PLUNGE now published

Plunge.jpg

My Caribbean noir novella PLUNGE has just been published by Endeavour Media in the UK.

Turner’s a reckless travel journalist. His ex-wife Sally is an overprotective agoraphobe with an intense fear of flying. When their eight-year-old son is kidnapped in the Dominican Republic, Turner and Sally have to rely on each other in ways they never managed when they were married. When the true viciousness of the kidnappers’ plan is revealed, Turner and Sally have to tap the most violent sides of their natures to save their child.

Order HERE.

Masking Tape

masking tape

Synchronicity. A phenomenon where an event in the outside world coincides meaningfully with a psychological state of mind.

One weird synchronous incident occurred when I was in my 20s, when I was temporarily crashing with my parents in Massachusetts.

I was sitting in the living room reading a detective novel. The character of the detective was at home with his wife. As I was reading I heard my parents talking:

Dad: Do you know where the masking tape is?

Mom: I don’t have time to look for masking tape.

Dad: Don’t get so angry.

Mom: It’s around somewhere, packed up.

Dad: Uh huh. It’s around somewhere.

Listening to them, I realized that I wasn’t paying attention to what I had been reading. I skipped back a paragraph and read:

“Masking tape,” he said. “I know we’ve got some of it somewhere.”

“The end drawer,” she said. “With the fuses, batteries, flashlight, hammer, screwdriver, pliers, Scotch tape, rubber bands, Elmer’s Glue, candles, Band-Aids, old corks, paint brushes, a can of

All right, all right,” he laughed. “I promise to straighten it out and I will.”

Waking Up

marden

We woke at 2:30 am in order to drive Sophy to the California/Mexico border, so she could take a van to LA and sort out Ashley’s paperwork. It’s the final touches to gaining full legal custody of our teenage granddaughter.

Before even getting dressed I put on the coffee. When I went back into the bedroom I saw Sophy sitting on the bed, in a brown sweater, the blanket wrapped around her legs.

“Man, I said. “You are a beautiful woman.”

She smiled and that made her look even more beautiful.

In the car minutes later, with Sophy and her daughter Denisse, I listened to Denisse speak Spanish to her mother and marveled at the sound of her voice. In general, Denisse is soft-spoken. But this was something else. It was the sound of a person who would not knowingly or willingly hurt another being.

Then, I stared out the window at all the sights along the pre-dawn road. I usually make this drive in bright sunlight. Now it was shadow after shadow, with the perspective between buildings telescoping back into darkness, like tunnels leading into black mystery.

It was three hours to sun-up and the day was looking to have some magic in it.

Short-Timers

short timers

 

Over the months, we’ve had a string of Mexican workers coming through, working on our house. Building stone walls, installing rooftop water tanks, digging pits for septic tanks. The first day they work hard enough. Days go by and they become lax, sometimes not even bothering to show up. I once read that the criminal mind has no sense of time, which is one of the reasons criminals find themselves in so much trouble. These Mexican workers seem to share this inability to see into the future. Instead of building referrals and relationships, they burn them to the ground. With a few hundred pesos in their pockets, they bug out on cheap tequila; or maybe they steal a kilo of nails or slip off with a shovel in the back of their car. Their thievery is artless – they know they’ll be blamed – so they never come back to the job.

Popotla, where we live, is close to Tijuana and the U.S. border. This means there’s a never-ending flow of deportees being dumped to fend for themselves. Most often they have no money, no prospects; their families might be hundreds of miles away. Tijuana and the surrounding area becomes a constantly seeded garden of desperate men and women. Whether they are criminals or not, many deportees are forced to think like criminals. Sooner or later, many share the criminal’s disregard for time

We hired a neighbor, Pedro, as part of a two-man team to build a stone wall. Pedro worked for a few days and then decided he’d had enough. Instead of cupping his hand and calling out to us that he was done, Pedro instead stood in his yard with his back to us, burning trash in a 55-gallon drum.

Another neighbor – Erasto, is a trim and neat dude in his fifties, with a clipped gray mustache. Erasto likes to dance nude with his boyfriend. No problem there, except he likes to dance in front of his huge picture window. I’ve got to give the guy some credit, since macho Mexico doesn’t seem to have much tolerance for homosexuals. But not too much credit, since Erasto springs into action whenever he sees a wreck on the highway, which is visible from his house on the hill. Once the ambulance is gone and the cops have sped off, Erasto slinks down to remove batteries from wrecked cars. This isn’t gossip from someone with an axe to grind; Erasto brags about it himself, about the batteries piling up in his garage.

Juan was building a cinderblock wall for us. We learned Juan was a slave of sorts, who lived in his aunt’s empty house, watching it for her. House sitters are common where we are, since empty houses are often broken into and stripped of everything that can be removed. Juan carries an air of nervousness, since he’s not supposed to leave his aunt’s house for any reason. The gay dude who likes to dance naked calls the aunt if he sees Juan off property. Juan is paid $70 a month to watch the house. So, the poor guy is supposed to cling to his aunt’s house like a barnacle.

Sometimes Juan receives a phone call out of the blue from his aunt, summoning him to her warehouse in Tijuana. There he works, handling boxes of cold fruit. The freezing pain gets so intense that the aunt gives Juan shots of morphine so he can keep working.

Juan lasts three days or so working on our wall; then he’s gone too.

Dumb-Ass Frog

 

ips11216toadforjoel.jpg

Driving down the freeway, Sophy begins telling me about her fear of frogs. When Sophy was a small child in Mexico, her father and mother were so broke they sent her to live with an aunt. The aunt’s children feasted on mangoes and oranges while Sophy was given a single egg and tortilla a day, Sophy was also forced to sleep on a cement floor that was open to the backyard. During the night, scores of frogs would hop across the yard, drawn towards the damp cement floor. Sophy would scream and scream, terrified of the frogs hopping on her body.

Fast forward five years and Sophy and I are living in rural Mexico. I was getting settled into watching a movie on Netflix when I heard Sophy screaming. I ran outside into the dark expecting to see coyotes, rattlesnakes, an injured child. Instead, it was a frog.

“It’s horrible,” cried Sophy. “It’s hiding by the basement stairs. It’s big.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “Don’t worry. I’ll get a plastic bag and get rid of it.”

I grabbed a couple of plastic bags from the kitchen, fitting one over my hand and using the other as an improvised game bag. I told Sophy to grab the flashlight. As soon as I shined the light on it I saw what Sophy meant—it was big and pear-shaped, a toad not a frog. Sophy didn’t distinguish between frogs and toads—they were both equally horrifying. When the light hit the toad, it hopped away and squirmed into a crevice in the rock wall. Unfortunately for the toad, it was an ostrich move since it left exposed a plump hindleg.

I pulled on its leg and drew him out of the crevice. As soon as I dumped him in the game bag he let out a rush of urine—a surprising amount for a desert toad.

“You have to kill it,” said Sophy.

“I’m not going to kill it.”

“It will just come back. It comes here because we have water.” Sophy was in a panic. She couldn’t even bear to look at plastic bag in my hand.

“No. I’ll take it up the hill.”

“I’m going to be afraid every time I walk out of the house. Put it in the trash can.

I walked over to the trash can. The bag was weighty and the toad was moving inside the bag. I hardened myself—too hard—and placed the bag with the toad in the bottom of the barrel.

Maybe an hour passed. Sophy was asleep. I paused the movie I was watching and admitted to myself that I wasn’t going to bed knowing that the toad was slowly dying in the trash can.

I walked outside—it was a gorgeous night—with a blood moon more orange than red.

I opened the barrel and the bag with the toad shifted. It was still alive. I drew the bag out of the barrel and walked up the dirt road to the top of the hill. I carefully opened the bag so I wouldn’t get any poisonous piss on me.

The toad was motionless for a moment, then began hopping away in the opposite direction of our house.

Rarely do things work out so well. Sophy thinks the toad is dead. The toad is alive.

Not so fast.

Sophy and I are out the next day running errands. Sophy gets a phone call from our niece Sylvia, who is visiting us. “The frog is back,” says Sylvia. “He’s in front of our house. What am I supposed to do?”

Listening to this, I thought That is one dumb-ass frog.

Sophy ends the call. “What did you do with the frog?”

I told her I took it out of the trash barrel and set it free.

Sophy was on low boil. “My wellness means less to you than a frog?”

One of the things I’ve learned from Mexicans is it’s often best to remain silent during an argument. On the drive home, there were only a few desultory attempts at conversation. I didn’t say it out loud, but I thought Sophy. If you know me even a little bit, you know I’m not capable of killing that creature. Rattlesnakes and scorpions, sure. Harmless toads, no.

We parked in our driveway. All three kids and Sylvia were huddled together on our front patio. Alexander came running down to the car. “The frog! It’s right there!”

I did my plastic bag maneuver and grabbed the toad from where it squatted next to a potted basil plant. Walking back to the car I said to the kids, “All right. Pile in. We’re taking this guy far away.”

The kids climbed in and we drove a couple miles away from our house. All the while Alexander held the bag, which shifted with the toad’s movements. I remembered a handsome house that was used as a location for a telenovela. As I rolled up on it I saw it had an outbuilding with two huge water tanks. I pulled over and seconds later the toad was on the ground hopping toward the water tanks.

When I got home I said to Sophy, “That frog isn’t going to bother you anymore.”

“Oh, really? Is that what the frog told you?”

“I took it all the way to the house with the blue roof tiles.”

“And what if it comes back?”

We were both smiling by now.

I said, “If that thing comes all the way here, then you have to face it. That frog is a messenger from God. The universe is telling you to make your peace with frogs.”

 

Good Fit

 

 

 

One of those days made of random pieces. Sophy and I had to drop the Jeep Cherokee off at the mechanic, to see if he could keep us on the road for another week or two. We need a reliable car and this piece of junk is sucking money out of my pocket on a daily basis.

The mechanic tells us we’re out of oil and that we shouldn’t drive it for another 100 feet. So Sophy and I are off walking along the road to an auto supply store a mile away. Kind of interesting, being 63 years old and walking down the road with my wife, looking to buy five quarts of oil. But for some reason I can’t put my finger on, I feel like I’m walking through paradise.

When we get back, it turns out that the ring on the oil filter is rotten. It’s going to take an hour to fix. We have exactly 20 pesos in our pocket (about $1.60). Instead of leaning back and holding up the wall at the garage, we decide to walk to an ATM, a couple miles away.

Once again, we’re out on the road, walking streets we usually drive down. I recommend this to anybody since you invariably notice details and gain perspectives you never experience from a moving car, like walking over a highway overpass and feeling the rush of traffic and looking out over the horizon line.

We go into a Calimax supermarket and I get some cash. Sophy has been sick the last couple days, so we head up the street to a pharmacy, where a resident doctor will check a person out for $2 and then prescribe medicine. On the way, we pass an open air restaurant selling ceviche and beer. The pharmacy is across the street.

“The last thing I want to do is sit in a room with a bunch of sick people,” I say. “I’ll wait for you here.”

Sophy laughs, “I’m sitting here with you.”

We have an excellent meal – ceviche tostadas, coctel de camarones, and a couple of ice cold Pacificos for me. While we eat, a solo mariachi serenades no one in particular. Cars gun by on the street. Every person that passes is as fully realized as a character from a Charles Dickens’ novel; if Charles Dickens was Mexican.

I once had a cat that was raised in an apartment. When it was a year old I took it outside and it flipped out seeing the trees wave in the wind and the ripples on the surface of the lake. I guess in a way I’m like that cat. I’ve been staring at a computer monitor for way too long and just being outside is sensory overload.

We finish the meal. Sophy heads across the street to the pharmacy while I sit on a bench in the sun. In my work as a travel writer, I’ve been to lots of resorts, where I sit on a lounge chair by the pool. For some unknown reason, I’m enjoying this bench in Rosarito more than any of those five-star resorts.

It has a lot to do with Sophy – that she’s across the street and in a few minutes I’ll see her dodging traffic, coming toward me.

 

Rosarito 2014smile.jpg