Neighbors then and now

Back in Texas, I lived in a middle-class Houston neighborhood. My house did not stand out. In Mexico, I live in a working-class neighborhood, and my house stands out a lot.

Here are my current neighbors:

Directly to the left, as one faces the street is, of course, the sex motel. Directly to the right is a family of surly people. They have animals that come and go, plus a tractor and a horse. Across the street, a nice, late-middle-aged couple who live two blocks away are building two storefronts. We’re looking forward to that.


My neighbors in Houston couldn’t have been more different.

Directly to the left was a woman from Finland. For the nine years I lived there, I never saw the inside of her home, and she never saw the inside of mine. She was standoffishly friendly. To the right was a retired Baptist preacher and his wife who were about 60 when we arrived. They were very nice people. Once he invited my then-wife and me to a church where he was delivering a guest sermon. We accepted the invitation.

I am not a Christian, but I support and favor them.

Directly across the street lived an elderly woman and her troubled, unemployed son who was about 40 years old. The woman was very nice. She was a chain smoker, and her home smelled like an ashtray. I was over there now and then, mostly to do her favors. Her son was worse than useless.

One day there was an ambulance parked outside. I looked through my window as a covered body was wheeled out and slipped into the ambulance. I figured it was the old lady, but it wasn’t. It was the son. I never knew why he died.

Cater-cornered to the left was a couple in their 30s with two children, one of whom was born about midway through my time on that street. It was the second marriage for the woman, and she also had a son from her first marriage. That son was mentally dysfunctional in some way. He was about 10 when I moved there in 1986.

They were a very nice couple whom I liked a lot. The second baby was born about 1990, and they named him Travis, a traditional Texas name. Travis was a good boy. Around 1993, we heard that the older boy had been caught molesting a girl child down the block, but he was not arrested. I do not remember why.

Later, during the years after my 1996 divorce and before I moved to Mexico in 2000, my ex-wife told me the older boy had died. He would have been in his early 20s. I don’t know the details, or perhaps I just don’t remember. Been a long, long time.

My second ex-wife still lives in that house. The Finnish woman moved to New York to live with a sister. The Baptist preacher and his wife likely are deceased as is the old woman across the street. I think Travis’s parents are still there. I would enjoy seeing them, but I doubt I ever will. Travis would be about 30.


I paid $65,000 for that ranch house in 1986, and now it’s worth over $200,000. I got the house in the divorce, and shortly afterwards, in a moment of madness, I gave it to my ex-wife, not the most financially astute move of my life.

We paid about $100,000 for the Hacienda land and construction in 2002-03, and I have no idea what it’s worth now, but I’m not going anywhere, which is, of course, what I thought when I lived in the Houston house. Life springs surprises. Sometimes they hurt.

And neighbors can be very different.

A decade gone by

2014-01-10-The-TENIT WAS 10 YEARS ago about now when I was last in the United States. I don’t recall if it was just before or just after Obama’s first inauguration. I prefer to think it was before, so I can say I never set foot in Weepy Barry’s America.

There was no Black Lives Matter or Antifa, and SJW had not been invented yet. There was social strife and victimhood because multiculturalism had been boneheadedly promoted long before I departed, but nowhere near the absurd level that now exists. But I had never voted Republican.

My Democrats were not rioting in the streets. Nor were they prone to hysterics. They were more sensible people.

Visiting outside your native land is a strange sensation. Living in a world so different than that which sprouted you is odder still. Though I’m a Mexican citizen and almost never speak English, I don’t fit in below the border.

I just have to live with that. A price to pay, well worth it.

Quite a few Americans live in Mexico. The Mexican government puts the number at around 750,000, though you see much higher numbers on the internet, stated by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

From what I read on internet forums, etc., most Americans (expats, a term I never apply to myself) in Mexico visit their homeland on a regular basis, as do Canadians. It’s like a siren call, but I’m deaf to it.

There are reasons. One is it’s very expensive up there. Two is that America has become a disappointment to me. (Former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy recently described contemporary American culture as vulgar and slipping into moral relativism.) Three is that it’s dangerous up there. Four is there’s nothing above the border that I need.

The last time I left Mexico was in 2012 when we flew to Cuba, which is a miserable place, but it was interesting. We’ll never do that again.

The last time I was in my old hometown of Houston was either 2007 or 2008. It had changed a lot since I left in January 2000. I imagine I would be flabbergasted to see it now.

Like San Miguel de Allende, where no more Mexicans live, Houston might be the flip side, where no more Americans live, just Mexicans.

And the last visit to another old hometown, New Orleans, was 2006, about a year after Hurricane Katrina. The city was a mess.

There are some things I miss about America. Fall foliage in Atlanta. Floating in the crystal clear Sabinal River in the Hill Country of Texas not far from the town of Utopia. Hot bowls of Vietnamese pho in Houston.

But America lacks some things I enjoy here. Cows on highway overpasses. The bray of burros in the distance or just down the street. Dogs on house roofs. Real cobblestone streets. Inexpensive living. Gonging of the church bell from the plaza. Hummingbirds sitting on my aloe vera.

Lovely brown-skinned babes. One of whom I married.

I cannot imagine I’ll ever visit the United States again. When I left America I was a youngster of 55, wet behind the ears. Later this year, I’ll turn 75, mold behind the ears. It’s been quite a ride.

Beheading Birds of Paradise

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Survivors. Birds of Paradise who made the cut … or didn’t.

THIS SUNDAY MORNING, I awoke and thought of Sundays of Long Ago, specifically when I was married to my second wife and living in Houston.

We had a routine. I’d retrieve the fat Houston Chronicle from the lawn, pour coffee for the two of us — maybe we ate something too, can’t recall — and back to bed we went for an hour or more, reading the newspaper. It was fun.

I wonder if the Houston Chronicle still publishes a print edition. The world has changed so much in the past two decades. Another former employer, The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, does not. It’s only online.

Just like me.

But this morning, here at the Hacienda, a far cry from Houston and New Orleans in all aspects, after coffee and bagels and cream cheese (lite), I went out the veranda door to do a bit of yardwork.

Madeleine Peyroux was still singing on the music machine.

I deadheaded a few Birds of Paradise. I whacked back one of the small bougainvilleas. I picked up rotting golden datura blooms from the ground in the Willy-Nilly Zone. And I cut stalks of defunct aloe vera flowers.

The weather was wonderful, and it appears the rainy season, which long overstayed its welcome this year, may have retired till June. I pray so.

We have plenty of work planned around here,* and it awaits the genuine end of the rainy season because it’s outdoor work. Not work I will do, of course. Work that people I employ will do, guys who do cement and stone.

And colonial tile.

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Potted plants sitting on a scruffy surface. But you just wait!

There are three arches in the veranda, as you can see in the photo. There are potted plants resting on the three ledges below. They sit on a dingy brick surface. In about a week, a guy will come and lay beautiful colonial tile. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this 15 years ago or even last year.

It will be a huge — Yuge! — improvement. I’ll post photos.

In the meantime, I wonder if my second ex-wife still reads the Sunday newspaper in bed. I almost emailed her this morning to inquire. But I didn’t.

* * * *

* More work than has been done by far since the Hacienda’s construction. Roofs will be razed. Stairs will be moved. Floors will be ripped up. The Jesus Patio will be destroyed. Fruit trees will fall. More on all that when it happens.

The lights go out

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Down thataway on the edge of our plaza.

IT WAS 10:30 this morning when my child bride came back from the butcher shop just down the street and told me the electricity would be cut soon and wouldn’t be back on till 2 p.m.

Somebody had told the butcher, and the butcher told her.

Whenever a native tells you something is going to happen at a specific hour, feel free to roll your eyeballs. It could happen at any time.

But turning the electricity off came quickly, about 10 minutes after she returned. Blap! Everything was off. Were it not daytime, we would have been in darkness. As it happened, we were in dimness.

On the rare occasions this happened in Houston, for maintenance, the light company would leave a note on all the houses in the neighborhood the previous day. In Mexico, however, they prefer to surprise you.

Were it not for the butcher, we would have been surprised.

I poked my head out the front gate. There were light-company trucks all over the place. The job at hand was to pull a new cable from down on the left to up on the right, about two long blocks, to the neighborhood plaza.

Electric service in our hardscrabble barrio is pretty reliable. Not as reliable as it was in Houston, but pretty darn reliable, and for a tiny fraction of the price. We pay the peso equivalent of about 12 bucks a month.

The power was restored by 2:20 p.m. Just 20 minutes later than promised.

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And just outside the Hacienda’s gate.