Crocodile Island

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Havana, Cuba

“Ju like girls? Fuckin’ hot Cuban girls, mang? Ju like music? Buena Vista Social Club an’ shit? Yea! Ju like dancin’, salsa dancin’! Oh yea, ju like dancin’! I see ju like dancin’, baby! Where ju fron?”

Rus: New York

“Oh Nueva Jork! Yea, man, I gotta cousin in Nueva Jork! Man he in Queens, bro! Ju know Queens! Where ju fron?”

Rus: Brooklyn

“Oh yea, man, Brooklyn-Man! Fuckin’ Jay ZEEEE ‘n shit! Big-E-Smalls – dat shit’s tight. What’chu wan, bro? Smokes, ladies, Mary Jane, fuckin’ blow man, coke? Don’t worry, I hook it up, man! I got yo shit! Ju jus tell me an’ I gotchu!”

I can talk like this for hours.

We crawl the inky Havana streets and I fake-hustle my buddy into wretched temptation.

It was the only way we could get around Havana, day or night.

Jineteros, Cuba’s street hustlers, are everywhere. They pop out of doorways and run a long con. They know where you sleep. They wait for you to finish lunch. They watch you step into the street. These are the smooth, clingy, salesmen of the streets.

It goes a little something like this:

Hey, Hola! Where you from!

You don’t want to shake their hand. They hold their hand-shakable hand out. They keep it there, outstretched, hovering towards your heart. Patient. Finally, give in. You shake the hand.

Oh Nueva York! Yea! I gotta cousin/aunt who lives there!

Yea right.

Welcome to Cuba, man!

How nice, you smile.

How ju like my country?

You lie.

How long ju gonna be here?

You approximate.

Ju like music?

Of course you do.

Buena Vista Social Club! Fuckin’ salsa, right!

You’ve heard that CD.

Ju wan cigars man? I got the good fuckin’ Cohibas. The real deal, man.

You don’t smoke.

Ju like girls?

You like girls.

I got hot girls man! I make quick call. These girls are the hottest, bro!

Not those kind of girls.

Come inside here, man, let’s have a beer! You seem cool, man!

No, thanks.

Why!? You don’t like beer?

You like beer.

What ju don like?

You shrug.

Ok, I come walk around wit ju guys.

No, thanks

Ju guys come to my country and don’t want to meet any people?

Yes. Sí.

Alright, whatever! Ju guys are fuckin weird, man!

You’re making the locals angry.

We breathe. Rus says he would have handled that more efficiently with more New York fuck-off attitude. We turn the corner.


Hey! Where you from!

Huge, welcoming smile, hand-shakable hand…

& again,
& again,
& again.

Separating Havana from the sea is the malecon; a cement barricade, a wide sidewalk and an 8-lane boulevard. Teens chatting in groups sit on the barricade: smoking, dancing, making out.

The light turned red. We crossed.

In the middle of the road, two people stood in our way. One was a muscular dude in drag, and the other was his stocky, black-dressed sidekick. The big guy was a head taller than me. He rasped, “Hey baby, ju look so gooooooood, lemme take you home. Where ju staaaaaayin’?”

Rus and I looked at each other painfully. Dammit. We’d stopped the jinetero schtick for 10 seconds to walk across the street.

The big dude hugged my arms powerfully down to my sides. I was pinned in place. He did a grindy dance move that only Latinos can do — he swirled his crotch while whispering some sexy garbage in my ear.

No, no, no. Thanks. I smiled, I laughed. What else could I do? I looked at Rus pleadingly. The guy had me pretty tight. I could smell his squishy, purple lips. The light was still red, but the countdown was getting close.

Rus shouted: “Girls! Please. He’s mine!” He playfully pushed the huge dude aside and smacked my ass. He pulled my arm from my side, where the dude still had me gripped. We dashed across the street. I threw in a little skip move, for good measure. The light turned green. Cars from the 50’s grumbled and groaned. Old engines muttered curses in español. We didn’t look back.

At the far corner, I started my jinetero routine again immediately.

“Ju like big dicks bro? Big, fuckin’ thick, Latin cocks, mang?”

Two jineteros who were heading towards us shrunk away.

Rus: Let’s check the map.

DB: Ok — holy shit.

While the big queen held my arms, the quiet one had picked my pocket. The whole sex proposition was a ruse. Of course. What is more distracting than a six foot dude with lipstick doing a humpy dance in the middle of an 8-lane road?

Good thing that bulge in my back pocket had been a map. My money was safely stowed in my money belt, tucked into the front of my pants.