Archives for category: Expat in Mexico making quality leather sandals

Both the State Police and army were massing troops on the north side of town as I set out for my run at 10 am. As the combi-bus passed I counted 2 big army trucks and a dozen state police trucks in a big parking lot. Every man was wearing black body armor, helmets and masks and carrying M-16s. The trucks were rigged out with tripod  mounted M-60 machine guns. Later into my run I could see that they had set set up check points on National Highway 15 and were re-routing some northbound traffic through my valley. The big guns, black clad guys and all of the extra traffic kinda harshed my mellow.

A very unusual Monday morning for this part of Michoacan. I have seen patrols before. But I had never seen this level of activity. There was even a helicopter involved. I have no idea what was happening to the south of town or anywhere else in the locality. I do know that the little old town of Sahuayo is highly contested territory between 2 different groups of bad guys. One of the local bad guys grew up here and the bad guys from the nearby neighboring state of Jalisco want to take it away from him. This rivalry precipitates periodic murders, shoot outs and gun battles, assassinations, decapitations, and mayhem.


My friend, Mike Loh sent me a big assortment of Cuban cigars from Singapore and they arrived today. And they arrived in such pristine condition that whoever packaged them is a genius.

I am beside myself with joy and happiness.

Smoking a great cigar is a culinary top-tener. A glass of a great Bordeaux Grand Cru is another one of those top-teners. Or a mixed ceviche in Peru. Caviar. Sushi in Japan. Oysters on the half shell. A porterhouse grilled medium rare over mesquite served with butter fried morel mushrooms. To be continued.

Cocktail hour cannot come early enough today to suit me.

I am going to break open my last good bottle of tequila  – Tepatio Reposado – kick back on the veranda, fire up one of those big, fat Cohibas and watch as the late afternoon storm blows in from the east.

It’s okay to be a little jealous.

When I was a little boy I wasn’t afraid of dogs, just the opposite. I’d walk up to a highly agitated barking dog and attempt to pet it; who would – crazy as it seems – generally let me. My grandfather warned me more than once that I was going to get bit but I never did.

At least not until Bart’s rescue bitch of a German Sheppard lunged out the back of his ’65 Ford Econoline van and took a chunk out of the rear end of my Levis. As an unprovoked surprise attack it quite frankly scared the shit out of me. Bart shrugged it off saying she had a hard time after being abandoned on the mean streets of Detroit. I was 19 at the time and it was at that moment when my fearless relationship with dogs changed forever. Getting bit by a dog is scary. And it hurts. Getting bit by a big dog you didn’t even see is something entirely else; terrifying, that’s a good word.

I’ve had several other frightening encounters over the years; never in the US where there are things like leash laws and legal accountability. I had two encounters in Bolivia back in the ‘90s which could have both turned out very ugly, but didn’t. And I’ve had more than one encounter down here in Mexico. The scariest encounter was with three big dogs while I was running up in the hills called the ‘Big Panties’ a few months back. In surviving that encounter I learned a couple of valuable lessons: immediately fight back, be very aggressive and show those dogs just who the big dog really is – in other words, bluff like hell. Big posturing with the help of throwing lots of rocks can save your life in such an encounter. It sure was news to me. I was in reaction mode.  I had no idea it would actually work.

This however doesn’t work with pit bulls. I learned that lesson here too. For example when that white and tan pit bull advanced on me I picked up a big rock only to find out almost immediately it was the wrong thing to do. His owner standing a few feet away looked at me and very matter of factly said, ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you. He doesn’t like rocks’. I looked at the big shovel headed brute and concluded that it would probably piss him off and bounce off his skull anyway so I sensibly put the rock down and the owner called his dog off.

A problem with pit bulls is you can’t read them. They typically don’t wag their tails or do anything to telegraph what their intentions are. You don’t know if that particular one was raised to be aggressive or what. And you can’t fool a pit bull. He already knows who the alpha dog is and you both know that it isn’t you. Other frightening facts: you can’t see into a pit bull’s eyes and that they come in only one color – stone cold.

I had an encounter with a bad guy here a few months ago. He had the same eyes; unreadable and stone cold. The man was a killer, no question about it. He asked me questions like what was I doing in his neighborhood and so forth. He liked my answers enough that his mouth formed the rictus of a smile but the eyes never changed.

Thinking about killers got me thinking back to ’77 right after I partied my way out of 5 useless semesters of university. The best job to be had at the time was that as a corrections officer in a maximum security prison in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I worked inside for one year (to the exact day) and in that time saw lots of killers. I talked to them too. During that year we took the transfer of one of the very first of the infamous serial killers – the young guy who murdered those 7 or 8 coeds at the University of Michigan back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Locked up in the Segregation Unit in B-Block with the other protection cases he looked like a baby faced punk who wouldn’t survive a week out in the general population.

Most convicts for that matter look like regular people. It helps that there is this running myth that every last man locked up doing time is innocent. Every last single man in the joint – just listen to them and they’ll tell you – they are there because of some huge mistake. And to keep the illusion and hope alive means that every other convict is working on some stage of an appeal.

There are very few tough guy acts in a maximum security prison. Most everyone just wants to do their time as quietly as possible. And paroles are easier to come by if you play the game and act the nice guy.

But here on the outside – down here in Mexico – bad guys and big dogs don’t have to pretend to be anything other than what they are.

I just got in from an hour and a half run out on the canal and I am extremely happy. What is there about running in just shorts and sandals exactly that feels so positively liberating? Here in Mexico, in this climate it’s the height of comfort. Running here is nothing like taking a jog through Rock Creek Park or doing a run on the C&O Canal Trail; both in Washington, DC. No, it’s a little less sheltered here, also a little more open and a lot less protected. But my running is the better for it. I like wilderness and running places that are off the grid. Places where there are just the primal elements of rock, dirt, sun, and sky. No people to speak of. No traffic. No sounds but that of the wind moving through the leaves and my sandals as they lightly slap the ground. For all I know it could be 1320 and not 2013. Spend enough time in this Mexican valley and you come to realize just how totally indifferent nature is to both man and time. Awareness like this on days like today further catalyzes my joy as I cross its landscape. It’s at these times that I never feel so more plugged in and alive. The running monster self has emerged.

Sounds crazy, right? If you’re not a runner or if you’ve never experienced that proverbial runner’s high from elevated levels of endorphins then you might not believe me when I say running jacked up on endorphins is the best buzz on earth.

I’ll preface my argument with a conversation that I had on the phone this morning with one of my oldest friends, also a runner, where I said that the running blogs or the stories that get published about running are mostly ignorable at best. We agreed that wasn’t surprising given that on the [popular]cultural level the sport of running has been hijacked by the shoe and fashion businesses and subsequently get’s bundled up like just about everything else into a lifestyle that involves buying stuff. Yeah, that tired old rant about stuff but running is so intrinsically simple that it really bugs me to see the magazines and blog articles cluttered with things that ooze ickiliy of lifestyle. Running is simple: shorts, sandals, dirt, and time. Some of the articles about style and technique aggravatingly get tied to a particular running shoe solution. And I love the whole celebrity style trainer shoe thing. Or the articles on how to improve your 5K/10K times which improbably segue into reviews of the latest array of GPS enabled running watches. Some articles are inspirational (or nagging) to keep reminding neophytes that running will help them lose weight and stay slim. Yes, truth be known your cute little neighbor runs for that reason but she’s not a true runner in the sense that experientially she never has done more than 6 miles. And she, I can just about guarantee, has never found that endorphin buzz; which by the way, is the total point of the argument of why some of us run.

To begin with the sport of running is exclusive; it’s an activity that a person can’t buy their way into. And contrary to popular opinion running at the very root is really about an anti-consumerist lifestyle if for no other reason that you never have time to shop. To become a better runner, you have to run more. And to be a distance runner is to essentially commit the entirety of your day(s) to running. It is amazing how much of your day gets sucked up by long runs. And you have to eat healthy. You can’t stay out late. In short, the distance runner’s value system changes because of those huge commitments. The only things that really matter to the serious runner are: how the body feels, what’s on the feet is comfortable, and doing the miles.

So there is that, the commitment and the base level physical state that are yours as a runner. But maybe, just maybe somewhere along the way through your persistence something clicks for you and you discover the heart and soul of running – true running. You’re out for a run and you find that somehow your motion has become effortless, your legs feel loose and all-powerful, and your breath is light. And you are accelerating (!) and you don’t know why except it feels so good.

Welcome to the endorphin buzz – enjoy it – because for the moment, you are a superman.

To me, running is all about finding that buzz; to take the body to that perfectly matchless state where everything is operating in full synchronicity. It’s like God has just lifted the curtain just a wee bit enough to show you the majesty of your physical self. And for me it’s only running that can lift me into that rarified place that I can only describe as transcendent. Running, writing, and sandal-making is my life at the moment and I am pretty happy with the way things are turning out. I’d like to be selling more sandals. I’d like to see more people catch on to the fact that I am making the best sandals in the world. But wait and see and in the mean time, enjoy the buzz.

But I first had to push myself through the pain and put in the miles necessary to get to that magical place. It took perseverance and lots of time. I remember that first time I discovered endorphins. It was while my buddy, Ian and I were up running the fire roads in the California high Sierras training for my first and only marathon back in ’97. We finished sprinting the last 30 minutes of a 3 hour run. Yes, sprinting. The endorphin rush made me feel like monster. With endorphins, in the immortal words of Hunter S. Thompson ‘My heart feels like an alligator’.

It was ironic because when I first started training, my very experienced running partners thought I was a hopeless case. They both said my running form was absolute crap. But I hung in there and kept running. So after 17 years I am still running although I didn’t get started until I was approaching forty. I love running more today at 57 then I ever did at 40. Maybe because after all this time I can still find that monster running self; and when it comes to me I am grateful.

People that run to win things like ultra- marathons, marathons, or 5Ks, or whatever – fine – they’re competitive; my daughter is that way. She ran a 3:07 marathon in May of this year which qualified her for both the Boston and NYC’s marathons next year. And I am very proud of her. She’s a competitor and she admits to love passing people in a race. As for me, I’m not a racer. I run for the buzz.

And running where I live in Mexico it’s a year around proposition; 5000 ft. above sea level, spring like temperatures every day. It’s a runner’s paradise. And I absolutely love Mexico. I live in a town where the people are the nicest in the entire world. And I love living in a place where I don’t understand everything; where day to day living creates an awareness of mysteries the likes of which I haven’t felt since I was a kid. Mexico, as Octavio Paz points out, has multiple cultures living on different historical timelines. If you get off the beaches and away from the resorts and move inland and spend some time here you’ll soon discover that there’s lot’s of shit that makes positively no sense at all. But that’s another story…

And this is the first place I have ever lived in my life where I actually care about what people think about me. Part of that awareness comes from finally growing up but I also think it says something about the people and the place. For example, I use the Gray combi-bus line (Ruta Gris) to get back and forth to the valley that lies east of town. I chat with the drivers some, tease the kids, and try to make myself extra small and less sweaty when the bus is packed. Some of the drivers are reciprocal. They see me making an effort to fit in and so they’ll honk and wave when they see me. Some have taken to tapping on their electronic whistles when they pass my house, just to say hello. If I am home sitting up on the third floor working or hammocking out on the terrace and I hear that familiar toot I know one of the Ruta Gris buses is out front of my house wheezing its way up Calle Victoria.

And another example of the great kindness of these people is while I never buy any of Ramone’s fried pig’s guts he greets me warmly and graciously just the same every morning when I enter the Mercado for breakfast. I say good morning to half a dozen different people on my three and a half block walk down to breakfast and say good morning to another half dozen people when I get to the Mercado. And so it goes all day; there is always someone to talk to and the list of smiling, happy, warm and friendly people that I interact with here just goes on and on.

The local people are very kind and gracious to this old gringo who runs their valley in huaraches and who is also trying to make a go of the sandal business; something that all the huaracheros are struggling with these days. I sense that these people want me to succeed which is a refreshing contrast to some of the more competitive places and people that I’ve known.

And crazy as it seems, I enjoy riding the combi – the poor person’s transport – crowded as it is some days, mostly just to watch the little kids. Coming back this afternoon there was a 5 year old little girl who I saw as the splitting image of my own savage little self at that age. The combi driver had to wait for her mother to chase her down before then having to literally wrestle her on to the bus. Arms and legs snagging first at the door until finally latching onto her brother who she stuck to like chewing gum before getting finally pried off his leg.  But as mom’s do, she won in the end and guided her firmly to the bench on the other side of the bus. There was no screaming or hitting; just mom’s quiet insistent voice. I don’t think I have ever in my entire life seen such amazing and persistent stubbornness in such a small package. It was absolutely so funny I laughed out loud. The mom smiled and gave me one of those knowing ‘you have no idea’ kind of looks. As we passed a cathedral the mom told her daughter to make the sign of the cross. The child looked back and scowled. What was noteworthy is that the little girl wasn’t crying, screaming or throwing a tantrum during any of that. She was just highly independent and very determined to have her own way. Her 7 year old brother on the other hand had boarded quietly and sat drawing pictures the entire way into town with the last nickel’s worth of ink in his chewed up 29 cent blue Bic pen. He reminded me a little bit of me too.

I have been working with a new craftsman to develop a design based upon one of his 1950’s era models but built to my specifications including: the addition of a toe thong, higher quality leather, improved insole, all double lock stitched onto recycled airplane tire soles. I’ve been wearing them these last couple of days and they’re so comfortable I forget they are on my feet.


Oh, and a sunrise photo from a couple of days ago –


It was another Super Menudo Sunday morning at Gaby’s. I set aside this specific weekend morning’s breakfast to sip that soup and eat those unctuous stomach bits floating in a red chili broth garnished with fresh chopped white onion, oregano, and squeezes of fresh lime.

Ramón was setting up his own food stall when I arrived at the Mercado. He was melting down a big hunk of lard in the huge stainless steel vessel built into a table from which he chops up and fries pig guts and onions like he has been doing for the last 50 years. So as an old guy his work has been made more difficult these past 2 weeks with his wrist in a cast and his entire right arm in a sling. But he still managed a big smile and to greet me warmly with his diminutive for me where he calls me ‘Philippine’. I call him Ramón but roll the r extra hard just like you’d pronounce a double r which cracks me up because whenever I say Ramón using that exaggerated Spanish pronunciation my mind conjures up an imagine of  a glue sniffing Joey Ramone dressed in skinny knee torn blue jeans.

I ask him how the wrist is and he tells me much better and that the cast comes off in two weeks. He holds up 2 fingers on his left hand to emphasize the point and then stops, looks at his fingers to realize as if for the first time in years that his middle finger is only a nub. And after a pause also realized that he was only holding up a week and a half of fingers. He unsuccessfully tried several combinations to put together a contiguous set of two intact fingers before finally settling on his little finger and ring finger. We both laughed like it was the funniest thing in the world.

A couple of weeks ago Roberto, the carpenter down the street finally got around to getting his skinny little mutt, Candy deloused, bathed and trimmed for the first time in maybe forever. A sweet little dog but was always so nasty looking that petting her was a chore. I once saw her crossing the plaza running in this crazy bucking motion as every other step she’d turn around to snap at some flea on her ass. So anyway the dog finally gets cleaned up and it turns out she was cute little Schnauzer under all that ratty, stringy fur. But philosophically speaking the make-over worked (or didn’t) depending on where you happened to be sitting at the time. I don’t know if it was the new pink ribbon on her head or what but two days later she got dognapped and hasn’t been seen since.

Oh, and a last little story of color. I was riding the combi-bus back in from the valley the other day and the driver stopped with his full bus load of passengers to get gas. He got precisely 30 pesos worth; that’s two and a half liters, less than a single gallon’s worth of gas. One of the other passengers looked at the meter on the pump and then looked at me and rolled her eyes. If he is like the other Ruta-Gris (Gray Route) guys then he works 12 hours a day and a single loop is 2 hours and 10 minutes meaning he makes 5 loops per day. I haven’t done the math but I reckon he must stop for gas a lot if that’s his modus.

Most of us can only write about what we do and what we know which probably explains why a lot of Hollywood movies are situated in California. I know Hemingway wrote pretty much experientially. There were exceptions like Saul Bellow who wrote his brilliant ‘Henderson the Rain King’ without foreseeing the necessity of actually having to visit Africa to write about it. And the Argentine, Jorge Luis Borges who was such a mad genius that he actually wrote about things and places that no one ever has or ever will visit.

But unfortunately I am one of those experiential guys and guilty as it might sound I have been re-watching the ‘No Reservations’ episodes; the Travel channel’s answer to everyone else’s food shows. So instead of writing about something critical like the world health crisis or the upcoming free elections in North Korea (kidding) I can only pull culturally and experientially from the Tony Bourdain shows that I’ve been watching of recent. Or I can talk about running some more but I can also do that next time.

Everyone today seems to have an obsession with food. And every country today seems to have multiple food shows. There is the good, the bad, and the ugly. In America and the American export markets there is Tony Bourdain. Coming in a very distant second place is that short, fat guy who tries to more or less do the same things as Tony – travel, write, eat – but he does it so bad that the show sucks so majorly it just reminds us how bad everyone else is below him. Which like I said makes Tony, like it or not, the proverbial one-eyed king in the land of the blind.

TV is so hard to get right that I had to let mine go 22 years ago. But I still watch some of the programming (DVDs, streaming) from time to time. And like now I can’t help myself: to watch, to ruminate, aye, even to nit-pick a little as I re-watch ‘No Reservations’. But I will not let myself get swept down that rat-hole of opining where I somehow feel it’s incumbent upon me to moralize about food. But likewise I need to remind you, gentle reader that I am in Mexico without so much as library card and so food fiction in whatever media format has somehow become necessary again. Yes, I am watching it on my 10” netbook but the standalone speakers are stereo so it’s [almost] not as bad as it seems.

But at least I am not in Afghanistan like my old work colleague, Willie who I just got an email from this morning. I replied that they must be paying him a butt-load of money for him to leave the comfort of the Washington, DC suburbs for a place like Afghanistan. There might be a significant amount of violence and mayhem down here in Mexico but at least you can go out somewhere for a decent drink. And wouldn’t the entire Middle East be a better place all around if its arm-bearing citizenry put down their guns long enough to pick up a serious cocktail habit? And I know for a fact that it’s really hard to fight when you’re really drunk.

Maybe American foreign policy would improve if we started sending guys like Jack Daniels and Jim Beam as ambassadors. I mean send drunks, not politicians to ambassador (verb). And arm their C-47’s with full cargo loads of American whiskey to distribute by way of America’s newer welcome wagon like approach to a more gentle diplomacy. I mean come on; we’re going to send that vegetarian Kennedy girl as the ambassador to Japan? Like that’s a great idea. A privileged and mis-fit American royal operating in a culture so alien that we might as well just blast her to Mars.

And forget the $1B aid package to Egypt. We should take that money and spend it at the distilleries and the drop-parachute pallet after pallet of cases of Jim Beam and Old Grand Dad whiskeys out of the ass-ends of C-47s until the country is entirely covered in the stuff. Don’t you think that would make the people happier than just buying the ruling regime more damn guns?

And all diplomacy period should proceed out of an invitation to stop by for drinks.

Take Churchill for example. Drank like a fish all day long then worked and partied all night. We’re talking about a guy who would sip a ‘weak’ scotch and soda while reading correspondence; all before getting out of bed. It took time but Roosevelt finally figured out how he did it. He found out that Churchill would slip off for a long mid-afternoon siesta to sleep off lunch which in turn served to gird his loins for a late evening of work and yet more drinking and eating.

I’ve pretty much always enjoyed Tony Bourdain and his wit long before the cable TV show. I think I am one of the original discoverers of his now famous ‘Kitchen Confidential’. It  has kitchen stories that I now have to somewhat include among the pantheons of greats like Orwell’s ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’; a practical, sad, biting humorous epic that truly captures the long drudgery of those who are made slave to the kitchens.

I have found some irony in the early episodes whenever Tony squints after taking a bite of something delicious and then repeats one of his trademark lines of  ‘that’s good’ when I remember that it wasn’t until much later into the show (like several seasons ahead) where he quits his two pack a day habit. Cigarette smokers in case you didn’t know do not have a very good sense of smell or taste.

I think his greatest episode through Season 6 is ‘Madrid’; a great city with a great food tradition. In the second part of the show he has the same likeable Spanish chick from an earlier season acting as his host. But first he has this great old retired international war-covering journalist now food writer dude who serves up some pretty knowledgeable local food info. You could just tell just by looking at the guy and the way he wielded his knife and fork and especially his wineglass that he was a someone who had systematically over the course of his life pretty much shot up and robbed the entire pleasure train. Ambrose Bierce defined debauchee as ‘someone who has so seriously pursued pleasure as to have had the misfortune to over take it’.

And one of the Madrid’s episode’s highlights is where he interviews a newly married couple who had teamed up to create and manage a highly innovative and very successful city restaurant. The young chef is very cool, the Chinese inspired food is also very cool, and his new wife is a major babe with quite possibly the sexiest silliest sexiest voice on earth. ‘Madrid’ was great.

I have found that Tony and crew are most challenged in places that do not have both a broad nor deep food culture. He has fared best in places like Italy and France. He did some great shows in Asia but fell flat on his face rather miserably in Singapore and Tokyo. I can understand screwing up the Tokyo episode because of its rather narrow food culture but still is that any excuse to backfill half the content with the stupid flower arranging, the long Kendo scene, or that execrable scene where a bartender spent a really long time to make him a sophisticated cocktail only to have it turn out as silly looking? Hello Kitty.

But how did they manage to screw up Singapore? I ask again, just how do you screw up an episode on Singapore’s food? Yes, he found the hawker stalls all right but he didn’t do the food justice. Singapore has this righteous blend of India, China, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesian cultures; not to mention some Filipino now that I think about it. And the food reflects it. There are only a few other places on the planet earth that has the same breadth and depth when it comes to their cuisine and Tony, you blew it. He did get it right when he said that the best food in the world could be found there but then again he had kissed and lied before when he proclaimed that very self-same thing about a few other places too.

I found the ‘Pacific Northwest’ show offensive. It had that unavoidable vibe that goes with all that smug self-confidence of living an expensive all organic lifestyle. Ughh.

Tony’s future wife is introduced in Season 3 in the Tuscany episode as a critical and opinionated bitch. And after seeing her again in Season 4 at the end of the first Spain episode and then again in Season 5 where he introduces his new family in the Sardinia episode I still can’t shake that original first impression nor dissuade myself of the notion that she is a ticking time bomb of a big divorce settlement just waiting to happen.

I like Tony but I wish he’d gracefully bow out of popular culture about now. He’s had his moment in the sun but his act has been getting rather stale these last couple of years.

So Tony, if for no other reason but for the sake of dignity, please make your last few million, pay down your lifestyle and get the hell off the stage.

I just got an email from Justin at JJJJound, the premier fashion lifestyle media website, and he said that they were going to publish a photo of my hand braided tejido leather Colombiano sandals.


That is pretty cool news.

The day started a little earlier than usual with the 5 am fireworks and all. The resulting explosions were surround sound with all three Iglesias’s (churches) participating. There was an explosion every 15 seconds for 2 straight hours. The sun comes up at 7:15 so this is going on for 2 straight hours before daylight. It turns out that today is Mary’s name day (as in the Mother Mary).  Everyone has a name day; it’s like a birthday. Then there are the saints days.  And there are the trades days; carpenters, etc. And there are tons of other reasons to pretty much have a year around party.  So Mexico can be a noisy place but still if I were a nine to fiver and had a long commute to look forward to I’d be seriously pissed when my alarm clock got pre-empted by mortar fire.

But I really don’t mind anymore. And I am a morning person after all so getting up a little earlier than usual doesn’t bother me. And I had lots to do. It was a run day. I had sandals to ship. I’m working on a new bag. I am also working with a new huarachero to adapt one of his classic sandal designs onto my sole (recycled airplane tire) with a better grade of leather for the upper – and with a couple of other very small modifications… and I am heavily engrossed in writing my maybe never to be published, next novel.

I drank coffee and worked on the party chapter for novel numero dos waiting for Gaby’s to open up at 8. I walked down for a very tasty breakfast of eggs, beans, homemade salsa and fresh tortillas. I wished she served coffee but she like so many others here in Latin America have somehow gotten Nescafe confused with real coffee; art imitating life and all that I guess. Anyway, damn those wily Swiss!

I wrote for an hour after breakfast before suiting up for my run. That’s running shorts, sandals, and a bandana around my head to keep the sweat out of my eyes.

Midway into my run I saw a rancher with two dogs. I only overheard part of the conversation but it started with the big dog saying, ‘I am going to go eat that guy’. The smaller dog wagged his tail in anticipation. The rancher said, ‘No you’re not’. The big dog got up anyway, followed by the smaller dog, and started to cross the short distance of freshly mowed field that separated us. The rancher yelled ‘Venga aca pendajos’(get your asses back here)!. The dogs quit running but didn’t exactly stop either. The rancher said, ‘If you eat that guy I am going to beat you everyday and not feed you for a week’. The dogs reluctantly returned.

Running in the valley I am constantly mindful of three things: First – dogs. Second – not stopping to pee where I have to stand too close to a mound of fire ants. And three – when hunting season starts up in December I need to start early and end early and avoid the weekends when there are sometimes multiple pickup trucks cruising around the canal roads loaded with kids in the back all sporting small caliber firearms. All I can hope is if I do manage to catch a stray or for that matter intentional bullet that it doesn’t hit a vital organ like my liver.

The army with logic and reasons known only unto itself had two trucks patrolling nose to asshole (to borrow from the ranching vernacular), on the valley roads this morning. Manned and mounted big M-60s with lots of other guys sporting M16s dressed all alike in body armor and sporting scary face-masks. I put up my hands and made a feigning motion as they passed like ‘Don’t shoot’ all the meanwhile reciting The Lord’s Prayer. A couple men laughed at the half naked old gringo running with the water bottle while a few soldiers scowled. I had that déjà vu feeling that there was possibly more than one ‘rancher to big dog’ kind of conversation happening as they continued to slowly traverse in the opposite direction.

I bought my three favorite bumper stickers of all time twenty-three years ago on my first visit to Washington, DC; little did I know at that time that I’d be living there at some point in the future. I bought them from a shop that no longer exists up on 18th St. NW near Colombia Road in the neighborhood of Adams Morgan.

One said ‘Make the World a Better Place – Kill Yourself’. I gave that to my younger sister who was then living in LA but she gave up on it after a couple of weeks citing it was a bit over the top even for a place as crazy as LA. I also bought a bumpersticker that read ‘Pave the Rainforest’ which totally cracked me up. Once the novelty of that wore off I intended to cover it with the more comprehensive ‘Pave the Planet’ one. But it turned out that I wasn’t a bumpersticker kind of guy after all so they sit in a box somewhere in one of my daughter’s closets.

I bring up the bumperstickers merely to underscore how black humor sometimes articulates our worst fears. The future doesn’t scare me (but you’re going to have to read more of this blog to figure out why).And while I personally do not believe that mankind is going to usher in utopia anytime soon I do believe that some of the problems at hand are solvable.

If Malcom Gladwell (‘The Tipping Point’) and Nassim Taleb (‘The Black Swan’) are to be believed then everything comes down to the little things and sometimes the unexpected little things. For example, the improbably huge event that came to be known as Arab Spring ostensibly was started by one very unhappy man in Tunisia.

And a few years back NYC finally began to get its hands around its out of control subway problems simply by starting to stop people jumping turnstiles and riding without paying. And for whatever reason, the bigger subway related problems soon started to fall in line and get fixed too.

Then there is another example that something as simple as leaving a broken window in an urban environment unfixed eventually attracts crime. Criminals figure if no one cares enough to fix the window then no one is watching the house and if no one is watching the house then (and so on). There are many examples of how little things can create small events that in turn have immense consequences.

There are some big problems in the US at the moment. But if mathematics, physics and engineering can be used as an example then more times than not big problems can be solved by first breaking them down into a bunch of smaller problems. Pólya advises: “If you can’t solve a problem, then there is an easier problem you can solve: find it.”

I got pretty frustrated with American culture last year so I decided to do something about it and moved to the central Mexico highlands. I’ve been down here an entire year now and while it might not be the answer to everyone’s problem I’ve found that it is working quite well for me at the moment. I live in a peso economy. I pay cash or trade for every little thing I need (which isn’t much). I buy made in Mexico products 95% of the time.

The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is read the newspapers over coffee.

I read: The New York Times, Guardian (British), Fox, the Drudge Report, The Telegraph (British), and the rather shameful Daily Mail (which serves up gossip English style).

One doesn’t have to spend too awful much time reading the news to see that there are several ongoing controversies running simultaneously back home. A couple of these controversies deal with what appears to be misappropriated government power in regards to the rights and privacies of its citizens. The other controversies seem directly related to our government’s continued belligerent use of foreign policy.

So it’s not surprising that there seems to be many Americans who are grimly unsatisfied at big media’s rather blasé coverage of these events and ask each other ‘Where is all the outrage’? Organizations have sprung up over time like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movement who try and provide the American citizens alternatives and more honest solutions to the problems posed by big government but they’ve failed.

There have been three significant whistleblowers in the recent past who at great personal peril have attempted to provide some content around the outrage factors. It seems so far they’ve failed too.

So how does someone or some organization succeed where these others have failed? How do you make something big, small again; how do you get the genie back in the bottle once it’s been out having a good time? Conventional approaches like those of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street got subsumed by the immense gravitational black hole of the federal government. The whistleblowers were denounced as traitors. Conventional approaches done more or less within the conventional legal framework sounds like the way go; fair play and all that, but unfortunately none of it has been delivering the goods because nothing has changed. Every politician promises change but most fail to deliver.

So back home there appears to be lots of rage and frustration. Not to mention impotence; we want change but can’t get change so the political reality is making every citizen want to either give up or hang themselves in shame and just let the government do whatever the hell it wants.

But I’ve got some good news for you my fellow citizen; you have more power than you think. And just as equally cool as that – your power has the proverbial moral upper-hand for it originates in a quiet passivity and necessitates no violence of any kind. You don’t have to march, protest or even carry signs. You don’t need to proselytize or even utter a single unkind or controversial word to anyone. In fact there isn’t a whole lot you need to do to affect national change. Do you want to see more and better paying jobs in the US? Do you want to prevent another wholesale collapse of a once great city like Detroit? Do you want your government working for you for a change?

So here is the premise – You support what you spend your money on. What you buy, how little or small: what product, what industry, or what country you buy into or out of is ultimately what you support.  I could go on and on with examples but buy a single cigarette and you just supported the entire tobacco industry. One sniff of cocaine and you’ve just propped up the cartels. Buy meat products from your local grocery store that comes from a big slaughterhouse far away and you’ve just enabled animal cruelty.

So, if you want to be a positive force in something as big and scary and complicated as geo-politics then consider your spending habits.

Buy everything that you can local. Certain countries can’t oppress others if you’re not buying their stuff. It’s hard to finance wars and other acts of aggression if there isn’t any coin coming in. Buying local is also good for a lot of other reasons. Grocery stores will eventually quit stocking certain items if you quit buying them (let’s send Nestle and its manufactured foods back to Switzerland).

Barter – Again, it’s all about keeping it local.

Learn a new skill – Preferably one that will enable bartering as well as render a good service to the community.

Create a new cottage industry in your community – Create a communal business that promotes quality and durability first. (Aren’t you tired of buying shit that wears out?)

Drive your car less – Let’s reduce our support of undesirable regimes.

Find a way to invest in education – Either yours or someone else’s. If necessary make this a community project. Less ignorance in the world results in more cultural tolerance, better choices for people, and greater awareness with greater respect for this tiny little spinning blue globe we all inhabit.

Remember, nobody is going to do this for you.

And no one can spend your money on bad things if you’re not giving it to them.

PS – And turn off your damn TV (and other electronics) and do something wild like get out and socialize with your neighbors for a change.