La Vida Mexico

…At The Inn At San Pancho

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What Happened….Stage Two


The Inn is successful. You are running it as if you were born to be an innkeeper.  Because you are alone, because your husband has taken what he thinks is his rightful due, you are also very worried about money. Well, truthfully, you have spent your whole life worrying about money. You were told by a friend a few years back that the definition of insanity is the fear of not getting what you want, and losing what you have.  Based on this, you know yourself to be crazy.

Of course, crazy does not slow you down. Crazy spurs you on.  In addition to managing the inn, you are offering an airport pickup service to your guests and have teamed up with a couple of friends in a new consultation business.  Because the three of you have built your own houses in San Pancho, you reason you can, with Beto’s assistance, build everyone else’s as well.  Hence the name – Build Mexico – which came to you in the shower and is so good – or so the three of you think – that if the business fails, you can recoup any losses by selling the name!

Building houses and dreams seems a natural fit for you and your ego knows no bounds. You readjust architectural plans, landscape gardens (yes, you who killed spider plants and fields of wildflowers), advise on land rights and bank trusts and staffing. You give guided tours of the pueblo to inn guests, weaving survival tales of lost love and paradise found. You crawl through the jungle and up the sides of mountains, the sun drilling a hole through the middle of your skull, telling the faithful Beto where your client’s pool should go and how large their closets need to be.

You are spinning plates like an old hand and so far none of them have bashed you in the head.  You are ducking and weaving and paying your bills. You partner Tory is encouraging. She advises you not to worry which is like telling Helen Keller she can be a trapeze artist.  She promises she will always be there for you. This comfort from a friend who has put a lot of money into your dream makes you weepy sometimes. But you are mostly scared out of your mind. Without planning it you, a lover of solitude, have never lived alone. Perhaps, it is this, this living alone for the first time in your life, and not Mexico, that will turn out to be The Last Great Adventure.


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What Happened…Stage One

You lived through it. Yes, you did, but you are ragged, oddly dizzy all the time, nauseous, severely depressed. “I cannot help you,” the doctor in Puerto Vallarta says, having tested your blood and urine and cleaned out the plastic trash basket beside his desk which you had thrown up in on your first visit. Speechless at a doctor admitting he cannot help you, you ask, “What? What is it?” The handsome doctor shakes his head, covers your hand with his and pronounces, “You have the disease of our times, Senora.” Cancer, you think, everyone has cancer, cancer has to be the disease of our times. Or heart, the heart, my heart, the lousy failing family-heart which has knocked off practically every one of your ancestors. But before you can say arrhythmia, the handsome doctor sighs sadly and continues, “Loneliness. You are lonely, Senora. You have no husband, you are alone in Mexico, you are growing old.”

 Now, really, you think, this is too much. Growing Old? You are in the new 50s, for God’s sake. Lonely? You? Miss Party Insurance herself, Lonely? Miss I built a house in Mexico, Miss Survivor, Miss I love living alone, Miss I am living the dream? Lonely? You don’t need no stupid Ativan, you say, waving away the prescription. You are fine. 

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What It Was Like — Stage Five

 Stage Five:

In setting out for one last great adventure you neglected to acknowledge how many adventures turn out badly. Things go wrong, terribly wrong. Climbers fall off mountains inches from the summit, frozen bodies drift around the Pole like rafts.  Your adventure paled in comparison: sell everything, move to Mexico, convince your husband who seems dazed by the preparations that running an inn is no more difficult than selling shoes, and that paradise will solve your problems. In 12-step programs your plan is known as “pulling a geographic.” Burn those bridges, head south, get out of Dodge. It is not referred to as an adventure. As you wrote the script for your 60s and 70s and 80s – each decade magically converted into the new 50, 60s and 70s – you emphasized the steady income the inn would provide, the lazy days in hammocks reading Proust, flawless Spanish after a quickie emersion course, happy pets, romance.

 In the end your husband caved. He hated his job, hated working in general, and had only one condition: a 54 inch flat screen TV with a satellite hookup.

 “Of course,” you agreed. It was the least you could do.

You have yet to come through on that or any other promise. You are running out of money from the sale of your house and your parents’ inheritance. At your urging, your husband takes a job selling time share in Puerto Vallarta. It is not like selling shoes or running an inn. It is basically the worst job in the world. It is the Glengarry Glen Ross of Mexico.

 When you were 22 you went to a shrink. Dr. Ventnor had a reputation for treating terrified women stuck in horrible marriages. Not everyone in the 60s was dropping acid and running naked through mud puddles in Woodstock. In fact, many of them, like you, were discovering that their favorite television programs were fairy tales. You could buy a pair of capris, but that did not make you Mary Tyler Moore. At the end of your first 50-minute session, Dr. Ventnor leaned across his desk which was littered with wads of wet Kleenex, and in complete awe said, “My God, Eileen, you live in a complete fantasy world.”

Sitting in your plastic Corona chair watching the flat blue line of the horizon from your veranda, you thought again as you often have over the last four decades about Dr. Ventnor’s diagnosis. Call it a dream, an adventure, a geographic – call it dumb, hasty, thoughtless – Call it anything you want, but in the end your decision to move to Mexico was born and nurtured in the fantasy world Dr. Ventnor had perceived in his little office on a suburban street on Long Island. Since then you had been in and out of various fantasy worlds, many of them unpleasant. But this one, you know as you watch the sunset fade into deep gloaming – this one might be your undoing. 

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What It Was Like — Stage Four

 Self- pity of the “I can’t take it anymore” variety has swallowed you whole. You cannot breathe easily. There are multiple To Do lists, and even as you check items off, more are added – call locksmith, find housekeeper, fire Gardener, Cassie’s birthday, ant poison, fertilizer, Money! You are full of questions. What is this? When? How much? Why? You are Sisyphus, you are Job, you are going to die carrying the rock up the frigging hill.

One morning you wake to the sound of a bulldozer in the backyard. You throw on a house dress. Yes, a house dress like the ones your Nana wore. This country, this construction, this marriage, has fattened you up considerably – so much so, in fact, that you hired an obese, cranky seamstress in La Penita to make six identical A-line Nana-ish dresses in six different colors:  yellow, green, baby blue, orange, turquoise and a wheezy shade of teal. You call them your Rainbow Collection, and are pleased to have narrowed down your options in at least one area of your unraveling life.

 “Que es esto?” you ask your contractor Beto — a rough, sexy, compact guy who looks like Charles Bronson, speaks no English and is building your house as if it was his dream.

  “La alberca, Senora.”

 “Alberca? Alberca?”

 He nods.

 “Que es alberca?”

 Beto makes swimming motions with his arms.

 “The pool? La piscina es la  alberca?”

 “Si, senora.”

 “Pero, quiero alla…la alberca…” you say, waving your arms toward the front of the unfinished house and promising yourself Spanish lessons when this part of your life ends.

 “No, Senora. Aqui.” You are standing very close to Beto, who is not a handsome man, who is short, and who is determined to do things the right way – his way. He has large pores, thick hair and you can see in his 50ish body the soccer player he once was before an injury took him out of the game. You are shocked at finding yourself attracted to him, to anyone. Your life has become a tunnel with you at one end and the completed inn at the other. You can control nothing – not Beto, not the location of the pool, not the time you get up in the morning.  Nothing. Your marriage is as broken as your Spanish, your dreams a distant whimsy, and your heart? Mexico is eating your heart.

Standing beside the revving bulldozer, screaming bad Spanish at Beto, you reach a decision. You needn’t tell him  where to put the pool or the windows or the closets or the sinks or the frigging washer and dryer. Take his list of supplies, nod your head, and if you can manage a smile now and then, smile at Beto – because he knows. You have turned a corner. You have handed over the controls to a man you only  recently met, a former soccer player, a man of vision, a man you can trust to do the best job he can do. Beto doesn’t need your help. He doesn’t even want it. Beto, you realize, is the embodiment of a man who, as the saying goes, knows his own mind. And so, you let him build your house, believing that however much your dream of this Last Great Adventure comes true, Beto at the least will be a part of it. 


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What It Was Like …. Stage Three

 You are moving from constant fear into a state of resentment, a hysteria which makes you say terrible things to your husband, to yourself, to strangers, in short to anyone who is not helping you in some way. You are sick from doing everything while your husband watches reruns of Law & Order (I forgot to mention the 54 inch flat screen TV we dragged along with us in the car).  One night you go to the bathroom at 3 a.m. and he is in the living room, dazed and dopey, staring at a wrestling match. Something is wrong. The infection grows deeper over the next months. You are beginning to understand a little about loneliness, though it is just a start, a hint that it is not so much a fact as a sense that being alone is not the cause as much as being apart when you are strung together. The inn grows around you both. Your husband does not respond to it as you do, and you find him, his essential being-ness, more inexplicable than ever. “This climate destroys everything,” your only San Pancho friend Barb explains during one of your horrendous can’t-find-anything-shopping-trips. “Plastic, concrete, pipes, wires, wood, appliances, engines…everything rots.”

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Stage Two…

The exhaustion deepens into a permanent weariness. A toxic fog permeates your brain. Your legs plod, your hands shake. You know as well as you know anything that if you stop even for a minute, the world will end. You have finally moved out of the apartment from hell into the house from hell – a construction site which has a hollowed out space where you and your husband camp out on the king size mattress which you have set on top of a blue plastic tarp on the floor. The truck with the furniture you ordered in a small city two hours south of Guadalajara has not been heard from in weeks. The phone line is sketchy, and the internet more down than up.  After you have watched the dramatic collapse of each day into a bold orange and pink sea, you move your plastic chair from the veranda back into the kitchen, wash the lettuce and tomatoes in Microdyne and talk with your husband about what has and has not been accomplished while he was pitching paradise to wary strangers. These are not happy dinners. There is no wine, no simmering sauce, no exotic cheeses. The dimmers on the recessed lights have not be installed yet and the unfinished, unfurnished apartment is as eerily bright as an operating theatre. You wash the dishes in cold water and globs of self pity and tuck another day in paradise under your belt.

The next morning — every morning – 17 obreos whose names you cannot remember jump out of a couple of pickup trucks and begin wrestling with concrete blocks and cement mixers and bricks and rebar. Dust is everywhere, a relentless mist of it drifting over the floors and windows and into your pores. When your husband comes home from the Grande Mayan Resort, he moves his hand over a smudge on the glass veranda door which you missed. You have been trying to seduce him with your dream of moving to Mexico and building an inn and sleeping late and walking the beach and falling in love again. To this end,  while the obreros build your house, you attack your bit of it with scouring powder and mops and windex. This is called nesting. Unfortunately, the top floor of a gutted building — even if it has magnificent ocean views — resists all efforts, and your husband who has not sold paradise to anyone for 10 days moves his thick fingers over the smudge and shakes his head: No sale.

The only  identifiable feeling you have  is FEAR, and that is how you think of it and how you experience it – Bold-All-Caps-FEAR.  You are on the far side of life, and despite writerly cautions against ever using All Caps, you have reached a place where FEAR has earned this status.

When you are not standing on the veranda — your crumbling Evita perch — watching the oberos drilling and pouring and mixing and laying and banging out your future, you are shopping for things which you cannot find and which give you no pleasure when you do: bells with clappers, cables, electric switches and plates, toilets, sinks, drains, 3-in-one, power tools, exterior lights, bombas (water pumps), pressure tanks. You go to terrible stores where you do not know the names or reasons for anything. You say you are overseeing the construction, but really you are hanging on for dear life.

Sometimes while you are swiping away at a huge expanse of sliding glass window you stop and look at the light moving over the surface of the sea. Before San Pancho you thought the ocean had three colors: the muddy brown after heavy rains, the turquoise sea of the Greek islands, the teal Atlantic blue of your Long Island childhood.  But in between swipes, an array of blues lives and dies a dozen times. You remember a Monet painting in the Springfield Museum where you and your father had escaped your mother’s relentless housekeeping one autumn afternoon three decades before. Your father had been pointing at details – differing brush strokes, the various thicknesses of oils masterfully applied, and the light at the heart of all great painting — but you had been too overwhelmed to listen. You wish you could tell your father who had died 18 months before that you get it now – the thing about the light and how it falls over Monet’s radiant haystacks.  Here, now, with a paper towel in one hand and Windex in the other, you are reminded that the world is brighter than the one you have been living in for months while the house — a square beast of gray concrete and blasted walls — rises slowly around you. A split second, a shift of sunlight on the sea, the possibility of living without FEAR. And then your husband comes home.



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What It Was Like

Stage One:

You are anxious – exhausted from driving cross country from New England to Mexico. You have sold or given away everything you owned in the rainy days of September 2005 except for a king size mattress, your father’s antique bookshelf, a square cocktail table you bought at an auction for $75, and 600 books.

 You are temporarily living on the edges of Puerto Vallarta, out by the airport where you can hear planes landing and taking off from the pool on the top of the shopping center where your crappy “studio” apartment — long and narrow and dark — is covered in grime. You feel always as if you are stepping or sitting on some old expat’s skin. Outside the bang and clatter and rumble of taxis and delivery trucks reminds you that life as you know it has stopped, and life as you want it to be appears impossible.

 Your husband, a former bartender and used car salesman, who you once thought was the love of your life, is conning visiting gringos primed with Drambuie and dinner cruises into buying time shares at a resort along the 100 kilometer stretch of Pacific coast shoreline the tourism arm of the Mexican government has christened The Riviera Nyarit.  On maps, this burgeoning Mexican paradise has been known for centuries as the Bahia de Banderas, but Riviera paints a significantly more seductive picture, and it is hoped that it will lure greedy land developers south of The Wall.

 While he –the husband of eight years — manipulates customers into shelling out dollars for slices of time, you drive back and forth  — an hour each way —  to the fishing village of San Pancho where you pretend to supervise the construction of an Inn, which is rising slowly — very slowly — like a child’s set of square white blocks, one placed atop the other on the sandy soil on a hill overlooking La Riviera. Once it is built, you plan to live more happily within your marriage than you have managed to do in the last few years. You plan to piece together a good life with social security checks and revenue from the inn. You see yourself reading in a hammock, sipping lemonade, your cat named Whiskey purring on your belly. It is sunny – all dreams of the future are sunny.