On mental illness for Scott Hutchinson’s 40th birthday

Scott Hutchinson (Photo credit: pitchfork.com)

“People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands – literally thousands – of songs about broken hearts and pain and misery and loss. The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking, are the ones who like pop music the most; and I don’t know whether pop music has caused this unhappiness, but I do know that they’ve been listening to the sad songs longer than they’ve been living the unhappy lives.”

“High Fidelity”, Nick Hornby

“So you just stepped out of the front of my house
and I’ll never see you again
I closed my eyes for a second
and when they opened you weren’t there

And the door shut shut I was vacuum packed
Shrink wrapped out of air
and spine collapsed and the eyes rolled back
to stare at my starving brain

And fully clothed I’ll float away
Down the forth and to the sea
I think I’ll save suicide for another day”

“Floating In The Forth”, Frightened Rabbit (2008)

Today would have been Scott Hutchinson’s 40th birthday. He’s no longer here, but his art remains so in a way it is still his 40th birthday. On what will certainly be a very warm day almost everywhere, 60 years from today in the year 2081 it will be his 100th birthday and that fact will be noted by someone somewhere, probably a great many people. Art endures.

I’ve been reticent to write too much lately, but I’m starting to realize that one of the reasons why is that what we leave behind defines us in a way. Sometimes it’s easier to not take any chances, keep your head down and be quiet. “The tallest nail gets hammered down first” as the Japanese are known to say.

But I’m a sucker for round numbers and I’ve been missing Frightened Rabbit and Scott lately, so this is as good an excuse as any to drop some words out there, hoping they find someone somewhere and make a difference.

“Can you see in the dark?

Can you see the look on your face?

The flashing white light’s been turned off

You don’t know know who’s in your bed

It takes more than fucking someone you don’t know

To keep warm”

“Keep Yourself Warm”, Frightened Rabbit (2008)

Sometimes there is a tendency to overly romanticize the dead. They are not there to defend themselves so we must temper what we say about them. The good is remembered, the bad shuffled away to a remote part of the consciousness. So here’s something true and harsh about the dead – Scott Hutchinson could be a dick.

Certainly, substance abuse and occasionally crippling bouts of depression are compelling qualifiers, but if he were still around which I very much wish he were, he would probably be the first to admit it. I only saw three Frightened Rabbit concerts in my life. At the first one, the club’s sound system was glitchy and causing no end of issues to him and the band. (Anyone who remembers the early days of Beauty Bar saw some incredible bands in an insanely small venue with the shittiest imaginable PA.)

Scott’s response was to storm offstage in a huff yelling at the techs after playing only like 5 or 6 songs. They were opening for The War On Drugs, which in retrospect is an insanely amazing bill, but this was in 2009 or so when both bands were still struggling for acclaim and playing small clubs and venues.

I was disappointed, but I wasn’t a huge Frightened Rabbit fan at the time, so I chalked it up as one of those things that happens, because honestly they do. Go to enough concerts and you’ll probably see an opening act be too drunk to perform or have a meltdown during their set. They’ll try to get it together as best as possible and life goes on. This is why we go to concerts – if you wanted to hear songs exactly like they are on the album, stay home man and just listen to your albums.

A couple years later, Scott and Frightened Rabbit were back in town this time opening for Death Cab For Cutie at a much swankier venue, the pool at the Cosmopolitan. Incredible views of the Las Vegas Strip and if you’re so inclined you can take off your shoes and socks and stand in the shallow end of the pool and watch some great bands.

After the first couple songs, Scott acknowledged his meltdown two years earlier, he apologized and he said he had secured an extra 15 minutes for their set from Death Cab to make up for ending early at the previous show.

“If you find me, don’t wake me
I can’t be shaken awake
If you don’t stare at the dark
You can never feel bleak
Life starts to lose its taste

So I [(move, move)]
I would but I am so tired
[(Move, move)] If I can’t shake myself
I can’t dance with you

The worn-out beat of a tired heart
[(You are young)]
If this is the prime of life I wish I could skip
The blasted youth”

“Skip The Youth”, Frightened Rabbit (2010)

It was obviously an incredibly graceful move, especially keeping in mind not only had it been two years but there might have only been about 30 or 40 of us who were at both shows. There couldn’t have been more than 100 people there at Beauty Bar that night to begin with. The Cosmo Pool could accommodate a couple thousand people and Frightened Rabbit were on the ascent after the release of their third album “The Winter Of Mixed Drinks” which found the band playing to more fans, more acclaim, bigger venues.

Each subsequent album the band produced found them building on their sound and creating stronger and stronger albums, but at the core of every song and every album was Scott’s lyrics. Confessional, haunting, poetic. If they didn’t draw you in immediately, you’re probably never going to be a Frightened Rabbit fan, but for those of us who got Scott immediately, we were hooked, especially after “The Winter Of Mixed Drinks”.

As someone who has occasionally struggled with depression and if not substance abuse, then at least substances unnecessarily standing in place for real human emotion I immediately connected with “FootShooter”.

“And if I shoot at you, you should shoot at me too
And we can drown in this of the thick dark words we
And as my face turns white, I apologize, 
I am sorry, Its not your fault, its mine

Hold onto your thoughts, time your rall-all-all-allies
Pluck up your ears, we’re doing it verbal, but I am loaded
Duck under that desk, cover your neck, uh-uh uh-uuuh
Picking your skin as I begin to shoot myself in the foot again”

“FootShooter”, Frightened Rabbit (2010)

As I grew older, the band grew older with me. Until Scott died, I didn’t realize he was eight years younger than me. I had kind of assumed we were the same age. The band released another well-reviewed, highly regarded album in 2013, “Pedestrian Verse”. In the year of my 40th birthday, Scott’s lyrics continued to somehow shadow my life experiences.

My mother remains proud of her Scottish heritage (as she should) and I wonder if somehow I don’t just ascribe more gravitas and weight to Scottish bands. There are some incredible Scottish rock bands. Something about the cold and the damp? How some place with so much beauty can also seem so forlorn?

“Fear lies the first time, but I was wrong
There is no more sign, no X’s mark this spot
The ancient encounters with foreign skin
All but perish by now, 
Guess you can’t erase the grin from those

Backyard skulls, deep beneath the ground
All those backyard skulls, not deep enough to never be found”

“Backyard Skulls”, Frightened Rabbit (2013)

The first time I really, really actually contemplated suicide as something I might do as opposed to an abstract concept was only a few years ago. My mental illness is mine, the reasons for it are as unknown and as unknowable as anyone who suffers, but I’m still way, way luckier than some people. I have way more empathy these days that I probably did the first time I ever saw Frightened Rabbit perform. In fact, that’s probably the understatement of this entire essay.

Before whatever switch flipped in my brain around this time (it would be easy to blame my brain surgery to remove a tumor and maybe it is?, but that seems too convenient), I was still able to understand the pain and depression that drives the best Frightened Rabbit songs (almost always tinged with just enough self-deprecation or humor to forgive you for finding solace in the music instead of insisting that Scott come live with you, so you can just spend a year or two nursing him back to health. Or at least paying for him to get help from someone.

I know his Scott himself, his family and his friends tried. I believe he saw his art as his salvation and his attempt to fight against the forces that were plaguing him. In my imagination or in reality I’ve seen interviews where he admitted as much.

I found his music then and now as a sword I could wield against the darkness. “This person thinks like me, they can say the things I can’t say” is the basis for all art back to cave drawings at least. And as long as humans are still alive, so shall it be.

“I put my heart where my mouth is
Now I can’t thumb it down again
I’ve gone devilled my kidneys
Now he’s living inside of me
So if we can’t bring an exorcist
I’ll settle for one of your stiffest drinks
And we’ll scream hell towards heaven’s door
And I will piss on your front porch

I’m dead now, check my chest you’ll see
The light has been mined from me, burned for the heat
Oh I’m dead now can you hear the relief
As life’s belligerent symphonies finally cease”

“Dead Now”, Frightened Rabbit (2013)

So yeah, I kinda dropped a bomb back there a few paragraphs ago. I don’t want to make it all about me, but for someone who lived their first 40 years or so more or less free from the grip of mental illness (or at least so blissfully ignorant and in denial that I never realized it in any kind of meaningful way) finding myself actually really and truly thinking the previously unthinkable was a pretty decent shock, to say the least.

I wish I could say that I immediately talked to my loved ones and sought professional help, but I didn’t. Some people very close to me reading this are learning this for the first time. I’ve told it to almost no one. Of course, almost no one is able to be completely honest about their mental health, so I don’t really beat myself up about that. But still, eventually I did get some help.

I’m on anti-depressants and depending on how you feel about cannabis I’m either self-medicating or using a natural medicine to occasionally fight anxiety. I know which way I lean on that, but I also don’t give a fuck what you think.

“I’m trapped in a collapsing building.”

“The Woodpile”, Frightened Rabbit (2013)

I’m possibly giving you the wrong impression about Scott’s music. The end of “The Woodpile” despite the haunting lyric above is actually quite positive and ends with Scott expressing hope about seeking out help from his friends.

I guess I should say that while I don’t care what you think about me and it took half a lifetime to achieve a realization that some people probably correctly arrive at in their teens, it doesn’t mean I don’t realize that relationships are important. I just choose these days to only pursue relationships with people who share the same values as me, especially respect for all human life no matter who you are or where you were born.

I’m not sure if it’s my broken brain that got me to that point, but if so it’s proof that all things happen for a reason and not even the darkest moments are completely without some light in them. I learned that from Scott’s lyrics too.

“It was dawn and the kitchen light was still on
I stepped in, found the suicide asleep on the floor
An open mouth screams and makes no sound
Apart from the ring of the tinnitus of silence
You had your ear to the ground

White noise
I don’t know if there’s breathing or not
Butterflied arms tell me that this one has flown
Blood seems black against the skin of your porcelain back
A still life is the last I will see of you

A painting of a panic attack”

“Death Dream”, Frightened Rabbit (2016)

The early morning of May 9, 2018, Scott Hutchison was reported missing by his bandmates, one of whom is his brother Grant. Scott had tweeted “Be so good to everyone you love. It’s not a given. I’m so annoyed that it’s not. I didn’t live by that standard and it kills me. Please, hug your loved ones”, followed by “I’m away now. Thanks.”

The next day he was found in the Firth of Forth. It is speculated he leaped from Edinburgh’s Forth Road Bridge just as he prophesized in the song at the beginning of this essay:

“And I picture this corpse
On the M8 hearse
And I half run away to sleep
On a rolled up coat
Against the window
With the strobe of the sun
And the life I’ve led
Am I ready to leap
Is there peace beneath
The roar of the Forth road bridge?
On the Northern side

There’s a Fife of mine
And a boat in the port for me

And fully clothed, I float away
(I’ll float away)
Down the Forth, into the sea
I’ll steer myself
Through drunken waves
These manic gulls
Scream it’s okay
Take your life
Give it a shake
Gather up
All your loose change
I think I’ll save suicide for another year.”

“Floathing In The Forth”, Frightened Rabbit (2008)

It is meaningful to me that the lyric changes from the first verse “I think I’ll save suicide for another day” to the final line of the song “I think I’ll save suicide for another year”. I like to think maybe that was Scott telling us that no matter how bad it is to give it another year and maybe things will be better.

My mental illness is my own. Scott’s was Scott’s. I don’t know if he gave it a year and couldn’t do it any longer. I know I’m lucky. I think I can do a year and then another year and then as many years as it takes. That is one of Scott’s gifts to me. Happy birthday.

Our first hurricane

Photo credit: VallartaDaily.com

One of the nice things about living in Las Vegas is that you’re largely immune from natural disasters. There is the risk of earthquakes, but nowhere near the same risk that exists in neighboring California. No major, destructive earthquake has hit Las Vegas since being settled by Europeans in the mid 1850s.

Of course, nowhere is ever completely safe from Mother Nature. Destructive thunderstorms and tornadoes can basically happen anywhere, as can other events like blizzards, floods, etc. The winds in the spring and fall can be very ferocious, but seldom do any kind of widespread damage.

The point is there’s a kind of dulling of the senses that can happen when you live there a few years. A feeling you can’t really be touched by nature and the hubris that can go along with that.

When we moved to Puerto Vallarta, we knew that hurricanes were a possibility. Still, we researched and learned that major hurricanes here are very rare, due to a variety of factors including how south in latitude it is, the nature of how Pacific hurricanes move through the ocean and a quirk of geography in that the city of Puerto Vallarta is somewhat protected by one of the largest bays on the Earth – the Bay of Banderas.

Those offer only some protection though. Hurricane Kenna struck in 2002 as one of the strongest storms ever recorded and only spared catastrophic damage in Puerto Vallarta by missing a direct hit on the area by 75 or so miles.

So those natural protections came as cold comfort as we watched a tropical storm form in the Pacific and develop into Hurricane Nora, which struck the Jalisco coast yesterday. We knew we should be safe in our well-built condo, which sits 100 feet above the coast. The rain was strong, though the winds weren’t as bad as we feared, topping out around maybe 35 mph. Compared to the winds we were used to in Las Vegas, it was not a big deal. We tracked the storm online and celebrated that it swung off the coast as predicted and the worst of the storm was centered about 40 miles west of Puerto Vallarta, another near miss it seemed. We went to bed convinced we had dodged a bullet.

Much to our surprise, we woke up this morning to discover that the massive rains, especially in the Sierra Madre mountains to the east caused the Rio Cuale to flood, causing serious destruction to buildings near the river and destroying the two vehicle bridges that connect El Centro (downtown Puerto Vallarta) to the Zona Romantica. Essentially the two major tourist/commercial areas of town have mostly been severed from each other until the bridges can be rebuilt.

Some apartment buildings collapsed and one of our favorite restaurants on the river was completely destroyed/washed away. At this moment, at least two people including one young boy are missing and feared dead.

It’s a weird feeling knowing that these places where you spend so much time are gone, washed away in an instant and it’s even weirder realizing not only could it have been much, much worse the same thing is happening right now with Hurricane Ida in the Gulf Coast, a massively stronger storm that will make the damage in Puerto Vallarta look like child’s play.

If this was a near miss from a category 1 hurricane, I want no part of anything bigger. Fortunately, our colonia (neighborhood) was spared and aside from the damage from the Cuale flooding, most of the city was spared serious damage as well.

Not that I needed it, I have a much healthier respect for Mother Nature as well. I saw some mocking posts on Facebook last night from some locals after Nora passed about people who prepared for the storm having overreacted. I’m guessing after the damage this morning that most of those have been deleted.

Man, it’s a hot one (extreme Rob Thomas voice)

Not a picture I took, but gets across what being seven inches from the mid-day sun might be like.

Suppose I should address the elephant in the room and explain why it’s been months without a post except I really have no good explanation.

Like all things in life, it’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that. We travelled all around the country for the better part of a month in June, I’ve been off work since then and feeling fairly aimless. Throw in a dash of depression and ennui and there you have it — a laziness soufflé.

I’ve not really had the desire to sit in front of my computer after having spent 50+ hours a week at it working a mostly dreary job for the last several years. I’ve missed the structure of being employed but haven’t missed the requirement to plop myself down in front of the desk first thing in the morning and remaining there for the better part of the day.

Summers in Puerto Vallarta are the very definition of the word sweltering. Just walking across the apartment to go to the bathroom will usually result in beadlets of sweat forming everywhere. It’s easier to do nothing or hit the pool, so depending on what time of day it is, I can usually be found doing one or the other.

It’s an adjustment, like dozens of others when you move to an unfamiliar place. It took a full year to adjust to the weather in Las Vegas, it’ll take at least the same amount of time here.

For the last month or so, COVID has been as bad in Puerto Vallarta as American hot zones like Florida and Louisiana, so we’ve not had the chance to explore as much as we would have liked anyway. There’s no “lockdowns” per se, but it’s not really worth risking a breakthrough case when most of the population here isn’t vaccinated yet and the number of new cases daily number in the hundreds (a significant amount for a city of 200,000).

So there’s a sameness to the days here which hasn’t really lended itself to sharing with anyone. The to-watch lists on Netflix, Hulu and HBOMax have been dwindling so it’s not been all wasted time (be sure to checkout The White Lotus (HBO) and the second season of Dave (Hulu) and of course, I’ll join the chorus of everyone who loves Ted Lasso (Apple TV) as well.)

I guess I’m just really ready for this pandemic to be over. That’s not a novel opinion, nor an especially controversial one, but COVID seems to weigh on everything these days, from the ability to explore our new town to politics at home to my impending job prospects, which ironically will be enhanced by COVID remaining a serious issue for awhile. (More news on this to come).

As much as it pains me, COVID being a thing for quite awhile seems very likely. The Republican strategy of wishing COVID away and punishing anyone who tries to reduce the number of cases doesn’t seem to be working.

It brings me no pleasure to read Facebook posts from March 2020 where I wrote that the pandemic will be a fact of life for 18 to 24 months. Being right is also not much of a source of joy these days, but as ever, we must soldier on and find pleasure in the small things. For me, that’s a recently booked trip to Mexico City this coming winter, getting to know our new neighbors next door and the occasional jaunt out to sample PV’s culinary delights. Last night, we went to a new southern-style restaurant with some excellent fried chicken.

The pandemic won’t last forever and neither will the COVID blues. We’ll get through this and I hope to have more regular updates in the months ahead.

Things I miss, an incomplete list

My kingdom for a Taco Bell! Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on Pexels.com

In most respects living in Mexico is not very different from living in the United States. This will disappoint many people, but the physical and cultural proximity to the US — much more pronounced in a resort town like Puerto Vallarta — means if you squint your eyes and don’t think about it much there’s not a huge difference between living here and say, Cleveland.

Like I said, when you say it like that, it’s disappointing.

Still, we enjoy it here and there’s comfort in familiarity at times. When it’s all said and done if we successfully move to Thailand in three years or so like we plan to, this will have been a necessary step to have made that possible not only financially, but spiritually as well.

Because no matter what, there are still some things that just aren’t the same which you inevitably miss when you leave the United States. This is an incomplete list of some of those.

Since we’re returning to Las Vegas next weekend to get our first microchip injections/tracking chips, this seems like as appropriate a time as any to discuss what I’m missing the most in Mexico.

Mountain Dew

Or in my case, Diet Mountain Dew.

You may not be a Dew fan, you may even hate it, but you can’t deny that it’s woven into the fabric of America between sponsoring NASCAR in the 80s and ubiquitous TV advertising to several generations of American teens.

As it turns out, it is indeed very literally an American phenomenon only. You can’t get the stuff anywhere other than the United States (and presumably Canada?) I had noticed this before on trips to Europe and it registered with me but only to the extent that it meant I had to stick to Diet Coke (or now, Coke Zero).

After three months without I can report that I miss it very, very much and looking forward to that first sip of faux-citrus fizziness. It could very possibly be my first purchase back on American soil after we clear customs at Orange County Airport next week.

Beer

Of course you can get beer in Mexico, but if your tastes run to anything other than domestic Mexican lagers you’re bound to be disappointed and/or get sticker shock.

Nicer grocery stores carry most common American brands like Bud, Miller, etc. though at prices higher than what you would pay in the United States, presumably because of import tariffs. (There are some American beers that are apparently produced in Mexico like Michelob Ultra which are ubiquitous at bars and restaurants and priced similarly to Mexican beers.)

As far as independent breweries or microbrews, forget about it more or less. If you look hard enough you’ll find some like Stone, Deschutes or similarly large west coast breweries but at prices so laughably high it’s not worth it (to me). Like about 300 pesos ($15) for a six-pack. For the same price, you can get two 12-packs of a premier Mexican beer like Modelo or Pacifico (or Corona for you maniacs who like that).

Microbrews are not exactly cheap in the United States either, but any decent bar should have a huge selection to choose from which might include 20 (or more) taps. There’s essentially no such thing as beer from a tap in Mexico with the exception of the local breweries (which are quite good, at least).

Taco Bell

OK, hear me out.

The food here, especially the smaller taquerias, is outstanding and authentic so why would I miss Taco Bell?

As it turns out, Taco Bell is NOT really Mexican food. Tanya has been saying this for years and I always thought it a bit of an exaggeration but it turns out it’s true. There’s no possible way to replicate the enjoyment of that mixture of meat-like substance with nacho cheese sauce in whatever formulation you’re craving (nachos, tacos, burritos — it’s all the same stuff just in a different package, itself comforting in its own way).

There’s almost nothing better after you’ve had a long night out on the town drinking some cold ones and there’s no close Mexican analogue. Yes, the numerous taco trucks here fill that hole somewhat and their offerings are superb, but they’re different and there’s no getting around that.

Cloudy days

Don’t blame you for thinking this is me trolling about the weather here, but I’m playing it straight.

This is probably a case of “be careful what you wish for” since the rainy season here is fast approaching this June, but it has been roughly about 82 and sunny every of the 100 or so days we’ve lived here so far.

People who haven’t lived in Las Vegas have a vast misunderstanding about the weather there and I don’t want to spend too much time getting in the weeds on that but there is absolutely distinct seasons in Las Vegas and within those seasons occasionally cloudy or rainy days. Sure, it’s sunny about 320 days a year, but the other 45 days are scattered so effectively through the year that you never really feel the “sameness” of the weather like you do here.

Not having lived here through the rainy season I might be lamenting ever wishing for a rainy day and eagerly awaiting the monotonous sameness of 82 and sunny every day come October.

For now though, I wouldn’t mind a gloomy, cloudy day.

Semana Santa

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

You’d be forgiven for thinking that I may have vanished off the face of the earth, especially after I realized my last post detailed occasional struggles with transitioning to life in Mexico.

I’m not paying a great deal to have this here site hosted, but it’s certainly not the best use of my money to have a website without updates for more than a month.

Still, that is not without its reasons and you’ll be happy to hear that things here are looking up.

We moved into our rented condo at the beginning of March and we’ve been settling in since then, gradually acquiring the few items it didn’t come pre-furnished with to make life more comfortable. This would include a combination air-fryer/toaster oven, a bunch of different cooking utensils, a crock pot, various storage containers and some organizing contraptions for the bathrooms.

I’m also still working every day for now, so the prospect of more time at the computer after a nine-hour day is wholly unappetizing usually.

Despite living in Mexico, life has fallen into the typical (and mostly uninteresting) rhythms and patterns familiar to everyone who works a full-time job. I get out of the house every morning for a walk of an hour or so, return and toil at work until the late afternoon, dinner is prepared and then we’ll settle down in front of the TV for a couple or three hours before bed, at which point the day repeats itself, Groundhog Day-style.

I have carved out time to read more than I did in Las Vegas, helped by no longer having a television in my home office and a comfortable patio overlooking Banderas Bay and the ocean.

We don’t get out to eat more than once a week or so because COVID is still a thing, regardless of what red-state governors might want to believe. Businesses and restaurants here are arguably taking COVID more seriously than what we saw in Nevada and Michigan before our move. Despite the likely safety of fairly unlimited options to dine in the open air, we’re still staying in more often than not, wishing not to tempt fate before we return to the US to get our first vaccination shots here at the end of April.

This week marks one of the few noteworthy changes or differences in the daily routine since we’ve moved here since it’s Semana Santa (“Holy Week”), still a huge deal in Mexico owing to the vast majority of the population here being Roman Catholic.

The week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday is when most schools in Mexico celebrate Spring Break, so hotels, guest houses and camping grounds in Puerto Vallarta fill up with vacationing Mexicans looking for a few days on the beach. Many businesses close from Good Friday (today) through Easter, so what remains open are filled to capacity with vacationers.

In a normal year, things are supposedly fairly overrun. This year, the town is reportedly filled to “only” about 60 percent capacity, but we’ve not seen this many people at once since leaving Las Vegas, so we’ve taken the advice of the more seasoned ex-pats and loaded up on supplies and planning on staying in until the weekend is over. We’ll be keeping an eye out on the government reported COVID numbers to make sure there isn’t a spike in Jalisco and Puerto Vallarta, but so far it seems everyone out and about is taking precautions. Even walking outside, mask-wearing is typical and most Mexicans don’t frequent many of the same businesses as most American and Canadian tourists and expats.

It’s as good an excuse as any to ride out the last wave of the pandemic in our new condo and hope we manage to remain COVID-free until we hopefully get our first jabs of the vaccine here in three weeks or so when we return to Las Vegas.

So I’ll try to be better about updating the site, but don’t be surprised if the next update doesn’t come for another couple or three weeks, maybe after finally returning back to the United States on April 23 for the first time in three-plus months. For now, we remain hopeful that by this summer the worst will be behind us personally and for everyone in the US and Mexico.

Pushing through the six-week blues

The moon setting into the Pacific at sunrise, Feb 27, 2021. Photo credit: Brian Seymour

I’ve been silent here for quite awhile for a variety of reasons, all of which I’ll eventually try to get into.

We’re still trying to settle in and running into bumps in the road here and there which are frustrating me and which I need to get over. The most recent involves trying to get the Internet service turned on for our new apartment, which we move into on Monday.

Part of the process of acclimating to Mexico involves two major transitions for me — not getting frustrated at occasionally not being able to communicate in every situation and accepting that this is a different culture not always able to handle things that should be relatively simple like signing up for Internet service.

I went in person to the Telmex office on Monday to sign up for service because they have English-speaking personnel there. So far, so good. My average Spanish and their above-average English got me registered and in the system and setup for a technician to come out in “five to seven days”. Since I didn’t really need the Internet up and running until this Wednesday (March 3rd), that’s perfect.

I even got an email later that day that included a form where I could signup for an installation appointment — even better! I selected Tuesday March 2 between noon and 4 p.m. because I knew between myself and Tanya one of us could be there to make sure the installers had access.

Cut to Thursday and I get a phone call from an installer who doesn’t speak English who wants to be able to have access to the apartment to install the Internet. I attempted to tell him I signed up for an appointment online to get it installed on March 2 — “yo tengo una cita I made en linea para dos de marzo”. Kind of Spanglish jibberish but I was hoping he would understand and I don’t think he did.

I received several emails throughout the day from Telmex telling me a technician was being dispatched to the apartment and finally even one saying that the installation was completed. Is it possible the apartment manager just happened to be there and took mercy on me and let the tech in? Sure. I guess I’ll find out on Monday, but I need to be able to let it go and not worry about it and realize that I can’t do anything about it for now and I’ll deal with it on Monday and go from there.

Still, I let things nag at me and it’s frustrating to not know if I’ll be able to get the Internet setup in time now to go back to work by Thursday and the reason is I can’t speak Spanish and it feels like a personal failing.

(As an aside, here’s a hearty “fuck you” to all of the people who complain on Facebook about companies in the United States with Spanish-speaking support reps — i.e. press 2 for Spanish — because the “language in America is English.” I know who you are. I’ve seen your posts and your xenophobia is bullshit.)

I’m also getting frustrated at how small this temporary condo that we’re renting is and am bouncing off the walls wanting to get out of here. The decisions that went into renting this place are what they are at this point, but I’m letting that nag at me as well.

Finally, I’ve had “big moves” before several times and it’s pretty natural to start getting discouraged around the six-week mark. It happened when I went away to college, it happened after graduating from college at my first real job, it happened when I first moved to Las Vegas in 1999 and it happened again after moving back to Vegas in 2007. There’s just something about that time frame where some level of “homesickness” (for lack of a better word in some of those cases though it’s relevant now) kicks in.

You get through that wall after a few weeks, but it’s common (for me, at least) and something I probably should have anticipated, yet somehow didn’t.

Still, I received some unexpected help in the last 24 hours getting over my malaise thanks to three things:

1) I started watching the documentary “Immigration Nation” on Netflix, a look at the mess the government has made of our immigration system over the last two decades thanks to xenophobes on the right and pandering wimps on the left. It reminded me exactly why I wanted to get out of the United States, a depraved government uninterested in the lives of its citizens being steered by fundamentalist, nationalist bigots. Watching the way the ICE agents and everyday Americans cheered the inhuman policy of family separation got my anger going and left me feeling about 100 percent less homesick.

2) I woke up early this morning and took my daily walk before the city wakes up and was treated to silent streets and the gift of walking south along the Malecon and being able to turn to the right and watch the full moon setting over the Pacific Ocean or turn to the left and watch the sun rising over the Sierra Madre mountains just east of Puerto Vallarta. Perspective that if you’re going to run away from it all, best to do it someplace with some beautiful scenery.

3) The McRib is back in Mexico for a limited time! Sure, it’s probably just whatever was left in American warehouses after the December national McRib promotion, but I’m not picky. I’ll take my little tastes of home where I can get them.

Checking in after one month in Mexico

Mmmmm, tacos….

With a month living in Mexico now under our belts thought I’d just share some of the unique things we’ve found living south of the border. 

Street dogs

It’s pretty rare in the US to see a dog just walking around without an owner near it, but you’re apt to see several here any time you go for a walk. Most don’t seem to be strays or feral, they’re just dogs that probably belong to a specific neighborhood or roam around the streets before returning to their house. 

They’re almost all friendly and don’t really bug you or chase you. It’s really weird honestly because sometimes I’ll be out for a walk and out of nowhere a dog will just show up along side me and start walking at the same speed as me. If he could talk you could almost imagine him saying “You going this way? Me too, I’ll walk with you for awhile.” Then he just turns up a different street after awhile, going to do whatever it is he does. 

Either way, there’s plenty of food for them to eat because of…

Garbage collection

At least in our neighborhood you just leave your garbage out on designated corners and the garbage trucks come around at seemingly random times. Sometimes in the middle of the day, sometimes in the middle of the night. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. There’s actually some trash cans on our closest corner, which is rare — in other corners of the neighborhood the garbage just sits on the corner and inevitably some animal or another will tear into it looking for something to eat and so that corner ends up just kind of littered with trash for awhile. 

Food prices

In general, everything is much, much cheaper, though anything that needs to be imported from the US is probably gonna cost more here than it did in the States (which makes sense). I typically eat a lunchmeat sandwich for lunch and the quality of the ham here is largely no bueno, so I’ve taken to eating turkey instead, but it’s expensive — roughly as much as lunch meat costs in the US, itself not cheap. 

Fortunately, bread and vegetables are cheap and plentiful. Every supermercado has its own bakery which produces inexpensive quality breads, rolls and tortillas and there are several panaderias and tortillerias around the neighborhood as well. 

Most anything you can think of probably costs about 25 percent to 50 percent less than the US otherwise with the exception of most other meats — those are a little cheaper than the US, but not much. 

LGBTQ people

This one is unique to Puerto Vallarta, since PV is either the LGBTQ capital of Latin America or close to it. There are dozens of businesses in the Zona Romantica especially, but all over town that cater to that market, including some you’d stereotypically expect like drag bars, all-male strip clubs and music (showtunes, Streisand, Cher, etc.) revues, but there are also several entire resorts and restaurants that cater to just the LGBTQ community. 

Since we’ve only been here for a month, not sure if this is just a pandemic thing or the normal breakdown, but the number of Latino couples is almost as many as the Americans/Canadians. I’m guessing that might be true even post-pandemic since unfortunately it’s not as socially acceptable yet in a lot of parts of Latin America to show public affection, so it’s really nice to be walking along the Malecon and see a Latin couple holding hands, realizing that might not be something they can do as openly wherever they’re visiting from. 

Street food

Hey, we talked about street dogs, why not street food? The number of places producing street food around town frankly is overwhelming, but it all smells delicious and we mostly haven’t been able to indulge yet, partly because we’re trying to cut costs by eating more at home for the time being. There are a few carts in the neighborhood that I’m absolutely going to have to hit up before too long though because the smell when you walk past them is amazing. My knowledge (or lack thereof) of Spanish is a little intimidating but I think I have enough to be able to do a basic food transaction, so that’s something I’m definitely looking forward to. 

Most of the carts are geared towards what you would expect. Basic Mexican fare like arrachera and pollo tacos or tostadas, but thanks to the proximity to the ocean there are many mariscos carts where you can get shrimp, marlin or octopus tacos and burritos. I’ve already had a couple of shrimp burritos from small restaurants here in the neighborhood and they’re amazing. 

This is just a small list to start and really doesn’t include stuff I could complain about, but won’t — for the moment. Most of my complaints for the moment are small potatoes (figuratively, though you can’t really get large potatoes here) and/or stuff that nothing can be done about like mosquitos or the kid in the house next door that screams bloody murder 23 hours a day. But hoping that moving to our new place in three weeks brings better luck in both of those departments. 

Reading Reaganland and the slow-motion death of America

(Credit Image: © Lev Radin/Pacific Press via ZUMA Wire) [ LEV RADIN | ZUMAPRESS.com ]

I’ve been reading Reaganland, the latest volume in Rick Perlstein’s incredible series of books (Nixonland, The Invisible Bridge) that serve as not only a history of conservatism in the 1970s, but also as a pre-history of the modern conservative political movement. 

If you’ve ever wondered how we got to a place where the Republican Party has effectively signed off on the destruction of democracy and apparently cast its lot with apartheid-style minority one-party rule, these three volumes will explain it for you in incredibly clear detail. 

Of course, especially after a group of seditious Congresspersons attempted to violently overthrow the government just three weeks ago, it’s a difficult read right now because the seeds that were planted with Nixon and the various shadowy right-wing groups that backed him and subsequently every right-wing president from Reagan to both Bushes to Trump blossomed in right-wing terrorists trying to overtake the literal symbol of our democracy under the protection of Congresspersons who took an oath to protect the country from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

The books show clearly the advance of the moral rot in the Republican Party to the point where the GOP literally no longer has a platform, replacing it in 2020 with almost quite literally “whatever Dear Leader (Donald Trump) says”. 

It was different in 1976 of course. Republicans used to stand for some things. But even those have been perverted by the extremists in the party to the hysterical. 

To be a Republican in 1976 was to be for lower taxes and to advocate for larger military budgets to counter the threat of Soviet-era communism. In 2016, that means lowering taxes on the super-rich to the tune of $1.5 trillion, money effectively taken from the pockets of the poor and middle-class who today find themselves having to feed their families through charitable organizations in the middle of a pandemic. 

Despite having no global enemies and communism dying a slow, laborious death the only constant among the intellectually bankrupt rubes that populate key positions of power in the GOP is to blithely call every policy position proposed by the Democrats as “communism” or “socialism” without any regard to what those political philosophies actually represent. 

Those same politicians have no problem paying American farmers tens of billions of years to NOT farm their land or to compensate them for ill-conceived tariffs by their Dear Leader, acts which are quite literally socialism. 

The scariest part and the reason I’m writing this is that in reading Reaganland you can see the parallels between the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976, Barack Obama in 2008 and Joe Biden in 2020, all “hired” by the American people to clean up messes made by their Republican predecessors and in each case met with nothing by intransigence in blocking any kind of legislation to improve the lives of ordinary Americans and a huge leap to the right by conservatives in response to each. 

The problem now is there is no further right to go. The Republican Party has no platform, no principles, only the bloodthirsty lust for power. Mitch McConnell is the perfect avatar for this, blocking hearing and a vote on a Supreme Court nominee after the death of a Justice in 2016 and then reversing himself when a Republican held the White House and a Justice died in 2020. 

No, the pursuit is power and democracy only gets in the way of that power, so even a seditious uprising to violently overthrow the American government isn’t enough to chasten the Republican Party. It is now solely a white supremacist terrorist organization whose sole goal is to remove Democrats from power at each and every level of government it can to re-make the United States into a one-party state where Blacks, LGBTQ and other minorities will live an apartheid reality and all laws will be geared towards the advancement of white people. 

You might think I’m being hysterical. So be it. But watch what the Republicans, especially in the Senate do over the next four years. You’re already seeing an example with only five GOP Senators wanting to go through a trial for Donald Trump for inciting a violent mob to kill Congressmen and overturn a free and fair election. To them, this is no longer a nation of laws, it’s a grab for power because they know it’s the last chance they’re going to get if laws strengthening our democracy like enhanced voter registration, laws to eliminate legalized voter suppression and the disenfranchisement of the people of Washington, DC and Puerto Rico continue. 

No, if they succeed in hampering Joe Biden’s presidency through any dirty trick in the book, from the Jim Crow filibuster to blocking the ability for Biden to choose his Cabinet to the laws already being proposed in states like Georgia and Arizona to further the restrict the ability of people of color to vote and someone who is more capable of treason or sedition like Ted Cruz or Josh Hawley is elected president in 2024, then that’s the ballgame. By its 250th birthday, the United States will no longer be a democracy and government by the people and for the people will have indeed perished. 

That blueprint is the blueprint already used in countries like Turkey, Poland, Hungary and others and it will spread throughout the world with other right-wing governments emboldened by the death of American democracy. Our allies in Europe are already facing an overwhelming tide of anti-democratic, right-wing nationalism in places like France, Germany and the UK. 

It’s not too far-fetched a scenario to think that a decade from now there could only be a handful of major democracies in the world, probably only in Scandinavia, Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea and a few others scattered here and there. 

That’s the reality of a future where the Republican Party refuses to disavow sedition and is allowed to spread lies and misinformation through media outlets like Fox News. 

This is happening. I don’t know how to fix it. I truly don’t. I wish I did. If you want to know why we’re living in Mexico, this is it right here. I didn’t foresee a violent mob trying to overthrow the government on 1/6, but I knew bad things were going to happen. 

It happened, just like the GOP is trying to sweep that under the rug after having five years of histrionics and 33 hearings about the deaths of four Americans caused by a violent mob in Libya, their attitude to a violent mob that killed five people in the United States Fucking Capitol building is “we need to move on”. 

This is not a political party, it’s a cult and a terrorist organization and it needs to be treated as such by the American people. Until it is, the future is bleak indeed, my friends. Stay safe. 

Talk about your all-time backfires

This blog needs more Happy Gilmore content.

In the 1996 cult classic Happy Gilmore our hockey-obsessed eponymous hero gets a date with the girl of his dreams, the PGA PR director Virginia Bennett portrayed by Julie Bowen and decides to take her on a romantic ice skating date.

This is a very, very young Julie Bowen (above), presumably before she was defiled by having carnal relations with budding white nationalist Tucker Carlson (it’s true — you can look it up, the wacky mom from Modern Family has fucked a Nazi IRL. Go figure.)

Anyway, I digress.

His plan is to suggest a wager that she try to make a goal from center ice, which if he wins will entitle him to a kiss. If she makes it, he’ll never bother her again. She, of course, easily makes the shot, leading Happy to ruefully remark, “Talk about your all-time backfires.”

(Don’t worry, he gets the girl in the end, saving her from future dalliances with red-faced Swanson frozen dinner heir/manboys who think Hitler had some good ideas, but just went a little too far. (Not an actual quote, but I’m sure he’s said it).

If you’ve gleaned I’m a little upset about Tucker Carlson and Julie Bowen’s relationship, well that’s where you right. But that’s not what really has me going this week.

I discovered yesterday morning that the company I work for — the same company that was cool with me working from Mexico for a couple of years before I retire has been sold to a much larger public company about which at this juncture the less I say the better for hopefully obvious reasons.

So like Happy, I’ve just seen what would have been a pretty sweet plan for me instantly go up in smoke with not much of a back-up plan.

Of course, it worked out for Happy in the end (Sorry about the spoilers, but if you haven’t seen a movie that came out 25 years ago by now you can’t complain) and the same could happen for me. Despite a business plan that appears involving sacking a decent chunk of the incoming workforce to save money and wringing every penny of value for the stock price, I could end up having my same job more or less for another couple of years. Hell, I could get a promotion!

I could also end up winning the Powerball, leaving Tanya and marrying Julie Bowen. If you’re putting your bets down let me promise you I would lean much more heavily to the former than the latter.

And not just because I love Tanya more than almost anything and Julie Bowen is damaged goods.

So good thoughts and if you know of anyone looking to hiring someone for some remote contracting work I might be on the market pretty soon.