Monday, May 31, 2010

lest we forget

Fifty percent of Americans consider Memorial Day as one of the nation’s most important holidays.

So says the Rasmussen Reports, a survey service.  The type of service that causes political operatives to have sleepless nights.

The number is not surprising.  For the past decade, the American public has had a very high opinion of the men and women who provide security for us. 

Especially those who have sacrificed their lives to defend our liberty.

That is what today is about.  To memorialize those who have died that we may be free.

I do not have any family members or friends who died in the service of liberty.  But I know the stories of those who did.

Young people who gave up promising futures in carers that would have paid far more than a soldier's pay.  Who gave up the opportunity to have a stable family life.  Who gave up a life that was self-centered.

And they all had their own reasons for making that choice. 

But they each chose to live in a profession where old, solid virtues were -- and are -- part of their daily lives:.  Duty.  Honor.  Country.

An old soldier once said of those three words: "They build your basic character. They mold you for your future roles as the custodians of the nation's defense. They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid."

I was recently talking with a friend who freely admitted he could not understand the sacrifice necessary to be  soldier.  He wanted to know why the government did not provide soldiers with equipment that would prevent the death of our troops.

He is not alone.  There have long been Americans who could not understand why a person would freely give up the luxuries of American civilian life to serve in he military. 

I told my friend that my colleagues in he military do not feel as if they have given up anything.  They have traded their individual freedom for the good of what this nation stands for.

In the process, they also have made a bargain that their lives now belong to the defense of freedom.

Fortunately, most of them live full lives of honor.  But some are called to pay the price.  The price that freedom is not free.

As we go about or lives today, we should pause (if only for a moment) to recall -- to memorialize -- those who have died for us.  Deaths that allow us to lead the lives we live today.

Without their sacrifice, ours would be a far more brutish world.

To all of the men and women who have died in the service of their country.  I say thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Friday, May 28, 2010

moving bibendum's joints

"When your splint comes off, I will give you a cane, and you will walk like a man."

That was how my surgeon in Mexico responded when I asked him about physical therapy.

He scoffed at such American frivolity.  His notion: I had already learned to walk as a child.  I just needed to do what I already knew.

Not so here in Oregon.  As soon as my splint came off, my orthopedist gave me a prescription for physical therapy.  And quite a detailed prescription. 

He wanted improved range of motion, strength, weight bearing, and endurance in my ankle through physical therapy three times each week for 2 to 4 weeks.

Nothing unusual.  I have seen the same prescription numerous times during my litigation career.

But he also checked an additional box: lymphedema care. 

I know my Latin.  I also saw my foot when it came out of the splint.  It was blown up like a balloon.  Within a day, my calf, knee, and thigh joined in the Michelin man impression.  (The swelling is what caused my family physician to order tests to determine if I had a blood clot.  As you know, I did.) 

The cause of all the swelling?  My lymph nodes were blocked.

The prescription was written two weeks ago.  On Thursday I had my first physical therapy appointment.

The reason for the delay?  The hospital where I was referred does not provide lymphedema therapy.  So said the receptionist when I called last week.  But the director was reviewing the request.

My first reaction was: Why would I want the director to approve the referral if the hospital could not give the requested care?  Even though "lymphedema care" is listed as one of the options on the hospital's referral form.

I was starting to believe that my surgeon in Mexico was a very wise man.  Or that the American medical system was simply showing its litigation-phobia again.  Or both.

It turns out I was half wrong.

My physical therapy began Thursday afternoon.  And it went far better than I had hoped.  The apparent confusion over the edema issue was merely that -- confusion.  The director wanted to be certain I did not need special therapy.  I didn't.

My therapist, Mark, took me through a series of exercises I can do at work or at home.  The hitch is I am supposed to do the exercises three times daily.  Several of them will require me to get down on the floor.  That should be interesting at the office.  Of course, it just might add interest to some of my longer meetings.

The best thing to come out of Thursday's therapy session was very simple.  I have started walking on the ball of my right foot -- with the aid of my crutches.  Not much weight bearing, but I can start getting back to a normal gait, rather than my Quasimodo swing.

I will keep you posted now and then on how the foot is developing.

But I actually have other things going on my life, as well.

I promise. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

world drinking cup

Don't drink the water.

It was probably myth #3 I heard from almost everyone when I headed south to Mexico.

Drink only bottled water.  Use water with iodine to wash all foods.

Of course, there were naysayers.  Expatriates who had lived in Mexico for years, who drank straight from the tap, and never washed their vegetables and fruits.  If asked, I am certain they would say they never washed their hands.  Just to prove their point.

You may have noticed the term "myth" in that second sentence.  I am using it in its narrative sense: a tale that embodies a Truth.

The Truth is that people in Mexico use bottled water in the same manner that some older women use Lavender and rose water.  Lots.

Here are the numbers.  An average Mexican consumes 234 liters of bottled water each year.  (For those of you who are metrically challenged, that is about 62 gallons.)  Making it the top per capita user in the world.  Mexico consumes 13% of the world's bottled water supply.

That is World Cup drinking.

There are two reasons why Mexicans drink that much bottled water. 

The first is the most obvious.  Almost all Mexican homes have running water.  The problem is the infrastructure for bringing that water to homes is faulty.  As a result, most of the water has been exposed to various forms of pollutants.  Some that can cause worse results than an upset stomach.

Interestingly, the government claims 85% of processed water in municipalities is potable.  Mexicans do not believe it.  Considering some of the misinformation they hear from their politicians, not drinking the water is a mild political protest.

Several Mexican bloggers have pointed out that open streams of water in their communities often turn into running cesspools.  I recognize the syndrome.  In the mid-1950s I saw a lot of the same activity in southern Oregon.

The second reason is becoming more common.  Some areas of Mexico, with potable tap water, simply do not have an adequate supply of water to meet a household's daily needs.  It is a sad commentary that many middle class families in Mexico City fall into that category.

Bottled water tends to be a fad in The States.  In Mexico, it is a matter of survival.

More than one writer has noted that Mexico appears to be where America was fifty or sixty years ago.  Pollution and litter seem to fall into that category.

The problem is that litter and pollution tend to come together when bottled water is discussed.  All of those little plastic containers are beginning to show up across Mexico -- as if the eagle and cactus was to be replaced by a bottle on sparkling water.

It took time for people north of the border to deal with their national pollution and litter issues.  Mexico will need some time to get to the same point.

And there are some hopeful signs.  The young people in my village regularly put together litter teams to clean up the beaches and the streets.

Unfortunately, they cannot clean up the water.  That task is governmental.

And I will drink the water.  As soon as I know I can.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

healthy rats

"And I have this pain in my shoulder.  Just like Uncle Mark had."

The conversation is imagined.  But it is exactly how I felt like Monday morning.  As if I had been sitting on the front porch of the local rest home rehearsing lines of passing with my fellow inmates.

But I was simply at my doctor's office getting my orientation to Coumadin.

Having spent the last twenty years in medical litigation, you would think I would have known something about Coumadin.  I didn't. 

I think I knew one co-worker who used Coumadin.  The only thing I learned from him is that he could not drink alcohol while using it.  Not really a concern for me.

The nurse at the clinic had one duty on Monday: to calm my fears about the use of Coumadin.  Not a problem.  No fear here.  At least, not before the orientation.

Example.  She told me not to worry if I heard Coumadin was rat poison.  It is not.  It merely makes rats bleed to death.  OK.  I feel a lot better now.

She showed me a video from the 80s filled with testimonials of people who kept repeating: Don't worry.  Don't worry.  Don't worry.

And we all know how that works.  Don't eat fat.  Don't drive too fast.  Don't touch the stove.

The result?  We end up obese with suspended licenses and burned fingers.

Almost like listening to presidents telling Americans they should not worry.  Just trust me.

But I am not worried.

Not even the finger prick for the blood test worried me.  It simply showed my Coumadin intake was not not high enough.  She upped my dosage.

I never thought to ask her at what level rats bleed to death.

I learned one other valuable lesson.  Over the weekend, whenever I would hop around the house or use my crutches, I would be out of breath.

I asked the nurse if that was a side effect of the Coumadin.  Wrong question.  She said "No" and immediately booked me to see a doctor -- with no real answer.

Lesson learned: keep your mouth shut.  And take your medication.

Except while rocking on that front porch.

Monday, May 24, 2010

all shook up

My National Geographic subscription caught up with me this week. 

This month's The Big Idea section is an article on the world's earthquake hazard zones.  The recent earthquakes in Chile and Haiti have called the world's attention to building materials and development.

All of that is very interesting.  But what caught my attention was the map that graphically displayed the most hazardous areas for earthquakes. 

I love maps.

As interesting as hazard areas in the Himalayas may be, I wanted to know how dangerous my small fishing village by the sea may be.  But the world map scale was simply too big.

The internet came to the rescue.  Even though it looks like an isobar weather map, the map at the top of this post shows the hazard risks for Mexico.

I already knew my beach town is not very stable.  I receive several email each day about Mexico news stories.  There are almost always at least two earthquake reports -- including
the 4 April 2010 earthquake in Mexicali and Baja California with a magnitude of 7.2.  (The Haiti earthquake was 7.0.) .

And there is experience.  During the past year, I felt at least six earthquake tremors in Melaque.  Nothing big.  Just a distinct swaying.  Tango dancers resolving their steps.

My first reaction in looking at the map was relief.  After all, that nasty red gash that runs through the mountains on Mexico's Pacific coast is some distance from my place. 

Unfortunately, red is not the highest risk.  Dark brown is.  And that is the color that surrounds my town.

If I am reading the graph correctly, that simply means there will be a major earthquake in my area during the next 50 years.  Of course, the same is true for Salem.

So, what do I do?

Not much more than I was going to do before I read the article.  I live in a well-constructed house with plenty of outdoor space.

Should I have an emergency food supply in my Mexican house?  You bet.  But that would be true for possible electricity failures and hurricanes.  With or without earthquakes.

What it will not do is keep me away from Mexico.  After all, it just adds another element to the adventure of living in Mexico.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

live healthy in Mexico

Living in Mexico has been good for me.

I lost 30 pounds.  I was walking.  I was eating fresh food -- lots of vegetables.

My blood pressure was down -- with the exception of one scary incident.

Other than that pesky broken right ankle, I returned to Oregon healthier than when I left.

My family doctor, who attended grade school and high school with me, is retiring at the end of this month.  Before he goes, he wanted to run some tests. 

When I left Oregon last year, I was diabetic and overweight with high cholesterol and stratospheric triglycerides. 

I saw him on Wednesday.  My cholesterol is good.  My triglycerides have been reduced by half.  My weight is up a bit due to my recent lack of exercise.  But, best of all, my glucose levels are normal.

My one concern is that I managed to get myself into bad numbers when I was living in Oregon.  It could happen again if I do not stick with the lessons I learned in Mexico.

Candy and snack foods are rare in my village.  They are plentiful at my workplace.  If I can stick to eating fresh food, I should be able to keep my numbers where they should be.

That is the good health news. 

There is one note of caution.

The swelling in my right leg appears to be related to a blood clot deep in my right calf.  That is not good. 

We all know clots wandering through the blood stream can be as unpredictable as a teenage boy with car keys and a bottle of whiskey.

I have now joined the Coumadin club.  Starting on Monday, I will periodically show up at my doctor's office to have my Warfrin level monitored.  For some reason, that makes me feel very old.

But, at least, I can still feel.

If I can survive the next three months of Coumadin, put physical therapy to good use for my right ankle, and stay away from chips and candy, I will be able to return to Mexico in good shape.  Or better shape than when I headed south in 2009.

And that will be good news.

Friday, May 21, 2010

blogs of a feather --

Blogger alert!

It is time to flock!

I have made several passing references during the past three months that I had heard nothing about the much-vaunted Third Annual Latin American Bloggers' Conference.

There were rumors it would appear in the magic clouds of San Miguel de Allende or on the Pacific coast or in the heights of Morelia.  But those were mere chimeras.  Just like a unicorn or a balanced budget.  They were not to be.

Apparently, bloggers' conferences are like plants.  They thrive where they were first rooted.  The first conference was on Isla de Mujeres.  The second was in Merida.  And the third will be in -- Merida. 

You can get all of the details at Theresa's site (
¿What do I do all day?) or at Debi's site (Debi in Merida).  And, because all of the details are on their sites, I won't bother to repeat everything.

But the program sounds entertaining and informative.  And a great opportunity to meet people whose work you have been reading, as well as learning some new ideas to spruce up your blog.  Something I need to do.  Including, a new title.  Just as my good friend Leslie Limon did this week.

I intend to be there.  I missed the first conference because of work, and the second one because I was driving to Mexico.  But this one should work out perfectly -- I will be heading back to Mexico in November.  A little detour to Yucatan should not be a problem.

This is a pre-register event.  I sent an email to Theresa yesterday to let her know I intend to be there.

And I hope to see you there, as well.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

my secret garden

Now and then, I start thinking about my house in Melaque.

During my last month there, this was my view.  From the back patio across the garden to the laguna through the gate. 

I never tired of sitting out there.  The air was warm with a cooling breeze.  And the shade felt refreshing.  I am mystical enough to believe the garden sped the healing process of my right ankle.

My blood pressure had its ups and downs in Mexico.  After my surgery, it had settled to a very healthy level.  When I saw my Oregon physician, two weeks ago, it was still very good.

But this week, at the orthopedist's office, it spiked to a level higher than I have ever seen it.

I am starting to miss the calm of my garden.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

political blues

This blog attempts to avoid the morass of politics.

Now and then we have ventured into those fevered swamps.  Sometimes by mistake.  Sometimes to slay Rodents of Unusual Size (for you Princess Bride fans.)

Today we will speak of things political without becoming political ourselves.  I hope.

Britain has a new government.  And, if you have been following the news, you know that the first coalition government since the Second World War is now in place.  A Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.  Blue and yellow.  Perhaps, a bit of oil and water.

One of the best-spoken defenders of the coalition is William Hague, the new First Secretary of State and Foreign Secretary.  He appeared on The News Hour
this week.  Great performance.  Both by William and his interlocutor.

I say William because I have had the honor of knowing him for over twenty years.

In 1989 I was looking at the possibility of working in London for an entertainer.  As part of the job persuasion, my hosts took me to several celebrity venues -- one of them being a popular British talk show.  There were two guests: Jason Donovan (a pop star from Australia, then living in Britain) and a young recently-elected MP -- William Hague.

William and I talked briefly.  But over the next year, we corresponded frequently, and I would dine with him when I was in London.  On one trip, he gave me a very interesting walking tour of Westminster Palace.

He had long been marked as a star within the Conservative Party.  When he was 16, he addressed the Conservative Party conference with a rousing speech.  People knew he was going somewhere.

The somewhere seemed to be happening in 1997 when he was elected leader of the Conservative party in 1997, only to resign following the disastrous election results in 2001.

But he is now back.

Without making any political comments, I will simply congratulate my friend and say:

Job well done.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

my right foot

This is not going to to become a blog about my injured ankle.

"Too late," I hear from the lady in the front row.

OK.  I know I have written a bit about this injury.  And I will write more.  After all, it is a Mexican injury.

Today I finally saw an orthopedist in Oregon.  His first step was to remove the splint I have been wearing for the past two months.  With the exception of about 15 minutes when my sutures were removed, that splint has been my constant supporting cast.

I had a hint of what was about to happen.  For the past three weeks, I could catch strong whiffs of what smelled like a dead animal.  And I knew its source.  My right foot.

Sure enough.  When the doctor took off the splint, it smelled as if a cheese factory had blown up.  And not one of those mild Mexican cheeses.  It smelled as if a French boutique operation had suffered an explosive demise. 

You should be happy I chose not to post a photograph of my foot at that time.  The very sight of it would have caused your nose to shut down.

After looking at a few new x-rays, the doctor informed me everything was healing nicely, and declared I was ready to start walking on my right foot -- with the aid of crutches.

His only concern was how long I had worn the splint.  My ankle is "wood" -- stuck in place.  So, I am now looking at 4 weeks of physical therapy.  Of course, physical therapy was always in my future.

But no driving -- yet.  Not until I get a bit more control in my ankle.  Then I can get out on my own.

I have been pleased with the help I have been getting from friends.  But I look forward to getting a bit more independence.

And I know the greatest risk I face -- taking it all too fast.

This is the point I need to remember those lessons in patience I have learned over the past two months.

But, the sooner I can get around, the sooner we can get back to Mexican-related stories.

And we will all be thankful for that.

Monday, May 17, 2010

cruising the financial highway

This is not your daddy's Mexico.

Good opening line.  It certainly caught my Mexico-roving eye.

In 2007 I had started my research into the possibility of retiring in Mexico.  At that point, I was the equivalent of a virtual window shopper.  Just looking, thank you.

There were plenty of web sites.  Some helpful.  Some filled with questionable advice.  Some with both.

Somewhere along the line, I discovered blogs.  Blogs have become such a central point of my life, it is hard to remember a time when I was oblivious to them. 

One of the first blogs I encountered was written by Felipe Zapata -- the blogger with more names than Prince or Elizabeth Taylor.  Back then, he used his NOB name.

He told great tales of Mexico -- and still does.  Some good things.  Some bad.  Always with a jeweler's eye for both the sublime and the ridiculous.  And consistently a fun read.

The quotation at the top of this post came from his "How to move to Mexico" -- a piece he originally wrote to be a newspaper article.

In that article, I found answers to questions on crime, medical care, credit cards, mail service, internet access, tax returns, speaking Spanish, cost of living, housing, areas to live, visas, cars, furniture.  And additional web resources.

In eight pages, I learned more accurate information than I had found in several retire-to-Mexico books.

The one piece of advice I did not follow was his advice about money. 

He suggested opening an Amistad checking account at Citibank (Banamex USA) in Los Angeles, and then opening a parallel account with Banamex after arriving in Mexico.  Deposits from investment or retirement accounts could then be made to the Citibank account and easily transferred to the Banamex account.

I didn't do that -- to my cost.

Instead, I opened an account at a nation-wide bank in the United States and relied on the debit card the bank provided for all of my cash in Mexico.  One card.  One life line.

A little reminder here might help.  My part of Mexico is a cash only economy.  Credit cards and checks simply are not accepted.  You pay with pesos - or you go home empty-handed.  It is as simple as that.

Everything would have worked out fine with my American bank and its debit card.  But for one bothersome fact.  I have a tendency to lose things.  Including my debit card.

In one year, I lost it twice.  Both times leaving me stranded without any personal cash source.

The first time I was extremely fortunate.  My friends Roy and Nancy were visiting from The States when I lost my wallet.  They lent me enough to get me through the four weeks it took to receive a replacement debit card.  (My bank would not mail it to my address in Mexico.  Security.  You know.)

The second time the calendar helped me.  I lost the card a month before I headed to Oregon.  Fortunately, I had enough cash on hand to last through the month.

If I had followed Felipe's advice, I could have walked into my local Banamex office to receive a replacement card -- or withdraw pesos from my account.

I have learned my lesson.  The application for a Citibank account is under way.

Last week I talked with a bank representative.  He took all of my personal information and told me that my application should be in the mail to me this week.

All went well -- with one exception.  He said the bank requires a copy of a utility bill in my name to prove I have an address in Mexico.  (More Homeland security, I suppose.)  None of the utilities for my house are in my name.  My land lady pays them all.

As an alternative, I will submit copies of my constancia de domicilio -- issued by the local council in Villa Obregon, stating that I reside at a specific address -- and the address page from my FM3 booklet.  They are all I have to prove I have a Mexico address.

I will keep you posted on how this turns out. 

As bureaucratic as the process seems, it is far easier than the financial transactions I had to go through in the early 1970s.

Felipe is absolutely correct.  This is not my daddy's Mexico.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

posting the letters

Your manuscript is both good and original. But the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good. 
The quotation has haunted me for the past week.  Witty, but not the best of portents. 

I have spent the past four weeks in Oregon trying to develop a schedule for my blog posts.

My old schedule of daily posts needs to be modified.  Returning to work creates some limitations.  But not as many as my broken ankle.

Most writers would love to have a bit of forced immobility in their lives.  Time to sit and write.  A poet's dream.

Unfortunately, immobility can also lead to some rather repetitive life experiences.  And, short of sounding like the prosaic equivalent of Philip Glass, I need to be experiencing a bit more in my life before I start sharing the dark echoes in the back of my mental warehouse.

For a week, I have been working on a post on "poverty" in Mexico.  I can now stop fussing over it because my blogger friend Felipe has produced a marvelous piece.

I suggest you head on over to
Gringo arrogance and enjoy.

And then talk amongst yourselves.

Perhaps, I will then have some idea how often I am going to post original material.


Friday, May 14, 2010

costner coast cleanup

Head snappers.

You know them when you see them.  Those news stories that make your head spin fast enough to use that chiropractic gift certificate you received from your son-in-law last Christmas.

I saw one this morning: "Kevin Costner to help in Gulf of Mexico oil slick clean up efforts."

Kevin Costner?  Oil slick?  What was he planning on doing?  Dancing with wolves on his field of dreams?

The fact that the story had a dateline of "London" made me believe the whole thing was a hoax.

It turns out my cynicism was the culprit.  It is a real story.

Kevin Costner's brother, Dan, is a scientist.  The Costner boys have set up a wittily-acronymed corporation -- Costner Industries Nevada Corporation (CINC) (Get it?  Sink?) -- to promote a filtration system, designed by Dan, to recycle oil.

Apparently, Dan has developed a new oil-water separation devicve he plans to use in helping to clean up the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The news story provided no further details on the separation device.  Maybe they are planning on dragging Pamela Anderson through the oil slick.

Because Louisiana is involved, a politician has to show up in the story somewhere.  In this case, it is Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish (what passes for counties in Louisiana), who slavishly points out: “Sometimes it takes a star to come in with their money and time to make a difference.”

Isn't that the truth, Billy?  How could we ever lead our lives without celebrities guiding our every step?

It is true Kevin Costner has donated an incredible amount of money to relieve this disaster.  The reported figure is £17.3 million.  But a headline like "Corporate Costner brothers to clean up in Louisiana" does not seem to have the same impact.

No head snapper there.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

living luggage

OK.  OK.

I know that everyone does not share my fascination with the crocodile that lives in my laguna inlet.

It reminds me iof a conversation Arlo Guthrie had one evening with Johnny Carson concerning environmentalists.  The heir of alternative America, criticized the defenders of endangered species: "If a Tyrannosaurus rex was rampaging through their neighbors' yards, they would be in favor of the dinosaur."

In relationship to the crocodile, I guess the accusation applies to me.

He may be a slight danger to the public, but i accept the risk.  I just hope he stays off the malecon.  If he starts cruising the tourist walkway, he is bound to end up as a handbag.

My land lady emailed this photograph to me.  He appears to be content resting in the sun in the newly-cleared area.


We did it for him.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

talking trash

Abbot and Costello.  Laurel and Hardy.  Fat Man and Little Boy.

The analogies are endless.  But few things symbolize the difference between Mexico and Oregon better than garbage collection.

Every Tuesday evening in Salem, you would believe that a Robert Bly symposium was convening.  The deep rhythmic booms of men gathering.  But this is no solemn meeting of men trying to find their inner warrior.  It is merely husbands taking it the garbage.

Not the garbage of my youth, either.  This is garbage sorted into its various components and hidden away in plastic containers. 

Yard waste.  Glass.  Recyclables.  General garbage.  Each as segregated as a 1950s train station in Montgomery.

Looking down my street early on a Wednesday morning, you might be convinced that an obsessive Swede had constructed some form of environmental art.  Garbage containers lined up with more precision than grenadiers on parade.

My garbage routine in Mexico was a bit more -- improvisational.

No special containers in my village.  And no sorting.  A plastic garbage sack serves as a body bag for anything on the way out of the house.

Instead of Nordic-orderly plastic containers, you will find raised metal baskets to keep the garbage bags off of the sidewalk.  When I first saw them, I thought they were some sort of brazier -- a remnant of Aztec culture, perhaps, involving the immolation of entrails.  A very practical -- and arty -- solution.  For the garbage, not the entrails.

The only things that do go into bags are items that are merely broken.  If I set out anything that has a bit of life left in it, someone will pick it up and put it to good use.  My neighbors are very practical people.

The same thing goes for aluminum cans.  I always put them in a separate bag.  There are several men in the village who make a living collecting and reselling such things.  Putting it in the separate bag relieves them of the task of digging through the garbage.

But the biggest difference is the frequency of garbage pick up.  In Salem, it is every Wednesday morning -- one guy in a mechanized truck.  Around 7 AM.  As timely as a Mussolini train.

In Melaque, pick up is almost daily.  Usually in the morning.  Maybe later.  And no mechanized truck.  The garbage crew is as retro as my past in Powers, where men would jump off the back of the truck, pick up the bags, and toss them into the truck.  Always open to a greeting or a brief chat.

I do not prefer either system.  Each one seems to be perfectly suited to its particular environment.  Americans tend to hide things that they find bothersome.  Garbage fits in the same category as death or eccentric relatives that end up in jail.

Mexicans treat garbage as a natural result of life.  Not something to hide.  It is merely something to process.

Like bad analogies.

Monday, May 10, 2010

no lions, no tigers, no bears

Saturday night was circus night.

If you have been reading this page during the last year, you know how much I enjoy The Big Top.  Enough to have been lured into two Mexican circuses during the last year.

My exposure to Mexican circuses was less than stellar.  Minimal talent.  But still fun.

On Saturday night, minimal talent was not the issue.  It was Cirque du Soleil night.

Kooza.  The company's latest road production.

March of last year, I told you about my last trip to Cirque du Soleil -- turkey and trapezes. That show was everything I expected it to be -- pure magic.

During my year in Mexico, I missed certain cultural events.  Cirque du Soleil was not one.  Or it need not have been.  I could have attended a performance in Guadalajara in the winter.  I didn't.

Even with my broken ankle, I was not going to miss a Cirque du Soleil fix.  But a fix it was not.

If everything is ruined by repetition, it is just as true that great producers sometimes create mediocre productions.

Mediocre may not be the best word.  Disappointing would be better.

When I walk out of most Cirque du Soleil shows, I feel as if I am departing an enchanted land.  On Saturday, I felt as if I had just seen a nice acrobatic and dance recital.  It was all very well performed.  But it was not magic.

And Thomasa is a good lesson for me to remember when I return to Mexico.  Magic is where you find it.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

one in three hundred million

My mother is not a force to mess with.

A recent anonymous commenter took me to task for planning to leave my "elderly mother" behind when I return to Mexico.

As some of you know, my mother not only reads this blog.  She is a regular contributor to the comments section.

I called her to ask if she had read the comments.  Her response?  "Who's calling me elderly."

Chronologically, my mother has passed into her early eighties.

But "elderly" is not one of the adjectives I would use to describe her.

Until last year, she was actively involved in her real estate business.  (She managed to avoid retirement until I had been retired for a year.)  Not to mention her political, social, and faith commitments.  She is probably busier than I ever was at the height of my career.

I can only imagine what the anonymous commenter would have thought had he come in contact with her.

After all, my mother is the woman who shocked the DAR with her stories of how my father is descended from the first person hanged for murder in Massachusetts Bay Colony.  She is never adverse to passing along a good tale.

As I sit here early on Sunday morning thinking about Mother's Day, it is not hard for me to think of a long list of reasons to make me proud to be Marilyn Cotton's son.

From her, I learned to read and write at a young age -- skills that have molded my life. 

She taught me the importance of faith -- why our belief in God always leads to offering our hearts and hands to our fellow humans: both friend and enemy.

The fundamentals of my political beliefs came directly from her.  I added the libertarian mix into our family's political tradition.  But she showed me the importance of protecting individual liberty.  And why it matters.

But, most of all, she has always been there to hear my concerns or to urge me on through countless school events and as my first fan during my brief political career.

I can never repay her for her love.  That is fortunate because she has never expected repayment.

The best I can do is to try to be a fraction of the person she is.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.


Friday, May 07, 2010

baby, it's cold outside

And it is.


I have now been in Oregon for almost three weeks.  But, for some reason, I felt the cold Thursday morning.

People hip-deep in Alberta snow would laugh at the adjective.  I am not talking about bone-chilling cold.  Just cold.


Most of my life, I would have laughed at anyone who said 44 was cold.  Especially on a clear, sunny morning.

But, when I opened the back door to head off to the office, I felt as if I had been hit by the Jack Frost Express.

And I think I know why. 

When I returned to Oregon, the cool temperatures seemed a bit exotic.  After all, I had spent the past year living on the Mexico coast -- where the temperature seldom falls below 70.  Other than that pesky bout of high blood pressure and elevated triglycerides, I would claim that my blood had thinned -- and my skin had thickened.

After three weeks, the novelty of refreshing cools has worn off.  I am just about to join that club of people who have a cat's tolerance for cold.  The people who look for a warm spot of sun to nap away the day.

But -- not today.  Today there is work to be done.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

he's baaack

We opened his lagoon.

Gave him a place to hunt and eat meals.  A place to snooze in the sun.

And he disappeared.

The way of the young.  In this case, young crocodiles.

It had been some time since I saw the crocodile that inhabited our part of the laguna.  I could count on seeing him either during the day, basking in the sun, or during the night, when his eye would glow blood red in the beam of my flashlight.

And then he disappeared.  Sometime in March.

Even with my broken ankle, I could hobble out to the malecon to look for him.  Nothing.

We suspected our activity clearing out the water hyacinth may have scared him away.  As much as some of us were leery about wading in crocodile-inhabited (infested is not only a
cliché; it is inaccurate) waters, his timidity must have driven him into the tule weeds.

My land lady tells me that he has reappeared -- as of Monday afternoon.  Her crew has not done any additional weeding during the past three weeks.

I can only imagine what is going through his pea-brain mind.  The threat he perceived is gone.  Now, he can get back to the crocodile business of eating fish, frogs, and birds.

It is nice to know he is getting some value out of our hard work.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

table with a view

When I moved to Mexico, I had dreams of sitting at sidewalk
cafés watching urban sophisticates strolling by on sunny afternoons.

You would think living on the Pacific coast would have given me plenty of opportunities -- with the exception of the urban sophisticates part.

Even though my small fishing village had one
café and several restaurants that offered a  view on the world, Melaque's offerings were not quite part of my original dream. 

That is not a complaint. 

There were always little telenovelas to watch on the sidewalks near the jardin

Love-lorn teenagers.  Lost tourists.  Shabbily-dressed transvestites.  Not to mention love-lorn teenage tourist transvestites.  I never saw one.  But a siting was certainly just as likely as seeing whales and dolphins in the bay.

But I never became a part of the local café society.

There are many reasons.  And I do not come out well in any of them.  So, we will skip over that part of this little tale.

However, just before I left, I became a customer at my local restaurant -- as regular as any Friends extra. 

After I injured my foot, I could not travel very far.  Fortunately, there was a very good restaurant (The Frog) just around the corner from my house -- right on the outer range border of my early crutch excursions.

I would take at least one meal a day there.  At my usual table.  Laptop at the ready.  Foot propped on a chair.  Holding court with each new customer.  Until my laptop battery or the stream of customers ran dry.

Unfortunately, the last week I was in Melaque, I was the sole customer on more than one occasion.

The day I flew north, I stopped by to say good-bye.  But all of the chairs and tables were gone.  The kitchen bare.  Not a soul there.

It was time for The Frog to hibernate.  The restaurant closes for summer.  Not enough customers to keep the income flowing.

But those tables and chairs will be there when I return in November.  For another plate of Czech Pasta.

No kidding.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

dream a little dream for me

I had a dream.

Not the Martin Luther King kind.

More like the Stephen King kind.

I needed to get to work.  My truck was waiting in the courtyard of my Mexican house.  (Apparently, it was going to be a long commute,)

I hopped into the truck.  Started it up.  And lifted my foot to the accelerator.

Of course, it was still in its splint.  (Whoever wrote the screenplay for the dream forgot to tell my right foot of the costume change.)

So, there I sat.  Time was passing as quickly as calendar pages blowing in the wind.  (You know the

I did not bother finishing the dream.  Why waste the brain waves?  I am already living it.

If I had to rely solely on myself, I would be sitting at home waiting for work to come to me.  Instead, I have some great friends who are willing to carry my sorry carcass to and from work.

But some day I will be rid of the splint and I will need my own transportation.

As you already know from my dream, my truck is still in Mexico.  That part is true.  If I am to get around, I will soon need to get a vehicle.

On Sunday I had lunch with my mother.  We ran over some of my options.  I need a replacement for my truck in Mexico.  The transmission is eventually going to go.  Repairing it will cost almost as much as the fair market value of the truck.

What I could do is drive the truck to the border and sell it there.  I would then be free to take another tax-free vehicle to Mexico.  Perhaps, the vehicle I will buy to get around Oregon the next few months.

At some point, this dream needs to have a driving ending.

Monday, May 03, 2010

snow white awaits

I am having a two dwarf morning -- I am Sleepy and Grumpy.

It is an old joke.  And, for me, this morning, not entirely accurate.

Because Heigh-Ho/Heigh-Ho/It's off to work I go.

This is the first day of my six-month return to my old job.  My primary goal is to train my successor, and that should be a rather easy task.  He is intelligent and more than willing to speak truth to power -- something every good attorney (at least, those who take their role as counselor seriously) needs to do.

It will be interesting to see how many of my habits I acquired in Mexico will follow me north.

The first to die will be my siesta.  I will miss it.  But, in our environmentally-controlled building, I will not need to worry about the somnolent effect of the afternoon heat.  But the opportunity to recharge my brain in the afternoon will be a distinct handicap.

Then there is the issue of time. 

Some friends were trying to arrange a meeting with me about work last week.  I told them I would stop by sometime after I finished my blood tests.  They asked when will that be?  I said somewhere between 9 and noon, I guess.  That would be the range I would use at home in Mexico if I had a medical appointment.

That response did not elicit the type of nonchalant shrugs I receive from friends in Melaque.  My work colleagues asked if I could be a bit more specific.

The request initially struck me as being a bit obsessive -- until I remembered I am in the land of clocks, not my home: a country that has forgotten time.

I will probably adjust to that one quickly.  After all, my old life lived by the clock.

Adjusting is not going to be a problem.  The problem may be the cost of adjusting.

I saw my doctor last week for a catchup appointment.  The first thing he did was check my blood pressure.  It was perfect.  Admittedly, i am still on medication -- but a rather mild dosage.

I would hate to see it sky-rocket again.

One of the major factors I used to retire at 60, rather than 65, was health.  In one weekend, Tim Russert died, my brother had a medical incident, and a friend's father had a major heart attack.  I had also noted that the obituaries in our local bar bulletin contained the names of attorneys -- over half of whom were younger than I was at the time.

I did not need to understand Einstein's Theory of Relativity to know that it was time for me to retire -- while I was at the top of my profession and still breathing.

So, I return -- knowing that who I have become in Mexico will need to go on hold, but only for a limited time.

But the bottom line is I thoroughly enjoy the work I will be doing.  Like the dwarfs: 
"We dig dig dig dig dig dig dig in a mine the whole day through/
To dig dig dig dig dig dig dig is what we like to do."

Sunday, May 02, 2010

consider the ways of the ant


They were everywhere in Mexico.

If I left a tortilla flake or drop of juice on the kitchen counter, I would find ants within minutes.

Tiny ants.  Almost microscopic.  Virtually transparent.  And faster than Speedy Gonzalez.  (If we can say such things any more.  But I just did.)

I really did not mind them.  They were performing a service -- God's little maids.  And, for that, they were welcome -- in their poltergeist way.

Not all ants were that welcome.  During my late evening reading hours (what most people call night), I noticed large solitary ants cruising across my living room floor -- attracted from outside, I supposed.

When I say large, I do not mean carpenter ant or flying termite large.  More like an earwig.

I do not mind sharing my living space with non-biting, non-stinging wildlife.  But something was not right with these ants.  They had the same neurotic motions that Peter Lorre utilized in creating his characters.

They were scouts for the much-hated leaf cutter ants.  Front women (because all worker ants are female) for those relentless lines of ants that can strip a hibiscus bush of foliage in an hour.  If I saw a scout, I could always find the Agent Orange team not far behind.

Ants in Oregon are benign compared to their Mexican cousins.  They are everywhere.  But they tend to enjoy the outdoors -- as all Oregonians should.

Occasionally, I will find a line of ants enjoying water from the sink in the upstairs bathroom.  Looking like wildebeest on the Kalahari.

But Antworld and Steveworld intersect at my house's most sacred spot -- the hot tub.

Not that the ants share my sybaritic tastes.  The rim of the hot tub simply provides ant condominium convenience for raising young.

This time of year, I will usually find a small pile of ant larvae -- protected by an equally small group of ants.  They can clean off their young within ten minutes.

Saturday was no different.  Except the larvae pile was huge (three separate nurseries) with lots of ants.

The moment we raised the cover, the ants began the evacuation. 

What looked liked chaos was quite orderly.  Each ant performed her task efficiently and with alacrity.  I chuckled at the thought of humans attempting to do the same chore.  Of course, we are intelligent enough to not leave our young sitting on the edge of hot tubs.

Within a half hour, the eggs were gone.  The eggs were gone.  All that remained were the dead.  The formicidal equivalent of Shilo.

And, of course, those same larvae will soon be visiting my hot tub rim as the ant cycle continues.


Saturday, May 01, 2010

red flags at the mall

It is May Day.

Revolution Day for those of a Red bent.  A day for the proletariat to wave clenched fists in the air before crawling into their Volvos and heading home to suburbia.

Not so in the United States.  

Today is Law Day.  A day where we take advantage of the fruits of private property and individual liberty by completely ignoring the fact that it is Law Day.  After all, if you can't enjoy personal liberty, what good is it?

But May Day may not have that same scent of exceptionalism to many Mexican families who rely on the American economy to supplement their family income.

One of the less-noticed results of the American recession is the decrease in money that Mexicans, working in the United States, send to their families in Mexico.  Since the recession began, the remittances have declined each year.

The remittances in 2009 declined 15.7 percent from 2008.  So far, in 2010, the remittances have declined a further 11.98 per cent from 2009.

Those figures matter to Mexico -- a lot.  After oil receipts, the remittances are Mexico's second largest source of legal hard currency.  They equal almost the profit that comes back to the Mexican economy through illegal drug trafficking.

But all of that is simply large dollar amounts.  Let's put the situation in human terms.  Money from relatives abroad is 19 percent of the total income for city families, and 27 percent for their country relatives.

As a result of the recession, Mexican families have seen their remittance income reduced by about 27 percent.  Some families have simply reduced their spending.  Others have sought work within Mexico.  Ironically, some Mexican workers have returned home from the United States only to discover that their old jobs in Mexico are now filled by illegal immigrants from El Salvador.

No one knows for certain what the impact has been on illegal immigration from Mexico into the United States.  Anecdotal evidence in my village is a lot of young men have returned and are now working locally as taxi drivers and construction workers -- biding their time to head north for The Better Life, where they can readily obtain things they can only dream of in Melaque.

Mexico is celebrating the centennial of it revolution this year.  The singular historical event that defines Mexico.  It would be a cruel twist of fate if young men, who have earned a living for their families in the United States under the rule of law, would be tempted to think of May Day as a time of red flags.

Nothing is more dangerous than a frustrated middle class.