Unclear Agenda

This poem is set in California, U.S.A. and the initial character is American, as are the protesters. The men standing outside the lumber yard are Mexicans looking for work. 

Unclear Agenda

His denims worn and torn, his hair unshorn,
he sat on a fruit crate near a stop sign
on an exit road just off the California interstate.
“Will work for food,” his sign said, so I stopped.
“Jump in,” I said, and he looked confused.
“I have a city lot taken over by castor beans,” I told him.
“I’ll give you a meal and ten bucks an hour to clear them.”
“Lady, that would take me a day or more,” he said.
“I can make more than that in a few hours, just sitting here.”

A week later I see him in a line of toughs
who line the street, holding signs and now and then
crossing the street to harass the Mexican laborers
in the parking lot outside the lumberyard.
“Illegals steal the  jobs of good Americans,” their placards say,
while the littler, more brawny men stand silent,
not answering their jostlings and their shouts.
Once more, I pull up in front of him.
“So you’re ready to work?” I ask. “Jump in.”

I direct the question to the lot, and not one answers.
“So no one wants the job of cutting castor beans?” I ask.
This sparks a recognition, and he shifts and turns,
his attention suddenly captured by the man lighting a joint
behind, in the shadows of a shrub.
Still, not one answers, so I drive on to the parking lot.
When I ask the question again, thirteen hands shoot up.
I leave with a full back seat and when I turn into the street
not one picket sign is lifted. Every eye avoids my own.

This poem, based on a real incident, was inspired by the prompt, “Wandering Revenue” that was suggested to me by the Topic Generator. https://topicgenerator.wordpress.com/submit/



14 thoughts on “Unclear Agenda

  1. Marilyn Armstrong

    You know? I never actually considered begging as a way of “earning” a living. Clearly, I’ve been missing the point all this time. I thought begging was what you did in desperation because your well went dry or you were going to lose you home and had nowhere to go … Not because you refuse to do anything. $10/hour? That’s pretty good. Especially in Mexico. Can’t believe he turned you down!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lifelessons Post author

      My poem was about events in the states, but 14 years ago. But, there was a beggar here in Mexico who couldn’t walk. A group of gringos collected the money for him to have surgery so he could walk, but he used the money to buy land instead. The reason? If he could walk, he couldn’t beg! Rumor had it that he bought all of his sons trucks and owned several properties in a nearby town.

      When I heard that story, I stopped giving him money and for ten years he gave me quizzical looks, as though he couldn’t imagine what he had done to lose my patronage. Don’t worry. All the newcomers continued to finance him. He died just last year.

      In Mexico, begging is a profession, and no one ever holds a sign saying they will work for food. They are at least not hypocrites. They blatantly ask for money with no empty declarations of what they will do for it. Ironically, there are not that many beggars. Certainly not so many as in the states. The two places where expats tend to go might have a beggar or three and sometimes a grandmother or mother will take her children through the streets asking for coins.

      One mother I gave 200 pesos to buy diapers fourteen years ago now must be borrowing babies, because she seems to always have one handy, and two hours after I gave her the 200 pesos, (equivalent to $20 U.S. at the time) she asked me for money again! I believe the minimum daily wage in Mexico is now the equivalent of $5 U.S. I pay that per hour to people who work for me. Fourteen years ago the hourly rate was $1.50. This is bolstered by huge yearly bonuses at Xmas and vacations with double pay.

      But, this is why it is almost an obligation to hire people to work as gardeners and housekeepers. It bolsters the local economy and oh don’t I just love it as well. My gardener and housekeeper have worked for me for 14 years. I have their back and they have mine. Symbiotic relationship plus I just plain love them and hope that is reciprocated.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Patti

    I recognize the incident, Judy. What you didn’t make clear was that this happened in California and the man who refused the job wasn’t Mexican– the willing workers were.


  3. granonine

    I ran a small motel once, a long time ago in a land far away. We had to hire a new maid, and when we found one we thought would be good, she had a stipulation: Not too many hours, so she wouldn’t lose her welfare/food stamps.

    She was healthy, not old, not infirm. She was fully capable of 40 hours per week, but she did better living off the government.

    We told her we needed someone who could work full time during the busy season. She didn’t come back.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Laura L.

    Funny, I instantly read this as happening in the US. I’ve seen it.

    There are stories like this. There are stories like granonine’s here in the comments. There are other stories of pure need and neglect. Where is the truth? Each face has their own. Part of the problem with living off the government, is the foolish ways they have it set up so that once in the system they punish you if you try to do something on your own.

    sigh… lots of thoughts

    Really good poem.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. lifelessons Post author

    I think there may be a few other lost ones. I never did figure out how to get my poems on the same page as angloswiss and the other contributors. I’d use Mr. Whatever and wind up on a page all by myself–like a kid being punished after school. Ha…xo J


  6. slmret

    It still happens, probably more than 13 years ago! I’ve heard of people with signs “will work for fooe” turning down food when offered to them. We are encouraged NOT to give to those who sit on corners with signs displaying the ills of life (unemployed, kids need food, etc.), as they are emboldened when the signs work! There are people who make a pretty good living — and there are those who do the work and struggle.

    Liked by 1 person


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