Many years ago I worked in a law firm. Among the attorneys to whom I provided assistance were two gents I’ll call Sebastian and Mack. Their offices were nestled in the same shady corridor and they were lunch buddies. But Sebastian and Mack couldn’t have been an odder couple.
I liked Sebastian. From the first day, he’d reminded me of Jimmy Stewart — earnest, mannerly, a little quirky, and always quick with a clean, clever joke. He even wore a 1940s style hat. He was a pleasure to work with.
Mack, on the other hand, was the sort of guy who made people cry. He was irascible and tactless.
On his computer desktop, Mack kept a collection of file folders filled with porn. He didn’t think anyone knew they were there. Everyone did.
Once in a while I’d walk into Mack’s office to find him gaping at a full-screen image of a greased-up, nude teen with her head thrown back in feigned ecstasy, a tiny speck of saliva glistening in the corner of Mack’s aged, drooping lips. He’d mastered the trick of making his screen go dark at a quick keystroke.
He was always a split-second too late.
Occasionally Mack would forget and leave his porn open on-screen when he left for lunch with Sebastian.
Mack had a separate phone in his office, on the credenza. My memory may be playing tricks on me, but I recall it being a clunky old rotary phone in fire engine red. Staff were instructed to never — ever — answer the red phone. Not under any circumstances. There was a rumor going around that it was a direct line to President Bush. I think it led to his mistress. Or an escort service.
Mack never made a pass at me. I doubt I was his type. I was too old already at thirty-something and I neither giggled nor cooed. And that was all just fine by me.
I wasn’t offended by Mack’s profanity, and his dirty jokes didn’t bother me, either. I didn’t laugh — not so much out of prudishness, but because his jokes just weren’t that funny. It was crude, 14-year-old boy-type stuff.
Every now and again, Sebastian would overhear Mack saying something completely inappropriate for the workplace and scold him in a squeaky, cringing voice: “Mack, you’ve got to stop saying things like that! One of these days you’re going to get yourself in trouble.”
I didn’t work there long enough to see Sebastian’s prediction come to fruition. I think it’s likely that Mack retired before it could happen.
I’m remembering this today because it’s Valentine’s Day. I’m remembering the year when Sebastian gave all of the women in the office heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. A sweet gesture. And on each one, he added a different joke on a sticky note. I think mine was everyone’s favorite.
“Happy Sexual Harassment Day from Mack”.