Idiotic Idioms

Carlos Ignacio Julio Rodriguez de Soto ambled toward the popular Ajijic coffee shop. A cautious, self-consciousness permeated his gait. He spotted an unoccupied table amidst several tables of English-speaking customers and sat. In a smooth continuous move, he slung his backpack off his shoulder and onto the table. He unzipped it, reached in and pulled out a dog-eared, disintegrating Spanish-English dictionary. Then he tweezed from the back pocket of his skinny jeans his cellphone and readied its translation app. He scanned the jabbering Yanks, Canucks, and Brits around him.

Oh, I don’t stand out, he thought. No. Not at all. I’m not just the only teenager sitting here, but I’m the only Mexican, too.  He chuckled to himself. These people are older than my mama and papa. Hell, they’re older than Mexico. But I’ve gotta do th…

His thoughts were interrupted by a voice speaking Spanish near his left ear. “What are you doing here, Carlos?” He turned to see a former schoolmate, Diego Sanchez, holding two dirty coffee cups with spoons protruding from them.

Carlos jumped up and hugged his friend. “I have to practice listening to English. Seňora Losada said we need to listen to gringos speak.” Carlos tilted his head. “You had Seňora Losada for English before you graduated, right?”

“Of course. And she’s right. You have to listen to other people besides her,” Diego explained. “You know she has never been to el norte. She learned English in school, like us.”

“I know.”

“Dude, I was shocked how poor my English comprehension was when I started working here.” Diego peeked over his shoulder at the barista. “My boss is watching, Carlos. Can I get you anything?”

Carlos looked at Diego. A mix of lack of confidence and terror screamed from his eyes. “Yes.” He paused, mentally forming the rest of his answer. “I will have normal coffee,” the teen replied in deliberate English. “No. I mean regular coffee. Thank you.” Diego nodded like a teacher commending a student for a job well-done and stepped away. Carlos smiled with satisfaction.

A man in a polo shirt sidled up to a table near Carlos. The two men and one woman occupying it looked up. “Where’s Debbie?” the woman asked.

“She’s a bit under the weather.”

Carlos looked at the sky. Hazy filtered clouds looked back. Under the weather? This Debbie, Carlos thought, is sitting below the clouds? But why she cannot be here?

Voices caught Carlos’ attention from his other side. He turned. Three women were talking with animation as they smoked. One of the women was looking at Carlos. She smiled and looked away. Another woman said, “You know that girl from California who moved into the casita behind me? Well, she’s not playing with a full deck.”

Fool deck? Carlos repeated to himself. What does that mean?

The woman continued. “She asked me to drive her to Guadalajara so she could go to Starbucks for some coffee. I told her we have coffee shops here. And if you insist on Starbucks, take the bus or Uber. Well, she looked at me like I had flipped my lid. ‘Madison,’ I told her, ‘if you think I’m going to drive you to Guadalajara for coffee, you’re barking up the wrong tree.’”

Carlos typed “fool deck” into his phone. “Cubierto tanto” the translation app typed back. This California Madison girl is not playing with a cubierto tanto ? Well, then what is she playing with? he asked himself.  And what is ‘flipped her lid?’ He typed. His cell phone told him the woman had volteó su tapa. She has a tapa? Like my abuela’s Tupperware?

“The wrong tree,” the woman repeated emphasizing “wrong.” Can you imagine me doing that? Driving in Guadalajara? For coffee? Oh, hell, no.”

“Barking,” Carlos typed. Oh, ladrido. I know that. Like the dogs. He typed “wrong.” I know ‘wrong’ means incorrecto. But that does not make the sense. “Incorrecto” appeared on his screen. OK. It is incorrecto. But what tree is the correct tree to bark on? Why would people bark on a tree anyway? People climb trees.

“I don’t think that Madison girl is going to last long,” one of the woman’s companions said. “She’s not gonna cut the mustard.”

               What? Carlos thought. How do you cut mustard? And did Madison actually say, “No. I will not cut your mustard?”

As Diego brought Carlos’ coffee, the woman at the table who had looked at Carlos studied the server. “That new waiter is really good. He’s fast. He notices details. He’s on the ball.”

Carlos peeked at Diego’s feet. “He is not on a ball. How could he work if he on is on a ball?” He looked up and noticed the woman looking at him again. Her gaze darted past him, an obvious ploy. Does that woman know me? Carlos thought. Or does she think she recognizes me? Why else would she be looking at me? Does she think I am someone famous?

The voice of under-the-weather Debbie’s husband lured Carlos’ attention back to the previous conversation. “You know, Gary and Janet bought that place they were looking at.”

“Really?” one of his companions asked. “What’s it like?”

“Well, it has a pool, tennis court, and two casitas. It’s got the whole nine yards.”

               Nine yards? Carlos thought. Why do they need nine yards? Do they have horses? Are they farmers? Do they have many children? Nine yards? Isn’t one enough?

“How did they swing that deal?” the woman at the table asked.

“According to Bill Nelson,” the man answered, “and I take everything Bill says with a grain of salt, they inherited a good chunk of change from Janet’s brother. I don’t think I’m letting the cat out of the bag by telling you he was a land developer and made some shady investments.”

Carlos looked confused. This Bill Nelson gives salt when he talks? Carlos grabbed his dictionary and looked up “chunk.” Oh, pedazo. So American coins melt and become chunk. He looked up as if he were thinking. A chunk for each of the coins? Or one big chunk for all of them together? Carlos looked at the feet of the man speaking. He saw a clear plastic bag containing fruit and vegetables. There is a cat in his bag? I do not see a cat.

Women’s laughter from Carlos’ other side grabbed his attention. He turned as one of the women lit another cigarette. “Did I tell you, she asked her tablemates. “Carolyn quit smoking? That’s why she won’t join us anymore.”

“How’d she do it?”

“Cold turkey.”

Carlos sat back. Their friend stopped smoking cigarettes and eats cold turkeys now instead? he thought. That is strange. A conversation from a third table interrupted his contemplation.

“So last night,” a deep male voice said,” I was about to hit the hay, when CNN ran an interview with some White House aide who began to cry in the middle of the interview.”

“Well, they’re all flying by the seat of their pants,” another voice commented.

               I know ‘hit,’ but not ‘hit the hay,’ Carlos said to himself as he typed. Oh, he continued when the translation appeared, why would people hit hay? He laughed. Gringos are very violent. Why don’t they just shoot the hay with their guns? And what is this flying by the chairs of their pants?

“So,” the man went on, “I’m watching this middle-aged man break down on TV and it really upset me. I couldn’t handle it and went to bed. But I couldn’t sleep. I just couldn’t get over it.”

Carlos took his dictionary and thumbed to the “D” section. Oh, I didn’t know that. Down also means feathers. But how do you break feathers? And why could the man not get over his bed? How tall are American beds?

Confused by all he had heard, Carlos finished his coffee and packed his belongings. As he stood, the cell phone of the woman with the young Californian neighbor rang. “Hi, Honey,” she answered it. She paused, smiled, and said, “I knew it. Thanks for making my day. I’ll be home soon.”

“What happened?” another lady at the table asked.

“That crazy Madison is already moving out. Going back home. Jim says she hadn’t even completely unpacked. I’m so glad she’s gone.”

As Carlos stepped around the women’s table, the woman who had been peeking at him added with a laugh, “Well, Jeannie, you predicted a short stay. You were right. Elvis has left the building.”

Carlos stopped, a look of understanding washing over his face. He looked at the woman he had caught studying him. “Oh, no. I am not Elvis. My name is Carlos. And we are not in the building. We are outside under the weather,” he said as he turned and walked away.

The ’70s Again

It was January 1, 1970. I was six months from graduating from college. Six months from the real world. I was wearing bell-bottom pants and a tie-dye T-shirt, standing in a closet with the door ajar.  I was listening to the last of the music produced together by four blokes called The Beatles.

I was unable to run or climb stairs quickly because I had recently suffered a herniated disc and was dealing with constant sciatic pain down my right leg. X-rays couldn’t show the damage and doctors couldn’t verify it. I had a horrible draft lottery number and was certain, even though I was incapacitated, I would be headed to Vietnam within months of my graduation. I was freaking out. Luckily, I received an eleventh hour reprieve and was declared ineligible for military service.

Therefore, January 1, 1970 was the first day of my favorite decade. I loved the ‘70s and I don’t know how many times I’ve told people younger than myself that the ‘70s were a great time, an exciting time. Except for one thing

The War in Vietnam.

Even though we spent the first half of the decade in the midst of a senseless war in which several of my schoolmates and thousands of my generation died, we had hope. We thought we could change things, improve the US, its government and policies, and better the world. We marched. We wrote letters. We voted. We had hope.

After all, we were seeing changes, positive steps in the Civil Rights Movement. We were seeing a developing Woman’s Movement. And, unexpectedly, there also was even a glimmer of a Gay Rights Movement. Things were looking better. The sexual revolution had been born. Marijuana use was common and, in certain circles, acceptable.

But, for me, while there were many contributing factors, what made the 1970s special was the music. Certainly, I loved the music from the late ’50s through the ‘60s, especially that which was created by Black musicians or influenced by them. While I enjoyed The Beatles and so many other musicians who were part of the British Invasion, Motown, Phil Specter’s Solid Wall of Sound, and R&B got my juices flowing. Therefore, I was primed for the signature music of the ‘70s…

DISCO!

I remember my first disco experience as if it were yesterday: The City in San Francisco. We’re not talking John Travolta/white suit disco here. We’re talking gay disco, with hundreds of dancing men in T-shirts, tanks, and polos that were shed as sweat poured from their pores. I was overwhelmed with the sound system, the fullness of the music, its layers, and its joy. I was pulled in to the unfamiliar lyrics of the one-hit wonder Everyday People’s gay-lib anthem I Like What I Like (Because I like It), Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra’s Love’s Theme segueing ( Segueing? Who ever heard of segueing before that?) into Under the Influence of Love, and I’ll Always Love My Mama by The Intruders. The Disco Era continued beyond that night, into the 1980s, and I could list countless other records and artists from those years that I loved, that impacted me on numerous levels. But I won’t. Let it just be said that disco was not merely Saturday Night Fever and The Bee Gees for me.

I’m turning 70 this week. It’s like January 1, 1970 all over again. I’ve got that whole decade ahead of me. The ‘70s. Only this time it is my 70s, not the ‘70s. I’m not as hopeful or excited about this 70s. Perhaps it is because life and US politics has left me jaded, skeptical, and disillusioned. Perhaps it is because I no longer have hope. It isn’t that I don’t care about the US anymore; it’s that I don’t have the energy or stamina after 50+ years to keep fighting the hypocrisy and bullshit. I don’t have the energy and stamina to maintain the façade of hope. That is the primary reason I left the US. While I may have loved the 1970s, I realize, now, decades later, I wouldn’t want to live them again, not with all their false promise. Not after all we have endured since then. Not while we are dealing with today’s shit. Not now since I know how it all turned out. No. I wouldn’t want to live those ‘70s again.

Except for the music.

Give the Boot to Reboots

When the original version of the sitcom Roseanne ended, Dan Connor was dead. His wife, Roseanne, revealed in the finale that what viewers had been watching on the program, which ran from 1988 to 1997, was actually based on a book about her family she had been writing. While the characters in the book were real, writer Roseanne admitted she had taken many liberties with events and incidents that had occurred. For example, the Connors had not won the lottery. Nor had Roseanne and Jackie’s mother come out as a lesbian; instead, it was Jackie who was a lesbian, which made more sense. On the other hand, Dan’s heart attack death was true. But the reveal that the program was derived from Rosanne’s writing should not have been a surprise to dedicated fans of the show as references to her desire to write had been made throughout the show’s 200+ episodes. Dan even had intended, perhaps begun, to create a small work space for her in the basement.

When the original version of Will & Grace ended, we had jumped into the future. Will Truman and Grace Adler had endured an 18-year estrangement, the result of their marriages interfering with their relationship. But they are older and wiser now. Will and Vince’s son and Grace and Leo’s daughter meet at their college’s “move-in” weekend where they develop a healthier relationship than that of Will and Grace. Meanwhile, once-wealthy Karen is broke and, in a surprise twist, Jack inherits the late Beverley Leslie’s wealth. The two perennial best frenemies are living together. When Will’s son Ben and Grace’s daughter Laila marry, Will and Grace realize that perhaps the purpose of their entire rocky relationship had always been to get their offspring together to share the relationship Will and Grace could never have.

I, personally, was satisfied with the conclusions of both Roseanne and Will & Grace.

I, however, discover years later, we had been lied to by Roseanne and Will & Grace’s producers and networks; reboots of these classic comedies were announced in which their original conclusions would be disregarded. Dan Connor miraculously would be alive. Will and Grace still would be living in their childless, tempestuous, immature fag-fag hag relationship.

I loved Roseanne. I loved Will & Grace. Loved. Past tense. But I don’t need to be played the fool by network executives and producers who prioritize cashing in on an unhappy America wanting “the good old days.” I don’t enjoy being manipulated by these same broadcast big shots who hope to make a lot of money off America’s stupidity.  I am disappointed that these same lazy, unimaginative media morons cannot create new, original, worthwhile comedy programs. And I don’t respect their lack of respect for these sacred cows of comedy. I am not happy and I am not watching these reboots of former favorite sitcoms.

A reboot of Murphy Brown, another favorite from the past, is in the pipeline. I won’t be watching it either.  A running joke on that show was Murphy’s inability to retain receptionists. I long list of celebrities appeared in cameo roles as her frustrated, frightened, incompetent, belittled assistants. I can’t imagine producers dropping that gimmick in the reboot. I wonder how the powers that be will bastardize that entertaining idea. But I won’t be watching to find out. I won’t see which deceased stars of film, TV, music, politics, and sports appear as Murphy’s temporary receptionists as holograms.  It would be ratings gold; in the first episode of the reboot, Nat “King Cole and daughter Natalie could sing Unforgettable as they fight over a receptionist desk stapler. I can see the promos touting the appearances of other dead celebrities now: “Guest starring this week on Murphy Brown, Whitney Houston.” Or Mohammed Ali. Or Mary Tyler Moore. Or Prince. Or Princess Di. Or Barbra Bush. Or Robin Williams. Or Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher together. Or Dan Conner.

I won’t be watching. I’ll be doing something else, something more important. Maybe washing my hair. Perhaps watching original, innovative programming on Netflix or Amazon. Or possibly writing my own sitcom.

Train Now Leaving For . . .

In last week’s post, I explained how the domino game Mexican Train is played. I took my role as Mexican Train Professor Emeritus seriously and tried to treat the subject with respect and dignity. This week I invite you to observe a game played with my Ajijic neighbors. When we began playing, we met once a week. But now we, in order to assuage our anger, play on days following a stupid Trump tweet or statement. Therefore, we have played for nearly 600 consecutive days.

The neighbors who meet at 10:00 include 64-year-old Geoffrey (pronounced Joffrey. Do not call him Jeffrey or Jeff. Two former neighbors mysteriously disappeared after doing so.) Walls, a British banker whose Chauvinistic, dismissive treatment of female employees forced an early retirement, and his timid, skittish, Scottish-born, 51-year-old wife Jessie. Donna Forrester is a Floridian, usually drunk but not so tipsy to reveal her age. She is never seen without make-up, coiffed hair, and bold, colorful, often-sequined, expensive clothing. She appears to be in her mid-50s, but probably is in her early 70s. She always arrives carrying a family-size Bloody Mary. Marv Rosen is 67. He is slender and in shape. His face is still handsome. Originally from Scarsdale, New York, he has lived in San Francisco and Palm Springs. He may be gay, but has never acknowledged that. White-haired Wyatt Paderewski is nearing 80. He’s loud and boorish. These qualities, however, did not prevent him from becoming a successful and wealthy sports agent. Nor did they prevent him from being a “chick magnet.” His fifth wife, Zina, is half his age and a Mexican-American spitfire. They are from the Los Angeles area. Wyatt, however, is dealing with onset dementia.

And me. As you know, I am a former male-exotic dancer, having performed as such until my retirement at 65. For the last 15 years of my career, I performed at Gerry’s Geriatric Attic in Jersey which isn’t an attic at all. It actually is on the first floor of a building because most of its clientele could no longer navigate stairs or remember which elevator button to press. I also am, as you have learned by now, a humorless person who takes life seriously and never lies, exaggerates, or makes fun of or mocks the truth.

Wyatt is always the first to arrive, usually five minutes early, and accuses the others, including his wife Zina, with coming late on purpose to irritate him. When Donna, generally the last to arrive, joins the group on the poolside patio, the game begins.

“I don’t know why everyone always gets here late,” Wyatt snipes.

“You always get here too early,” Geoffrey corrects. “I told you that yesterday and the day before that and the day…”

“Did we play yesterday?”

“Yes, Mi Corazon,” Zina says in a soothing voice. “Remember how Marv…”

“Let’s get started,” Donna interrupts. “I have a hair appointment at one.” She puts down her drink and swirls the face-down dominoes around the table with the palms of her hands in an effort to mix them up. The dominoes are white with bold black numerals instead of dots, making it easier for vision-challenged retirees. “Take ten,” she says, “and we’re looking for the double…”

“Twelve!” everyone snaps in unison.

“Donna, do you have to say that every day? We know how this works,” Marv says.

Donna reaches for her Bloody Mary and takes a sip. “Yes, in fact, I do. Some unnamed players seem to forget the procedure.” She looks at Wyatt who is staring at the assortment of plastic trains clustered near the oblong train station.

“Which color is mine?” he asks.

“Black, Mi Amor,” Zina answers. “You always pick the black one.”

“I do?”

“And you picked 12 dominoes. You need to put two back.”

“You all said to pick 12.”

“No, we said pick ten. We are looking for twelves.”

“That’s not how we played it in L.A. We picked 12. And we always found the double beforehand and just put it in the station.”

“We didn’t play Mexican Train in L.A., Mi Amor.” Zina’s patient voice sounded like that of a veteran kindergarten teacher.

“We didn’t?” Wyatt said with confusion. Sudden clarity returned. “No. That was the way I was taught on my first visit here in 1985.”

As the players pick their colorful tiny train and 10 dominoes and turn the tiles over, Jessie, the quietest member of the group, murmurs, “I’ve got it.” But not everyone hears her. She places the double-twelve in the center of the plastic train station.

“Does anyone have the double-twelve?” Wyatt blares.

“I do. Did. I already put it…”

“Well, why didn’t ya say so?”

“She did,” Geoffrey says. “Shit, Jess. Why can’t you speak up? You can be such a pain in the arse. Now hurry up and play. You had the damn domino so you go first.” The others at the table seemingly ignore Geoffrey’s rudeness and focus on their dominoes, forming trains and developing their strategies.

Jessie places a twelve-tile in a slot on the station with caution. Her eyes reflect fear. She places a second one in the slot designated the public train. Geoffrey, to her left, puts a twelve-tile in his slot, followed by Marv, me, Wyatt, and Zina. Only Donna fails to have a twelve. She draws another tile, hoping for a twelve. “Crap!” she spews as she places her lavender plastic train at the head of her track-to-be.

“Sorry, Donna,” Jessie mumbles as she adds a tile to her train, “I don’t have one for you.”

“I do,” Geoffrey says. “Right out of the middle of my train, dammit.” He looks up. “Hey, did you hear that Harold and Carleen are moving back to Vancouver?”

“Really?” Donna says with surprise. “I think she misses her grandkids. Not sure they miss her though. She’s such a…”

“Are they gonna sell their place?” Marv interrupts. “I know some people in San Francisco that might be interested.”

“Your turn, Marv,” Jessie whispers.

“A couple,” Marv continues. “In real estate. They’d fit in here. Jack’s been here before. Years ago. Don’t know about Dani. They’re fun people. You all would like them.” Everyone wonders if Marv said “Dani” or “Danny.”

“It’s your turn, Marv,” Wyatt repeats Jessie’s reminder. “Who are Harold and Carmen?”

“Jim went to USC. Didn’t you go there, Wyatt?”

“Marv!”

“What?”

“It’s your move!”

“OK. OK. Don’t get so upset. I didn’t know. Why didn’t somebody tell me?” Marv places a tile on the public train.

I match a double-five to the five sharing the twelve-tile in my slot.

“You better have a mate to that,” Wyatt threatens. “Cuz I don’t…”

“Don’t you worry your charming self, Mr. Paderewski, because I do.” I place the tile on the end of the double-five.

“Didn’t you have an extra twelve for me?” Donna asks. I shook my head.

“Shit!” exclaims Wyatt. “I got your damn twelve. And giving it to you is gonna really screw me up.” He places the twelve-two combination tile in Donna’s train slot.

Zina adds a domino to her track. Donna smiles and places the double-two and a two-five on her track and removes her lavender train. “Thanks, Wyatt. You gave me the perfect tile.”

“Did I give you a tile?”

As Jessie reaches to place a domino on the end of the public train, Geoffrey says, “Jess and I went to that new restaurant last night. Marta’s. It was pretty damn good.”

“Martina’s,” Jessie corrects under her breath.

“Yeah. Marta’s,” Geoffrey continues. “I had chicken fajitas and Jess had—What did you have, Jess? Oh, pasta of some kind—and the servings were big and it was cheap.”

“Shrimp tacos. I had shrimp tacos. But, dear, it’s your turn.”

“Yeah. I’d recommend it. We should go as a group sometime. What are you all doing Friday?”

“It’s your turn, Geoffrey,” Zina says. Like the others, she ignored his question.

“Oh. It is? My turn? I thought it was Marv’s turn. But he was talking about those people in San Francisco who are moving into Harold and Christine’s place.”

“No, dear,” Jessie says with timidity, avoiding eye contact with anyone. “I think we’re waiting for you.”

“Oh. Well, I have to draw.” Geoffrey draws a tile, looks disappointed, and places his navy blue train at the head of his track.

Marv chuckles. “Perfect,” he says as he places the double-one and a mate on Geoffrey’s track.

I move a tile to the end of the public train.

Wyatt adds to it. “We ate at Casa de Rosa last night,” he says. “Her new waitress is cute. I’d do her.”

“Oh, my God,” Donna gasps.” Your wife is right there, Wyatt.”

Zina places a tile on her own track and responds. “Don’t worry, Donna. I’d do the bartender Rico.”

“I already have,” snaps Wyatt. He starts laughing. Marv pretends he didn’t hear Wyatt’s comment.

Rattled by the exchange, Donna reaches to place a domino on Geoffrey’s track, but knocks over her Bloody Mary spilling its sanguine redness over the table and coating both Zina and her own white dominoes.

“Oh, dear,” Jessie cries uncharacteristically. “Why are you always so drunk, Donna?”

Zina grabs an abandoned beach towel on a nearby chair and tries to dry the dominoes. But it is too late; they already are stained by the tomato juice. “Oh shit!” she says.

Donna looks at Jessie. “And why are you always such a spineless cipher of a wife?”

Marv leaps up faster than a jack-in-the-box and blares, “No. No. Not again. I’m not gonna put up with these dramatics. I’m out of here.” He walks away.

“Yeah. We’re leaving, too,” Geoffrey announces with anger. “My wife is not a spineless cyber wife, you drunk! What the hell is a cyber wife, anyway?”

“Well, I am not going to sit here and be called a drunk. I didn’t move to Mexico to be insulted,” Donna responds. “Besides, I have to get ready for my hair appointment.”

“And you’ll need all 2 ½ hours to do that,” Zina chimes in as Donna turns and walks away.

“Hey, Mi Corazon,” Wyatt says to Zina, “want to go back to Casa de Rosa for lunch? We can hit on that waitress and the barten…”

“I’ll beat you there, Mi Amor.” As Wyatt and Zina began walking toward their casita, I hear Zina say, “I need to change into something sexier.”

I put the stained dominoes and the other paraphernalia in their box and toss it in the garbage as I exit the grounds. I head to the store to buy a new, clean Mexican Train set for tomorrow’s game.

All Aboard the Mexican Train

A popular pastime among émigrés and ex-pats along Lake Chapala is a domino game called Mexican Train. I’ve been told Mexicans call it Cuban Train. I suppose Kenyans call it Tanzanian Train, Uzbekistanis call it Tajikistani Train, and Neptunians call it Uranusian Train.

There are a variety of ways to play the game. But the way I play is the easiest. I know that is true because FOX News has reported that a two-year, 18 million dollar US government-funded study determined that the rules I follow are the simplest and least confusing. It is so easy, the study found, even Trump supporters can understand this version of the game.

Up to seven people can play Mexican Train. That is because at the center of the table—and you need a large table—is a plastic “train station” with eight slots from which the players form their domino train tracks. “Ah,” you are saying, “you just said up to seven people can play but there are eight slots for trains. You might be good at spelling and writing, but you don’t know shit when it comes to numbers.”

Well, you are correct. I am rithmatickally challenged. But I was correct regarding the slots at the train station. The eighth one is for the “public train.”

In addition to the 12,682 dominos, the game set comes with an assortment of tiny colored plastic train engines. The red one is placed at the head of the public train slot. Each player selects a plastic train; this step serves as a revealing psychological test. Some people pick the black one because they identify with its darkness. Many men pick the blue one because it is perceived as a masculine color. Some players favor the pink because it reflects their own beauty. The yellow has appeal to some, I suppose, because it radiates happiness and optimism. People who opt for the clear one, that 18 million dollar government study suggested, are empty-headed and vacuous. I always select the tartan plaid one because I think I am Scottish.

But unlike the public train’s red engine, players do not, and I repeat, do not place their train at the head of their track at this time. If they do, the player to her/his left must chop off the violating player’s right hand with a dull, rusty kitchen knife. See printed instruction sheet enclosed in the game box. Refer to Section 9G, “Dull, Rusty Kitchen Knives.”

To begin the game, each of the players picks 10 dominoes, which are laying face-down on the table. Once selected, players study their tiles. In the first game, they are seeking dominoes with a 12 on it as one will start their train track. But more important, players also are looking for the double-twelve tile. The one who has it will announce in Laotian “I have the double-twelve,” serve the others saltines and liverwurst, and frolic naked around the table. OK. I lied. That person does not have to be naked. But (s)he does place the double-twelve in the center of the train station and plays first. Meanwhile, players are forming their train, matching like-numbers end-to-end as in traditional dominoes.

But, oh Lord, what happens if no one has that all-important 12-12 domino? Well, it may seem dramatic and a bit over the top, but war is then declared on Nicaragua. And all players cower under the table whispering and holding their bladder until a peace treaty is signed. Oh, caught me again. I josh. Let me correct my misleading, FOX News-worthy statement. In the event no one has the double twelve, players take turns drawing added tiles until someone finds it and this can go on for several cycles. Yes, one can end up with more tiles than are in a Mar-a-Lago bathroom. Once found, however, the finder begins the game.

The lead-off player places a 12 in her/his slot; if (s)he has a second 12, (s)he may place it in the public train slot. (I am using the “(s)he” and “her/him” constructs to describe players to avoid being charged with sexism by feminist Mexican Train players. Oh, don’t get me started on feminist Mexican Train players; they are the most annoying, insisting other players refer to the dominos as “she” and “her” and constantly humming Helen Reddy’s I am Woman as they play. But I digress.) Then, going to the left, the players place a 12 in their slot. If a player has no 12, (s)he draws for one. If that is unsuccessful, that player places her/his wee tiny plastic engine at the head of her/his track, announcing (s)he doesn’t have a 12and making that track available. Subsequent players, if they have an extra 12, must give it to said 12-challenged player. I repeat must. If the player fails to do that and is male, his penis will be cut off with the aforementioned rusty dull knife; if female, her pussy hat will be cut up with pinking shears. Oh, this would be a good time to point out that the host or hostess must own pinking shears.

If no one has a spare 12 for the player in need, that player continues drawing dominoes until (s)he has picked a 12. Meanwhile, each player is building her/his train track, adding tiles with matching numbers to it. “But,” one may ask, “what do you do if you can’t add to your train?” That is where the public train comes in. And any train track with a cutesy itty-bitty plastic engine at its head. Players can place dominoes there that don’t fit into their track. Placing a domino on the available track of another player, may make it possible for that player to reclaim her/his track because its new end number may be on one of said player’s tiles. A player who adds to her/his own train when it has her/his plastic train at the head of her/his track can remove that train, thus making it unavailable to other players.

In the event a player plays a double tile, i.e. a double-six or double-ten, (s)he—oh, to Hell with this damn gender fairness crap. It is making it impossible to understand these cockamamie instructions. So, feminist Train players, here’s what I suggest. We, and I said “we,” march on Washington and demand equal pay for professional female Mexican Train players. They are, after all, athletes, too. Yes, I say, let’s stand as one and support the Women’s International Professional Mexican Train Player’s Association (the WIP-Empty-PA) and roar—now, where was I? Oh, yes. Double tiles. When one plays a double-domino, he places the tile across the end of the track, perpendicular to it. But he had better have a match to go with it, to satisfy it. If he does not, that player will be forced to eat the double tile. And I do not mean swallow it whole; I mean chew it until either the domino or the player’s teeth have been ground into a fine powder. Oh. Busted again. You caught me. Making up shit. Actually, if a player cannot match a tile to a double, he draws a new tile, hoping it will be a match. If not a match, the player places his plastic engine at the head of his track. But the game has now hit a major derailment for the next player must match that double, foregoing any plans for building on his own track. If that player cannot match, he draws and if that is unsuccessful places his plastic train at the head of his track. This continues until a player can satisfy that double. This derailing step can create several available temporary tracks on which to play. But remember, once a player plays on his own track, that player removes the plastic train and that track is no longer available to others.

When a player has placed all but one domino on a track, he takes that final tile and taps it twice on the table announcing his possible impending victory. The taps should be loud enough for all to hear, but not so strong as to break the table or startle actress Marlee Matlin, wherever she may be. Victory occurs when a player has placed his final tile.

The next game is played with the double-eleven and people base their train track on 11. The game after that, 10, then 9, and so on. Players work their way down to the double-zero or blank domino. A complete game can last more than two hours or until Trump’s next rude, imbecilic tweet.

So, now, let’s play a full game. Oh, you know what? All that explaining has exhausted me. I need a nap. We’ll play the full game in my next blog post, provided Trump has not triggered a nuclear war between the US and North Korea, China, Russia, or Nicaragua.

Oh, Happy Day!

When were you happiest?

What moments in your life filled you with total joy?

You’ve had enough time to think about it.

Now, in ascending order tell me, what’s your Top 10?

Go on. I’m waiting!

What? You don’t have a Top 10? Well, I do.

With all the negativity and anger dominating the news, conversations, and social media, I recently found myself thinking about happier times. When, I thought, was I my happiest? What events, which days filled me with total glee? I began making a mental list. It didn’t take me long to realize it probably was not like other people’s lists; I never married, had children, became a grandparent, or bought a house, all milestone moments in people’s lives. Other events many people might include that I did experience, like graduation from high school and college or retirement, were met by me with mixed emotions, not pure happiness, and, therefore, were not considered.

What, then, were my happiest experiences, moments, and days? Like I said, in true Tom fashion, I made a Top 10 List. But, alas, there is a problem; WordPress, apparently, does not allow numbering in reverse order. When I assign the first moment “10,” the system automatically assumes the remainder of the list is 11-20. Therefore, the list is not numbered. Remember, the first moment is #10 and the final one, the last one at the bottom, is #1.

Tom’s Top 10 Happiest Moments

*OK. I’m going to start by cheating. In 10th place are three related events, three sports championships. One probably was the first time I experienced post-childhood total happiness. I was 17 and my high school’s football team won the city championship. I played no role in their achievement other than holding a megaphone, donning saddle shoes, and jumping around a lot. But in the small world of a 1960s teenager, that championship was a big fucking deal! That level of joy was repeated years later when, in 1978, the Seattle Sonics won the NBA title, and, more recently, when the Sea Hawks won the Super Bowl. I celebrated those professional sports titles in the streets with the masses, acting as if championships create world peace, cure the common cold, or end world hunger.

*My first novel, Completing The Course, was published in October 1997. My heart raced and soared when I, for the first time, held a copy of the book in my hands. I remember swallowing hard, fighting back tears, and thinking, “I’ve waited 25 years for this moment.” It was the closest I have come to experiencing fatherhood.

*The day I was hired by the Seattle School District was a happy one. My joy was blended with excitement as I sensed this was a life-changing moment, which it turned out to be. I had innumerable positive experiences and developed countless memorable relationships during my 22 year career, but, in hindsight, I believe the happiest moment occurred when a well-liked special needs high school student with severe cerebral palsy was elected Nathan Hale High student body vice-president. It had been a five-person race with several popular, qualified, experienced candidates running, and I worried Sean would be painfully disappointed and hurt by the outcome. But he won in a landslide.  When he was named victor—it was done in an assembly—his uncontrolled joy, the prolonged roar of the students, and my happiness surged to 11 on a scale of 10, as did my pride in those Hale students.

*AIDS brought enough sorrow to my life to drown the Pacific Ocean in broken-hearted tears. The 1980s and 1990s were a sad, difficult time. Friend after friend disappeared from sight, then the world, but not the memory. One friend from the 1970s moved to Chicago for work. I saw him once shortly after that. Then, as AIDS spread, our communication ended. I asked others if they had been in contact with him or knew if he was still in Chicago. No one had heard from him. No one could verify his existence. I eventually obtained a computer and searched for him, countless times, countless unsuccessful times. Greg had disappeared, perhaps died. Years went by, 10-15, and it dawned on me I had always searched for “Greg,” never “Gregory.” I typed his full name into the computer and, voila, there was the public record of his recently purchased condo. In Chicago! The address and his phone number were listed. I dialed his number faster than Usain Bolt runs to the 7-Eleven for cigarettes. Hearing Greg’s voice, knowing he was alive, and finding a friend from the past brought more joy to my heart than I had felt since the first reports of a mystery illness plaguing the gay community, my community, began.

*November 4, 2008. The night Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. I never had thought I would see an African-American, a Jew, a woman, or a gay American achieve that office in my lifetime. I watched in ecstatic disbelief. Even though I had long before decided I, because of anger and frustration with US politics, would leave the US upon retirement in 2014, a flicker of hope was kindled.

*I met David Voyles in September 1993, my first day of a five-year stay at Ballard High where he was the student body president. A friendship was born that has lasted to the present. I’ve followed his life through his college years, his time as an officer in the Marine Corps, his wedding, the birth of his son, and into his career as a lawyer; he is now my Seattle lawyer. But the single happiest moment in my relationship with David occurred when he called me upon his return from Kuwait on the eve of the Second Gulf War. My months of worrying about his safety were over; he was home safe. Hearing his voice on the phone turned my legs into limp overcooked asparagus spears. My knees quivered like aspens in a winter wind and I fell into a chair mumbling, “Oh, my God, you’re home. Thank God you’re OK.” And then I couldn’t speak anymore. My Adam’s Apple was drowning. “Give me a second, David,” I managed to gulp out. Happiness is knowing a loved one is home safe from a war zone.

*We learned a bit about Mexican history in the fifth grade. Our book included pictures of ancient Aztec pyramids. I studied them in awe, but never imagined seeing them in person. Fifty plus years later, I found myself north of Mexico City dashing helter-skelter around the ancient city of Teotihuacan. I was like a toddler in a toy store. It was my first time at a world famous archaeological site and I was stoked. But my excitement and happiness did not reach its zenith until I stood atop the Pyramid of the Sun. It was an arduous climb in a single-file line forming a human millipede. And when each person reached the summit, he or she had but moments to remain and take pictures. But that moment, oh that moment for which I had waited more than five decades, was thrilling. The picture of me atop the Pyramid of the Sun captures my happiness better than any words.

*It was the 1970s. Numerous cities and counties, through legislation enacted by city councils or other governing boards, enacted laws protecting gays, lesbians, and bisexuals from discrimination. The opposition, led by the Religious Right, immediately went to work to have the laws repealed by placing them on the ballot; they knew that at that point in time they could win a public vote on the controversial issue. First Dade County Florida fell. Then Mid-Western metropolises Wichita and St. Paul voters repealed their Gay Rights laws. Next was Eugene, Oregon. Each defeat was decisive. Then came Seattle. Initiative 13 was intended to repeal Gay Rights protections enacted by the city council. But the tide had turned; No on 13, rejecting the initiative instead of civil rights, was defeated by a nearly 2-1 margin. That election became the first public-vote victory in the Gay Rights Movement. With the first results announced on television, Seattle’s gays and lesbians and their allies sensed unexpected victory. I was at the campaign’s election night party. I felt the excitement, the disbelief. As up-dated results were announced, the happiness swelled like a Jiffy-Pop dome.  The moment our victory became official was ear-splitting and redefined joy. But the single moment I remember from that night occurred as I was heading to the bathroom. I spotted two older men probably in their 60s or 70s, veterans of, survivors of pre-Stonewall, pre-liberation life. They were hugging and crying. Their faces mirrored each other’s disbelief, reflecting the ecstatic joy of the moment, of that historic, surprising moment. Those two men encapsulated the feelings everyone there was feeling. They captured the total happiness I felt. I continued to the bathroom and when I returned they were gone; I looked for them but could not find them in the crowd. I do not know who they were; I do not remember their faces. But I will never forget them. I will never forget their joy. Or my happiness.

*The War in Vietnam raged while I was in college. A draft lottery based on birthdays had been established to feed the killing machine. My number was—OK, here come the jokes—69. As a result, even though I was safe from the draft as an undergraduate, come June 1970 I was an extremely likely draftee. I, however, did not feel overwhelmingly threatened; about six months prior to graduation, I suffered a serious herniated disc in my back, an event that has continued to impact my life to this day. That legitimate, fateful injury, I believed would be my ticket to safety. One would think that being unable to bend over or run would free one from service. But, initially it did not. Medical exams failed to prove anything; the technology of the time couldn’t verify my claims. I was perceived as a lying leftist peace-nik, which I was sans the “lying.” Therefore, to avoid being drafted, I took control of the situation as best I could, hoping to buy time. I signed up for the Army Reserves and spent one weekend a month between June and October 1970 in pre-Boot Camp service. Eventually I learned I was to report to Fort Ord, California for Boot Camp on October 13. Meanwhile, I, my father, and a diligent lawyer worked desperately to get me discharged before Boot Camp began. If, I was told, I wasn’t discharged before arriving at Ord, it would be too late. Once there, the investigation and process would take longer than Boot Camp itself. I was working against a clock, ticking like a time bomb. On October 10, three days before I was to report, I met a military doctor at Fort Lewis’ Madigan Army Hospital. Upon examining me, he looked my directly in the eyes and said, “Son, you have no business being in the Army.” Contained, restrained happiness surged through my innards. But I had to wait for forms to be completed and my return to my car before I could release my pent up joy. Once in my car, I fell apart. I cried uncontrollably. When I finally got my shit together and drove off, I had to fight off frequent bouts of vision-blurring tears while driving on I-5. I knew it wasn’t wise driving under those conditions, but 1970 mid-day traffic was thinner than Donaldt Rump’s orange hair. Besides, I didn’t care about my blurry vision or the number of cars around me. I was free of the fear of dying in a pointless war. And I was HAPPY!

*January 29, 2012. Vancouver, B.C. I sat in the 20th row at a concert. I had waited since I was 14-years-old for that moment. As a Jomo, a Jewish homo, I was in music-pop culture-show biz heaven with my goddess. Barbra. I was seeing her. In person. I was hearing her voice. LIVE. Barbra Streisand. For two hours, nothing else mattered. Everything in life, in the world, was perfect. Can anything top that level of extreme rapture? I doubt it. That was my happiest moment.

Who Are You People, Anyway?

The first three times I saw her were at the Ajijic Writers Group. We sat at opposite ends of the patio. Fifty or so attendees separated us. But I noticed her. That woman has style, class, and dignity, I thought. It was reflected in her clothes, posture, and gait. I wonder who she is. She could have been a model.

Several meetings passed. She was not there. I didn’t see her again until PBS aired a report on Lake Chapala and how it had become a magnet to retirees from the US, Canada, and Great Britain. A number of émigrés were interviewed. She was one of them. That’s that classy lady. I know her, I thought, although the second part of the thought was an exaggeration. With a British accent, she made comments praising Ajijic and Lakeside life. Then the reporter, in a voice-over, explained that the woman had an unusual claim to fame; she had been, in 1964, Playboy Magazine’s first international centerfold. My jaw dropped. The photograph was shown. I recognized it immediately. I was familiar with it, not because I had obsessed on Playboy as a teen, but because it had been included in numerous documentaries about the publication and its founder Hugh Hefner. The reporter continued telling the woman’s story, her history and accomplishments. Rose Grayson, despite her appearance in Playboy, went on to become a presenter on British television, the equivalent of TV news reporter and interviewer in the US. After that, she became a judge.

Can you imagine that happening in the United States, a 1964 Playboy centerfold achieving those lofty, respected positions in the  conservative, narrow-minded, wholesome US of the pre-women’s, sexual, and gay liberation movements? In fact, nearly two decades later, in 1981, the US was still struggling with its priggish mindset when we saw Vanessa Williams stripped, no pun intended, of her Miss America title because nude photos from her college years had surfaced.

More recently, I befriended another woman through the Writers Group. We had talked on several occasions, even sitting next to each other at the gatherings. It wasn’t, however, until she read an autobiographical piece that I learned, as a younger woman, Lynne had been a California social worker working at San Quentin Prison and had in her caseload Charles Manson. She had interviewed, counseled, and probed the mind of one of America’s most evil criminals. Again I was slack-jaw stunned.

That revelation triggered several questions as I looked at the other attendees. Those questions followed me as I walked home through Ajijic’s streets. They echoed in my head days later as I studied other émigrés and ex-pats around me while I sipped coffee at the plaza, ate in restaurants, and sat in audiences at musical and theatrical performances.

Who are you people, anyway? Who were you before you came here? What are your secrets?

Most of the Americans, Canadians, Brits, and other foreigners residing here are older, most likely retired. We see one another as we look now, in our later years. We generally have no clue what the people around us looked like as young people. We generally have no idea what their lives were like then or what facts about them are yet to be uncovered.

I find myself wondering, as I look at friends, acquaintances, and merely familiar faces around town, which women were high school or college cheerleaders, which men were star athletes, and which, as students, held leadership roles in student government. And which were school bullies. I think which women, as young girls, shrieked for Elvis or The Beatles, and which of the men had posters in their bedroom of Raquel or Farrah. I am curious which of the people around me were elected to public office in their previous lives, or ran unsuccessfully. Is it possible, I wonder, if among the people I have met or see are children of celebrities whose names I would know? Or could any of these people be celebrities themselves—television, radio, sports, film, politics, or theater stars—and I am plain clueless.

I worry that some of these neighbors have had to bury children. Or have become estranged from their families. I think about who has siblings or children with special needs. Have any of the people around me been big lottery winners or filed bankruptcy? I wonder which of the people nearby have been incarcerated. Or should have been. And, on the flip side, I realize some may have been the victim of a crime, perhaps violent. I speculate which of my neighbors are gay, lesbian, bi, or transgender, either openly or secretly. Or which ones have children or grandchildren that live under the LGBTQ umbrella.

I reflect on which of my older fellow transplants served in Vietnam and which, as a result, suffer PTSD, which survived horrible automobile accidents or bounced back from near-fatal illness. I wonder which of the people I see in Ajijic have PhD’s or STDs. And I wonder which ones are members of the GOP.

Oftentimes, we discover long after meeting someone a surprising tidbit about their past or identity. It may be trivial, but it also may be germane to their personality or their private pains. It may be something about which they are proud, embarrassed, or ashamed. It may be something that is purposely kept secret. Or it may be something they no longer consider important or interesting.

We all have friends and acquaintances here in our retirement haven. But we all divulge our histories to them at our chosen pace for our own reasons. And often, so often, discovering those morsels of insignificant information, important facts, or long-held secrets about them shed surprising new light on the individuals or the relationships.

For example, did I ever tell you about the time I got caught naked at a political fund-raiser for…oh, I’m not ready to share that yet.