Farm Field 96: The Best Worst Summer Job I Ever Had
My fifteen year old daughter came home from her summer job each night whining about how tough it was to be a working girl. The kid had one of the easiest jobs in town, but she carried on as if she was being tortured on a daily basis.
Amy worked as the ticket girl at the Hillsboro Swimming Area., requiring her to sit in a wooden booth (or in a lawn chair under an umbrella) collecting the five dollar entrance fee from each car that showed up at the gate. Man, that's capital punishment to the nth degree, especially since the swimming area averages about five cars an hour.
"Oh, Dad, you just don't understand what its like," she grumbled, annoyed that I laughed at her chronic job grousing every time she came home after a shift.
"I understand that you work on your sun tan for eight hours and get to read all day, something you love to do."
"Yeah, well you sit behind a computer screen in an air conditioned office all day," she replied. "What do you know?"
"I know that's not what I was doing when I was your age."
It was a revelation she had never considered before. "Gee Dad, what did you do for a job when you were my age?"
"Come with me," I instructed, leaving my newspaper and easy chair behind.
Amy is an intelligent, personable, and friendly teenager, but like most kids her age she's clueless when it comes to the truths of life and it was my job to give my beautiful angel princess a reality check to put her own situation into perspective.
We drove to the outskirts of town and I pulled the car to the curb in front of the strip mall on Hillsboro Road.
"Pizza Hut?" she asked from the passenger's seat. "You made pizza?"
"No, none of this was here when I was a kid." I drove a hundred yards further and turned onto Farm Road, stopping the car in front of the Industrial Park.
"You worked in there?"
"None of this stuff was here either," I said. I gestured to the "Farm View Acres" housing complex as we continued along Farm Road.
"Let me guess," she groaned. "This wasn't here either."
"Nope," I said with a laugh. "This was all farm fields when I was a kid. And we're only talking thirty years, Amy."
"I always wondered why it was called Farm Road," she admitted. "What did you do?"
"I picked tobacco."
She was surprised. "Tobacco? Gee Dad, aren't you the one who says smoking will kill you?"
"Aren't I the hypocrite?"
We stopped in front of an abandoned and decrepit old red barn, lost in a sea of weeds and tall grass. "There used to be dozens of these around here," I said. "Tobacco sheds. That's where they hung the tobacco to dry."
I got out of the car and explored the forgotten structure. Amy followed and stared back toward Farm View Acres, the industrial park and the strip mall in the distance behind us.
"This was all tobacco fields?"
"Yep," I replied. "Owned by Combined Cigar Corporation. The Good Ole CCC. They had farms up and down Blue River Valley. Grew shade tobacco for wrapping cigars."
I can still the acres of tobacco fields in my mind's eye more than thirty years after I last walked through the forest of tobacco plants that once grew along Farm Road.
"From here to Hillsboro Road, there was a sea of fields with netting made of gauge or cheese cloth, held up by wooden poles and thin metal wires." I nostalgically described the past to Amy. "The nets would blow in the breeze like tall grass on the prairie."
"What were the nets for?"
"Protected the plants from the sun and made it hotter so the plants would grow. They'd get as high as eight or nine feet and often punched up through the netting."
"And it's all gone now," Amy observed.
"People stopped smoking so much," I explained. "Didn't need so many fields. There's still a few fields south of here, but I think the CCC is out of business."
"That's probably a good thing," the health conscious Amy remarked.
"Hey, hundreds of kids had a summer job because of the CCC," I told her. "It was cheap labor for them."
"More like slave labor, I bet," Amy theorized.
"We were just happy to have a summer job."
"It must have been hot under those nets."
"You bet," I confirmed with emphasis. "But only one kid can sell tickets at the Hillsboro Swimming Area. The rest had to do something else."
"What was it like to work tobacco?" Amy asked, leaning against the side of the car and I knew I'd never hear her complain about her job after I gave her the low down of my summer memories.
"It was the best worst job I ever had," I grinned as I took a seat on the hood of the car.
*** *** ***
I mowed lawns and shoveled snow as a kid. I also helped Teddy Barrett deliver the afternoon paper and filled in for him on occasion, and I picked up an odd job here and there when the opportunity presented itself. But none of those gigs provided a consistent income and I knew if I wanted spending money as a teenager, I needed a summer job that provided a steady pay check.
Sixteen was the magic age for many desired jobs, but the CCC took you at fourteen and that's why most kids signed up during the waning months of junior high school. It was a guaranteed summer job with the lure of more money than our piggy bank had ever eaten before. Also, most parents were happy to get their teens out of the house!
Some kids had other options – a family business, an affordable allowance that made work irrelevant, or a rare preferred job around town. But for most of us, working on tobacco was the only choice and we enlisted by default, knowing we were signing our souls away to the CCC for ten weeks in hell.
We'd receive a phone call from The CCC announcing our hire and which farm we were working: Hillsboro, Riverside, Miller City, or South County. Each farm had its own unique character, attitude, layout and work routine. I was happy to draw my hometown Hillsboro as my assignment.
Rooks – the guys reporting to the fields for the first time – had it the worse because they really didn't know what to expect. They heard horror stories from those who had gone before and they'd seen the filthy casualties climbing off the busses after a long hot day in the fields, so they were full of nervous uncertainty. Rooks also suffered the added insult of being novices – first year men forced to answer to the more experienced workers who had gone through the unflattering initiation all rookies must endure.
By the time we reported to work in mid-June, the migrant workers and college guys (who would serve as truck drivers or field bosses) had completed most of the preliminary work – the crop was planted and the nets were up.
Jerry Denton (J.D.) was the General Manager of Hillsboro Farm (Farm Field 96). He oversaw the entire operation and we only saw him occasionally, usually when something was wrong. He was a dour guy and we knew it was bad news whenever he showed up.
Stosh Indakowski was the Field Manager and our direct boss. He was yelling at us before the bus even pulled into The Yard in the morning and he was still yelling when we left at the end of the day. He was a task masker who hollered to keep us in line. He knew the only way to keep a group of unruly teenagers under his thumb was to scare us, threaten us, swear at us, insult us, intimidate us, and keep us looking over our shoulders.
Stosh was an older fellow, nearly sixty, but still in great shape and his skinny physique allowed him to sneak through the fields undetected. His gray hair was in a crew cut and he always wore green "janitor" utility uniforms and orange "shit kicker" working boots. He constantly had a cigarette in his mouth and he was missing a couple of teeth which gave him an added sinister look. Stosh was a drill sergeant who kept us jumping at every command. Stosh's nick name was "The Stinger" because of his stinging voice and his swarming bumble bee attack posture.
The Stinger had the most vile language repertoire I had ever heard. He was unable to complete a sentence without a "God Damn It,", "Jesus H. Christ," or "Son of a Bitch" thrown in at least once.
"I thought my name was 'God Damn It Daniels' after working for The Stinger for a year," I remember classmate Dan Daniels saying one time.
CCC hired a couple of summer bosses to serve as The Stinger's lieutenants. Usually, they were school teachers looking for a summer job to supplement their income. During the school year, Mr. O'Hara was a popular, well liked, and effective English Teacher at Hillsboro High. During the summer, however, Jimmy O'Hara was our bus driver and field boss. O'Hara was a three sport all star at Hillsboro who returned after college to teach at his alma mater. He was baby-faced in his appearance and drop dead handsome. He was also mellow, laid back and easy going which was a nice counter balance to The Stinger's wrath. However, if we pushed O'Hara too far, he could get nasty in his own right. His nickname was "Captain" (also "Cap") from his football days and the moniker stuck on tobacco because he was our leader.
Leon Swan was the other field boss during my tenure. He was the basketball coach at Riverside High, a poker faced boss who rarely transmitted what he was thinking or feeling. His sense of humor was so dry and droll that it often went over our adolescent heads; no big surprise since we thought fart jokes was the funniest type of humor.
The strange thing about The Swan was that he was allergic to tobacco and couldn't go into the fields. We'd try to lure him, of course, but if someone was screwing up or fooling around, The Swan would send someone else in to stop the madness.
A handful of other bosses came and went, but The Stinger, The Captain and The Swan were the three I remember most from my days on Farm Field 96.
The Captain would call us a few days before the season started and tell us where the bus would pick us up. The work day started at 7:30 so the alarm clock was set depending on where one was on Cap's route and how many stops he had to make. The workers from my neighborhood usually got picked up around 6:15 in front of the elementary school. I trained myself to be able to set the alarm clock for six, use the bathroom in a minute, throw on my work clothes in about 25 seconds, grab my pre-made lunch, and maybe a pop tart or Oreo cookie on the way out the door and still get to the elementary school a block away before The Captain's croaking, sputtering and coughing green bus turned the corner at the end of Chestnut Avenue. On those rare days I missed the bus, I could beat feet down Dawson Street, cut through the nursing home yard and across the parking lot of the supermarket and catch The Captain as he came down Main Street, but there were no guarantees.
"Shit," Jazz Rooney would moan every morning when we'd see Cap's green bus rolling down Chestnut Street. "That's the most depressing sight in the world."
Preparing for the daily routine of working in the tobacco fields was an important undertaking and it took rooks a few days to figure out the basics. Never wear clothes hoped to be worn in public. Tobacco clothes got stained and soiled and washing machines couldn't get the grind out, so guys show up in old jeans, faded or stupid tee shirts, or the old man's old flannel shirts. It's cool and usually wet under the nets in the morning so a sweatshirt or coat is advisable, but that layer is usually discarded by first break when the sun has warmed. A hat (ball cap, sailor's hat, beach hat) is a must – not only to shade the eyes and keep the hot sun from bleaching out the hair, but also to keep water and tar out of the hair and eyes. Sneakers are the best bet for footwear – light and airy, plus fast pickers don't want to be slowed down by heavy boots. Some guys wore plastic dishwashing gloves to keep their hands clean, but that could affect picking speed.
Guys in the know made sure their lunch was prepared the night before. Paper bags were not a good idea – the sacks got wet, soiled, squashed on the bus, or stolen. A strong metal lunch pail or hefty knap sack with one's name clearly marked was the safest bet. One or two cans of soda, wrapped in tin foil and kept in the freezer over night, was minimal, but veterans filled quart or half gallon thermos with lemonade or fruit punch also kept in the freezer overnight to make sure they had enough drink to last at least through lunch.
CCC provided a water barrel on a trailer, but only God knew how long the water had been inside or what kind of germs were on the sprocket. Most guys used the water barrel to cool off their heads, not to drink.
There was a 10 minute break at 9:30 (most guys who didn't have time for breakfast might down a Twinkie or cup cake at this time) and then 45 minutes to an hour for lunch at noon, depending on the weather and how we were doing, schedule wise. It was a good idea to pack a filling lunch because most guys were usually famished from the physical work. It was also important to pack the lunch correctly because we stored them on the bus and they often baked all morning in the summer heat, so an eater risked food poisoning if he hadn't properly prepared his meal. Trading was encouraged!
Occasionally, The Stinger would authorize an afternoon break, also determined by our work effort and attitude during the day. We were usually on the bus by a little after four, but it wasn't an exact science because we couldn't leave until everybody was done with the row they were in – and the last truck was loaded for the barns. The last guy out of the field was usually the Asshole of the Day.
Our season began with weeding the fields while the girls (who main job was to sew the tobacco leaves in the barn once picking started) tied the plants to help them grow straight. The highlight of the entire season, of course, was watching the girls bending over while they tied. A piece of string was tied to the top of the tiny tobacco plant on one end and around the metal wire some six feet above the plant on the other. A grid of "bent wires" ran the length and width of the field. A bent was the distance between one wooden net pole and the next (usually about 20 feet) – with about twenty tobacco plants in each row and six rows of plants within each bent.
Bent wires were no big deal at the start of the season but they could become lethal weapons as the summer progressed because, as the plants grew, the wires were pulled down and an unsuspecting worker could have his teeth knocked out or become decapitated if he didn't duck while trotting out of the fields. Sagging wires also became camouflaged by the growing leaves and workers had to stay focused or they got knocked on their asses.
Farm Field 96 had fourteen separate fields – twelve to sixteen bents in length, and about 75 bents in width. That's about 3000 total bents and hundreds of thousands of plants. A yellow circle was painted around the middle bent pole cutting the fields in half. We'd work one half of the field from one end, then go around to the other side and work the other half. Needless to say, we were pretty sick of those damn fields by the time the summer was over!
After the tying and weeding was completed, we'd go back and "twist" the strings around the growing plant to keep the string from slicing the stock or ripping off the leaves. By now, each plant was at least eighteen inches high. The girls also twisted, but we were rarely together for obvious reasons.
Next came "suckering", a job for suckers as we used to say. To sucker, we sat on our asses and picked off the small sprouting leaves - "pussy leaves" as The Stinger called them - from the regular lower leaves on the plants. By removing these tiny "pussies" (one only has to imagine what they looked like), the regular leaves were free to grow unabridged.
Suckering sucked because of the humiliating posture of dragging one's ass in the dirt down six or eight bents of tobacco plants. By the time we finished suckering hundreds of thousands of plants in 3000 bents in 14 separate fields we had real red asses! Some veterans tied plastic bags around their waists during suckering and first pick but that didn't always prevent "diaper rash".
Tobacco plants have about sixteen leaves, but only three leaves were taken per pick (starting from the bottom of the plant). Pickers were paired off in teams of two and fast pickers sought out other fast pickers because by third pick it was a piece work system and money earned was based on the number of total bents picked. Guys who didn't "make par" stayed at minimum wage which came out to about 90 bucks for a 44 to 48 hour work week. The really good pickers could do 90 bents in a day.
Dave "Astro" Anderson was our superstar during my era. He and partner Todd "Comet" Clark got up to about 150 bents a day, which was practically unheard of. The Stinger rode their asses, convinced they weren't picking right but we never doubted them and we called them The Dynamic Duo.
Most pickers picked in a windmill fashion, snapping each leaf off in an upward motion, one at a time with each hand. Some pickers snapped in a downward manner, starting with the top of the three leaves but this tended to take more effort and was harder to accomplish in the early picks. Once a picker had five or six leafs in each hand, he placed them in a pile between the stocks to be picked up by the "hauler" tailing the pickers.
No matter which style a picker used, it was important not to bruise or tear the leaves. If an inspection revealed damaged leaves, the offending picker (or hauler who illegally "packed" the basket to cut down on the number of baskets hauled) might get banished from the field.
Cap tracked the pickers with a clipboard and chart while The Swan took responsibility for the haulers. There were some fast haulers who could make good money under the piece work system, but one of our sayings was "Those who can't pick, haul" because a lot of haulers were washed up pickers.
A hauling basket was made of cloth with two wood runners on the bottom. The basket wasn't much bigger than the average laundry basket. A hauler would have a wire handle with a hook on the end to pull the hauling basket along the row, picking up the piles of leaves left by the pickers. The job could be hard on the back (if the hauler bent over to get the leaves) or knees (if the hauler walked on his knees to retrieve the leaves).
The early picks were brutal because they weren't much different from suckering. Pickers had to slide down the rows on their backsides which often meant dirt down the ass crack and around the balls. At first pick, the plants stood about three feet tall but as the season progressed and the picks continued, the plants grew taller and picking became easier as we moved to our knees and eventually to a standing position.
The elements were what made the job a challenge. When we first started in the morning, the air and ground were still cold and the plants wet with morning dew. Sometimes, if it rained the night before, The Stinger would delay our entry into the fields to give the plants a chance to dry, but we were still drenched more often than not from puddles of water that had pooled on the leaves or nets.
The early morning was when our arms, clothes, sneakers, hat, and hair became soaked. Later in the morning, when the sun evaporated the dew and the nets heated the plants, the tobacco juice from the leaves began to flow like sap from a winter's maple tree. The sticky and awful tasting juice would stick to the hair and on our arms and by the end of the day we could make small super balls out of the tar that had accumulated on our bodies and clothes.
Fourteen year old tough guy Seth Silowski, who had been smoking since he was twelve, quit the nasty habit cold turkey after working on Farm Field 96 for a few weeks.
"If the same shit that's coating my arms is coating my lungs, I'll be a dead man before retirement age," he said.
We made our mothers buy Lava and other industrial strength soaps and it would take ten minutes of endless scrubbing in the shower to get the gunk off our skins. Our arms turned into sand paper by the time the season was over
The damp and cool early mornings quickly gave way to the hot summer sun and if it was a humid day the fields became a sauna bath. Temperatures under the nets often reached 110 degrees and the sweat would mix with raw tobacco juice and sting the eyes like mace spray. There were disgusting tobacco worms and other insects, invisible mosquitoes and an unidentified micro subculture of gnats and other tiny bugs to make our lives miserable. We walked around the fields looking like Pig Pen from Charlie Brown – a trail of dust followed in our wake.
It didn't matter how often the interior of The Captain's bus was cleaned. By the end of that day, there would be an inch of sand, dirt and grind on the bus floor and the entire vehicle would smell of rank body odor and stale tobacco. Dust would hang over the seats like fog over a river valley on a cool summer morning.
There used to be a cucumber field across the road between Fields Nine and Ten and we would be envious of those guys every time we saw them because they got to lie down to do their job and ride around on a machine all day picking cukes.
"Geez Dad, you sure had a disgusting and degrading job back then, didn't you?" Amy asked as we climbed into the car to head home.
"Yeah," I agreed. "It was pretty miserable." I glanced at the ghost fields as we passed Farm View Acres, the industrial park, and the strip mall. "But it was the best worse job I ever had."
*** *** ***
Our day in the fields didn't start until The Captain pulled the bus into the Farm Field 96 Yard so our attendance could be taken for payroll. The Yard consisted of a small shack that was the office, an aged barn that housed some of the vehicles and equipment, and a couple of huge oak trees that the rest of the trucks were parked under. A dirt road was the only access to The Yard, which was tucked away in a grassy knoll about a mile from the first tobacco field. We drove by a small pond at the entrance of The Yard every morning and Jazz Rooney, without fail, would sigh and look at the water.
"All in all, I'd rather be fishing," he'd say.
The Office Worker seemed to be a different girl every summer – usually some college coed with a knack for accounting, mathematics and general office work. It was the highlight of our day when she stepped out of the shack and onto our bus to take roll call, but it was probably the least favorite moment of her job. What attractive twenty year old young lady would want to enter a bus full of hormone-challenged horny male teenagers every morning? She must have felt like she was being undressed by eighty sets of eyes every time she took attendance.
What we thought in the confines of our private minds was fine, but most of us were smart enough not to say anything offensive, sexist, dirty or stupid out loud, especially after pompous Clayton Flynn was dumb enough to think maybe the girl would be flattered by what he had to say. He leaned over in his seat and mumbled something none of us could make out, but we knew from the look on the girl's face that it was shocking and raunchy.
We were driving to the fields when The Stinger's pick up truck roared up behind us, his horning blaring. The Captain pulled the bus over and The Stinger charged onto the bus looking like a deranged lunatic.
"Jesus H. Fucking Christ, Flynn, God Damn it!" He screamed, grabbing Clayton by the ear and throwing him out of his seat. "You damn son of a bitch!"
He hauled the frightened Flynn out of the bus, kicking him in the ass as he fell down the steps and splattered in a clump in the dirt.
"Get up, you stupid son of a bitch!" The Stinger yelled. "Don't you ever talk to any young lady like that again or I'll rip your fucking tongue out and feed it to the crows, do you hear me? God damn it to hell!"
The terrified Flynn was unable to speak and we wondered if he was going to cry.
"Apologize to the young lady right now, you worthless sack of shit!" The Stinger dragged Clayton to the cab of his pick up truck where the humiliated office girl sat in the passenger's seat. She probably had no idea this was going to happen when she reported Flynn's offense to The Stinger.
Clayton was practically in tears when The Stinger pulled him by his hair back to the bus.
"Listen up, assholes," The Stinger warned after he threw Flynn into his seat. "I have a mother, just like you. I have a wife just like Jimmy O'Hara here. Hopefully some of you will too some day, unless you're a fucking faggot. I've got a daughter and two sisters and I used to have grandmothers and aunts before they all up and died on me. Would you want some son of a bitch bastard like Flynn here saying something disgusting to your sister or mother or aunt or grandmother or girlfriend? Of course fucking not. So you son of bitches keep your dirty fucking filthy mouths damn shut when you're around my office girl or any god damn girl for that matter - do you understand me? If that girl makes any more complaints against any cocksucker on this bus, I'll tie your ass to a bent wire and fling you to the fucking moon. Have some fucking manners, God Damn It. Jesus H. Christ, show some dignity and class, you dumb bastards."
The Stinger left the bus and we rode to the field in silence as The Captain eyed us in the huge rear view mirror above the driver's seat. We didn't dare laugh at The Stinger's foul mouthed Academy Award performance but it certainly measured up there on his all time greatest hits list.
"What in hell did you say to the broad?" Peer Leader Rick Page asked Clayton later that morning.
"Can my bent pole meet your tobacco juice some time?" Flynn reported, his voice still quivering.
"Say Amy," I asked my daughter during dinner that night. "Do the boys you work with treat you with dignity and respect?"
She looked at me with a frown. "I don't even know what that means, Dad."
*** *** ***
Hillsboro was 99.8% WASP when I was growing up, so kids my age had little opportunity to interact with minorities and non-English speaking people. Until, that is, we reported to Farm Field 96 and worked with the migrant workers that the CCC brought in to help farm the tobacco.
The CCC owned farms up and down the Blue River Valley had had a large dormitory centrally located where the company housed the seasonal migrant workers. Crews were dispatched to the various farms depending on need. The migrant workers in the early season helped cultivate the fields and hang the nets. They also filled in as pickers and haulers when needed, helped load (and unload) the trucks, hung the tobacco in the barns, performed various maintenance tasks (like moving the outhouses) and stayed into September and October to take down the dried tobacco and pack the product in specialized crates for shipping.
We were usually kept separated from the migrant crews because of the cultural and age differences, but our paths crossed during the course of the day and some of the migrant guys went out of their way to mess with us. All they really had to do was give us a leer, say something in Spanish (which most of us didn't understand), or devilishly laugh at us and we were appropriately freaked.
Our stereotypical reaction to the migrant workers was that they were smelly, unclean, poorly dressed, lower class losers who took to farm work because they were unable to do anything else. Of course, it never occurred to us that we were as smelly and unclean as those guys after an hour or two in the fields.
What I remember most is how a lot of them dressed – flashy colored chinos and bright shirts, lots of jewelry, and even some gold-crowned fake teeth. They may have been poor and stank, but they sure did look good!
Farm lore passed down from year to year included stories of migrant workers knifing some poor kid in the fields and stealing lunches off the bus. It didn't matter that most of the legends were bullshit; the unwritten code was that you avoided and ignored these guys and it was my first unwitting indoctrination toward prejudice and immigration hysteria.
I only had a few incidents that involved the migrant workers and both stick in my mind. One was a funny moment: We were in a rain delay and some of the migrant workers joined us on The Captain's bus to wait out the weather. One of the migrant workers was standing in the middle of the bus aisle and I said "El Movo" (my Spanish for get out of the way). The guy looked at me like I was crazy, of course, but my good natured friend "Waldo" Fairweather fell out of his bus seat, doubled over in laughter at my attempt to communicate in a foreign tongue.
The other incident was frightening and degrading. Long haired pot head Todd LeClaire and I were among the last pickers in one field. Most of the crew had moved onto the next one, so we were pretty much on our own as we picked our row. Our hauler that day happened to be a migrant worker and we didn't pay much attention to him since he was a couple of bents behind us.
LeClaire and I were shooting the shit when all of a sudden my pants and underwear were down around my ankles. The migrant hauler had sneaked up behind me and dropped my drawers. LeClaire took off with a bent still left to pick, leaving me tripping over my pants as I tried to escape from the pervert hauler who was laughing like a deviant. I don't know if he was being funny or making a sexual advance, but I wasn't about to ask (not that I knew how to say "Are you a pervert?" in Spanish).
I managed to get my pants up and I ran from the field. Luckily, the depraved hauler didn't give chase. I was too humiliated to report the crime to either The Captain or The Swan and I didn't say anything to the guys, fearful they might accuse me of being a homo. I also never picked with LeClaire again, offended that he had left me high and dry. What if the hauler had tried to do Deliverance on me (as Ned Betty)? Where was LeClaire (as Burt Reynolds) when I needed him?
Having migrant workers in our mist introduced us to some of the Spanish vernacular and most of us learned how to deliver a few swear words in Spanish. We also knew what the Molly was (the outhouse) and where to get the agua (water).
"Are there any migrant workers at the swimming area this year, Amy?" I asked my daughter as she prepared to leave for work.
"Why, Dad. You anti-immigration or something?"
"No. I just want to make sure you aren't working with a colloquial," I replied.
"I have no idea what that means, Dad" she said as she left the house.
"It's Spanish for creep," I whispered under my breath.
*** *** ***
"Did girls work on tobacco, Dad?" Amy asked during dinner the night after I showed her where the tobacco fields had once stood.
"Oh sure. Your Aunt Lilly did three years in the barns. Ask her about it sometime," I answered as I cut my steak.
But real men picked tobacco.
That was our motto on good ole Field Farm 96 which is why a trip to the barns was a dishonor. If The Barn Manager, Curly Jacobs, was undermanned, he'd request extra help from the fields. The Stinger would either come onto Cap's bus or stand in front of us prior to our first entrance into the fields and make his selections. We'd slump in our seats or try to hide behind someone as The Stinger picked us off one by one for a trip to the gallows.
If some troublemaker was on Stosh's shit list for a previously committed offense, The Stinger would call out the transgressor's name with particular glee.
"Murphy, God damn it! Nash, you bastard! Dalton, you cocksucker. Get out of my sight! Go ruin Jacobs day, god damn it."
Other candidates for barn banishment were lightweights and screw ups who couldn't get the job done in the fields. If some guy couldn't pick and he sucked at hauling, he was the first to get a free trip to the barns for the day. The pansy types didn't mind, but most of us were humiliated whenever we made the list of shame.
"Go work with the fucking girls where you belong, you worthless piece of shit," The Stinger would command and whoever got banished were quickly forgotten by the rest like a casualty on the battlefield.
Sometimes, the forsaken few would pile into the back of The Stinger's pickup and be driven to the barns by the boss himself. Other times, one or two of us would catch a ride with the next truck making a run. The ultimate disgrace happened if the girl's bus was still in The Yard and the castoffs were forced to make the death ride essentially as a girl with the girls.
Most of the barns (sheds) were long and thin, built specifically for drying and curing tobacco. They featured wide doors on either end and flaps on the sides that opened for additional airing. Once the tobacco was picked, hauled out of the fields, and loaded onto the multi-tiered flat bed trucks, it was brought to the barns to be sewn and hung in the shed rafters for drying.
Shamefully, I was among the disgraced who made an occasional trip to the barns during my tenure on the farm. I wasn't one of The Swan's favorite haulers and The Captain didn't include me on his list of all star pickers, plus I pissed off The Stinger from time to time with a smart remark, so I drew the short end of the bent wire more than once.
One would think that a trip to the barns where all the girls were would be a good thing. After all, they were much better to look at and didn't smell as bad as the guys in the field! But I was surprised at how asexual the barns turned out to be. Most of the girls were miserable and the last thing they were interested in was flirting with some reject that couldn't make the grade in the fields.
I was also stunned by how bitchy and mean most of the girls turned out to be. Those who sewed the tobacco were on piece work and demanded that the pilers (the barn's version of a hauler) always had tobacco leaves on their tables. Many of the sewers would berate and chastise those unfortunate pilers who were unable to keep up and I hadn't expected to see such a cutthroat attitude among the girls. They turned out to be an unruly and unattractive group of workers and I found no pleasure being among the fairer sex in this setting.
The girls also listened to the stereotypical hysteria that classified every male on the farm as degenerate perverts. Clayton Flynn's bonehead remark to the office girl probably didn't help our reputation in the barn and there was general paranoia regarding the migrant workers, so most of the girls were uptight, suspicious, fearful, and mistrusting of any guy who even smiled at them.
One time, I kept glancing at Marcy Desmond's cute rear end as she piled leaves on the sewing tables. She was wearing skin tight painter pants and it was hard not to notice her shapely buns.
"If you look at her ass one more time, I'm going to sew your frigin' eyes shut," Alice Kluger warned me from behind her sewing machine, reducing me to permanent pervert status in her view.
The trucks arrived at the barn with the hauler baskets which were unloaded onto rollers. The pilers were responsible for piling the tobacco onto the sewing tables. Pilers also had to stock the "lats" for the sewing machine. Lats were long thin wooden sticks that were placed on the sewing machine. About a hundred leaves were sown through the stems onto strings tied onto each end of the lat. The sown lats were then hung in the rafters, probably the most dangerous job on the farm. Sewing was no picnic either. Girls risked getting their fingers and hands cut by the sewing machine and needed to stay focused on what they were doing to avoid injury. Everybody in the barn was also prone to falling lats from the rafters above.
There was a science to the placement of the lats in the rafters and that's where Curly Jacob's expertise was most needed. Lats were placed at different levels in the rafters depending on the leaf size and it became a chess game for Curly as he maneuvered the hangers and the lats.
The combination of the bright sun's heat and the barn's design created a sauna-like condition that caused the leaves' moisture to dissipate and the leaves' colors to change from rich green to yellow, and then finally to different shade of brown. Many barns were outfitted with propane gas to speed up the process and the opened side flaps allowed a breeze to help dry the leaves.
Curly Jacobs was a short man with busy eyebrows who didn't talk much but everybody who stepped into the barns knew exactly who was in charge. They called Curly "Little Napoleon" behind his back because of his small physical stature and his authoritative presence. Curly was the type of leader could shut up a mob with one glance. Six foot four two hundred and fifty pound brutes were reduced to trembling bowls of Jell-O with just one death stare from Jacobs.
Unlike The Stinger who used vulgar language and over-the-top anger to keep the field troops in line, Curly's facial expressions effectively muted resisters and his calm and quiet tone was as deadly as a butcher's knife.
"Son," he would calmly say to one of the imported field workers who weren't getting the job done in the barns either. "You need to do what I tell you or I'm calling your mother to come get you."
Curly was an observer who knew exactly what was taking place in every corner of the barn at any given time. He had the uncanny ability to become aware of a problem almost before it happened and his talent of filling every last inch of the barn with sewn lats was incredible.
He never flirted with the girls who tried to use their femininity to garner favors and he was consistent in his managerial approach to running the barns. Everybody knew exactly what was expected of them and, for that reason, Curly was a great boss: just do the job and we'll get along fine.
I did most of the barn jobs: unloading the truck, piling the leaves on the sewing tables, and hanging lats in the rafters (although Curly exclusively used the migrant workers for the highest sections).
We denigrated the barn workers when we were out in the fields but I developed an appreciation for what went on there after pulling a few shifts with Curly. Sure, maybe it wasn't as hot and grungy under the roof, but the important work was still demanding and required precise talent.
I also got to see the flip side of some of our field antics when I was in the barns. Putting stuff in the hauler baskets was one of the big jokes of the field workers, knowing some poor girl at the other end would find tobacco worms, a dead mouse, frog or other disgusting present when she was piling. The worse, of course, was when some sick minded wacko thought taking a dump in a basket was funny and all I could think of was The Stinger's philosophy: Would you want your mother, sister or girlfriend scooping up someone's shit?
The worse thing I ever saw in the barns was one of the migrant workers losing his footing hanging lats in the rafters. He tumbled some twenty feet, taking dozens of lats with him, bounced off a sewing machine while several girls screamed, and finally came to a splattered rest on the dirt floor. I witnessed the entire free fall from where I was perched on a beam a few feet under him lifting lats and I was sure the guy was dead.
What I remember most from that incident was how in charge Curly Jacobs remained. He dispatched one of his lieutenants to call an ambulance and he stayed at the injured worker's side until help arrived. He never panicked and he kept the rest of the workers calm. Top leaders rise to the top in moments of tragedy and crisis, and Curly Jacobs earned my respect that day. I never saw that particular migrant worker again and I always wondered what became of him.
"Would you think any less of your old man if I told you I worked in the barns a few times?" I asked Amy, still at the dinner table.
"Aren't you the one who taught me that men and women are equal in all respects and that's there no such thing as reverse discrimination, Dad?" Amy replied. "I think the girls should have been out in the fields picking too."
"Oh sure," I laughed. "Easy to say that now that the fields are gone!"
*** *** ***
I was sitting at the kitchen table sipping on my morning coffee listening to the rain patter against the window pane when my daughter Amy came into the room.
"I hate rainy days," she protested, squinting out the window. 'I have to sit around in the booth all day knowing nobody's going to show up."
"The rain could stop," I pointed out.
"Tomorrow, maybe!" Amy grumbled.
"Spahn, Sain, and pray for rain," I commented.
"Huh?" Amy obviously didn't know about the Boston Braves of the late 1940s.
We prayed for rain on good ole Farm Field 96 knowing it usually meant a day off from work – or at least maybe an early dismissal.
It was great news when we awoke to a rainy dawn and a forecast for continued rain for the day. J.D. and The Stinger would make the early decision and we'd get a phone call at home before having to catch the bus. It was just like a snow day at school in the winter – what a great feeling to be able to go back to bed and sleep in for a few hours and then get the rest of the day to relax or hang out with pals.
The good ole CCC didn't have the luxury of the 24 hour Weather Channel back then so sometimes J.D. took a chance when he nixed the day, especially if the sun was out by noon! I remember one time work was cancelled but the weather broke by mid-morning and we were called in for an afternoon shift. Only about half the crew showed up but there wasn't much J.D. could do about it. The Stinger let us know how he felt though.
"Every one of you worthless bastards who didn't answer the call is a pussy with a capital P," he barked when he saw how many guys were missing. "Jimmy O'Hara is here. Leon Swan is fucking here. I'm here, God Damn it. Where the hell are the rest of you lazy bastards?"
"You're preaching to the choir, Stosh," Rick Page remarked from his bus seat. "We're here, ready to work. Those who aren't here can't hear you."
"Oh yeah, Page? The only place you're working today is the god damn barns where I can't fucking hear you. Go get in my god damn pickup truck you stupid wise ass bastard."
As much as we wanted it to rain, it was bad news if it rained during the night but stopped early enough for us to still catch the bus. There was nothing worse for a tobacco worker than entering the muddy fields after a rain storm because there would be puddles of water on the leaves and wires and it would all drip down on us whenever we even remotely touched a plant.
We watched the skies whenever dark or threatening clouds rolled in, but The Stinger waited until the last possible moment and rarely pulled us out of the fields before the rains actually started. Once the rains came, we'd sit on the bus like we were at a baseball game rain delay waiting the storm out. If it was later in the afternoon, J.D. and The Stinger usually "called it" after a half hour or so and we'd get to go home early. But f it was earlier in the day, we'd sit on the bus for a couple of hours (we still got paid!) before they'd send us home. Sometimes, J.D. would come up with an alternate job for us inside a barn somewhere and we would groan with disappointment at the news that we weren't heading home.
Lightning was a different story. If a bolt ever hit the field with all those metal bent wires and we were under the nets, we'd probably get lit up like a Christmas tree. The Stinger was quick to evacuate the fields at the first groan of thunder or sign of a violent storm.
An unexpected lightning storm is what caused the famous Billy Ryan knock out scene. We were twisting, so the plants still weren't that high and The Stinger called us out of the fields as dark clouds and thunder unexpectedly rolled across the sky. Ryan, a tall goofy guy, was trotting out of the field while looking back over his shoulder at another kid. This proved to be a near fatal mistake because Billy ran smack into a bent wire that cold cocked him across the side of his head and sent him "ass over teacup" as The Stinger described it.
"All I saw was his two feet flying up in the air," The Captain reported. "It looked like someone shot him."
We had to help the dazed Ryan out of the field and The Stinger took him home "to find his fucking brains". Billy showed up the next day wearing a yellow construction hard hat which he wore the rest of the year!
We liked to think we knew when it was going to rain. There used to be cow pastures across the road from the fields and whenever we saw that the cows were lying down, someone would imitate The Stinger and shout out "Take them home, Jimmy O'Hara, it's going to rain!"
Matt "Waldo" Fairweather was also a weather barometer for obvious reasons. Every time he stepped onto the bus in the morning, he would be greeted with a "Looks like fair weather today!"
*** *** ***
Amy was dropped off from work one afternoon by some teenager in a snazzy looking sports car.
"Who's that?" I asked as I got out of my own car in the driveway.
"Oh, just some boy I work with," she answered. Then she smiled and said, "I think I might be in love!"
"Don't worry, it won't last," I assured her.
I knew because I spoke from experience. Summer jobs and teenage romance never mix. Amanda McWade was my great love of 11th grade. We started going steady soon after the Valentine's Day Dance. She was tall and blond with a shapely figure. She was also smart, funny, and a great kisser! I was in seventh heaven and we were still going strong when school let out that June.
But then I went off to slave in the fields of Farm Field 96 while Amanda worked three or four hours a day as a lifeguard at the Hillsboro Country Club swimming pool, an even more posh job than Amy would get all these years later.
The romantic Amanda insisted on meeting me at the elementary school where The Captain's bus dropped me off at the end of the day. She would be all sun tanned from the pool, smelling wonderful after a nice shower, decked out and dolled up in a summer dress or halter top with short shorts and wearing perfume with her lovely hair blowing in the summer's breeze. The guys on the bus would drool at her as she stood on the sidewalk waiting for me, unable to understand how I landed such a babe.
And I'd get off the bus to the guy's cat calls, all dirty, tar-stained, smelly, sweaty and stinky after toiling in the fields all day. Not surprisingly, Amanda soon stopped meeting me at the bus stop and that marked the beginning of the end of our relationship!
"Can't you get a job that doesn't stink, Eddie?" she'd ask.
With her limited hours in the life guard's chair, Amanda had plenty of time to rest, relax, and even take a nap. I, on the other hand, was up by six and didn't get home until nearly five o'clock after dragging my ass (both literally and figuratively) up and down tobacco rows all day, so I'd be exhausted by the time Amanda and I met up for an evening together. I also needed to hit the sack at a sane hour to be able to roll out of bed and do it all over again the next morning.
"I didn't know I was dating a guy with a beddie-bye time, Eddie," Amanda would complain.
She never forgave me for the time I feel asleep during some cheesy romantic movie she had been waiting weeks to see, but by Friday night I was so fried that I couldn't keep my eyes open past ten o'clock. Field work was physically demanding. Our backs were sore, our fingers ached, and we were semi-dehydrated by the time we got home every day. The job literally wiped us out.
Working Saturdays also presented a romance problem because I was never around for the summer fun Amanda wanted to have.
"Can't you call in sick on Saturdays for me, Eddie?" Amanda would ask, but I owed my allegiance to The CCC, especially after so many of The Stinger's lectures about "you bastards showing up for god damn work like we pay you to do".
By August, Amanda had dumped me for some pampered golf caddie at the country club and I couldn't blame her, but if she couldn't love me because of my work I don't suppose there was a lot of depth to our relationship in the first place.
*** *** ***
One of the reasons I was willing to let Amanda go make par with the golf caddie was because of the fraternity of guys I worked with on good ole Farm Field 96. The Captain's Crew may have been a miserable bunch working the most degrading job in town, but we were miserable together and we were loyal to our tobacco brethren.
The Captain's Bus was a melting pot because we were all in the same shit detail together. Even the fastest pickers were exposed to the same insufferable elements and we went to war together every day, sharing a mutual enemy: The Stinger!
Ken Mayne was one of the greatest football fullbacks to ever wear the uniform for Hillsboro High School, but on The Captain's bus he was just another puke working in the fields and he actually shot the shit with me. I never crossed paths with a guy of his stature at school.
Generally, status and position on The Captain's Bus improved with time served. Rooks sat in the front of the bus and were basically ignored. We worked our way to the back of the bus with seniority, honors earned, and reputations formed. Hero status was reserved for those courageous fools who stood up to The Stinger even in the face of verbal annihilation or the threat of being fired. Guys were given cult status for their rule breaking exploits and other boundary pushing adventures.
We'd still hear the name of some legendary guy five years later, even though lore had probably expanded their actual feats.
"Bobby Coswell? Oh yeah. He stole The Stinger's pick up and hid it in a barn one time."
"Didn't you ever hear about Dennis Rigert? He humped the office girl in the molly."
"Oh, Stump Peterson was the greatest picker ever born. He once picked 207 bents in one day."
"Hurley? Isn't he the guy who had vodka in his thermos every day?"
There was only one real code amongst us in the fields: The Sergeant Schultz philosophy. The worse sin one could commit was to voluntarily nark on someone who was fooling around in the fields (short of murder, anyway). Unless The Stinger had one's balls in his hand, we subscribed to the theory of "I know nothing, I see nothing". Any creep who wittingly ratted out a fellow field worker was ostracized for the rest of his time on the farm. Of course, those unfortunate souls who got caught screwing around were on their own too!
"Company Men" were one step above squealers. Company men were those brown nosing lightweights who tried to gain favor with The Stinger, Cap or The Swan in order to avoid the rigors of the day. They were the guys who were picked to go do some special chore to get out of the fields – delivering a message to the barn, washing the bus or trucks, or performing some pansy work back in The Yard. Getting yanked out of the field and assigned a job was one thing – but those candy asses that went out of their way to volunteer for such duty were considered less than worthy by the rest of us. Raising one's hand was the universal sign for dickhead on The Captain's Bus.
As previously discussed, barn workers also fell out of favor with the rest of the fraternity for being less that worthy and taken out of the fields.
Sometimes, guys got razzed through no fault of their own. Gerry Neilson only lived about a half mile from the fields, but The Captain picked him up anyway and he was seen as a wimp, even though he played football.
Cap rarely altered his bus route, so the guys at the far end of the run were screwed every time – they were the first ones picked up at 0-dark-thirty and the last ones dropped off at the end of the day. Waldo Fairweather, on the other hand, was one of the last guys picked up and one of the first dropped off, so he was constantly ridiculed even though it wasn't his fault where he lived.
Mitch Kimplin was harassed on the days when The Captain drove to the bus garage to gas up the old green heap because that meant Mitch got dumped off first much to the chagrin of the rest of us.
Any guy who reached the level of "three year man" and "four year man" earned a special status of respect among the rest of the crew. Some guys disappeared after a few days or refused to reup after their first year. Many others jumped ship after their second year on the farm when they turned sixteen and were able to seek employment elsewhere. No matter what the reason, guys who dumped out on the farm were seen as turncoats and weaklings. But those guys who came back for a third and fourth year showed guts and perseverance and received special reverence for their length of service.
Nobody disparaged a fourth year man if he received unusual treatment – such as tours as a field boss or driving The Stinger's pick up truck. Their ability to survive into the fourth year gave them that privilege.
The veterans were the guys the rooks and younger workers looked to for leadership and example. And veterans felt honor-bound by those who came before to set the tone and carry the baton.
That's why Rick Page gave The Stinger lip whenever he could. He felt it was his responsibility to be an asshole and he was a hero among us for his willingness to take a stand.
Sometimes, of course, veterans failed in their mission and disappointed the rest of the group by their cowardly missteps.
The Stinger told us one day that if we finished picking the field, he'd let us go home early. So we "scabbed out," busted our humps and got the job done in record time.
We were on the bus waiting to leave when J.D. showed up in his pick up truck. Fourth year man Terry Rogers stood and addressed the rest of us. "If Denton tells us to go pick the next field, we strike," he commanded with authority. "Nobody gets off the bus. A promise is a promise."
Rogers was right of course and when The Captain stepped into the vehicle and told us we had to start picking the next field, nobody moved.
"This is serious," Cap warned but we respected Rogers and everybody stayed seated.
"God damn it to hell!" We heard The Stinger yell when he realized what was going on. He trudged into the bus and faced us down. I think he was more pissed off at J.D. for making him go back on his word than he was at us for staging a protest, but he still had a job to do. "Get the hell out of here, you bastards. The boss wants us picking, so we're picking god damn it. Sometimes life is unfair. Be a man and deal with it, for Christ sakes."
"Alright, you dumb fucks." He turned to the Captain. "Jimmy. Jimmy O'Hara. Take the whole worthless lot home. They're all fired!"
Terry Rogers leaped from his seat and was the first one off the bus, making it look like he never wanted to strike in the first place. That guy never had any credibility with us after that day.
The best way to get accepted by the rest of the gang was to rack up at least one memorable episode for a special place in the annals of the summer lore. Billy Ryan getting knocked out by a bent wire earned him entry. Clayton Flynn harassing the office girl gave him recognition. We saw it as our duty to try gain initiation and it became a competition to try to one up the next guy.
A gag, of course, was the main claim to fame. Standard operations included digging small pits in the dirt and covering them with wood, cloth, or debris to camouflage the hole. If we pulled it off, some sap hauler, picker (the next time around perhaps) or field boss would trip in the hole and do a header. Stink bombs made of match heads and tobacco tar took some talent to pull off, as did setting booby traps like swinging a root ball from a string, always a fan favorite when executed properly.
Harry Quinton tied rook Petey Henderson to a bent pole and nobody realized the kid was missing for nearly an hour. To his credit, Henderson didn't rat Harry out and he quickly advanced up the food chain in his standing among the rest of us.
Putting stuff in the hauler's basket was considered low grade, unless someone came up with something unique. A dead cat sticks out in my mind from my era on Farm Field 96, but Ray Ellis probably holds the all time record – he's the guy who got himself sent to the barns in a hauler's basket!
Ray was barely one hundred pounds and maybe 5'2" even at 15 and could actually fit himself into the baskets. He hid in one, got himself picked up and loaded onto the truck and transported to the barn where he scared the shit out of some piler girl.
"She lifted up the cover and I jumped up and shouted 'boo'," Ray reported. "I think she pissed in her pants."
Ellis got suspended for a week for that gag and I suppose he could have been injured had the basket been dropped or fallen off the truck, but it still ranks up there as one of the all time great exploits.
One of the grossest things I saw performed was French frog legs. Guys would capture two or three frogs, tie them alive by their legs to the bent wires, and then sling them by pushing down on the wires and letting them go. Sometimes you would see frog legs (but no frog) hanging off strings still tied to the wire.
Finding Utopia was when guys climbed up bent poles, slipped through the nets and sat on top of the bent pole outside of the net. Utopians had to stay up there for at least five minutes without getting caught to earn credit. Richie Zingler was up there one day earning his respect when The Stinger, driving back from the barns, saw him from a slope on Farm Road.
It would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack for The Stinger to catch Z in the act, but The Stinger wasn't born yesterday. Stosh was sitting on the tailgate of his pickup truck when the Z-man and his partner came out of the fields.
"Hey, Zingler, how's it going?" The Stinger wanted to know.
"Fine, Stosh. Everything's great."
"Got anything you'd like to tell me?"
"No, Sir. I can't think of anything. Can I go start picking my next row now?"
"Sure can, Son," The Stinger replied. "Here, why don't you take this with you?" And The Stinger handed Z an instamatic photograph of him sitting on the pole!
"Next time, I stick that pole up your ass, Zingler," The Stinger said.
We only used the Molly if we were dying. Taking leaks in the fields or on the side of the net was acceptable in our code of conduct, but guys learned not to take a dump until they got home if they could possibly do it. The main reason, of course, were that those miserable latrines smelled worse than a dead body left fomenting in a green house for four days. Farm Field 96 Mollys were about thirty years old, baked in the sun, and were the grossest outhouses imaginable.
But it wasn't just the hygiene risk that one took when they entered one of these shit tombs. Unfortunate users also subjected themselves to the sport of "mollying" – either trapping a guy inside by jamming the door shut, or "flipping" him by knocking the outhouse over. It was only a win if the challenger got away without being caught and it was extra credit if it was a migrant worker getting trapped in the shit house!
"Wrecking" was probably the most popular and famous event for field fun, but it was also the most dangerous because The Stinger vowed to "kill any son of a bitch who jeopardizes my god damn cash crop".
Only idiots wrecked before the last pick because we recognized that The CCC had a right to be offended by such action. Every leaf was worth money and because wrecking usually killed the plant, early wreckers were taking money away from the kitty.
But we didn't see anything wrong with "wrecking" during last pick because, we rationalized, plants would be mulched over anyway. The Stinger did not agree, so one needed to be sure he wasn't going to get caught if he was to partake in this activity.
Wrecking was essentially playing football with the tobacco plant – the goal was to take out as many plants as possible with one hit. A wrecker was graded on the number of plants crushed. The maneuver was usually running for a bent or two and throwing one's body into the row of stocks, either back first or with a shoulder like a football linebacker.
We'd do anything to break up the boredom and tedium of our horrible work routine. There was always a conversation going on, even if it was the most inane of subjects being discussed and we'd argue over the dumbest things just for something to do.
"Nobody cares," The Cap would finally say when he got tired of listening to our dribble.
Sometimes, it became easy to unwittingly disclose a state secret just because of the boredom. I remember one time Waldo Fairweather and I were talking about girls from school and I said something like, "Yeah, and Laureen doesn't even know I like her."
Fairweather fell down in his picking row laughing at my disclosure. "Hey everybody, Eddie likes Laureen Palazzo!" he yelled with delight.
Jazz Rooney took to painting the number signs that we hung on the nets in the rows we were picking or hauling so The Captain and The Swan could properly track the bents. He'd take a couple of the boring brown signs with white numbers home and bring them back the next day with all sorts of fancy art work, usually to match the personality of the guys using that number: an image of the starship Enterprise, a can of beer, a sports car, a poker card, Elvis, The Road Runner, a scantly dressed chick, and a wad of cash was among his best work.
Hat style became a competition. Guys would wear all types of hats and decorate them with all sorts of stuff to look like anybody from Henry Blake on M*A*S*H to The Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland.
Four or six of us would play "PG" during lunch. Someone would bring a plastic golf sized ball and we'd use lat sticks for a bat, playing against the side of the barns. The Stinger would get pissed because he wanted us to conserve our strength, but we wanted to do something normal and enjoyable during our endless day of misery and a few innings of PG was a welcomed break from the madness.
We weren't beyond singing either. "I've Been Working on Tobacco" (sung to the tune of "I've Been Working On The Railroad") was one of our staple songs.
I've been working on tobacco all the live long day
I've been working on tobacco just to make ten bucks a day.
Don't you hear the bus horn blowing? Stinger, won't you blow,
Rise up so early in the morn.
Don't you hear The Captain shouting
"Stinger, shut your hole?"
Stinger, won't you blow,
Stinger, won't you blow your top?
Stinger, won't you blow,
Stinger, won't you blow,
Stinger, won't you blow your top?
Stinger, won't you blow,
(the line "won't you blow yourself" was also inserted from time to time) Someone's in the barns with Curly.
Someone's in the barns, I know.
Someone's in the barns with Curly
It must be __________*, oh-no.
(*-Insert the name of any kid on the bus)
Someone's in the barns with Curly.
Smoking weed was the most dangerous activity because it probably meant getting fired (or arrested) if caught, but what better place to smoke the wacky tobaccy than in a tobacco field? "Lost Horizons" was what we called Field Fourteen, a monster-sized lot that was 18 bents in length and a killer to work, but it was the best place to sneak a joint or two. Even the smell of pot was hard to pick up over the smell of the tobacco.
Stinger, Captain or The Swan picked up on the fact that a guy was stoned from time to time, but I don't recall anybody actually getting caught in the act of toking up during my era.
Amanda was right – working on tobacco was a stink job. But when I look back on it, what I remember most is the camaraderie I had with my fellow workers and the fun we had trying to stretch and break the rules every day.
Tobacco was the best worse job I ever had.
*** *** ***
We used to think guys like J.D., The Stinger and Curly Jacobs had to be losers to work on a tobacco farm for a living. Our fathers had "real" jobs and they'd never be caught dead doing such undignified work as fielding tobacco.
But as I look back on it now through the wisdom of my years, I realize how talented, intelligent and skilled those guys were and how well they did their jobs bringing in a multi-million dollar crop each year.
These guys had to know when the tobacco leaves reached perfect maturity and were ready to be picked. Their years of experience and training turned them into "tobacco artists" producing a quality final product and their constant care resulted in a successful harvest year after year. They saw each spring as a challenge and approached it as a competition against nature and other forces to turn out the finest leaves possible.
I imagine there was pressure on these guys to succeed. The CCC invested a lot of money to produce a cash crop at season's end. I think The Stinger told us once that it cost "about $30,000 god damn dollars per acre" to produce a harvest and that was more money than most of our fathers were making a year back then.
It was a tedious process even though the plants themselves were relatively easy to grow. Field tobacco grows quickly – sometimes four inches in one day when the conditions were favorable, but the plants needed to be spaced perfectly and protected in order to grow properly and fruitfully.
Bug infestation, too much sun, bad weather (like a hail storm for example), or a prolonged dry spell could doom the crop, not to mention fifty or sixty moronic teenagers known to create a problem or two along the way. One of the barns – with millions of dollars worth of crop inside – could go up in flames in a heartbeat from a lightning strike, propane gas tank malfunction, or the carelessness of an employee, including a goofy teenager.
An accident involving one of the CCC trucks hauling a load from the field to the barn could cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars or a possible lawsuit.
Now that I think about it, I understand perfectly well why The Stinger rode our asses so much to keep us on the straight and narrow. We had his livelihood in our hands every time we stepped off the bus and entered those fields.
The Stinger, The Captain and The Swan also had the added pressure of being responsible for the local kids who worked for The CCC. Even in the days before child abuse awareness and other dangers, they surely knew that disaster could strike at any given moment. What would have happened if Cap was in an accident with us on the bus? Or if some kid died from heat exhaustion or some other unexpected ailment while in the fields? Who would answer if some kid broke his neck falling out of the rafters hanging tobacco in the barn? What if some unfortunate high school girl got raped or assaulted while on the clock?
We never stopped to consider those realities and we really didn't give a shit about the pressures our bosses were under. All we cared about was collecting our pay check every week and having some fun along the way. Hell, we were no different than my daughter Amy today. We whined, we complained, and we certainly had no appreciation for what J.D, The Stinger and Curly Jacobs went through every day.
"What's your boss like, Amy?" I asked my daughter one night, still thinking about my tobacco days.
"Oh, he's a great guy," she reported. "He tells great jokes and he likes to flirt."
"Does he teach you about the job?" I wanted to know. "Does he train you on customer service? Does he instill virtues and values?"
"Why would he want to do that, Dad? It's only a summer job."
"You know," I answered. "Those guys I worked for on Farm Field 96 were some of the greatest bosses I've had in my life."
Nobody who worked on Farm Field 96 was going to openly admit that they liked The Stinger. He was a cantankerous, obnoxious, vulgar old coot and he made our lives miserable. Our mission was to resist him as much as possible.
A guy like Stosh probably wouldn't even be able to work in the same capacity today. Some soccer mom would complain that he was being mean and abusive to her little Johnny and, in the politically correct world we live in, The Stinger wouldn't be allowed to supervise children. Back in my day, however, The Stinger was part of the community "village" entrusted with his scribes, even with his unconventional leadership style.
I bet if you polled those Farm Field 96 alumni workers today, a vast majority would list The Stinger as one of the most positive influences in their lives. It was The Stinger who gave us a strong work ethic, teaching us that it was important to show up on time, ready, able and willing to do the job being paid for. He taught us that doing the right thing was a good thing and he gave us other values and virtues to consider, like treating women with respect.
We knew that The Stinger's over the top performances were mostly an act to keep us in line and ensure the job got done. He liked to be the hard ass and he delighted in pissing us off. But there was a human side to Stosh Indakowski and although he did his best to keep it hidden, sometimes it came out.
Danny Flowers didn't like The I-Man. Stosh razzed Danny about his name ("Pick any daisies today, Flowers?") and Danny, who was a religious kid, was offended by The Stinger's language choices.
"God damn it to hell, Flowers, get off my case about my fucking language," The Stinger told Danny one day when he grew tired of the complaints. "Jesus H. Christ, don't you think The Savior has more important things to fucking worry about than an old man cursing? Why don't you start praying for World Peace and Social Justice instead of god damn worrying about what Jesus thinks of me? If I end up in Hell, it's my own fucking fault!"
We were eating lunch during the noon break one day when an unusually somber Stosh pulled up in his pick up truck.
"Jimmy O'Hara. Danny Flowers. May I see you both over here please?"
We watched as The Stinger put his hand on Danny's shoulder and quietly told him something. Danny's head slumped and Stosh led him to his truck with his arm draped around his shoulders.
"What happened, Cap?" Someone asked The Captain when he returned after The Stinger took Danny away.
"Dan's brother just got killed in a motorcycle accident," Cap reported. Nobody said anything for a long time after hearing that unbelievable news.
Danny returned to work a week later and The Stinger never gave him a hard time again. Flowers was also noticeably more tolerable of Stosh and even defended him when one of us was bitching about him. Danny never told us what Stosh did for him, but obviously he had made a difference during Flower's time of loss.
Lucky LaMountain was a rollie pollie guy with a fun sense of humor and we were pals on the farm. He and I came out of the field having finished our row of picking and saw The Stinger standing in the middle of the field road watching something in the distance. He put his finger to his lips in a "Shh" gesture and pointed with his other hand to the pasture across Farm Road. A large buck was standing in the grass staring at Stosh.
"Boys," The Stinger said softly. "There's Mother Nature in all her beauty."
We must have stood there for two or three minutes watching the buck watch us, but the serenity was ruined by the grinding of gears and the coughing motor of one of the hauling trucks and the animal ran off into the woods.
"God damn it, Phifer," The Stinger yelled at driver Jack Phifer when he pulled the truck onto the field's dirt road. "Can't you do anything fucking right?"
Phifer climbed out of the truck and looked at us with confusion as The Stinger stormed off. "What did I do?" he asked.
I narrowly escaped death one day when a couple of empty hauling baskets got bounced off the back of one of the trucks as it drove by me and Lucky LaMountain. One of the baskets barely grazed me as Lucky pulled me out of harm's way and I went sprawling into the dirt with a thud. It looked a lot worse than it was from The Captain and Stinger's angle and they thought I had been beheaded as they watched the drama unfold. I had a bruise on my shoulder and a cut on the side of my cheek, but I was lucky that Lucky had pulled me away and I really wasn't hurt.
The Stinger insisted that I go home anyway, despite my protests.
"Get in the fucking truck, Nash. You're done for the day. I'll still pay you for all eight hours, god damn it."
The Stinger drove me home, chain smoking and humming the entire way. My mother was sitting in a lawn chair reading a magazine and sipping on ice tea when the blue CCC pick up truck pulled into the driveway.
"Hello, Mrs. Nash, I'm Stosh Indakowski," The Stinger said as he climbed out of the truck. "No need to panic, Ma'm. Eddie here had himself a little accident. He's fine, but I thought it best that he take it easy for the rest of the day. He's a fine boy and a hard worker and we're glad to have him with us."
My mother thanked The Stinger for his kindness and offered him an ice tea for his troubles.
"Oh that's most kind of you, Nice Lady, but I need to get back to the fields," a blushing Stosh replied. "Thank you so much for your offer. I'm truly grateful." He turned to me. "Eddie, you sure do have wonderful mother, don't you?"
Eddie? He called me Eddie? Not 'Fucking Nash" or "God Damn It Nash" or "Bastard Nash" or "Cocksucker Nash"?
"Yes, Stosh, I certainly do," I agreed.
"You be good to this nice lady, Eddie. Mothers are the most important women in the world."
The Stinger smiled, tipped his hat, climbed back into his truck and zoomed off to the fields to harass, yell, and swear at the rest of those god damn Jesus H. Christ son of a bitch bastard guys.
Sometimes, the Stinger would pick a bent or two in about 37 seconds to help some picker who was sucking wind. Even at 60 years of age, The Stinger was one of the fastest pickers on the farm!
Captain Jimmy O'Hara was a positive influence on Stosh and got him out into the community from time to time. Cap played in the men's softball league and convinced Stosh to bring his wife along to socialize and watch the games. Stosh did on several occasions, but the thing that got me was that he showed up in his damn green khakis. In fact, every time I saw the guy around town he was wearing those same green khakis. Did he sleep in them? Didn't he have a pair of Bermuda shorts and a tennis shirt he could wear?
One time, about twelve years after I left Hillsboro, I was home for a visit and bumped into The Stinger at Hills Barber Shop – still wearing his green Khakis.
"Geez Stosh, you aren't still working are you?" I asked him.
"For Christ sakes, Nash, I'm fucking 72 years old. I'm retired, God damn it!"
Didn't the guy have any retirement clothes to wear!? Years later, when I heard from Waldo Fairweather that The Stinger passed away, I wondered if they buried him in his green khakis!
The CCC paid for an annual trip to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox play on a Sunday afternoon. This was long before tickets became impossible to buy and there were always plenty of seats available. The Captain picked us up in the green bus – sometimes The Swan came too with his son – and often The Stinger was a passenger, wearing his green khakis of course! We'd sit in the right field stands and watch the game as a collective group.
"Jimmy. Jimmy O'Hara!" The Stinger crackled one time as we drove back from the ball park. "Pull the damn bus into that Howard Johnson's over there, god damn it."
We piled out of the bus and Stosh bought all forty of us an ice cream cone, on him.
Stosh Indakowski could be an insufferable asshole when he wanted to be, but I'm not going to say anything bad about the guy. I liked him, god damn it.
The Stinger wasn't the only adult on Farm Field 96 whom I admired.
Jimmy O'Hara was a good guy. It helped that we knew him from our "other life" (high school) and even though he got pissed off at us from time to time, he was basically a positive and upbeat mentor who looked out for us.
I never heard Cap say a bad thing about anybody and he often laughed with the rest of us when The Stinger was performing some of his award winning tirades. I hadn't realized it at the time, but The Captain was only about ten years older than me so he was still young enough in his leadership role to identify and relate to what we were going through.
Cap hoped to be a positive mentor and influence for us on the farm, but now I realize that he had responsibilities to The Stinger and The CCC and I understand why he dropped the hammer on us when we fucked up. It was his job to protect the cash crop even if it meant not being cool in our eyes.
Cap became a lifer at Hillsboro High and taught my niece and nephew (daughter Amy went to another school). I'd see him at sporting events and other occasions in later years and was surprised to observe that he wore his now gray hair in a short crew cut. He had an uncanny resemblance to The Stinger and The Captain was now just about the same age Stosh was when he was yelling at us in the field all those years ago.
I also got to know some pretty cool college guys who worked as field bosses and truck drivers during my tenure on Farm Field 96, but not all the college guys were fun to be around.
A few of the truck drivers took their job description literally and all they were willing to do was drive the truck from the field to the barn and back again. They'd never get out of their cab to help load or unload the baskets no matter how backed up we were and they got all bent out of shape whenever they had to transport a couple of us to the barns. They also didn't like taking orders from The Stinger (arguing that Curly Jacobs was their boss) and they'd give Stosh a hard time for the hell of it.
One of The Stingers pet peeves was truck drivers who drove too fast. Not only could speed damage the leaves in the hauler baskets, but there were also the obvious road safety and liability issues.
"God damn it, Clarkson. I clocked you doing 35 down the fucking road!"
"Ah, you're full of shit, Stinger. I was barely doing 30."
But truck drivers knew not to push Stosh too hard because he could get them removed from their cushy truck assignment if he felt they were a danger to the company.
Some of the college guys who served as field bosses let the position go to their heads and basically became field Nazis who constantly rode our asses and never cut any slack no matter how minor the transgression. Sometimes The Stinger would transfer these guys to the barn or trucks because even he thought they were too much of red asses and were killing morale.
But there were some cool older college guys who treated us with respect and compassion. Most of them had come through the ranks themselves and remembered what it was like to be lowly field workers, so they were supportive and even went along with some of the pranks from time to time.
Ted Tolg was a personable truck driver who helped load his truck and was willing to offer his advice from time to time. He didn't like seeing guys getting unmercifully picked on and would intervene if he thought some of the older guys were going too far. I remember one time he told me to keep my chin up as he drove me to the barns for another day under Curly's watch.
"There's no shame in working in the barns, Nash," he advised. "We're all here to accomplish one thing: harvest the crop."
Red bearded Chip Fortin was a funny guy who kept us laughing to break the monotony of the day. He was a fair and compassionate field boss who usually gave warnings before dropping the hammer. He was also a great singer who came up with some funny ditties.
Mark Currier was a stand up comedian who could do a perfect impersonation of The Stinger. He would often trick guys in the field when he was a field boss, scaring the shit out of them with his Stinger voice.
"God Damn it, you stupid son of a bitches. I saw you wreck that plant. Jesus H. Christ, you're fired. Go tell Jimmy - Jimmy O'Hara - to take you the fuck home!"
Currier actually got wimpy Andy Farr to confess to The Swan that he had been packing his baskets, thinking it was The Stinger who had sent him out of the fields. It wasn't until Farr saw The Stinger drive up in his pick up truck that he realized he had been had.
Field Boss Sam Allenson was a mild mannered and serene guy, but he used to tell some really raunchy, dirty and disgusting jokes. Everybody else did too, of course, but what makes Allenson so memorable is that he went on to become a Catholic Priest and he ministers in the Hillsboro area. Whenever I see him celebrating Mass, all I can think of is his famous joke "What do a virgin and a balloon have in common? One prick and it's all over."
I often wonder if Father Sam ever heard Stosh's confession or counseled him in the street.
"You know, My Son," The Priest might have said. "You took the Lord's name in vain just a tad to much."
"God damn it, I'm sorry Father," Stosh would reply.
*** *** ***
Friday was the best day of the week because it was pay day. Cap would either drive us to The Yard or The Stinger would show up at the fields at the end of the day and give us our checks, sealed in white window envelopes with the CCC logo in the left corner and our names and address visible in the window.
The Stinger acted like it was his own money he was giving out when he issued the checks. "Anderson, you bastard. Andrews, you actually showed up last week? Burrows. I can't believe you're still here. Baker. Bake this, you shithead."
The checks were usually printed on pink or green paper with a Nabisco Logo on it (CCC was a subsidiary) and we would joke with lines like "how 'bout these cookies?" when we saw how much we made.
Fast pickers competed against one another to see if they were top dog from the previous weeks "scab outs" (going fast) and those of us who didn't make piece work money would embarrassingly stuff our lesser checks into our pockets or lunch pail without comment (sort of like the dumb kids at report card time or the ugly kids at school picture time!).
Rooks were much more free spending than seasoned veterans. Banks were open late on Fridays and Rooks were the first in line after their shower to cash their checks and they rarely put any of it to the savings account. They'd be on the bus to Greenville that night to spend it and they'd be broke before Monday morning rolled around.
My neighborhood pal Jazz Rooney saved up all his money our rook year to buy a really expensive ten speed racing bike. It was his pride and joy and he was never happier, but three days later he totaled it smashing into the side of Stevie Davis' Plymouth Barracuda in front of Palmer's Market and poor Jazz had nothing to show for weeks of ass-busting, back breaking work. He was morose for days.
Veterans learned to be more frugal with their earnings, thinking big picture and long term. They stashed their money in savings accounts and stayed focus on goals down the road – like a car.
Still, it was nice to be financially independent and not have to mooch money off our parents for a coke and burger at the local diner. We also had power within the family, able to make loans (with interest) to siblings and to do stuff without coming up with ways to get money. The first time I went to the county fair with a wad of my own money in my pocket was the most freeing experience of my life!
Receiving the last check of the season in the mail a week after working our last day on the farm was a bittersweet moment – we were happy to be done with our miserable jobs, but we also knew that we had seen our last paycheck for a while and that was depressing. It was back to raking leaves, picking up a paper route, shoveling snow, and doing odd jobs until the next tobacco season rolled around to once again provide us with a steady income.
*** *** ***
I am a proud Four Year Man alumnus of Farm Field 96. Some guys pass on a fourth year in the fields, figuring once they graduate from high school it's time to move on to bigger and better things, but several came back to work that final year for The Stinger and I was one of them. (Fifth year men were promoted to the college ranks of permanent field bosses, barn workers, and truck drivers).
The Stinger and The Captain were more likely to cut a fourth year man a break or give him a plush assignment because of his time served, but it was a privilege not to be abused. The Stinger confided to a couple of us working special detail that there was a small chance we could be done by noon one particular Saturday.
"But don't say anything, god damn it, because it's not definite."
Two hours later, the entire crew was aware that it was a half day and Stew Thomas, the moron fourth year man who couldn't keep his mouth shut, spent the rest of the summer doing nothing but picking.
Lucky LaMountain and I were allowed to fill in as field bosses from time to time, which meant taking a position in the fields and watching the approaching pickers and haulers for any abuse or inappropriate behavior. It's amazing how easily a field boss can blend in with the green forest of tobacco that filled the fields. Bent poles served as great hiding places and often times a guy would be right on top of a field boss and not even see him. I'd only drop the hammer if guys treated me with disrespect, especially if some smart ass rook decided to give me a hard time.
One time I was acting as field boss, sitting against a bent pole waiting for something to happen.
"Hey Nash, how's it going?" It was The Stinger, scaring the shit out of me by sneaking up from behind.
"Everything's fine, Stosh," I nervously replied, fearing he was going to yell at me for being worthless and lazy sitting on my ass.
"Who should we fuck with today?" He asked.
"Huh?" I didn't know if it was a loaded or trick question.
"Watch this." He motioned for me follow and we tiptoed across a few rows of plants.
"Jesus H. Fucking Christ, Schwartz!" The Stinger bellowed. "How many fucking times have I told you not to pack those god damn baskets!? I'm going to pack your god damn ass with my boot tip if I see you doing that again! Now get the fuck out of here!"
An embarrassed and humiliated Schwartz slinked from the row with his hauling basket dragging behind him like it was full of lead.
"That otta keep him honest for a few hours," The Stinger remarked with a wink. "See you around, Nash." He disappeared into the fields like he was an Army commando on a secret mission.
Four year men who earned The Stinger's trust were treated with respect and dignity. We were privy to inside information and given the benefit of the doubt as long as we didn't betray our responsibilities or the code of honor we were expected to follow. Cap and The Stinger understood that we were no longer high school boys, but young men about to go out into the world and they let us use Farm Field 96 as a testing ground as we prepared ourselves for our next chapter.
We got to drive The Stinger's pick up truck. We got to load the trucks. We got to pull weight as field bosses. Even when we were doing the regular picking or hauling job, we weren't hassled as much as the other guys.
My greatest moment as a four year man was the day The Stinger told me to drive one of the loaded trucks to the barn.
"I just fired that candy ass rat bastard Dillon on the spot for insubordination, Nash," he said. "He's in my fucking pick up for the long shameful ride to The Yard. Take his truck to Shed 27 and tell Curly Jacobs he'll need a new fucking driver, god damn it."
The Captain grinned and gave me a salute as I climbed into the cab of the disgraced Dillon's truck. I got to drive the twenty year old Chevy heap out of the fields like I was a winning racer taking a victory lap. The guys coming out of their rows looked at me with awe as I drove by, baptized as a real man doing an adult job on Farm Field 96.
My excitement turned to nervousness once I was out on Farm Road. What if I had an accident? Went off the road? Hit some kid on a bicycle? Clipped a car in the other lane making a turn? I don't think I got the crate out of third gear as I rumbled down Farm Road barely doing 25 m.p.h.
Driver Shawn Courtney did a double take as he passed me going the other way with his empty truck and I grinned at him, trying to look like it was no big deal. I had made it to the big leagues, even if it was only for one trip.
I pulled the truck up to the barn door as if I was Ted Turner bringing home the winning ship for the America's Cup.
"What did Stosh do to me this time?" frowned Curly Jacobs when he saw me climbing out of the cab.
Curly assigned one of his lieutenants to take over as driver and made me stay in the barns to help out, but I didn't care – I had made my maiden voyage and I was an honorary driver, the ultimate pay off for any fourth year man.
The summer season began to wane and it was like being part of a baseball team that was 20 games out – I was playing out the string waiting for my Navy career to begin in October. It was getting harder to take some of the Field Farm 96 stuff seriously knowing I was about to step into a whole new reality, but I wanted to set a good example so I did what I was told without complaint.
The high school kids' season ended the Friday of Labor Day weekend. I said so long to Cap, thanking him for his guidance and tutelage during the past four years. I was staying on until I shipped out and my extra time on the farm allowed me to see how the rest of the process worked. Waldo Fairweather, Lucky LaMountain and Mutt Kramer hadn't figured out what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives yet and they also signed on for the extra tour.
With The Captain back in school and his bus back at the garage, I drove the others to The Yard in my beat up ten year old Chevy Impala that had a date with the junk yard once I headed for boot camp. We joined up with the migrant workers and some of the other older guys who continued on the farm. We helped take down the nets and watched as the remaining crop was mulched under by tractors.
We also worked in the barns which felt depressingly empty without the high school girls. By now, the hanging tobacco was dried and ready to be packed for shipment. The lats were removed from the rafters and the brown leaves were crinkly to the touch. We cut the lat strings and placed the leaves into coffin sized wooden boxes that were loaded onto pallets for shipment.
Farm Field 96 was strangely devoid of personality and excitement with the high school kids gone. It was a surreal existence and an anticlimactic boring routine. The Stinger was surprisingly mellow and unemotional, rarely expressing anger or rancor. He had little to say to us with the exception of the occasional insult or criticism.
"Nash, you hemorrhoid, you look like you're falling asleep. Sober up for Christ sakes."
But his heart wasn't in it and The Stinger reminded me of a drugged mountain lion, stripped of his battle senses.
The work was bland and uninteresting and I was marking time waiting for my ship out date to arrive. I realized that mentally and emotionally I was already gone from this place of my youth. I was looking ahead, anticipating what the Navy would bring for me.
I honored my Farm Field 96 commitment right up to the Friday before my Monday departure. I collected my pay check and said farewell to the guys. Mark Currier gave me a generous send off by adding my name to the "Wall of Fame" in The Yard's Barn: 'Eddie Nash, U.S. Navy' he scratched next to several famous 96 workers whose name had made the wall of honor.
I drove out of Farm Field 96's Yard for the final time and never looked back. The strip mall now sits where the office shack once stood.
*** *** ***
My boot camp company commander Prindle was just as good looking as Captain Jimmy O'Hara, but he was a sadistic and egotistical psychotic who made The Stinger look like a butterfly. I wasn't quite as terrorized by the abusive mental case as some of my fellow recruits because I had been groomed by The Stinger's antics and didn't take Prindle's hysteria quite so seriously.
I spent a week mess cooking during boot camp and later, as a young apprentice at my first command, I was assigned to the First Lieutenant (Cleaning Detail) for three months, including a two week stint cleaning toilets in a huge hanger at Roosevelt Roads Puerto Rico Navy base, but I had been a four year man on Farm Field 96 and didn't find the work as degrading as some of my complaining shipmates.
"Sailor Talk" is a common polite phrase for the vulgar and obscene language navy men often use, but I doubt I heard anything during my Naval career that I hadn't already heard in the fields of Stosh's Farm Field 96.
I worked for some outstanding Naval officers during my 23 year career and I also worked for some real nut jobs that never should have been put in positions of leadership. Later, as a civilian, I worked for three or four different bosses with various levels of competence and character.
My Farm Field 96 bosses (The Stinger and Cap O'Hara) would compete well against some of the quality leaders I had later in life and that's a pretty good testament to the influence they had on me as a youngster. My best Navy leaders were men of integrity, discipline, credibility, character and trust and I'd say that The Stinger and Cap also had those attributes.
Jesus H. Christ, god damn it to hell, you son of a bitch bastards. Thank you.