Hippies in lawn chairs and hammocks strung between shagbark hickory trees lounge around their fire pit after cooking a meal of potatoes, cabbage, eggs, and some chicken breast with a story behind it. It's Monday and we're still recovering from this year's version of HoeFest, though we did manage to load the 30 bales of straw arranged like seats in a semi-circle round the stage. We stacked them in the barn. Rain is predicted tonight.
Beeping woke me up this morning. I staggered out the front door, down the sidewalk that runs between gardens of zinnias, petunias, and various other mostly annual flowers in full brilliance. In the gravel parking lot the septic truck was backing up, an elderly woman guiding her husband with hand signals. Five blue porta-potties stood in front of our chicken plucking machine. I sipped a beer and spoke with the lady while they sucked out the tanks.
"Thanks for bringing the barrel over here," she said. "It makes a huge difference."
"Yeah, I wondered why you insisted on that, but it makes sense. Drunks will just toss their bottles and cans in the toilet without receptacles. I bet you see a lot of shit in your line of work."
"You'd be surprised."
"At the Good People Good Times festival I saw half a watermelon floating in one."
"You know when stuff gets caught in our hoses it's a real mess to unplug them."
By the time the blue potties were emptied I was already sweating and needed another lukewarm beer. "It's probably the moonshine coming out my pores."
"You had some good moonshine out here?"
"Well it was the real thing, at least some of it. The guy actually sprouts corn and does it the old-fashioned way. A lot of people use sugar these days, which technically makes rum."
Her husband, who is literally dwarfed by her 5'4" stature, backed the trailer up, and together we manhandled the blue plastic shitters. Sweat ran in rivers off my head and chest, blurring the smeared body paint that somebody had splashed around in a moment of reverie.
"These new ones don't quite fit the grooves," they said.
I panted worse than these senior citizens.
The porta-potties had been a last minute idea. The previous two years we used the three outhouses on the sand dune to the north, but this year on the Monday before HoeFest I thought about the situation and determined that while outhouses go along with my hippie idealism, bright blue, conspicuous porta-potties are what folks who attend festivals are accustomed to, and just like baby chicks quickly learn where the water and food is, drunks instinctively know how to locate the plastic shack previously pissed in. Over the weekend I used each of the five, two of which were labeled for women, and three for men. No transgender restrooms in the state governed by Michael Pence who is flirting with Donald Trump for Christ's sake. Not sure if unisex is a loophole.
The three guys from the Jackson County Health Department were impressed by the shitters. They called me on Thursday afternoon, the day before the event. "We heard your ad on the radio, read about it in the newspaper. You should have called us. You're advertising a hog roast, camping, swimming, and mud wrestling?"
"Yeah! You should come out!"
"Oh, we'll be seeing you tomorrow." Turned out, he said, you're not allowed to butcher a pig and do a hog roast if the public is attending. You can't do chickens, either. Fortunately I'd hired Tracey Johnson and her sweetie Rick who pulled their catering trailer out from the Ozark mountains of Missouri. They still weren't allowed to prepare meat from our farm, but Tracey has helped put on numerous festivals and radiates a natural charisma. She charmed the three guys on Friday, who informed me that next year Homeland Security would probably be showing up on account of the stage, to make sure it was safe. They also said we weren't really allowed to have a public pool, though they appreciated the ingenuity. This year we used railroad ties as posts, hog panels for the walls, and a sturdy tarp. The guys were impressed that we'd bothered to throw a floating chlorinator in.
"What about this 'melon painting' you advertise on Facebook?" they asked Jetta. "I mean, are you using a brush and paint, or tattoo needles?"
"I use a brush and paint."
We never did any melon painting, hog roasting, or mud-wrestling. The music mesmerized everyone. Our headliner, Rusty Bladen, had to open up Friday night for a scattered audience of hippies setting up tents under the elms out back because he'd accidentally double-booked and was on contract with a bar somewhere. After him, the 220 Breakers played, and at midnight Zion Crossroads went on, though somehow I missed that act. Jetta stormed in the house to sternly reprimand me for neglecting them, as they do some original and unique blends of blues and reggae they dub "Dreadneck Funk," with drums, bass, a trombone, and Travers Marks on steel guitar, but for some reason I was engaged in blurting the same shit I say every day to a bunch of folks in the middle room of the Farmhouse. I was losing my voice. Some kind of minor pneumonia possibly related to the molding, tall cover crops of rye surrounding our farm that had lately been sprayed with glyphosphate and planted to soybeans was not only affecting me but two other smartasses, Dave and Dustin. I guess moldy rye was the source of the lycergic acid that caused the Pilgrims to go nuts in the head and burn supposed witches in Salem, Massachuesetts. By the time I ventured out to the stage in the shady grove south of the Farmhouse, apparently Zion Crossroads had already played, according to Travers, who sat in a lawn chair while the white rapper, R-Juna, set up.
"You guys going on soon?" I remember asking him.
"We already played."
"I can barely talk," I whispered. "Must be that moldy rye."
I tend to avoid most white rappers, but R-Juna had been popular with the ladies and most of my guy-friends, so I'd put him on for the late night/early morning set each of the previous HoeFests. This time I finally paid attention to him, and after his set had to admit he had something going on. "I'm way too arrogant to listen to another guy with words, usually, so I never heard you until this year, but I swear only Lawrence Ferlinghetti has taken me along, word for word," I hoarsely gasped. "Maybe I finally listened because I can't fucking blab."
Saturday nobody was interested in mud wrestling. A reggae band, MoorDub, showed up all the way from Indy at about noon, while hippies shucked sweet corn and we all recovered from the previous night. I heard a rumor that this guy named "Buddy" had bit the head off one of our chickens, then proceeded to gut and skin it with two butter knives, removing the breasts and putting them in the refrigerator. Sure enough, he had, he said, following me around somewhat, wearing a shirt that claimed, "THIS GUY NEEDS A BEER."
"You stuck a chicken's head in your mouth?"
I guess he and a few other hippies had been horsing around at dawn, trying to count the hundreds of chickens as they departed the coop to free range, and somebody had dared somebody to bite the head off a cock. Impulsively, this guy had grabbed one and. . .after a while I tired of his company. His buzz was not contagious.
Derick Howard did the sound all weekend, and he showed up at 3 pm to set up for MoorDub, while I sat on a straw bale and passed a mason jar of moonshine with a couple of lesbians as well as some mixed gender pairs, whispering and hand-gesturing that I had no voice left. Originally I'd planned on doing a one-hour set with Derick, also a few of the White Lightning Boys and James Lane, but I had to whisper to Hippie Mike and point at my throat to indicate he needed to inform Derick I was incapable of uttering a syllable and could not perform.
MoorDub took forever to set up, played half a song, and halted. Dave, another temporarily speechless smartass, passed the jar with me and we both made hand-gestures to convey the message that maybe these six black dudes with dreads and white dude with the shaved head were a bunch of Marley wanna-be stoners from Indy who were dicking off. Either that or they were tight like Derick and insisting on nailing the sound before proceeding, the latter of which turned out to be the case. MoorDub killed it, and here they'd driven all they way from Indy to a hillbilly haunt in the middle of former KKK country only asking for gas money. Jetta in her rasta-colored, pot leaf bikini brought fat joints up on stage between songs, as well as beers for the guys. Thanks to my lack of voice they had an extra hour, and blew us all away. After their set, the guys hung around, eating sweet corn Tracey had boiled, watching the White Lightning Boys and Megan Maudlin sit in together, and I paid them royally even though broke-ass hippie was clearly in my near future.
About noon on Sunday as the thermometer on the shed behind our house topped ninety with high pressure and low humidity, I sat in the middle room passing a jay with some hippies. Jetta burst in the room, sobbing. "I'm s-s-sorry!"
"There's a f-f-fire in the f-f-field!"
"We were sh-sh-shooting a rifle, and--" she was hyper-ventilating. Dave and Dustin and I charged outside, barely able to walk or talk after dancing and putting on a festival for days. Flames rose maybe six feet high from the overgrown cover-crop of rye, two hundred acres of which surrounded the farmhouse. The fire was clearly spreading in these unusually dry conditions. I guess an attendee had brought some kind of AR rifle and thought it would be fitting to set beer cans on fence posts to do target practice. He'd handed the rifle to Jetta. I didn't blame either of them, or at least I don't now, though as I tossed two blankets in the back of my son's truck and stood on the accelerator, spinning past the stage to the ramshackle pool, the obscenities I uttered were too crass to print. I soaked the blankets, which took maybe a minute, tossed them in the truck, and went straight Dukes of Hazard for once, my brain possibly deluded by days of moonshine and that rye mold in the atmosphere. A four foot woven-wire fence stood between me and the raging rye, so I just trusted the truck to blast through. It knocked down the fence, and sped up the sand dune. About six hippies were out there already with hoes. This being HoeFest, we'd advertised "10 dollars off if you bring a hoe."
"It's kind of a couple's discount," I said on the radio ad. But about fifty people actually brought real hoes of wood handles and steel blades, and maybe ten abandoned them. We had hoes all over the damn place, and these guys were bravely battling the blazes until I showed up with the doused blankets which took care of the flames. After that we chilled out naked in the pool, some of us. Nudity is still an issue here in the state currently governed by the reddest Republican in America.