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Interlude III: Send Liquor, Guns and Germans

PANAJACHEL–Years ago I was staying at a small hotel surrounded by jungle on a tributary of the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. The night was heavy with humidity, isolation and the smell of decaying vegetation. We sat in a small electric island surrounded by wet forest.

There was an older German man who was very drunk. He bought round after round of drinks even when no one wanted any more. He asked repeatedly that we follow him to his house when the bar closed to celebrate his birthday. Like many Northern Europeans, he walked a fine line between a near-morbid curiosity of Americans and statements of his own political superiority that bordered on the grossly insulting.

Suddenly he lunged forward and pulled a shotgun from its hiding place behind the bar. He held it with inexpert hands, and the 12 gauge bore passed us all. The bar went silent and no one moved. I reached over and gently took it from him, turned the muzzle to the thatched ceiling and handed it back to the bartender who put it out of reach.

The sound of the forest was very loud. The German looked at all the faces, still stunned, staring at him.

“What?” he said, “What did I do?” He was honestly surprised. I put my hand on his thick shoulder.

“Hans,” I said, “You never, ever take the gun from behind the bar. You don’t do that.”

He hunched over, chastened, looking small, all 58 years and 200 lbs of him. “I. Didn’t. Know. That. They don’t teach us that in Germany. I am in Guatemala. I was being fun.”

“Now you know.”

The party was over and one by one people drifted away. The last I saw, Hans was still trying to explain himself and order more rum.

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