Friday, June 29, 2018

shaken to the point of stirring


Last February, our little village had a 5.8 earthquake.

There was no missing what it was. There was the characteristic sound of a freight train roaring through town. And a good bit of shaking. Enough that members of our household appeared in the patio in various shades of undress. As if we were rehearsing for a family murder mystery.

Tonight, we went one up. Or, as the Richter scale goes, quite a bit up. To a 6.0.

The last quake was nearby -- out in the ocean. As was this one. Just 44 kilometers to the WSW of us. Out there in the Pacific where the plates grind against one another like teenagers.

The first question everyone asks is whether there was a tsunami. And the answer is no. That is true only because of the type of slippage. Earthquakes at sea always have the potential to release their energy in wave form.

The map I cribbed from the internet has a rather good graphic of how the energy is released through water (concentrically) and then through land (breaking up as the shocks encounter rock formations).

But, all of that is science. And knowledge does not often calm the primordial fears dished up by Mother Nature. Or, so I am told.

My girlfriend Linda once asked me, "Did the leaders of your planet tell you when they sent you here that humans have feelings?" She thought she was being funny.

But I get her point. As the double jolts passed through the house, I was on my bed reading The Economist. When the house started shaking, I considered heading out to the patio (our designated gathering spot). But, I was in the middle of an article about elections in Zimbabwe.

So, I finished the paragraph. By then, it was all over. And I felt a bit silly standing in the middle of the patio by myself listening to the neighborhood dogs announce that something exciting (and a bit scary) had just happened.

The moment having passed, I resumed reading my magazine. My mother would have been very proud at my aplomb.

I suppose the people who thought moving here was a problem because of our scorpions may want to think again. For me, it is just another reason to stay right where I am.


Thursday, June 28, 2018

reflections in a golden eye


Plastic bags filled with water will repel flies.

If you have an email account, you already know that. Or, more accurately, you have been told that.

I have a cousin who is a true believer. She was ready to go ten rounds with me (though she could have decked me in one) when I had the temerity to announce my skepticism of this Internet-inspired home remedy.

Admittedly, the plastic bag nostrum does not fall into the "Windex cures liver cancer" category. But,its advocates have been unable to tell me the science behind it. Why would a bag of water scare away a fly?

The most common reason I have heard is that the light passing through the bag causes the complex eye of the fly to disorient itself. I suppose that is why you never see flying insects anywhere near large (or small) bodies of water.

Part of my skepticism is born of the various denominations of the Church of Water-induced Fly Confusion. Some communicants swear the whole thing is an exercise in futility unless four pennies are included. The trinitarians advocate three. The aluminati propose flecks of foil. The puritans believe the others are heretical. Nothing will suffice other than pure, unadulterated water.

Considering the popularity this urban (and rural) myth, you would think some sort of scientific study would have been conducted to test the efficacy of the theory. And there are some. Sorta.

A study at an egg-plant in North Carolina concluded water in plastic bags attracted flies rather than repelling them. A Mythbusters episode concluded the presence of the bags was a wash. They did nothing.

But, there is a wealth of anecdotal testimony. All conducted without scientific controls.

You can find plenty of people (you may be one) who are willing to hold up their hand and swear: "I had a lot of flies on my patio. Just one day after I put up the bags, all of the flies were gone. And the arthritis in my right foot has greatly improved."

People who make such claims (and I am amongst their number) are absolutely sincere. They report what they think they perceive. But, they may actually be seduced by confirmation bias. We often want something to be true so much that we see what we want to see.

Confirmation bias is what concerned Thomas when he challenged the assertion of the other disciples that Jesus had appeared to them.

I saw it in operation this afternoon in San Patricio. I stopped at my favorite butcher and ordered chicken breasts. While she was retrieving them, I looked up and saw three clear plastic bags filled with water. I had never noticed them before.

What I did notice today were the four flies on the bag nearest to me. By the time I had pulled out my camera, they had fled to a long string chorizo just behind the bag. I was able to capture only one before I felt self-conscious about photographing sausage.

When the butcher gave me my chicken, I asked her how effective the bags were. She smiled, and gushed: "We have not had a fly her since we put them up."

Now, she was either more sardonic than your correspondent or something else was going on. I realized all of the flies were on my side of the counter where I could see them, and she could not. At least, that was my confirmation bias for the afternoon.

I considered telling her about the magical powers of washing her counters with a 3 to 1 solution of Windex and WD-40, but I let the moment pass.

She has an email account. Undoubtedly, she already knows that helpful tip.


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

it can happen here


AMLO is a close personal friend of mine.

If the initials do not mean anything to you, AMLO is Andrés Manuel López Obrador. And, unless some miracle (or catastrophe) happens between now and election day on 1 July, he will be Mexico's next president.

The "close personal friend" part is mainly my invention. But I do have empirical evidence that it could be true. AMLO and I have had daily telephone conversations about his campaign. Sometimes, twice a day.

I have asked him if he has seriously backed away from his earlier position of withdrawing from NAFTA. Or rescinding the petroleum investment agreements with non-Mexican companies. Or reversing the education reforms of the current administration.

I do a lot of talking. But, so does he. And he always says the same thing. How much he needs my vote. That, through him, there is hope for Mexico. These politicians are so robotic.

That is true here because my close personal friend uses a recorded message with robocalls. It does lack a bit of the personal touch.

This morning's poll shows AMLO almost 20% ahead of his nearest competitor. Those numbers look like the percentages racked up by PRI in its day of one-party dictatorship. Or, as its defenders would say: "strong leadership."

The only worrying factor for AMLO is the high number of undecided voters four days before the election. 22%. Thus, the incessant robocalls.

AMLO has run twice before for the presidency. As a fire-breathing leftist. If he had not scared away the middle class in the last election, he would probably have been elected.

But something odd happened this election cycle. AMLO has tuned down the rhetoric to almost sound like a center-right politician. His leftist programs of six years ago have been sugar-coated and dressed up as conservative solutions.

What has not changed is his basic instinct. He is a national populist who has racked up support by portraying himself as a man who will not let the world push Mexico around any more. His adoption of another presidential candidate's relying on baseball caps has not gone unnoticed.

He speaks of exorbitant tariffs on the corn that Mexico imports from the United States. He sells the old bromide that Mexico must be self-sufficient in growing its own food. And his money maker is reminding his audience that Mexican oil is for Mexicans. The only thing he has not done is to propose a wall on the Guatemala border.

I have a friend in Mexico City who has long been a supporter of Mexico's center-right PAN party. She detested AMLO in the past. This year, she (and a lot of her wealthier friends) are voting for AMLO. When I asked her why, she said: "We have tried everything else, why not give AMLO a chance. After all, you have a Trump; we will have a Trump."

One of the most interesting statistics in the polling is that AMLO leads by a large margin amongst all three income groups. But, his greatest lead is amongst the wealthiest voters. Like my friend in Mexico City.

On Tuesday, I had breakfast with an expatriate friend. She obtained her citizenship just after the 2012 election. While we were discussing that election, she told me she would have voted for AMLO.

I was not shocked. Her politics are garden variety leftist. She thought Hugo Chavez was good for Venezuela. That Daniel Ortega is a hero in the same category with the Castro boys. That Sunday was a great day for Turkey with the reelection of Erdogan. And that Jeremy Corbyn will be the best prime minister Britain has ever had. (Churchill, in her estimation, was one of the worst.)

So, I went way out on the plank when I said: "Let me guess. You are going to vote for AMLO on Sunday?"

"Of course, I am. There is no choice. And I hope his party takes control of Congress. The rich will learn that they no longer control Mexico."


"That surprises me just a bit. I would think that as a lesbian, you would find it distasteful to vote for a candidate who is opposed to abortion rights and gay marriage. You are far more flexible than I thought."

I wish I had just made up the part about abortion and gay marriage. I tend to do that to get reactions in political conversations. But it is true.

No one should be the least bit surprised that a Mexican leftist would hold those social views. Outside of Mexico City, the constituency for abortion rights and gay marriage could probably meet in a very small convention center. Catholicism and evangelicalism inform a majority of Mexican voters on social issues.

If AMLO were running for city council from Manhattan, he might have different views. But he is running for president of Mexico. At least, he will give some of my expatriate friends the opportunity to broaden their political credentials.

And it will give me more opportunities to spend time on the telephone with my new-found friend.
 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

hugs and kisses


Construction seems to come in two speeds in my little village by the sea.

Some buildings (mostly residences) are built in spurts. Lots of activity will occur in a few weeks. And then -- nothing. A second story addition may repose as a single story house for years.

Adam Smith could explain why. My neighbors build when they have saved enough disposable income to purchase materials. If thereare no savings, there is no construction.

The second category also has a Smithean whiff about it. Commercial construction, like bungalows, can go from concept to completion in a few months. And it needs to be completed quickly. Alter all, it is impossible to recapture capital investment if the building sits uncompleted.

I have a new neighbor that is encapsulated by the second category. I told you about it just a month ago (does that translate to hugs and kisses?) when the walls were under construction. A new OXXO store.

For those of you who do not live in Mexico, OXXO is a convenience store. Almost indistinguishable from a 7-11. Their life blood is beer and cigarettes. With chips and sodas thrown in as runners-up.

Just before Darrel and Christy left for Oregon in mid-April, Christy noted the lot across the street from the guy who collects plastic was being cleaned up. She thought it might be a civic  beautification project. It turned out to be new construction.

I stopped by today to talk with the contractor and the people who will be running the store. If all goes well, the store will be operating next week. The shelves and coolers are installed. They just need some inventory.

Fast construction is one of the benefits when your corporation is in the same holding company as Coca-Cola FEMSA.



The OXXO store seems to be oddly located. Around here, OXXO (and its local competitor, Kiosko) cater, in large part, to tourists. There are already three convenience stores in the heart of the tourist section of Barra de Navidad.

My neighborhood is not a tourist magnet. Or, at least, I don't think it is. But, I may be proceeding from a false premise (as Mr Spock would, and did, say). Maybe tourists are not the target market for this particular store.

The main street that runs through this section of town is well-served by small mom and pop grocery stores (as well as a large grocery store). Every country has them.

When I was in grade school, I would stop every afternoon at a combination garage-grocery store, run by Mr. and Mrs. Persyn. where I would spend the few pennies I had squirreled away from my milk money for one or two pieces of black licorice.

The place was ramshackle and filthy. The hands selling the licorice were so caked with grease that it was hard to discern where the finger stopped and the candy began. You almost expected Mayella Ewell to walk out from behind the pickle barrel. Yes. There was a pickle barrel where hands were washed only by dill brine.

Our little grocery stores here are nowhere near that gothic. All of them are run by family members who fight like Canute to repel the tide of dust that settles hourly on their products.

Why there are so many of these small stores, I have no idea. There are several more scattered throughout the inner part of the neighborhood.

One answer is to provide convenience to their customers. The stores stock the basic staples to cook a daily meal -- but, usually, not meat. A trip to the butcher is required for that.

Today, I was cooking hot dogs and discovered someone had used up the last two buns. Rather than jumping in the car and driving to Safeway, as I would have done in Salem, I merely walked two blocks to the local grocery and picked up the same package of buns. For a slightly higher price.

So, what will OXXO add to our neighborhood where we already have convenience stores aplenty?

Economists tell us that businesses can offer their customers one of three things: 1) price savings, 2) quality, or 3) service. Since our little grocery stores sell the same quality products at the same price, they exist because they can provide service that customers do not find elsewhere. That is why grumpy store owners run the risk of scaring people away to friendlier climes.

Oddly, every Mexican neighbor (we will leave the northerners out of this sentence) I talked with is excited about the opening of the store. Well, "excited" may be a bit of hyperbole. Let's say, they are looking forward to the store. The only ambivalence came from the owners of the current grocery stores.

Most of my neighbors said they were happy to see that Barra de Navidad is becoming modern. They also see the store as a place for new jobs. For the community, it will be nice to have a business actually chipping in to the tax base.

The only naysayers I encountered were my fellow expatriates. Or, some of them. They do not like seeing what they fled from up north following them to their "paradise."

I will not respond to that. Instead, I will let a Mexican take the talking stick.

I met Maria on a message board in 2008. She lives in Mexico City and works for a large transnational telecommunications company. I posed the northerners' opposition to her. This is her response.

"I would like to respond politely to arguments like that, but, it is difficult for me. I run into a lot of people who move here from Canada and the United States. For some reason, they seem to have trouble with modernity. They would like my country to be frozen in amber for their personal pleasure. As if, serape-clad peons siestaing against a cactus while their trusty burros patiently wait is what Mexico should be about.

"That is not Mexico. Mexico is a proud member of the first world. It has the tenth largest population. The thirteenth largest in size. And, some people are surprised at this, it is a member of the OECD with the world's fifteenth largest GDP.

"We work in glass towers at well-paying jobs where we deal daily with colleagues throughout the world. We are growing larger and better every day.

"I am proud to be a modern woman in Mexico. I do things my mother would never have imagined back in her village as a young girl. Modern Mexico has given me the opportunity that would not exist if northern prejudices prevailed.

"If you want to stop time, please feel free to do it in your country. For me, OXXO is a place to get a coffee at a fair price and to enjoy it in an air-conditioned building."

I was going to edit some of the tone. But that would have been unfair to Maria.

And she does make a good point. Maybe it is the air-conditioning that will attract customers.

That may have been the business plan all along. The ultimate service provider. 


  

Monday, June 25, 2018

are your papers in order


No. Not those papers. The immigration papers that are causing such a tizzy these days.

Not that I mind countries requiring outsiders to have proper documentation to enter and stay when they cross a border. At times, I wish Mexico was a bit more proactive in tracking down people who overstay their visas.

But, as I said, today's essay is not about those papers. It is about the other papers we daily receive in Mexico. Let me explain.

Last week, I was having dinner with friends when they informed me they had just had a conversation with our local postmaster. He had locked access to their postal box because he had no record of them paying their annual fee. The wife was certain she had paid, but she was just as positive she had not received a receipt.

That, of course, in Mexico that translates into not having paid. Without documented proof of payment, the fact that money may have exchanged hands is a factual nullity.

I learned that lesson from a Mexican neighbor. She keeps every receipt for her purchases. She then puts the receipt in a plastic bag and tapes it to the gadget. Her living room looks like a clearance sale is under way. But she knows exactly where the receipt is when she needs it.

I felt rather smug because I knew I had paid my annual box rental early in January -- even before the notice was placed in the box. And, having been well-trained by my neighbor, I knew I had kept the receipt.

All of the documents I save are placed in a large plastic bin with separate file folders. Electricity. House telephone. Cellular contract. Water, sewer, garbage. That sort of thing. There is also one entitled "Post Office." I knew that is where my receipt should be -- if I ever needed it.

Well, it turns out, I did need it.

On Saturday, I stopped by the post office to check my box. I no longer receive much mail there now that my magazines arrive electronically. I keep the box to receive greeting cards and the occasional letter I receive from friends.

As well, as my monthly copy of Imprimis, that contains excerpts of speeches delivered by some very bright people who address the students at Hillsdale College. And, then there are the occasional legal notices that require my attention.

When I stop at the post office, the postmaster usually retrieves my mail for me. But, not on Saturday. He told me he would not look until I paid my fee.

If I had not had that same conversation with my friends two nights before, I would have been taken completely off guard. I told him I had paid. He said the computer says I had not.

"I have a receipt." I thought that would end the conversation. But I was wrong.

The postmaster instructed me to return with the receipt (his tone reverberated with that "if you have one" accusatory tone so beloved of those with power) along with my permanent resident card (and a copy of its front and back), and a copy of my electric bill showing my current address. I told him I would see him on Monday.

When I got home, I pulled out my file box. The receipt for 2018 was not in "Post Office." That surprised me. Then, I remembered I had not done my filing for a couple of months. Maybe it was still in the "to be filed" pile.

It turns out, I have not filed for more than a couple of months. I had excavated to November 2017 without finding the receipt.

But I did not give up hope. I had another pile of documents that included the payments I make on the first of each year. Property Tax. Car registration. Water, garbage, sewer.

And there it was. I had paid on 2 January. So, I made a copy. Copied my permanent resident card. And printed out my latest electric bill.

That last point is important. Electric bills are the universally-accepted proof of residence -- at least, in this part of the universe. And the rule is almost always the same. It must be the latest billing.

But, this is Mexico. I knew I was follish not to have a backup plan.

This morning, I took my documents into the post office. The postmaster looked sceptically at the receipt. He finally accepted its authenticity. He then took my copies of my visa and the electric bill.

His eyes lit up when he looked at the bill. He told me I could not use my latest bill. I needed the latest bill in existence when I paid on 2 January.

I was ready for that. I had printed it thinking that eventuality might arise.

But, we were not done. He printed out a series of documents as if I was renting a box for the first time. That was fine. All I had to do is sign in three places.

Keeping the receipts saved me paying another annual fee of $300 (MX) (just over $15 (US) at today's exchange rate). But I still would have spent the same amount of time gathering my documents and signing agreements.

I was prepared to answer my rhetorical question of whether my papers are in order with a resounding "yes." After all, I found my receipt.

But, as you can see in the photograph, they definitely are not. I know where I will be spending part of my afternoon.


Sunday, June 24, 2018

exercising the right of way


Driving in Mexico is an art form.

And the style of that art varies depends on what part of Mexico you are visiting.

Take my little village as an example. It is a libertarian dream when it comes to traffic. Certainly there are laws. But most of the flow depends on local custom rather than some ukase from Mexico City.

The main street in my portion of town is Nueva España. It is principally a commercial street with residences mixed in. Lacking a public square in our area of town, the street fills that void. It is a plaza where vehicles are allowed passage.

It is also a great laboratory to watching driving customs.

Mexican traffic law has a very complex set of rules on right of way. Almost anyone who knows the right of way rules in another country will know the right of way rules in Mexico. But it is just as important to know local customs.

For instance, a car traveling on a main street has the right of way over vehicles entering from side streets. That is the regulation.

The custom is that drivers of vehicles entering from side streets do not bother to look if there is traffic coming on main streets. They just pull out. Especially motorcycles.

On my way to church this morning, I came close to being hit by three separate cars within a five block span. So, I watch carefully when approaching intersections and yield to traffic zipping in from the side streets.

There is almost a choreography about traffic here. It has its own rhythm. I often marvel at how pedestrians, baby strollers, motorcycles, horses, buses, trucks, dogs, bicycles, goat herds, and cars manage to share the same space simultaneously without everything ending in tears.

Usually, it just works, much as a free market libertarian would predict. But not always.,

The "not always" usually happens when tourists are entered into the mix.

We have a few stop signs in the villages here. But no one treats them as stop signs. Not even as yield signs.

There is a stop sign where the road from Barra de Navidad intersects with the main north-south highway. The local practice is to approach the intersection at full speed looking over the right shoulder to clear for traffic.

When northerners arrive, they will inevitably come to a full stop at that intersection. If one of my neighbors is following, there is a high risk of a rear-end collision because the driver of the following car is clearing traffic over his shoulder.

I have seen several accidents of that nature there. The front vehicle is almost always a Canadian or American driver.

I knew a man from Ontario who was rear-ended at the intersection. He was enraged that his insurance company would not cover the damage because he had violated local custom by coming to a full stop. I cannot vouch for the veracity of that assertion. But that is what he said.

Mexican tourists add a different mix. They bring local customs from their home towns that do not quite fit with the local traffic ballet. Sometimes, it is merely out of ignorance.

At that same intersection, I have twice come bumper to bumper with a car coming at me in my lane. The driver obviously mistook the road as a two-lane off ramp -- just like they have in big cities.

The price for fouling up the dance steps is obvious. And it usually involves at least crumpled metal. Sometimes, crumpled bodies.

Yesterday, I saw the accident pictured at the top of this essay. Based on my observations, it looks as if the pickup with the camper was leaving the main highway to enter a parallel access road. A local inter-city bus (whose drivers are well-known for their obnoxious driving habits) was simultaneously trying to enter the highway. And ran right into the side of the pickup.

I am willing to bet there were no turn signals involved. But there was a lot of "it's-my-road" going on.

No one was hurt in that accident. That is not always the case.

On our way to Manzanillo on Thursday, Julio and I saw an accident at the turn off for playa del oro. From the local news, we discovered that a wheel on the tractor had come off. The little pickup was following far too close. The result was the pickup slammed into and under the tractor's trailer.



The driver is dead. The passenger is in hospital.

I do not see a lot of accidents in Mexico. However, I daily ask myself: "How did he avoid hitting that car?" Sometimes. it happens.

One of the first pieces of driving advice my father gave me was: "Some people say you need to drive defensively. That is a lie. People who drive defensively are the people who cause accidents. If you want to avoid accidents, you need to be in charge. To drive aggressively."

It is advice that has served me well in Mexico. And it is why, other than a year driving in Greece when I was in my early 20s and where I was immune from traffic regulations in a new 240Z, I have not enjoyed driving anywhere more than I have in Mexico.

It is a target rich environment. 


Saturday, June 23, 2018

laughing on the wild side


Most of my friends remember where they were when they heard JFK had been shot. Or when the terrorists crashed the airplanes into the twin towers.

I always remember where I was when I heard a good joke. Probably because humor is a core principle in my life.

"The Far Side" was by far my favorite cartoon in the 1980s. Gary Larson had a wicked sense of finding the darker corners of wit. And I am glad he shared them with us. If only for a brief time.

One morning in the mid-80s, I was sitting in Judge Gilroy's circuit court room in Oregon City. While I waited for civil call to begin, I opened The Oregonian and flipped to "The Far Side."

Two men in a jungle were in the frame. One sat on a cot pouring a bootful of deplorables on the ground. Centipedes. Scorpions. Beetles. A cornucopia of phobias.

The other man stood there looking down at the never-ending flow. The caption informed us: "To his horror, Irving suddenly realized he had failed to check his boots before putting them on just a minute ago."

His boots bumpily bulge with little surprises.

I started chuckling to myself, and then lost control with full laughter. My lawyerly colleagues must have thought me mad.

I remembered that cartoon Thursday morning while getting dressed for my trip to futility and Manzanillo. Because I was going to the big city, I put on my big boy pants. That meant wearing my black dress shoes. I had not worn them since my last trip to Oregon.

On Wednesday, Dora, the woman who helps me clean my house, called me into my bedroom. She had discovered a scorpion eating a cockroach it had killed. The scorpion that had stung me had also hung out around my bedroom door.

I picked up my dress shoes. Thinking I was not going to make an Irving of myself, I slammed them together upside down and shook them as violently as any war rattle. I felt a bit foolish (but relieved) when nothing fell out.

Having assured myself I was vermin free, I finished dressing and drove to San Patricio for breakfast. I ate, met up with Julio, and we drove to Manzanillo.

Our first stop was at La Comer, where we walked around for a bit. We were on our way out of the mall when I felt what I thought was a bit of debris (like a stick)  in the toe of my right shoe. So, I stopped to get it out.

Whether it was instinct or just luck, I pulled off the shoe with the toe of my other shoe. My right shoe did a tight somersault, and out fell -- a scorpion. Yup. My shoe shake was obviously ineffective.

You would think I had just released an anaconda in the mall based on the hysteria of my fellow customers. I was fascinated that a scorpion that size could have been in my shoe (along with my foot) for almost three hours without either of us suffering damage. And, of course, I needed a photograph for what was quickly developing into essay material.

My luck was good, but the scorpion's had run out. The cries to kill it were more insistent than a Roman mob in the coliseum. And so he was dispatched by the shoe that had ferried him 30 miles from Barra de Navidad to an ignominious end on the floor of a Manzanillo shopping mall..

That makes six scorpions in the house in the last five weeks. As much as I hate chemicals in living quarters, it is time to call in the fumigator -- for the cockroaches that munch on me and the scorpions that munch on them. It is very house-that-Jack-built.

A good start would be pulling out my shoes to see if they have gone condo. Before another Irving sticks his toe in.




Friday, June 22, 2018

on the line again


When I was in private practice, my secretary, Jamela, kept us all amused (and better informed) with her fractured aphorisms.

"Now you are skating on dry ice" was good. But, my favorite was, "Now, you've got crow on your face."

And I do. Or, at least I feel that way.

Because I have had to eat a big bowl of crow after my exercise in hubris when I reminded all of you the primary reason I moved to Mexico was to avoid comfort; to get up every morning in Mexico and not know how I was going to get through the day. It would build character. Not that I was not already character enough.

There is an old saying that whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad. If Longfellow meant mad in the angry sense, I qualify.

Last week I told you I had suffered a modem outage due to a lightning strike. The modem died on the night of the 8th. I finally connected with a Telmex customer service representative on the 12th.

She took all of my information and informed me the modem would be delivered on Monday. The 18th. She said a courier, rather than a Telmex technician, would deliver it. I thought it a bit odd to take that long. After all, even in Mexico, Amazon delivers within two days.

But, that was the only way I was going to get my modem replaced. You can imagine how thrilled I was to receive an email that same afternoon that my order was being processed. On Thursday, I received a text message from the courier (AM/PM Express) that my modem was out for delivery.

I was ecstatic. Could it be delivered that fast? I was meeting people for dinner when I received the message. But, I canceled. The instructions were quite clear. I had to be at the house to  sign for the modem and to give the old modem and charger to the courier.

I waited at the house. And waited. Nothing.

On Friday, thinking I had missed the delivery, I called the AM/PM number included in my notice and waited on hold for about 40 minutes. When the young lady answered, she assured me the modem would be delivered that day. I waited at the house all day. No modem.

On Saturday, I called again and was told the modem would definitely be delivered that day. Do you want to guess the outcome of my stay at home? Yup. No modem. I was beginning to feel a bit like Charlie Brown and Lucy's football.

I stuck around the house on Sunday (other than going to church). As I suspected, the AM/PM office was closed for telephone calls on Sunday. And there was no delivery.

On Monday, my friend Julio and I tried calling again. This time there was nothing but a busy signal. And no delivery.

Tuesday. Busy signal. No delivery.

Wednesday. Busy signal. No delivery.

On Thursday, I decided it was time to throw myself on the mercy of the local Telmex office in Manzanillo. The best the very pleasant representative could do was tell me that the modem was out for delivery -- and there was nothing else in his bag of tricks.

So, back to the house, I went. No delivery.

Today, my spirit was almost broken. I thought about writing letters or making telephone calls. I was fuming for action.

And, it then occurred to me. My Mexican neighbors have been dealing with these bureaucratic frustrations their entire lives. So, I asked Jaime (the fisherman) how he dealt with it.

I should have anticipated his answer: "Sit down. Open a beer. And wait. It will either be there or it won't."

And that is what I did. All except the part about the beer. I poured myself a tall glass of mineral water. And did what I had been doing for the past week -- sat and read. But, this time, I packed up my anxiety and drowned it in the pool.

After all, it is just a modem. It will arrive when it arrives.

You have probably already intuited that the modem did, in fact, arrive. I was late leaving for dinner this evening, when I saw an AM/PM van stopped along the main street. A group of women were besieging the poor driver. For modems. He was delivering 60 of them in Barra. Unfortunately, the women had not yet reported theirs to Telmex.

I found my order amongst the pile they were examining. The driver followed me home, we switched out the modems, and had a brief conversation about Carlos Slim  owning AM/PM as well as Telmex. And he then drove away.

The new modem is set up. I am blogging. Omar is watching Netflix in his room. And all is right with the world.

I have not changed my mind about why I moved to Mexico. And, as frustrating as the experience was, I learned something about myself. I need to slough off this notion that I am somehow in control of circumstances. It is one of those northern viruses that I have yet to shed.

If I learn one thing from Mexico, it will be developing the patience of Job. Or, at least, Peter.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

laughing at heaven’s door

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God has a sense of humor.

And a rather perverse if the tailless whip scorpion is any example.

If you did not blanch when that photograph loaded, you are an exception. Most of my Mexican neighbors would have reached for a shoe.

I have been told repeatedly by Mexican friends and employees that there is nothing more dangerous than these ugly Bettys of the animal kingdom. “The deadliest spider in Mexico” is the usual explanation.

Except, it is not a spider. And, unlike the English name, it is not a scorpion, either. The only thing it has in common with spiders and scorpions is that it has eight legs. Six to ambulate. And two to grab prey (similar to a praying mantis).

My neighbors called it a vinegaron. Because it emits a vinegar smell when threatened.

But poisonous? No. It packs no venom.

Like most animals, it will bite defensively. But it is about as dangerous as a plate of sardine pate.

Not only is it not dangerous, it is beneficial. If you are a creep crawly, you may be the next meal of a tailless whip scorpion. It is quite fond of cockroaches. And scorpions. The real ones.

The one you are looking out was in the patio bathroom last night. Lurking just over the toilet paper roll.

I will confess my first reaction was to immediately withdraw the hand that had reached for the roll. Until I realized it was one of Mexico’s more beneficial creatures.

So, it lives on. Hunting through the night to bump off the Buick-size cockroaches that occasionally munch on me in bed.

I do have one suggestion, though. The tailless whip scorpion could use a public relations makeover. I wonder if Bill Clinton’s agent is available?


Thursday, June 14, 2018

shocking insults


It was a typical Mexican restaurant.

The food was traditional. The decor was spartan. And the television blared to an almost-empty house.

There were three occupied tables. A Mexican couple. A northern couple. And me.

It was not a usual stopping point for me. But I had eaten there often enough to know the family who owns the place. And well enough to know the eccentricities of the infrastructure.

My carne en su jugo had just arrived when the television flickered and went out. I am accustomed to power outages here. But, that was not the problem. The large fan in the center of the restaurant was still turning.

Then I saw the culprit. The woman of the northern couple was fooling around with the electrical octopus that provided power to several devices. Including the television.

The owner's daughter, who has just served me, simply frowned. But said nothing.

I knew what she was thinking. The outlet also included the control unit for the television's satellite service. Unplugging it would take a lot of time to get it up and running again.

"Excuse me," I said to the woman intent in her task. "What are you doing?"

She looked up at me as if I were something she had just scraped off the bottom of her shoe. "It isn't any of your business, but I need to plug in my tablet. And that television is way too loud. No one will eat here with all that noise."

I ignored her Eleanor Roosevelt impression, and tried to stay focused on my concern. "You are going to cause a problem with the satellite reception by unplugging the power."

She ignored me. By that time the daughter had called in the real enforcer. Her mother. The cook. She came out of the kitchen, saw what was happening, and rushed over to the northern woman. Wagging her finger in a way that only a Mexican mother can.

The northern woman retreated to her table, but not before giving me the stink eye. Her husband commiserated with her in a stage whisper directed at me with a studied passive-aggressive tone. "He is obviously an American. They need to mind their own business."

I simply let the irony wash over me. It is not often that an entire anecdote can be written for me that requires no editing.

There has always been a bit of tension between the majority Canadian population here and the rest of us. National stereotypes are tossed around for laughs. But, as my secretary Jamela was wont to say: "Many a truth is said in jest."

At some point, the tone of the ribbing has taken on a harder edge. Talking with friends, I too often hear "Oh, you know her. She's British." Or French. Or American. Or Canadian. And it is always said with a barb barely hidden. As if a person's nationality always predisposes them to some sort of bad behavior.

It is far too easy to blame it all on Trump. Like George Bush, he is a convenient scapegoat for everything we dislike. And, there is no doubt that his tone has decreased the level of civility in international intercourse.

But that is a juvenile evasion. What seems to escape some people is that I am not Donald Trump. Nor are 327,543,113 other Americans. If you want to gripe about him, be my guest. Griping about our president is the great national pastime.

And, if I feel inclined, I will make fun of Justin Trudeau for dressing his family like extras in a Bollywood spectacular on a state visit to India. An act that would have him expelled from almost any first rate American university for cultural appropriation.

But, I won't. Because I really don't care. It has no bearing on my relationship with individual Canadians.

Expatriate communities are just like any other small community. We either learn how to be civil to one another or we will turn into the social equivalent of Bosnia.

And I will start right now. That is why I did not tell you the home country of the electrical meddler. I will tell you, though, that the adjective "northerner" is a McGuffin.

Now, let's play civilly.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

the cock crowed


I was in a Bible story.

The neighbor's cock crowed thrice. Well, I suspect it was more than that. But I only heard it three times.

He is one of those satisfied fowl. Pampered with food and hens. His one job is to announce the arrival of the sun. And, unlike his neurotic fighting brothers who persistently announce their neuroses, this guy sticks to his once-a-day job.

But, unlike Peter's denial of the messiah, the cock did not portend one of my inevitable sins (not that there were no candidates). It was simply time to get out of bed.

Since moving to Mexico, I usually have no idea what day of week it is. With one exception. Sunday. Church at 10 AM is the only regular entry on my calendar.

And Sunday it was. Before I went to bed, I had read the portion of John's gospel that we would be studying. Jesus' arrest in the garden, his sham of a trial, and Peter's denial. That is probably why the cock had me in a Peter frame of mind.

Saturday night, tropical storm Aletta passed by well off of our coast. But she gave us several gifts. Rain. Thunder. Lightning. Lots of lightning.

Because the storm hit us in the middle of the night, I did not rush around the house unplugging electronics. Even when lightning struck within blocks of the house. As it often does.

So, I was relieved when I was preparing for church to discover that everything seemed to be working fine. That is, until Omar told me in the afternoon that there was no internet.

He was correct. The transformer and the modem were dead. And nothing would revive them.

On Tuesday, I finally got through to a Telmex service representative. Or, my friend, Julio did. He has far more patience in dealing with Telmex than I do. And this time, he lost his patience.

When I moved here, Telmex had a great customer service routine for exchanging fried modems. I would drive an hour to Manzanillo and exchange the dead for the quick.

Several years ago, Telmex added a new step. To get a replacement modem, I had to report it to the frustrating customer service representatives at Telmex. (You know the type. They ask for your address and then tell you you have misspelled the street name because they have all of that information on a computer screen.) But, with the report number, I could get a new modem the same day.

No more. After spending 45 minutes on the telephone reciting information that Telmex already had, the representative told Julio that a modem would be shipped to me by DHL.

That was the good news. The bad news was that it would not ship for almost a full week. Next Monday.

So, that leaves me without any internet at the house. I am writing this essay at one of my favorite haunts. Rooster's in San Patricio. But, because it is a favorite, people I know stop by and sit down to chat.

That is not conducive to writing. But, I go out to eat for the socializing. It makes little sense to shoo people away just because I have another purpose right now.

All of that is prelude to let you know that I may be offline for a few days. Not for a lack of material or a desire to write (I have both), but because of technical difficulties.

When I say I moved to Mexico because I wanted to get up each morning and have no idea how I was going to get through the day. Well, this qualifies as one of those days.

If I can, I will rely on the kindness of strangers (and friends) to post musings before Monday. If not, the cock and I will see you at sunrise on Tuesday.

I hope.


Saturday, June 09, 2018

sex is in the air


The signs are impossible to miss. And predictable.

The rains began a bit early this year. For two days, we have had our share of downpours. And when it rains this time of year, I have visitors in the patio. Lots of them.

Because, in the spring rains, to paraphrase Tennyson, a young ant's fancy lightly turns to love. Or, at least, to sex.

Ant princesses emerge from their nests outfitted in Julia Roberts wings and take flight in hopes of encountering their own Adam Ant. If they do, they return to earth as a queen ready to start their own nest.

My patio, of course, is a dry hole. With the exception of my planters, there is little to recommend my patio to the expectant mothers. When the ants land, they start sloughing their now-superfluous wings, leaving them looking a bit more like street ants than royalty.

The first to arrive are the leaf cutters. They are probably not the first, but, because of their size, they are the first I notice.

I have long had a love-hate relationship with leaf cutters. When I lived on the laguna in Villa Obregon, fighting the ants was a daily task. They could strip a hibiscus in one night.

Of course, they always prevailed. And, even  though I hated what they did to the landscaping, I admired their organization and persistence.

When I moved to Barra de Navidad three years ago, the war was over. I had no plants in the patio that interested the leaf cutters.

For a day or two, the pregnant queens wander around the patio until they succumb to the heat. Lopping off another limb of the ant family tree.

But the leaf cutters are not alone. They come in tens. The other ants -- smaller ants -- come in the hundreds.

Yesterday the top of my pool was almost black with the corpses of tiny ants. Spencer's Faerie Queen meets Jeffrey Dahmer.

And, just as quickly as they arrived, they will vanish. Just like love.

"Go to the ant, you lazybones! Consider its ways, and be wise." Proverbs 6:6


Wednesday, June 06, 2018

a hair of the dog


Once upon a time there was a scorpion named Al who lived in Mexico. He once lived in a shoe, but he was booted.

His real name, as I should have told you before, is really El Alacrán. But that's such a fuss to pronounce that we usually call him just Al. The only people who use his formal name are his mother, when angry -- or political "pollsters" who always call at dinnertime.

One day Al was going about his predatory arachnid business when it started raining. And not just any rain. If asked, because he was a noted raconteur, he would have sworn he had just missed getting on board Noah's ark. His smarmy cousin Gordo took the last scorpion seat.

As the flood rose, he relied upon his remnant fish genes to eel his way through the deluge. When he thought he could swim no more, he grasped onto a vertical surface. With his last strength, he edged above the surface of the water, folded himself up, and slept.

That is, he slept until an evil ogre grabbed him. Whether he stuck his assailant like Sam stuck Shelob, he would never know. The ogre smashed him.

The end.

Well, that is the end of Al's story. My version is a bit different.

For the last couple weeks, our daily temperature and humidity readings have been having a race to the top -- and it is hard to say which wins on any given day. The numbers are in the 90s.

It is days like this that the best we can do is to hope that the rains arrive to drive down the humidity -- at least, temporarily. And those hopes were realized last night. With a spectacular storm that was equal parts lightning, thunder, and rain. And plenty of each.

As almost always happens, I had told myself for two days to pick up the leaves and flowers that my cup of gold vines slough. If left on the ground, they clog the patio drains. And that is what happened last night. The rains came down, and the drains clogged up. Sufficiently clogged up to transform the patio into a wading pool.

Because more rain is in our forecast, my first duty this morning was picking up the soggy masses that had clogged the drains. Some of the leaves and flowers were stuck on the walls.

One clump looked a bit different. It was leaf brown. But it looked a bit like a variety of caterpillar known for its sting.

Instead of using a stick to nudge it (which would have been the smart thing to do -- even a monkey would have been smart enough to use a rudimentary tool), I grabbed it gingerly with my right thumb and forefinger.

Fortunately, it was not a stinging caterpillar. Unfortunately, it was a stinging scorpion. A rather large scorpion. And one of the beige variety that pack the worst wallop in these parts.

This was no half-sting. I have experienced that once before in San Miguel de Allende when I grabbed a medicine vial where a scorpion had taken up residence. Both times, my right forefinger receive the brunt of the sting.

I have mentioned before that my scorpion stings have been no more eventful than a wasp sting. And that is exactly what this one felt like.

There was a sharp immediate pain that quickly turned into a spreading numbness throughout my finger as the venom took effect. Had my finger been a cockroach, it could not have escaped.

I did not seek medical treatment. Instead, I self-medicated with ice on the entry point to stop the spread of the venom.

None of the other symptoms that necessitate medical care appeared. No dizziness. No closed throat. No frothing at the mouth (though had that occurred I could have signed up as a sufferer of TDS).

Before I wriote this essay, I rehearsed it with friends. Of course, they all had their own individual remedy. Northerners were big on suggesting large doses of benadryl -- whatever that is.

But my Mexican friends had the best suggestions.

Drink milk. Why? The milk will get in your blood system and slow the spread of the venom.

Do not eat shellfish. Why? The salt will cause the venom to be more powerful.

To be fair, if I asked a northerner for the scientific basis of home remedies, the answers would seem just as quaint. If you think that is not true, try to keep a straight face when someone tries to explain why bags of water tacked to decks somehow manage to frighten flies.

But, this was my favorite. My friend Alan asked me if I still had the exact scorpion that stung me. I did. I bagged it up to take to the doctor if my symptoms worsened.

Here is what he told me to do. Cut off the stinger and put it in a glass of tequila. Smash up the stinger and drink it all. The venom in the stomach will counter-balance the venom in the blood stream.

I laughed. But there is a grain of truth in the methodology. After all, the anti-venom injections offered by medical staff is simply a more sophisticated (and, I should add in all fairness, scientific) approach.

I did not try any of the methods -- either northern or Mexican. Just like a wasp sting, the venom has numbed my finger and part of my forearm.

But it has not numbed it enough to keep me from typing this essay for you.

After all, poor Al gave up his life for your entertainment.


Friday, June 01, 2018

tipping the canoe -- and the waiter


Yup. I am about to poke the bear.

From past experience, discussing tipping is the second easiest way to generate comments in these parts. (I will let you guess the first.) For some reason, people's beliefs about tipping are about as a concrete as a Calvinist's certainty of how salvation works.

What has sent me down this quixotic path of knight errantry was a little slip of yellow paper tucked at the back of our table in a hipster-wannabe restaurant in Portland. My family had stopped there last Friday to have lunch before we attended my aunt's memorial service.

My niece, a Seattle foodie, quickly took the measure of the place. It felt as if it had once been a popular neighborhood breakfast spot, but now wanted desperately to be a hipster magnet in its old age. Similar to those guys who are effectively bald but like wearing their fringe in a braided ponytail.

But it was not the bizarre food combinations on the menu or the self-conscious tackiness of the decor that caught my attention. It was that yellow piece of paper.

Admittedly, I got sucked in by the headline: "Gigi's is Tipless ." I will confess that I seriously mistook the last word. But I suspect the vowel movement was intentional.

I read on.

"We have chosen to become a tipless restaurant to ensure all staff, both front of house and kitchen staff, are paid a living wage, covered by health and dental insurance and a part of  our profit incentive plan."

After all, this is Portland, and "living wage" is one of those code words to ensure the customer knows she is sitting in the lap of compassionate progressivism. (I particularly liked the "front of house" insertion -- to telegraph that the person waiting on your table is actually an actor playing the part of a waiter.)

Having advertised their generosity to their staff and their desire to go tipless, I anticipated the owners would then announce they had folded what would normally be a tip into the prices on the menu, 
instead of customers having to dig for tips. That would be a win-win for everyone.

But, I was wrong. Probably because the answer I just posited would have been a market-driven libertarian solution. And this is Portland. Instead, the owners put the dark underbelly of progressivism in full view.

Instead of leaving the choice of a tip in the hands of their customers, the owners decided that a tax would be a far simpler solution. "A 20% surcharge will be added to each ticket (in lieu of gratuity), and used entirely for staff benefit."

"For staff benefit?" I assume that means to solely pay for those lauded benefits the owners are so generously providing to their help.

None of that bothers me. After all, customers pay for every single penny in pay and benefits that businesses provide to their employees -- assuming that the business does not have a dollar tree growing in the break room.

So why all the hairshirt business of going tipless? Anyone with a nodding acquaintance of economics knows how the process works.

Or do they? I suspect the reason the restaurant went from voluntary tipping to imposing a tax is that not enough people were tipping to help the staff maintain a "living wage."

Of course, if customers are unhappy with the service charge, they can choose to eat elsewhere. As will my family in the future. Not because of the tipping policy, but because of the food.

And that brings us to Mexico where tipping continues to be a topic of discussion amongst tourists and expatriates.

The waiters in the restaurants in our little fishing villages are in the same position as waiters in most small American restaurants. Their wage is minimal. They count on tips to scrape enough pesos together to make a "living wage."

That is why I am a little confounded at diners who seem to develop very odd tipping behavior while they are in Mexico.

The range of tipping is astounding -- from nothing to the customary 20% in northern restaurants. Let me share some anecdotes.

Several years ago, I was dining at my then-regular restaurant (La Rana -- The Frog) with a long-term tourist. During dinner he mentioned how inexpensive it was to eat in restaurants in Mexico. "I can afford to eat out for about two-thirds of my meals."

When the bill arrived, I noticed that he had left about the equivalent of a 5% tip. Out of curiosity (because it was really none of my business), I asked him if he had miscalculated.

"Oh, that. No. I only leave 5% at restaurants here. I figure the meals are so inexpensive and that living costs are so low here, that half my normal tip is sufficient."

I started to explain how percentages work in absolute terms, but he was not interested. He thought he was leaving enough.

A second story.

A woman who grew up in England had a discussion here with me about tipping. She is opposed to it. Her feeling is that if she leaves a tip, she is encouraging owners to pay sub-standard wages. (She is not an aberration. I talked with cruise staff on a ship that was stationed out of England. They said the English simply do not tip.)

The culture we tuck in our suitcases when we visit or move to Mexico has a big factor on our tipping practises. For example, some long-term visitors are on a restricted budget. They will splurge to eat out, but then save by cutting back on the tip.

Not everyone, of course. But enough to create a credible stereotype. Stereotypes that waiters are willing to share.

I am a realist when it comes to tipping. Especially, when it comes to tipping at places I often frequent.

My rule in Mexico is that I will leave a tip of 20 pesos for any restaurant bill up to 100 pesos. If the bill is above $100, I leave 20%. Here is why.

I have no delusions about buying friendship with the tips I give waiters. What I do buy is good service in the future. And a bit of gratitude that gives me some very good sources for conversations and blog material.

I refuse to join the debate about what the proper percentage of a tip is. That is an argument for bureaucrat-minded. People should allow their moral compass to determine how much they should leave on the table at the end of a meal.

But part of that moral compass should always incorporate the concept that the waiter who took your order and brought your food to your table, and the cook who prepared it, are trying to make a living in this world. And that can often be very difficult in Mexico.

It is not only God who enjoys a joyful giver.