Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Best of Citizen Nothing: Angst and Snorkeling in the Caribbean

"So you're a reporter?" asked the time-share salesman with whom I had been conversing. At least I assumed he was a time-share salesman. The all-inclusive Caribbean resort was thick with them, and my new friend had a desk strategically placed near the main elevator of my tower.

"Yes. A travel writer, actually. I'm here to write about the hotels and beaches and all the things a tourist can do on the island."

"Beaches? Why do you want to write about beaches? Oh, no. You are a reporter. You must go into town and down to city hall and write about the corruption.
"Don't write about the tourist things. There is much corruption. You must help us."

The former ruling political party, I gathered, had been replaced by a new party. I wasn't sure which the young salesman thought worse. But apparently some old scores were being settled.

"Don't believe what they tell you; go behind. This is a small island. Lots of money, and where there is money, there is mafia.
"And you never talked to me, OK? Or else they . . . " and he made the familiar throat-slashing gesture.

I believed his sincerity, mostly because he didn't try to sell me anything.
Still, I'm not that kind of reporter anymore. I mumbled something to satisfy him and went out to get my all-inclusive snorkel gear and some all-inclusive cerveza from the oceanside bar.

Of course, I ran into my friend later.

"Did you go down to the city offices? I don't know what they'd do if an insider asked these questions. But you are not from here. You can ask."

I started avoiding his desk. I felt guilty.
I don't write about evil or idiotic politicians these days. Now I write about beaches. And museums. And cerveza.
And even if none of that were true, I told myself, what use would my readers have for an expose of city hall from this little corner of the world?

But I couldn't avoid the young salesman forever.

A day later, he cornered me again.

"And what is your name?" he asked.

"Steve," I said, extending a hand slippery with tanning oil.
"Esteve? Are you Stephens Esteve?"

We were getting into some mighty weird territory -- I had never told him my last name.

"Yes, my name is Steve Stephens."
"Stephens Esteve the writer? I have read something by you. You write for the Internet?"
"No, just for a newspaper in my city."

"But I recognize you. I know I have read stories by Stephens Esteve."

I've had some things reprinted, maybe even a few on the Internet. But there's surely another Steve Stephens writing somewhere. Or did the salesman track down my name in the hotel's database? That seemed more likely.
Or maybe Carlos, the concierge/lead bellhop/procurer of bargain rental cars, shared such info with everyone at the hotel who might have need to pull in a fish.

I went around the corner to the bank of elevators. As the door slid shut, I heard my friend ask an elderly gringo, who had been sitting alone in the lobby, "Hey, did you see that guy? Did you know that was Stephens Esteve, the famous writer? Have you read him?"

So, was this a subtle con or just a case of mistaken identity? I saw no other possibility, which vaguely depressed me.

No, I could not be the crusading Stephens Esteve whom the young salesman had read and who would shine the light of truth on the little island. But why not? I didn't have an answer for him -- or for myself. I doubt I ever will.

Still, a swim and a few all-inclusive tequilas put the whole thing out of mind, at least for a little while.
Oct. 23, 2005

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