Cornelius picked me up in the Porsche-uh outside baggage claim at the Medford airport. We gave each other fist bumps, I buckled in, he hit the gas.
“Good flight?” he asked.
“Yep,” I said.
“You sure you know how to drive a tractor?” he asked.
“Of course. What’s up?”
“Cause that’s what you’re gonna do all week,” Cornelius said. “We’ve got some farm prep contracts we need to finish up in Applegate Valley. It’s beautiful up there. You’re gonna love it. You’ll just be out there by yourself, spreading fertilizers and soil implements.”
“Perfect,” I said.
Cornelius’ familiar ringtone of “Robin Hood and Little John” interrupted through the speakers.
“It’s Dick,” Cornelius said. “I gotta take this.” He hit a button on his console. “What’s up?”
“DID YOU PICK UP YOUR FRIEND YET?” Dick yelled.
“ARE YOU DONE SUCKING EACH OTHER’S DICKS?”
“Dude, Nate is right here. We’re on our way back to the farm,” Cornelius said.
“What’s up, Jordon? So you’re one of those people who has a first name for a last name.”
“What?” I said.
“Welcome to Oregon,” Dick said. “Ready to get to work?”
“You bet,” I said.
“Good, because we’re going to hit the ground running. Did you bring work boots?”
“Of course,” I said.
“Alright, see you when you get here,” Dick said. “CORNELIUS! WHERE THE FUCK ARE THE ZIPLOC BAGS?”
I listened to those two bark at each other for a bit. Cornelius finally tapped the button on his console and ended the call.
“So Dick’s here,” I said.
“Yeah,” Cornelius said. “So’s Brett. But don’t worry. You won’t really have to deal with Dick much at all. I’ll be in the middle of you guys.”
“Well I ain’t worried,” I said. “Should I be?”
Cornelius wiped his nose. “Nah. Forget it. He’s just a fuck boy with a loud mouth. One day I’m gonna shut it for him, know what I’m saying?”
“Sounds like he needs a good ass whippin,” I said.
“Exactly. Want a coffee?”
I said sure and we pulled into The Human Bean in Central Point.
“Oh shit,” Cornelius said. He turned down The Grateful Dead inside the Porsche-uh.
“It’s Dick,” Cornelius nodded his head towards the red Dodge truck in front of us. “Looks like Brett’s sitting next to him.”
“OK,” I said.
Cornelius remained oddly mute for the next several minutes as we waited in the drive-thru line. We pulled up to the window.
“The guys ahead of you paid for your drinks so there’s no charge!” She handed our lattes to Cornelius.
The four of us arrived at the farm at the same time. We drove through the gate and parked. As I got out of the Porsche-uh, Dick got out of the Dodge.
“Well hell, look at you!” Dick said to me, thrusting out his hand to shake mine. “You got your Trato Diablo shirt and hat on already. Represent!”
Dick Baker stood about 6’ 2” but carried himself like he was 6’ 4”. He was built like an athlete – I figured he played soccer or lacrosse his entire life. He wore a wide-brimmed straw hat like you’d wear at the beach, Ray Ban Aviators were strapped to his face, and his smiling teeth glowed from the shade of his hat like a Crest White Strip commercial. He was wearing a red Under Armor t-shirt, black shorts, and hiking boots. You know. Hemp Farmer attire.
“You must be Dick,” I said, shaking his hand.
“And you must be Jordon,” he said.
“Last name’s a first name,” he said. “This is Brett.”
Brett came walking around the front of the Dodge, smiling.
“What’s up, brother?” he said to me. Brett greeted me with the largest, whitest teeth I had ever seen. When he pulled back his lips it was as if he was revealing a mouthful of LED lights.
I shook his hand. “Nice to meet ya.”
“Cornelius tells me you’re a Pearl Jam fan,” Brett said.
“That’s right,” I said.
“Me too,” Brett said.
“Alright. We can all suck each other off later,” Dick said. “Let’s go in the office.”
Inside we occupied whatever chairs we could and Dick started discussing the week’s activities. The office appeared much different from the last time I visited. Dick’s handwriting covered the many white boards on the walls with a variety of colors and diagrams. It looked like they were busy.
After a while Dick explained what I’d be doing – driving a tractor all week. I said it sounded good to me and I was ready to go.
“Well good because I’m taking you out there right now. Tractor and everything’s already there,” Dick said. “I know you two pussies will just finger each other till I get back,” he said to Cornelius and Brett.
“Hey, man,” Brett said. “Language.”
I followed Dick out of the office to the Dodge. We climbed inside and started hauling ass through trees. Dick was on the phone most of the time, barking at whoever was on the other line. Dick didn’t mess around.
“So how long have you known Cornelius?” he asked.
“Almost twenty-five years,” I said. “Trust that guy with my life.”
“You’d trust that guy with your life?” he scoffed. “Man, you must be some friend. Where you staying at while you’re here?”
“At his place, I guess.”
“That disgusting shit hole? Have you been in there yet?”
“Well,” I laughed, “I guess you could say I’m used to it.”
“That place is disgusting,” he said. “I went in there once. I’ll never step foot in there again. Stinks like cat shit.”
Dick went on and on from there. He was, as they say in The South, a talker. For the most part he was trash talking Cornelius and I was surprised Dick had the balls, knowing full well that Cornelius was like a brother to me.
Or maybe he didn’t know.
Dick’s cellphone rang. “Check this out, it’s Cornelius.” He showed me the name of the incoming call on his phone. It read “Lazy Mexican.”
Holy shit, I thought, this guy knows Cornelius is my homie, right? And he’s half Mexican. Cornelius is going to flip the hell out when I tell him about this.
“WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT, CORNELIUS?” Dick yelled. “NO, NO, DON’T DO A FUCKING THING TILL I GET BACK, YOU FUCKING IDIOTS!” he threw the phone onto the seat and it bounced to the floor.
I knew right then I was going to keep my lips zipped when I was around Dick. Keep all my cards close to my chest. It appeared Cornelius didn’t tell this lunatic anything about me – my qualifications, my background, my experience, nothing. And furthermore it appeared he either really didn’t understand Cornelius and I were best friends, or if he did then he didn’t give a shit. It was clear the guy had less than zero respect for Cornelius – and he may very well have had a poor opinion of me before we even met, considering my association with Cornelius in the first place.
After a while we pulled into a gated entrance of a farm property. Billy climbed off the blue New Holland tractor and met us by the pallets stacked with bags of fertilizer. Dick explained my job and asked me if I had any questions, which I didn’t.
“Billy’s going back with me,” Dick said. “Give Nate the keys to the Hyundai.”
Billy tossed the keys to me and followed Dick to the Dodge. They took off in a cloud of dirt.
I hopped on the New Holland, put my earbuds in, cranked up Chris Stapleton and put the tractor in gear. I drove up and down a 15-acre field spreading fertilizer for the next several hours. I just got lost in thought, gazing at the scenery. Then I’d go shovel the spreader full of more fertilizer, get back on the tractor, drive on.
Around 5:30, Cornelius shot me a text:
Be here in 30. Dick wants to go out to eat.
I bailed off the New Holland and made Cornelius’ Hyundai squeal around those curvy Oregon backroads.
“You got five minutes to shower, dude,” Cornelius told me when I walked in the farmhouse.
This is when I realized that for some odd reason, whenever Dick was around everybody seemed to get into a rush. The guy just seemed to make people nervous, even Cornelius.
“Just tell the dude we’ll be a few minutes late,” I said.
“Just hurry up.”
I toweled off and tossed on some blue jeans, flip-flops and a Pearl Jam t-shirt.
We met Dick and Brett by the Porsche-uh.
“I’M DRIVING,” Dick said. “GIVE ME THE KEYS.”
“What?” Cornelius said.
“YOU HEARD WHAT I SAID. YOU’RE NOT DRIVING, YOU FUCKING STONER. HAND ME THE KEYS!”
Cornelius placed the keys to his precious Porsche-uh into Dick’s hand and without so much as a whimper, got into the back seat behind him. Brett took the passenger seat. I sat behind Brett. I turned my head to stare at Cornelius. He ignored me and turned his head to look out the window.
“Billy ain’t coming?” I asked.
“No,” Dick said. “Billy’s a dweeb. He likes to sit in that trailer and talk to his brothers while he’s gaming.”
Dick hit the gas. We drove into downtown Medford.
“So what kind of car do you drive?” I asked Dick. I felt it was pretentious, but I was surrounded by a bunch of pretentious pricks anyways so, pardon moi.
“A Mercedes S-Class,” he said. “What do you drive?”
“Toyota,” I said. “Sequoia.” Which wasn’t true. That was my wife’s car. I drove a Tacoma. I just thought the Sequoia sounded better.
Brett and Dick turned their heads to look at each other.
We pulled into Porter’s, parked, got out. Walking through the parking lot Dick turned around and said, “I see your Pearl Jam shirt. I love Pearl Jam. Ever see them live?”
“Actually saw them just a few months ago in Chicago,” I said. “Sold out Wrigley Field. I got Ten Club tickets.”
“Cool,” he said, then turned around and kept walking.
Dick had reserved a table. As soon as we were seated inside, he immediately ordered four bottles of Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon. That’s $115 a pop.
“So why do you want to be a hemp farmer?” Dick asked me.
I shrugged, “Well, truth is I just really want to get out of Arkansas. Been there long enough. Sounds like an exciting opportunity. Why not?”
“Why not?” Dick repeated. “Famous last words.”
For dinner, everyone ordered steaks. I ordered the Porterhouse. $69. Brett and Cornelius ordered several more entrees between them. Dick continued refilling everyone’s glasses with wine, except for Cornelius.
When our meals arrived, Dick and I tore into ours. Dick talked nonstop with his mouth full of food while Cornelius and Brett pecked at their plates like a couple of pigeons. The wine flowed. The boasting followed. There was a lot of talk about golf and Trump.
The scene would be repeated throughout the following year. When Dick came to town, we all worked hard but at the end of the day, we spoiled ourselves with expensive meals and drinks, all on the company dime. And that was for starters. Usually after feasting the boys would hit up bars and strip clubs while I went home to the wife and kids.
But that first week was brutal. That was the only lavish meal we shared together. The rest of the time I was working from sunup till sundown. I typically drove the Hyundai to the farmhouse in the dark. Cornelius would just be getting off work, too, or he would sometimes just be getting out of the shower. We would Grubhub some burgers from Jasper’s, plop on the couch and wolf down our food, then I’d just about fall out right there on the couch without even throwing my trash away. Wake up, do it all over again.
That was my first week and I liked the grind. The hours were long but the work wasn’t too hard and I really enjoyed it. I didn’t think this is what I’d be doing all the time as Farm Manager, but it looked like we had a lot of business being tossed at us and we just needed to fill in the gaps of our labor force. I mean, I certainly wasn’t managing anything. I was just driving a tractor.
I could get used to this, I thought as I looked out the window on my flight back to Arkansas.