Sunde White illustrates her essay about an abusive customer

Recently, a guy came into my shop to look around.  He was an acquaintance.  He’d been in my shop before.  We were talking and everything was fine until we had a minor difference of opinion which ended up getting heated and weird really quickly so I told him, let’s just stop the conversation and move on.  He still pushed on with the conversation anyway so I asked him to leave.

This seems strange, but I have experienced conversations that go haywire before. When I used to waitress and bartend and, every once in a while in my shop or at festivals, this can happen.  It’s like when you’re in customer service you’re a dumping ground for peoples’ big feelings, bad days, subconscious rage, pain or just their general toxicity.  You just have to learn to not get triggered and then try to politely work your way out of the conversation.  It’s when it escalates that you have a problem.

He kept talking.  The hair on my neck raised up. Uh-oh.

Finally, more forcefully, I said, “Okay, please stop.  I don’t want to have this conversation anymore, please leave.”

His face turned red and he stood there staring then stormed out.

I breathed out.

Then, with a swoosh, he was back.


“I just want to let you know how unsafe you make me feel.” He said.

A 5 foot 3 lady sitting behind a little desk in a tiny shop made this man feel unsafe when she set a boundary for him.  Some people have never been told no before and it shows.

My blood officially boiled.  I pointed my finger at him and through clenched teeth I told him “How DARE you say I make you feel unsafe.  Don’t you dare tell me I’m an unsafe person, don’t you dare.  Now get out of my shop, this is the second time I’m asking.”

He planted his feet in the entry way of my shop and again told me how unsafe I was making him feel.

A bolt of rage surged through me.

“Then get out of my shop!”  I told him.

Still he refused.  He continued to stand there, looking shocked and incredulous.

“What’s your problem?”  He wondered to me.

“Please respect my boundaries.  I’ve asked you three times now.  Get out of my shop.”

He continued to stand there, blocking my exit.

“Get out of here!”

I was getting shaky with adrenaline.  It was dusk and had begun to rain.  There weren’t many people walking around outside.

I raised my voice to the register of,  “I don’t fucking care who hears me” and said, “Get the fuck out of my shop, now!  And don’t ever come back!”

After a final stare and a shake of the head he turned on his heel and left.

You know what I’m fucking sick of?  People trying to manipulate others by weaponising terms that exist in order to give a voice to true victims of mistreatment.  Like, the man that walked into my shop TWICE, refused to leave, trapped me in my shop with no exit, felt unsafe around me??  Like, cool story bro.  How about I tell you what an unsafe experience actually is.

Feeling unsafe is being a kid driven around in the middle of a snowy night by an unhinged adult through dark farmlands, miles away from a population center and then getting dropped off in a hay field, wearing a windbreaker and tennis shoes and trying to find my way to safety.

Unsafe is being a bartender in an isolated part of town when a gigantic woman with strong legs like tree trunks walks in as I’m closing.  She tries to pay with stolen cards and then stalls when I ask her to leave.  “I’m getting set up.”  I think to myself and grab the aluminum baseball bat from the office and come out like a psycho, slamming it onto one of the stools, making her run out the front door.  I run behind her to turn the lock behind her and then sprint to the side door to lock that.  I jumped up on a chair to slam the windows shut and lock them.  Like a nightmare, she starts knocking, “I forgot my purse!  I forgot my purse!  I’ll be stranded without my purse! Let me in!”  I bring over a bar stool and climb up on it to peer through the transom at her.  She’s banging on the door and behind her are two men, waiting for me to come out.

Unsafe is being 10, 12, 17 years old and having men show me their wieners on a walking trail, a freeway overpass and a train.

Unsafe is running on an isolated trail in the Marin Headlands when a man appears in the distance, walking quickly towards me, on my side of the trail.  He’s not wearing exercise gear,  just a t- shirt, jeans and boots.  He stops when I bend down and start gathering up large rocks in my shirt.  He calls me a paranoid bitch, turns around and walks away.  I turn around and run the long way on the loop back to my car.

Unsafe is being robbed by a guy when I’m in my apartment.

Unsafe is being a little kid and setting your kitchen on fire one morning while watching cartoons.  I barge into my mom’s room to discover she spent the night at her boyfriend’s house and there were no adults to help me.

Unsafe is surfing and having a guy dangerously drop in on me then threaten me, follow me around the line up, throw water in my face and call me all the words men call women while all the surfers just watch.  He goes in but I stay out an extra hour, chilled to the bone, scared he’s waiting for me on land.

Anyway dude, I think I know what unsafe means and I’m not it.