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.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Another Christmas Carol

A belated merry Christmas to all, my sincerest best wishes to everyone in the universe – irrespective of religious beliefs or any other reservations that one might have concerning this time of the Julian calendar. Christmas is a unique holiday that can mean just about anything that anyone wants it to mean. Although some might say that the true meaning of Christmas is the birth of the Christ, I would counter that it is probably more important that Christmas represents the idea that a God would present the world with a living Christ.

As Platonist as this sounds, I think that the important idea about Christmas is the essence of the birth of a living Christ. Maybe Christmas isn't so much about believing in something as it is letting one's self be touched by something. Or even better, maybe the idea about Christmas is touching someone else's life in some positive way, helping someone to being in a better place.

* * * *

People sometimes ask me about my religious beliefs, and I never know what to tell them. I try to keep my tongue out of my cheek, but sometimes it winds up there anyway – or else, I usually wind up with a lot more questions than answers.

"So, do you believe in God?"

"Well," I might say, "Something sure does seem to be going on, doesn't it?"

Getting a blank stare, I might then add that I certainly don't much believe in coincidence.

Einstein once said that God does not play dice, but I know this to not be true. Coincidence is proof that God shoots craps often enough, making the point on this or that roll, getting odds on the come bar, for sure. Sometimes I imagine that thunder is simply God's dice slapping against the sides of some celestial craps table, maybe God has a lot on the pass line. Maybe lightning is two, three, or twelve when God has chips on big red.

"What about Jesus, do you believe in Jesus?"

"Sure, why not?" I answer most of the time.

Jesus is when God made eight the hard way, with a whole lot of chips down on double-four. The manger and the wise men and the virgin mother and so on, are just more rolls of the dice. And Christmas, maybe even Christmas is just another eleven thrown on the big craps table in the heavens.

* * * *

For me, the Christmas holiday is nothing but labor - albeit a labor of love, so to speak. I cook pretty much non-stop, from the twenty-fourth through the twenty-fifth of December every year, as I have done for the last fifteen years or so, give or take the odd year out. This year was no exception to the norm; the turkeys (yes, two turkeys this year!), and the mashed potatoes and gravy and corn and rice and sweet potatoes and rolls and stuffing and so on came out perfect. The New England clam chowder that I learned to cook from my mother, even without half-and-half (which is just about impossible to find here in Mexico), was also a smashing success on Christmas Eve, a tradition in my family that dates back since I can't remember anymore.

Anna learned how to make wonderful chocolate chip cookies (again from a long-time recipe from my mother), and they were chewy and wonderful, just like when I was a little boy, eating them from the same type of dishcloth that we cooled them on last Sunday. And maybe another tradition has started here, maybe every Christmas from now until whenever will include Anna's cookies, and maybe even that will be passed down to my future grandchildren.

But if I have to come up with a true meaning of Christmas, then as I say, it will certainly include the essence of an idea in place of a meaning of an event. My Christmas story, then, might do better justice toward explaining my religious beliefs; or rather, my spiritual perceptions, than does some notion of a gambling deity. And so, I write on.

* * * *

Listen, this is how it went some time ago, not too long ago but some time ago, relatively close to home - close to home for me in any case, for all of this happened during one Christmas in Mexico. A story that has been told for almost forever, in many different ways, was again told one evening in the beautiful desert that spans so much land in Northern Mexico, and it goes like this:

There once was a gringo, sort of like me but a little bit older, married to a fine Mexican lady with children and they had a modest house in a small Mexican town, and so on. He was tall and muscular with very fair skin and blue eyes, and his six-and-a-half foot frame was imposing; but he was gentler than a fall fog and kinder than the desert rain in deep summer. All that had come to know him liked him, and it was always quickly obvious that he was a good man, even through his broken Spanish. Always quick to come to the aid of his neighbors, and keen on understanding their culture and their way of life, he became accepted as one of them.

Many years went by and his Spanish improved to the point that sometimes he didn't even need his wife to translate for him, that some of the townspeople would call on him for advice or council, that his honesty and integrity were beyond reproach.

One Christmas Eve, his wife was readying herself and the children for midnight mass, and she noticed that her husband seemed troubled and deep in thought.

"Aren't you coming to mass?" she asked him.

"Well, I don't think that I should," he told her.

"I understand that this night is so important to you and to many Christians, and I would never want to affect or influence your beliefs. But there is something that I can't deny: I find much of the bible ridiculous. The very idea that God would put a man on Earth, God's son, to be among men, I can't believe that this could be true. I find no reason for it, it makes no sense to me. You see, it would be quite hypocritical of me to participate in such a mass, I hope that you understand."

His wife nodded, sadly. The wind howled outside, the desert in this part of Mexico had never been so cold, and as the night wore on, it was becoming even colder.

"I will happily walk you to church, my dear, and then pick you up in a hour," he said.

The walk only took five minutes, he dropped his wife and children off early for the mass. He bundled himself and began the walk back home, and then saw something in the darkness just off of the road. He approached them, slowly and cautiously, an older woman and three small children, wrapped in cardboard with their belongings, shivering in the cold. None seemed dressed for the chill of this desert, their frightened eyes looking up at him towering over them.

"Hello," he said to them, "You really should come out of this weather."

He felt silly realizing that his English had obviously failed to elicit a response, and he then switched to Spanish, imploring the old woman to accompany him back to his house where he had plenty of room for them until it was safe to travel again. He tried several different ways in Spanish to get his point across until it became apparent that these people were not Mexicans from some distant town, but rather, they were indigenous people from far away, stuck in this sudden cold in the desert. They had probably never seen such a tall, large, white man in the flesh.

No wonder they were frightened and confused!

He looked around for someone, anyone who could help, but he knew of no one who spoke this language or even knew of their culture. He tried everything that he could think of to explain that he could help them if they would simply follow him to his house, and as a last resort, he tried to gently pull the old woman and her children in that direction, which only succeeded in frightening them completely into running away, running into the darkness, into more of the cold desert night.

He ran after them, and stopped – he could no longer see them. He fell to the ground in frustration and looked up at the dark sky.

"If I only could get them to understand!" he shouted.

"If I spoke their language or knew any way to get them to understand! I have a place they can come to, warm and safe, and food, and everything, just a few minutes away!"

There was silence, for a moment, and just then the bells of the church began, calling all within earshot to Christmas mass.

* * * *

I guess that one idea forged over the years in the spiritual foundry of my soul is this: It isn’t so much about whatever Gods or prophets or non-Gods or non-prophets that we choose to pray to or pay attention to or ignore or whatever, that makes Christmas what it is; it is more about a desire to help one another toward a better place. I don't think it matters much whether that desire is rooted in a belief that Jesus is God's gift to humanity in order to help humanity reach a better place, or whether one believes that Jesus and God are inventions of humanity in order to help humanity reach a better place.

No matter the road taken, it's all about being in a better place.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Pretzel Logic

Play it and read on, I promise that it is good music. At least, it was good music some twenty-five years ago. And, as the tasty lyrics suggest, that was a long time ago.

The GTO was fast and slick and low to the ground, it had an eight-track tape player in it when I bought it, I never changed it out for anything newer. In the glove-box, there were two tapes for that player: Steely Dan's Aja, and some other tape that wound up shattered all over the San Bernardino Freeway about five minutes after I bought the car, I remember chucking it out of the window that evening on the way home. The Steely Dan tape never came out of the tape deck after that.

I never bothered to purchase any other eight-track tape.

Rebuilding a Rochester Four-Barrel carburetor is quite likely more difficult than is brain surgery, but once completed, I decided to take the GTO out onto the Pomona Freeway in the middle of the night and open her up good. Never having been in a car that had a speedometer that went up to one hundred and forty miles per hour, I had to peg the needle, and the car went faster still, until all of the belts ripped apart. Nobody was on that freeway at two in the morning back then, there were a lot less people. I limped back home and fixed her up again.

Once repaired, I clocked her at four and eight-tenths seconds 'till sixty miles per hour. I had a lot of fun in that car, and got into a lot of trouble. But even the trouble was fun, it felt like there wasn't anything that I couldn't simply run away from if it came too close. While the Posi-traction rear-end ambitiously boasted stability, the ass end of that car slid out at the slightest jerk of the steering wheel, so much torque isn't so easily controlled by some opposing-differential magic.

So goes youth and Pontiacs.

* * * *

After the owner of this wonderful place where I work emailed me an apology - evidently we had some sort of a communication problem and my two-day vacation was over - I went back to work and we decided that nothing ever happened. And since then, it has been nothing but busy and I have no more free time. I write on a laptop computer when I can, and then all of the words get eaten and I have to start over again.

There is so much to tell.

I had written a lot, pieces at a time, and then one day I opened up the laptop and then the file and everything was some illegible and jumbled mess. Attempts at recovery have parsed it all down to a jumbled mess, and at some point I will sort it all out. It isn't any more difficult than mastering the Rochester Four-Barrel, but then, I don't seem to have the time to spare like I once did.

But I will try, maybe in a week or two.

* * * *

The group Steely Dan is named after a dildo, I kid you not. There is no one named Dan or even Steely in that group, there never has been. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker named the band after a dildo from William S. Bourroughs' novel, "Naked Lunch".

I do not recommend the novel, by the way. It has nothing to do with the music. Naked Lunch is, at best, a shining example of how some writers enjoy utilizing obscene language and deranged characters in perverted plot-lines in order to challenge the reader to overcome prejudice in Government obscenity laws.

I mean, one sub-story in this book is about a character who somehow taught his asshole to talk. And then, this character's asshole took over and controlled everything about the character. And, as much as I would like to find some sort of redemption from such a story, I am at a loss.

I would have rather read about this character's asshole rebuilding a Rochester Four-Barrel carburetor. Now that would be one hell of a good story.

* * * *

The fog was thick one night, I left Long Beach, California and couldn't see the front end of my car, a green, nineteen-seventy GTO. Desma had sent me letter in a Valentine's Day card, and she wrote that I made her feel good but that good meant good-bye. I had told her that I wanted to see her one last time, that I wanted to understand the letter.

She was twenty-six, I was nineteen or twenty.

The last time that I had seen her before this one, she had made me coffee in the morning by boiling water and filtering the grounds by hand into a glass pot. It was good, we drank it in her bed in Long Beach in a very old apartment in a very old part of the town. Twenty coats of paint lined the walls in that place, it even had an old-fashioned ice-box that she used as a cupboard. We had no seconds and no breakfast that morning and I returned a week after receiving my dear John Valentine with a gift for her.

"What's this?" she asked.

"You make good coffee, but if you're going to be alone then you'll need to keep the second cup warm until you're ready to pour it. Or maybe for your next boyfriend."

She pretended as though she was going to slap me. And then a tear formed and rolled quickly down her left cheek. I held her, and she cried and I knew that I would never understand everything, but I understood that she felt that she didn't deserve my kind treatment. I dried her cheek with my thumb and kissed it, and then I left that late evening and I never saw her again.

I had taken an old coffee-maker that wouldn't deliver water to the pot, and fixed it up. The hotplate still worked, so I sawed off all of the extraneous plastic and glued a make-shift cover over the offending cut. I rigged up a switch to turn it off or on, and made the light indicator bypass the now non-exsistent electronics for which it was once designed.

As I drove through that Long Beach fog, listening to Steely Dan and the jazz-magic in that GTO, I wondered whether or not she would use that warmer in the morning, if she would think of me when she did.

And tonight, all I have to do is to listen to this song and I wonder if that damned warmer still works.

But I don't doubt for a minute that the fog in Long Beach is just as thick as it ever was.