Old Wyldes

June 21, 2009

posted and written by caroline picard


Next to:
A farmer in his fifties-sixties, hands course and regularly adjusting things. He seemed intent on occupying himself in any manner possible—he brought no reading material, nothing supplementary and thus made do with the regular examination of surrounding surfaces, not the least of which happened to be the sleeve of my coat.
The plane was stationary, sitting in the gate of an Illinois airport: a lightening storm and the crew adjusted the temperature of the plane according to various and changing passenger requests.

From the tarmac:
A farmer stared out the window, watching the rain pelt big and many and various drops against the glass, the sky swollen and tragic behind and above. He craned his neck upwards, peering, his hands pulled the window shutter down, thrust it up again and down and up again, frustrated that he could not see past a certain point. He was nevertheless excited.
“It’s rained more this hour than it rained all last year where I’m from.” He put a hand, flat, against the glass. I imagine he wanted to feel, at least, the drumming pattern of drops, but the plastic glass was double-paned. There was not even a difference of temperature.

He had an average face. The sort you would expect of an American Man just beyond middle age. He dressed after Norman Rockwell.

“I’m a farmer. I have a farm in Bakersfield. Have you ever been to Bakersfield? Californian for generations. This guy.” He rubbed the pages of the in-flight magazine between his thumb and index fingers. “Originally I’m Scottish, I mean. I’ve got a family kilt, hell I don’t wear skirts though,” he laughed eyes bright with attention. He laughed after Dick Van Dyke. He touched the thinning hair on his head, a habitual but unnecessary smoothing. “My family came from Scotland in the 1700’s, one of the first families. Landed in New York and every few generations moved farther west.
“You think we’re going to go soon? I’ve got a connecting flight to Bakersfield. I can’t miss it. I’ve got to drive to San Francisco tomorrow. Jeez. I know. Crazy. That’s life though. I land in Frisco, take a flight to Bakersfield, wake up in the morning, load my truck up and drive back to Frisco.” He shook his head, chuckling. “It’s sure raining more now than it ever did on my farm last year. We ran out of ground in California I guess that’s why we stopped there—the ancestors, I’m talking about. No more land to cross!” He laughed, smoothing the pleat of his pants. Running his spider hands along the plastic tray, unfastening it and dropping it into his lap then refastening it against the back of the seat in front of him.

He had the sharp and pungeant air of one who eats his meals regularly alone and when in public he spoke loudly causing others to join him as witness. The phone in his pocket rang often and equally loud and he spoke into it quite loudly and upon hanging up, gave a report of the conversation that had just transpired.
“My daughter in-law says I’m screwed. There is only one connecting flight to Bakersfield and if we stay here much longer I’m going to miss it. What a beautiful rain. Beautiful. What a beautiful rain.”

Shrouded in old colloquialisms, quaint and a little staler than his age, (he imagined himself older than he was—it gave him permission to talk about the Orientals), he hid dull shivs in his chatty cathies, and not so slowly continued to organize and adjust the area defined by the perimeter of his hands. Hard blunt butter knives they bruised. “I’m a widow. My wife died ten years ago.”

From the plane:
“I wish this was California. I wouldn’t have to irrigate for weeks. I swear, it’s rained more in this last hour than it has in all of two years in my farm.”
Announcing again & again:
“I’m a farmer.”
I’m a farmer
I’m a farmer.

“My grandson still isn’t up yet. I just  spoke to my son. My grandson is still sleeping. That’s East Coast. It’s three o’clock that boy will sleep all afternoon.

“There’s rain as big as golf balls out there
“I wish this was raining on my land”
“You should write children’s books”
“This rain is beautiful” (licked his lips)
“You’re a young thing how come you’re not married? Good looking enough.”

And a terrible loneliness in his eyes.

“My wife was that sort. She would take hours with her make up in the mirror. If she’d been on the homestead I swear she would have brought her makeup with her and hidden it in flowerpots had I forbidden her.”
He pushed the button for the stewardess who had skewed, arthritic hands and while reaching into the front pocket in front of my seat between my legs, he pulled out an empty plastic cup the one I’d set there and drank from; he passed it to the stewardess and winked at her without looking at me. “Do you think we can make up an hour?” he asked. “I’ve got to get a connecting flight to Bakersfield. My daughter says I’m screwed—would you believe it, my grandson is still  in bed, sleeping, son of a gun. I swear it’s rained more here than it has in the last three years where I come from—drought country—will you look at that rain—”

“I’m a farmer”
I’m a farmer
I’m a farmer.

There is a curious and necessary violence in travel. Moving from one place to another, crossing borders and land mines. But motion is necessary and there were women in the wild west who became prostitutes as an act of will (their necessary own): to live independent, wild lives, taking Matters into their own hands.
The world was nevertheless dirty then, with sheets and blankets always slightly damp and shit tracked by all manner of boots through each and every manner of house, storefront, plywood box.

I’m interested in those who continued to move away from civilization, taking an endless slew of steps, the little entrepreneurs, boasting from one settlement to the next with insatiable thirst. For it must have been a thirst that drove them on.
They used to cover the largest, most famous oil paintings in thick canvas cloths (damp from the sweat of a girl) and, foisted the work on covered wagons, drove them through the clandestine land from one place to the next, to show how man had conquered the space between Deadwood and San Francisco. They boasted by driving their Turners across.
Sometimes a sentimentalist unwrapped the painting of American light, hung the cloth on the back of a mule, and set the painting to breathe in the canyon: one meta sky against the larger one.
I’m interested in those who continued to start new things, even after the last had been settled. Crazy fools, subjecting their children again and again to the horrors of Indians, rapists, filth, robebrs drought, dysentary, thrush and, especially, the shuddering implacable silence that used to be America.

That family must not have (really) liked being farmers.

I didn’t say but should have said that I was saving the cup for later.


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