Saturday, October 31, 2015

Time to Fall Back in Baja...

Time Change - A Baja Lifestyle 
Minutos, Como sal en la herida,
se me pasa la vida, gastando el reloj.
Minutos, son la morgue del tiempo;
cadáveres de momentos que no vuelven jamás.

Ricardo Arjona

Each spring and fall we repeat this semi-annual ritual of adjusting our clocks for the time change. We used to be in sync on both sides of the border but that changed a few years back when our northern brothers made a decision to extend their daylight saving time. Now the northern baja state changes time along with California but Southern Baja does it along with the rest of Mexico, a week before. Sometimes I wonder if I am the only one who is left scratching his / her head trying to figure out this whole time change thing anyway?

I am sure that many of us have heard the story that Daylight Saving Time was an idea originally credited to Benjamin Franklin. He came up with the idea as a means of creating more daylight hours in the evening to save on candles. I am not exactly sure how many candles we would save today but I must admit that I do like the idea of having more hours of sunlight when I come home to enjoy watching a classic Baja sunset. I decided to do a bit of research on the subject of this time change phenomenon and I discovered a few interesting facts along the way.

Benjamin Franklin might have come up with the original idea but the United States was not the first country to actually implement the change. That credit goes to Germany and Austria who first tried Daylight Saving in 1916. The United States didn't get around to even establishing what Standard Time was across the country until the year 1883. That only came about because the railroads demanded that the government come up with some standard means of determining time as they traveled across the states and territories. I doubt it made much difference as to if any train actually arrived on time but at least the conductor could tell the passengers exactly how late they would arrive at the next station.

Daylight Saving Time in the United States was signed into law with the Uniform Time Act of 1966 by President Johnson to set up standard dates to begin and end this time change. Until that law was passed, cities, counties and states were allowed to decide for themselves on what date to make the spring/fall time change or not at all. I read that someone traveling along a 35-mile stretch of road on Highway 2 in West Virginia and Ohio back then would have had to change the time on their watches seven times to be on the correct local time. Someone living along that stretch of road could clock out of the office at 5:00 and get home before quitting time.

The idea of Daylight Saving Time was to save energy as we would have more hours of daylight available in the evening before going to bed and ultimately use less energy to light our homes. Not too many of us still use candles for lighting as in old Ben Franklin’s day but some politician did the math and figured that burning fewer KW hours of electricity would reduce the demand on imported oil. The jury seems to be out on that one as many believe it makes no difference at all as some people just stay up later now. With all of the computers, play stations, x-boxes, plasma televisions, microwave ovens and hair driers today the demand for electricity is just as high, if not more.

I simply like the idea of Daylight Saving Time because it leaves me with the feeling that I have more hours left for me at days end – something I like to call my “Baja Time”. My only question is why we just cannot stay on Daylight Saving Time all year round? Are candles that much cheaper in winter?

One of the arguments most loudly voiced from the opposition includes the point that in wintertime, school children need more early morning daylight so as not to walk to school in the dark. Another argument is put forth by dairy farmers who argue that Daylight Saving Time disrupts their cow’s milking routines.

Thinking about those arguments I remember my mom telling us as kids, that when she was our age she had to walk five miles to school in the dark, uphill (in both directions) in a blizzard with red fever and no gloves. I have learned that the rules of physics seem to have changed since those early days of my mom’s childhood. A college education has taught me that in the modern age, walking from point A to point B uphill and then from point B back to point A, also uphill, is almost impossible. Many other laws of physics and mathematical constants seem to have changed from the days when my mom was a young girl, but I will save that topic for another post.

I seriously doubt that too many of our school children today would have to suffer such dire conditions as those that my mother endured, to get an education without someone calling child protective services and the board of education getting recalled.

As for the cows, I think that if somebody would just take down the old barn clock it would solve the entire problem. If the cows really insist on having a clock, then just leave it set on the old time - ignorance is bliss, isn’t that what they tell us?

I must admit that I was really quite impressed to learn that cows even knew how to tell time in the first place.

So the real problem comes down to when to change time and how to do it. The United States and Mexico clicked along in nearly perfect sync with the time change until a couple of years back when the Energy Policy Act of 2005 took effect, extending Daylight Saving Time several weeks in the spring and fall north of the border. As with many things that politicians do, it was probably all done with good intentions. The reality now is that north and south of the border, we now go for a few weeks with an hour difference in time from what it was before.


It is confusing and neither the satellite TV programming guide nor my trucks GPS can ever seem to get it exactly right.  To make things even more complicated, not every state north of the border follows the time change. The act signed into law back in 1966 only set the dates for the time change to occur, not requiring that any state make the change. Indiana was a hotbed of time change controversy for years but finally raised the white flag in 2005. Arizona and Hawaii are the two lone holdouts remaining. Hawaii enjoys so much sunshine all year long; they probably don’t miss losing an hour of it in the evening. We can give Hawaii a pass on that one. I didn’t realize how many dairy farmers there are in Arizona.

There are a few rumors going around that the Mexican government is considering the possibility of moving the time change dates to get back in sync with the norteños. This will probably involve the consensus of more politicians. That might take awhile. I figure that by the time we get around to catching up with the time change down here, some politician in Washington (who also happens to be a dairy farmer) will present a bill to change it back to the original dates and we will be out of sync again.

Another problem I have with the time change is figuring out which direction to move the clock hands. I know it goes something like spring forward and fall back. Or do we spring back and fall forward? I never could quite get that simple maneuver straight after all these years and now to complicate the matter we have a false start of sorts with the difference in time change dates across the border.

Looking around the house, we must have over thirty clocks spread around on walls, shelves, bookcases, ovens, radios, alarms, televisions, satellite boxes, microwaves, coffee makers, the stovetop and a few more that I can never seem to find or remember. Inevitably some will not get changed and others may even get changed twice. A few others have dead batteries and the result is having clocks with as many as six or seven different time settings all around the house and I am never quite sure which one is correct. I might check my computer to find out but then I remember that it changes automatically to Daylight Saving Time. But then I am not sure if that is the “old” time change date or the “new” time change date? It only gets more confusing.

Another thing that bothers me is trying to figure out what happens with the hour lost in the spring time change? At 2:00 AM the clock magically springs forward to 3:00 AM. So where did that hour go? I am convinced that we are screwing with the whole time-space equilibrium thing and I have wondered what Einstein would have to say about that? I even find myself imagining what would have happened if Doctor Emmett Brown, the mad inventor from Back to the Future had programmed the flux capacitor of the time traveling Delorean to leap forward in time to 2:05 AM on the same spring Sunday morning when we change over to Daylight Saving Time? Where would Marty McFly go? Would he be lost in time? Would he just vanish into time change purgatory?

Probably not I reckon; he can always land in my living room. There is bound to be at least one clock in my house that is set to the same time as lo' Doc Browns flux capacitor.

If you really think about it, clocks marking time and time itself are two very different things. Clocks can be set, moved forward, moved back, or stopped. I remember my life when living north of the border years ago and how I felt like I was competing to constantly stay ahead of my appointments and calendar. No matter how early I started my day, how fast or far I ran the clock would always win. I felt like most of the guys on the PGA Tour in any tournament with Tiger Woods a few years back. I was only playing for second place.

In contrast to clocks, time is a silent, gentle, invisible force that moves constantly forward like a slow flowing river. Clocks were invented only to remind us of things we have to do. Time is life, there to enjoy the things we want to do, sharing with those we love when not having to watch the clock. Time is marked by the warm, setting sun each day in its constant cycle God created with its natural cycles of life and season. I don’t think God worries too much about the time change or if any of the clocks are set to any particular hour, minute or second. There is some greater wisdom there that had long escaped my grasp until now. Finally I am beginning to truly comprehend what is important in my life in relationship to time.

Today I just want to think about today.

The best time of my life is - today.

I will never be younger than I am - today.

I will never have so much life to live ahead of me, as I have - today.

I have my precious Cristina alive and well, next to me - today.

My friends and family remaining are all alive and well - today.

I am physically able to go out and do the things that I love and enjoy - today.

I can invite those who I care most about in this world to come and share laughter and conversation with food, wine and music in my home - today.

Time has now taken some of my precious loved ones, including my youngest daughter Olivia as well as my mom and dad. Oh how I wish I could just have a moment in time to give my daughter a hug or see my folks again. I might even give mom a quick review of what I have learned about the laws of physics and how much I wish I could spend more of this precious commodity of time together with all of them - today.

Life has taught me that so many such precious opportunities today are snatched from us in a moment. There is no more difficult lesson in life to learn. Trust me on this one, I speak from experience.

Having wasted too much of my life tied to a clock, I do feel so fortunate that I made the decision to move south and relocate down here along the Baja Pacific coastline. Nothing in life is perfect but this is as close as it gets as far as I am concerned. Many of my friends living north of the border tell me that they envy me and wish they could do the same thing that I did. The reality is that they could – but unfortunately they still are living tied to their clocks. A friend asked me some time ago if she would be nuts to move down here at age 54? I told her that some of my friends and family thought I was crazy when I first made the move here years ago.

Now I can’t seem to get them out of my guest bedroom.

Today the clock serves only as a reminder of how much life I still have to live, not missed appointments or time changes. Time that can be spent not having to watch a clock. My life north of the border was occupied with appointments to keep, meetings to attend, tasks to complete, important phone calls to make, deadlines to meet and on and on and on. They all have their place in life but for too long I allowed them to become priorities over all else. I doubt that any of those things will matter much in the end when I take a hard look back on my life and the manner in which I chose to use my time. I would hate to think that those would be the things I would be remembered for in my obituary.

Time is now. Time is life and today is the only guarantee we have of ever again being able to enjoy sharing that time with those we love and care about most. I am so thankful that I didn’t wait another ten years to live the life I love here in Baja. I am truly living today and I have never loved life more.

Looking at all the clocks in my house I think about the next time change. More clocks will change, some will not, a few will get batteries and others will get their time changed twice – again. One day when I have time I'll get them all back in sync.


Australia embraces Day of the Dead

Just like Halloween, the Mexican celebration known as the Day of the Dead is growing in popularity in Australia.

Embracing death as a part of life is at the heart of the two day celebration, called Dia de los Muertos in Mexico, which takes place on November 1 and 2 each year.

Day of the Dead dates back thousands of years to when the indigenous cultures in Mexico celebrated the deaths of their ancestors.

In homes across the country, shrines are created featuring photos of those who have died next to candles, marigold flowers, skulls made of sugar and various offerings to the departed.

Day of the Dead
Mexican Social and Cultural Association members Paty Galan and Sandra Maye dressed in Day of the Dead costumes. (SBS News)

It is a time when the souls of the dead follow the fragrant trail of the marigold petals and return to earth to spend time with their relatives.

Paty Galan from the Mexican Social and Cultural Association told SBS News children were honoured on November 1.

"We celebrate the children that passed away for whatever reason so the altar in that case includes toys and all the objects that the kid loved in life and then on November 2 that's when we celebrate the adults and it's a big, big celebration where people go to cemeteries, we have live music, it's all about preparing food for them," she said.

"It's a joyful day because that's when they come back to spend time with us, even though we can't see them we can feel them."

During the Day of the Dead, children enjoy treats such as candied pumpkins and the 'bread of the dead' - a sweet bread in the shape of a skull.

Mexican Social and Cultural Association president, Sandra Maye, told SBS this custom and the focus on the afterlife sometimes saw it confused with Halloween. 

"Halloween comes from a pagan tradition and Day of the Dead comes from a mix of Aztec and Hispanic cultures and Catholicism," she said.

"So, as long as we differentiate that and people understand the true meaning of both traditions, it's fine to celebrate them both."

Ms Maye said increased Mexican migration to Australia had fuelled a growing interest in Latin American culture among the wider community.

"It's a sort of exotic culture for the Australians and they've embraced it, the Day of the Dead, as one of the very creative and joyful ways to see that process of the dead," she said.

"I still find families everywhere and restaurants doing a celebration but at the association we're trying to keep the tradition as true as possible so we try to embrace it the way it's celebrated in Mexico."

Businesses have been cashing on Day of the Dead.

Zoe Stewart is the owner of a costume store in Melbourne.

She told SBS interest was growing in both Halloween and the traditional Mexican celebration.

"Day of the Dead is really big, it just keeps getting bigger and bigger, the skull masks are really popular, so is the make up so we do make up tutorials for people if they want to do sugar skull make up," she said.

"It's just a big way that people can dress up as skeletons."

In a tradition that coincides with All Saints Day and All Souls Day on November 1 and 2, Mexican families decorate the graves of departed relatives with marigolds and candles, and spend the night in the cemetery, eating and drinking as they keep company with their deceased loved ones.
Major retailers like Coles are making money from lollies and pumpkins.

Martine Alpins from the supermarket chain said confectionery sales were expected to be 50 per cent higher than last year.

She put that down to Australians who love to party.

"Halloween has really been an event that they've really loved to get involved in," she said.

American expats have noticed more interest in Halloween.

The American Women's Association, which raises funds for Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital, has teamed up with some retailers to stage a Halloween fundraiser in the bayside suburb of Hampton.

President Masoomeh Wake said it made sense to use Halloween to support its annual fundraising, which hopes to make $25,000 for the hospital. 

"The reason that we turned it into a fundraising was because of the traction in Australia," she said.

"We just realised more and more people, more and more kids are getting into it.

"They dress up, they like dressing up and that's part of the reasons we set up the Halloween and gradually over the years the number of people that attend our events has been growing and partly is the awareness in Australia for Halloween."

Highway Project Will Reduce Border Congestion

A new highway project in Otay Mesa seeks to relieve border congestion for both vehicles and trucks. This week, the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) broke ground on a highway connector project that will directly link SR-905 and the future SR-11 to northbound 125.

Currently, vehicles and trucks entering the U.S. through Otay Mesa must travel through circuitous and congested local roads to access SR-125. The new project will provide a seamless highway system, benefitting the thousands of people crossing northbound through this East County Port of Entry (POE).

With it, authorities seek to boost the region’s economic growth and address the losses caused by border delays.

“Time is money, as any truck driver will tell you”, stated Otay Mesa Chamber of Commerce Director Alejandra Mier y Teran. “We hear it from manufacturing companies and business groups, their biggest concern is logistics costs”.

The more we expedite commerce, “the more companies will set theri sights on our region, which will lead to more jobs,” indicated Ms. Mier y Teran.

Every year, the border region loses more than $7 billion and 62,000 jobs due to the long border delays. Wait times for trucks bringing good into the U.S. can be as long as 2-4 hours.

This connectors project will also provide links to the planned Otay Mesa East POE via SR-11, with Phase 1 (from SR-905 East to Enrico Fermi Drive) expected to open to traffic by the end of this year.

“This project is part of our broader vision for the overall roadway network from Otay East POE. We continue moving forward with this project, we are already in land acquisition negotiations and having discussions with the Mexican government”, expressed Mario Orso, Director of Intermodal Projects at CALTRANS, in reference to the progress for this new Port of Entry.

Over the past 20 years, trade between the U.S. and Mexico has grown by an average of ten percent each year, a rate that exceeds that of U.S. trade with the rest of the world, according to data provided by SANDAG.

In 2014, more than 800,000 northbound trucks and $39 billion in goods crossed the border through the Otay Mesa Cargo Port of Entry.

“This is an important trade corridor, and together we are moving forward toward our vision for a safe, secure, efficient, and integrated transportation system that will bolster the economy on both sides of the border”, shared Laurie Berman, Director of Caltrans District 11.

The connectors project for the three state highways is estimated to cost $21.5 million and is expected to be completed in late 2016.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Big Orange Lessons

The Big Orange Lessons
 by George Bergin (Osprey)

His father calls him Poopy. His given name is Fernando. I don’t know where this Poopy name came from and I don’t want to know. He’s five years old, almost six. His daddy is my gardener. When he’s invited, he rides in the back of Juan Carlos’ old gray pickup, waits and talks to me while his daddy clips and weeds and waters.

Took me forever to get Fernando though the front gate – he was afraid of Storm, my almost brindle beach dog. I live alone in this little house and Storm’s a sorta guard dog. He’ll lick you to death once you’re inside the gate but he barks ferociously at every single soul who walks by the house. I thought about training him not to bark but people, and Mexicans more than most, think he’s muy bravo because of all the barking – a little insurance for me and my stuff.

Once they made friends they played and played but now Storm just says hello, plays a few minutes and runs off to pester Juan Carlos. Fernando has a dog at home; a little black marauder named Bamboo. That comes out Bam-bo the way they say it. On hot days Fernando and I find a shady place to sit and enjoy a big orange drink. Over time we have learned the narrow limits of our ability to communicate verbally. I speak a little pueblo but the little guy has not bothered to learn many English words or grown up Spanish ones either. Luckily communication can take many forms. He can tell by my kisser, my eyes, how I move my arms and hands if the subject under discussion is up-beat, complex or comic. I can see in his body language if I have captured his attention or not, tell by his eyes, his lips if he is engaged or just pretending involvement (just to please me.)

Our style allows me an advantage I rarely enjoy. My ideas and admonishments go unchallenged. Another plus is the fact that my instructions help me express how I feel without everybody in the village knowing all about it.

Here’s a sample of his visits. This one was just two days before Christmas.

We made our hellos, he did his thing with Storm, I got the big orange drink. When I asked him if he was a good boy, ready for Santa, he smiled and nodded a decided “yes”. When I asked what he hoped Santa would bring him he said “Dinos” – I’m gonna guess that’s dinosaurs, big toy dinosaurs, like in the cartoons. He doesn’t know about the neat little bike coming his way that I already took to his neighbor’s house under cover of darkness.

“Fernando, for the four thousandth time I want you to know that I love you but I hate that name Poopy. If I had my way there would be no mention of Poopy. Listen to me a minute. I don’t want you to grow up and leave the village to go to college in the big city because I fear you might not come back. In fact, I don’t want you to grow up at all. If you can’t stay the way you are I’d like it just fine if you would become a gardener like your daddy.

I know your daddy can’t make enough money to save anything and I know he won’t have any money to retire on; he’ll have to work his whole life long. More orange?” I held up the big bottle.

Si Señor Jorge.”

I didn’t say he was without words, a mute, a niño – he is bright and polite. He has long eyelashes like a girl, eyes the size of overcoat buttons, the color of burnished ironwood.

“You’ve got to promise me you’ll try to finish school before you get some girl pregnant, run away so as not to get involved in all that family stuff. And the drugs. Don’t even try the drugs. Promise me, no drugs, never, nunca.”

Nunca.” he mumbled

“The rich kids, the ejidetarios, who sold the land for the golf courses, they will offer you the drugs. They will let you ride in their shiny new trucks but they get high or drunk and drive way too fast. It’s dangerous. That’s all I’m saying. Be careful. And don’t worry about learning too much English like Emiliano or Chuy who made friends with new gringos just to cheat them. Help your mother around the house and the yard. Help her cope with the diabetes – when you’re a little older you can help her with the medicine, help her control her condition.

And don’t be drawn to the fishing. Fishing used to be a good way to put food on the table but I fear hard times ahead for fishermen. Once the gambling comes along nobody will pay much to go fishing and Mexico has sold most of the fish already. When you get to escuela secondaria you’ll learn about computers. If I’m still around I’ll get one for you – the whole world will open up for you then. You will be amazed at what’s out there.

If something happens to me, see if your mom and dad will let you take Storm to live with you and Bamboo. Your daddy knows he’s not mean. In the meantime, as I grow sicker and weaker you’re gonna’ grow taller, stronger. When the time comes you can leave your house, walk about the village on your own, I’d like it if you could stop by and see the old gringo sometime.”

I took a little swig of my orange, smiled down at him and put my hand on his shoulder.

Si, Don Jorge, claro.”

Don Jorge. I like that. See, I told you he’s polite. And it’s clear he understands a lot of things. Truth be told, I don’t know if it really matters all that much.

Mexico's latest threat: Monster seaweed

Mexico deploys its navy to face its latest threat:
Monster seaweed

CANCUN, Mexico — Surrounded by a four-man camera crew, the Japanese honeymooners were ready to make memories.

In their wedding whites against the turquoise Caribbean waters, the couple leapt off the beach and kicked their heels. Then they whipped out matching sombreros and unfurled a giant Mexican flag. Their photo shoot was perfect, if you could ignore the smelly strip of brown algae fouling the white sands.

“It’s disgusting,” photographer Juan Manuel Delgado said. “I’ve worked on the beaches for 21 years, and this is something that has never happened before.”

From Barbados to Belize, Cancun to Tulum, a viny brown seaweed known as sargassum has invaded the Caribbean basin this year. Vast floating mats have washed up and buried beaches. The piles of seaweed grew more than four feet high in Antigua and forced some people to abandon their homes. Tobago’s legislature declared a natural disaster last month as the stench of decomposing seaweed, and the dead fish and turtles caught within it, caused nausea among tourists. Hilary Beckles, the vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies, called it “the greatest single threat to the Caribbean economy I can imagine.”

“It’s been horrendous,” said David Freestone, executive secretary of the Sargasso Sea Commission.

For Mexico, whose Caribbean coastline attracts more than 10 million visitors and generates $8 billion in tourism-related revenue a year, the arrival of sargassum became a cabinet-level crisis. When José Eduardo Mariscal de la Selva, the director general of Cancun’s maritime department, received a photo one morning in July from his beach cleaners, he assumed it was a joke. Within days, the country’s tourism and environment ministers were touring Cancun to assess the calamity.

Mexico’s tourism industry is like an aging gladiator, having battled swine flu outbreaks, drug-war violence and intense storms over the past decade — including Hurricane Patricia, which sent sunbathers fleeing the Pacific coast last week. Now, some local authorities question whether seaweed might strike the fatal blow.

“Beaches are what we sell to the whole world and what we depend on, directly or indirectly, for all our income,” Mariscal said. And hotel guests paying $500 a night do not want to open the shades to find paradise matted down under layers of stinking, fly-infested algae.

Since the July invasion, Mexico has launched a herculean cleanup effort. Along the coast of Quintana Roo state, the government hired 5,000 day laborers in four-hour shifts to rake seaweed from more than 100 miles of beaches.

From one popular stretch of Cancun, workers hauled off half a million cubic feet of seaweed — more than 1,000 truckloads, Mariscal said. Cancun gave local boozers the chance to leave the town drunk tank early if they put in time on the seaweed chain-gangs. The federal government has budgeted $9 million so far to remove the stinky mess, and hotels are expected to pay millions per month for further maintenance.

The Mexican navy has deployed its oceanographers to track the seaweed and launched research voyages to study “what provoked this arrival,” said Rear Adm. Fernando Alfonso Angli Rodriguez. There are proposals to buy boats and floating barriers to block the seaweed before it reaches the beaches. And the navy is currently testing a hydraulic suck-pump that has been used in the Dominican Republic.

Seaweed is piled up on the beach of Akumal, a tourist town south of Cancun, in October. The Caribbean coast of Mexico has had a surge in seaweed that has hurt the tourism industry.. (Joshua Partlow/The Washington Post)

“The best way to collect sargassum is in the sea, before it sinks,” said Angli, the navy’s director general for oceanography. “We are working on this very hard.”

This type of algae is not new to these parts. Christopher Columbus noted its abundance, and it is how the Sargasso Sea, in the north Atlantic, got its name. In the past, it wasn’t seen as much of a nuisance, as it provides a floating habitat for turtles, fish and birds. But spikes in the growth of sargassum were recorded starting about five years ago.

This year’s bountiful bloom has baffled seaweed scientists. Chuanmin Hu, a professor of optical oceanography at the University of South Florida, who tracks the sargassum by satellite, said that the summer of 2015 showed the largest coverage in history. He calculated that there were 12,300 square miles of sargassum this July, about the size of Maryland, compared with 2,300 square miles four years earlier.

“It’s in the entire tropical Atlantic,” Hu said. “It’s amazing.”

Scientists have offered different theories to explain the anomaly, from climate change that has shifted ocean currents to increased runoff from farms in the Amazon into the ocean. “What caused this?” Hu asked. “That is still a mystery.”

Along the most popular Cancun tourist beaches, authorities have now fought the sargassum to a draw, particularly as the amount washing up has eased up in recent weeks. But farther south, in places such as Akumal, Tulum and Mahahual, visitors who come for Mayan ruins and tropical beaches still have to deal with festering piles of seaweed.

“I don’t mind it so much,” Stefano Bilosi, a 29-year-old Italian honeymooner in Akumal, sunbathing next to a musky thatch of seaweed, was saying when his new wife, Federica Brentaro, interjected.

“I don’t like the stuff,” she said.

“She didn’t swim,” he admitted.

“No,” she said.

Down the beach, Simone Backhausen, a 25-year-old Australian veterinary nurse, took a more holistic view.

“I enjoy it. It’s part of the ocean. It doesn’t hurt you or anything; it doesn’t sting you,” she said. “You just get through it, and you get over it. It’s not a big deal, I don’t think. That’s coming from a backpacker’s point of view.”

The frantic cleanup has now prompted its own backlash, as environmental groups protest the use of backhoes and bulldozers to move seaweed mountains. The Mexican Center for Environmental Rights said hotels’ reliance on heavy machinery and shoreline netting is causing damage to species that frequent the beach. Alejandra Serrano Pavón, a regional director, has collected photographs of dead sea turtles.

Authorities say that the collected sargassum can be used to fortify sand dunes and be reprocessed into fertilizers for public parks and gardens. But those silver linings don’t mean much to the average Mexican hotel owner.

“The cruises are going to arrive in October, and the tourists are not going to want to set one foot in this town because of the pestilence here,” said Cristobal Aguilar, who runs the Hotel Arenas in Mahahual, farther south along the coast. His hotel is offering 25 percent discounts to attract customers willing to ignore the vegetative stench.

“Things are very bad here,” he said.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Very Private List

The Very Private List
Dark and Dangerous Baja Sex

by George Bergin

            Sometimes I think I’m making love to a mermaid.  I’m a gringo, my live-in lady, I call her my wife, Alicia, is Mexican. We’ve been together for four months and eight days now and we are in dire need of a bedroom translator-monitor. We’ve both gone about as far as language is gonna take us without some videos, schooling or cult weekends in the Barbados.  I met Alicia through Ed Burman’s Mexican wife, Yadira who is Alicia’s cousin.  Ed and Yadira have been married for almost two years and have been hoping, patiently waiting for Alicia and me to commit and ask them to stand up for us at the church.  

            All four of us have been married before.  Ed and Alicia and I are all divorced, Yadira is a widow.  We’re no spring chickens.  We all have grown kids; I’m 61, Alicia is 48, Ed is about my age and Yadira is only 37.  Burman has a lot more retirement money than I do.  Bought a small car for his wife, they travel a lot more than I can.  Ed’s boat is a lot bigger than mine.  We fish together whenever the weather allows and the bite is on.

            Yesterday I went by his place, caught him out in the yard where we could talk by ourselves and I asked him to meet me on the beach down by Rocky Point about three in the afternoon.  He was right on time, brought his casting rod and a few beers.  Once we had switched to bait, once the rods were in the holders, we were in our chairs, beers in hand I got up the nerve to ask “the favor.”

            “Ed, I need some help.  Alicia and I are doin’ just fine, gettin’ along pretty well but I’ve been wondering if we’re both finding all the fulfillment we can get out of our relationship.  This kinda talk is not easy for me so bear with me.  We talk, we have conversations, the kind you might expect from a mixed marriage but we are both conservative types and don’t talk much about intimate things.  As a result I wonder all the time if I’m really pleasing her in the bedroom.  So far our sexual relations style could be called Missionary.  I wonder if our intimacy is too narrow in scope. We just don’t have enough language, either one of us to get into that sort of thing so I was thinking maybe you could explain my questions to Yadira, she could talk to Ali and we could get some kind of guidelines drawn up.”

            “Well, Carl, all I can do is ask her.  They see each other two or three times a week, they talk on the phone, they go shopping together so you might say they are as close as sisters.  I can’t think of any reason Yadira wouldn’t want to help.  I think it’s a good idea.  Give me your questions and I’ll give em’ to Yadira.”

            I said “Thanks, Ed, I was hoping you would agree.  Should be easy.  I wrote down a short list of the things on my mind.  My scribbling is poor so I’ll read em’ so there’s no misunderstanding.  And Ed, also, just so there’s no mis-steps here please don’t talk to Alicia directly, only through your wife – that way the translation will be a given we can all work with.”

            “First one on the list is How about sex during the day?  I don’t think I have to elaborate on that one.

            Next would be How about some innocent sexual activity in the shower?  Now you’re gonna have to be real careful about this one.  Mexicans don’t seem to have a word for shower.  They use the word baño for bath, toilet, bathroom, bathing, everything.  You could unintentionally get me into trouble if you don’t make that clear to Yadira.  Maybe wouldn’t hurt to actually walk her into the bathroom, get in the shower with her.

            Next one is How about oral sex?  Ed, that could be two questions.  Just work it out with Yadira the best you can.

            Last but not least would be How many times a week or month would be just about right?

            While we were at Rocky Point I caught a pufferfish and Ed got a tiny surf perch.  I drove home wondering if that might be an omen for poor results on my little experiment.  I didn’t mention anything to Alicia about the meeting and over the next few days I gave her some quiet space just in case.  I saw no change that told me she had discussed the list with Yadira and I was damned anxious for the call from Ed.

            When he did call, it was right back to Rocky Point, this time with a few very cold beers and some frozen squid for pargo or pompano.

           After we got settled in he said “They went to lunch after they shopped Tuesday in San Jose.  They went over your list and when Yadira got home she told me what Alicia said, read me her short Spanish chicken scratch reminders.  I know you’ve been waiting and wondering so I’ll get right into it.”

            “First off, The during the day thing.  I can’t read much of what Yadira wrote but I remember what she said.  Pretty much the day thing is alright but there are a couple problems that have to be worked out.  She, Alicia, needs to know what time.  She says she has the washing and cleaning and cooking and shopping and picking up and the garbage and watering.  She says she needs more privacy.  There is no door from the bedroom to the kitchen.  She wants a door.  She says the curtains in the bedroom need to be black or darker.  She says her cousin knows a place in San Jose where they have good, dark, cheap material for curtains.  She says she and her cousin can make the curtains.  Yadira says she will help.  You can use our machine.  That’s me saying you can use our sewing machine.

            “Ed, her cousin, that’s Yadira right, your wife, Yadira?  Am I reading you right?”
            “Yeah, that’s just the way Yadira put it, wrote it down.  Now, you want me to keep going?”

            “Damn right, keep going.”

            “Okay, number two is In the shower.  She says peligroso, dangerous.  She thinks you might get hurt.  You could fall.  She could fall.  In the shower.  In the dark.”

            “Ed, what’s with the dark?  Why does it always have to be dark?  Why dark?”

            “You’re asking the wrong person here hombre.  I’m just reading what’s on the paper.”

            “Okay, give me the rest.”

            “Number three is The oral sex.  She says not so much.

            “Not so much?  Not so much?  What the hell does that mean?  Does that mean NO?  Does it mean just a little?  Ed, what is she saying?”

            “Some of this stuff, Carl, you’re just gonna have to read between the lines.  That’s all Yadira would say about it.  Under that one I wrote down her long explanation of a problem Alicia wants you to work on in the kitchen.  She says there is an awful smell coming from the sink drain.  You must have a clogged vent.  Maybe no vent at all.  I can help you with that.  We just punch a hole in the wall behind the sink with my hammer-drill, run a PVC vent pipe up by the roof.  You won’t even see the pipe because of that big guaymuchil tree back there.”

            “Ed, the list, my precious list is getting away from me.  That stuff wasn’t on the list.  It’s my list, not her list……”

            “Carl, don’t shoot the messenger.  Let me give you this last one then you can go home, have a solid place to put your feet when you both talk these things out like loving adults.”

            “Number four is How many times a week or a month would be just about right?  She’s not real clear here.  She says days or nights?  She says day and night is no good.  She says she’s too tired.  She says she needs time to sleep, cook, clean, etc, etc.  She says she needs a car like Yadira’s.  She says she doesn’t feel right always needing others to help her go to the doctor, shopping, visiting sick relatives, going to the DIF meetings.  She says she had her own license, drove her husband, Inocencio’s big truck.……”

            As I drove home I wasn’t thinking so much about Alicia and the bedroom.  I found myself thinking about my dad.  He was a rough old bird but if he were still alive, here beside me in the old truck I think I know what advice he would be giving me.

He’d say “Carl, you coulda’ done all the things she wants without her asking.  The door, the curtains, the car would have brought her to you with well-won sexual favors you can’t even conceive.  You’re not being cheated or conned boy.  If you give a dance, you gotta pay the band.  Suck it up, do the right thing or you’ll have to settle for a quickie during the next Baja eclipse."

           "When is the next one anyway?”


Monday, October 26, 2015

"Brother, Can You Spare Some Sugar"

By George Bergin

            Lynda lost all of her approval (or disapproval) power when she died two years ago.  Well, almost all.  Now, mostly I do what I want.  I did get crazy for awhile after she died and I did some things I wish I could take back -- especially the thing with Julio. Move on, don't dwell.  That's the secret.  So I don't consider how she would feel about what I'm doing with the hummingbirds, with the feeders.

            We always had at least two feeders going on the patio.  She made up the sugar water, I filled them, watched to make sure they were never empty for very long.  She gave me the simple recipe and when she was not around I would boil the water, mix it up; four parts water, one part sugar.  We would buy the coarse-ground sugar at the little store behind the church -- five pesos a kilo, we could afford it.

            Needless to say, the birds love the feeders.  All my gringo neighbors in this little part of Mexico have the same kinds of feeders and enjoy watching the birds drink, flit about, squabble over the right to drink, the territory, prospective mates, nesting areas nearby.  Larger and more mature birds are able to frighten off smaller species or young birds, keep them from drinking.  It took me awhile to find out the biggest of the hummers in this area are called Xantus.  They comprise almost 80 percent of the hummingbirds we see here at the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula.  My Peterson book on Birds of Mexico does not even mention this bird.  It is obviously not from Mexico.

            This thing with birds, about where they live, has been under my skin for a long time.  I want Mr. Peterson to consider publishing some books called "Birds Sometimes Seen in Chicago But Which Live (for the other 364 days of the year) in Patagonia".  Or how about, for the people in New Hampshire, "THESE ARE NOT YOUR ROBINS -- THEY JUST CAME HERE THIS SPRING TO EAT YOUR BUGS -- WHEN IT GETS COLD THEY WILL GO HOME. THEY LIVE IN ECUADOR."

            Since I can't find any of the hummingbirds (living off my charity and largess) in books of "BIRDS OF MEXICO", I guess these little beggars are just passing through.  They're bums.  I've watched them - they do not take nectar from flowers.  They prefer the free food -- let the bees, moths and butterflies do all the work, pollinate the flowers.  Little green pan-handlers.  Our patios are tiny soup kitchens for these little con-birds.  But we feed them anyway, why not; they're so cute -- they'd better be cute, it's their con.  Small, feisty, colorful comes to mind.   Over the years I made lots of jokes about them.  Said I was putting Equal, Sugar-Twin in the feeders instead of sugar -- that they were dropping like flies, that I was making earrings, jewelry from their feathers.  When Lynda cleaned the sugar-covered feeders with hot water she would occasionally rinse them with bleach to kill any germs.  I quipped to my friends that she left just enough bleach in the feeder to insure that any tiny nests under our palapa would produce less eggs per nest (maybe none).

            These little jokes did get me thinking.  Just for diversion I could put certain things in the feeders, added to the sugar-water to see how the birds would be effected.  The same birds seemed to be returning, day after day, it would give me a chance to see how they might tolerate subtle changes in the daily fare at my soup kitchen.  What would be the harm?  They don't live here, they're just on their way someplace or maybe on their way home.  If they aren't adversely effected, they'll return to feed; if I've added things they can't tolerate, they will go to my neighbors, get a regular meal.

            This is not some kind of obsession.  I'm only going to use harmless things I already have, things in the medicine cabinet, under the sink in the kitchen, the spice rack, the garage:

A quick check.
            Aspirin (probably use the little Baby Aspirin)
            Premarin (Lynda's menopause stuff)
            Prozac (that should slow them down some)
            Drano (way too strong)
            Chili powder (well, they are passing through Mexico!)
            Paint thinner

            I'm not cruel.  I don't want to kill the little things, just have some fun.  No bleach.  The stuff is way too strong, that was just joking.  Kahlua. It's already sweet, probably sweeter than sugar.  I mixed three ounces of Kahlua into the sugar-water.  This richer brew, darker than the usual mix, I put in one feeder -- the other the regular stuff -- I can have my own "control group".  The alcohol in the new potion amounts to less than 1% by volume; probably not enough to get them drunk.  I can always increase it as I go along.  While I'm deciding what other chemical possibilities there are in the house, I think I'll need some kind of identification device for this experiment. 

            In the bodega, next to the dreaded washing machine I can't seem to get working correctly, I found some Rit dye.  Found three empty plastic Windex bottles under the kitchen sink; mixed it up, set the spray nozzle just so for the desired distance, saturation and I was in business.  The birds are practically tame and in no time at all I had marked a dozen of the them with the harmless solution.  I'm afraid I overdid one or two -- right in the eye.  They shook it off.  The stuff works great; I could write testimonials for these Rit people -- the stuff is not even coming off in the fountain when they bath.  I am beginning to see some feathers in the water but that is probably just from normal molting.

            Boy, if I thought they were colorful before!  I did all red, all blue, all yellow, alternating side colors, head red, body yellow, like that.  Now I have to be more careful what I give them.  Although I have not discussed this little pastime with my neighbors I'm sure they're going to be able to read something in my look if they come over and say things like "do you know anything about the red and blue hummingbirds I found dead under my feeders?"

            While I'm being so scientific about things I might as well have some sort of journal.  I think I'll make up some sheets on the computer.  Maybe something like:  Bird One, Size and Color, Dyed (yes or no), feeder One, feeder Two.  For now I'll just keep my observations irregular and informal; just jot down what I'm observing that I think might be caused by the addition of the Kahlua.

Friday, February 12:  The Kahlua feeder is definitely getting more action than the plain sugar one.  One large yellow- dyed bird (with a spot of red dye on his head) has taken over the darker feeder.  He is very aggressive, insular.  Seldom leaves the feeder unattended.

Sunday, February 14:  Despite the actions of the combative yellow bird, the dark feeder had to be refilled while the other is still about half full.  None of the birds seem to be adversely effected by the Kahlua mixture -- they all seem to be thirsty for the dark stuff; enough that they seem to be working in small teams -- two or three keep the big yellow bird busy while some of the others drink.  An active team leader is a small one I tinted all blue.

Friday, February 19:  The big yellow bird is gone.  There are some yellow feathers around.  The blue one has taken over the Kahlua feeder.  The feeder is empty.  He drinks at the other one but rushes back to protect his now empty feeder.
Monday, February 22:  Increased the Kahlua mixture to 5 oz. in feeder one.  Orioles came to the feeder twice today.  The hummers were more aggressive than I have ever seen them -- led by the small blue bird, they ran the Orioles off before they could drink.  With the one that came right at dusk, I think if I hadn't intervened they might have killed him.
(I'll have to change the experiment for the time being -- I drank the last of the Kahlua myself -- will get more next month in San Jose Del Cabo).

Wednesday, February 24:  Both feeders now have only the regular sugar water. (Can't go to San Jose for Kahlua until my S.S. check comes in on the 7th).  Very strange things happening.  I left the empty Kahlua bottle on the table on the patio.  The blue bird (and
another unmarked bird) are protecting the bottle as though it were a feeder.  I swear to God.  One or the other keeps guard over the thing from dawn to dusk.

Friday, March 4:  Out of sugar.  One feeder has been empty for two days; the other is almost empty.  No more vodka till I get to town.  Taking the Prozac twice a day.  The small wars continue.  The fights over the bottle were fun to watch for awhile (from the bedroom, through the window -- they won't let me near it).  If they don't get some sugar-water tomorrow I'm afraid they will start killing each other.  Let em.  What do I care?  Little Ecuadoran drunks, bums....  Let em.  I don't think I have to wait til dinner time for the other Prozac, I'll take it right after lunch.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Success Key

by George Bergin

I'm no recluse. Far from it. I may live on an island, a key, but I do get visitors from time to time. And I move about; I take the bus or hitchhike to Key West or Marathon, get groceries, spend the day. Friends and relatives come by -- more in the winter than summer, bug time. The mosquitoes don't bother me anymore. The gnats drive me crazy. They only last about a month and a half. The rain, the rain helps me write. I welcome the rain. When they don't force me to evacuate with the others I write through squalls and hurricanes, waterspouts and downpours.

Good fishing in the rain, cooler, no bugs. I practically live on snapper. With my little tin boat and my 15 horsepower motor I can get way back in the mangroves, fill my bucket with mangrove and mutton snapper, back at the house before nine in the morning. My two cats help me clean the fish, render the carcasses to bones I can crush, put under and around the hibiscus and roses. The cats are dainty eaters, they take the whole morning to finish their breakfast. They look nothing like the howling fuzzballs that came scratching and clawing their way out of Maureen's school backpack. The place may be rundown but I've kept Gaylen's rose garden in a state I think she would be proud of

My visitors try to hide the little scowls of disdain; the place needs a lot of work. They will not tell me how to spend the money. The money from the plane crash, that's Gaylen and Maureen's money. It's still in Broward National. It's not mine. I'm supposed to get rich because they're dead? I won't use it unless I really have to. I'm getting by. I should have asked a little more for the car. It was a good car but with everybody gone, it was just sitting there rusting. It's just a matter of priorities. If I could sell a few stories, a book, I could stop using Gaylen's estate money. The house stays. Gaylen's folks lived in this old house for over forty years. Everybody probably thought I'd sell the old house, that I couldn't live here all alone because of the memories. I like the memories just fine, thank you.

When I could finally begin to write again I admit some of the stuff was cheerless, even morose. Now I’m getting my rhythm. No more eulogistic ramblings. I’m focused now, building my tales block by block, polishing, always pruning and polishing. Maybe now I can go back, rewrite the post crash poems and stories, take the pain out, put some laughter in, find new ways to explain how I felt, how I feel now.

My brother Ray still drives down from Jupiter two or three times a year to fish with me. He doesn't bring his grandkids anymore. I always made sure they caught lots of fish, real fish, not the tiny brim or bluegill from the ritzy Jupiter country club fish ponds. He says they outgrew the keys experience, that the’re busy chasing girls now, malling. They always complained about the smells. Is it possible there is so much money in Jupiter that they have their own special smells? Do they have them piped in? Jupiter potpourri? On this little key the smell off the flats at sunset is a mixture of brine, sea mud, seaweed. From the east, across the swamp, whiffs of algae, moss, rotting punkweed, live things slowly giving into decay. At times the cloying jasmine competes with the swamp cabbage, wild onion, the errant civet cat. October smells of pungent guava rotting under the tree. March is Gaylen's rose-time smells.

When Ray comes down he usually stays at the inn at Big Pine Key. He won't stay with me because I don't have air, air conditioning. There are six other houses on the key. We have enough power but it's just too damned expensive. In June or July my neighbors pay $150 dollars or more a month for electricity.

I can't stay at the keyboard for hours on end. Got to get out, move around. I ride my bike up and down the two streets to the causeway entrance. Sometimes I take a little path through the pines to a place where the mangroves part. I can see the gulf, part of Big Deer Key. I can't stay away from the computer for too long either. Since I use on-line services to submit, I need to check my Email for acknowledgments. I could write a manual on the art of the query letter, the come-on, the exciter. What do I usually find: My old buddy Earl in Tallahassee wants to know when the redfish will start to run, Acme writer's school has a fall enrollment I might be interested in, some Cuban poet needs a ride to New York. My writer's chat room, a group called the Word Eaters, supplies me with way more criticism than I really need.

It’s not like I’m all alone here. Matty, Matty Kern, my friend and neighbor comes over, brings me snap beans from her little garden; sometimes a basket of homemade biscuits. Sweet Matty. That’s what Gaylen called her. Now I call her that too.

She cuts my hair, tries to get me to eat more, says “You got to eat. Wind gonna’ blow you off this little key, Kevin.”

The light is better on the back gallery. I would drag a wooden kitchen chair out there, sit facing the garden while Matty would stand behind me clipping and humming one hymn after another. I could still imagine my girls sitting under the roses throwing compost on each other’s shoes with their little garden tools, giggling like tots in mud. Now I turn the chair away from the garden; Sweet Matty says nothing but I know she noticed my tears, my face must have been flushed from that hot, wet out-of-nowhere fleeting fever.

She won’t stop preaching to me. Never gives up. She’s just sure Jesus can help me, put my mind, my soul at ease. I never should have gone to church with her just that one time. I sent her the wrong message, gave her false hope. I couldn’t keep saying no. She’s just so damn sweet. All I can do to repay her kindness is to drop off some snappers for her dinner, roses for her table. Her thanks comes in grand squeals as though she won the magazine millions on television. Big, fat, colored lady on welfare wants to help me. One day Matty, one day maybe I can help you.

Then there’s my mom. She’s absolutely obsessed about the plane crash, the whole thing. When my wife and daughter died in the crash, they were on their way to Baltimore to visit Catherine, my mom. After all this time she still carries around some false blame for their deaths. She flies all the way down here to Miami, rents a car. Money. On every visit she finds a way to give me money. When I refused it she began to hide it around the house; places she was sure I could find it but not until she was back home in Maryland. Then she would call, give me hints in case she had guessed wrong about the hiding place.

There's a little place among the pines where I have a great view of the sunrise. The cats frighten crowds of ugly land crabs back to the safety of their burrows as we walk through the seagrape and palmetto to our special place by the water. We wait. I pretend I'm waiting for the sunrise, I'm really waiting for someone. Someone important, someone special.

Someone who will one day swerve off that long concrete umbilical, pull up to my place and bring me the gift of understanding. Someone who will see what I'm trying to do. A person who can look past all the ugly around my place, see and appreciate my discipline. A man who can sit with me in the old tin boat, share a beer, give up a smile of tacit approval, validation.
        He’ll understand why I live this way, sacrifice at times so I can be true to my art, true to my girls, not spend the money -- not squander it to drown my sorrows in self-indulgence.

        I get discouraged. Maybe there is no single person out there who could understand, empathize. I don't know who it would be.

        When they died, so suddenly, a big part of me left too. Perhaps that part is trying to find its way home.

        Maybe I'm just waiting for myself.