Choosy beggars

Mother-in-Law scolded one of the younger pickers today and threatened to fire him for not meeting the fifty-pound daily minimum, not five yards away from me, then, maybe ten minutes later, smiled at me and told me, “You’re doing great!” The I-can’t-keep-a-straight-face thing about that was that I wasn’t on course to break thirty pounds for the day when she said it, so her idea of cause for terminating members of the twerpkin wasn’t really about low productivity. She had just about admitted as much during the latest installment in her lecture series: “If you stop talking and pick you’ll reach your fifty pounds.” That ain’t necessarily so, either: no matter how diligent we are, we get hot and tired and sluggish, and our output drops. We don’t have that Bigfoot hardiness, so Think Out Loud didn’t have a lengthy segment about us fresh on the heels of an interview with a reverse-Bruce tranny. It isn’t the worst thing to think quietly and say nothing, but that isn’t how Oregonians roll.

Mother-in-Law’s thought out loud isn’t isn’t the most thoughtful. Threatening other employees with termination in front of me is hostile to me, too. I’m a big boy, but it’s still hostile. I’m astute enough to recognize that there’s still something really wrong with her managerial style even if she’s making sure to treat me better in her direct interactions with me. The terse argument that she started with Daughter-in-Law over what had and hadn’t been picked wasn’t any good, either. MiL briefly started a similar pissing match with me but dropped it when I pointed at some good fruit that obviously had to be picked. I don’t envy anyone who marries into that.

At the end of the day, one of the pickers told DiL that he needed to take Saturday off. She approved it but told him, “We like to get at least a week’s notice. That’s okay, but [some more not very memorable managerial bullshit].” I think “in the future” was part of it. A popular conception of the future is one in which picking berries for that family for three to five dollars an hour is safely in the past. I really don’t want to be passive-aggressive or defiant or anything like that, but what the hell kind of operation do they think they’re running? I didn’t catch the other picker’s reason for wanting Saturday off, so it may have been total bullshit, but their half-assed piece rates alone are a good enough reason to quit.

The idea of inspiring adult responsibility by paying adult wages is a sound one. I don’t want to encourage anyone to try to fuck them over for shits and giggles by abruptly coming and going, but they’re getting a lot less of it than they’re inviting by paying abysmal wages and also letting MiL mouth off at us. They try to keep her on a short leash, but it doesn’t really work.

A friend told me that she supervised eighty people and didn’t recall ever yelling at them, but that’s what it’s like to be ethically and behaviorally grounded. MiL has floating ethical and behavioral standards, rather like currencies, and pretending that the Bolivar is consistently worth a dime on the dollar is absurd. We’ll fire you on a partial day’s notice for being slow but ask that you please not take a day off on less than a full week’s notice out of consideration for us is super fucking incoherent, not the stuff of institutional credibility and good repute.

I still greatly enjoy the work and haven’t had any grave problems with the owners since MiL’s forcible berry tasting, and I get that supervising childish, flaky twerps sucks, but at the same time I have no objectively compelling reason to bend over backwards to accommodate them. Summary resignations and attendance problems go with the territory that they’ve staked out, and I’d say they have to deal with less of that shit than they should expect. It’s glaringly reasonable for any of us to ask what we’re getting out of a job like this. No matter how much I love the work, it is not a career. Are we there to make serious money? I don’t fucking think so, Watson. They don’t have that to hold over us in a way that isn’t totally laughable. “Oh, we assumed you needed to do this to make a living but could somehow make ends meet by taking all your poverty wages as a lump sum at the end of the season.” Yeah, sure. Are we there because we’re enterprising? Give me a break, Stossel. Working for a small business isn’t nearly as daunting as running one. I’m aware of this because I don’t get my ideas about entrepreneurship from Amway-distributed self-help books on entrepreneurship.

The itty-bitty personal crisis of my own that just ran into the bullshit over DiL’s bullshit about advance notice for time off is my dad strongly encouraging me to go to Washington State this Saturday for a very extended family reunion organized by some distant relatives he met at another reunion of the same family in North Carolina earlier this summer. As Mickey Cohn would say, I solve these cases for a living, and that guy over there picks fruit for a living. You go to family reunions for a living. (What is a “living,” and how does one arrange to work for one?)

The In-Laws will probably think I’m a flighty wanker if I tell them that I decided on less than a week’s notice to go to the San Juan Islands on a workday to meet some people whose family relationship to me I can only vaguely describe. I don’t want to set up a situation in which any of them are insinuating that I’m a dilettante who doesn’t need the job and can just kind of wander off whenever. Again, they are not paying any of us enough for us to make ends meet, and in my case this job is a short-term money loser, but I really want to leave this hornet’s nest alone. Financially, I’m doing this overwhelmingly for the Social Security contributions. These aren’t much, but they’re better than nothing. As a financial proposition, I can just kind of wander off whenever. I don’t want to lord it over them with this flexibility, but I have it if I need it.

As it is, I’m on the fence about the family reunion, since I’ve never met any of the other attendees, I’m a bit uncomfortable in novel social situations, and it’s being held on a summer weekend in an area that gets absolutely fucking swamped on summer weekends. Lodging is already scarce, even in Snohomish County, and it’s pretty much booked in the islands. On the flip side, I like the idea of getting some more payroll income when I have a ready opportunity to get some. At the same time, I don’t care for the idea of skipping out on an event out of town that my dad says I’d probably very much enjoy just because my bosses are getting up on their high horses about notice for time off from a job at which I sometimes earn less than twelve dollars a day. As a matter of principle, that just fucking sucks. I already make sacrifices in my quality of life to hold down this job, and I do so quietly and stoically because housed normies really don’t get homelessness, so I don’t like the dynamics of being asked to make additional sacrifices to accommodate my bosses in their quest for perfectly cheap and compliant labor.

I also don’t like conflict, so I don’t know where the fuck that leaves me if I try to take a stand. Mother-in-Law may do something over-the-top in front of me again, separate from whether I have anyone’s permission or blessing to go yuk it up with my conveniently discovered family. I don’t want conflict over that, either, but it may want me. What’s at stake here is not a functional, healthy, appropriate workplace; it’s the reemergence of an utterly dysfunctional, unhealthy, inappropriate, intolerable one.

Even so, I recoil at the idea of using this as leverage. DiL and DiLH have enough trouble dealing with MiL in the best of circumstances, without my reminding them of what a dipshit she can be. By windward Pacific Northwest standards, this is the humility of St. Francis in Lent. The way to really get the goods out of one’s fellows up here is to go to the sidewalk seating area at a trendy restaurant in a heavily Jewish part of Northwest Portland, rudely panhandle the customers for some help getting something to eat, order the most expensive sandwich off the menu, and further embitch the bleeding hearts who performed this Judeo-Christian mitzvah by hovering over them in self-righteous ill humor for ten minutes while waiting for the waitress to present the gift of sammich.

I’m almost apologetic when I’m offered deposit bottles at rest areas around here, so I know I’m not doing charity right. Homegirl up in hella Northwest knows that it begins at home, and that being a roundly ugly bull dyke in a crappy track suit needn’t get in its way. If our nation could have An Army of One, there’s no reason to deny our parochial their Parish of One.

There’s no way the Ditzney Princess has given two minutes’ thought to any of this shit. Awareness is its own punishment. Some of us are embarrassed to work for Gobias Industries. Others of us aren’t embarrassed because it never occurs to us that we’re doing anything of the sort. *Checking the temperature and confirming that it is not too hot to put on a fine black leather jacket* Who’s “us,” Kemo Sabe? *Gillespie dismissed, with directions back to Stoner Avenue* I guess I work for us, then.

It’s not like we were hired to drive the Coast Starlight to Klamath Falls and if we don’t show up there may not be a train tonight. There’s actually money and benefits and shit for doing that. Railroad engineers and that entitled, sourpuss bull dyke up on Glisan name it and claim it. I do, too, if by “it” we mean however many deposit bottles I can fit into the falling-apart cardboard box on in the back seat of my car and a twenty-five-cent tip for doing hard labor that feeds this nation. Chaka Can Chaka Can. Dem shine George coin. Chaka Can. I feel for all the wrong things and people sometimes. Some of us are a few Ephesians shy of a 3:20. Joel Osteen isn’t, but he also doesn’t produce anything but the oil off his own face. One of the nice things about Catholicism is that the Liturgy of the Eucharist includes a mandatory shout-out to vineyard fruitboys and girls, in contrast to what evangelicals have to say about laborers in the vineyard, which is usually retarded, but even the worst bible-thumping fundy can’t hold a candle to the Clintons for an insufferable Vineyard story.

Martha Washington, pray for us.

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