Tuesday, May 4, 2010

PART 1: A Personal Encounter with Mexico in America

This one's going to meander a bit.  In fact, it's going to meander into multiple articles.   But at least it will meander from something serious to something fun.

I'm listening to this preposterous 60 Minutes segment on some canal that seems to be in the path of unconventional pedestrian crossings from Mexico to the United States, and in which some of those unconventional pedestrians are drowning.  (Is Bob Simon the worst interviewer in American broadcast journalism?)   And I'm thinking the usual commonsense thoughts about assumption of risk, and also thinking about what I would have thought was one of the  irreducible functions of a national government -- the raw physical security of the country's borders -- and wondering why we are even debating the wisdom of turning back an invasion through the stout measures being undertaken by the State of Arizona.

The whole immigration debate saddens me.  Yeah, I think that we should resist the importation of that element of Mexican culture that lacks the political will to eradicate the drugs and violence and general crap that seems to be infecting Mexico.  (I understand the argument that US demand has something to do with the drug cancer in Mexico, and I think there's a lot to it.)  I don't know why that element exists in the Mexican polity.  History, geography, political instability, education, religion, economic regulation or its lack, some stew of all of those things and more.  Doesn't seem to me to be racist or even a little bit unreasonable to say stay where you are until we figure this out.  

But, aside from, oh, drug lords, urban gangs, corrupt officials, and George Lopez, I like Mexicans same as other folks.  I observe them working hard and doing good work -- work, in any event, as good as I am accustomed to seeing from their non-Mexican counterparts.  So I'm hoping we can find a way to secure the borders and welcome what is valuable about the good people wanting to come here to get away from the busted system to our south.  They're just coming because they want to make money, you say?  Well, that's what I want, too.  Seems like we should be able to figure out a way to do that together, without stigmatizing an entire class of people as criminals, on the one hand, and accusations of racism, on the other.

And I think about an evening a couple of years ago in San Diego.

Many of you know that I'm a bit of an amateur lounge singer.  (When you observe the combination of bit (as in diminutive), amateur, and lounge, you can get some fix on my talent level.)  So when I'm in a strange town, I travel to Google and see if there are any piano lounges nearby.

I was in San Diego to work on a case with our office there.  First evening after I arrived I was on my own.  Google reported a piano bar at the Westgate Hotel, just a couple of blocks up Broadway from where I was staying.

I strolled -- I might have ambled, I don't recall -- into the Westgate lobby around six.  Sure enough, I heard a piano tinkling nearby.  And I use the word "tinkling" with all connotations intact.   The accompanying vocals were worse.  I poked my head into the bar.  It was a long, narrow room, ornately appointed, with banquettes with tables on each wall, the piano at the far end, and a very small bar tucked around a corner.  A very elderly couple sat at a table on the right banquette; there might have been one or two other people in there.  The auspices for high musical art were not good and I turned to leave, when the pianist saw me and called out merrily to "come on in!"  I have a soft spot in my heart for those souls who eke out livings as musicians, but for whom the combination of talent and luck never ignited.  I felt sorry for the guy.   I went in and sat up by the piano.

Plaza Bar, Westgate Hotel, San Diego
About this crowded when I arrived.
Banquettes extend down the walls of a long narrow room behind the phographer.

The pianist was a very friendly gent and we got to talking about the Great American Songbook, what are usually called "standards."  I'll spare you the details, but, as sometimes happens, the pianist asked me to sing a song or two.  That was a pretty low-risk proposition, since the audience consisted solely of the two very elderly people sitting on the banquette.  I think I sang "The Shadow of Your Smile" and "The Days of Wine and Roses."  Maybe "That's All." 

The pianist said, "You should stick around for Julio."

The elderly couple on the banquette beckoned me over, thanked me for the songs.  "You should stay for Julio," the old man said.

Piano, Plaza Bar, Westgate Hotel
Picture this singer (Karen Giorgio) as a slender
Italian guy who looked a little like Montgomery Clift.

By that time, the pianist's shift was over and he was packing up his stuff.  "Julio starts at 7," he said.  "This place will start filling up soon."  He closed the piano and covered it.

And sure enough, maybe a quarter to, people began to arrive at the bar.  Just a few at first, and then a steady stream.

A steady stream of Mexicans.

PART 2 of this meandering anecdote will appear on Thursday.

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