We demanded, we begged, we guilt-tripped our parents for money. We had reached the age where we cared about our image. We no longer accepted garage sale clothes or Kmart blue-light sale items. We wanted the hip-hugging, sailor-pant flap Chemin de Fer jeans, we wanted the upside-down-U-stitch-on-the-butt Dittos, we wanted the iconic Ralph Lauren polo, and we wanted the clunky Connie Clogs. We wanted the clothes our American middle school classmates strutted around in.
When I was finally allowed to leave home on my own, my sister accompanied me on the train from Moscow. For the first leg, anyway. In the morning, she would get off and I would go on to Croatia, alone. We knew the instructions well. No sooner were we inside the sleeper cabin than my sister set to blocking the air vent with clothes and duct tape. It was 1998, and, along with the first popular elections and counterfeit jeans, the Russian Wild Nineties had brought rumors of enterprising thieves who pumped sleeping gas through trains’ ventilation systems, and then went through the cars relieving unconscious passengers of their valuables. Local friends had cautioned us to keep our passports on our persons at all times. But at sixteen, I was short, shy, self-conscious, and prone to vivid imaginations. The prospect of strangers running their hands over my body—unconscious or not—seemed far worse than that of losing my passport, so I left mine in my bag on the seat as a decoy.
In 1976, when I was eight years old, my Korean American father, a produce wholesaler and former farmworker, decided to become a full-time farmer. My Japanese American mother, descended from a long line of farmers and farmworkers, wanted it too. They had spent their childhoods dreaming of a home on the land, so we moved from Los Angeles to a tenant farm thirty-five miles away.
I live on a wooded road posted with NO TRESPASSING PROPERTY OF GEORGE FUDGE signs. In addition to being a large landowner, George Fudge rents out dumpsters, and is rumored to be an ex-con and confirmed to be a minister. When the season is right, he plows snow. He’s plowed my driveway more than once for free. I am surrounded by good intentions. On the wall of the post office there is a note that says, I am an honest girl, written by a customer who took a card costing $2.99 and left $3. The town maintains a free rack of clothing outside the dollar store, kids’ jumpers and XL T-shirts fluttering brightly.
I work on a small vegetable farm carved out of hayfields owned by the local high school and woods owned by the local commune. The other young farmers and I grow food for a hundred families that come each week to get shares of vegetables, which begin in spring as ephemeral greens and end in winter as sacks of beets and potatoes.
Home from work with a heavy trash bag of compost for my pigs, I find the escaped animals locked in the chicken coop. They got out in the unwatchful summer afternoon, their snouts bending up the bottom of the fence to roam undeterred past illegible PRIVATE PROPERTY signs. They were escaping their squalid pen out of pure misery, I think. I had been watching them get shocked trying to push through, seeming genuinely angry, for the past few days, putting off moving the fence out of laziness or a desire to escape the drudgery of what I’d taken on.
Before I learned about his utopian philosophy of expat writing or his scrappy resistance to publishing-market forces, I knew David Applefield as the marketer of the HAPPY CAP—the world’s first mess-free way to cover a toothpaste tube. This was, of course, completely by chance.
I was thumbing through his papers in the Amherst College archives as The Common’s inaugural holder of the David Applefield ’78 Fellowship, an Amherst College student internship endowed in Applefield’s honor by his friends and family. Tucked among sheets of poetry, reviews of Applefield’s two novels, and other literary artifacts, I was surprised to find a series of letters typed on the official stationery of “A.R.A. Industries.”
Cowboys aren’t remnants of the Wild West. Today they herd cattle across state lines, national borders, and now even oceans. From the feedlot to the slaughterhouse and from pasture to greener pasture, a cowboy’s travels feed the food industry machine.
Your modern cowboy sits on eighteen wheels with six hundred horsepower and saddles up truck stop to truck stop. They trot along the asphalt and follow the commands of reds, greens, and yellows.