Friday night around 4:45, sitting in my office, thinking about my upcoming bike ride home, I got a call on my cell phone.
“Hi this is Tom* from the Hardware Store*. I’m the plumber who’s supposed to install your dishwasher. Could we do that tonight?”
I was delighted. We’d been waiting a few weeks for the new dishwasher, and my landlady had been promising we’d get a call at some point. I was so glad it was finally happening.
“Tonight is perfect,” I said, “since I was actually planning on staying in.”
“Why are you staying in on a Friday?” Tom asked.
A little voice in the back of my head said, “That’s totally none of your business, dude,” but I just laughed.
“Because there’s a big weekend ahead,” I explained.
Then Tom said:“Well do you drink wine or beer?”
The little voice jumped up and down in my head.
“Um, wine, I guess?” I responded.
Maybe he was trying to be friendly, I thought. I always assume that about people. No one has nefarious purposes; if they do, I can probably talk them out of it by playing along, right? I’m a nice girl. Conflict is not my strong suit.
“What kind?” Tom asked.
“I guess there’s a bottle of pinot grigio in the fridge I was going to drink,” I stammered. By now I was standing up at my desk, looking around the cubicles, hoping someone was hearing this.
“I’ll bring a bottle of that, then,” Tom said. “And you have a roommate, what’s her name?”
“Allison,” I said, thinking maybe I should have given a fake name.
“What does she drink?”
“Red,” I stammered, “I guess…”
“I’ll bring a bottle of that, then, too,” Tom said. “Okay so your address is…” And he proceeded to give me the address of my landlady. As she had ordered the equipment, this was not a surprise. But it was another red flag for me, after the wine conversation.
Still, I gave him the correct address.
“Alright then, I’ll meet you there at 6:30,” he said.
I looked around at my coworkers.
“So if the dishwasher guy offers to bring wine,” I said, “you should be a little worried, right?”
We laughed uncomfortably together about the possible outcomes of this scenario. I laughingly told my coworkers that if I didn’t show up Monday morning, they’d know why. But as I changed into my bike clothes and prepared to go home, I got increasingly worried about what this could mean. Was this guy expecting some kind of threesome with two willing coeds? Who brings wine to a plumbing job?
I didn’t have my headphones and couldn’t do any hands-free texting on my way home, so I had to send rushed texts as I headed out the door, asking my roommate if she could be at our house when the guy showed up, and if her fiancé could be there, too.
She promised to hurry home from the gym after work. I rushed home, and hopped in the shower about 6:10, swearing up and down that I would not be in any state of undress when the plumber arrived, first of all, because that’s tacky, but secondly, because the way he had spoken to me was creeping me out, even if it was a joke.
I was rinsing the conditioner out of my hair when our dogs started snarling at the front door. It was him. He was early! It was only 6:15. I threw my wet hair up in a towel and threw my ugliest robe on, wishing I was fat or ugly or hairy or anything other than a nice cute white girl running around her house in a bathrobe. This sounds like the beginning to the very worst porno from the 1970s, I thought.
My roommate had just pulled up when I glanced out the front window. I was extremely grateful she was talking to the delivery guy while I corralled the angry dogs into our backyard. I noted that Tom had arrived in a Ford SUV, not a delivery truck. Did he even have our dishwasher in there?
Allison let him into the house and I said hello, still in my robe with eyeliner smudges under my eyes (at least there was that, I thought). He had brought wine. He handed me a chilled bottle of chardonnay, which I stuffed in the fridge, and apologized for having dropped the bottle of red on the front porch. (He’d cleaned it up, apparently.) I continued to stand weirdly in the kitchen and answered a few of his questions about the old dishwasher. He was a chummy guy, youngish and with a homey sounding drawl. He seemed pretty nice. His eyes were a little red. I wondered if he’d been smoking weed.
He went outside to get our new dishwasher, and I threw on the crummiest clothes I could fathom. Allison was still in her workout clothes, and had settled into her room to start her ablutions for her evening out. I poured us both big glasses of the wine, afraid to insult the plumber, and poured him just a tiny glass for himself. I tried to give us as much as possible so that I could claim there wasn’t any left for him.
Looking back on that, I wish I hadn’t. I should have just left the wine in the fridge. But I didn’t want him to ask about it. I brought Allison her wine and sat on the floor with her as she started the laborious process of epilating her legs.
We mouthed things at each other, too afraid Tom would hear us through the open window in her room.
“Why the eff did he bring wine?” she whispered.
“I don’t know!” I whispered back. “I’m so freaked out!”
I started texting my friend Joe and asked him if he could come by. “The dishwasher guy is freaking me out a little,” I explained. He texted back that he was supposed to be going to dinner and a movie with his brother, but what was wrong?
“He brought wine,” I wrote back, trying to hide my phone from Tom, who had just re-entered the house. He was in the kitchen now, and had put the new dishwasher down. He went back out to get some tools.
I texted Allison’s fiancé, saying he should come over now if he could! I didn’t want Tom to glance at my phone and see something insulting about him. Allison’s fiancé texted back a picture of his car, which was up on a jack getting the tires replaced. We were SOL on that front.
All of a sudden, I was standing alone in the kitchen, even though Tom had re-entered the house, and I realized Tom had gone into Allison’s room, where she was still epilating.
I hurried in and surveyed the scene, trying to make sure she wasn’t alone with this overly friendly plumber. He was seated close to her, watching intently as she ran the EpiLady over her legs.
“Wow, how does that work?” he was asking. “Are you shaving?”
“It pulls the hair out of your legs,” Allison was explaining, in her usual, friendly voice.
“Whoa, do me,” Tom said, pulling up the leg of his jeans.
He grabbed Allison’s hand and pulled the epilator over to his own shin. “It stings!” he exclaimed. I started taking a video. I was really nervous, so my thumb ended up being one of the stars of the video, but I got a few seconds of this and sent it to Joe as a way of explaining what was going on.
“We’ll be right there,” Joe texted after he got the video.
“Where’s your wine?” Tom asked as I sat across from Allison.
“Oh, I left it in the kitchen,” I said.
“I’ll go get it for you,” Tom said, and stood up to go get the wine.
Allison and I made frantic gestures at each other, trying to figure out what to do. Her phone was across the room. I had mine in my lap but was trying not to be too obvious in my texting.
Tom returned with my glass of wine and set it in front of me. I drank nervously. I hadn’t eaten a thing since lunch and started to get a little light headed.
I wish I’d had the wherewithal at this point to tell him directly to get to work on our dishwasher, but Allison and I were both too nice and trained too well to avoid being bitchy.
He settled back in and started chatting with us, still interested in Allison’s epilator.
“Let me feel your legs,” he said, and reached over to touch her knee. I saw her eyes widen, but neither of us knew what to say. We laughed nervously.
“That’s pretty good,” he continued. “How about yours?” He turned to me and reached to pull the bottom of my pants up to show my ankle.
I pulled away, obviously uncomfortable, but pulled the hem up a few inches myself and showed a bruise from my bike. “Oh, yes, there’s a bruise,” I pointed out.
“Didn’t the massage therapist ask you about those?” Allison quipped.
“Yeah, he asked if my BOYFRIEND was ABUSIVE,” I said nervously. “But I told him he’s not, it’s just my bike.”
“When will the dishwasher be done?” Allison asked.
“Oh, it shouldn’t take too long,” Tom said. He sat back a little bit away from both of us.
Somewhere in our nervous, tipsy conversation he told us about his ex wife, and his current fiancée, who was in the hospital after gall bladder surgery. He had three daughters taking care of her, he told us. He’d also gone to high school for a year with my older sister, even though he didn’t know her.
It all sounded pretty made up.
As my roommate excused herself to get in the shower, Joe showed up with his brother and I jumped up to greet them, perhaps a bit too excitedly. “Joe!” I exclaimed. “You’re here! Would you like some wine?”
I opened a second bottle and started pouring. We all made frantic quiet faces at each other.
Suddenly Tom announced that there’d been an emergency with his wife (not fiancée anymore, we noticed) and he had to go to the hospital.
“Her stitches popped,” he explained worriedly. “I’ll call you tomorrow about fixing this.”
And with that, he was gone.
We took a while to decompress everything that had gone on, and explained to Joe and his brother what had happened. My roommate got ready for her night out and drank with us, debriefing what exactly had just happened.
Eventually my landlady’s son called to ask how the installation went, and I explained what had happened. He urged me to report it to the Hardware Store’s installation manager, and I agreed that was a good idea.
I talked with Joe’s brother about Neil Strauss’s book “The Game” and how, even though it may have a lot of sleaze in it, the seduction community emphasizes that no means no.
“You know what,” I said, gesturing with my glass of wine, “’UM’ means no, too. All hesitation means ‘no’. That’s what we need to teach our sons. Because girls are taught never to say no. It’s engrained in us from the first day, only mean girls say no.”
He’s Actually a Really Nice Guy
The next day, the manager from the Hardware Store called me to clear things up. My landlady’s son had told my landlady about the incident, and she had called the manager in turn.
When I told the manger the whole story, she corroborated Tom’s story about the emergency in the hospital. “His wife’s stitches did split,” she told me. “That was true.”
I reiterated that it had sounded sketchy to us.
“I’m so sorry,” the manager said. “He’s actually a nice guy. He probably brought the wine because we had to reschedule the install so many times.”
She asked me if I’d like to have someone else do the job.
“Ideally, yes,” I said. “Especially if he needs to be with his family.”
She explained that no one else would be available to do it Saturday, so I agreed that Tom could come back over. I asked her to have him text me what time he could be over, so I could have the landlady’s son there.
After an entire afternoon went by, Tom called to say he wouldn’t be able to make it that day after all, as he was still helping his wife in the hospital. He apologized for how things had gone.
“I’m a married man,” he explained.
“I know,” I answered, “it’s fine.”
Now he’s rescheduled to come over tonight, Monday, after work at some point. I’m not sure how things are going to go. I’m sure it will be horribly awkward.
I was right to have felt weird about things. But I was wrong in not speaking up about it. If either Allison or I had said, “Hey, go do your job,” Tom would have done it immediately, even if he’d thought in the back of his head that we were bitches.
But at the same time, the blame for how weird this felt does not lie with me or my roommate. A man acted like a creeper, and even though we let him, we did not cause him to act that way.
I hope that I can learn to sack up them ovaries a bit more in the future, and not let a man take advantage of me like that, even if he’s really a nice man. I’m a nice girl, but that doesn’t mean I should ever feel unsafe, especially not in my own home.