Livin’ and dyin’ in 3/4 time, the real rhythm of life, as The Boys like to call it, begins each day with coffee on Mahahual Mexico’s beautiful oceanfront malecon, at Buster’s on the Beach. The cinnamon flavored Oaxaca coffee, breakfast burritos and intelligent conversation were a great way to start their day, and Buster figured that having two out of three, the coffee and burritos that really were great, would be enough. The ocean, the breeze and beautiful sunrise made up for the rest.
They all sipped their coffee and discussed the latest big news in the little town. Seems there was a new gringo in town and all had met him, except for Buster. Where Buster’s social schedule was very small given his work, The Boys on the other hand had nothing but a social schedule, with work nowhere on it.
Rick was pouring some locally made Mango Moonshine Aged Whiskey in his coffee, when he looked up and said to Buster, “well speak of the devil. Here he comes now. I’ll introduce you to him. Great guy. You’re gonna really like him. Poor bastard has no idea though. Poor guy’s running Rudy’s place. ”
“He’s doing what,” laughed Buster? With that, the Boys all broke out into laughter, that suddenly broke up, as the new guy approached the table.
Bernie was his name, and he was a “happily divorced”, early retired, former accountant from Cleveland. Bernie lived a great life actually. After he retired, he tossed the snow blower, bought a condo in Ft Lauderdale, where he lived half the year, and spent the other half, swinging in a hammock with the other American Viagra Cowboys in some small jungle village in the Philippines.
His Buddy back in Ohio, Rudy, owned a local Mahahual beach club and hotel a couple blocks from Buster’s, The Happy Iguana, and had rustled him early from his hammock one afternoon to ask a favor. Seems he needed him to come down to Mexico for a month or so, and keep an eye on his business, while he went back the Ohio to tend to some “personal matters”. How could Bernie say no to his buddy? Especially since he promised a free room, board, and all the fun he could possibly have in the process. The place “pretty much runs itself” is how Rudy put it, so how hard could it be?
Bernie saw the Boys familiar faces and stopped to say hi. “Well top of the morning to the Livin’ and Dyin’ in 3/4 Time Boys. This looks like the place for morning coffee I can see now.”
Rick did the introductions and invited Bernie to join them for a coffee. He offered the bottle to Bernie, who politely passed on the moonshine, but pulled up a chair, with the smell of the cinnamon piping up from the other cups.
“So you’re the poor guy Rudy stuck with his place while he went back to Cleveland for the pennant race finish to the baseball season. Pinche Rudy, how does always manage to go back and I’m stuck here working?”
“Its that fine, well oiled, machine he has there I suppose is why. He can leave anytime and the place just runs itself really. I just met everyone yesterday, and I gotta tell you, his staff seems top notch. Other than there not being any toilet seats in the restrooms, the place is perfect. Can I buy those locally?”
The Boys all broke out into a roaring chorus of laughter. Poor Bernie, looked confused, and then laughed along with them, all be it, a bit nervously. It did seem a little funny to him too that there were no toilet seats. Just not that funny.
Finally Buster broke the laughter with, “Yes, it does run itself, that is for sure.” Again the guys laughed out loud, and again, Bernie looked nervous.
“Not sure what’s the big joke here, but I can tell you this. If every day for the next month is as nice as this one, I might not be going home. I got up this morning, the crew was hard at it already. They even had this wonderful breakfast ready. Fresh juice, Eduardo picked the oranges from his back yard. What a nice guy that Eduardo is.”
The Boys all just looked at each other and grinned.
“Yea, Eduardo is the main guy and the one that keeps the machine rolling. You guys know him?”
“Are you kidding me,” blurted out Ronnie. “Everyone in town knows that two-bit crook. Haven’t you noticed when you walk down the malecon with him, all the other waiters are yelling ‘watch your wallet’ at you. The guy’s a total ass to boot. You better watch more than your wallet with that guy.”
“You must be talking about another Eduardo then. This guy is as good as gold. Like he says, ‘we’re compadres’ .”
“No,” laughed Giles, “this guy is really Eduardo Haskél. You know that guy?”
Bernie thought for a minute and said, no, I don’t think I met this Eduardo Haskél. What does he look like?”
“He looks just like your Eduardo, and he talks just like Eddie Haskell, you know, the smart ass kid on Leave It To Beaver who thought he was charming all the adults with his fake, polite and perfect kid routine, only to be the worst of all, when the parents weren’t around. Well that, is Eduardo. He is Eddie Haskell all the way, only here, it we call him Eduardo Haskél. Get it!”
Buster kicked Giles under the table and piped in, “The Boys here are a little dramatic Bernie. Just watch your staff is all they are saying. Sometimes when the cat’s away, the mice will play.”
“No worry Buster. I think these guys are alright. Really what could go wrong. Like my old pal Rudy said, it really does just run itself.”
“Yea, what could go wrong,” laughed Giles.
Bernie came walking by on his usual morning walk, and on this day, he had a somewhat more concerned look on his face. He almost walked past the Boys, before Rick chimed in,
“Hey, you not talking to us anymore?”
Bernie looked up, somewhat startled, and smiled. “Sorry guys. I was someplace else.” He walked over and pulled up a chair with the Boys. Juan Gordo, brought him a cup of coffee and he again passed on Rick’s offer of the moonshine.
“So what are you looking so serious about there this morning, Bernie,” asked Ernie.
“Well, I’m just worried about the accounting. I mean, I was a CPA for many years in the US, so I know a little something about basic accounting, and for the life of me, I have no idea what just happened the last 3 days at the Happy Iguana.”
“Yea, math seems to have a lot of gray areas here,” laughed Giles.
“Not sure I know what that means, and not sure I want to know either. But the thing is, we were full the last three days, and when I go over everything, Rudy didn’t make any money. He told me the place was a cash machine, but at the end of the day, we don’t make anything.”
“Eduardo Haskél is rippin’ you off dude,” chimed in Ronnie, never one to miss an opportunity to stir the pot. “That guy’s gonna get all Rudy’s money, and yours too, before the end of the month. Just watch and see amigo.”
“No, you guys are wrong about Eduardo and his guys. I’m just not understanding something yet. It has something to do with existing inventory, and it not being balanced with the current cash flow, so I think it is just a temporary anomaly. It should straighten itself out, but it bothers me that I can’t figure it out.”
“Still liking Eduardo’s boys down there,” asked Ronnie with his usual ‘there is more to this than I’m saying’ smile on his face.
“Well, to be honest,” said Bernie, leaning over the table, so as to allow him to speak in a softer, more confidential tone, “I’m not as sold on a couple of those guys now. Eduardo told me he was trying to give a couple guys a second chance. He thinks they are really good guys that just need someone to give them a real chance.”
“You’re buying that crap,” laughed Ronnie.
“I know, a couple of them I have my doubts about too, but I trust Eduardo to take care of it. That one they call Cuca, the jalador that does the sales on the back streets for us, he kinda scares me. Why do they call him Cuca?”
“Because if you call him Cucaracha,” said Ernie, “or the Roach, his real nickname when he’s not around, and he hears you, he’ll beat the crap out of you. That’s what they called him in prison is what I was told. I was a cop for 45 years, so I talk to all the cops here. He did 5 years, 2 for selling drugs and 3 more for just bein’ a pain in everyone’s ass in the prison.”
“Hmm, Eduardo didn’t tell me that,” wondered Bernie out loud. “Must be trying to defend his friend. Understandable if he thinks enough of him to try to help him rehabilitate.”
“Watch your wallet,” the Boys all sang out at once!
“Watch your wallet nothing. Watch your toilet seats,” laughed Bernie. “I just put two new ones on yesterday and darn if someone didn’t take them. You ever heard of such a thing? Taking the toilet seats?” He laughed and got up and continued on with his morning stroll.
The Boys were sipping their morning joe, when up strides Bernie, this day though, without the usual smile the Boys had come to expect each day on his morning stroll. He flopped down in the chair and ordered his coffee.
“I need to talk to Buster,” he asked. “Is he around. I need to fire some guys and not sure how to do it.”
“Buster’s just gonna tell you call Rudy,” said Rick, pouring a shot of the local made Mango Moonshine into his own cup. “He stays out of that stuff.” He pointed the bottle to Bernie to see if he wanted any, and Bernie, after a brief look at the bottle, again shook the offer off.
“I called Rudy,” said Bernie in a louder than normal tone. “Well, I called his answering machine like 20 times the last few days anyway. He sent an email and said to let ‘just let the staff take care of it’, whatever that means?”
“I think he let’s Eduardo Haskél take care of these matters,” laughed Ronnie.
“Well Eduardo Haskél can’t seem to even pay the bills, much less keep his bunch of knuckleheads in line, so I don’t know. I gave him the money to pay the internet bill, three times, and since they just cut the internet, I’m thinking he never did pay the bill. Can you believe that! Now I have angry customers, who for some reason act like it is the end of the world if they can’t check their stupid Facebook for a day. And if that ain’t bad enough, a lady yelled at me because, once again, there was no toilet seat in the lady’s room for crying out loud!”
Buster came walking by and Bernie stopped him and told him the entire story. Finally, he asked for his advice and Buster told him, “I think I would go use someone else’s internet and send a nasty note to that chump Rudy. You need the password to my internet?” And with that, he excused himself to go manage another problem elsewhere.
“I told you,” said Rick. “You sure you don’t want a shot of my shine in that coffee? Great stuff. David, down at Costa De Cocos makes it locally in Xcalak. Won’t fix the problem with Rudy, but it’ll make it so you don’t give a crap.”
Bernie poured a small shot into his coffee and gave it a stir.
Bernie stormed up to the table, flopped down and told Juan Flaco to bring his coffee, fast! Juan set the cup down immediately, having become accustomed to Bernie’s routine now, he already had his cup waiting. Rick did not ask, and instead, just slid his bottle across the table where Bernie grabbed it and poured a shot into his coffee.
“If I ever get my hands on that so-called “buddy” of mine Rudy, I’m gonna kill him. You know, I could be swinging in my hammock in the Philippines with a little girlfriend, or on the golf course in Florida, but nooooooooo, I’m here in Mahahual Mexico running an nut house.”
“Uh oh,” laughed Ronnie. “What did Eduardo do now?”
“I’m so stupid. I can’t believe I actually bought his story,” Bernie whispered, almost to himself. “He really is a smooth Eduardo Haskel isn’t he. He came to me last week and asked if his two sisters could stay for a week or so. College girls on vacation he told me.”
“That would be Bertha and Nina,” said Ronnie laughing. “We wondered when you would figure that out. Them ain’t no college girls. They work over at the strip joint in the Bario 55.”
“You’re not going to believe what I think Eduardo is doing?”
“Let me guess,” said Ronnie with supreme confidence in his tone. “He has been renting the rooms by the hour, and using Bertha and Nina as hourly girls. He keeps the rooms clean and reports to you they were not rented. He pockets the money, and you pay the extra for the laundry and cleaning fees, probably from that gray area between that “existing inventory and current cash flow” problem you keep bringing up. Is it a little something, kinda go like that?”
The Boys all erupted in laughter. You could actually see the wheels turning in Bernie’s head as he sipped the last bit of his coffee. “I can’t believe I’m that stupid,” he finally said, getting up from the table. “Gotta go!”
On this day, Bernie was the first to arrive at the Boys regular table. He had come in early and ordered breakfast and was just finishing up when the Boys all sat down.
“Why are you eating here at Buster’s Bernie,” asked Ronnie in his usual “I’m gonna stir up some crap” tone of voice. “I thought your guys had one of those beautiful breakfast waiting for you each day? You know, a beautiful plate of chilequiles, fresh fruit and that fancy little glass of fresh juice with the little umbrella in it. They ain’t gettin’ that for you no more?”
“Ronnie, don’t be such a smart ass. You seem to know what’s going on down there before I do, so you know darn good and well what’s wrong. Go ahead, you tell me.”
“My guess is they tried to poison you. You been down there cracking the whip on them boys. They hate you now. I wouldn’t eat their food, drink their drinks either at this point, and if I slept down there, I’d do it with one eye open.”
“Not far from the truth actually. I fired the entire staff yesterday but guess what. They told me to take a hike. Said I can’t fire them. Still no word from Rudy either. He won’t even answer an email now. I hired some new people, but they ran them all off in the first 5 minutes. So now, I’m afraid to eat anything they cook for me. And to make matters worse, the hardware store is out of toilet seats. I got the last two. What the hell is going on with people stealing toilet seats?”
“I don’t know what happened to all them toilet seats, but I got a theory,” chimed in Ronnie.
“Oh here we go with one of his Jethro-isms,” laughed Giles. “As far as in-bred-Jed-redneck-heterosexuals go, every now and then, you make a good point. So lets hear it Jethro.”
“Thank you Tinkerbell. Okay, here’s the deal. I don’t think anyone is stealing them toilet seats. The reason is because every place I go, other restaurants, friends houses, where ever, ain’t nobody got a toilet seat. Now if someone was stealing ’em, we’d see ’em on the ol’ “secondary market”, so to speak. You know, in peoples houses and businesses. But you don’t see ’em there, so where are they going?” He paused for effect and then leaned over and said softly, “I think they go into that black hole that has the missing socks from the dryer and them emails that never arrive.”
“Oh shit,” said Giles getting up from his chair. “I thought he might really have a theory for a second. I’m out of here.”
And with that, the group went about their separate ways, Ronnie still sitting, sipping his coffee and contemplating … where could those toilet seats really be?
“I quit,” Bernie said as he plopped down into his chair. He reached over to grab Rick’s bottle and poured it straight up, into the empty juice glass on the table. “I’ve had all of these guys and that place I care to take. I sent Rudy a note and told him this morning. No more fighting the staff, no more paying his bills, no more getting yelled at by angry customers, no more nada baby.”
“You been nada for a long time dude,” laughed Ronnie. “I’m just glad you finally figured that out.”
“Not only did I figure it out, I figured out how to get my money back from Rudy for all the work and pesos I put in the last few weeks, while his sorry ass was golfing and watching baseball every night. I figure if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Now, if the guys want to keep that place going, they have to pay the beer and tequila suppliers, not me. And you know what? I’m still drinkin’ free the last week. Same for the food. I told them I don’t give a crap if the kitchen is empty, you want to sell food, you better go buy it. And guess who is now spending some quality time with Eduardo’s so called “sisters”. Nobody stays here for free and those two are now my two best friends. They seem to could care less about Eduardo now as a matter of fact.”
“Good for you,” laughed Rick. “Hope you get your money’s worth this last week then. Glad it all seems to be working out for you.”
“Everything’s fine now except for I still can’t seem to catch who is stealing the toilet seats. And no Ronnie, I’m not buying the black hole theory.”
Ronnie laughed and said, “Ain’t no black hole man. We just wanted to see how long it would take for a smart guy like you, you know, one can see when there is a cash flow vs inventory anomaly issue, to actually figure out. I can see you just ain’t gonna though.”
Bernie looked over his coffee cup and gave him the “continue” look.
“Let me ask you,” asked Ronnie, “when you buy the toilet seats, ain’t you noticed there is always just two on the shelf?”
Bernie thought for a second and finally said, “To tell you the truth, I’ve not noticed. The last few times, they had to get them from inventory behind the counter, because the shelf was empty.”
The Boys all laughed and finally Giles said, “Lazy ass Lupita. Can you believe she is even too lazy to at least put the things back on the shelf. Didn’t you know that Lupita is Eduardo’s cousin? Eduardo gets the box from the trash each day and takes it back to his cousin Luipta, who then re-sells you the same seats. You ask, who takes the seat, and all say “Quien sabe?”
“You mean you guys knew all along too?”
“We figured it out pretty quick actually but it ain’t like we’re gonna tell you,” Ronnie told him matter-of-factly. “We tell you the truth and you know what you do? You refuse to believe us, get mad at us for talking bad about your very best friend Eduardo Haskél, and then never speak to us again. Nope, we play dumb and let everyone figure out their own Eduardo Haskéls of the world.”
“We tried to warn you the first day, remember,” laughed Giles. “But you told us no way, Eduardo was a great guy. Yea, just like Eddie Haskell was great too.”
“Yup,we all decided to sit back and enjoy the show,” added Buster. “And for the last three weeks, you and the boys down at the Happy Iguana have not let us down.”
“Yea, you’ve had the box set of disasters all right,” said Ronnie. “Waiters ripping off customers who yell at you. Getting services shut off because your guy buys his own beer, instead of paying the bills. Fights with taxi drivers, fights with the neighbors waiters, fights with your own waiters. Running a whore house and you ain’t even gettin’ laid. Yea, your old buddy Rudy owes you big time, amigo!”
Rudy seemed to agree. For the next 7 days, Rudy lived high on the hog. Or better said, high on Rudy and Eduardo’s hog. He drank free booze from sun rise to sunset. He ate anything and everything, and just as he had said, Eduardo’s boys had to buy the inventory. No inventory, no work. No work, and no tourist to cheat. And if Bernie had anything to do with it, the only people getting cheated this last week, was Eduardo and his boys.
His goal became to make sure all Eduardo’s profits went out the window, or in his belly, all week. Each day, Eduardo’s small profits would barely cover the expenses, and Bernie managed to consume the rest, one way or the other.
He sat on the front malecon table each day at the Happy Iguana and drunkenly invited all to go on in and use the restrooms. “Our restrooms are an example of just how nice the rest of our restaurant is. Please, ma’am, use our restrooms,” he would ask all the ladies. Once they saw a toilet without the toilet seat, they would quickly leave. Eduardo began to see, no toilet seat, no ladies. No ladies, no husbands. No husbands, and nobody to cheat. Hmmmm?
On his last day, he stopped by the Boys table on the way to the bus back to the Cancun airport. He flopped down, and ordered his usual coffee and passed on Rick’s Mango Moonshine. “No thanks,” he told him. “But I did buy a couple bottles to take back. Kinda like that stuff.”
“So Bernie, how do you think the math worked out for you this month? Did you get your money’s worth?”
“Are you kidding?” he asked. “I was running Bertha and Nina’s bill each day through the daily expenses. I got my money’s worth there alone. I kinda blurred that line between ‘existing inventory and current cash flow’, if you know what I mean. He and Rudy should figure that out in another day or two.”
“Good for you,” laughed Ronnie.
“On top on that, Eduardo even put the toilet seats back. He got tired of losing customers.”
“Bernie,” Buster said, holding out his hand to shake as he got up from the table. “It has been a pleasure to meet you. I really do like your style. Next time, how ’bout you come and run my place for a month while I go back home for a month or so. It is really easy. It practically runs itself … .”
Bernie quickly grabbed his bag and began his brisk walk toward the bus. As he turned the corner, his bag changed positions, and all could see protruding from the open end, what was clearly a toilet seat, and Bernie grinning as he turned the corner. Just one last thing for Eduardo to remember his old compadre Bernie for.
And so it goes, when you are Livin’ and Dyin’ in 3/4 Time.