Saturday, May 19, 2018

does that translate to hugs and kisses?

You all know the question. We have all asked it.

You see some new construction in your neighborhood. The first thing you want to know is: "What is it going to be?"

About a month ago, a construction crew started clearing off a block-long lot on the main street through our part of town. Just two blocks from my house.

Within days, trenches for the foundation were dug and dump trucks had delivered large rocks to fill the trenches. The footprint looked far to big to be a residence, and most of the other buildings that face the street in the area are commercial. So, I assumed it was going to be a series of shops.

When I asked who I assumed was the foreman, he confirmed my guess. But, he very firmly added it was just one shop.

That struck me as odd. In the other blocks, there is room for five or six shops. But I did not think about it anymore.

What I did do was watch how quickly the floor was poured and how the basic walls went up just as quickly. The crew obviously knew what they were doing.

Then, I saw it. A new sign has been posted on the wall of the construction site -- offering good wages and benefits for the employees of the new store. An Oxxo. A convenience store.

I assume that Oxxo (and its local rival Kiosko) must do some sort of market studies before they build new stores. When I moved to this area, there was just one. At a gas station on the road to Guadalajara. Melaque now hosts several. Even little Barra de Navidad has two Oxxos and a Kisoko. Now, we will have a third Oxxo.

Like all change, this store will have its opponents. The front line fighters will be northerners. Most of them moved away from their home countries in search of less modernity (even though they are prone to get rather cranky about local customs like loud music and fireworks).

But, there will be some neighborhood opposition, as well. Mainly from the owners of the line of abarrotes (small grocery stores) that line our main street. There are at least six, but I may have forgotten one or two. (I should point out that every Mexican neighbor I talked with gave the new store a thumbs up.)

Oxxo and Kiosko are not exactly competitors with the abarrotes. The abarrotes sell a far wider range of products. Where they do compete is for beverages and snacks -- the life blood of convenience stores.

There is an Oxxo and and a Kiosko within walking distance of my house. The only thing I regularly buy at the Kiosko is my brand of bottled water. Santorini. It is not delivered to my neighborhood, and none of the abarrotes carry that brand.

I do not patronize the Oxxo at the entrance of Barra de Navidad because the staff there are concurrently indifferent and a bit arrogant. The staff at the Kiosko know me by name, know the products I prefer, and always pretend they are happy to see me.

That makes a world of difference. Relationships often trump price in Mexico. That is one reason the abarrotes are vulnerable to convenience stores. They do not compete in price. All of them sell the same product at the same price, and, if that product is offered at a convenience store, it will always be more expensive at the abarrotes.

Difference in attitudes toward customers is true for some abarrotes. Some are run by owners who seem to personally care about their customers. Some seem to see customers as an interruption in their day.

The abarrote nearest to my house is convenient. But that is not why I shop there. The owner always keeps me informed when she will be getting fresh shipments. And she actually laughs at my lame jokes. At my age, these things matter.

So, I will welcome the Oxxo to the neighborhood. It will be more convenient for lugging Santorini water bottles home. And I will now be able to pay my electric, internet, and cellular telephone bills by just walking down the block. Of course, if the staff proves to be as surly as the other Oxxo, my bill-paying and water purchases will remain at Kiosko.

And I will continue doing most of my local grocery shopping at my favorite little store, where I am known by my greeting -- "practiamente perfecto."

Thursday, May 17, 2018

the galloping gourmet saunters

It has gone everywhere in the world where I have lived.

Oregon. Texas. Colorado. California. Greece. Great Britain. Nevada. And, now, in its last burst of glory. Mexico.

It, of course, is The Graham Kerr Cookbook. And, as the cover would have it, "by The Galloping Gourmet." Not The Galloping Gourmet Cookbook by Graham Kerr. That is not how celebrities think of themselves. And it is how we think of them.

There was no other word than "celebrity" to apply to the Graham Kerr I first met back in the late 1960s. His shtick defined what we now know as celebrity chefs. Before there was Rachel Ray, or Iron Chef, or the fascist tantrums of Gordon Ramsey, there was Graham Kerr, the galloping gourmet. Or, as it later turned out, the gulping gourmet, who was always seen on camera with a goblet of wine.

Of course, there were the stars of the era. Charles Beard. Julia Child. Chefs of great renown whose wit was as dry as the tarragon sprinkled in their filets de sole sylvestre.

There was nothing dry about Graham Kerr. His goal was not to teach methods of cooking in the traditional sense. He found traditions to be stifling. What he wanted was cooking techniques that were practical -- and that were subject to constant revision. That paragon of utilitarianism Jeremy Bentham would have found a soul mate in Graham Kerr.

But Kerr was, most of all, a showman. His trademark leap onto the stage set the pace for the rest of the show. Along with some groaning jokes that would have not passed muster at the Brighton pier. But we loved him. He had enough energy to be the Jerry Springer of sauté.

The Galloping Gourmet was first televised in 1969. It is hard to believe that it was only on the air for three seasons. Three seasons of hyperactivity that almost ruined the marriage between Kerr and his producer wife.

Then, disaster struck. An automobile accident that almost killed both of them, and left them badly injured.

Since then, his life has taken several different paths, including a deep commitment to Christianity. But, the food path has now come full circle.

In his introduction to the original cookbook, he candidly noted: "I am equally certain that, in the years to come, our advances in food technology and kitchen appliances will require revisions being made [to this cookbook]." And so they have.

At least, food methods have changed. Kerr's reliance on clarified butter (I heard the term first from his lips) and butter seem to be from a different era. An ea when we loved the food we ate, instead of thinking of it solely as another form of gasoline.

Kerr has now published a new cookbook. But a cookbook that defines his more conservative self. It is a re-issue of the old cookbook -- with annotations in his neat, rounded script.

I gave away most of my cookbook collection when I moved to Mexico. I long ago discovered Kerr's basic philosophy was true for me -- cooking traditions are boring; i constantly need to have my food preparation techniques challenged and renewed.

Most cookbooks do not do that. But the internet does. I am not certain Kerr was correct when he predicted changed in appliances and food technology would be the force to revise his research. But the internet is.

A quick search through food sites will usually give me the impetus to try not only new food combinations,but new methods of preparation. Living in Mexico has also given me a new food palette to work with. I am constantly running across vegetables or fruits that I do not recognize -- or cuts of meats I would not have imagined.

Having said that, I may buy a copy of Kerr's revised cookbook. Mine is getting a bit tattered. The pages that open to peas 
à l’étouffée and chicory meunière are smeared with the residue of more butter than went into either dish. And that is a lot.
There is something nice about physical cookbooks. It is not just the tactile sensation of holding a book in my hand, even though there is that. In the case of the cookbooks I have kept, they are all friends. Some I bought. Some were gifts. I treasure one from a woman I should have married.

And, even though some of the cookbooks were quite revolutionary when they were published, they now represent the cooking establishment. But all revolutions build off of the establishment. So, I keep them to act as prods to creativity. Each recipe whispers to me: "You can do better than this." And I often do.

Kerr's life moves now at a saunter, not a gallop. He recently told a group of students who were visiting him in his Seattle home that celebrity is a hollow goal. "If each of us thought we are not likely to get a major TV show, but we are likely to have neighbors -- and if you could contribute to neighbors, like growing a garden or sharing produce -- there's nothing like it."

That is reason enough for me to buy the book. As a witness to the man who grew from the center of the limelight to being a man with peace at the center who finds contentment in reaching his hand out to others. And, as Voltaire would have it, making his garden grow.

There is a lesson in that for all of us.   

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

dirgeless in the garden

I am flying north again this week.

Last month, it was for a wedding.

This month, it is for a memorial service. For my aunt who died early in April (goodnight, gracie). My cousin, her son, has asked me to speak, and I have been working on some words that will be entirely inadequate to sum up her life. At best, I can hope for a vignette.

The past few months have been a time of transition for me. Several people close to me have died, and I have not mentioned them previously here. A member of our church board. A former Clackamas County District Attorney who served as a legal and political mentor since 1966. And two local notable personalities who added to both the depth and the weirdness of our small expatriate community here (if "community" is really the word).

I started listing them today and realized how much I miss seeing each of them. They all had become almost scenery in my life. And then they were gone.

There is a moment in all of these reveries where nostalgia can easily slip into the land of the black dog. The black dog that would love nothing more than to sever nostalgia's aorta.

I was saved from that episode by a bird. A small bird. One of God's clowns in nature. A hummingbird.

I like to think it is just one bird. My bird. That comes only to my patio to slake its nectar thirst.

As far as I know, there is more than one on this particular circuit. I have not even been able to accurately identify its species. It flits by too fast.

Whether it is one or more, I had not seen a hummingbird for months in my patio. In an attempt to tame my yellow-flowering vines that provide shade and privacy to each of the house's bedrooms, I cut them back almost to the ground this fall.

No vine. No yellow flowers. No hummingbird.

I did wonder where it went to supplement its diet. Of course, there are plenty of other gardens in our tropical village. And, for all I know, while the vines were down, it might have been vacationing in Arizona.

But, it is now back. I had just finished cataloging the deaths of my friends when she appeared (her lack of color has tipped me off enough to genderize her) out of the corner of my eye.

There is something about the antics of hummingbirds that fascinates everyone I know. If one appears in a garden, everyone pauses to watch. The hovering. The darting. The blurred images of a purposeful life.

And, just like that, as if she were Wonder Woman, she was gone. She had briefly shared a bit of magic, and now she had other souls slipping into the morass that she needed to save.

The hummingbird brought another gift. She provided me with the hook I needed to sum up my aunt's life.

And that is a lot for a little bird to give in one day.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

cue the scorpion

Screenwriters of horror films have a little trick.

Whenever they encounter lulls in their story arcs, the easiest way to pick up the pace is to stick in a scene where scorpions menace the leading lady. And, even though it is the rankest of cinematic clichés, it almost always works. Even when we all know how the tension is resolved.

There is something visceral about scorpions. My theory is that they are like sharks -- perfect killing machines. Claws to grasp. Armor to protect. A lethal sting to dispatch its prey. I am surprised an arms merchant has not devised something similar.

We tend to shy away from anything that looks that terrifying.

I have had to resort to misinformation to lure some of my friends down here. Scorpions often top their list of reasons not to cross the border. I tell them the chance they would ever see a scorpion was almost zero. (And that is true. As far as it goes. Scorpions do their hunting in the dark.)

I am glad none of those guests were in the house today. Saturday is cleaning and landscaping day. While Dora was busy tidying up the bedrooms, her son, Lupe, and I were trimming my vines and sweeping out the garage.

I saw the first one. One of the largest beige scorpions I have seen since I moved here. A bit of Raid took care of it.

Then Lupe saw the second. A tiny one. Just a baby. But it too had a Raid date.

Dora came out to see what we were doing -- and found the third. Raid. Done.

Three scorpions. All within a five foot radius of each other. That is the highest number I have killed in one day. If this was a Disney production, they would be a cute animated couple with their young son.

The disconcerting fact is that I walked through the same area last night in my bare feet when I got out of the swimming pool. Reminder to self: sandals exist for a good reason.

Now, before anyone says they are not coming to Mexico because of scorpions, let me ask you how you would react if someone said, "I am not going to visit Oregon. They have yellow jackets."

I have been stung by a whole series of insects over the years. I have also been stung by a scorpion. To me, there was no difference. They all hurt, but I survived them.

There are, of course, exceptions. People who are allergic to bee stings are usually also allergic to scorpion stings. My brother is one of those. When he is here, we regularly sweep the area for bees and wasps. And we are careful of scorpions.

So, come on down. This is not a mummy horror set. And the chances are that you will never see a scorpion. But, if you do, pay attention to them. They are as fascinating as tarantulas and rattlesnakes.

But that is an entirely different story.

Friday, May 11, 2018

it does not compute

Someone needs to drive a truck to my house, load up all of my electronic gear, and take it to a safe place.

And not because of my well-documented abuse of my expensive goods. Even though, it is true, if my electronics were children, I would be spending the rest of my life stamping out license plates with vaguely crude letter combinations.

No. My most recent malady has nothing to do with leaving my computer out in the rain or my binoculars on a harbor cruise in Sydney.

My brother is a computer consultant. He is larded with tales of customers who are convinced they have a major virus in their server, only to find out they have simply forgotten their password.

Well, I am about to become the star of one of those tales featuring benighted digital souls.

I bought a printer about a year ago in Manzanillo. It lacked most of the features I liked in my printer that died. (The fact that it was dead was a feature I did not like.) But the new printer and I have managed to build what passes for a nodding acquaintance.

In the beginning, I would ask it to print something, and it would. Then, the relationship frayed a bit. I would ask it to print something. It might. And it might not. I simply took that for moodiness.

While my brother was here, the printer decided it no longer wanted to be moody. It moved on to recalcitrance. I would request it to print something. It wouldn't. We might as well have been married.

I have been around the computer business for long enough to know I had a driver issue on my hands. So, I downloaded new drivers. And it worked for one print job.

I downloaded the drivers again. One print job.

Eventually, whatever was hanging up the process went away with the third download.

Until today. I had to download the drivers again. And it worked. Once.

On the second download, my computer gave me a new warning. The printer was "in error status." Of course, I already knew that. It was not printing.

Being the trouble shooter I am, I unplugged the printer and waited for the cache to clear. Nothing.

I closed up all the trays and took it outside to see if the inks were stuck. Nope.

Was there a paper jam? Nope.

Had a rat built a nest in the back of the printer? Nope.

So, I put it back on the desk, plugged it in, pushed the power switch, opened the feed-through tray, and flipped up the paper holder.

And I saw the problem. So simple that I am almost embarrassed to tell you. 
Especially after wasting a half hour out of my day. (But I would have told the story if it had happened to someone else. That is what we writers are like. Everyone around us is merely story fodder.)

It was right there in front of me. There was no paper in the tray.

My old printer had a readout that told me the paper was empty. But it was built for northern sensibilities -- where we need to be walked through each step as if we are half-witted children.

This printer was built for Mexicans -- people who have enough common sense to know that if a printer is not working, the usual culprit is one of two conditions: the power is turned off or there is no paper in the tray.

Unfortunately, the experience reminded me I am not really Mexican. I have been steeped in northern cosseting for far too long.

And next time? You can bet I will check the paper tray.

Of course, then, the tray will be full, and I will spend another half hour only to discover the printer has been unplugged.

Excuse me, I think I hear the truck at the front door.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

blossoming motherhood

Our village has become one large florist shop.

Barra de Navidad no longer has a formal florist shop. The last one closed years ago. What flowers are sold are usually offered by street vendors.

All of that changed earlier this week. Flowers started popping up in the most unlikely of places. The paper shop. The department store. Every other street corner. It was spring on steroids.

For a moment, I thought the town was preparing for the Hawaii-induced giant tsunami that the look-for-the-international-banker-hiding-under-your-bed brigade has been touting through their Russian troll channels.

But I was wrong. I had forgotten that one of the most important days on the Mexican calendar was almost upon us. And it now is. Today.

This is the day Mexico honors one of its most sacred institutions. Mothers. Dia de la madre.

It does not take anyone living here long to calculate the glue of social life in our villages.

For a lot of reasons (many of them quite understandable), most Mexicans are very skeptical of the motives of government, business, neighbors. They rely almost exclusively on their families as a place of security. And there is always a matriarch who holds it all together. 

It is no accident that the patron saint of Mexico is a woman. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the very model of Mexican womanhood. Or, at least, the aspirational model.

Because the position of mother is so highly-honored, it gets a specific day on the calendar. Its own number. 10 May.

Unlike The States, where the date wanders around the calendar in search of the second Sunday in May (that is a hint for those of you up north who have not yet caught on that The Day is almost here), 10 May is always the day here.

I rather like that. When The States moved almost all federal holidays to the nearest Monday, Independence Day remained sacrosanct. The Fourth of July is 4 July. Celebrating any other day would feel silly.

And so it is with 10 May. My neighbors will be showering their mothers with chocolate, flowers, fancy dinners out. All in the hope of letting them know that without them, there would be no Mexico.

One day is not sufficient to thank them for all they do. But one day is certainly better than none. And Mexico will do itself proud in thanking the women that keep their families standing as a bulwark against the calamities of life.

Feliz día de la madre.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

the class photo

You know the guy. There was one in every class.

The guy who  made goofy faces in all of the class photographs. And each year the other mothers would tut that "someone always has to ruin it for everyone else." Until we realized the guy actually did look goofy. All of the time.

My car is currently auditioning for that role.

The Escape has all sorts of electronic wizardry. One of the most helpful is the warning light when any of the four tires are low on air pressure.

I have had to rely on the warning's good offices a lot in these parts. Our streets seem to be strewn with all sorts of tire hazards. Broken glass. Glass bottles waiting to be broken. Nails. Rock shards. And, once, a foot-long bolt that I believe was used to anchor cat eyes.

All have found a home in one tire or another. Fortunately, I usually have enough warning to get the Escape to my favorite tire doctor. He is becoming quite fond of my tires. And my wallet. (On that last point, he has never charged me more than 50 pesos to fix a tire -- about $2.55 (US) -- no matter how much time it takes.)

About two weeks ago, I was at dinner with my friends Ed and Roxane in La Manzanilla when the warning light came on. The front right tire seemed to be a little low, but not bad. When I filled it in Melaque, it seemed fine.

Then, this morning, the light came on again. This time it was noticeably low. One of those slow leaks that are more irritating than distressing. So, I drove the Escape to the tire shop.

The last time I had trouble with that tire, the mechanic had to replace the stem, which led to a long and sad tale about replacing the air pressure sensor. Just another of my many Ford service horror tales.

When he put the tire into the bath, I hoped he would find a large nail. But there was no leak from the tread.

I steeled myself when he tested the stem. Nothing.

He then let some soapy water trickle down the bead where the outer tire meets the wheel. Nothing.

He was perplexed, but he tried the inside of the wheel. And there it was. A microscopic crack in the wheel was compromising the bead. Probably caused by not slowing sufficiently for one of our many topes.

I asked for my options. He asked me if I wanted the Canadian or the Mexican answer. (In this area, the assumption is that northerners are far northerners, not near northerners.) I asked for both.

He told me the best (and the most expensive) solution was to buy a new wheel. Once the bead is compromised, it will not retain air pressure.

And the Mexican solution? He could put a silicon sealer on the tire. It would be temporary until I could buy a new wheel. When I asked how long temporary would be, he just smiled and said: "How many times do you want to add another silicon layer?"

So I have my new silicon implant, and my Escape no longer has its gap-tooth grin. Tomorrow, I have to drive to Manzanillo to pick up my dry cleaning and do a bit of big city shopping. I can hear Walm
art calling my name. I will probably stop at Auto Zone and check on the price of a new wheel.

I need to get a permanent fix. After all, who wants to be the parent of That Kid? My parents suffered enough. I don't need to. 

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

fosse, fosse, fosse!

I thought I was in a Bob Fosse production.

You know the feeling. Hyponagogia.  That stage between wakefulness and being asleep where anything seems rational. You can fly. The national debt can be resolved. Beaujolais actually lives up to its hype.

Yesterday afternoon, it was Bob Fosse. That is, I thought I must be in a Bob Fosse production when I blinked open my eyes from a well-deserved (and much-needed) siesta.

Chicago. Or maybe Cabaret. One of those stages where shadows play out on a back-lit scrim.

But it was just the shadows of the tropical plants outside my bedroom door. Ann Reinking was nowhere to be found.

Our weather in my part of Mexico has taken a turn. Every year around March or April, we have a few weeks where the evenings are temperate. Offering the hope that nights will actually offer up pleasant sleeping weather.

But, it is all a tease. By May, summer starts to set in. When temperatures and humidity start a race to the top.

Last night was a good example. At midnight, the temperature was a reasonable 80 degrees. But, combined with the humidity, the heat index was 91. And it felt like it.

For the next few weeks, the ceiling fan in my bedroom will provide sufficient relief to allow me to sleep. But, at some point (I suspect around early July), I will surrender to the use of the air conditioner.

That is not my basic martyrdom speaking. I just do not like becoming a self-imposed exile in my bedroom. Once I turn on the air conditioner, I will spend most of my time in my room.

And I want to avoid that. Because I will miss experiences like this morning.

I am sitting at a table beside my pool on a clear morning listening to the various birdsong, including the comically mechanical call of a pair of Chacalacas who have been flitting about the neighborhood for the past month. If I retreated to my sanctuary, I would miss all of that.

A Mexican friend messaged me last night that he would like to borrow money to buy a fan. "Borrow," of course, means he would like me to give him the money. He complained he could not sleep because of the heat.

I fully understand. Unlike my house, that was designed to use natural ventilation to its best effect, his little concrete room has windows designed more for security than comfort. I have been there in the afternoon and found it impossible to stay in the room for more than a minute or two.

This is not a complaint about the weather here. It would be churlish for me to even hint at that. I did not move here for the weather. If I wanted my ideal weather, I would have moved to the Isle of Lewis.

It is just one of the factors I deal with daily. I suspect there are many people around the world who would gladly trade places with me. Syrians, for example.

But, without the sun here, I would never wake up on Broadway. Even if it is just for one magic moment.

Monday, May 07, 2018

closing another cold case

I love a good mystery.

Better yet, I love solving a good mystery.

When I moved to Mexico, I had a lulu in my sights. Why was the Mexican village of San Patricio named after a Romano-British missionary who became the patron saint of Ireland?

The question, of course, was a bit silly. Mexico is filled with villages named for Italian or French saints along with the Jewish apostles (unlike my current neighborhood that is named in honor of a Mexican-born missionary who was martyred in Japan -- San Felipe de Jesus). And no one bothers asking why. After all, the saints are as universal as the church.

I instinctively knew there was no answer to that question. After all, why is San Luis Potosi named for a sainted French king?

But there was an additional mystery that intrigued me. During the Mexican-American War of 1846-7, several Irish and German soldiers in the American army were induced to desert and switch sides. The Mexican government promised land and military commissions to American deserters.

One of the few military advantages the United States had in that war was is artillery tactics. Most of the deserters had served in artillery units and brought that skill to the Mexican side. They styled themselves as the San Patricio Battalion. (Seven years ago, I described the genesis of the battalion in more detail in mexi-irish rose -- part i and mexi-irish rose -- part ii.)

The war did not end well for many members of the battalion. When the Americans won, they tried a group of them and hanged them for desertion. 46 of them.

But some were merely whipped and branded. Others had melted away into the expanse of Mexico.

When I moved south, I had several clues to follow about a popular local myth that San Patricio was named for the battalion. In the 1990s, a professor from Evergreen College in Washington, brought a group of students to Mexico to sensitize them to the evils of America. (It was the same group of students Mexico would eventually deport for interfering in Mexican politics. count me out -- but in.)

The professor claimed there was a direct link between the battalion and the name of the village, and he used the battalion as a role (or rile) model for his charges. The students were instrumental in re-building the gazebo in San Patricio's square. A plaque still honors their efforts to immortalize the battalion.

As proof of the connection, the professor claimed to have seen a deed awarding a local hacienda to a member of the battalion. That seemed to cinch the connection.

But, when I asked where he saw the deed or if he had retained a copy, our connection went dead. I do not want to ascribe any lack of honesty on his part. That would not be magnanimous.

A Mexican acquaintance, who was an elected local official at the time, told me another tantalizing tale. There is a hill just north of San Patricio that contains a cave. According to my acquaintance, a member of the battalion came to the area and lived in the cave as a hermit.

No deed. No hacienda. But it did have a sense of Catholic authenticity. A grieving soldier paying penance for his violent past.

Or so goes the story. When I asked him if there was any documentation supporting the tale, he just chuckled.

That did not surprise me, though, he is the same fellow who told me years ago that he believed there was a connection with the battalion, but he knew of no objective evidence to support that conclusion. "You don't understand the mystery of Mexico. Thinking about this simply destroys its beauty. Myth is true. Facts are lies. If you want it to be true -- it is."

And, apparently, officialdom has adopted that approach. During one of my trips, a large flag pole (one of those poles that bear the weight of a giant Mexican flag on secular holidays) was installed on the north end of the town square. At its base is a very carefully-worded plaque that honors the memory of the Irish soldiers of the San Patricio Battalion and declares them to be local heroes for their sacrifice.

No claim that the town is in any way connected to battalion members who moved to the area. Nothing about a romantic hermit in a cave. No yellowing hacienda deed. Just a homage paid by grateful people to soldiers who volunteered to defend them.

I have been told by people who attended the dedication ceremony that what does not appear explicitly on the plaque was overtly stated in speeches.

And, who knows? Maybe there is something other than a precatory connection between the battalion and the town. But, I have decided that I am not going to find it. I will simply smile when people mention the connection. What sense is there railing against myth?

After all, there are people who still go around spouting the long-ago discredited tale that the term "Gringo" was a taunt of the Mexican people urging the green-clad American soldiers of 1848 to go home. (For the record, "gringo" dates back to at least the early 1700s in Spain and was used to refer to a non-native speaker of Spanish. Probably, derived from the Spanish word for "Greek" -- as in, it is all Greek to me.)

Now, I need to find another quixotic research quest. Any suggestions?

Sunday, May 06, 2018

count me out -- but in

Our streets are filled with placard-carrying demonstrators.

If we lived in Morelia, I would suspect the teacher students are up in arms over some long-needed reform in education. But we don't. And the demonstrators filling our streets are not students errant.

It is election time. But you already know that.

In put another ballot in, I briefed you on the very odd mix of coalitions that have developed in this year's presidential election. On 1 July, Mexicans will go to the polls and choose a national president, each of whom have been endorsed by a coalition of political parties that look more like a Chinese combination menu than a set of reasoned ideologies.

But there is a lot more at stake in the coming election than just the presidency. Both houses of congress are up for grabs along with several gubernatorial races and elections for local officials.

My Sunday morning grocery shopping was momentarily delayed by a large demonstration in San Patricio's square. In the past, most local elections were contested by single party candidates. That strategy changed after the long-ruling PRI won back the presidency six years ago.

The leftist PRD and the center-right PAN forged an alliance to defeat PRI candidates in subsequent local elections. The only thing the two parties had in common was their opposition to PRI.

That coalition has stuck together. I live in the municipality of Cihuatlan. To my American ears, municipality sounds like another word for city. That is wrong. It helps to think of the administrative area as being more like a county. The president of the municipality is thus similar to a county commissioner. He is effectively the boss of the district, and is called the president of the municipality.

That post is currently held by a very young attorney who ran on the Citizen's Alliance ticket. Until very recently, no elected official could run for re-election. That changed just over 4 years ago. Now, anyone can run for re-election to any office except for the national presidency. Opposition to re-election was one of the tenets of the 1910 Mexican Revolution.

Our young incumbent is taking another turn in the barrel -- if the voters are so inclined. But, this time, he is supported by the leftist PRD and the social democratic Citizen's Alliance. At least, they have something in common ideologically, and are partners nationally.

When I first saw the mixture of the two flags at the demonstration, I thought that two separate groups of supporters had smashed into one another in the square. But they were all allies. For this election.

Groups of demonstrators are one of the most common campaign tactics in our local Mexican elections -- along with signs on cars, taped messages blaring from speakers on motorcycles, and some rather colorful announcements painted on walls.

All of it looks very familiar to me. That is, if I go back to the 1950s in my little mountain home town of Powers. In this particular rally, the president of the municipality was the star attraction. He ticked off a list of promises -- as if he were not the incumbent. The most amusing was the promise to complete a hospital in Cihuatlan that has sat unfinished for a decade.

I rather enjoy the short campaign period. Of course, American political style has seeped into the Mexican system. AMLO, the presidential candidate of the far left MORENA, has been running for president since his loss in 2012. Some would say from his loss in 2006. But it is a relief not to live in a system of permanent campaigns.

During the last two election cycles, I have noticed a disturbing trend amongst expatriates. They have become entangled in local politics. Some naively, by helping to raise funds for a cause that, on its face, appears to be humanitarian, but turns out to deliver funds in the name of one political party or other.

The other example is a bit more blatant. I saw two cars, owned and driven by expatriates, displaying signs supporting the election of specific candidates.

People can do as they like, but I do remind them that another goal of the Mexican Revolution was to prohibit foreign influence in Mexican politics. It is right there in Article 9 of the Constitution of 1917. Only Mexican citizens can participate in Mexican politics.

That seems rather clear to me. And there can be drastic consequences for violating that article. A group of students from Evergreen College in Washington did not take the warning to heart when they joined a demonstration opposing the construction of an airport in Mexico City. (Ironically, it is an airport that AMLO has opposed and still opposes.) They were detained and deported to the United States.

Mexico has had a long history of foreigners interfering in its internal affairs. But some foreigners do not seem to believe the prohibition applies to them.

As for me, I am going to enjoy watching the next two months of campaigning. There will always be some good stories lurking in each event.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

love is stronger than your conflicts

When Kimmy told me she and Matthew were getting married in Disneyland, I had an immediate reaction.

There are really only two choices. A saccharinish squealy "Oh, how exciting! Life's happiest event in the world's happiest place!" Or a flagrant roll of the eyes into Little Orphan Annie territory. You will not be surprised that I was looking for my dog Sandy.

I am not certain why Disneyland evokes Manichean reactions. It predates our current social snarkiness. Some of the writers for The Simpsons are former Disney employees and wrote several running gags about the evils of the Disney empire back in the Nineties.

If I had simply waited for the full story, my reaction may have been a little less jaded.

When I hear "wedding in Disneyland," I think of brides dressed as Snow White, the groom dressed as the beast, with the seven dwarfs acting as groomsmen and bride's maids, all standing in front of Cinderella's castle being married by an animatronic Abe Lincoln.

And I guess such affairs can happen. Disney can be very accommodating. For the right amount of cash.

But that was not Kimmy's wedding. Hers was scheduled at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel.

I have stayed there. It is quite a nice venue. And, if you take out the Disney part, it was going to be a wedding in one of America's grand hotels.

That is exactly what it was. A very intimate ceremony held on the terrace of the hotel with a handful of family and friends as guests, and an ebullient wedding party. The vows were conducted by Reverend Bob (a nod to southern California culture), who made a memorized spiel sound as if his advice had been hand-crafted for these two young people who are totally devoted to each other.

For those of you who do not immediately recognize Kimmy's name, she is the daughter of my friends from law school, Ken and Patti Latsch. Patti is my friend who died of cancer almost three years ago (the circle tightens). I always felt a bit like Patti's brother -- making me Kimmy's uncle by default. (Patti's presence was symbolized by a lantern candle that was present throughout the festivities.)

Because I have known Kimmy for so long, there was no possibility that I was going to miss one of the most important days of her life. And it was the correct choice.

At most weddings, it seems that only one party is truly getting married. Not so, at this ceremony. Both Kimmy and Matthew avoided the mistake of reciting vows. They stated vows, but they made the words their own. It was a sincere commitment of love.

Reverend Bob's homily contained a line that struck me. "Love is stronger than your conflicts." That sentiment is not original. But, it was appropriate for these two kids. They will have conflicts. But their love is going to help them get through everything -- if they let it.

Just a moment ago, I wrote: "If you take out the Disney part, it was going to be a wedding in one of America's grand hotels." That shows my own bias. It turns out that "taking out the Disney" part would have made the day a lot less special.

After photographs, we retired to a large courtyard for lunch. I have learned not to expect too much from wedding food. The bride's family often pays a fortune for their guests to dine on banquet fare.

Not Disney. We had a lunch that could have come out of one of the best restaurant kitchens in America. All served by a staff who provided for any of our whims.

What Disney could not provide is the magic that Kimmy and Matthew have brought to our lives. Their friends beamed throughout the whole day -- sharing their joy with one another.

For me, one of the best moments was seeing Ken dance with his daughter at the lunch. Moments before he had given her away in marriage, but their father-daughter connection remained -- symbolized by that special dance.

So, Kimmy. Matthew. And Ken and Patti. Let me thank you for letting me part of your lives. I have truly enjoyed the ride.

And, the next time I roll my eyes, just smack me. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

write myself a letter

I love to write.

My blog, of course. Those periodic essays make me a better observer of life.

And then there is a major writing project I have been working on for several months that may or may not creep into the Library of Congress catalog. Today, I would put my chips on "00" of the roulette wheel on that prospect.

But, what I really love to write is letters. Not that I write many these days.

Like most people in search of the error of immediacy, I rely on email and Facebook to keep in touch with my family, friends, and acquaintances. No one will ever mistake any of those for the Jefferson-Adams correspondence.

And there is good reason for that. In the belief that we must immediately share whatever it is, we skirt difficult analysis in favor of superficiality. Any of us could take a look at our "sent mail" file to see how painfully true that is.

Before someone points out that, even in the days of hand-written letters, most of our words would never end up in a collection of the world's deepest thoughts. And that is because we write to others to keep in touch. Often with nothing more than the humdrum of our daily lives. Of course, that is the grist for many a blog.

Most of what I receive as email can be quickly answered with a few words. I call it abbreviated twittering.

But there are exceptions. Now and then I receive an email that makes me want to pull out my fountain pen and start writing on a fine sheet of stationery. There are two examples in my inbox that have remained unanswered.

I received the first from a resident of Canada and Yucatan who I originally met through her well-written blog. She sent me a very thoughtful email at the end of March about an essay I had posted. It was so well-done that I wanted to take time to think of a response. The type of response that used to require ink and linen.

The other email was from my friend John in Salem. He is a good friend. But, more than that, he is always erudite. And his message reflects his skill.

His birthday was in the middle of the month. One tradition I have maintained from my "write your thank you notes" upbringing is sending birthday cards. They do matter. And I had sent one to him. But I also called him on his birthday -- something I rarely do.

Apparently, my birthday card arrived two weeks late. John took time out of his day to thank me. But, also, to tell me a bit about what was happening both in his life and his head.

He and his son had been hit with a very nasty virus. "Three days into the experience, I was more than happy to succumb, but, alas, as it turns out, the virus was cough and no death.  It appears that we have survived its microbial assault." Writing like that is as rare in email as John is.

He then shares a summary of a book his is reading about Ivan Ilyin, Putin's favorite philosopher. His insights were pointed, but analytical. Not the usual fare of email.

When I left home for the Air Force, I regularly corresponded with a college friend, John Crooks. Over the years, we must have written hundreds of letters -- consciously emulating the Jefferson-Adams correspondence in our twenties naivete.

Somewhere along the line, I lost contact with John. But our friendship survives in those letters.

Even though I am tempted to write letters in response to my two serious correspondents, I will probably give into electronic seduction. It is easier. But, at least for me, my writing will be far less thoughtful than if I had uncapped a pen and wrote a physical letter.

As I write this, I am preparing for a week-long trip north. For a wedding. At Disneyland. I will give you the details later.

Or, maybe, I will just write each of you a letter.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

moving to mexico -- parking

I live in a Jane Marple world.

Just like Agatha Christie's character, who relies on analogies to her very limited life experience in the small village of St. Mary Mead to deductively solve murders, I tend to see the world through the provincial eye of a ten-year old growing up in Powers, Oregon.  And that eye serves me well in our little villages by the sea.

Take parking, as an example. For all of their associations with Spain's opening of the Pacific trade lanes, our villages are relatively new. I believe I would be hard pressed to find many structures here that are older than I am. (Of course, that may say more about my age than the youth of our villages.)

That was true of Powers, as well. It was not founded until the 1910s. When my mother's family moved there from Minnesota, it was still as new as a shiny dime.

When the town was laid out, the automobile was becoming a common accessory of life. And the town streets were platted to reflect that. Wide with plenty of parking. Even though, when I was a child, no one would have thought of driving to the grocery store. It was a quick walk. Or my mother's cousin Ken would arrange for one of his staff to deliver purchases.

I do not know when the streets of Melaque and Barra de Navidad were laid out. But whoever did it certainly did not have vehicles in mind -- for either flow or parking. They are incredibly narrow.

Of course, there were not many cars around then. Personal ownership of vehicles has only skyrocketed in the past two decades. When the SUVs of middle class tourists are added to the usual bustle, our streets have less in common with traffic flow than with the sclerotic arteries of a pizza lover.

Hank, a resident of this part of Mexico for 30 years, left a comment on our discussion of the formality of courtesy on Mexican buses (musical chairs). After agreeing that Mexico is a land of general courtesy, he realistically noted courtesy is not universal here. "Another quite noticeable lack of manners, this time by adults, are drivers stopping and blocking a street while they converse or blocking you in in a parking spot or your driveway."

He is absolutely correct. Neuva 
España is the main street through the commercial area in my neighborhood. I once remarked that it is not so much a street as a public square where cars are occasionally allowed to pass.
Even though it is the main arterial in our neighborhood, filled with delivery trucks, buses, cars, motorcycles, pedestrians, bicycles, baby stroller, horses, and almost anything else imaginable that moves, all passing along on a road that is barely two lanes wide, people regularly feel compelled to stop their cars in the travel lane to chat or to simply double park and disappear for minutes.

But I have an even better example. One of the side streets in San Patricio faces a secondary school. Across the street is a mortuary.

The street itself is designed to be one way with parking on one side. But, drivers regularly park on the other side, as well, making it impossible for delivery trucks to pass.

The garage gates to the mortuary have long had a sign indicating that parking is never allowed. After all, death does not wait for illegal parkers.

Drivers ignored the sign. Thinking that people may not have noticed the sign on the gate, the mortuary put two signs out on the street with the international sign for no parking. And for those who might think the use of international signs is a conspiracy hatched by by the Council on for Foreign Relations, the words "NO PARKING" are clearly visible.

If the staff at the mortuary thought they had a clever solution, it was too clever by half. On the second day the signs were up, the photograph at the top of this essay is what I saw. A Volkswagen cheerfully nestled between the two signs.

The driver of that car was Mexican. I saw her two hours later as she pulled away. But the fact the sign is in English (the other is in Spanish) is evidence enough that it is not only Mexicans who have been scofflaws. I can raise my hand as being one of the violators.

Is all of this irritating? Sure, it is. And I wish it did not happen. But it happens in cities all over the world. Including that paragon of compliance, Canada.

I have the choice to let the experience get in the way of enjoying my life in Mexico or I can just let it be some much background noise.

I read an essay in National Review this week by Michael Knox Beran about what qualities truly make a man moral ("The Magnanimous Magistrates"). Beran sums up the choice I hope to always make -- but don't.

My own idea is that magnanimity grows out of an inward tranquility in its possessor, a sense of self-worth serenely unlike the more frenetic, insistent varieties you find in vain or arrogant people. It is just because the vain or arrogant man secretly doubts his value that he is so relentless in insisting upon it. The magnanimous man, on the other hand, knows what is in him, and accepts it as naturally as he accepts the sun or the moon or any obvious fact.
And congestion here is as natural as the sun. Or the moon. Or any obvious fact.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

finding my a** in mexico

OK. You probably just did exactly the same thing I did when I saw that license plate.

In my case, I nearly broke my neck snapping my head around to be certain I had read what I thought I had. And I had.

My reaction was, as it almost always is when encountering one of life's continual absurdities -- I laughed. I laughed so hard that Omar, who was walking with me, must have thought I was on the verge of suffering a Zelda Fitzgerald.

When I pointed the letters out to him, he just stared at me. And, of course, he would. Those three letters in that configuration mean absolutely nothing in Spanish. And, even though Omar does speak some English, the baser use of that word would not necessarily come to mind.

Just as I am not fully attuned to the multifarious meanings of words in Spanish, he is not at the stage in English where he can pull words out of their box and play mercilessly with him. Though he is quite proficient with punnery in Spanish.

And what was so funny to me? I suspect it was the eight-year old boy who controls my id. He is always ready to giggle at circumstances that would cause his mother to frown.

Of course, the word "ass" is utilitarian. It describes a lot of things that are perfectly acceptable in polite society.

When Lyndon Johnson said, "Being president is like being a jackass in a hailstorm. There's nothing to do but to stand there and take it," he was using the word as it should be used. Of course, he was always vulgar enough that he may have just been making an ass of himself, which is another polite use for the word.

Its forbidden use, of course, comes from its use as a sexual tugboat -- to push shocking statements into conversation with the subtlety of a bulldozer. And, almost always, its use is designed to reduce the sublime to the banal.

You know the list. If you do, there is no need for me to lay them out here. If you do not, count yourself lucky. You are probably my mother.

All American states (and I suppose it is true in Canada and Mexico, as well) have regulations that restrict the letter combinations on their license plates. For instance, in my state of residence, Nevada, "ASS" would never appear on a license plate -- unless a quality control inspector was calculating his pension payments when the plate rolled past.

The list of things that must go unsaid, because it might hurt someone's feelings, look suspiciously like the list the Patent Office used to tell The Slants, a rock band, that their chosen name was offensive. The Slants responded, yes, that was the point. And took the Patent Office to court.

The result? Well, we all know how it turned out. In Matal v. Tam, the Supreme Court told the Patent Office the First Amendment was not just a decoration. It really means something. And anyone who says, "I support the First Amendment," and then adds an emphatic "but," doesn't.

Before someone reaches for that rhetorical pistol on the hallway table, let me say I fully agree with the conservative principle that just because something is allowed does not mean that it must be used. But, when it is, we would best remember that one of the chief measurements of greatness is magnanimity.

And, you know what? I suspect society will not fall apart if a few four letters get truncated into three on license plates.

Instead, it might be a good time to let that eight-year old boy test drive your humor engine. You might enjoy the spin.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

o canada

Canada is more like a small town than a country.

Yes, I know Canada is proud of its large, sophisticated cities. But, as a people, a small town attitude persists.

Family. Community. Social cohesion. The conservative values we often associate with home towns thrives in the country.

We saw that spirit following the school bus deaths in Humboldt last month. What would have been a sad newspaper article in most countries caused a wave of personal grief in Canada. Throughout the entire country. What was local became national.

I did not write about those deaths at the time. Even as an American, the event seemed too personal. But, I did share the sense of loss with my Canadian friends here.

During the winter months in our little villages, the overwhelming number of northern visitors are Canadian. I count a number of them as friends. And a larger number as acquaintances.

This morning's newspaper brings more news of tragedy. The driver of a van has killed ten people in Toronto.

The details are far too common. Rented vehicle. Driven onto a sidewalk. People out for a stroll on a sunny day are dead or injured.

No motive is known. But the government, in soothing bureaucratese, disclaims any national security connection. They mean there are no known terrorist links.

Not that it matters. People are dead for no discernible reason.

Families grieve. Friends will join them. And, for a time, a national heart with local instincts will be broken.

But, Canadians have retained another conservative instinct. Hope.

At the beginning of this piece, I inserted a performance of Elgar's "Nimrod" -- a piece that is often played at moments of solemnity amongst those who were once ruled by Britain. It is an appropriate composition for both tragedies.

However, that is not the note on which I want to end this morning. Because Canadians are a people of hope, I look forward to that day when they can once again focus on a composition that unites them as one family.

My heart is broken for the loss of the dead. But it will mend. And life, even though it is a daily struggle, will go on.

May God's healing power speed that recovery.


Sunday, April 22, 2018

gladys kravitz packs her bags

It started with a crash.

One of those metallic chords that evoke fighter jets plummeting into a row of Quonset huts.

When I opened the front door, I almost expected to see three or four cars mangled into an Isamu Noguchi cube. But abstract expressionism is not what greeted me.

If you have visited here before, you know there are three vacant lots across from my house. They have hosted a pasture for wandering cattle and horses, a vegetable garden, and, at its highest usage, a home for a small group of goats whose numbers would rise and fall with the local demand for birria (stop kidding around).

But something new was afoot earlier in the month. A truck had just dumped off a pile of corrugated metal and a stack of steel poles that looked as if a giant child had mixed his erector set parts with his pick-up sticks.

My curiosity was soon sated. Cesar, my highly-entrepreneurial neighbor, had pastured a mare, her foal, and a burro on the lots. But, that enterprise turned out to have greater problems than anticipated. So, the livestock found new homes.

Where there once had been open range, Cole Porter's advice would be ignored. The lot was about to be fenced in -- with corrugated metal.

And, in the middle? The pièce de résistance. A chicken coop.

Well, a "chicken coop," if you use the term loose enough for a place where chickens can be confined (cooped up, if you will). Five hens and a very contented rooster, who proudly announces his presence each morning.

There have already been the inevitable jail breaks. Always the hens, who may not quite fancy the harem notion as much as the rooster.

Each escape has been accompanied with a bevy of young boys re-enacting an age-old tradition of the chicken chase.

The chicken coop has made getting in and out of my garage a bit tricky. But, every day I look at, I think how lucky I am to be living here in Mexico.

Had my neighbor attempted to build a similar fence and coop in my last home town in Oregon, he would have been stopped before the first piece of metal went up.

Not to mention the presence of the chickens. Salem actually has a regulation controlling chickens on your own property. Chickens. Your own property. A regulation.

I know where that livestock nonchalance comes from. When I was young, we lived in southern Oregon. If a neighbor had built a similar structure, we would have sauntered over to discuss what he was doing. And maybe make a suggestion for an improvement or two.

But, complain? Why? What he wants to do with his property is none of my business. The world could use fewer Gladys Kravitzes.

And that is similar to the discussion I had with Cesar. He hopes to turn the lot into a landscaped garden complete with a gazebo (thus the metal pick-up sticks).

If he does, great. If he doesn't, great. After all, it is none of my business.

That, in a jumping bean shell, is one of the things I like about Mexico. We don't need no stinkin' badges.

Monday, April 16, 2018

the tax man always rings twice

I am a procrastinator.

Not, on most things in life. I at least have a vague idea of what I want to do and when I should do it with almost everything in life. Except for taxes.

And there is no reason. After I sold my house and consolidated my investments, my annual income taxes should be as easy to calculate as the post card Jack Kemp used to taut.

I received four pieces of paper this year describing the extent of my income and the amount of money that had been withheld for taxes. That should have been as easy as adding the four figures, calculating the marginal rate, taking my personal exemption, and asking Uncle Sam to send back some of my money.

But, it was that last step that kept me from filing earlier. A quick calculation in January revealed that I owe more to the American government than it has already lifted from my money. Not only do I not get some of my own money back, the Treasury Department informs me it wants more.

I should not have been surprised. Ever since I retired to Mexico, I have had to pay additional taxes on my income beyond the withholding amount. (This year enough to buy a new car. An economy car. But, mind you, a new one.)

I have tinkered with the withholding amounts. But, having separate sources of income always creates problems because of the progressive (a misuse of that word, if there ever was one) nature of the American income tax system.

But there is little penalty for us procrastinators in the depths of darkest Mexico -- thanks to the marvel of electronic filing.

I used Turbo Tax in January to calculate what I would owe this year. When I opened it up, it was still waiting patiently for me to tell the internet how I wanted to pay my pound of flesh (with my air mile credit card, of course). Having settled up financially, I pressed one button, and my return was filed.

Somewhere in the next few months, a mid-level federal bureaucrat is going to climb into a newly-purchased economy car to drive from Nashville to Dayton. And I am betting pesos to tortillas I will not receive a thank you note.

Maybe I just need to learn to be patient. But that is where we all came in. Isn't it?

Happy payment day.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

and omar makes two -- at nineteen

Yesterday was fiesta time.

Omar's nineteenth birthday, to be exact.

Throwing a party is a far different pursuit than attending a party. That axiom is universal. Whether you live in Lima or London.

I have been playing the role of party attender for decades. All you need are a couple of semi-exotic tales, a bagful of bon mots, and a few deep breaths to remember that even though your are sociable, but not social, you will get through the event without having a heart attack. Because, as Hemingway would say: "a true man would never have a heart attack in the presence of women."

But, throwing a party. That is a coronary of a different color. Putting together a birthday party is like producing a play. You need a stage. You need actors. You need props.

And then add in the slight complication that the birthday party is based in a different culture than your own. It has all the possibilities of being so bad that it might be a triumph.

I asked Omar if he would like me to rent one of the party halls, complete with a very loud band. The type of place that is frequented by 15 year old girls dressed up to look as if the Delta Queen might any day dock in town. He said, no. He wanted something more private. Just his family.

What I had not told him was that if I hired out the party, it would be far easier for me. But, he is a private guy. And the event would be just for his immediate family.

Now, if I were to use the term "immediate family" up north, I would be talking about my mom, my brother, and my sister-in-law.

Not so, in Mexico. Especially, for large families.

I had already sponsored a party at my house for Omar's family -- the week after he settled into to his room. Then, I thought we would be having a welcoming dinner for his mother and little sister.

But, I was wrong. In the end, about 17 people showed up. His mom, three sisters, and a band of nieces and nephews ranging from 3 to 12. The rib eye steaks I had purchased would not stretch to everyone, so Omar's sister, Alejandra, stepped in to cook up a large skillet of chicken a la diabla for the kids. I always stand amazed at how resourceful the Mexicans I know are.

This time, we planned better. The menu would be chicken cordon bleu and shrimp fettuccine. I received the shopping list the day before the party. And everything was ready when Alejandra volunteered to cook.

My house was not built with children in mind. I discovered that when Barco was a puppy. There are a cornucopia of fragile items to be pushed, held, and dropped. The reverse side of my paintings seemed to be beyond the temptation resistance level for most of the children.

And this is the first time my pool has been used with such gusto. A dozen children can add as much joy to a pool to be the equivalent to the amount of water they splash out of it.

If it sounds as if I was tense, I was. Until I remembered this house was built to be lived in. I tend to treat its Baraganesque lines as a museum piece.

So, I took those three deep breaths that I use for attending parties and got into the rhythm of life in the house.

The dinner portion of the party started around 7 and ended just after 10. Some of the adults then moved the birthday celebration to a night club in San Patricio. I made it back to my bed at 5 AM.

So, why was I helping Omar Ulises Castillo Macias celebrate his nineteenth birthday at my house?

The answer is easy. He is my son. We have tried different terms. My favorite was "ward" until I realized it carried a lot of Batman-Robin connotations. It also suffered from a fact problem. No court order is involved.

We have thus settled on "son." Because it is has the advantage of being true.

Not in the natural sense. He carries none of my DNA. And not in the adoptive sense -- yet.

I have known Omar for just over three years. Even though he could not speak much English, my friends, the Pittmans, hired him as a waiter in their restaurant, Rooster's. I would see him on my regular visits, and would be impressed by his energy, enthusiasm, and attention to detail. He seemed to be very ambitious.

This summer, when I returned from my Oregon trip, I received a message from Omar asking if I could do him a favor. He wanted to buy a motorcycle, but he had saved only part of the money. He told me he could repay me in December.

I asked a mutual friend who is fluent in both English and Spanish to meet with Omar and me -- where I told Omar I never loan money; it leads to bad relations. But, I have been known to donate money to good causes.

One of those causes is investing in people who have potential. Three of his bosses had talked with me and told me they thought he was a guy with a great future. Competitive. Intelligent. Ambitious.

So, I told him I would give him the money if he promised to continue doing well in school. I also committed to paying for his school needs through his three years of prepa (high school) and for his university education.

At one point, he told me he wished that he had a dad who was like me. I didn't think much about that.

But, I did on my Denmark trip. On the cruise back, I had a lot of time to consider weighty issues. One of them was the fact that I always wanted to have a son. The problem is that I lack any sense of commitment to acquire one through the natural process of marriage.

Omar sent me daily messages about work and school -- the type of communication a son has with a dad. And then it hit me. I had a ready-made son in Omar.

We talked about when I got back to Mexico. And, with a couple of false starts, Omar decided he wanted to move into the house in December. He has been here since.

It took no time for him to slip right into the role of being an upper middle class Mexican teenager. When I first met him, I knew that he wanted a future that did not involve spending the rest of his life in the small coastal towns where we live.

So, that is how Mexpatriate got a new cast member and how we are looking at spinoffs, like "Father Knows Barely Enough to Get By" and "My One Son."

It should be a good season. It certainly was a good party. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

late to bed, early to die? night owls may die sooner

It is not one of those headlines that we bleary-eyed owls do not like to see first thing in the morning.

But there it was. On the front page of the newspaper's science section. If you are a night owl, you are speeding up your death.

The news is not new. After all, it was almost 400 years ago that Ben Franklin advised us that getting to bed early would give us life's trifecta: health, wealth, and wisdom. Not a bad bargain for wasting a third of your life in bed.

Oops! I think I may have given away my prejudice in this little debate.

The reason for the headline is a new scientific study. This one from the United Kingdom -- where health care is coming unraveled about as quickly as the "united" in the country's moniker.

The study brings bad news for night owls -- people who stay up late and do not get out of bed until well past sunrise. Prior studies showed a potential correlation between that behavior and a list of wealthy maladies: diabetes, obesity, psychological disorders, and a smattering of other problems most people would like to avoid.

What most of us would like to avoid (and none will) is death. And the current study takes care of that. Night owls may as well wear a shroud when they go out on the town. According to the study, in a given 6.5 year span, night owls were 10% more likely to die than their bed-ridden brethren.

For those of you who are shampooing with kerosene and are about to stand next to a bunson burner, calm down. The authors of the study have no idea what may be causing the increased death risk.

Of course, that does not keep reporters from filling their stories with assertions of causation (often confusing temporal proximity with actual causation) and editors from brewing up headlines that are designed to sell newspapers rather than to inform the public.

I started to write that I take these studies seriously because I have a dog in the fight. But, I do not take them seriously for the reason stated in the study: there may be no causative factor related to staying up late and having an increased chance of death.

 It would also be easier to take the study seriously if the authors had given a bit more adult thought to naming their study groups. "Night owls" has a long and glorious heritage. Everyone knows what you mean when you say it.

But, "morning larks?" It sounds like 
a group name for pre-schoolers whose first names begin with F to L. (At my grade school, the buses were named Mickey, Donald, and Pluto. I suspect that was before the Disney empire became a thugocracy.)
The dog I have in the fight is me. I have long been a night owl. According to my mother, it began when I was in grade school. Instead of going to sleep, I would read a book with a flashlight under my covers. I soon discovered hiding under the covers was nonsense. But I did work my way through a yard of the Harvard Five-Foot Shelf of Books.

As long as I can remember, I have stayed up until about 2 in the morning and then got up at 6 to go to school, work, church, or some other activity where I imagined myself to be at least a relevant participant.

Now and then, I even have trouble falling asleep at 2. But the practice has served me well for at least 50 years.

So, I thought I was free from the curse of the night owl. Apparently not, the study says those of us who burn our strudel at both ends are playing Mueller Roulette. Death lurks just as readily when night owls try to fool mother nature.

Now, what am I going to do about it? Let's see. Rule number 1 in life is that everybody dies. Rule number 2 is all the studies in the world cannot change rule number 1.

But, the newspaper article does accentuate a larger issue. I know numerous people who live their lives by these scare headlines. Even after the studies that were once touted have been toppled, people feel free to keep bad advice alive. All salt is bad for you. One bite of egg yolk will stop your heart. Drinking Diet Coke will cause you to vote for Trump.

Anyone who has spent an afternoon in an emergency room with a veteran of the Nurse Ratched corps will immediately understand the syndrome. And some researchers still wonder why the American public is skeptical of medical opinion.

As for me, I am sponsoring a Mexican party at my house as I write this. I suspect I will end up consuming a lot of things that some study somewhere has determined will kill me.

But I am going to try everything.

Maybe you can read about it in my obituary at 2 in the morning.