Re-entering Mexico and Measurements of Madness

I got myself to yoga at eight o’clock in the morning and limped through a series of sun salutations, having torn something in my right shoulder doing too many chaturanga-swoop-into-cobras on my own roof. Ten days in Belize eating black bean soup and thick, grilled “mackerel” had not cured my shoulder. Now I sat in my favorite plaza Baratillo eating a gordita, a thick opened tortilla with eggs and rajas—strips of roasted jalapeño chile—inside, and feeling more connected with my breathing and body than usual. Probably more because of the rajas than the yoga.

I noticed, not too far away, The Artist, a madman I’d bought a rather good scribble from—of a local church—several years ago. He had only one shoe on, unlaced and without socks, and favored his left leg, stepping gingerly. Both pant legs were rolled up. A worn jacket, deerskin color, hung over his right shoulder, and that hand held a cup of coffee someone had given him. The left leg, and especially the foot, was dark and swollen—I supposed from a life of drinking Coke and other sugary poisons, now rotting from diabetes. He had come down a lot. In the past, he managed to be completely dressed and spent most of his time mute and wild-eyed, giving us all what some might call the Evil Eye, which was probably really nothing more than a mild paranoia mixed with a dash of anger.

Minutes before I saw The Artist, my neighbor passed close by me for the second time, again without seeing me. When he’s function, he weeds alleys for people, or carries trash to a dumpster. I also don’t know his name. Often he sits on the callejón—alley—steps below our garden gate, maybe fifty steps below, paralyzed by depression. Now he stepped along smartly with a manic bounce. His brother may have been the miner that was beaten to death in front of our house. Word circulated that we had lured the victim into our garden and bashed him. It is not true.

On day two, in my favorite square Baratillo, I saw Kaliman (I refer you to my story “Kaliman and the Madness of Writers”), leaning against a wall, drinking in the morning sun. He wore his hair in a new style, that is to say, except for on the back of his head, his grungy dreadlocks were gone—an alteration I hope was voluntarily. In line with Kaliman, I saw the The Artist again. He is not doing well. I asked the waiter at the little restaurant El Chahuistle whether he knew his name. He did not. I asked a woman at the taco stand across the alley if she knew him. She didn’t. So I walked up to a better source, The Artist himself, greeted him and asked him his name. He leaned in at me, reeking of old alcohol and neglect, mentally adrift—insane seems like too judgmental a term, dehumanizes and shows no degrees of disorientation. At the same time, he came too close, so that I found myself blocking him qigong-style, with the heel of my palm against his chest.

He said he was from Aquascalientes and some other things—that made no sense.

I asked his name again, since I thought he might not have heard me the first time.

“Qué the importa?” he said— what’s it to you?

He was quite right there, I was invading his privacy.

“You’re suffering,” I said.

I did not understand his reply. He looks away and up, as if he were talking to others hovering just a little higher than us.

“You’re an artist,” I told him at one point, to show I knew about his interest in drawing.

“So are you,” he said.

I’m not quite sure he said that—because it is too bizarre—but I think he did, and it threw me for a moment. I wondered how could he know I painted—I don’t just write—and whether his madness had equipped him with a seer’s powers like Sophocles’ Tiresias in Oedipus Rex?

His eyes, in fact, were discolored, and I didn’t know to what extent he could see. It seemed his eyes were clear when he looked at me but clouded when he looked away, as hovering beings. He came in too close again. I put up my hand. I offered him two ten peso pieces, enough for two gorditas from the señoras who slap them into shape, roast them on the big comal, then fill and sell them just part way up one of the side alleys.

He said he wasn’t hungry. I decided to break off the conversation. I didn’t know to what extent his wild look signaled an incipient violence in reaction to my interference. I said I had to go and turned away, even though he was still talking to me and coming toward me. I went into the nearby café where I write. I asked the young barista whether she knew his name. She didn’t. I told her he had refused money. She said other people tried to give him money. That was news to me. I went back to the Chahuistle café and my writing partner, who was scribbling away himself, in prose. I considered the authenticity of my inquiry. I would never have asked him his name if I hadn’t been writing about him. On the other hand, because I was writing about him, I had realized I should know who he was—a person with a name. Later, I asked the flower lady—who has been sitting among her flowers forever—whether she knew his name.

“We’ve all always just called him El Chino,” she said, The Chinese Man, because of his curly hair.

No one knows why Mexicans say “Chino” for curly hair and wrinkled glass. It has nothing to do with China.

I am not sure why I write about these people, except that we all seem to appear mornings in the same small plaza, as if called by a common voice. There was me; then Kaliman, whom one should call The Writer, because of his illegible scribbles; Mateo of the missing front teeth (who has disappeared and is very likely dead); Josefina, who still sits in confusion and begs from the devoted who climb the steps of the cathedral called La Compañia; and finally Roberto, hunch-backed, the most dirt-encrusted of us all, his pants in rags, drinking Coke or smoking, who sometimes stands with one hand to his ear and sings softly to all of us like a shy Irish schoolgirl; and The Artist, “Chino,” (who a friend has since informed me is called Raúl).

Earlier, we had not been back from Belize a whole day when we packed up again and drove to San Miguel de Allende, an hour and twenty minutes to the east, to the ninth annual San Miguel de Allende Writers’ Conference, where we heard a wonderful talk by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, a poet and writer that lives in El Paso, Texas. As a boy and adolescent there, he gradually realized he was neither an American nor a Mexican, but something in between. He spoke with passion about Ciudad Juárz, which he can look over at from his university office and which represents everything that is horrible about Mexico (absence of the rule of law and violence) and at the same time everything that is wonderful. In the last ten years or so, depending on who you talk to, there have been between 350 and 700 killings of young women. Because of indolence, corruption and lack of training, 95% of these crimes remain unresolved, with complex and dangerous criminal connections to both sides of the border. At the same time, there is the on-going normal, wonderful part: the weddings, the parties for quinceañeras—the coming out parties for fifteen-year old girls; family gatherings; children playing in the streets, watched over by the community; music and dancing; people eating together, love-making and laughter—all the activities that bind people together and endure in the face of ubiquitous disruptions—one of which has been NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which—among other things—has led to the loss of 700,000 jobs in the U.S. so that we Americans can buy goods cheaply and with them, the Good Life; and the corporations, Fatter Profits. Under NAFTA, the corporations were allowed to set up assembly plants, maquiladoras, across the border in Mexico, where cheap labor—often largely young women with education and skillful hands—was available, or soon would be, as women migrated to to Juárez, giving up the protections of the “village” and working for very low wages.

For writer Sáenz (sa-enz), Juárez is a metaphor. It is the border through which mountains of automatic weapons and cheap corn flow south, undermining still further the rule of law and displacing Mexican small farmers; while the cartels’ drugs flow north to sate Americans’ appetite for narcotic escape. Sáenz says we are all Juárez City, all of us co-responsible for what happens there—all of us suspended between Mexico and the U.S., between consumerism and exploitation, all of us participating in a dark and dysfunctional system, concocted by the an obsessive, hoarding corporate elite, their lawyers, lobbyists and the politicians they buy—on both sides of the border.

Mexico is now the third largest importer of food. That is to say, for greater profits for the few, it has given away its ability to feed itself. During the last twenty years of NAFTA, 4.9 million farm workers lost their jobs and migrated into the cities, where they do not do well. The youngest and strongest of them, at terrible risk, try to cross into the U.S. in hope of a better life. Powerful agricultural transnationals have filled the vacuum. Only ten percent of the remaining farmers are successful. Still, it is hard to crush small farmer culture which the 1% is so proud of, and that is because there is no bottom to Mexican rural poverty. In the twenty years of NAFTA, in order to increase production of the broccoli we eat in the north, the transnationals sprayed Mexico with 949,000 tons of pesticides (La Jornada, Feb. 20, 2014). Nevertheless, Presidents Peña Nieta, Barack Obama and Prime Minister Harper, meeting presently in Toluca, Mexico, sang NAFTA’s praises— Peña Nieto, in a familiar, empty political-speak about a system that does not work for the vast majority of Mexicans. One could argue these men—in their own magnificent madness—are themselves talking to hovering beings that only they can see: the ghosts of wealthy investors that remain invisible to the rest of us. In Mexico’s case, La Jornada published an editorial translated by Lindsey de Haan, saying that “According to  data from the National Banking and Securities Commission (CNVB), 42% of the value of the Mexican economy is concentrated among less than 200,000 investors and that .18 percent of the population possesses almost half the national wealth. From an inverse point of view, 99.82% of Mexicans are excluded from this portion of the economy.”


I live in my own Juárez City, a barrio in Guanajuato that suffers a learned incapacity, assumed after centuries of the neglect and disinterest of today’s rulers of Mexico, our internal colonialists. As an example of this assumed incapacity, city workers worked on the sewage line in front of our house. When they were through, they filled sacks with the broken stone and concrete they had extracted (new concrete covers the repair) and then—instead of carrying the rubble away—they threw the filled sacks into the vacant lot in front us, the one still registered to a dead man (See my story “The Tenuous Connection”). All of which played into the hands of M, my young neighbor and one of the Usual Suspects. One of the nation’s discarded youth.

Last night, he arrived at the alley crossroads in front of our house drunk and perhaps drugged. By his behavior, I would have said paint thinner, but it could also have been something in the weed he was smoking—in any case, some chemical that destroys judgement and calls up rage. Roaring and whooping, he staggered around, behaving supremely antisocial. He began by kicking in the steel door in the wall that surrounds the lot; and that’s when he found the rubble—throwing material—left there by the city workers. I went up on our roof where I could observe him and his co-delinquent Q, who was strangely non-involved, other than acting as a lookout. M brought out rocks, large ones, and threw them first at the lot’s walls—his anger seeking targets. Then he threw them up the alley steps at nothing, then at R’s little store located ten paces kitty-corner from us, then at the camera on her wall, then at our house wall, then at our camera. Then at me.

I had called down to him.

“Hey! Qué passa?” Something like, What’s up with this?

He looked up at me. And threw. I ducked out of the opening. The rock smashed somewhere outside it. Then I went downstairs and called 066, the equivalent of 911.

I’m not sure they ever came—the police. There are too many angry and abandoned youth to cover all of them. Q and M left the scene. M’s aunt was up at R’s little store in a flash to smooth things out, covering for her nephew. I hate the phrase “damage control.”

“He threw a rock at me,” I called down to her.

“I’m taking care of it,” she said, the concerned aunt, turning away too quickly, too busy to talk to me. She had to deal with R and her daughter who were explaining they weren’t happy about M’s behavior. From past experience, I can be fairly confident that M’s aunt was pointing out that the two cameras—the one on R’s store and the one on ours—had provoked the behavior. And that we, my love and I, after community discussions, had mounted the cameras. Which is true.

I feel I should add M to the Local Hall of Disfunctionality, along with my mad friends in my favorite square in the whole world, Baratillo. As well as all the “leaders” of Mexico. They are all my Juárez, and we are all of us suspended between NAFTA (all NAFTAS) and the Mexico we could have if we all weren’t just as mad as Kaliman, Chino the Artist, Roberto the Shy Singer, Josefina the Beggar and Mateo Who is Probably Dead. M was abandoned by his father, just the way Mexico has been abandoned by the people who have been elected, legitimately or not, to lead it.

I can not add J to the list. He is Q’s (the recent lookout’s) next younger brother. A few nights ago, he appeared at the door along with my love’s only book borrower, the other younger M Who Avoids his Future. J has shunned me gang-style for a year or two, refusing to talk to me and looking away. But this time he was friendly, clear-eyed, cordial, hanging out with Book Borrower M in front of our door. He talked about his favorite courses in school, in response to my love’s questions. This is a kid that, along with his brothers, had also shunned school for years.

After we said goodnight to them and closed the door, I turned to my love and asked, “Do you think the DIF has gotten to him?” DIF is the acronym for Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, Integrated Development of the Family, an agency that intervenes under a variety of circumstances to help “incapacitated” youth that are “at risk.” If that is in fact who reached J, that is a very good thing. One could only hope they might reach the rest of us who have given up on Mexico. Or are sometimes tempted to.

The Knives of Mexico

He comes up behind us, taking the steps two at a time. No one does that here. There are some 350 steps to the top of the canyon. 203 to our house. You take your time. You are climbing a mountain. As he leaps past, I said, “Mucha energía!” Something like, Boy do you have energy. He said nothing.

I like to make comments to the youths in our callejones, our alleys. If he had stopped and turned toward me, I would have thought of offering him my hand–to make it personal and cordial and, from my side, respectful. Because there would be so much to overcome: my fifty more years than his; my white skin, his brown; my social class, it is unlikely his parents drive a seven-year old Honda CVR’s, or any car at all; my income–a fairly guaranteed pension and social security–and his Mexican minimum wage, at maybe three dollars an hour. I don’t even think it through that far. He is clearly not from here, because here no one climbs the stairs that way.

Our neighbor Manuel is just ahead of us, on the second flight of steep stairs. He carries two tall, narrow cardboard boxes with breathing holes. Each box holds two gallos de pelea, fighting cocks–one in the upper chamber, one below. He is eighty year old, his wife is dead, the gallos de pelea give his life meaning. He believes in fighting generally. He carries a kitchen knife in his pocket. It has a crude wooden handle and a rusty six-inch blade. He shows it to us a week later.

The young man with all the energy turns right at the head of the stairs, goes a spell, then stops and yells down to someone on the road below us–an opening between two tunnels. We chats for a moment longer with Manuel. The cocks have won two fights, and lost two fights. I know what losing means. The tied on, long, razor-like spurs inevitably kill one bird or the other. I have seen this happen, and it does not take long. Maybe thirty seconds. I am a smart ass, and say he could always eat the ones that lost. He does not understand my dubious humor and instead says something like, well, that’s the way it is with fighting cocks.

Maybe it is then that someone yells down to the road below us.

We say good night and turn left, trudging up a slant, turn right, and begin the last hundred steps. We have eaten with friends in the plaza Baratillo. I am in the grips of a cold, and wanted to leave Miguel’s restaurant early. Our friends walk slowly. I said I needed to go on ahead and get home and into bed. I am dragging up the stairs, half way up the last hundred, my wife a few steps ahead of me.

He comes up behind us, taking the steps two at a time. No one does that here. As he passes, for the second time I say, “Mucha energía,” boy do you have a lot of energy! And this time, as if to be more sociable, he turns a few steps above us and presents a knife, close in against his belly so others will not see it. Pointed at us.

My wife Elizabeth is a social creature and prepares to greet him, to engage with local youth, perhaps from our very own barrio–young people we try to warn away from sniffing glue, paint thinner, and magic marker.

As she chats with him amicably, I say–referring to his knife, “Eso no es una buena idea,” I don’t think that’s a very good idea.

And then, to Elizabeth, I say, “He has a knife.”

I have since tried to remember the young man’s first instructions. Now I realize, he may never have given any. My wife follows Buddhist principles and is already telling the young man to calm down.

“Here! Here’s some money,” she says.

She fishes a two-hundred peso note out of the Michoacán cloth purse that hangs around her neck. He stabs the air in front of him and says, “Más!” More!

“Take it easy, take it easy,” she says, and, like an efficient, compliant mother, plucks out a final twenty-peso note. Roughly another 1.67 dollars.

He gestures with the knife toward me, but addresses her. Clearly, with white skin, I do not understand Spanish, maybe not even the situation.

“Ahorita él!” Now him!

I have lived in Mexico for thirteen years. I have spent a lot of time hiding my money from people who might want to see what’s in my little, dirty, woven purse with two Aztec cats on each side. We are a few steps from our friend and housekeeper Lilia’s door, a crude adobe structure that butts up against our lower garden wall. That wall robs her of winter sun. The flat stones that hold down her buckled, laminated tin roof probably come from our property. We are her sole income. We would trust Lilia with our lives. It never occurs to us to call out to her.

A kind of tunnel thinking has set in. I am not aware of my surroundings. Not even of Lilia’s low, black, steel door, which once belonged to a structure we torn down on our property. I am focused on what is in my purse. I have been to the bank. I am about to hand over the 4,000 pesos or, roughly, $300.

Elizabeth, who tends to dominate social encounters sometimes, is ordering me to stop being a fool and hand over my money. My world has shrunk in on me. Elizabeth is speaking on behalf of young man with the knife.

“Give him your money!” she says, in with a tone, as if I’m holding up the fellow, or considering something stupid.

I am used to various kinds of social pressure from Elizabeth, and I have my methods of coping. But now, in the dim light of the alley stairs, I am using my seconds to separate my two credit cards, my Mexican driver’s licence, and my INSEN card (which gives me half-price tickets for ETN’s first class buses, the University Cine Club, and The Symphony) from my paper money. I am even trying to separate out my ATM receipts–an old habit, so people don’t know how much money I handle.

I extract my folded wad of money. He takes the 4,000 pesos–a windfall for him–with his left hand. With his right hand–the knife hand–he grabs for my four dirty Aztec cats. I pull the cats back out of his grip.

“Esto, no!” Not this! I say.

He is already moving down the steps. His knife sweeps by me but does not touch me. Elizabeth, guided by her Buddhist principles, wants to help and calls after him “Córrale, córrale!” Run, run! To help him with his escape.

I start after him, but realize at the same time how idiotic my going after him is. I do not leap up stairs two at a time. I am not a Samurai at the peak of my career. When I get to the base of our last hundred stairs, there is no sign of him. And the post-traumatic syndrome sets in.

I am numb. In the hot period, April and May, when we begin these last hundred stairs, we meet a stream of cool air coming down from the mountain. The alley is quiet and narrow. We know our neighbors on either side. We are always glad to be close to our house. Now, it is a place which is no longer safe.

Elizabeth climbs the few steps remaining to Lilia’s door. The whole event has taken something like thirty seconds. More, if you include my unwise pursuit and Elizabeth’s knocking. Lilia opens her black, hand-me-down steel door, steps forward, and listens to my wife’s report. She wants all the details. She shows no fear. At times, she is our cross-cultural mother, who explains Mexico to us. She is also a sort of block captain of our barrio, possibly still a PRIista, Partido Revolutionario Institucional, the party that ruled Mexico for seventy-one years, some say as a mixture of mafia and dictatorship.

Elizabeth tells her what had happened. She listens, reassures us, is calm. I tell her I won’t report the incident to the police, because everyone knows they won’t do anything. She agrees. That’s the way Mexico is. On the other hand, if someone breaks into your house, terrorizes you with a gun, and robs you, they will come and investigate.

But not a mugging–where the mugger has slipped away into the population, untraceable, except by recognition. Elizabeth claims she studied his face, but also that he looked like any number of young Mexicans. I think we wore a white baseball cap. I know the precise dimensions of his knife. A three-inch blade, two and a half inches wide. The kind used to skin deer–except that there are almost no deer left in hungry Mexico.

Elizabeth discounts the knife as small. I tell her, it was big enough to gut one or both of us.

We are afraid. We wonder whether he will return, thinking we are rich, because I was carrying 4,000 pesos, and that there must be more money in our house. That night, we lock ourselves in our bedroom. It is not like the U.S. where you can call the police and they will be there in five or ten minutes.

We spread the word among friends–ex-patriots and Mexicans. The city is a walking city. A day later, we run into Manuel of the gallos de pelea, the fighting cocks neighbor. He shows us his kitchen knife, tucked in his pants. He says he will use it if any one assaults him. No one will assault him, because he clearly doesn’t have a lot of money. Maybe a young Mexican can take one look at him and know the old guy will have a kitchen knife, and it isn’t worth tangling with him.

I find my old pepper spray. It’s expiration date is four years ago. I carry it anyway. Elizabeth disapproves. We both know that you’re not supposed to use it when the assailant has a knife or a gun. We talk with everyone–neighbors, strangers in our barrio, friends. We are compulsive. We can’t stop telling people. After a while, I no longer know whom I’ve told.

We begin the victims’ re-appraisal. I have been trained all my life to meet violence with violence. Sometimes, while driving, the impulse to return aggression starts to come out, and Elizabeth scolds me. Still, I wonder whether I should have stuck out my foot when he passed me, racing down the steps. If he had fallen hard, I could have jumped on his head with both feet and my full weight.

But then the scenario gets complicated. He fights back or I’ve injured him, or not injured him enough, and I have to do something violent all over again. It is hard to imagine these scenes, with Elizabeth’s Buddhist principles hanging in the air. We must have empathy, she says, but I know she is traumatized, too. Uncharacteristically, she snaps at a male friend who tells her glibly, “You folded.”

The next day, I go, anyway, to the Administrativo Publico, Police Headquarters. I sit patiently until it’s my turn. I take a chair in front of a woman at a steel desk, who sits in front of a computer. She brings up a form letter and begins filling specifics: my name, age, address, description of the assailant, and whether I knew him. She asks about the weapon, the details of what happened. I sign my name in a few places. I get up, put on my small backpack, and–knowing this has concluded the Police’s role–ask how I can defend myself.

She says I can apply to carry a weapon.

“You mean a pistol?” I ask.

She nods.

I thank her.

Of course, everyone knows only the military and the police can carry weapons in Mexico. I have lived in the country long enough to accept contradictions and wrong information. I wonder how much energy to invest in the possibility that what she has told me is true. As someone huffed later, applying for a weapons permit doesn’t mean the application will be accepted. So, yes, it is true you can apply.

I go on-line to Amazon and look up self-defense weapons. I remember there are telescopic truncheons made of steel, which can be flip out into a two-foot club. I try to imagine myself getting past the deer skinning knife and delivering potentially lethal blows against the young man’s head.

I tell Elizabeth about my internet investigations. She mentions the young man may have been desperate to buy more drugs, or medicine for a sick relative. He was very nervous, she reminds me, looking around, gesturing with his gutting knife, speeding up the transfer of money, leaving quickly, to ensure his safe retreat. I also realize the authorities would not be happy with me, if I killed or gravely injured a young Mexican who had simply needed money. Ninety-five percent of Mexicans need money.

Besides, I am not a Samurai at the peak of his career.

We return home one afternoon. There is a narrow ledge on the graffitied, orange, steel door that leads to our garden– thirty steps up from Lilia’s black, hand-me-down steel door. I see a large scorpion on the ledge, facing us. It’s always an exciting discovery, and a happy one, to see the scorpion first, before you put your hand on it.

I play a game. I say, “Look,” without being more specific.

Elizabeth sees it immediately. She says wow. I take my longest key and touch its left claw. There is no reaction. I flick it off the door. It falls to the pavement. There is no movement. It also has no stinger, in fact, no tail at all. It didn’t get up on the ledge by itself. Someone put it there, so that it faced us, as if it were a totem or message.

I think immediately of the young man. Dianne mentions that Lilia has said that the neighbor just below her believes in and practices witchcraft. Whoever did it, I find it menacing. It has never happened before. Ever, in thirteen years. I do not know what it is supposed to mean that the scorpion has had it stinger cut off, along with the rest of it tail.

I have flashbacks. I imagine myself grabbing a good-sized rock–they were lying close by–and throwing it after him as he runs down the steps. It either hurts him, or he comes back. The hit would have to crush his skull–a bad outcome for me, as well as for him. Also un-Buddhist.

I delete the scenario. I have heard you can buy pepper spray in town. I go to the Punk store that sells them. They are back ordered. Maybe. I see I can buy a knife very much like the one the young man used. It is too easy to lose a knife fight. With a twenty-five year old who moves quicker than I do. A slash across the eye or the jugular, I calculate, is not worth it–for $300.

I talk to my closest Mexican friend. We examine the reasons for muggings. The fathers have disappeared in the North (to the U.S.), looking for work. Or, with bottle in hand, just disappeared. The assailants live with their mothers. They are embarrassed to have their mothers buying their clothes. They have failed at school, for various reasons. They have no future in Mexico. Their country suffers from a lack of social responsibility, among its political and religious leaders. The problem is systemic. There are no easy answers.

What about the police? I ask.

They are poorly trained and underpaid, says my friend. The city has few roads and countless alleys through which people move. It is impossible to guard all the allies. Foot patrols would help, but there are not enough police. There is not enough money to hire and train them. There is a lack of vision, as well, as to what trained would look like. The problem is a local one, because the town to the east of us has a highly trained police force. Many wealthy foreigners live there. They may have insisted on training.

I have hopes for the lad that attacked us. He seems like an enterprising alpha type of male, who might lead a different life under other circumstances. Perhaps a banker, or a hedge fund manager. Eventually, he will meet someone who will pay him a great deal of money to deliver drugs, collect debts, or hurt someone badly in the trade. And if that happens, eventually someone will decide to tie his hands behind him, have him lie down, and put a bullet in the back of his head. And so, in fact, I do not see a lot of hope.

For the time being, it seems like everyone in Mexico has a knife–the young man, Manuel, even the gallos de pelea. But not the scorpion on our garden door.

I learn that a French friend and two of her companions were mugged by three teenagers. At least one of them had a knife, too. Though she thought it was made of plastic. He supposedly jabbed at their eyes with it. The French women resisted. The boys beat them, took their money and cell phones. She was disgusted. They went to the police. The police said, “You came to the police because you lost 300 pesos?”

I try to create perspective, like, who are all the muggers in the equation? Which of us foreigners, in the past, has mugged Mexico, and indirectly the young men who are mugging us? There are the usual suspects. Like Hernan Cortéz, the French, English, Spanish, and Americans. Bank-backed American and Canadian mining operations, which take the subterranean wealth, which, according to the Mexican Constitution supposedly belongs to all the people.

There are internal colonialists, as well. The monopolists, powerful lazy bureaucrats, and politicians who give themselves pensions for life, flourish a general lack of social responsibility and an attitude of chingar your others before they would unto you.

I include the International Monetary Fund (the IMF), as well. Their words: we will bail you out, make further loans for the moneys your elite have already stolen, if you take out your economist knives, cut social services, and let our corporations in to feed on the wealth. I include the Government’s use of public savings (FOBAPROA) to pay off the national debt incurred by white collar robbers at the highest levels.

Then there is NAFTA, designed to defeat Mexican protectionism, offer no safety to union organizers–and bring in Monsanto corn, against which Mexican campesinos can not compete. They abandon their milpas, corn plots, and retreat to the cities, where there is no work. The campesinos were the guardians of the fields and the land, which have been the well-spring of and inspiration for Mexican art, food, and culture.

This is the pattern of colonial extraction, both internal and foreign–a constant mugging which weakens youth’s chance of getting an education and finding a job. 60% of the population lives in poverty. There are no jobs. Education for the masses is poor. The strong and bright flee north. The border gets tighter and tighter. There is nowhere to go. So why not pick off a few foreigners, and extract the cash they get with their debit cards? Except that they also rob Mexicans–students, merchants. Tourists from South America. All this, while the wealthy, beautiful Mexicans send their children to Harvard.

Where does it stand now? I still carry the pepper spray which went out of date in 2008. I leave my credit and debit card at home, hidden. I carry only enough cash for my errands. I still look for predators, hawks watching, their glance lingering too long, showing too much interest. I still look at each young man I pass to see if it’s him.

The Pope is coming, and I am shifting my attention to him. He may be coming to support the Christian Right here, the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), maybe to stir up the old Cristero War of 1926, low intensity, with the wink “Viva Cristo Rey!” Long live King Christ! Offering religion as youth’s opiate–mugging for God.

Huge crowds are expected. I suppose my young man is preparing. He waits for night, in the alleys, with his scorpion knife, and nervous eyes. Maybe with two buddies. And the last thing there are thinking about is how their society has long since had its knives out for them–and has long since cut off their stingers.