My Mexican Moments: Chapter 12

August in Mazatlan

When I telephoned Ritchies Auction House in May, I might as well have invited a common thief into our apartment. Ritchies knew in May they were bankrupt. We are in Mazatlan. The liars, cheaters and robbers are in Toronto. We feel helpless, like all innocent victims of fraud. We phone our amigo, Peter O’Neil, and ask if he will be our Toronto lever. Peter has just been “laid off” from the large bank, CIBC, so I know he has some time to devote to this tangled web. Peter enlists his old friend, Roly Watt, an estate lawyer, who in turn enlists his trusted colleague, Jennifer Donnelly, who is a respected antique appraiser. The three of them are simply brilliant; we could not have assembled a better team. Here’s how it unravels.

In May, Sotheby’s of England severs its partnership with Ritchies for non payment. When Ritchies picked up our antiques on June 23, they already knew they could not pay their rent, nor meet their payroll. Around the beginning of July all the staff were “let go.” There was a small sale in July, we were owed $1,200,(CDN) and Ritchies would inform us of its “go forward plan.” They actually sent us a letter stating that.

Jennifer has been doing business for years with Ritchies and the plan was to remove our antiques from their premises before they formally declared bankruptcy. I still have no inventory, so I create a list from my insurance appraisal. I have no pictures. Why would I? Ritchies was a trusted name. There are many hiccups. Like the handwritten packing slip the movers asked me to sign which was actually my contract with Ritchies. It’s in 4-point type on the back of the packing slip, stating if I removed anything they would charge me 20% of the assessed value.

It is really heating up in Mazatlan. Every day is now over 80% humidity. I’m sobbing. Ritchies has stolen my granny’s antiques and if I want them out of their premises they are going to charge me 20% of a fake amount and not pay me the $1,200 they’ve already sold. We are hot, angry, and far away. Jennifer and Peter plough on in Toronto and manage to retrieve two thirds of our goods. Jennifer arranges to pack and truck my antiques to London, Ontario and finally I receive a detailed inventory from Gardner Galleries, an auction house she trusts. I cry over all the missing items. They will never surface. I cry because I got taken. I cry at the loss of money. Soren and I wake up one steamy morning and say “enough.” We can’t get these guys ;they are hiding in some jungle in Panama — never mind there is no money to be had. We have to shake this victim mentality. It’s ruining our Mazatlan adventure. The auction in London takes place in October; all we can do is wait.

Twice a week Alfredo arrives in long pants, and while he is sorry to learn about our Ritchies fraud, he’s amused that an established Canadian company could be so corrupt. He’s especially amused that for once it is not happening in Mexico. One morning when it was 300 degrees I ask him why he doesn’t wear shorts. He shrugged and said the heat doesn’t bother him. I learn the real truth in Vicente Fox’s book; only little boys wear shorts. When a boy becomes older, they never, ever wear shorts. And the Mexican men never do, no matter what the temperature soars to. Between the stinking hot heat, The Ritchies Robbery (TRR), I am also being treated by my new dermatologist, Dr. Aida Isabel Lopez Cartagena. She’s a glamorous doctor who walks around in stilettos and beautiful white tight linen dresses. I am what is called a melanoma survivor. Last October my dermatologist in Toronto found a small pink spot on my upper arm and the biopsy result was melanoma. The surgeon in a large Toronto hospital cut out a huge chunk, sewed it up and did another biopsy. I get the all clear, but I must be examined every six months. I am a redhead who sun tanned in my teenage years with baby oil and tin foil. It’s a wonder I have any skin left. All my skin damage was completed by the time I was 20. I’ve been getting hell from dermatologists for over 40 years. I’m a pro with all the various procedures, and I am diligent with sun screen and hats. I have a face like a pencil, so I am not a hat person. But I cast vanity aside for health.

Dr. Aida Isabel Lopez Cartagena asks me, “Were you a redhead.” I smile, because at 62 I look in the mirror and see my carrot red hair; people who meet me now see me as a blonde. I have to say it’s a graceful way to age, the grey strands making my hair lighter and lighter. When Soren wants to butter me up, like during the TRR episode, he’ll say to me, “You still have red hair.” We met when I was 44, and my hair was fiery red then.

“Yes, Dr. Lopez Cartagena, I was a redhead I spent way too much time in the sun, mea culpa.” She dials up the lights and snaps on her magnifying goggles and finds a dubious spot on my forehead, near the hair line. The biopsy is not good, it’s squamish cell skin cancer, the precursor to melanoma. But my Mexican dermatologist is also a surgeon so I don’t need to go to a hospital. The operation is performed in her office with Soren holding my hand. The cut is deep, the size of a black olive. There’s not a lot of skin around your forehead but la doctora does an amazing job of sewing it up. Tight as strings on a tennis racquet. The second biopsy gets a green light too. Two biopsies, one operation and three follow-up visits cost $700 (US). I will return in February for further inspection.

My dermatologist and new dentist, Dr. Juan Jaime (hi-me) Diaz Rivas are a block away from each other in the Golden Zone (GZ). Normally it’s a 15 -minute bus ride, but the humidity is too high, and getting there by bus feels impossible. That’s how hot it is becoming in August. So we hire our friend, Jesus Antonio Lizarraga (Mexicans would never have names like Cher or Madonna. You must have at least three – first name, your mother’s and your father’s) to drive us around in his air conditioned taxi.

The winter and summer months have not been kind to Jesus, and like Pepe, he’s suffering from a lack of business. Jesus has both his condo and his taxi permit up for sale. In the meantime, we shop at all the Big Box stores, hit the garden centres and try to employ Jesus for as many errands as we can. Our dentist, Dr. Diaz, speaks English, and has the most modern digital equipment, but the oddest decorating tastes. As the hydraulic chair slowly lowers me down I gaze around the premises. The walls display a variety of stuffed deer heads and a huge selection of hand and shot guns. I decide to wait until I know him better to ask him about his choice of “art.” Besides, he is busy tracking down my screw to marry-up to the implant post I had inserted in Toronto. Because the process started in Toronto, finding the matching screw proves to be more of a challenge. Dr. Diaz regularly e mails me with updates.

“Hello Sheila, I send the information to Mexico city to get the implant information, thanks, we still in contact,bye.”

“Sheila, i am still working to find your implant attachments, the problem is here in Mexico, Astra, the company of your implants, is not in this country, we have15 companys but not Astra, i call to a dentist in Guadalajara, and i will call him back nexth tuesday, hi will help me to find the attachments, i will be out this weekend but comming on monday again, i will write you back as soon i have the information, thanks very much.”

My favourite code phrase came via the phone: the dentist who has access to the screw is in Switzerland and as soon as he returns he will courier it to Mazatlan. I’ve been without a tooth for over a year, waiting for bone to regenerate, and I knew the part would not hit Mazatlan until October. Besides, it was becoming more and more difficult to get out of bed and leave the air conditioning.

One day I go to the gym for my usual workout in front of the fans, come home, shower and then walk to my appointment for a hot stone massage. Why would I need a hot stone massage when it was 32°C with 85% humidity? Even during the massage I can tell that my body is getting overheated. I then stagger home at high noon. When I reach the apartment I can barely move, breath or think. I have electrical fires in my head. I am convinced that I will start hearing voices soon. Soren hauls me off the bed and drags me to Dr. Levid’s afternoon clinic. I can not sit up; I am sprawled out on his sofa. The examination is really unnecessary, as he already knows what it is; severe heat stroke. I’m put on pills, ice under the arm pits, begin an electrolyte program and am grounded from all activities for ten days. In his quiet way Dr. Levid gives me shit for doing so much physical activity in this humidity; it’s simply not possible for my body to keep up. All systems shut down. Just as I am recovering, Soren falls under a milder form of heat exhaustion. We admire each other for not getting sick at the same time. One of us is able to administer to each other, do the shopping and keep a small household running but only because of Alfredo’s and Jesus’s help. We tally up our August trials and tribulations, the Ritchies robbery, my forehead operation and two cases of heat stroke.

We need to cool down, literally. We need to get out of town.

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