By Ken Hegan for The National Post
Eighteen months ago, my marriage fell apart so I fled to Jamaica to recover from the shock. I wanted to recuperate in sunshine, drink my volume in rum, and have a little Ken-time, or as I like to call it, “me-hab.”
I reserved a resort in Portland Parish on Jamaica’s northeast coast. Skirt-chasing movie pirate Errol Flynn once owned Navy Island nearby. Apparently he won the island in a poker game, hosted tons of wild parties, and then lost it in another poker game.
My Jamaican trip was also a gamble. Rather than book the same old Mexican all-inclusive where they basically hook you up to a margarita IV drip, I rented a cheap beach hut online. I planned to devour fresh mangoes and do thousands of beach pushups. But most importantly, I would study the teachings of an internationally respected self-help guru and motivational speaker.
I’m referring to Mr. T, of course.
You remember this great actor’s awe-inspiring performances as Clubber Lang in Rocky III, and Sergeant “B.A.” (Bad Attitude) Baracus in the 1980s action TV series, The A-Team.
But Mr. T’s finest work was in his inspirational home video, entitled Be Somebody … or Be Somebody’s Fool. Released in 1984, this uplifting 60-minute film features Mr. T shouting motivational rap songs at kids.
His musical tips include how to conquer Shyness and Anger, and why you should Treat Your Mother Right. For that song, Mr. T pulls a microphone out of his camouflage short-shorts and starts rapping to a synthesized soundtrack.
It was just the confidence-boost I needed. So I transferred a secondhand VHS copy to DVD, then jetted down to Kingston. I arrived after midnight, which is a horrible idea. It was a two-hour drive to my resort, but buses had stopped running and taxi drivers wanted a fat stack of cash. Frustrated, I berated myself for not spending the extra $50 to arrive by day.
“Stupid, stupid fool!” I said. But then I thought, instead of beating myself, I asked, “What would Mr. T do?”
So I opened my laptop to watch his Frustration clip. It’s where Mr. T tries to play the cello but fails repeatedly and breaks a window. However, on the fifth attempt, he succeeds! (And plays so beautifully, it’s like a professional musician is playing a cello off-camera while Mr. T mimes the moves!)
“Whew! Boy, it wasn’t easy, but if I can do it, you can do it, too. So don’t quit!” he said.
Inspired by Mr. T’s words, I bargained with the cabbies. Turns out one driver, Walter, lived near my resort and agreed to take me home as his last fare. Good thing, too, because Walter was fascinating. During the drive, he confessed all sorts of stuff, like how he was running for prime minister but was worried he’d be assassinated for his rebellious/stoned beliefs. I started glancing back to see if we were being followed.
My quaint “resort” turned out to be a dump. Plus the gates were locked and guarded by two snarling Rottweilers. I phoned the manager, a drunk Belgian, and asked him to open up. He refused.
“Tear up your reservation,” he said, “because I’m drinking on a boat down a river.”
Great. I’d come to Jamaica to be somebody, but instead I was somebody’s fool! It was 2 a.m., pitch black, and Walter was tired and wanted to leave me on the dark country road. But I refused to get out. He finally gave up, took me to his place, and graciously gave me his bed for the night (and without him in it, which was even nicer).
As I lay there, listening to scuttling insects, I pitied my fool life. Then I realized Walter was running for prime minister! So if assassins came for him while he slept, they’d kill me by mistake.
After barely sleeping, I woke to blinding Caribbean sunshine. I tipped Walter big-time, then I hitched a lift to a different beach hut resort called Great Huts. It overlooks beautiful Boston Bay, 14 kilometres east of Port Antonio.
If you want truly special Jamaican accommodations, forget Negril or Montego Bay. Go straight to Great Huts and enjoy their thatched African-style huts. For US$250 night, you can stay up in their beautiful Fig Tree House or crash in their sandy-floor Cherry Goat hut at US$60 night. Some have deluxe bathrooms and ladders to the second level, others have shared baths and refreshing (read “cold”) outdoor showers.
Great Huts has nature walks and nighttime dance revues. But I was most taken with their cliffside bar. Walk 30 seconds up the back trail, wind past the open-air yoga platform on the cliff, and you’ll find the bar next to cement chairs overlooking surfers whooping and laughing in the green bay below.
For groceries, you have to flag down a beat-up minivan. You squeeze into the back seat between school kids and shopping moms, and for 200 Jamaican dollars (about two bucks), the guy will drive you to local shops along the seaside road. Load up on beef patties, rum, and orange/carrot juice, then squeeze into another Toyota that’s held together with string, magic and luck.
To pass the time, I talked the local gold-toothed pot dealer into shaving my head like Mr. T’s bald/stripe/bald haircut that was inspired by African Mandinka tribesman. Unfortunately, I was already bald so the transformation to being a Mandinka just wasn’t very dramatic. My hair was long, red and lush, but no more. Jamaican kids laughed at my gleaming scalp, as if it was a pink Starbucks cake pop. I blushed in shame … like somebody’s fool!
So I sought Mr. T’s video wisdom again and he did not disappoint. In my favourite clip, Mr. T appears wearing doctor scrubs and a stethoscope.
“Hi there, I’m Dr. T,” he says. “Have you ever been embarrassed, ashamed or exposed? I mean done something so absoludicrous that you wished you could move to a deserted island and hide your head in the sand?”
It was like Dr. T was reading my mind, because I felt exposed! I felt absoludicrous! Then he showed footage of a kid who trips on the sidewalk. But instead of crying about his mistake, the kid transforms the stumble into a breakdance move.
“Is that recouping or is that recouping?” says Dr. T. Then he stands up to reveal he forgot to put on pants. Oh no! He looks bashful. But then Dr. T recoups by ripping off the doctor gown to reveal tight red underwear. He then pretends that he meant to disrobe so he could do some calisthenics.
“Recouping! One out of one Dr. Ts recommend it!” he says.
That’s when it struck me: my bald scalp wasn’t something to cringe over. It’s a sensual lighthouse, flashing alerts to the world’s women that I have more testosterone than every other chump.
A drunken manager cancelled my reservation? I pity the fool! And I recouped by carousing in a beautiful cliffside bar.
And my marriage tanked? OK. I’ll survive … and recoup by travelling the world.
See, recouping is what travelling well is all about. Some day, your vacation will go sideways. How will you deal? Christopher Columbus tried to sail to India but — oops! — landed in the New World instead. Did he cry about it? Nope. He called the Natives “Indians” and let them ply him with corn and women.
Think about Mr. T the next time your vacation goes awry. Because when you transform a bad experience into a great one, you’ll become a warrior like the great man himself.