Trailer Park Confidential

My Short Life as a California Dreamer

I lived in dry storage for another six months, taking showers in the clubhouse and keeping all the shades drawn so that no one knew I was there. I was still eating a lot of ramen noodles and riding in the golf cart, though I just couldn't seem to get myself to empty out the ashtray that held Larry's old cigarette butts.

My new boss, Stella, didn't really have a problem with me living in the yard, but she wanted me to start thinking about living elsewhere because of "liability concerns." Things weren't the same without Larry. So I moved into a three-bedroom house with Ezee and three other guys. That lasted about four months. After being awakened at 7 a.m. by salsa music every weekend, sharing one bathroom among four guys—one of whom lived in our garage—who love Mexican food, watching roaches scurrying over the dirty dishes when I turned on the kitchen light, finding food-caked silverware under the couch pillows and coming home to find all the furniture on the porch and 50 guys crammed into the living room and watching a live strip show, I moved out. I rented a room from my friend Freddy in his new condo in Aliso Viejo.

I began writing—music and sports, mostly—for OC Weekly. I found another accounting job in a little office in Irvine, and I gave notice at Bayside Village. I thought trailer parks were behind me. I had been living with Freddy for about a year when Patti, my ex-boss, told me about a possible opening at a trailer park on Balboa Peninsula.

"It's right on the beach," she said. "The residents are mostly part-time, and the park is much smaller than Bayside Village—and you get your own coach to live in."

I jumped at the chance to live alone and rent-free. The park manager, Vinnie, was a friend of Stella's so I was hired almost straight away.

I didn't know there was a trailer park on the Peninsula, since Marinapark is tucked behind a city parking lot along the bay and mostly hidden by a fence. I got my own pad—a 30-year-old double-wide trailer—and my own driveway, a luxury on the Peninsula. Though the city owns the land, leasing it to trailer owners for between $800 and $1,200 per month, it hired a management company to run its property. That's who I worked for.

Actually, I worked for Vinnie, an old-school, 62-year-old Italian from Queens. Vinnie once worked as a longshoreman and used to tell me how the mob forced him to hand over a percentage of his pay every week; his intermediary, he said, was a Catholic nun. Why would he pay? I asked. Because of Lonny, he said—who refused to pay and was fished out of the East River, his body laid on the docks so that everybody could get a look before he was taken away on a board with a sheet over him. He claimed the story was true, and I wondered if he was telling me this to impress me or to give me his views on labor relations.

Vinnie was happy to have someone around who could do a little maintenance and landscaping and wasn't afraid of dirty work, like cleaning the public restrooms and showers. He'd just been through two assistants; the last, whom Vinnie referred to as the Rag, had made the mistake of considering herself a resident rather than an employee. When it looked as though the city might not extend the land lease, forcing all residents to remove their trailers within 60 days, the Rag took it upon herself to attend a City Council meeting to protest at the podium that the city had no right to evict her and that she, as a resident, had every right to be there. That was her last mistake.

The manager's watch is Monday through Friday, while the assistant covers weekends. My Saturday mornings would start with a scenic bayfront walk along the Marinapark boardwalk, where I'd turn on all the sprinkler valves with a long rod so that I wouldn't have to bend down and thus could sip my coffee as I went.

The part-time residents—made up mostly of affluent retirees who came in on weekends from Beverly Hills, Palm Desert and San Marino—were usually not up yet, so I had the place to myself. After my morning patrol, I'd sometimes stop back at my trailer to shave, grab a bagel or check for e-mails. Then I'd go back to the office, turn on the TV, put my feet up on my desk and prop my head against the wall—sunglasses still on so that if I dozed, no one would be the wiser. I "watched" the park entrance for nonresident invaders.

At lunch time, I'd walk across the street to the beach, usually eating at the Blue Beet Café, which had become a surrogate home.

Sometimes Vinnie would go to lunch with me, or we'd go for a coffee break in the morning, leaving a sign on the office door that said, "Out of the Park, Be Back Soon." Aside from cleaning the restrooms and watering a few plants, I watched TV or sat in front of the office catching rays and smoking cigars, waving to incoming and outgoing residents.

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