Do you know what I’ve discovered? I deserve the right to be “bougie” (meaning bourgeois—pronounced “boo-gee” with a soft “g” for my non-ghetto friends). I haven’t always felt that way, but I just got back from an island vacation after taking my husband (White and Wonderful, a.k.a. “WW”) there for his 60th birthday and that experience left me thinking: “I want in on the good times too—all the time—you 1% Mofos!”
I’ve been saving for a year to surprise WW with this ostentatious trip because I knew he would not take turning sixty years old with even the slightest amount of grace. I knew this because he’s been announcing his attitudinal demise for five years: “You better be on the alert, Cutie, I will not do turning 60 very well at all!” This was one unhappy white man, and he was careening towards sixty years old kicking and screaming like a toddler. I was not looking forward to hanging out for a year with a grumpy old man. I decided to give him a birthday gift of a lifetime in the hope that it would be an infusion of joy to sustain him over the hump of the big 6-0. So I put his list of favorite things into a search category (sea, sun, sand, snorkeling, boating, hot weather in January, easy to get to from the States, and fascinating new experiences), and Google spit out the Cayman Islands.
Google Image/Public Domain
The seduction started immediately.
Beautiful Hotel Assistant (BHA): “Welcome, Mr. and Mrs. High Muckety-muck. Would you like a glass of guava-mango nectar and some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies from heaven while you check in?” Even though I have a gluten allergy, those cookies were so “to die for” in my newfound “Bali Ha’i” that they didn’t even make me sick. (WW says the cookies were gluten-free because our holiday handlers were just that good and trained to make sure they didn’t miss a beat regarding our personal preferences.)
Gorgeous Concierge: “We’ve solidified your itinerary for the week according to the specifications that you sent to us via email”:
- 90 minutes spa appointment for Mrs. High Muckety-muck
- Snorkeling trip on private sailboat to three prime locations off the beaten path (only Mr. HM. will be snorkeling—Mrs. HM will go along for the ride and do her diva thing)
- Hawaii Five-0-type helicopter ride to survey the islands and the coastline (fascinating new experience)
- Rollin’ with the pirates on a sunset cruise (new experience)
- Touring a rum distillery (new experience)
- Dinner at the restaurant of a world-renowned French chef
- A day at the beach in your own private cabana (waiters in attendance with unlimited food and exotic drinks)
“Enjoy your stay, Mr. and Mrs. High-Muckety Muck. Let us know if there is anything we can do for you. We’re here to serve you. There’s nothing we can’t provide for your vacationing pleasure. Now will that be Visa or MasterCard?”
Ei-yi-yi-yi-yi! WW and I had died and gone to heaven. The sun kissed our skin with a perfect 82 degrees every day, and a constant trade wind gently blew across our bodies every second from the moment we ate our sumptuous breakfast on the private balcony to our room (overlooking a tropical garden), until we retired at night to the turned down sheets with gourmet chocolates gracing our over-stuffed pillows.
Google Image/Public Domain
The helicopter flung us through the air in an hour of Hawaii Five-0 duck and dive-type maneuvers that caused a young newlywed to lose her lunch but made WW and me scream with delight like little kids—“Again!”
The French pilot gave us a tour of the islands and slowly circled the houses of the rich and famous. As he told us of his carefree existence in our “Shangri-La” (“I cam her for a vizit dirty yerz a-go and nev-air vent hume agane”), he assured us that we too could have our “joie de vivre” in the Cayman Islands if we just set our minds to do it. As the pilot flew us over the houses of the real High-Muckety-mucks—not the posers like us—the gateway drug of greed bite WW and me solidly in the ass. We are near retirement. Why not quit the jobs, sell our house, cash in our retirement funds, and move to the Cayman Islands—never looking back. The kids are grown and could fend for themselves.
But could we afford it? “Of curz vous can,” said the pilot. “Zat’s my houze below. Zee what a magnefeesant manzion I own. Vous know why: NO PROPERTY TAX, NO INCOME TAX, NO CAPITAL GAINS TAX, AND NO INHERITANCE TAX! (Suddenly, all trace of a French accent had disappeared once the pilot started talking about the absence of taxes.) “With your money stashed in one of our 280 banks, you’d be sitting pretty, and without the curse of the IRS breathing down your throats your dreams could come true here in Cay-man. Let’s bank to the left and swoop down on that mansion below. Does this suit your fancy? The owner is selling it for $60 million.” (I learned later that the French pilot sold real estate on the side and wasn’t as “French” as he claimed to be.)
Living room of Castillo Caribe, Cayman Island/Google Image
No matter how we jumbled the figures (and we seriously tried), the pilot’s suggestion was never going to be ours unless Mitt Romney gave us a percentage of the money he’s been sheltering in the Caymans. Maybe then, and only then, could WW and I buy this house and never return to real life in America. This was Mitt Romney rich, not “middle-class couple from the 99% saves for a year for a week’s vacation rich.” We had to find another way.
And then the devil showed up.
Devil (posing as Captain Drake): “Welcome aboard, Mr. and Mrs. High Muckety-muck. I’m your Captain today and I will take you anywhere you want to go or wherever the wind blows. May I call you John and Eleanor? When I’m through with you, perhaps you’ll like the islands so much you’ll never return home. I came here ten years ago for a vacation and never left. Imagine your life with the sea and me on a boat like this. Mr. John: let’s see how you look behind the wheel of this beauty; try it on for size why don’t you.”
As the Devil escorted WW from one glorious private snorkeling location to another, I could tell my husband was no longer feeling the devastation of turning 60. When WW got to snorkel in and around an old wreck. . .
. . .and play kissy-face with a stingray, my husband cast off twenty years into the sea.
Seeing my husband so happy and energized, I stretched out on the deck and worked on my tan while the Devil continued to work on our minds.
Devil: “Mr. John—Imagine taking your grandson out on a boat like this and teaching him how to fish and snorkel. Can you see him spending the summers with you frolicking in the ocean and building castles in the sand? Miss Eleanor—Imagine writing the great American novel right here in paradise. All sorts of artistic people find their mojo here. See that house on your left? That used to be Sylvester Stallone’s mansion.”
But WW and I didn’t inject the “happy dust” into our veins at that point—we’re not stupid, and we know when we’re being played. We didn’t succumb until we took the sunset cruise on the pirate ship and met a man and his wife who came down from New Jersey every other week and stayed in their custom-built home on Rum Point. Sometimes they came alone, sometimes their best friends joined them, sometimes their grown kids tagged along with the grandkids, and sometimes it was just them and the grandkids. They were our age and they were living the dream. Suddenly a Gollum-like lust engulfed me: “We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious.” This island was my “precious,” dammit. Why did New Jersey guy and his wife get to live the good life in the Caymans and we couldn’t? What were WW and I—chopped liver?
The week flew by (doesn’t it always when you’re having fun), and we didn’t wake up from our choke-hold of greed until we were in the cab going back to the airport. As we had done all week with anyone who served us, we asked the cab driver how long he had been living on the island, especially because he was an American and he was around our age.
Cabbie: “I’m from upstate New York. I came to the Cayman islands twenty years ago as a hotel manager. It was a great life until Hurricane Ivan struck in 2004. I lost everything (my house, my car, and my job) as did many of the other residents. There’s the hotel I managed over there on the left. It was never rebuilt—only the shell remains. The entire island was out of electricity for three months and out of water for two months. Sometimes it would take all day to queue up just to get a gallon of water. And the summer heat was off the charts. The hurricane sucked all the clouds and the trade winds out to sea while the mosquitos came up out of the swamps by the legions. I swear they were the size of helicopters. The very rich left on their private planes before the storm hit and hung out in one of their many other homes since they only come down here a couple of times a year. Many of the international hotel workers who escaped via the evacuation never returned since everything they owned was in their luggage and what got left behind was destroyed anyway. Everyone else who stayed was forced to keep their windows closed at night or the mosquitos would pick them up and carry them out to sea. It was either die of heat exhaustion or be eaten alive. Homeless families moved in with whoever still had shelter. It took us quite a while to get back on our feet as an island and we still haven’t gotten back to where we were before 2004. Poverty is at an all-time high, and the rich who use the Cayman’s as a second, third, fourth, or fifth home have driven the cost of real estate to the moon. None of the locals who work in the service industries can afford homes anymore, and there is very little rental property for local use. Because there are no taxes, the public schools are sub-standard (those who can send their children abroad to boarding schools), and the Island’s infrastructure is crumbling. So here I am driving a cab in my golden years when I should be retired in paradise, but at least I’ve got a job and a home. Have a safe trip back—I’d give anything to see snow again.”
As the sun set over the sea and we thought about the cab driver who was part of the 99% in the Cayman islands, WW and I got our sanity back, and thanked God for the “gift” of being able to experience a little piece of heaven. Then we promptly dropped our lust to be part of the 1% into the sea as we headed back home with grateful hearts that we didn’t have to permanently live in the tax sheltered shadows of the rich and famous.
I am discovering that there are respites in our lives that are given to us as gifts to revitalize and encourage us in our journey. They are meant to be enjoyed and relished. But the gifts are never meant to be lusted after and sustained for life. When that happens the respites are no longer gifts—they are heroin—and we will be consumed by our lust for them.
I am home now and it is freezing. I’m back at work to make money so that I can take another trip next year to bring WW and me another joy-infused vacation (somewhere world) because travel is our “joie de vivre.” We just won’t get greedy about it.
I am home now and my head hurts. Another racist low-life has disrespected President Obama by jamming her finger in his face as if he were her house-boy; Paula Deen has fallen into disgrace by hiding her diabetes diagnosis for years while foisting hamburger, egg and bacon, donut sandwiches laced with sweet tea on her fans; Demi Moore is in the hospital for substance abuse after being screwed over by a little boy, and the Republican Party is eating its own. But at least for a week, I got to go to heaven with the man I love and leave these types of troubles behind, and the Caymans gave me enough of a joy-infusion that it kept my head from exploding from all the crazies in the land.
Happy Birthday, my love!
“There is a very fine line between loving life and being greedy for it.” ― Maya Angelou
“Greed, envy, sloth, pride and gluttony: these are not vices anymore. No, these are marketing tools. Lust is our way of life. Envy is just a nudge towards another sale. Even in our relationships we consume each other, each of us looking for what we can get out of the other. Our appetites are often satisfied at the expense of those around us. In a dog-eat-dog world we lose part of our humanity.” ― Jon Foreman
All text and photos by Eleanor and John Tomczyk © 2011 , except where otherwise noted
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