Paving the road to nowhere, one word at a time.

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Location: Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

American born, living in Mexico since 1992.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Building The Perfect Pasture

We are mostly architects, us human beings, in the sense that we build elaborate plans and scheme intricate designs of our everyday lives; and of our futures and of the futures of our children, and so on. As architects, building as we go, I wonder how many of us ever come to realize that most of our designs never quite work out. Most people would call whichever failed structure, or unrealized plan, as unsuccessful, but that isn’t at all an accurate analysis of what is really going on. Humankind’s extremely low batting average is directly attributable to nature’s wicked curve balls and sliders.

We do not fail so much as we do not realize that we often plan what we shouldn’t have planned. Sometimes we are not supposed to swing at a certain pitch.

Or else, we should have planned, and the plan should not have worked, so that we wind up exactly in the position that we are in. This is a very handy religion. It requires no reading, no special understanding or enlightenment, only acceptance of the obvious. However random that our destiny is, the futility of many of our grand designs is simply part of the works. Sometimes we are supposed to strike out.

How simple is that?

* * * *

Friday was going to be busy. The border was like it always is. We were like thick oil into a funnel, slowly spilling out of Mexico into the United States of America. Slippery human cattle are herded through gates and checked by machines and government cowboys, and branded and recorded for reasons other than posterity.



"United States of America."

He looked up at me, matching my picture from my identification card to the gray-bearded man standing in front of his counter.

"Purpose of your visit to Mexico?"

"I live in Mexico."

His fingers tripped over themselves as they slowly punched keys on the keyboard. Numbers and letters were entered into a query and the digital question was answered in a way that posed no threat to me entering into the United States of America.

I am, at least, USDA select.

"What are you bringing back?"

"Nothing that I need to declare."

He glared at me, as he glared at everyone, suspicion born of ignorance, of training, of a government brainwash.

He was supposed to glare at me and, like the lead dog in a rabid pack, sense any fear that I might be attempting to suppress.

"Have a nice day," he said as he handed me back my California Identification card.


Us cattle crossed, at least most of us, and at least one of us put fifty cents into a coin slot in a newspaper rack and bought a newspaper. I parted the paper in the lead car of the trolley. I tried to read the sports page, but I kept thinking about how Vince was going to be fired this morning. The sun wasn’t out quite yet, there were still some low clouds to burn off. Vince was a very slow moving train, already in the process of derailment, and I knew that one of the rails up ahead was missing. At least the sun suspected that something wasn’t right.

Vince had no clue.

As I walked toward the salt mines after departing the trolley and on my way to work, I admitted to myself that I hated knowing about it. I wanted it to be a surprise to me, too. But I knew about it because I had to know about it. My boss had to tell someone, I cannot blame her for that. And I was a logical choice. I am her right-hand man, her mano derecho as we say in Mexico.

Everyone needs a mano derecho, if only for such occasions.

I had two meetings with vendors while the axe was slowly being dropped on Vince's employment. Then, the rare lunch away from the plant. Then, I was officially notified that Vince was no longer with the company.

* * * *

One time, many years ago, even before the terrorists won, we were all waiting in line to cross into the United States of America. The lines were long, we were waiting forever in a maze of metal railing.

Someone, one brave soul, said, "Moo."

We all laughed. Then, one by one, in a chorus, we began to moo. We were suddenly the cattle that we were being treated as. Quickly, the inner offices emptied and government cowboys hushed us up, threateningly reminding us of how we were applying for admission into the United States of America and that we would all be refused entry if we didn’t shut up.

It reminded me of grade school.

Another time, many many years before that, we were all assembled in a large room and made to watch a movie. At the end of the movie we began to clap, us eight-year-olds, until quite by accident, we began to clap in unison. Soon, we were delighted by the power that we had, clapping in unison like that, loud and proud and happily and innocently startled by our own discovery.

Clap, clap, clap, clap, and so on.

The lights abruptly went on and our teachers, who looked both frightened and distraught, quickly hushed us and admonished us for our behavior.

"That," one teacher scolded, "is how communists act, in countries like the Soviet Union."

The Soviet Union of Socialist Republics was once the main reason that we all dove under our desks in nuclear bomb drills. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was once a country, whose main objective was world domination. That country has since dissolved. Nowadays, the United States of America is the only country left whose prime objective is world domination.

But back then, behaving like a citizen of the Soviet Union was supposed to be the worst thing ever. Groups of people, who clapped in unison, even if by accident, were no better than the Soviets.

That, incidentally, was my first lesson in communism.


* * * *

I didn’t speak to Vince until about five o’clock. He was almost finished loading all of his stuff up, and stood outside smoking a cigarette. We had all previously planned a small party at the end of the day, and so I yanked two Coronas from the refrigerator and handed one to Vince, and we toasted.

"I’ve been fired a couple of times," I admitted to him.

"I had no idea it was coming," he said.

The funny thing is that he is the only one who didn’t see it coming. One time, many years ago when I was once fired, I didn’t see it coming either. At least I could relate to that part of it. Back then, however, I didn’t have the same sort of religion that I have now. Back then I would, for example, try to pull a breaking ball on the outside corner, strike out, and be completely bewildered and beside myself as to how I could’ve missed that pitch.

In Vince, I always felt that I was looking at myself, maybe fifteen years ago.

"I was officially notified at about one-thirty," I told him. This was not a lie, the key word being officially.

"That was way after I was canned," he replied. He seemed to be relieved in knowing that I didn't know about it in advance. At least, I hope that it helped a bit.

The other thing that wasn’t a lie was what I did not say. I did not tell him that it was a pleasure working with him. It wasn’t. I like Vince, but he is extremely difficult to work with, at the very least. Vince was not popular with very many people here in that respect.

"In the end," I said, "we are just like cattle. Good luck in your new pasture."

I finished my beer and went back inside to get some coals and fire up the grill. Where Vince will wind up is anyone’s guess, but I hope that he gets some sort of a religion that allows him the opportunity to strike out once in a while. If it does nothing else, it keeps one a little bit sane.



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