The best thing about Mexican restaurants isn't the food—well, actually, it is the food. All right then, the second-best thing about Mexican restaurants is something equally spicy and good: the gaudy calendars picturing fierce revolutionaries, serene Madonnas, and moony Aztec lovers. These almanaques, as they're called in Spanish, put our pallid north-of-the-border versions to shame. Like enchiladas, "Az-Tex" calendars are inexpensive and highly satisfying, so if you're looking for a different kind of holiday greeting, consider customizing almanaques for your family and friends.
I first ordered personalized calendars ten years ago and was so tickled with the result that the calendar giveaway has become a staple of my holiday festivities. The high point of my year is the day the salesman shows up. (The first one who appeared at my door looked perplexed and asked, "¿No es un restaurante?") I love poring over the design catalog, which bulges with choices—everything from comely peasant girls to toddlers in giant sombreros. My favorites involve Aztec T&A—muscular, scantily clad warriors and their equally apparel-challenged babes, who inevitably boast gravity-defying anatomical features.
Picking the art is the easy part; writing the text is hard. Early on I followed the traditional restaurant-style copy, listing name, address, and other info along with a spoofy thanks-for-your-business message. Later I branched out into bilingual wordplay ("A tamal es tamal, but a free calendar no está mal!"), punny proverbs ("A rolling stone gathers no masa"), and once—in a rare moment of good taste—a quote from the great poet Octavio Paz. And I always end with a border-slang phrase beloved of my El Paso relatives: "¡Seguro que hell, yes!" (roughly, "You bet!"). I soon learned, however, that people rarely read anything on a calendar except for the phone number, which they naturally assume belongs to a real restaurant. I've gotten many calls from strangers, who obviously have spotted one of my almanaques on a friend's wall, asking something along the lines of "How late are you open?" When I say, "Who is this?" they hang up, thinking, no doubt, "Well, the food may be all right but the service is obviously lousy!"
You can ask the manager at your favorite restaurante for the name of its calendar company (all, to my knowledge, are headquartered in Mexico). I'm pleased with my current supplier, Publicidad Albores, of Monterrey. The family business includes one talented relative, Jorge Suárez, who produces all the original art. To request that a representative pay you a call, write the company—ideally by March or April—at its U.S. mailing address: Box 1993, Laredo, Texas 78044. The salesmen, who speak English, generally visit during the summer. Specify that you want the santoral calendar, which gives the saint associated with each day of the year (including the ever-popular San Policarpo and Santa Salustia). The minimum order is 125; expect to pay about $1.50 each. That's as cheap as a Christmas card, but a calendar is useful and lasts longer. Will your friends and family enjoy the result? ¡Seguro que hell, yes!