Trailer Park Confidential

My Short Life as a California Dreamer

I started to do favors only for residents who appreciated rather than expected them. I started to loathe the weekends, with the part-timers pulling in and shouting orders. I'd look over at the beach just across the street, populated with people my age, and feel very far away.

Making things worse, Vinnie began breaking my balls over minutiae—the way I folded the flags, the way I rolled up the garden hose, the actual order in which I did things. It turned out that the heat was on: the city was still considering closing the park when the lease expired. So the management company wanted the park to look as good as it possibly could to help make a case for lease-extension.

Thus my job description expanded: pick up trash in the parking lot, shovel sand off the boardwalk, keep access to the beach clear, pull and clip weeds in all common areas, change burnt-out bulbs along all walkways, and paint—especially paint. Vinnie had me hand sand the 72 mailboxes outside the office and then paint them, one by one. It took me two months to finish that project. Then he had me paint the big wooden shed—which was also a garage for Vinnie's car. Then he had me paint the lattice fence at the park entrance. Then he had me paint my own trailer, which included the office. Finally, I had to paint all the old wooden boxes—15 in all—that housed the electricity meters for the trailers.

Vinnie began to sit in his trailer directly across from the office with the blinds cracked just enough to watch me. He showed me the exact level at which he wanted the office blinds raised—drawing a line with a magic marker so I'd keep them there. He created a list of all my new duties, with a time frame for each duty to be performed and a box for me to check once each duty was completed.

Amidst this, I flew back to Toledo for Christmas. I called Jill as soon as I got into town. We decided to celebrate New Year's together at our old haunt, Rusty's. We drank way too much that night, so we reserved a hotel room. We left the club in Jill's car, kissing and swerving. Then Jill was pulled over, given a sobriety test, and taken to jail, her car impounded. Happy frigging New Year.

Jill was eventually released on bail, and we took a taxi to the hotel. We were still wild, but something was different. I don't know. She was different—a felon. I was a wage slave to a bunch of rich old geezers, and I hated my life.

A freak hand injury forced me to retire my guitar to its case. I flew back to Marinapark not the least bit refreshed or recharged. I looked at the weekends the way prisoners must look upon community shower day. Almost every Saturday, a certain part-timer —let's call him Rich—would whistle for me the way you would a dog, and he'd wait while I obediently walked over.

"CJ, I won't be here next weekend, so water the plants on my porch, will you? The hose is on the deck."

"Sure, Rich, I'll water those for you."

(I wouldn't give his plants another thought for the next two weeks. Somehow, he never figured out that his plants always died under my care.)

"Good, because I wouldn't want those plants to die," says he. "And while I have you here, can you trim these vines back closer to the fence? [The question is rhetorical.] They're getting kind of thick, and I'm afraid it will attract rats."

I never told Rich that while his neighbor Nick was in detox, Nick's brother had sent for a pest-control man because he heard things moving under the floorboards and in the walls while he was trying to clean up Nick's place during his absence. Nick had no domestic skills—I've seen his place, with dirty dishes piled high in the sink and strewn throughout the living room, garbage never emptied, and no cleaning of any kind ever attempted. Nick just sleeps, drinks, smokes, and waits. In less than a week's time, the pest controller trapped 43 rats underneath H-19.

"Sure, Rich," I say. "I'll get right on that."

Nick was one of the nicest residents in the park. He'd come by just to talk, never asked for much of anything. He was also purposely drinking himself to death. He'd been through a knee-buckling divorce with a woman he said he still loved. He lost his job working on oil rigs, where, he told me, he used to climb down, drop a couple of hooked lines baited with hamburger, catch a shark or two, and cook them for dinner.

He became a trailer hermit, living day to day and bottle to bottle with his blinds drawn. In his late 40s, his pallor varied between ashen-gray and cadaver-green. In my brief time at Marinapark, he grew so sick and frail that his elderly mother—in poor health herself—came to stay to watch over him. I used to catch him sitting in his car, drinking from a paper-bagged bottle.

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