Updated: Mar 14, 2020
It was a slow day at the music store, one of those strange days where multiple students forgot they had a lesson or called out sick. We private lesson instructors were lounging around the front counter with the retail staff, lazily making conversation. The holidays were upon us, and someone's students had brought in cookies for their teacher. We passed the plate around while we chatted.
Even the manager couldn't find any more work to be done, and pulled up a guitar stool to join us. He was new in the position, and doing a fantastic job. He was organized, reasonable, a clear communicator, and respectful of his staff. I loved working for him, because everything got done and no one got flustered.
But there was a catch: he was a die-hard, fundamentalist Christian. He and his wife were Jerry Falwell-ites, graduates of Liberty University. And he carried all the discrimination and prejudice that comes with that belief system. The Gay Pride movement was just underway, and newspapers were beginning starting to cover those success stories without reservation. If the boss saw you reading something with that on the cover, he'd unabashedly condemn the gays to hell for such an abomination, right there in the store, in front of customers and staff alike. His venomous loathing of those groups made no sense to me -- because he was black. Not that it's acceptable for ANYONE to discriminate, but shouldn't he and his wife know how discrimination felt, being of African descent living in the Carolina's? Why then -- how then -- would they dish that out to another minority group?
You never knew who you were going to work with when he was on a shift. Would you get the level-headed, cool and collected manager? Or would you get the hellfire and brimstone condemner of homosexuals, transgenders, pre-marital fornicators, and more? Would things run smoothly and efficiently, or would he assume the pulpit and brag on the virtues of his wife and how they did the smart thing and married right after college, having "saved" themselves for holy matrimony? He didn't care who he alienated with his beliefs. It put people on edge, staff as well as customers.
So on that day when the store was empty, he pulled up a stool, right beside me, as we passed around a plate of cookies. He glanced at all of us individually, with his bright green eyes that were startling against his dark skin. Which version of him were we going to get today?
"Would you like a cookie?" I offered to him.
"Oh, no thanks, I'm trying to watch my figure," he replied.
"Oh, don't worry, honey," I said, without thinking, without skipping a beat, with mock flirtation, in my stupidest caricature of a southern belle accent. "We all watchin' it for you."
I smiled smugly. My coworkers laughed nervously. I made a funny! My grin got wider as I became proud of my one-liner -- rare are the moments where I think on my toes and come up with something that crushes it. But apparently today I was on fire!!!
I looked at him complacently, as if expecting him to admit that I got him, and my jaw dropped.
My boss was glaring at me with feverish disdain.
Oh my GOD, I'm going to get FIRED! I thought. You don't ever filter yourself when you need to, Jessika!
As he watched my thoughts play out on my face, his frosty glare melted into amusement. Oh, she didn't mean anything by it, he seemed to realize. She wasn't hitting on me or disrespecting my marriage, it was just a line said for a harmless laugh.
My face was beet red. His face cracked into a smile. He threw back his head and laughed. My eyes flew open in shock.
He pointed his index fingers at me and said, "That was a good one."
Apparently I'd been holding my breath, because I released it with a burst of relief. I walked around for the rest of that shift with my tail between my legs. That had been a close call.