An Imperfect Start and Beautiful Finish to a Lovely Day of a Lovely Week in Paradise

I am a fan of Christopher Marlowe, the Elizabethan poet, dramatist, rogue, and (in all likelihood) espionage agent, whose Doctor Faustus inspired everyone from the American poet, Hart Crane, to the Welsh stage and screen star, Richard Burton. Goethe's version of the Faust legend was remarkable for its time, but I love Marlowe's better. And legend it was, too, for, apparently, there really was such a person roving about Western Europe with a black dog many thought was a familiar at best and the Devil at worst -- during the Dark Ages or a little after.

Marlowe was obviously a freethinker and very likely non-believer, and I suspect there is no better evidence of it than words he put into the mouth of Satan's agent, Mephistopheles: "Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed in one self place, for where we are is hell. And where hell is there must we ever be." Now, obviously, this is a more ingenious way of saying what all know, that we make of our lives on earth a Heaven or a Hell depending on what we make of it. I just spent a week in Heaven, in a Pacific Coast "resort" of sorts we call Puerto, though you will find it on the map listed as Puerto Escondido, in the State of Oaxaca south of Mexico City. It also happens to be a state of mind unique to itself and is justifiably famous among surfers, who dubbed it "The Mexican Pipeline" after similar places in Hawaii, Australia, and South Africa.

Life here is laid back and slow moving. The people are clean, happy, and gracious. I would live here if my health permitted it, but as it is I must settle for a week or two each year, or every year or two, whenever I can get my butt down here. Tonight is my last night here. I had wanted my day to be as perfect as the previous six, but I had a minor blemish to taint it when I got up this morning, did some work on a play I am writing, and decided to go up the hill to the coastal highway and wave down a combi. (These are small trucks retrofitted with canopies, metal seats in the bed, and bars to hold onto as the little minibus-like vehicles go up and down the highway for a mere 40 cents.)

On the way up the hill, I spied a municipal ball court that I decided to cross, taking a short cut up to a highway that starts at the California-Arizona border and runs all the way to Tapachula, the jumping off place for Guatemala. As I neared the highway, a stranger approached, a skinny Hispanic man of about my age (I am a septuagenarian) or a few years younger. He had on a cap with military ribbons and emblazoned with the words: "Desert Storm." He was in a parked truck with a shell and it had a bicycle rack that he moved over a bit so I could sit with him on the fender. As I live alone and have so since the age of about 45, I was happy to have someone to talk to, especially since he was accommodating and said he lived alone too, and because I figured he knew a few things about Puerto.

Unfortunately, it did not take long for the ugly to come out. He started the ugly by saying did I know anything about "Mormomism." I think he had trouble with his teeth or something and I had to ask him two or three times what Mormomism was. But by the third time, I had figured it out. He was talking about the Cult of Joseph Smith, a convicted felon and Ponzi schemer who left Missouri in a heap of trouble and brought a bunch of gullibles to Utah. I thought, Uh, oh! Here it comes. A guy just cannot escape bozos of a religious bent, not even by traveling a thousand miles from home.

If you're reading this and thinking, Hey, guy, Mexico is a predominantly Roman Catholic country, what on earth did you expect? Well, Catholics in this country used to be forbidden by law from proselytizing. One of the post-Revolutionary presidents, who had the fanciful name of Plutarco Elias Calles, and who was blasted not long ago by that arch Catholic conservative Vicente Fox as "a damned atheist Freemason," put his foot down and ordered the national governing body to put some teeth in constitutional provisions dating back to my Number One Mexican patriot hero, Don Benito Juarez.

President Elias Calles must have had some personal familiary with the abuses of the Church in Mexico, such as cadging family fortunes from peons barely able to buy tortillas and beans, simply by telling them that their little nieto or abuela or other family member was in Purgatory, and if penance was paid, God might release them and allow them to go to Heaven. (Christopher Hitchens wrote one of his best chapters in God is Not Great,  I think it was, about this shameful ruse. The Vatican probably turned a deaf ear to complaints since, as we all know, "Papa" likes Chateauneuf du Pape with his prime rib, not some cheap table wine like Margeaux. 

It really pissed me off that this prick came on to me like hey-buddy-I'm-your-old-pal in so many words, then wasted little time getting to the sales pitch. When I'd heard enough of his spiel, all about how the "Lord" does this and wants me to do this and that, I flat out told him "I don't believe in any of it, I am a non-believer." He then suggested that I was saying this because I don't know God. I replied that I know plenty about him and don't want to know more, but he would not let go. He launched into the post hoc argument: "There was an earthquake near here not long ago and the church was spared though all the buildings in one town were knocked down." My response was, "If the church had been destroyed you would be telling me 'God works in mysterious ways." He then said I only talked this way because I had at some point in life waded only a little in the waters of Christ and if I would fully immerse myself in "Him" I would feel differently.

Then I asked him flat out: "Have you sent any money to the Mormon Church?" and the fool replied, "Yes, but...." I prompty stood and walked away, crossing the highway to an Oxxo (Mexican convenience store, very good I might add), there to await a combi to take me to the centro, or center of Puerto. Luckily, a hotelier I had just met a couple of days ago -- he runs the hippest bungalow-style posada in town, and he hails from Canada -- pulled up in his SUV and offered me a ride into town. As we pulled away, I caught, in the corner of my eye, a couple of those Morons, er, Mormoms going into the Oxxo. (Ever wonder why they send two of them out together and in immaculate black suits and starched white shirts with ties? That's because they do exactly what pre-Miranda (and some say post-Miranda) cops do or did during interrogations. A Mutt 'n' Jeff act. If they haven't impressed you with the big splurge on clothing (it looks downright ridiculous in a place with this much heat and humidity), they can take turns hammering you with their total bullshit.

As it happens, when I told the hotelier about what happened, he said he was a non-believer himself. He was hardly surprised. Apparently, Puerto is a hotbed of goofy cult proselytization. "In fact, all around that part of town where your apartment is, most of the people in the area are Jehovah's Witnesses." My, my, I thought, a veritable Feast of Snakes.

I began to wonder if moving here to take advantage of great food, super swimming and fishing, the surfer scene, &c. was such a good idea after all. I fly home tomorrow, sadly. But I won't miss the Romney Juniors and the local gullibles taken in by them.

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Comment by James M. Martin on October 12, 2014 at 11:29pm

Thanks to all who took the time to read that rambling memoir.

Comment by Michael Penn on October 10, 2014 at 1:19pm

The place looks nice but now you have run onto another form of panhandling. Bertold has good advice if you are "immersing yourself in Him."  LOL 

Remember that the most important part of any religious service is when they pass the collection plate. You also know that religion is pretty ancient when you are "eating his body and drinking his blood."

How can anyone believe this? It's like becoming the lion by eating his heart.

Comment by Randall Smith on October 10, 2014 at 7:34am

Good story except the proselytizing part. Your beach place looks delicious!

Comment by James M. Martin on October 10, 2014 at 6:38am

Thanks for commenting, Bertold!



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