What should we be without the sexual myth,
The human reverie or poem of death?
Castratos of moon-mash — Life consists
Of propositions about life.
—Wallace Stevens, “Men Made Out of Words”
Born on a mountain
Raised in a cave
Truckin’ and fuckin’
Are all that I crave
—Poem observed on the planet Mellowdonia
Frenzied from a randy brew of pheromones wafting gently across the countryside, 10 million crickets sound their lust in a deafening vibrato. A vicious joke, this evolution game: each male cricket alone in his crevice, grating his wings into coleslaw till death or a mate arrives. Oblivion, or the brief knowledge that a new generation will grate its wings into coleslaw exactly like you and then oblivion — fucking great options life offers a cricket.
But that’s no excuse. If these bugs had a hair on their asses, they’d shut up and accept their fates like men. The old “Oh Baby Check Out My Shiny Black Antennae cause I’m a Lonely and Horny Cricket Blues” isn’t a bad tune, you understand. It’s just that after five hours with no variation, the lyrics assume a hint of self-pity. Even psychiatrists only have to take it for fifty minutes at a shot. And these cheap bastards aren’t paying shit for me to hear their problems. Gimme a flashlight and a fly swatter and I’ll personally put all 10 million of them out of their unrequiteds … A full moon, a clean breeze, a beautiful woods, and all I can think about is wreaking vengeance on insects.
The vibrato of bug lust offers no escape. Ten steps in one direction and you can blot it out for a moment with Van Halen screaming from the speakers of a cherry red van with a naked cave woman painted on the side:
Popular on Rolling Stone
I got the news, baby
All about your disease
You may have all you want, baby
But I got something you need
Ain’t talkin’ ’bout love …
Ten steps in the other direction and Foreigner proclaims from a sky blue van with a skeleton riding a motorcycle painted on the side: “I’m hot-blooded/Check it and see/I got a fever of a hundred and three/Come on baby, do you do more than dance.” Eleven hundred and thirty vans on this 750-acre campsite outside Laurel, Indiana, and you wouldn’t hear a woman or a black or a hillbilly or anyone softer than Led Zeppelin coming from any of them. “You’re making me sing/For your sweet sweet thing.” The vibrato of bug lust offers no escape. Except maybe Krupnik. The favored drink of the Southwest (Chicago) Chapter of Midwest Vans Ltd., Krupnik is a Polish honey liqueur that tastes like heavily sugared cough medicine. I wouldn’t pour it on my worst enemy’s ice cream. But here, mixing in my stomach with a bratwurst of sodium nitrate and rancid gorilla pancreas, it is a small dose of oblivion, leaving me uncaring about — and incapable of producing, for that matter — the next generation of wing graters.
“Show us your tits!” shout a couple of ignoroids (as they call themselves) dressed in aluminum foil. Three women walking by lift their T-shirts to cheers and clapping.
“Choice tuna,” says the first guy (“Two things in life taste like tuna fish, and tuna fish is one of them.” —Proverbs 14:6).
“Total ignorance,” says the second.
But do they do more than dance? The question goes unanswered for the ignoroids as their catch slips away. “Show us your tits!” Scientists have discovered that if you take the number of cricket chirps per minute, subtract 40, place it over four and add 50, you’ll have an accurate temperature reading. I’ve found that if you stand in any one place at the Sixth National Truck-In and multiply the number of seconds between cries of “Show us your tits!” by two, you can also approximate the temperature. The warmer it gets, the more spaced and laconic the cries. The colder it gets, the closer and more frantic the cries, as the vanners are caught between the throbbing hormonal demand to declare their bug lust and the fear of freezing, off their aluminum antlers. “Show us your tits!” Hmmmm, about 68 degrees Fahrenheit. “I got the news, baby/All about your disease.”
* * *
Slogging through the six-inch mud from an afternoon thunderstorm, I head off to find Fast and Bulbous George’s van — easily recognized even with a headful of Krupnik at 1 a.m. because of the stuffed wild boar hanging in a noose from a tree limb a few feet away from it. A veteran of six years of vanning wars, Fast and Bulbous George has served as chairman of Midwest Vans Ltd. (parent organization of 12 clubs, mostly in the Chicago area) and former chairman of the rounding Calumet chapter.
“Dial yourself into a beer,” he offers as I remove my besmirched sneaks at the door. His is not a show van, though it’s a good investment away from the assembly line: carpeting on the floor, wood paneling on the sides, a kitchen table in back and a refrigerator. Wearing a T-shirt depicting an unnatural act from Unnatural Act IV, a truck-in in upstate New York, Fast and Bulbous George looks like a rich liberal’s nightmare of what the proletariat is about these days. Not that he gives the impression of wanting to knock you over the head with a crankshaft, but with his Fu Manchu mustache, unstyled long (1968 long) hair and beginnings of a bulbous belly, it’s easy to imagine him saying, “The gastrobang-adjuster blew the force valve widget on your Mercedes and we’ll have to keep it two months while we send to Germany for a replacement. That’ll be $312.47 in advance.” Yeah, you gotta fend for yourself in Calumet.
“It’s what they call a lower-middle-class neighborhood,” says Fast and Bulbous George, actually a pipe fitter by trade. He has given up several jobs when they began to interfere with his club activities, and he writes a column for Travelin’ Vans. “Only me and Sloe Gin, the chapter chairman, live in the city limits. The rest of the guys moved to the suburbs. The Calumet region is one of the few white-controlled neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago. A lot of Polish and Serbian people live there who have sold three or four houses and don’t want to move anymore. You can walk the streets at night because the gangs only care about keeping the blacks out of the park. They call them toads.”
Fast and Bulbous George pauses for a tug off his beer. “Richard Speck used to live across the street from me,” he continues. “Just another transient in a rooming house for sailors. He killed all them nurses about a half mile away.”
A blond woman in a tight T-shirt sticks her head in the door and stares back at us with unfocused eyes. “She’s the tuna we saw this afternoon,” says All-Night-Partyin’ Don, a Calumet construction worker, to Whale, a Long Island stocker of supermarket shelves (the four of us are crammed around the tiny table).
“Oh yeah,” says Whale. “Show us your tattoo.”
“‘Sss washed off,” slurs the woman.
“Then just show us your tits,” says Whale.
“You’d jusss’ wanna see ’em again,” she says with the resignation of Seconal and the wisdom of Sisyphus.
“No,” Whale disagrees, “I’d wanna suck on em.”
The woman stumbles off into the night, mumbling something about Pink Floyd. “She was dialed,” says All-Night-Partyin’ Don.
“Nice look, too,” says Whale.
What emerges around the table is the story of ignorance. Somehow, nobody bothered to tell these guys that the counterculture was finished just about the time they discovered it. Which was the early Seventies, when a lot of young men had a lot of time on their hands to remember — because they couldn’t find jobs — and all they wanted to do was forget — either because they’d fought in Vietnam or run away from it. The solution was clearly brotherhood. But how ya gonna keep someone down in the Elks Club after they’ve seen Saigon? New forms of brotherhood were called for.
Ever since Ford introduced the Econoline in 1961, van sales have risen to over 200,000 a year for all three companies that manufacture them: Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge. According to Ford, 94 percent of the buyers are men, 20 percent are single and 50 percent have no children at home. Eighty percent of the vans are put to some sort of personal use and 67 percent are modified or converted in some way — more than any other type of vehicle. Such demographics turned out to be the stuff of which movements were made.
The appeal was obvious: scrape up a little cash beyond your unemployment benefits, and you got yourself a vehicle that could hold all your friends and even more warm beer than they could drink. Instant disgustingness. Anywhere. And when you saw some other longhaired guy with a mattress and stereo and 83 different-sized ratchet wrenches spread around the back of his van, you knew you’d found someone else with a serious interest in getting ignorant. It was just a matter of seeing him in the first place.
The discovery of kindred souls on a large scale did not happen until 1973 with the help of Terry Cook, then editor of Hot Rod magazine. Attuned to the subculture of high-performance cars and what was left of the hippies, Cook saw the perfect subset in the vanners. He placed an ad in his magazine calling for the First National Truck-In (only five bucks per van) at Tiger Run, Colorado, that summer. Eight hundred vans showed up and, with the help of some beer and loud music, coalesced into primordial ignorance.
The Second National Truck-In was held in Bonner Springs, Kansas, a year later, and van clubs were springing up all over the country. But the euphoria of the last gathering had soured slightly. A club called Vans Am and a man named Fred Blumenthal both claimed to have sponsored the event. This was the first evidence that protoplasmic ignorance had evolved into two competing life forms.
The split became obvious in Kentucky at the Bowling Green Third National Truck-In, dually sponsored by Blumenthal’s National Street Van Association (NSVA) and Hot Rod. Blumenthal, however, was the main influence. “It went completely commercial,” says Fast and Bulbous George. “They charged $25 to get in and made you fill out a survey form, so you got junk mail for six months afterward. A guy even got maced for streaking.” Not the proper atmosphere for ignorance to thrive, and the worst was yet to come: “The Oak Lawn chapter was a little late arriving, and they had to park on a hill away from the rest of us. They put up this huge banner that read Oak Fucking Lawn, where everyone could see it. Blumenthal ordered them to take it down. They told him to jam it.”
Then chairman of Midwest Vans Ltd., with 575 members, Fast and Bulbous George later received a letter from Blumenthal warning the Oak Lawn chapter about profanity. One more warning, Blumenthal said, and Oak Lawn would be banned from all NSVA events. That didn’t sit well, but at the time there was no alternative to the NSVA. Earlier that year, Blumenthal had addressed their winter banquet. It was not a memorable speech in the literal sense; no one now remembers what he said. But the second speech made history. At that time eastern editor of Hot Rod, Terry Cook gave an inspired oration on the distinction between craziness and rowdiness. “He said we should go out and get as crazy as we wanted without harming people, which was the line for rowdiness,” recalls Fast and Bulbous George. “Everybody was wearing a suit and tie, and he had painted this big red and white star over his face. He pointed to it and said, ‘This is funny. It doesn’t hurt anyone.'” Cook stuck around to take requests for body painting. Blumenthal went home early.
Ignorance now had a philosophy that can be loosely defined as libertarian dementia. What it still needed was a name. Here Fred Blumenthal was inadvertently more obliging. In the spring of 1976, long after the Oak Lawn incident, he ran a letter in the NSVA newsletter from a man identified as the Pharaoh, which read in part:
I don’t want any troublemakers attending any good events either. In fact, I’m probably speaking for 98 percent of the van movement, so if you can’t act like a human, don’t come. You won’t be missed. I don’t want vanning to get the image that outlaw bikers have.
Blumenthal wrote a euphemistic reply that seemed to agree and had roughly the effect of General Custer pointing out that the Sioux were a small minority of the American Indian population an hour before Little Big Horn. Fast and Bulbous George read the letter aloud at the next meeting, and his friend Flame held up a banner behind him with the name that ignorance would call itself to the world: TWO PERCENTERS.
Early in 1976, Midwest Vans Ltd. and a large number of their sympathizers seceded from the NSVA. The Two Percenters were more like 50 to 60 percent of the movement in the East and Midwest, but the important thing was that they felt like an embattled minority. They became the brotherhood of vanning, complete with everything a brotherhood needs: a name, a philosophy and a father figure to castrate. And castrate they did. At “By Vanners for Vanners” events all that summer, they denounced Blumenthal in song, verse and bumper sticker. They held mock funerals for him and parodied the “Don’t” regulations of NSVA events with “Do” regulations of their own. Rocky Mountain Vans of Denver filed a trademark claim on “National Truck-In” and drained its treasury fighting Blumenthal’s counterclaim for over a year, ultimately winning. Blumenthal responded by controlling his events even more tightly. His security guards had chunga sticks and Dobermans, there was a curfew, he didn’t allow unleashed dogs or trail bikes or drugs — all in the interest of making vanning safe for families. The Two Percenters went on to refine ignorance with Tits and Clits contests, Gumby Motocross (three drunks hold a rubber tube between their legs and try to run an obstacle course while blowing whistles), rock bands until dawn, insane costumes (such as the time a guy named Cut Loose dressed up like the pope and spent the evening wallowing in a mud puddle), charity benefits when they weren’t partying, and security guards who wouldn’t hit you unless you were way beyond disgusting.
By all accounts, ignorance reached its peak at the Sleeze Lake Truck-In in the summer of 1977. A mud hole outside Monticello, Indiana, Sleeze Lake had a theme of “Gangsters on Vacation.” Midwest Vans Ltd. spent months planning and building a small city on the site, including a first-aid hut, a communications headquarters with its own phone system and radio station, the White Port Emporium (a bar), the Heartbreak Hotel, the Sleeze Easy Casino, a stage, a transportation system about the campground (Sleeze Lake Urban Transit or SLUT Bus), and the Oral Gynecology Lab (rumored to have been lined with foam rubber, equipped with stirrups and staffed by Doctor Goombah and the Pubic Barbers). And if the bands and the booze and the tits weren’t enough, someone brought a homemade bazooka that shot fluorescent tennis balls 200 yards in the air (lots of fun to watch at midnight when you’re on acid). Or you could watch the 15-18,000 other ignoroids. The front gate was closed after 4000 vans arrived, and 2000 more drove through the surrounding cornfields to get in. The Indiana State Police counted them in an aerial photograph.
“You won’t find any better people anywhere,” says All-Night-Partyin’ Don, climbing out of Fast and Bulbous George’s van to get some air. “Just nice, wholesome people out for a good time.” After another beer, I also take my leave and find All-Night-Partyin’ Don passed out in a ditch.
“He’s saving it up for Saturday night,” explains Fast and Bulbous George above the crickets. “We all try to pace ourselves to Saturday night.”
As I start my rented car to drive back to my motel, a naked man sticks his head in the window and screams that this event is for vans only. Before I can explain that I am a big deal journalist, he sprays me with a hose.
* * *
“I wanted to be a reporter too,” says Jack Daniel’s, Southwest Chapter chairman of Midwest Vans Ltd. “I majored in journalism in high school, but my old man — he’s a minister — he said, ‘Get a trade.’ He got me into the union, so now I’m a plumber.”
A hefty man with yellow hair and a reddish beard, Jack Daniel’s is drinking a Budweiser. Yesterday’s mud has remained mud under a bright sun and the ruts make it impossible to ride in the back of his van — as I am — without breaking either your knees or your ass. “I want to apologize for that,” he says. “This is a party van, not a show van” — the difference being an investment of up to $20,000 or more. A small minority of the vehicles we pass on the side of the narrow road are true show vans. If you’re heavily dialed into the narcissism of decorating your vehicle to be looked at, you belong in the custom car subculture, not in one where a bricklayer on acid is going to vomit Krupnik onto your mag wheels. Two Percenters build things only to use them up. Yet most of these vans have some kind of modification: chrome exhaust pipes sacking out of weird places, oddly shaped windows cut in the sides, mirrors on the ceiling, sculpted headlights, proudly painted names like Beaver Pleasers and Til Death Do you Party, and huge murals ranging from abstract psychedelia to mysterious mythology (Frank Frazetta, the dean of science-fiction artists, cuts all other artists with vanners) to outright eroticism. Jack Daniel’s’ van is modified mainly by dents, plumbing paraphernalia, empty beer cans and a potty for his kid.
“The theme this year is outer space,” he says over the roar of “Purple Haze” on his cassette machine. “Sleeze Lake took craziness just about as far as it will go. We wanted to calm things down a taste on this one, so we named our planet Mellowdonia.”
Mellowdonia is an impressive accomplishment. Scattered along the winding dirt road are 13 Space Truckin’ Stations, each manned by a different club and featuring some activity like toy helicopter races or a maze to walk through. First aid and Melcom Central (with $36,000 of radio communications equipment for security) are in an old farmhouse with a bubble machine constantly blowing suds out an upper window. A stage and light tower have been built in a natural amphitheater, and in the Bozo Space Park, you can purchase souvenirs from the planet Yur-Anus. The one no-no is trying to drive through Smegmud Gulch, passable only by the SLUT Bus (whose acronym now stands for Space Limited Urban Transit).
After about 10 minutes of splashing through the road, we arrive at the Space Port Emporium, the distinguished descendant of the White Port Emporium, located in a clearing just east of the Cosmic Corridor. King Crab is starting the first crab races of the day in a five-foot aquarium. Whale is just crawling out of the sack at 1:30. Apologizing for forgetting my name, he explains, “I dropped acid three days a week for three and half years when I was in college in Maine, so my memory isn’t what it should be. I had an excellent connection in Los Angeles — real clean shit.”
“Would you still drop all that acid if you had it to do over again?” I ask.
“Hey, I get by,” he says without defensiveness. “I’m happy. That’s what’s important. I was 18, coming out of a conservative Catholic background. I made money only to blow my head. I had a ball at school, and now I stock shelves. I’m in a good union, I got my own house, I got my van, I got everything. The job is even entertaining. I work at night and all the drunks come in at 4 a.m. when the bars close. Some pretty nice scenes develop.”
Thirty or 40 people, mostly men, are milling around the Space Port Emporium, a ramshackle wooden structure about 12 feet wide and decorated to resemble a space capsule. At 25 cents a shot, they are serving an unnamed drink that is one of the few in the galaxy capable of measuring down to Krupnik: cheap white port mixed with Kool-Aid, served in a test tube with a chip of dry ice so it smokes like Frankenstein’s laboratory. Almost everyone with a body weighing less than 312 pounds wears blue-jean cutoffs.
Whale, who lives up to his name in height, but not girth, opens a briefcase stuffed with buttons and sundry bits of paper all emblazoned with IBOB. “I am eastern chapter president of the International Brotherhood of Bizarros,” he says. “According to the NSVA, we make vanning a terrible thing. But I figure if you got a family you want to protect, don’t fuck with us. We’re all Two Percenters here, and the whole point is to act like jackoffs. You want to be a member?”
“Everyone is a member anyway. It’s just that some people have membership cards and some don’t.” He hands me an IBOB membership card (good for 1978-1979), a personal card (“Space Trader Whale: Truckin’ tradables at their lowest and worst. No reasonable, worthless item refused”) and a death certificate for burial in the Saint IBOB cemetery. “You are now entitled to a life of disgustingness,” he declares, handing me a bunch of small stickers emblazoned with LATENT CONEHEAD and IGNOROID. “These are your tradables,” he says. “This will be enough to get you started trading if you see someone who has a worthless item you want. We do not deal in commercialism around here.”
He also gives me a copy of the first and only edition of IBOB News. Among other things, it contains a song denouncing Fred Blumenthal (“2% Boogie”), a glossary of “vanguage” (“I have to leave,” for instance, translates to “I gotta go suck some string”) and an editorial by Dr. Bizarro:
… the format to follow in life is idiotically simple: stay crazy. The importance of being bizarre is an integral part of surviving in what people refer to as “society.” I am hoping one day to turn the world into one big asylum. But an asylum without prisons, walls, rules or regulations …
“You might be interested in this, too,” says Whale. “It’s the official rule book of IFART, the International Federation for the Advancement of Racing Turtles. Terry Cook wrote it.”
Perusing it, I note such regulations as “No entrant shall be allowed to wear a snake for a necktie” and “Dink Reinhart shall be designated as the official starter as he owns a gun shop, most likely has a blank pistol and is the one man who probably knows how to discharge it in a proper manner.”
With this, Whale climbs into the S.S. Disgusto Spaze Trading Post — a child’s monkey-bar set shaped like a lunar landing module — and opens business for the day. A dozen or so vanners immediately crowd around to trade vanning trinkets from around the country for FRED IS DEAD stickers and IGNORANCE THROUGH RESEARCH buttons (all printed at Whale’s expense). As I exchange one of my ROOT BOY SLIM AND THE SEX CHANGE BAND BOOGIE TIL YA PUKE T-shirts for AN I’VE JUST BEEN TO BOB’S BERSERKO LOUNGE! IT’S WIERD (sic)! T-shirt, about 20 people dressed in Mylar, aluminum foil and mud come charging up the road, screaming and waving various bionic protrusions from their bodies.
Ignoroids in full battle regalia are a sight to fill strong men with trepidation, but these ignoroids have apparently not planned what to do after they scream and wave their protrusions. They end their attack by anticlimactically draining some smoking test tubes. It turns out they are the security guards. Whale becomes so stimulated, however, that he loses his modicum of business sense and runs around handing out free snapshots of Frank Zappa.
I sit down at a picnic table next to Wolf Man, a friend of Whale’s and also a member of Long Island Van Enthusiasts (LIVE). Wolf Man is well-muscled, bearded, entirely bald and a maintenance supervisor with a mechanic’s license for diesels and aircraft. “I used to have high-performance cars, but I sold them all when I got into vans,” he says. An IGNOROID sticker is plastered on his forehead. “Hot rodders don’t know how to party.”
“You find your sex life has improved since you got your van?” I ask. Wolf Man has a rep as the Captain Ahab of tuna.
“Most definitely. It’s also got better since I shaved my head. I use my head like my hands and just wolf on the tuna. I base myself on an animal as much as possible.”
Noticing a sign reading “Grass, gas or ass — nobody rides for free” in his green and gold metal-flake van, I ask if the women are always willing to pay his toll.
“If they don’t,” he says, “I just dump ’em by the side of the road.”
* * *
Around dusk I hitch a ride with Flame back to the main camp area on his “Threes Bike,” so christened because threes is CB parlance for goodbye, and his passengers are always falling off the back, a fate I barely manage to avoid as we roar off through the mud. Resembling a starving but friendly rodent, Flame was this year’s truck-in chairman. I ask him the origin of Mellowdonia.
“We had the idea for a planet two years ago,” he says. “Mellowdonia is a collective word — just a bunch of us sittin’ around durin’ the big snowstorm last winter. The first name was Remulac, but we figured that was a rip-off of Saturday Night. Then we were going to call it Cosmania, but we thought that would incite people. We’ve learned a lot about crowd control. Words are very powerful, you know. If a guy gets ignorant, it makes a big difference which words you speak to him. So we took the donia from the Robin Trower song ‘Caledonia’ and tacked it onto mellow. It just sounded right.”
“The word ignorant seems to have a negative connotation for you,” I suggest. “The definition appears to change completely according to context.”
“Well, for me it’s a term on the drift,” he says. “I would say we’ve had true inter-truckinary ignorance for about three years now. That’s creative ignorance, where the term ‘Ignorance through Research’ came from. What I like about these events is buildin’ things with my buddies, creatin’ an environment where you can cut loose. If people stay the same all the time, they go nuts, you know? But if you call someone just plain ignorant, or disgustin’ ignorant, to me that’s not a compliment. That’s like when you were a kid and didn’t have anythin’ to do so you got into a fight.”
“How come the Oral Gynecology Lab wasn’t reopened this year?”
“I asked them not to,” says Flame. “I’m a Catholic myself. I mean, there’s room for everybody at an event. Sex is still a big thing here, and a necessary thing — it’s bigger than all of us — but it’s not the main thing. I’d also be upset if we had Babies on Fire again. Last year they bought these Mattel crawling baby dolls, filled them with lighter fluid and let them crawl into the fire. Life means something to me. I don’t like to see dying things, or fun made of dying things. I told Fast and Bulbous George that if he ever laughed at burning babies again, I’d … well, not everything needs to be spat on and mocked.”
“Does the drug use bother you?” I ask.
“It’s nothing like when I was in the Navy. That was professional drugs. Here it’s just a little for personal use.”
* * *
“The idea of that speech in 1975 wasn’t at all original,” says Terry Cook as we watch two creative ignoroids stuff black rifle powder and rags down the muzzle of their homemade cannon with a five-foot barrel. “It was just that these guys had never heard it. ‘Craziness with Class’ was the term I used, meaning that if you want to be a watermelon, fine. But don’t try to make the guy next to you a watermelon if he doesn’t want to be a watermelon.” The cannon erupts with a thunderous explosion, filling the air with white smoke and blowing a Pringle’s potato chip can about two miles into the woods.
Now a freelance, Cook is an inveterately affable man who doesn’t feel comfortable unless everyone within 10 feet has had a tug off his beer. Besides being elder philosopher of the movement (at 36, he has a decade on most vanners), he is ranked along with Flame as a philologist. “Yeah, I introduced them to the term ‘dialed into.’ It came from the Lions Drag Strip in Long Beach, the mecca of drag racing. It would get very misty there on Saturday nights and dew would form on the track. The mechanics had to adjust the clutch for maximum acceleration without spinning the tires — that was dialing into the track. I mentioned it to these guys and they took it for their own. Now it can mean anything from being stoned to being interested in something.”
That term, however, is just about all Midwesterners owe the West Coast. “California vanners, your mom and pop would love,” says Cook. “They spend all their time aligning their door seams so it’s one-eighth of an inch all around. In the Midwest, they spend that time dressing up like kazoos.”
Mellowdonia begins to remind me of junior high, and the rest of life for that matter, in that people spend an inordinate amount of time chirping about sex and very little doing it.
“That’s true,” says Cook. “A guy brings his tuna, he’s not going to be real open about sharing her. They allude to clusters a lot, but group sex doesn’t happen that much. Some poor tuna agrees and suddenly 50 guys are on her. But mostly the scene is how macho, how ignorant you can talk. A tuna has little to fear from rape here. Security is very tight that way — they have to be with the topless contests. And a tuna who isn’t that attractive is going to feel real complimented at a truck-in. Guys outnumber them by a big majority, so she’ll get approached constantly.”
* * *
To great rejoicing, word gets around later that Fred Blumenthal has disbanded the NSVA. I make some calls to get his side of the story, only to discover that he has cut off his phone and sent a goodbye letter to the members. Citing a “stigma” attached to the organization because of his “strong stand against criminal acts,” Blumenthal states in the letter that he lacks the funds to continue. “The majority of those now attending van-ins and truck-ins are, to put it mildly, not true custom van enthusiasts,” he writes. “Instead, they are a group that uses the van as a tool to join others in acting in uncommendable ways.” Blumenthal finally expresses hope that in a couple of years “true van enthusiasts” can overthrow the Two Percenters and again make truck-ins a “family happening.”
* * *
“Let’s see some tits!” screams an ignoroid running in circles in the road, his cutoffs down to the middle of his buttocks. “Let’s get naked!”
“Don’t mind him,” says Hey Bubba, a drywall hanger now earning most of his bucks selling turquoise jewelry at truck-ins. “He just likes to see tits.”
“That,” asserts the ignoroid, “is because my old lady don’t have none.”
“Me, I’m into vanning for the charity work the club does, stuff like Toys for Tots,” says Hey Bubba. “I like to entertain the kids. Have you seen my costume yet? Wait here.”
After five minutes, Hey Bubba emerges from behind his van as a 12-foot-tall demon with horns sticking out of his head. He lifts one pant leg for me to see a superstructure of steel tubing. “These are my drywall stilts,” he explains, clumping down the road as a dozen children howl and laugh around him.
“I’m gonna find some tits,” announces the ignoroid. As my journalistic duty, I follow him to the top of a hill where six guys are standing around a sign reading TIT STOP. A couple of attractive females are approaching and the ignoroids ventilate their hormones with a chant of “Tits! Tits! Tits! Tits!”
The women lift their T-shirts to even louder, though less verbal, appreciation. I catch up to them a little beyond the registration hut.
“Isn’t it odd showing your tits to complete strangers in public?” I ask.
“Why not?” says the blond. “It’s life. I think it’s great that they want to look.”
“It’s not something you’d do at home, is it?”
“I can’t do it at home because at home they would call me a slut or a whore. Here there is no such thing as a slut or a whore. You wanna know anything else?”
I head back down to the natural amphitheater — now a natural swamp — where a crummy rock band is playing three-chord oldies. Several hundred ignoroids are standing in mud up to their ankles in front of the stage and another thousand or two are spread around the drier hillside. Timing their cries of “Let’s see some tits,” I deduce the temperature is about 62 degrees.
“It’s time for the Ralph Awards,” announces an emcee dressed in a silver jumpsuit, after the band has left. “We got a plaque here for the club that’s at every truck-in first and with the most and if they drive the furthest. The club that kicked the shit out of a friend of ours: Fred Blumenthal! Yes, Fred is dead and who put him in the ground?”
“Tits!” screams the crowd.
“Rocky Mountain Vans of Denver!” says the emcee.
The emcee makes several more awards — all with ever-growing hostility from the ignoroids, slobbering as visions of sugarplums dance in their heads. “Okay,” says the emcee, sweating. “This is the Cosmic Costume Contest.”
“We want tits!”
“Come on, give this a chance!”
“Well, this guy in my club has a thing for tits,” explains an ignoroid next to me. “It’s all he can think about, and his name is Nort, so we call ’em norts.”
“Norts!” I shout at the stage.
“Awright, I’m gonna hold my hand over each costume, and whoever gets the most applause wins,” says the emcee, as three monsters, a conehead and a robot line up in front of him. The guy with the most aluminum foil in his costume cops the prize. “And I want to thank the rest of you for your costumes.”
“The rest of us want tits!”
To everyone’s dismay, another band, Grand Rapid, comes on for a set. They are, however, better than the first group and draw a particularly rousing response on Frank Zappa’s operatic “Titties and Beer.”
“We got $150 worth of prizes for the winner of the tits half of the Tits and Clits contest,” announces the emcee as the roadies remove the equipment. “We’re gonna pass the bucket for the winner. So contribute generously and sit tight while we get some tuna!”
According to Reverend Young’s Theory of Empirical Temperature Determination by Nort Vocalization Frequency, it has dropped into the low 50s. Most of the ignoroids are dressed only in T-shirts, and their cries are teetering on the edge of desperation as they shiver, lose feeling in their feet and see more and more of their breath. Handfuls of change and some green stuff pour into the bucket. The emcee reemerges to say, “We could use some more tuna up here right away,” and disappears again. Five minutes later he comes out with naked panic on his face. “This is the National Truck-In, you guys. You’ve been yelling about tits all day and none of you are sending up your old ladies. We’ve only got one tuna!”
“Fuck you! It’s cold!”
“We can’t have a contest with one tuna!”
“Boooooo! Tits! Tits! Tits! Tits …”
Five women — including, strangely enough, one black — walk hesitantly from the wings to thunderous cheers. Quite varied in shape, size and showmanship, they lift their shirts in turn as the emcee places his hand over their heads. The black is predictably eliminated in the first round. Two more rounds and the woman with the washed-off tattoo that Whale was trying to hit on wins. “Thank you very much,” says the emcee. “We all appreciate your efforts.”
The emcee is able to induce only two of the losers back onstage for the clit contest. The one with the blondest pubic hair gets the bucket, but by this time the ignoroids are drifting back to their vans by the hundreds, muttering dark threats about the shortage of tuna. It is near four when the final act, Dr. Bizarro and the Disgustos, hits the stage. A good band, modeled after the old Mothers of Invention, but no one cares. I find Terry Cook and Fast and Bulbous George among the few dozen surviving ignoroids. They tell me about the one serious incident of vandalism of the weekend — a guy taping an M-80 to the windshield of a local cop car and blowing it to bits. A pungent odor fills the air, which I suddenly realize is my jacket burning. Before I can do anything, a firecracker explodes in my pocket — much to the merriment of Cook and Fast and Bulbous George. It is fortunately of less explosive power than an M-80 (otherwise I’d have no appendix left), but I take it as my cue to head for the woods and stomp crickets until dawn.