By James Murray
Posted May 21, 2022
“C’mon and talk to me
So you can see
What’s goin on..”
I first met ‘Steve,’ when he came to work at our department. Compared to the old-timers we were, ‘the young guys.’ We were never close friends but we got along and worked well together. We both followed the NBA and listened to some hip-hop and neither of us like ‘the old guys,’ at the shop. About once a week we would go to lunch and shit-talk our co-workers and discuss mutual interests.
I knew Steve had experienced a tough childhood. Abandoned by his mother, he had bounced back and forth between Oklahoma and southern California with a chronic alcoholic father, always in extreme poverty, he had spent several teenage years living with his father (literally) in a van down by the river. He seemed to be a survivor though, in an apparent happy marriage with two children. He had a semi-skilled trade and our jobs paid relatively well. He told me once he, ‘Had done a lot of drugs,” in his misspent youth but, “A lot of drugs,” mean different things to different people and its common for
people to be overly dramatic about past debauchery. He didn’t seem like any kind of dope casualty to me. We met up at a sports bar a few times to watch games and I got to know his wife, ‘Shirley.’ She seemed pretty typical and would have a couple of beers whereas Steve didn’t drink at all, being turned off and distrustful of alcohol due to his father’s experience. I ascertained Shirley had trouble keeping a job. I thought she had some anxiety issues, and did not possess great social skills and I realize working-class culture (especially in the south) can be difficult for a woman (or anyone) to navigate if they weren’t raised in it, and sometimes even if they were raised in it. But it wasn’t my problem and I didn’t judge her.
Sometimes Steve would mildly complain about how Shirley would continue to spend money even when she wasn’t working. She pressured him to buy a big, expensive (is there any other kind) pickup they really didn’t need. But lots of people buy vehicles and luxury goods they really don’t need, and he never expressed any animosity toward his wife. I sensed more of a good-natured fatalism than anything else. “I make it, she spends it,” he told me one time. And Steve really was a kind, good-hearted guy. Very little education, formal or informal, but he had the natural sophistication of someone that had grown up struggling and hustling and moving around the country. As far as I could tell, Steve and Shirley were completely irreligious and totally apolitical. As well, mildly culturally liberal in the way followers of pop culture and mass media usually are. I can’t remember politics and religion ever coming up in conversation.
From want or necessity Steve started doing side gigs in the evenings and on weekends. Likable, competent, honest and reliable, he did well, making money and acquiring a client list in short order. I would estimate this was about 2013/2014.
In time he quit our department on good terms to pursue the side-hustle full-time. The old guys at the shop began retiring, one by one. I got a raise, then a promotion, then a ‘position.’ One boss retired and we got a new, better boss, one that I had rapport and mutual respect with. We got new hires. I was doing well, but usually busy and running at110mph most days between 7 and 4. I lost contact with Steve.
Suddenly, it’s summer, 2016. I’m in a McDonalds getting coffee one morning about 6:15 am and I run into Steve. I’m amazed to see he’s wearing a red, ‘MAGA’ hat. At first I thought it’s a joke. It seemed so unlikely. Despite my long-standing politics (anarchist/Marxist/etc.) I myself was sympathetic to Trump. I loved the way he had humiliated and defeated Republican dirt bags like Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, and the way he had unapologetically disrespected the GOP’s ‘serious men,’ like John McCain and Mitt Romney. And that summer he was running against an (IMO) psychopathic monster named Hillary Clinton. In such circumstances how could any empathetic reasonable person not be sympathetic to Trump? But my sympathy was ironic and highly conditional. Steve’s support of Trump was serious, embittered, aggressive, paranoic. His entire personality seemed to have changed. No longer laid back with a constant soft smile and good humor he was agitated by the ‘Fake News’ conspiracy and now I saw him as edgy and driven with sole interest, it was all – Trump Trump Trump.
Of course Trump won the big election but my life didn’t change – long work weeks and totally checked out on weekends. I continued to find Trump an entertaining, yet farcical creature. Good for a laugh but completely unserious. Certainly not a fascist and revolutionary, just a clown with a lot of money like Berlusconni. I did not see or hear from Steve for months and months. One day he called me out of the blue and asked if I could help get his wife, Shirley a menial job in the department, I was noncommittal but brought it up to my boss. We both knew her sketchy job history but he said – why not? Give her a chance. So Shirley got hired but I very rarely saw her, and when I did I was in a hurry and just waved or said, “Hi,” We never had a conversation. She seemed to be doing well but I didn’t know any details.
More months passed. Then a year or two. One day I was having coffee and
gossiping with Shirley’s immediate supervisor, ‘Misty.’ “She has some strange beliefs,” Misty told me.
“I don’t know. Like some weird religious shit.”
I just laughed. I had never known Shirley or Steve to be religious at all. But I thought the conversion to Trumpismo might have led to a conversion to fundie Christianity.
“She’s obsessed with pedos,” Misty told me.
“Yeah bruh it’s weird. She does a good job but all she can talk about is conspiracy shit, pedos, and the Bible.”
“Well at least she shows up.”
In hindsight I think Misty was describing some early version of the ‘QAnon ideology,’ but I knew nothing about that then and know very little about it now. More months passed. Steve texted me unexpectedly one night, knowing I am a fairly serious, ‘firearms enthusiast,’ he wanted my advice on which manufacturer’s AR-pattern rifle to buy. His budget was one-thousand. Knowing it didn’t really matter and not wanting to have a long text exchange about semi-automatic rifles I just gave him some answer, “Bushmaster or FN,” I probably told him.
More months passed. Someone told me Steve was now, ‘preaching.’ I could just laugh. “Professionally?” I asked. The person didn’t know the financial details but said Steve was traveling all over the state and region to ‘share his message.’ Someone else told me he was neglecting his business and abandoning half-completed jobs to focus on his politico-religious mashup. He had several lawsuits for ‘Breach of Contract’ pending against him. He and Shirley had pulled their kids out of the public school and were now, ‘homeschooling.’ All of this was interesting and a bit concerning to me but I had much bigger concerns almost every minute of the day and night.
Months kept passing, some said they were picking up speed as the fortunes of Trumpismo ebbed and flowed and ebbed. Covidmania and Lockdown Fever gripped the country. In Oklahoma, any such concerns were a passing phase, and as an ‘Essential,’ I kept going to work everyday like normal. For a few months the restaurants were closed and masks were, ‘Mandatory,’ but then it was all over. Everything open, no masks in sight. I thought Trump’s defeat in November, 2020 was more than a bit suspicious, but again – it’s just not something I cared that much about.
“Did you see the new Paper?” Misty asked me one day, referring to the small-town
“Shirley’s husband got arrested.”
“Possession of methamphetamine.”
“Wow. That’s crazy. He was a religious fanatic the last I heard.”
“I don’t know bruh. I think Shirley’s on it too. She’s been acting real weird. Talking to walls and shit.”
“Oh my God.”
“Be glad you don’t have to deal with her.”
In a few weeks Shirley’s bizarre behavior got her called into the office for a ‘write up.’ When notified of the reason she was there she went wild, throwing pens and inanimate
objects, threatening Misty and others and screaming profanities. She walked out and never returned.
You have to wonder what’s going on in a culture that can take functional normies and their semi-functional spouses and put them on a track that leads through Trumpismo, into religious nuttery, then around the curve into conspiracism and then dump them into methamphetamine abuse. I don’t think Trump’s charisma and manipulative ability, or ancient Bible secrets unveiled, or shocking crackpot political analysis, or the addictive properties of fine Oaxacan ice provide an answer here. I’m
certainly no clinician, not even an ‘expert,’ but the clinician would just write you an antidepressant script and the ‘experts,’ blame it all on racism and ‘white privilege,’ or something. I think people are just so exhausted and burned up and out from these past decades of reaction. They just want to ‘feel something.’ They want to ‘experience something.’ They want to have an explanation. They want to know an answer. They will go into bankruptcy, destroy their families and livelihoods, wreck their own and other’s lives to chase the dream that life might have meaning and value outside the markets
and system of financialization. Of course they’re going to fuck up, there’s a million and one wrong turns and no one has a map here