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January 2001

A trip to Michigan, my stepfather
Bob, passes away

Monday Jan 1st– Luckily, the apartment didn’t burn down in all the fireworks the night before.  I checked our TV and it’s not a stereo TV so I can’t change the sound channels to hear English.  Damn!  I also check Ron’s new VCR because I thought it might have a stereo option, but it doesn’t do stereo either.  Wish I knew about the stereo option when I bought it. 

Tuesday Jan 2ndThe heat and humidity continues.  We have been getting a lot of mosquitoes at night and besides the itchy discomfort they cause, it makes it impossible to sleep with them buzzing around your ears. (Say the next sentence doing your best Jerry Seinfeld impersonation)  “And what’s up with mosquitoes anyways??  Why do they buzz around your ears until you swat at them??  Why don’t they just buzz around your ankles so they can bite you in peace??”

I email our expatriates email group and ask about how people deal with the mosquitoes.  Someone writes back right away about how Argentines don’t believe in window screens because it keeps the bugs IN your house with no way to get out. They believe if you leave the windows open, the bugs can get out.  Hmmmm, don’t know if I believe that one.  Someone then told me of these RAID plug in devices to keep the mosquitoes away. So…. off to Coto we go.  Once we got to the store I was trying to read the package, which is in Spanish of course, I wanted to make sure it wouldn’t poison the cats.  I didn’t see any warnings about pets or children so I figured they would be OK. You plug them in and there’s a little bottle of liquid which keeps the mosquitoes away.  I didn’t like the idea of sleeping in a room filled with poison fumes, but it seemed better then the alternative.

We get home and our portero (doorman) gives us a card from the Post office.  It’s very difficult to figure out what it’s about but we figure there is a package for us at the main post office, funny thing is that they don’t give an address.  Ron went to the local correo (post office) to ask about the receipt and they told him where to go.  He ended up going to the huge post office and customs building down by the Retiro train station.  He entered a large waiting room, took a number and then sat waiting.  Of course when they announced a number, it was over an old, loud, crackling, static loudspeaker in very fast Spanish.  He ended up asking someone to help him listen for his number to be called, which was 2 hours later.  When he finally got the package, it was from my sister Phyllis. She had made us a care package like the one our friend Elis sent us.  This package was slightly bigger and heavier, but not by much.  Elis’ package had been shipped right to our apartment and we didn’t have to go retrieve it.  We figured that if the package is over a certain size or weight (we haven't figured out which) it won't be delivered to our apartment but goes to the customs office.  He finally got home with Phyllis’ care package (not in a very good mood after the wait), she sent some smoked salmon from Seattle (where she lives), some “Seattle’s Best” coffee, and some homemade preserves.  That night we had smoked salmon on crackers while we played cards on the balcony.

Friday Jan 5th– After our Spanish class we had a meeting at a lawyer’s office to meet with Nick from Crown Relocations.  He had setup a meeting with some new lawyers to help us get our business established and also move forward on getting our residency visas. The previous lawyer Crown was using had made several costly errors in trying to setup the business and they had a sort of falling out over it.  It was a very hot day so I insisted we take a taxi, I didn’t want to show up dripping wet to a meeting.  Once everyone was situated we went over present state and how to move forward. As we were discussing options it became apparent that it is costly to setup a business here, in the USA you fill out a form and pay $25 to establish a business, here the state requires you to have a lawyer and an accountant on a monthly retainer and to pay monthly employee social security taxes for all employees whether they are paid a salary or not (the amounts are set and posted in a book).  “What are the fees?”, I asked.  It appears that the minimal taxes and fees we would have to pay is almost $500 a month, just to have a business license.  We have to pay these fees whether we make any income or not. Hmmmmmm, when we originally were here in July the lawyers had told us this was going to be a simple process for a one time setup fee, now it appears that our living expenses budget is going to take a $6,000 year hit.  We decide to go have lunch to talk over this new development.  We walk down Av. Florida, the pedestrian only street, to find a place to have lunch.  We order and start to talk things over.  Option 1) Pay the lawyers, setup the business, pay $500 a month, obtain a residency visa and have our things shipped here without paying tariffs (because we have a residency visa).  Option 2) Forget the business and have our things shipped anyways, pay the duties and tariff taxes.  Option 3) Forget the business and forget having our things shipped here, we’ve already been here 3 months without that stuff we thought we “had” to have.

Having a residency visa allows us to start our own business or gives us the proper paperwork to allow us to work for someone else.  I would prefer the residency visa because it gives us more flexibility, but at $500 a month (and who knows what other fees will pop up) I just don’t think we can make it work without killing our budget.

When we returned from our meeting with the lawyers, I was using the computer when I received an instant message from my niece Nina about my stepfather Bob.  My stepfather lived in Michigan and had been ill with cancer for the last year, but he had never told any of us about his illness.  My stepdad is the type of person who would give a total stranger the shirt off his back and I guess he didn’t want to “inconvenience” any of us by telling us he was ill.  The doctors told him it was terminal so he decided he didn’t want to go through any chemo or radiation treatments since it would only prolong his life, probably making the quality of life in his ending days worse and not better. My mother and Bob are divorced but were still very close and would have weekly phone conversations.  Bob had never mentioned the cancer to her, we just found out that he was terminally ill in the beginning of December of last year. When Bob finally told my mother his health was already rapidly deteriorating and she said that she would go to Michigan to help look after him.  My brother, Joey, has a large house in Michigan and offered to have Bob come and stay with them.  In the past week Bob had been getting worse and worse so my sister Cindy and my niece Nina flew from California to be with my mother and our family to care for Bob. Nina instant messaged me and said that they weren’t sure how much longer Bob had.  I had a quick discussion with Ron, then called my mom at Joey’s house as I had decided to fly to Michigan to be with my family.  Because of the heat and humidity I was standing in front of a fan wearing nothing but shorts as I talked to my mother, of course it was the dead of winter in Michigan so I was about to jump from the fire into the blizzard. I called American Airlines to get a ticket and because it was Friday, and it is now tourist season down here, they said all the planes were full, there was only 1 ticket available and it was in business class for $3,900.  Ouch! I asked if they had family emergency tickets for less.  Thank goodness he found a coach seat on a plane leaving at 2 am the next morning for a more reasonable price.  The agent said I had to go to their office and pay for the ticket as quickly as possible or they would sell the ticket to someone else.  Ron and I rushed in a taxi to buy the ticket, luckily the office was empty, we walked right in, talked with the agent, paid, and left with my ticket.  I was actually pretty impressed that I had could get a flight the same day I called.

Ron and I decided to walk back to our apartment from the airline office, down the busy Av. Santa Fe with all of it’s hustle and bustle and expensive boutiques.  It was very hot and we were dripping wet, but it felt good to have some time to talk about things as we walked along.  This was really the first moment I had to really think since I got me niece’s instant message earlier in the day.  It was kind of odd seeing everyone rushing about, just as if nothing had happened, and to them of course nothing HAD happened.  But I walked along in kind of a fog having just had a monkey wrench thrown into my life.  Times like these really make you understand how little control we have over our lives. We think we’re organized, we plan, we set goals, but life still has a way of shaking you up every now and then and showing you who’s boss.

Ron wasn’t thrilled that I was leaving him alone in the big city, but understood I needed to be with my family, besides, someone had to take care of the kitties!  I got home and started to pack, once that was done we had a gin and Toro and played cards on the balcony one last time.  I called a Remis (a hired driver that is cheaper then a taxi for long distances) to take me to the airport at 11:30 pm and arrived at the airport around midnight to check in for my 2 am flight.  There was a security agent who asked several questions before you check in.  He asked me where I lived and I proudly said, “Here!”, then I tried to explain about trying to get our visas, working with a lawyer to obtain residency, starting a business here, etc.  He looked surprised, then asked me to wait.  He took my passport and disappeared for 5 minutes, then came back and started asking me more questions, “Exactly what street do I live on?  What is the address?  Which streets is it between?  What is your phone number?  What kind of business are you trying to setup?”  He was a young guy and I was actually enjoying talking to him about all of this (thank god no one was behind me waiting) when I suddenly realized that he was very suspicious of someone who was coming to Argentina to start a business! Then I started worrying if I was going to be detained for some reason.  Luckily after about 10 minutes, probably after enough time for them to run some kind of check on my passport, he let me through to the agent.  I got checked in, then went over to a bar and had a beer.  More time to ponder life and what was running through my head at the moment.

The day started off fine; clear, bright, hot and humid, then Spanish class, then BAM!  Reality hits when I get an instant message from my niece, now there I was in an airplane for Michigan at 2am.

Saturday Jan 6thI arrive in Miami at 10am.  I look at the monitors and there isn’t a connecting flight for Detroit.  Ut, uh!  Hope the flight wasn’t canceled.  I go up to a ticket agent and wait my turn in line (not to bore you with an airline story, we all have LOTS of them) and finally get to the head of the line.  I ask the agent, “Can you tell me which gate my plane leaves from?  It doesn’t seem to be on any monitor.”  Turns out the plane stops in Chicago before continuing on to Detroit, so the monitor shows Chicago as the destination.  I go to get on the plane and the ticket agent asks me, “Have you picked up your ‘Bistro’ meal?”  Bistro meal?  What the hell is that? She points to a box full of lunch bags. If you haven’t already seen this, it’s the newest way to give you a cheap lunch, you carry on your own lunch sack with a sandwich, water, chips and a cookie in it.  Oh joy, just when you thought airline food couldn’t possible get any worse, they exceed all expectations and create a new ghastly meal!

My sister Mary picks me up at the airport and drives me to our brother’s house.  Michigan has been having lots of snow lately so it’s pretty white, but the day is overcast so it looks like you’re in a black and white film, everything seems to be shades of white, gray, and black. Yesterday I was standing in front of a fan in shorts to keep cool and now I’m in Michigan freezing my butt off! I have a nice chat with Mary on the way to Joey’s house, I’m looking forward to seeing my mother, but I’m almost dreading seeing my stepdad.  I get to my brother’s house and like most family greetings, lots of hugs, smiles and kisses go around.  My brother has a room on the 1st floor of his house that they use as an office and they had cleared it out to make a room for Bob to stay in.  I go in to see Bob, he’s actually pretty responsive and I can understand what he’s saying.  My mother’s sister, my aunt Cindy, is a registered nurse and she had come to visit my mom but decided to stay and help with his care.  Bob was receiving care from hospice, which is a great nonprofit organization that works with many volunteers to give care to those who are terminally ill, however, to have a family member there to help with his care was such a relief to everyone, I just can’t express it. 

My mother had contacted Bob’s 2 daughters in England and they had flown over to be with him along with Penny’s husband Austin and Trish’s two sons.  They had arrived the day before me and that night Penny, Austin, Trish, Robert and James came back to visit.  We sat in Bob’s room with him, talking about old times, getting caught up on our lives, etc.  It certainly wasn’t a happy occasion, but it still felt great to be there to be with Bob and give him our love.  He was in my brother’s home, not some sterile hospital, surrounded by those that love him.

Sunday Jan 7thMy family has always liked to play cards so I teach my sisters and Aunt Cindy how to play our new favorite card game, 500.  Afterwards, we all go outside to get some fresh air and Joey shows me the barn he is building in his backyard.  It’s HUGE with a bigger footprint then his house!  He has a big tractor to mow the grass and lots of outdoor toys like motor bikes, snowmobiles, etc.  We walk out to the road and it’s so cold my nose hurts.  I am just not a winter person!

Bob is visibly worse today, he doesn’t respond very well when you talk to him and isn’t able to take any water into his mouth. No one is sure how much longer he has, hospice says it is hard to tell and Aunt Cindy is used to working in emergency rooms, not with long term care patients, so the best thing we can do is keep Bob as comfortable as possible, talk to him, give him morphine for pain, hold his hand and comfort him.  We drive over to Bob’s house, this is the house that my mom and I lived in with Bob for 7 years.  Brings back strong memories! 

Berkley House

 Bob considered himself atheist most of his life but loved talking about religion, it was a favorite discussion topic for Bob and one we debated often.  While helping my mother organize Bob’s important papers we found a bible that showed Bob had been baptized Episcopalian in 1984.  We were all quite shocked by this, Bob had never mentioned it to anyone but it gave us comfort to think that Bob had found a spiritual part of himself.

I know this sounds gross, but Cindy, mom and I stopped to have a Coney Island on our way home.  Whenever we go to Michigan, there are certain foods that we just HAVE to have.  For those that haven’t lived on the east coast area of the USA, Coney Islands are a hot dog in a bun, covered in chile, with chopped onions on top.  It was GREAT and we went back to Joey’s house happily burping chile and onions! Love the Midwest food!

Monday Jan 8thMom and I went to the Berkley house to continue organizing things.  When we returned to Joey and Terry’s house I go up to my room (really my niece Krystin’s room) to put on some slippers and I see a big can of Crisco with Terry’s handwriting on the top, sitting in my luggage.  She wrote on top of the can, “Thought of you when I saw this, Love Terry.”  I previously told her the story of Ron trying to make pastry in Argentina without Crisco and she had bought some for me to take back home.  Ron will be thrilled!

Tuesday Jan 9thI offered to buy some groceries for the house so my sister Mary and I went out shopping. First we stopped at a discount store that Mary loves.  As I’m walking around I see brand new, unopened jars of spices for 48 cents each! In Bs.As. I was having some problems locating certain spices and when I did they were $2 to $5 a jar, I grab a basket and start piling them in.  While going through some of Bob’s things I found some pictures I wanted to frame and I also found some picture frames for a good price.  No wonder Mary likes this store.  Later in the grocery store I see big bags of pecans for $5, perfect for Ron to make my German Chocolate cake for my birthday next month.  And what’s that I see??  Big bags of cashews for $5!  Those will go great with gin and Toros on the balcony while Ron and I play cards at home!  I also locate the bakers chocolate for the cake and some coconut.  I think my luggage is going to be much heavier when I return home.

Thursday Jan 11thBob passes away at 1:17am, my mother was sleeping in the same room with Bob and was there with him at the end.  My mother said that he just stopped breathing, he was in no pain.  We joined hands around Bob’s bed and my mother, Aunt Cindy and my brother said a few words.  With emotions flooding over all of us, I could not gather the courage to say anything. We called hospice and a doctor came out an hour later, even though Joey and Terry live in the rural countryside. The doctor pronounces him dead at 2:20 am.  She calls the coroner and they arrive a little later to take Bob away.  I’m really impressed with how caring and gentle they all are.  We stand in the front window and watched the ambulance take Bob away, the moon glistening on the snow, the house very quiet.

Friday Jan 12thMy sister Cheryl arrives from Colorado.  She wanted to come and be with the family even though Bob won’t be there.  My other sister Phyllis also arrived from Seattle. Of course it’s great to see them, under the circumstances, this is the first time all of the Macay kids have been together since I don’t know how long.  We go to the Berkley house to get it ready for an estate sale that we had been planning for that weekend. With everyone there it doesn’t seem that intimidating for my mom.  Entering the house is like going into a time warp, my step dad was not one for redecorating and the house seems almost the same as we left it 20 years ago.  I go into my old bedroom and as I open the door it still rubs and squeaks when you open it the same way it always did, such sounds you don’t forget.  The floors still creak in the same spots, funny how you remember things like that. You certainly would notice if the floor DIDN’T creak in the same spots, but since it does, just where it’s supposed to, it gives comforting reassurance.

We look in the basement and there’s a ton of tools, benches, parts, and what’s that??  Our old porch swing.  My mom asks if we can take it back up to the front porch and hang it.  Of course we can!!  Joey and I position it and carefully sit on it, it doesn’t look very sturdy after all these years, but it still swings great, what a feeling.  We always loved to sit on the big porch and swing, especially during the great thunderstorms in Michigan.

My Aunt Lorraine shows up to help.  She isn’t a blood relative, but a VERY close friend of my family throughout our entire lives so of course we call her Aunt. Aunt Lorraine’s laughter is like nitrous oxide, it’s intoxicating and your ribs start to hurt after awhile because you are constantly laughing when you talk to her.  It doesn’t matter if she’s talking about the weather or politics she’s just hilarious.  My uncle Jack, her divorced husband, was a tough man to live with (can you say “impossible”) and I guess the only way anyone could deal with it is if you had a great sense of humor.  When I asked Aunt Lorraine about Uncle Jack, she laughed and said, “That son of a bitch is as MEAN as ever!”,  “STOP, STOP, you’re killing me”, I beg! 

I go out to run an errand and discover Bob’s car is dead.  Funny…. his daughters Penny and Trish used it for a week, in freezing cold weather, and it ran fine the entire time.  Bob was an ace mechanic, actually his trade was as a machinist, when he talked about the variances in an engine or part he talked about 1,000ths of an inch.  I’ve never been very mechanically inclined and when I got my first car Bob helped me fix it up and repair it.  He would always help me out and teach me, even though I wasn’t much interested or inclined to learn.  When I was 15 I started my own landscaping business (i.e., mowing lawns) and Bob would help me fix and maintain all the equipment, he even fashioned blades for my lawn edger on his lathe because I thought they cost too much to buy from Sears! 

If I can digress for one more quick story.  One time, several years ago, we had a family reunion and I flew out from California to be there with my family.  This was about when I was 22 and I was broke, it cost a lot financially to fly back to Michigan but felt I really needed to be there with my family.  I was going to rent a car and Bob says, “Nonsense, use my car, I won’t need it!” (Insert omen here!).  I reluctantly agreed to borrow his old, but well running and maintained Ford Escort.  I drove to my Aunt’s house for the reunion, we all had a good time and then I parked the car, well off the road, on the country road that she lived on. At about 6 am another Ford Escort of the exact same year and model, hit my step dad’s car head on.  My cousin was sleeping in a camping trailer parked in the driveway and was awakened by the crash, he looked out to see a woman stagger out of the car and start running down the street.  A boyfriend arrived 20 minutes later claiming that he was responsible for the crash and that he went home to get “something”.  We all think his girl friend came home drunk at 6 am and smashed the car, then ran home, leaving both Ford Escort’s looking at themselves, bumpers perfectly aligned.  I’m sleeping on a cot in the living room and I wake up and hear, “Somebody smashed Bob’s car!”  Believe me, these are words you don’t want to awaken to.  I looked out at the scene on the front yard and couldn’t believe what I saw.  Geez, I borrow Bob’s car ONE night and look what happens.  I called Bob from Aunt Hazel’s house and as quickly as I could I say, without even a saying a “good morning”, (say this to yourself as quickly as possible) “Bob, I’m really sorry but I totaled your car!”  Of course, Bob, being the all patient, quiet, gracious Brit that he was, asked, “What happened?” 

That day Bob came out with a car he borrowed from a friend, surveyed the damage, and decided to tow the car home with me in the back riding brake so I wouldn’t run into him.  When we got to the Berkley house I took it to a car repair shop, and the crusty old mechanic said (with major butt crack showing), “It’s an old Escort, it aint worth nothing in running shape, like it is, it’s totaled!” I was devastated!  We called the insurance company and they said they would give us $700 for it, Bob was THRILLED!  He says, “I’ll fix it up for $200 and we’ll make $500 on the deal!” That was Bob, he would never make you feel uncomfortable or uneasy about anything.  Sure enough he fixed it for $160 and made $540 on the deal.  Of course that didn’t include 100 hours of his manual labor, but that’s besides the point.

Boy, did I get off on a tangent.  Anywhooooo…. Penny and Trish have his car all week in sub zero degree temperatures and it works like a champ.  I have it one night and it dies on me.  I look up, almost expecting to see Bob on the porch, chuckling at me.  I know he has something to do with this. 

Since the car wouldn’t start, Aunt Lorraine told me to call AAA to jump start the car.  The guy arrives and pulls out something that looks like a telephone book. I ask him if that is a meter or a tester and he says, “No, this is to jump start the car!”  Wow, it starts the car right up, I can’t believe something so little can put out so much power.  I decide to take the car for a spin to charge the battery up and drive down Woodward Avenue.  For people who live in the Detroit area, Woodward is like the Rodeo Drive of the area, it is EVERYTHING, the major cruising road when you’re a teenager! Memories flood back, of cruising Woodward on the weekends, with my friends, not a care in the world (except if everyone couldn’t chip in a $1 for gas).  All of a sudden I realize I’m about 5 miles from the house and the car could die at any second so I make a beeline for home.  It’s funny, but after almost 20 years of not living there, things look so different I don’t even recognize where I was.

I went up to my old room, turned off the lights and it was SO quiet my ears were ringing. I got in my old bed, turned, looked out the window and saw the same tree outside the window, only larger, the branches forming the same familiar designs.  Wow!  I slept like a rock.

Saturday Jan 13thI get up at 8am and figure I’ll jump in the shower and get cleaned up.  The Berkley house has only one bathroom so you have to use it while it’s empty!  When I come out at about 8:10 I notice there is a car parked out front.  Hmmm… the newspaper ad clearly said that it started at 10am.  The woman comes up and asks if she can come in and of course my mother says “Yes”.  I was teasing with my sister Mary about what we should sell and what we should just give to the Good Will.  Mary insisted that the house was filled with treasurers as much as I insisted it was filled with junk.  This old woman comes in and starts buying things I would be embarrassed to give to Good Will.  She buys linens and towels that we used 20 years ago, you could see thru them they were so thin and thread bare.  What is she going to use them for?  Donate them to a hospital for the homeless?  Stuffing for stuffed animals?  She buys some good pots and pans, a nice roasting pan, but then she comes into the dining room, she turns, and sees, a big Mother-in-law-tongue plant that was over 25 years old, my mom started it way before we left Michigan for California. She looks, then walks around, then looks again, then looks at some nick nacks, then looks at the plant again, she says, “That plant is just talking to me, how much you want for that?”  Mom had a $2 sticker on it but she offered it to her for $1.  Both buyer and seller were happy, what more could you ask for?  She asked if we could help her load up what she purchased and we were more then happy too.  I stuffed, piled, tossed, and filled her fairly new and well maintained car full of stuff, including the monster plant.  It was now 8:45am.

All during the day the house was filled with people, I was truly amazed at how many people were there just because of a newspaper ad. My sister Mary had instigated my brother’s kids to make “Estate Sale” signs the night before, the kids laid on the floor for hours coloring the signs while Mary told them the fine point of marketing, what should go on the sign, how big the letters should be, should it include the address, etc.  However, we didn’t have time to put up the signs, the house was full of people all day.

My Aunt Hazel came over early and brought us a nice big hearty pot of stew, she figured we wouldn’t have time to eat or prepare anything, and boy she couldn’t have been more right.  Just amazing how hungry you can get before you realize it, and then when a big pot of hearty soup is in front of you, it’s like nectar of the gods.

The whole day was a whirlwind of people coming and going, digging in drawers, trying to put prices on things, memories, smells, nostalgia, etc.

Aunt Lorraine’s daughter, my cuzin Tyler, showed up.  She has always been an incredible beauty and we’ve kept in touch over the years.  She had her husband and son with her, I wish I could have spent more time with them, but it just seemed so busy and distracting with everyone coming and going.

When the first day of the sale is finally over I ask everyone if they would like to go for Mexican food for dinner.  I saw an interesting place with 2 margarita glasses on Woodward that I thought might be interesting.  We all pile in Joey’s borrowed car, NOT THE ESCORT, and head off to the restaurant.  We get to the restaurant and I order a margarita and they say they don’t have their liquor license.  WHAT!???!! But the name of the restaurant is Margarita’s and the sign has 2 clinking margarita glasses, and what good is Mexican food without a Margarita!!!  REALLY!! Sometimes I think those postal workers are fully justified in their rights to blow people away!  We have a nice dinner with virgin margaritas and head back to the house to play 500.

Sunday Jan 14th I get up again at 8 am and carefully look out the window, thank God I don’t see anyone waiting on the doorstop.  I take a quick shower and my mom makes good, strong coffee. Later, no one is there and it’s almost 10am, <gasp>, maybe we should post the signs Mary and the kids made. Mom and Phyllis go off, signs over their shoulders, swinging hammers as they walk, looking like they’re going to conquer the world.  Funny how the world goes on, we all come and go, but life goes on.  Ron’s favorite saying is, “Every 100 years, all new people!” One saying I liked was that everyone has the same 24 hours each day, the school janitor, the newspaper boy, the 7-11 clerk, the business person, the ballerina, the doctor, the president of the U.S.A., we all have the same amount of time, it’s what you do with it that matters. 

This day has much less people, but there are still a lot.  The old woman who was our first customer comes back and buys more things, she says that she told all her friends about this sale, and I thought almost everything was unsellable!  I really do owe my sister an apology!  I thought most of this stuff wasn’t good enough to donate to Good Will!  At the end of the day I go with my mom to collect our signs, of all things it starts to rain.  It’s not cold though and it actually feels good to have the cold rain on our checks.  We both walk in silence, deep in our own thoughts.  The houses that seemed so big before seem very small, but the Stroh’s Ice Cream shop is still there and Hartsfield Bowling alley is still there at the top of our street.  I peer in the window and want to go in, but it looks the same, and we’re in a hurry.  Mom and I walk home in the rain, with our signs bleeding ink along the way, somehow invigorated, somehow happy, somehow sad.  The sights, the sounds, the smells, the houses, very familiar… and yet very foreign. 

Monday Jan 15thThe time has come to return to my home in Bs.As.  It was as good a situation as it could have been considering the circumstances. Thank god for Aunt Cindy and for hospice, they were both a godsend. All in all I was glad Bob didn't suffer long and he seemed to not be in any pain his last few days and to be able to see him one last time and have closure.
Although not the event to take pictures, we still decide to snap a few while the whole family is there.

My brother Joey, Aunt Cindy, mom, Mary and cuzin David.  Terry and Pete below

Mom, Cheryl, Joey, Mary, Pete and Phyllis

Tuesday Jan 16th– I arrive home and it’s still hot and humid.  I picked up a cold in Michigan but with the heat and humidity it seems to disappear, the whole city is my very own vaporizer.  Driving home I feel comfortable seeing familiar sites.  As we’re driving along I realize this is the taxi driver I’ve had in the past.  He has an odd tick or reflex where he looks like he’s falling asleep. When I first rode in his cab and it first happened I thought we were going to crash, but I kept watching his eyes and he wasn’t sleepy, he just drops his head a little and then brings it back up quickly.  Still a little unsettling when you’re doing 110 KM on the highway.  Did I mention that Argentine’s never wear seatbelts!?!?! 

I get home and Ron and the kitties greet me.  I unpack and give Ron the big can of Crisco that Terry bought us, I also give him the ingredients for my German Chocolate cake that he has to make for my birthday.  I show him the 20 jars of spices I bought, thank God customs didn’t make me open the suitcase, don’t know how I would explain that if I’m supposed to be coming in as a tourist!

Friday Jan 19thBeen home for a few days and things appear to be getting back to normal, falling back into the daily routines.  Nick called from Crown, our relocation company, to talk about our visas and shipping our belongings here.  I remember originally talking to the Argentine embassy in Los Angeles many months ago and the representative said that there are 4 ways to get a residence visa, 1) obtain a student visa, we ARE in school at Berlitz but it turns out it has to be an accredited university or college and besides Nick doesn’t think that would help us get our personal effects into the country without the imposed tariffs, one of the reasons we’re trying to obtain a residence visa.  2) A tourist visa, this is what we currently have and we have to leave the country every 90 days to renew the stamp on our passports.  A tourist visa doesn’t help us get our possessions into the country without tariffs.  3) A work visa, this is where a company sponsors you and what we were trying to establish by having a lawyer set up our business, and then sponsoring ourselves, or 4) you invest $150,000 in a business.  I asked Nick if buying an apartment would qualify as a business and he said that it wouldn’t, damn!  Our options seem few at the moment.

Since I’m just recently back home from the Michigan trip, AND it’s Friday, I ask Ron if he wants to go out for dinner.  Of course, he says, “YES!”  We go to the Recoleta cemetery area, this is a major tourist spot and has lots of restaurants and cafés with outside eating areas.  We go to a favorite parrilla restaurant and order a big bife de chorizo steak, fantastico!  Sitting outside in the warm evening air, lots of tourists bustling about, drinking red wine, animated conversations everywhere you look, really makes us feel like a tourist!  I love it!  Only a 6 block walk from our house and it feels like we’re on vacation.

Monday Jan 22ndOur computer office is actually on the balcony of the guest bedroom, the owners have enclosed the balcony so that it is like a small room and is actually very nice with lots of light and a nice breeze when the windows are open.  However, (there’s always an however), this room looks out onto a small courtyard area between the apartments in the front of the building, and the apartments in the rear of the building, where we are.  Several weeks ago someone on the first floor in the front of the building got a little yapping cocker spaniel.  The poor dog would cry and yap all day and all night and it was getting to be unbearable.  We were going to talk to the owners to see if there was any kind of compromise that we could come up with to make it quieter.  Ron began to make grumblings about putting cyanide in a meatball and throwing it down to the dog to shut him up!  I knew we had to do SOMETHING before it came to that!  They wouldn’t let the little mutt into the apartment so it would cry, yap and bark ALL day and ALL night long.  Several nights we had to close all the windows and doors on that side of the apartment to try and get some sleep.  For the last several days we hadn’t heard a peep out of the dog and I hadn’t even really noticed the lack of noise, you know how when there is an irritant and finally it’s gone and you don’t even realize it was gone till it comes back?  Well, that’s what happened.  I hadn’t noticed that it was quiet all the time until, BAM, the barking dog is back.  Shit! The owners must just have been on a short holiday.

We go to the gym and it’s packed, way more people then usual, I guess with the current economic recession people can only afford a 2 week vacation and not the whole month of January that they take off like we heard.

Tuesday Jan 23rdWent to get a haircut at a place that Ignacio had told us of that only charges $5 Monday through Wednesday instead of the usual $10 for a mans haircut.  It’s on one of the major shopping streets, Santa Fe, and the place is bustling with people.  Seems like no matter what time of the day or night you are on it, Santa Fe is bustling with people.  As I enter, I notice they must have 30 people cutting hair.  I go up to the counter and ask for a “corte”, the girl speaks into a microphone and calls out for someone, her voice booming throughout the room.  An attractive girl comes over and motions me into a chair.  Luckily I’m not too picky about how people cut my hair as I tried my limited Spanish on the girl to tell her how I wanted it cut and we couldn’t communicate at all!  Oh well, just chop away! It actually turned out pretty good!

Olga called us and told us of an apartment that she has for sale and asks if we’d like to go see it, “Of course we’d like to see it!”  It’s always fun to go apartment shopping!  She says she’s very busy but will call me in a few days.  As usual, Olga is a whirlwind of chatter, excitement and laughter. I always feel exhausted after talking to her!

We decide to go out again for dinner and return to the Recoleta cemetery area for dinner.  We try a different parrilla restaurant this time and the menu had English translations.  I see that they have “mollejas”, or sweetbreads, on the menu.  I LOVE sweetbreads, and done on the grill parrilla style?  I just have to try them. The waiter takes forever to come over and take our order, I’m usually very patient, but I was getting annoyed at the wait and was just getting ready to get up and go to another restaurant when he showed up.  He apologizes for the delay, then noticing we speak English starts chatting away in English.  In the middle of a sentence he abruptly turns around and walks off to talk to another customer, we then wait another 10 minutes before he returns.  We order salad, papa fritas (french fries) and our main course.  The main course arrives and he hasn’t yet brought the salad, then he says the order came up so quick he didn’t put in the order for the papa fritas yet.  “No problem”, I assure him.  He brings the salad and then a few minutes later the papa fritas, the “mollejas” are fantastic!  I’m in heaven.  The bill comes and we decide to put down the normal Argentine tip of 10% even though the service wasn’t very good at all.  We hand the waiter the bill and the money and start walking back towards our apartment.  After a few steps the waiter calls out to us and runs up to us and says, “This is all there was for the bill!”, and opens the receipt folder and shows us the money.  My first thought was that he pocketed some of the money and was going to say it was $20 short, but I count it and it’s all there including the 10% tip.  I point to the check and say “This is the amount of the bill, correct?”, and he says “Yes”.  I say, “And there’s $58 dollars total here, correct?”, and he says, “Yes”. I just look at him stunned, not believing someone would chase me down the street asking for a larger tip, especially when he screwed up our whole dinner order.  I was about to say something about the bad service, and that he was lucky to get a 10% tip (which is all ANY waiter should expect here), when I decided against it.  He may just think we were tourists from the USA and that they usually tip 15-20% because it’s a tourist area or my real thought was he must be high on some kind of drug and that would explain the previous erratic behavior.  I just said, “That’s all we put down” and left it at that. We walked back to our apartment chuckling to ourselves.

Wednesday Jan 24thThe weather is extremely hot and humid, I sweat like crazy at the gym (it isn’t air conditioned but has huge fans for circulation).  After exercising, I take a nice cold shower and feel refreshed and invigorated.  We’re about the leave the building when I see it pouring sheets of rain outside. No wonder it was so muggy before! Argentina has great rainstorms but it can be a real bummer when you forget your umbrella at home.  It can rain sheets of rain for hours and hours, no waiting 5 minutes here till it stops like in many other areas.  We have no umbrellas, and since we were at the gym we have no money to take a taxi, so we decide to walk home, and besides, it’s only 6 or 8 blocks, how wet can we get?  Walking home we try and stay under awnings, but so is everyone else trying to remain dry.  We arrived home drenched, if we fell in a swimming pool we could not have been more wet. Our portero (doorman), Daniel, chuckles at us as we walk in!

Although it was still raining, it had not cooled things down at all and we watched TV with the fan blowing on us.  It was just too hot to cook so I ask Ron to run next door to “Scuzi” and get us a “Caprice” pizza, they make great pizza here and the “Caprice” has cheese, tomatoes, fresh basil and black olives on it, it’s my favorito!  Considering the heat, pizza and cold beer for dinner is wonderful!

Friday Jan 26thWe had Valeria again for our Spanish instructor, she is extremely cute, personable and probably only 24 years old, but what a drill sergeant!!  She drills us for an hour and a half and speaks a million miles a minute!  We leave exhausted.

The weather looked cloudy again so we took “paraguas” to the gym (which are umbrellas, direct translation is “for water”) and of course since we had our paraguas, it didn’t rain on the way home. Some things are the same the world over, take an umbrella no rain, leave it at home and end up drenched!

A friend from the email expatriates group that we belong to, Colleen, had recommended a good Japanese restaurant which we decide to try for dinner.  It’s quite a ways from our apartment so we decide to take a taxi there and afterwards walk back home.  The taxi driver is very friendly and starts talking to us and practicing his English. One of Argentine’s favorite questions is, “What do you do to make a living?”, I really think this has a lot to do with your social ranking in the hierarchy of the community.  There is definitely a social ranking among people here. EVERYONE asks you this, it’s one of the first things they talk about.  Even at our apartment, the portero won’t let delivery people use the front entrance, they have to use the “service” entrance.  Anyways, Ron tells the taxi driver that we’re not currently working and the taxi driver asks, “What do you do for money?”  Ron starts telling him that we have money saved up so we don’t have to work and I start getting VERY nervous, Ron is basically telling this guy we have money and don’t need to work.  There are stories of taxi drivers robbing passengers, forcing them at gunpoint to go to an ATM machine and withdrawal money, even kidnapping them for several days forcing people to withdraw out the maximum amount each day.  I’m getting more paranoid by the moment (I’ve had my quota of gun encounters for the year, thank you very much) as I hurriedly explain to the driver that we have to find work soon, and that we’re trying to setup our business in order to make money, because EVERYONE has to work, how else will we pay our bills?  We get to the restaurant safe and sound, but I’m still a little freaked out about what COULD have happened.  Once inside the restaurant I reprimand Ron and told him that you should not tell a total stranger that you have money and don’t need to work!  A good sushi dinner and a few bottles of sake later I’m feeling relaxed again.  We have a nice walk home in the hot evening air.

Saturday Jan 27thRon has been wanting to buy some bicycles so we can bike around for exercise and to explore.  We stopped in a few bicycle stores but the bikes seemed pretty expensive, we thought this might be because we’re right in the heart of the city and things are just pricier here.  Ron asked a few of his friends at the gym and they recommended a few stores for us to check out.  He took out the Guia for figuring out the bus routes and plotted our course!  He then called the store and asked if they were open today.  Of course they didn’t speak English but Ron was able to use his Spanish to ask when they were open and closed.  The bicycle store was only about a ½ hour bus trip away, not really that far from our apartment but these crazy buses just zig and zag so much.  Don’t understand the reason for all the turning, you would think the most efficient route would for the buses to run in a grid pattern.  I’m sure there’s a reason for the routes to be how they are, but I can’t figure it out.  The bus was making stops at about every other corner and Ron had figured out exactly where we needed to get off, we saw the numbers going up and figured we needed to get off in 2 blocks.  We got up and pushed the button to signal the driver that we wanted to get off at the next stop, well, I guess this was the “EXPRESS” part of the trip because the driver starts flooring it and drove for about 15 blocks before stopping.  Oh well, in theory we would have gotten off in the right block if the bus had stopped where we thought it would!  We walk a few blocks and find the store, but they’re closed for lunch and siesta!  I guess Ron’s Spanish wasn’t good enough to hear them say that they close for 3 hours in the mid afternoon.  Luckily they would be opened in another ½ hour so we just decided to take a little walk and return.  The neighborhood was very nice with some beautiful homes in it, mixed in with very modest homes.  There were bars on windows but the neighborhood seemed clean, safe and very comfortable with nice mature trees along the streets.  More ideas for when we want to buy a house or apartment!  We found a nice park and sat down to wait for the store to reopen.  Right at 2:30 pm Ron goes, “Let’s go, they should be open now!”  I figured they would not return at the exact moment stated on the window but was pleasantly surprised when we got to the store and it was open.  There was a young kid in the store who couldn’t speak any English but we seemed to be communicating pretty well. However, he did go and get his father to talk with us.  His father knew even less English but his 8 year old daughter was shyly standing behind him and as we tried to say things in English and Spanish, she was translating for her father.  I thought it was really cute!  She wouldn’t come forward and be a part of the conversation (and her father certainly didn’t encourage her to help translate), but there she was, giving her dad little signals.  We found 2 bikes we liked and I asked him if there was any discount for buying 2 bikes. He goes over to a rack and gets this little bike bag that you clip under the seat to carry small tools or extra inner tubes, looks like it was worth $1.98.  I laughed and said, “¿Algo mas?”  He finally came down $20 on the price of each bike if we bought 2.  Better then a poke in the eye with a sharp stick I guess. The bikes appear to be very good quality but they aren’t cheap, I want to look at a few more stores before committing to them.  We thank the owner and head home on the bus.

Sunday Jan 28thIn the evening we sit outside to play 500 (what a surprise), have a gin and Toro and eat a few snacks.  Ron bought some raisins to snack on but when I try them they have seeds in them!  I couldn’t believe they would make raisins out of grapes with seeds in them.  Ron thinks they’re great but I just can’t enjoy them with all the cracking and crunching that goes on while I eat them.

We watched a little TV and I’m really surprised by some of the advertising. They show a lot of nude bodies, tastefully photographed, but a lot more skin then you see in the USA, lots of fully nude woman from the rear promoting some soap or beauty product.  They also show a lot of “graphics” and pictures that I think are total fraud, such as a cream to remove cellulite or wrinkles. They’ll show a woman with tons of wrinkles, then show her applying some cream and then they are ALL gone!  I guess the laws are a little more lax here with truth in advertising. 

It’s also fun to try and figure out what the ad is for.  One favorite commercial shows this farmer with a hand sickle energetically cutting wheat and singing to himself in a very picturesque mountainous area, “OH SOL AMIO, LA DE DA DA LA LA LAAA DA!!!!”  Then they show him again and he’s not singing so loudly, next scene he’s just whistling barely able to lift the sickle and finally he just collapses.  Then they show a loaf of bread.  Have no idea what it’s supposed to represent, maybe the bread is home made with loving hands, or some “Juan Veldez” spokesman for the company personally cuts the grain himself, I’m not sure what it’s supposed to represent but it still cracks us up every time we see it.  “OH SOL AMIO!!” 

Another ad showed a beautiful woman sitting in a car with the windows up, she turns a knob and then she looks down as her nipples start sticking out through her tight t-shirt.  We’re laughing and not believing what we’re seeing as some caption comes on that says, “Every Renault comes with air conditioning!” 

One medical hospital advertises on TV and one ad has a woman in a pool where her husband walks up in a towel, then from the back you see him remove the towel and he’s naked and his wife gives him this big smile, she takes off her swim suit top and throws it at him so that it catches on his (supposedly) erect penis and the swim suit top swings back and forth between his legs.  Then you hear the announcer say something about “Correcting sexual dysfunctional problems!”  The last, from the same hospital ad campaign shows 3 men on diving platforms and a beautiful woman comes up with a pistol, supposedly to start the race, but before she can fire the gun one of the guys falls forward into the water and you then see the woman just shake her head and shrug her shoulders, then you hear something about “premature ejaculation”.  These ads are done tastefully but they’re still a crack up in what you would think is a strict, catholic, Latin country.

Monday Jan 29th– A gorgeous day, not too hot, the heat is finally giving us a break.  We had wanted to go to another bicycle store to compare prices, but our Spanish instructor makes us both so frustrated that we just want to go home and veg out!

Tuesday Jan 30thWe go out to another bicycle store a friend of Ron’s from the gym told us about. Once again Ron uses the Guia to figure out which bus to take but once we get off the bus Ron doesn’t know which direction to go, seems his friend didn’t draw a NORTH arrow or give any indication of which direction is which.  We walk up and down the street till we finally locate the store.  The prices are the same as the other store but the quality seems a lot worse.  We leave the bike store and I notice how beautiful the street is, huge mature trees line the street and shade it from the hot sun.  There are plenty of restaurants so we decide to sit outside and have a tostado mixto and some agua con gas.  Just going on a bike hunting trip is like taking a little vacation, we get to see new parts of the city and enjoy a nice lunch in a sidewalk café.

Wednesday Jan 31stAnother beautiful day.  We head off to our Spanish class as usual at 9:50 am.  We walk right along Vicente Lopez park which is a beautiful park with huge mature trees, the sky is an incredible blue.  We approach a corner and I hear a taxi has stalled and is trying to restart his car, he keeps cranking on the starter but the car just goes grrrrrrr, grrrrrrr, grrrrrrr, grrrrrr, as he keeps trying to crank the engine into life.  As we approach the car it smells strongly of gas and I figure he’s flooded the engine. Just as we get alongside the taxi it starts up and the driver races the engine pushing on the pedal strongly, then letting up, then racing the engine again, trying to get the car running smoothly again.  Luckily, we kept walking and we were about 100 feet away when KABOOM!!!!!!, there was a loud explosion.  We turn to see a huge white cloud of smoke surrounding the car, then I remember that many taxis run on propane instead of gasoline here in Buenos Aires.  When the driver was trying to start the engine, the engine compartment must have filled with propane vapors, then when he finally got it started a spark must have ignited the vapors into the explosion we heard.  As we watch, other people were coming running to see what the explosion was for, and drivers are going by the taxi waving their arms out the window at the driver.  I then notice the underside of his car is in flames, probably from the fumes that were accumulating under his car when he was trying to start it.  The driver got out of his car to go lift his hood and didn’t even notice the underside of his car was on fire!  Luckily, a taxi stopped behind him, quickly jumped out, and got the fire extinguisher from his trunk and started to spray it under the car. I previously noted that every taxi I had ever been in had a fire extinguisher in the trunk.  Now I know why!  The car was quickly extinguished but not before a big crowd appeared and white smoke had filled the previously serene park.
Never a dull moment in Buenos Aires! We’re finding that lots of things go KABOOM!!!! in this city!

We continue onto our Spanish class and have a great time explaining the occurrence to our teacher in Spanish, using such universal words as KABOOM!!!!! and making grand expanding hand gestures.

We have a discount store called “Coto” which has just about everything you can imagine in it, kind of like a “Walmart” in the USA.  I had seen bicycles there so I wanted to go check out the prices to see how much they were.  After the gorgeous morning, however, the sky had clouded up and it started to rain, so we put off going to “Coto” for the day.