Saturday, July 30, 2016


As I write this, global warming is apparently taking place somewhere in my armpit region because there is a terrifying stench wafting past my nostrils. A smell so bad that I can only compare it to possibly a dead mouse or my wife cooking eggs on Easter morning. I stink. 

The heat is even getting to our dog, Norman. As I glance down from the keyboard, I see him laying on his back napping, with all four legs pointed toward the ceiling like he’s airing out his nether regions. As he pants in his sleep, about a foot and a half of his pink tongue is uncoiled on the floor beside his face. He’s quite the sight. 

Last Sunday, I was at a family picnic. It was so hot and humid that afternoon, the lemon bars with powdered sugar that someone brought kind of melted into a pile of congealed goodness. There was a little bit of a breeze, but it was just hot air blowing on us. It was miserable. 

Just as my brother-in-law and I were discussing our uncomfortable situation, a bright yellow school bus pulled up nearby. We both became a little more comfortable when we saw a group of dirty, sweaty young detasslers come dripping off of that bus. Those poor kids were the definition of hot. 

I don’t do as well in hot, humid weather as I used to. Seeing those young people getting off of that bus got me to thinking about some of the hot, miserable jobs I had as a kid and how there is no possible way I could do those jobs now if I had to. 

I grew up on a farm, and I got to do some pretty nasty things during the dog days of July and August. I remember walking acres and acres of soybeans. I remember painting houses and barns with my dad where the reflection of the sun off of the building practically cooked you. I recall shoveling pig manure in temperatures that had to rival the very bowels of Hell. 

Back in high school, I used to help bale a lot of hay and straw for local farmers. I worked on a crew with two other guys. Kevin owned the tractor, hay baler and racks, and he would hire me and this other guy, Chris, to ride on the rack and stack bales. We’d usually have to put them up in the barn too. It was always a hot, miserable job. But nothing compares to a particular four-day period back in the summer of 1982. 

I don’t remember what the going rate was that farmers were paying us back in those days, but both Chris and I needed money. We both were high-schoolers with cars. I needed cash for sound system improvements to my 1973 bright yellow Volkswagen Beetle, such as the Kraco car stereo from K-Mart. Chris had to make installment payments to the Bondo company so he could keep filling the rusted-out areas of his silver Ford Mustang. 

This one particular field of hay was worse than all of the others put together. I don’t know how many acres it was. (Possibly a million, but that’s just a guess.) It was located in this valley and surrounded by trees so that no breeze could get in there. As thick as the mowed hay was, and the sheer size of the field, Kevin told us we’d be in that field for probably at least a couple of afternoons. Chris and I saw dollar signs. 

That Monday, when we first started, despite the sun-drenched heat, Chis and I were both full of youthful exuberance in the fact that we were both going to make some money. But as the day drug on, we soon realized the dire situation we were in. Due to the humidity in the air, and the amount of damp, heavy hay, the tractor and baler could no more than crawl through the field so that we wouldn’t break down. Sometimes it seemed as though it took five minutes to go 5 feet. And then we’d have breakdowns anyway, mostly because the wet hay would clog up the baler. 

After that first day, we’d barely put a dent in that field. It just got hotter after that. I’ve got to believe it was in the mid- to upper-90s the rest of the week. After Day 2, we weren’t halfway done. I was praying Dad had some hog manure he needed shoveled. 

By the midway point of Day 3, Chris and I were hallucinating while we balanced on that rack, bouncing across that breeze-less field. We would tell each other the stupidest jokes and laugh at the dumbest things just to keep our sanity. More than once, one of us would have to grab the other to keep from falling off the rack due to sweaty exhaustion. 

On Day 4 of this two-day job, the end of the field was finally in our grasp. As we were finishing up that last rack, the farmer that owned the field brought us all out some Pepsi and his checkbook. With the sweat dripping down our dirty faces, I think that we liked the soda better than we did the money. 

Sometimes, I remember some pretty dumb things, so I texted Kevin to see if he had any recollection of this rather ordinary event that happened over 30 years ago. He texted back that yes he did remember. He informed me that we racked 8,566 bales in those four days and 2,257 on our biggest day. 

And I thought I remembered weird stuff. 

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