In Search of the Big Bamboo
(Page 3 of 6)
First contact is usually made on the beach. Beach boys employ a range of techniques to stimulate prospective clients. Unfazed by the scrutiny of countless appreciative gazes, one will perform stunts on a Jet Ski, while another might embark on a routine of seaside calisthenics. One young man who frequented the Carlyle Bay tourist beach would strip down to his Speedo and engage in an acrobatic and sexually suggestive game of paddleball that had even the most jaded tourist—and writer—staring in amazement.
The island of Jamaica has bred its own peculiar kind of beach boy: the rent-a-dread. These longhaired hustlers have achieved a kind of perverse fame on the island, having been lampooned in cartoons, in comedy skits, and even on greeting cards. Rent-a-dreads are invariably unemployed, and most are significantly poorer than their Barbadian counterparts. The average rent-a-dread has little formal education. Most are migrants from rural areas, living in shanties on the "capture land" ringing the tourist resort towns of Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, and Negril.
Rent-a-dreads are fixtures at most tourist beaches and bars. Like Barbadian beach boys, rent-a-dreads try to make a memorable first impression. Most spectacular is the young man who, upon emerging from the ocean, vigorously shakes his long locks dry on the beach. A few resort to more shameless advertising: Rent-a-dreads have been sighted swimming naked, late at night, in the artificially lit water around the Pier I restaurant and bar. Like beach boys, they are extremely adept at "chatting up" women, a West Indian tradition that demands transparently false declarations of love, extravagant romantic gestures, and flowery language. Some enterprising young hustlers have even learned a bit of German to help with business.
Jamaica's reggae festivals attract women from around the world, many of whom seem to share a predilection for young, dreadlocked locals. Female tourists find that a rent-a-dread can be very helpful in negotiating with taxi drivers, securing tickets to festivals, and providing protection in an environment where tourists are often victims of crime. In return for these services, female tourists usually provide drinks, meals, cigarettes, tickets to expensive nightly shows, transportation, and a modest sum of cash. If a tourist is looking for sex as well, she will have to be more generous.
Japanese females who come to the reggae festivals are known to be big spenders, but they are said to be less aggressive when it comes to pursuing sex. Germans and other Europeans are prime targets. Once again, young white Americans are considered poor prospects in Jamaica: Every spring, when thousands of college students descend on Jamaica's north coast, rent-a-dreads complain of slow business.
African American women are known for their interest in long-term relationships with Jamaican men, and they represent a rent-a-dread's best chance to obtain a highly coveted U.S. green card. African Americans have been coming to the island in greater numbers ever since Terry McMillan's very public recommendation. The popular author of Waiting to Exhale, a book that takes African American men to task for their lack of commitment to black women, McMillan met a young local during a vacation in Jamaica. She subsequently arranged for the man to come live with her in the States, and she has suggested that professional black women who experience difficulty finding a suitable husband in the United States should try their luck in the Caribbean. According to McMillan, Jamaican men are romantic, sensitive, considerate—and passionate.
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