Trailer Trash

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Peanut the Trailer Mover don’t mind telling you he’s done some time. He’s a straight shooter. He says he’ll do something, he’ll do it. Maybe not right away, but he’ll get to it.  He knows clear eyes when he sees them, and he can tell a bad element too.

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I haven’t posted much recently because the past month I’ve been sweating my ass off working in the trailer park, saving up money for my tour. Chopping trees, washing trailers, and clearing ditch drains. I met Peanut when I was digging a ditch and his crew was preparing to move a trailer. We swapped work stories and figured out common friends and family. He used to run around with some relatives of mine. They thought he was dead.

Maybe because I was wearing a do-rag, rubber boots, and worn-out gloves, but he didn’t seem surprised when I told him I grew up in that trailer park. But he also didn’t seem surprised that my family owned it. He didn’t seem surprised by anything, now that I think about it. He’s obviously seen a lot.

But yes, I grew up in this trailer park in the piney woods of deep southeast Texas. Spent most of my childhood here, trotting the rocky road in bare feet, knocking wasp nests out of electrical boxes, and helping Dad clear sewer plugs.

I grew up as what many people would call Trailer Trash.

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I had just helped sell one of the trailers that Peanut was moving. I trimmed the landscaping around it, cleaned it inside and out, and showed it to a prospective buyer.

I was concerned about being able to sell that particular trailer, as it had some buckling in the floor, swollen particle-board counters, an indistinguishable odor, and the front door would only open halfway. So we priced it accordingly low, and I was just glad that someone might come look at it.

It was an early-twenties single mom, and her mother. They parked their 1980s sedan and slowly pulled themselves out and upright. Both mother and daughter were apparently unhealthy, lumbering in their movements, sweating, and chain-smoking.

They stepped inside the trailer, and their faces lit up. They both smiled wide-eyed. “This is so much nicer than our place!” they said in awe. “So much bigger…and it’s got central air!…and Junior can have his own room!”

They asked about the spray-foam plugging all the holes under the sink; asked how old the trailer was (about 30 years or so); didn’t seem to mind any of that, and said they’d have to go get the money and would be back soon. They came back soon and bought it. They were so happy.

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Talking with them made me feel so grateful. Not in a guilt-ridden way, and not in a way that pities them, but in a way that realizes the lottery of life. Realizes that her Junior did not choose to be born into poverty. He will not grow up in a trailer because he is lazy or drug-addicted or dependent on government assistance, but just because of the circumstances into which he was born.

Regardless, he will be called “trailer trash” because he just so happens to live in a trailer that his momma and MeMaw can afford while trying to figure out how to continue living and providing for him as best they can.

He will be called one of the “People of WalMart” because that’s the nearest, most affordable place they can get everything they need, and they will most likely go there in the middle of the night in their ragged clothes because that’s the only time she’s not working. And some drunk college kid with a new iPhone (their parents bought them) will just happen to be in there buying beer, notice them, film them, and post it to YouTube.

Junior will be ridiculed by other people who do not know him or his hard-working mom or self-sacrificing grandmother. Those mockers who live in debt but happen to live in overpriced apartments in a bigger city that’s more exposed to the latest fashion trends and reality shows.

They will mock him not because they know the truth about his life, but because they do not know. Or would prefer not to know. Because it is easier to distract ourselves from our own insecurities by highlighting the maladies of others. Because it is easier to dismiss the Other than to know them and swap stories of struggle. Because then we might feel compelled to do something about such a tragic Gap between us.

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When Peanut moved their new-to-them trailer and talked to me the next day, he said there was a “bad element” in those people’s other trailer park, to where he had moved it. I asked what he meant, and he said simply, “Well, lemme put it this way…If you want some dope, that’d be the place to find it.”

And so Junior will grow up in a trailer park. A place where the Bad Element just so happens to be more visible than it is in a wealthy gated community. – We all know there are drugs and violence in wealthier communities too; it’s just that the wealthy can afford to hide it. – He will grow up buying his food at Wal Mart instead of Whole Foods. So what? …So you can hit pause on the dismissive “Trailer Trash” mockery routine, that’s what. It’s time we stop that shit. Stop mocking our brothers and sisters in this world. And maybe take a Saturday and go meet them.

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restartexperiment.com, d.t. brown, trailer trash, trailer park, poverty

There are so many stories I could tell of people I grew up with and people I’ve met in trailer parks. People like Peanut the Trailer Mover. And people like John William Deer, the Trailer Repair Man, a sweet-soul teddy bear of a man who can’t read but can tell amazing stories while sweat runs down his steak-thick hands onto the circular saw he’s using to cut plywood to replace a trailer’s floor. People like Bobby, a severe dyslexic who writes backwards but is one of the hardest workers you’ll ever meet. People like the single mom who somehow scraped up the cash to buy the trailer I was trying to get rid of to help pay for my “Self Discovery” tour. …And people like me, who grew up in a trailer park when their parents were trying to get out of debt as they worked their asses off while raising five kids.

So please. Stop it. Stop throwing around that term. Stop using it as an easy way to dismiss others and take attention off your own poverty. Whatever form poverty takes – be it a lack of cash to cover a bill, the loss of a job, or the lack of friends during a life transition – we all experience it, regardless of the type of neighborhood we happen to live in. Maybe if we acknowledge our disconnection from each other, the reality that we do not really know each other, we can have a starting point of connection.

In his book, The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne addresses a Bible verse people often use to justify the increasing socioeconomic gap in America: “Even Jesus said, ‘the poor will always be with you…’ even He said there’s basically no way to cure poverty…” Claiborne responds with the idea that, yeah, maybe we can’t solve poverty right now, but Jesus did say that the poor are WITH us. And we are acting like they are in a totally separate universe. Maybe it’s time we spend some time with them.

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10 responses to “Trailer Trash

  1. Dave, I enjoy your writing – this piece really cuts to the quick. My boys are growing up in this youtube world, cracking up at the idiosyncrasies of other human beings. I will share this post with them, I hope it cuts them like it did me

  2. Dave,
    Having grown up in some trailer parks with bad elements, and also having lived better than anyone deserves, I can relate to both extremes here. This piece is full of truth.
    Thanks for writing it.
    Shane

  3. Well said! I grieve so deeply that material possessions and social status make individuals “worth more” than others. Great thoughts, great reading, very thought provoking. Thanks, Dave.

  4. (y)
    I liked reading your Costa Rica blog, and now the road it’s taking. I’m trying to plow out some space myself to get more going toward my photo-essay web project, now that I got past a first hurdle of finally getting high-speed internet out in the woods. The travel parts have always been going, documented elsewhere in other forms. Likewise, the socioeconomic pendulum from not too much to more to not so much to OK;… But I’m wanting to better synthesize a number of observations in this above mentioned format. Something about the “plowing” though…

  5. Just stumbled upon your article and wanted to compliment your style of writing. Keep it up and i really enjoyed it. Thx

  6. Dave, you have a beautiful heart. Thank you for this article. American values (and the values of the evangelical church) are so unChristian these days, valuing money, beauty and status over love and openness. Thanks again.

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