“Is that a camera phone in your back pocket?” Asked my coworker Guido in the storage room at Alpson’s family restaurant. He’d startled me a bit, as he was sitting in the dim room when I had entered to get a hairnet. I’d walked right by him without noticing.
Automatically I pulled my blue Motorola flip phone, with a built in camera, out of my back pocket. It was my pride and joy. Everyone at school was impressed by it. I smiled brightly, “it sure is!”
“I have one too,” said Guido, reaching into his chef’s pants’ pocket. He showed me his Nokia phone and asked, “what’s your number?”
Guido was about double my age, putting him at a solid 30 years old, at least. He was the definition of a gross, greasy, Bridgewood dude, with a skeezy pearly white smile, frosted silver spikes atop his head and a fake orange tan. He had the shmooze of a car salesman when he spoke. At the time none of this really stood out to me though. It was my first job, and I was just getting to know all kinds of different people.
Even if I hadn’t wanted to give him my number, I wouldn’t have known how to refuse. Luckily, that didn’t even occur to me. He just opened up his address book and handed me the phone. I didn’t think twice about it. In fact, I thought it was kind of cool to exchange cellphone numbers with a coworker. To have someone outside of my family in my new digital address book. Most of my friends didn’t even have cellphones yet. I never really expected anything to come of it.
He texted me about half an hour after my shift ended. It was close to midnight, and I was getting ready for bed. It felt weird, almost intrusive, to have someone from Alpson’s contact me. It felt almost like he was within the walls of my bedroom. I figured this was what adults did. I texted him back. I hoped that would be the end of it. I couldn’t figure out what we could possibly text about.
His grammar was atrocious. He paid no attention to rules of punctuation or spelling. He asked what I was doing. I told him not much, and I asked him the same question back. Then he asked what I was wearing. What the hell? But still, not knowing where this was going, I told him. Sweat pants and a t-shirt. I was really that naive.
Then something weird happened. I received a generic text message that appeared to have been sent automatically from some sort of server. It told me that my phone was incompatible with the picture message that Guido had sent me. Instead, the text gave me a link to a website with an access code provided. I was intrigued. What kind of picture could Guido be trying to send me?
Keep in mind, that this was all happening at the forefront of the communicative revolution. This was back when cellphones were stupid and websites were only accessible through big bulky computers in the family study. I slipped out of my room and quietly went downstairs to fire up our PC. I carefully typed the long URL and then entered the password, a few times, because I was never good at copying numbers.
I’m not sure what I was expecting. In fact, I think I was so perplexed by this unprecedented interaction that I hadn’t even tried to predict what would happen next. Only years of disappointing mobile communications with men in the impending future could have prepared me for it. Now it’s all too common an occurrence, but back then I think Guido was somewhat of a pioneer. In the worst possible way.
At first, I couldn’t even make out what the picture was. It was a grainy and pixelated image no larger than the screens of old cellphones. It was dark. I squinted, staring hard. I stared at the screen long enough to realize that my eyes were fixated on a tiny, dark, nearly distorted picture of male genitalia! One of the first dick pics ever sent.
My eyes widened and my jaw dropped nearly to the floor. That’s when I heard my father’s footsteps in the hallway. I started to panic. Oh my god. Oh my god. I had a picture of a dick open on the family computer! This was the worst thing I had ever done! I’d never even seen one in real life! I frantically exited the browser and cleared the browsing history as quickly as possible and scrambled up the stairs back to the sanctity of my bedroom.
I couldn’t even look at my cellphone. I felt sick to my stomach. Disgusted. Humiliated. Why on earth would he send me that?! For what purpose!? I still can’t explain it.
The worst part was the shame. For weeks, I rattled off the list of things I had done wrong in that situation. I shouldn’t have entered the stockroom when he was in there alone. I shouldn’t have had my cellphone in my back pocket. I shouldn’t have shown it to him. I shouldn’t have given him my number. I shouldn’t have texted him back. I shouldn’t have opened that link. I shouldn’t have unwittingly, somehow flirted with him, which obviously led him to believe I wanted him to send me that disgusting picture.
Keep in mind, that this was all happening in 2004, which feels like the dark ages compared to now. Not only the technology was outdated, but so was the evaluation of these types of situations. The shame and self-blame I inflicted upon myself seemed so innate. Automatic. And while, unfortunately, some people are trying to keep these ideas alive today, the majority of the population has moved away from that school of thought.
The guilt I experienced at 15 years old, was not my own to bear, it was a result of adult who chose to behave inappropriately. I’m so glad society is finally moving toward eradicating this backwards mentality. Awareness, communication and sharing of these stories no matter how big or small helps to create a new generations of not-so-naïve 15 year olds who can easily avoid these experiences. Back then, I had nothing to go on.
But I did nothing wrong.
As for Guido, I never did manage to find a way to respond to him. At work, I avoided him at all costs. A few weeks later his tall, blond, bronzed wife showed up at work. I felt overwhelmingly bad for her. I figured she didn’t even know what kind of person her husband was.