Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Part 24 “The Trailer”

Athens: 1990

The trailer sat roughly ten miles outside of town, half-way up a small Appalachian foothill in Athens County. Athens is a small college town, nestled within a high poverty area of Southeastern Ohio, that at one time consisted of many Eastern European immigrants who worked in the high sulfur coal mines. In fact my brother’s pee-wee football coach went by the name Bela although he had a very distinct Appalachian accent. It was known as “The Trailer”, and bore the reputation of an almost living breathing entity, some of my friends in Athens who knew little about my brother had heard rumors and tales of  “The Trailer”. It was a standard size trailer with two bedrooms, a small living area that easily connected to the cramped kitchen area. It was situated in a flat area of the hill, and was completely surrounded by trees. The small drive that widened up the steep pitched hill was basically a smoothed over mud patch, more suitable for BMX biking than driving a car. It’s a wonder how the trailer was moved up to the spot where it rested, perhaps a UFO had plopped it onto the hill.

My brother is a year older than me, he choose a much different career path than me, and he joined the service, became a Green Beret and then proceeded to go to college and became an officer. He is still in the military today. After he returned from his first overseas stint in Germany he went to get his undergrad at Ohio University. For a while Jenny and I would sometimes visit with him when we went to Athens although we generally ran around a much different crowd in Athens. He tended to hang out with his rugby buddies (who engaged is all sorts of unmentionable bar-room activities) and we would hang out at the Union bar and get plastered while watching local and national bands such as The Cows, Guided by Voices and Thinking Fellers Union.

It was odd when my brother decided to move into “The Trailer”, it was a setting that was not conducive to studying and his future roommates where ones whom the term “baked” had nothing to do with bread. He had been all over world because of his career choice, growing up in Athens with a father who was an ex-professor all of us children had assumed we would attend Ohio University. My older sister attended OU for what amounted to an extended burp and Zoltan waited until he was already in his mid-twenties with a military career already full-go. I had used Athens as an escape from my life that was already centered around escaping itself.  Zoltan always had a loyalty that was much more bountiful than my own; I was one to stick with a few ideas and friends while Zoltan could remember every classmate from first grade. When he went back to Athens for school he settled in with the townies, a group of home-grown locals who, at times had a skeptical view of the imported student population but took part in all the extra-carricular activities the student population brought. These consisted of a downtown that consisted of more bars than actual retail businesses, huge block length parties and an abundance of locally grown “spices”.  Just outside of the town limits the environment turned impoverished, with a huge contingent of poverty stricken low-income whites that piece-mealed a sustenance together, cobbling together enough hard work and luck to just get by. The farms that flecked the rolling hills were small and barely large enough to eke out a promising existence.

The trailer was owned by a boyhood friend of my brother, a good-old boy from a traditional Midwestern family that farmed a small plot of land. Danny, was red-haired and large, prone to drinking too much alcohol on a daily basis (as many in the area are) who was cast adrift after completing high school. For many in the area, although they grew just shy of the large state university, college was not a choice. This is not uncommon in most of the Midwest, where even in a largely populated state like Ohio that is filled with a plethora of higher education opportunities, there exists little career opportunities for high school graduates. In Springfield, where we went to high school, one had the choice of working at the large International Harvester, Honda, farming or most likely a shitty fast-food job. In Southeastern, Ohio the two previously mentioned job opportunities were not available.

Many, if not most of the recent high school graduates, schlepped around for a few years, moving through their early twenties unmoored until they either got somebody pregnant, got pregnant or somehow managed to wrangle a suitable job from the hollow economy of the area. For many, life was an endless weekend as opportunities were spaced far between cases of Pabst-Blue Ribbon Beer and bong-loads. With each passing year, life could grapple the ankles of fortune and pull a poor boy down into a pit devoid of favorable circumstance. This was the population my brother gravitated to upon returning to Athens. The trailer housed Danny, my brother and an old grade-school friend named Brian. How my brother accomplished reading one book in the trailer is beyond even my broad imagination, some of it may have to do with his ability to live in a swamp for a week with one knife, one match, one piece of rope and a live chicken.

Jenny and I would visit the trailer on our monthly visits to Athens, although we would never stay very long, for it would reawaken the very recent memories of a high school period surrounded by good-old boys (i.e. rednecks) and the blunt immediacy of personal confrontation. Where manhood could be summed up in loud vocal tones and one’s ability to discuss the ingredients of a powerful engine. I was always looking for a way out. The muddy path sloped up the crooked hill, with hesitant and hic-uppy stops only a large truck or earth moving vehicle had the hopes of climbing up that treacherous driveway. At that time Dominoes Pizza would offer a free pizza if they could not deliver your pizza to you under thirty minutes, on rainy nights they boys would order a few pizzas knowing full well that a car could not drive up the impassable drive, and they would get the pizzas for free. Soon enough, Dominoes refused to deliver pizza to the trailer.

Our firs excursion to the trailer happened on a Friday night, I had just gotten a new car, a 1984 blue Chevette, complete with an AM radio and stick shift. I had bought it off my former step-father for $400 and was proud of the small, compact and ugly machine. On the way down, Jenny and I stopped at a McDonalds to get some coffee to chase the 40 ounce beers we had. While waiting in the drive-through window line she asked to drive, I said “No, you can’t drive a stick. You’ll ruin the transmission.” She protested, saying “my dad taught me how, last summer.” I knew this was a bald-faced lie, I taught Jenny how to drive and not in a stick-shift. In fact, I took her to get her driver’s license in my former car. “Jenny,” I smiled “you’re lying, I taught you to drive. You can’t drive a stick.” Smiling back, “yes, he did. I promise I know how, I won’t mess it up. I’ll make it up for you.” I knew what this meant, a sexual favor. “O.k. but be careful.” We switched places and as she tried to pull forward she grinded the transmission, making a horrific racket, all of sudden with eyes bulging out and me screaming the car shuttered to a spasmodic halt. She looked over to me and proceeded to hand me the shifter. “Oops….here.” I was dumbstruck as I held the foot-long stick shift in my hand, staring at the oily end hovering above my lap. “What the fuck?! What the fuck?! What the fuck?!” I yelled. She said matter-of-factly “maybe you should drive.” With that she got out of the car.

The car was in second gear and somehow I manage to stick the shifter into the grimy black hole and get it into third gear. We ended up driving the rest of the way, praying that we didn’t hit any stop lights. I silently wept for the first twenty minutes and Jenny talked and drank beer as if nothing had happened. We eventually got to the imposing hill, as muddy stream of water cutting down the center of it. I managed to get the haggard Chevette half way up the hill where eventually because I could not downshift it stalled and rolled back into a small sapling. The night was going to be a disaster. Climbing out of the car, our shoes quickly filled with mud and we trudged up the hill, with each step our feet became enormous globs of mud. I went from a size eleven to a size thirty in three steps. Next to the trailer sat a large 4X4 truck that was left for dead as evidenced by its bed housing a mountain of empty beer cans that towered over its cab like an aluminum tower.

Opening the door, our boyhood friend Brian laughed at us, as did the living room full of townies. The living room had two couches and several chairs with a small table that was overfilled with empty beer cans and liquor bottles. My brother got up, and said “that hill is a trip isn’t it. Should have told you to park at the bottom and walk up.” I handed him my stick-shifter, “we had a little trouble on the way down” I said glancing over at Jenny. Danny jumped up, laughing he said “sorry for laughing at you trying to master that hill, I can fix that for you now.” With that he disappeared into the wooded darkness and reappeared several minutes later, “all fixed”. He did it with nary a tool as his hands were covered in grease. “It just kinda pops back in. It should stay that way.” I went to use the rest room, peeing I looked over and saw a fork lying next to the tub. After rinsing my hands in the filthy sink I grabbed the fork to take it back into the kitchen. As I walked into the living room everybody howled “Oh, shit put that back and scrub your hands” and “shit, do you see what he has?!”  I held up the fork as if it were an unexploded grenade. “This?” “Yes, that’s our pube remover.” I was confused. “What, your pube remover? What the hell is that?” My brother got up and bravely took the fork from my hands and escorted me back to bathroom. “Be, we use that to pull the pubic hair from the drain.” As I scrubbed my hands I murmured “obviously.”

When we left the rest room, Zoltan motioned to the room off to the side, “that’s my bedroom, you guys can stay in there but I should warn you we saw a black snake in there last week.” I decided then we were going to stay with Chris Biester in town. Sitting on the couch my backside nearly touched the floor. Everybody noticed my clumsiness, and explained “we cut the legs off all the couches because guys were just shoveling their plates underneath and squirrels were getting in and eating the food off the plates.” I offered “why don’t you just wash your dishes?” This drew cackles. I then noticed the shotguns lying next to the couches, there were four of them. I asked what they were for. “Oh, in the daytime we take bets on who can shoot a squirrel from the couch. Whoever misses has to go on the next beer-run.”  “Oh, makes sense.”

Jenny and I sat on one of the couches, we were handed fresh beers, directly to my left sat an older sandy haired man named Tommy. I knew everybody else which consisted of childhood friends Danny, Brian, Mark, and my brother’s younger girlfriend Sandy. Tommy shook our hands and winked at Jenny. He was a Vietnam vet and was very pleasant at first. We drank beer and played drinking games and after an hour Tommy switched, he looked over at my brother’s girlfriend and grinned, with clumsy syntax he stuttered “you, my dear are quite munch able.” Zoltan chimed in “Hey, Tommy cut it out, that’s my girlfriend you’re talking about.”  Tommy looked over at Jenny “I must say, you are too.” That was it; my brother stood up and demanded an apology from the drunken vet. They faced off; one broken ex-Vietnam vet whom, I later learned had spent a great deal of time in prison, and a large young buck of an Army officer. Circling each other, Tommy baited my brother, “hey you may be Army but you ain’t really army till you kill somebody. Going to Germany ain’t nothing like getting’ shot at.” Zoltan, who towered over the smallish thimble of a man, was keeping his cool, “Tommy you can stay if you settle down and apologize.” Tommy sneered, “fuck you, I can take you. Fuckin’ pussy.” Being mindful of all the shotguns, that I assumed didn’t have their safeties on we moved towards the kitchen. Finally, Tommy left. I told Zoltan that we needed to meet up with our friend Chris in town. We left with minutes after Tommy left. Things just didn’t seem right.

Later that night, Tommy came back brandishing a handgun which he shoved into my brother’s stomach. As the other inhabitants of the trailer scrambled out of the way, ducking behind legless couches and grabbing their own guns my brother managed to talk him down but not before Tommy needing to prove the severity of the situation fired several shots into the woods. Tommy would later die in prison; my brother forgave him and sent him letters and books while he was incarcerated. Zoltan would soon after move to First Street where he lived with a cast of other characters and eventually he too would see the havoc of war. We never returned to the trailer.


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