A few years ago, I had the high dishonor and the distinct displeasure, as our Washingtonians are never so candid as to say, of working with a foursome of traveling kids that Joe Dirtbag had inadvisably allowed to crash on his farm through the autumn and into the early winter. By “work with,” I mean clean up after their ostentatiously hardworking, incorrigibly sloppy white asses and wonder about the judgment of anyone willing to allow them an operational role in a working vineyard and winery.
This was in the days before I began vomiting these pages onto the internet, so I have no earthly idea who blog this is or what it has to so with anything. No need to go around accusing me of topical focus and coherence, now; I swear I initially wrote that as “confusing me,” so, well, you see. You don’t mess with the man from Tuscon, not that I’m from Tucson or have any personal connection to marginally employed Hall and Oates Effect cryptotrustfunders who waitress a night or two a week at PF Chang’s when they aren’t flying to Denver to get boned by traveling insurance salesmen and/or First Amendment attorneys focusing on the expressive rights of pornographers who end up adverse to Ken White et al. and mercilessly ridiculed in the blawgosphere when they sue critics for publishing crappy cartoons depicting their mothers romancing polar bears.
That, too, has nothing to do with anything else. I imagine these particular parties shitting into properly plumbed toilets, but I imagine many things. Never mind me. By the way, I didn’t mean to imply above that any of Tuscon’s dickable bimbos hold themselves dickable by old hippie lawyers whose Stanford-dropout daughters shack up with borderline-psychotic squatters with DIY stepdown septic systems constructed from a series of plastic barrels and an outlet pipe into the creek, but these essays generally aren’t worth editing, so my language, like JFK’s vigorous little John-John, shall stand. Nor do I mean to accuse Tuscon’s underemployed waitresses of being common whores; common whores have a useful place in the social ecology that I wouldn’t want to laxly ascribe to anyone involved in the operation of PF Chang’s. There are things that one does when one wants to be a productive member of society, and then there are things that one does when wants to be quality by surrounding oneself with quality and Manuel Ramos for Sheriff.
But enough of those who make sure not to live in squalor. I haven’t yet discovered an American society in which that can be all of us, and it’s unsettling. Crystal Harris proposes but one possible folkway, fun stuff. The possibility that our dickable Tuscon bimbo is marginally more thoughtful than that is not encouraging, and please note that I called it a possibility, not a fact. We’ve got some sheltered fucking idiots on the loose around here, and their worldviews have policy implications for the rest of us. They pretend that non-fun stuff (the unfun?) doesn’t exist and get cross when confronted with it. I have trouble with that, in all senses.
The traveling kids from above are an early historical reason why. These fuckers spun out a car that I was told was unregistered on the Interstate on their way north from San Diego, washed up in town, and inevitably hooked up with Captain Flimflam, who inevitably lodged them on the damn farm. Them and their dog, of course; the dog was cool, but I couldn’t help wondering why these fucking derelict vagrants always have a goddamn dog with them when they have no visible means of support or place to stay and why they should get a pass for using pets as props when I’m too prudent to buy one and assume responsibility for its care.
This crew was something else. It was made up of two couples who had met on the San Diego trustafarian vagrant scene, in either OB or PB, which I always confuse. I do know that, notwithstanding the combined administrative capabilities of Mexico’s governments, every yoga video that the Insurance Schmuck’s ex-fiancee posts on Facebook from her apartment in PB is another perfect advertisement for the Reconquista de Aztlan. This foursome, in turn, was a walking campaign ad for Robert Acosta for Sheriff. I don’t mean that in an ethnic sense at all. It’s a shitty thing to say, but these fuckers were shitty, and they became our problem by leaving San Diego.
What the hell the intervening 800 miles of CHP jurisdiction was worth when a foursome of useless greaseballs could drive by in an unregistered vehicle is also questionable. For what it might be worth, there’s something happening here; what it is, ain’t exactly me popping some punk-ass Chips to thank them for their service.
Nor was I of a mind to pop the traveling kids themselves. The less useless of the two couples was from back east. She was the daughter of what sounded like quasihippie truck farmers in Maine, borderline smoking hot and by far the most competent of the four. On her own she would have been all right, but on her own she was not. Her boyfriend was the whitey-dreaded son of a Connecticut ER doc, from Greenwich, IIRC. Right there I sensed bad judgment. Like, why the fuck is this guy wandering around the West Coast like a total loser when he could be living decently with what sound like supportive, tolerable parents? Then again, I asked myself the same question often enough.
The other couple was from Portland, as in Portlandia, not as in Bob Bachelder and murdah on the bayou. I never got a clear sense of how nice or Portland part of Portland they’d left, but they didn’t seem to have come from backgrounds nearly as affluent as the whitey dread jackass from Greenwich or from family lives as stable and edifying as the Mainer hottie had enjoyed on the farm. The dude was jumpy enough that the Ragin’ Canajun said he looked like he’d just left a cult; chica had underwhelming muscle mass, a vaguely limp and sullen affect, and looked like a turkey.
The Mainer was corrigible with face-to-face counseling from someone who wasn’t totally head-up-the-ass, but when she was surrounded by her travel mates, as she usually was, she went native and helped them fuck up their work assignments. This crew littered so much frost-defoliated Cabernet Sauvignon fruit on the ground just by lifting the bird netting in a hurry that it was more trouble for me to stoop down and pick up after them than it would have been to do the work myself. Whitey Dread Boy managed to blister his hands severely enough for bandaging by splitting firewood for ten or fifteen minutes without gloves in Joe Dirtbag and the Family Shrew’s yard. The bastard was showing his work ethic off, but he didn’t fool me. I’d been doing concerted manual craft labor for hours at a time without sustaining any significant injuries, so of course I thought he was a fucking jackass. The Portlanders were just generally whatthefuckular. Turkey Girl didn’t bring any discernible gifts to the operation, and her boyfriend always looked like he was running late to a security gig for Charles Manson.
Joe Dirtbag kept telling me that he enjoyed this crew’s early-twenties energy but that they also reminded him why he usually hired restaurant employees who were at least in their mid-twenties, but this was a category error. These kids weren’t useless because they were kids; they were useless because they were travelers. What good did he expect to come from hiring a squad of hippie circuit wastrels who were too derelict to properly register their motor vehicles? What the fuck did he see in them that indicated any sort of skill, attention to detail, or ability to listen to basic instructions? They didn’t give off a good first impression to anyone but a fellow bullshitter. That’s why Captain Flimflam yukked it up with them and plugged them into his network; they were of his tribe. That’s a tribe that ought to be driven off to a reservation at Yucca Mountain, but the hippie swarm knows better than to seek out towns where there’s a recent history of officially mediated exiles onto the Trail of Tears.
These losers are not just passing curiosities or annoyances to those who have to live or work with them. They can be extremely disruptive. They can be active vectors of chaos and filth. I don’t care if some loser wants to waste his summer or his twenties dressed like Robin Hood and begging for alms in downtown Eugene. That I can avoid. I can’t avoid the same loser when he’s living and allegedly working on a property where I have business of my own to conduct. That’s a fucking problem.
Captain Flimflam is a fucking problem. That shitty bastard would be all right if he were just peaceably flying a sign on the street or mutually bullshitting his fellow travelers. He is not all right when he’s ruining a business that I’ve helped fund and spent over a thousand hours helping operate. He is not all right when he brings a rogue’s gallery of showy derelicts and the severely mentally ill onto a farm that we were all told was to be ordered to ongoing agricultural productivity. He is not all right when he spends his days peacocking and bullshitting everyone in our place of business instead of operating the farm stand that he is advertising and arranging to have the overflowing portajohns swapped out as he has promised.
This shit isn’t theoretically problematic; it’s a concrete, ongoing threat to public health, public safety, and the welfare of those present on properties operated in such a fashion. Joe Dirtbag and Captain Flimflam are the shitty keystones without which Lady Pisspan, Pot-o-Shit Friend, Mixups in my Mind, Psychotarp, and the worse-than-useless traveling I’ve been describing would not have fallen into place. The Ragin’ Canajun complained afterwards that the traveling kids had been fucking pigs and left messes behind for others to clean up. It turned out that this was a very modest foreshadowing of Pot-o-Shit Friend’s housewarming gift. He didn’t just figuratively leave a whole lot of shit behind. The traveling kids mainly left piles of dishes and trash in their wake.
All it took was one socially dominant man of bad morals (Joe Dirtbag) cultivating a dirty friendship with another socially dominant man of bad morals (Captain Flimflam) to set off a raging avalanche of shit. People like them either don’t care or think it’s funny to watch decent people squirm and stew in upset at their own impotence in the face of objectively disgusting, disruptive, and even dangerous conditions. As more and more decent people with options get the fuck out of Dodge, businesses under the auspices of such shitheads go into tailspins, with a tiny rump of competent, diligent people (e.g., sometimes just me and the Ragin’ Canajun, sometimes just RC without me) trying to navigate a social and infrastructural hellscape. Being one of the last people sincerely trying to make something out of such a disaster zone sucks; being the very last is powerfully demoralizing.
Not alerting the authorities to such disasters is derelict of duty. I’ve been one of the derelict parties to JD and CF’s horseshit. One of the few things I’ve done that has restored my sense of pride in the midst of this mess has been to report the property to code enforcement. Everything about this situation is so shambolically dysfunctional that my parents, who neither live in nor approve of squalor, are hesitant to be judgmental and don’t want me getting up on my own high horse just because I’ve been involved in the operation of a property where a minor child has been living under the authority of a man who is too busy dicking around on his guitar to get the shitters swapped out and a little faggot not associated with Dire Straits has been shitting in a trash can. My dad once told me, in a tone of disappointment, resignation, and mild alarm, that he didn’t know what someone in JD’s position could do when he’s repeatedly had tenants defecating so inappropriately. Providing a proper toilet out of a sense of shame and basic decency and not recruiting weird-ass tenants to live on the property when they look like they might go crap somewhere all wrong must have been too straightforward. This shit keeps happening because JD and his property are fit for A&E TV. I’ve seen segments on hoarding documentaries that are cleaner than any of this.
I keep writing these essays that amount to book reviews of The Lord of the Flies devoted exclusively to the part where the boys all go shit on the one beach. I do so because I keep running into communities that are fundamentally unable or unwilling to manage the lowest, most basic, most fundamental needs on Maslow’s Hierarchy. Shitting somewhere other than a goddamn trash can in the living room is a need. Not being at risk of plunking one’s ass down onto a mountain of other people’s shit when using the portapotty is a need. Society not suffocating and choking to death on its own accumulated bodily wastes is a need.
As we keep seeing, not all needs are met. A key reason why we keep encountering dire unmet needs is that those who profit, financially or socially or both, from allowing these needs to go unmet are left unmolested. Where’s Diddlin’ Dennis when we need him? J. Denny Dundiddly dindu nuffin near as much as we needed from him, I’d say. There need to be consequences for profiting from squalor. Presiding over piles of filth as a way of cementing one’s own socioeconomic superiority as a landlord or a chief tenant needs to be powerfully unpleasant.
It’s up to the rest of us to make it so. I’ve done things here and there to this end, but not enough, because I’m chickenshit before the dynamics of my extended family. If I’m not discreet in my contacts with the authorities, I risk having to justify to my upset parents why I was so judgmental about the condition of someone else’s property. We have other relatives who couldn’t get one-time $600 checks from my late grandmother without coming under a storm of judgment for mooching off her when she had outstanding credit card debt, but JD not spending any of the hundreds of thousands of dollars of below-market “investments” and more frank gifts that he’s mooched off those around him to provide his tenants with a decent toilet, shower, or living quarters that aren’t plastered in rat waste is just one of those things that happens sometimes.
I’d normally figure that it’s a good idea to judge not, lest I be judged, but I do not charge residential tenants rent to live in utterly uninhabitable buildings that are carpeted and insulated with aerosolizing rat filth. Hand me that stone; I’m getting that old Sandy Koufax feeling in my arm again. Put me in, Coach. No, not you, Hastert. It’s totally beyond the pale to give Joe Dirtbag a pass for the condition of his property and for his illegal collection of rent from extremely vulnerable tenants just because he’s supposedly broke.
I notice that he isn’t broke enough not to still be landed. I’ve never owned a damn square inch of real estate, so I’m not particularly moved by his plight. This bastard keeps collecting rents on both his farm, which he uses as leverage for unrestricted five-figure gifts, and his separate primary residence, which he and the Family Shrew own free and clear. They bought in at a time when they could afford to pay off their home mortgage by working for a living and then start blowing the nest egg that they’d put aside instead of ending up out on the streets for being dissolute. Point of clarification: Are the rest areas where I sleep every two or three nights streets? I get that they had some business setbacks that were not entirely within their control, but how do their difficulties late in their time in the restaurant business negate the overwhelming evidence that they have truly, mindbogglingly atrocious business practices in their management of the farm?
Remember, these are the ones who, last I heard, still had the electrician living in the shed. Another Connecticut Yankee in King Sharthur’s Court, as it happens. An attorney friend raised a good point about this electrician’s off-the-books, unlicensed work: any property insurance claim that they file for damage to their house may be denied on the basis of their having had work done by an unlicensed tradesman. Their attitude that oh well he has a license in another state is just another bit of shady, reckless bullshit that our dysfunctional family dynamics force us to accept. This is like saying that it would be acceptable for Charles Cullen to just show up at Glendale Adventist with a Pennsylvania RN license, grab some needles, and get to work.
Lazarus, what’s your twenty?
There is an entire folk tradition devoted to the justification of this kind of shit. Not to tasteless discussions of how we’re just Cullen the herd, mind you; John Ruetten was good-looking, but he was no Lynn Majors. I’m referring to the really bleak shit, the stuff that makes it a relief to listen to old people cough on hospital wings all day. I mean the permanent judgment-free zones for substandard housing. The idea that there was ever anything reasonable or acceptable about living in the Ghost Ship warehouse is unconscionable. This blog is the arts, too; does that give me the justification to run a daisy chain of extension cords across the floor to my warren of shipping pallets in a disused commercial bakery? Three dozen people were killed in a preventable industrial-cum-residential fire, and we kept hearing that they were just larping Rent, that they were just trying to make a go of it as starving artists in the big city and that this was the only way for them to do their work.
This doesn’t explain why the arts demanded that the same venue be used to host an unpermitted concert requiring its own electrical equipment but not requiring a working evacuation plan. If my parents’ tenant charged several dozen people admission to an unpermitted Train cover band concert in the backyard and bothered the neighbors with full-blast subwoofers, someone would call the police, and the police would put a stop to it. This ain’t Shoreline, doggy. Neither was the Ghost Ship. There may be a certain difference between the Palo Alto and Oakland police departments here, and there’s definitely one between my parents’ tenant, who is too classy to do something so shady, and the poverty of self worth shysters, who, oops, guess we didn’t maintain any defensible space around the drops of Jupiter at this event, but please don’t assume that this tragedy implies anything bad about the inherent nature of guerrilla artists’ lofts where the next Michael Franti is living in a warren of scavenged plywood and shoddy hand-me-down DIY wiring that no one from the city has been by to inspect.
Why does it sound like the members of Imagine Dragons lived in, like, normal houses or apartments and weren’t forced by their precious craft to live in a storm drain under the Strip, where they wouldn’t have had to imagine rats? I prefer the Bay Area to Las Vegas, too, but what, exactly, is so soulcrushing about living in, I dunno, Merced as a way of having an affordable, code-compliant place to stay?
The use of starving artists to normalize ramshackle fire traps is a bad sign. The other day I heard some dipshit in Denver being interviewed on NPR about how dismayed she was that her city government had been cracking down on underground artists’ lofts (I did not just write that) just because of the Ghost Ship fire. Yeah, let’s not get all anal about cladding just because of Grenfell, and while we’re at it, how about we stop sending NTSB go teams to the scene of every serious plane crash, geez, guys, we’re really crimping aviation’s style. This dipshit said that she’d lived in Denver her whole life. I don’t know what exactly she meant by Denver, but surely she was accurate enough for a national audience. For some reason, though, it was crucial to her process or some shit to be allowed to live in a jury-rigged firetrap, and, if I remember correctly (because I’ve poured enough mind-sweat into this piece already without looking anything up), she was glad that the city had finally started allowing artists to live in warehouses again and had gotten over the excessive caution that had consumed it just because a similar building put to similar use in a comparable city had recently killed three dozen in a peacetime Guernica.
Lenin was right: the intellectuals are not society’s brains, but its shit. This dipshit in Denver didn’t say whether she had any relatives in the area or, if so, whether any of them might have been willing to house her in a building that was up to code. This is really suspicious. It just sounds like, if the subject had been pushed, she would have admitted that her parents were in JeffCo, but JeffCo is just so stifling, just not a good place to pursue her work.
Yeah, go tell Rod Blagojevich. The use of artists to normalize uninhabitable dwellings apparently causes a less uneasy feeling than would result from defending the necessity of having, say, slaughterhouse workers live in a dormitory separated from the killing floor by a sliding door and bunk in shifts as the only way to make ends meet. That would sound feudal. It would be embarrassing and scandalous. Artists, though, are coded as affluent and educated, so it’s okay for them to live in piles of inflammable industrial detritus with faulty wiring nearby for convenient ignition. They aren’t, like, actually starving; they’re living on Top Ramen in bunkhouses because they freely chose not to go into investment banking. That is, they’re shabby chic bohemians, not victims of intolerable but fixable structural problems in the housing market.
Every goddamn thing about the hipster movement sometimes seems orchestrated to justify bad housing, labor, and general economic policy by cultivating the appearance that young people today are voluntary minimalists who don’t want to be tied down to a decent job and house. The unspoken question raised by the “tiny house” movement is why the hell people whose parents have terminal degrees, stable jobs, and title to real estate are living in half-length single-wide trailers on other people’s property. It is impossible that a generation decided en masse that having so much as a studio apartment was bullshit. That did not happen.
The tiny house crowd isn’t even really the traveling type. I feel like much less of a loser parking my Focus at, say, Donner Pass one night and Gold Run a couple nights later than I do parking it at the same rest area every other night for weeks on end. There’s some point to living austerely on the cheap if it enables budget travel. That isn’t what tiny houses do. They’re basically the one brother who lives in an old boat in the other brother’s front yard on Simon & Simon. When that happens in the midst of simultaneous foreclosure, student debt, and housing affordability crises, it isn’t because everyone is suddenly really into boats.
Uber wasn’t able to recruit drivers because everyone got sick of having stable payroll work all of a sudden. Five million people dropping off the national payroll in the United States from 2008 to 2009 wasn’t the effect of take this job and shove it; it was the effect of take this serf and shove him. Why the hell would anyone want to do piece work for TaskRabbit or Mechanical Turk if there was stable work available doing just about anything else? Much of the dot-com economy today is nothing but the techdick enclosure of Craigslist gig and rideshare boards. Just about everyone who supposedly turns the Uber app on to raise money to go to Coachella and then turns it off to actually go to Coachella already had the resources to go to Coachella without driving for Uber. Let’s not be idiots here: the independent contractors (sic) who use these apps with the nonchalant independence and flexibility that is their advertised purpose have other, more secure, and often less working-for-a-living ways to get fucking stoked.
By these I mainly mean parental handouts and sugaring proceeds. These aren’t the most reputable arrangements, but they’re a huge improvement over going to Coachella with Joel Salazar, in which case one is fucking stoked to literally wake and bake. The advertising campaigns for the hip apps these days are all premised on an extremely secure upper-middle-class to downright upper-class level of personal wealth or generously shared family wealth. This is surely a function of the socioeconomic backgrounds of those producing and approving the ad copy. Our ad men and women and their clients come from backgrounds in which it is not considered enviable and shockingly rare not to have to consistently work for a living as a minimal condition of not ending up in the rescue mission by the fourth of next month. Being able to take time off willy-nilly and not end up homeless and flat broke is normal in their world. In some of these companies, literally everyone, and I mean literally literally, either has parents contributing to her rent or some inheritance or other source of support, likely constituting prostitution, to keep her clear of some deal where she ends up eating Great Value pork and beans out of a can on skid row.
Yes, I gendered that intentionally. Ooh, I’m getting a clue, and if you’re thinking what I’m thinking, you’re getting a clue, too! Sort of; we’re talking about communications majors here, and as I age I become even less stuposexual. Much of what’s socioeconomically otherworldly about the ad copy in our midst can be explained by the otherworldly upbringings and ongoing socioeconomic security and prosperity of the people who come up with the ads. I wouldn’t particularly doubt that I’m in the 100th percentile of socioeconomic security, solvency, and stable family background among the homeless, and I’d be surprised if I’m not in the top quintile, but the ad campaigns for shit like how cool it is to drive for Uber are clearly dreamed up by people who cannot possibly imagine that my homelessness is anything but a lifestyle that I freely chose for aesthetic and cultural reasons instead of just getting a career-track job in sales at a Fortune 500 or, barring that, successfully asking my parents to immediately rent me an apartment in Park Slope. What else would we expect of people whose own parents got them apartments in buildings with elevators in Chelsea and gave them allowances so that they could take unpaid internships at NBC?
These are people who have never faced the adversity of having to deal with slumlords who would be fired for showing a hint of the same attitude just once in the places where they live, let alone slept in their cars. They would shit bricks if they faced situations that no longer faze me in the slightest, and I’m painfully aware of how lucky I am compared to many of the homeless people I see on a regular basis, or, for that matter, compared to housed people who live in neighborhoods that are more dangerous than the rest areas where I pull over for the night.
“Would you rent me an apartment?” is bolder than I have the nerve to go with my parents, but it isn’t as bold as “buy me this house.” Buyers who need financing have been having trouble closing deals in many markets because they’re being outbid by cash buyers who got their parents to foot the bill. These markets, from what I can tell, are not in Gary or Indio. It isn’t, gee, Ma, I’m still sleeping in my car, or gee, I’m living in rat filth in an uninsulated old milking parlor (which is why the former isn’t always so awful); it’s omg I’m sick of renting in Playa Vista, plz buy me a house. Hell, the Insurance Schmuck lives rent-free with a financial millionaire he knows from work; I don’t live rent-free unless I crash with my parents, who live in an area with awfully thin job prospects.
It shouldn’t be too hard to see why I’m sick of being criticized by people whose living situations are dramatically more stable and whose costs of living are often much lower than mine, and of listening to the same people act like their economic behavior isn’t distorting the hell out of the economy where the less connected, many of them much worse off than me, have to live. It’s hell on the rest of us, but they aren’t part of the rest. They’re in the connected class that benefits from the financialization of the economy that screws people like me over. Some of us are really just trying not to end up anywhere that will get us killed.
Living in a tiny house because that’s the only obvious way to safeguard one’s life, limb, and welfare is reasonable. So is parking a Focus somewhere safe and sleeping in it. So is sleeping on city buses, even if the VTA has its head in the sand not to deploy a fully articulated fleet overnight on the 22. It is unfathomably condescending to pretend that such a decision must be a voluntary one made on the part of people who keep giving up opportunities to live in inhabitable dwellings where they are not at risk of assault or murder at the hands of management and/or neighbors, but I have no shortage of people around me who are unfathomable from what I’ve come to know as the real world.
I’d like to think that Pot-o-Shit Friend is the most dismaying of them, but like me, he responded more or less rationally (maybe less) to bizarre incentives under conditions of drastically diminished options. I’d have to conclude that he’s perfectly lucid and adequately capable of advocating for himself if his reaction to his own housewarming gift was to head back east and tell his relatives, uh, that didn’t work out so well, maybe you can help me out here. He’s probably shitting in a trash can again, but I could be underestimating him.
I know that I’m not underestimating the permanently housed and affluent. Not a damn chance. They pay good money for their own idiocy. I don’t resent them for paying money for something sensible, like a house, but buying privilege is always something worth resenting. I lives here; can I come in? P. J. O’Rourke muttering, “Oh, Christ, you again” at least recognizes that there’s a problem that ought to be addressed at some point. That’s a lot more than I can say for some others, but that’s just another example of the difference between schooled and educated.