“April 1st, 2000, a Saturday – Soda Serendipity, Liberia, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
I’m feeling better than yesterday. I took off by first light, this morning, to renew my temporary importation permit, again. I’d hoped to have sold the car by now, but it’s not happened; so I had to get the permit renewed. It ran out a few days ago; so I can’t drive it; but that’s okay. Having accepted the necessity of it, I was kind of excited about the… the possibility of adventure from the extra random chances, inherent in the novel situation.
The 7 a.m. ‘directo’ from Montalba to San José was the first leg of the trip. From the Montalba bus terminal, in San José, I took a taxi diagonally through the centre of San José to the several blocks that are referred to as <<the bus terminal>>.
I discovered that the first bus to the border town of Peñas Blanca, was scheduled to depart at 10h45.
With time to kill, I walked to the camera shop at Avenida 3, and Calle 3, but my camera wasn’t ready yet.
On the bus, I took a window seat, and watched.
Someone sat down next to me, with them the smell of freshly burned marijuana. He was a young guy. He introduced himself, ‘Tyler’. He said his home was Northern California, said he’s been down in Costa Rica doing a wood-working apprenticeship, with a Costa Rican master.
Now, just finished, he wants to travel around and learn how to surf. He “sort of”, plans to hang out for a year in Latin America, and then visit home before heading to Southeast Asia. I admire his perspective. We talked almost the entire way to Liberia. I told him how lucky he is to have the foresight to travel around, and that it was the right thing to do.
Off the bus, in Liberia, we smoked one that I’d rolled at the casa. He got on a bus going down the Nicoya Peninsula, and it rolled out of the yard.
On the bus going to the border, I got my seat and opened the copy of ‘Alturas de Macchu Picchu’, <<The Heights of Macchu Picchu>>[i], and started reading it before the bus pulled out.
I’d looked up Neruda, on the internet. At birth he was named Neftalí Reyes. As he got older, he became increasingly disassociated from ‘civilization’; he wrote critically on the irony of how cities isolate individuals despite the concentration of people.
The copy is bilingual; I started reading it by reading the Spanish first, pausing to think about it, and then reading the English translation on the opposite page. But the stopping and pausing, and re-reading in English made it impossible to get into the rhythm of it. So, I continued, but only reading the Spanish.
I feel like I understand it, better than anything I’ve ever read in Spanish, before.
The thoughts resonate with me; I feel a harmonic attraction to it. Now, as I write, revisiting the thoughts of surviving day after day, under the fluorescent lights, and stupefying constraints in an office environment, the revulsion rises, like bile, from the pit of my stomach. I feel the fear of being trapped into such a scenario, with the gnawing certitude of wasting time and energy on causes unworthy, until only death’s release. The thought of submitting to the chains makes me feel weak and nausea!
The incomprehensible double talk, essential corporate lexicon, pervades almost all conversations in public discussion. I think about the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four[ii]. In the story, the government of the dystopian, permanently-at-war society, is systematically taking words out of the dictionary, with the aim of eliminating words necessary for describing, maybe even conceiving of, revolution against the system!
This is actually being done, now. But in a much more drastic and insidious method, compared to the program described in the book!
Yet, Alturas… also left me with something else; it is difficult to put into words. The writing has some kind of a detached whimsy, and somehow, I have hope that the faceless menace in, or of, society, can be overcome.
I was so completely lost in thought, reading and pondering the book, the next thing I knew, we were at the border office. Walking to the building was like wading through warm soup. I hardly noticed the herd of ‘helpers’ soliciting my patronage.
Inside the building, it was a few degrees cooler and a bit drier. I was surprised at the lack of frenzy and confusion. It was strangely relaxed, almost lazy, in the office.
I needed photocopies. I’d not got them in advance, remembering that there was a photocopier at the border offices. But the photocopier was broken. The one working clerk recognized me from previous visits. He directed me to the closest, known working photocopier, in the commercial cargo terminal, about half a kilometre away.
The ‘helper’ who approached me as I left the main border office, looked about ten years old. He spoke at me with a strong Nicaraguan accent. I gave him a dollar to take me to the commercial cargo terminal.
The walk went through a thick rainforest for ten minutes, before emerging on a road leading to a huge building that looked like a warehouse. Inside, there were many kiosks but not many clerks. I was the only customer.
I interrupted one of the few clerks, head down at a kiosk with ‘Agricultura’ written on a sign. He tilted his head back, looked down his glasses at me, and sniffed. The young helper said something. The clerk’s head snapped straight, and he scowled, but he made a motion for me to give him my documents; so I did. He returned shortly with the photocopies.
When I got back to the immigration buildings, there were two men, together, gesticulating in time to the staccato of their raised voices. The stood in front of the hassled-looking clerk, the only one working. But the clerk didn’t react to the raised voices and antagonistic posture of the two; perhaps he was too tired for it. Stoically, he explained the process, took another form, and completed it on their behalf. He went to a filing cabinet and looked through, over and over again, apparently unable to find that which he was looking for. The two men whined.
Time passed at a tortuously irritating, slowness. The clock on the wall ticked each second of the minute, tick, tick, tick, tick, as the beads of sweat picked up speed, rolling down the valley, on my spine.
Then there was a noticeable upsurge of the agitation; I couldn’t help but think it might be a crescendo.
I worked on my breathing, and actively tried to avoid developing any expectations about when I was going to get home; I could stay in the office overnight, if necessary. When I realized that I had no commitments and further, no reason to be uptight at all, it wasn’t too hard to let any anxiety leave me. I became as a completely detached observer.
As I recognized this happening in myself, it was almost as if something changed in the universe, like a ‘click’, or a new gear assuredly engaging.
The two ‘patrons’ at the kiosk stopped their whining; click. It seemed as if all their interest in the fight had faded; click. As they moved off I heard the one curse, as a victim in surrender.
I looked at the space their going had created in front of me, at first not understanding. Then I moved forward, relaxing, trying to maintain my detachment from any expectation of how long it would take, without thought of any next chore; click.
The renewal of my permit took no more than five minutes. I moved, automatically, without thought, towards the door, stashing my documents haphazardly, but securely, as I went.
As I came out the door, I saw my helper. I handed him a US$ five dollar bill, and thanked him again. He thanked me profusely. I heard a bus engine cranking over. It was, as usual, the familiar ‘Bluebird’ school bus design; it shuttered forward, as if the clutches had engaged accidentally. I said goodbye to my helper and trotted leisurely towards it. The bus kept moving. I yelled and waved my arms. It stopped, I got on.
It was a ‘locale’; it would stop at every bus stop along the way, and go through any towns between the border and Liberia. I didn’t care. Motion in the right direction was enough.
It was about a quarter full. I slumped into a seat two-thirds of the way to the back. I noticed a uniformed clerk, the one who had processed my application when I arrived in late December. He recognized me and asked what I’d done with my car. I told him that I still had it, though planned to sell it. I asked him if he was interested in buying it. He said he had no need of a car. He took the seven o’clock bus to the border in the morning and the five o’clock bus back, every day. Since it was often the last bus back, he was obliged to leave no matter what the circumstances were going on at work; he winked.
I nodded, asking, <<¿how come you are leaving now?>>
<<This is the last bus. ¿You know that, don’t you?>>
Click. Breath. Ahh!
As we pulled off the highway to go into La Cruz, the light from the sun, low to the horizon, lit the eastern interior wall and ceiling of the bus in a golden glow. As the bus rocked through bumps and deep ruts in the road, the lighting gyrated around like a light show.
‘How was it shinning on the ceiling’, I wondered as I watched it?
I looked directly out, towards the sun. It was reflecting perfectly off Bahía Salinas, below, so came in the bus at two oblique angles, one above and one below the horizon.
The sunshine poured into me. I felt as if it was replenishing me, and reinforcing me. I felt the tightness between my shoulder blades loosening; I breathed deeply, trying to allow it to happen more; I looked straight into the brightness, and felt as if I was breathing the essence of it into me by my aching eyes. Click.
At that very moment, I felt the lightening of my spirit.
Never before have I felt such a poignant, certain, lightening and easing of my mind. I knew it, as it happened, and I’m grateful to have witnessed it.
Everything looked different.
I felt a new, enhanced connection to where I was, and all of the people around me.
The waiting on the old man talking to the bus driver for five minutes before getting off the bus, didn’t irritate me. It seemed only natural, closer to the way people have been living their lives, for thousands of generations, before now.
Off the main highway, we continued through the rough, unpaved streets of La Cruz. Every person passed on the street, called out, greeting the driver, who yelled back, asking them how their parents were, and other pleasantries.
We stopped at the small bus depot. The driver used the bus’s PA to say that we’d be stopping for fifteen minutes; and if everybody was free to get off the bus, but it would be leaving, with or without them, in fifteen minutes. It was all sympatico. He turned on music, and stepped down from the bus, immediately into conversation with several people.
Twenty minutes later, the bus swayed through the holes on the road as if to the Latin rhythms playing on the PA. I caught glimpses of the sun melting into the Gulfo de Santa Elena. It was like a dream.
The bus only made two more stops after La Cruz. It was dark as we pulled into a gravel lot in Liberia. The clock on the walled displayed ‘6:14’.
I walked down the street to the other bus terminal, to get a spot on a bus for San José. I got a ticket for the next bus, leaving at 8:00 p.m., the last bus of the day.
I went looking for a restaurant, around the main square, but the only places serving beer are Chinese restaurants! So, I wandered a bit, down streets, off the square. Navigating by instinct and intuition, I came almost directly to this place, Hotel Serendipity. They have a café. I took this seat that I sit in now, as I write.
I ordered the one dish available, and a Bavaria, and started writing.
But, I can see the woman bringing the food now; so that’s it for this entry.”
I forgot to eat today. I can feel it now.
In San José, I go to see if I can get my camera. I’m surprised that the store is open on Sunday. The guy takes my receipt and gets it. I pay and get my camera back. I walk south on Calle 3, and then along Avenida 8 to Calle 5, to the Montalba bus depot. The bus pulls in as I’m paying for my ticket, at the kiosk.
* * *
Getting off the bus in Montalba, I notice that the hands on the station clock, point parallel, straight up. It is hot and sunny. I stop at the restaurant at the south-west corner of the park. I order casada and inspect the camera. It looks okay. I’m glad to have it back.
* * *
I hang out, lying low, writing, and smoking a lot of grass.
Later in the evening, while listening to,”…Sometimes I see a white hot sound, and all I hear is a piercing light…”. “…gonna shut my mouth, it won’t open again…”. “…And I realize that I’m not alright.”[v], I remember what I wanted to do when I found that the camera was broken. I take out the camera and put in a role of Tri-X™[vi] film.
I set it up for a time exposure at the front end of the hallway, on the tiny tripod. I walk back to the end of the hallway and light a match as I hear the shutter open. It remains open for about a second and a half, then ‘clicks’ closed.
I walk back down and set it to do the same again, then repeat the lighting of the match; and I do it a third time.
The last match burns down. I should get, at least one good shot, from the three. I see, by the flickering light, the three joints I rolled twenty minutes ago, on the kitchen table. I snatch one and just manage to light it as the match starts to burn my fingers. I shake my hand to cool it.
I open the fridge; the brightness blares out at me. I grab a Steinbrau. I take the cap off carefully, down the first half, replace the cap, and quickly put it back in the fridge, and slam the blindingness of it shut.
Who am I kidding? I take it back out and walk down the hallway.
I pause before the door to the room I usually sleep in, I step in side and flash the overhead light on-and-off, to spot the little flashlight. I go in the darkness, mostly by memory of the image of the room, and retrieve it from the darkness. Back down the hall, I pick up the camera and accoutrements, downing the beer and placing it on the table next to the door as I walk out the front gate.
I walk up the street, but go right along the tracks. It’s very dark. The tracks cross on a long bridge, over the river. At the darkest spot, mid-point across the bridge, I stop. I place the camera on the little tripod, and use the timer to activate the shutter. I could never hold it long enough to get a decent image, without shaking it. I take a few frames.
I light a joint, taking a long haul, looking down into the river. The current foams and rushes down with force; I can feel it in my chest. I watch the smoke blow away. It billows out over the bridge for a split second, then back along the bridge, colliding with a woman, who has materialized, walking from the distant side. She comes by me, keeping her head down. I watch her go.
Even though living here has been interesting, I’m restless.
I continue to the far side of the bridge and walk through the back streets in that part of town I hardly know at all. It seems like a foreign place, yet I feel as if I know it.
I’m tired as I trudge back into the ‘hood, San Rafael. There is no one about. A slight mist rises. I slump down onto the couch on the porch, until I notice how dry my mouth is. I light the last rolled joint walking down the dark hallway to the kitchen. I fetch a beer, opening it through continuous movement, as I pour the first third of it down my throat.
I play the guitar, quietly, on the porch.
* * *
I try to recruit everyone I can, to work as sales agents. Many people express a gung-ho attitude after I promised a 10 percent commission for the sale at a minimum price of $3000 USD.
I draft a flyer with a picture of the car and other pertinent information. I take it to the hotel, so Alura can correct it for me. She prints one page of the finished version, which I take to the print shop, just north of the tracks, and get fifty copies made.
* * *
I walk up to the garage that Ray had mentioned to me, up on Calle 2. A young guy, maybe twenty years old, is working under a car on the hoist. I ask him if he works on North American cars, and he says ‘yes’. I tell him that Ray, the guy with a Suburban, said I should come here. He remembers Ray, and says he has a <<very strong car>>. I tell him that I have a station wagon, with the five litre V8 engine. He nods, <<that is a good engine.>>
<<I just want to get the radiator flushed out, and check the thermostat.>>
<<Yes. No problem. Bring it in the morning.>>
* * *
I walk uptown, to the garage, to pick the car up. The financial damage for the flush is not too bad. I drive it straight back to the casa. I turn it off, and start to open the car door, but stop; I want to see how it runs. I take it up the mountain, to see how it runs.
It runs smoothly. The temperature gauge doesn’t run up to the red, as it did. I’m hesitant to believe that it’s fixed! I slide into the spot in front of the casa, again.
I remember the wrangling with Carlos, the mechanic in Zarcero; the first thing he’d said, was to check the radiator.
I get a snack from the fridge and set up my notebook computer to work on the porch, but I pass out, almost immediately.
* * *
I drift up from the shallowest, layer of sleep, completely without intention. I am awake; I might as well make coffee.
I down it black. My stomach rumbles. No appetite, but I’m hungry. I smoke a joint on the back porch. I try to blow the smoke discretely up into the air; so it can dissipate fast, hoping that anybody who notices the smell won’t be able to figure out precisely where it is coming from.
Houston, we have lift-off; whoa, sometimes it has such a pronounced effect! I breathe out slowly.
The sun is shining. The sky is an uncommonly deep blue; normally, there is almost always some haze, but not today. Fluffy white clouds blow by, though never crossing the sun.
I can see with a hyper-clarity. I watch the smoke, shimmering, shifting, glowing amorphous pale blue in the sunlight, drift upwards, listlessly at first. A gust catches it, swirling it around the neighbourhood, briefly, and then accelerating up to get mixed into the great aerial ocean.
Maybe I can stay a bit longer, here. I can get rid of that car, and see how it goes.
“I don’t know how long I’m gonna stay, either.”
“I don’t know what I’m doing here. I thought I’d scope it out and see if I wanted to stay a while, you know, a year or so. But I don’t know if want to stay. I’m restless. Whatever ‘why’, there is, is mattering less and less.”
“I would stay if I could.”
“I’ll sell the car and see how I feel.”
“Wow man, that car is part of the… persona.”
“Ah, it’s just some… ‘thing’ that stresses me out. It’s like an effigy that weighs a ton, tied around my ankle. I feel like I’m drowning, sometimes.”
“If you say so.”
“I need the dough, too.”
We get to the casa. “How much are you going to get for it?”
I open the iron gate, “I think I should be able to get $3500. I’ll take less, I just want to get rid of it.”
“Didn’t you get it fixed? Isn’t it working now?”
“The damage is done. I have to rid myself of it. There’s no way I’m driving it back. I thought it would be cool to take a freighter across, to as far north as I can get on the east coast, take the bike, and then ride north.”
“These guys I knew in Uvita we’re doing that. They mentioned a name, and speaking to a ship’s captain. They were doing that.”
“Hmm… Well, maybe you could dig up whatever you got on that, and, uh, write it down for me? What’s your story?”
“I gotta get my flight confirmed, and get out of here. I’m on standby for a flight tomorrow.”
After we clean up, we still have plenty of time to kill. We walk out, east.
After a while, we come to a large park. It is meticulously maintained. There is a church at one end. The lawn, covering much of the park, is as fine as a golf course. The sun slants in, pale orange, not far above the horizon.
There is not another person in the park. It’s strange. I lie back on the grass, and light the joint. The sun shines down into my eyes, blinding me; so I shut them. I hear her lie down next to me. I hold the joint aloft, and feel her taking it.
The sun feels so nice on my face. I look out between lashes and see the green of palm leaves superimposed over the clear blue. “This is a nice town.” I’m surprised it is so nice.
“Yeah. It is. Here you go.”
I put my hand up, blindly; it swings into my view. Another hand drifts into the frame, holding the short smouldering twig. I take it, and smoke. The smoke drifts up slowly. There is no wind. I’m struck by the strange pleasantness of it.
I take another drag, hold it lightly and let it drift out of me. “Take it. I’m done.” I hold my arm straight up. I feel her take it.
I can feel the chemicals flowing through my arms and legs, and head. I crack my eyes open enough to see that the sun is yet lower on the horizon. Soon it will be below the two-story row of buildings at the west end of the park. “Not a soul.”
“What do you think about that?”
We walk a few streets south. Then right, westward, along a main street, back towards the centre of Alajuela. The street is lined with trees. The thin traffic moves along at a sedate pace. We come into the south east corner of the central park, and stop at an ice cream shop. I buy two Popsicles. We walk into the park, and sit down south east of the centre.
It’s last light; dusk is in play. The park is full of people; yet it is peaceful. Karina blows her Popsicle, looking first at me, then around, to see she’s caught anybody’s attention.
All of the benches are occupied. People wander about, looking for a spot to sit.
I see a man, about a hundred feet away, looking directly at Karina. I watch as he starts walking steadily, but unhurriedly towards us. He’s maybe in his mid-fifties, about six feet tall, with a medium build; he has a well-groomed beard. “Do you see the way people move to their favourite spots?” His English is accented but grammatically correct.
“Mira”, he nods across the park, “she’s been waiting for that spot.”
A dowdy thirty-something woman, in a dress, moves swiftly to replace an elderly gentleman, as he rises. It’s uncanny.
“People go to where the energy, energía, is best for them. There is another; do you see him watching his spot? There, do you see it?”
I see it. I look back to him. He looks at us with earnest eyes. I nod. Karina giggles.
The couple, in the spot that the young man watches, stir from their mutual fixation.
The watcher gets up, seemingly casually. He moves slowly, ambling, but I can see he’s going steadily in the direction of the couple. She begins to rise, and his pace quickens. He arrives perfectly and takes his seat as they move away. The next seat is promptly blocked by a fat old man. He dusts the seat quickly with a newspaper then sits in a flourish. At first the younger man seems a little irked by the disturbance. But, after a moment, he settles into a book. The old man pretends to focus on his paper, but furtively glances at every cute ass that walks by. When he sees a really nice one, he rocks back and forth a little bit.
“¡Eso! Está increíble.”
“My name is Frank.” He offers his hand. I shake it.
“Dean. Mucho gusto.”
“Me llama Karina. Tanto gusto, Frank. Buenos.”
“You see, most of the people here are sensitive to the energy patterns.” He looks directly at her, almost through her, “many of them, maybe most, are unaware of this, but they know it when they don’t get to be at their favourite spot.”
It turns out that Frank is a reformed corporate executive. He worked for many years for an international oligopoly. He says, he eventually realized that he needed to live a life much closer to subsistence. He talks about the trees, and their energy.
“There is hope. There is Karina”. He looks at her without even a pretension of hiding his desire. He looks at me and winks. “¿No?”
“There is Karina. There is you and I, and there are all of these people, here. Uh… there is the possibility of hope”.
“Hey Dean. What time is it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Frank, do you know the time?” He looks at a gold watch. It has a dark, rectangular face. “Yes, it’s almost nine.”
“Eight?! Wow! It just got dark. We have to go!”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“I have a flight at ten-thirty.”
“It was a pleasure to meet you.” He hugs Karina. I shake his hand.
“Bueno, Frank. Pura vida.”
“Tanto gusto, Frank. I’ll think of you all the way back to Canada.”
“A Dio”, I wave.
“It’s fuckin’ late!”
I pull her to a stop and hug her. “It’s gonna be fine.” I look at her. “It’s going to be fine.”
“I could really go for that valium, now.”
“We’ll throw back a couple guaros, before the taxi gets here.”
“I got one left.”
“You got one?”
“Three would be perfect.”
I chuckle, “you junkie.”
We use the hotel phone and call a cab, then pull the stuff out to the porch, and get the bottle of guaro. We down a couple each.
The cab pulls up honking.
We go to the small terminal.
She checks in. I hug her, “thanks for coming down and hanging out.”
She cries. I feel like I’m breaking up with a never-consummated lover; it’s strange, but I’m mellow to it.
I turn, and walk out; I don’t look back. I walk along the road, passed the main terminal and get onto a bus for San José.
I trot five minutes across the centre of San José, to the Montalba bus stop. I can see the bus, it must be the last one, as I approach. I sprint over and get straight on. <<¿Do I have enough time to get a ticket?>>
He shuts the door, and pulls out of the station. I hand him money, and take a seat.
* * *
“Casa Gringo, San Rafael, Montalba
April 2000 (I’m not sure what day it is):
Mid-afternoon brings clouds every day, a little earlier and a little darker.
I want to climb Montalba, go to the Nicoya and try to surf, hopefully Andy will be there, and I want to go down the river a few more times. But I’m not doing anything. I’m paralyzed waiting for the car to be gone, as if it will sell itself. I really need the money, but I feel helpless to make it happen.”
* * *
I don’t want to get up. But it’s past ten, and I have to piss. The stink rises in a mist, like that 200 foot-high waterfall, in Palmira. What did I drink last night?!
I walk into the kitchen, by habit. As I load the coffee maker, I hear a song I know, coming from backyardland, ‘Now if I tell you I suffer from delusions[vii]…’. I know it. ‘Shaken from a…’. It’s The Police. The maker blows. I grab the tea towel fast, and wrap it around the burning hot, handleless stainless steel, then pour the contents into a cup. I put some honey in it, and stir it. No time for heating cream. I sip the lukewarm liquid. I can feel it enter my blood stream beneath my tongue. I gulp the remainder down.
“Ahh…” That is good!
I take the bag of grass from the fridge. Inside, a cut carrot keeps the little brick of it, moister than it was when I got it on the east coast. I smoke it on the back porch. Now I hear a song by The Cure[viii]?! An eighties music aficionado is blasting his tunes to the entire neighbourhood! I wonder which twisted fuck it is?
I cook some toast as I make another espresso. I smear the butter, then peanut butter in mounds upon the rye, and take a large chomp. I feel the richness of the butter coming right into my bloodstream! Ah, this is good! I’ll take the coffee, this one with hot cream, for savouring in the cage, out front. I see the telephone book, on the floor of the front room, as I walk through to the front porch. I put my stuff down on the porch table. I can hear The Pretenders68; even out here.
I go back into the front room, and grab the telephone book.
Back on the front porch couch, I open the book, and attack the paginas amarillas[ix], looking for ‘Funararias’. I find it fast; it’s a sizable section. Happy, having completed the most difficult part, starting, I gobble down the last of the toast. I drink half the coffee, then spot the package of Cuban cigarettes on the floor.
I light one. The smoke bleeds out of me. I take a long drag; there is no doubt, this is definitely bad for you; I know it. I down the coffee, and walk inside. I pick up the receiver and dial the first number with a Montalba number.
* * *
I exhaust the Montalba numbers, with a perfect record of 100% rejections. I open my search to all localities in the region, to Cartago, to Siquirres, and everywhere in between. After I confirm that none of the people who answer the phone at those numbers want a car, I start taking pot shots at any numbers I imagine I recognize. Then I just resolve to call them all.
I plug the computer into the telephone line, and start faxing the page I’d made to sell the car, to all of the funeral homes, with all of the fax numbers listed in all of Costa Rica. Well, we’ll see what happens with that?
Nothing, in the first minute, but, whether I wanted it or not, this momentum towards obsession is not going to be satiated until that car is sold!
I remember the guy at the funeral home in Aranjuez. I didn’t see their number in the book.
Is that the guitar on the first track from the third U2 album?!
Where is that fucking number? I wrote it down; I know that I did have it. I looked before, but didn’t find it. But that was a half-assed effort.
My datebook, where is my datebook? It’s not around the front room; where could it be?
I keep looking. No, it’s not here.
The car, didn’t I leave it in the car?! Yes, yes, I did. I find the keys and walk out, and open the door. Even with the overcast, the heat pours out of the car. I open the back door and get in. Kneeling down, I look under the far seat, the driver seat. I’m already sweating in the heat, but the datebook is here!
I spring out of the car in one acrobatic push-off, from the floor, out the door. It’s like coming out of a sauna, even though its thirty degrees on the street, it feels cool and dry. I lock and slam the doors on the car, and stride in through the gate. Here’s the piece of paper; I recognize the writing.
<<No, I don’t need one right now. But my brother… wait one minute.>>
It’s more than one, but I wait. Then, <<…that’s what he says, an eight-eight… Yes. …I understand. Hang on.>>>
<<¿Can you bring it in tomorrow?>>
Saturday?! Where? “Si. ¿Donde?”
<<¿You know where I am in Aranjuez? ¿Can you be here, at, say 10:30?>>
<<Yes. I’ll see you then. ¿Do you have my number, if you need to get in touch with me?>>
<<Yes, I have it here. I’ll see you tomorrow.>>
I can hardly believe it!
I get a beer from the fridge and roll a joint at the kitchen table. I take a second beer, to the back porch, and spark the joint. The cold is beautiful after the parching raspiness of the Caribbean shag. I feel so much lighter! The weight of that fucking car, gone! I’m almost euphoric.
I can’t remember eating. Yes, the toast; but that was hours ago! I’d better eat!
I walk over and get a BBQ chicken, and pick up two different sixes of beer, at the liquor store.
After I eat, I roll another joint.
It was nice to get the deal lined up, but I’ve still got a lot of work to do.
I start cleaning the car. I start with the outside. As soon as it’s rinsed, I open all the doors to let the heat out, and begin cleaning the inside from the floor up.
The clouds gather in mid-afternoon, the heaviest yet. It’s muggy, and everything, even noise, is subdued.
‘Smack’, followed immediately with a short, sonorous taunt sheet metal vibration, dissipating.
It takes about half a second, for me to register it as a rain drop. At the same time four more fat, smacking drops sound on the car.
Only the ‘essentials’ remain in the car; I’ve taken all else into the house.
The detergent I’ve used has clouded the finish; fuck! There is some wax amongst the stuff, still in the car. I don’t know if it was there when I bought it, or it was amongst the many things John bought. I might as well try it.
* * *
Even the minimum work putting it on, and off, is a lot of work! I’m almost done, finally.
Marte walks by, <<I never saw you work so much.>>
<<¿Is it possible that you don’t know me very well?>> I smile.
She puts on a hurt look.
<<Come on in and have a drink. I think that I’ve sold the car.>>
Her expression changes to scepticism. <<¿Do you have the money, yet?>>
<<I think a funeral home director in Heredia is going to buy it tomorrow. He sounded really eager to take a look at it, as soon as possible. It’s perfect. If he needs one, he’ll buy it for sure; there aren’t many of them in the whole country.>>
I walk in. I’m covered in sweat and dirt. I pull on a somewhat clean tee-shirt. She enters onto the porch. <<¿How about… red wine?>>
She nods suspiciously. I go in, and grab an unopened bottle, two glasses, and a beer.
I place the glasses and beer on the table. I see the knife on the table, and use the corkscrew in it, to open the wine. I fill the two glasses.
I hold the glass, the one with a stem, out to her.
She looks at it as if something is going to jump out of it and bite her. She makes motions with her body, and noises, which I don’t understand.
I hold it right out to her, compelling her to take hold of it. I hold up the other glass. She still looks at her glass with a dark cloud of suspicion.
“¿Marte?” I make the ‘what the fuck?’ expression, “bueno”. I hold my glass up, and gently strike it against hers. She looks bewildered. I shake my head slightly; I can’t believe the disbelief of this woman! I down the contents of the small plain glass, in a single go.
She continue to eye the glass and the dark red fluid, in it, with suspicion. She holds it to drink, then closes her eyes tightly. “¡Bueno!”
She looks at the glass with wonderment, “¡gustos bien!”
She downs the rest, and hands me the glass, “gustos bien”; she nods slightly.
She nods again, enthusiastically.
Inadvertently, I take a double look, with mock suspiciousness on my face. She sees it and smiles.
I turn briefly to grab the bottle of wine, and spin back to pour it. She is speaking to a woman walking along the sidewalk, across the street. I don’t recognize her, but she sees me looking and smiles fully.
I smile back.
Marte continues talking to her, pointedly not looking at me, but holding out her hand to receive her refilled glass. I refill it quickly, and place it in her hand. Once she’s grasped it, she turns and thanks me.
What is she up to?
The woman across the street calls over, and Marte waves her off.
Marte takes a big gulp of the wine; too much, it turns out, because she coughs some of it out, then says, <<my neighbour>>, and nods, vaguely in the direction of where the woman was, already having walked around the corner.
I nod, “bueno”, and refill her glass, to the brim.
“Gracias”, she holds her glass aloft. I scramble to get some in my glass and toast with her.
“Nuria.” Marte calls the next door neighbour. Two seconds later, when Nuria comes out, Marte fires several volley of rapid-fire Spanish. Nuria coos and exclaims frequently, bird-like.
Nuria calls over to a neighbour, on his porch, several doors up, across the street, and tells them of the good news.
Brian walks by. “What’s goin’ on, Dean?” He nods towards Marte and Nuria, smiling slyly.
“Uh… I certainly don’t know of everything. But I think I may have got the car sold. I can’t remember why Marte is here. Maybe she was cleaning the house…”
“Why would she clean your house?!?”
“Yeah, she cleans my place. I pay her. I thought we’d been through a discussion like this, before…”
He picks up a bottle with an inch of rum left in it, downs it, and walks into the house; I hear him talking on the phone.
After a few minutes, Brian re-emerges with the half-full bottle of guaro, I recognize from the kitchen table. He drinks some back. “Is it okay… ?”
* * *
The rhythmic hum of many well-lubricated conversations continues around us, but I sense that, for the first time, it is not getting any louder and more frenetic anymore.
* * *
She is very friendly, this neighbourhood friend of Marte’s.
Occasionally, somebody interrupts my focus upon her, to tell me they are leaving.
She moves closer and puts her arms around my neck. I grab her, pulling her hips into me firmly. I look over her shoulder, and realize for the first time that everyone else is gone. Just in time. She’s got me; I want in.
I am free of doubt. My certitude frees me to savour the burning desire, having left all else behind. I float, enjoying every feeling, before, during, and after, as each successive moment comes and passes to the next.
I feel my scrotum fall, and more blood pump into my already hard penis. I smell her musty odour rising damply and igniting something deep in my core, which in turn starts to turn off all unnecessary else.
She kisses me wetly all over my faces. She kisses me harder, grinding against me. A low moan issues from me.
I see a condom on the shelf. I push her against the wall and lean into her, extending my reach to the shelf. I grab the condom. She bites my lip hard! I can taste my own blood. She laps it, seemingly pleased, now sucking my blood, grinding rhythmically. Beneath her skirt, I rip …
The doorbell sounds. I have to piss anyways. I come out of her; she’s upset, neither of us has come, during this most recent episode. I get up; the urge to piss grows to an immediate necessity. Condoms litter the floor; one sticks to my foot as I walk into the water room. Ahh… even the pissing is pleasurable.
As I reach to flush the toilet, I sense something strange. What is it? There’s something on my back. It’s a most peculiar feeling. I feel the slightest breeze on it; it’s stiff. The sensation comes into better focus, and I realize that the sensation is actually pain. The doorbell rings again, insistently; I’d forgotten about it!
I go out in the hallway. The breeze blows on me, from the open front door. Andy is at the gate; I can see him grinning.
“What are yuh up to?” He’s imitating the way I say it.
I break into manic laughter, as I stagger down the hallway; I’m so happy to see him.
He laughs aloud, “is it a bad time?”
I can hardly breathe, “this is… , caught…”. I’m doubled over, trying to breathe, “…caught with my pants down, and everything else, to boot.” I straighten up. I step out quickly, and open the gate. “What happened to the key I gave yuh?”
He comes into the front room. He pauses, looking me in the eyes, whispering, on the edge of laughter, “I could hear you halfway down the street.”
“I first came down an hour ago, maybe an hour-and-a-half!”
I’m not connecting the dots. Why didn’t he knock, then?
He whispers, “I have the key.” He’s grinning from ear to ear.
“Oh!” I smile, understanding, and hug him. “It wouldn’t have bothered me.”
“¿Amor?” She sounds like an abandoned child.
“Momento, mi amor.”
“Dude”, he says in a lowered voice, “go and take care of business.”
I nod, slightly raising my eyebrows, and feinting at looking over my shoulder. “Dude, why don’t you take a shower, relax, I’ll finish this up for… a bit, and we’ll… get some chow, I’m starving. Don’t wait for me, if you’re hungry. Take anything you can find.”
“I had last call cerviche at Julia’s. I’m good. What’s that on your back!?”
“I don’t know. What does it look like?”
“It looks like you got maimed by a panther, or something.”
“I think it was… feline.”
“Whoa, Dean, fuck!” He steps up behind me. Over my shoulder, I can see him taking a close up look at it. It hurts my back when I turn my head. “They are grooves in your flesh, man!”
The more it is spoken of, the more I can feel it, especially the stiffness. My entire back feels stiff and painful whenever I move.
“Do you want me to put a dressing on it? It’s… I’ve never seen… that… like that.”
I whisper, “if you put it on now, I think it would have to be done again.” I nod at him, further accentuating the dead-panned obviousness of it.
I hug him, “it’s great to see you, man. Whatcha gonna do?”
“The last hot shower I had, was here. I want a hot shower. Then, maybe, I’ll sort out some of my stuff.”
I nod, encouragingly, “bueno, hombre.” I walk towards my bedroom.
She comes up from spread eagle on the bed, and reaches out to me. She pulls her groin to mine, and I can feel my stiffening. She reaches around and runs her nails through the grooves she’s made on my back.
“Ah”, I wince. “Bastante con eso, por favor, mi amor.” I’m not so oblivious to it as I was a few minutes ago. The stinging of my back is distracting me. She handles me into her.
“Oh, mi amor.”
She is a dramatic lover. Her pointed refusal to acknowledge the shredding of my back, and insistent consumption of my sex launches my arousal. The more I abandon myself to it, the further the pain fades; it is transmuted into an instrument of pleasure, and I am lost to all but the fucking and sucking and complete letting go of all restraint.
I pull on some pants and a shirt, “Andy?”
“What time is it?”
“Three-thirty, four. Around there.”
“How do yuh feel?”
“I could take some sleep.”
“What’s your gig?”
“I’m on standby to fly out tomorrow evening.”
“Dude.” I was hoping to hang out with you.
“Yeah, I’m leaving.”
“Can you help me get my shit into town?”
“Yah man. It’ll be the last ride of the great woody shark; I think I’m going to sell it to a guy who has a funeraria in Heredia.”
I tell him the story of phoning the funeral home in Aranjuez, and how I got the contact in the first place. “We should be on the road before seven, in case there is a bloqueo, just in case. They usually go after seven. I gotta sell that car, man.” I’m obsessed with getting rid of it. “We could go now. I’m think I’m done here.” I blow air out between pursed lips looking him in the eyes.
He raises his eyebrows, questioningly.
She tried to rack me. I breathe out; I let the tension of it drain out of me. “I’ll tell you ‘bout it, … later.”
“I’ve got to get some sleep, say two hours. Then we’ll load, lock and bust out.”
“Good. Brother, it’s good to see you.”
I walk back into the bedroom. She’s sulking on the bed. “Mi amor.” She holds her arms open.
I’ve got to sleep. I hold her eyes evenly. No need to be negative, here. Nicely, I tell her, “necesito poco dormir.”
She makes no move to go. She lies down and rolls onto her side, pouting noiselessly.
I get on from the other side. It’s hot in the room. I’m uncomfortable. After half an hour of restlessness, I feel a gentle touch of a finger on a remaining patch of skin on my back. It makes me wince. My entire back hurts. I don’t make a sound. Then a warm wet feeling directly on a wound. She’s licking me. It hurts, but not so much. Without wanting it to happen, I can feel myself getting hard, again. She rubs her pubic bone against me, softly, at first. I groan. As if in a trance, I roll the long way over, stomach across bed, and lick her small…
“Dean!?” What? Am I rafting today? That’s not the rafting call. There’s a quiet knocking on the bedroom door, “Dean?”
“Mi amor, tu amigo.”
“Ahh. Amor. Bueno. Está bien.”
She smiles, looking me in the eyes.
“I’ll just be a minute.”
“Amor, yo y mi amigo manejamos el coche de San José… a San José.”
She gets dressed, without a word, and leaves.
I shower. There are spikes of pain all over my back! Oh yeah. I guess I have to clean it, anyways. Out of the shower, I find that I can’t dry it. Even the slightest stress to the skin hurts. I walk out to the kitchen; it smells good in here.
I pack a bucket with coffee, screw on the lid, and make an espresso. Andy moves a hockey bag full of gear down the hall. Past him, I see the car out the front door. “Do you want coffee?”
He turns, sees me, and chuckles. “That’d be sweet.”
I drink mine back, and reload the maker. He walks into the kitchen as I pour boiling water into a clean cup, to heat it up.
“Don’t worry about that, man.”
“I’m not worried. I’m bummed that you’re going.”
“It’s time for me to go. I’ve been trying to get into that program; now I got the call.”
“I don’t know what I’m doing here. I came down here for the adventure of it, but everything seems like a hassle when I encounter it. I haven’t done a thing, no Chirripo, no Osa. I don’t think that I’ll go up to the beach, now. I don’t know where my home is. I was so happy to get away from the chains of bullshit in society, all that… pretend. I dread re-insertion. They’re going to find me out!”
“Take it one step at a time. You want to unload the car? You’re going to do that today! Then you’ll see how things seem, eh? Eh?”
I smile, despite myself. The coffee blows. I pour it quickly.
“Yeah. Of course you’re right. Man, I am all dried out!”
“Yeah.” I pour a large cup of water and down it as Andy cautiously tries the coffee.
He winces, “the cup is hot.”
“Sorry about that, but it wrecks it, if it’s cold.” I clean and reload the maker, placing it back on the stove; I’d not got around to turning the burner off.
“No problem, no worries. Dude. Everything is cool. Everything is gonna work out, I can feel it.”
“Andy, keep an eye on that; I gotta get some clothes.”
I re-enter the musty heat of my room. The breeze running through the house doesn’t come through here. I put on a clean, white tee-shirt, carefully. It hurts, but it feels good to cover it. I pull on the pants and step into the Birkenstocks.
I walk back into the kitchen.
“How’s it going?”
The maker starts to blow. I take it off the burner and pour it into my old cup. I notice that Andy has finished his, “You want more?”
“Take a break for a minute, brother.” He takes out a cigarette. “Let’s go to the porch.”
I pour half of the coffee into his cup.
We walk onto the back porch and sit on the steps. “How’s the back?”
“It’s really stiff. I’d like to soak it in the ocean for a while, to clean it out.”
“You were bagging it, weren’t you?”
“I started out with good intentions. …”
“Aw man!” He blows the smoke out and shakes his head.
“Forget that; too late to worry about it now. About this goin’ home thing, I’m just not sure what home is anymore. It’s like the Jimmie’s Chicken Shack song, “I’ve opened my doors of perception and can’t get them shut. Now I feel fucked, for free. Everyday-ay-yeah, I feel fucked for free. Everyday-ay-yeah, we’re all fucked.“[x] Let’s listen to it before we go.”
He nods and blows out smoke.
I hear the phone ringing. “Who is phoning me, now?”
“Fuck! Homes, how are you?”
“I’m kinda fucked up.”
“Aw, dude, sorry to hear that. What it’s like up there?”
“It’s been a shitty, long, cold winter. It was a good one to drive away from.”
“Well, I’m glad I’m here. What’s your funky mojo?” It’s the first time he’s called me since I’ve been away.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do. The bitch is busting my balls. I can’t stand her.”
“Dude. Aw dude! Why don’t yuh fly down?”
“You said in your email that you didn’t know how long you’d be staying there.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’m feeling like I want to leave, but, I don’t know where I want to be. I could be here another month, but after a week, nothing’s for sure. Communicate by email. How’s the house?”
“The fucking BWAD! He’s such a bitch! But it’s containable. Don’t worry about that.”
“I’ll try not to. Hey, I think I’m gonna sell the car today.”
“You’re going to sell it?”
“Yeah, it seems to be a major cause of stressing myself out. I’m hoping I can get rid of it today. That’d be cool.” I think about being free of it; like being able to breathe, again.
“If it’s a hassle you can unload…”.
I think for a second. “I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it. I’m just trying to get to that point. I know it’ll open up some options.”
“Well, dude, I don’t have too much to say, I just wanted to hear your voice.”
“I’m glad you called, man. Things could change here fast. I’ll send you emails, and maybe we’ll hook up, like, … who knows? Somewhere.”
“If I can, I’ll be there.”
“Fuck homes, it’s great to hear from you! I’ll call you on your cell, when I can.”
“See yuh, Homes.”
Andy walks in; he’s holding a plate with two pieces of toast.
“My brother,” I say, nodding at the phone, “it’s the first time I’ve spoken with him, since, …, since I left! No, no, I spoke to him from Silver City! I think it was Arizona, but, maybe…”. I remember the drive down; I got lost and took that wrong turn and ended up out of my way, in Silver City. “… Its New Mexico, isn’t it? I love it around there.” How long ago was it? …
“Your twin brother?”
He sounds so low. When he came back from a dozen years on the west coast, ‘BAM’! “He got a baby girl with a woman from the old neighbourhood.” The short honeymoon was long gone, a while ago. “They’re not compatible;” it’s ugly. He’s always been an extremely altruistic guy, but it’s getting sucked out of him; “it’s not good.”
I munch some toast and put on the Jimmie’s Chicken Shack disc. The music plays, “…will you bare your blood with me? I’ll bare mine with you… ”[xi] I advance it to the next one, “This is not Hell, …”70; that’s the one I’m after.
He’s melted cheese on the toast, and topped it garlic and olive oil. “This tastes so good, dude!”
He laughs at me; while I munch, he tells me how grateful he is to have a place to land at.
“This whole song is… reflective, of how I feel, now, the whole thing.” I feel disquieted. It’s as if someone is pulling the strings, calling the stage directions, and inserting the soundtrack in the movie of my life. “How could it be?” I look at him imploringly. It’s not the first time I’ve felt like this.
“You’re doing great! You’re living it!”
“I feel as if I’m lurching from one rut, of my own making, to another.”
“Look at yourself! You’re a fucking star!”
“I can’t feel it.”
He looks at me, and sighs, “right now, … right now, we’re going, and you are going to sell that car!” There is no doubt in him. “That’s just the way it is.”
That sounds an awful lot like me?!? “Are you jiving me?”
“Fuck! Think! Look at the pattern, man! You get the guy on the phone, he practically cums on the receiver; then you get the hot, horny, sexy tica cumming all over you, and I’m here, and I have to go to San José, ‘cause I have to go back, because, by some miracle, a spot has opened up in the program that was full two weeks ago. There is no doubt. You are going to sell it!”
He smiles, blasting down positive kharma at me. There is a sincere intensity in it; I feel the certainty crossing the space like a sonic boom and striking me, chest first, then outward, to the top on my skull. The blue eyes betray no flaw in his certainty.
“You’re right.” I can feel it. I hug him. “I’m happy I get to get to see yuh, before yuh have tuh go.”
“Dude, you are you! Fucking eh!”
He starts laughing.
“Grasshopper, I can teach you no more. You must now go to the land of the great white north, and be.”
The harmony of our laughter reminds me of laughing with my twin brother, as a child.
“I just want to roll a couple for the road. Then we go?”
I roll three. We smoke one on the back porch, then move directly through the house and into the car.
I turn the ignition. The engine starts smoothly and runs so quietly. “Since I got the muffler fixed, I can hardly hear it.”
I cruise out, heading for the nearest gas station before we leave town.
There are attendants at every gas station in Montalba, but at each one, they tell me that they are out of gas. I don’t know if I have enough to get all the way to San José. Well, we’ll get as close as we can; I’ll stick to bus routes as much as I can.
Andy tells me about living on the beach, and surfing every day. There was a small tent community with very good kharma. Sometimes he got a lesson. He gave a couple of lessons.
I think about paddling out through the invigorating azure, a breeze blowing, clear blue sky aiming the sun’s laser into my stinging eyes, then paddling like hell, in shore, to try to get up on a wave.
I zone back in to his narration of a trip into Malpaïs. In town he’d checked his email, and found out that he’d been accepted into the advanced wilderness emergency medical training program that he’d been trying to get into. But it had been moved forward by a month. They’d accepted him as an instructor for one segment. He’d qualify for certification as a wilderness paramedic.
“I can do anything with that. I can go down the Colorado any time I want. It’s the bomb, man!”
We clear Paraiso, I pull into the modern, clean gas station. The pumps are off. I walk into the kiosk; the guy recognizes me. “¿Quanto?”
“Uh”, I think about it. “Dos mille.” It would be plenty to go there and back, if I don’t sell, and not too much lost if I do. I’m so relieved to be able to get gasoline; I’d been imagining how crushing it would be if I ran out of gas on the way to sell it.
We cruise past where there would be a bloqueo, if there was going to be one. It’s 06h55. We’ll make it, just like Andy said.
“Hey dude, I didn’t tell you how much I loved your note, and the story about the climb. If I make this book, can I put it in?”
“Yeah, sure dude. That would be cool.”
“Did it really go down like that?”
He smiles, “mostly. You ought to know. So what about ‘the book’?”
“I wonder if the internet will get taken over by the corporations when it has become a critical infrastructure? Or will it be possible to use it, to weaken the control?”
“Will the corporations take control of it, and use it to further the control over humanity, or can it be used to evade their control and work to defeat them?”
“Yeah. Fuck. Totally. For now.”
“It will cause change, for sure. There are new ways to create community.”
“For sure. But it still seems artificial, virtual, like a computer game. The whole thing seems detached from tangible, like a cop-out. I tried the internet dating thing?! Fucking weird! When you’re there, in person, trying to get your mojo on, you gotta take the risk, you know? And that, … that risk, … the investment, uhh… putting yourself on the line?! Somehow it is… critical. Without it, I don’t know, it’s too sanitary; it’s too safe.”
“But the reach is still there. There’s a new system for raising awareness. Whatever happens in the future isn’t here now, yet. Right now, the internet is a whole new system that corporations haven’t figured out how to control. Grass roots is blazing the way. It’s cool.”
We approach the end of the highway. “Where are we going to, anyway?”
“I have the rest of my stuff still at Hotel Nicaragua; they let me leave it there. It’s Avenida 2, just passed Calle 11.”
“Okay.” We’re ahead of the morning rush hour, like the low before the wave. I don’t want to get caught in it.
“Mellow, guy.” He places his hand on my shoulder.
“I know it intellectually. But, for some reason, I can’t realize it, a lot of the time.”
“You drive yourself hard.”
“I now know how random chance can be used to create masterpieces. But, I’m having a hard time giving up the future-think, the planning and the re-planning. I get so pre-occupied with it, I feel like I’m missing a lot of the now.”
“As you know, worrying about it, takes you out of the now. If you mellow, do what you want, you are here. It is you.” He’s smiling.
“Jah man.” I know he’s right.
“You are going to sell the car. Relax, enjoy this last ride of the great woody shark.”
That sounds like me, talking.
I pull in front of a plain unmarked building. “Is this it?”
We unload his stuff to the curb. There’s not much traffic, neither people, nor cars. I go over the car again, to make sure we’ve got all his stuff out.
“Dude.” I’m sad.
“You gotta go sell the car, dude.”
We hug. “It’s great being with you, man.”
“Dean, pura vida. Way to go with the tica.” He shakes his head slowly, and chuffs a chuckle. “That’s a story.”
“Yeah, I got one or two more.” I think about it. “Depending on the angle.”
“Fuck you, your whole life is like this.”
“I think that of you!” But he’s also right; I’m just starting to be able to realize it as it happens, better than before, anyhow. “I’m not really all that sure about the past; ‘cuz the angle was different, I reckon.”
“Love yuh, brother.”
I get into the car, realizing the adventure as it is unfolding. I shake my head, smiling. I look back to try to see Andy, but he’s gone. I put it into gear and pull out.
I have no weight on me. What am I doing now?
Oh yeah, I’m going to sell the car, back in Aranjuez! It’s not too far.
* * *
The chiselling bastard waves the cold, hard two thousand American green in my face. He swears he doesn’t have a colón more. He’s a liar. But I don’t have the fight in me, I just want to get rid of it. I’m impatient. I wish I could enjoy this more. This fucking guy, leaning on me; the fucker!
I look at him; is he serious? There is no game in me. I’m just incredulous. It’s almost insultingly low. I want to be rid of it, so badly, but this… I have a momentary spark of uncertainty.
* * *
He hands me the $2250 USD, about what I paid for it.
I start taking my stuff out of it. There’s a lot more stuff, still in it, than I thought. I have to take a cab to the bus depot.
* * *
I take the stuff off the bus, in Montalba. This is how it’ll be done, from now on. The car is gone.
* * *
I drop the stuff on the floor of the porch.
I could go to meet Oliver, to go mushroom hunting with him. I don’t remember how I know this, but that’s not important. I have to go to the bank, first, before it closes, and send this money to my bank account, at home; I don’t want to be holding this much dough.
The administration is tediously ineffective. “¿El supervisor?”
Ahh, it’s taking so long; I’ve missed the bus. I think I might have told him I’d meet him at the bus stop; Fuck! “¿El director?”
I end up with the highest ranking official. Yes, I know how the banking system works. The rate they want to send it to Canada is robbery. I knew it was expensive to cable money, but this!? Then they can’t make it happen. I can’t take anymore. Give me the money back. For that much money, I’ll pay myself to look after it. I put a grand on my credit card; they can do that. Then I hurry out to get the local bus, along the main street, at the train tracks.
I’m half-an-hour late! Fucking banks, anywhere you go!
My new friend walks up to the gate, “hola.” She presses herself against the bars, her breasts squeeze against them, her face sideways, pressed in, smiling.
It’s well into dusk.
After a few hours, I tell her that I’m very tired, and I need to sleep.
Little by little, as I become more restless. I clarify what I really mean, I want her to go.
Once I voice it, she goes without problem.
But, I feel a strange, shapeless fear growing somewhere in my consciousness.
* * *
Uh? There is a grey static noise, with the occasional higher, tin notes. “Huh?” I come out to the porch. The mist invades everything; there is no way to get out of the rain, it already found me inside. Yet, it’s hot.
“Oliver”, I croak. “You look happy; what’s your problem?”
He smiles more, it infects me, and I grin. “Here.” He hands me about half-an-ounce of marijuana, in a clear plastic bag, as he walks through the gate. “Destroy”, he says in a low, sliding hiss.
We keep smoking it, until I say, “that’s enough.”
“No, let’s smoke it all.”
We’re about half way through it, way beyond what I thought I’d take. I’m stoned. “Okay.”
He looks up, as if realizing something, and thrusts his hand in his jeans pocket; he pulls out several small squares of paper.
“Hey, is that… ?”
* * *
We’re walking along. The damp and wet smells mingle in the foggy night-time gloom. It’s dark. “Who turned out the light, ossifer?” We’re in front of the karaoke bar, along the side of the park.
He turns to me. I stare him in the eyes. His look reflects my thoughts, ‘how the fuck did we get here, anyways?’, and ‘well, now that we’re here…’.
He grins under eye slits. I can feel my smile muscles flexing uncontrollably, almost painfully. “Ah… beer.” We go in.
I can’t stop laughing. I’m bent over, trying to catch breath between bouts, heaving out barks of laughter. He holds my shoulder, as if he’s afraid that I’ll keel over, and pats my back, howling in mirth. I look up and see a cluster of ticas looking over. I can tell he sees it too, because his laughing picks up. I can hardly get any breath in; the expression that they all share, a mixture of mild discomfort and petty distain, tinged with pity.
I stagger forward to see if walking will allow me to get more air. He stumbles, missing the support. I stand upright. I relax to try to calm the fits.
I order four beers. It’s not very crowded, but two beers won’t last the effort to come back in a minute. I turn with them. Oliver is on the stage.
He starts. “It’s been …years… and I’ve got to know what is and isn’t mine… Tie a… oak…”[xii]. He sings words when he wants to. He sways to the music. A fit of laughing rises up from my diaphragm; it’s the way he’s so casual with the words; beer spurts out of my mouth. I gulp down some more to stifle my barking.
The song is over. The next guy walks on to the stage. Oliver gently pushes him off the stage. He insists on singing the next one. The expression of disbelief of the guy’s face ignites more fits of laughter from my gut. It hurts. But, the benign certainty on Oliver’s Buddha face makes me hysterical. He sees me and starts laughing uncontrollably, then falls off the stage into a tight cluster of six or seven, soft-looking ticas.
Seeing no one on the stage, I lurch, as hurriedly as I can on the listing floor, and jump upon the stage. I can hardly believe no one beat me to it. “Tres, cinco, uno”, I say to the disc-jockey, referring to the number of the song that I shall sing.
The guy gives me the count down; the words are supposed to start at the same time as the music, or… vice versa. “Give me a ticket for an airplane, ain’t got time to take a fast train. Lonely days are gone, I’m a goin’ home, ‘cause my Baby she just wrote me…”[xiii].
* * *
The phone rings. Mechanically, I go and pick it up. I know it’s a mistake, as I am doing it, “hola?”
The voice from it says that it’ll pick me up in ten minutes, and hangs up. I don’t think I can go today; I should have told the voice that. I go back into the bedroom. My new best friend from the neighbourhood, is lying there! How did she get here, again?! I back out slowly, quietly. Quietly, I start the coffee, and gather the things I will need.
I walk back into the kitchen, just in time to get the coffee. I give it some sugar and gulp half of it.
I hear the drops, one by one smacking the porch roof.
I reload the maker, and place it on the stove, then finish the first one.
The honk is too loud, and he yells out, “Dean, let’s go.” The ‘o’ on the ‘go’ carries too much.
“¿Mi amor?” Damn!
The coffee blows; I pour it, and walk with it. I grab my gear from the floor, without breaking stride. <<I’ve got to go down the river. Work.>> I set the stuff down outside the door, carefully placing the coffee, so as not to spill it.
I pull the sheet down and lick her from the groin to the breasts, then kiss her on the mouth.
I hear the doleful, “mi amor”, as the gate slams shut.
* * *
It’s pouring rain at the put-in.
It’s a single raft. There’s only the four of them, paying customers. The river is roaring. “Pretty good for low water?”
“Pretty good high water.”
The ride gets wilder as it goes.
The river rises and pours through the gorge. I made a deal with Phil to be able to take a swim, without a lifejacket. The currents under the surface twist me around. It’s green-black beneath me, forever. Above, I see the grey crescent of light, far above. I remember George, from the Mosquito Coast, dove down for lobsters; I wonder how far he went down. I look back down, I could get lost before I run out of air.
“Dean! Let’s go.” How could I hear such a thing thirty feet under the surface?
One, two, three, four, no one missing. Helmut on, “forward!”
After the take-out, on the way back to Montalba, I tell Phil I’m thinking about trying to get on a freighter to the states. He says he’s going to Panama, tomorrow, to renew his visa; he’ll drop me in Limón.
* * *
There is honking. I’m awake. I get up. I walk out.
“Do you want coffee?”
“Come on, let’s go.”
His wife is there, and an adolescent boy. I’d seen him before at Phil’s place, a cousin of his wife. I can’t think of his name.
I reach the huge port authority building. It’s a huge warehouse of small administrative offices, establishing the core of the centro. I find an open door, and walk up the broad steel stairwell.
It had been suggested to me that I go to shipping agents, and see if they could arrange passage on a banana boat to Miami. I’d take a boat to a port in Europe, if the price was right.
The outside walls are iron lattice. A breeze blows through. However, waiting in one of the small, dirty beige-walled offices, there is no breeze. I’m baking. I can feel sweat rolling down my back.
The bloated, rutty-faced man invites me into his small, dirty, beige office. There is one porthole-sized window.
He explains it, dwelling on several points repeatedly; it’ll be one hundred US dollars up front, to get the ball rolling. That would pay for the few days of <<investigations>>, to find the ride and negotiate the price. It seems complicated.
I can smell the booze oozing out of his skin, slithering over to my nostrils. I feel a tugging at the pit of my stomach. ¿Will you be here tomorrow? Maybe I’ll come and see you tomorrow; I’ll think about it. He says he can’t guarantee that it will be possible to get a ride, if left to tomorrow.
I relax. I look him in the eyes. I nod slightly, blink and get up. I walk out; I don’t look back.
I wander around the quays. I don’t know what I’m looking for, maybe a captain?!
Fuck, this is fucked! It’s a million degrees; the sun weighs me down.
I’m in a valley of shipping containers, all around me. I can smell the ocean, but it might as well be a million miles from me. No! There is that nice little beach… it’s at the north end of town…
I see a cruise ship. I walk towards it. There is a security perimeter around it, and plenty of security guards lingering about. The afternoon is passing by. The haze is long since burnt off. It is so hot! Dust and grit cling to the oil and sweat; I can feel the grit at the bottom of my back, at the belt line. I pull my hat down. The backs of my ears ache from the wrap-around cables of the sunglasses.
I smell the stench of frustration, no matter which way I turn, or how fast I walk.
I walk back into town. I have to get some shade. My water is gone. I need beer.
I find shade in the central square. I buy some food from a vendor in the market. I take a beer at another stand. The ground feels like it’s shifting around me. I’m dosed out, too much sun.
I walk north, through the promenade. There’s the beach. I walk to the shade of a palm tree, and sit down, on the ground. It feels good to lie down.
But I don’t feel very good. Everything is spinning around, bad. The food is coming up; I’ve got breathe. That food would not come up easily, better to keep it down.
Sweat is pouring off of me. I’ve got to focus on breathing. I probably need water.
I’m up on my feet, but I can hardly walk straight. Something is definitely not right. I noticed a stall, at the top of the promenade, not too far away; I stagger towards it. I take a 1.5 litre plastic bottle of water, and hand over some bills.
It’s slightly cool; it’s so good! My body is singing with this.
He’s holding out his hand with something in it?! Oh yeah, change. “Ah… Gracias, Gracias.”
<<I think so.>> Maybe that’s it, dehydration. The world is coming back into focus. Every cell in my body is thanking my mind for finally figuring it out. “Adios.”
It’s like a miracle how much better I feel!
I go back to the beach. I lie down on the hard sand, in the shade of a palm tree. My head still spins around, but I figure the best strategy is mellowness. I’ll just let it happen. The clouds roll by. The waves break; the sound is pleasing to me. I hear sea birds calling. It feels nice to rest my eyelids. The sound of the breeze and breaking waves soothes me.
* * *
I float in a sea of bright red. It hurts my eyes. Where am I? I can hear the sea!
I open my eyes. The sun shines on me. I lie on the sand. Oh yeah. I feel so much better. I sit up and look around. A seagull walks towards me, questioningly. No one else is around. It seems curious, on a beach, in town, but there is no one here, but me! It’s weird. The seagull walks right up to me and calls. I caw back at him. He shirks back, momentarily, then strikes up a chorus.
I walk back through town, zigzagging southward, looking, but not finding. I turn around and walk back. At the north end of the commercial core, on a broad north-south avenida, I ring the bell to a pension. A peep-hole opens. “¿Sí?”
The air inside is stale. The room is gloomy, but clean. I take it. I’ll take a cold shower and go out again, after I take care of this administration. <<I may stay tomorrow night too… Check out is 11; I understand. Thank you.>>
There is a little balcony. The sun shines straight in from the south. I look down the esplanade; it’s a nice view. I take off my clothes, like they’ve been strangling me. I take a shower, wondering what the bed is like as I scrub the grime off? I hope it’s hard enough. I lie down on it; it’s soft, but not so bad. I rest my eye lids.
* * *
Uh oh! Did this happen again? It’s dark. I’m in a room. I get up off the bed. A breeze blows in through the window. I look down the dusky esplanade.
I take the cold shower.
I dress and walk out. It’s tranquil. The breeze is warm, but it feels fine after the heat of the day. I wander around. Nothing interests me.
I hear a distinctive smack against the palm leaf above me, then another and another. I can hear it all around now. It’s raining.
Now it’s pouring down. The rain pounds dirt into mud. Everything is wet. The mist drifts under covers and moistens all.
I walk slowly back to the pension. There is no need to hurry, I’m soaking wet, already. It’s not cold. I don’t know why I’m so drowsy; I should be wide awake after all the napping. I’ll do a bit of writing, maybe.
I take off my clothes and lie down.
* * *
I wake. A silver laser blazes into my eyes from the sliver of a crescent in the sky. I can see the far end of the esplanade in hyper-clarity; there is not a person in sight. I feel the soft cool breeze upon my skin, so nice.
I prowl silently down the stairs and out. Everything is clean. I move very quietly, and no one else disturbs the stillness. The damp, salty air cools by gusts. A chill runs welcome over my skin. At the centro, still there is nobody else about. I sit on the bench. How can it be like this? What is going on?
I relax and feel the stillness of it, so calm, so tranquil, as if time has stopped.
A single drop smacks onto my forehead; the shrapnel sprays my face. There is nothing above me.
I get up and walk up the street, back to the pension. Steam rises from the pavement. There is a thin fog by the time I reach the door. Above, the stars are veiled. I hear a gull crying over the dull roar of the surf.
[i]. “The Heights of Macchu Picchu: A Bilingual Edition” (English and Spanish Edition) Paperback by Pablo Neruda (Author) , Nathaniel Tarn (Translator), ISBN 9780374506483, © 1991
[ii]. “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, by George Orwell, published in 1949, by Secker and Warburg, London
[iii]. “soda’, is a word that describes a small ‘snack bar’ or ‘cafeteria’, a small dining facility with, typically, a limited menu; the food quality can be variable
[iv]. “main highway” here was, at the turn of the century, often referred to as <<the old highway>> to Quesada, from San José; at the time of editing circa 2015, it is labelled as Hwy. 141 on Google Maps; not to be confused with the main north-south artery, Pan American Hwy. 1, on which Dean arrived to San Ramon, from Liberia, that evening; Dean and Beñamin drive a small road from San Ramon, hwy. 703
[v]. “Crackstatic”, song lyrics, by Ron Hawkins and the Rusty Nails from the album “Crackstatic” © 2000
[vi]. “Tri-X”, Kodak Tri-X is the most popular black and white film of all time, typically ISO 400; the Eastman Kodak Company, originally of Rochester New York, was for many years considered synonymous with photography, up to the digital era, circa 2005, after which, facing dramatically declining revenue, as digital capture became affordable, and consumers stopped using film and processing consumables sold by Kodak; in a remarkably short time, the brand name faded from relevance
[vii]. “Canary in a Coalmine”, song lyrics, by The Police, from the album, “Zenyatta Mondatta”, produced by The Police, Nigel Gray © 1980
[viii]. “The Cure”, and The Pretenders are British-based new wave rock bands, whith commercial success in the 1980s
[ix]. Telephone book, before the internet, there were telephone books to look up people, in the White Pages, and businesses, in the Yellow Pages (paginas amarillas); in smaller urban areas, these were combined into a single book.
[x]. “This is not Hell”, song lyrics, by Jimmie’s Chicken Shack from the album “Pushing the Salmanilla Envelope” © 1997
[xi]. “Blood”, song lyrics, by Jimmie’s Chicken Shack from the album “Pushing the Salmanilla Envelope” © 1997
[xii]. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree”, is a song popularized by the band Dawn featuring Tony Orlando, written by Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown and produced by Hank Medress and Dave Appell, with Motown/Stax backing vocalist Telma Hopkins, Joyce Vincent Wilson and her sister Pamela Vincent on backing vocals; it was a worldwide hit for the group in 1973.
[xiii]. “The Letter”, written by Wayne Carson Thompson, performed by the Box Tops, Bell album 6011-S, November 1967