It's no secret what the main agricultural crop of this region is. Wine grapes are the most visible but for the most part only Big Money plants vineyards, whereas any fool peasant can pull off 20 pounds of weed. A walk through any section of Boonville or most northern California's hill towns during these warm October afternoons will be laced with the perfume of drying buds, and this year it might be my imagination but the atmosphere smells suspiciously like Pot Glut.
It seems everybody is trimming buds. I never really did it until last week because I always thought there was something more important to be doing at the farm, for one thing. But that wasn't the only reason. I couldn't really trim because of a physical handicap that's plagued me ever since I can remember. I can't work with tiny shit. I could never be a jeweler or watchmaker, for example. The first time the handicap surfaced was when I was eight years old and my parents had bought a model electric train set that we set up in my bedroom in the basement, complete with the styrofoam mountains and tunnels and the towns and saloons and trees and whatnot, which was okay, but some of the freight cars had to be assembled. They had borderline microscopic screws and when I tried to fasten the pieces my hands would start shaking, I would come near vomiting, and have to smash something. I was like a cow trying to hold a toothbrush in its hoof. The feeling was similar to what you get if you read a fine print Russian novel while riding in a car over the curves and dips of Highway 253.
"I don't think I can do much trimming," I said on Thursday when a friend showed up in her hybrid, offering me a job.
She was trimming for her boyfriend, she said, and he didn't have a crew. He was tending to the harvest out in Covelo or Willits or somewhere like that, so it was just her.
Okay, I told her. I wasn't really doing anything else. I had actually been shooting baskets on the little court next to our haystack. Maybe I'm unemployed but my basketball game hasn't been this sharp since around 1995.
It must have been about two in the afternoon, nice time for a ride in a hybrid. Once we'd rounded a winding dirt road to this woman's place she had to take me around the garden in the afternoon sun and show off her cucumbers, tomatoes, even some watermelons that were barely ripening in the belated heat wave. Little sugar babies, she said. Her jalepeños needed to be harvested, as some were even turning red, and I held out my shirt for her to drop them in, like a basket. Finally we made it to her living room where she had the cannabis stalks laid out in piles. She put on some reggae music before we set in to manicuring. The whole process put me in mind of butchering a deer if you're not using a bandsaw but just cutting the meat off the bones, taking the backstrap and the shoulders, more or less cleaning down to the stalks and trimming off the gristle. It is tedious work and I don't resent anyone who does it for a job, what more or less these days amounts to another form of migrant farm labor.
"You know I have to confess I brought you over here to make my boyfriend jealous," she said, her bare elbow rubbing mine there on the sofa. "He's supposed to be here at midnight."
"You got anything to drink?" I said, desperate for some remedy to offset the serious nausea that hits when I try to perform microscopic tasks. Give me hay to stack any day. Give me watermelons to toss. Every few minutes I had to lay back, close my eyes, and belch in frustration. We kept at it for several hours, until dinner time when I followed her into the kitchen and chopped garlic, onions, and jalepeños. There was a pot of boiled rice and we mixed it with mushrooms and the spicy stuff. This was vegetarian cuisine, quite possibly vegan. No cheese, eggs, or meat for this babe, which was okay with me because I probably eat too much of the latter on my own.
"He's only 19," she said, referring to her boyfriend. "I don't want a serious relationship."
After dinner I was set to go back to trimming bud, but she had another idea. "My neighbors have a sauna they let me use. You want to?"
Yeah, I did, so we hiked down some trails and over a redwood bridge and a dry gulch. I guess the neighbors' sauna was on the back of a shed somewhat adjacent to their house so we didn't have to bother them. Next thing I knew my new employer had lit a couple candles and placed them at both ends of a wooden bench as she fired up the propane deal and we undressed outside, waiting for it to heat up. Night had fallen, and there was a real chill in the air. Finally, I thought. If this one doesn't want me than nobody ever has. Here she'd practically kidnapped me and now we were piling our clothes on a picnic table, filing into the flickering light and shutting the door behind us, alone. What could be more romantic? There on the bench I started to sweat profusely, cracking my knuckles. Tell me some poetry, she said. Give me a foot massage — if you want to.
I hadn't given a foot massage in over two years I think it's been since my ex left, I told her. Sure. Then there was the logistics of it, though, that I hadn't considered before blurting a response.
"You seem a lot happier ever since you quit farming," she said. "Everybody thinks so."
"Oh, yeah?" I couldn't help licking some sweat off my shoulder. Boy, I was really sweating.
"Yeah, you really seem happier."
"Well, I wish I could say that my happiness was on account of being more enlightened, but the truth is it has to do with drugs."
"Yeah, I got suicidally depressed in June after I heard about being booted from the farm, and some friends sent me to a shrink in Sebastopol who put me on these meds. These pills. Pharmies. I'm embarrassed to be taking them. It's called Gitoveritol. It's one of those new-fangled medicines that directly targets particular symptoms, in this case farmers who are forced to leave the land they love. The pills work like magic. Ever since I started taking them I don't give a flying rip about anything."
"Gitoveritol? You're pulling my leg."
"No, I didn't mean that literally. I mean, bullshit. You aren't on pharmies."
"Yeah!" I jumped up from the bench, opened the door to the outside, and reached into my overalls, extracting the little rattling brown bottle with the white lid. "Some chemist or whatever at Eli Lilly come up with them, and they market them to suicidal farmers the world over!"
"Hey, I think my boyfriend's coming over, soon." Her cellphone was buzzing outside.
Back at her house, we all ended up smoking a joint together, after which I told them I'd be walking home. "Sure you don't want a ride?" they asked me.
No, I was cool with walking. The trouble was I could only find one of my flip-flops, which I wore about halfway down the dirt road leading to 128, until I got tired of the absurdity and stopped to remove it, flinging the cheap tread off into the poison oak and manzanitas.