Against my better ethics, I did business at Home Depot over the weekend. The Queensbury Ace had closed early, and I wanted to get some rock salt and Superglue, so I held my nose. My bill came to $16.91 before tax, so it wasn’t much of a concession to the orange empire. Only in retrospect did I consciously realize that had not set foot in Walmart. With very rare exceptions, resulting in my doing a total of maybe $300 to $700 in business there in my lifetime, I’ve always avoided Walmart like the plague. It’s habitual. There’s a difference between a big company that likes to throw its weight around and wants to dominate one part of the retail business and a corporate Leviathan that will not rest until it has devoured all things everywhere. So, yeah, I could have done worse.
But Home Depot could damn well do better. I’m not nearly as hard on myself as I used to be when I do incidental business with big box stores whose environmental effects I consider gratuitously destructive; Home Depot is obviously such a chain, but patronizing it for rock salt now and then seems an awfully minor failure of consumer social responsibility. Similarly, I can’t condone big box chains’ custom of paying their clerks bargain-basement wages while jacking their executives’ pay into the stratosphere, but at the same time they generally get only fair value for their pay grades, since they hire so many greenhorns and mediocrities, and besides, I do much more business at Starbucks, which clearly treats its employees unusually well.
What really rubbed me the wrong way about Home Depot is the nastiness of its employee drug testing policy. Testing employees for off-duty drug use in the absence of overwhelming safety concerns or government compulsion is an immoral breach of basic equity, a frontal assault on their dignity and liberty, but there are ways to notify applicants of a drug testing policy that are decorous and respectful, at least as decorous and respectful as they can be given the sheer breach of decorum and respect inherent in preemptive drug testing. Home Depot’s notification to applicants, as posted on the store entrance under a big help wanted banner, is nothing of the sort: “If you use drugs, don’t bother to apply!”
Yes. Quite the fuck-you-son company, I see. One’s history of drug use prior to applying for a minimum-wage stock flunky job will piss off a local hiring manager for a crappy chain of hardware stores.
It’s personal. It won’t do to merely reject the applicant. He must be made to know his place by the authority vested in some $37,000-a-year tinpot Napoleon. The Home Depot must run crude social controls on people who aren’t even under its personnel authority. If some stoner even thinks about applying for a cashiering job beneath that august orange neon, he must be made to feel shame for his degeneracy and fully repent of it. He must not bring dishonor upon the organization, nor upon its founder. The first czar surely knows what the Cossacks do in his name, and approves of it.
Let’s do this.
I recall Dari Mart having similarly foul warnings to druggies on its help wanted posters, but Dari Mart is a regional convenience store chain actively run by a family of Scandinavian pikers in Junction City. These are people whose tender feelings are conceivably worth giving a damn about since they’re locals. Why, hello, neighbor. This is not to say that the Gibsons and their functionaries are behaving appropriately in the slightest by trying to scare their prospective employees clean, that they have any legitimate reason to be worried about casual users ringing up meat pies, or even that drug testing is a generally agreed-upon practice in the Lane County business community. Fuck me in the ass with a cream popsicle in the Oil Can Henry’s parking lot, I know better than that. My own bosses in the same county don’t care whether I spend my evenings having Quiet Time in the Word or smoking the ganja and banging on the bongo drum in front of the downtown Eugene library, and they’ve had me working around livestock and operating power equipment unsupervised. I’m lucky to work for people who aren’t moral busybodies, although in the pear orchard fiasco I was not lucky enough to work for people who weren’t medical busybodies, but no matter the dipshittery level unlocked by Dari Mart’s small minds in their quest to purge Greater Junction City of yucky drugs, they’re still part of a regional social and civic fabric that is mercifully free of Ken Langone.
We can stipulate that the Dari Mart open call milkshake brings some real toolboxes to the yard and also stipulate that the company run at all levels by people who overwhelmingly give a shit about their communities, are on balance excellent stewards, and should totally start marketing the meat pies to stoners because, duuuude, why do I keep getting shitty burritos at Buy Two, maaaaannnnn, there’s like sweet-ass crust on this motherfucker. While we’re on the subject, Dari Mart’s cashier brain trust is much more reliably coherent than the downtowners. But we don’t have any drug testing policy to thank for this; it’s the result of the upper Willamette Valley being a place where no one has recently gone on a total war steamrolling campaign against the local working class.
Sure, there are some fucking gnarly white trash in the degraded parts of west Eugene, but they’re pretty much harmless. Keep in mind that I’m still domiciled on the edge of Eureka’s tweaker ghetto and legally resident in Rancho Cordova, or something like that. The Sacramento County Elections Department took three weeks to get back to me with notice that I had failed to sign my voter registration affidavit; had I not been alarmed by this dysfunction, I’d have become a true red and blue Cordovan months ago. It’s a shithole, but it’s a California shithole. So is Eureka. Oh, but Old Town! The Carson Mansion! Yeah. Get out another cream popsicle and take me down to Broadway and Hawthorne. The superintendent at my dump of an apartment building at Hillsdale and E Streets (need another popsicle, Mr. Anderson? Mr. Loring?) repaired my unit’s bathroom door handle with packing tape, dealt with a noise complaint by following me out onto the street and accusing me of criminal activity, and pirated my electricity to run an industrial dehumidifier after a pipe had burst upstairs. Incidentally, in what should have been a major problem but was actually a minor one due to PPM’s slumlording excellence, this burst pipe resulted in plaster falling into my bathtub for days after a haphazard attempt to rip chunks of flooded walling off the studs.
The Crossland Economy Studios can suck, but I’ve never had them suck like that. Even if I don’t appreciate the toilet plungers, I do appreciate the lack of a criminal conspiracy in the operation of a decrepit apartment building that looks like it got hit by an indoor hurricane. For the poor, a great many of the things that enable a tolerable quality of life are relative. These factors are the ones that make the difference between a modestly shitty lifestyle and an overbearingly shitty one. It sucks that the Springfield Crossland is so expensive, but as low-end housing goes, it isn’t a bad place. It’s located right in front of an EmX stop and less than a mile from the 126 freeway, it’s well-maintained for the most part (although the washers and driers were allowed to go to shit over the summer), the surrounding neighborhood is safe and stable, and I’m on very cordial terms with a number of the front desk clerks. The only serious drawback is that the rent is too damn high, but it’s less damn high than a lot of places, and there’s something to be said for being able to get fully inhabitable housing on short notice in such a good location. It isn’t a place where the second coming of Walt Kowalski accosts tenants and tries to bully them into incriminating themselves while a twenty-minute walk away some Stage 5 tweaker is doing a silly walk in front of a flophouse motel that ought to be burned down by the fire department.
I have a pretty good idea by now of what it takes to degrade a healthy working class into a marginally employable underclass. There’s more than one way for Dennis Rader to skin that cat. In Rancho Cordova, the trick seemed to be getting the short end of the base realignment and closure stick and an influx of the poor from more expensive housing markets on top of a well-established tradition of suburban squalor along Folsom Boulevard. These days, Mather Field gets a handful of UPS flights a day and the Zinfandel light rail station gets overrun by wiggers. Shitty white neighborhoods all over California, but especially in SoCal, have major UFC bro infestations. The crappier neighborhoods around Eureka seem to be solidly within Raiders Nation, which is never auspicious. This isn’t exactly an Oakland problem: the A’s are basically irrelevant, and in the rare cases when they aren’t, it isn’t because they’re a talisman of gathering chaos. The combination of Humboldt County depleting its forests and fisheries and turning into a massive marijuana grow resulted in the local working class getting hammered and a rogue’s gallery of shady operators, get-rich-quick types, and workshy grungies trying to get in on the cultivation of the venerable herb. At the collective level, the county is psychotic about the marijuana business. Restaurants and car dealerships would go out of business if it collapsed, but there’s a strain of faintly snooty primness pervading the county’s formal business and civic community. Rod Serling would have enjoyed exploring “Fortuna–the Friendly City!” There’s a bad feeling I’ve gotten in Humboldt that if the budmeisters and their grungies were forced to have an honest, face-to-face talk with the cops and Chamber of Commerce crowd, the two sides would come to blows. The whole county sometimes feel like an Elizabeth Strout novel in which the underlying problem with the troublesomely uptight characters is that they haven’t had a full bowel movement lately.
Yes, Virginia, a story about that one fat lady at the office who enjoys talking about her own shit can be part of the belles lettres, too. There are places in this country that could really use more sullen pregnant teenagers who refer to everybody as a fuckhead. One knows where one stands with such people. It doesn’t later emerge that their smiles and pleasantries were fake and that they’ve been putting certain poors on back-channel blacklists, all in a spirit of soul-bestirring self-righteousness. If homeskillet is pissed off about some shit, you’ll be able to tell, and she’ll get over it in due course of time. Besides, even if you’re on her shit list, she certainly isn’t insinuating that you’re the only fuckhead in town. She’s too slacker emo to fiddle with the gaslight.
It isn’t her Friendly City; she only lives there.
An awful lot of what’s wrong with the United States could be fixed if more Americans had the moral courage to drop the holier-than-thou act and stop trying to brownnose massa for scraps from his table. This mindset draws some of the nastiest, most disingenuous, most amoral, most treacherous dregs of society up from the low-level professional dead-ends where they belong and into managerial and leadership positions where they absolutely do not. We get these people who, in a healthier society, would be shunted off to the holiday reserve list for starting drama with the other flunkies in the Kroger cashiering pool, and instead they’re detecting and exploiting serious weaknesses in corporate cultures that allow them to worm their way up through the ranks, often to levels well beyond their competence or seniority, and ingratiate themselves into the fold of neopuritanical corporate busybody juntas.
As I’ve mentioned before, political horseshit like this is possible only in large companies or badly mismanaged small companies. Back in my carny days, I had a real what-the-fuck moment when my annual training day for Hersheypark food service was led by an exceptionally cold, untrustworthy-looking woman from HR, probably in her late twenties, who acted like God’s gift to human resources management even though she had no discernible competence to manage anything in the real world. The division heads in food service were decent guys who had their shit together, but the company decided to leave us newbies in the care of this stone-cold harridan-in-training who had just moved to the area from Honolulu. She showed us an incredibly stupid training-cum-employee-morale video featuring the fishmongers at Pike Place doing Pee Wee Herman puppetry with salmon carcasses for the benefit of n00b tourists. Then she asked us a series of questions about how the stupid antics in this stupid video could be related to “Hersheypark Happy,” with the ultimate carny fry cook consensus being that we should, like, smile at customers and stuff, since pretending that kitchen knives are fish and throwing them at customers would be dangerous. So there I am, listening to Pennsyltucky teenagers do their best to answer these incredibly stupid questions from a crazy Hawaiian bitch about how they can imitate showboating Seattleites by not really imitating them, and being from California I’ve probably spent more time on the West Coast than any of these people, except maybe for our insufferable instructor, and I’m floored. Like, how the fuck is this even happening in a linoleum-floored conference room in a Dutch Country amusement park?
To be clear, though, this was just a couple of hours of being paid to listen to this haughty out-of-state freak in a business suit carry on about a ridiculous video produced by some of her fellow corporate training mountebanks and then humor her by responding to her sorry-ass mimicry of the Socratic Method. Even so, there was no denying that she thought much more highly of herself than she did of us. Try imagining how she’d be if she were given the latitude to nose around in employees’ sex lives, drug habits, or medical histories on the pretext of due diligence. Ugly, yes?
She’d be a great cultural fit at Home Depot.
This incredible parasitic pest of a woman is just one member of a worse-than-useless American managerial class whose sheer dead weight on the economy and corrosive effect on the polity are never approved for discussion. We’re a really entrepreneurial people, if getting in on some boiler room scam or finding a spot at the bottom of the Amway totem pole is entrepreneurship. Say, how are multilevel paper towel sales to your fellow Distributors at church, you dashing entrepreneur? Are they covering your membership fees? Are you making Bo Bice proud? (No. But you’re making him money.) We may not engage in as much new business formation per capita as the Germans, or maintain as many existing small businesses per capita, but don’t let anyone tell you that the Krauts are beating us in the race to buy self-help books from Zig Ziglar. He probably scares them because he looks like he’d do well in Mr. Hitler’s organization, but that’s their problem. (And no, that was not a violation of Godwin’s Law. If you can’t figure out why, you’re part of the problem.) We’re obviously a nation of bullshit artists and mooches when we’re turning to German companies for help in setting up industrial apprenticeship programs. What, nothing of the sort occurred to our own companies in the quarter century after the Second World War? Oh, that’s right: dedicated training programs for promising employees would be expensive and way harder than playing cutthroat political games around the office for a living. OMG Don Draper is so much more alpha than some Schwabian master mold injection technician. Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara may not know much about factory tooling, but they’re dead sexy in a leisured, genteel, I-let-my-foreman-whip-the-field-niggers-while-I-have-another-mint-julep kind of way.
That didn’t violate Godwin’s Law, either. If you think it did, you don’t know your American history. Of course, massa doesn’t want us to know our history. Why else do you suppose the proto-Confederacy made it illegal to teach slaves how to read? We’re living in a continent-wide fog machine. The specific type of fog changes, but the machine endures. Think about this: Germany made a clean break from Arbeit macht frei social controls after the war, but the United States didn’t. Maybe it’s because there’s something perversely adaptive about American conservatism that keeps our managerial, planter, and industrialist classes from going overboard into pure grotesquerie in the Nazi fashion. From a cravenly pragmatic overlord perspective, it’s really embarrassing to get caught running Auschwitz. It doesn’t look good. Neither does establishing the world’s highest rate of incarceration and judicial supervision and applying the draconian legal regime that makes it possible in a provably racist fashion, all while continuing to scold the Germans for the racism of a former government of theirs that was eradicated by an international ground invasion in 1945. Not that we should talk about these things; doing so would be unpatriotic because it would make Americans angry about the degraded state of their republic. We’re the land of the free and the home of the brave. Ask the Yemeni witnesses to the remote-control aerial artillery assassinations of the Awlakis if you don’t believe it. Hell, ask the people killed by Anwar al-Awlaki’s much more dangerous fellow New Mexicans on the Albuquerque police force.
Freedom is as freedom does. Being ordered to piss into a cup to prove that one’s urine is free of drug residue as a precondition of menial employment at a hardware store is not freedom. Being menaced about one’s off-duty drug use by bumptious corporate functionaries is not freedom. Another key point: complaining that other people should also have to piss into a little cup and prove the cleanliness of their own bodily fluids as a condition of employment or public assistance, ostensibly in the interest of fairness, is an expression of abject servility. Liberty it ain’t, boys and girls. It’s a posture worthy of all the self-respect that a prisoner trustee should feel when he rats out other inmates to the warden for making alcohol because it’s against the rules and the warden tends to say nice things to his snitches. We can be freemen, or we can be craven, disreputable social climbers looking to slash our way to the top of a brutal system where we’ll never have any real freedom or self-government, always telling our bosses, “Ooh, massa, I’d love to work in da big house! I can whups da recalcitrant slaves if dat gits me into da big house, massa!” We can be one of these things or the other. We can’t be both.
It’s worth asking whether a society that waxes so eloquent about “freedom and liberty” (“grits and cornmeal”) actually has any or is just compensating. It’s kind of like the weird shit an incel says about sex or the loving things a hungry person says about food: neither one is getting any, and that’s why neither one will shut up. Home Depot has 300,000 employees, all of them presumably working under the same set of company-wide HR policies. Walmart has several times as many employees. At that scale, it’s easy for sadistic social climbers to infiltrate key positions of corporate authority and force the adoption of personnel policies designed to degrade the common man and make him grovel for a mess of pottage.
There are of course people in any society who get great pleasure in doing this sort of thing, but not all societies cater to them. In a classic Jeffersonian society of smallholders, such as exists among the Amish or in Vermont, there’s no use for such sadists. They’re just useless assholes who go around butting into other people’s business and starting trouble, and everybody knows it. If they try to play their dirty games on the job in some sugarbush instead of doing the work they were hired to do, they won’t last two hours before the boss gives them an ultimatum to either shut up and run this tap line or go home and stay there.
Standards of professional conduct in Jeffersonian societies pretty much go without saying. It’s almost universally understood that it’s a fool’s errand to try to bullshit an old-line Vermont yeoman, and it’s universally understood among the bullshitter class that the first-place prize for bamboozling a sugarbush Yankee is operational control of a woodlot that won’t tap itself, with the fringe benefit of hostile neighbors who are now on notice that a Johnny-come-lately mountebank has shown up to run seedy cons on the locals.
It’s embarrassing that the United States is hopeless to adopt proven best practices from Canada. It’s beyond words that we can’t learn a thing from proven best practices in Vermont. You don’t have to wait for the Mounties to look the other way to walk there from Derby Line; you’re already there. Then again, it’s no mystery why Vermont has more than its fair share of secessionist and Canadian annexation sentiment. Look at the rest of us. We’re appalling.
The fog machine has extra exhaust portals around the Vermont state lines. Ethan Allen is a furniture company and a train to Rutland, not a Yankee who shot Redcoats and whatever, but at least he was kind of a violent bastard, so we can thank him, too, for his service. It would be better to do that than to examine the society he and the Green Mountain Boys left behind, since doing the latter might actually teach us something, and learning how to do natural law right would force hordes of positive lawmen to try to make a menial living doing something honest. One dasn’t break so many rice bowls, now.
Somehow companies like Home Depot get a pass in the popular conscience for their antisocial corporate policies. Maybe it’s because Walmart has been decreed the Great Satan and analyzing the lesser Satans for similar behavior would take too much brain power. Also, the sheer volume of marketeering has distorted other controversial but not exceptionally vicious companies beyond recognition. To wit, Chick-Fil-A. For several years now, Chick-Fil-A’s marketing campaign has been predicated on a popular understanding that it’s in the business of being obnoxious about irrelevant religious pieties. Keep in mind that this is a company whose core business is a chicken sandwich cafeteria. Mor Chikin has nothing to do with the Bible, although it’s consistent with the Book of Leviticus. Neither, under any scrutiny, does closing on Sunday: Chick-Fil-A leaves the after-church brunch rush to competitors so that it can retain employees who want at least one day off every weekend. Only a fool can’t grasp this.
Of course Dan Cathy and his crew don’t want us to look at their business this way. If we did, we might realize that their sandwiches kind of suck. They don’t want their company to compete on its actual merits in a competitive free market. This is why they’ve turned it into a major civic annoyance. This is a company that orchestrated its own concern-trolling at the hands of Mike Huckabee. Of course liberals and pluralists were less than pleased with Dan Cathy’s petulant, condescending comments about how he and his team were all still married to their first wives. It amounted to telling more than half the nation that they or their loved ones could go to hell for being divorced.
I’m pretty sure, though, that the real purpose of this horseshit was to goose business. Cathy was just staking a claim in an exurban Christian conservative market segment that the big coastal secular companies don’t really know how to reach. He didn’t want to piss off likely customers to the point of not patronizing his company; he wanted to piss them off to the point of thinking, hey, maybe I should go there for a chicken sandwich, or on second thought, maybe not, since every family values wingnut in the county just lined up at the drive-thru on broadcast instructions from a former governor of Arkansas. And dude’s playing both sides of the food fight. This is why there’s a growing body of I’m-gay-but-I-love-Chick-Fil-A literature. Among my Facebook contacts, it’s mostly being reposted by people who are inexorably sinking into the wingnut swamp, but this doesn’t mean that Dan Cathy won’t win over lots of gay people who are alienated by the even worse petulance of the permanent LGBT lobby; for one thing, the LGBT lobby isn’t offering Chikin.
Chick-Fil-A’s campaign of marketing by wingnut cash mob and ideological showdown is one of the seediest, most craven things I’ve ever watched play out. It’s perverse and disgusting. But here’s the thing: I have very little doubt that Chick-Fil-A doesn’t treat its employees much better than Home Depot does, or that the people running it aren’t at heart much more decent than Ken Langone. Cathy and his crew are civic and religious pests, but that’s all. They can be as horrifically profane as they want and still operate one of the most morally grounded fast food chains in the country. Actually, they’re also pests upon the judiciary, as witnessed by Chick-Fil-A’s legal campaign to enjoin a small Vermont vegetable grower from selling “Eat More Kale” T-shirts, but there’s a buried lede in this disturbing story. Why isn’t this Monsanto-style campaign against the remnants of the American yeomanry the big story, instead of the stupid donnybrook over Dan Cathy’s rude comments about marriage? Probably because there’s just enough bullshit to hold this country together.
More saving, more doing: that’s the power of fat whores in Tacoma, too. Don’t ask how the South Sound got worked into this tale at the eleventh hour. Just understand that no fat whore in Tacoma ever made me piss in a cup because, even if I’m not obviously on drugs right now, maybe I used drugs in the past three months and should be humiliated for my degeneracy. I may sound like I might be into S&M, but I’m not. I leave weird shit like that to creeps at Home Depot.
Suck it, Langone.