From The Publisher

December 11, 2017

In my 24 years at this job, I have had employees come and go. Most of them have left some kind of impression on me, some of the good variety, some of the not so good, but nobody has affected me like Sparky, who worked on the team for, I don’t know, about four or five years maybe. Sparky and I remained friends long after she was turned out to pasture. Let me tell you why.

I don’t think I appreciated her while she worked here, maybe because she was such a lousy employee. Maddening, really.

02.JPGSparky came to us one day when I was standing out on our patio at Plaza Nautica. She came reeling across the bricks in tears, as she was just fired from a Gringa-owned real estate company. She was all weepy and angry at the same time, as she was accused of stealing. This tiny old Mexican senora appealed to me, I think, because she reminded me of my auntie who pitched in to raise me. Tiny, old, excitable, and always in a flurry of action. Not getting anything done, mind you, just a circular flurry of action.

In Mexico it’s difficult to get a job after the age of 40, and she was well past that. I took a chance on her, even putting her in charge of collecting cash. I knew her former employer and guessed she only wanted to get rid of the old girl without paying her severance. I think I was right. Because Sparky handled thousands of dollars for me and there was never a penny misplaced.

But she was her own spirit.

As we entered the age of computers, she stubbornly refused to learn. I honestly think she would toss a wrench into the computer when nobody was looking so she didn’t have to deal with it that day.

Her job was to take invoices around to our advertisers, get them to sign it, then the next week go ‘round again to collect. Yes, that’s the way it works in Mexico, the land that doesn’t see a need for a workable post office.

We kept telling her not to take her dogs with her on her rounds, and when we caught her at it, we would take that account away from her (she worked on commission). She kept sneaking the damn dogs along anyway and then complaining about her missing clients.

She was also told not to smoke around her clients, and that didn’t sink in either. One day she was at Pancho’s restaurant, back in the day Mary Bragg owned it. Mary told her to put out her cigarette. So Sparky stepped outside while she waited for her check, and kept right on smoking. When Mary saw that, she came storming out of her office, shouting for her to put the cigarette out. Sparky shot back that she was Mexican, this was a Mexican sidewalk, and by God she could smoke on it. Yeah, we heard that story from Mary, who was not amused but was tolerant.

One year, Sparky was chosen to be a poll watcher. This was a woman who had never bothered to vote in her life, and was terrified of the job. I encouraged her to do it, as I wanted her to write a story about her experience and I thought it would broaden her horizons as well. After she picked up her materials, she brought them to the office. I didn’t know what was in the box so I walked over and opened it. I immediately dropped it back on the floor. Voting ballots in a newspaper office? Owned by a foreigner? No! Sullen at my being unreasonable request, she took it home, where, she said, her dogs would likely eat the whole shebang. Her story about working the election, which I had to worm out of her, turned out to be a big hit.

She spoke English, which she learned as a bartender on Medano Beach, back when there were only a couple of bars there. She could write in English, but badly, and it was obvious that she learned her English from uneducated people. I could never break her of using the word ain’t and that’s just the start of her mistakes. She saw no need to learn past tense, she would just put “ed” on the end of any verb and call it a day. Writed, speaked, swimmed. Occasionally she would accidently hit the jackpot, as in learned. Still, she was understandable and when she wrote, it was very cute. I wish I could find something she wrote, but I can’t, as we don’t file stories that way. You would enjoy it, as our readers at the time did.

Like all Mexicans of that vintage, Sparky had a fear of bosses. Most Mexicans don’t treat their employees well, let alone fairly, which makes them very humble and fearful, not a good mix with me, as I am always being jokey, as she would call it. Her neck would be on a swivel, looking from me to her manager, David Flores, almost whenever I said anything, wanting verification that I was just being jokey again. Usually I was, as she was so fun to tease. Maybe I regret some of that teasing now.

But the joke was on me, as she taught me one huge life lesson I have never forgotten but I learned too late for her. Like nearly every Mexican, she resisted paying taxes, because they all believe their money is stolen by politicians. So she talked me into paying her under the table. When she started getting sick several years ago, she had no national health insurance. Lucky for her, Mexico recently inaugurated a program for people like her, but the program is funded even less than the national health insurance program and the result is an endless wait in lines, which is hard on sick people. This put a financial strain on her family to pay cash for her care, and her family works for me, both daughter and granddaughter.

As I watched as the cigarettes started eating away at her, I swore I would never allow another employee to talk me out of paying taxes and earning their benefits, and I haven’t. That is her legacy to employees of the Gringo Gazette who have come after her.

Here’s how she got her name:

I was frustrated with her again. I don’t even remember over what now. I yelled at her, “How many times do I have to tell you this?” She gave me the usual deer caught in the headlights look and stammered out, “The doctor told me not to think too hard because it might cause sparks to go off in my head.” Behind me I heard David Flores suck in his breath, not knowing how I was going to react to this. I didn’t know what to say. It’s just one of those Mexican moments that you don’t quite know how to respond to. Finally, I burst out laughing, and she was Sparky until the day she died last week.

I will never forget Sparky. She is an important part of my Mexican experience and I treasure memories of her.