Pobre Mundo 1975

The month that Paul was born, cartoonist Abel Quezada published a cartoon in the Excelsior newspaper in Mexico City, noting, in drawings, the recent deaths of Pablo Picasso, Pablo Casals, and Pablo Neruda.

The caption was “Pobre mundo sin los Pablos.”

We were moved. Paul was going to be Paul regardless, although in those days we didn’t know gender until the baby was born, because of my Uncle Paul, who was a good man, and because Paul is Pablo in Spanish and it was a good name.

That cartoon, however, closed the deal.

Big Enough to Fit us All

Laura and Vange and Christopher finished moving in today. As Vange, exhausted but satisfied, was leaving, said “Christopher, I love your new house.”

Christopher said the new house is “bigger” than the old one.

Vange and Laura looked at each other, confused. How could the 2-bedroom apartment possibly be bigger than the old one?

“Why?” Laura asked Christopher.

“Because everybody fits,” Christopher answered.

Sabrina: Oct. 6, 1973

UPI Mexico City bureau at night. I’d look out the window at the corner of Avenida Morelos and Paseo de la Reforma, city lights, traffic, the car downstairs; talk to Benjamin the “office boy;” look at the afternoon papers, scanning for news. It was fun when there was news.

That particular night there wasn’t news until Vange called, about 9 pm. “Nothing,” she said; nothing was up. “I just wanted to make sure you were there.”

I thought about that one for about a second, told the office boy I was leaving, and took off for home. We didn’t have cellphones in those days. There might not be a second chance. Vange was plenty due with Sabrina.

By the time I was home she knew I was on my way because she’d called the office several times. We had to hurry. Contractions were coming too fast and too hard. Eva would meet us at the hospital.

The drive, at about 10:30 at night on a weeknight, didn’t take long. We were relatively close, from San Jose Insurgentes it was up the Periferico to the Hospital Engles. I remember very well the topes, how much they seemed to hurt.

The hospital worked quickly. Jaime was there. Eva was there shortly. There was a short time in the preparation, then into the delivery room. I waited on the inside of the doors now, where I could hear everything, but they still didn’t let the fathers inside the delivery room itself.

There was struggle, effort, and then, in just a few minutes,

“Otra nina guera.”

It was Vange’s voice, full of happiness. Sabrina had arrived, slightly smaller than Laura at 7 lbs 8 ounces, with a twisted nose, and beautiful from the first glance.

The twisted nose became a funny story because we, young parents that we were, worried about it for days. Dr. Lasky just teased us, “don’t worry, surgery for that will be easy later on.” Of course it’s common and went away.

Laura: July 15 1972

“Tim. Call my mother.” It was the middle of the night, probably between 1 and 2 in the morning. Finally, the waiting was over.

Thank God the old red volkswagen (chofre) started. It was dark, quiet, easy to get to the hospital quickly. Vange fell into caring hands. Eva arrived.

Jaime Lopez Ortiz, tall, good looking, personable, and thoroughly reassuring, was waiting for us at the Hospital Dalinde, in Colonia Condesa, just past the Periferico, behind Insurgents. It had been carefully chosen. It was close to Dr. Lopez Ortiz’ office.

Vange was rolled away and the doctor followed her behind two beige doors with small portholes, through which I could see only a hallway. Eva and I sat together and waited. And waited. And waited.

“They are both fine.” Jaime the doctor had popped out of the door. “But the baby’s heartbeat is slowing, don’t worry, I’m going to push things faster now, and if I can’t get the baby in about 10 minutes, we’ll do a Cesarean.”

Minutes took forever. Then we heard the baby crying, from through the doors, and Jaime was back out, quickly. “She’s a beautiful baby girl, very blond (guera).”

It took about half an hour before we could see her, tiny baby, a face only, slicked down, sleeping. Vange was out for several hours. The world had changed. We had Laura. Joy, reverence, magic, and I floated, having become somebody else, somebody happier, stronger, more loving, more responsible, better.

They scared us. Hours passed, we waited for them to bring the baby to the room for cuddling and nursing. Fear mounted. Welcome to the rest of your life. We complained. There was no explanation. We complained again. Finally I went downstairs and insisted. She was breathing hard, a bit of moisture, she would be fine.

And she was. Baby Laura’s first cold.

On the second day, mid morning, I was driving towards home to fetch some things for Vange when Raul passed me, going the other way, and we stopped in the middle of the road, driver to driver. “I’m in a hurry,” I said, “they’re going to bring the baby back to the room in a little bit.” Raul smiled and waved. He had no idea. The new baby, baby Laura.

One of my meditation tapes — today, 35 years later — talks about feeling light like power come through your body as you breathe in. Cheesy, irrelevant, except for this: that was what happened every time that little blond baby girl breathed: like like power ran through her.

Flies Buzzed. Thousands Died.

“Flies buzzed” was one of the best lead stories I ever wrote. Choloma, Honduras, about an hour from the Caribbean, a hot, humid, October, three days after Hurricane Fifi killed about 30,000 people. The illustration here isn’t that story, unfortunately, those things are hard to keep. I’m lucky to have this one.

Flies buzzed because the village of Choloma, about 9,000 people, was about 10 feet deep in mud. Most of those 9,000 were bodies, and bodies had to be burned before they were buried. And chopped up, with axes, to be burned. Like I said, hot, humid, and a smell not to be imagined, much less remembered.

I flew into Honduras about 12 hours after the hurricane on a Mexican Air Force DC-6 older than I was, pitching and bouncing, strapped onto a wood floor, a water leak dripping from the ceiling, and several huge boxes of relief supplies were also strapped on. The Mexican government let 6 foreign correspondents on the plane. I was one of the first international journalists into the place.

Interesting note about this Time Magazine story was that Bernie Diederich, quoted in the story, was there because I got him a hitchhiked plane ride from a small private plane at the airport; my Spanish was way better than his. I also started all of the press quoting Col. Andino. I was the first foreign correspondent in who spoke fluent Spanish, and Col. Andino, a swarthy short man about 40, relentlessly focused on foreign press to get him helicopters. I found him at headquarters in Tegucigalpa.

As the story ran on, for a week, Col. Andino became my ally in coverage. He gave me permission to increase the death toll by 5,ooo every time AP (the competition, staffed by eight people) caught up with UPI (me and Paul Wyatt, who flew in from Panama). UPI called me in the Tegucigalpa hotel middle of the night, more than once, saying competition was matching our death toll, and I, more than once, immediately increased it by 5,000, quoting Col. Andino.

Coverage took the death toll up to 30,000, which I suspect was because of me and Col. Andino and his relentless quest for helicopters, which he related to death toll. I notice the history books seem to have settled with 8,000 deaths (wikipedia, among others).

The dumb mistake, Private Version

The commercial version of this is on my main blog.

This was one of my worst mistakes: I took a job I didn’t like for the prestige. And maybe two of them: I told them I needed a lot more money instead of just quitting.

Act 1: Spring in Paradise

Things were really (perhaps even the true Californian “wrily wrily”) good. The story begins in Spring of 1981 with ultimate happiness, which is – Samuel Johnson said this – happiness laced with the anticipation of more happiness. I was finishing my MBA at Stanford. I loved my classes. My wife loved simple town-house living in student family housing on campus. The kids went to great public schools without having to cross a street. The rent was cheaper than our fifth-floor apartment in Mexico City by half. Although I couldn’t afford the MBA without working virtually full time, the work was good, mostly at home, and the money was enough. I consulted with Creative Strategies.

And things were going to get even better. Job prospects at graduation were fabulous. High-paying jobs with lots of perks and lots of, well, awkward to say it, but, power. Recruiters came from far and wide. Good job offers were everywhere. So I had a lot of choices. I was a 33-year-old Stanford MBA, American fluent in Spanish, former Business Week correspondent in Mexico, etc.

Act 2: Like an Idiot…

And I, like an idiot, took a job I ended up hating: McKinsey Management Consulting in Mexico City. It paid great, there were perks, and, crowning my mistake, I think I was way too influenced by what looked good to my peers.

I should have known better. The job I accepted was meant for a very ambitious 25-year-old single person with no family and no relationships, ready to work long hours for six years to win the partnership. I, on the other hand, was a 33-year-old married father of three, with (we learned a few weeks later) Cristin coming.

And, worse still, I was already “tainted” by 10 years of entrepreneurship. I made more money freelance than on salary. I paid my own way through Stanford Business School and supported my family while I did.

Things went badly, of course. Details accumulated. At six or so when there was no work to do I went home to my family, instead of waiting until the partners left three hours later. I did that repeatedly, despite warnings that it wasn’t to be done. I objected when one of the partners left his sixth car in my parking space. I disagreed with a partner about peso futures. I objected to a mandatory company meeting over a five-day weekend at a beach resort with no family allowed.

So of course I had to quit. That’s obvious. But here’s how I made it worse. There is a lesson here.

I didn’t tell the managing partner I was quitting because I didn’t like him, his other partners, McKinsey Management Consulting, or Mexico City. I didn’t tell him I made a mistake. I didn’t want to look that stupid.

Here’s where the lesson really smarts. So instead of saying something like the truth – speaking of looking stupid – I said I was sure the peso was going to be devalued so they needed to pay me a lot more money.

And the next day they offered me a lot more money.

And the day after that I quit anyhow. Talk about dumb! How bad did I look when they gave me the raise and I still quit.

Act 3: Thrilling Conclusion

There is a useful point here. I’ve brought this up before. Don’t hide the truth with what you think might make you look good because it can end up backfiring, making you look bad. Don’t guess what the other party won’t accept and ask for that when what you really want is something entirely different. They might give you that, and then you look like an idiot.

We’d borrowed about $3,000 to buy a fancy-but-nauseous (some of you might remember) Volskwagen camper conversion. And (like an idiot, again) I decided to pay them back my signing bonus.

I returned to Creative Strategies. They were nice about it, they seemed very happy to get me back. I called my parents, asked them to pick us up at SFO with two cars. We travelled back from Mexico with Laura’s teddy and 12 checked bags. We stayed with my parents in Los Altos for more than a month while some of you went to Loyola School and we purchased the house we quickly hated at 530 Suisse Drive.