Archives for category: Heart of Darkness

There are different ways to have no taste.

Previously we’ve discussed the Temple Clinger’s complaint about vain, shiftless negroes abusing government relief. Racially tinged complaints about equally shiftless negroes on Philadelphia sports teams, notably including Michael Vick, are another Temple Clinger favorite, and a few months ago he took flak from a black chick for using the term “blackscent” and subsequently invoking the defense that it has to be a real word because he heard it on TV. To quote the words of the late denier of the identifiable black American accent Johnnie Cochran to opposing counsel Chris Darden, “Nigger please.”

Returning to the Temple Clinger’s favorite subject, teh poosy, he has also been known to white-knight young women with versions of “in words of psy sexy ladies….whoop whoop whoop whoop compliment,” and to suggest using the impending Mayan apocalypse as an opportune time to tell a hottie that she “has a phenomenal body compliment,” a term that as best I can tell is nothing more than a malapropism for “damn girl, you’re hot.” Back when Sweet Thang was trying in vain to direct IM chats with him to subjects other than girls, he provided her a list of criteria for a girlfriend (spelling and punctuation paraphrased so as to be plausible): “there are three things i want in a girl 1 she has to like foot massages 2 she cant puffer the dragon 3 she has to be able to pop drop and lock it while sober correction im looking for a white girl who can pop drop and lock it while sober.” Dude was one for three for not offering up bizarre malapropisms. To translate into English: 1) Girl, I’m rubbing your feet hummana hummana; 2) No pot; 3) Whitey gotta dance to that funky music without having a load on; 3A) Yeah, I know black chicks can do that as a matter of course, but they don’t meet my exacting standards of hotness, and consequently they don’t cause me to drool in public.

The Temple Clinger is all about finding a girlfriend stat, and far from reticent about telling strange women that his search has been in vain and that they’re welcome to be his Valentines. One might think, then, that he would esteem women as something more than just pieces of ass, and perhaps he does. The thing is, openly taking such a stance just wouldn’t be edgy and hip enough; far better to propose a new aphorism for the most emotionally vacuous sort of one-night stand, “fuck ’em and chuck ’em,” being careful, of course, to bleep out the first Anglo-Saxonism, lest the Carlinian language cause offense to the sniveling. He can be a disingenuous fuck.

None of this is to say that women can’t be tasteless. One of the Temple Clinger’s hundreds of lady contacts on Facebook recently posted a profile picture in which she is shown simulating oral sex on a beer bottle. Ironically, even though she’s covered up and her stacked friend is showing mad cleavage, the latter looks significantly less trashy. If I had to choose one of the two to seduce, I’d pick Stacker; she looks like she’d be an affectionate and appreciative hookup, while Oral Laurel looks like she’d spend the romp grinding vacantly and the aftermath texting her girlfriends about what an underendowed incompetent she just shagged. She’d probably be trashier in a burqa than Stacker would be on stage at a Pensacola amateur topless dancing contest.

The Temple Clinger had some thoughts on Stacker; but of course. To wit:

TC: “Your friend is cute…”

OL: “Duh”

TC: “If she is single tell her I said hello as well”

OL: “Tell her yourself…[Link to Stacker’s Facebook profile]”

TC: “Thank you…”

Giggity.

To understand what’s wrong with this, try to imagine Susan Boyle asking John Mayer to put in a good word for her with Channing Tatum, and then hanging around with a drooling smirk while the satyr writes the heartthrob’s phone number and address down on a cocktail napkin.

The difference here (at least I think it’s a difference) is that Mayer’s the kind of guy who would indifferently let Boyle dry hump him, probably after mentioning that he had just spent six hours having high-volume intercourse with groupies, leaving him numb and drained of that Johnny Juice. I’m not completely sure that it’s a difference because there’s a slight chance that Oral Laurel and Stacker have low enough standards to put out for the Temple Clinger, ignoring the possibility that they are literally whores, in which case they almost certainly do. (The original Oral Laurel, a Cal Poly co-ed, seems to have gone for rough frat boys and been a rank amateur.) If either or both of them are ones to hook or mercy-fuck, the Temple Clinger could be in luck. Neither one has had an open freakout over his Aspie come-ons yet, so he’s doing better than usual.

By the way, I’m not adamantly against the Temple Clinger’s partaking of the white meat; it’s just that a taste of the dark meat would be more beneficial to the people he’d be less frequently bombarding with racist bullshit.

I’m really missing out on the hotties by trying to date in the tradition of Crosby, Stills and Nash, and love the one I’m with, when I really should be macking it with Mariska Hargitay. Mariska, you’re pwetty.

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One GinaMarie Zimmerman, a woman of no particular consequence who is famed for her televised status-whoring, was recently fired from her non-broadcast job for referring to welfare as “nigger insurance.” Let me reiterate: the fact that this woman is a vulgar, tasteless racist is not something about which I give a rat’s ass; Jimmy crack corn, and no, massa, I doesn’t care. Racial equity will not be brought about by raising holy hell every time some two-bit asshat says something bigoted about black people. One does not simply end racism, unless one also ends policies that prey upon racial minorities, but good luck getting Whitey to give a shit about some poor kid from the ghetto getting locked up on a trifle for being involved with drugs that members of Whitey generally use and traffic with impunity.

As it happens, Ms. Zimmerman (any relation to George?) has support from one of Philadelphia’s premier Aspies:

Actually although she was wrong to say it publicly and therefore must face consequences, I see her point. Where or not more whites are on it blacks tend to abuse it more so than other races and that is why we still have debit particular in Philly where im from. Heck my city can’t pay its school system. Anyway I go to Philadelphia shoprite in Cheltenham see many black folk pay their junk food with food stamps not necessarily healthy food thus become obese for some and all while wearing fur coat and driving an escalade with spinner dubs on it. Welfare abuse has to stop and maybe that is what she meant by it…

Well then. Let’s double down on this shit. Combine a childhood spent not far over the city line from the mildly hoodish areas of Philadelphia’s far north side, undergraduate studies in the barely cocooned Ivory-Tower-in-the-Badlands precincts of Temple University, and a case of Asperger’s that makes Alien Uncle sound like Cardinal Dolan, and a public recounting of that bigoted tale is probably inevitable. We Philadelphians call it like we see it. (I’m only kind of a Philadelphian, and not much of one lately, but I’m Philadelphian enough for the current purposes.) It’s one of the reasons that many outsiders find us quite rude. In parts of the country where fake pleasantry, passive-aggressiveness and subterfuge are held ideal, we look awfully forward and brusque. So be it; the average inhabitant of these places is disturbed. (Here’s looking at you, Ashland.) The Temple Clinger, however, takes this forthrightness to the next level. It doesn’t help that he sops up depravity from weird corners of the internet for regurgitation at the next opportunity instead of hanging out with real people, getting an idea of who they are, and letting them temper with some measure of sober decency the rubbish he reads online. Nor does it matter that he’s an impulsive fat guy whose Facebook profile picture is a selfie showing him decked out in a red suit for some big pimpin’. This doesn’t make him introspective enough to stop complaining about irresponsible, obese negroes on the dole.

As I intone whenever it seems topical, there is a credible fix for this dude’s amazing dipshittery: prostitution. He needs to be civilized by whores. After reading nuttery like his comment above, however, I tend to think that the Temple Clinger more specifically needs him some chocolate lovin’. If he doesn’t have a case of the jungle fever, he should. Yes, I’m being flip and trollishly politically incorrect, but I mean it. He’ll return from these trysts with comments about black chicks that I truly cannot imagine (if nothing else, his syntax is beyond me), but he’ll also learn how to relate to black chicks one-to-one, not as hoodrat ciphers at the Shoprite. He may discover that some of his favorite whores are black people. Again, impishly though I present my case, a black hooker will kill (softly, I assume) two birds with one stone: the sexual frustration and the racial trope-mongering. All the Temple Clinger needs to do to make this happen is give one of these ladies a call, and then get his stones off with the bird.

Ladies: if this guy hires you, let me know whether you’ve ever been picked up by an even weirder honky.

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.

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.

Since I’ve already broached the hairy subject of the “female perspective,” I’d like to ask some questions about that perspective from my baffled male perspective. First, why is it the perspective of so many females that rudimentary social graces in men are a turnoff and that they’d rather be raped by thugs? Second, why is it the perspective of so many females that Nicholas Kristof is a total mensch?

Those were rather trollish ways to formulate my questions, but I’m not the one proposing collective rights on behalf of my entire gender. A friend insisted to me the other week that I, too, would be repulsed by prostitution if I “had a female perspective.” Another friend, also possessed of a female perspective, vigorously backed her up. I found myself fighting a lost cause, Robert E. Lee-style, in a debate that had been Godwinized on behalf of all womanhood. I had to wonder: most whores are women, so from what non-female perspective do they approach prostitution? It was uncomfortable to enlist as a proxy combatant in a bitchfest over the definition of womanhood, but intentionally or not, my two adversaries were playing dirty, and that provoked my inner lay attorney. Indeed, it was time for some Opposing Viewpoints: “Prostitution: if you like the idea of putting out for money, you might want to consider it” vs. “Prostitution: a terrible idea if you have a vagina, so stop betraying your sisters, you dirty whore.”

To be sure, you don’t have to put on the red light, and you’re certainly free to close the browser window when I start quoting turkeys by the Police, but that was exactly my point. It’s about self-determination. If you don’t feel comfortable working as a whore, don’t become a whore. Or, to quote an equally bad reggae ditty by the Conchords, “you don’t have to be a prostitute.”

The corollary, of course, might be ineloquently phrased, “you don’t have to not be a prostitute.” Although I presented it somewhat more circuitously, this was the assertion that earned me a two-on-one kick in the balls. My point was that some women are naturally promiscuous and comfortable with their promiscuity, that some of these women are comfortable with prostitution, and that women of this temperament are disproportionately represented in the trade.

Dumb Lordy, were the counterpoints specious.

There was the “female perspective” bit, two women telling me, a dude with man parts, that if I, too, had lady parts I would understand. Well, shit, I have no idea how I’d feel if I were a woman. If I were a woman, I’d be a different person than I am, and the same would be true if I were a different man. If I weren’t myself, I wouldn’t be me. Down a tautological rabbit hole we go.

These women both told me that they had a visceral discomfort with prostitution and couldn’t imagine prostituting themselves. And as evidence of other women’s comfort with prostitution, what was it good for? Absolutely nothing. Good God, y’all.

This “female perspective” thing apparently had a lot to do with being ogled by men. Their discomfort with being leered at made them uncomfortable with the idea of working as whores. But again, I was dealing with a sample size of two. Many, if not most, whores react to the same sort of leering in the opposite fashion. They enjoy having something that men want and being able to leverage it to their financial advantage. It’s an opposite reaction to the same circumstances. Basically, it’s different strokes for different folks. Getting all head up about the moral superiority of one reaction or the other is imperious. It’s an affront to self-determination, and a particularly reprehensible one when presented on behalf of all women as an act of war on the patriarchy. Prostitution is not a trade for the shy, the self-conscious, the monogamous, or the prudish, and any of these are likely to wash out. This is like saying that surgery is not a trade for those who are squeamish about blood (one of the reasons that Doc Martin is such a riot; also, my own countrymen just can’t compete with the English when it comes to comedy). It takes a special temperament to succeed as a whore, but just because most women lack it doesn’t mean that all women do, and extrapolating one’s own nonwhorish temperament onto whorish women is either foolish or abusive.

In this case, I think I was dealing with smallmindedness, not resentment, but in either event it was appropriate to put in a word for those women who enjoy prostitution, or at least find it tolerable and remunerative. Think of it as giving a voice to the voiceless; no whores were present to defend themselves and their profession, so it fell on me. It took balls to be the man who did that, and as my adversaries were quick to remind me, I have a pair. I mean that in the strict technical sense, of course. The arguments that I was permitted to make were circumscribed (hey, that sounds like circumcised! Tee-hee!) by the genitalia that I possessed. None of the three of us had ever been a whore, but my adversaries insisted, in effect, that they understood prostitutes better than I did because of their common genitalia.

And we wonder why people listen to Rush Limbaugh when he accuses feminists of being totalitarians who want to chill free speech.

One of my adversaries got scandalized and accused me of being seedy when I mentioned that I regularly read prostitutes’ blogs on Twitter: “Oh my God, Alien Watcher, that’s quite something to admit to!” The fact that I actively sought out firsthand information from people who had plied the trade that we were discussing had been turned against me as evidence of moral turpitude. Now, as I’ve mentioned before, if you want real turpitude, turpitude is a handy degreaser to use on James Carville and Joel Osteen after a “gymnastic” fight in Beaumont, and that’s just plain nasty. The whores’ essays that I usually read, those by Maggie McNeill and Norma Jean Almodovar, are downright clean and circumspect by comparison. Probably the edgiest stuff I regularly read in that genre is by Furry Girl, who is a pornographer, not a whore per se. I know, my head is in the gutter right now, and you’d like me to make some space for yours to roll past. Fair enough. But these women are all excellent writers. Why the hell should I be ashamed for reading their work, especially at a time when the “Fifty Shades” books are bestsellers? When I mentioned that I follow prostitute-writers online, it was as though I had said, “You know, I’ve been reading Jeffrey Dahmer’s memoirs, and they’re giving me a whole new appreciation for the cannibal lifestyle.”

The same woman suggested that reading whores’ essays might be making prostitution seem more normal and commonplace to me than it does to other people. Probably so. People are affected by what they read, so if reading prostitutes’ writings makes me more sympathetic of prostitution, reading generic feminist pablum must make other people more sympathetic to efforts to marginalize and restrict whores and their customers on the basis of gender theory. It’s reasonable enough to say that we are what we read, just as we are what we do. But shaming others for reading, or admitting to reading, controversial works that advocate unpopular positions is tyranny of the majority.

If you wonder why rights attach to individuals, not to groups, that’s why. The individual woman has a right not to be prostituted against her will, but womankind has no collective right to be free of prostitution because such a collective right inevitably infringes on the rights of individual women to sexual self-determination. If certain women are resentful or discomfited that certain other women choose to whore themselves out, tough titty to them. Collectivism is a hideous solution, but good luck impressing its awfulness on the left, or on the Christian right; more on these bedfellows below.

My other adversary brought an additional measure of gender theory into the debate by rhetorically asking what the status of prostitution as the “oldest profession” says about the objectification and oppression of women over time. (Actually, as some lawyers say, no way is prostitution the oldest profession, because to engage in prostitution you first have to contract.) Well, shit. For one thing, it’s the result of a mismatch of supply and demand. It isn’t a matter of imposing patriarchy on unwilling women; it’s a matter of a large number of horny men seeking sexual release from a much smaller population of willing women, and who the fuck do you suppose has the real bargaining power in that transaction? But even if we consider times and places where prostitution was (or is) a difficult or dangerous trade, how is that relevant to prostitutes in places where it’s relatively stable and safe? Saudi Arabia is a terrible place to be a whore, but that’s immaterial to a licensed German streetwalker. American whores are often ripped off by customers or blackmailed and extorted by cops with no meaningful recourse, but that’s immaterial to a Colombian escort who can, and will, call the local police when she gets shorted by a group of Secret Service agents.

And which is a working whore to believe: the gender theory peddled by amateurs who are squeamish about her profession, or her lying eyes? Calvinist Geneva was a terrible place to be a prostitute, but present-day Geneva is about as good a place as any. Arguing that a woman shouldn’t go into prostitution because it has historically been used by misogynistic men as a social control mechanism is like arguing that it’s a bad idea to plant a cotton crop in Wasco today because slaves on nineteenth-century cotton plantations had terrible lives.

One of the most overwrought assertions of the evening was the claim that prostitution “feels like selling my very body.” Fuck. Look, pussy may sound like a product, but it’s a service. If it’s a product, how are women able to charge hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars an hour for it? At that rate, it’s like selling the same worthless cliff in Shelter Cove over and over again. You don’t sell something and then get it back intact with no refund an hour later. O. J. used to disagree with that statement with respect to his fucking stuff, and he’ll be in Nevada for a while.

Here’s a better way to understand that. I’m straight, and I usually feel uncomfortable when gay guys leer at me or hit on me, but if I agreed to let a guy buttfuck me for money, I would not say afterwards that I had sold him my ass. It would just be a particularly distasteful job that I did for the money. No matter how awful it might be, I’d get my ass back afterwards. No matter how psychologically scarring it is, it’s not like being shot and sold for parts by the Chinese government, or even like donating a kidney. Nor am I too obtuse to recognize that some guys enjoy putting out for other guys for the money, or arrogant enough to presume that it’s my place to make that decision for them.

The trope about women being forced into prostitution by poverty predictably came up, doubly so because the conversation started with an aside about Thai prostitutes in Pattaya. One of the ladies had traveled in Thailand and said that she had found Pattaya extremely weird. She had seen a number of teenage girls working for guys with walkers, and she couldn’t see how any woman would agree to such an arrangement except as a result of dire poverty. I agree that it’s an awfully weird arrangement, but that doesn’t prove that the women involved have no agency. Some Southeast Asian prostitutes have reported in surveys that they enjoy working for old foreign men because they’re kind and considerate. (Accounts from Thai military brothels sadly tend to bear this out.) Plenty of Western prostitutes work for elderly, infirm or disabled clients as well, and they make more money at it than they would wiping the same guys’ asses in a nursing home. Do people become nurse’s aids out of financial desperation? Sure. It’s literally and figuratively a shitty job, but one hears little about the desperation of those doing it, even though they arguably have less agency and worse working conditions than many streetwalkers.

The absurd thing about so much of the rhetoric about prostitutes being helpless victims is that they’re granted less agency precisely because they’re working for the money. Some of them must not care for their jobs, but that doesn’t make them different from people in any other line of work, and they’ve probably considered the available alternatives. When I argued that many prostitutes in Thailand were working to better themselves and their families, my friend who had been freaked out by Pattaya said that the solution was to provide development aid so that Thai women aren’t forced to work as prostitutes to improve their own lot. That isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but it won’t end prostitution in Thailand any more than equal career opportunities for American women has ended prostitution in the United States. Some women will always go into prostitution because they prefer it the available alternatives, and Thai whores won’t desist solely because they discomfit American women they’ve never met by taking on old, decrepit American clients who went abroad for the exchange rate. The idea that Americans can eliminate prostitution in a foreign country where it’s more or less socially accepted is naive and patronizing. Certainly, some Thai prostitutes would leave the trade if they could get small business loans or scholarships, but others would rather keep supporting themselves, and some would take the help but stay in the trade for even more income. If some Americans gladly work as whores to put themselves through medical or nursing school, why the hell shouldn’t Thais, and why should they tolerate prejudiced Americans implying that they aren’t competent to make their own decisions?

That’s Nicholas Kristof’s shtick. He mounts a white horse, rides into lawless places, mostly Cambodia, and proudly lifts up the White Man’s Burden. Cambodia has a swarthy Asiatic people who don’t speak English well enough to disabuse bigoted Westerners of the notion that they’re meek, helpless and in need of external salvation. It’s also one of the closest things to a failed state in its region, so it’s a lot easier to pull brazen shit there than in Thailand, Vietnam or Burma. Kristof’s favorite trick is to join the Cambodian police or military on brothel raids that result in prostitutes being brainwashed and impressed into textile work in de facto prison labor camps. Actually, Cambodia isn’t as lawless as Kristof, Somaly Mam and their allies would like; in at least one case, there was a government counterraid to free women who had been removed by the police from a brothel the previous day.

Kristof and Mam’s allies in this enterprise include textile magnates, who appreciate the cheap labor, and the kind of “Christian aid” organizations that would rather regard whores as helpless victims than competent adults who don’t give a damn about the sexual repression that they would like to impose on the world. These are some sick fucks.

Their house of cards seems to finally be faltering, but not quickly enough. Kristof in particular has a legion of devoted followers in the United States. It apparently makes no difference to them that he didn’t lift a finger when his employer, the New York Times, threw its foreign employees under the bus. They can’t imagine how he might have ulterior motives in denying agency to poor women in foreign countries because, after all, he’s married to a Chinese lady and he says such heartwarming things about how women hold up “half the sky.”

The two questions that I posed at the beginning of this piece are related. I aver that an unctuous, condescending creep like Nicholas Kristof would not have nearly so large a following if there weren’t so much ambient misogyny in the United States. Every time an asshat like Todd Akin spreads self-serving falsehoods about gynecology, Kristof’s stock rises. Every time some “bro culture” dipshit obsesses about pussy in one breath and makes fun of women for menstruating in the next, Kristof’s stock rises. Every time a concerned white guy rescues a Cambodian teenager from a brothel with great derring-do, Jesus Kristof’s staff rises. Okay, that wasn’t entirely necessary, but there is a very weird sexual dynamic to the guy’s fixation on Asian girls. This prissy, haughty, hypocritical cutthroat convinces a great many women that he is on the side of women, all women, because his platitudes stand out in stark contrast to the belittling, abusive and openly coarse things that other men, and some women, say about women. Kristof comes across as a mensch because he’s too smooth to say anything overtly misogynistic and the things he does say are superficially so much more supportive than either the gotcha bawdiness of the bro culture knuckleheads or the “quiverfull” rhetoric of people on the religious right who want to turn women into professional breeders, like something out of The Handmaiden’s Tale.

If these are our models of manhood, we’re fucked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The past two weeks have offered Americans a sad and frankly scary window into the leftist hive mind in our country. At a time when the US Constitution is under sustained and withering attack from both major political parties and our military remains mired in Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires, where many of our troops are manifestly clueless or unhinged, the most prominent, widely supported and energized activist campaign at the moment appears to be the amateurish, ill-informed, and possibly financially motivated campaign to bring to justice a has-been warrior who currently commands a force of approximately 200 in one of the most remote and lawless parts of Africa.

For those of you who live under rocks, I refer to Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Kony and the LRA are vicious and have committed heinous war crimes, but these points are immaterial. That may sound like a callous statement, but it isn’t. In point of fact, Kony has been banished from his home country of Uganda, his forces all but eliminated and driven into parts of the Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan where the national governments exercise little de facto sovereignty. These places are practically beyond the writ of the law. Some of them have been so for decades, if not longer. Kony’s forces remain a scourge in these places, but unfortunately, neutralizing them and reestablishing (or perhaps more accurately, establishing for the first time) functioning civil rule will require profound structural reforms that have so far proven impossible to implement in those places.

And again, the LRA has recently been estimated to number 200. By all appearances it has shriveled into a tiny force dispersed over a fairly large area. The best things to do in this case are to upgrade communications in these remote areas so that villagers can quickly contact the police and for the villagers to arm themselves against the thugs. If the military, police and the villagers themselves give some thought to the matter, they can come up with effective ways to deter the LRA.

Pathetically, it’s unclear that the Kony 2012 activists are even concerned about deterring Kony and the LRA. They’re obviously unconcerned about deterring other, more serious threats to civil order in Africa (al Shabab comes immediately to mind; the boys are back in town, indeed). What the Kony 2012 movement aims to do is to have Joseph Kony arrested on an international warrant for war crimes. The goal isn’t to protect people from his predation, but to avenge them after they have already been raped, beaten, impressed into military service, tortured or killed. The only way to do this is apparently to retrieve Kony from one of several jungles where military and police resources have always been stretched extremely thin.

This would be an extremely stupid misallocation of capital, materiel and personnel. Not that the Stop Kony activists have given it any thought. These Westerners are ill-informed enough to claim that Kony is hiding out in Uganda, while in point of fact the LRA has been completely defeated in Uganda and driven into neighboring countries, most likely along with Kony. If Kony is still in Uganda, he is as much of a threat to his country as Saddam Hussein was to Iraq from his unlined hole in the ground.

The Stop Kony movement is all heart, no head. Its leaders have manipulated the public with heartrending stories of children impressed into military service and brutally hazed by a militia of psychopaths, even though these stories are old news, the militia in question has been very nearly destroyed as a fighting force, and there are much more serious, current threats in the region. The reactions elicited are every bit as irrational and misguided as the craziest sort of pro-life raving about babies in the womb. Both movements clearly have an amazing inability to prioritize, to conduct basic moral triage in order to determine how scarce human energy can be best used to make the world a better place. Both movements are also great platforms for unhinged or unscrupulous pitchmen to solicit funds.

Let’s keep in mind that the current US presidential administration has openly assassinated an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, without trial or even indictment, and that there has been almost no dissent from Congress or the press and little from the public. The state of civic literacy and engagement in the United States is extremely decrepit. Americans have been intellectually neutered by our political parties, both of which have metastasized and become scourges to the body politic. Hence there is almost no bipartisan coalition to preserve and defend the Constitution.

But Kony, now there’s a scourge on which we can all agree. Because we’d rather remove the speck from our neighbor’s eye than the plank from our own. If our “neighbor” lives halfway around the world and has much darker skin than our own, all the better. The White Man’s Burden lives.

Pity the children. They’re the ones who must inherit the civic decay that we leave behind.