Are You Wearing Socks?

Adam on SM 1 by SK

“Are you wearing socks?” Ulises asks me. I look down at my leather boots.

“Yea. Why?”

“To walk in the river, dude. I’m not wearing any,” and he elbows me across the gearshift and winks. I think about it for a minute. Calzados. No, right, calzados means underwear. Calcetínes means socks. Always fuck that one up.

Am I wearing underwear? I’m always wearing underwear. But what underwear? Right, the knock-off Gucci spandex boyshorts-for-men Mom picked up last Christmas. Perfect. They cling like socks from the dryer out of the water; as soon as I hit the river they’ll be as revealing as Saran Wrap. Even better.

Ulises parks the truck in the shade and as I take a minute to check out the sapphire-blue ribbon in front of us, he hustles out and starts stripping. At least his going commando comment was a joke. He asks me if I’m coming. I look out my window and what seems to be the caretaker for the small group of tourist cabins a hundred yards to our right is leaning on his shovel and staring at me.

“Yea, sure,” I say to Ulises, and step out. It’s been a hot ride here and my jeans drag my briefs half off, exposing what I imagine is a piercingly white bit of waxing gibbous. Let’s go catch some fucking bugs.

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My house is full of bugs. Brown beetles that arrive in droves to nest in my clothes and die, sluggish and noisy cicadas that bumble screaming along the walls before they give up the ghost. Flies that alight on any drop of water and streams of ants to attend the piling dead.

The horror, etc

The horror, etc

We’re in the canícula now, a period I don’t remember from last year but which is somehow even worse than the thirty-day low-pressure heat-migraine that bloats above the month of May. We’re in the drought that shouldn’t be, the pause between the rains, already forgetting the climactic, cooling downpours of June and looking forward to the weeklong torrents of September that will take us into autumn and the blessed cool after the Day of the Dead.

The canícula is a bad time. A dead time. Cuts are slow to heal, animals fall sick, hair cut in these weeks will not grow until they end. Every day feels like the choking humid build to a thunderstorm that never comes, the temperatures of each tomorrow building on yesterday’s high. These are strange, malportentious days for beasts and men.

But not for the bugs.

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Posts are on a long delay now, folks. Sorry about it, but the internet connection in my office has been getting slower since the day I moved in. I had this piece worked up in WordPress before I found the literal day I need to spend uploading picture and all. I’ll keep plugging away.


Campaign season’s finally over here in Mexico, and I don’t think a soul in the country could be too unhappy about it. It’s a midterm year, halfway into the President of the Republic’s full six, and we’ve elected mayors, state congressmen, and in some cases, like in my state, governors too.

The campaigns are time-limited by law, so while there’s no sense of the continual campaign that American politics have become, electioneering is nonstop between late March and early June. Like the timeframe, Mexico has reams of legislation intended to reduce or make more difficult political corruption, and whether or not it works, it turns these months into a royal pain.

I work in a park office, a federal office, and to prevent the impression or the reality of our support for one or another candidate, we had all our public activity frozen from Easter to this week. We can’t hold meetings, so our big annual fairs or for the anniversary of the Reserve and World Bird Day never took place. My radio show has been off the air and won’t come back til tomorrow, even though the vote was a week and a half ago. James had to cancel his SPA project because it was based around public meetings, and in general we’re months behind now.

Mexican campaigns are about spectacle. You could say the same thing about them in the US or most any place in the world. But unlike the US, television and cable have nowhere near the penetration out here in the countryside than they do back home, so all that spectacle takes to the streets.[1]



The central plaza and main street in my town at midday for an end-of-campaign event

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The heat is settled in now, has been settled and settling since early April. It’s drier and wetter than last year at turns, but when it’s wetter it’s much wetter and when it’s drier it’s not much drier. The days dawn cool, a low cloud-cover promising protection and blazing off by ten am.

Our office is the best-sheltered place in town. It’s the second floor of an old hotel built into the side of the hill on which the Franciscans first put up the Mission, the Plaza Mayor, and the town. The floors above shade it so the heat of the sun can’t filter down, and the double-doored balconies along one side let the breeze in.

Hill Station-1-2

The office makes it so the season creeps up on us—we leave our houses earlier and earlier to catch the foggy pre-dawn and come back to them long after the sun’s gone down. The rest of Jalpan bakes for weeks while we can still hunker at our desks. So when it gets to the office, we know the heat has really come. It seems to seep out from inside you, meet the cushions of your chair and the wood of your desk, rebound onto your thighs and hands and forearms until you are all-over seating and you can’t touch your papers without soaking through. A girl I know down south told me, “The horror here in Oaxaca is the same; we are like gum, we stick to everything.”

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The Feria

The feria is on here in Jalpan, and it’s the best one there’s been in a while. This is an election year, and it’s the last chance for the outgoing municipal government to do things up big—whether or not the pesos could have been better spent elsewhere.

It’s something like what I imagine a small-town fair might have been in yesteryear in the US. Carnival rides, music venues, and half a hundred small eateries and bars cover our big soccer field-rodeo complex (my favorite bar name so far is Alcoholegio, something like Alcohollege; they’re ersatz establishments and they get to re-do the nomenclature every year).

I’m told the musical lineup is great, and there’s a concert every night, from older-timey Recodo:

Feria 4

Through stoner-rap band Cartel de Santa:

Feria 7

To the huge banda act Kommander:


To the lucha libre fight than ends proceedings this Sunday.

Feria 3

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Time to Face the Change

There’s no such thing as climate change doubt here in Mexico, not the way we have it in the States. Part of that’s because the subject’s never been politicized and the Mexican curriculum is federal. Same goes for evolution, probably not coincidentally—no room for fourth grade teachers to start editorializing during science class (course, they’re Catholics here, not literalists, so there’s no religious problem either). But the other reason, I think, is that it’s become impossible to ignore the evidence.

In the US, in Europe, we enjoy largely stable climates, and the effects of the change are, to us, far off. The whole southwest of the United States is experiencing a prolonged drought, but it’s a drought-y kind of region and more importantly is dominated by climate change denial. Heat stress has weakened our national forests to the point that bark beetles are soon going to replace trees entirely, but unlike in Mexico, people don’t live in our parks, and the problem’s low-profile despite its unprecedented disastrousness. Big storms get play, Sandy and Katrina among them, but they come infrequently enough and are distributed enough that they don’t, to us, constitute a trend.

Here where I live, though, the climate is fucked up. Last year was the first in living memory with no dry season. This year is the second. We have three seasons, more or less. What you might call the winter lasts from November to mid-February, although the cold’s a function of cloud cover more than anything—a sunny day in December’s going to hit the high eighties at least. The hot, dry season lasts from mid-February til the start of June. Not a drop of rain and temperatures in May that crest 45C. They tell us we’re getting to 40 next week. June to November is the wet season. Hot but not hot as hell and torrential in the afternoons.



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And Then There Was One

I roll out of bed at three, having woken up hours earlier and given into my malaise, drifting in and out of sleep before the final plunge off the mattress. I eyeball my kettle, full of old grounds, and tiptoe through a week’s worth of webs and spider husks, wondering if I’ll get up the ganas to sweep. Typical Sunday. My phone rings and the number’s too long to be domestic, so I know it’s Trey, and that cheers me up as I wait for him to call again. I saw the guy just enough over Christmas to remember how much I’ve missed him since he took a job with the state of California.

Look at him

Look at him

It rings a second time and we go through our how do you dos before he tells me Janessa’s had an accident in Panama, that she’s in the hospital down there, gone into surgery, leg full of pins. I’m doing the math as he’s talking—we’ve got forty-five days out of country to recuperate on medical leave, and two bones in the leg spell more than that.

Two down...

Two down…

Another volunteer got medically separated for a fucked up ankle, did it stepping off a bus. I ask Trey what it is with us volunteers and getting down from stuff. He laughs and tells me to be careful and we hang up.

I call Ben and break the news just this one time, to get it out of me. I keep thinking I left them both in a rush in the city, that it was the only time I haven’t said “take care” to another volunteer as they left for a trip. I pull out a cigarette, me who never smokes in daylight, and my hands shake through a cup of cold coffee. The next month bears out all our hurried calculations, and Peace Corps in DC medically separates her before the forty five are up. Not sufficiently ambulatory. After fourteen months, I am alone in site.

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In-service trainings are the highlights of the year for a lot of us, I think. We get to spend a full week with the people we have often come to love in-country. People we trained with, got sick with, worried with, learned Spanish with. Your class gets tight. Ours is especially well-knit, or at least the office has told us so.

It might have something to do with our ages. Previous groups in Mexico have been more focused on Technology Transfer and Natural Resources Management, two programs that in this country that in this country recruit volunteers who are more experienced and well-trained than what you might imagine to be the standard. The Mexico office is changing direction, though, and our class fit the archetype—young, eager, not far out of college.


Maybe we were more willing to goof around, or maybe it’s that are lives are short enough that they still have room for eighteen more close friends, or maybe we just happened to be compatible. When we get together after the isolation of the countryside, it’s a thing apart. To go from a second language back to your first is like learning how to speak again. I have a few good Mexican friends, and I wouldn’t trade them for gringo replacements, but there is so much lost communication even in my more-than-passable Spanish, so many small exchanges, so many inside jokes and asides that refuse to translate or grow up right in a foreign tongue. It is maybe not so obvious among friends, but I tried dating here for a few months and it drove the point home. It might even be that I have so little else to go on. I’m no sportsman, have no great hobbies outside of words. So much of my identity is wrapped up in English that I almost find myself without one in Spanish.

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Wait and See


It’s strange, how far away everything can be. Mexico seems smaller than it has any right to—it’s a large country, and not an easy one to travel over the longer distances. The roads and the highways are what do it, I think. They don’t branch and flower and whorl like in the States. They point singly and unerringly towards where they’re going. Through their simplicity they impart this false closeness. In a very real sense, Querétaro is just down the road, as is San Luis Potosí, and, with one turn, Mexico City.

So it’s always odd, off-putting, when in Jalpan our distance, our backwater position, and our parochial society come back into focus. People here have smartphones and the Internet, Hollister clothes and fair knockoffs of designer everything. It makes them seem like they’re in touch with the world, but it’s just pretend, and if it has any substance, any real connection, it’s directed northward to the States, not down and into the center of this Republic.

I’m told that the rest of Mexico is exploding. As best we know, they massacred some kids in Guerrero weeks ago, disappeared and then murdered and burned forty-three ‘activist’ students in the kind of collaboration between police, local government, and narcotraficantes that can define Mexican life in the further rural stretches. Killings like this are more commonplace than we could fathom or anyone would like to admit, but something about this one—how blatantly the police took part, how crude and incautious it was—something about it has touched a very raw nerve.

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Between a Cock and a Hard Place

Everyone thinks I’m gay. Here in town, that is. I’ve been told that before—most of the volunteer girls in our group thought so—and it doesn’t particularly bother me. My set of guys in the States wouldn’t mind, girls I’m interested in quickly find out it’s not true, and in any case I’m pretty comfortable with my sexuality and my 2.5 or so on the Kinsey Scale. The problem is that this is rural Mexico and the guys here do mind. A visit from a Jalpense girl who goes to college out of town confirmed that the gente definitely think I’m batting lefty and that it probably explains my paucity of straight male friends. As in, outside of coworkers and family, I have none.

The first glance thing isn’t the issue here—most young men dress way gayer than I do, and I know that sounds insensitive, but for the trendier Mexican set, gay or straight, spray-on jeans, tight-ass shirts and pastel colors are the uniform.

I couldn't find a picture of dudes wearing these after a ten second search. So yea these

I couldn’t find a picture of dudes wearing these after a ten second search. So yea these

A plaid palette and a relaxed leg-to-pant-width ratio put me in a more conservative sartorial cohort. The issue is that my best friend in town is gay. And since Jalpan is chockablock with ‘closeted’ young gay men, our association has branded me what seems like indelibly.

Mexico has a peculiar culture for gay people at the moment. Coming out hasn’t been, among friends, much of an issue for anyone I’ve known (with exceptions, given I went to a Catholic University) since the early years of high school. In parts of Mexico City, like the Zona Rosa, it’s weird to see anyone holding hands who isn’t gay, while Querétaro, the biggest city in my state and the place where Peace Corps Mexico is headquartered, is one of the more conservative urban areas in the country. It has a thriving urban hippy culture and what seems to be a healthy gay population (although without the handholding of the capital it’s harder to tell). At the same time, when I was headed to Mexico City and told my host mom I’d be staying in the same Zona Rosa, she opined about how beautiful it used to be. It’s still architecturally beautiful and full of municipal art and statuary…it’s just also full of gay folks.

This is pretty representative

This is pretty representative

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