Part One=things I was told
“So long as they don’t say ‘colored’ it ain’t prejudices.”
“I’m always on the lookout for good stripes.”
“It smells just like you. Blood mixed with some weird exotic oil.”
“I was having a barbecue with the other niggers down the block.”
“I went to school with a guy who was a really bad retard. Just a really bad one.”
“I had a feeling he kept the secret in the toolbox. So I went and looked and sure enough, it was there.”
“Yeah man. The road I didn’t take led to Elko. Elko South Dakota.”
“If it’s such a gross job why don’t you quit it?”
“Goodbye God. We’re going to Chicago.”Part Two=Things I told
“She was really beautiful and incognito, but she wasn’t famous.”
“I’ll fight windmills-with a chainsaw.”
“They called it a ventilation system but it was just a miniature cyclone maker.”
“You’ve got really white teeth for a squatter.”
“Southerners don’t realize they’re 33 records in a 78 world, do they?”Journal SnippetsI took a seat near the end of the bus. There was a screech from the sidewalk outside the back door.
I turned and saw her-She stepped forward, her round white hands pressed together, rolling like
Dough against her pulsing chest. Her scream quivered from the red hole of her mouth and sunk
her chest down as it left her.
The sweat in the folds of her neck trickled and soaked into her collar as she
raised her heavy arms to the air; the back of her upper arms trailed like a custard drapery from the
dimples over her elbows.
“My BAB-ie!” she shrieked. “My BAY-bie is still on the bus!”
Her fingers clung together and writhed like maggots as she reached for the bus. Her eyes shone darkly
and small in their pits. The bus began to move and the door slid closed. I looked around the bus and saw not a
single child or abandoned baby of any kind.
The bartender came over to me. “O, ya like an old-fashion. Y’all don’ want no sugah in that. Ya want the
sugah syrups. I make ya some at home if yaw comin back tomorroah.”
The sound of “r” does not exist in New Orleans. The people in their langour have let it slide from their words
to the muck of the bayou, where all forgotten southern objects eventually drift and sink and disappear.
The greyhound is an excellent place to observe. It can be very soothing to overhear a multitude of
unrelated anecdotes while the bus coddles me to sleep. It soothes my mind.
Something about the light yellow and scrawny black man bobbing to his headphones, his screaming and
stenchy cats in a cardboard box beside him, as he relaxes into the seat that he got at discount because
of his “disability”-A disease of the mind, maybe? His legs, arms, external features, all work with vigour as the music
pounds into his temples. He has a bony awkwardness and healthy shine that belies any disability. The ease with which
He berated the driver into permitting his cats, the shout he raised at the ticket booth, all point to much better health than, say, mine
at this moment. I have a throbbing headache and the smell of cat piss assaulting me hasn’t helped any. He’s listening to
depeche mode, a song I recognuize from my youth that I hated even then, and he’s dancing in his seat.
The driver’s bad jokes, the under-eye bruising that says he’s been driving for three shifts now and is more than
ready to drive us all into or off a cliff at the first opportunity, the ancient chineses woman desperately offering mints in exchange for ten minutes of
attention to the rant about her son who is coming in from spokane ANY MINUTE NOW, ginger mints in a tin and a battered satin purse and
little slippered feet, tiny, almost bound-looking, pressed into each other’s arches on the grimy bus station floor.
There’s something beautiful and comforting about grey vomit stains barely scrubbed from velveteen seat backs and
something about the dense air and useless frustrated wanderlust of the greyhound station and the greyhound itself, this universe of breakdowns
in Pierre North Dakota and Weed, CA that makes me calm. Patience. It makes my mind shut tight and arrange itself compulsively. checking
repeatedly for wallet, keys, ticket, the automatic functions of the reptile brain fully involved; Making sure nothing is lost, nobody touches me, children don’t climb and I
in the meantime have killed the upper brain.
Feet automatically avoiding the sprawl of hispanic children with sticky fingers and dirty pink too-tight shirts where they sit on the floor at the entrance
to the terminal; thirteen slightly torn and stretched garbage bags full of towels, clothes, toys, no books but I can see the handle of a cast-iron fry pan
clearly outlined in the plastic, spilling around the children is the detritus of people who don’t realize that frying pans are available at thrift stores in duluth as well as southern california.
A surly ex-prison guard is waiting for the #32 to LA via Tacoma. So he says. He tell sthe preoccupied blond in the next seat about convicts in texas, underground
ass-barter economies, speed, cash bags in rectums. She shifts her makeup bag and crosses her bottle-tan stripper legs – she is going home…She doesn’t say where,
she is not part wholly of the greyhound universe, she does not understand the code of politeness here, that you are required to tell city, state, of destination, and also
tell of the conversation you had on the last leg of the trip-or you must be silent and refuse the conversation. Anything in between is rude.
She is going home and she has her cell phone out and she punches the keys, typing, I can almost smell the large and overly possessive would-be actor boyfriend that awaits her in LA.
For on looking at her carefully there’s nowhere else on earth she could be going. She is a native species to LA and she is rude because she has been separated like a duck from
her flock. All the while of this the creamy asian girl next to her monotonously applies and re-applies her eyeliner, erases the orbital flap, blinking, wiping, jabbing into the eye, wiping,
applying, her movements without meaning or end.
“Ass-rape is useless to people. It’s less common than y’all see on yer TEE-vee.” His drawl is viscous and oozing with contempt for those who have only seen the ass-rape on TEE-vee.
His eyes run like sludge down the blond’s smooth legs. His stubble is very dark against overfed pale jowls and his glasses push his hair out into little graspy claws over each ear.
“Mostly it ain’t rapin’, ya know. Mostly they’re sellin it to get somethin in…they like it too. an they bring in they drugs for em that way, too. It ain’t rape noway. It ain’t even nothin once they
been puttin stuff up there long enough. sometimes we’d catch em with pounds of stuff up there.”
The blond wiggles her foot, stares at her phone, willing it to ring. “If it’s such a gross job, why do it then?” I can hear her heart pounding, her breath chanting-
Ring! Call me back! Ring! Call me back!
“Oh it’s all benefits. They pay okay but ya get dental, health, vacation, a weapon, an its good feelin like ya make a difference.” His fat hands laying against the plastic back of the
seat leave little condensed paw prints when he lifts them to shift his arms.
The cell phone was patiently silent and dark between her white-tipped fingers and her friend had given up on her futile revolt against the mysteries of the Oriental eye flap. The man droned
on and the bus pulled out into south I-5 traffic. I lay back into the glass of the window where it was cold and watched my city roll away for what was most likely the last time.
I was leaving Seattle, headed for Eugene via Portland.
sewing factory union memoryFat rolls on the backs of pennsylvania dutch arms
rolling forward and back undulating with the rhythm of a two-seamer as her foot hits the switch
playing it like a church organ a metronome and the fat rolling
Cloth dust in the air, the speed of the seamers rips it and whips it into our lungs,
The fans make a tornado in the sunlight that comes in through the ceiling cracks,
the factory closed down I heard but they never fixed those cracks,
the slow mechanic letting you take a break each time a bobbin broke or stuck even though it’s piece rate
you still like to sit still while he meanders through the rows
when the bobbin’s fucked all you can do is get him to fix it, we’re only women after all and though we use the big
double-stitch that can rip your skin right off your hand,
like happened to kathy klein last month, right in front of me the denim for her batch was red and steamy, it was
cold that day too,
we aren’t given any tools.
piece rate. The union takes twelve bucks out of every check, I’m not joined up yet, I can’t afford it.
Piece rate. I am lazy. I don’t care about the quality of my work and it shows, I don’t even want to be here and I am not grateful to have work and I want to leave early.
I sleep late and I’m late every day and the shop lady glares at me when I punch in, there’s a guy that helps with shipping that talks to me when I eat lunch.
I take a cigarette break as often as they let me and I’m the only one that does it, I hate the job and work in general but I need to move out of the shithole town that holds the factory, and one other, and even at half minimum wage because of the
I will eventually be able to get out.
isolation and envy, the other women hate me but they don’t envy me.
their precious children that god gave them like presents and their houses full of knick knacks that they bought on the shopping channel even though they can’t afford it,
their men that fix the cars that sit and warm up for an hour before they come in at 6 am.
I walk to the factory. I live about two miles away through some beautiful patches of woods, the trip is shorter if I cut through a swampy area
I usually take off my galoshes and leave them in the parking lot, they are my version of a honda or ford truck, and the women hate me.
I won’t join the union and that weakens them somehow, though I will only be here for a year or so
and the union gives me nothing, none of them have insurance or any kind of coverage, the union has bake sales and thhings and picnics where the children run around sticky and bang into things,
and the union makes sure they can’t get their pay lowered and that piece rate only lasts six months for union members.
I figure that twelve dollars a month is about one dollar more, in the space of a year, than the extra pay I will get by joining.
I want that dollar badly.
I have no love for the people breathing in this dust, garment workers, all of them will be lost and confused when the place moves to indonesia anyway, and
they hate me in a friendly way. They offer me rides. I hate them with the same congeniality. I offer them nothing.