Discover more from SBJournal
The Master Freight Agreement - 1976
Sex, Guts, and Freight Yards
I cut last period, “High School Driver’s Education” with Mr. Burns. Burns wouldn’t understand that the revolution was not going to wait for his stop-signal exam.
I grabbed the RTD bus down to South Central and showed up at Gateway Freight yard right before the start of swing shift, as promised.
I changed my clothes too— I looked like a Teamster girl in tight flares and a t-shirt, standing in those mile-high platforms.
Stan pulled into the parking lot in his Valiant. Temma told me he’d dodged the draft in Canada, married and divorced, and lived underground for five years before he popped up and started running the Seattle branch of our little insurgence.
He handed me a pile of flyers and told me to go to one end of the employee’s parking lot while he took the other. “Yes, I’ve done this before.” He was as brusque at Mr. Burns.
The leaflets were an invitation to a meeting of rank and filers that we called “Teamsters for a Decent Contract.” — people getting together to talk about the upcoming contract and what people thought was going to go down. Not about socialism—the red-baiting was already incessant— just the state of this corrupt union and shitty job.
The freight companies at that time were so deep in bed with the ILWB leadership there wasn’t a ray of daylight. Everyone knew it. You had to start somewhere. The expiration of the Master Freight Agreement was a good place to begin— it covered every over-the-road driver in North America.
“Temma said you know how to talk to people,” Stan said.
I was chipper. “Yeah, it’ll be fine,” I smiled at him like a Girl Scout. “I’m a regular ‘Teamster girlfriend,’ according to Sister Temma.”
“Are you?” he said, looking at me in the face for the first time.
“Yeah, I’m sorry; what’s your excuse for being here?” I said, not wanting to go where he was leading.
“Maybe I’ll be a Teamster boyfriend.” He flipped his wrists.
That cracked me up. It was going to be okay. Maybe he wasn’t such a snob after all.
We walked to opposite corners. The parking lot was enormous; there must’ve been more than a hundred cars. No one had come out of work yet. I talked to some taco truck guys who were packing up. They liked my leaflet. I had written, typed, laid out, and printed this thing on the mimeo machine— it didn’t look half-bad. I put a cartoon I liked at the top, of Frank Fitzsimmons and Nixon having a toast together in bed, with their feet hanging out of the sheet bottoms.
I went up to each vehicle and tucked a flyer inside the windshield wiper. I got a rhythm going with that song, “Love Rollercoaster,” The Ohio Players, singing to myself:
Love Roller-coaster, Child
Why don’t you ride?
Something hard punched me in the lower back. —Like a brick. I fell, sprawling onto my hands and knees in the dirt. I couldn’t breathe; it hurt so bad.
I pushed up off my belly, my hands on fire, like the gravel had been shot into them. A squat muscular guy with a worse grin than a junkyard dog stood above me, a wrench in his hand. I’d been smacked before, but neither my mother nor the nuns ever smiled at me while they were doing it.
“What’s this crap you’re sellin’, girlie?— This is private property. You better get your can out of here.”
He grabbed the goldenrod flyers in my satchel hanging from my shoulder. I scrambled to stand up, spilling most of them onto the ground. Blood was dripping on everything, but I didn’t know where it was coming from. I couldn’t feel anything.
The wind picked the flyers up and started sailing them over the cars. I wished I could sail away too. My mind was leaving the premises. I missed Driver’s Ed for this.
My palms, that’s where most of the blood was coming from, like stigmata. The pitbull-man held up his wrench again.
“Now look what you’ve done!” he shouted, like he was personally offended. “You little whore, you’re gonna clean up this fucking lot before I stick my foot up your ass—”
We both heard a loud click and he shut right up.
It was Stan —in front of me, between me and the man. Instead of just his blue work shirt, Stan was wearing a blue work shirt with a holster. He was holding something, too.
He said two things. To the man: “Don’t talk to the young woman like that— we’re leaving now.”
And to me: “Get in the car.” He threw me his keys. I caught them without a bounce.
I don’t know what else he said. I ran with the keys— ran, ran, ran, like The Gingerbread Man— to Stan’s white Valiant, climbed into the back seat, locked the doors, and threw his old-dude basketball sweats over my head. I wanted to crawl in the trunk. It was ninety degrees but I didn’t crack the window. I was freezing, shaking; my clothes were soaked rags. I’d never had a man look at me like that, like he was going to enjoy hurting me. He was a head shorter than me— even if he was twice as wide— and he’d made me pee in my pants.
“Sue!” I could hear Stan jogging up to the car. I lifted my head up to peek out the window. He didn’t look hurt.
I unlocked the door and handed him his keys. He took my one of my cut-up hands in his. “Are you okay?”
I burst into tears. Kindness, that’s when I fall apart. “Who was that?” I sobbed through my snot. “Was he from the company, or the union? What did you do?”
“Hold on . . .” Stan got in the driver’s seat, started up the engine, and peeled out. “I’m taking you home; this was bullshit. You never should’ve been here.”
I cried harder. What did that mean? I’d failed at my assignment, because I didn’t kick that bastard in the nuts? I was frozen? I was useless?— wasn’t good enough to pass out a fucking flyer?
Stan pulled into the circle driveway in front his duplex and parked at the door. “Don’t move,” he said.
He came around to the back seat door and opened it up, crouching down so he could look me in the eye.
“I’m sorry, I’m okay, I can get out,” I said, ready for another defense. But when I glanced down at my chest, I saw my shirt was ripped open too. Who did that? I gulped air again.
Stan bent his neck down and put his arms around me; “Hold on,” he said. He coaxed me out of the car— and once he got me to my feet he picked me up like a new bride— a bride who couldn’t stop sobbing— and carried me through the front door.
He laid me down on the white sofa and went to get one of his extra work shirts to change into. I heard him take off the .45 and the holster. No more clicks. He came back with a bottle of Povidine, the shirt, and a steaming wet towel.
I had some bloody scratches on me, plus snot and sweat— not as bad as it seemed. The warm towel felt good.
“What do you drink?” Stan said. I could hear him opening his kitchen cupboards.
“Yeah, right,” he said, and came back with two jam jar glasses and a bottle of Jack Daniels. “Drink up,” he said, handing me the glass like it was medicine.
I took a sip. Worse than medicine! It was as bad as Nyquil.
I gagged, and he laughed.
“Don’t laugh at me; this is horrible.”
“The horrible part is over— we’re lucky to be alive. You’re going to be okay, baby.”
“You think I shouldn’t have been there,” I said, “because I can’t handle it, because I’m not part of the new macho Teamster campaign and I don’t have a six-shooter to wave around, like I’m some freak girlfriend diaper baby.”
The Jack was giving me something to talk about.
Stan said no. He said it was his fault. He said Ambrose and Geri and Joe and Michael all thought the world of me; he said he’d been a shit.
He tucked me in, found more blankets and a couple of pillows. I slipped on his big shirt and kicked off my pants. I passed out on his sofa like it was the middle of the night.
I woke up with a start; I had to pee. Had it been hours or minutes? The streetlights poured in through Stan’s broken bamboo blinds. I could see a blue clock in the corner that Ambrose had donated to our new branch organizer’s furnishings. 3 AM. It’d been twelve hours since we were in that parking lot.
Stan’s apartment was two bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen. One bedroom was the production room, with the mimeo, ditto machines, and paper supply. I crept into the bathroom next to I thought about my warm waterbed back at my dad’s house, and my fluffy cat Tuli making her nest in the middle of my quilts.
Stan appeared at the doorway.
“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to wake you up,” I whispered, from the toilet.
“I’m not asleep,” he said, “You say ‘sorry’ too much. I’ve been awake the whole time.”
“Why?” I grabbed one of his white duck hand-towels and wiped my face, getting a glimpse in the medicine cabinet mirror.
He stepped behind me and looked into my reflection. Blue eyes, drooping lids. He braced his arms on the sink’s edge. I in the middle between the fixture and his chest. If I moved one inch I’d be in his arms.
He spoke to me in the looking glass. “You’re driving me crazy, you know that.”
He said it, he didn’t ask. But I still shook my head.
“The way you walk around, the way you smell...”
I could smell him, like gunpowder and Mr. Daniels— but I couldn’t speak. My legs shook a little, my knees stinging from where the flesh had scraped off in the parking lot. Stan felt me shiver too. He put his hands on my shoulders and turned me around to face him so my bottom was pressed against the sink.
“You know what you’re doing to me?” he repeated. He got down on his knees in one motion, parted the shirttail of the chamois I was wearing, and pressed his face right into me. I grabbed the sink to stop from falling over. He steadied my thighs; his hands were all soft calluses. My cunt was in his mouth, like a ball sunk into a mitt.
The only way to relieve his ache was to take us both right down the rabbit hole. I could feel myself getting bigger and smaller every second.
Stan stood all the way up and lifted me one more time— I guess he was never going to let my feet touch the floor again.
I hugged my legs and arms around him. He sank into me, like the last piece of a puzzle. My head dropped back. He carried me across the floor to his bed. His sheets were blue jersey; an Economist lay half-read on the floor. I bit into his shoulder.
Who was this man? Xena, Temma— none of them looked desperate when they said his name. Their bellies didn’t tremble like mine.
Baby. Susie. He called my name over and over.
He said, “You’re taking me down," like I had the ammunition.
I pulled all his weight onto me. The tables turn, don’t they. Kittens become cats. I felt ageless again— but different from Dago this time. I didn’t want to let go.
“Are you okay?”
I guess that was his big question.
Yeah, I was. I cried harder when we pulled apart than when I’d hidden under his sweats in the Valiant.
Daylight was breaking. He got up to get me another whiskey and a ginger ale. I asked him if I could roll a joint, and he tossed me a baggie from under some Emma Goldman autobiographies on the floor.
“What are you reading her for?” I asked, licking the Zigzag.
“I’ve been reading Emma since I was a draft dodger.”
“Yeah, I heard about that. How’d you do it?”
“I wore a dress.”
“How can you be old enough to know that song?” he said.
I started it and he caught up to me on the second line:
Yes, I'm only eighteen, I got a ruptured spleen
And I always carry a purse
I reached out for him with my scabbed-up hand. “I’m not eighteen, but I know a lot of things,” I said. “You underestimated me. And I guess I thought you were an asshole.”
“Yeah, you got that right,” Stan said, and took a drag. “How old are you?” He exhaled. “No, don’t tell me.”
I wouldn’t. I couldn’t stand to lie apart from him. I was an infant; I wanted him to cradle me and never let my toes touch the ground.
“How can I go off to Detroit?— shit!” I said. I straddled his lap and blew a smoke ring. His blue eyes were framed right in the center. His cock grew hard again underneath me.
Everyone— everyone but Stan and a couple other comrades— was heading to Michigan for the summer camp. This was the first moment I hadn’t craved to go away.
“You’re going to be fine,” he said. “You gotta go.” He took the joint from me. “There’s not a man alive who’s not an asshole— that’s all you need to know— but you’re gonna be okay.”
Why’d he have to go and say that? Fuck, Stan. Don’t you get it? I wanted to tell him I loved him right then but I knew it wasn’t cool.
Instead, I took his hand between my legs again, and it shut him up. Feel how I feel. I turned around to take his mouth in mine and make all the nonsense stop.
More to Read, on the political side of this story:
How to Beat the Big Brown Machine, by Mary Deaton
A Teamster Primer: Gangsters, Reformers, and Socialists in the Teamsters. A Reading List by Joe Allen
What It Was Like Being a Woman in This World:
SBJournal is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.