I am an independent writer, which is code for someone who can't get an agent. But you know what? Agents are annoying. All they want is a bunch...read more of YA and sexually confused zombies.
My work has been published in Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Bookslut, Atticus Review, Perversion Mag, The East Bay Review, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and Word Riot.
My mother told me I’d end up in a trailer park. A bizarre thing to say to someone moving from Oklahoma to Colorado, but she was right. The Shady Grove Mobile Home Community is the trashiest trailer park I’ve ever seen, and like I said I’m from Oklahoma. I’ve seen trailer parks that had just been hit by tornadoes that looked nicer than this one. Despite its name, there was not a shade tree to be found, let alone an entire grove of them, only a pioneering ghetto palm rising from a crack in the pavement. Even with the trashiness, it was still divided into two classes of people: those who lived in a trailer park, and those who lived in a mobile home community, although the mobile-homers were a small but obstreperous minority.
I had just returned from Cañon City, where I served just under two years for prostitution at one of its plethora of minimum-security prisons. My ex-wife, Jen, found the trailer for me so I would be close to the house we had bought together, fixed up together. It’s nice to have a support network on the outside, even when the preeminent member of that network tells you, on the last visit she makes to you in the joint, that she hopes you get butt-fucked in the shower. For the record, it was not that kind of prison.
Jen hated me but was joyful at my return to society, not out of any sense of solidarity or justice but because it was almost May and Connal would soon be out of school for the summer. She needed me to watch the children. I would be saving her more than $2,000 a month and still paying child support. I can’t describe the feeling of being with my children again, Connal and Elle, so I won’t. Jen had not wanted them to see me in prison. They were different children. I cried a lot. We had great days. We played in the yard, we read books, I pedaled them around in my three-wheeled people-hauler. We rode to the park, to the river, to the Children’s Museum on its free days.
I hadn’t wanted to plead guilty, but my frazzled public defender convinced me that “I never got my dick wet” would not be a good defense.
“How about ‘No incarceration without penetration?’”
“Take the deal, dummy.”
Shady Grove was located on a food-desert island hemmed in by Alameda, which runs east-west, and Morrison Road, which runs southwest diagonally through Westwood so that commuters can get out of West Denver faster. For years there has been talk of renaming Morrison Road to Cesar Chavez Boulevard, but it’s not a good idea. Another hit-and-run today on Cesar Chavez Boulevard. This morning there was a shooting at a nightclub on Cesar Chavez Boulevard. Morrison Road is a municipal black hole in which neither businesses nor traffic laws can operate. The mobile home community had once been a derelict parking lot, with weeds sprouting up through the cracks, bathroomless people crawling under the fence to take dumps, feral cats using the space to hold their gut-wracking gangbangs. Until Stig Ostergaard bought it for taxes and crammed forty used trailers on it. I had a prime location on top of two handicap spots, lived in a nice singlewide with two bedrooms and a bath. The brown paint was flaking, but it was still one of the best-kept trailers on the lot. Its wheels were hidden by faux-stone siding, indicating that the previous occupant had been a mobile-homer. The trailers were laid out in a backward-F shape. My trailer was in the middle of the vertical line. A good location with a view of the dung-covered birdbath in the middle of the parking lot.
Living in the park reminded me of the dorms back in Stillwater, except I had more space and my own bathroom. The trailers were absurdly close to each other. I could just about reach out my front door and knock on my neighbor’s back door. Shaquille O’Neal could have accomplished it. I’m generally one to keep to myself, but a trailer park, even in a big city, is a small community. Everyone wants to know you so they can know your business. I got to know my neighbors pretty quickly.
There was America Joe, a man with a flag obsession. He looked like the narrator from the John Prine song “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.” He had two full-size American flags framing his doorway, another one on his patio up a pole that was set in concrete in a five-gallon Homer bucket. Ten flag decals on his car, one on each window of his trailer. All of his shirts had flags on the front. He hated Obama. The one sticker on his truck that was not flag-themed stated that he had voted for the American. He hated Obama more than Obama hates guns, more than Bush hated black people, more than I hate the Internet. He would lock you into conversation, look around the trailer park, and mutter, “That Obama,” as if Obama had given him the drinking problem that cost him his job and family and landed him in this miserable place. Anytime something went wrong it was “Thanks, Obama.”
Did I scrounge up an old Obama-Biden 2012 yard sign and hang it on the front of my trailer for him to glare at every time he pulled up in his old beater truck? Of course, because I’m an asshole. But we were still friendly, talked almost every day. He was crazy, ridiculous, but a good enough guy, if you could keep him off politics. It was hard, because he was one of my favorite types of political commentator, the guy who knows nothing about politics or government or history but is still an expert on all three. Put a good suit on him and he could be an analyst for any of the twenty-four-hour news channels. He was maybe not the sharpest thorn on the bush.
“They’re going to start garnishing my wages,” I told him one morning.
“Which is great because I love parsley and orange slices.”
“Oh mister, I guess that’s what a college degree is worth. Welcome to the University of Life, son.”
I had to explain that I knew what it meant to have one’s wages garnished, but he just gave me a look of piteous condescension.
The guys in the park flocked to me when they saw my guitar, but when they learned I didn’t know any Skynyrd they forgot about it. Most of the guys were Hispanic, but they still loved their Skynyrd.
“What’s your favorite band? Like if you could only take one album with you to heaven? Mine’s Journey.” This was Napkins, so named because he liked to steal napkins. “Paper napkins, cloth napkins, decorative, plain. Them are about the only types of napkins but I don’t discriminate. I got a thing for napkins.”
“Right now it’s Suicide.”
“Suicide? There’s a band called Suicide? That ain’t right.” The napkin bandit shook his head in disbelief and walked away.
The Kreusmarks were mobile-homers who moved from Iowa for the legal weed. The husband had terrible seizures, which seemed to be helped by medicinal tinctures. He always wore khaki pants (khaki shorts in hot weather) and a golf shirt. She kept their tiny yard immaculate. She was retired but got a part-time job bagging groceries at Trader Joe’s. They acted uncomfortable, but it was clear, in spite of their constant, well-publicized fear of being robbed, that they liked their high-class status.
Everyone in the park had a nickname but me. Even the stuffy Kreusmarks, who had been there only three months longer than me, were Cruisin’ Jack and Cruisin’ Betty. Our evil landlord was Stigosaurus. I was just Herb, which I hate already, more so when it is deliberately mispronounced, as if I were a little sprig of rosemary. I had always wanted a nickname, but because I wanted one God or the universe wouldn’t let me have one. “You got to earn your name, Herb,” America Joe said. “Can’t just give it to you.”
Dolores Villalobos, AKA Dolly Tamale, took care of me. She lived next door, or behind me, it’s hard to figure out which. Her front door opened toward the back of my trailer. Either way, she was my neighbor, and she took a shine to me, cooked special dinners for me, invited me over to watch movies with her family, introduced me to a girl, Ryann, who lived either next door to her or behind her, in a rundown trailer with a brand-new cedar deck leading up to the front door.
She had us both over for dinner, then cooked up an emergency that required the whole family to leave. “But you two stay, you enjoy this good food.”
Ryann, not Ryan. “With two ens. Sometimes guys will say ‘Ryan,’ huh? Did your parents want a boy?’ And I’ll say, ‘How do you know I’m not a boy?’ Kind of ends that conversation. Confession here: when I was thirteen I had sort of a kleptomaniac phase where me and my friends would go to the mall and steal things like shirts and makeup and CDs. But I would never steal from a person. My mom said when I have kids they’re going to be twice as bad as me and I said ‘I know how to solve that problem. I won’t have kids.’ But I do want kids. I’m going to name my first child Ruckus. I said it as a joke but then I thought it had a nice sound. What about you? Do you want kids? Oh shit, I’m not trying to. Maybe I am. Do you? Want kids? I’m sorry.”
She told me she’d just broken up with her boyfriend, she liked me but wanted to take it slow. “I just got out of prison, so—me too.” Imagine how slow I wanted to take it. Tall and slim, small-chested, narrow-hipped, with black hair, wearing black jeans, black Chuck Taylor’s, a red-and-black flannel shirt, sexier to me than any lingerie-clad angel, Ryann was the type of girl that buxom Jen could never comprehend. Jen hated Kiera Knightley, couldn’t understand why men liked her. “She looks like a boy,” she had said while we were watching one of her movies.
“If boys looked like her, I would be bisexual.” Not the smartest comment. What I should have said was, “You’re right. Ugh.”
But I could comprehend her. I was so smitten after our first date, if that’s what it can be called, that I wanted to ask Ryann to move in with me. I didn’t; I’m not insane. She talked a lot, almost incessantly, but she wasn’t one of these constant talkers whose words don’t mean anything. You look through the window to their souls and see a bare room. They don’t have any innermost secrets. Not Ryann. My mom would have hated her, too, because she didn’t go to college, cut hair at one of the budget salons, had tattoos.
An ex-convict needs a letter from the president in order to get a job, and even that is no guarantee. I was banished from the cutthroat world of bicycle taxis, but I still had my ride so I started my own business selling healthy snacks out of my pedicab. It was an off-the-books job since I was unlicensed, so to satisfy my parole officer I got a part-time gig wearing an iPhone costume in front of a cell phone store on Morrison Road. In addition to turning myself into a productive member of society while walking the straight and narrow, regaining my children’s trust, and paying ninety percent of my monthly income in rent and child support, I also resolved to resuscitate my music career.
I kept to myself in prison, except for a daily basketball game. I worked out. I read three hundred books. I wrote a dozen songs. Twelve songs over two years doesn’t sound that prolific, especially from someone who didn’t have anything else to do, but I didn’t have any instruments. I had to hear the music in my head and put it together with decent lyrics. I was nervous when it came time to sit down with a guitar and play the first song. It sounded terrible. They all did, so I salvaged the best lines and wrote twelve new songs in my lonely, prison-bare trailer.
The boys got the band back together, replaced me while I was in the joint with a guy who was technically much more proficient on the guitar than I am. There is no shortage of skilled players in Denver. They cut a new album that got a lot of play on OpenAir, the local public radio music station, and they actually made some money and went on tour. I always thought our sloppiness was what made us stand out. There are a lot of fast-playing punk bands out there that are very tight and technical. That wasn’t us. We had flaws, but we also had soul.
I decided to go solo. I joined the modern world and bought a used computer, along with a jack to allow me to plug a microphone into it. My album was called, naturally, One Man’s Trailer Trash, and it had sort of a punk/post-punk singer-songwriter aesthetic, Townes Van Zandt with Descendants and Hüsker Dü influences. It was just me and my guitar, with another guitar overlaid on top. I plugged a mic into my computer and recorded everything through it, vocals and guitar tracks. You can get a cleaner sound by jacking your guitar directly into the computer, but I wanted the trailer to be part of the album. I wanted the ambient noise from outside, the sirens, firecrackers, car alarms, slamming doors, free-range children, the manic dogs, the screaming. When you hear a man shout, “My leg! My leg!” that’s when Stank Hank got run over by a golf cart, which crushed his aluminum leg. One of my enemies called the album punktry. Someone on the Internet called it agitcountry.
I also recorded a cover of “Gin and Juice.” Since my release Connal had refused to go to sleep if I didn’t sing “Naked Juice”: “Rolling down the street blowing bubbles, sipping on Naked Juice, / laid back, with my mind on my bunny and my bunny on my mind.” Jen didn’t want me coming over to sing at night; it confused Connal, made her too sad. So I burned him a CD. I had a plan if Snoop Dogg ever unleashed his lawyers on me. First, I’m a big fan. When I switched from analog to digital, Doggystyle was the first CD I bought. Second, my cover is technically a parody, so it’s protected. And finally, I live in a trailer, give me a break.
A lot of inmates find God in prison, get religious. I went a different route, as I usually do. I converted from deism, the belief, shared by some of our founding fathers, that some entity that could be called God created the universe, but that this being plays no role in our lives, to dystheism, the idea that God probably exists and is probably an asshole. Prattle on about your benevolent God; Jen’s financial problems were solved the day I went to prison when she both got a raise and lost her father, who left her about forty thousand dollars. She also sold most of my possessions—my car, my Les Paul, my Telecaster, my Alvarez acoustic, my Marshall stack, my record collection. She left me my pedicab, my Line 6 amp, my acoustic Kay, and an electric guitar she thought was too ugly to sell. The guitars she sold were my prized possessions, destined to be given to our children, sold instead for far less than their worth to a big-eared hipster in a second-rate band called The Reeking Crew that achieved “that classic Denver sound,” according to some dolt in Westword, the weekly alternative newspaper owned by Village Voice Alternative Media Conglomerate LLC, through the addition of a cello. If she’d had the idea to sell some of our stuff before I started selling my body to pay for Connal’s preschool, I would have been open to discussion. I’d have been happy to sell my car, and I would have grudgingly acceded to selling the Kay and the Line 6. I would even have parted with a selection of my records. I had floated the idea of selling her car. Mine was paid for; we were paying $275 a month on her Golf. But she turned her nose up at the suggestion. I always thought that was an asinine expression, but she really turned her nose up. It was creepy, like Regan’s 360 head-spin in The Exorcist. We could have worked something out, but Jen’s plan was just to fret and pull her hair and wait for the universe to sort us out. Thanks, universe.
She held on to Ms. Vargas, an electric guitar I built in high school and named after my English teacher, because she didn’t think it was worth anything. Ms. Vargas was always my favorite guitar, as is always the case with your first guitar. Every guitar player is polyamorous, at least with guitars; you can love every guitar you own, but you can’t love one guitar enough to be exclusive with it. Jen also kept all my tools, knowing that the house still needed a lot of work and I would do it even if I wasn’t living in it. So I started working on a new guitar.
Vargas was a claptrap-looking guitar with an old hubcap for a body. It looked like something the people from The Hills Have Eyes would play, but it had style. Its sound was a paradox, bright and clean but also dirty, like Carlos Santana and the young Isaac Brock were playing at the same time, competing for control of the guitar’s soul.
I harbored hopes of reconciliation, but they disintegrated like airport toilet paper when she told me she’d sold my guitars.
“That’s like if I sold the children without asking you first.”
“Seriously? Are you really saying that to me right now? Through a half-inch of prison glass? Enjoy prison, goofus. I hope you get butt-fucked in the shower tonight.” And she slammed the phone down, knocked over her chair while trying to scoot it violently away, and left. She didn’t visit me again.
It was strange and painful to be close to my family every night and not be able to hug everyone goodnight, stay up and watch TV with my wife after the children were in bed. But if there is a bright side to divorce it’s in the free time you never had before. Alone with a guitar, I am happier than a child in a cardboard box. I worked on the album every night, writing and rewriting songs, recording them, doing different takes. I wrote my very first love song, “Paranoid Love Song:”
The government’s out to get me—
They’re always on my back.
I always get pulled over,
And I ain’t even black.
A persecuted life is lonely.
I need someone on my side.
They can’t make you talk against me
If you become my bride.
I know it’s not romantic
To be always on the run,
But once we get to my cave in Utah
Our troubles will be done.
I know I shouldn’t be calling—
They got a wiretap on your phone—
But I figured I ought to warn you
Not to go outside alone.
I’ll be there in the morning.
I got to shake these G-men first.
Don’t answer the door for no one.
Take the credit cards out of your purse.
You might call it paranoia
But you’ve got to understand,
I may not be quote “normal,”
But I’m not a crazy man.
Your friends may still think I’m crazy,
But I can prove that it’s not true:
Shit, I’d be crazy
Not to love you.
I finished the album and put it out on the Internet. About a quarter of Americans believe that Obama is the antichrist, but they are wrong. The Internet is the antichrist. It’s about to do to all of Western civilization what it did to video stores. In thirty years there will be nothing left but cockroaches, sentient computers, and Family Videos. No one bought the album. I would have been better off handing it out on street corners. So I did that. I gave up on the delusion of making any money off my work. I burned five hundred CDs and gave them away. If you bought a cup of mangoes from me, free CD. Took a flyer from the iPhone man on Morrison, free CD. Lived in my trailer park/mobile home community, free CD. And I played a free show. I set up on Ryann’s deck. I didn’t have a PA or speakers—it was just me, Ms. Vargas, my amp, and Ryann’s karaoke machine. I put a five-gallon bucket next to the Schlitz-stocked cooler, and at the end of the night I’d earned almost two dollars, which was better than I’d done on the Internet.
I played mostly new stuff. I got a standing ovation for “Nadia”:
I throw up in my mouth when I see your face.
Satan’s saved for you in hell a special place.
I can’t believe I once loved you,
And I don’t know what to do
Except throw up in my mouth when I see your face.
You left me there with your dying mother,
Cheated on me with my baby brother.
He was thirteen years old,
And by the way you’re not as pretty as your mother.
You killed my dog and wrecked my pickup truck.
I was the only man in the city you wouldn’t fuck.
I could overlook your cheating,
But the reason I am leaving
Is that you killed my dog and wrecked my pickup truck.
My neighbors weren’t enthralled, occasionally mildly amused, but they were polite, until I got to “Student Loan Blues,” my homage to Woody Guthrie:
I dress in rags, live on the street,
Get dirty looks from everyone I meet.
Don’t have a house, don’t have a car,
Well I had a family but I don’t know where they are.
Got a million dollars in student loan debt,
And I can’t remember the last time I ate [pronounced “et”].
I got bedbugs, don’t got a bed,
And I won’t be free, even after I’m dead.
Jesus died to pay for our sins.
Got to pay him back when the world ends.
You’d expect a trailer park to be a hotbed of atheism, but the Shady Grovians were all believers in some form of Christianity. Ryann, who helped me appease the crowd by singing “Angel of Montgomery” with me, was Alt-Christian. She believed God was a woman and Jesus was her son. He was divine, but the New Testament is corrupted and we should only take the nice parts seriously.
I calmed them down with the duet and then “Enter Sandman,” which I knew because I used to sing it to Connal.
I wrapped up with covers of “Shady Grove” and “Shady Lane” that were unappreciated, answered with cries of “‘Free Bird!’” It wasn’t the most hostile crowd I’ve played for, but they weren’t asking for an encore. After some tepid applause I packed up my gear and Ryann invited me to have a drink at her place, which led to a lot more drinks as well as a night of raucous—well, I’ll leave it to your imagination.
I woke up with the worst hangover of my life. It felt like The Butthole Surfers and the Art Ensemble of Chicago were using my empty head as practice space, but it was just Jen. I had rigged “The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey’s Grave” as her ringtone. Her mother was dead, a bored kid had dropped a rock off an overpass; she needed me to stay with the kids for a week.
I came home to a mystery. I wasn’t aware of it at first. I went straight to my trailer without talking to anyone, spent the night drinking Schlitz and working on my new guitar. The hipsters moved in overnight. It was like Red Dawn, only plausible. I awoke to the dulcet moans of Bon Iver and a chorus of hackey sacks. I looked outside and the neighbor’s porch was covered in Ikea patio furniture. A skeleton of a man was riding in circles on a unicycle. He had a full-sleeve tattoo on his arm of a pink dragon. I rubbed my eyes, tried to wake up.
America Joe was gone. No one saw him move out, no one saw who scraped the flags off his windows. No one knew what had happened to him, only that his trailer was now occupied by a man named Panda who was prominent in the lingering Occupy Denver movement. The Villalobos family was gone, their trailer replaced by a deluxe doublewide whose front screen door came very close to scraping the back of my trailer when fully opened. I could open my sliding back door, which led out to an imaginary patio, and jump into their trailer if I wanted to and their front door was open. Or I could just tightrope across on the slackline they’d hung between our rigs.
And Ryann was sitting on the lap of a raven-haired androgynous young man with earplugs that made his lobes wide enough to thrust his own fist or a burly dick through. He was skinny, had just enough muscle to move his limbs. He was sitting on top of a tube amp. There was no way he was strong enough to lift it himself. Ryann must have carried it outside for him. I was shocked that the weight of waifish Ryann hadn’t broken his legs. I thought about doing it myself though. Ryann and I hadn’t pledged our troths or published the banns, it had just been one night, but one night that seemed like it was bound to lead to more nights along with a tacit agreement that we would be an exclusive thing when I got back to the park.
Hipsters, having run out of places to gentrify, after spreading from Brooklyn to Hoboken, Iowa City, Denver, had invaded our trailer park. They were all artists or poets or in bands, all masters of hackeysack and irony. Ryann’s new boyfriend was in a band that had pioneered a new sound called didgeridoowop. (“He’s not my boyfriend, per se, just my male friend that I might sleep with sometimes while I work out my feelings for you.”) Someone had been watching Trailer Park Boys and realized he could spend $900 a month for a trailer that could be shared by four or five other people, or waste $900 a month for a 333-square-foot apartment on Cap Hill. At the same time, Stigosaurus had realized he could charge more for doublewides and was evicting the low-rent old-timers and their ramshackle rigs.
I got out of prison and was dumped in a new Denver, one where aspiring homebuyers were sending gifts, pleading letters, and even professionally edited videos begging sellers to accept their offers. There seemed to be no limits to what potential homebuyers would do. Even sexual favors were exchanged. One couple got the starter home of their dreams, a two-bedroom bungalow in the Highlands, only after agreeing to let the seller have the wife, a hot young blonde out of Spokane, in the ass while the husband videoed the act. How Ron Zappolo of Fox 31 got hold of the video I can’t say.
When Jen and I bought the house the economy was still on the rebound. Housing prices were low. We bought our house for $88,000. The most recent assessment was $120,000, but I made a lot of improvements, salvaged the original oak floor in the living room, laid new floors in the bedrooms, replaced the broken tile countertops with butcher’s block, ripped out the moldy, smelly fireplace and replaced it with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, rewired the second bedroom, replacing the aluminum wire with copper. If she sold the house now she’d make a good profit but would have to move into a trailer because there’s nothing in town she could afford to buy. Even in a trailer, she’d be paying more than her mortgage for a two-bedroom house with two bathrooms and, no offense to my fellow trailer-dwellers, a foundation.
I’ve met a lot of racists in my life, a lot of hipsters, too. But I’ve never met anyone who claimed to be either racist or a hipster. The newcomers didn’t like their label, but they were stuck with it, as we were with them. Our world was upheaved. Napkins, talking about one of his new neighbors: “When I first seen her I thought she was on the meth, but she’s just skinny.” Carlos the Jackass, Napkins’s roommate: “I looked out the window and sawed this young man, I think it was a man, walking his dog, and I said, ‘No one walks their dog round here. What in heck is going on?’”
Soon the food trucks started rolling in—organic waffles, Quinoa-on-a-Stick, vegan soul food—turning our humble trailer park into Portland-on-the-Plains. I had no complaints. Like everyone from my generation, I love food trucks, and next to New York, Portland is my favorite city in the U.S. My business picked up as well, pedaling fresh mango chunks around the park. I even started a band with a couple newcomers. We were a trio: bass, drums, guitar. I sang. We called ourselves The Mumbleweeds. They were nice people, vaguely anarchic misfits like me.
I’ve never understood the hatred of hipsters. They are annoying, but so is every other human group. Hipsters are at least useful, almost absurdly industrious. Already someone had put in a raised-bed organic garden. And someone else, presumably someone else, had painted an ironic mural on the side of America Joe’s trailer. I can understand why poor people might dislike them; an influx of hipsters tends to lead to a gradual outflux of poor people, but it’s not the hipsters moving them out but the market, that ineffable, inscrutable deity. Maybe it is their incomparable industriousness that is the source of other people’s contempt for hipsters, who work so much harder than the crabs who mock them, and they do it in style without breaking a sweat. I think I’m on to something. After all, the only people who work harder than hipsters are immigrants, and look how people treat them.
I got a notice on my door: Shady Grove was being sold to a giant corporation. My rent would stay the same, but I’d have to pay an additional $500-per-month lot fee. In the days that followed more old-timers vanished, without a word, without a trace, replaced by dark-haired hipsters. Anti-hipster sentiment was high. I am neither of the hipster world nor completely outside it. I knew a lot of them but was never quite one myself. My old band had a lot of hipster fans, especially after we moved to Denver. I was used to them, but they were alien to most of the remaining old-timers. There was talk of beating some of them up.
“Back me up, Herb,” said Mongrel, who lived in the park’s only Airstream. “They’re ruining our park. We can’t let them get away with it.”
That was more than I could take. “This is what the plutocrats always pull, playing groups of people with common interests against each other to shield themselves from the consequences. Black against white. Immigrant against native-born. Hipster against trailer trash. No more! If we stand together, hipsters and trailer trash united as one, we can fight the plutocrats. We can send Stigosaurus and his corporate monkeys running. We can take our trailer park back.”
“It ain’t a trailer park,” said Cruisin’ Jack. “It’s a goddamn mobile home community.”
It was decided. We would pool our resources and buy the park outright, manage it ourselves as a real community. They chose me to represent the park residents. This was my purpose, to stand up for the underdog, to fight the forces of gentrification and corporatocracy. A modern Joe Hill. “You need eight million,” Stigosaurus told me. “You got eight million?”
“Damn,” said Napkins, down but not defeated. He shrugged his shoulders. “Fuck it. Let’s have a party.
My future with Ryann was uncertain, but I at least got to raise a ruckus at the farewell party. The fine citizens of Shady Grove could not raise enough money to save our community, but we raised enough to order plenty of pizza and make a legendary liquor run. The Mumbleweeds became The War on Xmas, and we played our first show at the goodbye bash. Our sound is like good sex: loud, sloppy, and angry. I turned the head of my new guitar into a torch and lit it at the end of the show, played a flaming guitar while covering the Sex Pistols, changing “anarchist” to “antichrist.” I never liked the Sex Pistols, but I love to play that song. When my guitar became unplayable I hurled it down and began screaming: “I am the antichrist, destroyer of worlds, defiler of daughters!” I would be upset if my daughter attended a concert or party at which a drunk thirty-four-year-old man proclaimed himself a defiler of daughters, but it was the right thing to say. “This trailer park is going out of business, people. Everything must burn.” Melissa, our bass player, turned up the reverb so that “burn” echoed through the night.
I was drinking whiskey, which makes me want to fuck or blow something up, preferably both. The mood was destructive. We had not planned a riot, but we all had the same idea, to sabotage Stig’s deal by destroying the new trailers. We were the tornado that would wreck this trailer park. Stigosaurus’s car was parked in front of his trailer, but he wasn’t there. The trailer was his office, but he lived in Lakewood, a suburban usurper. Twenty minutes later his car was on fire. The police never showed up. We shot fireworks, ran naked through the street, hurled Molotov cocktails at Stig’s office trailer. Armed with baseball bats, sledgehammers, bricks, we tore the place apart. Napkins turned his car into a battering ram. He started with the office, moved up to some of the doublewides. He was throwing up in the new garden when I said goodnight. I broke a bone in Ryann’s beau’s hand when I shook it, and she came home with me. I didn’t technically blow anything up, but it was a good night.
My mother called me just to tell me to make sure, after she died, that her grave faced the east. “That’s something you could have put in your will instead of calling at six in the morning.”
“This is important. East is the direction my savior will come from.”
“Your savior? Isn’t he everyone’s savior?”
“I guess that’s up to him.”
“Let us know when you’re planning to get those babies baptized. We’ll come out.”
“I told you before that Connal baptized himself when he was eight months. It was a diaper change gone awry.”
“Don’t talk like that. You’re a grown man. You have responsibilities. There are consequences. You’re playing with fire not getting them baptized. Literally.”
“What kind of insane God would send an innocent baby to hell because his parents didn’t get him baptized?”
I don’t know where all this came from, her stuck-up zealotry. She had always gone to church, but she didn’t talk about it, read the bible, decorate her house with hokey spiritualisms. It was after I left for college that she turned both hyper religious and bourgeois at the same time, becoming more judgmental as she was being told to judge not. Some fanatics had infiltrated the University of Central Oklahoma human resources department, where she had worked for twenty years. Ever since they showed up she had turned into a super-Christian. Religion, like alcohol and cursing, is fine in moderation, but she had become a lush for the Lord. My dad could hardly stand to be around her, which had inspired him to finally take up golf and drinking, which drove my mother crazy and deeper into the arms of Jesus. Jesus was the giver of all that was good but had nothing to do with the bad. She had turned into a God’s-will reasoner: “If God didn’t want us to eat meat, he wouldn’t have given us cows.” “If God didn’t want us to use fossil fuels, he wouldn’t have given us oil.” If God didn’t want us to masturbate, I wanted to ask, why did he give us genitals? I am full of retorts. I have seventeen years worth of them built up, snappy comebacks that I don’t say. If God wanted us to use oil he wouldn’t have made it so hard to find. If God was all-powerful and all-knowing he would have given us an energy source that would not destroy the planet he so considerately created. If God wanted you to think independently he would have given you a brain. If you love your mother, when you feel like strangling her you change the subject.
“How’s the weather?”
“Oh, it’s beautiful. How’s the weather up there?”
“Is it snowing?”
“Mom, it’s August.”
“I don’t know. Up there in Colorado it might be snowing anytime.”
This is a common theme. Everyone in my family seems to think Colorado is in the arctic.
“I wish you’d move out of that trailer.”
“You might get your wish pretty soon.”
“I told you you’d end up in a trailer park.
I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I just got up. My front and back doors were both blocked by wedged-in vans (and I had attributed the tremors in the trailer to my manly prowess). I picked up a chair and hurled it through the window in the front bedroom. I could have just opened the window and ripped out the screen, but I still felt dramatic.
“Damn,” said Napkins when he saw me. “You’re the antichrist. That’s your nickname. Antichrist.” He had not been to bed yet. He handed me a Natural Light.
“Antichrist? For real?”
“Yeah, Antichrist. I like that.”
“I could cry. I am Antichrist.”
The park was trashed, trailers ripped apart, cars smoldering. Someone had taken a dump in the birdbath. It didn’t matter, like everything else. We were being displaced, but nobody cared about the mess we left. We found out that day we were all being evicted. Soon the workers of Denver will have to live on the Kansas border. Our corporate overlords had found a recipe for gentrifying Westwood. In less than a year Shady Grove would become luxury condos above retail space for a boutique marijuana dispensary called The Potisserie, specializing in herb-infused French pastries.
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