Chapter 25: All I Want For Christmas

December 23, 2018

Chapter 25:  All I Want For Christmas

Moving to Mexico:

            Much to the dissatisfaction of my new employer, I am taking all of next week off.  Actually, it’s just three days as we already have the 25th and 26th off.  As I am a newer team member, I have not yet been truly “hired”.  This company, like many, tries to avoid giving a job and benefits to someone who may just disappear after a month or so.  I guess they have had that problem a lot, and I can understand why. The work is difficult and dangerous.  It does not pay well, either so I can see how they have had a high turnover.  The time I would be taking off is unpaid as I am not yet a true employee.  But to remedy this with an extended period (nine months) of being an independent contractor doesn’t really sit well with me.  It’s not right but I don’t really care.  It’s just play money and I’m out of here in six months anyway.

            “December is ‘all hands on deck’ month as we clear out as many jobs as we can.”  The regional manager said as he dismissed my initial request for time off in a short email.  I waited a few days, talked to Betty and emailed a second request.

            “My wife and I only have one child and this is his last Christmas at home before he goes off to college.  We would really like to spend some time with him.  Would you please reconsider your position?”  I felt awkward pleading with him like this.  I have been a boss for so many years and I was extremely lenient with my staff when it came to holidays.  This was an uncomfortable role-reversal.  The only saving grace I have is the fact that if they fire me I’ll probably be relieved.

            He never got back to me, so I reached out to my direct supervisor (just another layer of management in this huge corporation who really has no decision-making power) and he assured me that I could take the 26th through the 28th off.  Again, none of this is paid vacation time.

            “He just wants the team to all pitch in as we finish the year.”  He said.

            “Then make me part of the team.”  I said.  “I have no benefits, no paid time off and whenever I have a payroll issue, I have to deal with a third party management company.”  I replied.  He just shrugged.  He understood.  I sort of like doing this job and the extra money is nice, but it makes little difference in my life.  If they let me go, so be it.

            Friday (ironically, since one of the local staff members was on vacation) I was told to drive a considerable distance to cover one of his appointments in Morgan Hill, CA which is approximately 80 miles from where I live through the #1 worst commute in our state, on a Friday before Christmas and in the rain.  It was the most difficult assignment I have had with this company to date and it took me three hours to get home.  This was the last job I would complete this year.  Was this punishment for the time off?  Perhaps.

I will not miss this.

            It’s illegal to watch videos while driving, but since I was just sitting there in dead-stop gridlock, I decided to access the cameras on our house in Mexico on my iPhone.  We have exterior security cameras that we leave on when the house is unoccupied.  Our guests would be arriving later tonight, so I had time to look before the cameras would be shut off for the week by my property manager. 

            Sitting there in that traffic I was able to look into the future.  There was my pool and my driveway in Tulum, Mexico.  It wasn’t much to view, but it was comforting being able to go to that place, if only for a minute, while stuck in that awful traffic jam, hours away from home. 

Just a driveway and a pool attendant, but it was amazing to be able do this.

            I have my property manager to thank for these video cameras.  He sourced a trusted company and negotiated a good price for us.  Actually, I’d like to give him a plug here because so far, he and his wife have proven to be the best property managers we have ever had.  They are attentive, caring and detailed.  I have never asked them for anything they have not given promptly and with a smile.  My guests have commented that they have arranged travel from the airport to the house, helped with groceries and beverages and even helped arrange local excursions.  We are blessed to be able use work with them. 

The name of their company is At Home Property Management and they are located in Playa Del Carmen.  Craig is the owner and he is my contact there so if you need amazing property management services, or if you are a traveler in need of lodging, please contact him directly at  Tell them Tom sent you.

*I wish that was our view!  But apparently, it can be yours.

It seems like our entire lives are caught on video these days.  In the past, I have turned on our video camera, placed it on a tripod and just let it run like a silent observer of our lives.  Birthdays, Christmas and other celebrations have been documented in this manner.  Then we tuck these videos away, let them age and watch them years later.

            Just last night, Betty was in the living room by the tree with a warm fire going with tears in her eyes.  She was watching an old video from 2005.  It was Christmas Day, later in the evening, when her birthday party was in full swing.  The camera was stationed in the corner of our dining room as she opened her many gifts, her family surrounding her, talking and laughing.  I heard the voice of my mother and her distinct laugh.  I saw my best friend Chris, walking in and out of frame, his unique voice and commentary sprinkled throughout the video.  And I saw my father-in-law, standing the whole time, as he observed his two daughters sitting near each other, the youngest (Betty) opening her gifts as her older sister watched, commented and helped her. 

            I was struck with an incredibly melancholy moment when I realized that three of those people were now deceased. 

My father-in-law went first.  Cancer took him from us, a disease we believe he contracted from his work as a commercial HVAC worker and a smoker.  Asbestos and cigarettes were part of the daily diet for union construction workers back in the 1950’s.  As he explained it to me once in his garage, “Who the hell knew back then?”

Chris went second, having died in his sleep from breathing complications.  He was my best friend from childhood, the one I trusted with all of my secrets and loved dearly.  There was no warning, no illness.  One day he was here and the next he was not.  He was the funniest, most creative person I ever knew.  No one could make me laugh harder than Chris.  The laughter died with him.

Mom died a few years later, also from cancer.  We have no idea how this disease chose her as it does not run in our family.  Most of my people die from old age with a full head or hair.  We are blessed with tough, blue-collar genes.  Mom was different.  She had a lot of illnesses, most of them brought on by lifestyle decisions, that required her to live on strong medications and undergo incredibly invasive procedures just to live without pain.  I am convinced that it was this unfortunate combination of things that made her life so hard and then end so abruptly.

All three of those people were in our home, on that video, laughing and sharing the holiday together like we always did.  Then, one by one, they began to disappear.  Being able to touch the space they occupied was reassuring and comforting.  They were still here.

Some people left us, and some new ones joined us.  Also, in that video was our son, running around and making child sounds.  My brother-in-law was sitting in a corner with his baby daughter, the latest addition to our clan.  My brother’s step-kids could be heard in the background, still more youth added to our group.  Divorce would take them away from us years later, but they too were here, in this house, where our memories have been made for the last 18 years. 

I have to think of this as we prepare to move to Mexico.  I have read many stories of people who sold everything and moved to there.  But very few of them had kids and it seemed that all of them were comfortable just ditching their old lives for a new one.  That’s apparently not me and I have to deal with this.

I still look up old friends and lovers on Facebook to see how they’re doing, what they look like, where they live, etc.  I just drove by the first house Betty and I rented back in 1994 when we first got together.  Many times, I have revisited the homes where I grew up in Santa Cruz and Jamestown, California.  When we were in Paris, France, I made our driver find my old apartment building, just so I could touch the door.  I can be a sentimental, nostalgic fool when it comes to places.  I’m not hooked on things, but places can tug at my heart. 

I’ve never lived in one house as long as I have lived here.  Leaving here is going to devastate a part of me.  I will console myself with “hey, it’s great to finally be out of that rat race.” and “I hated what California had become.” and probably “Gee, it’s so GREAT here in Mexico!”  But part of me will miss this place in a way that will be so painful, so cripplingly difficult, that I’m sure I will shed tears and even haunt this place when we visit home.  There is no way Betty and I will visit home and not drive down our court and stare from the street at the home we used to own.  We will certainly feel a forlorn sadness, but we will do it together.  It’s all part of leaving, I suppose.  And time will assuage the hurt, eventually.

            As I sat in my work truck in that horrible traffic on Friday, my legs going numb from the uncomfortable position the driver’s seat had, even after adjusting it for my large frame, I imagined all of this and tried to focus on the positive.

            Just yesterday, I was in Oakland, California, a city that is infamous for its hard-edged, gritty and violent lifestyle.  I was on a job in a semi-gentrified area that used to be a war zone for gangs and drug dealers.  Now it was just overpriced, shabby homes full of older Asian people, younger tech nomads from Seattle and Michigan and apparently some stubborn drug dealers who refused to leave just yet.

As I waited for a city inspector to meet me at a completed job, no less than seven Oakland police squad card screeched to a stop just half a block from me.  There was a flurry of running feet, loudspeakers, sirens and commotion.  Then there was a woman screaming,

“What are you doing to me?” 

And a man yelling, “What did I do? What did I do?” 

There were a dozen policemen dragging them from a building, cuffing them and leaning them over the hoods of their cars.  I should have taken photos, but I was transfixed by the action and didn’t want to get hit in case there was gunplay. 

Gentrification takes time it seems.

This was taken after most of the cops had left and I felt safe enough to take a photo.

            I mentioned the incident to the homeowner as she exited her home with a tiny child.

            “Really?”  She asked.  “I didn’t hear a thing.  Well, we’re on our way to the park for a walk.”  The two of them headed the opposite direction, Mama pushing Baby in the stroller for a day together.  She obviously wanted to ignore the blemish on her neighborhood.  They were here for work, Washington plates on their car, and had just plunked down $900,000 for a run-down, 100 year-old house in a neighborhood their real estate agent had probably described as “Developing…the next big thing.  Don’t miss this opportunity!”  They were part of the problem.  I will not miss them, and they can have this place, this place they have ruined.

            I imagined how nice it will be to wake up in Mexico and work out on my rooftop patio, then take a dip in the pool while listening to a favorite podcast and catching up on the news of the world on my iPad.  Breakfast and coffee with Betty, catch up on some email, write a bit before we head to town for fresh vegetables and fruit.  Perhaps we will take a walk on the beach, go shopping, have a beer at one of our favorite beach restaurants, play with our dog, take a ride somewhere and photograph the beautiful place we now call home. 

Maybe we’ll be working locally, remotely or both.  We will plan visits to different areas of our new nation, truly explore the area and find new places to love.  We’re members of three fraternal organizations, just one of which is international, but we can reach out to them to make some new friends.  And then, there is Texas.  Will we be able to afford a place there?

            So many things to think over, dream about and plan.  I will miss this place and our home, for sure.  It’s not worth it to constantly worry.  I’m giving it up.  It will work out.  What will be, will be.  This is happening.

            It’s one life versus another.  I think I know which one I want.

            Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. 

2019 is the year everything will change.

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