I’m too old now to make it / So I spend all my time / Telling kids not to make mistakes I made / If I’d known what I know now / And conjured up a plan / I’d be made in a different kind of shade.
On the way back home, Sam was just a bit concerned about the pickup being overloaded, so he exited the interstate and drove up through the small towns so as to avoid the weigh station. He was almost surely okay – all he bought was fifty watermelons, and they always made up most of the weight – but his profit margin couldn’t afford a fine. U.S. Highway 76 had been his daddy’s old getaway road, oh, forty years earlier. It still worked at least once.
Sam felt like he’d said his piece to Justin. The ice was broken. He’d taught the young man crucial lessons in the game of life, such as how to “pack” melons – sideways row, then forward row, stack the next one in the little “groove” where the two base lines met – and how bananas needed to be green enough to last but not so green that they’d never be tasty. He wondered if such lessons were applicable in any way to growing weed and if Justin had any interest in a garden of his very own.
But Sam didn’t want to know. He just wanted to wonder.
Now Sam was back to his normal, thoughtful self, gazing at the signs in beautiful downtown Prosperity and wondering if there was still such a thing as C-W-S Guano. Justin was the one wanting to talk, or he was the one breaking the silence, anyway.
“Why are you doing this?” he asked, a paragon of subtlety.
“Driving through the country? I told you, I was a little worried about being overweight.”
“No, I mean, why are you selling produce?”
“Ah, it just keeps me occupied, I reckon,” Sam said. “Brings a little money in, while I try to figure out some other way to make a living.”
“How long since they laid you off?”
“Almost a year. Time flies.”
“But, you’re smart,” Justin said. “You’re … educated. This shit is so beneath you, Sam. I mean, I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but, damn.”
“Fear not, Justin. You’re just getting started. You’ve got three decades before you have to face the Great American Dream.
“Ah, kid, let me tell you something. What a man does is shaped by one consideration, from when he’s younger than you till when he’s older than me.”
Sam let it hang, as if this were common knowledge.
“What? What is it?” Justin asked finally.
He laughed. “Why, it’s sex, and female companionship, and having somebody to snuggle and cuddle when things go ‘bump’ in the night.”
“You sell watermelons for pussy? That’s fucked up.”
“Literally,” Sam said. “A man’s gotta circulate, my boy.”
“That’s a good comeback there, Justin. Your granddaddy was right when he said you were smart as a whip. Just don’t be too smart. At your age, you chase cute little cheerleaders. At mine, you flirt with single moms because they think you might make an excellent dad for little Timmy, and try to have your fun without getting trapped. I expect I don’t have near as many prospects as you, but I’m likely better at playing it for kicks.
“Look, I told you I’ve been there, right where you are, a long time ago. What I didn’t know then but do know now is sex is behind everything. Everything. A man wants a woman, I mean, I reckon, unless he wants a man. I can’t tell you, just like I can’t tell you, God knows, how a woman’s mind operates ‘cause I ain’t never had one. When I was your age, I played football, and I thought it was because I loved it and my daddy wanted me to, but the real reason was that cheerleaders were beautiful and they liked football players. That’ll get you in trouble, you don’t watch it. If you think a gal’s hot stuff, and she smokes, you gonna smoke. She drinks. You gon’ drink. You think you gonna get her in bed by getting’ her drunk, getting’ her high, getting’ her … frisky, you gonna do it.
“Better watch it, Justin. That gal’ll mess up your whole life. You find one you want to live the rest of your life with, either she’s gon’ change, and when you’re young, you won’t like that, or you gonna have to find somebody based on more than whether or not she’ll let you inside of her.”
That seemed to satisfy Justin’s inquisitiveness. He pulled out his iPod and his headphones, and Sam felt like he’d done well to hold the boy’s attention for such a long time. Sam dropped by the house on the way in so that Justin could pick up his car.
As he drove away, Sam said, “Stop by the stand sometime tomorrow, kid. There may be a pop quiz.”
Driving back to the stand, Sam wondered if they still called them pop quizzes.