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HELL HOUSE: The Untold NASTY SECRETS About Buying Property in Merida, Yucatan, PART THREE

December 17, 2010


A Long Dark Night of the Soul

Welcome to Part Three, Anecdote 5 of our unsettling multi-installment series. Wisdom rarely comes at such high a price, and only rarely is it shared so freely.

Prepared to spellbound. Prepared to enlightened. Prepare to be chilled to the bone.

Anecdote Five: The Silence of God

Few minds are as resolute as mine.

Few people can stare blatant truth in the face for weeks, even months, with such unflinching denial.

I never saw or heard the washing machines washing clothes, or the clothes drier drying clothes.

But the oddly quiet laundry I’d run across in an obscure part of town did an adequate job for rates only 20- to 30-percent higher than those at more conveniently located laundries with brand new washing machines and driers that loudly churned and spun all day long.

Sondra, the oddly quiet laundry’s owner, was a perky evangelical who always began and ended our conversations with an emphatic, “May God bless you!” or “May God protect you!” which I always chose to interpret as heartfelt and sincere.

Astute or cynical people might well ask why Sondra felt I was in particular need of God’s blessing and protection.

But I held tight to Sondra’s well-wishing the way a person might hold tight to a pocket knife were he pinned broken and bleeding beneath a fallen tree in a wintry woods at sundown and could hear howling, growling, hungry wolves approaching through the gloomy distance.

My search to find a place to rent or buy in Merida left me feeling alone and very vulnerable. Sondra’s chirpy piety gave me hope. So one afternoon I confessed to her that I’d seen a nearby piece of property for sale, a vacant lot walled on four sides and accessed through a tall well-made metal gate.

Praise the Lord!” Sondra cried. “My family has lived in this neighborhood for generations! My father knows the owner of that lot! The owner’s been trying to sell it for more than a year. I know he’s eager to sell it!

My heart thumped in my chubby old grey-haired chest. Sondra and her father would help me! I’d found a home at last! I’d build something modest. I’d have cheerful Sondra and her no doubt equally cheerful family as my neighbors.

“How much does the owner want?” I asked.

Sondra beamed. “Just a couple of weeks ago, my father said that the owner was asking 175,000 pesos. But my father can negotiate for you! He can probably even get you a better deal!

Since my readers tend to be far sharper than I, you likely heard the howling wolves before you finished reading this anecdote’s first sentence.

Yet while I may be a plodding and ponderous and tediously predictable writer, I’m not an unreliable narrator.

What you are dealing with here is a fat, old, despairing Balkan Jew with poor eyesight and bad nerves who’s quickly waddling toward the deep-end of middle-age having long ago misplaced his fighting spirit and will to live, and having long ago abandoned whatever tenuous hope he once had in his chances of sliding into oblivion’s hungry maw with his surrender neither hastened nor belabored by yet more human mischief.

I don’t want you to understand, pity, or even like me. I want you to have an accurate idea of what you have on your hands so that you have a clear picture of me on the morning I stood waiting at the gate of the lot I’d hoped to buy that was only a few blocks from cheerful, pious Sondra’s quiet laundry.

I want you to see the patches of sweat blooming in the armpits of the starched and ironed blue-cotton Oxford shirt I was wearing.

I want you to smell the minty eucalyptus odor of the cough drop I was sucking to clean my breath of the cigar I’d smoked after breakfast.

I want you to see the the liver spots on my hands and the scabby evidence of how I bite my fingernails compulsively.

I want you to see the goofy simpleton’s smile on my face as Sondra, her father, and the lot’s owner arrived on time for our appointment.

I want you to see how the look in my small, squinty, blood-shot, astigmatic and highly photo-sensitive eyes betrayed my nervousness, my lack of self-confidence, my lack of sleep, my abundance of moral, financial, spiritual, and professional failure.

I want you to feel the brittle fragility of the straws for which I was grasping on that sunny tropical morning.

The lot’s owner and Sondra’s father seemed like old friends. The two chatted in the local Spanish-Maya dialect as Sondra unlocked the gate to expose a huge rocky space filled with weeds and, at the far end, a deep rectangular pit into which rivulets of grease or oil were leaking into the soil from beneath the wall separating the lot from what appeared to be a car repair shop behind it.

“How lovely!” Sondra’s father turned and said to me as if he were seeing the deep toxin-tainted pit for the very first time. “What luck! The owner’s already dug a nice big hole for a swimming pool! That will save you thousands of dollars!”

“And there’s a well here, too!” chirped Sondra as if she, too, were thrilled by her father’s discovery. “You can use the well water to fill the pool!”

“Yes,” said Sondra’s father. “The well with save you thousands of dollars.”

“He’s right,” said the lot’s owner as he grinned and gave me a thumbs-up.

I felt as if I were falling backward into an infinitely dark and deep well.

It’s difficult to form one’s thoughts and speak in a foreign language when one has vertigo.

I wanted to say the words “toxic” and “water test” and “soil samples,” but for some reason I could only say, “So, what price are you asking?”

560,000 pesos,” said Sondra’s father.

Sondra and the lot’s owner nodded their heads in unison.

The infinitely dark well into which I was falling seemed to be bottomless.

“But you said 175,000 pesos,” I said in a strange, high, weak voice as I searched Sondra’s face for pity. “You told me the price was 175,000 pesos and that your father could get me a better deal.”

“But that was before I saw the swimming pool,” chuckled Sondra’s father. “That raises the price significantly.”

“I’d need soil samples and water samples,” I murmured to no one in particular. “If the soil and water are contaminated with toxins from the car repair shop, I’d probably have to build my home on very tall stilts or pylons like the Asians do when they build homes on flood-prone river deltas.”

“I can get you a good deal on building supplies,” said Sondra’s father.

“And I know a lot of cement workers and tile setters and plumbers,” said the lot’s owner.

“And we own a lot of property in the south of the city if this lot isn’t big enough for you,” said Sondra.

I staggered from the lot and got into my car. Sondra waved at me and called out, “May God bless you!”

Anecdote Five: Useful Tips

The local informal economy is complex and subtly structured.

Middle-men are legion, come in countless guises, and each takes a percentage of the profit derived from the role he or she has played, however large or small, in uniting any given service or product with any given customer or buyer.

Before handing over your financial welfare to the occult inner-workings of this elaborate system, you ought spend enough time in Merida, and learn enough Spanish, so that you’re able to make decisions and distinctions on your own without your having to rely on people who might not have your best interests at heart.


Part FOUR, Anecdote FIVE in Our Terrifying On-Going Series

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Estela Keim permalink
    December 18, 2010 9:29 am

    Hugo de Naranja does it again! Fumbles chances for unique property at fire sale price. Hugo, when will you learn! Haven´t you heard that opportunity doesn´t knock at your door twice?

  2. December 18, 2010 11:39 am

    How cunningly you build your scene, deflecting and minimizing your obvious intelligence and awareness of your “foe”, artistically building and embellishing stereotypical images of age, implied infirmities, religion/culture (I don’t know whether you weight your Jewishness on the religious or cultural bowl of the scale, but you’re working both, your menshishness)…. how endearingly you include us in on the comical denouement of the scene….. and what a sensible parting shot you give as you depart: know the layers, know the language. As I threatened before: write more/faster/now! Muchismas gracias.

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