The long fugue

Earlier today I had a long phone conversation with my parents about the most recent developments at Joe Dirtbag’s farm. It was the first they learned of the fecal squalor at the farm or the full extent of its operational deterioration. They were taken aback, to say the least. My mom sounded about as upset as I feel about the situation with Joe Dirtbag at my most desperate, which isn’t often, since I’m pretty inured to the egregiousness of it all as a matter of course. She was definitely more upset to learn that I’ve been sleeping in my car regularly than I feel about sleeping in my car, as long as cops aren’t loitering in my immediate vicinity.

As I started writing this, I was less than a week away from completely exhausting my current liquid cash reserves and needing to take emergency shelter if my parents didn’t wire me more money. I would NOT have in that position if Joe Dirtbag and the Family Shrew had agreed to room me while I was working for them, as they did until May 2012, with no complaints I was aware of at the time. Their extreme selfishness or self-righteousness or sense of awkwardness or offense, or whatever on God’s green earth it is that makes them unwilling to put me up in exchange for my farm labor, is threatening to imminently turn me into a charity case further burdening already overburdened charities and social services. The very possibility of this is completely fucking insane.

My mom asked me this afternoon whether Joe Dirtbag had been paying me, which surprised me. Of course he isn’t paying me; if he isn’t actually broke at the moment, he’s sure to insinuate that he’s broke for accounts payable purposes (but not for accounts receivable). He has never paid me a cent for the more than 1,300 hours of farm work I’ve done for him. The only paid work I ever secured through him was a two-hour job moving books for a friend of the Family Shrew’s, for which I was paid $50. That’s the highest hourly rate I’ve ever earned, but those two should have hooked me up with more paid gigs than that by now. That they haven’t is probably because they assume me to be loaded. I’m not. I have less in non-retirement stock investments than Joe Dirtbag alone earns annually in federally guaranteed pension payments, and less than half what he and the Family Shrew earn combined from Social Security.

My parents have hit a cash flow crunch recently due to the scheduling of their major payments and an ongoing illness limiting my mom’s ability to work regularly, but my dad agreed to wire me $500 tonight anyway, for which I am almost indescribably grateful. I can’t tell how serious a cash flow problem they’re really having, but I don’t believe for a second that it’s some kind of excuse to limit payments to me, and I don’t doubt that it’s having a material effect on their finances, regardless of what they might have or should have done to keep more cash on hand over the past few months.

Given these circumstances, I’m quite unhappy with Joe Dirtbag for having talked well over a hundred thousand dollars’ worth of stock purchases and emergency gifts out of my dad, all but $15,000 of that amount now sunk in a barely afloat farm that he refuses to properly maintain or monetize. He’s bullied his way into being given the latitude to run his farm into the ground on other people’s money and to leave me sleeping in my car at rest areas after I put in four, six, or eight hours of hard labor at his winery. He has forced my parents to tacitly concede that the Family Shrew’s exquisite sense of butthurt, and his somewhat lesser sense, take precedence over my physical welfare at times when I’m working under Joe Dirtbag’s supervision for their financial benefit. My parents wouldn’t have come up with such a cruel, vindictive logic on their own. They go along with it only because Joe Dirtbag and the Family Shrew would upset them again if they objected or thought through what they’re conceding to these shitheads. This certainly looks a lot like emotional blackmail and extortion.

As I mentioned, before my dad wired me the extra money, I was afraid that I was a few days away from ending up flat broke and in dire need of emergency shelter. My only options at that point would have been a homeless shelter, crashing with Joe Dirtbag and the Family Shrew for at least a few days, or crashing with one of their friends. I was bracing myself for having to beg JD and FS for permission to sleep in their guest cottage, or, as I was really considering, extorting emergency shelter from them. I was mentally preparing myself to tell Joe Dirtbag that if he didn’t provide me with same-night lodging accommodations somewhere, with someone, I’d go to the police with enough testimony for a raid on his farm. I was that close to the wire, or felt that close in any event.

It’s surreal that I was facing down the looming threat of having to sleep in a homeless shelter due to the unwillingness of relatives for whom I had been working within the past week, and who had had me over for Thanksgiving dinner, to put me up in their empty guest cottage under genuine emergency circumstances. But I think I have a sense of their reasoning. They probably figure that I couldn’t possibly really be out of cash because my parents are loaded; after all, when they’ve gone begging to my dad for $15,000 or $50,000 at a time, he’s ponied up. I truly suspect that this is how they think.

I’m not even offended by it anymore, in the normal sense of offense, at least. It’s turned into background noise. My only insistence is that they not cause me extreme hardship by acting on these feelings. Waking up with a state trooper prowling past my rear windshield is close enough. Sleeping in a homeless shelter would be clear over the line. Homeless shelters are dangerous and overburdened. Simply put, no one deserves to live in one, and I don’t belong in one. I absolutely don’t belong in a homeless shelter under these circumstances. Even so, I had to plan for the possibility.

A number of things that I told my parents about the farm were things that Joe Dirtbag had neglected to tell them, and conveniently so, if I dare say it. He hadn’t told them about the termination of the farm education program, which my dad said had been one of his main selling points for the farm stock. Tonight was the first my dad had heard of Joe Dirtbag’s so-called tax revolt against the city. It was the first either of my parents heard about the departure of every tenant farmer except the Ragin’ Canajun. To repeat, my parents are major investors in the farm, and Joe Dirtbag has been making serious material omissions to them about his business finances and operations for years.

Every time any one of us tries to force Joe Dirtbag to make minimal concessions to us, by force or sweetalk or give-and-take or whatever other method we can devise, we’re forced to engage a grand egotist. As my dad said tonight, “Joe Dirtbag considers the farm his baby.” Unfortunately, it’s the baby he keeps leaving unattended around metal sharps and festering piles of shit while the rest of us pay for its diapers and immunizations. My dad warned me that Joe Dirtbag might counter that he did not give me authorization to start cleaning out and rescue-pruning the abandoned semillon rows. This would be nothing but an unbridled narcissistic outburst to vex one of his most engaged farm investors, bad faith lashing out at good.

Prospects like these, and I’m not the only one who fears them, are one reason why I recurrently fear that I’ll have to file suit at some point just to force Joe Dirtbag to stop maliciously interfering with the operation of his own farm for no other reasons than to vex his investors and assert his control. My dad suggested, to my agreement, that one reason why Joe Dirtbag has kept refusing to do a custom crush is that he wants to remain in control. The problem here is that his control exposes him and anyone working with him to serious workplace safety threats and leaves tens of thousands of dollars a year on the table at a time when he’s claiming to be too indigent to possibly reimburse any of his current investors. His raging ego takes precedence over his minimal fiduciary responsibilities to any of us. My dad keeps saying that he doesn’t possibly know what can be done about this mess, but even though IANAL, I’m pretty sure that we have a strong and strengthening legal case against Joe Dirtbag.

He also keeps telling me that he believes this is my best opportunity to stay involved in agriculture. I doubt it every time this dumpster fire flares up, but if it’s true, God help me. He worries about my ability to commit, but good Lord, I’m dealing with a principal operator who won’t stop constantly giving me legally enforceable causes to summarily breach any work commitment. Competent principals don’t do that to their employees.

Faulkner must be looking down on this and saying, “Hey, St. Peter, bring me another mint julep, and come take a look! This is some good, good shit!”


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