The Hayseed

The sleek, shiny, deep-red locomotive, its coupling rods churning and drivers slipping, trying to get traction, billows out black smoke from its stack as if getting up the nerve to leave the station.

It’s a beautiful train with a long line of passenger cars trailing behind. Each car is bursting with people who, dressed in their best, are buzzing in quiet anticipation, waiting for their adventure to begin. A collective sigh goes up at the first jolt of forward motion, and a surge of no-turning-back-now adrenaline triggers manic conversations about new destinations.

Somehow, old things always look new when you see them from a different angle, and traveling by rail, rather than the usual streets and highways, is definitely different. The passengers move from one side of the car to the other, looking out the windows at their familiar city, chattering excitedly about things they’ve seen a thousand times.

The train moves beyond the edge of town as the late afternoon sun turns the sprawling farm fields golden. Not too far from the track, a farmer stops his work and looks up at the train. He leans an elbow on his pitchfork, puts his other hand on his hip, and casually crosses his ankles, as if he wants to drink it all in. Many of the passengers wave as they pass by, marveling at the farmer as if they’ve never seen a man in a field. The farmer smiles and waves back a few times. He knows most of these folks are looking at him like he’s missing out, or just some hayseed.

Truth be told, he used to travel, a lot. He’s also plenty smart, but, anymore, he couldn’t care less what anyone thinks. Not that he’s bitter–no, he’s content, happy just to stand in his field and watch a train full of people looking for the next big thing pass him by and not remotely feel like he’s missing out. Some people might wonder if he’s made a deal with the devil, but he knows different.

Before the train’s even out of sight, he turns and starts walking up the fence row to the house. His wife will have dinner about ready. The long shadows from the fence posts stretch across the ground. He carries the pitchfork over his shoulder and, this time, instead of counting the posts (since he knows there are twenty-five from here to the house), he counts the steps in between them. He likes this comfortable, predictable game.

When he gets to the barn, he goes inside, hangs the pitchfork in its place, takes a look at the veal calves, then heads for the house, passing the garden full of late-fall greens.

He smells it as soon as he opens the mud-room door–the unmistakable goodness of one of his favorite dishes: deviled veal tongue with braised mustard greens and potatoes. The smell alone is nourishing. It’s a dish that not only tastes God-damn good, but you can feel it healing your soul with every bite. He looks at his beautiful wife, hears the kids giggling in the other room, and smiles, glad that he has no other destination.

click here for the deviled veal tongue recipe

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J.R. Craves Tex-Mex

J.R. stands on the metal folding chair, stretches up on his toes, and exhales pot smoke into the air vents just to be an asshole. He jumps and lands on the floor with a resounding thud. The shaking floor is felt two apartments down by a Hispanic woman making cookies. He’s annoyed that the apartment next door was rented to some dude. He liked the hotty girl who lived there before; liked to watch her shower through the hole he made in the wall. Now it was some dick-weed kid who he already knew he didn’t like.

That’s not all he’s pissed about today, though. He can’t believe the super gave him an eviction notice. Not after the words they had at his apartment door when the super came knocking and tried to collect the rent. J.R. told him if he evicted him he would kill his wife right in front of his fucking eyes. He isn’t going to do it–kill the super’s wife; he just knows threats will get him what he wants if they make him seem scary and crazy enough.

He paces. He thinks. He gets more pissed off the more he thinks. He stomps a foot on the hard tile. He’s fidgety. He grabs the speed off the counter and shakes the last two pills from the bottle into his mouth, then quickly snaps his head from side to side, trying to crack his neck. He paces more rapidly now, in anticipation. His pulse picks up.

He grabs the ball-bat that some former tenant left in the corner and jerks open the door. He looks around the courtyard. No one’s out. He is barefoot, shirtless and lean like a feral cat. His jeans are too long, worn and stringy at the heels where he walks on them. He shuffles down the second-floor walkway, the denim scuffling against the concrete.

At the corner a sudden flurry of action catches his eye. His neighbor the dick-weed, propped in a chair outside the ground-floor laundry room, is falling backwards but catches himself, arms and legs flailing around. J.R. stops and thinks about going down and beating the living shit out of him, then thinks again, smiling at the thought that he’ll get to it at some point. He watches as the dick-weed takes an amateur swig of his beer and returns to his bout of bad foreplay with a burrito. The goop inside shoots out, all over the ugliest pair of new boots J.R. has ever seen; in fact, the burrito stains might be an improvement on the turquoise and red shit-kickers, which were reminiscent of a Nudie suit in the most God-awful way. The kid takes another chomp and more goop falls onto the foil sheet. J.R. thinks he should have left it wrapped around the burrito. You only peel back the foil and the deli paper as you go. It’s what keeps the whole thing together. But he can hear the kid moaning with each bite, like he’s getting laid.

J.R. sees the to-go bag and understands the moans. He knows the place that burrito came from, knows they’re that good–even makes the same sounds when he eats one. A stack of napkins, dozens of them, is starting to drift around in the wind. J.R.’s stomach growls. He smiles again at the ground-floor folly and his mood lightens, but he still has business to attend to.

By the time he finds himself at the super’s door, though, his plans have changed. He was wound up enough to bust a couple of ribs with a swing or two of the bat, but he’s lost the will. Instead, in what feels like a more half-assed attempt to make his point, he chucks the bat through the front window of the super’s apartment. The door flies open.

What happens next reminds J.R. of the time when he was a kid and he climbed a tree with a pocket full of rocks and started throwing them at a big, papery hornets’ nest hanging like an out-of-place Christmas ornament. Nothing happened until a rock finally punched a hole in it and the whole nest emptied, the hornets stinging relentlessly, and J.R. couldn’t get out of that tree fast enough and finally just fell.

And just like that time, J.R. ends up on his back. The second blast from the super’s shotgun knocks him over the railing and he lands on the hood of a car. He feels the hood ornament puncture his thigh. His head lays back off the side of the car, and he looks at the world upside-down. He stares at the kid with the burrito. His stomach grumbles, his eyes shut, and he imagines the smell of the mesquite smoke mingling with the lesser cuts of beef. They become a rich, tender kiss that makes him feel like he’s crossed the railroad tracks to the intoxicating land of the forbidden.