The photo above depicts two specimens of the strange and terrifying species of creature which has figured into so many topical horror stories as of late.
He was the second child of a family of six that grew up in a house full of firearms with a septic tank and a chicken coop out back. He was held back twice in school and gained a reputation as a hard-drinking, hard-punching hellraiser.
She was the daughter of farmfolk who managed to grab the brass ring of middle class semi-respectability during the socio-economic upheavals following World War 2.
She married him right out of high school, just before he shipped out to fight in a war whose righteousness he still vacillates about.
When he made it back to the States, they lived in a trailer park on the fringes on a military base. Despite the fact that his enlistment would shortly be up and they had no firm prospects, they decided to have kid.
Shortly after, they relocated to a small apartment in his old neighborhood, on a truck route less than a mile away from a Superfund site. A second child followed four years later.
Both he and she smoked like chimneys and enjoyed domestic beer. He had a taste for the flashy, cowboy boots and mod leather jackets and gas-guzzling dinosaurs in a perpetual state of mechanical failure. She read trashy historical romance novels and listened to Neil Diamond LPs.
Their life was a series of economic ups-and-downs, brushes with the good life punctuated by long and increasingly severe lean times. Though the apartment was already cramped, they took in his aunt and teenage sister for five long and trying years.
By the mid-Eighties, their family had entered a terminal death spiral of poverty, substance abuse, and mental illness. Job prospects died up or were abandoned because of the reasons previously stated. The only money coming in came from his veteran’s benefits and whatever they could extort from their eldest’s minimum-wage takehome pay. Heat, electricity, and food became frequently unavailable luxuries.
She died from a drunken fall down a flight of stairs when she was 37.
He did a short stint at the VA afterward, relocating to South Boston and busting his ass running heavy machinery in printshop. The work destroyed his spine, and the company repaid that sacrifice by laying him off in his early 60s. He sued, won a settlement, and bought himself a Mustang convertible.
He spends his days smoking, reading, and talking to his cat in a ground floor apartment where he works as the property manager.
They were what folks like to call Working Class Whites.
They were also my parents, and they were liberal Democrats to the core. Dropping a racist slur in front of my old man would’ve earned me a more ferocious hiding than if I told him to fuck himself. (Actually, he considered the latter a rite of passage for his sons.) He swore by the political trinity of JFK, RFK, and Ted K, and bought the family’s first color TV specifically to watch Nixon’s resignation in glorious polychrome.
Today, my dad is a cranky old man who will argue politics with my brother and I for hours on end, but his principles remain intact. He might not “get” things like feminism or queerness or rap music, yet any grousing he makes is always qualified by “…but it’s no business of mine to judge.”
I understand that this an anecdotal and individual example, but that’s my point. All these cases are, when you get down it.
There’s no Rosetta Stone for deciphering the Working Class White “experience,” if such a sweeping generality even exists. The Rust Belt is not Bakersfield is not West Virginia is not the Gulf Coast is not a post-industrial suburb of Boston. Even when someone like me or Kaleb Horton or another scion of the generic mac ‘n’ cheese legacy provides intimate personal details of What It’s Really Like, it’s only a small part of a staggeringly large social mosaic.
It’s impossible to summarize in statistical form, and insulting when doing so reduces the actual complexity to “a bunch of knuckle-dragging racist throwbacks.” Hey, we certainly have more than our share of those, too (he says, thinking of the giant Trump sign in front of the place where his alcoholic aunt lives with her phony war vet boyfriend).
Yet that’s not representative of all of us, even if my identification with said “us” is more historical and habitual at this point…
Recommended listening: Furyo – Monster of a Thousand Heads (from a 1984 EP)
…which is evident by my opting for this instead of some Sabbath or Zeppelin track.