J.B. kept boxes of Tic Tacs in the top, left-hand, drawer of his desk. Whenever he felt like he’d offended me, he offered me some. “Hold out your hand,” he would say, opening the drawer, and I would hold out my hand and he would hold my fingers down while he sprinkled the white candies into my palm.
“There you go,” he would say, “A few of these babies will get rid of that bad taste in your mouth.”
And then he would tip his head back like a baby bird, tap in a few Tic Tacs, drop the box back in the drawer, and ease the drawer closed. Then we would both sit there until the candy, and the tension, dissolved.
This scene with J.B.—whom I’d nicknamed the Tic Tac Man — is the first thing I thought of when I heard the Donald Trump / Billy Bush tape. J.B. was a big money oil magnate, one of my biggest customers. My job was to keep his business, keep him happy, and this is what it looked like to negotiate with him.
When I hear Donald Trump talk about making American great again, when I hear his mostly white male supporters scream for a return to the good old days, I do not feel hope. I feel the churn of fear. What good old days are those, exactly?
There were the days when the big shot at the company dinner insisted that I (not the 4 other men at the table) drive him back to his hotel and we had to laugh and joke while strategizing in secret about how to get me away from him without pissing him off and risking his business.
The days when I had to beg desk clerks to let me change hotel rooms to hide from the men I was traveling with, men who would would spend their drunken nights tracking me like it was a game, like I was an animal. And then having to smile at them over breakfast and pretend like it was no big deal.
That time when I was the new and only woman in a conference room full of male department heads, and the Chief Operating Officer announced, “I guess this means we ain’t having our monthly meetings at the strip club anymore, boys. All those good girls are going to lose money because of you, sweetheart.” His colleagues laughed. To me he said, “Oh shit, lighten up. I don’t mean nothin’.”
That customer I had to tolerate through lunch while he downed his scotch and water and told me how pretty I was, how much he liked my hair, my dangly earrings, my calves (seriously, my calves?), my shiny pink lipstick on my soft sweet lips. “Oh, I’m harmless as a big old teddy bear,” he would say. “But hot damn, girl!”
The time when me and my female colleagues knew better than to report this kind of behavior because we knew our careers would be over, and because the boldest predator in our office was the Senior Vice President of Human Resources.
Those good old days?
Yeah. I think I’ll pass.
And if you feel the need to tell me stories about Bill Clinton, I’ll take a pass on that, too. Bill Clinton is not running for President of the United States, and it’s not the 1990’s anymore.
When I listen to the Donald Trump / Billy Bush tape, as horrific as the whole thing is, I get stuck at the part with the Tic Tacs.
The Tic Tac Man used to ask me what I thought of his ties, and would insist I touch them, “How does that feel?” he would ask.
The Tic Tac Man found every way possible to be alone with me, and would balk if I set up meetings with my boss or other department heads.
The Tic Tac Man made sure I knew he was doing me a favor by inviting me into his circle, the rare air of men and money and success. Did I know how lucky I was, the young business woman, to be treated to such access?
The Tic Tac Man often moved our meetings to his private conference room, the one with windows he could darken with the push of a button and where he could sit in the chair next to mine and rub his leg and arm against me while we “went over the numbers.”
And here’s the thing about the Tic Tac Man. Because he was rich and successful in business and oh so charming, everything he said and did was normal, expected, tolerated, excused, laughed about, dismissed (boys being boys!), encouraged, and even admired.
“You can do anything,” this new Tic Tac Man says, “Whatever you want.”
And he’s right. He can do anything, whatever he wants, to your daughters and mine. And still maintain the fevered, cult-like support of his followers. The Tic Tac Man is running for President of the United States.
This OpEd can be found in the Oct 13, 2016 issue of: