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.

The irredeemable

Aaron Hernandez’s death is an excellent opportunity for tasteless dark humor: “I heard he was out with a neck injury,” etc. ad nauseam, come the nausea when it may. For the most part, I approve of it. Morbid humor can be a cathartic agent and a useful, albeit indirect and subtle, meditation on our own mortality, which can be one hell of a demon to try to confront directly.

The particular circumstances of the Hernandez case make tasteless jokes about his death especially justifiable: he was, after all, a raging thug, a convicted murderer, and, in spite of his most recent acquittals, arguably a serial murderer. There are a great many Americans who do not belong in our prisons; Aaron Hernandez was not one of them. There was nothing that the state could do to protect society from that man other than to confine him to the best of its ability until he stopped being a threat to others, and absent the possibility of an utterly infirm old age that was decades into his future, if it was in his future at all (remember, he was exceptionally physically fit for a man of any age), he showed no prospect of reform. Most parole systems in the US, definitely including life without parole regimes, are unjustifiably merciless, but it would be reckless to grant a convict like Hernandez any form of release without extreme due diligence and caution. The guy didn’t just stumble into some bad circumstances and make some mistakes. He didn’t just get mixed up with the wrong crowd. By some accounts, he was a sociopath, and by most he was violently troubled to his core. A 25-year non-parole period (the statutory maximum in Canada) might have been enough to simmer his ass down, but we’d be fools to count on it. Most murderers have a low risk of recidivism, even by the standards of violent felons in general, but Hernandez wasn’t most murderers. In his short life at liberty, he showed himself to be a hyperrecidivist. We don’t want thugs like him getting all worked up and putting a gun to some poor schmuck’s head for no reason, just in case he feels like blowing some more brains out. Forget punishment or retribution; for everyone else’s safety, that animal needed to spend a damn long time in a cage.

Now comes the news that Aaron Hernandez has cut his own sentence short. I can’t blame him. It was the only form of mercy he could seek. This is a separate matter from whether he belonged in prison (he absolutely did). No amount of prison reform would have made it possible for the state to show him real mercy without putting the public at grave risk of injury and death. Any improvement of his quality of life that the Massachusetts prison system could have brought about would still have featured his confinement to a secure facility. He would still have been forced to live out his foreseeable life in an extremely small and confined world. This isn’t cause to be smug or self-righteous; it’s a necessary evil. Nothing else can be done safely with men such as him. A person might sincerely discern a call to minister precisely to men of his character, to offer the most hardened and lost some hope of repentance and redemption, however faint, and come away unable to fulfill this calling. From that perspective, it’s actually less tragic when dipshit women who get horny around trouble start pen pal relationships with Charles Manson; it’s still bad news, but at least they get some jollies from their efforts.

Is it too much to hope and pray that Aaron Hernandez finds the mercy that he sought through his suicide? The state protected its peaceable constituents from him for the remainder of his life, so its duty to us is done. Many people, especially in a society as shamelessly bloodthirsty as the United States, would have preferred that Hernandez be executed, often in some gruesome fashion whose very proposal indicates a deep psychic sickness tending towards depravity. The State of Massachusetts had the decency and the principle to deny the mob this selfish, coarsening satisfaction, and Hernandez’s last violent act, it seems, was a private act entirely against himself. The prison staff who tried to revive him and then had to deal with his remains when their efforts failed may sustain some psychological trauma, but their jobs force them to deal with the horrors of prison life as partial outsiders every day, and at least they have been spared the very real trauma that psychologically healthy people feel for having committed a homicide after taking part in executions.

Questions of what prison staff should to do prevent inmate suicide, especially on the part of lifers and others serving long sentences, are morally and practically trickier than they look at first glance from the outside. A corrections spokesman said that Hernandez would not have been housed in the unit where he hanged himself had he shown any signs of suicidal ideation or action. This sounds believable; many prisons do in fact take great care to watch for signs of suicide and put their visibly suicidal inmates on suicide watch. None of this changes the fact that they’re watching over inmates who are serving life without parole, or even just surreally long sentences for more or less harmless crimes, under a judicial regime almost entirely devoid of mercy. Suicide offers some of these inmates their only hope of release. It’s hard to scare them of eternal hell when they’re already living in it every day.

This is something that civilians, especially the ones who comment the loudest about all the bad things that should be done to criminals, consistently miss. They cannot fucking imagine what it’s like to be locked up in a prison for decades on end, looking at the same walls every fucking day, with no hope of release until either old age or death. It is inherently an extremely limiting environment. It is nothing like civilian life, except maybe for quadriplegics, the locked-in, or the very chronically bedridden. That some people truly need to be there for the protection of the rest of us doesn’t make prison anything but an abnormal and naturally evil environment. Nor does it mean that incarceration should be the first response for most crimes. It’s depraved to imprison people who aren’t truly dangerous, and it should come as no surprise that some of those who enter prison close to harmless are released in a state of hardened anger; just give a moment’s thought to the company that they’ve been forced to keep and the conditions in which they’ve been forced to keep it. No shit our prisons vomit out troubled recidivists.

Psychological interventions for lifers and longhaulers are questionable. Staff are forced to either ignore inmates because they can’t hope to do any good anyway or treat them under conditions that make their effective treatment impossible. In many cases it’s impossible to provide psychiatric care without violating the Hippocratic Oath. Many prisoners are suicidal because their continued survival in prison will inevitably do them grievous harm and they objectively have no other avenue of relief; staging psychiatric interventions against their wishes is a direct harm verging on torture. The political will to give prisoners real hope of real mercy is spotty (in spite of significant reforms, we’re alone among countries with elements of self-government and the rule of law for the grotesque excess of our penal system), so of course some of them take matters into their own hands one last time. Missionary assholes showing up with cheap, tone-deaf references to slavery and imprisonment as analogies for shit like porn habits don’t help things, either. Incarceration isn’t a necessary precondition for suicide, but it sure helps. Giving a desperate, suicidal person a reason to live is dangerously tricky in normal circumstances, and the circumstances in prison, as I’ve mentioned, are anything but normal. It’s bullshit to tell a man like Aaron Hernandez that it isn’t the Promised Land that’s waiting for him on the other side if only he puts the bedsheet around his neck and takes that last step. Anyone who has spent an entire life at liberty and says otherwise is as crazy about prison life as Psychotarp is about everything under the sun. As Darshan Singh (himself a fairly sick puppy) always said in his farewells to others, but not in his own, “God bless you. I am sending you to a better place than this.”

A few years ago, when Ariel Castro committed suicide in prison, Rod Dreher spat out a homily of American Conservatism (TM) in which he pronounced that he would have preferred that Mr. Castro had devoted his life to contemplation and repentance. Castro was the Cleveland bus driver who had kidnapped young women and held them hostage for years in his house, resulting in a 999-year prison sentence upon his conviction. He killed himself about a month after his transfer to state prison, greatly disappointing Rod Dreher. The American Conservative has an exceptionally civil commentariat, but Dreher’s posturing over this case annoyed the hell out of his normally cordial peanut gallery. At least one asked, more or less verbatim, “Why did you write that?” It was a good point, and not a troll job. (The American Conservative is one of the most flame-retardant publications on the internet.) A convict he had never met had just killed himself in Ohio, making the news only because he had already made the news for being a source of distress to damsels, and now this scold was showing up from Louisiana to chide the dear departed prisoner for being a moral coward. What the hell was it to him? Coming from Dreher, this bottomfeeding was especially rich, indicating that he had managed to complete adult catechesis as an Orthodox Christian and miss the part about praying for the salvation of the dead. Oops. Wow Much options Many freewill None penitence Omg st benedict Very confuse.

Dreher writes for a living. I scavenge deposit bottles for a living. Construe “living” however the hell you like, as long as Dreher’s is three or four orders of magnitude larger than mine currently is. Maybe an American could “conserve” some of his salary and remit it to me instead, since we’re writing about the same shit. Okay, not exactly; I’m not the one who got paid to argue that some infamous creep in Ohio did me bogus by refusing to pray his days away in his cell like a pre-Lutheran Martin Luther.

Admit it: you’re already missing our regular buddies Sauce Boss, Northside Juice, Raw Ginger, and Fish Man, and they’ve hardly been gone for a full screed. I certainly am. But at least I’m not getting my coffee from Sweet Melissa of the Maritimes. It’s free, and you don’t even have to ask her for it, but it comes at a cost. Nor am I doing life without parole for murder. Real pleasant, I know, but we would all do well to count what blessings we have, especially when Darshan Singh isn’t the one conferring them upon us.

Remembrance of things misplaced

Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Diversity Drive? Well, shit, neighbor, I don’t know why I even asked, because I know full well how to get there myself. I’ve walked its entire length. It’s an immediate left turn off 101 on the way down from Waldport. I refer specifically to Diversity Drive in Yachats. As with Poo Poo Point, it’s a real place, and you can look it up if you don’t believe me. You can also look up the pronunciation of Yachats, which the locals will correct if you don’t because the missionaries or whoever first got the white people up in that motherfucker transliterated the local Indian language into a bunch of goofy shit having no relationship to normal (sic, mostly) English spelling conventions. Wow Much corpse of discovery Many pioneer None pronounceable Omg jason lee Very confuse.

The key thing to understand about Yachats is that it’s governed by the Society for the Prevention of Monty Robinson for Sheriff. Hence Diversity Drive, as opposed to diversity living on the drive. Or, as they say in Post-Soviet Canada, diversity drives YOU back into arrivals hall! Funny thing, it is also departures hall for one-way traveler! If you don’t have the energy to communicate to create the change you want to see in the world, perhaps you have the energy to communicate to create the taste you want to see: in my case, none whatsoever. I know, I know, that must have come as a terrible shock. Am I saying that Raw Ginger and Fish Man needed to be on a squad made up entirely of Village People as a precondition for their involvement in excessive force and perjury, eh? Of course not. Am I saying that I feel bad about preferentially pigsploiting this particular squad because it wasn’t pulled out of the usual box of crackers? Again, of course not. Is there any organization at all to my thinking? The night’s still young, so hell if I know. Much of Oregon politics is dictated by the Society for the Prevention of Monty Robinson for Sheriff. Hence not only Diversity Drive, the Amanda Trail, and the Ya’Xaik Trail (they’ll correct your pronunciation on that one, too), but also Dead Indian Memorial Road. A state that once took pride in the dereification of the red man now feels guilt, which it assuages by indulging in endless debate that it finally cuts short by spending a pile of money on new road signs specifying that the State now memorializes the dead Indian, instead of just naming a road after him. Glad we cleared that up.

What does any of this mean about popular sentiment in Oregon towards Indians? Those being questioned would not surprise me by correcting my language about Native Americans, proving my point. It’s a miracle that Kirk Siegler hasn’t been sent to Woodburn to meet Latinos who self-identify as Mexicans. The people who get bent out of shape over this shit never seem to be the ones hanging out with Indians. I knew a guy in school who had “GO SKINS” vanity plates on his car. That’s “skins” as in Redskins, the same team whose name Scott Simon is too woke to utter on the air. Dude with the Go Skins tags was a Nez Perce from Idaho. I got the strong sense that Indian pride was the only reason the Redskins had a fan base any farther afield than Glen Burnie, since I wasn’t aware of any other Redskins fans around me and never heard anyone saying anything like, “You know, they’re playing well.” This is why my head always spins when I hear other white people declare the Redskins name offensive to Indians. And what was the race of the minister who sternly advised me that the Hispanics I had just mentioned offhand found that term offensive because they’re Latinos? Hint: rhymes with the second syllable of “uptight.” Kirk Siegler reported the opposite cultural learning of Pueblo for make benefit glorious nation of Bougiekistan, so surely he is one of the great chroniclers of our age.

#TeshTips: Those who talk like this may not be talking to members of those races whose honor they so defend. Yachats, like many cities in Oregon, is an excellent Whitey Rancheria, a great place to find people whose reflectiveness is literally only skin-deep. Oregon has an embarrassing history of aggressive racial discrimination featuring especially bloody campaigns to exterminate its Indians and a racial covenant in its original state constitution barring the settlement of blacks. The latter, which has had no force of law for well over a century, has come to inspire lengthy woke thinkpieces about how Oregon is so hostile to the Community, what a scandal it is that Oregon is what to this day because it was officially white in its olden times, and so forth, notably coming from people who aren’t generally writing from any of the heavily black neighborhoods that they could find as nearby as the South Sound. They’re uncomfortable with natural law, but they also don’t really want the assertions of positive law that would forcibly integrate Oregon using newcomers who didn’t want to live there in the first place (nor do Oregon’s current black residents, who in fact exist, seem interested in such social engineering). The sermonizing about Oregon’s lack of brothers and sisters is just that. Wow Much lectures Such tendentious Omg jason lee Very annoy, I guess.

Yachats, for its part, is even whiter than Oregon as a whole. Go figure. Then again, minority neighborhoods so often feature visible poverty, and Yachats is all about coastal chic and shit. It’s reminiscent of White People in Santa Fe culturally appropriating Pueblo architecture from Indians who culturally appropriate the trailer and junkyard from the white man. May the circle be unbroken. That’s another community that’s eternally trying to prevent Monty Robinson for Sheriff, but let not your heart be troubled, its hinterlands are one of the best places in the Americas to be struck off your motorcycle by a drunk Indian whose oncoming Jeep just drifted into your lane.

I shouldn’t pick on Oregon so crudely. It isn’t the only state where farmland is paved over with streets bearing sick names like Harvest Drive. How you gonna get a harvest out of that, you dumbass? Statistically, innovation is not a primary goal or practice of American business, but it sure is a popular street name in business parks. The buses to Arden Fair stop, disgustingly, at the corner of Challenge and Response. Finally, two words that I can immediately use in a sentence: “The city of Sacramento never has a response to the challenge of its homelessness problem.” The orchard job listings that I find in California are all at Orchard Supply Hardware, just as every vineyard job listing I find in Southern California is for some shitty fast food joint on Vineyard Avenue or what-the-fuck in, like, Ontario. All applications for these jobs must be submitted through a secure website with picky browser requirements and an incomprehensible URL, whose algorithms will immediately shitcan your application.

And how could New Jerseyans not cherish liberty? They named their fucking airport after it. We name our infrastructure after virtues now. Muammar Qaddafi publicly pronounced himself liberty, inter alia; we declare one of our shittiest airports Liberty, in a time of constitutional crisis in the aftermath of a false flag attack on our commercial aviation system, no less. The idea is that we’re not supposed to notice that it’s gone.

Naming shit after Jimmy Hoffa would be funny. God knows that mobbed-up wonder hasn’t been around much lately. (I know: too soon.) Liberty Airport and the USA-Patriot Act are just goddamn sick.

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.

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.

Huhhuh.

Snow day

The Soviet Union had these state-run neighborhood grocery stores called “Produkty.” “Products” was an accurate enough translation, although “Goods” or “Groceries” is probably a bit more precise. A number of these stores were still around in Moscow and St. Petersburg when I went to Russia on a summer immersion program in 2002. The most memorable one, a bit south of Nevsky Prospekt and a mile or two from the waterfront in central St. Petersburg, was staffed by a dead ringer for The Rock who told me two or three times, roughly verbatim, “All of our vegetables are disgusting. Just look at them.” I’d been sent out to buy zucchini for a crappy pasta dish that some girls in the exchange group wanted to make. When I tried to describe what I was looking for in Russian (like a cucumber, called “zucchini” in English), another customer told me that he knew exactly what I meant in English but needed to call a friend for the Russian translation. When this dude got his buddy on the phone and translated my question into a less tangled and childish Russian, the Rock of Russia inevitably told us that he did not in fact have zucchini in stock. Looking at me like I was becoming a greater fool every minute I spent in his store, he pointed at his produce again and reminded me that–who could even guess it?–it was all disgusting. The Rock of Russia was right on all counts.

This is a true story, by the way, as true as a story about Russia can be, I suppose (and the Western press assumes). Another story I heard about Russia, from a doddering emeritus professor of the humanities, was that Mushrooms are the Soul of Russia: absolute bullshit, no idea how he came up with that, according to one of our local language instructors. Less full of it but no less confused was the old lady housesitter who answered the phone when one of the guys in our group tried to reach his parents in Massachusetts, on around June 1: “Who’s this? You’re where? Where? Oh, Russia! How’s winter?”

By most accounts, Soviet-era Produkty stores sucked ass. Worse, entire city sectors, even entire cities and neighborhoods, had no alternatives to these shitty stores and their shitty product lines. In the worst times, customers had to spend hours waiting in line just to get into these dumps and see if they were selling anything that was worth buying. These stores were classic Soviet state enterprises in all the worst customer-service senses. The only workaround was whatever local barter and black markets had arisen in the shadow of the totalitarian state. These emergent markets were said to be much more robust in Poland, the radish of the Eastern Bloc (“red on the outside, white on the inside,” snork snork) than in State-Patriotic Mother Russia. So, yeah, shopping sucked.

We have nothing like that back in the US, back in the USSA. It’s not as if we have a car-owning bourgeois population that shops at properly stocked and managed Kroger stores with tenuous connections to the bus system while Mike Brown huffs it through a desolate urban food desert to the neighborhood QuikTrip. Don’t be a silly comrade. We have markets, bitch. And we couldn’t possibly have the highest incarceration rate on the face of the earth, aside from an obscure juntastic oddity or two, or a notoriously violent prison system teeming with convicts whose interrogations and trials featured procedural irregularities.

Nah, that’s crazy. So is the driveway plowing market where my parents live. For an area supposedly populated by a flinty, hardy, independent stock of country people who don’t like meddlers telling them what to do, it’s a sorry-ass excuse for a free market. It’s actually a hillbilly cartel, and the hillbillies who plow driveways in my parents’ part of the county seem to be a bunch of derelict shitheads who should never have been licensed to drive. They do sloppy, incomplete work and extensive damage to the graveling, which would cost thousands of dollars to have professionally repaired. Much worse, they drive like bats out of hell: I’ve seen them rounding narrow blind curves at forty miles an hour in their heavy-duty work trucks. It’s a miracle that they don’t regularly cause fatal accidents. These guys are the single readily identified threat to driver and pedestrian safety on my parents’ road. They often scare the hell out of my dad.

The side-by-side contrast with the comprehensive state could hardly be starker. My parents’ road is plowed and treated by the county highway department, which rarely allows more than a few inches of snow to accumulate. County trucks usually come through several times before the hillbilly cartel shows up to do $40 (sic) of work for my parents in all of five minutes. The county trucks are a foot or two wider than the hillbilly plow trucks and three or four times the unladen weight, but they’re always driven at safe, cautious speeds. Similarly, I’ve never seen state troopers or sheriff’s deputies go hot-dogging down my parents’ road. There are sections where too slow is a hell of a lot better than too fast. Some of us don’t want to be struck dead by lunatics.

The Nor’easter that’s coming in overnight is expected to limit travel pretty severely and make roads impassible in its heaviest hours. If the highway crews can’t keep up with it, it will be due to the sheer force of the storm, not official incompetence. Having spent my teens and early twenties in Southern Pennsylvania, I appreciate governments that don’t stick their thumbs up their asses all day and let critical infrastructure get shut down every time it snows. The fuckjobs at PennDOT were always blaming the freeze-thaw cycle for the poor condition of roads that they didn’t feel like maintaining. New Jersey had the same freeze-thaw cycle, and mysteriously, its highways weren’t such shit. I’ve seen enough of NYSDOT and the county crews up here to be confident that they aren’t jackoffs.

This doesn’t excuse the private plow cartel. They’ve left my parents snowed in for hours after eight-inch snowfalls that didn’t come close to producing whiteouts. It doesn’t excuse my parents for putting up with that bullshit, either. They’ve been stuck in their house solely on account of the last two hundred feet leading up to their garage. They don’t have a snowblower because that would be expensive and shit. They don’t have an old truck with a plow on standby because that would be too rednecky. They don’t try to get their neighbor from across the street, a responsible and upstanding local redneck with whom they’ve always gotten along wonderfully, to plow or sand their drive when the regular plowboys drop the ball. He jumped in and sanded the base of the drive from the bed of his truck free of charge when I ran into him a few years ago, and he’s definitely more responsible than whoever the hell my grandmother’s boyfriend’s surviving cousin is dispatching. If the neighbor and people he saw fit to hire were running the local plow business, none of this horseshit would be happening. Instead, anyone in the neighborhood who wants to hire private plowing help is stuck doing business with these reckless assholes.

It’s scandalous. As far as I know, it’s true, i.e., it isn’t some local whopper that my parents were too credulous to disbelieve. They’ve heard corroborating details from people who seem perfectly honest and are not Cousin Gigolo’s known plowkin. I shouldn’t be that harsh on Cousin Gigolo: he’s just a low-rent sugar baby, not the holder of a semiformal monopoly franchise on gigolo services in his town.

What keeps upsetting me is that every time something around here just doesn’t fucking work, my parents act like it’s local color, and if anything about it isn’t aesthetically hideous, they gush about how it’s so “cute.” Why in hell should I give a shit about the cuteness of the Saratoga train depot? It’s all right, and I don’t want some megalomaniac going full Robert Moses on it, but for fuck’s sake, it has only two scheduled Amtrak trains a day each direction, and at least half the southbound runs have shit for connections beyond New York City. It’s okay for travelers who don’t mind getting in at midnight or half past three in the morning. I don’t see a way to make that work.

My parents are even more captivated by the dumbass Polar Express excursions that the Adirondack and North Creek Railroad runs seasonally around Christmas, which have the depot mobbed with children in pajamas around the time the northbound Ethan Allen Express arrives. Even if I enjoyed children in bulk, I’d be offended to listen to gushing about how a station that is lucky to secure public appropriations for once-daily increases in intercity passenger rail service every twenty years has no trouble lining up private funding for vanity runs to take brat packs up the Hudson in pitch dark so they can pretend that they’re on a magical mystery train to the fucking North Pole. The fact that these twits are running a real train based on a fictional train is crazy enough; that they’re doing it in a region where the public transit varies from mediocre to useless to nonexistent is truly pathetic.

A few years ago, my mom carried on about an item in the local free rag out of Lake George that mentioned a couple of old ladies who had traveled from North Creek to Saratoga on a sightseeing run and connected to Amtrak, or vice versa, the idea being that the A&NR was a common carrier now. Of course it fucking wasn’t. I’ve driven across the tracks recently, and they look like they haven’t been used in months. I’m glad that the tracks are finally back in service and that the line hasn’t been irrevocably converted into a rail trail (irrevocably not for technical reasons, but on account of nimbies), but if it were viable as an Amtrak connecting service, I’d be the first to learn of it. I hate to have to drive everywhere, so I stay abreast of transit news. There isn’t much of it in the North Country.

This stuff wouldn’t be bothering me so if I were modestly independent of my parents when I’m staying up here. Instead, we’re codependent. There is something very wrong with their objections to my getting a cheap clunker for my own use up here and to my getting rental cars. They’ve become visibly offended when I’ve complained about being marooned at their place because I’m dependent on them to borrow a car or get a ride. There’s inevitably excessive emotional drama when my mom comes along to drop me off at the train station. I do not like her acting like I’m going off to war when I’m actually going off to Atlantic City for three days. It’s needlessly upsetting. In the past, she has gotten so clingy with me on the platform that she’s inadvertently cut off other passengers in her frantic efforts to walk all the way up to the train door; these incidents upset and alarmed me enough that I’ve started explicitly telling her to stay away from the train while I’m boarding (i.e., allow me to board like a grown-ass adult). A car of my own, either rented or owned, would allow me to stop taking part in public performances of Phil Collins musicals, but my parents are broken records whenever I suggest anything of the sort. They always freak out over minor logistical details that I’d have no difficulty solving. Where would I park it? Well, shit, do I look like I’d be unable to find a storage facility? I’m already renting two walk-in storage units in two states. I’m convinced that they’ll be absolutely useless in any effort I make to register a car in New York State (say, by agreeing to be co-owners of record), just as they have never agreed to cosign on a rental car for me or cosign on a credit card for me so that I can readily qualify for a rental car on my own. I have no objection on principle to bringing a bike up here for my personal transportation, assuming that I can somehow bicycling work over the distances involved, but I’d be surprised if my mom didn’t get all worked up over my bike cluttering up their garage.

One obvious solution would be for me to get a job in the area. But here’s the bizarre thing: I’ve suggested it to my dad two or three times, and maybe to my mom as well, and even though I’m the unemployed failson here, my dad has consistently turned discussions of my getting a job nearby into utterly fruitless and ultimately demoralizing quagmires. He insists on knowing what I want to do for my own optimal happiness and self-actualization, which he infers would be more likely to happen in California. Funny thing, being holed up against my own stated wishes in their retirement house for weeks on end and stress-eating my way through Lent ain’t it, but the truth is that I’d be flat broke if I’d been left to my own wits, and I’m the only child of two aging parents who insist on isolating themselves in the middle of nowhere, hundreds to thousands of miles from anywhere that I’ve chosen on my own to live or work. My parents have repeatedly expressed concerns with or frank opposition to a number of the goals I’ve expressed, including getting work back east where I can visit them more frequently, flying in from the West Coast every few weeks if they’re holing up in the Adirondacks, maintaining California legal residency at all costs, and not being abused by Joe Dirtbag.

The strictly fiscal impediments to some of these goals aren’t as daunting as they sound: for example, I suspect that I could simultaneously rent cheap apartments in marginal but decent parts of California and New York or Pennsylvania for less than a thousand dollars a month combined. The obstacles would be finding willing landlords who don’t insist on prohibitive employment, credit, and reference checks. The sociological aspects of socioeconomics can easily overwhelm the strictly economic aspects. The amount of trust and sociability needed to make couchsurfing and other cohousing arrangements work, for example, is ever so much higher than advertised. Without a doubt it’s safer for me to get a walk-up apartment of my own in any reasonably peaceable distressed housing market in Upstate New York than to trust my safety and welfare to strangers I met over the internet. Honestly, it’s safer for me to sleep in a car at a rest area than to shack up with randos I haven’t had time to vet.

I don’t think I have a prayer of convincing my parents that, given my weird personal circumstances whose development they’ve encouraged, it would not be frivolous of me to rent an apartment on each coast. It doesn’t matter that I’ve spent horrifying amounts of money on cheap lodging, some of it seedy or even dangerous, or that I’m the one who has routinely slept in cars or on trains to make ends meet and they’re the ones who spent $420,000 on a retirement house in a remote area where they had no friends. The sheer irrationality that I come up against is stunning. I’m not sure it would make a difference if I put together a spreadsheet showing exactly what cost savings I expected to achieve, line by line, by getting apartments; if they subconsciously found anything eccentric about it, or possibly even anything low-class, they’d probably sandbag it with irrational objections.

I’ve already gone through a period of years during which my parents repeatedly insisted that a relative whom I was explicitly accusing of specific abusive acts was ontologically incapable of abusing me; just in the past week or so I’ve had reason to believe that my parents are starting to provide Joe Dirtbag with cover again. My guess is that I’m really pretty stable and clearheaded for someone who has had a family clusterfuck like that lurking in the background for years on end and coming to a head every few months. Anyone who isn’t insensate would find it disruptive. My parents seemingly can’t or won’t let go of a vicarious desire for evidence that things are fine between me and Joe Dirtbag. This desire overpowers whatever interest they have in letting me protect myself from a man who I swear has serially abused and preyed upon me, so they distort and elide what they must to pretend that he isn’t really that bad whenever I am not actively promising to have law enforcement bar the door against him the next time he tries to come back into my life.

At the same time I’ve been dealing with the bizarre situation of being recurrently homeless but unable to discuss my homelessness frankly, no matter how calm and matter-of-fact I am, without getting the upper middle class completely bent out of shape. For two or three years I’ve consistently found it less distressing to be homeless than my parents, their friends, and some of my own friends visibly find it to hear that I’m homeless. It’s no wonder that homeless outreach services in this country are so terrible. Who the hell wants to be humiliated to walking death by emotionally overwrought concern trolls or religious busybodies for two hots and a cot? The most absurd outburst of this sentiment that I’ve encountered was from the family friend who asked me, almost verbatim, why I didn’t go to medical school instead of being homeless and worrying my mom. I don’t give a shit who you are or how sensible you usually are; to say a thing like that is profoundly and undeniably insane. Housing crises are not fixed by going back to school; they are fixed with adequate housing under tolerable conditions, full stop. The broad socioeconomic conditions of wasting a large chunk of my early thirties in my parents’ retirement house at incalculable cost to my short- and long-term health are less tolerable than I’d hope to have in my life, but beyond a certain threshold, which is never as distant as I’d hope, the alternative looks to be destitution on skid row. Or in rural terms, the Pot-o-Shit Friend Option. There’s no need to be that loser to live around that loser.

Keep this in mind, too: I’ve been watching people who own real estate in Palo Alto have emotional meltdowns because their children are failures as conduits of vicarious success. That statement’s so White, it’ll cause snow blindness. God help us, it’s also true. It’s probably a logical end result of a community too squeamish to buy its disappointing children sinecures and too craven to challenge the yuppie project. As I’ve said before, as failspawn we could be living in Lillooet crack dens, while in point of fact some of us hardly even drink. Palo Alto is a great place to neurotically compare the regression of one’s special snowflake towards the mean to several thousand overachieving Chinamen. It’s madness.

That sounds like something Rob Ford might have said. The big guy wasn’t woke when he put the coke into Etobicoke, but I maintain that he was a strong contender for the most effective cultural pluralist Toronto has seen in living memory. Bougie doesn’t usually do that kind of pluralism. It’s too permissive. It doesn’t give young’uns enough structure to duly impress their parents with great academic and professional success. Sino-Indian tiger parenting is surely a better model.

The adult decisions I’ve had to make are not the ones I expected. It never occurred to me what I’d be willing to do to keep a roof over my head until the projectile domestic acrimony between Joe Dirtbag and the Family Shrew mushroomed into an implicit but clear threat of sudden domestic violence against me. After that, I consciously admitted to myself that I’d already been putting up with horrific emotional abuse for weeks and months at a time over a period of years precisely in the hope of keeping myself off the streets. If Dickinson College tried to prepare its students for this possibility, it might find its donations being diverted, say, to long-term housing funds, and maybe its tuition money as well. It would be much better to preserve and abundantly refill this rice bowl by preaching abiding faith in gods of great providence. I suppose it’s a more pleasant story, unless one is savvy enough to tell that it’s dangerous bullshit or until one’s ass is thrown out into much more predatory and chaotic communities.

Realize that it is practically impossible for me to discuss any of this with most of my relatives or with many of my friends. I stumbled onto the wrong side of a gaping cultural divide that no one wants to bridge.