A Grump in Paradise discovers that anyplace it’s legal to carry a machete is comedy just waiting to happen
Q: You rescue stray cats, you’re devoted to your wife, and you generally come across as a pretty decent human being. So, what makes you a rotten person, as the title of your book states?
Gary Buslik: I speak for the rotten person in all of us. I give voice to oppressed American travelers, especially these days, when the dollar is worth less than toilet paper and is sometimes used as such in Third-World airport bathrooms. Think of me as a travel messiah.
Q: Some of the exploits you describe are pretty far-fetched. Peeing on Idi Amin’s feet? A dinner invitation from Princess Diana? How much of the material in these tales is real, how much is made up, and how much is, well, gently embellished?
Gary Buslik: For the sake of storytelling and comic effect I’ve embellished some details and exaggerated some characters, but other than that every episode in A Rotten Person Travels the Caribbean is essentially true. Except for the acknowledgements, in which I completely made up the names of those people I want to thank. The truth is, I don’t really want to thank anyone, and I wouldn’t have anyone to thank even if I did. No one helped me write this book, no one gave me the least bit of encouragement, and, in fact, several threatened my life.
Q: What originally attracted you to the Caribbean?
Gary Buslik: Romance. One night shortly after we met, when my now-wife and I finished making love, she sighed, “There must be more to life than this.” So I suggested getting married and honeymooning in Branson, Missouri, to see Andy Williams. Instead, she bought a travel magazine, pointed to a picture of a hammock strung between palm trees and said, “Buy it for me.” She meant the Caribbean, not the hammock, because that’s how my wife thinks. I was just starting out then, so I could not afford to actually buy the entire region. But adoring my wife and not wanting her to think I was a piker, off we went to Jamaica to look over our future acquisition.”
Q: Can you share with us the biggest life lesson you’ve learned while traveling throughout the Caribbean?
Gary Buslik: Indeed I can, and this from personal experience. When sneaking Cuban cigars past customs, do not separate them. At the Miami airport, security agents are highly trained to spot individual cigars on an X-ray screen. If you are caught, they will waterboard you until you confess to having understated the total value of cocktail stirrers you brought back into the country, and they will cavity-search your wife for rubber alligators. They will also confiscate your Big & Buxom Biker Chicks magazine. On the other hand, if you tie your Cuban cigars together, they will merely show up on the screen as a bundle of dynamite, and you’ll zip through customs like a VIP.
Q: Do you have a favorite Caribbean locale?
Gary Buslik: I’m very fond of the Dutch islands, such as St. Maarten, Curacao, and Aruba. The Dutch run their tourism-related businesses cleanly and efficiently, in order to make up for the fact that you have to dig up tulip bulbs and replant them every spring. Also, for some reason the Dutch are funnier than other people when they’re drunk. They tend to climb palm trees for no particular reason and fall on their heads. I suspect this has something to do with tulip bulbs.
Q: You’ve sampled a great deal of island culture during your travels. What aspects of the Caribbean do you find particularly interesting, from a historical perspective?
Gary Buslik: I’m intrigued by the number of Jewish synagogues which all claim to be the first in the Western Hemisphere. Almost every island has one, which you can visit for normally five dollars, but for you, three-fifty. On several islands the synagogues themselves are gone, but we know that there must have been thriving pre-Columbian Hebrew communities there because you can still see plaques on ancient volcanic boulders that say, “Gift of Sam and Bessie Fleischman.”
Q: How did you start doing travel writing?
Gary Buslik: Because I graduated college with a degree in English, I had absolutely no idea how to make an honest living. For four years I had lied to my parents, who believed I was attending law school. When I finally got outed as a literature major, my poor mother cried for months, and my father would stride around the house ranting, “Big man! He knows the parts of speech!” After he kicked me out and disowned me, I lived in the airport for a while reciting Henry James for spare change. One day a veteran travel writer took pity on me and showed me how, by making hotel and restaurant owners believe I would write good reviews about them, they would give me free rooms, meals, and drinks. So I managed to forge a useless degree into a rewarding lifestyle.