Tuesday, January 15, 2019

sticking a log in my eye

"Why do you white people complain about everything?"

It was my friend Julio, who I have known for almost as long as I have lived here. Our conversations have matured to the point where we can indulge in otherwise-forbidden stereotypes, and still understand the other person's point.

"You don't like the food. Service is too slow. The music is too loud. Are you happy when you are unhappy?"

His comment was primarily directed at me. I had just told him why I was not happy with my lunch. But, he then went into a list of complaints he had heard during the past week. "Are you people never happy with anything?"

I tried to put his experience into context -- that complainers are a minority and we tend to give way too much attention to the whingers -- but I instinctively knew he was correct. If you listen to a random sampling of northern conversations in our little villages, we sound as if we were auditioning to play extras at a British weekend shooting party.

One of my favorite lines from Gosford Park is Maggie Smith's response to Kristin Scott Thomas
's greeting upon arrival at the house:

"Did you have a horrid journey?"

"Yes. Fairly horrid."

Julian Fellowes could have cribbed the lines from one of our local restaurants -- or message boards.

Yesterday was dedicated to the proposition that I could pay my annual dues for living in Mexico within the confines of the day. To avoid any unnecessary suspense, I will tell you right up front, it was a good day. Almost.

I needed to make four stops in three towns. Renewing my auto registration and paying my property taxes in the county seat. Paying for my postal box rental in San Patricio. And taking care of my combined sewer, water, and garbage in Barra de Navidad.

Three of the four were as easy as guessing what eating utensil will arrive with dessert in a Mexican restaurant. I was the only person at the post office and the Barra de Navidad local government office. And I had to stand in line for only a couple of minutes to pay my property taxes. Over the past couple years, the replacement of ledger books with computers has greatly improved the efficiency of turning my pesos into the government's.

The only mosca in the michelada was the payment of my car registration. It was my first stop.

I had read on the local Facebook page that the waiting time in the office was unusually long, so I arrived early in the morning. Not early enough.

In years past, there have been five to eight people sitting in the waiting area patiently awaiting their turn. There is no number system. Everyone pays attention to who was there before them. Just like Henslowe's recurring response in Shakespeare in Love: "Strangely enough, it all works out well. . . . I don't know. It's a mystery."

Yesterday I was not welcomed by that sight of Panglossian order. The entire room was packed with people standing up in enough regimentation that it resembled a queue. There must have been close to thirty people there.

I saw my friend Arlie. There was no missing him. He is at least half again as tall as I am.

I asked why everyone was standing. He said something about there having been a brouhaha earlier. I thought that odd. In all of my years waiting at Mexican offices, I have been amazed at how my neighbors stoically wait for their turn with no obvious irritation. Of course, Octavio Paz would have something to say about what was going on behind the mask.

Rather than wait, I decided to go pay my property taxes in the delusional belief the line would shorten as the day went on.

When I returned, there were more people in the room. So I went to the drug store and a department store to pick up some items.

When I returned, Arlie had finally made it to the cashier, but there must have been forty people in the room by that time. Arlie paid and I wished him farewell. He wished me patience.

I was not concerned. I had brought my Kindle along to catch up on the news. I knew it would be a long wait, and I have learned a modicum of patience living in Mexico.

And then it happened. It was almost as if Julio's observations had conjured up a golem.

An elderly northerner tried to open the door. By this time, the crowd made that difficult. But, as is always true in Mexico, the people near the door politely gave way to welcome another soul to share the wait.

The new arrival scowled, looked around, and, to no one in particular asked, in that irritated tone of an angry dad: "Where's the end of the **** line?" No one responded. He was speaking English, and what most of them rightfully heard was blah blah blah.

I chimed in with: "I don't know. I have been here for about ten minutes, but more people came in after me."

That seemed to make a vein over his left eye start throbbing. When he asked again where the end of the line was and received no response, he turned his volume up to 11, and launched into "****ing Mexicans. **** Mexico." And slammed the door as he left.

Now, he may have been having the worst day of his life and that small bump in the road was just too much for him to assimilate. I am not going to judge why he did what he did.

Amazingly, it did not seem to bother in the least the people waiting for their registration.

It dd bother me. As the sole northerner standing in line, I felt as if I should apologize for what just happened. But, that event was about to be exacerbated in a very personal way.

A clerk behind the cashier windows came out into the waiting room and motioned in my direction. I looked around before I realized he was motioning to me to go with him. He was pulling me out of line to process my registration.

I almost panicked after the earlier incident because I knew exactly what it looked like. I was getting preferential treatment for only one reason. And it wasn't because it was my birthday.

I looked around at my fellow line-waiters. They told me: "Go." It was not until that moment that I realized several of them spoke perfect Englsh -- making the Mad Man's performance that much more embarrassing.

I would like to tell you that I told the clerk that I would wait in line just like everyone else. That would have been exercising my moral agency. Instead, I took the preferential treatment road.

Within a minute, I had paid my money and had a new decal for my car window. But, I felt almost as if I was walking an Iroquois gauntlet when I walked through the waiting room.

I told my friend Ozzie this story last night. When I told him about the Mad Man, he said: "You act just like that. All of you do."

And I realized, in his eyes, it is true. Even though my anger is seldom that extreme, I still get irritated at circumstances over which I have no control or power. The only control is of my temper. And, apparently, I lose it far more often than I care to admit.

That was my birthday gift from both Julio and Ozzie -- to make me realize I too often point at the bad behavior of others when mine may be worse. Jesus said something about that.

We all love quoting Jesus when we feel as if someone has caught us out: "Don't judge, so that you won't be judged."  We often forget his reasoning:

For the way you judge others is how you will be judged -- the measure with which you measure out will be used to measure to you. Why do you see the splinter in your brother's eye but not notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, "Let me take the splinter out of your eye," when you have the log in your own eye? You hypocrite! First, take the log out of your own eye; then you will see clearly, so that you can remove the splinter from your brother's eye!   
A little bit of grace will do us a lot of good. Whether we live in Timbuktu or Abbottsford or Springfield -- or even Mexico.

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