This poem, written thirteen years ago, chronicles a situation I encountered when I was trying to hire men in California to clear brush to help me ready my house for selling in the U.S.
The Daily Addictions prompt is Revenue.
Note: It has come to my attention that the setting of this poem isn’t clear. It is set in CA, 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. Thanks, Marilyn and Patti for letting me know that this was not clear.
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…
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I love this piece written by my friend Gloria Palazzo, pictured above. She doesn’t have a blog but has given me permission to present it here:
Love Letters to Bad Men
I love Bill because he tried his best to be a good father. He worked long hours to bring home money. He taught me how to ride a two wheeler. It was an old green one with fat tires and the boy who owned it got killed in the war. Bill called me, “Hatface.” He said I looked good in the ladies hats he made in his factory.
I love my mother’s second husband, Albert, because even though he was not a nice person he took good care of my mother while she was sick with Alzheimer’s.
I love my half brother Ted because he is very kind, He is also very big and even though he is so much younger than me, because of his size and teddy bear gentleness, I can make believe that he is the older brother I always wished I had.
I love my first boyfriend Ronnie Unger because his parents brought him to Rockaway and he used to keep me company while I baby sat. I was twelve and he was thirteen. When the family returned the following summer, he still liked me. I was surprised.
I love Henry Nellon because he used to sit on the railing on the boardwalk and smoke Lucky Strike cigarettes. He was seventeen and looked like James Dean. I was fourteen and taught myself to smoke just so that I could ask him to light my cigarette. I still loved him even after he told me that he loved this red head who I thought was ugly.
I love Jimmy Corrigan because his sister introduced us and he became our high school president. We were so popular that the kids on the bus saved seats for us. His parents did not approve of me and so he stopped coming around. I went to his house on Halloween and they didn’t know it was me behind that silly mask.
I love Robert Hutter because he was the smartest student in his class and he was studying to be a brain surgeon. He bought me a dictionary for my birthday, I once sneaked out of my dormitory to go with him to watch Syracuse and Cornell play football. He slipped out of my life but surfaced in my thoughts every day for eleven years.
I love Jules Schussler because he is the father of my children and because his mother was a great cook. He helped me to escape my home because I did not have the guts to run away. He was a good dancer and taught me to dance the Mambo. He also had an infectious laugh.
I love Steve because he was my first baby. He is very handsome. When he started to walk he looked so cute waddling around with my big old coffee pot. He didn’t like toys. Only the coffee pot. I once heard his brother say he was a chrome magnum. I do not know what that is.
I love Robert because he was a beautiful baby with big blue eyes and curly blond hair. He looked like an angel, but the devil got into him for a while. It was in the form of beer, marijuana and pretty girls. Later he became the best driver that UPS ever had. My grandson Jason calls him dad.
I love John because he was my last baby. He was such a good baby. His dedication to his studies and his devotion to me were a treasure. His affection and loyalty kept me on a sane course when everything around me seemed to be falling apart.
I love Fred Hollis because he taught me how to drive long distances in a big truck carrying heavy machinery. He also taught me how to put a worm on a hook, catch a fish, unhook it, clean it, and then fry it up right there on the beach and savor the solitude of togetherness in nature.
I love Jim Palazzo for all the right reasons. He adored women. He also liked them. I carried acres of sadness and anger when we met and he taught me to love and trust with truth and honesty. Thank you, Jim. And thanks too for the name, PALAZZO.
I love Dell Krietel because he lifted me right out of Walmart’s where I was demonstrating Kodak cameras. We made love the way it is described in steamy novels. That was one hell of an awakening. The affair lasted 3 months, but the residual lingers on.
I love Perry Frankland because he was funny and very rich. We met by chance in Bimini where we enjoyed a three day love affair. It was supposed to end there, but it didn’t and we hop scotched in Tampa society for two years. Fate separated us when he didn’t recover from surgery. His death shattered my dreams but be continues to visit me every time I see a butterfly.
I love Archie because his wagging tail and loving eyes never faltered even though he was often scolded for messes and spills. He pawed his way into our hearts and barked dutifully to protect us.
My last great love leaves a trail of smoking dust and jagged tears as this broken heart tiptoes, ever searching for just one more “bad” man.
Love that this piece pretty much becomes Gloria’s autobiography. I challenge anyone who might be interested to write their own piece of this type—a love letter to bad anything: food, pets, relatives, hats, choices—you name it. If you do, please post a link in the comments below.
My friend Margaret Ann Porter wrote this tribute to her friend and gardener, Valentin Paredes, and has generously allowed me to share it with you. Other than just being a heartfelt and beautiful piece, I think it is important that people in the U.S. get a true view of what one Mexican man is like rather than depending on the stereotype portrayed by some of our “leaders.” People are people, no matter where they live. One reason I so strongly support travel at a young age is to make young people see that we are part of a world community made up of all sorts of people–good and bad–sprinkled pretty evenly over the globe. Here are two of the lovely ones… both the portrayed and the portrayer. Margaret and I both live on Lake Chapala in Mexico. It is the largest lake in Mexico surrounded by a number of little towns and villages. (Because she doesn’t have a blog, I am including the entire text and photos of her tribute here.)
My gardener Valentin Paredes died today from cancer. He was only 50. There are people who come along in your life who change you for having known them. Valentin was one of those for me. He was a simple man from a tiny lake village called Mezcala, born in a mud house and sent to work in Chapala when he was only 14. He learned gardening on a hotel crew and found joy in the work, and was so proud to be included in the gardener culture here at Lakeside. He taught me that those guys walking down the street with machetes and rakes and water hoses in their hands all know each other, and they know what’s going on in this town.
Valentin became our gardener 12 years ago when we bought our house. He’d already been working here for four years for a Mexican lady before we Americanos showed up and at first, he was timid with us. Later I learned it was because, in the hotel business in Mexico, Americanos don’t always send their best people, often they send their mean and rude people. After a few weeks, though, we understood each other and he became a terrific employee. He just couldn’t do enough for us, and even acted as handyman whenever we needed it. Sometimes after his shift, he’d leave me a flower arrangement for my table.
Vale had a tender heart about living things. He rescued baby birds and possums, and even took pity on the leaf-cutter ants, showing me how if we let them strip the rose bushes, they’d come back beautifully and without rust. (It works!) He was pals with our dogs and cats, and he’d even prune plants and I’d find the clippings taking root in a series of pots that he’d planted on the back patio. “But … they have life in them, Señora,” he’d explain when I complained about the crowds.
Most of all, he enjoyed new ideas, and whenever I’d give him one, he’d embrace it fully and, if it was actually bad idea, which it often was, he’d come around with a different plan, always approaching me in full deference. “Señora, I understand your plan, but what if we did this instead?” I’d heartily agree — relieved, really, because I am not a natural gardener — and then he’d create something wild and beautiful. I often felt uncomfortable with the whole “Señora” thing, but early on I learned that in his culture, a friendly distance from the ‘patrones’ was good policy.
How I will miss hearing the gate slam at 8 a.m., knowing that Valentin is arriving to do his work. It was one of the most comforting sounds I know because, for 12 years, that man was a dependable, committed and generous part of our life. His very presence taught me what those words really meant.
I will miss you, Valentin, and I’ll never forget you. I’m so sorry you lost your life too soon. You were a better man than most.