From the porch I could see Pen’s trailer. She came out the door carrying a worn black notebook in her hand. Her enormous bag hung from a strap on her shoulder. I waved to her, but she didn’t see. I waved more frantically and received the same response. I thought of calling her name, but before I could the trailer door opened.

“I know you,” Ruth said. “You’re—what’s your name again?”


“Jake Greene.”

“The writer. You’re writing about Hilltop.”


“I suppose you want to interview me.”

“If it’s not too much of an imposition.”

“Well, come in.”

Ruth held open the door. I stepped through it. The trailer seemed cramped. There were a lot of plants that appeared to be thriving, family photos, and assorted bric-a-brac, including a painting of John Paul II. Most of the furniture was old, and Ruth employed subtle tricks to conceal its shabbiness—a crocheted bedspread covering the sofa, a lace doily on top of a TV tray employed as an end table, a carefully trimmed tablecloth as curtains. I pretended not to notice.

“The place is a mess, but I won’t apologize.” Ruth directed me to a white wicker chair with faded blue cushions. “Sit.”

“Thank you.”

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“Would you care for something? Coffee?”

“That would be great.”

Ruth passed from her tiny living room into an even smaller kitchen. “So what do you want to know?” she asked in a rich smoker’s voice, although I noticed there were no ashtrays in the trailer.

“I’ve been told that you were one of the founding citizens of Hilltop.”

Ruth returned to the living room without the coffee. She pressed her fists against her hips and said, “You know what gets me? It gets me that you hear people degrading trailer parks. People making jokes, and not just comedians. Politicians, too. People who do that, they’ve never lived in a trailer park, let me tell you. The people who live here—do you want to know about the people who live here?”


“There’s nothing trashy about them. That’s what most people think, that we’re trash. Trailer trash. They think that mobile homes are cheap, shoddy, and unattractive, and that the people who live in them are the same way.

“A lot of people live here because it’s affordable, I’ll give you that. A two-bedroom single-wide trailer costs about $30,000 and a double-wide maybe $50,000, and lots run $250 to $300. That’s not much compared to the housing market. But the people who live here don’t live here cuz they’re poor white trash. No, sir. Median income isn’t much less here than it is in Columbia Heights. Hilltop is not a ghetto. Are you writing this down?”

I had been holding the notebook unopened against my knee. For appearance’s sake, I started jotting Ruth’s comments.

“Hilltop’s a good place for seniors and it’s a good place for couples starting out. Young couple moved in last week, just married. And why not? Why not live in a trailer while you save for the big spread in the suburbs? Why not live in one after you raise your kids, after you retire? There’s not much maintenance to worry about, that’s for sure.”

“Do you get much turnover?”

“We’re getting younger, young families coming in to replace the seniors that go off to nursing homes.” Ruth spoke like she was afraid she’d be next.

“Have many people been moving in lately?”

“The young couple, I forget their names, but I can find out for you.”

“That’s okay.”

“Before that, let’s see … There were two middle-aged men around forty just a few weeks ago.” It distressed me to hear what Ruth thought was middle-aged. “They moved in together. I think they’re gay.”

“Why do you say that?”

“They’re two middle-aged men in their early forties living together.”

It’s hard to argue with that kind of logic.

“And you never see them. They just sit in their trailer. Once in a while one of ‘em goes for takeout. You try to be friendly and it’s like ‘Don’t talk to my.’”

“Which trailer are they in?”

Ruth gave me an address on 47? Avenue. “They’re behind me,” she said, “about a dozen trailers down.”

Which placed them about a dozen trailers from Pen. I made a note of it.

“Who else is new?” Ruth said. “A teacher, new teacher at the middle school. There’s Nick Horvath, you met him. Steve Sykora and Penelope Glass. She’s such a sweetheart. Writes songs, I’m told. And he’s with the FBI. Do they sound like trailer trash to you? I don’t think so.”

I agreed with her.

“Let me take you down to city hall.”

“You have a city hall?”

“Of course we have a city hall. Hilltop’s a city, isn’t it?”

I followed Ruth out of her trailer—I never did get my coffee—and down the same lane that Pen and I had taken the day before. Ruth set a brisk pace, and I had to work to stay with her. Along the way, she pointed out a tree.

“We used to have our own police department. We even had a squad car with ‘Hilltop’ painted on the door. Unfortunately, one of our officers drove the car into that tree back in ’72 and the city didn’t have enough money to replace it, so there went the police department. Now we have a contract with Columbia Heights.”

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