Kiki, My Beach Role Model
Kate and I bought a package tour to the Bahamas with Apple vacations; we took a charter flight to Nassau on Southeast Airlines, a carrier we’d never heard of, with a plane ten years older than normal, tiny aquamarine Sixties seats, and flight attendants that hadn’t been hammered into the effulgent Delta or Continental mold, quite.
Our companions on the plane (and through the whole trip), were pretty interesting: there was Hot Pink Dress with Thong Lines and Clear Plastic Heels Woman*, Blonde Woman With Goatee Gigolo Man (could also be referred to as Eighties Cappucino Maker Couple), and the Jane Austen Twins: outgoing junoesque woman with introverted rubenesque woman friend in tow. Oh, and there was The Cranky Family.
My favorite passenger, though, was Mellowest Man in the World, aka The Tarantino Traveller. His real name was Kiki, we learned later. Kiki was in his forties, black, with slightly relaxed hair and sharp lamb chop sideburns that reached to the corners of his mouth. He wore big biiiig sunglasses encrusted with gold, and an old-school walkman — metal band over the top, foam earpieces on the sides. Also: a Mediterranean-style medallion on a gold chain, an open-throat short sleeved shirt, and nylon clamdigger pants. And he looked tough.
Kiki sat in front of me on the flight down, and we went three hard-fought rounds over the seating: he reclined waaay back, then realized that my right knee was embedded in his kidney, sat up and started over. Then we sat next to each other on the jitney bus to the Nassau Beach hotel, where we got the “Welcome to the Bahamas, Now Relax, You Cranky Americans” lecture from the bus driver**.
It wasnt’ till we got off the bus that Kiki’s demeanor changed; he stepped out and everyone in front of the hotel burst into exclamations: “Kiki! No way, mon!”, and there was lots of touching of outstretched fists. (The accent is on the last syllable, by the way: “KiKI“!)
Sitting on the beach the next couple of days, we got the rest of the story by overhearing the beach vendors’ conversations: “What, you don’t want to go on my booze cruise? But we’re having a raffle, giving away a t’ousand dollars? Are you rich, from Beverly Hills, you pass up a t’ousand dollars? You marry a rich American, like Kiki?”, gesturing at the man himself, still in the shirt and clamdiggers, still with the Walkman, nodding his gold-encrusted and lamb-chopped head blissfully on a beach chair under a palm tree.
Kiki knew everyone on Cable beach: the guy who hacks open coconuts and makes Bahama Mamas in them (seven dollars), the T-shirt lady (Budweiser label shirt that says “Bahamas”, twelve dollars), the hair braiders with brushes and tools in black rolling suitcases (quarter-head $60.00, whole head $100.00, visited by every college student on the beach), the waverunner jockeys (half-hour $60.00, whole hour $120.00), and the parasail-boat operators (15 minute ride, $50.00, $5.00 to watch.) Plus the booze-cruise captains, the Banana Boat man, and the itinerant, backpack-wearing Cuban Cigar Seller (“Cuban Cigars! Let’s… Get… Smokinnnn!”)
Kate thinks that Kiki was a beach vendor that made good; married American and moved to Philadelphia. Not that the folks on the beach weren’t doing well: everyone seemed to own their own operations, and ran them any way they pleased. OUr parasail operators both had shirts emblazoned “J&R Watersports: Loved by Few, Hated by Many, Respected by All”), which I’m pretty sure is not the slogan of a large, centrally franchised organization.
Once or twice a day, Kiki would come over, do the fist-touching thing (“my man!”), and tell me about what he was listening to on his walkman. He was either blissfully happy, or incredibly stoned, or both, and he’d talk to everyone on the beach: Russian Countess woman, Austen couple number 2, Lonny (Chest-Fur Man Who Might Have A Toupee.)
We flew back with the same Apple Vacations crew, everyone dressed roughly the same but three to six shades browner, and Kiki had his tough-guy face on again once we boarded the bus at the hotel. The last we saw him, he was plugging a quarter into a payphone in the Philadelphia airport, maybe asking his rich American bride to come pick him up in a long limousine and a sable coat, with a fresh batch of tapes for his Walkman.
Come to think of it, Kiki didn’t have any luggage.
* Kate’s waxer-lady tells Kate all kinds of stories, like the woman who called her for an “emergency bikini waxing”, because she’d “just been given a trip to Jamaica at the last minute.” Kate’s waxer lady was pretty sure that the bikini waxing was a business expense, if you know what she means. And that she would have been wearing clear acrylic heels.
** THE CRANKY FAMILY (crankily): “Hey, where’s our luggage!?” PAUL, THE BAHAMIAN BUS DRIVER (in rich, measured Caribbean tones): “Don’t worry about luggage, my Aphrodites and Cleopatras! We have an application in to the government to turn the whole island into a nudist colony. If the luggage van pulls up to your hotel by two o’clock, our application was denied. If you don’t have your luggage by two o’clock, then strip!”