Winter insisted on one more attack in its annual losing battle with summer otherwise known as spring, holding temperatures below 40 F on Saturday afternoon even though the sun shone so brightly outside that I went temporarily blind when my lifelong friend, Rusty, Jetta, and I stopped into the tavern in the nearby village of Verona. I couldn't see the bartender or the pool tables. Rusty's family owns our other farm, four miles up the road, and he'd come down with a dozen duck eggs for us to stick in the incubator when the first round of chicks hatched.
At the bar we met up with the artist, Nick Waldon, and the ex-stripper, Jacque Dawn. Of course Jacque was accompanied by her one-eyed chauffeur, Beez.
Nick presented us with the flier he'd designed for the fourth annual "Hoefest."
"I want sort of an angry mob, like back in the days when they had torches and pitchforks and stormed Washington D.C. for the Whiskey Rebellion," I had told Nick back in March when we'd first discussed the project, "except this time we're all brandishing hoes."
Not only did Nick totally understand the concept, but he employed a comic style for all the caricatures. Everyone loved the prototype, with the American gothic couple, the blonde chick pole dancing on a hoe handle, the hippie organic farmer in overalls with healthy tufts of armpit hair sprouting noticeably.
"I tried to represent a wide demographic," said Nick, explaining his choice of font and all the ins and outs of his business, enough to satisfy me. He had to get going, though, to hunt arrowheads on this field near town, a sand dune on the edge of the river bottoms, that the now bankrupt suppliers of produce for Walmart had rented the previous two years, planting watermelons back-to-back. For two winters my former employers, Grizzly and Bambi, literally ran all the arrowhead hunters off the 80 or so acres of rented ground, in the name of Food Safety. In the name of food safety, Wal-Mart and Kroger had demanded that the entrance to every field would boast a sign posting "FOOD SECURITY AREA," meaning no jewelry, no food or drinks, tattoos, etc.
Nick Waldon had encountered the massive, Viking hulk, Grizzly, out on that sand dune the previous year, he told me. "He said Wal-Mart didn't want me out there. Something about Food Safety, that I could have contamination on my shoes. In the middle of winter!"
"Grizzly's done," I assured him. Supposedly Bambi had been caught by security at the Mexican border trying to smuggle a carload of embezzled cash, and Grizzly was now the foreman on another plantation. "Those corn farmers don't care if you go out there."
Thanks to Grizzly's farming practices, that sand dune has probably yielded more arrowheads this spring than any season in decades. For some reason he'd run a chisel plow over the ground in early November last fall as the ship sank and their empire faced bankruptcy. I have to say Grizzly might have been losing it at that point, and I don't mean just financially, because after turning that ex-watermelon field into about eighteen inches of loose powder, we got a huge rain. Desperately Grizzly sent a Mexican dude out to pull a soil conditioner over the furrowed, eroded ground, and the whole rig basically submerged in the loamy river bottoms. My old buddy Huck purchased that soil conditioner at the bankruptcy auction and had to wait until dry weather to retrieve it. No cover crop got planted. All winter that field either eroded in fat gullies or blew away in drifts that clouded Verona like the dust bowl days, exposing arrowheads and other artifacts left and right. That field has long been hunted, as supposedly a city of 20,000 or so people once congregated on those sand dunes, before small pox and the place turning into Indiana. Nick showed us the arrowheads, most of them fragmented by two centuries of plowing, that he'd already discovered that morning. "I'm going back. There's other people out there already."
After Nick left, Jacque Dawn started telling us all about the latest news from her house. When Jacque starts talking it's like somebody stuck a few dollars in the jukebox and put on a bunch of Patsy Cline tunes. Since the late '60's she has migrated gradually from northern Louisiana, through Arkansas, to the Hoosier Hills, from one twang to another, somehow blending them all into a unique pitch. Supposedly she is Payton Manning's cousin, and calls him Pay-Pay, endearingly, but nobody believes her. She's supposed to be moving to the other farm, owned by Rusty, to keep an eye on the chickens and pigs, since her dad threatened to kick her out in the name of Donald Trump and making America great again. He's been threatening to kick her out since the late '70's. Now the guy has more to deal with than his daughter and her kids and grandchildren; Jacque's mom recently got diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and had both of them removed. Now she's on chemo, nauseous, and has secretly started using marijuana when he goes to sleep after a day of drinking. Usually she consumes cookies baked by Jacque Dawn, but I guess she's also been smoking joints because one of her great-grandchildren accidentally dumped out her Marlboro pack and a distinctly-rolled hooter spilled on the deck right in front of the drunken Trump fan.
"What the hell is this?"
"It's a goddam joint," said Jacque Dawn's mom, who employs the same twang. "I just lost my fucking tits, and I can't hold down nothing without it. I lost my hair. I'm dying. You got anything more to say to me?"
I guess Jacque Dawn's dad shut up then and sulked off to sleep off the day's beer.
Jetta and I shot a few games of pool while Rusty and Jacque Dawn looked over the new Hoefest poster and talked about Jacque's living arrangements. They also sold a few dozen eggs. As we await legitimate markets, the local bars turn out to be the best place to hawk eggs. You got to figure if it's a safe place to market meth, heroin, pills, weed, and morel mushrooms, it's okay to deal a few eggs under the table. They were actually on top of the table, though. "They're not washed," I told people, though we'd picked out only the cleanest ones, sticking the dirty ones in the incubator or feeding them to the pig. "I figure if you come in here you're probably not scared of STD's, so salmonella probably doesn't keep you up at night, either."
"Spec! Don't say that!" said Jetta.
Fortunately Jacque did most of the talking.
When we returned to the farm well before dark, it turned out the first shelf of 90 eggs had started to hatch. All through the night the house echoed with peeping, and we transferred the chicks from the incubator to the back room where I start vegetables. All day Sunday they continued to hatch, until we ended up with 18 blonde chicks, about twenty black ones, and the rest apparently a cross between the two, almost exactly like Mendel would have predicted. We plan on selling chicks this spring, as even at two dollars each you're looking at $24 a dozen. Always wanted to get into the chick business.