Archives for the month of: June, 2015

Sahuayo is without question the least pretty place that I have ever lived in my life. But thankfully pretty doesn’t matter to me much anymore.

Sahuayo is also a town without much culture. Jiquilpan, just 7 km. south of here, has tons more culture. Their public library has 10 giant murals painted by that seriously famous Mexican realist master, Jose Clemente Orozco. And their library actually has books (unlike ours).

But for better or worse I have come to love this town. Not the town so much as the people.

A typical day. I went to Mercado for lunch. I stopped outside and picked up a fresh squeezed orange/carrot juice from Alberto’s stand. He’s 73 years old and still works 7 days a week just like his two sisters. I then ducked inside for three tacos at Beto’s carnitas place.

One taco was chopped up crunchy pig’s ear (which by the way has now replaced gelatinous snout as my favorite). Another was pig spleen. And the other one was made from some of that always delectable rib meat. Like most fondas Beto keeps his condiments out on the counter so I put on the finishing touches by doctoring them up with avocado, onion, serrano chilis, and sliced radishes.

Beto’s is my favorite carnitas place in town. And there are dozens and dozens to choose from. Maybe because he only boils his pig parts in the finest and freshest rendered lard. That’s what he says anyway every time that I’ve complimented him. And I like the guy. He is an affable 40-something year old man with a bit of a pot belly who for reasons unknown to me has one extremely gorgeous wife.

While eating my tacos, Pancho stopped for a quick chat. Much more the aficionado, Pancho favors carnitas tacos from closeby El Chino’s but maintains that Chelis, out on the boulevard, makes better carnitas plates. In just a short exchange I learned that he kept his cantina open until 4 am. He was a bit haggard around the eyes – on his best days he looks a lot like the French actor, Jean Reno – but still managed to have a smile on his face in spite of the 100 hour work weeks he puts in. He shops in the Mercado every single day for the food that he serves at his cantina. What would take 15 minutes to buy in a modern grocery store takes him at least three times that given all the different stops and all the people he visits with along the way.

After Pancho left, Eva came round to give me a kiss. This is something she usually does which positively charms me to no end. Her father, Mario has a birria stand just around the corner from Beto’s and his adorable 4 year old daughter keeps him company most afternoons when she isn’t racing around the Mercado playing with two or three other little girls.

On my way out of the Mercado I got to visit for a few minutes with Jose, one of the fastest runners in all of central Mexico. Then I saw his equally fast running buddy, Manuel just a few minutes later. He tooted the horn on his scooter at me as he sped past, waving and smiling furiously.

On my way up the hill I stopped into the lavenderia and got to hold my six month old little buddy, Edgar for a few minutes. The ladies there look after him part of the day and probably don’t even get paid for it. His parents live upstairs in a beautiful apartment. Dad works. Mom is stay at home. And grandpa owns the building. I’ve come to notice that smiling little Edgar gets passed around like a football. And it’s become apparent that he likes getting held by the women more than me. Even at only six months he’s no dummy.

Little Edgar is a prime example of why people here are so socially oriented. Kids here aren’t kept locked up and fed electronica. Nope. Everyone here lives very outside, very social lives. Maybe the perfect climate is the enabler. I don’t know. What I do know is that I see a town full of laughing, playing little kids. Beautiful women and warm friendly men.

The last thing I saw before I closed my gate was my 90 year old neighbor talking to another old woman on the corner. And my neighbor had her hand gently resting on the other woman’s shoulder. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if those two women hadn’t known each other their whole lives.

It has actually brought tears to my eyes when one of these old women in my neighborhood has taken my hand in theirs and leaned up to give me a kiss on the cheek; smiling, radiating some unfathomable joy and happiness.

I can feel like crap from something I’ve seen in the news or a nasty I’ve gotten via email. But ten minutes out the door and on the street. A few handshakes. A pat or two on the shoulder. Some smiles. A kiss on the cheek. And here in Mexico I’m a happy man.

It has taken me fifty some odd years and almost three years living in Mexico to finally come to grips with work. And it’s been a long and contentious road my friend.

Growing up, work was viewed as an obligation. Work was something that you did because you had to. Work was mandated by parents. Work wasn’t viewed as something to be enjoyed. Work was drudgery. In the summer as a little kid I worked in the garden. In the fall I raked leaves. In the winter I shoveled snow. The gardens were big. So were the yards and there were lots of trees. And six months of winter meant there was lots of snow.

At eleven I was told by my old man that I was old enough to get an outside job. I somehow managed to get a much coveted paper route. So Monday through Saturday I delivered 65 papers a day. If everyone paid I was awarded the princely sum of $7.00 a week, which worked out to be $0.50 per hour. I still had all of my home chores to do in addition to all the seasonal work. And of course there was school.

At thirteen I spent a summer caddying. At fourteen I was washing dishes in restaurants. Then busing tables at fifteen. Worked as a bellhop at sixteen. Waited tables at seventeen. Bartending at eighteen.

Then life had me pounding nails and pouring concrete at nineteen which financially speaking was a huge step up in the menial skills department. I was making a whopping $3.50 an hour as a junior carpenter flunky where before I was earning $1.60 in the restaurant trade.

Oh, did I mention that I was on my own trying to support myself? That I got kicked out of the house 2 days after I turned seventeen? While I was still in high school? With that in consideration, have another look at those poverty level wages.

In my little town in Northern Michigan there were few opportunities. It was a resort town where rich people from mostly Chicago and Detroit had huge summer cottages on Lake Michigan. We were 250 miles to the nearest big city so the job spectrum was very narrow. There was the local hospital, the courthouse, retail stores and gift shops, restaurants, and construction jobs. That was about it. Being a gangster wasn’t even a career possibility as petty crime was limited to shoplifting, breaking and entering, or holding up the occasional gas station.

By 1973 it became readily apparent that my future wasn’t going to play out well regardless of my charm, wit, or pleasing smile. I had no family. No connections. No skills. And most important, I had no education.

My future was scarily starting to shape forevermore as to be just another member of the working poor. That meant subsisting on unreliable construction jobs in the warmer months, the occasional side job, and drinking away the winter like everyone else on the allotted six months of unemployment insurance.

Now granted my life wasn’t exactly garbage picker poor as in New Delhi dirt poor kind of poor, but socio-economically speaking, in the United States I was living at the lowest rung on the ladder. For example, I was so poor in the summer of ’74 that I lived in a place with drunks and some of those others that had hit the bottom so hard that the best we could afford was a $25/week room in a flophouse. And I lived there for 4 months.

Needless to say I had a huge hard-on for authority, rich people, and working menial jobs for starvation wages. But then one cold fall afternoon on a day long after the leaves had fallen from the trees I received a check in the mail – my first student loan – so by January of 1975 I was attending classes at NMU.

As I’ve mentioned before, university was a deal changer for me. It was there that I was able to get a exposure to a wider range of philosophical protocols. My image of the world – and my future in it – expanded greatly. I spent 5 semesters trying on different aspects of the liberal arts which proved to be useful in the short-term but I couldn’t see that kind of education as offered up at NMU as the place for gathering the necessary tools for the long-term.So I needed a better plan.

By 1978 I convinced myself and more importantly my girlfriend that the future lay far away to the south in the Great State of Texas. So in the fall of ’78 we moved to Corpus Christi. After the move my girlfriend promptly re-enrolled in the local university while I floundered around working at this and that before finally landing a job working as an apprentice pen and ink draftsman for a mechanical engineering company. And it was love at first sight.

I worked my ass off and got promoted to a different position with more money. Then I changed companies a year later and got even more money. Then a year and a half later I got an offer from another company and doubled my salary. I loved engineering and industrial construction so much that I was taking classes at the local junior college to get my math skills up to par.

After about another year I quit my job and enrolled full-time at the closest university that had an engineering school. I decided on electrical engineering and I loved every minute of it so I studied my ass off and graduated in the top 20 of my class three years later.

In ’88 California called and I accepted a job with Intel. And so it was that my girlfriend (then wife), baby daughter and I moved. Sadly, it wasn’t long before I began to hate Intel.

In Texas I had always worked for engineers. Whereas at Intel I ended up working for business majors and consequently hated just about every single minute of it. I could never reconcile their business processes – or their business objectives – with the actual true work of getting systems designed, built, tested and implemented. I stuck with them for ten years mostly because I got to do a lot of interesting work in a bunch of different countries.

But still it wasn’t meant to be. And just like with my subsequent divorce, it has taken the past 15 years to finally understand that it wasn’t their fault. It was mine. I could sum it up by saying it was all about seriously mismatched expectations. That said, I should have never left Texas. Never left oil and gas. And made sure that my career involved only reporting to other engineers.

But the siren song of electronics had called. And like a fool I answered.

So from 1989 on (or thereabouts) my career was always an unhappy struggle. I always wanted to please the product or the project where instead I should have paid more attention to management and their political realities. As I recited in an earlier post, “It’s not what (or how well) you do that matters. It’s the perception of what you do that counts;” or so said a very senior Intel manager during one of my performance reviews.

It wasn’t until I bailed out of the workforce in ’99 to take an extended 5 year sabbatical did I begin to earnestly question the nature of work and what it meant to me. And so I learned, that while yes, I needed to earn a living (however modest), but more importantly I discovered that I needed to work. Which for me – money and work, even while related – turned out to be two entirely different things.

Anyway, I did a lot of reading and studying and thinking those 5 years of sabbatical that I spent in the mountains of western North Carolina partly spent building a house. And at some point I stumbled upon, “Ho, everyone that thirsts, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do you spend your money for that which is not bread? And your labor for that which satisfies not?”

Those words got me thinking in an entirely different direction. Like maybe work was something that should be sought after inasmuch as it was originally created to be an activity from which men could find satisfaction. And maybe a more meaningful existence could be found through this satisfaction of labor.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We all still need to earn a living don’t we? So we work. And we get paid for our work. That is all conventional wisdom and as such is what we accept as being economically speaking – unimpeachable.

But just what if the whole idea of work for pay was never the intention that the Creator had for his creation? What if at the advent of creation that man could buy wine and milk without money and without price? What if fruit just fell from the trees and could be picked from the ground without labor or charge?

So just what if labor in this once perfect world was something entirely removed from the economics of day to day life? Such as what if that labor done by man were instead intrinsically linked to acts of creation? I find the thought of that appealing.

For my atheist friends, I’ll ask you to take the creation aspect out of the equation and instead ask you to envision some same type of world. Like think Borges meets Utopia mishmash.

Respective of what I just said, I still believe that labor which isn’t satisfying is just a job. The same kind of work that I grew to hate as a child. And after all these many years of hating work I have recently discovered that I need to labor. I need to make things. Build things. Test things. I want my life to be such that every morning when I get out of bed to know deep inside that today is a brand new day with new opportunities to do new things.

Dylan said it best for me “That he not busy being born is busy dying…”

It is truly gratifying to find a large cockroach lying tits up on my kitchen floor twitching its last twitches.

Sugar and boric acid; elixir for one of the shitting and annoying pestilences of our life.

It is too bad that we can’t eradicate other irritable pests in our lives as easily.

Honey? Would you like a teaspoon of sugar with your tea?

I live. Although somewhere other than where I once was.

And in the esteemed words of my brother, Bob, “I travel to be there.”

For now, I am in Mexico.

I wrote the preceding sentences last night in a first attempt to hack my way through what I presumed to be the differences that separated traveling, living, and being a tourist.

It is now morning. The sun has not yet made an appearance. The street is quiet. And a strong cup of black coffee sits before me on the table. The conclusions I drew turned out to be surprisingly clear although my approach admittedly was somewhat oblique.

Like I had a thought this morning just as I was getting out of bed about the next door neighbor’s 2 year old girl who gets so wonderfully excited every time she sees me. But she doesn’t get excited because she is seeing me. No. She gets excited because I am seeing her.

Descartes quite possibly might never have said, “I think, therefore I am”, if he would have know just how bastardized his single most famous saying would be used in the future.  Like now when I think that it could be reasoned that his utterance on the significance of thought was man’s principal preceding all else act of creativity.

Man thinks. He reasons. He conjures new ideas in his mind. (But perhaps it is noteworthy to pause to say that nothing really counts until he writes it down).

Paul Theroux, after much lengthy travel and observation, once said something to the effect that tourists were those who were on such a short junket that they had temporarily abrogated their responsibilities. Hmm.

Traveling must therefore be a longer term venture. And those doing the traveling must have some proverbial skin in the game (aka responsibilities).

So to wrap this narrative up, next month I’ll celebrate my third anniversary of a traveler living in Mexico. I only use traveler in the least romantic sense meaning as someone who doesn’t belong here. Meaning one of those lost displaced souls who has been moving around for so long that he mostly lost the capability to stop.

However there has been some knowledge gained. Surrounded by this immense background of foreignness called Mexico, I have discovered a few things. Personal things. Like the true meaning of work; a subject worthy of a post all its own. And then the related absurdity of vacations.

And watching these wonderful Mexican people as they go about their day to day lives to see just what living really is.

I found a new place to live. While only four blocks east and one block north; It is nonetheless an entirely different neighborhood. It sits over a boutique on a side street in the heart of downtown. And because it is on a side street, it should be way quieter than the main thoroughfare that I currently live on.

The new place is pretty cool with another spectacular view; just like my present place (but different). So in this new place I’ve got the second, third, and fourth floors plus the roof. Cool, huh? That is if you can handle the stairs.

The second floor will be the office/workroom; it’s about 600 sf and has a half bath. The third floor is kitchen/dining/living area with a half bath. And get this – unlike my present house it actually has real useable counter-tops in the way of an island. Upgrade!

The fourth floor has two bedrooms and a full bath. And get this – unlike my present house it actually has built in closets with shelves! All three floors have glass/metal doors opening onto balconies.

And then there is the rooftop. Glorious! Another 600 sf – all outdoor living space – and it’s all mine. The views are 300 degrees. Total south view, total east, total west and partial views of the north. So I’ll still be able to watch those magnificent rainy season storms sweep across the valley to the east.

So why the change? It’s mostly the noise thing. The nonstop traffic racing up Victoria St. My neighbor’s penchant of loud banda music. And the early morning fireworks from the cathedral just a block above me have all conspired these past two and a half years to shred all my nerves into over-attenuated bloody ends.

And the place is a fortress. By renting the second floor office in addition to the apartment on the upper floors, I have the only key to the solid metal door at street level. And both buildings on either side are two stories shorter. So a potential thief would have to repel up two stories to attempt a break in through the rooftop metal door.

This is hugely more secure than my present ground level kitchen door. Although it did manage two years back to keep my then neighbors, the master criminals, Raoul and son from gaining entry.

Size wise the new place is smaller than my present place; kind of. I currently have 3 floors at 900 sf each for a total of 2700 sf. But not all of that is useable. Half the first floor is garage which I don’t use. I sleep in one back bedroom on the second floor. And my living has all been done on the third floor. Which is evenly divided between a southern facing living area/workroom/study and a north facing open air terrace. So only about half the space of the entire house is useable.

The new place has 3 floors at about 600 sf each; all useable. Plus the terrace on the roof which adds another 600 sf of important outdoor living. So that’s 2400 sf.

Do I need that much space? Heavens no. But the cost is the same as for the old place. Keep in mind this is Mexico. And I am in one of those towns that is so far off the gringo trail where the prices are ridiculously inexpensive. You couldn’t rent a broken down single-wide mobile home in rural Kentucky for anywhere near this kind of money.

And even in spite of the never ending stream of staircases I have to say I am very partial to the new floor plan. The office/workroom on the second floor should at the very least serve to act as a efficient sound barrier to some of the street level noise; which sits over what appears to be a mostly quiet boutique.

The bedrooms sit on the highest level and are situated back from the street. And I like the idea of the food and living areas being on their own separate level; in their own separate space.

Mexican residential architecture never ceases to amaze me. To a certain extent it’s much like Asian city residential architecture in that you never know what you’ll see when you open that street facing door and look inward.

It could be a hallway followed by sun drenched garden with the living areas sitting all the way to the back. Or it could be first some living areas then a garden followed by more living areas. It has been my experience that sometimes the ugliest damn street facing walls contain palaces within.

Using brick as a building material – not to mention the lack of mostly nonexistent building codes – tends to free the mind from conventional floor plans.

With brick, if you can imagine it, you can build it.

The key article was ‘Engineering Shortage Persists: India still holds sway in software‘.

My original comment was centered around the byline of the article, that India was the place to open engineering centers – specifically software development centers – because of the huge salary differential between them and places like the EU or US.

A common thread that runs through many of these articles are sub-discussions about the state of the engineering profession itself. And so I said something to the effect that if I was beginning a technology career in this early part of the 21st century it would be in the bio-sciences and not electrical engineering.

Someone replied to my comment suggesting that bio-science people had job security issues like everyone else.

My reply to that was “In my opinion, there is one single significant difference between the career paths of present day electrical engineering and the biological sciences. And that is one of commoditization. Electrical engineers these days have been relegated to being no more than a hot-swappable, border indifferent commodity. This hasn’t happened yet with bio-technology.”

PS – I still admire engineering as a discipline but not so much as a career.

“The fewer limitations that the artist places on his work, the less chance he has for artistic success.”    A. Solzhenitsyn

“Everything that is exact is short.”    E. Manet

“There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in proportion.”    E.A. Poe

“I am disappointed in you for believing what appears to be the obvious. And I am angry with myself for leading you to that conclusion.”    California  4-20-94

“Even the soundest of arguments are silenced by the word, ‘no’.”    California  5-06-94

“One of the most beautiful things about starting over is that you get to throw so many things away.”    California – North Carolina  6-03-99

“One of the single most things I find attractive about the sport of running is that there is nothing that you can buy that will make you a better runner. It’s not a lifestyle that one can buy with anything other than sweat or sore muscles.”    North Carolina  3-24-06

“Living in a [large American] city at some point one realizes that a gunshot wound is no further than a small misunderstanding away.”    Washington, DC  Spring 2006

“Liberals are moral cowards. Embracing everything. Defending nothing.”    Washington, DC  8-05-07

“The comforts of a modern society shelter us from the existential challenges we need to define ourselves.”    Washington, DC   5-15-07

“No one can ever argue with correct behavior.”    Mexico  2012

When I was a child it was all about questions. I was one question after another. In retrospect I must have thought that I could discover the world around me by asking people questions.

Then as a teenager, I increasingly turned to books. The answers that people were giving me all started taking on the same empty kind of sameness. So instead I read. Lots and lots and lots of books.

That turned out to have been an easy thing to do as I spent half my young life grounded (aka confined to my bedroom). I had no money with which to buy books so it was fortunate for me that the public library system at that time was first rate.

By the time I hit my ’30s I began to discover that most of the things that people told me were either half-truths born of ignorance or inexperience or out and out lies.

I started to get really cynical in my ’40s when [theoretically] midway into my career I realized that I knew more about my job than the managers I reported to. Managers proved themselves to be politically self-serving; not the removers of obstacles and barriers as they professed to be. One manager at Intel actually told me, “It’s not what you get done that counts. It’s the perception of what you do that really matters.” I appreciated the candor but I never really much liked Intel after that.

In my ’50s I began to spend more quiet time alone. This was pretty easy to do as I am still single (once divorced) and live alone. I exiled myself on many occasions to foreign places and discovered that I liked it. I found that in the unfamiliar cultural surroundings that I was better able to hear that quiet voice of reason in my head.

These days I much prefer silence to the noise of most people’s company. And I really don’t much listen to music anymore. Too much of what passes as popular music is just more soul-sucking interfering noise that infers with my ponderings.

But I can listen to Corelli, Bach, and Telemann over and over again. I refer to the products of all three as ‘God music’. I feel like how can a person listen to music with the heaven touching heights of Bach without sensing the presence of The Almighty?

As I approach my 60th I can unequivocally say that talk is cheap. I’ve been kissed and lied to so many times that in the immortal words of Solomon, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

My mother once told me that the only thing that she could never forgive of her children was if they turned their backs on her. And also that while friends may come and go, family was forever. Sadly, even that turned out to be a lie.

PS – My advice to anyone one out there listening, don’t tell people who you are. Show people who you are. Don’t just stand there talking, do something. Like do your job. Be honest in your dealing with others. Meditate on integrity. And participate in justice.

PPS – I personally think the third most off putting thing about Christianity is that many Christians talk talk talk but don’t do. For instance, there is no demonstrable changed life. And forgiveness is only a concept. And it’s mono-directional at that. It comes from God but not extended much on earth.

This was the very first car I owned. The classic 1965, 23 window VW Minibus. It literally had 23 windows and it was that sheer idiotic number of windows that made this particular minibus iconic. I for one especially loved the four Apollo 13 space windows that flanked either side of the roof.

1965 minibus

Mine was identical to this one including having the rollback canvas sunroof. Look close in the photo and you can see it.

My friends called it the Green Turtle for good reason. Besides being painted mostly in some indigestible inorganic shade of green, it also had a top speed of just 55-60 mph.

The stick shift lever was 3 feet long. And the steering wheel was something like 2 feet in diameter.

The change signals were so huge that we’d often turn the headlights off at night, turn on the emergency flashers, and drive to the pulsing orange flashes. Those were for those magically shroomy Jefferson Starship moments.

Thinking about that, it had a radio but I don’t remember if it worked. I was too poor to buy an 8-track tape deck so maybe it was tuneless. Who knows? But it didn’t seem to matter much.

I remember one time after the bars closed at 2 am to taking the Green Turtle to the sidewalks. Then onto lawns. Through backyards. It was all so hysterically funny that we were all giggling like morons as each legally non-drivable barrier was breached.

We imagined the civilians lying in their bedclothes as we stealthed through their yards in the middle of the night. Laughing ourselves stupid as we envisioned the outrage as they woke up the following morning seeing tire tracks running across their once well manicured lawns.

I paid $400 for it way back in ’73. Today, fully restored its more like $80K.

It was then and remains [always] the definitive hippie bus.

I loved the damn thing even long after it blew up on the way back from a outdoor party at the Fire Towers. It was a great party. A monumental party. Lots of kids and lots of kegs.

I remember someone that night handing me an industrial sized marine distress flare. I popped the top and slapped the bottom and the rocket within wobbled as it clawed its way out of the tube before settling into a graceful steep arc that led almost straight up into the night sky. I held the canister too loosely so it surprised me on launch as tube just about shook itself out of my hand.

I stood there for a short spell holding the empty launch tube immensely grateful that I hadn’t blown my head off.

The rocket went up 150-200 meters where it ignited, lighting up the entire sky in a blood orange light before it gently descended sputtering to earth tethered to its parachute.

We all thought that was the coolest thing ever.

Maybe it was the steep hills. Or maybe it was because I had too many passengers. Or maybe the eight year old 40 HP air-cooled engine was just too wore out. Who knows? But it blew up just the same.

Much as it behooved me, I finally let Kenny Fettig beg it off me for $250. And the poor man that I was went back to hitchhiking for a spell.