Tuesday, September 26, 2017

the infernal city

On one of my recent forays north, I thumbed through a stack of photographs from my last visit to Rome.

Everything was there that makes Rome Rome. Piazzas. Sunshine. Fountains.

It occurred to me that I do not need to fly to Rome to experience the Roman experience. I have it right here in Barra de Navidad.

Through my screen, I can see the eyes rolling now. Sun? Certainly. Piazzas? To a degree. But, Steve, fountains? Really?

For those who doubt our little tourist village has fountains, just wait until it rains. Admittedly, it takes a heavy rain. Like the ones we have had over the past two weeks. But fountains we have.

Some of our infrastructure here is a bit dodgy. Including the sewers. During the best of times (when the pumps are running and the sand has been dredged out of the pipes and it is not raining and visitors do not clog the pipes with wads of toilet paper flushed down the toilet), our sewers work. Most of the time.

change any of those circumstances, and we have trouble.

Not that it matters in practice, but we have two separate sewer systems in Barra de Navidad. One serves the housing development known as the fraccioniamento. That system is supposed to be run by a now-moribund housing association. It works through voluntary fees and volunteer help.

The rest of Barra, including my house in the barrio, is served by a sewer system operated by the county.

I say that the division does not matter in practice because both systems feed into one another. When one has a problem, so does the other.

And those problems are most visible during heavy rains. We do not have a division between storm and sewage systems. Most of the rain water attempts to drain into the sewage system -- until it is overwhelmed.

That is when we get our fountains. Water burbles up through the manholes. Water that is a mixture of rain and sewage. And when it burbles, the only-slightly diluted sewage water runs down our streets toward the lagoon.

At least 24 hours after the rain stopped, the manholes were still geysering.

Then the sun came out. The combination of the heat and the pervasive methane made me wonder if I had started with the wrong analogy. Barra is far more Venice -- with its canals and smells -- than it is Rome.

And what is being done about it? For about thirty years, the local politicians have been kicking the can down the road -- much as did the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations with North Korea. The good news is that our sewer system will not result in a nuclera explosion. I hope.

No hay remedio seems to be our sewage motto.

If so, we can enjoy the beauty of our small Trevis.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

dressing down sex

So, there I was walking through Ross Dress for Less in Salem looking for a black linen unstructured jacket.

My friend Nancy swears that great bargains are nestled amongst the dross. I have yet to find any. But I often find great photographs.

Just like this one.

The sign on the wall quite clearly declared I was standing in the boys section. But I was surrounded by frilly dresses, patterned pants-top outfits, and garishly-colored boots.

Before I could catch myself, I asked: "What self-respecting boy would wear something like this?" Fortunately, I did not say it out loud. One never knows where the thought police lurk.

I will gladly confess I am a card-carrying purveyor of the cisgendered heresy. That, of course, would put paid to my dream of entering Reed College. If I ever had one.

Reed, if you did not know, is known as being one of America's more liberal and studious campuses. If you have a great Wittgenstein pun, this is the place to exercise it. As long as you do it with caution.

Reed is under siege. Not from the right. Why would they bother? But from the left. For going on two years, a small group of radical Reed students have been shouting down or closing lectures attended by their fellow students.

The crime? Humanity courses are "eurocentric." A poetry course, taught by a multi-race lesbian, because she was a "race traitor," "anti-black," "a sex crime ableist," and "a gaslighter." She now claims to suffer from post trauma stress disorder and doubts she can teach the course again.

This is all old news. It is the type of self-indulgent behavior that rich countries exhibit when they no longer have true daily problems.

Mexico does not have time for that nonsense. This is a country where a young woman can call her best friend "La Gorda" because she is fat or a man can call his chum "El Chaparro" because he is of diminished stature.

And they do. No one cries or ends up in therapy. (Mind you, I would be careful not to use certain appellations in the company of drunk men of any nationality.)

But there is a similarity to Mexico. I suspect the sign at Ross did not get changed because the store needed additional space for girls' clothing. And no one bothered to change the "boys" sign.

And the same can (and does) happen in Mexico. It is not unusual, at the Manzanillo Walmart, to find cases of beer stacked under the sign for automotive supplies.

Come to think of it, that may not be a mistake. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

booking the odds

I am buying books these days.

Text books. High school text books.

No, I am not going through reversion therapy as a result of my high school reunion -- longing for the smell of a long-neglected hall locker on a hot spring day.

I have volunteered to help a friend successfully get through high school. His name is Omar -- and I will introduce you to him in the near future. He is one of those young people you meet now and then who you know has a good future ahead of him. If some topes can be flattened out.

One of those speed bumps is money. He just started preparatoria -- the equivalent of senior high school up north. Grades 10, 11, and 12. Or, for those of us who refuse to be drafted into the politically correct crowd: sophomore, junior, senior.

His is in Melaque, run by the University of Guadalajara. The short name is "prepa." And that is just what it is -- a prep school. Just like Groton. Sorta. Complete with uniforms and an interesting curriculum.

The photograph is of the textbooks for his courses during a portion of this semester. Communication skills. Physics. Mathematics. Art appreciation. Health. English. The type of courses I took when I was his age.

The cost of those six books was just under $1,000 (Mx) (about $57 (US)). That seemed reasonable to me. But that is only one packet. If I understood correctly, there are four packets each year.

An annual cost of just over $200 (US) for books is not startling to me. I make check book balancing errors in that range. But, this is a kid who works as a waiter as many days a week as he can while attending school. Four thousand pesos is a lot of money to him.

His goal? He wants to do well enough in prepa that he can qualify to attend one of Mexico's  dental schools. It was that ambition and drive that caught my attention. Anyone who is willing to help himself that much to better his station in life deserves a bit of help.

And, so, I will do what I can. I will also keep you posted on Omar's progress. Even if he decides that dentistry is not his ultimate dream, it will be something else. But he will succeed.

He is that type of guy. You can book on it.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

coleopterist wanted

Nope. It is not what you are thinking. I don't need anyone probing my colon.

What I would like is a bit of assistance in identifying today's guest insect. Because of my limited access to internet, I have not been able to take advantage of the archival treasures of Google.

Just by looking at this specimen, I know it is an insect (the six legs are a give away), and it is a beetle (the hard wing coverings). But past that, I am at a loss.

It is a beauty -- almost five inches long and hefty. I found its carcass on the upstairs terrace after one of our rains. I suspect it was pummeled from the sky.

Its mouth parts are what make it interesting to me -- similar to those rams on the front of Roman trimenes. Think Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur.

I may have encountered one on my nightly walks. Three weeks ago, I had almost made it to my front door when something substantial hit my forehead. I thought I had been stung by a wasp. But, when I looked in the mirror, there were two abrasions. Wasps are not blessed with double stingers.

So, here is your chance to get that extra credit in your post-graduate biology course. What is the name of this beetle?

Who knows? A prize may await the first correct answer.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

someone's got my goat

Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed something is awry in the photographs I posted about our recent rainstorms.

One of the more interesting attributes of living in my neighborhood is the Noah's ark of farm animals that live nearby. Chickens. Fighting cocks. Ducks. Turkeys. Donkeys. Horses. We have them all.

For the three years I have lived here, goats  have been my neighbors on the vacant lot across the street. I call it Goat Island. It is not an island. And the goats? They are no more.

During its lifetime, the herd ranged from one to five. But the cycle has been the same. The goats arrived young, fattened up on grass and weeds, and were whisked away to meet their destiny as birria -- a popular Jalisco stew with a spicy kick.

The last two goats were a nanny and her new-born kid (just kidding -- this time). The owners shipped the goats off to simmer camp in late April. Since then, we have been goatless in Barra. At least, my part of Barra. There is still a large herd that is driven from lot to lot in my neighborhood.

And because the lot is tropical, without the goats, the grass is well over my head. The goats did a great job of keeping it mowed at ankle level.

They did a far better job than the neighbor boys who showed up in their campesino outfits -- complete with hats and machetes -- around noon. At 12:05, they had wisely retreated from the day's heat. Even the goats would have been searching for shade on a day like this.

Me? I am sitting under my new umbrella in the storm path of a floor plan while waiting for the Telmex technician to show up. He was supposed to be here between 9 and 1. It is now 2. That means another call. And another frustrating wait.

For now, though, the pool sounds like a far better idea.

Goats or no goats.

 Note -- I wrote this essay yesterday. The Telmex guy never showed up. And I now know why.

I am part of a much larger problem. For at least a radius of 5 blocks around my house (if not more), no one has telephone or internet service. That has been true since last Wednesday.

When I told a neighbor we should get a discount, he laughed hysterically. As Lily Tomlin would say: "We don't care. We don't have to. 
We're the telephone company. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

dead a la modem

There is a reason Mexpatriate has gone dark for a couple of days -- and may remain so for a few more.

I flew back to Manzanillo on Saturday afternoon. The flight went well, but my arrival had two surprises. When I returned from Oregon a month ago, I was welcomed by a shredded umbrella. On Saturday, it was the sound of silence.

To be more precise, it was the sound of silence of my telephone and modem.

When my friend Ruette picked me up at the airport, she told me we had experienced an enormous thunderstorm in Barra de Navidad earlier in the week. A lightning strike had taken out her modem.

She was not alone. When I tried to link with my wifi, I found nothing. A little troubleshooting indicated the modem was not connecting with the internet. And my telephone had no signal.

I have been here before. When I lived in Villa Obregon, I lost all of my electronics that were hooked to my telephone line. The culprit was lightning.

So, I knew the drill. I had to get a Telmex customer service representative on the telephone. She would then ask me to take a series of actions -- turn the modem power off and on, reset the modem, remove all of the connections and restore them -- to determine if I needed a modem or not.

I did all of that. The fact that the modem smelled of smoke was not encouraging.

First thing this morning, I called the Telmex 800 number on my cell phone, and waited 42 minutes for an answer. When the customer service representative came on line, we struggled with my Spanish for about 15 minutes. Things were going well until we came to an action I could not translate.

I wanted to avoid talking with an English-speaking representative. But I finally surrendered and requested one. The phone rang twice, then it switched to a busy signal. I was disconnected.

I called again, but hung up after waiting for 32 minutes. Next time, I will have an assistant on my quest.

As for the telephone, I bought a cheap unit to be certain my line is still working. If it is not, I will need to schedule a visit from the Telmex man.

The reason I am telling you this tale of woes is that until my line is restored, Mexpatriate will be on vacation. I am writing this through the good graces of Rooster's. But that is not going to be my final solution.

Instead of writing, I will catch up on my reading and cool my heels in the pool.

Going dark is not necessarily all bad.

Saturday, September 16, 2017


OK. I give up.

Thomas Wolfe is correct. You never can go home again.

And I know why. Because, while you were not looking, home moved away.

That Columbus moment came to me while I was getting in my steps yesterday morning. Highway 99 once was the main north-south corridor in Oregon before I-5 was built.

My family lived two country blocks west of the highway's commercial district, and I lived a good deal of my life in those few blocks. My memories are still there, but most of the places I grew up with fifty years ago are gone. Or have been, to use the trendy abomination, repurposed.

Take First State Bank. Well, Key Bank did just that long ago. But, in 1960, the bank manager, Dick Jones, needed someone to weed the landscaping. My dad had just the man for the job -- his eleven-year old son he had named Steve.

My dad was a big believer that work not only built character; it was the very essence of character, the reason we exist. He would have been a friend of Aristotle. He early taught me that a good citizen could find fulfillment only as a giver, and not as a taker.

The bank once had rows of landscaping. It has now given way to minimalism after being assaulted by waves of asphalt. As you can see in the photograph at the top, the weeding job would now be a snap.

But that was not my only job on the highway. During the summer of 1967, while waiting for college to begin, I started my first legitimate job where taxes and social security were withheld from my paycheck. (I have been a conservative ever since.) At McDonald's.

Between the bank job and filtering soft drinks through trapped flies and bees, I earned money as a newspaper delivery boy, a mower and tender of lawns, and a newspaper shagger (don't ask). All are what we would now call part of the informal economy.

But in June 1967, I was hired by McDonald's -- a new employer in our area. I loved everything about that experience. My pal Rod Behrens joined me in the work. We had great fun last night reminiscing about how much fun it was. And what we learned about work.

Today? It is this.

The golden arches have been pawned. All That Glitters. One of several pawn shops in my old neighborhood. The presence of pawn shops is never a harbinger that areas are on the upswing. The place ceased to be a McDonald's seventeen years ago.

A block away is another food shrine. The Imperial Garden introduced me to Chinese food that had zing. Until then, my family had eaten only in Chinese restaurants that trafficed in Cantonese -- the equivalent of oriental rest home food.

The Imperial Garden served spicy food. A culinary affectation I still champion.

Before the Imperial Garden moved in, the building housed Sambo's restaurant -- complete with paintings of an Indian boy, tigers, butter, and pancakes. (If you know the child's book of a similar name, you understand the imagery.)

The name could not withstand the advances in racial awreness of the 1960s and 1970s. It was apparent the restaurant would not survive. And, it didn't. Instead of a pancake house with south Asian iconography, we received a palace of Chinese  flavors. It was a fair trade.

And it is still there.

What is not still there was the company that introduced me to pizza. Shakey's. It was just across the street from the Imperial Garden.

My high school friend (and co-playwright) Jay Myers introduced me to Portuguese linguica. I had never tasted it before. And I now never order pizza without it -- along with pepperoni, kalamatas, and anchovies.

Like McDonald's, Shakey's is long gone. But the building is still there. In the guise of one of the restaurant-bars that try to serve a bit of this and that.

I suspect I was introduced to Mexican food at home. You may have been as well. Through one of those taco kits with the hard shells.

But I learned to enjoy Jalisco cuisine at El Tapatio, tucked between McDonald's and Shakey's in a small strip mall. Colette and I enjoyed many a meal there. And it is still where I left it when I moved away from Milwaukike in 1991.

But my favorite eatery on Highway 99 (or McLoughlin Boulevard, as we knew it) was Lew's Long Coney Islands. It was a favorite teen hangout -- complete with a cigarette machine.

A diner, it was not. The original operation was effectively a shack housing the kitchen with a couple of uncovered picnic tables. Most people would grab their meals and drive home. Mine was always the same: chip steak sandwich, crinkle fries, and a cherry ice cream soda.

All of that changed when Lew decided to build a proper restaurant to serve his food. It was never the same. Far too fancy for what came out of the kitchen. Informality was the charm of the original place.

Before long, Lew retired. I seriously considered buying the restaurant. Instead, one of my clients did. I ended up merely writing the contract.

Over time, the restaurant changed hands. Candidate Obama stopped buy to eat a weiner. But every time I visited, the food declined.

Even knowing that, I still looked forward yesterday to lunching on a coney island (the chip steak sandwiches had disappeared decades ago). When I rounded the corner onto McLoughlin, it was gone. Not just Lew's. The entire building.

In its place was a shiny new pizza place. I didn't bother stopping. Nor did I snap a shot. What was the point? Lew's was gone. Another part of my youth run over by the steamroller of time.

At my reunion last night, most of our conversations centered around the years we had shared together. Some of us, all the way from grade school through high school.

Our high school graduating class had less than 200 members. My friend Janis had prepared a memorial of our classmates who have died. Twenty-eight.

I have no idea if that is average or not. But it is sobering. Twenty-eight people with whom I shared memories are gone. Just like McDonald's and Lew's. And, before long, that list will include all of the names that once graced our grauation program.

But that day is not today. I am on my way back to Barra de Navidad -- having been refreshed by an evening recalling that our shared past still survives.

And Thomas Wolfe is ahead on points.