A Day in the Life
by Andy Griffin
Weeding beets was so monotonous and the rows were so long that conversation eventually flagged. The four of us, Jorge, Don Ofelio, Don Juan, and I fell silent. Even the batteries in Don Ofelio's radio wore down and the oom-pah beat of ranchero music faded to a faint pit-pat-pat-pit-pat-pat. I heard a rusty squeak in the distance and looked across the field. A young man astride an old bicycle was braking to turn off San Miguel Canyon road into the farm. After wobbling around a few mud puddles he parked the bike and approached.
"Hay jale?" he asked.
Straightening up I greeted the fellow. "No. There's no work right now. Maybe in a few weeks when we have something to harvest." A long pause ensued as the young man looked across the broad, weedy field. Truth be, I didn't have the money to hire more help.
"Orale, pues... Gracias."
He walked off down the row and I stooped again to the task. We worked. Hearing a crow caw reminded me I hadn't heard the rusty squeak of an old bicycle leaving the field. I look towards the road. The young man had set himself to work at the head of the next row, six hundred feet away, on hands and knees like the rest of us. I got to my feet feeling heavy and stiff. As I walked down the wheel track I practiced my "I'm sorry we don't have work but my insurance won't cover me if you hurt yourself in my field so I'm gonna have to ask you to leave" speech in Spanish. When I got up to him and saw him earnestly pulling at weeds with two hands I couldn't do it.
"Come on, Amigo," I said. "Trabaje con nosotros." So we were introduced to Ramiro Campos from La Barca, Jalisco. He had arrived here in Watsón five days before.
"What work did you do in La Barca?" I asked.
"I didn't work in La Barca," he said. "I was in the army...I deserted, though."
Everyone looked up with hope and interest at this news.
"Why didn't you want to stay and protect the patria from us Gringos?" I wanted to know.
"We went on a raid against the narcotraficantes." Ramiro began.
¿Amapola o yesca?" inquired Jorge.
"Marijuaneros," replied Ramiro, "way back in the sierra two days march from a village. Our commander spent all the money for supplying our unit on vinos y puchachas in town so our packs were almost empty when we started out at dawn. For food our commander left us just one old burro, all ears and bones.
"You can cook a burro," observed Don Juan.
"Pues, lógico," replied Ramiro. "But before reaching the sierra we had to cross a wide, dry lake and there were no sticks. Any firewood at all had been gathered by the people to burn or sell. If we were going to enjoy the burro we'd have to eat him raw.
"Viva la revolución," remarked Jorge. "Arriba, arriba."
"When we got to the sierra the sun was high and it was hot. We had to climb up steep slopes all covered in scratchy bushes and nopales. We used the boulders for cover but the narcos saw us coming and started shooting with their cuernos de chivos."
"Was it dangerous, son?" asked Don Juan.
"Claro. We crawled on our bellies through thorns and their were rattlesnakes and scorpions and stinging ants and tarantulas and ticks and horseflies and wasps. When we reached the marijuana it was three meters high and we pushed through it like a jungle, shooting back, and we chased the narcos off. Then we had to chop all the plants down and there must have been two hectare of them. We made piles and burned them. When we left we were so tired and sore and our packs were so heavy and we had so far to march."
"My mother stuffs green marijuana in a bottle and fills it with aguardiente as a healing tincture for cuts, bruises, and rashes," commented Jorge.
"Yeah, well, when we got to the valley the commander and two of his lieutenants came driving out from town in a truck and stopped us. They made everybody empty their packs out. The lieutenants put all the yerba into gunny sacks and loaded it on their truck. The commander was screaming at us, "You degenerate dope-thieving Indians." Then they drove back to town but the commander made us dig holes in the dry lake bed as punishment. "As many as you can fit," he said.
"How many was that?" asked Ofelio.
"Un chingo," replied Ramiro, using a difficult-to-translate but profane colloquial unit of measure.
"Now we know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall," I sang to myself.
Juan, Ofelio, Jorge, and Ramiro paid no attention. Ramiro's anecdote had sparked a conversation and Jorge was embarking on a war story of his own. At four thirty we leaned our hoes against an oak tree and went home.
Copyright 2003 Andy Griffin
These are our chioggia beets.