Dog Eat Duck (or, Most Everything I Know about Office Politics I Learned in a Tobacco Field.)

October 2, 2007

My working background being largely in tobacco fields, hay fields, small government agencies and rural nonprofits, I am accustomed to a somewhat slow-paced worked environment. Meetings at my old jobs generally began at least 15 minutes late (with an opening prayer), and generally devolved into “how’s your family” discussions after the first half hour.

In the tobacco field we started on time mostly, but the hierarchy was very much clear to a farmhand such as myself. There was a boss, who drove the tractor and who, if we weren’t cropping fast enough, cursed loudly enough to be heard over the rumble of the diesel engine, at which point we cropped faster.

Of course there was a whole gaggle of folks in between me and the boss in stature and seniority. the boss’ son, the boss’ brother, the boss’ cousin. I suppose they all had their own little bit of authority, but for the farmhand none of that mattered a whole lot because the decisions they argued about took place well above my paygrade. All they ever told me was to crop faster, and hell, I already knew when I wasn’t cropping fast enough.

Still, even a lowly farmhand could sometimes get caught in the middle of a mid-row power struggle, for example, receiving opposite instructions from competing superiors one perceives as occupying identical positions on the tobacco field food chain. In those cases you could always go to the Big Boss for clarification. The Big Boss’ answer was, invariably, “crop faster.”

Crop Faster

What I learned, essentially, was to stay the hell out of it, unless you were angling for the boss’ job yourself. Because unless you’re driving the tractor you’re breathing the same fumes as everybody else.

Well, now I work in a little bit bigger place than I’m accustomed to. I work with a lot of fundraisers, who I’ve discovered are a special breed of people. They’re good at what they do, and they’re very ambitious. In other words, they all want to drive the tractor.

I still don’t want to drive the tractor. got my own plans in a different field, if you catch my drift.

I ran into one of our big fundraisers in the parking lot recently. B—‘s job is to ask people who can afford it to give us gifts of one milion dollars or more. Which takes an even more speacial personality. Safe to say that butter would not melt in B—-‘s mouth. He is a slick, affable, middle-aged guy with perfect hair, but being new, he is also a little awkward when it comes to the general political environment here.

So, I said “Hi B—-.”

He’s smoothing out his suit jacket and he gives me this look and said “Hey. I got to go to meetings today.”

I said “well, it could be worse.”

He said “yeah, but this is one of those meetings where we find out who’s got the biggest d—.”

“Oh,” I said.

“And it’s not me,”

“Well,” I said, thinking back to my old cropping days, “probably try and sit in the back of the room.”

“I am,” B— said. “And I’m keeping my legs crossed.”

That’ s the idea, B—. Keep your legs crossed. And if you get a chance, crop a little faster.



  1. As the boss’s son for a number of years (but not the son that had any pull) I concur with your evaluation.

    Is that dude using a tool to break leaves? I’ve never seen that in all my years of servitude. Notice that the tractor nor tobacco truck is anywhere in sight of him. Everyone else is probably at the other end of the field.

    Also: I haven’t yet figured out why you southeastern boys use the word “crop” instead of the proper, north-eastern nc term “prime.” My mother voted against Al Gore solely on that distinction, I believe.

  2. All of a sudden, I have a strange craving for a “nab” and a Pepsi.

    Growler…if Al Gore had said “PICK TO-bacc-O” then your mom and I would be on the same page.

  3. Duck

    You´ve come a long way from behind the tractor. Go Boilers and all that….

  4. Remember that old blues song? Big boss man/he ain’t so big/he’s just tall, that’s all!


  5. Sissy:

    Excellent point. We pick cotton, crop/prime tobacco, and stop about 10 a.m. for nabs and pepsi colas.

    And man am I glad I don’t do that anymore.

  6. Amen! “It’s just too hot for a ‘human being’ to be out there!” (family joke…ask Duck)—-although those nabs were pretty stinkin’ good, tobacco gum and all.

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