A Raven photog and I spent two days hanging around the DuPuis Motors International headquarters shooting and interviewing Doris Goodfellow, her family, friends, co-workers and boss. She was the daughter of Ephraim Leigh, a Jamaican sugar cane cutter who had migrated to New York. She moved to Detroit from Queens to look after a cousin who was seriously injured in a car accident. That’s where she met Eric Goodfellow, who was also a Jamaican immigrant. They married shortly before she turned 19. She learned typing and stenography at night after cleaning fancy Manhattan apartments during the day.
Mrs. Goodfellow was a plain looking Black woman of average height who wore her hair pulled back in a bun. She was self-contained and demure. Her children and husband loved her. Everyone I talked to spoke highly and kindly of her.
Her job was about as standard as they get. She sat at a secretary’s desk in front of DuPuis’ executive office, which was about the size of a 10-car garage. She answered the phone, screening calls. She greeted visitors. She took dictation in fast and flawless shorthand. She made her boss what he described as “the best coffee I’ll ever have.”
She dropped off and picked up his laundry from the dry cleaners. She picked out the wedding anniversary gifts for Mademoiselle DuPuis and the birthday gifts for the couple’s three children. She set up meetings. She was a good woman who did her job well. But, she did not make, I thought, for an interesting feature story in anybody’s magazine. Not even in Raven.
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“How are we coming with the DuPuis Motors story, Pierce?” David asked.
“It’s coming. I’m beveling and sanding,” I said, dumping several half-smoked butts from the ashtray into the wastebasket underneath my desk—while I struck up another match to another Marlboro.
“Bad habit. It’s going to kill you someday,” David said.
“I know. I’m quitting soon. Real soon."
“Good. Now, what about the piece?”
“Polishing it off here and there,” David said, mocking as he waved away the cigarette smoke. “All right. It’s already slightly past 10. You’ve missed your deadline. You’d best skip the coffee break.”
That was a wrist slap. Coffee breaks were often the highlight of the day at Raven. We used the time freely by playing rise and fly Bid Whist. While we played cards, we sometimes played the dozens. Sometimes, even when we weren’t playing Bid, the dozens broke out unexpectedly like a fistfight on a playground basketball court.
“Kevin, the headline you wrote for your Natalie Cole story is too stagnant. It needs to be punched up a bit,” David said.
“Yo’ mama,” Kevin responded, not daring to say to David what he really meant: “Kiss my black ass.”
“Yo’ mama so black and greasy they got to roll her in flour to find the wet spot,” David said.
“Yo’ mama like a birthday cake. Everybody gets a piece,” Kevin retorted.
“Yo’ mama so skinny she can dodge rain drops during a storm,” Ernie jumped in.
“Yo’ mama’s ass so big they made it a suburb, named it Bootyville,” I slammed.
“Ooooooooh,” everybody said. “Good one, Pierce.”
In playing the dozens, it wasn’t just the insult that counted. It was also the way you delivered, the cadence of your voice and the speed of your comeback. The dozens was a juvenile, fun game of one-upmanship. At Raven, we periodically did a little signifying as a testimonial to who knows who that we weren’t the condescending bourgeois Blacks we actually were but that we were down brothers still relating to the hood.
And it was during coffee and lunch breaks when we got our soul on a roll; that’s when we had the blood feuds playing Bid Whist. Although the coffee breaks lasted only 15 minutes, we’d manage to play two or three games. My Bid Whist had been okay at PSU where we infrequently played at the student union; thanks to our daily ritual, it became dangerous during my Raven days.
“Did I ever tell you my full name?” I taunted as I waved the King of Spades above my head for everyone to see with my right hand while giving my partner, Darlene, a high five across the table with my left hand. “It’s Pierce ‘BOSTON’ Trotter. And I’m running my middle name right now.”
Our lunch breaks lasted 45 minutes. You could take an hour if you chose to eat outside the mansion. But few WIPE employees exercised that option. The WIPE lunches were comparable to home cooked soul food, subsidized by Mr. Wilson Jr.; they cost us only a dollar a day. The lunch fee was deducted every two weeks from our paychecks. If we went out for lunch in the neighboring restaurants on the Gold Coast, we would have paid six or seven times that much.
And we wouldn’t have had any Bid or dozens.
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