Thursday, February 28, 2013

To an unknown gay neighbor

A year ago, while looking for a huesera at one of the villages near our ranch, I ran into a bit of graffiti, I suspect left by a teenager, that was brief and moving: "Soy puto y qué"

It's not exactly poetry and translates as, "I'm a fag, so what?" I took a picture of it that has been stored in my computer since then.

Huesera literally means "bone mender" but this woman's practice goes beyond bones to include herbal rubs and teas and other folk remedies, though I don't think ointments for angst about one's sexual orientation are in her medicinal portfolio.

The remedy she tried on me--for a sprained foot--consisted of a shot glass half-filled with alcohol or some liniment, lit with a candle and then applied face-down to the skin near the source of the problem. The vacuum created as the flame went out would suck the bad "airs" out of my foot and cure the problem, the huesera told me.

I'm here, like it or not
Her consultation room consisted of a weathered and not-too-clean mattress lying on the floor, near an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe and some other religious paraphernalia. When she isn't attending patients the huesera runs a micro grocery store that clients approach through a window with a concrete ledge. It was on the ledge that I found the plaintive graffiti.

"I'm a fag, so what?" could be an SOS from a lonely and isolated teenager, similar to those left by some gay American teens often before they commit suicide or other desperate acts, like run away from home.

I don't know him and I can't imagine this young man's personal hell. This is a smudge of a village, population eight-hundred of so, including dogs, pigs and goats, dirt-poor, in the rural entrails of Mexico. A more hostile place for a young person to discover he's gay I could not fathom save for some far corner of Afghanistan.

Yet I'd like to conjure up a more sanguine scenario, one you might dismiss as fantasy.

Perhaps this young person has heard of some of the gay-rights bills recently approved in Mexico and particularly in Mexico City where same-sex marriage became legal in 2009 despite the furious protests by the Catholic Church. Or he has seen TV pictures of the capital's annual gay pride parade, among the most raucous and monumental anywhere in the world. Or made some contacts with other young Mexican guys in San Miguel de Allende, a artsy-fartsy town of about one-hundred-thousand inhabitants about ten miles away, with a larger-than-average gay community.

Having put all those pieces together, "I'm a fag, so what?" might have been a message of self-confidence or even defiance. You could even turn it around: "So what if I'm a fag? I'm still a worthwhile person and I'm not going to spend my life under a rock."

It's not an impossible shot because nowadays teenagers, even in Mexico, must be exposed to messages of self-affirmation that were inconceivable for people like Stew and I when we were growing up in the U.S.

Hell, even Jim Nabors announced last month that he'd gotten married to his male partner of thirty-eight years. Gomer Pyle gay? And Vicco, Ky., population 335, electing a gay hairdresser as mayor?

Yes, along with CNN's top news reader Anderson Cooper; talk show princess and Oprah-in-waiting Ellen DeGeneres; politicians, mayors and governors; television and movie stars including some who seem to be making a career of being gay.

The list is so long that sometimes I fear perhaps the world is becoming too gay and this is just a phase that will vanish unexpectedly like a beautiful, rainbow-colored soap bubble.

The latest gay slam was President Obama's second inaugural address, in which he specifically mentioned the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, regarded as the official launching of the modern gay-rights movement, in the same breath as Selma, Seneca Falls and other landmarks in American civil rights.

For gay people of our generation (Stew and I are sixty-six and sixty-five respectively, thanks for asking), the movement toward equality in our lifetimes has been almost incomprehensibly fast, at least in retrospect. During the dark ages of Anita Bryant and Jerry Falwell it probably didn't seem quite so.

On Valentine's Day the Illinois State Senate passed gay marriage legislation and the bill next week goes to the lower house where it is given a good chance of passage. The governor says he will sign it. I just received an e-mail from a friend in Chicago telling me that Stew and I might finally get a chance "to come home."

None of this will directly affect the unknown graffiti writer. But I'd like to think the cumulative good news eventually will reach him and make his life easier.

I even hope one day to find a faded rejoinder to his original message, something along the lines of "Yeah, I'm gay and I left for Mexico City to find the love of my life! Hasta la vista, baby!"


P.D. Even more stunning than Gomer Pyle's nuptials: 

Tuesday's New York Times reports that about 75 prominent Republicans have signed a so-called "friend of the court" brief in support of gay marriage, a month before the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments challenging the constitutionality of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (signed into law by President Clinton) and also California's Proposition 8, both of which banned gay marriage.

The signers are not Republican pot smokers but a distinguished panel of current and former  governors, members of Congress and former cabinet members. Also, one of the two lawyers presenting the case for gay marriage before the court is Theodore Olson, the former solicitor general during George W. Bush's first term and a well known Republican conservative. 

All this despite the Republican Party's platform which calls for amending the U.S. constitution to define marriage as "the union of one man and one woman" and House Speaker John Boehner's vow to fight any sanction in favor of gay marriage by the high court. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ode to Joyous

Stew and I are not big on attending memorial services but on Sunday we went to one for a local American woman who had been murdered a little more than a week before but whom we barely knew. We felt our presence would signal concern about the lengthening string of murders, assaults and other serious crimes in San Miguel that, except for the capture of a serial rapist about about six years ago, remain unresolved.

Worse still, this cold file continues to grow as a contingent of expats appears more interested in mitigating the damage alarming news might inflict on San Miguel's reputation--read "real estate values" and "tourism"--than in apprehending the guilty. In the minds of some expats, hush-hush apparently trumps closure-closure.

Altar in memory of Joyous Heart. On her photo a message read,
"I will love you forever. You will always be in my heart."
The victim's nom-de-Web was "Joyous Heart" but her real name was Joyce Schuman. She was a fifty-nine years old Californian, who had lived in San Miguel for approximately seven years. The circumstances of her death were both tragic and gruesome: Stabbed some forty times and nearly decapitated, one newspaper report said, her body not discovered for a couple of days.

According to the rumor mill the murderer was a eighteen-year-old Mexican woman Schuman had adopted from a local orphanage four years before. The adoptee was said to have a serious mental illness, something along the lines of schizophrenia. As of this writing no one has been apprehended.

Schuman was a devoted New Ager, a practitioner of "creative and healing arts" who had studied "inner child/family healing," astrology, card readings and hypnosis. On her Facebook page she proclaimed: "I try to find the positive in everything. And learn from my ongoing life lessons. I choose to be happy. I value kindness and compassion." 

Whether you embraced her worldview or not, there was universal agreement Schuman was indeed a kind and generous person, traits that may have led her to adopt her alleged killer, hoping to still the voices clamoring in the adolescent's mind.

I got to know her distantly through her numerous postings on one the local internet bulletin board,, and which mostly echoed her trademark love-and-kindness take on life.

A sad-looking mutt who lived with Joyous Heart. It's moving to
the U.S. to live with one of Schuman's relatives. 
The gory details of this case--and those of a Canadian woman who was stabbed twenty-some times on June 2011; and of an elderly American man who also died of multiple stab wounds earlier the same year; and of a gay couple beaten and left for dead in the wine cellar of their home right in the middle of town more than six years ago; and a member of a gay couple who nearly lost an eye to a machete-wielding home invader two months ago; and of two Americans who were pistol whipped in their home near the center of town last year--have not led to any arrests, or even to sustained demands by the expat community for some investigation, arrests, announcements or other signs of activity by local law enforcement.

Quite the opposite. The woman who made the first posting about the killing--and admittedly got her facts badly mangled--was herself brutalized by some Civil Listers as a hysterical hag.

"You owe the Listeros [members of the Civil List] an apology for frightening them," one contributor wrote. "This is exactly the information you do NOT [emphasis his] put on the Civil List. Second-hand, scary, violent information. Terrible."

When someone brought up the details of the murder again today, the same contributor added: "... [y]ou could have omitted the gruesome details on the [Civil List] that reaches 7000 people all over the world."

There were other postings along the same lines, urging readers to "move on," or put more crudely, to shut the fuck up already.

Indeed some of these crimes suggest domestic disputes or other special circumstances, not a local reign of terror. I for one will remember not to adopt schizophrenic teenagers or unduly antagonize the household help, just in case.

But wouldn't it be comforting to the local expats--and I suspect the Mexican population of San Miguel which is after all the victim of most crimes here--if someone were sent to prison for one of these crimes? Or at least arrested? Identified as a suspect? Right now I'll even settle for some indication these crimes are under active investigation.

At Joyous Heart's memorial Sunday I met Yolita, a woman in her forties, wearing a vivid, traditional Mexican outfit of a white cotton blouse with embroidered flowers and a red, ankle-length dress. She was standing in front of a funeral altar decorated with flowers, candles, photos and several other items of apparent significance to Schuman, including a glass bowl with a small turtle swimming in it,  and a bottle of white wine.

Yolita was sobbing and conversing with the picture of Schuman. After standing next to her for a while I was inadvertently drawn into the sobbing and conversation. "They should have put a picture of the girl they think killed her, so maybe someone maybe could identify her," Yolita said.

"Do you think they'll ever catch her?" I asked. Yolita slowly shook her head.

For the sake of Schuman's joyous memory, I hope Yolita was wrong.


Good news addendum: Yolita's pessimism--and mine--were misplaced and the young woman who allegedly murdered Joyous Heart was arrested somewhere in Mexico, according to a Santa Barbara, Calif. television news report. Hope this is the beginning of a virtuous trend by Mexican law enforcement and that the perpetrators of a couple of other crimes in San Miguel are similarly caught and brought to justice.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Spring's slow march begins

It sounds a bit off-key, if not altogether callous, to bring up this subject after all the hurricanes, wild temperature fluctuations and now a winter storm that have hit the northern United States recently. But I must report the news: About a week, maybe ten days, ago spring definitely began to stir around the ranch, following a brief and very mild winter that didn't bring any serious freezes.

In more northerly climates spring colors arrive suddenly, almost shockingly. Crocuses burrow their way through the melting snow, and two or three weeks after that the rest of grass and most of the landscape turns green as if sprayed with some magic dye. There is some obvious logic to this yearly miracle, related to the melting snow and April showers soaking up the ground which combined with warmer temperatures, wake up the vegetation.

In San Miguel, spring, such as it is, arrives much earlier--at the end of January--and from there it's a painfully slow, listless sequence of nature, lasting months until it begins to rain toward July and trees and bushes finally turn green for good, or at least for three or four months. The farmers may plow the fields and sow their seeds but unless they have artificial rain jigs to fool nature, they'll just have to wait for the rainy season. There's no rushing spring here.

Rain or no, however, it is getting warmer at the ranch, with midday temperatures creeping up into the 80s and back down to the 60s at night. That upward trend must be what kicks some plants awake, all of which, so far, have bright yellow flowers.

Unidentified Flying Insect on a jarrilla bush. 
There's the wild jarrilla, really a weedy bush that grows along the roads and covers itself with yellow, smelly flowers. People may find it stinky but to the bees, wasps, butterflies and other flitting pollen-suckers, jarrilla's flowers are a cross between manna and Chanel No. 5.

Also there's the huizache, covered with marble-size puffs of tiny yellow flowers that bees crave. According to Stew, huizache-derived honey is the sweetest and most coveted, though neither one of us can figure out how to direct the bees to the huizaches--psst, over there, that's the good stuff!--and away from jarrillas and other lesser blooms.

Tell it to the bees: Huizache blooms about to open up. 
The one exception to the yellow-flower rule are our three peach trees which are covered with their delicate pink blossoms and already displaying about a dozen small, fuzzy fruits. The apricot tree hasn't flowered and neither has the apple or the two cherries. Although the cherries bloom timidly every year, and then leaf out, I'm not waiting on them to make any preserves.

Peachy times coming.
Another sign of spring are the Meyer lemon and navel orange trees, which are both covered with fruit. As opposed to the "lemons" at the local markets, which are green and small, these are yellow and damn near the size of tennis balls and very juicy.

The fruiting of the the peach, lemon and orange trees shouldn't be a mystery. We've been watering them weekly since it stopped raining in November. To conserve water we let the shower water run into a bucket until it gets hot and then we dump it on the orange and lemon trees in our front yard. That extra watering has yielded juicier fruit with thinner peels.

One of Stew's bees at work on a peach blossom. 
But who or what waters or otherwise jolts the jarrillas, huizaches and other wild bushes that are now covered with blooms? The most recent rains we've had were shortly after New Year's Day, and that was only a measly half-inch. The spring awakening must be solely a function of warmer temperatures, and of the phenomenally deep roots of desert plants, steadily drilling downwards searching for humidity.

I've heard the roots of a mesquite or huizache can reach down ten or fifteen feet where dampness is available even during a serious drought. Even then, these survivors might drop some or all of their tiny leaves in a dire emergency to try and hold on to whatever humidity they have in their systems.

Next up in our sauntering spring sequence are the cacti, plump and green year round and now gradually covering themselves with small thorny lumps that will become flowers, maybe in another month or six weeks.  The hills will be a bit greener too but nothing like the spectacular, sis-boom-bah springs that we were used to around Chicago, and which just as quickly turned into hot summers.

Nah, our spring may get a bit more summery but it will still crawl along for maybe another six months, when rain will completely drive final traces of brownness out of our landscape and the wildflowers, tens of thousands of them, will begin their show. It's slow in arriving but worth the wait.