Forget the Ugly American. The year 2017 has given the world an even uglier thing. The Hungry Gringo.
He’s the gringo getting up very early and licking a piece of toast, then rushing to El Dorado airport. The gringo flying from Bogotá to Barranquilla on an Avianca short-hop that only serves coffee. The gringo rushing to catch a 30-passenger bus from Barranquilla to Valledupar, no time to eat.
The Hungry Gringo takes the last seat in the bus, by the window. He watches roadside vendors under little rickety shacks with palm-frond roofs. They fan themselves in the heat of the Caribbean coastal country. They eat slices of cold watermelon.
The Hungry Gringo feels a pang of jealousy, and hunger.
He sees street vendors move among vehicles at stop lights. The lanky brown merchants lop the tops off coconuts with their machetes, and they serve their little brown decapitations with jutting straws in happy colors. The Hungry Gringo watches passengers in lucky vehicles smile and sip sweet coconut juice.
The Hungry Gringo feels the kind of surge that Dr. Bruce Banner must feel just before he turns into Hulk.
The bus leaves bustling Barranquilla and rolls along the coast. Open grills along the highway send up aromatic clouds of smoke as they roast fresh red snapper and mojarra and other catch from the Caribbean. Giant stalks of ripe bananas sway on hemp cord in roadside shacks. Young shirtless entrepreneurs tap bus windows at stops and hold up fresh sliced pineapple, crunchy pastries, dripping Cokes, whole mangos. One seller flashes a 100-watt smile and lofts a net bag filled with roasted iguana eggs.
The Hungry Gringo once ate iguana eggs. He would eat them again now … net bag, eggshells and all.
In college in Alabama, the Hungry Gringo had a friend named Ralph. Ralph went squirrel hunting. Ralph was a good shot. Ralph brought home four squirrels.
Ralph invited his friends to a Cajun squirrel-and-rice supper.
Ralph set plates. He lit candles, filled glasses. (Nobody knew what kind of wine went best with squirrel, so we settled on Coors.)
Ralph spooned rice onto each plate, a prelude to the main course. He then reached into a stewpot with a pair of tongs and pulled out a boiled gray object the exact shape of a squirrel. Cajun squirrel is apparently a squirrel with no tail, hair, or head.
This minute, the Hungry Gringo would eat a Cajun squirrel. All four Cajun squirrels. And pinch the tails. And suck the heads.
The Hungry Gringo has become a thing the world fears.
The bus passes grazing Brahman cattle in a lush green field. The animals nod their heads and look the Hungry Gringo in the eye, and he knows they’re saying, Look! See us? We just bite the grass and chew and swallow. The GRASS, gringo! We’re full! We stay full all the time! Hahahaha!
The Hungry Gringo answers them telepathically: I’ll see you on a PLATE, suckers!
The bus rumbles past two Colombian buzzards perched on a power pole. The Hungry Gringo wonders if Colombian buzzards taste like chicken … with a certain je ne sais quoi.
The bus pulls up beside a chicken truck, a vehicle making a thousand complaints. Through dinosaur eyes, the plump white chickens leer at the Hungry Gringo. Yes, we taste exactly like chicken, they gloat, and they cackle little mocking chicken laughs. The Hungry Gringo seethes. He wants to fry them and boil them with dumplings and roast and broast and fricassee and sautee and poke a stick through them and rotisserie all 500, slowly dripping, over a blazing chicken-truck fire.
The Hungry Gringo has reached that uncomfortable moment on the bus when he begins to digest his own body. Auto-cannibalism. The Hungry Gringo can’t go on this way.
He turns to a kid in the next seat. Ricardo. A student of music production at a Barranquilla university. Ricardo likes reggaeton. He sports an earring. He wears a baseball cap flipped backward. It says LUXURY when you stand behind him.
You know what I miss? the Hungry Gringo asks. Ricardo stares. The Hungry Gringo speaks loudly and emphasizes each word. Do you know what I miss? From back in the USA?
Ah! Now the Hungry Gringo understands! This is one of those stupid, narrow, possibly dangerous people in the world who doesn’t speak English! Imagine! Born in Colombia, just three hours by plane from Miami, and he doesn’t speak English!
And Miami is so close to the United States. The Hungry Gringo thinks Trump should sign an executive order. When the Hungry Gringo is hungry, everyone on Earth should be required to speak English. No exceptions.
But the Hungry Gringo lowers himself. He will repeat his words in Spanish. He will attempt to communicate in the language that nearly 100 percent of people in the country of Colombia speak very, very well.
Ardillas! announces the Hungry Gringo. Squirrels!
Ricardo politely nods.
I … eat … Cajun squirrel … right … now, says the Hungry Gringo in flawless textbook Spanish.
Ricardo glances around, nervous. Maybe he wants to know how hard it will be for security to drag The Hungry Gringo off the bus like that United passenger in the viral video a few weeks back.
The Hungry Gringo chants in English again now. He sounds like a fasting monk with a meat rosary. A monk gone bonkers.
I would eat a big juicy fresh peach. I would eat a plate of fresh Alabama field peas. I would eat homemade ice cream churned by hand for two hours. I would eat a whole skillet of fried okra. I would eat barbeque ribs off the grill. I would eat a horse AND hors de oeuvres. I would eat a bowling ball. I would eat my own big toes …
Beware, world traveler! Spread the word! Warn others! The Hungry Gringo could sit down beside you at any moment.
Image: Shutterstock/Ilya Morozov
Charles McNair is Paste’s Books editor emeritus. He served the magazine as writer, critic and editor from 2005-2015.