coldly and dismissively.”I’ve got it under control. I can chew bubble gum and walk at the same time! You just do your job and let me do mine! If that’s not too much trouble…”
I was shocked. She’d never taken such a curt tone with me before. The kid gloves came off.
“Ok, Cheryl,” I said, sharply. “Let me put it this way: I feel like the reason you require me to come to you in order to get the keys is because you don’t trust me. And I don’t like it.”
“That’s too bad!” She snapped. “Someone was stealing from our cage…MY cage…was it you? I don’t know. All I know is it wasn’t me!”
“It wasn’t me, either!” I yepled. “Are you sure it wasn’t one of the counter girls?”
She looked at me like I’d said ‘are you sure Elvis Presley didn’t come back from the dead and rob the stockroom?’
“Loco, I’m pretty busy so if that’s all…”
“No! That’s not all.We’ve been working together for over a year now, without incident. We’ve built up trust…mutual trust…”
“This ain’t about trust, Loco,” she said. Some of the edge in her voice had been replaced by sadness. “This is business. This is my career! This reflects poorly on me! Now, everybody knows that you and Theo were thick as thie…anyway, he was your friend, wasn’t he? And he was stealing right under your nose. Did you know?”
“He wasn’t my friend,” I said. “And we weren’t thick as thieves!”
“I asked you did you know?”
“No…” I lied, and not well. I felt so guilty, and at the same time defensive. “I don’t work for security. It’s not my job to spy on my co-workers. If security were doing their job properly then Theo wouldn’t have been able to do what he did…right?”
Cheryl was shaking her head…this was a closed matter to her. Either I was a thief, a co-conspirator, or guilty by association. All were detestable in her puritanical book because all constituted acts of betrayal.
“I’m so disappointed in you, Loco,” she said like I’d confessed to something. Maybe I had with my eyes. I’ve never lied very well. “You were given a golden opportunity here and you just threw it away…for nothing.”
“Huh?” she’d thrown me with that one. Personal disappointment was one thing, but professional disappointment? “What do you mean?”
“This was an opportunity for you to prove the popular consensus wrong. You know what they think here, don’t you? Tom in Security, for example…he thinks all black people are liars and thieves! He wants you fired just as a precaution! He said, “sooner or later, he’s gonna steal something. I guarantee it!’ I don’t like him.
“So I defended you! I vouched for you! I told him that he was wrong about you, that you’d never stoop so low. That’s why you still have a job here, by the way. I threatened him, told him if he tried to implicate you in any of this without any evidence to speak of, he’d regret it! I practically called him a racist…”
I still didn’t get her meaning, but I was so moved by her support that I got a lump in my throat.
“You know, Loco, I grew up in Indiana, and in my hometown, the people feel pretty much the same way Tom does. They say such horrible things about black people…you wouldn’t believe. But, I decided I wouldn’t listen to their hearsay. Unlike Tom, most of the people back home have never met a black person before so what did they know? I decided I would see for myself.
“At my University, there were some black people, mostly jocks, and they lived up to everything that I’d ever heard about black men…they were like mad dogs! I never met a black guy who didn’t try to, you know, sleep with me. After University I came to New York, and started working here at L&T. And then you came into my life. I never told you this but you are the first black person I’ve ever…well…liked. You’re smart, and you study hard, you work hard, you’re funny. I know as your boss I should have kept my professional distance from you, Loco, but I wanted to prove those narrow-minded folks back in Indiana wrong. I wanted us to be friends. That was my mistake…”
“I’m sorry, Cheryl,” I said. “But, did I miss something? I’m still waiting to hear about this opportunity I squandered…what opportunity are you talking about? The opportunity to count lipsticks and skin clarifying lotion? To lug boxes around this dingy dusty basement? The opportunity to be prosecuted for a crime I didn’t commit? The opportunity to prove to assholes like Tom that black people can be trusted? The opportunity to prove to you that all black men are not trying to sleep with you?”
She looked reflective for a moment then said, “I didn’t mean it like that, and you know it. Please, please…don’t purposely misconstrue my words…”
“Then stop patronizing me and make yourself clear,” I said. “Cuz, right now I’m having a hard time telling the difference between you and Tom.”
Suddenly, she stood up, to her full 5’6 height and looked up at me, huffing. I thought she was going to slap me.
“You knew Theo was a thief! I know you knew!” she fired.
“Even if I did, so what! I ain’t Theo. I’m Loco!” I fired back.
“If you knew and said nothing, that’s the same as stealing…”
“So you think I’m a liar and a thief, too!” I said, righteously furious. “I think you and Tom would make a nice couple! You should ask him out. Then you won’t have to cruise singles bars anymore.”
“Get outta my office, Loco!”
I stormed out, slammed the door, went upstairs to Human Resources and told them I quit, effective immediately.
…to be continued