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Friday, August 18, 2006

Trailer Park Traversings

My experience within the confines of the Waffle House franchise brought me venturing into places of violence-frenzied fortitude, and down-home, redneckin' refuge, where a king owns his castle with wheels, and if this king happens to have not left his castle and family, he bears himself majestically in a wife-beater shirt as robe, and his satellite remote control as sceptre, where he displays his lordship with tyrannical yells at the Nascar racer that's winning or losing inside his empire-chest of a TV. His crown is his indifference to all else around him...his wife's nags, his dog's yelps, and his neighbor's shotgun blasts. This indifference or ignorance is comical, at first, for we tend to laugh at whatever is very apparent in others when it lies hidden within ourselves. There is an entire world out there that we term and stamp as "ignorant". Only by this quick judging,we very well term and stamp ourselves as ignorant also.

I recall a cook at the Waffle House asking me why I chose to work at Waffle House. They knew I didn't fit in. They all thought I was from California. The regulars who ate there called me "the cool surfer dude". At times, I would hear behind my back the high pitched call, "Sunshine". I answered him it was all for the cultural experience. He spun around, "Cultural Experience! There's no culture at the Wafflehouse. You need to go to an art museum or to Europe." "Oh, but there's definitely culture here." I assured him. He couldn't see; he was in the thick of it. His eyeballs were swallowed up in it to make him blind. And why do we insist on making culture such a fragile thing? It is not so delicate or embroidered. True culture is nitty-gritty. It makes one's teeth clench together. Hard as a rock, as out-of-date as a stone, real culture remains pure and untarnished from the influx of other cultures. Culture is the identity of its people. When traveling through foreign countries and wanting a cultural experience I don't barge into the latest diner hoping for a roll of sushi (unless I'm in Japan). No, I go to the back alleys or into the mountains, deserts, villages, and have what those sunburnt shepherds, farmers, and cattlemen are eating...if edible. Real culture, in most countries, brings to the nose mixed smells of burnt trash, religious incense, and goat manure. Anything without these smells is not what I consider culture. It is perhaps the irony of culture that those who attempt at becoming more cultured loose their own culture themselves. So have I lost my accent, my college football enthusiasm, and my ability to skin a buck by reading so much at an earlier age and traversing the globe at a later one.

So my first day's encounter with the ex-stripper (see previous Wafflehouse post) ended with her, after the taxi came to pick her up, telling me had she'd known I'd had a car, I could have sped her to the Wafflehouse where she works on the southside of town. But since the taxi was already there, she gave me quite a look with those alligator eyes and said, "I'll see you around." I haven't seen her since which doesn't leave me very disappointed at all.

At the end of the day, learning the basic ropes to being a server, a dilemma was brewing in the tiny office in the back. Apparently, the next shift worker couldn't get to work because of a lack of a vehicle. To me the problem sounded absurd. They're gonna be short-handed because of no transportation. "No, I'll go get her." I volunteered, "I clock out right now anyway." "But she lives in the trailer park way on the other side of town. Near Cowboys." chimed in the cook. Cowboys being the best honky-tonk bar in Dothan, I knew where it was. (However, knowing where something's at is different that frequently visiting). But all objections were useless on me. I told them that I would retrieve this Wafflehouse employee and, by golly, I would do my best on my first day for those Wafflehouse colors of black and yellow. Besides, I like to drive and I like a good adventure. And so began my Quest for Merle. (I can't really remember her name, but I think this one will do an excellent job.)

I got in my little white steed of a Honda, smelling like cigarettes, coffee, and grease, and set out on this Quest for Merle. The driving instructions given to me set me back. Thinking that the trailer park was past the infamous Cowboys, I drove until I got to the peanut shop that had the statue of a life-sized Elvis in front. I called my boss asking her to clarify the directions, which finally got me bounding into this trailer park. It had been raining that day. It was then drizzling a bit here and there. My car crept into the park where these plain, white shoe boxes were sitting in rows. I could already tell this is one of the poorest trailer parks in town. Believe me, there is a status ladder in trailerology. The nicest and ritziest society in the trailer park spectrum are double-wide and have ornate gardens running throughout. They'll have large decks and patios, and a huge dish out back. They may even have one of those sit-on-the-ground swimming pools. But this trailer park was a far hoot and holler from those ambitious ones. Nope, this trailer park had the single trailers, half of which were falling apart. No decorations anywhere. Uncut grass and weeds sprung up everywhere. Nobody kept pots of flowers, bicycles, grills, or birdbaths outside. I guess they all knew better than that. Few vehicles were to be found as well. It almost seemed to be a ghost trailer park. An eerie feeling fell upon the whole place. Any minute, I expected a bramble of tumbleweed to roll across the road.

I rolled down my windows and had the humorous thought to cry out, "Merle!!" even stringing out the syllables, "Me-e-e-rle, are you he-e-e-re!!" But I thought that such behavior was uncouth among strangers, however frequent this custom may be among themselves. Just then in front of me stood two really large white women, one was holding an umbrella, even though it had stopped raining. I knew they couldn't be Merle, for Merle would be wearing her Wafflehouse outfit. I do not know why they were waiting on the side of the road like that. I drove past them when I heard one of them yell, "Hey! Are you lookin' for that gurl that's goin' to work!!" I say "Yes!" and they respond with a point, "It's just over there, the 2nd trailer on the left!!" "Thank you!!" I yell back, the whole park echoing with my gratitude. So I guess every trailer park has these sort of guardians or genii that sprout out of discarded beer bottles or dip cans and point the wary traveller to the correct trailer. -That or, as simple observation can tell you...in trailer parks everyone's life is everyone elses' business. For them, it's common knowledge to know which trailers are the meth labs, which ones you say you don't know them if anybody's looking, and which ones you stay away from at all costs.

I pulled up to the designated trailer, hoping that the trailer park genii had not tricked me and sent me to my doom. I was blaring CCR from my radio. Not a bad selection for a trailer park. When out of Merle's supposed trailer pops this young black man in a wife beater with the bling bling. He looked like Martin Lawrence, except fiercer and with no smile. I thought, "Oh no, this is the wrong trailer. " It is a psychological fact that all middle-class white boys from Alabama have a deep fear of encountering black men in trailer parks. Well, I braced that fear still blaring my Clearance Creedwater Revival, thinking half-racily, "Why turn it down? He probably blares his music all over town. Now, he knows what its like."

I was about to poke my head out the window and say, "Hey...Man...Is there a girl who needs a ride to work here?" It's amazing how one word can relax racial tension. That one word has always been "man". Growing up in Alabama, I know its full power. At school, it gives courage to the frial white kid during PE. It then, in return, gets the cool black kid paper from the same frail white kid in biology class. You just simply attach "man" anywhere during a question or comment to a person of the other race. It equalizes you to a level playing field. It erases intimidation on both sides. Martin Luther King Jr. probably thought the thing up. Before I could release the incantation out of my mouth, a plump white girl struts out of the trailer on this little deck in a Wafflehouse uniform, saving my speech. It's definitely Merle. She is holding this baby and both her and the scowling Martin Lawrence have an emotional moment. They look like they just had an argument. I sit in my car, tapping my fingers. John Fogherty's voice comes ringing out the radio, "Let the Midnight Special...Shine the light on me." I start singing along wondering when their moment was going to be over. I mean she's already 30 minutes late to work. She gets into the car. The car rocks as she sits. We don't say hardly a word the whole ride back to the 231 North Wafflehouse. But that's okay...I found my Merle and went beyond my duty as a Wafflehouse employee.


Anonymous Jonathan said...

I'm a genie in a dip can... you gotta rub me the right way baby...

--- Cristina Aguilera lyrics revised

4:50 PM  

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