As I pointed out on Twitter a while back, it’s a slippery slope from “thank you for being you” to “thank me for being me.” Boomers, of course, do love them some self-congratulation. It should probably come as no surprise, then, that Farmer Uncle bafflingly juxtaposes high praise for me in his outward rhetoric against the gratuitous condescension, passive-aggressiveness and cruelty of his actions and of the subtexts of his rhetoric, or that he leavens all of this with tendentious preening about his own glorious farmerness. All in all, it’s a great way for Farmer Uncle to make himself look good and make anyone who hears my desperate complaints about his behavior wonder how the hell our accounts of our relationship are so wildly different.

In their more restrained, and hence innocuous, permutations, self-esteem bromides are a way to learn how not to pointlessly beat oneself up about trivialities and to focus constructively on one’s own existing merits as a foundation for additional self-improvement in the future. On the other hand, when one makes a living by dumping free capital from friends and relatives down a bottomless hole in order to host a rogue’s gallery of drifters, abrasive bullshitters and similar derelicts in a squalid shantytown on the endlessly trumpeted specious premise that this arrangement is the vanguard of the Jeffersonian utopia, and when one treats those one claims to love worse than anyone else in their lives, and when one’s table manners are also downright animalistic, there might not be much about one’s own behavior to esteem.

Does this mean, then, that the animalistic downhome bullshit aggregator recoils in horror and disgust from the contemptible mess that he has made of his life and the lives of those around him, and shuts his damn mouth in shame? Of course not. The cruel irony is that those who ought to be most reticent about their doings are often the most loquacious, while those whose honorable and competent handling of their own affairs might actually be worth trumpeting have too strong a sense of decorum to blow their own horns.

If you think this is true of some Ed Hardy thug who got all up in your face because you dissed him in the parking lot of a residential motel in the ass end of Buena Park or some ghetto-ass bitch of 103rd Street who spent the whole train ride down from Metro Center delivering a foul oration about other ladies of precisely her own class, don’t worry: it’s just as true of Ashlanders. Ashlanders, mind you, are disinclined to intimidate their fellows with threats of violence, but–what the fuck, is that even an accomplishment? “Ooh, look at me, I’m more gentlemanly and self-controlled than O. J. Simpson!” Worry not your pretty head, Ashlanders will find a way to insinuate their superiority for being mellow and, so they absurdly insist, cultured and well-mannered, especially in comparison to the pond scum who inhabit Medford and White City. Ashlanders aren’t savage, but the absence of savagery isn’t a high enough standard to make a place livable. Prevailing upon the projectile narcissists to shut their fucking pie holes already has to be a component of the minimum standard of livability. When an infestation of preening hippies gets as thick as it is in Ashland, the community senses a quorum and starts spreading its cloying slime all over town, nourished by the smothering layer of smug. Northeast Medford isn’t the only part of Jackson County with a pond scum problem, and that layer of smug is valleywide. It’s “Our Valley,” after all. Good luck finding anyone from Reseda to, like, make the same claim about the San Fernando Valley. Duh!

The projectile nature of Rogue Valley narcissism is crucial to understand. Plenty of Angelenos and OC Bubbleheads happily live in worlds of their own device, unmoored from and unconcerned with the outside world reported to them by friends, family and colleagues. To get an idea of where this leads at the societal level, take a look at the Irvine-Mission Viejo corridor. Do you seriously expect that disorienting metastasis of canals to nowhere, proliferating fast-casual chain restaurants, banal architecture, prissily sanitized landscaping, and sheltered SWPL hordes to give rise to a citizenry that has any sort of orientation in life as we know it beyond Red Hill Avenue? South County brats, I say, are at an elevated risk of shitting in their neighbors’ azaleas as an ironic fuck-you to the bourgeois values with which they were suckled at the communal tit. But, but: once the criminal portions of the Ed Hardy, Straight Ballin’ Hollenbeck Sureno and Original 77th Street Crips constituencies are accounted for and removed (preferably to jail), the remaining self-absorbed woo-woos in coastal SoCal are really pretty mellow. More than a few of them enjoy occasionally visiting those of us who don’t inhabit their worlds, too. As long as I don’t encounter any in-your-face thugs who need to be drop-kicked into intensive care in the interest of public safety, it’s really a pretty emotionally safe place.

This may sound like dingbat raving from a sentimentally addled Fred Rogers, but it’s true. There really is a live-and-let-live thing going on in the LA megalopolis that covers a multitude of nutty sins. Maybe Baywatch and Lord Lochforrest are especially pronounced in their respect for others, as opposed to Ashlanders’ incessant cheap talk about sensitivity, but I don’t think they’re anomalous for SoCal. In Ashland, they’d stand out somewhat more. Likewise in Philadelphia: I knew all along that Junior Bear and his more manipulative buddies pushed the bounds of behavior that normal Philadelphians considered acceptable.

In Ashland, it isn’t enough to live in a cloud; the cool, cutesy thing to do is to drag into that cloud anyone who looks like he could use some reeducation. Or at least sneer antisocially at him if he objects. Speaking of which, do I use this gendered language to troll crunchy PC-tards? Maybe. It’s called grammar, you dipshits, and it’s not your call to make me subordinate it to your Orwellian goals for the language. Would she, whoever she is, also like to have that crap forcibly inserted into her being? Ooh, that’s what she said! As I’ve mentioned before, Ashlanders are all about respect for teh wymmynz until some misguided lady decides, in violation of her female perspective, to become a hooker. Anyway, it’s a bad place to be a dissident, and the dissident is much likelier to be provoked by some self-satisfied troll in Ashland than in SoCal. Southern Californians (well, maybe not Santa Monicans, I guess) show that wackadoodle or pernicious beliefs can coexist with honest-to-God good manners. Part of it is that the assholes haven’t sensed quorum. It’s also a cultural thing, a disinterest in proselytizing other people who have manners combined with a visceral distaste for assholiness. OC SWPL have some kooky ideas? Whatever; they’ll graciously let your eccentricities slide, so you might as well do the same for theirs. Ashland SWPL have some kooky ideas? Get ready to hear no fucking end to it until you’ve gotten totally fed up and left town. And get ready for some table manners that would make half of Orange County blanch.

And until you give in and let Amtrak rock you, momma, like a southbound train, expect an epic mindfuck from your hippie missionaries. The barrage of disingenuous manipulation is weird, but not nearly as weird as its interspersion with effusive praise for you, the prospective convert to hippiedippiedingdong pseudo-Jeffersonian grossness. Except for rare occasions when I have caused them butthurt by calling them out on bullshit or putting them in a position where they were powerless to directly bug me, Farmer Uncle and Stoner Aunt have had nothing but glowingly good things to say about me. Meanwhile, they subject me to inconceivable emotional cruelty, wanton and recurrent, that arises without warning, apparently in response to absolutely nothing that I have done, good, bad or well-intentioned. I can’t prevent it, nor can I explain it, except by waxing eloquent on the existential questions of why they’re such deliberate assholes to those they love. The usual Christian term for their behavior is sin, but that’s something of a copout. It describes the behavior, after a fashion, but it doesn’t explain their ontological assholiness to the satisfaction of those of us who are desperate to make it stop. I’m not sure whether I have company in this quest or use the royal we; I do know that I’m more virulently and recurrently pissed off at the fuckers than pretty much anyone else.

At the opposite extreme is Baywatch. I’ve done foolish and reckless things to hurt her. She has reacted badly, and arguably overreacted, to some of my bad behavior, and I’ve heard that she’s said some bad things about me. Yet she has never done a gratuitous thing to me. Whenever she gets over my most recent dipshit behavior, she always moves forward with consummate grace and goodwill, in contrast to the stewing grudges that Farmer and Stoner use as ordnance in their marital Thirty Years’ War. To judge solely from the most negative things that Baywatch has said to and about me, I shouldn’t have a thing to do with her and should instead double down with Farmer Uncle and Stoner Aunt, who have such nice things to say about me and don’t get standoffish the way Baywatch does. That would be a classically Ashland approach: focus on the empty rhetoric, ignore the whipsawing between explicit praise and implicit cruelty, between weaselly supplication and domineering asshattery. It’s a good approach to take if you’d like to emotionally abuse a poor bastard; many of those who put up with it do so because they’d like excuses to pay it back, forward and collaterally onto any innocent third party who happens to be in the room.

What can I say? That’s not my scene. It doesn’t seem to be Baywatch’s, either. As far as I know, she hasn’t had any possessive asshole boyfriends; the only one I encountered seemed a bit withdrawn but something of a mensch. A number of my friends back east, by contrast, can’t keep their hands off the possessive schmucks. Actually, that’s backwards from how I should have phrased it: I met most of these girls through Junior Bear, often because he was dating one or more of them at the time. An honest, confident chick who can be blunt with me in a way that isn’t condescending? Me likey! Mindfucking, duplicitous shitheads who studiously pretend that they didn’t mismanage the money that they manipulated out of family and friends and aren’t letting unsavory incompetents hang around the farm and run it into the ground? Yuck.

Of course, having someone like Baywatch in my life, even sporadically, severely limits my patience for disingenuous hippie shtick and outright emotional abuse from people who insist that they love and admire me. To my minor chagrin, I’ve ended up telling my dad a lot more about my interactions with Baywatch than I meant to divulge. I figure that such relationships are best handled one-to-one, especially since I’ve seen the kind of absurd pileups that are possible when suitors use Swiss-style intermediaries or involve older relatives in their romantic affairs. (Junior Bear liked to have the latter both ways: he asked his then-girlfriend Sweet Thang’s father for permission to propose to her, then had a raging snit when she involved her parents in one of their domestic spats, which resulted in her mother calling the Rochester Police Department night desk for a welfare check and in her father driving in drunk from Erie.) The Baywatch/hippie dipshit dichotomy, however, was so stark that I couldn’t really explain to my dad why things in Ashland were so bad without providing bits of context from my relationship with Baywatch, by way of presenting a potential alternative to submitting to Farmer Uncle’s worsening, deliberate provocations. It’s annoying at best to have extraneous elder relatives in the loop for quasiromantic drama with people they’ve never met, but it seemed important to make clear that I had a very real, very viable alternative model for relating to other people, not just a bunch of pie-in-the-sky ideals that I’d come across in sentimental movies.

Farmer Uncle effectively forced my hand on this decision. He absolutely deserves the blame. It never occurred to tell my dad so much about Baywatch until Farmer Uncle started losing it and I found myself desperately grasping for alternatives, and for ways to articulate the seriousness of the situation to my dad.

The other day, my dad told me that he doesn’t really understand any of his siblings. He said that he understands Caretaker Aunt the best, followed by Farmer Uncle and Alien Uncle, with Alien Aunt in the rear, far beyond his mental grasp. I think I understand the whole lot of them, well enough at least. There’s nothing mysterious about Farmer Uncle. He’s turning into a dirty, mendacious, nosy old geezer. It sucks mightily, but it’s easy enough to understand; literature is full of models of such people. Baywatch, I’d say, is more mysterious than any of my dad’s siblings, but I see less need to understand people I instinctively trust. It can be difficult to deal with Baywatch’s enigmatic behavior, but the wages of muddling through aren’t just another unpredictable and inevitable barrage of gratuitous assholery. With Baywatch, it’s worth the effort. With Farmer Uncle, it no longer seems so.

The most illuminating thing my dad said about his siblings was that Caretaker Aunt seems to be easily cowed by Alien Aunt, her big sister. Caretaker Aunt has always seemed perfectly confident and assertive to me, so this description surprised me at first, but on second thought it made sense. As I told my dad, what he described was exactly the situation that I have with Farmer Uncle. Alien Aunt doesn’t bother me much, but I’m not one of her targets. Farmer Uncle doesn’t bother my parents much, but they’re not his targets, either. This is exactly why Caretaker Aunt and I have both turned to other relatives for backup against our respective troublemakers. If someone as well-adjusted as Caretaker is going to relatives for backup, I figure that there’s no shame in that game. Okay, there’s a little bit of shame in not reporting Farmer Uncle to the Oregon State Police and DMV for his drinking and driving, and there’s a little bit of supplicating pathos there, too, on my part and on my parents’. But as my maternal grandmother’s illiterate drunken boyfriend told the dispatcher when he called 911 on my parents and me, “it’s one o’ them family things.”