Back in 2015, I spent a few days in a small hostel in Cali, Colombia after playing at Sancocho Fest in Tuluá.
I was just relaxing most days, working on my Spanish or playing guitar. Every morning I would make myself a cup of coffee, fry a few eggs, and sit on the front stoop watching the locals move about and writing in my journal.
This morning started out no different when I groggily made my way to the communal kitchen. As I beelined for the coffeemaker, I bade good morning to a portly and disheveled guy in his mid-thirties who was cooking up a big pot of some kind of soup. He said good morning back to me in a thick New Jersey accent and I quietly began making my coffee. A fellow US citizen, wow, I thought. Not too common in most parts of Colombia.
He broke the short silence. “Hey bro, if the cops come, I just want you to know… I am not… gay.”
I kind of chuckled bewilderedly… “Uhhh… okay?”
“That dude in there, he tried to make out with me.”
“I was taking a nap on the couch bro, and he tried to fucking kiss me. Like, I’m not gay dude.”
“I mean, I don’t care if you a—”
“I was MARRIED… bro… there’s no way I could be gay.”
I stared at the coffeemaker with laser-vision… come on you son of a bitch, brew… BREW!
“Yea, that checks out I guess…” I answered, trying to escape the conversation.
“If the cops come,” he repeated, “I need you to call the American embassy, okay? Tell them I am an American citizen and I’m just here to teach English. Tell them I’m NOT GAY.”
“I mean I don’t care if you’re gay or not but you insisting that you’re not is making me think you are gay.”
He shakes his head in disgust. “No bro… I was married to my ex-wife for SIX… YEARS… BRO… call her. She will tell you, I’m not gay.”
I chuckled and involuntarily rolled my eyes. “Nah I’m good, I believe you, dude.”
The drip of the coffee slowed. I abandoned my morning breakfast and decided to grab the coffee and make a break for my room.
“Hey uhhh, good luck with this whole thing… whatever this is,” I quickly commented as I hightailed it out of the kitchen. What a weird dude.
I made it back to my room (I had opted for a private room since I was pretty flush with cash at the time) and started doing a little computer work while I let the caffeinated nectar of life permeate into my veins.
Some time passed. I was starting to get pretty damn hungry. I ate an apple I had in the room, but it didn’t hold me over for long. I looked at the time. It had been a couple of hours since I’d left the kitchen. Surely he’s gone by now… I decided to go for it.
I peeked my head out. No sign of the weird guido on the second-floor common room outside my door. I headed downstairs, past the woman working the front desk, and back into the kitchen.
There he was, still stirring his big pot of god-knows-what. Fuck it. I needed to eat. I nodded at him and headed towards the fridge. Silence for the first few moments, and then…
“Are you Jewish, bro?” he asked.
“Oh, so you’re Catholic then?”
“Those are my options?”
“Well I’m Catholic…”
“That’s how you know I’m not gay.”
Oh for fuck’s sake.
“Dude, I don’t get it, what is the big deal here? I mean who cares?!” Colombia has pretty great equal-rights laws.
“I’m just telling you bro, you’re an American too, we have to look out for each other. If anything happens you have to call the embassy for me. Tell them, I’m an Am—”
“American citizen, you’re here to teach English, you’re totally not gay, yea I got it. Can I use this burner?” I pointed towards the stove.
“Yea of course bro… do you want some soup? It’s almost ready.”
I would have rather eaten a dead raccoon using another dead raccoon’s asshole as a bowl than eat whatever this guy was cooking.
“No thanks man, I’m making something.”
This same conversation continued in varying degrees as I cooked the eggs. As soon as they were ready I tossed them on a plate and got the hell out of Dodge, back up to my room. Forget this, I thought, I’m not even chancing it later, I’ll go out somewhere for food…
I ate my brunch, threw on some headphones and started playing guitar.
I don’t remember how much time passed. Maybe an hour or so. The next thing I remember, I heard a loud crash. I took off the headphones and promptly heard another crash, like glass breaking.
I sat down the guitar and ran to the door to have a listen. I could hear shouting. It was Jersey guy.
I opened up my door. I was not prepared for what I saw. There were about six Colombian police officers in full tactical gear. Several carried combat shotguns, and one had a police canine. Two were trying to console a very frightened-looking Australian guy in one corner of the room. “I don’t know what he’s talking about, he’s crazy!”
More officers were standing with Jersey guy. I could not believe, given how fucking warlike these police officers looked, that they weren’t really intervening much at this point other than verbally trying to calm them both down. A small crowd of other guests had gathered to see what was going on.
Jersey guy grabbed a decorative plate off of the wall next to him. FLING! Across the room it went, barely missing the Aussie and smashing against the wall. “I’M NOT GAY, I’M NOT FUCKING GAY!”
He grabbed another plate. SMASH!
“Tranquilo, tranquilo!” one of the officers was yelling. Calm down, calm down.
Jersey guy was not going to tranquilo. “HE TRIED TO KISS ME!”
“Oh my god, why is he doing this?! I didn’t even go hear him!” the Aussie guy clearly had no idea what was happening.
Jersey guy reached for another plate, but apparently the policia had seen enough at this point.
As soon as he went for the plate, WHAM!—shotgun butt to the temple. Jersey guy dropped like a sack of potatoes.
“Ohhhh shit!” someone behind me exclaimed. I was speechless.
The policemen next to him calmly rolled him over and placed him in handcuffs. Then they proceeded to drag his dazed body towards the stairs, by the handcuffs.
He was confusedly looking around, taking it all in, when he spotted me standing there. His eyes widened. “BRO! CALL THE EMBASSY! CALL THEM! CALL THE AMERICAN EMBASSY!”
I wasn’t sure how to react. “Uhh, yea, I’m totally… that’s what I’m about to do, I’m gonna… I’m gonna go call the embassy, I got you dude” I lied.
They dragged him down the stairs. Thump, thump, thump.
Aussie guy sat on the couch and the officers left him there in his bewilderment. Apparently they didn’t need any police statements…
I followed them down the stairs, because duh, I had to see what was going to happen, and was amazed that this one police officer was dragging Jersey guy’s fat ass along the floor with one hand calmly holding the handcuffs. They headed out the front door and rounded the corner towards the street as Jersey guy could be heard yelling—”CALL THE EMBASSY! CALL THEM! I’M NOT GAY!”
All the police officers left in this gaggle. Not one took a statement from any of us, not one asked if everything was okay. They just left. There was silence as about four or five of us stood in the reception area, shocked.
The older Colombian woman working the desk, who spoke zero English, broke the silence. She looked at me and swirled her finger around her temple. “Él es muyyy locoooo.” (He is really crazy.)
I laughed. “Yes, muy fucking loco.”
I went back to my room, picked my guitar back up, and put my headphones back on. I did not call the embassy. I didn’t see Jersey guy for the remainder of my stay. I asked the woman at the desk a few days later and she said they hadn’t even returned for his bags.
Sometimes I wonder where he’s at now, and just how gay his visit got in a Cali, Colombian jail.
To hear more stories from the road, check out my book Planes, Trains, & Broken Strings on Amazon!