One of the younger pickers today referred to Mother-in-Law as bipolar. As much as I hate to admit it, I think he may be right. One of my friends on the crew came up to me at break, looking a bit alarmed, and told me that MiL had just had a meltdown in the field, telling a group of pickers that she was about to cry because they were picking so badly and telling one of them, in front of the group, that he would be fired if he didn’t pick at least fifty pounds for the day. This friend of mine is usually unflappable, so I knew that something bad was up. The picker MiL threatened to fire looked quite serene and happy about it all, joyfully telling me that it was his last day and confirming that he had basically been fired. A fourth picker told me that he’d seen MiL watching pickers with binoculars from the packing shed and hastily putting them down when she saw pickers looking at her. This dude is usually a doofus, but in this case I believe him.
By lunch, it seemed that the storm had passed. Daughter-in-Law came into the break shed to make two announcements: first, that “we’re very hard about the rules, so you should review them” (a passive-aggressive Socratic attempt to tell us to stop using bad language and telling inappropriate stories, I think), and second, that since picking had been slow we’d all be getting a fifty percent raise for the day, from forty to sixty cents per pound. The picker who had been threatened with termination told us a few minutes later that MiL had rescinded the threat and apologized to him.
The friend who told me about MiL’s meltdown was so appalled by her unfairness towards this other fellow that he picked fruit for him in order to get him closer to quota. He told me that the latter was a thorough picker, and I’d always found him mature and conscientious enough for the job. The threat wasn’t a function of his incompetence or inappropriate behavior; it was almost certainly nothing but a function of Mother-in-Law’s unbridled emotional volatility.
As things stand now, the crew has enough spontaneous solidarity to successfully maintain a labor union precisely because MiL’s behavior has become so ragingly inappropriate so often. Everybody knows that she picks on employees who are making a good-faith effort and doing a good job. She’s blatantly unreasonable, and no one on the crew disputes this.
The matter of her being bipolar, which I think is likely, is a bit more complicated. As a psychiatric condition, it’s relatively straightforward: she doesn’t have an obviously incapacitating case of bipolar disorder, although there may be worse episodes that we aren’t seeing, but in any event, psychiatrists are generally able to treat it adequately. Crying because one’s pickers are doing a bad job per se is unfortunate, and probably tragic. In our case, we were doing a good enough job for a forty cent piece rate on a property where one of the principals was routinely yelling at employees. The owners aren’t scraping the bottom of the labor barrel as closely and vigorously as should be expected at their base pay grade. Crying over this shit is consistent with some sort of minor mental illness (bipolar, anxiety disorders, simple depression, etc.); regardless, only an asshat would make fun of another person for getting into such a state.
The complicating factor is that Mother-in-Law was yelling at my colleagues about how they were on the verge of making her cry because their work was so unsatisfactory. There’s a bright line between being reduced to tears and loudly trying to guilt one’s employees with declarations of one’s own emotional instability. One toe over that line and it’s time for massa to cowgirl the fuck up. Contra modern country music, cowboys and cowgirls cry over the stupidest shit all the time. Worse, they have a tragically high suicide rate. Gaze even briefly into that abyss and the abyss stares back into you. Many, if not most, emotionally unstable people, however, have the self-control and decency not to routinely lash out at the vulnerable.
That is to say, MiL’s manic-depressive instability is an explanation but absolutely not an excuse. It behooves me to mention that bitch, I’m bipolar, too. I’d be ashamed to pull shit like that and have trouble imagining myself acting that way in a professional setting. One of my maternal grandmother’s friends was a pained old man with a bad case of depression and also probably the classiest drunk I’ve ever known. By the age of eight or so I realized that he was dealing with pain that he was too gracious to share with us and that he needed his liquor to help comfort his troubled soul. I assumed that he kept flasks of nice scotch or something in the desk drawer in his study; he seemed the type. He spent a great deal of time at bars, too. In any event, he taught me how to be a classy drunk, allowing me to immediately tell that my college drinking buddies were low-class buffoons at any income. My grandmother’s boyfriend, by contrast, was a foul-tempered piece of shit of a drunkard (and, fittingly, a dead ringer for an older, squatter Dann Florek). From the moment that I got a sense of my grandmother’s friend’s drinking, I never attributed to her boyfriend’s drinking what I could more accurately blame on his being a malicious, anti-intellectual asshole and intractable resentnik. I would never be so unfair to reasonable drunks of goodwill. That would be wrong.
Unfortunately, Mother-in-Law’s behavior is the kind of thing that a manic-depressive with poor self-control and rich self-righteousness might do. It’s much better to stress-eat like Firehat and I do, or to stress-not-eat like Ken White does. As Firehat told him, “That’s bullshit. I have major depression and I’m still fat.” Ken once fired a junior associate for throwing a stapler at a wall in anger, so he doesn’t sound like the type to let dipshits with ostentatiously shambling emotions blame their poor behavior in the workplace on the mental illness that they both share. I can’t let MiL blame her PISS coming out of my ASS behavior on bipolar disorder pursuant to #TIMMEH, either. I’m not usually one to drone on about personal responsibility, but she needs to take some more consistently. Semiweekly failures of self-control before employees are a legal and ethical problem for reasons that I won’t belabor right now. This is the kind of crap I expect from neurosurgeons. None of us signed up for it. There’s no pot of gold awaiting us at the end of this rainbow, and (hopefully) no metal thermos to the head awaiting us at the far end of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
It’s the 25th anniversary weekend for the Americans with Disabilities Act. Maybe Dr. Dennis “Calm down, Dennis, it’s just the intern” Geyer, too, can plead not guilty by reason of TIMMEH! I hate to say it, but we haven’t seen the last of that blame-shifting horseshit yet.