We drove a beat-up Toyota pickup with ‘shower-curtain’ fenders. By that I mean, many of the supporting devices that held the car’s body to the frame had rusted out. Thus, things like the fenders just swung back-and-forth, barely hanging on. What was once a proud product of Japanese engineering was now a rust bucket, highlighted here and there with the original green paint. If our ride was a scientific experiment, we could’ve deduced that a mixture of sea water, mud, and scarce cleaning will eventually make a car disappear.
One day my buddies and me decided to do something about our mechanized rust bin. We dedicated a week to car maintenance; it was more out necessity than desire. We literally had to do something proactive, or we would be car-less. Walking or even biking was not our desire. Fixing the pickup body would be the best short-term solution.
We rounded up some autobody filler, fiberglass and resin, and primer and went to work. After a few days of semi-intense work, our finished product still looked like hell, but the holes were filled and patched. And our year-and-a-half-old ride would hold for another year, we hoped! Nobody on the island gave us any guff about our crappy-looking pickup though; theirs, if they had one, likely looked the same as ours or much worse.
There were a few people who lived on the island that were not native Yapese. If one took a count, the numbers in 1983 when I arrived would’ve revealed that between three and four thousand native Yapese lived on the island. Another roughly one thousand ‘outer islanders’ also called it home. And maybe a couple hundred non-islanders lived there, as well. Most of the non-islanders were Australians, Russians, Filipinos, and Americans.
Speaking of outsiders, the sickest thing I saw one day that nearly made my stomach heave was an older white lady who decided to dress ‘island style’ and go without her shirt and bra. It just wasn’t a good look for her. Obviously, nobody had enough courage to tell her so, because she went parading herself through Colonia – the business center of the island – with impunity. I don’t know why I was so turned-off by her appearance. Maybe because she was white as a sheet and just looked stupid and out of place. When in Rome, you don’t always have to do as the Romans!
But, you know, all of us outsiders were trying to fit in as best we could. I think if a poll was taken, it would reveal that we all loved the island and the people. It was our home, or at least we were trying to make it so. Well, all but maybe one. He was one of the guys in my group we nicknamed ‘Gilligan.’ He wore that moniker well – a kid from California, USA. He did not try to fit in nor did he like living there. And sadly he said as much; I was embarrassed for him.
He ranted against the socio-economic system and made himself look like an ass more than once, as he challenged some of our low caste friends to ‘climb out of their oppressed state and become equals with their high caste peers.’ They looked at him with that sideways glance as if to say, “What the hell would you have us do, smart ass? Don’t come to our place and try to change everything. If you don’t like our system, then leave!” He was used to the big city. Island living cramped his style. After a few months, he left; nobody missed him.
But I just have to tell a story about that guy. This tale speaks to his demeanor and character. One day, we got invited to some Filipinos’ house for dinner. Now if you haven’t tried Filipino cooking, you should! It’s fabulous, which is the reason that I and my three friends, including Gilligan, were so excited. We were going to eat somebody else’s cooking for a change! It was a big deal.
As we were gathering around the table, eyeing all the luscious food in front of us, Gilligan noticed a large platter containing a vine of ‘boonie’ peppers. We were informed that those peppers were nearly the hottest in the world; whether that is fact or not, I’m not sure. What I did know was that one small seed from a boonie pepper would change a cup of soy sauce into a mouth-burning caldron. I experienced that only a few days before, so I had it on firsthand knowledge.
Anyway, Gilligan hadn’t tried any boonies yet. But he was sure that they were not any hotter than all the peppers he had eaten as a kid in Northern California. So, he grabbed a few and crammed them into his mouth and began chewing them like they were nothing.
Our hostess cautioned him before he ate, but his bravado was too much. He wanted to prove his mettle as a pepper connoisseur, I guess. We all watched with anticipation and glee as he chewed those peppers. Suddenly, his eyes began to water profusely, and his breaths turned to raspy heaves deep in his chest. His face turned crimson; the peppers fell out of his frothing mouth, and within seconds he panicked and began screaming for help, literally. But his screams were more like gasping hacks because his vocal cords were on fire.
The little Filipino hostess grabbed him around the collar with the ease of a bar bouncer, marched him over to the kitchen sink, tipped his head back, and poured thick coconut milk down his throat! As all this action was taking place, the rest of us sat back trying with all our might not to burst into laughter. It was by far the best entertainment we had witnessed in weeks.
Gilligan stumbled back to the table after ten or 15 minutes of standing at the sink guzzling coconut milk. His vocal cords were still on fire and not yet suited for talk, but he was able to grunt and motion that he was still alive and would likely recover. I think he learned a valuable lesson that day. That is, ‘when in Rome, don’t do as the Romans unless you’re sure you can handle the outcome!’
A few weeks after the pepper incident, Gilligan left Yap and moved his one-man act to Guam. But his legacy lives on in the minds of the rest of us who still laugh when we think of boonies.