Of Pigs and Peasants
Samuel Fahey worked at a steel factory, in SoCal, manufacturing components for industrial use. He was a welder, and a skilled one. He could work with aluminum, using an arc welder, and make it look elementary. He never saw his work in service; he simply delivered the completed products in a timely manner, and went back to his work station.
Samuel had been clocking in at 6:55 AM for the past twenty-one years, putting in his eight, with a half-hour to eat lunch, and clocking out at 3:30. He was not a talkative man, and he was selective about his company. There were several factions represented at the shop, among them the blacks, the Mexicans, the rowdies, the old schoolers and red necks. Samuel had no specific affiliation with any of the groups. He could eat his sandwich and apple, and drink his tea, with the best of them.
He had a black friend named Pete DeCarlo, with whom he occasionally stopped at a bar and had a beer. He was not a bar kind of guy, and of beer, he used to say, “Beer is for pigs and peasants.” It would take a braver man than I to ask which he considered himself, at those times. He would stop at Pete’s house on Christmas Eve, after leaving the shop party, and have some libation, so that made them friends of a sort.
If he had a group he favored more than any, it would be the Mexicans, who used to gather down at one end of the shop, because they frequently used a hotplate to heat up their tortillas and beans, and Samuel developed a taste for Mexican cuisine. He liked spicy food to start with, he liked the ease and economy of rice, beans and hamburger, and he had a whole slew of kids at home, who thought Mexican food was quite exotic.
Samuel developed an appreciation for the industry and warmth of the Mexican men, with whom he came into contact. He began to expand his culinary horizons and started making dishes at home such as burritos, soft shell tacos, spanish rice, rancho styled steak and though he didn't make them, he loved tamales. He liked the stories the men told of Mexico, and when he found out that several had family down in Baja, he started to venture south of the border, down to Ensenada.
He found that it was cheap to take the family down and camp on the beach. He began to spend his two weeks of vacation time each year, down in Baja, even going so far as to park a dilapidated trailer down in a campground, so that it was there, with the utensils and a few canned goods, for the convenience of anyone who wanted to take advantage it.
Samuel was making his way over to a group of his amigos one day, when he was stopped by Rory, one of the rowdies, as he called them, a small group of young twenty-somethings, who used to gather out in the parking lot, and blast their music. I mean, even cowboy music was better then this stuff.
“Hey, Sam. What’s up? Laid any brick lately?” Samuel had encountered Rory one weekend not long before, while working on some masonry for a family who attended the same parish church as Samuel.
Not waiting for a response, Rory went on. “Hey man, I see you eating with the taco eaters. What do you want to do that for?”
Samuel looked at Rory, kind of hard. “I like tacos?”
“Ha, ha. That’s good. Me too, just not the people who make them. Are you going to start speaking some of their lingo, too?”
“Si. I might. I just might. Why do you care? Besides, everybody smiles in the same language.” Samuel fixed an unblinking gaze on Rory.
“Well, this is America. They have their own country and they want to take our jobs.” He shook his head.
“They didn’t take your job.” Samuel refused to get angry.
“Well, tell me one good thing they ever did.” Rory was getting worked up.
“Tell me one good thing you ever did.” Samuel walked away, down the center of the mammoth shop, out to where Juan was just tossing another of the thin flour tortillas on the griddle. He looked up as Samuel sauntered over and smiled broadly.
“Amigo. Como esta? You like frijoles today?”
“Si, amigo. Me gusta the frijoles today.” He could not understand how Rory could ever say anything mean about these hard working, often maligned south-of-the-border brethren. They treated him like royalty.
Rory had plans after work that day. It was his son’s tenth birthday, and they were having a big celebration at the little league field, before the game, and then his little Willie would be pitching. Rory had promised his boy he would come right after work. He was still in good shape, even though he had gone up to the office, to talk to the bookkeeper about a question he had concerning his W-2 Form.
By the time he got out to his truck, the parking lot was almost deserted. He saw a group of his least favorite men at the shop, gathered around one of the pickups, on the other end of the parking lot. Rory did not so much as glance in their direction. He got into his truck, shoved the key into the ignition, turned it automatically to the right, and listened to the sound of silence.
There wasn’t even the usual click of finality as the battery gives up the ghost. Not a damn peep. Now the full realization that he was in a world of hurt, swept over Rory, as he realized that if he was going to get help, it was going to come from those taco eaters, and he did not speak their lingo, like Samuel did.
Now he decided to look in their direction. They were all staring at Rory, their conversation having drifted to a stop, as they calmly watched Rory climb out of the truck and head in their direction. Juan, who had an arm draped alongside the edge of the pickup bed, reached in and pulled out a set of battery jumper cables, and held them aloft.
Rory saw the cables and busted out a huge grin. He guessed it was time he developed a taste for tacos.