Modular Homes

I took a bath last night in the narrow hotel bathtub.  When I put my ears underwater, it seemed to drown the worries both inside and outside my head.  My reflection in the silver faucet was distorted.

The morning after the woman’s death, we checked out, intending to drive back home, or the place we’re using as home for the time being — we’ve got “home” levels one, two, and three spinning like plates — but between checking out and leaving town, plans changed, and we spent the sweltering afternoon driving back and forth between a long-term trailer drop yard (with a combo lock on a double chain-link gate that must be opened and closed each time) and Home Depot.  Some screws had back out on one of the shower trailer’s interior partitions — that was all.  Nothing was amiss.  We had made note of it at our first fire; our boss had told us to leave it alone unless it got worse, as troubleshooting the interior partitions is actually quite an involved project. 

Nick was more concerned (interested) about it than me — I was still sore over being given a tractor that didn’t work, on our first day, and baking at an Arizona rest area for six hours while it got fixed, when it had been sidelined for two seasons and could have been repaired anytime in the 700 days prior to our showing up.  Later, when we got to the fire, it became clear the oil and several filters had years on them too — anyway, I’m grateful for the work and willing to keep all that in my peripheral vision but it wasn’t immediately clear to me the backed-out screws represented a priority.  But, our helper on the last fire had sent a text photo to someone who tried to one-up someone else by framing it a certain way, etcetera and so forth — you know how it is with new companies, you don’t know which way the bad blood flows yet, but things like this help you figure it out — so next thing you know, we’re all checked out of our hotel and not driving back to home number two, we’re spending the day fixing the thing.  

So we spent the day fixing the thing and checked right back into our same hotel, after, but into the best room in the whole place.  I either got kudos for calling 911 on the lady, the night before, or they want to appease us in case we’re leery about staying where someone just died.  Joke’s on them; we’re not.  Anyway, we’re up on the second floor now, overlooking the weird, rocky open lot in the back, and at the very end of the hall where it’s quiet.  The little dogs feel fancy hop-flopping up and down the wide, carpeted stair case to access the outdoors; or maybe I’m projecting, as I used to associate anything multi-floor with wealth and prestige, growing up in single wide trailer houses like I did.  Waiting on a fire, as usual.  

I think I’m having fun.  If I was alone, I’d for sure be having fun, but I’d be lonely and wishing Nick were here, or if I hadn’t met him, some scaled-down version of someone like him, as I wouldn’t have the bravery or imagination to reach for more.  Or to get in the right neighborhood, imagination-wise — I always tried to imagine the partner of my future, and it was just blank; the same as when people would ask me where I see myself in x years.  Blank.  Anyway, alone I’d be having fun for sure, because I have poor-kid sensibilities, and to me this is as good as it gets.  Being paid to stay in a hotel and wait for work.  In my migrant, blue collar experience, you’ve arrived if you can get that.  

Nick is different.  He had rich parents, and grew up in a nice house, on a coast where other people save up just to vacation.  It’s too hot here, too dry, the weather is always some kind of shitty, we’re not making that much money.  He’s not interested in doing this next year again, maybe not even next month.  

We experience constant, low-grade friction because I think we’ve got it good and he thinks it’s for the birds.  I’ve had it so much worse than this and still considered myself lucky, which isn’t necessarily a virtue — maybe I just think poor.  Maybe my childhood ruined me.  We drove past a modular home sales lot on our way back and forth from Home Depot, the multiple times, yesterday — first for the right drill bit, while we charged our drill at some random RV power station; then for a new drill because turns out the drill that came with the toolkit sucks; then for the right size screws because we forgot to bring the example screw, that second time, and guessed wrong — anyway, we drove past the model modular homes and I thought, I wish I could have that.  Some land, and my own new modular home. 

My parents lived in one when they retired, and then bought another, and I was never welcome there because my mom was only doing long-distance relationships by then.  Then she died, and my brother and I flew out.  It was a nice house, full of my dad’s energy, with a neat organized shed and two lawn chairs on the small deck, and in the closets I saw boxes labeled in my mom’s handwriting.  They’ve never held onto extraneous stuff, but my mom had made a big push, as she declined, to leave things in an extra organized state for him. 

Three months later that house burned down, and this time I flew out and rendevous’d with my mom’s sister Barb, who had also been subject to the only-long-distance rule for decades prior.  There was a lot to sort through, and the mobile home community management had rented my dad a house on a different lot, with the option to buy.  It had an open floor plan.  He didn’t like it — I forget why.  Whatever hadn’t been destroyed by the actual fire or attendant smoke had been ruined by the foam retardant, so we set up an assembly line scrub station outside and salvaged what we could.  I was an adjunct English teacher at a university at the time, and I also worked part-time at a music store because the teaching didn’t pay enough for groceries, so I was busy grading papers every evening, and on the flight both ways. 

Then, maybe ten months later, I came back for a prolonged visit with my dad, at the single-wide he’d since purchased cash.  Now I was coming off a season of oil field employment in North Dakota, and at loose ends otherwise.  That house was the best of them all, for me — I stayed three months and recuperated from some type of existential injury I couldn’t diagnose.  I was tired of existing, I mean, and couldn’t seem to find the knack of existing more meaningfully.  Everything I did was some push in the wrong direction, and so that visit was the equivalent of realizing you’re lost in the wilderness, you’re going to run out of food and water faster if you keep foraging in circles, and simply sitting down to take stock. 

My dad and I would go grocery shopping together, and make delicious meals of potatoes with caramelized onions and green chilies, nutritional yeast soup, large elaborate salads with butter lettuce and tomatoes from the roadside stand, and a dessert he called “pumpkin pie”, which was only a scoop of canned, pureed sweet potatoes topped with full-fat coconut milk, and a sprinkle of Vietnamese cinnamon.  It’s outrageously delicious, by the way.  The house was always cool and dim because my dad acts like the sun burns him to ashes, in the summer, like a vampire, and keeps heavy wool blankets over the windows.  But he’s also a snob for fresh air, and would air out the house all night long and every morning, using the storm doors and a powerful fan, and then shutter it all up for the day to retain as much of the cool, fresh air as possible.  I would make coffee in the mornings with a manual espresso press for camping, and we’d go to a large, green, nearby park every morning where he would stare at the dawn sun, for one more minute each day, and I would run or walk a paved loop.  He was trying, as usual, some obscure remedy to salvage his eyesight, which was going.  The Indian continent has produced some of the strangest, most time-intensive, but also totally free therapies known to man because, as my dad puts it, they’ve had a bunch of time and absolutely no money, for centuries.

I think I was blogging a little at the time, but the steering was even looser then than it is now, and I remember an ex-boyfriend asked, What could possibly be the point of embarrassing yourself in this manner?  I’ve always been shocked that shared self-inquiry is regarded as an embarrassment.  Would I react in the same way, were I to read someone else’s writing on that level?  I don’t know — I haven’t encountered any, but I also haven’t looked.  I read what I read, which could not possibly hold my interest if it were not some flavor of shared self-inquiry.  I thought that’s just what writing was, ideally.  Somehow, though, mine was an embarrassment — I never sorted that out, though I did write several songs, only one of which I can now remember.  

The chorus went: I try not to take it hard, what’s another broken heart, I’ve got bigger problems down here at the bottom; it’s lonely at the top they say, maybe I’ll find out someday, or maybe they’ve forgotten — it’s lonely at the bottom.

I would spread out a hindu blanket on the floor, in the evenings, and my dad would read to me while I stretched instinctually, and for fun (echoes of my mother).  I loved David Icke, although the hierarchy of the lizard people was allegory I hoped (Icke claims otherwise), and then there were excerpts from several bombasts that I distinctly disliked.  My dad, quite the connoisseur and curator of alt-ideas, nevertheless always had a soft spot in his heart for a particular brand of published exaggeration, huffing its own nonsense.  I said, “That’s not good” and he agreed, in a good-natured way.       

When I left, to collect my things and move them to a new town where I would at least be warm, and where I specifically did not know anyone (echoes of my mother), I drove happily the first day, slept on top of a bunch of stuff in the back of my Jeep that night, at a truck stop in a rainstorm, and then continued on the next day.  I re-entered the Southwest, which is for better or worse “my” part of the country, watched the light change in the sky and across the red rocks, and suddenly experienced a pang of missing my father that nearly made me cry.  I called him and he said he missed me too, quite intensely.  I experience this same pang, from time to time.  I thought we were headed back to see him, yesterday, but then the issue with the shower partition in the trailer arose and then it made more sense to stay.

The hotel has prepackaged muffins and pastries in the mornings, and I put a chunk of banana bread on a plate for Buffy, who’s lounging on the king sized bed (Milo is perpetually interested in climbing inside Nick’s actual skin, or laying close as possible as a plan B).  Buffy is staring at the banana bread and then looking at me, trying to make me get up and break it into smaller pieces and hand feed it to her.  I think it’s an empowering practice to force her to realize she can take a small, crumbly pastry, make it even smaller, and feed it to herself — or perhaps I’m only trying to finish a blog, without the interference of a hand-feeding — this remains a stalemate. 

Nick has taken a deep dive into crypto day trading and seems to have made us about fifty dollars since I started this blog.  He has curly, nearly black hair and a Mediterranean skin.  The gray water driver, on our last fire (one of the little dogs’ most recent Grandpa acquisitions) asked if Nick was Italian: “I have a bunch of Italian relatives and you look just like them”.  Nick claims German descent but visited the Holocaust Memorial several years ago and found family names on it.  He thinks his ancestors simply did a very good sales job on being perceived as German, not Jewish, at a crucial point in time.  So now I tease him, as he recreates by making money, digitally, in a hotel room — “Are you sure you’re not Jewish?”  He could return the ball by asking, “Are you sure you’re not white trash?,” noticing my attention to the modular home sales lot, if he wanted.  I’m not sure I’m not white trash, and he’s not sure he’s not Jewish.  

We’re figuring out, day by day, how to be two vastly different people harnessed by circumstances, long term — we’ve associated with primarily each other, and the little dogs, all day every day for months, now, and it is definitely a work in progress.  Our feathers get ruffled by things that could not even consciously occur, in a more normal situation, and we’ve only recently reconfigured our feathers from having dramatically broken up, just before the lockdown.  Sometimes I despair and think, we’re not right for each other.  If I’m not right for him, I doubt I’m right for anyone, is the unspoken and more despairing thought.  We always figure out how to have money, through it seems a blend of his rich-kid abundance mindset and my poor-kid hustle mindset.  He’s much better than me at a large variety of things — yesterday he acted as the surgeon and I was the surgical assistant, handing him things and holding stuff out of his way, relative to the shower partition issue.  I don’t struggle for false control, or I don’t think I do.  When someone is better at something than me, I step back and hand them the stuff they need.  Nick is frustrated with my “humility” sometimes, that I avoid announcement of my skills or accomplishments even when people are directly asking me about myself, but the fastest way to fuck something up is to announce, in advance, that I’m good at it, so I low-key as a strategy.  Going through life underestimated is better than the alternative.  

I hope we come together and have a better day, today.  We had a hard day, yesterday, and there isn’t anywhere else to go.  It’s hot outside and there’s laundry to do, and if we don’t do the laundry before our next fire call, we’ll have to cycle back through all the dirty clothes.               

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