Before my shift started at the restaurant where I worked, I changed into my chef “whites” as usual in the employee locker room located in the basement. The restaurant was always busy, which translated into a very hot kitchen. Due to all of the running I did in the heat, by the end of my shift I was usually soaked in sweat. I made it a habit to bring clean undergarments to change into before going home.
My sister had just given me a really cute set of cotton underwear with a red and green reindeer print. They were in a pocket on my backpack when I entered the locker room. When I headed upstairs to the kitchen, I assumed they were still there.
In the city where I lived, cooking professionally was dominated by men. Even though I had obtained certification from a recognized culinary school and had studied with some of the best, I had to work twice as hard as the men to get a fraction of the respect they received. To make matters more challenging, the place I where I worked was owned by a restaurateur who believed that women belonged in the dining room with the serving staff, not in the kitchen.
I got the job in the first place because despite the owner’s overall attitude, the executive chef did not mind working with women. Most of the time, I was the only woman in the kitchen, surrounded by a bunch of men that did not think it was right for me to be there. They mildly harassed me on a regular basis, so I went above and beyond the call of duty to give them no reason to fault me in any way.
The day after Christmas, as I was setting up for the lunch crowd, the manager arrived and went straight to his basement office to get the cash drawer for the register. After a few minutes, I heard him coming up the stairs. I looked over just as he turned the corner into the kitchen.
On one arm he was balancing the cash drawer, but in his other hand, held high like a flag on a flagpole, were my reindeer undies.
I stopped in my tracks, feeling the heat rise up my spine and flare across my cheeks.
“Do these belong to anyone?” he yelled across the kitchen into the dining room. “I found them on the floor in the locker room.”
OMG, I thought to myself, they must have fallen out of my pack when I wasn’t looking.
I was about to snatch them out of his hand, but suddenly all the servers, the bartender, and the maintenance man filed in to see what the yelling was about. The manager was waving my cute little panties around like a cheerleader shaking her pompoms. He walked over to where the staff had congregated to give them a closer view. They examined the reindeer print and confirmed they were not the owner's.
I was mortified — so embarrassed I could not even speak.
The manager looked me in the eye accusingly and said, “Are you sure these are not yours?”
I shook my head awkwardly, lying. The underpants had been freshly removed from the packaging so there was nothing shameful about them as far as them being dirty. However, I could not bear the thought of claiming them and thinking that all the guys I worked with might wondering if I was wearing them under my uniform. It felt like an invasion of privacy, even if it was in my imagination. It would also undermine the effort I had put in to maintaining an immaculate employee record.
The manager headed over to a large trash can and announced with a smirk, “If no one claims them, then I will just have to throw them out.”
He gave them a final airborne flourish and, with a flick of the wrist, dropped them into the trash. I had to hold back the tears that were threatening to squeeze out from the corners of my eyes. They were special to me because they were a gift from my sister. Inside my head I was screaming, Nooooooooo, not my Christmas reindeer underwear! I could not believe my boss had made such a big deal of it. Why didn’t he just leave them on the floor? I wondered. I strongly sensed he knew they were mine and was looking for a way to humiliate me.
I consoled myself with the fact I still had a lot of work to do before the lunch hour. I decided to put it out of my mind and deal with the emotions later, but that was easier said than done. As I chopped and sliced, preparing the ingredients for the menu, each time I cleared my cutting board into the trash container, I came face to face with the reindeer print. It seemed the reindeer were staring woefully up at me from the garbage. It wrenched my guts all over again.
As the day went on, they became totally covered with trash. At the end of the shift, the dishwasher tied up the bag and hauled it through the back door. I watched sadly as my Christmas underwear got tossed into the dumpster. When I clocked out for the day, I had to drive away without them, furious with my boss and never admitting to him that they were mine.