There are several different types of people from the US that spend varying amounts of time in our little tropical Mexican Mayberry town of Mahahual. Everyone from your country club rich guy, to your rolling stone vagabond, and everyone in between. The Livin’ and Dyin” in 3/4 Time Boys seemed to gravitate more toward those from the bottom of that social scale, than those at the top for some reason. None of the Boys were country club material, that is for sure, nor were they impressed by it when they saw it. That is why most of the local wealthy villa owners stayed away from Buster’s. Too much riff-raff there.
Occasionally, when one of the country club guys really needed good local source of info though, they would crawl out of their safety bubbles they called villas, and wander in to see the Boys at Buster’s. On this fine sunny day, one of Mahahual’s wealthiest part-time residents strolled in, pulled up a chair with the Livin’ and Dyin’ in 3/4 Time boys like he owned the place, and began to pour out his problems to them as if they were his $200 an hour therapist back home.
The Boys all called him Kentucky, because he was all about his Wildcats, and for the most part, they liked him, but at the same time, they tried to keep him, like the other country club boys in the area, at arms length. The Boys were all retired, full time residents of Mahahual, and like most of the other residents of the town, far from wealthy. The last thing they wanted the locals to think was that they hung around with the likes of this gringo, mansion-trash. It could “ruin their street cred with Jose 6-pack” as Ronnie liked to say.
Kentucky, like the Boys, was also retired. However, his retirement included a beach house in Mahahual, as well as a cabin in Aspen, and apartments in Miami and New York. At the end of the equation, the Boys were from Venus and Ol’ Kentucky was from Mars. On Venus though, the Boys lived a much more modest retirement, to say the least.
Ernie, the one with the most money always, lived on his police retirement and a government pension, so he lived very comfortably. He had a car, and rented a little beach bungalow just at the edge of town. His retirement income was far from that of Kentucky, but he lived a good year around life in Mahahual on his retirement. He, unlike the other Boys, still had enough money that the ladies still found him handsome, so Ernie was a happy ex-pat.
Rick, had less, living on nothing more than his monthly social security check he got back in the states. There, it would have meant a life well below the poverty line, but in Mahahual, he managed to live a pretty good life. He didn’t live on the beach, rode the bus everywhere because he had no car, but he had enough month to month to live a quiet and happy retired life. He didn’t get the ladies like Ernie, but the tequila bottle was never empty and he never missed a meal. Not bad for $1400 a month.
Giles, the youngest of the bunch at 55, had a Mexican legal partner, Dio, so he had dual citizenship, and was like everyone else in Mahahual, working poor. Selling tropical dresses to fat ladies off of cruise ships 6 months out of the year allowed him to wring out an okay life, and a much better one than the same amount of effort would yield back in the good ol’ USA, that was for sure. He wasn’t retired, but he didn’t work that hard either and was doing just fine as well. He didn’t punch a clock, worked when he wanted and he had a boy toy half his age who took very good care of him.
Ronnie was the poor guy of the bunch. Too young to collect retirement, and too set in his lazy ways to work for anyone, he made his living hustling for tips on anything from a local tour, to a real estate referral. Ronnie was the local go-to-guy and made enough money on tips each month to also live the “retired” life, which for Ronnie, meant the really lazy life. Work and Ronnie had nothing to do with one another, and as best as all could tell, Ronnie had been retired for a long time. He stayed dirt poor most of the time, but “happy as a pig in slop”, as he was fond of often saying.
The Boys all sat quietly and listened to Kentucky whine about all the problems he was having. His property caretakers had left a few days prior to Kentucky’s return, well, actually, a few weeks to be more precise, and his unattended property, much to his surprise upon his arrival, had became a back-packers campground. His caretakers had cut a weeks’s camping deal with a group of trashy Argentines, and as the week went by, their occupation of the property became more than the beach. When Kentucky arrived, they were doing laundry in the washer, wet clothes dried in the sun from the balconies and a stinky guy with lots of tattoos was cooking away in the kitchen. If that wasn’t bad enough, the clerk at the store overcharged him for everything he bought on the way in, and the gas station attendant, once again, somehow managed to cheat him out of $100 pesos. How, he still wasn’t sure.
The Boys could not contain their laughter as Kentucky told the story of running the “gypsies”, as he called them, off with a boat oar. He was a big man, and the threat of the oar on top of the head by a crazy gringo was all the Argentines needed to hear, and they quickly packed their stuff and began the long and dusty walk south.
“Can you believe that,” he whined. “My caretakers rented out my beach house thinking they would be gone by the time I got here and they could make a few extra bucks. And if that’s not bad enough, I got fined by the government for renting my beach illegal. Can you believe that?”
“Uh oh, something tells me Sasha and Buddy dropped a dime on you dude,” laughed Ronnie. Never one to miss an opportunity to start problems in paradise with the part-time gringos, Ronnie knew Kentucky, and his equally rich neighbors, Buddy and Ms Sasha, did not care for one another, so he knew just where to poke. “You know as well as I do, them finding camping backpackers on the federal beach area is like finding a needle in a hay stack. That just don’t happen. What happens is somebody who is pissed at you, calls a poorly paid enforcement person at the government and tells them a wealthy gringo was renting his beach as a camp ground without the proper beach concession. Someone makes that call, and yes, there will be someone out with his fine book immediately. You should know that. Just another gringo tax.”
Kentucky’s eye brow raised and he whispered, “Those assholes. You think they turned me in huh. I bet you’re right about that.”
“Yea, nothing will get you service around here, good or bad, faster than gringo money,” laughed Ronnie. “You know the one about how to get a cop to come in Mahahual? Tell ’em there’s a gringo beatin’ the crap out of a Mexican with his Rolex. Cops will be here faster than you can say pennies from heaven.”
“I hope you did the ol’ ‘can I just pay the fine right here’ routine with the government dude,” asked Rick.” What did it take, $500 pesos?”
I wasn’t going to pay any bribe if that’s what you mean,” assured Kentucky. “No way. I’d rather pay the real $5000 pesos fine.”
“Dumbass gringo,” whispered Ernie to Rick, just loud enough for Kentucky to hear. “The dude only makes $300 pesos a day if he’s lucky. He didn’t want to write you up, that’s work. And I guarantee you he could have cared less what you did on that beach. He just wanted you to pay him enough money so he could maybe buy himself a ring like yours. More like a Robin Hood kinda thing. Its okay to take from your rich ass, as long as it goes to his poor ass. Its like Ronnie said, the gringo tax.”
“Yea, well, it gets worse. On top of all that, the caretakers put four thousand kilometers on my car while I was gone. Its bad enough that they rent out the beach, but then they use my car like they own it.”
“Did they wreck the car,” asked Rick.
“No they didn’t wreck the car. That’s not the point. The point is they were not to drive the car.”
“But they see it like this,” laughed Rick. “If you are not using it, and they didn’t hurt it, what’s the big deal. Perk of the job in some ways. Or, the gringo employment tax again, take your pick. It’s a very fine line.”
“If you paid them a decent wage, maybe they could buy a car of their own,” piped in Giles in his very best, smarter than thou, gay guy voice. Kentucky just gave him the shew away fly wave and drank his beer.
Suddenly, Ronnie jumped from the table and ran out onto the malecon. Two young and pretty back-packers had just passed by and the new, recently opened B&B Ronnie, was ready for business. And business with legs like that is just his kind.
For a last few months, Ronnie had been renting his spare bedroom to cheap travelers for $150 pesos a night, and making enough to pay his rent in the process. A good deal too since Ronnie let them use his refrigerator and kitchen, which also of course meant Ronnie always got the left overs. Just another perk, from his hardworking job of doing nothing.
“Guys, I’ll be right back. Those gals look just like my kinda clients for the B&B.” And with that, he was gone.
“I’d be careful about firing your caretakers if I were you,” warned Ernie. “If you’re like most, you just end up hiring even worse the next time. Ain’t like we have a giant pool of workers, all trained and ready to work here among the few hundred who live here.”
“What,” asked Rick, “you think you’re the only property owner around here that has a caretaker that rents their property on the side?” With that, they all burst out laughing. All except Kentucky.
“Hell, every caretaker from SianKaan to the tip of Xcalak makes side money renting the place when the boss is gone. Watch this.” He called Gordo Jose, one of Buster’s waiters, over to the table and asked, “Hey Gordo, I got a friend coming by later wanting to rent a place on the beach for a couple nights. You know anyplace he can get cheap?”
“Si, no problema Senior Rick. Un momento,” and he began to call his friends on his cell phone. Within 2 minutes, he returned and said, “Take your pick. Casa de Rojo, Villa Sol Brillante y Casa Grande. Todos es listo. Which one you want Senior Rick?”
“I’ll get back with later on that Gordo. Gracias.” They all looked at Kentucky and laughed.
“I bet if I’d told him to check your place, he would have told me not today, but it will be available next week. Right after you leave.”
The Boys all got a really good laugh out of that and Kentucky was now beginning to boil with anger.
Before he could explode though, Ronnie came back in with the two pretty back-packers and introduced them to the boys. “Guys, I’d like to hang around but I need to get these two beautiful Italianas settled into the B&B Ronnie.” He downed the last of his beer, leaned over and whispered to the boys, “I think they are hot for a ride on the Ronnie express.” And with that, he gave the guys a wink and away they went to Ronnie’s dumpy little casita.
“You just can’t tell that boy anything,” laughed Rick, shaking his head. “I guess he’ll just never learn.”
“Learn what,” asked Kentucky, the cold Corona cooling him off just a bit now.
“Well, for starters,” laughed Rick, ” pretty young world travelers don’t want anything to do with poor, penny-less old men. Ronnie still hasn’t come to terms with the fact he is really an old fart. And a penny-less one at that.”
“Yea, he actually thinks he has a shot at those hot young ladies,” continued Ernie, also laughing under his breath. “Besides being old, ugly and poor, he’s from the US. Italians hate Americans from the US.”
“Italians don’t hate Americans,” said Kentucky, “I eat at Tony’s up the malecon all the time, and they treat me real nice.”
“That’s because you are a tourist,” piped in Giles from behind the newspaper. “You own a big house, but in the eyes of the locals, Mexicans, Italians, whatever, you walk like a tourist, dress like a tourist, but most important, you spend money like a tourist the few weeks a year you are in town. You’re a tourist and they always get treated nice.”
“Hell, everyone treats the guy with money good. But be a poor ass gringo who just moved into the neighborhood,” said Rick, “and you’ll get treated a little different.”
“Yea, you get treated just like the poor ass Mexican gets treated in the US who just moved into the neighborhood,” said Giles, again never looking up from the paper. “Na, I take that back. We get treated better here. But yea, we damn sure don’t get treated like a money spending tourist.”
“Us poor guys that live here full time, we get treated like a wet-back, which I guess we are. You, the rich gringo, get trseated like an ATM with feet, which, whether you like it or not, you are.”
“Yup, you bend over and they stick a card up your ass and out pops the money,” laughed Ernie. “Then you say, ‘muchos gracias, uno mas por favor’.” The Boys all laughed and Kentucky started in on another cold beer. The cerveza and the Boys seemed to be cooling him quickly now.
Finally, Giles put his newspaper down and officially jumped into the conversation. When that happens, the Boys all usually shut up, listen and enjoy his shows.
“Look Kentucky, its like this. Everyone is wired in certain ways. Us old gringos, we were wired to hate communist back in our day in the US. Now it is some religious wacko living in a cave in the middle east somewhere, hell bent on destroying everything, especially that sacred “freedom” we hear so much about. All BS but it keeps us focused on a boogeyman, while the rich oligarchies take our money out the back door. Si o No?”
The boys all just shook their heads in agreement. Kentucky, gulped the last of his beer and was now finding his drinking stride and motioned for Buster to bring another.
“Mexicans are wired too, and the boogeyman here has always been the rich gringo. Their rich good old boy oligarchy has always told the people that at the root of every problem Mexicans have, is a rich, gold ring and tropical shirt wearin’, beer drinkin’, money spending dumbshit, that looks at lot like you, Kentucky. Its payback time!”
Kentucky put down his bottle and looked at his rings on his fingers, the golden necklace that hung down from his open Tommy Bahama shirt was shining in the afternoon sun’s glare. He had to laugh at himself now.
“Same thing here too. Keep the people focused on a boogeyman that doesn’t really matter and nobody will know when the good old boys take all the money out the back door. You Kentucky, are that boogeyman, and now you are going to pay. All that stuff your bitchin’ about, stuff that is really a drop in the bucket for you, that’s just another gringo tax.”
“That’s the good thing about bein’ a wet back in Mexico,” laughed Rick. “Mexicans here look at our poor asses the way everyone looks at them in the US. No money there, so who cares? But you, no,no, you’re gonna pay the tax.” They all laughed and by now, even Kentucky was laughing.
Buster walked over with another cold Corona for Kentucky and decided to sit and join the boys. Kentucky was telling the story of the the Argentine back packers when Ronnie came back in and quietly sat back down at the table. The table hushed, all wanting to know if he rented his room to the hotties from Italy. Finally, in his usual blunt fashion, Giles asked, “I guess the Italianas didn’t stay at the love shack after all. Told ya Jethro. Pretty young ladies don’t like old dudes and Italians hate Americans.”
“Yea, your right about that. Had to be that. They loved my place I think. Said it looked like a US frat house, which I assumed was a compliment. That’s why I was surprised when they left and said no way. Kinda bitchy too about how they said it. Had to be they just hate Americans because I think they were really diggin’ the whole Billy Bob Thorton thing I was putting off. There are a few Italian chicks who dig that Giles, whether you believe it or not.”
“How ’bout not,” laughed Giles, the others all following loudly, including Ronnie.
“Yea, how ’bout they realized they were going to be sharing a tiny casita with a creepy, old dude with the dirty shower, leaves the toilet seat up and doesn’t speak Italian, and not a snooty little B&B with pressed coffee, chocolate dipped strawberries and a mint on the pillow. How ’bout that.”
“Totally true,” Ronnie admitted, almost with pride. “I strayed from my core demographic; the wanna-be, beach bum, ex-pat for a week dude, is my market. Been keepin’ the room pretty full with those guys. And now that you mention it, it does have a little of that frat house ambiance going. I’m good with that.”
“Animal House ambiance maybe,” laughed Giles.
“Anyway,” interrupted Kentucky, “I was trying to ask Buster here how he deals with this gringo tax. You’ve been here a long time. Do you pay it?”
“Of course I do. The old lady at the fruit stand doesn’t charge me more these days, but I still have to pay it in other ways. My papers have to be in better order, because the regulators who check these things, check mine harder. My neighbor can bribe his way out of anything with a beer and some ceviche, but not me. Costs a lot more to keep your books in order, than if you don’t. And yes, I have to pay my staff more, because if I pay the same, nobody would work for me. Why work for a gringo if you can’t make more money doing it. We’re kind of a pain in the ass to work for. Lots of ways I pay a gringo tax. I look at it as just the cost of doing business. As long as whatever I’m getting taxed on is cheaper than I pay in the US, I’m good with it. And it always is.”
“So what do I do about my caretakers and them renting my place on the side and using my car. What do I do about that?”
“Swap your place for a condo in Cancun I guess,” laughed Buster, getting up from his chair. “You want another beer?”
Kentucky laughed, knowing he’d never trade his place in this crazy little town for anything, much less a condo in Cancun. He nodded yes to the beer and motioned Buster to bring the entire table of poor ass, wet backs a round too. And like Scrooge on Christmas morning, Kentucky’s rich ass bought the beer and they all settled into their chairs, watching the world go by on the beautiful Mahahual Malecon, sipping cold beer and tequila, and all the while, Livin’ and Dyin’ in 3/4 Time.
And so it goes, no matter how much money you have, when you’re Livin’ and Retired in 3/4 Time.