“Love Rollercoaster 1975,” by Susie Bright, was adapted from Big Sex Little Death: A Memoir, which is available from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2011 by Susie Bright. The adapted essay appeared in Sugar in My Bowl, compilation copyright © 2011 by Erica Mann Jong, excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
Sugar in My Bowl is a anthology put together by Erica Jong, author of the controversial and groundbreaking 1973 novel, Fear of Flying. The anthology, like Jong’s novel, seriously discusses female sexuality and desire from a number of different angles. As Tom Matlack wrote about last month, open and frank conversations about male and female sexual desire is important for both sexes.
I cut last period, high school driver’s ed with Mr. Gorshbach. He wouldn’t understand that the revolution was not going to wait for me to take his stop-signal exam. Instead, I grabbed the bus and showed up at Gateway Freight yard right before the start of swing shift like I promised I would.
I changed my clothes too—so I looked like a Teamster girl in tight jeans and a T-shirt, standing in mile-high platforms instead of hippie sandals.
Stan pulled into the parking lot right after me in his Valiant. I wondered how many decades he’d had his driver’s license. 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. That was a lot of driving.
He handed me a pile of flyers and told me to go to one end of the employees’ parking lot while he took the other. The leaflets were an invitation to a meeting of rank and filers that we called “Teamsters for a Decent Contract”—just people getting together to talk about the upcoming contract and what they thought was going to go down. Not socialism, just this miserable corrupt union and shitty job. 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—apparently my only vote of confidence.
I thought, Did she tell you that in bed? He’d fucked half the women in the L.A. branch already. That must be where he got the advice from Temma. His latest wife was rumored to be teaching women’s studies in Fresno.
What a prick he was—I’d been doing labor work in Los Angeles since ninth grade, and I bet I knew more than he did about living on the road.
Instead 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 separated. 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 typed, laid out, and printed this thing on the mimeo machine—it didn’t look half-bad. I’d put a cartoon I liked at the top, of Teamster president 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, playing in my head.
Love Rollercoaster, Child
Why don’t you ride?
Something hard punched me in the lower back, and I fell sprawling onto my hands and knees in the dirt.
I pushed up off my belly, my hands on fire, like the gravel had been shot into them. A squat muscular guy with worse teeth than a junkyard dog stood above me, with a wrench in his hand. He was smiling. I’d been smacked before, but neither my mother nor the nuns ever grinned 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, which was still hanging from my shoulder. I scrambled to stand up, spilling most of them onto the ground. Blood was dripping on everything I was wearing, but I didn’t know where it was coming from.
The wind picked the flyers up and started sailing them over the cars. I wished I could sail away with them. Already 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 pit bull-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 up.
It was Stan—in front of me, between me and the bad man. Instead of just his blue work shirt, Stan was wearing a work shirt with a holster. There was something in his hand, too.
He said two things. “Don’t talk to the young woman like that—we’re leaving now.”
And to me: “Get in the car”—and 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 backseat, 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 like wet 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 one of my cut-up hands in his, like it was a petal. “Are you okay?” he said.
I burst into tears. Time for questions, 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 of his duplex and parked at the door. “Don’t move,” he said.
He came around to the backseat 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 started gulping air again.
Stan put his arms around me; “Hold on to my neck,” 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. I don’t know how he managed the lock.
He laid me down on the white sofa our other comrades had given him when he moved in two weeks ago. It had Top Ramen, pizza, and cum stains from the last ten years adding to its luster. He went to get me one of his extra work shirts to change into. I heard him take off the gun and holster. No more clicks. He came back with a bottle of povidone, 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 so good.
“What do you drink?” Stan said. I could hear him opening his kitchen cupboards.
“Ginger ale? ”
“Yeah, right,” he said and came back with two jam jar glasses and a bottle of something that said Jack Daniel’s in flowery script on the front of the label, like an old western. “Drink up,” he said, handing me the glass like it was medicine.
I took a sip. Worse than medicine! It was almost as bad as NyQuil. But I’d never tasted whiskey.
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 Ter and Aaron and Robin worshipped the ground I walked on; he said he’d been a bastard to me. Temma was right; I was sweet as pie. He tucked me in, found more blankets and a couple of pillows. I slipped on his shirt and kicked off my pants. Was he watching me? I didn’t care. I passed out on his sofa like it was the middle of the night.
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