The street sweeper

The suburban street on which I lived for nine years (1986-1995) in Houston never required sweeping. I never swept it, and no mechanized street-sweeper ever passed by either. It just stayed clean.

The situation in my hardscrabble barrio now, however, is quite different. It often requires sweeping, and if I don’t do it, nobody does. I did it this morning after a lengthy spell of ignoring it.

The photo does not do the situation justice. It was worse than it appears. First, I use a rake to sift up the plastic cups, the junk-food wrappers, pieces of tossed paper, etc., left by ill-bred passers-by.*

That all goes into a trash can. Then, using a broom and dustpan, I sweep the sidewalk and, far worse, the street of dirt.

The dirt goes into a bucket — two trips today — and I lug it down the street — it’s heavy! — just beyond the white wall on the right side, and I heave it into a ravine.

Speaking of my previous home in Houston, as I’ve mentioned here in the past, I gifted it to my ex-wife a few months after our divorce. Though she was living there, it was entirely mine, but I was concerned about her, and I stupidly gave it to her. What was I thinking?

She did send me a nice card which said: Thank you forever!

Forever was short-lived.

We continued on good terms for the five years I remained in Houston. When I moved to Mexico in 2000, I asked if I could park my pickup in her driveway because I did not know if my Mexico adventure would pan out. When it did, I asked if she could sell the pickup a year later.

Nah, didn’t want to be bothered. I had to fly up there and do it myself.

Just recently, due to our advancing years, I emailed and asked if she has me down to get my house back if she dies before me. Nah, she’s leaving it to someone else.** It’s worth about a quarter-million dollars now, far more than we I paid for it in 1986.

And she doesn’t even have to sweep the street.

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*That’s what my Houston neighborhood lacked: ill-bred passers-by.

**She’s never remarried and has no children, so Lord knows to whom she’s gifting the my house.

The winter opening

It’s not winter yet, of course, but we’re preparing for it and the Spring that follows. We’ve hoisted the curtains in the upstairs terraza, an annual affair. The curtains reduce substantially the water that soaks the terraza during the five monsoon months.

The summer look, closed in but drier.
The winter-spring look, debuted yesterday.

Raising the curtains is no piece of cake. First, the two of us team up to clean both sides as well as possible with a dust mop and damp paper towels. After that, we crank those babies up for the duration, which is till next June. It’s far nicer to sit out there with the curtains raised. Come join us. Bring wine and brie.

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Weird taste

After the toil mentioned above, I took off alone on my daily exercise walk around the neighborhood plaza — a reasonable 20 minutes instead of 20 miles — and just off the plaza this house caught my attention. It’s recently painted. What kind of people paint a house black and pink? Maybe they got a discount on colors no one wanted.

The insipid smile

This is such a widespread characteristic of Mexican culture that I am surprised that I’ve never addressed it before. It’s the insipid smile! And here’s how it works.

Where you encounter the insipid smile almost invariably is in a restaurant, coffeeshop or retail store, but most any business will do, and mostly you get it from employees, but business owners are not immune.

It’s the Mexican way of dealing with a customer complaint. Your cappuccino is almost pure milk? Your toast is burned? There were suspicious stains on your hotel sheets? Your huevos rancheros are stone-cold? And you say something about it.

Will you get an apology? Will you be offered a replacement? Will you get a reduction on the check? No, you will get none of these things.

You will get silence, an insipid smile, a moment’s pause, and the recipient of your complaint will rapidly walk away.

I recall only one occasion in which I have lodged a complaint and received not only an apology but a replacement. And it was a Gringo owner of a restaurant, not a Mexican.

I’ve wondered about this routine response to complaints. In part, it’s due to the fact that Mexicans are extremely nonconfrontational, which means they receive few complaints and are flummoxed when faced with one.

Another aspect is that embarrassment runs rampant in this nation. Pena, vergüenza. Words you hear often. It’s usually women who are perpetually embarrassed, but men are not immune.

My latest encounter with this annoying phenomenon occurred this week. I left sheets and towels at a laundromat. The woman at the counter said they would be ready the next day.

A Mexican’s face is a mask and so is his smile.

— Octavio Paz

I returned the next day and the day after that and the day after that. The laundromat was always strangely closed. On the second attempt on the third day, I finally found the place open. I walked in, said something like, “At last, you’re open!”

The counter woman gave me silence and the insipid smile.

I pressed on with, “This is not a good way to run a business.” No reply. She placed my stuff on the counter in silence, and pushed the bill toward me. I paid. Not a word from her. No apologies. Silence.

Sadly, this is very typical. And counterproductive.

I’ll be using a different laundromat in the future.

Front versus the rear

This is the front gate. Not bad.
This is the rear gate. Grubby.
This is the street out back. Muddy. The LP truck just departed.

Our propane tank was filled this morning. It cost about $110, or 2,200 pesos in real money, and the last fill-up was about seven weeks ago. I used to go three months or more between fill-ups, but I also used to have a much larger propane tank.

I should have snapped a photo of the truck while it was down there near the yellow sex motel, but I did not think of it till the guys had gone. Way down there is a pipe up high on my brick wall where the gas guy climbs a ladder and fills me up, so to speak.

I remember when my parents lived on our Georgia farm in the 1970s, after my grandmother died, they had a propane tank too, about the size of my previous one. I wonder how much they paid. Their gas came from that tank, and their water came from underground.

Their electricity came from far away, the only utility that was not on-site, as they say.* It was rural life. In the meantime, we’re waiting for the monsoon season to stop. Enough already with the mud.

My child bride’s pastry kitchen, just off to the left in the top photo, has its own propane tank, a small one. The kitchen also has its own electricity service and water heater.

Women can be costly to keep.

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*Well, there was the telephone. It came from afar. It was a party line till it wasn’t. Party lines, as old folks will remember, enabled you to listen to conversations of other people. It at times led to trouble.