I would talk to the plants, and they would
talk to me. It was simple back then.
A light breeze often
circles the fields of tobacco crops, stirring up the heat, and playing
tricks on tired afternoon- eyes. At ground level, small irrigation channels
can be traced across the fields. They carve innumerable routes across
the baked soil, winding loosely clustered molecules of water around the
plants, in search of hidden roots, a chance for solace from the burning
sun. But the ground looks too tough to absorb any moisture now. Its
been a long summer, and where snow melt once drenched the earth, the sun
has fired it a new veneer. The late afternoon light is strongest of all,
and when it shines its brightest, the world seems to stop and rest a minute.
Around this time of year, the bushes have grown so tall and thick that
the red soil beneath is usually cloaked from view. If the wind picks up
a little more, the delicate leafy heads of the bushes are parted in this
direction and that. Unevenly, yet perfectly. Vivid green washes punctuated
by faltering red lines, joined up again by more substantial clumps of
Not very many people are lucky enough to see this momentary sculpture
of the earth. Only me, because my guest lodge is at the peak of a gentle
hill, and the crop sprayers, who pass over in their funny looking aircraft
from time to time.
From the very closest point in the foreground to the limits of the horizon,
the landscape looks identical. Of course it isnt really. Every square
foot is reacting to its own unique circumstances. Beneath the soil, a
very long way down, the earth is at war with itself. This war has lasted
forever, and yet its only just begun. Nearer the surface, conflict
is decided much quicker. Heroic struggles rage between the insects, the
plants and the chemicals sent to kill them. Battles won and lost on a
minute by minute basis. But back up here, a peaceful calm drifts over
us effortlessly. Up here, the conflict is over.
Before I moved to the city, when I was still a young child, I used to
sit and talk to the plants down in the fields. At that time my father
ran the farm, which consisted of low-grade tobacco grown for a local factory,
and a lodge, which back then was just a small guesthouse where no-one
ever stayed. My mother would bring in most of the money. She worked in
the nearest town as a water-filtration saleswoman, and earned more than
enough to fortify my fathers weakening income. So there I sat, listlessly
drifting through my summer days when school was out, with no-one much
to play with but myself. When I needed them, the thick foliage of the
plants would provide me with a bunch of imaginary friends and enemies
around every corner. I would run and hide amongst them, listening closely
to the rustling of leaves for clues to their whereabouts. I would talk
to the plants, and they would talk to me. It was simple back then.
As the sun falls faster, fields turn green to gold and the birds flock
home to roost. When my mother died young from a skin cancer that spread
to her lungs, we were forced to move north to Apalachin, New York. My
father took work as a mechanic, employing the skills he acquired with
farm machinery on the trucks that rested there, before thundering their
way back towards the southern states. I was sent to school in the City,
where I would board all week and return only at weekends. Six years later
I started college, and gradually weekends became months, months became
years. My father died when I was 28. I never did go back to Apalachin
after that. Instead I came here.
Neil was making good time down Interstate 95. The weather so far had been
fine, and at this rate he was going to arrive much earlier than he expected.
If he got there before dusk he reckoned, there would be ample time to
head straight over to the nearby town and pay Karl a visit. He always
enjoyed the ritual of rolling up on Karl, their fond greetings, and the
chance to look around the garden before heading back up the hill. Karl
was a very proud gardener, and Neil always felt obliged to take the guided
tour of the new plants, checking them for size and potency, before making
his selection and retreating to the dining room, where Karl would weigh
out a finely dried specimen from the previous crop. It was a pleasure
to do business with Karl, who was more than just a good friend.
Alone in the cockpit, Neil was perfectly content in his thoughts. He enjoyed
the isolation of trucking. The hours upon hours of solitary one-way conversation
gave him time to make sense of things. He often felt as if by the time
he got wherever he was going, he would have a million interesting things
to say. A lock-up full of thoughts and feelings ready to unload. Only
sometimes, he got so liquored that he just talked shit like the others.
But Neil was different. Not because he was gay, for that was becoming
less and less uncommon in his profession, but because he had such a wider
perspective than most of the other guys on the road. This was one reason
why he loved staying at Sams place. Neil and Sam had the kind of
bond that people on the same wavelength make without any effort.
Neil had first met Sam ten years ago, when she was still a beautiful straw-mouthed
country girl thrown to the sharp teeth of the city. Neil was at that time
a painter. He had arrived in New York hoping to squeeze his way onto the
scene, pushing his work to the right people until a gallery would take
him up for a last minute weekend show that would turn into a summer marathon,
his first step to fortune and acclaim. By the time Neil met Sam, he was
redecorating her newly rented apartment in Brooklyn as a favor from a
small local firm that never had enough work on to employ him full-time.
Sam was in her third year of college, and was fast becoming one of the
most intelligent students in her class. Neil knew this because unlike
most liberal studies students, she didnt try to sound too clever.
Sometimes, it felt like Sam could put into words what Neil had tried to
put on canvas. They would waste the afternoons in coffee shops while Sam
would talk about papers she couldnt be bothered to write, and Neil
would sketch on napkins the paintings he would never paint.
Of course, there was another reason he loved staying at Sams place.
In fact why most people loved staying at Sams place had very little
to do with the conversation.
Neil was so proud of Sam when he heard about her lodge. He had been away,
hauling his reefer full of fresh goods up and down the Californian coastline
when he ran into a trucker who told him about this new place back East.
It was strictly a word of mouth thing Neil was told, but once you were
well, you had to see it to believe it. When he did see it, the
words that sprang to Neils mouth were graces, a thank you note for
his prayers. Here was a place where his paintings came alive. Everything
was for sale. Sex, drugs, books, toys, videos, rubber, plastics, creams,
restrictors, rings, hooks, anything at all. There were no rules it seemed,
only choices. Now Neil wasnt a shy boy by nature. Anyone could tell
you that. But when he first arrived at Sams place, even he didnt
know where to look.
It was Sam that had first suggested trucking to Neil. She did so years
ago while they sat under the bridge one day and talked about how the city
made you feel closeted in. Neil didnt take her seriously at first,
the image alone of his slim body ratting around the cab of an articulated
vehicle made him feel faintly embarrassed. But gradually, as Sam recited
the stories her father had told back in Apalachin, the idea grew on him.
Freedom and space were two things Neil wasnt sure he understood.
Hed never lived outside a city, and it seemed like a good way to
find out what the rest of America was really like.
As Neil rounded the exit lane from the highway he turned up the baseball
on the radio. Hed always been a big fan, and being gay had never
stopped him going to games or hanging out in sports bars. All those macho
men with tattoos on their necks and finely sculpted torsos were a bonus
as far as he was concerned. But in the cab was probably still Neils
favorite place to catch a game. Alone, Neil loved to transport himself
out of the driving seat for a while and onto the plate. He pictured himself
in a red and white shirt with gray pants, tweaking his stiff-peaked cap
slightly to one side to eliminate the glare. He would grind his toes into
the dust and spit into the ground, slowly rotating the bat in his hands
while the pitcher wound up his arm. He heard the roar of the crowd rising
to the clean sound of leather on wood, and off he set, his skinny legs
pumping up and down towards first base.
Natan was still some miles back, filling up at a gas station and slurping
on a hot coffee. He looked around him. There was nothing much to see.
A few dogs lurked around the station, filling up themselves on scraps
that the garbage men left behind. It was a desperate place, and Natan
was impatient to get back on the road. But he was also hungry, so he set
off across the tarmac towards the diner for something quick to settle
Natan had taken a train to Trenton as soon as he arrived in the United
States. His brother Liuz, who was seven years his senior, had lived there
ever since he made the move from Poland the previous fall. Neither of
them had real social security numbers, but that didnt seem to matter
much. His brother took him through the initial acclimatization process.
He counseled Natan on how to conceal his status from the authorities,
helped him get some ID, a drivers license, bank account, that sort of
thing, and generally eased him into American life with out too much fuss.
Luckily, Natan spoke good English, so that wouldnt be the problem
it had been for his brother, who was a bit slow in that department. His
brother was a trucker too, and it was expected that he would help Natan
find work. Within a few weeks, Liuz had fitted Natan up with a rig on
loan from a local guy he didnt really know and found him some contract
work down south. It was amazing, thought Natan, how simple it had all
been. He could have done this years ago. Instead he had trailed all over
mainland Europe, struggling to find the best paid work, but being cut
off from most of it by domestic drivers who needed the money as much as
Now he was in America he knew all this would change. He remembered how
his brother had described it to him on the telephone. The clubs, the cash,
the clothes, and most of all the women. Ah! How they fell to his knees
for just a whisper of that accent! Well, Natan didnt really believe
Liuzs inflated stories, who he was sure only a mother could love,
but that didnt discourage him for a moment. He knew he was the good
looking one of the family. He was taller, stronger, and had the kind of
muscle bound physique the chicks died for. What was more he had the gift
of the gab. Natan would spin them one of his lines, something about their
eyes, their lips, their perfume, whatever it took. But he always got them
in the end. Why would it be any different here? It wouldnt, he agreed
with himself. He was ready for some of that prime American ass his brother
was always boasting about. Only for him it wouldnt be the stuff
of exaggeration or make-believe. He would really get some.
So when his brother told him about a secret truckers stop on the way through
North Carolina, a place where you could get a women cheap for the night,
Natan couldnt help but laugh. Pay for it? Ha! Sure hed used
those kind of places a couple of times back home, but only when there
was nothing else on offer. And even then he wasnt sure if he had
ever really paid had he? Probably not. Ha! They probably paid him! His
brother tried to explain that this place wasnt like the places back
home. This was a high class affair run by some hippy-type chick, a real
stunner with legs up to her armpits who, Liuz assured him, "wouldnt
get the shits from nobody."
Liuz tried to describe the scene to Natan. There were, said Liuz, all
kinds of weird shit going on: Men dressed like women getting it on with
other men, good looking women (who were actually men) with women who looked
like men, women with good looking men (who were actually women), even
ugly looking men with good looking women (who really were women). Add
to that the weed, the e, the acid, the coke, of course the booze, mix
it up with blistering, throbbing dance music and, as Liuz put it, "you
cant tell your elbow from your asshole." But Natan wasnt
really listening anymore. He told his brother, "I dont need
to pay for that. Most women take one look at me and its over. They
know what they want."
"But listen," Natan pressed his brother, "tell me more
about this hippy chick, she sounds interesting." Liuz told his brother
the truth. She wouldnt be impressed by his arrogant bullshit act
he said. And she certainly wouldnt give a shit if Natan told her
she had nice teeth or hair. But Natan was adamant, he would go to this
place and have this woman. She would be his first conquest in this new
land. So Liuz dropped the subject, he knew it was pointless to argue with
his brother when he was in this kind if mood.
Back on the road, Natan looked up and shook his head free from his day-dream,
the heat reflecting from the asphalt road had pushed the temperature inside
the cab to nearly 100 degrees. The a/c had packed up several hundred miles
ago so Natan cracked open a window to let some fresh air in. The view
from his windscreen hadnt really altered much over the past hour
or so, and Natan was feeling irritable, nauseous from the heat, and just
generally pissed off with himself. He began to wonder if hed missed
Over by the coffee tables, the area that served as a kind of lobby-come-living
room, two guys sat reading their papers and taking the occasional sip
of jasmine tea. Samantha looked over to them and smiled to herself. They
looked so at home, sitting there in their open toes sandals and embroidered
cotton shirts, whispering to each other intimate little jokes that only
they would find funny. These two had been here for three days now, and
Samantha had come realize that they werent truckers at all, they
had somehow heard about her place and decided it was the perfect spot
for a short break.
The fresh mid-morning air blew in over the fields and through the open
French-windows, lifting the stale smells clean out of the furniture and
walls, which had seen it all before. The scene was such a contrast to
last night, when a whole bunch of the guys had decided to design some
kind of drinking game that paired them off in a variety of directions,
partners, and performances. This kind of behavior was something Samantha
had to keep a careful eye on. Even in her place, she reasoned, you had
to have rules. Of course, it was up to them to do whatever with whoever,
but Samantha was keen to maintain common areas as places where everyone,
gay, straight or whatever, could relax and enjoy the anticipation of another
the evening ahead without feeling either too strongly part of, or excluded
from, any particular group.
She watched as Mitch hovered in front of the men, before stooping to collect
the tray and return it to the kitchen. She was pleased with the way Mitch
had fitted into her way of doing things so easily. It couldnt be
easy for him she thought, a trucker of 40 years whose eyes had gradually
worsened to the extent that the DMV revoked his license. She was glad
to have him on the team as a chef, his new vocation had given him a new
lease of life it seemed. The rest of the gang included the cleaning lady
from Virginia, who Samantha was sure had no idea what went on, and Micki,
a local girl who came over in the evenings to work the cash register in
the toyshop. Sales had doubled under Micki, who had just the cutest way
of demonstrating how each product was operated, the obvious pitfalls,
and often came up with some inspired new ways to use them.
Back when she renovated the lodge and first opened for business, Samantha
had run the entire place by herself, including the famous home-cooked
meals. The popularity of the place had surprised Samantha to begin with.
Back then, Samantha worked the kitchen as a buffet style service, including
the meals in the room prices, and opened the bar as soon as the food was
out. During the day she would clean the rooms, most of which the guys
kept in real nice shape anyway, and pick through the catalogs ticking
off boxes on the fax-back form, which would keep the shop stocked with
all the latest and best new toys. Fresh food deliveries arrived every
other day, and Samantha rarely had to run across to town for last minute
extras. Except of course, if the drugs were late.
Samantha had used the same guy from California for years, a friend from
college who had established himself a comfortable connection with one
of the more reticent druglords of the West coast. He was willing to supply
typical goods such as coke, e, heroin, acid, and weed at low cost, provided
he didnt have to ship it himself. So one or two of Samanthas
best customers formed a supply line, dragging a few boxes over whenever
their travels took them that way. If the chain ever did break down, which
still occasionally happened, she would call in on Karl and see what he
had, but this was more of a last resort as Karl was more of a Homes and
Gardens man than a businessman.
By 5pm, Samantha hadnt quite recovered from her afternoon snooze
on the couch, and so she jumped when Neil strolled excitedly through the
salon doors. They embraced like old friends do, without clumsiness or
uncertainty, and swept over to the bar for a stiff gin and tonic. Neil
told Samantha about his day, everything from the way the rain dried up
in South Carolina to how his stereo had chewed his favorite Pearl Jam
tape. He really missed her sometimes he told her. Although of course he
refused to get a phone installed in the cab, because then she could call
him at anytime, and that would get annoying.
Samantha probed his personal life again, did he meet anyone special this
time? But he gave the same answer as usual. "Nothing doing."
It seemed like all his boyfriends had found new lovers, had settled down
even, whilst he just went on from fling to fling. He knew it had something
to do with his occupation these days, but it was something else too. He
couldnt bear to be in one of those ever-so-thoughtful relationships,
where it was all fancy European food, designer bath mats and fashion accessories.
Neil was a mans man, in every sense of the word. He wanted a man
who he could sit down and watch a ball game with, sink a few beers and
crack a few crude jokes, before retiring to their room to ball each other
out. Well, it just didnt seem to be happening right now. Hed
almost forgotten what it felt like to
Samantha laughed, well, she
knew what he meant.
"I know what youre thinking," Natan said at the bar that
evening, "you are liking what you see."
Samantha looked on, she felt a bit sick from the alcohol and this guy
leering at her breasts wasnt helping. She flicked a withering look
towards Neil who was propping up the bar, they both quite drunk by now.
"Hang on Samantha," Neil said, "lets give our friend
here a chance to explain himself." He started to giggle as he caught
Samanthas eyes rolling. He turned to face him. "Take a seat
stranger," he said, Whats your story? Where are you from with
that kind of accent?"
"Ah," said Natan, "I have traveled many miles, over many
lands far and wide, searching for a beauty such as this." He pointed
towards Samantha, who looked down at the floor for no good reason. "But
now I find her and she cannot speak. Ah, the irony is like poison to my
heart. Such fair hair, those eyes shining like crystals, those lips the
softest pillow of roses where a man might lay his weary head. But oh!
Locked tight they are, in the cruelest hand fate ever dealt. Its
true, she cannot tell me how she feels."
Samantha passed a beer across the bar towards the man. Natan accepted
the glass, lingering over her hand as she placed it besides his. "I
will come again for you my sweet," he declared, "I think you
need some time." And with that he spun dramatically on the spot,
and turned back towards the group with whom he was drinking. They were
playing some kind of card game, like poker but different, and this new
guy was winning quite a lot by the look of it. Around the table sat a
mixture of faces, some she recognized, others she did not. The ones she
did were mainly the check shirt and jeans guys that passed through, the
ones that complained at the price of the cheapest girls, and didnt
go much for the drugs. They were her worst customers in one sense, meatheads
who didnt appreciate the trouble she went to finding the right balance
for her lodge. But they were bread and butter money, and harmless enough,
certainly since word spread of the beating the last homo-basher got from
Samantha noticed how, as the man sat down to rejoin the table, he poured
a little white spirit from a flask into his beer. So thats how he
was getting that way so fast she thought, hed spent little at the
bar. Another reason, she reminded herself, to put up the prices again.
"Jesus Christ," she cried to Neil, "I cant stand
the ones that think theyll get a freebie from the owner. Like Im
part of the room rate or something." Neil laughed, "I hear ya,"
he said, "but kind of cute dont you think?"
"Oh good Lord! Are you serious Neil? I mean really? Well if thats
the kind youre into these days, be my guest."
"Are you kidding," Neil replied, "those guys arent
really the type for experimentation if you know what I mean."
They laughed together and Neil turned back to face Samantha. He wished
sometimes he couldve kept pretending to be straight, but it just
wasnt meant to be. He just couldnt find her attractive in
that way. It didnt matter anyhow, being this close to someone was
worth more than any of that.
They talked and drank, reminiscing about the old days, and keeping a close
eye on the man who had burst in on them, wondering what he would do next.
Out in the fields, the crops had settled down for the night, the wind
dropping to a whisper. Karl had put his plants to bed, and after reading
for a while with his feet in the electronic foot-spa, he put himself to
bed. The towns people were at home, or in bars, or shopping, or whatever
else they did. Up here though, it was different. By 10pm. the evening
light had faded to black, and the party was in full swing again. Everybody
was having a good time, and everyone was getting something they couldnt
get elsewhere. They felt young, and up here, they could pretty much do
whatever they wanted.
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