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November 09, 2002

Abraham's Medicine (and the Chainsaw Massacre that almost followed)

The following is an excerpt from Eric's diary on the events around Ab's departure. Before we get into it, I should mention a few things:

In contrast to most other people in Bocas, Ab has never lied to me.
He dealt with the situation really well, once he was sober. We actually
get along very well now. He knows he can come over if he needs work,
he sells us seafood when he has a good catch, and we visit him occasionally.

Sometimes I think he did the whole thing on purpose - because he did not
want a steady job, but preferred to only work when he felt like it.

His alcohol problem still gets him into trouble. I later found out
that he spent most of the money I had given him so that he can fix
his house on -- booze. Very sad.

Anyway -- here we go, Eric's unedited, and highly entertaining, diary:

Today I took Pablo and Ab into Bocas town to do some business. Pablo is one of the workers and he's in charge of getting the thatched roof put up on top of this ting that will be a house, I'm sure, someday. In order to collect the materials for the thatched roof -- the "thatch" in this equation -- Pablo is going to need a permit from the government office in Bocas del Toro that states he is allowed to travel into the dark steamy jungle with lots of spiders, snakes, killer wasps, bears, pygmies, diseases, jabberwockey, and hack down grassy plants to make a roof.

Ab wants a ride into town to pick up medicine for himself and his family since they all got sick over the weekend. He also wants to get some supplies like rice and chicken and other foodstuffs.

This is pretty cool with me, since I'm looking forward to sneaking back to the hotel room and catching a shower. I'm also in charge of procuring a large tarp that will serve as our roof since the vertical posts are going up today and there will be a real live structure to sleep under for the first time since I've been introduced to the farm.

I also have to get a couple pounds of nails and kerosene and other stuff. I also have to try and pick up Chi-Chi because if I'm lucky, he can take care of something for Rick involving his lawyer and another piece of land. Blah, blah... whatever. I can already smell the sweet scent of freshly opened soap and the wonderful lather it can create... mmmmm

We get to Bocas Town and I park the boat semi-legally and I try to impress upon Ab and Pablo -- in my best Spanish -- to meed back at the boat when they're done with business:

"Uhh.. nosotros... vamos a el boate... con... nosotros listo con los... no listo, terminada, a los 'business' y vamos a la finca tambien."

Ab speaks about 60 English words and Pablo speaks about 3. Of course, they have operating vocabularies of about 200 words in Espanol, so I would think that we could communicate better than we do, but I'm such a putz that I can't imagine for one minute that these two know what the fuck I'm talking about.

Of course, I have no way of knowing what a stinky pile of shit this day is going to be.

I head to the hotel and grab a shower. Then I relax for a minute or three and try to get this fucking program that I meant to write two weeks ago finished. I can't concentrate, so I give up and I go run my errands. Nails, check. Tarp, check. Chi-Chi is not at the office and the people I ask don't know where he is. I ask some more and a quiet-looking kid in a black shirt says that Chi-Chi is out on "un viaje". I assume that means "a tour" and a call to Rick confirms this. Well, Chi-Chi gone means no tour so there's no reason to stay here. I'll get kerosene on the way out of town. Time to look for my two passengers.

I can't find them for hours. I look in just about every store and almost every shop or resturaunt. I tend to focus on the more inexpensive resturaunts since I know that they have about USD$2 between them so I'm relatively confident that they're not partying at "Le Menu Exhorbitante".

After several fruitless hours I go and check e-mail and call Rick a second time. He suggests leaving a note. I'm glad one of us has brains or else we might have soiled ourselves in polite company. I go and drop a note on the boat that says "ESTOY A EL HOTEL BOCAS CARIBE" with a crude map. Then I go back to the hotel and hang out in front and chain-smoke until Pablo walks by.

Hey, this plan seems to be working!

Pablo says he's going to get Ab and he takes off down the street. I wait for about ten minutes, which I think is a really long time. You could probably walk all the way from one end of Bocas to the other in ten minutes time and so I get up and start looking for Pablo. I can't find him. At this point I'm getting a little ticked.

I figure that the two of them managed to walk right by me and they're probably hangind out by the boat wondering where the hell I am, so I check out the boat. Not there. However, a very friendly guy working on some construction project near where I've parked the boat informs me to go to a resturaunt / bar called "The Blue Moon". Rick and I have eaten a meal at the Blue Moon and I remember it as a place with loud, unpleasent music and mediocre food. I figure, hey, they probably are eating.

I pull the boat out and head to the Blue Moon and park at the resturaunt dock. Inside I can see Ab and Pablo standing at -- holy fuck -- the bar. Even though I'm still pulling in and I've got a good hundred feet between us, I can tell the the motherfucker is drunk off his ass. It is, by the way, noon.

Now I am pissed.

I tie the boat and head inside and shove Ab and Pablo out the door and into the boat. I have to explain three times that yes, I moved the fucking boat and yes, walk out the back of the bar and not through the front door like you came in.

As we head out of the bar, this black guy sitting at a table with about sixty empty bottles of all different types gives me a look that says, "stop right there white-boy, I've got something to say to your pals." Well, I'm none too smart when I'm pissed and I just keep shoving Ab and Pabs out the door and into the boat. I still have no clue what the black guy wanted. I hope it doesn't come back to hurt Rick in the future.

The ride back was pretty tense. They were locked in some fierce conversation but I couldn't hear a thing over the sound of the outboard engine and so I tried to ignore them. Ab lost his hat twice and I didn't turn around after it flew out of the boat and into the water a second time. He had also managed to sneak some rum aboard and was taking sips until I tossed it all overboard.

We pulled up to the farm, I cut the engine and shouted to Rick to meet me at the old dock. Now.

I chose the old dock since it was lower and easier for Ab to get onto, considering he was all fucked-up and was still nursing a bad leg. Then we tried to get Ab to go and sleep off his drunk. That didn't work out so well. He insisted on walking around the farm and bothering people until we got serious and put him back into his house. By this time, every single person working on the farm that day knew that Ab went out and got hammered before noon.

Then Ab punched Chainsaw in the eye.

I don't know if I mentioned who Chainsaw is yet.

Rick's house is being built from rough-cut boards of laurel-wood. Those boards are cut from trees right on Rick's farm. Part of our first week at the farm was spent scouting out trees of appropriate size and quality for home construction. These trees are cut down by a youngish ('bout 25 I'd say), short Indigno (Indian, or native) whose name escapes me often enough that I have simply dubbed him "Chainsaw". We only have one person cutting the lumber. We have, on occasion, two or three people hauling or stacking or arranging or sorting the lumber, but all the lumber flows from this one guy. He's a master with that saw. He cuts long, straight boards like you would cut vegitables, like a tailor would cut material for a flag. Some of his boards are not consistent, but considering that he does everything with just the chainsaw and doesn't use braces, guides, or other tools that a gringo would use to make consistent boards we cut him some slack. The boards the need to be the same size always are, and the boards thet don't have to be aren't.

So he's a relatively important guy in the whole sceme of this construction project. He's paid a lot more than the average worker. He also owes Ab some money, something on the order of about seven bucks. This, we are guessing, was some kind of festering irritation to Ab, because when he went and got drunk he wanted to settle that debt.

Now, the thing that really suprises me is that Chainsaw always has, well, a fucking *chainsaw* in his hands. Unless you are really stupid you just don't ever hit a guy with a chainsaw with your bare hands unless you have some kind of heavier firepower or a death wish. That really floored me; Ab walked up as Chainsaw was cutting lumber and said, "You owe me money you so and so," and then hit the guy in the eye. We were all pretty suprised that Ab didn't get limbed and chopped into 2x4s right there. All bullshit aside, this was *completely* inex-fucking-scuseable behavior. After we got the situation back under some semblance of control, Rick and I had a quick word and decided that Ab was fired, ASAP. ASAP really meant ASAABS (As Soon As the Asshole Became Sober) and we locked The Asshole up under house arrest. I got to sit in Ab's house, in front of his wife and child and ensure that Ab didn't leave the house.

God almighty, that really sucked, because I had to basicly keep The Asshole talking and in one place until he either sobered up or decided to get some sleep. I spent at least an hour there, listening to this drunk guy babble to me about various shit in a mixture of bad English and slurred Spanish. I got to hear stories about how he used to catch fish with a sea lance and how he sold lobster and crabs in Bocas and how he knows all the waters around the farm and how he really wants to work for Rick and that his foot has been hurting ever since it was crushed be a cow and how he never had problems with his previous boss even though he worked for three years in the same pace and all of this other shit that I just don't remember.

I nodded and smiled and smoked and smoked and smoked. I tried standing in front of the door like you see bouncers at a bar. I tried the Secret Service stare, legs shoulder-width apart, back straight, arms behind my back or to my sides. I tried the mafia-hitman shuffle, lookind around but not looking at anything except my target. I sat on the floor. I walked around and pushed my nose into everything Ab was doing. I tried asking him questions to keep his attention focoused on me. I wanted The Asshole to just go and fall asleep. I fantasized lots of terrible things, most of them involving causing him some amount of pain or suffering because I was so miserable.

It was about 95 degrees in that shit-shack house and I just wanted this jerk to go and lie down and sleep off his drunk so we could fire his ass in the morning.

Later, Ab did get tired and we were able to leave him in the house. We sat on the new deck and listened to his wife yell at him. Good for her; the bastard deserved it. The whole situation just seemed so.... white trash. It was like every down-and-out asshole that gets drunk and makes other people miserabe because he's so miserable. It was so low-class and the mud and the chickens running around and the heat and the dirt and cockroaches just all coalesced into this one big wad of low-class ignoble scum in my mind.

Ab's son, Alexander, spent the night with Rick and I. We stayed up talking; more precicely, Alex talked and corrected my shitty Spanish. I got to hear other stories about how Ab had gotten drunk and gotten into fights with various people over various things. I got to hear about how he had picked a fight with two or three black guys and came home with a wrecked face and a bloody shirt. I got to hear about how he had drunk enough rum to make him pass out on the floor.

I was exhaused. I just wanted to go to sleep, and so I did. The next day was the big talk with Ab. Rick sat down with Ab at the end of the old dock and talked about last night. He made Ab recount what he remembered about yesterday and what had happened. Little by little, Ab was able to piece together the previous day and, at the end, admit wrongdoing. This was a good and important step, because Rick then told Ab that what he did was very wrong and that he would be unable to work there anymore.

Apparantly, Ab had considered this to be a distinct possibility because he didn't freak out and he didn't plead for his job and he didn't try to make excuses. He took the news well and stated that he would pack up his things and then go live at the family farm across the bay. Rick agreed that was the best thing to do and then he wrote up a contract that stated

Ab had worked for Rick since mid-September and the terms of his emplyoment were fair. This is important since the labor laws in Panama are a bit difficult to deal with at times.

So I helped pack up the house. Virginia (Ab's wife) and his son David and another guy (who I think was Ab's son from his first wife) took bags and pots and pans and clothes and other stuff from the farmhouse and brought all of it to the dock where I loaded it into Rick's panga. It was one of the most surreal experiences of this entire trip. I smoked constantly; I would load a package, take a drag, secure the package, take a drag, repeat cycle, light new cigarette. I've smoked about three packs of cigarettes in the last 24 hours; I should quit but I need something to do other than stare out into space.

I had all sorts of shit running though my head; here I was, packing up the belongings of a family I had only known for three weeks. I would most likely never see them again. The two boys, David and Alexander, had kind of grown on me, Sure, they were annoying little brats sometimes, but all kids are like that. The boys were always paitent with my climsy Spanish and they were always asking me basic questions that I could provide basic answers with the language I know. I was getting to like those kids and now they probably saw me as part of the reason their father didn't have a job anymore. Or maybe I was just feeling "white guilt". Who the fuck knows?

And the other fucked-up thing was, this family only really had two boatloads of possessions, not counting the dogs and chickens. They had ben living in the farmhouse for *three fucking years* and all they had would have fit easily into a minivan. I'm not just pointing out the fact that they were poor; I've met poor white-trash with houses overflowing with crap. These people really had *nothing* and it was all because of, to be brutally frank, lazyness.

The family owned a small table (not even big enough to play four-hand poker) and a couple of slapped-together wooden stools, a few machete blades and some clothes. The 12-volt car battery, T.V., and that dreadful boom-box. Cookware and clothes and that's really about it. The other stuff they decided to keep was -- I think -- useless trash that I'm sure they just shuffled around from one living space to another, never using but never losing. Stuff I couldn't even identify except as "lumpy".

So I packed and smoked. Eventually, we decided that the boat was "full" although it could have easily held more and Rick took Ab to his family's farm. The wife and David stayed behind, packing the last few items (a collection of bottles and a cooler that was so damaged I had once mistook it for a pile of dirty laundry). I put one of the carpenters to work building "the shitter" and walked around trying to come up with stuff to do.

I smoked some more.

Rick came back and we made lunch (pasta with pesto sauce) and the carpenters worked on the house some more. Ab's wife finished with the last-minute packing and threw the dogs and her son into the family cayuco and paddled across the bay. They went slow; I fucked around and had to fill the panga's gas tank and I still was able to beat her to the other farm.

I think I spent a grand total of four minutes there. I practically threw their stuff off the boat. It was weird; I kept thinking to myself that I should be respectful of other people's property and at the same time I just wanted all this shit off the boat and to get the fuck out of there. I was embarrased, I was afraid Ab would come up and talk to me. I was worried the other menbers of the family, those already living at the farm, would ask questions. I was worried that I would not understand them and their irregular Spanish and I would look like the dumb-ass gringo who just goes around causing problems and firing caretakers.

After the great move-out Alexander, Ab's 8-year old son, came home from school. Alexander, of course, had no idea that the family had vacated the premesis and broke down into tears. Rick explained the situation to him and the poor kid freaked out, just stared out into space and shook.

As if we didn't already feel like we were recepients of the "Assholes of the Week" award.

Eventually Alexander calmed down and Rick took him across the bay to his family. Rick even let the kid drive the panga; this was apparantly a real treat because I could see the grin on Alex's face from 100 yards away.

Later, after Rick came back we had a conversation with the carpenters about the caretaker situation. Since Rick is not at the farm for months at a time he needs a caretaker very badly. The crime rate in the island area is apparantly rather high, even if it is almost strictly theft-based. Well, at any rate, one of the carpenters (MH) was a good choice as caretaker considering he had already discussed the matter with his family and was prepared to move in that day.

Convenient. Ab out, MH in all in the same day.

We got the place cleaned up and discussed the plans for tomorrow, packed our schitt and left for Bocas Town.

Posted by rick at 03:09 AM | Comments (0)