Casa Del Maya B&B

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Murder at the Tudor

               Of course it was raining; what kind of murder mystery would this be if it were not?  My old Ford Fairlane dodged left and right, trying to avoid the potholes whose depths I did not know until I hit one, so I tried not to hit one.   It was already hard enough to see in front of me through the broken windshield without the heavy rain clouding my vision even more.  I didn’t even try to look behind me; I was used to the missing rearview mirror.
                The gate of Mrs. White’s Tudor mansion was already open when I approached, but then closed behind me when I cleared it.  The claxon sound of the two metal gates closing on each other was right out of Hitchcock, and I laughed at myself for feeling off balance.  This was only a writer’s group meeting, I reminded myself.  But whenever it was Mrs. White’s turn to host, unusual things just happened.  One night a dead cat lay at Mrs. White’s double doors, the beautiful mahogany stained with the cat’s blood.  Turns out one of the hounds had got hold of the poor creature and slung it at the door.
                Another night one of the group members, Melissa, choked on one of Mrs. White’s shrimps.  Every person there that night said they knew the Heimlich and attempted to help, but it was Mr. White that jumped in first and helped Melissa expel the offending shrimp.  But tonight was truly going to be murder.
                Mary-Elizabeth, a woman of about 70 with blonde hair that was obviously out of a bottle, read her piece, first.  It was long and personal, a lament about how she had neglected her children when they were growing up, and how it made them strong adults (One of her children became a famous movie star, for a while.  I guess that made Mary-Elizabeth feel better about the neglect.)
                After Barbara read the first chapter of her romance novel (why are writer’s groups always heavy on the female side?), we broke for cake and coffee (Mrs. White swore off serving canapes after that one, unfortunate incident I alluded to earlier.)  The cake was one of those fantastic lopsided upside down creations so popular these days.  It was made and brought by Terri, who apparently wrote and baked fancy cakes.  I hate people with more than one skill.
                Settling back in our seats to hear from our next presenter, Mrs. White called on Caroline.  Caroline was a large woman, widowed, and an endless talker.  If someone hadn’t killed her, I might have, myself.  (Yes, I know that’s redundant, but I’m trying to find my voice, here.)
                “Where’s Caroline?”, Mrs. White asked.
                “I think she went to the bathroom,” piped up Peter.  Besides being the only other man in the group, Peter was an observer.  I know, as writers we all should be, but Peter tracked everything and everyone.  It was Peter who discovered how the cat died.  And he got a great story out of it, as well.  That really pissed me off.
                Just as Mrs. White was about to choose another presenter, a loud, long scream pierced our ears.  Mrs. White turned white, I’m sorry to say, and we all ran to the bathroom. 
                There was Caroline, apparently standing over Mr. White, his body draped over the open window’s sill. 
                I grabbed Mrs. White to keep her from entering the bathroom, but I lost my grip and she went barreling into the room.
                Back in the living room Mrs. White was surrounded by the group, some holding her hands, others offering her a tissue as she continued to wail.  She cried and wondered aloud how she was going to go on without her “little Whitey”. 
                When the police arrived, we were certain we would all be there all night.  But Peter ensured we would be home and in bed by midnight.
                “Officer, if I might.  I’ve been observing everyone here tonight and there can be only one murderer.” 
                Peter turned to Mrs. White.  “Mrs. White, your husband has a twin, is that not correct?”
                “Yes, he does”, she answered.  “But how could you know that?”
                “Every month when we arrive at your house, Mr. White greets us at the door.  He always stands to the right of the door to open it because he is left-handed, is that not correct?”  God this guy was irritating.  He sounded like a sleuth from, well, “Sleuth”.  So smug.  I also hate people who are always right.  Not just the ones who think they are always right, but especially the ones who are always right.
                “Why, yes, he is”, answered Mrs. White.
                “The man lying in that bathroom is right handed.  I could tell because his car keys are in his right pants pocket.  That means that your husband, Ben White, murdered his twin brother, Bob White who was recently widowed and inherited his wife’s huge estate.”
                The police soon confirmed the hypothesis, including Peter’s presumption that Ben White had invited his brother to the house to talk business and lured him to the bathroom and the open window in an attempt to make it look as if an intruder had murdered Mr. White; Mrs. White abruptly fainted.
                Peter was right and I hated him even more.  He was going to get a best-seller from this! 



I can’t help him.  I wish I could, but I can’t help him.

He walks the streets in thread-bare clothing that he, himself, has made thread-bare.  When he is given new clothes he spends all his time ripping them and tearing them until they provide barely any modesty.  He is usually without a shirt and rarely wears shoes.  I cannot help him.

A coin provides him hours and hours of fascination.  He kneels at the curb or on a sidewalk and picks up the coin, then tosses it down to the street again.  Then he “discovers” a coin on the street and the process repeats itself for hours on end.  He needs help from someone.

His hair gets very long and filthy until someone, I don’t know who, gives him a haircut.  At one point last summer his hair reached to his hips.  His frame is prisoner-of-war-camp thin; his skin is dark from the sun and often darker from caked-on dirt.  Clearly he is disturbed.  But he is friendly and says “hello”…always.  I wish I could snap my fingers and help him.

Others have tried to help him.  Whenever he is “taken away”, something that seems to occur two or three times per year, he returns to the streets a week later clean, shorn, and with new clothes that he immediately makes into his own special brand of rags.  He clearly should be on medication; perhaps he is but does not take it.

Someone, at some point in the past, helped him: He has a home.  It is a two-room house just down the street from us.  He has set it afire three times in the three years we have lived here.  He collects old newspapers and fills his house with them…until he sets them on fire.  I can tell when he has walked past our house as there is a telltale trail of old newspapers along the sidewalk.  One time I made him clean up the newspapers.  He did so cheerfully.  That wasn’t any help to him.

One day I was walking past Starbucks on a busy boulevard in my town and saw two policemen trying to coax someone up off the street.  It was him.  He was sitting on the street, three or four coins beside him.  The police didn’t help him.

I wish I had the magic.  I wish I could close my eyes and command his scrambled brains to be unscrambled again.  But I cannot help him.

Today, on my daily run, I passed him on our street.  As he saw me running toward him he bent over and did a little jig as I passed him.  “Hello”, he said in perfect English.  “Buenos Dias”, I said in return. 

I’ll never be able to help him.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Whose Your Daddy?

     You know how Oprah has her “Ah-ha” moments?  (Always mention Oprah anytime you want to get peoples' attention, and especially right at the start.)

     You know how Oprah has her “Ah-ha” moments?  Well, I have “duh!” moments whenever I listen to or read columns by Fareed Zakaria.  (Not only did I mention Oprah, I also related myself to her…see how I did that?!)

     There are few columnists I read.  Tom Friedman is one I frequently find myself agreeing with.  He just makes sense.  No one knows economics better than Paul Krugman (even though I believe economics is a false science - parse THAT.)  But Fareed Zakaria, I mean, wow!  Not only do I find myself always agreeing with his logic, I often have “duh” moments where I wonder why no one else has said what Fareed said.  (Fareed won’t mind if I use his first name; after all, he’s in my living room every Sunday morning.)

     Fareed obviously has a firm grasp on world affairs as evidenced not only in his intelligent thoughts about the world, but also based upon how often his prophecies have come true.

     Over a year ago, in June 2014, Fareed wrote about the Middle East, and Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan in particular.  He said that the region would continue to fracture because “Sunni, Shiite, Kurd (and other) sectarian groups, often Islamist, have filled the power vacuum.  He argued the problem is one of identity, not idealism (read “religious”).  People will fight for an identity (American, for example), not ideals.  The Civil War, for example, was fought not on a zeal to adhere to biblical teachings (although the bible was used as a weapon to justify slavery), the North and South waged war because the two groups saw themselves as different people who could not come together in thought.  This plays right into Fareed’s principle that people in Iraq will not fight for Islam, but for who they are as a people.

     Only a year ago, you say?  Fair enough. 

     In December 1997, Fareed wrote that although many countries across the globe are holding ostensibly democratic free elections, the resulting power structures are looking more like dictatorships.  And that, indeed, is what we have seen in the last two decades.  “Today the two strands of liberal democracy, interwoven in the Western political fabric, are coming apart in the rest of the world. Democracy is flourishing; constitutional liberalism is not”, he wrote.  Duh!
In January 2010 Fareed also wrote, “Iraq needs a stable power-sharing deal that keeps all three groups (Shias, Sunnis, Kurds) invested in the new country.”  He argued that if that did not happen, the country could be doomed to failure. 

     It seems no one else had this thought because just this past week (May 31, 2015), Fareed declared Iraq a failed country and proposed what might need to happen, next.  Duh!

     Although the majority of Fareed’s thoughts are on world political affairs, he also has an eye on the U.S., technology (which he sees as an important ally of world peace), and periodically writes a thought piece, such as his recent column that wonders how the world might be different if a certain asteroid had struck in, say, New York City instead in the frozen wasteland of Siberia.

     Okay, enough touting Fareed Zakaria’s insights and thought-provoking, uh, thoughts.  I just wonder why more people are not as thoughtful.  Why is Fareed Zakaria, Tom Friedman, Paul Krugman, and others like them the only ones out there making sense?    
If we had politicians who actually engaged in thoughtful consideration (okay, now, stop laughing!), I might more often be saying “Duh!”, instead of, “Doh!”

     Where are our thinking leaders?  Where are any of our leaders?  We are so hungry and starved for competent leadership that anyone who can make a good speech immediately makes us salivate for their election to office.  Anyone who comes along with a decent new idea garners a huge following.  

     But their ideas often peter out; their leadership exposed for what it is: hunger for more power (or money…or both).  Are there exceptions?  Of course there are.  But I’m not going to talk specifics; I’m speaking in generalities, here.

     So what do we do?  How can we return to a government of thinking leaders?

     I believe it is up to us.  To have thinking leaders we must become thinking people.  We must stop poo-pooing science (unless that science is about poo-poo).  We must improve our educational system so we churn out thinking graduates.  We should teach our children to think for themselves and not simply repeat what they hear at home. (I would say “at the dinner table”, but does that even exist anymore?)  We must get our information from varied information outlets, and not sit back and watch only Fox News or MSNBC.  We must listen to differing opinions.  We must welcome challenges to what we know and what we believe.  We should attend meetings and rallies of organizations with views that challenge our own.  We have to take the money out of politics – somehow.  (No, I don’t know how, I only know it has to happen.)

     We have to stop watching the Kardashians.

     Okay, stop sweating…we don’t have to stop watching the Kardashians.  But we have to know that it is not real life and that what happens on that “reality” TV show doesn’t matter to any of our lives; we should not make decisions based upon what Kim might do.  We have to be smarter.

     It’s up to us, and only us.  We have the power, but we don’t wield it.  When we demand better leadership, we’ll get better leadership.  Until then the Donald Trumps of the world will continue to make a mockery of our republic.

indulge me

I was moving in a slight daze and could feel the sun baking my skin, but it felt distant, as if someone was describing the sensation of heat to me rather than my feeling it, and I looked to my left as two skateboarding teens twisted and turned past bicyclists moving in the opposite direction, the boys moving with as much speed as they could muster and quickly disappearing to the fading sound of the skateboard wheels grinding on the pavement where I slowly turned my head forward and continued walking as I was intensely aware of my surroundings with birds singing overhead – with whistles, chirps, and cawls -  children passing on their bikes laughing and yelling for their parents as a young couple approached, hand-in-hand, her wearing short shorts and he wearing torn jeans and a Ramones T-Shirt, the aromas swirling around my head a mixture of their colognes – hers light and pretty, his solid and silky – and then quickly dissipating into the hot air as I passed a hotel on Paseo de Montejo and noticed the landscaping:  A wagon wheel propped among the shrubs and flowers, attempting to evoke an earlier era and, I suppose, soften the hard, cold contours of the 9-story marble-facade building with its ridge of dirt separating grass and sidewalk bricks, for what purpose I do not know and as I moved forward I wanted to close my eyes and allow my senses to lead me, but there were too many obstacles in my path and I didn’t want to take the chance I might disturb the dream-like state because I was doing my best to simply be in the moment and allow my senses to be vividly alive and I felt the blood coursing through my body, especially down my hands and fingers; my feet stopped aching and I glided along the sidewalk with so many sounds bombarding my ears at once that I could barely categorize them all: Along with the birds overhead and the families enjoying their Sunday morning to my left I could hear car engines to my right on the next street over, one being an older car, most likely a Ford, with its tell-tale water pump making that familiar click-click-click and all the walkers’ shoes made various sounds on the large red bricks under our feet - clop, clop, sshump, sshump, ping, ping, ping, ping, and I thought to myself that I must remember these sounds, these smells, these sights;  I must remember this feeling of being alive in this moment; my temples relaxed and I stopped grinding my teeth; I let go of my stomach muscles and the weight shifted forward as I met a tag of taxi drivers gathered around their vehicles parked along the side street, some of them idling, their exhausts spewing the venomous, piercing odor and threatening to catapult me back to reality as the men laughed, tugged on their crotches, and added to the acrid odor of car fumes were the waftings of burnt tobacco as the men sucked on cigarettes and I quickly wound my way between them to cross the street where ahead were numerous artists selling their paintings and as I strolled past their wares I tried not to judge their works, but only to allow them to have whatever effect they may have, feeling little in the way of inspiration or emotion, but very much feeling the weight of the artists’ labored stares desperately seeking my approval, and my money, and I felt uncomfortable and sad for them, not being able to imagine making my way through the world working on the streets and how lucky I am in my life to be able to indulge myself in this manner – to know I have some security – a thriving business – a future, when just ahead a woman stooped over to pick up her dog’s dropping as she expertly wrapped a small plastic bag around her hand, grabbed the entire mess, and almost magically turned the bag outside in as she arose and crossed to the trash can on the street as she’d done many times before and I came to the glorieta with the OXXO store, the area eerily quiet – as opposed to the clamor normally occurring here with traffic coming from all directions, fighting their way through the traffic circle - when I noticed the sun’s rays hitting the trees above and shattering into a million fragments, each falling to their place in line along the sidewalk and street and buildings as I walked under the trees and my skin stopped baking and the air momentarily cooled as a man sat on a bench awaiting a bus that would not come this morning and just beyond a couple of old mansions to my right were in the process of restoration as others sat and continued their slow, abandoned decline; one of the restorations only the fa├žade of the old home remaining intact while a new, modern facility arose behind it, with the sidewalk rising and falling due to tree roots and heavy rains inundating the walk to the heavy iron fence to my right which protected the cars in the lot of the small shopping area from Paseo where a guard sat in a shack at the parking lot’s entrance, his small portable TV blaring some sporting event as I slowly began to return to the present and my final glorieta that would require all my focus to cross the dangerous intersection until I was pleasantly reminded that it was Sunday and there was very little traffic about so I quickly and easily crossed the street to the grass median and immediately continued on to step up on the far sidewalk and its carpet of bird doo that told me I had reached my destination and in that instant pulled myself back to reality as I looked up to see the patinaed stone front of my friendly neighborhood Walmart

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Squish, Squish, Squish

So a couple of days ago Gaspar comes to me and tells me there is a “small, no maybe big problem” in one of our rooms.  I follow him to Balam, on the second floor of the first casita, where he shows me a leak in the shower hot-water faucet.  Ah, no big deal, says I to myself.  I have already dealt with a leaky kitchen faucet and know that all I have to do is visit my friendly neighborhood hardware or plumbing supply tienda and in no time that leak will be history.

So I grab a few pesos, my wallet, and put on my “walking” shoes (anything other than flip-flops) and head down the street to our hardware store.  The owner, Jose, loves to practice a bit of English when I come into the store.  He tries to repeat in English whatever he says to me in Spanish.  Then he looks at me with a big grin, very proud that at age 85 he “still has it”.  Whenever I purchase something at his store, he always speaks the cost in English.  “Tirty-six pesos”, and then looks up at me with that grin.

So I pull out the old valve I brought with me and ask him if he has one.  “No, lo siento”, comes his reply.  “Sorry”.  I say, “no problemo”, thank him, and head to where I knew I should have gone to in the first place. 

So I head for Cereba at the corner of 57 and 50.  The guy first gives me a very long valve, and I say, no, it is much smaller and show him my old valve.  He then pulls out one that seems to match perfectly.  Same length, same rubber grommets, same innards.  So I say I’ll take two…gotta’ have one for the next time one of these faucets gives out.

So I grab a taxi home to get the new valve installed before our next guests arrive. 

So our guests arrive that evening.  They are four young people from China, and they don’t speak three words of English.  We use a lot of hand signals trying to explain everything.  Steve pulls every breakfast food out of the refrigerator and shows it to them, one at a time, in order to find out if they can eat each item.  We get them all settled and they seem to be enjoying their stay.

So on their second, and last, morning, one of the young women comes to me with her hands flailing and trying to say “shower no work”.  After a few repetitions, I get it and follow her to the Balam room, where water is gushing from the hot water faucet.

So after shutting off the water and cleaning up most of the water on the floor of the bathroom, I run to our shower and remove one of the valves so I can use it in Balam.  That solves things for the moment, but I know I have, probably, a full day finding the right valve. 

So after the guests check out Gaspar and I remove the valve again and try to ascertain why the new one has failed.  Seems the threads on the new valve are different than the old and the valve had not seated fully.  When water pressure was applied, it popped out of the wall.

So now I know the problem, and head to Fernandez hardware.  I have found over the last three years that if I really need something, just go to Fernandez because they will have it. 

So they don’t have it.  They suggest Cereba, a plumbing store in La Mejorada.  Yeah, I KNOW!

So I return to Cereba for the “right” valve.  But guess what?  No, they don’t have the right one.  The woman behind the counter suggests I remove all the rubber grommets from the new one and rebuild my old valve.  After all, the metal housing is fine.  Sounds good to me; I buy two more valves and walk home, confident in Plan B.

So after I rebuild the new valve, I put in the last piece, which is the rubber grommet at the end of the valve.  But it is ever, so very slightly larger than the old one, but I manage to get it seated.  It puffs out the end a bit and this worries me.  And yes, when I try to install it, the valve leaks.

So my next step is to remove a couple of valves from our shower, install one of them in Balam, and try to find the right valves to replace the ones in our shower, using the other valve from our shower as an example and to compare. 

So I know that Luis, who renovated our property, is working on a house down our street, and chances are the plumber that works with Luis will be there.  I head to the house, knock, and open the door.  Luis happens to be there and I ask him where the shower valves came from at our house.  “Boxito”. 

So off to Boxito I go, my sample valve in my shorts pocket.  They don’t have it.  But they have one that the guy insists will work.  60 pesos. 

So when THAT valve doesn’t work, I head for Ceramat in Las Americas because I know we bought a lot of stuff from them when we renovated.  On the way I pass a Surpesa store and stop in to ask if they have the valve.  “No.  Va a Flecha”.  Flecha?  What is that?  Never heard of Flecha.  The guy says it is on the next street over, a few blocks down.

So when Ceramat doesn’t have the valve, I start the search for this Flecha store.  I walk three blocks East, and there is a little tienda in front of me called “Flecha”.  They have about a dozen different valves on display, and I was able to match up my sample with one on the display.  I purchase one, promising to return for 10 more if “this one works”.

So I’m back at home and 5 minutes later I’m in the shower, singing, “Aaaahhhhh sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found you.”  Wow!  Can a tiny victory like that really make me that manic?  I gotta’ get a life.

So it took only 5 bad purchases, 6 hours, and some very wet clothes to get this one fixed.  But it is fixed (for now, anyway).  Now I can relax and watch a couple of episodes of “House, M.D.”

And then Gaspar comes to me and says we have a small problem.  When it rains, it pours, I guess.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Heart Healthy?

             I just ate a bowl of cardboard.  Well, it might as well have been cardboard.  In my never-ending quest to keep my weight below cruise-ship tilting, and to attempt to live past the grand old age of 2-years-from-now, and also to try to stem the ever-growing number of aches and pains and body parts that have decided to just pack it in, I am trying to eat healthy.  But that is no easy feat. 

                As I poured the whole-grain cereal into my cereal bowl, I noticed that if I squint just a bit, or take off my glasses, I could not discern the difference between the cereal and the cardboard box it came in.  The cereal is a dark coffee-brown, with specks of something lighter running through it.  The cardboard is a dark coffee-brown, with specks of something lighter running through it.  I suddenly lost my appetite and gave in to a powerful desire to eat food that actually had taste.  So I began scouring the fridge.  A leftover pizza, perhaps?  Tuesday’s pasta?  A tomato?  An onion?!  But, alas, there was nothing else to be had (because when Steve and I eat, we leave no morsel untouched – when the trash man picks up our trash, I notice how he stares at the pizza delivery boxes, wondering why they are all lick-stained).
                So, whole-grain cereal it would be, topped off with, no, not milk – I’m allergic to milk – but with Almond Milk.  Whenever I look at the label, I question just who decided to name this concoction milk.  Are there tiny little milkmaids sitting on tiny little stools in tiny little factories in Holland, pulling at tiny little teats on the almonds to extract what must be miniscule amounts of “milk” from them?  And just how many almonds does it take to fill a liter box?  And the taste!  Oh, the taste.  It’s not bad enough that the cereal tastes like stale cardboard; I top it off with this thin liquid that hints of water mixed with tree bark (not that I’ve ever eaten tree bark, but if you made a liquid out of it, almond milk tastes like how I would guess it would taste).  I drank Soy milk for a long time (you think milking an almond is tough!), but then I heard that it causes man-boobs, and I don’t need any extra help in that department, thank you. 

                The only saving grace of this horrendous breakfast is that it is crunchy.  Somehow, the cereal companies have discovered how to keep cereal crunchy in tree bark water.  All that crunching and chomping keeps your mind off the fact that you are eating flavorless wood pulp.  And it takes a long time to chomp and chew all that wood and get it down your throat, which actually has one other advantage: it takes 45 minutes to grind it all down to small enough pieces to swallow, so that after all that time you feel full.  But at what price?  There is no satisfaction in eating tasteless pieces of plywood coated with sugar.  And what about all that sugar?  In my attempt to eat healthy, and the cereal companies’ attempt to make a crunchy cereal, a lot of sugar leaves the factory and enters my gullet.  That’s healthy?

                Steve and I began this quest to change our eating habits over 25 years ago when we were living in D.C.  We listened each morning to a Dr. Mirkin, who prompted his listeners to eat healthy and exercise regularly.  He got us to eat a lot of brown rice and beans…a lot of beans – and we didn’t even notice when our small circle of friends shrunk smaller and smaller.  Was it something we did?

                We cut meat out of our diets and ate lots of fruits and vegetables.  And we did keep the weight off.  But something about the good doctor began to peeve me.  Hard as we would try, we could not live up to the colossally-high standards set by Dr. Mirkin. 
Dr. Mirkin and his wife Diana (so smug!)

                Dr. Mirkin was always bragging about riding his bicycle everywhere.  Big deal.  If I was a rich doctor, raking in the cash with a lucrative medical practice and supplementing it with a radio program and endorsing all kinds of “healthy” products, I would have time to ride my bike everywhere, too.  But we are working stiffs, and healthy eating and regular exercise sometimes makes way for paying the rent.  (I looked up Dr. Mirkin on the Internet, recently, hoping he had met his doom crashing his stupid bike or being crushed by a barbell that came crashing down on him.  But, no such luck, he is still healthy, still has his radio show (and an internet presence), and he and his wife continue to bike all over the place, putting me to shame still today.)

                For breakfast I have begun to buy two are three different cereals and mix them together so as to make the healthy cereal go down easier.  These days I eat half a bowl of some whole-grain something or other, and half a bowl of super-sugar-coated-infused-with-honey-and-freeze-dried-syrup-corny-ploppers (“They’re corny-licious!”).  Healthy, no?  And if you sprinkle it with 14 tablespoons of Splenda® sugar substitute, you have the added satisfaction of adding a man-made substance that sweetens the mess all the more (I guess “Mary Poppins” DID have some lessons to teach).  I just wonder what kind of cancer I’ll end up with.

                Splenda® is the only sugar substitute I can stomach right now (I’m still pissed off about that cyclamate ban in ’69).  We now know that aspartame, the substance in Equal®, converts to formaldehyde in the body.  I used to use a lot of Equal®, until I awoke from a 2-year cycle of migraines and realized it might be some miracle-of-science sugar substitute causing my pain.  It was.  I have not had aspartame in 10 years and I’ve had no migraines since.  So now it’s Splenda® and now I spend my life questioning every little ache, pain, and failed body-part for evidence of what problems Splenda® might be causing.

                My problem is that aspartame is everywhere, in almost everything.  Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, sugar-free cookies, sugar-free candies, diet and sugar-free anything.  So I’m consuming a lot of it.  When we go to the movies, I naturally want my popcorn and Coke.  But all that sugar can’t help me keep the cruise-ship upright, so I sheepishly ask the person behind the counter if they could mix half-and-half, Coke and Diet Coke, and voila!  I’m fooling myself that I am eating healthy - even at the movies!  Instead of 64 teaspoons of sugar I’m only ingesting 32; I’m certain my liver thanks me.  

And with the calories I save I don’t feel so bad taking advantage of the 10-peso refill of that wheelbarrow-size popcorn, dripping with what I am certain is real butter and not some oil-based flavored amalgam. 

                But being the first meal of the day, I find it difficult to begin the day fooling myself.  It’s like awakening on New Year’s day every day.  I make my new day resolution to begin eating healthy and to get more exercise.  At least I can stick to it through breakfast – some days.

This morning, as I filled my bowl with the luscious brown cardboard, I snipped off a corner of the cereal box and tasted it.  With a bit of Splenda®, it wasn’t so bad.  I think I’m on to something, here.  The taste is the same, it’s a lot cheaper (I have an endless supply just buying eggs and ordering pizza), and just think of all that fiber!  My body is definitely going to thank me for this.  And even if I run out of egg cartons, I can fall back on the cereal boxes.  I just wonder what to do with all that cereal.  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


I waited 57 years to experience an illness severe enough to land me in the hospital.  That’s living a pretty lucky life, to be certain.  And when I recently did spend a very long 24-hours in a local hospital, it was an eye-opening experience on many levels.  I expected something between squeaky-clean American and my idea of what a Mexican hospital might be like.  As one can likely guess, the truth lies somewhere in-between.

                I had been suffering lower abdomen pain for a week that had at first been misdiagnosed as an infection by a private doctor.  When the infection did not “clear up” and the pain progressively became worse, I decided to head to my local IMSS office in Merida Centro to see what might be done.  I have a National Healthcare card and pay annually for the right to be on the Mexican healthcare system, but I had never used it before.  This would be a good test.

                From the moment you enter the clinic on Calle 64 it is evident the departments are run with a clear mandate, very organized, and well-staffed.  The building may not evoke the clean lines and antiseptic feel of U.S. healthcare facilities with their concrete, tile, and Formica surfaces, but if I had any trepidations about placing my life in the hands of the medical personnel there because of it, it was due to my own prejudices. 

                I began at the information desk, where a young woman helped me to begin wading through the many steps it would take to receive help (it is a bureaucracy, after all).  She pointed me upstairs to “Urgencia”, or Urgent Care.  When this stupid gringo couldn’t understand exactly where to go, a security guard walked me up the stairs to the correct department.

                In Urgencia I handed the receptionist a printout of my problem I had translated into Spanish; I figured I was going to have to tell the story of the past week to many people, and in my pained state I thought it best to be clear and concise and not “uh” my way through my history, trying to string my broken Spanish into coherent sentences.  When you feel like someone has a grip on your lower abdomen and is twisting and pulling for all they’re worth, you don’t want to screw around.

                The woman input my data into the computer, then told me to take a seat and wait for the next medical practitioner.  “Oh great”, I thought.  “How long is THIS going to take?”

                I could barely sit, and standing brought even less relief, so I was up and down, one second sitting in a splayed out position, the next walking back and forth in front of the four chairs provided for patients in my continual search for a position that would provide some comfort.  There was no such position to be found.

                In about 10 minutes (it seemed like an hour) the doors opened and I was ushered into the exam room.  A male nurse took my blood pressure, checked my heart rate, and then pressed on my abdomen in several places to discern where was my pain.  He input all the data into the computer on his desk and told me I needed to go to the hospital.  Yeah, I kinda knew that, but was pretty relieved someone agreed with me.  They sent me to the Administrative office to get a form approved that would admit me to the hospital.  To the woman in Administration I must have looked like I was hopped up on some kind of drugs, what with the way I could not stand straight, or still, for even one second.  I was also sweating profusely, which only heightened the effect.  But she stamped my papers and I hit the street, grabbed a taxi, and headed for Benito Juarez Hospital on Avenida Colon.  I had walked past the hospital a number of times, and the front of the Emergencia/Urgencia entrance was always teeming with people.  I always wondered why they were outside instead of waiting inside. 

                From this point it all got really, really interesting.  I suppose most Americans would be kind of shocked at the conditions inside the hospital; we have such an antiseptic point of view about how things should be in a hospital.  But I had given up my “cushy” American life for life in Mexico, and I was determined to experience life here as the locals do.  Besides, what choice did I have?

                I approached the Urgent Care doors and noticed that no one was getting in without some type of form.  I later learned it was because there are set visiting hours, even in emergency, so if you were not accompanying a patient at intake or helping them home after checking out, they figured you had no business being inside.  And from the conditions I would soon see inside the hospital, I have to agree with that point of view. 

From the entrance door I looked to my left and saw there was a waiting room with an information desk, so I proceeded there.  I showed the woman at the desk my form and she pointed me to a window just at the door, which I hadn’t noticed when I entered.  Another woman at the intake window took my form and stamped it, then motioned me to enter Urgent Care.  I approached the door just as the security guard walked away for a moment.  Upon seeing me standing there, a little girl, no more than 7, ran to the door and locked it.  No gringos here!  A few moments later the security guard returned, having seen the girl lock the door, and unlocked it, giving her a grimace as he did so.  I wanted to stick my tongue out at her as I walked passed, but my illness, not my maturity, kept me from it. 

I showed the guard my documents and he ushered me inside and to the left.   I walked down a hallway and found a small room maybe 20 by 30 feet, with a tiny office just off the end of the hall.  The room was packed with people.  There were, maybe, a dozen gurneys with sick folk, one gurney shoved against the wall in the hallway with a man awaiting admission, perhaps another 30 people seated in chairs, and doctors and nurses running around, trying to take care of the crowd.

                I was guided to a seat in the tiny office to await my admission.  I held on to my papers until I noticed others placing their papers at the bottom of a stack on the counter.  That’s when I figured I better place mine there, as well, if I wanted help.

                The tiny office was no larger than 6 by 10 feet.  There were four seats for incoming patients, two dirty, rusting shelving units on the floor with paper towels and medicines, and space for two more chairs, which were occupied by two doctors typing.  That’s right.  The doctors were typing their notes onto hospital forms using ancient portable typewriters.  There were probably four typewriters floating around that office, so I figured that if you wanted to type your notes you had to bring your own typewriter.  It was fascinating to see the doctors peck on the typewriters, spending at least 20 minutes on each sheet.  I was both amazed and kinda horrified they did not have a computer system to enter their notes.  (Well, they do, but that comes later.)  All this typing finally answered my wondering how a typewriter repair shop I had recently passed stayed in business – it’s the medical profession!  It also brought up other queries: If they still used typewriters for keeping documents, what might I expect in terms of medical care?  Bloodletting?  Leeches?  Lobotomy?

                The noise and seeming confusion in the room was a little off-putting.  But I figured I would not be in this waiting area long and just needed to hang in there to get admitted to a room. 

After about 15 minutes a woman came to the office and called out my name.  I waved to her and followed her to her examining office.  She read my notes and did a little pounding on my abdomen, then said she thought I had a kidney stone, but that they needed to complete some tests before they would know for certain.  She gave me a hospital gown to put on and showed me to the men’s bathroom.

                Now, let me say that in the two years I have lived in Mexico I have grown accustomed to a great many things that are different from what I am used to in the U.S.  Bathrooms are one of them.  Whenever I use a bathroom out in public it can range from neat and tidy, if old and worn out, to downright filthy.  This hospital bathroom was the latter.  There was a toilet with no seat and a shower stall.  The shower was a lake of pee, and the toilet was full of blood.  It did not flush.  This is when it began to hit me that things might be different, here.  There was a working sink, but no soap and nothing to dry the hands.

                I put on the gown, and made certain my clothes did not touch anything in that bathroom.  Thanks to removing one piece of clothing at a time with one hand and holding onto them in the other, I now have a new skill:  I can put on a hospital gown and even tie it shut in the back with just one hand.  (At least, I HOPE it was closed in the back.  I wonder if that was what all the snickering was about out in the hallway.)  Only 45 minutes later I was heading back to the waiting room office.

A nurse ushered me into the main waiting room where were all the other people waiting for medical care and told me to take a seat.  I took one of the last remaining seats – one of four blue plastic chairs all attached to a metal frame.  I wondered how long I might have to wait for a room.

                About 25 minutes later a nurse came to my chair, pushing a cart of medical supplies.  She was going to hook me up to an IV drip, just as every single person in the room had already been.  After a few failures finding my veins – my mother and I both have notoriously difficult veins to stick – she finally found success on the top of my right hand.  She took some blood for testing and then hooked me up to the IV drip.  I would not be off that IV drip for the next 24 hours, right up to the last five minutes of my stay.

                 The nurse then gave me a sample jar and told me to go to the bathroom to give her a urine sample.  Oh, no…that bathroom again…and so soon!  For the first time in my life I actually preferred to pee in a jar rather than a toilet.  I contemplated doing it right there in the hallway, but then figured this was not the best time to also check out the Mexican penal system.  They also took me to X-Ray for a picture of my abdomen, but it proved to be of no help.

                Back in the waiting room I waited for my tests to come back.  I surmised I would not get a room until the tests came back with some information to warrant giving me a room.  When might that be, I could only wonder.  As I waited I began to look around the room.  There were spaces for 6 gurneys.  There were 12 in the room.  There were also 36 seats stuffed in that space, and all were filled with patients.  It didn’t seem any were going anywhere, and that’s when it hit me:  I wasn’t waiting for a room – THIS was my room.  This was an urgent care facility and you sit in a chair, if you can, or lie on a gurney, if one is available.  We were all receiving our treatments right in this room.

                During the next rounds the doctors confirmed I had two kidney stones and that I would have to stay in Urgencia until they passed.  The good news is that all my other blood and urine levels were good, so all they needed to do was to dissolve those pesky little jagged edge stones that were wreaking havoc with my kidney.  But how long would that take?  I could only guess. 

                After accepting the fact that this was how it was going to be, I began to loosen up and see the positive side.  Because about 40 patients could be cared for in the same room, things were much more efficient.  The nurses and doctors were always in the room, so you never had to do more than raise your hand if you needed anything. 

                About 8 hours into my stay, my butt began hurting and I would stand, periodically, to try to restore blood flow to my nether regions.  (Two weeks later I am still trying to massage some life back into my left butt-cheek.)   Then they moved me to a chair in the back of the room.  This chair was different.  It was metal, with a metal seat that had many holes punched into it.  It was like a seat you might have out of doors; the holes allow rain to flow through.  But why was this needed in a hospital, in urgent care?  Lucky me, I was about to find out.

                The seat next to me was empty, for a few moments.  About 20 minutes after I was moved, the nurses brought in a woman of, maybe, 75 years old.  She was in bad shape.  She could barely walk and when they sat her in the chair next to me, she did not leave it until she was moved to a gurney that finally opened up.  But before that I learned why this Urgent Care method may not go over too well in the U.S.   The woman in the next chair needed to go to the bathroom.  But as I said, she could barely walk.  So the nurses lifted her up and placed an absorbent pad on her seat.  They then place a bedpan on the floor directly under her seat.  Oh, God, no, no, no!  Tell me this is not going to be what I think it is.  You guessed it, she let loose and the overflow went through the holes in the seat bottom and I’m certain at least some of it actually went into the bedpan.  I just closed my eyes, turned to my left, and envisioned fields of sunflowers and children running through.  But I was brought back to reality when I heard the splash of liquid hitting the floor.  Do I continue this charade and pretend I don’t notice the horror show going on six inches to my right, or do I grab my IV and make a run for it, hoping the two stones would eventually pass on their own? 

It would be hours before anyone moved a mop under that seat.  And when the woman moved to her gurney, in came the next patient to sit in that chair before anyone had a chance to clean it.  That’s when I stood to look at my own seat bottom and wondered what might have taken place before I sat there.

                The next few hours I began to take mental notes of the situation.  It was not my favorite situation, to be certain, but I was also immensely interested in the way this hospital was operated. 

To my left was a small corner of the room that was curtained off.  Inside were bedpans and urine pitchers, all waiting to be emptied and cleaned.  This is also where they placed any patient sick at their stomach.  Apparently they just vomited on the floor.  I could tell when just a few split seconds after hearing a woman in that corner of the room wretch, there followed the plop plop sounds of what in my mind resembled thick potato soup hitting the floor.  And to top it off, this is also the room where the food was brought and dispersed from.  I just told the attendant I wasn’t hungry.

                To my left was a sink that seemed to be used exclusively for emptying leftover IV drip bags.  Problem was, the sink leaked and the bags’ contents flowed under and behind my chair.  I had to play tag with my backpack and keep moving it around to avoid the spill.  It was a thick, syrupy-like concoction, and it dried up before it was mopped up.

                The gurneys were old, the wheels rusted.  The medicine cart the nurses used was begging for a cleaning.  The walls were beat up and in need of repairs, and at least two of the overhead lights were not functioning.  One was barely hanging from the ceiling; I thought any minute that light would be adding to the suffering of the poor woman on the gurney under it.  And all the while you could hear the constant sound of those portable typewriters pecking, pecking, pecking. 

I began to think I might turn 58 sitting in that chair, with little old ladies peeing in their seats, people on gurneys constantly moaning and crying, and me all the while pounding on my left butt-cheek to try to force some blood flow down there.  Even Stephen King could not envision this.

                I did not sleep that night.  I have never been one to sleep sitting in a chair, and this was not the time to try to change my ways. 

                By about 4:00 AM I was feeling no pain.  I surmised there was also a pain killer in my IV drip.  At 8:00 I was taken to have a sonogram of my abdomen.  A man came with a wheelchair to push me there.  I protested that I could walk, but he would have none of it.  And when he dropped me off in the sonogram room, he told me to wait for him after I was done.

                The sonogram took only five minutes, and I was back in my semi-private room shortly thereafter.  About an hour later, several doctors arrived and made the rounds to each of the chairs or gurneys to consult about and with each patient.  When they came to me they said the sonogram indicated I had passed the stones and could go home.  Yea!  I got up to go change into my street clothes, but the doctor said it would be a few minutes; a nurse had to type my case notes into the one computer that was available to them.   So that was it – they typed their original notes on a typewriter, then someone input all those notes into the main computer system.  I guess it saves time from having to read to the nurse what they had written in their stereotypically bad doctors’ penmanship.

                Two hours later I had the okay to go home.  The nurses asked who was there to pick me up.  When I said no one and that I would go home alone, they said that was a problem.  They began discussing what to do when I said I could call someone to come pick me up.  They said it had to be a family member, to which I responded, “no problemo” (Rosetta Stone, YES!).  So I called Steve and told him he better run to the hospital as fast as he could to get me out of there.  He took a cab and was there in 10 minutes.  Only then was I taken off the IV drip.  I returned to my bathroom oasis to change clothes while Steve went to the checkout window and got my meds and off we went. 

                All in all, it was quite the experience.  And all in all I felt I actually received excellent care.  They competently diagnosed my problem and eradicated it in 24 hours.  What more could I ask?

                Well, maybe a shower.