My Dad Won’t Stop Renovating My 1968 Trailer
When my dad first stepped inside our 1968 FAN camper trailer, festooned in dead flies and the previous owner’s drab olive curtains, he gently lifted the rotted ceiling panel in the corner. He tapped the broken pilot light on the furnace. He flipped a loose tile from the floor, opened and shut a cabinet door, then opened and shut it again. He pressed his thumb on the locking mechanism, up down, up down, ostensibly testing the springs. It was like watching a Stomp solo act—or a kid in a candy store, only the kid was 64, and the candy was a panoply of broken items. He didn’t smile, just raised his eyebrows and said what would become his mantra for the next ten months: “It’s gonna look a helluva lot worse before it looks any better.”
My girlfriend Mel and I had been looking for a change. We’d spent the majority of our lives in Nebraska, both of us born and raised in towns that made Lincoln—where we first met at the university—feel like Metropolis. We’d spent two years away during graduate school, but we’d since moved back to Lincoln, where she was rapidly climbing the ladder at a local advertising agency. She excelled at the job and found it stressful, too. She sometimes called in sick just to get ahead, free to work from home without her coworkers competing for her attention. Having just earned a master’s degree in creative writing, I pounded the metaphorical pavement looking for freelance work and other writing gigs, anything to avoid letting Mel pay my share of the rent. I reviewed terrible self-published books for $50 a pop. I profiled local restaurants for state interest magazines. I worked a temp job for a losing U.S. Senate campaign. One day I found myself live on MSNBC above the title “New York Times correspondent.” A few hours later I begged my mother to transfer a few hundred bucks into my checking account.