The Farmer and The Donkey

by Patrick Dostine, Royal Oak

It seemed just yesterday when my 3-year-old brother pushed my 2-year-old head through a window. We were playing a game he had made up on the spot called The Farmer and The Donkey. He wanted me to be the donkey and he would be the farmer and order me into an imaginary pen, which was the landing by the front door of our parents' home. We had imaginary hay and a swinging door and everything. I was supposed to bray while he had the authority to order me into the imaginary pen. Instead, I switched to the farmer and ordered him into the imaginary pen and he said OK and he brayed and instead of being the farmer, I switched again to the donkey and brayed and he began to get heated because he knew I was just being an uncooperative little pill. After a few of these go-arounds, he grabbed the back of my neck and smashed my soft head through the window on the storm door. I bled from a slice along my hairline, was rushed to the hospital, stitched up and fed an ice cream cone afterward for all my troubles.

I didn't hold this against my brother at all, but bring it up to illustrate how even at an early age I didn't cooperate. Wouldn't toe the line.

I still have that scar zipped across the edge of my forehead. In fact my body has collected many other scars over the years — a scar on my cheekbone, a scar on my shinbone, a scar on my back, on my knuckles, hands and wrists, the big one down the center of my abdomen, even a scar on the cap of my penis. It's my most infamous one.

It happened in a touch football game in junior high gym class.

I was a jock back then and the boy who did this to me was a burnout and so we didn't like each other. He reminded me of a bloodhound, with his droopy sad eyes that were always bloodshot because he smoked so much pot. He stunk from cigarette and pot smoke all the time.

I was a blocker for our team and he was rushing our quarterback and we met face to face and he kneed me in the dick so hard I saw bright lights. I fell to the grass and rolled around in great pain. My penile helmet was numb for weeks. I have a permanent nick on it.

Today I thought I might want to be an electrician. So, I went to the electrician's union downtown,

It was depressing because 16 years before I used to park my junker in the union's parking lot when I worked as an intem for the governor. There I was, 16 years later, back in the same damn place, standing on the same sun-softened chunk of urban blacktop.

I didn't like that intem job with the governor. I thought I was cool at first, working for such a high-level elected official. That's just after I graduated from community college and still had hope.

But I quickly developed an opinion of all politicians, which was they're all publicity seekers and ego freaks and get paid to watch over a plane that's mostly flying itself, you know, autopilot.

I do have one story to tell about my internship at the governor's office.

There was a big press conference one day. The governor was paying off the last of the state's debt that day and wanted to milk it for all he could. After all, he'd raised taxes a few years earlier in order to pay down the debt. When he had raised the taxes, some people hated him. One guy wrote a letter and sent it to the downtown office telling the governor that he was going to blow his fucking head off with his double-barrel shotgun. When I received the letter, I immediately faxed it up to the state capitol because I thought the governor might want to know about it. Residents hated the governor for raising taxes, even though I thought they were necessary. I don't know about you, but debt drives me insane. It ties you down. The whole point to life is freedom. That's what I believe.

The governor had this big public relations shindig at the downtown office to save his ass somehow politically.

My job was to stamp, on cue, the word "solvent" on a big exaggerated cardboard check that rested on an easel. I stood just off to the side of the podium, looking spiffy in my blue suit that I wore when I had to.

The governor addressed a packed room of reporters and cameramen. The governor's press agent, a skinny nervous jittery kind of guy, boney as shit, who drank coffee by the pot and chain-smoked cigarettes, tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, "Keep inking the stamp. Keep inking the stamp." I nodded and inked the stamp. The governor was carrying on. Then I got another tap on the shoulder to ink the stamp. I inked the stamp. This went on for awhile.

Frankly, I had no idea what the governor was talking about anymore because I was being harassed to ink the stamp by his press agent. And like The Farmer and The Donkey, I stopped cooperating and faked inking the stamp.

Finally, it was my time to stamp the big cardboard check with the stamp. I faked inked it one last time, making it look good. I brought the stamp up. (It was so large it had two big handles at either side.) I walked over to the easel, raised the stamp shoulder high, cameras were shooting video and others were flashing, and I pressed the stamp onto the check, waited for a second or two, pulled it away, and left letter parts everywhere. It was horrible. There were just parts of letters where the word "solvent" should have been. I thought the press agent was going to shit.

For a second, no one said anything. I mumbled something about getting more ink when someone blurted out: It hasn't been used in so long, the stamp's dried up! Everyone roared. The media laughed. The governor laughed. The press agent laughed. I laughed a great relief. Everyone laughed. Later on, after everything was over, the press agent blamed me for the mishap, saying I didn't ink the stamp enough. He was right but couldn't prove it. I quit shortly thereafter. It was an unpaid internship anyway. I didn't learn shit and I didn't care.

I have stories from every job I had, like they happened yesterday. I thought maybe I'd be an electrician, as I said. Just me and my wires. I have a problem working with and taking orders from people.

Most people to me are zombies. All the same. They chase their tails like cats. They work like fools and purchase and possess things that make them have to work like fools. Round and round like cats chasing their tails they go and go, caught up in the frenzy, the chase, the challenge. Problem is a lazy bastard like me gets it from these kinds of folks. When they're in authority and above you, they take all their misery out on guys like me who could give a bean about working like a fool and buying and owing.

Keep it simple. This was the lesson I learned from Henry David Thoreau. Simplicity. Modern Thoreaus are few and far between. I like them when I find them. Thoreaus wouldn't make good company men. Or owners. Thoreau wouldn't give a hoot about next quarter's profits. Or last year's gains. And I don't either. Thoreau is a hero of mine. He never toed the line.

I walked into the electrician's union. Bullet-proof glass divided the paid staff from guys like me looking for work. I approached the window and halfheartedly explained my scenario to a woman behind the counter. She was a stiff looking gal, let me say. Thin and flat-chested. Anemic. Milk-white face with green teeth. The first time she smiled, I nearly jumped. She knew I was revolted by her teeth. She saw it in the way my eyes popped. I felt bad because she was nice enough, but looked really sickly. She was a smoker because next to her was a pack of cigarettes with a little pink lighter.

I got some official papers and went downstairs to fill them out. Some official-looking guy explained to me the long step-by-step process to becoming a journeyman electrician. I was at the very bottom of the ladder, so to speak. I sat there for a while staring at all these forms. Off in the comer were some men dressed in gray uniforms, smoking and talking shop. I looked back at all those forms. I grew more and more confused and anxious with the information the forms precisely sought. After a while I stood up, grabbed all the paperwork and headed for the door. At the door was a garbage can where I pitched the papers. Forget it, I thought. I won't be an electrician.

I got back into my truck and drove further downtown. The city was deserted. It was the middle of a work week and no one was around. I drove to my favorite bar that was shaped like a shoe box and slid in between two big office towers.

I ordered a beer and let my eyes adjust to the dark. I drank my flat beer. I told the creaky owner all the time about the flatness of the beer and he always mumbled that it was fine. "Just drink," he'd say. "I just tapped the keg." Sometimes if I complained enough, he'd pour one on the house.

I traveled there because there's no need to converse with anyone if you didn't want to. And I didn't want to.

I had three beers, left some pocket change and took off without saying boo. I walked outside and my eyes stung from the bright sun. Immediately I was panhandled.

Being the kind of sucker I was, I gave the guy two dollars. That was a mistake because be decided to talk to me.

"Haven't I seen you somewhere," he asked.

"Don't know," I said, making a little awning over my eyes with my band. He was stocky and had a sour reek like a wet dog.

"I seen you somewhere before," he said.


"Wait I know, Bobby T," he said, reaching out to grab my hand in the cool brotherly way.

"Man, I'm certain we've never met."

He asked me if I was sure.

"Listen, I really have to get out of here," I said, trying to pull the conversational cord on this pain in the ass.

"Which way are you headed?" he asked, pointing north.

I started to walk toward my truck, which was parked at a meter. He followed along, the stinky fat man with blue work pants and pockets loaded down with something.

"Listen, you need some batteries?" he asked, digging into his left pocket and producing a handful of little nine volts.

As a matter of fact I did. My guitar tuner needed a new nine volt battery and so I reached out my hand to pluck one from his flattened palm. He snapped his fist shut like that plant called the Venus fly trap, sucking the batteries into his big mitt.

I remember learning about that plant from a science class in junior high. We always fed that thing flies. One time I entered into the classroom, ran up to the aquarium and to my astonishment the plant was in the middle of swallowing a No. 2 pencil. It was later when I learned that the same guy who kneed me in the dick, rammed the pencil down the plant's throat. Someone ratted on the bloodhound and he was suspended. I didn't feel sorry for the dude.

"How much?" I asked incredulously. I just gave this guy two bucks, I thought.

"These are brand new batteries. Never been used."

I grew angry. Those batteries didn't cost him shit, I thought.

"Hey take it easy. I'll tell you what. Fifty cent for two. Can't beat it. You got fifty cent?"

I glanced at a digital bank sign that flashed the temperature and then the time. It was 88 degrees and 2:19 p.m. I said it was time for me to go.

Later, I was at my favorite donut shop owned by a foul-mouthed, affectionate Greek from the old country. His donuts always gave me heartburn but I wasn't there for donuts. I was there for a drink. The baker poured me a three-fingered shot of whiskey and I floated a few ice cubes in the silky liquid. I told him the rest of the story of what happened to the battery salesman. The baker said I was nuts to let him into my truck and drive him to a bad-looking motel in a bad part of town.

When the guy had gotten out of my truck — he'd left a sour reek behind — he'd told me to wait. As he walked up the steps, I tooted my horn and drove away, not following his directions, like The Farmer and The Donkey.

I sipped on the glass of whiskey as the baker shook his head and looked at the batteries standing on the counter. In his broken English he said, "Why you a jackass sometimes?"

Take me back to the Summer Fiction index. Patrick Dostine lives in Royal Oak. E-mail comments to [email protected]

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