Friday, August 30, 2019

signing out

I have seen the signs over the past few months.

There were once two. Now, there is only the one protesting a proposed re-modeling of a vendor alley in San Patricio. The other now serves as rain-proofing where there is no roof.

A little background might help.

There are San Patricio two alleys that feature food vendors. Restaurants. Fishmongers. Butchers. The equivalent of a shopping mall food court.

The alleys appear to be closed-off sections of Calle Ramón Corona (named for one of Benito Juarez's liberal generals); the alleys are the same width as the street they interrupt. (I wanted to verify that was true before I wrote this essay, but I ended up talking with my source about the price of limes and completely forgot my main purpose.)

The two alleys were once identical. Merchants sold their wares in stalls along a wide central passageway.

Before I moved here, the eastern alley was renovated. The stalls along the side of the passageway were removed. A structure was then built in the middle with passage on both sides.

eastern alley
The renovation has a rather tidy look to it. Almost spiffy. Admittedly, it is a bit more difficult to move through the eastern alley (compared to the western) when it is busy. It is also easier for casual shoppers to see what is on offer.

Apparently, some people thought the renovation of the eastern alley was such a success that they petitioned the state and federal governments for funds to renovate the western alley. Those funds have now been approved.

western alley
Here is the rub. As is true with all change, some people favor it; some oppose it. Thus, the protest signs.

As is true with many things in life, the surface arguments that appear to be persuasive often mask other unspoken concerns.

I have mixed feelings. I like the tidiness of the renovated alley, but I do not care for its claustrophobic feel.

Of course, it does not matter how I feel. I do not have a vote here, and I am always mindful of the restrictions Article 9 of the Mexican Constitution places on the political activities of foreigners.

The decision is now in the hands of the young man petitioned in the poster -- the president of Cihuatlán,
 Fernando Martínez Guerrero. Because the funds are earmarked for this specific project, the choice is whether to renovate or to return the money to the state and federal governments.

I will keep my ears open for any future developments. I have no doubt that if the decision is made to renovate, there will be some conversation.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

old heroes, new money

There are few things as good for stirring up hysteria as changing currency.

And if there is a bit of identity politics added to the brew, the result can be volatile. Sometimes, just silly.

Mexico is in the process of upgrading its bank notes. The first step was issuing a new 500-peso note. Diego Rivera was replaced with the image of President Benito Juarez.

That was last September (money makes the words go round). Even though the Rivera notes are still circulating, they will be withdrawn eventually -- as will the Juarez 20-peso notes which will be replaced by an increased supply of 20-peso coins. I have yet to see an increase of 20-peso coins in my change.

It will take three more years for all of the banknotes to be updated. When all of the new banknotes are issued, they will represent a chronological outline of Mexico's history. Historical figures from each period will be featured on the front. The reverse will honor Mexico's natural beauty.

The second round of revision starts next month with a new 200-peso note.

The current 200-peso note features one of Mexico's greatest literary figures: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Her image will be removed from the new 200-peso note, but she will reappear on the new 100-peso note that will be issued in 2021 to represent Spain's colonial rule of Mexico. While she is gone, maybe she can write some more inflammatory poetry.

The new 200-peso note will represent Mexico's war of independence from Spain with the portraits of two independence heroes on the front. Miguel Hidalgo will move over from the 1000-peso note and José María Morelos will move over from the 50. The reverse will feature Mexico's desert ecosystem. Reportedly, that will include a golden eagle and and image of El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve in the Sonoran desert.

The image at the top of this essay is reportedly a mock-up of the new note.

Even though the Bank of Mexico has released numerous press releases over the past year about the banknote revisions, that has not stopped a certain faction from revving up the whinge klaxon.

There are a group of people who seem to be adverse to almost all change. I am not among them. My immediate reaction to probably 90% of the changes that come my way is: "Why not?" I am not inclined to dispositional conservatism.

But I understand that impulse. Some people just need a little time to adjust to shifting grounds.

What I do not understand is people who seem to be looking for the next good opportunity to pick a fight. While researching this piece I looked at several sites with comments on the revision.

A recurring theme among people who described themselves as immigrants from the north ran similar to this montage. "I am not the least bit surprised that a macho country like Mexico would dump 
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz from the currency. She was an early feminist. Instead, she  is replaced by the people who oppressed her: dead white males like Hidalgo and Morales."

There are a couple of problems with that level-headed analysis. First, 
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is not being dumped from the currency. She is merely taking a fiscal sabbatical. Her Mona Lisa smile will  be back on the new 100-peso note.
Second, she had died a half-century before either Morelos or Hidalgo were born. I know the "oppressor" accusation is meant to be rhetorical and not necessarily personal. It is true the Catholic church did repress her works and force her to stop writing. But that had nothing to do with either Hidalgo or Morelos. Except for the fact that they were men -- and priests.

And that brings us to the third point -- "white"? I will grant you that Hidalgo was as white as any Hispanic could be. He was the child of a criollo family. But Morelos? He was a mestizo poster boy.
When all of the new notes are issued, this will be the line-up.

The 50-peso note will honor Mexico before the Spanish arrived. The note with the foundation of the enigmatic city-state of Tenochtitlan will be issued in 2022.

The 100-peso note, as you already know, will honor Spain's colonial rule of Mexico. The poet 
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz will be the front woman -- to be issued in 2021.

The 200-peso note is coming out next month featuring two heroes of Mexico's war of independence: 
 Miguel Hidalgo and José María Morelos.

The 500-peso note honoring La Reforma and featuring President Benito Juarez was issued last year.

The 1000-peso note (which we rarely see in these parts) will honor the Mexican Revolution. There were so many national heroes who fought in the revolution (often killing one another), the people to be featured on the bill must have been a difficult choice for the bank. They ended up making three interesting choices: Francisco I. Madero, Hermila Galindo, and Carmen Serdán. I suspect almost all non-Mexicans (and some Mexicans) will be a bit confounded by the choices.

Madero was the presidential first fruit of the revolution. Galindo was a feminist leader during and after the revolution. 
Serdán was a writer and intellectual whose ideas helped spark the 1910 revolution. One man. Two women. The political identity folk should have kept their powder dry.

That note will be issued in 2020.

The Bank of Mexico is also considering whether it needs to issue a 2000-peso note honoring modern history with the faces of diplomat-poet 
Octavio Paz and author-poet Rosario Castellanos. There is no release date.

If the bank does issue the new-denomination note, it will be a mixed bag of economic signals. The bad signal will be that the Bank is not meeting its monetary inflation targets. The good sign will be that, as the economy continues to grow and people become more upwardly mobile, the demand for larger denomination banknotes will increase.

It will also be a signal that the government has effectively abandoned its target to make Mexico less of a cash-oriented economy. Of course, that was the policy of the last government. 

So, here is my suggestion for those of us who use cash here in Mexico. Get ready for a wide range of notes -- all of which are legal tender. I still get the odd Zaragoza 500-peso note in change. The next three years will put new pictures in our pocket.

And, speaking of pockets, you may want to re-enforce yours. With the arrival of more 20-peso coins to replace the 20-peso notes that are being withdrawn, your pockets may bulge a bit.

As for me, once September rolls around, I will be looking for my first Hidalgo-Morelos 200-peso note.

Maybe I will get one in the change I so admire.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

coming in on a wing and a prayer

Jennifer Rose claims she can tell when I am bored.

She has told me (and, I think, she believes it) that I write about insects whenever I need to break out of tedium.

She is wrong. At least, she is partly wrong. I write about insects because they fascinate me. Obviously, more than they fascinate Jennifer.

When we last talked about her disbelief that I am infatuated with insects, I thought of Anne Lamott's description of faith.

My friends like to tell each other that I am not really a born-again Christian. They think of me more along the lines of that old Jonathan Miller routine, when he said, "I'm not really a Jew; I'm Jew-ish." They think I am Christian-ish. But I'm not. I'm just a bad Christian. A bad, born-again Christian. And certainly, like the apostle Peter, I am capable of denying it, of presenting myself as a sort of leftist liberation theology enthusiast and general Jesusy bon vivant.
Insects have topped my list of interests since I was a young lad wandering the coastal hills of southern Oregon. And Mexico has provided me with a parade of insects I have never seen.

Take the guy at the top of this post. I found him attempting to stay afloat in my pool. Rather than let him Jack Dawson, I fished him out with the nearest life-saving device. A can of Raid. And, no, the irony of using an insecticide to save an insects life did not escape me.

What did escape me was a name for this creature. Even though the variety of beetles is staggering, you would think that an amateur entomologist would be able to identify the beetle solely by its proboscis. Jimmy Durante beetle is tempting, but I knew it was a non-starter.

The best I could do with my reference books was an agave weevil. It clearly is a weevil -- with that nose. And the agave weevil is a common pest here in Mexico, where it targets the blue agave that is used in distilling tequila.

There is only one problem. The agave beetle grows no larger than just under an inch. And, unless this guy has an overactive pituitary, he is not an agave weevil. He was about three inches long.

So, I throw the floor open to you. I long ago discovered Mexpatriate readers are a wealth of information. Do you know the name of the beetle?

Speaking of insects with large populations, I thought I would share this photograph with you, as well.

I made a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch last week and took it to the patio to eat my lunch. Somewhere between the kitchen and sitting down, a small piece of cheese must have escaped from the sandwich.

This is what I found the next day.

Ants are an amazing organism. Even though they are individuals creatures, they instinctively act in concert to feed their nests. I always imagine that tiny motivational posters plaster the walls at the exits of their tunnels -- urging them on for the day: "It weighs 100 times more than you. But you can do it."

The ants attempting to move this piece of cheese, or, at least, to carve it up into pieces that can be carried, had no doubt this food windfall could be claimed. And they were correct. By the next day, the cheese was gone.

There is probably a moral in the story of the ants and the beetle. But Solomon has already provided as much as needs be said about the wisdom of ants. And, as for the beetle, he was probably more Ringo Starr than John Lennon.

Jennifer, here you go. I am not bored and I have just shared two more insect tales.

I am not quite certain what that means, but not everything has to have an ending -- happy or not.

Monday, August 26, 2019

tuning up for jesus

Our villages by the sea have their share of religious processions.

That is partly explained by the grasp that Roman Catholicism has on the Mexican people. But, even though Catholicism once held an almost-complete religious monopoly on Mexico, that is no longer true.

Like other countries in Latin America,  Mexicans now practice their Christian faith under other brand names. Evangelicals. Mormons. Seventh-Day Adventists. Jehovah's Witnesses. And the piece of Mexico where I live is no exception.

On Sunday morning, I drive past at least four places of non-Catholic Christian worship. They have two things in common. The congregations are small -- and they are heavily-tilted to the middle class.

As I pulled up to the church where I worship yesterday morning, my path was temporarily blocked by a religious procession. A van softly broadcasting a Christian chorus, followed by about eight boys in white shirts and dark trousers.

I knew the procession was not traditional when two walking guitars passed by. I had to know what was happening.

They took a quick break to adjust their guitar costumes. That gave me my opportunity to indulge in my journalist cross-examination.

It turns out they were from a small church on the highway about three blocks from where we were talking. They were processing through the neighborhood handing our brochures that invited people to their services that morning.

The services were to begin at 10:30 AM. It was now 10. I started to ask if thirty minutes was sufficient warning. Then I realized the church bells at the Catholic church give less warning than that.

If I had not been on my way to an interesting discussion about the parable of the persistent widow, I might have taken them up on the offer.

After all, how often does a talking guitar invite you to church? That must count as some sort of miracle.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

the sun also sets

A Canadian friend asked me last week why I live in Barra de Navidad during the summer.

This is why.

Or it is one reason.

Our beach sunsets during the rainy season are nothing less than spectacular. Certainly, we have nice sunsets in the winter. But the combination of summer clouds and the angle of the sun's light make August a photographer's oasis.

The best photographs, of course, are at the edge of the Pacific where you can snap cliché shots of sunsets framed by sand, surf, and palms.

I did not have the luxury of standing in the sand last night. I was returning to the house from watching Omar play on a soccer team sponsored by Rooster's restaurant when I noticed the sunset off to my left.

The evening had earlier offered rainbows though misty rain. But the grand finale was one of the most colorful sunsets I have yet seen here. There was just the right mix of overcast to reflect a fascinating shade of purple while the lower clouds allowed the sun to partially break through to refract its light across the full color spectrum.

The fact that I had a chicken wire fence in the foreground did not matter. I just stood and appreciated.

At the end of last week, I wanted something different for my evening entertainment. I have become bored with Netflix's offerings of television series. So, I watched five of my DVD movies -- each for different reasons.

Conan the Barbarian, Nicholas and Alexandra, The Man in the Glass Booth, Patton, and The Death of Stalin. That is quite a variety.

I made a double feature out of Patton and The Death of Stalin. Both of them deal with the fight against totalitarianism. The first lionizes one of America's greatest generals in the war that defeated the National Socialists.

The second catches the dark comedy of one of the world's evilest political philosophies trying to survive foibles of its own making. The two films were an interesting contrast. One so earnest it lacks any sense of irony; the other awash in black-comedy satire.

But the film that had the deepest meaning for me was The Man in the Glass Booth -- the 1975 film of Robert Shaw's play exploring the Holocaust and antisemitism. I had watched the DVD only a few months ago. But the rise of antisemitism on the white nationalist right and the far left has been troubling me.

Rather than jump on my soap box, let me reccommend The Man in the Glass Booth to you. After watching it, let's talk.

Until then, enjoy the sunset with me.

Or, if you like, stop by the house and we can watch a movie of your choice. We can then sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the deaths of kings.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

powering down

Our connection with modernity is a thin thread.

Yesterday I was sitting in the patio putting the final touches on my drug rehabilitation essay when I heard it. The emergency generator that powers the communications tower next door.

That meant I had lost electrical power in the house. No refrigeration. No fans. No water pump. And, most importantly for what I was doing, no wifi.

In one second I was rocketed out of the twenty-first century into the nineteenth. It was the exact feeling I had when I was locked outside of the house in my underwear with no telephone and no money.

I knew what had happened yesterday. I told you last September in listening to my symphony about the new bungalows that are being built around the corner from my house. The builders have completed the bones of the structure, and on Thursday our government-owned electrical company (CFE) was on the scene to hook up electricity.

It turned out to be a two-day process. CFE spent Thursday digging up an old utility pole and installing a new one. I assume the crew shut off the neighborhood power Friday morning to finish up their work.

Every country has power outages. When I lived in Salem, PGE (the triple-initial provider of electricity in my part of Oregon) would periodically perform maintenance on the infrastructure. That work required power in large areas to be shut off. The outages were always preceded by a public announcement. Of course, there were also unannounced outages from wind storms and the rare silver thaw.

CFE does not announce its outages. There are probably a lot of reasons for that, particularly cost. I asked a Mexican friend why CFE did not warn customers of its scheduled outages. He asked me what I would do with the information.

He was correct. Other than taking food out of the refrigerator to temporarily store it in ice chests, I doubt I would do anything.

While my refrigerators warmed up and my fans stood still, I drove over to Rooster's in San Patricio to polish and publish my essay. But the power outage did raise a question about my solar power array.

During a normal summer day the panels generate more power than I could possibly use. The excess is transmitted to CFE through the power lines for re-sale.

It occurred to me that no one told me what happens when I no longer have power coming to my house from CFE. This is what I think.

The solar panels continue doing their job generating electricity by providing a dance floor for photons and electrons. But, because the power to my house is turned off, the resulting electricity cannot be transmitted to CFE. The effect is like those college dorm conversations of my benighted youth -- lots of activity, no practical application.

I was thinking about how futile that process is until I also realized as long as the power was turned off to the house, I was not using power myself. Other than the excess credits I lost for the day, it was a power wash.

CFE finished up its work early in the afternoon and switched on the power. This morning it is as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened yesterday.

Those of us who live in Mexico are fortunate to have a regular supply of electricity. There are plenty of places where people do not have electricity or have limited access to it. If you lived in South Sudan, only 5% of your neighbors would have electricity. If you lived in Pakistan, you could expect 75 power outages each month. If you lived in Venezuela, power would be available only limited hours each day -- as is true with Syria.

What encourages me about our outages here is that it reminds me humans can cope without power (as they do in South Sudan, Pakistan, Syria, and Venezuela). It is possible to live without the conveniences that electricity offers.

Of course, that is a bit narcissistic. I might be able to cope temporarily without electricity, but a nation cannot. There are goods to be produced and mouths to be fed. And to do that efficiently requires a power grid that works.

I am happy this morning to see the blinking light on my Telcel modem -- because it means that I get to chat with you.

Just by hitting the publishing button. Now.

Friday, August 23, 2019

signing out

The shot was interesting enough that I did not hesitate in taking it.

Had I paused to think about it, I would not have raised my camera. Logic would have warned me off of taking photographs at a police headquarters.

The sign is posted on the entry gate in Manzanillo’s Public Safety complex. It is printed on paper, but the admonition appears to be permanent. Even though it is a building filled with armed men and women, with a tire and sand barricade in front to provide a defensive shooting site, visitors are requested not to bring their firearms to the party.

But I was not in Manzanillo yesterday on a mission that would have required a firearm. I was there to assist a family who wanted to place a member in a drug rehabilitation center.

My work with methamphetamine addicts in my neighborhood has taught me about our local rehabilitation system. When I was a criminal defense attorney, I learned a lot about the treatment centers north of the border – especially, in Oregon. Almost all of that knowledge has been useless here.

We have two residential addiction treatments in the local area. Both provide residential treatment for a passel of addictions. Alcohol. Marijuana. Cocaine. Heroin. But, the fastest-growing is methamphetamine. And it is one of the most difficult to treat.

At least a score of my friends and acquaintances have ended up inside one center or the other. Almost none of them have gone there voluntarily. They have been placed there by their families.

The places are run like boot camps. Outside visitors are not permitted initially. After the patient has been at the center for a certain period, the family members who placed him there may visit. Any other visitor must be approved by both the family and the director of the center. The reason is simple. To control the addiction, circumstances must be controlled.

What struck me as odd when I first visited one of the centers was that most of the patients are not allowed to leave the property. They are effectively locked in the structure.

My northern attorney instincts bristled when I heard that. To me, it was nothing more than kidnapping and false arrest.

Yesterday I learned the rest of the story. I thought the patients were being held without any judicial order. To a degree I was correct. But there is governmental involvement.

If a family believes a member of their family needs to be effectively incarcerated for an addiction, the family may apply for a letter from the police or a social agency in the state where the potential patient lives. That letter authorizes the family to seize the “patient,” take him to a facility, and keep him there until his treatment is successful. (I use the traditional “he” because most addicts are male. But there are plenty of women who have also fallen foul of methamphetamine addition.)

That is why I was in Manzanillo yesterday at the Public Safety complex. A friend and I had driven there to seek the assistance of DIF (a government social welfare agency) to obtain what sounds to my Anglo-Saxon ears like a writ of attainder.

They could not help. That was why we ended up standing in the arms-free patio of the police headquarters talking with a clerk about the procedure to apply for a letter.

She told us a letter was not required – that any family member could seize and transport a member of their family to a center for involuntary treatment. Because that information was inconsistent with what we had been told in the state of Jalisco (Manzanillo is in Colima), we were both skeptical.

My friend had decided he has performed his due diligence. He is going to round up his vigilante family to corral their recalcitrant member. Their action will be in love. I understand that, but every common law bone in my body aches.

It probably should not. Mexico does not have a common legal system. Until recently, it was a country where “due process of law” was not a central tenet of its judicial proceedings. Its laws are far more Henry VIII than Henry II. Mexico's law is code-based. Napoleonic and Roman. In Mexico, governmental agencies have far more power than they do in common law countries. At least, in theory.

I wish the family well. Weekly I see what addiction to methamphetamine has done to tear apart Mexican families. If one more person can be freed from its clutches, I will rejoice along with the angels in heaven.

Monday, August 19, 2019

the full mexican

I am rather particular about my dining choices.

If I go out to dinner with someone, I am looking forward to scintillating conversation. After all, that is the reason we get together. To learn from one another. To develop personal relations.

What I do not want on those evenings is to dine somewhere featuring a band with its eccentric version of "Proud Mary" with the volume loud enough that I cannot hear any of the wisdom my dining partner is imparting. Fortunately, there are a number of local restaurants who respect their customers' desires to actually hear one another.

But there are nights when I want a Full Mexican. Good Mexican food combined with ear-splitting trumpets and singers who capture the ennui of love won and lost. When that mood hits me (and it  does, now and then), I head off to El Manglito on the lagoon in Barra de Navidad -- where you can get all of that, along with an occasional professional dance couple. I usually celebrate my birthday there.

El Manglito is one of those places that has expanded with its success. As long as I have been going there, a part of its more informal past was evidenced by the placement of its kitchen.

The seating area is on the lagoon side of the street -- with one of the best views in town. But, the small kitchen has been across the street. Its size and location slowed down the order-to-plate-on-table time.

I suspect that did not cut into the place's trade. Most people go to El Manglito for the total ambiance, not for fast food. (Impatience over waiting for food seems to be another of those cultural chasms between northerners and Mexicans.)

I found the waiters carrying hot dishes while dashing between passing cars to be a bit charming. It evoked a simpler time in Barra.

But that sight is about to end.

The owners have been re-modeling the front of the restaurant for most of the year. The bathrooms had been moved from the north side of the building to the south a couple of years ago. And a new façade was added this summer.

I now know why. That portion of the palapa is now devoted to a kitchen so modern that even Gordon Ramsey would be challenged to complain. (Of course, he would, just out of spite.) I suspect service time will be cut appreciably.

After watching the completing touches being added to the kitchen, I am not certain what I think about the new arrangement. Barra de Navidad is not Puerto Vallarta, where restaurants rely on churning customers to maximize profits. El Manglito, like most Mexican restaurants here, are happy to rent their tables as long as diners want to enjoy them. No rush. No push.

I have not been eating away from the house very much for the last year. And I have not been to El Manglito for an even longer time because my favorite waiters (Roto, German, and Christian) are no longer there.

But that sparkling stove is an enticement. Maybe I should celebrate my birthday twice this year. It is the prerogative of the aging.  

Sunday, August 18, 2019

waiter, there's a crab in my hubris

I should know better.

Actually, I do know better -- but I go ahead and do it any way.

Basking in hubris may feel good. But it always comes with a price. And, for a writer, there is no escaping the checkout counter.

Last Saturday, in crabby on the half shell, I related a tale of how certain portions of town are in the midst of crab migration season. If you live in their path, it is a bit like being a spear carrier in a Cecil B. DeMille Bible epic. I think the plague of crabs was somewhere between the frogs and the flies.

Of course, while writing that essay, I could not pass up the opportunity to indulge in just a soupçon of schadenfreude. Having spent six years dealing with crabs in every corner of my house during their migration around the laguna in Villa Obregón, 
I was pleased to report I have not seen a crab in my Barra house in the five years I have lived here.

Apparently, the word went out on the Crab Nebula Network (CNN, you know) that I was missing out on one of Barra's August cultural events. I can no longer declare that the house with no name is free of crabs.

Sunday morning is a bit of a rush for me. These days I have the keys to the church gate. That means I need to be there on time. To cut short my usual morning routine, I dashed over to the kitchen to warm up some rather good black pepper beef stir fry I cooked up the other afternoon.

I noticed something odd as I reached for the slider into the kitchen. Something was hanging on the screen. I have seen that silhouette often enough that I did not hesitate in identifying my morning visitor.

Iy was a crab. One of the small migrators. But what was odd was the fact that it was inside the kitchen with both sliders shut tight.

Because I was not writing a murder mystery, I did not bother dealing with the apparent conundrum. After all, I already told you last week that these crabs manage to squeeze into the smallest of spaces.

After shooting it (just for you), I sent it scuttling across the patio. I suspect I will next see it in some unusual spot -- probably nestled between my underwear and socks.

And on a Sunday morning, what better way is there to start the day than rendering a pot of hubris into a bit of homely humility? 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

the postman honks once

The shuttered post office in Barra de Navidad

Last week I stopped by the post office in San Patricio to pick up my mail.

There is nothing unusual about that. I check my box about once a week to see if the outside world has attempted to contact me. Sometimes, there are greeting cards. But, most often, I receive alumni contribution requests or the odd magazine.

Saul, who had been the postmaster for my first ten years here, retired recently, leaving the place in the hands of his well-trained assistant. When I stopped by last week, there was a new face behind the counter. At least, new in San Patricio. He looked vaguely familiar.

Then, I remembered who he was. The postmaster from the Barra de Navidad office. He was vaguely familiar because I have seen him in the office maybe two or three times.

But he knew me. Rather, he knew my house and address. I thought that was odd because I do not recall him delivering a single piece of mail to the house in the six years I have lived there.

I know the local postmasters have a tradition of substituting for one another for vacations. But the Barra postmaster told me that was not the case last week. He was there because the post office in Barra de Navidad is closed.

That announcement caught me off guard. I usually hear about closures like that before they occur. Granted, I do not hear much news about that post office because I seldom use it.

Thinking my weakness in Spanish verb tenses might have once again caught up with me, I walked down to our rather sorry excuse for a town square where the post office is located. Sure enough. It was shuttered tighter than a Burger King in New Delhi.

I suspect closing the office made economic sense. But I am surprised that the closure would take place under Mexico's current populist president. It is just as likely that so few people use the office that its closure has gone unnoticed.

Like any town wending its way through modernity, Barra de Navidad is changing. Lots of new residential construction -- and even a new Bodega Aurrera in Melaque. Quaintness cedes to upper social mobility. And, somehow, the death of a post office works its way into the mix.

What the consolidation will mean for Barra de Navidad's mail service, I do not know. But I guess we will all find out together. Won't we?

On my walk to the post office, I noticed several changes in town that I will share with you -- along with some old sights seen through new eyes.

Friday, August 16, 2019

better to give

Some moments are too good not to share.

And this is one I want to share with you.

It is just before midnight in Barra de Navidad. This evening had one of those odd weather combinations. Harsh thunder and lightning supported by a brief, soft rain.

The rain has stopped. When heavy rain falls, it momentarily drives down the humidity here.

But not this evening. The warm rain has already started evaporating into what was a comfortably humid day. Within the hour, it will create its own private sauna.

I have finally succumbed to the humidity-reducing virtue of air conditioning in my bedroom. As the years have gone by here, I have become a bit more accustomed to the summer heat. Admittedly the facts that I do not have an outdoor job combined with the fact that I do have a swimming pool have been major contributing factors in my newly-developed coping skills.

None of that mattered, though, as I crossed the patio this evening. The moon, the lines of the house, the various shades of light, all pulled me into a cozy mood. I stood there and appreciated every detail.

I now share it with you. May you enjoy it just as much. 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

kowtowing to the chili

"With 60% of chiles coming from China, NGO promotes domestic ones."

That startling news was the headline of a recent newspaper article passed on to me by a reader in Canada. Startling, not because of the NGO reference (the World Wildlife Fund, in this case), but because of the assertion that 60% of chilies eaten in Mexico are grown in China.

Something did not seem right about that. How is it possible that Mexico, the country that first domesticated the chili pepper and is the source of every Thai, Indian, and Nigerian pepper, is now exporting most of its chilies?

Of course, it would not be entirely inconsistent with current food trade patterns. Even though Mexico was where corn was first domesticated and developed into a food staple for the Americas, Mexico now imports a large portion of its corn from the United States as a result of the good graces of NAFTA.

But, Mexico imports corn because it does not and cannot produce sufficient supplies for its people. That is not true of chilies. Mexico is the largest exporter of chili peppers to the rest of the world. That fact does not correlate with huge imports from China.

So, off I went on some formal and anecdotal research.

It turns out that the "60% import" figure is not new. Agricultural reports and news stories have been using the same figure for well over a decade. But the reference then was to dried chilies.

As part of its export-oriented trade policy, Chinese farmers had started planting Mexican varieties of chili peppers. They would then dry and export their Chinese-grown peppers to Mexico. A decade ago, those dried peppers were undermining the price that Mexican farmers were receiving at market.

This month's headline appears to be a distorted recycling of the old reports. If you want to get the public's attention, grab some old data, modify the information to burnish your sacred cow, and emphasize that whatever is happening is China's doing. (And China is always ready to play its Blofeld role.)

That appears to be what the World Wildlife Fund 
(or the reporter assigned to the article) did. Dropping the reference to dried chilies gave the WWF the apocalyptic tone that is a siren call to the writers of headlines. The goal of the WWF was to preserve the traditional foods of Mexico -- and Chinese-grown dried chilies are not part of the mix.

The WWF does have a point. And a good one. Chilies take on the nutrients of their terroir. And that alters their flavor. Consumers need to be aware where their food comes from.

I did a quick survey of the local grocers. None of them sells fresh chilies from China. They doubt that any fresh Chinese chilies are sold in Mexico. But all of them are aware that the market is awash in Chinese-grown dried chilies.

And that is one of the great ironies of world trade. The China chili pepper headline reminded me of a fascinating story Charles Mann related in 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created.

When Spain opened the Manila galleon route in the 1500s to facilitate Chinese-Spanish trade, goods were shipped from Manila to Acapulco and were then muled across Mexico to Veracruz and shipped to Madrid. Because the system was mercantilistic, none of the goods could be sold in Mexico without first making their way to Madrid where they would then be shipped back to Mexico.

One of the most-prized commodities were the blue and white ceramics manufactured in China. Enterprising entrepreneurs in Puebla pilfered samples of the ceramics in transit, and started copying it with Puebla's high-quality clay. Historians now believe that some of the artists in Puebla were actually Chinese. Some slaves. Some former sailors who had jumped ship, Real Chinese craftsman were creating counterfeit Chinese ceramics.

The blue and white ceramics are still the pride of Puebla. Mann visited Puebla as part of his research for his book. When he interviewed shopkeepers, they "complained the country was fighting an invasion of counterfeits from China -- a Chinese imitation of a Chinese-made Mexican imitation of a Chinese original."

Just like the chili pepper in reverse. Mesoamerican Indians, in what we now know as Mexico, domesticated the chili pepper that the Spanish took to Europe and that the Portuguese spread through Africa and Asia. The Chinese are now growing Mexican-style chilies and exporting them to Mexico.

I am as guilty as anyone for falling into the nostalgia trap. I wish some of Mexico's heirloom tomatoes were readily available at my local markets. We are stuck with the import-ready Safeway variety. On the other hand, I am not certain how I would take to the tiny, yellow tomato the Spanish introduced to Europe -- another of Mexico's domesticated foodstuffs that have spread throughout the world.

My pal Jennifer Rose recently sent me an article that India is undergoing its own back-to-basics cooling methods. The advocates are encouraging Indian cooks to abandon any foods introduced to India by Europeans. Topping the list, of course, are chilies and tomatoes. It is hard for me to imagine Indian food without either one. Oh, yes, and potatoes of all varieties. If the movement prevails, Goa cuisine is doomed.

Both the Indian purists and the World Wildlife Fund come from a different culinary outlook than my own. I am a fusionist. Give me the ingredients, and I will give you a dish. I am not a culinary nationalist. Chinese-grown chilies do not my ping my xenophobia.

Even though I know good cooks use only the best ingredients available, having learned to make great dishes with Safeway tomatoes, I now know when you have to make do, it will be good enough.

Monday, August 12, 2019

the logic of the mad

The artist is undoubtedly mad -- or, at least, mentally tormented.

His name is Jorge. Most of us know him as the disheveled young man who wanders the streets of Barra de Navidad in search of work -- machete in hand and a middle distance stare that sees what the rest of us miss. Or maybe what he sees is simply not there in our restricted frame of reference.

We compliment ourselves by labeling what we see as reality. Jorge sees something different.

He hangs out in a hammock two blocks from my house. Across the street from the Oxxo, where charitable souls buy him the occasional bottle of water. When he is not relying on the kindness of strangers, he will swing in his hammock to the beat of his favorite music played at Mexivolume. Tormented, but content.

I do not know how long his creche with an attitude has accessorized the lot next to his hammock. I probably would not have noticed it had I not stopped to take a photograph of the chair on the opposite side of the barbed wire perimeter. While framing, I saw it.

Combined with the chair, it evinces a certain dadaist air. As if the artist was inviting the observer to sit and ignore his work. Just as most people avoid looking at Jorge. I suspect out of fear that we may discover we are just as tormented.

But ignoring the work misses its power.

It riffs off of a traditional Catholic theme dear to the heart of most Mexicans -- the incarnation of Christ symbolized by plaster of Paris figurines. Or what we northerners call a nativity scene.

Our family had a nativity scene that we would drag from the basement in mid-December. Mary. Joseph. Baby Jesus. Shepherds. Three wise men. Donkey. Cow. Camel. Sheep. All huddled around a cardboard manger. Far more fantastical than scripturally factual. But designed to tell a universal truth.

The Mexican creche is a kissing cousin of its more-restrained and distant European relative. All of the usual suspects will be there. But they will often be joined by Hummel figures, toy soldiers, dogs, crocodiles, and the occasional dinosaur. After all, the idea is to convey the thought that all creation honored the birth of the Messiah whose birth was designed to reconcile a last world with God.

Jorge's version appears to be an amalgamation of the traditional and the postmodern with a bit of green politics thrown in for flavor.

His baby Jesus is not constrained by a manger. With his headband, he is Rambo come to set things right in the world. That Cinderella shoe tells us he is not going to be bound by any cisgender stereotypes. His liberation is for all.

Rambo Jesus has left his meek lambs on the other side of the rainbow bridge while he sallies forth with a far-more appropriate mascot -- a black jaguar. Evil will be put in its proper place. The virtue of recycling is celebrated by the plastic lids and bottles -- some relegated to paradise, others yet to be conquered.

It is quite a powerful work of art.

Now, is that what Jorge intended?

How do I know? How do we ascertain the intent of a tormented mind? Or is the piece designed to remind us that torment may be one of those universal human afflictions.

My interpretation above is, of course, a sardonic take on the critics Tom Wolfe skewered in The Painted Word. But there is some truth buried in that palaver.

Modernist artists may have abandoned "meaning" in their art. When the Belgian surrealist René Magritte was asked what was behind his paintings, he responded: "The wall."

But I still find Marcel Duchamp's observation to be persuasive: "The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act."

Even Picasso, one of the champions of "l'art pour l'art" was sentimental enough to define the purpose of art as "washing the dust of daily life off our souls." Though, that sounds like something he would say to seduce one of his models.

I will confess that I took Jorge's invitation. I sat in the chair facing away from the postmodern creche and contemplated its elements. For one brief moment, I heard Rambo Jesus whisper in my ear: "You are being sucked into the logic of the mad."*

* -- I have been using that quotation for years -- thinking I had created it. But it is not mine. It is Robert Shaw's.

One of my favorite films is The Man in the Glass Booth. It had been years since I watched it. When I watched it again last month, there it was. Straight from Arthur Goldman's lips.

I highly recommend the film. Come to think of it, it reflects the theme of today's essay.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

sanding my consonants

We are our pasts.

At least, we live our lives as if what has shaped us continues to guide us.

In that respect, I am a classical conservative. We are born into a network of obligations (families, communities, institutions) that, in turn, provide order to our lives.

I have a friend, let's call him Josh, who had a rather troubled relationship with his father. Josh's dad was the quintessential American dad -- the guy who knew almost everything about every imaginable topic.  He knew how things operated, and, when they didn't, how to fix them.

Josh adored him. He would take every opportunity to watch his dad fix whatever needed fixing. But he always dreaded his dad would ask him to fetch something. Usually a tool. Josh usually had no idea what his dad wanted.

When asked for a 1/2" box-end wrench, Josh would likely retrieve a ball-peen hammer or a pair of pliers. Nobody had ever taught him the name for tools.

His dad would call him stupid. Eventually, he stopped watching his dad work.

I had my own Josh moment yesterday.

Dora was at the house performing her cleaning miracles. I had asked her to take a look at the cleaning supplies I had just bought at Sam's Club to see if we needed anything else for the house. We always do.

She inventoried the stash and said that we needed "liqua de agua." At least, that is what I thought she said. It could have been "lika de agua." I asked her to repeat the phrase. When I showed no recognition, she explained it was to clean the bathroom. She pointed at a bottle of toilet cleaner and recommended a specific shop in San Patricio.

So, off I went, The proprietress of the shop looked just as bewildered as I had when I told her what I wanted. She speaks Spanish and English, and we exhausted our mutual vocabularies until we decided what I needed was a bottle of Ajax cleanser.

Well, that was not what Dora needed. She went to the bodega and returned with what looked like a small piece of black construction paper.

The moment I touched it, I remembered buying some three or four years ago. It is very fine sand paper. Dora uses it to abrade the calcification that accumulates on the toilet ceramic.

What I heard as "liqua" or "lika" was actually "lija." "Lija de agua."

For most people, the toughest part of any new language is trying to figure out its spoken form. I can read most newspapers in Spanish because of my high school Latin classes. A lot of the grammar and vocabulary are similar. But, read the same article to me aloud, and I will miss a good portion of it.

I thought my greatest difficulty in speaking and listening to Spanish would be the vowels. But once I learned their sounds, they have turned out to be rather straight-forward.

It is the consonants that trip me up. Our German roots in English lead us to pronounce our consonants quite guttural. Especially, the explosive consonants that turn into mere puffs in Spanish. 

I had a perfect opportunity to clarify the word with Dora while I was standing there. But, like Josh, I scurried off hoping that somehow I would return with the correct item.

Why didn't I clarify my confusion? Probably, because I thought I had enough information to complete my mission.

But I think it was something related to my Y chromosome. It may be a cliché, but guys are adverse to asking too many questions. At least, I know I am. And that life-instilled trait comes with a cost.

In this case, the cost was small. I simply walked down the street to our local hardware store and bought five sheets of "lija de agua."

So, what do I do with this new tidbit of knowledge?

First, I should accept it for what it is. I have been indulging in a bit of hubris lately about how my Spanish skills have improved. Most of the compliments come from my Mexican friends. But, it is not absolutely true. If I can miss the subtle difference between a "k" and a "g," I still have a long way to go. (and, no, I have not dismissed the possibility that age-related hearing loss may be a contributing cause.)

The second lesson is far simpler, but probably more difficult to implement. I need to start asking people to clarify points when I am not certain what they just said. I suppose that could also apply to my conversations in English.

I may be able to learn new subjects, but I am still a product of my life.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

crabby on the half-shell

There it was again.

A subtle rhythmic tapping. As sharp as a New Hampshire winter morning.

How did T.S. Eliot put it? "I should have been a pair of ragged claws/Scuttling across the floors of silent seas."

"Scuttling." That is just the right word. The sound that aliens make in those silly UFO movies from the 1980s.

It is once again the day of the crab here. Or, I should say, night of the crab. Because that is when these terrestrial decapods go about their courting business. Crabby goes a'courting.

For the astrological-minded amongst you, that star-charting pseudoscience grasps at the factual straw that the crabs show up here just as Cancer leaves its house -- or whatever the signs do in the jargon of the necromancers.

Every year our streets are filled with the type of clacking that would have set Alfred Hitchcock's imagination fluttering. I suppose it is a combination of the weather change and the never-constant moon.

Whatever it is, platoons of crabs start their migration from their Hobbit homes to the nearest body of water to ensure that we night strollers in July and August will have an evening's entertainment.

When I lived on the laguna in Villa Obregón, I would find the smaller crabs everywhere in the house. They managed to squeeze themselves under the door. Walking around the house barefoot was a tropical occupational hazard.

The larger ones were happy to congregate on my screen door. Had Tippi Hedren lived there, she could have practiced her ice-blonde look of terror. No screaming, of course. Well-bred ladies  do not do that.

I rather like this time of year -- for a lot of reasons. But the crab parade fascinates me. It is not the size of the hordes that interest me, though it is a factor. It is the beauty of each crab.

Take a look at the fellow at the top of this essay. Shades of blues, reds, yellows. He is a veritable primary color chart.

You might notice he is also missing a claw -- and that he is as dead as the Venezuelan economy.

The nightly death toll is high. Dogs. Cars. Coatimundis. Motorcycles. Not every crab gets to raise a happy family.

And that is good. Otherwise, after about three re-generations, we would be kneed deep in August crabs. As much as I like them, even I would find that a bit creepy.

In a week or two, they will be gone. For some reason, there are always a few stragglers during the year. Probably young bachelors who ended up at the wrong party.

When the crabs ground themselves again and the scuttling ceases, it will be time to find another amusement other than crabbing in the dark.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

signing up

Once upon a time there was a hill in a Mexican village named Villa Obregón -- named in honor of a president who did not understand that seeking an additional term in post-Revolution Mexico was a quick way to get enrolled on the assassinated politician list.

But this story does not involve dead politicians. As far as I know. It is about my track record as a prognosticator.

I just finished reading Jan Swafford's Language of the Spirit: An Introduction to Classical Music.  He said he is often asked what the future of serious music will be. His answer was perfect.

A recent study found that when it comes to prognostication, there's no difference between prophecies of the future and random outcomes. Whatever happens, it will not be what anyone predicted, unless by accident.
That was exactly my feeling last week while listening to the various political experts "predicting" the world's future. No one knows. Period.

But, sometimes, we do get it right. Maybe by accident, as Swafford says.

When I moved here eleven years ago, the hill that stars in the first paragraph of this essay sat between the main highway and what I am told is the largest body of fresh water on the Mexican coast.

At one point, it was part of a larger hill. But it was orphaned when the highway was built across the laguna.

The hill was devoid of improvements -- other than a small concrete structure that could have served as a World War Two gun emplacement to hold off the inevitable yanqui invasion. Recently, the grade school had chosen it as a tsunami evacuation site. The view was stunning.

About two years ago, bulldozers appeared on the crest. A Mexican friend (Luis), who is usually a good source of local information, told me the top was being leveled as a site for a home or homes.

When I wrote about that, my American friend John, who is now dead, said Luis was wrong. A rock and gravel company had bought the hill to mine its rocks. It appeared he was correct. Dump truck after dump truck took away the rock until what was once a hill was a mere stub of itself.

Now, we may know the rest of the story. I noticed this week that a sign has been posted on the site selling lots as "Las Palmas Fraccionamiento." Luis may have been correct.

Here is what I do not know. The sign indicates the development is in "San Patricio Melaque, Jalisco." But the hill is not in San Patricio. It sits on land administered by Jaluco. Some may even say it it is in Villa Obregón.

Maybe that is just a technicality. The developers may be relying on the generic use of "Melaque" to describe all of the villages along that part of the bay. Or maybe the sign is advertising a housing development elsewhere in town. If so, I do not know where it would be. I need to check my sources.

My gut tells me "Las Palmas" is where the hill once stood. If so, it is an odd place to build houses. The hill once acted as a wind break for the summer storms that frequently blow through here. I would not want to build a house there (even if it is built on rock) with the prospects of a tidal surge rolling across the laguna.

Then there is the Scylla and Charybdis feel of the place. On one side, the laguna with its mosquitoes and crocodiles. On the other, the only major north-south highway on the Mexican coast -- complete with a parade of trucks that are wont to test their jake brakes just at that point.

Perhaps I am mixing a regret cocktail of 4 parts sour grapes and 1 part nostalgia. I was quite fond of that hill. When I was in high school, I often thought of living atop a similar rocky knoll. That hill would have been perfect with its view of the bay.

But the dream is as dead as the hill. And some families in the future will share a quite different experience on the flats. With any luck, they will make happy homes.

Not every tale has a happy ending. But the former hill holds promise for someone.

And that is an ending happy enough for me today.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

come fly with me

I am back in Barra de Navidad.

In truth, I have been here since Saturday afternoon, but it has taken me some time to straighten out things at the house to give me writing time. I now have time.

How are you doing?

I have a friend who lives here in Mexico who has not been on an airplane for over a decade -- if I correctly recall his tale. Today's essay will undoubtedly elicit a comment that it will be another decade before he flies again.

It is true that airplane travel can be a bit frustrating. Its greatest advantage is getting people somewhere quickly. Airport waiting lounges may look like bus stations of yore, but taking a bus and taking a plane are two different worlds when it comes to saving time.

The biggest complaint I hear from flyers is cramped seats are and scant in-flight services. Of course, we have brought that state of affairs on ourselves by demanding low airfares. And the market has responded. American fliers are blessed with some of the lowest air fares in the world (if you ignore those governments that subsidize their favored national airlines).

But I would agree the result is rather Spartan conditions on-board. Most passengers have learned to accommodate by bringing their own food and entertainment along with them. If that is not sufficient, there are seats in the front of the aircraft that are on offer to afford a more comfortable flight. If you want that type of service for the fare you pay in economy, you must be an American voter.

What we passengers cannot buy at any price is time. And that is what happened on my trip from Redmond to Barra de Navidad this last weekend.

At one point, it was possible to get up early in the morning in Bend and be in my Barra de Navidad house that same afternoon. No longer.

Alaska Airlines cancelled that early morning flight. The drill is now to fly out of Redmond on an afternoon to Portland or Seattle and then connect with a flight to Los Angeles where I spend the night. I usually try to get in early enough to see a little of Los Angeles before going to bed and getting up refreshed the next morning around 6 to catch my flight to Mexico.

That was the plan. If you hear God laughing, you know my plan did not survive its first engagement with the enemy.

When I checked into the Redmond airport, the clerk told me my flight would be delayed about an hour. That was a problem because I only had 45-minutes to catch my connecting flight in Seattle. But there was time enough in the day to catch the next Los Angeles flight. Or so I thought.

My telephone informed me that my connecting flight in Seattle would also be delayed. No need to worry.

The Seattle airport looked as if it was a refugee hub in Istanbul. All of the chairs were filled with glum-faced flyers. Milling passengers blockaded the walkways between gates. No one looked as if this was a fun day at the state fair.

It was a fair that was the problem. Seafair, to be exact. Seattle's summer festival that clogs its streets. And that clogging meant that, for the entire day, flight crews were unable to drive to the airport on time -- just as if they were passengers.

The result was the first flight of the day was late, and it had a cascading effect. When, I arrived in Seattle, my afternoon flight had already been delayed over an hour.

Money cannot buy time. I said that earlier. And the first-class lounge proved it. The place was packed with surly folk. There are few things more dispiriting than hanging out with self-important people whose entitlements have not been satisfied. So, I left.

Mexico has taught me several techniques to deal with these rich-world frustrations. The first is patience. I had no control over the circumstances and I certainly had no lines in the scene. All I had to do was wait for my name to be called.

Because there were no seats to be had, I re-discovered the joy of walking in airports. Even with my 40-pound backpack of electronics looming over my shoulders like a Quasimodo prosthetic, I walked just under 7 miles. Even then, I still had to wait another hour for the boarding to be announced.

I bet you can already guess what happened next when we boarded. After waiting for almost another half-hour, a clerk came on board and removed a passenger who should not have been on the flight. How did he get on board in the first place?

But there was more. The baggage crew now needed to unload the just-loaded luggage to find his suitcase -- and to be certain he had not left behind his pipe bombs -- or, even worse a bottle of shampoo over 4 ounces.
Fortunately, I did not need to catch a connecting flight in Los Angeles. And most of the passengers sitting around me had long ago missed their flights. An Australian Air Force pilot sat next to me. He now needed to kill 20 hours at the Los Angeles airport.

This type of story always has an unexpected, but inevitable twist. While I was sitting at the Redmoind airport, I put my time to good use by booking a room at the LAX Sheraton Four Points. Or I thought I had.

When the shuttle dropped me at the hotel where I usually stay, the clerk told me I had booked myself into a similarly-named hotel four miles away. A cab (with an interesting Armenian driver) whisked me over there. At 2 AM, I slipped into bed -- just an hour earlier than the time I would have gotten out of bed in Bend on the old flight plan. If you did not hear God chuckle, I did.

In a couple of weeks, I will be heading back north for a few days. I was very smug with myself that I would avoid Seafair this time.

I was smug until I noticed I had booked a flight on Labor Day weekend. That is not going to happen.

At least, I can buy a bit of time to change that flight.  

Thursday, August 01, 2019

done and done

I came north to tick off three items on my TO DO list. They are done.

The third item was to surprise my colleague Janelle at her retirement party yesterday in Salem. And I did.

Janelle and I started working at SAIF as trial attorneys 30 years ago. I left 10 years ago. She decided to hang on until yesterday.

There are people we bond with along the journey we call life. I believe that everyone we meet affects our lives to some degree. Others change the trajectory of who we become. Janelle is one of the latter.

We worked together on the same trial team for several years. When we started there, the workload was incredible. Monthly we would receive up to 40 new cases a month.

To cope with the tension, we developed a little workplace game. At the time, Murphy Brown had just started its popular television run. The series centered around an attractive journalist (Murphy Brown) who was as hard-driving as she was ethical. I suspect the artifice began because there was never any doubt that Janelle was Murphy walking amongst us.

There were two male supporting roles: Jim, the older anchor who provided stability to the team, and Frank, the younger, highly neurotic reporter. I always wanted to be Jim. Janelle tagged me as Frank.

And that was fine with me. The level-headed Jim was how I saw myself. But Frank was Janelle's buddy. And that far better-suited the relationship I had with Janelle.

Since I retired, I have been back to the SAIF building only three times. I have never regretted retiring. But I must admit there is a little of the fire horse sent out to pasture still in my soul. Reminiscing about cases piqued my lawyerly interest yesterday.

However, I was not there as an attorney. Or even a fellow retiree.

I was there as Frank -- watching Murph take a victory lap before shutting down her computer for the last time.

For Janelle, it is time to enjoy retirement. I know she will.