La Cuadrilla

Chuki was our foreman, his assistant was a short man we called enano who’d gotten injured in a no workers comp job and the owner had been nice enough to keep him on. He administered our hours and dropped our paycheck every Friday. We were always on the lookout for the head foreman, el Cojo, who you could tell was around when all the howls, falsetto singing and running jokes and teasing settled down like a lull in the Cuadrilla. We worked two to a row, one on each side, each his ladder and some tape or orange twine. It was here I learned to tie knots that held the weight of laden branches. My compañero was an elder, he hardly ever spoke, but had the work ethic of my parents and grandparents, he took pride in his work, no matter what it was, or how much he got paid. He and I would always be ahead of the others and Chuchi would always tell us to slow down, to pace ourselves, to make sure there was work for the future. He and the assistant would always backtrack my side and take the time to give me some advice, that I’d never make a living in the fields the way I left the trees and that I’d better do well in school to make a living…It was here that my co-workers would all place their dreams on my shoulders too. Neza and his dad on the row besides me, he not much older than me, and his dad making him hate me by comparing him to me, we fought a couple times over teasing matches gone bad, mostly just rolled down the hill in an embrace. His rage I never blamed him for, and I took his closed fists as I did those of many others who saw in me what they wanted most of all, and for many reasons could not reach. My presence was an insult, I there just for the summer, especially the ones my age. Taco and Lunch breaks were the bomb just for the stories that were shared, as the $500 cars with $1000 systems would blast competing radio stations, like the barbershop the campo was a space where workers told of their exploits, of their current chase, and of life back home and the latest partido or boxing match. All was wrapped up with “Otro Rato!” and there was relative quiet about an hour after lunch…