A Rotten Person Travels the Caribbean
|A grump in paradise learns that anyplace it's legal to carry a machete is comedy waiting to happen||$14.95|
ISBN 1-932361-58-8 264 pages
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"P.J. O'Rourke and Paul Theroux in a blender."
—Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Devil's Highway
"If I were an immigration officer in the Caribbean, I would never let this man enter my country!"
—Tom Miller, author of Trading with the Enemy: A Yankee travels through Castro's Cuba
"When Gary Buslik dies, study his brain. We have to prevent the same thing happening again."
—Daniel P. Luce, inmate counselor, Stateville Penitentiary, Joliet, Illinois
From Nevis to Havana, Antigua to Grenada, and everywhere in between, be the gecko on the wall in Gary Buslik's strange and hilarious love affair with the Caribbean, and, occasionally, his wife. Each chapter recounts another island-hopping, culture-clashing crisis that pits the homesick author against falling coconuts, singing Rastas, topless beaches, cricket, steel drum bands, and even the French. Screamingly funny and often poignant, Gary Buslik plies the Caribbean with shark eye and barracuda wit.
"Fast-paced, quick-witted, and dangerously irreverent."
—Elliott Hester, author of Adventures of a Continental Drifter and the bestselling Plane Insanity
For my friends.
This is what I was doing while you were making a living.
Table of Contents
The Time I Accidentally Urinated on Idi Amin
My Military-Industrial Complex
The Power of MasterCard
The Night Ramon Popular Stopped Being a Commie
A Bug in My Eye
My Secret Cigars
My Date with Princess Di
The Art of Indifference in an Uncivil Age
Why Chicken Rectums Are More Relevant than You Think
Where Satan Works
My Military-Industrial Complex
by Gary Buslik
Getting into Cuba takes an expensive turn.
The check-in line at José Marti International was for tourists what every other line in Cuba was for Cubans: long and languid and as listless as a python after eating an agouti on a sweltering afternoon. We had barely moved for almost two hours—sitting on our suitcases, reading, playing blackjack, muttering obscenities, occasionally standing to regain circulation and nudge our bags with our feet, playing Name That Tune on zippers and Hang the Butcher, with the Butcher sporting a beard, smoking a cigar, and wearing guerilla fatigues from the 1950s. But, like the Dow Industrial Average, in all that time we had gotten absolutely nowhere. One crummy check-in agent for a couple of hundred sunburned, bunion-throbbing, pissed-off Yanquis. Eventually the python began to bulge here and there, then break apart like on that New Hampshire Revolutionary flag, "Live Free or Die."
When I couldn't stand it anymore, I moseyed outside and found a kid—Raphael, nine years old—selling stale coconut fragments and gave him ten dollars to come inside and stand in line for me.
Let me explain something. In Cuba you can bribe anyone to do anything for a U.S. dollar. One night we went to the Museum of the Revolution, only to find it closed for "remodeling"—a term that is to Cuban economic reality what "international" is to Cuban airport. Well, fine. One dollar, and the security guard not only let us in and turned on the lights, he invited us to help ourselves to whatever mementos we might like, such as Granma, the boat on which Castro and a hundred of his men sailed from Mexico to launch their revolution. "Go on," he said, waving, "just take it."
If you got sick on hotel food and—the Cuban doctors being among the world's best—they diagnosed you with needing an entire upper-body transplant, and there were three thousand desperately ill Cubans on the upper-body waiting list, a buck would do the trick, and you'd be flying home with a spanking new thorax.
So in offering Raphael a sawbuck, I was not only giving him at least a thousand times more than necessary, I was also single-handedly reviving the Cuban gross domestic product. Unfortunately my wife didn't see it that way.
"What's the matter with you?" she hissed.
I explained about the Cuban economy.
"He's not standing in line for you. It's demeaning."
"Not as demeaning as constantly losing at Hang the Butcher. What the hell kind of a word is sphygmomanometer? You made that up."
"Not you. Demeaning for him, you twit."
"Now there's a word I can wrap my brain around."
"Send him back out there."
"He's selling chunks of old coconuts for a nickel. He'll be dead before he makes ten bucks."
"Then let him keep the ten dollars."
"It's not slavery," I pointed out. "He wants to work for it, and if you send him away, he'll think it's his fault. Anyhow, what's so demeaning about standing in line?" I glanced around at our fellow travelers. "I'll bet they wish they'd thought of it first." She magnetized my molecules with her MRI glare—usually reserved for when George Bush says something idiotic, as if I, personally, had been responsible for the low oxygen level in his incubator. "Hey, we all work for someone."
"Not standing in line for spoiled Americans," she said.
A fat Canadian with a ponytail in front of us shook his head—in disgust, if I wasn't mistaken. "Right on, sister," he muttered. Instead of a respectable, bourgeois suitcase with gimpy wheels, he nudged a backpack across the floor, the kind usually seen on the bony shoulders of pimply college undergraduates, not middle-aged men shaped like Shamu the whale. I knew he was an escapee from the Great White North because his passport was tucked into a strap on his backpack, as if he wanted to make damn well sure everyone knew he wasn't an American. You can pick out a Canadian passport from across a room, because its cover features a gold-embossed portrait of Queen Elizabeth eating a bacon sandwich. You can tell it's bacon by the curlicue tail sticking out of the bread.
I happen to like Canadians. Many years ago, my best friend, Steve, and I spent a week at a fly-in fishing camp in southern Ontario, on a system of lakes that, had Livingstone been fishing there, Stanley would not have found him in a bazillion years. The landscape was so unremittingly wet and featureless and bland, even Canadians considered it boring. It was like a Hamm's Beer sign had fallen into the sink, and the bartender accidentally left the cold faucet running overnight, and a storm came and blew the roof off the bar, and the bartender, who had fallen asleep drunk in the storeroom, drowned.
The lakes were so easy to get lost on that we were supposed to wear bright orange ponchos so the seaplane that had dropped us off would be able to find us in a week, and if we heard the plane but didn't see it, we were supposed to make a fire and, if necessary, burn all our clothing to attract attention. The problem being that we and all our belongings were so thoroughly soaked to the bone—if our belongings had had bones—that we could have doused ourselves with kerosene from our sleeping-bag warmers, had we not run out of kerosene four days earlier, and had our sleeping bags not fallen out of our capsized canoe, along with our food, tent, clothes, and ourselves, and they still would not have caught fire.
So we wound up fishing naked, which we found liberating and glorious and spiritual, until my accident with the lure. Then we had to call for an air ambulance, which cost three thousand dollars Canadian—sixty-five dollars U.S.—but which at least supplied us with dry hospital gowns. They flew us to Winnipeg, where they surgically removed the lure and related minnow, and, after a massive dose of antibiotics, we saw an American movie with Canadian subtitles and went to a "massage" parlor where we could be with actual women, as opposed to walleye pikes dressed up like women. My "massage therapist" was a nifty brunette named Margo, who at the time reminded me of Jill St. John, but in retrospect more resembled Herbert Hoover. In any event, there I was lying on my back, "massage" towel draped over groin, and Margo dribbling warm "massage" oil into my navel while we engaged in preparatory idle chitchat. Then she asked me if I would like her to remove the towel, and I said sure, and when she saw what was underneath she screamed and asked what the hell was that. I told her it was a fish-hook accident, but I don't think she believed me because she blew a whistle, and in ran a seven-foot-tall Canadian with a hockey stick who threatened to slap-shot me stupid if I did not scram and take my weird-looking groin and my friend Steve with me. Or it may have been the other way around.
So you might wonder why I like Canadians, and I will tell you. A couple of years later the Blackhawks made it to the Stanley Cup playoffs versus the Maple Leafs, and who should turn out to be Toronto's star defenseman but Matt Powell, Margo's seven-foot bouncer. I had just met Annie, and I wanted to impress her on our first date, so I asked her if she wanted to go to a playoff game, only to find that tickets were pretty much impossible to get. So in desperation I found out what bar the players hung out at, and I took a chance and cornered Powell, and after very little prodding he remembered that I was the fish-hook guy whose arm he had threatened to tear off and beat me with, and I bought him a Labatt beer, and we became new best friends. He got me two front-row seats, and Annie thought I was some kind of CEO or something, and I asked Powell not to mention the Margo/lure incident in front of her, and he never did. So we fell in love—me and Annie, not me and the defenseman—and I thought she was a Republican, so I married her.
And she was a Republican, too, until George W. Bush got elected, at which time she became a communist, and now she blames me personally for everything that comes out of his mouth, including the hay. Somehow or other it was my fault that we didn't find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that the levees failed in New Orleans, that there was a volcanic eruption on Montserrat, and that Karl Rove is the moral equivalent of smog. I am not allowed to watch Fox News while she is in the room or turn off any TV while set to that station, in case she should be the first to turn it on again. She is suddenly gung-ho for Hugo Chavez, reparations for blacks, and changing Chief Illiniwek's name to Chief Rotten Imperialist Pig. She now believes that The Wall Street Journal is an example of ideological state apparatus; that maybe Thomas Jefferson wasn't such a great guy after all, considering he liked brown booty; that Fidel Castro is the second coming—assuming there had been a first, which she doubts; and that if George Bush had his way, Havana would be a Wal-Mart and the rest of Cuba a parking lot, as though the previous fifty years have been a figment of the earth's imagination.
Reminding her that she had married me under possibly false pretenses fell on "audibly disadvantaged" ears, and she replied that if I wanted a divorce, fine and dandy, and if Bushy nominated one more evangelical Christian lunkhead to the Supreme Court, she had her divorce lawyer, Adolph Hitler Mendelbaum, ready to file, so I'd better pray for the justices' good health.
So, yes, I did like Canadians, but the muttering former hippie in front of us at José Marti "International" was a tad suspicious-seeming. For one thing, I had seldom seen a fat Canadian—they worked off their bacon by cleaning fish, I guess—and, for another thing, all the hippies I had ever known pretty much grew out of it in their twenties, when they traded in their roach clips for Audis and condos. The last time I had seen a ponytail on a man the age of this so-called Canadian was when they found that Green Beret alive in the Cambodian jungle, having survived there for thirty years and never knowing the war was over or that Nixon had resigned and that America had matured to the point where we would teach creationism again in our public schools, and all he could eat was capybara poop until long and intense psychotherapy, during which he was gradually introduced to current movie prices and Ann Coulter.
So right off the bat I didn't like this corpulent, time-warped freakazoid, although based on what you already know about my wife, you probably thought she would have answered his clearly provocative, anti-American crack, "Right on, sister," with a raised-fist, black-power salute, like those putzes in the 1968 summer Olympics whose names no one even remembers, and that she would have given him a hippie handshake and trucked-on-down with him to the airport lounge, where they would have shared carrot juice and a toke, and they would have exchanged notes on how to blow up oil tankers.
You would think so, but you would be as wrong as a naked fisherman trying desperately to reel in a twelve-hook, Godzilla-brand lure that happened to be snagged on a sunken Canadian log. You cannot get more wrong.
Because here is an interesting thing about Annie. On the one hand, she will make a mad dash to Michael Moore's latest movie with the enthusiasm of one dog's nose up another dog's poo-poo, and she will return home spewing all manner of liberal claptrap to her emotionally needy, Bush-voting husband, who desperately wants a bit of nooky before bedtime. On the other hand, you can't make a sow's ear out of a silk purse, and I knew, just knew, that when it came down to it, if some foreign, Jefferson Airplane-loving weed-sucker dared to say peep against her country, she would de-spleen him with the efficiency of mongoose on snake.
And sure enough, recognizing that murderous, patriotic gleam in her eye, I both feared for the unsuspecting, pony-tailed lard bucket and, at the same time, braced myself for some yuks.
But, oddly, she pinged him with only a grazing look and said nothing. Instead, she turned to Raphael, folded his hand around my ten dollars, so he knew he could keep it, then pointed to the door and smiled maternally. "It's yours, honey. Go."
The kid looked at me, confused. "No change," he stuttered—probably a phrase he had learned phonetically.
Annie shook her head. "It's O.K., keep it."
Again, Raphael, frowning, glanced at me.
"No problemo," I said, loud and slow and showing my palms. "Keepo itto."
The Canadian clacked his tongue, flicked his ponytail, and rolled his pork-loving eyeballs.
Okey-dokey. Now he was really in for it. True, Annie had been perfectly willing to deal him a beginner's good hand. It had been his lucky day. He had pulled a pair of tens. But with that clacking he had pressed that luck, split his pair, and was about to get his head handed to him. He was about to be blonded.
I held my breath. This was it. Cobra, prepare to die.
She turned to me. "Fork over a twenty."
Her eyes bulged. I whipped out my wallet and found a double sawbuck. She snapped it nice and loud—to irritate our Canadian enemy, I assumed. She handed the money to Raphael. "For you," she said. "You don't have to do anything. We have lots."
"We do?" I whispered, making a sound like a sneezing hamster.
She motioned for my wallet again.
"Um, don't you think this is the kind of thing we should discuss as a couple?"
She thrust out her palm and wriggled her fingers malevolently—again, undoubtedly for the benefit of our northern friend.
I handed her my wallet. She went right for the hidden pocket, where I kept my bail money. She handed Raphael two crisp hundreds. "For you to do whatever you want, sweet boy. Don't forget the rest of your family."
The Canadian said nothing. Evidently humiliated, demoralized, and defeated, he had returned to his crossword puzzle.
Annie took out two more hundreds from their leather lair, creased them lengthwise, and tucked them into the lad's pocket. "We're rich," she told him. "Wealthy Americans. Very spoiled." She turned to me. "Aren't we, dear?"
I cleared my throat. She handed me back my wallet with three dollars in it.
Did we show that Canadian, or what?! These colors don't run!
She patted Raphael's head. "Have a nice day."
The boy turned to me. I could see what was left of his lunch on his back teeth. Coconut.
"Yeah, have a nice day," I said. "Try real hard."
Annie tilted her head at me. I held up my hand. "O.K., I'm not saying another word."
"And you're going to keep me company in line and not get any more bright ideas?"
"You bet, and no way."
"Deal the cards, bright boy."
I did, and she drew twenty-one, and I busted. We sat on two suitcases and used the third as a table, and every now and then we'd inch along and continue playing, and after about an hour I dealt her a ten and a six and was waiting for her to indicate stay or hit, and when she didn't I glanced up and saw her looking around the hall, her mouth twisted weirdly, her eyebrows gnarled, and I followed her gaze and saw it too. I was the last one to see it, but that's the story of my life.
Raphael had put out the word, had rounded up a horde of his young compañeros, or whatever they're called, who were stampeding the waiting line with offers to stand in for passengers at a U.S. dollar each. In a few minutes Annie and I were pretty much the only non-Cubans still in line—the Canadian having been one of the first to fork over his buck, no doubt so he could rout up a pork sandwich.
It all worked out, though. I taught the urchins how to play blackjack, and when they lost their money, I explained about what we call in English the "learning curve" and made them repeat the phrase several times until you could hardly detect an accent, and after I won back my bail money, I let them play on credit, and when they continued to lose I was willing to let them work off their debt by walking on Annie's and my backs, which were killing us from having waited so long in line. At first she didn't like the idea, but when I pointed out that I was teaching them the evils of gambling, ancillary to the evils of capitalism, she, too, saw it as a life-lesson master stroke and flipped over on her tummy.
About the Author
Gary Buslik doesn’t have the faintest idea how to make an honest living. When he wrote for travel magazines, he discovered that by tossing around insincere promises he could get hotels and restaurants to give him free room and meals and so managed to forge a useless profession into a rewarding lifestyle.
These days he writes novels, short stories, and essays and, in case the government should ask any questions, teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago—which isn’t quite an honest living, but you work with what you have.
He windsurfs and plays softball. He does not play golf. You can visit him at www.arottenperson.com, but please do not ask him to play golf. It will just irritate him.