Mexican Cash Flow
Well, part of Pepe’s e mail is true. The “we wait for you” sentence is correct. Pepe, his wife and four children live in their original family home next door to us. They built the two- storey apartment last year as an investment to supplement Pepe’s fishing income. “Let’s go fishing with Pepe’s Fleet,”the slogan on his flyer, has had minimal business. The sons carry our luggage up the 40 steps. We’ve had a long day and their assistance is much appreciated. We are elated to be back in Mazatlan overlooking the ocean. The apartment is exactly as we remembered. This is a serious problem. Nothing has been done. Here’s what we do have: toilet seats, sinks and shower stalls all working; kitchen sink, stove and fridge all working; ancient tv, one mattress, one set of sheets and one towel. We were very familiar with the “fully furnished” code phrase. We had left a huge suitcase full of crucial items such as cutlery, sharp knives, scissors, cork screw, wine glasses, dish soap, bath soap and extra towels with Pepe. That is all still intact. The dark, heavy furniture that was here last April, is still in place — that’s a good sign.
Here’s what we do not have: hot water, kitchen cabinets, plates, pots, pans, microwave, coffee maker, blender, washer/dryer, a second mattress, sheets, bedroom/bathroom/closet doors, and there are no lamps — just those ugly energy bulbs dangling down from the ceiling like stalagtites. The terra cotta floor tiles are stained and drizzled in white paint. It’s 6 p.m. I open a bottle of wine. Fortunately I can put my hands on the corkscrew immediately. Pepe, Soren and I talk in Spanglish. “You arrived three months early,” is Pepe’s song, “how did you expect me to get it all finished?”
We chat some more; there’s not a lot of laughter happening. We discover that time is really not the issue; it’s money. The pesos we gave Pepe last April were to feed his family, not to finish the apartment. Times are tough, there are no tourists wanting to “let’s go fishing with Pepe’s Fleet” at $200 (US) per day. The brochure also boasts “catch dorado and the best bottom fishing in town.” It’s difficult to bottom fish in Centro. I drop this useless lost- in- translation thought and move on. We pay July’s rent. Then we offer to pay for August and September now. We are so tired and disappointed that we don’t even bother to negotiate with the fisherman for a lesser rent. Three months advanced rent yields a dish set for four, a blender and a coffee maker. We are still coping with the fact that locks are installed upside down, the hot water and cold water faucets have been switched, and we are attempting to cook without pots and pans while our canned goods and condiments are spread out on the kitchen floor. There is no sign of a carpenter. There isn’t a single hanger. I’m ready to hang myself.
We met our Spanish teacher, Alfredo Herrera Martinez, last March. Three of us would go to his house twice a week for lessons. We discovered we all learn Spanish differently. Our friend Jan Goodman likes to write everything out. Soren learns by hearing. I learn a few words every day and like to practice them in the gym, in the yoga studio or on the street. Soren and I had decided that when we return we will have Alfredo all to ourselves because of our various retention methods. I have to confess I have a little crush on Alfredo. He’s a handsome, fine- boned Mexican born in Guadalajara who married Miriam from Mazatlan, settled here and resumed a successful career teaching English and Spanish. Before Miriam, Alfredo traveled and taught in the U.S. and admits to having a few American girlfriends when he was younger. I can just imagine. At 65 he’s charming —not the macho kind of charm — it’s a soft charm, backed by intelligence and understanding. He has style, manners and is very much the Mexican gentlemen. Twice a week Alfredo comes to our apartment to teach, to drink coffee and to smoke cigarettes. We learn a little Spanish, we learn a lot about Mazatlan culture, we exchange information about our families and our countries: Canada and Denmark.
Soren arrived in Toronto in 1982 from Copenhagen with only a few words of English. Within one month he landed a job in a small, but sought after, ad agency. The Dane never took a single English class in Toronto. He just “picked it up.” I pick up things too; just not a new language. Besides, Soren hates classes (except our yoga classes) and he won’t do any homework. Alfredo adjusts his teaching skills to our unorthodox way of learning. The teacher is also up-to-date with all our problems with the fisherman. Pepe is now avoiding us and not returning calls. He knows it’s us calling on his cell phone so he won’t pick up. Call display = do not answer. Soren, Mr. Calm, gets the brilliant idea to enlist Alfredo to attend a meeting with Pepe. Alfredo, the respected professor, brings the right gravitas for a potentially heated discussion. The Heated part is me. Alfredo also owns and rents two apartments; he explains to the fisherman that Canadians and Americans expect certain things. Pepe is very respectful and listens hard to the teacher. I can see Alfredo is absolutely the best partner to facilitate this impasse. Water and coffee are being poured over this bed of hot tamales. Thanks to Alfredo, we drill down to the root of the problem. The fisherman is completely broke. A Mexican would never tell a Canadian that, but he would admit it to an older, respected Mexican. We all agree, with Alfredo as a witness, that we will pay rent up front, at a discount, as far forward as April. Receipts are signed, promises made. And the promises are kept. Mexican cash flow is always a “just in time delivery.” Two days before Rosemary arrives to stay with us to house hunt in Centro, all the doors and cabinets are installed. Well, not the closet doors, but never mind. She even has a brand new mattress and a fresh set of sheets and towels. The stackable washer /dryer miraculously gets dragged up the 40 steps. There are only a few dents. No one will ever see the scratches as Pepe has plumbed the washer in the master bedroom so it can use the shower drain. That’s the Mexican version of an en-suite laundry room. We now have hot water, which is essential for laundry and dishes but not so terrific for showers. It’s getting a little steamy, and we would actually like to have a cold shower. That’s impossible as the black water tanks reside on our roof absorbing all the sun. It’s getting steamier and steamier; perhaps the weather reports of the Mazatlan humidity are true?
Every time Soren shops at our local supermarket, he brings home a large white plastic standing fan. We now have four. There is no mini split (that’s the efficient Mexican a/c unit) in our living room, so the plastic windmills are doing their job. The mini split is definitely turned on at night in our bedroom. The temperature hovers around 31°C with a humidity of over 80%. Mukande, our yoga studio, greeted us with open arms and big hugs, but classes are now difficult to push through without getting overheated. I return to the gym but find I am able to do less and less. There is no a/c in the gym or the yoga studio. I spend the afternoons in the bedroom watching old movies on the old tv. We are beginning to believe and feel the humidity. Rosemary’s arrival stalls our meltdown. We have a whirlwind week and she does indeed buy the house she saw on the internet. Oh, we look at other houses, do our due diligence, but her internet house is the right price, in the right location. It’s completely renovated, three bedrooms and three bathrooms, with a small courtyard, and a large roof terrace. It’s perfect for her and her two Tibetan terriers. Rosemary and her real estate agent spend time in the air-conditioned Big Box stores buying fans, toilet seats, and various appliances. That’s the second time I’ve mentioned toilet seats. It’s because Mexicans install toilet seats once all the renovations are completed; they are a luxury and no one is permitted to damage them. The women seem to accept the no-toilet-seat situation for months and months. We open a bottle of champagne; the Mexicans finally buy a toilet seat.
In Toronto, Rosemary lives around the corner from the auction house, Ritchies. One evening over dinner she asks us how the July sale went. With all of Pepe’s broken promises, the heat, and getting re-organized, I’d completely forgotten about the first sale. I e mail my contact, Hugh Lawson, and there is no response. The posh UK accent voice mail just says, “We are on holiday.” I still have never received my inventory list. Their website looks a little strange, but I figure I’m dealing with a reputable company and I’m bound to hear some news soon. August 1st Rosemary flies back to Toronto to start “staging” her condo and promises to pop by Ritchies. Two days later I receive an e mail from Rosemary that Ritchies is changing all its locks and its parking lot is completely abandoned. I get a similar e mail from my friend Harry Whelan (Mr. Lighthouse) who also lives nearby Ritchies. I Skype Ritchies, but the phone now has just one single recorded message, “Closed for the holidays.”
The lights are off and no one is at home.