Fuckity fucky fuck. More misadventures with downwardly mobile SWPL in denial who preen over their pets instead of doing right by their relatives.

Is this codependency? Maybe, but that’s somewhat beside the point.  I’m trying to strategize here, just as I kept an eye out for ways to break into healthier, saner, more respectful cliques while Junior Bear and his more impressionable hangers-on hazed me on a semiweekly basis. On the plus side of the ledger, the benefits that I derive from my putting up with Farmer Uncle include free cross-country ski rentals (his ski boots fit me perfectly), insider access to flexible training in the wine industry, and a fallback that allows me to be productive no matter how many times I get fucked over in the formal labor market and stay a step or two above abject homelessness. The negative side of the ledger I’ve discussed at tendentious length in previous screeds and have already mentioned in this one.

So do I realize a net benefit or a net loss from this Faulknerian clusterfuck? Shit. How does one do a cost-benefit analysis of such a disaster? And it’s a rather crass exercise in any event. But as I’ve said before, we’ve crasser in these parts. Starting, of course, with my disingenuous slumlord-cum-employer, who acts as if I have other options at my command, which is certainly a great way to absolve himself of responsibility for me.

Codependency doesn’t seem to explain the relationships that Farmer Uncle and Stoner Aunt have with their other investors. Rather, these appear to be dominated by their investors’ fear that Farmer and Stoner will throw a fucking fit if they’re challenged too directly. It’s a sick carrot-and-stick dynamic: be deferential, and we’ll be pleasant, or maybe unctuous or pushy; be assertive, and we’ll turn into raging assholes who will make you look bad as an obvious party to a vulgar family squabble over money. The investors have a lot to lose if they treat Farmer and Stoner like the accountable adult debtors that they would be if this drama had unfolded on the open market, and probably not a whole lot to regain financially, given how many parties are standing on the sidelines, hands outstretched to a mendacious couple who make a big show of pretending that they aren’t broke, getting broker, and in hock to everyone.

Prejudice plays a huge role in this mess. Farmer Uncle and Stoner Aunt were never typecast as family fuck-ups. Both of the family aliens have long been typecast as fuck-ups, as have I in recent years, but Farmer and Stoner have retained their roles as responsible, productive, and competent, no matter how ridiculously incompetent, irresponsible and financially draining they’ve been. Hence the family bitchfests in which the consensus is high dudgeon over Alien Aunt or Alien Uncle accepting a $600 check or two from Grandma, and the deafening silence in response to Farmer Uncle successfully beseeching my dad for $50,000 so that he’d only be $18k behind on payments to the old friend who had double-crossed them on a gentleman’s agreement on the mortgage whose note he held and threatened to foreclose on the farm. This dude, whom I’ll call the Rosshole because that’s how Stoner Aunt petulantly referred to him for a time, was hurting himself. He was $3m in unrepayable mortgage debt of his own for his mixed success in speculative property development, and his third wife had reneged on her own gentleman’s agreement, as it were, to let him cheat on her with his girlfriend in Montana, filing for divorce, and more pertinently, for the horse property that he had built her. This left the Rosshole living on a cot in the back of his business office, behind a sliding partition, until he prevailed upon his girlfriend to finish up her forest service career in Medford, where, quite conveniently for him, she bought a house and let him shack up with her.

The Rosshole and his new squeeze are the inverse of the Former Forester and her husband; it’s really quite amazing. It’s also quite amazing that no one has openly blown a head gasket over Farmer Uncle’s risking the money of various relatives and friends in his witless attempt to trust the Rosshole to be honorable while both of them circled the drain. Even after getting mixed up with this train wreck of a man, Farmer Uncle got something like tens, if not hundreds, of times more latitude to dissipate relatives’ money without complaint than the aliens got when they hit their mother up for petty cash.

Then there are the complaints that while my parents, Farmer, Stoner and the Caretakers spent a lot of time cooking and cleaning at family reunions, the aliens mostly sat around, watching TV and waiting for dinner. Caretaker Aunt likes to pile on with the additional complaint that Alien Aunt spends too much of her scarce walking-around money at the taquerias that are currently proliferating in the ever-more-Californicated horse country of Middle Tennessee. At rock bottom, however, the truth is that no matter how cheaply Farmer and Stoner cook for themselves and occasionally for their relatives, that won’t mean that they don’t have several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of money from those near and dear to them tied up in a shitty cryptononprofit investment. The other deep truth is that Alien Aunt isn’t about to drop $50k on burritos. No matter how shitty or overpriced fast-casual Mexican food is (and it’s more than a bit of each), anyone who gets worked into a lather over one of the family loafers freeloading off God’s people for taco money but not over the family con artists sponging off the pushover moneyed in their orbit for bet-the-farm money is not operating rationally.

For Caretaker and Alien Aunts, the animosity of sisterhood probably explains some of it. You go, girls! For everybody else, it’s just that good old American resentment of the lazy. To quote Louisville Metro homicide detective Mickey Cohn, “I solve these cases for a living. You drink beer for a living.” Farmer Uncle and Stoner Aunt may hawk a bullshit class of private stock to those under their thumbs for a living, but they apparently do a pretty good job of pretending to farm, cook and move firewood around their property for a living. I’ve long been put off by the smugness with which they busily flit around kitchens and found the aliens’ unpretentious, honest laziness much less annoying, but I’m clearly in the minority on this matter, perhaps a minority of three. (Your guess is as good as mine as to the home planets of the other two.)

Hard work, or the illusion of hard work, covers a multitude of social and financial sins in this country. That’s how Junior Bear maintained such a large coterie while not shutting up about life insurance for ten minutes. Getting shit done is all well and good, but the act is crucial. That’s why Grandma didn’t come across as such a hard worker. She just stoically did what she thought ought to be done without making a big fuss about it. She didn’t complain about other people being lazy fucks, either.

Things are, alas, different in Our Valley. All the world’s an Elizabethan stage for the preening Ashlander. And do I ever know it. For Farmer Uncle, being a malevolent prick only some of the time is an important part of the act. It throws the rest of us off, since they can’t know from minute to minute whether he’ll act on good faith or bad. It convinces us that we have something to gain in not chewing him out for being beyond the pale, and in a way we do, but we also have a lot to lose, and there’s no way to know whether we’ll gain or lose on balance. There are simply too many variables, many of them completely unpredictable.

There’s another, subtler, aspect to Farmer Uncle’s assholiness. It’s a strategically hail-fellow-well-met, passive-aggressive tone of voice, one that outwardly sounds perfectly amiable. It’s the perfect tone of voice with which to manipulate a sorry bastard, because anyone who is visibly provoked by it will likely appear to be the less reasonable, shriller party, the provocateur rather than the provoked. Overfamiliarity works brilliantly for Farmer Uncle. He has no business calling me his “buddy,” given how wretchedly he has treated me, but if I were to tell him not to use such overly familiar language with me, I’d almost certainly come across as an overly sensitive ass. I don’t know whether it’s conscious or not, but the fucker really knows how to push people’s buttons.

What inspires this screed is the voice message that he left me the other day. I paraphrase, but closely:

“Yo, Alien Watcher, it’s Farmer Uncle. I won’t be coming down to the farm today, we’re puttering around the house….I’ve got an idea for you to set up a more permanent encampment over where the Vegetable Man had his site for a while. You probably know there’s running water there, so you could set up a stove and a tent. It’s just an idea, no pressure. Also, I wanted to make sure that you’re feeding the cats. Anyway, I’ll see you tomorrow. Stay dry.”

At the 100% risk of beating a dead horse, let me review some events that made this voice message provocative: Farmer Uncle and Stoner Aunt were the ones who didn’t let me return to their house subsequent to the great butthurt I caused them by fleeing Stoner’s recurrent envelope-pushing and Farmer’s sudden eruption of anger last May; the running water that Farmer mentioned does not feed a flush toilet; Farmer Uncle continues not to pay me, despite having discreetly released himself from a longstanding agreement to feed and house me when I was in town working for him; lows were expected to be around freezing for the following three nights, but I had to leave a seven-by-ten-inch hole in the wall so that the cats could come and go, and there are probably more cracks in the walls than I’ll ever find on my own; I did not move to Oregon to take care of a couple of cats that he blithely leaves out in the cold whenever his mind drifts away from the farm.

Here’s another amazing thing: Alien Uncle is the one who has always been accused of having too many cats. That’s no surprise for a high-functioning Aspie who has been known to send out Christmas cards describing his cats as his “family,” complete with a family portrait. (“Everyone has a family, no matter what their family may be….” Giggity giggity.) But he’s never asked any of us to feed them when he’s too negligent to do so, and he doesn’t preen over them. He doesn’t presume that people working for him for free should live in uninsulated outbuildings and shit in boxes, kind of like cats, but dirtier. It doesn’t matter if he has too many cats; they aren’t our problem.

It’s also worth mentioning that Alien Uncle doesn’t buy his house cat kibble that has been marked up by a factor of four to pay for the “life force bits” while making a show of letting the nephew working for him snack on a hunk of salami from the discount meat bin at Shop-n-Kart. How strong a mitigating factor is it that I like the salami much more than that pampered prince of a kitty-cat likes the “life force bits,” which he leaves in a pile at the bottom of his dish? Not too fucking strong, I submit. And am I one to brag about feeding my relatives discount meat while feeding my precious kitty overpriced kibble because my wife is a henpecking nutcase who believes in marketing? Nope, and if I do say so myself, it isn’t just because I’m a bachelor.

I’m reminded of the time that a bakery executive’s wife told me and a German exchange student who was staying with my family that we were free to use the portajohn in the yard rather than the indoor toilet that her daughter’s friends were invited to use. What a gracious party hostess. But she was married to a leading member of Central Pennsylvania society, one whose bread everyone in the region has eaten at some point, and the lot of them lived on what can only be described as an estate. My expectation that I would not be consigned to the servants’ privy was too high. I could not expect Franco-Jeffersonian liberty, equality and fraternity from any of them. They certainly did not preach such a thing; paterfamilias, for one, was too busy telling his tendentious stories about the back nine that morning.

One can, however, reasonably expect better of a couple who fancy themselves great egalitarians, or, to adopt Stoner Aunt’s grating terminology, “helpers” who help other “helpers.” One might also reasonably expect that “help” to include payroll income, so that the subordinate “helper” might eventually have some pension income to show for the 30-45 hour weeks that he puts in at harvest, but that would violate the ethos of paying for things with the holy trinity of “munchies, tunes and good vibes,” that good old Craigslist rideshare three-in-one that is, as they say at Bi-Mart, “just right for the Northwest.”

Well, shit, I shouldn’t libel Bi-Mart by association with these moochy fuckers; Bi-Mart provides its employees payroll income and indoor flush toilets. Nor should I libel its employees, as they appear substantially less likely than the average resident of “Our Valley” to routinely shit in an overflowing box and then pretend that this custom is normative.

And it would be interesting (maybe in the sense of the old Chinese curse about “interesting times”) to see whether the causes of my foregoing complaints would be considered “just right” by the various departments of health and labor with jurisdiction over this good ol’ country mess. Could be “just right” for intervention, I reckon, and for reminding the principals that they were not brought up to preside over such a squalid racket because, good grief, you were raised on the nice part of the Peninsula!

Similarly, it might be “just right” to wrap up Prince Kitty’s unpalatable leftovers in scraps of Bi-Mart paper bags (no other store’s will do, now), lather the homemade suppositories in K-Y Jelly, and hand one each to Farmer and Stoner with the words, “Hey, buddy, why dont’cha try administering this-here anally as a home remedy for your constipation? The life force be with you.” Yeah, that’s cruel, but only on the most superficial, socially stunted examination is it worse than the passive-aggressive comments that Farmer and Stoner make to me, their ill-sheltered and unpaid employee, about how warm, well-sheltered and well-fed they and their cats are. As a matter of strict equity, I say it’s appropriate; can anyone successfully argue the Opposing Viewpoint? 

Of course, it can be said that Farmer Uncle and Stoner Aunt aren’t always disingenuous schadenfreude junkies who assuage their own insecurities by degrading others, and that they don’t mistreat me all the time. I may sound like I’m flippantly erecting a straw man while salivating about going full Dennis Rader on it in the next sentence, but the good interludes actually do weigh on me when I consider laying down a righteous bitchslapping on Farmer and Stoner. They remind me that things could go from unpredictable to straight-up bad all the time if I push Farmer and Stoner over the line from light intermittent butthurt to the chronic full-strength kind, and that I could provoke this throttling up merely by treating them as adults who are accountable for their own decisions and that kind of thing. But to belatedly return to the artistic photographer formerly known as Bill Thomas Killman, let us consider that Dennis Rader didn’t murder people all the time.

A shrill thing to say? Ask honey badger for his thoughts on that. And let’s consider some behaviors from which OJ Simpson could be expected to refrain at any given moment, as a matter of statistical chance: double murder, armed robbery, domestic battery, angrily calling his wife an ungrateful cocksucking slut.

I’m not kidding. I may have Godwinized the shit out of the last couple of paragraphs, but it is absolutely true that people return to their abusers all the time because they know that things can go swimmingly when they aren’t going nightmarishly. Or if not swimmingly, at least they can go well enough. Am I usurping the rightful province of domestic violence victims? Maybe. I’m on the fence about this, but I can say that one of the reasons I walked out in May was that Farmer Uncle was really losing his temper, to an extent that I had never witnessed before, and that I very seriously feared that he would totally lose it and assault me. In that case, I would have called the cops at the first opportunity and asked the responding officers to throw the book at him. In a sick irony, such an incident would have made it much easier to prove my overall case against him, because he would finally have shown his hand too openly for anyone to ignore. No one would have taken his side at that point. To be cynical, I damn near set up the perfect meathead’s honeypot sting, entirely by accident, and but for my reflexive aversion to conflict, he might well have fallen for it.

So the problems go deeper than Farmer and Stoner preening over their bratty cats. Still, it doesn’t help their case that they value those pain-in-the-ass animals more highly than they value me. They’ll swear that I’m libelously full of shit on this point, but I’ve described actions that they might take to make me reassess their character, and I’m not waiting with baited breath for them to follow up their cheap talk.