I love this article about MHU. I read it going home on the metro yesterday and loved it. Its strange, comic, and morally questionable subject matter is rendered in an appropriately flat descriptive tone; it features an amusing all-American main character (Frank Rolfe); and it evokes the exotic (to me; probably to you) world of the American trailer park (more delicately, the manufactured home community).

“I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t gamble,” [Rolfe] says. “I don’t travel, I don’t restore cars, I have no hobbies. I don’t do anything.” Trailer parks are his world, and after nearly two decades in the business, he can entertain his students with a near-endless repertoire of tales. One of the class’s favorites was the tenant who tried to drown his girlfriend — and then nearly became a murder victim himself when the same woman tried to saw off his head.

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2 Responses to ““It was Day 2 of Mobile Home University, an intensive, three-day course on how to strike it rich in the trailer-park business. Seventy-five or so students had signed up for the class, which Rolfe offers every other month in different places around the country…””

  1. Crimson05er Says:

    Thanks for the interesting post. As someone who grew up in small-town Alabama, where trailer parks are still pretty prevalent, it’s disconcerting to me to hear mobile homes are “exotic.” Must be how the native Algerians felt when learning Delacroix and the French Romantics had a patent industry painting colorful bazaars as representations of “the other” for patrons from the Metropole. Sigh.

    I had friends and school-mates who lived in trailers; they were as natural a part of the built environment as the post office or town square or dogwood clusters. One running joke was about the proverbial redneck with his $10,000 mobile home and his $60,000 bass boat parked outside. News accounts always reported terrible carnage whenever tornadoes plowed through trailer parks, flinging the flimsy manufactured homes like so many children’s toys in the path of a tantrum.

    One of my favorite passages from Rick Bragg turns evocations of trailers as part of daily life into near-poetry:
    “All he demands is that once in a blue moon I will sit with him on the barn where he stores his pickup and bass boat and tell him about where I’ve been, what I’ve seen. In return he brings me home, all the way home, telling about layoffs at the mill, about who died and where the funeral was. He tells me about babies born, about how his new saw can cut through a green pine in nothing flat, and how ol’ Chuckle Head in Websters Chapel got locked out of his trailer again. He is a grand storyteller, much, much better than me.”

    Interestingly enough, one of the side effects of the late nineties/early aughts housing bubble was the gradual diminishing of trailer parks along roadsides in the rural South. I imagine they’ve been making a comeback the last few years.

    Once I made a wrong turn near Lexington, Virginia, and ended up driving down a gravel back road in waning autumn light looking for my destination, only to jolt my way into a clearing where a little girl in a yellow sun-dress and a barefooted boy in denim overalls were tossing back and forth an inflatable ball in front of the most dilapidated trailer I’d ever seen inhabited — tar paper, peeling paint from the metal window frames, crumpled seventies beige siding. Even the cinder blocks at the base looked like they were sagging. The little girl dropped the ball, which slowly rolled until still, and she and I locked eyes as I backed up my car. Both children went quiet and simply stood there as I turned around and headed back up the road. It was like something out of Erskine Caldwell’s south via an Edward Hopper painting.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Crimson05er: Your beautiful writing extends the pleasure and fascination of that article for me. Thanks.

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