NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED – The Sad Story of My Grandson, Felipe

| October 15, 2011 | Comments (1)


One late Fall Saturday, seven or eight years ago, my partner and I decided to get our act together and spruce up Fawlty Towers, the crumbling Victorian rowhouse that had been our home since we moved, some years earlier,  from Manhattan to the South Bronx seeking more space. After a number of rentals since we arrived in New York City in 1989, we felt the discomfort of our tiny but attractive flat near Central Park on the Upper West Side – we joked the space was so narrow our elbows were getting bruised –  and decided to ” homestead”, buying a fixer-upper on an historically landmarked, but somewhat dilapidated street in what was then consided a rather louche neighborhood in the Bronx. Our renovation of the place was punctuated by spurts of work followed by sags in energy and funds; we began to think the place would never get tarted up the way we wanted it to be.

It must have been the crisp Autumn air that gave us renewed resolve that Saturday morning as we furiously scraped and painted. But realizing the sysiphean task before us, we hopped into our Honda and headed for a spot under the highway overpass where immigrant labor congregated. Every morning scores of muchachos  waited to be picked up for the  grunt work they had come to the US  to undertake for Americans now too lazy to lift a finger.

Bunched in groups of ten or more, clutches of ex-rancheros eyed our car as we drove up. Mostly Mexicans and all male, the workers clumped together chatting and laughing the way Latinos do, seemingly without a care in the world although in reality most of them were near starvation and hadn’t a clue where their next meal would come from.

Standing some distance from all of them was a lone figure, a slender, tall-ish youngster who looked more spanish than Mexican. We selected him and drove back to the house where he worked tirelessly the whole day, scraping and painting with amazing skill and diligence. We asked him to return the following week and the week after that. He had just turned  20 and  his English was excellent.

By the end of the month we had become friends and we offered him the spare bedroom in our basement where he stayed for several months. During his time with us we came to know him as one of the brightest, most winning personalities we had ever  encountered. Orphaned at 12 he had worked at an amazing variety of jobs in Mexico and the US that included ranch hand, construction worker, busboy in a New Orleans whore house and junior circus clown at a carnival in Jalisco. His energy and optimism were boundless; just being in his presence was inspiring  and invigorating.

The Mexican immigrant drum system had it that illegals fared better on the West Coast where it was rumored a Mexican Consulate ID card would give them enough status not to be  arrested or deported by the U.S. immigration service, the dreaded INS. So Felipe decided to try his luck in San Francisco.

After several months in the Bay Area, menaced by  Mexican gangs that did not yet exist in New York City, Felipe returned to Guadalajara, his hometown in Mexico. I had visited him in San Francisco and we decided that he should  go back to his country and finish  his studies, first his high school degree and then on to university where he dreamed of studying computer engineering.

In the meantime I adopted Felipe as my grandson, fulfilling a longing I had held for years to have a close family member whom I could mentor and guide to a better life.  For two years, our plan went swimmingly. He not only got his high school diploma, but also enrolled in a prestigious university and earned straight A’s for several semesters. I often  visited him in Guadalajara and decided to buy  him an apartment which I could also use for winter getaways from cold New York. We found a nice two-bedroom flat in a good part of town and he moved there in 2009.

My first inkling that things were not as they should be came over a period of  six months or so when Felipe began asking for more and more money. There was an unending array of  expenses in addition to his regular  monthly allowance – an eye operation he said he needed, orthodontic treatment because he wanted to be more presentable, tattoo removal since Mexican employers would not hire people with body markings, mysterious assessments for the apartment building’s repair, then two automobile accidents occuring only a couple of months apart. Each of these car crashes set me back $10,000. As 2010 turned into 2011, I calculated, including the apartment, that I had spent over $100,000 on my adoptive grandson.

While I did not begrudge him what he needed, my sixth sense told me I was being taken to the cleaners. I learned inadvertently through other Mexican acquaintances that Felipe was contributing to the support of  relatives in Mexico City and that many of his “expenses” were, in fact, fictional, that my money was being used in ways I had not envisaged. Having lived in the Third World for most of my life, I was not uninitiated to the reality that if you adopt somebody from a developing country, you actually end up adopting a whole village, the ties  of the extended family being strong  and sensitive to economic opportunism: if an economic windfall occurs to one member, other family members  come running with extended hands and cannot be refused.

We had a heart-to-heart which I hoped would set us on the right track, but it was not to be.  The worst was yet to come. It came to light early in 2011 that Felipe had pawned our apartment to get cash for a “business deal” he had entered. The details of this venture were so vague and contradictory that I never really understood exactly what was happening. At considerable additional expense, I “unpawned” the apartment, redeeming it for an exorbitant fee.

Mea culpas and apologies were given me, punctuated with lots of  ” never agains.” I began to ask myself what did family obligations consist of and would I treat a biological grandson differently – more indulgently – from an adopted one.

With only two months until his  graduation, I took a deep breath and  vowed  to stand behind him till he got his diploma. We could see light at the end of the tunnel, the finish line was looming in the distance, that big brass ring was about to be grabbed.

But it was not to be. In a phone call that left me numb, Felipe informed me that he had quit school because it no longer had any meaning for him and that he had joined with “friends” in a venture that would make him lots of money. When I asked who these friends were, his three-word answer stunned me : “drug dealers, narcos,” he said.

I now add to the first proverb – “no good deed goes unpunished” – two more shibboleths that also apply to me – ” be careful what you wish for, you might get it” (in this case, a grandson) and “an old fool and his money are easily parted.”

In my  last conversation with Felipe earlier today, I ran out of things to say to him and signed off with “Vaya con Dios.”


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  1. Felipe says:

    Granny i am laughing. The first part it is no true. You didnt picked me up there and my Name is German i felt shame and sorry. What is that Rencheros starving. Cute history.

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