We were sitting by the pool at the house that my new acquaintance managed in Merida, Mexico. She had invited me over since we had become friends during the past month. She and I had some things in common, some fundamental alienation from America culture. That is why she had spent most of the last 20 years of her life in Mexico and before that, another 20 years, having taken a brief hiatus sometime in her thirties or forties. She was now 68.
She talked frenetically and it was often hard to follow her thoughts. She threw out names and stories, often without enough context. I was always asking her: “Who was that? When did that happen? Where were you then?”
She averred that she was a communist. More than that she would not reveal about her exact political analysis. And being a sometime Hegelian-Marxist….I refrained from inquiring, lest she condemn me. She often appeared angry or irritated. She would raise her voice, grow emotional and yet, it was understandable. You see, she was a recovering alcoholic and drug addict.
Her name was Catalina and she grew up in SoCal….near Seal beach. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother she did not talk much about. Cat began drinking heavily at the age of 13 and regularly had black-outs which she told me…..she thought of as normal. There is much I don’t know about her. Once, she quickly mentioned that she had a gun pointed in her face in Mexico. Maybe her Mexicano boyfriend was a Cartel member? She didn’t go into it.
But I do know that she is angry. Cat regularly goes to AA meetings…..which is good. She had been attending them for some 15-20 years, again she is a bit vague on the topic. Of course, she claims she is also ADHD and so it is a bit challenging to put together a straight bio of her life as I get bits and pieces here and there as she leapfrogs from anecdote to anecdote.
She tells me of a recent AA meeting here in the city of Merida where she was the only woman present. They were having a discussion about some practical matter and there was supposed to be a vote on a proposal, it being seconded….but one particular cigarette smoking fellow named Hal who did not follow procedure….kep talking and wouldn’t allow a vote on the proposal. So, Cat pointed it out to him.
“The proposal has been seconded, so it’s time to vote,” Cat urged. “Oh, and who appointed you leader, Mom!!???” “Fuck you, Hal!” Cat blurted out. “You can’t say that!” another man chimed in.
“Of course you can,” Cat said. “People talk like that at AA meetings all the time!” The other men stared at the floor, mute. “Well, are we gonna fucking vote or not?” she belted out.
And with that, Cat stalked out of the meeting. “Fucking idiots!” she muttered as she returned home just six blocks away.
Often, she interrupts my stories as well as her own and we sometimes forget what exactly we were talking about. She laughs and admits that this is a terrible habit of hers. We talk while we are in her pool. Well, not her pool. It is the pool of the owner for whom she is managing the house I referenced earlier.
You see, she became friends with the couple who owned the place. The wife allowed her to live there without having to pay anything as the house was gigantic and there were several empty bedrooms. So, her rich friend told her: “Hell, just live here. Why not? My husband is a bore and besides, he won’t even care or notice.”
Her husband was a philanderer, often out womanizing in any case, very common practice in Mexico, married or not.
But back to Cat. So, Cat stayed with her new friend. And eventually, her friend died. Her friend’s husband, now very elderly and after suffering seven heart attacks, decided to move back to the U.S. His children agreed to let Cat be the caretaker. After all, she was honest and who else could they trust.? They themselves wanted no part of the mess. Maybe they were well off. Certainly, they did not want to live in Mexico.
They wanted to sell the place and put it up on the market of $800,000 which, of course, is a fortune in Mexico. It was a huge property in downtown Merida but you could not tell from the street, of course.
As in many old city centers in the Old World where houses shared common walls, what lay behind the front doors when closed and sealed was mystery. And this house extended a half block back and then veered right (an L shape with a series of other rooms, storage and other). In addition, it had a elevated patio with multiple rooms and a spectacular garden and of course, a pool.
Cat was responsible for maintaining the residence and also paying the bills and dealing with the realtor who was having a difficult time trying to sell the damn place. She had a regular employee who did most of the maintenance and catering required, a nice Mayan man named Daniel who didn’t drink, a real plus for a poor fellow in Mexico.
Even after they halved the asking price to $400,000, they got very few people inquiring about the place. I mean, the maintenance on the place, given its age, is fairly substantial—the gardens, the pool, the ancient plumbing and electrical grid.
Remember, this is Mexico where things have been patched up for decades and decades without, most often, much care given to things. Hire a cheap Mexican laborer to patch things up. Then when things get fucked up, hire two Mexican laborers to patch it up. Something like that. Mexican laborers do not make much money. But many know what they are doing and can do the temporary fix which is what most people do mostly because that is all they want to do. They prefer not to spend much money on anything. This is not America.
If you want to fix something seriously? Oh shit. You would have to spend thousands and thousands and maybe tens of thousands…..tear into walls, underneath the floors…..and God knows what you might find. This process goes on in America also with older homes. So you can only imagine what it is like in Mexico….when these structures were built…100 years ago? 200 years ago.
And the electrical grids in Merida like many cities are a hodgepodge of affairs. Here in Merida, you see workers climbing ladders and replacing wires and cables every day on some street. Updating to fiber optic some people say. Replacing old cables. It has gone on for over a year now and maybe ten years….god….who is counting. Something is always being replaced.
Drainage systems? I have been told that there are no pipes draining water away. There are just holes, maybe caverns. Hell, I don’t know how this works. I can tell you that many streets flood in heavy rain. This is the way it was in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles where I grew up in the 1960s. They did not have proper drainage systems then. But they eventually got them. I recall how they tore up the streets and how long it took to do the work.
See, that is the difference between a so-called Developed nation and an Under-Developed nation. Developed nations have good or decent or sufficient infrastructure, more or less. But who knows anymore? Things are getting worse even in developed countries. Potholes go unfixed. Sewage systems in some countries in Europe, no doubt, are ancient.
In Mexico, you can’t flush toilet paper down most toilets. It clogs things up. Underneath the house you are renting or have bought….sewer pipes are rusted, maybe cracked, possibly on the verge of breaking. My God, I smell horrific odors walking down many streets in many cities in Mexico. ‘What the hell is that?’ my brain asks after the appropriate neurons receive the malodorous sense impulses from my nostrils.
So the house where Cat lives has been reduced in price to $400,000 but still, Cat tells me…… no one wants it. It is too big. Potential buyers come in to look at it. Maybe they want to transform it into an B&B? Maybe they want to turn it into a school? A business? See, if they buy this place, how much money will they have to throw into it to make it right? That is part of the problem. The investment. The risk.
In Mexico, lots of Americans, Canadians, even Europeans come and buy what they consider cheap houses. Then, they fix them up. The ‘right’ way. Now, they have a very decent or awesome place. Then they grow old and want to return home for perhaps better medical care. They also want to see their families and be with them more. They are in their seventies and walking sometimes becomes difficult. And many end up suffering from all kinds of illnesses from eating and drinking too much, smoking cigarettes, not exercising.
Sorry for that digression in case you did not find this background….exactly…..well, mesmerizing.
“Shit,” Cat says, “I can’t sell the fucking house!” Which is a blessing actually. She lives there for free and even gets paid for the work she does which turns into a nearly full-time job in her mind since she counts the hours she even has to think or worry about something. It’s stressful and god-damn it, there is no man in her life either.
She stands six foot, two inches tall, towering above my 5’ 7” frame and has a limp due to her sciatic nerve. Soon, Cat plans to return to the Bay Area to see a doctor and to take a break and live in a friend’s house…more care-taking while her friend takes a vacation. Cat is a bit gangly with the tall body she has to pull around and her gait is a bit twisted as she walks.
Cat let me use her internet to teach English since I was having problems with mine where I was living about a half mile or a tad more from her. I was introduced to her by a couple male friends I had previously met, one an obese and pleasant but very opinionated American, the other a quiet Dutch fellow…..both married to Mexicanas by the way…and these extranjeros sounded very well-traveled.
My acquaintances seemed to convey a silent warning about Cat. They didn’t say that much about her. But Cat and I discovered we had let unorthodox lives, her much more so, of course, as she had become a communist early in her life. She thinks Stalin was no worse than Americans who took Indian lands and helped to eliminate them one way or another. When I mention to her that most Indians in the New World were wiped out by disease, she says, “Oh really? Who told you that?”
Of course, I have read a lot, being a history major…. and continue to do so. There are actually historic primary sources documenting many of the diseases Indians died from since they did not have the natural antibodies to fight off the diseases. Even measles or chicken pox could decimate villages, not to mention the plague and other illnesses.
But back to Cat, the commie.
As I said in my introduction, Cat had invited me over to her nice pool which I had enjoyed several times in the past month and we were conversing about all matters of things, often taking diversions on tangential topics and forgetting the point each one was trying to make or relate. And, no, we were not stoned. Just loquacious and verbose, lonely souls ready for some radical social perspectives and commentary which were difficult to hear much about these days.
(You know, sometimes it’s nice to think that some of the virtues and ideals from the sixties are still alive….even if just simmering).
I told her a story of taking the BART in San Francisco south to San Mateo and meeting a homeless person which inspired her to share her own anecdote about traveling on the same mass transportation service, having spent considerable time also growing up in Oakland. She even told me of hanging out at Raider games with Al Davis and his friends. But now she condemned football as nothing but ‘war’ and detested the violence therein.
Her harsh condemnation of football had surprised me but I let that go. Hell, I am a huge NFL fan. Didn’t want to argue with a commie, ex-addict about that.
But back to her story.
She says she was getting on the BART when she saw a woman who lay on one of the bench seats and who was very still. Cat told me, “Hell, I thought she was dead! Her face was all puffed up red and disfigured! And you know, there was a BART security guard right there talking with a another couple about the Giants, you know the baseball team!!”
I nodded my head as if to say, ‘Yes, I understand.”
Cat looked at me and commented, “Well, doesn’t that shock you?” She looked at me a bit perturbed.
“No, not really,” I commented.
“It doesn’t shock you that you the security guard was ignoring this woman, totally oblivious to her state and just babbling on about baseball?” she accused.
“Well, no because I have seen people in authority and in their jobs ignore all kinds of things that they should be paying attention to,” I replied, a bit irritated myself at her tone.
“Well, then, another Latino couple got on the train,” she continued. “They were young and were kissing and such and really didn’t appear to notice the woman laying on the bench.”
“Well, I was fuming and got up and told the security guard about the woman but he just shook his head as if affirming he was aware of the situation. But he didn’t do anything, not even investigate the situation,” Cat asserted, now getting quite upset.
I listened to her story, taking it all in.
“You mean that this does not surprise you at all!” she inquired of me once again as I gawked at her. She obviously expected some serious reaction from me that she was not getting.
Meanwhile, I was thinking: ‘The security guard probably deals with this crap and worse on a daily basis. After a while, he just gave up caring’. But I kept this to myself….seeing Cat get upset made me think that I had best keep my honest opinions to myself.
Well, about now, I was feeling a bit under attack as if I was having a conversation with one of my wives during my marriages and did not happen to react in the way they expected me to. I guess I was not showing Cat some empathy for her feelings which, to be honest, I didn’t quite understand.
I mean, why was she so angry? Granted she had abused drugs and alcohol for many years and I wondered if this was the source of her anger. Nah, it went much deeper, her whole fucked-up childhood….and adulthood it sounded like.
I again explained to her, now somewhat defensively, “Do you expect me to have the same reaction you had?”
“Well, don’t you care that the guard wasn’t doing his job?”
“Cat, the guy was obviously an asshole and didn’t care. What else do you want me to say?”
She looked at me, unmollified. Then, she said, “Well, then this woman who I thought might be dead, got up and took out a meth pipe and lit it! And the Latino guy got up, went over to her and told her to stop smoking, otherwise he would knock her out!!”
I was now stupefied at the turn this story was taking. And worse, Cat went on.
“And if he hadn’t, I would have,” she declared matter of factly. “Finally, at the next stop, the security guard ushered the woman off the train. Can you imagine that!”
Still feeling the shock that she could get so angry that she would turn violent against a woman who she had previously given up for the possibility of being dead….I didn’t know what to say. At this point, our interaction morphed into a argument and, for the life of me, I could not understand why she was so angry at me.
‘What did I do wrong?’ I wondered. I even asked her.
She then turned on me, “What’s wrong with you and why are you so angry? You’re the one that has made this an argument!”
Shit. This was shades of my first wife, the MFT, the one who railed at me and physically attacked me when I did not quite see things her way.
So, I announced that it was time for me to leave and got up. That was the last I heard from Cat except a terse message she sent by phone: “I am sorry for my part in our argument.”
Hell, I still wonder, what was ‘my part’? But when it comes to examining the emotions of a angry woman, sorry I get lost. I don’t think that this is what the French meant when they said, ‘Vive le difference’.
I did send over a message by email to Cat explaining that she should not expect me to have the same reactions to things that she had. I was nice. I told her that I thought she was ‘cool’. But apparently that was not sufficient for her. She wanted me to admit that I was partly responsible for the confrontation. First off, I wasn’t and second of all, I had no intention of wanting to hang out with here any more even if she had a pool and it was refreshing.
Just as well. As a friend of mine told me when I described the incident: “RUN! You don’t want to deal with an ex-alcoholic, ex-drug addict!”
I couldn’t agree more. I think people are entitled to their own opinions even in cases when they are stupid, ignorant, or angry like Cat. I just don’t want to be around them. Hell, you really can’t expect people to agree with you on all matters. And if a Commie woman wants to knock out a meth addict, I might not agree but when I am a guest at her house, I really don’t want to argue vehemently about a social problem or whatever you want to call it.
It just isn’t polite. Hell, it’s not like I am married to the woman. Thank God.