Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Whipped Cream Sandwich

Let's just start this off by saying you should never ask an 11 year-old what they want for dia de nino. First off, who the hell thought of this holiday anyway? We don't have a kid's day. In fact, had you asked my father he would have told you that everyday is kid's day.
But I guess I spoil my son.
What he responded at first was cash, and a trip to Walmart. Walmart has been the talk of the house since one finally opened up in nearby San Miguel. For my US-living Walmart-hating friends, you must understand the thrill of walking into a store and having room to walk in the aisles. And of finding things that you miss terribly. So Walmart it was. He did however change his mind about being given cash, and informed me that he would rather if I just paid for the Lego that he wanted. (Thank God Walmart didn't have it). I convinced him that a budget of $10 for a toy would give us more money to spend on food we don't get to have normally.
So off to Walmart, with Dolfo in tow of course. Who despite having just turned 15, making him no longer a nino, and having just gotten a new phone for the accomplishment still felt he was entitled to a toy too. There is something about entitlement and the people here that I just don't get.
Now, where in the US there are the "people of Walmart" who trip over the line of normalcy, Walmart in San Miguel was walking into a higher class world. Christmas and Halloween decorations greeted you at the door, music played in the background, and the aisles were wide and neatly arranged.
If not for the armed guards and lack of too-tight leggings worn as pants, I would have thought I was back in Dacula.
Housewares was after seasonal decorations, and you cannot imagine how exciting it was to find dishtowels that did not feel like 10 year old underwear. (I bought 2, only .75 cents. and chastised Betty when she wanted to use them to clean with) And coffee mugs that won't crack when you pour hot water into them (2 of these too - $1.10). Toys were disappointing, but I think that is going to change once we get closer to Christmas. My son budgeted wisely and chose 5 $2 Hot Wheel Cars. Dolfo tried to convince me that the RC car he wanted was $8. Dolfo does not know that Walmart has scanners, and after a quick check I told him nicely to kiss my Gringa ass for the $25 toy and find something that was under $10. He is still asking me when I can go back and buy it, because... well I guess he feels entitled. He can wait 'til Christmas.
And then we hit the food aisles....
Meats were up first, and to be honest I was disappointed at first price wise. Everything seemed a bit higher than at Selectos, but the reason why is clear when you get it home and eat it. This is quality meat, fish and pork, not the rubber you get at the supermarket in town.
Little things here and there delighted us, like a box of Quaker oatmeal packets in various flavors, and a loaf of freshly baked whole wheat  bread. A box of frozen slices of cheese cake for only $3 and a can of whipped cream to top them off. No Ben and Jerry's, and the Haagan Daaz was like $7 so we skipped that for this trip, but have it on the list for next time.
So we bring it all all home, and I give my usual speech about how we don't need to eat all the food in one day. This has become a problem with a 15 year old boy in the house. My threats fell on deaf ears, and I became tempted to put locks on the fridge and cabinet.
I did allow each kid a taste of the whipped cream, but made it clear (so I thought) that it was for dessert (and maybe a spritz on my coffee in the morning). So, next day, in my room comes running my 11 year old. "Dolfo made a sandwich with the whipped cream!" What? "Yes, on the yummy bread you bought". It was true, not only did the ding-a-ling disobey my order to leave it be, he used it on whole wheat bread, and being that he had never used whipped cream before, ruined it by not shaking the can first.  There was that moment, for a fleeting second, where had I known the words would have told him to turn around so I can shove the can up his ass. But he's a kid after all, (sort of) and I just bit my tongue. But the next time, I am buying those locks for the fridge and cabinet.

Hi Ho Hi Ho...

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

There is a Possum Under the Dresser

It starts with some odd noises in the night, crashes and booms and Lucy running around like a chicken with no head. Anyone who has spent anytime in ES knows that bumps in the night are par for the course, and so long as it doesn't sound like a gunshot it was probably just the neighbor's cat.

But then:

"Jenny, venga" from Dolfo, as I sit trying to write about some new fangled back surgery. I am annoyed as I grab my flashlight, "que paso?".

He brings me to his room where Lucy is wagging her tail anxiously as she peers under the dresser. There's an animal he tells me in Spanish. What kind? He tells me the name in Spanish, but only after he describes it as an oversized rat with an oversized tail do I realize he means a possum. Well, it will grow bored if we ignore it and leave on its own I tell him, anxious to get back to lumbar spines.

I was wrong

Minutes later more noise that I assume is the animal making its grand exit to the tree, that is until his highness jumps up out of the bed. Stupid animal climbed into the bed where the two of them sleep, crawled through Juanito's legs and was at the highness' head before he realized that it was not the cat. Now ask me what my dumb ass dog was doing during this time? Abso-fucking-lutely nada. Except wagging her tail.

So it made its way to a corner and I went from jumping onto my desk to running to the corrider to wait for it to be shooed out of the room. That didn't work, but a lasso around the neck allowed it to be dragged out kicking and screaming. Got a photo of that, and when my son shows me how to transport a picture from a phone to the computer, we will post it, and a description of how much he liked the bleach bath I am going to give him in the morning.

Hi ho, hi ho (hopefully without any interruptions from wild animals.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

When It Hits Home

A few months back I wrote about the big jail moves, and how all it would end up doing was make things worse for the "normal" people outside. Well, it has hit home.

I don't even know how to process this.

Early Sunday morning as I sat at my desk my phone rang. It was Chito, Dolfo's dad. I have known Chito for as long as I've know Juan, back in NY where life was semi-normal. He wanted to talk to Juan, but his highness was still sleeping, and not available for calls.

Fast forward less than 2 hours and Dolfo is telling me about some guy who wants to talk to Juan. The guy is on Dolfo's phone and says he is his uncle and needs to talk to Juan about something important. This is when you wake his highness up. From my end I basically here words like killed, where, and who. When he hung up he looked at me and said "They got Chito".

Now, I am a skeptic, and an optimist, so I of course argued. Bullshit, I just talked to him he was fine. "You did? When?" "At 7:30" Quick call back... but no, this had just happened. What the fuck? So we try calling Chito, his phone is off. Try his mom, and after about 6 times she answers. "Everything is good here, the viejo has his birthday tomorrow, are you coming?". She had no idea, and I still did not believe it so I left it alone.

It was finally confirmed by an uncle, as the murder occurred at a cantina that his girlfriend was running. He was one of the first to arrive, and found Chito facedown on the floor. Shot in cold blood, as if there is ever a case where one is shot in hot blood.

Here's the thing. These guys are basically running around trigger happy with very little direction. Young guys who make decisions with their dicks not their heads. Chito was not involved with these people, he just made the mistake of liking the girlfriend of someone who is.

Imagine if you can how this works, because I am still in shock:
Trigger happy punk with a hard on talking on the phone -"So hey, I want to take out this guy who likes my girl"

Guy in charge who has no idea who Chito is. For all he knows they spat spitballs at each other in church growing up - "Okay, go for it" 


And someone is dead. Someone with kids who depend on him to eat. Someone whose father spent his 81st birthday with his youngest son dead in his living room. Someone who just wanted a dance with some trigger happy punk with a hard on's girl.

That's fucked up. I am fucked up by this. Chito was my friend, my go-to guy, the father of the boy who lives in my house. Chito was a human being, Chito was one of 31 human beings who were killed in El Salvador over this last weekend.

It's time that the powers that be realize that they fucked this shit up for good this time. If my estimates are right, there are probably as many gang members in ES right now as there were guerillas at the start of the civil war. And that didn't end well for anyone. It's time for the government to come up with a better solution than just moving the guys in charge all over the country. It's time to cut their balls off all the way so that their dicks stop getting hard for any guy who looks at their girl.

It is with great sadness in my heart, and a simmering hate that I sign off....
Hi ho hi ho

Sunday, July 26, 2015

For Leo

There are times when I wonder what in the world happened to me to make me who I am today. My mother was gone by the time I was 8, leaving me to be raised by an alcoholic father who had no real interest in me until I was an adult. He was selfish, rude, hypocritical and an open bigot. He was also one of the most close minded individuals I have ever met, and if still alive would be championing for Trump as president. 
Obviously, he had little influence over who I am today, other than to make me strive to be his exact opposite.
When I was in 4th grade I was enrolled in a gifted kids program at school. One of the themes for that first year was the law, and our teacher had us watch "To Kill a Mockingbird" as a part of the lesson plan. At the end of the year he was moving on, and gifted each of his students with a paperback copy of the book. 
Up until 2009, I had that copy, and read it once a year or so. That's roughly 30 years, if you are trying to figure out how old I am. That book, that story, has never left my mind, and even today I can relate easily with a number of quotes and passages.
In a recent FB post about the new Harper Lee novel shared with me by a friend who has known me for longer than I had the book, and fellow gifted program inductee (although not that year) I commented that despite any criticism, I still wanted to read the rough draft of a mediocre novel that turned into a story that helped shape me as a person. That's a powerful statement, but a true one. Scout, Jem, Atticus and Boo are all a part of my past, and I learned valuable lessons from them that I hope to instill in my son.
“Atticus said to Jem one day, "I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird." That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. "Your father’s right," she said. "Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
Now, I don't condone violence about 99% of the time, or any act that inflicts harm, but if you are going to fuck with someone, or hurt them in any way, make sure that they deserve it. Although I got nothing but a blank stare for it, in a fit of rage I have told Juan that he is going to hell for hurting a mockingbird (me). Whether you believe in God, karma, or just common human decency, you should always do your best to protect those whose only fault is trying to be kind to you or others. 
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”  
So true, and a point from the book that I probably take too far. I am great at playing devil's advocate to a fault, which probably makes me way more sympathetic then I should be.
“I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks.”
Hello 'Murica. If a six year old gets that, so should you.
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what."
To put it bluntly, I have balls and I don't need a gun or anything else to show them. Be nice to me and I'll give you the shirt off of my back. Fuck with me, and one way or another you're going to pay. People here don't fuck with me anymore. They know I have no trouble with standing up to your face and telling you what I think, whether they like it or not and Salvadorans don't seem to like to be called out.
“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of (another)... There are just some kind of men who - who're so busy worrying about the next world they've never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.” 
Yup, and a shout out to 'Murica again. If you are going to live by the word of the bible, I will only respect that decision if you stop picking and choosing which parts suit your agenda.
“As you grow older, you'll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don't you forget it - whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, he is trash.” 
Black, hispanic, poor, uneducated. It makes no difference. Taking advantage of a persons social disability is just fucked up.
“You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don't you let 'em get your goat. Try fightin' with your head for a change."
Every friggin' time I step outside past my front gate I am faced with this challenge. Yet my head is high knowing that in the end, it will be me who comes out on top.
“When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness sake. But don't make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion faster than adults, and evasion simply muddles 'em.” 
My father was the complete opposite, leaving me confused about a lot of shit growing up. Juanito asks me a question and I am as straight as possible, hopefully that teaches him to trust me as he grows older.
“If there's just one kind of folks, why can't they get along with each other? If they're all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other? Scout, I think I'm beginning to understand something. I think I'm beginning to understand why Boo Radley's stayed shut up in the house all this time. It's because he wants to stay inside.” 
The reason why I, and other exiled expats, sometimes rejoice in not having any part of the bat shit crazy that is going on in 'Murica.
“It’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you.” 
Puta, pincha gringa viejita. Maldita perra cabrona. I have the hair of a dirty mop and fuck any man that I can get my hands on. You name it and I've been called it, but so long as I know it's not true, who gives a fuck?
“Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbors give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing, and it made me sad.” 
One way or another, if you are kind to me the favor will be returned. Bring me a plate of food, and when I return your plate it will be full of bread. I don't ever want anyone to feel like they are not appreciated for what they do or did.
I wish I could say I was a saint, but heck, not even Scout can say that. But there are a lot of lessons to be learned in "To Kill a Mockingbird" and I am thankful for every one.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Karma Cuts Both Ways

I have a deep respect for women here who go out and do what they need to do to feed their kids. That was what I liked so much about Anna. Ever since I knew her, she was hustling, working whatever shitty job she could find. For the last few years that has meant living in San Miguel so that she could work as a waitress. Like everyone else here, payday was every 15 days, and she always made it a point to come to Gotera on the first with her pay. She'd buy groceries for her parents, two sisters, her two kids and her nephews that were all crammed in the small house. If she had no time to stop, she would send them on the bus.

Imagine how they must have felt this past 1st of the month. The first one in years where Anna didn't send any food. For some reason that thought haunted me, so I took 20 bucks and bought four bags of groceries, sending it the same way Anna used to. I have no clue if they know it was me, Betty has never mentioned it, but I hope not. I hope they just think it was the spirit of Anna.

For the last 4 years I have bought countless raffle tickets from my neighbors kids. At a quarter a piece I typically buy a dollars worth and leave Juanito's name as the donator. Imagine our surprise last night when our young neighbor came running over to tell us we had won. I never even gave a thought to what the prizes were, but I was pretty surprised at this one. A large guacal (or plastic bowl as some call it) full of food. Cornflakes, oil, rice, soup, sugar, spaghetti, sauce, cookies, churros, soda and a 4 pack of toilet paper (I guess just in case). The frigging thing weighed a ton.

That's why I say Karma cuts both ways. Never let shitty people or circumstances change who you are on the inside. One way or another, your world will right itself, just be patient.

Saturday, June 13, 2015


Life has been beyond nuts in the armpit since my last post, and as I thought about which event to write about first, I started to think about perspective, and whether or not the glass is half empty. I thought about telling the story of Juan's truck, and how it was in police impound for over a month. Or how it took me almost 3 weeks and 3 cell phones to get back to my telemarketing job after my Magic Jack broke. Or the story of how the Magic Jack was destroyed, along with my brand new stove. Then there's the story of my long anticipated visit. With someone I met through this blog. And despite finally meeting one of the most genuine and sweet people I have come across, the visit was almost ruined - thanks to the car being in police custody, a depressed household thanks to the events that led to my destroyed stove (and dead parico), and the saga of the Magic Jack and trying to get back to work. Oh, and there's the growing rivalry between Dolfo and Juanito that makes me want to pull what hair I have left out. Basically, looking back on May, I am shocked that I have made it to June. And then perspective smacks you upside the head.

On Wednesday, as I was in San Miguel trying to work out the car issue and buy the third phone to try and replace the Magic Jack with, I got a phone call from my sister - in - law. As I was out of patience at the time I decided to wait to call her back. After finally growing so frustrated with Salvadoran beauracracy and getting on a bus home, (leaving Juan to  deal with it) I called her back, and frankly got blown out of the water.

But first.. the history...

On my first trip here I made friends with very few people. One was Anna, a woman who had grown up with Juan and his family, and who had made a point to come and meet me my first week here. I got to know her, and her son, and the rest of her family during those four months. And she was the one who stood by my side and made pupusas at our little store in centro.  Fast forward 6 years, and we are back, with Juanito in tow, Anna is still here, living in what I have a hard time even calling a house with her mom, dad, and now 2 sons. Along with two sisters and their various offspring. Anna worked in San Miguel now, but would always come around when needed. She was the one my suegra counted on during her visit to clean out the house and put their old crap in order. She was the one who took care of my sister in law and her new baby when they got home, and she was the one I asked to come and help me clean the house when I could no longer trust anyone else to.

Anna went back to San Miguel in February, leaving me her sister Betty to deal with the laundry. We have spoken one or two times since, and I have only seen her once as she waved to me from a passing bus.

Betty was here on Wednesday, but never mentioned a word to me...

My sister in law was calling to tell me that Anna had died Wednesday morning. Died, after having spent 5 days in the hospital in a coma. Saturday she had a headache and by Saturday night her brain was shutting down. The details mirror the death of my mother, who was about the same age as Anna when she died - both young in their mid thirties.


I saw the funeral procession pass by my house today. I could not go as we are still without a car, and well frankly I don't like wakes and funerals. I prefer to remember Anna as she was in life, funny, caring and smart, instead of lying lifeless in a box.

Tomorrow is just a few hours away, and I am positive that with it will come a whole new set of frustrations, yet now I have something concrete to balance them against. For the rest of my life, I will be sorry to have lost Anna, but grateful for her last gift to me. Perspective.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Social Differences in El Salvador

I don't live in what I refer to as "the bushes" or what most consider a farm. I live in what is known as a caserio, or colonia - which is something like a burro version of a subdivision. The houses are butted up against each other, and if your neighbor puts on a second floor (like mine) they are looking down into your patio. But this is considered the good life for most. Although build me a nice house in the bushes and I'll take the cows and chickens any day over the constant sound of cars, and the chatter from my neighbors all around.
Juanito is getting a real life lesson in how privileged he really is. 10 days ago, while out drinking, a teenaged boy was pointed out to Juan. It was dark, and the boy was walking to the store to buy salt. Salt to put on his 2 tortilla dinner. He was pointed out because he is a young cousin of Juan's and the spitting image of his father, who is the spitting image of Juan. Throw Juanito in the mix and its quadruplets at various stages of life.
So the boy, Dolfo, came to our house, and is teaching us all a lesson in humility. He was wearing flip-flops that were so worn that they had no heel, so I guess a flip, without the flop. He had on a ripped t-shirt and shorts and is as skinny as my finger. Even the lady I took him to to buy pants chastised me for not feeding the boy.
His mother, who had left him years ago, now wants him back. Apparently he is a very valuable cow milker and corn planter. His father is too busy on his own campo to really care. Yet, when he came here after talking to the mother, and told Dolfo to get his stuff to go "home" the boy flat out refused. Has to make you wonder what else besides milking cows is going on in the campo.
He is shy to eat, and will still ask even for water even though I have already told him a 100 times to eat and drink whatever he wants. He is awed by our shopping trips to buy food, and shy to ask for something for himself.
The next step is to get him into school, which will be a project since he hasn't been for years. The hope is that the Catholic School where Juani goes will take heart and let him in and get him up to speed, even though the admission period is long over.
Having a kid like this around is an experience, and really makes you think about what is going on out in the bushes. And Dolfo is just one of thousands.