Friday, September 24, 2010

The Birthday Myth

Somewhere in my youth, along with the Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, the tooth mouse (Mexican version of the tooth fairy), and other lies parents tell their children, the birthday myth was ingrained in my mind.  The myth that there is one day a year when you are celebrated, a special day when people stop to remember you and things go your way.  It always seemed that birthdays worked liked that for others.  But I seemed to be missing out.  Like the eternal Cubs fan, though, I always thought that this "could" be the year that the myth would pan out for me.  And every year, not only was I disappointed, but it seemed like bad things tended to happen.  My earliest recollection was my fourth year birthday party when my party was held in an old-fashioned style ice-cream shop in Mexico.  As is the case in many eating establishments, the staff gathered around to sing and make a fuss.   Except at this place, they would offer you a bit of cake by holding it up for you to bite, but when you went to take the bite, they would smash it in your face.  As a four-year old, I didn't quite enjoy that.  I remember sitting under the table crying with cake all over my face.

I won't sit here and reminisce about all the unfortunate incidents that have happened since, suffice it to say that there seemed to be a recurring theme.  Over time, I came to distance myself from the concept of my birthday as a time to celebrate.  However, that birthday myth continued to covertly live on deep inside my psyche and a part of me continues to long for it.  Of course, the negativity I associate with this one day and the absence of having the myth play out for me intertwines with the other demons in my head to create a festival of self-deprecation.  It runs ramshackle over any logic my intellect puts forth - why should this day be any different?  It's just another day.  The world moves on just like it did yesterday, just like it will tomorrow.  But somewhere inside this aging 40 year old body (and mind), there is still a child longing for the attention, wanting to be celebrated, and hoping that no one will smash cake in his face.

Yet here I sit at home alone, moping.  The day is almost over and I will have another year before I go through the same set of emotions again.

But 40 - wow.  My youth is gone.  Oh well...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Old Fart

Today is my last day as a thirty something.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Viva Mexico!

Tonight marks the start of the Mexican Independence bicentennial.  It also corresponds with the centennial of the Mexican Revolution.  It seems that every 100 years Mexico faces social and political upheaval.  So here we go again...

I have been following with dismay the violence that has gripped my home country over the past few years.  I was struck with the fear that underlies people's lives when I was there visiting my family.  Private guards with automatic weapons, barricades, walls, and general paranoia dominated the landscape.  The government has launched offensives against the drug cartels and has tried to purge its ranks to eliminate corrupt officials.  But the violence continues to escalate.

I realize that the violence is not widespread, that the media profits by sensationalizing it.  Nonetheless, the crimes committed are stupefying.  The killings, the disregard for life, and the lack of compassion are discouraging.

What has become of my country?

Violence has been part of its history, so in some ways what is occurring now is nothing new.  The Revolution created anarchy throughout the country a hundred years ago.  Political repression is part of the historical fabric of the nation.  But the recent, albeit slow and uneven, economic and political progress offered glimpses of optimism that Mexico could move on and overcome its skeletons.  Such hope has been eclipsed, at least for now.  While it is not dead, a major struggle lays ahead.

But why? Why is Mexico, a country of such kind and friendly people, engulfed in such a nightmare?

This is the eternal question.  In my eyes, it is a natural consequence of prolonged inequality, both economic and political.  Inequality destroys civic society.  The blatant disparities that exist in Mexico, while almost invisible to those living there does affect the psyche of people.  Blatant wealth and development that provides riches to a few and toil to the many, while the political system stifles voices of dissent, creates an atmosphere of discontent.  In such a system, corruption becomes a vehicle for public officials to eat at the table of the haves.  Graft by government workers corrodes the public trust and civic participation dies.

In such a place, the lure of quick success, a ticket to wealth regardless of the path becomes very tempting.  If morality has been lost in the rest of society, what is the benefit of adhering to it.  Loyalties switch, sometimes bought with tangible benefits.  In the absence of civil morality and staunch group loyalties, violence becomes the only viable tool.  As the violence escalates, vengeance is inevitable. Tit-for-tat, an eye for an eye, into an unending cycle of horrors. All the while, the wealth (and the arms) continues to flow, providing the incentive (bait?) for new recruits, new foot soldiers to carry on the fight and pawns to be sacrificed in the war.

So where is Mexico going?  I do not know...

The path out is one that seems untenable at the moment. It would require legalization of drugs and tighter control over weapons in the US, a controlled but free movement of labor between Mexico and the US, and a civic awakening among Mexican citizens.  Legalization of drugs would reduce the profits and wealth of the cartels.  It would make the recruitment of participants more difficult.  Weapon control would make it more difficult for the cartels to arm themselves.  Free movement of labor would end human smuggling, would allow for a better flow of wealth from the US to Mexico that would stimulate the Mexican economy and promote entrepreneurship.  None of this is likely to happen, though.

So all that is left is civic participation.  There have been glimpses of this already.  I do not know if on its own it can succeed.  Never underestimate the will of determined people, especially Mexicans.  It takes a strong will to make the way into a country that is determined to keep you out, to work in the field, to be abused and denigrated, and to continue to smile through all of this.

For now, Mexico will celebrate.  Perhaps forget its problems for a day or two.  It is a time to be proud, to remember our history.  But it is a time to draw strength for the struggles that lay ahead, a time to reconnect with neighbors, to see that there is hope to overcome the violence that lies in wait.

Happy Birthday, Mexico!  Hopefully 100 years from now you will be able to celebrate in peace.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Sitting in my office during office hours just after lunch, I realize that I have a piece of food stuck between my teeth (in between two molars).  Slowly it starts to aggravate me more and more.  I try using my tongue to push it out, but it only serves to irritate me more and more.  Using my fingernail doesn't work either.  Finally, I march over to the bookstore to see if they have floss.  They do, but there is the rush of people still buying books so the line is really long.  I leave and try buying some gum from the vending machine in the hope that it might stick to the food and pry it out.  No, it does not.  I find a piece of string and try it in lieu of floss.  Not only does it not work, it breaks and now I have food and string stuck in between my teeth.  I head back to the book store, grab the floss, and make my way to the back of the long, long line.  I cannot deny that thoughts of slipping the floss into my pocket and walking out crossed my mind.  The food, the string, and the blaring hip-hop music all conspire to annoy me more and more.  In line, I glace at my watch and the time before my class starts is getting shorter and shorter.  I finally make it to the register and the person says "No cash".  Not a problem - I put the $2 floss on my credit card and rush back to my office. 

I cut open the package the floss is in, draw the string of floss out, wrap it taught around my two fingers and plunge it deep between my teeth.  With a swift swoosh the food and the string are pried out.  I feel liberated.  Now it is time to go to class.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Tomato Jungle

Our tomato patch has gone wild.  Even the plant that got crushed when I dropped an air-conditioner from the second story window.

In the tangle there are a plethora of hidden tomatoes that escape the picking.  Many fall and roll into oblivion where they are forgotten until they begin to ferment.  As I was picking some of them today, I became intoxicated with the aroma of tomato brew.  Who knew?

We have different varieties of tomatoes, including some tiny micro ones which are about the size of a pea.  Despite their minuscule size, they are packed with flavor.  As I popped one in my mouth, I began to think, "Wouldn't it be cool if it also had a punch of spice?  Just like red-hot candies."  My stream on thought went on to ponder why hasn't anybody created a spicy tomato.  Tomatoes and chiles are both nightshades - it seems like with the miracle of science the two could be hybridized.

That's what I want - a spicy tomato.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Things haven't been too cheery in the Xolo household.

Due to circumstances that I shan't go into here, I find myself very stressed and anxious.  It is distressing when the preoccupation swallows you completely and there is little respite.  My stomach hurts and I am sure it is from the worry.  Not good, not good.

Classes have started and all three of mine seem promising.  Good vibes from the students.

I look with alarm what is going on in this country and if my mind weren't elsewhere I would be concerned as well.  The latest: a pastor in Florida wants to have a Qur'an burning.  Ironic, isn't it, that those who would be the first to oppose the building of an Islamic center in southern Manhattan and deny the first amendment rights of those people are the first to take advantage of their first amendment rights to engage in book burning.  The hypocrisy...

It looks like Congress is going to go from bad to worse in November.  Ah people with their short-term ADD memories.

So I am off to deal with my own demons for now.  Who knows when things will become more serene?  I don't see it in the horizon - alas.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010


New York City is not fun when the temperature is 100 degrees.

I feel bad for the tennis players playing in the US Open.

I really feel for sanitation workers.  I can't think of a more thankless job.  Having to deal with fermenting trash in this weather is torture.

Tomorrow is the first day of class for me.  One class in the morning and one in the afternoon.

I am going to wing it.