Tin Cup on Prison Bars
I had more sidebar conversations with law enforcement before the age of sixteen than a hustling middle-aged criminal attorney.
One of the high points was when I conferenced in our driveway with the federal marshals who had just arrested Ted the Drug Dealer in hopes of finding out where they were taking him and what he was being charged with. Layne the Favorite was too busy gloating over Ted’s downfall to worry about logistics, but I knew my mother would want to get her attorney on the case. Also, I had to get to school; I couldn’t spend my whole day on it.
Another was when I got hit by a car crossing the street near our trailer park. The ancient woman who had hit me had no recollection of doing so, even though my bike was pretzeled under the wheels of her Cadillac and there was a smear on her windshield where my face had hit. The police were quite sympathetic to my plight. I’m not so sure justice was served; I never got a new bike.
Then there was the time my Uncle George the Bastard had to come down to my Hebrew school after an unfortunate episode of bullying. He was a police lieutenant out of his jurisdiction, but he made quite an impression anyway. I like to think my involvement prevented some well-deserved police brutality against my oppressors.
Overall, I felt like I had a special connection with those sworn to protect and serve, a calming voice of reason amid the maelstrom of criminal happenings. Or it could be that in each case I was trying to keep my mother from getting involved.
Like the time Layne the Favorite clocked Steve the Rat Fink upside the head with a squeegee.
Steve the Rat Fink was fifth-generation trailer trash. His great-great grandfather had crossed the American plains in his Conestoga covered wagon and saw no reason to move out of it just because the group he was traveling with founded Sacramento and built houses without wheels. Steve’s tribe had no need for houses. Having a mobile home meant you could leave in a hurry when your neighbors came after you with pitchforks and torches. If Steve the Rat Fink’s ancestor was anything like him, the other members of his wagon train had likely tried to leave him in the desert or entice a marauding Indian tribe to engage in a pinpointed massacre of one.
It may have been wrong of me to think Steve the Rat Fink’s entire family tree was full of mean-spirited jerks, but I was twelve. Snap judgments are the hallmark of youth.
Also, apparently, of my mother. The first time she met Steve—he had slinked his way over to our Winnebago looking for food and things to steal—she made up her mind about him. She had been handing out titles like a medieval potentate trying to shore up support for her regime for as long as I could remember. It was how Uncle George became a Bastard and my father was anointed a Son of a Bitch. Steve was going to get his.
Mom: “That kid, Stan.”
Mom: “That’s what I said.”
Me: “He’s a real douchebag.”
Mom: “SSSSSSSSStace. You know what he is? He’s a rat fink.”
I had no idea what that was. I didn’t know it back in 1983, but what I really needed to do was invent some kind of globally interconnected network of computers that would have the sum total of human knowledge on it for easy and immediate recall. The modern equivalent of the lost Library of Alexandria, a world-spanning web of information. I’d call it the Webbernet. Or Interweb. Maybe Cybernet. Or, because it would be an international thing, the Infobahn. My mom would freak out if I used a German name. Better to let her name it. She liked naming things. Like Steve the Rat Fink.
Me: “What’s a rat fink?”
Mom: “SSSSStace. A rat fink! You know! A rat fink!”
Well, that explained it. Good thing the Department of Defense was already hard at work building that Cyberwebbernet thingy I wanted. Years later, I was able to use it to access urbandictionary.com and finally find out what rat fink meant:
Urbandictionary.com: “Rat fink: tattletale, stool pigeon, squealer, snitch, double-crosser, weasel.”
Steve the Rat Fink did look a bit like a weasel, but that didn’t tell the whole tale. Perhaps a more scientific definition:
Urbandictionary.com: “Rat fink: A bastard modifier. A person exhibiting especially abhorrent levels of bastardry is known as a “rat fink bastard.” Alternately, for a milder offense, the term “rat fink” can be used independently of bastard.”
That made more sense. Steve the Rat Fink did, at times, exhibit especially abhorrent levels of bastardry. I was getting there.
Urbandictionary.com: “Rat fink examples: Do you know where Louie is? Next time you see him, tell that rat fink bastard I’m going to tear out his scrotum for knocking up my sister.” Or: “Timmy’s the kind of lazy rat fink that leaves half a sheet of toilet paper on the roll just so he doesn’t have to replace it with a new one.”
This Interwebobahn invention of mine was going to be a game changer. You’d never have to leave the house. Unless I invented some kind of portable device small enough to fit in your pocket that could access the Cybernetterweb from anywhere. That would be something.
Where was I? Right. Steve the Rat Fink. He was a real douchebag.
Mom: “SSSSSStace. I told you! That Sam, he’s a rat fink! A rat fink!”
Mom: “That’s what I said. He’s such a rat fink, that kid.”
Steve the Rat Fink looked like other trailer park kids I had known over the five years we had been trailer trash. He and I were both twelve but he was small; he was a full head shorter than me, and I come from a long line of short, stubby people. He was skinny and wiry, covered in ropy muscle and sinew. I never saw him wear a shirt, and the whole upper half of his body was burnished permanently brown from sun exposure. His blond hair was close-cropped and his light gray eyes squinted with a huckster’s conniving look. He moved furtively, like a rat, appearing one day at the inevitable grouping of trailer park kids that convened every day after school. We couldn’t stay inside the cramped boxes we lived in, so we stayed out until after dark. The trailer park had a lake at its center as a thin refuge against the possibility of all the bottled propane we used going up in a fiery maelstrom and igniting our stored sewage. We often hung around the shore, throwing rocks and looking for alligators.
My closest friend in the trailer park was Shawn the Black Belt. He lived alone with his father in a decent Airstream a few streets away from our Winnebago. He was lumpy and awkward, and his hair was always flopping all over the place. He had the limpid brown eyes of a nascent serial killer. I suspect his father got him into karate as a possible way to channel Shawn’s latent sideways tendencies, but it might have just made him a more effective killer later in life.
Shawn the Black Belt and I were standing in the shallows of the lake. I was alert, as ever, for the telltale yellow eyes of the gators. Shawn was talking about something, but I wasn’t listening. In my peripheral vision I saw Steve the Rat Fink scurry his way toward us. His head was cocked, his eyes narrowed; it occurred to me that even at his age he had the look of a smoker, but couldn’t get the cigarettes. Not because of age—they were just so expensive and precious to his chain-smoking parents that they wouldn’t share them.
Steve ignored me and glared at Shawn the Black Belt, who was taller than me. Shawn had turned to face the new kid; his arms hung lazily at his sides, but he had a dangerous look of capacity about him. The new kid really needed to tread lightly, make a good impression. That sort of thing.
Steve the Rat Fink: “What are you looking at, fuckstick?”
Two seconds later Steve the Rat Fink was face down in the sand, his right arm bent so far behind him that the backs of his fingers brushed his left ear. He squealed like a baby pig stuck in a blender.
Steve the Rat Fink: “I give! I give!”
Shawn the Black Belt looked over at me with his dead eyes.
Me: “I think you got him.”
Shawn the Black Belt got to his feet and glided backwards. Steve the Rat Fink got up slowly, covered in sand, his right arm held painfully away from his body. He glared at Shawn the Black Belt.
Steve the Rat Fink: “You got the drop on me that time, you fat fuck, but if I was ready—”
Shawn the Black Belt took an economical step forward and chopped Steve’s throat with the side of his left hand. Steve the Rat Fink’s pronouncement cut off with a harsh, choking bark. Shawn swept his right leg and Steve knelt in the sand just in time for Shawn’s knee to hit his nose and knock him flat. Steve the Rat Fink lay on his back, staring up at the sky, blood running down his cheeks. His eyes were wide and dazed. Shawn stood calmly, legs apart, arms up, waiting to see if Steve would get up.
After a minute or so Steve rolled over on his front and got to his feet, blood and snot dripping into the imprint of where his body had been in the sand. He limped away toward home, holding his head with his left hand. The right one hung numbly down at his side.
This was the picture we often had of Steve the Rat Fink—working his slow way home after someone beat the snot out of him.
We learned pretty quickly not to leave anything valuable outside our motor home; Steve was a conscienceless scavenger and had no problem taking whatever he wanted. Some of our neighbors who didn’t lock their doors started to complain about missing jewelry, cigarettes and food. After a while, everyone locked their doors.
We came home from school one day to find Steve the Rat Fink riding Layne the Favorite’s bike up and down the street in front of our Winnebago. He had to stand on the pedals because he was too short to reach them while sitting. He was going lightning fast, pedaling for all he was worth. He would suddenly slam the brakes, leaving scorch marks on the asphalt. Layne the Favorite was horrified—he treated his bike as if it had been made by the gods of Mount Olympus and presented to him by winged Mercury himself.
Layne the Favorite: “That’s my bike!”
Steve the Rat Fink skidded to a stop in front of us, smirking.
Steve the Rat Fink: “It’s mine now, shitbag, so shut the fuck up.” He took off on the bike. Layne the Favorite’s fists clenched at his sides and his face turned red.
Me: “When he comes back, let’s pull him off of it and beat his ass.” The two of us could surely take Steve down.
Layne the Favorite: “I’m telling mom.”
My mother got home right as it was getting dark. Layne the Favorite stood at the driver’s side of her car as she got out. I didn’t hear what was said, but she patted his cheek while glaring over his head at Steve the Rat Fink’s trailer, where Layne the Favorite’s stolen bike leaned brazenly against the hitch.
I had no skin in this game; my bike had been crushed by an old lady’s Cadillac a few months before and never replaced. There was no chance of me ever getting to use Layne the Favorite’s bike, either.
Mom: “SSSSSStace. That bike belongs to your brother. It’s important for him to have things that are just his.”
Me: “That does sound fun. Any chance I’ll get a bike soon?”
Mom: “SSSSStace. What do you need a bike for? Besides, walking is good for your ssssspleen.”
I was relegated to foot traffic for the foreseeable future. The problems of the bike-borne were above my humble station, but the confrontation between my mother and Steve’s parents promised high entertainment value. I followed my mother as she stalked across the street and pounded on the door of Rat Fink headquarters.
Steve the Rat Fink’s Father’s Common Law Wife, For which there Is No Convenient shorthand: “Just a minute! Jesus!”
The door opened and a blue cloud of marijuana smoke billowed out, revealing a hulking round woman with stringy brown hair dressed only in a shapeless muumuu. Her face was lumped with fat in occasional protrusions, like islands poking out of the surface of a lake. There was a cigarette in her mouth; she must have left the marijuana behind. My mother, her arms folded, her hair and makeup perfect, glared at her.
Mom: “Your sssssson stole my son’s bike.”
Steve the Rat Fink’s Father’s Common Law Wife, For which there Is No Convenient shorthand: “He ain’t my son.”
Mom: “Your hair’s so brittle. Disgusting. Don’t you use any product?”
Steve the Rat Fink’s Father’s Common Law Wife, For which there Is No Convenient shorthand: “When’s your husband get home? We’re running low on weed.”
This was getting good. My mother was a world-class dispenser of non-sequiturs, and she had finally come across someone operating at her level. It also turned out that Ted the Drug Dealer was the Rat Fink Family’s pot supplier.
Me: “The bike?”
Mom: “SSSSStace. What is wrong with you? You’re obsessed with bikes. I told you: walking is good for your gall bladder. What do you need a bike for?”
Me: “Well, Layne needs one.”
Mom: “Of course he does!”
Me: “And Steve stole it.”
Mom: “Right!” She pointed a long fingernail at the woman in the trailer.
Steve the Rat Fink’s Father’s Common Law Wife, For which there Is No Convenient shorthand: “Take it.” She flapped a hand at the picnic table nearby. It was covered with mismatched items – a lamp, a cigar box with toy cars in it, two bathrobes, and a gravy boat. It looked like a reluctant hoarder’s booth at a flea market.
Steve the Rat Fink’s Father’s Common Law Wife, For which there Is No Convenient shorthand: “If any of that shit’s yours, take it with you. That fuckin’ kid’s always takin’ people’s stuff.”
Steve the Rat Fink appeared behind her. Only his weasel’s head was visible. He squinted at my mother.
Mom: “You! You know what you are, Seth?”
Mom: “That’s what I said! A rat fink, Scott! You’re a rat fink!”
Steve and the woman looked at us quizzically. I really should start on inventing the Webberinternetwork–these episodes of uncomfortable ignorance could be avoided.
We took the bike and went home. My mother chained the bike to the hitch on our Winnebago and locked it. Live and learn.
I looked back to see Steve leaning against his trailer hitch where the bike had recently been. His not-mom sat at the picnic table full of Steve’s ill-gotten acquisitions. They were the enemy; our families were now at war. After years of trailer park living, I was a full-fledged trailer trash redneck. My family was now one side of a blood feud that promised to be as epic as the Hatfields and McCoys. That night, breathing in the residual marijuana smoke drifting in the air, I could imagine the day in 2183 when my great-great-great granddaughter shot Steve the Rat Fink’s great-great-great grandson down dead in the street with a laser beam, ending our world-famous feud. Bystanders would record it on the devices I had invented, the ones permanently connected to the Webbycybernet.
This was going to be great.
My mother marched past me toward Steve’s trailer, her citrusy perfume trailing behind her. She must have thought of some biting remark, some gauntlet to throw down that would fan the flames of multigenerational clan warfare. I tagged along.
She marched up to Steve the Rat Fink’s not-mom and handed her a bottle.
Mom: “Listen. Rub this into your scalp after you wash your hair. Make sure you get it down to the rootssssss. Then your hair won’t be so stringy and fragile.”
Steve the Rat Fink’s Father’s Common Law Wife, For which there Is No Convenient shorthand: “Thanks.”
I stood there, dumbfounded, as my mother turned on her heel and marched back to our Winnebago. I thought frantically of some witty barb, some cutting rejoinder that would remind all concerned that we had begun a centuries-long battle that would only end with the extermination of one of our family lines. Perhaps with a laser beam.
Me: “Your descendants are so screwed.”
Steve the Rat Fink’s not-mom was studying the bottle my mother had just given her. Steve glared at me and shrugged.
Steve the Rat Fink: “Fuck off, weirdo.”
2183 was going to be a great year.
Friday night, nine p.m.
I had been consigned to my bunk an hour before. My mother still cleaved to her notion that I needed more sleep than Layne the Favorite, as if two extra hours a night would round out my rough edges and correct my many flaws. All I got out of it was two hours of staring up at the ceiling while my mother and Layne the Favorite watched TV together. In a house that was only twenty-five feet long, there was no way anyone could sleep if the TV was blaring and the sound of self-satisfied popcorn munching was going on.
I closed my eyes and tried to achieve a Zen-like state of calm. Maybe that was the first step in becoming more like Layne the Favorite. In this way, finally, I might get a bicycle of my own.
I heard a metallic rattle coming from the back of the Winnebago, a disjointed clanging sound. It stopped. I listened harder and heard it again. Someone was at the back of the trailer we towed behind the Winnebago, where all our earthly possessions were stored. I got out of bed.
Mom: “What are you doing out of bed, Buster? I told you. You need your rest. Do you know what will happen to your pancreas if you don’t get enough sleep?”
Me: “Ted. I think someone’s trying to break into the trailer.”
Ted the Drug Dealer was sitting opposite my mother and Layne, not watching TV and probably trying to ignore them. He was engaged in his usual nightly inventory—the small tabletop in front of him was covered in cash, coins, and his arsenal of weapons. In addition to his .22 pistol and his switchblade, he had recently gotten a telescoping baton, like the kind the police used. It was about the size of a can of mace, but if you pushed the button on the hilt, it sprang to full size. He gazed at it blearily and belched. Dinner had been a paprika-showered chicken roasted with asparagus and prunes. My mother had found a cookbook at a yard sale and was now adding fruit to the mélange of horrors she dished up every night.
Her chicken with asparagus and prunes tasted like being picked last for dodgeball at recess.
Me: “Ted. We’re being robbed.”
Ted the Drug Dealer stood up, grabbed his telescoping baton and went silently out the door, leaving it open. I scurried out behind him.
Mom: “Get back in bed, Buster!”
Ted went left instead of right once he got outside, going around the side of the Winnebago opposite the picnic table and awning. He meant to sneak up on the intruder from the other side, where the water, sewage, electricity and propane hookups were. I followed. We made no noise. The sound of the clanking got louder as we rounded the corner of the trailer.
There was a skinny, shirtless man wearing a ball cap and dirty jeans with holes in them. He had a crowbar in one hand, prying at the padlock on the back of the trailer. There was a cigarette jammed in the corner of his mouth; his tiny eyes squinted through the smoke.
It was Steve’s dad, Merle—the paterfamilias of the Rat Fink clan. He looked askance at Ted the Drug Dealer, standing there with the small round hilt of the baton in his hand.
Merle the Ratterfamilias: “The fuck you lookin’ at, asswipe?”
Ted the Drug Dealer pushed the button on the baton. There was a barely audible click and the weapon sprang to full size. He reached out and tapped Merle’s right wrist; I heard a sharp crack as his wrist broke and a clang when the crowbar fell to the ground.
Merle the Ratterfamilias howled. He clutched his wrist and hopped up and down. The cigarette stayed glued to his lip.
Merle the Ratterfamilias: “You cocksucking nutsack! You broke my hand!”
He lunged at Ted, who calmly brought the baton down on Merle’s right shoulder. There was another cracking sound. Merle’s face squinched up and he hissed in a painful breath.
Merle the Ratterfamilias: “I give! I give!” He backed away toward his own trailer, his right arm hanging at his side. After a few backward steps he turned around and slunk away with the same halting gait his son used after one of his confrontations. Ted the Drug Dealer picked up the crowbar to add to his weapons cache.
Merle’s common law wife stood outside their trailer, watching his approach, her arms crossed. She stood under the street light, a silhouetted, shapeless behemoth. My mother and Layne came out of the Winnebago to watch, their half-empty bowl of popcorn held between them.
Mom: “Look at her hair. See how shiny it is? She used the product. I know what I’m talking about!”
Some blood feuds were better than others. Maybe we’d get it right over the next couple of centuries.
Steve the Rat Fink tried to defend his family’s honor and orthopedic injuries the next day. I was hanging out with Layne the Favorite and Shawn the Black Belt down by the lake. I found out years later that the lake was crawling with alligators and water moccasins. And to think my mother thought the greatest danger to us back then was white flour, red meat and refined sugar. Who knows: maybe her cooking made us unappetizing to the marauding swamp beasts we lived alongside.
Steve the Rat Fink scurried over to me and glared up at me with his squinty eyes. He had not bathed in days; no wetland creature would make a meal of him either.
Steve the Rat Fink: “Your dad broke my dad’s arm.”
Me: “He was trying to break into our trailer.”
Steve the Rat Fink: “He was out of weed, numbnuts! What’d you expect him to do?”
Me: “Buy it?”
Steve the Rat Fink: “We ain’t got no money, shit for brains! Lurleen’s disability don’t come in till the first!”
Me: “So breaking into our trailer was like buying on credit? What kind of—”
Shawn the Black Belt had tried more than once to teach me karate. One of the things his sensei had taught him was strategic silence–apparently a lot of people got punched in the face mid-sentence.
Steve the Rat Fink punched me in the face mid-sentence.
I didn’t feel the hit; I was just suddenly on the ground looking up at the sky. There was a ringing in my ears. Steve the Rat Fink’s face loomed large suddenly. His mouth twisted angrily; he was saying something, but I didn’t hear it. I remember thinking how great it would be if someone punched him in the face mid-sentence.
Layne the Favorite had taken a few steps forward when I got hit, but Shawn the Black Belt was faster. He was always poised and waiting for an opportunity; I think he needed to release some violence on a regular basis or something horrific would befall an innocent person. It occurred to me that perhaps it was time to move to a new trailer park.
Shawn the Black Belt slammed an open palm under Steve’s chin. His head snapped back and the rest of his body followed him to the ground. Shawn stood immobile, legs apart, knees bent, hands up.
I got to my feet and swayed. The world wobbled before sliding back into place. I nearly puked on my shoes.
Steve the Rat Fink got up and faced me. There was a lurid red welt on his chin where Shawn hit him.
Steve the Rat Fink: “That’s it? You gonna let the dough boy do your fighting for you?”
I looked over Steve’s right shoulder, a look of alarm on my face. He turned his head to look and I kicked him in the nuts. His eyes opened wide, his mouth a huge O of surprise. His face crumpled and he folded in on himself, spinning slowly down to the ground.
Steve the Rat Fink: “I give! I give!”
We got back to our Winnebago right as my mother was pulling a roast pan out of the oven in a hellish parody of demon birth. It was lamb with an applesauce glaze, black pepper, and mandarin oranges.
It tasted like the pointed, helpless shame one feels at being ostracized by one’s community.
Layne the Favorite: “He got in a fight!”
Mom: “With who?”
Layne the Favorite: “Steve!”
Mom: “SSSSSSStace. You need to stay away from Sylvester. He’s a rat fink!”
Me: “Stuart.” My head was still ringing.
Mom: “That’s what I said!”
Layne the Favorite: “I hate that kid.”
Layne the Favorite and I were outside later that evening, trying to escape the wretched fumes of fruity lamb, when Steve the Rat Fink came sauntering along. He walked disjointedly down the middle of the street, shirtless and barefoot, his bruised head turning from side to side, scoping out whatever unsecured baubles might have been left out. Pickings were slim; the villagers had learned the hard way.
Layne the Favorite: “I hate that kid.”
Me: “Give it a couple centuries. There’ll be laser beams. We can’t lose.”
Layne jumped off the picnic table and walked over to the bucket with the squeegee in it. It was sitting next to the back of the Winnebago, because I was supposed to be cleaning the camper’s windows. My mother had been put out by some of the comments I had made about Mandarin Applesauce Pepper Sheep, and this chore was my punishment:
- “Is it supposed to taste like an orchard fire?”
- “What disease killed this sheep, anyway?”
- “Does all lamb smell like sweat?”
- “Can I go outside?”
- “You know what would be good? A baloney sandwich. Or a bike.”
My head still hurt from my earlier run-in with Steve. I didn’t feel like cleaning windows that were permanently shuttered anyway; my mother kept the curtains drawn. Besides, there was no punishment worse than Mandarin Applesauce Pepper Sheep.
Layne grabbed the squeegee and walked over to Steve the Rat Fink. Steve was preoccupied with his nightly scavenger hunt and didn’t notice Layne standing there until he nearly ran into him.
Steve the Rat Fink: “Holy shit, turdface. Why you sneakin’ up on me?”
Layne swung the squeegee. Steve jerked back, but the scraper edge sliced his forehead open. He spun around and landed flat on his face. I saw blood starting to pool in the street.
Maybe we wouldn’t have to wait two hundred years for the feud to come to an end.
One thing about trailer park living: you never knew who it was who called the cops. By the time the flashing lights arrived, everyone was out in the street standing around and affecting a dewy-eyed innocence. No one ever wanted to take the heat for bringing the police into our community. In such ways are blood feuds begun.
I suspect one of Steve’s larceny victims had watched him stagger toward home with his whole face and torso covered in blood and figured the rat fink had finally committed a crime that would get him sent away for good.
Layne the Favorite was sitting on top of our picnic table, the bloody squeegee held in his hand. He glared over at Rat Fink headquarters, where Steve sat at their picnic table. Lurleen held a bandanna to his bleeding head, a cigarette dangling from her lips. Merle the Ratterfamilias, shirtless, his arm in a makeshift sling, chain-smoked and gazed over at us. It was one of the few times I wanted Ted the Drug Dealer to be home; it looked like we were going to need better weapons than window cleaners. I wondered briefly if we could somehow force-feed the Rat Fink clan some Mandarin Apple Pepper Sheep, but there was no nobility in that. It was probably best if I just sat quietly and stayed out of it; I had recently been punched in the face.
The trailer park manager, predictably, showed up in his trusty golf cart. He was in his fifties, enormous, balding, and sweaty. He always wore an incongruous short-sleeved button-down shirt with a tie. The top half of him looked like a third-rate accountant or substitute teacher. The bottom half of him was a golf cart, canted down toward the driver’s side. He had to weigh four hundred pounds. Despite the wet Florida heat, he kept a tan blanket over his lower half, so his shapeless body ended where the golf cart began.
He was the one we called when the water or electricity stopped working or the machines in the laundry room ate our quarters. He didn’t actually do anything – his right hand man was a mute, nameless Guatemalan, thin as a rail, bespectacled, a genius with mechanical things. The last time I had seen this team in action was when a sewer line across the street broke. The trailer park manager sat in his cantilevered cart while his silent manservant fixed the line, covering himself in unspeakable brown goo.
There was nothing to fix this time, so the trailer park manager showed up alone. His cart zoomed to a stop in the midst of the assembled villagers. He looked over at bloodstained Steve and then at me, sitting on top of our picnic table. He and I had had run-ins before—I was the last man standing at an unfortunate broken window incident, and he had been on the scene when I got hit by a car, which he thought was an appropriate karmic comeuppance for my backsass. His eyes lit up when he saw me. I had no interest in sparring with him today. My head hurt.
Trailer Park Manager: “What’d you do now?”
I was saved from answering by the arrival of a policeman. Interestingly enough, I recognized him. I had dealt with this cop before.
The officer was Patrolman 1, who had helped me out after I got hit by the Cadillac. I had served as translator for the ancient driver’s stream of old country invective. Angry Jewish women had been flinging intemperate Yiddish around me since I was a toddler, so it was easy to decipher her ranting.
Patrolman 1 quickly assessed the situation and walked over to where the Rat Fink family sat tending their wounds. Between Steve’s blood-soaked face and chest and his father’s broken bones, they looked like they had been on the business end of a nasty car wreck. Steve’s not-mom kept pointing over to our Winnebago.
Her hair was perfect.
Patrolman 1 headed over. He saw me sitting there and winked.
Patrolman 1: “So. This situation’s kind of facochta.”
Me: “Also a good bit of meshuga going on.”
My mother glared at Patrolman 1.
Mom: “You don’t look Jewish. How do you know Yiddish?”
Patrolman 1: “Your son taught me a few words. It’s come in pretty handy. There are a lot of crabby Jews on the wrong side of the law.”
Mom: “Jews don’t break the law, Lieutenant!”
Patrolman 1: “Sergeant.”
Mom: “That’s what I said! Jews are oppressed! We don’t ever do anything wrong. It’s always the goyim.”
Patrolman 1: “It looks like your son hit that boy upside the head with a squeegee.”
Mom: “He was defending himself!”
Patrolman 1: “A couple of witnesses told me your son just swung at him for no reason.”
Mom: “He had a reason! Simon is always picking on him!”
Patrolman 1: “Who?”
Mom: “Stewart! Sheldon! Shane! You know—Spencer!”
Mom: “That’s what I said!”
Patrolman 1: “Even if they have a history, it’s irrelevant if your son just hits him without provocation. And because he used a weapon, it’s a serious crime.”
Mom: “It’s a squeegee! It’s not a weapon!”
Patrolman 1 gave up on her and walked over to where Layne sat, twirling the bloody squeegee. The officer drew himself up to his full height. All the leather he had—shoes, gun belt, holster—creaked as he walked. He stood in front of Layne the Favorite, his arms folded over his broad chest.
Patrolman 1: “You hit that boy. With a weapon. Unprovoked.”
Layne the Favorite: “I hate that kid. I’d like to hit him again.” He gripped the handle of the squeegee tighter. Patrolman 1 took it out of his hands.
Patrolman 1: “I’m going to have to take you in, son.”
My mother squawked and flew at him, pushing her way between Patrolman 1 and her son.
Mom: “No way, Buster! I won’t let you take my son to jail, you jakbooted tag.”
Me: “Jackbooted thug.”
Patrolman 1: “Ah.”
Mom: “My son is innocent! This is not his fault! It’s that gneyvish ganev , az kleyn shtekhn!” Me: “Sneaky thief, that little prick.” My mother glared at me:
Mom: “SSSSSSStace! What is wrong with you? Why are you talking to this beyz khzir?”
Me: “Evil pig.”
Patrolman 1: “I knew ‘pig.’ I’ve been called that one before. Your people really don’t like them.”
Me: “It’s because we don’t know how to cook, and we’re afraid of trichinosis.”
Mom: “And God!”
Me: “Also, apparently, God.”
Mom: “Stop it! He wants to take your brother to jail!”
Patrolman 1: “Ma’am. He assaulted that boy with a weapon. I have to take him in.”
Mom: “Then you’ll have to take me too! You’ll have to lock me up with him!”
Layne the Favorite sat calmly. He seemed to accept the consequences of clocking Steve the Rat Fink upside the head. I liked to think he, at least, understood the gravity of a blood feud. Sacrifices had to be made. Although him and my mother sharing a cell at the Hollywood police station, mom sliding a cup across the bars, shrieking “Attica!” was a bit much. Dignity was a hallmark of the really good blood feuds. I walked over to Patrolman 1.
Me: “Can I talk to you in private?”
Mom: “What for? Why do you want to talk to this narish pots?”
Me: “Stupid dick.”
Mom: “Stop telling him what I’m saying! You’re making it worse! He’ll lock us up and throw away the key!”
Patrolman 1 led me over to his squad car. The trailer park manager, half man, half golf cart, grinned.
Trailer Park Manager: “Lock him up too, Officer!”
Patrolman 1: “I see you’re still winning people over wherever you go.”
Me: “It’s a gift.”
Patrolman 1: “You know I’m just trying to put a scare into your brother. And those lowlifes—” he jerked his head over at the clustered Rat Fink family. “—want to press charges.”
Me: “They won’t press charges. Just tell them you’ll need to step inside their trailer to take their statements in private. They’ll fall all over themselves to send you away.”
Patrolman 1: “And why is that? Do they not want me in their trailer for some reason?”
Me: “They do not.”
Patrolman 1: “Interesting. Tell me. Is your brother a danger to himself or others?”
Me: “Probably not. But my mother will be a danger to you if you take them to jail. Can you whip up some sort of hideous kosher meal for them? Will they get to watch TV together? And just wait till her lawyer shows up. She’ll sue you and the city for a hundred million dollars.”
Patrolman 1: “For what?”
Me: “Does it matter? Do we all want to be on the news, for God’s sake?”
Patrolman 1: “Probably not.”
Me: “Besides, if you haul Layne and his mother off to the big house, I’ll be left here alone. My stepfather’s working, and I’m a helpless minor.”
Patrolman 1 (chuckling): “You poor thing.”
Mom: “SSSSSStace! Quit talking to that Nazi!”
Patrolman 1: “I think she wants to go to jail.”
Me: “By now she does. She and her son are going to martyr themselves for the cause.”
Patrolman 1: “What cause is that?”
Me: “No one knows. But they can’t stop now or all will be lost.”
Patrolman 1: “That actually makes some kind of sense.”
Me: “We’ll make a Jew out of you yet. Can I come to your Bar Mitzvah?”
Patrolman 1: “As long as you bring a gift.”
Me: “That’s the spirit.”
I followed him back to where my mother and Layne sat side by side, waiting to be handcuffed, beaten with sticks, and shoved into the back of a patrol car.
Me: “Take them away, Officer.”
My mother glared at me.
Mom: “You’re just like your father, that son of a bitch.”
Patrolman 1: “Ma’am, I’m not taking your son in.”
Mom: “Because he’s innocent! I told you!”
Patrolman 1: “It would leave your other son here by himself.”
Mom: “Oh, him. He’ll be fine, that one.”
Me: “Do you want to go to jail?”
Patrolman 1 looked at Layne the Favorite.
Patrolman 1: “I’m going to let you off with a warning. Never pick up a weapon if you get in a fight. Unless you’re defending yourself.”
Layne the Favorite nodded. Patrolman 1 walked over to the Rat Fink family, his arms folded. He said something to them. Merle the Ratterfamilias ripped the ball cap off his head with his one good arm and flung it on the ground. I could hear his voice raised as he yelled at Patrolman 1, but not what he was saying. Patrolman 1 gestured at their motor home and took a step toward it. Merle the Ratterfamilias got in front of him, his hand out, a toothless grin on his face. Patrolman 1 shrugged and walked back to his car. The crowd gazed at him expectantly. The trailer park manager kept looking between me and the cop. His face fell when Patrolman 1 got in his car and drove away.
Me: “Better luck next time.”
The trailer park manager glared at me and zoomed away, nearly clipping some of our neighbors with his golf cart. The crowd dispersed after that. The Rat Fink family retreated to their trailer, looking like survivors of a vicious animal attack. It felt like we were winning this blood feud. We had them on the ropes.
Mom: “Her hair really does look good. I’m going to go ask her to come down to the salon for a conditioner treatment.” I sighed. Hopefully my descendants would do better.
You can buy Trailer Trash With A Girl’s Name: Father Figures on Amazon.com. Follow Stacey Roberts on Facebook and Twitter
Stacey Roberts spent his childhood traveling the country in his family’s Winnebago. They eventually settled in Florida, where he attended Florida State University and the University of Miami. To his mother’s consternation, he pursued a major in English literature instead of finance. He rebelled further by receiving his master’s degree in early-modern European history from the University of Cincinnati. He can now both impress and frustrate the room with obscure references to Roman emperors and English monarchs.
Roberts founded his own computer consulting firm in 1994. He lives in Northern Kentucky with his wife, Nikki, and their Goldendoodle, Augustus.