E X C E R P T
This morning they were here for the melons: about sixty of them waiting patiently by the two stake trucks and the old blue-painted school bus. Most of them, including the few women here, were Chicano migrants, who had arrived in their old junk cars that were parked in a line behind the trucks. Others, the Valley Agricultural Workers Association had brought out from Phoenix, dropping them off at 5:30 a.m. on the outskirts of Edna, where the state road came out of the desert to cross the U.S. highway. The growers and the farm workers called it Junction. There was an Enco gas station on the corner, then a storefront with a big V.A.W.A. sign in the window that was the farm labor hiring hall—closed until next season—and then a café-bar with a red neon sign that said BEER-WINE . The rest of the storefronts in the block were empty—dark, gutted structures that were gradually being destroyed by the desert wind.
The farm workers stood around on the sidewalk waiting to be hired, waiting for the labor contractors to finish their coffee, finish talking to the foremen and the waitresses, and come out and point to them and motion them toward the stake trucks and the blue-painted school bus.
The dozen or so whites were easy to spot. Most of them were worn-out looking men in dirty, worn-out clothes that had once been their own or someone else’s good clothes. A tight little group of them was drinking Thunderbird, passing the wine bottle around in a paper bag. A couple of them were sipping from beer cans. Two teenaged white boys with long hair stood off by themselves, hip-cocked, their arms folded over tight white T-shirts, not seeming to mind the early morning chill. They would look around casually and squint up at the pale sky.
The Chicanos, in their straw hats and baseball caps, plaid shirts, and Levis or khakis, with their lunch in paper bags, felt the chill. They would look at the sky knowing it was near the end of the season and soon most of them would be heading for California, to the Imperial and San Joaquin valleys. Some of them—once in a while for something to do—would shield their faces from the light and look in the window of the hiring hall, at the rows of folding chairs, at the display of old V.A.W.A. strike posters and yellowed newspaper pages with columns marked in red. They would stare at the photograph of Emiliano Zapata on the wall behind the counter, at the statue of the Virgin Mary on a stand, and try to read the hand-lettered announcements: Todo el mundo está invitado que venga a la resada—
Larry Mendoza came out of the café-bar with a carry-out cup of coffee in each hand—one black, one cream and sugar—and walked over to the curb, beyond the front of the old blue-painted school bus. Some of the farm workers stared at him—a thin, bony-shouldered, weathered-looking Chicano in clean Levis and high-heeled work boots, a Texas straw funneled low over his eyes—and one of them, also a Chicano, said, “Hey, Larry, tell Julio you want me. Tell him write my name down at the top.” Larry Mendoza glanced over at the man and nodded, but didn’t say anything.
Another one said, “How much you paying, Larry? Buck forty?”
He nodded again and said, “Same as everybody.” He felt them watching him because he was foreman out at Majestyk and could give some of them jobs. He knew how they felt, hoping each day to get their names on a work list. He had stood on this corner himself, waiting for a contractor to point to him. He had started in the fields for forty cents an hour. He’d worked for sixty cents, seventy-five cents. Now he was making eighty dollars a week, all year: he got to drive the pickup any time he wanted and his family lived in a house with an inside toilet. He wished he could hire all of them, assure each man right now that he’d be working today, but he couldn’t do that. So he ignored them, looking down the sidewalk now toward the Enco station where the attendant was pumping gas into an old-model four-wheel-drive pickup that was painted yellow, its high front end pointing this way. Larry Mendoza stood like that, his back to the school bus and the farm workers, waiting, then began to sip the coffee with cream and sugar.
The Enco gas station attendant, with the name Gil stitched over the pocket of his shirt, watched the numbers changing in the window of the pump and began to squeeze the handle of the nozzle that curved into the gas tank filler, slowing the rotation of the numbers, easing them in line to read three dollars even, and pulled the nozzle out of the opening.
When he looked over at the station he saw the guy who owned the pickup stepping out of the Men’s Room, coming this way across the pavement—a dark, solemn-faced man who might have passed for a Chicano except for his name. Vince Majestyk. Hard-looking guy, but always quiet, the few times he had been there. Vincent Majestyk of MAJESTYK BRAND MELONS that was lettered on the doors of the pickup and made him sound like a big grower. Shit, he looked more like a picker than a grower. Maybe a foreman, with his khaki pants and blue shirt. From what the station attendant had heard about him, the guy was scratching to get by and probably wouldn’t be around very long. Comes in, buys three bucks worth of gas. Big deal.
He said, “That’s all you want?”
The guy, Majestyk, looked over at him ...