Go shorty, it’s your Earth Day; we’re gonna party, like it’s your Earth Day

Ali G. once got Christie Todd Whitman to recite this bit of poetry in her capacity as an EPA administrator, and coming from her under his tutelage it was indeed poetic. Ali G. was one of the few public figures not only to discern but also to successfully apply the truly proper ways to approach self-important members of the White community. Although Whitman was always fairly down-to-earth for a daughter of the New Jersey Hunt Country, her gracious submission to a shitty Anglo-Jamaican rap number and a spurious but actually pertinent question about the possibility that whale shit pollutes the ocean was a rare opportunity to demonstrate that she wasn’t just another high hat from the upcountry. As I’ve said about the LCDS community, the Hunt Country is full of people who would benefit greatly from a reminder that they, too, are of the flesh, and Ash Wednesday, even for those who fancy themselves devout Catholics, just doesn’t get the job done like bullshit about whale shit. Whitman handled the whale dookie question about as well as anyone would, with a succinct comment to the effect that even though whales take huge dumps, the ocean is really yuge. The biggest. Elegant.

I can’t count the number of self-important upper-crust types from back east (including a Southerner here and there) who would have responded to a question like that with Giuliani-at-the-Al-Smith-Dinner levels of petulance and ill humor. American customs outside the strongly Millington for Sheriff parts of the South don’t encourage the address of these shitheads as m’lord or m’lady, so maybe all they have left to cling to so bitterly is their prissy, gratuitous, self-aggrandizing sense of high manners. This is why Americans didn’t start addressing the adult Jeff Sessions as “boy” nearly soon enough, and why if we are indeed a society that believes in second chances, we should start right now. That should fit neatly into our national treasury of conversion stories: “I was near thirty-five when I was convicted in my heart that it was wrong to call a neotenous, bigoted creep with planter pretensions ‘colonel’ or even ‘sir,’ as a fellow might address a peaceable sharecropper when passing him on the street.” It doesn’t because, well, Millington, what’s your twenty? The Attorney General is throwing furniture again. Rundel, grab your net; this one’s gonna be slimy.

One local elite from back east (Appalachian/fringe Midwest rust belt, really) who didn’t have his head all the way up his own ass on the maintenance of the social order was a college buddy with an almost Churchillian eloquence and an exceptionally bad case of the family eccentricity. Some friends once took him out to a strip club for his birthday, where the chorus line serenaded him with the go shorty birthday song (I have reasons for not frequenting these establishments) and a stripper pointed at her crotch and told him, “This is where babies come from, bitch!” (I have additional reasons). As my buddy related the story, “‘Excuse me?’ And she repeated, ‘This is where babies come from, BITCH!’ Yes, so I had been told; thank you for confirming my suspicions.” This dude has lately taken to haplessly trying to wine and dine amateur girls of loosely his class at fancy dinner joints on the Main Line, using comingled personal and parental allowance funds. The fair ladies in question routinely cancel on him but he doesn’t have the heart to call the restaurants and cancel his dinner reservations, so he calls the Insurance Schmuck over for a mandate instead. Heh. I think I spelled that correctly after all. He’d do better to hire sex workers, but given his experience with strippers, I can’t entirely blame him for thinking that they’re just about as insane as his family and friends.

I slept in my car last night and haven’t changed my clothes yet. I say “my car” because this week is the first in something like eighteen that I’ve had a car of my own. Super Civic’s replacement is a 2010 Focus from one of the shabbier but more reputable car lots in Merced. It had 89,600 on the odometer when I bought it, it runs nicely and handles very nicely, and I’ve gotten it up to 42 mpg on the highway. I paid a bit over $8,400 in all after the DMV and its state entourage took their pound of flesh. Why the fuck am I talking about my car all of a sudden? That’s a fair question, but it’s more relevant than it may look at first glance. My old highbrow crowd back east wouldn’t be caught dead with title to a used Focus. I’m not sure I’ll be caught live with it, either, since I bought the car on something of an impulse and had the paperwork mailed to my old address in Rancho, meaning that I may have to threaten management with legal action to successfully take delivery of my own US Mail. I lives here; can I come in and get that stuff and immediately leave again? The latest bit of middle-class shiznit that I’m lusting after is a PO Box at Fort Sutter. If one is available, six months’ rent will probably cost less than dinner with or (presumably) without the latest flaky chick in some Second Empire-ass Addams Family mansion in Radnor or some shit.

This weekend, I’m driving from Merced to Crescent City to at least start cleaning out my second storage unit. I had no desire to drive half the length and width of California during a total closure of 101 at the Mendocino-Humboldt county line due to a massive landslide; 101 in Northern Humboldt and Del Norte and 299 over from Redding are undergoing their own emergency debris removals, too. It’s a pain in the ass, but qualifying for a rental car without a credit card is even worse. I’ve finally been approved for one with my parents as cosigners, but the physical card is still either in production or in the mail to their house. Just as a matter of environmental principle I don’t like putting ultra-high mileage on cars when I could take public transportation part or all of the way instead, but in this case the perfect (someone else directly using the skies as a tailpipe sewer instead) is the enemy of the good (finally clearing out the storage unit and no longer paying $44 a month, increasing in June to $50, to rent the damn thing).

A great many of the middle and upper classes in this country don’t make the least effort. Some of these pretend to care about the environment, even deeply and passionately so. I find it impossible to decide whether the greenwashing hypocrites or the climate change deniers are ultimately worse. There’s no objective truth to any of their stances. One side is captivated by its own ritual fealty to science and the purchase of a dizzying variety of Veblen goods featuring state-of-the-art energy-saving technologies. In its zeal to save the earth (sic), this side promotes outright frauds, notably including carbon offsets in which someone is allegedly hired out of the kampong to plant endemic seedlings on the ruins of an abandoned palm oil plantation, totally sucking up all the carbon dioxide emitted by one’s flights to Costa Rica, because everyone knows that Indonesian business concerns have never engaged in corrupt practices and can reliably be remote-audited from Falls Church. The other side indignantly denies over a century of reputable hard science (the actual science, not the Nye/Tyson metascience for mass audiences, which one fucking loves in the name of science that one hardly understands), calling it an elaborate conspiracy and hoax, because admitting that, yeah, burning millennia worth of sequestered carbon and releasing it into the atmosphere with no meaningful recapture process might destabilize climates in unpredictable ways, would get in the way of the full enjoyment of crew cab pickups and dirt bikes and shit. Yeah, that was unwieldy, but you can republish it with your own editing if it’s that important to you.

It’s hard to believe that either side believes its own talking points. If they’re serious, they have to be nuts. This says some extremely bad things about our national leadership, but it should come as no surprise. Of all the poster children the climate change activist movement could have promoted, why the fuck did it ever tolerate Al Gore? Uh, yeah, we all need to have fewer children and drive less, so here’s a guy who has four kids, flies all over hell every week lecturing grandees about climate change, and lives in a mansion the size of a small warehouse. The denialist side is represented by equally ridiculous shitheads who effectively argue that there’s no way they’d get sickened or killed if a Peterbilt’s exhaust pipe were hooked up to their home HVAC systems. Okay, then, I’m sure James Inhofe won’t object to my rolling a dumpster full of yard debris, cow pies, and spent batteries into his living room and setting it on fire with a liberal dose of lighter fluid. Oh, he’d object to the liberalism? Good to know.

The sanctimony from both sides is over the top. The denialists use kooky interpretations of some of the most dubious passages in the Bible to bolster their nonsense: it doesn’t matter because Jesus is coming back soon anyway (gaudeamus igitur for the Junior Anti-Sex League) (alternately, let’s have this man we revere clean up after us like we’re toddlers who just dumped Costco bulk scrambled eggs all over the carpet), the Book of Genesis is a math textbook, there was only ever one Flood, ad nauseam. The climate change promoters (construe as you wish) smugly quote passages from a Bible that a great many of them avowedly disbelieve, their point being that their opponents are piss-poor stewards of God’s creation. They’re right in exactly the same way that Rob Ford would have been right to warn Amy Winehouse about the dangers of hard liquor and cocaine. No, that isn’t quite it; they’re right in the same way that the mayor would have been right to call the cabbie’s daughter a dirty drunken crack slut.

Of course, the worst side effects of this orgy of consumption fall on the poor. It falls onto Waffle House waitresses living in falling-down two-bedroom ranch houses in a neighborhood between the freeway and the refinery where raw sewage backs up into the streets every time it rains and everyone has cancer by the age of thirty. The political class in this country does not live in such neighborhoods, and it does not socialize with their residents. The local elites in the same counties don’t socialize with or listen to these poors, either, although they make a lot of noise about speaking on behalf of all salt-of-the-earth American Christians.

Earth Day, then, is one of our national gifts as a post-Lenten society. If ever there was a spirit of voluntary, thoughtful asceticism in the US mainstream, it was nowhere to be found by my time. Self-denial is left to the desperately poor, for whom it is a matter of survival. It isn’t really so much self-denial, then, as other-denial. New Orleans celebrates the hell out of Mardi Gras, generally on a schedule independent of the parallel liturgical schedule of the Roman Catholic Church (hence New Orleans, not New Amsterdam or New York). Lent, one assumes, is neither big nor easy, and in truth, for those who observe it, or who try from time to time, it can be plenty long and hard. It certainly doesn’t fit marketing schedules as well as Fat Tuesday, the late winter feast, followed by Easter, the early spring feast.

We postmodern can add Earth Day, which isn’t formally a feast but is a perfectly serviceable Easter proxy for the unbelieving and the unobservant, a celebration perfectly consistent with Crystal Harris’s calendar of fun stuff. For the lucky among us, every day is Earth Day. For the unlucky, it’s Ash Wednesday and Good Friday all goddamn year long. One class does nothing but feast; another does nothing but fast. Any prudent person with even the dimmest sense of vaguely paranormal power would expect some form of damnation as a consequence for this arrangement. In the fogs of the not too distant past, we had a springtime feast to recover from a winter of privation and quiescence (verging on hibernation in many villages) and to replenish our energy for a summer of hard, hard work; in our own time, we have Picnic Day.

We are alienated from everything. Statistics show US Catholics taking more communion and less confession; one guess as to which one is a free snack. I don’t mean to write a Second Book of Isaiah about how we’re all just a bunch of vicious shitheads, or maybe I do. The story of a rich man, a camel, and the eye of a needle comes to mind. If I were one, I’d use my discretionary income to buy Steely Dan deep tracks on vinyl, not Fiddler on the Fucking Roof. I’d have to buy the record player, too, and housing close enough to proper shack size to safely house it. And myself. I’m in way the hell better socioeconomic shape than tens of millions of Americans, but I’ve still spent most of my adulthood surrounded by frightening low-class chaos that threatens to consume me.

Is it any wonder that an haute bourgeoisie that refuses to observe the common fasts also refuses to listen to the poor when they speak? I’m relieved whenever I can get a word in edgewise about the chaos I’ve seen and lived. I’m relieved whenever I can get my White People to take a break from their fun stuff and listen to real stuff that is unfun. A Hugh Hefner bimbo of the quarter is as fitting a herald of our times as anyone. That’s about as serious and mature as we seem to be. As I’ve said before, adulting is hard, but like Kajieme Powell, I’m taking a stab at it. Lord have mercy on us, because that last sentence was more mature than a number of entire American political movements. At least it wasn’t about Harry Potter, and I can’t say that about the Democratic Party.

Calling the United States a Protestant nation is a slur upon Protestantism. Calling us a Christian nation is a Piss Christ slur upon all of Christianity. The best I can say is that we’re at a really, really bad developmental stage that we refuse to recognize and can’t be bothered to transcend. The Benedict Option is about a lot more than two groups of assholes having a court fight over whether one of them will be forced to bake the wedding cake for the other. That’s just more national immaturity and petulance. I guess I have more common cause with Rod Dreher than you or he might think, at least when he isn’t bitching about Ariel Castro’s suicide as a failure of Orthodox penance. I’m living a more Lenten life this Easter afternoon just because I haven’t yet gotten around to food today than I find entire neighborhoods and congregations living during Lent, and that’s sad, because I suck at Lent. It means, I suspect, that many of us are fundamentally alienated from ourselves, just as we are alienated from our neighbors and our natural surroundings.

We live unbalanced, disordered lives. We keep the absolving forms of confession and indulgence in our carbon offsets, but we scrap whatever true repentance these old forms once inspired in us. It’s only fun stuff if we get automatic forgiveness and don’t have to change anything, after all. It isn’t as much fun to be an equal to the underclass on Yolobus as it is to lord it over an ever so slightly higher class of Help on Uber, where every day is Jeeves Fetch the Car Day. Judging from RT ridership stats and the cell phone lot at the Sacramento Airport last night, Sacramentans love them some Lyft. The airport put out a low-capacity portapotty at the cell phone lot for the jitney army. It’s always nice to see a government that spent a couple billion dollars on airport terminal expansion and a new basketball arena set up the conditions for a crowd-sourced Pot-o-Shit Friend situation on public property.

Environmentalism and social justice my fat white ass.

Small-town values

The only people in our extended family to have owned and operated a restaurant are also, respectively: 1) the only one who is constitutionally unable to properly wash dishes by hand (i.e., actually get them clean); and, 2) the only one to allow rats to beshit an active food processing facility and rent-paying tenants to shit wherever and however they wanted because he failed to provide them indoor plumbing.

Why do I recacapitulate this, for lack of a better term, shit? It’s my story, too, because the shitbirds invited me into it and fucked it all up too catastrophically to disinvite me now, and there’s a perversely cathartic release in remembering that a bunch of grotesquely filthy bastards has serially endangered the public health by improperly disposing of human waste on a property whose operation I continue to fund, in reminding myself that in spite of this bullshit I still haven’t taken legal action in my capacity as an investor of record, and also I don’t shit in trash cans. Other things about my life may be in frightening disarray, but that’s a start.

More disturbingly, there are broader lessons to be learned from this clusterfuck. If small business claims that it’s being strangled by red tape, Ghomeshi-style, it might be a good idea to make sure that the small businesses in question are run by people with minimal standards of personal and corporate responsibility instead of taking everything a bunch of self-important blowhards say about their entire sector of the economy at face value. Maybe the health department really is trying to make sure that we don’t get food poisoning. On the face of it, why the hell should I trust small business as an institution when the Family Shrew and, God help us, Joe Dirtbag are how I first became personally familiar with small business? If they’re speaking for it and claiming their involvement in it as a point of pride, why should I not demand that the full force of the regulatory state be brought down on any small business that appears to be the least bit negligent or unethical? Or, to be more charitable to JD and FS, why should I not believe that they ran a more or less clean and safe restaurant only because their failure to keep it scrupulously clean would have resulted in its forced closure by county officials in a matter of months? The latter scenario, which seems to be the most accurate, concedes that they’re responsible enough to abide by common decency and minimal diligence when the regulatory state forces them into compliance; that is, that they’re filthy and derelict when left to their own devices but not unwaveringly intransigent deadbeats every time the civil authorities order their compliance with duly enacted laws governing their business conduct.

The key word there is “every time.” It was only as I was writing the last paragraph that I remembered Joe Dirtbag’s avowed membership in the tax-optional business community. That bastard’s life is a blooming onion of rediscovered immorality. His restaurant failed to account for and remit meals tax as required by municipal law, so when it got into trouble, Joe Dirtbag spit out a jumble of post-hoc justifications, all of them evasive and dishonest beyond a reasonable doubt, for lowballing the city treasury. As unethical business practices go, this was exceptionally flagrant (mofo went on the record in the local papers, accusing the city of misappropriating the tax money, as if that was a justification for tax-dodging), but even so, it’s hard to believe stories of small business as a wellspring of personal and civic virtue when one’s own exposure to small business features such a turducken of sleaze. It makes ethical behavior in any sphere of life look incidental to entrepreneurship, at best.

What inspired this repeat visit to Pot-o-Shit Friend and friends was a conversation with a restaurateur in Nevada City who asserted that none of the local homeless were destitute families with children because all of them were derelict drug users. Hearing this from a small businessman, even from one who was exceptionally gracious in his dealings with customers, uncorked the old brew of grievances that I nurse against Joe Dirtbag and the Family Shrew, in particular the ones having to do with their abuses of trust and goodwill in their capacity as entrepreneurs. Somewhat to my surprise, this semi-short retelling by way of context was so dispiriting that it killed my writing juju for most of the next three weeks, especially for subjects involving small business. (Whole Foods is big business.) There were other things going on in my life, most of them irrelevant to small business and its hostility to the poor or wherever the hell I was trying to take my screed about the prejudiced comments of this restaurateur in Nevada City.

That said, it’s probably for the best that I’ve slept on it for most of a month; hopefully I’m a bit more clearheaded as a result. The mythology of private enterprise, and of small business in particular, holds that those undertaking it are burdened by responsibilities and risks whose enormities non-entrepreneurs cannot fully grasp, and that as a consequence non-entrepreneurs should respect, nay, admire, entrepreneurs for taking on such burdens. We should, to borrow an exceptionally unctuous turn of phrase from what may be an exceptionally unctuous age, thank them for their service.

This seems at first glance like a basic courtesy, but just as many in the thank-you-for-your-service crowd live in a deep ignorance of the military that allows them to idolize it in ways that its own personnel would find stunningly foolish, reflexive respect for small business as an institution and for those undertaking it relies on the gullibility and ignorance of people who either have not had bad experiences with small businesses or have construed any such bad experiences in ways that do not blame small businessmen or their businesses. The demand that the rest of us respect small business owners assumes that the latter are consistently conscientious and morally straight. (Hey there, Chester!) It doesn’t take very many encounters with the owner-operators of ghetto corner stores to become convinced that this is an unfairly positive prejudice.

My own dealings with Joe Dirtbag and the Family Shrew, who didn’t generally seem like such bottomfeeders in their restaurant management, are powerful examples of immorality in small business. They often seemed to don entrepreneurship as one of their ostentatious identities, and when they did so they often carped about unreasonable meddling from out-of-touch government functionaries. If they had just been obnoxious in their assertion of a reasonable grievance their stance might have been justifiable, but then JD pulled the taxdodging stunt and turned the farm into a feudal manor, effectively beyond the reach of the law because no one wanted to involve The Man (until I got too fed up with it all to keep humoring this bullshit artistry).

The frank truth is that if the farm were subject to regular health and building inspections it would not be in such a state of filth and disrepair. That would be a government intrusion in the same way that the Red Bluff Police effected a brief government intrusion of the room next to mine because I had called 911 to report a likely battery in progress, followed by a brief government intrusion of my room to take an informal statement from me and quietly mention that the guys next door had been drinking. There are clear public safety and welfare interests at stake in these cases: not letting meatheads brawl in a hotel all night and risk killing one another in disputes over gentlemen’s loans (sic), not letting rodents infest food processing facilities, that kind of thing. Hearing a small businessman claim strangulation by red tape and then let rats shit all over the floor of his winery for months on end suggests that much of the opposition to regulation is motivated not by a desire for liberty and the pursuit of happiness but by a desire for codified privilege at the expense of other parties, both witting and unwitting. How do I forget that I’ve heard complaints about intrusive government from Pot-o-Shit Friend’s landlord? That’s easy: I don’t. And I probably shouldn’t.

Derelict traveling kids screwing around in nice Gold Country towns all summer are a convenient foil for diligent small business owners who are tied down by all their grunt work, whether they feel like it or not. They’re too convenient. Traveling kids and disheveled addicts are popularly representative of the homeless, to my own disadvantage, but they are not statistically representative. Traveling kids showing up in Nevada City with their dogs and their packs are a prominent annoyance, but I’d be surprised that they’re even a seasonal majority of the Nevada County homeless. There’s no way that laziness and drug addiction are the only ways to become homeless in Nevada County, which has a high cost of living and a high reliance on service-sector jobs, many of them poorly compensated, for its economy (sic, mostly). Let’s leave aside arguments that there’s more dignity in loafing around the Mother Lode while loaded (I totally didn’t spell any of that correctly on the first try) than in obsequiously catering to affluent tourists from the Bay Area, or not: there is something to be said for not doing a song and dance for a pittance just because the local Chamber of Commerce has declared tourism to be the economy of the future, and there’s something to be said for ruining the Beautiful Cookbook vibe for the overly precious, especially when this ruination can be accomplished by one’s mere day-to-day existence.

This is especially true in tourist towns that cater to visitors who are pathologically indolent, if only for the weekend: who the hell are any of them to complain that someone else is a bum for being indolent? Ad hoc remedies to this supposed problem quickly descend into equal protection violations (vagrancy laws, etc.), although not as quickly in jurisdictions as avowedly woke as Nevada County. Nevada City’s businesses seem to be mostly on their own here, left to ban large backpacks, sleeping rolls, and the like from their premises in their piecemeal effort to break up the hair clog. If the bleeding-heart liberals want to feed the vagrants, or the pigeons, it’s their personal decision, nothing that the Chamber can override in a fit of reactionary pique.

This bullshit, I assume, intensifies in the summer high season, causing me to note that ain’t none of them out picking blueberries. That’s a real economy; selling energy crystals to lace-curtain hippies is not. The trolley line has been gone since 1924, so Mr. Rogers hasn’t got a thing to dispatch to pick these crackers up. Back when the line was in service, the trolleys stopped at a place called–I swear, it’s on the maps; look it up–Town Talk. Yeah, Nevada County scares me a little bit. If anyone deserves an exemption from the town talk (TM) about lazy fuckheads who have drug problems and won’t get a job, it’s not the tourists but the more marginal bums who are too poor to work for a living. I have a bachelor’s degree from a liberal arts college, and I get into situations where I can’t afford to work for a living. That isn’t as easy to look up, but it’s no less true. As I’ve said before, some of us, we ain’t hardly touched dem shine ricebowl, and we know it. As I’ve also said, we’re all in the midst of a fourth-turning economic collapse that still hasn’t been brought to an end, professionally massaged U3 numbers notwithstanding.

Within a day of hearing from the restaurateur that there are no deserving poor among Nevada City’s homeless, I read a police blotter item in the local paper about a 911 call from a woman who told the dispatcher that her baby daddy was housing their children in a broken-down van in the parking lot of a McDonald’s in Grass Valley. So, yeah, the homelessness problem doesn’t affect families with children. Glad we cleared that up. I couldn’t tell from the blotter what all was wrong with the father, meaning that I couldn’t rule out drugs, nor could I exclude the possibility that the baby momma hallucinated the circumstances, but I can say for sure that that kind of thing does happen to entire families. Traveling kids are the overtly homeless; families living in vans are the underbelly of the homelessness problem. Where the traveling kids have no shame, families going to the poorhouse which is the automobile have nothing but shame. The most deserving homeless include the most discreet, because the discretion is motivated by an intense desire not to draw negative attention. I know this personally because I’ve fucking lived it. The actual homelessness of circuit-riding hippies can only be determined on a case-by-case and week-by-week basis; I wouldn’t be surprised to learn of ones whose housing situations have been more stable than mine, but I try to bathe and change into clean clothes regularly, so appearances can be deceiving.

This may sound like a dear-hearts-and-gentle-people admonition not to judge a book by its cover, which is not my goal but whatever. If there weren’t so much ignorant prejudice–and I mean this is the most literal, specific sense–about drug users and the homeless, we’d have less trouble integrating the marginal into mainstream communities. I got the sense that the restaurateur above didn’t really know anything about drug users, like how to accurately identify them. I may be wrong, but he seemed pretty sheltered. It’s reasonable of me to trust my own experiences with tweakers, stoners, alkies, and junkies over what a prejudicial stranger living on the Whitey Rez told me about how they’re all homeless because they’re hooked on drugs. For one thing, I usually find traveling kids pretty fucking sober, and I’d rather give walking-around money to a hard case who could really use some damn drugs right now. Will he spend it on drugs? Well, that’s kind of the point, right? Get back to me after you’ve personally watched a junkie score some dope, shoot up, and stop jittering almost immediately. Yes, they should be given housing and meals, too. It’s cheaper and more humane that way than having drug users end up in emergency rooms for exposure to the elements as well as overdoses, since we all know that hospitals totally are not full of control drugs or staffed by anyone who’s ever taken a little something-something from the crash cart for a quick pick-me-up or passed a whiner the good stuff for a half hour’s peace. As my grandmother calmly rated her pain to the LPN in pursuit of Vicodin, “It’s about a four.” (Lynn Majors is a solid eleven, and that’s a clinical fact.)

No, I’m not saying that I’ma go score me some drugs, or that you should do likewise. I’ve seen people get scary fucked up on hard drugs, and I do not recommend it. But vilifying drugs and their users in a society whose combination of instability, desperation, and purposelessness so strongly encourages escapist recourse to drugs and the community of other drug users is insane. Giving addicts necessities that they can’t readily sell for drug money, like a place to live and regular free meals can at least mitigate the bad effects of drug abuse. (Who the hell would buy a stolen refrigerator or a plate of church food from some oddball hawking shit on the street?)

We can’t judge our way out of this problem when we’ve largely judged our way into it. The worship of positive law as an omnipotent fetish is for people who have not recently spent time on the Albuquerque bus system. Holla atcha cracka, ’cause it ain’t me, lawd, it ain’t me.

Yeah, I guess Whole Foods would carry that

Whole Foods is a key institution for Tempe’s White community, including many nonwhite members who have dual membership in the Community. You don’t have to be white to be White, and you don’t have to be White to be white: compare, for example, Calvin Williams (vocation: law enforcement; avocation: golf) with his fellow Ohioan Ben Roethlisberger (vocation: FOOTBALL; avocation: rape).

Whole Foods was inevitable in a city that has two Starbucks stores well within half a mile of each other on, I shit ye not, Rural Road. The intersectionally homeless and unemployed would be able to keep the lobbies occupied in both stores, but it’s the rest of y’all fools who are keeping that shit in business for us. Not having Frappuccino money is how I have whoring money, or something like that. Both of these companies are officially woke, and God knows the cheap stuff straight out of the pot at Starbucks gives a cracker no option but to #StayWoke. Whole Foods, however, is significantly more obnoxious. Starbucks makes sense for anyone who wants to get a quick cup of coffee at a price that isn’t clinically insane, or an entire day of discount wifi. Whole Foods makes sense for those who are too stuck up for Safeway. If little Taylor and Bailey just absolutely need 365 product lines in their dinners because conventional processed foods are poison, *very Jeff Foxworthy voice* you might be a yuppie douchebag. Of course stewardship unto the Seventh Generation would be the ancient Indian legend cherished by these dipshits when they aren’t driving their children to lacrosse practice. Monty Robinson doesn’t need to dress up like a preppy asshole and run around with a stupid net on a stick in order to maintain First Nations traditions of reckless aggression; he, like lacrosse nation, lives in the motor age.

Sauce Boss on a bicycle would kill fewer passing motorists than Sauce Boss in a Jeep, but it’s illegal to bike all the way to the Whole Foods at Rural and Baseline. The our-parking-lot-is-our-manor bullshit and the threats to prosecute stray bicyclists, etc. for criminal trespass prove anew that Whole Foods’ environmental correctness is thoroughly bogus. If that company cared about the environmental externalities of its business model, it simply would not do business with landlords who post signs threatening to have its customers prosecuted for bicycling through the parking lot at one of its stores. That’s all there is to it. It would not tolerate lawful-evil assertions of overbearing positive law by bourgeois supremacists scheming to redline the poors by making one of their main forms of transportation unnecessarily inconvenient. But that was never the target demographic. Whole Foods seeks customers of a certain class, not of a certain other class that is cordially invited to take that shit back to South Phoenix. This is why it agrees to do business with landlords who post blanket bans on the use of bicycles on their property, under penalty of criminal law. It isn’t about warding off packs of teens who zip around and do wheelies all afternoon; that’s easy enough to stop by telling them to take it somewhere else. Whole Foods has a market waiting to be exploited in the best place, aside from Florida, to find municipal government by homeowner’s association, and frankly this market doesn’t look too concerned about the welfare or convenience of the carless local poor.

Your lenses aren’t quick enough to adjust to this essay’s next Transition(s). This particular Whole Foods has a large selection of wine–ha! I initially wrote that as “whine!”–for the liberal enjoyment of its White People. A SWPL store catering to inferred lushes who joke about the drinking problems that they don’t really have lol jk is no surprise. What floored me was one particular wine, on discount at $10.99 from a list price of $11.99 (i.e., definitely good gettin’ drunk wine for the less-than-spendthrift affluent), whose makers promised to donate a portion of proceeds to fund microloans in the Third World. It was called OneHope, vinted by Bob Mondavi Jr. and marketed by some self-important do-gooders in Napa whose precise identities don’t really interest me since Napa isn’t one of my parts of California.

The whole concept is exquisitely White, even painfully so. Here’s something that a White Person was planning to drink immoderately anyway, but in this case another squad of White People have promised to do some accounting juju with the proceeds to fund African blessings of the rain or some shit (much like carbon offsets), so the White Person can live well and do good at the same time, just by being a woke wino. It might as well have materialized straight out of a TED Talk. Hell, it may already be a TED Talk, not that I’m looking that bullshit up when I could return to the backlog of Scott Simon sermons that I finally started listening to this evening. Guy Raz has a voice that makes me want to die, so of course he emcees TED Talks on NPR these days. The only thing missing from OneHope is a smartphone code that can be scanned for a free Uber ride. What else would one drink after a hopeless (heh) day of complaining on Twitter about how the City of Austin fucked one’s shit up by not allowing ridesharing services for South By Southwest?

This is a crowd that loves to talk about “feelings,” as in their being “sorry that you feel that way,” i.e., in a way that contradicts their own feelings, which are of course deeply informed by supreme objective rationality, so I guess I “feel” hesitant to trust these smarmy fucks for a hot second on account of my mostly financial reasons for sleeping on Amtrak. They venerate a comprehensive suite of cultural touchstones that I used to try to give the benefit of the doubt, even over my better judgment, just on the possibility that my own gut feeling was overly sensitive and shrill, until I realized that the constituent parts, no matter how objectively harmless they looked in isolation, did in fact cohere into a disgusting, intellectually and ethically bankrupt whole. It made no sense for Whole Foods, a leftists’ grocery chain, to be run by a sock-puppeteering blowhard from Texas who was always bitching about how unions are superfluous and counterproductive on account of his own great magnanimity as a captain of business. It makes all too much sense for a grocery store catering to neoliberals to be run in this fashion. Similarly, mass transit is dramatically better than ridehailing apps by every standard of civic stewardship, but a frighteningly wide swath of the Democratic Party’s current base has gravitated to Uber as one of its idols, in the truest biblical sense, conveniently ignoring the ongoing torrent of scandalous news about that exceptionally sleazy company. This is the shit that passes for the American left.

Microlending fits into this pattern perfectly. It started showing up fifteen or twenty years ago in bleeding-heart centrist rags of the sort that discreetly fail to question the fundamental moral legitimacy of multinational corporations because that might offend people (read: sponsors and the affluent sellout segments of their audiences, the ones with the discretionary income). The story was that the poor in the Third World had been shut out of capital markets that the affluent in the First World take for granted and that the foreign aid money meant to lift these poor bastards out of poverty had been looted by unsavories. Concern-trolling of the foreign aid budget was important to these stories: nonmilitary foreign aid made up a tiny percentage of the US federal budget and a modest portion of the budgets of our wokest European allies, and much of the measly nonmilitary foreign aid that the USG was providing was (and still is) administered by CIA assets (hence most of the unsavories). The military aid to right-of-center juntas and tinpot dictators (direct allowances for unsavories) dwarfed the bleeding-heart budget that some of the same foreign crooks stole less completely, but the death squad budget was never put up for serious adult debate or subjected to the prominent scrutiny that was given to foreign aid programs.

The gist of the argument for microlending was that feel-good direct aid was being wasted by shitty governments, so the solution was for Western capitalists and their westernized allies to set up shop as usurers in countries with weak civil societies and weak, corrupt regulatory regimes. It was never put so bluntly, of course. Instead, it was presumed that these governments would always be crooked, meaning that the private sector would be able to regulate its own dealings with foreign borrowers better than these borrowers’ governments would ever serve their interests as constituents. It was also assumed that the supposed beneficiaries of these loans–the borrowers, not the usurers–had had enough charity and now needed a hand up, not a handout. Assuming that the complaints about the in-country looting of foreign aid money were accurate, the beneficiary population of this supposed charity hadn’t actually been receiving its advertised measure of charity because the funds had been stolen. Stories were circulated about piss-poor seamstresses in shithole villages being lent a few hundred dollars apiece to buy some extra sewing machines and become hella entrepreneurial. These stories slickly omitted the possibility of charities shipping the same equipment overseas and donating it directly to the target beneficiary population without pain of usury, with the option to slip the odd customs officer an extra twenty to expedite the shipment.

The potential for imperial abuse under color of law was huge. It was buried just beneath the surface of these stories. At the time, I fleetingly wondered whether the borrowers were risking indenture for amounts of money they couldn’t afford in the event that their businesses were less lucrative than they’d projected. It seems that this is exactly what happened to many microborrowers.

It’s reasonable to say that every fucking thing the neoliberals have touched they’ve turned into slimy shit. It’s equally reasonable to dismiss with prejudice every scheme and theory that shows traces of their influence for being irredeemably corrupted by their influence. Their work should be treated as fruit of the poisonous tree, every bit as much as the cultural output of communism has ever been treated. They may not have an equally bad track record, but they’re awfully close. In some respects, they’re even worse: the Khrushchev Politburo directed a decade or so of Soviet world leadership in civil aviation; even Brezhnev, a puffed-up geezer, managed not to grievously fuck up the Tu-144 project with meddlesome central planning. One of the best things that can be said of Elon Musk, a serial government sugar baby, is that his companies have roughly the same relationship to the US government that Tupolev and Ilyushin had to the Soviet government, but he’s less honest about it. Most of what the neoliberal project has produced is a battery of overlapping cons, rackets, and lies.

Criticizing these predatory scams is a great way to annoy cool people with disposable income, often the same ones who assume that Bill Gates is profoundly charitable because he has a foundation and that Warren Buffett is totally aboveboard. That motherfucker is a billionaire who takes his grandchildren out to Dairy Queen once a month and was audiorecorded by NPR haplessly trying to order an Egg McMuffin by describing its ingredients to the drive-thru cashier. Dude’s a phony, just like Holden Caulfield predicted. NPR wanted America to believe that a man detail-oriented enough to personally run a multibillion-dollar private equity firm was too much of a doddering old coot to know the menu shorthand at a restaurant where he regularly dines. I’d like to see proof that a team of investment analysts couldn’t equal Berkshire Hathaway’s performance for $50,000 plus benefits apiece per year.

Yes, I’d like to see someone prove this negative. I can understand paying an aeronautical engineer more per hour than I make picking blueberries, because engineering aircraft takes mad skills, needs to be done exactly right, and when it is done exactly right it yields a bitchin’ plane. I cannot understand why anyone who talks the story of neoliberalism for a living should not be scavenging chow mein out of a dumpster for dinner and sleeping under the Cross-Bronx Expressway. Substance abuse isn’t enough to deserve ending up living a life like that, but putting poor bastards out on the streets because they didn’t learn how to polish their bullshit properly and succeed in the knowledge economy damn well is.

Las Vegas is getting the Raiders. Can it get the mass-casualty slum fires, too?

The Oakland city government, one of the most troubled in California, spent decades being extorted by its football team, the Raiders (heh, I initially wrote “the Raders”), for special concessions at the expense of police services for the citizens of its violent ghettos, until this year, when the Raiders finally extorted a better competing suite of old boys’ gibs from the governments in Clark County, Nevada, which claimed to be too insolvent to fund the public schools under their jurisdiction.

This will allow city and county governments whose constituents live in storm drains to cater to what is probably the most execrable fan base in the NFL. Raiders Nation is a raging white trash fire. A sports league that fields both of its New York teams at the most famous entertainment venue in New Jersey had the discourtesy to charter a football franchise expressly representing the East Bay practically straight across the Bay from a much more widely beloved existing franchise at Candlestick Park, with predictably awful results. Oddly for a region where so many people wouldn’t put up with a B+, nobody gives a shit about the A’s. The Raiders, on the other hand, are overtly trashy enough in their iconography and geographically specific enough to a reputedly downmarket sector of the Bay Area to serve as a lodestone for every unwashed shithead from Fremont to Stockton to Crescent City. Having lived in Philadelphia and listened to Phillies fans all but call Ryan Howard Butterfingers for his fielding skills at times when he was hitting homers every game, I can say that what I’ve seen of Raiders fans is worse than what I’ve seen of any Philly fan base. And forget Chicago: da guys rootin’ for *DA BEARS* may have been idiots, but they were good-natured idiots. The Raiders manage to be the auspices for cholo shorties who look like they’re of a mind to shank you right here, right now and whitey meatheads who look ready to grab a length of scrap rebar from the nearest building demolition site and bludgeon you to death in the parking lot for looking at them sideways (or at their women, but of course). One of the last games played at the late Candlestick before the Santa Clara Forty-Niners moved to their whatthefuckular new digs over by Great America was a friendly (sic), if I’m not mistaken, against the Raiders, which resulted in a transbay tussle in the stands bad enough for the league to cut the game short and cancel repeat performances for the foreseeable future.

The Bay Area stands out among American urban areas for having had its football fans geographically cleaved into one that is mostly kinda sorta respectable and another that perpetually nurses grievances for being misunderstood by condescending elites just because it’s a bunch of overtly trashy caterwauling thugs. To add injury to insult, the latter team, whose presence has encouraged every sauntering dipshit with a deliberately untreated anger management problem to style himself as a viking marauder, spent decades extorting or trying to extort massive, lavish handouts from a city government that is notoriously unable (or unwilling) to provide adequate police, fire, and social services to its constituents. Requests by sports teams for free anything from the Oakland municipal or Alameda County governments are scandalous. In less than half a year, Oakland has had two mass-casualty fires in illegal residential rentals. The first was the Ghost Ship Fire, which killed 36 people who were doing an extra-seedy Rent LARP in a postindustrial deathtrap owned by the “poverty of self worth” shithead. Just this week, another three people were killed in a fire at their “transitional housing” flophouse, a property in such extreme disrepair that neighbors had been filing code complaints against it for years and a fire inspector had ordered its landlord to repair immediately within the preceding week. The identity of the owner, Keith Kim, suggests that Community-Korean relations are bad in the ghetto (in the ghetto) for reasons tending to justify the non-Reginald Denny aspects of the Rodney King riots. A minister who knew tenants at the transitional flophouse mentioned that it was a crucial stepping stone for ex-cons coming home to Oakland, implying (who could have guessed?) that the CDCR has been releasing its inmates with utterly useless reentry services. Ex-cons of which race, for the most part? Hint: rhymes with “shack.”

Now that Las Vegas has bought out Oakland’s fin-dom concession to the Raiders, Clark County’s citizens can look forward to the same callously deficient public services that the residents of Alameda County’s poorer areas have heretofore enjoyed. I don’t envy the civic-minded or vulnerable among them at all; they’ve just been screwed raw by a noisy and influential minority of their worst neighbors. Hell, Clark County government services are already spotty enough to compete with Oakland’s for civic dereliction, as the storm drain crew can attest, but a fresher hell awaits those living aboveground, too, as their governments raid (heh) the treasury for circus money at the expense of such things as bread. Johannes Mehserle was never the one running the Kwesi Millington for Sheriff committee; it was always the assholes who were the only ones to turn out to vote, along with the elected officials who never saw the need to appeal to anyone who wanted something other than sports subsidies from their governments. So now I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the Bay, watchin’ Rundel do his thang all day, but Fish Man ain’t worth shit in a city that still doesn’t have Benjamin Montgomery “Sauce Boss” Robinson in its Uber driver pool. White Lives Matter, too, friends.

What’s that? It stops being funny when bougie lives are the ones at risk? Why, yes, do go to the bad parts of Oakland to preach your word. Yes, do go forth and #CommunicateToCreate your own safe space with that message.

The West Valley Special, and I do mean “special”

Mormons have a reputation for wholesome, edifying living, and also for valuing education. Some of the least fucked up sexual fetishes in the Americas feature LDS MILF’s, and BYU is legit. So I don’t have a prayer of explaining the Salt Lake City light rail system. It isn’t that a retarded woman chatted me up on a platform; that happened, too, but as retards go, she was pretty well-adjusted (e.g., able to take nonverbal cues better than many normies and end our chat gracefully). Besides, Mormons are as good as anyone at taking care of their ‘tards. What blew me away was the succession of five other, much less functional, fellow passengers who blessed me with their company over the course of three hours earlier in the afternoon. As Fred Rogers always said, “Hello, neighbor!” Try to put yourself in at least two pairs of other men’s shoes and imagine a neighborhood trolley, or, worse, a neighborhood, populated by neighborly beauties like these:

1) A fat, slovenly woman of about forty with no volume control on her voice who asked a deadheading train operator, “How do yous steer these things?” The operator, who had just finished his shift and was catching his daily ride back to the yard, was patient enough to explain how the train runs on rails. Gee, you don’t fucking say. Hint 1: Rhymes with “might fail” conductor school. Hint 2: Rhymes with “Trax.”

2) A young man who sauntered onto the train wearing a hoodie and pajama bottoms—at a quarter to four on a Monday afternoon, with his slightly better dressed girlfriend in tow. Let’s call him the Marginally Attached Gentleman.

3) Another fat, slovenly lady who made a fist, punched a sheet of green paper, partially folded the sheet back up into its very neat two-inch squares, put the paper into her duffelbag, and then blew a series of extra-farty raspberries.

4) The latter thick bitch’s boyfriend, a fat, slovenly (duh) dude with a bushy beard and a receding-hairline instamullet, who was wearing an extremely shabby old red-and-black knockoff motorcycle jacket over a secondhand Batman T-shirt.

5) A she-tweaker from the intersectional tobacco/substance abuse/mental health community, dressed in Uggs and sagging sweatpants, her hair cohering into emergent whitey dreads, who convulsively took off her Uggs, carressed the long-dead butt of a Camel, moaned desperate nonsense at anyone who made fleeting eye contact (my mistake), and forlornly berated a bouquet of plastic flowers that she’d pulled from a Wendy’s takeout bag.

Salt Lake City proper, in spite of its being the site of the LDS Church’s headquarters and the focal point of its holy land, is Utah’s most notoriously gentile city. But this doesn’t explain any of my trolley losers except the She-Tweaker. She boarded downtown, Sally don’t you even think about it. The rest of them were from South of Eden. Number One, the fat lady with family in Lakewood (it figures), made her scene on the way to West Valley Central. The other three were aboard the inbound train from Draper by the time we left Murray, with the Marginally Attached Gentleman and his (marginally) better half on board by Sandy. There are Mormons who regard Salt Lake City beyond the Temple precincts as something akin to Sodom, but these fine Utards all have connections in more Napoleonic parts of the valley. Maybe it’s by strategic political design that the light rail stops short of American Fork. FrontRunner, the more expensive heavy rail line, runs all the way from Ogden to Provo on all days but the Sabbath, and at surprisingly good service levels for a new system in a middling metropolitan area, but its fare schedule may be steep enough to keep it from serving as a loser cruiser and bringing the undesirables into the proper breeder suburbs. If you’re still in your fucking PJ’s during evening rush hour, you’re probably interested in the cheap train.

But I’m spitballing, for the most part. Beyond the Salt Lake City limits, the entire state has a strongly Mormon ambient culture. That’s the default setting. Salt Lake City is an outpost of mainstream US urban culture, but its southern suburbs are not. They’re too locally rooted and idiosyncratic for that. Hell, even the nice parts of SLC are Sweet Jesus and the Golden Tablets Mormon by the gentile standards of, say, Denver.

If a Mormon sense of maybe don’t get totally fucked up on hard drugs and dress like an incorrigibly derelict ragamuffin in public doesn’t rub off on the poors, what the hell will? Utah has the lowest Gini Coefficient of any state in the Union, Salt Lake and Utah (?) Counties have one of the healthiest metropolitan job markets in the country, and still there’s all this crazy white trash on the train. I forgot to say so explicitly: this was a vibrant diveristy of white people and nothing but white people, none of them White. There was a variety of racial minorities on the light rail, too, but they weren’t nearly as nuts. It was exclusively the crackers that were cracking me up. The cracker traditionally cracks up intransitively as well—that’s how the name came about—but in our case the dysfunction may have nothing at all to do with Scotland. These losers could be 100% Dutch for all I know; there’s certainly a lot of high Anglo-Saxon blood floating around in the local gene pool.

They look unreachable. I don’t get the feeling that they’re reacting to or rebelling against Mormonism. They aren’t emos or goths. It isn’t a stance to get a rise out of the squares. They’re too disinhibited not to be earnest. Irony is beyond their capacity. And isn’t it ironic, like ra-a-a-a-a-ain/on your wedding day, that the fat lady who didn’t understand trains (which one steers) has so many relatives in the metro area that raises and harbors the most well-adjusted, physically fit, stylish, naturally confident fat women I’ve ever encountered. She declared her people in Woodinville and Auburn, too, not that anyone on the train asked. I must have been in the valley of the damned for my local connection to the Sound to be a postureless, graceless loudmouth with no sense of style and a slow toddler’s understanding of how trains work.

And she may have been the least deranged of the whole lot. The Marginally Attached Gentleman looked like bad news; a society whose men comport themselves in his fashion is surely on the skids. The She-Tweaker was terrible news. The two lovers were just fucking uncouth. Here I had five people on two trains, pushing rush hour, no less (meaning that the loser count should have been swamped by commuting normies), all of them living in strongly Napoleonic jurisdictions, only one of them with a visible drug problem, and yet none of them socialized by the Mormon hive mind. It was the kind of shit I’d expect of Reno.

On my way out of town, I took the light rail past the St. Vincent de Paul rescue mission. Holy shit, Brigham. Salt Lake City has the premier housing-first program in Anglo North America (not LDS feel-good bullshit, either; independent housing activists give it top marks), so I was shocked to see dozens of people sleeping on the sidewalk in front of St. Vinnie’s. I’d hardly have given it a moment’s notice in Sacramento or Reno, where that kind of wretchedness is ubiquitous, but everything else I’d seen around Salt Lake had been so clean and orderly, and everything I’d heard about the city’s homeless outreach services had indicated that they’re unwaveringly on point. The only hopeful possibility is that that crowd was entirely new kids on the block who had recently assembled in the social services district and were already on waiting lists for placements. The turnover could be a great deal higher than it looks, and frankly there’s nothing unethical about charity-shopping one’s way to the one city in the country that seems to take housing placement seriously. The worrisome possibility is that this isn’t the case.

By the way, nice job dumping all that dysfunction right on the way to the Greyhound and Amtrak stations when the eastbound Zephyr rolls through at three in the morning. Nice cab we got here; shame if you got mugged for not taking it.

Alumni updates

An old high school buddy of mine recently got an honorable (sic?) mention in the alumni magazine for having gotten another honorable (again, sic?) mention as one of the Forty Under Forty in the regional business rag. The details inspiring this recursive conferral of honor are so pedestrian that they hardly even interest me (it’s not like he’s become a farmer, or been fucking around in a backyard garden from time to time), and there’s definitely a big fish in a small pond thing going on here. When I mentioned the business journal award (or whatever the fuck they call it, as if I care) to my dad, he said it might be the publishing arm of a businessmen’s mutual flattery society or a pay-for-play thing along the lines of those full-page ads in in-flight magazines for Some of the Best Doctors in America, which use exactly the same format as ads in the same magazines for the Best Steakhouses and the Best Seafood Restaurants, so DO NOT BELIEVE A FUCKING WORD OF THEM. There’s definitely an element of bullshit to business awards, so again, you’d be a fool to take them at face value, but not nearly the fool you’d be for choosing an oncologist based on an ad in American Way. 

The interesting things about this dude’s making Forty Under Forty are entirely extrinsic to his being such a fucking winner. He and I had a close but acrimonious and often weird relationship in high school, then fell completely out of touch after graduation. The only things I’ve heard about him since came from a mutual friend who himself was assimilated, hardcore Star Trek-style, into the Bay Area tech business. One of these secondhand stories was that he’d taken a job as an EMT, resulting in his locking himself into the back of an ambulance to protect himself from a crackhead and calling 911. We went to a prep school, so if anyone from our class was going to end up doing that, he was a strong candidate. This dude was goofy enough that my paternal grandmother, rarely one to speak unkindly of other people, needed only watch him walk for his diploma to pronounce him a goofball. I must have become inured enough to him from chronic exposure not to fully notice how off he was; I knew he was odd, but not odd enough to be called “that goofy boy” by strangers at first sight. It seemed to come from a combination of ADHD, obesity, modestly odd facial features, and the effects of an affluent but rootless upbringing in at least three countries on two continents (and after my own disruptive experiences being moved domestically as a child, I have no hesitation letting a goofball take a mulligan for that). Dude was not voted most likely to marry an Argentine dancer, so you’ll never guess who married an Argentine dancer.

Personally, I was nominated most likely to operate a bratwurst cart in Germany. The yearbook committee advisor vetoed that nomination because Day School, but frankly, the only thing that ever bothered me about that prediction was the Twilight Zone prophecy of my being stuck in Germany, with my friends and family back home far away. The guy who nominated (nah, tried to nominate) me for future wurst in class is now an engineer married to a lawyer, also a classmate, half of a yuppie power couple gentrifying Manayunk and Adams-Morgan or some shit.

So what the fuck did I do wrong? Ask and ye shall perhaps not be answered. It can be inscrutable. Then again, alumni updates are the products of strategic sampling biases. That’s why we all got to hear about Forty Under Forty and a chick who was inducted into our alma mater athletic hall of fame. We don’t letter at the Day School (and it’s just as well), but we have our ways, which do not include FOOTBALL but do include very competitive boys’ and girls’ lacrosse and Monty Robinson for Sheriff. Well, shit, chieftain, how did that slip in there, you lying boreal drunk? But that’s a distraction; I’m here to make fun of White People. Why say “literally” too damn often and sloppily when you can instead overuse “Melissa Ann Shepard?” But again, that’s the wrong kind of white bearing the wrong kind of poison. The problem with the cultural appropriation of lacrosse is the crowd that appropriates it. I’d rather reappropriate some frybread. A man can stress-eat in silence in his secret place, or at Dunkin’, but assertions of white privilege aesthetics in public are microaggressions against us all.

I’ll probably stand by that statement, more or less, even after I’ve recovered from my train ride overnight, which had me between a fat, ostentatiously sighing Chinaman and at least two black guys who were of a mind to reach across me and smack him for snoring if I wouldn’t do them this favor myself, stuck in the middle with THEM?! A cold Chicago morning to you and yours, too. Point is, preppy assholes know how to aggressively assert their own privilege in ways subtle enough to make those they’re scheming to subordinate look like cranks or whiners for trying to break their frame. There are ways to rock the Lacoste and the Capri pants without being an asshole, but that means not being an asshole, and if you’re wearing that shit, there’s a good chance that modesty and goodwill aren’t why you donned it in the first place.

This is the mindset that alumni magazines are edited to confirm. When I was still in school, stories occasionally circulated in hushed whispers about our community drunks and druggies, as well as our girls rumored to be in trouble, whom the school was said to quietly expel. *Very Bristol Palin voice* Bitch please. What’s the actual prevalence of substance abuse, mental illness, and other obstacles to proper success in the LCDS alumni community? Having fallen mostly out of the loop, I can only guess. The alumni rag is a gaslighting prop, so it’s useless. Perhaps more to the point, what’s the prevalence of alumni who have somehow figured out how to relate to the poor as something like equals? They won’t tell us a thing about that, either. The whole point was to breed it out of us. We were of a certain class, and the poors were of a certain other class. Promiscuous mixing might result in, oh, dilution of family fortunes and, I dunno, say, fix me another Old Fashioned, Thomas, I’m of a mind to get classily trashed.

By Ghomeshi, that’s better than saying “literally” all the time, too. Some constituencies at Lancaster Country Day, especially the hardline Optimates, get really sore and constipated-looking whenever anyone tarnished their meticulously arranged world of fussy propriety by speaking candidly of the real world beyond. Their moral sense of purity is ordered not to an increase of actual cleanliness but to the censorship of any admission that certain things, probably not directly pertinent to their school, are dirty and could do to be cleaned up. In point of fact, my world includes Pot-o-Shit Friend. That’s just the way it it; some things will never change until you call code enforcement and maybe the police. I was never the one aspiring to collect trash cans full of human shit under the auspices of a business in which I’m invested; I’m the one who altered code enforcement to the shit shack. But it’s still an all too pertinent part of my life, so why the hell should I defer to requests that we discuss something more pleasant, like golf, from people who have frankly bought their way out of exposure to the poor and adverse dealings with the sorts of bottomfeeders who exploit the poor? If you’re gonna haidt-fuck me that hard, turn Big Ears Teddy back around, for I demand that he bear full witness.

That’s the thing about the stuffy rich. They have no problem with the existence of horrors, even in their own hometowns, as long as they’re personally shielded from the truth, and there is no one they won’t belittle or intimidate to ensure that they remain shielded. That’s why I’d be happy to nominate Pot-o-Shit Friend as a Western Regional Forty Under Forty Shitshacker. (In Midwest regionals, he’d be up against tweakers who fill bathtubs, so that’d be a bit ambitious.) Not wanting to talk about shit just for the hell of it because one was cornered by a scatologist is reasonable; refusing to talk about piles of shit that endanger health and life because it’s less pleasant than half an hour of play-by-play recapitulation of the back nine this morning is not reasonable at all.

Besides, some of these people would be improved with a reminder that they, too, are of the flesh. In the Catholic Church, this is traditionally done on Ash Wednesday, which I missed again this year, through my most grievous derp (and various forms of chaos that I can’t discuss with the proper because doing so would almost certainly be taken as a breach of decorum and consequently a cause for offense). Smearing charcoal on a guy’s forehead and telling him he’s gonna die? Dude, It’s Rude (TM). But I maintain that the most powerful rudenesses are not the deep solemnities, which so often inspire thoughts of transcendence or communion with martyrs and other saints through suffering or eventual restful reward or joyful hope of some reincarnation in due course of time, but the day-to-day vulgarities, which call to mind nothing but unmentionable body parts and bodily functions. Charity ball stuffies shit, too, so it’s appropriate to remind them that, when they shit in toilets, it is because they have bought toilets and access to toilets, which Pot-o-Shit Friend was apparently unable to do. Their shit would stink, too, if the Ragin’ Canajun had to put his big boy coveralls on and dispose of a trash can full of it.

This isn’t just a version of a CFO’s daughter becoming a goth for the shock value; I sincerely do not want people defecating in the open in my country on account of their poverty, but there’s no way to solve a problem whose existence one refuses to discuss. There are Americans who deserve to find turds in their neighborhoods, even on their property, but that’s because they’re responsible for poverty and marginalization that they will not do a thing to mitigate until it becomes their problem, too.

At the same time, there’s nothing particularly wrong with needling the stuffy upper classes with these rude truths as a socioeconomic leveler. It can be like Beavis and Butthead’s tour of the Hoover Dam. “Uh, yeah, I have a question. Is it a god dam?” No, son, it is a dam of men, a man dam, if you will, the work of Ozymandian civil servants who were rewarded with the sleep of the just as recompense for their labors to provide electricity and attendant magicks to the poor in the countryside. But before you accuse me of joining Walt Whitman for his evening constitutional across the Ben Franklin Bridge, may I ask, are you by chance familiar with Headmaster Dick Johnson?

Uh, you just said, uh, what’s that again?

Headmaster Dick Johnson.

No, you just made that up.

No, I did not.

Whoa. Hehheh hehheh. Hehheh. Hehheh.


Saving face

The Joe Dirtbag situation got me agitated again tonight. My parents are planning to meet him and the Family Shrew for dinner in Napa in a couple of weeks, early in their next trip west. I’ll be traveling west separately and joining my parents for most of their trip, and since I got so riled up about Joe Dirtbag on their last trip out, my dad preemptively offered to coordinate with me so that I wouldn’t have to see him at dinner. I played my hand about as well as I could have in December. My threat to call 911 on JD at the first sign of weirdness was absolutely sincere at the time and, given my recent history with him, reasonable enough. I don’t really regret staying in the room both mornings while my parents met them for breakfast. Aside from the atrocious Boomer table manners that these meals inspire, Joe Dirtbag is out of control and I am completely at a loss to get him to treat me decently. I felt bad about standing the Family Shrew up, since she was above the fray of JD’s most recent gaslighting campaign against me, but I’m not the one who married that creep and didn’t go through with a second divorce. I appreciate her innocence in this matter, but I am not going to risk more weirdness from Joe Dirtbag as a condition of staying in touch with innocent third parties who spend their lives in his orbit.

Joe Dirtbag’s descent into white-trash thuggery has been enlightening in ways that I never hoped to be enlightened. Chronicling it is a fucking Augean Stables of the mind. For all the effort I’ve committed to documenting it and thinking it over, in these pages and elsewhere, I rarely feel close to a comprehensive panorama of the whole mess. Instead, it’s more like a shit litany on a tape that I have to rewind and fast-forward all the time because it’s just too damn long.

That said, over time certain themes have started to come into focus from the background fog of inchoate offense, disgust, anger, and despair. One of these is JD and FS’s extremely defensive campaign to present themselves and be duly respected as upstanding members of the broad middle class. This is one of the most absurd and infuriating things I’ve ever watched. The sheer narcissistic aggression of it has to be seen to be believed. Me KNOWS they do protest too much, the gentleman in particular. The Family Shrew, as I alluded to above, has simmered down about a lot of shit in the past few years. I’m often stunned anew to remember that they have free and clear title to a house with outbuildings and an ample woodlot. On the surface, that’s a respectable middle-class accomplishment for a couple getting by on low to middling salaries without significant inheritances, trusts, or gifts from family. The actual details aren’t so impressive: they bought into an up-and-coming town as early members of the California diaspora, weren’t foolish enough to fall for HELOC pitches, and rode a real estate bubble for forty years. They had the work ethic to run a restaurant, but not the vision to keep one financially afloat in changing times and an increasingly saturated market. JD told me that in the time that they were in the restaurant business, the local population increased by half and the number of restaurants by a factor of four. Do the math. And don’tcha know, Jethro, they were living in the past, a past that had them by the balls; ask not for whom the little jingly things Tull.

JD and FS ran a hippie throwback joint in a dingy physical plant with an unassuming front door. I increasingly doubt that they were upfront or on point about restaurant hygiene; it seems more likely that health inspectors had genuine, if not entirely articulable, concerns about the cleanliness of their establishment than that JD and FS successfully compartmentalized their lives into scrupulous professional hygiene at work and festering grime in their kitchen at home. When one of the two principal operators of a restaurant never leaves the shower smelling exactly clean (Joe Dirtbag) and the other is never able to hand-wash dishes so that they’re free of food detritus (the Family Shrew), it takes a powerful benefit of the doubt to believe assertions that the only thing tanking the restaurant’s health inspection scores was a hard-ass newjack inspector with no sense of discretion, or that there was never an aura of subtle filth that alienated its customers.

In earlier screeds I’ve discussed Joe Dirtbag’s public tax dispute with city hall, of which he never apprised me or my parents. That alone shows that there was a seedy underbelly to that restaurant. That said, even if I stipulate the worst plausible scenario–the tax evasion and grandstanding, some mediocre commercial hygiene, and occasional bad personnel management that I can only infer from JD and FS’s behavior in other settings–the restaurant was still a bastion of middle-class values in their lives. They consistently made payroll, as far as I know, and they weren’t constant or total tax cheats. There’s no way that place wasn’t in stark contrast with the clusterfucks that spilled over other aspects of their lives. They were semi-responsible business owner-operators at their restaurant, not raging derelicts like JD has been at the farm since at least 2009 (at a time when they were still running the restaurant).

It was bewildering and scary to be blamed for personally falling into low-class dysfunction and ill repute at times when I was around JD and FS on a regular basis, both socially and professionally, and I was trying frantically to maintain some semblance of middle-class stability in my own life while they careened into a life of shockingly low-class chaos: half-hourly domestic shouting matches, dissembling about their ability to afford home groceries, shambolic home and business finances, rent collection on illegal shanties, tenant pools with stratospheric rates of obvious mental illness and interpersonal handicaps, piles of shit proliferating everywhere, duplicity followed by financial emergencies in business dealings with relatives and friends. The baseline level of dysfunction was glaringly fucking abnormal, and because things were so dysfunctional, acute crises were always flaring up. I got used to some really crazy shit, like Joe Dirtbag yelling at the Family Shrew at the top of his lungs two or three times before they had brunch on the table. I hardly expected anything less nuts.

This was before JD had his big meltdown, the one that made me think he might throw me into a wall in a fit of rage, and I fled into unexpected homelessness for my own immediate protection. It was after that that I was thrown too deep into the farm community to keep ignoring its squalor and sleaze, as I had been more or less able to do when I was staying in JD and FS’s little guest cottage. Turning into a maniac out of the blue, running a lodger off one’s property with emotional abuse and an acutely violent demeanor, and then blaming the lodger for overreacting and punishing him by barring him from future rooming privileges is blatantly low-class behavior of the worst sort. It’s trashy as all hell, and it inevitably draws everyone exposed to it into a vortex of trash.

From a classic trailer park perspective, it made sense: I’d been lodging with assholes in an informal arrangement giving me absolutely no legally enforceable tenancy rights, they’d stirred up a drama storm, and I’d ended up out on the street because of it. (The Family Shrew’s contribution had been multiple attempts over the course of the preceding week to coerce us, as well as an absent cousin of mine whose wedding catering she was helping plan, into whole-grain fascism. This was not enough on its own to drive me away, but it was more than enough to convince me that she was fundamentally unreasonable and too actively immoral to deserve a personal explanation from me about a goddamn thing.) I knew enough about the chaos of various American underclasses to recognize that I’d effectively become an outlaw facing a housing crisis, exactly what I’d been doing my best to avoid by placating Joe Dirtbag and the Family Shrew until JD blew it by acting like he was one slight away from beating me up. I also knew that I’d left my most recent formal rental (the dump in Eureka with the paranoid ex-Army Ranger Walt Kowalski building manager) under circumstances that I couldn’t expect to explain without suing my former landlords, a truly vile bunch.

The tragic thing was that I couldn’t explain any of this to my parents, either. It felt impossible. Within five months I was itching to report Joe Dirtbag to the police for his open container DUII stunts, but that, too, was too inflammatory for my parents to face. I was living in an extremely degraded fashion that I’d long known was possible for any number of people and a fact of life for some, but that I’d never expected to personally face. Every time I tried to explain this to my parents, they shot me down. A psychologist friend of theirs who visited them that summer while I was at their place blamed me for having weak ego strength. I screwed myself over by not having a police report on file that I could copy for everyone who wondered why I was so worked up over my circumstances, but we weren’t the kind of family that called the police for things like that. It took four and a half years in all before I became so utterly distraught over Joe Dirtbag’s behavior that I bluntly told my parents that I’d call the police the moment JD got weird with me and that it was my decision alone to make.

It’s easy enough to see how it might be a problem to live at an address that the local cops know for its frequent fliers. It’s easy to see how calling 911 every time one gets dissed invites exactly the sort of chaos into one’s life that a prudent person will try to avoid. In my case, though, the chaos was already there. When I threatened to phone the Pork Board last December, I had already been around for Captain Flimflam and the overflowing shitters, the Captain’s emotionally incapacitated wife and minor stepdaughter, Mixups in my Mind, Psychotarp, Pot-o-Shit Friend and his aftermath, the rat infestations, and JD’s gaslit feud with Busboy and the cop. By that point, keeping the police out of it as a matter of principle was nothing but a unilateral handicap on me. JD had the incentive to ward off Five-Oh because he’d been up to no good, but I didn’t. I had absolutely no doubt that I’d be better off giving a cop a statement about JD’s behavior than being around while he threatened to needlessly antagonize a cop who was on his property to complete a traffic stop on a third party. That hadn’t been JD’s first high-risk outburst around a cop, either: decades earlier he had gotten himself arrested in Montana and prosecuted for dodging the draft all because he had flipped off a sheriff’s deputy for asking to see his fishing license. That had been some stupid bullshit, especially in retrospect (it was a different JD who’d skipped out on Nam), but I hadn’t been there for it, so it wasn’t directly my business. His beef with Busboy and the cop absolutely was. I wasn’t the one who’d been yelling slanderous fantasies about a random cop there. I had never wanted a fucking thing to do with that beef.

It’s dangerous to be the last person adhering to middle-class courtesies in a situation like that. When some dirty old bastard is on yelling malicious nonsense about a cop who may be within earshot on his property, it’s a bad time to worry about the propriety of making sure that shit like that doesn’t escalate. In this case, it turned out that JD had gone pigbaiting as part of a vendetta against a tenant. There are plenty of ways that such a stunt could end badly for everyone present, so it’s a terrible time to shoot the messenger. The message here, more or less, is, “he needs to cut that shit out right now,” an eminently reasonable thing to demand of a nasty blowhard behaving recklessly around an armed officer of the law.

It gets really lonely to feel like the only person who’s willing to admit that things have gone to shit. That’s what most of this bourgeois hypocrisy is at heart. I find it dismaying to listen to the downwardly mobile and those marketing to them gush about the wonders of “tiny houses,” as if they’re an improvement over not-tiny houses. That isn’t architectural minimalism, you asshole; it’s an accommodation to poverty. Joe Dirtbag and the Family Shrew live in an area with inflated purchase prices on residential real estate but modest residential rents, so it’s telling that people who are perfectly employable (and often currently employed) keep washing up on their property on the verge of homelessness and submitting to the Tobacco Road feudal manor that JD is conceited enough to present as an adequate rental community. It’s appalling that many of these people seem hellbent on euphemizing their own circumstances: Busboy and his girlfriend acting like it’s normal to pay rent to live in a short bus, Pot-o-Shit Friend walking around like a happy shlemazel in spite of his own even worse circumstances. (In the interest of accuracy, the Ragin’ Canajun became his own shlemiel AND shlemazel when he disposed of Pot-o-Shit Friend’s housewarming gift, and buddy, that ain’t soup.) That farm is so fucked up that Pot-o-Shit Friend actually looks more respectable under Major Bones’ hypothesis that he was a coprophile. God knows he wasn’t a coprophobe. It would still be all kinds of wrong, but at least it would reestablish his agency as a tenant. Without a doubt opiate abuse is more respectable than pretending to enjoy a shit sandwich every day. Word on the street is that dope can be fun.

There shouldn’t be any shame in homelessness. When push comes to shove there is shame, but anyone who tries to enforce it should be shown nothing but righteous disgust. There is a tiny population of lifestyle bums and a huge population of people whose homelessness is a matter of socioeconomic prudence or necessity, as mine has been. The first step to fixing any problem is admitting that it exists. I’m willing to air my own housing problems, so no, I don’t admire people whose response to downward mobility is to turn into projectile chickenshits.