We do not live alone

Shot this morning. Lovely day.

For years I’ve given the impression that there’s just the two of us living here, but that is false. We share the Hacienda with crickets much of the year.

Like most Mexican homes, the Hacienda is full of little spaces through which they enter, and they prefer to hole up in the kitchen, which is good because they sing at night — and it’s not opera or even Bo Diddley — and the kitchen is as far away from the bedroom as you can get.

Behind the refrigerator is a favored spot. Sometimes when I enter the kitchen at dawn I will find one in the sink. I imagine he was thirsty. For years I just trapped them and tossed them into the yard, but now I smash them and toss them into the trash.

On rare occasion, a cricket will grow bold and exploratory, and there’s only one direction for that, toward the living room and, even farther, toward the bedroom where their night yodeling is not permitted. They are hunted down and slain.

Better crickets than mice, and we’ve never seen a mouse. Occasionally, we spot rats in the yard, and there are holes out there that look suspiciously like rat tunnels. At times, I toss poison down there, but I’ve never seen a corpse. If we ever see a rat in the house, or perhaps even a mouse, my child bride will immediately move to the Downtown Casita.

But the crickets aren’t so bad if they stay on their side of the house where they belong.

Pile of broken flower pots and excess roof tiles sit in the Garden Patio today.

The rat house

I USED TO LIVE in a rat house. Next to an open sewer. Let me tell you about it.

There were mice too, far more mice, but rats make a greater impression.

When I arrived on the mountaintop from the nearby capital city in September of 2000, I rented a two-story, haphazardly furnished house in a walled compound that included four other residences, but mine was the largest and the only one of two flights.

The compound, and my house specifically, abutted a large open sewer that flowed through a very deep ravine from downtown where it also was fed offal discarded directly from the municipal slaughterhouse. As you can guess, this was a smelly affair although the rainy season keep the ravine flowing much of the year, reducing aromas.

The sewage did, and still does, flow into our mountain lake because there is no sewage-treatment plant in our town.

New ImageThe dry season, about seven months, could bring smells over the wall easily. And, of course, rats love sewers. Think Washington D.C.

The owner of the compound was an interesting Gringo, quite likable, who had moved to the mountaintop just after the Second World War, the story goes, and married a local woman. Both have long since died. The point of mentioning that he was a Gringo is that I paid rent in dollars, not pesos, and it was $350, if memory serves.

Now, let’s address the issue of rats and mice, and the fun times they provided during the 1.5 years I lived there solo. I lived there an additional year after marrying, but the rodent problem had been resolved by then. Had it not, my child bride would have run screaming back to Mexico City from where I had brought her.

Rats only appeared twice. And they were both dead. I found them in the toilet on two separate mornings. Luckily, I glanced down before sitting, immediately shut the lid and flushed them back where they came.

Here’s where they came from: The toilet pipe simply went under the floor, over thataway through the wall abutting the sewer and flushed everything into the ravine far below. The pipe was wide open for visitors to enter at will. Mostly, it was a one-way street, but those two rats were adventurous. Too bad for them.

They got into the toilet bowl, couldn’t get out, and drowned. At times, it does not pay to be brave and bold, especially for rats of all forms. But enough about those rats. Let’s move on to the mice, a far worse problem.

My bedroom was downstairs abutting a small interior courtyard that was walled off with glass. There were floor-to-ceiling draperies in that bedroom, and that’s an element in my worse encounter with mice. One evening I was lying in bed reading when I heard scurrying up the draperies, lots of scurrying, on the far side, lots of mice. And then a couple of heads popped over the top of the draperies, looking down at me.

I got up, shut the door tight, and climbed to the bedroom upstairs to spend the night. But I had encountered mice before, running around the living room, for instance, in the daytime. I purchased that sticky paper and put it out nights, and I always captured mice who would be squirming on the sticky paper every morning when I picked up the paper, took it outside and heaved it over the wall into the ravine.

This continued for weeks. I went through lots of sticky-paper traps. I don’t recall now, two decades on, how the rodent problem ended, but it did.

Had any of this happened after my new bride arrived, I would have lost her, and I would be single to this day or married to someone less qualified. That would’ve been bad.

The arrival

vista
The view that changed my life.

I’M FOND OF noting milestones.

I just missed an anniversary, but only by three days. My arrival here on the mountaintop on September 10, 2000. I was not entirely new to Mexico, but I was quite green.

I’d lived seven months at a lower altitude, 40 minutes away in the state capital. Four of those seven months had been dedicated to attending a language school because when I got off the plane in Guadalajara I didn’t speak Spanish.

I was a language ignoramus.

My decision to move from the state capital up here was made while sitting at a coffee shop and looking in the direction shown in the photo. I looked at that view and told myself, I’m gonna move here. And I did. Lickety-split.

My first challenge was to find a furnished place to rent. While my town now is chockablock with real-estate agencies and lots of furnished rentals, there was not even one real-estate agency in 2000. I knew no one here, and I had no idea where to start. I was alone, and my Spanish was dicey.

Someone online pointed me to an old Gringo named Gray who’d moved here after the Second World War.  He had married an indigenous woman, and they had multiplied.

Gray had some furnished rentals that catered mostly to the sparse Gringo crowd. I moved into a two-story house on a main drag with furniture that aspired to the junk heap.

The first thing I did was buy a new mattress and sheets. The second thing was to buy an equipal love seat and matching chair. The store here neglected to inform me that the set would be made in and shipped from Guadalajara.

I got it about four months later.

I lived in that rental for two-and-a-half years. My child bride was there the final year while we constructed the Hacienda.

It wasn’t a bad place if one didn’t cringe at the hordes of mice during the rainy season or the two times I found dead rats in the toilet. They had come up from below, and I flushed them back to where they came from.

And there was the matter of the house abutting a open sewer/creek that provided a notable fragrance during the dry months. And the lights went out a lot.

It was an interesting home along the lines of the Chinese curse, May you live in interesting times.

We were elated when we moved into the Hacienda in May of 2003. It’s been a great 17 years here at altitude. The changes are considerable. Plenty of rentals available now. With rats or without. Ten times the number of Gringos. Some people regard that positively. I’m not one of those people.

But I’m glad I sat at that coffee house that long-ago afternoon, gazing up the street. It was a decisive moment.

The photo’s from yesterday. It hasn’t changed much.

The water jungle

water

And the rains came . . .

The change seems to come overnight, but it actually takes a spell.

And things happen, large and small.

* * * *

Swallow this!

Saturday night, during a downpour, I opened the steel door from the kitchen to the service patio. There’s an overhang under which runs the clothesline, a clothesline that draws no attention to itself most of the year.

But swallows like to sleep on that clothesline during the rains because the overhang keeps them nice and dry, and that would be okay if they didn’t crap on the floor. They are nasty guests.

On opening the steel door that night, I saw one swallow there, so I yelled at him. He ignored me even though he was only about three feet away.

Smart ass, I muttered to myself as I went for a broom. I whacked the clothesline with that broom, and he sped away, leaving white poop on the cement floor.

Of all the nerve.

* * * *

Like the goat Hefner

Later, I was in the downstairs bathroom, the big one, brushing my teeth, getting ready to lay my aging carcass on the king bed with my child bride, like the goat Hefner and his preposterous playmates.

Drip, drip, I heard, alarmingly. There’s a skylight over the tub, and it was a leak. Fortunately, it was falling into the tub so no harm done. I checked the two other downstairs skylights, one in the hall, one in the closet.

No leaks, but the season is fresh and young, as I once was.

I sealed those skylights with silicone in May, and what good did it do me? The other two will give out before September for sure. One cannot win against water.

* * * *

Making lakes

Depending on which way the wind blows, a good stiff rain can leave lakes on the floor of the downstairs terraza. Sometimes they are small ponds. Other times, the lake covers almost the entire terraza, a roofed terraza, mind you.

Later, it’s necessary to push it all out with a broom and squeegee.

* * * *

Blame is mine

The windows have never worked well, probably because I designed them and then hired a third-rate carpenter to build them. There’s no one to blame but me.

No matter how much silicone I squeeze along their edges, water still finds a way. Paper towels are the permanent, stopgap solution, it seems.

* * * *

Curtain mice

Years ago, I lived alone in a two-story rental closer to downtown. The summer rains would drive mice inside. I set out sticky paper nights, and mornings I would fling the little thrashing buggers over the property wall into a sewage creek.

I was an unkind man.

One night, lying in my bed reading a book, the drapes pulled shut nearby, I heard a scurrying sound as the curtain jiggled from bottom to top, as if something were climbing up from the floor on the far side.

He reached the curtain top, and peered over, and our eyes locked, yes, another dratted mouse! I shut my book, closed the door and slept that night in the upstairs bedroom. He was gone by morning. I think.

In that rental, on three occasions, I found rats in the toilet bowl. I just flushed them back where they came from. Don’t live next to a sewage creek.

A rat flushes easily, if you didn’t know.

* * * *

Poison and peaches

But that was then, and this is now.

Outside, the yard is going wild. Abel, the deadpan neighbor and lawnmower man, cuts the grass on Saturdays, and by Monday it needs it again. That’s just not right. We await the following Saturday anyway.

Snails come out and eat my poison. Flowers burst forth. The fruit trees muscle up. Soon, peaches will litter the grass, to rot and annoy me. I must wipe the glass-top table and web chairs every morning if I intend to sit out there.

* * * *

The good finale

It’s a superlative spot to sit, that stone patio, when the sky is partly blue, the temperature is 75 at noon with a gentle June breeze, and the hummingbirds and butterflies are making rounds to the riot of bougainvillea, banana tree blooms, nopal flowers and anything else with a hint of tasty color.

I sit there amid the grass under the big brown umbrella with a book which usually gets closed swiftly because one cannot read and sufficiently appreciate the cool, clear air one inhales in this damp summertime world . . .

. . . making me sleepy.

So much better than the dust of spring, no matter the leaks.

And there are no mice. It is a joy.