The Social Vampire Diaries: Dominican Edition, Part 2

An hour later, the owner of the house arrives from a day of golfing, tan and sweaty and chortling anecdotes under a baseball cap.  Manservant has already provided us with white plates filled with various sliced meats and carved away cheeses.  Salami, swiss, beef and pork, everything room temperature and sweating in the excessive heat.

“Do you want anything to drink?”

This is the beginning of a very long weekend being waited on constantly.  We will not be allowed to provide for ourselves the rest of the trip.  In addition to manservant, there is a cook and a housekeeper.  After two days of feeling like a handicapped baby, I walk into the kitchen to get something for myself, waving my hands like white flags to the chef in an apology for invading his domain.

“Pear?” I ask, holding the fruit with the intention of wrapping it up in a napkin and taking it outside to eat with, you know, my teeth.

“We do it for you,” he says.

I insist it’s okay.  “I’ll just take it with me.”

“No, no, no.”

I reluctantly hand my pear to manservant, who will deliver it to me thirteen minutes later, cut with the same serrated knife that everything soft here is cut with (the cheeses and fruits all come out looking like DIY crafts projects) and served on a plate with carrot garnish.  I just wanted to eat my fucking fruit.  Just like I want to make my own coffee, scramble my own eggs, toast my own toast.

I hate being waited on.  The process is not only gratingly inefficient, but makes me uncomfortable.  Growing up, we had maybe two different maids for maybe a week apiece.  My mom was always grumbling about how they didn’t know where anything went and porcelain figurines were routinely disemboweled.  As a result, my mess has always been (comfortably), my mess.  My fruit, my fruit.

Manservant serves me wine that begins to warm mid pour.

Juan is from the island, though he currently lives in Puerto Rico, developing large swaths of property in – from what I can immediately gather from his rather, um, abrasive personality – what are likely hostile coups that involve burying the previously owners in their shanty houses before covering them with dirt and erecting something more profitable.

“My grandfather owned half of this fucking island,” he boasts with his trademark Central American slur.  He is nearing forty or turned it recently.  He has the aging face of a petulant baby, big eyebrows stuffed above eyes filled with raucous self-satisfaction and big pillow lips that laugh with his good fortune.

He says something about “being at the top” and American Express black cards.  “There’s nothing higher than this,” he says.  “Where do you go from here?”  He leans back in his char, his arms behind his head, his tennis shoes stretched out in front of him while he surveys his domain.  Actually, while he surveys his parent’s domain.  This is his family’s house.

Juan, apparently, does not care much for his family.  At breakfast one morning, he tells us his family is not “some big, white-teethed family that plays football on the weekends.”  He leans in over his eggs as though we are about to strike a business deal and says something starting with the word “fucking.”  I myself am not one to stray too far from the filthy word trough, but when Juan says “fucking”, it sounds especially depraved, vicious, even.  “Fuckkkeeeng,” he says, his tongue chocking on the “c” and the “k” in the middle.  He laughs like el diablo.

My disdain for Juan grows exponentially over the course of the trip, each hour providing another fifteen reasons not to like him.  He is offensively arrogant.  He talks over everyone and never listens.  You watch him sitting down at dinner, his eyes on the mouth of whoever is speaking, lying in wait until their lips cease moving so that he can move onto what he wants to talk about.

He rails George Clooney.  “Gay,” he spits.  “He has to be gay.  That guy could have anyone in the world and look what he goes after.  Trash.  He’s dating, what?  A waitress right now?”

Eva bristles.  “I know that girl.  She’s very nice.”

“He’s gay.  Anyone with standards that low has to be gay.”

Eva holds onto her wine glass and I watch her breathing become faltered in the way that it does when she becomes impatient or frustrated, a hiccupped seething.

I was not brought here specifically for Juan, though Jack did bring me thinking that, well, maybe something could happen and was worth a shot.  Shot in hell, I think, sitting across from him and feeling my skin burn feverishly in the physical irritation I develop while in his presence.  Funny enough, Juan sort of has a girlfriend: a trashy, unemployed Russian with a young child and a fake nose, who, oddly enough, George Clooney might likely be interested in as well.


The Social Vampire Diaries: Dominican Edition, Part I

The man next to me is on the bad side of sixty, the whites of his eyes yellowed like butter and his nose ruddy with broken capillaries, both of which are the result of a lifetime of excessive drinking.  He’s working on his third 9 a.m. Bloody Mary while he tells me about the laundromats he runs in the Dominican Republic and what to do when I go through their notoriously loose customs.  He leans in towards me when he speaks, offering me uninvited life advice like a creepy uncle.  I want him to go away.

I am saved by the flight attendant who hands Drunk Uncle a hot cup of coffee to sober him up upon our descent.

“Aren’t you a sweetheart,” he says, smiling through his tobacco-stained teeth.

Aren’t you a drunk.

I hope he doesn’t have children.

We are greeted at the gate by an employee of the airport who asks for the $10 per person “visitor’s fee” that Drunk Uncle warned me about.  “Crooks,” he slurred in between peppered swigs of spiked V8 and booze.  The man then takes our respective IDs and disappears into some office where our passports are stamped by someone who apparently doesn’t care to ask us questions about the purpose of our visit or personally assess the possibility we are drug mules or prostitutes.  Drunk Uncle also told me that the Dominican Republic was essentially just the halfway point for illegal activity, providing a place for coke-laden propeller planes to fill up their tanks en route to Miami and fraudulent South Americans to launder their cash.

The air outside is hot and sticky and decidedly warmer than New York City.  A man in a starched white uniform waves at us, a cell phone pressed against his ear.  This is Jack’s friend’s driver and manservant.  He walks us to a mini-van parked outside and we fly out of Santo Domingo.

From what blurs past my window, the outskirts of the city are grossly impoverished.  Houses are shacks made of cinderblock and corrugated metal.  Business signs are largely the hand-painted block letters of a failed graphic design student.  We pass a grocery store with a sign indicating you are not to bring your guns or your babies inside.  The poverty and the heat here feel like the kindling for terrible things under the right conditions.  The normal rules of the developing world seem prudish by the island’s standards.

Families of four ride on motorcycles with no helmets.  Mothers, fathers, infants, usually some tiny baby wrapped in a dishtowel.  Our driver lazily swerves in between puttering mopeds and barreling semi-trucks.  He brakes late and hard at red lights.  Eva is sitting next to me, grabbing the sides of her seat and muttering “oh my god”s with her characteristic breathlessness.  Jack’s sitting up front, having volunteered for the front seat in an accidental act of altruistic martyrdom.

“Did you just…did you just see that car???”

We have narrowly avoided what is likely our seventh car crash in the span of the last thirty minutes.  This driver – this happy, smiling man with big ears and a charmingly loose grip on the English language – is likely the worst driver in the Dominican Republic.

Jack is holding onto the space between the roof and the door, talking to either us or the driver, though it’s obvious that the driver sort of sees everything and sort of doesn’t care about any of it.  People walk through tidal waves of moving traffic.  Cars creep onto roads at the perfect time for cataclysmic carnage.  Motorcycles ride towards us in the opposite direction.  Half of the time there aren’t even painted lines on the road so as to aid in the flow of traffic by indicating who goes where, which would likely fuck with their incredibly inefficient system called Everyone Goes Everywhere Whenever They Want.

There is a lawlessness here that usually accompanies a haphazard respect for human life.  It’s different than the Auto Bahn chaos of Europe or the crazed fury of Mexico.  This is the kind of place where if you were to die, no one would care.

After an hour and a half of white-knuckles and held-in breath, we arrive at the gates of the “resort”, which is really an extremely large, extremely isolated community far away from the poverty of the Dominican city centers.  We drive through winding, empty streets with natural grass embankments and lush tropical flora, eventually arriving at an ambiguously Mediterranean house with a large glass door and a few security guards in powder blue polo shirts.

The driver takes my bag, wheeling it over the stone and grass walkway and into an over-air conditioned and massive living room filled with kitsch raw silk pillows and glass vases filled with fake flowers.  It’s like the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland and some Orange County nouveau riche mansion had a one-night stand and this place was the resulting bastard child.

We walk through the house and into the backyard, where trees hang over a narrow blue swimming pool and Spanish tiles.  “Your room,” the manservant says, pointing to a guestroom with a giant king-sized bed swimming in white mosquito netting, flanked by bedside tables littered with inspiration self-help books with a vaguely Christian bent.  The towels in the bathroom are all monogrammed, as if to remind the guest where they are staying while they dry their hands after using the toilet.

To be continued…