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I like to complain. I complain about lots of things, like if it’s too hot or cold, or if I’m a little drowsy, or if the price of gas goes up, or, in fact, if it goes down. I suppose I like to complain so much because I’m — and I don’t mean to sound immodest here — I’m good at it. We do what we’re good at. Perhaps you knit or play a musical instrument. I complain. And even though you may think you’re good at complaining, unless you devote as much time and energy to it as I do, and I’m talking more than 50% of your time awake each day, you’re probably not going to be able to compete with me. For me, it’s reached a level of virtuosity that is, if not unmatched, at least world class. I can convey a significant complaint with an eyebrow, a flutter of a grimace, a shuffle of one foot. I can convey a specific, highly-articulate complaint by saying and doing nothing, letting the absense of a remark speak as loudly as any screaming fit. It isn’t a god-given gift. I have worked at it.

Here’s my point: this past weekend here (I’m in San Francisco), it’s been cold during the day and much colder at night. It’s unseasonable and the low temperatures overnight have been record lows. The windows in this part of the world can tend toward the drafty side, because the stakes are usually fairly low. Meaning, the temperatures outside versus those inside aren’t usually significantly different. They differ, but not usually by more than, say, 40 degrees, at the outside. It’s typical, for example, in the summer, for the outdoor temperature to be perhaps 85 degrees, while indoors would be in the mid-70s. It is equally common, in the winter months, for the temperature to be in the mid-40s overnight, while indoors it would be in the mid-60s. The stress on the windows isn’t usually drastic (like on the East coast, where one side of the glass could be 20 degrees and the other side a cozy 72).

So a cold night or two comes along, and there’s a little draft and some wind and one bundles up with a sweater and a blanket and, quite naturally, complains. One may complain about the temperature outside or in. There’s justification for both.

But then, one reads a story about people who work very, very hard to produce something – a crop, in this case. They run small farms whose yields are then sold to local establishments, and they make a living against so many odds — economic valuations of their chosen crops, fluctuating demand for their crops, the tenacity and energy it takes to raise those crops, etc.

And then, along comes a weekend like this one. Farmers around Calif. stand to lose tens of thousands of dollars (or more, or less) after this temperature drop. For some, it won’t make a huge difference. And for others, it’s going to have a big impact on their lives.

Catherine Saillant, at the Los Angeles Times, has written it the way it deserves to be written. Steinbeck, whatever you think of him, has really got his talons into the way we write about farming. She doesn’t sound like Steinbeck, but it’s hard not to think of him, at least a little.

As one farmer “walked his 17 acres of citrus and avocados near midnight, he made quick calculations on what was worth trying to save and what he should let go. ‘I’m writing them off,’ Churchill said of a small grove of Hass avocados adjoining his citrus orchard. ‘I just can’t save them.'”

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One Comment

  1. As someone who has admired your complaints for many years I have to say you have truly achieved virtuoso status. I have watched as the breadth and depth of your complaints have grown to encompass almost anything and everything in the known world. As someone who has practiced sarcasm over those same years I know the amount of effort that goes into perfecting and offensive trait (the sarcastic tone of voice has become so second nature to me that I am often accused of being sarcastic even when that was not my intention). Kudos, Michael, on your complaints! And as a true champion complainer you also have the wisdom to know that it is those who do not complain that have the most to complain about.


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