By Joshua Ryan
So OK, this is Lucky, and I get to talk!
Butch says that’s a dog’s name, and maybe he’s right! But I’m glad Mr. Hamilton chose it, because it’s the right name for me. If anybody’s lucky, I am. Just look at my boyfriend Butch! You think I’m not lucky?
Anyway, I’ve been here at Hamilton Farms for two years now, so this is a big fast forward, LOL! But it’s a good time to check into the story, for reasons I’m gonna explain. So yeah. But I wanta go back to the start. The start for me, anyhow.
It all started — me being lucky, I mean! — when I was in my senior year in high school. When you turn 18, I guess you start lookin around, tryin to figure out what you wanta do. I know what my dad wanted me to do. (I guess I should tell you, my mother’s dead. I can’t remember her much, actually. Too bad — maybe she was nice!) I was the one that was going to college. My brother Luke, he was the one that was gonna take over the business. I remember my dad sitting me down in private and telling me, “You know, Luke understands how to do this. He’s already doing it. So … I’m giving it to him. No hard feelings?”
“Course not, Dad. I didn’t want it anyway.”
I guess he didn’t like to hear that. But it was true.
So I was supposed to go to college. Which made sense. I studied, and I was good in school. But what was I gonna be? I didn’t want to work in some office. And I didn’t want to “learn a trade,” like my brother’s friends. They were all carpenters or electricians or plumbers or something, and they all had cars and condos and beer guts. Pretty hot, huh? I don’t think so! The ones that I got hot about were the workies. No beer guts there!
So this is how it happened. I was used to workies, cuz my dad leased — well, owned! — three of them. He used them in his cleaning business. If you were like, selling your house, or renting it or whatever, my dad or my brother would take the workies out in the cage in the back of the panel truck and they’d clean the place up, fix the wallboard, that kind of thing. I guess my dad took pretty good care of them. He wanted them to “look good for the public,” so he didn’t keep all their hair off, the way they do at the Farms. Their hair was just short, and one of them cut the others’ hair every couple weeks. My dad ran the business out of a thing that used to be a garage. There was an office and a place for customers and lots of space for tools and supplies, and the workies slept in a room in the back and cooked in there and so forth. They got the usual workie rations, but from time to time Dad or Luke would stop on the way from the job and take out some food from Mickie D’s or whatever. They liked that. Luke locked them in at night.
When I was younger I didn’t pay any attention, but once my hormones kicked in I started dropping in on the shop on my way home from school. Or track, or whatever. I was on the track team, cuz I was light but I had a lot of energy. So anyway, if the workies were there and my dad was busy, or especially my brother, who didn’t like me hangin with workies AT ALL, I’d sit down and “wait for my dad,” and the workies would talk to me. I don’t think they liked me; they just put up with me. It was something to do. They were all young guys, and a lotta the time they were just talkin about sports or whatever, but I liked to watch them because they looked all trim and neat and handsome in their workie clothes, and their boots were really awesome — heavy and thick, and the kind I heard somebody at school call “shitkicker boots.” Everybody I knew just wore sneaks and they thought they were special if they had the latest ones. But those workie boots — fuck! Can’t describe it!
So they were sittin around on some old busted chairs, or maybe they were making a leisurely try at stacking the cleaning equipment in the right place, and I’d be sort of sitting on the edge of a chair, because I was scared to act like I was there because of anything except waiting for my dad, or I’d be leaning against the filing cabinet, pretending that Dad wanted me to find something in there and I was just relaxing for a minute before I went to work. I liked running this thing through my head that if somebody wandered in, he’d think I was one of these big bad workies too. Then when I got home I ran the idea of me being one of them through my head again, and you know what happened when I did! It wasn’t like I got off on the idea of havin sex with any of them. What got me off was the idea of BEING one of them. Is that crazy? I don’t think so.
One thing was, these workies were all pretty much alike, which I could get into, because at school you always had to be better than everybody, or at least different, have a different style — which had to be one of the cool styles, of course, so that wasn’t so different after all! But workies weren’t like that. They were all the same. Which didn’t seem to bother them. If it did, I couldn’t see it. Also it never seemed to bother them being ordered around and put in the cage and locked up every night. If it did, they never talked about that, either. They were so tough, it made no difference. They never explained that to me, but that’s what it looked like! Somehow I knew that two of them were workies because they got sent to prison and then put into the program, and one of them volunteered. But they were basically just the same, and I never asked any questions about how they got there.
After a while, what I heard on my visits was all the same too, so I gradually stopped going, and later my dad sold their contracts to somebody else, which was the same as selling the workies themselves. He said he was tired of bossing them and having to tell them every little thing, and besides most people didn’t want to see workies goin out at night, no matter how well they were supervised, and he was starting to shift from cleaning houses to cleaning offices, and that had to be at night. So he got rid of the workies and basically hired guys from the community college, and they weren’t interesting because they were like all the dumb boring kids in my high school.
But one thing I really remember about our workies — they taught me about stealing! I know they just told me stuff because they were bored and they thought they’d play around with the boss’s kid, who they knew wouldn’t rat on them or snitch on them or the other words they used when they told me they KNEW I’d never do that. Which made me all proud and happy cuz it made me that much closer to being them. Even though they were just threatening me, LOL!
So how it happened, a customer showed up one day and parked outside and came into the place, and my dad was on the phone in his office and I was the one who had to waste time with the customer and keep him around, and the workies were pretending to straighten out the supplies or something and one of them, which was named Willy, was out front sweeping the sidewalk. Then my dad opened his door and took the customer into the office, and the sweeper came in and went to the back of the place. Now it was just the workies and me back there, and I looked at the sweeper dude, Willy, and he had a candy bar stickin out of his pants pocket, which we never allowed workies to have. Candy bars, I mean. Bad for their teeth. So he saw that I saw, and he talked to me about not bein a snitch and so forth, and I smiled and was happy, because now I was on the inside of something. But I asked how he got it, and he told me about how everybody’s car has stuff sittin around in it that they don’t even remember, at least till they get home and notice it ain’t there no more, and if you swipe stuff like that they’ll never figure how it could’ve gone missing when all they did was just park the car with the windows rolled up. He kept sort of pointing in the direction of the front door and the customer’s car that was parked outside of it.
I was listening to Willy and enjoying his stories about how every workie steals and how to steal this and how to steal that, and after a while he said, “Where’s your cell phone, kid?” I checked in my pants and all around me and I didn’t find it, and of course I was really upset, the way you are when that happens to you, and I was sweating because I knew what my dad and my brother would say about how “Noah, you’re always so absent-minded, it’s like you’re living in another world.” Which always made me think, “I wish! I wish I lived in a world where I didn’t have to worry about every little thing like that!” I mean, I wasn’t the kind of kid that was always on his cell, talking to his friends. Not enough friends! But anyway, I was sweatin. “Here it is, kid,” the workie said, pulling it out of the back pocket of his pants and handing it to me. “That phone would get me a gallon of whiskey if I sold it out in the alley.”
So fuck! That was so great! How did he do it? “Well it could be,” he said, “that your dad is right when he’s always tellin you that you forget stuff and your head is always someplace else, so you put the phone down someplace around here and naturally I scooped it up. OR it could be that while I was lookin outside and you were lookin outside at what I was lookin at, friend Donk back there” — Donk was another one of the workies — “just sorta slid it outta that pocket in your big baggie jeans, and then when he came around behind me, he just sorta slid it into my pocket, cuz he knew right away what needed to happen. Or maybe some other things.”
“Wow!” I said. Then I thought, grow up, Noah! and I changed it to “Fuck! Fuck I wish I could do that stuff!”
So he said, “Don’t worry. When you get to be a workie, it’ll come pretty easy to you.” Then the rest of them laughed and another one, which was a sort of a thin workie named Stevie — who I always thought was a college student or something, I mean before he was a workie, because he had a real good vocabulary, better than mine, lol! — but anyway, he said, “Just don’t volunteer!” Which was funny because everybody knew that he was a workie that had volunteered. So they all laughed harder, and I laughed too, but that was just because I had to or they would’ve thought I was weird. On the inside I was, like, totally filling up with pride, and all the hormones were jumping into my blood at once! “When you get to be a workie!” That’s what he said!
So I got away as soon as I could because I had to get back to my bedroom. And that was the first time I thought, hey, this is something I could actually do! I’m not crazy, so I knew they were also laughing at me, like, “when you get to be a workie, which is never.” But they were warning me NOT to do it, which was the important thing, because it meant that I could!
So that was a big event, and it kept being big even after the workies went away. Maybe it’s why I didn’t miss them. They were bores, actually, after you got used to them. They talked about sports and women all the time and they lived in the back of the shop and kept house like old maids. Not their fault, but that’s not the way I wanted to picture how workies were — especially because now I’d been told that I was gonna be one! Which was like telling a little poodle that he’s gonna end up as a big bull mastiff! We read about those mastiffs in school. SO cool!
I just wished that they’d talked more about crimes. Although Willy did give me some ideas about how to avoid the cams when you’re shoplifting. Very cool, but I was scared to do it. I guess I didn’t really want to do anything that bad. But I did have one big success. I was walking back from my dad’s store and I took a shortcut through the alley, and there was a truck pulled up behind one of the houses. There were a couple of guys puttin in some new AC stuff, and I could see in the back of the truck, one of them had left his jeans jacket. It was sort of tucked away, so maybe nobody would notice it. But I did. So I went back over the stuff that Willy told me about stealing things out in the open — like, turn your back on the shit until you’re ready to snatch it, act casual, and in this case just lean your back against the truck for a minute, till you can tell if there’s any eyes on you, then snatch it fast and walk away natural, like it’s yours and you just found it again. If anybody tries to finger you, get indignant and say, “Whadda you mean? This is MY shit!” or “You been stealin my shit? Well I got it back, dude!” So this time I really wanted to do it, cuz it was a guy’s jacket and that guy was hot! And I was thinking, what’s the worst thing that can happen? I’ll have to become a workie! So naturally that made up my mind, and two minutes later, I was strolling off down the alley with my new jacket. Then turning the corner and walking real fast for home! I stashed it under my bed, but late at night I took it out and I put it on and slept in it — after I gave it an appropriate welcome, of course! And I wore it to school the next day, which was totally cool, cuz nice kids like me don’t wear beat up old jeans jackets, and one of my friends even said, “Dude, you crimin’ today?” Which was something for the president of the Chess Club to say! “Just thinkin about it,” I said. “Dude.”
So how cool was that! All the other nice kids hated me after that. For a week or so, LOL! But it really honed me in on the workie thing, and the crime thing. It’s this other world that nice people don’t know shit about. So you can go there! They don’t expect it. But if they find out about you — I mean, if you look like you’re a workie or a thug or a thief, or a pre-workie or a pre-thug or whatever, which are, like, overlapping categories, the way they taught us in Math, with the Venn diagrams and so on — if they find that out, they’ll try to shame you. But that just means you’ve got that world of your own and even they can see that you do.
So OK. Long digression. Sorry!
I always wondered what other workies were like, besides those three that my dad owned. Or the one I saw washing dishes at Taco Palace. Or the ones that always showed up in the van when somebody was moving furniture into their new place. I liked the way workies were big and strong, but I didn’t like the idea of dudes like that having to live together in a little room and keep house like old maids, like I said. But maybe it wasn’t most of them. Maybe it was workies like my father had, but not the big owners.
It wasn’t easy to get information on how workies lived, or much of anything about them, actually, even on the net. The state wasn’t handing a lot of it out, except for those recruiting ads! Which were hot! I made a collection of those! Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of a porn collection! But actually — too bad! — nobody seemed to be that interested in workies. There weren’t many people to talk to. Some of the rich kids at school had workies around, but it was like having plumbing around or something. You heard about it when something went wrong, but then it got fixed, and — how much do you really know about your plumbing?
So time went on, and I developed other … what do they call them? Erotic interests! You know how it is when you’ve finished your homework and you’re still awake and you’ve got a laptop! So yeah, it wasn’t just workies. And I would have had even more interests if any of the dudes at school had been interested in me, but 95 percent of them were totally straight and the rest of them didn’t seem to want anybody remotely like moi. I was always that nice Noah guy, DULL! I didn’t have purple hair and I didn’t go to Pride parades or sneak into bars. Which I would’ve, but …. I really looked too young. Really. So I had all my fantasies about astronauts and so on — just kiddin! — but then something happened.
It was on a trip with a kid named Bobby. Bobby was like everybody else in high school. They all liked me. He liked me. Not THAT way! But OK. They liked me, only … not too much! His parents had a house at the lake and one weekend he invited me to go out there with him. I loved to swim, so great, and Bobby had a car. And that day, I was really lucky, because Bobby took the route past Hamilton Farms. The road went past the fields, and the workies were all out! It seemed like there were miles and miles of them, all in coffles, and you could actually see the chains! All right, you could see them if you noticed the uniforms and got excited and told Bobby to go slow, so you could get a good look. Without telling him why, of course! So he did, because who in fuck would imagine that anybody would want to look at a workie for anything but … informational purposes.
Bobby had seen them all before, so he didn’t need to look. He just kept talking about how “yeah, I see em out here almost every time we go to the lake. Pretty good view today. Mr. Hamilton, he’s got hundreds of em. A hundred, anyhow. You’d think, you know, he’d be pretty worried about security, with all those workies around, despite the fences. But you can see, he’s got em chained up pretty good. You know what they call one a these gangs, where they’re all chained up together?”
“No, I don’t. What is it?”
“They call it a COUGH-ull. Funny name, huh?”
“Definitely.” So that’s how I learned the word. Although later I had to look up how to spell it. Which wasn’t that easy.
“And look at those clothes! Dude! How’d you like to be a workie?”
He laughed, and so did I. I was looking forward to a great weekend at the lake, and one hell of a wank when I went back home.
So that got me REAL interested again. To me, being a workie, like my dad’s workies, which he’d sold off by that time … That was nothing compared to being one of the workies on Hamilton Farms. I mean, here were these big muscly guys in their HOT workie suits … and they were all chained up! Nobody chains you down unless they’re scared that you’re bad enough to break free, even with that collar on your neck! I couldn’t see the collars, but I knew they were there, cuz that’s the law, and even my dad’s workies had collars. And then, in a coffle you’re actually ATTACHED to all these other horned out dudes. They can’t get away from you — LOL!
The dudes in the white and blues suits … If you’re one of them, you ain’t goin noplace — because you’re there already! You’re there, and you’re gonna stay there. You’re secure. You don’t have to pass an exam, and then take another exam, so you can get into another school, which has even more exams, so maybe you can apply for a job, along with a hundred other guys, and probly fill out more forms and take more exams … When you’re in a coffle, you’ve got a job! Ain’t no exams! You can’t fail!
Getting back to me — I was definitely on the slippery slope. Cuz now senior year was starting, and I was automatically doing all those college apps, and I knew I’d get into one of them, I mean a college, and probly get a scholarship, because my grades were so good and my dad’s business was gettin sorta sketchy, because of my brother, but that’s another story and it’s not very interesting … So I was definitely headed for college and all the rest of it. But now I was getting a clearer picture of the alternative!
“Alternative” is supposed to be a good word — like “the other way,” “the road not taken,” all that stuff. So my alternative was, I’d be a workie! Which I’d been told I would be, right? It was my destiny! You can’t argue with destiny! You can try, but destiny will win. That was my alternative. So I needed to find out more.
Of course, I’d been trying to learn stuff about Hamilton Farms, because it had all those coffles. But it wasn’t easy. You know those things they have, where bad kids — I mean “at risk kids,” whatever, the kind that get in trouble — are taken out to some prison, where they tour around and the convicts yell at them, like, “Don’t do like me! Don’t end up in here!” I wished they had one of those things for kids that might turn out to be workies. That would be GREAT! I’d get to see everything and maybe ask questions and maybe even get yelled at by the workies, the way those kids were, by the convicts. But Hamilton Farms had, like, no visibility online. Just “Gerald S. Hamilton, Proprietor,” and a couple glossy pictures of big green fields, and some information about how to buy their “agricultural products.”
But I did go past Hamilton Farms again, two or three times. Once when Bobby asked me to the lake again, and once when this other kid named Doug wanted somebody to go with him to see a play at that theater they have over at Belleville. It was called “Our Town,” and I thought it was great! It’s about the meaning of life and how you don’t know what it is if you just live your life from day to day the way everybody else does, and everything’s so normal that you can’t even see it. There’s stuff about love, too. But that’s not the point. I got Doug to start out early, so we could pick up something to eat before the play. That way, I could see the workies again, while it was still daylight. And there was some other trip … I forget when. But on all these trips, all I got to see was just little white bugs, off in the distance. On one of them, I couldn’t even see the bugs, just the big fences they use to pen them in.
So I was about to give up, and then it came to me — look for an aerial, stupid! It was about midnight, and I was half asleep, but no more, cuz I jumped online and pulled up an aerial map, and there it was, Hamilton Farms. At first it didn’t tell me much, because it didn’t have any eye-level views except just the fields that you see from the road, and the big house where this Mr. Hamilton probably lived. What you saw on the aerial was just fields, fields, fields, for like, miles. But then, whoa! There was a little road leading off of the main road and at the end of it there was a big clump of buildings, like barns and so on. What you’d expect on a farm. But over on one side, there was a bunch of buildings lined up, one after the other, long and thin. I was thinking, that’s where they put the horses or the chickens or something. But when I looked at the fences that were all over the place, I thought, those aren’t animal fences — those are man fences. My heart gave this huge thump! That’s where the workies lived! That’s where the workies were lined up right now, all sleeping together in those buildings! Hundreds of them! Well, maybe a hundred or so. Which was a lot! And some of those other buildings must be where they ate and washed and so on! With fences to keep them in and everybody else out …. It was like a whole planet, all by itself.
Hard to get to sleep again, after seeing that! But then I really started gettin lucky, because I ran into Butch — the thing that changed my life!
To be continued …