A Very Rough Draft of Jim Harstad’s Memoir, ON HE RODE — Chapter Forty-Four

What puts the kick in the chicken, the magic in June? Does anybody sing “Elmer’s Tune” these days? Why would they? What makes me think  about it now? Oh my ma is out, and my pa is out, even Grandpa’s cigar is out, everyone’s out, so let’s stay in tonight.

So what happens to all those crusty, oddly irrelevant tunes once we stop singing them? Maybe they just become part of a huge musical vocabulary humming along inside all our heads all the time. Blue, blue, blue suede shoes. Blue skies smilin’ at me. Weary Blues in the night.

I’m cruising through Ohio farm country on well-maintained two-lane asphalt with broad, firm shoulders. There’s not much traffic and the drivin’ is easy. I’m poking along about 45 mph, thinking about how these small farms are like the small farm my Polish grandparents owned when I was a kid happily spending weeks of summer vacation during the same era that spawned “Elmer’s Tune” and “Let’s Stay in Tonight”, which, it dawns on me, is why I’m thinking about them, when it further dawns on me that it’s the height of the growing season and most of the fields I’m passing don’t seem to be growing much of anything, not even oats, the traditional fallback crop — easy to grow, good for the soil, makes great hay. But what would eat that hay? Cows? I see no cows.

I see unpruned trees, broken fences, tired gates, decaying barns and coops, rusted-out tractors and patched-up pickup Fords and Chevies, the whole countryside a big, spreadout wrecking yard in the making. Future archaeologists should have a literal field day. If, indeed, there are future archaeologists. What if archaeologists are things of the past? (Subtle, ha ha. Can you tell I’m an English teacher? What, by my smell? Or by the smell of my jokes? Are English teachers things of the past, or do you just wish they were?)

English teachers and archaeologists will be things of the past when people become things of the past, and, no doubt about it, that could happen in a pretty short time. Suppose Earth just decides it’s had enough of humanity’s foul play? Say we keep adding to the mess we’ve made already, blithely piling garbage on garbage until there’s no place to live except in garbage among people like us who keep making garbage. Why wouldn’t Earth decide to Hell with us?

Installed from the beginning in a living, breathing, breathtaking Eden, a perfect place to achieve perfection by exercising high intelligence and generosity of spirit to not only maintain its near-ideal survival attributes but also to embellish it and ourselves with an increased and unselfish sharing and merging with all its parts, an enhancement. A Heaven.

And we seemed to be able to make things work pretty well in parts, at times, for certain folks. It did seem for a while that the trend was favorable — the Industrial Revolution pulling the people of the world closer through unrelenting technological innovation and increasing dependence. But, guess what. Instantaneous communication is not the same as instant understanding or agreement. Things can move too fast. Half-baked ideas can become hardwired policy. Evidence can be altered, denied, or destroyed. Memories fade. Lies become truth. Etc.

In short, everything we touch turns to shit eventually, and that is because we are such poor stewards of Earth’s enormous wealth and of ourselves. This is a ponder worth extending, but I can’t do it now. The poison oak is kicking up. And there’s some new thing going on in Miss Chevy’s engine compartment I’ve got to ponder.

The itch started a few miles back, and I did my best to ignore it. I’ve heard it can take a week for the rash to develop. So, right on schedule. Calamine lotion, next stop. But there’s something else going on. The engine? No. Well, maybe. Kind of a . . . not a grinding, exactly. I’ll monitor it.

Too soon it becomes a grinding, exactly, and then a metallic clinking and I make it a quick ponder followed by a tight right turn directly into a dusty, abandoned-looking landing area for semi-heavy-duty 3/4 tons and farm haulers at the back of which sits a big, open equipment shed and workshop. In the middle of the landing sits one vehicle, a tricycle, upon which sits a small blond child, somebody’s pissed-off son. Pissed at me, apparently. For being here in his space, I guess.

“Anybody home?” I ask.

“I’m here,” he doesn’t say. “Don’t I look like anybody to you?” he doesn’t add.

He shades his eyes with his right hand and sneers at me from under it.

“I’ll just go knock on the door,” I say, getting out of Miss Chevy and heading past the boy toward the house.

“Back door,” he mumbles. “Upstairs.”

The back porch is the main entrance, so I rap on the back door and wait. Somebody is walking around inside, but nobody says anything.

I rap again, say, “Hello. Anybody home?” and wait. More rustling around, doors closing, water running. My back itches. It’ll be a bitch on the ground under the greasy engine. Finally, footsteps, high-heeled footsteps high-stepping toward me and stopping to open the door.

Obviously she isn’t expecting road-ratty me. She’s expecting the date she got herself dolled-up for. Fabulous though she may look in her professional attire — and she does —, incredulous is the only word for the look she wears when I ask if I could, uh, park my er car in her, uh, garage. “Hay-all no you cain’t,” she says with a naughty toss of her curls. “Hay-all NO!” The door slams, the pocking of heels recedes then ends with loud sounds of thrown objects stopping abruptly against walls and other impediments.

No, the truth is that I did not really ask to use her big, open maintenance shed to drop my car’s oil pan and do a bit of maintenance on its pushrod bearings in the crude manner described in the previous paragraph, but her reaction could not have been more scornful if I had. No need to say, “Your dinky little car couldn’t get through my garage door.” Or whatever. “Hay-all NO!” works just fine.

The kid hasn’t moved his trike, and he watches me get into Miss Chevy and

start her up. His expression is blank, but he hates me with every fiber of his being, as the saying goes. I can feel it. The clinking sound is getting louder. My chest and back itch like crazy. Rain starts pelting my windshield one dusty pock at a time, then all at once. Some they call me Joe, some they call me Moe, some they say that Speedo he just better take it slow.

Mahalo for reading!

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