Scatologically oriented individuals not familiar with the Pennsylvania Dutch Country (I have in mind people like Lady Kentfield) may be amazed, or at the very least pleasantly titillated, to hear that Shartlesville is a real place. It’s located on Interstate 78 between Allentown and Harrisburg. I’ve been through it a number of times.

It’s a place that, to be honest, has nothing whatsoever to do with this essay. It does, however, have a name that’s hella funny, if you’re thirteen, and disgustingly topical.

They can’t be avoided. They’re legion. You see them late in the evening at gas stations in East St. Louis, struggling to retrieve appropriate donuts from the bakery case. You see them piloting their scooters along Orangethorpe Avenue in Buena Park, opportunely stuffing another few onion rings into the pie hole just as they pass you in front of St. Pius V. There’s enough sidewalk, but not by a wide margin, because that part of the margin is theirs. Perhaps you wonder, a bit abashedly, how you can look down on them when you’re en route to Paul’s Place for an Ortega burger meal, one of the most gluttonous meals in Orange County, but it’s an impertinent question. Those who walk upright can’t help but look down on those who are scooterbound by fifty. Literally. It doesn’t help things that you’re walking close to two miles round-trip to get lunch and dude’s flying Old Glory off the back of his rig. His FICA deductions can’t be enough to pay the Scooter Store for his chair, his bus fare sure as hell won’t cover the cost of the delays OCTA suffers when he boards and alights through the center door (because OCTA’s procurement officers are the kind of dumbos who think that center-door wheelchair ramps make sense), and he’s probably on SSI, but at least he’s patriotic about being a net financial and social drain on his society. God bless America.

His kind travel by local bus. But of course. The British gutter press prefers to focus on those who buy custom pickups to accommodate their own girth, but those are outliers. As a spatial matter, there may not always be enough space to shoehorn another of the prematurely bescootered living a life of learned helplessness onto the bus, but as a legal matter, there is, because if there weren’t it would be a disability rights lawsuit waiting to happen.

These aren’t Queen’s big fat fatties. If they’re of the female perspective, BBW is a stretch, kind of like what has happened to their skin. If they’re shapely, it’s only because those beholding them have an unimaginable catholicity of taste when it comes to shapes. When I say that I like big girls, I–how can I say this?–I don’t mean that. Left to my own devices, I’d let the details go unspoken, since I’m attracted to women of various sizes and consider it rather gauche to stipulate technical specifications for my dates, but there’s a lot of size elision in the BBW community, and this is the same community that popularized “Myspace angles” and is notorious for refusing to countenance basic nuances about body size and attitude. They leave me no choice but to specify that my strong desire to spoon the living daylights out of certain self-confident, full-bodied women because they’re totally snugglable (okay, I’d bang them, too, especially if they took the initiative) does not imply a tacit desire to thus caress thoroughly insecure bathroom self-portraitists whose asses would envelop the spare tire that I carry around above a 36″ waist.

No. There’s fat, and then there’s holy shitballs I must be tripping on acid because there’s a guy at this Chinese restaurant who’s made up of all kinds of shapes that don’t exist in nature. Go figure that I ran into this guy while mildly sleep-deprived (not literally into him; I’m not sure I’d have made it back out), having just arrived in Los Angeles from Sacramento on a trip that started at 5:15 am. I was in an even worse state in East St. Louis, having driven all day from Colby, KS, on five and a half hours’ sleep; later that night, I drove the first four miles out of Brazil, IN, on Interstate 70 with just my running lights, but even so, my Civic and I made it to Indy intact. One does not simply keep a straight face around the well-rounded donut enthusiast in these circumstances.

This guy at the restaurant in Chinatown wasn’t just fat. He was cubist. He looked like something out of “Guernica,” probably a missing apartment block on the edge of town. I wasn’t trying to look at him; the waitress had seated me there, and I hadn’t had the presence of mind to check that there was no megafauna in my field of view and sit facing the other direction. Surprisingly, this guy had three fairly slender friends with him. Collectively, I’d guess that these guys weighed fifty pounds more than he did. He was Latino, as were one or two of his friends; I recall one or two of his friends being Asian, but I wasn’t paying much attention to them.

Realize that the restaurant where this scene unfolded was not a buffet; they probably would have been barred from the premises if it had been. Lunch was a la carte, and no kidding, the boys were there for lunch. Biggie didn’t distinguish himself just by his size; whenever I glanced in his table’s direction, he had a fork in hand. He ate with great gusto. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen another person eat so heartily.

Shovel all the coal in, gotta keep it rollin’. The absurd pathos of it all was too much for me in my sleep-compromised state. Like a friendzoning ex in an overwrought eighties power pop ballad by Chicago, I had to look away, baby, look away. Of course I didn’t want him to see me that way; it was just common decency. I continued to steal a glance now and then when I felt an unusual degree of self-control. I stayed long enough to see his party get up and leave. To my relief and slight surprise, even Biggie up and left the table on his own two feet; I might not normally describe his manner of movement as “walking,” but for a man of his girth it was close enough. Verily, as he waddled away from lunch, he left replenished with fuel for the journey that we call life.

Throughout this grotesque scene, I felt smug in an Old Testament sort of way: Thank you, God, that I am not a woman, or a gentile, or an ass, or of a size and shape that have never been described in the Torah since we ancients simply haven’t seen such people. It was certainly a nice feeling while it lasted. Just by sheer contrast, Biggie made me figure that I had my shit together. Another thing I figured was that I’d probably make it to the Starbucks in Little Tokyo without coming into any significant intestinal discomfort. I figured I’d have to shit before long, but probably not within a half hour. Right?

Wrong. As I stood on the platform at the Chinatown Gold Line station, I felt the need to fart. Not to urgently shit; just to fart. No one else was nearby, and the station is outdoors: so far, so good. But when I cut it loose, it had that tell-tale warm, moist feeling. Oops, I realized, I think I just went poo in my asshole a little bit; I do believe I just beshat myself slightly on a fucking light rail platform. I knew that I could easily hop off at Union Station for an emergency ass-wiping, but I also knew that doing so would turn my circumstances from slightly disgusting to powerfully disgusting. I did not feel like mixing it up with disheveled crazies in a filthy restroom right then, so I held on, walked a bit more smoothly than usual through Little Tokyo, and made it to Starbucks. There I confirmed my fear: I had kept the mess off my underwear, but only through utmost discipline; as I thought, I had sharted.

It felt for all the world like karma. I gawked and snickered at Biggie, discreetly, for his uncontrolled gastrointestinal activities as a differently-sized American. Not half an hour later, I lost bowel control, discreetly, in a rapid transit station. The punishment seemed proportional to the crime, fifteen minutes of private-enough grossness for fifteen minutes of private-enough haughtiness towards an unimaginable mouthstuffer of unimaginable proportions, give or take. And it seemed appropriate that karma should come anally. It’s true of any karma, but especially so of karma for rudeness over alimentary failures of the flesh. At the one end, Biggie couldn’t keep it out, and at the opposite end, I couldn’t keep it in. It was embarrassing (for him, too, if he had any introspection), but in my case it felt instructive.

Of course, I’ll still laugh at the morbidly obese; if I’m not a slave to the sinful nature, I’m a slave to the point-and-laugh-at-the-unnatural nature. But with any foresight, I’ll do some abdominal floor exercises beforehand. Look, it’s not like I’m trim and ripped. I’m no Channing Tatum. It’d be really cool if more women looked at me more than skin deep, especially the hot ones, but I can understand why they don’t. If they looked less superficially at Biggie, say, at an autopsy or a gross anatomy lab, they’d discover that he has mad muscles; the blubber doesn’t move itself, now. A lot of us actually are ripped; it’s just hard for the superficial to see it beneath the insulation.

I’ll laugh at them, but I’ll laugh at them cautiously. We all laugh at larger-than-life Americans at our own peril. They’re among us.

Put more accurately, we are among them. If it were really our world, would the rest of us have to vacate the good seats near the rear bus door to make way for Scooter Store customers who could probably walk well enough if they tried? Would Southwest Airlines have come to grief over that passenger spillover surcharge nonsense? I think not. These things happen for a reason. We are but small, substanceless men living in a land of giants.

There are different ways to have no taste.

Previously we’ve discussed the Temple Clinger’s complaint about vain, shiftless negroes abusing government relief. Racially tinged complaints about equally shiftless negroes on Philadelphia sports teams, notably including Michael Vick, are another Temple Clinger favorite, and a few months ago he took flak from a black chick for using the term “blackscent” and subsequently invoking the defense that it has to be a real word because he heard it on TV. To quote the words of the late denier of the identifiable black American accent Johnnie Cochran to opposing counsel Chris Darden, “Nigger please.”

Returning to the Temple Clinger’s favorite subject, teh poosy, he has also been known to white-knight young women with versions of “in words of psy sexy ladies….whoop whoop whoop whoop compliment,” and to suggest using the impending Mayan apocalypse as an opportune time to tell a hottie that she “has a phenomenal body compliment,” a term that as best I can tell is nothing more than a malapropism for “damn girl, you’re hot.” Back when Sweet Thang was trying in vain to direct IM chats with him to subjects other than girls, he provided her a list of criteria for a girlfriend (spelling and punctuation paraphrased so as to be plausible): “there are three things i want in a girl 1 she has to like foot massages 2 she cant puffer the dragon 3 she has to be able to pop drop and lock it while sober correction im looking for a white girl who can pop drop and lock it while sober.” Dude was one for three for not offering up bizarre malapropisms. To translate into English: 1) Girl, I’m rubbing your feet hummana hummana; 2) No pot; 3) Whitey gotta dance to that funky music without having a load on; 3A) Yeah, I know black chicks can do that as a matter of course, but they don’t meet my exacting standards of hotness, and consequently they don’t cause me to drool in public.

The Temple Clinger is all about finding a girlfriend stat, and far from reticent about telling strange women that his search has been in vain and that they’re welcome to be his Valentines. One might think, then, that he would esteem women as something more than just pieces of ass, and perhaps he does. The thing is, openly taking such a stance just wouldn’t be edgy and hip enough; far better to propose a new aphorism for the most emotionally vacuous sort of one-night stand, “fuck ‘em and chuck ‘em,” being careful, of course, to bleep out the first Anglo-Saxonism, lest the Carlinian language cause offense to the sniveling. He can be a disingenuous fuck.

None of this is to say that women can’t be tasteless. One of the Temple Clinger’s hundreds of lady contacts on Facebook recently posted a profile picture in which she is shown simulating oral sex on a beer bottle. Ironically, even though she’s covered up and her stacked friend is showing mad cleavage, the latter looks significantly less trashy. If I had to choose one of the two to seduce, I’d pick Stacker; she looks like she’d be an affectionate and appreciative hookup, while Oral Laurel looks like she’d spend the romp grinding vacantly and the aftermath texting her girlfriends about what an underendowed incompetent she just shagged. She’d probably be trashier in a burqa than Stacker would be on stage at a Pensacola amateur topless dancing contest.

The Temple Clinger had some thoughts on Stacker; but of course. To wit:

TC: “Your friend is cute…”

OL: “Duh”

TC: “If she is single tell her I said hello as well”

OL: “Tell her yourself…[Link to Stacker's Facebook profile]“

TC: “Thank you…”

Giggity.

To understand what’s wrong with this, try to imagine Susan Boyle asking John Mayer to put in a good word for her with Channing Tatum, and then hanging around with a drooling smirk while the satyr writes the heartthrob’s phone number and address down on a cocktail napkin.

The difference here (at least I think it’s a difference) is that Mayer’s the kind of guy who would indifferently let Boyle dry hump him, probably after mentioning that he had just spent six hours having high-volume intercourse with groupies, leaving him numb and drained of that Johnny Juice. I’m not completely sure that it’s a difference because there’s a slight chance that Oral Laurel and Stacker have low enough standards to put out for the Temple Clinger, ignoring the possibility that they are literally whores, in which case they almost certainly do. (The original Oral Laurel, a Cal Poly co-ed, seems to have gone for rough frat boys and been a rank amateur.) If either or both of them are ones to hook or mercy-fuck, the Temple Clinger could be in luck. Neither one has had an open freakout over his Aspie come-ons yet, so he’s doing better than usual.

By the way, I’m not adamantly against the Temple Clinger’s partaking of the white meat; it’s just that a taste of the dark meat would be more beneficial to the people he’d be less frequently bombarding with racist bullshit.

I’m really missing out on the hotties by trying to date in the tradition of Crosby, Stills and Nash, and love the one I’m with, when I really should be macking it with Mariska Hargitay. Mariska, you’re pwetty.

One GinaMarie Zimmerman, a woman of no particular consequence who is famed for her televised status-whoring, was recently fired from her non-broadcast job for referring to welfare as “nigger insurance.” Let me reiterate: the fact that this woman is a vulgar, tasteless racist is not something about which I give a rat’s ass; Jimmy crack corn, and no, massa, I doesn’t care. Racial equity will not be brought about by raising holy hell every time some two-bit asshat says something bigoted about black people. One does not simply end racism, unless one also ends policies that prey upon racial minorities, but good luck getting Whitey to give a shit about some poor kid from the ghetto getting locked up on a trifle for being involved with drugs that members of Whitey generally use and traffic with impunity.

As it happens, Ms. Zimmerman (any relation to George?) has support from one of Philadelphia’s premier Aspies:

Actually although she was wrong to say it publicly and therefore must face consequences, I see her point. Where or not more whites are on it blacks tend to abuse it more so than other races and that is why we still have debit particular in Philly where im from. Heck my city can’t pay its school system. Anyway I go to Philadelphia shoprite in Cheltenham see many black folk pay their junk food with food stamps not necessarily healthy food thus become obese for some and all while wearing fur coat and driving an escalade with spinner dubs on it. Welfare abuse has to stop and maybe that is what she meant by it…

Well then. Let’s double down on this shit. Combine a childhood spent not far over the city line from the mildly hoodish areas of Philadelphia’s far north side, undergraduate studies in the barely cocooned Ivory-Tower-in-the-Badlands precincts of Temple University, and a case of Asperger’s that makes Alien Uncle sound like Cardinal Dolan, and a public recounting of that bigoted tale is probably inevitable. We Philadelphians call it like we see it. (I’m only kind of a Philadelphian, and not much of one lately, but I’m Philadelphian enough for the current purposes.) It’s one of the reasons that many outsiders find us quite rude. In parts of the country where fake pleasantry, passive-aggressiveness and subterfuge are held ideal, we look awfully forward and brusque. So be it; the average inhabitant of these places is disturbed. (Here’s looking at you, Ashland.) The Temple Clinger, however, takes this forthrightness to the next level. It doesn’t help that he sops up depravity from weird corners of the internet for regurgitation at the next opportunity instead of hanging out with real people, getting an idea of who they are, and letting them temper with some measure of sober decency the rubbish he reads online. Nor does it matter that he’s an impulsive fat guy whose Facebook profile picture is a selfie showing him decked out in a red suit for some big pimpin’. This doesn’t make him introspective enough to stop complaining about irresponsible, obese negroes on the dole.

As I intone whenever it seems topical, there is a credible fix for this dude’s amazing dipshittery: prostitution. He needs to be civilized by whores. After reading nuttery like his comment above, however, I tend to think that the Temple Clinger more specifically needs him some chocolate lovin’. If he doesn’t have a case of the jungle fever, he should. Yes, I’m being flip and trollishly politically incorrect, but I mean it. He’ll return from these trysts with comments about black chicks that I truly cannot imagine (if nothing else, his syntax is beyond me), but he’ll also learn how to relate to black chicks one-to-one, not as hoodrat ciphers at the Shoprite. He may discover that some of his favorite whores are black people. Again, impishly though I present my case, a black hooker will kill (softly, I assume) two birds with one stone: the sexual frustration and the racial trope-mongering. All the Temple Clinger needs to do to make this happen is give one of these ladies a call, and then get his stones off with the bird.

Ladies: if this guy hires you, let me know whether you’ve ever been picked up by an even weirder honky.

There will be no apologies whatsoever for my recourse to racially and sectorally inflammatory language. Unlike Paula Deen, I take ownership of my use of racial tropes. Also unlike Paula Deen, I use them to sharpen what I consider relevant points and send the weasels running for cover, or at worst to Godwinize the discourse for shits and giggles; I do not use them to inquire about where on earth all the good house niggers have gone, and then frantically offer abjectly disingenuous apologies when cornered by those who don’t care for that retrograde Savannah planter thang.

It’s relevant language even if I’ll be working with a bunch of Mexicans and for some other Mexicans. The lead manager who hired me yesterday, a white enough fellow himself, told me that most of the white people he hires don’t last very long in the vineyards, some of them not even an hour. He seems to share my confidence that I’m not that White, and that I have a pretty good idea of the working conditions since I’ve done the same kinds of work for Farmer Uncle and I know my way around wine grapes. What he has described sounds concerted but not grueling for someone in decent shape. Thankfully, the hours aren’t as long as I had feared.

This may be the most sensible hiring process I’ve ever encountered. I called the office yesterday afternoon and asked whether the company was still hiring, then swung by at the lead manager’s invitation for a spot interview and to complete my paperwork, and left with a job offer and contact information for the lead manager and the field manager he intended to have supervise me. The lead manager called me this afternoon to tell me that the work at the vineyard where he had planned to assign me had been suspended at the estate owner’s request on account of recent heavy rain, but that he could put me on the schedule for tomorrow morning at a different vineyard where the crew is short a few hands. I’ll be reporting to a grocery store parking lot in the underbelly of the Willamette Valley wine country at 6:15 am. As underbellies go, it isn’t a bad one, but it’s still seedy and downmarket compared to the places esteemed at Alma Mater, Tried and True. Noble I ain’t.

For a victim of long-term unemployment like me, this timeline is amazing. I had a firm job offer within about half an hour of first calling the lead manager. The interview lasted less than forty minutes, most of it devoted to completing paperwork, going over company policies, and discussing technical aspects of the work. If there was any bullshit, it was undetectable, and I have a sensitive, finely tuned bullshit detector. Barely 24 hours after receiving an offer, I was on the schedule with a reporting time thirteen hours hence. This means that I’ll be on the clock less than forty hours after first contact with my new employer. There have been some glitches and eleventh-hour schedule changes in the midst of all this, but they’ve been sorted out more quickly and painlessly than many HR managers can reorient themselves for their next round of bullshit artistry. It’s refreshing to deal with someone who doesn’t get terribly hung up on mistakes but also promptly admits to and corrects them.

I’ve dealt with the opposite extreme, the kind of people who ostentatiously apologize for yawning or calling me “ma’am” because I had knocked softly but who are thoroughly nasty fuckers in every meaningful regard. In her defense, the latter lady may have been a bit mentally unstable. She sent out office-wide e-mails at all hours of the day and night, terrorized all but one of my (weirder) colleagues, and she once made unfulfillable offers to a client in a state of delirium after having pretended to work for 36 hours straight and then driven two hours to a site visit. She was also morbidly obese, with a secret stash of candy that she hid under a bunch of papers. A merely chubby colleague of hers had a hearty candy stash of his own, but he openly pulled M&M’s from a drawer and chain-popped them in front of me when he got stressed. That kind of thing passes for living in truth in the corporate workplace.

I need to be up and out six hours from now. We’ll see how it goes.

We’ll also see how it goes for Paula Deen as she tries to reassure everyone that, now, now, honey, I’m not a racist, y’all.

This post won’t be nearly as cute as the title suggests.

The subject matter is, however, oddly related (heh) to the title. Kentuckians are known not only for their tradition of incest but also for their tradition of stubborn self-reliance. Farmer Uncle and Stoner Aunt share the latter Cumberland cracker value in a bad way. It’s a bizarre value to hold when one has finagled a couple hundred grand in free money from relatives and friends to turn a farm into a shantytown and run it into the ground, but logical consistency is of little import when one can just make shit up all the time and never get called out for being a mendacious fuck because that would totally harsh our mellow, man. It’s said that a stopped clock is right twice a day, and it seems that Eastern Kentucky last wound the clock during the Buchanan Administration, but Farmer and Stoner don’t worry about schedules and shit. They’ll be right when they wanna be right, they’ll be wrong when they wanna be wrong, and it’ll be everyone else’s responsibility to get with the program right now or incur redneck assholiness and royal butthurt. Does anybody really know what time it is? (Time to make the payments on the secondary mortgage.) Does anybody really care? (The Rosshole cares.) By the way, to really tenderize this horse carcass, I just checked my watch, and it looks like it’s the Adults’ Hour.

Much like That Old Time Religion, not to mention That Old Time Knowledge of Blood Relations (it’s called “knowledge” because they like them some King James in them thar hills), the grand dipshittery surrounding the management of the farm has become, for pretty much everyone involved but me, just kind of the way things work around here. (You know you’re dealing with subnormal asshats if that’s the only justification they can offer for the rules they’d like to enforce.) Think of it as a cultural form of adverse possession: we squares are paying for it, or having it paid for in trust for us, but the dirty hippies have been squatting on the moral ground for so long that we’d probably have to go to court to evict them. My dad is planning to take a close look at the joint this summer and try to flesh out a plan for cleaning up the mess, but it looks like it’ll be tough going.

Here’s what I find alarming: even though they recognize serious problems with the manner in which Farmer and Stoner have been behaving, my parents have come to reflexively make excuses for them. As far as I know, they don’t do this for anyone else. They certainly don’t for me. They aren’t hardasses by any stretch of the imagination (for one thing, if they were, they wouldn’t have all that money tied up in the farm), but when they have the feeling that I’ve fucked up again they aren’t reticent about telling me that they think I’m on the wrong path. They don’t stumble all over themselves trying to make excuses for me.

Where Farmer and Stoner are concerned, they’ve plunged headlong into the quagmire of moral relativism. One of the bizarre things about this dynamic is that they’ve given Farmer and Stoner quite a bit of money, especially over the past few years, but they, not the beneficiaries of their largesse, are the ones being so brazenly manipulated. This is not, as far as I can tell, a manifestation of the psychology of prior investment; God knows they’ve given me a lot of money, too. I’m convinced that they’re operating on a much deeper, more refined emotional level. They aren’t ones to use money to manipulate other people, and even if they become alarmed that the alms they’ve given have fallen into a sinkhole, they don’t really take offense. (They’ve been good at avoiding this, up to a point, by not giving money to the Aliens.)

The prospect of fractious relationships, however, can put my parents into a state of frantic anguish. They are openly scared out of their minds at the prospect of my stirring up trouble with Farmer and Stoner and causing collateral damage to the family, even though what I’m trying to do is to respond to serious provocations on Farmer and Stoner’s part. Their attitude is that of the pacifist rending his garments at the thought of guns, guns! being used to retake Fort Sumter. I’m trying to proceed thoughtfully and cautiously here, but the circumstances are dire and a number of these disputes are manifestly not my fucking fault. I am not going to take the blame for any of it unless I’m conclusively shown that I fucked up in a way that a reasonable person responding to the same circumstances absolutely would not. The way Farmer has been acting for the past four years or so and the way Stoner has apparently been acting to some extent for her entire life are inherently provocative, and I am not about to let them martyr anyone else for making a good-faith effort to bring them to heel when they’re beyond the pale. We may be Christians, but there’s no reason for us to become Christ. Any passion needs to be on them.

That’s a nice ideal, in any event. My parents seem determined to first try martyring themselves in the hope of mollifying a couple who they agree can be provocative shits. They aren’t masochists. They’ve just been cornered by two people they love who have spent decades pretty much getting what they want through various forms of emotional aggression and lately have been turning up the heat. Like my parents, I’ve usually been conciliatory to the point of showing Farmer and Stoner inappropriate deference in the hope of keeping shit from hitting the fan. My parents appear to be hoping against hope that I’ll show yet more of this deference, since Stoner especially is disinclined to do her part to stop pissing people off when she can instead proclaim her most grievous butthurt.

Encouragingly, I infer that Farmer Uncle recently pulled his head out of his ass with a surprising, uncharacteristic decisiveness, upon being apprised by my dad of my objections to his recent behavior. I doubt that he would have realized that it’s the Adults’ Hour and, shall we say, governed himself accordingly had I taken my usual conciliatory approach to him and Stoner instead of laying it all out on the record in my pro se e-mail to Stoner and making it painfully clear to my parents that shit be wack on the old homestead. Farmer has apparently swallowed his bitter medicine and felt its salutary effects, at least for the time being, but this didn’t just happen on its own. It required a much more concerted effort than would be necessary to convince a reasonable person to stop being an ass clown. Give-and-take doesn’t work with him or with Stoner the way it does with Baywatch, because their impulse is to turn it into take-and-take. This is why even though Baywatch and I have a weird, confusing, sporadic relationship with a tendency to turn into a mutually amplifying hot mess, I still consider it viable because I’m willing to eat my humble pie and homegirl’s got class. She can burn at a hot temperature, but she has manners the way Grandma had manners.

This is where things get deep enough to blow minds not just in Ashland, but internationally. Indeed, I aver that the torch of gracious womanhood has been passed from Grandma to a self-described agnostic hippie, a sexual pluralist and possible libertine who has been known to curse like a sailor and use the term “flavor saver” (a synonym for “soul patch”; just like the proliferation of vague, redundant surfing terms, it’s an OC equivalent to the Eskimos having 71 words for snow, or 69 if you wish). Baywatch’s sexual practices may be looser and more forward than Grandma considered ladylike, but it doesn’t matter. I can’t speak to that because, unlike Lady Lejeune, Baywatch hasn’t semi-publicly spoken of her own bodily functions or sexual practices in front of me, and I get the feeling that she is generally disinclined to be so uncouth except among her closest friends. That’s why the torch hasn’t been passed from devout Christian breeder to devout Christian breeder, passing over a generation with the word “BOOM!”; they’re too busy teaching cuckoo-bananas at Steubenville to teach class. (I never went, but I can’t say I regret it. Shit clearly got florid.)

Many would like to carry the torch, but few are worthy of it, especially those who ask for the honor. Stoner Aunt, for example, thinks highly of herself and has that overly upright prim thing going on a lot of the time, so she’d be a great match on a totally superficial level until one realized that she’s a latter-day Victorian horror-cum-gutterslumming Aquarian. Ladies Kentfield and Kensington are far too forward and vulgar for the honor, but they never put themselves in the running, since they’re cognizant of their fault, their fault, their most grievous fault, even though only the latter is a Catholic. One’s tastes needn’t be as elevated as Vaclav Havel’s in order to live in truth. The strongest contender left among Catholics of my generation is Lady Ballimer, who is definitely too reserved and introspective to ask for the honor, or to forthrightly call Lady Lejeune gross when she gets gross. Neither is anyone else in the Church, except maybe Lady Kensington, which would leave us with a standoff between the uncouthness of a child of the cuntpunting Maryland exurbs in furtherance of social control mechanisms and the uncouthness of a more outwardly belligerent but subtly more pluralistic and humbler daughter of Fishtown in furtherance of screwing her boyfriend on a neighbor’s stoop at dawn and then telling us about it because she knows we’re the kind of earnestly vulgar audience that doesn’t apologize for enjoying such a story.

There are a lot more people in this world who are all different kinds of rude than there are true ladies and gentlemen, especially if one listens to those who are blowing their own horns and drowning out their more respectable but reticent fellows. That said, rudeness is a matter of degree. Bigtime. Lady Kensington isn’t the only local with a disregard for the cleanliness of the streets of Filthadelphia. As Captain Bones once put it, “It’s like these people think a fairy’s gonna come and clean up after them when they leave crap all over the street. Actually, they’re right. There is a fairy: it’s called me and Mrs. Bones walking around the block and filling up two trash bags.” Besides, when Lady Kensington gets raunchy on a neighbor’s stoop, it’s only because she’s being impulsive and doesn’t have a room or a trash can available at the moment. It ain’t exactly right, but there’s no antisocial intent. It’s just high-functioning white trashiness in a declining industrial neighborhood. It’s no Haddonfield Special, and even if she threatens to punch me in the face if I don’t buy her shots, she’s no Lt. Josey. A friend of hers from the neighborhood once pulled up her skirt and put out for a boyfriend while leaning against a railing on the Staten Island Ferry: again, dirty, but a far cry from stop-and-frisk or disappearing Adrian Schoolcraft into a mental hospital for snitching about trouble with CompStat.

And these women are most certainly not concerned with the private, consensual sexual behavior of others. Shit, they aren’t even that concerned with public sex. If a horny young couple have sex out on the ferry deck at night and the cops on board don’t cite them for public lewdness, was the deed actually done? You know what? The cops are probably too busy hanging out downstairs, maybe getting pleasantly chatted up by some goody-two-shoes civilians, and being thankful that they drew the best assignment in the 120th Precinct and aren’t stuck responding to shots fired in the Stapleton projects. Besides, Lady Kensington and her friend show more concern for the welfare and sensibilities of others when they have sex in public than Lady Lejeune shows when she asserts herself as an arbiter of official Catholic sexual morality for the public at large. Lady Lejeune doesn’t even attempt to tone down her behavior in consideration of prevailing community standards. And don’tcha know, neither does Stoner Aunt. The assholy butthurt doesn’t have to be about sex, but it doesn’t hurt. (Heh.)

The opposite of moral relativism is not Manicheanism. This truth is easily lost in the din, but there is a very real difference between moral absolutism and Manicheanism. The former allows for a degree of nuance, common sense, and maximization of the commonweal that the latter does not. It’s easy enough to see how this distinction got erased in the public discourse. The people who have the most to say about the dangers of moral relativism are consistently some of the most unhinged Manicheans: Reform theologians, monomaniacal anti-abortionists who can’t process any of the harm caused by unwanted children or recklessly profligate breeding, busybodies who demand the imprisonment of those whose sexuality they find insufficiently holy. The critiques of moral relativism have been left to an unseemly coalition of zealous yahoos, many of them from the intellectual and ethical dregs of society. The weird thing is that they’re of above-average intelligence, eloquence and logical reasoning abilities, but they take faulty or depraved premises and run with them to the ends of the earth.

Meanwhile, what their pluralistic opponents offer in response is mostly mushheaded bollocks. Many on the left are too solicitous of the feelings of every conceivable nutcase constituency to take a real stand on anything, so of course they end up with less credibility than authoritarians who yell about total depravity, being washed in the Blood of the Lamb, “conservatism,” “family values,” manipulatively narrow definitions of the “Heartland,” spats over forty-foot crosses in National Forests, reestablishing compulsory prayer in public schools, “judicial activism,” and the Meese Report. Their opponents may be crazy, but at least they stand for something. On the other hand, the mushheads propose a quiet, if uneasy, coexistence instead of perpetual war on dissidents and minorities. As we saw last year, much of the Republican Party is now in the hands of people depraved and Manichean enough to make Claire McCaskill look like a woman of great principle and courage. McCaskill is an exemplar of Blue Dog suckage, but she was able to win reelection by asserting that discussions of illegitimate ways to rape women so that they like it are not fit for polite society, or even for Congress.

One needn’t spend much time around monomaniacs to realize that that way lies madness. At the same time, it isn’t the moral invertebrates who stand up and tell people like Akin to go fuck themselves. It takes a degree of moral certitude, if only a small one, to recognize that that is simply not the way a decent person talks about rape. Revulsion at that sort of language is a value, and the belief that such language is uniformly beyond the pale is most certainly a value. Notice that no one opined that while it was inappropriate for Akin to speak of “legitimate rape” on behalf of the citizens of St. Louis, Kansas City, and Columbia, it would have been appropriate to speak thus on behalf of the citizens of Cape Girardeau in consideration of the prevailing local culture and Rush Limbaugh’s childhood. No. The message was simple: Akin’s language was unfit for all of Missouri, even the most backwards parts, and it served as a rare opportunity for Claire McCaskill, of all members of the August Body, to join Vertebrata.

To a large extent, it’s a matter of gut feeling. Trying to balance and accommodate every conflicting interest at once would be highly illogical. Gut feeling, not cold logic, is what allows Akin’s observers to stand up and say, “Dude, what the fuck?” It is Captain Kirk, not Spock, who exercises command authority here. They said so on Radio Lab a few weeks ago, and it made a lot more sense than any of that bullshit in Ashland, or my parents’ response to it.

Gut feeling does a lot to explain why I’ve made such an effort to stay in touch with Baywatch over the years. If Data were to add up the sum of our interactions, he would see no reason to make further investments in the relationship as a matter of cost-benefit analysis, but I’m not an Aspie quant. I can tell that that girl is special (a term that for once I don’t use cynically), so I don’t see any need to subtract her propensity for teh hawt mess from her graciousness and divide by the amount of time we’ve spent together in order to know that she’s worth making an effort to keep in my life. At the opposite extreme, I don’t need any quantitative metrics to know that Farmer and Stoner are hella fucked up, although personality disorder diagnostic criteria are helpful for understanding just what’s wrong with them and being able to present it coherently to, say, my parents when they’re in the mood to excuse objectively rude or even depraved behavior.

My parents have accused me of viewing Farmer and Stoner through a Manichean lens, but I do not. They aren’t reincarnations of Stalin. I’d be stunned if they turned out to be the proprietors of a Robert Pickton-style graveyard for prostitutes, in a way that I would not be stunned to hear that the Temple Clinger had gone full Sodini on a bunch of innocent coeds. I see nuances in their behavior. That said, psychopathy is not the appropriate threshold for a response to asshattery in the family. Mendacious, schadenfreude-tinged narcissism on a chronic basis should be more than enough. They’re acting that way as a defense mechanism because they’re ashamed to be insolvent and financially dependent on others? Blow me. They’re making me look bad through their insistence on fraudulently misrepresenting themselves as independent yeomen at a time when they, like me, are financially dependent on my parents. I should not be penalized for making an effort to live in truth, and I damn well should not be penalized for calling sleazy relatives out on a campaign of bullshit that has the effect of punishing me for trying to live honorably.

My parents’ stance, in effect, is that Farmer Uncle and Stoner Aunt should have license to act like children. Frankly, the amount of maturity that I expect them to show is quite modest. In no way do I expect them to become financially independent, and I don’t even expect them to be candid about their personal or business finances, except in serious financial discussions with their investors or prospective investors. I merely expect them to refrain from actively misrepresenting themselves, emotionally manipulating the rest of us, tarring me as a fuck-up in order to divert attention from their own shortcomings, telling other self-serving fantasy tales about me and my motivations, and engaging in tortious and criminal behavior out of sheer idiocy. My position is that immorality informed by a desire to gratuitously offend and provoke others and amorality informed by capricious narcissism are not worldviews fit for polite society.

Manichean this is not. In fact, it is much more restrained and magnanimous than can reasonably be expected of me. There is no ethical obligation for me not to tell them both to their faces that a friend of mine showed a world more maturity as a twenty-year-old undergraduate, even when I got weird and clingy with her, than either of them have shown in their mid-sixties. It would be a pertinent lecture. Baywatch’s subsequent willingness to move forward with near-total goodwill and magnanimity after a heartfelt total freakout over my clinginess is an example of class that damns both Farmer and Stoner as ill-mannered semigeriatric children.

Nor was it Manichean for me to keep hanging out not just with Farmer and Stoner but also with Junior Bear and his posh knuckleheads back east for years, and to magnanimously return to them after massive blowups that were entirely or overwhelmingly their fault. My parents are simply mistaken to think that I’m reflexively judgmental and petty towards these people. I’ve gotten angry with them, but I have certainly not been unduly vindictive.

It took a hell of a lot of bad behavior to get me so riled up against Farmer and Stoner. Again, this is not Manicheanism, but realism, a stern but proportional response to behavior running a gamut from the provocative to the objectively deranged. Yet I’ve ended up on the phone with my mom insisting that Farmer Uncle’s drinking behind the wheel with me as his passenger was not a tort. Of course it’s a fucking tort! His whole goddamn pattern of behavior surrounding this habit has been tortious. He deliberately committed a crime against me for shits and giggles and then declared his intention to persist in similar criminal activity in my absence for the purposes of aggrandizing himself as the alpha dog and vexing my parents. Saying that he can’t be sued for any of this is like saying that Child Protective Services can’t be contacted about Uncle Dwayne’s custom of screwing his teenage nieces in the tobacco barn. For crying out loud, I have the right to press criminal charges against him, and a good chance of establishing criminal intent; in a civil trial I could fucking cream him. It was his idiotic decisions, not mine or my parents, that got us into this mess. We have a similar dynamic with Stoner Aunt’s decision to smear me to my parents in retaliation for my e-mail asking her and Farmer to back the hell off because they had been disrupting my work life. Of course I can sue for an equitable relief injunction compelling her to shut up if I first warn her to stop denigrating me to my parents and then suffer additional annoyance because she won’t stop being such a hideous shrew. That would be a textbook case of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Contrary to my mom’s feverish assertions, that would be a circumstance in which it in fact would be lawful to “tell people what they can and cannot say to other people.” It doesn’t matter that she has always had a tendency to be a provocative, self-righteous horror. Decent people, and indecent people who don’t want to get their asses sued, back down when rightfully accused of anything resembling a tort.

But we’re family. Blood is thicker than water. Uncle Dwayne has always been having his way with his nieces in the tobacky pile.

Headdesk.

There are times when I wonder whether maybe I shouldn’t be so cynical about Alma Mater and so disgusted with the poor moral character of its graduates. It’s academics are excellent on the whole, the exceptions being too exceptional to hold against the rest of the institution, and most of the faculty I knew were not only excellent instructors but also good people. I didn’t leave in touch with as many close friends as I had hoped to keep, but I’ve stayed in touch with several over the past seven years and hung out with quite a few others at reunions.

Then I hear from people like Junior Bear and his closest college friend (and principal at our lunch table), the Younger Third Lord Blair, and my cynicism and disgust are renewed. I get the feeling that both of these guys regard me as something of a class traitor. All three of us come from haut bourgeois families, but Lord Blair likes to be unabashedly arrogant and condescending in a vaguely British way, Junior Bear is a hideous social climber, and I have never hid my egalitarian principles and tastes or my vehement distaste for their airs of superiority. The Younger Third Lord Blair is a scion of one of Altoona’s most prominent families, and I’ve spent enough time around him, his older brother and his parents to know that they are all highbrow but powerful local color.

Consider this conversation between the Second Lord Blair and a presumably more downmarket Altoonan wearing a Nazi military uniform:

2LB: “Are you Dwight Eisenhower?”

Nazi: “No. I’m a Nazi.”

2LB: “Just thought I’d check, since you’re wearing that uniform.”

Nazi: “No, it’s a Nazi uniform. I’m a Nazi.”

The problem is that 2LB and Y3LB approach practically their whole social life this way. They don’t just use this kind of edgy sarcasm with people who are genuinely their equals or with goosestepping Appalachian bigots, but also with people who are more or less decent but happen to be their socioeconomic inferiors. This is how the Younger Third Lord Blair ends up making fun of me for being unemployed or for applying for fry cook positions. The last couple rounds of this shit didn’t rile me up, and I was able to get sufficiently out of body to somewhat appreciate the humor, but it’s still fundamentally an abrasive, inappropriate and dangerous way of relating to others. Y3LB took apparently took a much less aggressive but still condescending approach to his main college girlfriend and her parents, alienating them to a great extent by so doing. Junior Bear, for his part, seems constitutionally incapable of not being an egregious dipshit about the socioeconomic gaps between him and his girlfriends. Sometimes these gaps even exist.

Even when I keep calm and carry on with no difficulty in the face of this condescension, it makes me wonder why the hell I went to a college that is so infested with socially climbing shits. The appreciably marketable skills that I gained in college were taught, fairly haphazardly for the most part, in geology courses that could have been fit into a single semester. I was a good writer when I matriculated, but my organizational skills were atrocious, combining with my poor time management, propensity to social drama and recurrent manic depression to result in a shitload of late and mostly mediocre research papers. (If they were better than my classmates’, it was because the writing, research and organizational skills of my classmates verged on the witless. Even at prestigious schools, this is a lot more common than one would hope.) It’s very simple: Alma Mater did not teach me how to write; I taught myself. Therefore, for Alma Mater, its boosters or its officers (here’s looking at you, Billy Fish) to even insinuate that it taught me to write better than I would have been taught at a less prestigious school would be a fraud.

But I shouldn’t use the subjunctive. That very sort of fraud is a staple of Alma Mater’s promotional literature for prospective students and its calls for alms from the alumni. I don’t know if the alumni Alma Mater gets to provide glowing statements about the wonderful versatile skills they got from their liberal arts education believe what they’re saying, or even understand what they’re saying. If they’re making shit up, or even if they’re dense enough to believe themselves, they should be paid for their efforts, as mercenaries customarily are, but I doubt they receive their due wages. In my view, paying the peons enlisted in one’s racket is a mitigating factor in defense of one’s racketeering, but if anything, Alma Mater probably got them to make charitable deductions to their employer in exchange for their temp work. As I’ve discussed at length before, these people don’t even know how to demand an appropriate cut from the ward bosses when they engage in graft. I’d find them at least marginally more respectable if I knew that they were being honestly corrupt and showing enough self-respect to demand payment for their marketeering; that would indicate that their liberal arts education taught them how to recognize the world of graft, engage it (tee-hee), and live in truth.

Alma Mater, however, is not about living in truth. It’s generally all right at the departmental level, but at the institutional level, it’s an entire college that is less culturally Catholic than Dennis Lynn Rader. If our boy Denny can admit that, yeah, he tortured and killed some people because that was how Bill Thomas Killman rolled, the Alma Mater alumni community should be able to admit that, yeah, it’s a bunch of socially climbing hustlers out to high-hat America for a living and for the lulz. He’s a fucking serial murderer, for God’s sake. We are but posh thieves with habits of condescension towards our socioeconomic inferiors. Why the hell are we less introspective than a guy who tied himself up in his basement and took bondage selfies?

Networking with these people would involve being sociable with them. I used to attend alumni events more often, but I got tired of making small talk with the kind of people who usually show up. A fair number of them are just vile. If I really wanted to mix it up with ill-mannered people of low moral character, I’d probably go back to school for an MSW and start ministering to Sacramento’s wiggers. That way I’d get paid for telling pants-on-the-ground losers that they probably shouldn’t let their seven-year-olds play first-person-shooter computer games, instead of not being paid to refrain from encouraging stuck-up bitches to either come across some noblesse oblige or go fuck themselves. Alma Mater will be just as irrelevant to any social work training I pursue as it has been to my unpaid employment as a vineyard and winery apprentice.

That’s the other thing. Until recently I was working as the de facto assistant manager of an integrated agricultural and food processing operation. That may sound pompous, but it’s exactly what I was. It had absolutely nothing to do with my having graduated from Alma Mater, of course, and Billy Fish is cordially invited to suck on it if he thinks otherwise. Junior Bear’s reaction all along to my employment in that capacity has been that I was wasting my life on stoop labor, and I’ve known all along that this assessment was misguided. The reasons I left the farm had almost nothing to do with the work and everything to do with completely extraneous bullshit. I kept trying to do something professionally and socially worthwhile with my life until Farmer Uncle and his idiotic hangers-on made it practically impossible, and that’s why I’m applying for these less skilled, truly menial jobs in SoCal, just to get going again in the interim. It’s not as if I’ve been a career fry cook since college. Junior Bear, meanwhile, works as a life insurance salesman in an office where some of the other salesmen have no college education. His line of work amounts to bugging friends, relatives and acquaintances, some of them from his family’s church, to buy insurance and financial products that they don’t really want. His summer job in college, as a pool manager for a number of apartment complexes, was of more value to society than what he’s doing now, but of much less value than what I’ve spent most of my career, if it can be called that, doing for free. It would make some sense if the people bugging me for being a disappointment to Alma Mater were engineers or physicians, but they aren’t. They objectively have less useful training and fewer useful skills than I’ve acquired working seasonally at a very badly run hippie farm.

But maybe they have intellectual interests and accomplishments to offset their being useless eaters in the workplace? Nope. Not the ones who give me shit for being a loser, in any event. It’s amazing when I stop to think about it, but Junior Bear, the Younger Third Lord Blair, and most of their friends have almost nothing to say about classes that they took at Alma Mater. Their comments are consistently vague ones about how wonderful Alma Mater is, how important it is to their identity, that kind of thing. Or, as Junior Bear once put it, “I never thought of the library in terms of books.”

At least Rod Blagojevich has the honor to refer to the objects of his crass interest as “fucking golden.” That’s another chap who lives in truth, and in a nicer big house with a much better view of the Front Range than our boy Bob. Indeed, they don’t know how lucky they are, boy, back in the USSR, because ADX Florence is a super special place in a way that the Soviets never figured out. I reckon Blago would give me a squarer deal on the graft than Alma Mater or its alumni boosters, and with a much more noticeable intellectual flourish. Dude knows his Shakespeare, and he’s been reading up on the presidents lately. He has time, you know.

Back into the funhouse we go.

The other night I explored the rabbit hole of online diagnosis of personality disorders. Now, before you accuse me of lay quackery in pursuit of advantage in a family spat, allow me to ask: what say you of Drs. McGraw and Pinsky? I aver that I’m one of the less smarmy, mercenary and demagogic pop psychology enthusiasts. I don’t have shit on Phil or Drew. Perhaps scrambling through lists of diagnostic criteria in order to see what fits one’s relatives isn’t honorable, but neither are my relatives.

Besides, even if I make light of this mess, it’s no joke at all to say that the behavior of the two I’m trying to diagnose looks pathological. I’ve dealt with a lot of nuts and assholes, but there’s something that just seems different about Farmer Uncle and Stoner Aunt. They seem to be, to quote some endlessly annoying but perceptive chroniclers of British narcissism at the dawn of the Thatcher era, “special, so special.”

The Pretenders hit that nail on the head. Actually, I was quite surprised when I fact-checked the authorship of that hideous song on Wikipedia to discover that the Pretenders did not get up until well after the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, so late, in fact, that it was almost morning in America. Chrissie Hynde is, however, a boomer (born, like Alien Aunt, in 1951), and her rubbish about specialness captures the boomer zeitgeist of self-absorption in a way that few other bands have done. The most perceptive of these bands has probably been Stoner Aunt’s favorite, the Eagles, whose bailiwicks include whiny pedantry, self-important earnestness, desert cultists, and straight-up manipulative bitches who slander their entire sex by their existence: all stuff of the sixties, I say. Those fuckers may be annoying, but they know their shit. Besides, they have to be annoying to convey what was wrong with their generation.

Here’s where things get really interesting. There’s run-of-the-mill countercultural musheadedness, and then there are the special (so special) versions with which Farmer and Stoner bless the rest of us. If one’s view of human nature must be rosy and willfully ignorant unto stupidity, or if one must be intractably addled by New Age junk science, or if one must refrain from bathing regularly for no good reason despite really digging hot tubs, there are ways to do these things without being a nuisance to normal people. One of these is for the non-bathing spouse to be the nearly reclusive homebody, which is sadly the opposite of what Farmer and Stoner have done. (Caretaker Uncle: “I don’t think he bathes very often.” Yup.) Another is to steward one’s family business with something resembling a good-faith effort to discharge one’s fiduciary responsibilities to employees and investors, but I’ll leave further discussion of this matter for pretty much all my other posts.

The way to not be a malignant hippie that I find most fascinating at the moment, however, is the one that can be generalized as giving a shit about other people. There are more specific and loquacious ways to describe this approach, and we’ll discuss some of them (or, more accurately, some of their inverses) below, but giving a shit is a good umbrella concept. The rat’s ass that one gives is the horse’s ass that one does not become.

If that sounds pat or annoyingly witty, you should hear the moralistic gibberish that Stoner Aunt spews forth. My sweet lord.

What I have in mind here isn’t compulsive deference to everyone else’s whims. The point isn’t to turn people into hypersolicitous wet noodles or engineer an overbearingly conformist and communally oriented nightmare like Japan or Singapore.  We needn’t be a bunch of weenies or a beehive of soulless, repressed borgs. We just need manners and scruples. Fred Rogers, for example, had them. That’s why he could wax eloquent about blame foolishness like self-esteem just the way you are without turning himself into a peddler of corrosive mind-rot. He set a powerful example in his demeanor and his interactions with others that more or less counteracted the goofiness of anything that he said. He also had more decorum than some of his successors in the business, such as Barney the Dinosaur. And he certainly encouraged his audience to respect other people’s opinions and feelings; that is, to again have recourse to an Anglo-Saxonism that Mr. Rogers was too classy to use in public, to give a shit. He was all about intelligence for your life, a sort of amphetamine-free John Tesh for children. (It’s only capitalized if America’s premier brony says it, or if Mr. McFeely took some extra feel-good pills that morning and is ready to deliver the mail big-band style.)

Come to think of it, John Tesh wants you and me to be anodyne beyond what Fred Rogers ever suggested. He’s kind of a conformist twit, but damn, what a Legend and true son of the Guyland.

To get our trolley back on track, there are ranges of acceptable behavior (#TeshTip: maybe not such wide ranges after all), and the important thing is to fall somewhere within these ranges. If you go too far off the reservation, you may reach a point at which, say, the Mayo Clinic will tend to confirm your disgruntled relatives’ suspicions that you’re, oh, a Cluster B headcase.

And don’tcha know, our friends in Minnesota have been kind enough to offer us specific tutorials on three forms of Cluster B goodness, including Madonna’s favorite. But if you feel like you’re going to lose your mind in a fashion as pedestrian and milquetoast as that, you should check out what the Mayo Clinic has to say about those who keep on pushing my love over the breaking point (and definitely pushing my parents’ buttons, too) by being ostentatiously butthurt grandiosities or reckless, belligerent assholes with pretensions of alcoholism.

First, let’s consider some Opposing Viewpoints on family law: “Lawyers: I consulted with one the other day because your husband, who was also my de facto employer until last weekend, has been behaving really erratically around me for months and deliberately committed a crime against me last fall” vs. “Lawyers: Your son caused me severe anal trauma by writing me that he had talked to one who thinks that my husband may be senile, and just FYI, I should also mention that your son sometimes has weird ways of not establishing eye contact.”

I’m not kidding. That kooky bitch responded to an e-mail in which I asked her and her husband to leave me alone for the time being, indicated that I considered the circumstances dire enough to warrant a formal attorney’s consultation, and apprised her of serious, specific objections to their behavior, including malicious criminal activity directed at me on her husband’s part, by surreptitiously complaining to my dad that I had hurt her feelings and that I had previously kind of disturbed her with an odd mannerism that she hadn’t thought important enough to bring to his attention in the preceding several years but now found relevant. Responding to a pro se cease-and-desist letter by making a nearly ad hominem attack on the prospective litigant to one of his parents is the kind of crackpot idiocy that gets people sued. Stoner Aunt was either completely off her goddamn rocker or, more likely, too arrogant and contemptuous to take me at all seriously. Or maybe a bit of both: “Well, would you fucking look at that insolent little peon, presuming that I’m answerable to the law courts!” 

That ain’t normal. I’m just sayin’. As a matter of shortsighted expediency it made sense to stir up my dad against me, but anyone with an inkling of how American courts work would recognize that stirring up family trouble with a prospective legal adversary who has already made his preliminary legal position a matter of electronic record is all kinds of crazy. It’s even worse in Stoner’s case because one of my complaints in the e-mail had been about my impatience with her and Farmer’s “evasions, half-truths, red herrings and outright fabrications.” Three out of four isn’t bad for the plaintiff. For defense counsel, it’s an occasion for much facepalmage. Come on, your nephew e-mails you a pro se complaint that you’ve been evasive, and you respond not only by being evasive but also by badmouthing him to his father? The fuck? 

Keep in mind that attorneys usually have horrible things to say about pro se litigants. If I have a fool for a client, I’ll have the village idiot for an adversary.

Stoner is clearly trying to assert the queen’s prerogative here. Bizarrely, she seems to think that this is a sane thing to do when I’ve advised her that I’m in touch with an attorney because her husband has gotten out of control and expect her to tone down her own behavior if she’s to have any real relationship with me going forward. But royals aren’t weird in the head merely on account of inbreeding. Stoner Aunt has been lucky enough to marry into a family that is too fucking mellow and conflict-averse to give her shit for being a self-righteous asshat. My mom’s side of the family would probably have been less hospitable, being recently descended from a tightly corseted fourteen-stone Ulster Scotch battle ax who successfully sued the NYPD for false arrest in 1936 and a rather Asiatic Jew who told her son, “You look like a Chink, you Chink.”

Instead, what we have now is my parents routinely tripping over themselves to make excuses for her, one of their favorites being, “She’s always been that way.” That can certainly be said of Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, the missing Rockefeller, whose childhood acquaintances describe him as having been a hideously mendacious social climber. I reckon it might be said of Jerry Sandusky, too. You know, kiddy-diddling has always been his scene.

Perv be with you. Let us offer one another the sign of perv.

The salient thing here is that Stoner Aunt’s bizarre disregard for others goes back decades, probably to childhood. She probably got a decent share of it from her mother, who my dad, not normally one to paint others with a broad brush, has called “a weird woman.” Her mother is in the habit of sending hard right-wing chain e-mails stuffed with stupid partisan jokes and imagery of Barack Obama as a Hindu god to a mailing list that includes Stoner and other avowed leftists. I’ve long had the strong sense that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

They’re both well weird. Last year, Lord Lochforrest asked me whether Stoner was a narcissist: “Does she do things like see you eat a candy bar and totally flip out at you?” At the time, I thought that he was using an overbroad definition of narcissism, but now I’m not so sure. So let’s compare her behavior to the Mayo Clinic quick-and-dirty checklist for NPD:

  • Believing that you’re better than others: BINGO
  • Fantasizing about power, success and attractiveness
  • Exaggerating your achievements or talents: YUP
  • Expecting constant praise and admiration: YUP
  • Believing that you’re special and acting accordingly: BINGO
  • Failing to recognize other people’s emotions and feelings: BINGO
  • Expecting others to go along with your ideas and plans: BINGO
  • Taking advantage of others: BINGO
  • Expressing disdain for those you feel are inferior: BINGO
  • Being jealous of others
  • Believing that others are jealous of you
  • Trouble keeping healthy relationships: YUP
  • Setting unrealistic goals
  • Being easily hurt and rejected: BINGO 
  • Having a fragile self-esteem: BINGO
  • Appearing as tough-minded or unemotional

Partial hit on eleven out of sixteen, square hit on eight. Damn. When I call these square hits, I mean that these attitudes and behaviors are egregious, easily in the 95th percentile or higher for weirdness and pathology among everyone I’ve ever known to any significant extent.

Now, let’s rate Farmer Uncle:

  • Believing that you’re better than others: BINGO 
  • Fantasizing about power, success and attractiveness
  • Exaggerating your achievements or talents: BINGO 
  • Expecting constant praise and admiration: YUP
  • Believing that you’re special and acting accordingly: BINGO 
  • Failing to recognize other people’s emotions and feelings: BINGO 
  • Expecting others to go along with your ideas and plans: YUP
  • Taking advantage of others: BINGO
  • Expressing disdain for those you feel are inferior: BINGO 
  • Being jealous of others: YUP 
  • Believing that others are jealous of you
  • Trouble keeping healthy relationships: BINGO 
  • Setting unrealistic goals: YUP 
  • Being easily hurt and rejected: YUP
  • Having a fragile self-esteem: BINGO 
  • Appearing as tough-minded or unemotional

Partial hit on thirteen out of sixteen, square hit on eight. Caveat: I consider Farmer Uncle’s slightly higher score misleading because his behavior and attitudes are merely egregious by comparison to normal people, i.e., people other than his wife. He fails in an absolute sense, but in a relative sense compared to Stoner’s living absurdity, he wins.

Now for Farmer’s real test. Let’s see what our Minnesotans have to say about symptoms of antisocial personality disorder:

  • Disregard for right and wrong: BINGO 
  • Persistent lying or deceit to exploit others: BINGO 
  • Using charm or wit to manipulate others for personal gain or for sheer personal pleasure: YUP
  • Intense egocentrism, sense of superiority and exhibitionism: BINGO
  • Recurring difficulties with the law: NEXT THING TO IT
  • Repeatedly violating the rights of others by the use of intimidation, dishonesty and misrepresentation: BINGO 
  • Child abuse or neglect
  • Hostility, significant irritability, agitation, impulsiveness, aggression or violence: BINGO 
  • Lack of empathy for others and lack of remorse about harming others: BINGO
  • Unnecessary risk-taking or dangerous behaviors: BINGO 
  • Poor or abusive relationships: BINGO 
  • Irresponsible work behavior: MINOR, BUT WORSENING
  • Failure to learn from the negative consequences of behavior: YUP 

Shit. Partial hits on twelve out of thirteen, square hits on eight. He and Stoner have never had children, so that could explain why his batting average isn’t a perfect 1.000, but he has damn well neglected my welfare as his adult nephew and employee, as well as that of other farm tenants and employees.

The only aspects of Farmer Uncle’s antisocial behavior that argue against giving him an APD diagnosis are the time of onset and the pattern of progression. The diagnostic criteria indicate early onset and attenuation over time: “['S]ymptoms may begin in childhood and are fully evident for most people during their 20s and 30s….Although considered a lifelong disorder, some symptoms — particularly destructive and criminal behavior and the use of alcohol or drugs — may decrease over time, but it’s not clear whether this decrease is a result of aging or an increased awareness of the consequences of antisocial behavior.” In Farmer’s case, the earliest credible onset, as far as I can tell, was at the age of 62, with a noticeable worsening at the age of 65.

A cynical observer might regard it as one of those retirement things: an asshole to his wife upon becoming a pensioner, an asshole to others as well upon becoming a beneficiary of socialist old people medicine. What actually happened, as best I can tell, is that he and Stoner both became unhinged as their business enterprises began exsanguinating in the current depression. By the way, Great Recession my ass: it’s a fucking Fourth-Turning orgy of ahistorical economic idiocy. Farmer and Stoner took a massive ass-reaming that corresponded almost precisely (i.e., plus or minus a quarter or two) to the national aggregate collapse. An awful lot of the damage that they sustained was completely out of  their control. The real problem for the rest of us (and for their marriage) wasn’t that they got hammered, but that they responded by going batty. Regularly having yelling matches on an hourly basis about why the trash hasn’t been taken out or what’s for dinner is straight-up wiggity-wack. I don’t recall many of these fights having the least pertinence to their solvency. The only exception that really stands out is the one in which Stoner Aunt complained, “I’m sick of doing all my baking in this fucking wood stove.” Farmer Uncle’s response was to denigrate her for not having the right combination of skill, attention and interest to manage the fuel supply and damper settings at a time when she was also trying to measure and mix ingredients, a stance that to my amateur eyes looked assholishly cuckoo.

Nor was fighting their only avenue of disruption. They also alternated abruptly between the real world, in which they openly freaked out about their dire finances, and a King Friday-grade Land of Make-Believe, in which they smugly asserted that all was well in their kingdom. The problem wasn’t just that they were making patently ridiculous and self-serving statements about their finances and then getting pissed off if I even gently challenged them. Their thin-skinned efforts to visualize something other than parlous finances and rank squalor and disorganization into existence were unpredictable. They would surface into the real world without warning, and they would descend back into the quagmire of bullshit without warning. It was a bipolar sort of delusion, sometimes wildly so, and they apparently had no qualms at all about using intimidation and emotional manipulation to force those around them (mainly me) to express agreement with whatever version of reality they were promoting at the moment. They were all over the place, and everyone else had to be exactly where they were at all times or else risk a tantrum. It was an absurd, crazymaking sort of caprice.

By the way, I can deal with a lot of cuckoo if it isn’t projectile and malicious. I can deal with people who are consistently off the wall in their thinking, or who live in unpredictable, baffling emotional states, as long as they have manners about it. The fundamental problem with Farmer and Stoner is that the default settings to which they regress in times of adversity are, respectively, heavily affected redneck assholery and lukewarm, passive-aggressive, narcissistic trolling.

These approaches are both vile, but on their own they aren’t particularly strong evidence of personality disorders. In Stoner Aunt’s case, however, less egregious but still serious examples of the same sort of behavior apparently date back at least to her late twenties, when Farmer Uncle first introduced her to my dad’s extended family. Mind you, my main sources on this subject are my parents, and as I mentioned above, Stoner’s mother is mildly disturbed in a narcissistic way. Incidentally, Captain Bones’ father, a man who drives Captain Bones up the wall and whom my dad has long made out to be the most powerful narcissist he knows, plasters his own Facebook wall with the same kind of right-wing brain rot that Stoner’s mom disseminates in round-robin e-mails to those she loves. Stoner’s politics are at the opposite extreme, but only marginally more thoughtful, civil and dignified. As a matter of course, whenever she opens her mouth about politics she provides an object lesson in why everyone my age wants the boomer leadership to just shut the fuck up. She’s far from the only boomer whose style of discourse on controversial matters verges on the feral, but her self-importance goes a lot deeper and wider than that. My guess is that the assholiness that my parents detected in her as long ago as 1973 in fact dates to her childhood.

Again, this is not just run-of-the-mill abrasiveness, high-hattery or hypersensitivity. Rather, it is an exceptionally unique sort of smug, contemptuous, tautological self-righteousness, reinforced with a finely tuned, strongly amplified, ostentatious sense of grievance. It isn’t something that was deliberately cultivated in her by “society” asshats or their cunt-punting understudies in the sororities as a prerequisite for acceptance as a lady of good breeding rather than a vulgar woman of the slums. Stoner is the oldest of four siblings raised by a twice-divorced nobody of a mother in a couple of pedestrian Bay Area neighborhoods, one of which is still rather workaday. Look at it this way: the Palo Alto that my parents and I left in 1992 might as well have been picked up by an Erickson air crane and dropped into Buena Park. Seriously, the entire nonacademic Mittelstand that one encountered on California Avenue or in Midtown in 1990 can be found at Paul’s Place between about 11:30 and 2:30 weekdays in 2013. (Get the Ortega burger meal. Just do it. Dayyum, is it good eatin’ for cheap.) Now consider that Palo Alto had already become a much more gentrified place when my parents and I moved away for pragmatic reasons having to do with family and work than it had been when Farmer Uncle and Stoner Aunt fled fifteenish years earlier because they were CCR-style country bumpkins from the Peninsula and the traffic was making Stoner le mad. The techies had started moving in, and housing prices had increased by a factor of eight of ten in that time. “Mid-Peninsula” was not fraught with the hideous sociological baggage that weighs it down today. It was a normal place. In demographic terms, Menlo Park was a bayside version of Visalia. The pigs hadn’t yet been let into the clover field.

Yet Stoner apparently emerged not only from this middlebrow, upstanding, more or less well-mannered environment, but also from Da-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-vis, already possessed of her royal prerogative. Several decades in Ashland didn’t help things in the slightest (self-sorting of the wing nuts into their geographically segregated echo chambers never does), but even before she moved to Ashland she had that off-putting, contemptuous pretension about her. My reference some paragraphs above to the erstwhile Clark Rockefeller was all too apt: they were both just too much for their circumstances. In an odd sense, Stoner Aunt didn’t go far enough in her pretension; had she feigned blue blood like our boy Clark did, she, too, might have been able to take the money and run a time or two.

Where she may have gone too far, in retrospect, was in divorcing Lord Antonov, an engineer, before vesting Social Security surviving spouse benefits, and in subsequently getting remarried to a college dropout who had been slumming it with a bunch of roommates and working as a line cook. Had Lord Antonov been sadistic, or generally deranged, or just weird in the way that his colleagues often are (the gents especially, it seems; that’s one sausage fest that women in the profession tend to find disappointing, if not insufferable), Stoner Aunt might have had good reason to throw in the towel, but to the small extent that she talks about Lord Antonov, her main complaint is that he was “boring.”

Shit. What a downwardly mobile White Whine. What’s disturbing, though, is the possibility that she took up with Farmer Uncle because she recognized some kind of latent nastiness in him. For one thing, he’s always been the most uncouth member of his sibship. Maybe he spent too much time around Grandpa, who tended to gamble away the family’s scarce money and, according to Caretaker Aunt, late in his life turned into something of a wifebeating shit. Farmer was Grandpa’s favorite, but I’m still skeptical that that’s enough to explain why he’s such an outlier compared to the other four. Grandma had a huge influence on all five of them, and a lot of the stuff that he did around me he wouldn’t have dreamed of doing in her presence. As far as I can tell, Grandma was fine with Farmer going downmarket (shit, she was fine with Alien Uncle cluttering her driveway and garage with old clunkers and spare parts), but she would have been anguished had she believed that he had turned into a high-functioning dirtbag.

That said, if he was one when he took up with Stoner, it must have been subtle. The thing that really got Grandma tied in knots was that they were “living in sin.” (This is one of the most dumbed-down, Orwellian Christian euphemisms ever devised; we all live in sin, even if Ashlanders like to ignore this truth because it’s a total bummer, man.) Just as the aspersions that Grandma cast on Stoner Aunt for being a divorcee were inadvertently slanderous of all other divorcees, her prayers that she and Farmer stop “living in sin,” and her forthrightness about this aspect of her prayer life, ultimately helped get Farmer and Stoner stuck in a permanent roommate arrangement from hell. Stoner Aunt wasn’t exactly good news for Farmer or for the rest of the family, but Grandma used the wrong moral framework to critique her. Fornication was one of the most pedestrian sins of the Summer of Love. Shunning prospective sex partners who strove to live lives of dignity and taste in favor of the defiantly uncouth was an Aquarius classic. It’s not as if the fifties and early sixties hadn’t been saturated with pop culture models of sexual self-determination on the part of people who made an effort to bathe, dress halfway decently and groom themselves in some fashion, instead of donning rags, then doffing the same rags and openly fucking in mud pits under the influence of hard drugs. Even the amphetamine culture, which enjoyed one of its heydays during the Eisenhower Administration, was geared more towards housewives taking their duly prescribed upper snacks at home and then getting shit done than it was towards late-stage tweakers scurrying around in low-rider pajamas at the 7-Eleven.

The Lord Antonov-to-Farmer Uncle fiasco gives me this sinking feeling that Stoner Aunt is an object lesson in that revolting Chateau Heartiste maxim, alpha fucks and beta bucks. Get bored wif da engineer, get bored by da dropout: dat is how we roll. LOLZLOZLZOLOZO. I guess there’s some equity in the reciprocal awfulness of their decision, and in the fact that Lord Antonov got released from bondage to a narcissistic, henpecking freak who intimidates her in-laws. But even if Farmer and Stoner deserve each other, the rest of us don’t deserve their folie-a-deux intimidation of anyone who treats them like commoners when they’d rather be treated like feudal lords. We shouldn’t be suffering collateral damage from their bad judgment in shacking up. For crying out loud, they shouldn’t be repaying my parents’ beta bucks and my thousand-odd hours of farm labor with such aggressively fraudulent simulacra of independence. If I can live with enough humility not to brag that I totally have my shit together when I’m financially dependent on my parents, why the fuck can’t those two disingenuous mooches do so?

That’s right. My troubles are a mishmash of Cluster C symptoms. Meek loserdom, you might say, but at least I don’t have a goddamn chip on my shoulder. It goes with the territory, to the extent that I’m in that territory, and in any event, Stoner Aunt has gotten lost much deeper in her own. So has Farmer Uncle; clinically or not, he’s kinda not right in the head. They both like to go into the bush Livingstone-style, and they’re good enough at it that they get me blamed for pointing in their direction and saying, no seriously, they’re exploring the heart of darkness. These are, like the most racist title of the least racist book I’ve ever read, Dark Subjects.

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