"The Milagro Beanfield War," Vocabulary from the Prologue-Part 1

March 24, 2014
Featuring a battle for farmer's rights with a very unlikely hero on the front lines, John Nichols's "The Milagro Beanfield War" is a comic look at what happens when people stand up for themselves when the odds are stacked against them.

Learn these word lists for the novel: Prologue-Part 1, Part 2, Parts 3-4, Part 5-Epilogue
Still others on both sides of the Indian Creek Dam question armed themselves and prepared for war, while the governor and the state engineer down in the capital chewed their fingernails, wondering how to maintain their own untenable positions.
Then the water evaporated and the earth rose, so that not even a small depression marked the terrain; and nowadays nobody knows in which field the befuddled sheepherder dug his fabled hole.
Pretty soon Padre Sinkovich, who had unearthed enough skeletons to start a mail-order Halloween business, was staggering around with bloodshot delirious eyes, furiously booting innumerable bones every which way as the magnificent tintinnabulation somewhere down there literally drove him bananas.
But of even greater interest, and perhaps also much more germane to the pending story of the war brought about by Joe Mondragon’s illegal actions, is the incredible saga of the immortal old codger Amarante Cordova, who had played seven-card stud poker with Death ever since 1880, winning every hand.
Though unlicensed, he could steal and lay his own plumbing, do all the electric fixtures in a house, and hire five peons at slave wages to install a septic tank that would not overflow until the day after Joe died or left town.
In a sense, Joe was kept perpetually busy performing minor miracles for what usually amounted to a less-than-peanuts remuneration.
And he was damn fed up with having to buy a license to hunt deer on land that had belonged to Grandfather Mondragon and his cronies, but which now resided in the hip pockets of either Smokey the Bear, the state, or the local malevolent despot, Ladd Devine the Third.
The sheepmen who survived did so only by becoming indentured servants to the large companies that controlled the range and the grazing permit system.
In fact, after an average of ten years under the sheep company’s tutelage, just about every man, including men like Joe Mondragon’s father, Esequiel, had owed the rest of whatever resources he might accumulate in his lifetime to whichever Ladd Devine happened to be sitting on the family nest egg at that particular moment.
The original Ladd Devine had not objected much to the unfair 1935 water compact shenanigans, which somewhat damaged his sheep operations by driving many of his herders elsewhere, because he was too busy buying up those herders’ momentarily worthless land at bargain-basement prices.
Pacheco being an enormous, shifty-eyed, hysterically lonely man who—in the time-honored tradition of Cleofes Apodaca and Padre Sinkovich—had been losing his marbles at a vertiginous rate ever since his wife died six years ago
For years it had been a regular thing in Milagro to see unsteady, mammoth Seferino Pacheco staggering across fields or splashing through puddles in the dirt roadways, searching for his recalcitrant porker, which was usually inhaling a neighbor’s garden or devouring somebody’s chickens.
On this particular day, as soon as Amarante had safely landed his crippled frame on a stool in the huge empty Frontier Bar and fixed a baleful bloodshot eye on the owner, eighty-eight-year-old Tranquilino Jeantete, he said in Spanish (he did not speak English, or read or write in either language): “Jose Mondragon is irrigating his old man’s beanfield over there on the west side.”
And by noon, many citizens engaged in various local enterprises were talking excitedly to each other about how feisty little Joe Mondragon had gone and diverted the water illegally into his parents’ no-account beanfield.
The key word is tact, alright? The key thing right now is to play this cozy. I mean, lay off Joe Mondragon, and let’s keep our uniforms as inconspicuous as possible up there.
But once the corporate conglomerate was established, Ladd Devine the Third had been the perfect man to tone down the operation and keep it barging along smoothly; and also, incidentally, to build it into something really powerful.
She had a body to match her garish looks, and with the ton of makeup she swabbed on daily, Flossie Devine looked to be on loan from the Lido, or else some kind of rent-a-tart from Las Vegas, Nevada.
Hence, he tolerated Horsethief Shorty and, while wincing at his uncouth cowboy appearance and his loud and sometimes lewd mouth, Devine nevertheless dealt Shorty into all high-level conferences
Since then they had been close, and sometimes Flossie talked to Shorty about things that bothered her, or else she just described to him the nebulous thoughts floating like lazy tropical fish through her brain, and she never felt Shorty was mocking her, not even silently in his mind.
And then Rudy Noyes would state the law, precisely, clearly, and flawlessly, and usually as he stated the law he would be riffling through the state’s book of statutes or water laws or whatever until, just at the moment he finished talking, he would land on exactly what Bookman wanted, and he’d read that too, clipped, sharp, without faltering, and with no extraneous comments added.
When the 1935 Interstate Water Compact was set up, all the land on this ditch was adjudicated, and all the people made an offer of no rights.
“He threatened to kick my man’s butt out of there. And he said if any more feds came around his place bothering him when he was at work, he’d ‘dust their asses with buckshot’ because they were trespassing on his private property.”
He’s talked with a lot of other people up there, also, and he wrote a story, not implicating anybody, but in a general way running down Ladd Devine’s relationship to the town, the conservancy district and the dam and so forth, the poverty of the Miracle Valley, all that.
I think we already have a file on Bloom. I’m not positive he’s got a vulnerable profile, but if memory serves me there’s a couple of decent-sized holes in his life.
At least, that’s the way Onofre himself liked to tell the story when he had an audience of children and other gullible creatures who believed in werewolves, flibbertigibbets, and miracles.
Bitterly he began to write, thinking as he did so that if ever all the cantankerous streaks in people like Amarante Cordova, Joe Mondragon, and Onofre Martinez were united behind a common cause, there would be much more than all hell to pay.
With her son Eliu, her gigantic lover, Claudio Garcia, and a roly-poly hillbilly mechanic named Marvin LaBlue, she lived in a mud-plastered railroad tie house situated on a hill overlooking the Body Shop and Pipe Queen, an enterprise inherited from her first husband, a charismatic hustler named Ray Mingleback, who had drowned on Halloween night, 1958, when his Rolls Royce dove off the north-south highway into the Rio Grande about twenty miles below Chamisaville.
Men had trouble accepting Ruby’s strength; they were flabbergasted by both her loveliness and her vitality.
He cast a surreptitious glance at Nancy’s hands and they weren’t much better: red, tough, scratched, clobbered, the fingers permanently bent from being wrapped around mops, wrench handles, shovels, and the like—she could work as hard as him, maybe even harder...
Back in his office he skimmed through each Bloom article, underlining paragraphs here and there, and after that he composed a short profile of the lawyer’s largely innocuous subject matter which he typed up on his own machine.
This resentment surfaced on those rare but awful occasions when he blew his cool, and then for brief, holocaustic moments he could be like a mad dog or a murderer; and for days afterward, afraid of himself and worried about his sanity, he would be contrite and terribly ashamed.
At first his job was simply a way to mark the days while his wounds healed or his life slowed down to a crawl, whichever; but after a time, during his travels—which took him to towns like Saguache and Monte Vista and Fort Garland—he timidly allowed honest attachments into his life again: first, for the poor people in general whose rights he was defending, and eventually for one of them specifically, a gentle skittish woman named Linda Romero.
In order to serve his rural clients, most of whom spoke Spanish, Bloom had painstakingly learned to speak that language well—but Linda had what almost amounted to an aversion toward her mother tongue.
Today the Joe Mondragon affair threatened once more to upset the tenuous stability of their lives.
When he returned to Milagro from these Chamisaville trips and hurried, hunched over, to his miserable home, Herbie plunged back into literature with a vengeance, wrote long sorrowful letters home to a girl friend and to his parents, plinked imaginary lackluster rhythms on his forgotten, stolen, or busted guitar, and cursed the remote people and their remote village and especially himself for being unable to cope.

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