Archives for category: Radix Malorum

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.

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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.

Damn. Sesame Street turns out to be relevant to my life after all. I never imagined such a thing.

As far as I’m concerned, Mr. Rogers was the only person who ever had a calling to children’s television. Not coincidentally, he was one of the few children’s television personalities not to be insufferably condescending and annoying to adults, a virtue that made him tolerable for precocious children in his audience, too. In retiring, and shortly thereafter dying of cancer at a sadly young age, he made room in children’s broadcasting for an unconscionable parade of fuckheads, notably including Lamb Chop, Dora, and, forgive me for uttering the name, Barney.

One thing I’ll say for Sesame Street is that it was all right. It was overrated, but for the most part it was tolerable enough. Shrill elements on the right have complained that it unduly romanticizes city life and propagandizes youngsters against the virtues of the suburbs. Well fuck me. If the cities are in fact nothing but crackhead murders and postindustrial decay, the kiddos will become aware of this by the time they’re old enough to get their own apartments. This is why it’s hard to find a honky in Camden who isn’t a junkie. As one of the locals put it, prior to the heroin epidemic there “wasn’t no white people up in this motherfucker.”  And it’s a pretty embarrassing kind of cracker that the Walter Rand Transportation Center has been catching of late. With a crowd like that, I can forgive dude for being prejudiced, but he probably already knows that Camden attracts Whitey’s most fucked up constituents and wouldn’t take me, in my Dockers and aloha shirts, for being one of them.

Shriller elements, harder to the right, have accused Sesame Street of unduly romanticizing race relations and the intrinsic nature of black people, i.e., by suggesting that they can be trusted as neighbors. Oh dear. This is where the critique goes from Joel Kotkin having a bad day and accusing the urbanist crowd of desecrating the memory of his grandmother’s hard-knocks life in the Brooklyn tenements to intractable bigots donning bedsheets and cruising the Home Depot for rope. Again, by the time the kids are old enough to get their own apartments, they’ll be able to suss out whether the black people in their prospective neighborhoods are pretty much upstanding or harbor enough violent antisocial elements to scare a cracker into staying out of Dodge. This assumes that the kids have developed some street smarts and social skills along the way, which is a bit of a stretch in times as aggressively cocooned as ours, but is still a worthwhile baseline standard. If you raised children who are too hapless to do this, I can’t help you. I write this as someone who got polar-beared in Black Kensington during an overly sanguine Sunday night bike ride through the Badlands; I’m not naive about the intractable criminality of the black underclass. But yes, I’m sure that children will reflexively disregard anything they see on the streets with their own lying eyes that contradicts what they were taught in a television series about an eight-foot-tall version of the La Choy bird mascot carrying on full English-language conversations with a wooly mammoth.

It’s worth dwelling on the truth that many on the right wing in the United States have highly developed, florid persecution complexes. They live in a country with stratospheric black incarceration rates, often for minor drug offenses; multiple state and federal policies subsidizing rural and suburban areas at the expense of core cities; related federal policies subsidizing the most wacked-out, intransigent corners of the cracker range (think the Bundy “Ranch”) at the expense of calmer, more civic-minded, per capita and per acre more productive agricultural areas whose residents and politicians aren’t quite so shrill; unaddressed local structural racism enshrined in municipal charters, most notoriously in St. Louis County, where the Michael Brown shooting was really just the last straw in a campaign of municipal tax farming; and a number of extremely influential Christian lobbies with their own nationally syndicated publishing and broadcasting arms. In this context, Sesame Street looks less like a serious propaganda campaign than an artistic ghetto, albeit a comfortable one, to which the leftist troublemakers have been remanded so that they’ll stay out of Congress. Right-wingers scream bloody murder about how these left-leaning shows get federal funding through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, and so on, without explaining how this funding comes close to counterbalancing, let alone negating, the effects of the mortgage interest deduction, pro forma appropriation renewals for the military-industrial-prison complex, the Defense of Marriage Act, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, generous subsidies to ungrateful latter-day Whiskey Rebellion tax cheats, the CBN/TBN/K-Love/Eagle Forum/Concerned Women for America/Focus on the Family nexus, or the refusal of higher-level governments to rein in postage-stamp rotten boroughs. They don’t explain any of this because they can’t. To do so, they’d have to admit that they have real power and agency in all levels of government and across much of civil society, and they don’t want to concede that they aren’t just a bunch of victims.

These same factions shit a brick over liberal Hollywood elites propagandizing the mass man (or, if you wish, the mass woman) through bullshit blue-pill dramas like Sex and the City and Girls. One gloss I’ve seen for youngsters’ enthusiasm for city life is that they want to ape Carrie Bradshaw and company. Perhaps in Soviet America, hologram lives in YOU! I’ve never cared for the shallow message of Sex and the City, which I find corrosive, but again, there’s a lot more countervailing propaganda than the tradcons and the truly shitheaded right-wing concern trolls will admit. It’s no less effective for coming out of Colorado Springs rather than Hollywood, and its power is buttressed by the authoritarian tendencies of its audience, e.g., parents who will never let the car radio dial deviate from K-Love, no matter how deeply the music is pulled into a black hole of suck. Both sides of this culture war are playing dirty.

By prevailing industry standards, then, Sesame Street is pretty damned honest. To understand this, think for a moment about Oscar the Grouch. Imagine living in a nice brownstone neighborhood, maybe on the Upper West Side (the Upper East Side seems awfully high-hat for the ethos of Children’s Television Workshop), and suddenly some filthy motherfucker pops up out of a garbage can in front of your house, belligerently accosting passersby before dropping back under the lid. As a television contrivance, it’s pretty entertaining, but this is precisely because it’s freaky as shit. It would probably get tiresome in real life.

The creators of Sesame Street worked in New York City during some pretty rough stretches, including municipal insolvency and the crack epidemic. It isn’t hard to see what inspired Oscar as a character. New York is crawling with disheveled bums. It has always had an intractable homelessness problem. Does Oscar romanticize the homeless? Not by much. He’s a pretty accurate sketch of a Manhattan ventilation grate wino: not likely to assault a passerby, but very likely to scream obscenities at him. Oscar is exactly the Muppet one would expect to pop out of a doorway and shout, “Oh, for God’s sake, give me a fucking quarter, you dirty bastard! Give me some fucking bus fare! I have meeting uptown tonight! Jesus Christ, you cheap Jew!” Oscar can’t be so forward on TV, pursuant to the FCC’s glorious buzzkilling obscenity regulations, but it would be in character.

This isn’t the kind of language one hears from Mr. Snuffleupagus.

Oscar the Grouch comes to mind today because, I shit ye not, Farmer Uncle has been allowing a homeless dry drunk with apparent major mental illness to live in the farm bathroom. For real. I came in this morning to take a shower, having slept in my car at the Talent rest area last night, and Bad News Bubba was sleeping on an old van bench next to the bathtub. I didn’t even see him at first, so I was startled when he stirred while I was trying to calm down his dog. Under his blanket he looked like just another pile of barnyard junk.

The dog. Fuckin’ A. At least he isn’t using her as a prop, which is a great credit to him relative to all the trustfunder twatwaffles who use mangy pit bull mixes, or occasionally Labs, to guilt the productive into supporting their panhandling habits. A pit bull-Rottweiler mix, she’s actually a really sweet dog when she isn’t in guard mode, and she didn’t get rough with me today. But she isn’t the problem per se. The problem is that her owners have left her under Bad News Bubba’s long-term boarding care, and Farmer Uncle is allowing it. He’s had to remind Bad News Bubba to keep her out of the winery rooms, but he’s letting her stay. This arrangement may last for a year and a half; her owners are, respectively, on military deployment for that duration and nursing an infant. Bad News Bubba is their casual, off-the-books employee. And now he’s boarding their dog at a property where he’s been mostly getting in the way for almost two years. The Kids are gone, and the Vegetable Man isn’t around much, so Bad News Bubba is his greatest legacy. He’s the same one who broke a five-gallon carboy of pinot noir during a bottling run after spending half an hour telling a drunken tale about how he and a “derelict bum” (it takes one to know one) had been yelling at each other at the gas station about who was responsible for that bum’s fucking dog fucking eating Bad News Bubba’s fucking rotisserie chicken.

Bad News Bubba has lately invited another buddy, whom we’ll call Mr. Crapper, to build a new outhouse at the farm. Mr. Crapper is barely any more coherent than Bad News Bubba; neither of them can follow his own train of thought like a normal person. What the farm needs is a fucking flush toilet, but what it needs is not necessarily, or probably, what it will get. This also applies to financial solvency. Over the summer one of the neighborhood al fresco alkies wandered in late at night and stole two bottles of merlot. Bad News Bubba told me that he had talked to one of the neighborhood enforcers about the burglary, and that the enforcer said he had immediately ordered the burglar to leave town upon discovering the stolen wine. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the farm hasn’t developed, or won’t soon develop, a local reputation among the down-and-out alcoholics as a soft target full of Wow Much Wines. And it doesn’t mean that I’m not invested in this shit to the tune of $15k.

I’ll say, Mr. Rogers, it is indeed a beautiful fucking day in the neighborhood.

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.

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.

There are times when I wonder whether maybe I shouldn’t be so cynical about Alma Mater and so disgusted with the poor moral character of its graduates. It’s academics are excellent on the whole, the exceptions being too exceptional to hold against the rest of the institution, and most of the faculty I knew were not only excellent instructors but also good people. I didn’t leave in touch with as many close friends as I had hoped to keep, but I’ve stayed in touch with several over the past seven years and hung out with quite a few others at reunions.

Then I hear from people like Junior Bear and his closest college friend (and principal at our lunch table), the Younger Third Lord Blair, and my cynicism and disgust are renewed. I get the feeling that both of these guys regard me as something of a class traitor. All three of us come from haut bourgeois families, but Lord Blair likes to be unabashedly arrogant and condescending in a vaguely British way, Junior Bear is a hideous social climber, and I have never hid my egalitarian principles and tastes or my vehement distaste for their airs of superiority. The Younger Third Lord Blair is a scion of one of Altoona’s most prominent families, and I’ve spent enough time around him, his older brother and his parents to know that they are all highbrow but powerful local color.

Consider this conversation between the Second Lord Blair and a presumably more downmarket Altoonan wearing a Nazi military uniform:

2LB: “Are you Dwight Eisenhower?”

Nazi: “No. I’m a Nazi.”

2LB: “Just thought I’d check, since you’re wearing that uniform.”

Nazi: “No, it’s a Nazi uniform. I’m a Nazi.”

The problem is that 2LB and Y3LB approach practically their whole social life this way. They don’t just use this kind of edgy sarcasm with people who are genuinely their equals or with goosestepping Appalachian bigots, but also with people who are more or less decent but happen to be their socioeconomic inferiors. This is how the Younger Third Lord Blair ends up making fun of me for being unemployed or for applying for fry cook positions. The last couple rounds of this shit didn’t rile me up, and I was able to get sufficiently out of body to somewhat appreciate the humor, but it’s still fundamentally an abrasive, inappropriate and dangerous way of relating to others. Y3LB took apparently took a much less aggressive but still condescending approach to his main college girlfriend and her parents, alienating them to a great extent by so doing. Junior Bear, for his part, seems constitutionally incapable of not being an egregious dipshit about the socioeconomic gaps between him and his girlfriends. Sometimes these gaps even exist.

Even when I keep calm and carry on with no difficulty in the face of this condescension, it makes me wonder why the hell I went to a college that is so infested with socially climbing shits. The appreciably marketable skills that I gained in college were taught, fairly haphazardly for the most part, in geology courses that could have been fit into a single semester. I was a good writer when I matriculated, but my organizational skills were atrocious, combining with my poor time management, propensity to social drama and recurrent manic depression to result in a shitload of late and mostly mediocre research papers. (If they were better than my classmates’, it was because the writing, research and organizational skills of my classmates verged on the witless. Even at prestigious schools, this is a lot more common than one would hope.) It’s very simple: Alma Mater did not teach me how to write; I taught myself. Therefore, for Alma Mater, its boosters or its officers (here’s looking at you, Billy Fish) to even insinuate that it taught me to write better than I would have been taught at a less prestigious school would be a fraud.

But I shouldn’t use the subjunctive. That very sort of fraud is a staple of Alma Mater’s promotional literature for prospective students and its calls for alms from the alumni. I don’t know if the alumni Alma Mater gets to provide glowing statements about the wonderful versatile skills they got from their liberal arts education believe what they’re saying, or even understand what they’re saying. If they’re making shit up, or even if they’re dense enough to believe themselves, they should be paid for their efforts, as mercenaries customarily are, but I doubt they receive their due wages. In my view, paying the peons enlisted in one’s racket is a mitigating factor in defense of one’s racketeering, but if anything, Alma Mater probably got them to make charitable deductions to their employer in exchange for their temp work. As I’ve discussed at length before, these people don’t even know how to demand an appropriate cut from the ward bosses when they engage in graft. I’d find them at least marginally more respectable if I knew that they were being honestly corrupt and showing enough self-respect to demand payment for their marketeering; that would indicate that their liberal arts education taught them how to recognize the world of graft, engage it (tee-hee), and live in truth.

Alma Mater, however, is not about living in truth. It’s generally all right at the departmental level, but at the institutional level, it’s an entire college that is less culturally Catholic than Dennis Lynn Rader. If our boy Denny can admit that, yeah, he tortured and killed some people because that was how Bill Thomas Killman rolled, the Alma Mater alumni community should be able to admit that, yeah, it’s a bunch of socially climbing hustlers out to high-hat America for a living and for the lulz. He’s a fucking serial murderer, for God’s sake. We are but posh thieves with habits of condescension towards our socioeconomic inferiors. Why the hell are we less introspective than a guy who tied himself up in his basement and took bondage selfies?

Networking with these people would involve being sociable with them. I used to attend alumni events more often, but I got tired of making small talk with the kind of people who usually show up. A fair number of them are just vile. If I really wanted to mix it up with ill-mannered people of low moral character, I’d probably go back to school for an MSW and start ministering to Sacramento’s wiggers. That way I’d get paid for telling pants-on-the-ground losers that they probably shouldn’t let their seven-year-olds play first-person-shooter computer games, instead of not being paid to refrain from encouraging stuck-up bitches to either come across some noblesse oblige or go fuck themselves. Alma Mater will be just as irrelevant to any social work training I pursue as it has been to my unpaid employment as a vineyard and winery apprentice.

That’s the other thing. Until recently I was working as the de facto assistant manager of an integrated agricultural and food processing operation. That may sound pompous, but it’s exactly what I was. It had absolutely nothing to do with my having graduated from Alma Mater, of course, and Billy Fish is cordially invited to suck on it if he thinks otherwise. Junior Bear’s reaction all along to my employment in that capacity has been that I was wasting my life on stoop labor, and I’ve known all along that this assessment was misguided. The reasons I left the farm had almost nothing to do with the work and everything to do with completely extraneous bullshit. I kept trying to do something professionally and socially worthwhile with my life until Farmer Uncle and his idiotic hangers-on made it practically impossible, and that’s why I’m applying for these less skilled, truly menial jobs in SoCal, just to get going again in the interim. It’s not as if I’ve been a career fry cook since college. Junior Bear, meanwhile, works as a life insurance salesman in an office where some of the other salesmen have no college education. His line of work amounts to bugging friends, relatives and acquaintances, some of them from his family’s church, to buy insurance and financial products that they don’t really want. His summer job in college, as a pool manager for a number of apartment complexes, was of more value to society than what he’s doing now, but of much less value than what I’ve spent most of my career, if it can be called that, doing for free. It would make some sense if the people bugging me for being a disappointment to Alma Mater were engineers or physicians, but they aren’t. They objectively have less useful training and fewer useful skills than I’ve acquired working seasonally at a very badly run hippie farm.

But maybe they have intellectual interests and accomplishments to offset their being useless eaters in the workplace? Nope. Not the ones who give me shit for being a loser, in any event. It’s amazing when I stop to think about it, but Junior Bear, the Younger Third Lord Blair, and most of their friends have almost nothing to say about classes that they took at Alma Mater. Their comments are consistently vague ones about how wonderful Alma Mater is, how important it is to their identity, that kind of thing. Or, as Junior Bear once put it, “I never thought of the library in terms of books.”

At least Rod Blagojevich has the honor to refer to the objects of his crass interest as “fucking golden.” That’s another chap who lives in truth, and in a nicer big house with a much better view of the Front Range than our boy Bob. Indeed, they don’t know how lucky they are, boy, back in the USSR, because ADX Florence is a super special place in a way that the Soviets never figured out. I reckon Blago would give me a squarer deal on the graft than Alma Mater or its alumni boosters, and with a much more noticeable intellectual flourish. Dude knows his Shakespeare, and he’s been reading up on the presidents lately. He has time, you know.

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.