Just Like Picking Apples In Nebraska

“Does this t-shirt look like it fits me?” Pumpkin asks rubbing his belly. I turn from the sink to look. I have to chuckle. It’s the middle of November and he has on tennis shoes, a Bob Marley t-shirt—that fits him well—jeans, a tie-dyed bandana wrapped around his head and a Rastafarian skull cap.

“Yes,” I say, chuckling.

“What?” he asks, looking down at his clothes trying to pinpoint the source of my entertainment.

“Nothing. Why don’t you have a coat on? Aren’t you cold?”

“No, I need some socks though,” he says, slipping his tennis shoes off while walking to a bowl of grapes and grabbing few.

“There’s a pair in there on the shelf,” I say referring to his shelf. That’s where I put the clothes he leaves when he showers here about once a week. We recycle: he leaves dirty clothes, I wash them and put ‘em on the shelf.

“Alright cool, I need them for Georgia,” he says walking past the bananas on the counter and picking one up.

“Georgia?”

“Yeah, me and Simba are going.”

“Simba and I,” I correct him.

“Why are you going to Georgia? What about your job? You don’t have any money. I’m not going to another state to bail your dumb ass out. He doesn’t have a driver’s license. What if you guys get pulled over and the car gets towed?” my worry overflows into a verbal waterfall.

“Moooom, chill,” he says, leaning into the open fridge and coming out with a container of hummus.

Are you hungry!? Jesus, stop eating. I have stuffed peppers in the oven, they’ll be done in 15 minutes.”

“We are going to Georgia to get Simba’s crazy ass baby momma and his daughter. She has a lot of money. It costs sixty dollars in gas to get there. She’s gonna pay me back my sixty dollars when we get there and pay for the gas home. As far as my job; I’m in sales, I set my own hours, no big deal if I miss Monday and Tuesday.”

“So, why you doing all this? Why don’t you just loan him the money and stay here? This sounds like picking apples in Nebraska if you ask me.”

“Mom, trust me I’m not gonna end up having a nervous breakdown in a Burger King parking lot.”

He’s referring to my brief career as an apple picker. When I was eighteen I left an apartment in Chicago, attended a Rainbow Family gathering in Texas and came to a rest, for a while, in a commune in Oaklahoma. The commune was deep in the woods, no bathrooms, no showers, limited electricity and one land line phone.

The standard of living was the least of my worries. The men had total control of the community. They were the only ones allowed to go into town and work. Women had to stay behind and cut wood for the fire we used to boil water. We pumped the water from a well by hand. We needed a lot of water to wash dishes, do laundry and fill the barrel used as a bathtub. We also had to figure out what to make with the mishmash of food they brought back from dumpster diving at grocery stores.  The “foucalizer”, Gypsy, had the final say on all decisions made during our weekly meetings. I had no money and my ego wouldn’t let me call my parents for help. But, I wanted to get out of there very badly and immediately.

So, the day Michael Bird and High Plains—I know, hippies and their goofy ass names—told me they were leaving to go to Nebraska to pick apples, I begged them to let me go, too. They were all for it and we set off with just enough gas money to get there. Once there, they said, we would make thousands of dollars. I don’t know why I thought I could pick apples. I had never been in an orchard, let alone did orchard type shit.

The trip there was crazy. Of course we had to panhandle because we ran out of money. We stopped at shelters along the way to shower. All my jewelry was stolen at one of them. In order to use the shelter’s towels you had to give them something of value to hold. I gave the girl behind the counter my silver rings and she took off with them. We slept under picnic tables at rest areas. One morning I woke up to a whole Mexican family sitting around my picnic table eating. They were talking in Spanish and laughing. I knew they had no idea I was under the table. I tried to ease unseen from the table. When I stuck my head out they all stopped talking and looked down at me. I smiled, said hi and stood up with as much dignity as I could muster. As I turned to run back to the truck I heard one of them say, “Loca chica.”

When we finally arrived at the orchard we walked into an office that was located at the beginning of a long driveway. It led to the shacks pickers lived in and further down was the orchard. There were two young men standing in the office. They stared at us for a few seconds before they asked if they could help us. We were quite a sight. I had dreadlocks with crystals woven into them. I was wearing a white Indian shirt, with no bra of course, and a long tie-dyed skirt. My companions were long haired, bearded and tattooed. We told them we were there to work.

They turned and looked at each other with more wonder than they had eyed us with. Finally, one of them turned and said, “There are no apples. There’s a drought. Don’t you guys read the paper?”

I was heartbroken, tired and pissed off. Why the hell didn’t Michael Bird know there was a fucking drought before we came all this way? We stood in the parking lot and tried to figure out what to do. We decided to just go back to the commune by panhandling our way. What choice did we have? We got back in the truck and started the return journey.

Once we were close to the highway Michael Bird pulled into a store parking lot. I figured they were getting water or something for the truck. I waited outside. Ten minutes later they came out laughing carrying a bottle of Jack Daniels. They spent every last penny we had on whiskey. I was so pissed I refused to drink any as they drove down the highway passing the bottle back and forth in front of me.

It was a small old truck and all three of us had to smash onto one long seat. It was a stick shift too, which meant I had to keep my legs bent toward the passenger side of the truck. And there was no air conditioning. Within an hour they were trashed. Michael Bird was swerving badly. Until that point I had managed to conceal my anger. I couldn’t take it anymore. I started screaming for them to pull over. It scared the shit out of them. They almost dropped the bottle mid pass.

We pulled into a Burger King parking lot. I kicked High Plains out of truck with my fringed moccasin boots and got out as fast as I could. He stood leaning on the truck bed with his hands in his pockets looking down in shame at the ground. Michael Bird turned off the truck and slunk around the truck bed and stood next to him. I had my hands on my hips and stood before them glaring.

“A fucking drought? You didn’t check or call or anything? We don’t have any fucking money and you go and buy fucking whiskey and almost kill me? This is bullshit. I am not getting back into that truck until you two sober up and we figure out what the fuck we are going to do,” I was looking at them waiting for them to acknowledge that they were assholes. They weren’t talking and they weren’t looking at me. Instead, both of them were looking out of the corner of their eye to the left. I slowly turned my head to see what was more important than the situation we were in.

I turned and there stood a couple in their sixties just a few feet away from us. The woman had white hair, she was wearing light blue polyester pants and a matching blue shirt. She was clutching her big white plastic purse against her stomach. Her husband was holding onto her elbow trying to steer her into the Burger King. She was obviously stunned and dumbfounded. She was looking at me like I was crazy! Didn’t she know I was the voice of reason? I was the responsible one? So, I did the only thing that seemed appropriate at the time. I screamed, “What the fuck are you looking at?” as loud as I possibly could. The sheer volume of my voice visibly jolted her out of her stupor and into Burger King.  I turned to the guys and calmly said, “Let’s get outta here. “

They quietly got into the car, drove back onto the highway and I never saw the bottle of whiskey again.

“Okay Pumpkin, here are your stuffed peppers. Eat good. Just make sure you call me.”

“Eat well,” he said, smiling.

“Yes, I hope there are many apples.”

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