We were totally unprepared for the winter of 1968; it was bleak and cold, and it seemed to last forever. My wife and I were from the North — Reading, Pennsylvania — and we had joined a government program to help organize the dispossessed so they could eventually help themselves. This program was called VISTA, which stands for Volunteers In Service To America. What it really was was my ticket out of Vietnam – if I volunteered to help the poor, then I wouldn’t get drafted – it was called ‘alternative service.’
The folks we were supposed to be helping were Southerners. Poor Southerner whites. Rednecks. After training in Atlanta, we got sent to Tennessee, to the tri-cities area on the Tennessee/ Virginia border – the three cities were Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City. We ended up in a hollow just outside the Johnson City city limits. The locals had named this particular hollow ‘Maupin Row,’ and it was a sad collection of dilapidated wooden shanties lining several narrow dirt roads which were clustered around a polluted creek. If you were driving on the city road that circled Maupin Row you couldn’t actually see it – you had turn off the main drag and cut through a sort of high hedgerow – the ‘community’ such as it was, then opened out below you.
Ron Kolm reads “Maupin Row” at the Bowery Poetry Club, August 2010
We lived in the same type of housing as the people we’d been sent to help – basically a two-room shack with a tiny kitchen hanging off the back. We also had an outhouse. Maupin Row was zoned outside the city limits so it had no sewage system and no garbage pick-up – the people who lived there only got cold running water, and the city was going to keep it that way if they could. Putting in sewers and picking up trash cost money and as the poor weren’t able to pay any taxes, they simply weren’t worth wasting time on.
Our neighbors were actually very nice to us. Mrs. Jones, who lived with her family on the dirt road that intersected with ours, tried to show us how to bank a coal fire so it would last through the night. The secret was to surround the heart of the fire with enough combustible material to provide fuel for it, but not enough to smother the life out of it. A coal fire banked correctly would smolder slowly, lasting almost until dawn. The only drawbacks were the inevitable fumes, but the shack we lived in was so drafty that that problem was moot.
I never did get the hang of it. Once winter settled in we had to punt; we drove to the local discount store and bought an electric blanket and a large electric heater; we figured that this would be enough to make one room livable; the bedroom. The rest of our tiny home we abandoned to the cold – and it was so cold in the living room that we could put the milk and soda on the floor below the window, where they kept just fine. Meats, and any other frozen goods, were stashed on the windowsill, where they stayed frozen. I guess I should mention that we didn’t have a refrigerator – the house didn’t come with one, and we didn’t have enough money to buy one, so we ate most of our meals in fast food joints.
They got to know us pretty well in the local McDonald’s.
The bitter cold made sex difficult, almost impossible. Moving around under the electric blanket produced a ton of static electricity that snapped and crackled and gave us a continuous series of painful shocks – it was like trying to couple on a bed of hot coals. It we threw the cover off we froze our asses, and if we made it to any kind of climax, the wet cum would almost short the damn thing out. We ended up huddling together under the toasty blanket and watching a lot of late night television – Johnny Carson became our best friend.
We finally came up with an ingenious solution to solve our sexual woes; we’d hop into our half ton pickup truck, drive to the East Tennessee State University parking lot, and fuck in the cab while keeping the engine running and the heater on. We’d usually keep the radio on, too.
Of course this solution had its drawbacks. Because we were never sure if some sort of security would eventually show up and chase us off, we had to work quickly. Foreplay was minimal – a little making out, and that was about it. My wife would then kind of sit on my lap, where I’d be hoist her up and down on my trusty dick, gripping her by the hips, groaning in the throes of ecstasy, and she’d end up hitting her head on the window, or on the roof of the truck cab, with each thrust, shouting out more in pain than pleasure.
On good nights, when we weren’t fighting and had time to plan ahead, my wife would wear a dress that buttoned up the front and dispense with undergarments altogether. Sometimes she’d really get into it and wear a garter belt and silk stockings; she knew that turned me on. Unfortunately, whenever she wore them they usually got runs and were ruined.
“Shit, Ronnie,” she’d say, “I’m gonna have to throw this pair out, too! Take it easy! This fucking truck fucking thing is really pissing me off! Maybe we should just stop having sex ‘til spring…”
When it snowed she’d wear high leather boots, and she’d be stomping all over my feet when she did finally get off – the puddles of melted snow on the floor of the truck cab would squish and splash, and splatter the truck’s interior in interesting ways.
One time, after we started humping, things devolved into a huge fight. She was pissed off that I hadn’t brushed my teeth before we left the house, and the fact that I probably hadn’t bathed in awhile didn’t help; the smell in the truck was pretty ripe. The only time we could take a bath was when we visited with the other VISTA volunteers, which wasn’t that often – most of them lived in Kingsport, a long drive in the snow. They had been assigned to help a more urban population; mostly folks who lived in projects. So those volunteers had been placed in regular homes with bathrooms and refrigerators. Whenever we did drive up to Kingsport, it was a real treat to get cleaned up and become almost normal again.
Anyway, after we screamed at each other for awhile, she jumped out of the truck half-naked, but with her boots still on, and ran off into the snowy night. I zipped up, and charged out after her. I was slipping and sliding on the ice covered asphalt, but I finally caught up with her and we tumbled down onto the ground together. I picked her up and we made our way back to the warmth of the truck. I was scared; this was something new. Our fights had never gone this far before. I clung to her tightly; she was shaking from the cold, and I turned the dashboard heater up as high as it would go.