“Mr. Dennis. How are you doing?”
“Well, hello there, Mr. Hopkins,” I said. “I’m doing fine. What brings you out to the island from San Ignacio?”
“I’m out here visiting my old Auntie Sofia,” he said. “She practically raised me when I was a boy.”
Middle-aged and slightly balding, Mr. Hopkins joined me at the picnic table of my favorite local taco stand and both of us ordered our lunch. A well-dressed older lady walked up to our table.
“Are you Mister Freddy?” she asked Hopkins. “Mr. Freddy from San Ignacio?”
“Your Tía Sofia sent me to talk to you. She says you need a woman over there where you live in San Ignacio.”
“Oh, no,” Hopkins said. “I’m just fine. Thank you, though.”
No sooner had she left than another well-dressed lady in her forties showed up with the same question.
“Thank you very much,” was the answer, “but I’m doing just fine.”
“But your Auntie says you’re not married,” the lady said. “Who washes your clothes?”
“I have two sisters that live with me,” Hopkins said. “They take care of all my needs. They wash clothes for me. They do the cooking and clean the house. I don’t need a wife.”
The lady looked doubtful but she left. Hopkins gave a big sigh.
“My old Auntie is trying to get me married off,” he said. “I don’t need the headache of having a wife.”
“I heard you tell the lady that you had two sisters who live with you, Mr. Hopkins,” I said, “but there are some needs a man has that a sister just can’t take care of. What do you do about that?”
With a big smile he said, “I told her I have two sisters that take care of my needs. I didn’t say they were my sisters.”
Banjo at the Airport
The email from Casey Moore said, “I'm coming in from Thailand for a three-week visit on the28th. Maybe we can play some bluegrass while I'm in San Pedro.”
Since I happened to be in Belize City on the 28th I decided to surprise Casey and meet him at the airport. Sure enough, there he was, getting off the plane as short and round as ever.
“Passengers, claim your luggage and step up to the Customs counter,” came the announcement.
Casey stepped up to the baggage carousel and picked up his banjo case.
“Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!”
With the sudden blare of the alarm a dozen soldiers and security guards, armed to the teeth, burst out of a side room and surrounded Casey.
“Put the case on the ground! Now!” the head of the security force shouted though his megaphone.
Casey put the banjo case on the floor.
“Step away from the case with your hands in the air.”
A bewildered Casey did as he was told and stepped back. Everyone in the baggage froze as they watch the drama unfold.
“Yes, sir,” Casey said.
Two guards then stepped forward and frisked Casey from head to foot.
“He's clean, sir,” one of them called, as they backed away.
“You can put your hands down.”
“Please walk slowly toward the case,” the officer called.
Casey shuffled forward.
“Kneel down next to the case. Slowly and carefully.”
“Open the case and step away from it with your hands in the air.”
As Casey fumbled with the latch the officer said, “Step away quickly, sir!”
Casey stepped back and one of the guards eased forward and flipped the lid open.
“Sir,” he called to the officer, “The case contains one Glock pistol, three hand grenades, a TEC 9 automatic assault pistol and an AK 47.”
The soldiers and guards lowered their weapons and began to walk away.
“What was that all about?” Casey asked the officer in charge.
“I'm sorry for the inconvenience,” the officer said. “We were afraid you had a banjo in that case.”
“Hey, Dad. What does Stormy have in his mouth?”
I pulled the golf cart into the yard and Stormy came running up.
“Oh, my God. Isn't that Pauly, George's parrot?” Melody asked.
Sure enough, when Stormy came around to my side of the golf cart to jump up on me I could see the bright feathers sticking out of his mouth.
“Give me that, you idiot dog!”
“Is it still alive?” Melody asked.
The parrot lay in a soggy, muddy heap at my feet.
“Not a chance,” I said. “He's dead as a stone. What are we going to do? George loved this parrot. I don't want him mad at us just because our stupid dog killed his stupid pet.”
“Dad, George isn't home right now,” Dennisito said. “I can go put Pauly back in his cage on the back porch. I can see the cage door is open from here.”
“That’s really smart,” Melody said. “Don’t you think George will notice that the parrot is wet and covered with mud?”
“Listen up, kids,” I told them. “I'll wash the bird off. Melody, you get the blow dryer and we'll dry him off and Dennisito can sneak over and put Pauly back in the cage.”
That evening I was watching TV when someone knocked on the door. I pulled it open and there was George.
“Hey, Dennis. Did you see anybody messing around my house today?”
“No. Why do you ask?”
“Something strange is going on,” George said. “I woke up this morning and found Pauly dead in his cage. Before I left for work, I dug a hole and buried him. When I come home, I find that someone has dug him up, cleaned him off and put him back in the cage. Man, there are some real weirdos living around here.”
To Catch a Monkey
“What in hell was that? Was that a monkey?” I asked.
“Of course, it was a monkey,” my friend Bob replied. “You’re in Costa Rica and this country is full of monkeys.”
Sherry and I had finally gotten away for a five-day vacation. At the jungle resort where we stayed, I met Bob, from the U.S., who had been there for a week. We were kicking it back at poolside and drinking a few afternoon beers together when the monkey suddenly raced across the deck, grabbed my drink and sprinted for the jungle.
“I’m going to catch that monkey and teach him a lesson,” I said, as I jumped from my chair.
“Oh, sit back down,” Bob said. “All you’re going to do is get frustrated and feel like a moron. A man cannot chase a monkey without looking like an idiot. Besides, you couldn’t catch him.”
“I suppose you could.”
“I wouldn’t even try because it’s not worth my time and it’s undignified,” he replied. “Back home in the U.S. I am a bank president and a deacon in my church. Chasing a monkey would only make me look and feel stupid and I refuse to stoop to the level of a monkey.”
Suddenly, the monkey sprang from the hibiscus bushes by the deck, grabbed my sunglasses and took off. I leaped over the deck railing and went after him. Just as I was on the point of catching him, we came to a construction site for another resort. The monkey jumped into a long pipe lying on the ground and I followed. I got stuck in it but the monkey popped out the other end and crept up behind me. As I struggled to get free, he grabbed a stick and beat my butt like he was beating a tom-tom. Then he started throwing stones at me and it seemed like I would never get unstuck.
When I came gingerly limping back to the pool Bob asked, “How did it go?”
All I could do was groan as I eased myself down into the deck chair.
“Ah-ha!” Bob said. “He led you down to the construction site, didn’t he?”
“Jump in the boat, Mr. Dennis,” Mario said. “We gonna catch some big ones today.”
Juan, Pablo and Moses were already on board and we stopped to pick up Vernon before we got out of town.
Two miles past Tres Coco’s the boat motor sputtered and died.
“Oh, man!” Mario said. “I forgot to put gas in.”
“We can still fish,” Moses said. “This new resort they building right over there got nothing built but the dock. We can fish off the dock until the water taxi passes and then we’ll send somebody for gas.”
After we tied up the boat Mario said, “We got one more big problem. We was counting on Mr. Dennis to buy us some beers but we forgot that, too.”
When everybody looked at me, I said, “O.K., I’ll buy but I’m not walking to the store. The closest one is back by Captain Morgan’s.”
“How many cases of beer we need?” Pablo asked. “They’s six of us.”
After suggestions ranging from six to eight cases, I narrowed it down to four.
“We need two people to go,” Mario said.
“I’m too fat to walk that far in the sun,” said Vernon.
“You ain’t too fat to drink beer,” Juan told him. “We’ll draw straws.”
I forked over the money and Moses and Vernon headed out to the store with their short straws.
Half an hour later we were hauling in snappers and yellow-tails when Moses came staggering up the road carrying four cases of beer.
Everyone ran to help by grabbing a case. Moses was sweating and breathing hard.
“It’s hot out there carrying four cases of beer,” he complained.
“Where is Vernon?” I asked. “He should be carrying two of those cases.”
“He was, but he had some kind of a stroke or a heart attack or something. I took his two cases and came on.”
“What?! Where is he?”
“He’s in the road between here and Captain Morgan’s.”
“Why would you leave him there?”
Moses said, “Well, it was hard to decide but I knew nobody would steal Vernon.”
“Excuse, please. We can sit?”
“Sure,” I said, sliding to the end of the park bench.
I had just started eating my cheeseburger that I got from a vendor at the park. All the other benches were taken and I had no problem sharing mine.
“I am Kosimali and this is my cousin Rustam,” said the taller of the two fellows. “We are from Uzbekistan. Today for us is first day in Belize.”
“Today we try food in Belize,” Rustam said. “What is best in park?”
“The pupusa is great,” I said.
“Oh, no!” Kosimali said. “We no eat poo-poo.”
“You don’t understand. Pupusa is a tasty dish from El Salvador. It has cheese and …”
“No! No poo-poo,” Rustam said.
“Try the burrito.”
“What means this word?” Kosimali asked, suspiciously. “I think burro is donkey. Burrito would mean little donkey.”
“No donkey! No donkey,” his cousin said. “We no eat donkey. In Uzbekistan we ride donkey.”
“How about a hot dog?” I asked.
“Ah, yes,” Kosimali said, “In war in Uzbekistan sometimes we must eat dog. I get hot dog for us. Is better than donkey or poo-poo.”
He went over to the stand and ordered his hot dogs. A few minutes later the lady called him to come get them.
“A hot dog for you, Rustam,” he said, as he gave one of them to his cousin.
Rustam opened it and quickly rolled it back up in the foil and stuffed it into the bag.
“Kosimali,” he said. “What part of dog you get?”
“Hey, Wolfe. Let's stop at the supermarket,” Casey said. “I need to pick up a couple of beers.”
“The last thing you need is a couple of beers,” I told him. “You’ve already had way too much to drink.”
“Pull over or I swear I'm going to jump,” he said.
I stopped at the supermarket. The idea of seeing Casey’s round little body rolling around in the road was appealing but I was afraid someone would think I shoved him off the golf cart. I stopped earlier to give him ride as he was weaving his way toward the Hideaway bar. By then, he had already consumed more beer in a morning than most people could drink in a week.
Casey went into the store to get his beer and I followed to try to keep him out of trouble. He picked up a case and headed for the checkout counter. As we approached the counter a lady came zooming out of nowhere and pushed her shopping basket in front of us.
“I was here first,” she said.
“I don’t think so,” Casey told her.
“I don’t feel like wasting time arguing with some ignorant redneck who has obviously been drinking,” the lady said. “Leave me alone.”
She began putting items from her basket onto the counter. She had a quart of milk, a dozen eggs, cereal and a loaf of bread.
“You must be a single lady,” Casey said to her, as he looked at the groceries she had on the counter.
The lady looked surprised.
“As a matter of fact, I am single,” she said.
Now, how in the world did Casey know that? Had he turned into some kind of a drunken psychic who knew whether people were married just because they bought milk, eggs, bread and cereal?
“Could you tell I was single just by the groceries I'm buying?” she asked.
“Of course, not,” Casey said. “I figured you was single because you’re mean and you're ugly.”
I was standing outside a grocery store on the middle street when one of our local beach hustlers walked out. He was accompanied by another hustler that I only know as Jamaican.
“Yuh see dat?” Jamaican said. “Mi tief tree Milky Way candy bar.”
“Tree of dem? Weh dey go?”
“Inna me pocket,” Jamaican said. “Nobody cya tief like me!”
“Mek we go back to the store,” the hustler said. “Me ah go show yuh who a da real tief.”
They walked back into the store and I had to follow to see how this played out.
To the store owner the hustler said, “Yuh want see de biggest magic trick of all times?”
“Watch. Me ah go tek one Milky Way.”
The hustler peeled the candy bar and ate it.
“Gimme a next one.”
He ate the second one and said, “One more.”
He finished the third Milky Way and said, “Best magic trick ever.”
The store owner said, “Hold on here. Where is the magic? All I see is you ate three of my Milky Way candy bars.”
“Dat’s da magic,” the hustler said. “I didn’t eat any Milky Ways.”
“Where are they then?”
The hustler said, “Check de Jamaican pockets and yuh find all tree a dem.”
“Excuse me. Excuse me. Thank you.”
I made my way down the crowded aisle of the bus that travels from Belize City to Belmopan. I had a long morning ahead of me that would be spent in government offices and I wasn’t looking forward to it. The only available seat was an aisle seat and I gratefully sat down.
A few seats in front of me sat a gentleman trying to read his newspaper and a young lady with a very fussy baby. She jostled a worn teddy bear in front of the baby and he played for a moment but soon he began crying again.
“Sweetie,” the tired mother cooed, “Please be a good boy, now.”
She bounced him on her knee and showed him the teddy bear but Junior only cried harder.
“If you don’t want it maybe this nice man does.”
She turned to the man seated next to her.
“Would you hold this please?”
She handed the bear to the surprised man and rummaged around in her bag searching for something else.
The mother slipped a teething ring into the child’s mouth and instantly the child became quiet. But only for a few minutes.
“Junior, please be quiet. If you don’t want it, maybe this nice man does.”
She again turned to the man beside her.
“Would you hold this please?” She handed him the pacifier.
This time she opened her blouse and plopped her breast into Junior’s mouth. Instantly the baby fell silent and nursed. The next twenty minutes were peaceful.
“Waah! Waah!” Suddenly the bus erupted with the cries of the child.
“Stop crying now, sweetie,” the woman said. “If you don’t want it. . .”
“Make up your mind, Junior,” the man interrupted. “I was supposed to get off back at Hattieville.”
“You’re going to have to go to the funeral,” Sherry said. “There’s no way I can make it with this stomach flu.”
“Why me?” I asked. “I barely knew the woman.”
My wife is a pretty little Canadian with a heart of gold and a strong sense of playground fairness. Whether using a smile she knows I can’t resist or beating me over the head with the rolling pin of marital responsibility, she never backs down from the challenge of helping me decide to do the right thing.
“The only thing I even remember about Giovanna is that in twenty-nine years, I never saw her when she wasn’t pregnant,” I said
Sherry pointed at the door. “Go!”
At the funeral, Giovanna’s brother spoke of her life to the gathering of mourners.
“My sister got married to Adolpho when she was fourteen,” he said. “She had eight children when her husband died and she found herself a widow. She married Juan and they had four children before he got swept away in the hurricane.”
“Twelve children!” I thought. “This woman needed a hobby.”
“She met Manuel then and they got married and she had five children by Manuel.”
“Oh, my God,” I thought. “She had a hobby. This woman had nineteen children by three different men.”
“She is up in heaven now,” the brother said. “They can finally be together again.”
The lady directly in front of me leaned over and whispered to her friend, “Is he talking about Adolpho, Juan or Manuel when he says together again?”
Her friend whispered back, “I think he’s talking about her legs.”
Wine and Sophistication
“Good morning, Dick,” I said. “Pull up a chair.”
I was sitting at a table on the deck of the Holiday Hotel sipping my coffee and feasting on Dario’s meat pies from Celi’s Deli.
“What are you up to today?” Dick asked.
“Absolutely nothing. It’s my day off and I’m going to waste it completely.”
“Why don’t you and Sherry come with me to a wine tasting tonight?”
“I don’t drink wine but Sherry would love a reason to get dolled-up and let me get her tipsy,” I said.
“Actually, I really go to meet single ladies,” Dick confessed. “Girls who hang out in the bars are too young and wild. Ladies at wine tastings are more sophisticated and with you and Sherry there it’ll help the conversation along.”
We took a table near the back and Dick looked around, anxiously searching the room.
“Ah, there’s the lady I’d like to meet,” Dick said. “So elegant and sophisticated.”
“Where is she?” Sherry asked looking around the room.
He indicated a beautiful older woman who sat alone at a nearby table.
“She looks elegant,” I said, “but I don’t see how you know she’s sophisticated.”
“It’s common knowledge,” Dick said. “Ladies at a wine tasting are always sophisticated. I’ll go and invite her to join us.”
“Pamela, these are my friends Dennis and Sherry,” he said, as they sat down. “I’ve got a Spanish Fino sherry and Portuguese Tawny Port. Sherry has a Ruby port and Manzanilla sherry. What would you like to try?”
“Let me think for a moment,” Pamela said. “I like a drier, lighter wine but a nice robust port is good, too.”
“Just let me know,” Dick said.
“It’s a hard decision,” Pamela said. “Drinking port, makes me feel romantic. I think of soft summer nights, palm trees on a moonlit beach and flowers. Drinking sherry makes me want to write poetry or paint a masterpiece but it makes my farts smell like rotten eggs.”
“Hello, Melody,” I said, when my phone rang last week. “What’s up?”
“I need a big favor,” she said. “Can you watch Davin and Grayson for a while?”
“Of course. That’s what grandfathers are for.”
“No, Grayson! Put that down,” were the first words out of her mouth when they came over to my house.
Grayson looked at her. He looked at my phone that he had picked up from the table. He smiled at his mom and threw the phone to the
floor with all his might.
“Oh, my God,” Melody said. “I’m going crazy. No, Davin! You are not going to the park. You’re still on punishment for what happened at school yesterday. Sit on the porch and be quiet.”
“You seem to be under a lot of stress,” I said.
“You don’t know what real stress is. A ten-year-old and one still in diapers will drive you crazy. I worry about them all the time.”
“I know all about stress,” I said. “After all, I did help raise you and your brother.”
“Oh? Oh, yeah.”
“Why are you always so worried?”
“You know how they are. Davin broke the same arm twice before he was seven years old. Grayson is even worse. These boys are so rough and I’m always afraid something is going to happen to them.”
“I’m starting to worry about you,” I said. “Why don’t you go to the doctor and see if he can help with a prescription to calm you down?”
Melody stopped by our house yesterday on her way home.
“Did you get a prescription from the doctor to stop you from worrying?”
“I did. He gave me some pills that work great.”
“How are the boys?”
As I searched the aisles in the back of the supermarket someone said, “Hey, Mr. Dennis!”
It was Juney, the young man who takes care of stocking the supermarket shelves.
“Hey, Juney. Does the store sell tape?”
“Tape—like duct tape or masking tape. I’ll even settle for scotch tape.”
“Oh, yes. Tape. Sure, we got tape. Come with me and I’ll show you.”
As we walked to the end of the aisle he said, “I got a bad cold and my sinus is all clogged up. It makes it so I can’t hear real good, too.”
He knelt down to get a roll of duct tape from the bottom shelf.
“Juney! Juney!” called the clerk at the register, forty feet away.
Juney stood up and answered.
“Juney! The lady need some Tampax.”
Looking up the aisle I could see a lady standing next to the cash register. She was doing her best not to look embarrassed as the other customers in line waited patiently.
“Tampax. Get the lady some Tampax,” the clerk yelled.
The lady in question looked like she wanted to disappear.
“Just a minute,” Juney answered.
He reached up on the shelf and pulled down two boxes of tacks. He held them in his hand and studied each of them carefully.
It was the cash register clerk again.
Juney called, “Ask her if she wants the kind you push in with your thumb or the ones you drive in with a hammer.”
“Is Sherry around?”
“No, Jo. She’s at Paint ‘n Splash.”
“Oh, darn. I forgot,” Jo said.
“She's been going to Melody’s Paint ’n Splash class every Thursday for over two years and you still either call or ride that scooter over here looking for her nearly every Thursday.”
“Don't you go giving me a hard time, Dennis Wolfe.”
She started to ride off on her scooter but then she stopped.
“Who planted those tomatoes?” she asked, looking at my little vegetable garden.
“Huh,” she said. “I thought all you did was sit around on your butt all day while Sherry does the work around here. How do you get those tomatoes so red?”
“They’re red because I’m good at growing things.”
“Mine stay green until I pick them,” she said. “Then I let them ripen in the sun on the window sill.”
“Jo, my tomatoes are red because they are embarrassed,” I told her. “Every day I drop my pants in front of them. That's why they're so red. You should try it with your tomatoes. I can come over this afternoon.”
“I’m not having you come over to my house and drop your drawers in my garden.”
“Then you’ll have to figure out how to embarrass them without my help.”
That was two weeks ago. This morning I ran into Jo at the grocery store.
“Hey, did you try my method on your tomatoes?” I asked. “It’s my very own foolproof method.”
“I sure did,” she said. “Every morning about daylight I go out in the garden wearing my nightgown with nothing underneath. Then I whip that nightgown open in front of the vegetables.”
“You're kidding!” I said.
“I am not.”
“Are your tomatoes getting any redder?”
“No, but my cucumbers are getting huge.”
“Hey, Rogelio,” I called. “How have you been doing?”
I was walking down the beach from Estel’s Restaurant to the Holiday Hotel when I chanced across Rogelio. He was using one of the local beach kids to model for a portrait.
“Oh, hey Mr. Dennis,” Rogelio said, looking up from his easel as he finished the painting. “I’m still painting, as usual.”
“Where have you been?” I asked. “I haven’t seen you around in two years.”
“I’ve been painting over in San Ignacio,” he said. “I started doing portraits. Pictures of just people.”
“That’s a change,” I told him. “If I recall, your strong paintings were beach scenes.”
“I still paint them,” he said, “but I just got tired of them. I want to paint people. I’ll tell you what. You sit on that big ship’s anchor and I’ll do a little portrait of you. I’m pretty good at it.”
When he finished the painting, he turned it to me and asked, “What do you think?”
“Rogelio, that is a great portrait,” I told him. “I’ll buy it from you right now.”
Just then, a tourist woman walked up and looked at the picture. She gazed at it for several minutes.
“My God,” she said, to Rogelio, “You are an amazing artist, sir. Will you do a portrait of me?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Rogelio said. “Do you want it done in the studio or here on the beach?”
“Definitely in the studio,” she said. “I want you to paint me in the nude.”
“Naked? With no clothes?”
“Yes. I’ll pay you five hundred dollars.”
“I’m going to run home and talk to my wife and see if she says it’s O.K.,” Rogelio said. “I’ll be right back.”
He was back in three minutes.
“My wife says that for five hundred dollars it will be fine,” he said. “I will do a portrait of you naked but I need to wear socks so I’ll have a place to hold my brushes.”
“That’s a really great commercial,” I said to Charlie.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. “I forgot you can’t see that far. I’m talking about the one on the television at the bar. It’s about a man and his daughter playing basketball together. It’s a wonderful message about parents bonding with their children. The message is that they grow up fast and you should spend all of the time that you can with them when they are young.”
“I guess so,” Charlie said. “My dad was always working. He bonded with me by working me like a slave and kicking my butt if I slowed down.”
“My dad worked all the time, too,” I said. “Whenever he got a chance, though, he would come out to the football or baseball game or whatever sport I was playing. I’ll never forget when he took me out for my first drink.”
“I can remember taking Charles Junior out for his first drink,” Charlie said.
“Yeah. I took him to a little neighborhood bar not too far away from our house. I bought him a Budweiser but he didn’t like it so I had to drink it. Then I bought him a shot of schnapps but he didn’t care for that so I had to drink it.”
“That boy was a picky drinker back then,” I said.
“That was just the beginning,” Charlie said. “I got him rum and coke and he didn’t like the taste of that either. Then I tried some things like daiquiris and margaritas. When he didn’t drink them, I had to keep them from going to waste.”
“It sounds like you had to drink a lot of alcohol,” I said.
“I did,” Charlie said. “I got so drunk I could barely push his stroller back home.”
“Ambergris Caye is really beautiful,” said the tourist at the table next to me. “I love watching the waves break on the reef.”
“I don’t know what I like more,” his wife said. “It’s a hard choice between the coconut trees and the warm breeze.”
“It’s is a great place for our second honeymoon,” the man replied.
“Yes, it is.”
I was sitting at a table on the deck of the Holiday Hotel where I enjoy the beautiful view year-round. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop but sometimes you just can’t help it.
“Dear, now that we have been married for a year there is something I want to ask you.”
“Oh, John,” his wife said. “Not the same old question. I told you long before we got married that I didn’t ever want you to mention it again.”
“Honey, I just have to know,” her husband said. “I don’t mind telling you how many lovers I’ve had. I want to know how many you’ve had.”
“I don’t want anything to do with this,” she said. “It only leads to jealousy.”
“No, it won’t,” he assured her. “I’ll go first. There was my high school girlfriend, Susie. Then, in college there was Linda from my English class, and Jenny and. . . .”
“I don’t want to know their names,” his wife said. “It’s bad enough that I have to know how many lovers you had. I certainly don’t want to know who they were.”
“O.K., O.K.,” he said. “Let me count them. Uh, one, two, three, four, uh, five, uh, and yes, I’ll count that one as six. Seven, eight, nine, uh, ten, eleven. Oh, and you. Twelve, total.”
“Oh, my,” his wife said.
“Don’t worry about it,” the husband said. “It may seem like a lot to you but it’s nothing to get upset about. Now, tell me how many lovers you’ve had.”
“I don’t feel good about this,” she said. “I know we’ll argue.”
“Oh, for God’s sake, woman! Get on with it.”
“No names, right?”
“No names. Just the number.”
“All right. One, two, three, uh, four. Then five, six. You, eight, nine, ten. . .”
Dave and I followed his real estate agent in my golf cart as he looked at several different properties.
“I’m not really sure about buying a house from an agent,” he said. “This one is so young and she doesn’t seem that smart to me.”
“What other option do you have?” I asked.
“I could always build a house and do the contracting myself. What do you think of that idea?”
“I don’t like to give advice,” I told him, “but I’m going to make an exception in this case. I’ll give you my Golden Rule of House Building.”
“And what would that rule be?”
“The Dennis Wolfe Golden Rule of House Building on Ambergris Caye is as follows. You can easily build a $175,000 house here for as little as $400,000 if you are very careful with your money.”
“It’s that bad?”
“You’d better believe it.”
Dave liked the next house we visited.
“This is nice,” he said to the real estate agent, as we stood on the rear deck.
“It’s in a very nice location, too,” she said.
“From where we’re standing, which way is north?” he asked.
“I’m not really sure,” the young lady said. “Why would you want to know that?”
“The bedroom windows in this house are huge, which is a good thing. However, I hate to be awakened in the morning with the sun shining directly in my bedroom window.”
“Does the sun rise in the north?” she asked.
“It rises in the east,” I said, laughing. “Scientists tell us that it has for some time now.”
She said, “Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t keep up with that kind of stuff.”
Orange Juice for the Jackass
“I'll have coffee with that breakfast.”
“O.K. sir,” said Charlene, the waitress at Melt Cafe. “Do you know what your wife would like to drink?”
The tourist's wife had excused herself to go to the bathroom and powder her nose.
“Bring an orange juice for the jackass,” he said.
Mark, who owns Melt Cafe, was sitting with Sherry and I at the next table. We all looked at each other but no one said anything.
When the lady returned from the bathroom the couple chatted and enjoyed their breakfast.
“I think I’ll go to that little boutique right around the corner,” the tourist's wife told her husband. “I'll be back in five minutes.”
After she left, the man called Charlene back over to the table.
“May I have a refill on that coffee?” he asked. “And while you're at it, bring another orange juice for the jackass.”
“You mean for your wife?” Charlene asked.
“Yeah. The jackass,” he said.
By this time, we were wondering what was going on with these two. Charlene brought the coffee and orange juice and the lady came back just as the man was finishing his coffee.
“While you finish your orange juice, I'm going to go around to that tobacco shop and get some of those Cuban cigars,” he told his wife.
After he left, Mark called to the lady and said, “Look, I really don't want to cause trouble with you and your husband but I just wanted you to know that he called you a jackass.”
“Oh, it's all right.”
The lady began to laugh.
“He aw, he aw, he always calls me that.”
“Are you taking Davin out for ice cream this week?’ Melody asked.
“I thought I would pick him up from school on Thursday,” I told her. “We’ll either go for ice cream or frozen yogurt, whichever he wants.”
“Good. I want you to talk to him for me.”
“Why? What’s up?”
“His teacher says he has started cursing.”
“Hey! Don’t look at me,” I said. “I haven’t been teaching him. Boys pick that kind of thing up from their friends.”
“I just want to stop it before it gets worse.”
On Thursday Davin and I got frozen yogurt and went out on the deck at Fido’s Courtyard to eat it.
“How is school going?” I asked, casually.
“It’s going great,” he said. “I got some new friends.”
“Are they older boys?” I asked, suspiciously.
“No. They’re mostly eight or nine like me.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, Grandpa,” he said. “Why are you asking?”
“Because I heard you’ve been cursing,” I said. “Is that true?”
“That’s not what I heard.”
“Who told you that?” he asked.
“A little bird told me.”
Davin said, “What the hell? It was a damn seagull, wasn’t it?”
“This town is nice and quiet,” I said to the hotel keeper, who was also working as the bartender.
I had been visiting my friend Marco in Cozumel, Mexico for a few days. Now, I was on the Mexican coastal road going south toward Belize when I stopped for lunch in a small pueblo.
“Sí. Too quiet.” he said. “It is quiet because we have no tourists right now. Because we have no tourists, we have no money. Everyone is poor.”
Looking around the bar he said, “Since the cruise ship season is over, we haven’t had tourists for a month. Without tourist economics we have no money coming into the town. The two men sitting in the bar have businesses but no customers. The man in the corner is Juan, the butcher. No one can afford his meats right now.”
He heaved a huge sigh and said, “Sitting next to him is Pablo. Pablo has a finca, a little ranch where he raises cattle. Yes, we are very poor. We need some tourist economics.”
“What are tourist economics?” I asked.
“When money moves around,” he said, “everyone benefits. It works like this. First . . .”
Just then the bar room door opened and a man walked in. He was extremely well dressed and obviously wealthy.
“Innkeeper, I would like a room for the night,” he said, as he laid a $100 U.S. bill on the bar. “That bill should cover it. You can keep the change.”
The bartender yelled, “Roberto!” and a boy came running from a back room.
“Take the bags up and show him his rooms.”
As the customer disappeared up the stairs the bartender said, “Juan, take this $100 on the money I have been owing you for the steaks.”
Turning to the rancher, the butcher handed the money off to him, saying, “Pablo, here is the money I owe you for the last cattle you sold me.”
As he tucked the money into his pocket a good-looking girl walked in and the rancher called, “Consuela! Here is the money I owe you for Saturday night. I had a great time.”
“Oh, gracias,” she said. “I owe a hotel bill.”
She laid the money on the bar and the owner reached for it. He paused as his new customer came from upstairs and walked over to the bar.
“I don't care for the rooms,” he said, as he took the $100 and put it in his pocket.
He left and the innkeeper turned to me and shrugged his shoulders.
“That's what I mean about tourist economics,” he said. “Nobody gets rich but at least we can all pay our debts.”
At the little outdoor restaurant, I told the lady, “I’ll have three panadas and three tacos.”
While I was sitting at the big picnic table my friend Jorge came in and took a seat next to me.
“Where have you been, Jorge?” I asked. “I haven’t seen you lately.”
“I been on the mainland,” he said. “I work in the city five days and come home on weekends. You ain’t seen my old lady, have you?”
“Not in the last week or two.”
“I just got home an hour ago and she and the boy both gone. I know they around ‘cause they’s clothes on the line and the house is unlocked.”
“She’s probably out visiting her friends.”
It was Jorge Junior, who came riding up on a brand-new bicycle.
“When did you get a new bicycle?” his father asked.
“I just got it this afternoon.”
“Where you get the money?”
“I saved it.”
“Saved it? From what money did you save it?”
“From the money I get paid for walking.”
“What walking money are you talking about? Who pays you money for walking?”
“Since you been working in Belize City the man who lives in the big house on the corner come to visit Mama all the time. Every time he give me ten dollars and say, ‘Here, muchacho. Take a walk’.”
“Casey Moore!” I called.
“Why are you walking? Where’s your golf cart?”
“It had a flat tire this morning and the spare was flat, too.”
“Quit limping along and get in the golf cart,” I said. “You look like you could use a ride.”
“Thanks,” Casey said. “My foot is killing me.”
I looked at his swollen foot.
“Did you sprain your ankle?”
“No. It's gout.”
“Wait a minute. I thought gout is what they used to call 'the rich man's disease'. You don't look rich to me.”
“They call it that because eating rich foods can cause it to flare up.”
“Rich foods? You mean like expensive foods?”
“No. I’m talking about foods that are rich in certain minerals. For me, a lot of shellfish can cause it to flare up. I must have overdone it during Lobster Fest.”
“Is there a medical treatment for it?”
“I've got an appointment with the doctor so you can just take me over to his office if you don’t mind.”
At the clinic I sat in the waiting room while the doctor examined Casey.
“This gout is a lot worse than it was the last time I checked you,” I heard the medic say. “Have you been drinking lately?”
“Well—yeah. I've been celebrating my birthday pretty hard.”
“Have you been doing a lot of physical exercise?”
“I've been doing some dancing.”
“Uh-huh,” the doctor said. “How about your love life?”
“I don't see how that's got anything to do with gout,” Casey said, “but yeah, I been pretty lucky lately.”
“Mr. Moore, there really isn't any medicine to cure gout,” the doctor said. “Gout is aggravated by a lot of different physical activities. I'm going to have to recommend that you give up drinking, dancing and sex for a while.”
“Are you crazy?” Casey asked. “Give up all of that just so I can walk better?”
“I don’t like those grunt fish,” Linsford said. “They sound like they trying to talk and it gives me the creeps.”
“Don’t throw any of them back,” Vernon said. “They good eating.”
Linsford said, “I only keep them so they add up and I don’t have to buy the drinks.”
The Nosenada club was having our weekly fishing tournament. The member who catches the fewest fish has to buy the first round when we dock. The only missing member was Juan, which left me, Mario, Vernon and Linsford, whose wife had let him go with us today.
“Grunts are interesting fish,” Mario said to Linsford. “They can actually talk.”
“What are you blabbing about?” Vernon asked.
Mario said. “Hand me that fish and I’ll make him talk.”
He grabbed the fish with both hands and held him at eye level.
“I’m a good little fish,” he said, staring deeply into the eyes of the grunt.
“Unh. Unh,” the fish grunted.
“I’m a good little fish,” Mario repeated.
Once again, he said, “I’m a good little fish.”
The grunt clearly stated, “I’m a good little fish.”
“What the hell was that?” Linsford shouted. “How did you do that?”
“It’s mind power,” Mario said. “I stare into the fish’s eyes and concentrate. Because my mind is stronger than the fish, I can make him speak.”
“Give me that fish,” Linsford said.
He held the grunt at face level and stared at it. The fish said, “Unh. Unh.”
Linsford stared him in the eyes and said, “I’m a good little fish.”
“Unh. Unh,” the fish grunted.
Linsford brought the fish closer and stared deep into its eyes.
“I’m a good little fish,” he repeated.
Linsford sat there for half a minute staring and concentrating. Suddenly he said, “Unh. Unh.”
Following the Doctor's Orders
I turned around to see who was calling me. The portly gentleman I had heard laughing so loudly behind me looked like Bernard Pedersen, except he had a gorgeous Mexican beauty on his arm. She was wearing an ultra-mini-skirt and a halter-top smaller than a handkerchief. I looked closer and when I saw the hearing aid, I knew it could be no one but Bernard.
“Bernard, I didn't even recognize you,” I said. “You're looking great.”
“Yes, I guess I have gained a little weight.”
“No. I said you are looking great,” I said loudly. “Did you ever get that hearing aid fixed?”
“You never got that hearing aid fixed, did you?”
“I haven't had time to do it because I've been having so much fun since I was here the last time. I want to thank you for talking me into visiting the doctor and for going to his office with me. It changed my life.”
“What do you mean?”
“Since I started taking that doctor's advice, I found out what living is all about. This is Lupe.”
The Mexican beauty said, “Hola.”
“She's not only the sexiest woman I ever met—she makes me laugh all the time.”
“Wait a minute. I thought you said your life had changed because you’ve been following the doctor's advice.”
“It has. You were there with me at the doctor's office. He said to get a hot mama and be cheerful.”
“Bernard, you’re an idiot,” I said. “The Doctor said you’ve got a heart murmur and to be careful.”
Third World Paradise
Before leaving the U.S. for Belize, music was still paying my bills but it was never enough to get ahead and save something. I started a sales business as a manufacturer’s representative that served as a quick method to generate income and it soon began making money. In the meantime, I still played music five or six nights a week.
For a year I plowed ahead, working with dual careers until I paused long enough to take a rare, realistic look at myself. Taking stock of my life presented me with a hell of past and a limited future. My personal inventory showed a forty-year-old with a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit, twice divorced, working sixteen hours a day, and averaging twelve hundred miles a week on the road. Insurance underwriters had nightmares about men like me.
After a year of this guaranteed killer life style the sales business was beginning to pay off. It was time to quit the music business. Although there were a number of thirty-year-old club musicians who looked forty-five, not too many were actually over thirty-five. Before quitting for good, it wouldn’t hurt to have one last adventure, though.
“What can I do for you, Dennis?” Jean Freeman asked me.
Jean was my agent at the time and is still the only honest agent I ever met in my life.
“I want to leave the country. I need a short gig as a single act that takes me out of here for a while.”
Jean was used to booking me on road gigs when I was avoiding problems like ex-wives or girlfriends.
“Why on earth would you want to do that?”
“I’m forty years old and ready to quit playing music,” I said. “I want one more adventure before hanging it up.”
“Where do you want to go?” she asked. “My guess is that it would be a place where English is spoken. That leaves us pretty much with Canada.”
My idea of an adventure didn’t include freezing to death.
“There are tourist places in Mexico that use American singers,” Jean said. “Or how about the Caribbean? They speak English on most of the islands.”
“Send me to the Cayman Islands,” I said. “I had a horrible weekend there one time but the Caribbean is a beautiful part of the world.”
“You need a work permit for the Caymans,” said Jean. “Let me make a few calls.”
She called an agent friend in Miami who handled cruise ship bookings.
“Here’s what we’ll do,” she said. “Harold will book you to work on a cruise ship that goes to the Cayman Islands every week. You’ll be in port on the island for one day a week. The cruise ship pay is good and you can check out the islands about the work situation and to see if it’s something you really want to do.”
“Great. When do I start?”
“It’s not immediate,” Jean said. “The current booking runs through the Easter weekend, so we’re looking at about nine weeks from now.”
I said, “That’s the kind of adventure I’m looking for. Give me sun, sand, palm trees and lots of pretty women.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Jean said. “You just got divorced, didn’t you?”
Charles Woodrow Wilson Worthington III is my long-time musical partner and an extremely gifted drummer. Over the years we have worked our way through an incredible number of bars, bands, marriages, divorces and all of the other indignities that a club musician endures. In spite of working with scores of other musicians and their hundreds of accompanying dramas we somehow managed to stay connected.
We were working as a duo in a honkytonk dive bar outside of Tampa, Florida when Charlie learned of my plans to go to the Cayman Islands.
“If you want to go to the Caribbean,” Charlie said, “why don’t you go to Belize?”
Belize? Where the hell was Belize? Oh, yes. It used to be British Honduras. I knew that because that’s where Charlie’s wife second wife, Estela, was from. Despite many lengthy separations and battles as legendary as Gettysburg, Estela was still around. They had remarried and now she was Charlie’s third wife as well as his second.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Estela’s from Central America. Belize is in Central America, not the Caribbean.”
“Well, it is in Central America,” Charlie said, “but Estela’s family is from San Pedro. It’s a little tourist town on an island called Ambergris Caye, off the coast of Belize. It’s in the Caribbean Sea, about thirty miles from the mainland.”
“My Spanish isn’t good enough to get by in Central America,” I told him.
“Oh, they speak English there. English is the official language of Belize.”
“What’s it like? Do they have revolutions?”
“Come to the house and I’ll show you some videos,” Charlie said. “You’ll like Belize.”
He was there once, five years earlier and had taken his video camera with him. The videos were filled with palm trees, sand streets, houses on stilts, lots of ocean and more palm trees. A map of Central America showed Belize just south of Mexico at the bottom of the Yucatan Peninsula. Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and the Caribbean Sea bordered it.
Charlie had also taped a “60 Minutes” TV show with Morley Safer reporting from Belize. Safer’s report was so glowing that it almost sounded like a paid travel advertisement. According to Safer, Belize was an English-speaking country. Their only war was when they joined Great Britain to repel Spanish invaders in 1809. England granted them independence in 1981 and it was the only country in Central America that had never had a revolution.
The entire country was only slightly larger than the ten largest counties in Florida put together. Two hundred miles long and eighty miles wide, its coastline boasted the world’s second largest living barrier reef. It was a diving and fishing paradise. The mountainous interior of the country was filled with some of the oldest ruins of the Mayan civilization. Belize boasted the only rain forest in the Northern Hemisphere and a burgeoning tourist industry.
“Now, that’s what I call an adventure,” I told Charlie.
“Estela’s uncle owns a part of a really nice resort on Ambergris Caye,” Charlie said. “He told me if I brought a band down for vacation, he would hire us to play.”
“Hell, Charlie. A duo is a band. We sound like a three-piece, with you playing drums and me kicking bass pedals and playing guitar.”
“We’re definitely a band,” Charlie agreed.
After talking about it for a while it sounded better and better. Before the afternoon was over, we had talked ourselves into going to Belize.
“I’ve got three weeks of vacation coming to me anyway,” Charlie said.
We called Estela’s Uncle Ramon and reached an agreement for a three-week engagement
The U.S. Immigration office took my application for a passport that afternoon, promising that it would be ready within a month. The following week Charlie took one of those plunges off the deep end that made him so appealing (and terrifying) to be around. He told me he had changed his mind about taking a vacation. He had decided to move to Belize permanently. He had already turned in his resignation to his company. I turned my accounts over to a friend, who was also a manufacturer’s rep, for the three weeks that I would be gone.
Although I had no clue about the course that my life would take upon my return, one thing was certain. It would change completely.
Download the song:
Third World Paradise
from The Vault
Third World Paradise
I traded in my polished shoes for sandals
My coat and tie for faded cutoff shorts
I don’t give a damn about the latest headline news
For politics or stock market reports
I go fishing in the morning and at night I’m in the bar
There beside the beach I sing and play my old guitar
The weather’s good and local ladies always treat me nice
I’m alive and well and kicking back in a Third World paradise
A First World dropout, I left it all behind
I have my health, my sanity, I have my peace of mind
I walked out on the past and never thought about it twice
I’m alive and well and kicking back in a Third World paradise
I don’t have insurance or an ulcer
An attitude, a schedule or a gun
I like to take siesta in my hammock on the beach
Where palm trees keep me shaded from the sun
And my life is slowly rolling at a steady even pace
I’m not in competition. I’ve already won the race
With a way of life that can’t be bought at any kind of price
I’m alive and well and kicking back in a Third World paradise
A First World dropout, I left it all behind
I have my health, my sanity, I have my peace of mind
I walked out on the past and never thought about it twice
I’m alive and well and kicking back in a Third World paradise
Doing quite well, thank you, in a Third World paradise
It was two and a half years before I returned to the U.S.