His name was Charlie* and he was an all-star wrestler. Everybody loved Charlie at the prep school I worked at. Charlie was revered.
He was well into his seventies with a set of bad knees that made him hobble around campus in his sockless loafers. He’d sit at the campus union sipping his cup of coffee, waiting for faculty and other coaches to shake his hand; the hand that grappled and pinned so many back in 1945.
Charlie’s office was in the Development Department and he lured colleagues and students to come and visit him with a plate of Fun Size Snickers candies he kept at the edge of his desk. He made $50,000 a year so he could send out one mailing and call twenty classmates for their Annual Fund gift.
When I came on board, my boss and Charlie’s good friend, told me to get things done, bring the Development Department up to speed and begin preparations for a big fund-raising campaign for the school. Charlie would be one of my direct reports.
Within two weeks, I was summoned to my boss’ office for some redirection and clarification.
“I’ve gotten some feedback from the staff that you are being too aggressive. How about you take things a bit slower?”
I am sure my brow furrowed and I might have scratched my head, “I thought you wanted me to be aggressive and to get things done.”
My boss shifted in his seat and tilted his head from side to side, waffling over what to say, “Leave Charlie alone. He doesn’t need any direction. I’d like him to report to me.”
A week earlier, I had visited Charlie in his office, took one of his Snickers bars and sat down to talk with him.
“Hey boss, what’s up,” Charlie greeted me. I knew he didn’t want to know what was up or have me sit down and chat with him, let alone eat one of his candies.
I explained to Charlie that I wanted to check in with him to see how his program was going and share some ideas I had that might help increase his results.
“You don’t like what I am doing?” Charlie asked me, his face sagging and gray. His lips were thin like a pencil line. His hands fell to the top of his desk, fingers tapping like a metronome, ticking away the time I was taking from his day.
He looked at me like I was some young broad, meddling in his business. Maybe I was supposed to genuflect before crossing the threshold of his office or butter him up with talk of his golden years.
“I’m just trying to wrap my hands around the department, you know, who is doing what, what is working and where the opportunities are, that’s all Charlie.”
Charlie raised his arms up in the air in a surrender, “Do what you want boss.” He swiveled around in his chair, turning his back to me and continued playing the solitaire game on his computer.
I stopped checking in with Charlie, only grabbed a Snickers when he wasn’t in his office and hired a few other people who wouldn’t find me aggressive.
As time went on I noticed other things about Charlie. He liked to view websites that featured women in skimpy bikinis. He liked to chat with Nikki, a student from Arizona with fake boobs, a cinched little waist like a Barbie doll and a perfect tan for February in New England.
One time I walked by his office moments after Nikki left with a candy. Charlie sat across from my boss, the two of them giggling while Charlie did the universal sign for big boobs. My boss spotted me and pretended to reprimand Charlie with a tsk-tsk gesture with his fingers.
There were other women in the department ignoring Charlie because he was revered. He was the great grappler, a hero matman of yesteryear.
“You do realize he’s not doing anything,” I eventually complained to my boss, “You should know the nail clipping and photos of women on his computer is inappropriate and offensive to the other women in my department. It’s not okay.”
Again, my boss squirmed in his seat, “He’s a good guy. He’s harmless. He has nowhere else to go.”
“Are we raising money or running an elder care? His behavior is harassment.”
My boss promised to talk to him.
Eventually Charlie died. Secretaries blotted tears from their eyes. A few other staff members consoled one another with hugs and pats on the back.
“Poor Charlie. What a good man and a helluva wrestler,” they said. A big memorial service was held for him at the school. The auditorium was full to capacity. At least that’s what I heard. I didn’t attend.
Nearly twenty years later, it is International Women’s Day. I celebrated by going to work, attending a teacher conference, bringing my son to the dentist, roasting a chicken, throwing a few loads of laundry in the wash and listening to a new generation of Charlies on TV blathering about repealing, replacing, hacking and tweeting. It’s nice to have one day for women to be recognized for all we do. Because the other 364 days we are busy ignoring and working around a whole bunch of Charlies.