Saturday, February 28, 2009

door number 2 -- or the curtain?

Not being deterred by my misadventure on Monday, I sallied forth on Friday morning to do battle at the Mexican consulate in Portland.

One thing I learned in the military is that planning any maneuver without good intelligence will always lead to disaster. That was my problem on Monday. I thought I was going to encounter the same cheery dental office that served as the consulate in the 1960s. I did not expect the Mexican equivalent of a DMV office gone wild.

And then
Paty came to the rescue in my comments section. She obtained her FM3 in Portland, and encountered what could be called -- difficulties. She pointed out that I had almost found the correct room on my own.

Her intelligence briefing told me: "If you want to try it again, the correct office is located off the second waiting room. As you enter the front door turn right into the second waiting room, then right again into the opening of a hallway running east/west. The first door on the hallway is the correct office. If the door is closed, just knock and enter."

With that type of detail, I headed north with confidence that I would at least start the process, and find out if there was anything else that I needed to get my FM3.

Everything was exactly as Paty told me. The two rooms. The hallway. The office. And there behind the desk was one of the most pleasant people I have ever met.

She looked at my application. She accepted my passport copies and photographs. She assured me that my retirement orders from federal service would suffice even though only one payment had been deposited.

But I needed three more documents. First, I had forgotten to sign my passport, so my copies were inadequate. That I could easily fix.

Second, I needed to get my retirement orders notarized and then get an apostille from the Secretary of State's office. The notary, of course, merely notarizes that the copy I am providing is a copy of the original in my possession. But that was easy, and the apostille was only $10. (One question I did not ask is if I am required to hand over the notarized original, what will I use when I get to Manzanillo? I may need to get another notarized-apostilled copy.)

Third, I needed a notarized letter from the Oregon State Police that I do not have a criminal history. I stopped by the office today to be fingerprinted and to pay $58 for a letter that I am supposed to receive within a week.

I hope it shows up before then because I have an appointment to get my FM3 at 1:30 next Friday in Portland.

Jennifer Rose has been urging me to get my FM3 in Portland because it has one of the simplest procedures. Based on my experience today, she is absolutely correct.

I did not need a Monty Hall on Friday. I simply chose door 1 -- and I am about to be a winner.

Friday, February 27, 2009

a veracruz apology

Hubris, your name is Steve.

Fifty-five years of living in Oregon should have taught me one thing: never get smug with the weather.

A mere week ago, I posted, in
spring in our step, that "Spring is upon us." My evidentiary support was the appearance of little snowdrop blooms. Little did I know that snowdrops are not omens of spring; they are omens of snow. At least, in the Pacific Northwest, they were on Thursday.

I woke up this morning to discover that Mother Nature had given me an opportunity to capture some great Christmas card photographs. Kim of Boston could probably use the photograph at the top of this post for his Boston greetings next year. Who's to know?

Professor Jiggs immediately rejoiced in this late season gift, and started making doggy snow angels. And, because I was already taking the day as a vacation day, I did not need to worry about drivers who consider one inch of snow akin to the continental shelf sliding into the Pacific.

But, I do owe an apology to my amigo
Juan Calypso. He commented last week: "Oh sure hombre - February in Oregon and Spring is upon you - I lived there - some good days and some bad - wishful thinking to consider the 'good' Spring."

I was, shall we say, a bit brusque in my response. And you see who was correct.

In my defense, I would like to say that the snow disappeared in hours -- to be replaced by some great sunny weather. But it was snow. And snow is not spring. I will hide the budding daffodil photographs for a better time.

But this has been an odd winter. And an odd winter that has had an impact on Pacific Mexico.

Due to the mild early winter, thousands of breeding pelicans stayed on an island in the Columbia River too late this year. As a result, they were caught in the Arctic storm that caused such problems on the Pacific coast in December and January.

Because of the late start, the pelicans suffered severe physical trauma (some with frostbite). When they arrived at their winter destinations in southern California and Mexico, some were so fatigued, they could not eat. Others wandered into car traffic. Some smashed into boats.

The Tom Zap message board in Melaque carried stories of large numbers of pelicans dying. And whenever that happens, the usual suspects are trotted out: bird flu, global warming, overfishing, toxic spills, sewage leaks.

This time, the culprit appears to be nothing more than an unfortunate storm that slowly killed a lot of birds, and correctly worried a group of compassionate people.

Nothing so dramatic happened as a result of today's storm. Maybe this was Mother's Nature way of reminding me that all things come to an end. It is just about time for a new chapter in my life.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

old man liver

Irony is served in double scoops with sprinkles these days.

Nothing I heard from my doctor on Tuesday surprised me. I knew that I had gained an unseemly amount of weight the last few months. And I need to do something about it.

But I thought I was in much better shape than the poor almost-hobbled Professor Jiggs.

I took him into the vet last week. I try to hold off taking him in for another cortisone shot until he absolutely needs it. The vet has made clear that the shots are essentially hospice treatment -- and they will eventually have a toll on his liver and kidneys.

On this visit, the vet told me he had met with his partners to discuss whether the shots should continue or whether I should consider putting Jiggs down. He wanted to run a series of tests to see what effect one years' worth of cortisone has had on Jiggs's system.

I got the call on the results earlier this week. Other than some elevated values in his liver unrelated to the cortisone, all of his systems are operating well. He could go on for some time.

If I read the results of my diagnosis correctly, I could keel over tomorrow from a stroke. Jiggs, on the other hand, appears to be pulling a George Burns.

He tells me regularly that he is going to outlive me. He just may be correct.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

thanks for the memories

Two steps forward. One step backward.

I checked off two major steps for the move south today. I had my physical and some selected inoculations.

The physical went very well. I passed everything -- other than my weight.

As some of you know, I went to grade school and high school with my doctor. We know each other well enough that there is little pretense between us. He does not bother telling me things that he knows I will not do, and I do not do things that he does not tell me to do.

Today was a bit different. Perhaps, because we will not have an ongoing physician-patient relationship. He pointed out that I have a series of risk factors when taken together is known as "metabolic syndrome." And I am not alone. If the Americans who suffered the syndrome united in a party, we would have clout. Over 50 million Americans have it.

Anyone who has been to a doctor knows the "treatment:" (1) lose weight, (2) get more exercise, and (3) eat a better diet. I am hoping that Mexico will afford an opportunity to do all three -- even though the third will be greatly handicapped by the presence of taco stands.

He also burned off a small growth on the tip of my nose. "Burned" is the wrong word. Froze. With liquid nitrogen. I was surprised how painless the process was.

I need to return to his office on Friday for some blood work. But I am ready to head south now -- with some health goals in mind.

Oh, yes. The inoculations. I finally gave in and started a hepatitis A series, as well as an inoculation for pneumonia, and a combination diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough injection. I would not have even thought of hooping cough if
Babs had not had her most recent episode.

All of that was good. The one step back is that I seem to have misplaced a series of documents -- and I have no idea what I did with them. One of them is quite critical.

I am taking vacation days the rest of this week to start reorganizing things in the house and getting rid of what I can -- even though I am not selling the place. I would like to get as much done before I leave as I can. Who knows, a buyer may show up with cash in hand while I am in Mexico. And the place needs to be ready.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Today was the day I was going to ease myself into my Mexico move.

I have decided to apply for an FM3 visa to live in Mexico. It is effectively a resident visa that will allow me to stay in Mexico for a year, and is renewable for a total of five years. The visa is designed for retirees (among others) who intend to stay in Mexico longer than the six months allowed by a tourist card (FMT).

There are two primary ways to obtain an FM3: enter Mexico on an FMT and convert it to an FM3 in Mexico -- or get an FM3 at a Mexican consulate before entering Mexico.

I have heard enough tales about the frustrations of getting or renewing an FM3 in Mexico that I decided to at least initiate the process at a consulate -- because the bureaucracy would certainly be easier to deal with in the States -- that was my presumption.

The Mexican consulate in Portland has a helpful web site in Spanish -- and an even more helpful bilingual telephone recording. From the recording I learned that the consulate provides FM3 services on limited weekdays from 12 non to 1:30 PM.

On Monday, I started my day leisurely and arrived at the consulate. There was no missing the place. In addition to the national symbols of the seal and flag of Mexico, a large number of Mexican nationals were milling around the entrance.

I soon found out why so many people were outside. What I took for the lobby was packed with people holding piles of papers. And there was absolutely no order to the mass of people.

I did a quick room scan and found a counter with three signs: "Información," "Uno," and "Dos." Even with my limited Spanish, I knew what the signs meant, but I had no idea what I was supposed to do.

I asked several people in the lobby where I should start. They pointed to the "Información" sign (that made sense) and then pointed to a queue that snaked into another waiting room.

Waiting in the queue would be futile. The "Información" counter was the closet to the door. Each new arrival simply squeezed into the line right there. And the people who made it to the front of the line continued to stand there after being helped.

Because I had arrived at noon, I thought I had hit a busy period. So, I wandered off to lunch.

Two blocks from the consulate, I had my choice of Lebanese, Indian, Persian, or Japenese. (At moments like this, I wish I worked in Portland.) I chose the Lebanese -- and had a great meal. (When the bill came, I realized why I enjoy living in Salem, instead of Portland).

Refreshed, I went back to the consulate around 1:00 PM. The crowds were worse. Some of the people who were blocking up the queue on my initial visit were still blocking it.

Like William Wallace, I conducted a tactical withdrawal knowing I could fight another day.

On the drive home, I ran it all through my head. How could the process have beat me down? I was merely seeking information to apply for the visa. The fact that I could not even get near the information counter -- nor figure out a way to get there -- was the problem.

I have decided to give it another try later in the week. Maybe Mondays are simply busy days.

Or I could wait until I get to Mexico. I have my passport (and copies), my passport photos, my application, and my monthly bank statements (for a full year -- and copies). According to the web site, that should be all I need.

I have learned, though, that I am certainly not ready to deal with the vagaries of Mexican bureaucracy. I still have no idea what the "uno" and "dos" counters were supposed to be. Maybe I will find out later this week. (I can hear several of you now: "What makes you think they stand for anything at all?")

Monday, February 23, 2009

sunday in the pew with george

I seem to have more endings than a Beethoven symphony.

You may recall that I have announced several times that one event or another would be my last public presentation at church. My last sermon. My last speech. My last lesson. And I thought each was.

On Friday morning our congregation coordinator called with news that she was looking for characters in a two-person skit -- and she immediately thought of me for one part.

My reaction was to write her immediately and tell her no. I was at an all-day law conference on Friday. I had a memorial service and a reunion dinner on Saturday. Plus I had to prepare my Sunday school lesson. There was no time to learn lines and rehearse.

I moaned to my work colleagues at lunch on Friday. Could they believe the position I was being put in? I am trying to retire!

The response was: Let's see. You are being asked to be the center of attention. In the spotlight. And your full congregation will have to stop what they are doing and watch you.

Their response? You're going to do it.

And they were correct. On Sunday morning, our little skit came off as if we had hours of rehearsal. And it fit right in with the day's service.

The only thing that concerned was the comment that I was just right for the part -- a soulless employer who cruelly fires a clueless employee -- all at the direction of the legal department. Hmmmm.

But that was my last public presentation at church. Really!

On Monday I will drive up to Portland to the Mexican Consulate to start the FM3 process.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

from milwaukie to melaque

The farewells are beginning.

This afternoon I had dinner with three friends I have known for over fifty years. Stephanie lived across the street from me from third grade until I left for the Air Force. Colette lived up the street. Jim lived on a side street.

Jim and Steph married forty years ago this year. Colette and I were in the wedding.

There is something special about people who have known you that long. Artifice is a wasted resource. We know who we were and who we are.

James Thurber referred to a land where "time lies frozen there. It is always Then; it is never Now." That seems to be far more the way that parents see their children -- all through their lives.

But old friends are different. When I tell them that I am interested in adventure, not comfort, they understand the point. Of course, I like some comforts. I always have. But I also like doing (and saying) whatever will get a reaction.

That is why I was a bit concerned to hear Stephanie say: "He will be back in six months." Her comment bothered me on two levels. First, she knows me as well as anyone (even though she does not understand why anyone would voluntarily separate himself from his family). Second, her comment sounds far too similar to several that Michael Dickson has hurled over the past year.

Our three-hour dinner conversation was everything I could hoped for. We reestablished our friendships -- and I felt the bit of pang one should feel when possibly seeing friends for the last time.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

friend and mentor

Today is one of those bittersweet days. I am going to attend a memorial service for my political mentor: Wendell Wyatt.

There was no particular reason why I should have known him. But life is based on the same coincidences that morph novels into page turners.

The year was 1964. I was a sophomore in high school, and was developing an interest in politics and law. My parents' lawyer just happened to be the campaign manager for a colleague who was running for Congress that year -- and the connection was made.

Wendell Wyatt was elected to Congress that year, and we became friends. Whenever I was in Washington, I could drop in and see him. When he was in the district, I would occasionally ride around with him and his district manager: Chuck Hoyt.

He advised me when I was trying to decide on a law school. He helped modify my interest in politics. And when my law partnership broke up, he was there with some excellent career guidance. I would not have been working in my current job without his good words.

Last year the professional circle came full cycle. My nephew's wife was hired as an associate with the silk stocking law firm where Wendell was a senior partner.

And he has now died -- two weeks after my birthday.

I will drive to the memorial service in Portland this afternoon. And another circle will close.

In 1966 I accompanied Wendell and Chuck to a dedication of a chapel at a local Catholic college. He had been instrumental in obtaining funds for the building. Today his memorial service will be held in that same building.

And that may be the most bittersweet memory of all.

Friday, February 20, 2009

if fraser flows south, niles flows north

I had lunch today with one of my best friends. Among many other things, he holds a PhD in philosophy.

The two of us are about as far apart in our political and religious beliefs that any two Americans could be. But we enjoy each other's company because we never fail to learn something from each other.

One of our favorite waiters once referred to us as Niles and Fraser. We have always enjoyed the comparison because we too often fall into that cadence of discussion that can only be found amongst academics and situation comedy characters -- often the two are indistinguishable.

Today was no different. We were blathering along on the nation's economy as if we had an audience of hundreds. It was at that moment that something struck me. We were the only people in the place. During the lunch hour. Row on row of white-linened tables set with crystal and silver sat empty.

It was perhaps the first evidence I have seen in town that Salem is facing dire economic times. If the gentry choose not to dine in public, something is greatly amiss.

And if Salem is facing empty tables, I wonder how the restaurants in Melaque are faring? Or the restaurants in the rest of Mexico. Oil, tourists, and remittances keep the Mexican economy afloat.

We know that remittances are severely down (empty buckets). And when the great oil contracts fixed at last year's unnatural high expire this year, hard cash for oil will start declining.

That leaves tourists. And it appears, instead, tourists are leaving -- or not showing up.

I am curious what each of your areas appear to be experiencing this year. Anecdotally, are there fewer tourists in your area? Do the local eating establishments appear to reflect a downturn?

For my part, I am prepared to head south in a mere two months -- and to do my part to boost the economy. This time as a retiree.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

writers flock to merida

Let the word go forth -- it is time for the 2nd Annual Latin American Bloggers Meet & Greet!

If you pop on over to Theresa's blog, you can get all of the details.

The first get-together was on Isla de Mujeres with
Islagringo hosting what turned out to be a fun and learning experience for everyone who could attend. You can see some of the fun here. I missed last year's event because I was in the middle of the Atlantic.

This year should prove to be just as much fun in Merida, Yucatan. Here is the lineup:

    • Conference on Friday, April 17th and Saturday, April 18th

    • Thursday evening watch the Yucatones at Jazzing Merida

    Theresa is putting together the rest of the program. For more details on how to sign up, head on over to Theresa's blog.

    This will be a great opportunity to meet the people you know only through their posts.

    Wednesday, February 18, 2009

    spring in our step

    Spring is upon us.

    The evidence is mixed. The temperatures hover in the low 40s -- as a high. The skies are as fickle as teenage love -- clear one moment, stormy the next.

    But the best evidence comes in the form of early buds.

    In some areas, crocus trumpet the impending arrival of Persephone. But not here.

    At Casa Algodón, spring arrives with the snowdrops -- a little bulb that reproduces with all the facility of a Kennedy. Their strength is not their flower -- a puny little thing -- but in their gregarious nature. They travel in tighter bunches than a flock of bushtits.

    Monday morning was a federal holiday -- so, Jiggs and I took the opportunity to be a bit naughty and sleep in. But there was a neighborhood to explore.

    For Jiggs, every outing is a buffet of smells -- even if he had visited that very site the previous evening. I often wonder what is going through his mind as he presses his nose further in the ground -- trapping the last hint of what has happened in his absence. I suspect dogs are more Gladys Kravitz, and less Galileo Galilei.

    But we are both ready for Mexico. Jiggs may not like the heat, because of his heavy coat, but he will undoubtedly get some relief from his arthritic hips.

    Spring can even come in the December of a dog's life.

    Tuesday, February 17, 2009

    let me help you with that, little lady

    Harold Pinter must be smiling somewhere in The Hereafter.

    On Sunday, the ever-positive
    Babs announced in "First Theft in Thirty Five Years" that -- just as the title indicates -- she had suffered her first theft after doing business or living in Mexico for the past 35 years. She left her vehicle unlocked on the streets of San Miguel de Allende, and someone stole a book of her CDs (with some hard-to-replace items), a cell phone charger, and a set of brake pads.

    She took the loss in stride -- exactly as we would all expect Babs to react.

    But we bloggers are not about to let a lady in distress rest in her acceptance that things just do not matter. There are gentlemen present. Knights errant. Sir Walter Raleighs with puddles aplenty, even if imagined.

    Take a look at the comments. I think this is the largest number of comments I have seen on Babs's blog. It is almost as if a Pinter play has come alive in front of our eyes.

    In their desire to help the princess in her tower, the comment conversation morphs from the ability to find replacement CDs, to the virtues of MP3 files, to the inferiority of MP3 files, to random accusations of insanity, to long dissertations on how audio files reproduce sound, and a random list of celebrities met that would make a great episode of the Ed Sullivan Show. It is a hoot to read.

    Mind you, I stick in my two pesos worth along with two of my favorite hombres:
    John Calypso and Michael Dickson.

    I am now chuckling at my involvement in the discussion as a critic of the quality of MP3 files. I sit here typing while listening to music on a newly-found web site (
    the that has some of the most highly-compressed files I have ever heard (or not heard). Go figure.

    But there is a lesson here. Just like riding in a car, if there is one man and one woman, the man will almost immediately admit: "I have no idea what's wrong." But put three men and one woman in the same predicament, and the men will spend hours competing for a solution before admitting: "I have no idea what's wrong."

    Thanks, Bab, for hosting another proof that men will never turn down a potential problem-solving adventure -- all with the best intentions.

    Monday, February 16, 2009

    trivial presidents

    If you do not have enough people avoiding you at parties or dinners these days, here is a bit of trivia that will have you emptying rooms in no time.

    Sure, you were able to score intellectual game points by arguing that the 21st century did not begin until 2001 or that a person does not enter their seventh decade until their 61st birthday. You were correct -- and annoying enough that no one really cared.

    That was kid's stuff compared to today's holiday.

    Here's the question. Is the proper spelling of the national holiday: Presidents Day, Presidents' Day, or President's Day?

    The answer? There is no such national holiday. The national holiday is still officially named Washington's Birthday.

    The genesis of the current confusion in labeling is rooted in the American federal system. The federal government designated Washington's actual birthday (February 22) as a national holiday in 1885. The day was moved to the third Monday in February in 1971, as part of a move to maximize three day weekends. Because not all states celebrated Lincoln's birthday (due to the mid-eighteenth century unpleasantness), some Congressmen wanted to combine Washington's Birthday and Lincoln's Birthday in a holiday called Presidents' Day. The idea failed to gain traction.

    But it did gain traction in several states. In those states, the name is spelled either Presidents' Day or Presidents Day -- with the added confusion of which presidents are being honored.

    Of course, the most prominent use of the name is by businesses advertising one of the traditional sales periods -- where Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Jackson, and Grant can all be celebrated by the traditional act of handing their portraits to cashiers. The fact that Hamilton and Franklin get in on the act is simply fortuitous.

    I once met a young Irish ship officer who claimed that he was successful in picking up young women because he was able to name each of the state capitals. I suspect he was successful despite the fact that he was branding himself as a geek.

    For that reason, I offer my little bet question with the same caveat. Certain wells of knowledge are best not ladled to those you might meet again.

    Some of us are beyond social salvation.

    Sunday, February 15, 2009

    or is that a buss in your plaza?

    What do you do after pretending to clear the streets of illegal vendors, setting up the largest skating rink in the world, turning your tropical city into a Santa-infused Christmas wonderland, and handing out Viagra to aging, but indigent, Lotharios?

    If you are Marcelo Luis Ebrard Casaubón, the mayor of Mexico City, North America's largest city, you try to break the world's record for the most people kissing at one time -- in one place.

    The city's goal was to attract 35,000 people to the late site of the skating rink, Mexico City's Zócalo, on Valentine's Day to show Mexico City's "warmth and love." Plus attendees were to get a free concert to boot. What better way to celebrate Valentine's Day.

    [Update: According to the official monitors, a world record was established. 39,897 people showed up to show their mutual affection. The fact that the number is odd -- and not even -- indicates that at least one lonely soul was willing to kiss solo. There are alternative readings, but this is a family blog.]

    Of course, politicians do not simply put on these extravaganzas for no reason other than the very goodness of their souls. Bread and circuses (or busses and erections, in this case) come with a cost.

    Mayor Ebrard knows exactly what he is doing. Regional elections are due in July. And the mayor needs to position himself as a more rational alternative to his PRD rival for the presidency, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

    But, whatever the politicians do, we can still wish one another a belated el Día del Amor y la Amistad -- even if I kissed none of you in Mexico City yesterday.

    Saturday, February 14, 2009

    the naming of gatos

    I ventured over to Borders Friday evening. I have been there several times this year -- but always in the book and map sections.

    What I needed was a new CD. So, off I went through what was once a vast treasury.

    Treasury is not the word I would use to describe the music section in Borders these days. I have been to garage sales that had a better music selection.

    While skimming the Lilliputian world of CDs, I started chuckling to myself. Someone had decided to file all of the Andrew Lloyd Webber CDs under "W." A rather common mistake.

    I caught the attention of the clerk and pointed out the error. He did not immediately understand what had caught the obsessive attention of the old short, fat guy.

    I told him the composer's last name is "Lloyd Webber," not "Webber." He shrugged and said: "What does it matter? Nobody buys this stuff."

    The exchange reminded me of a similar problem we had with the local police officers when I was practicing criminal defense law in the 1980s. The police were arresting Hispanic men and regularly charging them with the misdemeanor of "Giving a False Name to a Police Officer."

    I was appointed to represent a young man charged with that misdemeanor, and noted that my client, a citizen of Mexico (and legal immigrant) had given his full name to the police officer. For the sake of our story, we will call him Jose Antonio Martinez Sanchez.

    When asked for his "last name," Jose had responded: "Martinez." The officer then looked at his driver's license, and charged him with giving a false name. As far as the officer was concerned, Jose's last name was "Sanchez."

    Now, we all know why the mistake took place. Most nations with a Spanish tradition have a different naming custom than other European countries. Spanish children get two surnames: the first from their father (the apellido paterno or paternal surname) and the second from their mother (the apellido materno or maternal surname).

    For some reason, the local police thought Hispanics were trying to pull something funny on them. And it would be excusable as a bit of cultural ignorance, if the police had not taken several years to stop issuing the citations.

    I have several theories on why the police were that recalcitrant. But, whatever the motivation, it drove a wedge between the legal immigrant population and the police -- and the relations were not great, by any measure.

    As the Borders clerk walked away, I thought: Maybe he is correct. No one is going to miss picking up their CD of Lord Lloyd-Webber's greatest hits because it is filed under "W," instead of "L." And he will never suffer the personal indignity that my clients suffered over an issue every bit as trivial.

    Friday, February 13, 2009

    blogs and ends

    I started to write posts on a couple of topics.

    Separate, they do not constitute enough material for a post.

    But they just may make a satisfying stew. So, here are the ingredients:

    1. Despite Mexican voodoo dolls, that were better material for posts than football magic, the United States soccer team defeated Mexico 2 to 0 on Wednesday -- both goals scored by Michael Bradley. The US will now advance in the final round of qualifications for the 2009 World Cup in South Africa. I am now convinced that Radio Shack and Blockbuster were actually sponsoring doogood dolls. It sounded like a good game. Another bad day to not own a television.

    2. I finally caught the attention of one of the young men at Best Buy, who was willing to take my money, and supply me with a new lap top. I decided to opt for the Sony Z series. It is compact and powerful. I have not been able to use it very much because I do not have a wireless connection in my house. However, it works great at work. One more item checked off for the move south.

    3. I had scheduled Friday as a vacation day -- hoping that I could get up to Portland to visit the Mexican consulate. That is not going to happen. On Monday, I came down with an incredible headache. By that evening every joint in my body ached. I chaired the Salvation Army Advisory Board on Tuesday, but barely got through. Just when I thought I was getting better on Wednesday, I had to pull an all-nighter to complete a project for work and to draft a speech for a Salvation Army Volunteer Breakfast. Friday will probably be a catch-up day in bed.

    4. Every year, the Salvation Army sponsors a breakfast or dinner for all of its local volunteers. This year, I was invited to the keynote speaker. I struggled through early Thursday morning looking for the right hook -- and I found it right here amongst the blog community. I told the volunteers about
    Linda, who volunteered to help her neighbors recover from Hurricane Norbert; about Wayne, who saw the need of children in Ursulo Galvan, and knitted caps and mittens with the help of other knitters and donors, and worked with John and Anita to provide a warming Christmas for the children; and Michael, who honored his infant son, Ian Lee, by inviting bloggers to join in the work of Kiva to provide micro loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries. I thanked them for being the Lindas, Waynes, and Michaels in our community -- seeing a need, thinking of others more than themselves, and taking action.

    This has been a very busy two days. But now, I will put this achy body to bed. One swig of Nyquil should do it.

    Thursday, February 12, 2009

    i'm it

    Where is a Mexican policeman with a spray paint can when you need one?

    You may recall, last month in
    paging john edwards we discussed how the system should deal with juvenile delinquents -- in that case, graffiti brats.

    Well, I just joined the tagged set. I went out to my garage the other morning and was greeted with the "art" in the photograph at the top of the blog.

    I am not a garage virgin. I have had two sides bedecked with the works of budding James Whistlers.

    And I have been through all stages of the craze: spray paint that required a heavy coat of enamel to obliterate; the stupid phase of water-based pens that came off with spit and kleenex. And now the newest phase: magic marker. Permanent magic marker. Permanent magic marker that bleeds through paint.

    Our city has an ordinance that requires property owners to clean up graffiti within something like 72 hours of discovery. I am in flagrant violation of the law, and like Thoreau in his Walden cabin, I will resist the jack boot of the man. (Several years ago, I was visited by an armed police woman, who threatened dire consequences unless I cleaned up my garage act. I told her I was a performance artist. She told me I had 72 hours. Whatever happened to the jovial beat cop?)

    Actually, I just need to find some green paint to turn the gang tag into another drab suburban garage door.

    And while I am at the hardware store, I may buy a can of spray paint. You never know when some guilty feet may get some rhythm -- or, at least, some paint.

    Wednesday, February 11, 2009

    she walks in beauty like the night

    The bad news fairy has been leaving little treats of news articles for me at my desk.

    I would prefer Hot Tamales.

    There is really no new news here. About the same headlines that the northern press loves to blare:

    • 200 Americans killed in Mexico since 2004

    • Ex-general tortured and shot first day on anti-drug job

    • Cancun police chief arrested in drug deaths

    And all three headlines were based on fact.

    That first one sounds terrible. 200 Americans killed in Mexico over the past five years. Let's see. That is 40 people each year on an average.

    And who were they? A recent study concluded exactly what an informed person would guess: most of them were involved in organized crime as cartel hit men, drug dealers, smugglers, or gang members. (I am not saying they deserved to die. I am just saying that were involved in a profession that does not have a high payout in retirement benefits.)

    But, at least 70 -- or a third of the total -- were killed in what appears to be innocent circumstances.

    Compare that with the 43,200 Americans that died in car crashes in 2005.

    Or 366 murders in Detroit in 2003.

    Or 234 murders in Phoenix in 2006.

    And the list could go on and on.

    Americans are murdered in Mexico. Of course, they are. And they are murdered in their home towns. For almost the same reasons. Illegal drug activity and enforcement of prohibition laws top the list.

    And there are terrible stories of torture and murder: the most recent being Brigadier General Mauro Enrique Tello, his aide, and his driver. The drug cartels were obviously sending a message to the government to back off on the drug wars.

    Instead, the Cancun police chief has been arrested and is currently being interrogated about his involvement in the general's death. It is a good start. And it is understandable why a growing segment of the Mexican public has started calling for reinstatement of the death penalty.

    And now, along comes the good Donna commenting yesterday in another post:

    It seems that since I have become an avid reader of your blog I am hearing more and more about the drug cartels in Mexico and all the horrible crimes they commit. In the local newspaper I get every morning, there was an article about how far into the United States these cartel members have traveled and that the crimes continue to escalate as far inland as Atlanta. I also heard about a Marine killed by his vehicle in the Baja. Now Steve I know you are a capable man and a wonderful human being, but I am thinking your Mexican adventure might need to be re-thought. In any event, you are sure to find the best of the worst. Some of us may worry though.

    Donna (and the news fairy) --

    I appreciate the concern. But I am going to Mexico because it offers something that Salem cannot.

    The best Salem offers is a comfortable life. I have had that for 60 years. I need something more.

    And that something more is the adventure I know Mexico will offer. The weather will be a challenge. Learning Spanish will be a challenge. Learning not to be a fatal statistic on the roads will be a challenge.

    But I am going to learn something about life -- and about me.

    And I am finding it hard to wait for the adventure to begin.

    Tuesday, February 10, 2009

    roots and trees

    A president, a former vice-president, and a lawyer walk into a DNA factory.

    It sounds like the first line of a bad joke.

    But it is just part of my life -- and that part of life where we have absolutely no control: our relatives.

    Several years ago, one of my cousins started an almost obsessive interest in our family tree. He has traveled throughout the world uncovering some of the more savory bits of our family. But, like most families, most of the information is more mundane than the shipping news.

    I must confess, though, I was morbidly fascinated to discover I am descended from the first person to be hanged in Massachusetts Bay Colony for murder. That another relative was tried -- and convicted -- as a witch. That another relative shot his best friend in a dispute over a woman.

    But we were all surprised during the Democrat primaries when an enterprising reporter (the type of reporter who apparently did not have enough to do) uncovered the interesting little tidbit that Dick Cheney and Barack Obama were eighth cousins. Almost like the Patty Duke Show -- with a rather odd twist.

    My mother immediately called me because her family shares the same connecting relative. Of course, a headline reading: "Oregon dog-owner related to political candidate" does not quite have the same caché as sworn political opponents sharing the same DNA.

    I thought about that last night as I was leafing through the latest edition of National Review. Two book reviews caught my eye.

    The first was a review of Ira Stoll's biography of Sam Adams -- the founding father, not the Portland mayor who chooses to bed foundlings.

    The patriot Adams has long been one of my political idols. A schemer. But one of the first colonists who saw that our marriage to parliament was based on "irreconcilable differences" -- and there was nothing for it, but a divorce. Perhaps one of the more zealous proponents of liberty in the 1760s and 1770s. And another cousin.

    The second review was written by one of my favorite writers: Florence King. (A preference I am pleased to share with
    Jennifer Rose.) She reviewed Alison Weir's Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster.

    Katherine was one of those interesting characters from medieval history. We know next to nothing about her -- other than she was the centerpiece of a steamy novel in the 1950s.

    The real Katherine started as the daughter of a Flemish merchant. Became the governess for the children of one of the English king's younger sons. Became the mistress of the English king's younger son. And ended up the mother of children who pumped out their own DNA that has resided in every British monarch since Edward IV -- including the Hanoverian lot populating the current throne.

    The fact that Katherine was the fountainhead of so many monarchs did not keep her descendants from warring against their cousins and doing some rather unspeakable things. In that era, power was an end in itself, and those that had the power could -- and did -- put an end to anyone who endangered that hold.

    Sam Adams had a better idea. People, living in liberty and virtue, could govern themselves peacefully.

    Americans can take a good deal of pride that the Adams DNA proved stronger than the Swynford model -- at least, socially. Americans just witnessed the power of the Adams model in a rare event in this world: power passed peacefully from one party to another.

    As I watch what is happening in Mexico today, I pray that the Mexican parties will show the same maturity when power passes between them.

    Monday, February 09, 2009

    who's your dolly, now?

    Pull out those voodoo pins.

    For all of you expatriates who were disappointed that Radio Shack had decided to pull out of the partnership with the Mexican newspaper to distribute anti-American soccer voodoo dolls, you can breathe a sigh of relief.

    Cease your dealings with those back alley Santeria grandmas.

    You can get the real thing by marching down the street to your local Blockbuster Video to rent the latest American Pie video -- and get yourself a genuine voodoo doll -- just like the one we discussed in
    a pin in your football.

    And note the instructions: "Hold a needle firmly between your thumb and index finger and prick slowly the part of the doll where you want to affect the opponent." (I think one of my ex- girlfriends had a similar technique.)

    Apparently what a Fort Worth-based corporation is afraid to do, a Dallas-based corporation will. What is in the water up there in Texas? Next thing we know, the Alamo will be handed over to the Santa Ana family with a sincere apology.

    But what if those dolls do not work?

    Have no fear, I just read that Congress is coming to the rescue. If Texas is wlling to offer an open hand to Mexico, the political successors of President Polk are ready to do the same.

    According to my Washington sources, Representative Carmen Tonto de Abril (R-CA) has received unanimous consent to amend the economic stimulus bill to provide a subsidy to the Mexican fútbol team to guarantee just enough points to win this Wednesday’s match.

    When a reporter pointed out that the subsidy would not be effective until 1 April, and the game is just two days away, Representative Tonto de Abril responded: “That’s OK. Who knows if any of this is going to work?”

    She then added: “You haven’t seen the last of Tonto de Abril.”

    Sunday, February 08, 2009

    mates with class

    I had lunch on Saturday with over 20 of my high school classmates -- and a few spouses.

    We have met several times since our fortieth reunion two years ago -- mainly for lunches. Every gathering has had a different mix of classmates. And I have been excited to see each of them and catch up on what we have all been doing.

    The most popular activity is conversation. Some silly. Some philosophical. But all good natured.

    I have discovered a sure-fire way to change the topic amongst this group: just pull out one of the many yearbooks or group pictures in which we starred. Most of my classmates went to school together from kindergarten through high school. I did not join the stream until the fourth grade.

    I found the booklet that contains the scan at the top of this post when my brother and I moved my mother from her last house. I almost threw it away. Now, I am glad I did not.

    We passed it around, inducing tale after tale -- some of which probably have the additional allure of being true. It is amazing what you learn about classmates decades later.

    This will most likely be my last meeting with the full group. Of course, I expect to see several of them in Mexico.

    Saturday, February 07, 2009

    does not compute

    If you listen to the news and the politicians, we should all be boning up on harmonizing "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"

    Jodes a'plenty. Bread lines. Dust bowls.

    They should be everywhere.

    I don't doubt there are people hurting financially -- and that added together, they should be quite evident in our daily lives.

    But here is what I have seen recently. On New Year's Eve, Beth and I went to a pre-play dinner. It was very early in the evening, but every table was full. When we left, we could barely make our way out of the reception area. It was packed.

    Now, this was the type of restaurant where a couple can easily drop $140 for dinner. And it was New Year's Eve. Maybe people were simply celebrating.

    But I have been to several lunches and dinners (many associated with Steve's Big Birth Year) since then. With one exception, the restaurants were packed -- whether a small lunch place or a fancy evening restaurant.

    Exhibit #2: As you know, I have been looking for a lap top. After shopping around for a week, I decided I would buy the Sony Z series I mentioned earlier this week.

    I have now stood twice at Best Buy beside the computer with my credit card out holding a stack of other merchandise. On Friday evening, I waited for an hour without attracting a salesman. On Saturday evening, a young man stopped momentarily and then rushed off never to be seen again.

    On both nights, I could not blame indifferent salesmen. A platoon of blue-shirted young men were running hither and yon trying to keep up with the customers -- customers who were buying shopping baskets full of electronic goods. The waiting line to purchase goods looked like the check-in line at the airport. Almost literally.

    And this was not the tony New Year's Eve restaurant crowd. By their clothes, they appeared to be regular working class Americans. (Of course, clothing in America is no clue of a person's social station. Many of my colleagues dress as if they were extras in a gangsta rap video. There may be a future blog in that comment.)

    All of this in one of Oregon's poorest cities -- in a state with 9% reported unemployment.

    Billie made similar observations as a result of her recent visit to Houston. Something does not seem right.

    We used to talk about the invisible poor. I am wondering if we have outed another group -- the invisible affluent.

    What I do know is that I appear to be one of the few people in Salem without a new computer. I intend to resolve that matter soon -- even if I have to order it online.

    Friday, February 06, 2009

    russian through the list

    One and a half check-offs today.

    Not the Russian playwright type. The "I'm going to Mexico" type.

    Today's mail brought news from Washington, DC that Hillary Clinton is willing to grant me the authority to cross the borders of This Great Country -- and then get back in without hiring someone who sounds as if he should be trying to catch The Road Runner.

    I will spare you a photograph of the first page showing my new travel visage. Let's just say that if I ever end up on a wanted poster, Elmer Fudd is going to have a very difficult life.

    This means, of course, that I can now head over to the Mexican consulate in Portland and start the process of getting an FM3. I am still not certain that I will go through the full process before I head south. But I want to, at least, find out how many burning hoops this puppy can jump through.

    I may also have made a decision on a laptop. Assuming that I do not work on contract after going to Mexico, I will need a laptop primarily for email, internet, and manipulating blog material. I toyed with simply getting one of the inexpensive netbooks. But they do not give me the computing power I need for my blog.

    I also realized that I could leave my DVD player and CD player behind if I could rely on a lap top.

    Here is the plan: I will buy a small notebook (probably a 13" screen). I will then bring my flat screen monitor along with some auxiliary speakers.

    I went to Best Buy two days ago to actually feel laptops. I am glad I did -- though my wallet may regret my caress fixation. After picking up and manipulating about 15 potential matches, I decided that the Sony Vaio Z series meets my needs. That is my new love at the top of this post.

    I am going through my cooling off period. On Saturday morning I am driving up to Portland for a brunch with some members of my high school class. That will give me an opportunity to look for a better deal at Fry's. If I do not find one, I will most likely consummate this deal at Best Buy -- for the price of about 8 netbooks.

    And so the pieces are starting to fall into place. Much more requires doing. But it is happening.

    Thursday, February 05, 2009

    a pin in your football

    With the exception of American Mommy in Mexico, the Mexico blogs I read regularly did not even mention the Super Bowl this year.

    I know I didn't. It barely made a cameo appearance in my sermon on Sunday.

    But there is some interesting sports news that has trans-border possibilities.

    On 11 February the U.S. soccer team and the Mexican fútbol team will meet in a World Cup qualifying match. Now, those of you who do not follow soccer (a term I will use because using "football" in this context carries enough political baggage that the sports story will get lost -- just like the Olympics) will probably be surprised to discover that the U.S. team is favored to beat the Mexican team.

    Surprising, to me, at least, because anyone who has watched a group of Mexican schoolboys knows that soccer appears to be part of the Mexican XY gene pool -- a heritage earned the hard way with Aztec stone rings and their deadly consequences for losers. Compare that with the soccer preppy American kids learn. That may also explain why some of the names on the American roster sound a bit less-than-WASPish. Hey! If we can't raise them, we can always buy them.

    But history indicates that the Americans have a leg up: winning nine and losing only two of the last 14 matches. Mexico is often a prisoner of its own history, and the soccer pitch appears to be little different.

    Plus the teams hate one another. The intensity is so strong this season that Oswaldo Sanchez made less-than-complimentary remarks about Landon Donovan’s mother. The U.S. striker returned the favor by urinating on the field at Estadio Jalisco in Guadalajara -- almost inciting a riot. Boys will be -- delinquents. (Where did we put that can of spray paint?)

    And, of course, there is the long history of the big brother-little brother relationship wrapped in the big enchilada of the 1848 unpleasantness. The Russia-Poland, Italy-France rivalries come to mind.

    That may explain why Radio Shack, a Fort Worth-based American corporation, got caught up in the emotions of this match. Its Mexican subsidiary and a Mexican newspaper promoted the voodoo doll kit pictured at the top of this post -- designed to improve Mexico's chances by jinxing the opposition.

    Yup! That is an American player, just waiting to have pins poked into parts that should not even be in play during a match. Remember the Absolut Mexican map advertisement that caused American talk shows to go apoplectic? Well, it happened again.

    The result? Radio Shack decided to withdraw the offer with the brave corporate voice that has made Americans such a business force throughout the world: "We wish the very best of luck to Mexico, the U.S., and all teams in the final round of regional qualifying for next year's tournament." Miss America could not have delivered a sweeter world peace speech.

    So, the match will go on. Voodoo aficionados will need to search out a back alley priestess to hex the pesky Yanks.

    I am a bit more surprised that our conspiracy-minded buddy, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has not charged the U.S. of fixing the match. Look where it is being held. Crew Stadium. Columbus. Ohio. 11 February. Outside.

    It is 18 degrees (fahrenheit) there today. Admittedly, the forecast is for 46 degrees on the 11th. But at least half of these young men are raised to believe that when the weather drops into the 70s, you break out the ski parkas.

    Ah, well. It promises to be an interesting -- if not good -- match. If I had a television, I would watch it. But, I don't. And it will not be interesting enough to find an available set.

    I will wait for the next corporate voodoo headline.

    Wednesday, February 04, 2009

    stick 'em up

    Crime stalks the halls of blogdom.

    No back-alley mugging this. No, sirree, Bob. This is theft with an electronic edge.

    No Pink Panther. No Saint. Just a sleazy mind with a lap top and the limited intellectual talent to copy and paste.

    The electronic era has played havoc with copyright laws. Prior to Chester Carlson's electrostatic glass rod, reproducing material from a book was prohibitively expensive. Then came the copier. The video camera. And the copier with its bunny-like reproductive system.

    And that brings us to this episode of law and disorder. Fellow blogger
    Nancy has been virtually rolled. Or, more accurately, her blog has.

    Her fancy blog program (apparently, far better than the rudimentary tools this program provides) allows her to check on unusual usage patterns. Jane Marple has nothing on her. She tracked down a miscreant, who had the audacity to copy her blog content, and then claim it as his own. Exactly the type of behavior prohibited by copyright law -- and just plain old-fashioned Emily Post etiquette.

    A friend of hers, Jennifer of
    MexScape, discovered that some of her posts and photographs had also been lifted. Jennifer tells a good tale. Take a look at her post. I was most impressed with her creative way of fighting back against this 21st century version of Blackbeard -- and that is a polite term for this behavior.

    This once again raises the question of ownership of blog material. Almost everybody I know who blogs spends a good deal of time putting together posts. I cannot really say my posts are my children. (Yes. I know. "They look just like their father.") But they are personal enough that I would be a little angry if someone lifted my words.

    I have been pleased when some of my colleagues have asked permission to use something I have written. But having it show up on another site unbidden is a bit like seeing a relative's head piked on Tower Bridge.

    On the other hand, I do not feel that way about my photographs. If I could capture images as well as
    John Woods or Billie Mercer, I might feel differently.

    The bottom line is that the thief Nancy encountered was using the material on a website that flogs condos -- among other things. My Daddy said there are some people you just do not need to lend your name to. And he was right.

    Tuesday, February 03, 2009

    empty buckets

    Economic news is bad all over. Mexico is certainly no exception.

    The newspapers have carried announcements of factory and production cutbacks -- everything from soft drinks to automobiles. But the worst news came last week when, for the first time on record, the amount of money immigrants from Mexico sent home, dropped.

    Many developing nations rely on their citizens to find jobs in wealthier countries and remit the money to their families at home. For Mexico, those remittances are its second largest source of foreign income -- the first being oil. Mexicans send more money home than is siphoned out of the trousers and purses of oil-slathered Brits and Yanks on vacation.

    The amount of remittances has never declined from the previous year -- even during the 2001 recession. This year, they dropped by about one billion dollars.

    In developed countries, the loss of a billion dollars in one year is chump change. In Mexico, the impact is felt immediately -- and often by those who can least afford to lose the money.

    The remittances do not go to the type of wealthy Mexicans who drive fast cars and have even faster girlfriends and/or boyfriends. The Mexicans who will not see this money are the father-up-north gatherings of women and children who would make the Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe look like Margaret Sanger.

    The newspapers have also noted the prowling lion of the cloud cuckoo land left, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is doing everything he can to stir up resentment for the sole purpose of snatching political power. Of course, resentment is so thick on the ground, it can be harvested merely by picking it up. It is not a good time to be the king -- even if you had nothing to do with the economic situation.

    López Obrador speaks fondly of the 1910 revolution -- an iconic period for most Mexicans. With the exception of his more radical followers, most Mexicans will ignore the veiled threats to rise up against the current government -- for one very good reason. Today Mexico has a positive relief valve in its political system -- elections that really mean something.

    As the world economy improves, perhaps, Mexico can develop jobs that will allow its best and brightest to stay in Mexico.

    Monday, February 02, 2009

    death of a playgoer

    I was just about to make a promise I know I cannot keep.

    I was about to promise this was my last post with "death" in the title. But that would have been a lie.

    I have been obsessed with death since I was at least four. When my brother and I moved our mother out of her last house, I found an Irish Linen stationery pad. The pages were littered with the scrawl of a 4-year old writing his first two stories.

    The first was about Dr. Bunny, who owned a dummy bunny. He spilled grape juice on the dummy and left on vacation. The police looked in the window and saw the dead "Dr. Bunny." They arrested the housekeeper for murder and electrocuted her. The end.

    The second was about a boy whose mother baked him a rabbit-shaped cake for his fourth birthday (a somewhat more autobiographical tale). During the night, the cake bunny made a wish to be a live cake bunny. The cake bunny fairy godmother (apparently, it is a very specialized union) granted the wish. The cake bunny was attacked by rats, who devoured it. The end.

    In the 1950s, the stories were prized as imaginative. In the 2000s, the child would be popped into years of therapy until he climbed a clock tower to settle scores.

    But that is not the real topic of this post. Last Friday I scheduled dinner with Cynthia and Mike -- as you all know. I thought I was supposed to attend a performance of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman -- not one of my favorite plays -- on that same evening. "Attention must be paid" may be a fine sentiment, but a full play it does not make.

    I started looking around for someone who might want to warm my season seat and who is not prone to being depressed by the turgid prose of Mr. Marilyn Monroe. It was just as well that I could not find anyone who met both criteria -- because my ticket was for the prior Friday.

    That chronological handicap was consistent with another incident last week. In a meeting, I told my colleagues that we needed to get to work on revising some projections before the end of the year because we only had three months left. They just stared at me. I thought the current month was October.

    As my time in Oregon begins to wind down, I suspect that I will have a few more of these time warps. And for those of you who said I did not need a list, this is why I need one.

    Near the end of Annie Hall, Alvy and Annie, after breaking up, are dividing up their books. Alvy pulls out a copy of Denial of Death and nostalgically reminds Annie that it was the first book he bought her. She responds: "Right. Geez, I feel like there's a great weight off my back."

    I have always loved that scene. Maybe this move I will be able to toss several of those books in the box that remains in the past -- just like Dr. Bunny and the gnawed cake bunny.

    Sunday, February 01, 2009

    two more down

    That sigh you heard all the way to Tegucigalpa was one of relief.

    This weekend, I completed two items on my moving to Mexico checklist.

    The first involved my federal service retirement. My checks were to start this month. On Saturday, I received a letter itemizing what my first check will net me, and what each subsequent check will be. As soon as the first check is deposited in my current bank account, I will contact Citibank (Banamex) to open the American side of my Mexican account. (See
    #8 and #9 -- paper money and money paper .)

    That was the easy task this weekend. The more time-consuming portion was checked off this morning: my sermon at church. The topic was chosen for me. Our pastors are going to present a 10-week series of sermons based on Max Lucado's 3:16 -- Numbers of Hope. My assignment was to present an introduction and an overview.

    Simple? Sure. But you all know me well enough that I can take a simple assignment and turn it into the Manhattan Project. I did far too much research, reworking, and rewriting during the past week. I was moving paragraphs around right up to the moment I stood up to deliver my sermon.

    Sermon is probably not the correct term. I am a teacher, not a preacher. But I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity. And it went well.

    I believe I have mentioned the English-speaking church in Melaque. (That is it at the top of this post.) I have already made quite a few contacts in my two visits there. I will undoubtedly have more opportunities to keep my teaching skills honed.

    And now -- back to the list -- after a nap.