Five Favorite "White Trash" Moments

by Roger Edwards

NOTE: This editorial began as a humor series in my BLOG, but because of its cumulative length and proof that real life is stranger than fiction, I'm assembling it here.
    ===== Roger =====

1. WAR PAINT LADY

Place: Trailways "Silver Eagle" bus from Dallas to Houston, at about 11.

I sat in the far back left of the bus, across from the restroom (as usual), so I could look out the back window as we rolled along. For some time -- how long I can't guess, but it seemed like most of the trip -- a nearby woman of about 45-50 had been applying all manner of makeup to her face. She sat across the aisle and one row forward, directly in front of the restroom. My dad (who was, as usual, sitting with my mom behind the driver he knew) ambled back, told me quite audibly that he was about to take a dump, and stopped briefly to note the lady and her fastidious attention to amending her appearance.

After about 15 minutes, he emerged, stopping again above the lady as she continued to apply makeup. Without hesitation, he looked at her, shaking his head slowly from side to side. With his gravelly East Texas voice, he said, "Lady," then a short pause, "That ain't gonna help you!".

He glared silently right at her for a full two or three seconds afterward, as if to say, "Yes, I meant exactly what I just said," then returned to his seat. Her hands froze as the mascara applicator fell into her lap. She gasped with incredulity, mouth fully agape and hidden behind the other hand. As my dad walked forward, the woman turned toward me with a silent, astonished glare, before huffing and going back to her "war paints" (as my dad later called it).

Her response to my dad, fleeting but unforgettable, was the stuff of the zaniest Al Jaffee caricatures from MAD magazine. The look combined unrestrained horror with the color and tone distortions of thickly and badly applied layers of every form of makeup. Imagine Phyllis Diller, "Edith Bunker" and Michael Jackson all rolled into one, but in utter shock. I have not seen a more bizarre expression on anyone, in person.

2. CADILLAC CROSSING

Place: Commerce Street, probably at the corner of Akard or Ervay, age 17.

I strolled almost halfway across a busy downtown crosswalk, intending simply enough to reach the other side. Normally that's a reasonable agenda, right? Alas, seldom does the expected order prevail on a big city street in the summer.

A businesslike, gray-haired chap in a shiny Cadillac, wearing a crisp suit and tie and what appeared to be a very expensive gold watch, pulled partly into the crosswalk. The pompous old geezer glanced at me with disgust, shot his nose into the air, then pulled the front end over the entire crosswalk, blocking it. Mighty brave thing to do to a street kid, that deliberate act of petty snobbery. Undeterred, I simply jumped onto the hood, walked across it, hopped off, and began to resume my stroll.

"Excuse me, do you know what you just did?!" I heard, in one of those nostalgically regal voices resembling a 1950s era network news announcer. As he leaned over to his passenger window, glaring at me, I stared straight into his eyes and calmly but firmly responded, "Yeah, this," then walked back across his hood going the other way. His purse-lipped, squinty eyed expression of disbelief and disgust lives indelibly in my mind. He shot away from that intersection like a torpedo as soon as that light turned green. Certainly I would have a harder time getting away with something like that as a late teenager today, in this era of camcorders mounted on almost every building and light fixture, and of course, drivers with cell phones!

Do you suppose I was considered for his list of invitees to afternoon tea at his polo club?

I think a scene much like that since has appeared in a movie; for I vaguely recall the accompanying deja vu. Perhaps the screenwriter was inspired by a scene he witnessed in 1983-84 in downtown Dallas.

3. BELLIGERENT BUM, BEGONE!

Place: Trailways Bus Station, 1500 Jackson Street, downtown Dallas.

As a rookie "baggage agent," my side duties included spreading kitty litter on the many puddles of oil leaked beneath parked buses, helping to clean drunken men's vomit from the restroom floors and (least frequent but most entertaning) rousting intoxicated bums from behind the dumpsters.

One sweltering evening, at the end of the 10 p.m. "run" -- a cluster of bus arrivals and departures -- some passengers complained to me and a coworker of a yelling voice coming from behind one dumpster located alongside a nearby freight dock. Usually one of us would scold the winos, or nudge them with a foot if they were sleeping, to tell them to vacate the premises or else we would get a cop to make them do so. Malevolent behavior toward the passengers was a definite no-no and, in the mind of my shift supervisor at the time, was free license for one of us bigger freight-loaders to appear on the scene and take additional action.

This one, however, got belligerent with me also, cussing loudly, waving a long green glass bottle at me, and banging it on the side of the dumpster, as if trying to break it for use as a weapon. That's an even worse no-no. With no law enforcement officials nearby and a belligerent drunk at hand, use of force was necessary. Without saying one word, I relieved him of his bottle, pitched it into the dumpster, spun him into a hammerlock and tossed him halfway across Browder Street. He sat there on the centerline and gazed at me, head tilted askew, drooling, with the biggest bloodshot cross-eyes imaginable. I offered more of the same, but instead he wisely staggered away in the general direction of the Federal Reserve building. Man, that dude stunk too. I still smelled his body odor in my work shirt at home the next morning, through all the usual sweat and diesel smoke.

The reputation of the bus station as a hangout for drunks was overblown. His whole sixteen years there, my dad (who wasn't quite as big as me but far more short-tempered) only altercated with a handful. They were mere entertainment to us working grunts; but to passengers, they were nuisances at least, menaces on occasion. And to all of us, they were poster children for failure to take personal responsibility for one's weaknesses, addictions and/or mistakes in life.

4. BANGING BENEATH THE BUS

Place: Same bus station, same summer.

One summer of working there filled me with bizarre and humorous memories for a lifetime. Like my dad, I mainly loaded and unloaded baggage and freight from the buses, among many lesser, jack-of-all-trades tasks.

A balding, bespectacled and obviously frazzled fellow of about 45-50 got off the bus I was loading and walked in a huff to my co-worker Claude. Claude was about this passenger's age and looked every bit like the supervisor that he really wasn't. The guy claimed I had thrown his bags under the bus and was trying to break them.

This ticked me off. It was an affront to my professional integrity as someone who did his duty and did it well...perhaps, too well for my own good.

I was supposed to arrange the freight and luggage in the right order under those buses, as effeciently and tightly as possible to conserve space. As with all my jobs, I took it seriously (some might say, to an extreme). Unlike most fellow "baggage agents," I did not throw the luggage! Instead I got quite talented at examining a cart of freight and bags to be loaded, quickly visualizing the optimal arrangement and then building that conceptual masterpiece of accomplishment: all items very tightly stuffed together with a leaden, almost impermeable adhesion. I did so, first, to see how much I could fit in the smallest possible spaces for conservation's sake, and second, so that my colleagues in Houston, Shreveport or Oklahoma City would have a really fun time prying them out. Others smashed 'em, I simply mashed 'em. This little "jam the camel through the needle's eye" method required a deliberate strategy to placing the bags, certainly not involving throwing them!

Claude was one of the masters of jive talk in that place and a ceaseless BS artist, but decided this time that he wasn't going to take any of it. He asked the fellow, "Which ones are your bags, mistuh?", and with a good measure of effort and strain, pried one of them loose from its compressionally cemented moorings. Picking up the suitcase and pointing at me, Claude asked, "Did he th'ow this bag?" The irate but mistaken passenger's response: an abrupt, self-convinced "Yes!".

Claude said, "You mean, like this?," then hurled the suitcase entirely across the cargo compartment of the bus. The luggage struck the opposite side with a loud bang, then ricocheted in spinning fashion for another five or six feet back along the undercarriage floor, bouncing off a trunk or two along the way. Feeling the bumping commotion beneath their floor, a few previously oblivious passengers looked down with befuddlement from their window seats.

The guy aimed the most surprised look at us, his mouth open, eyebrows raised seemingly halfway up his shiny little scalp, his forehead furrowed like a badly plowed farm field. The look quickly turned to red-faced disgust when Claude then yelled, top volume, "Now get your a__ back on that God____ bus!"

My work ethic was regarded impeccably there, and I knew immediately that this incident wasn't going to get me in trouble, despite my chuckling and grinning at the sponteneous hilarity of it all. There were dozens of stunned witnesses to Claude's volcanic outburst, and he was the one who would have to answer for it. So I just stood there scratching my butt (or some such) for a minute or two, before continuing to jam freight and baggage together into something resembling the density of Betelgeuse's inner core.

As for the passenger, he did climb onboard without further incident; and as far as I know, Claude never did get that promotion to the Trailways PR department.

5. GOOD TIMES IN HIGH SOCIETY

[Tie] OK, I couldn't decide! Both involved fishing, my ex-wife's job, and posh resorts.

    a. Place: Ritz Carlton Hotel, Naples, Florida. The ex was a reporter for Miami Today, Michael Lewis' intelligent and no-nonsense business newspaper; and we had an all-expenses paid weekend there for her to cover Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce meetings with all sorts of South Florida power-brokers present. Not desiring to schmooze with those people at a dressed-up hors d'eouvres function the final evening, I slipped out to get some bait shrimp and squid, then drove a short way down to a favorite angling spot: the Marco Island bridge's fishing catwalk. A couple of hours, one really soothing and beautiful sunset, and several saltwater catfish and seatrout later, I was ready to head back for bedtime. Too bad I had forgotten a wiping rag for bait handling, and used my shirt and pants instead. I didn't look or smell good at all but didn't notice at the time. I had just relished a fine evening of fishing, and had my catch on ice in a couple of buckets. My intention was to get fresh ice and the fish into a cooler in the room, hose off in the shiny shower and sleep the second of two nights in a beach-facing balcony room. It was living, and living well! This didn't really register with me until later, but I noted in passing the bug-eyed looks on the faces of the bellhops when I pushed a borrowed shopping cart full of fish buckets, rods and reels, a tackle box and some old bait containers through the front entrance, past them, and to the lobby elevators, trailing what must have been a rather pungent aroma. Had I put myself in their shoes at the time, rising through my contented but tired oblivion, I might have ascertained the reason for their distressed expressions.
    b. Place: PGA National Resort, West Palm Beach. We stayed there another year's weekend for the same type of Chamber of Commerce gathering -- all food catered, the room and normal guest priveleges absolutely free. While my former significant-other attended some afternoon meetings, I went exploring. This place was amazing. They had an awesome spa and swimming pool, and a series of warm little outdoor pools filled with reconstituted mineral waters from famous places around the world. My favorite was the Dead Sea pool, bitter and smelly, but virtually impossible to sink into. One of those strangely common, forty-five-ish executive wives, among several I noticed to be in remarkably fit athletic shape but badly and prematurely wrinkled from too much youthful sun, was reclining at poolside. Under an umbrella, she nursed an icy beverage of many colors, face embedded in some engrossing book. I briefly noticed and felt sorry for her, then went back to the more concerning matter at hand: testing the water's famous buoyancy. The pool was small and fairly shallow, but I figured the hypersaline conditions would keep me from hitting bottom if I flew in doing a cannon-ball jump. The test succeeded! Unfortunately, some of southern Israel landed in her drink, on her reading material and in her hair. Before I could apologize, she quietly beamed a burning glare at me, then quickly got up and walked away, nose and chin held firmly aloft. It was a scene of pompous astonishment that I would love to have the artistic talent to reproduce in a painting!

    I might have gotten, but failed to notice, similar looks later that afternoon from all the folks arriving who saw me covered in weed debris as I fished for bass in the ponds that adjoined the entry drive. Fortunately, the gatekeeper, himself a fisherman, had already cleared me to do it. "You're the first guest who's ever asked to fish there, far as I know," he told me, "Go for it! Good luck, man!" I actually caught (and released) several good size largemouth in a span of two or three hours.

The enjoyable irony from 5b was that I actually met a small but very cool subset of down-to-earth people at those functions who (unlike me) just happened to have a lot of money, but (like me) didn't care for all the fancy pomp. They helped to break down a strong stereotype I had of rich people as universally arrogant anuses. Instead, to a man, these guys were poor early in life and hadn't forgotten from where they came or gotten too big for their britches. Except for the setting, you wouldn't imagine them as the major movers and shakers they were in Miami commerce and finance. One of them at PGA, a youthful 35ish real estate magnate also wearing a casual shirt and jeans, noticed easily that I was not part of the prevailing crowd of big-talking, name-dropping braggarts. He began a great conversation about saltwater fishing, pro football and girls -- real regular-guy stuff in South Florida. After we chatted a little, he shared his secret to success: Make lots of money, but don't act like you are. It's a wonderful philosophy, but the first part is a lot harder than the second. Then his gorgeous girlfriend came over for a brief introduction, thereby erasing all memory I had of his name. :-)

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