Boll Weevil Love by James Lang
13 years ago I caught a glimpse of my future wife at Eagle Pass, right on the Tex-Mex border in 2004. She was working for a similar environmental protection agency or "agencia" as the Mexicans say, which for years has been failing to eradicate the boll weevil that attacks cotton fields and both sides of the border. So if you want to hear my story you're gonna first hear about boll weevils because everyday I get up that's what I do: I fight and hit 'em little critters with everything I got. Now you may think it's an odd job to have to be in a combat mode for a critter that can easily rest on the head of a pin, but if you saw all the damage to the cotton fields in Texas it's no joke; no joke at all.
How do they do it? Well, I'm no scientist but them things jus lay their eggs on top of the of the cotton plant and when they hatch they jus eat the buds and the plant from top to bottom an' you can holler an' jump up and down all you want but your crop is gonna be Destroyed with a capital D and if I was an English teacher I would underline it. Oh, one more thing, talk to any expert an they’ll say, “All boll weevils are Mexican.”
Well some of you are saying "Charlie (that's my name), you've been doing this for over 13 years you must be glad This bigshot Trump guy is finally gonna build a wall and all your boll weevil problems are jus gonna go away cause everyone knows boll weevils come from Mexico, and with a wall they're gonna have a hell of a time hopping over it and chomping up our Texas crops. Some people gonna say, “Charlie the wall is about immigrants and drugs.” My take is I don’t git involved with politics. “If the wall works, more power to it” I tell my friends.
So before I get back to talking about my beautiful wife (and don’t ask me if she’s illegal) I would say "Hey, hey, let's do it! The wall’s gonna make it great for cotton farmers! For months I’d be walkin’ and talkin’ the Wall, shooting pool at bars and chuckling to myself how “boll weevil doomsday” was jus’ round the corner.
Her name was Esmeralda and as I said I first saw her in 2004. She and her team were using corn ash mixed with some jalepeno ointment that they were powdering the cotton fields with. It was supposed to be an ancient technique that the Incas used against boll weevils and many Texan farmers jus' scoffed at it. We were at a meeting where I was presenting how we used glyphosate which is one of the main ingredients in Roundup 'cause you jus' spray 'em fields and you could literally see 'em boll weevils falling off the cotton plants; falling like they were zapped by lightening, I swear.
We wanted the Mexicans to use our insecticide because we knew that to E-radicate boll weevils you have to use a capital "E" and there's no messing around unless you're ready to loose millions in crop revenue. Where was I? Oh, yeh, Esmeralda. We had some meeting on the border with the Mexican farmers to discuss boll weevils and I took a likin' to her 'cause she spoke a little inglese. I won't talk about her eyes 'cause when I think about them I forget everything else I was gonna say. She was a sturdy woman and when she walked into a room there was a lightness about her that was part of her aura. She had dark brown hair, almost black and she shook hands with a firm grip.
Ok, there she was, we were talking about boll weevils and their larva and pesticides. Now you gotta get em critters at the larva stage otherwise it's game over. The problem was nobody in the group knew of the word larva except for Esmeralda. Actually the word in Mexican is the same but you say "la larva". I think that my accent was so strong that they heard "arva" and they jus' didn't get it. So Esmeralda gets up from her chair -there were about 20 of us sitting in a hot room with pizzas and cokes to snack on and under one of the tables a line of red ants was making its way back and forth over the egg white linoleum floor to pick up the pizza crumbs that had fallen- she goes to where I was talking and she takes a green marker and draws the most amazing squiggly larva varmit I ever seen and before my jaw even dropped the whole room was hollering "la larva, señor, la larva!!!" and at that moment I blushed, keeping my eyed fixed on Esmeralda's, and I remember I blushed 'cause I rarely blush and that was probably the time I felt something special for her -not the larvas.
Them meetings kept on going and I always tried to get Esmeralda on the side and invite her for a café con lece but she was ever so shy and always had some family commitment for an excuse and I think it must have been three years of me telling her she drew the most beautiful larvas ever that she accepted my invitation and we went to a local diner one of those with juke boxes stuck at each table.
As the waitress poured us coffee and asked for refills we were talking about boll weevils with passion. Esmeralda insisted they didn’t come from Mexico even though many moved north in search of more cotton.
Then she leaned over the table and with a hard look told me boll weevils move with the wind and there ain't no wall, trench, barrier or force field that we got that'll stop 'em from going wherever they want.
“I hear Charlee, you keep talkin’ up the Wall big time. The critters gonna laugh so hard when that Wall goes up you gonna feel like Humpty Dumpty.”
That was probably one of the low points in my life. I’m not known to be the reflective type, but why, how, had I not considered? Here I am, a born again fool in front of Esmeralda with no smooth reply and nowhere to hide. Good grief!
She must have noticed I was uncomfortable as I was squiggling in my seat, my eyes so screwy that they looked hypnotic, so she changed subject. She talked about her brother, Sebastian, who was arrested crossing the border in an attempt to reach their father who was working illegally, near Dallas, cutting lawns. She didn’t know how to help him out but she was hoping that one day her father and brother would come back to Mexico. “Things are getting better here Charlee. I just worry if Mexican farmers all use glyphosate then we be in trouble. It may save the cotton but there are side effects.” We talked on and on until the waitress, in one movement, placed the check on our table and said “We’re closing sweeties!” and I promised Ez that I’d look into getting her brother outta jail.
I didn’t see Ez for some weeks and to be honest I thought that was the last time I would see her after making a fool out of myself about the Wall. I started thinking that maybe, without a wall, we could do even better to beat the boll weevil. Finally one day she called me and said she had a surprise. We met after work at the same diner and she handed over a soft package that I tore open to discover a t-shirt with “greater of two weevils” written on it. I cracked up so hard I couldn’t sit straight. When I got my breath back I asked, “Who is the greater of two weevils?”
“Charlee, you are!” Ez caught me off-guard. She had a great sense of humor and I wanted her to be my sweetheart more than anything else.
One day in July we were playing Frisbee in a cotton field on her side of the border. We were all alone except for ‘em critters that were silently laying larva in the buds. Ez threw a Frisbee like a discus thrower from Athens. She would spin around twice before releasing the Frisbee with an audible grunt. One of my throws got caught in the wind and the Frisbee lifted in the air just as Ez was about to catch it. She tripped, fell down on her head and lay there immobile. With my heart in my throat I ran to her, shaking her body to a point that her seashell necklace made a jingling sound. It was late in the afternoon and if you lay on the ground you got toasted. “Wake up Ez, you gotta wake up! I cried. I wanna marry you, te quiero!” Suddenly one of her eyes opened and she grabbed me with both arms and we rolled in the dusty field, laughing like wild children, with me sneezing ‘cause I was allergic to jalepeno ointment.