Fuck-Ups & Looking in Oranjestad:
I follow the native Aruban boy as he winds his way through the bustling foot traffic crowding one of the busiest streets on the island. He eventually takes a few twists and turns; heading down alleys and in-between buildings. I become disoriented and unsure of exactly where we are. I realize, if he is in fact leading me to the body of Natalee Holloway, I won't be able to find my way back to this spot. Finally, he squirms through a hole in a fence at the end of one of the alleys. I force my body through the same hole and find myself standing in a barren sandlot, easily a hundred square feet.
There are weeds, a few potholes filled with muddy water, and there, lying face up, is the body of a girl.
I follow the little boy over to the body and can see that she's definitely a teenager. The boy picks up a stick and stands beside the slightly bloating, bleaching, fallen teenager.
"See, I tell you." He puts out his free hand. "Gimme other half."
"Hold on a sec," I tell him.
I lean over the body and sweep the stray strands of blonde hair out of her face.
"This isn’t the girl," I say.
"Yes. It is," he replies. "She is blonde American dead girl. Gimme other half of the dollars."
"No," I say. "You give me other half of the dollars, this ain’t the right girl. This doesn't even look like her."
"Is her," he says. "She look wrong because we hit with sticks. Is her. Give me the half."
I look at the black roots poking out of her scalp underneath the blonde dye-job. I stand up.
"This isn't her," I tell him. "Her hair's dyed and it doesn’t look like her. Now you can either give me the half a 5 back or I can take it from you."
"Is not dyed. She is dirty," he says.
He bends down, spits in her hair and starts scrubbing the dark roots.
"See," he says, "is dirt."
I grab the stick away from him and use it to lift up the girl's skirt. I take a quick look.
"Carpets and curtains don't match, kid. She’s a brunette."
I toss the stick at him with:
"Now gimmie my money or I’m leaving with a whole lot more than my five bucks."
He snatches up the stick and begins whapping the girl on and about the stomach; eyes of determination locked on me the whole time.
"See!" he yells. "Is dead, she’s dead, DEAD!"
He keeps wailing away on her. Wow! This kid is the Gatling gun of stick-whackers. Finally he finishes.
"I know she's dead," I say. "I can tell she's dead. That's not the problem. The problem is she's not the right dead girl."
"Is the blonde American dead girl!" he shouts.
He smacks her in the head:
He smacks her white tank-top that has "Fun Whore" spelled out in black letters:
He smacks her now-exposed crotch:
He shoves the end of the stick in her mouth and roughly jabs & pokes around in there.
"Dead! See? Dead! Gimmie money, asshole!"
I'm not an asshole. And he's smacked this girl too much. So in one motion I use my left hand to grab his stick and toss it, with my right hand I snatch him by his throat and jerk him in the air. I get him completely off the ground and slam him, on his back, into the dirt.
A burst of breath, the smell of infrequently brushed teeth and turnips, blasts out of his mouth. I rifle around in the pockets of his torn, dirty shorts and find the other half of my five dollar bill. The whole time he’s painfully and unsuccessfully gasping for air.
I let go of him and help him stand up.
"Put your hands on your head, elbows out," I tell him as I hold him steady. "Now you need to take long, deep breaths."
He follows my instructions and within a minute he's breathing heavily if not normally.
"You okay, now?" I ask.
I pick up his stick and whap him in the mouth with it.
"That’s for wasting my time," I tell him.
He picks up a stone and hurls it into my testicles.
It's a good shot.
Bent over I say, "Good show, kid. Don't take any shit. But don't bullshit anyone either."
We both stand there wincing: me holding my balls; him holding his mouth.
"You want me to buy you an ice cream?" I ask.
"Okay," I say, "lead the way. I don’t have the first fucking clue as to where we are."
Twenty minutes later the kid is scuttling away with his ice cream and I'm leaning against an ice cream stand that is the unofficial hang out for the CNN and MSNBC crowd. They've got a conversation going about the War on Terror.
The CNN folk are just as serious about it as they are against it. The MSNBC kids are a little more mixed. I try to lighten the conversation. I mean, shit, we're eating ice cream on a tropical island. It ain't all doom and gloom. So in between licks of Rocky Road I say:
"You'd think with a name like the Gin Blossoms they’d rock a little harder. I don't mean, you know, like 'Hard Rock' as a genre. I just mean… harder."
They respond with silence.
"Not AC/DC or any of that shit, just… you know, a name like the Gin Blossoms, I'd just… I don't know, I'd think they'd have music that goes a little more with my uncle Stephen's fucked up nose…"
"… or something. Like The Small Faces when they had Rod Stewart… or... The Paybacks."
A CNN cameraman clears his throat and follows up with a "Yeah, so anyway…"
and they're back into their conversation. They occasionally switch from the War on Terror to the failings of network programming and then back again.
I decide the best way to get myself "in" now is to bridge both topics at once:
"So yeah, Blue Collar TV. How come the terrorists couldn’t fly a plane into that shit?"
This, apparently, is not how you work yourself into a conversation.
Gerold rolls up in a jeep, unwittingly rescuing me from the disapproving looks which the "real" journalists are now scrubbing me with. [sic]
"Hop in," he tells me. "I have something to show you."
So I hop in and we're off.
Originally Printed on 7/27/05
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