Our Produce-or-Die Culture Is Killing Us -- And We're Idiotically Grinning and Bearing It
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Every afternoon when I knock off from writing, after I suck down a Modelo beer and take an hour nap, I step out onto the 400-year-old cobbled street, with its hap-scatter string of vendors lining both sides. All sorts of vendors -- vegetable vendors, vendors of tacos, chicharrones, chenille bedspreads and plucked chickens, cigarros, soft drinks, sopa and suet. Merchants whose business address consists of a card table in front of their casita.
Here in this working class neighborhood on Calle Zaragoza, tourists seldom venture, and the neighborhood merchants' customers are their neighbors. Their goods are the common fare of daily family life in Mexico. Today, at a table less than two blocks away, I purchased a dozen brown eggs, with the idea of making huevos rancheros. The purchase took three quarters of an hour, and included stumbling but cheerful half English/half Spanish conversations with the six vendors between my casita and the table of Gabriel, the old egg and cheese vendor with an artificial leg and wizened smile who assures me that rooster-fertilized eggs make a man go all night. "I am too old to care about that," I half speak, half gesture in that rudimentary sign language understood everywhere. "Hawwww" he chortles and says something in Spanish I cannot understand. An English speaking bystander, a teenager with a backward baseball cap and dressed in "L.A. sag," translates: "He says his pendejo is as hard as his plastic leg. You still alive! You never too old!"
These vendors are not poor people or peasants. They own homes, drive cars, watch cable television, send their children to college and do most of the things North Americans do. But their jobs are their livelihoods, not their lives, and every transaction is permeated with the ebb and flow of daily neighborhood and family life. "Is Maria going to graduate after all? Si! But by just by the hair in her nose! Who is going to sell fireworks for the Feast of Saint Andrew?" (Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Ajijic.)
Behind the plastered brick walls along the street mechanics fix cars, dentists pull teeth and teachers cheer preschoolers onward in a chirping Spanish rendition of Eensy Weensy Spider. The entire street is busily, but not hectically, engaged in making a living, most of the people doing so within 50 feet of where they will sleep tonight. But before they sleep they will sit out on the street, or perhaps the tiny neighborhood plaza, gossiping with the same neighbors who've been their customers all day. The same families into which their children will marry and whose sick elders they will burn candles for in the ancient stone church, founded as a Spanish colonial mission to civilize the Huichol Indians who've since retreated up into the mountains to honor their "god of the opening clouds" in peyote rituals.
Obviously work and commerce have their problems here, just as anywhere else. The peso rises and falls. Cheap Chinese imports crowd out domestic goods. People work hard, especially tradesmen and laborers, but there is a complete lack of obsession and stress that characterizes North American jobs. Which, of course, many Canadians and Americans retired to Ajijic take for laziness.
It may be my bias, or my imagination, or my distaste for toil, but from here America looks like one big workhouse, "under God, indivisible, with time off to shit, shower and shop." A country whose citizens have been reduced to "human assets" of a vast and relentless economic machine, moving human parts oiled by commodities and kept in motion by the edict, "produce or die." Where employment and a job dominates all other aspects of life, and the loss of which spells the loss of everything.