October 24, 2002

Monday Morning, Montego Bay

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2002

"Where was Tomas," I kept wondering as I looked up and down the crooked street. When he shows up he’ll insist he wasn’t late. The locals have only one kind of time. Island Time is always two or three hours off in my world. And it really irks me to all hell, especially when I’m trying to score.

"Me no late Mr. McGrupp. Me arrives the time me arrives. No later no less," Tomas coolly replies before I begin to scold him on his tardiness.

"Look Yoda, I’m not looking for any Jamaican-Jedi like Taoism’s on punctuality, I just want my stash."

I had been jonesin’ hard, each and every second of the long 48 tedious deathly slow hours of my melodramatic gin fueled weekend. Sasha took off to Virgin Gorda in the middle of the night with all of my stash, and most of my Cds. Well, it wasn’t the middle of the night, she actually walked out at Noon, which might as well been the middle of the night for me who passes out daily when the birds begin to chirp as they look for pre-dawn food, just moments before the sun rises slowly over the misty blue-green horizon and illuminates the tranquil streets of Montego Bay.

"No worries, Mr. McGrupp. You will have irie day. I promise," Tomas says as he leads me down a side street.

The Narog Section of Montego Bay is not going to be mentioned in those colorful guidebooks every other tourist is flipping though during their continental breakfast at their plush resorts on the Bay. Narog is unknown to the outsiders, and the locals stay out of there unless they are looking for trouble or a bullet in their ass. Narog is known mostly for arms dealing and well pretty much that’s it. Behind the glossy picturesque postcards and travel commercials and neo-hippie drug rhetoric of Jamaica, there’s a devastating under-culture of corruption, hostility, and most of all a thriving arms smuggling business. While corporations and banks are fighting for all the tourist resort and hotel dollars, gangs of all sorts are fighting for control of the drug dollars, which 90% of is American dollars. Cash. The one currency everyone on the world accepts.

All the drugs and prostitutes are scattered throughout the other sections of town, but I’m following Tomas through a congested maze of side streets and alleys with dozens of aged shacks barely standing, ridden with bullet holes and burn marks, and random Island sayings of all sorts spray painted on the pathetic doors and so-called walls. It smells awful, like a combination of a dirty baby’s diaper and the Men’s bathroom at an East Village dive, with a tinge of jerk spice in the air to make it oddly attractive. A few random dogs dart back and forth and start following us. The dogs are thinner than the kids and both seem to be barking. The group of kids run over and start panhandling and Thomas gives them a look and they scurry off, disappearing into an alley with the dogs. The more turns we start making the more I am lost, and I have given up on trying to navigate my way out. I see a lady sitting in the middle of the street not saying anything, just sitting with an empty sack. This is too confusing, so I just make sure I got my eyes on Tomas. He stops and smiles.

"We are close."

And as he says that a man without a shirt and shoes comes sprinting down the adjacent alley, running wildly out of control. Almost falling with each step then catching his balance, he is determined to run as fast as he can. It reminded me a scene out of COPS, when a random shitless redneck would be running through an alley with a couple of Alabama State Troopers hoping over walls and fences to catch the local Peeping Tom, yet another crystal meth snorting Dead-Beat Dad. Just as that humorous thought enters my mind, two uniformed men come chasing after him, with guns drawn and they start shooting. Tomas grabs me and pushes me into the doorway of a shack, as the shirtless man comes darting past us. I catch a glimpse of the man, and he’s bleeding from his neck down and he’s carrying a chicken in his right hand. A live chicken maybe, I couldn’t tell, but the local cops run right by us, and Tomas gives a good hearty laugh.

"Was that guy your cousin?" I sarcastically say, shaking off this odd confrontation with a poultry thief and two gun toting federalies.

Tomas gets my joke and laughs.

"No, that’s my cousin," as he points to my left.

I realize I am now standing not in a shack but a corner bar. If this is a shack, it’s a generous description on my part. I'm not Bob Villa, but I could hammer wood a lot straighter than the stoned geniuses that crafted this spectacular saloon, a dirt floor with four Swiss cheese bullet-piercing walls and a tin roof. This ain’t Paris. Here in Narog, it’s a bar.

I look over and this guy with gray dreadlocks, a good foot taller than me, who is standing behind a few crates and barrels with a slab of ply wood. That is the actual bar. He has a rifle slung over one shoulder, and black revolver tucked into his waistband. There is no one in the shack aside from an old man passed out in the corner, with his shirt over his head.

Tomas says something to the bartender, winks at me and then disappears behind the backdoor. I begin to follow, but the bartender puts out his arm and motions me back. I sit down at the bar and he gives me a warm beer. I sip and count the seconds that Tomas is gone and start thinking how he might not come back for a few hours and I’m sicker than I’ve ever been, all my drugs stolen by a manic-depressive Russian stewardess, utterly lost in a foul smelling, not so friendly part of town with a gangster’s wad of Canadian Dollars bulging out of my shirt pocket, and the side streets roaming with heavily armed trigger-happy cops, chasing chicken stealin’, shirtless wearin’, neck bleeding petty thugs, who may or may not be related to my new business partner.

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

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