Monday, March 30, 2009

Open Letter to Gym Meatheads

Dear Sirs,

If you slam the weight back down once you are finished with your reps, it means you do not have proper control. You are lifting too much. I understand you wish to bulk your muscles, and the way to do that is to lift as much as you possibly can, but you should still be able to gently reposition the weight without dropping it violently. The noise it makes—as well as the sound you make when you let go, something like a primordial grunt and deep exhalation—is obnoxious and unnecessary, as, I suspect, are all of you.

I know you wish to show us all exactly how much you can lift, but all you are really showing us, your fellow gym members, is what tools you really are.

Grow up, assholes.



Friday, March 27, 2009

Nicanor Parra

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Last night I tried my hardest to drink a beer and was unable to choke it down. This could be due to a few different factors:

1. I am getting over a horrible illness and the idea of drinking is repulsive right now;

2. The beer was flat and the glass wasn’t the cleanest, making the experience less than desirable;

3. I can’t drink anymore.

I worry that the last answer is correct. Maybe I am finished with drinking? Maybe I just can’t muster up the enthusiasm for alcohol that I once had? Maybe not smoking is making drinking seem pointless and incomplete?

I have a few friends who request my company. They usually want to meet at a bar. What am I to do when I can’t even nurse a beer?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mexico for the hungry

Friday, March 20, 2009

The funniest thing I’ve ever seen:

Thanks, Carla.

I ♥ D.F.

And I’m back. Back, yo. Back with a muthafuckin beat.

Start again.

I wanted to see Mexico, which is where I spent a wonderful week long ago, specifically in San Miguel de Allende, a lovely town, though when I mention my stay there to anyone familiar with Mexico they seem to dismiss the town as being “San Miguel de Gringo.” Well, it may not be Sinaloa but it’s not Cancun either.

An opportunity arose to visit Mexico City, or Ciudad de Mexico, or simply Mex. D.F. if you prefer, along with Chiapas, the Yucatan, and many, many sights therein. I jumped at the chance. Literally. I present the following choppy log of cities/states/locations and brief tales from my odyssey south o’ the border:

Sat. 2-28-09

My niña and me arrive. It’s night in Mexico City, but it looks amazing to me. This is the city of Bolaño in Amulet—which I bring with me to reread (seemed appropriate)—and The Savage Detectives (at least the first 100 or so pages). This is the city seen in Battle in Heaven, Y Tu Mama Tambien, the fiction of Carlos Fuentes and Jose Emilio Pacheco… this is the most populous city in North America, maybe even beyond. This is life lived loud and mad. This is chaos.

Chaos seems a good word to use in regard to the driving. The trek from the airport through town and into Texcoco, where we stayed in a little village called Nexquipayac, is dangerous. Cars merge and swerve without looking, anytime they feel like it. It’s mad.

We get to the little pueblo and meet the woman who will be cooking for us, a lovely woman who makes wonderful chilaquiles, one of my favorite dishes when made well. This would be the first of many plates of chilaquiles I would eat. I also had my first flan of the trip that night, also not my last.

We camp out in the modest home in which we are staying. The TV is not working, the water needs heating, there’s a radio that seems married to American pop music of the ‘80s and early ‘90s (not the good kind). But there’s space and clean sheets and shelter. What more could one ask for? (Well, perhaps privacy, but that’s a longer story.)

Sun. 3-1-09

Wake up and shower. The gas has been installed and the shower—a trickle though it be—is warm enough to qualify as functional. After a big breakfast, we head to Texcoco downtown proper and buy tickets for the coming tour of the so-called Mayan Riviera (a loathsome term). Later that night we head to Coyoacan, the hip(py) suburb of Mexico City. Here we visit the famed Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s amazing home. It’s beautiful, claro, but I notice that the monuments and quotes strewn around the lawn where monkeys and other wildlife once roamed free (now overrun with us tourists and a few stray cats) all center back to the love the two shared. They are a legendary couple, true, but part of the legend (a big part) has to do with their infidelities and squabbles. No evidence is available, for example, of the spot on the property where Diego fucked Frida’s sister.

No time for Trotsky’s house, so we head back to the plaza stopping off for a meal at La Casa de Mí Tía. The mole is the best I’ve ever tasted. The plaza is big and there are stalls galore for purchasing purses, jewelry, and other handmade items. I find one selling books and settle on a copy of Pedro Páramo Juan Rulfo. It’s in the original Spanish, yes, and this is what I want. When I love a book I like to get it in its original tongue, even if I can’t read it. I also like to get as many copies of my favorite books as possible. I have so many Master and Margarita’s, one in Portuguese and another in Spanish (more on that later).

After the walk through the markets, we stop for a churro. I was never crazy about these deep fried, sugar sprinkled confections, but I will say that it is the best churro of my life. The ones I tried a week later sucked, which just goes to show that just because you are in a country, the food is not always better. Then again, churros are nasty to begin with.

Mon 3-2-09

Another trip from the little pueblo to the big city. We make the Zocalo our main basis of operations for the day. The grand plaza houses the largest Mexican flag, which is ceremoniously lowered at dusk across from the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral. We stop only briefly to catch the sights before hopping a tour bus. Three hours later, we’ve seen the hell out of the Ciudad. Most notable to me was a protest on Reforma, which is called by the recorded guide the most important street in the city. The protest is one of two I’ll witness before the trip is over. Elections are coming and with them is a rise in public outcry.

Tues 3-3-09

An early morning flight to Chiapas. We land and are greeted by the skinny guide who collects us and drives toward our hotel, or so I think. Instead of finding our lodging, we stop to take the first of many tours, this one being the most frightening. I am handed a life jacket and told to sit in a motorboat. I cannot swim, so I secure the aged jacket tightly. The boat takes off with eight of us in the front and the driver standing at the helm behind us. The water is a green-blue hybrid, like the Chicago River after St. Pat’s putrid day. We speed past the last sign of man-made construction, the pier, and stop to see vultures waiting patiently. Then we go further, toward the crocodiles so close you can see a gleam of light from their teeth. All the while the sun is beating my face and exposed arms with relentless fury. I will be burned. My skin will peel. People will look at me with curiosity.

The boat ride ends and we return to the van and finally, after taking what feels like a circuitous route through mountains, we reach San Cristobal. The town is beautiful. We walk through plaza, past the church infected with hippies and the many, many Mayan women and children aggressively selling shawls and bracelets. I notice for the first time that, if I wish to, I can buy loose cigarettes on the street. I flirt with the idea. I don’t have to commit to an entire pack, just buy the one and smoke it. It might even cost less than a peso. I consider it out loud and am told that I should be strong. I am strong.

The hotel is nice, but there is no heat or AC. In the daytime, Chiapas is warm; at night it is very cold. The staff provides a space heater and extra blankets and me and my girl do the best we can to stay warm while watching Mexican TV before falling alseep.

Wed 3-4-09

I wake up feeling rotten. Something I ate gave me an infection or, at the very least, a rough case of indigestion. I “man up” and go on the second tour, this time, via van again, through Mayan villages near San Cristobal. We see a Mayan cemetery overrun with stray sheep and street dogs, then hit a few churches, which are incredibly gorgeous. I love churches, even if I don’t go in for the mumbo jumbo that’s preached within those ornate walls.

We are told that you have to ask permission to photograph a Mayan. They might hit you otherwise. Seriously.

I collapse in the hotel after the tour. I remember little after that.

Thurs 3-5-09

Feliz cumpleaños, niña. Tour of a few waterfalls, which we walk under perilously. Then off to Palenque and the pyramid ruins. Only 30% of Palenque has been uncovered and, thanks to a long-winded tour guide, we see only about half of that. Were it not for our decision to break from the group and climb the first pyramid, we would have seen less. Fat, lazy bastard.

Dinner that night in a strange but agreeable restaurant in the middle of the dirty old town then back to the hotel. My face is peeling pretty badly by now but the hotel shower feels like heaven.

Fri. 3-6-09

Long drive in the van to a natural history museum in Tabasco. This is the third of four states in Mexico we will see. The museum is wonderful—outdoor facilities kind of like a zoo with big Olmec heads. We see the revered jaguar, stalking its ground behind bars with steely eyes and black fur. We see birds and what I can only guess are tapirs. It’s a tranquil, pleasant outing.

And then we drive some more through Tabasco ending up in a town called Villahermosa. This is a complete misnomer. The town is dirty, loud, hot, and imposing. We are to catch a bus from here to the Yucatan. We have not looked at the tickets yet, as our travel companion has them. We find out that we have an eight-hour layover. Fuck.

The first hour is killed in the bus station. Imagine any bus station you’ve ever been in. Now imagine it in Mexico. It’s ugly and uncomfortable. Seven more hours to kill, we head to what we’re told is an internet café but is really more of a copy/office supply store with computers. I check my email and kill a few hours reading all the literary news I’ve missed, which isn’t much. Unlike a lot of people, I get bored online after a little while, and start to long for the bus station where I can at least read my book. When I get back there, I don’t read but kill many hours playing cards with my girl. I’m on a losing streak when our travel companions return with news. They’ve made friends with the local pharmacist. He invites them, and, by extension, us, back to his house. We chance it and go. He and his wife are about the nicest people you might ever meet. Who else would take in strangers, give them a cool drink and let them hang out in comfort watching Slumdog Millionaire?

The time comes for us to catch the bus and we thank our hosts profusely. It is now 11:00 PM and we hop on the giant bus and immediately fall the hell asleep.

Sat. 3-7-09

Awake in the bus station near Mérida. Wait a bit for the transport to the hotel. Check in after some squabble with the front desk and an unimpressive breakfast. The town, on the other hand, is incredible, maybe my favorite. This might have something to do with the bookstore I find near the plaza, where I buy a few books, including the complete poems of César Vallejo in Spanish. Dinner is a curious dish of panuchos, sort of like tostadas but with black beans in the fried tortilla, topped with avocado and cucumber. Delicious.

Sun 3-8-09

Another guided tour, this time to Chichen-Itza. The grand pyramids are indeed grand, but we are not allowed to climb them. Too many tourists, too much damage. Damn. The sun is merciless but the sights are fantastic.

After the tour we go to a buffet style lunch and watch children dance with glass bottles on their heads. Then we head back to Mérida to spend the day walking through town. It’s hot and sweaty even at night. Unreal.

Mon 3-9-09

Bus to the airport, plane back to Mexico City. We get in that evening and our travel companion/host revs the car up past 120 MPH when she hears of the chilaquiles waiting for us back in Nexquipayac. Dear god, you’d think she never had chilaquiles before in her life.

Tues 3-10-09

Early start. Trip to Mexico City proper to seek out La Villa. We find the grand basilica and the sinking church that marks the spot where the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego and converted a bunch of heathens to the Roman Catholicism that has dogged Latin America for centuries. My girl buys another rosary from the holiest of holy spots in Mexico. I marvel at the deteriorating church and its slanted pews.

Then we visit Tlatelolco and La Plaza de las Tres Culturas, the sight of the infamous 1968 student protest and the slaughter of the innocents by the hands of the military. You think Kent State was bad? Read up on this atrocity. We spot the church that closed its doors on the people seeking safety once the bullets started flying. I spit on the church, literally. My protest is over 40 years too late, but I enjoy it anyway.

After Tlatelolco, we get lost trying to find the Mercado Insugentes. It’s a long, annoying story. We eventually find the market and I tolerate three hours of jewelry shopping. On our way back, we head down Garibaldi where my niña negotiates a song from the horde of mariachis.

Wed 3-11-09

A morning trip to Teotihuacan. Very hot. I climb as far as they will let me up the Sun and Moon pyramids. Very steep and scary; sublime and exciting. It’s hard not to be awed by these monuments and to question the civilization that created them. I can’t imagine such spectacles in my own town. Skyscrapers are wonderful, and I couldn’t live without them, but they don’t compare.

Thurs 3-12-09

Another trip to the Zocalo in the heart of MX D.F. This time we go on foot, mostly down Avenida Madero and the many bookshops in the area. We go overboard in our bookshopping. I snag two G. Cabrera Infante books, one of which is a weighty hardback collection of his work, some more Bolaño, including Amuleto, which I just reread in English. My girl forces me to start reading it in Spanish, and a lot of it makes sense, though I get lost after 25 pages. I’m still working my way through the thing. In a small store with an annoying prick of salesman, we find The Master and Margarita in Spanish. My girl buys this for me as a gift to add to the growing collection of Bulgakov books in my library. I now have Bulgakov in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. Oddly, I don’t have his work in Russian.

It starts to rain as we find a very European looking sidewalk and sit under an umbrella-covered table and sip our drinks (coffee for her, tea for me). The temptation to smoke returns, and we might have crumbled had one of those many street vendors approached us. Luckily, they were nowhere in sight when the raindrops fell.

Fri 3-13-09

Unlucky day. I should have known, right?

Actually, not so bad in retrospect. We drive four hours to Puebla. It should be a two-hour drive, but our friend gets lost on the way. While navigating the small towns, we spy a bull loose from its rope, bucking and charging down the road, a man running behind. It’s a precursor to the African Safari we hit once we get near the Puebla city limits. The safari is somewhat disappointing, certainly not as humorous and compelling an image as a bull running wild down a small city street.

Puebla itself is charming. I love the city, even if we spent four hours getting there and only four on foot mapping its central area. Aside from the crafts and books and other consumer goods, we stop at a vegetarian restaurant for lunch where I savor the second best mole of my life. I begin to feel as though I’ve spent a forth of the trip eating, two-forths in a car and the rest sight seeing. I’m not pleased at this realization, which hits me on the way home, cramped in the backseat for three hours. We’re supposed to hit Cuernavaca the next day, but I have already made my mind up to refuse that outing, even if it means I spend the day in the pueblo, which, while quaint, does not offer much in the way of entertainment. And, let me be clear, I have always wanted to visit Cuernavaca. This is a big sacrifice, but it’s worth it not to be in a car anymore.

Sat 3-14-09

A day in Texcoco, walking the streets, stopping for tea and then to the movies. A laid-back day, very much needed at this point. We have seen a lot. A lot of culture—beautiful, exhausting culture.

The events of that evening and the next morning are difficult to relate at the moment, but they have to do with a last-minute change of plans and expense regarding our transportation to the airport first thing in the morning. It stresses me a lot, which is not how you want your vacation to end, but it all works out, so there’s no harm in the tangible sense. Returning to Chicago I am awash in the same joy that accompanies the end of many of my vacations, the joy of being home. I love the D.F. but I love Chi too. My love manifests in so many way.

That’s all. Thanks for the attention, those of you who made it the whole way through this long, fractured post. Thug love to all.