In my previous life as a restaurant manager, there was a practical joke we used to play on the new employees. Their last night of training was always on a Friday or Saturday so they could experience what it was like to be full-on crazy busy. In the middle of the dinner rush, one of the managers would turn to the new employee and say “I need you to go to the basement and get the chicken stretcher RIGHT AWAY!” Of course there was no basement, and no such thing as a chicken stretcher. The newbie, entrusted with this obviously very important task, would try to look like they knew what they were doing and start to hustle off. After their first few steps we would stop them and say, “the basement is the other way,” which just added to their confusion. After gamely trying for several minutes to find the basement door, they would eventually ask a veteran server or cook where it was. The answer was always the same. “Dude! Were you even awake during orientation?” Then we would all start laughing, which was a great tension breaker during the rush, but at the expense of this poor rookie who was just trying to help out. I had worked in restaurants for so many years that I had forgotten what it was like to be the new guy- the fish out of water. This all changed dramatically when we decided to buy the farm. My comfort zone disappeared, and nowhere was this more apparent than the Tractor and Feed store.
When we decided to buy the farm I was excited. The whole lifestyle appealed to me–living off the land, growing our own food, the peace and quiet, the harmonizing with nature. Part of me, however, was terrified. I knew nothing about how to actually be a farmer. I didn’t know about soil, or how to raise chickens, or how to plow a field, or what to do with a spit cup in mixed company. But even more than that, I found the culture intimidating. This was an alien world I was about to enter, so I researched as much as I could. I read books on farming, I subscribed to Mother Earth News, I pored over articles on the internet, and I started drinking light domestic beer. After a few weeks I was starting to feel a little better about things. It was time. I knew I had to buy some equipment, I didn’t even own a push mower, so I decided to enter this Mecca of the farm world and check out some prices.
Most of the time if I am making some sort of major purchase of something I know little about I believe in full disclosure to the salesperson. If I am in, say, Lowe’s to purchase a sink I will often emotionally vomit and tell the salesperson “I have never done this before, is it hard? Are there any special tools? What parts do I need? Have you ever done this? Do you think I can do this? How do I do this?” This usually works out well, as I get all the info I need and the worker feels good because they think they just helped a “special needs” customer. This, my wife and the books assured me, was not how it works in farm world. Farmers are naturally suspicious of new people moving in. They can be unsympathetic to “green-horns”, and downright mean to city folk who think they can just buy some land and that makes them a “farmer”, when many of the people around them have lived there for generations mastering their craft. Now I would not exactly consider myself a “city boy”, but as I have never milked a cow, driven a tractor, or found Sarah Palin even remotely attractive, I knew I would have to look as “un-citified” as possible when I went to the store. I wore a beat up T-shirt, cargo shorts, and a Dale Jr. baseball cap I picked up at the gas station. I got to the store, took a deep breath, and walked in.
In my psyched-out, over-thinking mind I had imagined it would be like walking into an old west saloon, where everyone grows hushed and the music stops playing when the stranger walks in. It was more like walking into Wal-Mart, except everything was farm or animal related, and the people were skinnier. I wandered around for a bit, until I found the tractor area. A salesman wearing overalls walked by, and I whistled at one of the big John Deeres like it was a pretty girl. “She shore is a beaut,” I said, knowing that a John Deere tractor is the Sofia Vergara of the farm world. “Yes she is,” he said, nodding in approval. “Y’interested?”
I was in! This alien tribe had not recognized me as an outsider. “No, that’s a little more than what I need.” I had memorized a list of needs so I could maybe sound like I knew what I was talking about. “What I mainly need it for is some mowin’, some tillin’, some bush hoggin’, and maybe be able to add a snow blade.” As I was talking the salesman glanced down at my feet. I looked down. Flip flops! Idiot! No self respecting farmer wears flip flops! My cover was totally blown. I might as well have been wearing an A Chorus Line sweatshirt and jorts. My head fell. “Got anything you’d recommend?”
He thought for a second, plotting I was sure. This is what he said– “You may wanna go with a 2-wheel walk behind like a BCS or a Gravely; they’ll handle most of your needs. Course if you go that route you lose your 3 point and your PTO, but you can always add a sulkie.”
This is what I heard– “I need you to go to the basement and get the chicken stretcher.”
It turned out that the man was actually giving me excellent advice. With my cover blown I decided to go full disclosure. I told him I was about to buy a farm and really had no idea what I needed to get started. He turned out to be very understanding, knowledgeable, and not judgmental. He even gave me his card with his cell number on it. It was a great success.
When I got home I was all proud of how my trip had gone. I said to Tessa, way too smugly, “I thought you said being open and honest and vulnerable didn’t work with farmers. Well, it worked out just fine for me.”
“What are you talking about? And why are you wearing that ridiculous hat?”
I told her all about my visit. She closed her eyes, and sighed deeply.
“O.K. So the man you talked to was a ……” She waited for me to finish her sentence.
“A tractor guy.”
“Whose job it is to…..”
“Which makes him a…..”
“Salesman. Goddam it Tessa, stop talking to me like I just had a stroke. Yes, he’s a salesman, but he’s a tractor salesman, and he was wearing overalls.”
She smiled a special smile when I said overalls, and she didn’t say anything else. It was a warm, patient smile, but a smile I have learned to hate. I hate it because I know, whenever I see it, it is just about to dawn on me that I am an idiot.