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The New Branch Organizer
It’s all fun and games until someone gets their eye poked out
Michael, Joe, and I were leaving for Detroit, maybe for summer camp, maybe forever, each of us scrambling for money and rides. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles I.S. Branch was being “reorganized” by the the Detroit Executive Committee, what you could describe as our High Council.
The E.C. figured our youthful Red Tide energy— a.k.a/ 24/7 devotion— would be best applied under their supervision. Our newspaper was moving with us; there would be no more Los Angeles Red Tide— instead, the Detroit Unified School District was about to have its collective student body mind blown. Yahoo! I only had two months left ‘til school got out and I counted the days.
Stan Holmstrom moved to Los Angeles from the Seattle branch in April, to become the new L.A. branch organizer. More “orders” from on high. He drove straight from the airport to show up at one of our Teamster organizing meetings with a six-pack. He was taking over from Mary and Duncan, and I couldn’t tell if they were relieved or offended. Maybe a little of both.
The I.S. at the time was in the thick of organizing rank and file groups to press on the expiration of the Master Freight Agreement in 1976, because it looked like the ILWB leadership was planning to snooze through the whole thing. This period was post-Hoffa, and the peak of Teamster conservatism and mobbed-up complacency.
Stan wasn't the family type. There was steely resolve by the I.S. Executive Committee to send someone who wouldn’t sing folk songs or make brownies or wipe your nose when it ran. He appeared to be single, not with child. He told the Teamster comrades that he not only drank beer, but knew how to brew it.
The man needed a home, so everyone pitched in to set him up in less than twenty-four hours in an apartment on the Lynwood Compton border. Stan’s first housewarming gift was The Red Tide’s old white sofa from Michael’s garage, our makeshift newspaper office.
Stan took one look at our couch-monster, all eight feet of it, and it was as if every semen, weed, and Top Ramen stain were visible to him, illuminated on its gray-white nap. Joe said someone should’ve cried. Chris said someone should’ve cleaned it.
Duncan said Stan’s first stop was to play a couple pickup basketball games down the street. “He loves his apartment because it’s right off the freeway and walking distance from the court.”
Stan didn’t come on like a ton of bricks. He had a loping gait; he moved like he was on the court. His hair was shaggy, if not exactly long, and hung in his eyes. He was tall, taller than anyone else in our group. Michael said he was almost thirty. He dressed in work shirt, blue jeans, leather belt, and sneakers every day. Dressed like a kid, played ball like a kid, but had sad downward-turning eyes like someone older.
I didn’t know someone could be branch organizer who was so quiet. Mary was charismatic, and Duncan was always chatty. Michael was an orator, Chris would not stop arguing, and the the other half of the branch were loquacious UCLA professors. Even young members like me would argue and make speeches at the drop of a card.
Some of the other women, the “girlfriend” members— people who never said a word but were someone’s girlfriend— they were quiet. That bummed me out.
Stan sounded sure of himself when he spoke, but he didn’t offer a lot of explanation or rah-rah. It was just, “This is what we’re going to do.”
The idea was that by having a laser focus, we would reform the moribund and corrupt Teamster union. Alrighty then!
At the time, saying “I’m going into Teamsters,” to anybody else on the Left, was outrageous. Everyone thought we were joining an organized crime syndicate.
“There is no other left sect in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, because no other group would have them,” Chris said.
“Isn’t Fitzsimmons like, Nixon’s lapdog?” I said. The Teamster’s current president appeared in press photographs with the President all the time.
“Yeah,” said Chris, “Drinking buddies, for sure.”
“Well, what am I supposed to do in Teamsters?” I said.
Joe pinched my tummy. “You can head up the ladies auxiliary, Sue.” He’d made me come three times the night before, and it made my head spin. His teeth were white and he was young like me. Was that love? But I loved everybody in our branch— sleeping with them just made it a little deeper.
Stan gave everyone an assignment at the next branch meeting, except me. I raised my hand.
“Yeah, right,” he said, not looking up. “You can report here, tomorrow, o-six-hundred. You can flyer the Gateway yard with me.”
Gateway: that meant trespassing and chatting up total strangers. I was good at that.
“I don't get out of school until after three; I could come then—”
Stan scowled. I saw it like a comic bubble over his head: Haven’t we gotten rid of all the bourgie college co-eds yet? What an jerk; he didn’t even know who I was.
Mary touched his arm.
“Sue’s still in high school, Stan.”
He shook his hair out of his eyes for a minute and snorted.
Fuck him. My god, he’d only been here a week and he was sitting on what had been my bed with Chris and Joe.
“I'll be here by 3:00,” I said. I wasn’t going to use military timetables, either.
Temma passed me in the hall when I got up to use the bathroom. “Oh, he likes you,” she laughed.
“Don’t bullshit me!” I whispered.
“I fucked him last night—”
“Yeah, yesterday— he’s okay. You should check him out.. his partner, Shari, you know? She’s in Fresno all the time.”
I hooked my arm around Temma’s belt loops and dragged her into the bathroom with me.
“What partner? Are you kidding? Are you doing to do it again?” It was like hearing she’d made a statue come alive.
“He’s practically married to Shari Z., that’s why he’s down here, because she got an offer to teach women’s studies at Fresno State, and she’s going to come visit him when she can on weekends. We don't have any comrades in Fresno, so—”
I cracked up. “Oh yeah, well she can build a branch out of the women’s studies department, and they can come make cookies for the Teamster meetings!”
I couldn’t believe Stan was acting like “The Original Mr. Worker,” and his old lady was a professor. One of the unrepentant ones who wasn’t going to industrialize, apparently.
“His first wife, Gerry, she’s famous, she’s a bigwig in the FSP, you know, in Seattle, even the local pigs are afraid of touching her... she’s some kind of wild woman.”
“He was married to her?” God, he was old.
“Yeah, that’s what Mary told me.” Temma laughed and pushed me off the toilet seat. “It’s my turn.”
Somebody knocked on the door. “Hey, high-school, get off the can.”
Temma reached over and pushed in the lock. “Go run the water,” she told me. I turned on both spouts.
“Shari’s going to be at Duncan and Mary’s tonight, for the potluck,” Temma said. “Come early, ‘cause she’s not a night owl. She’s a perfectly nice white academic; she comes up to about Stan’s elbow. Dresses just like him, but in tighter jeans.”
The knocking started up again, warpath-style. I knew Temma would no sooner open the door than surrender at Pearl Harbor, but I had to get out. She’d already lit up a cigarette and cracked the window; I opened the door just wide enough to squeeze through.
One of the older women, Lena, blocked me— a professor’s wife— looking outraged. She’d been outraged ever since I fucked someone she fucked a hundred years ago. Jesus.
“There’s someone still in there,” I said, like I’d come out of a train station lavatory.
“Someone!” she spat. I shrugged.
Stan appeared behind her. “Hey, take it easy,” he said, and he touched Lena’s lower back. She shuddered, and moved against his hand, like a kitten who couldn’t help it. He declawed her with a gesture.
I walked into the meeting space again with my arms open wide. “I’ll show you a Teamster Ladies Auxiliary, gentlemen,” I said, bowing to everyone huddled on the floor. “Give me some flyers.”
Temma was right about the tight jeans. Shari was petite and curvy. Quick wit, blue eyes. She was dwarfed by the UPS women who came to the potluck who all wore at least three-inch platforms. So did Temma, who’d permed her hair into an Afro, and had burned herself dark red-brown at the beach.
I touched the top of her perm. “You went to the beach after the meeting.”
“You could have gone too, the Hare Krishnas’ fed everybody,” she said, slapping my hand away. “But I guess the ‘Ladies Auxiliary’ was calling— are any of you holding?”
I tilted my head behind me. “Go ask Joe, or go through his pockets if you can stand it. He’s the new dealer of the Local 208 hiring hall.”
Joe was rarely working a shift, but he wore his blue Teamster jacket all the time. He said he was making more money selling weed and speed to drivers than he’d ever make on the job.
I heard someone take Linda Ronstadt— Duncan’s heartthrob— off the turntable, and Kool and the Gang started up.
I joined some of the girls in the living room, swaying and chanting. “Watermelons, fresh ripe tomatoes, apples and oranges, Idaho potatoes yeah... Fruitman!” Mary was ladling out chili, and it smelled so good, but I just wanted to dance.
Stan may not have liked high school, but he was lucky The Red Tide was there. He was lucky that Temma in her high heels was there, plus all the local girls and all the NON-Teamsters, the ex-Panthers and crazy motherfuckers, as Joe called them. We knew how to have a good time. It was the only way new people, our “contacts,” would ever give our politics a chance; those awful meetings would kill them first.
Stan wasn’t dancing; I didn't know where he was. I kept picturing the way Lena shuddered against him. Shari was dancing without him, her arms around Lena’s husband’s shoulders. Complicated.
I wanted to lie down, crash in one of the other rooms, where there wasn’t any dancing. Duncan and Mary had a room in the back with a leather coffee-table in it. You could lie on it and stick to it; it was so cool and glossy. I found it, curled up, and dozed off, until Mary came in, and put a blanket over me and tucked a little pillow under my head. It must have been a pillow for the baby.
Shari stumbled in, and woke me up. She was cursing a stack of books she’d tripped over on the floor. She didn’t know where the bathroom was. She looked excited, or really high, or both. Fresno must be awful.
I wish I could remember what I said. I had a polite question. I don’t remember if I was precocious, or awkward, or earnest. I felt all three afterwards.
I only remember what she replied: “Go for it... He’s a great fuck.”
Her smile was like sunshine itself. Her blonde ringlets bobbled as she nodded her head.
I remember thinking, “Wow, this is how it’s supposed to be.” You’re supposed to be able to approach your sister, and say, “Comrade, I’m feeling it for your old man. May I proceed?”
And then they would say, just like Shari did, “Go for it, he’s a great fuck.”
I might have said, “Women are more important to me than men.” I might have stammered, saying, “I wanted to ask you, if you wouldn’t mind, and I don’t mean to be rude, and this isn’t a big deal—”
But I don’t know what came out of my mouth. I wasn’t even sure I wanted Stan. I just kept thinking about Xena’s back arching up.
But in any case, The Blonde Goddess would’ve cut me off, with a warm smile, like a mother to her chick: Go for it. He’s a great fuck.
She was so low-key, just the way I imagined it would be after a massive sexual revolution. Women wouldn’t be catty. No one would bother to be jealous. Who would have the time? Sex would be friendly and kind and fun. You’d get to see what everyone was like in bed. You’d learn things in bed, and that would be the whole point. Romances was for the delusional. Exclusivity would be for bores and babies.
The way Shari spoke to to me, the way her curls bounced everywhere, was the new shine. I wanted to go back to Fresno with her and drink from the same fountain. I’d negotiated boys with my own girlfriends before, but it never sounded like this.
I did love my girlfriends more than I “liked” our boyfriends. I understood women. I never knew what went on in a man’s head before I went to bed with one. I just wanted to see. See how it was. I liked the whole finding-out part.
Shari was different... she was advertising her man. She wanted a tribute! Was I supposed to file a report? Maybe none of my friends had ever bragged about anything, because there was nothing special to brag about. Just what did this Stan do in bed that was so great? I felt like I should call and make reservations right away, before he got a cramp or something.
But for someone so generous, Shari bowed out a little quickly.
I was saying to her, “Wow, thank you, thanks for letting me know...”
She exhaled short, out of her nose, and turned on her flat Jesus heels away from me, before I got to the end of my submissive gratitude. Maybe I was too much. Maybe she was on her way to fuck someone else.
Shari left me sitting there, like a kid with the wrong pizza delivery. Her shine had settled on everything around me. The brown carpet twinkled, the purple sofa and love seat were royal. I could feel my wet underarms, and even my head felt damp.
“Hey, Sue, what’s the matter, you look soaked!” It was Joe.
Everyone came through this bedroom on the way to a nonexistent bathroom.
“I’ve just been dancing too much, I gotta change,” I said, getting up, “I’m so glad it’s you.”
Mary had told me her grade school son Billy went through three T-shirts a day. I bet he had one I could borrow, and my chest wasn’t that much bigger than his. I went down the hall to find his stash.
Joe peeked in, and saw me staring in what was visible of the kid’s dresser mirror.
“Who dat?” he said, reading the slogan on my shirt.
“Oh shut up,” I said. “Do I look okay?”
“It sure is tight, he said, hooking his thumbs in his jean pockets.
“You wanna go somewhere?” I felt like I could slap him or fuck him, but not much else.
“We can go for it in the john if you want,” he said, “Jesus, you’re wound up.” He walked over and put his hand between my legs.
“I don't want to be wound up!” I hissed, “Close the door— oh shit.”
Little Billy was dead asleep on his bunk-bed with a pile of coats stacked up on top of his covers. Only a little neon light from the window leaked into the room.
“He’s dead to the world,” Joe said. “So, whattsup?”
I made him sit with me on the floor on someone’s leather trench coat. “Shari Z. just said something really trippy to me; I gotta tell you,” I began. I quoted her.
Joe burst out laughing, but Billy didn’t miss a beat of snoring.
“You’ve gotta be quiet! Do you think she was being sarcastic, is that why you’re laughing?” All my anxiety came back again. I was going to soak this fine “House of Wilson” leather coat with my sweat.
“I don't know what that chick means, but I’m sure you’ll hold her to it, Sue, that’s a promise she just guaranteed. Man, she is in for it—”
“It sounded like she was giving Stan a guarantee, like he came with a certificate!”
I could feel Joe scowl, even if I couldn’t quite see his face in the dark.
“Yeah, call me afterwards and tell me how he ate you out,” he said, “I wanna hear if it’s a 6-point-0.”
“Oh, c'mon, Joe, don’t pout; this is serious! “
He started giggling. “Oh man, serious, yeah, I wanna know too. If he’s that good, I wanna fuck him.”
“He’s straight, Josephina!”
“Yeah, that’s the point—He’s straight, white, over-thirty, he can’t dance, what else do you need to know?”
“You are so cocky,” I said. I was starting to relax.
“You know I’m right. Here— here’s my bet. If he eats you out the first time you do it, I’ll . . .”
“I’ll give you my green flake helmet you want.”
“You can count on it,” he said, and took my hand and pressed it against his erection.
I squeezed his cock too hard on purpose and rolled over on top of him.
“Hey, mean girl, cut it out,” he said, grinding against me. The neon light cut up and down across my Who Dat? tits. I took off the t-shirt and bent down to his ear.
“You are a funky worm, Joey Baloney,” I said. We sealed his promise with our tongues tied up.