by Mark Middlebrook
|Kit recommends that you not buy this wine, no matter how cheap it is!|
It was the summer of 1973, when my family moved from Houston, Texas to Larchmont, New York. My parents were wrapping up things in Houston, and sent us up to Iowa to stay with our grandmother in Osceola, Iowa (the county seat of Clark County, I'll have you know!) for a few weeks.
I was 12 years old and bored to tears, so my grandmother suggested that I join the other school kids in working in the fields. What the hell, I figured ... spend the day at honest labor ... earn some pocket money ... and anything's better than sitting around reading Hardy Boys mysteries from the Osceola Library.
So the gig was that you showed up at the high school early in the morning, where school buses took you to a nearby field. I showed up in Osh Kosh B'gosh overalls and with hair rather longer than the norm in south-central Iowa. (Those were the same overalls on which I later embroidered "LEGALIZE FREEDOM" during my neo-hippy New York adolescence. I still have them and have been known to don them for cleaning out the gutters or crawling around under the house - this is freedom?)
Our job was to thin the corn rows. A group of kids, shovels in hands, lined up at one end of the cornfield, one kid per row. When the foreman gave the sign to start, each of us walked down our row, looking for anything that didn't look like a single, healthy corn stalk and digging it up when we found it. The most common corn miscreants were multiple stalks coming out of the same base.
I worked my way down my row, diligently uprooting the rogue stalks. When I got to the end of my row, I discovered that everyone else had finished their rows a good deal earlier.
The same scenario repeated itself on subsequent rows, even though I tried hard to work faster. Somehow I just didn't have the knack for rapid corn-slaughter. The foreman told me in a nice way that it would be helpful if I could finish my rows a little more quickly, but try as I might, I was always the last one out by a wide margin.
We got to the last set of rows before lunch, and I vowed not to embarrass myself yet again. I threw every ounce of concentration into finding and digging up the Bad Ones as quickly as possible. I entered The Zone, where the worker and the work are One. It was just me, the shovel, and the corn. All extraneous sensory experience was gone. I emerged from the end of my row and looked around, expecting to find myself, if not in the middle of the pack of Those Who Have Finished, at least not at its very end.
Instead I found Nothingness. Not only had everyone finished way ahead of me again, but they'd all gotten on the bus, which had departed to take them to the park for lunch. I was alone, stuck at the edge of a fucking cornfield in south-central Iowa in the middle of August. What's worse, I was wearing overalls and holding a shovel. (Perhaps there is a level in Dante's Hell just like this waiting for me.)
Apparently the corn gods decided to take pity on me, because shortly thereafter one of the older foremen came by in his car and noticed this forlorn and pitiful-looking city kid in overalls and long hair standing like an idiot at the edge of the cornfield. He ferried me over to the park for lunch. I don't remember what happened during the afternoon's work, but I do remember that I didn't go back the next day. The Hardy Boys suddenly seemed a lot more palatable.
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