My Cuban cigar (if it really was a Cuban cigar) came with a complimentary box of wooden matches, the kind with long stems for extended flame-life. Each match featured a white head, which felt classy to me. I scraped my classy match along the side of the slim matchbox.
Fire! I am as giddy as Prometheus. With my could-be Cuban cigar clinched beneath my American teeth, I ventured to introduce flame to leaf.
Pft. And then it was gone. Extinguished! As though invisible gods and snuffed my classy match between an immortal thumb and forefinger. Greedy, bitter, gods dressed in bed sheets like Laurence Olivier.
I thought of what the boring man from St. Louis told me on the golf course earlier that day. (Marina Club de Golf) He to puffed on what might have been a Cuban cigar.
Is it good?
The boring St. Louis guy was paired with an equally-as-boring Californian, and they puffed on their quite-possibly Cuban cigars while making dull observations about their hand position or whether or not their balls broke toward the ocean. That’s the problem with golf. It offers men too many opportunities to bore the world with a trash heap of mechanical (and vaguely sexual) details.
My playing partner was a heart surgeon, an enormous Chinese-Canadian named Victor, and he wasn’t smoking any kind of cigar.
Victor has been playing golf for only three years. His too-perfect swing smacked of expensive private lessons. He averages about 280 yards per drive. A poor streak of putting prevented him from totally wiping the floor with me.
China put up a pretty good Olympics, I told him. What else do you say to a Chinese-Canadian?
Victor agreed. It had been a good Olympics. And then he out-drove me by at least half-a-football field – half a Canadian football field. The boring guys mumbled something about follow-through.
As difficult as it was to light the damn match, it was far more difficult escaping from the Aeroporto de Puerto Vallarta without committing to a timeshare. We had been warned.
Don’t talk to anyone who is not carrying a sign with your name, said the nice senorita from the resort. You will be pressured into a sales pitch.
Please. I’m in advertising. I’m a pro. You don’t pressure me, I pressure you. So it was to my great chagrin when the first timeshare marketer who crossed our paths roped in Mrs. Angry and me.
Where are you staying?
I told him Casa Velas.
Casa Velas? That’s me!
The merry Mexican led us to a long kiosk that was molded into the shape of a Tiki hut. He whipped out a map of Puerto Vallarta and identified assorted points-of-interest. Then, very craftily, he mentioned the astonishing tour, dining, and golf discounts that could be obtained simply by attending a 90-minute breakfast featuring a talk about an incredible investment opportunity!
Utilizing an invisible crowbar, Mrs. Angry and I dislodged our bodies from the Marketing Mexican and pressed forward. We weren’t here for an investment opportunity. We were here to make Mexico my bitch! My jaw set in determination, I pushed opened a set of glass double doors and dragged my luggage through.
We were trapped in the Mexican Timeshare Gauntlet! Mustachioed Mexicans shouted at us from every direction. For some reason, the scene triggered the Family Feud theme music in my brain.
Where are you going? Do you remember me? Let me carry your bags! I drive you! Just 90 minutes!
Later, I would learn that “ninety minutes is a Mexican five minutes.” It’s a joke, but I believed it even then, for time in that room completely stood still as I grinned like an idiot and stammered, No…please…stop…I don’t want a timeshare…let me go…
With one final effort, Mrs. Angry and I punctured the Mexican Marketing Membrane and emerged in a much more orderly section of the airport, where an attractive woman carrying a sign that featured our name awaited us. Thank Christ!
Cuba is home to contraband cigars as it was once home to Ernest Hemingway. It was Ernie that nearly got me killed in Mexico.
Mrs. Angry was hot for snorkeling. You could see it playing out in her head as though it were a home movie projected on an old bed sheet: rainbow colored coral, exotic fish, perhaps a dicey encounter with a stingray. I suspected that we might also see the bloated and fish-nibbled bodies of executed Mexican drug lords, so I was game.
The boat was a kind of pontoon style vessel piloted by a crew who looked like part-time peyote dealers. We tourists were stacked on the deck like cordwood, absorbing salvo after salvo of the mighty Mexican sun. Alan Jackson burst out of the sound system without mercy.
We churned 21 miles out into the Pacific. Our destination: a big, monolithic rock bleached with bird crap. This, apparently, was the garden spot of snorkeling in Puerto Vallarta.
Meghan and I grabbed our public snorkels from our “boat host.” I tried not to imagine the Ghost of Cold Sores Past as I stuffed the snorkel tube in my mouth. (ANGRY NOTE: Wish I could come up with a better choice of words.)
Leaping into the Pacific Ocean was like being shocked to consciousness by a bucket full of mop water tossed by a surely bartender. It felt like I had located the secret spot God dumps all His extra ice cubes after a party.
To add insult to ball-shriveling cold, the water off the coast of Crap Rock was about as clear as a cup of Starbucks. The boat crew tossed a few chunks of bread in the drink, and a couple of mildly curious flounder wandered into view. I spent most of my snorkeling time appreciating how my breathing sounded like Darth Vader underwater.
After climbing back onto the boat, it was announced that we would be visiting a private beach! Ah ha! Visions of topless models tantalized my frostbitten loins. I poured a cerveza (that’s Spanish for beer) in my stomach to magnify the experience.
The private beach was a crock – a skinny slice of sand that doubled as Poseidon’s ashtray. Mrs. Angry and I parked our beach blankets next to a decomposing carcass of a blowfish.
The sun in Mexico is a relentless civil war cannon that fires on you without intermission. It’s the Dirk Diggler of celestial bodies, broadcasting Feel My Heat from dawn to dusk. The Florida sun is an LED flashlight in comparison. A half an hour of laying on the sand, and I was baked. I looked like a strip of Sizzilean. My body contained as much liquid as a Frito.
Time to geeet on deee booooat! Announced our Boat Host, a cartoonish Latino who was no doubt the life of every party he attended. He directed us to the small motorboat that would ferry us all to the larger vessel.
That’s when I had my Hemingway moment.
I’m going to swim to the boat, I told Mrs. Angry. She bit her lower lip and told me to go for it. Like a Spartan headed to war, I handed her my sandals, shirt, and beach towel and prepared to make Mexico my bitch.
Halfway to the boat, I knew I had made a big mistake. My arms felt as heavy as sewer caps. My tongue had become a salt lick. I inhaled a pint of seawater with every tortured breath. I looked up to see the small motorboat chugging past me.
You can do it, honey! shouted Mrs. Angry cheerfully as she churned by. A wave of ocean enveloped my head. I floated on my back to regain a bit of strength, then lumbered forward with a poorly executed breaststroke.
I was on my way to becoming another grim Mexican statistic. My body would be among many beneath the surface of the sea. They probably wouldn’t even bother searching for my corpse.
Then I thought of the crew captaining the boat. Surely they wouldn’t want my demise to sully their reputation! I imagined the captain tossing Mrs. Angry into the drink when nobody was looking. Sawreee, Officer. Weee never saaaaw those Americanos!
I willed myself back into a freestyle stroke. Plap. Plap. Plap. My hands smacked the water like a bored porn actor spanking the bottom of his co-star. I squeezed stroke after stoke from my exhausted body. I dreamed of climbing the ladder to the deck and addressing the cheers of my boat mates with a humble fist-pump of victory.
Plap. Plap. Plap.
I peeked at my position. The boat seemed farther away than ever! I was going to die!
I put my face down and imagined I was a machine. Yes! A machine programmed to make Mexico its bitch! The futuristic gyroscopes fired to life as I inched my way closer to the boat. I conjured the spirit of Ernest Hemingway to give me bonus strength. It came as a bit of surprise when my hand finally touched the metal ladder.
I collapsed onto the deck in a placid heap. You did it! cried Mrs. Angry, tossing the beach blanket onto my lifeless body. The bartender laughed merrily and asked me if a needed a drink.
Jesus, yes! Water! Por favor! For that moment, I felt like the oldest man in the sea.
The masseur inadvertently touched my right testicle.
My Angry Sister In Law had arranged for a “Couples Spa Treatment” at the Marriott. Per her advice, Mrs. Angry and I arrived a couple hours early to take advantage of the spa’s amenities.
A very gay Mexican led me to my locker, provided me a pair of rubber sandals, and fitted me for a terrycloth robe. He then lead me on a brief (but penetrating) tour of the available facilities: Jacuzzi, steam room, sauna, hot pool, cool pool, Swedish shower, and “relax room,” which was a large, airy room pumped with Enya and filled with loungers.
After thanking my host, I tried the steam room. It’s like breathing inside a gorilla’s armpit in a steam room. The sauna was better. I could feel all the impurities of Mexico seeping from my pores. The only other guy in the entire joint, a hair-chested lug from Omaha, lied on the wooden bench, enjoying the tremendous heat.
I wonder how many old dudes croak in here? I asked aloud.
The Omaha Guy shrugged. Who knows? This is Mexico. They probably just dump the bodies in the bay.
I met Mrs. Angry in a small, comfortable room featuring masseuse tables and a pair of masseurs. Mine was a petite woman with an accent I could not place. I entertained the thought that she might be Swedish. A Swedish massage from a real Swede!
Meghan’s therapist was a tall, happy Mexican man. Soon, he would have his paws all over my wife! But he didn’t threaten me, especially after he performed some kind of dorky relaxation ceremony with an eagle feather. Both masseurs exited the room so that Mrs. Angry and me could undress.
I was wearing a swimsuit, but so what?
The suit came off, and I’m naked like a porn star beneath a thin sheet.
The masseurs strolled in, the classical music popped on, and soon 93% of my body was relaxed. I was a little worried about the remaining 7%, considering that I was naked and one cheeky thought away from erecting a very revealing teepee. Wisely, I concentrated on batting averages when the ol’ coyote stirred.
However, I was not prepared when the masseur’s hand brushed my right ball.
Inwardly, I gasped. A woman – not my wife – had just touched my dice! It’s been more than ten years! Had I just committed adultery? All while Mrs. Angry groaned beneath the soothing pressure of a strange Latino man! Didn’t I see something like this on Emmanuel: The Joys of a Woman?
When the masseurs left us to privately clothe and possibly leave a tip, I confessed by sins to Mrs. Angry. My masseur touched my pills! But Mrs. Angry just laughed. No big deal. I felt strangely nonplussed.
Upon exiting the room, my masseur whispered, Did you like the massage?
I told her yes.
I’m so excited for you.
Fire! Down to my last four fancy matches, I at last have fire. Carefully, I apply the flame to the tip of what just might be an authentic Cuban cigar, which I had purchased in the hotel store.
The hotel is called Casa Velas, though its literature describe it more like a boutique on account that it’s small and “adults only.” No kids having splash fights in the pool, or demanding more ketchup for their fries. Everything about Casa Velas is perfect for Mrs. Angry and me.
Perfecto, thanks to the bloody Mexican drug war.
In 2008, some 6,000 Mexicans were killed in drug-related violence. In 2009, the total has already hit 1,000. In Tijuana, a man confessed to dissolving 300 bodies at the behest of sinister drug lords. The newspapers call him The Soupmaker.
Angry Mom was none too happy about her son and his wife visiting the home of The Soupmaker. It was difficult to convince her that our heads wouldn’t end up in garbage bags in some dumpster outside of Cancun. Even the fact that the violence was contained mostly in border towns failed to assuage her fears.
While I wasn’t expecting to run into The Soupmaker, I did half-suspect I’d see something out of the ordinary in Puerto Vallarta. Sure enough, while enjoying lunch in the town, a truck-load of federal police drove by, the truck beds hauling masked men armed with automatic rifles.
One street removed from the tourist strip, one gets a more authentic taste of the true Mexico. Another street over, and it becomes even more genuine. Mrs. Angry and I ventured one street over and witnessed a young man, standing in a doorway, wearing a bulletproof vest and cradling a shotgun in his arms.
Aside from a few displays from the policia, there is little evidence of lawlessness in Puero Vallarta. I was not offered a kilo of cocaine even once! However, the fear of violence affected Puerto Vallarta all the same. Hotels reported 75% occupancy, which was down from 95% the same time last year.
This is how the Angry Czeck and Mrs. Angry profited.
After checking into Casa Velas, the bellboy led us to a very comfortable room. Beautiful, even, with its tiled floors and Jacuzzi tub. However, the balcony had a view of nothing, the light outside was broken, the TV was practically ancient, and the bathroom smelled like sulfur with every flush.
All these things I was willing to overlook. Except I knew Puerto Vallarta was exceptionally low on tourists this year, and I knew Casa Velas would have vacant rooms. The next morning, after making a mere request, we were upgraded to a much larger and much nicer room. Arriba!
Plus, there seemed to be five bartenders for every one guest. Drinks mysteriously appeared in my open hand, as though David Copperfield were in charge of hospitality. I wasn’t just another sweaty American. I was Senor Angry! Hell, even the masseurs were touching my tablets for free.
Gracias, Mexican drug lords!
I don’t know if it was a Cuban, but the smoke was smooth, like inhaling a Barry White song. I decide that if my cigar isn’t Cuban, then it damn well ought to be.
When I smuggled three out of the country, I was a little nervous. I know that the authorities are more concerned with drug traffickers than with tourists sneaking in a little contraband from insignificant Communist regimes, but the thought of spending time in a Mexican prison has a way of gripping the mind.
At the aeroporto, every outgoing bag is subject to a search. I lugged my suitcase onto the steel table and watched as a rubber-gloved customs agent rummage through my poorly folded clothing.
Early in the week, the woman at the cigar shop insisted that it was but a simple matter to transport Cuban cigars over the border. Just remove the bands. A customs agent can’t tell the difference between a Cuban cigar and a Mexican cigar unless he smokes it. They’re not exactly Zorro.
Yet, I had my doubts. What would happen if the agent discovered my three band-less cigars, wrapped inside a plastic baggy and stuffed in the front pocket of my shorts?
You make it a habit of removing the bands from your cigars, Senor?
Uh, they’re for my boss. I told him I’d bring him Cubans, but those are Mexican cigars. I figure he won’t know the difference without the bands, the idiot! Heh heh!
Take this gringo to Mexican prison!
As it turned out, unless a severed head or a brick of cocaine falls out of your travel bag, the custom agents aren’t really interested in finding anything in your luggage. I’m surprised the agent inspecting my bag didn’t add a few extra stogies in my shaving kit, just to be polite.
With an hour to kill, Mrs. Angry and I enjoyed a coffee in the terminal. Our new tans had yet to peel, and the room service breakfast still weighed comfortably in our stomachs. Across the border lay the responsibilities of family and career. But here, we were monarchs. One only had to sprinkle a few pesos around to live like royalty. Even that dead blowfish on the sham private beach had looked at us with gaped-mouth awe.
Mexico was my bitch.