The blueberry season is getting close to the end, with a few days’ worth of Legacy left to pick, and I’m getting antsy. Going to Idaho for the eclipse didn’t help. I was out of town for a full week, free of the nagging guilt and acute distress that afflicted me during my walkout last month when I was biding my time in Newport and Portland, and the time to relax was a damn nice refreshment. I also realize that after I got out of Elko, a bleak-ass city where I managed to have an overly athletic she-yuppie in a T-shirt from an annual marathon in Pacific Grove tell me that I’m not homeless because I travel while her husband, in a matching shirt, looked on timidly in something between embarrassment and dumbfounded pain–that after I got away from the surprisingly eerie circumstances of that fucked-up dump of a railroad watering stop and across the unearthly moonscape between Owyhee and Mountain Home, I spent the bulk of my waking hours in Boise and Idaho City around people who were significantly better put together and in healthier and more pleasant built environments than what I normally face at work. An exceptionally friendly and gracious older yuppie couple in a Midlife Crisis Beemer (Mercedes? If they’d been on a train, you’d be hearing the damn specifics) gave me a pair of eclipse glasses right after I pulled into the LDS Church parking lot (initially transcribed as LSD Church; lol) in Idaho City, a few miles into the southern line of totality, a lot that the local Napoleonic faithful had opened up for free with a request on a sign by the entrance that we clean up after ourselves and refrain from alcohol and tobacco use, and with two perfectly clean portapotties on the perimeter of the lot.
Damn, Dynamite, you and the liger came through, man. Groovy shit, cracker. One needn’t grok the Mormons to be able to tell that they do us gentiles many a mitzvah in spite of shit like Jamberry and all the business they provide for the FBI’s white-collar crime division in Salt Lake City. I was straight-up right about that crew, fam. And I was wrong about Boise, which I expected to be a dump but is legit bitchin’.
The real life to which I returned, a bit reluctantly and a day later than I’d been targeting, has me earning four dollars an hour in a very good hour working on a vaguely shabby property (standing portajohn contracts are inevitably Pot-o-Shit Friendly) for employers who try to paper over their recurrently shady business practices by being buddies with me and my exclusively minor colleagues. It may not be a really ominous sign that I’m the only legal adult they’ve managed to keep on the crew for more than a few days this season, but it can’t be good. Most of this shady shit is pretty minor (heh), and I’m happy to give them some extra latitude because they run a scrupulously safe operation in an industry whose prevailing standards include threats to life and limb, but it gets old.
I’m 35 and have a bachelor’s degree. Why do I keep working there? I don’t discuss such things at work; it isn’t appropriate, and it would provoke fruitless chaos in an organization that is already regularly chaotic. One of my motivations is that I love farm work, especially with fruit plants. That much is easily and comfortably explained. The socioeconomic background that got me to the Willamette Valley doing stoop labor for thirty cents on the dollar of minimum wage are a can of worms. Most of the others on the crew this year don’t give me the vibe that they’ve willing to listen and be sensible and thoughtful, and I don’t dare go anywhere near this mess with my bosses. Discussing one’s homelessness with normies, self-described or other-described, is a minefield: hence that PG marathoner dipshit in Elko and her embarrassingly uncomfortable husband.
On my second day back at work after all the cool Idaho shit, the highest-volume picker on this year’s crew bluntly asked me, “Why do you come so late?” After stammering under my breath for a few seconds, I told her, just as bluntly, “Don’t go there.” To my powerful relief, she got the message and didn’t say another word about that. She’s one of nine siblings, three of whom have worked with me, and one of her sisters was the teacher’s pet who tried to sheepdog me back onto my assigned row, which was a useless waste of time and energy, a couple of weeks ago. Maybe it runs in the family. They come from a Warsaw Pact immigrant background that would explain it pretty conveniently. Then again, the third sister, who is doing something that pays kind of decently this year, is nothing like that. But I’ll be damned if I needed another possible stool pigeon on the crew turning me into the butt of gossip. Teacher’s pets are keystones in any authoritarian regime. In the US context, they’re the Uncle Toms. The actual Uncle Tom, the one with the cabin, wasn’t like that, but, well, you know. Or maybe you don’t; I hate to say it, but you wouldn’t be the only one. I knew enough shitheads in college who acted like they’d rat anyone but their true loved ones out to the secret police for internment or gassing or come what may to last me a lifetime. To hell with tolerating another one at a three-dollar-an-hour job. Or two-dollar. Whatever; it ain’t enough for that shit. My punctuality isn’t that chick’s fucking business. Full stop. It doesn’t concern her, and her intrusion into it augured nothing but ill.
I’m glad that I nipped her aspiring keyholder act in the bud, and I’m relieved that I was able to nip it in the bud without walking off the job again. If she resents me for not having to come to work at the same time that she does, she has no business letting it get back to me, and she also has her head up her ass. This isn’t a normal job deserving industry-standard attendance or punctuality or loyalty. I’m already more loyal than most people would think sensible to a company whose internal prevailing standard is maybe trying not to be a total fucking twerp all the time. DiLH told this year’s ADHD twerp that they’d like to keep him on to weed for a few days after the harvest: “Your dad says this is your job to lose.” Personnel decisions involving the Ditzney Princess’s mother were swell, so I gain much by not being a part of the local community, which sounds fucking miserable. That kid wanders around and stares at the river in a vaguely forlorn state of disorientation because his old man thinks it’ll teach him some things about life and growing up and shit. God bless America and the Protestant work ethic. I’ve come to enjoy the kid’s company, but fuckin’ A. I have to wonder how many competent, focused adults the farm has lost because it has all these twerpkin running around, some of them doing God knows what from minute to minute. I can certainly attest that it takes exceptional devotion to the work for a grown-ass adult to come back for another shift with the Ditzney Princess.
The new teacher’s pet has gotten the message, at least. I had some credibility to spare, some political capital, because I’m not a whiny little brat like so many of the other pickers. Office politics shouldn’t be rearing their oily head at this crappy job, and usually they don’t with any virulence. The stuff that Americans find so captivating and resonant on The Office is fucking aberrant. It’s pathological, inimical both to morale and to getting a goddamned thing done at work. I might put up with some for $15 an hour, but my environmental consulting days made me question whether a less sexualized but more vicious version of it was possibly worth $19.75 plus benefits, as most of those around me insisted it ultimately was. Putting up with political bullshit at a portable shitter job site for $2.70 an hour plus under-the-table cash tips as low as a quarter? Go to hell.
That’s the thing. For what I’m earning, that job had damn well better be enjoyable and low-stress and flexible. My bosses don’t pay for the right to make it suck. On the whole, they get this, and I respect them profoundly for this. I don’t mean to imply with my complaints that I’m not immensely grateful for this. I keep coming back to this job and to others like it, when I can find them, because I love the work and consider it a calling. I don’t come to work to be a jackoff or a space cadet. If some of my colleagues consider that a good use of their own summers, that’s their circus and their monkeys. I come to plug in, get shit done, and make money. This feels like an excessively mature stance towards such a badly paid job at such a chaotic, low-key shady company, but no matter how pretentious or bumptious this may sound, the craft transcends most of this bullshit. I figure that some of the twerpkin may come to enjoy or treasure the work themselves or to take pride in it in due course of time, since I’ve seen colleagues who started off thinking that these jobs suck come to enjoy them.
None of this means that anyone has cause to give me lip for not showing up at 6:30 sharp. What the fuck? That’ll cost minimum wage with 100% FICA deductions, no shortcuts, no excuses. Our bosses are chiseling on FICA deductions with the cash tips, which we might as well inflate by two or three orders of magnitude to justify the trouble of reporting them to the IRS. Adulthood involves thinking about this shit. Or, for those who drop out into third-generation disability or professional sign-flying, it doesn’t. I’m working for people who aren’t setting the best example of diligent taxpaying, so yeah. Petty cash under the table, even unto dem shine George coin, doesn’t inspire me to get my ass out of bed right away.
Or out of the driver’s seat. I have no hope of explaining to most of these people that sleeping in my car is better than fearing domestic battery at Joe Dirtbag’s hands, constant domestic verbal abuse and gaslighting from the crossfire of his shitty marriage, or murder at the hands of an ex-Army Ranger paranoid creep of an apartment superintendent. Bizarrely, the Ditzney Princess might have gotten it on some weird level; she had maybe the soberest, least salacious, most empathetic reaction I’ve ever seen to the abridged story of Pot-o-Shit Friend. Still, I wasn’t about to risk the possibility that she’d run her mouth about it and get me into a mess.
And as much as I love this work, I’m not about to devote all my energy to an underpaid job on a shabby property run by a chaotic family on the outskirts of one of the shabbiest towns in the valley and burn the candle at both ends all summer when I can spare some energy to dick around a few hours a day in much nicer, healthier, and ultimately more edifying built and social environments instead. Again, that isn’t a lifestyle concern that I want to raise at work; I’m trying to be tactful here, and I’m trying to navigate social dynamics that could turn into a clusterfuck any minute. I’m not about to go in and tell anyone, yo, dawg, this is a crap job on a property where y’all curate a literal pile of crap in a plastic box in a shithole town, please to take it and shove it until at least 0800 hours daily. I’d like to maintain some fucking subtlety and discretion, and I’m able to pull it off when no one’s getting weird with me.
I haven’t yet gotten tired enough to fall asleep in the afternoon this summer. Given that I’ve nearly fallen asleep at the wheel in previous seasons after work, I dare say this is healthy. I’m not a wanker. A wanker doesn’t pick three quarters of a ton of blueberries by hand in a month and a half in spite of days when management sandbags everyone with row assignments that waste our time. I honestly don’t even know if I’d have picked much more by getting to work on time every day; I might have been too tired to stay so focused and productive. Regardless, it isn’t the business of some teenage gossip who’s trying out for a Mean Girls sequel. Girlfriend, I don’t even GO here! As they say in Midtown, I live by the light rail station in Rancho.
If these twits are trying to learn or, worse, teach lessons about what it means to have a job, I have one: find another job that isn’t such a joke. Spare me the lectures, Weber. I’ve been doing farm work since the current teacher’s pet was in preschool. Scavenging deposit bottles isn’t exactly a job, but it isn’t exactly not a job, and you betcha I notice that it doesn’t inflict an office politics on me as long as I keep an eye out for OTE roustabouts and staties. Chaka Can Chaka Can. It’s something of an Oscar the Grouch/Psychotarp intersectional lifetyle, but those two have better morals than Mother-in-Law on a bad day. Punctuality is for jobs where no one’s sneaking around the edges of Wage and Hour Division regulations and then handing out quarters as tips for a full day’s work.
Every day on the savanna, a lion and a gazelle both wake up, knowing that only one will survive: the gazelle. The moral of the story: be the microdicked shithead dentist from Minnesota who needs a full day and a full night to shoot the lion and then watch it bleed to death from a badly placed arrow wound.
Sts. Francis, Cecil, Cecil, and Jericho, pray for us. You’re shaking my confi–never mind, that’s starting to sound like a Baden-Powell tale. Chesterfield!
Feel free to recommend any money and/or personnel intercessors in the comments. Retweeting cash cats and the $115 badger makes about as much financial sense as taking my ass to work again tomorrow morning. The sad thing is that that’s more sense than trying to spell out adult finances for some teacher’s pet at a job where no one really earns a living. I’d be flying a sign at the rest area if I were in it mainly for the money.