A NEO-LUDDITE’S RAMPAGE

What passes for as Black Friday north of the Rio Bravo started out as just another Viernes here. The end of the month is nigh, and that means a deadline to meet. I would diligently crank out two columns today, but not before a goodly amount of coffee and reading every news source on the Internet.

Estadounidense Black Fridays scare me, having left the Old Country before they came to resemble looting sprees that follow natural disasters. Just watching people attack one another over tablets and giant screen televisions threw me into a rare mode of questioning values.

Several years back, I developed a plan which included removing two items of clothing and other new acquisitions from my closets for each new acquisition. That didn’t work for computers.

CFE came by and politely announced I’d have no electricity for the rest of the afternoon. What was I supposed to do, sit around and read print copies of The New Yorker by sunlight? I decided to honor Black Friday by deaccessioning a few superannuated computers. Four of them, to be exact. Death knells for the Dells.

One already reposed in the living room, the case opened and the hard drive waiting to be pulled. There would be three more upstairs waiting evisceration.

P1010990We went to work, but not before fondly remembering floppy drives, Zip drives, and tape drives. And recalling that the total cost of them exceeded the price of my first new car and a year’s tuition at law school back during the Nixon Administration. One was first put into use just after the unveiling of Windows 95. The latest, XP. The poor, the desperate, and even the deserving and perverted would no more want these computers than they’d want my used underwear.

P1010996While we’re otherwise hygienic when it comes to computing, we never get around to wiping hard drives. Instead the whole unit simply gets shoved into a closet. We’ll find a way to destroy those hard drives later.

We’re not getting rid of everything. We’re holding on to those HP LaserJet printers, because we just love them and know they’ll be valuable collectors’ items in due time. And they even got us some good press one time:

Finally, attorney turned blogger and journalist Jennifer Rose sent us a photo of her HP LaserJet III. She got it in 1991 and they’ve been inseparable since. Rose tells us that the LaserJet III cost “almost as much as [her] first new car” and that she grew especially fond of the special language she needed to learn to operate the control panel. While her LaserJet III doesn’t serve as her primary office printer anymore, Rose reports that it “never jams” and “keeps on ticking like a basic Timex watch.”

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Giving Gracias

For my Estadounidense friends who’re kindly sending their Thanksgiving wishes, asking how we celebrate the holiday in Mexico, let me fill you in. We don’t. I’ll do the same thing on this Thanksgiving Day that I did the day before, and the year before that: nothing remarkable.

It’s just another Thursday in late November around these parts, the midpoint between Dia de la Revolucion on November 20 and Dia de  Guadalupe on December 12. The newer an expat’s residency in this country, the more likely he or she is to celebrate. Gain distance from the Old Country and some tenure here, and it’s not a big deal. Sure, off in expat havens like Lake Chapala and San Miguel de Allende, the restaurants get into a large Thanksgiving Day dinner scene, but not where I live.

I didn’t come from a background of Thanksgiving tradition. My mother refused to do anything reeking of “traditional,” and if there was any tradition in my childhood, it was to do something different each year. One year, she thought killing and dressing the very chickens that would grace the table later that day would be not only fun but instructive, just in case we would need to kill poultry sometime to survive. It memorable all right: she thought my stepfather was having a heart attack, only to find that he was praying for the fowl before their demise. Those home-butchered Southern California suburban chickens may not have tasted very good, but they left a lasting impression and left us with a valuable life skill. We invited sailors from the naval base into our home another year, and a few were amazed that anyone would get out the good silver for strangers. I spent one Thanksgiving working my shift at the hospital as a Candy Striper, thinking it was very cool not only to escape a celebration but also to get double Candy Striper points for working on a holiday. Those memories remain more cherished than the thought of a roasted turkey.

There are two kinds of people: those who are hosts and those who are guests. My tradition was to be a guest. That way, I manage to observe a lot of other people’s traditions, more than few times returning home, thanking my lucky stars that I’m not part of  that family tradition. All right, most of the traditions are heartfelt and well-meaning, but experiencing some of them once was enough.

It’s not that I scoff at tradition, celebration and giving. Last night, I slaved away in the kitchen for at least twenty minutes.

The Mexican-gringo blogorama is filled with talented cooks:

Tancho at Rancho Canyon Cookbook

Don Cuevas at My Mexican Kitchen

Leslie Limon at La Cocina de Leslie 

Billie Mercer at Reservations for One

Nancy Dardarian at Countdown to Mexico

I’m not one of them. I read recipes as literature, plotless novellas. Good intentions usually end up with making reservations. A plan to make something as straightforward as spaghetti can easily detour to hummus and then culminate in calling for take-out. There is a reason why friends avoid my kitchen unless they’re willing to bring their own food.

Attention span and manual dexterity are not my strong suits. I lack the patience to bake.  My kitchen is more like a mad scientist’s laboratory. Creating chemical reactions, doing experiments, acquiring gadgets, playing with toys, and watching stuff whirl around in the Cuisinart is much more entertaining. (And yes, I lust for a Kitchen Aid mixer, not to use, but just to place on the counter as a trophy. You can get me one for Christmas.)

It’s not as if I don’t understand the theory behind making food. I just have a hard time getting it all together. Distractions like sitting down to peruse a good book, planting some more lettuce, or updating my Facebook just get in the way.

P1010958

So I embark upon my holiday culinary preparations. This year it’s Asian-ish beef jerky. You were hoping for something Thanksgiving-ish? I’ll have you know that Asian-ish beef jerky is someone’s tradition, somewhere on the planet.

And here’s how:

Start out by asking your butcher (you do have one, right?) to slice up paper-thin 1.25 kilos of milanesa cara. (rump roast if you’re in the U.S.)

Pick lemon grass from the garden, whittling it down. Whack it with the kitchen hammer or meat flattener-outer. Toss it in the marinade, which consists of, more or less:

Salsa Valentina

Vietnamese fish sauce

Soy sauce

Brown sugar, molasses or honey

Or you could just dump in 1/3 of a bottle Sriracha, which some might call the Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup of Thailand, and a like quantity of soy sauce, and call it a day. We slug; we do not measure.

Mix the lemon grass-enriched marinade with the meat in a non-reactive container. (“Non-reactive container sounds so scientific, but it really makes no difference, since it’s not going to bask there long enough to make a difference.) Properly pre-sanitized hands are fine for this operation.

Arrange the meat carefully on the racks in your dehydrator. You do have one, don’t you? If you don’t, a gas grill works just fine, a gas oven not so much.

Dehydrate at medium-high for as long as it takes to dry and slightly crisp up the meat, maybe two and a half hours, checking on it periodically to flip each slice over and maintain quality control.

Remove the crisped chips of meat and stash in Ziploc bags in the freezer. You’re done. 1.25 kilos of raw beef will yield about 475 grams of jerky.

¡Gobble tov!

Iron Dreams

ironrite_santa

Planchy Tex perfumes the air. You know that it’s just minutes before neatly-pressed clothing will hang in your closet, neatly folded sheets in the linen cabinet. Life is good.

Mexico’s second-favorite activity, right after dyeing your hair, is ironing. All decent people wear ironed clothing. None of that no-iron, toss-in-the-dryer stuff for us. It’s just not done. Those without regular help can hire a lady to come in just to iron. Or they can schlep their wrinkled goods to an ironing shop. The truly dedicated do it themselves. And now you could take ironing to an even higher level by treating yourself or someone you truly care about with a vintage Ironrite Model 85 mangle.

The Ironrite’s just right for ironing linens, sheets, jeans, shirts, dresses, and even lingerie. If it can be washed, it can be ironed. This unit is like having a professional dry cleaner’s iron right in your own home.

First uncrated in St. Joseph, Missouri, this Ironrite Model 85 mangle moved to its original owner’s weekend house, and then to the owner’s granddaughter’s own home, and finally to the Free and Sovereign State of Michoacán de Ocampo. What was a real luxury in the 1940s and the decade following can be yours.

Here’s the nitty-gritty.

  • 1.5hp Emerson motor
  • Type S
  • RPM 1725
  • 115 volt, 2.2 amp
  • Measurements
  • Open 49″ long x 38″ wide x 40″ high
  • Roller measures 24 1/2″ long
  • Closed 30″ long x 20″ wide x 35 ½” high
  • New pad cover. New cord.
  • Instructions included.
  • Probably contains more steel than your average new car.
  • It was purchased before 1950, making it older than I am.
  • Ironrite has to be hip, since it’s got its own Facebook page.

Why not brighten up your life with this one? This could be the perfect Christmas gift for your most-loved one. Act now, and avoid the Valentine’s Day (or Mother’s Day) rush. Write jjrose@jjrose.com for more details.  It’s a treasure looking for a home.

Never Again

Crime victims harbor a sense of shame, as if they did something wrong. And that’s not right. Talk to others about your experiences.

Learn to say “Never again.” I did. 

And here’s how it all happened.

More than half a lifetime ago and far away, back in a supposedly wholesome small town in Iowa, I was a victim of a home invasion and assorted acts which resulted in Class B felony charges against the perpetrator. It’s not worth going into great detail here today about what happened, but somewhere past the fear of thinking I was going to die, which is probably a logical consequence of hearing “Bitch, you’re going to die” more than a few times while someone twice your size is shoving you across the room before slamming and pinning you on the floor, and then wondering what a mess your blood’s going to make on the carpet, I clicked into gear, telling assailant that he had a way out. We could keep this between ourselves, no police called, no charges pressed, the decision was his. I kept repeating “The decision is yours” over and over again. He froze and stared at me incredulously, released his hands from my neck and then picked himself up and walked out the door. I scrambled to lock the door and called the sheriff’s office.

They picked up the criminal less than a half hour later a few miles down the county black top.

My family doctor had me meet him at his home across the street from the hospital, where he patched me up in his kitchen.

The next day, the local newspaper called to tell me that they were going to politely leave my name off the front page story. I told the reporter that my name was going to appear in that story, because I didn’t do anything wrong.  News travels too fast in a small town anyway, and there was no reason to leave matters to conjecture.

Two days later, court service day rolled around, the morning allotted to motions, short hearings, criminal arraignments, pleas and sentencings at the county courthouse. Black and blue handprints stained my neck, bruises making a bracelet around my wrist, and my hands were still shaking.  One cocky bastard of a lawyer asked me if I’d refused to put out. I picked up his stack of files and threw them across the room.  A few minutes later, I’m standing at the bench with another criminal client, a beastly and gross thug, the kind you wouldn’t want to face in a dark alley even in broad daylight, the kind of guy other inmates wouldn’t like to come across in a prison yard, who would find himself sentenced to another round of life on the installment plan.  What he told me while we waited for the judge was something that stunned me:  “I heard about what happened to you, and I’m real sorry.” Of course, he’d heard, he’d been in the same county jail as the assailant.

The defendant would ultimately plead guilty and do time. And he would go on, during his first week in a halfway house years later to commit the same Class B felony once again. I looked up the court file and wrote to the victim, just to tell her she wasn’t alone.

It took me a long time to really recover from the ordeal. But what took me more aback was the reaction of others. They didn’t want to hear about what happened. It’s too scary, they’d say. So, I didn’t really say much—until now.

And that’s part of the reason that I feel far safer in the wilds of Michoacán than I ever did in southwest Iowa.

¡Mami, mami, ayúdame!

¡Mami, mami, ayúdame! Soy tu hija. The caller was crying. Noticing the area code was in the D.F., I hung up. Five minutes later, she called again, and noticing it’s the same number and hearing voices in the background, I’m prepared to take her call. Lowering my voice, I ask

Policia preventiva, en qué puedo servirle?

She hung up on me. The nerve!

It’s scamming time again in our old country. Even though crime knows no season, El Buen Fin, aguinaldos and charitable spirit make for easy pickings.

Two gringos walking around Morelia’s Paseo Altozano met up with a young man racing toward them, agitated and waving his jacket, imploring them with “Do you speak English?” His English sounded perfect to them. They stopped to hear his tale about coming from Puebla, picking up a taxi at the bus station, and being robbed of all he had by the taxi driver. He was supposed to meet a friend at the mall, but somehow had missed the connection. Could they help him out? He pulled $15 in Estadounidense currency out of his pocket, which they exchanged for Mexican pesos, wondering what was going on. And then they caught on that something just might’ve been amiss. They told him to go on his way, suggesting he might find help at Walmart. They were lucky.

A local who’d lived her entire life in my neighborhood was a victim just last Thursday, right in the middle of the day. She encountered the man on the otherwise sleepy residential street, claiming to be a curandero from Uruapan, offering up his services in reading palms, predicting the future, and performing limpias to chase away the evil spirits which harbor in everyone’s house from time to time. She waved him away, telling him she didn’t have any money. He followed her around the block to her house, and as she entered, he forced his way in, telling her not to scream and calling her names. He wouldn’t leave until she’d forked over some of her stashed-away cash. That’s only money, and it’s nothing compared to the psychological crisis he’s inflicted upon her. Location: one block from my house. Native Mexicana.

Then there’s the pigeon drop, which happened only last year to a foreigner living in Patzcuaro. An indigenous woman, looking all sweet and innocent, approaches the woman, saying she can’t read and showing a letter from her employer. She is supposed to locate a person in Patzcuaro to pick up her lottery winnings, which the employer will lay claim to. A confederate  steps in, claiming to be a psychologist, answering in the affirmative when the foreigner asks if he works at a local school, and the scam is in place.  You know where this is headed: all three head to the lottery office, the foreigner puts up the requested property to assure all of her honest and good intentions, and the victim’s left high and dry.

Another phone call, this time to a foreigner living in the next town over. It’s his nephew Jason, who he hasn’t heard from in ages, calling from jail, begging for discretion and assistance.  Never mind that the foreigner supplied the nephew’s name for the caller. And down the road to Guadalajara the man called uncle drives, but not before he’s put together a fair amount of cash to help out his new-found nephew.

A plumber shows up.  “Your husband didn’t tell you that he’d called me?” he says. “I’m here to fix the hot water heater. Gaining access to the house, he’s shown the way to the hot water heater, and left to ply his trade – which was sifting through the homeowner’s belongings.  Two blocks down the street from me. Native Mexicana.

“We’re la senora’s cousins from Salamanca,” the well-dressed duo who’d alighted from a late-model car told the housekeeper who answered the door while her patrona was in Centro. Shuffling them off to the den to wait while she made them tea, she called her patrona, who reported that she had no cousins.  The housekeeper kept the couple waiting for the police to arrive.  Four blocks from my house. Native Mexicana.

And here’s my favorite: the dead baby. A young lady rings at my gate, asking for money for her dead baby. I cut her off. A month passes, and the dead baby lady returns. I give her the same treatment. Month three comes around, and here she is again. You’d think she’d learn by now.  This time I answer the gate, and I ask her if she’s carrying around the same dead baby as before or if she has a baby die on her each month. I tell her that, whatever the case may be, she’s really got a problem which only DIF can help her with. Sputtering obscenities, she takes off running down the street.

We’ll take a look at some ways to spot scamsters,  snollygosters, and criminals and what steps you can take to keep them at bay in our next blog post, but until then, what scams have you seen put into action in Mexico or wherever you may be?