Friday, April 29, 2016


It's a bit like a bargain, this life:
'Now! Two days only! Take
advantage of these special
offers!' And then you move
a pencil, you take a step, and
it's over. I never knew much
what people were thinking,
country people I mean, when
I lived among them. They'd
look at me, drawn strangely
to them, evidently, and just
peer. Big city boy! Crazed,
wild hippie! Out there, there
seemed no original thinking
at all. It was whatever the
media drummed into their
heads  -  that's what they
went by. It was annoying, and
very quickly. I arrived there,
for instance, with a 1962
Volkswagen Beetle, the
Wolfsburg-built one, the
one with the  -  that year's
manufacture  -  the little
Wolfsburg badge built into
the chrome strip running
down the front. It made for
something different, that badge,
broke up the design line just a
little, and added a dash of color.
None of it meant anything to
these folks. It was as if they'd
never ever before seen a real
Volkswagen, the most pedestrian
and boring car there was, and
of which there were probably
a hundred thousand on any
street around where I'd lived.
Yet, all they ever referred to it
as was 'Look! A Herbie!' or,
'He's got a punch buggy.'
Something like that  -  media
names of cartoon VW-like cars
or whatever. I never really knew.
It was just pretty idiotic. Did I go
around saying, about their daughters,
'Look, a Barbie.' No. Not even 'Look,
there's a Ken!' All shamefully stupid,
but multiply that by a thousand
and you get an idea of the extended
and plain uselessness of much of
that thinking.  I'd not realized it
was so widespread  -  this was an
entire countryside of these sorts
of people, perambulating around
with all their dense opinions and
shadowy imaginings. For one, I
was nothing like the portrayal of
me they were running with. I was
never any sort of real hippie. I was
way too smart for that. And I then
figured they should have known that.
So, to placate these vicious hordes,
and to avoid a lynching perhaps, I
allowed myself to be taken under
wing by by neighboring farmer-guy,
a really goosey, loose-limbed Irish-
Dutch guy named Warren Gustin.
He took me in, I worked farm
chores for and with him  -  about
35 cows, twice a day, milking, manure-
spreading, tractors, mechanical stuff,
haying, planting corn, harvesting.
He had a family, about 5 kids, a wife,
a decent enough really old house and
a brand-new barn. His youngest kid,
Danny, about 6, had -  a little before I
arrived there, been fooling with matches
and set Warren's old, in-use barn on fire.
It burned to the ground. The locals,
from 15 miles around I'd bet, had what
was termed a 'barn bee'  -  meaning
that for any number of weekends
or days it took, they built him up
another, brand-new barn. I'd
arrived there at nearly the very
end of that, and, since they were
to be neighbors, pitched right in
with the final stages of finishing
up the new barn  -  shingles, roofing,
etc. No real clue what I was doing,
but I went to it anyway. It was a
way to break the ice, show that
myself and my own wife and kid
were real people and not just some
bizarre freaks not to be trusted or
dealt with. It allowed me to size
up the others  -  the wise-guys,
the cranks, the tough-boys, and
to see who I'd be really having to
convince or deal with over things.
It was, after all, to be my (our)
futures there to contend with.  I
soon learned who among them
was fair and who was foul.
Keeping it all to myself
then, too. Most of the men
were maybe ten or fifteen years
older than me, just hitting forty
perhaps, forty three. Or they were
the very old  -  crotchety, old and
wizened old farmer-men, tough as
nails, coarse and old-style to the
core. Some of the families, in the
big, old farmhouses, were
multi-generational, so you'd get
all the age levels together. The old
guys were the best. You have to
remember that back then, in the
years I'm talking about, these were
Depression-era guys, farmers, who
had lived through dire poverty and
the lack of most everything. The
only thing that had saved them and
their families, if you listened, was the
Government-assistance work that
tided them over. They'd go on like it
was yesterday when the WPA put
them to work "right here, running
electrification wires and some of
the poles to each house so that we'd
all have lights and power. We'd
get something like 6 bucks a
week from it and doing our own
chores, eggs and milk and such.
These roads them days was all dirt.
The Government sent trucks in, put
us all to work  -  we'd be walking
along with shovels and picks, and
two or three dump-trucks with us,
filled with pack dirt and hot tar and
we'd take the tar cans and spread the
liquid tar over the new dirt and stone.
Not so bad a job of paving as you'd
think  -  and it made the difference.
Now the milk and eggs boys could
get their trucks up off the mud and
outta' the trouble, and even the horses
and buggies went better. Why hell,
we all did." That was just the way
they talked on and the tales they
told. It was all good stuff  -  like
they really never did have any
bad experiences, leastways not to
tell about to me. I always figured
they were just as much probably
sizing me up as I was them, seeing
to what I reacted or listened to, or
said back.
My wife got on good with all the
ladies. Really simple stuff  -  church
stuff, bake sales, what they called
'Ladies Aid Society' meetings and
meals. They'd throw these big
lunches for the working-bee guys.
Having an infant kid helped too,
ladies all love that mothering stuff.
She even was presented with the
'Youngest Mother of the Year' award,
actually two years, maybe even three,
in a row. It was big stuff. She was
18, then 19, and the rest. Not that
the young kids around there weren't
fornicating  - believe you me. They
rooted around like sows and hogs,
but I guess they never got pregnant
young, or maybe the church didn't
recognize them, or ostracizing just
kept them away. Never knew, never
cared. The award was like a floral
bouquet and a sash and stuff. Really
hokey. Even funnier, no one ever
asked about the Daddy here, young
or old. Which in this case happened
to be me, but I never got no flowers.
I use to get a kick out of the wives of
this bunch  -  ladies, farm-ladies, all
bright and ripe, like butter commercials
themselves  -  bubbly, fleshy, almost
sensual to the eye. It was something,
And of course, just looking, you knew
what they were thinking sometimes
too  -  it got funny, and it got strange.
An outsider, a young-man, newcomer,
oh! Whooie! Religious or not, that
thrumming patter of sex was always
present, and everybody knew it, just
never confessed to it, I guess. There
weren't any Catholic Confessionalists
around anyway, these were raw and
simple Baptist folk, and the local
Baptist preacher was this little
pathetic guy named Wallace McKnight.
No one would be confessing anything
much to him anyway. I remember
one time, at one of the thrown
luncheon spreads (they'd come with
them right to the worksite, on
big long tables), one of the ladies  -
her last name was Guthrie, nice,
wilder type than the rest, sort of  -
she caused a ruckus that never
healed. A few of the ladies never
again spoke to her, in my time
there. Somebody had brought a
large tray of pastries, cruellers or
whatever they're called, and one
of the ladies said something about
them, that they were too large, and
too hard. Something like that  -
anyway this Guthrie lady, having
my eye the whole time, says 'Oh
Wee! Long and hard! Just the way
I like 'em best!' It was like the
whole place had just fallen off
a cliff. Ladies glared. No one
spoke. Reverend McKnight,
present as usual, always giving
benedictions about this or that. I
do swear I think he swallowed his
prayer and quite near gagged.
Warren himself told me later that
his wife, Barbara, had sworn to
him she'd never speak another
word to that Betty Guthrie woman
again in her entire life. Me? I
witnessed all this and was just
cracking up inside.
I worked for Warren, sidework,
for long more than a year, working
for 'milk and meat'. Meaning, no pay,
in money. Just whatever milk, dairy
and foodstuffs I'd need for my own
family use, he'd supply. Modestly I
mean, and within reason. It worked.
I'd be up at 5:30 am, walk out to get
the cows, set 'em all in for milking,
we'd do that, clean the chain drop,
spread manure, tractor stuff, etc.
Then, by eight or so, I'd jump in
the school bus I'd gotten a job
driving. Something like 20 bucks
a day, I really forget  -  winding
dirt roadways up jagged hills, old
dumpy trailers in the woods, end the
big-deal homes around too. Anywhere
there were kids around; they'd wait,
I'd drag by and get them and bring
'em all of to school, and then reverse
the whole process about about three
pm. Plus, for forty-two hundred bucks
a year, I'd been contracted to clean and
take care of the local schoolhouse  -  K
to 6, just another bunch of ratty, messy
farm kids. It all sucked, but it was a
One day, as I started to say, early on, 
I just let Warren convince me to let 
him take me to one of those local 
yokels around  -  there were a few 
of them  -  for a total, real guy's
haircut and clean-up. I hated it, but I
went. It was a sort of trade-off for him
letting me go, with his car, to Towanda 
for my school-bus driving license test. My
own car was pretty marginal, and we 
didn't want that to tip the scales against
me in any way, nor my appearance It
all worked, and I got the needed license.
Pennsylvania has this system where
people can be Justices of the Peace.
Like Town Clerks and stuff  -  they 
notarize things, witness wills and such,
process motor vehicle stuff, accept
tax payments. Sell insurance, marry 
people, etc. Pretty much once you 
can hang that sign out front of your 
house, all is cool. Warren's buddy 
here was one of these, way big-time, 
crazy man. He had an office built onto
the side of his house for the JP stuff 
(Justice of the Peace), and in addition, 
he sold Amway Products, nearly
shoving them down your throat, had
like a hundred dead animals heads
on his sitting-room and 'den' walls,
and was, in addition, a barber, with 
a little barber-shop thing going on
on his porch. Which is where I ended 
up  - maybe four other guys, and Warren,
and me. Just sitting around, it seemed
endlessly, waiting for haircuts. This 
guy cut and talked; snipped and talked; 
cut a little more and talked. Picked his
crotch and talked; I mean it was all
pretty horrible. Five guys worth of
horrible. And of course, they'd seen 
me coming in. Thank God Warren 
fronted for me : 'What the gangbusters
ya got there now, Warren? Does that
get a name?' Blah, blah, yet again.
'Yeah, the name's Gary, I'm am idiot 
and an asshole; you can abuse me 
and call me names, make fun of me 
all you want, because I'm here to take 
it. Oh, and by the way, your wife
thought I was great, and way better
than that guy sitting next to you.' 
No, I didn't say that, but I should 
have. They all deserved it.

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