The Peaceful Fray

By Nathan Payne | pablosmoglives | 18 Apr 2023

My neighbor listens to a lot of old-school U2.  He's a hardcore gritty mechanic type who speaks absolutely no English and whose yard is an open-air garage full of trees, prehistoric beercans, and car parts.  In fact his gate isn't a gate at all, it's a car.  There's a car propped up on stilts or blocks or bricks or petrified Teddy Bears, with the front wheels removed, and the closed hatchback facing the street.  You have to squeeze between the car and the fence to get into his yard, which there is of course no reason to do.  Somebody has written "Jajajajaja" and drawn a smiley face in the dust on the back window.  "Jajajajaja" is how people write laughter in Spanish.  Gringos say, "Hahahaha;" Mexicans say, "Jajajajaja."  The letters are different, but the meaning is the same.

Levity, presumably.

I liked U2 back in the day.  I went to see Rattle & Hum when it came out, in the theater with my stepbrother.  We both liked it.  We had all the early albums.  I saw them in Soldier Field in Chicago for the Pop tour, which was around the time they lost me.  I moved on musically, at first, then I experienced an anti-Bono epiphany, and finally understood why people dislike him so much.  I always thought he was a good singer, but at some point in the 90s it hit me:  This Guy Is Really Full Of Himself, And It's Impossible To Watch.

Regardless, this is one heckuva show.

Whether or not Bono is engaged in an act of theatrical costumery, or was a closet Trans-spiritualist who was finally letting the world see his true identity as "MacPhisto" at last, after years of playing to his Christianish 80s "Rock Preacher" image, is a matter of debate.  Both, probably.  U2 lost me a long time ago, but I still think Zooropa is a masterpiece.

Of course, I haven't listened to it in nearly 30 years, but what difference does that make?

My nerves are shot.  There are reasons for it.  Suffice it to say, while I was turning in for the night, the sound of the neighbor's music wasn't really doing it for me.  I wasn't in the mood.  I never am.  Sometimes, the gasoline and paint fumes from the open-air Teddy Bear Petrification Factory in the neighbor's front yard waft over the wall and into my cat water.  The water bowl from which my cat drinks is semi-regularly subjected to the chemical byproducts of whatever carcinogens they use in Mexico to turn Teddy Bears to stone.  There's no washing machine here, so I have to wash everything by hand; sometimes, after washing a bedsheet and hanging it in the backyard to dry, somebody over the wall will choose that exact moment to smoke a buffalo in motor oil and BBQ grease.  The acrid, not-entirely-unpleasant-smelling smoke will pass through the broken glass and concertina wire strung across the top of the wall like strange, dystopian lace, and infuse my clean linens with the odor of used buffalo parts and oily, smoking machine guts.  

It's a wonderful problem.  The kind of problem I would have prayed to have, while living in a van.  I have been saying for years, "I don't necessarily expect the golden ticket to fall in my lap; I just want my problems to get better every year.  Whatever my problems are right now, by this time next year, I hope they are of a much higher grade."

While I think expecting the golden ticket to fall in your lap isn't the worst spiritual exercise one could engage in, and while it may be necessary to resist the temptation to resign yourself to a fate you don't believe in, realizing your problems have improved immensely is one way to keep yourself grounded.  I know it works for me.

Assuming, of course, that your problems have indeed improved.  It's nowhere near as bad as prison or jail, but one of the upsides of living in a van for 15 years is that when it's over, literally everything looks like a blessing.  Being able to stand upright without having to step into a public space, being able to run water over your hands any time you like, having a place to hang a picture of your grandparents, having to bring your clothes in to get them out of the gasoline fumes wafting over the wall from the guy next door... luxuries all.

All my problems these days are rich people problems.  By "rich people" I mean people who live indoors.  They are rich.

"We" are rich, I should say.

For now?

Whatever the case, the point is, I'm not necessarily accustomed to a warm, amicable reception from the neighbors.  When I lived on the Jungle Farm in 2021, the neighbor listened to his music so loud you could understand the lyrics.  I mean, he was a quarter of a mile away, and all day every day was Narco club night on his farm.  Loud, repetitive beats assaulted me like a Nazi blitzkrieg.  Troops of hostile sound marched across the cornfield and laid siege to my siesta. 

The place was spoze to be idyllic.

I walked over to his property once, to ask him to keep it down.  He was openly hostile.  He was alone on the property, a quarter of a mile away, and felt the need to use a public address system to listen to music while working on his car.  He was pissed off that he couldn't even listen to his music loud out here, in the middle of nowhere, without aggravating his neighbors.  By "loud" I mean, at a volume sufficient to entertain a crowd of thousands.  For real.  A distant radio can be a pleasant sound, and can add much to the din of a lazy summer day.  Especially in Mexico, where much of the music sounds like an exotic fiesta set to German oompa polka beats.

Oompa, oompa, chili peppers, meat!  My girl hates burritos,

Burritos from the street.

It was a beautiful place, but thanks to the neighbor and a handful of other reasons, within a month I couldn't wait to get out of there.  Hard to believe, looking at the videos:

I set the songbirds free when I left.  I unlocked the door of their cage and propped it open with a twig.  Then I drove away through the confetti, and spent a week in a suburb of Guadalajara.  I had to do it.  I had to set the songbirds free.  A douchebag thing to do, perhaps.  But it was necessary, I assure you.

Another time, at an apartment building in Mexico City, I had a neighbor whose dog would bark for 3 hours at a time at least 3x a week, from 7-10am.  Then it would start barking again for 3 hours in the afternoon.  Six hours a day, starting at dawn, or dawn enough for me, at least 3 days a week.  Sometimes more.  Not the occasional barking binge, where the dog would go off for 5 or 10 minutes (which is more than enough) and then eat some drugs or a shoe and chill out.  But rather a sustained campaign of disruptive, spirited noise that could be heard throughout the entire building.

Starting at dawn.  Or dawn enough for me.

The building was open-air and stylistically gutted on the inside.  The front door opened to a "hallway," which was a long balcony that opened to a 4-story drop to the floor of the parking garage below.  There were 9 or 10 apartments on each floor  It was a 6- or 7-story building, and all the apartments looked out onto each other, as far as the front doors were concerned.  Of course, the front doors were really at the back of the apartment, and the real front was the window, which gave you either a view of the street below, or the other parking garage, the one next door.  Fortunately, I had a view of the street.

But because all the apartment doors opened up to each other, and the concrete echo chamber was 7 stories tall, when a dog was barking for 3 hours at a time, everybody knew it.  The drag factor was doubled by the fact that nobody ever complains about anything in Mexico.  It's the opposite extreme of Karen culture, in which everybody complains about everything.  Here, nobody says anything to anybody, about anything.  Ever.

I talked to the owner of the dog at one point, and he was a prick.  A gringo, actually, a Hispanic guy from the U.S. who spoke perfect English, and who couldn't believe somebody would dare complain about his loud, disruptive dog lectures.  Ridiculously, he threatened me with legal action, and went about his business on the highway to hell, with all the other douchebags.  I left town the next day.  Not because of the legal threat, but because the persistent dog noise was a deal-breaker.  It ruined the entire Mexico City metropolitan area for me.  In fact I think he may have actually taken the hint to heart; the dog seemed to be leaving at the same time as me.  I think I saw a family of some kind taking the dog away, to a more-appropriate location, hopefully.  But it was time to go anyway.  I texted the neighbor's girlfriend from a hotel in EdoMex (Mexico State), and told her that her gringo boyfriend is the type of person to threaten legal action against people who don't want to listen to his dog barking 6 hours a day, and that to stay with him would be to bring the curse of his condemned, tenuous existence down on her as well.  It is my hope to this day that I saved her from yet another worthless relationship, which almost all relationships are.  But nobody ever dares utter a whimper of protest down here.  About anything.  Ever.

It's obviously a side-effect of living in a Narco state.  I had some loud-music neighbors at a hotel in San Luis Potosí once, and I approached them to smoke a cigarette and be friendly, as I asked them to turn it down.  They were friendly enough, at first, kinda, but then told me some story about how the front desk guy at this same hotel once opened their door to some thieves, or something.  It might have been a kidnapping story.  I don't remember.  It didn't resonate with me, whatever it was.  But they were trying to scare me, it occurred to me later.  The hell with turning the music down; let's intimidate this gringo with lies about kidnapping and thieves killing desk clerks at this hotel, because we have friends in the Sinaloa cartel, and believe ourselves to be strong.

They blew me off, and didn't turn their music down.  Not for a couple hours, anyway.

I was detained once by some security-type cop people at a hotel in Puebla, on my way into the street, because they had just busted a kidnapping ring that was operating out of the hotel, and wanted to make sure I didn't have anything to do with it.  They asked me who I was and what I was doing there.  I told them I was a gringo and that I wasn't doing anything, all of which was obviously true, so they let me go after a few minutes.  They were nice guys.  I wished them luck as I walked into the street.

Notice the almost-total lack of other customers of any kind.  Maybe people were frightened by the kidnapping ring, of which I was of course completely unaware.  But all the rooms had 2 floors.  I thought it was a nice place.

I had to approach some insane selfish lunatics at a hotel in Jiménez, Chihuahua last year, because they were sitting by the pool drinking and smoking cigarettes at 10pm, and listening to music with a little portable loudspeaker.  Not a radio, or an electronic bullfrog performing Mexican German oompa songs, but a legit loudspeaker system, large enough to easily entertain dozens of people.  And they were playing their music loud, and protested and told me "this was their country" and it was a "free country," and I asked the guy if his idea of freedom was ruining the night of every other paying customer on the premises, and the woman got all imperial on me and shooed me away like a queen swatting a jester, or a fly. 

"Go," she said.  It was highly unbelievable.

So, since they gave me no choice, I sat down in a chair next to them and began to chainsmoke cigarettes like all the other madmen in the asylum.  I talked in stilted, uncomfortable tones about what a beautiful night it was, and proceeded to deflect the rain they had been pouring on my own tired, sleepy parade, back onto them, from whence it came.  Apparently, peace was not an option.  Their aggravation was ridiculous.  They told me they didn't want to hang out with me.  I told them it was mutual.

Finally, when they realized I had no respect for them either, and would sit with them until everybody in the world literally died of boredom, one of them went into the front office to complain.  Which is what I was hoping they would do.  A security employee drunk on the mild, placatory wine of conflict resolution came out to solve the problem.  He obviously didn't want to deal with it on any level (they might have been affiliated with the local narcos), but he did a good job of smiling and not asserting himself at all, while telling everybody to be cool.  It was a relief.  The douchebags turned their music off and returned to at least a pretense of civilized behaviour.  I went back to my room and burned the entire world down, and all its loud, douchey inhabitants, in the raging incinerator I use to turn my endless well of tears to steam, so that I may at least be powered by my daily bouts of broken weeping, and not implode from the pressure of the world, and the unbearable minutiae of what indoor people refer absurdly to as "life."

I considered staying in Jiménez, actually, and almost rented an apartment from a Narco.  We had a good vibe, and became fast friends, but in hindsight, it's a good thing I didn't stay.  I'm not familiar with that world on an experiential level, and it didn't occur to me that to get involved with them, even as a tenant in an empty building with a parking lot full of hundred-thousand-dollar sports cars, would lead to my destruction, eventually.  Eventually, they're going to want to use your van for something.  Perhaps your passport, or your soul.  Somebody's going to invite you to a hot tub party full of Guapas, at some point, and you're going to have to stand firm and not get too close, so their enemies don't throw you into a vat of acid, in the event of a violent turf war.

Or, far more dangerous, you actually get in the jacuzzi, the hot tub full of spiritual "acid," and throw yourself into the vat of corrosive Guapas, until your moral compass has been ground down to nothing, and you find yourself grinning like an idiot, on your way to hell, again.  

Cuz it hasn't lightened up down here.  Seven people were shot and killed at a swimming pool spa near Celaya this weekend, when 20 gunmen (or some such horrific number) stormed into the place and opened fire.  Kids and people in swimsuits scattered like marbles.  3 women, 3 men, and a child were killed.  The sicarios destroyed the surveillance equipment and left.  No arrests have been made.

Horrible.  Beyond belief.


And 3 gringos have gone missing in the Sea of Cortez as well.  They left Mazatlán for San Diego in a 44' boat, but never checked in at Cabo San Lucas as planned.  Nobody knows what happened to them.  Which, unfortunately, is another way of saying everybody knows what happened to them.

Horrible.  Beyond belief.


So, y'know.  You don't want to get too close.  People don't complain.  Nobody knows who the loud, obnoxious offender is affiliated with.


“To be a gringo in Mexico—ah, that is euthanasia!"
Ambrose Bierce


But tonight, I had no choice.  Like I didn't have a choice in San Luis Potosí, or Jiménez, probably.  Technically not true, but also inexorable and adamantine, unable to be moved.  The path forward into silence and inner-peace-or-bust, at last.  No turning back.  No slowing down.  The brakes are shot.  The steering's made of mush.  Careening unto the end, inex-orably I be.  Shall I gun it like a fiend, into the peaceful fray?  The thread has been drawn.  There is no slack.  The line in the sand has been smudged beyond recognition.  Is it a jacuzzi full of chicks, or a hot tub full of acid?  Must we listen to old-school U2 at this hour, even if it isn't late?  It's the volume, more than anything.  I might even like the music.  But I can't listen to it anymore.  Turn it down, amigo, please.

So I approached him.  Amicably, of course.  And y'know what?  

He turned it down.  Him and his friend, working on his car like a couple of grungy Narcos, with their lightbulbs and loud music, speaking zero English, and wearing the perma-crust of grime endemic to all who work with their hands.  We exchanged half a second's worth of meaningless pleasantries, and he said something incomprehensible that must have amounted to 'No Problem," and... actually turned it down.

And so I smoked the 2nd of the 3 cigarettes I bought at the tienda, to ease my nerves, and y'know what song was playing, as the volume re-entered the atmosphere of reason?  The only post-90s U2 song I actually like.  The one with the title that was ridiculously apropos to the moment.

It's a beautiful day.

It is?

I'll take it!

The effect on me was gospel-like.  I raised my hands to the cold, misty moon and had a moment.  I didn't weep.  The furnace in my chest stopped converting tears of sorrow into motion, for a minute at least, and I actually kind of chilled out.  Crazy, yeah I know.  I think it was that "worship" thing people are always talking about.  They play at it, but do they do it, really?  I wouldn't know, of course.  Good for them if they do.  But in my case, most worship consists of pleading for mercy and grace in a cloud of salted steam.  This wasn't that.  This was calm.  Joyful, even.

A gift from God.  Like my last cigarette, number 3 of 3, I'll probably throw away.

So, then, into the peaceful fray I go. 

By the grace of God, at least for tonight.

A beautiful day. 

Fancy that.

I shall endeavor to appreciate it, like the exquisite delicacy it is.

Pablo con Dios,


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Nathan Payne
Nathan Payne

I am a songwriter and bandleader who travels the world in search of the golden ticket.


Replacing my blog at

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