Friday, February 9, 2018

A Simple Phone, Please

A Simple Phone, Please
            Last night Don and Dorothy, former neighbors, made arrangements to meet me to go to Loony Beans in Cerritos for breakfast. I went to the lobby at 8:50. I like to be prompt. I waited until 9:45 before I gave up; figured my wires had gotten crossed.

            Things had gone bump in the night.  I had left my simple, cheap, adequate Mexican cell phone on the bed where I was lounging with a book. I always, always, always put said phone away in my bag in its pocket. Later in the night, when I rolled over and stretched, I heard the phone hit the floor. Shattered, of course.

            When I got up this morning, I put the phone back together, the best I could. It’s dead. Of course.

            My only record of Don and Dorothy’s phone number is in the dead cell phone. Of course. 

            Unbeknownst to me, they were waiting for the taxi which was very, very, very late. We each could have walked the distance twice in the amount of time we spent “waiting”. Don had called me ten times, to let me know why they were not yet in the lobby.

            We missed one another by minutes. Of course.

            When I went back upstairs, I shot off a series of email messages to my neighbors. It was that or walk the eight or nine blocks to where they live but probably are not home because they are eating breakfast without me in Cerritos. I wrote three messages to tell them what had happened to me. Okay, I’m having a disjointed day. Obviously.

            I choked down a ham sandwich made with dry bread from my refrigerator. While sitting on my balcony with my current best friend, steaming coffee, I glanced out over the sea to see the ferry from La Paz floating by in the sky. I swear, it looked like a gigantic blimp. A second look showed me that the ferry was floating in fog which obscured both waterline and skyline. I tell you, it’s that kind of a day.

            After I gulped my final cup of coffee, I took my metaphorical begging bowl and my best smile down to the lobby to borrow a phone to call Carlos to ask him to take me to buy an overpriced and overloaded chunk of plastic that requires the user to have an advanced tech degree to operate and that I don’t want. All I want is my simple, old, cheap and adequate phone. Something to make simple phone calls. No, I do not resent the world passing me by.

            Meanwhile, Don came home, read his email and walked over to my hotel with an extra phone he and Dorothy happened to have, a near clone to my shattered phone. I exaggerate. It is not exactly shattered, merely in pieces.

            Don took my phone, rearranged the pieces, put them together like a child’s puzzle, and turned it on. It works. Perfectly. My face is red.

            Even I can put the puzzle together. I had simply neglected to “turn it on”. I am almost too embarrassed to admit I overlooked such a simple step. I mean, it was “on” when I kicked it off the bed.

            I thought long and hard about not admitting this part to save face. But the truth makes a better story. Like I said, it’s that kind of day.

            It’s time for me to go home.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
February 8, 2018

Piggy, Selfish Me

Piggy, Selfish Me
            This afternoon I waved good-bye to Don and Denise, with hugs and kisses and tears, as they got into the taxi to carry them to the airport. Now I’ll feel an empty place inside me for the next couple days.

            I’m still in Mazatlan. I was supposed to take the bus back to Etzatlan today.

            Phone conversations this week went like this: “Sondra, it is Leo. You stay. Is cold and storm every night, just like rainy season. Too cold for you. You stay.”

            And this from Josue, “If you can, stay in Mazatlan. It is cold and wet and miserable.”

            And Kathy: “Stay, you piggy, selfish woman. Winds 100 kph.”

            The couple from Edmonton on the elevator who were checking out and going home: “Oh, stay. Life is too short. Stay.”

            I don’t mean to snivel. My cold is not your cold. However, you do have a heated, well insulated, house. In comparison, my rustic little casita is like a sieve. An unheated sieve. All the heaters in town sold in December. On the coldest days I wear my zarape, taking it off only when I bake bread and pre-heat my oven six hours prior to actually baking. I can’t bake bread every day. Not even to give to friends.

            January and February, are, admittedly, winter months. To us in Etzatlan, that means cool mornings. The sun rises and warms our day with delight; sun sets on cool nights. We dress in layers. No problem.

            With the weather upside down, we seem to be experiencing a second rainy season. The “boys” tell me, they’ve never seen storms like this in the winter; every night, thunder and lightning and buckets of rain. These are the dry months. These are the months for sugar cane harvest, when fields need to be dry.

            So I climbed the stairs to Amalia’s office to beg. She manages this place. She gave me “The Look”. You know, the look that says, “You want me to do what?” What she actually said was, “We usually make these arrangements well ahead of time.”

            I considered options before opening my mouth, such as “It’s too cold to go home.” (Too whiney.) I thought about getting on my knees and pleading. (Drama queen.) What I answered was, “Yes. I know.” And closed my mouth. I’ve learned a little about negotiation.

            Amalia tapped keys on her computer, keeping one eyebrow raised. “Yes, I can give you one more week. What is your room number?” A few more taps. “You can keep the same room.”

            I don’t know if mental hugs can be transmitted, but my gratitude was heartfelt and I hoped my words of thanks were enough.

            Then I had to battle three days of guilt over extending my holiday on the beach. Residual guilt from childhood. It would pass.

            After my friends departed, I walked to the Oxxo, a convenience store found on every corner in Mexico, and lugged back water, ham, cheese, bread and mayo. I’m tired of over-eating restaurant food, good as it is. A couple days of restriction will see me back at my favorite loncherias and restaurantes.

            I’m on my balcony, looking at sunlight reflecting on quiet water like glitter on glass. I don’t intend to fill the empty space left by my friends departure with anything more than the beauty and warmth of being. If I’m not on the balcony, you’ll find me on the beach, second palapa from the left at the bottom of the stairs.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
February 1, 2018

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Hit the Ground Running

Hit the Ground Running
            After a week on the beach, my guests, Don and Denise, and I, boarded the Primera Plus Autobus in Mazatlan, and climbed across the Sierras to my home in Etzatlan.

            In a country where not everyone has acquired a car and where some persons with cars chose to take advantage of the excellent public transportation, I’ve got to tell you, my friends, we are impressed.

            We used to have pretty decent public transit in our country too, until every family “needed” two cars in the garage, and added to that number when each child passed the driver’s test. Public transportation sort of faded out of existence about forty years ago.

These days it seems one cranks up the family car to buzz around the corner and down the block to the store for a bottle. . . Of milk, I’m saying, of milk, a bottle of milk.

            Dear me, I never intended to rant, and after such an excellent week too. So I won’t do more than mention that air transportation has achieved a similar status to our old northern Montana bus-lines of the 1950’s. Given a choice of five hours in an airplane or five hours on our posh, first-class bus, Primera Plus wins.

            For tickets of approximately $32.00, we sank back into comfortable seats and enjoyed the view. Had we driven, we would have had the same five hour drive, $50.00 in tolls, plus gasoline, wear and tear on machine and driver. Enough said.

            We no more than settled into Etzatlan than friends swarmed over to help us arrange our week. I’m grateful. One day Jim took us to Teuchitlan to the Guachimontones site where an ancient civilization flourished for about 900 years. We spent most of a day in the Museum and walking around the restored pyramids—and eating.

            Kathy and Richard loaded us in their vehicle for a day in Tonola at the tianguis, the artisans’ street fair. What a fun day, exploring various booths, tiendas on the side streets, poking into this and that, marveling at kitsch and authentic treasures, side by side. And eating.

            Making plans in Mexico never has worked for me. I’ve learned to define “plan” as a loose idea of what might happen. So on our designated “day of rest and relax” we climbed up, over and around an active dig in Oconahua, a small town about eight kilometers from Etzatlan, which had a completely different “pyramid” culture from the one in Teuchitlan. Ate out again, this time in San Marcos.

            The Friday Tianguis in Etzatlan is comparable to a huge Farmer’s Market with the addition of every kind of kitchen product, apparel, plant, tool, music and internet type items; anything and everything imaginable for everyday life. Uh huh, we ate out.

            On top of all that, we managed to pack in a day in which five of us drove up into the mountains above Ahualulco to the Piedras Las Bolas site, where the magma from Volcan de Tequila formed into huge balls of rock. Delicious meal afterwards in Ahualulco.

            Oh, and did I mention the tour of Etzatlan, including the Museo at the Casa de Cultura, with reproductions of the shaft tombs found at Santa Rosalia near Etzatlan, with Leo, the man who knows the history of every family who lives here. I cooked. I can cook too.

            Does that sound like our week of adventure hardly left us time to pack for the trip back? It’s the truth. But, what a good time; what fun we had together.

            Imagine us back on the bus, the wheels rolling us once more to Mazatlan to finish our dental work. Plus, we have a list of “plans” before Don and Denise cram aboard the plane back to Oregon and I enjoy another bus ride home.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

January 25, 2018

Mazatlan On the Pacific

Mazatlan On the Pacific
            Greetings from Mazatlan. Every morning I sit on my balcony and watch the waves sloppy kiss the sand. Bird Island sits directly across a narrow stretch of water. Condors, vultures by any other name, circle thermals upward from island nests, then split off in search of wider skies and prey. Shrimp boats troll the horizon. Frigate birds patrol the sky. Pelicans dive face first into the sea, bob up with fish hanging from beaks. Morning sun splatters the beach through coconut palm filters.

            One morning I scattered crumbs on the balcony wall for a persistent dove in search of a handout. The following morning she showed up and demanded more. My “cupboard” was bare. Now I make sure to save a tortilla or bread roll from dinner. She brought her mate, then her family; now I suspect she invited her neighbors. If we stayed much longer, I’d have to bring a daily loaf of bread.

            This week I’m in Mazatlan with Denise, a Harlem classmate, and her husband, Don, mixing medical business with pleasure. Don is having extensive dental work. Denise is getting teeth cleaned plus an eye exam and new glasses.

            I returned to Dr. Paty, my, now our, dentist, in fear and trembling, the way I approach any dentist. I like her so I keep coming back, covert excuse for holiday in Mazatlan. I had a tooth throwing my jaw out of alignment. The tooth never hurt. This sounds crazy but that tooth was driving me crazy. Some days it was hard to eat, hard to talk. Have you ever had a dentist massage your jaw throughout a procedure?

            The larger part of the week I get to show off my Mazatlan, tourist spots as well as the places tourists never get to see.

            Meeting old friends from when I lived here delights me. Our beach hotel is in my old stomping grounds, the neighborhood in which I walked daily. So I know a lot of people, neighbors, street vendors, restaurant workers. All greet me with hugs; their faces beam welcome.

            My dear friend Carlos made my heart sing with his report on his son, Carlitos, who has been undergoing cancer treatment this entire past year. Now, hopefully nearing the end of chemo treatments, Carlitos weighs over 60 kilos, between 130 and 140 pounds. In his current photo, he looks good, baseball cap tightly pulled over his head. The last photo I saw, Carlitos looked like a skeleton with skin and nobody had much hope.

            Carlos gives his wife, Selena, a lot of credit for her strength and faith. When Carlitos wanted to quit, his family kept him going. Hope, we have hope.

            For me, simply being with Don and Densie is a treat. Denise and I are discovering even more things we have in common. At reunions, we never had the chance to spend hours of uninterrupted time. We knew one another quite well, but now have reached a deeper level.

            I never knew Don at all, really, outside of a series of intriguing email messages. Now I have a new friend.

            This article sounds like a letter from a distant relative, so I’ll close, sincerely, with love from your favorite Aunt Sondra.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

January 18, 2018

Monday, January 8, 2018

It’s A Lot Like Life

It’s A Lot Like Life
            I had to decide. She’d had a reaction to the anesthetic which left symptoms similar to epilepsy. Convulsions. Starvation. A rack of bones loosely held in rags of fur. Put her down. A euphemism by any other name . . . death.

            My tears soaked her fur. I held her last breath. My Cat Ballou, playful, teasing, gentle sweet kitten-cat.

            That night I lay in bed, holding memory, accusations rattling around my brain cage, familiar. Why does everyone, everything I love, leave me? What is wrong with me? Is this my karma? Is there no end? Beating myself. Grieving.

            Finally I heard my wild monkey-mind, the guilt/shame false accusations. If I let it, that silly mind could take response-ability for the Peloponnesian War. Think about it. If I can take responsibility for war, I can avoid responsibility for harsh words spoken in haste.

            Stop it! My good-sense mind finally woke up and took control. I drew on everything I knew, prayer, mantras, meditation. Finally I simply focused on following my breath, in, out. As clearly as if they were spoken, I heard the words, You ask the wrong questions? (I do NOT hear voices.)

            Why not ask, Why have I been given this kitten gift of pure love and fun for four whole months? Oh, the patterns of the past have a strong grip. I was glad to break that pattern, to drift into sleep with a few more tears.

            So this last week has been hard times for me. I spent hours every day in my garden, watering flowers, giving attention to every single plant in my extensive garden, doing what brings me solace. Friends come by bringing comfort and bananas. I accepted their fussing over me.

            In our way of marking time, we left an old year behind and turned our faces into the new year ahead.

            Here on the Rancho we gathered at Julie’s house for shrimp pozole. Julie made the soup and the rest of us brought pot luck. Good food, peaceful ambiance, stimulating conversation. Home by ten. Few of us, if any, stayed up to watch the clock turn around the day.

            If there were a lot of fireworks, I slept through the bangs and crackles. I’m used to hearing fireworks daily, for our people use fireworks to celebrate every occasion, births, deaths, anniversaries, stubbed toes. Fireworks are part of the background noise, like my wind chime at the corner of my house and the trucks along the highway a couple blocks south.

            The sun is shining. It’s a beautiful day. My first amaryllis burst into blossom. In my ballpark, it’s a tie ballgame.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

January 4, 2018

Turning Pages

Turning Pages
            “Sure wish I’d known forty, fifty, years ago what I know today. I might have done some things differently,” I told my daughter. I was bemoaning my financial status, not for the first time, more like a recurring toothache or a grumpy relative one feels obliged to visit.

            “There you go again, bad-mouthing your ‘lack-of-planning’ choices. Most people work their whole lives for retirement and then never end up getting to do anything with it. When you worked, you worked hard. Then when you played, you did what you really wanted.”

            She was on a roll. My daughter gets that way. I could see her snap her eyes even with a twenty-five hundred mile stretch of country between us. It’s a straight shot, north to south so not much spark is lost along the way.

            “Pacific Beach for a week of R & R? Done. China? Done. Retreat on Molokai? Done,” she continued. “You have everything you need in a place you love. Riches in the bank? No, but you have, and continue to have, experiences so many people dream and wish to have. Some race-race-race to keep up with the latest car, newest gadget, biggest house, etc. That was never important. You only wanted to have great experiences. And you have had and still have great experiences and the ability to say you enjoy your life.”

            Whew. That set me on my feet. Guess she told me. And, of course, she is right. If I could have done things differently, would I? Probably not. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on one’s perspective, I was never motivated by money or by bigger-better things. Neither way is right nor wrong, just different.

            Let’s pretend our lives are books. Each book is made of chapters and pages—just like old-fashioned tree books. A chapter for baby-hood, one for grade school, and so forth. Maybe your present chapter is titled, “Linda and Gary, from the farm north of Havre” and that is one very, very long chapter. That is good.

            My book seems to consist of many short chapters, such as “Sondra in Etzatlan” and that is good too, just different. Would I like to trade my chapter for your chapter? Very often, yes, I certainly would.

            Since we are pretending, let’s assume we don’t skip to the back to read the last page, to see how the book ends. Oh, you’ve been guilty of that too, have you? So all we can read today is the page we are on, right? We don’t know how many chapters we have. We don’t know how our book will end. Or when.

            All the time, my friends, even strangers, ask me, “How long do you think you’ll stay in Mexico?”

            “For the duration,” is my usual reply. But what do I know? I like my chapter, living here in Etzatlan, frequent trips to Guadalajara, to Mazatlan, to smaller towns. It’s a restful chapter, rejuvenating. I get to look at the world around me without preconceived notions of what it should be. Every day things appear to sparkle, refreshing.

            But every now and then I get a niggling feeling there might be another chapter ahead, a different place to write different pages. I’ll tell you, that thought scares my liver right down to my toenails. So I shove the thought back into a high shelf in my closet and hide it under blankets. It doesn’t do me a bit of good to think about it. What do I know? Nothing.

            A New Year’s a-coming. Each day another page. My today page is mopping my floor, watering my extensive garden, making beans and biscuits. I think about you north of town, throwing feed to the cows, or you, over there on 3rd, changing that flat tire in the ice and wind, or you in the blue parka, walking in the dark, going to work at the bakery. I think about you.    
Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

December 28, 2017

Friday, December 22, 2017

“I Couldn’t Sleep A Wink Last Night”

“I Couldn’t Sleep A Wink Last Night”
            “I couldn’t sleep a wink last night,” it’s true. It’s silly to be lovelorn and at my age too.

Oh, no. Don’t get excited. It’s not what you think. More’s the pity.

I swear, I can hardly believe myself. An animal. A dumb animal. Well, not so dumb, it turns out. Saturday, the chosen day, finally arrived—Cat Ballou took an anticipated trip to the veterinarian for the essential surgery, the one to prevent an unending series of duplicates. 

Surgery went well. Ballou returned home comatose with a plastic halo around her neck. Within a couple hours after she woke up, groggy though she seemed, my cat managed to figure out how to slip her head out of the cone.

The veterinarian had let me know the cone was the most important part of recovery. If my cat could reach her stitches with her teeth, there would be nothing he could do, dire warning, but put her down. That is a euphemism for the “final sleep”. Gulp, another euphemism.

As long as I held my cat in my arms, she slept. I went to bed. She slept on my chest. I cannot sleep on my back. I’d shift her to my arm. She slept. I lay awake. My arm went to sleep. Does it count if a body part sleeps? Thus my night passed, feeling the vibration of the cat, listening to the rain and wind.

To follow the song, “I thought my heart would break the whole night through.” Sunday morning, bleary eyed, I put food down for Cat Ballou. She ignored it, sat at my feet with piteous meows until I picked her up. In my arms she promptly went back to sleep. Thus my day.

Leo came to see if I needed any help. We modified the cone and replaced it around her neck, feeling quite pleased with our job. In fifteen seconds, Ballou pulled her head out of the noose. Julie came over a couple hours later. We tightened the cone more, and, using man’s best friend, duct taped it together. And very proud we were of our expertise. Ten seconds. Ballou won her freedom.

As long as that cat was in my arms, she slept. If I put her down, she cried, like a colicky baby. Neither of us ate. I sat. She slept.

Sleepless nights. Bloodshot eyes. In desperation, using scissors and massive amounts of duct tape, I further modified the, here-to-fore useless, plastic cone.

Voila! My little escape artist is finally corralled. She still insists on my lap, continuously. But when I ignore her pitiful cries, I can eat a sandwich, or mop my floors, or hang laundry. Other than necessary chores, I sit, I read, I hold my cat. I read a lot.

 At night, I get an hour or two of sleep at a time. You would understand if you had a plastic cone on legs try to wriggle under the blanket with you.

Three weeks. The vet said three weeks. I’m not sure I’ll last the full run.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

December 21, 2017