by Catherine Bennett of Heuvelton, NY
It all started with a sign.
“We Have Worms”
It’s not complicated to make — I tore the cardboard box, handed it to Andy, and he wrote on it with a black magic marker and hung it in the store window. Everyone knows what it means, it means that if you’re not gonna go diggin’ for the earthworms yourself, you come in and and buy bait from him. It’s a seasonal sign; we scrap it every Autumn. No biggie.
But then… Davey’s cousin come up, and he — well, we all know Davey’s a lot smarter than he looks — or acts — I just didn’t expect Hank to be quite so… stupid. The way Davey tells it, he was driving Hank to his place, and Hank took one look at Andy’s sign and speed dialed a parasitologist, convinced we all had freakin’ tapeworms. Davey had to spend a half hour convincing him the water was safe.
The problem was, once Hank managed to grasp this concept, he went nuts. He started calling every friend he had in the city, urging them to come on out here. “You’ve gotta see this,” he says, “these people have worms.” And they show up, carrying USA Aid-style briefcases, and the cows can’t stop rolling their eyes because they’ve never seen anything less practical on two legs. I mean, they step out of their huge freakin’ cars, okay? Land in a pile o’ horse crap, and can’t figure out why the pigs are eating dead chickens. And I ask them, do you eat yours live?
So they have to see Andy’s place, and he thought it was the craziest thing, said that he was never sure if they were gonna buy some’in’t or just swab for the E.coli. But he did some business. It just felt like we were the tourist attraction and they were snatching at the souvenirs.
And so to pretty much everybody’s surprise – including, I think Hank’s – they stayed. Oh, they didn’t buy a house. But a few of ‘em found an apartment, raved about how cheap it was, called their investors and said they found a new market.
Before long, the tourists started going from asking the difference between a chicken and a turkey to yes, testing the water. They made calculations; they surveyed and analyzed and estimated. They started whipping out their phones at our well pump and telling me about the fifty bucks I could spend on a solar panel that’d take just fifteen minutes to install! No more hand pumping! I asked them if they’d ever actually set up a solar pump and while they hadn’t, they were quick to assure me that a short Youtube video’d cover it all. I gently reminded them that we didn’t have Youtube at the house, that fifty bucks was more than we make in a month, and that they were blocking the sun. They suggested we apply for a loan.
Once they figured out which end of a hammer you use, it got worse. “Wouldn’t it be easier if you mowed the field in May? Or September? It’d be cooler out, right? Less work?” “Hey, if you just set up this blog, you’d have followers in NYC who would want to buy your produce! And you could get a better deal! Sell to restaurants! Have you ever tried that?” Mmmmhmmm. There is no hay in May, honey. Or September. And sure, as soon as I’ve finished butchering those thirty birds and helping those two sows pig, I’ll start a blog about it. And the last time our neighbors tried selling anything to a city, they drove eight hours to have the sous chef reject their best radishes. Go ahead. Try it. I’d pay to see it happen. It’s not like I’m cynical, I swear, and if you can come up with a better way, I will take it. You just haven’t found one yet.
But they wouldn’t stop. And they begin to feel unmovable. Fixed. Like they’d dug their way into our skins and latched their tiny little jaws… It was ridiculous, Kate at the diner had to ask them to stop taking up two booths every night. Hank had left his cousin’s house and was living with his friends; I asked Davey what he thought. “They’re drivin’ me nuts,” he says, “keep telling me how big and beautiful this place could me. And I’d tell ‘em how beautiful it already is, but they’re… they don’t listen, they get a kick out of this place. It’s just one big feast for them. And I only have so much energy. I wish they’d leave, but it’s like they’re determined to ‘fix us’ with their big cars and their pinkie rings and their smartphones. They spend more money on clothes than I make in a month, in a year sometimes.”
And that was just it. After they stopped ogling the tomato plants and running away from th’ bees, all Hank’s friends wanted to do was teach us how behind we were. Technology would save us all! Food rots, so it has no value! And if they were exhausting Davey, it was no wonder most of us were feeling leached. They were in Andy’s store two, three times a day; they wanted an electronic welcome sign for the fire department, the town border, the school. They had to ask for directions to the church, but they showed up and preached the glories of electronic cars — six people walked out after explaining to them that growing your own peppers and carrots was better for the planet than such stuff.
City slickers don’t like t’see death, and I don’t expect we’ll see much of them past lambing season — we’ll lose a few babies, we always do, and most unaccustomed folks can’t comprehend it. We’ll explain the circle of life, and they’ll pack up after learning that placenta is edible and good for the soul. They’ll get confused when we mention stolen land or that world hunger is a myth. They’ll figure out that we’re not a new market, we’re just trying to survive the best way we know how. They’ll stop calling their investors, stop trying to put my house up on AirBnB, perhaps stop seeing us as a tourist attraction, but I don’t think they’ll ever see us as people.
I guess I just keep laughing, because — what drug the fancy tourists here was a belief in our dying guts. We had “tapeworms,” and they were here to save us. We were fine, doing quite well this year, as a matter of fact, whereas they – they’ve become the very thing they fear. At least eventually, a tapeworm will become someone else’s food, a hookworm eats histamines. Nothing will break down the electronic bulletin boards they wanted to replace our wooden ones – an unknown object, the environment can’t cope. And Hank and his friends were so busy fiddling with such crap that it never occurred to them to look at themselves. Worms, they are. Each and every single one of them. We don’t want them here, stripping the good out of our daily activities, just as one can resent parasites, taking meds to keep them at bay. The difference is that the tapeworms I had when I was two loved a healthy environment. These guys just want to kill it.