CHAPTER 1
EL FIL [THE FIELDS]

Beto Rocha

 

     David was on summer vacation after his first year of high school, living at home with his parents, and bored of course.  Two of his dad’s friends, both brothers, y un cuĖado de su papa, se habian venido para aventurar por aca a los Estados Unidos – ellos mismos en defensa propia, se denominaban “alambristas” – que es que haci se nombraban los que cruzaban la frontera ilegalmente en busca de trabajo en aquel entonces. [alambrista is an invented Mexican-Spanish word meaning, a person who climbs over, or gets through a wire fence, in this case a chain link fence found along the U.S.A.-Mexico border] Ciertamente, es una palabra a distincion de wet-back, queriendo decir ‘espalda mojada’, que es un insulto y ademas, y aparte de ser palabras ofensivas para denigrar a los paisanos que vienen de por alla a trabajar, es una denominacion incorrecta, porque los que se vienen a Califas se vienen por tierra.

     Los hermanos Maldeojos y el cuĖado Donato, siendo del mismo pueblo de Chacala Durango, de adonde habia venido el padre de David, y el, naturalmente, los consideraba con mucha atencion. Pues que dice la mama de David de su esposo, “Que cuando venia a la casa despues del trabajo, a diario les traia, a esos arrimados, un buen galon de guine, que ya tenia el dedo echo gancho.” And also, he would buy a large bottle of vitamin pills, and pass the bottle around at the kitchen table while they were eating and drinking, y decia uno de ellos, “Pues, si uno es bueno, pos, tres o quarto mas mejor.” Y empacate! Ese rancher- ote ventajoso se tragaba tres, y a vezes hasta quarto pildoras de un jalon. Y alli en la casa pasaban el tiempo, la esposa sirvien- doles y ellos de ociosos. Hasta que por fin se decidieron irse a

buscar jale en los campos de agricultura alla pal norte de

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California para ganarse algunos centavos en la cosecha. Pero ya la mayor parte de la cosecha estaba terminada, y esos flojos tracaleros [lazy artful dodgers] sabian la movida y se fueron tarde; already late spring, early summer, ya solamente for the second picking , y realmente no se iban a trabajar duro, but to pass the time some where else for a while.

 

         It was suggested to David’s papa, by his compaĖeros to be, that by taking him along, he also could earn some money. Though not mentioning the fact, and it was discussed among themselves, that David could be helpful to them; could smooth their path, he being the only one of the four who spoke Spanish and English, and would be useful as their interpreter. El muchacho se dio cuenta de lo que planeaban, pero no les dijo nada a sus padres para que no lo detubieran. “ Que chanza!” penso David, who welcomed a change in his young life, and was ready for an adventure away from home. Besides, Los Angeles was hot and smoggy, and the Cudahay meat packing plant near Huntington Park burned the offal, and those parts of the animal carcasses that were not processed into saleable meat, and the stench in the air was almost unbearable in the suburb of Lincoln Heights at that time of the year.

 

     Pero David, a los catorce anos como el pajarito acercandose  a la orilla del nido, listo para dar su primer vuelo, todavia not having taken his first solo flight. Se puede decir que estaba bien verde. Y lo estaba. Also, he hadn’t yet begun to know the way of those in the world, and didn’t take notice of the adulterous eyes of one of the brothers who had cast his on his mom. Said Christ Jesús to the multitude at the sermón on the

Mount, “You have heard that it was said by them of old time,

‘You shall not commit adultery’: But I say to you, that

 

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whosoever looks at a married woman to lust after her, has

committed adultery with her in his Heart.” Matthew 5:27-28 David was more than ready to go, and even though mama was unwilling that he should, papa contradicted her, and gave him permission to travel with them, saying, “Que vaya, porque ya es tiempo que aprenda ser hombre.” The three men and the youngster boarded a city bus heading for the unglamorous Greyhound bus station on 8th and Los Angeles Street on the grimmer side of L.A., which was located one block east of Main Street. Getting off the bus on Broadway, and directing their steps toward the station; at the third intersection they waited for the green Light, and then crossed Main, and in moments the street was behind them.

 

     Main Street; immemorable, yet, David who Grew up in L.A., remembers the grungy length of asphalt covered, brick road- way. Both sides lined with wide cement sidewalks upon which cops in pairs, patrolled their beats with fierce determination, and exagerated swagger. It seemed that there were two police- men on every block in that area. Paddy wagons were a common sight, arriving, parking, and departing with prostitutes and drunks, and others arrested for what, who knows? People of all sorts, mostly men, strolled, or stumbled about on the sidewalks, except for those laying on it. There was one fellow who had stumps for legs, a World War II vet, who had his legs blown off by a mine. He was mounted on a heavy, flat wood cart, and propeled himself along the sidewalk with his hands, gripping thick rubber pads cut from a tire. Most all of that humanity back y fortheando, pa ri, y pa bajo, on the pavement, against a shabby backdrop of sleazy and run down dives. There was a burlesque or striptease joint or two, juke joints, pool halls,

 

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flop houses, and other establishments of who knows what? There were blacks, whites, Mexicanos, and American Indians, a very multicultural representation of persons of low life stan- ding, entering or leaving or passing by those shady places, unconciously trodding upon a nightmarish cement walkway, a proto type of the abstract expresionist paintings a la Jackson Pollack’s contemporaneous creations of the 50s. But constructed way beyond a painter’s ability to produce artificially, a truely natural and accidental visual surface like that found on the sidewalks of Main Street, with the uncontrolled, random, splashed on stains of coffee, blood, urine, feces, and stains of other gruesome substances, and presense of found objects best not touched nor described, some old and dried, some recent and still wet. Wads of gum flattened out, were to be seen in all shapes. Also showing was the same medium that had been spat out by innumerable, inconsiderate passersbys, and stepped upon by countless unsuspecting  some bodies, the soles of their shoes having transported disease bearing, infectious microbes contained within the sticky substance onto the cement footpaths to form long, thin, and also wide, short shapes. Then generally, at the end of the stretched lines, squashed and mishapen forms were apparent. And all of this could be found, along with smeared and ground in yuk of all sorts beyond description, in every shade from light dirty grey to the dirtiest black pigment, and imparted throughout the grimy ‘canvas’, were touches of litter a la DADA. Y todo esto para dar asco!

     Riding the dog north was uneventful. It took a day and a night to reach the peach orchards, they were to find accomo- dation at a rancho located in northern California, between the           the city of Stockton and the town of Tracey, which was just off

State Highway 5. Habian llegado. A la direccion de uno de los

 

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hermanos, David le pidio al chofer que se detubiera cerca de la destinacion, que hasta alli, y se apiaron. Pero, todavia la casa del patron quedaba a una distancia del camino. They got off the bus, which had stopped to let them off at the teenager’s request, and the four of them hoofed it up a dirt road to the manager’s place, an old two storied white washed farm house, with many screen doors covering a long porch. The first floor had been redesigned to house a kitchen, along with tables and benches to accommodate a good number of farm workers with places to sit and eat during the harvest season. Having spoken to the manager they were given lodging in a bunkhouse nearby. Later in the afternoon they were called to lunch, but except for the cook, who did not partake with them, sat two at a bench at a large rectangular table, which was covered with a red and white checkered plastic oil cloth. Y ellos enteramente solos en aquel lugar, como quien dice, como tres tristes tigres, aunque eran cuatro, comiendo eggs and pinto beans con chile, along with thin sliced white bread, and to drink, hot black coffee. David thought about asking for butter to spread on his bread, and cream for his coffee, but didn’t.

     The bunkhouse was an adequate structure, much smaller, but built somewhat like a poorly constructed army barracks made of wood with the frame showing on the inside, It was bare bones alright, with the only furniture consisting of U.S. Army cots, and some makeshift single beds. Having been used to mama’s clean white pillow cases The youngster had to do with a dusty, soiled, blue striped pillow without a slip cover, and he selected one that was the less the worse for wear. So, from his kit bag he pulled out a tightly folded T-shirt from a small stash of underwear and stretched it over the bunkhouse pillow for the night. The blankets were O.K. but, were gritty, and had an odor of stale sweat.

 

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     After settling in, the three men, and some others joined up, and using a cot as a card table, sat about on either side and

began playing the game of ‘conquian’. Once, David had asked to join in on a card game at home, when papa y los tres gather- ed around the kitchen table al juego de baraja and played the game, but his dad didn’t allow him to join in. “Play with your child and he will bring you sorrow.” Ecclesiasticus, 30:9. So, not knowing the rules of the game, he just sat back on his cot, and watched the goings on somewhat indifferently, because even then, he was rarely interested in gambling. On the sideline and apart from the card players, he observed that his compaĖeros  were playing away what little money they had between them- selves, quickly losing to a pair of strangers. In retrospect; coyotes perhaps? Donato, his father’s brother in-law, who soon ran out of his meager cash, came over to where David was, y le pidio lo poco que tenia “Prestamelo”, he said to him, “y nos dividimos las ganancias”. ‘Loan me what you have, and we’ll devide the winnings’, said Donato, encouraging the youngster to part with his few dollars. Without hesitation or reluctance David reached into the tight pocket of his jeans, and pulled out two or three crumpled bills, some nickels and silver coins, along with tufts of Prussian blue cotton lint, and handed it all over trustingly, hoping for a share in the winnings. But Donato gambled the money away, never again saying a word about repayment of the loan to David, who didn’t complain. 

     Al obscurecer, se fueron otra vez a la casa del patron para refinar, y en el menu, como casi siempre, ubo frijoles, rebanadas de pan blanco, y café [pero nunca se vio una  ensa- lada fresca o fruta]. Y despues al descanso para levantarse muy temprano de madrugada para ir a la pisca de durazno. In the evening they returned to the boss’ house for dinner, which

 

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consisted of the same kind of food they had eaten earlier en la hora de lonche, and then they hit the sack early in order to get up before the cock-crow.

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