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Self-Portrait (Green), 1965, oil pastel


Virtually the only thing that ever brought her close to tears of frustration, apart from her defective—and expensive—sewing machine—was the yo-yo. The mere sight of one in my hand was enough, I think, to start her solar plexus acting up. It was the one thing where she knew with absolute certainty that she would fail, and so did fail.

I’m not talking about Walking the Dog, or other esoterica, which I couldn’t do myself. I’m talking about the simple activity of keeping the yo-yo moving up and down on its string.

There was a yo-yo phase in Ajijic in 1990 during which every other kid in the streets was doing marvellous things with the yo-yo’s on sale in the weekly street market. I couldn’t do them myself, which frustrated me, but at least I could make the one I bought go up and down, and I persuaded C. to have a go. I thought that now she ought to be able to break through the barrier that had frustrated her some years earlier.

The yo-yo went down and stayed down. When I said that one needed to start moving one’s hand upwards before it had finished revolving, she jerked it and it twirled down and came to a halt again.

She was really mad at me, beyond any kind of reasoning. She hadn’t been able to work the yo-yo as a kid, she had never been able to work one since, and it was grossly unfair to make her humiliate herself in this way.

I am incompetent myself about a lot of things demanding manual dexterity. The only time when I ever saw C. truly incompetent was with the yo-yo.

Oh, and horseback riding. During our courtship we went out with our friends Don and Greta Hogan to one of those rent-a-horse-by-the-hour places on the outskirts of Minneapolis where you rode a trail. C. couldn’t, absolutely could not, control her horse.


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