Daughter-in-Law royally fucked us over this morning. She had us leave hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds worth of perfect fruit on the bush for the first six hours so that we could glean maybe a couple hundred pounds total off marginal, mostly picked-over blocks. It was fucking insane. I averaged under three pounds an hour until almost 12:30, when DiL finally sent us back to the good fruit. From then until the closing bell at two, I averaged about twelve pounds an hour. I picked half again as much in the last hour and a half as I had in my first five and a half hours. For once, I didn’t feel bad about getting to work late, because I felt like a chode for showing up before noon. There was just no fucking point to it.
I’ve never expected to make good money doing this. I’m happy if I earn an average of three dollars an hour over the course of a day and thrilled if I come close to four. $1.50, however, is disgraceful, and the only reason I had so little to show for my effort and my time was that we’d all been assigned to glean a bunch of marginal bullshit that wasn’t even worth picking. I noticed DiL and her husband both picking much better fruit while they had us paw through the bullshit. They were exploiting us and wasting our time. We were close to the end by the time DiL told us that we’d in fact be getting a piece rate bonus, and a modest one at that: fifty cents instead of the forty-cent base rate; we’ve been paid sixty cents for better blocks this season, and in past seasons we’ve gotten up to a dollar a pound on lower-volume blocks.
Before the bonus for the bullshit picking was announced, I felt pangs of fear that the owners would end up too broke or bankrupt to make payroll at the end of the season. The block bonus assuaged this fear, but not entirely. That kind of thing happens sometimes. If our bosses get into financial trouble affecting their ability to pay us, we won’t hear about it until they’re deep in the shitter. We won’t learn of it until it’s upon us. If there’s country pride to preserve, it will be preserved at our expense. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if taking a draw on my earnings for the season to date ends up being my only hedge against my bosses’ bankruptcy.
Rationally, I think it’s unlikely, but there shouldn’t be any fucking possibility of our not being paid in full and on time, and I have the bad feeling, for the first time in the four seasons that I’ve now spent at this farm, that there is. I took it as a bad sign that Daughter-in-Law hadn’t tabulated any of our daily totals when we asked for them at the end of the day. Another bad sign, pointed out by a colleague, is that there used to be prizes for our “challenges” (cash tips, fruit, etc.), but the winners are now rewarded just with a moment of congratulation. The crew loses one or two man-hours of work time to get into place at the start and stop of these “challenges” and waiting on results, but we aren’t paid when we aren’t working, so it’s no skin off the owners’ backs. Well, less skin; they still lose our output, just as they did by having us paw through several thousand pounds of fruitless cane looking for amounts of fruit that we picked in forty minutes elsewhere.
I’ve never taken a draw on my earnings before, but at this point it starts to seem both like a show of solvency, assuming I’m allowed to take a draw, and an opportunity to stir up shit with a very reasonable request, assuming that my request is denied in the context of whatever is going on financially and operationally with this business. This stuff is worse than in previous years. During my first season, in 2013, we were paid weekly in cash. My only problem with this was that FICA taxes weren’t deducted from my pay. (I was sufficiently le whatever the next spring not to declare this income to the IRS.) By 2015, payment was deferred in full until the end of the season for anyone who didn’t specifically request a draw. Our bosses ended up with some mouthy little punk asking for a draw of two dollars one day, which was rude as fuck, but they were asking for such bothers by hiring so many callow little twerps. Far be it from them to discriminate on the basis of age; they have nothing against hiring a ten-year-old to sort berries for two dollars an hour under the table if they have some family or community connection to the kid. This can’t do good things for their ability to hire adults or older teens who comport themselves as something like adults, but it’s what they get. I put up with this shit only because I love tending to my plants. It wouldn’t be worth the trouble at that kind of pay grade if it were just, you know, a job.
I’m thankful that I got over the FICA deduction threshold the last two years, and I will again this year in a day or two. That’s one of the reasons why I didn’t walk off the job this morning. I considered it, because my time was blatantly being wasted, but I don’t want to start something that will be a huge, probably lawyer-mediated pain in the ass to finish. I know I’m dealing with bosses who feel entitled to make up some of their own rules; hence the under-the-table tween labor thing. If I go adversarial on them, there’s no telling how they’ll react. That would harsh their mellow. Explaining to them that we’re inherently adverse parties (labor and management) with possible disputes to resolve wouldn’t do the trick, either. I’d have to hire a lawyer to bitch-slap a basic layman’s understanding of the law into them. Like, dude, if I’m working for you and I have articulable concerns about your financial ability to pay me for my work, we cannot be good old country-ass buddies and shit. I don’t want to stir up acrimony, but I also don’t want to be screwed over by employers who think they can adequately compensate by usually being pleasant around us. If they owe me money for heavy labor that has gotten by white ass sunburned, it’s time for the lace gloves to come off, cracka. Leaving them on would be moral hazard.
At this point, I’m still proceeding on the basis of hypotheticals. They’ll probably be able to pay us on time and in full. The problem is that I even have reason to fear that they won’t. That shouldn’t be on the radar, but their business practices have gotten erratic enough that I’m worried. They’re understaffed, they weren’t advertising for more help last I checked, they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel with some of the pickers they do have, and their management is getting shakier than I’ve previously seen it.
I don’t like the feeling that a cash draw on my earnings would be my only hedge against my paycheck bouncing, but I’m just about there. As I said above, if they’re in trouble, we are going to be blindsided. If I knew more people in the area, I’d feel around the grapevine for confidential information about their business finances, e..g., get a bank official to positively confirm for me that they have enough unencumbered cash to make payroll. I don’t put a stop to this kind of small-town gossip by not being party to it; I merely live in ignorance, in Megan McArdle’s beloved asymmetry of information. The streets know whether this company is in good or bad financial shape; it’s just that they aren’t my streets. I’m in no way too precious to ask, but I haven’t a damned clue where to go sniffing around.
It’s fucked up, but I’ll be relieved by any confirmation that my bosses are just cheap, not insolvent. I know that they’re cheap enough to give us twenty-five-cent tips because Daughter-in-Law gave each of us one the other day. It was what she calculated to be our share of a tip that a customer had asked her to give the pickers. As always, I welcome the money and the cash. Dem shine George coin, tho. I know that the cost of living is low around here and that there’s a lot of dodgy sub-minimum wage employment off the books, but even in Sweet Home you’d be an asshole for giving a waitress a twenty-five-cent tip. If they’re cheap but fair, we’re getting what they promised us. Heh. I initially wrote that as “cheap but fare,” but no Linn-Benton Loop for you at that price.
The problem, as I’ve been blathering on about, comes if they’re in undisclosed money trouble. That’s why I wish I knew whom to discreetly ask for the dirt on my bosses. I’m not even interested in details, just in confirmation of their solvency. If they’ve got secret cash reserves whose disclosure would embarrass their poor country bumpkin act, that means that they’ll pay us as promised. They’re basically honest. The only reason they’re shady about these stupid “challenges” is that DiL is trying to psych up a bunch of kids who aren’t necessarily mature enough to hold down jobs (more on this shortly). As far as I can tell, anyway. This stuff does worry me. What I don’t doubt for a second is that they’ll all do crazy, unpredictable shit in a desperate effort to save face if they get into serious financial trouble. This is why I wouldn’t have these worries if I knew for a fact that they were millionaires next door or some shit.
The quality of the help that they’re getting is worth some discussion, too. Most of the pickers are all right. There’s one kid who gives off a whiff of shit when he passes by, and I can’t help but think of him as an unusually well-fed Dickens character, but whatever; aside from his chronic personal hygiene problems, which I can mostly avoid, he’s okay. Most of my trouble this year is with a single novice picker, a thirteen-year-old relative of the owning family who told me that Mother-in-Law tried to recruit her last year, too, when she was twelve. WTF? Let’s call this chick the Ditzney Princess. I hope to write up a more detailed description of her dipshittery in coming days, but I may get le tired, so you’re free to brace yourselves for what’s not coming, too. The Ditnzey Princess is really into–what else?–shitty Disney children’s movies. She’d be a poorly socialized pain in the ass without them, too, but that shit can’t possibly help. Get your kids into the other Walt: Parazaider. Too much damn solo flute showboating in concert is a lot better than a batshit nutty old shut-in who retired by forty to his own mind.
One of the things the Ditzney Princess tactlessly asked me today was whether I have OCD. She wanted to make sure I wasn’t offended by a song about OCD that she was clumsily trying to describe to me. Uh, there’s a difference between being offended and being annoyed. Love too be instructed by children about the new Moxy Früvous of YouTube; fuck my brains out, Sweet Baby J. A few days ago, I had to basically tell her to shut up when, having earlier asked me point blank whether I was a Christian, she tried to chat me up about what I believe as a Catholic. Somewhere in the midst of this failure of all interpersonal boundaries, she invited me to services at her fundy church, which is apparently fundamentalist enough to regard gay adoptive parents in Disney remakes as affronts to Christian family values but not fundamentalist enough to disavow Beauty and the Beast as instructional material on Christian marriage.
That is, I’m at once too liberal and too conservative for her crowd. Around people like her, especially ones who are associated with my employers, I’m always afraid that I’ll accidentally blurt out something scandalous about natural law and/or the cat stuff. Bible thumpers don’t get any of that. It doesn’t fall under John 3:16, so it’s licentious, a path straight to hell. I’m careful about whom I tell that I sometimes pray to a number of executed drug dealers and a cat for intercession. Cultural Protestantism can be a real bitch. That is not a Franciscan tradition. The cat stuff is about as Franciscan as speaking to wolves, but that is not something that I have the emotional or intellectual energy to explain to holy rollers at work. We’ve got a pope in office under the name of the original Temple Grandin of the priesthood, but I don’t feel like explaining that to workplace holy rollers, either. The basic problem with natural law for this crowd is that it leads to political humility, and political humility is a buzzkill. These are people who are upset that Disney isn’t catering to their political and religious sensibilities. The natural law response is obvious: stop watching that shit. That’s also a good way to get one’s head out of one’s ass about the nature and purpose of marriage, as conflated with the nature and purpose of a wedding reception.
Of course, as the Last Psychiatrist would say, if you’re watching it, it’s for you. Disney must be for her. The Ditzney Princess is the kind who would watch that garbage and then tell me that she’s planning to watch it again before her aunt returns it to the video store, in spite of the gay propaganda, which has slipped her mind because she isn’t currently carrying on about Christian literature. I’m reminded of how everyone who discerns her past life was a duchess or a princess or a queen, never a peasant with Bubonic Plague. These are, as Al Gore would say, awfully convenient truths. Pot-o-Shit Friend is surely ahead of the pack if he ponders such possibilities, since he’d find it awfully restrictive to limit himself to a mere chamber pot. (Ceramic, however, would be fabulous; the future was, in fact, in plastics.)
What the hell is the point of this? The point of Disney children’s programming is that we’re raising a brood of fucking morons, and now I have to work with one of them. It’s consistent with Disney propaganda that the Ditzney Princess has shit for a work ethic and a practically constitutional inability not to complain loudly whenever the temperature deviates beyond her fifteen-degree comfort zone. Every day I’m repeatedly on the verge of telling her to shut up. She has a terrible attitude for farm work. I’m not in a state of constant physical comfort out there, but I’m not a whiny little bitch about it. *Precocious Bryan Adams voice* Ain’t no use in complainin’, when you got a job to do. Bryan Adams, OC, OBE, etc., would have been old enough to do some under-the-table farm work in 1969, but he was already busy with his band and his girlfriend. It’s nice that he at least pretends to have been so much more mature and insightful than the Ditzney Princess.
The other kids on the crew don’t complain as much, certainly not so loudly and immaturely, and they pick more. Go figure, then, that the Ditzney Princess is the one Mother-in-Law personally tried to recruit when she was still underage and finally lured over, barely legal, to be a pain in the ass to those of us who belong there and mostly want to be there. The Ditzney Princess is now telling us that her parents won’t let her quit until she’s put in at least three weeks. That’s just what we need: another callow whiner whose parents made her get a job. There are supposedly lessons about life for some of us to learn here. Another story I’m hearing is that our bosses demanded four-week minimum commitments from their kiddo pickers. That’s keeping at least three of us on site, so private enterprise and work ethic hell yeah.
The main lesson I’m learning is that working for and around dipshits can really suck ass. Daughter-in-Law beclowned herself trying to psych us up while I was grossing a dollar fifty an hour this morning. Again, how in hell is this a reasonable alternative to giving us assignments that allow us to get kinda sorta close to minimum wage and not waste the whole fucking morning doing something pointless? One of the provocations that nearly caused me to walk off the job was the Ditzney Princess singing a dumbass song, to the tune of My Darling Clementine, about getting fatal food poisoning from eating a rotten peanut or some shit. It’s too bad that we don’t have the matronly redneck lady who told the ADHD spazz case two years ago to shut the fuck up on the crew this year to counsel the Ditzney Princess to holy silence. Some of the more mature kids on the crew have tried, but they’ve never mustered that level of authority and disgust.
Picking barely over a quarter pound of berries after fifteen minutes scrutinizing bushes and walking over a thousand feet contains lessons, too, like that I could make as much money scavenging a single deposit bottle. Flying a sign at the rest area would have been more enjoyable, and I assume more profitable. I might have chatted with some interesting people, and I doubt I’d have had to listen to that hideous song about the asshole who ate the peanut. Instead, I could have taken breaks to sing the song of my folkway, Chaka Can Chaka Can. Oscar the Grouch modes of living should not be more profitable than farm work, but I’m not the one who sets the pay scales or the work assignments, and Chaka Can, unlike the berry industry, is mediated by solid bureaucrats and their solid redemption center contractors, not loosey-goosey entrepreneurial flakes.
These are my feelings as an extremely motivated farm worker who feels called to farm work. Our bosses are alienating employees who want to be there and know what the fuck they’re doing. Everyone else on the crew with whom I talked about the situation this morning agreed that it was a disaster. This sort of work isn’t supposed to be easy like drinking tall boys in the greenbelt all the live-long day (*Mickey Cohn transmission incoming* I solve these cases for a living. You drink beer for a living.). It is supposed to be manageable and to consistently pay more than an ablebodied person is guaranteed for casually peeking into a trash can now and then.
I’d encourage readers seeking relief from this litany of derp to go fuck a fat whore in Tacoma, but it would be rash to put aside all childish things at once. It’s futile for me to put childish things aside, too, since the childish show no sign of returning me the favor for as long as I remain grown-up enough to hold down this increasingly stupid job.