Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure as hell buys security…and by “security” I mean the hulking kevlar-wearing Uzi-toting riot cop who stands sentry duty outside the gate of our compound in French Bay on Roatán, Honduras.
It’s November of 2019.1 I’ve travel-hacked my way to this gorgeous island, which lies smack in the middle of the Spanish Main, for next to nothing. The brethren and I have rented a beach house in a gated subdivision on the southwestern coast, and we’ve quickly homed in on the cheapest place to get Flor de Caña rum: the grocery in the nearby…well…the word “slum” comes to mind. So when The Thirst befalls us, which happens at preposterously frequent intervals, we call our driver and make a run to said grocery and stock up and head back to the beach and lay around slaking our throats and talking some epic shit.2
Today, however, we’ve gone fishing. After a day of reeling in one barracuda after another, the sun has exhausted us and we’ve tied up our boat at a restaurant in Coxen Hole for beer & shade. We’re munching fried lionfish and chips when a bloated white American cruise ship pulls up to the deepwater dock and disgorges a horde of bloated white American tourists. The brethren and I sit watching them float around town in a bubble of money and plainclothes guards, but soon I notice the skinny shirtless Honduran boy, barefoot and wearing a pair of ragged swim trunks, who’s sitting on the seawall staring at the ship like it voyaged here from an alien planet.
Which it did. Honduras is damn nearly a failed state, and even though the tourist $ means Roatán is better off than the mainland, outside the tourist areas you’ll still bump up against the kind of poverty that makes the squeamish avert their eyes. I get the sense this kid on the seawall knows absolutely and without a doubt that he’ll never set foot on a cruise ship unless he—and let’s call it what it is—sells himself into servitude with a company that can’t even be bothered to protect him from global pandemics.
So I feel bad for him…but then it hits me what a patronizing ass I’m being. Who am I, as a FIREee multimillionaire tourist who may very well never have to work another day in my life, to sit in judgment of other rich tourists? When I told my friends and family I was heading to Honduras on vacation they asked me why anyone in their right mind would visit the murder capital of the world. Cartels! Corrupt officials! MS-13! The water! But I assured them I’d be fine. “Roatán’s safe for tourists,” I said, “and if worst comes to worst, we can always bail out.” Implying, of course, that cost was no barrier to my quality of life.
I had an even uglier thought about cost v. quality of life that same night, when the brethren and I were sitting around our rental house watching the UFC 3 on stateside satellite. I was still pondering the cruise ship scene when it hit me how many of the TV commercials were for children’s hospitals. Right there on the screen: happy American children in the arms of their happy American parents; having been cured of horrible diseases by a high-grade healthcare system4 taken for granted by the citizens of the richest nation on earth. And this shit was being broadcast directly into shanties throughout the third world.
An awful, awful realization. As a parent myself I knew that if my daughter was in chronic pain from, say, spinal bifida, and if my family was so far gone in poverty that we couldn’t afford to get her treated, stateside commercials for children’s hospitals would drive me into a murderous rage.5
Sigh. Well, I’m far from the first rich white American male to suffer an existential crisis after confronting the plight of the poor. I mean, fuck, it’s like a tragedy only becomes tragic when I’m directly involved, and until then I couldn’t care less. Which is the hallmark trait of a narcissist. The question is, what am I gonna do about it?
I don’t know, man. Write somebody a check, I guess, and take the tax deduction.
The Honduran riot cop’s Uzi had a matte black finish, what looked to be a forty-round magazine, a tactical stock, and some kind of weird modified sight I’d never seen before. He had it slung around his neck in such a way that his hands never had to leave it. That weapon was a metaphor for something, but I wasn’t sure what. Nor did I want to know.
And then two weeks ago I was watching a live stream from the height of the Portland protests. A woman was waving a sign at the border patrol officers who were guarding the federal courthouse. It read: “You’re aiming the wrong way.” I agreed because our system is broken, but as a guy who’s got a considerable vested interest in it, I wondered which side of the barricades I belonged on.
- Back before all hell broke loose.
- To tell the God’s honest truth: a lot of us guys got real quiet and uncomfortable when Trump dismissed “grab ‘em by the pussy” as locker room talk. Shortly thereafter my wife and I were in the bathroom getting ready for something, I forget what, and she asked me, “Did you and your friends talk about me like that?” I held up my hands. “Oh, honey,” I said. “I would never.” Whereupon she called me a sexist pig and threw a tampon at my head.
- Masvidal v. Diaz.
- Yes, yes, I know.
- When I told my brother about this, he said, “If they can’t afford healthcare for their kids, they oughtta be saving their money instead of spending it on cable.” And I was, like, are you fucking kidding me?