The employee parking lot of the Granum Agribusiness headquarters was lined with a battalion of black trucks and SUVs owned by executives and lab geeks. The only touch of personality among the vehicular dress code were various alumni stickers: MIT, Stanford, Cornell, Purdue. Wyatt parked his battered Ford Ranger toward the back of the lot. His beloved truck–sun-bleached, with rusted fenders, and a thick layer of gravel dust–was an eyesore compared to the rest.
Wyatt pulled off his Cubs ball cap, swiped his security badge, and entered the employee entrance. Other than the handful of executives that ran operations from the glassed-in office suite, every employee was mandated to change into a jumpsuit before entering the lab or the test fields to eliminate possible cross contamination. It was hilarious to watch the lab minions get out of their oversized Escalades or Suburbans in designer business casual attire, scurry into the building, and change into their khaki coveralls like a cult member. Conformity was the norm.
It was Friday morning so most of the salaried employees were already at their desks or beakers putting in an early eight hours to start their weekend mid-afternoon. But Wyatt’s hourly schedule was dictated by his clueless supervisor.
Granum was started by a local boy done good–at least that’s what the public relations campaign and the local folklore claimed. The town’s golden boy, Walter Terpstra, attended Iowa State University on a football scholarship. While he didn’t make much of a name for himself on the gridiron, his prowess and recklessness in the University’s labs and chemical engineering program netted two new strains of GMO corn. Inspired by fellow Iowan Norman Bourlag, Walter Terpstra’s products addressed growing crops in less favorable conditions: flood plains, droughts, and sandy soils. He made his first million when sold his first GMO to an international agriscience consortium while pursuing an MBA. The company was more interested in controlling the patent rather than promoting or selling his product. At thirty, the prodigal son and his new bride returned to his hometown. Walter bought up a tract of industrial land and began building an empire. Although the company wasn’t internationally known like Dupont Pioneer, or Archer Daniels Midland–Granum was making money hand over fist and slowly changing modern farming in the soil, not in a courtroom. Wyatt took pride in working for a man that valued the common good over his bank account.
The employee locker room was empty at nine a.m. as all the geeks were at their microscopes or computers doing nerdy things, so Wyatt had the place to himself. He touched his thumb to the time clock. The print scanner was harmless, but he always rubbed the pad of his thumb like it had burned him. He strolled over to his locker in the corner, turned the combination, popped it open, and jumped back when an avalanche of red boxes fell to the floor at his feet.
Fucking Lucky Charms everywhere. He spun around looking for the perpetrator, like a coming of age drama produced by the idiots in Hollywood, he expected the football team to be hiding around a corner waiting to see the fruits of their bullying labors. The lab boys called him Lucky because of his small stature and Irish features. The ribbing was good natured at first, but turned malicious in recent years when the governor locked down the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic and essentially canceled St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Somehow the geeks blamed Wyatt for their inability to drink in bars for their favorite bullshit Irish holiday.
Anger flashed hot across his cheeks but faded to a slow burning resignation as he pulled on his jumpsuit and clipped a security badge to the breast pocket. He was tempted to leave the boxes scattered on the floor for the geeks to step over at quitting time, but he knew that the janitorial team would be forced to clean it up. He stooped and gathered the boxes and deposited two armloads into the trash.
Wyatt wasn’t a lab tech or an executive, his official company title was Experiential Agriculture Technician. He was a farmer. He planted and maintained test cropland for the company. He planted more Colfax County fields than any other local farmer, but the office frat boys had no respect for the work he did.
He wished he was back in his apartment, nestled in bed next to Casey. She looked so peaceful on the pillow next to his with the quilt his grandma made pulled up to her chin and her long hair splayed across the sheets softened by years of weekly washing. Since they’d started dating a few months ago, there had been so many days that he didn’t want to leave the house. They were so content in their bubble and removed from the world. In his apartment, they’d talk for hours unaffected by their jobs or the world’s cruelty. He steeled himself with the memory of her wrapped up in his quilt, then stepped into the office suite.
Inside the cubicle maze of the administrative offices, he was a fish out of water–rather a jumpsuit among suits. He didn’t belong here. He wished he could come and go from the supply warehouse on the edge of the complex rather than share the same locker room with the executives and lab boys. Besides he should’ve been in the fields hours ago, before the heat of the day, cutting ground before the dew evaporated, but his schedule was dictated by a man that had never planted or tended a plot of land.
The office was awash of white and beige tones from the generic artwork to the taupe Hon office furniture. The only pretense of personality was Kevin’s musical choice of Nashville pop hits. Toby Keith and his ilk of country “musicians” produced mindless drivel devoid of poetry or even a soul. Kevin swiveled in his leather office chair and smiled up at Wyatt. With his chin thrust forward and his thin lips hitched to one side of his unshaven face, the expression was more smug contempt than professionalism.
“Morning, Lucky,” Kevin said in an overly jolly, loud voice. The air in the office shifted and the lookie-loos sat up and paid attention like that moment before a bar brawl.
“What’s my assignment?” Wyatt asked. He wasn’t going to give anyone the satisfaction of a confrontation. Dad taught him better than that.
His supervisor, Kevin, pulled a local topographical map from his desk drawer along with a package of markers. Kevin’s title was Experiential Agriculture Coordinator, which made him the keeper of maps.
“What field did you cultivate yesterday?” Kevin asked. Deep blue circles ringed each eye, but Wyatt knew from his father’s boxing days that these were from lack of sleep rather than shiner.
“Richardson,” Wyatt said.
Kevin’s lips twitched and turned into a sneer. “Test field 1940?”
In Kevin’s estimation, land was something to be used and manipulated without regard of history and ownership. The use of surnames annoyed him. But names were important. They provided provenance: a history of the land as well as a cultural history. The land known as plot 1940 was bought from the Otoe Indian Tribe and first farmed by a German family in 1839, the year after Iowa was declared a territory. In the intervening century, the Klinkhammer’s original forty acres grew to nearly two hundred. While still owned by descendants of the Klinkhammer family, it was now known as the Richardson farm. The land along the Possum River was prone to flooding in the summer, but was excellent for spring crops. Kevin and his maps would never understand this, but it led Wyatt to believe that most crops, but especially corn, would never be successful on the Richardson land. But he was just a local farmer without a college degree or a cubicle or a white collar.
“Let’s plant 1940 today,” Kevin said and pointed to a shaded-in plot on the map that lay adjacent to the Possum river.
“I’m going back to the Richardson farm?”
Wyatt knew he was getting under Kevin’s skin, when the man slid his chair back and sprang to his feet. As if his height or muscular stature gained him some advantage over Wyatt. But they stood eye to eye.
“Thanks, Lucky,” Kevin said as Wyatt turned to walk away.
Wyatt drew in a deep breath and pushed it out as if blowing into a straw. His face, again, flushed with a flash of anger. He dropped his shoulders and stretched his neck muscles before turning back.
“You know,” Wyatt said. He paused and took another deep breath and lowered his voice. “I really don’t like being called that.”
Another smug smile spread across Kevin’s face. “You’re welcome to file a complaint with your immediate supervisor.”