Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ten Things You Wouldn't Guess About Ibis Based On This Photo

My husband, before he was my husband, circa 2005

 1. That shirt he’s wearing? It’s pink.  (It is, in fact, just one of several predominantly pink shirts he owns, including his beloved Lucky Shirt and the legendary Shirt That Doesn't Even Match Itself.) 

2. He is not now, nor has he ever been, in any way involved with gangs or organized crime.

3. He loves baby animals. Fuzzy puppy dogs and tiny widdle baby chicks and so on.

4. He’s been known to cry.

5. He enjoys a nice cold…glass of milk.

6. If you give him a present--anything, a pair of socks, an ugly-ass stuffed animal, an I-heart-San-Francisco mug--he will treasure it forever because you gave it to him.

7. He’s a Michael Jackson fan.

8. He gets genuinely excited about any and all flowers, fruits, vegetables, and herbs that I manage to grow.

9. He can work the night shift, from 9 pm to 7 am, and then come home and play with the baby for hours, or take us out for breakfast.

10. He was once described by a young friend of ours as “just like The Rock , but softer."  And that was just about right.

Monday, July 25, 2011

One About Doña Charo

In my mother-in-law’s wedding photos, she looks scared, and determined, and too young, and beautiful. She was. She was seventeen, and a long way from the isolated village in Chiapas where she grew up. She had only worn shoes for the first time three years earlier.

She’s the oldest of seven. From the time she learned to walk, she was taking care of babies. There was never enough of anything but tortillas and kids and hard work and good hard trancazos for anyone who didn’t obey. Her father grew corn, and most years, sold the harvest in the city and then spent the profits on prostitutes and liquor. Her mother took in washing and scrubbed till her fingers bled.

She had to leave school after third grade, even though she wanted to study. There wasn’t enough money even to buy her pencils, much less clothes. One of her small brothers wore, for an entire year, nothing but a man’s button-down shirt that hung to his ankles. Her own dresses were lengths of cheap fabric chopped into rough dress shape with a machete. They didn’t own a pair of scissors.

She came to Salina Cruz as a teenager to live with a godmother and learn to be a seamstress. When she met her future husband, she had one question for him: “How many children would you expect your wife to have?” He said “One or two,” so she married him. Ten months after the wedding, she had Ibis; five years later, Patricia. Plenty.

She’s still beautiful, with lips any Revlon model would envy, and a smile so dazzling you don’t notice there’s a tooth missing towards the back until you’ve known her for a long time. There are lines on her face, but they’re lines of sadness and worry and laughter and resignation, not bitterness. She loves her parents, despite everything. She loves her husband, even though she didn’t, when she married him; now they go to prayer group together, and they make each other laugh. She loves her children, and her children-in-law and grandchildren, passionately. She cries more frequently than anyone I know.

Lest I appear to idealize her, let me say that she does, on occasion, drive me crazy. Still, she’s come through years of privation and pain and putting herself last, with her heart in working order—and not all her siblings were able to do that. She’s had to be strong every single day of her life.

She’s pretty amazing.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I Am Releasing Clothes.

I’m pretty sure these little boxers are sporting the highest density of mangled English per square inch of any article of clothing ever produced:

In case you can’t make that out, they say the following (all errors are most definitely theirs and not mine):

I am releasing clothes

The infantile madness

My interior clothes aer very enterteining

I am hungry of drivels

We are enterteining certan?

When I can't sleep at night, I sometimes try to imagine the thought process that arrived at these phrases, and then plastered them all over a tiny pair of underwear.  ("The infantile madness" I suppose could have resulted from typing "crazy kid" in Mandarin into one of those free internet translators...but "I'm hungry of drivels"?) 

Little did Isaias's Abuelita imagine she was purchasing an insomnia cure, as well as crazy cuteness for her papachi's skinny little butt.   

Friday, July 1, 2011

"Go take a walk instead."

Sometimes I amuse myself with my little students by having the boys compete against the girls. It always goes exactly the same way: I give the instructions, the girls begin talking and negotiating and deciding who will go first and who will go here and who will go there. And the boys kind of shove each other into place, and all try to push to the front of the line, and usually end up in a dogpile on the floor. These are four-year-olds. And every time I watch and shake my head and wonder just why it is that women don’t rule the world.


Our neighbor Alfredo is a guy in his early twenties. Last year he was wrecked his motorcycle while riding drunk and almost lost his hand. That sobered him up for a while. Then his girlfriend Ana came to live with him. He started going to work every morning at dawn, while Ana scrubbed the laundry by hand and cooked, and in the afternoons we’d hear them laughing together. Ibis and I would comment, carefully, “They seem happy, huh?” “Yeah.” And then look at each other and shrug and not say anything else, knowing we were both thinking, “But how long will it last?”

Last week Ana yelled for us, and Ibis went out to talk to her. Alfredo had been drinking when she left for her job at a daycare center. When she got home, he was gone, and so was the money she’d been saving from her job. She told Ibis she was leaving, and he told her she was doing the right thing, and to let us know if we could help her out.

Three days ago I saw Alfredo stumbling along the road, dumb-drunk. Ana was walking behind him, looking pissed, but when he turned around, she smiled at him.

Two days ago we were driving through the rain to visit some friends in Tlacochahuaya. Ana was walking towards the house with a bag of groceries, soaking wet and alone.

Today a remodel project that Ibis is freelancing on started construction. Alfredo was sober yesterday afternoon, and he agreed to go help with demolition today. Ana, when I saw her yesterday, was standing in the misty rain, scrubbing the laundry.


Ibis loves movies the way I love books: as a general category. I’ll read anything from my mother-in-law’s Harlequin-romance-novels-translated-into-Spanish (“Ay, Madison,” dijó Wentworth apasionadamente, “eres la mujer más bella de todo Emerald Cove.”) to dense tomes on the evolution of language. And it was not out of character for Ibis to come home from Blockbuster the other day with “Just Go With It” (starring Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler!) and “I Spit on Your Grave” (yeah, that’s not a romantic comedy).

So he put on his horror movie after Isaias was asleep. I half-watched the first bit (hot young female novelist rents isolated house—dumb! Is semi-unfriendly to the gas-station attendant—not nice! Drinks lots of wine—bad! Smokes a little pot—worse! Wears black underwear—skank!). When the three sketchy guys from the gas station show up at her house and begin to intimidate her, it occurred to me to read the back of the box—and, gosh, why does it not sound entertaining to me to watch them torture her (fisicamente Y psicologicamente!) and then for her to return from the dead to torture them back? I went to bed.

If I read him right the next morning, Ibis was shaken by the crudity and brutality he paid thirty pesos for (because just as I will finish a book once started, even if I have to skim and jump impatiently to make it to the end, he will watch a movie all the way through, no matter what).

Then we watched Jenn and Adam frolic and make poop and boob jokes, and I laughed, la la la. But I told Ibis, in a way (in a WAY) they’re the same movie, in a way they tell us the same thing. Adam Sandler sleeps with a different woman every Friday night and lies to them all, but he’s still a “good man”, he has “a big heart” beeeeecause…he one time teaches this little kid to swim. Jennifer Aniston is a noble single mother who wears glasses and frumpy clothes and never goes on dates and doesn’t have time to do her hair because she’s busy sacrificing herself for her kids—which is what you have to do to be a “good woman.”

The horror-movie novelist drinks and goes for a run in just a sports bra and short-shorts, and we’re (I guess?) supposed to believe that she is therefore Bad, and kinda-sorta deserves to be tortured and raped, because you’re supposed to enjoy watching it, right? And how can you enjoy it if she doesn’t deserve it?

None of this is a surprise to me. But it never stops pissing me off.


Ibis’s day job (or night job or 3-in-the-morning job, depending on the shift) is answering the 066 emergency line. The other day he got a call: a woman was sobbing, hysterical, she’d just seen her boyfriend having sex with another woman in his car. Ibis didn’t have to take the call, obviously it wasn’t a matter for the police or the firefighters, but he told her not to hang up, that he would connect her with one of the female operators.

The other operator rolled her eyes but conceded to talk to “Ibis’s crazy lady”. For a good half-hour, she listened and comforted and listened some more. Finally (as she later told Ibis) the woman calmed down, and said:

“I think I’ll be okay now. I’m going to go take down this rope that I had put up to hang myself, and go take a walk instead.”