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The following short nonfiction stories are listed on this page, and in this order:

ONLY   IN   SMA   - part II -   by Phil Hamerslough

First Impressions of San Miguel    by Gayle St. John

Running with the Bulls in San Miguel     by Patrice Wynne

How I found my San Miguel       by Lisa Cornick

El Gringo Arriba     by Michael Langford

Learning to Walk On Cobblestones the Mexican Way     by "Ramblin'Rose Roland Salazar 
ONLY   IN   SMA   - part I -   by Phil Hamerslough
How I Helped Win the Super Bowl    by Michael P. Wein

ONLY IN SMA - part II - by Phil Hamerslough

One evening we arrived back at our house only to find some SOB blocking our garage.  Edith was furious and thought of a lot of nasty things to do to the other car. 

However, I calmed her down and pointed out that our neighbor had gone to DF and we could just leave our car in front of her garage, which we did. 

The next morning, Edith went out to the car to go to Gigante.

She came back to say that our windshield was very blurry, and she could hardly see thru it.
She took a rag and water, but it took almost twenty minutes to get it even almost clean. A few minutes later, my neighbor came over to tell me her battery was dead and could I give her a boost.   I told her I would do it as soon as Edith got back. Then I told her how there had been some awful stuff on our windshield. She turned a scarlet hue, and hung her head. "Oh  my God, she said.  I didn't know that was your car.  I came home earlier than I had planned. I was so
angry at finding someone blocking my garage, that I went inside, got a can of PAM and sprayed the whole windshield."

The next day she brought flowers, but I tell you,  "Hell hath no fury like a woman whose garage is blocked."


What is it about this place that everyone loves so much? Most of us gringos can't speak the language and those of us that think we can and try don't to a very good job.  But the locals just smile and sometimes respond in English or correct our Spanish.  You have to be careful what you eat and drink but everything tastes delicious.  The streets and side walks are so difficult and dangerous to walk on, especially in the rain, that special shoes have been designed by Marta that only the gringos wear, to help us navigate more easily and they do help.  The street signs are barely legible on the corner buildings or sometimes don't even exist outside of Centro and the names change every few blocks in several cases.  You get used to it.  Most store signs are flat against the building (they have a regulation) so you can't tell you are almost there until you are there. The church bells (83 of them) keep you wondering and counting all hours of the day and night.  The fireworks are unpredictable as well and may jolt you out of a restful sleep with no warming some early morning. The people most often avert their eyes as you pass on the street but will respond if you make an attempt to greet them, "buenos tardes", even if you say the wrong thing or mispronounce it. The poor old folks sitting on the curb with their hands reaching out make you wonder "where are their children?" Whereas in the States we would say of the homeless "where are their parents?"  The phones and the electricity go off and on whenever and the thunder following the lightening just about jolts you out of bed it hits so close and so hard.  There are new born babies everywhere in the arms of their very young mothers who carry them around like baby dolls just received as a birthday gift.  The music is wonderful and it comes from everywhere all the time recorded or live sometimes embellished with lovely outfits and sombreros on handsome Mexicans with big mustaches.  The children are precious and there are many of them.  And there go the bells again.  And no, they are not telling you the time this time.  We can't understand the television most of the time and I can get only two radio stations. 

I love this place.

You can't buy most of the things we think we need in the U.S. without going on a kind of scavenger hunt until you find something that will do or decide you really don't need it anyway.  Most of the clothing just doesn't fit quite right. Everything is based on a flat square pattern.  The altitude makes you feel ten years older than you say you are until you get used to it.  You stand in the little tiny corner grocery stores looking around and around for something familiar to buy.  Everything looks different.  Okay, "I'll take that Butterfinger and some of that juice in the box with the picture of an apple on it.  MANZANA, yeah that's right manzana".  You can't pay for anything without counting to yourself and or on your fingers while trying to remember the difference between 20 pesos and 200 pesos. And then, how much is that anyway?  The exhaust fumes, from the cabs and busses mostly, burn your nose and throat as you maneuver through the cobblestone streets to your next destination.  Walking, walking everywhere.  If you live in my neighborhood you can buy an ice cream cone as you leave the email office on Juarez and make it last just long enough, climbing slowly up the hill, to free your hand in time to find your key to open the door of your casita on Barranca.  The perfect end of another day. A day that you have loved from beginning to end, from bell to bell from block to block and from dawn til dark.  We can't wait for the next day to begin. Our anticipation puts us right back out on the streets again early next morning.  The cobblestone streets of San Miguel.  The buildings are all ancient and mysterious.  What's behind those walls is sometimes unbelievable.  The wall stencils and fixtures in El Correo are so old and faded and wonderful you know they are original and hope that they never change.  Simple and charming.  The package you receive when you buy something is wrapped in colorful tissue with floral rosette ties ready for a party.  The birds love it here too and never stop singing about it until they sun goes down and they come to roost in the tall trees of Juarez Park (the big while birds) or the short manicured trees of the Jardin (the small black birds)  The racket they make is almost impossible to talk over until they quiet down and everybody is talking and looking at the Parroquia and we 're all glad to be here. 

God bless San Miguel.  It's a wonderful place.

4/13/04        RUNNING WITH THE BULLS in SAN MIGUEL by Patrice Wynne

It was a typical day in San Miguel, church bells in the early morning, leisurely conversations in the cafe in the late morning...running with bulls in the afternoon. We walked up to the Jardin, San Miguel's "town Plaza" for a capucchino at our favorite cafe under the Portals. The Cafe del Jardin is housed in a 17th century building once owned by the Canal family, the Medici's of San Miguel, and today is filled with tourists and residents served by dashing young waiters wearing formal attire. We passed the morning with a group of friends watching the world go by out the cafe doors and discussing the challenges of speaking Spanish with dignity. Great gales of laughter filled the cafe as I recounted the tale of how after a great fiesta in the matriarchial village of Juchitan I complimented the large, elderly matriarch by calling her a grande cochino or big fat male pig, rather than a grande cocinera, or great cook, which was my intention after the spectacular meal she had prepared for us that night.

But I am digressing...the rest of the morning was spent looking for a place to watch the Pamplonada, or Running of the Bulls, around the Jardin. We'd heard about this annual ritual of manhood for young Mexican men from our American friends who described it as Bacchanalian madness of the grossest order. Either they opposed the demonstrations of testosterone or the public alcoholism on the streets of San Miguel or the treatment of the bulls. Yet walking around the Jardin we became caught up in the fiesta atmosphere and the feeling that something wild and rare was about to happen. Since I've never met a Mexican fiesta I didn't love, I knew I wanted to be part of the Pamplonada as another adventure in this Mexican ex-pat life's.

The place we chose to sit was one of the most dangerous spots in the bull running arena. Whereas most of the spectators were protected by metal gates, we were completely exposed. Our perch was on the corner stairs across from Banamex leading into the Jardin at the juncture where the bulls turned a corner so we could see them coming and going in both directions. Just before the Running began two bulky young men came and stood on the stairs in front of us. They were later to become our human shields...but I am getting ahead of myself.

The ritual began with the Reinas or Queens Parade, where the winners of the regional beauty pageants were driven around and around the plaza in old but well-cared-for Mustang convertibles. I love these rituals for their blatant flaunting of traditional masculine and feminine roles that are just so, so un-Berkeley where I lived for 30 years before moving to San Miguel. In Berkeley if a man looked at a woman he was considered sexist, but here, the men were going wild with lust and showing it, as the women, clad in red, black or white low cut evening gowns, were driven by. The Mustang drivers wore cowboy outfits with big hats and never, ever smiled, whereas the women never, ever STOPPED smiling as they sat waving and flirting from their perches on the back seat of the Mustang. The Reinas were followed by the Toros or Bulls, brought to the Plaza in huge trucks with more than 20 muy macho men sitting on top who were wildly cheered as their bullmobiles passed. (or was it the bulls inside the trucks being cheered?) These were the bull trainers, the men responsible for training the bulls during the year (are bulls trainable?), rounding them up for the journey to San Miguel, and later wrestling the bulls with ropes at the end of the Pomplonada. It was an estrogen and testosterone feast day in San Miguel!!

The crowds were growing wilder in anticipation, but no where was the anticipation greater than in the body language of the wild men ready to meet the challenge of their lifetime. Every bone and muscle in their bodies, some of them shirtless, were tautly looking in the direction of those trucks which were about ready to unleash their violent cargo. And then, and then, whoa here they come, even before we could see the bulls we could hear them coming towards us, and we could hear the crowds roaring up the street and the boys starting running for their lives up the street to avoid these massive hunks of danger and mayhem....WHO WERE STOMPING STRAIGHT IN OUR DIRECTION, CHARGING TOWARDS US, TOO!!! And there we were two diminutive women sitting on an exposed piece of concrete on a corner of the Jardin watching them head towards us, and we grabbed the necks of the guys standing in front of us with all our might, hanging on for our very endangered lives!!!

And all I could think was----WHAT WAS I THINKING OF? WHY DID I DO THIS? THERE IS NO WAY OUT OF THIS MADNESS!!! It was just sheer terror all around us and walls of metal barricades and human beings in all directions, and  WE WERE TRAPPED with no way to exit in front, behind or besides us! And then, we watched in horror as this first bull charged a group of spectators standing across from us in the door of the police station, and it picked up a young woman and carried her on the tops of its horns, while the crowds screamed louder only this time the terror has grown into a frenzy of  horror as we all wondered how was she going to survive and why did we come and we all knew that it was out of control and there was no stopping this animal from fulfilling its nature, wherever that might lead, and we were witnesses. (The young woman we later heard had been rushed to the hospital astonishingly with only slight injuries.)

It was one of the most fearful experiences of my life...and that was just the beginning! For the next 90 minutes the scene repeated itself, as these beasts would charge down the street and the men would run in huge crowds for safety. But some of the men turned and faced the bulls with a grand style, filled with bravado and daring in the face of imminent death, in ways that had to be admired. And at times there were up to six bulls charging the streets which gave these men even more adrenalin to fulfill their dreams and prove their manhood to the adoring throngs. These young men were all puffed up with egos bigger than bulls, which I guess is what it takes to get inside that calle of madness and some of them even knelt inches away from the bulls, waving red cloths, turning their backs to dare the animal to take their lives. I JUST DARE YOU, BULL--you could read the message in their bold eyes.

Whether or not the animal is abused is debatable, but surely they were not treated with tremendous dignity and at times the bulls seemed more frightened than the runners. Yet this ritual has to be understood as part of a Mexican cultural heritage where death is seen as not something to be feared but something to be challenged by living with exhilaration and looking bravely into the eyes of danger. In that sense this Pamplonada may have been my rite of passage into the Mexican psyche, and my own, as I have never known such fear before, but I stood my ground, held onto my faith in the life force that holds me on this planet, and joined in the dance of life and death with an exhilaration that I will never forget there on the steps of the Jardin during the Running of the Bulls. Viva Mexico!

April 4, 2004      How I found my San Miguel           by Lisa Cornick

Today is September, 2003. It was a remarkable day in the state of Guanajuato. For 3 ½ months I have been hassling with the Mexican system to receive the national health insurance that I read everywhere is available to foreigners with the kind of visa that I have, the FM3. I will list the steps and the agonies I encountered on my way to obtain peace of mind, finding my place under the sun in the process.     You must:


Establish residency in the state you live in which was Tamaulipas for me then.
Proof your residency-- your constancia de domicilio with a copy of a utility bill or a rental contract.
Have an FM3 visa copy.
Have a passport copy of all your pages.
Have a birth certificate.
Have a letter ready stating that you are single and have no family in Mexico-- if that’s the case.
Have two black and white passport-size photos.
Have 165 dollars in pesos.
Have everything notarized and translated into Spanish.


Then you must go and find the CORRECT IMSS (Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social)
Then you get in line.
Then you get in another line.
Then you sit down and talk either with someone helping you or just to yourself.
Then you hear that you need all the above mentioned items.
Then you say you have them.
Then another lady appears and says that foreigners cannot get that kind of insurance in Tamaulipas.
You protest a little and then you are told to go to the border town of Matamoros, near Brownsville, Texas.
You leave disgusted.


You hire a lawyer to investigate anew.
You wait.
You hear from him and you are told that you need all the items from # I. above.
You tell him you already have them.
He is optimistic because he called the IMSS office and they told him he should come with you.
You meet him at the correct office, not the IMSS clinic.
You wait.
He doesn’t have to wait or get in line because they know him and talk to him right away.
You still wait.
He comes back and is sad because he has good and bad news.
The good news is you don’t have to go to the distant city of Matamoros.
That information was a mistake.
The bad news is that you can’t get Mexican insurance, period.
They have never heard of foreigners getting it.
You leave disappointed.


You get back on-line and computer chat with the many foreign people who actually have that insurance.
You call the attorney again and ask to research the law because you have been told again thta people actually DO have this health insurance.
He says he would.
You wait a long time and call the attorney again who has not had time to do it.
You wait some more.
You visit the attorney and he has a brainstorm and asks for you to get on the internet again and ask one such person who has that insurance to fax a copy.
You get on line and receive a fax from a stranger proving that foreigners can get that insurance.
The attorney is delighted and hopes with that document he can proof to the Tamaulipas IMMS office that you are entitled to such an insurance.
You wait.
You wait.
The attorney has shown it to them but they are not interested in cooperating and insist thta you cannot have it.
You ask, but WHY?
The attorney explains that his office is fighting many battles with IMSS over patient complaints and bad services.
He admits that IMSS hates them and they are not about to do him the favor and honor his request and help a client of his.
The attorney suggests that you drive to one oft those states that the internet people live who have that insurance and get it there.


You drive to San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato.
You rent a house.
You get a receipt that is written so that one could think you live there always.
You ask the receipt-writer photo copy both sides of the credential de lector picture ID onto the receipt.
You register your FM3 visa with the Immigration Office, which you also just found out, needed to be done.
You say a prayer of thanks that San Miguel has such an office.
You use that rental address as you current residence.


You visit friends you just made in the San Miguel INAMI office.
They live in Celaya, Guanajuato.
You always carry all your IMSS required documents with you.
In Celaya you see a big IMSS office.
You are told that you need 4 photos.
You are told that you need to do the application in San Miguel.


You got to the Telmex telephone company to get a phone book.
You look up the address for IMSS.
There are two.
You call.
The lady is mean and talks Spanish too fast.
However, you do hear sort of an address.
Sounds like Calle Obregon.
You show that address to Jesus who is laying bricks outside.
He said such a colonia does not exist.
You ask him to speak to the lady.
He phones for you and gets the right address.
It is Calzada de Estacion de Autobus.
Estacion sounded like Obregon to your fledgling ears.


You drive to the photo place for two more pictures.
You ask the lady to call IMSS just to check they are where they said they were located.
She looks up the number and finds out the office had moved and gives you the correct address, which is different from what the bricklayer heard.
You drive to a street but can’t find the numbers.
You park the car and start walking.
You finally ask and you find out that IMSS is on the third floor of a furniture store.
You find the store but no sign for the National Health Insurance Office.
However, the office IS on the third floor.
You are told you need to drive to a city called Guanajuato.
You’re given a list of items you need to bring.
You are back to only two photos.
You now must also include a marriage certificate if applicable.


You pull out your map.
You find out how best to get to Guanajuato.
You encounter the bricklayer’s wife.
You ask her if she would like to accompany you.
She does.
You leave early the next day.
You have a lovely drive.
The countryside is paradise beautiful with grass and tress and hills and mild winds and cows and horses.
You arrive in the city.
You find yourself in a million tunnels.
You go in circles and never find the jardin-the central park.
You never find the park with IMSS nearby.
You are back in the tunnels.
You are getting nervous because IMSS office hours are 8-12:30.
You ask many people for directions.
But the bricklayer’s wife cannot remember them after she has heard them in her native tongue.
Her Spanish is perfect.
Yours is trying.
You stop at a red light.
A 12-year-old boy asks if you need help.
For a little propina-he will help you.
You get out of the car.
You clear the back seat.
You ignore all the cars being impatient.


You now follow all the great commands.
Derecha, isquierda, derecho.
Right, left, straight ahead.
You find a parking lot.
You find the wrong IMSS.
You find the right IMSS.
You wait.
You wait a little more.
The lady is nice.
She asks for your father’s name.
She asks for your mother’s maiden name.
You wonder why.
You mess up the form because you have not written those names in a long time.
She gives you a new form and helps you so you will have a clean copy.
You answer questions to a short health questionnaire.
Now she sends you away to make Xerox copies at a nearby store.
You do not have to move anymore.
The boy rushes off and makes copies.
You just sit and wait because the angel is running for you.
He returns and you receive a lot of papers from the lady.
You now must go to a bank and pay the fee of 164 dollars.
You do that.
You come back and anxiously look for that nice lady.
She comes back soon.
You give her the receipt from the bank.
She shuffles and types and types and types triplicates
on the type writer.
She glues one picture into your booklet.
And the other on a page to be archived.
The other photos two you can take home.
A bus now can hit you.


You take both of your helpers to a nice restaurant on the plaza.
All three of you order the same thing. A poached fish.
You find out that the boy is poor.
When he and his mother work together and earn 55 dollars.
He gives his mother 50 and he gets to keep 5.
His father told him at age 7 never to do drugs, alcohol or robberies.
He is not in school that day because his teachers had a conference.
He has three sisters.
He agrees to help you get out of that maze of a city.
He helps you find a bathroom.
He finds the parking lot, which you could never locate again.
All three of you, you, the bricklayer’s wife, Hilda, and twelve-year old, Juan Jose, have to go to the bathroom.
Finally you are headed back home.
You keep asking how far the boy has to walk back.
Not far, he keeps saying.
But after a while, you ask if he is planning to take a bus back.
Yes he is.
You are actually going to outskirt villages with him reading all your maps in the back.
He does not want to leave.
You keep telling him how smart he is and to study as much as he can.
You keep calling him "My little abogado."
He is so wise and so knowledgeable for his age.
You give him some money and your e-mail.
He promises to obtain an e-mail address.
He also gives you his address.
You ask him to write it on the napkin.
You ask Hilda to write it.
They both shy away.
You end up writing it instead.
He finally gets out to catch a bus.
You hug him and beg him not to lose you.
He has no phone.


That very evening before you go to bed you find an e-mail from Juan Jose.

Ahy te mando mi correo espero me escribas.
Atte: Juan Jose su Guia Turistico en Guanajuato Capital


This happened last September, 2003. Now I live in San Miguel and enjoy the city and Jesus and Hilda who have become my best friends. They take me to Sunday soccer matches at the estadio where San Miguel boys are beating the team from Irapuato. They take me to baptisms, birthday parties and quinzeneras. We dance under San Miguel moons.


And it all started with IMSS and the state of Guanajuato whichs allows foreigners to receive such an insurance.


This is a city con chispa.

April 4, 2004     El Gringo Arriba     by Michael Langford

Just a few blocks from Bellas Artes, in an unspecified (for the dog's sake) direction and on the corner of a quiet side street, my apartment building sits in its own little puddle of seeming quietude. There's just a white door, a green wall and a canale that leaks water from the lavanderia up on the third floor sharing my apartment's wall. In Mexican parlance I reside on the second floor, however I can't call it anything but the third since I'm a gringo and that's what we gringos call the second floor above ground level.

Next door there's a vacant lot. It's not abandoned, just used differently; walled around partly by an old, old building now crumbling back to essentials. The pieces of dirt this old wreck don't encompass are ringed with equally old sheets of corrugated metal, rusting away, eventually pulling away from the few nails holding them in place, leaving holes you can peek through when you go by. A not pretty wall around mostly nothing. Sometimes guys bring in sacks, hoisted to bony shoulders, of construction crap, making those huge straining noises from somewhere around their gut's level whenever they lift or struggle. Not always young, either. They slip and slide a bit over the trash, find a spot and dump out the bags; go back for another load. The bags are heavy, dirty and faces, arms and bodies are floured with a gray dust from whatever yuck is inside.

It's a big lot, large enough to swallow up my building with a little room left over for a nice bodega in the back. Chickens live here-both genders-and ducks, too, who don't seem to mind the interlopers; after a quick glance to make sure they're going to continue unfed, all return to the senseless pecking at the ground-their water container is as empty as any prospect for attention. The roosters, all both of them, cover the hens occasionally, much flapping of wings and crowing; the inevitable early morning alarm clock just waiting to go off. Over there's an old toilet laying on its side. Much cactus all over the place and a clothesline.

Back at my place and from the street entrance, a glance to the left shows the household altar, an artificial stone thing, stacked up next to the formal living and dining rooms only the landlady uses and then only when someone dies; sometimes a stick of incense smolders and smells there, on the altar, that is.

Across a short breezeway is the cocina and up one floor a salon which is her bed/sitting room combination. Lots of glass and she can watch her domain at will. She and her husband have worn the treads smooth on the stairway going from one to the other. I expect, in another generation or two, to feel, rather than see, the beginnings of a groove made by the feet of so many passing. The families of their two daughters live around them; kids come and go, sometimes noisily, sometimes not. I call her dona and him don. All the kids help make the grooves. Me, too.

Mexicans love circular stairways you know. There are two here, in plain sight, kinda' scary at first, linking terra firma with the higher places. When I first saw them I worried about a fire exit and then saw the standard staircase on the opposite side. Charm offset by utility. This open space is ringed with plants hanging or not; ferns with five foot fronds, geraniums, leggy because all the light's up there.

I climb and puffing slightly from both the altitude and all those earlier years as a smoker, I land on the beginnings of a rooftop patio. Off to its side the suspended walkway over the courtyard one must quickly get used to if he wants to occupy my apartment for even the quickest visit. It's a scant 20 feet of fear suspended above a hard, tiled floor some 30 feet down there. If it shook in the least in crossing I never would have rented the place. I got used to it quickly; don't even think about it anymore. My housecat looks through the railings of the walkway and wonders, I suspect, if he could find the spring in those tired, old, diabetic legs to cross the few feet of gap to get to that tree just over there; the one that starts in the dirt way down below and reaches forty feet or so up into and past his domain. He's out on his lead and I constantly look out to check. My, that bird over there looks tasty!

I have a great wall of westerly-exposed glass. The sun finds us early in the day and stays 'til late; in March it's already 85F inside mi casa and the forty-foot cedar does little in the way of shade. I'm forced to consider other options.

A couple of weeks ago I found a guy on the corner of Umuran with a roll-up blind strapped to his back. Just sitting there, waiting for me to come along, knowing, don't ask my how, he was just what I had been searching for for weeks without any luck. A quick invitation and lickety-split he was up here measuring all that western glass. These won't be the ordinary bamboo blind things, they'll be handmade from carrizo-river reeds-by he and his three sons, custom fitted and for an extra 200 pesos he'll even hang them. They'll look rustic, a rough green, perfect. We dickered, more in English than Spanish, which of course means I didn't really dicker much at all. I promise to install them myself and he knocks off the 200 pesos. He aims to deliver four days hence. Three days hence he will drop by during the day, catch me out, and let the landlady know I'm getting ready to do some major stuff to her building without telling her! And, to confirm that delivery is on schedule. Next day they're here, on time! En la punto! Un milagro! My worry that he's run off with the fifty per-cent deposit evaporates.

The landlady and I get along great for either of two reasons. I pay well, early, and in excess, and I always clear with her before making any improvement projects unremovable. We palaver a bit in simple Spanish because I won't start language class until next week, and she agrees the blinds can go up. They do and the relief is immediate. Another quickly realized benefit, other than the glare and heat finding another home-I'm able to take down those god-awful house-provided drapes. Now my eyes and right brain both sigh with the luxury of it all. Those wonderful window screens I built myself and put up a month ago do their thing and the breezes flow. Thanks, God!

Leaving the nice boveda ceilings, going back across the aerial walkway, back across the rooftop patio, I drag a long piece of rope firmly attached to a little plastic bucket which I bought at El Mercado de San Juan. Tad, my cat, will chase the rope if he's out with me. I lost a couple of it's predecessors, the bucket that is, to the guy below, the one you see in the cage when you look just over the lip of the waist-high wall that keeps you safe from falling overboard; it makes this a somewhat risky endeavor-I don't mean the risk of falling-I do mean the risk of the guy next door spotting me. Like stealing a nickel when you're a kid, there's a little excitement in it all.

Anyway, the first couple of buckets weren't really buckets at all-just plastic bags which sometimes came back shredded in the haste to get at the stuff inside. Or, they didn't come back at all and added to the worry of discovery. I learned...

The bucket makes two trips, first the food, and then the water. In Mexico, you see, dogs are considered beasts. This guy, a full blown Rottweiler, older in broken spirit than he has any right to be, lives in a six by fifteen foot run. The cement underfoot never cushions his pads, the gate opens every couple of days or so so the houseboy can empty the slop can into the food dish. Hopefully he'll also fill up the water bowl and hose out the run so Rottie won't have to lie in his own shit. Like the chickens and ducks next door, the water container is usually empty.

Viewed from above I can see the tatters of a sunshade, one of those cheap, blue, plastic tarps hawked at the tianguis for a few pesos. Wal Mart stuff. One corner is still relatively intact; it offers one whole square foot of shade. Thankfully there's a shrub stuck on to the side of the house next door, growing out of the bricks, it helps. Huge puddles of layered excrement litter the concrete, the color's about the same; Rottie's been fed from the kitchen and from the family table, something probably full of grease, and his stuff shows it.

I first noticed the guy was in distress a couple of weeks ago. His partner, Beagle hound, lives on the other side of the chain links. He, Beagle, for some reason, is spoiled. Beagle gets the run of the small yard, his pick of several really shady spots but doesn't fare any better in the drink, food, human departments. They're both dehydrated, hungry, starved for a stroke.

It took me all of five minutes to figure out a way to get Rottie some food. Beagle lives too far away for the rope and bucket, too far from my wall, so he gets some marrowbones or biscuits chucked his way. They usually splinter and break when they hit the ground so he's running this way and that snuffling up the pieces of this little bit of manna that comes from el gringo arriba. He still barks when he sees me, with or without food. I wish he wouldn't do that, I have to duck below the parapet in case his racket brings up a person and catches me being me. Rottie just looks up with adoring eyes and that's 'nuff.

Anyway, Rottie and Beagle have gotten used to their midnight visitor bringing them substance. I now do this after dark, for reasons obvious, and some nights I forget; they forgive. Before it even gets close to the ground Rottie jumps and grabs the bucket with those awesome teeth, drags it away from the wall and feasts, hard and fast. When I think he's done sometimes it's hard to get the bucket back-he holds on, resisting the rope-maybe he sees some sort of link there and is reluctant to loose it. It doesn't have a touch, that bucket doesn't, and the guy upstairs, me, wishes it could stroke his old black nose a bit and apologize for the Americanness of it all.

Maybe in another couple of generations Mexicans will think better of dogs. In el jardin I often see young paisanos dragging an unwilling dog along on a leash. The dog seems to be ignored mostly and gets yanked by the neck when he'd rather stop and smell. But, maybe that's changing and one day I'll see a young guy or gal followed by a happily trotting pup, peeking upwards once in a while to make sure he's still attached, getting permission to stop and smell whatever. Maybe piss on a bush. Just like people, he could appreciate and get to like and want kind words and touches. A full water bowl wouldn’t hurt either.

March 30, 2004    "Learning to Walk On Cobblestones the Mexican Way"     by "Ramblin'Rose Roland Salazar Rose

Twelve years, and it still is a wonder to me how young and old seem to float over the adoquins (paving stones), like fairies they move—seldom, if ever, tripping—while I, el gringo, pick out each footfall, as if I am climbing the face of Mount Washington.

When the wind blows from the north, el Norté, the sky darkness, a mass of gray clouds gathers overhead, and you hunker down, await the change, as a chill develops, and sometimes, especially if it is in the ‘rainy season’ drops descend (you can count them at times): bells clang out from the many churches in town, and around five after a real heat spell, you wait for the precious rain to stop.

So many court yards, so many fountains, so little water. “Praise the Lord/for sister Water/For she is most useful/and humble/and Gay/and precious and chaste.”

Sitting at the Jardin or Zócalo, the main square in all Mexican towns, looking at the Parroquia—this unusual Gothic façade—the faithful, and there are many of these, on the sound of the bells, move toward the open Parroquia doors. Brown arms of Indian heritage, lightened by Spanish blood brought from the conquest days of Cortez and generations of northern Europeans, clutch their children tightly in their arms, but always with great affection.

I’m a visitor here in San Miguel el Viejo, known as San Miguel de Allende. Trying as best I can to ‘learn to walk on cobble-stones’. As an artist I am given many privileges, and these require that I be responsible and thoughtful of these gifts. I am given the privilege of being an observer; the privilege of being a participant; and the privilege of being allowed to face a blank canvas of one’s own desires. This necessitates that you pay back the place that offers you the opportunity to work on your art.

It is so difficult to place a positive perspective on a churning Mexican landscape. It is as Carols Fuentes said in his Introduction to the photography journal Mexico: A Higher Vision: “Everything in Mexico vibrates simultaneously, perhaps because the clouds constantly soften the harshness of the imperious Mexican elements, so none truly triumphs over the other.”

These vibrations are at the center of the Mexican psyche, for how else can one explain why so often when you meet a Mexican on the street you get an ‘upward glance and a downward stare’. While youthful faces look north, to the Border, to what is said to be a ‘right of passage for all Mexican youth’. Many, of course, head north for work, to escape the abject poverty of small desolate towns, really outposts on a highway that leads north to the United States. And when this northern giant gets an economic cold, Mexico gets pneumonia. You say: “It ain’t fair!” Well it isn’t going to be gotten under any control by wishful thinking and mere government declarations.

My painting studio is in one of the best areas—quiet, great views, a real neighborhood with festival. My passport rests in my bureau drawer, along with enough traveler’s checks to enable me to go north in style. My Mexican brothers and sisters must crawl through the desert beset by insects, hoping that they can find a way to avoid hiring a coyote to help them find a way to cross the Rio Bravo, what we call the Rio Grande. This river and the three thousand-mile borders of these two countries have a history of grief. Just another cross for Mexico to bear.

Maybe that’s why I walk gingerly on these cobblestone streets. My North American mind-set has been bombarded by ‘news flashes’ and worse now that we have 9-11: more & alerts. I doubt that the local Mexican gives a hoot about it all. They float over the ankle breaking stones, not weighted down with the world’s garbage on their backs; they can avoid the holes that enable an orthopedic surgeon to declare San Miguel a “foot doctor’s paradise”. Well, sure it makes a difference to be born to a given locality as opposed to being a visitor:  You get use to 7,000 feet elevations, steep slopes, and cobblestones.

But, I believe it is much more than this simple explanation. I think that you are elevated above the traps by the way you breathe and think, and how you to relate to each other and the place you are in.

copyright Ramblin'Rose   [Roland Salazar Rose]

                 March 30, 2004          ONLY   IN   SMA   by Phil Hamerslough

 The day of the drawing for the Hospital De la Fe, I was seated along the wall of the Puertacita. A stranger sat next to me in conversation with a man I did know. I couldn’t help overhearing the stranger say something about Moratai.

Now Moratai is a small island in what was the Dutch East Indies and I happened to be stationed there for a few months during World War Two.  I couldn’t believe my ears.

 I turned to this man and asked him, “Did you say something about Moratai, an island in the Dutch group?”  

He looked a little puzzled, and then acknowledged that “Yes’” he had been telling an anecdote about the war.

 I asked him what he had  been doing there, and he replied he had been a radio operator on a bomber with the 13th Air Force.

 I was astounded. Because I belonged to an outfit called “The Army Air force Communications system. We were made up mostly of civil servants and washed out pilots. We ran the towers, weather, cryptography and direction finding. We were individuals, not a unit.

 We traveled independently and to my knowledge have never had a reunion of any sort   Believe me, I had never met anyone who had been stationed on this little island.   I told him I had also been stationed there, and naturally, he asked me what I had done.

 I replied that I ran a direction finding station.   I now had his full attention. He waited a moment, and then said very simply, with no emphasis or excitement, “You saved my life.”

 I thought he was kidding so I smiled and asked him how he reached such a conclusion.

 He told me that they were returning from a mission and their navigator, somehow, got off course and didn’t know how to get back to base. He had asked this gentleman who was his radio operator to obtain a bearing by radio.  He had sent out a “QDM” which in code means, “Send me a magnetic bearing for reaching your field”

 In reply, He received a course to reach the base, and later having passed the field at an altitude to high to see the field, he had received a reciprocal bearing to come back, and at the same time, the tower operator had given them instructions to drop their altitude a thousand feet.   

 It was exactly what we were there for, though it happened infrequently. However, I really remembered the incident. To say I saved his life is only to say that the equipment did what it was supposed to do. But hey, it sounded great.

 Would you believe, a mutual friend had us both for comida.

 On a closing note, we didn’t have much else to talk about.  

March 5, 2004            How I Helped Win the Super Bowl          by Michael P. Wein, living in Mexico

Yes, that was me. I DID IT. How I did it, though, makes an unusual story.

To start with, I was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, much overwhelmed by the stature and reputation of towering New York City. After spending my insecure but formative years in New Jersey, I decided to move to Manhattan in 1960. After a brief vacation from sports for career reasons, I slowly came to appreciate and then root for the New York teams, the Knicks, the Jets, and the mostly always triumphant New York Yankees.

It was because of these Yankees and "the curse of the Bambino" that continually haunted the Boston Red Sox, as well as accepting the perennial fate of my New York Jets after they lost any chance this past year of getting to the football playoffs, that I decided to even the score a little bit by assisting the deserving Boston and New England fans and bringing my own special help to the aid of their New England Patriots.

There I was, football Sunday after football Sunday, sitting up in the mountains in the lovely expatriate colonial town of San Miguel de Allende in the very middle of Mexico, rooting with all of my might for the New England Patriots. And root I did, and it was good, and the Patriots continued to win, Sunday after Sunday. I wasn't a religious person. I did not pray for the team, and I did not do anything very existential. I merely rooted as only a fan can root. But I did do every sport-inspired superstitious thing that ever occurred to any sports fan and during this time, the Patriots to continued to win.

So, you say, how did you, Michael Wein, help the Patriots win the Super Bowl? It was quite simple.

Like every other sports fan who is at the stadium enjoying the actual game, from the security and warmth of my Mexican home, I yelled and screamed and made my fanatic's noises, rooting for my team. Of course the opponents' fans did the same thing definitely oblivious of my personal efforts. I guess, in general, one would think that we offset each other and they would almost be right about that except for my very secret weapon. I was rooting from much further away and it was even more difficult, you might say impossible, for the players to hear me than to hear most of their closer fans. And THAT WAS the secret. Since every fan sincerely believes that he is helping his team with his efforts and cheers, by virtue of my own distance deep in Mexico, I was the supreme fanatic in this endeavor.

OK, I know that there were other fans all over this globe, some even further away, who watched this most-watched television event and how did their rooting combat, even offset, mine? Well, like any other fan, I was oblivious of their actions. I know what I did. I am, after all, a fanatic.

Summarizing all of this, I always wondered about the mental wherewithal of sports fans. Since they are generally a fair cross section of the entire average population, what makes normally reasonable people into irrational fans that are so superstitious? And why are they or we always in such a state of denial? Even as far away as Mexico, why do I cross a path and carefully avoid stepping on the crack that I've always avoided stepping on when my team is winning? Why, when inquired as to allegiance, do we say "WE are number one"?. Why do fans root, cheer, feel, and act like their lives depended upon the results of this game, and then, possibly unwittingly, later go back to the same life they have lived whether or NOT their team wins? And why, in the unlikely event that their team wins the ultimate championship, do they act like half-crazed hoodlums destroying the properties of others, even others who might be expected to be allies?

What difference does it all make? After all is considered, It is ONLY entertainment!

The super mania of the two super weeks must have impacted positively on the Houston, no, the Texas, well actually, the entire USA, maybe even world, economy in such a huge way. On Super Bowl Sunday, I found myself marvelling at the artistry of the half-time commercials and then taking breaks during the other half-time "entertainment". This temporarily converted me from being a fan into a consumer, oh yes, very good for the economy. And I hear that I missed the extraordinary Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake "entertainment".

Well, now the game, the week-end, is over and I go on with the life that comes after the game knowing that I did MY part. And, next year, when I start each new sports season, realizing that the chances of my team winning a championship is, under the best of circumstances and depending upon the sport, only about 1 in 30, why am I once again the ultimate optimist, whether I am rooting for the always winning New York Yankees or the always losing Chicago Cubs or even my real love, the New York Jets in their constant battle with the now heavily favored Super bowl champions New England Patriots?

Objective: this section will contain all "short non-fiction stories" that meet the criteria described in Instructions .   All stories will be published in the date order of receipt, with the latest letters on top (the oldest nearer the bottom).


“Underpromise and Overdeliver”

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