Monday, July 26, 2004

Short Story Time: Mister County Commissioner

Since Angela hadn’t read the assigned chapters, she was glad to see the man standing at the front of her political science class that fall morning. It was the tail end of the campaign season, and all the politicians were making their rounds among the Atlanta University Center schools, trying to scrounge up sign holders and leaflet throwers. She would have to listen to a speech, but at least she wouldn’t be put on front street with a whole bunch of questions she didn’t know the answers to.

It didn’t seem like anybody in the classroom was anxious to hear whatever this man had to say. Most of the students were off in their own worlds, thinking about anything other than the political views he was about to share. “County Commissioner…,” she heard the professor say. For the next 50 minutes, it would be all rah-rah and yah-hoo about the homeless who would be housed, the jobs that would be created, the healthcare that would be available, and the family values that would be restored—all because she and her classmates carried his signs.

The speaker was a milk chocolate brown man with really pretty light brown eyes. He had a kind of Lionel Jefferson style to him with his mid-length afro all combed toward the front of his head. Angela thought he looked like a nerd. He certainly didn't look like anybody who could make any kind of difference for the people. He was ultra corporate-looking, and no brother in the 1990s is supposed to comb an afro to the front of his head. Some styles come back, but that one wasn't on anybody's radar screen.

And his voice. It had a Mr. Rogers vibe to it, Angela thought. She wasn't sure if this was going to be about politics of if they were about to have Story Time.

But what he said was a totally different matter altogether, and it seemed Angela wasn’t alone in her sudden tendency to hang on to his every word. This man didn’t seem like all the rest of the politicians she’d heard before. He actually sounded sincere.  His words transformed his voice from Mr. Rodgers to Mike Tyson. Yes, it was still weird, but you just knew you’d be in for a rude awakening if you fucked with this man. Angela was impressed. And like almost all the rest of the students in her class, she signed up to do whatever she could do to help this man be the next County Commissioner.

She made countless phone calls, and put flyers on all the cars in her seven assigned church parking lots each week for three weeks. She stood in the rain to do last minute shouting and sign holding on election day, and was happy as she could be when they announced his victory that night at his campaign headquarters. It was the highlight of her sophomore year.

When Angela came back for her junior year, she got a job at a nonprofit agency that offered good experience but didn’t pay a single dime. After dozens of bounced checks and way too many close calls on eviction notices, she realized the experience thing was great, but she needed a paying job. So she called County Commissioner to see if he could offer any leads. After all, she didn’t get paid to work on his campaign, and helping with a job search was the least he could do. He promised all the students that his door was open and that he owed them one.

County Commissioner's day job was a lawyer, and his law office was jammed inside a residential house in the “hood” of southwest Atlanta. The house was small and cramped with books and too much old furniture. His office, converted from what would have been the dining room if somebody was actually living there, looked like the paper fairy had blessed it the night before with stacks for days on small tables and TV trays lining the walls. The built-in bookcases overflowed with every law book under the sun. But, oddly enough, his desk was quite clean. Just a few papers, some framed pictures, a pen, the phone and a single file folder.

Angela sat in the empty chair in front of his executive desk. He greeted her with a bright smile, looking larger than life in his high-back leather chair.

"It's good to see you again. How are your classes coming?"

"Great. I've started my investigative journalism class..." She proceeded with the usual rhetoric you might give to an uncle you hadn't seen in a while. All the highlights older people want to hear like, “school is great,” “I’m learning a lot,” “I’m meeting great people,” and stuff like that. She didn't exactly want to ask him for something right out of the starting gate, so she tried to drag out her "perfect student" speech until she felt like the timing was right.

"Well, you said you needed to talk to me, so tell me what really brings you here." Okay, Angela thought. This was obviously the time to tell him, but there was something weird about his vibe. It was too cat-daddy. She wasn't really expecting this from him.

"I've been working for the Women & Baby Health Advisory for the past six months.  It's a great internship, and I'm getting a lot of great experience in media relations and public affairs. But, I'm not getting paid any money, and I really need a job. I was wondering if you knew of anybody I should talk to, or if there were any doors you could open for me personally?"

"I'd be more than happy to help you," he said, immediately filling Angela with a sense of comfort that her broke days were coming to an end. "Hold on for a second. Let me just make a phone call."

Angela heard him ask to speak to some man she knew had to be important. His tone went from cat-daddy to corporate too quick. She heard him tell the person about her, saying she was majoring in journalism and had some hands-on experience in public relations. He told the person that she was looking for a job she could do while she finished school. She heard a few okay's and saw him write something down, and then County Commissioner hung up the phone.

"That was the president of're familiar with the company, right?"

"Yes, definitely." Angela was getting really excited now. This could lead to a job after school. This company was a telecommunications giant.

"Well, he says you should report to their Dunwoody office on Monday and ask for Charlotte Brown. She will be familiar with your name. You'll fill out an application and take a test of some kind. They're going to place you in the corporate communications department as a part-time administrative assistant. But, I know you can network your way into a full-time job if you want to. And, I'll be more than happy to help you as long as we can be friends."

"Oh absolutely!" She practically screeched at County Commissioner, she was so happy. "I will certainly make the most of it and I really appreciate you recommending me. I wasn't expecting to literally walk out of here with a job. This is wonderful. Thank you!"

He stood up and walked around to the front of his desk and propped himself against the edge with his legs spread open.

"Why don't you come show me how thankful you are?" Cat-daddy was back in full force and then some, like his brief departure was so that he could recharge to super strength. The look in his eyes literally frightened Angela. He looked so foreign from the hero she'd come here to see. Gone was the champion, and now she was faced with some mid-life crisis pervert who actually thought she was going to give him some as payback for a job. He was acting like it was her obligation for the good deed he had done, rather than his obligation for her job well done during his campaign. Like he had been the one standing in the rain holding up signs for her election! Angela was totally confused.

"What do you mean?" She honestly couldn’t think of a better response to his preposterous request.

"Come on, you're a junior in college. You know exactly what I mean. Come over here and show me how much you appreciate the job I just got you. I promise, I won’t hurt you. Are you scared? You look like a woman to me. And a fine one. Come show me how happy you are about what I did. You can start with a kiss."

Angela was horrified. She was 19 years old and this man was at least her father's age. He was married, had a son her age and, up until five minutes ago, she thought he actually had her best interests at heart. What had she done to deserve this? She was dressed professionally in a dark pantsuit. Her hair was pulled back into a simple bun. Her earrings were studs. She tried purposely to look conservative so that he would know that she wasn't just some dumb college student who might tarnish his reputation by getting a job somewhere and dressing and acting like she didn't have any sense.

Why was he flipping like this? Her hands were literally trembling, she was so shaken. Never before now had she been faced with a situation that she had absolutely no clue as to what the best move was. "I don't think of you that way," she almost whispered, unable to mask her stunned feelings.

"You don't think of me what way?"

"I don't think of you in a way that would make me come over there and kiss you," she said, slowly but surely finding her confidence again.

"And how do you think of me?" He was still standing there with his legs propped open.

"More like a mentor,” Angela said. “If it were personal, I'd say something along the lines of an uncle. But nobody that I would kiss the way you're implying.”

“But I am not your uncle. And I thought you liked me.” He crossed both his legs and his arms now, but still stood against the edge of the desk.

“I do, but just not like a boyfriend.”

He was visibly frustrated, and his ego had obviously taken a blow. His entire attitude went from cat-daddy to outright indignant as he marched from the front of the desk back to his seat, sitting with a high-and-mighty air that even the Queen of England couldn’t master.

“I never said I was your boyfriend, and I damn sure ain’t your uncle! You walk into my office and ask me for something and then act like you don’t have to give something to get something. You obviously aren’t a woman yet, because you don’t know anything about relationships in the grown up world.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to do anything to mess up the job I just got you, because I don’t want to have to explain why. But let me be real clear in telling you not to ever call me or come see me again until you change your mind. If you want to be friends, I’ll do anything in the world for you, and I can make your life easy. But you need to learn what friendship is all about first. Now get out of my office.”

Angela fought back tears while she gathered her purse and jacket and headed for the door. She halfway wanted to call her father and get him to come down to Atlanta and beat this man’s ass. But all she had the energy to do was go home and cry.

Her Midwestern upbringing had not prepared her for this kind of fuckery. A man who had been her real life political hero had turned out to be just an old-ass pervert. A disgusting asshole like the ones she had only heard about on television. He was the kind of man her parents warned her about—the faceless danger that could strike at any time and during the most unsuspecting of circumstances.

Angela started her job at ComTech just as planned, and never spoke to County Commissioner again until the end of her senior year. On a whim, she decided to see whether or not he had realized the error of his ways or if he was still the asshole she remembered.

She figured County Commissioner might be able to contact that same bureaucrat he called before, and secure a permanent job for her in ComTech’s corporate communications department. She had already worked her own angles to ensure that she was a strong candidate, but she was curious to see whether cat-daddy had retired or if he was still alive and well in the County Commissioner’s Office.

“Hi there. It’s Angela Meyers…Remember me?”

“Sure, I remember you, Angela. How’s everything going? I’ve heard great things about you at ComTech. They say you’re doing a great job.”

“I didn’t know you had been keeping up,” Angela said, surprised by the fact that he was even interested.

“Sure I’ve been keeping up. You don’t think I would send someone for a job on my say so, and not find out how they’re doing. This is my reputation, you know.”

“Well, I’m glad you know that I’ve been doing a good job. They have a job open in corporate communications that is full time. Would you be willing to do one last favor as one last ‘thank you’ for a job well done on your campaign?” Angela tried to sound as light-hearted as possible, considering the perceived demon she was talking to on the other end of the phone.

“That depends on you,” County Commissioner said. “Have you changed your mind about our friendship?”

“No, I haven’t. I still feel the same way about it as before.”

“Well then, I’ll tell you like I told you before. Don’t call me again until you change your mind.”

And with that, Angela hung up the phone—realizing that old demons never learn new tricks.


At 3:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very good Angela. I only wish that you could have been wired to expose the son-of-a-bitch.

At 4:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How deep! Why do some men in positions of power think they can exploit women like that? But I believe this experience has helped mold Angela into the strong woman she has become.

I'm glad you had the courage to tell this story. I know other women can relate.

Be blessed.

At 6:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was a very deep, very touching story. One that has happened to far too many women. Each of us who have traveled up the ladder of success have that kind of story in them. However, most of us were not as savy as you. Most of us didn't know which was worse, the lack of a job or the ass-hole that could provide it. Very glad you shared this story and good for you that you didn't buy into the bull.

At 11:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'd say that all men are dicks because they have them, but councilman was not a man at all. cheating on his wife and kids and showing you a very ugly reality of this harsh world, he'll get his in the end.

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