Chicago Sun-Times
With Lori Rackl

Author Gary Buslik rants and raves about the Caribbean

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Mundelein author Gary Buslik has traveled all over the Caribbean.

He's detailed the funniest of his exploits in his new book, "A Rotten Person Travels the Caribbean." It's seriously, LOL funny.

I did a Q&A with Buslik that ran in the July 23 issue of the Sun-Times. I didn't have the space to run it all, so here's the rest of it....

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Q. How extensively have you traveled through the Caribbean?
A. I've stayed overnight on almost every Caribbean island. Oddly, I never
made it to Haiti, principally because I'm weak-willed and therefore
susceptible to being zombified. I saw that in a drive-in movie, and a few
days later the theater burned to the ground, so I'm not kidding. It's not
easy for an entire drive-in to burn down, including the screen, but this one
did, and they said you could smell the marijuana all the way in Wisconsin.


Q. What's the most memorable meal you've ever had in the Caribbean?
A. There have been so many, it's hard to pick any particular one. My wife
and I have enjoyed many romantic dinners under coruscating constellations
and moonlight rainbows (yes, there is such a thing), with cruise ship lights
twinkling on the horizon, amid choruses of tree frogs, which sound like
ghosts riding rusty swings. We've eaten local langouste on a mountaintop inn
on tiny Saba. We ate ice cream cones while walking down Montserrat's main
street with Prince Philip. We've shared bullfoot stew and mountain chicken
with admirals of the fleet and movie stars and West Indian friends, good and
great. One of the charming things about the Caribbean is that your days are
usually spent mentally preparing for dinner. After her grueling routine of
lying at the pool all day dog-earring catalog pages, my wife likes to break
her boredom by trying to find the most expensive restaurant on the island
and ordering one of everything on the menu because "who knows, we could die
tomorrow."
Which, now that I think about it, does prompt me to pick my favorite
Caribbean meal, since it did represent life and death. In 1999 we got caught
on Nevis in Hurricane Lenny. We were staying at the Hermitage Inn, where,
after six days of unrelenting storm, we ran out of food, so that I was
forced to share my secret stash of devil's-food Snack Wells. It seemed
traumatic at the time, but in retrospect I think it made a better man out of
me. So, yes, my most memorable Caribbean meal was a cookie.

Q. Which is the most overrated island?
A. I can't say about the overrated, because I'm not sure which island is
rated highly or why. I know some people will spend a week in an
all-inclusive resort without ever leaving the grounds and come home thinking
they've seen the authentic Caribbean. Americans love being spritzed with
mineral water on the beach and being cooled by those tiny propellers while
they're pooping. My neighbor, a dentist, stays at an all-inclusive in
Jamaica because he can't get enough of hearing himself called "doctor" over
the P.A. system. So I'd say it's not any island that's overrated but the
all-inclusive and mega-resorts-which have their advantages, of course, but
the advantages shouldn't come at the expense of getting out and mingling
with the real culture, warts and all.
Although, come to think of it, I hate Key West.

Q. What do you dislike about the Caribbean?
A. I never liked mosquito nets. Any membrane that gets between my bladder
and the bathroom at two in the morning ‹ and I include pajamas, here ‹ is
never my friend. If you turn on a light in the middle of the night, your
"mosquito" net-a misnomer if there ever was one; they should be called
"large furry things with buck teeth" net-resembles a Night of the Living
Dead reunion. The result being that while trying to make a mad dash from
under the elastic, I get more tangled up in netting than a drunken groom in
a garter belt, and my wife comes to my rescue by spraying my face with
something that smells suspiciously like nuclear waste. Even if you have
never actually smelled nuclear waste before, trust me, you'll know it when
you do.

Q. Have you ever felt in danger on any of the Caribbean islands?
A. Yes and no. Every West Indian village has one naked madman whose job it
is to walk around wielding a machete and threatening to turn you in to the
fish police. The first couple of times I definitely felt in danger ‹ not
necessarily because of the machete but because, having a pathological guilty
conscience, I was absolutely certain I had done something immoral involving
a mackerel. My wife wasn't afraid at all because: 1) she has no conscience,
let alone a guilty one; 2) it wasn't the machete she was staring at; and 3)
she knows that, being a sentimental fool, I always throw myself between her
and naked men. But eventually I got used to this peculiarity of Caribbean
culture, and now whenever I get threatened by a naked madman, I simply take
off my own pants and insist that this is the year the Cubs will win the
World Series.

Q. What's the worst you've been ripped off while traveling around the
Caribbean?
A. I don't recall ever getting ripped off. On the contrary, I once rented a
car in St. Kitts and found a ten-dollar bill on the passenger-side floor and
didn't turn it in. If you mean "goofily expensive," it's easy to pay a lot
at almost any Caribbean restaurant-especially these days when the dollar is
worth less than toilet paper and is sometimes used as such. Last December I
took my nephew to St. Martin for his birthday, and we paid twenty bucks
each for cheeseburgers and two dollars extra for ketchup. So, here again, I
wound up digging out my Snack Wells. There were thirteen in the package, but
I told him there were only seven. He's a strapping kid, so I figured he
could go longer without eating than I could.

Q. Have you ever been on a Caribbean cruise? If so, how did you like it? If
not, why not?
A. We took a Caribbean cruise many years ago. I had just met my wife and,
trying to impress her, booked an expensive suite at the very front of the
main deck. We turned the lights down low, and about twenty minutes into
making love, the captain called our room and told us he could see our
shadows on the foredeck going at it. So we spent the rest of the trip making
love in the bathroom-which, even in a deluxe suite, is a tight fit.
Fortunately, we're short.

Q. What's the weirdest thing you've ever eaten in the Caribbean?
A. I'm not like that guy on the Travel Channel-Zimmern, I think?...that fat
guy who will eat anything that doesn't eat him first? I'm not adventuresome
when it comes to eating. Ditto with drink. Feed me P.B.& J. and a Diet Coke,
and I'm happy. Which is one reason my wife and I have been married so long.
She knows that our oven does something, but she's not quite sure what. Every
few months she dusts the inside. I will tell you the weirdest thing I ate in
America, though. One time I made myself a cheese sandwich and forgot to
remove those paper separators between the slices, so I wound up eating a
cheese-and-paper sandwich on wheat, and it tasted pretty good, so I wrote to
Kraft, but they never wrote back.

Q. What are the biggest misconceptions Americans have about the Caribbean?
A. I'm not sure. I will tell you what surprised me the most, though, when I
first started traveling there. We'd stop in little village bookstores and
pick up novels by West Indian writers, and we'd be absolutely blown away by
the quality of the prose. I don't mean "not-bad-for-jerkwater-islanders"
quality but honestly-brilliant-by-any-standard literature. It's down there
that I first discovered Jamaica Kincaid, V.S. Naipaul, Samuel Selvon, and
other geniuses. Some have gained national audiences, of course, but, sadly,
many other terrific writers remain obscure; their books are crudely printed
and read by few.

Q. What's your favorite hotel in the Caribbean and why?
A. I already told you how much we love the Hermitage Plantation Inn on Nevis
in the Eastern Caribbean. It's small, homey, and beautiful, and you're
treated almost literally like family. The owners live in the great house,
but you're free to come and go there as you please. Help yourself to any
book from their library; lounge in their living room or den. If you grab a
beer from their fridge or a cigar from the humidor, no big deal. At happy
hour there, you suddenly know why you've worked hard all your life. Their
cuisine is world-renowned, and we've met some extremely interesting people,
many celebrities. It's situated at the hem of a rainforest, so it's
relatively cool at night, and the flora and fauna are magnificent. You can
share your breakfast with finches, vervet monkeys, and an occasional donkey.

Q. What was it like being in Grenada shortly after the U.S. invasion?
A. With few exceptions, the Grenadians were thrilled to see Americans again.
They had suffered much under their brief but frightening Marxist
dictatorship. The place had been locked down and in the end there were
bloody confrontations and massacres. They were enormously grateful for the
U.S.-led liberation, which restored peace, democracy, and, ultimately,
tourism. They never stopped telling me how much they loved Ronald Reagan.
I'm not talking about the university intellectuals, the coffee-house
grouses, but the average folks on the street-merchants, shopkeepers, and
taxi drivers. It was a very happy time. Grenada is one of my favorite
islands. Its main harbor town is one of the quaintest, most picturesque in
the world, and the rest of the island is lush and beautiful. Grenadians
still love Americans, so you don't have to worry much about waiters stabbing
you-one of my important criteria.

Q. What's the worst you've been ripped off while traveling around the
Caribbean?
A. I don't recall ever getting ripped off. On the contrary, I once rented a
car in St. Kitts and found a $10 bill on the passenger-side floor and didn't
turn it in. If you mean "goofily expensive," it's easy to pay a lot at
almost any Caribbean restaurant ‹ especially these days when the dollar is
worth less than toilet paper and is sometimes used as such.

Q. What was it like watching cockfighting in Grenada? Did you enjoy it?
A. No, I hated it. I'm an avid animal lover, preferring them to people. Did
you know that cockfighting is still legal in about four U.S. states? It's
revolting. I attended a cockfight only because I was writing a magazine
article about it, and I donated my check to the Assisi No-Kill Animal
Shelter in Crystal Lake, Illinois (www.assisi.org). They do a great job
rescuing cats and dogs and can use the money, so tell your readers.

Q. How does one go about accidentally urinating on Idi Amin?
A. You see all kinds of celebrities down there, and occasionally the
celebrities happen to be vicious dictators, despots, and eaters of human
flesh. It happens. Even tyrants like to kick back once in a while, and
there's no place like the Caribbean. They also need to use urinals, like
everyone else after a couple of rum punches, so it's not unusual to find
yourself peeing next to a former Ugandan madman. In my case, the odds were
actually better because I urinate a lot, my prostate being the size and
consistency of a matzo ball. Not just any matzo ball, but one made by my
cousin Linda, whose matzo balls are the size of the first atomic bomb. If
President Truman had dropped one of Linda's matzo balls on Hiroshima, the
Japanese would have surrendered in five minutes, and we would not have had
to destroy Nagasaki three days later. So there I was, watching an expensive
tropical drink drain away, when I noticed a large African autocrat relieving
himself next to me. Naturally I did a double-take, swiveling my hips and
appurtenances thereof, whizzing on the man's foot. It wasn't a waterfall,
no, but he was wearing sandals, so of course I feared for my life but knew
that if I survived I'd have a heck of a story. So, just to be sure, I
dribbled a little extra.

Q. Where are you headed next?
A. To my kitchen, for a cheese-and-paper sandwich.


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2 Comments

Gary,
I am proud to say that you are my BIG OLDER brother. Cool reading you online. CONGRATS on the new book.
Love your sis

Dear Gary,

I read the Sun-Times every day, and was excited to see your picture and article in today's paper. (Weds.) You are a genius, and very, very funny. I knew your sense of humor ran in the family. Take care, enjoy your travels, and best wishes always.

Love,
your cousin Shelley (Buslik)Gross

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This page contains a single entry by Lori Rackl published on July 23, 2008 4:41 AM.

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