Out in the streets

So I’m up in the Clurb, and nobody’s girl is dancing up on me because I’m staying at the only place I can find that is within walking distance of the Metra system and not obscenely expensive. I managed to roll into Chicago, likely the biggest settlement of lace curtain Irish and wannabe Irish in the Americas, on the eve of a St. Patrick’s Day falling on a Friday, so of course lodging downtown costs an arm and a leg and a stupid little plastic green bowler hat with an elastic chin strap tonight. One weeknight on the Magnificent Mile was manageable with a $45 credit, but I’m not magnificent enough for more than that.

I happen to be familiar with the area where I’m staying tonight from a trip to Chicago that my parents and I made fifteen years ago this week. That time we stayed two or three miles east of the Lake-Cook Road Metra station in a hotel expensive enough that I preemptively screened it out this week. I’m staying instead at a Red Roof Inn that’s a mile or so around a big corner from the station on Waukegan Road. I’m able to walk this distance in twenty minutes, give or (usually) take. Being on foot this time, I’m noticing the condition of the local infrastructure that I ignored on my earlier trip, when my parents and I drove to the Metra station and everywhere else we went in the North Clurb. The main takeaway is that the sidewalks here fucking suck. In the course of a mile on two major arterial roads (Lake-Cook and Waukegan) I’ve run into several places where the sidewalks abruptly end, some of these hundreds of feet from crosswalks; several big piles of snow that have been left covering sections of sidewalk from a small storm several days ago; and exceptional amounts of gravelly construction and road maintenance debris, strewn across sidewalks and parking lots parallel to sections of missing sidewalk alike.

The common thread here is that no one gives a shit. This is a wealthy area, so it’s unlikely that the local constituencies have been abandoned by hostile or uncaring governments with nothing to lose on account of their neglect. I assume a number of the locals would tell me to drive or take Uber like a normal person. Fuck Uber, of course, and I see no reason to waste money on cab fare when I’m fit and awake enough to manage the walk, but having driven around here on my previous trip, I’m not eager to do so again. Chicagoland is laid out on an endless grid with hardly any diagonals, the roads are slow all day and into the evening, and Chicago drivers are terrible. As long as Metra’s schedules aren’t useless, only an idiot wouldn’t ride dem shine train. It’s $8.00 for unlimited all-zone travel systemwide on Saturday and Sunday, starting at midnight, although, as I implied above, the weekend schedules aren’t great.

Most of Chicago’s suburban development shouldn’t exist. The urban planning in the neighborhood where I’m staying is iffy, and it’s nowhere near the worst in the region. A bunch of barely serviceable crap has been allowed to spill out willy-nilly forty miles onto the prairie. These are terrible places for the poor to live, but with rents going up in the better urban neighborhoods and the worst urban neighborhoods going completely to hell, much of the working class is in fact forced out into areas with half-assed sidewalks and probably even worse bus service. Then there are the rich parts of the Clurb, which Fabius Maximus mentioned a few weeks ago. A study had come out showing that children raised in fancy parts of the West Clurb dramatically outearned those raised in bad parts of the West Side of Chicago. I haven’t read the study because I doubt it’d tell me anything I couldn’t already guess. High Whitey segregated itself into some ritzy shit with strategically drawn municipal lines so that it could continue to make the derelict choice to do nothing to resolve Chicago’s mutually reinforcing class and race problems, which are dire. Duh. I don’t know a whole lot about Chicago, but I know enough to infer that.

As a friend said about some fun-time hospital narcotics he had taken, it’s a great place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.

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.

Intervention

My dad cornered me for another talk overnight. TL;DR, it seemed to be for the best in the end. Against the odds, I think I got through to him about some hard truths that my parents almost never want to hear (that is, hard truths for them; I’m used to most of that shit by now).

The striking sociological takeaway from this talk was just how skillfully and thoroughly Joe Dirtbag has manipulated my parents and walked all over them, from a position not only of general socioeconomic inferiority but also of direct financial dependency, by playing a dominant and aggressive role in the family structure. Come to think of it, this is psychology, too, a subject that a normal person couldn’t stand to study without being blind drunk. Thanks, Dr. Hasan. Slavoj Zizek or I dunno who the fuck once said that America is a psychological society, not a sociological society; look it up for yourself if you give a damn, because it’s pretty fucking true.

The quick and dirty reason for this is that sociological explanations would scandalize the lower classes about the conduct of the bourgeoisie and the big money, causing fine rice bowls to shatter and make a mess. That isn’t exactly what’s going on between my parents and Joe Dirtbag, though. Much of his stance towards the impressive number of moneyed and/or leisured people in his life is shockingly craven and cynical to the extent that any sense can be made of it at all. By my dad’s reasonable enough speculation, he resents people he perceives as more privileged than himself (specifically me, but I’m a minor investor, and I have to believe it applies more or less equally to his major investors). They give him money and/or free labor, but he still manages (we suspect) to stew about what a shitty, degraded lifestyle he has come to lead, in contrast to those he occasionally squeezes for handouts, and blames this misfortune on things other than his refusal to properly monetize his farm and try to restructure the debts that he incurred in the course of unbelievably reckless business deals.

I often imagine that he resents me for owning Red Wings, and often fairly new ones, while he makes do with $40 Chinese pieces of shit from Bi-Mart. It’s not like he isn’t surrounded by affluent softies who wouldn’t explicitly give him two or three hundred dollars in boot money for the asking. The obstacle to Ephesians 3:20 boot money is that, like the Family Shrew, he is appallingly disingenuous about his financial dependency on others. On a couple of occasions when I was staying with them, JD crudely pretended to totally be able to afford groceries even though he suggested that it’d be cool if I stopped by the store and picked up my own half-and-half. He clearly thought he was being smooth. I was profoundly disgusted. I recognized that it could be humiliating to admit to being so broke, but they never minded trying to score freebies for ostensibly philanthropic but functionally for-profit purposes, and I’d been working for free through an indefinite stretch of unemployment, so I found it inexcusable that JD wouldn’t cowboy the fuck up.

The bigger problem for me, manifesting itself in full several years later, was my parents’ insistence that Joe Dirtbag was fundamentally a decent person, and hence incapable of the abusive and menacing acts that I had specifically accused him of committing. Just tonight my dad repeated his suspicion that I had never given him a full and accurate explanation of the circumstances surrounding my disagreements with JD, i.e., in effect, that I was catastrophizing innocuous behavior and shading the truth in my own favor. I can imagine that I inadvertently offended JD and FS from time to time, but they offended and distressed the hell out of me more times than I can count, and I generally kept a stiff upper lip. Besides, nothing that I possibly did to offend them justified Joe Dirtbag’s drinking behind the wheel or his repeated out-of-control emotional rampages in front of me. That shit was abnormal, full stop.

I didn’t start wondering consciously whether Joe Dirtbag might be senile until my attorney friend asked me about this during our phone consultation in April 2013. The incident provoking the consultation (cornering me indoors while I was on my way out of the shower and asking me how I was doing at the top of his lungs) had involved disinhibition serious enough to make me take the possibility seriously, and his stunning meltdown over the yard work in May 2012 was almost a year old, but at the time I was hesitant to say that senility was a factor. Day One of the two-day clusterfuck with Busboy and the cop in September of last year looked powerfully senile at the time, but Day Two, the calculating and self-controlled day, I found truly chilling. The creepy geezer was either going senile on Day One or uncannily feigning senility to gaslight me. I have him dead to rights on the gaslighting; what I can’t say for sure is what his true mental state was from hour to hour on Day One.

What I can say about his comments on Day One is that they were totally out of character from everything I can recall him having previously said about the police. I had known him to be exceptionally perceptive and thoughtful about specific agencies and officers, so hearing him suddenly yell crazy nonsense about a cop he admitted to never having met was alarming. I had higher expectations of him than of, say, Mixups in my Mind. Mixups cursing the fucking pigs at the top of his lungs would not have surprised me because I knew full well that he was crazy as hell and prone to violent ideation. Joe Dirtbag didn’t come close.

Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that Joe Dirtbag would have immediately confronted Mixups from within punching distance if Mixups had come onto the property and started hollering about the police in the same fashion as JD hollered about Busboy and the cop. I don’t think he would have put up with my yelling about that shit, either. He probably would have told me to shut up. And again, I can’t see why any reasonable person would have no problem with a geezer squealing disinhibited slurs about one of his tenants and a random cop from a position of authority, starting while the cop was on the property, well within sight, and possibly within earshot. Tolerate it, maybe, but approve of it? Hell no.

It’s been surreal to find myself unable to convince my parents that Joe Dirtbag is a vector of low-class chaos and danger. They’ve complained about the squalor of his property and conceded that he “has an edge to him,” and I’ve told them about his menacing of me, the untreated acutely psychotic guys he allowed to wander around his property for years, Captain Flimflam and the overflowing portajohns, the rats, and Pot-o-Shit Friend. Among other things, as I’ve discussed at painstaking length in these pages. They wanted desperately to believe that JD remained fundamentally middle-class. They’ll probably want to believe so again. The middle and upper classes cannot fathom the lower classes. I developed a decent working sense of the lower classes in my teens and twenties, so I knew pretty well what I was facing with my slumlords in Eureka and then with Joe Dirtbag’s meltdowns. This didn’t make it conveyable to my parents. I’m thankful that they’ve even started listening to my stories of belligerent white trash hell from time to time. I don’t make any of that shit up. What I’ve actually faced is too excruciating and frightening to embellish.

God do I hope Pot-o-Shit Friend was a joyous poo enthusiast, not just an ineffectual, humiliated poor loser like Lady Pisspan clearly was. A psychological society of malnourished-looking gay hipster freaks secretly savoring their own flavor in the privacy of their shit shacks is a credible pursuit of happiness, although not the Ragin’ Canajun’s happiness when he disposed of the trash can afterwards. A sociological society of Tobacco Road feudalism funded by gaslit pushovers is a scandal and a disgrace. Writing to code enforcement was the least I could do. It is to my quiet but ongoing guilt that I have yet to report that disaster to the police.

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.

Florida Man on the make

This WaPo investigation of Steve Bannon’s residency has attracted a lot of attention in Never Trump circles, most of it quite self-righteous. My own feelings about the scandal are more nuanced and sympathetic, in spite of the appearance of sleaze. The gist of the article is that Bannon fraudulently registered to vote at three addresses in Florida where he never actually lived, presumably for the purpose of evading income tax in the states where he was working and physically present. There’s some rich white trash gossip blended into the story, too–acid in the hot tub, blacklisting by real estate agents for trashing the mansion, cuckoldry by the third ex-wife who was also smuggling drugs into the county lockup, that kind of thing–but the justification for this Steely Dan deep track in prose is that Bannon was shady and naughty in his statements about where he lived.

That’s the part where I have to side with Bannon for personal and civic reasons. If there’s evidence that he was evading state income tax in California, the Franchise Tax Board should investigate him and move to collect any back taxes and penalties that he is determined to owe. Florida has a sleazy history as an onshore liability island for wealthy fugitives from taxation and civil judgment, as publicly conceded by noted Floridian of convenience, Kato Institute benefactor, sports memorabilia enthusiast, and Nevada baseball coach O. J. Simpson. It also gave semi-disgraced former California Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush a peace officer’s commission. As a failed police applicant, I think that rules.

But California’s rights to collect lawful taxes and civil judgments from debtors who have fled its territory or renounced legal residency in an effort to evade its jurisdiction ex post facto do not limit the right of former California residents to register to vote in Florida in accordance with Florida law. Florida is famously permissive about overseas absentee registrations, or at least was in the days of the Brooks Brothers Riot and the hanging chads. If it’s similarly permissive in its registration of part-time or casual residents who spend most of their time in other states or territories, that affects California only insofar as California’s elections officials should try to cancel the duplicate registrations of voters who have reregistered out of state.

Even if the Trump Administration has a hypocritical projection complex about individual voter fraud because it’s teeming with officials whose voter registrations are irregular (e.g., two states at once), and even if Bannon’s ties to Florida were as nonexistent as his ostensible neighbors suggest they were, Bannon had a chaotically itinerant mode of living that limited his ties to any particular jurisdiction. If you think that this rootlessness abrogated his right to vote, good luck turning back the same half a century or so of federal case law that allows me to vote in a city where I’ve spent a total of two or three weeks in the past five years. California uses intent to return as an alternate means of maintaining legal residency for voters not physically present in their most recent domicile. That is, in layman’s terms: I lives here; can I come in? Florida, according to the WaPo article, does not have a legal definition of residency. If the butthurt whiners complaining to the authorities that he didn’t actually live in Florida succeed in getting action taken against him, Bannon can always say, basically, “what does that even mean, ‘live here?'” He already has lease and utility documents in his name ready for his defense, documents indicating that he did live there, or else was allowed to live there (can I come in?), along with a busy schedule in other states that he can use to assert that he didn’t have time to visit Florida, his home.

The people ratting him out for his bogus voter registration are a precise civic analogy for Mean Girls: “She doesn’t even go here!”

It sure looks like a Stanford stunt, Florida being to sworn Floridian Stephen Kevin Bannon what Antigua was to mandatory Floridian Robert Allen Stanford, but as a US citizen whom no one had gone to the trouble of legally disenfranchising, he has a right to vote somewhere. Why would he want to vote in Florida and not in some other place where he was actually spending time? That’s his decision to make, not yours or mine. Why did he not actually turn out to vote, according to official records? That’s absurd, especially in the midst of all this tut-tutting about the bogus registrations, but again, it was his decision to make.

The scolding gets even worse when it starts concerning discrepancies between Bannon’s driver’s license (Orange Bubble, apparently) and voter registration (again, in the Sunshine Up Your Ass State). At this point, the only way to make Bannon look bad is by rebuking him for not spending enough time at the DMV. It takes a special kind of dipshit to want to die on that hill, but Trump’s milkshake has brought all kinds of liberal Looney Tunes to the yard. There are less fitting and just reasons for the Democratic Party to finally die than a platform demanding that its political enemies submit in full to the arbitrary whims of the shittiest, most dysfunctional parts of the administrative state. I’d hazard a guess that Bernie Sanders, like me, doesn’t care about his damn voter registration. That’s just the latest reason why Bernie would have won. I’d hazard a corollary guess that the DLC wing of the party, the one consuming it from the inside, really is arrogant enough to try to crucify Steven Bannon for not getting a Florida driver’s license.

Here we have a political lunatic and deadbeat absentee father, a multimillionaire presidential adviser with rights to luxury corporate housing wherever he travels who looks like he lives in an Econoline cargo van full of Top Ramen and Wild Turkey that he parks on crappy parts of PCH, and I’m almost entirely on his side for falsely claiming residency in Florida and then failing to vote on at least three successive voter registrations. I’m on his side because the mob is ganging up on him not just for being a crook, but for being low-class. I’m on his side because a bunch of bourgeois assholes are trying to bully a fellow citizen out of their electorate for sounding trashy. I’m on his side because those of us who sleep in our cars have a right to vote, too. It ain’t me all the time, lawd, but it’s me enough of the time, and I’m not about to forget it. We don’t need a fixed address to vote. All we need is some combination of a street corner, rescue mission mail room, PO box, and friend’s apartment, along with enough executive function to remember the election date before it passes.

Millions of Americans live shabby versions of Steve Bannon’s itinerant lifestyle. I’ve been one. Many of them have forsaken their right to vote on account of the chaos or restrictive advice about their civil rights. I’m thankful not to have been disenfranchised in this fashion. I’m proud that I’ve asserted my right to remain on the voter rolls as a legal resident of a slumlord apartment that I formally abandoned pursuant to Green v. Superior Court half a decade ago. The endgame of letting people with messy personal or professional lives vote in jurisdictions to which they have weak ties is much more procivic than the endgame of letting local busybodies suppress the voting rights of eligible voters who have chosen to undertake itinerant lifestyles or been run out of town. Having rented from thuggish slumlords in a county with a weak, largely underground labor market and subsequently gone out of state for work and better housing, I fall into both categories. My civic stake in Humboldt County is not one that I’ll allow some stuck-up, easily scandalized bourgeois shithead to take away from me just because I’m not in the area enough of the time.

Bannon’s circumstances are surprisingly similar to mine. Even if his Florida voter registration was a tax structuring device, the scandal-mongering over it is a dangerous assertion of combined bougie Democrat and bougie establishment Republican will to suppress voter turnout. Both constituencies want to suppress marginal voters because both have self-serving policy goals that will alienate the hell out of a broad, strongly engaged electorate. Their great point of agreement these days is the feeling that it’s deplorable to see so many deplorables elect such a deplorable. They keep standing by shit candidates who would be hopeless in high-turnout elections and are lately getting booed by their own constituents when they show their true colors.

To paraphrase Christopher Lasch, our elites are revolting. They think much the same of us. They don’t want to share their electorate with losers who hot-bunk in cracker shacks. Questioning the citizenship of Steve Bannon, possible Cracker in Spirit, is a useful proxy attack on the uppity lumpenproletariat. It’s easier and less overtly disreputable than admitting to their own monumental class bigotry, just as smearing low-class whites feels less scummy than saying the same things about the same behaviors on the part of low-class blacks.

Tough shit. Trash is citizens, too, massa.

Saving face

The Joe Dirtbag situation got me agitated again tonight. My parents are planning to meet him and the Family Shrew for dinner in Napa in a couple of weeks, early in their next trip west. I’ll be traveling west separately and joining my parents for most of their trip, and since I got so riled up about Joe Dirtbag on their last trip out, my dad preemptively offered to coordinate with me so that I wouldn’t have to see him at dinner. I played my hand about as well as I could have in December. My threat to call 911 on JD at the first sign of weirdness was absolutely sincere at the time and, given my recent history with him, reasonable enough. I don’t really regret staying in the room both mornings while my parents met them for breakfast. Aside from the atrocious Boomer table manners that these meals inspire, Joe Dirtbag is out of control and I am completely at a loss to get him to treat me decently. I felt bad about standing the Family Shrew up, since she was above the fray of JD’s most recent gaslighting campaign against me, but I’m not the one who married that creep and didn’t go through with a second divorce. I appreciate her innocence in this matter, but I am not going to risk more weirdness from Joe Dirtbag as a condition of staying in touch with innocent third parties who spend their lives in his orbit.

Joe Dirtbag’s descent into white-trash thuggery has been enlightening in ways that I never hoped to be enlightened. Chronicling it is a fucking Augean Stables of the mind. For all the effort I’ve committed to documenting it and thinking it over, in these pages and elsewhere, I rarely feel close to a comprehensive panorama of the whole mess. Instead, it’s more like a shit litany on a tape that I have to rewind and fast-forward all the time because it’s just too damn long.

That said, over time certain themes have started to come into focus from the background fog of inchoate offense, disgust, anger, and despair. One of these is JD and FS’s extremely defensive campaign to present themselves and be duly respected as upstanding members of the broad middle class. This is one of the most absurd and infuriating things I’ve ever watched. The sheer narcissistic aggression of it has to be seen to be believed. Me KNOWS they do protest too much, the gentleman in particular. The Family Shrew, as I alluded to above, has simmered down about a lot of shit in the past few years. I’m often stunned anew to remember that they have free and clear title to a house with outbuildings and an ample woodlot. On the surface, that’s a respectable middle-class accomplishment for a couple getting by on low to middling salaries without significant inheritances, trusts, or gifts from family. The actual details aren’t so impressive: they bought into an up-and-coming town as early members of the California diaspora, weren’t foolish enough to fall for HELOC pitches, and rode a real estate bubble for forty years. They had the work ethic to run a restaurant, but not the vision to keep one financially afloat in changing times and an increasingly saturated market. JD told me that in the time that they were in the restaurant business, the local population increased by half and the number of restaurants by a factor of four. Do the math. And don’tcha know, Jethro, they were living in the past, a past that had them by the balls; ask not for whom the little jingly things Tull.

JD and FS ran a hippie throwback joint in a dingy physical plant with an unassuming front door. I increasingly doubt that they were upfront or on point about restaurant hygiene; it seems more likely that health inspectors had genuine, if not entirely articulable, concerns about the cleanliness of their establishment than that JD and FS successfully compartmentalized their lives into scrupulous professional hygiene at work and festering grime in their kitchen at home. When one of the two principal operators of a restaurant never leaves the shower smelling exactly clean (Joe Dirtbag) and the other is never able to hand-wash dishes so that they’re free of food detritus (the Family Shrew), it takes a powerful benefit of the doubt to believe assertions that the only thing tanking the restaurant’s health inspection scores was a hard-ass newjack inspector with no sense of discretion, or that there was never an aura of subtle filth that alienated its customers.

In earlier screeds I’ve discussed Joe Dirtbag’s public tax dispute with city hall, of which he never apprised me or my parents. That alone shows that there was a seedy underbelly to that restaurant. That said, even if I stipulate the worst plausible scenario–the tax evasion and grandstanding, some mediocre commercial hygiene, and occasional bad personnel management that I can only infer from JD and FS’s behavior in other settings–the restaurant was still a bastion of middle-class values in their lives. They consistently made payroll, as far as I know, and they weren’t constant or total tax cheats. There’s no way that place wasn’t in stark contrast with the clusterfucks that spilled over other aspects of their lives. They were semi-responsible business owner-operators at their restaurant, not raging derelicts like JD has been at the farm since at least 2009 (at a time when they were still running the restaurant).

It was bewildering and scary to be blamed for personally falling into low-class dysfunction and ill repute at times when I was around JD and FS on a regular basis, both socially and professionally, and I was trying frantically to maintain some semblance of middle-class stability in my own life while they careened into a life of shockingly low-class chaos: half-hourly domestic shouting matches, dissembling about their ability to afford home groceries, shambolic home and business finances, rent collection on illegal shanties, tenant pools with stratospheric rates of obvious mental illness and interpersonal handicaps, piles of shit proliferating everywhere, duplicity followed by financial emergencies in business dealings with relatives and friends. The baseline level of dysfunction was glaringly fucking abnormal, and because things were so dysfunctional, acute crises were always flaring up. I got used to some really crazy shit, like Joe Dirtbag yelling at the Family Shrew at the top of his lungs two or three times before they had brunch on the table. I hardly expected anything less nuts.

This was before JD had his big meltdown, the one that made me think he might throw me into a wall in a fit of rage, and I fled into unexpected homelessness for my own immediate protection. It was after that that I was thrown too deep into the farm community to keep ignoring its squalor and sleaze, as I had been more or less able to do when I was staying in JD and FS’s little guest cottage. Turning into a maniac out of the blue, running a lodger off one’s property with emotional abuse and an acutely violent demeanor, and then blaming the lodger for overreacting and punishing him by barring him from future rooming privileges is blatantly low-class behavior of the worst sort. It’s trashy as all hell, and it inevitably draws everyone exposed to it into a vortex of trash.

From a classic trailer park perspective, it made sense: I’d been lodging with assholes in an informal arrangement giving me absolutely no legally enforceable tenancy rights, they’d stirred up a drama storm, and I’d ended up out on the street because of it. (The Family Shrew’s contribution had been multiple attempts over the course of the preceding week to coerce us, as well as an absent cousin of mine whose wedding catering she was helping plan, into whole-grain fascism. This was not enough on its own to drive me away, but it was more than enough to convince me that she was fundamentally unreasonable and too actively immoral to deserve a personal explanation from me about a goddamn thing.) I knew enough about the chaos of various American underclasses to recognize that I’d effectively become an outlaw facing a housing crisis, exactly what I’d been doing my best to avoid by placating Joe Dirtbag and the Family Shrew until JD blew it by acting like he was one slight away from beating me up. I also knew that I’d left my most recent formal rental (the dump in Eureka with the paranoid ex-Army Ranger Walt Kowalski building manager) under circumstances that I couldn’t expect to explain without suing my former landlords, a truly vile bunch.

The tragic thing was that I couldn’t explain any of this to my parents, either. It felt impossible. Within five months I was itching to report Joe Dirtbag to the police for his open container DUII stunts, but that, too, was too inflammatory for my parents to face. I was living in an extremely degraded fashion that I’d long known was possible for any number of people and a fact of life for some, but that I’d never expected to personally face. Every time I tried to explain this to my parents, they shot me down. A psychologist friend of theirs who visited them that summer while I was at their place blamed me for having weak ego strength. I screwed myself over by not having a police report on file that I could copy for everyone who wondered why I was so worked up over my circumstances, but we weren’t the kind of family that called the police for things like that. It took four and a half years in all before I became so utterly distraught over Joe Dirtbag’s behavior that I bluntly told my parents that I’d call the police the moment JD got weird with me and that it was my decision alone to make.

It’s easy enough to see how it might be a problem to live at an address that the local cops know for its frequent fliers. It’s easy to see how calling 911 every time one gets dissed invites exactly the sort of chaos into one’s life that a prudent person will try to avoid. In my case, though, the chaos was already there. When I threatened to phone the Pork Board last December, I had already been around for Captain Flimflam and the overflowing shitters, the Captain’s emotionally incapacitated wife and minor stepdaughter, Mixups in my Mind, Psychotarp, Pot-o-Shit Friend and his aftermath, the rat infestations, and JD’s gaslit feud with Busboy and the cop. By that point, keeping the police out of it as a matter of principle was nothing but a unilateral handicap on me. JD had the incentive to ward off Five-Oh because he’d been up to no good, but I didn’t. I had absolutely no doubt that I’d be better off giving a cop a statement about JD’s behavior than being around while he threatened to needlessly antagonize a cop who was on his property to complete a traffic stop on a third party. That hadn’t been JD’s first high-risk outburst around a cop, either: decades earlier he had gotten himself arrested in Montana and prosecuted for dodging the draft all because he had flipped off a sheriff’s deputy for asking to see his fishing license. That had been some stupid bullshit, especially in retrospect (it was a different JD who’d skipped out on Nam), but I hadn’t been there for it, so it wasn’t directly my business. His beef with Busboy and the cop absolutely was. I wasn’t the one who’d been yelling slanderous fantasies about a random cop there. I had never wanted a fucking thing to do with that beef.

It’s dangerous to be the last person adhering to middle-class courtesies in a situation like that. When some dirty old bastard is on yelling malicious nonsense about a cop who may be within earshot on his property, it’s a bad time to worry about the propriety of making sure that shit like that doesn’t escalate. In this case, it turned out that JD had gone pigbaiting as part of a vendetta against a tenant. There are plenty of ways that such a stunt could end badly for everyone present, so it’s a terrible time to shoot the messenger. The message here, more or less, is, “he needs to cut that shit out right now,” an eminently reasonable thing to demand of a nasty blowhard behaving recklessly around an armed officer of the law.

It gets really lonely to feel like the only person who’s willing to admit that things have gone to shit. That’s what most of this bourgeois hypocrisy is at heart. I find it dismaying to listen to the downwardly mobile and those marketing to them gush about the wonders of “tiny houses,” as if they’re an improvement over not-tiny houses. That isn’t architectural minimalism, you asshole; it’s an accommodation to poverty. Joe Dirtbag and the Family Shrew live in an area with inflated purchase prices on residential real estate but modest residential rents, so it’s telling that people who are perfectly employable (and often currently employed) keep washing up on their property on the verge of homelessness and submitting to the Tobacco Road feudal manor that JD is conceited enough to present as an adequate rental community. It’s appalling that many of these people seem hellbent on euphemizing their own circumstances: Busboy and his girlfriend acting like it’s normal to pay rent to live in a short bus, Pot-o-Shit Friend walking around like a happy shlemazel in spite of his own even worse circumstances. (In the interest of accuracy, the Ragin’ Canajun became his own shlemiel AND shlemazel when he disposed of Pot-o-Shit Friend’s housewarming gift, and buddy, that ain’t soup.) That farm is so fucked up that Pot-o-Shit Friend actually looks more respectable under Major Bones’ hypothesis that he was a coprophile. God knows he wasn’t a coprophobe. It would still be all kinds of wrong, but at least it would reestablish his agency as a tenant. Without a doubt opiate abuse is more respectable than pretending to enjoy a shit sandwich every day. Word on the street is that dope can be fun.

There shouldn’t be any shame in homelessness. When push comes to shove there is shame, but anyone who tries to enforce it should be shown nothing but righteous disgust. There is a tiny population of lifestyle bums and a huge population of people whose homelessness is a matter of socioeconomic prudence or necessity, as mine has been. The first step to fixing any problem is admitting that it exists. I’m willing to air my own housing problems, so no, I don’t admire people whose response to downward mobility is to turn into projectile chickenshits.

Bogus midcentury nostalgia and other yuppie wannabe bullshit

As Holden Caulfield would say, the New York Times is read by a bunch of phonies. It must be. Just look at the shit it publishes. I know this because I just looked up “Holden Caulfield phonies” on DuckDuckGo; it’s not like I’m gonna read that nonsense just because it comes recommended by the sorts of people who read the Times. Some fictional twit rode around Manhattan in a taxicab bitching about phonies or some shit, and years later a guy who had set out (and failed) to read every book in the University of Hawaii Library construed this story as a license to Imagine No John Lennon.

One of the most dangerous category errors we could devise would be to assume that the Gray Lady’s lifestyle readership is engaged with the real world in a way that Mark David Chapman, committed Lennonist, was not. Most of them aren’t crazy enough to, I dunno, hunt down and shoot Chad Kroeger because of something that reached into their psyche from the pages of Infinite Jest. At this point, something’s gotta go wrong ’cause I’m feeling that Lennon wasn’t exactly a better artist or person than that greasy Canuck hairball. Before you call me crazy, remember that I regularly appreciate even worse Canadians. I guess I’d be hipper if I appreciated more obscure Canadian acts, such as Moxy Früvous, whose members surely would never be criminally charged with the strangulation of commissioned air force officers.

Oops. Shit, Ghomeshi, wasn’t Williams available?

There’s still time to turn Big Ears Teddy around for the rest of this essay. That was really the least fucked up part of it. It only looked like a mess. The NYT’s lifestyle beats are the real messes here. Jian Ghotmesi and Colonel Underpants are both part of the real world. If they should die, think only this of them: that they were chargeable to some foreign field, but Dr. Shipman forever to England. Whatever else you might say about this last outburst, it was nonfictional. Don Draper, on the other hand, is fictional. He never existed. So which of these rude gentlemen does the Times find germane to the nonfictional lives of its nonfictional readers?

Why, the made-up guy. Duh. Palm Springs per se is relevant to Millennials because of Mad Men and Frank Sinatra. Virgin America and JetBlue fly there nonstop from JFK, so ditch your angel in Harlem and get your ass on that Eurotrash big metal. For the serious street cred among hip young things, Palm Springs is within an easy drive of Coachella. Get thee fucking stoked. These are the cultural touchstones that have young people of a certain not totally loaded class swarming the Medicare Sled Desert: a long-dead show business drunk, a fictional TV show about ad men with drinking and attitude problems, and an annual vacation from reality for affluent members of the intersectional drugs community. Somebody had better keep Mr. Rogers on standby to dispatch that trolley.

There’s no subtlety to this period wealth LARP, no sense that maybe it’s decadent and embarrassing. A vacation rental landlord actually went on the record to say, “People come to let down their hair and live the martini lifestyle. You will be living just the way Frank Sinatra did in 1947.” That’s obviously not quite right: Frankie boy, if I’m not mistaken, kept his hair midcentury high and tight, and no one is anal enough to redo the hundreds of little things that have changed in the seven decades since for period authenticity just to impress some Rat Pack hipsters with Airbnb accounts. Coachella, of course, has fuck-all to do with the midcentury, unless we’re talking about Joel Salazar’s great-grandfather failing to provide drinking water for a dozen braceros.

It speaks volumes about the superficiality and ignorance of these tourists that their understanding of the midcentury in their own country is a famous singer supposedly using his fuck-you money to live as a wastrel in a Frank Lloyd Wright house. Of everything that was happening socioeconomically between the Second World War and Watergate, most of it very different from Frank Sinatra being a desert lush, this is what resonates with them. Just this evening I was looking semiseriously at house listings in every cheap dump of a town in California that came to my mind, and one of the cheapest deals I found was a 1959 open-plan ranch house on the outskirts of Twentynine Palms, selling points: walls and ceiling mostly intact. That’s midcentury modern architecture, too, bitch. Google Maps shows a drive of an hour and a half from downtown Palm Springs. Twentynine Palms sounds like a shithole, but it’s more convenient than Trona, which is as painfully shitty a place as I’ve ever visited.

What the Times omits, of course, is that the cool cats with the discretionary income don’t want to put the effort and capital into rehabilitating a desert rancher in an out-of-the-way, crappy third-order suburb of the Los Angeles Basin when they can instead larp the Rat Pack in Rancho Mirage. There’s nothing stopping one from putting on a bathrobe, taking a handle of gin into the loo, and turning on a space heater. Okay, to be scrupulous, this assumes some sort of housing, but the Palm Springs vacation crowd has no compunction about making presumptions that dwarf that of everyone being housed. The Finns have an anecdote about a couple of gentlemen who did likewise in a sauna (Finn 1: “Cheers!” Finn 1, an hour later: “Cheers!” Finn 1, after two hours: “Cheers!” Finn 2: “We came her to drink, not to talk!”) . But none of this is really about life in the desert. If it were, twits wouldn’t be swooping in from dramatically different climates, cranking up the AC, planting landscaping that multiplies municipal water consumption by a factor of five, and then bitching about allergies.

True, it’s cooler in the winter, even clement, but these idiots can hardly be expected to know. They can’t be expected to know squat. Life on the ground for normal people in southeastern California is nothing like their highbrow theme vacations. South of Mammoth Lakes and east of Saddleback, most Californians live in scandalously ugly built environments, many of them with scandalously bad public services as well. Palm Springs and a few nearby municipalities hugging the foothills are exceptions that prove the rule. The Georgia O’Keefe-ass desert chic fades into shabby sprawl around the airport, and by Indio the cityscapes have gone entirely to shit. The Salton Sea is disgusting, a century-old open-air sump of contaminated, photochemically stewing agricultural runoff that can be smelled for miles. Tellingly, during the same midcentury that Palm Springs’ tourists celebrate for Sinatra, Draper, and the gang, there were years when more tourists visited the Salton Sea than Yosemite.

Palm Springs has a booming local tourist economy that has emerged around people who are alienated from the means of production, from their own national history, and from the mainstream of their own society, if there still is such a thing. The problem isn’t that they’re sheltered; it’s that they’re more politically engaged than the average citizen and make decisions on behalf of everyone else based on their own extremely sheltered ignorance, which they ridiculously conflate with all of American culture and civics. They don’t know any better because they haven’t been told, although it’s anyone’s guess whether they’d actually listen. They celebrate idols, both historical and fictional, who were almost aberrantly privileged for their time. They seem not to realize how far out of the mainstream these idols were, and they’d probably become hostile and tell their critics to lighten up if they were given a basic history lesson. Lightening up is the last thing I’m of a mind to do; I can’t imagine that this phoniness doesn’t have grave policy ramifications that degrade my own socioeconomic prospects and quality of life. They are clueless about the rural folkways that keep much of the Coachella Valley, and by extension California, productive, folkways that involve prolonged exposure to extreme heat and, God willing, do not involve Joel Salazar.

This mentality is of a piece with comments about how deadly serious aspects of real life, often involving public policy, are like Game of Thrones or Harry Potter. Check out this listicle about ten ways the Holocaust was like The Hunger Games. As Patrick Nonwhite put it, Stalin created hard times, and he was the strongest man! When Stefan Molyneux’s memes start looking like points of light, we have a serious problem. I know I’m filling in some blanks here, but I get a bad feeling that the entire country is falling into the vise grip of an electorate and a leadership answering to it that fundamentally refuse to orient themselves in observable civic reality. We have Mad Men tourism for wannabes who admire martini wanker bullshit artists. Scranton has Dunder-Mifflin tourism for boob-tubers who, very disturbingly, appreciate The Office as a brilliant satire of their own lives, not as a Faulknerian tale of unfathomable oddities whose paths they hope never to cross. Jolly old England has Downton Abbey tourism, advertised on PBS (DEFUND IMMEDIATELY), celebrating a vapid, parasitical manor lifestyle that was established through an enclosure campaign orchestrated by an alliance of crooked politicians, hanging judges, and privateers as vicious and psychopathic as ISIS.

I hate to think that I may be the only fucking adult in the room. I’d love to be proven wrong, but that isn’t happening in the clown show that American politics have become.