We're sixty minutes into Mexico, sitting on the enormous terrace of our itsy bitsy, teeny tiny, rented room. Hiram has asked me to name my five favorite Pet Shop Boys songs. When I try to negotiate counting the entire first album as one song, we have to change the subject. There was an eensie weensie crescent moon when we started this that is nowhere to be found. Now we’re alone here under a black sky observing Taco Tuesday eating takeout empanadas with chimichurri, an Argentinian thing for which I am offering no alliteration.
First beach day, 2017. All of Playa Bonita and Sandy Beach was covered with discarded plastic bottles and Doritos bags – typical but it still always bums me out and leaves me thinking the worst things about people.
Here's a photo of some festive and neglected garbage bins.
Did you know the Spanish word for industrial drum is tambo? I get a kick out of saying it because it's also the sound they make when you drum on them. ¡Tambo!
And here's to words that are fun to say, bright colors and finding the good anyway.
Sometimes on Sundays, we walk to Rincon Market where Hiram orders an Arnold Palmer. Except he doesn’t call it an Arnold Palmer. He calls it iced tea with half iced tea and half lemonade.
- The approximate number of weeks in a year.
- A significant number in the Maya calendar
- On the piano, the number of white keys (notes in the C major scale)
- The number of cards in a standard deck of playing cards, not counting Jokers or advertisement cards
- The name of a practical joke card game 52 Pickup
- "52 Pick-Up" is a film starring Roy Scheider and Ann Margaret
- The code for international direct dial phone calls to Mexico
- A weekly comic series from DC Comics entitled 52 has 52 issues, with a plot spanning one full year.
- The New 52 is a 2011 revamp and relaunch by DC Comics of its entire line of ongoing monthly superhero books.
- The number of letters in the English alphabet, if majuscules are distinguished from minuscules
- The number of the French department Haute-Marne
- 52nd Street (disambiguation)
- 52 Hand Blocks, a variant of the martial art jailhouse rock.
- 52 is the car number of retired NASCAR driver Jimmy Means
- 52 American hostages were held in the Iran hostage crisis
At the supermarket today I have learned there is a Spanish language expression that apparently means both "Get down off of there!" and "Let your sister out of the egg case!"
¡Basta, ya! No los voy a llevar al .99 cent...
Spring has sort of come and gone early this year, feeling like little more than a quickly practiced ritual. February hadn't even begun before balmy days and the acacian pom-poms worked us all up with their jellybean scented cheer, sending some on blissed out walks and bike rides and others into allergic fits.
But by mid-March temperatures were already in the nineties and many of the yellow flowers—which this time of year are usually still dancing to unseen music against a deep blue sky—those flowers are down on the curb loitering as if there's going to be an after-party, but they don't know where yet.
Also around town, there are those shrubs with the red flowers that when they blossom always make me think of fishing lures. Now, after a week of hot sun, they're a bit more like a well-used cosmetics brush you spot on the sidewalk outside the drag bar during an early morning walk-of-shame home. Inevitably, not far away, there's that gamier bush, the one with the greyish flowers that smell like—how to say it?—a happy ending.
Sometimes the glass in the picture reflected the light outdoors and the flight of birds between branches of trees, and while it reflected, Mr. Holifield was having a dream.
– Eudora Welty. June Recital.
I am enjoying the images in this sentence and its efficiency.
Sometime after my parents divorced, my mother was driving us home from a Thanksgiving spent with my grandparents in Fresno. She decided we would go through Nothern Arizona so we could stop and visit her Uncle Andrew. I didn't think I had ever met Uncle Andrew, but I had heard his name a lot before. He held a high position in our church and had been in a war. He was something of mystical hero to my mom and her side of the family.
I was an impatient ten-year-old prone to car sickness and didn't want to make any trip longer than it had to be.
“Can't we just go home?”
“You love Uncle Andrew.”
“I don't even know him.”
“You do, but don't remember it because you were just a baby. Everyone loves Uncle Andrew. He's a stake president. Did you know he has not eaten chocolate since coming back from the war?”
That part about being a stake president, that is an important church role to Mormons, so he must have had a lot of clout in his largely Latter Day Saint community. The other part, about the chocolate, is a non-sequitur. And that is the way we talk in my family.
“He doesn't eat chocolate?”
“No. Something happened to him in the war and he won't eat chocolate.”
“What about his kids? Can they eat chocolate?”
“Yes, but he won't.”
“Why? What happened to him in the war?”
“He never said. He probably had a vision.
I still was not happy about extending the agony of the road trip, but it was inevitable. I started to wonder now if I might be able to find out why a wise man wouldn't eat chocolate. Could he have been tortured with chocolate somehow? Maybe an angel appeared to him and promised to deliver him safely home from the war if he vowed never to eat candy bars again. Adults won't ask things like that, but given the chance I probably would.
So we went to see Uncle Andrew.
Uncle Andrew's house was huge compared to the houses I knew, so I thought it must be true that he was a successful and important person. There were the familiar prints in gilded frames of Joseph Smith and Blonde Jesus. There were doilies on the arms of the couches and, just like my mom's other aunts and uncles' houses, everything smelled like Ben-Gay. Also, the house had a basement that wasn't like the few gross basements I had seen when we lived in Mesa. The basements I had seen there had dirt floors and were where the hot water heater was. They smelled of insecticide and us kids were forbidden from going in without a grown-up. Technically, I think they were cellars or crawl spaces, but the hastily built cinder block houses in the area where we were living in Tucson by then didn't have even those.
The basement at Uncle Andrew's was like in houses on television. There were bedrooms and bunk beds and there was carpet and there was a rec room with weights and trophies and black-and-white photos of my mom's now grown and moved-away cousins as high school track stars. Yes, there was wood paneling. To ten-year-old me it seemed like they had a vacation home underneath their real home. I spent as much time there as I could that day studying the trophies and pictures of my mom's athletic cousins, wondering about their lives and thinking about how to ask Uncle Andrew later why he wouldn't eat chocolate.
But I was cut short.
At dinner he announced, “Your boys need haircuts. Before you folks leave tomorrow, I'll get the clippers out and shear 'em.”
“What does shear mean?” I asked.
“That's what we have to do to the sheep, so we can make coats with the wool.”
Ha, ha! Cool. I wanted to see the clippers and hoped I could get the flattop the cousins in the photos all had. I laughed and made a joke. Would they sell our hair to make coats? Ha, ha!
Then without missing a beat, he added,“We also have to do it when little boys start looking like little girls, like you do.”
All the adults laughed again. But, ouch. I probably made a face because my mom shot me a dagger.
I no longer wanted the flattop. I no longer cared about making these people laugh. I just no longer wanted to be there. As soon as he left the room I told my mom I didn't like him and I wasn't getting a haircut.
“You'll behave and you'll get a haircut.”
“We'll see about that.”
When Uncle Andrew came back, he asked mom if I was giving her trouble.
“He gets a little big for his britches sometimes. He thinks he's not getting a haircut, but he's getting a haircut. You're right. He needs one. Thank you for offering.”
I don't remember what was said next. I do remember there was shouting and tears and probably spitting. That was something I did then. When everything seemed horrible and beyond my control, I spit. Soon Uncle Andrew gave me a bad haircut, a hard spanking, and a talk about boys growing up without fathers needing discipline.
When we left the next day, Uncle Andrew said, “Bring your little girl back for a haircut and a spanking any time.”
More laughter. I fumed and tried to make sense of what had happened. It was too much though.
I had a dad. I hadn't done anything wrong. I actually wanted the haircut at first. Why did he have to say I looked like a girl? Why did that feel so, I dunno, yucky?
It would be years before I comprehended why it feels creepy when grown men are bothered by little boys looking like little girls.
But mostly I wanted to know why my mom, who was still angry with me, had let him spank me.
“He loves you and he is worried about you.”
“Well, I hate him. I hope I never see him again.”
“If you talk like that again, I'll spank you. One day you'll understand and you'll be thankful.”
But I didn't and I'm not.
Years later when it happened that a man I was dating turned out to be from Uncle Andrew's town and congregation, I told him the story about the haircut and the spanking.
“Really?” He asked, “I always thought he was a sweet guy, but I can see it. He was awfully stern with those kids. Did you ever find out about the chocolate?”
“No. I didn't care after that.”
And it's true, I didn't. By the time we got back to our cinder block house without a basement or a father's discipline, I decided Uncle Andrew had probably had just come down with food poisoning in whatever country he was in during the war and later, when he didn't want to talk about the diarrhea, everyone reconciled his stubborn silence with something unquestionably sacred.
Another time when people who should know better got their faith mixed up with some man's awful crap.
A great day for people whose favorite books are hats!
The calls are coming from inside the house.
There's a lot going on in the world so something that it's easy to forget is that if you are right now eating Nutella on your toast and you suddenly have an itch to scratch in your pajamas eventually you will have some explaining to do.
Good and bad things happened this year. I won't take credit for more than a couple of them because the only things I actually set out to accomplish were to:
- Stop being a such a dick to call center reps.
- Become proficient in using Node JS for front-end web development work.
Neither one of those things is easy or impossible. What's more, for most of the people in my life, the first is the only one I can really ask you to do. When you do, you will feel so much better. I promise.
Here's a long-winded breakdown of everything else.
- All I want for Christmas is no more tamale memes. The tamales are fine though. I want the tamales.
- I attend my niece's Christmas pageant in Hermosillo. My god, they are serious about costumes.
- We spend Christmas with Hiram and his Family in Hermosillo in their new sub-division home.
- When we first met, Hiram had never tasted sour cream as it is sold in the United States (and is a staple in Gringo interpretations of Mexican food). Now he seems to prefer it.
- I enjoy meeting Alejandro Cartagena at the Center for Creative Photography, where he gives a presenation about home ownership in Mexico: Building Narratives Around the Dream of Homeownership, Suburbs and A Sense of Place. Also, he has copies of his book, Carpoolers.
- Days before the election, I'm not as confident about Trump not winning as most of my friends are. My extended family, most of whom are Latter Day Saint or conservative Christians, but who nonetheless usually express support and enthusiasm about my marriage and my immigrant husband, have been ominously quiet about a candidate rallying frightened and angry people with more fear and anger.
- The election is an awful disappointment. Most everyone I know is sick to their stomach. Some literally.
- My friend Nathan sums up my feelings that night when he writes:
As I go to bed, I'm shocked at the realization that so many of my fellow Americans (and likely friends and family) support racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia and actually turn a blind eye to actual corruption in order to hate a woman for innuendo. Sorry guys, but if you voted for Trump, I hate you a bit right now. I weep for my country. I weep for those that aren't privileged enough to make it through the next four years. The rest of us have to deal with an Executive, Legislative and likely Judiciary branch that will redefine our constitution to ensure that hatred will be a cornerstone of our country's values.
- After a week of feeling miserable and not knowing what to say to people about what I'm feeling, I run into a friend I haven't seen in years. He greets me with, "How are you?" When I answer, "I'm not giving up," it's comforting when he get it and nods.
- This year I am thankful for friends who get it and are not silent.
- Thanksgiving in Rocky Point. Hiram is there for work. I need to use my vacation time, so I tag along, doing my own thing for a week, and when I'm not, staring at the sea through a hotel window.
- Hiram and I housesit for Ken. It is pleasant to be surrounded by his good taste, to wake up with his cat, and to use his washer and dryer.
- We have been reading aloud John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley.
- My mother appears to me in a dream scolding me for not keeping our place in Rocky Point, where dentistry is available at a discount.
- Linus, who I nannied for when he was a baby, turns 18. Do not be sad when your childhood friends start turning into old people; instead, be happy you are still around when your child friends start turning into young people.
- The neighbors' pomegranate tree has born fruit and it's hanging over their wall. It's all I can do not to snatch a couple.
- A window washer I often see around downtown falls from his unicyle at University and Euclid and demonstrates what it truly means to land on one's feet.
- New housing, mostly apartments, are going up all over downtown Tucson. What a difference from the barrio of my twenties. How long before Midtown Liquors has an olive bar?
- We go to the Himmel branch of the public library and get Hiram a library card. While we're there, I discover you can check out seeds to plant a garden. The deal is, after your harvest you return some seeds. God, I love the library system here.
- Herzog's Heart of Glass is weird and beautiful.
- We attend my Nephew's graduation from the Motorcycle Mechanic Institute in Phoenix. Driving back to Tucson afterward, Hiram comments "There was a lot of testosterone in that room."
- We visit Biosphere 2 for the first time as tourists. I had been there years ago when my friend Charlotte was part of the second group of Biospherians, and another time for work, but never as someone taking the tour.
- Nights and weekends over the summer we go to a cafe with frosty air-conditioning, strong coffee and pastries from Nadine's and work on our websites.
- For Christmas last year, Hiram gave me photographer Dan Winters' beautiful book, Road to Seeing. The layout and writing encouraged me to do something different with my website. To make it more friendly to written work as well as accomodating the different incarnations my blog has taken over the years.
- We celebrate our second wedding anniversary at Feast. When Kevin the sommelier helps us choose from three grenaches, he convincingly describes the vineyards each comes from as if we are riding bikes from one to the other. He describes the countryside, the plants and smells in the air, the sunlight. After each, we get back on our bikes and pedal to the next. By the time we pick a bottle, we feel as if we have taken a vacation.
- We visit Puerto Peñasco where it is muggy as all get out. The humidity makes Hiram's hair a delightful mess. His summer curls give me life.
- We spend a long weekend in Bisbee. I did not know Bisbee is cooler than Tucson in the middle of Summer. Please don't tell anyone. I want it to be our secret.
- Aggressive cream pie samples sounds like clickbait but really it's one of the best reasons to shop at Fry's supermarket this summer.
- We have been enjoying the online movie streaming service MUBI all summer, but we sign up for a free month of Netflix streaming so we can watch the new Pee Wee Herman movie. Once we have seen that, we watch as many episodes of Malcolm in The Middle we can before the offer expires.
- I have a crown replaced.
- Bill Cunningham passes away.
- Magda, the cruiser style bicycle I have had since 2003, and which has served both me and Hiram for many Sunday afternoon rides, is stolen. Thank you for your service, Magda.
- We watch Carlos Reygadas' film, Battle in Heaven. It's not an easy movie to watch but you should. Also, it's a sad milestone for us as we have enjoyed discovering his films so much this year. Now that we've seen them all, what will we do until he makes more? We'll probably watch Silent Light and Post Tenebras Lux a few more times.
- Hiram continues to spoil me by making fresh tortillas at breakfast.
- If Sauce ever discontinues its two-for-one summer sampler, we will probably starve to death.
- Hiram says he feels very American when he schedules appointments during his lunch hour. "I can go to the bank during my lunch hour. I try to schedule my dentist appointments during my lunch hour. I often run errands on my lunch hour." And so on. This makes me smile.
- Bridgitte Thum's music mix on KXCI is the best. It is bittersweet, happy and sad all at once. She played National Lampoon’s Deteriorata, which I had forgotten all about.
- I have nightmares about the Orlando shooter and walking through a landscape filled with rattlesnakes.
- We planned to see the toy trains show with Homer. When that was a bust, he gives us a private tour of the Tucson Presidio where he has been involved as a docent and the President of the Presidio's Trust.
- We're economizing this year and decide to not take a vacation that involves airfare. Hiram has business to take care of in Hermosillo, so I suggest when that's out of the way we go to Guaymas for a few days.
- I wonder what has happened to the passenger rail stations of Mexico's past. We visit what's left of the stations in Guaymas, Empalme, and Benjamin Hill. We try to visit the Hermosillo and Nogales stations, but are turned away.
- We climb Tetakawi.
- We try to visit the Librería Bohemia Amado Nervo in Guaymas. There's a big black bow on the door and a court order. Neither one of those things is ever good, I think.
- We spend a lot of our free time at a cafe with air conditioning.
- I always tell myself I won't eat the tortilla chips at El Minuto, but I always do.
- The last few years I have been commuting between Rocky Point and Tucson. This means that I haven't spent many weekends in Tucson. Now Hiram has moved to Tucson and we can make plans to do weekend things here. Like a wine tasting at Feast. Getting in isn't as easy as I thought it would be, but at the last minute we get seats. We learn all about Spanish reds with a group of older folks from Green Valley who drive into town a couple times a month for "Wine School."
- An internet radio mix includes a version of America's Tin Man. I remember hearing it on the radio a lot when I was kid about the time my parents were divorcing. The version the DJ was playing was performed by what sounded like a recording of a grade school chorus and band assembly. It took me back and perhaps because of the children's voices, I was a bit emotional thinking about what my brothers must have been feeling during that time.
- Hiram insists on pairing the socks when we do laundry. I am not complaining.
- In a dream, Hiram threatens to buy three Jack in the Box tacos. But even in dream math, I know those tacos must be bought in pairs.
- One Saturday, Ken takes us on a tour of some of the specialty food markets around Tucson close to his heart.
- Driving through the small Sonoran town of Imuris I see a woman giving a man a haircut in the front yard of a farmhouse. It is the most beautiful photograph I did not take all year.
- We visit the Un Mundo sin Fronteras exhibit at MUSAS in Hermosillo. It includes our friend Francois' images of objects left behind by desert crossers. The exhibit is beautiful and heartbreaking.
- Now I am old enough to remember when frozen yogurt and yogurt both tasted like yogurt.
- Mornings this month I lay in bed enjoying the spring air. I have been recalling documentaries, experimental music, radio theatre programs I'd hear on NPR and Pacifica, and college radio stations when I was a teenager in the eighties and the escape they offered from my insular Mormon life at the time.
- We attend Homer's annual non-denominational egg decorating event. It is the first time Hiram has dyed eggs.
- I'm amused that previous staples of college age poverty, things like recycled wood furnishings and single servings of brewed coffee, are contemporary specialties. Of course the $4 pour-overs appear to use actual filters instead of paper towels, but it’s probably just a matter of time.
- We take the Basic Bicycle maintenance class with Carlyn at BICAS.
- I have had a cough for weeks now. I see my doctor. He says it's allergies. "Every year you come to see me with the same cough you and everyone else has this time of year. You have allergies." He gives me a steroid shot.
- Hiram goes to Ensenada for a meeting. I promise him banana bread when he returns, though I think he'd probably settle for me clipping my toenails.
- My father passes away. I loved him and I don't doubt he loved me. He was a great story teller and a charming man and he worked hard all of his life. We lost touch about ten years ago after he disappeared into his most recent marriage, as he tended to do. It was his fifth. Each time he married again there was more distance between us when my alliances didn't shift from him and my mother to him and his new wife and family. I wish it hadn't always been so all-or-nothing.
- For years I have thought café automático was Spanish for instant coffee. It turns out at some point Hiram and his mom called it that when they were joking with each other and I overheard without understanding and started calling it that, thinking I had learned a new regionalism. “We didnt want to correct you.”
I have been asking confused Mexican waitresses for automatic coffee for years now.
- We pack up the casita in Rocky Point and move our things there to Tucson.
- How does the old expression go? I can do anything you can do, bitter. Dancing backwards and in high feels.
- The morning I learn David Bowie has died, I cry while making the bed, thinking life is so short.
- Hiram and I spend as many nights as we can eating soup on the patio at the Blue Marlin Smoke House.
- With Hiram now a permanent resident in the US, we give our month's notice for the casita in Rocky Point and start figuring out what to keep and not. There are a lot of redundancies. Who needs an iron?