May 18, 2020. On Hunkering… Down

Some new words and phrases have entered out lexicon, hand in hand with COVID19: social distancing, N95 facemasks, PPE, shelter-in-place and more. One term I have seen used all over the place – and used myself – is the phrase hunkering down. Everyone is hunkering down these days.

Hunkering sounds to me like something out of a Robert Louis Stevenson novel, something a sailor might be doing, crouched on an island in a shelter made out of palm fronds along with bits and pieces rescued from a broken sailing vessel. Or a man stranded alone in the mountains, protected from the elements by pine and fir branches, perhaps staring out at a small fire sputtering in the drizzle directly outside.

It is rare if not impossible to find hunkering all by itself. You can’t just hunker. “I’ll be hunkering over here for a while” just doesn’t work. You have to hunker … down.

Dictionary.com has five definitions but it is the third one on the list that definitely applies at this moment:

“to settle into the safety of one’s home or other designated shelter for a potentially long time, as would be necessitated by a natural disaster or an outbreak of a contagious disease”

It’s first recorded usage dates back to the early 1700’s and is possibly derived from the Old Norse hüka which means ‘to crouch’ This in turn is similar to the old Dutch huiken or modern German hocken, both of which mean ‘to squat or crouch’ so that theory seems to make perfect sense.

To my untrained ear it sounds very old-British and some have even traced its use back to Scotland. I fact, the Oxford English Dictionary describes how to hunker: “squat, with the haunches, knees and ankles acutely bent, so as to bring the hams near the heels (hams? really?) and throw the whole weight upon the fore part of the feet”.

An interesting and digressive factoid: the term was popularized in south-western United States dialect form by U.S. President Johnson in the 1960’s.

No matter its origins; while the hunkering down we are doing is less about crouching on haunches in the wild, it is about staying in one place, safe from the outside world and its inherent and contagious dangers, and staring – like the shipwreck victim or the mountain man – balefully out at the bleak world just beyond our shelter.

Down The Rabbit Hole of a Conservative Facebook Group

I’ve heard Obama compared to Hitler quite a bit, heard some of his more inspiring speeches called deception, heard him being called anti-christian for taking down a Christmas tree (which ignores Romans 14), even called Islamic because of his outreach to middle eastern countries.

He was regularly accused of trying to separate people and destroy the nation.

Actual post from the on the Facebook group page “Bridge the Divide”

On the invitation of a friend, I joined the Facebook group called Bridge the Divide – a place for civil political/cultural discourse. Sounds good right? There’s a red and blue graphic at the top of the page and supposedly it’s all about coming together and discussing today’s political (not much in the way of cultural) climate.

What a shit show.

I quickly came to the realization that it was neither bridging any divides nor was it civil, although many fie people on there certainly acted civil in what I perceived to be a smug, condescending way. Also, to me, the site seemed more about pushing the Trump/Fox agenda whose messages were repeated over and over, in various forms. Silly, troll-like questions would be asked with tongue-in-cheek innocence and then everybody would comment with agreeing and validation statements – basically a circle-jerk of “discussion” Any dissenting voices would be quickly quashed again in that condescending/indignant/amused way Kelly Conway and her ilk answer questions they find bothersome.

Note also that in many cases, answers are longer than they need to be and appear rational at first glance. Not the average, short angry and visceral responses you might expect in a conservative/right-wing Facebook group. The language seems thought out, and only occasional grammar errors give us a clue that English might not be a first language in some cases.

In any case, I thought it might be helpful for you, dear reader, to point out some of the questions and tactics so should you desire to get your boots dirty in the manure yard of conservative troll thought. Let me know if you find this helpful or, if you are already stomping through the shit, recognize any of these:

The condescending and innocently inquisitive retort. Don’t criticize the conservatives.

In answer to a comment regarding Mitch MacConnell and Ted Cruz and what awful, self-serving politicians they are (by one of the few liberals on the site) came this reply:

Colin, that’s an interesting take on Cruz and McConnell. Can I ask where you’ve founded those beliefs? I’ve read a lot from Cruz, followed him for a long time, and it’s really hard for me to see where you can say he’s an awful person. Do you actually know him? Do you know his story?

Let’s dissect.

Notice the feigned “interesting take” opening statement. Slightly condescending; the verbal equivalent of a pat on the head. There there. Then the English grammar problem at “where you’ve founded those beliefs” indicating a writer for whom English is not a first language. Then comes the justification (I’ve read/followed him) followed by the challenge question, again feigning interest in dialogue.

It would be easy to think that this really was a dialogue if you were reading it for the first time except this exact pattern is repeated over and over on any comments that challenge the conservative Trump/Fox talking point. The long-ish answer tries to come off as a real, reasonable and educated person but the grammar error sets off my troll alert.

On the EPA. So tired of all those liberal government programs.

You aren’t alone, Amy. The parties seem to want so much to stick us all in a neat little box – for us or against us. They don’t trust the people to understand nuances in an issue. A little common sense would build some bridges, I think. The good stuff seems always to get corrupted by too much bureaucracy. Give an inch, lose a mile. For example: EPA was great for clean air & water in the 70’s. Now it’s a tyrant that tells people they can’t build a home on property they bought 40 years ago to retire on. The backlash is obstinacy.

Here, the author is tired of the political parties but somehow just manages to lean a little to the right and mention that the EPA is no longer a viable entity – too many rules – framed in the context of a case involving some individual. No mention of clean water or mining companies polluting said resource.

The dig against abortion and the right to choose.

I’m pro-choice, but calling it a “medical procedure” is disingenuous. Medicine is healing. A pregnant woman is not sick. I can totally empathize with calling it murder and considering it immoral to demand money for such a thing. It should at most be funded by state taxes, certainly not federal.

Again, the seemingly innocent opener of “I’m pro-choice” The author is a male of course, opining on a subject he will never be completely familiar with. He then segues smoothly into empathizing with “calling it murder” and “considering it immoral” Here the author is also disengaging himself from potential criticism should someone come back at him with those terms. He can claim he never said that HE was calling it murder. Also, a lengthy response in a somewhat stilted fashion denotes possible Engish as a second language.

On finding a political home. Stop labeling us as right-wing or conservatives.

I feel the majority of Americans these days could be classified as moderate. It’s not a bad thing. We just want a good life for our families and a chance to offer a future for our kids. We are willing to work hard to get it.

We’re simple folk, moderates gosh darn it. Our aspirations are simple too. good life for our families and … yeah. The little extra at the end is a subtle reminder (message alert) that we are not like those people expecting a handout from the government, and you know who we mean.

The converted democrat/liberal

As a former performing artist I love all aspects of the arts.
I have been so disheartened at the way my liberal artist friends are behaving. I never wanted to vote for Trump. I didn’t the first time. But I certainly will this time because of how insane and hateful the left have become.

I now feel like I can’t have any artist friends. I was actually hoping there was some group of conservative artists I could join.
I’m for better gun control and affordable healthcare insurance. I call myself Independent because I refuse to work for one party.

I feel our country has lost most of its moral value and common sense

This is a classic and is extremely common in all threads and retorts/stroking. The author purports to once having been a liberal person (insert embarrassed smile here), in this case she’s an artist! – who has become disillusioned with the Democratic party. She is looking for conservative artist groups but it appears she has not been lucky in that regard. Hmm. BUT she is a bit “edgy” in that she wants affordable health insurance – a safe and non-threatening position – and better gun control. Hooray for me. Message? Vote for Trump in 2020. “The left have” along with the overly lengthy explanation once again seems to indicate the presence of a foreign troll – to me at least.

The Pot Stirrer. Questions designed to provoke and bring out the best in the strokers.

Here a meme shows Trump’s face and the text says: I hope you had fun investigating me. Now it’s my turn.

Accompanying this meme is the “new” member’s question, seriously:

Can someone tell me what trump is referring to? Haven’t been following US politics much in the last week.

You’re in a political group on Facebook. This to me indicates that you are
a) interested in politics; b) an idiot or c) a troll just posting this ridiculous question to stir the pot. Gee whiz people, whatever could Trump be talking about here?

The variety / no politics question.

Top 3 favorite movies. Go.

This one is usually posted by a “senior member” never a new member. It’s something innocuous and usually irrelevant, designed to infuse the feed with something that will make it appear there is a community, and people are happily sharing their thoughts and ideas on a broad variety of subjects. This is before the next onslaught of Trump/Fox messaging.

The subject is food, movies or books. Watch for it, you will find it.

The “lying media” and “oh you’re exaggerating” message.

One apparently liberal poster (or maybe it was a plant to get all that messaging out there from the group members for others to see) mentioned that Trump has logged more golfing days in three years than Obama in eight and the not-so-civil members turned into frenzied hyenas on a bloody wildebeest corpse.

Here are some of the many choice defenses presented by some of the intellectually-challenged members:

For me, it is more important who did what for the state. Obama in 8 years has not done as much as Trump in 3. For me, the most important thing is what Trump is doing in cases of human trafficking and pedophilia.

Are you deducting the days that the media claimed he was golfing and he actually wasn’t? As with that b.s. list of 18,000 supposed lies that he’s told, what’s your source that he has played golf 239 times?

Oh yeah, this was posted in good faith…

So if President Trump spends an hour on the golf course, that is considered “ALL DAY”. Has there ever been a president who has been lied about as much as this one? No, there hasn’t.

Hahahaha! I can’t even with this post. Trump works tirelessly night and day, has twice the energy and stamina of men half his age. You think I give two hoots over how much he plays golf, even IF these numbers are true? The man develops and owns golf courses. Good grief.

And on and on it goes. The original poster goes on to say that it was Trump, not she who mentioned it in the first place but that detail falls on deaf ears here in the echo chamber of “civil discourse”

We all know the media lies. Are they 100% truthful about the number of golf outings he’s been on, probably not. They should post his itineraries and not made up ones. Then we know the truth.

It’s why he golfs and with who. My dad made tons of business deals on the golf course – sometimes it’s easier to chat while swinging a club rather than across a table in a boardroom. Obama seemed to golf more for fun and fitness, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it takes up a lot of time if it’s just for fun.

Any of these comments, taken by themselves, might come across as completely normal. But seeing the same style, content and messages over and over again, you begin to see the pattern.

I hope this has been helpful and you will enjoy your time in the pork farm waste water pond. It stinks in there, but you will get a nice feel for the messages social media trolls are hammering home to the gullible.

May 4, 2020 – UnCivil Discourse

While we are all in the coronavirus state of mind, involuntarily or voluntarily hunkered down in our homes, we spend a lot more time on the internet, on social media; in my case, Facebook.

Recently, I was invited to join a private Facebook group that purportedly fosters “civil” discussion between left and right. It’s called “Bridge the Divide – a place for civil political/cultural discourse.

What a shit-show.

A few hours this past week reading, answering and commenting and reading some more, convinced me that it’s a Facebook page designed by the Russians (or the Chinese or – insert evil and foreign villain here – ) to further divide the crumbling United States of America and erode any last shred of empathy and understanding between its citizens.

First of all, the questions posted. Designed to incite rather than inspire, they are asked by what appear to be trolls (always ‘new members’) who will “innocently” ask ridiculous questions like “Is there racism in America? I’m really wondering.” and “Is Trump a decent person?” in order to provoke reactions and the exchange quickly becomes heated and childish.

The conversation train then jumps the rails and bogs down in the swamp of predictable hate and playground-style arguments, as expected.

“Look who’s talking” is a popular comeback. After unsuccessfully trying to make a point about why Trump is far from decent, I was told to watch Shapiro, Glenn Beck and OAN to learn the truth and to avoid the “mainstream media” This person seemed very serious.

One woman posted that racists are those who are constantly pointing out people’s skin color. TO which I replied “said the white person” and of course I got the “case in point” answer. That’s settled then – I’m a racist.

White guy: “Racism? Doesn’t exist. It’s about people and their choices. Self-determination. And reality. Like if I try out for the basketball team I am not going to be as good as the guy born 6′ 10″. That’s just the way it is.”

Me: “First of all, no one is born 6′ 10″. Second maybe you should look back at your family tree to see how many of your ancestors came over chained to a ship. That might determine your present situation”

White guy: “You don’t know my situation.”

Yea, you’re right, I don’t.

There are long posts, paragraphs that would initially seem to indicate some sort of intelligent life dialogue happening until you actually read them.

The more I read, the more I feel the need to rebut some of the more egregious statements, knowing full well that it is useless. Also, I can feel my blood pressure rising. So, while it is entertaining and frustrating and infuriating all at the same time, being a member of this community just isn’t for me.

Civil discourse indeed.

April 24, 2020. Facemasks. Or Something. Rabbits.

We’re so used to exchanging polite smiles in our daily social interactions that I found it strange to see that the cashier at the supermarket wasn’t returning my supposedly friendly smile.

I thought that maybe he was having a bad day but then it dawned on me that he had no idea what was going on underneath my protective face mask that covered my mouth and eyes.

Jeez here I am all motivated to write this and I do a quick search for the subject, I see that it has already been written about, and probably much more thoroughly than I could have done, here What else can I write about. Hmm. Rabbits?

I cooked a rabbit the other day. I had gone out to one of the little villages about 45 minutes from Merida to deliver a couple of despensas and one of the ladies said she wanted to give me a rabbit.

Do readers unfamiliar with Mexican Spanish know what a despensa is? It’s a package/box/bag/collection of usually food items for folks that are needy. Needy as in they need them, not a personality trait.

I asked the lady if the rabbit was already beneficiado, and she assured me that yes. Was it cleaned I asked? I didn’t want to pick up a rabbit that I would have to skin at home and then rip the entrails out of. Nor did I want a “lucky” rabbit’s foot.

Again with the definitions. Some words work better in español so chill OK? Beneficiado means killed, slaughtered. It sounds nice, doesn’t it? Beneficiado. Sounds beneficial; positive.

She assured me that it was in her fridge and clean and so I drove back to Merida with a bloody rabbit in a plastic bag in my trunk. I mean it could be a cat for all I know, there is no way for a cooking aficionado like me to tell.

It made it home; no stops at police checkpoints with uncomfortable questions about what the dead animal in the bag in the trunk was and I quickly popped it into the fridge for later preparation.

A day later, I found a recipe online and with a minimum of effort, prepared the rabbit according to instructions. Cooked it in the oven at 175 for 90 minutes.

Ketchup and sugar figure into the recipe. Weird. Should I include the video I made of the preparation here? Probably not.

The rabbit was delicious! Served with some white rice and green beans on the side, it was a delectable feast and made me think about how the folks in the rural village that I am taking despensas to are eating rabbit (and probably venison) while I am cooking up Costco chicken. What the hell is that all about?

That’s my report for today. Have a great night everyone!

Dream of rabbits.

You’re so mean, ‘dream of rabbits’ Geez.

April 20, 2020. Sweeping as Therapy

Who knew?

My morning routine, such as it is here in the COVID19 era, involves taking a broom and sweeping the driveway. 

In case you don’t live in Yucatan and don’t know, we are at the height of our dry season and many trees are popping seed pods off by the thousands in preparation for the rains that will soon come. Nature is smart that way. 

Each morning finds our treed driveway littered with hundreds of cracked open seed pods, their contents strewn randomly and wastefully all over the concrete. These pods are dry and have the consistency of hard plastic. Stepping on them results in a satisfying crunch that will make you jump in anticpation to the next step, just to crunch every pod you can, like a six year old stomping in a puddle. The satisfaction is similar to that achieved when you take that piece of bubble wrap and pop all those delicious bubbles. Step on these hard shells with bare feet however, and you will be reminded of that time you stepped on your kids/cousins/brothers/sisters lego in the middle of the night. Ouch.

But, once again I digress.

The morning sweep with the headphones on comes after the morning walk and the morning coffee enjoyed by the morning fire. There is a certain satisfaction moving that broom back and forth, hypnotically watching the seeds, leaves and dirt accumulate, while listening to Bill Maher trying to be funny from his backyard and without an audience, or the New York Times Michael Barbaro emphatically interjecting yet another “HMM” during an interview with an enthusiasm usually reserved for Mayan mestizas during a particularly juicy piece of gossip.

Once the sweeping is finished, it’s back to the morning coffee and attending to pressing decisions about what to cook for the day’s lunch, whether or not it’s garbage day, washing whites or colors, or any number of mundane tasks that could be undertaken to take my mind off the fact that this situation is dragging on and on (and on) and I have no legit means of income and what will happen when my meager savings are used up and my credit cards limits have been saturated…

Where’s that broom? 

 

Toksel – A Yucatecan Classic, made with Rocks.

Yes, you read that right, rocks. It’s a very old recipe, traditional and all that, some say it goes back to pre-españoles Mayan times. I was going to say pre-conquest but that opens up a whole can of uncomfortable worms.

This dish is made with ibes, (EE-behs) which are the tender ‘new’ beans (phaseolus lunatus) fresh off the vine.

The origin of the word comes from the Mayan tóok (to burn or scorch) and sel/kel which means roughly ground up.

Take the beans and boil until tender, drain and mix them together with ground-up pepita which is/are of course pumpkin squash seeds – ground up with the shell on I might add – and available at any self-respecting market in any Yucatan town. This mix is cooked to completion in a clay pot which also contains some red-hot rocks (cleaned and preheated over a fire) stirring all the while.

The pot is then covered with a cloth and the pepita will emit part of its natural oils and some of the ibes will become slightly burnt. This is what gives the dish its exquisite flavor.

You can serve the toksel in hot corn tortillas or as a topping for panuchos. To accompany the dish, it is customary to use the cooking water from the ibes seasoned with a little lime juice and chile.

A Day in the Life – Installing a Boiler

The young man behind the long counter at the periferico Boxito megastore smiled knowingly in what could be described as an almost-smirk, as he heard me out patiently on my third visit to this famous Yucatan plumbing supply institution.

“So why did they sell you that?” he asked with a friendly yet slightly chiding laugh. It was a general question, not one that required an answer because the only answer was to say I was stupid, that I believed the ‘expert’, or that the guy who sold me ‘that’ was an idiot.

For those who don’t know me, there is a reason I don’t attempt to fix things around the house myself; it’s because I am a complete idiot with a wrench or any hand tool for that matter. Anything I try to fix becomes more broken, anything I try to replace I ruin with my clumsy attempts at being a handyman. Plumbing, electrical, anything mechanical, it matters not.

Our hot water heater, thanks to our hard Yucatan water and its age; two years of life which seems to be the lifespan of electrical appliances and plumbing fixtures, died. It sprung a leak from somewhere in its bowels and there was no replacing the water tank and so, it was time to find its replacement. And what with our chilling Yucatan winter, the hot water was a must, even if it was just for the washing machine or the kitchen sink. There is something about washing dishes with hot water…

Changing a boiler – how hard can this be? Disconnect input and output water hoses, disconnect gas. Remove boiler from where it is and put a new one in its place. Re-attach water and gas lines. Simple, straightforward.

Maybe for a normal person, but not for me.

The disconnecting process went smoothly. A couple of turns of my one all-purpose wrench and all the hoses were disconnected and the boiler was on the ground on its side, purging itself of its 40 liters of accumulated warm water.

I then went to Boxito (boh-SHEE-toh) a very well-known plumbing supply company in Merida, to buy a new boiler. Nothing fancy, as a previous experience with a snazzy Bosch water heater at 10,000 plus pesos had taught me that the more expensive brands are too delicate and no match for the rougher elements of the Yucatan. I found something cheap, under 2,000 pesos and brought it home. I figured that at that price the boiler was almost disposable, should I screw up the installation in a major way.

Turns out that the hoses feature 3/4 inch connectors on the old boiler and on this newer, smaller version, they are 1/2 inch. I will need a reductor to make this connection. I also wonder where the spark comes from to light the gas and heat the water

Back I go, on my second visit. I mention to the Boxito man that I need the little piece that will convert my 3/4 inch to a 1/2 inch whatever and we had the longest possible conversation on this admittedly trivial subject.

The salesperson I was talking with accompanied me to the counter where the ‘experts’ and their computer screens are, explained the situation and the conversation took many exciting twists and turns. The most interesting aspect of the dialogue is that it was all between the salesperson and the expert. The expert would ask questions about what I, the client, wanted or needed. I reminded him that I was actually standing in front of him and he could simply direct his gaze and questions at me, which resulted in a rather sullen attempt at customer service, completely at odds with the optimistic motivational posters behind him describing the importance of customer service and how important us customers were to Boxito.

We then went into a lengthy discussion on whether or not the boiler needed batteries. I explained to him that the flames will ignite only with the help of a spark which must be created by either an electrical connection, a battery or a little miniature caveman with flint fire creation tools inside the boiler. The expert was adamant that it did not need batteries and so naturally my response was to go to the showroom floor and take the demo and place it in front of him, opening the battery compartment for him to admire. At this point he admitted that yes, that model needed batteries.

Finally, with the connectors (and two D cell batteries) in my hand (after paying at what appeared to be a bank teller window where a humorless and disinterested woman took my money with a minimum of amiability) I headed back home to complete my installation.

Of course, these connectors did not work, as they were missing the female or male  (can’t remember which) threaded part where you actually screw the hose onto the thing. Not being a plumber, I stupidly did not become aware of this fact until I was actually trying to put all the pieces together. The batteries remained in their blister pack for the moment.

A third and thankfully final visit to Boxito was the charm. Another expert, this time one who actually knew what he was talking about, quickly and after the chiding (above) was over and done with, furnished me with the appropriate part. The third visit was worth the 19 pesos it cost me for the connectors.

At home, the connectors worked, the batteries were inserted and voila – nothing happened. At the end of all this, I had to call in my plumber to finish the installation; he did the wrapping of the connections with Teflon tape and stopped the leaks from my rather poor installation and switched the position of the batteries (I swear I did this and nada) and lo and behold: hot water in the kitchen sink.

How nice it would have been to have those folks at Boxito actually know what they are doing and take preemptive action to ensure the customer’s happiness that seems so important to them, at least on the posters. Not everyone knows what they are doing but this was a pretty cut and dry case and I could have left feeling like they actually were interested. All the radio advertising in the world with offers of free tacos (they do this often) are wasted if this is the customer experience, in my somewhat opinionated opinion.

For now, I will continue to rely on my plumber and my electrician and my mechanic for all my home (and car) repair needs.

April 10, 2020. Random Thoughts on Life at the Moment

Random ideas, this is the idea of going out for some Frijol con Puerco.

I thought I would jot down some random ideas and thoughts on staying at home for a prolonged period of time with this social distancing thing during the coronavirus pandemic in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico.

Sugar and Carbs. I seem to have a craving for sugar and carbohydrates – is that a thing when you are stuck at home or in a crisis situation? Did the kids trapped in that flooded cave yearn for cookies? Did the people held hostage on that airliner back in the day in Entebbe, besides wanting to get the hell off the plane, also want cake? I don’t know. It seems I can’t get enough sweets. Even my once-beloved Doritos don’t do the trick. I baked Ghirardelli instant brownies the other day (no THC, thank you) and practically finished them myself. I ate all the cookies from Maru’s baking cookies video, myself. Which could mean that maybe it’s not a thing if no one else around the house has this craving? Although that package of Mars chocolates (Milky Way, Snickers, M&M’s) is becoming very depleted and it’s not me…

There are the mood swings. One day or even one minute I am feeling like yeah, we will get through this and there is hope, and the next I am in a depressive funk that can only be described as worrisome. Snapping at loved ones is also not good – a sign of cabin fever, which is a real thing, as all Canadians who have been in a winter cabin know and as even New York state governor Mario Cuomo has pointed out repeatedly in his popular press conferences.

The news also ranges from hopeful (a new drug, a vaccine coming soon, the curve is flattening in Spain) to deadly depressing (the economy will restart soon – back to normal!, record deaths in NYC, anything AMLO, Trump or Bolsonaro related). I am trying to limit my intake of news to a brief morning check at CNN, AlJazeers, CBC and BBC followed again by an evening look to see if anything has changed.

And there is walking for exercise that I never did before and which has become a daily habit, in part because if I don’t, I will lose my mind and also to work off some of the calories I am consuming (see sugar and carbs, above). I am blessed in that I don’t live in a condo or apartment and have some green around me where I can walk, alone or accompanied, and get out from between the four or more walls of my place of refuge. I now pay special attention to cyclists and runners since a recent study shows that they leave behind a trail of whatever bacteria and virii they are carrying and they can contaminate others who follow too closely. Their social distancing needs to be a lot farther than the regular brand.

Speaking of walking, the number and variety of birds that are out in the mornings and in general is truly amazing. We have, in our area, pigeons and doves of course, as well as the ubiquitous and human-friendly black grackle, our version of the crow. Then there are the red-headed woodpeckers, the scandalous gangs of green parakeets who inhabit the tops of trees between burst of flight, the large brown chachalacas and their turkey-like gobbling/screaming and a few more whose names I do not know.

Finally, there is David Geffen

What was he thinking? Is he that isolated in his bubble that he didn’t think this was going to create just a tad of media backlash? There are nurses in garbage bags trying to help sick patients in hospitals in his country and this clown posts this on his Instagram account? Unbelievable.

 

 

April 9, 2020. Sanitary Mall Entrances and Police Checkpoints

Armed with my non-N95 mask, hand sanitizer and a half tank of gas, I ventured out of the house this morning to pay my TelCel bill (cell phone for those who don’t live in sunny Mexico) to face the empty streets, police checkpoints and 40-plus degree heat.

I know people are already thinking “can’t he pay this online?” “Why doesn’t he pay this online?” Look I needed to get out of the house and I am not going to be around people at all OK? Jeez. Plus online payments don’t work for me. I am challenged or cursed that way.

Into Las Americas, the fraccionamiento  I go, looking for Banco Azteca/Elektra a hybrid bank/department store where I have been informed that they can exchange a few USD that I have sitting around the house. The regular exchange places are closed, at least the ones that are in my neck of the woods. On the road into the 5,000 home neighborhood, built by a local housing construction company, there are police checkpoints, but on the lanes that lead out of the fraccionamiento, not going in. I assume they are checking for cars with more than one occupant in them so as to ask them what the hell they are doing out and about. I will find out later perhaps, on the way back out.

I find the bank, slip on my facemask/mouth covering thing – which is bright red and doesn’t match my pistachio colored Columbia shirt –  and say hello to the two cleaning women who are working on the windows of said bank/department store, neither of whom is wearing a mask.

The bank is on the second floor of the department store which is empty; all that merchandise from yellow commercial tricycles (a popular form of transportation here in the pueblos) to furniture to appliances and cell phones and no one buying anything. Salespeople are few and far between and are wearing masks. The other two clients in the store, are not.

I won’t mention that I felt a little out of breath at the top of the stairs? Is that a coronavirus-related symptom? I will say that I took a deep breath upon reaching the second floor and told myself to calm the hell down. 

One of the cashiers – behind glass, no masks on them – informs me that the exchange rate is now 21 something per dollar, up from 18 just two months ago, and I say fine and give her my bills. I notice that I am smiling politely but then also realize that much of our social interactions are centered around the eyes and the mouth and so the smile is unnoticed by the person behind the glass.

After what seemed like a lengthy process I get a sales slip to sign and take the pen warily that she hands me and sign. She gives me some pesos which I gingerly place in one special pocket of my shirt, the pocket where anything touched by other people goes.

It wasn’t really a lengthy process; I was the only person in the bank and had a chance to chat with the manager, one Arturo who is married to … not important, don’t bother, not interesting. He’s not wearing a mask either. 

Soon I’m back in the car and slathering hand sanitizer on myself before touching anything – my car is germ-free – and off I go to TelCel at the Gran Plaza mall. At the checkpoint out of Las Americas, I am waved through by a mask-wearing state policeman. As I approach Merida, another set of traffic cones turn 4 lanes into 1 and again, I am waved through. This confirms my theory about the ‘too many people in the car’ alert.

At the mall, there is only one entrance open to the public, same as the last time I went. Only this time there are no other people around, so I can go in, hooray.

But wait – not so fast.

First, I am asked where I am going. “A donde se dirige?” This means “where are you directing yourself?” and is ‘official speak’, the language of policemen and security guards of the mall and airport variety.

The options are HSBC, TelCel and CFE. CFE, you will recall from my previous story, is closed. Until April 30, I find out today. I tell the guard – masked, gloved – I am going to pay my phone bill and he tells me to proceed to the giant tubs of water and soap dispensers. I am issued a little water, a squirt of anti-bacterial soap and told to wash. I sing ‘En un dia feliz‘ two times and then rinse. I am given a paper towel. I almost feel I should leave a tip. Maybe if the guard hadn’t placed a gun against my head I just might have. A temperature gun thing.

The part about leaving a tip? Just made that up. And the singing? That was to myself, in my head, obviously. I am not going to break into song at the entrance to the mall.

Once inside, the payment took me 5 minutes if that and out I went. Someone was scrubbing the rubber mat that you walk across to get into and out of the mall – like a sanitary measure you would see at the entrance to a chicken processing plant or something.

A quick visit to the supermarket Soriana (formerly La Comercial Mexicana, now defunct) next door where I was again issued gel for my hands and another pistol pointed at my head to measure once again my body temperature. “You’re good!” he says.

“I’m good?” I ask.

“Yep.” And shows me my score: 36.8. “Todo bien, adelante

If I mention that the gel was the cheap kind that leaves your hands all sticky that might be considered complaining, so I will just keep that thought to myself.

Got my butter, some M&M’s (with peanuts) and for nostalgic and price reasons, and in honor of my heritage, a bottle of Canadian Club.

We all have NEEDS so don’t start with the criticism of my shopping list. Also, someone actually stole my shopping cart which I had parked by the egg display while I was checking out the canned tomato aisle so I had to go back and get those three things AGAIN.

It was a good day out and now I am back at home, under a creaking fan that is blowing excruciatingly dry and hot air at the top of my head as I write this.

April 8, 2020. Yucatan’s Unemployment Insurance Program vs The Whiners

While countries around the world are scrambling to dispense funds to ensure the economy doesn’t collapse and the pitchforks remain in people’s barns, the Mexican federal government is not doing anything. The Yucatan state government, however, announced several programs to support both businesses and individuals during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of these programs involved a $2500 (pesos) per household monthly payment. Not much you say, but it’s something and will keep people from having to go out to find work. $2500 pesos can buy you a lot of basic foodstuffs. You won’t be going to Costco for Tillamook cheese, but beans? You can buy a lot of beans, as well as rice, sugar, and other staples.

The applications, to be made online, were to be filled in on a website set up for the purpose. It was activated on the morning of April 6th and immediately became saturated to the point of crashing.

After 24 hours, the government announced that the registration period was over and that 57,000 applications had been received and were to be evaluated to see that they were eligible and legitimate.

I don’t want to comment on the efficiency of the program, the stability of the website or the expectations of what kind of response this program would generate. I think the governor is showing that he is trying to do something to alleviate people’s fear and the sense of impending doom that seems to be spreading as quickly as any virus.

What I do find remarkable (maybe not so much, knowing how people are) is the tone of the comments on the Facebook announcement that the application process was stopped. Never would you have guessed that there were so many conspiracy theorists, unhealthy skeptics and self-centered individuals out there. My favorite quotes?  One where the person complained that “surely the governor was simply filling his pockets” through this program. There are so many more devious ways that a politician can line his pockets with money that the idea of his using emergency funds is just ludicrous. And many of those same people complaining that they didn’t get their money, are probably the same ones who were bitterly protesting this very same governors announcement just a few months ago that license plates and vehicle registration fees were going up.

Take away? 1) Damned if you do, damned if you don’t and 2) some people are so whiny and pathetic