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.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

¿Qué Horas Son, Mí Corazón?

In nineteen hundred and ninety one, I had plans. I was to be enrolled in a school somewhere near Bullhead City, Arizona, where I would learn to deal cards and work in some casino in Laughlin, Nevada, but I figured to make more money playing blackjack than anything else. I was a good blackjack player, counting cards was easy – a lot easier than a lot of things that I did for a living back then. Counting cards is probably a lot easier than what I do for a living now.

But back then, I was freshly divorced, my self-ironed shirts smelled like a different flavor of freedom.

Sometimes, or maybe even most times, I would come home on Friday with no immediate plans for the weekend and wind up at the Colorado River with a full tank of gas and a forty dollar stake at a two-dollar table. On Sunday afternoon, almost always in those salad-summer weekends, I would be driving back toward Los Angeles loaded down with a lot more money than I figured I had a right to take out of there. Sometimes I thought that it was too easy. Only very occasionally and as if by design, I would come back home, down a Franklin or two.

But that was rare.

I wanted to live on the river because I liked it there, but mainly because it wasn’t Los Angeles. There were two children that I knew I wasn’t going to get to see very often. I was waiting to see if my ex-wife was going to kill herself. I figured that there was a chance of that, otherwise, my child support checks would be delivered to one forwarded address after another.

Somewhere from out of the huge compost pile where irony and coincidence fight to the death, a telephone call came from some company that wanted an interview from me. They had heard good things about me. Or maybe, they knew that they had a shot at getting me for cheap. And my friends there in Los Angeles talked me into going to the interview. And the interviewers talked me into working there. And so on.

Less than a month into that job, the owner wanted to fire me. Somehow, I survived that initial pitfall. Go figure.

Qué voy a hacer, je ne sais pas
Qué voy a hacer, je ne sais plus
Qué voy a hacer, je suis perdu
Qué horas son, mí corazón.

I didn’t enjoy working there at all, and I didn’t like the owner, who was not part of the interview and hiring process. Three weeks into the job, I was in the office of Mike the Operations Manager and he cracked like hot egg in ice water. He told me that owner was disappointed in my attitude when, one week into the job, they cut my staff, which made me readjust dates for project completions. He told me that plans were being made to replace me.

I laughed. My initial reaction was that I didn’t care for the job or the owner so maybe fate was doing me a big favor.

“Is there any chance of reversing the situation?” I asked Mike.

Mike thought about it. He shook his head.

“I doubt it,” he said, “I think his mind is pretty much made up.”

I don’t know why I did what I did next. I didn’t need the job, in Los Angeles jobs for people with my qualifications are as easy to find as a rush-hour traffic jam. The money wasn’t that competitive, I could’ve done much better if I had really wanted to stay in Los Angeles in the first place. I didn’t care for ownership.

Me gustan los aviones, me gustas tu
Me gusta viajar, me gustas tu
Me gusta la mañana, me gustas tu
Me gusta el viento, me gustas tu
Me gusta soñar, me gustas tu
Me gusta la mar, me gustas tu.

I left Mike’s office and walked down the hall to where the owner sat in his office, and I poked my head in there. He was on the phone, but he motioned for me to come in. I sat across from him in front of his desk, and did something that I have never done before or since. And I have absolutely no explanation for my actions, but as it turns out, neither do I have any regrets.

* * * *
Rocio’s favorite film is about a mathematician who went nuts. At least, her favorite film is very loosely based on the life story about John Forbes Nash, Jr., a Nobel Prize winner who had to fight off bouts of insanity in order to make good with the scientific community.

“He reminds me of you,” Rocio told me.

“Bullshit. I’m nothing like this Nash guy,” I answered her before I had given it any thought.

“Except for the crazy parts,” I added.

Rocio and Anna and Sharon and even Juan are very much into films and movies. I usually listen to the radio and read or write instead, but one movie that recently entertained the hell out of me was one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, a movie about a pirate named Jack Sparrow.
“We’ll let Anna and Sharon decide, then,” I informed Rocio.

“Who am I more like, girls, John Nash or Jack Sparrow?”

“Jack Sparrow,” the girls replied in monotone unison without even looking up from the television, bored with the lack of a challenge from such a query, and that was that.

Besides, what do I know about economics?

Me gusta la moto, me gustas tu
Me gusta correr, me gustas tu
Me gusta la lluvia, me gustas tu
Me gusta volver, me gustas tu
Me gusta marihuana, me gustas tu
Me gusta Colombiana, me gustas tu
Me gusta la montaña, me gustas tu
Me gusta la noche, me gustas tu.

I am no pirate. The lying and thieving parts of piracy are the parts I would be no good at. Nor am I a mathematician nor an economist. I am here, in Mexico, because I rode some wave here even though I could have jumped off of the surfboard many times, and many times I was tempted to do just that.

Or maybe somehow there is a magic compass involved.

* * * *
In nineteen hundred and ninety one, there was some sort of magical voodoo in the breaking waves of my life, I found myself not so much guiding the surfboard but rather riding it to wherever it took me. At one point, it took me into the office of the owner of a company that I would have rather not worked at in order to save a job that I didn’t care for.

He finished his phone call as I fiddled with my tie.

“What can I do for you, David?”

“Well, sir, I just wanted to let you know that even though my staff has been reduced, I think I’ve come up with a way to meet the original project deadlines,” I told him.

This was something that he was not prepared to hear. I confess right here and right now, that it was also something that I was not prepared to accomplish.

“How?” he asked.

I had no time to think, only to react.

“It’ll take a lot of hard work, sir, but I can do it. I’m committed to it. I will not fail this company, sir.”

It looked like I had just fed him a spoonful of some horribly bitter elixir, his mouth puckered and fought off a frown.

“Well, um, I am certainly glad to hear that, David. Let me know if there is anything that I can do on my end.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Three phrases, perfectly inserted, that most owners cannot deny. Hard work, committed, and not fail this company. There are no better lyrics sung to a man who probably had his multi-million dollar house in Palos Verdes leveraged to the breaking point in order to prop up a company that is still likely doing no better than treading water.

Or maybe he has sold it by now, who can say?

Me gusta la cena, me gustas tu
Me gusta la vecina, me gustas tu
Me gusta su cocina, me gustas tu
Me gusta camelar, me gustas tu
Me gusta la guitarra, me gustas tu
Me gusta el regaee, me gustas tu.

I worked my ass off in the months that followed. Mike left the company in the middle of all of it, which put me into a unique position, a position that would eventually lead me into Mexico for the first time in my life. Mike left the company to work for a large firm with a maquiladora in Tijuana, proving that irony and coincidence do, indeed, take their everlasting battle into the streets of human monkey-business, making an arena out of the playground of humanity.

* * * *
On Monday I took Juan to the Chiki Jai where we ate paella and talked about the war. Juan is out of the Army but is serving his reserve time in the National Guard. This means that there is a good chance that he’ll be deployed to Afghanistan at some point in the next year or so. This war stuff goes on and on.

“They hit our convoy, we were only eleven kilometers from base after a three-day patrol,” Juan told me about one incident in Iraq.

“I was pissed. That meant two extra days out there.”

“What, held down by snipers?” I asked.

“No, once we were hit they sent cover for us, we were pretty well protected by then. The vehicle in front of mine took one good. We were lucky, no one got killed that day. But there were other days.”

“Then why two extra days out there?”

We took turns trying to bust some crab meat out of small claws, there was very little that was edible inside. The mussels and clams were outstanding, though. So was everything else.

“You’re not allowed to leave anything out there, every little piece of everything has to be salvaged,” Juan told me.

I took him to the Dandy del Sur for a post-paella drink. Charlie showed up, and then some other regulars and we salvaged our sanity with several dollar bills used to activate the most eclectic jukebox in the universe.

Me gusta la canela, me gustas tu
Me gusta el fuego, me gustas tu
Me gusta menear, me gustas tu
Me gusta la Coruña, me gustas tu
Me gusta Malasaña, me gustas tu
Me gusta la castaña, me gustas tu
Me gusta Guatemala, me gustas tu.

I got home that evening and told Rocio that as good as the paella was, that her and I should go and try the camarones in ajo, that maybe paella is a bit overrated. It was late, and I drifted off to sleep not so much loathing work the next day as loathing the border crossing and the Department of Homeland Security and the complete lack of time I seem to have to do all of the things that I enjoy doing.

¿Qué horas son, mí corazón?

* * * *
I didn’t meet Rocio in Mexico, I met her in the United States of America. I met her boss first, perhaps two weeks prior, and developed an innocent little crush on Carmen. Carmen spoke English very well, was obviously well educated, but as it turned out lacked a lot in common sense. I took a lot of ribbing for that, especially by Rocio later on.

We made components for two companies that had maquiladoras in Tijuana: a medical device company, and Fisher Price toys, long before Mattel bought them. Rocio came up to visit us with a molding technician in order to help us to better define the quality requirements for the injection molded parts that we were making for them. Tired molds, broken and patched up, hopelessly incapable of running cycle times fast enough to enable us to turn a profit.

Rocio was all business, even afterward when the Production manager and me took them out for a beer before they left. We became friends, Rocio and me. The crush on Carmen flat-lined in a hurry; it became obvious after a short time that she was inept at her position, and she was terminated a short time after that. One time, I remember, Carmen called me and gave me some data on a process capability study they were doing on some plastic tires that went on some metal axle for some toy truck.

“As you can see, the data shows that the process isn’t stable. We need to send all of this product back to you”, she told me.

“Um. Dimensionally, does the product meet specification?” I asked.

“Well, yes. But the process isn’t stable, you can see that by the control charts.”

“How are you taking this data? Opening up a box of wheels and grabbing a sample and charting the results?”

“Yes,” Carmen confirmed. “We are taking five out of each box, randomly, out of twenty-five boxes, randomly.”

“Carmen, you can’t chart that way. This is a four-cavity mold. You have to perform a study on each cavity in order to have a valid capability study, each cavity will always be different from the others.”

The silence on the other end of the line was enough to tell me that she was in over her head.

“I’m sorry, you’re right,” she conceded.

I was elected to visit Mexico after Mike’s departure from the company, for whatever reason. It certainly wasn’t because of my Spanish, which was limited to high school classes and whatever slang that I picked up working in the foundries in my youth. My visit to Fisher Price, set up in advance, was my first lesson in Mexican business.

Everyone that I was to meet with either took vacation or was otherwise absent. After much prodding, they finally brought me to Rocio and afterward we went to Centro, my first visit to Mexico and to Tijuana was consecrated with margaritas and latin jazz at a place that no longer exists.

That place is part of a bus station now.

Qué voy a hacer, je ne sais pas
Qué voy a hacer, je ne sais plus
Qué voy a hacer, je suis perdu
Qué horas son, mí corazón.

* * * *
Eventually, I moved Rocio and Juan and Sharon to Los Angeles, where we had a perfectly miserable time with riots and earthquakes and so on. I grew to hate my job even more, and Rocio couldn’t wait to get out of there. So we did.

We chucked everything and came to Tijuana on a wave formed from some battle between irony and coincidence, a wave that might never be ridden out. It all depends, I imagine, on whatever becomes of time in such circumstances.

¿Qué horas son, mí corazón?

And it all depends on whether or not one believes that, like Manu Chao points out, all that is gold does not always glitter.


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