For a while I was a volunteer worker at a mental health club, Breakthrough. The members were people who had “Major Mental Illnesses”: Major Depression, Bipolar, Schizoaffective Disorder, Schizophrenia, Asperger’s Syndrome, and even (once) Borderline. Most of them are below the poverty line. Why? Because a person with these mental illness often has trouble working a job. I remember one guy talking about getting the training a welder only to find that the level of concentration to learn how was too difficult to manage. This was absolutely not his fault: many people with mental illnesses have trouble doing things easier to manage for ordinary people. I enjoyed the work, however, because I could teach the patients skills–like rudimentary grammar, basic math and food preparation–so they could go on to live more independent lives and even seek employment.
While there I was “visited” by a character: Mike Bannock. Mike is a fictional character who began his life in a trailer court. Why a trailer court? My dad and his second wife lived in a trailer court when I was a kid. However, most of the people in trailer courts are not as well off as Dad was, potentially. It is never commented on but if the slums in places like New York City or Washington, D.C., it is possible that trailer parks could be poverty, too. For all the jokes about plastic flamingos and trailer trash, the regular media keeps far away from these places. Arguably the slums in New York City or Washington, D.C. or–quite frankly–New Orleans need attention more, but–alas–I am not in much position to write about them, because I live in Kansas and have never been to New York City or Washington, D.C. (I did go to New Orleans for a week once.) All fiction–somebody said it–is local, and though I know the geography of my state–and parts of Missouri and Arkansas–well, I can hardly write about a place I know little about.
I did write a book Brazil, about a country I have never been to. Yet it was hard, and I had to research it a lot. Even I don’t know if it is a good facsimile of the country where it is set… and I took material out of the Talmud to write it. If a person can only find so much information about a place, a person needs material to fill in the gaps–and for me it was information about the Jewish people in the person Aher.
Anyway… Mike Bannock and his trailer court Opossum Creek… I thought I could use the vehicle of Mike Bannock to explore the place, including places like the state fair, the foreign legion, and a quilt making competition, along with the “creek” separating the trailers from “town”: a few other houses and the business district. The people were not quaint and sweet, but included characters like radio station host Marty Philips (Mike used to fantasize about sex with her yearbook picture); the anti-intellectual prostitute Spider whose influence Mike wants because she controls the trailer court owner with a mysterious secret about the owner’s past; and the girl who turns out to be the love of Mike’s life, Rosie McGregor. I called the novella “On the Road but Never Got the Girl” bringing to light the Bob-Hope-and-Bing-Crosby Road pictures that Mike and his dad watched when he was a kid. There is, however, an undercurrent of tragedy in Mike’s life: his mother left Mike and his father when he was in grade school and Mike never even got a goodbye. Mike’s mother left a note, but his father didn’t read it to him. Throughout Mike’s life, his difficulty with girls seem to mysteriously tie into the absence of his mother. Another thing which his loss adds to is his interest in the Catholic Church, believing as he does that when his mother isn’t there he can talk to the Virgin Mary and she listens. Of course, his father and mother were not religious and he never goes to church–until it turns out Rosie is Catholic.
The novella is the first story in a book Poor Folk. There are a variety of stories in the book, a few more of them in which Mike Bannock appears as bit parts or major parts, but most of them (even “The Spider Web” which features Spider) don’t have Mike as a character. I hope that if I ever get Poor Folk published (especially after Faust in Love), my state forgives me. I don’t want to think I will have the predicament of Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again. Either way… I am determined to write… and eventually read You Can’t Go Home Again. (I have read Wolfe’s Homeward, Angel but none of his other books).
I also have a collection of stories, about Mike Bannock and his friends, which I have just begun writing. The first one–without giving the reader any spoilers–is “Mike Bannock Loses His Mind” in which he and his oldest boy go to the library he helped build to check out the children’s book Peter Pan–an ominous beginning for a story, indeed!