fiction, Rants and raves, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Fiction: The secret life of Gertrude Stein in America

Gertrude Stein had a problem. She’d always had the problem but it was all the more acute in 1934 when she stood before 500 people and tried to speak. 

She stuttered.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. Her stutter caused obvious discomfort among her adoring fans and that caused her to lose confidence and when Gertrude Stein lost confidence, she lost her line of thought. Which was not easy to follow to begin with.

The first couple of lectures on her long-awaited U.S. tour were described in the American press as disappointing and worse, confusing.

And this would never do, as she had six months of lectures across the United States lined up, each limited to 500 people maximum and each had been sold out months ago. 

In a bit of a panic, Stein told an assistant to reach out to her good friend Mina Loy, a bohemian Everywoman sort, living in Paris. A feminist, painter, poet, playwright, novelist, designer — god knows, if it was about art, Mina had done it. If anyone could punch up a speech and clear up her, um, diction issues, Stein reasoned, it would be Mina.

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Rants and raves, Writings

Tongs for the memories

It is clear to me that the single greatest invention of our civilization has been the wooden toast tongs.

Since the time of Medieval toasters, this device has safely extracted piping hot slabs of bread. Perhaps even earlier, if certain Egyptian hieroglyphics are to be interpreted correctly.

Suspected fact: Leonardo da Vinci may have invented the wooden toast tongs before there were electric toasters, once again anticipating the needs and aspirations of future generations.

Toast tongs made it possible for countless writers and poets through time to sit at their humble desks and create, undistracted by the burning sensation on their fingertips that a tong-less household brings.

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Memoirs -- fact and fiction, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Fiction: Hell hath no fury like a seminarian scorned — this is war

Recently I was asked to read a selection of my writing at the Prose Cafe in San Miguel de Allende.

In better times, Prose Cafe is a gathering of writers and others (mostly other writers, I think) in the beautiful Belles Artes. Three or four writers would each read something and take questions. I always found the cafe sessions inspirational. I imagined myself — some day, not right away — being just like them, having something of worth to share with other writers.

These days, Prose Cafe and its sister gathering, Poetry Cafe, are ZOOM affairs. They are both the offspring of the San Miguel Literary Sala whose wonderful Writers Conference is currently underway — on ZOOM, of course.

I shared the ZOOM space on Thursday, Dec. 3 with two accomplished authors, Molly Giles and Fredrika Sprengle. Both have published works — award-winning books, short stories. I have nearly four decades of newspaper clippings. A good mix, as it turned out. We all leaven our prose (and pain?) with humor.

What follows is the story that I read. As I told the ZOOM audience, this is a work of fiction, except for the parts that are true. (You figure it out).

It is one of a number of short stories in the file marked “Seminary Life” that may yet grow into a full-sized novel.

Declaring war on … well, everybody

It was the beginning of the end — the end of my days as a Catholic seminarian. It came the moment I picked up that heavy metal bucket full of dirty water and heaved it out the third floor window. Sending a loud and long string of curses cascading after it.

Two things occurred to me in the moment.

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Memoirs -- fact and fiction, Rants and raves, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Read it first: Origins of ‘Dark Pastry,’ the most successful horror/baking reality TV show ever

imageedit_11_5838111086A lot of you have been asking me, “Bob” you say, “how did you come up with the award-winning and fabulously successful reality TV cooking show “Dark Pastry.”

To date, my natural gift for modesty has kept me from spilling the beans on the cooking/horror reality show but so many urban legends and out-and-out lies by a very jealous POTUS have forced my hand.

Is it my fault that my reality show has been so much more-fabulously successful than his ever was?


Yes, it is my fault. Continue reading

Memoirs -- fact and fiction, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

That time when aliens landed and nobody noticed

mural-roswell (1)

Just outside Roswell, New Mexico, along Highway 285, visitors are greeted by this interactive tableau by artist John Cerney.  You can mingle with the free-standing characters and take lots of photos. Beats a selfie. This image in no way inspired what you are about to read. No way.

When the aliens landed nobody fled in terror or rained down bombs upon their heads.

First of all, there were too many landing in too many different places — and not in large numbers. They came in small manageable groups. This made them seem not so threatening.

Curiously, most of their ships landed in the expansive parking lots of Costco and Walmart outlets in rural and suburban parts of the country.

Naturally, having traveled far through space, and for a very long time, the ships looked every bit as beat up and crusty as many of the cars in the parking lot, especially in the wintery regions and Arizona. They were hardly the gleaming orbs seen in sci-fi movies.

Most importantly, when the aliens stepped out of their vessels, they looked pretty much like us. Only much much more tired. Having traveled 10,000 years in space, that was to be expected.

It wasn’t until much later that we learned the aliens slept an average of three hours a night, so looking kind of haggard sort of made sense. Many young couples with new-born babies and tech programmers could relate, as could RPG gamers and porn addicts.

Oddly enough, the scientists and governments were expecting the ships. There were representatives waiting in the parking lots where each ship landed. 

Each alien was handed a welcome bag.

The bags contained gift cards from Costco, Amazon, various supermarkets, Walmart, and a number of local shops that offered massages, yoga, scented candles, and Slurpees. There were $50 certificates from Money Tree Lending. There were practical items like sunglasses, gloves in colder climes, and sunblock in warmer regions.

The bags also contained free cell phones with unlimited data plans.

Each group was met by a government concierge who taught the aliens how to use the phones — sign up for Facebook and Instagram accounts, how to install apps for Facetime, Yelp, WhatsApp, Skype, and other communication tools, and Google.

They were also encouraged to max out the gift certificates as quickly as possible. This wasn’t difficult considering the 10,000-year journey left the aliens short on lots of critical supplies and hygiene necessities.

In various stores, sales associates smoothly weaned the aliens away from their exhausted gift cards and on to actual credit cards with the promise of no money down and six months to pay.

Works every time.

The aliens were also set up in subsidized housing and given preferred account access to furniture rental companies that filled their condos with slightly scuffed and bruised second-hand furniture at exorbitant monthly rates.

Now, all of this might seem incredibly generous and thoughtful on the part of our government and scientists, especially considering recent national policies regarding immigrants.

In truth, the aliens were being wrapped up in a vast spider web of online tracking. 

An enormous volume of information was being gathered at an incredible rate. Records of every purchase, every movement, every communication were collected and dumped into a vast digital holding tank.

Algorithms were extracting data, building profiles, anticipating tendencies, drawing astute assumptions. In short, within several months we knew virtually everything about the aliens that there was to know — except where they came from. In short, we knew far more than might have been gathered by old fashioned incarceration and interrogation techniques.

For example, aliens preferred processed food over organic. They quickly developed a fondness for vape pipes and cherry-flavored smoke. Online gambling became a big problem, but not in the ways you might think. Not surprisingly, aliens preferred Disneyland over Universal Studios theme parks and Six Flags over all others.

Mind you, there were a few old school types who wanted to strap an alien or two down for some old fashioned waterboarding and genital electrification. If they had genitals. 

Most important of all, the aliens quickly piled up debt and were confronted with very low credit scores, necessitating a hurried migration into the workforce. 

There has been much discussion over whether the government was planning on creating a new slave-wages class all along or whether that was just a byproduct of their data collection scheme. There was no denying that more than a few government agencies were secretly thrilled that this new labor force generally required no more than two or three hours of sleep a night.

The upshot was that many aliens quickly found themselves looking for work and more importantly getting second and third jobs to pay down the debt. 

The aliens were extremely well-suited for jobs as Uber and Lyft drivers, Amazon consumer fulfillment team members,  UPS drivers, and Laser eye surgery technicians as none of these jobs required much human interaction. 

The aliens, being aliens, were unfamiliar with concepts like collective bargaining, union organizing, and livable wages which gave employers, by the best estimates, a good seven years of unobstructed labor exploitation.

As for the aliens, they seemed to have no problem fitting into the scheme of things. They found all this debt business amusing. Less so when their spaceships were impounded by the government to pay for accumulated debt.

But then, they could always send for more. Spaceships, that is.

At first, the apartments with their shabby furniture were a godsend. After 10,000 years in tiny, cramped spaceships, anything would be an improvement.

There were many things the governments and scientists didn’t reckon on. For example, the aliens were excellent history students. A discipline earthlings themselves had long ago abandoned during the Great Fracturing when certain hysterical bloggers declared the End of Truth and the End of History — and millions of followers believed them.

The whole movement was triggered when Earth collectively could not decide whether Nazis were evil — splitting exactly 50-50 on the issue. Also, the existence of God became a massive headache at family gatherings and so the world as a whole agreed to disagree, again, along 50-50 percentages. 

The final blow, of course, was the global disagreement over Black Friday and whether it was worth it. However, the division, along socio-economic lines, was far more complicated than Nazis and God.  

The very poor thought Black Friday was really cool and a great chance to get out of the house at the ungodly hour of midnight to punch somebody else over a Cuisinart blender. The middle-class, most of whom had computers and knew how to use them to shop online, thought Black Friday was an ironic joke and possibly racist in origins.

The top 10 percent, of course, kept asking “What is this Black Friday thing?” and “Don’t ordinary people use a shopping concierge?” and finally, “You mean saving money is a thing among the poor?”

With so much division, the world decided that truth and history were burdens too big to carry through life. Half the world found refuge in fundamental evangelical religion and the relief it gave them from thinking for themselves. The other half took refuge in the newly legalized global availability of pot — on which all agreed: ”This shit is way more potent than the stuff we were smoking in the Sixties.”

Oddly enough, nothing happened.

Except for the arrival of hundreds of thousands of aliens.

Mind you, nobody is saying their arrival was timed to coincide with the Great Death of Truth and History. But it is interesting that the aliens held within each of them the entire catalog of human history and a darn good handle on what is true and what is fake news.

They could even tell you how many plastic surgeries each Kardashian had undergone and whether this information mattered in the grander scheme of things.

Sadly, there was no grander scheme.

All grander schemes were buried with Truth and History. It is common knowledge — among at least 50 percent of the people — that grander schemes need Truth and its counterpart as well as history to work.

So, the aliens had been studying Earth for 10,000 years, as they slowly drew closer.

When they landed, there was little that they did not know and still, they were shocked at how hard it was to find a good conversation. They were sure Earthlings would be starved for knowledge. They were wrong.

Any hunger had been supplanted by AI-infused virtual-reality 3-D video games and unlimited calling data plans on their cellphones. Along with grander schemes, Curiosity also became collateral damage during the great unburdening.

But enough about the problems of humans. People became fond of telling each other: ”it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

When asked about this phrase, 30 percent attributed it to God, 30 percent thought it was written on the wall of one of those ancient Egyptian triangular things — the same 30 percent thought Egypt was a suburb of Memphis — and 30 percent thought they’d heard it in a song by Queen.

The final 10 percent refused to answer until somebody gave up the names of the three people referred to and elaborated on the phrase “crazy world” which they suspected to be an alienating phrase directed at a societal subgroup called QAnon.

So, close the books on curiosity. Thank God. Or whomever.

In fact, once the MAGAclass began declaring the end of things, it became like candy. People were declaring the end of all sorts of burdensome stuff like math, culture, credit card limits, economy class, pollution controls, wine, public radio, and XXL-size clothing.

Mind you, XXL clothing didn’t go away. It was renamed “bonus petite” much to the delight of woman wearied of Pilates and bicycling classes.

The absence of curiosity hurt the aliens most of all.

Among the aliens, there was a momentary panic. “Why on earth did we travel all this distance and consume all this time if we can’t even get a decent conversation, much less a good cup of coffee?”

After a mere but very frustrating six months, many of the aliens were ready to reclaim their spaceships — scofflaw boots be damned — and go back where they came from.

The malcontents were gently reminded that there was no place to go back to and that there were 1,000 times the number of spaceships coming up behind them — spaced out in 100-year increments.

Even if they could go back, the traffic would be hell.

“We will just have to make do,” said the cooler heads among the aliens. Little known fact: the aliens do not have body temperature. So the term ”cooler heads prevailed” became something of an inside joke that many extraterrestrials found endlessly amusing.

It is an odd thing to land on a planet where enormous intellectual capacity holds virtually no value whatsoever.

The aliens themselves weren’t sure if this was an enormous opportunity for complete domination or the greatest cosmic joke ever foisted upon an entire planet of clueless, guileless, incurious people.

They would discover the answer soon enough.

I’m sorry, “soon” is a relevant term. The discussion among the aliens as to what their next steps should be took more than 200 years.

During this time the terminally incurious people of Earth completely forgot that aliens had landed. 

And because the aliens looked very much like Earth people, only grayer and more tired-looking, they began getting elected to public office and appointed to the boards of major corporations. 

Some even tried their hand at professional athletics but their consciences bothered them — conscience is another thing to which the influential MAGAclass had declared an end — because of their innate abilities to jump higher than humans, run faster, and read minds.

That last one had been seriously underutilized since their arrival on Earth, perpetually leading to disappointment.

At the end of 200 years, a rather wild-eyed young man stood up in a public forum — Family TV Nite at the local pub — and declared an end to the alien invasion.

He was met with blank stares.

At the end of 200 years, the aliens reached a stunning conclusion, perhaps best summarized by the especially good looking and not-so-tired alien named Brian: “Baby, we are sitting on a gold mine.”

Brian continued, “This will be like shooting ducks out of the water. I mean, what it might have been like when there were ducks on Earth. Damned shame about the ducks. I suppose we should have said something 150 years ago when half the Earth was consumed in climate-change infused wildfires.”

Climate change was another thing to which the MAGAclass declared an end.

Prematurely, as it turned out.

To be continued? (Let me know in the comments section!)

Memoirs -- fact and fiction, San Miguel de Allende, Uncategorized

Broken hearts, mescal dreams, and torch songs

San Miguel torch singer María Sánchez gave a stunning concert under the trees near Parque Juarez on Saturday, backed by the talent-rich Usual Suspects including Julián Arcos, Rubén Olivera, and Victor Monterrubio.

She is a wonderful singer for whom, my wife says, I carry a big crush. “He moans when she sings,” she tells friends.

Maybe so, on both accounts.


María Sánchez with her beautiful new granddaughter, Olivia, after her performance.

Her singing does something to me. I can’t deny it. But I am mature enough to separate the singer from the song, from the real person beneath it all. I think. I mean, I was wondering “What on earth is María Sánchez doing singing outside, and at 1 p.m.?” So my imagination does slip in through the backdoor when she sings.

In my mind, she is a torch meant to burn only in the night when the heart and soul are at their darkest and most lonely. Obviously, I do have fantasies about María Sánchez. 

Rather than spoil her concert by trying to describe it, below is the story that wrote itself as I sat in the bright sunlight, listening to her sing. Any relationship to people living or dead is strictly coincidental. Blame it on mescal: Continue reading

Rants and raves, San Miguel de Allende

Remember that time Gordon Ramsay’s greatest challenge on ‘MasterChef’ was flan? No?


Gordon Ramsay knows flan. And you don’t.

Two things happened last week.

My wife, Rose, and her daughter, Caira, binge-watched the 10th anniversary season of Gordon Ramsay’s “MasterChef.”

It is what they love to do when they are together.

Because our place is small, I sort of binge-overheard. Continue reading

Memoirs -- fact and fiction, San Miguel de Allende

Welcome to the Cobblestone Pocket Museum of Tiny Found Objects which might be magical


The current contents of the Cobblestone Museum pouch.

Welcome to Cobblestone Pocket Museum, the traveling collection of tiny found objects which may or may not have magical properties.

The museum is housed in a gray felt pouch big enough to hold one pair of sunglasses. It does not because sunglasses even if found would never qualify as “tiny.”

The bag has a zipper at one end and the rubber tab on the zipper says “Jet Blue,” which I used to fly whenever possible when the airline first launched. Continue reading

San Miguel de Allende, Uncategorized

The fairy’s teacup


Since finding the teacup, the cobblestones have yielded other treasures — an anchor from a small fairy boat, a tiny pawn which may have been used as a coat rack, and the remnant of a fairy’s full-length mirror. They all stay in my change purse, should their owners ever wish to reclaim them.

There is an old tradition, which I am just now making up, that says when you find a fairy’s unbroken teacup on a cobblestone street, good luck will follow you around — as long as the cup remains intact. 

For you see, anything that survives unbroken on a cobblestone street must be very, very lucky, indeed.

The fairies live in the oldest trees of San Miguel de Allende. When the trees are cut down to make way for more buildings, the fairies must flee and take with them the good luck, kind feelings, and benevolent outlook which they share with the city. 

And the few possessions they can salvage ahead of the developers.

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