January 1st- my brother calls to tell me that my father has been admitted to the ICU with pneumonia in both lungs.
January 3rd– my father gets a breathing tube.
January 6th– breathing tube is removed and everyone marvels at his turn around. Pneumonia seems to be responding to treatment. He remains in ICU for observation.
January 7th– while at work at the tattoo shop I get a text from a former Ristretto Roasters employee whose partner is a current RR employee. The text is a link to a Youtube channel, asking if I have seen said channel. Hours later, I get home and remember the text- I open the link and up pops a channel titled #meneither.
I notice two things immediately: first the name is clearly meant to provoke, and in my opinion, is in poor taste, considering its obvious link to #metoo. Secondly, featured in the video is my former boss, Nancy Rommelmann. The Youtube channel has three videos in which Rommelmann and her co-host discuss the validity of sexual assault survivors’ stories. They question whether or not what someone experienced is “actually rape,” they blame someone’s suicide on their former partner’s infidelity, they suggest trauma is a personal choice, and that some people’s experience of unwanted sex is just “bad sex” that they should “get over.”
During my five years as an employee of Ristretto Roasters I regarded Rommelmann as my boss. Not only was she present at all important business meetings, she made decisions that impacted the daily operations of Ristretto, like when we changed pastry providers at her request. I received my first business email from her in July of 2013, and my last one in October of 2018.
Because Nancy Rommelmann was extremely involved in the operations of Ristretto, I found it disturbing that she would be promoting these ideas on her public Youtube channel. As both someone who directly managed staff for my whole time at Ristretto (and all throughout my 13 year coffee career) and someone who finds it important to be an informed consumer, I think the values one keeps are important. It informs how you lead a team, how you treat employees, how you vote, and how you spend your money.
During my time in the Portland coffee community I have been privy to the poor and abusive behavior that many employers engage in behind the scenes. Behavior that is sexist, racist, and, in my opinion, has no place in a work environment. In order to express my disapproval I choose not to patronize certain coffee shops. That is my personal choice and right. I am thankful for information sharing so that I may be an educated consumer.
So I saw it as my duty to the general public, the coffee community, and the upset staff members who had brought the matter to my attention in the first place, to more widely circulate the existence of the #meneither channel. This channel was posted about publicly on Rommelmann’s personal social media profile, so it wasn’t meant to be private.
I took a screenshot of the Youtube page and posted about it on my Instagram stories. Within seconds of posting about the #meneither videos, people started responding and getting in touch with me- many of them former and current RR employees. The general reaction was of shock and dismay.
January 8th– I hear from more people regarding the #meneither channel. They have watched the videos and are upset and angered. People start to denounce the company on their own social media accounts because they do not wish to support a business whose part owner espouses such anti-feminist ideas. These ideas throw into question the safety of Ristretto as an employer. To have one of the owners publicly question survivors could suggest that should RR employees face sexual harassment on the clock, their stories might not be taken seriously.
At this point dozens of Ristretto employees have reached out to me to share their disapproval of the view points that Rommelmann shares in her videos. Many people want to speak out but are scared of retribution, since their ability to pay bills and remain financially solvent is partially in the hands of Rommelmann. The reason people are reaching out to me in particular is because I was the first to denounce #meneither on social media and because I have a track record of advocacy on behalf of RR employees and their right to a safe working environment.
Many suggest making videos more widely known by contacting local media outlets. I decide to pen an open letter on behalf of RR staff, current and former, condemning Rommelmann’s views and making it known that RR staff doesn’t share her views. I write an email to people who have already reached out to me in anger and ask if anyone would like to sign onto the letter I am writing. I do not solicit signatures from anyone I hadn’t already discussed videos with.
January 9th– It is discovered that my father has a fungal infection in his lungs and needs to stay in the ICU longer than expected.
I get contacted by a new employer who had hired me to help with her independent business. Ristretto is one of her accounts and over the phone she explains that because I had slandered Ristretto she could no longer bring me on as an employee. Evidently, in legal paperwork I had never seen and had yet to sign, there was a clause stating that as her employee I wouldn’t slander any of her clients. This was a person with whom I had worked closely for years, always keeping a respectful and supportive business relationship. Her call and her declaration was hurtful and surprising, because rather than holding Rommelmann accountable for her Youtube channel to which people were reacting, she was punishing me for speaking out against problematic views. Furthermore, sharing true information about a public Youtube channel, which Nancy herself was promoting, is not slander. I didn’t make anything up, and any statements I made regarding the content of the videos was a matter of personal opinion.
On my way to the gym in the afternoon I call my father at the hospital and urge him to try to get rest. He is agitated and disoriented. I don’t know it, but that will be the last time we ever speak.
That night I finalize edits on the open letter and at this point 30 people have agreed to sign off, with employees not included in first email reaching out to me asking to have their names included. I get in touch with various local news papers.
January 10th- Ristretto Roasters, for the first time, makes a public statement on their Instagram account distancing themselves from Rommelmann by stating that she is in no way involved with RR or the running of the company. This is a complete and utter lie. From my first day in 2013 to my last day in 2018 she played a huge role in running the company. She made business decisions, she gave raises, she sent company wide emails, was present at company functions, signed checks, made bank deposits. In subsequent new stories she is referred to as “the owner’s wife” which is not only an unfitting title, it is insulting to her. I will not refer to her as “the owner’s wife.” I will call her what she has been, at least for the five years I worked with the company- part owner of Ristretto Roasters, if not on paper officially, very much in practice. Her role in the company can be backed up by dozens of employees who regarded her as their boss, and by literally hundreds of emails I have from her.
I hear back from several media outlets, get interviewed, share the public letter.
Later that night it is discovered that my father has internal bleeding. In order to figure out where it is coming from he is put under sedation, breathing tube is reinserted. The night ends with no clarity around his health.
January 11th– I get interviewed by Yahoo news. The story gets published and my social media handle gets shared in the article.
I leave my house that afternoon to get coffee. While driving I get rear-ended. I do not have my phone on me, so the woman who rear-ends me, after accepting full responsibility, texts me a picture of all her insurance information. After the week I had I am pretty exhausted so I don’t have the wherewithal to write down her license plate number or, unfortunately, even her name.
I drive home and as I enter my house I hear my phone ringing. I run to pick it up and hear my brother on the other line explaining to me that our father is entering the final stage of his life. I need to get home as soon as possible. The bleeding is coming from his carotid artery and there is no way to stop it. He is placed on life support as all curative measures have been exhausted.
An hour later my social media accounts begin to be bombarded by troll accounts calling me all sorts of creative things, such as “unemployed idiot,” “SJW,” which I don’t understand as an insult, and nazi, which hilariously enough, makes absolutely no sense.
January 12th- I catch a redeye to New York City.
January 13th– I arrive at the ICU at UVM Medical Center in Burlington Vermont at 5:30pm. I sit silently with my father as he breathes with the help of machines. He is under sedation but I know he knows I am there. I hold his hand. My brother and I speak with the doctors and decide it is time to remove him from life support.
We are in the room when, 10 minutes later, he breathes his last breath and passes from this world into the next.
January 19th– I fly home to Portland and do my best to settle back into my life. My car is still in disrepair. The woman who was at fault had at some point stopped returning my calls, and through some evil trickery of my phone, her insurance information had been deleted. With the help of my insurance company I did some weird reverse engineering facebook/internet stalking and managed to find her name and figure out who she had insurance with. A ridiculous nuisance, which was just that, but added even more to my plate.
January 28th– I hear from a friend that Rommelmann and her co-host disparage me in their latest #meneither video. Its pretty hard to understand how they think any backlash directed at Rommelmann or the business she is closely affiliated with is in any way my responsibility. They clearly have no faith in the public’s ability to come to their own conclusions after watching the videos they themselves promote.
In the video they call me “C,” a sad attempt to, what, obscure my identity? Everyone knows who they are talking about at this point- my name was all over the news and I was heavily quoted. Her co-host implies that she would like to call me cunt instead (“another C word”). For those of you who are journalists, a fact: I am a lesbian and am not offended by the word cunt or the existence of cunts, and I can’t believe people still think of cunt as an insult. Then Rommelmann goes on to talk about my father’s health and cancer diagnosis, of which she knows nothing about, invents that I took off six weeks of work to tend to his health- I didn’t, it was 10 days total, and over three years ago in a situation that was unrelated to his cancer diagnosis, and she talks about my salary. She draws parallels to her life, in which she too is dealing with a terminally ill person who is near and dear to her. Her analysis here is weak, in stating that because I was aware of the declining health of the person in her life, I was somehow in the wrong for making the channel she herself made public, more, well, public.
Let me make this crystal clear: Nancy Rommelmann made a Youtube channel titled #meneither. You can go watch the public videos on the public channel and make up your own opinion on her and her co-hosts view points. I, in fact, did this myself- cause I am pretty sure thats what the videos are there for: to illicit reaction. I watched the videos, I deeply disagreed with their statements and poorly articulated arguments, I know Rommelmann on a professional basis, I spoke about this publicly on my own social media account. Other people watched the videos, and did the same thing. In what became a weird mini media storm about this I have seen many people suggest that “Portland feminists” tried to “silence” the wife of the owner of a company, and then incorrectly try to bring “his” business down. Make no mistake: regardless of whatever paperwork they try to produce stating otherwise, Rommelmann played a huge role in RR. To boycott RR is to, by extension boycott her and her values. That this has anything to do with me and what is going on in either of our personal lives, well, it just holds no water. And might I remind you, while Rommelmann was busy trying to blame me for the backlash, I was actually dealing with the death of my father.
Furthermore, in Rommelmann’s plea that she be treated with care she reminds her viewers that we are dealing with people here who have real lives with real pain. Right- like the very people whose sexual assault claims she questions?
At the end of Rommelmann’s analysis of the situation, her classy co-host calls me a crumb bitch- still trying to figure out what that one means.
January 29th– For reasons that will probably never make sense, weeks after my first social media post regarding #meneither, Rommelmann decides to take to Ristretto Roaster’s twitter account and slander me, using my full first name. No clever use of “C” this time. Instead she quotes from my blog, says I am a “little lady” grinding my ax, makes fun of my halloween costume from last year (which is such a sadly low blow), belittles me for attending Smith College, speaks about my family’s socioeconomic status which she knows literally nothing about, shares quotes from a private email exchange I had with her about a business idea (cause, you see, she helps run the business…) and states that I was going to be fired four days after I quit.
Can we please just go ahead and say that anything negative that happens to Ristretto’s business, from here on out, is so clearly not on me?
In a statement to a local newspaper which published the twitter rant, (rant was deleted from the RR account promptly, but not before people got screenshots) Rommelmann, who just a few weeks prior claimed to have no professional affiliation with RR, admits to being the one who slandered me on Ristretto Roaster’s public twitter account.
I will never, ever, apologize or accept responsibility for Nancy Rommelmann’s poor behavior and her choice to publicly share view points that could potentially engender a dangerous environment for survivors of sexual assault. Especially within the work environment of a company Rommelmann helps run. I do not believe myself to be anywhere near powerful enough to stop anyone from supporting a business, let alone bring down an entire company. I simply shared my opinion on a public video and shared the truth of how it is linked with a public facing company. From there, people were left to make up their own minds. To blame me is not only ridiculous, it implies a lack of free will from the general public, like I am some how orchestrating people’s opinions and their subsequent behavior.
Although touting the First Amendment as a means to defend Rommelmann is oh-so-tempting for dudes on the internet who to refer to me as an unemployed idiot and question the validity of protesting within the capitalist structure they adore, this is not about Rommelmann’s right to free speech. Rommelmann can say anything she wants. Seriously. And she has (see: Twitter Rant). And then, the cool thing about free speech, is that everyone has it. So because listening, using your brain, and forming your own opinion is also free and presumably protected by the constitution, lots and lots of people exercised their own free will and right to the first amendment to say either out loud, on the internet, or to their friends, that they disagree with Rommelmann’s views as shared by her on her #meneither Youtube channel. The leap from there to not patronizing a business she is closely linked with and benefits from is really not such a stretch. People have the right to make that choice. To boycott her business doesn’t “shut her up,” as some people imply is happening. She continues to say what she wants, how she wants.
Participating in a capitalist system that is meant to keep people down is not my first choice. But when you are left with very little recourse, you use the tools available to you. We are living within a structure that champions white supremacy, endangers queer and trans bodies, questions women and survivors at every turn, and protects people with money. We can argue both “sides” of a situation until we are blue in the face, but unfortunately, we don’t get results fast enough, or often not at all. And within this broken system, sometimes the only thing people feel, the only way they hear our calls for equality, is through their wallets. So its pretty simple- that is what is happening here.
Regarding all the other drivel in her twitter rant- I see no need to defend myself against her.
It has always been incredibly hard for me to be vulnerable. Blame it on my Aquarian moon, but being forthcoming about my feelings and my needs hasn’t always been my forte. This isn’t to say that I am cold and can’t hold space for the feelings of others; its more that I have a hard time letting others in.
One of the really special things a troll said to me is that I am a selfish brat who is only concerned with myself, while my father is dying of cancer, and that I deserve all the hardship coming my way.
I thought about how to write this story without including my father, and how to write about my father’s death without including the Ristretto situation. This isn’t because I am inclined to give weight to what some idiot with a fake profile says on the internet, but because this comment in some way spoke to my inclination to hide myself, hide my vulnerability.
But you see, it is actually impossible for me to extricate the RR occurrence with my father’s steady decline in health and his subsequent death- at least the portion that happened concurrently. Although the two situations are seemingly unrelated (nothing in life is unrelated though), dealing with personal hardship through this more public situation informed my behavior. It put things in perspective and reminded me that I have a responsibility to move forward with integrity, honesty, and clarity.
I initially set out to write this blog post about my time with Ristretto Roasters. I got ready for a gloves off play-by-play account of what I felt was a pattern of mistreatment and disrespect during my time with the company. I wrote and wrote and wrote and created something devastating, extensive, and true. But also- something very angry, and motivated by aggression.
I sat and looked at what I had written, hit “select all,” “cut,” and pasted it to an email I sent only myself.
If my father hadn’t died between one half of this media circus and the next, my understanding of this situation would have been severely skewed, entangling my sense of self worth with internet commentary about my “character.” During the first week of this very public discussion, my whole body vibrated with anxiety. This anxiety vibration started from the second I watched the first #meneither video, coming from a place of sadness, pain and anger; it felt like a rush propelling me forward and informing my every move. I lost sleep, was attached to my phone, scrolling and reloading for hours on end. It truly exhausted me, and the moment my body was pushed forward by the impact of my car being hit, it was like a weird universal smack down literally tell me to STOP. Stop, move on, because your life is about to change drastically. You are about to enter a stage of grief, grief you have never known before, the status of fatherlessness, of suddenly understanding the reality so many of my friends know, what so many people close to me have gone through.
When I got news that my father was close to his death, I had a choice to be forthcoming, and by extension vulnerable, about it publicly. I had been deeply engaged in internet discourse for the better part of a week, and now I could no longer continue talking about Ristretto or Rommelmann or anything else in the world that matters so much less than love, loss, and family, chosen or biological. It was time for me to put it down and face grief.
So I said to my community, who had been giving me so much beautiful support as it was already, hey- this is me and I am at the precipice of something really really hard. I said this out loud, I wrote it down on a screen, I trusted my emotional needs to those who I knew well, those who I had never met but were sending me support via internet waves, those who I knew only tangentially.
And what I got back in return was such a deep form of love, dense and forgiving, asking nothing of me and only holding me and bearing witness. So, thank you for that. It was a good reminder, and in so many ways a new lesson, that there is basic goodness in the world and that sometimes asking for what you need, or even just stating it by living and persevering, leads you down a really strange and round about path at the end of which you get what you didn’t even know you needed.
January 2019 was a crash course in vulnerability for me, and I am eternally grateful for every moment that has unfolded, and grateful to myself for being able to stay as present as possible for it all. What I want to focus on now is where I go from here and how I use my own vulnerability to act from a place of integrity. Where do we, as a society, move from here- this volatile and deeply sad time in our history- how do we evolve through the dissonance of personal belief systems? How we communicate and work together has always been of fascination to me and I am drawn to spaces and work that calls for digging into the challenge.
This is my work and I vow to devote myself to this discourse with continued honesty, humanity, and you guessed it- vulnerability.