I’ve been called “trailer trash” before, mostly by snotty girls at college who most generally wound up regretting having brought it up. But I never lived in a trailer. Times I would’ve gladly moved into one, but that’s not here nor there. What always defined Southern White Trash to me wasn’t trailers. It was tents.
I don’t mean people who live in tents. Though that’s surely seedy enough. I met decent people living in tents down by the some riverbank, or in migrant camps. This was back when there was still black folks and crackers in the migrant profession, rather than your Spanish-speaking element that I never clicked with so much back then.
But I’m not talking about living in tents making you a cornfed yokel. I’m talking about worshipping in tents. Where the migrants have pitched them to harvesting souls, instead of your more consumer-oriented commodities. I don’t even know if this is still a real thing. Maybe that whole Church of The Three Night Stand thing has folded its tents, so to speak, and gone off down the road for good. Replaced by the same thing that replaced traveling troubadours and circuses and acting scenarios: television. Once you fix it so any canebreak redneck can have a TV, you lose his attention to people who are better at grabbing it by the shorthairs and hanging on until payday.
On the other hand, maybe there’s still some play out there for people that are too down and dirty, or just too real, for those oily-haired telemessiahs and they still like to drive a hundred miles in an old pickup and cluster up in some tent with a bunch of other hardbitten hangers-on and get their holies rolled.
And yes, I was part of that. To my undying shame. At the time, that is. I’m kind of hard to shame any more. It’s kind of a side benefit of having Fallen so far.
During the longest of daddy’s runs through that whole roadside tabernacle world, we all lived in a motorhome bestowed on us by the brethren. Apparently that’s not as bad as a trailer. You never hear people talking about Winnebago Trash. Maybe because they can move. You’re not sinking into the clay; you’re still mobile, possibly upward. Just tearing around burning up fossil fuels may turn out to be the true religion of Americans. We didn’t count our blessings all that much, though, what with seven people and some occasional scrungy rescued mutt all living in something with only three things in it that even pretended to be intended as beds. Bethany and I were sleeping in a little shelf over the windshield. It had it’s own windshield, in fact. I was continually pissed at Bethany because the only reason I was squoze up in that little cubbylocker was because she was afraid to sleep alone and I was the only one who’d take it lying down. Actually, she was a lovely child, very warm and cuddly, once she was asleep. The rest of the time she was a pious little termite.
So, there we were, rollicking down life’s two-lane blue highway just praising the Lord and singing his glories and patching his tires. And at night dressed up all white, with our long golden hair brushed down straight and chaste, eyes turned upwards, sitting up in front of a bunch of sharecroppers and John Deere mechanics and slavewhuppers or whoever those thwarted lunatics were, backing up Daddy’s sermons and passing the orphan basket. Which is what I called the collection plate when younger and nobody let me forget. Daddy had a different style under canvas. Not quite “move like Jagger”, but definitely more histrionic and animated. In the sense that Daffy Duck is animated. He went from bobble-head doll to bobble-bod barker. We got good at disguising giggles as swoons induced by the Holy Spirit. He just didn’t have the moves for the venue. Elmer Can’t-ry up there ejaculating and expostulating and expectorating. Which might have worked if the music hadn’t sucked.
One major advantage I’d suggest to anybody trying to be a holy roller: be black. I’ve gone into black churches where you could barely get in the door because as soon as heard the music your bootie would strike off on it’s own and your knees would start knockin’ and your feet start shufflin’ and your head start boppin’. You didn’t need Jesus to start rolling in the aisles and speaking in tongues and handling blacksnakes: just not be deaf.
Meanwhile in the tents of the whiteteous, you had the sub-amateur hour going on. With luck there’d be somebody who could play some semblance of a keyboard and a Music Minister with a degree in Godly Sincopation from the East Dingberry College of The Bible and Longhaul Trucking and some battered old hymnals to pass out among the determinedly sub-literate. Tails, you get banjo and tub bass from Cecil and the SkunkDrunk Boys, doing penance for their honky-tonking by goosing souls at the revival. Good news was, it was enough. These were not musical sophisticates. They were not particular. They were not black: they were white with red detailing above the overall straps. They came to work themselves up into an orgy of Holiness, so they were already had. They were dying to start speaking in tongues. What some of them reminded me of, much later in life, was guys who get all worked up about sex that they come at a whisper, but it doesn’t hit them any deeper than their mucous membrane. They go off without even closing their eyes or losing track of what they’re running around in their head. So they thrash around and yell stuff. Men actually do fake orgasms, and you can write that down.
The truly begotten are a different story. They’re more like Tri Delt girls who are hot to get drunk and lose their responsibilities so they don’t have to blame themselves for what happened, so they’d get drunk on a virgin set-up. I read this thing once about Krishnamurti, that he was so God-stoned that he could achieve ecstasy by dwelling on any religion you’ve got. They seemed to think that was really special. I’ve seen it happen with people who couldn’t get seated at a Denny’s and think WalMart is shopper heaven.
Daddy was a straight Southern Baptist, but he’d do a little denomination drift on the tent circuit. That’s why we’d have the tongue talkers out there, babbling like Elmer Fudd with epilepsy. Flora Lee tried it once and ended up sounding like the Tasmanian Devil. And maybe some footwashers and snakediddlers and all that. If those were even still around by then, we probably drew them. Is there still a Duck Creek Baptist assembly? Or FootWashing Baptists? I wouldn’t really know. If you care about issues like that, I’d suggest you forget Google and start looking around in big tents pitched in dusty fields beside forsaken deep south highways and surrounded by rusty trucks.
So what’s this got to do with dirty undies? Well, there was that time when Pow stepped on the hem of Flora’s skirt and she fell down the risers from the choir and sort of rolled right out of it, modeling these really pathetic cotton tricot highrise panties with faded pictures of lapping Rolling Stones tongues printed on them. All you had to do to get socked for about a year was lap your tongue out or start singing “Jumpin’ Jack Flash my pants, pants, pants”. Flora was actually the best jock in the family, better than me, but she never went in for organized sports. Organized anything. All her thoughts could hold an election on what to think and nobody would get two votes. But that probably doesn’t titillate enough to cover the price of the book (unless you are a real, true-live weirdo and there’s probably not even a smut site for your tastes) so what I’m really getting to here is a whole nother kind of tent meeting. It never said this on the signs out front, which were usually some carnival or circus, but the reality was well-known in story and song: the hoochie coochie show.
All about it next week.
But just by the way, the ironic thing is that when I lived down South in Tobacco Road World, I was a fairly decent person. Violent streak, maybe, but basically studious and polite and honest. Even God-fearing for awhile there. It took New York and Paris and Milan and wealthy people of good family to turn me into trash.