In case my audience is wondering where I’ve been for the past few weeks (what audience?), I’ve been scrambling to line up work and housing in Southern California.

Successfully, you ask? (Are “you,” whoever “you” are, there? The site stats say not so much, but sidebar out.) Hell, no. To engage in a bit of the navelgazing for which this platform was allegedly built, it was a lonely, depressing slog at first, but my mood and outlook are a lot better now, despite my having no serious leads. It’s probably what I should have expected for trying to sort out the wheat from the chaff on Craigslist; more to come about that gang of strange rangers below.

Then, today, after scrambling to complete an application and attachment page, making a mad Miracle on Wheels dash down the 91 during rush hour and arriving at Knott’s Berry Farm with what I thought was ten minutes to spare, I was told that the employment center had actually closed at 4:00 pm. When I told a hiring manager that the website indicated that his office was open until 5:00, he shrugged and said, “Yeah, I know.” He was quite pleasant and polite about it, but the policy that he was enforcing, of not even receiving applications after a misstated closing time, was nuts. With the witching hour either ten minutes away or fifty minutes past, at least fifteen of my competition were hanging out in the courtyard waiting for interviews. It would have been a crazymaking afternoon had I not proceeded through it with deliberate serenity, including a worst-case default assumption that I wouldn’t get the application in before the weekend.

It seems that this sort of situation repeats itself millions of times a day in the United States, usually in contrived circumstances. If this is true, it helps explain the observable truth that this country isn’t exactly right in the head.

I saw worse vignettes of the labor market on this trip. I spent a night at a backpacker-oriented motel a few miles east of LAX where an applicant called while I was checking in to inquire about the status of her application to be a shuttle driver. After telling her to stop by in the morning, the night manager hung up and told a colleague, “I don’t have any vacancies, anyhow.”

It seems that that sort of thing has been happening a lot since the crash of 2008. The last time that such an attitude was a mainstay in the US was the Great Depression. Back then, something like half of Americans had a farm in the family where they could crash with relatives in a pinch. These days, those of us with relatives who will put us up on (or, as has been the case for me, sort of near) the family farm in exchange for help with chores are a distinct minority. One of the few subjects on which Ashlanders hit the nail on the head is the implications of Americans being overwhelmingly detached from agricultural life. Even if the Cassandra is a white girl in dreadlocks, she’s right. About one percent of the American population lives in farming households, and that bodes ill for any country.

Buena Park is a revealing example. Knott’s Berry Farm is not a berry farm. Maybe no one would give a shit about it if still were one. After all, Casa de Fruta is pretty inconsequential as tourist traps go, and Vacaville is littered with the skeletons of grand old farm stands, now encroached by cancerous outlet malls. Many people forget, or flat never knew, that Orange County used to be an agricultural powerhouse. Yeah, they used to grow berries there. Berry farm, duh. Beautiful day in the grape orchard. At this point, the commercial berry sector in Buena Park appears to be a plot of about four acres on the west side of Stanton Ave. just south of the 91 freeway. It’s encouraging to find agricultural vestiges like that, but what it means as a practical matter for anyone who might want to take seasonal work in the berry patch is that if he doesn’t already have a place to stay in the area, there’s some space under yonder overpass.

But isn’t the Crescent Motel an option? Yes. So is FCI Englewood, and the Bureau of Prisons will do you one better by offering three hots in addition to a cot. Well, at least two hots; after skimming the Admissions and Orientation booklet, I couldn’t figure out whether Englewood serves lunch. The neighbors may be a bit nicer there, too, and I’m not kidding. I just spent a week based at that fleabag, and I can sum up the clientele: them’s scary folks. Example: a reasonable person who sees a driver dinging his truck during a shitty parking job accepts the driver’s offer of insurance information instead of yelling about “disrespect” for his truck and that he’s “got witnesses who saw you hit my truck.” On one level, I think it would have been a good thing had that thug roughed me up, because in that case I would have had the Buena Park Police put his antisocial ass in jail, where it belongs.

Living in the country, a dirtbag like him is mainly a problem for his girlfriends and stepchildren; it’s a different story on the outskirts of Anaheim. It’s easy for those who live in wealthier or more stable neighborhoods to forget that the poor often have an impossible time getting away from people like him. Encounters with menacing people on the margins put drug arrests into a different context, too. Maybe some of the people who got snitched on by their neighbors weren’t ultimately sent up the river for being druggies. Maybe they were sent up the river because their neighbors got tired of thuggery that didn’t technically violate the penal code. Maybe the snitch didn’t mind the shake-and-bake lab in the trunk as much as its owner’s being a thug life cretin who lorded it anyone who crossed him, no matter how trivial the offense. I was certainly tempted to find a way to get the BPPD to run a warrant check on homeboy. I didn’t care whether he got arrested for a murder warrant or a bench warrant for an unpaid moving violation; putting his ass behind bars was a good thing. One look at him told me that he had been in jail before, and probably for a damn good reason. It might have been the equivalent of OJ Simpson serving his murder sentence in Nevada, but there’s a better than average chance that he was sent away honestly, maybe for beating on his women. Or for beating on someone who disrespected his truck.

Some people just need to be behind bars. It isn’t a matter of class, either; that’s a copout. White trash isn’t the problem. It’s no skin off my back if some trailer park weirdo snorts his soup on the bus. It’s just too bad that in so many cases the only provisions available to police up genuine menaces are so easily abused against people who aren’t doing anyone harm.

If you’re wondering how single room occupancy hotels attract such a shitty clientele, take a look at Craigslist. I’ve spent over a week scouring Craigslist roomshare and apartment listings, and it’s been a disturbing experience. I spent probably an hour one afternoon flagging “home for rental to own” scams, a small act to make the world a better place and, besides, about as productive on an hourly basis as finding and responding to real listings. Farmers have a word for that: weeding. One of the problems with not having a gatekeeper is that the spambots flood the platform, making it harder for legitimate parties to find legitimate offers in the thicket. The asshats behind the spam clutter up the field of vision for everyone else, which is exactly their intent. Actually, this business model is a lot more common in the US than a decent person would like to think. Listen to some television and radio advertising for an idea, or take a look at junk mail, which is practically unregulated.

That said, spambots aren’t the only offenders on Craigslist. Far from it. Offhand, half to two thirds of posters advertising legitimate rentals use language that is uncivil and contemptuous, Orwellian, or both. Inflexible demands that prospective tenants have full-time employment are commonplace. In the present economy, this eliminates a huge swath of applicants, including many who are employed in a manner that is responsible by any reasonable definition. Many postings have caveats instructing various sorts of unwanted inquirers to fuck off, not in so many words but with no less crudity or malice.

The Orwellian phrasing mainly involves requests to rent property to “students” or, most deceptively, “professionals.” I put these words in quotations because it’s nigh impossible to tell what the hell they really mean. The definition of “student” is somewhat clearer, because it indicates enrollment in some sort of college or university, but that begs the question: define “college.” Some of these “students” are indenturing themselves into middle or old age in order to pursue worthless degrees from notorious diploma mills. After they graduate, their listings on Craigslist’s housing wanted and resume boards are among the most desperate. Piece it together, and it’s really disturbing: some poor, gullible soul was snagged by a purposely deceptive ad for a diploma mill on the bus; either OCTA was craven enough to allow the ad with no due diligence, or if its lawyers did due diligence, they determined that the ad couldn’t be refused without exposing the agency to specious suits by aggrieved advertisers; and no one is there to keep the diploma mill graduate from falling through the cracks in a shit economy. An untold number of media outlets and others are complicit, too. The rot is wide and deep.

And “professional?” Lordy. That term is as debased as “middle class” was prior to 2008. It no longer implies any sort of professional certification or license, and it certainly doesn’t refer to the old learned professions of attorney, physician and clergyman. Presumably it excludes the likes of 7-Eleven clerks, although as a matter of consistency it needn’t. A bank teller with a $16k salary and $10k in credit card debt on account of her being a clotheshorse will probably describe herself as a “professional.” A prostitute would also describe herself as a professional, and in terms of income and certainly in terms of age of profession she’d have a better argument than the bank teller, but the prissy mob would demand her exclusion from the ranks of professionals because her line of work is illicit and they consider it seedy. How, then, about a cleaning lady with no debt and $200k in cash stuffed into shoe boxes in the attic? Probably not a professional; after all, she does grunt work all day and doesn’t dress as nicely as the bank teller.

It’s a quagmire of bullshit. These attitudes help explain why so many Americans live in trailer parks, where they are completely exposed in the event of inclement weather. They help explain why people living hand-to-mouth end up paying above-market rates to stay in SRO’s, which may or may not be up to code. That dirty bugger living out of a shopping cart beneath an overpass is probably a druggie or a nutcase, or maybe just a layabout, but the guy hoping that his friends don’t see him walking out of the greenbelt on his way to work or discreetly living in his car is probably a different story. Plenty of the homeless didn’t get that way by being unemployable.

The job boards on Craigslist are pretty fucked up, too. More on that in a later post, maybe. Craigslist is a great platform for those who are looking to do SEO, find an unpaid internship for some Hollywood slimeball, or donate eggs for money. Good luck finding anything if you don’t have experience. A previous unpaid internship would help.

Actually, I’m just about to go back to one. Maybe I’m just looking in the wrong places or haven’t given it enough time, but LA is a bust so far, and I’m not interested in running out of cash like I nearly did when I was down here in December. It’s a lucky thing to have a serviceable Civic and a couple of squalid crash pads available twelve hours away. That’s a damning thing to say about a wealthy nation with a glut of housing, but it’s true. And I can always tell Farmer Uncle and Stoner Aunt to mind their own business if they butt into my moving plans again, or, God forbid, ask me about this blog. (What blog? What audience?)

Ignorance is bliss–especially, in my case, my relatives’ ignorance. Farmer Uncle doesn’t need to know about my doings in the Southland. My parents don’t need to know that I’ll be sleeping in my car tonight, and I’ve probably told them all I will about the Crescent Motel.

SuperCivic is a nicer joint, anyway.

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