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Noel Tolentino, Mantynen's editor at Bunnyhop, views white trash redux as part of the underground's retro-urge.
"It's nostalgia," he says. "When we were growing up, Trans-Ams were cool, Camaros were cool. That stuff was all around us. I think trash is retro; it's going back to a time we can all remember."
Ever the intrepid magazine man, Tolentino quickly turns the tables and is asking the questions.
"Do you think -- I want to get this question right -- do you think the white trash thing is related to white guilt?" We talk about the cultural appropriation of white trash as a reaction to PCness, a sort of rediscovery of honky culture by a generation of whites born after the civil rights era. White trash is eternal. What's new is its denizens' celebration of the culture, and their vigorous campaign for inclusion in the multicultural parade. The muscle cars, the wallet chains, the rockabilly music all could be seen as an affirmation of white culture by whites -- a honky thang, if you will.
"You know," Tolentino finally says, "as things progress I wonder if we really are growing closer as a society or farther apart."
Despite the possible ghettoization of culture underlying the white trash scene, Tolentino says he appreciates the white trash look when it comes off as "ironic posturing. But sometimes irony can go a little bit too far ... it becomes normal."
If your definition of normal white trash is devoid of irony, then Mike LaVella is your baseline trasher. Hailing from Herminie, Penn. ("the American polka capital"), the 31-year-old editor and publisher of Gearhead stands firmly astride the gap separating the urban hipster underground and the very real white trash of the American hinterland.
LaVella, who says he was conceived in a car, describes his hometown as a place where teen-agers drove tractors to school so they could go right to work turning up the lush Pennsylvania countryside after class. Herminie was a town where everyone bowled to the syncopated rhythms of Slovenian polka music, and where a young LaVella was regularly called a fag for studying art and once "beaten bloody" for liking Devo.
And of course there was the tang of diesel fuel. LaVella spent a lot of time riding in a big rig with his truck-driving stepfather. Wouldn't a kid go stir-crazy bouncing along for hours in a truck?
"Hell no!" LaVella replies emphatically. "I had a handle, I was talking on the CB. By the time I was 10 I'd seen something like 42 states." Those long hauls with his stepdad were so special, LaVella confides with all sincerity, that the song "Truck Drivin' Man" still makes him cry.
And it was in Herminie that LaVella developed his famous passion for all things automotive (especially of the Dodge persuasion).
"I started getting into cars as a kid," LaVella says. "I had model cars, AFX racers. My track was set up next to my bed. The first time I fucked a girl I jumped out of bed and raced. I was like, 'This is great! I gotta race!' "
And everyone knows about Gearhead, the seminal drag-punk zine, which regularly highlights LaVella's two hugest loves: fast cars and punk music.
Does LaVella consider muscle cars and hubcaps white trash?
"Most definitely," he answers.
For most of the '80s, LaVella toured the country with various hardcore bands (he says his mother got to be great friends with Exploited). Was it difficult being the lone gearhead in the punk scene? He admits to cloaking his white trash roots beneath the dyed plumage of '80s punk.
"I can remember riding in a van full of mohawks," LaVella reminisces, "and I'd look out the window and go, 'Ooh, hey! A 64-and-a-half Barracuda!' And everyone else in the van would look at me like I was nuts. After I moved out here in '88, I made a decision to keep that part of me going."
Openly embracing his white trashness, LaVella has sparked a movement in the underground.
"I can't tell you why some kid who goes to Harvard would wear a mechanic's jacket," LaVella says. "I wear 'em because they're $4 and they're warm. For me, it's familiar. I guess gas station attendants never go out of style."
LaVella seeks to preserve the white trash lifestyle, collecting so many knickknacks, ornate ashtrays, and model-car kits that one friend likened his last apartment to a "white trash museum smashed into a studio." His stash also includes bowling memorabilia -- "blooper" statues (gag prizes for bad bowlers), trophies, and even a chrome-plated bowling ball that opens up to reveal a hidden collection of shot glasses.
As well as being a drag-punk kingpin, LaVella works a day job at the Park Bowl on Haight Street. Why? Because he loves bowling so damn much. And as any pair of sideburns will tell you, bowling is de rigueur when it comes to white trash. But having alley wax in your blood can have its drawbacks, especially for a pinhead transplanted out West.
"The bowling scene in San Francisco is so paltry," LaVella moans. "You've got the Park Bowl, which is one of the last cool old alleys, and there's the Japantown Bowl, which is just sterile. And that's it!"