Talkin’ trash: I can’t believe this is Butter.
by Summer Burkes
“Dilettante” column originally published at the turn of the century on 06.02.99 in the SF Bay Guardian. Re-intro May 2019 hereTKLINK.
Why has metal-flake vinyl furniture come back in style? How come WWF is experiencing a resurgence in popularity? Why do even the ugliest tchotchkes from redneck collections past fetch a lot of cash in thrift stores? How come it’s so hip to be “white trash” right now?
Maybe it’s because there’s a white Southern president in office, though he didn’t grow up in a trailer … Perhaps it has something to do with the 10K Dow economy: as the idea of multiculturalism spreads and minority oppression continues, white yuppies assuage their subconscious guilt about being voted Most Likely to Be on the Forbes 500 by slumming themselves down to the lowest common denominator of their privileged skin tone group.
And, as the salary gap widens, the new population of white, educated, urban, poor smartasses, looking for ways to iconize their thin slice of the pie, mirror their ghetto-geared, n*gga-saying black counterparts by co-opting a term of scorn.
For whatever reason, “white trash” has risen from a Civil War insult to a miseducation-is-funny commodity almost as gratingly obnoxious as that “could you please pass the jelly” ad campaign. The actual, old-school lifestyle has nothing to do with the fashion trend.
In my birthplace of Columbus, Miss., the literacy rate is the lowest in the nation, and (as I found out last week on a visit home) the economy still has the town’s spirit in a choke hold. In San Francisco, where “white trash” is the Mission’s favorite iron-on, a new restaurant called Butter proclaims itself 11th Street’s new “white trash bistro.”
On opening night a throng of smug yuppies gathers in fashionable mock sympathy, patting themselves on the back for their potential to be poor.
My dear old dad, born poor as hell and raised 10 feet away from a railroad track completely surrounded by mobile homes, used his smarts and willpower to pull us up and out of the starter hovel where I used to chomp on cockroaches as a tot.
But even though I grew up middle-class (“white trash once removed”), stories of summers in the vast yard that housed most of the Burkes family — or better yet a short run-through of relatives’ names: Banks, Clinton, Arlon, Marlon, Garl, Hambone, Titum, Hawk, Oogie — expose some rather harsh small-town-poor roots.
On behalf of Dad and everyone else like him, my middle-class-turned-broke-journalist ass is still sensitive to the moniker as an epithet, and his timeworn stories of childhood poverty and ridicule still ring in my ear. And on behalf of poor crackers everywhere, I hereby (and self-righteously) proclaim Butter to be a theme-restaurant atrocity.
“One part kitsch, one part groove, and two parts Butter,” the press release for the opening party chimes idiotically. “We wanted to bring the neighborhood back to 11th Street,” it adds, ironically.
Um, which neighborhood? Far as I could tell on opening night, it’s the conglomeration of live-work eyesores currently dotting the southeastern quadrant of the city, choking the real neighborhood, that this Trustafarian enterprise caters to. But I digress …
Inside the “white trash bistro,” which is nothing more than a black-lit, white, cavernous, bare, echoey room with visuals projected on the walls, monochromatic-three-piece-suited yuppies shout into their cell phones, heads cocked in an attempt to out-shoulder the loud, second-rate techno that bounces around the chamber. (Early warning sign: the DJ doesn’t have any Charlie Daniels Band.)
Sculpted bartenders bustle around the brushed-steel bar in Ben Davis shirts with small Butter logos in the place where an Izod Alligator should be. A friend of mine informs one smirking young computer mogul that he’s got a kiss mark of lipstick on his face. “I know,” he says. “I’m being white trash.”
At the back of the otherwise-empty room, half of a vintage trailer serves as the kitchen, where White Castle burgers and beans ‘n’ franks with Fritos are microwaved. Half a trailer does not a theme restaurant make, however, and the owners of Butter may as well have called the restaurant Compton, Hell’s Kitchen, or Ten Forward.
Do the owners not know that no matter how tacky or what the motif, the unifying theory of redneck decoration is clutter? Bored, and biting the hand that feeds us free drinks, my housemates and I mentally remodel:
Fake fur on the walls, doe-eyed portraits of children and clowns, velvet paintings of Elvis and wildlife, plate and thimble collections encased in glass, button and shell collections in jars, deer heads and other taxidermy, at least one giant-screen television, at least one La-Z-Boy, shag rugs, anything by Precious Moments, sand art, string art, rug art, macramé, framed GED certificates and dog pictures and completed jigsaw puzzles, wrestling and beer memorabilia, Tupperware, gas station tit calendars, a baseball cap collection, a shotgun rack, romance novels, home-shopping Warner Bros. figurines, and anything with low-rent mottos.
I’d rather push a Chevy than drive a Ford. Don’t tread on me. God bless this mess. You want it when? Hang in there, kitty. How’s my driving? Call 1-800-EAT-SHIT. My other car is a blank. Ass, grass, or gas, no one rides for free. Take this job and shove it. Boss spelled backwards is double S.O.B. Southern born, Southern bred, when I die, I’ll be Southern dead. Try burning this one.
Weakened by the type of music that would cause Charlie Daniels to believe his car was being stolen, my housemates and I give one last eye-roll before flouncing out onto 11th Street and on to homier pastures.
We spend the evening trading smartass quips, and it’s my Latina homegirl who gets in the best dig.
“At least they got the white right,” she sighs.
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