It was dusk. I was walking through Bocas town with Toni wearing short pants and a t-shirt, a ball cap, and my backpack with chancleta on my feet. Willie stopped his rusty old bicycle next to me and said, “Weed, Weed?”
I find it a bit odd that he even asks me, a man in my mid 60’s. Then again, why not? Lot’s of gringos still smoke dope. “Look, Mate, give it a rest. No, I don’t want any weed. You ask me every night, and I tell you the same damn thing. That was in another lifetime. Don’t you recognize me as the guy who always says, no?”
His broad white smile opened across his black face. “And I always tell you white people all look the same to me.”
His lack of prosperity doesn’t say much for the drug trade, but he has reached a level of infamy, as everyone in town knows him as Weed Willie.
I like nicknames. Maybe it’s because I never had one. Maybe it’s because I have a hard time remembering names, but never forget a nickname. With a name like John, you would think I would need one to differentiate me from others in a place where there are a lot of John’s and no one knows your last name. When I was in the Navy, I was called by my middle name, Ross, but that’s not a nickname.
Here in Bocas, there are those who are great friends, and have been great friends for years, but don’t know your last name. I like that.
There is Hostel Heike, who owns a hostel, of course. That’s a good nickname. It speaks to her character as well as what she owns. I bet she is from Germany. There is a hostel in town called Hostel La Vista. That’s a great name. It sticks with you. I wonder if Hostel Heike owns Hostel La Vista. That would be perfect.
Chris Fish sold fish, of course, but he can’t get fish anymore from Panama City, so now he makes sausage. I wonder why he isn’t called Fish Chris, or if he will be called Sausage Chris before too long. Its too bad about the fish. I liked him. He was careful to make sure he only had fresh fish from the sea. He told me not to eat tilapia, junk fish raised in tanks fed chicken waste, or the trout, farmed in Chirique since they are fed liver pills loaded with chemicals.
There is also Wifi Gary. He installed the wifi in the marina, and is always fixing it and upgrading the equipment. Gary is about my age, clever and friendly. He is clever enough, I guess, to keep getting calls to fix it. I wonder if he bills by the hour. Gary is building a grocery store on Red Frog to expand his empire. I wonder if he will get a new nickname.
Last week, I stepped onto the water taxi to town at the Red Frog Marina dock. DC was coming down the dock (that’s his real name) asked where Gary was. One guy said that he was on his way to Almirante in another boat.
I said, “Which Gary?”
DC said, “Wifi Gary.”
“I just saw him up in the villa reception area on the phone.”
Nicknames are much better than last names. They set you apart, especially when no one knows your last name.
A few days ago, someone asked me if I saw the infection on Skinny Bob’s leg. No, I hadn’t, but I have no interest in Skinny Bob’s legs when he DOESN’T have an infection. However, the reference to Skinny Bob was all I needed to get the picture. Here in the tropics, you really can get an ugly infection. Skinny Bob had such a bad infection, he put out a call on the local radio for help in getting antibiotics. I haven’t heard about him lately. I hope he is OK.
There are sailors here in Panama from all over the world. The people from New Zealand have the same nickname. You guessed it; they are all called Kiwi. There is Kiwi Dave, who is a great welder, if you can find him. Now, I hope no one gets offended, but I never met a Kiwi or an Aussie who wasn’t at least half crazy, but in a good way. Actually, I don’t care if you do get offended.
There is Diesel Jeff, who is the best around if you need your engine fixed. Jeff is short. Nowadays, no one gets nicknamed based on size or shape. People get too easily offended. Years ago, if you are a big guy, you might get nicknamed Tiny. No one would want to be called Tiny Tim.
When I was in the Navy, I had a good friend named Shelby Berryhill. He was an Indian, the kind with feathers, not dots. He was called, Chief, of course. Back then, all the Indians were called Chief, just like the Juicy-Fruit chewing Indian in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
I subscribe to a weather service for sailors. A guy named Stormy does the forecasts. See? I can remember his name.
Gee, I wish I had a nickname.