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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Oh yea. The time has come.

Oh yea. It’s time

Crystal Passion minces and flits around the ring in a thong leotard with along white tassels and a blonde wig, and it’s a performance so ridiculous that I think it must be satire—’this is what an ignorant making fun of a cross-dresser would look like.’ The emcee screams, “He’s gay!” Which is a conclusion the alternately laughing and jeering crowd has already come to. Passion is big, muscly, and what looks around two-fifty, and although the suplexes and slaps are there, the main attacks seem to be nonconsensual kisses and a generalized threatening-with-gayness.

Lucha libre 2

This is lucha libre.

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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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Workshopping the Future

 Most of the pieces I’ve written for the Peace Corps Mexico internal newsletter The Piñata have been posts I’d already tapped out or had in mind for this blog. This time it’s reversed; I’ve changed all acronyms to words and explained where I think explaining was merited, but you folks are smart, you’ll get a long.

An ex-volunteer, between his Close of Service in November and his move to the Philippines for Peace Corps Response this past May, made a short tour of Mexico, and when he came by Jalpan, he left me a book, Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything from December of last year. Peace Corps Volunteers being what they are, I imagine some of you have read Klein and even her new work. But for everyone who hasn’t, I’ll give you the briefest summary and then we’ll get onto why it’s important.

Because it changes everything?

Because it changes everything?

As a species, we’ve spent the forty years we’ve known about the problem doing nothing; neither Río nor any later conference has made any real gains, and we’re maybe less than a decade out from releasing enough carbon to blow past 2C of warming into an all-the-more-apocalyptic future.[1] Our large multinational fossil fuel companies have, right now, reported reserves that, if extracted and burned, would easily bring us to 3 or 4C of warming.[2] Not only that, but the danger climate change presents isn’t imminent so much as it’s already here, and more than a few of us in Mexico have observed firsthand variations in climate that deviate from millennia of established patterns.

I assume we're all past this point if we're not experts

I assume we’re all past this

The causes we’re mostly familiar with. Dirty electricity production is foremost, followed by the burning of fossil fuel for transport, both personal and commercial, especially the diesel and gasoline used to power the ships and planes and trucks on which global trade depends. And industrialized agriculture, which has huge carbon outlays not just for shipping and the running of equipment and facilities but in the extraction and production of mineral fertilizers, all alongside the massive pollution and environmental destruction caused by runoff and the overuse of herb- and pesticides. Others, of course, but here you have the big three: power, transport (shipping), agriculture.

Naomi Klein’s solution to this disaster is appropriately drastic. She wants to overthrow the global capitalist system, not by violence but by mass democratic action. She wants to derail the neoliberal ‘Washington Consensus’ that has dominated global economics since the late 1980s and which, for a time, was the leading philosophy in development as well.

What has any of that got to do with us? Everything. Not in the overthrowing—it’s not within the ambit of a Peace Corps volunteer. We come in when Klein imagines the world afterwards.

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Mexican Courtship Rituals

I went out with my first girlfriend for a long time. From my freshman year of high school through the summer after my freshman year of college. Long enough that when we (she, wisely) broke it off, I’d gone through adolescence and into young adulthood without ever having been single. There are important things you learn during those years: how to flirt, how to ask someone out, how to tell if there’s interest in the first place. And one that my generation pioneered—how to work smartphones and social media into it.

Whereas our parents pioneered carrying the phone into the next room and shouting at other people to get off the line

Whereas our parents made important strides carrying the phone into the next room and shouting at other people to get off the line

I’d never texted anyone before I started dating her, and because of my limited message plan, hadn’t much texted anyone else until after we broke up. There is a strict texting etiquette at the beginnings of things, and I only got an inkling of it with her. I was a bit of a social failure that first year at university. She was not, and the feeling of slow, torturous knotting in my stomach as I piled text on text trying to check up on her at 2am on a Friday night from my darkened dorm room is the reason why we have a code of communication in the US.

If you’re following the rules to a letter as a guy, you never text twice in a row. Inasmuch as you can, you never text first. You use emoticons rarely or not at all. Generally, you wait until the next day with a number—if she was that excited about you, you’d be with her and not wondering when to fire off a message. Most people don’t call. It’s an intricate dance between young people in the States, often enough both parties wanting to get together and both trying not to give off too much the impression that they do.

Right up until the point we start sending each other pictures of wangs

Right up until the point we start sending each other pictures of our wangs

Saying “I love you” too early has been a trope in popular culture forever, and that reticence is now an integral part of the opening salvos of a relationship. The whole ‘we don’t want to put labels on it’ thing, too, is now less something that douchebags say on sitcoms and more part of the fabric of American dating. As I’ve explained it to Mexican friends: you ask somebody to go out, and if it goes well, you keep going out, and after long enough you kind of fall into the boyfriend/girlfriend thing; no formalization anymore, no giving out jackets and rings and asking folks to go steady.

All this is second nature to young people back home. You don’t worry about it because you just know, go about it automatically. The point is that Mexicans are in a different place. And it’s a problem for us volunteers.

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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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Bury the Lede

Things decay in the campo. They break down, fall apart, succumb to the entropic forces of heat and wet and hard use. Shoe soles crack, fray, come to pieces, holes wear into socks and shirts and packs, mud and road dust creep into everything. Even cuts turn to scars more often out here.

In spite of it, I’m taking better care than I ever have before, better care of everything. The easy (because they’re self-motivating) things, like obsessive flossing and overuse of gauze and antibiotics to keep teeth and limbs from falling out and off. But the smaller and more tedious things too, cleaning where before I would have let lie, repairing and restoring where custom would have me replace.

I have an orange Jansport backpack. Dad brought it home to the house in Michigan more than six years ago expecting (I imagine) to use it himself. I stole it that same night (I think), and my first act of possession was to shear off half of its straps with a pocket knife because I didn’t like the way they looked. I’ve used that pack in the intervening years for school and every trip I’ve made under seven days, and it’s held up. But my laptop’s heavy and seventeen inches large, just a bit wider than the Jansport, and last October the seams around the shoulders finally blew out. I’ve sewn them back together twice now, black and white thread reaching further and further from the original stitching to find purchase.

I'm a natural

I’m a natural

I tore out the bottom of my hiking pack transporting hardwoods for my amateur-but-really-professional-carpenter father, and the dual color thread stands out even more brightly against its olive drab.

I brought twelve pairs of socks back to Mexico from the US the first time I went home and tore the heels out of all of them in three months of sweaty summer use. Then I darned them.

I darned them all!

Darned and in need of re-darning

Now I’m looking for a wooden mushroom and I’ve started pre-patching all my new pairs against the creeping serrano deterioration.

The highway that fronts my office is the only artery of communication through the mountains and half the day we can’t hear anything for all the engine-braking. Every morning we come in to another millimeter of road dust on our desks, and I’ve become intimate with the insides of my laptop, prising it apart and cleaning it and piecing it together again. I brought a keg of Oxi-Clean home from that same first trip, and the TSA opened and upended it in my pack after check-in. I spent two days tweezing the white particles out of my motherboard, blowing the detergent from each individual connection.

My whites are whiter than ever

My whites are whiter than ever though

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Yo No Sé Qué

I went to visit Ben Weiss a couple of weekends ago.[1] It’s not the first time I’ve gotten the feeling I like another volunteer’s digs more than my own.

Case in picture

Case in picture

Ben lives in San José de Gracia outside of Aguascalientes, home of the (very, it turns out) locally famous Cristo Roto, a Statue of the Crucifixion they dropped during construction. Apparently it came alive to tell the townsfolk not to fix it. It’s now a strobe-lit tourist-trap.

The ride from the city skirts past the benighted Pabellón (sorry Kyle) and then climbs up into the foothills of the Sierra Fría until it arrives at a small plateau on which is a pueblo very much like the one in which I live. It’s not as old and it has wide avenues instead of Jalpan’s cramped colonial streets and alleys, but it’s close enough the same.

Ben pays less than me for a house that’s three times as large on the first floor and comes with a second and a yard. Housing prices have skyrocketed since Jalpan got provisional approval as a Pueblo Mágico.[2]. Ni modo, but there’s thing one. Thing two is that Ben has a family. Not the host family—I’ve seen his now, and as nice as his abuelos are, I’d take my own. No, Ben has made a family.

After a kind of trial period, he’s settled down into a comfortable domesticity with his Mexican girlfriend Mara, a biologist who does freelance work from her own small consultoría. A family up the road from him has eight kids and money for not quite that many, so the youngest two sell donuts around town every morning. I found this out when they rang the bell at seven and peeked in to see me pretending to sleep on the couch. He sent them whispering off, and when I was up to see them on their return at nine, I wished he hadn’t.

Karla, who’s nine, and Jonathan, who looks like he’s around there, are the two cutest kids I’ve ever seen. Here, there, anywhere, these are them.

Seriously they're real cute

These kids man, the photos don’t do them justice

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