Chapter 14: River Rouge
Tonya Joseph returned from her bathroom break. She placed her discreet purse on her desktop and sat at her small desk in the factory office at the River Rouge plant. The calendar caught her eye. Today was Devil’s Night, 1949. The Monday started the week all over again. Two months to a new decade. Tonya thought maybe some ol’ black magic was waiting for her to pick up her life. She looked around at all the white in the office around her. Well, maybe not.
In front of her were reports to type and letters to type and reports to file. She stared at the typewriter in front of her waiting to start back to work because she knew what was coming next. The other girls in the office knew what was coming next. The boys out in the factory knew what was coming next. Nelson Bishop would appear shortly and send her out for all to see. It was time for Tonya’s daily walk of shame. It was perp walk time.
She reached for her coffee mug. Tonya idly flicked off the cover she had placed on the cup to keep the coffee warm while she was gone. Her mind idly thought that a device on her desk to keep her coffee cup warm while she was gone would be something very nice.
A huge cockroach flew out of the cup at her. The mug flew out of her hands thudding loudly on the office floor. The coffee flew out of the cup onto her clothes. The cockroach flew into her hair.
Tonya’s hands flew to her to knock the bug out of her hair. She disheveled her hairdo in a frantic sweep. The bug flew away. Tonya’s heart and blood started to calm down. She looked around. Coffee dripped everywhere. Her clothes dripped wet.
She looked around the office. The white women could barely contain their laughter. Tonya exhaled some breath to get some composure. There was nothing else to do. She needed tissues. Tonya looked around the room for any sign of friendship while she reached for her desk drawer. Nothing could be seen. She opened the drawer.
Cockroaches crawled out of the drawer. They were on her tissues and her possessions and work tools in the drawer. The bugs freaked her out. She heard white women laughing at her. She swatted bugs while grabbing her purse to leave to go back to the woman’s bathroom. Her legs briskly walk ran. She had to get out of the room pronto. Her stomach felt ill and she wanted to cry but she needed to get somewhere private to do show her human side. There would just be more abuse if the woman saw her emotions.
Nelson Bishop came out of his office as Tonya tried hurrying by. Nelson held a position of Senior Production manager at Ford. The sign on the door of his office said this. Nelson grabbed her arm to stop her running. His pasty white face portrayed a smug smile saying “Miss Tonya Joseph! What is the commotion out here all about? Did you have an accident? Is something wrong?”
The cigarette smoke rolled out of his thick lips. His stink hit her as horrible as the cockroaches were horrible. Tonya came close to puking in his face. An involuntary reflex in her stomach sent bits of her breakfast up her throat. She could taste egg chunk in the back of her mouth that she need to reswallow.
“No” she meekly said.
“No?” Nelson barked. “No what?”
The twenty year old suddenly felt the spine of youth. Tonya felt the spine that only comes to those who have been beaten but not yet broken. The spine that gets broken the longer life goes on and drags one down as one learns that, for all the talk of fairness in the world and that if one works hard at a job one will move forward, that this concept of fairness is one of the greatest forms of mind control that exists in the world.
Tonya drew a deep breath. She bit her tongue to avoid any surliness or anger in her speech. She spoke monotone and devoid of emotion. She spoke clearly like the white folk wanted her to speak. “No Mr. Bishop. Nothing is wrong. I just spilled my coffee and I was going to the bathroom to clean myself up.”
The pig face smugly smiled. Nelson loved it. He loved his nigger. She was young and had a nice body and he wanted to fuck her and break her and lord her over everyone. Then he would get rid of her and get a new black bitch.
That’s what the great Henry Ford had done. Henry was a modern day Christopher Columbus. He had created a new world and the world was Detroit. Henry built an empire by hook and by crook. Henry invented the auto line and made himself a millionaire. Nelson dreamed of what it must be like to say My name is Henry Ford, millionaire. I own a mansion and a yacht.
Nelson had been at Ford when Henry used the niggers as leverage against unionization and when the unions made their way in Nelson has seen Henry shut out the niggers because Henry didn’t need them any more. But, in a way, Nelson was non discriminatory. He hated the end of World War II because all the men who were in the war returned home and were being hired. Nelson had worked his way up because there was less competition and he didn’t need no smart college boys or veterans around.
Henry liked his baseball white and he was proud again to be a Tigers fan since no niggers were on the team. It still grated him and his dad that the Tigers had a kike leading the way to the first World Series win for the Tigers. If the goddamn war would have gone on longer more kikes would have fried and more men would have died and Nelson would be more powerful in his own empire.
“Miss Joseph we can’t have no slackers on the job here!” he barked at her. “You just came from the bathroom. You need to decide whether you are here to work or to spend the day in the toilet. Come to think of it maybe you are betted suited as a maid. Maybe we should get you a job cleaning the toilets here if that is what you are suited for. Is that what you want? A job cleaning my toilets?”
“No Mister Bishop” Tonya softly said. She almost slipped. She almost said Master Bishop but she caught herself.
“When then you just hurry on down to the store room!” Nelson barked. “Betty has a list of supplies you need to pick up. And take my thermos down and get it filled with fresh coffee for me!”
Tonya turned and slowly walked to Betty’s desk. Betty Barcheski, the queen bee of the office. Betty the middle aged white woman carrying on an affair with Nelson. Tonya heard talk and she could imagine that Betty and Nelson would get together that night after work and share a martini and laugh over the bug incident. It would give them a thrill, a sexual charge, which would need a quick release before they went home to their families. The mental image Tonya saw of the two of them mashing with each other revulsed Tonya.
Betty, like Nelson, loved and hated her black bitch. Betty loved dumping on her and playing games with her. Black bitch was a toy to be played with on a daily basis. Betty was a cute puppy and Black Bitch was a toy and the puppy would get up every day and play with her toy. Betty sat back in her chair finishing her cigarette. She took a final drag to blow it all Tonya. She extinguished the butt in the inlaid ashtray on her desk.
“You just look all made up for Halloween now don’t you Tonya?” Betty sarcastically said.
“Yes Mrs. Betty” Tonya answered. She gave Betty what Betty wanted to hear. “I sho is” Tonya said.
“You sho is at that” Betty snidely replied. She handed Tonya a list of items to get from the supply room. “We need these in a hurry so you just go about getting them. Then you can get Nelson his coffee and then my ashtray here needs cleaning out so why don’t you be a good girl and do that too.”
Tonya’s eyeballs started jiggling sideways in anger. “Yes Miss Betty” she said. Tonya took the list. She went back to her desk and dropped her purse in the drawer that still held a couple cockroaches that, like her, had not yet decided to escape from their box. She walked to the door leaving the office and entering the factory.
The factory complex at river Rouge was massive and the tool and die complex was a massive subset of the factory. The floor was noisy with all sorts of various machining tools operating. The overhead crane was running moving some large die out of this room to another part of the factory. There had to be three hundred different tooling stations in production. A center aisle bisected the facility with massive girders lining the area for the overhead crane to glide across. The set up was arranged so that Tonya had to walk past each and everyone of the stations to get supplies.
What mattered was this daily trip that was part of her unwritten job description. The white women in the office were tired of making the walk of shame so that the boys in the factory and the bosses in the factory could see the trophy working in the office. Get a negress they made clear to do the work of a negress.
It would have been more efficient to have the supplies closer to the offices but that would have taken the fun out of the game. Whenever factories or offices or governments are established and things are not at a point of crisis and a need for immediate action the power of politics takes over. Very few can resist the game and even if a few resist there are more that do not resist. Those with the power know the politics of the situation that those without the power need their job to feed their families. Those with power know that whatever is said is always about teamwork and unity but when it comes to action…well…the only action that matters is power consolidation.
Imagery says a lot and one of the most powerful images of politics is for any male or female being able to pimp a good looking youngster. The ability to Pimp flesh for all to see and for all to know tells everyone that someone owns that flesh. It isn’t a matter of race or gender for, as Tonya knew, the other women in the office under Betty had been subjected to it before Tonya. They were just as sick of it as Tonya was. Tonya’s job was the result of trickle down politics.
Tonya’s spine reappeared. She walked staring straight ahead down the center aisle with her hair messed up and coffee staining her clothes. She heard whistles and comments and noises and words. Keep walking forward Momma told her And Pray to The Lord for Strength. So much noise filled her ears from the factory activities.
She tried to keep her eyes forward but there are always distractions that make the eyes wander to see what is occurring. She knew her mind was breaking for in her mind she saw giant cockroaches all over the place. They were at lathes and at drills and at presses and standing in the aisles. The cockroaches were mostly white but some were black and they made fun of her Halloween get up. They made fun of her wet clothes. They made fun of her skin color. They made fun of her femininity.
Tonya eventually made it to the cage where supplies were kept. She endured some more fun from the cockroaches at the front of the cage. She procured a cart and wheeled it to the back of the supply cage where the office supplies were kept. She stood by her cart before starting the loading process glad for momentary solitude.
A loud metal on metal noise made her jump. She turned around to look. A huge tall skinny white male in overalls stood behind her. His face and hands and clothes were covered in grease and oil. He smelled of maintenance man. He was smiling at her. He held a massive wrench in his right hand.
Tonya looked around him. No one else was a round. They were alone. Fear gripped her. She knew some history of blacks at Ford. When it politically worked the Ford factories helped blacks. Other times…not so much.
The man smacked the wrench against the metal rack. He kept smiling at her. “I’m sorry Miss Tonya” he said. “Did I scare you?”
Tonya felt scared. She had to get out of the room pronto. Her stomach felt ill and she wanted to cry. She started to walk out of the cage. The wrench shot out to stop her path.
“Miss Tonya” came the voice “Where are you going? You didn’t fill your cart yet.” The wrench gently but forcefully pushed her back to the cart. “You can’t leave without filling your cart. You might just get fired if you go back without that filled cart.”
Tonya stepped back towards the cart. Her eyes ran all over the place. She looked everywhere for the best weapon. She could push the cart into him and hopefully use that to keep him at bay while she grabbed something to use. There were pencils in boxes but they were unsharpened. There were pens in boxes. There were papers and envelopes and folders but nothing sharp. Everything sharp sat on shelves on the other side of the wrench.
The Wrench said “Go ahead, fill yer cart.” Tonya slowly started to pull paper packets off the shelf and to put them on the cart all the while nervously watching the Wrench. The Wrench moved his wrench to the overalls and started scratching himself for Tonya to see. The Wrench then stubbed a work boot on the cement floor. “Ya know” the Wrench said “This is where Lewis Bradford tripped and fell.”
Tonya froze. Here eyes became huge. Her eyes filled with tears. She looked all around for help. She wanted to and prepared herself to scream for help.
The Wrench scratched himself some more. “You know about Lewis Bradford, don’t you?” The Wrench asked her. “Sure ya do” he continued. “Why I bet your momma and poppa told you all about him when they heard you got a job a here now didn’t they?” They wrench joined her eyes looking around the cage area and then back to Tonya. “You wanna scream now don’t you?” The Wrench took a slow step towards her while putting the wrench up on his shoulder. “I bet you wanna scream for help.”
The wrench came down on the cart. Tonya jumped so high she thought she would touch the roof. “Who do ya think is gonna help ya Tonya?” The Wrench pointed the wrench to the factory. The face of the Wrench grew a mean mien. “Go ahead, scream for help. Scream your black lungs out. You think any of those boys out there are gonna do anything but laugh? I bet they’d all love to hear that black girl scream. Just like they love watching you walk through every day thinkin’ bout stickin’ their pecker out up and under what you hidin’ under that skirt you got there.” He stood next to her now. He towered over her. “Go ahead. Scream. Scream and see what happens.”
Tonya’s spine returned. “What do you want from me?” she nervously and forcefully asked.
”What do I want from you?” the Wrench asked back. The Wrench moved the wrench up to the stubbly face. She noticed how effortlessly he swung a large piece of metal around. The Wrench scratched his face. “Now I am so glad you asked that! Why, I just want to talk to you, that’s all.”
He swung the wrench away from his face. She flinched in fear of getting hit by the wrench. The smile returned to his face as he observed that. The wrench came down to lightly tap the cart. “Seem’s to me yer carts a little empty. Maybe I want to see if I can help fill your cart for you.”