My college had a unique schedule. We had fall and spring semesters like most places, but also had a lovely month in the middle there when students could have internships, travel, or take short classes on campus.
It was January Term.
Jan Term was one of the “deciders” when I chose Westminster (that, and a nice alumni scholarship, as my mom was a ‘73 grad). I spent my first Jan Term reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and taking hikes around the frozen New Wilmington countryside. As a sophomore I spent the month at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM, in a traditional loom weaving class, and following that, I was an intern at the Erie Art Museum.
Which brings me to my senior year.
I was an English major, and not far away, in the city of Youngstown, OH (also the place of my birth), a small literary magazine and printing press was still in operation. One of my professors knew the proprietor from ages back, and I happily signed up to be an intern at The Pig Iron Press.
Run by an aging hippie (I loved, and still love, aging hippies), the Pig was located in a 4-story building downtown, right around the corner from one of Youngstown’s coolest bars. Old Hippie Jim kept the first floor open to customers and operated a copy center, Kinko’s-style, to keep the lights on.
The building was something to behold.
The first floor had copy machines and a kitchen where I tasted natural peanut butter for the first time. The loft on the second floor featured overstuffed couches, a table with ashtrays, and stacks — yes, stacks — of dusty envelopes of poetry and short-story submissions that had been piling up over the years. The third floor had more stacks, an ancient Mac, and several Selectric typewriters.
The fourth floor was where he kept the costumes.
The basement was where we roller-skated.
Jim needed an intern to review submissions and help finish a book he’d been working on for a while, a history of the city titled Young’s Town.
I had a key to the place after my first day. I’d arrive just before 9 am, open up the copy shop, make coffee, and flip through the couple-few used books he had for sale, copies of On the Road and collections by Langston Hughes.
Jim would roll in around 9:30, disappear into the upper floors, and smoke weed. Around noon a few of Youngstown’s colorful residents would appear, usually in costume. They’d descend into the basement for roller-skating and smoking while I made $0.06 copies for folks off the street, most of whom would comment on the heavy smell of pot.
I’d brush it off with an excuse about incense.
We never had many customers in the afternoons, so I’d spend my time reading through the manuscripts (some sent in a decade before) and working at the old Mac, editing what would eventually become the book. Jim and the others would float about in a haze, telling stories and trying on funny hats. When Jim invited me and a friend to attend a local theatre production, I naturally accepted, and our evening of theatre, consulting the I Ching, and smoking weed in Jim’s old car, three abreast in the front seat, did not disappoint.
It was about mid-January when I noticed that Jim had started to stand a little close while I pored over the yellowing sheets of paper.
It was a few days later when he hugged me pretty tight when I was locking up for the night.
And it was the next morning when he came up behind me at the copy machine and rubbed his hand all over my ass, cupping each cheek through my thrift-store corduroys.
I stood at the machine, frozen. I was making copies of manuscripts to take home and read that night, so I needed to wait until the stack was done.
He moved away from me, and I finished out the day, avoiding him as much as possible. I knew he was high — he was always high — and likely lonely. I’d suspected something was going on with the roller-skating girl, but didn’t know for sure.
The Press at the time had a sort of advisory board, a board of directors, made up of local artists and historians, folks in the community who knew the Pig was special and wanted to keep it going.
The president of the board, and I’ll be damned if I remember his name, was a kindly straight-laced fellow, a cool guy who had become a confidant of sorts over the previous few weeks. We’d talk about books, my own writing, and give each other knowing looks when the building smelled more dank than usual.
I considered him a friend, and I told him my story.
He was nonplussed, but also very concerned. He told me that the board would speak to Jim, about this as well as his near-constant weed-smoking.
They did. And I was relieved.
I was also done with my internship. The month was nearly over, and I worked out the last few days, taking care never to be alone with Jim, putting the finishing edits on the book and making copies when needed. I told the story to my professors. Jim’s old friend was sad and disgusted. She felt guilty for setting me up there in the first place. But, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t mine, and it wasn’t the board’s, either.
That didn’t keep me from feeling guilty about it, though. I’d been chummy with Jim — I tend to be chummy with a lot of people, especially old and interesting people. I’d smoked pot with him. I’d sat in the middle when we got high in the front seat of his car. I wasn’t innocent.
It’s taken me years to tell this story. It came to light only this morning when I read an article in the Toronto Star about professors at the University of Western Ontario telling students that internships at Q were “off-limits.”
I, like many NPR-loving Americans, admired Jian Ghomeshi’s radio voice and frank interview style. I’d sent him flattering tweets a time or two and giggled with pleasure when he’d fav and occasionally respond.
I, like many people, sent tweets of support when I heard he’d been fired.
When the full stories emerged, I, like many women, knew that women don’t lie about this stuff. Why would we? What, pray tell, would we have to gain? Money? A brush with “fame?”
As I write this now, I’m thinking about the folks still involved with the Pig Iron Press. They don’t have a website, but they do have a Facebook page, and it looks like it’s still in business. It’s crossed my mind a few times that this might stir things up, reopen old wounds, or hurt a lonely, horny old pothead.
But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write it.
And the same goes for all of us. All of us — all the college girls who have been uncomfortable during a teacher’s evening office hours. All the women in jobs where we have to work hard to convince coworkers that we know what we’re talking about, despite our choice of clothing. All the moms at Target who are afraid to linger in the family planning section. All the church-goers who think the minister’s compliments are a little “off.” All the women whose husbands have hit them with guitars; all the girlfriends who have wanted to jump out of moving pickup trucks.
We have to speak up.
It’s scary as hell, but we have to do it.
The only way it’ll be less scary for our daughters and granddaughters (and who knows, maybe they’ll live in a world where this kind of behavior is as foreign as some Americans believe slavery to be) is if we TALK ABOUT IT.
That’s the first step, at least.
Thanks. I support you. And I’m listening.
This is dedicated to Kathy Sierra, Carla Ciccone, Lucy DeCoutere, Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu, Taylor Swift, the anonymous student at UWO, all my friends, my future friends, my daughter, sister, mom, nieces, and all women everywhere.
This article was originally posted on Medium on November 4, 2014.