Every paper in America has been publishing approximately 3 of these a day for a year and we at Pearl River Flow finally got in on the game, by stealing something no doubt submitted to the New York Times.
I visited Bedford Forrest Falls, a town of approximately three thousand people, in rural Tennessee on a Tuesday. Autumn leaves are piled up around the trees that line the quaint streets leading to Barnett’s Diner, where the only thing more American than the apple pie is the Confederate Memorabilia lining the walls.
Coffee is fifty cents and an old man makes sure you pay your share before begrudgingly pouring it into a pre-stained styrofoam cup. That old man is George Maddox, who, at 94, is slightly older than the town’s median voter age of 88.
“Can’t get nobody to clean up them leaves no more.” George says, regarding me with a smile and some scorn. “Can’t pay ‘em nothin’ even after we said we would.”
Maddox voted for Trump in 2016. “I thought he was too liberal, really, being from New York, but he promised me a handy and a peppermint stick and I tell you what, neither of those is free.”
Neither handjobs nor peppermints are free in Bedford Forrest Falls. Homespun wisdom like that dominates the political conversations in Barnett’s Diner, where all the patrons are on medicare, which they overwhelmingly support.
Strom Eastland comes by and plunks a quarter in Maddox’s cup to get a refill. He too voted for Trump. “He said he’d give me my job at the coal mine back. I lost it back in ‘03 when that democrat Obama made them lay off half the guys in my plant.”
I want to tell him that George W Bush was President in ‘03, but I, like all journalists, know that Eastland is pulling my leg, telling a larger political truth - that Bush was so like Obama that only a Maverick Outsider like New York Real Estate Billionaire and NBC personality Donald Trump could be different.
“Damn O’bummer was President for sixteen Goddamn years.” Eastland says with a spit.
“Guy saying he was from Trump came into town yesterday, says we’re gonna open up a pig iron plant.” Maddox says to Eastland, who goes by “Strom” to most of the town’s citizens. “Says pig iron’s the future. I bought some shares, and a hat.” With a pause, he looks into Strom’s coffee as he overpours it, spilling the scalding hot liquid into Strom’s lap.
“Haven’t gotten the hat, yet.”
Strom cusses at the old man, standing up and letting the burning hot coffee melt his old and delicate skin. “Can’t afford a doctor.” Strom says.
“While my skin is melting off they’re wasting all this money keeping people who don’t care about their health alive. People in Chicago, in Jackson, Mississippi, keep getting shot and we’re wasting our money keeping them alive.” Strom says. “That’s what Obamacare’s all about.”
As the elderly residents struggle to shove Strom in my van, George Maddox joins me on the porch of Barnett’s diner, taking puffs of a Pyramid cigarette. “Damn shame what that Obamacare done to Strom. That and that Indian doctor at the hospital over in Leesville.”
A new, colorful character (the color is mostly a pale, sickly white) comes onto the porch - not something you’d see in New York City, where I most certainly went to a Private High School before going to a real Ivy League School, far from “real” people like George Maddox, Strom Eastland, and the newcomer, Lester “Bull” Connor.
“George here telling you like it is about that Obammercare?” The newcomer says. “He don’t like to say it, but the REAL reason it’s out of money is them spending all that money brainwashing the ‘football players,’ if. You. Know. What. I. Mean.” Lester “Bull” Connor tells me, each punctuation a jab of his bony, ancient elbow. Connor, who immigrated from Brazil in 1946, does not give me his age, but Maddox later claims he is “at least 100.”
“Football.” “Players.” His hands, like a friendly parchment in an arid ruin forgotten by history, make air quotes. “They secretly run this country. That’s why the Saints won the Super Bowl the same year that Katrina hit,” he says, referencing the 2010 game.
The demographics are so sobering I refuse to impugn my work by examining them. 1060 of the 1061 votes in Bedford Forrest Falls, a town of 3203, a minority white town, were for Trump. I can’t help but think about that one vote as we drive Strom through the large part of town where the black and brown people of Bedford Forrest Falls - the farm hands, slaughterhouse workers, Wal-Mart employees, Dollar General stockers, truck drivers, gas station clerks, janitors, and fast-food workers, all live, as we are travelling to find another working class American and load the old man onto an ambulance that is manned by two hispanic men in their 30s. I stop them and ask, in perfect Spanish, if they know of any hard-working middle-class Americans.
I get no response other than curious shrugs and questions in broken Spanish.
The two men are struggling with my continental Spanish, obviously. Strom knows a bit of Portuguese, and a lot of German, but these too are useless.
“English, do you speak it?” The paramedic asks me, finally.
“Yes.” I say, slowly and clearly. “We are looking for American workers. Trabajadores Americanos.” I add, confidently.
“Yeah man, you’re telling me.” The man, who I did not ask for a name, so he did not give one, said. “I’m on my second shift today.”
“Yeah, pretty much nonstop these days.” His partner, who I did not ask for a name, either, finished putting Strom into the ambulance. “Hardly get to see my kids, working these double and triple shifts.”
“They don’t do overtime anymore down at the hospital. Even with all the damn pillheads we keep piling in the door.”
“Oh, an opiate overdose?” I asked, my journalistic senses aflame.
“Yeah, some white dude in a goddamn MAGA hat.” The two heartlessly laughed at the poor soul, lacking the acute sense of political strategy I learned in my years on the DNC steering committee.
I was about to lambast them for their snide remarks - no doubt what cost Hillary Clinton the election in Bedford Forrest Falls - when a thought occurred to me.
“Did this man have a job?” I asked.
“A job? Hell no, man, he was a pillhead, couldn’t possibly…”
“A working man laid low!” I exclaimed. We had another worthy subject of our in depth expose’, a rare chance to see someone of the working class who was also a victim of the opioid epidemic!
With a rush, I was off, leaving behind the unenlightened sods who were operating the ambulance, now with a lead on a Real American - jobless, addicted to opiates, and white.
Following the trail, we arrived at a trailer park, haphazard and run-down. Then, we went driving back across town, past dozens of boarded up homes and FOR SALE signs, until we crossed the interstate, into a gated community, where we finally found the home I was looking for - a proud TRUMP sign out in front, this two-story house belonged to the family that owned the trailer park they were inextricably linked to.
There, 29 year old Milton Rand was sitting on the steps in his boxers, scarred from the shots of heroin and life-saving naloxone repeatedly injected into his body. He had a large can of Bud Ice in his hands, with several empties sitting beside him.
“Trump ain’t gonna cut my taxes.” He says, mumbling to us with that pure, Appalachian straight talk so famed in journalistic circles from Manhattan to the Upper East Side. We walk through his ruined estate, a family home of one generation, once a proud McMansion reduced to a shambles as Mr. Rand now only takes in tens of thousands of dollars a month, hardly enough to afford a small apartment, let alone a large home such as this.
Mr. Rand is 29 and conservative, stridently so. Given his age and his predilection for drugs and alcohol, I assume he must be part of the so-called “alt-right” which exists online. He denies this as we walk through his trash-strewn hallways.
“I don’t get online much. Nothing but pornography and animes. Can’t stand it.” Mr. Rand says, once again engaging in the sort of ironic repartee that members of the nascent online movement are known for.
“I’m with the Grand Old Party and some party that’s even older than that.” he says with a dull smile underneath a sickly light in his foyer. Indeed, despite my confidence that he is in fact a member of the alt-right, Mr. Rand continues to claim to be an organizer for the local GOP party, a claim he “backs up” with a card and pamphlet.
This, he assures me, explains the ballot boxes in the flickering lights of the trash-strewn ex-living room that serves as his drug den or “snowflake free zone,” as I’m sure he calls it when he’s looking dapper, instead of downtrodden.
“Yeah, uh, all our, uh, members keep this sort of ‘memorabilia.’ It’s very genuine-looking, down to the locks and the… yellow sealing tape.”
I believe him.
“Republican just like my daddy, but not his daddy.” Mr. Rand says, “none of that tea party for little girls stuff here, none of that frog-Hitler bullshit online.” He sighs, showing us a room where plans for an ICE detention facility hang on the wall.
“They’re building this here. That’s why we’re for Trump.” he says. “We own the land it’s gonna get built on - the trailer park. Tearin’ it down for a prison.”
So again I prepare to leave Trump country, still with no answers.
- Buff Chaddington,