A Moral Dilemma

So after you’ve chased the teenage couple parked in your field off your property and at the main road their car stalls… what are your obligations? Are you morally required to go help them?

It started like this; I’m leaving home, on my way to Elgin for feed, and since it’s hunting season I’m always looking for hunters that are trespassing or vehicles I don’t recognize, that sort of thing.

An hour and a half later as I return home I see some tracks going across a hayfield so I follow them. As I crest a small hill I’m surprised to find a car parked along the trees with a young couple inside. The guy gets out as I skid to a stop in front of his car and the young man, who was all smiles, comes around and says “Hi”.

Now, here’s a little hint should you ever find yourself in a similar situation… If you are parked in a farmer’s field and that farmer catches you, most likely he isn’t going to be happy and he isn’t going to be in any mood for chitchat; you are in the wrong. You know what? Just don’t even try this at home.

So this kid’s showing me all his teeth and he says, “Hi” and I say to the kid, “Who the hell are you?!!” The smile just vanishes from his face, his head goes down, he says “Sorry” and he heads for the car. I’m still yelling things at him about driving across my fields; what does he think he’s doing out here; if they’re going to do… ‘that’… they can go find somewhere else to do …‘that’…, you know, the usual grumpy old man diatribe.

And they drive away with me following. (In the olde days we used to just send them on their way. It was Kelly who taught me the value of chasing them up to the highway. Kinda like that whole O.J. / white Bronco episode, but I really don’t want to associate myself with that. I wasn’t sure if you could call this a chase or not, but if you look it up in the dictionary it can be. I consider this more of an ‘escort’). At the township road he guns it. I’m in the truck… my new truck… my big, RED truck with the V-10… he ain’t gettin’ away. He cuts the corner at the highway a little tight. He doesn’t drop a tire in the ditch or anything, but he definitely cuts it a little. And there’s this little puff of blue smoke sort of by the left rear wheel.

…And that’s when their engine dies and their car slows down and they coast to the side of the road and stop. I’m sitting at the stop sign, the cloud of dust passing over me, trying to decide… all right, what am I morally obligated to do here. Well, I have to go see. So, I pull up behind them and walk up to the side of the car. The driver’s window is down about three inches. I almost feel sorry for this guy… His day is definitely not going like he’s planned, you know? He had ideas of romance (or at least lust), falling in love, (or at least lust) and then this longhaired, hippie freak with a beard and a big truck shows up and spoils the whole thing. All I needed was a gun rack in the rear window to really make him think he’d stumbled into “Deliverance”. This kid is shaking like a leaf, he’s got beads of sweat on his brow and he looks like he’s gonna be sick. I’m wishing now I had gone around and checked on the girl, but I didn’t… I hope she isn’t traumatized… and who knows… maybe I saved her from a whole lotta heartache. The kid says he doesn’t know what happened, the car just stopped. He’s got a cell phone so I know he’s not going to be stranded. (At this point I figure my moral obligations are fulfilled, right?) His biggest question to me: Am I going to call the cops on them? No, I say, but I don’t want to find them in my field again. “Deal” he says…

Later I noticed the trail of oil from the corner, off to the side of the road where their car stopped and then a bigger trail from there around the next corner… That can’t be good… It’s unfortunate for them. I was really looking for hunters, not teenagers. You never caught me doing that.

It got me to thinking about other times I’ve scared people. There was the new seed corn salesman who was actually an insurance salesman masquerading as a seed corn salesman; he thought he could make two sales in one call. The first time he came to the farm – actually he only came to the farm once- (there’s some foreshadowing for ya) I told him that I wasn’t interested in insurance. After he asked me about it the second time I told him he should stop asking me that; I wasn’t interested. This was all a very calm conversation.

Two days later I get a letter in the mail from this guy thanking me for my seed corn order and saying if I just gave them a chance he was sure I would like their insurance! This is where my eyes pop out of my head like in the cartoons… I get him on the phone: “WHAT PART OF ‘NO’ DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?!?!” I hollered. I told him I didn’t invite him to the farm to sell me insurance, that I didn’t like insurance agents and I wouldn’t have let him onto the farm if I’d known he was going to try to sell me insurance! And if he wanted to keep me as a seed corn customer he’d better stop talking about insurance!

Now, I’m not saying this was my fault or anything but he didn’t sell corn the next year and I think he’s left the insurance business…

When Kelly and I first started dating I came to her apartment one night and she was standing out front talking with one of the doctors (or maybe he was an intern or fellow or something… the kind of person I suspect Kelly’s mother hoped she would date when Kelly announced she was moving to Rochester). Anyway, she’s talking to this guy and other than ‘hello’ I didn’t say anything to him, but he never spoke to Kelly again. I’m not sure if I gave the wrong impression or what-- I was only carrying that battle-axe because Kelly and I saw it at a flea market and I was bringing it to her place.

Am I giving you the wrong impression of myself?

A few years ago there was a span of about a month when I kept finding used prophylactics and wrappers lying around the Fox tower driveway. Finally one day coming home I find a couple parked at the tower, but they’re just sitting in the front seat talking. I didn’t stop, just drove home and came back up with a small paper bag and told the young man, “When you’ve finished your ‘exercises’ would you please throw your garbage in this and take it home and throw it away?” He kind of sheepishly smiled and reached for the bag. The girl, however, was offended. She was pretty darn mad! She lit into me about how they were just talking and what kind of people did I think they were, can’t people just talk, etc… As they drove away I called after them, “Don’t go away mad.”

Have I already told you about the night I was gone and six cars came down in the yard to turn around? If that doesn’t scream “PARTY” nothing does. Kelly called the sheriff deputies and they caught about 40 cars and 100 kids just cracking a keg down a field road. The kids scattered leaving paper cups spread over several acres. Course they all had to come back to their cars eventually and then the deputies had a little chat with them.

Now Kelly and I fully realize young people just want a place they can hang out and that’s fine. We’re not against youth in general. And we know most of the kids out here don’t cause any trouble… but as usual, it’s the ones that leave all their garbage scattered around and make two (or four or five) trips through the corn field on their way out that bother us. That’s why we finally put the gates across our driveway about 3 years ago.

And you know the neighborhood has changed, too. There was the car flipped over in the woods. (Gotta watch those fish tails… they’ll get away from you if you’re not careful). There was the stolen car left in a secluded field drive. (I found it before it was reported stolen… that tends to mess up the police department’s paperwork; It’s considered abandoned. Yet given that the dealer’s lockbox was in the back seat, the ignition was removed along with all four wheels and the stereo was gone… I think it had been stolen). This spring it was a stolen construction trailer left in the woods. It hadn’t been there long before we reported it but it was long enough for all the tools to be taken from it. There’s the occasional pile of garbage dumped. And as our neighbor says, “Haven’t they ever heard ‘Alice’s Restaurant’?” (You younger people may have to ask your parents about that reference).

Today we were down at the Rep getting some sound equipment set up and recording the cast for a sound cue and every time I called from the booth down to the director, the young lady sitting in front of me at the light board sort of flinched and cringed. I asked if she wanted to move or if I should warn her before yelling so she could cover her ears but she said no… but I did kinda wonder, ‘Am I yelling too much’? What sort of image am I giving this cast of thousands? (And do I care?) Once again, this longhaired, hippie freak just shows up and starts bellowing. They don’t have a clue who I am. I wasn’t yelling in an angry way… I was simply trying to be heard. I was yelling to be heard over all the other noise going on: the piano, the cast talking, other people in the booth talking, that kind of stuff… And in that kind of situation I yell like I’m yelling at the cows-- from the diaphragm and with authority. You can’t be wimpy when you’re calling the cows in from the pasture or the chickens to come and eat or to quell the angry mob at a town board meeting. (In fact one of the other supervisors told me I yelled like I was yelling at the cows.)

And the more I think about it I come to the realization that this voice was cultivated and encouraged at the Rep. When seating platforms were being moved I always felt it was sort of an honor to be chosen to call the count. And when you had 15 people underneath the seating sections that couldn’t see they were about to smash the seating platform into that innocent baby wandering on the railroad tracks… well, you better shout to be heard!

Am I creating a reputation? Did I already have one? Does this mean my reputation will soon be preceding me?

All right, so I’m bellowing… occupational hazard, I guess… Got a problem with that?

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Write me: ben@farmerben.com