We’ve touched on mental health above, so let’s return to our Normal One. There’s no need to sugarcoat the floater: we haven’t got a whole lot of it around here.
There are astounding stories of psychiatric dead zones, places where it’s possible to drive, like, 500 miles across the prairie through country that’s home to a population in the tens of thousands and not come within an hour of a psychiatric practice. The other cool thing about these places is that they have some of the highest suicide rates in the US. Great work, fam. We’re really gettin’ er done for the people who git er done. Of course, we have irresponsible country music about cowboys and cowgirls not crying, which doesn’t help: if there are two other families within five or ten miles and it’s impossible to make ends meet, it’s a bad idea to bottle it all up just to conform to the idiotic stereotypes trafficked by opportunists who don’t even live on the range. It really says something about us as a nation, though, that we source large portions of our food supply from mental health sacrifice zones. We really are holding this joint together with chewing gum and dental floss.
This is the brittleness we all suffer because a posse of coke buddies in Manhattan has to make another easy buck at our expense. The High Plains have been depopulating for decades now. It has to make life harder to have all the kids leave town. The pork supply has been thrown into chaos because a handful of plants in the Midwest that process an alarmingly large portion of the country’s hogs were overcome with virus outbreaks. The Smithfield plant in South Dakota that got shut down because a symptomatic worker had clocked back in is said to process 2% of American pork. One plant. That’s insane. And they’re inevitably doing all the same sketchy, dangerous shit as ever, plus some. Ever since about 1980 the industry model has been to hire foreign peasants who live in crowded squalor to work themselves to exhaustion on lines that are run at inherently, blatantly dangerous speeds. The only thing we’re now adding is a deadly contagion alighting on this workforce at a time when it still can not care for itself in general or spatially buffer itself either at work or at home.
What else were we going to do? Treat these losers like people? Like our brothers and sisters, as their keepers, and they as ours? Pay them enough to live decently and take downtime when they need it to rest up? That’s no way to run a business.
The mental have always been in our midst: loners chasing God through the desert, the possessed whose demons Jesus exorcised, ergot victims, town lunatics, mountain men, Woody Allen. What’s new is the extreme abnormality of our times. I’m unconvinced of the realiability of the reconstructed data, but there are indications that the prevalence of mental illness in the West is rising significantly. It says something that so many people insist it is, regardless of the evidence they use or don’t have.
We indulged in autism earlier. Those who don’t use it as their all-access Disney pass are petrified that their kids will catch it. This fear is paranoid: a normally functioning community is unlikely to have more than a handful of social outliers who are too mentally disabled to function adequately in society, and some of these will have other conditions, not autism. Most likely the autists will skew towards the adequately functioning. Who gives a shit if they’re kind of odd? Why is that a problem? Do we all have to be cheerleaders? There’s no way that a community without incest or extreme inbreeding will end up with a fifth of its children nonverbal and throwing the cat at the wall.
Except that isn’t exactly what parents have in mind when they mention autism. They mean raising a kid who spergs out and understands cats more than people. So what? Is that a fucking problem? It isn’t for Charlie Sheen, and we can all see how far short he falls of Anthony Hopkins. The cheerleader question in the last paragraph was not, unfortunately, rhetorical. Yes, they all do have to be cheerleader material.
It’s that above-average thing again. By some accounts Mr. Keillor is one such case himself, and that explains the touchy-feely shit. Translation: he’s a clumsy dork and it took him an hour or maybe a month to do a quarter of what takes Joe Biden five seconds. We have our neurological explanations for Uncle Joe (ain’t fixable), but why do we need one for him? Is it not enough to note that he made a stage career out of wheezing and sighing through readings of his short fiction pieces, some of which sucked? If he’s autism, what the hell does Chris Thile say about the neurotypical?
The reason all the children have to be above-average, but not like that bulldog-looking nerd, is that our job market has come to be understood as having one Temple Grandin position, a few slots for the manic-depressives in the arts, maybe a John Nash kook nook or two in the sciences, and millions upon millions of openings in sales, but not, like, Willy Loman beta male shit. Parents are scared that their kids will flounder academically in school, and the popular explanations of late are all on the Spectrum, but they’re also scared to death that they’ll have trouble developing people skills, now known as “soft skills.” We really don’t do anything anymore if it’s hard, as she said.
Again, it’s because we all scam or strongarm rob our neighbors for a living. We don’t even run an economy based on taking in one another’s laundry. For chrissake we have Mexicans for that.
It’s all too easy to see how people who are fully employable but have mild difficulties reading and reacting to social cues would have trouble navigating the workforce due not to an inability or unwillingess to work, but due to a constitutional inability to convincingly lie. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to bluff under normal circumstances, and I have great difficulty compartmentalizing different truths for different audiences, although I’m okay at codeswitching and staying away from third rails in a number of different subcultures. I’ve never seriously suspected that I have autistic tendencies. What impresses me, rather, is that I’m too anxious to bluff or bullshit, even when I find it reasonable to be dishonest, and that I’m powerfully afraid of falling into a psychotic state if I lie or mislead as a matter of course. All around me I hear people saying things that sound absolutely delusional, things that are lucid in a strict clinical sense but functionally as psychotic as anything I’ve heard from someone actively cursing at ghosts downtown. I often conclude that the only thing I have left is my true witness, my ability and desire to live in truth, and as gross as I feel writing that, it’s true.
It’s something I’m loath to give up. I went to school with amoral bullshit artists, manipulators, gaslighters, liars, and similar scumbags who are now firmly among the amoral elites aggressively driving the productive into the destitute, despised margins of American society. They’re why it’s difficult to impossible to get by doing anything reputable for a living. This isn’t some butterfly effect wizardry story where a roomful of key assholes can be removed from the Rube Goldberg machine and it sputters to a halt because they were the linchpins. It’s more insidious. I’ve personally known maybe a dozen or two dozen truly bad actors, plus cronies of theirs who were class acts but sellouts, but I knew of hundreds more who were at least as bad, and altogether they work out to maybe 4% of the combined student body at a group of elite four-year colleges with combined enrollment of 10k.
The math is yours if you want it.
Is it crazy to surmise that the power and wealth people of this character hold has ill effects on mental health in their societies? Of course not. This is a faction of morally unhinged social climbers who presume themselves lords with the right and the duty to tell the rest of us how to live. Their own mental health, by the way, is terrible.
It’s my fault for listening to Marco Werman’s Two O’Clock Dorkfest. We all have our terrible habits, right? KQED preempted part of the feed yesterday afternoon, which per se could have been a good idea, but reread what I just wrote about who did this. Do they sound like they’ve been acting on GOOD ideas? What could have motivated them to interrupt their own programming?
Why, money. They welcome the money and the cash. Some of us welcome it more gracefully, but some of us also aren’t public radio stations. They cut away from about ten minutes of the Gavin Gabbin as well, on the reasoning that it was an extended Gabbin running until 1:30 but really on the reasoning that they could use some of that sweet long green. Some months ago, during a prior pledge drive, they cut away from Mina Kim’s live Forum interview with Nicholas “my name means fuck you in Arabic” and Sheryl WuDunn. It was a surprisingly good chat, but that aside, Kim is their own host and Forum is their own program! Even if the episode sucks, even if the whole program and concept and all parties involved suck, why put it together in-house, air it live, and then preempt it?
One of their bag ladies, I assume she is, Claire Greene or Clare Green or whatever–I think–got on the horn with Michele Henagan from home and said that she was loopy because it was getting stuffy in her attic. Green[e] is one of the characters they only trot out when they want money. I can’t recall their making any other use of her thirty talents. Mercy, she might have fewer, or she might have more, and we know her employer has more, or in any event we think it does because it could have put some aside in a savings mattress or Jefferson Icebox from the accounts already received, via our own. Who knows? They always need more. It’s like a kid who keeps getting Gobias Industries grants from every relative with money, and the family convenes without him in an effort to discern what the hell is wrong with him, and the council keeps drawing blanks because the putz is too boring to have a drug addiction. Radio equipment?
It’s pathetic. They’ve got this bag lady on air, and since we’re all under the watch of the Dread Ailment she’s set up a home broadcasting office, and the only free space she’s been able to repurpose is the attic. Quick reivew: homeskillet is on payroll at a licensed radio station. How hard it is for the techs to wire a feed Henagan’s live broadcast studio and a second studio in the same building? Are these losers operating the most popular NPR affiliate out of a single room, The Studio? Check it out: we’ve got the tape room for the archive, we’ve got the equipment room, we’re in radio so we’ve got the makeup room, we’ve got the studio, and over here we’ve got the game arcade, because we like to have fun.
It feels like some real Dril candles tweet-ass budgeting. Fifty or a hundred grand coming in a pop from “challenge grants” and they’re still setting up home studio feeds from employees’ attics. The whole broadcast-from-home story scans like an op, anyway. They usually have only one or two members of their on-air staff broadcasting at a time, a host and sometimes a live newsreader. Most of the newsroom has to spend much of its time in the field to do the reporting. I guess? I didn’t previously guess that this outfit had an attic. One extra employee who’s personally on air coming to the studio–yeah, yeah, there’s no reason to have Green[e] on, but they think there is–doesn’t seem like the tipping point from health into sickness. It feels awfully like public health theater to have Brian Watttt reporting from home in Oakland and staying off BARTTTT. Put your liquids in your 3-1-1 bag and take off your shoes; we can’t be running a dangerous civil aviation system here, like we’re Qantas.
It’s unimaginably amateurish. Oh, yeah, meant to tell you, Wildcard Line’s busy again, so I’m trying to get through to Nori directly on my HAM set, but it may take a while. Check on me if I’m not down for breakfast. These are Old Traditions, from times before the internet livestream. Pepperidge Farm remembers. Faulkner, oh Lord, Bill remembers. How could he forget? It is not even past.
It’s cool and definitely not a sign of societal decay that a major affiliate of the national public broadcaster has hosts broadcasting from their home attics. When they call us a city on a hill, they don’t exactly specify that the city isn’t a slum and the hill a slope at Fresh Kills. In fact, we’re getting a lot of “fresh kills” from the disease, AMIRITE. #TooSoon.
We have all these contrasts that are striking, as Robert Speed said about his thermos when Dr. Geyer arrived for his outpatient neurosurgery appointment. #TooSoon. Hudson Yards is open and available for well-meaning but hopelessly sheltered and oblivious alumnae from my high school who do God knows what of any use for society to gather for mixers and cultivate their worst rich girl proclivities, but the MTA can’t fix the cracks and leaks in its subway tunnel walls or keep its conductors alive. Sickly street people who haven’t had a half-decent place to stay in over a decade wander beneath the gleaming flagship towers (grab an airsickness bag) of the “up-and-coming,” “revitalized” SoMa. Bizarrely, one of these flagship towers was not only built but sold as high-end condos with its floors not level. We have earthquakes here. That ain’t it, chief.
We built this Shitty and did nothing about the Ghost Ship. 36 died as a result. Many of them were pretentious morons who just needed to make and appreciate their art in Oakland–gritty and authentic, but not, like Vallejo gritty and authentic–and some of their survivors still show up to sea lion total strangers for discussing the ramifications of that fire on social media, asserting the primacy of their private, artistic grief over the public policy considerations of, say, not risking the lives of firefighters by allowing people to inhabit and badly clutter a known death trap. Again, #TooSoon.
We’d hope it wouldn’t be too soon to start cleaning up this hideous mess, and not just pretend-cleaning it up with some more gentrification lofts across the freeway from a junkyard slum. We’d hope for many things: a chicken in every pot, a unicorn in every paddock. Our public health emergency is lighting only the weakest of fires under our leaders’ asses. We can MAYBE do something for the cold homeless, if the landlords don’t strongarm governments for rehousing rents beyond their artificially limited ability to pay, but we can’t deal with the shelters or the SRO’s until after they’ve had outbreaks, and then only on a case-by-case basis, and there’s absolutely no way we can flood the market with public housing sufficient for the poorest of the working class to stop living four or five to a room when they’re already exhausted and immunocompromised.
Our cosmopolitan elites and strivers pride themselves on being supremely rational and scientifically minded, in contrast to oafs like Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis and Tucker Carlson, but Trump is as close to FDR as we’ve gotten since at least Carter (look up Obama’s actual record, if you dare), Carlson has taken to outflanking the left on the actual left in a more targeted and coherent way than the Oaf of Office can manage for two minutes, and nobody in the big Democratic cities does a bloody thing for the poor. The counterargument that, well, some people in government and private charity are doing some things on some of these problems is mildly, vaguely encouraging, but when the sum of that effort moderately alleviates a tenth or a twentieth of the problem, or less, it’s tragically weak.
We plainly do not take any of this seriously as a society. The capital costs of the Golden1 Center could cover the recent annual budgets of Loaves and Fishes for nearly a century; those of the “Big Build” at the Sacramento Airport could cover close to four centuries. These are two consolidated line items for deluxe quasipublic goods whose capital costs could fund the most crucial, and arguably the only good, social services charity on skid row for close to half a millennium at its recent operating budgets. I keep meaning to send more money to Loaves and Fishes, and I’m not resentful that it’s on me, but for the love of God why are our governments not strongarming enough tax revenue out of the rich, and cutting off financial and permitting support for their profit centers cum vanities, to fill the gaping chasms left by the patchwork of NGO charities? Why in all hell must the burden fall onto a small contingent of nuns and whatever lay volunteers they can attract and professional lay staff they can afford to feed, clothe, bathe, house, and counsel a desperately poor community numbering in the low thousands?
This is insane. I don’t mean morally insane, although it’s that, too; it’s hard to resist the temptation to frame willful immorality as unsoundness of mind, and as much as I try to avoid doing so for reasons of rhetoric and self-respect, if I may say so, I can’t object to others taking such a stance when the entire debate has been so deranged for so many decades, especially in the antisocial circles on the right. What I mean is that this dereliction of basic social stewardship is fundamentally arrogant, detached from the observable facts on the ground, and delusional, that the communities they form and the governments they elect are mentally incompetent to keep the population safe. Abandoning people who have been visibly sick for years to life on the streets during a global public health emergency arising from a communicable respiratory disease is the communal equivalent of wandering around on active train tracks in a state of total disorientation, covered in weeks’ worth of filth.
There are jurisdictions where being so incompetent to care for oneself as an individual would easily prompt a guardianship, conservatorship, or involuntary psychiatric hold. If you or I had another person living in a tent in the backyard with a bucket for a toilet and no shower privileges in the house as a form of residential indenture for past debts, we could expect social services and the police to respond.
What I just described is exactly what landlords, hospital groups, collection agencies, credit bureaus, courts, prisons, and other authorities public and private do on a systematic basis to the poor to render them homeless. This is exhaustively established.
It’s bad news in the best of times, i.e., when the worst communicable diseases available in and from the community are venereal and bloodborne, not respiratory. That makes it plausible for the average bougie normcore fool to imagine that it’s just local color for a neighbor to be living on cardboard on the sidewalk and coughing up a lung all day on no sleep and no nutrition, like, huh, that’s a skell right there, but at least I’m clean and not at risk lol yuck. It’s still appallingly unreasonable, but there’s some serviceable rationality in the mix: at least I’m bathed, clothed, fed, rested, safe, and smug, so see ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya.
The current outbreak is much more serious for the population at large. We’re OBVIOUSLY part of the same disease reservoir; the best luck we can chase is the hope that our end isn’t wet yet. The street people will present at the same emergency rooms where they’re already frequent fliers and expose clinical staff to viral loads proliferated by their own weakened immune systems, along with a spray of every other species of nasty shit they’re unable to fight off for the same reasons: in the vernacular, because they’re too sick and tired to get healthy.
The nurses will then go home to their nice neighborhoods. The doctors will go home to their very nice neighborhoods.
Is this some kind of bleeding-heart no man is an island sentimentality? Okay, I go to confession when the booth has been open sometime since St. Patrick’s Day and I’ve been so much as thinking callous thoughts that I fear have made life harder for some bum I passed on the street, so come over and own my liberal ass with economic facts and logic all you want, but look at it this way: if you don’t personally have affairs with doctors or nurses, somebody you know does. Be sure to up the odds if you’re from a nice neighborhood and went to a “good school,” like Ryerson or Trinity Western, but who the hell do I think I can fool with the shock value: I mean Harvard. It would have been a good idea for Robert Sanchez to reach for the emergency brake in the interest of passenger and crew safety, but good God, some of you really do cry like suicidally despondent ranchers living three hundred miles from the nearest psychiatrist when you apply to Bowdoin and only get in to Bowie State.
Ow, Tate, my balls.
What your husband means by “business in Fresno” is tricks he picks up on Parkway. How do I know this? It’s a true story; it doesn’t have to be an accurate one. There’s a lot of stuff that can’t be known for an absolute fact but can easly be known for a statistical fact, and sweetheart, we’re all part of the statistics. Do I sound like I know this because I’ve spent time on Parkway? Here’s the embarrassing part: all I got was a room, not a girl to share it with me for half an hour.
These are social diseases. Temple Grandin was in the vanguard for arranging for machine hugs to carry her through our strange times. Go figure. The point is, if you think you know somebody who knows somebody who can bribe or blackmail the dean of admissions into admitting your uppity brat into Yale, you absolutely know somebody who knows somebody who’s badly symptomatic and badly contagious out on the streets. For fuck’s sake I have one degree of separation from Dana Rohrabacher, Laird Hamilton, and that guy who hawks CD’s from a cart out in front of the Foodland in Princeville. Yeah, ya gotta ride your pipeline in her Pearl Harbor more aloha, ya? /Juicily disturbed Guy Hagi voice/ See you out in the Pacific!
We can pretend that we’ve banished the stubborn last 10% of underground masseuses and hourly girlfriends (and boyfriends! and masseurs!) to OnlyFans for the duration. We can pretend that there isn’t a new crop of speakeasies whose customers do, in fact, go for the food. We can pretend that being horny for rules means actually following the rules instead of bending them to one’s own convenience and comfort at every opportunity. Oh, but we’re Instacarting our food and being comfy and cozy at home in our PJ’s, just like the government said! Yeah, genius, that was my point. You’re acting like you’re passing the marshmallow test when the point of the test is to eat as many bags as you like and wait for a servant to bring you more from Whole Foods at your command. Congratulations on staying in school and outattaining Nickelback.
We can pretend that we are valuing human life by not seeing our friends or relatives or lovers or fuck buddies or thicke hug buddies or thicky tricks, by staying in and effectively living, each of us, in our own condom. Cutting out the promiscuous, unncessary, often unwanted physical contact and proximity with total strangers has saved countless lives this spring. What’s that last 10% of deferred contact, with our loved ones when they aren’t visibly ill, really worth in the interest of our own health and that of our neighbors? Honestly, I’m not even trying to be rhetorical. This much seems to be a judgment call, one of Solomonic gravity if we examine it too closely.
The problem is that we also pretend to value human life by painting social distancing squares on that parking lot in Las Vegas, delineating for the town bums exactly where to lay down in the lines of sight from hundreds of empty hotel rooms. A serious society would have had the municipal and county governments in strict receivership that night. This still isn’t a marshmallow test, asshole. Lives are at stake.
The permissiveness we extended Carolyn Goodman and her cronies instead was utterly derelict and insane. It’s the licentious recklessness that causes us to live the consequences of our own recklessness in due course of time. “We” may or may not include that wine grandma and her gin husband, but they are foolish enough to spend time in the same city they’ve trashed, so we can’t assure that it won’t.
They’re from Philadelphia. Them and Netanyahu. And Cosby. Give a fat bitch some pound cake, won’tcha, and couldja stop puddin’ your pop where she didn’t ask for it, gramps. Geez. No man is an island, and no man can stand to go to an island without his handle of Bombay Sapphire.
We had our thicc moist boi, the Donald, looking straight at the sun with naked eyes because he’d been told they were going to dim it. Many complain that he’s a stupid asshole with a death drive and no common manners or common sense. They should take a look at Jair Bolsonaro sometime. That one’s a case. We might say that he “eclipses” his counterpart in El Norte the Great Satan. He was off from the start of his presidency, but not one to rest on his laurels, he’s daily exploring new depths of bad judgment and worse health. Bolsonaro is a memento mori of the medically undead. Dulce et decorum est pro Patria in Foro expectorare.
The upper middle class wanted Bolsonaro for his vigor. They wanted him to revitalize Brazil against the decadence of the left, as bodily manifested in Lula. They didn’t even have a sickly, careerist nepotist collapsing into the arms of aides in mild weather and being bundled into a waiting van to deride as their foil. For their showdown with the based, iron-pumping, socially adept ex-autoworker they dredged up a sickly-looking ex-army officer with the eeriest, most uncanny smiles, like the different parts of his face were running on different, conflicting operating systems. What they really had in mind in the way of vigor was that this repulsive and yet bafflingly handsome Lovecraftian swamp creature would gladhand them and somehow, through flattery or probably money, prevail upon his mercenaries to beat the shit out of the poor. A bad knife laceration to the liver and months’ worth of real-time disintegrating lungs and skin tone later, he’s still miraculously ambulatory and articulate. It’s amazing that Edith hasn’t been out to tell us, oh, no, unfortunately Mr. Wilson is indisposed.
Jair Bolsonaro is a walking Picture of Dorian Gray. He’s the picture, and Brazil is Mr. Gray, or maybe more like Dorian Yellow. It’s amazing. There’s no need to understand Portuguese or even listen to his tone of voice as a nonspeaker to glance at a still or a video of him and immediately tell that he is extremely unwell.
This is a fellow who might be taken for an exceptionally dysfunctional mayor or governor. In fact he is the head of state and government for a large, populous country, generally agreed in recent decades to be on the rise, an international agricultural and industrial powerhouse that exports commercial jet aircraft. If BoJo and the Donald were put on standby to serve as his regents or successors, it would be a relief. This dude looks worse than Fancy Nancy or DiFi, and yet somehow also better, and in the next frame he looks like he’s on furlough from the ICU. It’s impossible to tell if he’s 35, 75, or both at once. Here, in a single majestic man, we see synthesized and incarnate the inaugural speech of William Henry Harrison, the paranoia of Richard Nixon, the disoriented pallor of Rob Ford at his most alcoholic, the temper of Andrew Jackson, the compulsive handshaking of Scott Morisson, and the bluster through ill health of JFK.
Jair Bolsonaro is a synecdoche for a nation. That nation is the United States of America.