I read this essay last month on stage but I haven’t published it anywhere or sent it out. I decided it’s too personal for a publication so I’m posting it here. Inspired by all things #metoo
For the Record…
By Margaret Elysia Garcia
End of summer 1992. Two semesters of college left ahead of me starting in three weeks and I was flying off to the Ozark Mountains to visit the hillbilly side of my family for the first time.
I had one more day of work—a Friday with a paycheck and a paid vacation and then an early Monday morning flight. I’d be gone for 10 days.
I worked at an indie record store through most of college. A coveted job in my town and I lucked out as I knew a few people plus I aced the application. For the record, indie record and bookstores have obnoxiously smug applications. Questions like “name the last three books you read and why they resonated with you.” “Name three radio stations you listen to in LA, and why.” Name a painter whose work you identify with. And so on. A job tailor made for nerdy snobby gothy girls like me Later I heard I was also considered cute. Oh.
I walked into record store in Uptown Whittier for the noon to close shift and greeted my friend M. who didn’t look me in the eyes but smashed price stickers onto tapes relentlessly behind the work counter. The music was playing something sixties—always a signal that the owner was somewhere in the building.
“Mr. G is in the back with the checks. He wants to see you,” M. said still looking down as I put my purse in the box behind the counter.
“Why?” I asked. The owner never wanted to see me. We made it a point to ignore each other. I was his best worker after M. Unlike most of his employees, I showed up on time, neither stoned or drunk, and I didn’t steal. It was a low bar.
After the end of my last semester of Women’s Studies courses, I complained about the one employee restroom. It had a tiny a sink and mirror, a toilet, and about 60 photos of naked women the owner’s buddy who worked at a Photomat place had given him copies of. Women with unsure looks on their faces. Women clearly posing for their lovers and NOT the fotomat guy and certainly not for us. Certainly none of them thought they’d end up on the record store restroom wall.
I wanted to be respected. One of the guys – for the most part. The six guys and I hung out on weekends. Picnics. BBQs. We admired each other’s encyclopedic knowledge of bands in our respective expertise. A woman in a record store is no different than a woman in an automotive shop—customers come in and ask to speak to the man. When you answer their questions correctly they stand in the middle of the aisle dumbfounded that you have breasts and a vagina and can answer questions about obscure esoteric bands. How dear god? Is that possible?
All of the guys said the restroom was tasteless. It was one thing for there to be Playboys in there—those women consented and were paid. But the fotomat women gave no consent.
Back in May, I told the owner that he needed to take them down. That it was disgusting and had no place in the workplace. He told me if I didn’t like it I could leave. But I loved and needed my job. I loved listening to music loudly all night—and having a perfect fit for my college schedule. I loved hanging out with my friends too. I didn’t leave. The owner never forgot that I broke rank and called him on his shit.
So he fired me and handed me two checks. I did what I do when I’m angry. I started to cry. Clearly a bit unprepared he began to fumble.
“I don’t like to be around strong women. I can’t handle it. And I’m never going to make the mistake of hiring a woman again. Get your things and go.” There were six customers in the store. A regular said how’s it going? I said, “I just got fired for being a woman.”
Okay I screamed it at the top of my lungs. The owner handed me a box of what he thought were my CDs (I hadn’t paid for any of them—so he handed me about $500 worth of merchandise). I looked at M. and he pulled me in for a hug and whispered “meet me at my house in 15 minutes.”
M. quit his job mid-shift. He said he could no longer work somewhere that treated its female employees this way.
In the days and weeks after “THE DAY” the rest of our co-workers who’d heard about the firing decided to take sides. Most of them said I shouldn’t have complained about the restroom and that I was smarter than the owner so why did I have to pick on him? As for M., they decided, he must have been sleeping with me. Why else would a man be honorable? Do the right thing? One guy said it was because he was ‘pussy whipped.’ For the record, 26 years later, that still hasn’t happened.
Other fall out. Local college students staged a boycott protest. A famous lawyer’s office called me. Unemployment determined I was wrongfully terminated. For two semesters I received my highest grades ever and didn’t work at all. M. moved to New Mexico. None of our “friends” talked to us again. The owner offered our jobs back. We said no.
For the record, he took down the photos—later that year, we heard.
Twenty-six years ago, a good man did the right thing. He didn’t want to work for someone who would do that; he felt bad he hadn’t said something about the photos himself.
M. raised the bar for me that day. For my own behavior and what I should insist on from others. The answer to the question where are all the good men? Is right beside me.