Thursday, June 20, 2019

when trite is insightful

"There are none so blind as those who will not see."

I think the first time I heard that adage was in the play Butterflies are Free. The script centers around a romance between a young wealthy blind man and his Bohemian girlfriend. Of course, there is a controlling mother who loves saying things like: " There are none so blind as those who will not see."

The girlfriend eventually takes on the dragon lady with a bit of sardonic wit: "There are none so deaf as those who will not hear. You could make up a lot of those, couldn't you?"

The line is trite because it has become a cliché. But there is a nugget of truth in there -- and I live it each day.

Mexican culture is as odd to me as my northern culture is to my son Omar. We each have certain assumptions about life that lead us to react to the same circumstances quite differently. Once he tells me the thought process he used to get to his conclusion, I understand a little more about Mexico.

Earlier this year, I was on the southern-most extension of my morning walk in Barra de Navidad. There is a sand bar that juts into our laguna that is something of a nature preserve. The trees and brush are perfect cover for birds, lizards, snakes, and scorpions.

It was the trees that caught my attention that morning. Nine years ago, I broke my right ankle while zip-lining in Puerto Vallarta (one foot in the gravy). While I was crutch-bound, Ivan, the young man who delivered my water bottles, stopped by the house to ask if I would like to go for a drive. He wanted to show me how the local water is processed into the product he regularly delivered to my house.

We must have gone in the Shiftless Escape because I do not believe he had a car. Maybe he did. His girlfriend, whose name eludes me, and his young son Brayan accompanied us.

The water plant was interesting. But my most-lasting memory was a brief stop along the road to the plant where Ivan introduced me to one of Mexico's natural treats. Guamuchil. (I should note that even locally there are multiple ways of pronouncing and spelling the word -- as is true of many words that have been adopted from Nahuatl.)

The tree is native to Pacific Mexico -- as well as Central America and northern South America. You can find them almost everywhere in our area.

When he showed the pods to me, I first thought they were soybeans. I was not that far off. The tree is in the pea family -- as are several other varieties of bushes and trees here (my favorite love, the flamboyant tree, and its cousin the mariposa shrub).

But they were like no bean or pea I have ever tasted. The green and red pods contain a series of black seeds surrounded by a cream-colored flesh. The flesh is the sought-after snack.

I will admit I was a bit startled by the flavor. If you can imagine mixing alum and tannin together, you would be on the right track. I am willing to bet my pucker factor was high enough to qualify be as a finalist in a Koi competition.

But I ate what I was offered -- and asked for more. After the first assault, the next few were quite good. They were good enough that I have not seen the need to indulge again.

Until my walk this year. The pods were far too inviting. I had seen my neighbors beating trees to get at the pods during the prior weeks. If it was worth that effort, I decided I needed a reprise.

So I did. The results were the same as my first experience. Alum assault followed by a bit of pleasure.

This time the pulp was quite dry. I suspect I had waited too long in the season to reenact my introduction to guamuchil.

Seeing the pods reminded me of that trip with Ivan and his family. I no longer see him. He is now one of the young Mexicans who are keeping the economy of The States rolling along.

What I do have is a better eye to see what surrounds me. And what could be a better combination? A relationship built and eyes that will see. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

showers of wasting

I live in a tourist town.

Whenever I travel to Mexico's highlands, people ask me where I live in Mexico. My former answer of "Melaque" (when I lived there) would often get no reaction. But, when I now say "Barra de Navidad," the recognition is immediate.

For good reason. Barra de Navidad has long been a beach destination for Mexicans. When my  brother and I drove down to Melaque in 2009, in my pre-GPS days, we wended our way through Puerto Vallarta with very little trouble until we  came to the southern edge of its old town. The traffic signs simply dried up in helping us to make choices.

We were about to stop and ask for directions when I saw a sign telling us to turn right, not for "Melaque," but for "Barra de Navidad." Because Melaque had a larger population, I thought that was what we would see on the signs. But Barra de Navidad was the spot travelers were headed.

My little village pays a price for its tourist reputation. When the family who seized the land in Barra de Navidad to build a housing area for tourists, they devised a community that was markedly seasonal. Paved streets. Canals. Modest, but comfortable homes. But all designed for people who would come and go throughout the year.

Some people have moved here permanently. I am one. And, of course, the people of Barra de Navidad live here all year. But a lot of houses sit unoccupied and untended for months at a time. In some cases, for years.

The house across the street from mine falls into that second category. In the five years I have lived here, I have never seen the owners. I don't think.

There have been a couple of visitors. But they appeared to be very unfamiliar with the house. I assumed they were renters.

This past week, four identical white pickups showed up. I would not have paid much notice if they had not blocked access to my garage. Well, that is not quite true. I noticed their presence because every night when they returned to the house, they would dump plastic debris (bottles, cups, forks) in the middle of the street.

Then the visitors were gone. All except for one pickup that remained parked in the garage.

Around noon yesterday I heard rain. Or I thought it was rain. When our downpours begin, the most characteristic sound here is the fire-hose blasts of water that jet off roofs through downspouts into the street.

But the sky was clear. What sounded like rain was simply water pouring out of the downspouts on the house across the street.

It was easy to deduce the cause. Most houses here have water storage tanks on the top of the house to provide gravity-powered water pressure inside the house. The water is pumped from the street to the roof. When the tank is full, a switch stops the pump. If the switch is functioning properly.

My neighbor's switch isn't. As a result, water is pumped to the tank, the tank runs over, and the street in front of the house turns into something resembling a canal in Amsterdam -- with none of the attendant tourist appeal.

It is not really a problem other than the grotesque waste of water in an area that is short of it. The water will settle into our sandy soil. The biggest cost the owner of the house will face is the wasted electricity. If that pump continues to run, the owner's cost for electricity may increase.

If this was happening to any of the other houses in our neighborhood, the switch would have been turned off yesterday. The reason is simple. I either know my neighbors who live here all year or I know how to contact those who live here only part-time.

I asked my neighbors if they knew who owned the house or how to contact a caretaker. They had no idea. I checked with my handyman and the guy who cleans my pool. They had no idea.

Sometimes, it is great to get away from everything at the beach and to go somewhere no one knows you. But that luxury comes at a price.

So, here I sit listening to the faux rain -- when we actually need the real thing -- and thinking about Jesus' admonition to give water to the thirsty. How often does my ability to do that end up as wasted as the water now flowing into the street?


Tuesday, June 18, 2019

in the with the new, off with the old

Today is tapas day.

Information tapas day. Just a nibble before your lunch.

I have three small dishes for you.

The first is an update on my nesting mourning dove. You mighty remember her from tales on wing.

I have been keeping an eye on the nest to see if I could spot any hatchlings. I hadn't. Or maybe I had, and they blended so well into the nest, I could not differentiate them from the twigs and grass that constitute their tiny home.

This morning when I walked by, I was surprised to see what looked like two adult doves sitting on the nest. But they weren't. They were two hatchlings.

In the photograph, I managed to catch them side-by-side. They usually sit as far away from one another as they can in such a small space, often perching on the edge of the nest. These doves are not gregarious.

Some animals are almost indistinguishable in their youth from their adult forms. Some are just the opposite. Butterflies fall in the second category. Birds in the first.

These babes look as if they could be out in the market earning their mourning wages. And I assume they soon will be. Just as Sondheim warned: children turn "from something you love/to something you lose."

Tapas number two is also about loss -- and renewal.

I have now lived in the house with no name for about five years. In that time, our tropical rain and sun have done to the paint job on the house what nature did to Edith Sitwell. It was time to get the old girl a face-lift -- or, at least, some new pancake makeup.

The contractor stopped by today. We talked about just touching up here and there. But, on closer look, we decided a toes to toupee makeover was required.

The measurements are taken. We even discovered some old paint in the bodega to act as color chips. I should have the estimate in hand later in the week.

Because the paint crew is booked through the summer, the actual painting may not begin until October. So, we have plenty of time to wait for the inevitable essays the job will generate.

And your final nosh for the morning is good news for anyone who has ever tried to use the Mexican telephone system.

When I moved here, you needed to know if you were calling someone on their land line or their mobile phone. Then, you had to figure out the options if you were calling from one or the other.

Dialing has become simpler. But, on 3 August, all of that changes. For the better.

Mexico will be joining the same international telephone regime used by Canada and the United States. If you want to call any telephone in Mexico, you will simply use your 10-digit telephone number.

Businesses who have decided not to move to Mexico have cited the country's eccentric telecommunications system as a handicap to efficient operations. This change should help reduce that complaint -- even though it will not address the relatively expensive and slow internet system that plagues the country.

Even better, the dialing change will be better for consumers. Though I have to wonder if this new system will make it easier for telephone solicitors to hunt down their quarry.

So, there are your morning appetizers. Something for everyone.

And all three tell of a better future.


Monday, June 17, 2019

read all about it

Intentional humor is good. But unintentional is often better.

I read The Oregonian each morning on my Kindle. It is not the best newspaper available. In fact, I doubt it would finish high on any news reader's list. But it does act as a filter against the lunacy-inducing immediacy of television news.

Now and then, the editors (or, at least, the headline writers) provide an amuse-bouche to start my morning. Today was no exception. Of course, it wasn't. Or I would not be writing all this, would I?

For about a year, the editors have been adding an oddly-placed notice at the top of the agony aunt ramblings of Dear Abby. "FIND MORE BUSINESS NEWS BEHIND SPORTS." It is almost as if having been subjected to the nonsense of Dear Abby and Carolyn Hax readers cannot slog their way through the sports section to discover what the world of business and finance is doing.

I always thought it was an odd place to put the notice. Not only is it associated with the personal advice column, the notice is slapped underneath that column's headline. It struck me as an editorial disaster waiting to happen.

And so it did. This morning.

The headline for Dear Abby's sob sister ministrations this morning was:

Man's obsession with sports leaves no time for relationship

Followed immediately, of course, with:


I did not bother reading what Abby had to say. What could she say that would have been better than that?

Having had my bit of amusement for the morning, I am heading off to Manzanillo. There are exotic foods to purchase, inexpensive medications to pocket, and utility bills to pay (because no one seems to want to accept my credit card payments online).

Oh, yes. And to buy some Monkey's fried chicken. Some pleasures simply cannot be denied.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

coming out in mexico

I run a day-care facility.

A cicada day-care facility.

When I grew up in Oregon, we did not see many cicadas. I assume they live in Oregon. They live almost everywhere in the world.

Now and then my brother and I would watch one of the chunky-bodied aviators kamikaze into our bug zapper. The resulting flare-up must have been visible to astronomers on a small planet orbiting Regulus A.

But, I have never witnessed the onslaught of the 13-year or 17-year ear-splitting invasions in such exotic places as Ohio or Connecticut. Well, that is not exactly true. Between my junior and senior years of high school my parents showed their love for me by sending me off for a portion of the summer with the American Heritage Association to visit just that -- our American heritage. Ranging from Jamestown to Washington, D.C. to Concord.

One June night outside of Williamsburg I saw my first firefly -- an insect that figures in a lot of childhood literature, but was as exotic to me as a dragon. And cicadas. We had apparently arrived in Virginia just as the cicadas were emerging. The night woods were alive with the desperate mating calls of those periodical cicadas.

Other than that one night, my life has been virtually cicada-free. Until I moved to Mexico.

Even though I had a garden when I lived in Villa Obregón, I also had a gardener. There was undoubtedly evidence of their presence in the trees, but I never noticed them. When I would venture forth each night, my attention was solely directed to crocodiles, leaf-cutter ants, and snakes.

That changed when I moved to the house with no name. There are no crocodiles, ants, or snakes in my patio. I also have no gardener. So, my attention has focused on what lives in my patio. And cicadas are on the list.

My first encounter was a cicada corpse -- like the one in the photograph at the top of this essay. Well, corpse is not the correct word. Even though the body looks as if it could be alive, it is merely the molted shell of a cicada. Or, if you want to wow your dinner guests some evening -- its exuvia.

Usually, cicadas live around trees. But my cicadas are Mexican. They take what is available and make do. In my case, they make due with the cup-of-gold vines.

The vines are pretty, but they are also a nuisance. Since my patio is effectively my living room, I need to clean up the fallen leaves and flowers that the vines carelessly discard. I do that three or four times a day.

I saw my first exuvia attached to one of the vine stems. At first, I thought it was alive. It wasn't. It had no more life than a cadaver in the morgue. It just looked more lively.

Then I found another and another and another. Between the four planters there were enough bodies to build a star-antagonist for the next Godzilla movie.

Our cicadas here are known as annual cicadas. When the larvae hatch from eggs laid on the vines, they burrow into the ground and feed off of the roots for three to five years, molting in the dark. When they dig out of their cozy living womb, they climb the vine, attach themselves, and go through a final molting process (just like a butterfly) to emerge as an adult with a face that only a space alien could love.

They then go in search of a mate. I can hear the adult males in the neighborhood exercising their mating rites. The cicadas here are nowhere near as loud as those in the Virginia woods fifty years ago. But the calls cannot be mistaken for anything else. Well, maybe a Soviet-era nuclear power plant in Pyongyang. But nothing other than that.

This time of year, there is a spot in the mountains between Colima and Ciudad Guzmán where the call of cicadas can be heard echoing across the valley. You  can even hear them in a car with the windows rolled up. I always slow down on that part of the trip to or from Guadalajara just to listen.

When I was in Colombia with my cousin and his Colombia wife Patty (Yes, Patty, you are my cousin, also), she told us one of the most fascinating cicada tales I have ever heard (blowing up jiminy cricket). Colombians believe that the cicadas are crickets who sing with joy, and when they cannot stand the pleasure anymore, they explode.

Now, the science-handicapped amongst us will dismiss that as so much superstition, as if truth is based on facts. They rest of us can enjoy the tale for its poetry. Given the choice between joy and the husk of a corpse, I will take the poetry of joy.

The cicada nymph I photographed has not attached itself to a vine. For some reason, it is about 15 feet away from the nearest planter -- on my garage wall. Maybe the wind knocked it off the vine and it is making do.

When I first saw it, I thought it was an exuvia. It wasn't. The nymph was still inside its chrysalis. A first for me. I had never seen a cicada at this stage waiting for its metamorphosis.

I thought I would conduct my own experiment to see how long it would take to emerge. But, unlike butterflies, who I have seen emerge here several times, I missed the event. Within a day, the adult had come out and flown away. Most likely at night.

So, I will continue to watch the cycle of life in my tiny ecosphere as if I were a scientist or a 12-year old boy (because they are similar). But I hope to go on realizing that facts can only get us so far in a world filled with great mysteries.     

Friday, June 14, 2019

waggling me wig

It is right there on San Patricio's main street.

I must have passed beneath it several times before actually reading it -- even though it stretches across the full length of the street in front of the Kiosko.

I thought it was going to be an announcement concerning the usual suspects. A rodeo. A vagabond guitarist. A gathering of mariachi.

But it was none of those. If you applied your menu Spanish to the sign, you already know it is announcing a beauty contest for Mr. Gay Cihuatlán
 (the equivalent of our county seat) to be held on 22 June -- the winner to be declared by an electronic election. For those of you who still think of Mexico as a third-world country, I would be hard-pressed to think of anything more postmodern.

When I moved to this little fishing village by the sea, the last thing I thought I would encounter would be a gay beauty contest. Of course, my first mistake was thinking I had moved to a little fishing village.

It isn't. It is a tourist town that has learned that pesos come in all colors -- and that there are always new ways to expand the size of the revenue pot. I call it the Atlantic City syndrome.

I knew I was no longer in Kansas the night after my brother and I settled into my temporary digs in Villa Obregón.
 My landlady decided we needed to see one of Melaque's star attractions -- a transvestite show (a night at the opera). She thought it was one of the most marvelous entertainments she had ever seen. Neither Darrel nor I shared her enthusiasm after the performance.

Now, don't get me wrong. Even though I thought the show was an abomination, it was not for the same reason that my friend Cor posited theologically. It simply was not very well-produced.

What did surprise me is that it existed at all. Especially in a small town like Villa Obreg

In The States, I was involved in several projects that centered around political outreach to Mexican families. I worked under the assumption that Mexican culture was socially conservative and based on traditional family values.

That was probably true for my line of work then and there. But the assumptions do not translate quite as well to our tourist village. It would be far more accurate to state the area in which I reside is a "live and let live" community. Governor Edwin Edwards could slip his round peg ("laissez le bon temps roulez") into one of our slots, and the fit would be perfect.

So, when I wait in line behind an attractive young Mexicana at Hawaii, I always have to look twice to see if a bait and switch is under way.

I cannot tell you what the beauty contest next week will consist of. I talked with three young Mexicans who have told me three absolutely contradictory stories -- it will be men in ball gowns, it will be men in dinner jackets, it will be men in dinner jackets and then in ball gowns. That last version would cut my dinner party guest list in half. Apparently, there was a lesbian version a couple months ago, and the auditorium was packed. Mexicans love beauty contests.

Perhaps my English DNA makes me a bit sanguine about the prospect of men dressing in ball gowns. I doubt there is an English gentleman alive who does not dream of 
pretending he is Theresa May feeling the brush of a Dior against his dry knobby knees. Especially when you consider the wigs and robes by the judiciary.

Curiosity leads me to a lot of venues in Mexico. But I doubt I will be settling into my auditorium seat in Cihuatlán 
on the evening of 22 June.

Who knows, though? I could be wrong. How will I ever be able to tell you what happened, if I am not there?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

the constant companion

I am fascinated with death.

I always have been -- as far back as I can remember.

When I was four, I wrote my first two stories. Short. Both a bit disturbing. About death. And death with the sort of violence that could only be imagined by a four-year old -- or a Hollywood scriptwriter. If that is not being redundant.

Eaten alive by rats. Innocent housekeeper snuffed by the state in an electric chair. I told you. A bit disturbing.

Whether my life-long appointment with death pre-dated that juvenile attempt to make sense of our journey to the undiscovered country, I do not know. It seems likely. Most four-year olds would not spontaneously burst forth with story ideas for Quentin Tarantino's next project. The documentary trail stops there.

But I have been building my own trail since then. When I gave away my Salem library, I was not shocked to discover that the most common theme in the titles of my books dealt with death. And why not? It is something we will all experience. Eventually.

Theologians posit that death is merely a major change of address. That we were once free of death. That we gave all that up by our own choice. But one day man will be reconciled with God and all death will cease.

Until then, we are going to board a carriage, a train, a stage coach, a ferry (take your pick) that will one day whisk us off to -- well, that part is not quite certain.

Christianity and Judaism, for instance, is quite explicit what it means to live a good life. The Old and New Testaments are filled with guidance on what it means to be a citizen in the Kingdom of God.

And then we die. The details then get a lot fuzzier. Probably for very good theological reasons.

Philosophers have been toying with the mortality problem ever since the first Sumerian thinker asked: "Why me? Why not take him?" And was no more successful in finding an answer than are modern philosophers.

Even scientists fail us. None can answer what happens when the big sleep sets in. Scientists cannot really answer what happens when consciousness ceases because they have little idea what it means to be a conscious being. We are walking mysteries.

That may be why I find poetry so rewarding. Good poets eschew the what happens after we die question in exchange for answering the question of what death means in our lives.

I have  been reading Ted Kooser's Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems for the past year.

In his review of Kooser's collection, Nick Ripatrazone summed up the work: "There's poetic restraint in offering us a well-drawn map without a required route. That requires patience, a little confidence, and a belief that poems can be about living rather than an explanation of life."

I have applied patience to the book. Kooser's poems are so well-written that I seldom read more than four or five at one time. Each one is a launching pad for pondering ideas. Some new. Most old. But all worth considering.

Last night I was sitting beside the pool as the sun set on a slightly humid, but otherwise quite pleasant day. One of those days that is blessed by a breeze off of the ocean.

Two poems caused me to pause and evaluate my life. Both were about death. Directly and indirectly. And one was about a dog. You can never go wrong with a dog.

Let me share it with you. The dog poem first.

"January 19, still thawing, breezy"

Arthritic and weak, my old dog, Hattiestumbles behind me over the snow.When I stop, she stops, tipped to one sidelike a folding table with one of the legsnot snapped in place. Head bowed, one earturned down to the earth as if shecould hear it turning, she is losing the trailat the end of her fourteenth year.Now she must follow. Once she could catcha season running and shake it by the necktill the leaves fell off, but now they get away,flashing their tails as they bound offover the bill. Maybe she doesn't see themout of those clouded, wet brown eyes,maybe she no longer cares. I thoughtfor a while last summer that I might diebefore my dogs, but it seems I was wrong.She wobbles a little way ahead of me now,barking her sharp small bark,then stops and trembles, excited, on pointat the spot that leads out of the world.
OK. It is about aging, rather than death. Even though the boundary between the two is ephemeral.

What I particularly like are the word pictures. "Once she could catch a season running and shake it by the neck till the leaves fell off" and "point at the spot that leads out of the world."

The other poem is shorter. And has no dog. But is no worse for that fact.


After the funeral, the mourners gatherunder the rustling churchyard maplesand talk softly, like clusters of leaves.White shirt cuffs and collars flash in the shade:highlights on deep green water.They came this afternoon to say goodbye,but now they keep saying hello and hello,peering into each other’s faces,slow to let go of each other’s hands.
I will not tell you what I thought about for the hour after I read both poems. Those are my thoughts.

But I thought you might like the opportunity to enjoy some well-written poetry, and to pause for just a moment without the static of politics and pettiness clouding a quiet moment of considering just what it means to be human and humane -- because the two things are certainly not the same.

And, if you wish to share, that is what the comments section is for.

You might even pry out some of my more private thoughts.