A couple of months ago, on the evening Jim had unsatisfying conversations with kind soul Stephen and Negative Ed about Munchhausen by proxy, the beauteous Barb was talking to Leigh about some trouble she was having with a guy at work. At the time, all Leigh would tell Jim was that Barb had a colleague who was making her uncomfortable. Leigh sometimes held things very close to the vest, for reasons Jim could never figure out.
Tonight, a Saturday, it’s Joanna who is deep in conversation with Barb; the wisps of conversation Jim hears lead him to conclude, correctly, that Barb is still having issues with the guy. This makes him angry, as he is very protective of all the women in his life, even those of casual acquaintance.
“I think Joanna and Barb are talking about her problems at work,” Jim says to Matt.
“Joanna’s problems?” Matt asks. “Something new going on with John?” We all know that Joanna has a work enemy, guy by the name of John, who hates her and whom she hates with a purple, Barney-size passion.
“No, not Joanna,” Jim says. “Barb.”
“Oh. What’s happening?” Matt is semi-interested at best; he’s drinking a Coors rather than his usual gin and is not eager to hop into any kind of fray.
“I think some guy is harassing her. Or hassling her. Not sure if there is a distinction.”
“She can take care of herself,” Matt says.
“It doesn’t bother you, Matlock? That our beautiful Barb is being treated poorly?”
Matt sighs. “That’s what HR departments were invented for. She’ll be fine. Do you want a fry? They’re good tonight.”
“No, I’m going to join Barb and Joanna’s conversation.”
“If they let you,” Matt says. “By their body language, it looks like a private conversation.”
“They’ll let me in,” Jim says. “Watch.” He walks the few steps to where Joanna and Barb are sitting, heads tilted toward each other and toes almost touching.
“Hey,” he says. “I couldn’t help overhearing. Maybe I can help.”
“Go away, Jim,” Joanna says. “This is a private conversation.”
“But I’m Friend of Woman! You called me that yourself, Jo!”
“Has nothing to do with this. Gloria Steinem could try to butt in, and I’d turn her away. Now git.”
Later, on the way home, Joanna fills Matt in.
“It’s really a bad situation. Barb’s boss, guy by the name of Kevin, is acting inappropriately, but is doing it in a clever way,” she says.
“Remind me what Barb does. And clever how?” Matt asks.
“Something with reinsurance. Assesses risk. I don’t really know. Doesn’t matter.” Joanna, who likes to know the backstory of every conversation she’s in, is impatient when others do the same. “Clever because he’s subtle about it,” she continues. “What he says could be interpreted a couple of ways.”
“Can you give me an example?”
“Sure. Just yesterday, he asked her if she was a good swimmer. She asked him why he asked. He said ‘I figured you had good lung capacity, since you don’t smoke.’ That could also be a reference to her having nice boobs.”
“Hmm,” Matt says. “Really?”
“Yes,” Joanna says. “And another time he said “I bet you’re a natural blonde, but I can’t be sure.’ That’s a reference to wanting to see her pubic hair.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Jo. That sounds like a stretch.”
“Those are just two examples. He says something like that almost every day. You have to look at the situation in its entirety.”
“Ok, I get that. Why hasn’t she gone to HR?”
“That’s the biggest problem. It’s a family company. The head of HR is his aunt.”
“Did you give her any advice?” Matt knows full well she did.
“I asked her if there was anyone in management that’s not part of the family. She said just the guy who heads up sales. That doesn’t help. Not sure that would have been the right approach anyway.”
“So what did you tell her?”
“I told her that leopards don’t change their spots, that family companies are an incestuous cesspool, and that she should look for a new job.”
“What did she say?”
“She agreed. She’s smart and gorgeous and I presume good at what she does. She’s at a good age to make a move. Harder once you hit 45 or so.”
“Don’t you worry about giving people advice that could go one way or another?”
“Not if I’m asked. If people ask, they want to hear. I’m always right, anyway,” Joanna says. She punches him lightly on the arm, as a way of saying she is (half) kidding.