Vineland: a different kind of crash

Note: In the day since I started writing this, I got in touch with my parents to tell them about my car crash, and my dad gave me a huge amount of help by collating information about body shops and AAA offices, contacting an extremely reputable relative in Eureka who is exceptionally engaged with the local community for information about repair shops he’s used, and helping me work out some viable step-by-step plans to get out of the worst of this mess. That said, I’m still dealing with the extreme dysfunction and chaos surrounding Joe Dirtbag lurking in the background, liable to erupt again whenever I head back inland, and I still haven’t figured out how to profitably discuss it with my parents. There are still aspects of the situation I’m about to describe that scare the hell out of me, and I think I’m wise to be scared. Situations like these can very literally be deadly, especially without prompt socioeconomic support. There but for the grace of God go a great many of us. 

By the grace of God I’m still alive and bodily intact tonight. I was involved in the nearest thing to a head-on collision this afternoon. An oncoming pickup truck drifted halfway into my lane as we both rounded a blind curve on US 199 in the redwoods a few miles east of 101, leaving me hardly any room to swerve away from him without skidding down an embankment into some of the widest, sturdiest tree trunks on earth. The other driver and I both swerved barely far enough out of the way to oliquely clip one another by the side panels instead of colliding head-on at a combined fifty miles an hour. My car was operable after the crash, but not safely so; the driver’s side door is dented too far out of alignment to fully close, and the driver’s side view mirror was shorn off in the crash, shards of glass and plastic littering the highway and a remnant of the housing dangling from the wires that fed the adjustment motor. The truck that clipped me got a flat tire from my glass debris.

We’re ever so lucky that we weren’t badly hurt or killed. The other driver looked a bit stunned but fine physically, and I came away with nothing worse than some very mild whiplash. I felt bad for the kid, honestly. He was newly licensed, driving a truck that his dad had just bought for him, with his dad trailing him in another truck. I really can’t fault him for leaving it to his dad to make the first contact with me after the accident or for not needing his dad to prompt him to do what the driver’s ed manual told him to do after an accident, although I figure his dad is blaming him plenty. I would have been completely beside myself and barely functional if I’d been the driver at fault in an accident like that at his age. What else can I say? The kid made a mistake. I’ve made a number of mistakes as a driver that were technically as bad as his, or maybe even worse, but which didn’t result in accidents, and again, the accident today could have been a lot worse than it was. I think I owe my life, or at least my physical health tonight, to this kid for swerving away from me in the nick of time. I know I owe a separate debt of gratitude to dumb luck.

We were just as lucky that the Chippies who investigated our accident handled it as well as they did. The first one on the scene was a family friend and a pretty chill dude. He handed the official lead off to a probie who arrived on scene with a training officer twenty minutes later. The probie was one of the mellowest cops I’ve ever met, especially for a newjack who was stuck riding shotgun with a sourpuss lifer who looked a bit too eager to bust the new guy’s balls. The family friend who had conducted the real investigation basically dumped me on the probie as field training fodder. As a failed San Diego Police recruit, I was glad, almost honored, to be of service, but I did not envy Probie. He was sputtering and flubbing canned lines that he couldn’t quite keep straight, and he kept getting a sort of “Highway Patrol: What is it all about?” look in his eyes. There’s way the hell worse in law enforcement than any of these three cops, but Lifer Dog’s soldier-of-the-law act wasn’t necessary. The Red Bluff PD didn’t need prolonged parade-rest-ass shit to calm down the Polynesian bruisers when I called them to investigate a possible assault in progress.

Again, having one guy who’s maybe a little off out of a squad of three isn’t bad when dealing with cops (SDPD Recruiting was more like five out of six), and a few indulgences in needlessly pompous paramilitary bullshit, mostly in private conference at a distance from the civilians, is a lot better than going to the emergency room with life-threatening injuries. I dodged a bullet—or, as Yakov Smirnoff might more accurately say, truck dodged ME! And you’ll never guess the make.

What’s gnawing at me now is what the hell I can make happen next. I have extended AAA tow coverage, but if I get the car towed back inland, I’ll again be homeless in an area where one of my main contacts is an abusive relative who harasses his tenants, but this time without an intact and safely operable car for shelter. That car was making it possible for me to make ends meet. Every night I slept in it I saved dozens of dollars on lodging, even after accounting for gas to run the heater. I need a social support network now as much as ever, but the most developed one I have on the West Coast these days is centered around a bully with criminally antisocial proclivities who serially exploits the vulnerable, the same guy who drove me into homelessness in the first place.

I’ve spent enough money on airport parking fees in the past two years to replace my car, in large part because JD had allowed Mixups in my Mind to squat on the farm and repeatedly vandalize the vehicles in his life in fits of psychotic rage. He wouldn’t do anything to run the neighborhood rowdies off his property, and I did not want some uncontrollable derelict trashing my car. Airport parking was, in a very real sense, a ten-dollar-a-day insurance policy against theft and vandalism. Joe Dirtbag would probably counter that I didn’t have to do that, but he lives on another property, miles away from these losers and way the hell up in the mountains, where he can store his own vehicles away from these volatile losers.

That’s exactly the kind of bogus Monday-morning quarterbacking I’m always afraid Joe Dirtbag will spit at me. Why am I at the coast this week? Aside from it being none of his fucking business as a nosy creep I can always report to the police, it’s generally been above freezing here at night. I feel safer sleeping in a car in lows of 36 or 42 than 20. As scary as the crash was, it could easily have happened in much less clement, i.e., safe, weather. When that sleazy, uselessly officious bastard won’t offer me a place to shelter that isn’t riddled with cracks in its walls and infested with feral rats, he can shove his ideas of local living up his ass. If he thinks I could or should have done something different to avoid that accident, he can explain why the hell he drinks behind the wheel on the fucking Interstate. The kid who clipped me on 199 yesterday wasn’t trying to get his jollies by being an antisocial fuckjob on public roads. He wasn’t trying to do anyone wrong. JD is the one who has weaponized his own driving for predatory effect just because he can. Yes, Virginia, process and intention matter. He’d be a piece of shit to make light of that kid for being irresponsible, but I doubt not wanting to be a piece of shit would stop him from using a third party he’s never met against me any more than it stopped him from trying to bait me into his feud with Busboy and the bikie cop.

My safety absolutely depends on doing what I can to protect myself from the bad seeds of my own kin. This is no exaggeration or joke. Joe Dirtbag will get people sickened, injured, or killed if they let him. He has been living in his own head at my expense, and at the expense of others as well. I’ve been living in my car because I offended him and the Family Shrew four and a half years ago, and because he won’t provide those who aren’t on the best of terms with him accommodations that are inhabitable. Instead he offers us pigsty shacks and conceives of that as hospitality. This is how Pot-o-Shit Friend happened. He tried to bait me, Busboy, and the bikie cop into a feud this fall, and he lured Straight-Shot Luke into a feud with Captain Flimflam several years ago by willfully setting them up in a land dispute on his property. He allowed Captain Flimflam to crowdsource a foreshadowing of Pot-o-Shit Friend by not having the portapotties replaced when they filled to the brim with human waste. He allowed Lady Pisspan to wrap her shit in newspaper and toss it into the weeds. He allowed Mixups to frighten women and children and to vandalize various people’s property. He nearly got my arm broken in one industrial accident on account of his defective equipment and both of us crushed under a wine barrel that he was filling on a table he suspected to be structurally unsound in another.

He obviously thinks this shit is cute. Sometimes he admits as much. It isn’t fucking cute. Nearly getting oneself and one’s employee killed in an industrial accident isn’t goddamn cute. Baiting other men into let’s-you-and-him-fight situations is not cute. He’s a derelict geezer refusing to keep his property minimally safe and orderly and using his vicious attitude problem to intimidate anyone who tries to force him to act like a responsible adult. Meanwhile, he’s effectively paying his laborers in scrip valid at the company store, if even that, and the company store is a dangerous pile of rat-infested clutter. Then I get smeared as a fuck-up for not having a job, even though it’s been well established that he won’t pay me for any of the work I’ve done for him, either helping him run his property or taking the initiative to clean it up.

This may sound opportunistic or overwrought, but I’m seeing serious parallels with the mass-casualty warehouse fire in Oakland over the weekend. I came across the Sunday issue of the San Francisco Chronicle a few hours before the highway accident, which had several articles about the Ghost Ship fire. One of these described the landlord, who had been warned about the fire danger, going on Facebook after the fire to whine that it was “as if I have awoken from a dream filled with opulence and hope….to be standing now in poverty of self worth.” This was what he thought to express at a time when there were dozens of people missing and feared dead on his property, due in part to his own negligence as their landlord.

Even richer, so to speak, this “poverty of self worth” was a ramification of his renting out unsafe living quarters to people who were bodily living in what might be called a poverty of money, or a poverty of poverty. Homeboy’s transcendence of the needs of the flesh didn’t keep him from putting his own wife and kids up in a hotel that night, though. The conditions at the Ghost Ship went beyond mere illegal occupancy: some dipshit had hammered together a makeshift staircase from scraps of old shipping pallets and put it into heavy use as a main access and exit route for the second floor.

It sounds rather like the barrel table hammered together from old fence pickets. If the fire department had evacuated the Ghost Ship and burned it down, it wouldn’t have had to respond on an all-alarm emergency call and haplessly try to stop it from burning down with dozens of bodies inside.

Narcissism doesn’t always have consequences, but it doesn’t always not have consequences, either. Now we get to listen to tenants who barely escaped with their lives insist that their illegal occupancy at the Ghost Ship was about art, not about poverty and unafforable housing, in much the same way that Busboy and his woman act like their paying rent to live in a short bus without access to a toilet is about local organic agriculture and shit. Every twit who’s moved into a tiny house since the start of the current depression acts like it’s about the rediscovery of a minimalist aesthetic, not about severe structural problems with the housing market that make it impossible for average Americans to afford not-tiny housing.

Beyond a certain point, the only adult course of action is to live in the material world and preach it. Madonna is no prophet; she’s just an honest observer. The CHP wouldn’t have such a high rate of recreational boat ownership if its union weren’t run by materialists. What I’m specifically saying is that I was buddies with this one lady whose husband is a Chippie and I learned from Facebook that they bought a motorboat. Generalizing this story in the plural takes more faith than fraud.

If that’s a waste of tax money, not getting Busboy and fam into non-bus public housing is also a waste of tax money. Besides, opposition to the social safety net has historically been driven by local elites who are known to have tenants living in squalor and shitting in open pits. Piping up against public-sector gibs for Chippies doesn’t help them make their case. Barring a Scott Walker problem (which Moonbeam V. 2.2 is not), unionized public employees are bae as fuck with the kind of private-sector employees who turn out to vote. Let’s face it: America’s realtors, insurance agents, car dealers, and restaurateurs don’t really want some grandstanding crook rampaging through the public sector in a night of broken rice bowls on behalf of private equity shysters; they’d have too much business to lose. Local economies have to be on the skids much bigly to change that. Even if the CHP isn’t doing as much business at the Truckee Starbucks as it appears to be doing at first glance (those of us with long dwell times aren’t the ones keeping that joint afloat, lol), it’s still pumping consumer money into a shitload of local economies across the state, even ones that are otherwise ruined, and regardless of your hard-earned tax dollars or whether I stipulate that it’s equitable to extract lodging and meals tax out of me when I’m so close to broke, the revenue stream funding this redistribution is still one that is generally weighted against Charlie Sheen on behalf of East Porterville, for whatever good it actually accomplishes. A system like this has to go superfubar for a critical mass of the citizenry to abandon all hope that it might possibly level themselves, too, up.

I always thought buses were for transportation, sheds were for yard tools, and warehouses were for storing stuff. Didn’t they have, like, episodes of Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers about this shit? Why do I feel like Don Quixote for wanting to restore any of these lost folkways? Why do I feel like Vaclav Havel for saying that living in a bespoke shed on wheels is honestly fucking shabby any way you cut it?

There was another article in the issue of the Chronicle that I picked up before the accident (and sometimes I think these things happen by design) about a guy who got into a couple of bad car accidents, was left too sick to work, and went from being a successful engineer to huddling in tents and homeless shelters all over the Peninsula for several years, until a social worker finally got him into low-income housing. The engineer admitted that he was too pigheaded to ask for help, and that he ended up living in hell on the streets for years as a result, under the care of a junkie for part of that time.

I could end up like that engineer. I’m not too arrogant to believe otherwise for a second any longer. This is why I frankly don’t give a shit about indepdence, and certainly not about shows of independence. Joe Dirtbag and the Family Shrew use their proud cracker act to gaslight everyone, I suffer for it, and they are provably dependent on everyone around them who will part with some money or some sweat. If I’m reading this situation right, their narcissism doesn’t leave room for my dignity.

At some point, it becomes reasonable to tell a shithead that the free market doesn’t allow him to rent out Tobacco Road and that the Chronicle might be interested in hearing that he does. I’m the one who could crash from warm homelessness into cold homelessness if that bastard fucks with me again. He’s the one with Social Security, a farm, a woodlot, and an electrician living in his yard shed.

I understand that making an effort not to be a total derelict is construed in some circles as a form of “adulting.” Millennials have been reputed to be having difficulty adulting since approximately the turn of our Millennium (which sometimes seems a mercilessly unbiblical one), often by Boomers who have been having their own trouble adulting since the False Dawn of Aquarius. The only reason Bryan Adams was so mature in the summer of ’69 was that he wasn’t yet ten. Some of those who came before him have been indulging their own malignant immaturity since before I was born. Why would they be embarrassed that marginalized youngsters like me, Busboy, Pot-o-Shit Friend, Mixups in my Mind, and Psychotarp have stumbled into their social ecology to serve as sources of narcissistic supply, and sometimes also labor or rent supply, while marginally attached to the housing and labor markets? Whaddaya mean “we” ain’t kids no more? Do tell, Kemo Sabe, who “us” this is?

George Orwell said something about civilization being preserved by rough men ready to violence on its behalf. That certainly sounds better than Captain Flimflam being a threatening punk to Straight-Shot Luke because Joe Dirtbag feels like having a psychosexual glad watching them duke it out. As a square-ass code snitch who gets fed up with the rat filth and sick of being homeless, I guess I would prefer to take my masculinity nontoxic and not mind if it’s also sworn. It takes a certain level of privilege, even if that privilege has been clawed away from the more vulnerable in one’s orbit in a zero-sum jungle game, to think that Kevin Vickers whipping Chris Brown’s ass to stop one of his domestic batteries cold would somehow be a bad thing.

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