I was back in Arkansas for a week then flew right back to Oregon. This time I was going to be out there for three weeks during the peak of planting season, from late-May to mid-June. The plan was I’d help get the entire 24 acres on the three properties planted, then fly back to Arkansas and get moved.
It was the same routine as before. As soon as Cornelius picked me up at the airport in the Porsche-uh, we went straight to the farm and right to work.
The farm employed roughly fifteen people at the time. All of them were contract workers – only myself, Billy, Cornelius and Dick were actually employed by Trato Diablo Farms. Out in the field, the big orange Kubota tractor was inching along the rows, towing a planting implement with four people sitting behind it, handplanting starts. Several workers followed along, helping the driver keep his line, making sure each plant was placed in the bed properly, and so on.
The smaller blue New Holland tractor was at the 9 acre property laying t-tape and plastic, creating beds with another crew following along.
The greenhouses were full of activity, too. Cornelius and Dick had sealed several germination contracts and a handful of workers were constantly in there watering and nursing the plants to health. Customers would come to pick up their starts or the farm would make deliveries.
The idea, as Cornelius explained it, would be that I’d follow him along and learn every angle of the farm, every facet of the industry. I followed along with Cornelius for maybe an hour before it was determined I was best needed out by that tractor, helping the crew get plants in the ground.
For the following three weeks it seemed Cornelius was too busy with greenhouse activities to really school me on anything. Much of my “training” would just have to wait for summer, when things were a bit slower on the farm.
I didn’t overthink things and just got to work. Cornelius did introduce me to everyone as the new Farm Manager, so it kind of made sense that I was basically observing what everybody was doing, helping out where I could.
It quickly became The Grind. Our days started in the 7:30 morning fog and ended at dusk, Monday thru Saturday. We would be exhausted at the end of our days. After showers, Cornelius would Grubhub some hamburgers or get pizza delivered, we’d eat, pass out, then do it all over again. No more fancy dinners, no more trips to the coast. We did take Sundays off, but those days were spent doing laundry and taking care of the rest of our lives.
Surprisingly, I didn’t have much personal interaction with Dick during this time. Everybody was so busy, each of us had our own jobs to do. I did observe him bark at Cornelius and Billy and some of the other workers, but to me he just came off as a stressed-out prick. At first, anyhow. It would soon get much worse. There was one time he barked at me, but this would be the first and last.
I was walking between two greenhouses when Dick walked by the other end, saw me, and stopped.
“Is that as fast as you can move?” he asked.
“What?” I said.
“Can you move with some fucking urgency?” he said.
He had a point. When Dick was working, he hustled. If he didn’t see you hustling, he’d call you on it. I can’t fault him for that. I’m wired the same way.
For whatever reason, that was the only time Dick tossed me some shade. Other than that, he never disrespected me in any way. Maybe I never gave him a reason to. Maybe he knew I’d walk. Cornelius was concerned I’d punch Dick in the throat. I’m actually a peaceful guy, but I guess I throw out that vibe. When all this blew up nine months later, Cornelius had a lot of explaining to do. One of those things was “a little secret” he never told me when all this got started.
“I told May Hampton you weren’t the type of guy to put up with Dick’s bullshit,” he said. “So I made her promise to pay your full year’s salary in the event Dick fired you or you quit.”
“Jesus,” I said.
“Yeah, man, to be honest with you I wasn’t sure you’d last three months. We’ve gone through so many Farm Managers already it’s embarrassing. All because Dick doesn’t know how to talk to people,” he said.
It was the ugly truth. By the second week of planting season, I watched Dick simply destroy people, especially Cornelius and Billy, and they would just put up with it. Constant yelling, constant insults. I observed other people put up with it, too, but not on a continuous basis like Cornelius and Billy. For Christ’s sake, I watched Dick verbally castrate Billy on the daily and the big oaf would just stand there and take it without so much as a twitch.
So you might imagine my surprise when, on a Sunday – our only day off – Dick came over to the farmhouse and knocked on the door.
“Good morning, sir! Where’s Cornelius?” he asked me then yelled over my shoulder, “CORNELIUS! GET OUT HERE!” Then he looked at me and said, “Can you tell that dumbass I’m waiting out here? I’m not stepping foot inside that fucking shithole.”
I shut the door and plopped back on the couch. Cornelius exited the farmhouse. After a few minutes I heard the Porsche-uh fire up and squeal out the parking lot. Cornelius came back into the farmhouse.
“What’s going on?” I asked. “Did he just take off with the Porsche-uh?”
“He flew some chick into town. He’s taking her to the coast,” he said.
“So what?” I asked.
“He asked me if he could borrow it.”
“Why not just let him take the Hyundai?”
“He asked to borrow the Porsche-uh, dude,” he said. “Get over it.”
“So now you have to drive the Hyundai?”
Cornelius took a seat at his old dining table behind the couch and fired up the dab rig.
The dude wouldn’t even let me borrow the Porsche-uh to get coffee.
Ironically, the one person to start with the insults and the yelling and the real bullshit, was Cornelius himself.
I think it was Day Two and I was out in the middle of the field on the main farm with a crew. The Kubota was planting, the New Holland was making beds, workers were walking around everywhere, the place was bustling.
My cellphone rang. It was Cornelius.
“What’s up?” I said.
“WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU?”
“Where the fuck am I?” I said the following in a cartoonish Southern accent, “Well, I’m glad you asked ‘cause you ain’t never gonna believe this. I’m in a field of dreams, man, acres and acres of ganja in freakin’ Oregon—”
“I’M STANDING OUT HERE. WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU?”
“Yo, dude, I’m in the middle of the fucking field with a shovel in my hand. Where the fuck are you?”
“I TOLD YOU TO BE IN ZONE C3!”
“Zone C3? I don’t know where Zone fucking 3 is!” Cornelius had yet to explain that to me, or explain anything for that matter.
“TURN AROUND, NATE. GET TO ZONE FUCKING C3!”
“YO! WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU’RE YELLING AT?”
I stopped whatever I was doing and marched to Cornelius’ location. I found him standing in the middle of the field behind the greenhouses.
“Talk to me like that one more time and I walk,” I said.
“Hey-hey-hey,” he said with his hands out. I noticed Dick standing not too far away, watching. “Don’t take it the wrong way, I was just—”
“No, fuck that. I don’t know who you think you’re talking to, but I’m your brother, you don’t talk to me like that. I don’t let anybody talk to me like that and you of all people should fucking know that,” I said.
“Dude-dude-dude, bro,” he said.
“Don’t give me that bro shit. Talk to me like that one more fucking time and I’m done,” I said.
“Dude,” he said.
“Fuck that,” I said and walked back to the farmhouse and took the rest of that day off.
Later that night as we were sitting at the dining table eating hamburgers from Jasper’s again, Cornelius finally apologized about the bullshit.
“It’s just stress, dude, I didn’t mean anything by it,” he said.
“I get it,” I said. “Just don’t let it happen again. Seriously. I can work with most anybody but the minute you try to pull some shit like that we got problems.”
“It won’t happen again,” Cornelius said. “That’s not me, that’s not who I am. That’s who Dick is.”
“Well, don’t be Dick, then. Don’t even try. It’s not you.”
Another evening after work while we were eating tacos, Cornelius and I were discussing his options if he left Trato Diablo Farms.
“The truth is,” he said, “I’m just not very self-motivated.”
“What do you mean?” I said. “You’ve essentially been working for yourself for years.”
“Yeah, but, I just . . . I’m essentially a lazy person, know what I’m saying?”
I did but I’m an optimist. I didn’t want to give in or condone this self-defeating narrative the New Cornelius kept spinning about himself. The New Cornelius seemed to have lost his confidence, like he had succumbed to all of Dick’s big dogging. I still hadn’t asked Cornelius what in the hell was going on with him letting Dick drive his Porsche-uh while Cornelius sat in the backseat. Sweet Screaming Jesus, I knew that had to sting. Cornelius just about prides himself on his pride, and that go-cart was his pride and joy.
“Sometimes I just don’t want to get out of bed,” Cornelius said.
“You should try an alarm clock,” I said.
“No, man, like I literally need someone to kick my bed, know what I’m saying?”
“No, I don’t. And I don’t agree with you. I don’t think even you agree with yourself. It sounds like Dick has gotten inside your head, bro.”
Cornelius laughed. “Look, man, I just want to get from Point A to Point Lazy as fast as I can, know what I’m saying?”
I didn’t want to believe him but it was a rare moment of clarity.
A few days later I was driving the big orange Kubota down the rows of beds with a crew planting behind me. Cornelius was in front of me, barking orders.
“KEEP IT STRAIGHT!” he yelled.
“I am keeping it straight,” I said.
It wasn’t easy. Mainly because in order to drive the tractor straight, the driver has to constantly be looking behind him. So in effect it was like driving a car in reverse, except you were in a big ass tractor on clumpy soil surrounded by a bunch of loudmouths telling you what to do. Cornelius would be yelling, “GO LEFT! TURN THE WHEEL LEFT!” while Kelly in the back would be screaming “NO RIGHT! GO RIGHT!”
“KEEP IT FUCKING STRAIGHT, NATE!” Cornelius yelled for about the twenty-fifth time.
“YOU COME UP HERE AND DRIVE THIS FUCKING THING THEN!” I yelled back and yanked the Kubota into park.
I knew Cornelius didn’t know how to drive a tractor. Cornelius could barely operate a push mower.
“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?” Cornelius said. Everybody started making a commotion.
“I’m calling Dick,” I said with my phone to my ear. “DICK! This is Nate.”
“NATE! You need to get another tractor guy out here who can drive this fucking thing, I’m done.”
“Wait, what?” Dick said. “What happened?”
“Cornelius can’t keep his fucking mouth shut, that’s what happened.”
“OK, hold on, I’ll send Chris out there.”
I saw Cornelius leave the scene, walking down the rows back to the greenhouses. He had a loud mouth, that’s certain, but when it came to confrontation, Cornelius never failed to turn tail and run.
Minutes later Dick came bumping down the rows in one of the blue Kawasaki Mules. He dropped off Chris then turned around and took off. Didn’t even say a word to me. Chris climbed into the tractor and we resumed our planting.
Another time I was walking back from the field with a tray of starts in each hand. Cornelius was driving the Porsche-uh down the gravel road by the greenhouses. He locked up the brakes when he reached me and skidded on the chert. After the dust settled around me, he rolled down his tinted window.
“Can you carry those plants with some respect?” he asked.
“What are you talking about?” I said.
“You’re holding those trays like a goddamn ape,” he said. “You need to learn to treat the plants with respect.”
I ignored him and kept on walking. The more I thought about it, the more my eyes were telling me a new story about the New Cornelius.
“Most everybody likes doing business with Dick,” Cornelius told me later. “He may be an asshole, but he gets shit done.”
“Yeah, but that’s not the only way to get things done,” I said. “Not everybody who runs a company has to be an asshole. That’s not leadership.”
“But it just seems to be The Way,” he insisted.
I couldn’t tell if Cornelius hated Dick or wanted to be Dick. It certainly appeared he was jealous of the guy. He never really stopped talking about Dick. One minute he’d be talking shit about Dick, the next he’d be admiring Dick – almost inspired by Dick.
“But you say you’re a Buddhist,” I said. “You know you can run a business with Buddhist principles and still be profitable, right?”
“Dick’s a capitalist,” Cornelius said.
Either I wasn’t getting through to him or Cornelius was dodging. What surprised me was that for all the deep philosophical and spiritual conversations we had in the past, Cornelius wasn’t discussing much beyond money these days. He was constantly repeating stories about May Hampton and her being “Senator Rich” and how they travelled here, ate there, saw this, went to that. That’s all I heard about – May this and May that, and Brett this and Brett that, and how “money just falls off the rich” and more than anything: Dick, Dick, Dick and more Dick. If we weren’t talking about Dick, we were discussing our Glory Days back in Fresno. But that was ages ago, another life, and we had changed so much since then. Or at least I had. Marriage and raising kids can do that to you.
“Whatever happened to Sonia?” I asked.
“Well, she broke off the engagement,” he said. “Took the house, kept the deposit and everything.”
“Why was she so burnt? I mean, you guys were together for years.”
“It was weed, man. She didn’t like that I was growing and selling weed.”
“Yeah, but what I’m saying is, how did she not know about it anyway? I mean, it’s not like it’s a hobby. It’s who you are, man, it defines your whole personality,” I laughed.
“I don’t know, man. She thought I was just growing for medicinal purposes. When she found out I was growing for the black market, she flipped out. She was a teacher, know what I’m saying? Said she couldn’t have that around because of her profession.”
“OK, but I mean, wasn’t that a bit extreme? Couldn’t you have worked it out?”
“She didn’t like the lies, man. She’d been married and cheated on before, so she had this thing about lying,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said, “most women do.”
“Well, whatever, know what I’m saying? I’ve sacrificed everything for this plant, Nate, and look at me know.”
“You ever thought of contacting her?”
“No. Sometimes, when I think about it, I have to wonder if she wasn’t right.”
“That I’m just an addict. That I’ve built this life only to support my addiction.”
“Is that what it is?” I asked.
“It’s about medicine, Nate,” he said. “I don’t like people fucking with my medicine or my money.”
I wasn’t sure what he meant and I didn’t ask him to explain. I’d heard so much about money by then I couldn’t take it anymore. Beyond all the bullshit about healthy cannabinoids and medicine and whatever other bologna these guys were trying to feed everybody, get real – at the end of the day the only thing these muldoons were concerned about was how much money they could milk out of this cash cow. Along the way, if the opportunity was good, they could care less who they fucked over – as long as they got fat stacks at the end of the day, nothing else mattered.
Those three weeks flew by, but I missed my family terribly. It was the longest stretch I’d ever been away and it was rough on my wife and kids, especially our youngest, Aspen. Each consecutive night after the first week became nightmarish for me and I tossed back and forth amongst the cat hair and bugs on Cornelius’ couch overwhelmed with worry and guilt. I swore I would never do this again, never be away from my family for so long, no matter what opportunity or promise lay ahead.
On the day I flew back to Arkansas, Dick was flying back to Florida for a week. The Medford airport is pretty small, with only one terminal, so Dick sat next to me at one of the gates while we waited to board our flights.
“Check this out,” Dick said as he ruffled through his backpack. He procured a black box and opened it like a clamshell. Inside was an enormous rose gold Rolex.
“Just got it,” he said. “Same watch LeBron James wears.”
I grinned. “Right on.”
He closed the box and put it back in his backpack.
Eventually his flight number was called and he stood up, put his backpack on, then gave me a fist bump.
“See you in about a month,” Dick said.