How can I better explain my family using crude generational tropes?

It looks like I was a bit premature in dialing that Vladimir Putin autism post up to Sarc 11. In the course of another horrible discussion today about how and why I’m such an awful failure to launch, my dad mentioned that my habit of tying my shoelaces really tightly reminded him of Temple Grandin’s hugging machine, that I had come to have a “clownish” and “sloppy” look because I go around in crappy footwear (either “clod-hopper” boots or the worn New Balance sneakers that he finds so captivating), rumpled shirts, and overstuffed pants pockets, and that my poor thread game may be why I’m not getting “the kind of work you want.” Similarly, he told me his fear that I’m using the same crude language at job interviews that I use at purely social functions with close family friends, often “at high decibels” (fuck no I am not) and that this language may be part of an affect. If it’s an affect, it has to be a pretty subdued one: half of Rancho Cordova makes me look and sound like Mr. Rogers. Nor do I understand how I really, truly stick out as uncouth at the same social functions where my mom, a longtime atheist, frequently shrieks “Jesus Christ!” and “God almighty!” I’m hesitant to invite my parents into the spiritual morass in which I explain why I’ve become so scrupulous, and generally effective, at restricting my own utterances of “Jesus Christ” to my prayer life. (No, I don’t pray the compline. The Rosary? I should, but through my most grievous, etc.) This is a sub-Protestant style of prayer, but, true story, I was taught it at RCIA: “Can ‘oh my God’ be a prayer? Yes.”

This stuff is surreal. Not the low-church prayer forms that we learned at RCIA precisely because the instructors were not nutters, but the rest of it. It’s one thing, and not a very charming one at that, to feel even lukewarm religiosity in a family that features extensive bitching about the “fucking Mormons” (I’m not a huge fan myself, but as ports in a storm of atheistic barrenness go, they’re good shit) and merlot-fueled mini-Dawkins baiting of religious relatives. It’s quite another to get drawn into a prolonged family intervention over one’s professional and social difficulties, culminating in accusations of severe social deficits, as the result of the last few outbursts of harassment by a deranged relative of provable moral turpitude and a very likely combined narcissistic/antisocial personality disorder, who has been hazing employees, emotionally abusing various relatives, committing crimes just to throw his weight around, emotionally terrorizing major business investors (as they say in Kentucky, we like to do it with family), and lately shipping untaxed wine from an unlicensed winery across state lines for sale at a restaurant.

My parents’ accountant, who is also an attorney, told my dad that Joe Dirtbag’s first order of business should be to bring this interstate bootlegging operation aboveboard. No shit: everyone who has been present on any piece of property involved in this business has been exposed to the risk of being held up at gunpoint or summarily shot by armed federal revenuers. For years Joe Dirtbag has been telling all of us that he couldn’t sell the wine at all precisely because of the regulatory considerations. Now it turns out that he’s running the shipping end of a high-risk operation that could be exposed at any time by health inspectors, code inspectors, tax auditors, business licensing authorities, disgruntled former employees, or cutthroat competitors looking to gain crude advantage for their restaurant by turning state’s evidence.

If the triggering event leads to an alcohol tax investigation, forget the Alamo; remember Waco instead. Joe Dirtbag has dealt with health inspectors in other business ventures, and some of his stories about them are pretty peevish. How he can think alcohol enforcement authorities are cuddlier is beyond me. There are some bad motherfuckers in these agencies. Some of these guys are basically Hell’s Angels meatheads with Federal Blue Cross plans and light artillery backup. Nobody with a lick of sense risks tangling with them if there’s any other alternative, and in this case, there is an obvious alternative: a custom crush, in which the winemaking is done at a bonded winery and accountants, lawyers, or laymen who have closely researched the regulations make sure that everything is kosher with the Five-Oh. Joe Dirtbag has been dragging his feet on arranging a custom crush for years, and now he admits that he’s doing interstate guerrilla alcohol sales instead.

I feel like I’ve woken up in an episode of the Twilight Zone. I’m getting more flak for being a bit poorly dressed and foulmouthed (and really, it is just a bit; pretty much any off-peak trip on the Sacramento light rail system features flatbiller constituents of the Muh Hella Muhfuggin Niggaz Community) than Joe Dirtbag is getting for handling upstream operations for an interstate bootlegging scam. Efforts by the restaurateurs receiving this wine to pay the tax would open up their own can of worms. Regulators might easily notice that the wine is of unclear provenance and has inadequate documentation, in which case, Katie, ain’t no barring that door against whatever thugs feel like taking their armored personnel carrier for a spin and running sick balaclava game on any private citizens in their way. My dad is reacting to this bootlegging nightmare as a false negative (what’s really going on here, I’m afraid, is that he just doesn’t want to confront Joe Dirtbag), and meanwhile he’s reacting to his (probably exaggerated) sense of my eccentricity as a false positive. Trying to hear the signal over all the noise is impossible. I don’t want to go around looking and acting like an irritating dork, especially in professional settings, but when my wearing cheap tennis shoes that don’t fit quite right is construed as my being a foot-hugging Temple Grandin Jr., I guess we can say that those around me aren’t really walking in my shoes, either. It’s headspinning.

Also, I’m pretty sure that Joe Dirtbag is opportunistically smearing me to my parents for momentary personal advantage, and I’m absolutely sure (but unfortunately, only through hearsay) that his shrewish wife has smeared me to my parents. She’s only an ostentatiously butthurt, endlessly vindictive shrew maybe one or five or twenty percent of the time. The rest of the time, she’s generally quite pleasant. Of course, a 99% chance of tolerable behavior isn’t enough when the other 1% is batshit crazy pettiness, sometimes verging on retaliation for very professionally written legal correspondence concerning her husband. This is why she’s wise, although probably without meaning to be, to restrict her vile comments about me to things that I can only testify to as hearsay.

I’m not the only one who, as my dad put it, lives in his own head or is “wired differently.” Joe Dirtbag and the Family Shrew have been doing a Kettle Family pseudo-Jeffersonian hippie country-ass LARP for most of their adult lives. It worked out tolerably well when they were in the black: a bit annoying, maybe, but certainly nothing obviously out of line; equally peevish things could have been said about anyone else in the extended family. When their businesses started struggling and then failing, their behavior went into the toilet like Karl Ove Knausgaard’s first New World bowel movement. Pride went before the fall, and the fall was spectacular, in a particularly bad sense of the term. So was their pride itself. Basically, most of the rest of the family, myself included, has been catering to their easily wounded pride and their monumental egos for the last decade or two, and everyone has been catering to the Family Shrew’s prissy neo-Victorian weirdness since she married into the family in the mid-seventies. For what might be described as two generations she has been getting her way at family get-togethers by throwing quiet little fits if anyone tries to defy her. In many families she would have been issued instructions to leave, bitch. Ours wasn’t like that, although my grandmother was concerned and a bit scandalized because the Family Shrew was a divorcee (in the same way that Charles Cullen was a male nurse; one shouldn’t slander the whole lot over such an extreme) and spent a few years praying that she and Joe Dirtbag would stop “living in sin” (wrong sins, unfortunately, but even the best can make category errors).

For several years my dad has been telling me that the Family Shrew is “just like that.” A couple of other people come to mind as ones who would enjoy dispensation to be “just like that,” specifically, D. Lynn Rader and sexy male nurse O. Lynn Majors. It is traditional to refer to these men by their full legal names, as they are serial murderers, but in some instances a tradition is best honored in its breach. That’s a reductio ad absurdum, obviously, but even if a family or an organization is just dealing with a pushy bitch, moral relativism in service of fatalistic resignation to an eternal war of attrition on the decent leads nowhere good. The real dynamics here are basically, damn, son, bitch’ll totally flip if we stand up to her. Again, though, it’s one thing if the full extent of this behavior is interfering with table settings and dining room lighting in relatives’ houses, and quite another when it crosses the line into retaliation over legal correspondence about the disinhibited, immoral, and occasionally criminal behavior of one’s husband.

To be clear, Joe Dirtbag has gotten much worse than this. He, too, is “just like that,” although the devil is in the details of “that.” One of the reasons he’s “just like that” is that no one else has yet called code enforcement, the DMV, the health department, social services, or the police. My parents keep telling me that I can’t turn state’s evidence on him because we’re family. Yeah, and O. J. was family when Nicole Brown Simpson called 911. I’m not entirely facetious here: there was one afternoon when Joe Dirtbag appeared to be one trifling provocation away from decking me or shoving me into a wall, and in retrospect I should have filed an advisory police report about his behavior, because he hardly had any self-control left to lose. He might well have assaulted me had I not made a concerted effort to keep as much physical space between us as possible. I don’t care if I had somehow been annoying him that afternoon; neither should anyone care that O. J. was upset with Nicole for being an ungrateful fucking cockgobbling slut (paraphrased) or with that roomful of sports memorabilia dealers for having possession of “my fucking stuff” (verbatim). It’s dangerous and just unacceptable to let belligerent assholes flip out to no end just because they’re upset about God knows what, probably some petty shit, and don’t feel like being peaceable.

Do we want to be a family that becomes known to the sheriff’s entire patrol division because everyone gets drunk and loud and calls 911 every time there’s a stupid shouting match? No. That would be an embarrassment and a waste of police resources. But at the same time it’s utterly lawless to insist that family ties militate against turning state’s evidence on a deranged relative who has been abusing the same family ties to throw his weight around, unto overt criminality, for a combination of crude shits and giggles and crude personal advantage in a business dispute. It’s morally evasive to insist, as my mom has, that this whole situation is like Rashomon, with everyone having an equally valid perspective on the same horrible situation because no one really knows what happened. No. I have witnessed enough outbursts of totally unhinged behavior by Joe Dirtbag and been told about enough other similar outbursts to be perfectly justified in reporting him to every government agency with jurisdiction over him, with the crucial exception of those agencies (ATF much?) that I believe might summarily kill people during a raid. I don’t have to know the full back story about everything. Did O. J. Simpson get a sentence reduction because some childhood bully talked shit to him back in Hunter’s Point? No. He got a sentence enhancement for double murder. (I’m just being real here.)

A well-governed Amish or Old Order Mennonite community probably would have shunned Joe Dirtbag years ago. A badly-governed one might have shunned his victims at his behest. Dude is poisonous; it’s too bad, but I no longer have any doubt. As generally fucked up as he has become, I sometimes count my blessings that he didn’t noticeably turn on me until I was pushing thirty. He has emotionally abused his wife in my presence more times than I can count, and usually in a wildly disproportionate fashion, not because she had gone shrewish again. There are communities (“shame if something happened to you, Vito”) that go as far as summary execution to deal with abusive shitheads. Is their medicine worse than the disease? Usually. They aren’t as charming as the movies make them out to be.

****

This is a moot point for the Boomers. The troublesome ones have a preternatural knack for finding communities of pushovers that they can successfully infest. Many of them moved out of state or even cross-country or abroad in pursuit of their twisted happiness. Not to put too fine a point on it, Joe Dirtbag and the Family Shrew are Boomers, more or less. The latter, by the way, has apparently expressed her implacable and enduring butthurt with me for my having stood up to her asshat of a husband. The most recent dispute had nothing at all to do with her, but she felt like inserting herself as a concern troll; as amoral as Joe Dirtbag is, I don’t think he’d make up a story quite like that. I’m not even upset with the Family Shrew; I’m just resigned to the assumption that she’ll be holding this shit against me for the foreseeable future, maybe until death do bitch and snit part. I’d rather that she got over it, because my current problems are expressly with her husband, not with her, but I’m of no mind to say nice things about her in the interest of rebuilding burned bridges (it wasn’t me with the match, homeskillet) or granting her a spousal privilege to concern-troll herself because I brought heat down on her husband. That’s fucking bonkers.

It’s like dealing with psychotics, only worse. I’ve met a number of psychotics, and I became fairly friendly with at least one. With psychotics, there’s always the consolation of knowing that they’re genuinely fucking crazy, and often the additional mitigating factor of their insight into their own condition: “I have mix-ups in my mind,” “Yeah, I’m pretty much traveling between universes right now,” that kind of thing. Narcissists aren’t usually like, fuck, man, I’m a self-absorbed piece of shit. The condition tends to preclude such insight. They’re also usually high-functioning enough to charm or manipulate other people into submission. They don’t have formal thought disorders, or at least not ones that might double as admission tickets to the state hospital system.

One question to keep in mind is just how much of the Boomers’ bullshit is going to come down on the Millennials, or has already come down. Baby, it’s three AM, it must be–that ain’t diamond rain, Mr. Thomas. It must be nice to be allowed to be a fuck-you-pops generation in one’s youth and then a fuck-you-son generation in one’s dotage. The Boomers are clearly the most fuck-you generation alive today. The Millennials are too timid, neurotic, and eager to please, the WWII crowd is either long in the tooth or deep in the dirt, and Gen X never wanted to splash around in the shitty fray in the first place.

The early Boomers and late Silents are also excellent solipsists. Joe Dirtbag and his milieu like to elide all inconvenient elements of law enforcement and bureaucratic supervision into “the Man.” As Island Boy told me once, “the Man is not your friend.” If you’re running hang ten aloha 1099 misclassification scams for purposes of unemployment insurance fraud, much mahalo, he probably isn’t. The waters get muddied, however, when Joe Dirtbag is a mini-Cliven Bundy catfishing as a Pa Kettle/American Gothic quasi-Cracker. Joe Dirtbag had a nasty tangle with the draft board in his youth; these he’s pulling Whiskey Rebellion shit, with decidedly non-Cracker honkies caught in the fray, and he’s placed all civil authorities on the same moral plane as the draft board. Basically, if you’re in his way and you’re associated in some fashion with the state, you’re a tyrant. How to explain that the Oregon State Police is not morally equivalent to Selective Service? He won’t like it, but it’s pretty easy. The OSP will show up if you’re accused of criminal activity or reported for erratic behavior. The draft board will call you because Bob McNamara still hasn’t had enough of Dien Bien Phu.

No, these are not rational people. If you’re worried that the Boomers are on track to poison the well with the younger generations paying for their social benefits claims, you’re right.

As it happens, though, I’m a bit dissatisfied with the standard generational classifications. The names could be improved, and the cutoff years are misplaced, so here’s a new classification that may be useful:

–The Nutbusters (living pre-1935 birth cohorts)

–The Mo Faux (1935-54)

–The MILF Squad (1955-74)

–The Little Bitches (1975-present).

I enjoy twenty-year generational increments for mystical numerological purposes. Adjustment may be appropriate, but not if it involves lopping off five years of Gen X (they were already a sparse generation, so WTF) or classifying youth culture based on, say, whether one was born before or after V-J Day. No one remembers being born (if there are exceptions, they prove the rule, or maybe the existence of charlatanry and mental illness), but most people remember childhood starting at the age of four or five, and vividly so by about the age of ten. Consider, then, the noticeable dropoff in self-important bullshit in Baby Boomer cohorts born from the mid-fifties to the mid-sixties, compared to the late Silents and early Boomers. What exactly happened to make the latter so insufferable and the former not? I don’t feel like dwelling on the inscrutable mysteries of life right now, but it had something to do with the precise form of postwar optimism at key mileposts on the journey of life, so that internet commentators now express a thinly veiled hope that the assholes will have suicide parties and spare us a portion of their medical and pension expenses. God bless America.

About the generational names revealed above: The WWII generation had to bust much nut in order to sire so many brats, but it was also not averse to busting the balls of a nut for being grandiose. The MILF Squad remains unusually bangable for its age, and always has been, because for not entirely comprehensible reasons it was mostly raised to not to be shitheads or total twits. The Little Bitches? Well, that’s how the Boomers regard us, yes?

For the rechristening of the Mo Faux I owe a debt of gratitude to the late Christopher Lasch. Like C. S. Lewis, whose actual work I have not read at all, Lasch is one of my main crackers on account of a worldview that I more or less understand and a handful of memorable lines. The most memorable of these was about the popular midcentury activist parlance of “up against the wall, motherfucker.” Not auspicious, to be sure, it was the sort of comment one might expect of a prison guard or a gangster (Sicilian, motorbike, whatever) or a cop of the sort whose ghetto beat made him unsuitable for artistic commemoration by Normal Rockwell (which is really not about art, but about civics, of which there has always been less in the ghetto (in the ghetto)). (I promise, the Elvis references stop right here.) There the country was, a quarter century or so beyond the Second World War, groping its way towards a more equitable form of broad prosperity, and these cultural shock troops appeared on the scene, publicly using language of a sort that was considered maybe a bit embarrassing for a sergeant major and definitely beyond the pale for the entire commissioned officer corps. They were trying to make Bougie uncomfortable, but to what end? Not to my surprise, the former H. Rap Brown, known in his prime for advising the brothers not to “love up on a honky,” (correction: “love that honky to death”) is a lifer in the federal system these days. The trouble isn’t with the vocabulary; it’s with the parlance, which much more accurately speaks to the mindset.

Lasch discussed the “up against the wall” parlance, noting the odd use of “mother” as a shorthand instead of the more logical “fucker.” His coup de grace, however, was his suggestion that the new leaders proclaim “Every mother for himself.” The moment I read that, I could see the self-satisfaction bleeding through the page. This, I knew, was a fellow quite satisfied with his having most sickly burned the mob with his superior grammar, a warrior in the vanguard of the stentorian counterrevolution. It was a bit unsettling to think that maybe the entire counterparty to the barbarians within the gates was no less stuck up than William F. Buckley, but the burn? So, so sick.

Of course the Boomers were ones to talk about authenticity rather than practice it. We might say that they are mo faux than what came befo. Or since. Yes, do tell Mr. Wonka about how John Fogerty’s accent, cadence, and thematic focus are typical of white people in the San Francisco Bay Area. But the cultural appropriation of the Mo Faux was about much more than crafting dope tunes. It was also about crafting dope ways of living in anything but truth. It was about picking any convenient bit of deracinated detritus from the bizarre cultural pastiche of one’s life and using it to get one’s way with people too timid or conciliatory to put a stop to it. You’d think that CCR would have published a catchy tune about catfish by now, but they were just the forerunners for the showboating bigots and lunatics  on Duck Dynasty,  the ones unfit to tie Phil Robertson’s mud sandals.

Honkies: I can’t say I very enthusiastically love up on them myself.

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