To make a long story short (or perhaps what normal people would call less pedantic and tangential than usual), I’m back in Ashland and working on the farm again after a three-week absence, most of it in California.

I spent a week of my vagrancy traveling around the Bay Area with my dad, who was worried enough about me that he flew out from the East Coast on three days’ notice. He was worried about my mental state and about demons that I hadn’t confronted, and reasonably so. There were, however, two very easily named demons that I had decisively exorcised: Farmer Uncle and Stoner Aunt. The mechanics were approximately the reverse of a standard exorcism, since the demons in question stayed exactly where they were and I was the one who got the fuck out of town, but it was bloody well effective. There was some residual drama, partly from Farmer Uncle’s phoning me twice in the first week and partly from my dad’s worries (and my own) about what the hell I was planning to do going forward, but the get-the-fuck-out-of-Dodge remedy worked like a charm. My housemates had become assholes, so I got the hell away from them, and their assholiness quickly became a non-issue. At times, the drama felt so distant that I wondered whether I had imagined some of it, but I’m pretty sure that I hadn’t. I got some indication of this when I called Farmer Uncle back after his second voice message and he refused to take the hint that I wasn’t interested in telling him about my travels (“Where are you right now?” “California.” “Where at?”) Otherwise, the bullshit was just out of sight and out of mind because I was no longer in the fray of a toxic marriage.

One has to wonder how much of the psychiatric illness that allegedly plagues Americans could be cured if the patients merely had the opportunity to get out of needless crazymaking situations. College housing comes to mind. If you’re rooming with an asshat, one solution might be to take some Prozac, but a more effective solution might be to just move the fuck out and, if need be, hire an attorney to make any sniveling petty tyrants at Res Life wet their pants.

The same solution, probably minus the attorney, would work in the “real world,” too. I put this in quotations because a number of the recent graduates I’ve known in roommate arrangements have been fools with a dubious grasp on the realities that the rest of us perceive, e.g., that Thirsty Thursday on the Manayunk riverfront is one of St. Paul’s childish things. So is getting drunk unto belligerent paranoia and locking an underdressed woman out in the cold half the night. So is being unable to keep the R6 tracks out of one’s mouth. (One of the regular houseguests at this hot mess on the hill, Herb Hancock, was a lot more mature and better adjusted than the housemates in most respects, the exceptions being his tendencies to drive drunk and blazed out of his mind all over Philly and to piss on the couch, absent plaintiff’s counsel, of course.) At some point, moving back in with the parents might make sense, even if, in the case of our host Prefontaine, the man who ate the train tracks and on other occasions took a lamppost to the face, it means an alcoholic father who keeps a metastable pyramid of Yuengling in the fridge and a Stepford Wife mother trying to emotionally numb herself to it all.

Two other psychiatric treatments that come to mind are separation and divorce. It’s a cynical thing to say, but these are effective ways to keep two resentful assholes from yelling at each other all the damn time. Healthy couples don’t act like that, but common decency is too much to assume in some marriages. At some point, you need separate apartments. Maybe you’ll be able to chill out enough to hook up on the weekends, but you can’t spend all your time together if you don’t treat each other like equals. Hell, maybe you should be seeing other people, if that’s a realistic option. It’s supposedly best to stay together for the sake of the kids, but as someone who’s along the lines of the kids for Farmer Uncle and Stoner Aunt, both of them childless, I’m of two minds.

I forgot to mention something: these solutions cost money. As the tone deaf mulleted lady who sang “Fly Like a G6” on the OCTA 43 bus said, “I need to make some money! Moolah! Mucho dinero!” My temporary escape from the domestic shit storm cost me about a thousand dollars directly, and my dad’s travel expenses were closer to two thousand. Talk therapy and an SSRI would have been cheaper, maybe a few hundred a month, but I’d still be living with people who don’t give a shit about one another’s emotional welfare or mine. Also, I’d have to put up with shrinks, and I did enough of that in high school and college. Alternately, I guess I could take the God-awful New Age communcation courses that Stoner Aunt made Farmer Uncle attend with her on pain of separation.

As crazymaking environments go, Ashland is a special case. It seems to send out some kind of clarion call for grungies, New Agers, “healing arts” goobers who are willing to pay a “colon hydrotherapist” to optimize the egress of their own shit, vaccine conspiracy theorists, and various other applied medievalists. I can only infer the clarion call; I’ve never really heard it, maybe because I don’t read Sentient Times or listen often enough to KCRW.

There also seems to be some sort of quorum sensing in play. Some of the local insufferables would probably show some manners elsewhere, or even shut their mouths entirely for fear of being called blame fools, but around fellow-travelers in Ashland they step up their game. They sense a quorum and, like oral bacteria in the same circumstances, quickly form a smothering film. This film can be brushed off easily at first, but once it reaches the advanced stage it has reached in Ashland, only professional dental equipment will do.

Any coverage that South Park has given this situation is a lot less dispiriting than the real thing. Trust me.

Even in relatively good times, getting the fuck out of Jackson County every month or two can be a very efficacious psychiatric treatment for squares like me who somehow washed up here. Mind you, I wouldn’t be regarded as particularly square in most of the country; in fact, I might be regarded as a wackjob lefty; but the locals here have a different view of things. I stick out like a sore thumb under the valley’s impenentrable layer of smug. As I mentioned in “Mass transit for other people,” Ashland’s self-righteous hippies aren’t all that different in temperament from the squarer sorts downvalley. It quickly becomes insufferable to listen to these people, regardless of their ideological persuasions, brag about how pleased they are with themselves.

It really is a sort of collective narcissism. A friend of my dad’s, Lord Lochforrest, inadvertently helped me bring this into focus. During my wanderings to points south the other week, Lord Lochforrest crashed with us overnight on the Peninsula, where he happened to be on business. This was by far the most serendipitous and productive thing to come of our trip, since I’m back in touch with him after almost seven years out of touch. Lord and Lady Lochforrest are now helping me network in the OC, which is a huge help. I should have been in touch with Lord Lochforrest months ago instead of trying to go all Lone Ranger for a week at that fleabag motel by the Knott’s Berry Farm south gate.

Anyway, Lord Lochforrest and I have had some very productive conversations over the past couple of weeks. When trying to relocate, it’s good to have close contacts who don’t have their heads up their asses in one’s target area. Anecdotally, I’d say that this is a lot likelier in the Orange Bubble than in Hippiedippiedingdongland. This is true even in the thicker parts of the Orange Bubble, and there’s a good chance that his lordship and her ladyship live in one of the thick parts. I probably wouldn’t have believed how many truly special cases we have up here had I not met so many of them myself.

One of these special cases, as I’ve described before, is Stoner Aunt. When I described her whole food puritanism to Lord Lochforrest, with many of the same details that I’ve presented in these pages, he asked me, “Is she a narcissist? Like, have you ever eaten a candy bar and had her ask you why you’re eating that?” I told him that she hadn’t done exactly that, but pretty damn close, and I described the snit that she had had when I had compared her yummy pile of fried meat and potatoes to Denny’s yummy fried pile of meat and potatoes. (A fuller description is available in “Will Chelsea Handler please take a shit in the brown rice?”)

Unbeknownst to me, Lord and Lady Lochforrest both enjoy Denny’s. His lordship and her ladyship stick mainly to the breakfast menu, while I stick almost exclusively to the lunch and 2-4-6-8 menus, but Lord Lochforrest knew more or less what I meant by the spicy cowboy chopped steak: “It’s basically a bunch of pounded meat that’s breaded and fried with a bunch of other—yeah, I think I know what you’re talking about.” And aside from the breading, which isn’t part of it, he basically did. Even I don’t know what all goes into that pile of steak, and I probably don’t want to know, because I doubt that the meat is of as good a quality as Denny’s advertises, and it’s greasy as fuck regardless. I’m not sure that I’d call it “steak,” but I would call it defuckinglicious for anyone who brought an appetite.

Lord Lochforrest enjoyed the story of Stoner Aunt’s Denny’s snit, and he agreed with me that it was petty bullshit. The point isn’t that Denny’s is haute cuisine, or part of an optimized diet for healthy living, or the most scrupulous, wholesome or groovy restaurant on the face of the earth. The point is that it’s good eatin’ for cheap. Lord Lochforrest and I are in full agreement on this. Stoner Aunt and her fellow-travelers work themselves into a high dudgeon over the thought of people who should know better eating at greasy, square establishments like Denny’s. I don’t give a shit what they think; I just want them to keep their peace about it like considerate people in the other ninety-nine-odd percent of the country do.

Denny’s isn’t the stuff of a well-examined diet, but neither is the masochistic fare that Stoner Aunt inflicted on us before I moved out and reverted to the white rice mean. The Sunday before I left, Stoner Aunt forced Farmer Uncle to fix us a waffle recipe consisting of whole wheat flour, stone-cut oats, powdered milk, olive oil, water and salt. It sucked elephant balls but, as Farmer Uncle told me, with a look of stoic resignation, forced optimism and a hint of upset, “It has the aura of health.”

Is this sort of thing narcissistic? Maybe, but I’m not convinced. As I told Lord Lochforrest, it’s most obviously self-righteous, and there’s no way to reason with a self-righteous petty tyrant. CS Lewis argued that it’s better to be ruled by robber barons, because there comes a point at which robber barons are sated by their robbery, while the self-righteous ruler out to reform his people never loses that fire in the belly to make his subjects’ lives miserable for their own good.

That is Stoner Aunt’s tyranny writ large: think, Michael Bloomberg. One difference between the two is that you have to turn on the TV or the radio to hear the Honorable Lord Bloomers bang on in condescending language about how you’re too damn fat to be able to decide how much soda to drink, while living with Stoner Aunt you’d have to turn up the radio to drown out her quack physiology about white flours and grains being “just sugar” because that lady in the newspaper said so today. In an earlier era, these meddlesome pains in the ass might have claimed that penitential flagellation stimulates blood flow to the skin, improving skin tone, and increases lymphatic drainage.

Maybe Stoner Aunt is a bit narcissistic. Regardless, she is commonly too self-righteous to give a damn about other people’s preferences and glad to wage a war of attrition until her relatives let her throw her weight around because, well, just because. Because Stoner Aunt has always been pushy, you know. In her self-righteousness she has company aplenty in the Rogue Valley. As I (and South Park) said, it’s part of that layer of smug. This place positively drips self-importance.

One big advance, if I’m not mistaken, is that Farmer Uncle now recognizes that I’m back in town for much more pragmatic reasons than he ever previously conceded. It’s not part of my “search for the meaning of life;” it’s part of my search for a place where I have enough work to keep myself out of trouble and not break the bank, so ironically, he may be right about my “low-budget lifestyle” for a change. As squalor goes, I guess it’s pretty tolerable. I consider it somewhat Third World, and not for nothing: I and several others currently living there have no access to a flush toilet on the property, and the shower is a leaky, jury-rigged assemblage of stuff that you might buy from a circuit-riding Congo River trader. I’ve seen pictures of similar setups in the Third World, and the farm shower isn’t that far off, although it’s located in a room covered in cobwebs and dust that many Third World householders would never tolerate. On the other hand, remotest Congo isn’t seventy miles from an overnight train to San Jose, and it does have malaria, yellow fever and possibly Joseph Kony.

I’m basically crashing in Ashland until I have enough money to travel south again, and hopefully some sort of interview or place to live. My big concern about staying in Ashland through next month is that I’ll be turning thirty, and I do not want Farmer Uncle giving me another round of unsolicited advice and condescending commentary, this time about how I’m over the hill or nearly so. As I’ve discovered, the best way to get him to shut up is to not be around him. As Lord Ballimer told me, “some people just like to hear themselves talk.”

Also, as Farmer Uncle, of all people, once mentioned about my Philadelphians, “They’re your people.” They still are, and Farmer Uncle and his people still are not. I also know another group of “my people” in Orange County, although I’m not sure to what extent they consider me their people. Regardless, I’d much rather spend my birthday with them than with a glib geezer and a bunch of other dirty hippies in Ashland. No one in the OC has ever tried to assimilate me in the Star Trek sense. So, barring badly tight financial times, a national transportation clusterfuck, or maybe the apocalypse, I intend to spend my birthday either down south or back east, and back east is looking really fucking expensive.

I couldn’t care less about the weather in either place. It may well suck, but at least I’ll be out from under that layer of smug.

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