‘I need to find the biting point between what’s sexual harassment and what’s legitimate chatting-up’
Illustration: Alan Clarke
I meet Phaedra at the usual pick-up spot on the Upper Glenageary Road. She hops into the van and I tell her she’s looking well this morning. “Not that you don’t always look well,” I go. “Because you actually do. I’m just saying that this morning you look majorly hot. A tan definitely suits you.”
She doesn’t respond at first, then, when we’ve driven for a minute or two, she goes, “Ross, has anyone ever spoken to you about what’s appropriate and inappropriate to say to an employee?”
She’s not an employee; she’s an intern – although it’d be pretty petty of me to point that out to her. Instead, I go, “Am I coming on a bit too strong for you, Phaedra?”
She rolls her eyes and shakes her head. But at the same time she smiles. She’s like, “Look, all these compliments are very flattering. But the first thing you do when I turn up for work every morning is to comment on my appearance. There’s, like, laws about that, Ross. I don’t want to be defined by how I look.”
Then stop looking like Emily Ratajkowski. I say that in my head.
Out loud, I go, “What if I cut the compliments back to every second day – would that work for you?”
She’s like, “Maybe you should cut them out altogether.”
“They tend to slip out Phaedra. I’m a chormer. Ask around.”
She actually laughs this time. She genuinely likes me.
She goes, “Look, you’re not exactly a creepy old man. Like I said, I’m very, very flattered. I’m mean, you’re a really good looking guy.”
“I’m going to accept that compliment without quoting the law to you.”
“All I’m saying is . . .”
“You’re saying I need to find the biting point between what’s sexual harassment and what’s legitimate chatting-up.”
“A lot of married people I know actually storted off that way.”
“Ross . . .”
“Okay, I’m going to give it a go. I’m going to give it a definite go.”
Our first collection this morning is in Ballsbridge. It’s from . . . Actually, I shouldn’t tell you where it’s from. We’re a supposedly confidential document disposal service? I pork the van a discreet distance away from the building. Believe me, these people – you actually know them – do not want to advertise the fact that they use Shred Focking Everything.
We get out and we stort walking towards the building.
“What about your wife?” Phaedra goes.
I’m there, “We have a very much open marriage, if that’s what you’re wondering.”
I hate myself sometimes. But then it tends to pass.
“What I’m wondering,” she goes, “is whether she’s okay with the idea of us working together. She didn’t seem to be a couple of weeks ago. I mean, she followed you to work, Ross, just to check me out. And when she saw what I looked like, she told you to fire me.”
I’m there, “Remember I mentioned that famous chorm of mine? Let’s just say I talked her around.”
I didn’t, by the way. I told her I fired her.
“Well, anyway,” Phaedra goes, “she didn’t seem like a woman who thinks she has an open marriage.”
“Okay,” I go, “let’s wrap up the pleasantries now, Phaedra, and try to focus on work.”
Into the building we go. The client – you know him as well – meets us in reception. The first thing I notice is that he does not look like a happy glamper. His boat race is red and there’s, like, steam practically coming out of his ears. “Where the hell have you been?” he goes, through gritted teeth. “Our appointment was for nine!”
God, I wish I could tell you who it is!
I’m there, “What time is it now?”
He’s like, “It’s quarter past eleven! So much for your ad in the Times. ‘We’ll be there at least an hour before the Criminal Assets Bureau – guaranteed!’ I’ve got the Garda Fraud Squad upstairs, crawling all over my office.”
I’m there, “Dude, I’m sorry, we got delayed. I mean, you don’t have anything to hide, do you?”
He roars at me then. He’s like, “Of course I’ve got something to hide! Why the hell else would I have called Shred Focking Everything?”
That’s when Phaedra takes control of the situation with the kind of initiative that makes me feel almost guilty that I’m not paying her a cent for the privilege of working for me. Mind you, I’m not chorging her either.
“What were we supposed to collect?” she goes.
The dude is like, “Six manila folders full of documents of a highly sensitive nature. They were on my desk. When the gardaí arrived, I panicked and stuffed them into the radiator cabinet – where they’re bound to find them. And then they’ll know that I tried to conceal them from them, which is only going to compound the case against me.”
“I’ll go and get them,” Phaedra goes.
The dude’s there, “How are you going to get into my office? They’ve got it sealed off.”
And what happens next is genuinely like something from a Bond movie. She goes, “I can be very persuasive,” and – I swear to God – she opens a button on her shirt, then trots off in the direction of the elevator-slash-lift.
To say the dude is Scooby Dubious is putting it mildly. He storts going, “Your father said you were one of Ireland’s best young entrepreneurs. Part of the reason why this country is on the up-and-up again. They were his exact words.”
I’m there, “Dude, just be patient. Let’s see what my, em, colleague can do.”
We stand there staring at the elevator-slash-lift for a good 10 minutes, neither of us saying anything, until the dude goes, “She’s going to come out of that lift now in handcuffs – you watch.”
And that’s when we hear a “ding” and the doors suddenly open and out strides Phaedra, not in handcuffs, but carrying – as casual as you like – six manila folders, bursting at the seams with incriminating evidence.
I should have taken a photograph of the dude’s face to use in our next ad.
On the way back to the van, I go, “Phaedra, I know we agreed that I’d possibly try to tone down the chorm a bit, but can I pay you an actual compliment?”
She’s there, “Does it constitute sexual harassment?”
“You’ll have to be the judge of that,” I go. “I was just going to say I think I’ve fallen in love with you.”