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, May 01, 2008


"Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God."

- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Cat’s Cradle, 1963

* * * *

It was finally cold yesterday, at least colder than it had been, which was almost hot not more than a few days ago. The taxi was a colectivo, filled and emptied and then filled and emptied again. Doctors, schoolchildren, cooks, shoppers, and so on - even a gringo. The station wagons have been replaced with large passenger vans, they’ll cram in as many as will fit, stopping for anyone who looks like they're waiting for anything.

We chugged along and stopped at practically every stoplight.

Nine miles and nine pesos later, I waded through schoolchildren in their uniforms, parents wandering aimlessly, early morning maintenance workers. Through the gates, with a buenos dias, I suddenly realized that I had no idea where Anna’s classroom was. I went to the last one that I remembered was hers and recognized the teacher, who was already addressing the parents, and here I was actually late for once.

"Entra, señor, sentirse," she invited.

I felt relieved that she recognized me, I sat at the small cramped desk in the back, and she continued as I stared out the window. Anna’s school, a Federal Secondary school for somewhat elite students, rests on the ruins of the old casino, destroyed in the early nineteen hundreds by the same great flood that destroyed the original Caliente racetrack. All that is still standing are a few small buildings, converted to storage, and one of the chimneys that were once used to burn trash.

The teacher went on about whatever, evidently cell phones are being confiscated for having pornographic content; it’s a different world than when I was last in school. Forty minutes later, she was handing out report cards by calling the students’ name, but Anna wasn’t called. Fifteen minutes after that, I finally had a chance to ask why – it turns out that I was in the wrong classroom, the correct classroom was, evidently, way over there. I was playing in the wrong sandbox.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to sit through another meeting, I just got the report card and got out of there.

* * * *

David Kirshstein just pissed me off, that’s all there was to it, he used the company I worked for to suit his needs and his pocketbook, I considered his company to be a bad client. When me and Elvin started planning the Chargers job, all of the field walls at Qualcomm Stadium, I was sure that we would fall on our ass. I’ve never done a stadium, neither had Elvin. And Elvin’s work ethic was never exactly stellar, I got along with him because I liked him, but there was never any urgency in anything he did once he became the art director.

But what drove me, was imagining that Kirshstein had lost the bid to us, and that on opening day he would be watching the game to see how the treatment came out, and that he would have a fucking coronary when he saw how great it all was. And then, perhaps, we could consider ourselves as competition, we were sure that the Miami Dolphins were going to need new field wall banners. So I learned Adobe’s Illustrator as I went along, planning the construction, the dimensions, four different measurements, hours and hours of painstaking calculation and planning.

In the end, I drew it all up, and Elvin dropped the art into the construction drawings, and we printed it, finished it, and installed it, and it looked beautiful.

And with one week to go before my last day, there was Kirshstein, sitting in our conference room with me and my boss, offering us some work on the Padres. We were on our ass, there wasn’t anything coming in, a lot of people had been laid off already. So, even though I wanted to tell him to go pound beach-sand up his tight ass, I pretended to be a hungry vendor.

And he played us, he played my boss, and he got over.

"We need to put something up on the barbecue shack, we’re thinking of signage all around the top of it," Kirshstein offered.

We had a rough sketch, a sixteen-foot by seven-foot square box.

"We’ll have you print graphics and lay them up on the sides, after we attach it to the roof," he continued.

Then he looked at me.

"How’s your carpentry skills," he asked.

"Well, I’m not going to try to build you a dresser, but I can build this, it isn’t complicated," I told him.

My boss didn’t say anything, even though later she insisted that she offered me a way out of having to do it. This is pretty funny to me now, considering that we really had no business turning down anyone who wanted work from us. The other funny thing is that after I prepped all of the half-inch medium density overlay, I built it in the middle of the shop floor while the sewers look on, entertained. I sat in the middle of the partially constructed box, fitting the hardware.

"You know what that looks like? It looks like you’re playing in your sandbox," Shari told me.

Kirshstein’s final design was almost twice as large, and twenty times more complicated and detailed. He called out bracing with hardware that wasn’t commercially available, so I improvised. And then he decided that someone else was going to print the graphics, which was the entire point of fabricating the sign face. The last week I worked there, I spent it fabricating that goddamned box. I did it by myself. I digitally routed every piece to size, hand routed forty-five degree chamfered edges on the braces, hand-installed the hardware. It was disassembled with assembly instructions, driven to Petco Park, and installed in less than two hours.

There is a piece of me that wants it to fall apart, but it won’t. Fuck you anyway, Kirshstein. Fuck you and fuck your sandbox.

* * * *

I left Anna’s school and caught another cab, a sedan this time, and the driver didn’t seem keen on picking up anyone else. He even drove me right to the spot I wanted to get off, away from the route, and there I was in my own sandbox for a change. Another four miles and nine pesos later, I was having a coffee with Jody, the overcast last day of April was appropriate for Baja. I bought a paper and walked across the street and me and Jody talked for a while. I drank Cuban coffee and walked around all over the place, I sat and read the paper while drops of water occasionally made their way onto the sports page.

By ten, I was in the Perico, and by eleven, Jody showed up again. We laughed at the picture in the San Diego paper, the one that showed all of these soldiers in Tijuana to fight the drug trafficking violence. There they were, maybe two hundred soldiers in the heat of the Baja morning, and one lone ice cream vender offering relief from the heat. He was pushing his cart along, offering his goods, and I bet he sold a lot that day.

That was his sandbox, and he had a captive audience.

People sometimes ask me if it’s dangerous what with the cartels killing other cartels or each other in a power struggle, but the smart people aren’t worried about it. After all, so long as they keep it in their sandbox and stay out of ours, what’s the difference? None of it bothers me in the least. It might as well be a million miles away from here.

I drank all day and wandered around and when Jody found me again in the Dandy del Sur, we were both about finished for the day. We were shaking the sand from our shoes and having one more drink, watching the Padres come back on the Phillies, planning our next toast.

Friday evening, same sand box.

Tomorrow, I have to go to the United States of America and pick up the last check from the place I used to work. Tomorrow, I have to visit someone else’s sandbox one last time. And then, afterward, I’ll come back here with my pail and my shovel and build sandcastles the way that I want to for a while.

And my sandcastles will be however I want them to be.


Blogger wookeewookee said...

I love your words. I only catch your blog once every few months when I get a chance to catch my breath, but I've been following it for over two years now. Your style is incredible and seems to really reach down and grab a hold.

4:26 PM, May 15, 2008  

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