Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

2009 is coming to an end in just under eight hours and I'm looking forward to a spectacular new year in 2010, the year that good things will happen for my friends and family and the year that proves to me that there's a very, very good reason to enjoy the company of people who matter.

Happy New Year, everyone! Be safe, be happy, and have a year in which the meaning of prosperity become clear...and while I hope it includes money, take prosperity any way you can get it!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

How to Have Good Time in Mexico

Unproductive Lethargy in Mexico

I've been having a hell of a time sleeping the past few nights. Night before last, I woke up at 2:30 and drifted off just about sunrise, but woke up again around 8:00 am so I got only about five hours sleep. Last night, I went to bed early again, but again was awake by 2:30 and finally got up before 5:00 am. It's 5:30 now and I just poured my first cup of coffee.

My sister in law should be arriving home shortly after her red-eye flight from Portland to Guadalajara. She'll be surprised to see her sleepy-eyed brother-in-law awake and waiting for her.

Yesterday, my wife and my brothers and I drove to Chapala and wandered around the malecon (waterfront walkway) for a bit, then my oldest brother and my wife and I headed over to the central marketplace (my other brother tends to wander off in search of conversations with Mexicans, displaced Americans, and social Canadians). After buying some grapefruit, kiwis, avocados, and various other stuff, we met up with my wandering brother and ambled over to a little corner restaurant where we all had traditional Mexican food (e.g., enchiladas, flautas, tacos, etc.) and where my oldest brother and I managed to douse me with a cerveza India (though it dried out before long, I can smell the beer in my jeans that I threw on awhile ago).

A stop at a rostizado yielded a nice roast chicken that served as dinner last night. The same stop made it convenient for us to go to the Super Lake market for more groceries. And that very same stop made it quite convenient for us to wander through a liquor store, where my brother bought wine for the upcoming New Year's Day party and I bought a bottle of tequila and a bottle of rum to partially replace some of what I have consumed since arriving here in Ajijic.

For some reason, I've not felt like doing much of anything since arriving here. I've just wanted to sit back and relax. I don't feel like going out to see the sights as a tourist, I don't feel like driving to interesting little Mexican towns to see another perspective on Mexican village life...I just feel like sitting on my ass and doing nothing. My wife has been very reasonable so far and has allowed my laziness to prevail. I hope she continues to allow me to be lethargic; I can feel again today that I am going to feel just the same. The lack of sleep doesn't help, I'm sure.

It doesn't help, either, to open email to find "emergencies" requiring my response. I cannot just leave the office. I guess I could, but that would send a message to clients that I'm not ready to send.

It's still a good hour or more from daybreak, so I'll sit back and have another cup of coffee and mull over what I'll do to make myself feel productive on another day when I'm lethargic and in the mood to be lazy and unproductive.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


It wasn't long after we went downstairs on the day after Christmas that we were regaled with a story about a newly discovered alacrána and her doce bebés. That's right, a mama scorpion, carrying twelve baby scorpions, had been found in the "work room" of the B&B where we were staying. It's a shame my lack of photographic skills, coupled with inadequate equipment and other such troubles, made it impossible for me to present a better photo. Suffice it to say it was interesting.

This event occurred in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico. Which is where I am sitting right now, looking out over the verdant landscape of my brother's back yard, over another Mexican home just south of us, and across to Lake Chapala.

Scorpions be damned! I like it here!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Clear Lens

Reading something painful and personal and absolutely real can cause tears to well up in your eyes and quickly flood onto your face and down the front of your shirt. Reading those words can take your breath away.

It's pointless to try to stop the flood. There's no use in trying to breathe. Those real words conspire with your own humanity to tear down defenses against the ravages of time.

The painful side of reality, the side we never want to see, is as real as the bright side. If we can witness happiness and joy and be moved by them, can't we witness pain and fear and loss and allow ourselves to be moved by them, too?

My friend whose brother died last week wrote something painful and personal and absolutley real. Read it here and be prepared to witness the painful side through a brilliant, clear lens.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


I'm getting excited...just a few more days until we go to Mexico! I'm going to try to forget life's little annoyances for a few days so I can be the very cool, unflappable guy I was meant to be. Who meant it, I don't know. But it was meant. I mean meant to be.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Poetry is an Emotional Experience

Finally, after many months, I bought and downloaded Leonard Cohen's latest collection, his Live from London album from his most recent world tour.

It's exceptional. Now, as I listen to Sisters of Mercy, I recall how fortunate I was to have been able to see him live in Dallas earlier this year.

His poetry, put to music, is an emotional experience.

It Doesn't Feel Right

I spent the whole day today dealing with things like returning my newly-purchased car to the dealer, looking at other options for cars, etc. But my mind wasn't in it. Instead, I was thinking about my friend who lost her brother unexpectedly the other day. He was working out after work and collapsed and could not be revived.

He was young. It was utterly unexpected. And it must have come as the most horrific shock and godawful tragedy to my friend and her family.

While she must know that all of her friends are ready to rally around her, it's probably hard for her to know what she needs from them and it's just as hard for her friends to know what she needs.

Personal tragedies quickly uncover the flaws in our relationships and the gaping holes in our knowledge about our friends. How do we help? Is offering a should enough, or should we insist on being that shoulder? What's too intrusive and what's not sufficiently emphasized to make it seem real and honest?

I wish I knew the answers and I wish I knew the right time to ask the questions. Maybe there never is a right time to ask the questions. Maybe you just know the answers or you don't.

And how the hell could I have spent my day dealing with my damn car, when a friend is dealing with the death of her brother? I suppose reality says I'm 1800 miles away and can't be physically there to help and should not beat myself up for that. But it doesn't feel right, somehow.

Cars are pains in the ass...

I know. I drive a lot. And I like having a comfortable car. But cars can be a pain in the ass. Take the 2007 Toyota Avalon I recently bought. It needed some touch-up paint on the front bumper and the hood, so the dealer that sold me the car retrieved the car from me (as part of the sales deal) the Monday after the Friday I bought it. After the painting was done, the salesman was in the process of delivering it to me when he sideswiped some High Occupancy Vehicle lane marker uprights, scraping the left side of the car.

After the took the car back to repair the damage, I decided I did not want that car. I wanted another one...same model, same general mileage (40K), same pristine condition. They balked, but agreed. But after almost 3 weeks, they could not find one. So, today I go back to the dealer, pick up a check for what I paid them and got for my trade-in, and leave.

And then I start over. Do I look for a similar car? Do I do without for awhile, renting when I really need one, or jump into it again and quickly get another vehicle of some kind? I don't know. We'll see. I probably won't try to get another one like it. As much as I like the luxury, it's a dull-handling beast. I don't know. We'll see.

Cars are pains in the ass. But I'm not complaining. The dealer could have been a horse's ass. In fact, the dealer has been very accommodating. It's quite unusual for me to have anything but utter disdain for car dealers. This is a new experience.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Joan Armatrading

I have tremendous regard for Joan Armatrading. She is a fabulous singer and a wonderful proponent of peace.


Damn. Just damn. Damn. Damn. Damn. Just damn. I shouldn't complain...considering what most of the people in this world are facing right now. But my selfishness allows me to say, just one more time, damn.

Here's to the people who can't worry about a damn thing because they are starving. My little upsets are meaningless. And so are yours. We're so damn spoiled, and it's time we owned up to it and thought about how we can transer a little of our wealth to people who are clinging to the edge of survival.

It's hard to release my little problems. But "hard" for me is nothing for most people on this planet. They need to know where their next meal is coming from.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Home is Where the Internet Is

It just hit me. I like people on the Internet more than I like people in real life. Not always, but generally.

For one thing, the Internet people with whom I interact are smarter...much smarter...than most of the real people I deal with regularly. For another, they have tastes similar to mine. They tend to have deep love affairs with food and they tend to enjoy spicy food, though not always. And they like books. And words in general. There seems to be a greater number of poets and writers and READERS amongst Internet people than real people.

Internet people in my Internet life tend to be dramatically more progressive/liberal than real people. Especially more so than real people in Texas.

For years, I've been mulling over where to move in retirement, or in preparation for retirement. You know, a place where an introvert like me (believe it or not) could make friends who share many of my interests. And then I realize, it's been right in front of me all along! I just need to move to the Internet! How stupid of me to have been so blind to this for so long.

On My Mind

I'm trying to keep my mind on my car hassles because the other thing weighing on my mind is my sister...she's in the hospital again with heart pains. She went in very, very early yesterday morning and was admitted late yesterday afternoon. This is the umpteenth time she's had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance in the past several months and it's very upsetting. I'm concerned that the doctors are not finding the true cause for her heart problems each time she goes in. One time, it's said to be unrelated to the heart and, instead, related to breathing difficulties. But another time it has to do with the buildup of fluids and the need to keep that process in check. And then it has to do with medications (like nitroglycerine pills) not relieving pain when they should. I question whether they are not doing all they can, and should, because she is not covered by expensive private insurance.

These episodes emphasize to me the fact that we're all mortal. My own heart bypass surgery a few years ago brought home quite clearly to me that my heart could stop beating at any time. But somehow I feel more in control of my own life than I feel about my family members' lives. The fact that I have ignored my doctor's orders with respect to diet and exercise suggests I'm an undisciplined idiot, but that's another story.

I feel rather helpless just waiting to learn whether my sister is going to be OK. And I get worried that the doctors might say she won't be OK. And then the thought of losing her pops up and is horribly painful. And I don't even know her last wishes, which would make that possibility even more painful. For the record, for any family member who reads this post, my "last wishes" are these (actually, as a practicing atheist I don't have any preferences, personally, but as a matter of practicality): Burn me and be done! Celebrate life and tell stories about mine!

All of my brothers and sisters need to document their "last wishes," if they have any, if for no other reason than to make life a bit easier on everyone else when their time comes.

Back to something less somber, though frustrating in its own way.

I've given the car dealer another week to find a replacement car for me. I was fully prepared to have to get my lawyer personally involved, but the dealer surprised me (maybe because the dealer really, truly believes the car I bought but which was scraped up on one side while it was being delivered is really a super deal).

When I called yesterday, ready to give them a lot of grief and insisting that I have a check in hand immediately, the guy said they were fully prepared to give me a refund, but because the title paperwork, etc. had all gone through, it was more complicated than simply writing me a check. They had to go through the process of transferring the title back into the dealer's name, undoing sales tax records, etc., etc. He said it would take more than a few hours. I said I needed a car immediately, something more upscale than the loaner and he readily agreed, saying he needed the loaner back, anyway, because it had been sold. He said he would provide me with a nicer loaner and I agreed and caved a little, saying I'd give them one more week to find my ideal car (my attorney had suggested this...but also told me to send them a certified letter to document all the facts so far). But after that week, I told him, if I had no new car, I'd want the money in hand, no more waiting.

So, the car they gave me as a loaner is the car I bought...but the guy insisted that I was under no obligation to keep it, it was just one of the few cars available to give me. I haven't seen it in the light of day yet, but it did look very nice last night when it was delivered. And they had put a new set of tires on the car (I'm convinced it could not have passed inspection without them...and it now has a brand-new inspection sticker). I'm sure they want me to change my mind about keeping it. After driving it last night, I could see that happening. But I will wait and see what they find for me. And this morning, the certified letter will be winging its way to the dealership.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Where is Grumpy Old Man?

I periodically follow the belligerent rants of an aging (75 years and counting) ex-pat blogger who has lived in Spain with his Scandanavian wife for many, many years. He is far more militantly left-wing than I and I sometimes find his posts over the top...but they're heart-felt and they're from someone who has seen the American presence worldwide from two very distinctive and opposing perspectives. In spite of his lengthy strings of profanity and his misspellings and hsometimes too "black and white" point of view, I enjoy reading his comments. Beyond that, I've enjoyed listening to the music he's placed on his blog to accompany his diatribes. He's the guy who introduced me to Liam Clancy, the last of the Clancy Brothers who recently died.

Well, as I recall, the last post of his I read was posted November 10. He usually posts a few times each week, so several weeks without posts is alarming. Then, a few days ago, I tried to reach his site and could not reach it. He has not responded to at least two emails I have sent to him and I'm getting concerned.

On the off-chance anyone who reads this knows him or knows why his site has disappeared, I'm asking that you tell me. You can contact me at I would like to know he's just been unceremoniously kicked off his hosting platform for awhile. I'd rather that be the reason I can't reach him than anything else.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Help? Help? Really?

I spent this weekend waiting for the phone to ring. I was waiting to be called to the scene of a fire, where I would dispense food and drink and compassion to families whose home had been damaged or destroyed in a fire. This was my first "on call" weekend as a volunteer with a relief organization.

My first call came just 8 hours after my volunteer "duty" period started. At 2:15 am, I was jarred out of bed by what I thought was the phone ringing; but it was the phone's email alert, not the phone. I read the message, telling me in a cryptic code that four adult males were involved in a single family house fire in South Dallas. Then, moments later, I got a message telling me the "incident number" for this fire, a number I would need to use if I filled out forms giving some sort of aid to the victims of the fire.

Finally, the team leader called me and told me where to meet him and the third member of the team, where we would all get into the agency's well-equipped emergency vehicle and drive to the scene of the fire. I arrived at the designed parking lot at 3:00 am and the agency vehicle arrived moments later. Then, the three of us drove to the scene of the fire. Along the way, the team leader commented that this was a "bad" part of Dallas, a comment I couldn't dispute. It was a poverty-stricken area that had a reputation in the media as being a haven for gangs and drugs and a place where violence was relatively common. The talk made me a bit nervous, but I thought, "who's going to mug relief volunteers?"

We arrived at the scene of the fire to find at least two fire trucks and several firemen, plus three black men wrapped from head to toe in blankets. We introduced ourselves and the team leader began asking questions: Did the men have IDs? (no) Did they have any bills, etc. that had their names and that address on them? (no) Did they have keys to the house? (no) They had reasons for their answers, but their answers suggested that they either did not really live there (they claimed the guy with the key left earlier) or they were not the primary residents or that they only crashed there temporarily.

Inside, we found smoke and a bit of fire damage to a hall closet, lots of water and "gunk" on the floor, and two empty beds nor other furniture. The kitchen was dirty but barren of food. A clothes washer was half-full of green, smelly water. The occupants, who had come back in side by the time we looked around, were all lounging on the only furniture in the house: two recliners and a sofa. About the time we saw them, a woman arrived; she had been inside an ambulance outside, receiving treatment for smoke inhalation, but she was obviously OK by the time she came back in the house.

The leader explained that the agency's policies provided relief only for lost shelter, food, and clothing. He explained that the house was livable because there was only a litte bit of damage, and that there was no food that could be replaced and that the people obviously had some clothing (what they were wearing, I suppose). So, he said, the only thing we could provide would be some snacks and drinks. The occupants were not thrilled, but they seemed not to have expected much from us; they seemed (to me) to expect that no one would give them any real assistance.

I can't help but acknowledge that the victims of the fire may have been, and probably were, squatters. They had no money, no food, and no clothing other than what they wore on their backs and had wrapped around them. According to relief agency policy, they did not qualify for replacement food or clothing or shelter. But I felt like I was watching bureaucracy in action when I watched the team leader explain that we were unable to do any more than provide them with snacks and something to drink. I was tempted to reach into my wallet and give these people $50or $100 just so they could have a little bit of comfort. But I didn't. I was home and in bed just after 5:00 am, smelling of smoke but comfortable and warm and dry. When I got up later, my wife cooked bacon for me before I had to leave for a meeting.

The next call came about 15 minutes after I went to bed the next evening. Again, it was a house fire, but this time it was much closer to home, only about 12 miles away. And it was in a neighborhood that is undergoing a transition from small homes built in the 1940s to behemoth replacements built after the smaller homes have been razed.

The second call involved a duplex that had caught fire while the occupant, a renter, had been out of town but was on the way back. A neighbor called him to ask if his dog was with him; when the guy said it was, his neighbor said good, but your house is on hire. The damage at this place was more signficant, involving walls and the floor, which had been torn and sawed up by the fire department, making it impossible to get to the kitchen. The single guy who lived there said he could stay with friends that night and, since he had been traveling, had clothes with him. But he said he could use some help with food, since he had been saving his money for his move...his trip was to Colorado, the location to which he was arranging to move. Again, the team leader asked questions and essentially settled on not giving the guy anything, but he changed his mind and gave him a $50 debit card for food.

In private conversations afterward, the leader said the relief agency was in business to replace losses and get people on their feet, not to hand out money.

The victim's next door neighbor came out and asked for support, too. His place had some smoke odor, but nothing else. I had no problem with the decision to tell him "no."

One thing that struck me about these episodes was the enormity of the paperwork burden the relief agency places on volunteers' shoulders. While I understand the need to avoid abuse, the paperwork is akin to governmental bureaucracy on steroids.

Fortunately for me, the phone did not ring again on Sunday or Sunday night. I was afraid it would. I found I was emotionally jarred when the phone rang. I didn't want to hear it again. But after all was said and done, I wondered if this volunteerism is for me. I felt like my role would become one primarily of fighting off swindlers with volumes of rules. Do I want that? How else can I help people?

Hell, I'll just go back to dealing with my as-yet-unreturned and unreplaced car. I'm on the hook to drive the loaner at least until Thursday. Maybe then I'll get a replacement or push the button and insist on a check and the return of my old car.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


I will not tolerate getting old and feeble before I retire. I won't put up with it. It will be dealt with in the most severe manner. If that means I have to retire before January 1, 2010, then so be it. I won't put up with it, do you hear me?!