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The Remains of a California Day

Yesterday I think I understood why California is in deep trouble. Let me walk you through another day out here.

At 7AM I put a few letters in my armored, heavy-duty steel rural mailbox. Four thefts of mail in the last five years have meant my grandfather’s old light gauge unlocked box gave way to a quite impressive, smart-looking sort of locked safe -- the armor is a tasteful forest green.

(Ah, you, say, "Well, what would they want with bills and such?" Answer: "they" take a check you wrote to the power company, copy its template, take the router and serial numbers, make new checks with their name on it, and start cashing them at rural groceries. You only learn this when the canceled checks appear on your online banking: perfect replicas except the name at the upper left is some one else's, the numbers on the lower left unfortunately yours. This too has happened to me on occasion.)

So I bought this armored box after seeing a YouTube ad in which it withstood a barrage from an AK47-like rifle -- just what I need in rural Selma. (I understand to suggest that isolated rural mail theft is ipso facto a sign of anything worrisome is methodologically unsound.)

Anyway, back to the roadside: suddenly a car whizzed by the farm when I was putting the red flag up. Out came a huge plastic trash bag of wet garbage, littering the road and bouncing into the vineyard row — bottles, cans, letters, paper, and plastic diapers.

Was it just a coincidence — or a sign of defiance, since the usual trash throwers (e.g., sofas, beds, strollers, even a dead animal now and then) are nocturnal and discreet? The theory is that the tosser saves money by I suppose living in a garage somewhere without paid garbage collection, and sees that most pick up trash, so that those who throw it can't quite ruin the roadsides as is true elsewhere. This is an age-old truism: The miscreant escapes notice to the degree that there are few miscreants. When too many toss their garbage, then the environment is no longer so conducive to garbage tossing (the one 90  mph driver on the freeway gets away without killing himself or too many others because the others drive 65 mph).

I walked over to pick it up, but the raw food and mess convinced me to wait a few hours until it dried out. I will retrieve it tomorrow when the rain dries up, I promise.

Such unattended trash invites more, and is a health hazard. That the local ravens and blackbirds are feasting on it, is no reason not to pick it up. (No, one does not call the sheriff, the state EPA, or any agency for such incidents, even when the addresses of the bills of the tosser are quite often [I'll see tomorrow] found in the rubbish — been there, done that, no results.) (Yes, critics, I agree that anecdotal evidence like this means nothing much.)

At noon, I drove into the local warehouse supermarket. When I checked out (and I had written about such  incidents like this a near decade ago in Mexifornia), the checker and the woman behind me were trying to communicate in Spanish to instruct a young man and his wife (with four small children) about how to use his food stamp card (an anachronism since they look more like ATM plastic).

But he spoke some sort of Nahuatl indigenous dialect. It did not sound that much differently in its pitched accentuation from modern Greek. No Spanish-speakers could really make out much of what he was saying — and believe me they tried.

I suppose there are indigenous peoples’ translators at the government office, since the quite smiling and friendly family had two full carts and an expectation of paying for it, and (as I saw later) a nice enough car.

But, alas, neither husband nor wife could speak English or Spanish. (Yes, again, I concede that the presence of a few from Mexico who can speak neither Spanish nor English proves little, much less is evidence of the problem of illegal immigration.)

By 2 PM, the air was loud with sonic booms. Local tree managers were trying to  break up hail (I lost two crops in the 1980s to a sudden hail storm)— the current theory being that sonic waves will either smash apart, or at least divert for a few minutes, hail storms that can so scar the appearance of tree fruit to render it unsalable (but with absolutely no effect on its quality or tastiness — go figure).

In these environs, there are almost no more small farms as I knew them thirty years ago. Either they are like mine — now rented and dependent on off-farm income for expenses, since “rent” does not cover taxes and depreciation — or tesserae in larger vertically integrated corporate mosaics that need “product” (profitable or not) to fuel a vast investment in trucks, packing houses, cold storage, and brokerage.

I made the argument fifteen years ago, in Fields Without Dreams and The Land Was Everything, that the imminent final corporatization of family agriculture would not affect the appearance or productivity of farms, but only end the notion that these 20 and 40 acres homesteads used to grow citizens of a different sort that we see now (I think both prognostications were proven correct). (I agree again that the corporatization of my immediate environs proves nothing really without the latest statistics of corporate ownership versus family managed and owned farms.)