Friday, April 19, 2019

A Good Crop

a short story by Bill Adler

Bob surveyed his neighbor’s field as he moved the wheat stalk in his mouth two teeth to the left. The afternoon sun seared his already burned neck. He wanted to get inside for air conditioning and ice tea, but figured it was polite to start the conversation outdoors because Joe had walked from his house to the driveway to greet him. 

The furrowed ground gave evidence of recently planted seedlings. Raised brown rows with a narrow gully in between extended from one end of Joe property to the other. It was too early to tell what he’d planted. All just-furrowed fields look the same to Bob.

“How about we talk about crops and life and such inside, where the air conditioning and ice tea are nice and cool and the blueberry pie is just the right temperature?”

Music to Bob’s ears. He patted his ample belly. The blueberry pie was an unexpected plus.

A good crop, indeed. 
Above the fireplace hung a wooden sign with a quotation printed in a sepia-stained, cursive font: “Some of us grew up playing with tractors; the lucky ones still do.” The sofa, dining room table, lounge chair, table lamp, wall clock, and fireplace tools were all in well-kept condition but were mismatched, as if it had all been acquired over a century.

Joe motioned Bob to the sofa. The ice cubes in the glass clinked against its sides as he handed the tea to Bob. Bob sighed as he wrapped his sweaty hand around the frosty glass.

“Not too sweet, I hope.”

Bob emptied nearly the entire drink in one gulp. “Perfect.” He smiled. “Another?”

Joe slid his chair close to the coffee table on the opposite side of the couch, causing Bob to grimace as the legs squeaked against the hardwood floor. Joe smiled toothily and said, “This year, Grand Seikos.”

“Say what?”

“I’m planting Grand Seikos.”

Bob slapped his thigh so hard it sounded like thunder filled the room. “No way. Why ya doing that?” He held the ice tea glass against his forehead for about a half-minute, drank the second glass in one gulp, and continued. “Do ya need the sense kicked into you, Joe? ’Cause I’m willing to as a friend.” Bob raised his leg and aimed his size 11 shoe at Joe.

“Do you want to know why?”

“Well, sure.”

“Look,” said Joe. “Everyone’s growing Rolex. That’s the mainstay crop of Pleasant County. Damn, it’s what everyone grows, from Iowa to Kansas, from Wyoming to Arkansas—”

“They farm Rolex in Wyoming?”

“You know what I mean. It’s the biggest cash crop. Bigger than Omega or Daniel Wellington.” Joe slid a forkful of blueberry pie into his mouth before continuing, his first few words a muffled jumble of words and pie. “Who’s buying all these Rolexes? Rich bankers in New York and the Hollywood stars, professions that aren’t expanding. Sure, the Chinese have been scooping them up, too, but I’m certain the market’s going to slow down, and fast.

“The prices are way high for the supply,” he added. “There’s a crash coming on. That’s why I switched.”

“Simple as that?”

“Pretty much. It’s a truth as plain as the nose on my face.”

Bob ate another mouthful of pie. He swirled his tongue, brushing what he knew were blueberry stains off his front teeth. “Isn’t replacing your entire Rolex crop with Grand Seiko risky? How do you know there’s going to be a market next fall when the watches are ready to be harvested?” Bob looked at his empty plate with a sad face and then turned back to Joe, hoping he would get the hint.

“I’m willing to bet the farm that Grand Seiko’s demand will exceed supply. I’m certain of it. People want value for their hard-earned cash. But they also want something that’s going to make them smile, don’t you think?”

Why plant anything else?
“Yes,” Bob said, even though he didn’t know what to think. He was in the hardware business. People always needed hardware. Sales of hammers and shovels were predictable throughout the year, year after year, like the Earth orbiting the sun. Uncertainty transformed Bob’s stomach into a churning lava pit. Although he supplied hardware to Joe and a dozen other farmers in Pleasant County, he never understood the economics of farming. His store’s 1960s cash register was as advanced in economics as he got.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Joe said. “You’re thinking, ‘What does this country bumpkin of a farmer know about predicting what crops are going to be best a year or two out.’ You’re thinking, ‘He almost went bankrupt with that field of Breitlings a few years back.’ Sure, I did, I acknowledge that. And it could have been worse, too. I was almost going to switch my crop over to TAG Heuer in ’15. That Cara Delevingne is cute.”

“Cara Delevingne?”

“The TAG Heuer ambassador.”


“Watch ambassadors are… You know what? Never mind about that. What I’m telling you is I’ve learned from my mistakes. Grand Seiko’s going to be the next star crop. By planting now, I’ll be at least two years ahead of all the other farmers.”

“Can I ask you a question?” Bob glanced again at his empty plate.

“Sure,” Joe said.

“How come you’re not plantin' Audemars Piguet, Breguet, Vacheron, or some other luxury crop?” Bob was pleased he could rattle off rare crop names, even if he was uncertain about how these names were pronounced. He was sure Joe would be surprised and impressed he knew about them. “Wouldn’t you get more profit for those?”

“Perhaps. But here’s the thing: Crops like AP, Breguet, Jaquet Droz — they’re fragile. Too hot, too cold, too dry or wet, and your yield goes way down. If the soil nutrients are off by just a little bit — too much magnesium, too little nickel, for instance — with these high-end crops, the results can be a disaster. I might plant 1,000 and end up with only ten units. Or fewer. Then who’s going to buy your hardware?”

Bob nodded. “Makes sense to me.” He lifted his plate. “More pie?”

1 comment:

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