How You Gonna Keep ‘Em Down On The Farm?

The old man don’t understand. Most nights I keep quiet enough about it but sometimes he’ll get to talking and I can’t help myself. Like tonight. We was at the dinner table and he talks about how maybe we can trade a few of the good herd for a new churn and a blade for the plow.

“You know, pop,” I says, all friendly because I don’t want him to think I’m taking a tone. “If we had money, we could just buy a new plow blade.”

Mama gives me a sign like to hush up but it’s too late. The old man already got his hackles up. “Now you tell me, boy, what the hell we gonna do with money around here?”

I put down my fork. I feel like running my hands through my hair but he’ll think I’m giving him sass. I swear I must have explain this to him a hundred times. It’s like talking to a little child. “Pop,” I says, trying not to come off all highfalutin, “money can be exchanged for goods and services.”

“Like what? I done told you we can trade some of the herd for the damn blade.”

This is where I always have a hard time explaining it. I love the old man, but he ain’t never been farther than the town. He don’t know what it’s like. “Like…well, we could get some silk shirts. Or, or cable TV. We could get a ping pong table.”

“What I want with a silk shirt? I’m gonna wear it to church a Sunday?” Ma giggles at that. She means well but she ain’t no help. “I don’t even know what a cable TV or ping pong is.”

I commence to sulking. He can still make me feel like a little boy. “They had them in the city. When I was in the Army.”

“God amighty,” he hollers. “When you was in the Army. When you was in the Army. I ain’t never gonna quit hearing about all them things you had when you was in the Army. Capitalism. Recreational drugs. Po-nography.”

“It’s pornography, pops!” I shouldn’t oughta yell but he just don’t listen.

“Well, hell, I don’t care what you call it. What the hell you need that for? Ain’t Cindy Mell giving it up to you no more?”

“She is, but…”

“Ain’t she a pretty girl?”

“She is, but…”

“If ifs and buts was candy and nuts we’d all have a Merry Christmas,” he snorts. It’s easy for him to laugh. He ain’t never even seen no pornography. Him and Ma been married for 32 years and I bet she never pranced around in no leather teddy. “What’s so damn special about your po-nography anyway?”

“It’s…it’s complicated, pops. You see, in the city, they got girls what will take off they clothes for money.” I ain’t so good at explaining things. But I know what I know.

“But Cindy Mell take her clothes off for free! Why you want to have to pay for it?”

“Because…because they got this thing called pimping. Maybe she’d do it for some other feller, and I could get him to give her money.”

“I don’t see what good that does you.”

“Well, then I’d have money! I could buy a poster of some rock singer, or invest it in long-term convertible debentures. That’s….”

He speaks over my words, mocking me. “HOW THEY DO IT IN THE CITY. I wish you ain’t never gone and fought in that war, boy. I raised you with a good home and food on the table and good neighbors and off you go to kill a couple of foreigners and all you can talk about is futures shorting and public transportation and watches what can tell you what time it is in Check-o-slovakia.”

“It’s the future, pops. Electronic calendars. Sports entertainment. Mugging.” I start to get sore and raise my voice. Ma waves her hands at me but I’m tired and I keep going. “Pet monkeys. Meth labs. Plastic figurines of fellers what shoot up crooks in the movie-shows. Wireless telephones. Crazy fellers with sandwich boards. Neckties. All them things you wouldn’t know nothing about, because you’re too scared to leave this place! Scared of what the world is really all about!”

He glares at me. I gone too far. If I weren’t half again his size he’d hand me a beating, I can tell it. For a minute I think he’s gonna turn me out of the house like he did my brother when Eddie wouldn’t stop talking about the point-of-purchase advertising industry. But all he does is flex his big rough hands around a butter knife.

“Shut up and eat your soup, boy,” he hisses.

He can’t put me off forever. He’s old and the future is coming. The farm will be mine when he’s gone. And I got plans. I ain’t begun to tell him all the things I learned in the city. Someday this whole county will think of my name when they hear the words ‘condominium association’. You got to leave your mark.

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