Chapter Two: The Day the Bulldozers Came
After praying the netz and eating their toast and scrambled eggs, Shlomo Bitton’s son Yom Tov played calming music on his guitar. First, he played in the kitchen while his mother washed the dishes, and then he played outside in the field. He didn’t know whom it calmed the most: the cows or his mother. The cows mooed and chewed their grass contentedly. Soon, within half an hour, that came to an end. Faint sounds of heavy machinery and trucks turned into booms and clangs. Yom Tov couldn’t hear if his guitar was in tune.
“Play a little louder, Yom Tov,” Dad said, his eyes half shut in an effort to relax.
“I think the treatment is working. The cows are supposed to give double the milk when you help them relax.”
Yom Tov played louder, but all he could hear was the drill into metal and the clanging of hammers. This wasn’t working. The cows were getting more and more nervous and stopped chewing their grass.
Dad headed over to the chicken coop, and found the chickens jumping out and clucking madly, and Cynthia dozing in the grass a few yards away.
“Cynthia!” Dad cried out.
Cynthia sat up, startled.
“Why did you stop playing songs for the chickens?”
“Dad, I can’t; too much noise. The hens are getting nervous. The roosters are going bananas! This is nuts. I won’t do it!”
“Come, show me,” said Dad. Cynthia shrugged and walked back toward the hen house. The sound of clucking got louder, and the dump trucks and bulldozers got louder too.
“What’s going on here?” Dad shouted, just to be heard. “Is it a conspiracy? First the lemon trees, and now the cows and chickens?” He paused. “I feel silly saying something like that. It’s just a bunch of immigrant Latinos who never learned the rules of civilized society. Let’s go explain to them, politely, and get them to stop.”
Foreman Fernando Torres slammed on the brakes and yelled at the crazy white people invading his work space, “Que salir de la manera! estás bloqueando la excavadora!”
“Cynthia,” Dad said, “What did he say?”
Shlomo Bitton’s home city of Miami had changed a lot since he grew up. As a kid he never had to learn Spanish, but all his children did. These days, 70 percent of the Miami population spoke Spanish at home as well as at school and the workplace, even in the government offices, and hardly bothered with English at all.
Cynthia moved close to her mother, since he hadn’t heard the first time and had that faraway look he often got when remembering his childhood in a simpler, friendlier Miami.
“Dad, the foreman said get outta the way! You’re blocking the bulldozer!” Cynthia frowned. “Dad, this is dangerous.”
“Well I’m not afraid, Cynthia. Ask for the boss!”
She sighed. There was no arguing with her father. She said in a sweet, polite voice, “¿Dónde está el jefe?”
“Soy el jefe!” said the foreman Fernando.
“He’s the boss,” explained Cynthia.
“Do any of these workers speak English?” asked Dad.
She turned shyly to the foreman. “¿Alguien habla Inglés?”
“Nadie!” roared Fernando.
“Nobody, Dad,” said Cynthia.
“Ask him if the bulldozer stops for lunch.”
“Se detiene la excavadora para el almuerzo?”
“Si,” said the foreman, checking his watch.
“I know,” Dad said. “He said yes. Good, lunchtime will be quiet.”
“Almorzamos en cinco minutes,” Fernando added.
“They have lunch in five minutes,” said Cynthia.
Her father moved to the side, and they stood together in silence, except for the sounds of the bulldozer and dump truck, and the workers shouting in Spanish.
Five minutes, to Cynthia, seemed like forever to stand and do nothing. She couldn’t study for her math test; all her books were in the house. Anyway, who could study with the constant noise? Worries over the test gave way to the uncomfortable remaining fact that she still hadn’t practiced for the spring concert audition. That was a silly thing to think; even if she practiced a hundred hours from here to the concert, it was obvious that Madame had it in for her from Day One. Cynthia even thought about quitting. Then she heard a happy shout:
Venga vamos a comer!
¿Dónde está la radio
The workers were saying, “let’s go eat!” and “where’s the radio?” The trucks and bulldozers stopped.
“Finally, some quiet!” said Dad. “Ask the boss if we can talk now.”
Cynthia cleared her throat and said very sweetly, “mi padre quiere hablar contigo.”
“Si señor,” said the foreman, also politely.
“This is a farming zone,” said Dad. NO BUILDING ALLOWED!”
Cynthia translated the unmannerly statement into a pretty, ladylike Spanish: “esta es la zona de la agricultura. Los edificios no están permitidos.”
“No, señorita,” said Fernando. “Tenemos un permiso.”
This was a shock. Cynthia felt a shiver through her body. If Bulldozer-man really and truly had a government permit, would Dad lose the farm? Where would she put all her clothes, her violin, her music stand, her music?
“Dad,” said Cynthia. This was horrible.
“Talk,” Dad said.
The words wouldn’t come out.
The foreman produced a rolled-up paper from his pocket and handed it over to Cynthia’s father.
Dad’s hands shook while he read the paper.
“What does it say? Dad, talk to me.”
“It’s a permit to bulldoze my chicken coop,” said Dad. “The Mayor signed it.” He was speaking, but Cynthia couldn’t hear. The workers had turned on their radio full blast, and all she could hear was the driving beat of the salsa music.
Cynthia and her father sat on a cinderblock, waiting for the music to stop. When it did, Dad strode up to the foreman, who had just re-entered his bulldozer, and said, “you can’t do this! I own the land!”
“Que salir de la manera! estás bloqueando la excavadora!” said Fernando.
Cynthia turned to her mother. “Dad, he said…”
“I know, Cynthia. He said ‘get outta the way.'” Dad marched resolutely in front of the bulldozer.
Cynthia screamed, “Dad, what are you doing? It’s dangerous; it could run you over!”
“Dad! What’s going on?” It was Cynthia’s brother Yom Tov, running through the field with his guitar.
“Yom Tov, Cynthia, he’s going to run over my chicken coop!”
Suddenly a sleek automobile, its well-oiled motor humming, pulled up and parked next to Fernando’s bulldozer.
“Hey, Uncle Zack!” Yom Tov called out. Zack bypassed his teenage nephew and made straight for Shlomo Bitton.“Shlomo, what’s happening here? You can hear the screaming all the way to my house.”
To Yom Tov, this sounded unlikely. Uncle Zack lived several neighborhoods north of his mother’s farm, in an air-conditioned villa sealed off from noise and pollution.
“Zack!” Shlomo growled. “Don’t you see this bulldozer is digging up my chicken coop?”
Uncle Zack pulled a rolled-up document from his jacket pocket. “I have the city plans. This isn’t your land, Shlomo.”
“Oh yes, it is my land!” countered Shlomo.
“Well, according to my map it’s not. Your chicken coop is trespassing on city land.”
Shlomo yanked the map away. “Anybody can see you doctored that map, you thief!”
Zack sighed. “Look, I’ll be happy to discuss this with you, but it’s costing me money every second that my workers aren’t allowed to do their jobs. Let’s talk this over at your house, where we can relax. I have some six packs in the car.”
“I’ll get them Uncle Zack!” Yom Tov offered.
“Okay Yom Tov; take the keys.” Zack had intended to drink them at home, but it would be nice to drink them while they were cold. He took no notice while Yom Tov ran to the car and opened the trunk, but a few moments later he heard his nephew calling to the workers: “Amigos! Buen trabajo! Toma una cerveza!”
The workers cheered in Spanish and turned off the bulldozers and dump trucks. The radio blasted a cha-cha dance. The men unloaded the beer and drank fast, ostensibly to get back to work.
“Yom Tov, you idiot!” cried Uncle Zack. “That’s imported beer; it’s for us!”
“Sorry Uncle Zack. I made a mistake.” He paused, a look of regret on his face.
“Do you want the beer bottles back?”
“Fernando! Tomas! el trabajo! Finish the job and then…” Zack looked on while the music and partying grew so loud that no one could hear him, even if they wanted to. “Forget it, Yom Tov,” he told his nephew, defeated.
“Where are you going, Zack? Where’s my beer?” Shlomo called out to his brother in law.
“There’s no more beer, Shlomo,” Zack grumbled. “All you and your family ever do is give me trouble!
Yom Tov stifled a giggle. “You can also go home now, Dad. I gave the workers plenty of beer. They won’t bother your chickens today.”
Dad laughed. “Thanks Yom Tov. You’re a great son. Hey Cynthia, Yom Tov, let’s go make Shabbos.”