Saturday, October 23, 2010

A beautiful Mexican comes sweeping in the door...


        During my weekly session, I spoke with Layla, the Brazilian sex therapist I met on the salsa dance floor.  I told her about my recent encounter with a gorgeous Mexican, Melody Sonora, on whom I first laid eyes at the U.T. salsa conference earlier that year.  Mel, tall and slender, had dancer's legs, lustrous black hair, and obsidian Aztecan eyes.  She combined a beautiful creature with a shining presence and a body built for two.  While sitting in the lobby of the ornate, chandeliered University of Texas Ballroom, looking at the floor as I waited for the doors to open, I heard footsteps.  Looking up, I saw black suede boots with four inch heels, then skin-tight black designer jeans, then a black western silk blouse with red roses embroidered across the chest, then a beautiful face ringed by curled black hair.  The coiled snake tattoo on her left shoulder, partially hidden by her blouse, should have warned me, but her looks had me too smitten  to decode the hint needled into her body.  I later regretted my inattention, as her beauty masked her reality.  

        I felt like a salmon, rising to hit the lure, as I stood up and asked her if she knew how to salsa.  She looked me in the eye and replied:  

        "Yeah.  You lead, I follow."  I fell instantly in love.

        We had a wonderful time at the salsa conference; she and I danced with the stars.  I gave her my card.  She called me the next day, and we began a long-distance relationship, because she lived in Dallas, and I in Austin. 

       Over the next several weeks, Mel revealed that she was 50 years old, divorced, with five marriages hanging from her custom Gucci leather belt, four grown children, and ten grand kids.  Dancing released her from the worries and strains of life.  What she didn't tell me, at least not right away, was that she was recently released from an Dallas mental hospital, which she entered following a mental breakdown precipitated by her fifth in an unbroken string of violently abusive husbands.   As I came to understand, she was half crazy, and the other half was on medication.  Mel, under the care of a psychiatrist, had her equilibrium  maintained by the anti-psychotic drug Topamax, a.k.a. Dopamax.  The manufacturer of Topamax recommends that you call your physician if you begin to kill small animals while consuming this drug.  Mel endured large mood swings, from fear, to rage, to shame, as she battled her memories of physical, mental, and emotional abuse at the hands of her "loved ones".  With her story slowly unfolding before me,  I became more and more engaged, as her situation was crack for my co-dependency issues. 

        I felt an overwhelming urge to play Savior to the rotting lepers in her mind.  As our relationship endured, her mood swings became more and more problematic.  She would go from happy and carefree to angry and repellent in a flash.  Her moods were brittle, like a glass rod, bending  under pressure only slightly before breaking with a loud snap.  She would change from sunshine and butterflies to rain and roaches in the space of a comment.  But, when she was nice, she was very, very nice.  I loved her when she was nice.  I still remember the taste of her smile.  I especially loved her when we were alone together on the dance floor.  The first time we made love, I found a small arrow, pointed down, tattooed below her bikini line.

        Layla listened to my rant with a non-committal gaze on her face.  

       When I finished, I asked her:  "Well, help me out here.  What do you think?"  

       She replied: "Most people have certain requirements for a good relationship.  Generally, things like sex, comfort, and companionship head the list.  What you want is someone who loves you like you love you.  But, at the end of the day, you have to take a hard look at yourself, and then come to Jesus.  Some people are the exact opposite of  "good for you".  You need to be able to recognize when you are in a dead-end, destructive relationship, and get out, even if your self-indulgent, lizard-brained pleasure center is happy rolling in the puke generated by the misery inherent in such a relationship.  Mel has a border-line personality disorder, and has been broken by her experiences."  

        "The border-line," I asked her, "between what and what?"

        "Between neurotic and psychotic," she replied.   "She can only drag you down.  Get out NOW." 

         I sat sadly looking at her, shaking my head no, knowing she was right.

         Now, everyone has baggage, and what you have to do is weigh the baggage and see if it's worth the freight.  Well, I checked, and Mel had a thirty mule team pulling her baggage train.  She was as crazy as ten rats in a burlap sack.  Still, I knew in my heart that underneath all that craziness and suffering and pain there was an eight year old child dying for love.  As I left the session, I resolved to ignore Layla's advice, and continue on in my relationship with Mel.  I thought perhaps Layla was overreacting, and everything would be fine.

       That next week, one of her exes contacted her, and she suffered a psychotic relapse that broke through the Dopamax.  She drove me in the ditch, pulled her plates, and split.  I still miss her, the way the memory of a painful, infected tooth lingers after an expensive trip to the dentist.

        I have learned something, though.  From now on, when I meet a beautiful woman, as soon as possible I'm going to check her purse for drugs.  Not only coke or crack or meth or barbs, but finding an anti-psychotic like Dopamax will make me run like hell.                   

                                                  To Mel:   Songs of the Year 2010

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Los Zetas

It’s early on a Tuesday evening. I’m at the salsa meet up at Speakeasy. Layla, the Brazilian sex therapist, and I are chatting before the music starts.  She’s telling me about recent events in her daughter's life. 

 "This has been the worst week of my life" she says.  

 alarmed, I asked: "What happened?" 

It seems her daughter was married to a Mexican, and they lived in Monterrey with their two children.  Layla drove down to visit them for Thanksgiving.  She arrived Tuesday about noon.  When Layla entered their house through the smashed open front door, she saw her daughter in tears, clutching her children, and the living room all torn up. 

 "My gosh, what happened?" asked Layla.

Her daughter told Layla this story:  Two hours previously, a large group of masked, armed men burst into their home.  They grabbed her husband and beat the holy living crap out of him, breaking both his legs in the process.  They dragged him out to the street by his hair, threw him into the trunk of a car, slammed the lid, and roared off, tires squealing.  

The team leader then told her that they were Los Zetas, and that they wanted 1 million pesos ($100,000 U.S.) by Sunday, or "bad things will happen." 

In case you didn't know, Los Zetas are a rogue military hit squad.  It seems some genius at the DEA decided in 1992 that what the Mexican government needed to counter the drug cartels was a death squad.   Accordingly, a 24 man team comprised of Mexican military special forces began their studies at the School of the Americas in Panama.  Executive action teams from Latin American countries receive training by the U.S. military to carry out extortion, kidnappings, and executions at this school.  After graduation, the team, call sign "Zetas" (to distinguish them from the Federales, call sign "Yankees") deployed against the Gulf Cartel in eastern Mexico.  When the kidnappings and executions began, Senor Antonio Cardenas, the cartel patron, received information that a government death squad was responsible.  

He said  "A death squad?  What fun!   I want one of those."  

The cartel reached out to Los Zetas, and offered them money to change sides.  The amount of the bribe isn't known, but $5 million each would only be $120 million, which comprises about one week's income for the Gulf Cartel.  At any rate, Los Zetas accepted the offer, and began to apply their talents for the Gulf Cartel.  In 2006, the Zetas chieftain, Raul "Lucky" Hernandez, decided that they didn't need no stinkin' cartel, and they became independent contractors.  Now another another lawless gang ran loose in Mexico, specializing in moving methamphetamine that they produced in huge pharmaceutical-grade labs, human trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, and the beheading of rivals.  Only three of the original team are still alive because the of the significant attrition rate in that line of business.  Los Zetas, after decapitating the Gulf Cartel,  are now considered one of the two largest crime groups in Mexico, along with the Sinola Cartel in western Mexico, run by Senor Joaquin Guzman. 

A tripartite internecine war for control is now ongoing in Mexico between the thieves and swindlers who have owned the government for the last century and the Zetan and Sinolan narcotrafficantes.  The PRI ruled Mexico for 71 years, until their electoral ouster in 2000 created a power vacuum.    Previously, corrupt PRI authorities like city mayors, state governors, and federal officials accepted bribes from drug cartels in order to ply their trade unimpeded.  Since 2000, the new government's struggle against the cartels created by the change in elected officials has led to an estimated 50,000 Mexicans dying in the drug war.  Now, the drug cartels call the shots.  

According to a Mexican security analyst, "When a new official is elected, the cartels negotiate with him, and if he doesn't want to go along, they kill him, and that is the end of it".   

Five Mexican newsmen have been slain since the first of the year by the cartels for reporting considered unfavorable by the gangs.  Police found the latest fatality with "a note attached to the corpse signed by the Zetas."  The note was pinned to his forehead with a four inch nail, pounded in antemortem.

At any rate, kidnapping for ransom is nice work if you can get it, and that is what happened to Layla's son-in-law.   He was taken to a safe house elsewhere in Monterrey, handcuffed and thrown in an empty room with no food and no medical care for his broken legs.  On Saturday, Layla's daughter received a phone call.  Los Zetas demanded their money, and had her listen to her husband's screams as his fractured legs were given the boot.  She said they were only able to raise 250,000 pesos, but were ready to deliver it where ever they said.  The drop point instructions were given, and the next-door neighbor volunteered to deliver it.  When he arrived at the designated spot, four marked police cars converged from different directions, and boxed in the bag man.  It was Los Zetas!  They had squad cars!  Fuck! They captured the bag man at gunpoint, beat the holy living crap out of him, and took him and the money to the safe house.  They wanted the rest of their money, and they intended to ransom the bag man too.  They threw the good Samaritan into with the room with the son-in-law.  Meanwhile, the real police had the safe house under surveillance.  A SWAT  team went to the front door, knocked, and said they wanted to enter and search the house.  Los Zetas opened fire, and the SWAT team pulled back.  The Mexican army then surrounded the house, and they shot the shit out of the place with automatic weapons.  News reports in the Austin paper said 11 men were killed in a shootout in Monterrey.  None of Los Zetas survived.  When the police went in to search the wreckage, they found the neighbor and the son-in-law, now with an M-16 wound to one of his broken legs, but still alive. The cops that stormed the room said they found two men "handcuffed and whimpering".  Since the cops didn't know their identity, they took them both to the cop shop for interrogation and detention until they did.  They could have been drug dealers being tortured to reveal their stash. They still received no medical care.  The cops called Layla's daughter, and asked if her husband was missing.  

"Thank God!" she shouted, "you've saved him!"  

Once the cops were satisfied her husband was a kidnapping victim and not a drug dealer, they said "OK, there is a fine for needing rescue, and when we have $10,000 in cash, and we'll let him go."  

Layla had to round up another ten grand to get her son-in-law out of jail. 

"Wow" I said.  "That's quite a story.  Remind me not to go to Mexico any time soon, OK?"  

With that, the music started, and we made our way to the dance floor, safe in America.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Unicorn

"Do it big, do it right, and do it with style."  Fred Astaire.

The phone rang about 8:45 on a Friday evening.  

Jewels, the Panamanian salsera with legs to die for, said:  "I just passed my exam for my Master's in English, and I want to party.  Ritmo Tres starts in a few minutes, and I want you and Kurt, my two favorite salsa partners, to come down here and dance with me."  

I replied:  "Jewels, you know I love to dance with you, but I'm moving my parents from their condo in San Antonio into an assisted living facility here in Austin right now.  I had a 14 hour day today loading the truck, and another 14 hours tomorrow  to unload, and I need to stay home and rest up".  

"What?" She said with mock incredulity, "You mean I've met a responsible man?"  

"'Fraid so," I replied.  

She laughed and added "You know, I worked in an assisted living facility in Bastrop a while ago.  The old people were outrageous.  There was one crazy lady whose daughter had died of a drug overdose.  She claimed the doctors had a machine that blew water up her ass and flushed out all the drugs, and she was still alive.  We all just smiled and said OK".  

With that, she hung up and went dancing, and I went to bed.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Unhappy and Unlucky

The 48 laws of power:    Law 10

Infection: Avoid the Unhappy and Unlucky

You can die from someone else’s misery – emotional states are as infectious as disease. You may feel you are helping the drowning man but you are only precipitating your own disaster. The unfortunate sometimes draw misfortune on themselves; they will also draw it on you. Associate with the happy and fortunate instead.

The Monkeyfarmer

A person has a problem, a frustration, a grief. They focus on the problem, talk about the problem and nurture the problem until they finally begin to identify with the problem. They secretly love their problem.   It gives them purpose.

You meet this person. They hope to share custody of their problem with you. They want to make it your problem, too.

In other words, they want to put a monkey on your back.

People know Wizzo is a problem solver so they assume he’ll be willing to have a long, pointless discussion with them about their monkey. They’re wrong. If that monkey gets near him he’ll kill it. Wizzo is not a monkeyfarmer.

Problem solvers believe in direct action: “Stab it through the heart with a knife.”

Problem solved. Monkey gone. Life is good.

The person who loved that problem is wide-eyed, shocked that anyone might want to eliminate their beloved monkey. They didn’t want to kill it. They just wanted to talk about it.

“Stab it through the heart with a knife.” Discussion over.

Problems are monkeys. Life without monkeys is good.

Roy Williams

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Newbie


It's Saturday night at the Copa, with DJ Fabian playing everything but bachata.  I had just gotten there, and it was still early.  I danced a few songs with salseras I knew,  but soon noticed a very pretty, slender mocha-choco-latte salsera standing near the dance floor. She wore a halter top, short skirt, and beige, suede-bottomed dance shoes with two inch heels. She personified the truism that sexy isn't something you do, it's something you are.  Still, no one asked her to dance.  Now, I don't frequent Copa because I don't like the feel of the place, so I didn't know if she was a newbie, or if she could even dance.  

I went over to her and said "I tell my daughter to do it first and look like a leader, so I feel obligated to do so myself.  Can you salsa?"  

Shyrica informed me that she was visiting Austin from Houston to attend a wedding.  The after-party had ended, and she had asked her friends to recommend a salsa club.  She was a regular at clubs in Houston, but had not been to an Austin club before.  Her friends sent her to Copa.  

She replied to my question about dancing salsa with a tilt of her head and: "You lead, I'll follow". 

We made our way to the floor, and in less than 10 seconds, I knew I had found a salsa queen.  As soon as the song ended, even before we made it off the dance floor, another guy asked her to dance.  I kept an eye on her through the evening.  For an hour and a half, she never stopped or sat down.  Finally, I saw her standing back away from the crowd.  I went over.  She was panting, drenched with sweat, pulling on a bottle of water like she just crawled crossed the desert.  

"How's it going?" I asked.   

"I'm soaked, I'm exhausted, my feet hurt, and I'm going home."  

Then she stopped in thought, looked up at me, and said  "I want to thank you SO much for asking me to dance.  You made my night!"  

Shyrica walked out into the night, and I went back to dancing with Leila and Paola.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I have boundaries, and I demand respect

We're at El Sol y Luna, on Sixth Street.  Ritmo Tres hasn't started to play yet.  I took the opportunity to chat with Dina.  

"So how's the divorce going?" I asked.  

"I'm exhausted" she said.  "We had the final hearing today.  My husband filed for divorce last November.  He insisted our marriage was dead.  I disagreed.  We had our first hearing before the judge in January.  The judge ordered us to work out suitable arrangements.  He said we were both adults, and should be able agree on support and child care and such.  My husband would not agree to my requirements.  I still love him, and do not want a divorce.  Still, I have boundaries, and I demand respect, and if he wants a divorce, so be it.  I just want the ability to take care of our two young children as well as we have done together in the past.  After all, the reason divorce is so expensive is because it's worth it.  Anyway, we went back  before the judge today.  The judge was visibly angry that we had not reached an agreement.  He demanded to know why not.  My husband began to rant "She this" and "She that".  When I became irritated and upset by his remarks, my lawyer whispered in my ear 'Just be quiet, he's hanging himself.' "  

After all, as Napoleon said in 1830, "Never interrupt your enemy when he's making a mistake".  

"When my husband finished his rant, the judge asked my lawyer if we had any comments", she continued. 

 "No, Your Honor," he said, "Just grant my clients petition, please."   

Bang! went the angry gavel.  "Wife's requests granted!  Next!"                

We laughed like fools, the music began, and we danced the night away.

One finger

While at Ruta Maya on a Sunday night,  Ritmo Tres, my favorite salsa band, blasts out a rhythmic salsa, (I prefer my salsa fresh, not canned) while I dance with Jewels.  The song ended, we chatted, another song began, and we started dancing again.  I listened to the beat, and didn't recognize it.  

I asked Jewels "What is that?"   

She said "Timba" as she began to dance to it.  

Timba requires one extra step over salsa.  I couldn't keep up at first.  Jewels put her left index finger on my right shoulder, precisely where the screw from my reconstructive surgery holds the biceps tendon to the bone.  We had no other point of contact.  She began to move back and forth, and I eventually picked up the step.  We both smiled, and finished the dance.  

The following Tuesday,  I attended my weekly Tai Chi class, taught by Guy Forsyth.  We performed a variety of exercises, under the heading of  Push Hands, wherein we try to feel and follow the movement of our partner using the tiniest, lightest contact possible.  I related the events of Sunday night to Guy, and told him how Jewels was able to teach me the Timba step.  

He put his head back and laughed and said:  "That's just what women want: to push men around with one finger!"

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

God bless salsa...

Here is a recent post by Roy Williams.  It is as good an explanation of what I'm up to with this blog as anything I could think up.     Salchatero

“Most of one’s life… is one prolonged effort to prevent oneself thinking.”
- Aldous Huxley, 1894-1963

“Our minds are lazier than our bodies.”
- Francois, Duc de La Rochefouchauld, 1613-1680

You probably have a limiting factor in your life that’s holding you back.
A limiting factor may be a habit, a preferred chemical or an attitude that hinders your advancement, your happiness, your future.

Can you think of a creative way to remove the limiting factor from your life?

“Creative thinking may mean simply the realization that there's no particular virtue in doing things the way they always have been done.”
- Dr. Rudolph Flesch,  writing consultant and author of Why Johnny Can't Read

You are your own best teacher. You know where you’re coming from and what you’re all about. You know where the bodies are buried and the names of the skeletons in your closet.

You also know the answer to your problem. But you don’t yet know what you know.

How can we get you to realize what you already know? How can we brighten your future?

ANSWER: Interactive journaling.

“I never know what I think about something until I read what I've written on it.”
- William Faulkner, winner of the Nobel Prize

Faulkner was like you and me. We learn our minds when we write our thoughts.

The problem with our century is that we are constantly distracted; “Too much to do, too little time.” Writing dictates a frame of mind we rarely experience today.

Writing moves us from the emotional confusion of right brain, abstract thought, to the logic and clarity of left brain, analytical thought. This is why we think writing is difficult.

Interactive Journaling focuses your thoughts and quiets your mind so you can hear yourself say what you know to be true.

Interactive Journaling has turned countless addicts into model citizens. I believe it might also be able to turn pessimists into optimists.

At its heart, Interactive Journaling is a series of written questions that students may answer however they choose. But these answers must be written down.

In this private, inner world of the mind, there’s no one with whom you can argue. There is no authority figure trying to impose his or her will. The only teacher is your own experience. The only voice you hear is yours.

Interactive Journaling facilitates behavior change quietly and affordably. Are there behaviors you would like to see changed in: your employees? your students? your kids? yourself?

Each of us already knows the right answers. I’m going to Carson City to learn the right questions.

Fingers crossed.   Roy H. Williams


                                                   God Bless Salsa     

     In order to show my disdain for cigarette smoking (my first ex-wife was a smoker; we were married for seven years, and when she left, she took everything but the blame), when someone asks me if they can bum a coughin' nail,  I reply with arch facetiousness: 

"No, I don't have a cigarette.  The only thing I smoke is crack."   

After my wife left, the only thing I missed was her mother's cooking.

   So, I and my salsa crewe sit with our backs against the bar one Saturday night at El Sol y Luna on Sixth Street.  I'm in the midst of a thirty-clubs-in-thirty-days self-imposed salsa marathon.   Ritmo Tres,  my favorite salsa band, blasts out  "Lolita, su me vida".   

The bar door bangs open, and in walks a tall, pretty Latina, about 25 years old, accompanied by a group of wannabe gangsta vatos.  She is wearing a short, grey dress, sewed out of enough material to  make a large handkerchief.  They stop in front of us, and order drinks.  The Latina, whose eyes look like pinwheels in a chemical storm, leans over to me, and asks if I have a cigarette.  

I respond:  "No, the only thing I smoke is crack."  

The pinwheels speed up as she reaches up to her neckline and pulls it down, so a pretty, perky breast pops out.  My eyebrows shoot up as my eyes widen to take in the scene.  She gets a "Oh yeah, watch this" look on her face, and reaching down with crossed hands, she pops her dress off like a bottle cap.  Now she's standing there in grey high heels and a purple thong.  I'm leaning further back for a full view.  

First I said "Whoa, Nellie!"  

Then I said "God bless salsa!"  

Her friends scramble to get her dress back on, and she's yelling "Get away from me!  Leave me alone!"  

Much to my disappointment, they succeed in covering her up.  The operant rule in such a situation is: Never Touch a Naked Crazy Person.  So, I did nothing but look.  The last I saw of her, she was wobbling down Sixth Street with her friends.  The crewe began to laugh and high-five.  I pegged her for an after-work topless dancer, but Rosa, who witnessed the whole thing, jumped in our shit with both feet.  

"What's the matter with y'all?  You're acting with children!  She's Someone's Daughter!", Rosa thundered.  

"True dat", I replied in my Connecticut accent,  "but she's not MY daughter."  

With that, we all went back to laughing like fools and high-fiving, while the band played on.