Dodging the Bullet
La Ceiba, Honduras
So I was in La Ceiba Honduras. December 2003. It’s at the waning weeks of a four month trip. I’d just done some scuba diving. Just dallied with an ultimately doomed romance with a woman ten years younger than me. Just decided that it was time to head back up to Guatemala. I was out for a walk at night. La Zona Viva in La Ceiba. A dirt road strip of bars numbering about thirty. Some would say it was a little rough down here. But everyone had been friendly so far. It was a lull in the tourist trade, and every one of the bars would have been happy to have my dough.
So, why did I stop at this bar?
There was a big puddle. In the middle, it was about knee deep. I could have gotten around it, but I was too lazy. And the place had a patio. It was on the corner, and it was as good a place as any. It had beer. And it was almost empty. As I walk in, group of soldiers go by in a pickup truck that I am sure would be pulled over in a second in Canada for being unsafe. Three in the cab. Gotta be ten in the bed. All packing M16s. Good enough. I’ve seen UMPs in France and MP5s in Italy. Crossing the patio, on the way inside, I pass a fat man at a table with four young women. The man is wearing a dress shirt that went out in the seventies. It is hanging open. In the recent past, he took a half hearted stab at shaving. The women aren’t young chicas. Twenty five and up. Practically middle aged around here. There is a Latino drifting about watching the table. He is not the regular Latino, who looked like he worked that day. He looked like he was working right now. His clothes were clean and he was generally looking aware. I guessed I should not fuck around with him. Again, good enough. Keep your eye open, everything will be all right.
The inside is empty. A young woman sits behind the bar, she is reading a magazine. US in Spanish. She looks up as I approach.
“Puedo tener dos Salva Vidas, por favor?”
She nods, and, while still reading the mag, pulls out two beers.
Now, I make some effort to be noticed. I make some joke in Spanish. Something like, “Tuve que parar. Su lago casi me ahogó.” I had to stop here, your lake almost drowned me.
“Si. Es mu profundo.” Yes, it’s very deep, the girl says. She returns to her mag. And why not? It is an empty bar. I am a gringo. She has seen a million of us. She’s got a magazine. I will be here less time than her info on Ricardo Arjona or Gloria Estefan or the heroes on her favourite Telenovela. It was an honest brush-off. I was happy to take it.
I take the two beers outside, and sit on the almost completely empty patio. I go to the FAR corner from the place where the fat man sits with his four women and the gunslinger watches them. The police go by again, hitting the deep puddle hard and eliciting cheers as the spray surrounds the soldiers but does not touch them. The moon is in my favourite mode. It is mostly clear, but there are long thin clouds that hide it for a short time and reveal it again. I really had nothing to do. There was drinking beer or going to bed. I guess there could be time for introspection. But I suck at that. I didn’t even have the journal to keep me interested. In the long run, that is a good thing, because when I am bored, the passages just come out in one long pretentious load of hogwash.
So what’s left? Think about exactly what is going on with the fat and ugly slob of a man, the four women, and the gunslinger hanging around none too surreptitiously. My theory was that the fat guy is a John, and these are four hookers. I have no idea what the slovenly guy is going to do with four hookers, but it is my only theory. Ultimately it doesn’t matter. Just something to think about.
Halfway through the beer, I get up to take a piss against the corrugated tin wall of what passes for a bathroom here. I look behind me. There is a guy along the side of the building leaning against the wall right where Fat Boy and the women are. I have to turn my back to the guy. I don’t like it, because now I know that either the fat guy or the four women need TWO thugs hanging around. I can hear the guy approaching and I use the “accelerator” muscle as hard as I can. After I finish with the tin wall, the Latino hanging around the side of the building wants to know whether I want one of the women to spend some time at my table. No thanks. I’m going to finish my beer and split. That would be the smart thing.
Back outside, and I sit back down. The guy is talking in the time honoured, loudmouth tradition. It’s disgusting, and engrossing. I make a fatal mistake. I decide to order another beer, to see what happens next. It’s a tragic flaw. I’ve had it all my life. Every bit of me is telling me that there is a bad bounce coming, and I ignore that spidey sense completely.
Sitting down with the beer that I got from Miss Welcome Wagon at the bar, she follows me out to take an order from the human train wreck. He sends a woman over with a beer for me. She tells me he wants me to come to the table with them. I tell her: No thank you. She goes back. Then she comes back. She says this guy REALLY wants me to come over.
He yells past her. “Don’t be a fucking asshole!”
Here comes mistake number two.
I go over. Immediately he launches into a diatribe on how the women at the table are all hoes looking for a visa. Which one do I want? Meanwhile he is getting about fifty percent of his gulps of beer actually in his mouth. The women are looking at him uncomfortably, but they aren’t leaving. So that’s it. They are here because they are hoping to get a visa from this scum bag. I was feeling queasy. This fella’s name is Richard. He tells me at one point, that he is a CIA operative. Later, he tells me that he is the most desired man in Honduras. Occasionally, he talks in bad Spanish to the women. Telling them what he’s going to do to their asses. He paws them a little bit.
I make some effort to be polite to the women. They really don’t say much to me. They’re eyeing Dreamy Richard. So now, because I am not treating the women like him, he starts to call me an asshole and several other unsavory names. So, I tell him that I think it’s time for me to leave. Thanks for the beer. I turn to say good evening to the ladies, who I pity because they may actually have sex with this pig for a way out of here. I turn around, and the guy has a nine millimeter pointed at my head. “Sit down, fat boy.”
Weighing my options, I decide another beer wouldn’t be all that bad. Oh, there are actually people on the porch who see this. The gunslinger has a gun, but I still don’t know who he’s working for. This all seems to be normal and no one really reacts broadly. They just watch to see whether my brains will be splattered some time in the near future. Two construction guys over in the corner snort, and go back to their beers. The pig, Richard, sends one of the unfortunate women out to get me another beer. Now after the shock having a gun in my face has worn, I start to ask him just what he wants from me. The eldest of the women asks him to put away the gun. “You know what the police told you the last time.” She talks in halting English.
What he wants is for me to sit there and drink a beer with him while he treats the women like shit. He continues on with his jibes at the women. His insults to me. He encourages me to berate the women too. They understand a little English, he informs me, but if you speak fast, you can say whatever you want. For the most part, the gun is resting on his gut while he drinks (and paws the women) with his other hand. He tells one of the women to sit on my lap. And she does. She throws an arm around me, but continues to look around silently. There is no passion or warmth in it. I have become a captive chair. Half an hour later, four more beers have gone into Richard’s yap. I have two lined up in front of me, untouched. Nursing this one, thank you.
Miss Personality comes out with another round. Richard’s eyes are rolling around in his head. He is doing the peepee shuffle at the table. He puts the gun on the table to adjust his junk. I briefly consider flipping the table over. But I have dead weight on my lap and a guy standing behind me who could actually be working for Richard. Nope. Bad idea.
“Quién es el hombre joven detrás de mí?” I ask the girl on my lap. Who is the young man behind me?
“Él es un protector de seguridad para la barra.” He is a security guard for the bar.
Well, that’s good to know. But the gun is back on Richard’s protruding gut. I figure that Richard is about one beer away from passing out. But my chance comes sooner. “Godda pish. Ya shtay ride fuggin’ here. Doan mage me fine yew.”
“No problem Richard, my man! Having a good time. Con cuatro bonita mujeres.”
“Ogay. Or’er us anuh un.” Richard staggers out to the corrugated tin.
“Señoras. Ése es el hombre más repugnante que he satisfecho siempre. Usted puede encontrar a un hombre mejor que él.” Ladies. That is the most disgusting man I have ever met. You can find a better man than him.
I stand up. The woman slides off my lap. I hit the stairs. Security Boy smiles at me. Happy that I am making a getaway? Or smug that I got myself in this stupid spot in the first place?
“Usted tienen gusto de nosotros de venir con usted?” Do you want us to come with you?
“Yeah. Uh, no thanks. Vaya Con Dios.”
One knee deep puddle and seventeen back alleys later, I am back in my hotel room. Here is what I learned. Given a choice between beer and bed; bed can be a better option. Also, fording a deep puddle may be a good thing to do in some circumstances.