Note No. 31

December 16, 2009

Every fortnight or so, I end up at the do-it-yourself store on the island.

Today’s occasion is for the purpose of two jobs: an electrical wiring project and a shower drain project. The problem with the latter one is that it brings up a common phenomenon here: you get hooked on something (frozen spinach, plain yogurt with no sugar added, bathroom tiles with a stupid blue design on them, to name a few examples) and then, next time you go to the very same store to get the very same thing, it’s gone. Vanished. Clerks whistling and looking out the window in oblivion.

No matter. In this case, it has already been determined (through a two-hour search on a previous day in Cancun) that the floor tile I will need has indeed been discontinued but I have spoken with my sister and we have determined to march forward anyhow, replacing the damaged part of the floor with something that neither matches exactly, nor clashes, with the existing one.

It’s Mexico; right?

Of course, nothing is easy here, so I am neither surprised nor particularly bothered when, within the first five minutes of arriving, there is a problem. I have handed a printed out copy of electrical materials to the sales girl, so that she can check the stock on everything, so that I can pay for it, so that we can get going rewiring already. This printout is from the very store where I am sitting at that moment, so it should be a relatively easy job, but at the last minute, the electrician changed one number on the list so that suddenly, a $200 part has skyrocketed to $1,400 and it may or may not even exist.

Call him. Call the electrician. Have him come here.

He is busy at another job, so he says just to put the salesgirl on the phone, but then, as she is halfway through explaining to him what is wrong, the credit on my cell runs out and the call gets cut off. That’s the problem with pay-as-you-go plans.

Go down the street and get some more credit.

I am standing in line to get more credit, where they may or may not sell credit, when my phone rings. It’s the electrician. His credit is running low, too, but what’s the deal with the $1,400 part?

Run, run, run down the street. Get back to the salesgirl at the counter.
They talk and it is decided that he will come to the store after all.

“But we close at 2, so hurry,” she says, before hanging up.

Meanwhile, I decide to go into the showroom for the tiles. I am lifting up various samples and squinting at them to try to imagine how they will look with the existing floor, when I overhear the man on a cell phone next to me. I miss most of what he has said but it has something to do with something not happening as it was supposed to. He is Mexican, though, and behaving more impatiently than is normal for here.

“And the Americans are very upset,” he finishes.

Then I understand, and it makes me both smile and wince. Poor man. Dealing with the angry gringos. I can only imagine the Rumpelstiltskin dance they have performed before nearly ripping themselves in half in their fury. I know. I’ve been there. And that is not to say that I do not still get impatient or upset by things when they do not go as I hoped they would, but I feel I have a better understanding of how to choose my battles—and keep the inner demons in check.

I continue looking for my tiles, because actually, it is two different types I need. As of yesterday, our front staircase has a hole where a tile had to be removed to fix a leak, but to say I am looking for that tile is an overstatement, because I don’t really think I am going to find it. That would be too easy to set out to do something and get it done in one go. No, I have not traipsed across the equivalent of 15 football fields yet, so there is no way they are going to have this second tile. I can at least look, though.

They don’t have it.

They do, however, have a tile that my sister requested in lieu of the discontinued bathroom tile and so I order it and the other bits that we will need to get the job done and then it’s 2 o’ clock and the sale associates have performed their not-so-subtle task of closing all the doors to lock me inside of the dark, windowless tunnel.

“You’re closing?”


“What about the electrician?”

A shoulder shrug. “Tell him to come talk to me later.”

Around back, they bring me my stuff and set it on the corner, where I stand, looking at it and hoping I can get it into a taxi, except there are no taxis and then, this little man in his golf cart stops and makes some motions, like: do I want him to give me a ride? I have seen him and his bright pink seat cushions before, and he is with his granddaughter, so how harmful can he be?

I nod and he backs up to where I am standing and then my stuff is inside and we are off, headed back downtown, while he prods his granddaughter to tell me how old she is (3) and what her name is (Maria del Mar de ……… It’s windy.).

When we pull up at my house, the electrician is there waiting for me. He has decided we can order the $200 part just fine. Apparently, he wanted to shake things up a bit by trying to order the $1,400 one.

I thank my new friend, Carlos, and bid him goodbye and then the electrician helps me carry the stuff from the cart inside and I tell him that I was not able to get the other tile, the one for the stairs.

“I can get it.”


“Yeah. My friend at the project where I am working now has it. I will pick up two pieces.”


And it’s like Serendipity herself has just swooped in and taken care of a few things and I think: why? And then I remember: it’s my late grandfather’s birthday.

Happy Birthday, Gramps. You would have been 97 today. I miss you.

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