Rand Carlson

Trailer Park Buddha

There is much to be said for failure. It is more interesting than success.

-- Max Beerbohm

There's the blackness that's tethered to an overwhelming sense of failure. That point where you see no joy, so you figure there is no joy. No joy anywhere. That's the kind of shit we're talking about. The kind of shit me and my neighbor Bernard always talk about when we're sitting around sucking on beers.

We're in a shady spot out in front of my trailer, seated on these wrought-iron chairs that have rusted edges and no cushions. We're sweating our asses off. For a Monday evening in late September, it couldn't be hotter. It feels as though September has somehow been wrenched back into summer.

And what is September anyway? Aside from being the ninth month in an archaic 16th-century Gregorian variation of a first-century B.C. time-keeping system, September is that monochromatic space in time where days are tinted with a dull slant of light, a powerful shade of blankness. A blankness that creeps into your thoughts and takes up residence in your skull for the night. September is summer's hangover, the slow headache fuzziness that requires real effort to slog through. The kind that inspires bad thoughts.

My September is filled with sad reminders of things that didn't turn out as planned: friends that never made it past 30, lovers who suddenly deemed me unworthy and ducked out, the rare burst of summertime ambition defeated, the first days of school, all that.

And if that isn't enough, September sees the start of football season. A fact celebrated by the drunk across the way who blares Monday Night Football from his TV, keeping his front door wide open. We can hear the depressing cackle of frothy fandom rise and fall between the verbal flatulence of the game's announcers.


Pro football is played by a bunch of pencil-dicked thugs who need an excuse to wrestle and grope each other, to exercise their closeted, homoerotic ghosts and fantasies with other men without actually going all the way. Men who've still got this ludicrous, implausible seriousness about their "manhood." Football is the end result of guys who bottle this shit up, and it makes them ugly. Makes them into great football players for whom their like-minded fans can live vicariously.

"Dis futbol shit is for pussies," Bernard says between gulps of beer, glancing over to the trailer from which the game blares.

Football means nothing to Bernard. Why should it? The guy was born in Africa, down on the Ivory Coast. He grew up in France, a country whose most popular sports are soccer and cycling. Sports in which real athletes engage.

Bernard's got a wife and kid back in France. That's the one thing he's never quite explained to me. The wife and kid bit. He had a cushy job at IBM that sickened him so he bailed. That, I do understand.

Since arriving in the States eight years ago, Bernard's been all over the place. His first summer was spent in Florida learning to speak English. He starved, downed gallons of malt liquor and longed for the women there. He swears there are no finer examples of women than those found strolling the beaches of South Miami. Bernard says I have no idea how a man can suffer while trying to learn English. In Florida, Bernard endured hundreds of unrequited hard-ons while struggling to grasp our language.

In the year leading up to the election of Rudy Giuliani, he worked through a brutal Manhattan winter as a peep-show barker. There was a sun-charred stint doing construction in Vegas. Some time was spent fending off skid row in Los Angeles.

Now Bernard's sitting here with me, shirtless and drinking from yet another can of Natural Light Ice. His paunch is bloated and topped with a hairless set of cocktail titties. He has zero ambition for the things in life that others find desirable.

Bernard is staring into a very green, low-growing mesquite tree. That's the weird thing about desert vegetation: It stays green regardless of whatever misery summer throws its way.

He is, by his own account, an alcoholic. He's by most accounts an alcoholic who, when passing a certain point, doesn't become a disgusting, slobbering bore. He's working on the ninth or 10th beer in the 12-pack lying on the ground by his feet. I like the fact that he doesn't even bother to keep the beer in his refrigerator. That would require movement. That would require him having to get up to grab fresh beers.

Bernard no longer has the crushing sense of failure, or the darkness. He's licked it. He says once you figure the game it's easy to win. The fine line separating all that stuff is easy to spot once you know where to look.

"You can jerk off when you want, drink as much as you want, screw girls if you're lucky," he laughs, his big belly bouncing along behind the beat of his chortle.

Knowing something will always lurk, that we can still be drunk, perhaps bitter, but we will never lose reason to breathe. We know the impossibility of living long enough to have seen it all.

Sunset takes the day slowly by the throat. A gingery glow gives the evening a weightless consistency, the promise of a beautiful night. In this glow it all makes sense now. The courtyard, the light, the dogs, the beer, the pale colors of the desert flora.

The neighboring trailers are getting restless and their lights are coming on. The smell of something resembling fried bacon is in the air. The dogs come out and bark. They chase each other's tails and raise the dust. Their movements seem slow, deliberate. I like the deliberateness of it all. Gives it more purpose. With the drinking it all seems holy, even in a month like September. God bless this Natural Light.

Bernard goes back to talking about failure and darkness. How all along he had mistaken the darkness for an agony he thought he could never shake. Yet now, at 35, he's grateful not to be dead. He's found satisfaction in simplicity. The simple act of drinking a cold beer, of fucking his girl, of achieving a level of honesty, of successfully avoiding work.

He's figured it out.

From the tiny speaker in the neighbor's television comes the sound of a roaring crowd capped by the announcer's pointless skronk. Some overpaid goon must've scored a touchdown or something. Woo-hoo!

Night comes down on the trailer park. We're still sitting here. In the dark, Bernard's teeth could be pearls. We are surrounded by so much darkness -- this moonless blackness -- yet so much is left to see. Always so much to see. And it's weird: I don't hear a single note of rock 'n' roll, just the faint aural glimpses of a desert night mixed with the football game's insulting gesticulations. But the football game is nearly over.

Once the game has ended, it's gonna be good night, I think.

Obligatory reviews:

Marvelous 3

Bad Cheap Trick cloning and thinly disguised arena rock pining are the basic gears that drive Marvelous 3's fruitless mook-pop. They may think themselves somewhere between Everclear and Presidents of the United States, but really it's a confused cross between Foreigner and a Van Halen tribute band. What's more, the lame vibrato in singer Butch's voice gives the impression he served a good decade singing Doobie Brothers covers in Fresno.

Collective Soul

On Blender, Collective Soul does what it does best: It orchestrates nearly 40 minutes of the lamest collection of mall-rotted songs conceivable, songs that would best serve as ambiance in TV ads for no-ammonia haircolor aimed at single white males under 40 who make more than $100,000 a year.

The sad action on Blender is undercut and cushioned with prosaic production tricks that make a band like Supertramp "rock" by comparison. File under "Soundtrack to Cover Those Pesky Grays."

American Pearl
American Pearl
(Wind Up)

I'd wager American Pearl lifted its name from a scene in Caught From Behind 4 in which Ron Jeremy instructs a fake-boobied Barbie dressed in Imperial Russian garb to "take my American pearl," then discharges said goop into her gaping countenance.

With its unabashed Buckcherry cops (all the way down to employing Sex Pistol Jonesy as knob tweaker/guitar tone architect) and brazen misuse of ink-stained skin as metaphors for badassness, and its Web site spin-doctoring about how "rock 'n' roll" they think they are, American Pearl gets the Turd of the Year award for bestowing upon America the most outhouse-quality rock samples from the GN'R/Cinderella sewage plant.


Madonna has to be the first chick in pop history ever to have put her clothes back on to further her career. The booklet sees her dolled up in designer duds like a porny cowgirl, half-lidded and lying around in the hay, sucking iced coffee through a straw but looking ready to tell the next cowpoke that hops along to go find a different horse in the stable.

In the hands of producer/collaborators Mirwais Ahmadzai, William Orbit and Guy Sigsworth, the songs on Music harvest trendy production hookery, the bulk of which take the place of actual songwriting, not to mention passion. Vocoders assail vocals ("Nobody's Perfect," "Impressive Instant") to the point of giving them a guided-by-Braille quality; acoustic guitars are looped and pinched so heavily ("Don't Tell Me") that they twitter by in unnerving fits and starts. Elsewhere, songs reveal themselves as showy strip bar satires ("Music") or affected camp ("Amazing") that at best give rise to Madonna's inner drag queen.


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