Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Castles with Axles

It didn't occur to me that the mode of abode for most of my young life might have been atypical, déclassé, or second-rate.   I never gave it much thought.  Call it what you will: mobile home, manufactured home, prefabricated house…it was always simply a “trailer” to me.  When I was in third grade, my family moved from a rent house into a brand-spanking new trailer.  And it was so cool. 

It was the early 70s, and bold earth-tones dominated middle-class style.  The aluminum siding on the trailer was white, with brown and orange shutters and trim.  Inside, shag carpeting moved like fire, all over the floors in vibrant orange, gold, and brown, save for the slightly-elevated floor of the kitchen, which denied the flame with its mushroom-brown surface.

Plus, the house came with its own groovy-cool furniture: two swivel-rockers covered in saffron crushed-velvet accented with white buttons, a matching headboard for my parent’s king-sized bed, and harvest-gold kitchen appliances in stark relief against pearly-white cabinets.  I immediately fell in love with the place. 

During my time in our trailer, I experienced some of the most lasting memories of my childhood:

·        Producing, directing, and starring in plays and musicals in our backyard (yes, I was, and am, just that gay)
·        Watching my mom’s fish give birth to speck-sized guppies in our large tank on the kitchen bar
·        Helping my dad build a plywood shed for our riding mowers
·        “Playing sick” on winter mornings by placing a thermometer on the floor heater vents, so I could cut class and watch TV gameshows all day
·        Spinning for endless hours on the candy-apple red merry-go-round that my dad built for us
·        Playing baseball with my buddies so late in evening that pitches became bruise-inflicting grenades in the disappearing sunlight  
·        Calming my sister, who would wake me in the middle of stormy nights, asking, “Hey…do you hear a train?”  She thought that sound was a tornado’s voice, and firmly believed that mobile homes were twister-magnets.
·        Proving my theory that Santa was a big hoax by silently observing my dad putting presents under the tree in the wee hours of Christmas morning

We moved from the trailer when I was in eighth grade, and as happy as I was to move into the trailer, I was just as happy to move out of it, and into our new ranch-style house in the adjoining lot.  My honeymoon with the trailer was over, I had the five-year itch, and the grass, which was only 300 feet away, looked so much greener.

My grandparents moved into the trailer, so I visited often.  But it was no longer my trailer.  I’d moved up in the world, and my love affair with the trailer was over.  My grandmother passed away while she still lived there.  And my grandfather lived there as long as he could, before his move to assisted-living, due to the debilitating dementia of Alzheimer’s. 

I would live in a trailer once more in my life.  Shortly after I was married, my wife and I bought a mobile home from my aunt.  The home was across the way from my parents’ house and, as a result, my old trailer, as well.  It was comforting to see my two former cribs from my new bedroom window.

When my marriage ended, I got custody of my new trailer.  When I decided to move to Houston, I toyed with the idea of transporting the mobile home to a trailer park in the city.  But then, my city friends told me that trailer parks in the city were not lower-middle class; most parks were upper-lower class at best.  So I sold my trailer to my sister, and she became a Louisiana landlord.  Parting with the new trailer was not difficult.  It hadn't been my first love.

All these memory bubbles came up when my husband mentioned an interview that he heard on NPR with a county music singer-songwriter, Kacey Musgraves.  Musgraves is a young, but wise, artist.  Her major-label debut was released earlier this month.  And it’s full of musings on everyday life in the lower middle-class of rural-suburbia.  The name of the disc?  “Same Trailer, Different Park 

Before hearing the music, I thought that I’d never miss my old trailer.  A sincere thank-you, Kacey, for proving me wrong.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Grim Reaper…Stop. You've Already Met Your Quota

Wow.  I just looked at what was trending on Yahoo, and I noticed that Pat Summerall died.  Sad.  I remember Summerall from my youth in the 70s, a saavy guy who did sportscasts for the National Football League.  Most Sundays, I tried to avoid Mr. Pat and his jovial sidekick John Madden, since their pre-game appearance simply meant that my dad was going to watch sports on TV for the remainder of the afternoon  I’d rather been outside playing.

But, Holy Moley!  In visiting the CNN site to read the details of Summerall’s death, I came across a page entitled “People We Lost in 2013.”  And it’s only mid-April.

The biggest shock?  (And this may speak to how gay I am) Bonnie Franklin, the actress who portrayed Ann Romano on the 70s sitcom “One Day at a Time.” the strong single mom to Mackenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli.  I watched that show religiously.  I always wanted to be the kid brother to Julie and Barbara.

It is only mid-April, and here are some of the losses so far this year:

  • Jonathan Winters – The lovable, goofy comedian.  “If God had really intended man to fly, He’d make it easier to get to the airport."
  • Annette Funicello – One of the original Mouseketeers in the Mickey Mouse Club, and the babe from many 60s Beach Party movies.  Made familiar in a quote from the movie Grease: “"Nobody's jugs are bigger than Annette's”
  • Margaret Thatcher – Former British Prime Minister (Morrissey probably smiled at that news – she finally answered his question "When will you die?")
  • Roger Ebert – I grew up taking movie viewing advice from him and Gene Siskel.  “Two Thumbs Down” for the loss of them both.
  • Phil Ramone – Famous record producer, who worked with Billy Joel on one of my all-time favorites, The Stranger.  No, Phil did not die of a heart attack-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack.
  • Hugo Chavez – One of the most bizarrely entertaining U.S. adversary presidents ever.  You know…he’s the guy from such insanity as his “Life on Mars” theory, his assertion of the “Army of Voodoo Witches” set upon him by his political opponents, and his role as “sadistic butt-kicking soccer player” (literally...he'd kick opponents in the rear, if they dared score against him).
  • Van Cliburn – A classical musician, who stepped into pop culture after winning, in 1958 (during the height of the Cold War), the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow.  He even got a ticker-tape parade upon his return to the States.
  • Ed Koch – The larger-than-life former New York City mayor, the "How'm I doin'" politicial, who was in office for more than ten years from late 70s throughout the 80s.  In addition to being a political figure, he also make appearances on Sex and the City, Saturday Night Live, and in the movie The Muppets Take Manhattan.  Quite a CV.

While I was busy being surprised by the passing of people who had always been figures in my life, it didn't dawn on me until later that people, say of my son's generation, may not know who most of these icons were.  It only makes sense that as I get older, many of the people who were in the public eye, when I was at such an impressionable age, are going to pass on.

Regardless.  I remember seeing Jonathan Winters on a number of 70s TV variety shows (which themselves, have gone the way of the dinosaur). In 1983, Roger Ebert gave The Outsiders a bum review (which pissed off the 19 year-old me).  I didn't even notice when Koch was no longer the mayor of New York City.  I thought he was at a royalty level, and would die in office.

I'm sure that I'll continue to be surprised as 2013 moves along, and we lose more famous public figures.  These losses hit the public conscience, hopefully reminding us that we only have so much time on this Earth.  And we should take Jonathan Winter's advice:

"If your ship doesn't come in, swim out to meet it."