Anthony and I met in Bangkok. We played a drinking game with a group and then piled into a cab together. We talked about A$AP Rocky and he tried to call “dibs” on the hostel worker as she climbed onto my lap and kissed me. We liked each other immediately. When I made it to Paris, he’s the one who came down from London to bring me a jacket and help me get my bearings. He was in Miami at the end of my time in Lauderdale. I invited him up for a party. He made me watch the Rum Diary and a trip to Puerto Rico planned itself. I packed and shipped my things home, spent a tired weekend partying with him in Miami, and then began.
We got to the security line at the Fort Lauderdale airport and the TSA agent gave Anthony more trouble than his hairline was giving him, as if it was crawling away from that badge authorizing daily molestation (I do not like the TSA), as if it wanted no longer to stay a part of this vile man with his purple specks blotching his white face as it grew in confusion. I had walked right through the line with barely a glance to my passport, and although Ant’s was more tattered than mine, I suspected that was not the only reason he was being stopped. The agent moved Anthony’s picture back and forth under a blacklight, complaining about a missing hologram even though he had likely never seen a British passport issued the same time as Anthony’s. He called another agent over to check, a younger black girl, nearly pretty with an angry jaw and eyes like a dying fire. She stared at the passport momentarily, flicked an angry glance at the grey haired man, waved Anthony quickly through.
We were on our way, nothing to prevent us from reaching the island but cramped seats on a nickel and dining airline with advertisements filling the few gaps on the plane.
I lived another 10 days an informal vagabond. After a discourse on which hostel to stay at we decided on The Palace Hostel in Miramar. A quaint little place filled with 6 unpaid workers who exchanged 24 hours of their time a week for a bed, a band of Norwegians and Canadians taking a break from an Atlantic sailing trip, some solitary odds and ends filling the gaps of rooms, nameless.
Our ride from the airport was easy, even after we got lost. The neighborhood felt more “third-world” than the parts of America I knew, a dirty park inhabited by neighborhood men playing dice and a few drunks squatting amidst the trash piles left around trees like auxiliary roots. We immediately met a girl with a striking resemblance to a friend of mine, who told us of how she had just been robbed and assaulted: She was sitting alone in a park —pale, tatted, conspicuous—when a man came and sat next to her. She got confused at this point in the story. She tried to move away from him but he followed. Somehow the man got a rock and tried to hit her with it, got her money off her somehow, let her go. We offered her some of the rum sitting between us and she poured herself a steep glass, asked us to accompany her to the corner store, bought a Bacardi to compliment our Don Q, leaving Ant and I confused about the safety of the island, but happy to finish the bottles in each other’s company. In the middle of our drinking a man named Omar came and introduced himself to us, we poured him a glass, and he told us the story of chasing off a thief who had attempted to steal a tire off of his rental car. Puerto Rico was presenting an interesting first impression
I awoke the next morning, the after affects of rum throbbing through my head, and we went to spend our first listlessly overlapping day at the beach, with all days after threading in and out of it like a reflection between mirrors. I went out looking for an excellent burger and 2 oz bottles of rum to emulate Rum diaries (the book/movie that led Anthony to suggest this trip). My first success.
I rubbed my face in sand while diving beneath waves and enjoyed the cool rocking of the current, emptied my lungs to lay against the ridged floor of the ocean, let my fingers crawl against the rippled ground, admiring the waves made beneath waves. I loved the dark peace of being willingly submerged, have loved it ever since I fell in my grandfather’s irregular shaped pool as a bright eyed young boy. I am never as content as I am underwater.
There is a saddening rate of obesity in parts of Puerto Rico, and an enduring poverty that may look as ugly, but if you find yourself lounging outside in a seemingly typical neighborhood, enjoying the breeze at 7 p.m. on a Saturday, you may become acquainted with the sweetness of it all (like learning how to eat durian). Neighbors talk and drunks sing, a trumpet blares from a nearby house and the whole city shifts to a new gear. There is life and there is warmth and the city erupts in the pervasive thumps of bass and bachata, inviting you to come be alive amongst smiling strangers.
We made friends. We saw Pacquiao win. We danced in a bar until 6 in the morning. I left my good friend Anthony to fly back home, to reinitiate myself to Cincinnati.