Trailer Park Confidential

My Short Life as a California Dreamer

Then I answered a want ad for an administrative assistant at a place called Bayside Village in Newport Beach. I didn't know the place was a senior trailer park until I got off the bus. It was like no trailer park I'd ever seen: refurbished double-wides sitting pretty along the Back Bay, with snow-capped ladies playing bridge in the clubhouse and salt-and-peppering the poolside. The office manager, Tammy, hired me almost on the spot because I fixed her printer.

My duties were cake: a little basic accounting and answering the phone. The rest of the time, I'd chauffeur the park manager, Larry, around in a pristine golf cart. Larry was a prolific smoker, augmenting cigarettes with a little cannabis in the evening. He liked to go to the Yankee Tavern frequently for happy hour and liquid lunches. We referred to the Tavern as "the annex" so the park residents milling around in the office would think we were going offsite to conduct important business. Sometimes, we'd take the cart to the annex and have it valet parked.

Meanwhile, Jill was offered a job as a waitress at the Rock-N-Java on Main Street.

Things were looking up.

A few weeks later, Jill confessed she wanted to go home. She'd try and hang on for my sake, she said. I thought if we got out of the RV, we'd have a chance. But one day after I signed a lease and put down a $400 deposit on an apartment in Huntington Beach, Jill decided to go home.

All I could afford was a bus ticket. I wasn't bitter that I had to eat the $400 deposit. I just wanted her to be happy. I guess. I took her to the station in Santa Ana and watched her bus pull away. She was crying, but she was leaving me all the same.

I never returned to RV by the Sea. At my new job, I had become the caretaker of a storage yard, a graveyard for RVs, trailers and boats, surrounded by a high fence with razor-sharp barbed wire trimming the top. After nightfall, I pulled my RV into the yard and parked it discreetly in a space between two large motor homes. I spent the night there, then another, then a year and a half.

"I don't see a problem with it. Do you?" Larry asked me one day. He had received word from one of the busybody residents that I was living in the yard. That's how I learned trailer park rule No. 2: you check your privacy at the property line.

Larry and I had a fantastic friendship and working groove. He was a retired show-biz heavyweight, having produced the original Dating Game, Newlywed Game and Divorce Court. We loved jamming to reggae when we were in the office. I was often late in the morning. "Overslept," I'd say. "Hey, it's not a murder," he'd say. We'd ride around in the golf cart, pretending to inspect the park while actually joy-riding, Larry chanting, "Isn't this beautiful?" the whole way. We were careful to avoid residents who tried to wave us down to tell us that the Jacuzzi temperature was "scalding," or "too cold," or "bad for my heart."

I began dating again. Ashley, the first girl I brought back to the RV, thought it was charming, "like being on a camping trip." But I began to notice that every time we went out for a drink, Ashley ended up blowing chunks. It had become a habit of mine to take dates for a night ride in the golf cart and then to the clubhouse to sit by the pool. The first night I did this with Ashley, she threw up in the pool—in front of residents who stood silently in the Jacuzzi. The second time, she did it in Larry's bushes while I was house-sitting his trailer. The third and last time it happened, she woke me by throwing rocks at my RV. Before I could open the gate, she climbed over the barbed-wire fence, yelling, "I love you, CJ!" She vomited by the dry-storage gate that night, laughing between hurls. I was careful about who I brought back to the RV after that.

Still, for one year, Larry and I had a time. Until the morning he didn't show up for work.

"Let him be," I said to Becky, our latest office manager. "He's probably sleeping in today."

"But he always comes in before I get here and reads the paper," Becky said with real concern. "And he's not answering his phone."

So the maintenance man, Ezee, and I took the cart down to Larry's trailer and knocked on the door. No answer. Since Larry never locked his door, Ezee opened it halfway.

"Larry!?"

Then he went inside. I knew Larry was sleeping off a hangover and told Ezee not to disturb him, but he caught a glimpse of Larry in the bedroom.

"He's on the floor!"

Larry's heart had exploded while he was on the way to the shower. He had fallen face-down and died so quickly that a towel was still slung over his shoulder and a cigarette was still in his mouth; it had kept burning a while after he stopped breathing, leaving a scorched circle in the carpet. He'd been dead since 11 p.m. the night before. He was 64.

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