In the end, there was really nothing to it; it was just another one of those post-colonial hassles, a customs official seeking to avenge centuries of economic exploitation. Besides, he secretly wondered what kind of kinky underwear or drugs he could find in my luggage. He wasn’t going to find anything. Only an absolute fool would try to smuggle drugs into the Caribbean. The hotel staff usually can get you some pretty good stuff at a discount rate anyway. But there is a moral to this story: never be the first person to board the plane or to go through customs in the Caribbean. If you show up at the airport the full two hours before your international flight, like you are supposed to, you can count on getting strip searched at least twice before boarding. Most of the officials just watch tourist hordes arrive in droves. So, naturally they’re a little resentful when they have to work. The only way they can settle the score is by messing with their minds. I can’t say that I blame them, though. A herd of tourists coming from Miami is a god-awful sight: damn white people go native even before they reach the beach: floral imprint shirts, Bermuda shorts, panama hats, sandals, and a lot of rum. It never seems to occur to them that no native would ever dress this way. And, before long, this mob of overweight idiots will be walking around like Haitian zombies, bombed off of their asses and sunburned all to hell. It’s horrible.
Unfortunately, we weren’t alone for the ride to the boat dock. There were two lumpy Americans from the Heartland with us. I hate dealing with gringos when they’re abroad. They always assume that foreigners don’t know the right way to do things, and they insist on babbling along about how terrified they are to have a native driver who drives on the left side of the road. This kind of shit really freaks them out. If there is ever a need to communicate with one of them, I usually let my wife handle it. But in this case, the woman felt some need to tell me about her politics: she was appalled by what was happening in the United States and declared that she and her husband, a tractor salesman from Kansas, were card-carrying “Tea Baggers.” I suppose she meant that she had joined the other wackos in the “Tea Party,” but I took her at her word.
She didn’t read my body language very well and kept yapping. After about twenty minutes, my eye started twitching, and I snapped and told her that I agreed with her about the “big government” thing, and added: “Those damn-Washington bureaucrats are congenital thieves and liars who have nothing else to do but stick their noses in everything. I mean, if you and your husband want to ‘tea bag,’ more power to you. Tea bag away! Who are they to say no? Those rat bastards have no right to tell you how to live your life. Do they know anything about tea bagging? Hell, no! They should at least try it once! I’ll bet they’ll convert! Is there a petition to sign? I’d sign it! I am committed to these types of fringe movements like the tea baggers. This could go nationwide, dammit! What does the rest of the platform look like?” My wife saw where I was going and cut me off with one of those “you had better watch it” looks, so I chilled out. I really wanted to ask her if the “Tea Bagger” platform supported scrotum and nipple piercings, and obligatory guy-on-guy sex in the military?
The drivers shuttled us to the boat dock, transferred our bags, and sent us off to the island. After thirty minutes of puttering around in the sea, we arrived at the resort. A golf cart took us to our beach villa. In the end, our luggage had been loaded and unloaded about five or six times. If I am fast enough, I can manage to get away without tipping all but the last of them. I’ve got it down to an art. But that is how it is in the Caribbean: you have to move fast in these waters. The Caribbean is like hanging out with your best friend who happens to be a schizophrenic: one day you have a blue sky and the next day a thousand pound shit-hammer hurricane hits you. It’s never boring. The trip begins with your taxi driving past the mosquito-infested shacks that line the highway, and it ends at a spa, a place hidden from the locals, furnished with ottomans, low-level coffee tables, green tea, feng shui decor, Indian sitar music in the background, and Ayurvedic scents that make me recall the old days of smoking the high-grade imported stuff from a three-foot bong. Although it’s as hot as Africa outside, the white-clad hostess bowed and insisted that I have a tall-steaming cup of spicy-ginger tea. Although a large ice-cold bottle of beer would have hit the spot, we were told that it was time to “initiate the body cleansing process.” She added, “This could be the birthplace for your new life.”
What? No beer? What kind of place had I landed in? It was an ambush! My wife programs this kind of healthy stuff all the time. She is the kind of person who can eat a vegan meal and tell everyone how “interesting” it was, all while keeping her private stash of Ben and Jerry’s hidden in the freezer. This time, she booked us a week at a healthy Spa, the Caribbean version of backwater Tennessee. The locals made some of the finest hooch in the world, but the spa is bone dry, Moreover, the fascist guru running the place had banned smoking. This was either the happiest place in the world or there were a lot of people walking around with nicotine patches. The lone bright spot was that the hotel assigned us our own private butler: he was either going to be a spy or my connection. In the end, he was a little of both. His name was Fantat Chi Rah; he was an indentured servant who narrowly escaped a nasty legal entanglement in Singapore. He was a tall, good-looking guy with an eye for making a fast buck. Even though he was helpful, he was a health nazi. He constantly reminded me that I wasn’t following my specially designed diet. My only consolation was that he could sign the bill for me, postponing the inevitable.
It was Fantat who programmed my activities. What was I going to do while my wife attended her high-powered meetings? Well, watching late-night TV, room service, and sleeping until noon weren’t on the list! The place didn’t have television or internet service. It was like I was on Gilligan’s Island, but there wasn’t even a radio. I also discovered that I was expected to do yoga and meditation at sunrise before having my uncooked-meal of fruit, vegetables and yogurt. “You don’t have an espresso machine on the island? What kind of f-ing place is this?” I asked. The butler groaned and said, “Sir, our guests participate in healthy-living seminars, and we only serve tea and juice on the island.”
Luckily, I had purchased several dozen packets of Starbucks instant espresso in the lining of my suitcase. If I had to, I would chop up the coffee on a mirror with a razor blade, and snort it. There was no way I was going a week without coffee.
When we went to dinner the first evening, I half expected Ricardo Montalbán to welcome us to Fantasy Island, but what I didn’t expect was that the entire work force was from Singapore. It seems that the native population never really could provide the level of service that the guests expected. For them, having electricity, a flushing toilet, and running water were all that anyone could ever ask for. As a result, the locals were relegated to fishing and diving expeditions. After a few years of trying to work with the locals, the management decided to import workers that would put up with international clientele.
Like all vacation resorts, this one creates a specific fantasy theme: the prevailing fantasy was 19th-century colonial domination, something between the British Raj and Bombay Bicycle Club: mid-afternoon tea and scones, colonial era maps and globes, portraits of white men with regal mustaches, and formal dinners. The employees, butlers, maids, and gardeners, were all dressed in khakis or India whites, and the resort also had mosquito nets, pith helmets and walking sticks for the guests who wanted to take their fantasy to the next level. Suffice to say that my island-hopping Bermuda Joe’s shorts, Birkenstocks, and red-hibiscus shirt were out of place.
To be continued…