Brought Jeff home today. He seemed nice. Earnest, committed, excited by the possibility of a serious relationship until he saw the cows. Thirty-seven large animals pushing their big wet noses at you could be over the top when you live in an apartment that doesn’t allow pets. We walked away from the barn and Jeff admitted he didn’t like the smell (who does?). Also, he’s not into manual labor. Something I knew already from his expensive hair cut, designer cologne and perfectly manicured nails. That and the fact that he works for his father’s computer sales company.
Jeff was nice with my parents, but I admit it felt awkward. After a few minutes of polite conversation about the weather, my parents excused themselves and went to bed. The time was a little after eight. Jeff put his arm around me. I felt everything. The heat of Jeff through the sleeve of his designer shirt and I wondered where this could all go with my parents upstairs at the end of the hall. While I thought about that, I told Jeff the life history of my father George, my mother Babe, my mother’s mother, father, and sister, and what I thought of every president of the U.S. starting with Obama, with leaps back to Bush, Reagan, and Bush. When I saw him exchange a long look with our scuffed oak floor, I changed the subject and told him about the two major relationships in my life, both in college, glossing over the fruitless period before he and I had met.
Jeff gave me a smile and none of his own back story. I could see he was fidgeting, bored, and searching for excitement. How about some sushi? he said. I know a great place. Sushi and a couple of cold sakes. How does that sound? I told him not tonight. Early day tomorrow, I said, and slapped his thigh like we’re just friends because whatever look was in his eye wasn’t there anymore. Our relationship had lost its luster, tarnished with my words. How about another night, I said, hoping against hope, giving Jeff that glassy eyed adoring gaze Laura Bush used during George’s speeches. Jeff said sure, the single word lifeless. It said that a love for country music and an appreciation for snakeskin cowboy boots wasn’t enough to sustain a long-term romance. He was right. And just like that, another perfectly good metrosexual bit the dust.
Diary, I need a date. Ideally, someone who enjoys art museums and fine food like the winter menu at my favorite restaurant that offers a cote de boeuf with truffled warm artichoke souffle. I want someone who loves or could come to love great music like Mahler’s sixth symphony. But I’m willing to settle for someone willing to settle down.
Well, at least there’s Eddie. A guy who could be at Carnegie Hall with a Mahler program in his hand and still want to know the name of the band. Eddie and I went through high school together. Eddie, who never planned to do anything but farming, never exerted himself on his studies.
Last year, Eddie’s parents sold their farm to a developer, and he’s working for the local Home Depot until he figures out what he wants to do. I dropped by the paint department and started talking. I tried to make myself shut up, but I told Eddie about Jeff and how the night had gone bust because of Jeff’s aversion to cows. Eddie said almost nothing. He didn’t ask me out and I realize Eddie is far from the metrosexual I desire. He wears his hair too long and unstyled. Cutoff jeans. A flannel shirt with the sleeves torn off. Scuffed work boots. I try to imagine Eddie in plaid Bermuda shorts and can’t do it.
Went out clubbing with a couple of non-farming friends to a popular hangout. A lot of new bars are springing up lately. The Neon Cowboy is a large, unfinished place, empty of everything except a bar, a dance floor and people. By 10 o’clock, I was asleep on my feet like a horse. I woke up to the feeling of a headache coming in. One beer sucked all the moisture from my brain. That and the promise of getting up before daybreak to snap on disposable latex gloves and start cleaning cow teats. My friends were dancing like they were doing aerobics. I sleepwalked my way to my pickup and auto piloted home.
Eddie said he saw me at the club and sent me a text. I was so tired, I missed it. I sent him a long text about my favorite cow, Lady Bea, and how I spotted clots in her milk, and how she’s probably got mastitis. Eddie did not text me back.
My friend, Lucinda, told me to try a few matchmaking sites. I told her about Eddie, and she suggested we E-mail him. I did and imagined myself a bridesmaid at their wedding. Sigh. I take Lucinda’s advice and put a profile on MatchMadeInHeaven.com. I believe in being honest. My ad says: “Big-boned, solid, farm girl accustomed to working hard, bad smells, and sweating, seeks big-boned, solid farm boy who doesn’t have the energy to party until dawn. Willing to scrub dirt out of nail beds and wear a slinky dress for Mr. Wonderful. But don’t expect make up. Don’t you want to see exactly what you’re getting?”
I called Eddie today to see if he went out with Lucinda, but instead I asked what his parents are going to do with the millions they cleared from selling their farm, land already under construction with one of two dozen massive Tudor rip-offs. He says they don’t know. They’re afraid to do anything that will make picking over their tax returns an IRS annual rite of spring. Since all they know is farming, they’re talking about buying farmland somewhere else. Maybe Pennsylvania. Eddie said for now he’s staying in New Jersey and thanks for hooking him up with Lucinda. My dating pool has officially dropped to zero.
There are about 9,900 farmers in New Jersey, according to the 2002 U.S. Census of Agriculture. The census doesn’t spell out how many are single. Even my non-farming single friends are having trouble finding dates. Where does that leave me? Down on the farm without a date.
There is this one guy, a sloppy man with problem dandruff, who’s going on eighty or just looks that way from being left out in the sun since he was two. I figure him for forty, plus or minus. His teeth are bad, the lower ones especially. He seems to spend most of his time in Agway. The people in there call him Rooster. I’d be naive to think it’s only because he raises chickens. He talks to me whether I talk to him or not. There is a certain charm about him, I’ll admit. That insouciance of someone who has given it all up to a higher power, but without any of the religious trappings. You’re here. I’m here. Let’s hook up is the subliminal vibe I’m getting. Today, Rooster winked, licked his chapped lips and told me every woman is sitting on a potential fortune. And I’ve also got a farm. It’s official. Rooster is a pig.
Ran into Eddie again at Home Depot. Had to look for him this time. Found him in Barbeques. He’s getting hotter looking. He’s got a way to go before he looks totally metrosexual. Still, he’s wearing khaki shorts and clean sneakers. He told me he was kinda busy. From his aimless posture and blank look this was obviously not true. Turns out Lucinda dumped him. But it’s okay. He told me he’s dating someone from Bath Fixtures.
For no reason at all, I told Eddie I love farming. I was as surprised by the revelation as he was. Eddie asked, You love farming enough to stay single all your life? Everything in that store, the sound of barbeque lids moving up and down and customers clicking the ignite buttons, couples talking together about the hot dogs they’ll grill to jerky, it all stopped and all I heard was the sound my last prospect, the last member in my dating pool circling the drain.
And then I snap out of it. I know farming is hard and not for slouches. The hours are terrible, the work is hard, the clouds of gnats are a pain. But we are the Garden State. We stand for something. “Eddie,” I said. “Have you forgotten every last thing we ever learned in 4-H?” I proceeded to tell him that almost 40 percent of New Jersey’s total land acreage is developed. More than any other state. Can we still call ourselves the Garden State? I asked. Is that the joke? Ha-ha. We’re the most densely populated state in the union. More crowded than Japan or India. What’s our quality of life going to be over the next few decades when the state reaches full “build out,” when there’s no land left to develop except for my lonely farm? Eddie said nothing.
I’ve been thinking about my problem. The fact that everything that comes out of my mouth to a man who sticks a toe in my dating pool is like a broomstick tossed in front of a runner. Men aren’t interested in hearing about past relationships. Or about what’s great about living on a farm. The fresh asparagus, strawberries, tomatoes, peas, cabbage, lettuces of nine different varieties, zucchini, basil, and fresh picked eggplant. How the country air could smell different and wonderful every day. How the open space makes me feel alive. How beautiful gladiolas are. The dawn’s cool, pearly gray light and the violet dusk that closes over our fields of corn. The cows with their big wedge-shaped faces. I like farming. I like my farm, and I like my cows.
So, shut up, I tell myself. And when I do and listen to the stillness inside, I realize that no matter how I long for a man with clean clothes, a steady job that doesn’t involve the risks of farming, and a decent hair cut, my heart is right here on the farm. Price pressures, breeding trouble, waste management, heat stress, bacterial counts. Not to mention mastitis. Sigh. I can see why everyone is selling out. And it’s not just for the money. This isn’t a business for the weak of heart.
I wrote a new ad and placed it in several urban newspapers and on the Internet. “Wanted. Dairy farm apprentice. In a world focused on technology and getting ahead at all costs, it might be time to look at life in a different way and focus on what’s really important. A simple life. Connect with the earth and live a balanced harmonious lifestyle. Find your place on my farm and dig in.” I don’t add that metrosexuality would be a plus.
Got a response to my ad. A Montana man who studied Animal Husbandry at the Cook Campus of Rutgers University. He likes NJ. Likes how close we are to NYC. He also likes farming and cows and getting dirty and work that raises an honest sweat. Diary, a farmhand/metrosexual may have plopped into my potential dating pool. He’s not married and doesn’t have kids. He could have more baggage than a vacationing Paris Hilton and have no interest in Mahler. Only one way to find out. I’m going to let him talk. I’m betting he won’t say, “What’s that smell?” And the cows won’t freak him out, and he won’t hate zucchini or long hours on the tractor and he’ll be interested in organic food, and he’ll know what sustainable agriculture is. If he’s got a decent hair cut, we might be in business. If he’s even heard of Mahler, I’ll be in dating pool heaven.
Polomski is a central Jersey writer, a farmer’s daughter who is married with three children. She is currently working on a novel.