Archives for category: The Old College Try

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.

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.

There will be no apologies whatsoever for my recourse to racially and sectorally inflammatory language. Unlike Paula Deen, I take ownership of my use of racial tropes. Also unlike Paula Deen, I use them to sharpen what I consider relevant points and send the weasels running for cover, or at worst to Godwinize the discourse for shits and giggles; I do not use them to inquire about where on earth all the good house niggers have gone, and then frantically offer abjectly disingenuous apologies when cornered by those who don’t care for that retrograde Savannah planter thang.

It’s relevant language even if I’ll be working with a bunch of Mexicans and for some other Mexicans. The lead manager who hired me yesterday, a white enough fellow himself, told me that most of the white people he hires don’t last very long in the vineyards, some of them not even an hour. He seems to share my confidence that I’m not that White, and that I have a pretty good idea of the working conditions since I’ve done the same kinds of work for Farmer Uncle and I know my way around wine grapes. What he has described sounds concerted but not grueling for someone in decent shape. Thankfully, the hours aren’t as long as I had feared.

This may be the most sensible hiring process I’ve ever encountered. I called the office yesterday afternoon and asked whether the company was still hiring, then swung by at the lead manager’s invitation for a spot interview and to complete my paperwork, and left with a job offer and contact information for the lead manager and the field manager he intended to have supervise me. The lead manager called me this afternoon to tell me that the work at the vineyard where he had planned to assign me had been suspended at the estate owner’s request on account of recent heavy rain, but that he could put me on the schedule for tomorrow morning at a different vineyard where the crew is short a few hands. I’ll be reporting to a grocery store parking lot in the underbelly of the Willamette Valley wine country at 6:15 am. As underbellies go, it isn’t a bad one, but it’s still seedy and downmarket compared to the places esteemed at Alma Mater, Tried and True. Noble I ain’t.

For a victim of long-term unemployment like me, this timeline is amazing. I had a firm job offer within about half an hour of first calling the lead manager. The interview lasted less than forty minutes, most of it devoted to completing paperwork, going over company policies, and discussing technical aspects of the work. If there was any bullshit, it was undetectable, and I have a sensitive, finely tuned bullshit detector. Barely 24 hours after receiving an offer, I was on the schedule with a reporting time thirteen hours hence. This means that I’ll be on the clock less than forty hours after first contact with my new employer. There have been some glitches and eleventh-hour schedule changes in the midst of all this, but they’ve been sorted out more quickly and painlessly than many HR managers can reorient themselves for their next round of bullshit artistry. It’s refreshing to deal with someone who doesn’t get terribly hung up on mistakes but also promptly admits to and corrects them.

I’ve dealt with the opposite extreme, the kind of people who ostentatiously apologize for yawning or calling me “ma’am” because I had knocked softly but who are thoroughly nasty fuckers in every meaningful regard. In her defense, the latter lady may have been a bit mentally unstable. She sent out office-wide e-mails at all hours of the day and night, terrorized all but one of my (weirder) colleagues, and she once made unfulfillable offers to a client in a state of delirium after having pretended to work for 36 hours straight and then driven two hours to a site visit. She was also morbidly obese, with a secret stash of candy that she hid under a bunch of papers. A merely chubby colleague of hers had a hearty candy stash of his own, but he openly pulled M&M’s from a drawer and chain-popped them in front of me when he got stressed. That kind of thing passes for living in truth in the corporate workplace.

I need to be up and out six hours from now. We’ll see how it goes.

We’ll also see how it goes for Paula Deen as she tries to reassure everyone that, now, now, honey, I’m not a racist, y’all.

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.

Facebook made me physically ill tonight. To hew to accuracy at the expense of truth, a round of interpersonal drama facilitated by and conducted over Facebook made me ill. Happily, this means that I am not currently a victim of Mark Zuckerberg’s free agency, which is a great way of staying on the sunny side of life, as they taught us in Boy Scouts, and studiously forgetting that the other party to this pathetic drama is a woman whom I hold in ever so much higher esteem than that smirking babyfaced twit.

The scenario here is horseshit worthy of the most banal, navelgazing teen emo blogs: she accepted my friend request, I made a somewhat edgy comment on one of her photos, I may have put her off further with some of the material that I had posted on my own wall, and she defriended me. The whole sequence played out within about 48 hours.

It’s absurd that I got worked up over it. It’s also absurd that it took place between a thirty-year-old man and a woman in her late twenties. But isn’t the only factor that makes this donnybrook surprising. My erstwhile Facebook friend, Lady Huntington, is by all other appearances quite levelheaded and mature. She seems to burn at a pretty hot temperature, but I’ve never taken her to be flighty, impulsive and dramatic like Sweet Thang and some of the latter’s friends. I guess I missed some signs to the contrary. Admittedly, I base this assessment on the one and only time that I met Lady Huntington and a smattering of her Facebook posts that I saw, but I think I got a fairly accurate impression of her. Some people’s personalities really come through in their portraits and writing; she seems to be one of them.

The big wrench in the works is that Lady Huntington is one of Baywatch’s friends. I met her at a birthday party of Baywatch’s that I more or less crashed. Facebook played a role in the miscommunication that time, too, basically serving as a platform for Baywatch to be coy about who was actually invited. The truth, though, is that I have been far too clingy around Baywatch and her crew down south. My feelings about Baywatch and her friends are far too entangled in my feelings for coastal Southern California, where I was first seriously tempted to relocate in 2006, more than three years before I first met Baywatch. Lord Lochforrest had an even more sporadic role in my life at that time than he does now, and since our common grandmother (biological for him, honorary for me) died I’ve had practically no relationship with her other surviving relatives. As I got to know Baywatch, then, I made the mistake of sincerely hoping that she would be the lynch pin that would make everything fall into place for me socially down south. For a month or two she was starting to do that for me in Arcata, so this wasn’t a completely ridiculous pipe dream. The big problem was that I just couldn’t keep my shit together. I was a hot mess. And I’m not kidding at all when I say that Baywatch has approached me with far more graciousness and constancy than I expected or can reasonably expect. Even a tiny bit of grace can make a huge difference when it’s genuine.

Still, my social situation can look tragic. I probably wouldn’t be such a clingy wreck around Baywatch if I hadn’t had such a hard time living on my own in Philadelphia after college. The loneliness got overwhelming a number of times, and that was with Junior Bear and his crowd maintaining bases in Horsham, Olney and Manayunk; my apartment was a few blocks from Market East, a rail hub with direct connections to all three. Lord Wallingford, a friend of mine in the District of Columbia who seems to handle solitude much better than I do and has a fairly consistent social life at work with some of his colleagues, has told me that he wishes he had more companionship. He lives alone in a studio apartment, much like I did in Philly, although even when he had roommates at his previous apartment, none of them seemed to be close to one another. The roommate situation with which I was most familiar in Philadelphia was a hell-on-wheels clique that split a rented Victorian in Manayunk. This place was one of the main crash pads for me, Junior Bear and our extended crew for a few years, and it could be a nightmare. We regularly had to deal with one of the housemates, Prefontaine, getting shitfaced, paranoid and semiambulatory; he often came home with unexplained bruises, and he needed $3k in dental work after faceplanting on the R6 tracks. He and regular houseguest Herb Hancock were both known to piss on the couches, and another housemate, Bulldog, was a weird abrasive who, I’ve been told, has mellowed out and matured beyond belief in the past couple of years. Junior Bear’s best friend told me that he declined an invitation to fill a vacancy at the Manayunk crash pad and continued living at home instead because it was simply too unhealthy an environment.

I was never as alone in Ashland as I was in Philadelphia, but in a way my living situations, first with Farmer Uncle and Stoner Aunt and then around various losers at the farm, were just more insipid variations on the horseshit that I witnessed in Manayunk. These were de facto roommate arrangements from hell; I got the same hideous drama that I would have expected from strangers on Craigslist, but without the explicit recognition of the nature of the arrangement. This delayed my recognition of what exactly was wrong with the arrangement. My default gloss was run-of-the-mill family trouble, when really Farmer Uncle pulled a lot of the same shit that unnerves people on Craigslist: butting into my business, bumming rides and groceries off of me with a studied and very forced coolness, being a slob with atrocious table manners, having petty shouting matches with his wife over trivialities all the time.

The sick irony is that I have a sizable social network in place in Ashland. This would be a huge help if it weren’t comprised overwhelmingly of assholes, earnest dipshits, and those beholden to either or both. It was a fool’s errand for me to try to reframe my reasons for being in Ashland, or for doing anything else. Believe me, I tried, but Farmer and Stoner kept hosing everyone down with more self-serving bullshit whenever I tried to correct the record; I was shoveling the Augean Stables. If I wanted to be my own person in Ashland, I would have to shut out almost everyone I know there and hope that my social circles don’t come to include people who know Farmer or Stoner, both of them quite well-known and popular in town. I have neither the energy nor the skill to adequately counteract the barrage of fabrications, presumptions, half-truths and lies that Farmer and Stoner unleash on all who are within earshot. I can’t deal with that place. It’s bad juju land.

Plus there’s Farmer Uncle’s disinhibited behavior. I consulted Lord Wallingford about it since he’s an attorney, and he said that Farmer is clearly off his goddamn rocker. As he put it with respect to Farmer’s drinking behind the wheel and defying my parents’ wish that he stop, “he obviously isn’t playing with a full deck.” That was my thought, too, but my parents seemingly can’t bring themselves to admit that this country drunk shtick is not the behavior of a person of fundamentally sound mind and good morals. My mom even brought up Rashomon as an analogy to explain how different people come to different conclusions about the same event, i.e., for why other people might not regard Farmer and Stoner as malicious yahoos. So here I am, one of the assigned family fuck-ups, forced to stand up to my parents and tell them that I’ve seen what I’ve seen, that they haven’t seen all of it, and that I’m in the right and they’re in the wrong. Besides, how the hell does one conclude that playing alcoholic’s chicken with the Oregon State Police and then defying one’s older brother-cum-major creditor when asked to stop is not completely out of control? By what reasoning is such a self-righteous ass held to be misunderstood and deserving of unending forbearance?

This stuff affects me. Even when I don’t dwell on it, it’s in the back of my mind. We have a family reunion coming up this summer, and Alien and Caretaker Aunts are planning to attend. I’d like to see both of them, but things are obviously really touchy with Farmer and Stoner, and I’m at a loss to keep them from lighting the powder keg in the interest of airing and assuaging their own butthurt. I’m not likely to lay a finger on the tar baby at the reunion, since I’m very conflict-averse, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll do likewise in consideration of the small mercies that they receive from me. Then there’s Farmer Uncle’s entanglement in my professional life, which he so poisoned by injecting extraneous family drama; even so, I still need him as a reference since he’s my prior employer.  Seeing how all this shit has affected my psyche and my relationship with my parents, I can’t imagine that it doesn’t also affect relationships with my friends.

One of the things that I end up doing is venting about this drama on Facebook. I’m careful about the privacy settings, but apparently not careful enough, since I seem to have alienated several people, including formerly close friends, to the point of their defriending me because they didn’t care for my negativity. That’s the most plausible inference I can make, in any event. It’s a really disconcerting situation. Why, I wonder, would people get in touch with others on Facebook if they do not want to hear about what’s on their minds? The very platform is notorious as a den of oversharing; that risk is known. It’s an inherent problem for anyone who doesn’t severely self-censor, because it’s impossible to keep track of dozens, let alone hundreds or thousands, of acquaintances’ tastes and interests for the purpose of not offending them in public or semi-public posts.

I recall twice removing people as friends because their posts were annoying me. Both of these guys were absolute bozos. One of them was a townie in Eureka who followed up a lengthy (and entirely cordial) conversation with me in a cafe by cornering me to accept him as a friend, which resulted in my feed being cluttered with a barrage of bizarre show business video links. The other guy was a very casual acquaintance from college, so casual that I cannot recall ever having a one-on-one conversation with him that lasted more than a few seconds, who cluttered my feed with endless treacly left-wing sociopolitical nonsense: Barack Obama and Anthony Weiner working miracles A, B and C for constituencies X, Y, and Z, ten great things that charities have done for America since breakfast yesterday morning, that kind of thing. He has at least twice sent me follow-up friend requests in the course of his exile, one of which I rejected and one of which I ignored. I feel bad about snubbing him in this fashion and maybe having hurt his feelings, but I just can’t countenance all the do-gooder partisan brain rot with which he bombards his electronic acquaintances.

For a few minutes this evening, I thought that the Facebook model of communication was evil and dangerous. Then I realized that it’s really just powerful. Its capacity to facilitate friendships and correspondence is amplified by its technology, but so is its capacity to fuck relationships up. The good news is that it’s everything rolled up into one: post office, photo album, Western Union office, phone book, diary, church bulletin, you name it. But that’s also the bad news. The other bad news is that the technology itself is TMI. In the old days, if one’s friend was too offended or whacked out to respond to a letter, one might have assumed that the friend’s letter carrier was one of those frazzled head cases who hoarded undelivered mail in his attic. There was enough ambiguity and a high enough error rate in the delivery system itself to give the petty bastard of a recipient the benefit of the doubt. The same thing is true even of e-mail.

Facebook offers too much reliability, precision and raw data to let the inquisitive user harbor such illusions. You wanna know what happened? Well, you know what happened now, motherfucker. In terms of knowledge, it can elevate us towards the level of gods. The problem is that with that knowledge comes pain. Jesus of Nazareth, for example, is said to have understood the full pathos of humanity, certainly to have known a lot more about it than your or I. This may not be a level of understanding that we wish to have.

Another bundling problem with Facebook is that it aggregates everybody into one place to hear everything from everyone else. Some people, especially older traditionalists, would no sooner share their personal thoughts on such a public platform than they would drop trou and shit in the town square on market day. The more historically minded among them may consider Facebook’s social dynamics a techie version of the old village idiocy, smothering gossip and all.

There certainly seems to be a weird self-promotional culture that has taken root on Facebook. I didn’t notice it for the first few years that I was a member, starting in 2004, but these days I notice it more and more. It’s probably part and parcel of assuming that everyone is in the audience all the time, since one can’t ignore one’s brand in such conditions, lest it be tarnished. Instead of serving as a platform for real engagement, it has become for many users a platform for mindless mutual flattery. Time and time again I see thoughtful, even witty posts getting either no feedback (including likes) or a tiny fraction of the feedback received by self-congratulatory banalities; self-righteous complaints usually fall somewhere in the middle for outward audience engagement. A lot of this stuff is amazingly anodyne, and much of it comes from people I recall being sharper and more thoughtful in college. I can’t help but wonder whether some of these people are tailoring their posts (subconsciously, I would think) to elicit positive feedback from the peanut gallery. But hey, if you announce your engagement to your paranoid, possessive schmuck of a boyfriend, you’ll get mad congrats from your peeps, except for the friend and sometime date you started shutting out for months at a time upon taking up with handsome.

Used thoughtlessly, this sort of technology can really fuck up relationships; been there, done that. But as I mentioned above, the thing to keep in mind is that it’s powerful. Similar things have been said about new technologies going back millennia: this blog shit is making everyone self-absorbed and arrogant; computers are turning our children into recluses; television is turning our children into recluses; these telephones and automobiles are corrupting our daughters; the Gutenberg press is of the devil; nobody can fucking remember the campfire stories now that we’ve got this writing bullshit; nah, man, you’ll kill yourself if you try to use fire. These are tools that can be very useful. The main thing to do is to have some sense when using them, and maybe step out of the press room and away from the fire pit from time to time to deal with real people in the real world.

In the interest of SEO sleaze artistry, I am compelled to reprint the following request for advice from a hypothetical reader:

“Should I pledge a sorority? I’m interested in the opportunities that Greek life provides to develop leadership skills and make personal and professional connections that will last a lifetime, but I’ve also heard that sorority girls have a reputation for being catty and mean, and I’ve heard that some of them have really crazy mental issues. Word on the street is that the technical term is ‘cray-cray stuck-up bitches.’ What should I do?”

That’s a good question, if I do say so myself. Instead of offering my own advice, however, I’ll start by offering some noteworthy advice recently provided by an officer of the Delta Gamma sorority chapter at the University of Maryland, College Park:

“I will fucking cunt punt the next person I hear about doing something like that, and I don’t give a fuck if you SOR me, I WILL FUCKING ASSAULT YOU.”

You go, girl! Terp the derp!

To be perfectly clear, that last quotation is not one that I made up. There are some nuances of punctuation that I’m too sloppy to consistently obey, but in this instance I would have been torn between the orthographic clarity of hyphenation (“cunt-punt”) and the smooth stylistic eloquence of non-hyphenation (“cuntpunt”). Speaking of other nuances, I have never explicitly threatened to use premeditated assault of my subordinates as a punishment for social deficiencies that I find annoying. But I know, that’s LITERALLY just me. Duh!

The comment thread for the Gawker article is, to use the term in the sense of the old Chinese blessing, interesting. To be fair, a great many of the comments, maybe even a majority, are from sane, decent people, many of whom are also excellent writers with highly pertinent perspectives or tales of their own. The problem is with the remainder, much of which is comprised of some combination of servile, brownnosing supplication to the ostentatiously belligerent and rank asshattery. A disturbing number of commentators in this group praised the author of the e-mail for her leadership. Thankfully, others stepped in and called foul, trying to impress upon them that leaders who behave that way provoke workplace mutinies; I put in my two cents’ worth to this effect by comparing this lady to the tyrannical managers who fall victim to workplace massacres and the military officers who got fragged in Vietnam. The problem (a scary one on close examination) is convincing people that abrasive imperiousness is reckless leadership at a time when Donald Trump has been so successfully promoted as the epitome of managerial excellence. Keep in mind that the Donald is widely regarded by forensic accountants who’ve reviewed what they can of his books as an insolvent serial fuck-up who covers for his uselessness by using his outward appearance of wealth to hustle for free stuff. If we look too closely, then, we see that this article on a two-bit sorority nutcase of no previous notoriety is actually a very disturbing indictment of American corporate management and popular culture. Read it and weep.

This, America, is what’s wrong with Greek life. This case is ad absurdum, to be sure, but that’s all; the underlying nature of the misbehavior is replicated in countless sororities and, with a bit more douchebro swagger, fraternities. Verbal abuse, sexual abuse, forced drinking, corporal punishment, endangerment of pledges on highways and precipices, and rape are all committed with the complicity or encouragement of Greek organizations too often to be regarded as aberrations. Here and there one finds good chapters that should be preserved, perhaps even whole organizations that are good, but most of them are run by shitheads, and quite a few, most of them fraternities, are criminal organizations that should be prosecuted and disbanded under RICO.

Cults suck, kids. Don’t join one. There are other ways to make friends and get laid. While you’re at it, consider being cautious around the religious organizations, too. Don’t be afraid to tell their pushier members that you’re too busy chasing tail to come to small group (here’s looking at you, Intervarsity). Figure out who the sluts are, and approach them not out of concern about their sexual immorality, but out of a subtly craven spirit of egalitarian friendship. Seriously, I only wish I were kidding. I made the mistakes of not doing as I currently advise.

There are a lot of people enrolled on the baccalaureate track who want to waste your time: sectarian cult buggers, Greek ratfuckers, socially climbing cutthroats in student government, straight-up freaky-ass nerds in student government and debating clubs, another two factions of sectarian cult buggers in my case, ad nauseam. You don’t owe any of them your time. If they get rude in their efforts to let you have their way, you have no obligation to be reticent about putting them in their place. There are social conventions against telling them that you resent their efforts to keep you from the library and the cute chick that you’ve been trying to game there, but these conventions are bullshit ones that serve to embolden the officious.

Perhaps you matriculate with a history of regular participation in the Boy Scouts of America. If so, God help you. God help us all, on our honor, all of us, we who be loyal Scouts. Spending one’s free time with other weird boys didn’t do a hell of a lot of good, now, did it? It’s great training for incels, to be sure. To get to understand chicks, damned if you don’t have to hang out with chicks. So if you still have time to get your ass into an Explorer troop, do so. Them thar’s co-ed, now. Even if it’s an Explorer troop devoted to the exploration of careers on the production line at the local wire factory, if there’s ladies present, get your own ass equally present forthwith. Better are the police, correctional and Customs Explorer troops, since they may have hella hot adult leaders who are interested in demonstrating upon your person the body search methods that they use on detainees, albeit in a much more consensual manner than they or their peers in Greek life use on the vulnerable. Speaking of the Greek lifestyle, if you really can’t resist it, please be sure to have some lube and rubbers handy, and to move your bowels beforehand if you’re the recipient.

Is that gross? Here’s another idea: Future Farmers of America is a wholesome coeducational organization that may be a better fit than scouting for the socially retarded young person. (It isn’t just boys who can be socially stunted, mind you; you should have seen my main suitor in college.) FFA participants who raise livestock are afforded the opportunity to learn valuable anatomical and physiological lessons that they can later apply to their peers.

Eww. But I assure you that worse has been said about farm animals and those who care for them; I’ve heard it with my own ears. It is fitting, then, as she and he both said, that I’m currently in Da-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-vis. To be more pertinent, though, if farm girls are your thing, try to find ones who don’t get too worked up at Creation. Same thing goes if you’re on the manhunt for the near term. The zealots have to be crazy good in the sack to make up for the subsequent drama when they get convicted by some milquetoast circuit-riding dweeb about the dangers of sexual immorality.

Come to think of it, it’s a funny thing that we Americans pride ourselves so on our independence. It seems that one doesn’t find Germans or Swiss so reflexively seeking permission from community representatives to fuck others, as such a question would be regarded as hopelessly uncouth, and it seems that Germans in particular are hesitant to submit to the diktats of power-hungry tyrants with delusions of grandeur, as that sort of capitulation is regarded as rather historically ignorant.

Rebecca, if you’re gonna cunt-punt me, fucking cunt-punt me to Munich. Bitch, please. Or to Geneva. My French is better anyway, and in a spirit of penal leniency that would LITERALLY deflate Chris Hansen’s penis, the age of consent there is sweet sixteen.

Murica.