Monday, October 25, 2010

Excerpt from Summer Vacation, Raised by White Trash

The rest stop was like all of the others we had stopped at while crossing the country. Concrete and cinder blocks ordeals painted white to better show off the less than witty graffiti. The eaves were open to the outside to allow bathroom smells and bathroom noises to flow out into the surrounding atmosphere.

Bubba and I were figuring out if we could get a soda machine to produce without putting any change in it when from the men’s side of the bathroom we heard the voice of a young boy. “Hey is anyone out there?”

We stopped what we were doing so we could hear better. . We had to know who was breaking the no talking in the bathroom rule.

“Yeah, what ya need buddy” now two people were breaking the no talking rule and one was our stepfather!

“Hey Mister, could you wipe me?”

Time stopped as we waited for the answer. After what could have been hours Mom and Becky came out of the adjoining ladies room. Becky’s hair and tee shirt damp. She didn’t care. She heard what we heard and wanted to know the answer

“Did you hear...” she started but we shushed her and strained our ears toward the open space at the top of the walls of the bathrooms.

A little more time passed and, though she was just as curious as we were, Mom ordered us back in to the car to wait. A few moments later our father figure joined us in silence and we returned to the highway.

My mom prodded him into tell the story. “So, how did it go in there?”

“Fine” he said studying the road in front of more than he had the entire trip.

Being the youngest and the only girl Becky could be more direct. “Did you touch that kids butt!?”

“Yeah,” Bubba added, “Did you wipe his butt?”

He looked to his right to his partner in life so they could have a moment and he could ignore us. but Mom wanted to know too. “Well?” she asked?

“Well there was a little guy in there that needed some help” he paused and we all leaned forward “so I helped a guy out”.

“Oh my god you touched his butt” my sister yelled

“eeewww” came from me and Bubba but all I could think about was the fact that he had never referred to me as “little guy”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

excerpt from Raised By White Trash

By the third or fourth day we fell into our vacation routine. Breakfast in the camper consisted of fried potatoes with fried onions or fried spam or fried eggs or fried bacon. Our mother would announce "Everyone eat now since you don't know when we'll get to eat again". After we ate she would say "I cooked so I'm not doing the dishes". This never seemed fair. She never let anyone else cook. I would have gladly risked burning down the camper to avoid having to wash frying pans for a day.

Then it was either the task of cleaning up the campsite and shrinking our camper back down to travel size for another day of travel or getting in the car to go see whatever sight was planned for the day. Either option involved herding us back into the car. This became more and more difficult as the days progressed.

I didn't care for my parents choice in music. The twangy country music of the time annoyed me and offended my ears. Hearing my siblings cry, however, was not as offensive and would drowned out anything on the radio. If I was in a cooperative mood I would conspire with my brother to arrange a kidnapping of our sister Becky’s favorite toy. A stuffed dog with a name patch spelling out ‘Bernie’ sewn directly to his chest like he worked in an auto parts store.

If I didn’t feel particularly cooperative or Bubba was still mad at me from the last time I made him cry I would wait until Becky drifted off to sleep. Once her breathing became regular and her mouth would open just slightly I would lean over her face, take a deep breath, purse my lips together and then blow really hard into her mouth. This would make her cheeks puff out and her eyes pop out. Not unlike a goldfish.

Becky was the youngest, she was also the only girl and my stepfather’s real child so targetting her was always a tricky issue. It was a paradox though. Because she was hands down the spoiled favorite child she was also the favorite target. The best part about “cheek puffing” is it happened while the victim was asleep. When she recovered from it she and started screaming and hitting I would say “I guess Becky is having another one of her nightmares. She really needs psychological help before she gets big enough to hurt someone”.

I couldn’t cheek puff Bubba though. I know because I tried. He slept too soundly and even though I would huff and puff he would never wake up. His cheeks would just blow around like a basset hound with his head sticking out of of a car window.

It may have been all of that time away from regular entertainments that started my habit of pondering my surroundings. For example the chain of campgrounds we stayed in all had a mascot that was a cartoon rendering of a smiling man welcoming us in for the night. Whether it was on purpose or not his smile tended to make him look slightly brain damaged. I asked my mother if the picture was of a real guy. The owner maybe or a retarded cousin everyone in the family thought fondly of. She didn’t know.

I found out the cartoon face had a name and it was Max. Once he had a name the backstory was easy. I decided to believe there really was a Max and that he was the retarded boss of hundreds of people spread out all over the country. He wasn't always retarded though. Before his likeness was drawn he was kicked in the head by some rednecks who then made him drink the blue stuff that goes in the washer fluid tank under the hood. If the employees wanted to keep their jobs they couldn't let on they knew he was retarded and had to do anything they told him to and just resent it.

I imagined the one-sided phone conversations that were probably going on in the campground offices. “You want us to put Jell-O in all of the pools Max? Ok, sure thing boss” or “We have to hug everyone who checks in now, Max? Ok whatever you say”. I tried to tease Bubba by calling hm “Max” after that but since the entire brain damaged boss story was my own fantasy it didn’t quite have the sting I really wanted it to. I did get some good ammunition later though.

While stopped at one of the gas stations or lunch breaks or bathroom breaks I came across the comic book Little Orphan Annie. I wasn’t really interested in the comic since the cover didn't show any violence or male super heroes groin gripping costumes. This time though I did notice her weird eyes and now I was curious. Was she some kind of little girl alien that could kill people with laser beams from those creepy looking all white eyes?

After quickly skimming the pages and not willing to buy the comic book to find out for sure I waited until we were back in the car and asked "What is Little Orphan Annie?". I directed the question in the general direction of the front seat.

My stepdad answered. "She's from an old radio show". My parents then excitedly described her to me. She had adventures, solved crimes, had a dog named Sandy and was somehow rich and poor at the same time. I was glad I saved my seventy-five cents. She sounded boring to me and the fact that my parents were crazy about her meant I couldn’t possibly like her. Or even look like I did.

I was drifting back into my own thoughts when my sister Becky asked what should have been an obvious question. "What is an orphan?"

"That's someone who doesn't have any parents so they have to live in an orphanage. Then other people who don't have kids can adopt them" My mother explained.

Of course, I thought and then I half yelled and half asked "Am I adopted!?"

"What do you think?" Our mother responded in an exasperated voice. She turned to face me and had an expression on her face I instinctively knew was supposed to assure me but instead just deflated my hope.

"No" I said shrinking back and feeling a little silly at my outburst. I wanted the answer to be yes so bad I could taste it. It made sense to me that these people weren’t related to me. Surely there was a real family out there missing me and wanting to take me home with them.

I was a prime child and I doubted I would have to wait long for a better family. I was smart, all my teacher said so. I was cute, all the girls at school said so. I even had my pictures in magazines so part of the marketing would take care of itself. And besides how bad could an orphanage be if there’s a comic book about it?

“How do kids get to be adopted? I asked maybe a little too expectantly.

“Well,” my mom started “people who can’t have kids come by” then my stepfather cut her off laughing.

“He wants to be put up for adoption, he doesn’t give a shit how other kids get adopted” He told her.

“I want to be adopted too!” my sister said pushing her face next to mine up by the front seat. She always did this. I never got to do anything fun without her trying to butt in.

And if she butt in...”I want to get adopted too!” Bubba jumped in. I don’t think he even heard the conversation but it didn’t matter to him if we were volunteering to have all of our teeth yanked out , he wasn’t about to let us do something without him.

“Sit back in the seat. Nobody is being put up for adoption” Our mother said ending it. I could tell by her voice we hurt her feelings somehow so I tried to fix it.

“Mom if I got adopted I would still come visit you sometimes” I offered.

“I would still live with you” Becky said trying to one up me.

“Nobody would adopt you anyway. You’re too ugly and skinny” I told her.

She started crying “Mom, he said I’m too ugly to get adopted”

“It doesn’t matter since nobody is being put up for adoption. Now sit back and shut up before I come back there”. she said.

We sat back and Becky whispered too low for the front seat to hear “Ha Ha she said you’re not getting adopted”

I whispered back “ha ha she thinks you’re skinny and ugly”

We knew we had pushed it too far to fight loud anymore. Our moms face was red and she was obviously mad. My stepfather though was smiling. He either thought it was funny or was thinking that maybe they shouldn’t be so hasty about this whole adoption thing. I took note thinking that, in this at least, he may be my ally.

Friday, October 15, 2010

day one, Summer vacation

What I did on my Summer vacation.

This year on vacation me and my family went camping all over the place. We hit a deer but it was dead already. We saw a bunch of neat things. We saw Devils Tower that was in the movie about aliens and space. And we saw Mountain Rushmore with the president heads made out of rock. Yosemite Sam park had geysers that smelled like someone always farted. My sister and me both got hit in the face we teased her and said she looked like a monster. My parents were mad a lot but they did not get hurt. It was fun but most of the time it was boring and hot.

The End

I remember thinking how brilliant that essay was. It was succinct and yet touched on the important high points while engaging the reader in personal and family dramas. But now I remembered more clearly. There were... things... Situations I left out.

It had been decided, with no kid input, that our vacation that year would be a two week road trip to see the great American West and all of its treasures. It's hard to think of an adult, especially a parent, holding on to adolescent dreams but I think my stepfather chose this trip because he always wanted to be a cowboy. I came to this conclusion because nearly every book he owned had a picture of a cowboy on it.

It was an odd assumption since I didn’t assume my mother wanted to be the woman on the cover of her books which always included a shirtless, or nearly shirtless, muscle man. I also didn’t assume my stepfather wanted to be like the book he had hidden in the master bathroom. That book sported a line drawing of a woman lying on a bed wearing nothing but fish net stocking and pointed high heels. Her legs were splayed wide open and a scribble of lines below her stomach was pointed toward the man standing at the door wearing a suit and holding a pipe. I didn’t assume he wanted to be either the man in the suit or the naked lady but in my defense he did have a lot more cowboy books.

For the trip he bought a camper. By driving, my stepfather explained, we would see things up close like the early settlers did. Of course I knew he had a fear of flying so driving was really the only way we would get there. The family car was a Lincoln Mercury Marquis and after a case of beer and a welding touch it was retrofitted with a trailer hitch. Now our lemon yellow car could pull a grass green Apache brand pop up camper. Together the car and camper were forty feet of bright colorful vacation madness.

When folded up for travel the camper was about the height of a three mattresses on wheels. A hand crank was used to slowly unfold it raising the roof accordion style to a height of about seven feet. Double beds would slide out at either end and would be suspended about four feet above the ground by two thin aluminum poles. This set up induced in me the fear that it would over balance in the middle of the night rolling us out into a campground in nothing but our white, three to a pack, briefs from JCPenneys. Which at the time was the white trash sleeping attire of choice.

For days before we left on the trip my mother and I would spend hours packing and unpacking making sure things fit in both the open and closed position of the camper. For some reason this activity gave me some sort of deep satisfaction. There was just something fun about choosing what would go in the camper and making sure it all fit in the hidden storage spaces and closets. Then watching the camper get cranked back down to it's compressed position a tight and tidy box. Everything nice neat and orderly. It was my favorite part of the vacation and we hadn't even left home yet.

When The first morning of the trip finally made it we were hauled out of bed at four a.m. since, for some reason, four a.m. was the ultimate time to begin a vacation. My eight year old brother Bubba and my six year old sister Becky and I were piled into the back seat with our pillows, books and toys. The annoying seat belts were tucked into the seat cushions safely out of the way and optimizing our comfort and we were off.

The first day was scheduled as a travel day so no real points of interest were scheduled. We started out napping, reading our books, playing games listening to the radio. Spirits where high and there was still a sense of adventure in the air. For a few hours the family was held in some sort alien and otherworldly harmony. We were the picture perfect family like you would see on TV or in a magazine advertisement. We would remember that earliest part of our vacation for years to come and whisper about it at holidays. Because for a few hours we all got along.


It was about fifteen hours after we started when dusk found us in rural Iowa or Nebraska. We haven’t even finished our first day when we were about to have our first adventure.

We had the windows down to enjoy the cooling summer evening and probably to air out the car after a hot day of sweaty kids in the back seat. I was sitting next to the window and held my hand flat to catch the wind like an airplane wing. The landscape had changed from acres of corn and beans thick woods on either side of the road. Oncoming traffic was sparse and not everyone had their their headlights on yet.

It wasn’t completely dark yet but my stepdad decided it was close enough to nightfall to open his first can of beer of the evening. The rule being he could only drive his family and pull the camper while drinking if it was already dark outside. The lack of sunlight somehow made drunk driving safer.

From the opposite window my little brother yells "hey look at that truck! it's so cool"

The truck in question was directly in front of us and had oversized wheels which put it up off the ground far enough that a little step had been added under the drivers side door to give access.

"What's so cool about it?" our stepfather asked "you can't load anything into the back. You can't tow anything with it". This was supposed to sound like practicality but it was more likely annoyance at not being able to pass the monster truck. He felt it had been going too slow for the past hour.

I had observed over the years that anyone going slower than we were was called a “slow assed, bastard” was told through the closed window that he was “driving like an old lady”. Anyone driving faster than we were was referred to as a “Crazy bastard” and we were going to “Let HIM get the ticket”. Unless of course the speeding vehicle had a gun rack in which case it was just some “good ole boys having a good time”. Only we were going the perfect speed at any given moment.

As it turns out there really is a practical benefit to being so high up off the ground in that part of the country. The driver of the truck showed us exactly how practical when he successfully straddled a long dead and bloated deer carcass that was laying in the middle of our side of the highway.

A Lincoln Mercury Marquis has at best twelve inches of clearance between its underside and the asphalt. A Lincoln Mercury Marquis packed with five people and towing a camper has about eight to ten inches of clearance. An adult deer carcass bloated from at least a day in a hundred degrees extends up from the ground roughly two feet. A height that changes significantly when it's run over by the previously mentioned Lincoln Mercury Marquis.

There is no good way to describe how foul the smell of summer warmed venison smeared under fifteen feet of flesh searing American steel is. It escapes me how to convey the effect fermented intestines coating a tow bar and chains has on the senses. Since the smell seemed to be everywhere outside it seemed prudent to roll up the windows and turn on the air conditioner. But conditioned air has to come from somewhere. Instead of clean breathable air we were blasted with the undiluted smell that was accompanied by a cloud of short fine brown hairs. In a matter of seconds we went from happily bored to fighting nausea with coating of deer hair sticking to our sweat damp skin.

The closest car wash was probably only five miles away but time can be deceiving when you're trying to fight vomiting . Being in the front seat and directly in front of the air vents our mother blocked most of the deer hair with her face. She was so nauseated and frustrated that she started to cry, leaving twin white stripes in the trails left by her tears.

Gagging, we evacuated the car while my stepfather, with his shirt pulled up over his nose like a gas mask, tried to power wash the chunks of rotted and seared tissue off the bottom of the car and camper. Ironically, later in life, he would take a job with the state of Missouri and his tasks would include moving deer carcasses off the highway and burying them on the side of the road so others could avoid this exact fate.

Bubba and I found a water hose meant for filling up radiators and rinsed off our faces but we were going to play too tough to actually get sick. Mom and Becky went to the bathroom at the adjoining gas station to clean up a little and when they returned Bubba and I started talking about maybe finding a place that serves deer meat hamburgers. This made Becky gag and made us smile.

It was only a short ride after that to our first campground. I don't remember everything being set up that first night but I remember the smell had lessened a little but had definitely not gone away. It was too hot to keep the windows closed but the smell was too strong to leave them open. It was a miserable night. We were sick, sore from lack of movement, sun burned and all sense of hope and adventure had fled us and it was only the first day.