I first noticed this trend when helping my friends Boobie and Michelle Dutch renovate their house on Calle Hidalgo. We hired a contractor foreman type named Chuy. Good guy. Darling to look at though he was about five feet tall. Lovely bronzed skin, shiny black hair, good teeth (though he's now wearing braces and driving a Jeep Cherokee. Maybe I paid him too much). But every day he arrived at work on his red Italika moto, with a pink and olive-green polka dot backpack. I noticed it, thought not much about it, but thought it a tad strange. Looked like he pinched it off of his daughter one day before she left for primaria.
But then I started noticing, with the help of Sam, that every guy in San Miguel in the construction business carries a girl's backpack. Dora the Explorer. My Little Pony. Things in this vein. So this morning I go into the garage to put out some trash. What do I see?
We have a whole crew of guys here painting the exterior of our house. I'm a sucker. I once hired a guy named Jose Luis Ramirez to paint some of the bedrooms. He did a great job. Reasonable, tidy, honest, cleaned up the site when he was through. So he came back, a few times. Once he had his arm in a sling--had broken the whole left elbow down to the bone. He was desperate for work, as you might imagine a painter with a broken arm might be. So I hired him to repaint one of the rooms I had already hired him for a year earlier. I had picked the color, never liked it. Asking Jose Luis to redo it was just something I did to help him out. I could have lived with it.
Then he shows up again. He's still out of work and needs money to send his kids to school. That's a very common plea. It's not a ploy. It's the truth. Mexican schools, all of them, public or private, require that kids wear uniforms. If you're living on the margins, even a pair of navy pants, white shirt, and the ever-present thick, wool track suit can break the bank. So Jose Luis asks if I need anything painted. He really needs the work. And I'm happy to help. I've been thinking about recasting the exterior shade anyway, turning our rapidly fading yellow-beige-bland front into something a little more dramatic.
So I hire him. Tell him I'm happy to help him and his kids. And he's happy too. But he wants to know right then, he's going to get started now, what color I want on the walls. I beg for a small window: could Sam come home from work and help me with this decision. He says, sure, por supuesto, but for the rest of the morning he's pretty much at my doorstep waiting on my choice. I pick five from a paint deck that he has in his truck. He goes to the store, puts up swatches on the front of the house and on the second floor terrace that I'm also going to paint. They look nice in the sun, but some are nicer than others. One is the exact shade of the agave cactus that are growing in front of the cantera windows in front of the house. Which is nice in principle, but agave are in fact a lovely blue-green that in a paint shade look like AquaFresh. The other is a gold that I thought would be colonial and sort of cool, but in the 12-inch square that Jose Luis has put on the front wall it suddenly looks like rawhide, like a baseball glove that's not broken in, like a Southwest casita from Santa Fe. I can't do it.
I take a few pictures, which I'll upload later. But I'm going to start stalking the wild Mexican laborer and get a whole collection, proof, of their penchant for weird purses.