That’s what a barista immediately blurted out when I told her about Pot-o-Shit Friend. I had given her prior warning that the things I’d heard about around the farm were all kinds of disgusting, so I don’t think I completely blindsided her. As I told her during the same conversation, although I don’t remember quite when, “The things I’m dealing with at the farm would make most people barf.” I would feel terrible about making a food service worker barf, even if other people wouldn’t. Maybe that’s why they go to Starbucks to piss on the bathroom floors (disturbed homeless lady in downtown San Diego) or to do a Chuck C. Johnson on them (California Avenue in Palo Alto).
Anyway, yes, that’s disgusting. I shouldn’t have to seek out second opinions from strangers to confirm this, but I still find it comforting, or at least encouraging, to hear their spontaneous agreement that that sort of thing is super dirty. My parents keep offering mealymouthed qualifications on behalf of Joe Dirtbag to the effect that maybe it’s all just my perception, not the actual reality, that community standards differ, that we can’t tell other people how to live their lives, ad nauseam. Mind you, they don’t insist on providing any such benefit of the doubt to anyone but Joe Dirtbag and the Family Shrew. To be fair, they didn’t say much to this effect after I told them about Pot-o-Shit Friend and about Joe Dirtbag’s alienation of every one of his tenant farmers except the Ragin’ Canajun, but my dad reverted to this sort of equivocation during our follow-up phone call. He reminded me that a number of these allegations were hearsay, which is true and would make them inadmissible in court, but I find them credible because the Ragin’ Canajun made them to me spontaneously, and I trust his credibility.
My dad then told me that the termination of the school visit program “isn’t something you should be newsing about,” a level of discretion that I consider far too fucking generous on behalf of a man who knowingly exposed minors who visited his property under the compulsion of the state schools to untreated human waste and severely disturbed psychotic derelicts with no volume control on their own voices. Based on what I’ve heard from my parents and from Island Boy, I do not believe that Joe Dirtbag consistently exercises any such discretion and respect in his comments about me, and that most, if not all, of his criticism of me to third parties who let it get back to me is gratuitous. It is not gratuitous of me to tell others that an educational program working with Head Start and a number of public school districts abrogated its longstanding relationship with a farm where I’m an investor due to the ongoing presence of an uncontrollable psychotic tenant on the property. The status of agreements between public schools and offsite properties hosting their students is a matter of public record, and properly so. I’m not about to let some motherfucker solicit acclaim for being so engaged with the schools and then use back channels to try to shame or intimidate me into shutting up when I learn that the group organizing the school visits terminated the entire program with cause. No one gets to do me bogus like that.
We’re in a fun house here. It’s Jefferson Airplane time, and Skip Spence is dropping acid like there’s no tomorrow. I’ve talked to a wide variety of people, both friends and strangers, about the bullshit at the farm, and pretty much every one of them has basically taken my side. My dad suspects that I may be giving them a one-sided story, not the full picture. The problem with this argument is that the portion of the picture I’m presenting to them, even if it’s incomplete, is so intrinsically damning that there’s no way Joe Dirtbag can properly compensate for the squalor and dysfunction by being cleaner and more competent in other parts of his life. It’s like, if your tenant left behind a trash can full of his own shit when he vacated the shack you were renting him but you operate a winery in another building that you keep immaculately clean, you still had a tenant shitting into a trash can in his living quarters, and that’s just fucked up. In Joe Dirtbag’s case, the winery building has a staging room that the neighborhood stray cats have stunk up by pissing all over the walls, so we probably aren’t kosher for Passover. It isn’t just a thing here and a thing there that’s a bit unsanitary punctuating a general pattern of cleanliness; it’s an endless chronicle of filth, so many forms and instances of it that by the time I’ve remembered the end of it I’ve forgotten the beginning.
Am I imagining these things? Is life an illusion? Are we living in a Styx record? Is anything real? Skip, you got any extra acid, man? It’s not like I just saw an RRTA bus tip over and plunge into Queen Street, never to resurface, swear to God I did. If I go into the middle room of the winery building, it smells like a combination of cat urine and bathtub ass from the shower room. No other place that I’ve ever visited smells like that. My maternal grandmother had a bathroom at her camp in the Adirondacks that smelled roughly as bad, but that was because she went native among the worst sort of North County white trash. When I get within sniffing distance of Joe Dirtbag, he often smells like he hasn’t showered, even though he probably has. Most other people I know don’t smell like that. I worked with him one afternoon when his breath smelled like he hadn’t brushed his teeth all day. It was sickening. Most people I know brush their teeth as soon as possible if they’re awake and exhaling a mouthful of dog ass every breath. More times than I can count I’ve found food detritus on dishes and utensils that the Family Shrew has gone through the motions of washing. Joe Dirtbag once had me help him replace the cover boards for their home septic tank without providing gloves for either of us; at least twice during this project, he announced, “Mmm! Floaters!”
Am I imagining all of this? Why would I imagine these things about these two particular people who own a farm to which I keep returning because I’m drawn to agriculture, in spite of Joe Dirtbag’s best efforts to wreck the place? Am I hallucinating? Am I suffering from recovered memories? If I’m remembering things that didn’t happen, why can’t I remember something involving me, Dagmar Midcap, a gentle breeze wafting in from the beach, and not clothes? I know that that didn’t happen, so why do I remember these other, disgusting, totally unnecessary things that I swear did happen? Why, if I spend too much time living in my own head, as my dad has worried, do I recognize my trysts with the weather lady as something I’d totally do in an ideal world of #WINNING, while I insist that things I’ve personally witnessed in my dealings with close relatives actually happened?
Of course, I don’t live nearly as deeply in my own head as Joe Dirtbag lives in his, at the very least as it pertains to the farm. I look at workplace safety fuckups as hazards that could get someone seriously injured or killed; he looks at workplace safety fuckups as ways to prove his own manliness by barely and shambolically solving them without getting crushed by double his body weight in winery equipment. This is like being told that I’m the crazy one for pointing out that Thomas Jefferson was one of the Founding Fathers and a US president while some homeless guy yells about how Thomas Jefferson was a talking elephant. Or yells at the Devil, as Mixups in my Mind actually did one afternoon.
I start to doubt my own memory of these things sometimes when my parents get wound up and speculate that I’m up on my high horse pursuing ulterior motives. It sounds plausible, barely but just enough. I know I’m pissed off at Joe Dirtbag, and that anger can color a person’s memory. I look around the farm sometimes and think, sure, this looks normal enough, I’m used to seeing it like this. Then I think of other wineries where I’ve worked or interviewed, and I remember that their facilities were not laid out over random split levels and around random blind corners, nor were they cluttered to hell with a God-awful assortment of different crap. Unless I’m imagining these places, too, and the turn-by-turn directions I used on my commute to the one where I worked through the summer season last year.
My dad sometimes says that I may be missing the context for Joe Dirtbag’s failure to maintain commercial standards, including his tight finances. Great. He’s broke, so that may mitigate his filling a 225-liter wine barrel in a barely navigable corner on a table cheaply screwed together from two-by-fours and old fence pickets. I’m sure the law of gravity will take this into consideration and continue to show us both leniency. His being broke must also explain why he doesn’t make a consistent effort to at least get on the waiting list with his carpenter buddy for additional weight-bearing winery tables in exchange for wine barter, and why he doesn’t do likewise with his plumber buddy for purposes of getting the shower room plumbing towards code compliance, and why he doesn’t ask his spendthrift radiologist buddy to buy him some spartan but adequate tables that won’t sustain structural failures when he’s boxed himself into a corner.
If nothing else, being broke explains why he refuses to arrange a custom crush, since this would probably bring in tens of thousands of dollars of additional revenue with minimal effort. This cat is so broke that he can’t face the thought of this easy, legal money. Illegal, high-risk, low-volume money, though, now, that’s some cool shit.
And what broke person trying to salvage a failing business wouldn’t allow the neighborhood Looney Toons to camp out at his business, with third and fourth chances to stop vandalizing his property in fits of anger? Early last winter, I considered parking my car at the farm for the duration of my holiday trip back east to visit my parents, as I had done in previous years, sometimes for extended stretches, but I decided to park at the Sacramento Airport economy lot instead, mainly because I was fed up with the workplace safety situation and didn’t want to get dragged into Joe Dirtbag’s efforts to fish for assent to his dereliction. After returning to Sacramento and paying $634 in $10 daily fees to retrieve my car, I felt like a petty idiot for not parking for free at the farm. Knowing what I know now, though, I realize that the only thing that would have kept my car safe from Mixups in my Mind for months at a time would have been the exact timing of his reversion to vandalism.
If he had laid waste to the driver’s window of my car, the way he did to Joe Dirtbag’s farm truck, what the hell could I have done to recoup my repair costs? Even with a legal case consisting of more than just hearsay or weak circumstantial evidence that Mixups was the only person in the neighborhood known to do similar things to other vehicles, how the hell could I have collected a five hundred-dollar judgment against a certifiably psychotic drifter with a net worth of twenty dollars? I doubt Joe Dirtbag carries insurance against vandalism by his derelict squatters; I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even carry worker’s comp. I dropped the damage and theft coverage on my car insurance in 2010, and I save hundreds of dollars a year as a result. That’s a reasonable enough risk to take for such savings on an old car with cosmetic defects whose full repair might cost more than its current Blue Book value. It becomes a lot less reasonable when one of the premier window-smashers in the county is camping out just across the parking lot from one’s unattended car.
The way Joe Dirtbag looks at all of this, I’m pretty sure, is that his loaded-as-shit benefactors will bear the costs of any of this damage, either wholeheartedly or as the good little bitches he knows how to make of them at a moment’s notice. He’s willing to alienate the most responsible, dependable, and loyal tenant farmers a landowner could hope to have and drive them away in exasperation over his refusal to evict the crazies from his working farm, while the crazies themselves have to commit multiple acts of vandalism and menacing before he’ll even start taking preliminary action against them. These indigent, incompetent, unskilled, shambling wrecks of men who drifted in from nearby squatters’ camps are the farm stakeholders he values most. In disputes between the outpatients and paying tenants who have kept parts of his farm in a significantly improved condition for years on end, he sides with the outpatients.
My parents fret that there isn’t really anything we can do about any of this. They remind me that when they invested in the farm, they did so with the understanding that they would not have control over its operations. This would be perfectly reasonable if the farm were being run reasonably, but it manifestly is not. There are a number of implicit warranties that entrepreneurs selling stock make to their investors, all of them falling under a general expectation of good faith and competence.
Stockholders with evidence of bad faith or gross incompetence have cause to take legal action against those misusing their investments for unconscionable purposes. We don’t have grounds to order Joe Dirtbag to replant his semillon to pinot noir because Sideways, or to replant it to cabernet sauvignon and merlot because Bottle Shock. We do have grounds to demand that he stop illegally renting out grossly uninhabitable buildings to residential tenants and bootlegging untaxed wine into California for retail sale. My parents and I, at least, did not invest in the farm with the intent of financing high-risk, low-return criminal activity. He has been pooling our stock investments with various other income and capital streams and misappropriating a portion of the pooled money to fund a criminal enterprise that we did not approve and that we would never have had the legal authority to approve. We had a reasonable expectation when my parents purchased our shares that Joe Dirtbag would remain mentally and morally fit enough to fulfill his minimal fiduciary responsibilities. Every investor in any business has exactly such a reasonable expectation.
My dad had a similar reasonable expectation when he gave Joe Dirtbag $15,000 to buy his current primary car that he would not use the car to engage in flagrant, reckless criminal activity, such as drinking behind the wheel on public highways for the purpose of hazing me. JD’s open defiance of my parents’ plea that he stop drinking behind the wheel entirely was evidence enough for them to take immediate legal action against him, and over his operation of the farm, too, not just the car. That’s bizarre moral turpitude both during and after the fact, a series of deliberate, open violations of the law for the sole purpose of violating the law, followed by witness intimidation and post-hoc extortion of two major shareholders in his business. His message was clear and deliberate: shut up, little bitch.
As that barista said, it’s disgusting. Of course it’s disgusting. But little bitches don’t have the right to be disgusted. Our duty in this Jeffersonian enterprise is to say something nice or say nothing at all, to pay up, and to provide unpaid heavy labor in exchange for offers of deep-discount perishable foods passing their code dates and an uninhabitable place to crash. Alpha fucks and beta bucks, dat is how we roll your bitch ass, you little bitch.
Seriously, that’s exactly how Joe Dirtbag thinks when he’s running geezer extortion and blackmail game on us. That’s exactly how crude he is, even if he doesn’t articulate it quite so plainly. Even if I end up half-assing my management of the farm as a successor principal operator to Joe Dirtag, I can’t believe I’ll fuck it up as badly as he’s fucking it up right now. I’m not of a mind to give squatters or low-rent milquetoasts a second chance to bash in truck windows or shit in a trash can indoors.
We’re on track to need lawyers to clean this shit up. I’ve explicitly told my dad that I will immediately walk out on any peace summit on this matter the moment Joe Dirtbag insults me. I don’t give a shit what he says about me to third parties as long as it doesn’t get back to me, but I will not give him an opportunity to badger me with bogus accusations of God knows what that is irrelevant to the actual matters at hand and freshly pulled out of his ass. I’m not his spouse.
Besides, it’s extremely optimistic to hope that anything good can come from negotiating with this bastard. It would be like the Mounties negotiating with Robert Pickton. We’re years past the point of give-and-take. We need to force Joe Dirtbag’s compliance with the law. We need to compel some sort of resolution to the financial and operational mess that he’s made of the farm and stop him from making asses of us.
I don’t relish the prospect of a legal confrontation. Not at all. But no one would have tolerated any of this horseshit if we weren’t deep into the rabbit hole. Neville Chamberlain didn’t relish the prospect of war with Germany, either. These are different fractals of the same belligerence and cowardice. Someone has to put a foot down and say, no, you may not slaughter Europe’s Jews; no, you may not serially murder British Columbia’s streetwalkers; no, you may not bully those around you into tolerating gross squalor and the misuse of their investments to fund your high-risk criminal enterprises.
Chamberlain was afraid that Hitler would kill a bunch of Britons in a world war. We’re afraid that Joe Dirtbag will yell at us and be unpleasant at family gatherings. God. If these aren’t just bluffs to chronically intimidate us and he crosses the line into serious threats or actual violence, we can have his ass thrown in jail. Demanding financial concessions and the latitude to preside over unlimited squalor with implicit threats of violence would be extremely criminal in its own right. That’s straight-up mafia, but not nearly as polite as the mid-ranking mafioso who lived next door to my mom when she was a child.
This can’t be about some shambling old geezer’s selectively sensitive feelings. Any alleged community whose standards allow for scattering or even consolidating untreated human waste around high-traffic, inhabited areas needs to be disbanded by the health department. I don’t like saying that things are just the way they are, but that’s the way it is, Mr. Kronkite. I, for one, hold this truth to be self-evident, that no American freeman or woman should shit indoors onto a pile of newspaper or into a trash can, and so does everyone else.
This is one of the very few cases in which dissident voices do not count. Your freedom to shit anywhere ends where my right not to stumble upon piles of your shit on developed properties and smell what the Rock hopefully is not cooking begins. So does your tenant’s. It’s very simple. That just isn’t the done thing.