Sunday, February 28, 2016

moving to mexico -- buying stuff

Some people come to Mexico to save money. And most of the people who move here do just that.

Assuming you are not attempting to re-create a northern lifestyle south of the border (moving to mexico -- food budget), almost anyone can cut the cost of living in my adopted country.

Housing is less expensive. Utilities are less expensive. Property taxes are less expensive. Food is an absolute bargain -- if you are not pretending that you are still in Kansas.

All of that is true. But, as in all things in life, utopia is nowhere.

At some point, I would like to do a study on the wholesale supply system in Mexico. Its operation, to be kind, is eccentric. One day, there will be stacks of a certain type of product. The next day, there is a vacant space wider than an Ozark smile.

Experience has taught me, the gap may very well be there for months. And, like mushrooms, the product will appear overnight with no warning -- and the cycle begins again.

I have asked several store owners in Melaque why that happens. The answer is always the same: the suppliers cannot provide a steady stream of any give merchandise. Therefore, when products show up, they are snatched off the shelf. Just like at Costco.

None of them has an answer why the suppliers have the re-replenishing problem.

With the exchange rate between the US dollar and the Mexican peso being so favorable for the dollar, I have been avoiding goods imported from up north. The price of imported American goods have gone up as the relative buying power of the peso has declined.  Almost doubling, in some instances. It costs about the same in the equivalent of US dollars. But it looks like a lot of pesos.

The only import purchase I cannot put off is the dog's food. Golden retrievers are notorious for having allergic reactions to food. Jiggs was on a special diet for his 13 years. Barco is no exception.

His original owners started him, and the rest of the litter, on Diamond Naturals lamb and rice puppy food -- manufactured in Missouri.  With that number of dogs in the local area eating that specific food, you would think it would be easy to find a veterinarian who carried a regular supply. You would be wrong.

I know of two local veterinarians who carry the Diamond brand. But none make large bags available. And none have the puppy food variety.

Part of that is price. The last large bag of food I bought for Barco on 7 January cost me $1,400 (MX) -- about $103 (US). That is rather steep for most dog owners here -- especially when the bag fed him for just over a month.

The other problem is supply. Buying dog food is a bit like have transactions with a drug dealer.

I need to buy my "stuff" from the distributor out of Guadalajara. He is in our local area once a week, but he does not always have a full selection with him on each trip.

When I need a delivery, I call him -- often leaving a message. We arrange a time for delivery (often a week or two later). When he is in town, we then call to set up a delivery point. A Pemex station is always convenient.

In Salem, I would make the same transaction by driving to Dr. Peetz's office (or Petsmart) and pick up a bag. The most difficult part of the deal was lugging the bag, and there was always a strapping young clerk to relieve me of that onerous duty.

It was convenient and boring. My new system may be more frustrating -- but it certainly affords me a greater adventure.  Even though saving money did not attract me to Mexico, chasing adventure did. Mission accomplished.

As a side note, some of you dog owners have suggested making my own food for Barco. The problem will be getting lamb. It is a rare commodity here. Even more rare than lamb and rice puppy food.

I wonder if goat would work? Barco is quite fond of the one remaining goat in the lot across the street. The other two are now birria.

Any ideas would be appreciated.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

two blonds -- and a boy

Mexpatriate is shocked to announce that it is as subject to populist pressure as any trumped-up politician.

Several readers have made comments and sent me email asking what has become of Barco. Some suggesting that he has suffered the fate of a heroine in a Victorian novel.

I have been reluctant to play the role of the proud dog owner if, for no other reason, I have sat through painful child recitals where I shared no DNA with the performers. Waterboarding would have been a pleasant diversion.

Then, I looked back at the month. I have written only one essay about Barco (or, The Dog, as he is often called locally) during the past month: once you pass its borders. So, an update appears appropriate. The voters win.

Since the matter has been raised, Barco is fine. More than fine, he is thriving.

In my last essay, I wrote about how quickly he was growing. But he is still definitely a puppy. And every child needs a nanny.

In Barco's case, her name is La Guera (the blonde; ironic, considering Barco's second name: Rubio). Her qualifications are that she has had puppies. You might say she was a walk-in applicant.

She belongs to my neighbors. I have not quite worked out yet how everyone is related, but several brothers (or sisters) own houses in the same block. La Guera lives across the street from Barco's pug friend Lucky.

Things were not always so rosy between La Guera and Barco. On our first two or three encounters, she aggressively defended her owners' property. That was her job. But her heart did not seem to be in it.

On our next walk-by, I offered her one of Barco's dog biscuits -- much to his evident chagrin. Her allegiance as a guard dog immediately shifted to being a friend of Barco. Wages have a way of doing that.

She now accompanies us on the daily two or three times we head off to the dog park. Her size is perfect for Barco. She has enough maternal instincts to put him in his place, but she tolerates a lot of rough-housing and lip-biting in the process.

She is also Barco's homeland security officer. Any dog approaching him has to pass a safety test. Most do not and are sent skedaddling with their tails between their legs.

One aspect of Barco's personality has baffled me. He is pure-bred golden retriever -- one of nature's (or breeders') water dogs. But he has had no interest in my swimming pool.

To the contrary, he feared it. Early on, he fell into the pool and landed on the bench. The only thing harmed was his puppy dignity. He was out like a cat and barked at the water for five minutes. From then, he eyed the evil water with a wary eye.

I tried sitting him on the bench, but he trembled. When I held him to let him try a dog paddle, he flailed in fear. So, I decided to let time and nature set the pace.

They did. Early this week, La Guera and Barco were running along the track of the dog park. There was a long mud puddle at the verge. Barco ran through it. And then back. And then back through it again.

La Guera tired of watching his puppy obsessions, but it gave me an idea. When we got back to the house, I got into the pool and walked back and forth on the bench. The sound fascinated him.

He soon crawled over the edge -- quite tentatively. And walked, then ran, the length of the bench.

I have been primarily confined to the house since Sunday as the result of a gastrointestinal disorder that finds great humor in causing both ends of my alimentary canal to discharge large amounts of liquid. Getting more than 10 feet away from a toilet has been a challenge.

But it has given me time to watch this little dog amuse himself in the water that was once his nemesis and now is his water park. He will need that as the weather begins to heat up. And it is doing that already.

Now, all I need to do is to extend La Guera's duty to include swimming coach.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

trump-sanders -- a ticket in the wings

I have fallen through the looking-glass.

It may simply be that my life in Mexico isolates me from the political world in The States. Or, everything political I have learned is simply without value these days.

One of the first things I do when I get up each morning is to take a look at the day's polls on RealClearPolitics. In years past, I could have predicted what most of the polls would show.

Not this year. The duel phenomena of angry candidates (Trump and Sanders) have completely changed all of my predictions.

I thought Trump was politically dead with his inartful (or so I thought) illegal Mexican immigrants comment. His assertion that Mexico would have to pay for the wall was proof that the guy had no idea what he was doing.

I was wrong. And I guess I should have known better. Anger over illegal immigrants tops the polls in the minds of many voters. And it tops the polls with people who are agen' it. Trump knew exactly what he was doing.

As he has about all of the other mean-spirited comments he has tossed around like Sanders would toss around tax money. The old rules just do not apply to either one of them.

When potential Trump voters are asked whether they agree with Trump's positions, the usual answers are that voters like the fact that he is a celebrity, a successful businessman, that he cares about the same things they care about -- or, my favorite: they are as mad as hell and they are not going to take it any more.

I have spent several months writing reports that start with "when Trump stumbles." I would then go on to assess who would get the nomination.

The problem is I do not know were else he could stumble. He seems to be in the same category as former governor Edwin Edwards who claimed: "The only way I can lose this election is if I am caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy." But I guess we have already been down that road.

So, what is it that caused me to break Mexpatriate's rule to rarely comment on politics? This morning's polls from North Carolina.

Now, North Carolina is not the state it once was. It has made its way into the twenty-first century as a forward-looking state. But forward-looking with a somewhat conservative bent. And I doubt anyone would claim that Bernie Sanders has anything that leans to the right.

In a hypothetical match-up for the November election, SurveyUSA shows a tie between Sanders and Trump (at 44% each). But, I used the term "conservative" a moment ago. There is nothing politically conservative about Trump.

Ted Cruz is a conservative. No one will dispute that. The same poll shows him losing to Sanders by 4% (46-42). This is not some granola-eating state. It is North Carolina.

And, yes, I know, these match-ups are a bit like any fantasy poll ("If you could choose, would you marry Sofia Vergara or Brad Pitt?"). No one has any skin in the game yet.

But there is something going on. For North Carolina to show that much support for the self-proclaimed prophet of American social democracy is -- well, jarring. No matter whether or not you support Sanders for president.

And here is a little scenario that will keep some of you up at night. Trump wins the Republican nomination; Sanders loses to Clinton. Trump then chooses Bernie to be his vice-presidential candidate. For Trump, it will be the angry man's ticket. For Sanders, it will be the angry every-conceivable-gender ticket.

Remember. You heard it here first.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

moving to yucatán

No. Not me. I am quite happy living here on the Pacific coast.

But there are plenty of people who prefer living on what I call the Other Side of Mexico. After all, the Caribbean coast of the Yucatán peninsula is nearly as far from where I live as is the drive is from Portland, Oregon to Chicago.

It turns out that two of the acquaintances I have made through Mexpatriate have their houses for sale. And both are on the peninsula.

The first is regular commenter Kathe. She is selling her stunning place -- Maricasa -- on Chetumal Bay in the southern portion of the state of Quintana Roo. Rather than me translating what Kathe has already said quite well, let me send you over to her description of the property

At 7.5 acres, it is an estate. Barco says he wants to buy it.

If country life is not to your liking, you might like living in
Mérida -- rather grandly known as the Paris of Mexico. Debi, over at Debi in Mérida, is selling her house.

Debi and Tom are moving back to The States. Some of us have followed their move to Mexico and their remodeling of the dream house they are now selling.

I have not seen the place. But the photographs -- and what I know from Debi's writing -- are enough to let me know that anyone who has chosen
Mérida as a place to settle will be pleased with the house.

So, there you are. Two houses for sale in a part of Mexico that I do not get to visit very often. And what do I get out of it? The pleasure of sharing information from people who share this odd little community of electronic acquaintances.

And, who knows, the new buyers may actually turn out to already be family members of Mexpatriate. Or maybe they will be new members.

That will be commission enough for me. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

once you pass its borders

For a guy who proclaims his antipathy toward sentimentality, I certainly write a lot of sentimental mush. Today will be no exception.

Last year had two days left when I related a tale about Barco's new-found best friend (people, let me tell you 'bout my best friend) -- a pug puppy in the next block who goes by the name Lucky. Even though Lucky was eight months old and Barco was just over three months, they were about equally matched in size and weight, even though Lucky had the wisdom and moves of an older brother.

Things have changed. There is still five months difference in their age. And they are the best of buddies. But Barco's hormones have long ago pushed him past Lucky in size and weight. At his last weigh-in, Barco came in at just under 19 kilograms. He is turning into a big boy.

The size disparity does not bother Lucky. They chase each other and indulge in the type of dog wrestling that causes some squeamish observers, like Gweneth Paltrow's Marge in The Talented Mr. Ripley, to believe that one or the other is getting hurt: "Tell me, why is it when men play they always play at killing each other?"

But hurts can happen. Barco sprained a rear leg after being hit broadside by a large pit bull, the affectionate Estrella, during some heavy rough-housing. Dogs are resilient. Even though Lucky's owners now try to keep him from playing with Barco.

Being a dog, Lucky ignores the rules. He snuck over here yesterday morning for a bit of forbidden wrestling. Trying to separate best friends is a fool's mission.

One aspect of Barco's personality that amazes me is how quickly he has befriended the dogs on our street. When we go for a walk to the sports park, which I have now re-christened the dog park, we are joined by a pack of two to nine dogs. He is the veritable pied piper of Barra.

As I stood watching Barco and Lucky play, a tune kept running in the back of my head. It was "Toyland," that most mawkish of songs that relies on bathos to describe the journey out of childhood.

But there it was:

Childhood's joy land
Mystic merry toyland
Once you pass its borders
You can ne'er return again
It was a good reminder, though. Every time I get irritated with Barco with his continual desire for attention by repeatedly biting me each morning and evening, his taste for chewing up my $400 sunglasses or my favorite hat or the television remote or even the lens cap while it is still attached to my camera, or being stone deaf when I call him away from his trips down the street to visit his goat friends, I need to remember that each of those moments will never be repeated. I will enjoy him as a puppy while he is a puppy.

This morning, I ran into Barco's breeder.  He was walking Barco's mother and four of his siblings. I have no idea if the five of them remembered Barco as a litter mate, but they, at least, had a great reunion of gulden retrievers.

Barco and I joined them at a vacant lot where the six of them (plus two dogs who had joined us in our neighborhood) ran and wrestled. He was in dog heaven.

One day, I will have a full-grown, well-behaved adult golden retriever. For now, though, I am going to enjoy the memory machine that he is.

Before he crosses that border.


And if this serving of sentimentality is not enough for you, here is the queen of sentiment, Doris Day, to give you a saccharine send-off:

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

hatching a plot

Antonin Scalia's body had not yet dropped to room temperature before the political machine had tossed his body over the side of the boat and started churning out the latest machinations to control the court.

That was a shame. After all, the man was one of the more brilliant members to have ever sat on the court. Most court observers rank his writing skills in the top three of all Supreme Court jurists. And his commitment to the rule of law has left the legal world with a series of tests to help interpret statutes and apply constitutional law.

But Americans are not people tied up with the past. And the political apparatchiks are pushing us off into our future. All attention is now on who will fill the vacancy and when.

Let's start with the obvious.

All of this blather by people like Donald Trump that the president has neither the right nor the authority to nominate his choice to sit on the court is just pure poppycock. Scalia would have cringed to think that anyone could look at the constitution and think the president lacked that power. It is right there in Article II, Section 2: "[H]e shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint . . . Judges of the supreme Court."

Of course, Trump is notorious for speaking in negotiating positions, when most politicians actually mean to do what they promise. What he really means is that he thinks the president should let the next occupant of the White House to have the rare honor of nominating a Supreme Court Justice.

And the Senate Republicans are little better. The leadership has already promised to hold up any nominee. Thus, enhancing the political power of the Trump candidacy that the Washington machine has a slipping clutch.

With a bit of fine-tuning, things could have been so much more -- well, subtly French.

The Senate Republican leadership could have bided their time. After all, the president is going to nominate someone. And, just as the president has the right to nominate a candidate, the Senate has a constitutional right to exercise its role of advice and consent.

The nominee would be subject to a confirmation hearing before a skeptical committee. The Senate Democrats came up with a great script in the Clarence Thomas hearings where Ted Kennedy showed thespian shock that a man might make sexual comments to a woman. This year, the hearing could have been long and arduous -- terminating in an obvious partisan vote that would block the nominee in committee.

If the nomination did get to the floor, the vote on the nominee would be a defeat for the president. If the Republicans had simply kept mum, the constitution itself would have provided cover, rather than relying on political truculence. And enhancing the credibility of The Donald.

Yesterday, I read an AP story about the list of potential nominees the president might consider. (The article gave the impression the list might actually exist in the Oval Office.) 

All of the usual suspects were there. Attorney General Loretta Lynch (who I still mistakenly call Loretta Lynn). A list of appellate judges. And, of course, the politicians: California Attorney General Kamala Harris, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and -- this is where I was caught in mid-sentence -- Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.

Orrin Hatch! True, he is well-qualified for the position. But he is a Republican. A noted conservative. With political views on social issues that are traditional, but certainly not those of President Obama.

Of course, the name is a red herring. But the possibilities sent me off into a hypothetical reverie.

Nominating Hatch would be a brilliant political move. It would not shut up Donald Trump. But it would certainly put the Republican leadership in the Senate in a position where it could not effectively oppose the nomination -- either in committee or in the full Senate.

I suspect Hatch is on the list because he is one of the few Republican senators who are on a speaking basis with the president. However, this president is not likely to be lured into nominating someone with Hatch's political background. He wants to leave a legacy. And Hatch is too much of a risk for this president.

This is not the type of flexibility we have come to expect of Barack Obama. Bill Clinton on the other hand would have jumped at the opportunity. He would be willing to take the risk that Orrin Hatch the senator would not be the same as Orrin Hatch the supreme court justice.

But that is all it is. A reverie.

It is not going to happen. And that is too bad. At least, it would be something far more surprising and interesting than this year's presidential election.

Monday, February 15, 2016

sign of the times

Remember that little wind storm named Patricia that blew through here in October?

My neighbors did yeoman work in getting our coastal villages back in order. When the northerners arrived this winter with questions of the hurricane damage, there was little evidence to show that a major storm had barreled through here months before.

But not everything was repaired. The blown-out Banamex sign in San Patricio (the only bank in our little burg) hung around like Poe's raven reminding us that all had not yet been set right.

Our bank branch must be rather low on the managerial totem pole when it comes to getting repairs. The electronic turn counter in the lobby has not worked for years -- much to the consternation of northern neurotics. But our turn for sign repair came up a couple weeks ago.

I was having lunch at Rooster's and noticed a truck had pulled into the bank's tiny parking lot taking up what little space there is in which to abandon one's car while waiting in interminable lines. A new sign was waiting patiently for the crew to hoist it into place.

But that is not what really caught my attention. The crew had very carefully reeled out police tape to establish a work perimeter. But the sign was going up while the bank was open, so what would have been a no-cross zone in Manhattan was left open as a pedestrian pass-through for customers.

This is the type of story that gives the supporters of OSHA and its ilk nightmares. And there is no doubt the situation presented some tangible danger to passersby.

But, as my Mexican friends would (and did) ask me: How many people were hurt in this Killer Sign Project? And the honest answer would have to be: none.

Mexico is filled with similar (and far worse) examples of improvised solutions that are not to be found in any corporate safety manual. Work gets done. And, yes, there are some injuries. But I suspect things are fixed here with far more efficiency and at less cost than in Canada or The States.

For me, that is a fair trade.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

you can't samba in a hula skirt

Barra de Navidad is not Rio de Janeiro or even New Orleans.

But we swim in what passes for a Roman Catholic culture. And if it is Fat Tuesday (as it was yesterday), it is time for Carnaval. A last celebration before the church-imposed strictures of Lent descend on our partying beach towns. (That is, if you do not take notice of the huge bacchanal that is the St. Patrick festival that falls right in the middle of the self-flagellation season.)

Yesterday evening was a time for the village to let down its hair and party like there would be no hangover tomorrow morning. At least, that is what I thought I was going to experience.

The Carnaval organizers put together what could easily pass for a limited parade in almost any small town around the world. Lots of cardboard and crepe paper slapped onto utility trailers pulled by SUVs. It looked far more like the opening of an auto show -- with the floats as a mere afterthought.

Even though there were no horses and no young school children marching in what could pass for some type of formation and no cacophonous bands, all of the other elements were there.

A pretty girl accompanied by guys in Brazil soccer shirts doing their best to bring a little Rio flavor to Barra de Navidad.

King Momo himself -- the traditional royalty of Latin American Carnaval parades.

The same girls who usually march wearing their school uniforms now undressed to look like Brazilian beauties -- even though most seemed to be quite indifferent to the whole experience.

A young dancing couple, accompanied by little mermaids, came as close as anything you might see in Brazil -- but with far more Mexican modesty.

Another pretty girl who appeared to want be anywhere else other than on the top of a pickup cab -- with male escorts who were content to be in her presence, but paid her no attention.

Little cab-top sitters in training. At least one was engaged with the crowd.

And, because this is Mexico, there is always something to let us laugh at just how silly all of this flummery called life really is. He got the most laughs if all. Maybe because he helped put the gras back in Mardi.

The parade serpentined itself through Barra de Navidad up to the major north-south highway (where it tied up traffic for about a half hour) and on to Melaque.

What struck me as being strange about the entire event was the lack of a sense of fun. Smiles seemed forced. Maybe with the realization that the "pursuit of happiness" is an American myth, not a Mexican tale. But all of that changed once the parade made its way to Melaque and dark fell on the celebrations.

The music pumped up. The laughter became louder. All because, I suspect, the drink started flowing. That would be my conclusion based on the obvious weaving of the parade SUVs once they started their slow progress back to Barra de Navidad.

In the seven years I have lived here, this is the first Carnaval parade I attended. I may even show up next year.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

mexico knows best

Northerners have a tendency to be know-it-alls.

I know. I am one of them. No matter the subject, I have an opinion -- and that opinion is always correct. The Dowager Countess Grantham has a natural understudy.

Mexico is a syllogistic trap for my type. Whenever I have visitors (mainly from The States), one of the first things I hear is: "They could certainly save a lot on labor here by buying paving equipment and getting rid of all these men and shovels." Explaining that it would take decades of saved labor costs to make up for the cost of capital improvements usually falls on deaf ears.

I caught myself in the same error last week.

When it rains heavily in the summer, the street in front of my house turns into a small river. I suspect the street was once part of a natural drain field.

The water then rushes around the corner and flows out across an empty field where it joins up with a drainage ditch that directs the trash and sewage that has joined the temporary flood into our local lagoon. The field absorbs some of the water. But it reminds me of the winter floods around Myrtle Point where the dairy pastures were regularly transformed into settling ponds.

The field here in Barra de Navidad is quickly disappearing. The photograph at the top of this essay shows the start of the construction that is well underway today.

I talked with the Mexican contractor to discover what type of building was going up in our local flood plain. I was concerned that it was a house for a northerner who had never experienced our summer water problems.

It wasn't. It will be a commercial building -- along with boat storage.

The boat storage portion of the tale sounded practical. After all, there may periodically be enough water to put the boats to good use.

Up north, the building undoubtedly would be prohibited -- the concrete will simply re-direct flood waters into other people's property. Just as the builder of my house did by building up the grade of the house to cause water to flow into the neighbor's house across the street.

But this building is going up where it is. It is not Grand Coulee, but it will have an impact on the neighbors whenever it rains.

And, frankly, I appreciate the freedom here far more than the nascent nanny nations up north.

I have said several times I am very happy to miss this year's politicking in The States. This is just another example why I prefer living where I do.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

moving to mexico -- the postal system

The Mexican postal service has long been the Rodney Dangerfield on the list of things expatriates dislike most about the country.

Before I moved here, every book I read, and every person with whom I raised the question, informed me the postal service here was to be avoided more assiduously than drinking the tap water. Anecdotes of damaged packages, lost checks, and glacial delivery times convinced me I would be foolish to rely on the Mexican system.

I have now come to suspect those rumors were invented, or at least inflamed, by a cottage industry that sprang up to assuage the fears of expatriates. Wherever expatriates congregate, there is usually a mail service that will forward mail from a northern address to a local office -- for a fee.

And that fee is usually exorbitant. But, if you have been sucked into the myth that your mail will end up like the Lindbergh baby, you will pay almost any ransom.

I was one of those people. The ransom-payers, that is, not the extortionists.  When I moved here, my mail came to me at in an office in Manzanillo. Each week, I would drive two hours primarily to pick up my mail -- and to leave a large wad of pesos at the office for the pleasure of receiving political fund-raising solicitations and thick catalogs of continuing legal education courses that I was never going to take.

One day I decided enough was enough. In lieu of a Texas address, I rented a postal box in San Patricio. I have never looked back.

All of my letters sent show up where they should.  Just as letters sent to me show up.  Several of my Amazon orders have been reliably delivered through the Mexican mail.

Then there is timeliness. 

A year ago, my mail was taking about 10 days to be delivered at an American address, and just over two weeks for the return correspondence to show up in my Mexican postal box. (I know that because I had a regular correspondent in Nevada who had no way to communicate with me other than by letter.)

For some reason, that very acceptable delivery time has shifted drastically. The last couple of weeks I received two Christmas cards -- from my cousin Marsha in Oregon, and from friends (Rick and Geoff) in Washington -- and a birthday card from a close grade school friend (Colette). (Thanks for the cards, pals.)

To me, none of them are late. After all, to me every day is Christmas and my birthday. (So far, I have avoided the heresy of thinking Christmas is my birthday.) It is always pleasant to receive greeting cards.

But not all is kisses and roses between the local post office and Mexpatriate. Because of my affiliation with the American military, I am reimbursed for 75% of my out-of-country medical expenses, less a deductible.

The Tri-Care checks have taken an inordinate amount of time to arrive. Three checks arrived in the last week with transit times of between four and two months. All of my other mail arrives far faster than that.

Thanks to an observant and helpful reader, I now have joined modern times by having the checks directly deposited to my checking account -- something I started with my other government payments in the 1970s.

Speaking of health care reimbursement, I had a mild shock when my most recent Social Security check was electronically deposited in my checking account.  It appeared to be $200 short of the usual amount.

It was. The premium for Medicare had jumped over 100% from $145 to $320.

I remember reading something about the increase -- that there was some sort of inexplicable link between the failure to award a cost-of-living increase causing the increase in the Medicare premium. A friend told me it was part of Obamacare. But he also believes that Obamacare causes the Zika virus. I simply don't know.

You may ask why I am paying the Medicare premium when I cannot be reimbursed by Medicare for my Mexican medical bills. The answer is simple.

Because I am now eligible for Medicare, Tri-Care will not continue my coverage unless I have Medicare as my primary insurer. My bills are submitted first to Medicare -- and, of course, they are refused. Tri-Care then pays the appropriate reimbursement. For anyone who thinks a single-payer system would be more efficient than private health care, I can only offer my own Kafkaesque experience.

The Medicare premium increase has caused me to start thinking about what I am getting for my payment of almost $4,000 (US) each year. Mexican medical costs are not very expensive.

My biggest medical expense last year was my week-long hospital stay that cost me about $4,000. Because I was reimbursed for only 75% of my bill (less a sizable deductible) by Tri-Care, I would have been ahead by insuring my own expenses, and not using Medicare and Tri-Care, at all.

Of course, it has been handy to have both systems during my recent medical treatments in Oregon and Washington. But there is a remedy for that: stop heading north.

Who knows? Maybe the American government will send me a letter dis-inviting me from any further visits up north.

If so, they will need to give me enough time to receive it. There is that little delivery time glitch in our postal system.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

let me entertain you

I call them "scan stoppers."

You know them. There you are reading along and a phrase stops you dead in your tracks.

It could be almost anything. A typographical error. An astoundingly improper use of grammar. A bizarre bit of irony that only Noel Coward could untangle.

But my favorites are the inadvertent comments on contemporary American culture.  And I was treated to one this morning.

I was reading my former home state's newspaper of record at Rooster's with enchiladas on the table and Barco grumpily waiting underneath.  One reason I continue to read The Oregonian is to keep up with just how nutty the Portland area has become. (Portlanders call it "weird." But that is simply an apologist's substitution for "nutty.")

And there it was -- under the headline "New Shelter." I had no idea what to expect. I certainly did not expect this.

"The former site of the Black Cauldron, a vegan strip club, ... ."  I didn't finish reading the sentence.

"Vegan strip club?" Images started dancing in my head more frentic that sugarplum fairies.

What on earth is a vegan strip club? I imagined strippers dressed as the meatless characters of the food pyramid strutting their green stuff on stage.

Remember Harvey Fierstein's opening monologue in Torch Song Trilogy where he described some of his stage names?
Virginia Ham. Anita Mann. Fonda Boys. Clair Voyant. Fay Ways. Bang Bang La Desh. Something similar played out in my head.

Carrot Peel. Lettuce Entertainyou. Julienne Potaotes. Husky Corn. (The article was silent on the gender of the strippers. But, gender is such a touchy topic these days. Or a topic not to be touched.)

Self-peeling vegetables.  What could be more user friendly?

Or maybe all of the strippers are vegans.  The juxtaposition of adjectives tends to confuse rather than to enlighten.

But I think I know what the hapless reporter meant. The Black Cauldron was undoubtedly a strip club where people of the vegan persuasion could go to congregate with other vegans to work out their respective sexual frustrations. After all, this is Portland.

Where there are enough vegans for the market to accommodate that special interest.  Much like a club for Left-handed Latvian Lesbians. Or maybe not. The rest of the article informs us the club is now an emergency family shelter. Perhaps, the salami was sliced too thin.

That explanation just makes the irony greater -- vegans seeking sexual release by watching what is commonly called a meat market. Even Jung would have to call that a bit perverted.

And because it is Portland, I would not be surprised if the Black Cauldron had at one time been a Wicken temple.  With services interspersed with vegetable servings.

Several people have asked me why I bother reading The Oregonian each day.  After all, it is a rather poor excuse for the newspaper it once was.

My answer is simple,  As long as Portland keeps serving up essay fodder like this, I will keep eating my vegetables.

Monday, February 01, 2016

moving to Mexico: car repairs -- or, you light up my dash

I knew the electronics on my new Escape would be a problem.

When I replaced the 2001 Shiftless Escape with a new model two years ago, I was surprised at how many electronic gadgets had been stuffed into the dashboard. Everything from the radio to the GPS to the telephone connection to the indicator lights made me feel as if I had been dropped into the cockpit of an F-111. Actually, it made the cockpit of an F-111 look primitive.

I am a sucker for gadgets. Always have been. So, one look sold me. Rather, it appealed to my "I love this car" attitude. My head was not so certain.

The Mexican Pacific coast is not kind to electronics. My first laptop succumbed to the salt, heat, and humidity within four months of my arrival. Moving away from the beach helped. But everything digital has a tendency to corrode here. My blood pressure wrist cuffs last about a year before the contacts simply fall off.

But, even with those doubts, I bought the car. With the exception of a glitch in the radio that existed from day one, everything has held up well. Until a couple of months ago.

In November, I drove north with my brother to Oregon to clear out some boxes from our mother's garage. After four hours on the road, I stopped at a red light in Puerto Vallarta, and a warning light came on: "Hill assist not available."  Darrel and I decided to soldier on rather than stopping at the Ford dealership.

Then the anti-lock braking system warning light lit up. Followed by the anti-skid warning light. My dashboard started to look like a reservation casino.

Because we had purchased a new tire in Melaque before the trip, Darrel and I conjured up a hypothesis that a sensor in the wheel had either been damaged or was confused when the tires were rotated.

The dealership in Bend confirmed that the lights were working properly. But we were heading south again and did not have time to wait for the parts that needed to be ordered.

Whatever was wrong did not get in the way of our trip back to Melaque. And I was not worried. After all, there is a Ford dealer in Manzanillo.

The service department immediately diagnosed the problem. I needed a sensor and cable -- computer stuff. Both needed to be ordered. That was early December. Five business days they claimed.

I set an appointment with a bit of trepidation. The supply system in Mexico can be a bit unreliable.

When I showed up the next week, mirable dictu, the part was there. While the service department had its way with the Escape, I wandered off to the shopping delights of Walmart and Soriana for four hours.

I thought I would return to a less-lit dash. I was wrong. The dealership had only ordered one of the two required parts.

So when would they get the other part? About ten days. But that would be nearing Christmas. That would make my next appointment during the second week in January.

Fine. And all went as planned. Escape dropped off. Shopping amongst the big box stores. Returned to a repaired car.

So I thought. Ten minutes out of Manzanillo, I drove over one of Mexico's national monuments (a tope). The jolt must have caused the car's memory to revert to lighting the dash. All of the lights that were repaired came on. Rather than turn around, I returned home. For two days, the lights would come on and go off. A loose connection, I thought.

Having paid good pesos for the fix, I started back to Manzanillo the next week.  And you know the rest of the story. No lights. Even after hitting several topes rather hard, nothing. 

I long ago learned that taking a car into a service department when the problem is no longer apparent is a bit like hoping that the government will actually spend tax money for the common good.

And if you think the lights came on again as I drove back to Melaque (because that is what usually happens in these tales of woe), you are wrong. But the problem seems to still be there. Now and then, the lights will make a brief guest appearance, and then go out. But they have never stayed on while I am in Manzanillo.

And the moral of this little essay?  Like A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the Forum, morals are for tomorrow.  It is comedy tonight.