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Khan Davis didn't have such an ear. Her mind concentrated on more mundane thoughts: money and sex.
Parking the car in her usual spot at Champion Motors' Troy Trim plant, she turned off her headlights and stole a final glance in the lighted mirror. Dabbing her pinkie in her mouth, she smoothed the high arch of her eyebrow, then fingered the right side of her short blond curls so that a few strands would just brush the tips of her half-hooded eyes.
Four feet eleven, with shiny blond hair and caffe latte skin, Khan imagined herself as a miniature Dorothy Dandridge with an attitude readying herself for a rendezvous with Harry Belafonte. But in real life, her appointment this morning was with a more dependable date, a power sewing machine that didn't give a damn how she looked.
"Damn," Khan snorted under her breath after grabbing her purse and umbrella. "This stupid weather is going to frizz up my new hairdo before R.C. gets a chance to see it." Pressing the button to pop open her umbrella, she slammed the car door and sprinted off. Halfway to the employee entrance, she could feel her hair rising like fresh yeast.
Most of the women who worked at Champion waited until they arrived at work before painting their faces in the women's bathroom, although they knew that makeup didn't make them more attractive to the males in the plant: Only the digits on their paychecks could do that.
But Khan Davis never went anywhere without looking absolutely perfect. Quite frankly, she loved to show off her petite figure. As she entered the plant each morning, Khan looked fine and dangerous. Dangerous because she already had a man.
Wearing a heavily starched pair of beige Calvin Klein jeans and a matching blouse, her gold chain belt with large loops echoing the eighteen-karat hooped earrings she wore in her ears, Khan naturally swished her hips as she walked to a rhythm from the old South that no one could hear or understand unless they'd been raised there.
The fresh scent of Cool Stream perfume oil mixed with Egyptian Musk brought attention from her male colleagues, whom she could see watching her out of the corner of her eye. Looking good and smelling outrageously different from other women was Khan's trademark.
Once inside the building, Khan was greeted by the familiar chug-a-lug noise from dozens of forklift drivers on their hi-los hauling stock in and out of the sewing units. The sharp smell of new vinyl mixed with gas fumes from the hi-lo followed, filling every molecule of air. Worse yet, she knew she was inhaling the toxic smell of burning glue coming from the laminator machines.
Reaching inside her purse, Khan removed the safety glasses that everyone was required to wear inside the plant. The titanium lights thirty feet above gave the impression of daylight, but Khan squinted as she waited in line in the break area to purchase the early edition of The Detroit News.
It was four thirty-five in the morning. The second shift of Champion Motors' Troy Trim Division hourly automobile workers would begin in twenty-five minutes.
The cold, high-glossed cement floor was painted stone gray. Set against the white walls, the lack of color created a stark tone that permeated every aspect of the plant. So no matter how much seniority Khan managed to tuck under her belt, she still felt imprisoned working at ChampionQeven if Champion was a prison that allowed her to make tons of money and then go home each day. The problem was, she made so much money that she didn't want to go home. The plant felt like a brick shrine luring its brainwashed devotees; the call of money was irresistible.
"Hot tacos. Hot tacos," Mexican José shouted as he pimp-walked into the break area. At sixty-two, José had forty-two years' seniority. He'd been selling tacos before he began his shift for the past thirty years at Champion. Rumor was that his sales totaled over a thousand dollars a week. José was living big. He drove an Incognito, Champion's most expensive sport luxury car, bought the best clothes, and had the best pussy money could buy. A few employees were jealous of the tax-free money José accumulated each week. But they weren't envious enough to stop buying his Mexican delights. Nobody made tacos like José's wife, Marisela.
Khan knew that Marisela rose at two every morning to prepare and wrap over two hundred tacos for her husband. Hours later in the plant, the spicy scent of cumin made even those who weren't hungry indulge in the hot temptations. Dozens of vending machines filled with hot coffee, cold milk, fruit juices, potato chips, candy, and other snacks were no competition for José's taco cart.
"How about you, señorita?" José asked in his sexy Mexican drawl. "You want two today?"
This morning Khan was tempted, but she shook her head no as she dropped two quarters into the coffee machine.
She took a seat in the break area across from the Rembrandt Imperial sewing unit she worked in. Located next to the Imperial were the Givenchy and Base Rembrandt units that took up half of the south end of the plant. Rembrandt, the top moneymaking luxury car for Champion for two decades running, was reserved for only the highly skilled sewing machine operators. Khan had begun working the unit after only one year at Champion.
In the five years she'd worked at Champion's Troy Trim plant, her routine rarely varied. In ten minutes her sewing partner, Luella, would arrive and they would head into the unit together to begin their day's production.
Several of Khan's co-workers were watching the early morning news on television sets perched high on pedestals in the break area. Khan wasn't interested. As she waited for Luella, Khan flipped open Section A of her paper, skimming more than reading. Anything was more interesting than talking to some of the other hourly workers in the plant. Usually their main topic of conversation began and ended with overtime ... who got it, who needed it, and who wasn't getting any.
Sipping on a cup of black coffee, Khan turned to the business section. She began to read an article about how the Japanese were gaining market shares in the automobile industry at a faster rate than the Big Four. Because of the increased sales of utility trucks, the Japanese were implementing an aggressive campaign to capitalize on the high profit margin from these vehicles.
Mmm ... some competition. That's something R.C. would be interested in. She missed R.C. Is that why she was reading the business section? To feel connected to him?
Khan checked her Timex, then turned to the metro section and continued reading. This morning, the comics weren't funny. And she didn't believe a word of her horoscope: It's your kind of day. You learn secrets.
Damn, she thought, checking her watch for the third time. It was 4:45 a.m. and still no sign of Luella, who was rarely late. Craning her neck to look down the hall, she saw familiar faces and waved hello to a few. She wanted it to be lunchtime when her shift was over. She was hoping to see R.C., who was due back in town from Japan later this morning. She needed to get home so she could freshen up and then screw his brains out.
Flipping the metro section back to its front page, she read the caption beneath a large picture in the middle of the page. The caption read: entrepreneur weds top japanese fashion model. She stopped. Her heart felt as cold as a corpse. The picture was of R.C. and a woman she'd never seen before. The article read: "Mr. R.C. Richardson, 50, owner of seven Champion dealerships in the tri-county area as well as a world-renowned stud ranch in Paris, Kentucky, wed beautiful Tomiko Johnson, 22, over the weekend in Japan. The couple plan on a short honeymoon at Mr. Richardson's ranch in Paris, Kentucky...."
It was as if someone had drained all the blood from her body and only the shell remained. She felt numb. Hollow. Yet her brain still functioned and was running full speed. "That lying son of a bitch!" Khan mumbled under her breath. Tears burned in her eyes like hot steam as she began to reread the article.
Khan inspected the photograph, staring at R.C.'s new wife. In the black-and-white photo the woman, who didn't even look twenty-one years old, appeared to be of Asian and African descent. Her features were Japanese looking, but her skin tone was definitely dark.
What in the hell does she have that I don't?
Khan wadded the page into a tight ball and tossed it into the trash. R.C. had better hide, she thought, because if I see that bastard I'm going to kill him. No, killing him ain't good enough. I'm going to tie a rope around his balls, tie it to one of his cars, and drag his whorish ass down the street until he's covered with blood. Hell yeah. That's exactly what I'm going to do. When she threw her cold coffee in the trash, her hands were shaking.
As she walked into her unit, Khan was consumed with thoughts of confronting R.C. Then again, she thought, what would be the point? She'd only lose her pride. At the supervisor's desk, a new worker was using the interplant phone-a plant no-no. Standing next to her was Valentino, Khan's first cousin.
Since early February, Valentino had been assigned to work in the Imperial sewing unit because their production volume had increased from two hundred fifty to three hundred fifty a day. Arriving at work an hour earlier than Khan, Valentino's job was to place by Khan's machine the "line-up" sheet that indicated the color and fabric (leather or cloth) and quantity of the jobs the unit would be sewing that day.
"I put today's schedule on your table already," Valentino said to Khan.
Khan swallowed back her tears and managed a small smile. "Thanks, Tino." She was amazed by her sudden, cold composure. He stepped beside her as she walked toward the front of the unit where she and Luella sewed the rear seat cushions. She stopped at her sewing table, exhaled, and talked herself into not thinking about R.C. At least not for the next five minutes. When she looked in Tino's face, she noticed his reddened eyes. "You look tired. How's Sarah and the baby?"
"Sarah's the same. But the baby is teething. We barely got any sleep this weekend."
"Didn't you work Sunday?"
"Yeah. Twelve hours in Givenchy."
Valentino was on the A-team, a clique of twelve hourly employees who worked from the front to the back of the unit and brought home anywhere from fifteen hundred to two thousand dollars a week. His job began at 4:00 a.m. chasing stock shortages, communicating schedule adjustments with shop scheduling, making sure that all of his sewers had the correct amount of stock to sew the day's production, keeping the unit clean, removing excess welt spools, thread spools, and all rubbish.
Before his day ended, Valentino would pack out all finished stock on Cooley carts, which were three-sided double-shelved metal carts that held twelve complete jobs. One job consisted of a rear cushion, rear back, two front cushions, and two front backs. He would then verify the pack-out count, submit the total to the supervisor, and finally roll the cart across the aisle to River Rouge Build.
River Rouge Build was located in the southeast corner of Troy Trim. This operation assembled the cushion covers to the front and rear cushions onto foam rubber pads and steel track frames for three of Champion's luxury car lines, Rembrandt, Syrinx, and Remington. Once they were put together these items were sent on to River Rouge Assembly to be added to the cars.
Ten years earlier, when several jobs were being sent to Mexico, Champion lost some of their main car lines. But at the same time the River Rouge Assembly Plant, which was a subdivision of Champion, was expanding. Troy Trim was always eager to bid on new jobs for Rouge Assembly. Just this year, Champion had bid on a job to house the very profitable Facial Operations, which consisted of pouring color-keyed plastic into molds that produced the facial bumpers.
As for Valentino, River Rouge proved highly lucrative for him as well.
Because they were freefloating workers, the A-team tended to get most of the overtime. Supposedly, that favoritism had stopped because of the complaints from other employees, but everyone knew that the same group of people were still getting the majority of overtime.
And Champion's hourly workers lived and fought daily for overtime. But the price was high: it reduced them to beggars. Even though the workers may not need the money, they were as obsessed with getting overtime as an angry drug addict always needing more.
Khan placed her purse beneath her table, unlocked her cabinet, and took out her sewing tools. She looked at Valentino and said, "No wonder you look beat. You're going to kill yourself working so much overtime."
It was a shame to see such a pretty man so worn out. Tino was just over six feet tall, with wide-set shoulders and a narrow frame. Most of the women in the plant thought Valentino was beautiful. Especially Luella. Until Valentino matured, Khan had never realized that one man could spend so much time apologizing for being so pretty. Even behind his glasses no one could miss the indecent length of his lashes.
As she focused on her cousin, Khan felt her own hurt over R.C. move out of the way. She and her cousin had always been close. Khan was also close to Valentino's father, Uncle Ron, who was the union boss at the Troy Trim plant. "Now, show me a picture of that baby. I know you got some new ones."
Valentino's face lit up like a river of gold when he flipped out a new photo of Jahvel from his wallet and handed it to Khan.
"Tino, if this boy gets any prettier, I'm personally launching his modeling career."
Tino flinched. A man didn't want his son to look pretty. Tino especially hated the idea that his son would inherit his problems. Being a man, and being respected, was more important-especially for a black man.
Two years ago, Valentino had been hooked on the crack pipe. He lost his job at Champion, then was fired from a bussing job at a low-end restaurant. During that trying time, his wife, Sarah, stuck with him. But when Uncle Ron finally kicked them out after Valentino stole money from him, Valentino and Sarah were homeless. Sarah soon found out she was pregnant and moved back in with her parents. They tried to convince her to abort the baby and divorce Tino. Sarah refused, and this proved to be Valentino's wake-up call. He went through drug rehab and kicked his habit. Sarah stuck it out.
Excerpted from Blue Collar Blues by Rosalyn McMillan Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted November 15, 2005
This author should never be allowed to put pen to paper. Shoddy writing, all-over-the-place plot, and the character development leaves a lot to be desired. I am embarrassed for this author.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 1, 2002
This was truly an awesome book. I bought this book because it was on sale not expecting to become as enticed by the wording and situations Ms. McMillan choreographered. This book is definitely on my 'A' list of books I have read. Well done!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 22, 2001
I like this book, the way the charaters connect the way they do not. I love how Khan is confident in herself in this book, she is a great charater to read about. Her ups and downs in life. There's only a couple of things i have wrong with this book. 1)she does not go into R.c's life and explain his situation through thoughts, but through his wife and ex girlfriend. And she does not explore Valentino's,IDa's, and Ron life either. IF she had done that it will had been the perfect book to read. But anyways i still enjoy the book and reality of the situation with how people depend on jobs!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 17, 2001
I simply could not put this book down! I took it with me on vacation, and finished it after a day and a half of lounging at the beach. Although she didn't go enough in depth with some of the characters, I enjoyed following the twists and turns in the storyline. I also enjoyed the vivid love scenes (what can I say, I'm a romantic!)Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 6, 2000
Posted August 7, 2000
Blue Collar Blues definitely has the flare and sassy attiutude of 'Waiting to Exhale. I love the kind of books that gives you four to five stories in one novel. In Blue Collar Blues you see all kinds of women. Woman trying to hold on to the past, women trying to find their past, women dealing with today's issue such racism, sexual discrimination and interracial relationships. Plus I love the way Rosalyn McMillan ends the books by calling one of the main characters's sister a miserable (rhymes with witch).Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 12, 2000
I really enjoyed this book once I got started on it. It is some of her best work and I've read all of it. (Knowing, One Better) You really got into the charecters, and begin to not be able to wait to see what is going to happen next. I will admit is does have low points but press on because it will soon pick back up.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 14, 2000
this book has taken me two months to read,everytime I began to read the book I would fall to sleep, the book is not an attention holder. It has too many details,like how many times should she describe Thyme's body? we get the picture the first time she described it. I could go on an on. the book is boring . I was very disappiontedWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 2, 2000
This book was fantastic! I admit, the book gets boring at times, but when the time came, it was head over heels great. This is a book I look forward to reading over and over.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 9, 2011
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