The Odd Pot

All shrugged out

I MET AYN Rand, briefly, at a talk she gave in 1963. It was in a smallish meeting room in a second-floor walk-up in San Francisco. I was 19 years old.

I do not recall the circumstances of being there. I had not read Rand and only knew she was famous, and the talk was free. She was there with her sidekick Nathaniel Brandon.

Flash forward more than half a century. About a month ago, I decided to read Atlas Shrugged, her magnum opus. I skipped the warm-up novel, The Fountainhead, which is somewhat less wordy, and went directly to the 1,188-page Shrug.

One of my few conscious objectives on retiring 17 years ago was to read more books. I have always been a reader, but I decided to do even more. Before retiring, I had generally avoided extremely long books for no better reason than shiftlessness.

Plus, it interfered with my drinking.

Since moving over the Rio Bravo, however, and sobering up, I turned to some really lengthy works. War and Peace, Anna Karenina, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, etc.

All great books and, brother, are they long.

Tolstoy, I like. Dostoyevsky, not so much. I bogged down in Crime and Punishment. I made even less progress with One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I tried to read long before moving to Mexico. Maybe I should try again, but doubt I will.

Back to Ayn Rand. She’s famous, so I thought I should read her main work. I bought it on Kindle for under $5.

And I dove right in.

A wag described Rand’s works as twice as long as phone books and half as interesting. Shrug was interesting enough to hold my attention but just barely. A couple of times I decided to abandon the effort, but I soldiered on … and on … and on …

Until this week. I made it 67 percent of the way through. Kindle tells you that. I can go no further, pooped out.

Rand’s take on things is not complicated. She calls it Objectivism. You owe nobody anything, and nobody owes you anything. There is nothing metaphysical, no afterlife, no way to know anything except by reason. Your main interest should be yourself.

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My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.

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It was surprising to see her curse notions (in 1957) that today are known as political correctness. For instance, the requirement to embrace the “correct” opinions and even, to a degree, the proper personal pronouns.

Rand and I do, however, share quite a few values of the libertarian stripe —  an aversion to taxes, a love of capitalism, minimal government and a dislike of obligatory altruism, something that should be a personal choice.

But I also believe in an afterlife. Rand did not.

Rand and I are polar opposites of Pocahontas Warren, Red Bernie, Crooked Hillary, Screaming Dean, Weepy Barry and all the other heroes of today’s Democrat Party, the party of income redistribution and pink “pussy hats.”

But if you’re ever tempted to read Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead, I suggest you go instead to CliffsNotes.

Edición dominical

Just like home

SEVENTEEN YEARS ago when I packed my two bags and flew to Mexico alone to reinvent myself in late middle age, I arrived in a spectacularly strange world.

Many of the things I was accustomed to simply were not available down here, and most of those things were commercial. I am a fan of capitalism and the goodies it offers.

Flash forward from 2000 to 2017 and — oh, my — how things have changed. Just about anything you can buy above the Rio Bravo is now available Down Mejico Way.

There is even a Mexican version of Amazon.com even though I much prefer our homegrown MercadoLibre.

The list of Gringo chain stores in Mexico is too lengthy to repeat here, and it seems to grow longer each year.*

I was particularly delighted when Bed Bath & Beyond, one of my favorite stores when I lived up north, opened recently in the nearby state capital. I shop there often.

There are eight BB&Bs in Mexico. Six are in Mexico City or its environs. A seventh is in Cuernavaca, the not-too-distant Mexico City playground,  and the eighth is in our capital city, the only one relatively remote from Mexico City.

Why were we chosen over the considerably larger burgs of Guadalajara or Monterrey? God knows.

Mexico commercially improves on a daily basis. You can now get most of what is available to the Gringos up north. Plus, we have great tacos, fresh avocados and beautiful babes.

Best of both worlds.

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* Very incomplete list: Best Buy, Sears, Costco, Walmart, McDonald’s, Burger King, Chili’s, Sirloin Stockade, iHop, Home Depot, Office Depot, Office Max, KFC, DQ, Starbucks.

(Note: We don’t depend entirely on the Gringos for great shopping. For example, the Mexican chain El Palacio de Hierro — The Iron Palace — will knock your high-end socks off, especially the flagship store in Mexico City’s Polanco.)

Mexican life

Unemployed 17 years

scene
Pastoral scene not too far from the Hacienda.

JUST EIGHT weeks shy of reaching 17 years of no paid employment. Me, that is.

If someone had told me at, say, the age of 40 that I would retire at 55 and, 17 years later, would be living in a lovely Hacienda on a Mexican mountaintop in good health with a child bride, speaking Spanish all day, I would have said:

Yeah, sure. In my wildest dreams.

Yet stuff happens. I would not have believed it, that such good fortune would fall atop my head, but it did.

One reads of people who retire, usually men, and then drop dead a year later, often out of sheer boredom, having lost their reason to live, their job. But I’m not that person.

I’ve never been bored in my adult life. Not a moment.

How does one survive that long with no paying job? I do it with a combination of capitalism and socialism. I profited from the roaring stock market of the 1990s, plus I have a corporate pension, although it’s a puny one.

And then there is Social Security, the socialist element.

None of the above would have been enough were it not for the final element: moving to Mexico. One reads that living in Mexico is not as cheap as it was “in the old days.” Maybe, but it’s sure way cheaper than living in the United States.

Seems like it’s every week that I read about the ever-soaring medical insurance premiums the Gringos have to pay for the ObamaCare scam, the “you can keep your doctor” and “you can keep your current plan” bamboozle.

And the taxes! Lordy, what taxes, especially property taxes in some areas, and paying taxes for those unionized schools that turn out young, brainwashed airheads.

I was sitting at a sidewalk table on the plaza yesterday with a hot café Americano negro, reading a book, when I paused and looked at the cobblestone street and the red-clay roofs, and I thought to myself: Boy, you’re one lucky sumbitch.

Mexican life

Another cord cut

IT SAT IN my email folder at dawn on Monday. Your account has been canceled. Your credit card, that is.

My last Gringo card. Zapped for inactivity.

I moved south 16 years ago with four credit cards, all issued by U.S. institutions and all paid in full every month via the checking account I opened in 1999 at Banamex USA,* the U.S. branch of the Mexican behemoth Banamex.

I’d been a longtime Wells Fargo Bank customer, but I was planning my move to Mexico.

sailor-knot-9-ana-maria-edulescuThe four cards were a Wells Fargo Mastercard, an AT&T Universal Visa and two other Visas from another bank, somewhere in the Dakotas, the name of which I have long forgotten.

The two Visas from the Dakota bank were the first to go. I had to cancel them both 12 years ago after one was skyjacked by Sky cable television down here. Never give Sky your credit card number for recurring charges.

That is very good advice for most Mexican firms.

That left me with two credit cards, which didn’t concern me.

A few years later, Wells Fargo sent a renewal card to my post office box here. But due to living in Mexico — a shady land, you know — they insisted I go to a bank here and jump through all manner of hoops to prove I am who I am.

Screw that, I muttered to myself as I cut up the card.

That left me with just one card, the AT&T Universal Visa. I was starting to get a little nervous. To have a backup, I went to Banamex here where I had a checking account and requested a credit card. They gave me one with a $10 limit, only a slight exaggeration, and there was a fat annual fee too.

About a year later, I got a hair up my keister about something, and I canceled the card. I hadn’t used it much.

So, back to just one credit card.

THE LETTER

Then the letter came in 2014 from Banamex USA. Your checking account will be canceled shortly. That happened due to a new U.S. law known by its initials, FATCA.

It’s all Barry Obama’s fault, of course.

Banamex USA was my only way to pay off the U.S. credit card. No other option existed.  I do not now qualify for another U.S. bank account. No U.S. address or driver’s license.

That effectively nulled my last credit card. But I never canceled it because, I thought, maybe one day I might need it, though I could not imagine how, where or why. I held onto the account, my final Gringo credit card, a lifeline.

There was no annual fee.

For many months, I was left only with a Banamex debit card, which is not as secure as a credit card, especially online.

I asked for my Banamex credit card again. They wouldn’t reissue it. It was due to FATCA, but they danced around that fact. Irked, I canceled my Banamex account that I’d had for 14 years. They didn’t seem to give a hoot.

Heartless, greedy capitalists!

HUNTING ALTERNATIVES

I opened a checking account just up the street at HSBC-Mexico. I asked for a credit card. Not just yet, they told me. Later maybe. Later came and went. No credit card.

So I went even farther up the street and opened a checking account at Bancomer, still keeping the one at HSBC. Again, I requested a credit card. Wait three months, they said. I waited, and they gave me a credit card. Yipee!

And another for my child bride. For this and other reasons, I’ve become a yuuuge** Bancomer booster.

I requested a credit card from HSBC many times, and they always said no with little explanation. I gave up. Months later, out of the blue, they asked if I wanted one.

I said sure. Go figger.

So now I have credit cards at both Bancomer and HSBC. I also had my AT&T Visa, the Gringo card, till this week, useless as it was, an emotional tie to the old country.

Gone now, like so many other cards and cords.

FORGET AMERICA

My goal these days is to have as little to do with that troubled land above the border as possible. The norm, it seems, for Americans living in Mexico is the opposite, to keep connected to the greatest degree possible.

They keep bank accounts, addresses, homes, relatives. You name it, they keep it. Their Mexican ties seem tenuous.

They’re always visiting up north. They’re always having friends bring down “stuff” they can’t find here, stuff they think they can’t live without. Someone recently posted on a Yahoo forum catering to local Gringos a list of “essential” stuff one needs from above the Rio Bravo. I guffawed.

  1. Workshop tools, as if you cannot find tools in Mexico.
  2. Down comforters, as if Costco doesn’t offer them, and so does Bed, Bath & Beyond.
  3. Mosquito nets, as if they’re not easy to find here.
  4. Smartphones. We Mexicans still use tin cans and string.
  5. Up-to-date laptops. Best Buy, Walmart, Sears, etc., in Mexico just sell crusty Commodores and dusty Ataris.
  6. Linens “to fit your bed.” Somehow, my Mexican linens always fit my beds, both king and queen.
  7. Walking sticks. Certainly, no walking sticks can be found here. I wonder where I found mine?
  8. Good binoculars. Only defective binoculars are sold in Mexico, of course, leftovers from pirate times.

That’s just some of the stuff I saw on the list, all of which is available in Mexico. Do they cost a bit more at times? Sure, but factor in your minuscule electric bill and fresh, cheap veggies and low restaurant tabs, you’re way ahead.

And the beautiful women.

I don’t go north anymore, nor do I have things smuggled down. It ain’t necessary. You can live quite well here with what’s available, and that’s what I try to do.

And now I have no Gringo credit cards at all.

If you read all this, you’re a better man than I am.

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* Banamex USA is closing entirely this year. There has long been talk of its involvement in money laundering. HSBC’s reputation along those lines isn’t much better.

** Trump allusion.

(Note: There is a Mexican credit bureau. It has no connection with credit bureaus in the United States, so you start from scratch below the border no matter how good or bad a credit rating you had in the United States.)