Friday, May 31, 2013

stop me if you've heard this

An orthopedist, a pediatrician, and a gynecologist walk into a bar.

Well, not a bar.  A medical office.  Right here in our little Ocean City.

Melaque is filled with with general practitioners of varying skill levels.  But, in the past, if you were in need of a medical specialist, a trip to Manzanillo, Puerto Vallarta, or Guadalajara was in your future.

No more.  We are now big time.  The paint is barely dry on the new building near the beach.  So new I was not certain the practice was open.  But I now know at least one of the doctors is seeing patients.

A poster on our local message board is singing the praises of the lame who have been made whole at the hands of the new orthopedist.  "New doctor in town.  Trained by the Navy.  Has traveled the world.  Up to date on the latest technologies.  No pain for the first time in many months."

Sounds like a good recommendation to me.  Three years ago the surgeon, who reassembled the jigsaw puzzle that was once my right ankle, could not come up with a single name in Melque or Manzanillo to monitor my recovery.

As The Great Bob told us -- The Times They Are a-Changin'.  And for the better.

I no longer have a need to consult any our new specialists.  The orthopedist is the only one of three that I can ever imagine telling my medical tales.  If I sign up to talk with the other two, there are going to be a lot of very interesting and detailed posts.

And then I can be the guy walking into the office of an orthopedist, a pediatrician, and a gynecologist ...

Thursday, May 30, 2013

digging the canal

So, here's the drill.  And this time there is one.  A drill, that is.

On Wednesday morning I Escaped off to dental trip number three in Manzanillo.  This time to consult with a root canal specialist.  A very pleasant young lady who is undoubtedly younger than a majority of my dental work.

She took all of the medical steps I would have expected.  Another x-ray followed by an incredibly detailed description of why I need a root canal.  I assured her that was the reason I was there.  No persuasion was required.

But I soon found out why she wanted me to know just how involved the procedure was going to be.  Performing a root canal on a tooth with a prior root canal is difficult for a very practical reason.  When the original root is scoured out, the empty canal in the tooth is plugged up with a mixture that effectively bonds with the tooth.  Something similar to what the mob must have done to Jimmy Hoffa.

She also apologized that she would most likely need to destroy the $3500 crown on the tooth to get to the root.  She tried pulling it off with repeated whacks of a little hammer.  I felt like the centerpiece in Verdi's Anvil Chorus.  But she had to bow to the expertise of Dr. Marc Panet-Raymond, who cemented it in place over a decade ago.

So, there was naught to be done other than take the Queen of Hearts route.  And off with its head she went.

And then another unpleasant surprise.  Apparently, a metal post had been installed following the last root canal to give the crown some bottom.  The post, too, would have to go.

That meant more drilling and picking, and picking and drilling, and drilling and picking.  After two hours in the chair (of perfectly pain-free work, I should note), I had wandered to that little place in the back of my brain where I go when I am bored -- when sitting in a dental chair for two hours or after listening to any recent American president for about two minutes.

In what seemed to be a mix of frustration, resignation, and professional doggedness, the root canal specialist called me our of my mental closet, and ran up the white flag for the day.  Telling me I would need to return in a week -- and maybe the week after that before she could complete the full procedure.

I was a bit disappointed.  Once I am injected with anesthetic, I like to stay in the chair for the duration.  But that was not an option yesterday.

The general practice dentist then whipped up a quick temporary crown to tide me over until all is done.  At that point, we will talk about getting a new crown.  But, for now, my mouth feels as if I just traded an enamel cermamic piece of art for a modified Coke cap.

Yesterday,  Dan reminded us of three classic pieces of entertainment involving dentistry.  Harvey Korman and Tim Conway on The Carol Burnett Show.  Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman in The Marathon Man.  Steve Martin and Bill Murray in Little Shop of Horrors.  I have always liked each of them.

But I am starting to feel more like Ru'afo, the badly-aging Son'a leader played by F. Murray Abraham in Star Trek: Insurrection.  The Son'a hung on to life relying on hideous cosmetic surgery.  In one scene, a "mechanic" is shown plugging new teeth into Ru'afo's jaw.  In the end, he looks as pathetic as any victim of cosmetic surgery.

All of that is to say , this little bout of dentistry Russian roulette is merely a reminder that we are all mortal.  Well, I certainly know I am.  That my parts are wearing out as fast as those in the dearly-departed Shiftless Escape.

But I suspect there are still some good miles left in the transmission -- even if the grill gets a bit shoddy.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

new dog, new blog

No.  Not me.

I told you that my foster experience with Gomez convinced me that I am not yet ready for a dog.  And I am perfectly happy with mexpatriate as it is.  I don't need a new dog.  Or a new blog.

But my friend Beth has both.  Rather, she is getting a new dog.  And she has started a new blog.  Lab Tails: Adventures with Gracie and Gus about the fun of it all.  Erma Bombeck crossed with James Herriot.

Beth is not new to blogging.   This project will introduce us to the new chocolate lab puppy that is entering her steady life with Gracie, an older chocolate lab who rules Beth's house.

I am looking forward to Beth's captivating narrative style.  And the inevitable situation comedy spinoff.

As for me, I am off to Manzanillo for a root canal -- or whatever the dentists have come up with this week.  And I cannot even tell them whether or not it is safe.*

* -- That cultural reference may be even more arcane than usual.  Those of us who have the dental care scene in The Marathon Man emblazoned in our sub-conscious will understand.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

sunday at the school with ed

I am not certain where I first met him.

But isn't that true of a lot of our closest relationships?  It seems they have existed forever.

The "him" here is my artist friend Ed Gilliam.  We have been meeting for breakfast once a week for a couple of years.  But I cannot remember if I first met him through his art -- or through his work with the local Indian school.  Whichever it was, I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to sit down with him and share his knowledge of the world.

This last week we talked almost exclusively about a project he just completed.  Several years ago he had painted a large mural on one of the buildings at the Indian school.  Like most of his murals, it was quite good.

But something went terribly wrong with the paint.  Whole sections of the mural started flaking off.  And there was no stopping the decay.

He decided to replace that mural with a new one.  That is the project he just completed.

I had seen it while it was in progress.  Watching him work and re-work sections.  Getting his picture of Mexico just right.

No mural is complete unless it has a theme.  And this mural is a vision of Mexico as seen through Ed's eyes.  And a personal vision it is.

Ed is not a classic muralist.  His work is informed by the classic Mexican muralists.  But Ed combines a bit more cubism and angular technique than would a Rivera or Siqueiros. 

That is apparent in his basic construction.  His pieces are generally organized around clearly delineated vertical columns that give his work a structural cohesion.

The central figure in the mural is the patron saint of Mexico -- Our Lady of Guadalupe.  But a saint that is more of the people than merely for the people.  She exists in the same visual plane with Emiliano Zapata, perhaps the most radical of the revolutionary leaders, and a woman guerrilla fighter from the revolutionary era.  Both are on her left.

On her right are two figures representing non-violence (in an almost Hegelian balancing to Zapata's methods).  Both figures are very personal to Ed.  One is a representation (not really a portrait) of Ira Sandperl, who died last month.  Sandperl and his Institute for Nonviolence had a strong influence on Ed's view of the world.

Initially, the figure held a document.  But Ed considered that far too cliché -- as if non-violence could be imposed as a negative by law.  Instead, he chose paint brushes to emphasize that non-violence is a form of creativity, and that it would only be a reality through its positive creative aspects. 

Our discussion reminded me of Jesus' teachings in The Beatitudes.  If we could achieve that type of positive life, we would not need to worry about the "thou shalt nots."

The mural is filled with similar moments.

For instance, the figures representing Mexican music may look familiar to some local residents.

No mural would be complete without a nod to one of the common threads that binds Mexico together -- its Christian faith.

If you want a good look at Ed's technique, you can see it in this grouping of Mexican faces.  Representing what Mexico is really about.  Its people.

And no mural would be complete without its moments of whimsy.

I highly recommend taking a morning or afternoon to carefully study this piece.*   It is all there.  Order.  Design.  Tension.  Composition.  Balance.  Light.  Harmony.  And, most of all, color.

A job well done, Ed.  Out of decay, you have created a thing of beauty.

* -- Remember the school grounds are home to some  Indian families.  Please respect their privacy. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

a slow boom

On Sunday afternoon a group of us from church were eating brunch at one of our favorite breakfast spots in Melaque.  We sat outside on the sidewalk to enjoy the sun and the passing parade of tourists.

A friend noted that almost all of the young people walking past looked as if they had dressed for southern California.  Designer jeans.  Snazzy sneakers.  Stylish shirts.  And they most likely rolled into town from Guadalajara in a recent model shiny SUV.

They were walking representatives of Mexico's economic success.  A thriving middle class -- making up between 40% and 60% of the Mexican population  -- in the world's 12th largest economy.

The foundation for that growth came in the 1990s when two presidents of the then-dinosaur PRI party liberalized the economy.  And despite several slow years in the early 2000s, Mexico's GDP has expanded by 3.9% for each of the last three years.  The White House would give its left wing-nut for growth that dynamic.

But there appears to be a fly in the chicken mole.  The Financial Times reports that Mexico's first quarter growth numbers were not good.  The last quarter of 2012 showed a growth of 3,2%.  The market knew the numbers would be down for the first quarter of this year -- predicting something in the range of 1.2%.  The real number was worse.  Just 0.8%.  A disappoingtly American-style number.

That means the 2013 growth rate may be as low as 3.05%.  Still within the fast growth category.

The report indicated I may even have something to do with the fact that the second quarter is off to a much faster growth rate.  "C
ar sales, for example, rose 19.5 per cent in April, its fastest growth rate since March of 2010 when sales last declined, while vehicle exports ended their two-month slide last month to grow 2.8 per cent."  The New Escape has been doing its patriotic duty.

Mexico has some long-range economic problems.  Much of its infrastructure is dated.  But it is doing something about it.  On our drive north, my brother and I commented on the miles and miles of new roads that are being built.  Plus the piggy-back lines of new trucks being imported from The States to transport the products that keep Mexico's economy growing so fast.

I may start looking at getting more Mexican assets into my portfolio.  This may not merely be an adventurous place to live.  It may also prove to be proftiable.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

extracting the canine

This is a tale in two parts.

And this is the first part.

A week ago I told you about my trip to Manzanillo, where I saw a dentist, who examined my infected molar and cleaned my teeth.  Unlike the first dentist who examined me, she was not certain anything but conservative care would be needed to restore the gums around the tooth.

Her son is in the final stage of getting his periodontist specialty.  She sat an appointment for me to see him in her office on the 25th --  bones on the cliff.

That was yesterday.  And I was there a full half hour early -- in true retired expatriate fashion.

I almost started to write he looked very young to me.  But most medical personnel are starting to look a bit young to me these days.  And that is good.  I am not certain I want someone my age poking around in my mouth with sharp objects.

And poke he did.  But he needed an x-ray.

I was ready to get the full northern x-ray treatment.  Flat in the chair covered with a lead vest while the technician hides behind a blast shield.  As if we were embarking on a cleanup of the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

But not here.  The dentist sat me in his chair, and asked me to open my mouth.  I instinctively put my finger in my mouth to hold the film.  He told me he would do it.  Because he was sitting right next to me when he blasted us both with x-rays.

The x-ray turned out to be a good idea.  Even though I had a root canal on that molar years ago, it appears that a renegade nerve is still there --keeping company with a black dot of infection right at the tip of the root.

And we all know what that means.  A root canal.  Maybe.  The root canal specialist will see me next week.  In the same office.  At least, the appointments are going to be convenient.

I have now had three diagnoses.  A pocket has formed under my gum line and I may need a bone graft.  There may be a pocket, but conservative care may be sufficient.  There is no pocket, but there is an infection at the tip of the root. 

I guess I will have my definitive answer later in the week.

And that brings e to the second part of my tale.

When I returned home, my foster dog, Gomez (dogging my dreams), was gone.  I knew that was going to happen.  Christine, my land lady, told me she had found a long-term foster home for him.

I know some of you would like me to say that Gomez and I made at least a bit of attachment during his short visit.  But that would not be true.

However, I can say I admired the old guy's flexibility and tenacity.  The first two days, I had to build escape-proof barriers to keep him from squeezing through the bars of my gates.  He did not want to stay here.

Then he learned this place would provide him with lots of food, constantly fresh water, and someone who would pet and talk with him.  And my reward was an ancient dog who turned himself into a watch dog -- guarding me from the evils of the outside world.

He gained some muscle strength.  And loved to go for walks in the morning and evening -- reminding me a lot of Professor Jiggs in his final days.

I was happy to offer him a home for a brief period.  But the experience convinced me my current lifestyle is not yet ready for the steady rigors of dog ownership.

For the moment, I would be happy to be the continued owner of a healthy molar.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

dancing at lasagna

I do not like lasagna.  Never have.

For two reasons, I suspect.  I do not care for cheese cooked into my food.  And I really dislike the thick chewy pasta that most people are so fond of using for lasagna.  You know the type -- pasta that could be used to re-sole shoes, and it would outlast the uppers.

That is why I was a bit reluctant to try the lasagna at Caf
é de Flores this week.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

The food in the Melaque area is not very good.  There are a few exceptions, but most of the restaurants fall into two categories.  The northern tourist places often emphasize how inexpensive their meals are.  And the quality of the food reflects the claim.  Most of them close when the winter tourists head north.

The Mexican restaurants are often taco stands or taco stands with pretensions.  Not bad.  Just solid food.

Anyone looking for high quality and creativity in food will be frustrated.  As I said, though, there are a few exceptions.  And one of them is Café de Flores in La Manzanilla -- just north of Melaque on a road that is fun to drive.

Alex is serving up meals during the summer that are familiar, but thoughtfully prepared with fresh ingredients.  I have traveled over twice recently.

The first time, I had a flat iron steak.  Cut thicker than most steaks.  And tender.  Especially when medium rare.  I usually do not eat steaks.  But this was a good choice.

My second visit was lasagna night.  I told Alex my qualms.  She reassured me that I would not be disappointed.  And I wasn't.  The pasta was fork tender.  And the cheese and spinach filling was creamy, rather than the rubber strands I have come to associate with lasagna cheese.

I usually do not like deserts.  I am not very fond of sweets, and because I do not like chocolate or cream cheese, my choices are often limited.

Alex came through on both visits.  On the first, with a lemon mousse laced with blackberries.  And on the second with a tiramisu -- once again with berries.  It was light enough to qualify as a trifle.  Any restaurant that can find two desserts that I like is bound to get high marks.

é de Flores will stay open the full summer.  At least, until September.  Open Monday through Wednesday, 6 to 9 PM.

I suspect I will be making a visit at least once a week.  The food is great.  And La Manzanilla is always a joy to visit.  Even in the heat of the summer.

Friday, May 24, 2013

scarred, but not broken

It had to happen.

Nothing remains constant. Nature goes from order to disorder.  Or so Mr. Kilmore taught us in high school physics.

The bloom of youth always decays.  The new becomes old.  Soon, the clock spring cannot be rewound.

Even new cars are subject to the rule.  In my case, though, the process was sped up a bit by being self-inflicted. 

Backing through the gate of my courtyard is tricky.  Almost like taking a Radiance class cruise ship through the Panama Canal.  Inches on each side create a thin border between success and an insurance claim.

If I misjudge the distance, scrapes are my reward.  In the three years of backing the Shiftless Escape through that gate, I suffered only one mishap.  A small mark on the passenger side rear fender.

And, as of this week, I have an abrasion in the same spot on the New Escape.  Of course, there will be more.

Wounds should be worn proudly.  They remind us that we have stared entropy in the face -- and survived.  Saber scars are merely reminders of adventures lived well.

And a reminder that we are still here.  That matters.

Because there are still roads to be traveled in the Not-Quite-New Escape.  I wonder if I can talk my brother into another road trip?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

dying in mexico

"More Americans murdered in Mexico than in any other country in the world."

Well, there is a headline to catch your attention.  Especially, if you are an American.  And living in Mexico.

Last year, the Canadian newspapers were all atwitter about Canadians being targeted for violence in Mexico.  You read that correctly.  Targeted.  Apparently, those maple leaf flags sewn on back packs were mistaken for bull's eyes.

But Americans are not going to allow their northern brethren to yank the stick of victimhood out of their star-spangled hands.  No, sirree.  We are going to announce that we have come in first.  Even if the record is a bit macabre to be touting.  648 over a ten-year period.

And I'll bet you know exactly what I am going to write next.  But you may be surprised.

I have written several posts on the use of crime statistics to gauge what most of us experience living here.  Using calm and logic, I have tried to persuade people that Mexico simply is not as dangerous as most Americans have come to believe.

By the way, the woman I met last year is going to be surprised that her figure of 7 million Americans being killed in Mexico in a year was a tad high (breaking spring).  But it doesn't matter.  That is a matter of scale, not attitude.

That type of fear is irrational.  And irrationality is not subject to logic arguments.  So, I am done making them.  At least about violence.

I frequently receive email on this issue.  They usually go something like this.  "I visited Mexico frequently when I was young in the 1970s.  I am now ready to retire and would love to live there, but my husband/wife is worried about the terrible violence.  What can I tell him/her to have a change of mind?"

In the past, I have spun my lawyerly web of numbers attempting to assuage the fear's of the doubtful spouse.  But no more.

Anyone who is afraid of violence --  or sanitary conditions, or parasites, or poverty -- should not come here.  Period.

In fact, they should consider just staying in the perceived safety of their living room.  Because, if you are looking for scary people, unkempt public bathrooms, wormy fish, or street beggars, you can find them here.  Just as you can find them in your own home towns -- or any place you may visit in the world.  Even Paris.
Are there real crime problems here?  Of course, there are.  People are here.  And where there are human beings, there is crime.

A crime story is playing out right now just north of us in Puerto Vallarta.  An American and Canadian came down to sponsor a mixed martial arts event.  They both disappeared right after they withdrew the sponsorship money from an ATM.  That was two weeks ago.

The families are understandably frantic.  Especially now that they have heard rumors that the two men were whisked away from the ATM in a police patrol car.  You can imagine how the families feel when the Canadian consulate tells them to rely on the police to investigate the disappearances.

That is also a reality of Mexico  -- as it is in many countries.  The police cannot be relied upon to always do the right thing.  Rather like the American IRS.

So, if all of that scares you -- stay home.  But if you are willing to take the risk of traveling to or living in a land filled with limitless adventures, come on down.

I am staying.  And having company is always nice.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

cheers to the sane

Have you lost a loved one?  Lost weight?  Eaten too much?  Thought about pain?  Have trouble remembering the names of the seven dwarfs?

Well, you may be nuts.  You had best start setting aside a portion of your income for the rest of your life. 

Because there is a therapist out there in your future -- with bottles full of pills and a new copy of the just-issued fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  Or DSM-5, as it is tagged  by its wielders.

It was probably inevitable that we would all end up in a therapist's office pouring out our anguish about having to face what we once called life.  But why therapists?

Not too long ago we would discuss these issues with our spouses, our family, our friends, our pastors.  Even our buddies in the bowling league -- or down at the Elks lodge.  But we have stopped talking to them.  Either because we no longer belong to groups or we spend so much time staring at television and computer screens we do not have time for relationships.

So we hire a professional.  Pay good money to make ourselves simply feel better.  We once called that prostitution.  We now call it therapy.

That is not to say that there are not real problems out there that can be reached through therapy.  But DSM-5 is a clear imperial clarion call that the beaches of sanity must be taken in the name of weekly sessions.

At some level, "Sometimes you want to go/where everybody knows your name."  Like the little restaurant/bar -- La Oficina -- that opened in my neighborhood recently.

The owner, Aaron, is one of the first people I met when I moved to Melaque.  At the time, he was running a restaurant with a great view of Melaque's square.  He is one of the few young Americans I have met who have decided to make their future in Mexico.  It did not hurt that he was also an Oregonian.

He now has a new place.  And he appears to have hit on an interesting formula for success.  A bar that could be at home in a tropical boutique hotel.  A short menu where each item is given extra care (my favorite being the rosemary pulled pork sandwich).  And an efficient staff that speaks just enough English to make customers feel comfortable with their own creaky Spanish.

There are lots of eateries in town.  But La Oficina seems to pull each of its business plan elements together until "you are glad you came."

What makes it all work is Aaron.  He is the perfect bartender.  Charming.  A great listener.  And a dispenser of folk wisdom.  Wrapped in enough charisma to keep his mix of elderly expatriates and edgy young Mexicans coming back for more.

I stopped by this past weekend to enjoy the last live music act until fall.  Live music always gives a place extra points on my card.  Even if it inevitably attracts at least one drunk who starts acting -- loudly -- as if the staff is her personal entourage.  But when a place is as good as La Oficina, The Drunk can be ignored.

I suspect far fewer people would be spending time watching a therapist thumb through the DSM-5 if they would simply spend more time with the Aarons of this world.  With a nice Diet Coke sitting in front of them.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

a stool for my high horse

Nostalgia lives on a cul-de-sac.  And it is easy to get stuck there.

I felt a bit like that after wandering down my Oxford memory lane yesterday.  Because there is the danger of thinking of Melaque as a cultural sinkhole -- to Osterize my metaphors.

Well, it can be.  But that does not mean I cannot get in my car and motor down the road to Manzanillo -- where there is a multi-screen movie house.

When I was in Manzanillo last week, I almost decided to stay for the new Star Trek movie.  But it did not start until after 4 -- a three hour wait.  I passed.

Monday afternoon, I decided to return.  And I am glad I did. 

It is a rather good movie.  At least for character development.  And that is usually the weak point of this genre.  The last three Star Wars movies are great examples.  They gave cardboard a bad name.

Of course, these prequel movies always seem to be far more prescient than they truly are.  After all, they get to create a back story -- while we rubes sit there with  jaws slack and mutter: "Gee.  I always wondered were she came from."  And now we know.

We get a lot of those threads here.  Tantalizing canapes that have developed into full stories on the television series or in earlier movies.  It lets the viewer indulge in the hubris of the rare success in psychotherapy.

I, for one, simply enjoy seeing the younger version of characters I have grown up with.  It is a fun film.

What is not so much fun are the special effects.  They manage to be both flat and tired.  The flatness must come from the 3-D process.  If so, it is ironic that new technology makes film look more primitive.

And tired?  This movie does nothing original with special effects.  Instead, it indulges in grave robbery.  Having fighting adversaries jump from moving machinery is about as old hat as a movie can get.  I almost expected Tom Mix to show up.

While I was leaving, I ran into another geezer in the lobby.  I suspect he started talking with me because we look as if we could belong to the same VFW post.

He was upset that all of the non-dubbed movies start after the matinee prices expire.  He was convinced that it was discrimination against white people.  After all, they are the only people who attend non-dubbed films.

I thought he was joking.  I told him I was just in a subtitled movie and everyone other than me was Mexican.

He was not interested.  He was convinced that he had been discriminated against solely because of his skin color.  And the great discrimination?  He would be charged $57 (Mx) rather than $44 (Mx).  $4.60 (US)  rather than $3.60 (US).  And, for all I know, there may (and probably is) a very good reason for the difference.

The conversation reminded me of one I had recently in Melaque.  An acquaintance told me she would not return to a local restaurant known for its great food because she went in twice alone and other parties were served before her.  Her conclusion?  The restaurant discriminates against single women.

One of the things I do not miss from The States is the rampant victimhood worn proudly by citizens.  I am sorry to see it here.  But our neuroses travel as easily as do we.

The drive home made me quickly forget about the Two Grouseketeers.  And of plays in Oxford.  I rolled down my window to enjoy an evening and setting I could never find in Oregon or England.

And that was culture enough for me.


Monday, May 20, 2013

you can always go downton

I have been a bit slow lately.

A persistent cough.  A slight fever.  One day of swollen lymph glands under my right arm.  And fatigue.  A draining fatigue.

Fatigued enough that I put myself on the couch and decided to watch something mindless.  Downton Abbey seemed to fit the bill.

I have never understood the allure of these PBS costume dramas.  If you are one of the few people in the Western world unaware of the series, it is another upstairs-downstairs English Edwardian tale of manners and manors.  What Barbara Cartland might write.  Soap opera in period dress.

One thing I have found fascinating among my friends is that there seems to be an odd correlation.  The further left one travels on the political scale seems to increase a love for British aristocratic life.  Perhaps harboring some sort of hope that an earldom is just waiting out there to be inherited.

Even the presence of my beloved Maggie Smith could not keep me interested.  So out came my only Gilbert and Sullivan CD -- a rather good performance of Ruddigore.  My full vinyl collection went into exile at Goodwill when I sold the Salem house.

The tale -- like most of Gilbert's work -- is a bit of whimsy rapped around a serious  core.  In this case, that core is the corrosive power of evil.  It is not quite Faust, but there are obvious musical joking references to Don Giovanni

The last time I saw a production of Ruddigore was when the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company came to Oxford in the mid-70s.  I had joined a group of fellow students at their dining club.  

They suggested we head off to the playhouse for the night's performance in our white tie getup.  And so we did.  (Quite a bit different than my far more casual music-listening underwear on Sunday evening.)

At the interval, I was standing off to the side in the lobby when a matronly woman approached me, and asked, in that polite inquiring voice of the English:  "Could you tell me where I could buy some chocolates" -- obviously confusing me with the ushers.  I, just as politely, responded: "You might try a sweet shop."

The worst fear of the English -- at least, the English I knew in the 70s -- was to commit a social faux pas.  Even though I did not intend to embarrass her, the woman was literally chagrined.  I could tell by the look on her face that she wished the ground would open up and relieve her of her shame.  Because she was positive her "I am so dreadfully sorry" was not going to repair the mistake she just made.

And, so there you go.  I start by complaining about the leftist lust for costumed social drama, and I take pleasure in telling you a dress up tale of social manners.

Telling this tale makes me realize how much I thoroughly enjoyed those days of being an American at Oxford -- where my nationality gave me a passport to break through the barriers of what were then very clear class lines.

We didn't have Downton Abbey.  However, we did have an amazing ride.

And I did get a title out of it. 

But that certainly is a story for another time and place.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

trophy dog redux

If you read the comments from this morning's post, you have probably figured out that the photograph above is not of my dog. 

It is Raji -- the love of my friends Ken and Patti.  And their daughter, Kimmy.

Kimmy gave me the photograph on one of my visits to Olympia this year.  I found the perspective interesting.

The moment I saw it, I mistook poor Raji for a wall-mounted trophy.  But that is not his style.  He is a bundle of energy.  The antithesis of poor old Gomez.

Thank you for playing alng with this little game.  We will be back to our regular programming tomorrow.

trophy dog

OK, class.  Here is your assignment.

If you are so inclined, how about a comment on this photograph?  A caption?  A short story?  It is all up to you.

Have a great Sunday.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

we are the green in the bandera

Recycling has come to Mexico.

Can you think of any sentence steeped more in gringo hubris than that one?

Mexico, like most other places in the world, has long been a land of recycling.  If something breaks in an American suburb, it gets thrown out as trash.  If the same item breaks in Mexico -- or on a family farm in eastern Washington -- it will find new life somewhere else.

I am not certain who came up with the idea originally around these parts, but there has been a big drive to recycle plastic bottles.  From an aesthetic vantage, it is a great idea.  Beach towns are magnets for people who see nothing wrong with tossing bottles and wrappers whenever and wherever they are empty.

To counter that trend, someone has installed large collection areas for plastic bottles.  And people actually use them.

But, some of us also collect our plastics in smaller containers.  In my case, I save plastic bottles and aluminum cans for the maid.  She takes them away when the bag is full.

And this is eventually where all ofthe plastic ends up.


I have been told that most of these bottles are shipped to China where the plastic is remolded into various products -- and then sold around the world.  I do not know if that is true, but it makes sense.

During the recession, when China's exports slowed down due to lack of demand, you could see a very physical example of the economic slowdown.  The plastic bottles started forming Himalayas of waste.   It was Lucy in the chocolate factory all over again.

Now that the world's economy is back on track, the mountains are mere hills.

The reason we recycle in Mexico?  There is money in it.  Without the Chinese market, I suspect our beaches would be forming plastic bottle islands before long.  And then we could float them to China.

Just like latter-day Thor Heyerdahls.


Friday, May 17, 2013

spray in one place

Summer is here.

Now, I know the pedantic will point to the calendar.  Proudly counting that I am five weeks too early.

But we all have our own ways of declaring the start of summer here in Melaque.  For some it is the arrival of the land crab migration.  For others, the start of the rainy season.

For me, summer has begun when the heat and humidity combine to make it too uncomfortable to sit on the patio without a floor fan.  Thursday afternoon was summer for me.

I have no idea what the temperature was nor how high the humidity climbed, but I could not read about one more Plantagenet tragedy without schlepping the fan outside.  Even Gomez the Foster Dog abandoned his shady corner to join me in the electronic breeze.

The start of summer means it is time for another tradition in my little casa.  The water in my shower is gravity-fed from a storage tank on the roof.  That water is pumped from a cistern on the property.  The cistern water comes from the pipes in the street.  Before that, I have no idea where it comes from.

But whatever the source, by the time it gets to my shower head, it starts gumming up the works.  Once a year, I take the screen off of the shower head and clean it out.  I will spare you the description of the large hunks of debris I find.  What interests me most is the calcification.

In just one year, the holes in the screen are almost completely closed by mineral deposits.  Almost as if I were showering in Carlsbad Caverns.  It takes me about 15 minutes with a brush and solvents to strip the crust and clear the holes.  I suspect the screen looked a good deal like my teeth as the dentist cleaned them earlier this week.

But that task is done.  The cleaning does not increase the water pressure, but, at least, the water does not spray everywhere other than where it should.

And I can now get ready for the land crabs and the rain.  They cannot be too far behind.

After all, it's summer.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

mr. gray, your pictures are ready

Mexico is getting a new 50 peso note in June.

The note is a bit more colorful than the current version.  And it has several new security measures to foil counterfeiters.  It is a credit to the Mexican economy that counterfeiter's find it worth their effort to print up money worth about $4 (US).

What has not changed is the portrait of the Mexican War of Independence hero, José María Morelos y Pavón.  Morelos remains ageless.

That is the hallmark of a republic.  The portraits on the currency are as unchanging as the principles on which the republic is founded.  At least, in theory.

The portraits of Juárez, Morelos, and Hidalgo act as the reverse of Dorian Gray's portrait -- just as constant as the portraits of Washington, Lincoln, and Jackson -- with each updated series of bank notes.

That, of course, is not true for nations ruled by monarchs.  British pound notes and coins have followed the queen's aging process.  Even if there is a little time lapse between the ravages of real time and the representations of the engraver's knife.

I recently ran across a file that contained my expired passports.  I have no idea why I retained them.  But it was amusing to see how passports have changed over time.  And how I have changed along with them.

The year was 1974.  I had been living in Greece for almost a full year.  And because I were there on NATO orders, I did not need a passport.

My cousin, Dennis, and several friends were on their way to Greece to visit me -- and to take what would be my first cruise.  A passport was in order. 

As was an unfolding war between Turkey (two of our ports) and Greece.  The passport arrived.  The war didn't.

That 24-year old guy looking back at me seems a bit too serious.  At least, for how I remember those days of pure freedom of driving around Greece as if my tail feathers were on fire.

But the passport itself speaks of another era.  A clerk in the Athens Embassy has typed in all of the information.  And the photograph is merely pasted on the page.  I am warned to avoid Cuba, North Korea, and North Viet-Nam.


That passport expired just about the time I graduated from law school.  And there was little need to renew it until 1984 when I started traveling on behalf of the Department of Defense.

I look like a junior bank executive.  But I was playing the role of  a youngish lawyer.  A role that did not assuage the difficulties I had with British Immigration during the 1980s. 

For reasons that are the elements of another story,I had ended up on an IRA watch list (the Irish terrorist group, not the retirement investment instrument).  I quickly learned patience in my hours of standing in front of Her Majesty's warders of the border.

In a mere decade, the Charlie Brown-Ziggie face you now know had started forming. 

But, in my mid-40s, I was starting to slip into the best days of my professional life.  I had narrowed down my practice to one specialty (workers' compensation) and had been hired by a company that allowed me to do a variety of work. 

When this photograph was taken, I had moved on from trial work to appellate work.  My second favorite legal position of my career.  Life was good.

And it got even better.  The photograph is from 1999.  I had just retired from the Air Force Reserve and my work style had changed from coat and tie to shirt and sweater.

Of course, times do change.  And the passport format reflects a different world.  No more paste-on photograph. 

The new photograph is so filled with holograms that scanning it is next to impossible.  Of course, that was the government's goal.  To find a way to get around the new tools of counterfeiters -- scanners and computers. 

For much the same reason that the 50 peso note is getting a facelift.  And this was before the nation (and much of the world) fell into paranoia after September 2001.

And what do I look like now?  Well, you all know the answer to that question.  Even though the photograph is a couple of years old, that is me -- up there in the right hand corner. 

Chuckling that Oscar Wilde never discovered a way to capture my aging spirit on canvas.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

bones on the cliff

I have left you hanging.  And, for once, it was not one of my writer tricks.

Well, not exactly.  Procrastination is certainly not exclusive to scribblers.

A month ago, I told you I had seen a dentist in Melaque because of a gum complaint that had dogged me for a couple of months.  (jawing with the dentist)  His prognosis?  I had serious bone loss in my jaw and I might need a bone graft.  He recommended that I see a specialist in Guadalajara.

I could not do that immediately because I needed to get my Oregon-licensed Escape out of the country as soon as possible.  My plan was to fly back to Guadalajara directly from Oregon, pick up my new Escape, and check into walking away with a new jaw bone.

Well,you know how the "fly to Guadalajara" part of the trip worked out.  By the time, I got my finances straightened out and picked up the new vehicle, all I wanted to do was get back to Melaque as quickly as possible.

But I was not ignoring the jaw issue.  Several friends had recommended a dentist in Manzanillo.  I could, at least, get a second opinion from her.  So, off to Manzanillo I went Tuesday morning.

I left the dental office with thoroughly-cleaned teeth.  They needed it.  Due to some very bad advice I received when I moved to Melaque, I slipped off of my quarterly cleaning schedule.  Even with the extra time she took to use a powered pick to chip off tartar, the dentist only charged me $350 (Mx) -- less than $30 (US).

During her examination, the dentist spotted the same problem around my molar.  Bone loss that has caused a pocket to form.  A pocket that will collect food particles and lead to infections.

But I may have avoided a trip to Guadalajara.  Her son is a dentist -- getting his specialty license in periodontics.  He will be in Manzanillo the Saturday after next.  I will let him see just how far my bone has receded.

She suggested that a deep cleaning may be all I need.  But she left the final diagnosis to her son.

In another two weeks, I may have x-rays to show you.  I just hope they are better than those at the top of this post.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

dogging my dreams

I am a foster dad. 

A doggy daddy, at least.  Temporarily.

Almost three years ago, I briefly fostered a dog (dog days of summer) who was recovering from spay surgery.  Her name was Tamara.

I wish I could say it was one of my most memorable Mexican experiences.  It wasn't. 

Not that there was anything bad about the experience.  I just could not remember having done it.  Until the latest dog showed up at my place.

My landlady and a mutual friend are driving forces behind Pro Animal Melaque -- a local group formed to rescue dogs and cats from the street and to find suitable homes for them.  On Sunday afternoon they showed up my place with a dog in tow.

They had been telling me about this dog for a few weeks.  Even going so far as to play the "he might have some golden retriever card in him."  They were certain if I met him, I would fall in love with him.

His name is Gomez.  No one s quite certain of his story.  We know he had been living on the street for a bit -- bumming food from restaurant customers and causing tourists to fall in love with him because of his pitiful condition.

So, when Christine and Anne showed up with a dog on a lead, I knew who it would be.

But I was wrong about this being a mere opportunity to meet another dog living the life of Oliver Twist.  An entirely different request was in the offing.

The shelter is currently the home to several puppies -- with another batch on the way.  And even though we do not know how old Gomez is, he is an old dog.  He really dislikes puppies.

That is where I came into the picture.  I have a large dogless garden.  Why not let Steve foster Gomez for a week or so while the puppies are spayed, neutered, and doled out to homes far more welcoming to cute puppies than to tired, old dogs? 

Of course, I said "yes."  The work of the shelter is important, and if I can relieve some stress, it should be my pleasure.

And how has it gone? 

Not incredibly well.  Gomez and Steve have not bonded.  And that may be for the better.  After all, this is a short-term visit.

What has not worked well is that Gomez has taken every opportunity to get back to the shelter -- including squeezing through gate grills that must hurt his hips.

I crated him last night to keep him from getting through the gate to the laguna.  The mama crocodile would find him a rather nourishing meal.  He was not happy.  Barking and scratching at his carrier for most of the night. 

Today I head to Manzanillo to finally attend to my dental problem.  I am still not certain what I will do with poor, old Gomez.  But I am certain a solution will come along.

I have learned one lesson, though.  As much as I want a golden retriever puppy, I may not be ready for the job.


Monday, May 13, 2013

the best retirement spot

"Dan in North Carolina" has long been a reader of this barony of blogdom.  And he has a rather good sense of who I am.

Last week, he piqued my interest with this gem: "Seems like the Pacific coast of Mexico is a VERY logical choice for an intelligent individual."  That well-chosen adjectives proves how well he knows his audience.

But it was the attached link that caught my attention.  An organization called Bankrate, Inc had produced a report of the 10 worst American states for retirement.

Now, I need to let you in on a little secret.  I despise these "best/worst" lists.  Too often they do not arise above the logic level of "The 10 Worst Shoes at the Emmys." 

Sometimes, though, we give free rein to our worst natures.  Like slowing down to gawk like a slack-jawed yokel at car accidents.

The authors of the report seem to have credibility in this area.  Bankrate advertises itself as providing "consumers with accurate and objective information to help them take informed financial decisions" by rating financial institutions.

With this report, the company needed to know what retirees wanted.  They settled on a list that included the availability and affordability of healthcare, a crime-free environment, low taxes, a low cost of living, and a warm climate.  All of that based on statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the U.S. Census, the 2011 FBI Uniform Crime Report, the Tax Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Western Regional Climate Center, and the Council for Community and Economic Research.

Having created a patina of objectivity, Bankrate determined the 10 worst states for retirees.  And here they are.  If any of you are deeply infatuated with any of theses states, please remember I am just the messenger.  And maybe a messenger that wallows too much in

No. 10: Delaware -- high cost of living, poor access to medical care, high crime.

No. 9: Minnesota -- high cost of living, cold winters, high taxes.

No. 7: Maryland and Vermont (Tie) -- high cost of living, high taxes, high crime rate (Maryland), cold winters (Vermont).

No. 6: Maine -- cold winters, high cost of living, high taxes.

No. 5: Wisconsin -- cold winters, high cost of living, high taxes.

No. 4: California -- one of the highest costs of living in the nation, one of the highest tax burden.

No. 3: Washington -- high crime rate, high cost of living, cold weather, high taxes.

No. 2: Alaska -- coldest weather in the nation, second highest cost of living.

And the worst state for retirees?  Anyone who knows where I came from will immediately know the answer.

No. 1: Oregon  -- With a crime rate, state and local tax burden, and cost of living all higher than the national average.  Not to mention its annual average temperature is 48.8 degrees. 

The last point was not a big deal for me.  I enjoy temperate short-sleeve weather in the 40s and 50s.

Nor was the high crime and cost of living a big issue.

What was a problem was the high rate of taxation and a general sense that the political powers in Salem have no idea what they are doing after picking the pockets of its citizens.

Now, I am not certain I would choose Oregon as the last place a person should retire in The States.  I can think of plenty of places I would not want to spend time watching life leak from my body.

And I suspect my little village would not fare too well in a similar survey.  We would be off the chart on low cost of living and low taxes.  Probably moderate on crime.  High on weather in the winter -- and a failing grade in the summer. 

And similar mixed marks on health care.  For availability of rudimentary care and cost, Melaque is excellent.  But if you have The Big One, just pray you can survive the hour drive to Manzanillo before the final curtain comes down on that stage where you once strutted and fretted.  But that is also true of almost all of rural America.

Between Oregon and Melaque, I made the correct choice.  Melaque is not a retiree's paradise.

But it is darn nice.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

ripping the scriptures

No novelist could construct some of the news stories that have recently started my mornings here in Mexico.

The dueling Elvises whose dispute spilled over into (literal) poison pen letters putting the lives of political leaders at risk.  Or the lesbian police officer who hired another woman to kill her live-in girlfriend, but the police officer was really a "he" having undergone a transgender operation.

But one of the strangest was in this weekend's news.

Cheerleaders at a Texas high school (in the town of Kountze -- I am not making that up) have emblazoned banners with a Bible scripture at football games.  Their team then dashes onto the field shredding the banner -- and the scripture with it.  There may be more symbolism there than these young Wesleys had intended.

Because it happened in The States, the next step was a lawsuit.  Not by an offended Bible-loving citizen (that would have been a far more interesting story), but by some organization ham-fistedly calling itself "The Freedom From Religion Foundation."  Rolling out another episode in what has come to be called "The Culture Wars."

Usually, I would have merely been yawning at this point.  No one even attempts to be clever these days with their words.  Where are people like my brother, who, when the Boston Marathon Bombers were captured, wanted to know why the news anchors did not announce: "The Boston Terrothan is over."

I am not a stranger to disputes that arise under the establishment and worship clauses of the First Amendment.  And you already have a rather good idea of where I stand.  After all, I told you Potter Stewart was my favorite Supreme Court justice back in college in high school.  i know it when i see it.

A judge has now issued his opinion in The Cheerleaders Gone Wycliffe" case.  I would have bet on the outcome. The courts have recently treated high school students as if they were the robotic tools of the education establishment.  (A view that shows just how long it has been since any of them has stepped into the halls of a public high school.) 

Because they cannot think on their own, all of their actions are attributed to the school.  That is the only way that the anti-public religion folks can shoe horn their particular prejudice into the First Amendment.  No state action.  No Religion Clause protection.

But I would have been wrong.  Judge Steven Thomas ruled in favor of the cheerleaders -- making an argument that Justice Stewart over 50 years ago.  The cheerleaders have individual rights under the First Amendment, and they can express their views -- separate from those of the school.  In this case, the school administration was fighting against the cheerleaders.

Judge Thomas has added a bit of common sense in what has become a reductionist bout of hysteria whenever the topic of religion in the public square comes up.  But this particular case really has nothing to do with religion.  At least, not orthodox Christianity.

The verse the cheerleaders used was "If God is with us, who can be against us?"  The best that can be said is that it is a verse from The Bible.  Romans 8:31 to be exact.

The problem is the cheerleaders have sucked any theological meaning out of the verse.  In Romans, Paul is discussing the fact that nothing can separate us from the love of the Messiah.  To use it as a magic talisman to imbue a football team with magical powers verges on the sacrilegious.

And that is not a matter for the courts.  Some wise pastor should have pulled the teenagers aside and suggested that if they wanted to be trite, it might be best to leave scripture alone. 

The most rabid atheist could not do more damage than did these young scholars with their trivialization.  If the humorless folks over at The Freedom From Religion Foundation had given this a little thought, they would have realized the cheerleaders were their allies, not their enemies.

Of course, no one in this dispute realized that religion was not involved at all -- even the judge -- because the American and Canadian heresy of God being a genie to grant our every wish has seeped deep into what we think is religion. 

It is not orthodox Christianity.  It is what I just called it.  A heresy.  A topic on touched on in national limitations.

At least we can be glad of one thing.  If the bubbly cheerleaders had written a verse from the Quran on the banner -- in the spirit of multiculturalism -- and the banner had then been shredded by their beefy boyfriends running onto the field, the Kountze football field would probably now be a smoking hole.

We can thank God for small favors.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

housman takes a drive

The tropics are not the place for The Subtle.

Everything on the Mexico coast seems to be painted in broad strokes of color.  As if the entire beach was a stage for giant transvestites.

Take spring, for instance.  There is no missing its arrival.  Not with the fanfare played by the trumpet flowers on the primavera tree. 

Or, to translate directly from the Spanish -- the spring tree.  Or, if you wish to be formally introduced: tabebula serratifolia.  One of the few trees that are native to Mexico (and much of the Americas).

I was a bit concerned I was going to miss this year's Tweety Bird display.  But the new Escape gave me almost A.E. Housman access.  And out amongst the woodland went this fellow, to see the branches hung with yellow.  (There is a place in poetry Hell for the likes of me.)

Our rainy season will not begin for, at least, another month.  As a result, the jungle shrubbery is primarily nude. 

That gives the primavera the perfect setting to show off.  And show off it did.

On hills.  In fields.  In groves.  And stand alone trees.  Yellow rivers of blossoms.  Mexico City may have its famed banks of jacaranda, but I will stake its cousin the primavera up against it any day.

And, now that I have butchered his work,  here is Housman without a Cotton twist.  Just as I remember it from the sixth grade.

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow. 
I had best enjoy it while I can.  By the poet's reckoning, I have six shows left.