Going South. A Gringo among the Frijoleros

A while back, it dawned on me that maybe I’d been in the column racket too long. Since 1973 I’ve been banging out these pellets of wisdom, one, two, three a week, like rabbit droppings, for this or that newspaper. It wears on you. The blush fades from the dewy petals of journalism. It ain’t fun any more. It hasn’t been for a long time.

The news racket ought to be, and was, a trade of honest drunks. They’d sit in the dim bar of, say, the Grand Hotel in Taipei, hootin’ and hollerin’ and swapping tales. News ferrets were ribald, smart, ballsy, funny, hard-nosed, and egotistical. Most were born raconteurs. They could tell wonderful stories about obscure wars and unlikely people and coming out of Angola low over the bush in a rattletrap DC-3 to avoid SAMs. Better company there wasn’t.

Now reporters are New Age, prissy, and censorious. The men wear lingerie and the women don’t know what it is. You just know that if you left them in a fern bar, they would nest, talk about multiculturalism, and lay eggs.

The pressure of a column gets old. You might think writers would get used to deadlines, but you never really do. You’re always behind. I once wrote a military column for Universal Press Syndicate, which carries a lot of the heavy names in the column scam. I asked my editor whether the big guns wrote several columns ahead.

“No,” he said. “They always file at deadline.”

It wasn’t just me. Columnists all thought, “Oh my god, it’s Friday. The insatiable maw awaits. Dozens of four-color web-offset Goss Urbanite presses wait to inflict my twaddle on the unsuspecting. What desperate fluff, what mental dust-bunnies, what lugubrious sludge can I package as insight? The sky is falling? Been done. The world is going to end? Too obvious. Maybe I can lie. Princess Di seen with Joseph Goebels? Argentine scientists clone Hitler?”

I’m tired of it.

Truth be told, I’m a tad tired of America. I wish I weren’t. In the past, I loved the great squirrel cage north of Mexico. For years I hitchhiked the big roads and vast empty deserts and forgotten hollows in Colorado or Kentucky. The country had a certain uncouth vigor, its music a compelling energy, and everywhere a distinctive character: The franchised shopping mall hadn’t yet made everywhere exactly like everywhere else. Our people were profligate in their variety, but ethnicities hadn’t become warring tribes. There was an imperfect strength to the country, a sock-hop optimism, a na?ve moral radiance of prom queens and jalopies rebuilt in garages. We knew who we were.

That America is dying. It vanishes beneath a coercive semi-Marxist conformity imposed from New York and Hollywood. Stalinism Lite: All the control but half the penalties. The country is being remade, becoming controlled, homogeneous, feminized. I don’t like it. It isn’t the country I signed up for.

Societies inevitably change. What is happening here isn’t just change. It’s degeneration. In the Fifties we had the vitality of rock and the love ballads of Presley. Music was often sappy but it wasn’t evil. Now we have the subhuman grunting of rap. Smiling calendar girls have given way to glossy gynecology. Children in junior high get strung out on crystal meth. Kids no longer have childhoods. At eleven they’re jaded experimental hamsters who know too much about the sordid.

Some call it sophistication but, if so, it’s the sophistication that comes of growing up in a whorehouse. We celebrate casual bastardy, elevate the sleazy and inadequate to high moral principle. We bathe in civilization’s bilges. I think a lot of us notice it.

Arguably the place has actually gone nuts. Every week another little boy gets tossed from school for drawing a soldier or playing cowboys and Injuns. Judicial idiots enact more laws to make sure kids don’t have families. It appears wanton and deliberate.

I can’t stop it, but I don’t have to suffer it.

In March, I went to Mexico for a couple of weeks to scope out towns on the west coast. I’ve always liked Mexicans, and still do. You can breathe in Mexico without looking over your shoulder to see who’s listening. The country is far from perfect. There are people in Mexico you don’t screw with. There is corruption. But you don’t have the soft little fingers from afar that reach into minds to instil appropriate values.

Not yet. Our media make inroads.

I figured I’d go back for the summer, which I am about to do, to see whether I wanted to stay. If so, I’d go back permanently — get a small place on the outskirts of a coastal city, with a courtyard and a big gaudy-ass parrot that shrieked vulgarities in Spanish, and maybe a burro to yell eeeeeeeeeeee!-honk! so I could be sure I was in Mexico. Take a laptop, plug into the Internut, peddle a few magazine pieces for airfare to Asian fleshpots. Loll on the beach, dive on the reefs. Get on an actual horse and wander through hot empty countryside full of Gila monsters.

A lot of guys think about expatriating. A few actually do it. Some make it, and some don’t. Some of them you see in the bars of Patpong in Bangkok, drinking their retirements and waiting for their livers to quit. Others go into the insulated gringo warrens of Lake Chapala, near Guadalajara. Others, wiser, go native, run businesses, acquire girlfriends, meld into the country and live happily. It’s what you make of it. You quickly learn to live without surly diversity and lunatic teachers gone limp-kneed because some kid brought a squirt gun to school.

So what to do with this peculious literary eruption?

I pondered dropping it. On reflection, I figure I’ll keep writing it as long as anyone reads it. Funny: There’s no money in it, but readers have come to be in a sense friends. I appreciate you folks. Maybe writing isn’t a curable disease.

I just got a lovely HP laptop. Two-channel satellite broadband is going to come in Mexico. But there may be a certain Latin cast to future outpourings, and bizarre tales of doings in remote ranchos. There’s no telling. These are strange times.

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