A decade gone by

2014-01-10-The-TENIT WAS 10 YEARS ago about now when I was last in the United States. I don’t recall if it was just before or just after Obama’s first inauguration. I prefer to think it was before, so I can say I never set foot in Weepy Barry’s America.

There was no Black Lives Matter or Antifa, and SJW had not been invented yet. There was social strife and victimhood because multiculturalism had been boneheadedly promoted long before I departed, but nowhere near the absurd level that now exists. But I had never voted Republican.

My Democrats were not rioting in the streets. Nor were they prone to hysterics. They were more sensible people.

Visiting outside your native land is a strange sensation. Living in a world so different than that which sprouted you is odder still. Though I’m a Mexican citizen and almost never speak English, I don’t fit in below the border.

I just have to live with that. A price to pay, well worth it.

Quite a few Americans live in Mexico. The Mexican government puts the number at around 750,000, though you see much higher numbers on the internet, stated by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

From what I read on internet forums, etc., most Americans (expats, a term I never apply to myself) in Mexico visit their homeland on a regular basis, as do Canadians. It’s like a siren call, but I’m deaf to it.

There are reasons. One is it’s very expensive up there. Two is that America has become a disappointment to me. (Former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy recently described contemporary American culture as vulgar and slipping into moral relativism.) Three is that it’s dangerous up there. Four is there’s nothing above the border that I need.

The last time I left Mexico was in 2012 when we flew to Cuba, which is a miserable place, but it was interesting. We’ll never do that again.

The last time I was in my old hometown of Houston was either 2007 or 2008. It had changed a lot since I left in January 2000. I imagine I would be flabbergasted to see it now.

Like San Miguel de Allende, where no more Mexicans live, Houston might be the flip side, where no more Americans live, just Mexicans.

And the last visit to another old hometown, New Orleans, was 2006, about a year after Hurricane Katrina. The city was a mess.

There are some things I miss about America. Fall foliage in Atlanta. Floating in the crystal clear Sabinal River in the Hill Country of Texas not far from the town of Utopia. Hot bowls of Vietnamese pho in Houston.

But America lacks some things I enjoy here. Cows on highway overpasses. The bray of burros in the distance or just down the street. Dogs on house roofs. Real cobblestone streets. Inexpensive living. Gonging of the church bell from the plaza. Hummingbirds sitting on my aloe vera.

Lovely brown-skinned babes. One of whom I married.

I cannot imagine I’ll ever visit the United States again. When I left America I was a youngster of 55, wet behind the ears. Later this year, I’ll turn 75, mold behind the ears. It’s been quite a ride.

Beheading Birds of Paradise

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Survivors. Birds of Paradise who made the cut … or didn’t.

THIS SUNDAY MORNING, I awoke and thought of Sundays of Long Ago, specifically when I was married to my second wife and living in Houston.

We had a routine. I’d retrieve the fat Houston Chronicle from the lawn, pour coffee for the two of us — maybe we ate something too, can’t recall — and back to bed we went for an hour or more, reading the newspaper. It was fun.

I wonder if the Houston Chronicle still publishes a print edition. The world has changed so much in the past two decades. Another former employer, The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, does not. It’s only online.

Just like me.

But this morning, here at the Hacienda, a far cry from Houston and New Orleans in all aspects, after coffee and bagels and cream cheese (lite), I went out the veranda door to do a bit of yardwork.

Madeleine Peyroux was still singing on the music machine.

I deadheaded a few Birds of Paradise. I whacked back one of the small bougainvilleas. I picked up rotting golden datura blooms from the ground in the Willy-Nilly Zone. And I cut stalks of defunct aloe vera flowers.

The weather was wonderful, and it appears the rainy season, which long overstayed its welcome this year, may have retired till June. I pray so.

We have plenty of work planned around here,* and it awaits the genuine end of the rainy season because it’s outdoor work. Not work I will do, of course. Work that people I employ will do, guys who do cement and stone.

And colonial tile.

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Potted plants sitting on a scruffy surface. But you just wait!

There are three arches in the veranda, as you can see in the photo. There are potted plants resting on the three ledges below. They sit on a dingy brick surface. In about a week, a guy will come and lay beautiful colonial tile. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this 15 years ago or even last year.

It will be a huge — Yuge! — improvement. I’ll post photos.

In the meantime, I wonder if my second ex-wife still reads the Sunday newspaper in bed. I almost emailed her this morning to inquire. But I didn’t.

* * * *

* More work than has been done by far since the Hacienda’s construction. Roofs will be razed. Stairs will be moved. Floors will be ripped up. The Jesus Patio will be destroyed. Fruit trees will fall. More on all that when it happens.

The lights go out

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Down thataway on the edge of our plaza.

IT WAS 10:30 this morning when my child bride came back from the butcher shop just down the street and told me the electricity would be cut soon and wouldn’t be back on till 2 p.m.

Somebody had told the butcher, and the butcher told her.

Whenever a native tells you something is going to happen at a specific hour, feel free to roll your eyeballs. It could happen at any time.

But turning the electricity off came quickly, about 10 minutes after she returned. Blap! Everything was off. Were it not daytime, we would have been in darkness. As it happened, we were in dimness.

On the rare occasions this happened in Houston, for maintenance, the light company would leave a note on all the houses in the neighborhood the previous day. In Mexico, however, they prefer to surprise you.

Were it not for the butcher, we would have been surprised.

I poked my head out the front gate. There were light-company trucks all over the place. The job at hand was to pull a new cable from down on the left to up on the right, about two long blocks, to the neighborhood plaza.

Electric service in our hardscrabble barrio is pretty reliable. Not as reliable as it was in Houston, but pretty darn reliable, and for a tiny fraction of the price. We pay the peso equivalent of about 12 bucks a month.

The power was restored by 2:20 p.m. Just 20 minutes later than promised.

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And just outside the Hacienda’s gate.

Lotsa wives, lotsa in-laws

AS YOU MAY know, I’ve been married three times. That means I’ve had three fathers-in-law and three mothers-in-law. This can be a good thing or not.

Let’s look at my in-laws because it’s the in-laws who created the wives.

* * * *

Buddy and Violet

My first in-laws lived in a shack in the woods of Louisiana on the outer reaches of New Orleans. Well, not exactly the woods, but it was close to it.

It looked like a shack in the woods. A car motor slept on the floor of the living room, and as you sat on the toilet you could see the ground through a hole in the floor between your legs. The shack sat on stumpy brick pilings.

There was ancient grease on the kitchen ceiling.

My father-in-law was a carpenter when sober and a raging drunk when not. He was more the latter than the former. In spite of this, he and I always got along fine, not because we were drinking buddies because this was before I started drinking.

And I never drank like him. He was a world champ, and I never rose above bush-league status. My first father-in-law was named Durward, but everyone called him Buddy or Bud. Maybe it was after Budweiser.

Buddy was a beer man, 100 percent.

To his credit, in late middle age, Buddy went cold-turkey, completely on the wagon, and he never drank again. When sober, he was charming. He was also a wonderful artist.

His wife was named Violet. She mostly bore up. It was a life of endurance. I liked her. She never drank at all that I recall.

* * * *

Art and Dorothy

My second in-laws lived in a big, beautiful house in St. Louis, Mo. You couldn’t see the ground through a hole in the floor in any of their bathrooms.

I don’t recall exactly how they came to live in that lovely house because my in-laws didn’t buy it. Someone bought it for them. I forget the details.

Art was a schizophrenic who spent long periods institutionalized. He’d be released on occasion, and my second wife-to-be would find herself with another sibling. Release, baby. Release, baby and so on. They were Catholics.

People who breed.

When he wasn’t in the mental hospital, he was a lathe operator, apparently a very good one. He finally was put on lithium and spent the rest of his life very subdued. Dorothy, who always welcomed him home with open arms and open legs, worked, but I don’t recall exactly what, something to do with offices.

They had ten children. My second ex-wife was the first of the litter.

I don’t recall meeting Art more than once. We lived in New Orleans and later Houston, and we never went to St. Louis but one time.

* * * *

Carlos and Margarita

I never met my third set of in-laws because they died before I came upon the Mexican scene, but I hear good things about them. They were neither drunks nor schizophrenics.

They were hard-working folks.

They had one thing in common with my second in-laws, however. They were fertile, producing five babies. There definitely would have been more had not Margarita died in labor while having her final child. She was just 31.

Carlos was a doctor, a general practitioner and surgeon in Los Reyes, Michoacán. He remarried and went on to produce another six babies, well, that we know of.

The doc was a lover. A heart attack killed him when he was 61.

I would have liked to meet my third set of in-laws, if for no other reason than they produced the best — for me — wife of the lot. Carlos was not fond of Gringos, I’m told, but that was true of the whole family. My charm brought them around.

* * * *

One’s roots

It’s said that one’s childhood plays a large role in forming the adult. I put more stock into this idea than many folks do. I believe the effect is enormous.

I look back on my in-laws and later the problems I had with their children, my wives. And I look at my parents and see issues my former wives had with me.

With luck, you mellow as you age. I think that’s why my child bride has few problems with me. I have none with her.