Published 2/18/14 here:

Mowing Alfalfa (SwissLane Farms)

Mowing Alfalfa (SwissLane Farms)

Manuel laughs and sets the pace at the lumberyard, salvaging twisted, stained, split lumber, turning short pieces into stakes or pickets. He and his crew replenish plywood, cut orders, load trucks and help customers in 100 degree heat or driving rain.

I’ve carpooled with him since the economy puked in 2008.

His parents’ seven kids couldn’t all be legal, he says, but he, Rosa, Guillermo the oldest, and Santiago got Green cards. As later siblings arrived, their birth names were put away in favor of their forged identities, not even used on birthdays.

Since the dirt floor in Jalisco, they slept in trucks, tents, trees and corn fields, even in a cave in the foothills near our town until they finally rented a busted two-bedroom.

They had also all emerged from the bent-over, nail-tearing tunnel of fieldwork: Santiago into the mushroom plant, Luis to a warehouse. Adan became a hospital orderly and Jose an electrician.

Manuel talked about Guillermo’s first day of work: “He went as a trainee to a bank wearing his best clothes, his wedding suit, and his silver-toed boots. They looked at him like his Mariachi band was missing. Another Hispanic there wouldn’t even look at him!”

They still lived together in their two-bedroom rental surrounded by raspberry fields. Everyone contributed funds until, on the last day of the Salinas rodeo seven years ago, they bought a house together with remarkably low payments. Manuel had handed the pen back to the smiling agent, also from Jalisco.

Guillermo brought food and Papa and Mama. Rosa introduced her fiancé from the headset factory. I met Adan’s pregnant girlfriend. Manuel’s four year old played a tiny violin.

Last Spring, Manuel revealed to me: “Our payment more than doubled what it was. Our Jalisco agent said: ‘No mistake; the payment is adjustable, and can come down, too.’ But I had a bad feeling. We can’t keep it up.”

Sure enough, the bank soon kicked them out and they were back in a two-bedroom rental.

“Rosa and her husband live with Guillermo in the city, now. He is still at the bank. His job is good, I hope.”

Small world: my wife’s friend works at that bank. She says Guillermo has an American suit now and a basement cubicle. His record is compiling and signing two hundred thirteen foreclosure files in an eight hour shift. “Compile and sign,” they tell him and the other staffers. “Signing is a mere formality; we pay you by the file.” There is no need to vet the foreclosure documents. It is like being back in the strawberry fields; paid by the flat.

He prefers to work in a sterile space, the new piles neatly to his left, with the completions on his right. He flays the papers in the file directly in front of him. When the worried face of his sister crosses his awareness, worried about her doubled payments, it intrudes into his Operating Room like the risk of infection. He screens it out. His job is just to sign.

Morning break is tart grapefruit juice from a plastic bottle, lunch is tuna in tupperware and late break is mocha in a foam cup.

He is part of the combine that mows, threshes and spits mortgage shreds into the streets, moving with remorseless rhythm across the landscape.

Some months ago, his machining signature ran over his brother’s paperwork. Manuel and his family were locked out of the rodeo house sixty days later.

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