Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 94: "Trucking's a Ball" (circa 1973)

The kind of lovely lass that any long haul trucker might meet along the way.

Fans who know Edward D. Wood, Jr. through his relatively innocent early films may tend to think of the man himself as purely a relic of the 1950s. File him alongside poodle skirts, tail fins, hula hoops, and Davy Crockett hats. The 1994 biopic Ed Wood reinforces this quaint, cozy image. The film's timeline is deliberately vague, but its action is largely confined to the 1950s, while the B&W cinematography gives the entire production the glow of Eisenhower era nostalgia. In this way, naive Eddie is preserved in amber, like those insects in Jurassic Park.

But those who followed the man's career into the 1960s and '70s understand that, whether he wanted to or not, Ed Wood was forced to adapt to the rapidly evolving world around him just to stay employed. The times, they were a-changin', and they certainly didn't make an exception for Eddie. And so, in Ed Wood's later work, you'll find hippies, LSD, women's libbers, scuzzy biker gangs, miniskirts, antiwar protesters, acid rock, etc. All the signposts of those turbulent times.

And now we come to this week's article, another supposed "non-fiction" job for which Eddie clearly did no research. It's his wild take on one of the most memorable fads of the 1970s. Really, you can't get much more 1970s than what follows.

Vintage trucker magazine from 1972
The story: "Trucking's a Ball," originally published in Fantastic Annual (Gallery Press, circa 1973). Anthologized in Short Wood: Short Fiction by Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Ramble House, 2009). Credited to "Dick Trent."

Synopsis: Women's tastes have changed over the years. While they used to prefer neat, well-groomed young men, now they search out hairy, smelly roughnecks for companionship. In particular, they are attracted to long haul truck drivers. When hitchhiking, young women will often disregard late model passenger cars and wait instead for a trucker to drive past in his big rig. Some ladies are so anxious to get close to truckers that they'll even take jobs as waitresses in truck stops.

Ladies seek these truck drivers out solely for sex, rather than money or marriage. Many of these horny truck drivers are married, but they're away from home so long that they must fulfill their sexual desires somehow. And that's where these women enter the picture, gladly servicing the men and even staying with them on the road for hundreds of miles. The author cautions against too much hanky panky while driving, however. Better to find a rest stop along the way.

Wood trademarks: Supposed reportage of changing sex habits in America (cf. "College Cherries," "College Interview"); lots of ellipses (Ed's trademark punctuation); dubious euphemism for sexual intercourse (in this case, "getting your gun off"); anti-hippie sentiment (cf. Death of a Transvestite, "The Devil Collects His Dues"); reference to feet being "encased" (cf. Glen or Glenda); "quiver" (cf. "Insatiable," "Calamity Jane," "The Unluckiest Man in the World"); girls' sweaters (cf. Glen or Glenda, many stories in Blood Splatters Quickly and Angora Fever); "pink clouds" (cf. "Tears on Her Pillow," "Never Up - Never In," Devil Girls); use of color pink in general (cf. "2 X Double"); tongues (cf. "Tom of Finland's Circus," "The Responsibility Game," "Cease to Exist"); "manhood" (cf. "The Last Void," "Cease to Exist"); naughty pun in the title (cf. "Missionary Position Impossible," "Captain Fellatio Hornblower").

Excerpt: "This is the kind of girl who honestly believes that any well dressed, cleaned up man is built like a small child. The only men left in the world who is built big enough to satisfy them is the trucker. And it isn't only his penis that they long for. It's the man smell. The tough, rough man smell that seems to come off to them as all male… and these girls want only that… all male."

Reflections: There had been songs and films about long haul truckers since at least the late 1930s, most of them portraying the profession in a sympathetic light, but the trucker didn't truly assume the role of pop culture icon until the 1970s. That's when "Convoy" by C.W. McCall topped the charts, movies like Smokey and the Bandit and White Line Fever appeared in movie theaters, and prime time played host to rambunctious shows like B.J and the Bear and Movin' On. For a few years there, truckers were hot. There were even board games and action figures for the kids!

Who knows, in retrospect, why these fads occur? It was really the convergence of many factors. In films and songs of the era, truckers were often shown to be at odds with the police, so they had an air of anti-authority cool to them. But they were in the transportation business to make money, so they weren't some unpatriotic commies. As Ed Wood points out in this article, truckers were expected to be grungy and hairy in appearance, but they were also tough and physical, not like  those namby-pamby pacifist hippies on college campuses. I think it's significant, too, that truckers had their own culture that was separate and distinct from that of the mainstream. Truck drivers had a rich variety of slang, for instance, as lovingly depicted in "Convoy," plus their own hangouts and fashions.

Typically, Ed Wood focuses on the sexual aspects of the phenomenon. Always obsessed with gender roles, Eddie depicts truckers as hyper-masculine -- a new paradigm, in fact, for sheer manliness. It's only natural that sexually active young women will all but fling themselves at every 18-wheeler that comes into view. What's semi-miraculous here is that Ed does not judge these lusty trucker groupies who hop from driver to driver in search of pleasure. They're just going after what they truly want. And what's so wrong about that?