Tractors harvest the good men



St. Petersburg Times
Special to the Times

    Headed west toward California after rafting, three of us women travel a gravel road, north to south across Nevada along the Ruby Mountains. Linda, a psychologist who has been divorced since 1985, is driving. Meg, a tall, olive-skinned potter, is riding shotgun as our navigator. I'm in the

backseat, propped on three pillows, offering advice. Headed west toward California after rafting, three of us women travel a gravel road, north to south across Nevada along the Ruby Mountains. Linda, a psychologist who has been divorced since 1985, is driving. Meg, a tall, olive-skinned potter, is riding shotgun as our navigator. I'm in the backseat, propped on three pillows, offering advice.

    Linda says, "I have a wonderful, full life, but I wish I had a good man to share it with.

    "I wasn't raised in the South for nothing. "The first rule," I tell her, "is that the good men are pretty passive. The only men who openly pursue women are the scary ones, or men so lost, sick and needy, you'd have to give up your job to have time for a relationship.

    "Good men are wandering around with their minds on power tools or string theory. Keep your eyes open. If you spot one you fancy, be ready to tractor into action."

    "I come on too strong," Linda says.

    "You never come on, that's another rule. It's like getting a wild bird to feed out of your hand - one false move and you're left with a fistful of raw peanuts. You want to get the man's attention, wake him from his daydream of owning the new power saw that won't cut off his fingers long enough to notice fascinating you. You're never desperate, never husband-hunting, not a sniff of it. You have a full life. Men are dessert, and you can always pass on dessert. He's the pursuer; you're laying down the bait, but you're not all that eager to be caught."

    "How do you show you like them without liking them too much?"

    "Treat them the way you would a friend. Invite them to do things, but have other people around. Be patient. With my husband, it took five invitations before he caught on. The romance part has to be the guy's idea. Your job is to be in his line of vision when he gets it."

    Meg interrupts. We've come to a fork in the road that doesn't show on the map. We stop, wondering which road leads to Highway 50. A big red truck pulls up, driven by a graying cowboy. Linda asks for help. According to his GPS, he says, and his electronic map, we should head right.

    We pull away. "He was kind of cute," Linda says.

    "You think he's cute and he didn't have on a wedding ring," I say. "This is your first lesson. Reel him in."

    Linda starts laughing. "I couldn't."

    "In this life, you're either a tractor or a swamp. You're either sitting there, passively hoping something will come along and fall in, or you're out tractoring in the world - going after what you want.

    "Here's what we'll do: Drive for another hour and if we don't hit Highway 50, pull over and wait for the guy to catch up. You get out of the car and ask him if he's sure we're on the right road."

    Linda giggles hysterically, shaking her head: no, no, no, no, no.

    "That's your fear laughing," I say.

    An hour passes and no Highway 50. "Pull over," I say.

    She laughs so hard I worry about our safety. "Why do I have to get out of the car? Why can't I roll down the window?"

    "Because it's more welcoming."

    She obeys, stands by the side of the road, shaking with laughter. "He's not coming," she says. "He must have turned off somewhere."

    "Oh ye of little faith. Be patient."

    Sure enough, in a couple of minutes, here comes the red truck.

    Linda manages to stop giggling long enough to ask the question and is reassured. He wants to know if we have enough fuel and says he can't help us with that because he's using diesel, but he'll be right behind us if we run into trouble.

    I give Linda the next step. "When we get to Highway 50, we are going to pull to the side of the road and you're going to get out and thank him. Tell him he saved our lives. Tell him we have a bottle of champagne in a cooler (we do) and, in gratitude, we'd like to share it with him."

    Linda is laughing so hard she says she may wet her pants.

    This is my car; no pants-wetting. "If he agrees to champagne, give him your card."

    "I don't have a card." I'm dealing with an idiot here. I rip out a piece of notepaper and print her first name, e-mail address and hometown. I fold it into quarters. "Before he drives away, slip this in his hand."

    "I couldn't possibly." More giggling.

    "Keep laughing," I say. "You'll be laughing until you die, and you'll die alone."

    Southern wisdom can get harsh.

    We arrive at the intersection of Highway 50 and pull over. The road behind us is empty. Linda gets out, laughing so hard she can barely stand. Meg and I agree to let her do all the talking.

    The red truck comes into view and stops. Linda expresses our thanks and offers champagne. The cowboy grins, revealing a missing tooth: "I'll park right over there. Have to leave my engine going. Takes 20 minutes if I turn it off."

    We stand at the tailgate of my car, listening to his engine chug, drinking Moet et Chandon out of paper cups. Meg and I are as mute as two fish.

    The cowboy tells Linda that he's divorced, owns property in Hawaii, and is looking for more in Nevada. He's retired from the Navy and runs tugs from Seattle to Alaska. We empty the bottle and Linda manages to pass him the note.

    Back in the car, she says, "That was fun."

    "That was a practice session," I say. "If he e-mails you, ask him if anybody ever gets to go along on that tugboat."

    "But he smokes."

    "We're not talking marriage here, Linda. We're talking about a tugboat ride."


***

Norma Watkins is a frequent contributor to Sunday Journal. Her memoir, The Last Resort, was published by the University Press of Mississippi in 2011.

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