Go Ahead, Call Out Your Sexual Harasser – For All of Us Who Didn’t

me and company car

Me and my last company car.

Right out of college, I got a job as a Retail Sales Representative for the Warner Lambert Company. I sold Listerine, Listermint, Efferdent, Effergrip, Schick Razor Blades and Sinutabs. The products weren’t glamorous, but it was considered a very good job. There was about a 10,000 dollar difference between the package I would have gotten as a teacher,  and this job, so I went with the better salary, bonuses, great benefits, and a company car.

I called on drug stores and grocery stores. I learned to talk to people and give a presentation without breaking a sweat. I learned to get people to like me, or at the very least, tolerate me. I learned that getting thrown out of a store was something I should not take personally.  I learned to navigate western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio with no GPS, just a map and determination.

And I learned to put up with men making unwanted advances.

Of course, I’m thinking of this because of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, and whoever the next sex scandal will involve. When I looked on Facebook a while back and saw all the, “Me too’s,” from women who were sexually harassed one way or another, I wasn’t surprised. Then I added my name to the list.

I never really thought about it at the time, it was just part of being a woman in the 70’s.

I was 22 to 26 years old during my sales years of 1977 to 1981. With make up on, hair blown dry and dressed nicely, I was considered attractive. I’d dealt with boys coming on to me in college because college boys are just a vat of raging hormones. I thought it would be different once I became a professional, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Some men overtly flirted with me when I walked in their store, but I was fairly good at deflecting them and nothing ever came of it.  I only ever dated one guy from one of my stores for about a month.

Then one night, an older, married man, who I didn’t find attractive at all, actually called me at home. I know I didn’t give him my number for any personal reason. I’m sure I gave it to him thinking it was for business.

He was the assistant manager of a grocery store on Market Street in Boardman, Ohio. He actually just straight out asked me to have sex with him. I was shocked and reminded him that he was married and he said, “I’m not asking you to marry me, just have sex.”

I needed to maintain a good relationship with him because it was my job to go into his store every few weeks and make sure it was well stocked with our products. So, I laughed and joked with him because I really didn’t know how else to handle it.  There was no one to tell back then, and part of the problem was, like most of us, I was raised to believe that men were just being men when they propositioned you.

But a more consistent harasser was a married district manager of a chain of drug stores in Ohio. He was very nice and friendly and always took the time to listen to my Listerine presentation, then he’d say, “I’ll order as much Listerine as you want, if you’ll go to bed with me.”

Again, here was a guy who had the power to throw me out of his stores (and he was in charge of a lot of them) so I knew I had to stay on his good side. I’d playfully punch him in the arm and tell him how funny he was. He’d come back totally serious and say, “I’m not kidding.” And I’d say, “Well, I’m not going to do that.” And he’d say, “Well then I won’t buy your Listerine display.” And that would be that.

I used to take him to lunch, hoping he could be persuaded by kindness and friendship, but he always had the same answer, and so did I. But, I have to believe it must have worked for him sometime.

This man had two little girls who were both toddlers at that time. He never mentioned them, I only discovered that fact when I happened to drive past him as he was pushing their stroller down a street one day. I was totally disgusted that this married man with two young daughters would behave so horribly toward women. To this day, I remember his name.

I never even thought of telling my boss at Warner Lambert. Back then, companies were just starting to hire women in a sales capacity. I was the only woman in my region for years. I didn’t want to spoil it by acting like I couldn’t handle it.

And I wonder if the company would have done anything. They needed to maintain a good relationship with the stores too. That’s partly why they hired me. I was young, female, personable and, in addition to filling a quota, they probably figured an attractive female could generate sales.

It made me wonder if any other female sales representatives put up with harassment back then, so a couple days ago, I called a fellow sales woman I’m still friends with named Susan. She said she was never harassed, but Susan is not the kind of woman you mess with. She could fire back a snappy response that could shrink a man in seconds. I wasn’t quite that self-possessed.

So, today I did a little digging.  I wondered if my harasser still  worked for the same company. I looked him up.  He doesn’t. He’s in his 60’s now and lives in Florida. His Linked in profile shows him on a boat, on a turquoise ocean under a beautiful Florida sun, with a self-satisfied expression on his face. He has his own business now, and I hesitate to give any more details because he’s not hard to find. With very little effort, not only did his Linked in profile come up, but so did his home address from VoterRecords.com.

I fantasized about outing him and wrecking whatever home life he may still have. But I would never do that to another woman. And besides, he was never aggressive with me, just repeatedly asked me to have sex, and always took no for an answer. He was always cordial to me and let me do my job, so was my experience so terrible? Not compared to some women, I’m sure.

So I decided to connect with him via linked in with this invitation:

Dear _____,
I worked for Warner Lambert back in the 70’s. I called on your _______ area  _______ stores. You always used to say you’d put up a Listerine display if I’d go to bed with you. I forgive you and would never out you, but would love a belated apology. I think you owe me that.
Best,
Fran Tunno

I wondered if he’d respond. I doubted he’d even remember me. But last night I was surprised by this response:

“Fran, I apologize for my behavior in _________. I’m embarrassed. I was very immature back then. I think I did put up displays for you though. Hope you are doing well in California.”

So, I guess there’s hope. At least he apologized — he could have just ignored me. Maybe the fact that he has daughters helped.   (But I can tell you this: I KNOW he never put up any extra displays for me!)

And I don’t know what happened to him after I left. Maybe someone reported him. Maybe he was reprimanded. Maybe he changed his ways. Maybe he just grew up.

I was all ready to hate him for getting to live this comfortable, seemingly carefree, affluent life, after behaving badly, in upper management, for who knows how long, but I don’t.

I’m glad times have changed though, because if my daughter was going through the same thing today, I’d have no qualms about telling her to report it. Hollywood actors are not the only ones who get sexually harassed. Sales representatives in small towns deal with it too, as do many others. No one should have to put up with that crap when they’re just trying to do their job…and immaturity is no excuse.

 

Singing My Loudest — Why I Love My Car

I went to the movies last week and saw Baby Driver,  a movie so full of amazing action, romance, sweetness, fast cars, evil, and the most fantastic sound track, it has me thinking about cars and music, and how sometimes the combination can be life-changing.

I also now understand why people get so attached to their cars.

My car is not flashy. It’s a 2006 dark gray/blue Honda Pilot. I didn’t like that color, my ex picked it, but since I’d made all the payments on the car, I got it in the divorce and it’s grown on me. It’s only broken down on me a couple of times in over 150,000 miles, which is a pretty decent record. My Pilot drove me out of California with a couple of El Sauz burritos, two horchatas, Brandon, my step-son-co-pilot,  and two dogs in the back — after a divorce that shredded romance for me and left my soul gasping for air.

Pilot, driver's seat.JPG

The driver’s seat of my Pilot

I took turns with Brandon driving across the country, almost 2500 miles. I wish I’d taken photos of our journey — but I have none. It was a great trip for me, and the most time alone I’d ever spent with Brandon.  He’d originally agreed, thinking the kids would be along too. When he found out it was just me, he could have backed out, but he didn’t. I’m still so grateful he went.

We walked the dogs, talked a lot, practiced Italian, went to Prairie Dog Town — a place that claimed to have the world’s largest Prairie Dog, got a ticket in Kansas (I was driving) and arrived at my brother’s home in Ohio after four days.

Kids with Bernie and dogs

I never noticed how worried Bernie looked in this photo until now. I think I know why.

Brandon got a flight back to New York — he had to be back for work — and I finally landed on my dad’s doorstep. I knocked on the door of the house where I grew up, and when my father opened the door, I broke down in tears.  We hugged for a long time, just standing in the doorway and finally made our way, up the three steps into the kitchen.

I felt like a pathetic loser. How lucky I was to have a dad who loved us enough to take me, my two kids and even the two pooping dogs in.  I stayed there for two years,  unable to buy a house because of stricter loan requirements. I worked on re-inventing myself, helping my dad while he helped us, and trying to stay sane.

Having my family there was wonderful, but getting divorced, losing my job two weeks later, then having to sell the home we painstakingly remodeled for 13 years, and losing with my entire way of life and lots of friends, was a challenge. In the wide scope of things, and compared to serious life and death situations some people endure, I know it was definitely a first world problem. But being career-less and moving my family into my childhood home, with my 95 year-old father with worsening dementia, was not what I imagined I’d be doing at 55.

My escape road

My escape route

So, at night, after I tucked him into bed, sometimes I’d run an errand, just for a ride alone in my Pilot. I’d drive down the roads I used to drive on when I was a teenager looking for fun, only now I was driving to escape.

I’d put one of the CD’s in the car that my daughter painstakingly made for me, roll down all the windows, even in the dead of winter, and sing at the top of my lungs. A couple of favorites were “Dog Days are Over” by Florence and the Machine, Diego Garcia’s, “You Were Never There,” Bon Iver’s, “Holocene,” and a song by Cults called “Bad Things,” that had this line in it: “I’m gonna run, run away, run, run, away…” you get the idea.

I’m quite certain, I looked like a lunatic, but it kept me sane.  Screaming those lyrics was pretty cathartic, but I couldn’t run away. I had my dad to think of, kids and dogs and a career to resurrect. I had to stay and figure out what the hell I was going to do.

But those moments, when it was just me, my car, my sadness and frustration, loud music and country roads in front of me, made that Pilot more than just a car. It was a friend, who carried me away and let me sing at the top of my lungs when I needed it.

Two years later, I drove back across the country so my daughter could finish high school in the same town she started kindergarten, get a better education, get to know the cute boy she’d met on summer vacation, and I could figure out how to start over in California, the place I had contacts and a track record. It took a few  starts, but at least I’m on a path now and have more of a plan than I ever did before. I’ve heard the saying, God laughs at plans, but you have to start somewhere.

I still have my Honda Pilot. I can’t imagine ever getting rid of the car that carried me out of California and brought me back in, a stronger, more whole person still singing at the top of her lungs.

I Can’t Shut Up Anymore!

I know, most of you are saying, “Wait, when have you ever shut up?” But I do sometimes edit what I say here for fear of offending some readers, but I just can’t worry about it anymore!  I just watched “Chasing Coral,” a multi-award winning documentary on Netflix and was so affected witnessing the devastation of our coral reefs, I whipped into action. I am not a diver and I’m a barely capable swimmer, but this isn’t about saving coral reefs just because they’re beautiful to look at, the death of coral reefs is a very serious threat to our planet and it’s been going on for decades.

“Chasing Coral,” is all about the impact global warming is having on our coral reefs. They’re dying because the temperature of the ocean is rising. Some sources say the earth has lost half of it’s coral reefs in the last 30 years. The documentary was created and researched with the help of some outstanding scientists and marine biologists and they all agree, coral is a fundamental part of a huge ecosystem.

If there’s one thing science teaches us it’s that all life is connected. If you get rid of one thing “you” might not consider important, it affects everything else.  I’ll pick something annoying like mosquitoes. Everyone hates them. Let’s say we eradicated all mosquitoes — then what would creatures like birds and bats eat? Pretty soon all sorts of species would die, just because of stupid annoying mosquitoes. That’s the way it is with coral reefs, which are neither stupid,nor annoying. They are gorgeous and they’re home to an amazing number of fish and sea animals. If you think their death isn’t going to affect sea life, and you, you are badly mistaken. Continue reading

Who Will ALS Take Next?

So far, my friend, Bob Deyan has been taken by ALS. My brother lost two of his best friends and fraternity brothers — John Conti and John Delserone to this disease. An old boyfriend’s mom passed away due to ALS. She was a sweet, smart woman named Toots. I’m sure you know people too. It seems like the worst diseases take only the nicest people.

If there was a serial killer out there torturing innocent people horribly then murdering them, we’d be up in arms, but ALS is doing that to people every day and we haven’t done enough to stop it yet. We have to stop it.
Continue reading

Bobby Kennedy – Some Inspiration for These Times

I’ve never been more concerned about our country. There’s such anger and division, it’s as if we’ve forgotten the U.S. is supposed to be the ideal. We’re supposed to be the example the world looks to, where everyone lives together and gets along — The Starship Enterprise of countries. The place where justice prevails.

My nephew, Patrick and I were talking this week about how we want inspirational leadership for our country. We want a great leader — someone who makes people strive to be their best. Someone who inspires by example. He mentioned the remarkable speech that Robert Kennedy made when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

I was 13-years-old at that time. I remember the horror and hopelessness I felt when Robert Kennedy was assassinated, but I didn’t recall this speech, so I went online to find it. It brought me to tears. Continue reading

Be the Best Example You Can Be

It’s great to have a friend who’s an investigative reporter. He can do things like find out where old flames live and what their marital status is. But that’s not the only reason I’m friends with Don Ray.
Don’s a genuinely good person with a passion for both, a great story, and history. Plus, years ago, he traveled 2, 000 miles to be at my wedding for one day and I barely had time to even talk to him! I still feel guilty about it.

A while ago, Don invited me to participate in a reading with him, as part of the Endangered History Project.   The story he wanted me to help him tell was particularly appropriate in today’s political climate. (Please click on the link and check it out, it’s a non-profit organization well worth supporting!) Continue reading

Something about Good Friday…

I am not what you would call religious. I was raised Catholic and am certain I’m a better person because of it.  But somewhere along the line, I fell away from the church. Occasionally I find my way back – and when I do it’s usually on a Good Friday. Continue reading

The Triumph of Evil

I should never watch movies because I can’t watch one without it affecting me one way or another. Well, I blew it tonight, I watched Spotlight. Of course it made me think about right and wrong, not just because I’m a lapsed Catholic, but because I’m a human.

The big thing I took away from it is that when you see something happening, and you know it’s wrong, you have to speak up. Sadly, the one time I saw something, very wrong, I did not speak up and it’s far too late now. Continue reading

Letting Go

My son told me this morning how helpless he feels. His father (my ex) has to have have triple bypass surgery. My son is worried and I wish I could tell him something that would make him feel better.  But I can’t, except that most people come through the surgery with no problem. I even know a few.

I felt the same way when my mom had her first heart attack at 76. She was a woman who unrepentantly ate salami, cheese, bacon and eggs for years. Continue reading