I lost one of my best friends the other day. Some of you knew him, and those who didn’t should have. Conrad LaRiviere was a fixture of our expat life in Oaxaca while he lived here. He moved back to the U.S. nearly six years ago, settled into Phoenix, and we had an interesting email correspondence, some of it too foul for publication.
We planned to do a joint book on geezers that never came off. At one point he wrote, “Please god, send these two aging geezers interesting, attractive women. We’d appreciate it!”
I seem incapable of writing the standard tribute here. So let me give you a piece of fiction about Conrad that I recently published in Moot Testimonies, a pseudo memoir in the form of a journal. For Conrad I wrote some words pertaining to our relationship as follows:
I assisted in John’s apostasy from American life in more ways than one. He and I have been good friends, buddies, since his arrival when we both took part in Maestra Laura Olachea’s Spanish classes. We were a bunch of American castaways and misfits endeavoring, for various reasons, to start over. They foolishly thought that learning Spanish would give them entré into Mexican life and culture. JG and I knew better.
But the classes were fun and Laura was a great teacher. We had group presentations—like a Christmas play that some of us wrote and performed in. John was the Little Drummer Boy, and as we sang along he tapped out “pa-rum-pum-pum-pum” on his little tambor and the crowd greeted this with gusto. Laura’s group really did give us gringos a foothold into Mexico and became a happy shelter for many. Goodman and I dropped out after we had totally corrupted the group, and of course our Spanish suffered.
Before leaving the U.S. I had traveled a lot, bouncing around the country, and at one point held a soft kind of job, teaching audiology at the University of Maine-Bangor, and so Goods and I had the Maine connection in common plus the hapless circumstances of academic life—like tenured colleagues who couldn’t teach, and rambling, boring departmental meetings. We were linked together by our views on politics, religion, government, wine and pot. I drank a lot of box wine out of cheapness, and JG always had a comment on that. I have this fine pad in Jalatlaco with a big roof garden where in fine weather we would repair to smoke dope and consider the follies and glories of mankind.
Last year we hosted a notable Christmas party on the roof to honor not Jesus but Christopher Hitchens, one of our heroes, who had passed on in December three years before. I read from his works, highlighting his vigorous comments on renouncing all religion, and then we sang Christmas carols. Oaxaca embraces all types.
I’m thinking about leaving Mexico, however, to go back permanently to the U.S., a decision no one can understand. My friends all thought I’d become a fixture here, the life of the party. Well, there were a couple of disappointing, one could say unrequited, affairs of the heart that fell apart, and I began to think on the prospect of finally giving up on any serious female connection. I don’t need the tsuris, as Goods would say, and I’ve seen and done all Oaxaca has to offer. So part of me is just tired of being the house liberal, and I think Goods has felt the same way. Every progressive cause has its downside. Living in a liberal bubble like Oaxaca can get tiresome.
After all, we are the privileged caste, aren’t we?—the white folks who call ourselves expats, so unlike those Nicaraguan and Mexican “migrant workers.” I recently read a piece in The Guardian about this. Arabs, Latinos and Asians are immigrants; we and the Europeans are favored and called expats. Well, I can’t get too exercised about this linguistic snobbery, though many of my Oaxaca friends are always preaching from that liberal state of mind where every last kind of injustice must be called out as unfair, insupportable or immoral. I come from good French-Canadian stock, working class folks who had no money or time for such bullshit. Mainers by and large don’t put up with such bullshit. They can’t afford the indulgence.
Goodman gave up on the American Way, maybe for similar reasons. He was disheartened with his past relations with women, which had often ended unhappily, and he was broke besides. He could have continued on in the U.S. but why? Life is less indulgent here. For some of us, a change of scene is just a necessary part of life.