Fistful of reefer, p.8
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       Fistful of Reefer, p.8

           David Mark Brown

  Chancho’s Reefer Madness

  Chancho awoke to the rhythms of the earth, aligned with the sun and moon and stars as if he had lain with his eyes open all night memorizing their heavenly courses. In fact he’d slept more soundly than he could remember, and he awoke before the sun feeling invigorated. Lying with his back to the earth, absorbing its nutrients, feeling its connection, he became a part of it.

  Cosmic strings drew him and bound him to all creation, including his fellow man. An unseen calling ripened in his gut, this very moment on the verge of seed. He stood and stretched his legs, running his hand along the stalks of cáñamo as he walked barefoot down the furrow. His thoughts burst from his mind. Embracing greatness, they swelled to fill the earth.

  Communing with all God’s creation, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, he grew giddy with revelation. All of the land belonged to God. Chancho was, and always had been, free to roam it. No rinche could take his home away from him.

  He stamped his bare feet in the soil between two furrows of cáñamo, shaking the dirt from his bare butt and raising his hands up over his head. Making a declaration of victory, he shook his fists at the heavens while clenching his cheeks at the earth. “¡Buenos días, El Chupacabra, heraldo de la nueva vida!”

  As he lavished praise on the fictional beast for the new life it brought, a jealous sun pierced the horizon with delicious beams of orange light. He held the pose for a few seconds, a scene worthy of classic literature, until his stomach growled ferociously.

  But first things first. I’ve got to get dressed and find some breakfast. After dispelling fluids from his bladder while humming the tune of la cucaracha, he held a short wrestling match with his pants. Finally he trotted off toward camp. It pleased him that on this day, the day of his greatness, he remembered to tend to such simple things as clothing and food.

  When he arrived at camp Muddy stoked a small fire for coffee as Nena stitched up her favorite pair of shoes.

  “Buenos días, mis amigos.”

  “You’re dressed, that’s good.” Nena didn’t look up from her work.

  “So, you noticed? I was rather proud of that myself.” Chancho spun himself around even though no one was watching. “What is for breakfast my good man.” He did his best impersonation of an Anglo accent, the sort he imagined a stuffy city slicker would use—continually morphing between a doodlebug Yankee and an Irishman.

  “Coffee, but not yet.” Muddy added more grounds to the kettle.

  “Oh. In that case, I’ll help myself to some tortillas and butter. Do either of you want anything while I’m at it?”

  “Could you bring me some more bacon and eggs? That is, if there’s any left.”

  “Ay dios mio.” Chancho stopped in mid bounce, “You had bacon and eggs without me?”

  “She’s just pulling your leg.” Muddy tried not to snicker.

  “I knew that.” Chancho slapped his leg, frustrated with how easily he’d fallen for the joke. “But while you devils sit around devising ways to trick me I have been up for hours preparing for greatness! Well, for the last fifteen minutes, at least.” He waved his arms dramatically. “This is the day we usher history into the present. The day we harvest the energies of the earth with the energies of man and in so doing proclaim our liberties under the sun! You, my dearest compadres, are you with me!?”

  “Yes, yes. To the end, rah rah, and all that.”

  “¡Excelente!” Chancho turned toward the chuck wagon. “But first, tortillas.”

  “Now bang it. No, no. Right there. Give it a good whack. No, no, with the wrench.” Chancho shifted his grip of the custom carburetor he had built for the purpose of mixing oxygen with methane gas and feeding it into the combustion chamber. “Wait, wait.” He wiped the sweat from his brow, leaving a smudge of grease and manure across his face. “Okay, now.” Muddy whacked the side of the carburetor with a wrench in an attempt to drive it properly into place.

  “¡Excelente, mi amigo!” Chancho released his grip on the carburetor and rubbed his hands together. “Bueno, bueno. Now we just need to attach the fuel tank.”

  “What, that big barrel of shit?”

  “No, no. Not the barrel of shit, my crude friend. But the barrel on top of it has been filling with methane gas for the last two days. With the ninety degree heat it should be full by now.” Chancho spit on his hands and rubbed them in the dirt before slapping them together. “Here, give me a hand. It feels so good to get greasy again. You know, to make something from nothing. To give life to a heap of rusty metal.”

  The men each took a grip on the thirty gallon drum. “What are we going to do with it?” Muddy did not share Chancho’s eager confidence.

  “Simple. We carry the methane barrel over to the harvester and attach it to the valve beneath the seat. You hold it there while I tighten the straps to keep it in place. ¿Si?”

  Muddy sighed. “Okay.”

  “Uno, dos, tres.” The two men yanked the drum free from the manure barrel. Half the valve kept the methane gas inside the fuel barrel, but the goat manure was exposed to the air. Muddy caught a good whiff.

  “Ug. Manure should not be collected in a single vessel.”

  “I don’t know.” Chancho continued as the two men waddled toward the eight-foot-tall harvester cannibalized from former farm equipment. “Have you ever used one of those fancy new toilets? I’ve heard you can squat right next to the kitchen without even putting your boots on.”

  “Why would anyone want to squat in their own house? Sounds lazy to me.”

  “Indoor plumbing, mi amigo. It isn’t lazy, it’s innovation. Soon, you won’t even need to wipe.”

  Muddy grunted. “Hmm. I guess that wouldn’t be so bad.”

  “Okay, now I’ll help you hold the tank while you shimmy into position. Then I’ll clamp the valves together. No problem.”

  “No problem? So I lie down underneath this contraption holding your thirty gallons of fart gas on my chest while you monkey around on top of it?”


  “Alright.” Muddy shimmied gradually under the harvester until he held the tank directly below the seat. Chancho clamped the valves together easily and tended to the leather straps meant to hold the tank in place. “Are those straps going to hold this thing? I mean, once it gets going?”

  Chancho shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”

  Muddy shook his head. “You’re riding this thing, right?”

  “Absolutely. This is a delicately tuned machine.” He lovingly patted the steering wheel. “¿Listo?”

  “What? You’re the one in charge here. I’m just holding the fart gas.”

  “Excelente.” Chancho jumped down. “And you’ve done a fine job of it. But we’re ready now.” He grabbed Muddy by the heels and pulled him out from under the machine. Muddy stood up wiping the dust from his backside. Then the two men admired the completed harvester.

  “This thing even looks like El Chupacabra,” Muddy said.

  “That’s what I call her.” Chancho nodded.

  The harvester stood eight feet tall with plenty of clearance. It snarled at them with four sets of teeth made of sickle bars salvaged from an old sugar cane harvester. A ground level sickle bar on each side of the machine matched a higher sickle bar set around four feet, just below the level of the leaves and buds of the cáñamo.

  Each sickle bar consisted of a set of lateral moving blades that cut the stalks of the plants, and each sickle bar was driven by a pair of cam shafts running perpendicular to them for the length of the harvester. These cam shafts not only drove the sickle bars but stripped the branches, leaves and buds from the cut stalks before ejecting them out the back into wind rows for field retting.

  Each cam shaft, equipped with a series of teeth, rested at the bottom of a funnel-shaped shoot or trough with openings around the shaft large enough for leaves and buds to drop through but small enough to keep the bulk of the stalk inching backward until it ejected. Once the leaves and buds were removed f
rom the stalk they fell into a canvas sack girdled to both sides of the harvester and bundled in the back. When the sack was filled it would be removed, emptied and then reattached for the next load. The entire bulk of the machine sat on three large wheels, one in center front and two in the back.

  “And you’re sure this is going to work?” Muddy looked back and forth from the machine to the field of cáñamo.

  Chancho rubbed his ear lobe, thinking about the smoldering eyes of the rinche and the part of the story he’d failed to convey to his best friends. “It has to.” Then he turned to look at Muddy. “And if it doesn’t, I’ll fix it.” He clapped Muddy on the shoulder sending a cloud of dust into the air.

  Chancho sat in the driver seat running through the functions of the different levers he had attached for engaging the drive shaft, the cam shafts and the sickle bars. He had also installed a kill switch, to cut access to the methane, and a brake.

  “No problem!” He waved a thumbs up toward Muddy who stood fifty yards away and continued to back up even as he returned the gesture. Chancho checked that his sombrero was secured to his head, released the brake, clicked the gas open and hit the igniter button. Juice from the battery cranked the two-stroke engine, rolling it over roughly for a few moments before chugging to life. He fiddled with the choke until the engine fired regularly.

  “Hiyiyiyiyia!” Chancho leapt in his seat, gloating in victory. “I told you it would work!” Muddy jumped up and down pointing at him. “Yes. It’s exciting, I know!” But Muddy shook his head and pointed madly. Finally he ran toward Chancho yelling, “Fire!”

  “Fire?” Chancho looked all around before finally looking down. “Fire! ¡Ay dios mio!” The valve between the carburetor and the tank spewed flames a foot long underneath Chancho’s seat. He panicked. Trying to hit the fuel cut-off, he missed and hit the ignite button sending another surge of gas into the carburetor. With a woof the flame swelled to engulf the metal seat. The fire ball sent Chancho leaping into the air and sprawling over the edge of the platform.

  During his hasty exit his knee struck the levers to engage the drive shaft and sickle bars. As he hit the ground rolling, the harvester lurched into motion and started off toward a clump of goats grazing nearby. Growling, bearing its teeth and spewing flame the harvester known as El Chupacabra bore down on the spooked herd at a full five miles an hour—until Chancho caught up with it and hit the kill switch.

  Muddy ran up behind him as the harvester rolled to a stop. “Your ass is on fire.”

  Chancho was already dismissing him. “Yes, yes. I know. Just a little tweak and she’ll be ready.” He scratched his chin. “I guess I didn’t couple the valves tight enough.”

  “I don’t think it will matter who tightly you couple your valve together. It’s on fire.”

  “Huh? What?” Chancho snapped out of it. “What’s on fire?”

  “Your ass.” Muddy pointed with his chin.

  “My wah?” Chancho craned his neck. “Ah crap.” He dropped to the ground scooting his butt in the dirt.

  “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone jump that high. And so gracefully.”

  Chancho shook his head and tried not to grin. “It wasn’t so bad. Better than the Wright Brothers’ first attempt.”

  “The Who Brothers?” Muddy reached down to pull him up.

  “Oh never mind. Just some fellow visionaries who knew not to give up after simple setbacks.”

  Minutes later Chancho had fixed the leak and rode a bit high in the saddle as the harvester chugged its way along the first two rows of cáñamo. The burned fringes of his pants revealed his reddened cheeks as they hovered over the cooling metal seat, but the machine gobbled up the plants just as he had planned.

  The upper stalks fell one by one into the two troughs on either side and twisted gently down hill toward the back as the teeth on the cams removed all the leaves and buds dropping them into the sack beneath. The machine left nothing behind but windrows of stalks as it rolled steadily forward. Muddy watched him for another minute before he decided to join in. Catching up to the cáñamo gobbling El Chupacabra, he leapt onto the side board.

  It was thrilling to feel the churning engine rattle through his bones, to watch the cáñamo stalks fall into the troughs and surrender their bounty to the spiraling cam shafts. Days worth of labor passed before them in hours. It was as Chancho said. Not lazy, but innovation. And all of it powered by manure and the sun. It was a dizzying time to be alive.

  Maybe there was hope for the black Seminole as farmers—as something other than the military and political pawns they had been for almost two centuries. And yet, within the next twenty four hours he would abandon his land, again. From Africa to Florida to Mexico to the Catholic Hills, his people had been either captives or fugitives—forced to ally themselves with the strong in the land in betrayal of the weak. It was a cursed heritage, but while other peoples had gone to the grave, the black Seminole had remained in the land. He was still free. He still had family to fight for, and he still had the strength to fight.

  As they reached the end of the first two rows Chancho killed the gas and pulled the brake. “You did it, Chancho.” Muddy slapped him on the back and shook him by both shoulders, smiling from ear to ear. “You did it.” He knew it was exactly what Chancho needed to hear.

  “We did it.” They looked over the field they had yet to harvest. “This is going to be the single largest harvest of marihuana the world has ever known.” It was hyperbole, but there were indeed five full acres waiting to be plucked from the earth. After a long pause Chancho cranked the engine up before speaking over the mechanical racket, “We should ride northward first.”

  Muddy nodded. “It will be the easiest way to escape unnoticed. But we’ll need to take the marihuana to my people in Brackettville. They can help us finish curing it.”

  “I figured that.” Chancho rubbed his ear and shrugged. “We’ll find a way.”

  Muddy knew that was Chancho’s way of saying his mind couldn’t handle any more annoying details at the moment, so he dismissed himself. “I’ll pull the wagon around.” He leapt off the side of the moving harvester and made his way back to Tripalo and the wagon. He pulled himself up into the saddle. “Well, Trip, we’re gonna make a go of it, aren’t we?” The huge, black horse snorted and shook its mane.

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