I work across the street from a bus station in downtown Toronto. Our clientele is mostly transient, made up of travelers from all over Canada and the world. They come in, ask for coffee and directions to good places to visit, and then they move on. Most of them I never see again.
We have our core group of fancy well-paid businesspeople as well, but they usually come for coffee in the mornings and early afternoon.
At night, my store gets ugly.
Plenty of Toronto’s homeless hang out around the bus station hoping for a well-intentioned traveler to toss a few dollars their way. Some of the more aggressive ones just go ahead and rob the unsuspecting person and come use the bathroom in my store to empty their pilfered wallets. Some of them seem to think that my cafe is a bank and we’ll willingly and cheerfully convert their dimes and nickels into toonies and loonies while the line of paying customers begins to stretch out to the door.
I had a lot of closing shifts over the last two weeks of March. I’m a tough chick who has no problem coming out from behind the counter to inform a panhandler that they can’t do that inside, so I’m not worried when I’m scheduled to close. One night I had a panhandler come in, dump his change all over the counter, and ask us to change it for him. When we informed him that A) We’re not a bank and B) We can’t open the till unless there’s a transaction, he stood beside the till and began asking the people behind him if they were paying with cash so we could open the till and help him.
I told him very firmly I would change his money this one time only, and that I didn’t want to see him in my cafe again. He’s been in before hunting for free coffee and he’s always a little off, so this was the last straw for me.
So when he came in about a week ago, bothering customers for spare change and cutting the line while growling and muttering something about “making his day”, I decided I’d had enough. In a fake, sugar-sweet-angry bitch voice, I said,
“Hi! Why are you being so rude?”
He looked at me with what passed as derision and said, “WHAT? I WASN’T EVEN TALKING TO YOU.”
“You’re being rude and I don’t like it, so you can just leave. BYE.” I replied in the same tone.
Evidently he didn’t like that, so he shoved the stacks of to-go cups at me and began swearing as he made his way for the door. Ordinarily, I would laugh it off, shake my head and serve the next customer. But if you have enough interactions with angry, swearing homeless folks in one week (and I’d already reached my capacity for being flipped off and yelled at, you see), you tend to snap.
I stepped away from the till and yelled, “Do you really want to start with me right now?!” to which he replied,
“NO, I REALLY WANT TO FUCK YOUR PUSSY.”
He may as well have thrown gasoline on a lit fire. “What is wrong with you?” I screamed. “Just get out of here and don’t come back again!” I had started walking out around the counter and had to remind myself that I was at work and I needed to calm down. I was shaking with rage when I walked back to my till, apologized to the waiting customer, and asked her what she would like.
“I’m not placing a drink order,” she informed me snidely. “Because two wrongs don’t make a right.”
For a moment, I was flabbergasted. She had no idea how many times I’d had to kick this man out. She had no idea how scary it is for me to confront somebody whose grip on reality is tenuous at best. She apparently didn’t hear what he said to me. She apparently thinks it’s ok to throw cups at a barista.
All I said was, “OK. Bye.” I saw no reason to get into an argument with her. And judging from her demeanor, I had a feeling about what would happen next.
She called head office and lodged a complaint about me.
I don’t even know how to feel about it. Her original comment made me feel less than human, as if I should not defend myself when somebody throws things at me. As if I shouldn’t get angry when somebody directs what is essentially a rape threat at me. As if being in customer service somehow means I am a customer servant. I am not a punching bag for the general public, literally or figuratively, and she made me feel as if I should be. Finding out she formally complained amplified all those feelings tenfold.
My boss called me to let me know that the manager of our district had been informed of the complaint. He wanted to know the whole story from beginning to end so he could let her know my side of the situation when he called her back. He assured me he was on my side, because he knows how iffy our store gets at night. But having people agree with me is not the point, no matter how grateful I am that they have my back.
The point is, I should be allowed to stand up for myself, no matter where I’m working. I shouldn’t have to take abuse or dodge items thrown at me, and smile while I’m doing it. Maybe I’m crazy, but I feel like this is deeper than just some woman taking offense to my behavior. I feel like this mirrors how misogynists feel about women in general. Be perfect, be pretty, be kind, be a doormat. Never speak out in anger or frustration. Bury your feelings inside and don’t share them.
I am not, nor will I ever be that girl. I will be the one who makes noise and stands up for herself, no matter who that offends. No matter if I get fired for it. My integrity as a fully formed human being is everything to me. I am not a doormat.
Am I sorry that the woman was offended? Of course.
But not for one second am I sorry I fought back.