What I Was Doing in Guam

GuamBlue04

When I tell people that I used to live in Guam, the usual reaction is, Guam? What were you doing in Guam? I tailor my replies based on the person asking the question. If there’s a risk of my husband or family being hurt or embarassed, I say, Oh, I worked in a bar. If the risk is only that the person may sneer or refuse to associate with me, I say, I was an exotic dancer. A stripper. Both statements are true. One is simply more precise than the other.

Guam. Oh, Guam. Haunted vortex of contradictions. I spent six months there in 1995. Six nights a week, I danced in seven inch platform heels. Vikings Tavern was on Tumon Bay, where most of the luxury hotels are located. At the time, it was considered the cleanest club on the island. If guys were looking to paw the dancers, they best go elsewhere.

The Japanese tourists, who often were accompanied by their wives, treated us like movie stars. The American military men treated us like sisters. It was easy to forget that I was naked, because they didn’t seem to notice. The club was tiny; the number of dancers hovered at around seven. Those of us on short term contracts lived in dancer housing. The other ladies, most of whom were married or in a relationship, had their own places. We had no choice but to get along, because the island was too small to escape from each other.

GuamBlue05

During the day, the other dancers were active. They’d go shopping or snorkeling or just lie on the beach. I was invited to do these things, but I usually prefered to lie in bed with the curtains drawn, too exhausted to be envious of their energy. In my six months on the island, I managed to make it to Two Lover’s Point, Jeff’s Pirate’s Cove, and to an eerie, hidden water hole that was known only to the locals.

Women sometimes become strippers to feed an addiction – to drugs, alcohol, sex, attention, etc. Looking back, I see that I was no different. My addiction was travel. Escape. But I couldn’t even hide from myself in Guam.

GuamBlue03

In 1998, I went back to Guam for six weeks. I’d been working as a travel agent for a couple of years, so I knew that I was capable of having a respectable job. My friends talked me into one last quick fling on the stage. Besides, my new job had fallen through and I needed the money.

Vikings Tavern was different. Breezy Ryder, the dancer whom I was closest to, had died of an overdose. Two of the ladies I worked with were still there, but the others were new. Guam was different. Tahiti Rama and Wet Willie’s beach bars were slated for demolition, making way for high rise hotels. I was different. Two days after my arrival, I met the man who was to become my husband. Though I didn’t know it yet. After he went home, we communicated via staticky phone calls. Alone or with other dancers, I spent the days exploring the places I missed the first time: Ritidian Point, Piti Bomb Holes, War in the Pacific National Park, the Umatic fiesta. One day, all of us met up for a stripper field trip to Talofofo Falls. We promised ourselves that we’d make these outings a regular occurence, but it never came to pass. I left Guam shortly thereafter.

GuamBlue01

**A short passage about Guam is in my memoir, but I thought I’d post a short excerpt from my novel, Blue, which was published by a Canadian small press in 2006. The novel is about the world of exotic dancing and some of it takes place in Guam. It’s not autobiographical, but some of the characters are based on the colorful people I met. This is a relatively tame excerpt, but it’s best avoided by those who are offended by adult language and situations.**

As I stepped off the plane, bleary-eyed from jet lag, the humid air hit me like the hot breath from a giant beast. It had a ripe, organic, and not altogether unpleasant odor. It smelled like foliage in a state of constant decay.

“Who are you?” said Annie, the manager of Castaways, when I called the club. “What do you want?”

I could have been concerned about this, but since they’d already paid for my ticket, I figured they’d have to give me a job.

I passed through the sliding opaque doors. A man emerged from the crowd. He lifted his chin at me, “You Blue?”

I nodded.

“The car is this way.”

I followed him outside the terminal. The dense air clung to my clothes and body, adding to the dinginess I had already acquired from the twenty-hour journey.

“We gotta go to the club and get the key for the condo,” Horace said. He had bulging eyes and a twitchy smile. I would soon learn that they were the result of an ice habit. At least the place had bouncers, I reminded myself. Not like the Pink Palace, where the girls had to fend for themselves.

Metallica bounced out of the doors into the nearly empty parking lot. The beach was across the street.

“It don’t get pumpin’ until about eleven on weeknights,” Horace informed me.

I reached for my suitcases.

He said, “Leave them. We’ll only be a few minutes.”

I looked at the entrance of the club. The doorway was partially hidden by fake foliage: palm trees and hibiscus flowers. As we approached the door I saw the flowers had faded from red to a coral peach color and were covered with mold. The plastic coconuts on the palm trees had graffiti written on them like, Maria’s hooters or My balls after looking at Maria’s hooters. The Castaways sign hung over the door by one hinge. But I figured it was meant to be that way.

There were two fish tanks inside the club. In the brochure they were brightly lit and filled with jewel-colored fish. Times had changed. The one behind the bar was dark and empty except for boxes of straws and stir sticks. The one that formed the wall between the entryway and the club was inhabited by one enormous, sickly orange-colored carp that barely had enough room to turn around as he made lazy laps back and forth in his murky home. He was the sole survivor of what were once the pretty little fish.

Everything had lost its color. The candy-colored walls were mere pastel shadows. The neon palm trees gracing the sides of the stage glowed inconsistently so one’s imagination was needed to see that they were, in fact, palm trees and not abstract designs there just for the hell of it. The neon tubing around the base of the stage was still intact, as was the shower that was set into the wall above the left side. At the bottom of the stage, in the middle of the bar, was a giant glass pole. Bubbles frothed inside, and the color changed hue every few seconds. To the right of the stage was the red curtain hiding the dressing room.

A tall brunette whipped the curtain aside and screamed, “Put me up will ya, goddammit, Annie!”

A gaunt redhead with breasts like overripe watermelons stood behind the bar. She squinted behind her glasses and dug through a box of tapes. She put in a tape that moaned with the strain of countless plays.

The dancer, who appeared to be of South American, pranced onto the stage, throwing her arms into the air as if to say, I’m here, worship me!

The guys jumped as if startled. The girl was stunning: perfect natural body and a smile so bright it hurt to look at it. She exuded hot Latin sexuality and she knew it. She tossed her wild brown curls back and forth and growled at the audience. She slapped her ass and hissed, “Oh yeah. Do it to me hard, baby.”

A guy near the stage laughed and gave her a little tap. “Harder, harder!” she yelled, bouncing up and down on her heels. Please, please, please.

He shrugged and laid a good one on her and she screamed, “Oh yeah!”

For her second song she stripped and got into the shower. She squeezed shampoo between her breasts. It curved like a fluorescent river down the length of her body. At the right moment she tilted her pelvis up so that it slithered between her legs. The guys cheered as she lathered up, massaging herself everywhere.

I felt myself getting hot and turned away, embarrassed.

She sauntered out of the shower with a towel wrapped around her head. She threw another towel down on the stage; she twisted down to the guys, mopping up the excess water. Her jubilant tits bounced up and down like those dots at the bottom of a karaoke video.

A dainty black girl at the bar said, “So what do you think?”

“I just want to go home,” I said and yawned.

“That bad, huh?”

“Oh no! I mean, I’m exhausted from the flight. I just want to get some sleep. The place is fine. Not posh, but it’ll do.” Compared to the Pink Palace, it was heaven.

She nodded and turned to her drink. She didn’t introduce herself.

“I’m Blue,” I volunteered. “What’s up with the fish?”

“Oh, that’s Otis. Our mascot. I’m Tina, but my stage name is Brandy. Blue’s not your real name, is it?”

“Actually it is. I don’t use a stage name because of it.”

“You wouldn’t have to,” she snorted. “These losers would never believe it’s your real name.” Her smile seemed a bit sad, as if she tried to psych herself up for the long night ahead. Finishing her drink in one gulp, she pushed back from the bar. “Time to get all dolled up. Welcome to Guam.”

*************************************************************************************

I’ve received hundreds of emails regarding this post. It seems to attract people who feel entitled to something – a free ebook, my time and energy, etc – but who are incapable of saying “please” or “thank you”.  I am not here to promote your stripper memoir, help you track down the stripper that you’re obsessed with, do research on clubs for you, and so on. All emails regarding this post will no longer be responded to.

Haunted Guam

On the island of Guam, belief in the the spirit world endures. The Taotao Mo’na are ancestral spirits that are said to inhabit banyan trees. If you come upon these trees, you must ask permission to pass. If permission is not granted they will pinch you hard enough to leave a bruise.

It is very common to have bruises after walking in areas where these trees are found. In 1995, I lived in Guam for six months. I took these photos when I went to a little known swimming hole with some acquaintances, including the charming dude who was the inspiration for “Bub”, a character who appears in my short story below.

A few thickets of Taotao Mo’na trees dotted the perimeter. A couple of us asked permission, but the guys scoffed. We swam for a while and then sunned ourselves on the rocks. While we were talking we heard a quiet, but agitated murmuring coming from all around us. When we fell silent, it stopped. We all heard it, and tried several times to catch it by quickly falling silent. As we gathered our things to leave, I was knocked to the ground. It was as if someone had pulled my legs out from under me. The rock was dry and I was simply standing and waiting for the others. Of course, I found a bruise on my backside later. When we told some locals about the voices that we heard, they said that it is typical of the Taotao Mo’na as well. Oh, and we were supposed to ask permission in the Chamorro language. Duh.

I realize that there could be scientific ways to explain the bruises – something in the environment that leaches the nutrients that prevent bruises, etc. But the whole experience was unnerving.


On Guam, time passes in a haze for many transplants from the mainland. Those who move there to escape.

Here is a story that I wrote based on the Taotao Mo’na legend. As I mentioned above, the Bub character is based on a real dude. I have an epic photo of him that I had to restrain myself from posting. Not that he’d ever find this blog, but maybe he’s mellowed out over the years and is sorry for his behavior.

 

Some Eternal Evening

The darkness has begun to speak. Incoherent whispers emerge from all around, fluttering like bat wings. I curl into myself and cover my ears. I don’t dare move for fear that I’ll end up like Bub and Tanya. The precipice is so near.

* * *

“Bub!” Tanya hollered and waved her hand frantically. A beefy guy with sun-bleached hair made his way over to us. Bub’s real name was Roland or Cecil or some such inappropriate name. I wondered if I was the only one who noticed the menace that lurked behind his goofy smile. He enfolded Tanya in his embrace and led her away.

I propped myself against a palm tree and looked on as the others participated in the festivities. Tanya had talked me into coming to this motley gathering of construction workers, strippers, beach bums, military, and drug dealers. All of them sun-charred, brain dead, and hiding out from something. No wonder the Spanish explorers had called Guam the “Island of Thieves”. I scanned the beach in hopes of seeing others from the hotel where Tanya and I work. Seeing none, I sighed and resigned myself to a long night.

Bub looked like a T. Rex when he danced. He lurched back and forth, his arms drawn up close to his body, his teeth bared in a reptilian smile. He made his rounds, throwing fake punches at the guys and bellowing, “Pussy!” when they flinched. The others backed away from him, laughing uneasily. His antics weren’t funny, but no one was brave enough to criticize Bub. I hovered on the perimeter of the party, willing myself to be invisible to him. I was relieved when people began to straggle to their cars. Soon I would be back in my cozy room, curled up with my book and silence.

Tanya stumbled toward me, a bleary-eyed grin on her face.

Bub burst out of the shadows behind her and tackled her in a bear hug. “Hey girls, let’s go four-wheelin’ on the beach!” he roared. “I wanna show you this cool cave I found the other day!”

His beer stench made my eyes tear up. I grimaced at Tanya.

She beamed at him and said, “Yeah! There’s a full moon out tonight. It will be awesome!”

Bub looked at me. His eyes pulled into slits. His stringy blonde hair hung over his ruddy jowls. “What’s the matter, Sarah? Don’t be such a killjoy!” he bellowed.

The word killjoy echoed through my brain like a sinister schoolyard taunt. Bub became every leering, jeering bully condensed into one.

A violent contempt welled up in me, but I hid it behind a yawn. “I’m fine. Just a little tired.”

Tanya looked at Bub and rolled her eyes. “We’ll miss you if you don’t come,” she said.

I wanted to slap the fake smile off her face. The last of the partiers had gone, so I had no other ride home. And haoles didn’t walk anywhere after dark, unless they wanted to get jumped by drunken Chamorros. I was at their mercy, and they knew it.

“Okay then,” I said, baring my teeth in a mock smile. “Let’s go!”

* * *

The darkness shifts. Colors swirl and flash before my eyes like a macabre kaleidoscope. There is silence now. A catacomb stillness that makes my ears ring. Gooseflesh rises on my arms. I tense up, awaiting a stirring of the air next to my ear and a forceful, taunting Boo. I wish the whispers would come back.

* * *

Bub squealed out of the parking lot. Tanya and I threw our arms up to shield ourselves from the gravel that rained down on us. We sat in back of the Jeep, because the front passenger seat was torn off. The upholstery smelled of puke and cheap beer.

A large, muddy puddle loomed before us. Bub sped up and plowed through it, drenching Tanya and me in the foul water. We cried out in disgust. Bub had to pull over, because he was laughing so hard.

Tanya laughed, but it was a flimsy sound. I sat there stone silent, my contempt turning into a slow burn rage. KilljoyKilljoyKilljoy ranted through my mind. Bub composed himself and pulled back onto the road that led to the sparsely populated side of the island. He switched on the radio. Island rap blared out of the battered speakers. Tanya leaned forward and took a swig of Bub’s whiskey. He reached over and tousled her hair. I unclenched my jaw and settled back into my seat. This is what I got for going out with them.

* * *

I could have tried to crawl out of here, feeling my way along inch by inch. But it’s been too long now. I passed out from shock when Bub and Tanya vanished into the void. I awoke to vertigo, which has left me disoriented and nauseous. The primeval damp envelops me like the stale breath of some giant beast. Why didn’t the abyss take me as well?

* * *

Bub swerved onto the beach. On the radio, a Don Ho-esque voice crooned “Some Enchanted Evening”.

“Enough of that shit,” Bub said. He turned off the radio and headlights. The moon hung low in the sky, a plump, pearly orb. It cast a spectral glow on the waves. The only sound was that of the sea swishing against the Jeep’s wheels.

“God, what a beautiful night,” Tanya whispered.

I nodded. Maybe this would make up for Bub’s nonsense. It’s true that I never would have seen this had I stayed home.

“Isn’t this Chamorro land out here?” Tanya asked.

“Chamorros don’t come here because they say it’s haunted,” Bub answered. “Inbred pieces of shit.” He let out a loud belch and wiped his lips with the back of his hand. He pulled onto a narrow strip of land that wound around the side of a cliff. A tuft of clouds obscured the moon. He turned his headlights back on. “I’ve never been out here at night before.”

“How’d you find this place, anyway?” Tanya asked.

“Me ‘n Surfer Don came out here one day before he went back to the mainland. He’s the only person who knows about this place, other than the Chamorros. And they won’t even talk about it.” He pulled around the side of a cove and shut off the motor. “Okay, now we walk.”

Bub leaned over and riffled through his glove compartment. He pulled out a battered flashlight. “The batteries are pretty new in this. I think.” He laughed quietly.

Tanya’s mouth curled into an unconvincing smile. I turned away as if I hadn’t seen it. She didn’t deserve my reassurance. Bub led us up a short path. A small thicket of Taotao Mo’na trees spread their cobwebby tendrils around the base of a cliff. Taotao Mo’na meant “the people before history”. The trees were said to be their dwelling place.

“Hold this, will ya, Tanya?” Bub handed the flashlight to her and pulled a couple of the trees aside. “Okay, this is it.”

* * *

Laughter now. It whips against me as punishment for surviving. I whimper and try to shield myself. I was happy when Bub was taken and not me. And I can’t, I won’t conjure up any remorse for him. Tanya’s face haunts me, though. She didn’t deserve to die like that. The darkness constricts. I gasp for air. If only I were brave enough to throw myself into the pit.

* * *

“Wait a minute,” Tanya said. “Aren’t we supposed to ask permission first?”

I looked at her and nodded, surprised that she knew about the legend.

“Oh, I forgot about that,” Bub said. He pulled his dick out of his shorts and pissed on the trees.

“Bub!” Tanya gasped.

I bristled and turned away.

Tanya grabbed the flashlight and plunged into the tunnel. Bub shoved me aside and followed. I reached out and stroked a branch.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, hoping they wouldn’t hold me responsible for Bub’s desecration. Then I followed them inside.

The ceiling pressed down on us. “I hope it doesn’t get any smaller, because I’m not crawling on this slimy ground,” I said.

Bub turned to me. The flashlight glow cast an orange halo around his head, throwing most of his face into shadow. “Don’t worry, you fucking sissy,” he snarled. “It opens up soon.”

“Oh wow!” Tanya gasped. “Check this out, you guys.”

The cramped tunnel opened up into a subterranean cathedral. Stalagmites shot up from the ground like organ pipes. Multi-colored mineral deposits shimmered in the light.

“I have something even better to show you,” Bub said. He took the flashlight from Tanya and slipped into another tunnel.

Tanya and I scurried after the fading light.

I stopped. “We should count the turns.”

She pushed me. “C’mon. We need to stay with the light.”

Bub stood at the end of a long corridor. Stalactites hung from the ceiling like fangs. A black chasm gaped behind him.

“C’mere, girls,” he said. I fell back and let Tanya pass. He put his arm around her and bellowed, “Look out! You might fall in!”

“Stop fucking around, Bub!” she screamed. “That’s not funny!”

Bub’s raucous laughs boomed in the stillness. He let her go, but she hadn’t regained her footing. She teetered for a second, her face frozen in a look of hurt disbelief. Then she fell. Our screams were a chorus of betrayal and shock. Tanya’s scream receded, and then vanished.

A long instant of silence, and then Bub turned to me. “I didn’t mean it,” he whined. “I was only goofing around.”

A white-hot rage tingled through me.

The petulant look on his face dissolved into silent menace as realization crept into his brain: I was a witness. He took a step toward me.

I ran up to him and pushed. Over he went, squealing like a boar. I threw my head back and screamed, “Killjoy!” My laughs leaped into the pit and echoed back up to me. Then I looked down at the flashlight that was rolling, rolling towards the edge. And over.

* * *

The darkness enfolds me in its embrace. Melodic chants caress my mind. The air stirs, a soft, tickling breeze like a sleeping lover’s breath. It beckons me forward. And I crawl.