Thursday, August 31, 2017

showers of blessing

Summer is the rainy season in Barra de Navidad.

Or, so it once was. Last summer left us very short of our annual rain. And it appeared we were heading down that same arroyo this year.

But two storms have done their best to catch us up. The first was the remnant of hurricane Franklin as it stomped across Mexico a few weeks ago (gone with the wind) leaving downed trees and umbrellas in its wake -- as well as inches of rain in the streets. And the fields; where it was needed.

Then came Lydia. And I do not mean Groucho's tattooed lady. This was our latest eastern Pacific tropical depression/storm that sashayed up the coast on her way to Baja. She was far enough offshore that we did not have high winds. But she was close enough to give us some much-needed rain. Twenty-four hours of it.

The amount of rain is hotly debated on our local message board. Running from two to six inches. The pail on my upper terrace had about six inches in it. But it is certainly not a scientific instrument. Let's just say it was an adequate amount.

I am a little fuzzy on time. On Tuesday night I was laid low by some sort of bug. It could have been something I ate. Or something I encountered on my daily rounds.

Whatever it was, I had the classic symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, and one of those stomachaches that would have qualified me for John Hurt's role in Alien. It was bad enough I went to one of our local pharmacy-owner doctors, who, upon hearing my symptoms, prescribed a large bottle of Pepto-bismol.

I have had enough of these episodes to know this was not something that called for an antacid. So, she pulled out a blister pack of far more expensive tablets. And, yes, for all I know, they were Bepto-pismol.

Because I wisely spent the day in bed yesterday while it was raining, I did not get around the neighborhood to see how much water was washing down the streets. But I did wander around this morning.

Let's keep this in perspective. This is not Houston. Houston is suffering a weather tragedy. Barra has experienced the opposite -- a blessing of rain. A blessing that turns our little laguna into a respectable version of James Joyce's "snot green sea." It looked far more Celtic than tropical this morning.

And the blessings come in several ways. The first being the most obvious. Our local farmers needed water in the fields -- even though the rains would have been more beneficial if they had arrived earlier. Our local cucumbers have been so deprived of water they could substitute for rubber novelty toys. And we all needed the water table to be replenished.

My favorite benefit is heat relief. When it started raining on Tuesday night, our temperature plummeted into the 70s, where it has remained. That will soon change. When the sun comes out.

And that is when we will pay back those blessings. The rain will evaporate into the heat and we will once again live in our permanent sauna for another two months. But it was nice sleeping for two nights without either fans or air conditioning in my bedroom.

What was not pleasant this morning was the number of places on my walk that are still blocked with water. Walking in water does not bother me. I am made of sterner stuff than that.

The bother is what is in the water. Our sewer system is rather primitive. As was once true in all cities, our sewers carry both toilet flushings and rain runoff. When it rains heavily, the runoff overwhelms the sewer system (often blocking it with sand) causing the effluence that was once enclosed to mix with the runoff in the streets. When the sun comes out, our streets will have the unmistakable aroma of a Venetian canal.

However, on the whole, the rain is always welcome. Even when I discover new leaks in the house.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

filling my cone

I do not like ice cream.

Choruses of scoffs usually greet that claim. Not liking ice cream is like not liking kittens (which is also true).

Of course, as we long ago learned from Steve's food rule ("I do not eat anything that begins with the letter "c."), most of my food claims are festooned with exceptions.

My dislike of ice cream has only one. I will eat Baskin and Robbins' cherries jubilee (née burgundy cherry). Actually, I have been eating it for about five decades. Whenever I would return from overseas assignments, our local B&R was my first stop.

When I lived in Salem, I was a regular at the shop on Market Street. One day, I decided, rather than spending the time coming and going with my two-scoop cone, I would buy the full three-gallon tub and enjoy the confection whenever I liked in the privacy of my home. (Thus are alcoholics born.)

Two incidents led me to believe I needed to cut back on my habit. One day, when I stopped by to pick up my tub of ice cream, the young man put it on the counter, looked at my ballooning body, and asked dryly: "Would you like a spoon with that?"

A month or so later, my brother, who bears a strong resemblance to me, stopped at the Market Street store. As he walked through the door, the counter girl said: "Two scoops cherries jubilee in a flat-bottomed cone?" He responded: "I know who you think I am. I'm not. But, you have the order correct."

Moving to Mexico helped me curb my limited ice cream habit. The ice cream here is far too sweet for my taste -- and it is not very creamy. All of that would not matter much. The killer was the dearth of black cherry ice cream.

Or so I thought. I avoided ice cream in Mexico for about five years. Then I discovered Thrifty ice cream stores.

I believe two friends from San Miguel de Allende (Rod and Fred) told me about the wonders of Thrifty. While looking at the multiple flavors, I hit pay dirt. Cereza negra. Black cherry. It had been there all the time.

The ice cream is an American recipe. Creamy. Not as sweet as Mexican ice cream.

I had cut ice cream out of my diet when I started my walking regimen. My recent trips to Oregon have excluded frequent stops at B&R. And, even though I walk by the Thrifty store in Barra de Navidad every night, I have avoided stopping.

Until last night. The night was too hot and the ice cream was too tempting.

But, as you can see, I went too far. One scoop would have been an indulgence. Two was gluttony.

And I paid the price. Not just the 59 pesos to buy it, but also dashed expectations. Because I have been avoiding sugar in fruits, the ice cream tasted like pure sucrose to me. I ate it, but it was not the pleasurable vice I had anticipated.

The moral to this tale? Well, sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar. If there is a moral, it is buried somewhere in that back cherry ice cream cone -- along with my best intentions. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

a crabby day

So, this crab sidles into a seafood cocktail bar, and --

It is August and the crabs are upon us. It happens every year. When it is time to make new crabs, the adults come out to roam the streets for an appropriate mate.

When I lived in Villa Obregon on the laguna, the crabs came across the yard and patio in waves. I would wake in the morning to find them hanging from my screen door like a really bad Irwin Allen movie (cheating fate).

But, that was better than when I lived on the beach. During mating season, I would find crabs in the sink, in the toilet, and climbing the walls. If it wasn't, it should have been, one of the Exodus plagues of Egypt.

Compared to Villa Obregon, Barra de Navidad has been an almost crab-free zone. I see them once or twice a week in the late summer.  Each one on his own. Looking for love in all the wrong places -- in the street. Where crabs can be reduced to a fine pâté in seconds.

They are far more ferocious-looking than dangerous. Those Ali-like claws can pinch, but they do not have much of a punch. Of course, when you look that tasty, you need some form of self-defense.

And tasty they do look. I have been told that the meat is good. But the assertion is always made with that look. You know the one. The look with the distinct subtext of "if you like that sort of thing."

I would gladly try it. But I doubt I would like it. My dungeness-trained tongue is rather particular about the crab I eat. My east coast friends laud Chesapeake blue crab. I have never been impressed. When I eat crab, I eat dungeness. Its delicately sweet flesh sets a standard no other crab can meet.

But I will not find any in this part of Mexico. The water is far too warm here. So, crab is off my menu.

Even though I am not fond of fish, I do like seafood. When I cannot get dungeness, I will eat shrimp. And there is a lot of good shrimp here. If you are careful of its provenance.

Unfortunately, my love for shrimp has worked its way out of my diet. Tonight, I had dinner with my friends Ed and Roxane at a restaurant noted for its seafood.

I made it about one-quarter of the way through my pile of shrimp and discovered I had had enough. For tonight. And probably for a year or so. That is the problem with passions. They can burn out quickly.

When I was in Oregon in May, I took a trip to Newport (a blue day in newport) with one culinary treat in mind -- a bowl of dungeness crab. None of the restaurants had any. The catch was light, and they were sold out.

In less than two weeks, I will be in Oregon for my 50th high school reunion. If I do not find dungeness then, it truly will be a crabby day. And shrimp will not do.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

more than sunsets

"What can you possibly find to do that keeps you interested in Mexico?"

I hear that question every time I visit The Sates -- usually from the same crowd that constantly yammers on about being bored.

My answer is always the same. Well, at least, when I am not feeling churlish. "I daily anticipate the unexpected."

Stephen Sondheim teaches that good music has two qualities. It is creative. And it is inevitable. Not predictable, inevitable. When it ends, you know that is exactly where it had to go, even though you did not know it was going there.

Mexico is filled with those inevitable moments. And they are always a surprise.

Take that sunset at the top of this essay. I strolled along the beach in Barra de Navidad this evening after a dinner of chicken curry. (The dinner alone was a Mexican surprise.)

When the sky is primarily clear (as it was tonight), we are inevitably treated to a sunset. Some are small gems. Others are as flamboyant as a London drag queen.

Tonight's was in the middle of the spectrum. But just as beautiful in its individuality as the proverbial snowflake. (The type that fall out of the sky as opposed to the type that fall on the ground screaming whenever encountering a view different than their own.)

All of those Melaque yellows soon morphed into magentas -- a color invented by French designers after seeing the blood-smeared white tunics of the massacred Austrian soldiers at the battle of the same name. The light show continued to morph as I walked home.

But I did not make it back home. At least, not directly.

We have a rather forlorn-looking town square in my little village. It looks like a parking lot created as a result of the demolition of some indifferent building. It is not a place that calls to the soul to pause and contemplate.

It did tonight. A crowd had gathered round ahat looked like a piece of street art. It wasn't. It was a boxing ring. Complete with a pretty round girl sitting rather disconsolate holding her Round 1 sign.

After the typical bout of loud music 
("Eye of the Tiger," no less), over-blown announcements, and plenty of dead time, the boxing matches began. The announcer had informed us there would be eight contenders. But I had  missed the age class.

These were young kids. Showing off the skills they had recently acquired from their grizzled trainers.

At one time, every young gentleman learned the fine art of boxing. It taught confidence, skill, and the unnatural acts of winning with humility and losing with grace.

I was born a generation too late for that type of gentle education. Football had taken over as the molder of young men by the time I was born. We admired Cassius Clay and his road to becoming Muhammad Ali. But we would never know the thrill of his occupation. To us, he was another entertaining athlete.

Whether these boys become an Ali was not really the point of the competition. They may have had dreams, but the skills they learn in the ring will serve them wherever their dreams take them.

As for me, I was simply pleased to once again be surprised by the inevitability of life. And that is why I live in Barra de Navidad -- and not in Salem.

Friday, August 25, 2017

signing me up

Speaking of signs (and we were speaking of signs just the day before yesterday), I ran across another I thought you might enjoy.

It is painted above a doorway in a restaurant I have frequented for the past nine years.  The owners have not been the same for all those years. Nor have the menus. It has gone through several permutations. But I have had the same table where I have watched humanity's Felliniesque parade march by.

And my table is well-situated for that. The restaurant is on one of San Patricio's busier streets -- right across from the bank with its comically postage stamp-sized parking lot. Desperate tourists looking for parking spaces. Car wash guys (and one gal) directing cars into the paths of others. Herds of families wandering by in various stages of undress.

It is a writer's gold mine for material. Walter Kirn, in Blood Will Out, would appreciate this mother lode.

A writer is someone who tells you one thing so someday he can tell his readers another thing: what he was thinking but declined to say, or what he would have thought had he been wiser.  A writer turns his life into material, and if you’re in his life, he uses yours, too.
Every person who sits and talks with me or says hello or simply wanders by is a potential flake of silver for Mexpatriate's pages.

At dinner last night, my breakfast pal Bill introduced me to another expatriate. Before I could say anything, Bill said: "Be careful what you say around Steve. It could end up in his blog."

I was taken aback by the comment until I realized -- it's true. Writers go through life picking over other people's lives as if we were magpies. And, if we do not like the pebbles we find, we polish them up and sell them as emeralds.

Which brings us to the sign. It was originally designed to be one of those messages from the Don Rickles School of Humor. Take a jaded bromide and reverse it for comic effect.

The fact that the second word is misspelled (whether intentionally or not; the owners are playing that bit of information close to their collective chests) makes it even funnier.

I was looking at it the other day and laughing when another expatriate wandered in. She looked at me, looked at it, and said: "That's wrong."

I chuckled. "Well, it is misspelled."

She looked confused and said: "No. It is supposed to say:'The customer is always right.'"

I responded: "Yes. That is the aphorism. But it is funny because of the reversal. And the misspelled word simply adds to the humor."

She harrumphed. "Well, I don't see what is funny. It is just wrong."

And that is the danger of humor. The literalists who walk amongst us will never understand a joke if it requires explanation. I once worked with a woman like that. She was offended when people "misused" words in an attempt to be witty.

But, I know you are a group of folks steeped in wit and would never fall into the heresy of literalism. So, enjoy.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should confess that the current owners have honored my little table where I have dined for almost a decade -- where some of the first Mexpatriate tales were written.

Thanks, Julio, Joyce, and Gary.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

can't stop the music -- or the drivers

My photographer friend Roxane David called my bluff the other day.

I had mentioned in a comment that our villages are somewhat bereft of traffic signs -- especially, stop signs. Where they do exist, they are generally ignored.

That is not fair. They are not ignored. They are treated with common sense -- as yield signs, when circumstances dictate.

Roxane thought I might be too generous in my count of stop signs. She asked me to document them when I was out and about. So, I did.

Almost all of them control access to the main highway through town.The most notorious set are located where the road into Barra de Navidad joins Highway 200 -- our main north-south artery in this part of Mexico.

It can be one of the most dangerous intersection in these parts -- especially, when northern visitors show up. Northerners are taught to stop at stop signs. No matter whether there is traffic within a mile of the intersection.

Not so my neighbors. Or me.

If headed north, the Barra de Navidad joins the highway at 90 degree angle. A driver approaching the intersection has plenty of time to determine whether a stop is necessary by a quick look to the left and a glance over the right shoulder.

It is the glance that can cause problems. If there is a car in front of our hypothetical car, and the driver is schooled in northern habits and stops whether or not there is traffic, and the car following is driven by a local who has determined a stop is not necessary by taking his eyes of the bumper of the first car, the accuracy of Newton's first law of motion will be demonstrated in the field.

I have seen several accidents at that corner. Each one involving a northern driver being rear-ended by a local driver. Or so their license plates would indicate.

But that sign is not my favorite. My favorite stop sign is in San Patricio on a side street that feeds into the village main street. There it is starring at the top.

What makes it my favorite is the sign's placement. It is supposed to control traffic coming from the side street. There is a good reason for it to be there. The main street is extremely busy, and the side street hosts a school. Everyone on the side street pauses at that intersection.

The problem is (if I may lift a phrase from my friend Julio) the sign is facing the wrong way round. The side street is one way. As you can see by the arrow. The stop sign faces traffic that should not enter the street. Plus, it is upside down.

But that may be the point. Custom rules when it comes to driving around here. And custom says stopping at that intersection is necessary -- just as custom dictates that a full stop at the Barra intersection is often not prudent.

That stop sign is an artistic expression of common sense. And that is just another thing I like about Mexico. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

eclipsing my memory

"It is an experience you will remember for your lifetime."

That is the hype the media were selling for the past month.

And we all know the object of that hyperventilation -- the total solar eclipse that slipped across the United States yesterday. It was almost as if someone had received an advance notice that Revelation 19 was being fulfilled on 21 August.

The hype worked. Looking at this morning's stories in The Oregonian, you would think that the Messiah and his white horse had actually shown up. When it was nothing more than the moon passing in front of the sun and casting its shadow on a small portion of Earth.

Don't get me wrong. If I had stayed in Oregon for the past two weeks, I would have been standing in the street like a slack-jawed yokel wondering if someone knew how to light the pilot light on the sun.

I suspect the reporters, who were dong their best to ensure we would all have the correct attitude of our solar experience, thought they were correct. For a lot of people, this would be the memory of a lifetime. (Even though the press did seriously mislead us into dashed expectations with Halley's Comet in 1986.)

But the reporters were dead wrong -- about me. Total solar eclipses are apparently very easy to forget. I did.

When I was in Oregon earlier in the month, the newspapers carried several stories about the last eclipse Oregon experienced on 26 February 1979. I thought that was odd. I had returned to Oregon by then -- and was in law school. If there had been a solar eclipse, I should have known about it.

So, I rummaged through my memory closet. And there it was. In the Things Long Forgotten pile.

My first class on that Monday morning was early.  I do not recall the subject, but it was taught by Professor Ross Runkel. It was the last semester of the third year -- when students are too busy looking for jobs to bother attending class. But I was there.

We knew an eclipse was on the way. But it was overcast. After all, it was a February morning in Oregon. I am surprised it was not raining.

Our only indication that there was an eclipse was the dimming light outside. Professor Runkel told us we could sit closer to the windows to watch the diminishing light if we liked, but he would continue his lecture.

The light dimmed. Birds stopped singing. The light came back. That was all there was to it. And it is probably why, until this month, I had completely forgotten about it.

What I do remember is that the newspapers and television in 1979 were not obsessed with the event. No one thought of calling out the national guard. Or worrying about eclipse-watching glasses (though there were stories about creating a viewer with a rather funky shoe-boxes-with-a-hole). Or fears of traffic Armageddon.

And what about here in Mexico yesterday? I decided to take my long walk in the middle of the day to see if we would experience anything from the eclipse. The maps indicated only 25% of the sun would be affected at our latitude.  I knew when it was supposed to happen.

It passed unnoticed, What I did see could have been the flag of Kyrgyzstan -- yellow sun on a blue sky field. Well, there was no mystical eagle carrying the sun or any fancy brocade. But the sky was clear and the sun undiminished. Even 1979 was a better experience. But probably no more memorable.

I was going to ask: Why did such a large section of the American (and apparently Canadian) population lose their sense of proportion over an eclipse? But, it does not matter that they did. If some people were enthralled by this natural phenomenon, good for them. We all need something to bring meaning into our lives.

As for me, it will be one more event to stuff into that ever-growing forgotten pile of memories. So forgotten that I have even forgotten where the pile is. Or if there is one.  

Saturday, August 19, 2017

sign of the times

This sign is not in Mexico.

You probably already guessed that. If only by the language. And it is another example of why I enjoy living here. In Mexico, that is.

The sign is posted at a rest stop on I-5 in the upper Willamette Valley -- just north of Cottage Grove. With a name like Cottage Grove, you would expect a bit of rustic, down home hospitality. But not from your host: the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Let me set the scene. This is a rest stop. A place to get a free cup of coffee from the VFW or a soft drink from a vending machine that looks as if it is caged to protect it from grizzlies. Or to simply seek relief from digestive pressures.

And, because this is Oregon, the well-maintained facilities nestle in a copse of Douglas fir. It is the type of place you might like to spend a little time just -- well, resting.

But, don't rest too long. You might be accused of loitering. And that is just not to be tolerated. Along with a brain-numbing list of other restrictions.

The sign of regulation caught my eye for two reasons. Its size (yuge, as our president would say) and its font (tiny). The font size is necessary. God was satisfied with ten commandments. The Oregon Department of Transportation needs almost two dozen. And I suspect there are probably another hundred or so littering the desk of a middle level manager -- just waiting to be displayed on a series of placards that would put the Islamic Revolutionary Guard to shame.

The dirty two dozen are gems in themselves. Running the gamut from the obvious (no setting fires or discharging firearms) to the exotic (you cannot operate "a concession selling services" -- one can only imagine) to the just plain baffling (a prohibition against "removing garbage").

And the punishment for violations of this Santa Claus length list of naughtiness? Exclusion from rest areas for one year. Talk about your Sisyphean struggle. You just try driving up and down the freeway system without toilet privileges.

I find these signs amusing -- on several levels. The first is the usual government-blindness to reality. The delusion that posting a sign will make bothersome behavior go away. The great evil of communism somehow failed to change the Russians into Soviet Man. I doubt the Oregon Department of Transportation's sign will have much effect on any miscreant prone to "using a bathroom to bathe."

The sign itself is worse than the terms and conditions we click through with every new bit of software we install on our computers. No one reads these things -- except for churlish writers who need to divine the depths of humor.

And I did get a good laugh from the sign. But it also made me sad -- because it is a perfect reflection of where American society is headed. If you think the sign is bad, you should see the regulations for Oregon's much-touted Medicaid health system. (Yes. You know the one. The system that a recent study found that people using it suffered worse outcomes than if they had had no insurance at all.)

The reason I know the sign is not in Mexico? No one here would be silly enough to post a sign people would ignore. What's the point? Or, the greater danger, giving people ideas they would never have on their own -- like removing garbage.

But that may be a good idea. Plaster the beach with "Do not remove garbage" (No retire la basura). It is a regulation whose time may have come.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

black like mine

This is a story about a man named Steve Cotton. And his shirt. His black shirt.

Steve Cotton was a man of limited colors. His sheets and towels were gray. His house was painted gray. But his clothes were black. Including his shirt.

Now and then, he would join friends on cruises. One of those cruises was in the Caribbean. He packed for the tropics. Especially, his black silk shirt for nights out.

He and his friends spent their pre-cruise Saturday evening in a Miami Beach art deco hotel. For dinner, they ate mediocre Cuban food at one of Gloria Estefan's restaurants -- proving once again that celebrities sell fame, not quality.

When everyone headed back to the hotel, Steve Cotton (and his black silk shirt with the black buttons) decided he was going to spend the evening amongst the sybaritic pleasures of Miami Beach's nightlife.

He did not remember what he had done, but he remembered he had a smacking good time. For someone who did not drink or take drugs, forgetting good times was one of his psychological flaws.

He usually counted on friends to remind him of events. But that night all of his friends had gone to bed dreaming about how good ropa vieja would taste cooked by an accomplished chef. He was on his own.

Well, that is not exactly true. He did have one friend with him. His short-sleeved black silk shirt with the black buttons.

When he woke up in his hotel room, his shirt spoke of things he did not recall. The left sleeve was almost torn off, and there was a tear that ran from almost the collar to the shirt's tail.

How it happened, he had no idea. And the shirt was not talking. But it had to be replaced.

At a port call in St. Thomas, Steve Cotton bought a new shirt. Short-sleeve. Black. Cotton. With brown buttons -- as if it had been cross-bred with a cheap rayon Hawaiian shirt.

And, so, his new black shirt joined him on trips to six continents over the next two decades. Participating in a life that Steve Cotton could barely recall.

Until one fateful day. Yesterday. When Steve Cotton picked up his post-travel laundry, he noticed something amiss in the stack of clothes. It appeared as if he had acquired something new with black fringe.

It was his black shirt. The left sleeve was frayed. And there were two large tears where the sleeve once joined the well-tailored black shirt.

Once again, Steve Cotton's shirt had an experience that was not its own. And he would never know what it was.

But not knowing everything that happens in your life is part of the condition human. In the knowledge that everything ends, we can find reassurance in cruise days spent with friends or from a familiar hand on our skin or an offer of comfort or a surprise telephone call from a family member or sharing a secret that only one of you may recall.

Even when it is just a story about a black shirt.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

I leave for two weeks, and the world changes. Or, at least, it reverts.

Over a decade ago, when I started scouting this area of Mexico as a prospective place to set down my retired roots, I received an early lesson in the lay of the land by being escorted from house to house by a very eager realtor. She introduced me to the physical layout, but it took years before I learned about the social history of Barra. A lot of that from Hank.

Several decades ago, a very powerful Mexican family (that would make the Ewings look like trailer trash if we were filming a telenovela), acquired a good portion of the fishing village that was Barra de Navidad. They had a dream of developing a middle class housing development. In the process, the Mexicans who owned the property were "re-settled" in the neighborhood where my house is located.

I only learned about some of the lurid details when I discovered there are severe sewer and water problems in the development dating back to a rather faulty agreement between the developers and the local government -- a dispute that has yet to be resolved. That is why I chose to live where I do, and not in the area where utilities are one twist away from being a major problem.

When I moved down here nine years ago, there were still some feudal vestiges. At the end of a major street, a gate barred entry to a sand spit that hosts the electrical lines to the fancy hotel on the other side of our lagoon. You may remember the spit as being the site of the apocryphal tunnel that allows traffic to pass under the lagoon (the tunnel to somewhere).

At some point within the last two years, the gate was flung open, and the community took full advantage of its open spaces. For me, it was a half-mile extension on my daily walks.

When I returned from Oregon, I made a beeline to the spit on my evening walk. I was a bit surprised that the gate that once barred entry was once again closed -- along with a sign that bluntly reminded the public we were no longer welcome on the preserve of the mighty.

I do not know why the gate has been closed. But I have some theories.

When isolated areas are open to the public in crowded villages, all types of mischief are possible. Such as the driver of the utility truck who showed up regularly with a new woman each visit. Or the teenagers who perfumed the air with the distinctive smell of marijuana and the far nastier stench of burning methamphetamine. Or it may simply have  been the people who decided the land was a great place to dispose of garbage.

Whatever the reason, the owners have exercised their right to exclude people from their property. Or they have attempted to. The fence is as porous as parts of the Rio Bravo border. It will take more than a fence and a sign to dissuade who people who are accustomed to having their way with the land.

And me? I have no desire to slip under fences merely to add a half-mile to my walk. There are other places to show my paces.

But I will miss the beauty of the spit. Who knows? The gate may just as quickly be flung open again.

After all, how are all of those cars going to get to and from the tunnel? 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

music on the dunkirk beach

Last week, I went to Dunkirk.

Not the French port. The movie.

I tend to avoid movies based on historical events. It is not that I know how the story ends, though that it is a consideration. It is because directors and screenwriters are faced with a major dilemma from the outset. Do they capture the grandeur of the big event and leave the story of the participants to fend for themselves? Or do they focus on a few individuals and run the risk of missing the big picture? And, too often, they do not choose wisely.

But Dunkirk was written and directed by one of my favorite movie creators -- Christopher Nolan. I had full faith that he could pull it off. And he did.

Dunkirk has all the elements of being a typical war movie. Outnumbered British and French troops, with the sea at their backs, surrounded by a German army closing the noose. The British and French navies did not have enough destroyers to evacuate the troops, and what they had, they were reluctant to expose to almost certain sinking by the Luftwaffe. Even though losing the troops would have meant negotiating an end to the war with Germany.

But, we all know what happened. Hitler failed to close the trap, giving the British navy time to requisition small boats to act as ferries for the troops. Many boat owners volunteered. As a result, almost 300,00 British and French troops were plucked from the beaches of Dunkirk. And Britain went on to prevail.

The story could have lauded the plucky British soldiers and public managing to pull victory from defeat. The type of mawkish sentimentality that has undermined many a war tale.

Christopher Nolan is not a hack. If he takes on a project, the last thing he will serve you is sentimentality. He has done for film what Stephen Sondheim has done for music.

To tell the tale of the Battle of Dunkirk, Nolan gives us three separate story lines from the perspective of a limited group of participants. The first is the week-long ordeal of the soldiers on the beach at Dunkirk. The second is a day-long tale of a father, his son, and a boat hand who volunteer to steer their small boat into the path of German fighter and bombers and oil-fed fires on the sea. The third is a one-hour story of two British Spitfire pilots who provide limited air cover to the armada.

What we get is one of the most claustrophobic and tense portrayals of forsaken gloom I have ever seen portrayed on film. Even though we know the vast majority of troops will be evacuated, we do not know if any of the characters we are following will survive. And Nolan makes us care for them as men in danger, not as some sentimental prop for political purposes.

Most of the credit goes to Nolan's choice of filming scenes. Death is a constant. And, even though most survive, others do not.

But credit for that tension also goes to the composer of the film's score -- Hans Zimmer. Zimmer is a regular choice of Nolan. And he usually commissions Zimmer to produce a specific type of music.

Rather than his schlocky Pirates of the Caribbean pieces, Zimmer usually delivers Nolan edgy scores that not only complement the feel of a scene, but often create it.

Because the film is filled with tension, Zimmer wrote a score based almost exclusively on the musical device of the Shephard scale -- an auditory illusion that gives the impression the music is a continuous ascending or descending scale in the same octave. It is similar to the optical illusion of a mobius strip.

The music is electronic and modern. But, it fits so perfectly with the images, there is no vestige of anachronism.

With one exception. Or, so I thought, when I first heard the chords of Edward Elgar's Nimrod when the naval officer in charge of the rescue first catches a slight sound and then a glimpse of the small boat fleet.

Nimrod is one of those works that shows up in British pops concerts to evoke British patriotism. It is every bit as sentimental as Elgar's other popular Victorian piece, Pomp and Circumstance, or Thomas Arne's Rule Britannia.

With those chords, my heart sank. After giving us such a sophisticated look at despair in its starkest form, would Zimmer and Nolan now betray their audience with Elgar's mawkish piece to describe the arrival of hope?

I should have known better. Even though the chords of Nimrod are immediately recognizable, Zimmer reconstructed the piece by slowing it down and playing it in a lower registry with a limited group of instruments. No soaring orchestra here.

The music underscores Nolan's line of narrative. People have put their lives on the line to help other people. Not necessarily out of patriotism, but out of concern to help others who have put themselves in danger to protect those who are now rescuing them. Greater love has no other man.

Moments like that are what make Dunkirk a movie not only worth seeing, but discussing. The human condition that Nolan describes is with us today. We can either despair, or we can act as moral agents helping those in need of rescue.

Note -- You can hear Zimmer's rendition of Nimrod at the top of this essay. For the straight version, listen below. I suspect you will appreciate Zimmer's version far more. At least, for the purpose it was composed.

Some of you may remember the original version being used in the background for the scene in Elizabeth, where the queen is deciding how to deal with her unfaithful lover, the Earl of Leicester. It was an effective use of the piece as Elgar wrote it. After all, what could be more sentimental than a veneration of Good Queen Bess?

Monday, August 14, 2017

peace be to these streets

Mr. President --

I am writing this open letter to you following the tragedy in Charlottesville on Saturday.

One of your spokesmen has announced your goal is to pull the nation together. That is what you should be doing, but you are not.

I have been thinking about how two of your predecessors, who had a good grasp on what Americans felt and knew exactly how to direct the best in them, would have acted. How would Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton have tried to unite us?

First, they would not have hesitated in pointing out that the white supremacists, who came armed for trouble, and the anarchists, who were ready to sign their dance cards, are not representative of the vast majority of Americans who abhor the views espoused by the neo-Nazis, KKK, other white supremacists, and anarchists.

Both groups seem to believe they are living in Germany in the early 1930s when Nazi thugs and Communist and Socialist thugs battled in the streets of the Weimar Republic as a dress rehearsal for the Spanish civil war which was a preview of the Second World War.

Second, they would then point out that the views of the demonstrators on both sides are protected by the First Amendment. The First Amendment exists to protect unpopular views -- to give a free space where we can all meet to discuss our political philosophies.

And this the tricky part. Leasers need to be very careful about saying viewpoints have no place in American society. That runs the risks of legitimizing physical attacks on the proponents of unpopular views. It is exactly the same mistake we made during World War Two with the internment of the Japanese and in World War One with the incarceration of Eugene Debs.

The First Amendment prevents us from punishing people for what they think. If we say anarchist thought has no place in the American marketplace of ideas, we run the risk of objectifying them and turning them into legitimate targets of violence.

Third, the First Amendment does not prevent us from punishing people for the crimes they commit. And that brings us to the rather silly argument about whether James Alex Fields committed an act of terror. What he did was far worse. He committed murder -- for which he should be tried and punished. Bearing the mark of Cain is far more damning than being forced to wear a political label.

Fourth, both Reagan and Clinton would then bring their audiences back to the fact that most Americans are decent people with children who feel sympathy for the family of Heather Heyer. They are not anarchists. They are not white supremacists. They live their lives as best as they can praying that America will not turn into Weimar Germany.

Mr. President, if you could for one moment think along those lines, you will know the right thing to do. You need to stand up in your official capacity and say enough is enough. If people are going to commit violence in espousing their political views, there will be a cost.

But it is far more important that you do something tangible to pull this nation together -- and there is no better moment.

I suggest a Day of Prayer. At the National Cathedral. And because we are to pray for our enemies, all political and social factions should be invited to pray and speak -- to commit themselves to a nation where there is peace in our streets. That means former presidents (all of them). Republican and Democrat leaders. And, yes, even representatives who hold unpopular beliefs but who are committed to espousing them in free debate.

I am an optimist. And one day of prayer is not going to solve the rifts that are splitting the nation at both the extremes and the center. But it may be a start.

I pray that it is.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

gone with the wind

I knew Barra de Navidad had experienced downpours a few days ago. But I did not know the storm was accompanied by high winds.

What was once a very grand umbrella in my patio delivered the news to me when I opened my front gate. Piles of dead leaves corroborated the testimony.

Earlier this week, I had been following an Atlantic storm named Franklin. It stomped over Yucatan as a tropical storm and then switched clothes to become a hurricane just before it made landfall on Mexico's east coast.

The mess in my courtyard was Franklin's gift to our area. It brought us our first good dousing this year. We needed it. We could have done without the wind.

Interestingly, Franklin was reborn briefly as a hurricane when the storm passed over the Pacific. Jova by name. It has now slumped into a tropical depression.

So, here I am -- back at Mexpatriate headquarters doing what I enjoy. Writing. Reading. Picking up leaves and doing other domestic chores.

It is time to sit back and enjoy the good life in Mexico -- until 9 September when I head back to Oregon for one week to celebrate my 50th high school reunion.

And the umbrella? I may just keep it as is. After all, I have purchased lots of art pieces with less character.

Friday, August 11, 2017

flagging hope

My brother and mother live in a Norman Rockwell neighborhood.

Neat bungalows set on tidy lawns. Modest with no pretensions. Tree-lined streets. And flags. Lots of American flags.

I walk that circuit every day. Sometimes, more than once.

Walking is a great time to think. And not always constructively.

I started thinking about the families who live behind those flag-decorated porches. Why do some fly flags while others do not.

When I was a boy in the 1950s, lots of homes flew flags. If the families could afford them. The residents of Powers did not have a lot of excess income for frivolous flag purchases.

Back then, flying a flag meant one thing -- you were an American. Some homes continued the habit they had acquired during the Second World War. No matter our differences, we were united in the aspirations of the nation.

The late 1960s changed that. The hard left decided the flag did not reflect their values. So, it became a symbol to burn, not to admire. And a rift was created through my generation of Boomers -- some retained traditional values; others railed against them. The flag was no longer a symbol of unity.

That changed on 11 September 2001. Under attack, we united. Americans openly supported their troops -- and the flag once again was a symbol of one nation.

I am not certain if that is still true. That is why I wondered about the families behind those flags in my mother's neighborhood.

Last year I had a conversation with a friend who dresses to the left with his politics. I had commented on the number of flags in his neighborhood. He responded that most of the flag displayers were probably racist -- though he did not know any of them. I was shocked because I had never equated love of country with a political ideology. Good grief, even that paragon of liberalism, Garrison Keillor, regularly lectured liberals to show their love of country by flying flags.

But I found myself doing the same thing when I assumed the flags were flown by Trump voters. They may have been. But, a quick look at the precincts results for the 2016 election does not support that theory. It doesn't discount it, either.

The precinct is split almost equally between Democrats and Republicans -- with a slight Democrat edge. This being Oregon, the non-affiliated voters are nearly as strong as each of the parties.

And the precinct's presidential vote mirrored that split. They supported Hillary by a handful votes -- and bushels of votes for other contenders. Like most of America, the voters obviously were not enthralled by either one of the major party candidates.

I may have completely missed the point of those flags. Because of my background, I pay far too much attention to politics. Most people do not. They are wise enough to know that they and their families are seldom touched by politics in their daily lives.

It was not until we left the Powers reunion picnic that I realized during the Sunday picnic and the Saturday night dinner, I did not hear one mention of Trump's name. Neither positive or negative. He was simply not  present at the festivities.

And that made me happy. Almost every social media channel is crammed with compulsive ramblings about the president. It was nice to have a three-day break from the hyperventilation. It gave me hope that the country had not obsessed itself into a Mad Hatter existence.

And those flags in the neighborhood? I suspect they are there because the owners are simply proud to be Americans. No matter who they voted for in 2016.

With that, I concur.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

getting high

Tom McCall was governor of Oregon from 1967 to 1975.

He is probably best known for two things: 1) being the political godfather of Oregon's bottle bill and 2) for telling tourists "Come visit; don't stay."

At the time, when I was working for him, I thought that sharp elbow to the ribs of California tourists (because it was Californians the jab was aimed at; this was the era of the "Don't Californicate Oregon" movement) was merely campaign showmanship. After all, McCall was not a politician; he was an entertainer -- a political commentator on one of our local television news programs.

But he was serious. A liberal Republican, he did whatever he could to protect Oregon's environment -- including protecting the state from outsiders moving here. (He had a bit of the same spirit that seems to animate the current American president.) I suspect he would consider his efforts a failure if he could see the current steady stream of Priuses into the state.

That spirit is not dead. While walking through my brother's neighborhood, I caught a glimpse of two stickers low on a van's bumper. I had to stop to read them. And it was worth breaking my healthy steps pace.

It was almost as if Old Tom was walking amongst us again -- with the attitude of a Millennial. Nothing says 2017 like sarcasm.

Bend is now one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. And its housing prices are soaring even higher. Little bungalows are regularly selling for $300,000.

I know that would be a bargain in New York City or Vancouver. But this is little Bend. And a lot of that price inflation has been induced by California home equity money migrating north. It was McCall's nightmare.

There is a lot to preserve in Bend. I thought of that today when we visited the High Desert Museum south of town.

We had talked taking about a mountain hike this morning, but the temperatures have been higher here than they are in Barra de Navidad. A visit to the natural history museum seemed a good compromise.

And it was. The museum traces the development of the great desert basin that makes up a large portion of the western states. Bend sits on its western rim.

It is all there. The geological development. The Indian migration across the Bering land bridge by foot and canoe (even if you do not buy that partly-discredited theory). The evolution of Indian culture. The arrival of settlers. A fascinating exhibit on how federal money in World War Two turned an extractive economy into one based on technology. And a frank discussion of the bracero worker program with Mexico, the treatment of the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, the enlistment of Indians in the armed forces, and black troopers serving as firefighters.

My favorite exhibits, though, were the animals from the high desert. Bobcat. Porcupine, Raptors. Otter. Fish. Gila monsters. Skinks. Snakes. Turtles. It was better than going to most zoos.

Natural history museums are always a bit wistful. They remind us of what has been lost. But they also assure us our present would not be what it is without the past we have "lost."

Governor McCall was not my favorite politician. His view of the world was far too reliant on government involvement in the lives of a free people. And, for all of his King Lear railing, he could not stop the wave of immigration that has flooded Oregon. Some that may have improved the place.

But I am happy to be living elsewhere.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

people of place -- part ii

I may have lied to you yesterday.

I claimed I was not a person of place -- or a "someplace" person, to use Goodhart's term. At most, I am an "inbetweener."

But I certainly could have been a person of place. I share a lot of the same values -- with the obvious exception that I believe the world is better off with free trade and better access for trained immigrants across borders. Thus, my hybrid status.

What I lack is a place. And that became evident to me during our visits to four cemeteries on our trip south. What better locale to consider being a person of place than in a cemetery. You can't get much more place-oriented than when your body is planted.

The Powers cemetery sits on a hill above the county park. Almost all of the original graves are people who lived, but who were not born, in Powers. After all, the town was incorporated only a century ago.

The gravestones read like a genealogy of my grade school days. All the families are there. Bushnell. Adamek. Shorb. Frye.

And, of course, my brood. Rolfe. Munro. And one Cotton grave -- my older brother who died of a burst appendix when he was less than two months old. My mother has a plot next to his.

The cemetery brought home a hard fact of life in Powers. When we left Powers in 1957, I had a lot of relatives in town. Aunts. Uncles. Grandparents. Cousins.

They are all gone. Some are buried here. Others moved away. There were about 1500 people in town when we exited stage right. There are fewer than 700 now. And, it appears, most are families whose names I do not know when we lived there.

If Powers was to be my place, it appears that time has passed.

And it was not for wont of trying. When I graduated from law school, I talked with a lawyer in Myrtle Point who was thinking about retiring. He liked me, without really knowing me, because "my grandfather was a good man. What could be more "somewhere" than that?

I did not take him up on the offer. He has now moved on, but the office still houses an attorney. That could have been me.

Better yet, Mast Hospital, where I was born, is just across the street. But it is no longer a hospital. It is a rest home. Talk about closing the circle. I could have simply been carried from my office to my convalescent spot.

We visited my half-sister's grave in Coquille. She died of birth complications -- a death that sounds like a diary entry on the Oregon Trail rather than Oregon in the 1970s.

We also stopped in Norway (Oregon has some very interesting second-hand town names) to search for the graves of my mother's grandparents -- Curtis and Dora Rolfe.

Both were born in Quebec in the 1850s, moved to Minnesota and then on to Powers, dying in the early 1930s. My mother, born in 1928, barely got to know them.

Their migration (that started in England in the early 1600s and moved through Massachusetts and Vermont before Quebec) may be one reason I am not a person of place. At least, on my mother's side of the family. They were an incredibly mobile group.

Not so, on my father's side.

I grew up on tales of being a fifth generation Oregonian. That certainly sounds as if I could be a person of place. And our visit to the Dora cemetery is evidence enough that I could have been.

My great-great grandfather, John Alva Harry and his wife Chloe Amelia Cook (who bears an interesting relationship to my mother's family, something to relate in a bit) came to Oregon in the early 1850s eventually settling in a Coos County broad valley. In the 1870s, they established an inn in Sitkum known as the Halfway House (half way between Coos Bay and Roseburg). "Sitkum" is Chinook for "half." ( I point that out because Mexpatriate is a diverse place.)

Sitkum is a special place in my memory. When I was around 4, our family spent the summer there logging. It is one of my few childhood memories -- and it is extremely clear.

I spent my days wandering the banks of the East Fork of the Coquille River doing the things boys do, along with my faithful dog companion Uncle Jiggs. (You may recognize the name.) Once I found an abandoned fishing tackle box. At least, I thought it was abandoned.

At night, my father taught me how to tell time. And how to count. Using coins. Coins turned out to be an inspired technique. I learned the algebraic concept of how an 8-based number system (think quarters) can coexist in a decimal-based system. They were heady days.

On our Monday drive, none of us knew exactly where the site was. But I had no doubt about its location. We were parked below a bridge on the river and a large house (the Halfway House) was across the street.

We missed it on the first pass through Sitkum -- which consisted of a few dilapidated buildings. But, once I put the elements together, we found where we spent that special summer. A house is now built on the site, but it is no less special.

According to the Dora cemetery, this could have been my place. John Alva Harry's son and my great grandfather, Osmer Colfax Harry, settled a claim in Dora in the early 1950s. The family was to farm the land for decades. His daughter, Beatrice, the poet and my grandmother, married mu grandfather,Jesse Ray Cotton, in 1919.

The new Cotton family did not appear to be people of place. They moved from farm to farm in what was to be a marriage marred by personal tragedy -- most of it swaddled in the whispered tones of polite society. Their only child, my father, was raised by his aunt and uncle.

What was possibly my opportunity to become a person of place was simply not to be. Instead, I started life as a gypsy. To hear my mother tell it, our young family lived enough places before I was 6 to require our relatives to use an Etch-a-Sketch as an address book.

Oh, yes, I was gong to tell you about my great-great grandmother, Chloe Amelia Cook. When her husband John died, she married a fellow by the name of James Laird. Thus, adding another layer of local relatives to our family. The Dora cemetery if filled with marhers for Harry, Laird, Butler, and Cotton. Such as my great grandfather James Andrew Cotton, who lived to almost 100.

But that was not her greatest contribution. While running a relationship calculator on my family tree, I discovered something very odd. In addition to being my parents, my parents are also my cousins. In fact, they are each other's cousin.

Not like Ozark cousins. The relationship is rather attenuated. They are ninth cousins once removed.

Chloe is the culprit. Nicholas Noyes and Mary Cutting married in Newbury, Massachusetts in 1640. Little did they know when they launched their DNA into the world, that their streams would reunite when Chloe married John in 1857. And again when my parents married.

Thus, I am my own cousin. And I suspect that is a far better tale than being a person of place.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

people of place -- part i

The label is old. But it is no less accurate for it.

My friend and philospophical racconteur, John Hofer, and I share similar backgrounds. We were both small town kids. Before he left his central Washington farming community for college, he was raised primarily by his Congregationaliust grandmother surrounded by a bushel of aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Whenever we would discuss our backgrounds over lunch or dinner, John would get a bit wistful about his family roots. As if he were an exotic plant re-planted in foreign soil. He really cared about the place he was from. I believe I even wrote a poem about that facet of the human condition.

I, on the other hand, felt a bit rootless. As if I did not quite belong where I was -- or that I could belong wherever I was.

That distinction led to a label for John. He was a person of place. And I was either a person of no place or anyplace.

A similar analysis appears in David Goodhart's The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics.

He uses different labels -- a dominant minority of people of "anywhere" against a majority of people from "somewhere." But the concepts are the same.

"Anywheres" have achieved status based on professional and educational success. They value social and geographical mobility. "Somewheres" identify themselves by place, honoring family, authority, and nationality. In Goodhart's parlance, I am an "Inbetweener."

What I am not is a person of place or a person of "somewhere." And I felt that strongly on our trip to southern Oregon.

My mother was born and raised in Powers. She did not leave there until she went to college. After marrying, she returned. But, even when we moved to Portland in the mid-1950s, she remained a Powers girl. Her background informed all of her decisions. The town has not worn well since then.

Even though I often say I am from Powers, at most, I lived there for five years. But I do not identify with the town. Nor do I identify with Milwaukie, where I lived twenty-three years. Or Texas, Colorado, California, Greece, or England where I was stationed with the Air Force. Or Salem where I went to law school and practiced law for thirteen years. They were all pleasant places, but not my "somewhere."

Having said that, Mom, Darrel and I experienced a pleasant two days in her old home town. There are very few places I have lived where the town itself has a town reunion. That is not remarkable when you realize the town's civil society and its high school are the same thing. People may diverge on church and social clubs, but being a Cruiser is the community's cement.

Darrel and I talked with several old childhood friends who lived on our street. My brother had a better recollection of events; I had a better memory of who was related to whom. One neighbor even put on a full court press to convince me I should move back.

The offer was tempting. I retain enough "somewhere" volunteer conservatism to be tempted to live in a community based on personal involvement. School events. The library. Bike races through town. All need people to keep the town running -- or pedaling.

One of the community's great accomplishments is a county park at the north end of town. When we moved away in the mid-1950s, logging put meals on the table in Powers. But The Cancer had set in. Within a decade, the woods were shut down -- or shutting down.

Where the park now sits was a thriving lumber mill. When it shut down, it was an eyesore for a decade. Then, someone stumbled on the great idea that it would make a perfect recreation site. After all, I used to catch tadpoles in the mill pond. Why not turn it into a fish pond?

So, they did. The place is now an RV campground with day use picnic facilities.

And, if you have feel a transcendental urge to become Henry David Thoreau, you can rent a pond cabin for $45 a night.

With this as your contemplative view -- where you might be able to make some sense out of Thoreau's ramblings. "If the day and night make one joyful, one is successful."

I doubt I will move to Powers. Well, that is me being nice. There is next to no chance I will move to Powers. But I will most likely return for a visit. Even though it is not my somewhere.

Tomorrow I will share a visit the three of us made on Sunday that defines a somewhere I could have owned.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

settling for what we get

This is a story about life. And a manure spreader.

Yesterday, Darrel, grandson Baron, and I ventured forth into the hinterlands of La Pine -- a flat plain spotted with juniper and ponderosa. But we were not searching for trees. We were on our way to audition a used bicycle for Christie.

While Darrel did what he does best (chat and negotiate), I wandered off onto a portion of the owner's 400 acres. When we drove in, I saw an interesting piece of farm machinery near the road.

It turned out to be a manure spreader. Until recently, the owner's parents used it regularly. It had now been relegated to a genre trendy in these parts -- farm yard art.

What had until recently been a utilitarian part of the farming process had been demoted to an aesthetic artifice. Similar to those dead airplanes on sticks favored by air force bases.

The symbolism was not lost on me. The spreader was passing through its stages of life. Once a robust part of the family, it had been literally put out out to pasture. To rest and to provide artistic enjoyment as it rusted into oblivion.

Very similar to our own lives.

Take me, for instance. That is easy because I am the one tapping on the keys.

I decided I wanted to be an attorney when I was a sophomore in high school. When I discovered it would be another seven years of schooling after I graduated from high school, I was sorely disappointed. I wanted to be an attorney right then.

As it turned out, I did not graduate from law school until 12 years later. An unplanned five year  detour to the Air Force intervened before I got back on course.

Not everything was rosy about my law career. In 1988, I lost a very narrow race for the Oregon legislature, my law partnership broke up, and I turned 40 -- all in the span of three months. It was my personal annus horribillis.

But, just like one of those cheesy Eastern religion movies, I learned a lesson from tragedy. I had fallen into the same trap as so many people have -- especially American men. I had defined myself by what I did for a living rather than realizing I am a moral agent who is not dependent upon a profession to define my being. It was an awareness raiser.

I suspect that terrible year was what made retirement so easy for me. When I stepped away from the position I adored at SAIF Corporation, I had no regrets. And, unlike a large number of attorneys I know, I did not fail retirement. The reason was simple: I was focused on what I could now do without the restraints of my profession.

Rather than finding my sole worth in my title, I found it in life. Writing. Reading. Traveling. Simply doing whatever popped into my head.

As I walked around the manure spreader (an apt analogy for an attorney turned essayist), I wondered if it was happy with its lot -- or if it longed to spend its day flinging cow patties. Was its new-found role as an art object as fulfilling as its former job?

Of course, it was the wrong question. For it -- and for me.

What we all need to ask ourselves is whether we have learned to settle for what we get? Railing against inevitability is the madness of youth (and some political activists). A lesson we should have learned long ago from Merrily We Roll Along.

As for me, I am  happy that I am here -- and that you took time today to visit.

Now, I need to head off to Powers to meet another side of my destiny.