Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I'm a little behind on a lot of things.  One of them is my blog.  Another of them is probably your blog.

Sorry about that.

I did find time to create a slide from the pictures I took on Halloween night. (There were supposed to have been sound effects. Don't know where they went.)

We had fun. Handed out candy, took pictures and ordered pizza. I like Halloween. No one asks anything of me but some candy. All the entertainment is provided by others.

One of my most fave things about my 'hood is the kids on Halloween. Generally, I'm not a big fan of kids but I do like them on Halloween.

I really like Halloween.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


At work today, someone brought the following video clip to my attention. And yes, it was completely work-related (I’m fortunate enough to have a job where I get to watch video clips all day).

Go ahead, watch. I’ll wait.

I don’t think I’ve ever laughed harder at a video clip in my life, and I’ve seen a lot of funny video clips. The kids are completely bummed at this turn of events and the clueless mom is completely bummed at the kids’ refusal to grant her the expression of joy and appreciation that she had so anticipated. Everyone goes from happy and excited to miserable and angry.

Sooooo . . . . . why do I love this clip? Am I just a hateful, bitter codger happy to see others unhappy? Maybe. But I think I like it because it’s so painfully honest.

No matter what you do for your children, no matter how much you try to give them a life that you imagine will make them happy, they are bound to disappoint you. They will NEVER give you the satisfying reaction that you crave. They can never live up to your expectations. It's unfair of you to believe that they will.

From the child’s point of view, your parents will never understand you. They will never know who you are or what you want. They will never know how to give you what you need because they live in a different world and they just don’t get it. You want something from them. You know you want something from them and you always hope that they’ll know exactly what it is. But they don’t. They can’t. They can only see what they want you to want.

Or maybe not. Maybe that’s just me, and those poor kids who just wanted to go to Dick’s house.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Obama! A Modern U.S. President

Just this once, let's have a little fun.

Thank you, Mr. Gilbert! Thank you, Mr. Sullivan!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Don't Take Out the Recycling

Or if you do, flip through the paper first and make sure there's nothing important in there.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Don't Make Everyone Lose

I don't like to steal from other blogs, but I saw this video on Andrew Utter's* blog for The Mother of Invention Acting School and if you haven't seen it yet you should:

So vote. Do it. Do it in person or do it by mail.

Do it as many times as you dare.**

As always, it's all up to you.

*Thanks, Andrew!

** just kidding about that one part.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Where Have I Been?

Here.  I've just been here.  But I've been busy- with  classes, with friends, with work.

And I've been fasting for almost a week, so I'm kind of tired, too tired to blog.  Too tired to formulate a coherent thought.  Too tired to stay up until 3 am typing anything that might make sense the next day.

Maybe staying up until 3 am for too many nights is what led to being tired to begin with.  Maybe staying up too late made me gain weight to begin with.  They say sleep deprivation leads to weight gain.

But doctors are always wanting me to get more exercise.  When I say I don't have time, they suggest I find time.  One doctor actually told me that she gets up at 5 am so she can exercise.  Good for her.  I'm sure she leaves the office at 5 pm.  I don't leave work at 5 pm and I sure don't leave my bed at 5 am.  Or not for the joy of exercise, anyway.  Maybe to catch a plane or in the event of an earthquake.  Otherwise, not so much.

And what's the point if getting the exercise just makes me more sleep deprived?

Someone recently said to me that the French get some things right.  They sure do.  I think they get a lot of things right.

So that's where I've been.  Here.  Fasting.  Sleeping.  Walking around in a fog. 

Waiting for something to say.

In case you were wondering.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

Appliances 101

I saw this article in the New York Times this week.  To cut to the chase, you're probably using all your appliances all wrong.  You're wasting soap in your dishwasher and your washing machine and generally causing unnecessary wear and tear on all your household appliances.  So stop it.

My husband is a remarkably organized man.  He has all our appliance manuals in a single place.  He knows where to find any of them at any given time.  BUT . . . before putting them away, he also reads them.  Or he at least gives them a good skim.

When I buy something, I never put the manuals away because I'm always intending to read them.  But the truth is, my life is so exciting and so glamorous, I never actually get around to reading the manuals.  There's always something better to do or read (or write).  Eventually, I'll realize that I've been using the device for so long without reading any instructions that it's completely unnecessary.

I bought a new cell phone in July.  My old phone was practically an antique so there are a lot of features to catch up on.  I think I saw the manual under a stack of magazines (in a laundry basket) last week.  At this point, there is no point to reading it.  I make calls.  I answer calls.  I have no idea what to do with the few pictures I've taken with the phone.  Why do I even want to take pictures with my phone?  I carry a real camera around all the time anyway.  And no, I've never read the camera's manual either and I seem to be doing just fine if the pictures on this blog are any indication. 

As far as how much detergent to use in my dishwasher, I figure that line is there for a reason.  With the washing machine, I wing it.  More soap for a bigger load, less for a smaller one.  I don't need a master's degree to figure that out. However, I think I might try out this test in the article:
. . . to determine if you’re oversoaping. Take four to six clean bath towels, put them in your front-loading washing machine (one towel for a top loader). Don’t add any detergent or fabric softener. Switch to the hot water setting and medium wash and run it for about five minutes.
Check for soap suds. If you don’t see any suds right away, turn off the machine and see if there is any soapy residue. If you see suds or residue, it is soap coming out of your clothes from the last wash.

This bit from the article seemed pointless: Load large items at the sides and back of the dishwasher so that they don’t block water and detergent from reaching other dishes.

Raise your hand if you hadn't figure that one out.  

But this is a new idea (or new to me)
Also, remove baked on food and large chunks, but for the most part, everyone I spoke to said prerinsing dishes before putting them in the dishwasher was not only unnecessary, it wasted thousands of gallons of water and could actually result in dirtier dishes.

“The soap needs something to work against to get the dishes clean,” said Lou Manganiello, who owns Household Appliance Service in Hawthorne, N.Y.

The soap needs something to work against? Mmm. Sounds suspicious. Maybe

The part about the dryers seems odd. I mean, I can't imagine anyone throwing in a handful dryer sheets. I don't use dryer sheets at all.

And the self-cleaning oven thing? I should only use my oven enough that it needs cleaning.

Do you actually read instructions? Do you know where your manuals are? Could you, too, be guilty of oversoaping?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

and How Should Any of Us Move Forward?

I got sidetracked in yesterday’s post. Started on one path – diverted on a tangent.

What I really wanted to write about on the anniversary was something I’ve observed in two friends on their Facebook posts. One wrote yesterday “How can this country ever recover its soul?” Another recently wrote that he fears that economically, America is doomed.

The first friend is a liberal. The latter is a fiscal conservative. Their fears lead in the same direction. I notice the same impulses in myself – wondering what our future will bring. Bankrupted by two ill-considered wars and a populace that foams at the mouth at any mention of new taxes, not to mention failures to create a realistic energy policy and an honest policy regarding climate change (all advised by the string-pulling shadow plutocracy), we are certainly headed for economic collapse.

Manipulated by media personalities and religious zealots exploiting our inherent anti-intellectual tendencies, we have been led astray from our better nature. We have forgotten who we are. We have forgotten that we are all in this together. We have forgotten to lead by example. We have forgotten that if we want to live in a kinder more freedom-loving world we must individually and collectively be kinder more freedom-loving people.

The events of nine years ago should have made us more reflective, not less so. How is it not obvious that our excursions into other lands put us more at risk, not less so?

How could one nut case in Florida (a state well-known for its nut cases) have drawn so much attention to himself for his little hate-fueled stunt?

How could a media clown like Glenn Beck draw so many to a rally in Washington?

How is it not obvious that protesting the building of the Islamic cultural center can only reinforce the message of terrorists and that accepting the Muslim community is the best way to speak against the extremists and show their insanity for what it is?

With so much bridge building to be done, why do we waste time and resources bickering over whether or not certain adults have the right to marry? And why is it that those who oppose the rights of that group of adults are the ones who do most of the complaining about the government’s impositions of our freedoms?

We were told that we were attacked by those who opposed our freedoms. It was never made clear exactly which freedoms those were. What has been clear in the nine years since is that we have turned on each other, attacking ourselves from within, opposing ourselves for our own freedoms.

I, too, wonder if we can ever recover our soul or even the illusion of one. If we do not, we are certainly doomed.

It is ourselves we are now at war with, not the others and in falling for their trick we have handed the others their success.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What Should Any of Us Do?

One hears all the time about how we are a “Christian” nation founded on “Christian” principles. One hears all the time about the “pilgrims” who came to this country seeking freedom from religious persecution.

One seldom hears how those same pilgrims were, in their home country, not exactly tolerant of the views of others. They were, in essence, religious fundamentalists.

Still, if we were, in fact, a truly Christian nation, we would know how to conduct our affairs at all times, because Christ’s early followers left very clear instructions on what he would have wanted.

He would have wanted us to treat each other how we would want to be treated. One must assume that means no torture, including water-boarding. One must also assume that means no imprisonment without trial. One must also assume that means no black site prisons.

One must also assume that means no threats to burn or dishonor the documents held to be holy by those of other faiths.

He would have wanted us to provide for each other, no matter how little we have. That means if we have people who are hungry, we feed them, even if the opposing party throws up their hands and says “but we can’t feed all these people! We only have five loaves and two fishes!” We feed them anyway and trust that there will be enough.

And if someone strikes at us, he would not want us to strike back but instead he would have said, “do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.

If we were a Christian nation, that is how we would conduct ourselves.

We would not start wars in foreign lands, no matter what attacks we had suffered.

We would not insult other religions in our own land.

We would NOT, ever, ever question the patriotism of those who, in fact, do conduct themselves as Jesus advised.

So don’t tell me again how we’re a Christian nation. I don’t want to have to hurt you.

And if you don't believe all this, you can read it here in his dad's own words. And this does apply to you, no exceptions.

Monday, September 6, 2010

What is "Labor" Anymore?

I don’t really know what Labor Day is. I don’t have a tradition of “celebrating” it. Do any of us? What is it to celebrate labor in this age when actual labor is no longer valued? In the U.S. we love the notion that hard work brings success but we all know that real wealth comes from having wealth. Wealth is built through investment, therefore, the only ones who are considered successful are those who have more than they need so that they can invest it and create more wealth for themselves.

In this article on Common Dreams, we see that, for some, greater wealth is created by depriving jobs to as many workers as possible:

Decreed by President Grover Cleveland, Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894 following the deaths of several workers in a disastrous “incident” during a clash between striking railroad workers and federal troops.

The creation of a “Labor Day” may have been nothing more than a public relations bandage.

There was a time when unions were seen as supporting the rights of workers. Today, unions are vilified, even by those who could most benefit from an organized movement.

There was a time in which most Americans actually worked with their hands. That time is long gone and that kind of work is no longer honored. In the following, Ralph Nader considers the contributions of those who actually work with their hands, those who actually produce something:

But scarier than devaluing work, are these two stories that I read in the same week.

In this one from the LA Weekly, we learn that more and more women are turning to Nevada brothels to support their families:

And in this story about Montana Fishburne in The Hollywood Reporter, we learn that even well-connected children of privilege are using sex tapes to launch their careers in the entertainment industry:

Over a century since the rise of both organized labor and feminism and this is where we are? Both the poor and the privileged find the sex trade as their only options? In the case of the former, this is sad. In the case of the latter, it’s indicative of how little regard we have for actual work. Why be a sucker by actually working hard for success when one can just star in the equivalent of a porn movie to draw attention to oneself? Even the advantage of having a movie star dad isn’t going to fast-track this woman enough to suit her impatient ambitions.

Given all this, why wouldn’t certain young people sell drugs instead of studying hard and graduating from school?

Given all this, why wouldn’t unscrupulous mortgage brokers talk homebuyers into borrowing more than they really could afford?

Given all this, why wouldn’t certain personalities focus on spreading lies and misinformation if they knew that there was an angry audience ready to lap it all up and make them rich and famous instead of practicing real journalism by reporting facts and providing well-considered analysis?

Are we a lost cause?  Who am I to say?  My wealth accumulation plan/retirement plan amounts to playing SuperLotto.

Enjoy the third day of your three day weekend.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Water Your Plants, People!

That's all I'm saying - just keep the plants watered.  Even the ones you don't like.  Especially if they know you don't like them.

Check out this story I found on Yahoo.

Heck, I'll just copy the whole thing here:

A fire that did $20,000 in damages to a northeast Arkansas home wasn't caused by an electrical problem or burning food or arson, an insurance investigator concluded.

Instead, the dead plants did it, according to a report summary provided to the homeowner, Brian Duncan.

"The fire was caused by self-heating through decomposition of organic materials contained within a plastic flowerpot," the Aug. 25 letter from State Farm Insurance Co. said.

Or, in layman's terms, spontaneous combustion.

Duncan, whose home is a few miles south of Paragould, said the flowerpot had contained dead, decomposing flowers and potting soil that his wife had planted in the summer of 2009. Paragould is about 150 miles northeast of Little Rock.

"She had intended on repotting (the flowers)," Duncan said. But they sat on the porch, unwatered, and eventually died.

He said it was clear where the July 25 fire had begun, because the burning flowerpot and plants charred a hole in the porch and they fell to the ground several feet below.

Still, Duncan said he was surprised at the conclusion contained in the letter. Duncan provided The Associated Press with a copy.

Fortunately, no one was injured in the blaze and Duncan's father-in-law was able to put it out with a garden hose even before firefighters from a nearby volunteer fire department arrived.

But it still caused some damage.

Duncan, 51, CEO of Craighead Electric Cooperative, said the blaze charred decking around the hole where the flowerpot had been, and caught the home's vinyl siding on fire. He said the heat broke a sidelight window next to the front door, and his air-conditioning system sucked in smoke from the fire.

"The house was full of smoke," he said.

The smoke damage inside the 15-year-old home, Duncan said, meant his family had to repaint the entire interior of the 2,200-square-foot home and replace the carpeting, in addition to replacing the vinyl siding on the front of the house and the wooden decking of the porch.

Duncan said that, since the fire, he had begun spreading the word about the potential fire hazards of dead plants.

A fire marshal in nearby Jonesboro, Jason Wills, said such an occurrence was rare.

"Spontaneous combustion is something where you have to have a lot of variables come together and it has to be just right," Wills told Jonesboro television station KAIT. "It's something that does happen, but this is the first one in our area that I'm aware of."

So get out there!  Now! Water those plants now!

Friday, August 27, 2010

I Should Clean Out that Closet

I couldn't resist the story under this headline -

Body of Las Vegas woman found in clutter at home

Read the story here:

 This is the photograph that accompanied the story. (Thanks AP.) Note that horrid, barren Nevada landscape juxtaposed with the billboard hawking diamonds, the ultimate indulgence in luxury - but both nothing more than rocks.  Those two images in a story about a woman who was killed by the accumulation of her own possessions strikes me as incredibly ironic and way, way creepy.

The woman was missing for four months and she was in her home the whole time?

I'm the first to admit that I cannot resist those hoarder shows on cable.

I, too, hate throwing things away.

I, like the woman in the story, also compulsively shop at thrift stores almost every week. Last week I bought a book for a dollar. Once I bought a gravy boat. I don't make gravy but at Thanksgiving I buy soy gravy.  I might want a boat that's not the china one.

Once I bought a little creamer thing just because it was not in the shape of a cow and therefore could be used. But we don't really use cream. But for guests. We might use it for guests. It's a pleasing shade of green. 

I'm always tempted by martini glasses.  One can never have too many martini glasses.  I'm not really sure why I believe this, but I do.

Again, I wish I had more than that one closet.

But then again, maybe it's a good thing I don't have more than one closet. Something has to keep me in check.


Is THIS Why They Hate Us?

Remember back when everyone was asking why do "they" hate us?

Could this be it?

I saw this in a trade newsletter that I receive.

Really?  We could have left future generations a legacy of human rights and social justice but this is what we've collectively come up with?  Licensed branding on foods aimed at children?


Let the self-loathing begin.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Death of the McMansion?

If they're truly dead for good, I won't miss them one bit.

This post is based on this article

The time of the super-sized home has ended.  Long live the moderately sized home!

I thought it was funny that the article states that the smaller home is now the trend.  Then, a 1,200 sq. foot home is mentioned but the builder being interviewed says something to the effect of "yes, smaller, but not THAT small!"

My home is under 1,200 sf.  Heck, my home is under 1,100 sf.  But then again, my washer and dryer sit outside.  And I only have one closet.  Yeah, one closet!  And it's not even in a bedroom.  Two bedrooms and not a closet in either one.  That'll be nice when we sell.

Oh, and no pantry.

And guests staying in the closet-less guest room better not have much luggage 'cause there ain't much floor space.

I can barely find a place to keep an extra package of paper towels.  There's no way I can shop for the Costco size of anything.

And good thing someone finally got around to inventing the flat panel TV. 

I would love to have a full 1,200 square feet.  What a luxury that would be!

Image "borrowed" from's Pony Blog

Yeah, we could use more room.  But not that much more room. 

The planet just ain't big enough for that kind of nonsense.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Past, Present, Future

Today is my birthday.  I’m not putting that out there to solicit a lot of birthday greetings.  Just letting you know the inspiration for this post. 

On this date 40 years ago, I would have had much to look forward to – getting through junior high, then high school, then college.  I didn’t know if I would marry or not so discovering the answer to that question would have been something in my future.  If so, who would that special person (or persons) be?  What kind of house would I live in?  What kind of person would I be?

At that tender age, I often wondered what I would look like when I grew up.  Now I know.  Ugh. To quote Eubie Blake, "if I’d known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself."  No, seriously.  I think it must have been having a childhood in the time of “duck and cover” and a young adulthood during the plague years, combined with my naturally glum temperament, that led me think there was no point in vigorous exercise or consistent retirement savings.

Ooops.  At least I have good blood pressure.  I have blood pressure like a vampire.  It may be my only talent.  And, while I neither saved nor exercised consistently, I have always moisturized consistently, and like a vampire, avoided the sun.   I suppose I can count the money not spent on Botox as saving.  Right?

As for Time, the reality is, I don’t have that much left.  I mean, relatively speaking.  Even if I, like Eubie, live to 100, I have more years behind me than I have ahead of me. 

That’s ok.  I’ve had a good run. 

But in the time that I have left, whether it’s a week or (God forbid) another 50+ years, there’s not so much that I can afford to squander what remains in the way that I squandered so much of what came before.

Squandered on what?  Well, there was a lot of television.  These days, there’s a lot of Internet.  But mostly, I squandered time doing things I didn’t want to do – like being responsible.  Bills have to be paid.  “Stuff” has to be bought, hoarded, displayed, used and thrown away.  Appearances have to be maintained.  I don’t like to think of myself as the person who is obsessed with keeping up appearances but clearly I am, or I could have put any old cheap crap in the house.  I mean, if I were left alone on the planet, like Omega Man, would I really be that choosy about the tile in the bathroom or on the fireplace?  Would I really have tested so many paint colors? 

Obviously, the homes we build are reflections of ourselves.  We are all aware of that, whether we want to admit it or not.

So, back to the point, I spent a lot of time doing things I didn’t want to do or that were not the right thing for me to be doing, just because I caved in to life in a society that demanded certain ways of being and living. 

But more than that, I caved in to fear and anxiety and misplaced priorities.

I take full responsibility.  I will, of course, continue doing what I must do.  Bills still have to be paid, even more of them now than before.

But now, now that I know how fleeting Time is and now that I know what is truly important to me and now that I can separate the wheat from the chaff and the men from the goats, I have no excuses.

If I focus on what is important, it should all fall into place.  Don’t worry about results.  Worrying about results is what led me astray in the first place.  Don’t worry at all.  Just breathe.  Just do.  Just be. 

Be like the cat.

I can’t take back the time I’ve lost.  Maybe it wasn’t lost at all.  Maybe I was just incubating.  But lost or not, it’s gone – long, long gone.  Take the lessons learned and move forward.

Forward.  Focus.  Prioritize. 

Remember how much Time is gone.  Remember how much Time is left. 

Stop being stubborn for once in your often-pointless life and trust in God.  This is the path you were meant to be on.  Everything happens for a reason. 

Everything happens for a reason. 


Let it happen.

Let go of reason.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Rose Bowl Flea Market

We showed up with cash and big bags to carry away our loot.  How we managed to return home empty-handed, I can't imagine.  Not when there were beauties like this to be had:

I don't know what this animal is or was.

But it had a sweet face.  Too sweet to want to bring home.

I might have wanted these prints, if I had any wall space left to display them.

I don't really know what I would do with this colorful T-Rex.

Bat-winged sconces.  Alas, not very Craftsman-y.

Also not very Craftsman-y, Blowfish Lamp.  Ick.

Under no circumstances do I ever want to see a chair made of golf clubs in my home.

I kind of like this fencing mask, maybe for playing with The Kitten.  It can go with the fencing glove that I use to play with her.  Wish I'd been wearing that glove last December when she tore into my arm and sent me to the ER.  Oh, well.

Having these fireplace logs could have saved us the trouble of building a whole fireplace.  Could have just plugged them in and been on our way to other projects. 

The day wasn't a total loss.  I did come away with a sunburn (not pictured).

This Is Your Garden Spider . . .

. . . on drugs.

Effects Of Drugs And Alcohol On Spider Webs

Let this be a lesson to the young people - stay away from drugs!

No one wants to be the crack spider's bitch.

Thanks, D!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Bad Sign

In case you missed this link over at Hooked on Houses, you've got to, got to, got to see
this slide show of ill-considered real estate signs.

Julia's listed some other good links at, but many won't tickle my juvenile funny bone as did this one.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Kitten and the Fern

Tiger stripes would have been handy.

The hunter in hiding.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tweety Bird

You may have noticed that I've been blogging a lot less lately.  For one thing, since the interior of the house is mostly done, I've not felt that inspired to keep up with the house blog.  For a bigger thing, since the interior of the house is mostly done, I now have the time (barely) and resources to pursue another avenue of interest.  I won't say what that is but the observant reader should be able to find the clues, like a blogging game of Where's Waldo.

Anyway, there are tidbits here and there that occur to me but that don't deserve a whole blog post.  More often there's a housing related story that I want to share but often don't get around to blogging about.  I guess that's what Twitter was created for - to make up for my laziness and time crunch.

The Twitter feed is to the right.  Just sayin'.  If you want to follow me, here I am.  If you tweet, I'll follow you too. 

More Tiny Living

Here's another story about someone who chooses to live in a super-tiny house. I posted on this trend once before.

I admire this decision. I really do.  I would miss entertaining though.  Given the chance to reconfigure our fixer-upper, we made decisions specifically keeping in mind flow and traffic patterns for a large number of guests.  These people throw zero parties.  The woman in the earlier post says she regrets not having space to have friends over.

Oh, and I would miss my husband, too.  I don't think two of us could live in a space under 90 sq. feet.  Under 1100 square feet is challenging.  The good thing is that we're not both home at the same time much.  That sounds more cynical than it really is.  But still, we really need all the space. we have.  For our collections.  And the books.  And the these things we've been dragging around with us for 27 years.  The tiny-house dwellers have nothing they don't use everyday.  They have no room for their past.  No room for mementos.  No room for anything other than the immediate. 

Perhaps that's how it should be.  Perhaps that forces them to live in a constant present.

And where are you expected to situate those houses?  That guy found a lot somewhere out in the wilderness.  That's not for everybody, certainly not for me.  I suppose I'd have to find a tiny vacant lot somewhere in the city - if I wanted a tiny house.  There aren't many vacant lots available in Los Angeles and if you do find one, it's likely vacant for a reason. 

These would make good vacation cottages though.  I could see that.  I'm trying to imagine what a tiny, tiny Palm Springs house would look like. 

Mmm.  No.  Can't do it. 300 square feet?  Maybe.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Picking Up Our Own Trash

If you’ve been reading this blog for the past few months, you know how I feel about the anti-immigrant hysteria gripping the country and you understand from where my position is generated.

I also understand the opposite side.

I was driving to work on Friday when ahead of me, I saw trash being dropped from a white van parked down the street. Not one to mind my own business, I rolled down my passenger window and stopped beside the van.

“Excuse me.” The young woman who was texting or something looked up. I continued, “You dropped trash on the street. You should pick it up.”

The young woman went back to her texting.

“Pick it up. The street is not your trashcan. The planet is not your trashcan. You shouldn’t be throwing trash on the ground.”

The young woman looked up again. “I will.”

Knowing full well that she wouldn’t, I pushed it more “Can you please pick it up now?”

“I will.”

Another woman on the other side of the van was loading stuff onto the front seat. I pulled up the car a bit to speak to her.

“You know you shouldn’t be throwing trash in the street.”

The other woman assured me that I had been heard the first time and been told that in fact, they would be picking up the trash.

I promised them that I would return to see that it was picked up.

I should have pretended to write down the license plate number.

I do these things from time to time, either out of an irrational desire to experience a gunshot wound or just out of bossy arrogance.

As I was driving away, I realized, in an esprit d'escalier moment, what I should have said. See, these women were Latin American immigrants. What I ought to have told them was that if ICE ever came for them or deported anyone they knew, that they would be partly to blame. I should have told them that part of the reason that Arizona and other states were adopting hateful anti-immigration policies was because of people like them. I should have told them that they could not expect to be welcomed in this country if they are going to casually throw trash in the streets and turn our neighborhoods into the same type of ghettos that they escaped.

We do have to be honest about this, don’t we? On the one hand, we should acknowledge that anti-immigrant fervor is fueled by divisive political opportunists exploiting economic insecurity. That so many state and local governments face bankruptcy makes the scapegoating of immigrants inevitable. It’s an old story.

On the other hand, if I notice people throwing trash in the streets of my neighborhood; if I notice tagging on walls and trees; if I notice my local park taken over by unlicensed vendors and if I notice that all the perpetrators seem to be of similar cultural identity, wouldn’t it be easy to convince me that maybe those people should be forced to leave my country before they turn it into a place like their country?

I’m not saying the haters are right. A lot of nice, law-abiding, tax-paying people will get hurt in the conflicts that lie ahead. And when I write “law-abiding” that’s what I mean. There are people who entered this country through legitimate channels who will . . . get . . . hurt. There are many more people who are law-abiding in every other way who will get hurt. There are American citizens who will get hurt.

I don’t know the status of the women I chided. I know they weren’t born here. Maybe they’re here legally. Maybe they’re not. But I know they know people who are not here legally. Everyone does. Those women do not make their situations any better. They do not make a case for themselves. They make it harder for everyone.

It’s like when a certain nation is surrounded by enemy states and then oppresses a certain group of people within its own state; committing human rights violations and launching military offensives while at the same time expecting support and sympathy from the rest of the world community. Not without enemies enough, that state acts as its own worst enemy.

So, in any circumstance, while we can sympathize with a certain group we should also recognize that even the smallest of our actions have consequences and can inflame those who oppose us.

Let’s not be our own worst enemies.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

On Our Nation's Birthday

a brief history of the founding of our country, brought to you by one of my favorite philosophers, George Carlin.

WARNING: Not safe for work, your kiddies or my parents -

"You give us a color, we'll wipe it out." He cracks me up with his truth.

Happy 4th!

My Trip - Part Seven, We Take Our Leave

The next day was our last morning at the ranch. We said our goodbyes to my uncle and aunt and to Jorge and his wife and children. They asked when we would visit again and I said it would be soon. The truth is, it’s unlikely we’ll be back. Just being realistic. It’s a tough trip for both of us and my mom always worries that our visits are an imposition on my aunt and uncle.

I recall, however, that upon our departure five years ago I thought the same thing, that we would not be back, so who knows what the future will bring?

The plan was for Hector to drive us in his truck back to Oaxaca City but first we would drop off my aunt and uncle in the town of Jaltepec where they could pick up their government checks – what I suppose is their Social Security. I was told that they would first have to listen to speeches by local leaders about all the great things the party was doing for them. It seemed like a time-share trap.

On the way into town we met with a car-full of cousins. They were coming to say good-bye. I guess we left a little earlier than planned. I’m glad the timing worked out and we met on the road.

These goodbyes were more tearful than the last. My cousin Raquel, in particular, was very emotional. She begged us to return soon. How could I not make that promise?

Again, we were on our way.

It strikes me how attached they seemed to be to us or to me at least. My mom is one of them; she is from that life; has their references; speaks their language, so it’s not surprising, their affection for her. I am a different animal – not fluent, not at all familiar with that life or culture, so far removed in my everyday life from anything they imagine – yet, they are tearful at my departure.

Is that what real families are like? Do they love you whether they know you or not? Do they love you whether they “get” you or not? If they saw me in my natural habitat – screaming at traffic, having a conniption because I can’t have my office painted just the right shade of blue, slipping on gloves for every household activity lest I break or chip a precious fingernail – would they still love me?

During the two-hour trip back to Oaxaca City, I don’t attempt to keep up with the conversation from the front seats. I passively watch the desert scenery pass by. A goat stands at the side of the freeway. I hope for his safety.

Back in the City

We unload our bags at the hotel and then walk to the zocalo for lunch.  The zocalo is the town square that, for this city, is the main area for tourists.  It's safe.  It's clean.  It would be easy to believe the rest of the city is like this.  It is not. 

There are restaurants on three sides of the square.  A government building anchors the fourth.  Most of the dining is outdoors to take advantage of the festive atmosphere.  Peddlers hawk kitschy souvenirs of all kinds, from jewelery to hand-carved letter openers.  Beggars are not uncommon.

I was aware of this as we chose a table at our restaurant.  But still, our table was near the edge of the cafe's enclosure, near enough that we were targets for peddlers and beggars. 

And what are you going to do?  You can't buy from everyone.  You can't give anyone enough to really make a difference.  Ancient women with wrinkled skin and black, squinting eyes extend their gnarled hands and what do you do?  Some of the women carried babies and, as always, I wondered - why do the poor have babies?

Again, The Fever came to mind:
". . . a voice says - why not all of it? Why not give her all that you have?

"Be careful, that's a question that could poison your life . . . "

"If you hear that question, it means you're sick. You're mentally sick. You've had a breakdown . . . "

"But there's a reason why
I'm the one who has the money in the first place, and that's why I'm not going to give it all away. In other words . . . I worked for that money. I worked. I worked hard to make that money and it's my money, because I made it."

"You say
you work. But why does your work bring you so much money, while their work brings practically nothing? You say you "make" money. What a wonderful expression. But how can you "make" so much of it in such a short time, while in the same amount of time they "make" so little?"

After our lunch of too generous proportions, we took our leave of Hector, shopped again for souvenirs and returned to our room for siesta (and, in my case, my first contact with email in a week.)

Late in the day, we rose for another meal.  Again, as with our first night here, we dine at our favorite restaurant El Asador Vasco, perched at the edge of the balcony, viewing the evening activity but distanced from harsh reality.  Again, there are margaritas. 

And my mother tells me of when she was much younger, and looked up at the privileged diners at the tables at this very restaurant and felt the envy and never imagined that she might dine at one of these tables one day.

And here we are.  But it's not enough.  It's never enough.

"There's never enough solace, never enough consolation."

The next day we fly, uneventfully, back to California, she to her home in the northern half and I to my home in the southern half.

Our journey has come to an end.  We are home once again in the Land of Opportunity, where more than enough is never quite enough.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

My Trip – Part Six, The Fiesta

The big day is here. I awaken to what sounds like a live band outside our bedroom. I take a peek. Holy cow! It is a live band outside our bedroom! Or not far away. They’ve come from the path that leads from the road and they’re headed to the big tent on the other side of the house.

We have breakfast at about 8:30. Or they do. I don’t. Breakfast consists of more of the bread and a soup – a soup with meat. I drink a cup of hot chocolate made from freshly ground chocolate beans.

At about 11:00, mom and I walk to the church. We get there just before the Mass starts. People are standing at the doorway but we had no intention of attending. We’ve fallen deep into the abyss of the irretrievable Catholics. Or at least I have. I won’t speak for her. I’m just there to shoot video and photos.

While the service goes on we wait in a shady spot across the street. When the service ends, I shoot video of the musicians and our retreat back to the ranch.  In the video below, note the palm crowns fringing the doorway of the church.

Of all the songs the band played that day, the one in the video below is my favorite.  It's downright dour but creates an atmosphere that is both circus-like and funereal at the same time - not the most exciting video in the world, but atmospheric.  You don't have to watch the whole thing.  I have to take that tutorial on editing: 

The video below may be only of interest to my family.  No one else should feel obligated to watch.  But you do get a sense of walking through that territory.   And when I ask my mom if she wants a crown, I am referring to the stack of plastic tiaras that are for sale at the little stand.  Except, for some reason, I don't bother to focus the camera on the stack of tiaras.  This whole video thing is new to me . . .

Once we've returned to the ranch, we settle in at one of the long tables in the shade of the old Ash tree. Mom is greeted by cousin after cousin and a series of old friends from her past, none of whom she recognizes. This happens every time we visit but especially today.

The musicians, who have returned from the church, settle into their seats. I shoot more video.

We are brought a meal of quesadillas – made just for us. They are delicious and my first meal of the day. That’s at about 1:00. I take pictures of the many cousins.

At 2:15 Jorge offers tequila to the musicians. It seems they all decline. Musicians here must be different than the ones I know. I am the first seated behind the band. When Jorge comes my way, I happily accept the tequila. I don’t see anyone else drinking it. That’s ok. I drink it straight with lime and salt.

I wait for it to kick in but it never really does. Or maybe it does, but just a tiny bit.

 Jorge, offering a bottle of Corona this time, not tequila

At 3:30 the Mezcal comes around. Maybe this will hit.

That morning, I’m once again looking for a trash can to dispose of a paper napkin. I can’t find one and everyone is busy. I go into the kitchen where there’s always been a wastebasket under the sink. The room is dark, but I see them on the table – the chickens – headless and denuded, lying on their backs. I immediately leave, still clutching the napkin.

I see no chickens in the yard, only in the soup. So this is why the long car trip yesterday. It was a distraction from the slaughter of the chickens.

I appreciate their being sensitive to my sensibility. Who knows how I appear to them. Probably as too delicate. Probably as silly. Always reading something. Always writing something. Finicky. Afraid of spiders. Very afraid of spiders. They must think we’re a weak lot here in Los Estados Unidos.

I don’t judge them for eating chickens. I have less tolerance for those here who should know better. I have less tolerance for those who know the conditions of factory farming and still eat them. At least these chickens had some room to scratch around in. At least these chickens got to keep their beaks.

Years ago I was seated next to a woman who was with Doctors Without Borders. When my vegetarian meal was delivered she mentioned that it was a great luxury to choose to be a vegetarian. She said that most of the world didn’t have the choice of not eating meat – that they ate whatever they could.

I should have answered that it was a great luxury to choose to eat meat. I didn’t but I should have. I doubt most of the world has the choice and it seems to me that the choice to grow food animals uses up a lot resources that might otherwise have been spent creating plant foods that would have fed a lot more people with less environmental damage. I should have said that but I didn’t.

A side observation

In Mexico dogs are treated like animals. Where I live, dogs are treated like favored children. I once saw a woman in a store with a sling on her chest, maybe a Bjorn thing. As she approached, I wondered what breed of tiny dog she carried. I was shocked to see a baby in the sling, an actual human baby. It was only a second after that I realized how ridiculous, how perverse my shock was – but I just don’t see that many babies. My relatives here would be shocked to see the tiny dresses and jeweled collars sold for our dog children. If I had a dog, I’d be tempted to dress her (against K’s wishes).  I love that my cat once returned from the groomer wearing a pink bandana around her neck and a bow on her head.

I think my Mexican relatives regard it was a sin to elevate animals to human level. Maybe it’s a sin to degrade animals by dressing them in sailor suits and princess dresses. I can’t believe it’s a sin to love them as children.

I go for a walk

I can't take any more music.  I decide to walk back to where the vendors were.  My aunt wants picures of the winner of the jaripeo.  I don't really know if that's the word.  I've never seen it, never heard of it before today.  But it's a rodeo-like event where men ride on these poor bulls that don't want to be ridden. 

When I get there, I see that my cousin Hector is already shooting video:

Good, if I stay much longer, PETA will revoke my membership:

I can't take it here anymore.  I leave.  I go back to face the music.

Sunday still – and then we danced

The band that arrived at 8:30 in the morning was still there at 8:30 at night. And at 9:30. I’d gone off to my room a little after 10 when I’d received word that my aunt wanted me to takes pictures of the dancing. The band played on.

I danced with Hector and also with a man I was told was El Presidente. I don’t really know what he was the Presidente of, but he seemed like a nice man. He asked me to dance a second time but I had to decline. The songs are too long and I found the dancing tiring. Plus I didn’t get it. Not my thing. I actually received a few more invitations but declined all the rest. Who knew how popular I would be here? Must be the thrill of the exotic.

I saw my cousin Raquel watching from the kitchen. I went in to keep her company. We talked but I don’t remember what about.  With my spare Spanish skills, I'm sure it was nothing in depth.

Finally, the band packs up and leaves. It seems that I hear what is threatened to be the last song for about 5 songs in a row. It’s been a long night. I go to bed. My mother goes to bed. The rest of them stay up and do whatever it is that still needs to be done.

Next – We say our good-byes

Sunday, June 6, 2010

My Trip - Part Five, We Go Sightseeing

It’s Saturday. We’ve been here a week now.

My cousin Hector took us (my mom, my uncle and me) for a ride. I’m told we’re going to Nochixtlan for breakfast followed by some local sightseeing.

Uh, not exactly. At some point we left the paved road for a grueling two-hour trip on an unpaved, hairpin turn, mountain road.

I thought we were going to die. It was one nasty road, covered with huge rocks and frequently with a steep drop-off on one side.

Finally, we have breakfast in the community of Santiago Apoala. The town is known for its local springs. After breakfast, we head for the cave.

 Uncle Urbano, Mom and Cousin Hector under the bougainvillea after breakfast in Santiago Apoala.

Once there, we park near a lovely river. There was a small hotel and a small sweet dog.

Then we hiked to the cave. At the time, I wasn’t sure what possessed Hector to take two elderly people on an adventure that included steep uphill climbing.

Upon entering the cave, one descended into darkness, while supporting oneself on a guide rope.

It is unclear how slippery the ground was but it certainly wasn’t something my mom wanted to do. I wasn’t keen on burning my hands on the rope and she didn’t want me to go anyway. So I didn’t.

Everyone survived the boulder-strewn hike back down to the river.

I headed back to the truck, assuming we were all ready to leave. We weren’t. Hector lay down along the riverbank, under a tree. He napped. Eventually, my mother stretched out in the grass, under the sun. She, too, napped.

My uncle struck up a conversation with a local goat herder.

I made friends with the small, sweet dog (of which I have no photo).

Finally, they were all ready to leave. We head back along the treacherous, rock-covered road for another two-hour drive. This time I’m a little less terrified.

At one point I check my watch. I haven’t changed it from Los Angeles time. I calculate that it will be 71 hours until touchdown at LAX.


On the way back, we stop in the city of Nochixtlan. My uncle runs off to a store to buy a bag of oranges. We wait outside a store that sells poultry, living or dead.

The city looks like Baghdad. Same cinder block buildings – flat facades with steel doors – wide-open fronts showing off wares. Same dusty, unpaved streets, same old trucks and cars rumbling through dusty streets. Above the city are the adobe homes. They too have steel doors. Or curtains. Doors are either steel or cloth. Nothing in between.

The city, the entire country, seems to have been abandoned by any governing authority except for rifle-toting police that are everywhere. The people seem to be on their own, left to fend for themselves. I’m not saying that’s the reality, just how it appears on the surface. But to look at the buildings, there appears to be no organization, no building codes, no urban planning. It looks like anyone can build a building just about anywhere. There are no architects. Sidewalks start and stop for no apparent reason. The whole place is one giant personal injury lawsuit waiting to happen.

There seems to be no middle-class here. At least there’s no middle-class that we would recognize. I cannot imagine where the “nice” homes are. Everything is either cinderblock or adobe. And square. There is no aesthetic. There is only square. And all doors open to the exterior. All of them.

I want to go back to my life. I want to read without appearing lazy and useless. I want temperature control. I want privacy. I want Internet.

Saturday still – The evening

Yesterday I read Wallace Shawn’s play THE FEVER. It is brilliant – a one-person theatre piece of 39 pages on (roughly) the subject of hollow liberal guilt and our relationship to the poor.  Among the points he makes: we offer the poor gradual change, which is no change at all.

The play, of course, is a slap in the face to me and to all my elite, liberal kind. We think we are artists out to effect social change. We are no more than poseurs. I really want to do this play. I want to do this play because yes, I am a poseuse, posing as an artist out to effect social change. If I perform this play or if I don't perform this play, there will be no change, no effect at all on the poor. But if I do it, I will feel as if I’ve done something. And that is part of Shawn’s message.

Saturday still – Later in the evening

When we return to the ranch, they’ve begun serving the meals as part of the festival celebration. Although the actual fiesta isn’t until Sunday, the meals start with tonight’s dinner. I don’t know why. I don’t know anything. All I know is that as soon as we arrive, we’re invited to take a seat at a long table and we’re given food. I’m not sure, but I think I was given black beans and eggs and the special fiesta bread. Didn’t write it down. I do remember that it wasn’t the tastiest meal I’ve had. Not as tasty as the quesadillas with the squash blossoms or even the quesadillas with the cactus – all accompanied by fiesta bread. I think others may have been given meat. I’m not sure. But they know I don’t eat meat of any kind and my aunt has been especially gracious about preparing non-meat meals for me. If I were vegan though, I’d just have to starve. Give up cheese here and there’s not much left.

After dinner, I have a paper napkin to dispose of. I start to go into the kitchen to toss it into the wastebasket. My cousin, Rosa, comes out, as I’m about to go in and she insists I not enter. “Too smoky” she says. Her urgency seems a bit over the top. I’ve sat in that smoky kitchen before. Hector offers me a plastic bag for my trash. There are only crushed Coke cans in the bag. “But this is for recycling, “ I say. He says it’s ok. I toss the napkins in.

I don’t think they want me in the kitchen.

Saturday still – Still later in the evening

Tomorrow there will be a Mass at 10 am. Will I go? If my mother goes I’ll go.

At 10 am tomorrow it will be 59 hours until touchdown.

Another cousin comes to greet me. I cannot keep track of them. There are so many of them and they are all too beautiful, like Mixtec dolls. I wish their lives could be easier.

Saturday still – Later still

Late in the evening, I’m alone in the room I share with my mom. She’s in with the others, having coffee. They all like to have a nice cup of coffee at about 10 pm every night. That would explain a lot about the scheduling here.

Anyway, I’m alone in the room, reading, when I first caught a glimpse of it in the corner of my eye. It was the biggest spider I’ve ever seen in my life walking across the floor of the room where we sleep.

He disappeared under the other bed. Then reappeared out the other side. I think I might just pass out. Remember, I have a hard time dealing with things with 6 legs. Eight legs is out of the question.

The spider stands in front of the door. Now I have no escape (but at least he’s not hiding under the bed.) I grab a plastic cup from the shelf. I know I have one shot at this. If I try to cap him and he escapes, I am going to freak out. If I try to cap him but in doing so I catch one of his legs with the edge of the smallish cup, I am going to freak out.

Do not freak out. Do not freak out. Do not freak out.

I successfully cover him with the cup in one shot. Thank you, Jesus.

Fortunately, Hector is just outside the door. I call to him and I'm surprised when the word for “spider” comes to my lips. He rushes to my aid, scooping up the horrible beast and carrying him away with a promise that he won’t kill it.

How many hours until touchdown?

Next – the fiesta.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

My Trip – Part Four, Long, Long Days

We arrived at the ranch on a Monday. By Tuesday, I already need something to do. The stack of books and writing materials I brought are not enough.

I decide to wash laundry by hand. Our trip only started on Friday and I’m not a light packer so this hand-washing exercise was purely for its entertainment value, mind you. Yes, that’s how slow things were. See, it became like a little game. Hang clothes on the line. Rush to remove them when the light rain starts. Replace them on the line when the brief rain ends. Repeat.

We then decide to take a walk to the chapel. This was the chapel as I’d photographed it five years ago.

This is the chapel today.  It's been painted and given a new brick wall.  Simplicity scarred. No one consulted me. People are free to make decisions on their own. I often wish they weren’t.

That evening, Jorge’s  daughter, Aleli, celebrates her 8th birthday with cake.

Wednesday – El Noche de la Rana

I awake to the sounds of birds calling to the heavens.

Again, the day is long and unbroken. My words are useless here. I wish I had ice.

We watch Jorge make the coronas de palmas (crowns made from palms.) Later these crowns will decorate the chapel.

It is humid.

That night, my mom escorts a number of bugs out of our room. I am too citified to do well with 6-legged creatures. Then, as I opened the door to our room, a frog leaps in, between my feet and is quickly well into the room. I’m startled. At first I think it must be a lizard, it moved so quickly. Then, I see the rascal hiding against my suitcase. It’s not the biggest frog that I’ve seen here but it’s bigger than any frog U.S. I’ve seen. As it has only 4 legs and not 6, I pick it up and take it out, placing it on a large rock in a flowerbed across the way. My mother states that she is proud of me. Parental approval, at last.

The number of bugs here is tough to deal with.  Everywhere you go there's a bug, or many, in the room.  They're either crawling on the walls or flying around the lightbulbs. It's worst in the bathroom.  You don't want to be constantly on guard in the bathroom.

The upside to all this is that we also see a lot of butterflies, in all sizes and colors.  Why I can't have butterflies where I live is a great cruelty.  But maybe they know better.  That must be it.

Thursday – Our Trip to the Forest

My oldest cousin, Hector, drives us to the Bosque de Encinos, a forest of oak trees. My uncle, my mother’s brother, is with us as well. They talk politics and debate the legitimacy of the Mexican voting system. I walk. I touch the inside of a desiccated cactus blossom. I get a tiny little cactus spine in my pinky finger. Stupid me.

We drink cold Cokes from tiny cans. I walk again. I practice a newly learned Tai Chi move, Hands Moving Though Clouds. They keep talking. It is ungodly hot. I want to leave already. They keep talking.

That night, we try to sleep in our hot room. There is a pounding outside, well into the night. The men are working on something.

Friday – The Tenting

We awake on Friday morning to see that the big tent is already up.

They must have accomplished this during the night. That was the source of the pounding noise.

That night there is to be a calenda, a procession starting at the chapel that would proceed to various sites where dancing would take place. They love to dance here.

“What time will it start?” I ask. 10:00, I’m told. Seriously?

No, not seriously. We are to go with my cousin Patricia and her daughter in their car. At 10, Patricia announces she is going home first to take a bath. My mom is getting anxious, thinking by the time we get there, we’ll have missed it all.

Patricia knows better. We don’t leave until 11. When we get there, nothing has started. They’re all still at the church. Speeches are being given. That’s what we missed, speeches.  In Spanish.

If you’ve been reading my blog posts for long, you know I’m the biggest night owl ever, but eleven? Eleven pm! For a public event! Ay, caramba!

By the time we arrive at the first dancing station it’s exactly 11:50.

Saturday, the wee hours – Terror on the Church Steps

It must be around 1 am when we finally arrive back at the church. I slither through the crowd to be close to the front of the church where the band is assembled and it seems there might be something to shoot video of. There I see them. I see the crowns made of straw. They have places to hold firecrackers. Why I don’t have pictures of these things I’ll never know. But once the dancers placed the crowns on their heads, the crowd fled down the steps and away from the church. My mother had the good sense to stay far back to begin with. I’m like a crazy, panicked gringa, running away, holding the video camera up and pointed towards the action as I run.

Yes, people have placed hats made of straw and firecrackers on their heads and they are gathering in a circle to dance; all this while surrounded by a crowd on onlookers. Oh, those crazy Mexicans and their nonchalance about eye injuries or burns! Or lawsuits. This is what happens in a non-litigious society.

The firecracker dance was followed by three guys standing on the rooftop and tossing gifts to the crowd. They were things like Frisbees and plastic bowls. The first time I attended a Mexican calenda, in the ‘80s, the rooftop tossed prizes included Corelle. I kid you not. They threw plates of Corelle down to the excited crowd. My sister and I were terrified of either being hit by Corelle or being burned by the guy who wore spinning bull horns made from firecrackers.  Surprising that there aren’t more injuries here. Or maybe I’m just a big baby del norte.

Next – the trip to the cave.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

My Trip – Part Three, Out in the Country

In Oaxaca, our hotel room is hot. There’s a ceiling fan, no a/c. But the fan is too fast and too loud. The noise makes it hard to sleep.

Speaking of hard, that’s what the beds were. The hotel room itself is cute. Just cute, cute, cute. But hot and stuffy and the mattresses are inflexible.

But we manage to sleep, probably out of sheer exhaustion from the previous two days.

We spend a day here in the city. Right away we shop for gifts. We have our meals in the Zocalo.

We enjoy the city even though it’s hot and humid, and with only one exception, all the clothes I packed are black.  Stupid.

 These ladies must be hot too.

I’ve always liked Oaxaca City. But it seems less lively this time of year. The last time I was here it was November, when the weather was cooler and the city was packed with tourists for Day of the Dead.

We shop for gifts for friends and family back at home. For myself, I want to buy bracelets, lots of cheap, obsidian bracelets. Later, I would read in THE FEVER, Wallace Shawn’s explanation of Karl Marx’s Fetishism of Commodities -

“ . . . what really determines the value of a coat? What is it that determines the price of a coat? The coat’s price comes from its history, the history of all the people who were involved in making it and selling it and all the particular relationships they had. And if we buy the coat, we, too, form relationships with all of those people, and yet we hide those relationships from our own awareness by pretending we live in a world where coats have no history but just fall down from heaven with prices marked inside. . . . “

“A naked woman leans over a fence. A man buys a magazine and stares at her picture. The destinies of these two are linked. The man has paid the woman to take off her clothes, to lean over the fence. The photograph contains its history – the moment the woman unbuttoned her shirt, how she felt, what the photographer said. The price of the magazine is a code that describes the relationships between those people – the woman, the man, the publisher, the photographer – who commanded, who obeyed. The cup of coffee contains the history of the peasants who picked the beans, how some of them fainted in the heat of the sun, some were beaten, some were kicked.”

I don’t buy or wear diamonds. I don’t shop at Walmart. Unlike most tourists, I don’t haggle with the vendors. If I want an item, I pay what they ask. But I can’t resist cheap bracelets. They are my own fetish commodity.

We wear ourselves out with walking. At the end of the day, Mom and I dine at our favorite restaurant and each drink two very, very strong margaritas.

We walk back to our hotel. It’s still hot. We are both drunk. I offer to sing her a song. She falls asleep. The fan is way, way, way too loud.

We go to The Ranch

The next day my uncle arrives with my cousin’s husband. The cousin’s husband has a taxi. They are there to take us to The Ranch. It’s a two-hour drive from the city of Oaxaca.

They all call it The Ranch though it’s really more like a farm. There are cornfields and bean fields but no herds of livestock. The land has been in the family for more than 100 years. Maybe close to 150 years. My uncle raised his 12 children here.

We came here to visit my 80-year-old uncle but we are here now because one of his sons is hosting the Festival of San Ysidro. It’s a big event. My cousin, Jorge, is one of the majordomos, in this sense, a long, funny word for host. Interesting, the word’s true meaning lies in the history of feudalism.

When we arrive, everyone is busy making bread. They have a wood-burning oven. They bake lots of bread.

We sit in the shade of an ancient ash tree. My mom and my uncle chat.  Jorge's daughter, Aleli, joins us.

His life has been hard but he does less work now. I think I overhear him say he no longer keeps chickens. I could be wrong. My Spanish is rusty and seldom used. But that’s what I think I overhear. Except it doesn’t make sense because I see clearly before me a flock of at least a couple dozen chickens and some roosters.

I like chickens. They’re nice birds. I wish I could have chickens of my own. But not really.

The breeze is calming. Birds sing. Chickens scratch. Sheep call out. We shed our anxieties. Life here is neurosis free. Life here is without email and blogging; without Facebook and YouTube and Hulu. Life here is without the constant need for connection, for affirmation of place on the planet. It is without the constant need for validation. It is without Tea Party vs. Coffee Party, without Palin vs. Clinton, without The Culture Wars, without the New York Times, the LA Times or BBC America or NPR.

I am cut off and my thoughts are my own.

Next – the days here are long.