The narrator, remembering when he and his brother Bernardo, or Nardo as the family calls him, were both teenagers, recalls the various jobs that Nardo held one summer: busboy, dishwasher, parking attendant, and short-order cook. Nardo managed to get himself fired from all of them, either for not showing up or showing up too often for a boss that hated him. Nardo’s favorite job was working as a busboy for a catering service at the Bonneville Lakes country club, touching elbows with the rich and enjoying free drinks and other perks. He lost this job when, on a dare, he took off his busboy’s jacket and asked a girl to dance. Unfortunately, his boss saw him.
There is not much left that summer for Nardo and his brother except the fields, and Nardo does not relish the idea of sweating over clods of dirt in temperatures more than 100 degrees, during one of the hottest summers in the history of California’s San Joaquin Valley. Everyone in the family works, however—Nardo’s sister Magda sweats in a laundry and Nardo’s brother sells fruit door to door—so the pressure is on Nardo to get a job. Naturally lazy by temperament, Nardo is scolded, shamed, and threatened by his parents, especially by his father, but nothing seems to work. After a while everybody gives up on Nardo, who stays home lifting weights, exercising, and primping in front of a mirror.
The narrator, who is not at all like his brother, wants to work. Uncle Louie, with whom he sold fruit door to door, hurt his leg tripping over tree roots in the front yard, and the boy now feels empty without something useful to do. Besides, he needs money for school clothes and supplies. Most of all, he wants a baseball glove that he saw in the window of Duran’s Department Store. His fantasies are filled with baseball, and he sees himself making spectacular Willy Mays-like catches with such a glove. When he tries to convince Nardo to go into the field with him to pick chili peppers, Nardo—to everyone’s amazement—agrees. Nardo is going to prove to them all that he is not lazy.
At the chili field the next day, the two brothers find that most of the rows have already been taken because most of the fieldworkers got up while it was still dark, but the foreman agrees to give them a scrawny row that nobody else wants—a row coated with pesticide and thick with exhaust fumes from traffic on the nearby road. Their job is to fill a can with chili peppers and carry it to a nearby weighing area, where they will receive immediate payment. The weighing area, however, is sheer hell. Older women and young girls, some with handkerchiefs tied around their faces, sift through the peppers, and the scent of freshly broken peppers makes it almost impossible to breathe. At the weighing area is a company-owned vending...
(The entire section is 760 words.)