Jack and Vance spend their second day on the Montana wheat ranch and begin to learn a little more about the hands they are working with.
Man is a chemical factory that is full of leaks. As he is he cannot change. It takes super effort... super energy. We do not have that energy because it all leaks out. The Work
Homeward Bound-Chapter 5
"Breakfast in ten minutes," Cal calls from the kitchen.
"The mother fuckers don't let a man get no rest," Vance says as he reaches for a cigarette.
"Jesus Christ," I tell myself and reach for a clean sock.
"Time to get up?" Ernie asks.
Dick switches on the kitchen radio, and the morning news drifts into us.
At the storage bins after breakfast, Doc tells me to stick around awhile after I finish fueling my truck. When I join him and Vance at the elevator he points to a large scoop shovel and explains that the elevator works best when it sucks the grain from a heaped mound "Grain out here needs to be moved to the top," he says and demonstrates with several scoops of his shovel. I nod my head, take a position across from Vance and commence shoveling. "My, my, my," Doc says as he stands watching. "Are you left handed?" he asks.
"No," I answer glancing down at my right hand and shaking my head back and forth.
"Well, no wonder you look so awkward. You're shoveling left-handed. Here watch a minute, he tells me and gives another demonstration.
Vance catches my eye, puts a hand to his mouth, and gives a little laugh. I see that my left hand holds the handgrip while my right hand is on the shaft. But, this is the way I've always shoveled, I tell myself as I remember shoveling snow in Philadelphia, and field corn on my foster father's farm. Dick walks over from the elevator engine and joins in the shoveling. I continue to shovel left handed trying to smooth out my stroke.
"You think these boys will ever amount to a hill a'beans?" Doc asks.
"Oh, I reckon so," Dick answers and puts his back into the shoveling.
Doc watches for a minute or so shaking his head back and forth. Well you keep em busy. I have to go down to the house for a spell, Doc tells Dick flashing a wink.
The three of us put our backs into the shovels until Doc is out of sight. "That fucking Doc is something else," Vance says as he pauses for a moment.
"Shit, there ain't no need to do all this shoveling," Dick says and leans on his scoop. "We can just as well move the nose of the elevator when it comes time."
As we lean on our shovels, we begin to discuss the call up of troops that was announced on the radio this morning. "What with the Berlin Crisis, I got out'a my National Guard outfit just in time," I tell Vance and Dick.
"What outfit were you in?" Dick asks.
"Hundred and Forty First Fighter Interceptor Squadron," I answer as a flash of my six years as a guardsman runs through my mind.
"Christ, man, I guess I'll be coming up one A.
I sure a hell don't wanna go in no fucking army," Vance tells us.
"Can't say I blame you any. Was in the Hundred and First Airborne during the war. Made some twenty jumps over Germany. Why, hell, damn near our whole outfit got their ass killed. All of 'em boys no older than you.
Still got a back full of fragments I pick up in Arrgone. Got a purple heart for it, and that's all by Christ. You think anybody over here appreciated what we done? Shit, we go over there and get our ass shot off. Come home and can't find a decent job.
You think I'd be working elevator for fifteen bucks a day if anybody gave a shit? Sure, they had a big ass parade when we came back, but it didn't take 'em no time to forget.
"Yea, I can imagine. Soon as the shooting's over the fuckers forget," Vance says as he and I nod our heads in agreement. "It must'a been some God dammed experience, though, jumping out'a a plane. Bullets flying around you.
"Nothing I'd wanna do again," Dick says and describes what it's like getting up for a jump. I nod my head as I listen and picture myself in an old DC-3 somewhere in South America.
As I drive towards the field for my first pick up, I begin to think of Dick in a different light. Looking at his pale wrinkled gray stubbled face, I had taken him to be at least fifty. Christ, if he fought in the Second World War, he can't be much older than forty. Must'a done some hard living to look so old, I tell myself and wonder how Hemingway would have treated a character like Dick. Got to get to know him better. Get him to talk about the war, Im thinking.
When I reach the fields, I see that the combines haven't begun cutting yet. I park across from where they've lined up, and get out to take a stretch. In a hedgerow about fifteen feet up field, I spot Ben. He's on his haunches taking a shit. He finishes up, scratches some dirt over it, and pulls up his pants. Son of a bitch, I tell myself thinking how natural he looks relieving himself right out here in nature.
The men finish warming up their machines and commence cutting. Ward's pick up comes bouncing toward me. "Looks like we're off to a good start," I tell him as I climb inside.
"Yea, dried off real good this morning. With any luck, we should finish this section off by tonight. Got to say, you boys sure caught on mighty quick for not having any harvest experience. Much faster than most new hands," Ward tells me as he lifts off his blue billed International Harvester cap and scratches his head.
"I guess growing up on a farm makes it easier," I answer flashing a smile. "You know, Dick was telling us he was in the paratroopers during the war. Somehow, I didn't think he was that young."
"Dick don't usually talk about his war time experience. War broke him up pretty bad. Got his back all messed up. Lost a brother and a couple close friends. I guess he ain't been much good since.
Real dependable down at the elevator, though."
"What's he do when the harvest is over?"
"Oh, he moves on. Usually goes up to Idaho to work potatoes. From there on to Washington for apples.
" Ward tells me.
Got to remember this, I'm thinking and picturing myself somewhere in the wilds of Alaska sitting in our tent jotting it all down.
As I listen with one ear to another of Ward's stories, I wonder what the guys from my Guard outfit would think if they could see me. I remember Lonnie asking me what I planned to do with my life as we sat in the back seat of Richie's car racing toward McGuire Air Force Base. "I mean, I know you're too smart a guy to be pumping gas all your life," he told me.
"This summer, man, I'm taking off for South America. You know, I'll travel around, have some experiences, and then write about it," I told him.
"Yea, you'll fucking write about it, Daley. I suppose you're gonna earn your living as a writer. Do you know how hard it is to write a fucking book? Did you ever write a fucking word? Besides, you're never gonna take off. Remember last year? You were gonna get a fucking job on an oil tanker. You're just like the rest of us. You're never going anywhere. You give me a fucking pain in my ass," Richie told me from behind the wheel.
I'd like to see their fucking faces, now, I tell myself and recall how we use to nap 'til eleven P.M. or so before heading into Atlantic City. Our running joke while we tried to pick up on the girls who were already half loaded by the time we entered the dives after midnight was, "Sleep well America, your National Guard is awake."
When Cal waves his hat for my first pick up, I fall right into where I left off yesterday. I circle under each combine in turn without losing a single grain. Before I can pull away from Ernie's machine, he stops and waves me out of my cab. "What?" I ask over the noise of the idling harvester.
"How 'bout picking up my water bag? I done forgot it," he shouts.
"Yea, sure, on my next round," I answer.
"Could use a drink right now," Ernie says as he puts his machine in gear.
Driving across the field, I realize that I don't know where Ernie left his bag. Could be down by the pump where we fill up, or where they parked last night, I tell myself and figure I'd better ask Ward.
"He forgot his bag? Well, the boy's got to learn to look after himself. Let him stay thirsty awhile. Maybe next time he won't forget. You tell him I'll bring the bag up myself," Ward tells me.
Shit, I shouldn't a' said nothing. Should'a looked for it, I tell myself as I climb back in my cab.
"Here you are, my man," I tell Vance as I slide next to his empty. " 'Bout time you did some work, don't you think?"
"Yea, you lazy mother fucker. I'm down there breaking my ass with a shovel while you sit up here taking it easy.
Though, I will admit, whenever Doc leaves Dick and I are pretty quick to move the elevator nose. I'll I tell you, that Dick is a one interesting old bastard. You wouldn't believe some of the things he's telling me about the war. Bitter though. He tells me war ain't all its cook up to be.
"Listen, man," Vance continues as we get out of our trucks, "Doc told me we'd better not take Ernie with us when we go into town. Said Ernie can't hold his booze. If we take him in and he don't make it back to work, it's our ass!"
"Christ, between Doc and Ward they're trying to dry the poor bastard up," I say and explain about the bag.
"Yea, well, I feel sorry for the fucker, but we don't want to lose our jobs over that cat. Drying him up might just do him some good," Vance tells me as he climbs in his truck.
By my next pick up, the sun is beating down and heating up the day really good. Ernie licks his lips as I ride along side. When the wheat stops flowing, he stops his machine and yells down at me, "You fetch my bag?"
"No, Ward said he'd bring it," I yell wondering if I should offer him a drink from my bag.
"Why'd you have to tell Ward for?"
"I didn't know where you left it."
"I sure hope he don't take all day to fetch it up," Ernie tells me and gives a hangdog look.
Before I know it, harvest is over for the day and we've finished the evening meal. Stretching my aching bones, I walk to Cal's pick up wondering if I'll be able to stay awake for the ride back to our bunkhouse.
"You realize it's Friday night, Daley ! Cal's been telling me that the Shelby Fair is the high light of the whole summer out here. Folks wait the whole year for it. We're gonna make it ain't we?"
"You fucking better believe it, man," I answer feeling a surge of energy rush through my body.
"Yea, well, I know you wanna see Anne.
She don't get off 'til what, eleven? We can scout out the fair before we stop by for her. Who knows, there just might be some lonely country girl waiting for a long lean cat like me. Man, I'm telling you, Daley, this is something else. We put in a twelve-hour day, and then head on into town. You know, not just to hang out, but to the biggest God damm event in the whole state of Montana. I'm telling, ya, this is the way to live.
" Vance says giving off his Jean Shepard laugh.
"You ain't wrong, man. You ain't wrong.
But, what are we gonna do about Ernie?"
"Christ, man, we'll just have to tell the cat we can't take him. Tell him we got some business to take care of. Shit, we don't want him tagging along anyhow.
"Yea, you're right, but he's gonna be one disappointed mother fucker.
At the bunkhouse, I put on a kettle for shaving, grab a towel and a change of clothes, and head out into the fading dayight. Vance is already shivering naked at the pump. Stripping off my pants and under shorts, I give the handle a couple pumps, and catch hands full of ice-cold water. "Man this is one cold mother," I tell Vance as he passes the soap.
"Nothing like a ice cold bath to get you ready for town," he answers as he scrubs in his suds.
I feel really pleased with the handsome sun burned face that looks out the shaving-mirror. "You gonna stand in front of that fucking thing all night?" Vance asks as he buttons the collar on his long sleeved white shirt and nudges me from the mirror so he can comb his hair.
"Yea, fuck you, man after you use up all the hot water," I say and go back to my bunk to pick up an identical white shirt. I tuck it in at the waist of my lightweight kaki pants, and then lift a foot to tie my sneakers.
"You guys fixing to head on in to town?" Ernie, still dressed in his dirty clothes, asks from the kitchen table.
"Yea, we got to shoot in and take care of some business. Be coming right back," Vance tells him.
You ahhhhh, think you might bring me back a quart a' beer. I'd pay you right back soon as I get paid.
"I'd be glad to do it. But, I don't think Ward allows no drinking on the place."
"Yea, I reckon so," Ernie says nodding his head up and down and giving off a sad look like the whole world is against him.
Dick says no thanks when Vance asks if he wants us to pick up anything for him, and we leave the two sitting at the table listening to Louie Prima and Keely Smith singing about getting married at three this afternoon.
"I guess Ward wouldn't give Ernie an advance on his pay," I tell Vance as he climbs behind the wheel.
"He may'a been scared to ask. Though, I guess the poor cat needs a drink pretty bad,"
"Drinks that much, huh?"
"Yea, Doc told me he jus' got out'a the drunk tank the morning he hired him. Was in there two days sobering up."
"Man, these hands are something else. I'll tell ya, if you could just get into their minds a little, you could write a book about 'em."
"You know, Daley, working with these cats jus' proves what I been saying. I mean, you know, back in school we hold our own in any bullshit session be it on politics, philosophy, or T.S. Eliot. Now, out here, we hold our own with these cats who have been doing this shit all their lives. I mean, two fucking days and we got it down pat."
"Yea, Ward was even saying how fast we caught on," I tell Vance while I'm asking myself, Did he forget I dropped out'a college?
"I'm telling ya, man, Doc and me are really getting in tight. He's filling me in on his whole operation. He tells me Ward's a good man, but he can't depend on him to do no long range planning. Got to be out here to make all the important decisions himself. You know, how to rotate the crops, number of cows to run, when to turn in a piece of machinery. He even has to decide when to start the harvest and how many hands to hire. He's got to be out here every day during harvest, two or three days a week the rest'a the year. And, man, this place ain't shit to him. For Christ sake, man, this is only a minute part of his operation. Does a whole lot of speculation in real estate. Christ, he owns damm near one third of Shelby. Built the new hospital with his own construction firm. Runs heavy equipment. He tells me it's the same thing in each of his operations. He's got to be there to make the big decisions.
"You know, I've been filling him in on what I learned about construction from Big Sam. How you've done some work in real estate.
Now, what I'm thinking, Daley, is that a couple intelligent chaps like us could fit right in. We are jus' what he's been looking for. He's doing way more than one man can handle, and looking to expand. You know, there may be more money right here than up North.
"You really think he would consider us?"
"I know he would, Daley. I mean how many intelligent people does he run into out here? Mostly it's guys like Ernie who can't even add or subtract. I been talking some shit to him. Asking questions. Man, we even discussed the economic disadvantages that we needed to overcome at the Triv. Too small a scale, he told me. When you stop to think of it, he's right. Even at a buck a cup, you got to sell one hell of a lot of espresso to make a profit.
"Yea, but remember, we didn't open the Triv. to make money. I mean, we even thought it was too commercial to have a cigarette machine. Wasn't our purpose to meet people, to get into painting and literature, to experience good conversation?"
"Right, I know we did it for the experience. But, we could have experienced those same things and made a little bread, too. Remember, Johnny's brother wanted to open up Trivia II in Hopewell. A string of Trivia's would have made more sense.
"Yea, and, remember that clothing store cat was talking about a Trivia shop specializing in New York City styles. We could'a gone bigger, but I don't know.
"Now, what I'm thinking is that Doc might want to start us out buying junk cars and stuff. You remember how much Geardello's old man was making in scrap iron? "
"Yea, and Doc's yard ain't making a penny while it sits empty is it?"
"I told you, man, once we got out here in the real world. Once we started living by our wits, there would me no stopping us. The two of us together, man, we'll show the fucking world. In a couple years, we'll be buying and selling spreads like Ward's.