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, July 16, 2009

The Wizard Of Popotla

The lights in the city shine at night. Who knows how they get turned on? Switches are clicked, that’s all that matters. It has to be some sort of magic. There is a lot behind the flipping of the switches, but we ignore it. We would rather just see the lights. We want fireworks because we are selfish. We should all be selfish; otherwise there would be no fireworks. Otherwise, there would be no lights in the city.

Behind all of this, people dream. I dream. I remember one evening in Las Vegas when I tried on Liberace’s jacket. He was dead by then. He died of a disease that is largely attributed to homosexual activity. I think this is unfair. He was one hell of a piano player. So was I. The difference between us was this: His dreams came true. The similarities were this: We dreamed.

"We hear that you play the piano," he said, someone who was once a dry-cleaner to the stars. I nodded.

"Try this on."

It probably weighed fifty pounds. It was armor. I can’t imagine how Wladziu Valentino Liberace ever lifted those arms and played with such a heavy coat. I lifted my arms and pretended, and it would never have happened. I didn’t know how to flip the switch, especially with that heavy jacket. Liberace was one strong son of a bitch.

* * * *

They came home in the afternoon, sunburned, tired, the men just in time for a soccer game on television and the women and girls just in time for a nap. Having traveled in a wide circle, almost to Tecate and then around to past Rosarito, stopping off in Popotla, they were gone for quite a few hours. People are starting to slowly build there, on that mesa right over the Pacific Ocean south of Rosarito Beach. We own three lots, when put together, that form an ample amount of land on which a large house can be built, along with another smaller one or maybe a couple of apartments. Sometimes Rocio likes to visit there and I reckon she dreams that I should be building something.

"Has the electricity arrived there yet?"

"No," she says.

My reluctance is her frustration. The land has been paid off for years now, but without electricity it’s pointless to start any project. I can make do without running water because gravity is such a wonderful thing – a cistern strategically placed high up on the roof could feed everything just fine. Adding a pump would enable me to use one of those newfangled tank-less water heaters. I can build before running water is installed, but without electricity I would be lost.

What could I do without my power-tools?

The heat here, inland, many miles east of downtown Tijuana, is suffocating in parts of this dwelling. Upstairs is an oven, mostly, except for Anna’s room with the window open if there’s a breeze. Even downstairs gets hot, except for my office. The kitchen, when I cook, is unbearable for most. Anna and me are mostly immune while everyone else seems to suffer in it.

Rocio wants Popotla because it is cooler. The ocean breeze is constant. The view is amazing. And whatever I build would be hers, free and clear, irrevocably and entirely. But I need electricity, darling – please be patient. I certainly don’t blame her for being selfish. She wants lights; she wants me to light up the city.

* * * *

Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison have nothing on me. It isn’t that I want to understand very much about electricity. I don’t. I want it to be some magical power, and I want it to be controlled by wizards with wands. Something has to remain sacred, after all, now that humanity and the universe have pretty much been explained by science. At the very least, television reception and electricity should remain magical. For the love of all of humanity, please give us that.

When I do build in Popotla, I’ll wire my own house. I’ll pretend that I’m wearing Liberace’s jacket, and deal with it. All of those sequins and all of that weight, and all of that flair I’ll need to finish the task are somehow connected. It’s just wires, after all, and switches that someone else throws on or off. That and flair.

No. It’s magic. I’ll get a wand. I’ll get a title. The wizard of Popotla. And then it will happen.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Palin's Parlay

In Mexico, that while there is many more common aspects of politics shared with their northern neighbors than anything else, there are some differences. My favorite difference is the term limits set on elected officials. The President of Mexico serves a term of six years and cannot be reelected. The same goes for State Governors, they serve for six years and they’re out. Congress, including the Senate, serve for three years – they may be reelected but not to consecutive terms.

Another difference I admire about Mexican politics versus the United States of America is that anyone who holds office and wishes to run for another office, must resign the office they hold before doing so. They may appoint one of their deputies to serve in their stead, so that ostensibly the people that voted them into office will still be represented by someone who will continue to represent their interests similarly. This happened in the last election for Governor of Baja California, in that Jorge "Hank" Rhon was Mayor of Tijuana when he decided to run for Governor. Rhon had to resign his and appointed Kurt Honold to serve out the term.

Running for another office in Mexico becomes a gamble in cases where the candidate already holds an office. Maybe that’s how it should be. Maybe there should be something more to lose than an election for anyone running for a higher office. Hank Rhon, at least for a while, will have to be content to enjoy his gambling establishments and his wealth. He has since focused his efforts on building a soccer stadium in Tijuana and attempting to get enough talent on the local second-division team in order to join the premier division in Mexican soccer.

I imagine that keeps him busy enough.

* * * *

An aside about Honold: He worked for Rhon, effectively managing Rhon’s Caliente Race and Sports Books. I spoke with Mr. Honold once over the telephone. My late friend Charlie had some sort of dispute concerning a wager. Charlie was fond of betting baseball parlays – selecting several teams to win on any given day, and if all of the teams won, then there would be quite a payoff. A ten-dollar wager on six teams could bring in between three hundred and six hundred dollars. There was one catch – all of the teams wagered on had to win.

On one particular morning, Charlie went into the sports book and bet his daily parlay. That evening, in his Tijuana apartment with his radio pressed to his ear, Charlie fell asleep believing that he had won. In the morning, he went to cash his ticket only to be told that one of the teams he bet had lost. It seems that Charlie had bet the wrong half of a double-header. Charlie insisted that he had told the clerk at the time of the bet that he wanted the early game. I wasn’t there during the argument, but suffice it to say that Charlie was probably the most stubborn man I ever knew.

On weekdays after work, I would come back to Tijuana and drink away a day’s worth of stress before going home. Charlie would join me at exactly five-thirty. He told me his story about the parlay, visibly upset. I felt bad for him, what with his poor eyesight he couldn’t have noticed the difference on the small print on the ticket. He reached into his front pocket and pulled out a business card, and handed it to me.

"I need you to do me a favor," he said.

"If I can."

"The guy at the sports book gave this card to me and told me to call him. My Spanish isn’t so good, and you speak it. Tell him what happened. I know what I told the guy when I bought the ticket, and he gave me the wrong game."

I had another beer with Charlie and put the card away, went home, and the next morning at work I chose a slow time to pick up the telephone and dial the number.

* * * *

I read that the Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, is going to resign in a couple of weeks. The insatiable pundits are pounding out weblog entries, this is their food, their bread of existence. Many seem to believe that she’ll be running for president in a few years. Others think that it’s because her popularity is dropping. She claims that it’s for the good of the State of Alaska.

She says that she is spending far too much time defending herself to effectively run the government.

Of course, if she had lived in Mexico under similar circumstances, she would have had to resign when she ran on the ticket with McCain last year. Because of this – because she spent so much more time campaigning than running the State of Alaska last year, I am inclined to believe that her reasons for resigning are, perhaps, not primary in nature. Some pundits claim that resigning with only two and a half years of her term completed is political suicide. I wouldn’t know. I will point out that the current President of the United States of America didn’t have a lot of experience either, but that he didn’t resign his office while campaigning.

I reckon it’s a crapshoot either way. I also reckon that if Palin has loftier political ambitions, then she is gambling. She is doing what Charlie used to do, trying to get a huge payoff by making an improbable wager. Whether or not it will work out is anyone’s guess.

* * * *

"Kurt Honold, por favor," I said in my best Spanish. Much to my surprise, I was put right through.

"Kurt Honold," the voice said.

"Señor Honold, me llamo Davíd, soy hablando de…"

"Excuse me, do you speak English?" he asked.

"Yes, I do."

"Feel free to continue in English if you like, although your Spanish is very good," he said. His English was haltingly immaculate, with just a hint of an accent. It was certainly better than my Spanish.

"Thank you. I live in Tijuana, so does my friend Charlie. The other day, Charlie bet a parlay…"

I told him the story as he listened very attentively.

"I see. Well, we can’t pay him because the ticket isn’t a winner. I understand that his eyesight is bad, but we can’t cash a ticket if it doesn’t win," he said.

"I understand. But he feels that he’s been wronged. He bets at least ten dollars every day in the sports book. And he’s a good man, an honest man. Church every Sunday and attends mass on all obligatory Catholic celebrations. Perhaps there’s a compromise?"

"We normally don’t do this, but I would be willing to give him his wager back with an apology from the clerk. But just this once."

"I think that would be acceptable to Charlie. And, trust me, you won’t miss the ten dollars, he knows as much about baseball as I do about jai alai. You’ll be keeping a good customer happy," I said.

We thanked each other, and that afternoon I broke the news to Charlie. He frowned a little, but he understood. It was a chance at getting his dignity back. Not that he lost it, but that the perception of having been wronged can sometimes be simply righted by a conciliatory gesture.

The next day, Charlie was happy again. He had his ten dollars back, an apology in his hip pocket, and a brand new parlay. He pulled out a letter-sized piece of paper, eight and a half inches by eleven, and showed it to me. It was his new parlay, a photocopy of it, blown up so that even Mr. Magoo could read it. From that day forward, Charlie never had another issue at the sports book.

Should Mr. Honold ever have future aspirations for public office, should he use this same wisdom and willingness to compromise, he might make a good Senator or Governor someday.

* * * *

All I know about politicians is that they are good liars. Being a good gambler is something entirely different. Say what you will about Palin, irrespective of her political ideologies, but she did manage to get herself elected as Governor of Alaska and was chosen to run on a losing ticket for the presidency. How good of a gambler she is has yet to be determined.

Me, I’d give her the wager back. Maybe she would make a good Senator.