August 24, 2017
There’s a group of 50 that have landed at the resort. They’re in Belize for Grandma’s 75th birthday. She’s from here. They are from Bed Stuy. They are loud and raucous and man is it comforting to be around folks from Brooklyn. One young guy comes up to chat with me. He wears a permanent scowl. I’m eating lunch at the outdoor bar accompanied by lite, day drinking. He says his Mom moved him out of Bed Stuy cause it was hell growing up there and he was always in fights. He hits fights hard. But he hates New Paltz. He says it’s racist, worse now with Trump who he’s convinced will get him killed. What can I say? I think he may be right. I nod, work on being a good a listener. Kid’s anger is palpable. He wears a Biggie t-shirt.
My cabbie into town on Friday night is named Estevan. I head back in not knowing what else to do with myself. Estevan’s English is good so we chat the whole way. He’s Placencia born and raised. He enlightens me that tourism in Placencia is relatively new; that Hurricane Iris, back in 2001,whipped out most of the island. After, they rebuilt and put in a road. The road. Prior he said, if you wanted to get from one place to another you had to walk along the beach; the rest dense forest. The only road that existed prior was in the main village. Before the road, there was no tourism. It was just fishermen and the Mayans. He’s seen all this in his lifetime. In my lifetime. Like a secret he tells me, now the Chinese are moving in. I tell him that’s everywhere. He seems surprised. He pauses to consider it and then continues. There’s a large Amish community that’s sprung up in the jungle. I think he has the name wrong at first but he describes them correctly. And I do now remember seeing an Amish family at the airport going through customs. It makes me laugh. What a setting Belize will make for Witness 2, I think to myself. He tells me they are building a new international airport at the far, undeveloped end of Placencia. And a Casino. He says he doesn’t think it’ll be much of a change though. I don’t have the heart to tell him.
Town on Friday night is empty. A storm threatens. The sky is artwork. The streets are dark and deserted. Once more reminded I am in Belize during it’s off-season. I go back to Barefoot Bar and eat some fish tacos with a strawberry daiquiri. Briefly I talk with Jerry. He’s retired, and has been living in Belize 4 months. Says his plan is to move every 3-6 months. Costa Rica is next, then he’s heading to Thailand, Fiji, and back to Vietnam where he fought as a Marine. “By then I figure to be dead” he says matter of factly. Jerry says he worked hard his whole life, (as a dairy farmer, and a trucker), but was always a loner; no wife, no kids, few friends. Always moved around. He finds out I’m from LA and tells me about going to San Francisco just after he got back from Vietnam. He says he could never score with a girl cause they all preferred long haired, hippies. In my head I make jokes like “oh you know my parents?”. He tells me the hippies didn’t like the returning soldiers. He didn’t like them either. They didn’t wear any deodorant and stunk to high heaven. I can’t stay long, though I can’t say why. I wander around, hot and sticky, on these beautiful haunting streets. It starts to rain.
I saddle up at the bar of a pizza place named Chachi’s. The name amuses me. Only the bartender and one customer are inside. I’m wet from the rain but it’s still so incredibly hot it’s refreshing. “What am I doing?” I think. I debate leaving, paying for a cab home verses waiting for the hotel pick up. Out of thin air a girl walks by. It’s hard to miss her. She’s stunning, a vision dressed to kill in a small tight dress, jet black hair, bronze skin, Spanish features, and just the right curves. She sees me see her and smiles, then disappears again. A second later she’s next to me with a girl who looks no older then my niece. She asks if the seat is taken. She’s carrying 2 bottle of red wine and invites me to share them with her. The bartender looks annoyed, he lost the night’s second and only paying customer. But she effortlessly gets her way. He knows her and well, yeah. I clock the rather large diamond ring on her finger. The other girl is her sister and it’s alarming to see her chain smoke and drink wine. There is no enforced drinking age in Belize, no ban on smoking in bars and I’m no prude, but still. I’d guess her age at around 14. Perched on her bar stool, knees to her chest, little sis never picks her eyes up from her phone except to light more cigarettes. I talk with big sis and share several glasses of wine. Their family is originally from El Salvador but has lived in Belize since before she was born. Her father is a pastor, she’s got six older brothers and they all live in a tiny jungle village a little ways away. I ask her what she does and she says “travel, live”. Ah, to be young and beautiful. She flirts and why not? I’ve worked at bars long enough to have known many young women who just enjoy the dance. It also crosses my mind to be careful. She brags about loving wine but seems thrown when I start talking varietals and flavors. I mean, if you want to talk wine, let’s talk. The second bottle is an Argentinian Merlot; big fruit, touch of spice, sweet finish. The bartender Pedro, and one other patron (older white Canadian ex-pat) are playing a game of cribbage and now that they’ve started playing for money, Pedro is loosing. Miss El Salvador 2015 is upping her game. We all set our rules in life, and I’ve always drawn a line to never engage with anyone in a relationship. That might seem trivial here but it’s in my head. Not to mention the concern this ends up with me in a bathtub of ice short a kidney. So, I repel an advance by asking how long she’s been engaged. “Four years” she says, clearly annoyed at the inquiry. “But I’m not ready to be married. I wear it to make him happy. I lost the first ring so he bought me a second”. She holds it out for me to examine. Lucky guy. He’s American, a Midwesterner, and apparently she’s moving to California with him. She says she told him to buy a house in Santa Monica. It sounds electric in her accent; like the night sky, music and sex. Santa Monica. I imagine the obnoxious frat boy turned yuppie she must be engaged to. Maybe I can break my rules. She quickly exchanges words with little sis in Spanish. Comically I pick up “with”, “why” and “romantic”. She stops, turns and asks if I speak Spanish. “Why are you talking about me?” I respond with a smile. She tilts her head and pulls her hair ever so deliberately behind her ear. “You’re 38?” she asks. She claims to be expert at this game. She asks me to do her. I take her in and as I do she actually licks a drop of wine off her lips. “25?” I say. “No 21! Why do people think I look old?!” In my head for some reason the first thing I think is, she’s been engaged since 17? I look at my phone and the shuttle to the hotel should be arriving in 10 minutes. Decisions, decisions. “I like older men” she says with an arch of the back. Little sis giggles. Her presence makes me uneasy in this would be seduction. “Oh yeah?”, I say, taking her in with my eyes, wondering. I’ve probably seen a better looking girl in my life, but in this moment, I honestly can’t think of when. We hold the stare, I can feel my buddy Dave crying out in horror all the way from LA when I say “So how old is your fiancé then?”. For the first time she blushes and fumbles for words. Little sis is off her phone, giddy with anticipation. I am not even sure what I did, but Miss El Salvador 2015 seems decidedly thrown. “He’s…I like older men… you wont believe me…he’s….62”. “Get the fuck out of here” flies out of my mouth. She seems stung by it. She produces a photo. He’s got short, grey, curly hair, mustache, chalky white completion, in an awkward ill matched suit and tie office portrait that makes him looks like the manager at your local Walmart. I’m on my feet, throw Pedro a generous tip and out the door in 30 seconds flat. “And he’s gone?!!”, I heard her say.
The shuttle never came and I got drenched. Eventually grab a cab. The cabbie can’t change my $50 when we arrive at the hotel so I head inside to the front desk. I’m angry. I’m angry too much these days. I feel it, but can’t always stop it. They can’t make change at the front desk so I demand they pay for the cab since the shuttle was a no show. They do. I’ve been told I don’t stand up enough for myself, I don’t “self advocate” enough. But I just took something by force and I’m a little embarrassed as I head back to the room. There is no joy in it. I sit outside on my terrace starring at the lagoon. Mosquitos be damned. Tomorrow I’ll make amends with the front desk.