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, February 18, 2009

Water And Clay

Initially, I ignore knocking at the door anytime before noon, because it's going to be someone I don't know. Someone is going to want to sell me something, or else it will be someone in a police officer's uniform asking for donations, or maybe even some poor people with a story about not having enough money to bury their uncle. This morning, after the third persistent series of knocks, I walked out of my office to see. There was two young men, well-dressed, and I pegged them as Mormons and mentally prepared my best polite, "No, gracias."

One of them was holding a breaker fuse, and pointing at the electrical meters across the entry to the cul-de-sac, babbling something in Spanish.

"Those meters belong to the houses across from mine," I told him in Spanish.

His friend then spoke up, "Do you speak English?"

There was no accent at all in his voice.


"Do you know who sells these?"

"No. There is a hardware store two blocks up the street. They probably don't carry them but they'll know who would."

"Okay. Can we borrow a screwdriver?"

"No. Again, you can get a screwdriver from the hardware store. Good luck, gentlemen."

I have never seen these people before. I still think that they are Mormons. Maybe they went to one of the houses to talk about Jesus and learned that there was an electrical problem. I have no idea. I'll never know. That's okay with me, because I still have my screwdriver.

* * * *

I noticed that it is bright and sunny outside and again perhaps seventy degrees. It rained a lot on Monday, pools of water still sit awaiting evaporation. People in San Diego first complain about the rain but then proclaim that it's needed, no matter that it's annoying. This isn't true for Tijuana. We don't need the rain. The ground here is mostly clay, it doesn't hold rainwater, and the rainwater finds its way to the Pacific Ocean without stopping unless it finds a place to pool up. This process is only messy and never functionally works in a positive manner.

And then one observation leads to another.

Out on the boulevard, there are often times – among the taco stands and taxi queues and street vendors – Mormons are also there and standing static, arms outstretched with literature in hand. They are mostly harmless, like clay, as the people pass them by as so much water. They seem nice enough. They'll barely say a word to anyone unless eye contact is made. These people out on the sidewalks of Tijuana do not bother me in the least.

Here, the dynamic person – the human being in motion – can avoid the static people made of clay. Just keep moving, just be fluid. Let gravity, or else your own energy, carry you along. That's the key to avoiding such annoyances. At least, this is one way of getting through the day here.

There is another thing that happens here, it is unique in many aspects, to Baja. Once that you stop, you are potentially a target. Drinking with Scott and Jody is the greatest example of this phenomenon. Sitting in the Nuevo Perico, people come into the bar all day. They sell everything from compact discs to cigarette lighters. Jody's favorite was the guy that walked in one day selling a toilet seat. Because if you need to buy a toilet seat, then logically you just go to a bar.

This is what happens.

My personal favorite was the very old woman who would, daily, go into the Dandy Del Sur at about five in the afternoon. She would be toting around some vegetables that were obviously discarded by a store that couldn't sell them because they were too old. Radishes, onions, and other almost rotten food. Again, this is because when you want to purchase old and unusable produce, just go have a beer somewhere and it will come to you.

"Boy, am I glad that she showed up," I told Jody one afternoon. "I'm all out of old onions and radishes."

Jody laughed. "One time I felt bad for her, so I just gave her five dollars for everything. When she left, I threw it away."

Jody stopped giving her money after that. He realizes that acting as an enabler just brings them back in hopes of another five dollars. Jody is more like clay now. I am more like clay now. You let the water flow around you, over you, even if it means that you have to say no a lot more often than you want to. Sitting still means ignoring the annoying water when you don't want to absorb it.

* * * *

When I'm at home, I don't have to answer the door. The telephone, which rings far too often, is also annoying, and so rarely for me that I am usually disappointed with myself for answering it. Often, it is a recording, from someone who wants us to switch phone or cable services. If you hang up on the recording, it calls back. I usually throw the receiver onto the couch and grab a beer, and by the time I get back from the kitchen the recording has finished.

I then go back into my office and write or read or research. The radio is always on, in the background, keeping me company. Outside, I hear the propane trucks honking, someone selling tamales, even a guy who roams around in a truck pitching brooms and mops. Occasionally, there is a man on a bicycle that rides by, he sharpens knives by turning his bike over and attaching a sharpening stone to the back wheel. This is easily ignored.

Living in Baja, you turn to clay when standing still, and turn to water when moving about. When the Mormons come to your door, you don't have to answer it. When you go to the store, you don't have to acknowledge the Mormons on the street. Then, you just smile about it, even when the rains come down, because even the Mormons here need umbrellas sometimes.


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