It is not important that you aren’t good looking.

You’re smart and you know how to get what you want because you know how to ask for things. Boys and men are easy, the only challenge is working them into your schedule. Didn’t you ever notice me and your father. I simply compliment him whenever I see him and we go along fine. Each in our own world. You need to keep a calendar, you’ve seen my little black book. You don’t want to rely on memory or something you have to run home to look at. What does this have to do with you? Once you find the boy. And you might as well aim ten years above your own age. Once you have found the young man you want the next step is to get him in your little black calendar. Find some insignificant school affair and invite him. If you wait for the man to be the aggressor, mercy, I don’t want to imagine what you might wind up with. You can love a horse or a dog, you can love the Republican party but don’t try to make love the basis of your marriage. That will lead to disappointment. I hope you never fall in love. No man is going to love you as much as you love him. Men are toilers, doers, men are machines. Love is just a word to them. Look at how happy Champion is when she sees me, no man will ever give you that. Not after the first year anyway. Do not soil yourself with affairs. Despite what you might think they are impossible to keep secret. The women who have affairs are generally the first ones to blurt it out. As if it were not written all over their faces. Smug satisfaction is for those who can not control their urges. Sex is a trap door for a one way trip to hell. Sexual maturity is when you take the vow of celibacy until marriage. One is better off not succumbing to physical urges. I have gone on fund raisers and seen the hospitals full of dying AIDS patients. Not only the perpetrators but onto the next generation. The children of the damned who are damned themselves. Sublimate, sublimate, that is why I have my horses and the good works I do for those less fortunate. So many love me for my dedication, how would I be able to give of myself if I was having affairs. I say affairs because when one does not satisfy no lesson is learned but the desire is still there and one simply leads to another. Those were the words used by Martha’s mother dispatching her to college. Jody brought Martha out to go fishing in the dark, to sit in front of the duck pond on campus kissing, it felt so natural for her that she was swept away. Her mother’s world of fear and warnings dissolved. What she had been told during her innocent years as a girl living in her parents’ house seemed rational and comforting even hope filled by comparison, the reality was when her mother heard about Jody the walls of the Munroe mansion might as well have been running with blood. I will not hear of it. You will break it off now. Martha’s mother was the product of a supervised selective breeding program. The qualities that were chosen for breeding were clearly followed. Likewise Martha had to marry someone with money, preferably someone from a wealthy family who stands to inherit, like her great-whenever-grandmother did, she bred with someone who owned slaves, and the great grand after her married a distiller turned bootlegger who bought land. The breeding guideline was simple for Martha‘s mother‘s generation, marry someone rich. Until Martha came home from college her mother had trusted in her good taste and intelligence, the choices for today’s women were more rational, a good earning potential, a doctor, a lawyer, an MBA, someone with real estate, royalty, someone near royalty, anyone with a lifestyle to which she would like to become accustom, a tribal leader, even a crime kingpin. Her catch was notably unsuccessful, blame it on the competition, holding onto good breeding stock in a democratic country with an inflexible morality is a challenge. Few of the children are able to achieve the goal set out by the parents and many of those who did found themselves not happy in the breeding relationship.

Martha’s mother could trace her line back eleven generations to England and the wrong side of the American Revolution and still later the losing side of the Civil War in Virginia. Along the way were the family discards who far outnumbered those in the conservancy. A trend that kept wealth in fewer and fewer pockets. Just as well for those who had to carry the burden of money. At first she was unsentimental telling Martha, “If you marry that farmer you are dead to me.” This was how she had seen these situations handled and so she was thankful that it was done over the phone, she did not know if she could restrain herself to merely declaring her daughter dead in person. For a woman there is only one means of achievement, the marriage of her daughter. How could she scratch her daughters name from the ledger books, she was the only child of the marriage. Martha’s father who enjoyed meeting the customer did not see it that way. Although Martha’s mother had her own means she followed instructions and married up to a higher income bracket, so that any break in the marriage would mark a financial up turn for her. It was win-win, the marital asset could be exchanged for cash and real estate. Martha’s father truly loved Martha and he envied the man who married his little girl who grew up full of energy, intelligence, compassion and still so many questions, all qualities his daughter had which the mother lacked. He was young when he met his future wife, he confused her peevishness for passion. With the birth of a grandchild Martha’s father would not let the family stay estranged. “If you want to discipline your child for what he did in school tell him he is out of the will.” Martha’s mother’s parenting advice after a phone call from the school had interrupted their phone conversation. Mother called making arrangements for their trip out this summer. Martha looked back at college and the first years of her marriage with Jody, the years when she did not speak to her mother, and now thought that was the best reward for marrying a farmer. She felt selfish thinking that way because her father and husband were like friends. Fathering and being a grandfather was also something special for the men. With the nanny, maids, tutors of her youth, Martha got the definite feeling that being a parent was nothing her mother cared to do. Men are more easily satisfied. Her parents now visited several times a year and bought a large house on a vacation lake. Whenever her mother visited she first looked around at the four walls of the room in the small house and reminded Martha how she had failed to achieve the lasting independence she had originally desired when she enrolled in a veterinary program. This marriage cost you dearly, her mother insisted when they were alone, what ever happened to that youthful dream job of being a New York writer and photographer? It was low grades in chemistry that got her out of the vet program and New York was a passing fancy. For the sake of family unity Martha bit her tongue. She liked the people she met in Iowa because they did not flirt with many of the accepted evils, Iowans did not have to be threatened to return to civilized behavior. Jody was one of them. Making love with him was a risk of creating life, not the possibility of risking their own deaths. He was easy to love and in the life they had Martha was able to shed the complications of the way she was raised. While the girls she had gone to high school with were at each other’s throats pursuing the few paying jobs for executive women, Martha was doing what was far more important, raising a child and being a mother. Even though they had taken on some debt buying into the farm Martha knew it could be easily handled having learned enough about business as a child listening to her father who brought clients to the dinner table. She was flattered and knew that she must have picked right when her husband chose to spend time with her instead of another farm project. Even among these less complicated people so many families lost track of what was important and emulated the wealthy in a never ending pursuit of money. They did not appreciate their position and instead thought it wise to emulate the wealthy who were some of

the most unhappy people. Grandpa Andy dismissed his grandson John with a special pat on the head for having a job and as usual he slid several fifty dollar bills from his wallet to the boy. The bond was weak but for less than a tip to a cabby he bought loyalty that he hoped with time would turn to love. Thus far with the crisp snap of a few bills he had purchased more fealty than some fathers did with jets, cars, condos and the investment in years of education. Only a holiday grandfather, since last time the boy’s face appeared dirty, needing and having been putting off his first shave. Andy could not help but feel the threat of a youthful male. He also felt pity for the poor farm boy with the delicate champaign colored down sprouting from his cheeks. His grandson’s other grandfather was a scruffy old fellow therefore it had to be Andy‘s job to talk to John about manly grooming evidently his father had neglected. Andy used extraordinary caution and respect, after years he still felt a melancholy superiority to everyone he met around his daughter’s chosen home. Or anyone who had to live outside of the protection of an urban dome. “Tell me about this outfit my grandson is out working for?” Was his greeting for Ed in the spirit of getting down to business with someone he knew but wanted to know better and wants to like. “Our grandson.” Ed had to maintain a slight edge of insolence so that his counterpart did not snap a few bills his way or mistake him for an employee. Typically Ed was not very trusting, he cultivated the somewhat accurate stereotype of himself as the naïve farmer but no one was going to take advantage of him. By making a false target of himself he could better calculate a true response. He learned to let down his guard for Andy, not only was he family, Andy could be a valuable catalyst for change. As an adult working with an adult child Ed wanted to encourage a change his son, Ed felt the need to deliver his son from innocence to an understand of the vulnerability of remaining on the farm and this imperiled land. “I never met a woman who is as much of a bitch as your mother-in-law.” Ed observed on a morning fifteen years earlier. He was taking a break from the socializing. His wife and the new relations drank scotch, talked horses and rode. Ed bowed out spending an hour working with Jody in the tractor barn. His wrench slipped, he drop a heavy tool and cried out. “Sh-it!” “Dad, I am twenty four years old and I have never heard you use that kind of language before.” Jody said turning pale. It was as though his son never suspected that his father lived a life. Jody said shit once in his early teens in front of his father. The look his father gave him had the effect of his mouth being sewn closed. Jody‘s father shook his head, “Well our wives are angels but we’ve got to feel sorry for him.” Ed said. From that time on he did his best to be more than an in law, at least toward Andy. By humanizing his son’s father-in-law he might equally humanize himself in his son’s eyes. In Iowa Andy let his defenses down, it was an easy place to arrive at after watching his wife struggle to impress by dropping names no one heard of and dollar figures that only impressed the locals at home of how much she over spent. His wife only built a brittle wall for the locals but Andy saw it as unnecessary they did not live with these people and did not do business here. There was something relaxing about asking questions and listening to the answers without having to filter out all the bullshit. Andy stopped short his first meal at the farm house, they clasped their hands before the meal in front of the plain food on their plates, all heads bowed before Ed spoke, “We thank you Lord for the miracle of this meal, Amen.” Everyone said, Amen.

The food on the table only vaguely resembled food that was available in the east. Food only nourished the body without specialty shoppes and take out. Home cooking, a term that implied poverty, was uninteresting and did not spark thought or conversation. “What is this?” Andy cringed at how his wife asked the question but Jean took no offense, it was the pleasure of having visitors. A meatball, its made with ground beef and pork and bread crumbs, I’ve made them for years. And spaghetti with tomato sauce.” “Yes, I recognize the pasta. It’s very flavorful served this way.” Andy was not sure which way things were going to go until she complimented the food. He could feel the tension release and shoulders dropping around the table. “After dinner we should go for a treat.” Ed announced. “Soft serve ice cream.” Jody said beating his father to the punch, he was like a little boy. He and Martha joined in a big laugh at the old man‘s expense. Ed acted hurt. “Laugh at me and your not getting any.” Was that the attraction his daughter felt for this place and these people, its simplicity and her superiority to them? The only challenge was living with the lack of opportunity. There was almost no retail to be had and the real estate market was as flat as the landscape, parcels changed hands with the generations. But when his daughter said, I’m sorry, Dad, and was talking to her father-in-law then Andy saw the truth. Sixteen year ago his daughter found a family with these people. Now, he too after sixteen years knowing the Millers, Andy felt the power of family love. It was an emotion that came to him gradually over time and with considerable difficulty. There was competition over the many other things he felt and did not feel. That burden was the way he was trained, his only value was monetary, God was real and in everything and owning things was how one got close to God. By donating back to the church one made oneself known in the necessary business circles. Money assured survival, ostentation which followed was inevitable but mostly a matter of perspective, it came as he gathered more money, it announced his diligent acquisitiveness to the world. Showering himself with earthly pleasures of the pricey and the beautiful meant he was blessed. Money meant more than security, it assured his life would be long, he knew it was possibly for men like himself to buy enough medical science to attain immortality. An endless life of pleasure, he was convinced in childhood, it would be his, leaving almost nothing with the power to sway him from his destiny. “Buy her something.” Martha’s mother suggested seeing how it bothered Andy to be failing, second if not third in the competition among men for her loyalty. Martha was in a place which Andy could not buy or steal, he could only receive the gift if he earned it over time. He took his wife’s offering with shy acceptance because it was an admission of his own need. Martha’s mother of course could not see or feel any of it. Her acceptance was only to placate her husband, she assigned his reaction to her presence to the uncommonly close quarters the summer brought them. The social pressure against sex was so strong that even married women rarely discussed it, least of all would she want to associate having relations during nights in Iowa. In recent years Martha’s mother came to Iowa only to insure her husband returned home after the visit. Being single, whether by nature, death, divorce or abandonment did not bode well in her circle. She only needed Andy to maintain one aspect of her status. She was still too youthful looking to be a dowager. At the same time she did not enjoy the role of being publicly known as an obedient and dependant wife. She found fulfillment in being a snob to everyone. The three families were gathered around the table when she announced, “Don’t expect us for Christmas. I can not stand the cold and we are making plans to

return to Madagascar.” Andy did not miss a beat, “Madagascar is a toilet.” and returned to talking about the bullfights with Ed and John. “We’ll discuss it at home.” She began a monologue as Jean on a drunken impulse rose from her place and Martha with an irrevocable look of embarrassment refused to come to her mother’s conversational aid. “We loved it there twenty years ago.” When Jean returned she tried again, “How is Ed’s health. He looks pale.” “My Ed’s a rock.” Her voice was loud and raspy, “Everyone this side of the Mississippi sea looks pale, it rained 27 days last month. You brought us this clear weather.” Martha’s mother smiled and took that as a win. Jody was worried about his father. Ed was asking Andy about wills when they drove off in Ed’s car to inspect the house on the lake. Yet it was not the inevitability of death that was bothering Jody, estate planning and money matters were Andy’s favorite conversational topics after bullfighting and football. John was not worried at that moment about his father’s health although that was an obsessive point of conversation whenever two or more of the family gather and Ed was not in the room. Ed had had two heart attacks since he turned fifty five and had gained the title Big Ed among friends and other farmers in those years as his weight soared. The impression was aided by the fact that his overalls never caught up with his true size. Jody’s worry was fostered by questions like Why isn’t he looking at me , and Why didn’t he answer me? Thoughts he had during the dinner. These were the exact same thoughts the man had forty and more years ago as a boy. He had long ago suppressed the tears but the urge to cry was still alive deep in his stomach. Now his dad and Andy were off having men’s talk leaving Jody with the women and John. He would recover, he always recovered, after he was too old to cling to his father’s leg or tag along behind. He learned to tell himself, I am a farmer also and excused himself to find things requiring his attention. “You see the problem with kids today is that they don’t have the heroes we had growing up.” Grandpa and Andy settled outside in the yard chairs. Both men’s chairs sunk into the spongy ground. Grandpa was a sturdy round and slow moving man, he still ate like when he was in his prime of vigor yet his life now was mostly sitting around the house, Andy was sleek like a long necktie, eating only what was on his doctor’s diet, exercising regularly and properly medicated for his phenotype, genotype and age. Although the same age now grandpa whose knuckles and arteries both looked like sailor knots was not likely to live until seventy while Andy the child of science was a candidate to outlive his rustic contemporary by as much as sixty vigorous and pain free years. Death would be a relief from pain and toil to the one and longevity a comfort to the well invested other. While Andy had been taught certain values, conservancy of wealth, the importance of family in business, the innate superiority of the rich, here on the farm those values were lived everyday. Andy was a success in his field because he remembered those values at the times when others trembled for their self preservation and image. Andy was not afraid to pursue his advantages aggressively, to take risks and to break new ground. Ed worked methodically in the air and sunlight at the cost of his longevity. Years ago had Ed took Andy out to hunt and kill deer, the last of the wild life, foraging his crop. Going on the hunt was more than the acceptance and affirmation which it might have been for Andy’s peers back east. When Andy was eighteen his parents weighed him down with a secret knowledge that it took a blood rite like hunting and killing of a wild and graceful animal to overcome. He was instructed in the significance of the creatures who competed with mankind for the food supply and how they must be respected. He was told that we are not alone as upright and deal making inhabitants of a planetary world, the instruction sited

vast numbers of inhabited worlds. His parents told him he was in fact Jewish. After attending the business school at Princeton Andy did not return to his parents residence under the Manhattan dome, the company in the Iowa capitol dome who hired him after graduation became the source of all his human associations. It was that secret which pushed him to form his own company just to prove he was not docile and secretive. He decided early on not to do to his child what his parents had done to him, he would let the secret die with him. Although many nights he cursed himself for not having the courage to return to the ancestral home or to have bred with someone different. “We remember the only president who was not a crook.” Andy liked talking politics. Andy acclimated easily to rural Iowa, he felt at peace with the endless horizon and the greenery in its natural habitat. These visits reinvigorated him for the work he did of maintaining the steel towers and tubes society relied on and dividing then subdividing then walling in dwelling allotments for families and individuals. It was important work which allowed him the freedom to travel and take a real vacation not just a change in the scenery beyond touch outside the glass. These were not Asian actors playing native people. He envied Ed who could stay connected to their grandson. “That’s right and we had war heroes. Remember the astronauts?” The official line was ‘Space is a waste’ but both men felt otherwise despite what the actuaries and accountants who made public policy said. Andy, whose brain cells were healthier and well oxygenated did not need to make the same conversation that was seasonally adjusted with each visit and yet he enjoyed it. While natural air had been no friend to Old Ed there was an undeniable majesty to a sky not viewed through the safety of reducing glass and an horizon not curved up at the edges but one that lay straight ahead with only a few barbs and light poles. His wife, like most east and west coasters, did not care for the openness so she stayed inside with Jean which she also did not enjoy. Grandpa was addicted to ice cream but as the evening progressed the women did not come out of the house and the men took a walk without Jody who went to bed, he had been up since four and planned the same for the next day. The conversation quickly got around to the question of their grandson John’s future. The men offered their personal frustrations and warnings while John did not want to hear any of it had seldom showed himself since turning twelve. In the house they visited with Jean which was part of the ritual punishment of criticism and complaints that made up each visit. Martha’s mother breathed through a perfumed tissue like it was a hand held gas mask and made conversational probes of Jean who never lost the horsy air of manure, sweat and fermenting grain, between sips of rank bourbon Jean replied in simple sentences but the look on her face and an unconscious gestures made it clear she was focused on the pain in her joints and muscles unaware of any tension in the room. Thus continued the quarterly farce of Martha’s mother attempting to show an interest in these people, part of her daughter’s life. Since her parents’ initial visit for baby John’s first Christmas when mother clutching her chest to breath greeted her saying, “You moved to this place to show how much you hate me but I came to show how much I love you.” Since then her mother’s stance had not changed. “Come back home. No one has to ever know about this.”

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