I can hear Valentina in the other room, laughing hysterically. I shudder to think what sort of depravity might be exciting her humors. Since the first day that we arrived in this shady, meth-infested trailer park, she has found constant amusement in the misbehavior of the community’s most excessive characters.
Yesterday I found her doubled over in hysterics, and when I looked out the window, the couple from across the street were engaged in physical battle on the hood of our car. I ran out screaming at the emaciated warriors, who only had a few pounds on me in combined weight. Suddenly they were a united front, hurling nonsensical invective at me for daring to interrupt their romantic little spat. They left a dent, but Valentina said it didn’t matter, since the car already had some pretty extensive hail damage.
I walk into the other room and look out the window to see what she is laughing about now. The neighbor who looks like Hulk Hogan on a three year crack bender is apparently moving, a few trailers down and across the street. There is a rumor that he once killed another man, but got off with involuntary manslaughter, and is now considered reformed by the state. His solution for relocating his belongings involves boxes and trash bags stacked on top of his car, then slowly driven to the new location and unloaded. It somehow has not occurred to him that everything being moved would just as easily have fit inside the back of his old station wagon.
“I can’t wait until he gets to the furniture,” Valentina barely enunciates, as more hilarity byproducts flow out of her involuntarily.
I almost find this funny. It is almost innocently ridiculous enough that it doesn’t just make me anxious and ashamed. What really cinches it for me is that we have watched this same man building a dog run that leads to the roof of his trailer since we moved in three weeks ago. He has spent numerous drug-riddled hours, day and night, perfecting this ridiculous set-up for his beloved mutts. And now he is abandoning it, no doubt to be replaced with some other hare-brained scheme in his new home, of a nature that I lack the imagination to even guess at.
When he places the dogs on top of his car and drives them the twenty yards to their new dream home, Valentina accidentally pees herself, while I internally debate the merits of forced sterilization and democratizing euthanasia.
Unlike Valentina, I spent time growing up in a place like this. At school I was judged by my classmates by where I lived, and it was a traumatic experience for me. Every day, then and now, there is the endless struggle with embarrassment and anger. My pride and principles have turned on me, and I consume myself from within every day I am forced to spend here in the Sunrise Vista Mobile Home Park.
Six months ago we were proud owners of The Waffle Wagon, a food cart which we successfully operated downtown. When the lock down orders came out, our business model was deemed unsafe, and we were forced to discontinue operations. We had only been in business for seventeen months, and had not even saved enough for a down payment on a home, when our livelihood was destroyed in the panic. In order not to lose what we had saved, we made a decision to economically downsize our lives. After living in an apartment for several months, but unable to acquire anything but part-time, minimum wage jobs, we made this final desperate move to staunch our hemorrhaging finances.
To me it is like that nightmare where you return to your worst day in high school, only you’re wearing see through pants and accidentally ingested a couple of your dad’s boner pills during breakfast. To Valentina, who grew up in a middle class family in a pristine Italian village, this is all terribly exciting and fresh.
There are, at any time on any given day, at least three cars undergoing repairs on our street. While Valentina goes to clean up, I watch cartoon man fiddle under the hood of his truck. I call him cartoon man because everything that he owns has been adorned in paintings of classic cartoon characters, from his truck to his leather jacket, and apparently as a result of his own brushwork. Everything is a little off. Yosemite Sam has an overtly phallic nose and the Tasmanian Devil’s eyes are somehow so full of sadness that it reminds of a basset hound I saw get hit by a car when I was a kid. On his tailgate there is a tribute painting to his favorite band which contains symbols from their fourth album and the statement, “Led Zeplin Rule!”
When Valentina returns to the room wearing fresh pants, she teases me with, “I think I’ll see if I can commission him to do Wile E. Coyote on our car. Then you won’t even notice the dents anymore.”
I will her to shit herself with nothing but a look, but it is a misfire, and instead she just slaps me on the ass and giggles – then tells me to lighten up.
“Look, pussydog,” which is her bizarre term of endearment for me. “This isn’t your fault. None of it. Your shame and your rage are completely pointless. The entire world has gone completely insane, and you and I managed to get front row seats. All you have to do is a make decision to enjoy it. Really, it’s that simple.”
She is right, of course. Everything begins and ends with a decision. Until I firmly resolve to try to see this situation in a positive light, I will be unable to do so. Shifting your perspective is like changing your position. You have to take one step at a time. Those first few steps are unsatisfying. You don’t feel like you are getting anywhere yet. But if you keep going you are eventually drawn towards your destination with the same amount of force as you were trapped in your old one with. Before you can take that first step you have to make a decision to do so. And sometimes the hardest decision to make is whether to make a new decision, or to continue wallowing in your bitterness waiting for the world to appreciate your choice to suffer.
I decide to re-decide.
The Hulkster has finally moved onto relocating his furniture, and uses a dolly to haul his dresser to the car, which he manages to get on the hood. It takes him ten minutes to tie it down securely, roughly five times as long as it would have taken him just to haul it over with the dolly. By the end of his debacle with his box spring and mattress, both Valentina and I have moistened ourselves joyfully.