I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son (8 page)

BOOK: I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son
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The son razzed me with a tongue full of violet pulp. I smiled at him. Then he “WHOOP, WHOOP!”ed and Pollock’ed his remaining Faygo all over me.

Whether my open notebook had triggered some kind of antischolastic mania in the child, I’ll never know. But he managed to soak it so thoroughly that only days later, after several hours under a blow-dryer in a Washington, Pennsylvania, motel room, could the notebook be opened again.

The rest of this essay’s grist was scribbled in cryptic shorthand on folded paper towels in a goddamned hurry.

I went to the Boondox, Insane Clown Posse, Anybody Killa, and Blaze Ya Dead Homie seminars. “Seminar” is the official name for these sessions, but it’s maybe the wrong term. They’re more like shareholder meetings. The artists stood on a dais and explained themselves to hundreds of juggalos gathered under a tent, sweltering in hay dust and pot smoke. Boondox set the tone, saying, “We wouldn’t be shit without you.” Audience participation stretched for hours; comments ranged from “When are you coming to my town?” to “Can I have a hug?” to “You don’t even know the names of your own songs, you cock,” to “I’m proud of the way your attitude has improved.” Juggalos challenged artists to chugging competitions, and beat them. Glass pipes of innumerable colors and fungal shapes were passed from the audience to the stage. Someone fired Roman candles into the tent’s folds, an exceptionally bad idea. In front of me among the crowd at the back of the tent, two men explained to
a third how they had just hitchhiked their way back from the Hardin County jail. A range-finding water balloon popped in the dirt a few feet behind me. Violent J of ICP summed up my predicament: “You could have a camera crew, or documentary people running around; you could take pictures, interview ninjas; but you can’t possibly know what it’s really like to be part of this family unless you’re a part of this. That’s like … that’s like … hearing about love, and actually being in love. Those are two different ma’fucking things, right? Well this is love, right here. This is real love amongst each other in this bitch.” As he spoke this, some juggalos with a trebuchet on a distant hillside pegged me right in my face with a Faygo-filled balloon.

I had hoped to find Adam at the campsite around lunchtime. Maybe have a few brats, laughs. No sign of Adam. Ate a few chocolate Luna bars, soft and fecal-looking in the heat. Immediately regretted it.

There was one ATM on the premises. It might’ve been the only ATM in Cave-In-Rock. It was the plastic, stand-alone kind you get flaccid bills out of at bodegas and strip clubs. I saw no one else use it. It was its own little island in a glade that included the Psychopathic Records merch tent. The usage fee was five dollars.

For twelve hours every day, the merch tent thronged with juggalos. I watched them buy T-shirts and CDs, but also caps, cowboy hats, ski masks, hoodies, basketball, football, baseball, and hockey jerseys, tongue studs, comics, posters, wallets, belt buckles, fingerless gloves, flip-flops, shorts, and dresses, all in every conceivable size and color. Except for
onesies; those were available in black only.

I wondered, How is the merch tent doing such a brisk business without anyone having to use the ATM?

The answer is that the Gathering of the Juggalos is a free market in every sense. Aside from Drug Bridge—which even the security guards called Drug Bridge—juggalo wares were on sale anyplace you looked. RVs doubled as tattoo parlors and greasy spoons. Cardboard signs affixed to tents advertised kush, chronic, and ’dro. I still don’t know what ketamine is, but I said it out loud once and was pitched to lickety-split. Reese’s Cups, fan fiction, electronic cigarettes, oil paintings. I saw gasoline bartered for acid tabs. The juggalos I spoke with believed that making money this way was preferable to having a real job, was the
American dream,
basically, despite the fact that they lived demonstrably worse lives than people with real jobs. Still, one juggalo told me, “Dog, I came here broke and hustled a thousand dollars.”

The second evening, I locked myself out of my rental car. I asked the first person I saw if he had a slim jim. He did, and fifteen seconds and thirty-five dollars later, I was back to getting waters out of my trunk. As I headed to see Warren G, a guy driving roughshod in a golf cart spotted me and pulled a U-ey. His handpainted sign read
. “Hey, my man!” the guy said, pointing to my VIP pass. “Where’d you get that?” I explained that I e-mailed ahead of time and made arrangements with Sandy, the disappeared PR agent, and that actually the VIP pass entitled one only to free golf-cart rides on the first day of the Gathering. “Yeah, I don’t care about all that,” he said. “I’m riding in this golf cart, you know what I’m saying? Which I stole, you know what I’m saying? And they see that shit around my neck? Dog, I could get in anywhere!” Off in the distance, Warren G was launching into “I Want It All.” “Dog, I’ll make it worth your while. Money … or, you know, drugs.” I declined.

When I reached the main stage, I took a water out of my
book bag. A horrifically sunburned albino limped up to me, squinting, and asked, “How much?” I didn’t know how to explain that I wasn’t selling my waters. But he was in a bad way, so I charged a dollar. The bottle was still hot from the trunk, you see.

I took off my VIP pass once, to blend in, maybe get the juggalos to open up. Within three minutes, security guards materialized, and they threatened to take me to “juggalo jail.” Standard admission was $150, and juggalos were sneaking in, they told me. Where was my wristband, or my commemorative sheriff’s badge celebrating the release of “Big Money Rustlas,” Psychopathic’s Western homage? I stammered and jangled my VIP lanyard. Then they all bought balloons filled with nitrous oxide from a guy.

The nights at the Gathering were black as space. If you didn’t have a flashlight to sweep trails with, you were bound to twist an ankle. On the plus side, I could plop down with the burnouts and scrawl blind notes without anyone noticing.

That second night, a carny stabbed another carny in the stomach, and Tila Tequila was pelted with debris until she bled, but I was elsewhere, watching Tom Green perform in the seminar tent. (Prior to his set, two juggalos in the audience fist-fought for half a minute before onlookers chanted “FAM-I-LY! FAM-I-LY!” The fighters stopped and slinked away, shamed.)

I say “perform.” Tom Green bounded onstage and got belted with a hot dog. He was then offered two separate bong hits, one of which he accepted; the chant was “TOM SMOKES GREEN!” Any joke that required a setup was interrupted. Someone shouted something about Drew Barrymore that
seemed to hurt him. A juggalette to my left started to laugh at a joke, paused to vomit, and resumed laughing. Tom tried to do a bit about technological dehumanization, with gags about text messages and porn, but he was chanted down. It was very uncomfortable in there. More things were thrown. Juggalos had power over a famous person and they knew it. Eventually, Tom Green was performing like a jester, quick to start one joke only to abandon it for another, hoping both to please and not get murdered.

He ended with a monologue about how everyone on Twitter had begged him not to come, but that since his post-cancer philosophy was carpe diem, he wanted not only to come but to prove everyone wrong about juggalos. This was answered with raucous “WHOOP WHOOP!”s.

I heard that, later, he tried to save Tila Tequila from her bombardment by jumping onstage to draw juggalo fire—to no avail.

After sleeping for maybe two hours, I got up on the third day and went to see the actual Cave-In-Rock. It’s a fifty-five-foot-wide, hundred-foot-deep cave scoured into a cliffside by the Ohio River. For more than two hundred years pirates, counterfeiters, horse thieves, and murderers used it as a natural refuge and ambush. The river floods it from time to time, which is why it’s so cool and loamy inside, smelling of equal parts fecundity and decay.

I was reading the teen inscriptions (
), not finding any that were juggalo-related, when a mother and her two daughters entered the cave. The mother, who spoke with a deep Midwest twang, said she lived forty-five minutes away but had never brought her girls here. We’re liable to do that, she said—spend our lives missing the beautiful things right
in front of us. She had the blue eyes and curdled face of a 4-H beauty queen gone to seed.

I fibbed and said I hadn’t heard of the Gathering but was passing through on my way home from a friend’s. She offered to pray with me right then and there. “Right here and right now to know you are saved,” was how she put it. “This wasn’t a coincidence. You and me here today. Don’t write it off as one.” My nods were bogus, like a drinking bird’s. Behind her on the Ohio the
Shawnee Queen
puttered by, and some old folks waved. She said she was sorry to say it, but I could die just as easily as her sister did at seventeen. Wherever I was going to, I could just die. “You will stand before Jesus Christ. You will.” She squeezed her girls’ hands, and they said, “You will be judged by our Lord and Savior.” The woman asked me to consider living a life like hers, said she’d leave a CD for me on my rental car’s windshield. Then she left.

My clothes were geologic with overlapping sweat rings. I smelled like trench foot. The shower trailer at the Gathering was out of the question. I took off my boots and jumped into the Ohio River. I promised the woman I’d listen to her CD, but I don’t know what I did with it.

On the third night of the Gathering I finally found a perk associated with the VIP badge: access to the handicapped persons’ viewing platform. I stood behind paraplegic juggalos, juggalos on crutches, a little-ette (his term) with a prosthetic leg signed by the entire Psychopathic roster, a blind juggalo, juggalos suffering from various twists and sprains. One woman tore her meniscus during Brotha Lynch Hung but joined us on the platform rather than go to the infirmary; she refused to miss Blaze Ya Dead Homie’s set. Her face, and the faces of her husband and two children, were painted in the style of ICP’s Shaggy 2 Dope.

The handicapped used the height advantage to rain Faygo on those below. I used it to watch the crowd in the minutes before the sun set. Every third face was painted. Juggalos flew homemade banners announcing their area codes. They did drugs, they moshed, they diced the air with their hands while rapping along to Axe Murder Boyz, two Colorado brothers signed to Psychopathic’s sublabel, Hatchet House. Amid the thousands was someone waving a used car lot–size American flag with the Hatchetman sewn over the stars.

The good liberal definition of the underclass is something like: black and brown, struggling but persisting, systematically disadvantaged but dignified, living for the dream of becoming We. Americans don’t have a hard time explaining white poverty because Americans rarely try to, even though most poor people in this country are white. If you’re white in this country, it’s taken for granted that you’re part of We.

Not all juggalos are poor. Many bristle at the accusation. But a lot, maybe most, are. In the last decade, the Midwest experienced the largest upswing in poverty in the United States. A third of the country’s poor now live in suburban Middle America. Still, you’ll never hear a juggalo use the term “white trash.”

It’s an old term, “white trash,” older than the United States of America itself. Its roots lie in the seventeenth century, when “lubbers” and “crackers,” these formerly indentured and escaped white servants, formed their own communities on the outskirts of the Chesapeake tidewater region. These whites flouted the colonists’ nascent cultural mold, disrespected their ideas of property, color, and labor. The mass of men thought them boondock curios, except during political and economic crises, when they considered them criminal savages.

“White trash” nowadays is a contemptuous term. It implies that one had all the privileges of whiteness but squandered them; one’s poverty is one’s own fault. It’s a shocking term,
because it suggests that even without unions and factories, class in America is real, and it cuts across racial lines. But mostly it’s a useful term, because it has no set definition. It’s protean. It’s for when the majority of white people want to delineate what they are by saying, “What we are
is them.”

Juggalos say anyone’s free to become a juggalo, but I don’t know about that. I think it’s more like: they weren’t born into the respectable middle class and didn’t see a path that led there, so they said fuck it. They tattooed the Hatchetman on their necks and allied themselves with a fate they couldn’t escape. They would be stigmatized for this white poverty, this woeful inability to move and change, to be free radicals, so why not embrace it, make it known permanently and up front? You can be a juggalo, or you can be white trash—the first term is yours, the second is somebody else’s.

One juggalo in particular caught my attention right before it got dark. Onstage, the Axe Murder Boyz were closing out their set, rapping the coda to their modest hit “Body in a Hole”: “And it ain’t no friends, and it ain’t no girls cuz I’m by myself, and I got this hole in my backyard / I’ve been digging it for a year / I can’t cope with my own fear / Voice I hear has all control, so / I beat you in the head with a hammer and leave it stuck in your skull then I put your body in a hole.”

The juggalo was threading his way laterally through the back of the crowd like an unraveling hem. He was decked out in Axe Murder Boyz merch, and he carried with him a milk crate brimming with plastic 1.5-liter bottles. The bottles were uncapped and filled with gray water. Periodically he set the crate down, grabbed a bottle, and chucked it skyward as hard as he could. A liter and a half of wastewater weighs 3.3 pounds. Some of that streamed off in flight, but not much. Fellow juggalos in the front were packed too tightly for any of the bottles to miss. If they weren’t knocked to the ground, the victims reacted
the same way: First, they took a few moments to allow their eyeballs to recenter. And to consider what had just happened. Then they looked around for the cause of the pain. Finding no evidence, they picked up the leaking bottle and hurled it in a cardinal direction.

BOOK: I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son
6.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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