The Thought Counts

Many years ago I worked in a law office with a man I’ll just call “E”. He was in his mid-40s, on his second wife (younger than the first and younger than he), and had two kids by the first. His second wife, “C”, had been “the other woman” before he married her. I think she may have even worked for him.
C came into the office on a fairly regular basis, so it wasn’t long after I started working for her husband that she met me. Although she was quite friendly with me, she was also taken aback, because E’s former secretary was a frumpy, squirrel-haired Scottish woman known around the office as “the one who ate a pound of bacon dipped in peanut butter”. I think she was expecting E to downgrade. I tried to pretend I didn’t notice C checking me out even more thoroughly than her husband did on a daily basis.
E had a reputation in the office and also in court for being difficult. The word “dick” comes to mind. So does “bastard”. But with me, he was never difficult. He really liked me, thought I was different from the rest of the girls in the office, and couldn’t believe his good fortune in finding a secretary who not only matched wits with him but who got his work done quickly and expertly. So quickly and expertly that quite a bit of the time I was free to just hang out with him in his office and gab while we drank barrels of Diet Coke.
E also had a reputation for being a bit of a lech. He didn’t ever come right out and say anything to any of the girls, but he and I talked about all of them over our sodas. We agreed that “A” had the best rack in the office. That “K” had the best lips on the job. And also a great ass.
I knew he liked having me around for more than just the camaraderie and my smarts. He liked to look at me, and I know he felt like he was somehow really cool because he had a secretary that the other guys in the office wouldn’t have minded having on the job. We laughed about this, and I didn’t take him seriously at all. I also didn’t take his lecherous comments seriously, because his self-deprecation negated them. I never felt “threatened” by them. Or him.
His wife, on the other hand, always seemed somewhat put out when she would visit and find me in her husband’s office. Other times, when she called his line and I picked up the phone from my extension because he was not at his desk but beside mine, giving me some work, she turned cold when I told her, “He’s right here. Hold on.”
My birthday rolled around not long after I started working for E. He called me into his office, and I sat down to talk with him. He beamed at me and handed me a nicely wrapped box. Thanked me profusely for all of my good work, told me how much he loved having me around, and told me to go on, go on, open the box, happy birthday!
As I tore off the paper (please … did you really think I’m one of these girls who carefully removes it?) and revealed the box, he proudly said, “It’s from Paraphernalia.”
Paraphernalia is a now defunct store that was one of my favorites in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The clothing was very modern and stylish, mostly black, and could very easily provide me with the “look” I preferred — mini-skirt, belt with silver-tone buckles, black tights, short jacket with “interesting” buttons — if I had been able to afford it. I was duly impressed that E had been paying attention during our talks and remembered that I was thrilled every time I was able to buy something on sale from that store. Touched that he had gotten me a gift that reflected my taste.
“Paraphernalia!” I said. “Oh my god, I’m so excited!”
I lifted off the lid, pushed aside the tissue paper inside, and resting inside the box was … a bright purple oily-shiny polyester bow blouse with poufy long sleeves and a bright multi-colored shiny polyester pleated mid-calf length skirt.
“C picked it out,” he said. “I’m not very good at that kind of stuff.”
“Either is she,” I wanted to say.
“Well, thank you,” I said.
“It’s a little different from what you usually wear,” he said. “But it’s great, isn’t it? You ordinarily don’t wear color, so C thought this would be a fun change.”
And you know what? C was right. I had a ton of fun with this colorful easy-care ensemble! It was so practical! The skirt was long enough to protect my knees from the scratchy carpet in E’s office, and the bow part of the blouse came in very handy for wiping my mouth!