It was 1999, early in my day job career. I lived near Boston and the dot coms were sprouting up all over the place. Each one had some revolutionary idea. Each one in its own way kind of like a cult. There was always at least one glassy-eyed person who would say things like “We’re on to something big! We’re going to change how the world does…” whatever the company was in the business of doing.

I applied for a job in the marketing department at an online furniture store. When I told people I was applying there they’d all ask “So, how does that work? Don’t you have to sit on a couch to know whether you like it?” I was like “But who has the time? Buy it online and have it shipped.”

I had to chase them during the hiring process. I went to their office, a rundown building in Worcester, Massachusetts. They were going to move to Framingham, which would have been closer to where Todd and I lived at the time. I interviewed, I had changed into my suit in the ladies room of the bus station on the way.

“Just wondering what the next steps are…” I called the hiring manager week after week after week. That should have been a red flag for me. If they didn’t even have time to hire me, then what would it be like to actually work there? Would they have time to train me? To discuss my objectives and goals?

I started in July 1999. On my first day I wore a skirt and a twinset. The office had no AC and I was on the third floor. I didn’t know it didn’t have AC. It was early spring when I actually interviewed it took that long to hire me. It was sweltering on the third floor. I hated to be so sweaty on my first day. The next day I brought a box fan and propped it in the window. Half way through the day it fell out the window onto the sidewalk below and smashed. I went outside and threw it in the trash bin, but the man in the maintenance department fished it out and put it back together, it kind of worked when he put it back in the window.

I would only have to commute to Worcester for about a week, then the office would move to Framingham. On my first day I was shown my desk. And then I was left to do my work. Only I didn’t know what my work was. I was a Marketing Specialist. But I had no idea what I was to specialize in marketing. What campaigns were they working on? Everyone was frantically working at their desks. I sat there not knowing what the hell to do. Lunch came. Nobody offered to eat with me. They were working on changing how the world would buy furniture. I ate alone in a filthy lunch room.

We moved the office to Framingham. The Friday we were due to leave my sister called to tell me that Mom had been diagnosed with cancer. I grabbed an orange moving crate and swept my desk into it and left the office to drive home to Connecticut to be with her. On Monday I was to report to the new office in Framingham.

I worked for there for about 2 months. In that time I accomplished exactly nothing. It was my job to help the Marketing Manager work on promotions. She came up with an idea, I had to get the copywriter to write the promotion and then go around to every department, explain it, and get them to approve of it. Each one got shot down for one reason or another. Logistical reasons we hadn’t considered, and the like, and as a result I accomplished nothing for two months.

My friend Tamara sent me a job posting for my company. It was the same title as my job. The same exact posting I'd applied to months before. I printed it and showed it to the marketing manager. "What is this?" I had asked. She told me that the company is growing because we're onto something big and we need to hire more people. I bought it. I didn't know better.

It was a Thursday when they fired me, the day after I saw that my job had been posted. I was humiliated as I cleaned my cube. The cubes only had 2 walls on them, like a sideways V, so I had zero privacy. A man named Paul was next door to me and Kate, the Marketing Coordinator, was across from me. I had no idea even then what Paul’s job was. He worked in the marketing department too. I remember sitting across from him in meetings and he’d glance side to side to make it look like he was following along with the meeting. But what did he even do? Then again, what did I even do? It was Kate who helped me bring my stuff to my car. I burst into tears once we got outside. I was meeting friends from my old job for dinner that night. I was on the Mass Pike headed into Boston to go to Laura’s house when I stopped at a rest stop and called Todd from a payphone to tell him I’d been fired. I sobbed into the phone. Then I burst into tears again when Laura asked me how my new job was going. Laura who had this amazing classy apartment in Back Bay Boston, a very desirable neighborhood. A month or two later Laura would move out of that classy desirable apartment in the middle of the night, skipping out on her lease. She couldn't afford it and faking it until she made it had caught up with her. But at the time I felt like a failure. Why couldn't I be like Laura with her pedicures, city apartment and trendy furniture? I never did hear from her again. Maybe she was the failure.

Then I remembered. At the time I was having boxes shipped to work. We’d just moved into our affordable suburban apartment and the management was holding our boxes in their office. They were only open when we were at work, and as a result it took forever to get our packages of things we’d ordered. We’d ordered a boat part and I had it shipped to work. It was due to arrive on Friday, the day after I got fired.

On Friday we were heading up to Vermont, as that’s where our boat was at the time. My workplace was on the way. That morning I called and asked the receptionist to hold the box up front for me. When I arrived at my workplace I asked Todd to go in and get it. The last thing I wanted was to face those people again the day after getting fired.

I waited in the car, it was a hot day and I had the window down. I was wearing a tank top and jean shorts. I listened to the radio as I waited, and a man I worked with—he was an executive—walked up to my car and said he was sorry to see me go. Actually, he told my boobs he was sorry to see them go. It wasn’t the sort of thing where he was wearing sunglasses and could hide where he was looking. No, there was no mistake. He was looking right. At. Them.

He was talking to me, rather to them, about doors closing and windows opening. Some shit I had stopped paying attention to. I was incensed at his blatant ogling. His 15 year old daughter was inside working the reception desk for the summer. Yet he was outside that very office staring at my tits.

My biggest professional regret comes next. As he spoke I considered asking “So, would you like to see them? This way we can close the case on the mystery of what my tits look like?” I debated. I wanted to humiliate him as badly as he was me. If I did do that, with my luck I’d see him again in a future job and it would be awkward. But also if I did do that, I would be able to bust him on his obvious staring. Like, I thought he’d burn holes in my top with his eyes he was staring so hard.

Should I ask? Shouldn’t I?

Should I?

Shouldn’t I?

I fidgeted behind the wheel of my green Jeep Cherokee. I decided I shouldn’t. I crossed my arms over my chest and said bye to him. Todd came out and we drove off. I never did see that guy again. I can’t even remember his name. Gerry? Jason?

Man, do I wish I had asked. Why didn’t I just say “Well, you’re staring at them. Want me to show them to you?” Just to see what he would say and how he would react. Just to make him think twice about controlling his wandering eyes the next time he talks to some girl in a tank top.

Maybe if I did see him again he’d know to make eye contact instead.

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.