Archives for category: Boomertown

For the second time in just over three years, my dad is about to make an emergency trip to the West Coast to deal with shit stirred up by my troubled relationship with Farmer Uncle. At least this time he’s traveling on a week and a half’s notice, not the two or three days’ notice he allowed himself last time.

The 2012 trip was a clusterfuck. Although I was publishing a lot here at the time, I never really even summarized what a hellish waste much of that trip was. All told, Dad probably spent two or three thousand dollars on the trip, not counting food. He was basically driving us around Santa Cruz County in a rental car, which would have been cool if it hadn’t involved a bunch of sudden, unanticipated expenses for him and, for my part, listening to a bunch of frantic handwringing about how I was fucking up at a time when I had not a week earlier fled Oregon in desperation because Farmer Uncle had totally lost it. And now I was sitting in a Vietnamese restaurant in a strip mall in San Jose, being grilled about why I didn’t want to go to graduate school, or walking around on one beach or bit of boardwalk after another, feeling like a zombie. The First Class didn’t sing about these California experiences. Or, oddly enough, about the stuffy-ass English expatriate who got her word into a Scotts Valley free weekly about the proper salutations for addressing various British and American dignitaries (I prefer “that’s rubbish, Tony, and you know it,” but I’m not a prissy bitch who moved to Scotts Valley to lecture the Americans about these things).

So we were driving around from forest to beach to deli to botanical garden to whatever the fuck, and most of the time was too pleasant to remember vividly through the trauma of what were actually only a handful of distressing arguments. It was surreal. Most of the trip would have kicked ass if it had been better planned, e.g., not to conflict with a vineyard work crunch and involve exorbitant short-notice airfares, but the bad parts were hell on wheels for me, and I had only the fuzziest premonitions of when things might get bad again. In one of life’s paradoxes that theoretically shouldn’t be so expensive but in practice has to be, we ended up having Lord Lochforrest over when we came back through Palo Alto on our way out of town. In nearly seven years Lord Lochforrest had literally said hi to each other once over the phone. At times, I had been in tears, assuming that I’d never see him again. It was really just that we’d been out of touch, and he happened to be in Palo Alto on business that night.

Some days later, Lord Lochforrest asked my dad if I was on an SSRI and suggested to him that I get on one. My thinking was fuck no, there’s probably an underlying psychiatric condition at play here but most of what’s going on is that I just spent a week and a half being traumatized by fubar family drama. Plus I’d just seen a dear friend for the first time in seven years. I’d had more than my fill of psychiatrists and psychologists by the age of twenty, so I wasn’t inclined to usher in my thirties with more of that shit. Maybe an SSRI scrip written by an internist with no interest in psychotherapy whatsoever, but nothing more, and in the end I didn’t even get that.

Pride? Stubbornness? Yes. Self-destructiveness? A bit, and I felt bad about that, too. But given the choice between going on psychotropic medication and putting an end to the egregiously bad behavior of Stoner Aunt and especially Farmer Uncle, it was no contest. This was obviously a false dichotomy, but I could tell that my most recent recurrence of bipolar disorder would not have happened without Farmer Uncle’s meltdown and the family train wreck that followed it. I’d had sui generis depressive and hypomanic episodes before, especially in high school and college, ones in which my emotions had come unmoored from stimuli and taken on a life of their own. This was nothing of the sort. I had been freaked out by an incident of unhinged domestic belligerence that had clearly come just short of the threshold of domestic violence, then I had been repeatedly berated for mishandling my reaction to this incident and for various other failings having little or nothing to do with it.

Having spent nearly half of May either trying to calm down or being berated anew about this drama, I wasn’t steady-as-she-goes. Well no shit. I’d just fled an outburst of domestic emotional abuse because it had looked about to turn violent, and I had then been berated for not being considerate enough to my abuser and his wife to chat with them about our common troubles.

My only regret about my handling of my walkout was that when I called Stoner late the first night to tell her that I had left town and wouldn’t be returning, I refused to talk to her about what had gone wrong. Before long, I realized that I had blown a rare window of magnanimity and goodwill on her part. She had seemed humble and sincere over the phone, but I’d been too rattled to trust her, and I wanted only to let her and Farmer Uncle know that I’d gotten out of Dodge. The thing was, she had been indulging in high-frequency fits about health foods for most of the previous week, unusually peevish and imperious behavior even for her, and I was afraid that her goodwill would be fleeting. I fucked up my courtesy call to her, and I started feeling regret about it almost immediately. Then again, when I discovered that she was still in a petty snit over my departure on the Fourth of July, I could tell that my relationship with her wasn’t one that deserved my most saintly patience and magnanimity. She had been stewing in self-righteous butthurt for a month and a half. It was bizarre. I was the one who was homeless and living in a tent. When I had upset Baywatch, at least there had been a good reason for her to get upset, not that I had been butthurtful in the process of fleeing from her volatile husband. I don’t know much about what Baywatch said about me behind my back, although I understand that some of it was unpleasant, but at least she never went grudge-whoring on my ass. Neither did Grandma. There’s a reason why these virtues skipped a generation.

As far as Farmer Uncle himself was concerned, ignoring Stoner Aunt’s frankly third-party role in the blowup, I probably should have asked the police to inform him of my departure through a sort of reverse welfare check. This option didn’t occur to me until just now; I was totally fucking rattled in the heat of the moment. There would have been several advantages to involving the police. It would have been an opportunity to document erratic behavior on Farmer’s part that fell short of domestic violence but could easily have veered into domestic violence in an instant. It would have helped me establish any additional untoward behavior as part of a pattern and made it much easier for me to get a fair police or judicial hearing in the event of follow-up harassment. A police visit would have put Farmer on notice that it would be not only inappropriate but also legally risky to concern-troll me with unwanted calls to my cell phone. He tried this twice in the week after I left town; I only returned the second call because Dad had been there, and I immediately regretted it because I ended up telling him to mind his own business when he asked me where I was, upsetting us both.

I felt bad about upsetting him because I’m not a sadist, but I was dealing with a fucking wackjob who had recently put me in fear for my physical safety in the course of emotionally abusing me for reasons I couldn’t fathom, and now he was bugging me to see how I was doing. It’s quite simple: if he was concerned about my emotional welfare, he shouldn’t have ruined it in the first place by showing me such wanton emotional belligerence and instability in a combined domestic and workplace setting. If he was wondering why I wasn’t taking his calls, it was because he had been an inscrutable fucking maniac in my last interactions with him days earlier. Whether these calls were disingenuous harassment or (more likely) just emotionally volatile dipshittery intended to atone for previous emotionally volatile dipshittery, I had a real problem on my hands. His concerns or other feelings about me were immaterial. I had to refuse or cut short any unwanted phone contact from him, period. I couldn’t allow someone who had had such an epic meltdown right in front of me to bug me over the phone at a time when I was trying to shelter myself from his wild behavior.

*****

This was where the gaslighting started in earnest. Dad has repeatedly told me either that there’s no way Farmer Uncle would have gotten violent with me that afternoon or that I must have done something to provoke him. This just isn’t true. I had never in my life seen Farmer in such a state of anger towards me. It lasted for something like half an hour before he left for the farm, and from everything I could see it did not let up.

What provoked it, proximally at least, was my calling him out for being a weaselly shithead about whether or not I should put on shoes. I had asked a straightforward question, and he had given me a crooked answer. The tree pruning job he wanted done was next to a compost pile. He must have known that, but he didn’t tell me where the hell we were working until we got there. While we were having lunch with Stoner he acted like a fire had been lit under his ass to get the job done and he was going to become more and more impatient and temperamental by the minute if it were delayed. That is, I had the feeling that he’d get pissed off at me for deciding on my own to put on my boots after he had told me that I wouldn’t need them.

I couldn’t fucking win. I got pretty unpleasant myself, but this was at a time when Farmer was already starting to lose it. Telling me that I had made the decision to walk across the compost pile after he had told me explicitly that I didn’t need shoes and had made this job out to be the most time-critical one of the season was disingenuous bullshit. Going into a pressurized rage that looked like it might erupt at any moment just because I had called bullshit on him for being an asshat to me was intolerable. In a truly professional setting, as opposed to our weird quasiprofessional domestic setting, his behavior would have constituted workplace harassment or something close to it. No reputable and responsible grower or middle manager in the skilled trades would retain a line supervisor who acted like him. His attitude was the kind that could get people injured or killed on higher-stakes jobs or start a fight with subordinates in any setting. (There are, of course, many disreputable and irresponsible growers, especially on larger ranches; I’ve worked for some.)

As to the notion that I had provoked Farmer that afternoon, I had been working for him and staying with him and Stoner for most of the late winter and spring, on top of the weeks to months at a time that I had spent with them in previous years. Farmer had become visibly annoyed with me in the winery or vineyard from time to time, sometimes for good reason, sometimes just because he was an asshole. In the former situations, I had backed the hell down. In the worst of the latter, when he had gone all low-rent Socratic on me over some stupid shit on the press line where he petulantly insinuated that I had done something wrong but wouldn’t say what, I had told him, “Look, I didn’t come to Oregon to be analyzed.” He had then wandered off to fume for a bit, and save face, I guess, because it looked like he had gotten the message that I’d drive back to Pennsylvania without notice if he kept that shit up. I would have left with a clean conscience, too, because he was just being a gratuitous asshole and he knew better than to treat me like that.

I know, however, that I was pretty mellow and deferential prior to the yard work blowup. If Farmer and Stoner didn’t think that that was mellow enough or something, they said nothing, and had said nothing to me about my personality somehow being fucked up in the preceding months and years. For my part, I had said nothing to them about their vile shouting matches, mainly because I wanted to stay out of the fray, but then again, nothing that I had done around the house was on the same behavioral plane as screaming bloody murder at one’s spouse about trifling disagreements every fifteen minutes. I intended all along to get the hell out of Dodge if Farmer ever turned on me the way he had routinely turned on Stoner in the winter and spring of 2009, but I didn’t expect him to do that. Then he did, over that fucking tree branch and compost pile, and not three hours later, I had cleared all my shit out and was rolling south. The point was that it didn’t matter what I had done to annoy the two of them because Farmer had come totally unhinged and lost all sense of proportion in his dealings with me that afternoon. There had been incidents months or years earlier in which I had briefly gotten openly angry with Farmer, but I don’t think he was responding to these, and if he was, he was out of his fucking mind. Within the previous week I had done some of the most grueling to date for him, digging up and moving stones during a rainstorm to prepare a vineyard nursery bed, and he had been quite impressed. Now he was suddenly a raging petty shithead over a fucking three-minute pruning job.

There was no good explanation for this ugly turn. This was irrational, incoherent, disturbed behavior. Dad didn’t see it; I did. It was probably worse by a long shot than anything Dad had witnessed from Farmer Uncle, since it was by far the craziest behavior Farmer had ever directed my way. But I know what I saw that day, and I know that it was fucking ugly and out of control. I say that Farmer could easily have gotten violent with me because he was openly enraged and behaving erratically, having been set off by my calling bullshit on him and walked off a yard job. I feel like I’m wandering into a quagmire of subjectivity and relativism to argue that third parties shouldn’t question a person’s claims that domestic violence was imminent, but in this case Farmer was operating on one of the shortest fuses I’d ever seen with anyone, and without any identifiable stressors that could rationally give rise to that level of anger.

It was distressing and a bit offensive to hear Dad insist that Farmer would never get violent. When I stepped back beyond teh feelz and tried to look at it rationally, it was scary; Dad was making excuses for a chronic emotional abuser who had nearly gotten violent with me at home. This is some of the worst behavior possible to downplay. Conversely, it’s some of the worst behavior possible to exaggerate or make up for personal advantage, so it was something about which I would not and did not cry wolf. I can think of four other times in my adult life when I felt in greater physical danger from another person’s belligerence, and thankfully I never came to physical harm in any of them, but in all of them I came close. So, yes, Farmer’s behavior that afternoon was some of the craziest I’ve ever seen from anyone. Maybe he wasn’t actually crazed enough to get violent with me for backsassing him, but he sure looked it, and a punk has to feel lucky to give someone like that the benefit of the doubt.

*****

The most recent incident that has my dad flying out on short notice involves wanton, coldblooded emotional cruelty towards me on Farmer Uncle’s part. First, some background: I ended up homeless following the yard work clusterfuck because Farmer and Stoner wouldn’t take me back in, even though I was working on their farm again. They acted like I hadn’t put up with a whole lot of their unconscionable domestic acrimony in order to make my housing arrangement with them work and had turned into a treacherous, selfish asshole out of the blue. Their peevishness and belligerence weren’t just the ebb and flow of marriage. If their marriage is typical of anything, marriage is a morally inferior institution to divorce. And it should not have been incumbent upon me as a bystander to intervene. For one thing, I wasn’t sure that it would work, and if they (especially Farmer) had drawn me belligerently into the fray I probably would have called the police, violence and threats or not. For another, reasonable people of goodwill simply do not act like that three, four, or five times a day for days on end. They just don’t. I was caught in the crossfire between a belligerent maniac and a conniving shrew.

It was one thing for them to treat each other like that in my presence, but quite another for them to draw me into the fray by guilting me into having a conversation about their behavior. That would merely serve to give them an opportunity to make excuses for themselves, deflect blame onto me, and humiliate me for not being emotionally resilient enough to come through their marriage unscathed. If they want to back down and stop being vile, they’ll make that decision on their own without my input, and they’ve done exactly that on a number of occasions in the past. But damned if I’m going to take the blame for not having the assertiveness or ego strength to stand up to them when they were acting like total wackos and I was dependent on them for my room and board and was flying by the seat of my pants in reaction to their mutual emotional abuse. Their being abusive shitheads to each other in front of me and poisoning home life for all of us was their fault, not mine for being too much of a pussy to stand up to a couple of manipulative wackos who might have turned on me and who had a long history of going from pleasant to ugly in seconds when called out on their inappropriate behavior.

Keeping me out of it included not talking to me about it, and I appreciate that they generally refrained from adding insult to injury by trying to justify their behavior to me. Farmer Uncle fucked that up a few times in the spring of 2012 by indicating that this bullshit was how marriage was, which was a bit like Charles Cullen saying that serial murder is how nursing is, but these incidents were fairly short-lived. Farmer and Stoner have a disgusting habit of fishing for compliments for their shitty behavior, and a three-way talk about their domestic discord would have invited exactly that. The point was, either back off from the emotional abuse or don’t, but do not under any circumstances take aim at me. The yard work fuckup was the first time Farmer Uncle earnestly turned on me.

Anyway, I ended up homeless, and these fuckers started making fun of me for it and rubbing it in my face. Mind you, I was back at the farm and working again three and a half weeks after walking out on them, having barely recovered from all the drama. Now Farmer was acting all smug again, like we were buddies and he was being generous for letting me camp in squalor in his property in exchange for my doing heavy farm labor. I couldn’t very well challenge him on this because he’d probably go asshole on me for being ungrateful and causing him butthurt. As fall set in, they’d have me over for dinner and their friends would be giving me advice on staying warm in my tent on 25-degree nights, and I figured that Farmer and Stoner would blow head gaskets if I inquired about crashing with them since, you know, it’s kind of fucking cold right now.

Versions of this shit were still going on in the fall of 2013, a year and a half after the great butthurt. They must have been thinking that I should cave in and get an apartment or room in town, even though I had repeatedly told my parents that I would only be settling in California since I had no interest in relinquishing California residency or getting stuck in Oregon. When I wasn’t camping out at the farm or staying in the drafty-ass winery building, trying to stay warm with the half-rotten, waterlogged firewood he had provided, Farmer started asking me where I was staying. These questions were either tone-deaf or passive-aggressive. He and his wife had barred me from staying at their house in one of their outbursts of low-class social dysfunction, and now he was concern-trolling me over a housing problem that he had aggravated and was doing jack shit to remedy.

This brings us back to the most recent incident of deliberate emotional cruelty that I described above. I recently spent a few days suckering vines for Farmer Uncle. He started butting into my lodging arrangement again, not taking my vague and curt responses as a hint that I didn’t want to talk about it. I got upset about a bunch of things having to do with the farm, Farmer Uncle, and my troubled work history, so I called Dad to talk things over. He then called Farmer and told him not to inquire again into my lodging arrangement. Farmer held his peace the day he got the call. The second day, he asked me, very calmly and deliberately, “so, have you found a place to stay locally yet?” I went stone silent, paced around a bit, and looked back at him to see him half-laughing and half-smirking at me. I told him, “After my dad talked to you about that? Don’t fuck with me like that!” He kept laughing, then said something like, “All right, I know. It’s none of my business. I shouldn’t have asked you that. I’m sorry that I asked you where you’re staying. I shouldn’t do that. Thank you for all the work you’re doing.”

These were some of the most insincere, calculating comments I’ve ever heard him make to anyone. He was deliberately provoking me. There’s no doubt in my mind. I’m pretty sure he was also getting his jollies by defying an explicit wish of his older brother and investor just for the fun of it. He did the same thing when my parents confronted him about openly drinking behind the wheel when I was riding with him.

The next day I got a text message from Dad: “I talked to Farmer Uncle this morning. He expressed his regret that he slipped up and asked you too much about your living arrangements. I hope this mistake didn’t derail things.” The problem was that the last inquiry was no “slip-up” or “mistake.” It was deliberate as hell. When I told Dad about this, he insisted that I must be misconstruing Farmer’s intent, that I often misconstrue people’s intent and attribute nonexistent malice to them, etc. But I wouldn’t put it past Farmer at all to express false contrition for a deliberate provocation. That would be no more insincere than what he had done to me the previous afternoon–when, by the way, I had just come in from the field soaking wet after working for close to two hours in a rainstorm. He’s just the kind of lying dirty schmuck who would feign contrition because he had been too aggressive in calculatingly abusing his unpaid help and might be facing a labor crunch.

Now I’m getting shit from Dad for pulling no-call-no-shows on Farmer. But I’ve only ever done no-call-no-shows on shithead supervisors who have just poisoned the well. Farmer had been talking to my dad about putting me on payroll, but not to me, so his sick stunt the other day looks like some kind of test. He’s throwing his weight around again, and I’m disinclined to show him bottomless magnanimity. I was never there for him to test my patience or loyalty or some shit. I was never there to persevere through deliberate workplace harassment while he toyed with the idea of finally paying me, contingent upon my being enough of a supplicating bitch or assertive manly man or God knows what that has fuck-all to do with running a vineyard.

Can you imagine running a real business that way? Ignore the mooching and the excuses for not paying the help and assume that everyone is on payroll. Now, think about the owner deliberately asking his most skilled and experienced employee the most provocative question possible after being explicitly warned to steer clear of that very subject, a question that has absolutely nothing to do with core operations, and asking it at a time when there’s a backlog of time-critical work to be done.

It’s no wonder that Farmer Uncle is running his farm into the ground. His deliberately pissing me off for shits and giggles the other day is on top of his allowing Bad News Bubba to live in the shower room and Mr. Crapper to hang around the property, the two of them inadvertently luring in thieves, brawlers, and other truly unsavory characters they know from the neighborhood. It’s a managerial and social nightmare. My putting up with Farmer’s harassment and continuing to work for him would constitute moral hazard. Even if there are good reasons to stick to it–the exercise, the experience–returning to a chronic lowballer mooch in the face of deliberate, gratuitous provocation says, “Okay, buddy, I’m a servile little bitch, and you’re allowed to be as much of an asshole to me as you like without it affecting your business in the slightest.” The other way to approach it is to say, “You want to fuck our relationship up? Well, consider it fucked up. But don’t blame me for my own workplace harassment, and for the love of God don’t try to draw a moral equivalency between workplace harassment and a no-call-no-show the day after a blatantly deliberate incident of workplace harassment.”

I’m in a bad spot either way. I told Dad that I felt terrible about getting into such a codependent relationship with Farmer, and he responded with an incoherent argument that all relationships are codependent because people make tradeoffs over behavior they don’t like in order to maintain relationships with people they love. But that isn’t codependency. Codependency requires that the entanglement be pathological, as mine was with Junior Bear, or as mine still is with Farmer and Stoner and the farm. Most people don’t stoop to the level of making calculating provocations about the one subject they’ve been told not to bring up just in order to show dominance like a goddamn bull moose at rut. Most people who have any other options at all don’t, I suspect, wouldn’t put up with that sort of behavior if they became the targets.

But my professional options have been limited, in large part because I got stuck around the farm and ended up in a position in which an antisocial narcissistic blood relative was my most relevant professional reference. Thank God I finally have backup references who aren’t emotional abusers and know what the fuck they’re doing as growers and businessmen. And I’m glad that I didn’t have to list Farmer as a formal reference in order to get commercial work elsewhere, since he’s a moral embarrassment and I do not like to be associated professionally with such people. Even so, the work tends to be really sporadic.

*****

There’s another really ugly specter looming on the horizon, on top of Farmer Uncle fucking up my professional life and running a farming business into the ground on one of the best growing and marketing sites in the state because he has to be a belligerent narcissist. I’m hoping to have children, or maybe stepchildren, and I’d like to get on with it sooner rather than later. I’m 32, and I’m worried about the idea of having my first child at the age of 45 or 50. One of my worst worries about having children at this point, however, is that Farmer Uncle will intrude into their lives in an untoward way. He and Stoner are childless. Earlier in their marriage they argued about childrearing; he wanted kids, she didn’t, but they agreed to stay together and stay barren. Now he’s taking it out on me. He has a sort of honorary daughter who has told me that he used to haze her, too, and of course he’s been a raging shithead to his wife too many times to count.

But I’ll be damned if I’ll allow him to visit his evil on the next generation on my watch. I’m operating on the assumption that I’ll either have to shut him out of my children’s lives entirely or be ready to bring the full force of the law down on him at the first sign of untoward behavior. If I have children, I won’t be able to trust him around them. Look at what a thug and creep he’s been to me. I have to assume that he’ll fuck with them in order to fuck with me by proxy, and that he would be more inclined to go after my children in this fashion than after most other people’s kids because there’s so much bad blood between us and he hasn’t really, truly been able to have his way with me.

Farmer Uncle is the one who chose to stay with a woman who insisted on being barren. That’s his bed to lie in, not mine. If he thinks he fucked up by not ditching her or knocking up some chick on the side who was receptive to children, that’s his regret to nurse–on his own. I won’t be bringing children into the world or into my family in order to give him additional proxies to manipulate and abuse, and he’ll have hell to pay if he so much as tries.

I don’t entirely know how he has never become even a minor black sheep in the family. The Aliens are screwups and mooches, but they have nothing on him for immorality.

God damn it to hell. I somehow just got both of my parents stone silent and into a minor snit over brunch by complaining about how counterproductive it is for leftists to harp on the trifling malapropisms of right-wing politicians. In this case, it was over Jeb Bush’s mispronunciation of “nuclear.” I’ll grant that I wasn’t very gracious in my pushback, but it isn’t a subject that I would have raised. It’s too stupid and diversionary to be worthy of discussion, but in Soviet Bougiekistan, discussion has YOU!

At root, I don’t think this pissing match was just about whether it’s acceptable for Republican politicians to be inarticulate and whether their stumbling style of speech has fuck-all to do with their worldview or their fitness for high office, as my dad suggested by saying that Jeb’s mispronunciation “speaks to a certain inattentiveness” and that “if he’s going to have his finger on the button, he should at least be able to pronounce it.” It’s really a pissant attempt to defend the prissy sanctity of the ivory tower and all that it represents from incursions by whatever elements aren’t completely on board with the project. I describe over 90% of the country here, 99% if one really needs one’s mind blown by having the Occupy meme flipped on its head and shaken vigorously for loose change. One practical application of this pissant stand for intellectual purity is that I’m a failure to launch who still hasn’t gone to grad school and hasn’t figured out how to successfully navigave what has to be the most treacherous job market in living memory, and even so I’m willing to deviate from the Democratic Party line to defend the dignity of sub-95th-percentile intellects from the projectile condescension and creeping treachery of the bourgeois supremacist cutthroats who have hijacked the American left. I wasn’t raised to think this way. I also wasn’t raised to stay in residential motels, to sleep in my car, or to do stoop labor with white trash and Mexicans, and I’ve done all of these things.

To exactly what end would I go to grad school? One of my best friends is still working as a code monkey five and a half years out of GWU Law, and he’s still something like $160,000 in debt for the honor. That’s a top-twenty nationally ranked law school, by the way. I was pretty keen on nursing for a while, but the things health insurance companies do to patients and to the decent clinicians treating them are horrific, and if I go to nursing school now, I’ll give up a fairly pleasant, if intermittent, line of work tending grapevines to be yelled at by belligerents whose asses I’ve been sent to wipe. Whether or not the cost-benefit analysis of this tradeoff is a purely financial calculus depends on how much blood, pus, shit, piss, festering body odor, sickness, bodily decay, and patient-on-staff assault one would enjoy.

This may sound like navelgazing, but it’s actually very relevant. Grad schools are rackets, their admissions standards are punishing and pretty unforgiving of fuckups, and those who make the cut are rewarded by establishing the company of outpatient mental health cases and condescending, treacherous, socially climbing sacks of shit. This is a time when many professors’ brats will inevitably be downwardly mobile, so Boomers, the least y’all can do is to show us some fucking graciousness about it. Or give us jobs. And, yes, I mean give, as in, hey, kid, we need some stuff done tomorrow, and you look like you’re capable enough, so come by at eight o’clock. I.e., no bullshit about where honorable applicant sees himself with honorable interviewing company in five years. I’ve gotten steady work at good companies without being badgered about that kind of shit, so I know for a fact that it’s extraneous. “Why were you out of work for so long?” is bullshit, too. It’s a fishing expedition. Do you need the damn work done, or don’t you? The owner of the vineyard where I worked over the summer didn’t ask me jack shit about my work history, except for confirming that I’d done some different kinds of vineyard work, and if you’re hiring grunts on an at-will basis, you have no need to ask, either.

It’s important to understand what this mentality is. It isn’t even meritocracy per se. That vineyard was a meritocracy. “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and “Why haven’t you gone to graduate school?” is a simulacrum. It’s designed to mimic the form of meritocracy while entrenching the privilege of treacherous insiders to most disingenously engage in cheap posturing and shit on those beneath them on the totem pole. It rewards bad behavior, really, deeply bad behavior like calling people stupid in order to socioeconomically marginalize them.

The proles understand this. They may not be able to articulate it very well, but they get it. It registers with them in their guts. I fell through a trap door into socioeconomic marginalization with my, I dunno, 98th percentile intellect intact, and I still got shit on and pissed off by the high hats. This sort of thing can’t be pleasant for people who are less articulate, less networked, less financially backstopped than I am. It can’t inspire graciousness.

“Nucular” isn’t even a Spoonerism. It isn’t even a gaffe. The Queen’s English it ain’t, but it isn’t exactly a tongue-tied mess, either. Many people in Pennsylvania, for example, tend to drop L’s in odd places. Marylanders have a habit of mumbling like whoa. (Ironically, the rednecks on the Eastern Shore don’t. Instead, it’s the mumbly ones around Ballimer who look down on them for being country trash.) “Nuclear” is very widely mispronounced, but this doesn’t mean that the people mispronouncing it don’t understand nuclear power or nuclear bombs well enough to grok their danger. How uniformly stupid do the educated coastal elites think Republicans in flyover country are?

This won’t go well for the Democrats. It has already gone badly for them. In the midst of endlessly carping about the tongue-tied stupidity of George W. Bush, they ran two incredibly mealymouthed, sententious wonders against him: first Al Gore, then John Kerry. These people can’t possibly be sincere about their love for fine elocution when they field those two for national office and never step back to say, yeah, that wasn’t so fucking smart. Now the kingmakers are trying to install Hillary, a caustic moralizer instead of a sententious moralizer for a change. Even Obama was never as polished a speaker as Mike Huckabee, especially in extemporaneous comments.

This mad scramble to defend the English language from Republicans who mildly botch it is disingenuous, and the rank and file know it. It isn’t about intellectual vigor or thoughtful public debate or a life of the mind or any other high-minded happy horseshit like that. It’s about crudely and viciously jockeying for superiority. It’s about catching one’s opponents in inconsequential slip-ups and rubbing their noses in the dirt. It’s the kind of thing that will inevitably piss off and alienate poor and uneducated voters. If the Democrats are nasty enough to treat a governor whose father and brother were presidents so shabbily, how unconscionably will they treat high-school dropouts living in Kansas trailer parks?

The failure of emotional intelligence needed to sustain this haughty attitude is beyond me. These fuckers seemingly cannot fathom what it’s like to be less intelligent than one’s peers, less articulate, less influential, and to be shit on for it. They cannot understand how accusing populists, even insincere populists, of being of limited intelligence could ever backfire on haut bourgeois Democrats. By any reckoning of emotional intelligence or streetsmarts, they’re the dumb ones. They’re the piss-poor communicators. George W. Bush at his most syntactically garbled could talk circles around them. They were just too self-absorbed and self-important to notice.

A conspiratorial gloss on this preening linguistic superiority is that the intelligentsia really seeks only the trappings of intellectual refinement, not the substance, because the trappings are what they need to convince their employers to give them a pay raise. I.e., the brahmins are running a racket premised on an intellectual fraud. I tend to agree with this gloss, simply because it’s hard to find an alternative explanation that makes any sense as a rational strategy. Having snits about some rising tide of anti-intellectualism is easier and more effective than learning a real trade or working towards the sorts of real reform that would allow people to make a decent living without either developing 80th-plus-percentile specialized skill sets or constantly getting into gutter rumbles with the opposition over idiotic wedge issues, like some politician’s habit of making a common mispronunciation.

This is the polity that I inherit. Goddamn fuckin’ A.

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.

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.

What what in the butt? Hurt in the butt! That’s what!

For a summary of practically every counterpoint that Stoner Aunt has ever made to substantive criticism from me or one of her other relatives by marriage, see the title. We’re lucky to enjoy exceptions to the rule on even a quarterly basis. The syntax fits the bill, too, although I prefer not to dwell on it because Stoner’s newfangled nouns and convoluted, passive-aggressive, moralistic ways of presenting what should be straightforward statements are some of the least entertaining things imaginable that are also downright bizarre. It’s much more worthwhile to watch the Temple Clinger mangle the language on Facebook.

And to think that what scandalized Grandma about Stoner Aunt was that she was a divorcee. Look, divorcees are cool. So are laicized Jesuits, probably for some of the same reasons. If you don’t believe the latter point, behold John “Bye-Bye” McLaughlin, and then shut your mouth, if it hasn’t gone silently agape in awe of its own accord (and it will the moment you hear him enunciate “Pethokoukis”). I dig divorcees. Lady Kentfield is one; she’s a hot mess, but she’s honorable about it. This super-hot older MILF in Eureka with whom I routinely flirt at the first opportunity is a divorcee. So is a somewhat prettier lady in her clique whom I find less captivating mainly because she’s mentally stable and shit. Referring to Stoner Aunt as a divorcee is like referring to Charles Cullen and Orville Lynn Majors as male nurses. I don’t care how factually accurate it is to say such a thing; it’s still a slur. It still tars the vast majority of the cohort in question who aren’t like that.

Do I descend into the Godwinian quagmire of moral relativism? Look at this way, the way Mohammad Ali might: no Hoosier in a mullet ever killed me with an opiate overdose. And come to think of it, court officers have been known to stuff a rag in Nurse Cullen’s mouth when he won’t shut up. (For realz. They don’t fuck around in the DelVal.) It’s a custom that we might find salutary and conducive to the peace in our own parts farther west.

Before accusing me of florid delirium on account of sleep deprivation, keep in mind that Stoner Aunt isn’t one to esteem free speech for the rest of us. What’s sauce for the gander, I say, is sauce for the easily ruffled goose. Okay, woman, you don’t want me telling you to shut up because you’re being a self-righteous ass? Fine. How about you stop attempting to chill my own criticism with your protestations of grievous butthurt?

Stoner Aunt is probably ignorant of the concept of butthurt, just as she is of science. She doesn’t spend enough time online. Butthurt has to be the most righteous and eloquent vulgarity ever to have emanated from the electronic hivemind. Really, though, she wouldn’t want to examine herself (or her conscience, as the popish among us might put it) any more than she would want to examine how refined complex carbohydrates are actually digested and how that differs from the digestion of sucrose. She wouldn’t want to see the workings of her grievance-mongering psyche as it unleashes its self-importance on those around her and then prickles at the first criticism, the mildest rebuke from her fellows. She wouldn’t want to understand the true pathos of her hypocritically elevated regard for her own tender fee-fees and her queen-of-the-mountain act. Understanding the true grotesquerie of the royal prerogative is a total bummer, man. Why manifest negative shit like that when you could manifest taking it easy? What, you want me to take it easy on them? Farkle you, asshole!

That’s the beauty of it. We hurt her in the same orifice from which she routinely addresses us. Shit, it isn’t even that we’re trying to hurt her; it just happens whenever we approach her like an adult and get all Debbie Downer on her because she was throwing her weight around like some grandiose but downwardly mobile member of the Victorian aristocracy. A butt hurt by any other name is still an ass assaulted. How dare anyone give her the hairy eyeball for eating straight out of the serving dish with her bare hands (but daintily, with thumb and index finger!), then insulting her inferiors, then spouting some quack rubbish, then reaching for her clutching pearls, and two seconds later saying obscene things about prominent politicians while leaving detritus and grease on the dishes that she’s pretending to wash! Who do those fuckers think they are? Equals? Lese majeste! (She probably doesn’t understand that concept, either, or its sad pertinence to her worldview.)

Hey, it’s a lot harder to articulate a substantive response to meritorious criticism than to whine, “Oww, poopy hole!” In a way that I have observed but cannot understand, people like Stoner Aunt somehow find it less pathetic to dial the waambulance on whine-one-one than to unabashedly admit that they expect to receive more deference than they give. This confuses me because both approaches are devoid of decorum and self-respect. I guess one needs less of those things when one visualizes one’s own self-image into existence from a pile of steaming bullshit. The other thing that probably motivates Stoner Aunt to proclaim her butthurt rather than make coherent counterarguments is that butthurt is entirely subjective, if you’re groveling or worn down enough to submit to the distorted perceptions of your self-aggrandizing relatives. (My parents are.) If Stoner believes in anything (faith being shown in works, which would totally blow minds in Ashland, dude), she believes in expediency. So does Farmer. It’s a lot more expedient to make vague claims of butthurt that cannot be conclusively disproven than to make specific claims that are patently ridiculous.

I really can’t say how conscious Stoner Aunt is of any of this evasiveness. It’s a fool’s errand to try to pinpoint where she is at any given moment on the spectrum between home planet living and L. Ron Hubbard astronautics. If it sounds schizophrenic, all I can say is that thinking about it in any depth makes it look schizophrenic. Where Farmer Uncle likes to play redneck alcoholic, Stoner Aunt likes to play space-warping nutcase. She isn’t the disinhibited one, either, so we got trouble.

Fire on the mountain.

Hey, at least those two recognize that they did wrong. They know that they’re sinners. They understand sin. A good churchgoing member of Opus Dei, loyal federal law enforcement officer, Soviet spy and covert videographer of his own marital sex acts like Mr. Hanssen would certainly understand sin. So would a proud code enforcement officer, butcher and torture porn self-portraitist from suburban Wichita with one of the cleanest disciplinary records in the Kansas state prison system. They’re mightily fucked up, but they know that they’re mightily fucked up and don’t pretend otherwise. They live in hellholes, but they live in truth.

There was a time when I grasped futilely for some piece of hard evidence confirming my gut feeling that Opus Dei was a sick organization for sick people, but now I have a sign confirming my faith. Thanks, Bob.

You see, Catholicism is all about recognizing that we’ve sinned through our fault, through our fault, through our most grievous fault. It’s even more tendentious and supplicating than it was in the old vernacular liturgy. But it’s true. We’re fucked up, and to loosely paraphrase the apostle Paul, I’m more fucked up than a lot of people.

Should we have to tell a priest about it? Reasonable people of goodwill disagree, and I’m ambivalent about it because, frankly, I’m a half-assed Catholic. Monsignor Lynn probably darkens the confessional door more often than I do. So, I reckon, does Agent Hanssen, although in his case the confessional comes to him; he certainly has the time to entertain chaplain’s visits in his new digs. But this doesn’t say a lot in my defense. I’m still a porn-addled, disorganized wreck with mildly deficient social skills, an underwhelming work ethic, an occasional touch of paranoia, and a pathological fear of the sacrament of penance. My fault, my fault, my most grievous fault. Less grievous a fault than O. J. calling his wife a fucking ungrateful cockgobbling slut and using her as a punching bag? Sure, but that isn’t the point of confession. No matter how true it is, it’s an evasion. Hitler was worse, too. And why shouldn’t I Godwinize this shit? I’d channel Lauryn Hill and make overwrought slavery references if I had the energy and mental wherewithal. The BOP won’t kill her quite as softly as he did with his song, but she won’t be going on vacation in Florence, either, so Bob must find her a terrible whiner. He’d probably find me a whiner, too, especially if he heard me complain about how I’ve been staying at a barely accessible semiresidential motel in a neighborhood of Yorba Linda where the roads were laid out by drunks, and that the drive to downtown Fullerton on the 91 freeway is le hard.

It’s late, and I should go to bed, but not quite yet. I’m nowhere near done with the litany of people who are more culturally Catholic, by which I mean more introspective and contrite, than the average Ashlander. It’s a miracle that Our Lady of the Mountain is able to get upwards of a hundred of the faithful into its Saturday vigil masses: by any clearheaded assessment of Ashland’s sociology, that parish would be holding its own if its membership consisted of a dozen octogenarians served every fourth Sunday by an itinerant Ugandan priest. These people must disappear into the woodwork for the rest of the week, because I don’t hear a peep from them. Actually, Dennis the Workplace Safety Menace is a Catholic, and a parishioner, if I’m not mistaken, but he isn’t so much culturally Catholic as he is culturally hearing himself talk about that twenty percent rice adjunct with a really nice malt finish. That said, he is a bit more introspective than Farmer Uncle, maybe a bit louder in blowing his own horn but definitely less foul. These small mercies count for something. Most Protestants are more culturally Catholic than Ashlanders. John the Bathtub Baptist, the Calvinist preacher (and cradle Catholic) who sent me running into RCIA with his offer to take me upstairs for some summary Jordan River action at a high church soiree, is much more culturally Catholic than all but maybe three people I’ve met in Ashland; he believes in some hella cuckoo shit that makes practicing Catholics roll their eyes when they aren’t grinding political axes, but at least he believes in sin (if anything, too strongly). Many happy-clappy praise-and-worship evangelicals are more culturally Catholic than Ashlanders, although not for lack of trying to be, Father God, just navelgazing morons with hideous aesthetic taste in this place. Grandma, a devout, lifelong Nazarene who said things like “God blesses those who bless Israel,” was fit to be Pope by Ashland standards. So is Lady Kensington, even if she does impulsive things when drunk at sunrise, like throwing her used tampon into the bushes and riding Lord Kensington on a Fishtown stoop, or kicking at the waves in Atlantic City because the now-Late Lord Kensington is “in the sea” (I witnessed the latter incident); she prays for intercession to the Late Lord Kensington, and she readily enough admits that she can be a drunken wreck. Her fault, her fault, her most grievous fault (but not as grievous as the fault of the wilding posh of Haddonfield, shitting on their neighbors’ grand pianos and all that).

I’ve known atheists (including a Polish dude of Northeast Philadelphian extraction who once told me, “I’m as religious as this road”) and agnostics, including Baywatch and my dad, who are more culturally Catholic than most of the people I’ve come across in Jackson County. I recently found an online dating profile that Baywatch maintains.  As poorly written as her explanation of her stance towards religious observance was, a partial list of the people who should read it and cherish it in their hearts includes John Hagee, Richard Dawkins, and most of Congress. Pope Francis is not on the list, although the Vatican functionaries who recently bitchslapped him for being too pluralistic may be.

Really, though, these are all understatements. Your dog is more culturally Catholic than Farmer, Stoner and their crowd when you rub his nose in the dirt for jumping up on the kitchen counter and eating all the hamburger meat. Seriously. Your dog is more contrite and introspective than my people in Ashland. Not even Dennis Rader has ever contrived the apparatus to properly discipline them, and our boy Bob can only monitor them and phone Moscow.

Why do I say this? Well, damned if even more bizarre horseshit pertaining to my departure from Ashland hasn’t come to light. To wit, Farmer Uncle reported to my dad that the day after I left town, he told Stoner Aunt, “Well, it looks like Alien Watcher has left again, but it couldn’t have been anything I did, because all I did was ask him how he was doing.”

Oh. That’s a rather charitable self-assessment. Here’s what I witnessed: after I mumbled a noncommittal response to his first, much more appropriate inquiry into how I was doing, he spent the next half hour muddling around my living space, then accosted me as I returned from the shower and bellowed, “HEY, ALIEN WATCHER, HOW’S EVERYTHING?” as if he were addressing Parliament.

That’s his version of nothing. Yelling pleasantries at me at the top of his voice inside a cramped barn while I tried to put away my towel and shampoo didn’t register as maybe a bit off.

Good God. I’ve done some fucked up, insensitive, weird things to other people, as Baywatch would surely attest to more readily if she had less in the way of manners, but I don’t think I’ve ever come away from such a fuck-up telling third parties, “Hell, no, I didn’t do anything to upset that thin-skinned bitch. Your guess is as good as mine as to what’s wrong with that freak.” No degree of hot mess has put me into such a state that I can’t recognize in a matter of hours, but more often minutes, that I lost my cool and did something not so fucking smart, often something that I can identify, and that I had damn well better take ownership of it and orient myself for some heartfelt, clearheaded damage control.

Hell, I had more wits about me at my worst points with Lady York, when I was ragingly smitten and dealing with a relapse of manic depression. Sputtering and angry though I was at my rejection, I realized that I had been playing a dangerous game with another manic depressive, her Catholic parents, her mentally normal sister, her retarded sister, and her philandering Jewish lover, who was probably in therapy himself as a matter of ethnic statistics. I was conscious that, on a spiritual level, we were ships passing in the night, since she was dropping into the fuzzy realm of “spiritual but not religious” while I was coming under the spell of a slowly crystallizing sort of Christianity (happy-clappy but theologically vapid at that point; hey, it fits the bill for any 19-year-old cradle atheist). I understood that I was an unstable dude hanging around other unstable people, occasionally including a future roommate who, in the very perceptive assessment of one of the most understated people I ever knew at Alma Mater, was “fucking bizarre!”  One of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had was praying with Fucking Bizarre in the Catholic adoration chapel at midnight, and another one was going jogging past the military college at maybe 11:00 pm while we were both drunk, but his critic was right: he was well weird.

It was epic pwnage by teh hawt mess, but I don’t recall ever earnestly insisting that I was totally blameless and at a loss to understand what I could ever have done to destabilize things. My thoughts were more like, yeah, my grades suck, and I have no future orientation except a vague interest in moving to Brooklyn, becoming an RN and shacking up with Jewish Ben from Brooklyn and Lady York, and I won’t even try to reconcile that ambition with my decision to tutor a bipolar chick with two or three boyfriends on her French papers instead of writing my own history papers, and it’s probably kind of rash for me to be thinking about adopting a child immediately after graduation in order to get a move on with that whole parenting thing, but hey, Lady York herself suggested that I should have grabbed the Camry and taken her on a road trip to the city to see her better third/quarter/whatever, so maybe I’m kinda wacked in the head, but the internal jury is still out. (Junior Bear said it best: “New Yorkers are probably more comfortable with that kind of thing because they have two of everything: the Mets and the Yankees, the Jets and the Giants….they have the Islanders, too.”)

I wasn’t stupid enough to think that I was totally functional and well-adjusted and sane. I was, however, stupid enough to think that I’d have enough time to turn it all around before shit started hitting the fan in my professional life. I knew that I was on the wrong track, but I didn’t shunt myself onto a siding and regroup. (Come to think of it, I didn’t use any other overwrought railroad metaphors back then, either. I knew less about trains.)

Mea culpa. Or, as Farmer Uncle and Stoner Aunt would have it, tua culpa. Because no amount of being broke on other people’s money and yelling at them and then obnoxiously pretending to be upstanding, independent yeomen beholden to no one could ever be the reason that they have crappy, unstable relationships. It’s obviously the fault of those other asshats, the ones who think that there’s something wrong with driving to the top of I-5 with a Sierra Nevada in hand after having had a load on all afternoon. Bless yourself, father; I’m not the sinner around here, asshole.

I doubt I could be such a self-centered, blame-shifting, unintrospective, deranged projectile twit if I tried. It would be a tall order for Bob and Denny, too, I’d say.

From the comments:

“I was just chatting with my coworker about this last week at the resturant. Do not know how on the planet we landed on the topic seriously, they”

Nigerian much?

Eh, my late Nigerian relatives, the ones who occasionally bequeath me all upon dying in plane crashes, are probably less trouble than some of my living relatives. They don’t have my parents over a barrel with implicit threats of belligerent asshattery in the event that they are challenged, for one thing.

By the way, I learned tonight that Farmer Uncle is even more cuckoo-bananas than I had understood. We may have more aliens than we have names for them. I’m pretty sure that Farmer Uncle has been exploring more distant moons than Alien Aunt has over the past month and a half, and the only reason he’s on the near side of Alien Uncle (an improvable statement, actually) is that he’s competing with an Aspie.

I run out of superlatives for the hippie derp.