To this very day, it still ranks as my favorite job: delivering Dominos pizzas, in west Texas, in the late 1980s.
I got to drive around for a few hours a night, listen to music, nobody bothered me and I went home with cash in my pocket. 30 years later …I would happily take a night like that. Anyway …
My manager was a man who wallowed in vices. He lived hard and drank hard and partied hard and did everything hard. And he was the patron saint of most of the strippers in town. He would make sure they had pizza when they needed it. I can’t tell you how many free pizzas I delivered to some single mom in a trailer park, who smelled like french perfume. He was the pagan with the heart of gold.
I was a 20-year-old, rosy cheeked, fresh faced kid who had never tasted alcohol or been to a topless bar or woken up in Vegas, wondering what day it was and where all my money went (I have since done all of those things …but I digress). He liked to pick on me. A lot. Once he found out my dad was a preacher, he pretty much tried to embarrass me from the time I clocked in till the time I clocked out. He didn’t succeed. I wasn’t the innocent little snowflake he thought I was. So he kept upping his game.
One night, I was closing with another guy, when we got a call for twelve pizzas. It was the manager, himself. He requested that I (me) specifically deliver them and that I was to clock out before I left. So, I made the pizzas, clocked out, and drove to the address. I could hear the music from the street. Clearly, this was a serious party. Pizza delivery guys are used to that.
I ran up the steps to the apartment, with all twelve pizzas in my arms, and rang the bell. Everyone inside got really quiet. And I felt a little surge of adrenaline. What was going on in there? Suddenly, the door opened and I stepped through. Some unknown person started taking pizza boxes off my hands, and my vision cleared. My eyes adjusted to something I couldn’t believe. And I heard the words ring out, in unison, “pizza boy!”
There, standing before me, were no less than twenty women, ALL nude (or half nude), with their arms in the air, as if in some celebration. The room was awash in bare breasts and bikini bottoms. My twenty-year-old eyes were struggling to make sense of it all. My manager (clearly drunk at this point) yelled, “I’m making a man outa you tonight, Hamm!” He didn’t know …I already was one.
Suddenly, the rowdy ladies started chanting, “Hickey! Hickey! Hickey!” I wasn’t sure what that meant. But suddenly they surrounded me and moved me to the center of the room. I couldn’t move, unless I wanted to start slugging people (and I did NOT want to start slugging people. This was just getting good). Then, all the ladies started groping and grabbing me all over and pressing their nakedness into me. Just as I was certain this was the greatest single night of my life, I felt something sting on the back of my neck. “Ouch!” I said, instinctively.
“Shut up, pizza boy!” came a short, angry reply.
Then I felt another one on the side of my neck. I started wincing and trying to get free. These seductresses weren’t just groping me, they were all trying to give me a hickey. They were aggressively biting my ear lobes and neck and it was starting to hurt. This party suddenly went from fun …to NOT fun. I was pulling away and trying to maneuver out of their grasp. But they pushed in and got a little violent. And I realized they were actually laughing and taking pleasure in making me wince. I started feeling a little like meat being nibbled on. And as weird as it sounds, coming from a man, I didn’t like this anymore.
I was always taught to never man handle a woman. I didn’t want to be the aggressor, but I forced them off me. And made it clear that I wasn’t enjoying this particular part of the evening. But instead of letting me go, they all pushed me backward through the living room, into the bedroom, and tossed me on the bed. Before I knew what was going on, one of them had straddled my neck where I couldn’t breathe or see. And then I felt someone undoing my belt and pants. As exciting as the evening had started, it had taken a decidedly “Clockwork Orange” kind of turn. My manager was yelling that I couldn’t leave until I had sex with one of the women. There were crazy strobe lights flashing and the music was so loud I could barely hear them laughing and deciding which one of them was going to have me first.
I knew all these people were drunk and/or high and they weren’t thinking straight. As much fun as the prospect of having sex with a room full of strippers SEEMS, when it is actually presented to you, you might find that the ladies in question present a situation you don’t really want to “insert” yourself into. I was as biologically stimulated as any 20-year-old would be. But I was able to think clearly enough to keep two things in mind: first, if I went through with this, the manager would have something on me forever. He would always be able to say, “remember that night with those strippers?” And I don’t like being owned. Second: sure, he could order me to do anything he wanted, but I’m not getting Chlamydia for any pizza manager on earth. So with those two things in mind, I pushed the women off me, apologized for not obliging and headed for the front door. They all boo’d and laughed as I left.
I’ve remembered this night in many different ways throughout the thirty years since it happened. I used to look at it as some sort of opportunity lost. Then I’ve seen it as a bullet dodged. Now that I’m older, I see it in much clearer terms. These were broken women, probably taking out a lot of abuse done to them …on me. I probably represented some innocence lost; some damage not yet done. Now, when I look back on that event, I actually feel sorry for them and I’m glad I didn’t participate in any further damage to them.
But there’s another issue that looms from that night. In the absence of context or human dynamic, what happened to me (in the strictest sense) was sexual assault. Yes, I was attracted to the naked women. Yes, I was excited at the prospect of what the night might’ve held. But when you strip it down (no pun intended) I was technically, physically assaulted.
Has it harmed me emotionally in the long run? Other than occasionally being skittish in a room full of west Texas strippers, not even a little bit. It was drunk humans being drunk humans. And we didn’t have names or titles or grievances for such behavior back then. We just laughed and moved on. Did my manager have the power over me? Only to the extent that I wanted to deliver pizzas for Dominos. Did I have a lawsuit against Dominos? I fear that these days …I would. And in some ways, that is disturbing.
Rape and sexual assault are serious issues. But I wonder how much of what we’re deciding is “assault” is really assault? The rough and tumble of human sexuality trying to find its way is a complicated thing. Men and women are created in direct opposition: women are designed to protect an egg and to discriminate in the extreme when it comes to who gets to fertilize that egg. Men, on the other hand, are designed to fertilize eggs at all costs. Those two primal drives are in constant conflict …and they always will be. They bring men and women together …and they break them up. And when sex is also a national pass time, weirdness is bound to ensue.
Is someone walking through a room naked, assault? What if a film maker puts an unexpected nude scene in a film? Is THAT assault? If you see something you didn’t want to see, have you been assaulted?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not excusing sex offenders. But the new, national conversation is deciding what constitutes a sexual offense. And those definitions are largely being framed by women. And I, for one, wonder if some of this couldn’t just be solved with a slap or a good old fashioned drink in the face.
I can tell you from first hand experience, that on a hot, west Texas night, men can be held against their will just as easily as women. And THEN what? Do we make drunken pizza managers resign? How about inappropriate congressmen? How about foul-mouthed comedians who told us who they were from the beginning? How about presidents?
I don’t know how we reconcile all this. But maybe we should start by being honest about our humanity and our sexual nature. And that one man’s inappropriate comment about a waitress is another woman’s reading 50 Shades of Gray in public …in front of children. And that being raped isn’t the same thing as being made to feel uncomfortable about a comment or a joke. And that it’s okay to tell your boss to put on some damn clothes …or tell a rock star comedian, you’re leaving the hotel room because you’re not into it …or that you’re not screwing a stripper just because you’ve been ordered to.
Sometimes, in such a complicated world, it might just be as simple as that.