The Traveling Knight and the Plastic Toilet

I am an admitted re-gifter. So much known for doing so that even when I give something thoughtfully purchased and brand-new, maybe not even on sale, the recipient will declare “So, who gave you that first?” instead of some expression of gratitude.

Years ago, someone, fortunately long since forgotten, gave my grandfather a knight in shining copper-plated armor, standing about 18” tall and bearing a sword which could be used a letter-opener, something else for a roll of stamps, a drawer for paper clips, and a base which was also an AM radio. The tacky knight promptly was sent to the closet, released only once a year to be re-presented to some lucky soul on Christmas, always bearing a note card from Elvis. As in that guy from Graceland.

So, the year we decided to fully induct my brother-in-law into the family, and we gave him the gift from Elvis. We thought he’d be on the joke by now, but he wasn’t. He placed the knight-in-not-so-shining armor on the night stand next to his bed, where it stood for years. I never have been able to figure out whether he really liked the damn knight or whether he kept it displayed only out of love and affection for my sister, who once gave me a bottle of Greek wine, insisting that it was some great vintage and cost a lot of money, the $.29 price tag forever exposing the fraud she’d perpetuated.

Even though my dearest and only brother-in-law is totally responsible for taking the knight out of circulation, I do have to credit him, just in case he reads this blog, for always prominently and proudly displaying the Franklin Mint heirloom porcelain plate of Dogs Playing Poker that I bought just for him, suffering an onslaught of mail from the Franklin Mint which would end only by moving out of the country. And I have never, and never will, re-gift the white plastic toilet that’s also a bank with a genuine flushing sound that he bought just for me and which is prominently displayed on the library bookshelf. We both know that the Dogs Playing Poker plate and the plastic toilet bank were originally and thoughtfully purchased for one another and that they’ll never suffer the indignity of re-gifting.

Maybe it’s a good idea that the knight finally found a home where he’s appreciated and revered. The family has now dwindled down to a number which could be counted on one hand, less a finger or two. We now swap gift certificates.


10 More Great Expat Blogs About Mexico

In Round Two of the Great Expat Blogs About Mexico, brings you 10 More Great Expat Blogs About Mexico:

Business South of the Border

David Lida

La Ciudad de Mexico


Midwesterner in Mexico

The MexFiles

The Mexile

The not-so-low-rent correspondent

To Dream to Touch

Viva Veracruz

The Most Beautiful Plum Pudding in Mexico

Pastel Navidena


Estadounidenses call it fruitcake. In our part of the world, we call it pastel navideña. The Merry Olde English would have you call it plum pudding. Sometimes we lose ourselves in translation.

Inside will be a thimble, a ring, and a silver coin, and that means that someone will become single, another will get married, and someone will just get lucky. Come Christmas Day, we’ll know.

Yes, it came from Horno Los Ortiz. Where else?

Fans We Love

All right, I don’t know Rumbear, except that he says he’s constantly reminded that he’s not smart enough to be a Democrat, he’s occupied, lives in the United States Minor Outlying Islands, and is “urbane, witty and handsome in a bucolic sort of way.” He’s obviously a man of quality and style.

And we’re in love with him, at least for tonight. Among the good reads he read during 2008, right up there with Rick Perry’s book, Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, and H.W. Brands’ Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life of FDR, he read my bookHow to Capture and Keep Clients. How cool is that?

It’s More than Household Finance

Mexico Bob writes about about the holiday bailout, which got me to thinking about Monte de Piedad. If you’re not familiar with Mexico’s national pawnship, go here.

lg_nmpINT Debtors can pawn just about anything at Monte de Piedad, and that means that just about everything under the sun’s for sale there. I’ve snared some wondrous treasures from Monte de Piedad: ancient carved wooden doors which now separate the library from the living room, dining room chairs, a genuine Oriental rug, some garden statuary, and a couple of masks, all charged to American Express. But just as important are the idle moments of wondering about  the circumstance that might’ve landed a curiosity on the store’s floor. An old Comptomer. A Smith-Corona. Old power tools and odd assortments of priceless valuables and junk. After all, how much money might one expect to borrow by pawning a wrench that might retail, brand new, for $3? What desperate times had befallen the original owner?

Rounding the corner towards the door, one time my eye caught something even more startling: a vibrator. Oster, in fact. One of those personal kinds, usually displayed in print ads with some woman rubbing the appliance along her cheekbone. How did the vibrator end up at Monte de Piedad? Did some lonesome soul pawn it to buy Day of the King toys for her children? Had its utility been superseded? Had it been hocked by someone who felt threatened by it? Is there someone in the neighborhood now bereft of his or her vibrator, mourning its loss, knowing that it’s now for sale to anyone with the yen for a used vibrator? Who would buy a used vibrator anyway?


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All I Want is My Plastic Jesus

So, I’m at AutoZone the other day, one of Morelia’s three branches, an entirely new experience  for me, and I’m enthralled by the choices: strobe and neon lights for under the dash and around the license plates, sparkling lights for the hubcaps, vinyl flames, and a vast array of amazing decals. But it was just too difficult choosing between the weeping Jesus and the Virgen de Guadalupe. And, since they were plumb out of locking gas caps, I left empty-handed. But when the new car smell fades, I may be back there in search of a Virgen of Guadalupe rose-scented air freshener to hang from the rear-view mirror. Sure, it’s naco, but those things are just hard to resist.

Oh, sure, we can dress ourselves up like we’re straight out of Las Niñas Bien or Compro, Luego Existo and make ourselves appear as if we stepped straight from Guadalupe Loaeza’s books, and we can make ourselves as exiled and intellectual as everything from Ilan Stavans thinks and writes about, but the reality is that, no matter how hard we may try, our inner naco is always struggling to the surface.

And that’s what makes being Mexican very funny at times. No matter how bad times may be, we never lose our ability to laugh at ourselves. The usually very serious Ana Maria Salazar (here’s where we have to say “Harvard-educated lawyer”) asks “Are You Mexican?”



Ten Best Expat Blogs About Mexico

Staring at Strangers has been named one of the ten best expat blogs about Mexico. How kewl is that? It puts Staring at Strangers in the august company of blogs like Adventures of a Third World Shopkeeper, Billieblog (even if we can’t get admitted to that blog’s blogroll), Jesus del Monte, Peeks at Mexico, Mexico Trucker, Same Life – New Location, Tales of Zapata Street, Travels with Travis, and Zocalo de Mexican Fine Art.

I’d like to be able to say that these blogs were selected the old-fashioned American way, the Blagojevich way, but we didn’t receive or even solicit a single red peso for these nominations. I guess that makes Staring at Strangers pure, honest, and poor.