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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Cup Runneth Over


A grail, from both ancient Hebrew and ancient Greek, was a vessel on which a course of a meal was delivered. The Latin translation is all encompassing, words like grade and gradual and graduate take their roots in the gradus, or the grail. The Holy Grail is the container which Jesus of Nazareth was reported to have partaken wine in during the Last Supper, the last meal of the Christ. Joseph of Arimathea, the receiver of the dead body of Jesus, is believed to have captured the blood of the Christ in the grail itself.

Two courses of the meal of life, delivered in the same dish, should one choose to believe in that sort of thing.

Or, should one so choose to believe that the grail was more of a chalice, or maybe even nothing more than a large tankard, then it could have also been used as an instrument of death. Socrates drank his wine, knowing it was poisoned, from such a cup; as did Caesar Claudius. It was once a nice way to tell someone to fuck off. Permanently.

"Hey, Jesus, a glass of wine?"

"No, thanks," he told them, according to Mark the apostle.

So those who had offered the poisoned wine decided to crucify Jesus, instead.

And so, to add to the conjecture concerning the authenticity of any Holy Grail, I offer the obvious: If Jesus had taken the easy way out, if he had drank from that poisoned cup, then perhaps some of us would be just as full of sin and evil as anyone else in society is who refuses to get nailed to a cross. Like Socrates and Claudius and a host of others who chose a quick and relatively painless death over some sort of violent martyrdom. Like a lot of good people.

Like one day, one twenty-sixth of April in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and ninety-two, when a lot of other peoples whom had put up with a lot of other bullshit that had always been beyond their ability to control decided to take an easy way out. Every so often, people who are not so stubborn as some son of a deity is decide that opportunity only comes once in a lifetime. People who feel as though they have had the shit beaten out of them all of their lives decide that drinking from a poisoned chalice beats the hell out of being hit over the head by one.

* * * *

The quest for the Holy Grail - that chalice searched for by King Arthur’s knights - was meant to be a test of faith in the end; that ultimately each knight looked inward in order to find humility and courage and sacrifice and so on. Each knight looked inward in order to find all of the necessary qualities of a good knight. And truth, the most important quality according to Merlin, certainly lies buried deep inside of us all.

For the Knights of the Round Table, redemption was a constant exchange of servitude – to serve their King, to serve their God, to serve the land, while forever looking inward in order to draw the fuel necessary to be a good knight. In return, wearing the cross of the Christ of their God and the crest of their King, they were free to conquer foreign soil and unite any and all lands under their God and their King. Camelot aside, the Middle Ages pretty much worked this way.

Conquering and uniting were every bit as popular back in those days as they are now, maybe even more so.

And when things generally weren’t going so swell, so was rioting and looting. According to the legend of King Arthur, when the King fell ill, the land began to die. The people of the land then began to fight back, to pillage and burn and rape and loot and do all of the things once only reserved for those who held enough power to perform such atrocious acts in the name of their King or their God and so on. And when the knights were set out on a quest for the grail – in order to save the King and the land and so on, as one version of the legend has it – it was Percival who finally recovered the life-saving chalice. Percival, once nothing more than a thief who roamed outside of Camelot taking what he could from anyone he could.

What a great story that turned out to be!

* * * *

Too bad that Rodney King couldn’t pull a Holy Grail out of his back pocket when those police officers started to beat the living shit out of him. Maybe the looting and rioting in Los Angeles would have never happened.

Of course, that wouldn’t have changed the fact that the poor become poorer, the victims become more victimized, and even though all people were created equal, some seem to be more equal that others.

Others have to wait until the corner store is ablaze in order to afford olive oil instead of something far nastier and much more unhealthy. So, eventually, even if not on one twenty-sixth of April in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and ninety-two, the Los Angeles riots would have happened anyway.

"Can’t we all just get along?"

Sure. Just as long as you back away from your grail. Keep your hands up where I can see them and lie flat on the ground…

* * * *

Poor people in New Orleans are stealing guns for the same reason that rich people in Florida are stealing votes; the same reason that beet-farmers and bible-thumpers are listening to conservative ideals; the same reason that Mexican illegals are embracing the ghost of Chavez.

Because, like some hurricane blown in by a powerful and unpredictable God, we really have no idea what is going to happen next.

But I will admit one thing: I honestly couldn’t tell you whether I would choose to drink wine laced with myrrh or be nailed to a cross. Nor could I tell you, were I on my ass all of my life, whether or not I would steal shotguns out of a Wal-Mart if the city that I lived in suddenly became thirty feet underwater.

After all, who really knows what potion the grail offers, until one has actually drank from it?

I only know that anyone who would steal a DVD player from an electronics store in a city with no electricity has probably faced issues on a level that I will never have to endure. Even in a place that can be as poor as this place can be. Even here.

I have learned that what is going on in New Orleans isn’t much different than what went on in Los Angeles, the last time that I lived there.

Different hurricane, same grail.

Or lack, thereof.

And some people prefer crucifixion over a nice glass of get-it-while-you-can.

And the press will rub this in your face like you are some mangy dog who pooped on the rug. Because you let them.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Thirty-Five To One

I can’t recall in any sort of an approximate number how many times that I have crossed the border from the United States of America into the United States of Mexico, I only know that I have come here exactly one time more than I have left. I have lived here for over thirteen years. I have not crossed every day, and have occasionally crossed twice in a day, and extremely rarely even more than that in a twenty-four hour period. If I consider all of this, perhaps I can put a number on the number of crossings I have made in my life.

Had I lived here for exactly eleven years, and had I crossed once every day, then I would have crossed exactly four thousand and fifteen times. I choose eleven years because I worked in Mexico for the first couple of months that I lived here, and I normally do not cross on weekends; plus I spent about a year working in Los Angeles and only coming to Mexico on the weekends. Knocking off two years worth of crossings sounds about right. At least, it sounds simple.

Should anyone care to ask me, to guess how many times that I have crossed the border from the United States into Mexico, then I can probably say this, at the moment: Four thousand and fifteen.

And I have crossed the border from Mexico into the United States of America, then, four thousand and fourteen times.

The difference in coming and going is profound, and time has made it that way even more so. Crossing into the United States of America has never been a piece of cake, so to speak, the government cowboys have never made it much of a pleasant experience. After the World Trade Center came down, crossing into the United States suddenly rated right up there with a proctologist’s examination. Sure, customs might not snap on a rubber glove and have you pull down your jeans, turn around, and bend over (although they do that from time to time); but then, there isn’t a two hour wait to get one’s prostate checked, either.

* * * *

Coming into Mexico, in contrast, is mostly painless. I have always chuckled when crossing on a tourist shuttle, when the tourists say things like, “You mean, that’s it?!”

An official boards the bus about sixty percent of the time, looks in and around, and leaves. Sometimes they don’t even bother to board it.

Crossing into Mexico, I can count the number of times on one finger that I have had my pack checked, and again on one finger how many times I was sent to secondary in my car. I deserved it, the car search. I was attempting to slide unnoticed into Mexico with a water heater lying across the back and front passenger seat of a nineteen-eighty Honda Civic. Back then, there were agents at every lane, and I was motioned into secondary inspection. When prompted for the twenty-two percent tariff, I didn’t have it. I was told, then, to return to the United States of America until I could come up with the cash. So, I drove down the road in Otay, looking for a good spot to make for the line to get back. I kept going and going, the line to enter the United States was huge. I went so far into Mexico looking for a place to turn around, that I wound up out of sight from the Mexican customs station.

No one followed. I kept going and going. I installed the water heater the next day.

The Mexican government has since modernized things a bit. At least, they have added some new equipment in the last thirteen years. Driving into Mexico, the first thing that one notices right at the border, is that every lane has a stoplight, a red or green light will flash on telling you what to do next. My empirical observations have led me to estimate that one in about thirty-five cars get sent to a revision point at the crossing. This is all by chance, there is nothing that tips off the light to turn one color or another.

Like a slot machine.

There are spotters, officials that sit up on small towers and track which automobiles get the red light. If they don’t proceed to a revision area, then the Federal Police are radioed and aggressively pursue the suspected vehicle. Very few escape, and the Federal Police more so than any police branch in Mexico are not to be screwed with. You don’t want to catch a Federali in a bad mood. Try and bribe a Federali in a bad mood, and your twenty-dollar bill might get you a mouthful of the butt of an AK-47. Or worse.

There is no way in the world that I could ever get away with smuggling in a water heater now. Those days are over. Still, your odds of getting a revision light are about thirty-five to one. Not bad. Not bad at all.

When walking into Mexico, the pedestrian customs station is similar to the one for automobiles, but there is no automatic light. If the agent suspects you of bringing something in that he or she should know about, then they will have you push a button mounted on one of those stoplights, a portable one. If the light turns green, and it usually does, then you get to go. If it turns red, then the customs agent searches your luggage. Another slot machine.

The number of times that I have been asked to push the button while walking through the pedestrian customs station in Mexico: Once.

For whatever reason, one day some time ago I was walking back into Mexico after work and the customs agent asked me about my backpack. I offered to open it up for him, he refused to look into it, telling me that all that he wanted me to do was to push the button on the light post. So I pushed the button and the light turned green and I went to the Perico and had a beer, like on most days back then.

* * * *

When I decided that a new computer would be a good item to purchase with money won at the race book, I knew that I would have to add a couple hundred dollars or so from money previously saved for such circumstances. When I lived up the hill in Infonavít Latinos, we only had dial-up, and the slow signal was easily split and delivered to either of two computers in the house. Here, we have broadband access. Broadband is not so easy to deliver to multiple computers unless one has some sort of a router, so I figured on having to purchase a wireless router and some other complimentary accessories along the way. Like a nice flat-screen monitor and an economical sound system.

And I had the money. Having some extra money became very important about fifteen minutes after I had made my purchase.

The computer that I had selected was already built and the system software and drivers and so on were already installed, the idea being that I could come home, plug everything in, and go. After work on Tuesday, Rick drove me to a store in Chula Vista, one of only a handful of computer vendors south of San Diego. Twenty minutes later, we were in the car driving toward the border. We stopped by a meat warehouse in the United States just before the border with Mexico where Rick bought a gigantic package of hot dogs and about a dozen flats of eggs.

Rick has a lot of mouths to feed these days, relatives and children or relatives and all of that. I have found that one key to keeping the relatives at arms-length is to not keep my refrigerator and my pantry stocked with food and beverages. I suppose that Rick doesn’t have that choice, I am guessing that a certain level of inventory must be kept at all times.

Rick added his eggs and weenies to the seven hundred and eighty-two dollars worth of electronics that I had in his back seat, and we headed toward the border. We chatted about work, about whatever, we were both in a great mood. We approached the light at the border, and then my thirty-five to one shot came in:


Neither of us had even thought about that possibility, we hadn’t discussed it in advance. Yet, here we were, in the left-hand revision lane.

"¿Que es éso?" asked the agent checking our car.

There were too many boxes in the back seat, boxes filled with electronics from the United States of America. Traffic was stopped and we were being sent to the larger inspection station to the right.

"Fuck this," Rick said. "Let’s go back and go through Otay, take our chances there."

I shook my head.

"I have the money," I told him. "I’ll just pay it. I don’t care, I don’t want to go all of the way to Otay and have the same thing happen."

It took us quite a few minutes to park the car in there, what with the tour buses and other vehicles going through the same thing that we were going through. And there was a van trying to change a flat tire. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a cock fight in there.

Another agent approached us. I got the impression that we could bribe him if we had wanted to. I still haven’t asked Rick if he had that same impression, but I will, now that I think about it, I am pretty sure that forty dollars would’ve had us on the road in an instant.

No matter, I wouldn’t have bribed him anyway.

"Where are you going with this," he asked in Spanish. Rick answered first, and I pretended that we lived together. Whatever they were going to charge me, it would surely be cheaper that way.

"Since neither of you are Mexican citizens, you are not permitted the three-hundred dollar waiver, you are only permitted fifty dollars each. Instead of six hundred dollars, I can only deduct one hundred from the total invoice," he told us.

He also deducted the tax that I paid in the United States, I made sure of that. He handed me a sheet of paper that demanded the items, serial numbers, and so on, of the products that I was bringing in to Mexico. Five minutes later, we finally found a pen on a table. I wrote down whatever occurred to me, I wasn’t about to open up boxes and get serial numbers. I went to one window to get a ticket printed out, and then another to pay the one-hundred and four dollars that I had to pay in order to get these electronics into the country.

I returned to the agent, who stamped some official stamp on my receipt. I began toward Rick’s car, when the agent hollered at me, told me to come back.

"Why?" I asked.

He pointed to yet another light with yet another button that I had to push – a button that would decide whether or not I needed further inspection.

"You have to be kidding, didn’t we just go through this exercise?"

"This is our system, please push the button," he insisted.

The light turned green. I guess that Rick’s eggs and weenies are safe from further inspection.

* * * *

When I got home and hooked everything up, the computer refused to work properly. The lights blinked, the fan came on, but that was followed only by a series of beeps that finally stopped when I turned the computer off. I tried to restart it several times, with the same result, more beeping. I wasn’t very happy about that. Finally, I decided to open up the case, remove the memory and install it again, and then Windows XP was happy to see me.

I am not a big XP fan. But I will learn to live with it.

I am supposing that if a fifteen to one shot could be the catalyst for purchasing this machine, and a thirty-five to one shot had me pay a hundred dollars extra for this machine, then this machine is probably the luckiest machine ever imported into Mexico.

At least, it had damned well better be lucky for me.