"South America on $320" story # 16

Maracas Bay, Trinidad & Tobago           July 20, 2002

"Lai-la-luh-lai-lai-luh-luh-lai ...!" sounded David strongly, his voice perfect for serenading unsuspecting latina women.
     Sitting on the beach and playing his cuatro was practically my roommate's favorite thing to do. A Carib (local Trinidadian beer) fisherman's hat and dark glasses kept him cool. He went on to sing, "Me Quieres o Me Olvidas!" (Want Me or Forget Me) and a song about having two mujeres (women). The other Venezuelans and I sank in the sand to the soft, short ring of the cuatro, looked at the "arrecho" (angry) sea, and passed a bottle of rum.
     A large group of us had come to Maracas Bay for a Saturday. Fedora, Willfreddy, Gerardo, Caracas. Our bags rested beneath a bamboo lifeguard's hut. We rested on the orange, cushion-comfortable beach that contrasted with the 300 surrounding degrees of treacherous jungle summits like a diamond in mud.
     As usual, we eventually had to give up on the sun penetrating the fluff-filled sky for more than a few seconds at a time. Gerardo, Caracas, and I and some girls ran to sea to play in the awoken waves. The real girls, David and Willfreddy, wouldn't enter water past their knees. They cited having nearly been pulled away from land by an undertow another time at Maracas. "Here is good!" they would say, and they bent over to push water at each other like little kids.
     Soon we all joined them, sitting in the shallows and taking turns downing cap-fulls of rum.
     This made us hungry. Fortunately, Maracas Bay is the capital of the world when it comes to putting tastily-fried shark between two pieces of baked bread. This is fortunate unless your name is Jabberjaw.
     Speaking of getting no respect, I went for a "shark n' bake" with Fedora. My friend dictated once again to me her theory on how I'm really an extravagantly rich millionaire and I restrict myself to eating peanut butter nineteen meals a week only because I'm incredibly "penchierre" (stingy like a squirrel). She changed the subject to learn that "quejar" means to complain, and she knew many people in Venezuela always complaining. I asked if she knew anyone like that in Trinidad. "Yes--you!" Her cue-ball brown eyes had an ultra-serious look. She then laughed and showed her broad, brown-cheeked smile that's a trademark of her one-line attacks.
     We purchased our delicate, moist, not-too-fishy square shark patties between their collapsing taut buns. To dress our poor, innocent, murdered kings of the sea (I of course chose a "bake n' cheese" due to my brotherhood with all things sea-dwelling, and because it stingily saved me US$.50 - though I did try the shark n' bake once, and it was so excellent I nearly decided to recommence eating seafood and take up a kinship with those poor, innocent, murdered peanuts), we had options as flavorfully plentiful as the islands in the Caribbean. Ketchup, mustard, garlic sauce, pepper sauce, a green sauce, an orange one, a sweet brown sauce, tomatoes, lettuce, salad, and pineapples. The latter completed the shark n' bake and the whole, rural beachside food-stall experience for the perfect, relaxing island atmosphere.
     We returned to the beach. David, Caracas, and I began playing a game of catch - a game kept interesting as Caracas fielded pop-flies and pretended to throw out the runner going home, David tried catching the ball in his swimsuit, and I sprinted into the ocean shallows to attempt full-effort diving leap grabs (this last, great pasttime has come to be known, and cherished, in the United States as "The Infamous Amphibious Tennis-Ball Game" as Ewan "Johnny" Smith so appropriately dubbed it). Caracas found a bat-shaped, blue-painted wooden stick in a food stall; Gerardo rushed to join in; and the game was on. Highlights on Sportscenter at eleven.
     "This ... is ... Sportscenter!
     "Modern Oddyseus in the studios. We take you now to the Maracas Bay Sand Grounds wher the team from Barquisimeto - David "The Onion" Isakovich and Gerardo "The Babe" - took on the youthful guys - Justin "The Gringo" and Caracas "The Vulture" in an exciting matinee game. So as not to disrupt anyone's dinner.
     "Top of the first. In a match-up of roommates, David says, "Get out of my house! you lousy, peanut butter-eating, toilet seat-leaver upper! Leave the rent on the table!" and smacks a fat pitch of "The Gringo´s" deep into the left-field palm tree bleachers. Later in the inning, he would add a hit up the middle. And "The Onion" has gotten yet another pitcher crying. This time, not just because he puts the ball in his pants.
     "Caracas would come back with a hit for The Youths. But, he would serve up on a tasty platter three runs as pitcher in the second. Barquisimeto comfortably ahead, 5-1.
     "The Youths' defense bared down after this. "The Gringo´s" fastball was well-spotted, and his under-arm sinker sent the Barquisimeto boys back to the 1910's on a big-front-wheeled tricycle when it got Gerardo swinging twice and David looking. "The Vulture" feasted on the leftovers, tossing a curve-ball past David's swinging bat and straight into David's fisherman's hat, employed by "The Gringo" as a catcher's mitt. In Venezuelan-rules baseball, a swing and miss and subsequent catcher's catch means, "Tu eres FUERA, mi amigo. Sienta-se!" Which means, "You're OUT, pal. Find yourself a seat, Onion!"
     "Bottom three. Justin at the plate, facing the imposing fire-arm of "The Babe." Caracas leaves his umpire's post to inspect home plate and sweep it clean. Justin takes a ball. David, catching, wants a new ball. He passes to the umpire, Caracas, who observes its dirtiness and pretends to reach in his pocket for a clean ball. He doesn't have one, of course, but he hands the old one to David, who is satisfied with the exchange and throws back to the pitcher. Meanwhile, The Youths go on pretending to chew tobacco and spit. The big-leaguers got nothing on these guys.
     "Justin draws a walk, putting two men on for The Youths with "The Vulture" looking to scavenge. Gerardo had his A-game, though, getting Caracas to pop out straight back to him and then inducing "The Gringo" into the exact same hit. "The Babe" stumbles under the ball, makes the catch, and celebrates his world domination. The Youths' best threat extinguished.
     "In the late innings, The Youths' frustration turned into conversation and intimacy. Better known as arguments and fighting. Caracas and David spatted especially over balls and strikes and fair and foul. Justin kicked sand on "The Onion´s" shins. Another time, Gerardo launched the tennis ball at "The Gringo," who'd collapsed on the ground in disgust at his abilities; Caracas led the scuffle. You can expect we'll hear from the comissioner's office later this week, and there are gonna be some hefty fines for this kind of behavior.
     "Now, to the bottom of the sixth inning and the last chance for The Youths, who'd pulled to 5-2 thanks to "The Gringo's" first home run, coming after he'd already given up so many. The Youths' number one fan, Fedora, wore her rally smile in the bamboo lifeguard spectator section."
     "Go, Justin! Woo-woo!"
     "Justin works a 3-2 count out of Gerardo, who's throwing flames. A beauty of a pitch that "The Babe" ought to name as his son sailed just over the bottom of the strike zone. "Sienta-se, Gringo!" And The Youths are down to their last out.
     "Tension battles humidity for air control, as Caracas gets a base hit. Once again, the count draws full to "The Gringo," who desperately wants a walk because "The Babe's" stuff is unhittable. But, "The Babe" will not yield! He will not cede! He will not relinquish! He exclaims - or, at least he would if he spoke better english - "This game is cheese in a can because it's Easy!" and shoots the ball past the reaching bat of the over-matched Gringo. Wee-wee-wee-woop-woop! (The Pac-Man game-over sound.)
     "Following the game, Caracas was vocal over his disappointment:"
     "I can't believe we lost to the "flacita" (little girl weakling) and the "gordita" (little fatso girl)."
     "And this, Sportscenter viewers, is where base-brawl gets scary. Barquisimeto runs happily into the water, and The Youths chase to wrestle them.
     "Caracas battles David at the top of your screen. But, watch below, where Gerardo has "The Gringo" in a compromising headlock. And - oh my - he grabs "The Gringo" by his hair and dunks him. For a good while. Ow! Fortunately, Caracas wades to his teammate's rescue, and Justin avoids a possible career-threatening injury.
     "Final score: Barquisimeto 5, The Youths 3.
     "And now, viewers, we return to our top story: the triumphant return to the Major Leagues by the greatest hero ever to play the game. Dwight "Doc" Gooden, who threw yet another shutout for the Detroit Tigers yesterday ...
     "And that's the day in sports. Tune in next time as we follow "The Gringo´s" international athletic career ...

"This has been the Modern Oddyseus.

"I have to go now."

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