When I first met him, he called me Shorty. I had red hair then, but when I went blonde about two months in, I became Blondie. I am almost one hundred percent sure he never used my real name.
It was a marketing meeting, which I had implemented monthly with the department managers of the nonprofit grocery store they ran and trained our recovering addicts in. That’s when we were introduced, about a week into my new position. He towered over me, an extremely fit man with arms the size of my legs.
“Hello, Shorty.” His Polish accent was thick. I smiled and shook his hand. Having led teams before, I was sure his refusal to use my name was a test to find out where my boundaries were. His crystal blue eyes studied me as our hands bounced up and down almost in slow motion. After about a minute of this, he let out a surprised, “huh.”
“Nice to meet you,” He pulled a chair out from the conference table and held his hand above it, signalling he’d pulled it out for me.
“Thanks. You too.” I smiled again as I smoothed my skirt under me and sat down. For the next half hour, I led the marketing meeting facing this beefy Polish butcher who studied me, visibly unsettled by my lack of concern for the way he had addressed me. When the meeting was over, I bolted back to my office to make another appointment I’d had, but it wasn’t two minutes before my phone was ringing from the Grocery store offices.
“Courtney speaking.” I put the headset to my ear.
“Hello Shorty.” The Polishness oozed out of my phone.
“Hey! What’s up?”
“Are you Irish?” You could crack your head on his ‘r’s if you weren’t careful.
“What?” I blinked.
“Are you Irish?”
“No.” I shrugged as I replied.
“Okay. I sent you an email.” Click. I held the earpiece out in front of me and squinted, as though the phone might explain to me what had just occurred. Alas, it did not and I hung it up just as an email notification popped up on my computer monitor.
It was from the butcher.
Hello Shorty, An Englishman, a Scotsman and an Irishman each order a Guiness in a pub. Upon being served, each finds a fly in their beer. Repulsed, the Englishman sends his back. The Scotsman gently flicks the fly out of his mug and begins drinking. The Irishman, carefully lifts the fly up by its wings and screams, "Spit it out! Spit it out!" It is only a joke.
I read it twice before I howled to myself in my office. The funniest part was his last line, it is only a joke. Before I could call the butcher back though, my appointment arrived and I quickly got caught up in other business. It wasn’t until sometime after lunch, when I had to meet with someone on the grocery store floor, that I saw the butcher again.
“Thanks for the joke,” I said with a smile.
“You liked it?” He took a step back. “I was worried you might be offended.”
That’s when I said it. The words that became the defining words for our relationship. The words that steered us in a direction that no sides would emerge from unsplit. One full year of the most derogatory, insensitive, vulgar and horrific humour you could possibly imagine lay on my horizon and it was all because I said,
“Nah, don’t worry. I don’t easily get offended.”
I don’t easily get offended. It was true. I had decided long ago that being offended was a waste of my valuable time and energy, both of which were finite. Sure, my husband could offend me. Maybe my mom or dad could, but I couldn’t give two flying fucks what my coworkers threw at me and the butcher would throw more junk at me than Harris in Major League. My large, Polish friend took this as a challenge. He took it as a challenge and lost miserably.
“Hey, Blondie!” He yelled at me from across the produce section one morning. “Blondie!”
We made our way towards each other. When we were close enough, he leaned in and whispered,
“Did you hear what the cannibal did after he dumped his girlfriend?”
“No.” I was already trying not to laugh.
“He wiped his ass!” He tapped my arm with his elbow and studied me, waiting for me to be offended. I looked him straight in the eye and smiled.
“Nice try, though.” I called as I walked away.
Another day, he walked into the lunchroom while I was eating my lunch. Skillfully waiting until I had a mouthful, he asked,
“What’s the difference between a joke and two cocks?”
I shrugged, not wanting to talk with my mouth full.
“You can’t take a joke.”
I laughed so hard I choked and the look of disbelief on his face as he handed me a glass of water only made me laugh harder.
“I thought for sure double penetration would be your line.” He mumbled as he wandered out of the room, defeated.
Every day, I got at least a dozen pieces of email from the butcher filled with offensive jokes. When I saw him across the store, he would make obscene gestures like pushing his tongue against the inside of his cheek like he was giving a blowjob to an invisible boner. He’d stand behind old ladies, making sure I could see, and pretend to smack their asses. He’d lurk behind our boss and flip him the bird or waddle behind the vice-president nobody liked. He asked me vulgar questions like did I spit or swallow; he’d send people who came to meet with me looking for the “blonde girl with the big tits”.
He tried hard to offend me, I have to give it to him, but I just laughed. It was not uncommon to see me doubled over with laughter by myself, while he was across the store acting innocent.
It wasn’t long before we became inseparable. I couldn’t go an hour without hearing, “Hey, Blondie!”. He was always worth a lot of laughs and my days were guaranteed to be good and low-stress when he was around. In an addiction recovery nonprofit, finding ways to relieve stress was important. It also meant we went through a lot of the same stresses and dealt with a lot of the same issues.
We talked as much as we laughed, and I began to admire him for the respect he commanded from his students. They didn’t just listen to him and learn from him. They loved this Polish butcher just as much as I was growing to. While his jokes were vulgar and over the top, his heart was pure gold.
We lost Mike together, one of the recovering addicts who worked in the meat shop and laughed with us. He relapsed and overdosed. We lost Cole together, one of the bakery students who left the recovery program and was murdered days later.
While most of our days were full of side-splitting laughter, we had our bullshit. We had a lot of bullshit, and when we had a bullshit day, he’d take me out in his GMC Yukon while he chain-smoked and called people cocksuckers in his thick Eastern European accent. Then he’d spritz himself with Drakkar Noir, and we’d head back into the shit show.
One morning, I walked into the meat shop to collect sale prices for the weekly flier. I greeted the butcher and his recovering students.
“Hey Blondie, watch this.” The twinkle in his eye was getting familiar. I knew I was going to be tested again. He pulled a whole chicken out of the back, and set it on the table, pulling the legs apart to open the cavity.
“What’s that look like to you?” He asked, snickering.
“A chicken.” I looked him right in the eye, and kept a straight face.
He pulled out dried herbs and began to sprinkle them around the cavity opening.
“How about now, girl?”
“A hairy chicken.” He chuckled at my response and grabbed a pork bone with a rounded tip. Slowly inserting it into the chicken’s cavity, he turned back to look at me and I’d already doubled over clutching my sides. I had to steady myself on the counter, I was laughing so hard. It wasn’t so much that the chicken/ham combo resembled 70s porn at this point, it was the fact that a grown man, ten years my senior had gone to the trouble of making sex organs out of meat to try and offend me. My muscles ached from laughing so hard.
“I see it now. Oh my god.”
“Cheap pussy, Blondie. Cheap like borscht!”
My knees hit the floor as tears poured from my eyes. I couldn’t breathe after that one and from the looks of it, neither could any of the students in the room.
When I left the organization, this giant Polish butcher bear-hugged me with tears in his eyes. Partly because he didn’t want to see me go, but also, I think, partly because he lost the challenge. He never managed to offend me.
“Oy, oy, oy. I will miss you, Blondie.” He said. Breathing in his signature cheap cologne and stale smoke scent, I told him I’d miss him, too, and I still do.