...I worked with a guy we'll call Tim.
Tim was the sort of fella who was under the misapprehension that he was successfully disguising behind an intolerable mask of belligerent bravado his deep and insecurities, born of an equally fervent and intractable desire to live up to the expectations of men demanded by an unforgiving patriarchy. He walked with a puffed chest. He talked incessantly about how "hot" his wife was. He bragged about the speed of his car, the make of his watch, the cost of his home. And he told jokes.
He told racist jokes—the kind he had convinced himself weren't racist because they weren't about blacks and Latin@s, but were the new millennium racist jokes about call centers in India. And he told douchy jokes about queers and the disabled, the kind that he would actually tell to queer people and disabled people, as if it would somehow endear him to them, as if they wouldn't notice that he was a straight, cis, able-bodied white guy whose privilege let him believe and assert, quite wrongly, that he'd never get offended if any one of them told him a good Irish joke.
Because he had a sense of humor.
Tim, he of the great sense of humor, told all kinds of jokes that revealed the epidemic deficiency of humor among his coworkers (who always seemed to have a good laugh when he wasn't around).
But sexist jokes were really his forte.
When Tim first came to work at the creative firm, the only vacant desk in the studio was directly opposite me. We were in entirely different departments, so it was a temporary spot while things were moved around to accommodate him where he needed to be, with the rest of his team. Temporary was long enough.
It was two days before I first had to snap my fingers next to my eyeline and say, "Eyes up here, Tim," because he was talking into my cleavage.
It was four before he asked me, "Are you one of those feminists?" To which I responded, "Yes, I am," with a level stare that I meant as a challenge and he received as such. He looked away.
Nonetheless—or perhaps because of the fact of my feminism—he told me sexist jokes. Sometimes the fool genuinely believed that he was going to butter me up, or maybe loosen me up, with his sexist humor. Sometimes he was darker than that, and he was piquing me. It was an evident struggle within him—he couldn't make up his mind whether he wanted to love me or hate me, whether he wanted me to love him or hate him.
I told him off. He told more jokes.
This was not my only problem with Tim, whose temporary residence in my vicinity had ended, but did not diminish his determination that we would be friends, or enemies, and our friendship, or rivalry, forged in the fires of sexist humor. He became insistent on knowing things about me; I began to suspect he was reading my email when he was in the office after hours. Emails I hadn't read were not bold as if unread. I found beer bottles in the trash can under my desk. And then one day I found his wallet on my shelf, where he had apparently left it the night before while tucked in for an evening of reading my email.
All the while, there were the jokes.
The morning I found his wallet, I called his extension. He didn't pick up. I walked over to his desk; he was "on the phone," but I could see that there wasn't an outside line lit on the phone. I told him I needed to see him. He avoided me for hours. Every time he had to pass my desk, I said, with a wry grin: "Tim, I need to talk to you." Sure, sure—as soon as I've got a minute. Just so busy today. As his wallet burned a hole in my desktop.
Suddenly the jolly jokester who couldn't get enough of me, had hours to hang around bothering me every day, had not a spare moment to speak with me.
Finally, toward the end of the day, he stopped at my desk. He needed his wallet, after all. "What did you need to talk to me about?" he asked, feigning being harried.
"This," I told him. I plopped the wallet down between us. He looked as if he was about to make an excuse, or maybe give me an oh-thanks-I-was-looking-for-that-heh-heh sort of bullshit response. I stopped him, to spare us both the embarrassment. "Don't say a word. Just listen. Unless you want me to have you fired, you will never read my email again. Ever. You will never bother me when I'm trying to work again. Ever. And you will never, ever, tell another one of your goddamn jokes to me again. Do we understand each other?"
His face changed, darkened. Suddenly the sneer that had been lurking underneath the joking demeanor all along was front and center. He clenched his teeth and snatched his wallet from my desk like Golum going after the one ring. And then, wordlessly, he scurried away.
Later, on a night when both of us were in the office late, his breath smelling of beer, he would tell me that his mind hadn't been changed; he still held the same views. If he realized he was confessing to the biases he swore he didn't hold, he gave no indication. "You didn't teach me anything except not to say this stuff around you," he spit at me, swaying, his hip barely steadying him against my desk.
I asked him if he'd ever been asked the same by anyone else, if there was anyone around whom he wouldn't talk his incessant, bigoted shit.
"No!" he proclaimed, rather proudly.
"Then I taught you there's at least one place in the world where your bigotry isn't tolerated, didn't I?"
He looked at me evenly, and I saw his face crumble, almost to sadness. For a moment, I thought he would say something, maybe even something uncharacteristically insightful, or regretful, but then the moment passed. Instead he peeled himself away from my desk and stumbled down the hall back to his cubicle, where his beer waited for him in his tiny fiefdom, where no one made him feel bad for telling his jokes.