3rd Week of October

Last Friday night, I stumbled into my apartment sweaty, tired, and mostly sober from the bus ride home from a downtown bar. Actually it was an old American Legion that moonlights as a music venue. It was the first time I’ve ever had my name on a list to get in anywhere, so it didn’t matter that it was an American Legion. My roommate Christyn and I picked a bad night to go out, the bus to the bar was hot, packed, and filled with men going to drink and see Mexico play Panama. The return trip was stuffed with the same guys coming home, sweatier, stinkier, and more boozed.  Christyn stood against the window while I braced myself in front of her with both hands pressed against the wall. It wasn’t fun but there was a little breeze from the window and my mouth was still smoky from the house mescal.

Running the next morning I felt like I was breathing fire. I ran early because we were supposed to be picked up at ten to go to our boss’s mandatory all-day birthday party. I struggled running through the wooded trails and glared at running groups who thundered past me smelling fresh and liquor-free. I took a shower when I got home and shoved eggs down my throat ignorant that Mexican time meant I had three more hours of free time ahead of me. I started into Notes from Underground and just when I was getting into it I got a text that our ride was outside.

We left around one and wound our way to the family mansion/farm a couple hours away. It was a hot day with scattered rain that turned the backyard into a jungle, and I made good on my promise to Christyn to sweat and eat until they took the food away. After the food was inevitably taken from me, I helped bring chairs up to the porch where the remaining guests reconvened and ate more dessert washed down with steaming hot coffee.  It was a good day and the car ride home left me with a lot of time to think.

I’ve noticed lately how people congregate and talk to people of similar social standing, class, education etc, and that for the same reasons some people’s words and conversation are given more or less weight than others. To be more specific, it seems like people are always trying to talk up, forgetting that up is an illusion that we create. This mentality shouldn’t bind us, and if the technological revolution had any potential for positive change, it should have blown apart this smokescreen. Instead we continue to erode our relationships and humanity through iphones instagram facebook and twitter while maintaining the social stratifications this technology should bring crashing down. We obviously want to talk to other people that stimulate us, but to assume that prestige, education, wealth, or culture could limit the infinite complexity of a human being is absurd.  This isn’t just a feel-good abstraction on life, it’s insane and limiting to deny the complexity and interest of another human being.

I thought hard on judgment again as I swam through a thick poisonous smog for my Tuesday afternoon run. After dodging in and out of traffic for the fifteen minutes it takes to get to the park, I snaked around the track and ran straight up the backside of the mountain. It’s on a path that I’ve been beating myself up on the past few weeks. The trail is a steep dirt incline for about four minutes, then it turns left and keeps climbing on an even steeper incline for 2 more minutes, then it reaches a ridge and turns to the right to continue up an even steeper and rockier incline for the final push, another minute and a half. It doesn’t matter how slow I go, I shred my lungs just going up without stopping.

As I was making the final ascent I ran past an enormously overweight older man who was walking slowly up the hill. I didn’t think much about it and kept running out into the forest, winding my way in and out of the woods until my stomach told me it was time to turn around. I looped back through the trails but found myself running down the same steep dirt path I came up on and past the same old man who I ran past on my way up. I saw that he was walking laps of one of the steepest trails I’d ever run on. Not only was I impressed by his training technique, which is probably the most effective way of man of his build could get a cardio workout, but I was reminded of the madness that it takes to judge one another, which I most certainly did as I ran up the hill for the first time.

I was eating a cheese sandwich and grapes on the top of a small pyramid in the middle of a park near my apartment a few nights ago, and when I looked out over the city I saw smog in the distance rolling into the mountains like low hanging clouds. When I looked in front of me, the air seemed crystal clear. It reminded me how easy it is to forget that I live in a fishbowl of my own experience. The fundamental beauty of living in a foreign land is in this opportunity to climb outside my fishbowl and look back in at the world.

Sometimes though, the world pulls you back in, like the other day when I noticed a boy playing hide and seek with me while I was working out.  He was good so for a while I didn’t notice we were playing. I think I was doing some stupid looking jumping thing I recently invented when I saw a shadow fall behind a tree. After 10 or 15 minutes, I caught him sneaking around the tree and grinned when he saw me; he smiled back and I thought that was it. As it turns out, Jose Martin had more social grace than me, so he walked up  and introduced himself while I was panting with my hands on my knees. We went through the normal pleasantries of exchanging names, birthdays, and birthplaces, and then both went back to working out. He made a fast friend when he commented on how tall I was, that I could reach the pull up bar without jumping, I told him I get that all the time. He even had the decency to pretend not to see when I stepped in dog poop.

If I want to live my life with my eyes open, I will often have to dig deep and forgive myself my own humanity and if I can forgive my own shortcomings while being privy to every reason I could possibly have for my own actions, how is it that I find myself so easily judging the behavior of others? Barring actions which humanity has for centuries held as violations of what it means to be a person, withholding judgment as much as possible seems to be much more rational. Unlike the sharp pain that I get in my lower back signaling dehydration when I’ve been running for more than a few hours without any water, the evolutionary advantage conveyed by judgment of others is twisted by our migration from caves to the 21st century.  Making time to be with people gives me more than anything else in the world and judgment impedes this. I got choked up today saying goodbye to Rosa and Raquel, two of the women who work at my boss’s house/the office. They gave me hugs and promises that they’ll save me homemade Dia de Los Muertos mole for when I come back. Those to women are not only my two best friends in Mexico, but they keep me healthy by sneaking me food when I come into the kitchen to heat up my cheese sandwiches.

After work I jogged back down to the dilapidated park where I do push ups and pull ups, set my watch and keys down, and commenced my meditation on pain. I was shortly joined by two tatted-up guys my age who sat down a few feet from where I was working out and immediately started doing drugs. My whole reduced judgment philosophy fell into flux as I noticed that they were literally just doing drugs and staring at me. After a few more minutes of awkwardness I walked up to them, said hey, and continued my workout. They seemed chill enough, so besides making sure they were never at my back, I continued like I would have. However, as I jogged back home I thought about how judgment was one of the most confused remnants of my caveman brain. I’m trying to deal with this confusion by separating judgment from the necessary and important act of observation. That being said, living in Mexico City constantly reminds me of the staggering advance of civilization, and living in my brain constantly reminds me of the monumental sluggishness of human evolution.

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Subway Brutality and Supermarket Friendship

I spent another weekend walking the city; something in the air makes me do it. I forgot how stimulating it is to explore someplace alone and quietly, to be completely lost, to stop and rest when I’m tired, and to eat when I’m hungry. It reminds me of when I did nothing but explore new places while backpacking alone through Venezuela and Colombia. I made friends asking for directions, uncomfortably posing for pictures with a group of high school girls, and with the waiter who brought me a cappuccino on restaurant porch overlooking a lake while the sun was setting. I took the subway downtown around noon on Sunday and walked to Parque Chapultapec. The park was filled with crowds of people, tall trees, lakes, paddleboats, and food tents. I walked up a curving road to the Castillo, a relic of an older time sitting in the center of the madness. The castle is now a National History museum, and unfortunately I got there forty minutes before it closed. After I spent a half an hour awed by murals, I stepped outside and leaned against the castle’s stone balcony looking out over the sprawling city. The storm clouds were high and threatening over the green sky, and the dark mountains seemed to hold the metropolis at bay.

My heart pounded as I stared at the harsh beauty of the immense city. It’s hard not to feel something while looking at the enormity, greatness, and folly of human civilization. In moments like this I feel like there is a thread of meaning connecting human experiences. It’s hard for me to shake this feeling because I want to believe that there is an enduring place for us in existence, a place in the beyond. After listening to This American Life last night, I wonder if this feeling is just a manifestation of the delusions of grandeur (Cue Rick Cousins on Collin Cousins). However, the concept that we classify anything as a disorder is problematic for me, especially in regards to someone else’s consciousness. As scientists burrow down the rabbit hole of discovering the biology of our brains, I find myself more and more confused about basic human concepts like holding people responsible for their actions and how we can change our own behaviors. If behavior is genetics and biology, and the desire to change behavior is also genetics and biology, then how have humans developed the cognitive dissonance associated with self-improvement. Maybe this is where we are unique from other animals, the blessing and curse of humanity in our ability to desire to change ourselves. Or maybe I just need to change how I’m looking at this whole idea, because possibly due to the impossibility of changing ourselves, what we actually want to change is our actions, leaving dissonance tied only to the feeling of regret.

Riding the subway home on Sunday night, I was leaning up against the track-facing door when a shirtless young man holding a bundle of cloth came into the car. He was skinny, covered in acne, and had bloodshot eyes. At first I thought he was just awkwardly trying to sell something or beg for money, but then he spread out the rag on the floor and I noticed it was filled with broken glass. He laid down on the floor, crunched his torso up, and slammed his back onto the glass, again and again. A boy sitting next to this brutality covered his little sister’s eyes, and most of the car turned to look away. The young man sat up, rolled up the glass, and walked the length of the car holding his hand out for money with pieces of glass still stuck to his back. Leaning up against the subway car in a clean white t-shirt with the whole world in front of me, I wondered where the meaning was in this kind of life. It’s moments like this, or when I see physically wrecked older people begging for money in the streets, that I cannot see or believe in a rhyme or reason.

Every two or three days when I pick up something at the grocery store near my apartment, I stop to talk to a man who sits outside next to the cubbies where people store backpacks and purses. He has some sort of disability that confines him to a wheelchair and appears to twist his body into tight knots. I give him money, set down my bags, and listen to him talk.  From what I can tell, he always begins by talking about his life and his philosophy. I often have trouble understanding the voice coming out from under his thick uneven mustache. I’m not sure he remembers who I am because ever day he looks at me with his bright dark eyes shining out from under his cowboy hat and asks me “So blondie, how long have you been in Mexico? Do you live close by blondie? Do you have time to see some tricks?” I say yes, and he reaches under the little blue towel that sits on his lap and pulls out a wooden paddle with a lamination on one side only. He shows me how he can spin it with his twisted fingers and his eyes closed and tell me which side is up.  Other times it’s magic tricks with strings or cloth. I used to try to talk to him, but now I just say ‘hi’ and listen because he talks for both of us. It’s the best part of my day, he speaks with joy and hope.

By no means am I trying to say that most people who seem like they’re suffering are always filled with hope and happiness. On the contrary, I imagine that most of the time people’s lives appear hellish, it is because they are hellish and because their bodies will only continue to fail them as they become poorer and more and more relegated to the shadows, there lives will get worse until the day they die. This idea rips the floor from under my feet, which I understand is a pale shadow of nothing compared to the the actual reality. It also makes me want to live and fight to better the lives of those around me until I’m gone or need care myself. This shouldn’t be the natural state of humans; if our intellectual evolution has done anything it should give us the empathy and respect to care for our brothers. If there is nothing more than this moment, then what can be more precious than to love people and care for them? I’m not a religious man, but seeing the hell that people go through on earth, I can see why people turn to God in hope of justice beyond this life.

Every day or so, I find myself closing my eyes and replaying one of two incidents, it’s one of those thought patterns that’s both self-directed and automatic, a delicate blend of the two. Sometimes I’m back in Silao, doing pullups in a park at 8 am. I hear something and look toward the bushes about a hundred yards away. I see her run out and get pushed to the ground. By the time I get to her, he’s already run away, the same asshole that looked me in the eyes while I was running. When his long blade flashed in the air, I stopped to grab a rock and I am still haunted by these seconds. Time doesn’t slow down like it does in the movies, in fact I don’t remember having any time to think, only to react. But I am haunted by the knowledge that those seconds could have meant her eternity. Luckily I didn’t have to call a hospital, only hold her and say it was going to be ok.

Other times when I close my eyes, I’m swimming as hard as I can away from the canoe and against the current, my head above the water as I pull it like I’m trying to tear it apart. Suddenly I see my mom’s head break the surface and I start bellowing at her. Later I swim to get the canoe before it crashes down the next set of rapids. It isn’t until I’m laying in the tent that night that water runs down my cheeks and in that moment I feel grateful for such my strong mother and the opportunity spend the rest of my life balancing the scales. I’ve come closer to death more times than I would like, but I never think about it much until afterwards. However, as my own mortality begins to flesh out, both life and death feel more significant to me. On one hand, I don’t want to be cavalier with the incredible and precious life I’ve been given, but on the other hand, I believe life is precious because of how I live it and who I am, and that having too tight a grip on my own existence could alter the man I want to be. Living in fear might not be a life worth living, and I’m believing more and more that living for others can be the best way of living for myself.

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Smog and the City

I ran straight up the mountain today, shredding my lungs for fifteen minutes until I reached the top. I don’t think I’ve recovered from my 800 meter repeat workout on Sunday morning after a late night out in the city. I played a different mental game on each lap of the 850m track and I started tasting iron in my mouth after the third. Today as I was running back home through the traffic and smog, I saw an old man running towards me in short shorts and a blue running tank. As we passed each other he nodded and pointed at me and I replied with a thumbs-up. I don’t remember the last time I gave someone a thumbs up, but it was the right thing to do. It hasn’t here rained for the last three days, and the dusty dirty air makes  it feel like I’m sucking down an exhaust pipe when I run or walk home on the busy street that runs in front of my apartment.

I’ve spent the past two weeks trying to learn this city and develop a mental map of where I live. Two weekends ago I jumped on the metrobus in front of my house and rode it until I felt like I was getting close to the center of the city. I got off the bus, asked where I could catch the subway, and then started off in that direction. I was almost immediately approached by a small older man carrying a plastic bag. He said that he heard me ask for directions and that he’d walk with me if I wanted because he was going in the same direction. We had been walking together for a couple of minutes before he started to tell me his story. He said that he had come to Mexico City from his home in Silao because he had heard that his father was missing from the elderly home that he was living in. He said he was robbed of all his belongings his first night in the city and had been living at the bus station ever since. He said that he was walking to send a telegram to his family so they would come and get him, and he said that he was eating when he could. I told him that it just so happened that I had recently got back from Silao, and his face lit up and he asked me about the giant Jesus on the mountain behind the city. I told him I visited the Jesus but I didn’t go to mass and he seemed happy.

We were at the end of the boulevard and he turned to shake my hand, saying goodbye and that he was headed off to the right. He told me that if I took a left I would hit the subway in a few blocks. Then he just walked away. I took a few steps towards the subway and then I stopped turned around and ran back towards the old man who wasn’t that far away yet. I handed him 20 pesos and said good luck, and he thanked me and walked away. Almost immediately I found myself hoping that he didn’t just fleece me, and figured that either his was a deeply sad and disturbing story, or he was the best con artist I’ve ever met. It didn’t take me more than a block to change my mind and hope that he’d been scamming the shit out of me.

I spent the rest of the day walking through wide city streets lined by huge colonial buildings, leaning on metal railings in hot subway cars, and trying to keep my feet as the metro-buses jerked their way through traffic. Everywhere I went was crammed with people. But it was beautiful. I wandered into churches, courtyards, plazas, through markets, and in and out of cafes and restaurants. I’m sure that I could spend every weekend here in Mexico trying to discover this city, and I would only be able to cover a small fraction over my nine months. It seems like around every corner there’s a shop with tacos and tamales and at every bus stop there’s another heartbreakingly beautiful girl. There’s a lot that I can’t stand in this city, and I know that I wouldn’t want to live here for much longer than I’ve signed up for, but when I was sitting in a church in Coyoacan and looking up at the history of Jesus’s life painted in murals, I was happy with where I found myself.

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Tamales and Don Quixote

For the past few weeks, I have been working via email with a student who is pursuing her Masters degree in Epidemiology. I review papers, do translations, and help her coordinate international research opportunities. We met once in person for five minutes. Two weeks ago she invited me to travel with her to her home in Silao, Mexico. Her letter was two days out and the last thing that I wanted to do was to spend the weekend traveling on buses and hanging out with a bunch of people I didn’t know. I had just moved into my new apartment after a long week at work and I wanted to sleep and get to know Mexico City. I said yes because I knew I’d regret not going. Rubí and I spent all Saturday in transit and arrived in a city called Irapuato around 8:45 pm where her dad and sister were waiting to pick us up. My only images of Irapuato are dark sheets of rain and prostitutes lining the muddy streets. We got home just in time to see Floyd Mayweather begin to beat up the Mexican hometown hero Saul “Canelo” Alvarez on the TV.

 

Besides a dangerous incident that occurred while I was running one of the mornings, the weekend passed like a dream. We spent the first day walking around Guanajuato, a cobblestone city nestled in and wrapped around mountains that’s so ethereal it seems like it shouldn’t exist. The architecture is entirely colonial and the tunnels snaking below the roads in the center of town keep many central streets entirely pedestrian. Don Quixote statues appeared on almost every corner with Sancho Panza eternally squat and enduring. It seemed like all of the stores and cafés were out of some Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, buildings with huge stone entrances and airy plazas inside. Rubí told me numerous site-specific legents, and they all involved a beautiful woman, duplicity, and murder. However, the sightseeing which we continued in Leon, Queretaro, and Silao, was second only to the people I was staying with.

 

Most of our time was spent at the “ranch,” the tiny family home of Rubí’s grandparents on her mother’s side, was just outside Silao. The house was small, and the yard was full of animals and muddy animal waste. I was proudly told that the tiny adobe house which kept warm in the cold and cold in the warmth was the only such building left in the village. This was where the extended family came to cook, eat, and be together. I spent hours sitting with cousins, aunts, neighbors, friends, and second cousins stuffing myself with homemade móle and tamales. It’s easy to make friends when you’re eating. I even got a special phone call from one family member long after I had left. It was Alondra, the 6 year-old who I sat with sifting flour and making Atóle. She lived at the ranch with her mom and grandparents and took Rubí and I on tours of the village. I let her use the better sifter because she was very convincing, only to be rewarded by abuse for being slow.

 

I returned to Mexico City with my backpack stuffed with tamales and sweets. I was even clean-shaven after Rubí’s dad forced me to take one of the new razors he had bought, along with the sunglasses that I had complimented him for. I will subsequently be more judicious about little comments I make. The kindness and generosity of the people I met was humbling, and I hope to pay it forward some day. 

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Palabras De Mi Padre

It often takes years to realize that your parents have wisdom, never all encompassing of course, but more than enough if you’re lucky to have been raised by good people. When I was running in the park yesterday, a flash of this wisdom materialized in front of me. My dad has a lot of sayings, many of which will immortalize him for better or worse as long as my brother and I tell his stories to our children and our friends unwittingly pass them on to their children, probably attributing them to someone else, possibly even themselves. For as long as I can remember, my dad has told me to, ‘Always smile, you’ll make friends, meet people, and disarm even the meanest looking guy.’ Neither him nor I follow this to the letter, because there are moments when it isn’t a good idea to smile, especially when confronting a large aggressive man. Sometimes it is better to look squarely at them so they understand that although you are under no illusion that you would win a physical confrontation between the two of you, you would make them pay and you might just get lucky. That situation is rare though and my father and I are similar in the way that we don’t guard our smiles, especially when meeting people. I was reminded of this saying while I was running on a wide asphalt road permanently empty of cars and temporarily empty of runners down the side of the small mountain that covers a nearby park. I saw the man from a ways off, and even from a distance he looked rough. He had dirty clothes, a hard tanned face, and he drove himself forward with his chest and shoulders, balled up hands swinging at his waist.

I instinctively smiled and said hello as we approached each other, and then I cursed myself for not keeping my mouth shut. Fortunately, it turned out that I was the asshole of the two of us, and the man’s face instantly creased into a huge smile. ‘Hellohowareyougoodafternoon!’ streamed out as quickly as he could manage it before I passed by, and I only had time for a ‘Goodthankyou!’ before he was gone. It was time enough to notice that his hair was nicely combed, that he was probably a laborer going home for the day, and that he had given his smile to me, now plastered stupidly on my face. I immediately thought of my dad and how true his words were, especially in that moment. Wise words if not quite as lyrical as my favorite Rick Cousinsism ‘Don’t sweat the petty things, pet the sweaty things.’

Internet was installed in my apartment yesterday, so now I’ll have ample opportunities to Skype with my family and hear my dad’s witticisms repeat themselves. I’m not comfortable with this new addition to my living situation because I know that although I will have easier access to communication, work, and entertainment, I’m not sure that these are things that I want to have easy access to. I will be forced to summon willpower, if only mild, to restrict my Internet use, and that this ridiculous yet utterly common reality will not make me happier. Possibly this means that I will just develop stronger willpower and that having Internet will eventually be a boon to my life, but all I know for sure is that I have enjoyed the past five days of not having internet at home. I read more, wrote more, and took my time cooking food, all good things. I have recently begun to think about this idea of happiness as I’m rounding my 25th year alive and it is starting to occur to me that I won’t exist on this earth forever and therefore I am obliged to be more conscientious of my time in this form.

I’ve never worked a desk job before, and despite the fact that my soul and body both hurt when I sit in front of a computer, my work here has been fulfilling. I don’t believe that humans are designed to sit in front of screen all day, and I’ve been working on different ways to cope with by body’s rebellion against this facet of my work. It’s certainly possible that my inability to sit all day is due to laziness and privilege, but if that’s so, I believe that I should be grateful to these two vices for protecting me from an anti-human life thus far. That being said, working on a study protocol to give HPV vaccinations to abused girls has put things in perspective and helped ground me back to why I came to Mexico in the first place. Doing background research infuriates me, breaks my heart, and reminds me of how far we humans have yet to go. I have the privilege of thinking about happiness, time, and life, but so many people are just trying to survive their horrors. No matter how many Burger Kings, Starbucks, and Subways that Mexico city puts up, that reality is much more obvious here than back home.

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Commentary

I submitted the following commentary to the Startribune in hopes of getting it published. I hope that it was my amature writing that elicited the response email of “Thanks for your submission. We’ll pass this time, but please try us again” from Doug (D.J.) Tice  the Commentary Editor. Here’s to the beauty of self publishing!

 

My name is Collin Cousins and I’m writing this letter out of admiration and respect for my mom, Carol Markham Cousins. I also want to illustrate my mother’s reassignment from Washburn high school through my own context as a Southwest high school graduate with an IB diploma.

 

My family lives just inside Edina, so my parents open-enrolled my brother and I into Minneapolis in order could have a more diverse educational experience. Ironically, Minneapolis changed its bussing policy while I was in grade school, so that by the time I graduated from high school, I had a very different experience than my parents intended. At Southwest, I quickly learned that the designation as “gifted” IB students had little to do with our innate abilities and everything to do with expectations set by our families, teachers, and community. Rare was the student that parents talk about who “yearned” for more challenging classes. I didn’t want to be bored high school, but I don’t remember many students begging for challenge. Kids are concerned with friends, having fun, and maybe getting into a good college. School is about learning how to be a person, a learner, and a citizen, and going to a school with tracking just reinforced our roles in this stratified society.

 

If anything, segregating students perpetuates arrogance, low self-esteem, and stratifications that public schools should be fighting against and not contributing towards. So how do we make sure that children don’t fall through the cracks because we’re too scared, selfish, or ignorant to change existing structures and expectations? We need to start by not just telling our grade-school students the story of Ruby Bridges, but confronting the present day realities regarding the legacies of racism and classism still affecting our country. Obviously there are a lot of things that need to be done, but we definitely need to change our education system, the kind of change that my mother was fighting for.

 

My mom is excellent at her job, intelligent, and passionately invested in her students. Anyone who knows her well will tell you that she puts her students above everything else, which is often tough politically. At a time where we are viscerally confronted with economic woes, I had to watch her publically fight for a rational and just allocation of the limited resources available to her school. Economically conscious people should consider this in the context of her former athletic director unilaterally deciding to purchase a hugely expensive scoreboard.

 

The other issue my mother fought against was tracking. She wanted to create heterogenous classrooms in order to foster sense of community at Washburn, an environment where students were not segregated by ability (blurred if not obscured altogether by language, culture, economics, and skin color), in order to create a school where all of her students had a good chance to succeed. She wanted classrooms with mixed “abilities” in order to set high expectations and deepen the educational experience for all of her students.

 

Some parents will say that it’s unfair to fight to lower the achievement gap at the expense of those at the top. I not only believe this is a false premise, but the assumption that children gain little or nothing by being in heterogenous classes makes me sick. Interpersonal interaction is not only important for developing empathy, but is also an essential skill in our economy. Furthermore, there is now ample evidence coming out of countries such as Finland substantiating the claims that heterogenous classrooms can benefit all learners.

 

However, striving to make a better society doesn’t start when our children graduate, it starts when people take the next step today. We are better than this, and I know that we want to be when I listen to the lip service paid to these ideals by members of the Minneapolis School board and district leaders. My mother’s public struggle against tracking with small-minded parents and a weak school district and is a shame and embarrassment to our city. I hope this letter begins a conversation while serving as a tribute to my incredible mother.

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Mexico

Today was a good day, I woke up ran to a park, did pull-ups next to a reticent man wearing weightlifting gloves, got home, listened to The Moth, showered, had breakfast, finished my work, and spent the rest of the afternoon cooking and talking with the housekeeper. I’ve learned a lot, maybe even more than I wanted to.

I’m in Mexico to work for the Mexican Institute for Social Security (IMSS) on a large scale HPV and cervical cancer study. I moved to el Distrito Federal from Cuernavaca on Monday because the doctor I’m working for has his office in Mexico City. As much as I liked Cuernavaca ‘The City of Eternal Spring’, I was not interested in commuting for three hours a day. It was however, an impressionable place, a colonial town nestled in the mountains low enough to keep the temperatures warm. What they didn’t tell me on Wikipedia was that Morelos, the state that Cuernavaca is in, is one of the most dangerous places in Mexico. This wasn’t always the case, but the war on drugs has changed things here.

After ten days of being cooped up during the evenings, I ignored the warnings about going out at night, and bussed alone down to the square on a Saturday night. I figured that I’m not that bad at not getting killed in foreign countries. The town was a carnival, everyone cooking, selling, playing music, eating, drinking, and dancing. Adjacent to the town square, there was a series of restaurants with patios, and next to one of these patios, people had set up a border of plastic chairs filled with elderly Mexicans watching other elderly Mexicans dance. I was hypnotized. The dancing varied from skilled to shuffling, and it was all beautiful to watch. It’s called Danzon, and I must have stood watching them dance for more than twenty minutes. It felt like my soul was being refilled. Later I walked past a creepy clown show that had attracted a crowd, a girl with a painted face who was selling kisses for 10 pesos, and found myself at series of bars along a side street in front of the Cathedral/fortress. I wasn’t sure what to get, so I asked for a beer in a big glass. The waitress gave me a liter of cold beer the color of molasses. It was cold, went down fine, and. a liter is a big beer, so it made ordering them more convenient.

But that was Cuernavaca and now I’m in Mexico City. The best thing about Mexico City is that I’m finally able to run. There’s a park about a twenty-minute jog from where I’m staying, and it’s covered in trees and running trails. The trails go from single track to fifteen feet wide, and they criss-cross a large foothill to the mountains. Like always, I’m a happier man when I’m able to run. I’m staying with the doctor and his family until I find a place nearby, and he lives in a neighborhood in the South of Mexico City that almost feels like a little town. It’s littered with bourgeois little bars and restaurants that are all reasonably priced. Yesterday was the last day of a four-day fair that wrapped itself around a little square that is two blocks away from our house. From morning until night, it was a miniature version of our own state fair minus the livestock. There was food, rides, stuff to buy, games of chance, and more food. For three straight nights, I left the house at 6:30 or 7:00 pm and grazed on fair food until around 9:00. My favorite eats were a fresh deliciously greasy tamale with chicken and mole, and a thin fried sugary donut thing with cheese filling. It rained two of the nights, but both times I found cover and drank hot café de olla (Mexican Coffee) while watching the water run down the streets.

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