When I was eighteen, I spent several months working as a bus girl at a diner. It was a cheerful-looking place, facing San Francisco Bay. The kitchen was L-shaped: the owner stood in the short end of the L with the coffee makers and the cash register, and I was often at the other end, by the dishwashing machine, out of sight. In between were the prep counters and an eight-burner stove, where the cook was stationed. He was a middle-aged drinker with bloodshot eyes who would unexpectedly grab me from behind. No one seemed to notice, and in that decade before Anita Hill brought “sexual harassment” into the popular lexicon, I couldn’t articulate that this was something that violated my rights instead of just something that repulsed and rattled me.
After a few weeks of these unwelcome surprises, I made sure that the next time the cook came for me, I was holding a tray of clean glasses. He grabbed me; I yelped and let go of the tray. The shattering glass made a cacophony. The owner, another middle-aged man, rushed over and chewed out the cook — the glasses were audible and valuable in a way I was not.