Wednesday, February 03, 2016

let me entertain you

I call them "scan stoppers."

You know them. There you are reading along and a phrase stops you dead in your tracks.

It could be almost anything. A typographical error. An astoundingly improper use of grammar. A bizarre bit of irony that only Noel Coward could untangle.

But my favorites are the inadvertent comments on contemporary American culture.  And I was treated to one this morning.

I was reading my former home state's newspaper of record at Rooster's with enchiladas on the table and Barco grumpily waiting underneath.  One reason I continue to read The Oregonian is to keep up with just how nutty the Portland area has become. (Portlanders call it "weird." But that is simply an apologist's substitution for "nutty.")

And there it was -- under the headline "New Shelter." I had no idea what to expect. I certainly did not expect this.

"The former site of the Black Cauldron, a vegan strip club, ... ."  I didn't finish reading the sentence.

"Vegan strip club?" Images started dancing in my head more frentic that sugarplum fairies.

What on earth is a vegan strip club? I imagined strippers dressed as the meatless characters of the food pyramid strutting their green stuff on stage.

Remember Harvey Fierstein's opening monologue in Torch Song Trilogy where he described some of his stage names?
Virginia Ham. Anita Mann. Fonda Boys. Clair Voyant. Fay Ways. Bang Bang La Desh. Something similar played out in my head.

Carrot Peel. Lettuce Entertainyou. Julienne Potaotes. Husky Corn. (The article was silent on the gender of the strippers. But, gender is such a touchy topic these days. Or a topic not to be touched.)

Self-peeling vegetables.  What could be more user friendly?

Or maybe all of the strippers are vegans.  The juxtaposition of adjectives tends to confuse rather than to enlighten.

But I think I know what the hapless reporter meant. The Black Cauldron was undoubtedly a strip club where people of the vegan persuasion could go to congregate with other vegans to work out their respective sexual frustrations. After all, this is Portland.

Where there are enough vegans for the market to accommodate that special interest.  Much like a club for Left-handed Latvian Lesbians. Or maybe not. The rest of the article informs us the club is now an emergency family shelter. Perhaps, the salami was sliced too thin.

That explanation just makes the irony greater -- vegans seeking sexual release by watching what is commonly called a meat market. Even Jung would have to call that a bit perverted.

And because it is Portland, I would not be surprised if the Black Cauldron had at one time been a Wicken temple.  With services interspersed with vegetable servings.

Several people have asked me why I bother reading The Oregonian each day.  After all, it is a rather poor excuse for the newspaper it once was.

My answer is simple,  As long as Portland keeps serving up essay fodder like this, I will keep eating my vegetables.

Monday, February 01, 2016

moving to Mexico: car repairs -- or, you light up my dash

I knew the electronics on my new Escape would be a problem.

When I replaced the 2001 Shiftless Escape with a new model two years ago, I was surprised at how many electronic gadgets had been stuffed into the dashboard. Everything from the radio to the GPS to the telephone connection to the indicator lights made me feel as if I had been dropped into the cockpit of an F-111. Actually, it made the cockpit of an F-111 look primitive.

I am a sucker for gadgets. Always have been. So, one look sold me. Rather, it appealed to my "I love this car" attitude. My head was not so certain.

The Mexican Pacific coast is not kind to electronics. My first laptop succumbed to the salt, heat, and humidity within four months of my arrival. Moving away from the beach helped. But everything digital has a tendency to corrode here. My blood pressure wrist cuffs last about a year before the contacts simply fall off.

But, even with those doubts, I bought the car. With the exception of a glitch in the radio that existed from day one, everything has held up well. Until a couple of months ago.

In November, I drove north with my brother to Oregon to clear out some boxes from our mother's garage. After four hours on the road, I stopped at a red light in Puerto Vallarta, and a warning light came on: "Hill assist not available."  Darrel and I decided to soldier on rather than stopping at the Ford dealership.

Then the anti-lock braking system warning light lit up. Followed by the anti-skid warning light. My dashboard started to look like a reservation casino.

Because we had purchased a new tire in Melaque before the trip, Darrel and I conjured up a hypothesis that a sensor in the wheel had either been damaged or was confused when the tires were rotated.

The dealership in Bend confirmed that the lights were working properly. But we were heading south again and did not have time to wait for the parts that needed to be ordered.

Whatever was wrong did not get in the way of our trip back to Melaque. And I was not worried. After all, there is a Ford dealer in Manzanillo.

The service department immediately diagnosed the problem. I needed a sensor and cable -- computer stuff. Both needed to be ordered. That was early December. Five business days they claimed.

I set an appointment with a bit of trepidation. The supply system in Mexico can be a bit unreliable.

When I showed up the next week, mirable dictu, the part was there. While the service department had its way with the Escape, I wandered off to the shopping delights of Walmart and Soriana for four hours.

I thought I would return to a less-lit dash. I was wrong. The dealership had only ordered one of the two required parts.

So when would they get the other part? About ten days. But that would be nearing Christmas. That would make my next appointment during the second week in January.

Fine. And all went as planned. Escape dropped off. Shopping amongst the big box stores. Returned to a repaired car.

So I thought. Ten minutes out of Manzanillo, I drove over one of Mexico's national monuments (a tope). The jolt must have caused the car's memory to revert to lighting the dash. All of the lights that were repaired came on. Rather than turn around, I returned home. For two days, the lights would come on and go off. A loose connection, I thought.

Having paid good pesos for the fix, I started back to Manzanillo the next week.  And you know the rest of the story. No lights. Even after hitting several topes rather hard, nothing. 

I long ago learned that taking a car into a service department when the problem is no longer apparent is a bit like hoping that the government will actually spend tax money for the common good.

And if you think the lights came on again as I drove back to Melaque (because that is what usually happens in these tales of woe), you are wrong. But the problem seems to still be there. Now and then, the lights will make a brief guest appearance, and then go out. But they have never stayed on while I am in Manzanillo.

And the moral of this little essay?  Like A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the Forum, morals are for tomorrow.  It is comedy tonight.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

planets on parade

One of the best things about owning a puppy is getting up at 5:30 in the morning for a bladder break -- both mine and his.

If you fail to see the virtue in that sentence, you probably do not live somewhere with clear skies and unobstructed vistas. I do. Each morning, the crystal spheres put on a private show for me.  And, since 20 January, something very special has been added to the mix.

If you read the other adams family, you know I am working my way through the biographies of each of the American presidents. My current subject is John Quincy Adams.

I always learn something new about each of the men who have worked in the White House. After all, that is the purpose of reading biographies. To learn something new. And useful.

John Quincy Adams is still a young man in my reading. But I was fascinated with the author's revelation that "[m]ore than any other subject, astronomy excited him." In April 1791, he observed a partial eclipse of the sun from Beacon Hill in Boston.

That may help explain my own fascination with astronomy. After all, Adams is my fourth cousin seven times removed (which is about the same distance of my other cousins: Barak Obama and Dick Cheney). There must be something in those genes. Even though I can best be called a hobbyist of hobbies when it comes to such things.

That special show? You may already have heard about it. Since 20 January, it has been possible to see all five planets (six if you count Earth) -- the ones that are visible with the naked eye -- parading across the early morning sky just before sunrise. Like a line of Ziegfeld girls.

Mercury. Venus. Mars. Jupiter. Saturn. All of them in the same elliptical -- just like we learned in grade school science.

Because there is not a lot of light pollution in the early morning sky here in Barra de Navidad, I have been able to see even the dimmest of the five -- Mercury. For those of you who live around more artificial light, you may need binoculars to see the tiniest of the planets.

The show will be around until 20 February. But the best viewing (especially for Mercury) will be during this week.

Do yourself a favor and get up early to see the planets show off. The phenomenon is not that unusual. But it is a reminder that some of the world's greatest art is not located in museums.

You might even get a smile out of old cuz' John Quincy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

foolish consistency

In a direct response to the loss of her poll leads in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary to the Sanders campaign, Hilary Clinton today made a surprise announcement in a crowded press conference.

"For too long, professional politicians like Senator Sanders have taken contradictory positions on some of our most basic entitlements in the Bill of Rights. That is stopping today.

"In the spirit of bipartisanship and reaching across the aisle to build real solutions for real problems suffered by real people, I am today announcing a major initiative to register and license all news reporters. 

"Some of America's most creative ideas come from citizen politicians (such as myself).  State Representative Mike Pitts of South Carolina (one of the patriotic states where this Democratic nomination will be decided, rather than by the elites of Iowa and New Hampshire) has proposed a fascinating idea to resolve the problem of irresponsible journalism. 

"His proposal would require journalists in South Carolina to apply for registration on a "responsible journalist registry." The South Carolina Secretary of State's office would operate the registry which would be funded by fees from the journalists. Failing to register or acting irresponsibly would incur fines and criminal penalties.

"We have already seen how an irresponsible press can distort democracy. The only people who believe our campaign could possibly lose in Iowa or New Hampshire are the plutocrats of the press who spread lies about polling data and stampede good American citizens to act unpatriotically when they cast their ballots. 

"Well, someone has to put an end to this. And, if I am elected president, that is exactly what I intend to do.

"When I am president, we will establish a National American Responsible Correspondents (NARC) registry to be administered jointly by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Security Council. It will have several elements -- that should sound familiar to you from other of my policy positions.

"The registry will make all journalists subject to background checks. There will be no writers' conference loopholes. Anyone who puts opinion to paper, will be required to have a background check -- and to be included on the registry. The registry will be open for inspection by all law enforcement officials with an eye to preventing dangerous people from wielding their irresponsible opinions.

"We have learned in other areas designed to prevent injury to the public that a slow background check by the government should not reward potentially dangerous people. If the government does not timely complete a background check, the journalist will be prevented from reporting.  Putting the blame for irresponsible journalism on government inaction is simply blaming the victim.

"The registry must be universal. 'Journlaist' will be defined broadly, by executive order, to include anyone who offers an opinion -- whether in print or orally. The shocking ruse of using Facebook to circulate false stories is coming to an end.

"All statutes, regulations, and Supreme Court decisions that place restrictions on libel suits merely because the person defamed is a public official will be ignored. Just because someone has a family with dicey personal problems does not give the public the right to air dirty linen.

"And here is where the rubber hits the road. If anyone files an irresponsible story or fails to resister, the offender will be subject to a fine of $10,000 and a term of imprisonment in a journalist reeducation camp for up to 69 years -- for each violation or contemplated violation.

"Some of you may wonder if this program somehow violates the First Amendment. Before you journalists start whining -- and remember, 'journalist' will have a very broad definition -- you might want to look at my proposals on gun control. If they do not violate the Second Amendment, then this proposal does not violate the First Amendment.

"I am not going to take any questions. I suggest that the reporters in the audience should sit quietly in their chairs and consider what they have done to bring all of this down on all of our heads.

"On to Sioux City."

clever, but devastating

The morning email brought this gem to me. From Jack Brock, a friend of several bloggers. He thought I might see a resemblance.

I confess I do like the sentiment. A little bit of research would probably disclose that "Say something clever, but devastating" is a family motto somewhere back in the foggy swamps of time.

The fact that I find the piece funny says a lot about me, I suspect. And it simply underlines why, even though I find Downton Abbey to be boring, I continue to watch it simply to catch one of Maggie Smith's bon mots.

I am not surprised that I do not care for Downton Abbey. After all, it is nothing more than a soap opera tarted up with period costumes.  Admittedly, the stories are a bit wittier than the drivel that makes up what passes for writing on As the World Turns or any of its American cousin soaps.

That is why I have great doubts about trying to learn Spanish by watching Mexican soap operas. But the method comes highly recommended by at least two fellow bloggers -- and I respect both of their opinions in most matters.

The only question is where I will watch them. My television set in the library is used solely as a movie machine.  And I have no interest in bringing cable television into the house. I went cold turkey on it decades ago.

But Mexico offers some solutions. Almost every restaurant in town features a television blaring some program or other. Soccer. The news. But, most often, a telenovela

I should just pick a restaurant that serves up soaps with its sopa, and become a regular customer.

And, if I apply myself, I will soon have a flock of clever and devastating comments dancing around in y head -- all of them in Spanish.

Monday, January 25, 2016

back to school

David Sedaris somewhere noted that he never attends any language class unless at least one other student has fewer language skills than he has.

I know what he means. If you are going to voluntarily put yourself in the chicken coop, there is no sense in letting yourself be the bird for which "henpecked" was coined.

Back in August, I decided to get serious about learning Spanish. And I have been rather diligent in my daily studies. Between the Pimsleur Method materials and the amnesia-inducing DuoLingo, I have expanded my understanding of the language spoken around me every day -- especially verbs.

The problem is that I have an understanding of academic Spanish; I have next to no skill in understanding what my neighbors say.

That sounds contradictory, but it isn't. Because of my background in high school Latin, I can read and translate written basic Spanish. The courses I have taken on my own at home the last five months have added to my vocabulary arsenal.

My friends Ed and Roxanne, who speak very good Spanish, have urged me to join one of the local language classes to improve both my vocabulary and my listening skills. On Friday they even introduced to one of their teachers.

So, I signed up. Rather, I just showed up. "Signing up" would be far too formal for our beach-minded crowd.

The Beginner Spanish course meets for one hour each day from Monday through Thursday.  Today was my baptism by fire.

The teacher took a rather orthodox path. After asking us to introduce ourselves to the class, she listed Spanish words on the board. Most were review words for people who have been taking the classes; some were new.  (The words that is, not the returning students.  Well, other than me.)

My home schooling put me in good stead for translating the vocabulary list. I knew most of them.

Then I hit the wall. We were to relate a story based on pictographs the teacher had distributed -- by responding to questions the teacher posed.

And I re-discovered the reason I was in the class. The teacher, of course, asked her questions in Spanish. I could not understand most of what she was saying.

I knew of my limitation. For some reason, my ear hears different consonants than the speaker has actually spoken. "D"s and "t"s are readily interchanged.  Unless I see the word in writing, I am at sea.

An additional problem is that three children are attending the course. A very precocious boy shouted out answers (and usually correct ones) before I had time to process the question. The teacher was then off on the next question before I had really grasped what was asked or answered.

The most annoying thing about the boy is that he is a dead ringer for me at the same age. That thought alone was disconcerting. Mirrors are not kind devices.

My experience in the past has been that four students learning together is about the optimum size -- for me. Any larger than that and the hens start looking for stasis in the pecking order.

I considered not returning for tomorrow's class. After all, I would be lying if I said I had learned anything. If I do not have space to understand the teacher's question, I will never learn how to listen in Spanish. And if I cannot listen in Spanish, I certainly will never learn to speak Spanish.

Tomorrow I will give it another go. After all, it is only $50 (Mx) a day.  That is $2.69 in good old strong US dollars.

I can put up with a lot of irritation for that type of chump change.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

young dog, new tricks

Cathie commented on Thursday's garbage essay that a regular member of the Mexpatriate cast was mentioned in the post, but only photographs of trash appeared -- and none of Barco.

It was a point well-taken.  I have attempted to avoid turning these pages into a baby book for my little dog guy.  However, I cannot avoid mentioning him now and then.  After all, he easily eats up most of my day -- along with anything else he can get his mouth around.

But a couple of photographs are in order.  In the month he has lived in the house with no name, he has been sprouting from a puppy into a dog.

I took him to the veterinarian this weekend for a vaccination.  In two weeks he has gained more than two kilograms -- almost five pounds.  He is now 13 kilograms.  He is pushing 30 pounds.  With ever-lengthening legs.

And he puts that weight to good advantage when he goes crackers each morning and evening.  That mouth of his could find good service in a sawmill.  My arms bear proof.  I told him he needs to stop biting me or I will humiliate both of us by saying I own a cat.

There is a sports park two blocks from the house.  We visit it three times a day.  I was under the impression we visited there to take care of nature's call.

Barco thinks nature's call is hunting down every sentient being smaller than a golden retriever puppy and reducing it to lunch.  That includes rodents that have long ago made their way to the hereafter.

And we have found a great new diversion -- the beach.  The sand and surf turn Barco into Mr Crazy Dog, but Mr. Crazy Dog with charm.

So, there you have it.  A few photographs.  A bit of commentary.

That will hold us all for a bit.