One of the two caterwauling Robin Thicke wannabes at work collaterally assaulted me the other day by chasing a kid he was bullying around the end of a row and up the aisle where I was working, straight into my immediate work area. It was painfully obvious that he acted with criminal intent to assault his target and didn’t give a shit that I was in his path. That isn’t how he conceived of it, but that’s because he’s a thug who thinks that he has a civil right to throw his weight around and bully pussies however he pleases. What provoked this assault was pathetic: dude was salty that his target was poaching a distant, heavily cropped part of his row instead of staying on his assigned row. It was a fucking territorial dispute.
I read Thicke Bro the fucking riot act about getting physically aggressive with other employees and told him that I would call the police if he laid a finger on me. What rattled me about the aftermath of this assault, though, was that his primary target defended him, telling me that he was “just joking around” and couldn’t have meant any harm because he was smiling. I’d seen the fucker smiling, but I wasn’t about to tolerate that piece of shit assaulting two innocent coworkers just because he misdirected us with facial expressions contradicting his unmistakably belligerent body language.
I couldn’t tolerate an emotionally abused kid defending a workplace bully who had just assaulted me as well, but I also got really uncomfortable with how upset I was getting with this mark, who was obviously an innocent traumatized wimp who felt boxed in, literally and figuratively, between me and this guy he was going to have to face again and again; the guy who assaulted us is either family or a close peer-level family friend, although I couldn’t follow which. Worse, I was afraid that this situation would escalate to additional assaults, all too likely including batteries, if I stuck around that day, and I did not want to be put in a position of having to physically restrain Thicke Bro and risk being investigated for assault myself. So I left the property, wrote an advisory email to the sheriff’s department, and then contacted my bosses with a copy of the advisory email and some additional information on what had happened and what else I was afraid might happen as a consequence.
This turned into a three-hour time sink over a couple of two-minute workplace confrontations, but I thought it prudent to formally document what had happened and, more importantly, to eliminate any risk that our bully boy thought I might be bluffing about calling the cops. I know the type. A man of his character may despise a victim who tattles to authority figures for being a pussy, but he’ll fear one who has been in touch with the police, because he knows that the next move may result in his own arrest. These guys are not all that principled at heart. They talk a loud game about manly honor and shit, but when push comes to shove, they will not stand up to vicarious assertions of power on behalf of their victims by authority figures with arrest powers. Besides, they never abide by standards of honor themselves. If they did, they wouldn’t physically bully other people at work over territorial disputes that they started in a fucking berry field.
This may sound like a Story Whore submission about my trauma, a passion play in which I will shortly don my Vietnam Veteran trucker hat (that breathable plastic, tho), pull the list of PTSD symptoms out of my breast pocket, and let me tell you about it. There’s a government disability pension waiting at the far end of that rainbow of lies for anyone who doesn’t colossally fuck up his own story, so it ain’t me, Lawd, at $5.50 an hour gross on a good day it ain’t fuckin’ me. Nor do I want to exaggerate how upsetting or scary the actual assault was. That one bad act isn’t what still has me rattled half a week later, not when I’d gotten through to my homie that Five-O would be driving Miss Daisy down to Albany in chains for being a bad girl if he ever did anything of the sort to me.
What still rattles me about this situation is the cultural context that enabled it. This dispute did not arise and escalate to the point of assault in a cultural void. If one two-bit thug who made it past my bosses’ normally sound gut check at the time of hiring assaults me and another picker out of the blue, I can have my pushy boi policed up on short order. Honestly, I assumed all along that the guy was just a bit of a clownhatting dipshit with a questionable idea of how to dress for work, and then suddenly he assaulted us, so I don’t see what the In-Laws, who spent much less time around him, could have detected in the way of warning signs.
Similarly, if Thicke Bro’s fellow Thicke Bro is too codependent, verbally combative, and generally off for me to tolerate any more of his caterwauling after this incident, he’s just one bad member of an otherwise good crew, and I can make sure that he isn’t given the opportunity to get up in my face about how I did his buddy bogus. In this case, I’ve already gotten both of these guys fired. This is a power that I don’t feel comfortable possessing, let alone exercising. Calling the police for assistance fending off threats to one’s safety or welfare is appropriate for anyone who trusts the responding agency and its officers enough to make the call, but getting people fired somehow just seems much more extreme.
Neither of these guys seemed capable of basic, normal self-control in a professional setting, and one of them committed an unprovoked physical attack that nearly turned outright violent just to throw his weight around with a less assertive coworker, but still, getting people fired is an awesome power that is all too wantonly abused these days by drama queen shitheads who want to make a point about some moral panic they’re having and don’t care if they get a well-meaning person branded with the scarlet letter in the process. Adria Richards getting the dongle guys fired for being sexually crude (must have been a damn boring meeting for that to rise to the level of humor) and the internet mob going after Justine Sacco for making a comment about white people not getting AIDS while she was in the air because they were vicariously offended on behalf of all black Africans were cases of puritanical assholes throwing their weight around, with consequences much worse than the average non-contact workplace assault.
These boys are gone, and good riddance. But here’s where things get really fucking tricky and weird. The kid who was the target of that assault is presumably still on staff, and I’ll be floored if he developed the backbone to stand up to the two-bit thug peers in his life over the weekend. Normally I try to live by the Prime Directive in my dealings with the locals on the job, unless they open up to me to an extent convincing me that they aren’t defensively deep in the country authoritarian bullshit. This case isn’t normal: a bullying victim was adamantly defending a guy who had just assaulted me and saying that he had done nothing wrong, and it’s bloody obvious that he was defending the thug because he was scared of the guy and didn’t want more trouble. I might as well try to reason with a codependent victim of domestic violence about how her husband really is incorrigible wifebeating trash. I come to Oregon to pick fruit, not to do high-stakes social work as an amateur who’s half on/half off the clock. And to scavenge deposit bottles. Chaka Can, Chaka Can, I’d rather not feel for any of this horseshit, Chaka Can.
On top of this, all of which is already a huge mess, we’ve got an ambient religious environment that I really don’t want to criticize at work but which seems to be causing more harm than good. Few of the people involved with that farm are not evangelical Christians. I’ve known a few pickers who haven’t said anything about their religious affiliations but seemed to be something along the lines of sporadically churchgoing Main Line Protestants or Catholics. As a churchgoing Catholic myself, I don’t generally feel like, uh, coming around and talking it over (Is Wilsonville far away? Don’t answer it if you think I care), because that potentially means arguing about evangelical practices and beliefs that have been misattributed to Catholicism by evangelicals who’d rather pretend that there aren’t any disputes over, say, praying for the dead. (How do you spell that, Captain Queenan? “Depotted?”)
We were already dealing with an ongoing but low-level threat of an uncalled-for, pain-in-the-ass cultural exchange that has no business arising in the workplace but does anyway because we’ve got a bunch of kids in the mix who don’t understand that they were not raised in the only mainstream American culture. With this assault, though, we’ve now got the public evangelical piety of a timid bullying victim, a minor who got upset when I tried to stand up to his bully even though his bully had assaulted me, too. Hey, that’s a hashtag! Let me pull out this list of symptoms and TELL you about my trauma!
I’m not inferring anything. The target of this assault previously told me and another picker that he would be taking a week off later in the season because “I have to go to something called Moody.” This has to refer to a vacation bible school affiliated with the Moody Bible Institute. This kid is being raised under the auspices of a religious community that is failing to protect him from grievous bullying or teach him how to respond effectively to mistreatment by peers. He goes to VBS, he probably goes to weekly Bible studies, he almost certainly goes to church at least once a week, and he got upset with me for pulling rank as an adult on an out-of-control peer of his who had just assaulted both of us.
This strongly suggests to me that he’s recently been under the authority of adults acting under church auspices who knowingly allow bullying on their watch and make excuses for it. As much as I don’t want to get sucked into any bullshit cultural exchange over Catholicism versus evangelical fundamentalism or whatever, I’m very much of a mind to lower the boom on any congregation that even toys with making excuses for its adults’ or older teens’ failure to police bullying under its auspices. Church needs to be a safe space for the vulnerable, and that means that those holding its authority cannot be a bunch of excuse-mongering derelicts. This is basic adult supervision. It should go without saying, but there are some real dipshits and more than a few abusers (mostly emotional, I’d guess, but occasionally sexual) who use congregational authority to throw their weight around and aggrandize themselves. We just can’t be allowing children, or God forbid adolescents, to establish a pecking order like chickens. This is not a fucking barnyard.
In this context, the prissy squeamishness of so many Christian conservatives around crude language doesn’t come across as a mildly annoying foible but as a rank, damning expression of predatory hypocrisy. As far as I can tell, the guy who assaulted us is unchurched or the next thing to it, although I’m basically reading the tea leaves here. His codependent buddy got hit by a car and lives out in the woods, where he’s been ministered to and resocialized by a community of tweakers who hang out in front of the corner store down the street from the railroad bridge. I’m not making any of this up, and I’m 100% sincere and descriptive, not trying to make light of any of this, when I say that I think this fellow may have sustained untreated brain damage in the accident. There was something unusually disinhibited about his manner of speech that I don’t think can be fully explained by his club bro act, and he told us that he is still frequently in physical pain from the accident months later. He routinely interrupted others with abrupt, sometimes off-topic questions that he asked without normal volume modulation. I’m thinking maybe a Phineas Gage situation, and I mean this seriously.
So we’ve got this guy trying to recover from being hit by a car while he’s camped out down by the river most of the time, when he badly needs housing and could probably use a low-intensity inpatient behavioral health treatment program for whatever all is wrong with his head. Ain’t that America, Mellencamp. So far, so bad, and this looks like a real clusterfuck that no individual or family will be able to resolve with normal acts of charity, but now we seem to have people hanging out in the fray who think that what’s wrong with both of these dudes, Gage Bro and Rage Bro, is that they cuss too much. This is a dire problem, one that I am not exaggerating. American evangelical thought on public morals really, truly is so crude. I’m sure that I’d have an easier time convincing the wimp who was the primary target of the assault that using the Heavy Seven is more problematic than chasing a submissive peer around a hairpin corner at the end of a row over a completely bogus territorial dispute.
To be clear, I do not believe that any of the In-Laws are so foolish; they’re exactly the sort of responsible adult authority figures who are needed but so often missing in situations like this. The problem is that they’re in no position to fix dysfunctional, abusive subcultures that only incidentally overlap with their own much healthier and responsive culture (Mother-in-Law has had her troubles, but she knows that she has and clearly strives to do better). They’ve got this heavily indoctrinated adolescent pushover who refuses to stand up for himself and got upset with me when I stood up for him, apparently because he feared that I’d get him into trouble for going after his bully buddy. Unfortunately, this is exactly the kind of shit show that flares up when timid people who won’t think for themselves are put into environments with authoritarian premises, such as fundamentalist church youth groups. The In-Laws stumbled into this mess in part because the dysfunction of a pathological, ungodly fucked up evangelical community marginal to their own church circles at the closest bled into their workplace at the same time that the dysfunction of Tweaker Hooverville started to wash ashore from the opposite direction.
I can’t fix this horseshit. If I could, I’d be worth $12 an hour, minimum bid. The shit hit the fan and I was suddenly doing the work of a school guidance counselor, completely unpaid, at a job where I’ve never cleared minimum wage for more than maybe fifteen minutes at a time. That isn’t a high enough pay grade for me to put myself smack in the middle between a bunch of prim churchy types who are against swearing, a bullying victim who angrily insists that he wasn’t one, and a thug from the crew whose best friend is fit for outpatient services on Tri-Met.
That doesn’t work. The boundaries are completely fucked. There’s a place for street ministry, but that place is not five yards from where I’m trying to pick fruit. That’s like saying that because a priest hears confessions as part of his ministry he has a duty to be utterly gracious when a crazy bum comes into his rectory garden and throws a shovel at him because he’s the devil while he’s picking tomatoes for dinner. We need to have a different, proper place for those who break into the Governor’s Mansion to flag down the Highway Patrol to shoot the mountain lion that’s been growling from inside that dumpster. No, that’s a poor analogy: dude admitted that, on second thought, he probably imagined the cat. Sometimes the kitty is in the dumpster; other times, the kitty is in one’s head. You know how that happens.
The guy who lives in the woods under the wings of tweakers has a girlfriend who worked with us briefly and said that she might have to leave work early because she didn’t have her schizophrenia meds. She seemed pretty high-functioning, just a bit jumpy and anxious sometimes. She was certainly no Psychotarp or Mixups in my Mind. I have no problem working around people with a history of psychosis who aren’t disruptively symptomatic, and I mean that. The problem is that we’ve got a whole lot of people on the loose in this country with untreated behavioral problems. The better results include Mixups in my Mind or Psychotarp talking nonsense at me for half an hour, which might be okay if I’ve got the time. The worse results include Mixups throwing a wheelbarrow across the parking lot because he’s having a mad.
Have I told you lately that inpatient psychiatric beds facilitate productive economic activity, and that I love you? That last part is bleeding-heart horseshit, but the first part is true, so will I see you tonight? The 72 bus to Clackamas Town Center works, too. Forget about getting Charlie off (CHAHLEE!); at least Charlie knows that he wants to get off and isn’t all like, let me fucking off right here, then standing in the doorway yelling about how he has to get off, then, once he’s finally off, banging on the door trying to get back in, like he’s P. J. O’Rourke’s Anacostia slow boy and he lives there.
Contra the evangelical language police, the problem isn’t with neighborhood bums who go up to Addison and ask whether any of you white motherfuckers want to get on the train for free. That’s, uh, unfare, but that isn’t what’s really wrong with the CTA; does that sound like Rahm Emanuel to you? Okay, maybe a bit. Fat Cracka paid for his ride, by the way. Fat Cracka pays, because Fat Cracka cares. Too much, in fact. It should be my Monday, as they say (yuck), but I’ve already scavenged two deposit bottles today, and that’s work, and $5 to putz around on WES sounds pretty damn appealing right now, because that’s some bitchin’ self-propelled diesel and the Tualatin Valley somehow isn’t nothing but social problems, so I’ll do without anyone who has an Uber account getting up in my face about how that’s too little radical compassion or too much self-care.
Don’t ask me how that became a sentence. Whose tent have YOUR boots been under? There’s no need to ask who I saw in the tent village in front of the charity lunch spot downtown last night, either, or why I walked a full circuit around the Greyhound depot, or why I started the seven o’clock hour in a darkened church sanctuary, waiting for the contemplative mass to begin while I thought about how maybe Pot-o-Shit Friend should have used kitty litter. I’ll understand if Father needs to excuse himself from the altar to find some soap. He might have enough to spare to wash out my mouth, but where does that leave my brain? How, pray tell, can one minister to the Body of Christ when one has such difficulty ministering to the entire head?
God bless. This ain’t mere Christianity; it’s the agony of Gethsemane as farce. Welcome. Take a look around and see what you find. Share it with the congregation if the spirit so moves you, for all are welcome in the meetinghouse that we call life. Lord have Mersey upon us, this sounds like a Mrs. Robinson remix, but Mrs. Robinson didn’t live in the woods with all the bodega tweakers, so do share with us your newest testament of latter-day horrors. I’ve shared worse.
Stay tuned for our next issue, devoted to 4,000 words about how you totally know you’re a 2010’s kid if you’ve ever given thanks that you haven’t been stabbed on MAX.