“Jesus! Do they live in a trash can?”

This all too reasonable question was blurted out by a friend back east when I told him about the people now living on the farm in a barely converted short bus with a sushi mat-looking bamboo screen surrounding it on its exposed sides as a privacy fence. His feeling was that he might as well pay Lower Merion Township rent to sleep on a bench down the street from his office. He has a damn good point: these Magic School Bus scenarios are always shittier in real life than they are in children’s books, and I don’t necessarily mean this figuratively. Joe Dirtbag’s tenants would no more live in a trash can than they would live in a toilet bowl, but, as Pot-o-Shit Friend showed, it’s a different matter at potty time, because some of these dirtballs know their pots cold.

Among my friends and drinking buddies, Joe Dirtbag is known as the guy with the tenant who was shitting in the trash can. I have occasional twinges of discomfort at the thought of disparaging his character so, but then I remember that, really, anyone whose tenants endanger the public health with the improper disposal of their feces on a heavily populated property should not be able to live his shitbird reputation down until he has thoroughly cleaned house. The house in question remains in filth and disorder, of course. I said quite little at the time about Lady Pisspan’s papergirl special deliveries of the morning news and poos into the yard, even though her contemporaries on the farm were livid about her golden shower irrigation project and high-frequency shit missiles, so I was more than forbearing enough. But that was just the first shitty mess that came to my attention, so it seemed plausibly one-off.

Everyone contributing to this sickening filth, whether by directly curating it or by refusing to provide a decent toilet and hence driving farm tenants to improperly dispose of their own waste in a desperate quest for a tiny measure of dignity, has frankly gotten off lightly in this matter. The more I think it over, and the greater the diversity of filth that I discover around the farm, the more I come to blame Joe Dirtbag in particular. He’s the one who made light of his own slumlording, after all, and Pot-o-Shit Friend and Lady Pisspan, fucked up though they were, didn’t appear to be on the kind of drugs (hint: rhymes with “Beth, I hear you calling”) that inspire their users to curate their own shit as something special and honored. Joe Dirtbag is the common factor in this pattern of dysfunction and degradation, because he would have us believe that it’s all just cutesy-ass good ol’ boy country livin’ for buddies. *OBNOXIOUS CCR VOICE* Mmm mmm mmm, lookin’ out my backdoor. He saw them in concert, by the way, back on the Peninsula and back before they started calling themselves CCR. These days, Great Compression passing over the rear horizon, Fogerty and the Damn Yankees are living in mansions, probably, while Joe Dirtbag is living among other soi-disant Oregonian diaspora Californians and misappropriating investor funds to do a blatantly illegal hippie feudalism LARP on his farm. Anyone who was raised by passably middle-class parents on the Mid-Peninsula has compelling cause to tell him that, no, we don’t do that.

The other day, the guy whose nettle specimens Mixups in my Mind gardened to death came by the farm while I was doing some things, most of them futile, around the rat winery. I’d heard of the Nettle Man before, but this was the first I met him. He agreed with me that the rat mess in the winery building was intolerable. He actually has less tolerance for it than I’ve had: he bluntly told me will not set foot inside the building, but will only go far enough to reach in from the stoop and turn on the lights. I can’ t blame him. I can’t blame anyone.

The Nettle Man asked me what the fuck was going on with Joe Dirtbag allowing the rats and their shit to proliferate. I answered him as best I could, but I can hardly even answer my own questions about Joe Dirtbag’s thinking. The Nettle Man told me that he was uncomfortable talking to Joe Dirtbag about the rat problem. This makes him the fifth person I can think of offhand whom Joe Dirtbag has been intimidating into silence (the others being me, my parents, and the Ragin’ Canajun). JD doesn’t intimidate everyone. We aren’t all pussified before him. This doesn’t really fix anything, though; those who have the balls to tell him off (including, to be anatomically correct, the woman who was his longest-term tenant farmer) have gotten fed up with his intransigence and thrown in the towel.

While I was venting to him about my disgust with the condition of the winery building and my conflicting wish to remain involved in viticulture, the Nettle Man told me, “Man, you gotta feed your soul.” Pointing to the winery, he said, “This isn’t soul food.” Spirit food, either, I have to think. As that token honky cop on Sanford and Son would have put it, it’s time to get right out. Comments like that can come only from the excessively smooth, of whatever race, in contrast to the extreme blaxploitation of clunky whiteys, which is race-specific (and, in controlled doses, fucking awesome). “Not soul food” is a needlessly wishywashy hippie criticism of the rat squalor, but the Nettle Man’s broader point was well taken. It’s impossible to stay motivated to improve a property when its owner and principal operator is flippantly allowing its working facilities to be overrun with rats and contaminated with plaques of their waste. This is a fundamental problem. It is not a flaky hippie complaint about being unable to follow one’s passion or bliss. I’ve done a hell of a lot more to improve that farm, in particular to reclaim parts of the abandoned semillon blocks, than anyone can reasonably expect of me, and I’ve been as tolerant as anyone other than Joe Dirtbag of the rat waste. I’m willing to put up with it for half an hour or an hour at a time in order to sponge-bathe, burn paper trash in the wood stove, or cuddle with the cats. This does not, however, mean that I don’t want it cleaned up. That building is better than nothing, but it’s a fucking disgrace, and as a current investor, I’m bankrolling it. Not that I have any fucking idea where my money has gone, or any other investor’s; the farm’s finances increasingly look criminally opaque.

I ended up reporting the property to code enforcement a few days ago, for the second time in less than six months. I felt bad about the prospect of leaving the Ragin’ Canajun as the default point of contact at the property again, especially when he had talked about poisoning the rats without getting approval from Joe Dirtbag, but I was sick of allowing this stomach-turning filth to persist in a building that JD has explicitly encouraged me to use as a home base. This time, I provided JD’s contact information but not RC’s. I think there’s something to be said just for getting the condition of the property documented by the authorities, especially since my only options to force JD into compliance may be to file suit or a criminal complaint. Two substantiated code complaints in five and a half months should look better for the tenant/investor plaintiff than for the defendant landlord.

Joyously give first fruits to the trial bar, or not, hopefully. This whole thing sucks. We’ve invested our time and, in my case, labor with this deadbeat and fraud who won’t stop turning everything within his grasp to shit. When I called my parents two days ago and advised my dad of the current deteriorating condition of the winery building, he said that he’s planning to withdraw as a farm investor. He probably had as great an emotional investment as anyone in the farm, and for a time as great a willingness as anyone to bankroll it. My parents both hoped for years that Joe Dirtbag meant well and would, with enough help, start turning things around. Now they’re realizing that he really does value rats and his own ego more than his investors, tenants, and unpaid help.

I don’t expect this dispute to be resolved amicably. My only hope now is that Joe Dirtbag doesn’t react violently. Once again, I have to be ready to call the cops.

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