Child labor in K-Love country

It’s rather surreal that my most reliable job prospect for the past few years has been in one of Oregon’s most socioeconomically troubled counties. Sometimes I wonder how the hell this keeps happening. Then I remember that this job is paying, like, $1.30 an hour and management has been yelling at us again. One of my colleagues chided me for telling another one that the second half of the morning had been a clusterfuck because Daughter-in-Law’s daughter was present in the break room. My response? “Eh.” I had made my clusterfuck comment very quietly, just above a whisper, and I still see absolutely nothing inappropriate about it. Daughter-in-Law had screwed me and her own business over by making me waste at least half an hour picking tiny, clingy, barely marketable fruit on a row where I’d missed probably a quarter pound of good fruit. When I finally figured that I’d cleaned that bullshit up plausibly enough to keep her from yelling at me and moved on to a row with good fruit, where I was picking ten or twenty times as fast, she yelled at me, “I need you to get off row 74.” She had reserved 74 as a sort of in-service correctional assignment for one of the twerpkin, whom she had accused of picking it sloppily. A number of my colleagues were convinced that the row had not been picked at all.

In the midst of this bullshit, Mother-in-Law yelled at us for not picking fast enough: “If you picked faster, you could go home before it gets hot…. The fruit is getting wilty, and that isn’t good for any of us.” No, actually, bitch, I can go home before it gets hot, fruit inexorably wilting on the vine or not; that’s my own decision to make as a freeman whenever I damn well feel like making it. I guess it’s different for kids who are dependent on their parents for rides, including at least two whose parents had ordered them to keep working there for moral and financial reasons. One of these has been getting pretty unhappy about this arrangement, and her output seems to be falling. Then again, most of us are producing shit for output this week. Against the odds, the twerpkin seem to be producing more than I am, in spite of the lengthy breaks that they take chilling out under the blueberry bushes like trolls or pelting each other with fruit. The frank truth of it is that I’m probably the most motivated employee they have ever had, because I feel called to this sort of work, truly love it,  and generally enjoy it as management isn’t actively fucking up a job for me, but yes, I’m free to fuck off to Reno and Tahoe if management insists on being pissant or belligerent. I wouldn’t even have considered walking off the job or pulling another no-call-no-show if MiL and DiL hadn’t started yelling at us for no good reason, instructing me to put pointless repetitive stress on my wrists so that they could get an extra partial pound of marginal fruit, and sunk my running earnings to something like sixty cents an hour.

So, what’s “clusterfuck?” Well, sweetheart, it’s NLRB-protected labor organizing speech concerning workplace conditions. That should be boring enough to ward off further questioning from any kiddos within earshot. For pissants in management who are adulting in my world, it means that they don’t get to selectively disobey regulations that have been put in place to protect their employees just because they think they get to dictate how things work around here. This is America. We have laws around here. I’m not even inclined to be strident in my own defense as an employee. The NLRB’s protection of union speech is like Brandenburg v. Ohio, but for the sort of assholes you’d be of a mind to pay to stay home just so you don’t have to listen to them all day. All the same, there are bright lines that I will not give anyone at that company the latitude to cross in front of me. The things we’re complaining about to one another are pretty fucking basic, like not having the latitude to seek out and pick fruit good enough to earn us two dollars an hour and then being yelled at for not picking fast enough. It’s no wonder there’s a shortage of pickers. Even Leon Bridges wouldn’t like the way they sail their ship, now. Not a season goes by when it doesn’t start looking like the Titanic. He won’t weigh you down, but Daughter-in-Law and Mother-in-Law will weigh your wages down.

Immediately before this clusterfuck, by the way, MiL and DiL had served us all a free pancake breakfast and allowed us at least another half hour for our morning break. After lunch (that is, the second half-hour-plus break in two hours), they had us hustle to fill a standing fresh market order with less than two hours to spare. Like, uh, didn’t they know about this by the time they got to work, since they sell at this market all season? Wow Much Plannings. In fairness, it isn’t malicious, calculating shit like Joe Dirtbag pulls, but how much chaos do they expect us to tolerate at half or a third of minimum wage on a good day? This place is a fucking mess.

I can’t blame sign-flyers for not getting jobs. I have a job again, and just listen to this shit. The humiliation, boredom, and general annoyance of sitting on ass with piece of cardboard at some rest area looks like its own punishment. The idea that I’m doing this to support myself, though, is just fucking laughable. There are days when I don’t gross even eight dollars, and I don’t think I’ve ever worked a shift shorter than five hours. There are days when I am absolutely sure that I’d make more money per hour scavenging deposit bottles. Nobody involved in this business is self-sufficient. I’m financially dependent on my parents. MiL and DiL are dependent on the extreme underpayment of minors who are in turn financially dependent on their own parents. Their sweet spot is families that are chaotic enough to have more children than they can afford to raise comfortably but somehow affluent enough to own cars, because it’s a damn long walk out to their property. Depending on when they’re asked, the owners are making ten thousand dollars a year apiece running the farm (DiL last year or earlier), two dollars an hour (DiL this week), or nothing at all (MiL). There’s definitely some public-sector employment gibs and probably some public assistance facilitating the farm employment of these people, but then again, my car registration fees help pay Chippies to sit on ass in front of the Truckee Starbucks this time of year. Meanwhile, my homeless veteran panhandler buddy (of sorts) from the rest areas complains about Barack Obama lavishing public funds on the Free Shit Army while soliciting private charity for his next drive deep into Washington State to angle for free shit of his own at some Stand Down. As he puts it, “Take it from a lazy bum like myself.”

Great job arguing that to someone who has been losing money in order to hold down a job. It’s bullshit that it’s so expensive to make a living, but getting a job when one is available for the asking is easier than trying to convince one’s fellow Americans to drop the fucking slave mentality. Just down the road from where I’m staying, the Albany Police Department discovered a residential cave that some homeless had dug for themselves along the riverfront. I’m sure that took a stronger work ethic than I’ve managed at the berry farm, and I’m not much of a slacker there. That’s what we get as a people for only pretending to be all about the work ethic and self-reliance. By the way, one of the cops who discovered the cave pointed out a crude waste disposal system feeding into the Willamette River, the same thing New York City did to its harbor until 1996 or so, in contrast to Pot-o-Shit Friend’s waste nondisposal system.

No, my standards aren’t that high.

The picking crew is losing even more of its older pickers to band camp, vacation Bible school, and the like. VBS sounds like a frenzy of wankery to me, but that isn’t my waste of a week, so whatever. The crew is just about down to me, the whiny slackers, and the twerpkin whose fruit I keep poaching. I’m thinking about making up a story about how I have an interview in Portland on Saturday and spending the morning with Scott Simon instead. That would be cheaper than buying another Walkman or renting a room another night so that I have a place to shower after work. I don’t mind skipping live #SPORTS for a fifty-pound fruit haul, but I picked 14.5 pounds the other day and got sandbagged by management today because the twerpkin had yet to take their correction. Last year, I’ve been told, the 4F twerp’s dad was called over to pick for him as a condition of his not being fired. He’s gone now, although MiL tried to recruit both of them to weed over the winter (dad is ex-Army enlisted with a highly skilled manufacturing job, so, no), and this year a kid who was deliberately picking less than a pound an hour to spite his mother for making him get a job and hand his pay over to her finally had to quit because no one would fire him.

This ain’t Little House on the Prairie, guys. The only people still doing the hardy Jason Lee shit around here are those guys with the cave down by the river, and they had the cops on their asses for going to the trouble of pioneering. Which is a Merit (sic) Badge in Boy Scouting, by the way. One of the chicks who quit a few days ago had been seen stealing berries from other pickers. She bragged to us about how she schnors Dutch Bros off everyone else at high school. Jason Lee would have quite enjoyed Dutch Bros. So would any of the less stick-in-the-ass Western outlaws who would have asked homegirl why the fuck she was stealing berries by the ounce. She’d be a good cultural fit for the Steilacoom Police Department, but mercifully she’s planning to study something that she can’t easily parlay into criminal justice or law.

As that pioneer twit a few miles up the river supposedly exclaimed one morning, “My, what a sweet home!” Uh, no. The only honest thing to do is to caption the Lebanon High School Indian mascot with Shit, White Man. Nothing else can explain Linn County.

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