Sunday, December 30, 2018

This and That


Here's a compilation of the so called Best of 2018. This year I added a number of iphone photographs selected from my daily posts to Instagram. Instagram is becoming the platform of choice for sharing images and is increasingly the place that photo editors look for invention and talent. I am still waiting to be discovered.

As with last year please rank order your top five by name and I'll share the tally next week. Thanks for participating.



Blessing of the Horses






Fire Truck


Kara and Eero



Mayer Leather




Casa Immel



Sunday, December 23, 2018


This is the rare occasion when I haven’t been building up to my post throughout the week. So, I’m resorting to a stream of consciousness that may lead me somewhere. You’ve heard novelists talk about not knowing where the story is going and that, to some extent, the book writes itself. I should be so lucky. You can take heart, though, to know that next week’s post, the last of the year, will be my ever so lovely look back at the images that are the best of 2018 according to me. Yes, I do recognize that’s a low threshold.

Peggy and I were sitting the high-top communal table, the one nearest the kitchen, at Common Fire on Highway 150 north of Taos Saturday night. We intended dine on leftovers but, as will happen after a couple of gallery visits in the early evening, we declared that we didn’t want to cook, even leftovers, or clean up after. Our first choice was Orlando’s, arguably the best run restaurant in Taos, for authentic Northern New Mexico fare. But to the surprise of absolutely nobody there was a long wait so we defaulted to Andy Lynch’s wood oven emporium where we are ranking members of his foodie brigade and private club.

What transpired was an evening of conviviality, tasty treats and new friends well met. In short, the epitome of good food, wine and kinship. As is so often the case, Andy’s business partner and his wife Ann held sway at the right end of the shared table. They were joined by Ann’s daughter and her daughter’s girlfriend who live in Brooklyn. As if the hipness quotient needed to be higher.

On the other side were a twenty something couple from Chicago drinking champagne. You could tell they loved the place and had the impression they would be back for all the remaining meals of their stay.

It was one of those nights, one of those crazy nights when the right mix of players made the joint come alive. The repartee was sterling and Jewish geography was awhirl. We had met Ann but had only seen her husband at a distance. This time we introduced ourselves. He said his name was Billy Sarokin. I asked, “What do you do?” He answered, “I’m a sound engineer and I’m working on a TV series called Daybreak that’s shooting in Albuquerque.” He described it as a post-apocalyptic series in which the only survivors are high school kids. “Feature Ferris Bueller’s Day Off but with Zombies. In fact, Mathew Broderick plays the high school principal.”

“Wow!” I said. “Our son is in the movie and TV business, too. He’s a special effects makeup artist. Two Emmys. He worked on the mother of zombie apocalypse shows, The Walking Dead, for seven years.

With that Billy IMDb’d Garrett and told us, “That's really cool. We have all kinds of friends in common.” File that in the small world file. Sarokin’s IMDb says that he was nominated for an Academy Award for the movie Salt in 2010 and an Emmy for Mr. Robot in 2015.

Owner Andy sat between our parties and it was there that I overheard a real conversation led by a real conversationalist. Andy asked probing questions of the young women, one of whom hailed from a North Dakota town “three minutes below the Canadian border.” “What was life like in a small town in the hell of the north” Andy asked. The young lady that we’ll call Sarah said, “Well my mother was food writer for the local paper. She loved Anthony Bourdain. We had a movie theatre that played the featured film three times a week, one showing Friday and Saturday nights and a Sunday matinee. That’s it, three showings. That’s what it was like in Crosby.”

“How did you get out of Crosby?” asked Andy.

“Well, I went away to college at Minot State University. Minot has something like 40,000 people so it was like a real city to me.”

Pursuing Sara’s life story Andy asked what she majored in and what she did with it.

“I kind of followed my mother’s path so I majored in Journalism and was a beat reporter for the Minot Daily News. Then I decided to become a lawyer, so I could make a difference. I met Sarah in law school in Brooklyn.” Yes, both women are named Sarah.

“We spent last summer in south Texas providing legal aid to migrants seeking asylum. It was difficult and really slow work. They only process half a dozen applicants a day. The backlog is months long because immigration is so understaffed.”

“Maybe that’s intentional” Andy offered.

“Probably” both Sarah’s answered in unison.

IMDb is the database of movies and television.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Doctor heal thyself

I suppose an argument can be made that the ease with which I bought Atorvastatin in Mexico or that my friend Bob bought a sinus medication and a pain killer with a trace of an opiate in it exposes a gaping hole through which less disciplined folks might descend into the abyss of addiction. For sure it lends itself to self-diagnosis as was evidenced by a hilarious episode in Guatemala in February of 2017.

Three weeks into my four week stint at the estimable Ixchel Spanish School in Antigua I woke up with searing sciatica that felt like a red-hot poker shooting down my lower back through my hamstring and into my right foot. It’s always the right side for some reason. My diagnostic skills end with identifying the pain. Yes, it was sciatica. Been there before.

I dealt with the withering discomfort for a couple of days which meant I could make it to the bathroom, the shower, the breakfast room and my mezzanine table for class. Thankfully mi maestra Carmen and I sat five short steps from my treasured dormitorio 4. Or is it recamara, habitación or cuarto? Got me. The Spanish have too many words for bedroom as far as I’m concerned. Anyway, the important thing is that you get room 4. Settle for no other. And while you’re at it ask for a desk or purloin one from the roof deck as I did.

After dinner with Ana, Diego, Ana’s daughter Liliana, and my fellow students the lure of Antigua’s many watering holes demanded I limp and moan to the our bar of choice with my drinking partners. Camaraderie es muy importante. So, shuffle and whine it was for two harrowing days. I was on the brink of quitting school and booking an earlier flight back to Albuquerque when I remembered Sam Fees, my eighth-grade teacher, blistering me for quitting during a 100 yard dash in which I was a poor fifth out of six. My thirteen-year old self thought, “What’s the point?” He screamed, “Never quit, Immel. Never be a quitter.”

Taking that admonition to heart I summoned my inner doctor and repaired to the nearest farmacia on 6a Avenida Sur.  Look for the welcoming Green Cross or Cruz Verde. I described my plight and asked for a pain suppressant and a muscle relaxant. It wasn’t my first rodeo. I’ve fought demons of the back and spine for half a lifetime. When I described my malady and asked for the aforementioned potions, the pharmacist presented two boxes and I realized that the muscle relaxant was a daily injection. In the fog of desperation, I bought it. I’d have performed back surgery on myself to get rid of the pain. Hell, I gave myself a shot in the abdomen every day for a year. How hard can it be? Reaching my right hip with the syringe would raise the degree of difficulty but surely I’d manage. Even dream of relief made me feel better.

When I got back to school for lunch, I described my problem to Ana. By this time, I was doubting my ability to reach half way around my body and plunge the magic elixir into my nalga. Ana told me she had a friend across the street who knew how to give shots since she had been doing it for one of her children. “Do you want me get her?” Ana asked. Did I ever.

“Absolutemente." I answered.

With that Ana walked across the street and brought back the muy amable Lucía. “Much gusto, Lucía. Muchas gracias por tu ayuda.” Glad to meet you. Thanks for the help. She asked if I wanted the first shot right then. I said that I did.

Lucía told me to drop my drawers and lean over my bed so she could administer the first injection into my lily white butt. All the while Ana is watching this unfold from the partially open door to my room. I was beyond embarrassment. Lucía could have brought a class of second graders to watch the show and I wouldn’t have cared less.

That process continued for four more days and I was enjoying my morning jog south down Ruta Nacional 10 toward San Juan Obispo that Saturday morning. Best of all I didn’t bail and was able to complete my second four weeks of Spanish immersion in beautiful Antigua.

You have to be resourceful in the third world and sometimes that means taking chances. These little bouts of risk and reward can become the highlights of your adventure.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Just the facts, ma'am

On our last day in San Miguel I decided to walk down the hill to the pharmacy to get a refill of my Atorvastatin, the medication formerly known as Lipitor. For some reason, I like to have an extra prescription period of all my drugs just in case. In case of what I’m not sure. Maybe the Chinese will stop exporting the drugs we know and love. I have a cushion of ninety days on my other two meds but not my cholesterol fighter.

There was something faintly clandestine about my mission. I had no prescription though I did have the pill canister. I skulked into the farmacia, took a big breath and whispered, “¿Puedo comprar esta medicina?”  The pharmacist gave me a furtive glance, went into the stacks and returned with a 90-dose box of the stuff. I asked, “¿Cuanto?” She told me, “171 pesos.” That’s $9.00 to you, gringo. Then came the dawning. A month earlier I had posed the same question at my local Walgreens and was told $342. I passed. I did not pass at $9.00.

When I had my annual check-up this week, I told the story to my primary care physician who launched into a dissertation on the price of drugs in Los Estados Unidos and the hammerlock Big Pharma has on drug prices and our complicit congress. Back in 2003 when the Republican congress created the Medicare drug benefit it allowed drug companies to set their own prices and denied the right of Medicare to negotiate lower ones for its 40 million clients. Makes perfect sense if you're in somebody's pocket.

Between 2006 and 2016 drug companies spent $2.3 billion, yes that’s a ‘b’, on lobbying and made $30 million in contributions per election cycle to both political parties. It's roughly 60% to Republicans and 40% to Democrats for the bean counters among you. In 2017 alone drug companies and their trade groups spent $171.5 million on lobbying and deployed 882 lobbyists into the backrooms of congress. So, we can predict with high confidence that drug prices will continue to rise despite pledges from both houses of congress and from the White House to rein in prices and though 80% of Americans believe that drug prices are unreasonably high. The means to rein in costs exist, of course. The will to do so does not, of course. Did you know that the drug companies employ consulting firms to tell them how high they can raise prices before patients can’t or won’t pay?

The standard drug industry excuse for high prices is the cost of research which proves to be a specious argument since the industry spends far more on marketing than on R&D.

I know this. There’s something seriously awry when you can get a garden variety medication like Atorvastatin for $9.00 in Mexico and pay $342 in the US.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Act your age

This rangy dude had nothing to do with the post except maybe sorta the aging part

You have good trips and not so good trips. This one was “más o menos.” San Miguel didn’t live up to our ten- year-old memories and the reasons are varied. We found that “living” in San Miguel was hard work, that shopping for groceries was long cab drive each way, that all of life’s necessities took effort and that I had picked a physically cold house that was too far from downtown and that the walk back up the hill from El Centro was a sweaty thirty-minute heart pounder. Take the inconvenience and add a house that you didn’t want to be in and you might as well have stayed in a hotel in the center of everything.

Our street. The gray facade is our casa.

It may be, too, that a month-long vacation is two weeks too long. I’ll take that on advisement. Having to plan payments a month ahead and find someone to mind the house is a stress giver that makes the trip too much of a job. There were highlights aplenty, but the living wasn’t easy, and we never felt we could just be. I arrived in San Miguel thinking it’s a place I could live. I left San Miguel knowing it is not.

The cliff leading to El Centro. It's steeper than it looks.

As is he case in the rest of Latin America, even Taos for that matter, the cultures are separate. In San Miguel the Anglo community is abundant and insular. And old. There were more bad facelifts than taxis and there were a lot of taxis. Restaurants and musical events in SMA reminded me of movie night at the Taos Community Auditorium, a sea of blue hairs with advanced degrees. I can tell you this, if I move anywhere it’ll be younger. I want to be the oddity not the norm.

Which brings up the subject of aging or being old. It’s cliché to say, “age is just a number” or “you’re as old as you feel.” It’s also more or less true. I’ve been asking the musical question, “When are you old?” for a couple of months.  I set up the subject with a disjointed preface that says something like, “I feel pretty much like I did when I was in my mid-forties. I still do the same physical exercise and hold myself to the same standard of effort as I did thirty years ago. But I know that one day something will set me back and I will be old and infirm. Presto chango. I also know that at 77 a very optimistic outlook is another ten years of being able to do the things I do now. I am not happy with the prognosis, Doctor. I don’t know any 90-year-old man-children. Strike that. Bob Cooley in his early nineties say he skies better than ever with his new knees and dances like a mad man. I want to be Bob Cooley when I grow up.

So, the question is this. Do you begin accepting the decline before it happens or hold out till it smacks you in the face? I see a lot of the former, the folks who acquit themselves as old people before their time. It even happens in middle age. Back in Lincoln, Massachusetts where we lived for 23 years, the housewives of the Radcliffe and Wellesley persuasion became matrons in their mid-forties replete with care free hairdos, scant makeup, formless attire and sensible shoes. I want to be my mother.

“Are to you still running?” is something I get asked a lot. I have the urge to answer, “Why wouldn’t I be?” I will till I can’t. And there you have it. Do it till you can’t. That goes for absolutely everything. And corollary to that is this bit of advice. Don’t stop (fill in the blank) because starting over again is a bitch. Every day you don’t do what you do makes it all the harder to start the old engine again. I’m testing that premise this very day.