Monthly Archives: June 2014

Milk Man: The Human Moo Cow

Since Zuli’s birth, my life has become one of many things: the sterilizing of bottles, the installation of Chicco Key Fit car seats, the covering of bills. And yet the most pressing issue is one that doesn’t really involve me directly at all: lactation, with Maria on the delivering end and Zuli on the receiving one. Indeed, though I play no direct role in that equation, I do find myself acutely attentive to all matters of the boob, and not in the same way I was during my teenage years. This recent re-focus on, um, mammalian life (get it?) has been a virtual flux capacitor – a time machine, if you will – transporting me way back to a story of the lactating variety, but not like you’d expect.

While residing in Kaneohe, Hawaii from 1989-1992 as a secondary school student, I had the explicit displeasure of knowing a kid my same age named Hank (real name changed to protect the innocent). Of the angular and chatty variety, this Napoleonic cuss was a trash talker of the highest caliber even at 13 years of age. Verily did Hank possess a talent for invective-spewing loquacity that even Dave Mustaine might envy. So tall his tales, so weighty the Marlin he’d snared! And though none of us swallowed it, he insisted that his personal Rolodex contained oodles of famous rappers with whom he was intimately associated.

Though I’m not sure Hank realized it himself, his false claims of association with temporary pop icons typically foresaged their downfall. No sooner would he whisper a rapper’s name, and the weather vane would point toward that rapper’s impending departure from the Billboard Top 200. Fortunately for us all, Hank was a youth possessed of despicably poor taste, only claiming association with stars upon whom the rest of us wished rueful deaths in the first place. He never lied about knowing NWA, MC Hammer, De La Soul, or Biz Markee. But boy, did Hank love him some Vanilla Ice. He told us one day, his tongue polishing the lie as it rolled crisp as a fallen autumn leaf from his lips, “Yeah, me and Dave Van Winkle – that’s Vanilla’s REAL name – used to go on drive-by shootings to kill the Bloods in Dallas, since we were both Crips…” While it’s true that we all stopped believing in the Easter Bunny only a brief handful of years earlier, and the fairy dust of Dumbo-styled suspended disbelief hadn’t fully cleared from our pre-pubescent minds, Hank’s b.s. was a bridge too far. Unbelievable by any standard. He even pumped up the street creds of innocuous non-gangsta wanna-be boy bands like Color Me Badd, and guess what? When he mentioned having done drive-bys with them, CMB’s irridescent stage lights fell similarly dim.

When we left Hawaii in mid-1992 and returned to Virginia for my dad’s next military assignment, it was therefore a time of rejoice. I’d finally been rid of Hank. But like Brokeback Mountain, we simply couldn’t quit him, though we’d have loved nothing more than to relegate him in the dust bin of history. Thus one can appreciate the trauma I was caused a month later, at the tail end of the summer and just before the first day of 10th grade, my brother Ben came home with Hank on his tail. And my bro was not pleased to shuffle in the door with this specific straggler. Turns out Hank’s dad had also been reassigned to our same Marine base. Hank showed himself into our kitchen, popped a Coke, and told us he’d just saved all our lives when squashing a black widow spider near our front door. A smart-ass by nature, I asked him if he’d been on any drive-bys with third-rate rappers lately. Hank stared back at me blankly, then pulled the ultimate trump card and did something I’ll never forget: he pulled up his tee-shirt, locked index finger and thumb around his right nipple, and began to squeeze. We waited uncomfortably, not entirely sure where lay the punchline in Hank’s bizarre non-sequitor. But he hit payday a few pregnant seconds later when a single drop of milk trickled down his scrawny chest. Hank had milked himself, contradicting everything we’d learned in bio class ’til that point.

We stood aghast. And then we recovered and attempted to replicate the feat, which to a bunch of teenage boys was admittedly the most singularly astounding act we’d witnessed. And I’d seen MOTLEY CRUE on the Dr. Feelgood tour, mind you. Not that any of us really wanted to milk ourselves, but how could we let Hank have a monopoly on something this cool? None of us were able to do it, though. Our manly mammilla were barren and destitute landscapes, arid as the Sahara. And so we had to give some respect to the little joker, for he achieved the un-achievable as a manly human moo cow.

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Zuli and the Human Layer Cake

…whereupon we find out how one gringo burro, very much a pendejo in his close-minded thinking and tunnel vision approach to dressing his newborn daughter, is out of keeping with canonized medical philosophy involving the baby fashion equivalent of wearing a wool serape on the beach.

Our lives are full of things with layers: Taco Bell’s 7-layer burrito. Layer cake. The Big Mac. Club sandwiches. Multi-layered dips. An onion. The Pentagon. Late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s security detail: all those concentric rings of guards. The last three episodes of Star Wars: all those layers of dung! Yet these pale in comparison to the layers my beloved Maria – verily, apple of my ojo and mamasota to my mamacita! – drapes upon our Azul Eileen. Last time Zuli slept, I counted 37, excluding the diaper. Why do Mexican women do this to their newborns?

The answer lies in the resfriado, which basically means getting cold. I saw this for the first time under a different name, “la mojada caliente”, in El Salvador while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer there in the late 1990s. Farmers slaved all morning on their hillside plots, lathering up in sweat equity. Returning to their shacks after the corn was shucked and with machetes spent and hanging from their thin leather belts, however, the farmers refused to bathe until late in the evening, for putting col water on their hot bodies could only result in the mojada caliente. When I asked why this was bad, they looked at me dumbfounded: didn’t I know the mojada caliente caused all manner and variety malady including, but not limited to, arthritis, lumbar spine pain, and heart problems? Wasn’t I aware that the mojada caliente, if occurring with sufficient frequency, could shorten one’s life by numerous years?

No doctor myself, but assessing their arguments begin of dubious premises, I once posed a counter-argument. Could it not be that a such pains and discomforts were actually rooted in a lifetime of working in subsistence agriculture (which involves constant bending at the waist and heaving hefty loads onto the back and shoulders), eating nothing but meager servings of beans, rice, and maiz-based tortillas (zero veggies in the diet there), and having practically no access to medical care of any sort? Not to mention, you know, routine natural disasters and, until 1993, the civil war? Could all of this not warp your body and even kill you sooner than your time? My theory was never taken up for serious investigation by Don Chepe or any of his constituents, but at least they listened to me politely whilst I expounded it over coffee and sweet bread one afternoon.

Mexico’s resfriado is a mojada caliente by a different name, but the concept is identical. Like the mojada caliente, the resfriado is derived from the Aristotelian humors, a medical theory first brought to popular lighten 1025 when the Persian philosopher Ibn Sina (Avicenna to us Farsi-impaired Westerners) published The Canon of Medicine, a work of five books that compiled and presented all the known medical knowledge at the time, including stuff passed down by the Greeks. The four humors – sanguineous, serous, bilious and atribilious – were the fluids coursing thru the human corpus. Aristotle believed them linked directly to the brain and heart, our core organs. Any imbalance of one humor over another leads invariably to a system out of whack, hence sickness, disease, even death. According to this school of thought, external elements like hot and cold can have adverse affects on humor equilibrium. And who wants THAT?

And so I stand corrected. When our daughter finds herself outfitted in 53 layers of clothing and blankets before setting forth on a visit to WalMart on a 106 degree day without shade in the Mexican borderlands, it’s in keeping with canonized medical philosophy. A thousand years old, but canonized none the less. And so I should be stop being humor-less about the whole affair.

(***And no, Maria and I aren’t fighting over this. It’s humor. She doesn’t put THAT many layers on Zuli. I just think it’s funny, that’s all. No one’s gotten boiled like a crab in a crock pot yet, so I’m going to assume Maria knows what she’s doing and this is all good.)

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Maria Vega: Wife Extraordinaire

…whereupon you will enjoy a major aside from living Brazilishly in which the author marries a Mexican woman and chronicles the virtues of her affections.

On June 12, 2014 I married Maria, and have the ring to prove it. Not being a jewelry sort of guy, I was 15 the last time I attempted sporting phalangeal adornment. ‘Twas Christmas 1991. At the apex of an incipient thrash metal obsession, and desirous to bear likeness to Chuck Billy of Testament, Santa Claus gifted me a set of chrome-cast heavy metal skull and spike rings. My flirtation with them lasted the better part of a week, ’til I tired of cleaning cheese and sesame seeds off the spikes every time I ate a Big Mac, a frequent occurrence in those chubby mid-teen days. Even at age 15, I was practical if nothing else. I retired those metallic accouterments, therefore, in early 1992 and until the moment that I committed my life to Maria during a discreet ceremony at the El Paso Country Clerk’s office three days ago, no further rings weighed down my lil’ digits.

The marriage itself was a simple affair. On the morning of June 12, Maria and I conjured ourselves from bed, got ourselves and Zuli ready, dropped Zuli off with the suegra (we’re waiting on her American passport, so our daughter can’t cross international boundaries just yet), and crossed the border from Ciudad Juarez to El Paso. We made a beeline directly to the El Paso County Clerk’s office. We applied for, and were granted, a marriage license, then took it to the 11th floor to seek a judge who would marry us that same morning. The first one whose chambers we knocked accepted. A brief ceremony followed: a few words, quick tears, and then it was official and we were legitimate before The Law. The whole enterprise required less than an hour from the time we arrived at the clerk’s office, and that includes bathroom breaks and administrative processing time. On the surface, it was the single most monumental input/output disequilibrium when you consider the nature of this lifetime commitment. Even if I’m fortunate enough to reach the life expectancy of the average American male, Maria’s got a good 40 years of me to put up with. I ask this question to anyone pretending to possess the answer: how the hell do you get the next four decades from 45 minutes?

Well, THAT’s easy: I love Maria for being the most bad-ass chick ever to take a breath. Not that I’m a checklist kind of guy, but were I to have one, Maria would have long satisfied every romantic and practical prerequisite on it.

We met shortly after my arrival in Ciudad Juarez in April 2011. At the time, it was still the world’s most murderous city. 230,000 people had fled the city (a fifth of its pre-cartel wars population) and an estimated 10,000 small businesses shuttered their doors due to lack of commerce, extortion, or both. The city’s main thoroughfares evinced scant life of any kind. Really, Juarez felt like a ghost city. It was in this context that, my second Saturday in town, I went out site seeing and ended up at a Starbucks after a few hours. And there was Maria, lipstick staining the edge of the hot chocolate her lips were pursing, rayon hair pulled back into a tight bun, laboring studiously on her laptop. Each impressed that the other was actually out unguarded in this most murderous of villas, we struck up a quick friendship.

In the ensuing months, Maria opened a side of Ciudad Juarez to me that few outsiders were privileged to see in those dangerous days. She spirited me away to my first parties locally, drove me to all the lookout points in the mountains ringing the city, took me to my first Day of the Dead celebrations at local pantheons, and invited me to an incessant spate of mom-n’-pop eateries and cafes off the beaten path. She was never one to brag about her accomplishments, and I had to learn to ask pointed questions to draw her out. I discovered quite a bit about her once I figured this out. Chipping away at her PhD, at age 27 she was already an art professor at a local university (by far the youngest in her department). An artist in her own right, her paintings featured in local exhibitions. She had also been volunteering since her teenage years at a local school for blind kids, teaching them to paint and then putting their work on sale at exhibitions and pushing the proceeds back to the under-funded school. Her involvement in art extended beyond the classroom and canvas, though, and she was a semiprofessional ballet dancer to boot, performing throughout northern Mexico. And she did all of this not with the snobbish manner I’ve frequently noted of folks deeply ensconced in the art scene; instead, she was modest and understated, having simply found something she was passionate about and pursuing it full-tilt. Maria’s one of the only artistic types I’ve met more interested in essences than recognition.

Emotional intelligence being her forte, Maria understands interpersonal dynamics and thinks before speaking or acting, conscious of how words or deeds might affect another person adversely, even unintentionally. She treats everyone humanely and courteously, and I’ve never known her to gossip or speak ill of anyone. That simplicity and self-confidence translates into innumerable virtues in her personal life: Maria is low maintenance. She buys clothes on the basis of utility, not style. She is wholly unconcerned with image and I’ve not once seen her preoccupied with people thinks of her. A careful spender, she is loathe to purchase impulsively, and makes sure every penny counts when she does. We keep the same rhythm, preferring to take advantage of the day and hit the sack early instead of hitting the club or bar scene. She’s perfectly content to stay home on a Friday over Netflix and pizza. We read, write, paint, talk, or even sit silently together. The activity matters little; her simple physical presence has always been sufficient to sate my spirit, calm my nerves, and keep the demons – the ones that eventually come to all of us who spend far too much time alone, living as human islands – from creeping under the door.

She had no previous marriages, and had no children, so was not tied down emotionally or otherwise to any past commitments. Like me, she had zero debt, so financially we could start with a clean and healthy slate. She already had a US tourist visa and went frequently on her own, so didn’t need me for her “docs”. She was highly educated, could talk about her own subjects of interest in depth, but was always open to new themes and ideas and never approached them with prejudice of any kind: she took me to see the ballet and art shows, but accompanied me enthusiastically to see Kreator and Vince Neil. She had a solid career already and was making a good living. She held my hand with pride, laughed at my bad jokes out of respect even if she didn’t think they were funny, and looked past the cosmetic features that I despise about myself. Maria viewed in my character a palate of core values and personality attributes she appreciated and identified with, and decided to be with me on that basis alone, without consideration for my career, status, or the laundry list of superficial stuff assuring a broken foundation and wobbly future, at best. She always had time for me, and from the outset of our friendship treated me as an urgent priority in her life. In fact, Maria showered me with dignity and respect far superior to that I’d been afforded at an point in past relationships. Though she was always respectful of my space and never opposed me living a life apart from my relationship with her, from an early stage in our relationship I seldom felt the inclination to spend time with anyone else but Maria when not at work.

It was therefore a natural and logical corollary of this – the two best years of my life, spent in Juarez at Maria’s side – to begin discussing a future together when I departed Juarez in mid-2013. Her dedication and faith made it work even during the long-distance phase, and I owe her a lifelong debt of gratitude for sticking it out and believing in me. She was under no obligation and would have been just fine on her own – and I have to imagine many men would have been honored to make her acquaintance – but Maria cashed in her chips on me. Thank God, for in Maria I have found salvation from solitude and self-deprecating loneliness, the kind wrought from living as a human island far too many years.

But the path was not always so clear. Until Maria, I’d given up the ghost on the notion of marriage. All my relationships prior to her were the romantic equivalent of vampire felching, and consequently marriage was a word I spoke amidst dismissive snickers as the punch line to bad jokes about some other unlucky sucker who took his bad romance a bridge too far. On the pre-Juarez path to Maria, I dated every phylum of basket case out there. I had no luck with American women; the ones I dated were riddled with financial and personal problems, certainly more baggage than I was comfortable taking on. I remember one – a high school educated bank teller who’d never left the US – dropped me off at Dump Street for not being “cultured enough” since I didn’t drink wine or peruse publications like Cigar Aficionado, ordered a sandwich instead of pasta on a previous date, and most importantly, “you don’t wear those cool glasses with thick rims like the guys in DC… Yours are just, so ‘80s!” Another racked up college debt greater than the GDP of most small countries, and it occurred to me that sticking with her for the long haul would likely be an exercise in dodging collection agency goons sent to repo her meager possessions. And the last American woman I was seriously involved with taught foreign forensic teams how to catalog evidence found on corpses; which was fine by me, until I saw the effect that working with stiffs the day long had on her emotional state. One of her dogs died and she spent three weeks holding funerals and remembrance gatherings for it, and frequently awoke during the night bellowing for hours about wanting a time machine, that the flux capacitor might permit her leap back a few days and save the poor mutt. It struck me that she was not the most emotionally stable person, which would not bode well for a life together. My fortune in the international marketplace was likewise poor. There was a Salvadoran who, clean out of sick leave at her job but wanting to take time off to see me, yanked a molar to justify calling in sick. And she GAVE me the tooth as a gift. Then there was a Guatemalan, who feigned affection long enough to gain my trust, then went for broke, offering me $5,000 for nuptials. There was a Bolivian who informed me – on our first (and only) date – that she’d been arrested earlier that day for driving recklessly. Why was she doing that? To get to her shrink. Why did she need a shrink? Well, ‘twas court-mandated, since the previous year she’d tried to commit suicide but also killed someone else in the process. I was afraid to ask any further follow-up questions, since I envisioned they’d invariably lead to incriminating evidence on the JFK assassination. There was a Colombian who, after three reasonably decent dates, squinted at me through suddenly malicious eyes and said she couldn’t see a future for us if “you don’t start spending more money on me.” And how could I forget the Dominican feigned exclusivity until I chanced upon her in a nearby bar, gussied up as if at a Daddy Yankee gig and her hand on the thigh of a mulleted man with a porno ‘stache and trucker cap?

The list could go on indefinitely; the above examples are merely the salient ones. Close friends – some reading this, doubtless – in whom I’ve confided past tribulations of the heart were wont to gawk at me in sad comedic awe, heads tilted to one side like confused puppies. How could one guy dork his way into so many problematic relationships? Nothing realistically explains why an accomplished man with a bright professional future, loving parents and loads of great friends, routinely found himself in such dire romantic straits.

And then there was Maria. So I’d like to thank Maria for being so awesome, and my exes for being so lame; for giving me confidence and believing in me; for letting me be myself; for showing me that it doesn’t have to be hard and, in fact, can be quite easy and enjoyable if you’re with the right person. The result of her patience, devotion, affection and investment in me has been the assurance of a wonderful future with the greatest human being ever to grace my life. Te amo, mamacita.

Maria and the Brake Light: A Tale of Maternal Fortitude in the Mexican Border Lands

…in which the author recounts a tale of uncommon valor taking place in a shopping mall parking lot, and ponders the good fortune that has befallen him as if by destiny, all in another aside from living Brazilishly.

In Pearl S. Buck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel on pre-revolutionary China, The Good Earth, the farmer Wang Lung weds one crisp spring morn. His woman, O-Lan, ends up posing an apt companion. This point is made in the narrative after O-Lan bears Wang Lung his first man child; still heavy with the sweat and pain of her labor, she returns immediately to the rice fields and begins threshing anew at Wang Lung’s side. This humble farming bumpkin, startled by the force and commitment O-Lan evinces, muses that, indeed, fortune has blessed him with a partner distinct amongst her peers.

And so too have I ripened to cognizance that in Maria I shalt have a spouse of O-Lan’s merit firmly ensconced in my life. For today, she did something wholly singular and startling for someone who a week prior underwent the invasiveness of a C-section and is simultaneously recovering, adjusting to being a mother, and enduring the veritable slings and arrows of my bald and opinionated ass on a 24/7 basis now, the latter in itself sufficing to send any normal woman out of her own mind with the volatility of itty-bitty bottle rockets.

The day started off normal. Slated to visit the US Consulate for our daughter’s American birth certificate and passport, we made a pit-stop at the Rio Grande Mall. The parking lot was already reasonably full, thus we were forced to park the car a distance further than anticipated. Lamenting and glum about the mid-morning sun and the prospect of my still-healing wife and newborn daughter trudging through it en route to the mall entrance, I asked Maria if she would prefer that I drop her and Zuli off and find parking on my own. She insisted on staying with me, denying the comforts offered in solidarity with her man. ‘Twas a gesture appreciated genuinely. And then she spoke:

Maria: “I just remembered, papasote, one of the brake lights is out. I’m going to change it.”

Me: “You mean we need to find a mechanic later, mi honguita?”

Maria: “No, mi macho, I’ve got some extra bulbs in the trunk, and I’m going to change the light once we’re parked.”

Me: “But, mamacita, right here in the parking lot?”

Maria: “Si, padre de mi hija y mi amante ejemplar, it’s easier this way. You go ahead and take Zuli into the mall. I’ll meet you inside in about 20 minutes.”

And so Maria spent the next 20 minutes in the parking lot of the Rio Grande Mall, in 95 degree weather with zero shade on scalding tarmac, changing the brake light by herself. I will add that when I next saw her, Maria appear not to have perspired a single drop, the flesh of her forehead dry and with the slightest hint of rouge, her jet-black hair free of tussle and frizz. This is a feat besting, by orders of magnitude in my assessment, her insistence on making me a major-ass plate of nachos the eve before checking into the hospital for Zuli’s birth. Call me crazy, but I thought the period immediately before, and for a few weeks following, childbirth (especially when by C-section) ought to be a time of rest and recuperation. But Maria comes from hearty maternal stock, which aids in explaining the anomaly of her fortitude: on the morning of Zuli’s birth, Maria’s mom met us at the hospital at 5:30 AM after walking nearly 5k alone, from her house, in the wee hours of the Juarez morn.

Like Wang Lung, ‘twould be meet that I visit the local Buddhist temple and thrust a few sticks of incense before the statues of the earthen gods in praise of my favorable fortune. The Juarez equivalent of this gesture, of you may have surmised, is taking the family out for Burritos Crisostomo, an act of thanks and reciprocation I will do tomorrow. As I sit in bed typing this next to Maria, with my newborn daughter in her arms, I am awed at the dumb luck of Maria being in my life. When I wed her on Thursday, I will be hitching my wagon to an according-to-Hoyle one-in-a-million.

Turds and Tea Leaves: Zuli’s On Solid Ground

…whereupon a gushing progenitor sounds a trumpet in proclamation of his newborn daughter’s impending inclusion in the next X-Men film based on the hue, shape, odor, and consistency of her poo. And wherein you, dear reader, shall learn of the proud family history baby Zuli has inherited. All of this and more in what has grown to be an unanticipated, but heartily welcomed, break from living Brazlishly now that your scribe is on paternity leave in northern Mexico.

Zuli’s legal birth name is Azul Eileen Straight Vega, but for our purposes here only the first name counts. Azul is Spanish for “blue” (her artist mother’s favorite color on the palate), so despite the felicity she’s indisputably felt to her baby core since daddy launched her alluring likeness into the digi-age milliseconds after birth, you might say she’s a blue, or indigo, child. Wikipedia describes indigo children as ones that, “according to a pseudoscientific New Age concept, are are believed to possess special, unusual and sometimes supernatural traits or abilities. The idea is based on concepts developed in the 1970s by Nancy Ann Tappe and further developed by Jan Tober and Lee Carroll. The concept of indigo children gained popular interest with the publication of a series of books in the late 1990s and the release of several films in the following decade. The interpretations of indigo children range from their being the next stage in human evolution, in some cases possessing paranormal abilities such as telepathy, to the belief that they are more empathetic and creative than their peers.”

With this definition, the pickle morphs into how, precisely, might we distinguish an indigo child like Zuli from her peers, those snot-nosed sucklings of the sniveling masses? While assuredly no expert in these matters, I’m inclined to believe you can predict greatness in the consistency of an toddler’s poop, uncannily similar to Babe Ruth calling his left field homer, a shaman interpreting tea leaves, or a santeria practitioner tossing chicken bones.

Bowel movements being a predictive mechanism for future performance is hardly a novel barometer to the Straight family. Truth be told, our gatherings normally devolve into scatological sideshows, particularly once my father and Aunt Jo lock into one of their staple reminisces about a random toilet clogged yesteryear. All specimen of chortle and guffaw perennially supplant decency at such times, but we’re a of blue collar background and don’t purport to uphold the heightened standards of a finishing school grad, so whatever. The lightness and blessing of these comedic commode communions has trailed me my whole life, even into the bloom of adulthood, hence I am gleefully attentive to the occurrences of my lower intestine. Sometimes, though, it is a curse, like the time I messed my drawers twice in a day my freshman year of college, or losing 40 pounds during my first six months of Peace Corps in El Salvador due to an unbroken chain of parasitic infestations.

Lest you, dear reader, find thyself getting high n’ mighty about the standards of public decency you believe I’m defiling here, keep something in mind: it ain’t just me. As one particular best-selling illustrated children’s book is titled, Everybody Poops. I am oft warmed at the recollection of a RIP Magazine interview with Motley Crue in 1990, released at the zenith the LA bad boys’ commercial conquest while eating hearty at the trough of their Dr. Feelgood album. The interview revealed that newfound sobriety hadn’t dissuaded Motley from their core distasteful principles, nor had pregnant bank accounts after selling millions of records rendered them upstanding young men to you could intro mom. Before every gig, as the interview detailed, they’d gather in a circle while bassist Nikki Sixx shat into a Kleenex. And if it was chunks, they’d rock.

And so all of the foregoing – the strew now brought to a steady boil – brings me to my point. Last night, I awoke to find Maria changing Zuli’s diaper at 4 AM. By the dim light of a street lamp slithering through a crack in our curtains, Maria’s eyes scarcely hovered open and alert while executing what have already become muscle-memory motions. I intervened, assuming charge of the scenario, judging the culprit to be a pissy Pamper. The velocity with which I was dispossessed of this spurious conceit was prompt: without realizing ’twas a literal shit-show into which I marched, poop was suddenly smooched between the chubby digits of my fingers. Still lingering half slumbered myself, I had a fleeting itch on my chin and reactively lifted a feces-filled finger to scratch, besmirching my goatee with a goodly poo. But was I disgusted? Hellz no, amigos. For my daughter’s log was brown and solid. I say: BROWN and SOLID! A harbinger, an omen, heralding grandeur itself foretold.

Of what will presumably be a multitude of majestic moments in my daughter’s life, this may be my eminently proudest one, after her actual birth. For in just five days of life, Zuli’s already abandoned the incipient green purges of her accumulated pre-natal waste, repositioning herself atop the plateau of The Real Human Dump. I know nothing of children, but this doesn’t seem the normal course of events; I’m inclined to believe that, indeed, Zuli is a true-to-form Indigo Child. I won’t be shocked when the begins communing with defunct relatives, bending forks thru mind power, and telepathically warning her mother and I about traffic jams on highways yet unseen as we travel on family vacations. Someone call Professor X; I’ll be sending her to the academy, that he might assist my daughter in honing this mutant-like power.

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Sonoran Hot Dogs and the Mogwai Chicken Titty

…wherein we discover Briancito’s deftness at steering his fiancé to another brand of hot dogs, lament how this did not translate into a concurrent capacity for guiding his newborn daughter’s alimentary schedule, and address a quandary: why do babies, like Gremlins, always seem to feed after midnight?

Mexicans from the state of Sonora fashion themselves hot dog experts. Have you ever eaten one from there? It’s hardly an unpleasant experience, and their preparation certainly rivals, or exceeds, the quality of franks served at other “mega-doggo” establishments throughout northern Mexico. A decent folk, the Sonorans will be the first to admit that history has treated their state wretchedly, and perhaps this compels their tenacious belief in the superiority of their state’s hot dogs, a ready fidelity to hold alight the weenie torch in both word and deed.

Maria, my Mexican fiancé hailing from Ciudad Obregon in Sonora, is no exception to that belief system. Standing at just over five feet in height and of delicate corporeal constitution, she speaks softly in a voice that sends a thousand purring kittens scampering through my heart. A humble and polite woman by nature, she keeps her accomplishments mum (at 28 she’s finishing a doctorate and is already a tenured art professor at a major university in Ciudad Juarez). These attributes favoring humility, combined with her general humane and warm treatment of others regardless of station in life, she gives the truthful impression of a woman who loathes competition and avoids conflict at all cost. However, when hot dogs are at stake, she is unequivocal regarding Sonora’s dominance. It’s damn near a petty nationalism, though fortunately for humanity one over which no blood has spilt, save that of the swine perishing for this noble cause.

In the days before our daughter’s birth, I flew into Ciudad Juarez, where Maria lives. We crossed the border into El Paso, Texas, to purchase groceries and supplies before holing up in a temporary apartment back in Juarez for two months. In the meat section of the Target supermarket, Maria asked if I’d like hot dogs for dinner that night. A resounding yes, of course, being a gringo with fond memories of franks consumed at family barbeques and block parties all throughout childhood and adolescence. I’m predisposed and will greedily suckle at a tightly-skinned and condimented frank any time, any place.

Yet despite green-lighting the purchase and merely awaiting her selection, Maria remained static and dumbfounded, scrutinizing the available hot dog variety. I’m no expert in micro-expressions, but I know my woman well and spotted the desperation hegemonically creeping over her countenance. I asked what was wrong. As it turns out, came Maria’s apply in a nearly catatonic disbelief, Target did not offer hot dogs from FUD, the Aztec nation’s largest packaged meats purveyor and, given the fact that Sigma Alimentos (FUD’s parent company) wields a monopoly on franks sold south of the border and is consequently the only hot dog to which Mexicans of most stripes are ever exposed, Maria’s preferred brand. It took some doing, but I ultimately convinced her that this was not, in fact, the end of days as foretold in the Maya Codex, and that another variety of frank might still do the trick. Oscar Meyer, Hebrew National, and Ball Park Franks could all deliver the goods this very night. But baby, I reasoned with every iota of charisma I could conjure, you gotta let it happen. Similar to every man, my relational influence will wane severely once hitched. It is the unfortunate nature of things that I’ll go from Mighty Baby Maker to being the stiff knocking out rent and paying for cable. But on this single occasion, it pleased me greatly to wield such influence over Maria’s alimentary habits. To convince a Sonoran to consume a hot dog that is not FUD is, indeed, no dismal feat.

So foolish of me to assume that same influence would translate into guiding my daughter’s feeding schedule. As a first-time father at nearly 38 years of age, I’ve labored for years under the theorist’s assumption: babies are solely a matter of conditioning, and their eating habits may be controlled rather rapidly with the proper parental firmness, resolve, and consistency. I put this theory to the Pepsi Challenge last night once I got both Maria and Zuli discharged from the hospital and back to our apartment. At precisely midnight, Zuli’s baby lungs demonstrated fortuity unexpected by her Papi Briancito when she tore the bedroom asunder with a rapturous spate of shrill sobbing. For the next six hours, she brought shocked parents to heel, exhibiting that the proverbial new sheriff has arrived in town.

Since these sleepless nights will doubtless be my nemesis for at least the next 12 calendar months, I tore a quick page from Michael Corleone’s playbook: Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. Thus enthralled was I to learn the innermost mechanics of this terrible phenomenon, the slumber-less eve. I paid careful attention to how Zuli attacked Maria’s jugs with gums, grit, and determination. The sole image that popped to mind was the evil mogwai, of Gremlins fame, tearing up chicken wings. Just like my daughter on her first night at home, the mogwai were irrepressible, seeking fortification as they readied to launch themselves into the world. It seemed to me at that moment, indeed, that Zuli had been duly possessed by Maria’s mogwai chicken titty.

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Minor Adventures at the Ciudad Juarez Civil Registry

Fearing the worst, Maria and I zipped Zuli to the Civil Registry in Ciudad Juarez today for her Mexican birth certificate, for a CRBA may not be wrought for a stateless child. I was expecting a horror show of bureaucratic hurdles, and pre-stiffened my jaw for the knocks it would doubtless endure. Instead, what we got was a smooth ride peppered with unexpected humor along the way.The smoothness included a stupefyingly helpful civil servant named Alejandra who personally shepherded us through the birth cert process in under 3 hours, evidently a land speed record for getting documents done in any government office locally. The humor commenced when having to get our daughter’s name authorized – no kidding, since Mexico has laws about naming a kid anything that will get invite bullying – and they didn’t recognize our choice of middle name, Eileen. The secretary who assisted us with this component of the process said they get parents attempting to use everything from Star Wars characters (Annakin and Yoda being local faves) to stuff that’s literally downright scary, like Frankenstein.

But the salient ha-ha instance materialized when a guy hit Maria up for help with the paperwork for his daughter’s birth certificate. Scented of moonshine, his gold front incisor shimmering in the morning sunshine and his gangsta tattoos keeping everyone in the room at a fair distance out of self-preservation, he explained to Maria and I that he was illiterate and thus incapable of completing the paperwork. The Good Samaritan in her being too grand an alter-ego to deny, Maria rose to the challenge. While he waited, dude discerned correctly that I’m a gringo, turned to me and rattled off a few recent chapters of his life story, proclaiming he’d just lived four years in Dallas and Denver. I asked if he went up with a coyote – since he certainly fit the profile of a hard-luck rider of La Bestia – and with great pride the fool splooged, “NO! I used my tourist visa!!!”

He went on to explain how one might turn a tourist visa into an unofficial work permit by twisting the rules like a balloon animal: “I always take a bus across the border. When they ask where I’m going, I tell them I’ll be seeing relatives in Dallas, which is true, but I don’t tell them I’m also going to live there and work. They authorize me to stay for six months, and every six months I come back to Juarez for a few days, then go back to Dallas. I work in carpeting and roofing there. My relatives are residents and they got me the job. They even helped me get a fake social security number and a driver’s license using someone else’s name!” He’s back in Juarez now and plans to renew his Border Crossing Card soon, since “I’m planning to go live in the US again.” I decided to skip the part about “by the way, I work for the government, and you shouldn’t waste your time applying, trust me”. After all, we could use his $160.

Initial Thoughts on Parenthood, and the Metal Power Ballad Swooning

Conventional wisdom dictates that a baby is a miracle. I understand the sentiment behind that, but really, it isn’t. I’m very much a literalist on this point. A miracle is, like, changing water to wine or feeding thousands with a single fish. While being a dad is a great gig and I’m stupefied I waited so long now that I see how awesome it is, getting here has a simple scientific explanation: a baby is what happens when sexual organs convene without contraception. Hardly the stuff of supernatural thrillers. And yet since Zuli’s birth, I’ve already had to recount at least a portion of my non-miracle platform, for there is one aspect of babies that defies every tenet of modern science: in the name of Creation, how do they shit diapers so thoroughly and unapologetically?

I’d only pondered that as a theoretician until becoming a dad yesterday, when sodden diapers became an objective and routine condition of life. This child has proven herself a worthy heir to her daddy – who can’t keep his own ass clean half the time – with bowels possessed of a fluidity not unlike Travolta on a dance floor. I didn’t sleep ’til 6 AM yesterday since Zuli wouldn’t go lights out, and ’twas all indelibly connected to her Pampers running incessant and pungent green, and the certain discomfort this provoked for my poor daughter and her chaffed cheeks. So rapid was the outpouring that at one point I changed her and folded up the diaper mat, but Zuli erupted again before I got the mat into the diaper bag. I was damn near both insanity and repetitive motion sickness, like the guy working the cold-cut slicer all day at the Carnegie Deli.

When I finally got her intestines to grant Zuli’s old man a brief stay of execution, I had to get her to sleep. But how? The sole apparent solution lay in singing her the metal power ballads of yesteryear, of which I have some knowledge. My initial offering was Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home”, which to my astonishment (and, I must admit, disappointment in my child’s clearly poor taste) elicited an immediate pucker and crying. Thus I traded it up for Mr. Big’s “To Be With You”, Cinderella’s “Nobody’s Fool”, and a Poison medley blending “I Won’t Forget You”, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”, and “Something to Believe In”. I proceeded through Steelheart’s “Never Let You Go” and Van Halen’s “Can’t Stop Loving You” before trotting cross home plate with Bon Jovi’s “I’ll Be There For You”.