On Growing Up White Trash: A writer comes to terms with the culture of her birth
AM NOT white trash. I grew up white trash, though. When I was brought home from the hospital, I looked around the tiny lobby of our building and saw the dirty walls, the broken mailboxes, and the missing tiles on the floor. German shepherds wandered on the landings, and a beautiful girl wailed at a locked door to be taken back. I heard the radios blaring rock ballads from open apartment doors and the men standing in the doorways in their underwear, and I thought, great, I’ve been born into a poor family. But it didn’t seem so bad.
Growing up, all our furniture came from the garbage. We never threw anything out. How could you know what was garbage when our whole building looked like it was made from trash? The clock on the wall was a gangster that shot out machine gun noises on the hour. We had fake stained glass unicorns hanging from little suction cup hooks on the living-room window. We had stacks of old telephone books and a fish tank with no fish in it. It was typical white trash decor, shocking to no one. We weren’t exactly entertaining guests from other neighbourhoods.
By the time I was eleven, many of my friends were always being taken off to foster care when their moms had breakdowns or got arrested or had particularly shitty new boyfriends. Everybody had regular visits with social workers. In the summer, they gave us free passes to the amusement park. The Ferris wheel would turn around and around, filled with scared white trash children with their eyes closed—a little white trash solar system.
Hair That’s a Fright
Iran forbids a notorious Western coif
In 2010, Iran’s police cracked down on men’s hairstyles, declaring decadent Western cuts anti-Islamic. Special forces targeted spiky, gelled blowouts, along with the notorious mullet (whose name, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was popularized by the Beastie Boys’ 1994 song “Mullet Head,” although the style dates back to ancient times). Anyone caught with “business in the front and a party in the back” would be subjected to an unflattering short crop, while repeat offenders would be arrested; barbershops offering prohibited cuts were shut down. Soon afterward, a catalogue of six approved haircuts was presented at the government-sanctioned Modesty and Veil Festival.
The white trash girls wore cut-off jean shorts and high heels over gym socks, and tied shoelaces around their wrists. The boys wore T-shirts with heavy metal bands, and jean jackets with silver-studded sleeves. All of the kids had bangs down to their noses. We never saw each other’s eyes. This was good for looking tough, and for hiding when you were crying. All of the kids had potty mouths. The only word not spoken out loud was “welfare.” A person could get stuck on it for years. You could be three generations on welfare.