Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How I Spent My Easter Holiday (Part Two)

READ PART ONE HERE

We ran though the woods, the two guys I was with continuing to bitch about what they perceived as their mistreatment at the hands of the guys who were running the SERE class.

(SERE = Survive, Escape, Resist, and Evade.)

As mentioned, the two guys I'd been partnered up with were tougher than me. (Not a particularly difficult thing to be, I admit.) One was a black former Marine and current Maryland cop, while the other was a Puerto Rican guy from New Jersey. Hardly the kind of guys you'd expect to see at a survival class in the Dirty South, but there you go: I'd been meeting all kinds of varied people at these things. 

This particular class had started with about fourteen people, though two had come down with the flu, or some kind of food poisoning, the previous day; of the remaining twelve, about half were police, correction officers, or private contractors; the others were internet geek thrill-seekers, like me.

My two partners had been becoming increasingly confrontational and mouthy as the five-day class wore on and their nerves were frayed by sleeping on the ground and the bad weather. I wasn't quite as frazzled as the rest; I'd stayed in a hotel the first two nights, as I was recovering from an infected abcessed tooth. That was my excuse, anyway.

The goal of taking the class was to make me feel more capable, I suppose, but so far, I hadn't exactly distinguished myself in the skills we'd been practicing. I was a lousy lockpick, had a lot of trouble getting my small scout fire going with flint and steel, and had done nothing but hurt myself when trying to escape from zip ties. My group had gotten lost a couple of days previously on a scouting exercise, and ended up being pinned down by three angry pitbulls, owned by a neighbor of our instructor, for about twenty minutes, as we all lay quietly facedown in the brush with out hands on our knives. Thankfully the dogs had lost interest and we'd been one of the first teams back to camp.

I felt I'd done pretty well at the interrogation in the final training exercise, though. And I'd managed to get out of the handcuffs easily enough. Even the Puerto Rican, who didn't like me, gave me an "attaboy" on that one.

"LET'S DISABLE THE VEHICLE."

It was raining a bit as we double-timed it through the brush; we had to cross a few hundred yards of woods, go across a road and find our buried caches of survival supplies, and then go up a hill and make a concealed camp for the night in a considerable tract of woods up there. 

The next day, we had a variety of other tasks: build three small deadfall traps for catching small game, procure some water and food, and finally locate an area on the map and find lock-picking equipment and open one of the padlocks locked to a chain there. 

But the temperature was already hovering near freezing, and the forecast was for freezing rain.

"It's them!" hissed the Puerto Rican, flashing the "get down" hand signal, as we got near the house and barn at the front of the property; we all silently went to the ground and lay motionless as the ATV came up the nearby path.

The instructors of the class climbed off it. The guy who owned and ran the school was a fairly young guy, in his 30s; he'd done two tours in Iraq. The other two guys were very experienced Special Forces guys, retired after doing their 20 years. One had even been on the ground at Tora Bora and been heavily involved in the early part of the hunt for Bin Laden. I had more of a man-crush on the other one though, a former Army Ranger who seemed like Sergeant York -- straight-backed, polite, soft-spoken, honest and reliabe.  

The men stood around talking for a bit; I was afraid they'd seen us, but they soon got into their trucks and drove away. 

The Puerto Rican, who was closer to the road, flashed a "stand up" sign.

"Let's go disable the vehicle," snarled the cop from Maryland. 

I wasn't sure that was within the bounds of the role-playing scenario; but I followed them down to the barn and stood watch as they removed the battery from the ATV and hid it in the barn. 

I expressed some misgivings, and they sneered at me. "You're pretty passive for a guy who just got tasered," said the cop. 

"I'm thinking about escape," I admitted.

"THIS AIN'T A SOLO MISSION, TEACH."

We crossed through the woods and went up to find our caches. We'd cached the stuff two days previously in zip-lock bags to protect it from the elements. 

I'd cached more than enough stuff to survive a couple days. A fruit-and-nut bar, a liter of water in a stainless-steel bottle, a mylar survival blanket, a rain pancho, plenty of paracord, a small flashlight, a multi-tool, fire-starting stuff and water-purification tablets. Also, I had a fair bit of stuff on me; in addition to the three layers of clothes and boots I was wearing: a Swiss army knife, a Spyderco folding knife, another small flashlight, and a lighter. The instructors hadn't taken anything from us during the "interrogation" part of the activity.

After we found our caches, we started to make a camp on the hillside. We made a big lean-to and started a fire. The temperature was still hovering around zero, but the light rain had stopped.

"I'm going to make a little shelter over there," I said, indicating some fallen trees. I wanted to practice the skills and also make something a little more hidden.

This pissed off the Puerto Rican. "This ain't a solo mission, Teach!" said the Puerto Rican guy.

"Hey, it'll be the forward scout position." In reality I didn't particularly want to sleep in the same shelter as the two of them; the Puerto Rican farted a lot, his digestion not dealing well with the diet of MREs and trail mix. I also imagined the complaining would continue all night.

I started to pile branches and logs around the fallen tree, making a very serviceable mostly hidden lean-to shelter. The Puerto Rican and the cop from Maryland were sitting near the big shelter, conversing quietly. They'd started off the week arguing with each other a lot, mostly about sports, but they had a lot more in common with each other than with the other people on the course, who were mostly white guys from rural areas.

I know the black cop was pretty tired of all this; he'd been in REAL dangerous shitty situations in the first Gulf war, and I think he really didn't want to spend the night outside during freezing rain. He didn't have anything to prove to anybody.

Me, on the other hand, I was playing Commando all night, if it fucking killed me.

I made a pit lined with rocks, half-under part of the fallen log, and found some dry tinder and got a small fire going quickly with my lighter. I managed to spill half of my liter of water, but I didn't think that would make much difference tonight. There'd be plenty of rain. Dehydration was not a big worry.

Warmth, on the other hand, would be an issue. I gathered a good amount of firewood.

As the sun disappeared and the woods started to completely darken, I saw the cop and the Puerto Rican walking down the hill. I had a feeling they wouldn't be coming back.


"CRY LIKE A BABY, SCREAM LIKE A GIRL, AND YOU'LL BE FINE."

I scouted around up the hill a bit, and I saw a fire a bit away.

I approached the fire -- it was a good-sized blaze, if not quite a bonfire -- and greeted the three guys sitting around it, also students of the course. One was a Corrections Officer, the other was a contractor who had been working personal security in Iraq, and the third was a cheerful bearded guy from Louisiana who, if pressed, admitted that he was "kind of a criminal."

They greeted me and we exchanged information about the interrogation; they'd gotten pretty much exactly the same treatment we'd gotten.

"So the two guys I was with thought it was a bit harsh," I said. "In fact I think they just took off and I'm guessing they aren't coming back."

The Corrections Officer said he wasn't that impressed with the interrogation. "I think it was about a   4." He'd gone through much worse in training courses for his own extraction unit, where they'd been water-boarded and beaten each other with phone books.

"Well, I thought it was about right, myself," I said. "I'm not interested in finding my breaking point, not just yet, but I wanted a challenge."

The guy with the beard said, "You should have seen this guy," he said, indicating the contractor, who was a rather short and skinny guy. "He really went for the Oscar."

The contractor smiled. "I worked with plenty of guys who had been kidnapped or held at some point, they all said the same thing -- cry like a baby, scream like a little girl, and you'll be fine. Act like a badass, you get your head chopped off on the internet."

"I'll keep that in mind," I said. I said my goodbyes and went back down the hill and with some difficulty found my small shelter in the dark. I was pleased with how difficult it was to see; even with the small fire, it was nearly invisible in the darkness.

I ate the fruit and nut bar. Then I took the silver mylar emergency blanket and propped it up behind me in the shelter to act as a heat reflector. I made a half-way comfortable bed of leaves and dust, and crawled in.

The only problem was the smoke from the scout fire, which was often going directly into the shelter. And sitting closely to it, my sinuses dried up quickly.

But the temperature in the shelter was actually pretty comfortable, despite the fact that it was a bit below freezing as the sun went down. I'd set up some rocks to radiate heat back into the shelter, and the mylar reflecting surface was amplifying it.

I took off my outer coat and used it as a pillow and took off my boots; my pants and socks were very damp from the rain and they steamed as they dried.

Then it started to rain hard.

The shelter held up pretty well. Only a few drops fell on me. The fire kept going.

After that, it started to hail. Marble-sized balls of ice were soon bouncing off the floor of the forest.

I was okay in my shelter.

Perception and thought narrowed down to a half-awake state; I dozed off a few times, but then the fire would burn down enough that the cold woke me up, and I'd wake up and feed twigs and bark into the fire.

Some time later came the thunder. It boomed and roared, but there was no rain. Lightning flashed but the scary thunder continued for quite a while.

It was extremely apocalyptic.

I stayed calm beneath my shelter, concentrating on my little fire. There was more rain and more hail at various points in the night.

Eventually I woke in the quiet darkness and I heard an animal moving nearby -- a dog? A coyote? I thought I saw red eyes, but then they disappeared.

I fed more twigs into the fire, and survived it all.

Then the sky was brightening, and it was morning.

"PRETTY TOUGH, BY ENGLISH TEACHER STANDARDS."

I got up and stretched. I gathered some water from the rain pancho and had a drink.

I considered. There were more activities to do, but I felt like I'd done a pretty good amount of surviving. That was one scary night. I could practice making deadfalls later; I needed to go down and get some rest, I had a job interview in a couple of days.

I packed up my stuff and walked down the hill and crossed the road; then I needed to cross a field which had turned into a swamp during the rains in the night. My Timberland boots, which I'd bought for $40 at an end-of-season sale, made slurping sounds in the mud.

As I approached the house and the campsite where the lessons had been, I saw a small convoy pulling up the road.

The guy who was running the course leaned his head out and smiled and shouted, "Busted!"

"Man, I survived all night, that's pretty tough, by English teacher standards."

"You did good, man, I'm proud of you," said the former Ranger who I had the man-crush on. "You used your training."

"I didn't get my proof-of-life video, though," I said.

We discussed that issue, and others related to the course, for a few minutes, and then he said, "So that's why you train. Now you'll remember that point."

The teachers had been out during the night looking for the students with night vision goggles; they'd found the group I'd spoken with, not far from me. (They hadn't seen me; technically speaking though, I wasn't in the area they'd told us to sleep for the night, so I was cheating a bit.)

One group had called the teachers in the middle of the night and surrendered, asking to be retrieved during the thunderstorm; they'd come down and slept in their cars. Another group had spent the night up the hill and come down in the morning but gotten on the wrong street and gotten lost. The teachers were at that point returning from fetching them.

I was one of the last to come in. Surviving wasn't exactly the same thing as thriving; surviving was the minimum you could do. Nonetheless, I felt pleased with myself, if not exactly proud.

By English teacher standards, that was pretty tough.

I packed up my tent and gear and got on the road, beginning the 3 hour drive to my brother's house. I stopped at a rest stop and took a one-hour nap, at one point. The weather was clearing up and the sun was coming out.


SURVIVOR

My nephews were glad to see me, as always. "Hey, Uncle Butthole!"

"Don't say butthole!" chastised my sister-in-law.

"That's right kids, don't say butthole, you should say anus."

"You shouldn't say it at all!" she wailed.

"You shouldn't say it at all, unless you have a tick there. Now, let me teach you kids how to get out of zip-ties."

"Yay!"



We hung out, and then two days later, I dressed in my blue fake Hugo Boss suit, got on an airplane, and went to Houston. There, I went for a job interview for a major state-run company in The Sandbox. Fortunately the cuffs of the shirt hid all the cuts on the wrists I'd gotten trying to escape from zip-ties.

About thirty minutes after that, I was signing a letter of acceptance. The salary offered was about $8000 a month, approximately 10 times what I'd made in my first English teaching job in Bangkok, almost twenty years previously.

Yeah, I was a survivor, all right. Maybe even starting to thrive, a little.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

How I Spent My Easter Holiday (Part One)

I was handcuffed to a tree on a hillside, a light rain falling on my upturned face in the dim grey afternoon. Around me, dead skeletal trees clawed at the dull leaden sky.



My arms were wrapped around the tree and handcuffed in front of me; I was kneeling. The weather had been warm and sunny a few days previously, but now the temperature was hovering around 32 F / 0 C and freezing rain was in the forecast for the evening. Spring hadn't arrived, not quite yet.

Then a pillow case was slipped over my head.

"Man, this thing is filthy," I muttered. It smelled of halitosis and sweat.

"Yep," said a voice behind me, wrapping duct tape loosely around my neck.

Then the men who had brought us there left us alone in silence for a while. One of the guys I was with began screaming for help.

I didn't think that was a bad idea, so I joined in.

The two men I was with were tough guys; far tougher than me, at any rate. They were both about my age -- in their early 40s -- but one was a black guy from Maryland, a former Marine and current police officer. The other guy was of Puerto Rican descent, and he was from a tough neighborhood in New Jersey. He called me "Teach" and clearly didn't like me.

"Let's get it started," said a voice behind me, and then I was hit in the face with a burst of liquid. A jolt of panic went through me, and I turned my head away, within the pillowcase, and was relieved to find I still had plenty of room to breathe. I'd put my chin down when they fastened the hood on with the tape, so I was okay.

"We think you're DEA," said a rough voice near my ear. "You're here to find our crops, aren't you?"

"No, it's not true, I don't have anything to do with the DEA," I said. I could hear the two guys I was with also being talked to similarly. The black guy claimed he was just a street artist, while the Puerto Rican guy said nothing. "Who are you people, and why have you brought us here?" I asked.

There was a sudden sharp pain in my leg, like a wasp sting. It was a small handheld Taser, I knew that, being discharged into me for an electric shock. It hurt, but it wasn't debilitating.

"We're fucking drug dealers, we already told you that," said the rough voice. "We're Cartel. And you're a fucking DEA agent here to fuck with our shit!"

"Look, there's no reason to do this, I don't know who these guys are, I was just walking in the woods and I ran into them. I'm an English teacher," I said. "I'm just here on vacation."

"An English teacher," said the voice doubtfully. "Search him!" commanded one of the voices.

They found my wallet in my right front coat pocket. They quickly started interrogating me about my name and address, which was on my driver's license.

"See, I'm just a teacher, I don't know why you're holding me here. Could you tell me why you're holding me here?"

"Shut up!" said another voice, and the Taser stung me on the leg again.

"You got a wife there, English teacher? I see a picture of a girl here."

"She died a couple years ago. Cancer," I said. I thought that was good for two reasons; it might appeal to the soft-hearted among them, and it would hopefully prevent them from going after her.

"I think you're a fucking DEA agent!" yelled another voice in my ear. "I think you're .... "

"I don't have any connection with the DEA. I don't know why you've brought me here. I just came here as a tourist, could you just take this hood off and we can talk about whatever you want ... "

"You interrupt me again and I'll cut your fingers off!" yelled the voice. "You will show me respect, do you understand!"

"Yes," I said. "I'm sorry I interrupted you."

Another burst of liquid hit me in the face; this time it was pepper spray.

I turned my head away within the pillowcase; the cloth blocked most of it, but it stung my face and my right eye was soon watering too much to keep open.

"Shit," I said. "Look, just take this thing off, I'm not connected to the DEA, I'm a tourist, you don't need the problems you'll get if you hurt some stupid tourists ... "

I was tasered on the leg again. "PROBLEMS? HERE ARE SOME PROBLEMS FOR YOU!" They kept shouting at me that I was DEA. I calmly continued to insist that I was just a tourist, an English teacher, that my job involved helping people in other countries. I said that I'd come here because I thought it was a beautiful country and I loved the people and I was considering moving here to work.

The men moved to interrogating the other guys more forcefully. The Puerto Rican was still keeping quiet, simply denying that he was in the DEA, while the cop from Maryland was putting on a real show, crying hysterically that he couldn't breathe, that he was terrifed, and that he didn't understand why he was here.




Eventually they came back to me for Round 2.

"So, you know, I'm starting to believe that maybe you're not DEA. You're too fucking stupid. You probably can't even spell DEA."

I chuffed a laugh at that, and the voice yelled, "ARE YOU LAUGHING AT ME?" and I was tasered on the leg again.

"No," I said. "Look, I'm having trouble breathing, if you'll take this hood off, we can discuss all of this."

"I believe you're not DEA. But I think those two guys are. They look like cops. Just tell us that they're in the DEA and we'll let you go, and we can kill those two motherfuckers."

"I can't say that, I don't know who those guys are, I was just walking through the woods and I ran into them, but I think that guy is an artist, I don't believe they're DEA ... "

ZAP on the leg again. "You better not fucking lie to us, man."

"I'm not lying, I don't know who these guys are, I don't know why you brought us here, we're just tourists ... "

Another ZAP on the leg. "You say you don't know these guys, and then you say that they're just tourists! How the fuck do you know, man! Are they tourists, or you don't know them?"

I took a deep breath. "I just met them in the woods, like I said, and I asked them how they were and what they were doing here and they said they were tourists and the black guy said he's an artist, I don't know anything else. Look, it's hard to think with this thing over my head, and when you keep shocking me, so just take this thing off and we'll discuss this rationally, and we'll ... "

Another burst of liquid hit me in the face, soaking the pillowcase; I turned my face away, waiting to see whether it was water or pepper spray. Just water, it turned out.

They turned their attention back to the other guys, and then announced they were going to kill the black guy, to impress us with the fact that they weren't fucking around.

They uncuffed him and took him off; I heard them walk away, splashing in the mud, and heard more shouting, and then I heard him screaming that he didn't know anything about the DEA.

I was having a little trouble breathing in the sodden pillow case, but in general I was still managing to stay calm. It would be a fake execution, I was sure. Scary, but way scarier for the poor guy experiencing it.

Three shots rang out.

I kept my breathing even. I felt the knife hidden in my sock, beneath me, and that was some comfort.

They brought the guy from Maryland back and I heard them cuff him up again.

Round 3.

"So you're just an English teacher, huh? Anybody going to pay money for you? You're a rich gringo, eh?"

"No, I don't have much money. Teachers don't make much money."

"Teachers don't make no money, nobody will pay ransom for you, eh, so I guess we should just shoot you and fucking bury you, eh?"

"No," I said. "You're right, I don't have any money, but I think my travel insurance includes kidnapping. You can get money for me."

"How much? How much can we get for you, English teacher?" One of the guys pushed my forehead against the tree. Painful, but again, nothing I couldn't handle.

"Look, it's hard to think when you keep doing this, just take this thing off my head and we can talk about this, you know I'm not going to try anything."

"We have your home address. Who can we contact there? You said your wife is dead."

"You could contact my mother ... but I think it would be better to contact the American embassy. They can help you get your money faster than my mother can." I found I was hesitant to give them my mother's name, even though I knew that a "proof of life" was vital. Otherwise I was just another missing stupid tourist; everybody would think I was on a fucking drinking binge.

The negotiations continued; I felt if I could get them to contact the American embassy, we were in much better shape than if they just contacted my mother. I got pepper sprayed again, also on the right side, and tased a couple more times. I could hear the other guys making their "proof of life" videos and giving names of family members who could be contacted.

"Look, the American embassy can help you get your payments faster than our families, I don't come from a rich family, my mother is sick ... "

"I'm sick of listening to you, English teacher," grunted one of them. "No video for you. We're going to get the Butcher, and come back and cut some of your fingers off and send them to that mom of yours."

"The Butcher?" I asked, and couldn't help but laugh a bit.

"LAUGHING AGAIN!" yelled the mean one, and pepper sprayed me again on the same side.

I could hear the guys climb into their ATV and drive off. "You just sit there and think about how painful this is going to be!" one of them yelled as they went down the hill.

No proof of life video, that was bad. But I felt I'd held up under interrogation reasonably well.

Even before the noise of the departing ATV had completely faded, I was on my feet and pulling the wet pillow-case hood off my head. Then I started struggling to get the bobby pin which was hidden behind the zipper of my coat.

The black guy shouted that he couldn't see at all, pepper spray in both eyes, and that he had a key hidden in his boot, and was asking if I could reach it from my position.

I couldn't. I asked the Puerto Rican guy if he had a bobby pin, and he said he had a handcuff key; I couldn't see out of my right eye, but I saw he was struggling to get out the handcuff key which he had in his pants on a string.

The bobby pin behind my zipper was in the easiest position to access from that position we were in; I got it out, inserted the flat end into the area where the handcuff teeth met the pawl spring, and in less than a minute had managed to "shim" it open. Fortunately I'd been handcuffed with a cheaper model of handcuff; that wouldn't have worked with a more expensive brand, such as Smith and Wesson, and so far I wasn't much of a lockpick. Also fortunately, they weren't double locked.

"I'm out!" I said.

I rushed over to the Puerto Rican guy; he had the key in his hand but was having trouble getting it into the lock; it was still fastened to a string which he'd had hanging down inside his pants, and the string wouldn't reach. I helped him free himself and then he used his key to unlock the cop from Maryland.

The cop couldn't see; he'd gotten pepper spray in both eyes. The men, the 'Cartel guys', had left behind an industrial sprayer, and after I tested it to make sure it was just water, we all cleaned our faces with it.


The cop from Maryland was incensed. "Motherfucker! They tased me, like, EIGHT TIMES! That's completely fucking unprofessional and unnnecesary. And why the fuck I got the fake execution AND full pepper spray, AND tased eight times?"

"They warned us," I said. We had done a video liability waiver before the exercise, agreeing to all of those things.

"But EIGHT times? What's the fucking point of that? I paid money to learn some skills and practice those skills, not to be fucking tasered eight times!" he raged.

This was day four of the "SERE" class -- Survive, Escape, Resist and Evade. This was the final "field exercise' in which we were supposed to use all the things we'd studied over the last four days; after escaping we were supposed to flee into deep woods nearby, reclaim the cache of supplies we'd buried, and then build shelters and scout fires and survive the night. There were a few more activities we were supposed to complete the next day.

"Come on, we've gotta get out of here," I said. I looked around and found my phone and wallet, which were on the ground in my hat, near where I'd been handcuffed.

"Fuck that shit, I vote we stay here and wait for them and when they come back we ambush them!" The Puerto Rican guy seconded that motion.

"We're supposed to escape and evade, remember? It's just a training. Nothing personal." I said.

"Motherfucker tases me eight times, it's personal," he grumbled.

We fled into the woods as we heard the puttering engine of the ATV coming back through the forest.

TO BE CONTINUED!









Wednesday, April 10, 2013

R and R in the DR



I went to the Dominican Republic for the month of February.

Why the Dominican Republic? Well, honestly it's not a place I'd ever thought about much; I'd always wanted to visit Brazil, and Kenya, and New Zealand, for example, much more than the Dominican Republic. (I even went out with a Dominican girl briefly in college.)

But three things: I saw a cheap ticket; it's only a few hours away; and, of course, a Russian girl invited me.

She's married though, and was visiting there with her brother, so it wasn't quite like you're thinking.

Not quite.

BOCA CHICA

As I discussed in the previous entry, the Girlfriend and I are pretty clearly on the rocks. I thought I might go whoring in Boca Chica, the whore capital of the Dominican Republic.


It's a pretty grubby sort of place; the beach is okay, but not nearly as spectacular as others in the DR. It advertises a big coral reef, but of course, like most coral reefs (reeves?) these days, it's pretty much entirely dead.

Its main attraction is its whores; after checking into my hotel, a guy working in the bar there offered to take me down there to the main street.

There's about a half-dozen open air bars there, with tons of whores from the Dominican Republic and Haiti, of all shades, sizes, and ages, but all, or at least most, with silicon titties and oddly-colored hair extensions and long also oddly-colored fake fingernails. My overall impression was of  the most stereotypical whore-street you could imagine, like a scene from a 70s blaxploitation movie like Willie Dynamite or The Mack.




There were no pimps in gaudy finery, though: just hard-eyed and scar-faced Dominican men hanging around looking dangerous.

There were a few whores I liked the looks of -- only a few -- but I'm not sure if it's a general fear of AIDS, scalp herpes, gonorrhea of the eyes, etc, or a more specific fear that I'll become a bloated drunken middle-aged whoremonger, but it just didn't appeal to me on that particular occasion, and I went home alone and jacked off in relief.

The beach itself was plagued with people trying to sell stuff and little kids trying to steal stuff. The average person on the beach was old, also. Maybe it was the time of year, but I seem confronted with the Aging Population everywhere I go.

SANTO DOMINGO

I spent a few days in the capital, which is way more historic than most people realize; it's the first "American" city that ever got settled, back in Columbus days. Nonetheless, it's pretty dirty and run-down sort of place, in general, but a nice enough place to hang out for a few days.




making an anonymous self-photo is a fine art
There seemed to be a lot of nightlife there, but it all kind of goes behind closed doors after about 10:00pm; it seemed weirdly deserted in the Zona Colonial even on a Saturday.

I had a little trouble getting on board with the nightlife, though. There seemed to be two kinds -- a bunch of guys sitting around outside the bottle shop getting drunk on rum, and expensive fancy clubs and lounges where everybody was dressed really nicely. I didn't on quick inspection find any place in the middle.

PUNTA CANA



"You have to watch out for those Russians, man," warned the Haitian guy sitting around outside the little shop. He'd helped me find the apartment I'd rented, so I bought him a beer at the little local shop next door while the room was being prepared. "They're mean."

"Don't I know it," I muttered.

Punta Cana was being over-run with them; there was even a shop run by and for Russians across the street. They were mostly families, though; the adult versions of the 20-somethings I was teaching 10 years ago, now succesfully middle-class with children.

The Russian girl I know and her brother were staying about a fifteen minute walk up the beach at one of the big resorts; I'd rented a very comfortable apartment in the small village area for $50 a night.

Punta Cana has an endless white stretch of lovely beach with sugary sand and lovely rustling palm trees and all that picture-postcard stuff. (Back when there were picture postcards.) Problem being, it's all big resort hotels up there, and most of the tourists don't venture out of the resorts, meaning nightlife is kind of lame.

We had a big night out at a disco in a cave, but in general it was a problem; the guards wouldn't let me on the grounds of their resort hotel, and as Russians, they disliked walking down to the village to meet me. I'd always heard Dominican men were lazy but they were certainly enthusiastic enough about protecting the resort; I actually thought they were going to beat me up one night when I tried to go in there.


I took one "excursion" where I was supposedly going to get to swim with sharks; it turned out to be an embarrassing booze-cruise, with a bunch of fat middle-aged German tourists doing salsa and a few nurse sharks and manta rays in a sort of pen by a reef. Just, embarrassing, especially since I went alone. Not a hot Russian girl in sight.

LAS TERRENAS

My favorite place I visited was Las Terrenas, up on the northern side of the island on the Samana Peninsula. It's a former fishing village so it's got pristine natural beauty; it also seems to be something of a retirement community for European baby boomers, especially French, Germans, and Italians. I suppose they're the ones who have held off the more aggressive development, and they're not too annoying, sitting chattering in their little cafes eating croissants. 


I found a big, slightly run-down hotel for $25 a night; the Dominican family that ran it sort of seemed to operate it as a hotel only as an afterthought, but they were helpful enough. I spent the days snorkeling (only about half of the coral was dead) and then took a tour to see the whales, which was a cool experience, though I think we were breaking all kind of laws by getting too close to them.






I actually hung around with some backpackers here; three American girls (although one was Malaysian by birth.) They were okay-looking, if not stunning; I see why guys complain about American girls not being feminine, but I personally found it nice that they'd carry their own bags, didn't spend two hours on their makeup, and weren't afraid to wait alone and stuff like that. 


The Malaysian made little bones about the fact that she was something of a nympho and was disappointed by the fact that Dominican guys wouldn't have sex with her for free; apparently even the guys charge for their time there. 

I thought for a while I was going to have to have sex with her; but fortunately an Italian guy working as a guide there came along and fulfilled that obligation. Whew!

PRICES

Costs in the Dominican Republic vary greatly -- you can get a hotel from $20 right on up to hundreds of dollars a night. You can get a meal at the cheap places where the Dominicans eat for $3 or $4 -- good, if not particularly sanitry meals of chicken and rice and fried bananas; or you can spend however much you feel like at the European and American restaurants. Same with clubs and bars. There never seemed to be much stuff in the middle; it was all very cheap or rather pricey. 

Beer at shops was like $2 or $3 for a one-liter bottle; rum was cheap, of course. 

Tours tend to be priced for American and European baby-boomers at $90 a person and up; taxis and stuff are more about how long you feel like arguing about it. 

PEOPLE

As with a lot of tourist places these days, they tend to look right through the tourists. The dichotomy between the way the tourists live -- swanky resorts and apartments -- versus the way the locals live -- shacks without water or windows -- is most pronounced, so I'm surprised there's not more outright hostility. 

.
There are a good number of sort of annoying scammer / hustler guys, often Haitian; can't say I blame them. The whores mind their business until you'd approach them, I should say. 

THE BABES

It seemed to be one of those unfortunate situations -- the whores are for the most part girls who are too used-up or messed-up to get a local boyfriend. I saw a lot of pretty girls working in shops and washing clothes outside shacks; the whores I saw were the usual bunch of ridiculous artificial-everything monstrosities. Finding a decent local girl would probably entail fighting every boy in the village for her; I guess you could give it a shot though. As with Costa Rica, a lot of the young ones I saw who weren't prostitutes seemed to be pregnant. 

THE EXPATS

If you wanted to find a European divorcee in their 50s, male or female, I'd say the Dominican Republic is the place to go. I considered banging the 60-year-old Swiss woman who ran the whale tours and setting myself up as her boy-toy, but, well, you know I'm rusty at my gigolo skills. 



So! You know, the Dominican Republic. Not bad! Nice beaches and stuff.  It's all bright and sunny and colorful. Liked it. And ... no diarrhea!

Friday, April 05, 2013

January Unexotic

My life probably seems pretty exotic to many people.

January certainly wasn't exotic.


The snow fell on small-town Southern America and made everything scenic for about a day, before it turned into a layer of slush and mud and ice. The weather hovered slightly above freezing -- not cold enough to justify constant retreat indoors, not warm enough to enjoy being outside for too long. It was relentlessly gray.

My few remaining friends in America are busy with their own shit; none were inclined to hang out much. My mother recovered amazingly quickly and well from her hysterectomy; she didn't need much care, just the occasional trip to the supermarket. I had, however, already turned down a chance of getting a job at a place in the Emirates that needed teachers in January.

I worked on my e-book empire, in which I am producing books under three different aliases. The generally enjoyable creative act of writing was subsumed by the tedious minutiae of self-publishing -- formatting, editing, tweaking cover designs and interior links and adverts. I'd spend half the day in front of the computer listening to podcasts and talk radio, drinking coffee and doing all kind of self-publishing shit until the evening, when I'd watch a movie or TV show on Hulu and go to sleep at 11.30.

I wallowed in my geeky roots. My room on the top floor of the house my mother and stepfather live in is full of geeky stuff -- comic books, throwing stars, samurai swords, action-adventure and horror paperbacks from the 80s.

In fitting in with the local zeitgeist, I started shaving once a week and spending most of my time in sweatpants and hoodies. (I kept exercising, though; an absoultely vital part of the day in middle age, if only to feel a bit better.)

I occasionally walked down the street to the library, which seemed a bastion of civilization in a violent and insane world. Well-funded by donations, it has a variety of educational programs for the various unemployed and unattended who spent the day there (mostly using the computers.)

They even had free coffee and I'd sit and read from the good selection of graphic novels. (AKA comic books.)


THE RELATIONSHIP

The Girlfriend is the opposite of most Russian girls -- shy, honest, reliable, hardworking.

But stubborn. Very stubborn.

We'd still talk on Skype every day. 

Our relationship had been floundering since she'd been turned down for the visa. Her coming to America to study at a university seemed like a good idea to her; nothing else I could suggest did.

I'd suggested we go to Cyprus or Prague, or anywhere it was easy for a Russian to get a 3 month visa.

"And what if I can't get a job?"

"I have enough money to support both of us."

"For a while. What happens when the visa expires?"

"Then we go somewhere else, or go out and come back."

"I don't want to live like that! That's your life! I'm sick of packing my bags." Our relationship had never been anything but long-distance -- I spent most of my holiday time with her over the three years I was in Saudi, though that was about three months per year. 

"I think you need to live abroad just to see what it's like." Everything I'd seen so far suggested she had absolutely no desire to live anywhere but Russia. The one Russian girl I knew who didn't want to leave the fucking place. 

"I don't want to work in a shop or be a babysitter. I have a job here." She's an accountant.

"But that job makes you miserable! You're exhausted all the time."

"It's a normal life!" she said, with the exasperation that so many girls before had expressed to me. A normal life, the one thing I can't offer and barely even understand.

"Look, I could come to Russia, there's a new kind of extended visa where I could stay for six months."

"But then you'll just leave again!"

I sighed. "I told you many times, there is no other choice for us. I can't come live in Russia, unless we move to Moscow or St. Petersberg, maybe. You know I can't work there in Vodkaberg, there are only two schools and I had bad experiences with both of them."

"I don't want to move to Moscow! I don't want to live in a rented flat."

"I have told you many, many times. If we are going to be together, there's no other choice. I have to move around a lot for my jobs, and I can't make a good salary anywhere that I would want to buy a house."

"You don't want a family," she'd accuse.

"I don't want to be divorced! I'm not going to marry you if you're going to be unhappy with the lifestyle that we need to have. Especially, absolutely no children until we've been actually living together somewhere for a couple of years." 

"You don't love me," she would say, and begin crying. The eternal battle -- men thinking with their heads and their cocks, women thinking with their hearts. 


"You could apply for an American visa again," I'd suggest.

"Do you know what a pain in my ass that was? And they'll just say no again."

"Yes, but there's no other choice!" now expressing my own exasperation. "I warned you so many times over the last few years," I said helplessly. "There's just no easy way for this! You always said we'd worry about it later. Now is that time. You know even if I marry you, it won't change anything. We are from different countries, and there's no changing that there's a tremendous amount of paperwork we'd have to go through, and we'll have to be separated sometimes. It's impossible to give you a normal life, I've told you that many, many times!"

"So you want to break up?"

"Not particularly! But don't you think we should either break up, or be together?"

She'd just cry, and say she was too exhausted to talk about it any more.

And we'd have that same discussion about every three days. 

PROSPECTS

Then towards the end of January, I was contacted by a recruitment company. They were arranging interviews for a position in Saudi Arabia, a VERY high dollar position for one of the state companies; almost twice as much money as my last job. They wanted to interview me in March. 

I decided to go to the Dominican Republic in February. I invited my Girlfriend, and she revealed that she had applied for a new job at a bank, and would be passing a series of tests in February. 

"So we're breaking up then," I said.

She started crying. "Why do you keep saying that?"

"Because you are making no moves for us to be together."

"You're not even trying to understand me! I need to have a good job!"

"It's not a good job. You'll make like $800 a month. You'd probably make twice that much being a shop girl in Dubai or a babysitter in Cyprus."

"I don't want to live like that!" As always, the exasperation: she was simply never going to understand my life, and I was never going to understand hers. Everything in my life was neprospektivni, as the Russians say. Even if I made money, or a lot of money, it was a bum's life.

It's true; I'm one of the world's richest homeless guys.

"Then we can't be together."

"You don't love me!" she'd cry.

Around and around and around we'd go. 

I bought tickets for the Dominican Republic for three weeks in February.

We continued to talk on Skype though; she stubbornly continues to think some magical solution might fall out of the sky and hit us like a meteor. Or, more likely, that I'll stop being stubborn and just mutate into a normal Russian guy with a job in an office and a car and a house who wants a bunch of kids.

Who is that slouching figure walking down the street of small-town America towards the library, his cheap Old Navy hoody shadowing his face? 

I heard he used to teach English overseas ...


Monday, April 01, 2013

My Latest Gig

Well, it's all signed, sealed, and delivered.

I finally have my next job.

My newest gig: private English language instructor for the family of the Sultan of Brunei.



The salary is a low six figures, which is okay; but the perks are likely to be the best part of it. I will be living at his palace, which could potentially be a bit boring, but the contract specifically states that I will have access to the harem that he and his brother maintain.

I know, that articles makes it sound a bit seedy -- American Penthouse pets and that -- but I've been assured that since that stripper from Jersey was there in the 90s, the quality of the harem has improved tremendously and is now heavy on Hungarian porn stars and Brazilian underwear models.



As well, I get a company car, although I personally think it's a bit much:




So! Back to the grind! To strive, to seek, to find, and never to yield!