Light, Time, and Gravity (V)

by rsbakker

Book Two: Harvest

1

(1984)

There’s always this lull before tobacco harvest begins. It’s like you can hear it idling in the future, the clatter of machinery, the carnival of characters. The summer skies hang hot and indolent. The flies scribble through windless air. And it seems impossible that you can be lazy, that you can wander down lanes kicking dirt, listening.

Sometimes, when I get roped into teaching summer courses, I catch a whiff of that lull while humping across campus. It seems monstrous for being so faint, and I think of lulls fading from the world the way magic passed from Middle-earth. Life, at its best, is a funnel, at its worst, a burning theatre with a single exit: there’s no way to move forward without being squeezed. Something has got to go.

Easy breathing is usually the first casualty.

The days leading up to the harvest of 1984 possessed a peculiar calm, almost spooky in a Hollywood, eye-of-the-hurricane way. So much was happening: the Los Angeles Olympics were ramping up, Mondale was taking a run at Reagan in the American election, Mulroney was besieging a bum-patting Turner, and Penthouse published Miss America thrusting her muff into another woman’s mouth–or was it vice versa?

The world had become a circus, and the Wiersma family had set up in the abandoned bleachers, watching the acts coming fast and furious. The “Madness” they called it. At some point every evening Dad and Dylan would come trundling down the stairs to catch up on the latest developments. Johnny would be watching Conan the Barbarian, of course. “Just wait-wait-wait!” he would cry, turtling over the remote control. “Just this scene! He’s about to punch the camel!”

“Johnny!” Dad would cry. “Johnny!” But he would wait without complaint: by this time he was almost as addicted to Arnie as Johnny and I were. He could do without the faggotty fantasy stuff, sure, but in terms of character. Conan: Now there was someone who knew how to cut through the bullshit. Nothing like a sword to sort things out–simplify.

According to him, the obvious was forever staring people “in the fucking face.”

Frank Wiersma argued politics whenever he got drunk, which meant that Dylan spent pretty much every night arguing politics. Dad would typically begin with something extreme, like saying seals should be hunted to extinction, that the Jews should be driven back into the sea, that America should just the nuke the Middle-east and “be fucking done with it,” just to bait Dylan–or so he would always claim afterward. He always carried a big man swagger when he drank, a kind of between-you-and-me assertion of physical supremacy–a look and laugh that said, I’m bigger. The more he drank, the more he would push this bullying intensity to the limit of provocation. He would shout. He would pound his fist on the table. He would sneer and cackle. And sometimes, when the booze pushed him over the self-pitying ledge, he would slump from the debate altogether, weep for all the injustices and betrayals he had suffered. “Those poor Palestinians” would become, “Your poor Dad.”

Dylan would weather it all, fight back with every wit and dirty trick he possessed. When it glimpsed hatred in Dad’s slouched look, he would hate back. When he glimpsed amused contempt, it would be sure to laugh first. “Dad! Dad!” he would mock. “Look at you! You think you can solve the world’s problems? You can’t even sit on your fucking chair!”

He honed his scathing laugh until it became something preternatural, a sound that reached into the brain’s deepest circuits and resonated. The logic of his arguments simply shambled along, a rubber skeleton he could bend this way or that, whatever would make the biggest fool of his opponent.

He instinctively understood that the real lever of argumentation wasn’t reason, but shame. Make someone look a fool, and they were a fool. It would render Dylan a formidable opponent in university–and a despised one.

But despite the intensity of these arguments, they rarely left any residue of hard feelings outside of, “Yeah, that’s fucking Dad for you.” The bad ones–and some were horrible–they would joke about the following morning, and without the merest resentment. It was almost as if the movements were the only thing that mattered; the emotional content seemed eminently disposable, even though it was the fate of peoples and nations that were at stake. A father-son reflex. It was like reading about war, the way deaths can pile up in the millions without once crimping the smooth lines of fascination.

“Wow. That war was a real bitch.”

The entertainment value of death and suffering has always been a function of time and space. None of it was real around the kitchen table. The Soviets. The CIA. The White House. The Lebanese refugee camps. These were simply chits in a far more immediate–and therefore far more important–power struggle. Dad and Dylan were as removed as only Canadians can be.

They pretended to care, sure, but they never pretended to be involved.

Despite all the arguing, both of them shared a remarkable convergence of views. “Sink or swim!” was their foundational slogan. Every movie he watched, every book he read, every album he banged his head to, shouted as much over and over. The world was a hardass, which meant that foreign policy required hard-ball, that economic policy required thick skin, and that domestic policy required tough love. A politician had to put his dick on the table… Especially if they were a chick like Maggie.

After his political conversion in University, Dylan found himself dumbfounded, not by the silliness of this outlook: the masculine fascination with dominance hierarchies and its sublimation in political attitudes seemed only too natural, as did the cynical exploitation of these attitudes by powerful interests. No, it was his conviction that mystified him. How could something so stupid strike anyone (let alone someone with his smarts) as out and out obvious?

The Politics of the Dick.

Later, when Dylan became me, he would realize that dick-waving was inescapable, that complexity swamped all political claims in the end. In the absence of knowledge, humans instinctively resort to its semblance. Politics is simply religion without reverence.

More guesses to die for.

2

(Present)

There are no laws of nature, here. We are the only obstacles.

Me. You. It.

Let’s not pretend otherwise.

X

(Childhood)

When I was a kid, me and the neighbours would gather at the Parsons, who lived about a mile or so down the road. They had this basement rec-room with a single lonely window. We would hang blankets over it, tape the creases of the doors, do everything we needed to render it pitch-perfect black when the lights were switched off.

Then we would play blind wrestling.

They had these old pillows that we used in lieu of hammers. The stuffing would congeal into a medicine-ball mass so that you could swing them like a ball and chain–do real damage to your opponent. Sometimes I charged into the thick of the melee, swinging and howling the warcry all boys are born knowing. Sometimes it slunk along the margins, tracking the battles with pricked ears, creeping up to ambush already-engaged adversaries.

And you know what I remember the most vividly? The grin. The wild-eyed, gum-drying grin. We would howl in laughter whenever we got smacked, whenever a swoosh in the darkness connected, whenever a hand happened upon our ankles. Scamble, duck, and strike. We would cry out whenever we struck. We would swear

Fuck! Fuck!

You bastard! You prick!

Fuck yoooou!

We fought abstractions, shadows that our brains concocted from sounds and angles of impact. We piled like growling puppies. We grappled with strangers who were our best friends. And almost always someone lost their temper. Almost always the sounds of crying or angry shouts sent us fumbling to the walls, searching for the only light switch.

Sometimes we would be so disoriented that minutes passed before we could find it. And even at that age I used to wonder what would happen if we never found it, if we were forced to wrestle in this black for the rest of our lives.

It found the idea thrilling.

Even when I was the one crying.

3

(1984)

The election campaign was already three weeks old the night of the fateful debate of July 25th, plenty of time for Dad and Dylan–and even Johnny–to become totally absorbed in the melodrama. All three of them liked Ed Broadbent: there was no doubting his boot-faced authenticity. But for some reason, his arguments made the kind of sense that collapsed into head-scratching whenever you tried to remember them. Besides, everyone knew that the NDP were pro-union, and unions were the reason Canadians were losing the Great Race. He was the kind of guy that everyone waved to, said complimentary things about, but no one invited to their parties.

Turner was, in a word, tense. He spoke tensely. He stood tensely. He even stared tensely. If life were a flick, he would be the uptight lieutenant whose arrogance and inexperience would inevitably get somebody killed–like Gorman in Aliens. The only mystery was how the Liberals could have picked such an obviously unelectable man as party leader. Maybe it was backroom politicking. Maybe Trudeau was simply too big, too dazzling, not to leave everyone blinking and half-blinded in his wake. Either way, Turner seemed to broadcast the kind of constipated discomfort common to those who use anger medicinally.

But Mulroney–ah, Mulroney. That lopsided grin. That sociopathic twinkle of the eye. That voice-over voice.

Few things gratify people as much as confirmation, especially if the matter at issue is controversial. Of all the buzzes that life has to offer, being right has to rank up there with carnal consent. The world has a three word vocabulary: yes, no, and maybe. And like the parent of a two year old, it wears its voice to a croak saying no, maybe, and no, over and over again. This is why the gratification of finally hearing yes! is so often childish in its intensity–why game show contestants blink so many tears.

Dad and Dylan had spent quite some time debating in anticipation of the debate, but the one point of agreement they continuously returned to was that Mulroney was going to kick some serious Turner ass. As usual, they inserted their own commentary during the news coverage. With Turner it was something like: “Look at him. Look. At him!”

“Is it my imagination, or does that guy need to crap?”

“Needs something. Look at him!”

“So nervous. Remember that shot the CBC had of him, gripping the wood of his stand thing-a-ma-jingy. Talk about white knuckles.”

“What a fucking idiot! What were the Liberals thinking?”

Their attention inevitably drifted when the coverage turned to the NDP.

“Seems like a nice guy.”

“Yeah… Who?”

“Eddy Broadbent.”

“Yeah. He’s gotta a face only a mother could love.”

“Looks like she loved it many times.”

“He does have that fresh-scrubbed look!”

But when the Tory signs started bobbing across the screen they leaned forward, elbows on knees, as avid as parishioners about to hear news of their salvation.

“Oh, he’s suave, alright.”

“Sense of humour, too.”

“Cracks me up. Turner doesn’t stand a chance.”

“Makes poor Joe look about as classy as a sweat sock.”

“I always liked poor Joe.”

From the outset the debate had that strained aura of an obscure sport that suddenly finds itself televised: you know, where everyone does their best to ignore the fact they’re ignoring the cameras. Dad and Dylan continually shouted over the debaters, contradicting or affirming points, cracking jokes, or just generally bitching. But when Turner began criticizing Mulroney for already planning his patronage appointments, they both fell silent. This was a surprise, given that Turner had spent the previous weeks defending his own patronage record. Somehow, by dint of nonverbal confidence perhaps, Mulroney shrugged off the accusation and launched his own attack. It was almost as if he had reached out and flicked on Turner’s defensive switch.

“Well,” Turner responded, “I’ve told you and told the Canadian people, Mr. Mulroney, that I had no option.”

“Well, you had an option, sir,” Mulroney replied. “You could have said, ‘I am not going to do it. This is wrong for Canada, and I’m not going to ask Canadians to pay the price.’ You had an option, sir, to say, ‘No,’ and chose to say, ‘Yes,’ to the old attitudes and the old stories of the Liberal Party.” Mulroney raised a pointed finger, while Turner waved his hands out and low, as though trying to calm someone with a gun. “That, sir, if I may say respectfully”–he turned to the camera, to the audience, to Canada, and away from his inconsequential opponent–”that is not good enough for Canadians.”

“I had no option,” Turner replied.

Calm down, his body language said. Please. Put. The. Gun. Down.

“That is an avowal of failure!” Mulroney shouted. “That is a confession of non-leadership, and this country needs leadership. You had an option, Sir. You could have done better.” Again he looked away before finishing–Dylan almost expected him to wheel his eyes in a quick what-the-fuck? to heaven. Turner stammered beneath.

The Moderator stepped in. “Mr. Turner, your response, sir.”

“I-ah… I just said Mr. Moderator, I have taken the Canadian people through the circumstances.”

In terms of content, the exchange was all but meaningless. What was arguably one of the most consequential moments in the history of contemporary Canadian politics boiled down to a simple contest of stone-age fitness indicators.

Sure!” Dad boomed. “Fucking blame it all on Trudeau!”

But Dylan could only think, Cutter

It was all shades of Cutter.

4

(Inapplicable)

Claims in narrative always have a specific time and a place. Then, there. Now, here. Claims in theory do not–as a rule.

This is why ambiguity in narrative so often generates understanding, while ambiguity in theory typically diminishes it. The particularity of narrative content bears the possibility of generalization within it, the possibility of some superordinate understanding–which is to say, some interpretative theory. Does the preceding comprise a kind of Bildungsroman, a story of an identity coming to be, a rising from the murk? Or is it something opposite, the story of an identity lost in the convolutions of prestige masquerading as moral and intellectual superiority–or worse yet, the search for ‘truth’? Is it neither? Is it both? The more ambiguous the narrative, the more the particulars lend themselves to incompatible generalizations. Since any one interpretation shuts down the possibility of others, generalizing over ambiguous narratives seems to become a form of violence, a shutting down of possibilities. Narrative, as a result, seems to constitute a special form of cognition, one that transcends logic, insofar as it contains the possibility of logically incompatible interpretations within it.

Stories become shadows thrown by impossible objects…

Narrative becomes the bearer of unspeakable truths.

Something mystical.

Like this

5

(Inapplicable)

Since the content of theory has no time and place, all theory finds itself occupying the same semantic space, the same nowhere. Rather than gesturing to the unspeakable, the possibility of alternate incompatible interpretations generates logical interference.

This is why inventive philosophers will often produce multiple, competing interpretations (accomplish in the space of a single paper what typically takes communities of more slow-witted philosophers several years) to discredit claims. Ambiguity tells against theoretical cognition–generally speaking. And pretty much any theoretical claim can be made ambiguous, qualified and redefined unto contradiction.

Narrative cognition is theoretical confusion.

6

(Inapplicable)

The easiest way to command a theory is to make it the particle of some narrative. Tell a story around a theory, and suddenly it becomes just another contingent product, something pinned to a time and place. Narratives are flea-markets: pretty much anything can be accommodated so long as some simple rules of bartering are observed.

The easiest way to command a narrative is make it the subject of a theory. Theorize a story, and suddenly the story becomes disposable, an instantiation of something that ranges across time and place. Theories are watches, virtual mechanisms whose elements are too bound by implication to oblige any old semantic wiggling. Whatever they quantify over has to fit, otherwise it gets thrown out.

And this is why no theory ever commands a narrative for long: sooner or later somebody notices what’s been thrown out. And that’s all you gotta do: simply look at the recalcitrant details long enough, and they will become the new interpretative foreground–‘what’s really important.’ Our unconscious compulsion to game ambiguities takes over from there. Suddenly the old theory will seem ‘to have missed the entire point’ of the story–a point encapsulated, conveniently enough, by your new theory.

X

(Inapplicable)

Narratives sequence events, arrange them like beads on the string of human life.

Theories organize them into hierarchies. They boil away the particularities, attempting to seize structural iterations, so that we can travel lighter. Economize.

Narratives transform events into circumstances, things that encircle and embroil.

Theories transform events into instances, things that can be sorted, heaped, so that we don’t have to sift through all the clutter. They lighten the load of thinking, which is probably why homo theoreticus was selected for in the first place: there’s no bigger glutton at the metabolic table than the human brain.

Narratives connect us to the world, typically in flattering and terrifying ways, given our vanity and weakness for exaggeration.

Theories allow us to be more stupid more efficiently. They idiot-proof the world. A theoretician is someone who sees shortcuts at every turn, ways to condense thinking into concepts and their relations–things as apparently static as the human soul.

And this is why theories resonate with so much apparent meaning, why they seem so deep (despite being so cheap). They make a harvest of the world’s complexity. They pick, they sort, they bind and they bale. They go to auction. They make the immovable weightless, so that existence [1] itself can become the butt of shallow jokes.

And like Nancy, they never age. They seem to hang with us, outside the outside, separate and magically immune, as spooky as ghosts…

Theory shares our substance, which is why it enlarges us, to the point where almost every event we witness strikes some chord of faulty comprehension. Theories are deep simply because they share our compass, and we are the most profound thing we know. Theoreticians seem bloated because they are.

Narratives are meadows.

Theories are crops. Something we use to extort sustenance–meaning–from the crude earth of story.

The weeds go unnoticed. And somehow, magically, no one gets their hands dirty.

[1] It is a net of being cast about becoming.

7

(1996)

After that first failed oral defence of his project, Dylan drastically scaled back his theoretical ambitions. There’s a psychic pain peculiar to studying literary theory at the graduate level, one that you only come to understand once you find yourself teaching theory at the graduate level–and believing none of it. The primary problem is that you find yourself beginning at the terminus of philosophy, then working your way back toward the origins. You find yourself struggling to grasp some twenty-five centuries of successive conceptual deformations, the gaming of thoughts for ever more specialized applications, not to mention twenty-five centuries of names and relationships and problematics.

As a result you spend a great deal of time talking shit about shit that you know shit-all about. You’re like a toddler, catching certain words and attitudes and throwing them back at different situations, searching for those that ‘fit.’ Some of the stuff you never ‘comprehend,’ at least not in the sense of being able to decompose it for competent use in other combinatorial capacities. But you do learn when to use it, and this eventually begins to seem like understanding enough, especially given your ignorance of the alternatives.

Thus the great ‘imposter syndrome’ suffered by so many grad students in the humanities: the knowledge (as opposed to the mere fear) that you are not what you are so desperately trying to appear to be. You feel like a fraud simply because you are one, a poser in the sense of assuming intellectual airs, tones and attitudes that convey a confidence and a conviction you do not feel.

And so you soldier on, pretending… hoping. If you could just master Hegel, or Deleuze, or whoever happens to momentarily command the most ingroup prestige. If you could just… find… the right… words… You have this sense that you’re transforming yourself into something different, that wiring your brain to decode so much abstract cogitation somehow overwrites the person you once were. But you never really buy into it, simply because you seem to remain the same, moment to moment, year to year.

So you tell yourself you’re the ‘same guy’ you always were, when you are anything but.

Theory makes you lonely, you see.

It has to, simply because it turns you into something else, endows you with a brain that mirrors the brains of so very few others. Some can compartmentalize, keep the old routines–and most importantly, the old emotional responses intact–some. Others cannot. The more they attune themselves to esoteric code, the more they deform and disfigure all of the old ways of interacting.

You think this makes you ‘original,’ so much so that you smirk at the punks with their tattoos and piercings, knowing that you really are ‘individual’ in the way they pretend and pay to be. You think you should be celebrated, but you resign yourself to obscurity, knowing that the world just isn’t ‘ready’ for the likes of you.

You forget that our brains evolved in much more trying times, that they are designed to be exquisitely sensitive to the plasticity of other brains–the ways they vary. Other brains can feed you, fuck you, kill you–nothing could be more important than ascertaining and tracking the beliefs and attitudes of those around you. You forget that your grandiose ‘cognitive accomplishment’ is at once a defection and a self-inflicted deformity–that other brains smell your incipient treachery, your deviance. In the most basic, biological terms, this is what theory is: the mangling of a machine designed to facilitate social cohesion in times of scarcity and competition. To embrace theory is to embrace cowardice, treason–and pathological self-regard above all. To become unreliable.

Others see this in varying degrees–and this is why they hate you. The reflex is so strong that it can even crack the bonds of kinship and marriage.

Before he died, my brother Johnny decided that he despised me. He sent me these emails that began with the high-minded intent of ‘clearing the air,’ then descended into vitriol and the enumeration of sins. At first I refused to reply in kind, told him that everyone has lists of slights and misdemeanours, that the only difference was the amount of anger that we chose to invest in them. But then a second list arrived. And a third.

So I sent one back–what turned out to be the last words of mine he would see before the brown waves swept him away.

Only afterward, in the course of explaining away my shame and guilt, did I come to realize the truth of the matter, that sorting thoughts is no different than sorting people.

You see so many of them, fucking thoughts, that dismissal becomes second nature. You think this wilful exposure makes you ‘open to anything,’ when really you’ve sealed yourself against everything, except whatever boutique problematic (with obligatory ‘far-reaching consequences’) happens to be on your computer screen.

The problem actually lies at the very root of communication. Our incentive to speak or to listen always turns on trust, the belief that our interlocutor isn’t insane, duped, or lying. Become a theorist, remain a theorist, and that trust slowly begins to evaporate. Personalities become fronts. Convictions become politically complicit dodges. You murder everything visible, and began organizing your attitudes around things nobody else can see. You lose sight of your old trust and with it the general incentive to communicate. You stop talking, and you give up even trying to pretend to listen. Only your career can command your attention.

And all the people around you, the healthy automatons, begin to sense your withdrawal, and to reciprocate according to the role they suppose they should play in your life. Everyone smells arrogance, no matter how many jokes you crack regarding your stupidity, or how carefully you censor pride from everything you do manage to say. Old friends simply let the paths of least resistence shunt them away and away. Spouses begin obsessing over the sense that ‘something is missing,’ unloading on you from time to time, only to be beaten back by the cruel ingenuity of your rationalizations. And family members respond to the degree that they need you…

Or mourn.

And you? Eventually, you do the same thing that we all do: you cook up theories to explain them all. You always knew them better than they knew themselves anyway…

You pretend to be hurt… mystified…

And most importantly, vindicated.

8

(1984)

Tobacco harvest at this time was essentially organized around two different machines: the tying machine up at the kiln, and the priming machine out in the fields. The whole point of harvest was to get the leaves out of the field and up in the kiln, where they would be dried out in a week-long process called ‘flue curing.’

The priming machine was a kind of tractor on stilts; it straddled three rows, with one central wheel out front, two larger wheels in the back, and a loud engine–an ancient Briggs & Stratton in this case–welded above with a seat and steering wheel that were only used when driving the thing from field to field. Steel seats and a two foot by two foot square bin hung from the frame, one behind the front wheel in the central row, and two in front of the back wheels in each adjacent row. Two more seats were towed behind, one behind the left rear wheel–for the inevitable leftie in the priming crew–and another extending out in a fourth row. This way, five rows could be primed at a time.

Since the leaves ripened from the bottom up, ‘priming’ literally consisted of picking the three bottommost leaves of each plant, one plant after another. In the beginning of the season, you would sit hunched in your seat, reaching out with both hands to prime the ‘sands,’ the leaves at the very base of the plant. Then you simply counted up with ‘firsts,’ ‘seconds,’ ‘thirds,’ and so on, until you got the ‘tips,’ the final–and most valuable–three leaves on a plant.

Those with big and nimble hands could to do several plants before flapping the leaves into the ‘baggie’ loaded in the bin before them. You filled it handful by handful, trying to keep the butts of the leaves lined up as neatly as haste allowed. As slow as the priming machine seemed to move across the field, the individual plants flashed by for the primer. Baggies were simply rectangular sections of canvas with grommets on one end, and with hooked bungie cords on the other. The first primer to fill his bin would shout, and the driver would knock the machine in neutral so that the whole crew could wrap their baggies and toss them onto the racks up above. Some baggies would be huge, like tobacco enchiladas about to explode, while others would be loose. Because of this, you could always suss out slackers at a glance. It also meant that hard workers were always keen–to the point of fisticuffs–on getting the same row on subsequent passes through the field. If you skimped on your row early in the season, say by averaging only two leaves per plant as opposed to three, you were pretty much fucked at the end. Because you had more leaves to pick, you either killed yourself priming, or you ended up slowing down the whole crew and stretching out the work day. And primers, especially the proud ones, were not what you would call a patient, understanding lot. They would literally torment you day in day out if they thought your inexperience or laziness was fucking them over. Dylan had seen people breakdown and cry more than a few times.

Karma was for real in the tobacco field.

When you watched priming from a distance, you saw the machine crawling across the field, the shadows of the five primers beneath, and the sweep of tobacco leaves being flapped into the baggie loaded bins. Priming machines were universally loud, limiting the crew to shouted curses and absurd singing falsettos. At the end of each row everyone would get up, bitch and moan and rub their lower back while the driver turned the machine for the next dive into the field. Then everyone would scramble into their seats, before disappearing back into the shadowy, stinging world of the row. For the first few hours of the morning, the tobacco would be soaked with dew, so that everyone would be decked out in rain gear–anything ranging from garbage bags to expensive construction outfits. Toward the end of the season, the mornings would be so cold you got used to using fingers you couldn’t feel. Unless it was raining, the gear gradually vanished as the morning wore on, first the coats, then the suspenders.

The drier the plants became, the stickier they became. But where the build up of tobacco gum was pretty much an arms and waist down affair while irrigating, topping, or suckering, it was a whole body pain in the ass while priming. Innumerable leaves brushed you while buried in the row. If you didn’t wear a hat, it would harden your hair. No matter what you did, you always seemed to get one cheek gummed. Many wore long-sleeve shirts because your entire arms got gummed. Pretty much everyone rubbed dirt across their hands and clothes to get rid of the spilled-orange juice stickiness. By midafternoon all the primers would be covered in swathes of black from their hats to their heels. With the way the sweat sopped the dust, the whole crew would look like shades, apparitions damned to repeat the same toil over and over in the high afternoon sun.

“Black as a nigger…” Cutter would gripe.

The point of the connection between the fields and the kilns was something called the ‘boat,’ a relic of the days when they used horse-drawn sledges out in the fields. Driving a tractor and trailer, the boat-driver would intercept the priming machine at various intervals as it worked its way across the field, and all the baggies would be loaded on the trailer. The boat-driver, who had the job everybody but everybody envied, would then drive to the kiln-yard, where the girls waited at the tying machine. He would swap out the trailers, replacing the one from his previous circuit with the loaded-down new arrival, then head back out to the fields.

The tying machine was essentially a giant sewing machine. A belt some two feet deep and twelve feet long ran its length. Occupying positions along it, three girls would turn back and forth, taking leaves from the boat and arranging them on the belt ‘butts against the pan’–all the butts had to be even to prevent leaves from falling out when the process was complete. The first girl would be responsible for the ‘bottom.’ She would lay out an even mat of tobacco leaves between pegs set onto the belt. The second girl would finish the bottom, laying a four foot long wooden slat called a tobacco stick across it, then begin the top. The third girl would finish laying the second mat, ideally as thick as the bottom one, completely covering the stick. Then the whole thing would pass under the sewing mechanism, which possessed a needle as long as a steak knife, and the butts of the leaves would be stitched together, so that the bottom and top mats would hang like a skirt from the tobacco slat.

A second conveyor would then carry the “stick” to the “elevator,” which was essentially just a seventeen foot long belt set on stilts and wheels. It would carry a steady stream of sticks, 1275 of them, up into the black maw of the kiln.

Kilns were essentially giant frame boxes, generally sided in green insul-brick and insulated with yellow foam. A broad sheet-metal stack climbed the side opposite the small entry door: this was where the burner and fan cycled the air for curing. The opposing sides sported four broad doors set like windows several feet above ground level, allowing the elevator to bring the tobacco high and deep into the kiln. A series of parallel rungs scaffolded the interior, set just far enough apart that the sticks could span them with their skirts of leaves hanging down in between. Vertically, the rungs were spaced so that the leaves hanging from the rung above would just touch the butts of the leaves on the rung below. The idea was to systematically pack the rungs with tobacco laden sticks, filling the kiln one quarter at a time. Using three boards, the kiln-hanger would use the centre rungs to hang sticks to either side before hanging himself out of a home by filling the middle. Then he would move his boards to the bottommost rung, get the girls to winch the elevator lower, and repeat the process below. When the back quarter was filled, everything–the elevator, the tying machine, and the boat–would have to be pulled out so that he could start the top of the front quarter. When that was filled, everything would have to moved over to the second window, and the second half of the kiln would be likewise filled. The farmer would fire up the burner, the hot air would begin circulating, and the tobacco would spend a week yellowing and drying, transforming turgid green leaves into the lung-blackening tobacco we know and love.

Everything on the farm revolved around filling the fucking kiln. Since everyone was paid per kiln, the workday only lasted as long as the kiln did. On efficient farms with experienced and dependable crews, this could be as early as 1PM. On dysfunctional farms, it could take as long as 8PM.

Tobacco harvest was either easy money, or physical and interpersonal misery.

9

(Present)

Let me guess.

You lay blinking in the morning sometimes. You feel warm, encapsulated. You taste the air you breathe. And for a moment, a lithe and slender moment, the past is nowhere to be found. You find yourself stranded with the tea leaves of the present–all the ambiguity you need to make what you want of your life. You are biblical with possibility.

Just dream, something whispers.

But the memories… They aren’t long in coming, are they? The debts. The obligations. The sins and the lifetime ambitions. The toil to come. It crowds you even as you lay there. Peace becomes immobilization. Birdsong becomes jeers and catcalls. The morning sun becomes a punch clock. You pin your eyes open from the inside, knowing how a blink can slip into slumber. Knowing that time is running out.

Get up, it cries. It, the enemy you have become.

Get. The fuck. Up!

It’s not enlightenment unless you hate it.

10

(1984)

Kiln-hanging possessed a peculiar cache.

Since the kiln-hanger worked with the girls all day long he was either the darling or the scourge. His role made him the de facto manager of half the operation: because he was the one who declared when the elevator and the tying machine needed to be moved, his other declarations seemed to carry the weight of authority as well. Power turns on habit more than love and fear combined.

Since the job had an element of apparent danger, he was considered daring. The good ones would only use three or four two-by-eight boards to span the hanging depths of the kiln. It was like walking across a sidewalk once you got used to it, but for the uninitiated it looked like statistical suicide. Kiln-hangers never stumbled, and people respected that.

Since he was the man who actually packed the kiln, and since the length of the workday depended on how quickly the kiln was completed, he was the place where it all came together. For obvious reasons, primers were always keen to know how far along they had come, so they were always pestering the boat-driver for details, who in turn would continually pester the kiln-hanger. And when the primers came back to the yard for whatever reason, the first thing they typically did was check in on the kiln-hanger. On slow days, the first accusation–no matter how hung-over or stoned or drunk the priming crew might be–was always that the girls were overloading the sticks. So it was a never-ending struggle: the farmer always bitching at the girls to add more leaves to the stick, and the primers always bitching at the girls to use less. The only man who really knew, simply because he hefted each and every stick and actually hung them, was the kiln-hanger. This gave him a peculiar kind of power: Dylan had actually seen impromptu strikes incited by kiln-hangers.

And since the value of the tobacco depended upon how well it was cured, which in turn depended on how well the kiln was hung, farmers tended to be particularly invested in the kiln-hanger as well. A good kiln-hanger could demand 10, sometimes 15, more dollars per kiln. Any farmer who lost his kiln-hanger better pray that one of his primers either had some aptitude or some experience. Primers were simply one among many, as were tying-machine girls. The jobs were straightforward enough that an unlucky niece or a nephew could be drafted in a pinch. Driving boat was so easy, so coveted, that any old asshole could do it, though a farmer usually did well to avoid gossipy, conspiratorial types. But the kiln-hanger, he was the one man who could stop the whole show–and he typically let people know as much. If you ever heard a tobacco farmer complaining about a prima donna, then dollars to donuts he was referring to his kiln-hanger.

He alone possessed the air of the artisan, the slow-blinking reserve of a skilled man among labourers.

This was the role Dylan climbed into the first day of harvest.

11

(Indeterminate)

The light changes in August. The skies inhale the haze. Everything beneath becomes sharp with edge and colour. The dust becomes chalk, puffs beneath your feet like the surface of the moon.

The rows cook in the sun, graphing the distance in corduroy sheets. Green to blue, kindergarten colours, mapping the nitrogen content of the soil beneath.

The ground is expressed in everything, as farmers know.

Short of bulldozers, the earth always has its say.

12

(1984)

Harley refused to look at him. It literally had to stand directly in front of her before she would meet his gaze. She glanced up in manufactured surprise then said, “How’s my tall glass of water?”

“Parched,” Dylan replied, but her eyes had already clicked elsewhere. He suffered that interpersonal version of binocular rivalry where you need someone to be such a way so bad you find yourself witless when they refuse. You want the rabbit, but you keep seeing the duck.

Jerry had coffee and donuts laid out on the picnic table behind his house the morning of the first day. It was dawn chill, and the lawn was white with dew. Everyone walked so as to keep from soaking their sneakers. The kilnyard loomed nearby, the kilns scattered like spilled dice, throwing long shadows across the green. The fields reached out beyond them, braised in white-gold.

After Harley’s rebuff, Dylan stood by himself, fending that all-alone-in-the-world feeling you get the first day of school. There was something brittle in the way his eyes sorted through the milling strangers. Not a breath reached deeper than his clavicle. Since the beginning, he had dreaded this day, not simply because of the mechanized misery to come, but because a good part of his pessimistic soul assumed that everyone would hate him. When I was eleven, Dad had hired it out to a neighbour to work picking pickling cucumbers. I found myself the youngest and far and away the most sensitive kid in a crew of six juvenile delinquents. I spent the next two weeks getting beaten and tormented at work, then getting my ass kicked at home when I begged and pleaded to quit.

It was like a spring had been set in him, forever booby-trapping circumstances filled with strangers. He watched, smiled in the semblance of someone confident when the inevitable hams acted up–every group had someone who loved strangers as much as Dylan hated them. You could look at people you knew, the kind of flat watching that sparked no antagonism or embarrassment, but with strangers you had to take care. You looked without looking, a kind of awkward combination of peeking and open staring. You made bare, almost animal assessments regarding prowess, attractiveness, sociability, and the like. Before you even knew what you were doing, you had decided who to fuck, who to bully, and who to placate.

Cutter, who had been hanging back pretending to be preoccupied with his smoke, finally joined him in his lonely corner. Dylan wanted to be relieved, but his anxiety was such that he wished the man away–if anyone could smell his fear it was Cutter.

“What’s up with her?” the man asked, nodding in the direction of Harley.

Of course he had been watching. All this meant nothing to the man, Dylan realized, meeting the people who would dominate the next seven weeks of his life.

Strangers, friends–it was all the same to Cutter.

“Dunno,” Dylan effortlessly lied. “Ever since that night you fucked me up with that pow-wow weed, she’s been… weird. I think her and Jerry had a couple of fights about me or something.”

Dylan was always surprised by how easy lies came to him, and how stubbornly they refused to let go.

Cutter studied him with that he-shoots-he-scores grin of his. “Sounds like love.”

“Yeah, right… How about you? You ready for the shit–the real shit? Harvest is about to begin, man.”

Cutter shook his head and glanced at God. “Look at these fucking clowns,” he growled as he tossed his smoke to the grass, stepped on it.

For the first time Dylan realized how frightened Jerry appeared as he tried to mix with his new crew: his boyo-face shining with sweat, his eyes never settling on one thing, his hee-hee laugh too sharp, too abrupt. It was strange seeing nerves get the best of someone so physically powerful– a kind of bodily irony. We glimpse weakness in one another all the time, instances that we never quite overlook. A quaver in the voice, an anxious spark in the eyes, or in more rarefied environs, a lapse in reason or memory. Everyone falters at some point, even men like Cutter. But for Jerry to reveal his cracks at this moment, before an audience of untrustworthy eyes, triggered a haze of alarm in Dylan, as well as a background wash of shame and recrimination–the floating feeling that always dogged his gut and limbs when it thought about fucking Harley.

Jerry knew full well that he was floundering: you could see it written on his face. But he had no choice but to force the pantomime. He called everyone around the beaten picnic table. After sucking his cigarette to the nub and tossing it,  he did his best to introduce everybody, but kept confusing names.

“Can you tell this is my first harvest?” he cried in a strained ha-ha tone. Some of the crew smiled, but only Dylan gratified him with a laugh. Wearing a tank beneath her hoody, looking conspicuously slender in her black jeans, Harley watched from several paces back, as expressionless as only a wife could be.

The Mexican Mennonite girls were too timid to look at, let alone speak to anyone. The older one was called Briggetta, a name that would become “Ghetto” within a week. She was one of those women whose doleful expression utterly obscured her good looks. A sort of perpetual devastation lingered in her eyes, as if she were a third grader who’d just been booed off the talent-show stage. The younger one, Alice, had a shy oriental air to her: she was forever blushing, forever looking down and smiling. Everyone would start calling her “Frankenhead” because of the way her kerchief exaggerated the size of her forehead. As Mexican Mennonites, they wore clothes that were only decades, as opposed to centuries out of style. Everyone with the exception of Cutter steered clear them–for Dylan it was as much reflex as anything else, an instinctive appreciation of the cultural abyss that separated them. But there was more than a little bigotry as well: Mexican Mennonites had a strange reputation in those parts at that time. Timid, yet devious in the manner of resentful children. They reeked of old newsreels. You had this vague sense of having seen them naked and hosed down in some Nazi propaganda piece.

The third girl was this blond tart from St. Thomas named Missy. She was the kind of chick that cut her shorts high enough for the pockets to peek below the white-furred fringe. The guys continually complained about the cellulite–or “cheese” as they called it–on the back of her thighs, but that didn’t stop them from watching her ass whenever opportunity afforded. Dylan would hear literally hundreds of Missy comments before the harvest was through, ranging from the crude to the obscene. Of course, like any sentient stone, she knew full well the ripples her dropping sent across the pond. And she was too quick-witted not to love flirting.

Of the two Frenchmen, Gilles and Thierry, only Gilles knew how to speak English. Both were short, lanky in a hands-stuffed-in-your-pockets way. Thierry had one of those zero-fat faces that you would recognize just as easily at 75 as 25. He spent most of his time looking around, grinning as if he thought you were crazy. Gilles seemed to have had inherited Thierry’s missing facial fat: you thought he looked rock-star debonaire at a distance, only to be surprised by the puffy, pasty burnout sitting across from you when you joined him. He was urban and ridiculously proud of the fact, wearing silk shirts and designer jeans that shrink-wrapped his dong. He was given to copping poses with the same cartoon thoughtlessness as Mussolini: he had this ya-ya-they-love-me-in-Montreal look, lazy lids over a bored smirk, that he would cop whenever Cutter or one of the natives knocked him on his verbal ass.

The boat-driver, Kyle, looked like one of those harmless Indians–looked like. His round face beamed peasant humility, and his pudgy torso suggested a comforting sloth. His voice was soft and relatively high-pitched–entirely unsuited for the revolutionary rhetoric he continually spouted. With the exception of the sombrero, he dressed like a back-up for a mariachi band when not in the fields: tight jeans, a belt-buckle big enough to serve appetizers, and various tex-mex button-downs. And he never seemed to quite get the hang of his cowboy boots: the man walked like someone forever stepping over cracks. Within the first week the primers were calling him “Speedy.”

“Arriba, arriba!” they would shout as he tore down the lanes with the boat. “Yip-yip!”

His cousin, Long Tom, looked like one of those dangerous Indians–which, as it turned out, was exactly what he was. With the exception of Cutter, he probably carved Kyle for his ‘White-man rants’ more than anyone else. When it came to oppression he really could give a fuck. “I just stick’m,” he would say, revealing teeth as white and straight as his hair was black and long. And as Kyle would periodically warn the others, he wasn’t kidding: apparently Long Tom had just finished a stint at Kingston for stabbing three guys in a bar fight. He was a big man, about 6’3″ or 6’4″ and at least 250 pounds. He carried a switchblade which was the source of constant friction and consternation: every time Jerry asked him not to bring it out to the field, Long Tom would flash his perfect teeth in a smile and say, “Sure thing, boss,” then bring the thing out anyway.

And then there was Burke, or “Buke” as the others started calling him because he puked pretty much every time he drank. He was one of those guys who continually talked about nothing as though it were a matter of life and death, his eyes pop-bottle wide behind his heavy glasses, his boney hands conducting some unseen orchestra. A native of Red Deer, he liked to go on and on about Alberta as though it were as exotic as China: according to him, everything was different, “Like, in the details, you know? The little things.” The others started riding him from the very beginning, but in a cautious, almost exploratory way. As goofy as Buke could be, the guy possessed a lean-muscled, broad-shouldered frame that positively emanated strength. It was like someone had grafted Jerry Garcia’s head onto the body of an underwear model.

Numbed into silence by the anxiety of their new boss, everyone stood in embarrassed silence after the introductions. Cutter grinned as if the ambient discomfort that tickled everyone’s guts could reach no further than his armpits.

“‘Kay, everybody,” Jerry finally called, a disjoint look in his eyes. “Let’s pick some smokes!”

That morning coffee pretty much stamped the social dynamics that would dominate the farm in the weeks to come. The Frenchmen hated the Indians and the Indians hated the Frenchmen. Everyone except Dylan hated Buke, probably because Buke so haplessly tried to get everybody to like him. Everyone respected Cutter, and they either ignored or liked or were suspicious of Dylan–he would be the odd man out even if he wasn’t stuck at the kilns with the women.

Of course Cutter’s ‘Weirdsma’ tag would stick like a bandaid to hairy skin.

Jerry they whaled on right from the very beginning.

One of the first things Dylan heard Cutter say to the others was: “Only one rule on the cotton farm, boys. Keep your goddamn hands off the massah’s wife.”

13

(Inapplicable)

It always wonders where the line falls when I reflect on events [2] such as this. How much have I captured? How much have I contrived? And the interpretative generalizations I make: How much do they lay bare? How much do they conceal?

The fact that you could spend a lifetime mining nuances from a situation like this is as much a testament to the superficiality of consciousness as it is to our inability to fix our interpretations. On the one hand, we only experience a slender fraction of the events that embroil us–this is simply a neurophysiological and environmental fact. On the other hand, all our retrospective interpretations are thoroughly underdetermined, to the point where there really is no way to definitively arbitrate between them.

An axiom of this… is that there is more, always more.  Always more than can be said, and always more to say. Always more blah, fucking blah, blah, blah.

If there’s one thing that bedevils homo theoreticus it has to be the interpretative ambiguity that plagues considerations of identity and difference, the fact that either identity or difference can be read into any text, any situation, any life. With a little clever language you make any instance of theoretical finding look like an instance of theoretical making, and vice versa. Does Derrida, for instance, discover deconstructive contradictions in texts via careful reading, or does he manufacture deconstructive contradictions by exploiting interpretative underdetermination? (He would say both: theoretical invulnerability requires having things both ways). Does Deleuze, for instance, get to the heart of representational thinking, or does he simply blot it out with his self-erasing conceptualizations?

Has he captured more than he has obscured?

Say you decide to write a plot summary of the Holy Bible. Just how should we describe the relationship between the Bible and your summary of it? If we emphasize the materiality of your summary, then it seems something distinct, post hoc, simply because it’s an empirical object externally related to another empirical object, the Bible. If we emphasize the meaning of your summary, however, then it seems to belong to the Bible to the extent that it seems to repeat the meaning of the Bible. But of course, every repetition is a distinct event, so even if the meaning of your summary seems to repeat the meaning of the Bible, you could still insist that it’s distinct, that it’s more a semantic doppelganger than an instance of semantic transubstantiation. If you wanted to get really “radical,” you could spin the original/repetition dichotomy and suggest that your plot summary is the doppelganger of a doppelganger, a distinct repetition of a distinct repetition. Or if you wanted, you could emphasize the way your summary has conditioned your subsequent readings of the Bible, and suggest that the summary is in fact the original, and that the Bible is the repetition.

You could imagine the study of “emphatics,” the ways in which emphasizing various characteristics at the expense of others generates different theoretical implicatures. All interpretation is emphatic in some sense, simply because it’s always focal: humans simply cannot consider all things at once. Something is always overlooked, and the resulting implicatures are usually transformed when this something is plugged in. This is why there’s no fact of the matter when it comes to the question of difference and identity: because all interpretation is emphatic, and because different emphases generate different implicatures, there is literally no way to grasp the whole as a whole.

The bivalence of identity and difference is just as artificial as the bivalence of truth and falsehood–one of many procrustean compromises built into language–or our impoverished experience of it at least. The issue is always a matter of degree, more or less.

Comparative.

[2] It is becoming.

14

(Inapplicable)

This is easy to see with identity and difference simply because as binaries go, they rank so high on the conceptual food chain. The empty can, as Hetfield says, rattles the loudest.

For a time Dylan was quite taken with Deleuze and his ontological inversions. If concepts possessed backward looking extensions, he would consider forward looking intensions. If becoming was understood as the collapse of the possible into the actual, as privative, then he would argue for an excessive becoming, with actualities exploding from virtualities. Dylan was the first in his class to tackle Deleuze, and certainly the first to challenge his instructors on their interpretations. Deleuze, he discovered, drew a lot of water from the prestige well, especially if no one knew what the fuck you were talking about. You alter your emphases radically enough, and the resulting implicatures become well nigh unintelligible–occult.

This is power in certain circles.

But the problem of interpretative emphasis applies to all theory outside the sciences. And this is why committing to this or that non-empirical implicature is so disastrous: since we assess new claims against the yardstick of our previous commitments, buying into any one implicature binds us to some set of arbitrary emphases. If you have a position, it is literally the case that “feeling right” is your biggest enemy. Of course the logic of competing implicatures are going to strike you as mistaken or downright nonsensical.

All you have to do is “call attention to,” or emphasize, characteristics that competing positions overlook. The social, say, over the symbolic. The linguistic over the natural. The intentional over the functional. The performative over the representational. The different over the identical. You become convincing simply because your text commands the reader’s eye–his or her focus. And if you should be lucky enough to find readers without much exposure to competing implicatures, then, ignorance being invisible, your position is going to seem like the only game in town. And once you’ve snagged their commitments, you can count on the combination of their cognitive shortcomings and interpretative underdetermination to do the rest.

Like clockwork.

This is the reason why deconstruction and other philosophies of difference swept like fire through literary halls, while guttering out in the philosophical. This is why the rise and fall of theoretical schools follows the rhythms of matriculation and retirement, the vectors and velocities of fashion. This why the scruples that govern the distribution of beliefs in literature departments reek far more of status than reason.

This is why my colleagues are always counting the leaves. Too many. Too few.

And nothing gets cured in the end.

15

(Inapplicable)

So what are we to make of my reminiscences? Do they capture, or do they obscure? Are they fictions, or are they reports?

Do I speak in windows or in CGI?

Whether we like it or not, we generally experience words as windows. Our native habit is to take descriptions at face-value, to simply assume that identity trumps difference where language is concerned. We generally read to believe, as far as description goes.

The  neurophysiological mechanisms that underwrite language use lie outside the information horizon of the thalamocortical system, for one. As a result, our words not only come to us as ‘given,’ they seem to hang in experience with the things they signify: a magical relationship that philosophers and others like to call “reference.”

We cannot quite see ourselves as something articulated through chronological time, for another. Since the thalamocortical system cannot track the time of its tracking, consciousness hangs in timelessness the way our visual field hangs in oblivion. Though time passes in experience, there is a peculiar sense in which it cannot pass for consciousness. The occluded frame of experience hangs in oblivion: this is why this… is always here and Now, why today is always the first day of the rest of your life, and why Nancy could not believe that old age had claimed her.

This is what makes the performative dimension of language so difficult to intuit: since words transport our very frame, we, like Captain Kirk in “The Mark of Gideon,” are oblivious to any transportation. Our frame remains motionless, and our words arise as given, so it seems that language simply presents the world ‘from nowhere,’ which is to say, as it is regardless of perspective.

It speaks as truth.

16

(Inapplicable)

This is why interpretations that emphasize the performative dimension of language strike us as ‘radical’ (it certainly struck Dylan that way). It’s not the way things seem.

After taking the performative turn, any number of philosophical implicatures suggest themselves. Language becomes an efflorescence, meaning paratactically piled upon meaning. Language becomes an instrumentality, a fundamental exercise of social power. Or, if you refuse to relinquish the experience of transparency, language becomes contradiction, a performance that simultaneously, aporetically constructs and reveals.

Given that the thalamocortical system only has fractional access to the environmental and neurophysiological mechanisms behind language–and moreover, fractional access that it mistakes for complete access–theorizing about language from our experience of it is bound to generate any number of errors. This problem is far more profound than the problem of hypostatization, the tendency of reflection to transform lived processes into autonomous products. Hypostatization is simply an instance of what is in fact a larger theoretical dilemma. Since this… is focal, it can attend only to fractions. Since the frame of this… is occluded, it tends to see those fractions as self-contained wholes: words start to seem like things rather than moments. The resulting implicature turns on the relationality characteristic of discrete objects.

But even if you “correct” for hypostatization, the fact remains you’re just another blind swami confusing trunks for snakes and legs for trees. And given this, philosophies of language that emphasize difference become difficult to understand. If you want to explain what language is within experience, it becomes hard to see what justifies critiques of identity–transparency–for this is precisely how language appears. If you want to explain what language is outside of our experience of it, then naturalism is the only remotely viable alternative, our only tested means of theoretically groping the great elephant.

And as of yet, the neurophysiology defeats us.

The fact is we have no bloody clue what language is. But we should brace ourselves for the possibility that the fact of language, whatever it is, will be less than friendly to the experience.

And more ‘radical’ than anything the Metaphysicians of Difference could dream.

17

(1984)

With the exception of Cutter, who continued to drive back and forth from St. Thomas, the primers all bunked in the barn opposite the house, which put a devastating crimp into Dylan’s plans of repeating his night with Harley. Ever since that night, the line between his memories and his fantasies had collapsed. Remembering became planning, and vice versa. Not a night would pass without him aching in bed, as turgid as tobacco in the rain, clutching himself in bizarre mix of celebration and frustration. I fucked her! he would think. I fucked Harley! Words exquisite in their crudity. Not only had he fucked Harley, he had made her cum three times. Three! A kind of inner cackle accompanied this thought, a glee that would come to seem squalid in later years. And inevitable.

How could he not gloat? How could he avoid transforming her into a kind of carnal proof, a trophy he could display to all subsequent versions of himself? Remember? Remember?

She writhed on you, brother. She screamed

He was only 17. There’s poetry, profound poetry, in a fuck fantasy when you’re 17. A single transcendent note that Harley had transformed into a symphony. The desire he experienced was well-nigh bottomless.

As was the loathing.

The first few days of harvest proper were predictably hellish, given the inexperience of the crew both in the field and at the kiln. What Dylan hadn’t predicted was that Jerry would spend so much time with him in the kiln, jawing on and on about this and that. He said he was there “to help with the leaves.” When the girls on the tying machine were frazzled or otherwise didn’t know what they were doing, they had a hard time getting all the leaf butts flush, which meant not all the leaves would be threaded by the tying machine, which meant that a small shower of leaves would falling spinning to the dirt floor each time Dylan lifted a stick with its skirt from the elevator and gave it a quick shake. These leaves could add up very quickly, to the point where they matted the entire floor, and it could take the better part of an hour cleaning them up at the end of the day.

Jerry said he was there to keep on top of the leaves, but it seemed that he was more interested in hiding. When he caught up with the leaves he would saunter out in his big-man reckless-walking way and cry, “Howzzz it goin, girlzzzz?” They would smile or laugh or make faces or whatever, and Jerry would reluctantly amble to his truck–Dylan could almost feel the man willing himself out to the belligerent fields.

He continually referenced Dad, as though reminding Dylan that their connection transcended whatever it was brewing on the farm. For the most part, Dylan didn’t know what to say. Since things were moving so slowly, he had the leisure to think or say anything he wanted. He would grab the stick off the elevator, give it a shake so that the veils of stitched leaves hung firmly on the stick. Then he would step, one-two-three, into the darker regions, add it like another slice of bread to those already hung. Back and forth over neck-breaking spaces. The rung-bisected emptiness would bend and wheel in brightening parallax below the shadows of his boards.

They talked a lot about AC/DC: Jerry pretended to be scandalized by Dylan’s low opinion of For Those About to Rock. They discussed who [3] would be more important to the future of rock, Sabbath or the Stones. Everything was kickass this and kickass that, getting fucked up and kicking that puppy down. They joked about Missy’s ass. They talked about Harley, how great she was, how much she hated living on the farm.

They had these strange periods where they prefaced pretty much everything they said with, “Yeah…” speaking from a place that was as bored as it was peaceful.

“Yeah,” Jerry said, “about what happened that night… You know, when we were all fucked up on Cutter’s weed?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, well, I just want you to know that I’m sorry about that. I really am sorry. I was fucking stoned, man.”

“Yeah… I know. You just fucked up in a people way the way I fucked up with the valve. Turned right when you should have turned left.”

An appreciative laugh. “Yeah… That’s a good way to put it.”

“Yeah.”

Sometimes, when the girls beat the boat or the tying machine needed to be rethreaded, Dylan would stare down, shake his head at the image of this giant man sitting like a kid in the dirt, patiently picking and stacking leaves. A cold sweat would strike him, a guilt unlike any he had felt since I drowned that mouse in the mud puddle when it was eight. Sometimes, working with half an ear out for Jerry’s rambling, Dylan caught himself thinking that it wasn’t such a bad thing, the way Harley seemed bent on ignoring him.

Jerry needed her. There was room enough for love in that.

When you hang in the high gloom, everything is illuminated from below.

[3] It assumes it is immobile, self-identical. Now.