Trailer Park Confidential

My Short Life as a California Dreamer

I could handle this.

I was careful to keep my indoor activities innocuous during weekday business hours; Vinnie joked (I think he was joking) that if I had a "broad" over, to be sure and call him so he could listen in. He was always up—hard up—for a younger woman, even though he had a girlfriend about 10 years his junior, whom he'd met in cyberspace via the online personals. She'd drive from Arizona to see him, usually (to his displeasure) bringing her daughter along. When I'd first seen her going to his house, I casually asked him who she was. "Why should I tell you?" he asked. "You never introduce me to any of your broads, you fuck."

I was getting to know some fine musicians around town, and I began playing in a band at the Blue Beet Café. I was writing for the Weekly and other publications. I had a new girlfriend, Cheryl, an actress just fresh off a divorce from some rich dude. She'd drive over in her black Mercedes, and we'd go out on the town. Cheryl paid for everything because her taste was extravagant and she knew my wallet wasn't. Once, she gave a doorman $40 so we could get right into a club past the long line. She always drove. For some reason, going anywhere in my peach-colored 1981 Chevy Caprice just didn't appeal to her.

She seemed to like my trailer, though—said it was "like being in a houseboat." I never let her stay overnight because I couldn't bear all the gossip that would ensue among the residents and I didn't want her to be ogled by seniors as she walked her amazing walk back to her car.

I should have let her stay. But I still missed Jill, and the women I dated were really just to keep her off my mind. It didn't work.

After six months, I had begun to figure out the residents. There were some real nice ones, especially among the full-timers. There was Nick, the park drunk, and his mother, Sally. There was Rita in G-9—97 years old going on 21. And Destiny, a sweet woman who went through the windshield of a car two years before and barely survived on disability checks but still bought me a floor lamp because I'd once mentioned I didn't own one. There were Dave and Frannie in G-3, quiet and polite; the only time I heard anything out of them was one day when I was painting an electrical box outside their trailer and heard what seemed like the unmistakable sounds of animal sex: "YES! YES! YES!" All right, Dave and Frannie, I thought, until I began to pick out phrases like "Praise him," "Glory be" and "Savior."

At 50, Dave and Frannie were among the park's youngest residents, 25 percent of whom were full-timers. Unlike the part-timers, the majority of the full-timers survived on fixed incomes and the park's low rents. In exchange, they lived in a 60-by-25-foot mobile home on a 100-by-60-foot plot of land.

The full-timers and I got along smashingly. I was right there with them in the trenches, scratching out a living. But after six months, I'd come to realize that the part-timers were not at all like the full-timers—not like Dave, who played Johnny Cash songs on his flat-top, and certainly not like Morgan, who'd slip me a $20 bill for helping him net his fig trees against the birds.

The mostly rich part-timers were used to having things done for them on demand. To wit:

[Ring, ring]

"Hello, Marinapark."

"Yes, CJ. This is Mr. Gotrocks from F-4. There's a man coming to repair my air conditioner today, and I'm still out on the boat. [Sound of ice clinking in glasses.] When he gets there, would you let him in and tell him I'm on my way?"

"Well, actually, I'm going to be in and out of the office all day so I don't. . . ."

"Good man."

[Click.]

 

The outgoing message on the office phone told people to press 5 to send an emergency page. Countless times I raced across the park or out of a restaurant to answer a page that invariably went like this:

"Hi, Chris, this is Mr. Goldinpockets. If you see the UPS man today, send him right down, would you, sport?"

Part-timers would knock on my door at 7 a.m. to ask what time the mailman came. They came in the middle of the night to ask if I had packages for them. Late one evening, a resident came to my door—when I only had one light burning in my trailer and all the blinds closed tight. I saw her through my peephole, tousled my hair, took off my shirt and pants, leaving on nothing but my boxers and house slippers, and then opened the door.

"Oh, hi, Chris," said Mrs. Bigbucks. "Could I get my package?"

That was it. Not, "Oh, I'll come back another time," or, "I'm sorry to disturb you"—just, "Do what I say, shit."

I grabbed the office keys as she waited on my doorstep, looked over my shoulder and said, "Keep your motor running, baby," then walked to the office in nothing but my boxers and slippers.

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