Saturday, February 27, 2010

Jamaica, part two

Montego Bay, at least where I stayed, didn’t have much in the way of beaches. There were strips of sand next to the ocean, but no wide areas full of sunbathers like I had experienced during family vacations to Miami Beach.

I was on my summer vacation and that meant I was going to the beach no matter what size it was. I put on my bathing suit, took a towel from the hotel bathroom, and went off in search of a beach. My hotel was on a hill. As I headed down toward the ocean, children begged for money, but I didn’t have any on me, so I felt no guilt in refusing them. Before I reached the bottom of the hill, a young woman rushed up to me and welcomed me to Jamaica.

She said her name was Mia. Mia had a beautiful smile. She wore T-shirt and jeans. She asked if she could hang out with me. Mia didn’t look like how I pictured a prostitute to look. She wasn’t dressed in flashy clothes that showed a lot of skin. She didn’t wear red lipstick or any makeup for that matter. She looked like the kind of girl that you’d meet at the grocery store.

I don’t remember exactly where Mia took me. It wasn’t the ocean, but there was enough water to wade in. Maybe it was a pond. It was somewhat secluded.

“Let’s go swimming here,” Mia announced with way too much enthusiasm.

“But you’re not wearing a bathing suit,” I said.

“No problem,” Mia said. She took off her T-shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes. She slipped into water in her bra and panties.

I joined her. The water was warm. Mia attached herself to me like an octopus. I was shocked, but got an erection anyway. She tried to mount me in the water.

“Whoa,” I cried. “Are you sure about this? Somebody could come by at any second.”

“You’re right,” Mia said. “Let’s go to your room.”

We hurried out of the water. Mia put her clothes back on and we headed for the hotel. Events had happened so quickly, that I still hadn’t realized at this point that Mia was going to want to be paid for having sex with me. My mind was blurred by lust and I just figured that I’d gotten unusually lucky.

At the hotel, we weren’t in my room for more than a minute before the phone rang. Management called to tell me that I wasn’t allowed to have non-hotel guests in my room. I was pissed. Where did they get off telling me who I had in my room, especially when I was so close to getting laid? Plus, I was shocked that management knew so quickly. Were they watching me?

I sent Mia on her way. I lost interest in swimming in the ocean that day. I was miffed at how quickly the hustlers moved in on me. The baggage handler, Slick, Mia, even the hotel manager all hit on me before I had time to think clearly.

I changed out of my swimsuit for some walking clothes and headed out to explore the city. I avoided the panhandlers and visited historical sites.

I was wondering through an open-aired market trying my best to ignore all the people shouting at me to buy from them when a young man pulled me aside.

“You need a guide,” he said. “Someone to show you around, but also someone to make everybody else leave you alone. The only way they’ll give you any peace is if you have a guide.”

“And I guess that’s what you are,” I said. “What do you charge to be a guide?”

“Whatever money you are willing to give me and maybe some clothes,” he said. “It’s hard to get good clothes here, especially T-shirts.”

His name was Ronald and for the rest of my trip, he was my guide.

Ronald convinced me to rent a car.

“We can drive to Negril so you can see the sunset from Rick’s Café,” Ronald said. I found out later that this was one of most popular tourist attractions in Jamaica.

I had trouble getting used to driving on the left hand side of the road, so I made Ronald do most of the driving. On the way out of Montego Bay, we passed by a large cinder block building.

“Why are all those people lined up outside that building?” I asked.

“It’s the movie theater,” Ronald explained. “We only get one movie a month and everybody goes to see it.”

“But you can rent movies and watch them on TV, right?” I asked.

“Too expensive,” Ronald said. “Everybody can afford the movie theater.”

“What’s playing now?”

“’Purple Rain.’ That is the best movie ever made. I’ve already seen it five times.”

I was amazed that “Purple Rain” had only just arrived. It came out in the U.S. three years earlier.

“Everybody is really excited because next month, the sequel to ‘Purple Rain’ is coming,” Ronald said.

“’Under a Cherry Moon’ is coming here?” I asked.

“What’s that?”

“The film Prince did after ‘Purple Rain.’”

Ronald looked confused. “No, that’s not the movie.”

“Which movie are you talking about?”

“’The Color Purple.’ That’s Prince’s sequel to ‘Purple Rain.’”

I could see how Ronald would have come to that conclusion. I didn’t have the heart to explain that Prince wasn’t in “The Color Purple.” Best he find out on his own.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Jamaica, part one

Time: 1987
Place: Jamaica

“Come Back to Jamaica” the ads implored. I couldn’t come back to a place I had never been before, but I was intrigued all the same. I didn’t know about recent Jamaica’s political upheaval and why they were so eager to ensure tourists that it was safe to return. In fact, I wasn’t thinking of Jamaica at all when I was planning my summer vacation.

My original plan was to go Chicago with a co-worker. Let’s call him Dickhead. Dickhead was from Chicago and for months he’d told me about what a great city it was and how he wanted to show me the sights. We were drinking buddies, and finally one day after listening to another story about the windy city, I asked Dickhead if he was serious, did he really want to show me Chicago? Hell yeah, he said, let’s do this thing. We’d stay at his mother’s place and save lots of money. Dickhead even picked out the date that worked best for him.

I put in my vacation request for the dates Dickhead chose. About two weeks before we were to go, I asked Dickhead if he’d thought about plane reservations or did he want me to book a flight? Dickhead looked at me strange and said he had no idea what I was talking about. When I explained about the trip we’d agreed to go on together, Dickhead said that he didn’t really mean that we’d actually go to Chicago, just that he’d like to if he could. He didn’t have the money or the time to go and besides, he had as many bad memories of Chicago as good ones and didn’t really want to go home anytime soon.

So, there I was with my vacation time speeding toward me and no place to go. I could have rescheduled, but that would have been a huge hassle. I was working the Sunday morning shift at the TV station and bitching to another co-worker, who I’ll call Mike, about how Dickhead screwed up my vacation. Mike pointed out that I was free to go anywhere in the world. I didn’t need to go with anybody. Mike had brought the Sunday paper. We pulled out the travel section and looked it over.

I decided on Jamaica for a number of reasons: sun, beaches, reggae, rum, and pot. And it was cheap. I called a travel agency on Monday and scheduled a four day trip that included hotel, ground transportation, and airfare. I didn’t have a passport, but the travel agent assured me that all I needed was my driver’s license.

I flew Air Jamaica. The plane landed next to into the smallest airport I’d ever seen. I felt culture shock at being someplace that wasn’t as modern as the United States. The plane let my fellow travelers and me off on the tarmac and we walked into the airport. It was mid-June, hot and muggy.

My luggage was transferred from the plane to the front of the airport where the vans were waiting to take tourists to their various hotels. Baggage handlers made sure everybody’s luggage made it to the right van.

One handler, a tall sweaty black man with a big smile, held his hand out to me and said, “Welcome to Jamaica, mon.” I grabbed his hand to shake it and he passed the bag of marijuana he had hidden in his palm into my palm.

“Just give me a twenty, mon.” he said. “Pretend it’s a tip.”

I was too shocked to refuse. I took a twenty out of my wallet and gave it to him. Later, I found out about the money exchange and figured out that he had grossly overcharged me.

I put the bag of pot in my pants pocket and thought, welcome to Jamaica where they give you drugs the minute you step off the plane.

My hotel room was in Montego Bay. The room was like a dorm room with cheap furniture. But it was clean and I was outside of the United States for only the second time in my life. The first time was when I rode with friends from Detroit to Windsor, Canada, and it almost doesn’t count because we only stayed for about an hour before going back to Detroit.

The culture shock that I received at the airport was nothing to what I felt as I walked the streets of Montego Bay. I did no homework on Jamaica before I left the comfort of home and entered this Third World Country. I was the typical naïve tourist.

Panhandlers swarmed around me like hungry mosquitoes. I noticed that larger groups of people weren’t harassed as much as single persons like myself. I had a cheap pocket instamatic camera that I bought for the trip. I didn’t discover until I had the photos developed that you had to be really careful how you held the camera when you snapped pictures. My fingers got it the way so that most of my photos had what looked like mutant worms looming in from the side and obscuring the subject matter.

On my first day, a short thin man calling himself Slick latched onto to me. With his dark sunglasses and black driver’s cap, Slick projected a sleazy gangster vibe. He kept offering to carry my camera for me. The instamatic was cheap so it wouldn’t have been a big deal if Slick stole the camera, but then I would have been without a camera, so I declined his offer.

I stayed with Slick that first day because I was afraid that he would turn on me if I tried to chase him away. He led me to a couple of bars where I paid for our beers. The sun went down and Slick showed no signs of loosening his grip on me.

When Slick asked me if I wanted to go someplace to eat, I told him I wasn’t hungry. For some reason, I didn’t mind buying him beer, but I didn’t want to buy him food. This was the opposite of how I would normally treat a panhandler, insisting that they buy food with any money I gave them instead of wasting it on alcohol, but I never had to sit down for a meal with a panhandler. That was too intimate, while drinking together seemed less personal. I ended up not eating much the entire time I was there.

After the bars, Slick took me to the Jamaican version of a strip club. In a large room filled with wooden tables and chairs, we drank Red Stripe Beer and watched a half naked fat woman dance to Madonna’s “Like A Virgin.” I’ve never been able to listen to that song since without conjuring up the image of that fat woman gyrating with a wicked grin on her fleshy face.

I was content to end the evening there and escape back to my hotel room, but Slick was disappointed in this strip club and wanted to take me to one that he insisted was much better. We wandered through down dimly lit streets. I had no idea where I was or how to get back to my hotel.

I shouldn’t have been there. I was taking a foolish risk, but I kept thinking about how much those TV ads begged people to return to Jamaica. Tourism was the only thing that keeping Jamaica afloat. Jamaicans wanted to coerce as much as they could from tourists, but they didn’t want to hurt them. That would kill tourism and everybody would suffer. That was my theory and probably a stupid one, but that’s how I kept from freaking out.

Slick and I came to building with no sign and boarded up windows. Inside, rows of metal folding chairs faced a simple stage. Shine led me to the front row and ordered us a couple of Red Stripes. As American pop music played (I was beginning to wonder why I rarely heard Reggae) Jamaican girls came out one or two at a time and danced. The girls were young, I would guess somewhere between fourteen and sixteen years old. Their small breasts were not fully developed. They wore bikini tops and grass skirts, which they quickly took off. They spread their legs so wide and presented their vaginas so prominently, I felt I should have given them gynecology exams.

Slick nudged me and said I should photos of the girls. I argued that taking photos of underage girls with their legs spread open in a strip club was not a good idea. Slick insisted, so I did. Immediately, the manager ran over and yelled at me. Slick got up and talked to the manager for a moment, and then asked me to give the owner some money. I had exchanged some U.S. dollars into Jamaican money and passed some of the bills to the owner. He pocketed the money, smiled and directed me to take more photos. The girls smiled and exposed themselves for my camera and I snapped photos until I ran out of film.

“Which girl would you like to take back to your room with you?” the owner asked.

“That’s okay,” I said. “None of them.”

“You don’t like my girls?” the owner said indignantly.

“No, it’s not that,” I said backpedaling. “I just got in today and I’m tired. Maybe tomorrow night.”

I used the tired from the trip excuse to get Slick to lead me back to my hotel. He offered to carry my camera for me as we walked, but I said I could hold it just fine. When we reached the hotel, Slick asked what time he should meet me the next day. I lied and told him late in the afternoon. I figured I would leave earlier and just hope he didn’t camp out waiting for me.

Once inside my room, I locked the door, took a long shower, smoked a joint, and then went to bed. What an incredibly long day it had been, full of strange adventure. And this was just the first day.

To be continued.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Spot Cartoon

Here are two examples of why I never became a single frame cartoonist. I had a terrible time distilling one great idea into a single frame. I tend to need more room to get my ideas across.

The first one I think is decent. The second never made it past the rough sketch stage.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Yet even more Facebook

These are the last pages from my "facebook" sketchbook, I promise.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Still Even More Facebook

The comment written on the third sketch down has to do with one of the few times I've been "caught" doing a sketch in a public place. As a rule, I try to be inconspicuous, but every so often, I get busted. So far, I haven't been caught by any of my "subjects" but the lady who made the comment about sketch 3 was walking by my table in a very crowded restaurant when she decided to comment on my drawing skills.

By the way, Puerto Sagua is a great Cuban restaurant in South Beach. I added the "n" to Saqua by accident on two of the sketches.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Even More Facebook

More "facebook" sketches, these all happen to have been done in Miami Beach.