Category Archives: Tropical Cancer

Flutterby House

FLUTTERBY HOUSE

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One doesn’t grow old in Costa Rica, they grow young again. This is a “blue zone” country where life expectancy is enlarged to accommodate her Pure Life slogan to its maximum potential. This is a place to water your roots and revive the child within. Arrive and thrive…

Costa Rica, whose main source of income is tourism. The large population of ex-pats who live here full or part time contribute to its health. Such is the case with the Flutterby House near Uvita. Pam, a gringa from California, conceived her hostel concept while traveling and opened in 2009. Joined later by her sister, Kim, the place is in full swing now. Bar, restaurant, walk to the beach… Tropical everything, where it’s always Summer—rain or shine, night and day, all year long. The volunteers are priceless. The grounds are kept immaculately clean. Exotic plants line the pathways to wooden cottages and tree houses. Ping pong and corn hole games are in play. Quiet conversations are held on chairs swinging under a tree house. Books are read on hammocks in the shade, or at a table over a fresh sandwich and cold drink. A group clothesline drapes towels and swimsuits to remain perpetually damp in the humidity. With a slight breeze, they are playthings for the kitten.

From what I’ve seen, twenty-somethings are the bulk of Flutterby’s business. That’s my daughter’s generation. It was only recently I learned that in order to be “up” for something I now need to be “down” for it. With this international crowd there’s no need for lexicon updates, we’re all too busy trying to understand each other’s accent, or their limited English, or our crappy Spanish, or all of the above with a few beers mixed in (or maybe that’s just me). We’re here to rejuvenate ourselves, right? I’m down for being up for a party!

Whew, I had to rest my eyes for a minute. I leaned back on the couch and saw a replay—a short vid clip in my head—of a girl walking up (or down) the street. It was pouring rain when we left Flutterby that Saturday after softball, making us run to the car. Fat drops slapped the windshield as she made her way toward the hostel, as if emerging from beneath a waterfall. For the sake of my companions, I poked the driver as he fiddled with his seat belt, “Quick, windshield wipers!”

She walked leisurely, oblivious to the downpour. It’s the tropics. Having just come from the nearby beach, you’re in your bikini already. The fresh water rinses your hair and body of salt. With a bar of soap, you could be showered before you walk in the door. If it were me, I’d drip dry at the bar with a shot of Irish whiskey, neat please (but I’m not in a bikini). Even though this girl had a beautiful, swaying walk about her, it was her expression that caught my eye. Was she really as “in the moment” as she appeared? It’s something I’ll never know, but to sense its presence is perhaps good enough to go by.

My wife wouldn’t have had that vid clip in her head, but she may have one of that hunky Dutch guy with the intricate tattoos, ripped abs and playful accent, but that’s not the point. The point is, you don’t have to be broke to stay there. Flutterby House is a hostel environment (no pun) whose intentions are well defined. Be kind to the Earth. Live simply but comfortably and cleanly. Make wholesome food. Be of good cheer. Be nice. Be close to the surf. Only a short walk away, let the kid in you play softball on Saturday (or come watch). Shed the cocoon of your everyday life and rejuvenate here. As a baby-boomer, I can’t think of a better place to hang out (or in, as the case may be). Thanks, Pam, for making your vision chrysalis clear (pun mandatory).

See for yourself: Flutterby House

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Tropical Cancer—Rule Number Three

Rated R (Language)

Rule Number Three:
Expect everything to take longer in Costa Rica.

This is easily misunderstood as a bad thing, but smart people evolve a healthy attitude regarding slowing down in life—which serves them well in the end. Don’t plan on accomplishing more than one or two tasks per day and you’ll be fine. When going to Official Offices, eat first, pee, and bring War and Peace.

For example:

I let the car take us down the hill in second gear while marveling at the clarity of the air. There was no mist over Cortes—the small banana town Dole built and abandoned some fifty years ago, leaving only poor field workers in rudimentary dwellings. All was crystal clear, especially since I was wearing my glasses. This is a semi white-knuckled drive even on the best of days. Rain from the night before may have caused landslides, but the national utility company has been efficient about cleaning up. Same with power outages—we’re usually back online within a couple hours. But today is perfect for driving into town. We’re on our way to the local ICE (e-say) office in order to set up our internet.

I parked across the street from the small, brightly painted office, turned to Babe and said, “Good luck.”

“You too.” We are nearly confident and go inside.

Diego is at his desk but busy with another customer. He takes special care not to make eye contact, it seems, as we take a number and sit down. There’s always a small TV somewhere in banks and offices showing Discovery Channel documentaries about wild animals who feed on humans. I settle in to wait as a crocodile tears the arm off a golfer looking for his ball, leaving the rest of him to be devoured by carnivorous ants

.Much later, our number is next and Diego is finished with his customer. He grabs his cell phone and walks out the door. Lunch time. A distinguished looking gentleman takes his place and it’s our turn. He read every word of each document we have, opened his computer, and read something there for ten minutes.

“No puedo.” (He can’t.) “Blabbity-blah con bippity essay eee…..” I could tell it wasn’t going to happen, for some reason. I think we got stuck on the address line. The subsequent ninety minutes was made up of his trying to explain something to us, which we didn’t understand, consulting with his colleagues, reading his computer, reading more of our documents, saying “No puedo” and sighing heavily. Fortunately, I had the bright idea to call our lawyer so he could explain the papers he drew up for us. They spoke for about ninety seconds, after which the gentleman said “Perfecto,” hung up, and went back to his computer.

“Yes!” I said to Babe, exchanging mental high-fives. We had done it by ourselves, sorta. I looked behind me. There were two dozen people waiting where there were three when our number was called. “Wow, it’s getting dark outside,” I noticed. Strange, since it was only a bit after noon. No sooner had I noticed than it started raining. Big, tropical drops, then water balloons until…

Power outage at the utility company! I wanted to say “Are you kidding me?” so I did. Not now, we’re so close! Flashlights were produced and incomprehensible chatter followed. Power returned after five minutes. The rain was so thick I knew running for the car would completely soak me. We had an umbrella but it was in the car, naturally.

Twenty minutes later, he had put the proper chip in our hardware, handed us papers to sign and our PIN numbers, sank back in his chair with a huge sigh of relief and we shook hands good-bye. Mission accomplished. I had to get back up the mountain to tend bar for a private party (since Alonso, the new bartender, had the night off and Twinkletoes couldn’t handle fifty people by himself) and we still had some shopping to do. I ducked my head and ran to the car.

“Nice job, Babe,” I said as she got inside. I had pulled up to the front door so she wouldn’t get too wet. Water dripped off my nose. I blew on a drop and it landed on her forehead. “Oh, sorry.”

She laughed and fist-pumped. “Yes!” Now she would be able to play online poker from the comfort of our own deck. Some people drink. Some smoke pot or meditate. Babe plays Texas Hold ‘Em. She’ll be happier now that she has her internet. I’m happy we don’t have to get a TV.

What followed is best described in Screenplay format:

Our couple drives out of town in the pouring rain.
The sky is dark, the drops fat.

HIM: Wow, the sky is so dark! And the drops so FAT.
HER: Hmm?

The wipers are working furiously and the defroster is at full blast as they make the turn onto their road. For the next seven kilometers they slide in and out of mud and rocks, drive over fallen trees and around landslides in a near-straight-up trek to their property.

HIM: Shit. Fuck. Damn. Hell. Bastard!
HER: Uh….

Their access road is under water but HIM attempts it anyway, immediately getting stuck in approximately 15.88 inches of mud.
Tires spin, going nowhere.

HER: Uh…
HIM: I know.

The rain has let up some. HER gets out of the car and proceeds to walk. HIM gets out and inspects the clay-like mud that’s up to the runner. It’s deep-shit deep, maybe all the way to Australia. HIM shakes his head as if that might create a miracle. It doesn’t.

HIM: Fuck.

HIM’S sandals are thick with sticky mud, causing a gushy sucking sound when he steps away from the vehicle. There is perhaps five pounds of the stuff on each shoe. He sets out for home sounding like a suction cup
on a frosted cake.

Their “luxury camping” site in view, HIM watches HER go inside.

HER (in the distance): SHIT! FUCK! OH-MY-GOD!
HIM: Hmm.

HIM reaches the steps and ducks his head under the tarp strung with string and bunjee cords to get inside. The place is soaked. There’s puddles on the kitchen tables. The inside of the bedroom tent is wet (having left the screened windows uncovered.) Clothes are wet.
A carpet is halfway soaked. The power is off.

HIM: Hmm again.
HER: Look at this place!

(HIM already was.)

HIM: Don’t worry. It’s just stuff.
HER: (Frowns at Him.)
HIM: We’ll upgrade our tarps tomorrow morning.

That’s how a simple ride to ICE turns into a two-day schlepp.

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Tropical Cancer—Remembrance

“No one is useless in this world who lightens
the burden of it to anyone else.”
—Charles Dickens

I’ve seen a lot of people come and go in the past five years. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if all of them had stayed. We’d still have a webmaster, a pilot, a handy-man, a couple more nurses, an EMT, a bee master, a few permaculture specialists, an IT person, a scientist with brilliant ideas, yoga instructors, chefs, massage therapists, various musicians, a psychologist, an extra bartender, a Reverend, over a dozen children, and a couple fire spinners. Some of these people have simply moved on to other places, while some have passed away.

Brad was the first to go. Poor guy… I understand he was manic-depressive or some such thing. He must have been in his forties. Big guy, and somewhat over-bearing. He had trouble wherever he went, it seems. In Sierpe, where he kept his fishing boat, the locals didn’t like him because he owed them money. Brad referred everyone to Gazpacho, saying he’d pay them because Gazpacho owed him money. The locals care more about soup than Gazpacho, of course, and beat the hell out of Brad for stiffing them. He was busted in Jaco for walking out of a store with fishing supplies and telling them he was from the CIA (and to send them a bill). As a matter of principal, the locals beat the hell out of him there, too, then shipped him back to the States. Back in the US, Brad showed up in a Huffington Post sidebar after having gotten busted for skinny dipping in someone’s pool and stealing a car. He told the cops that he only had 100 beers and they promptly hauled him away. At least he didn’t get a beating for it, as far as I know. Not long after, he took his own life.

Then Dan showed up to inspect his newly purchased lot. A very nice man originally from Uruguay and living in the States, a father of two teenage boys, he went in the ocean and never came out. I had just spent an evening with him at the bar the night before, and waved the next day as he drove to the beach. I said Hello, he said Goodbye—giving new meaning to the Beatles song.

My good friend Kevin… a self-diagnosed manic depressive with suicidal tendencies. Medicated in binges, washed down with alcohol, a bad love affair finally pushed him over the edge of a tall mango tree on a short rope. This man was a walking, at times stumbling study in human psychology. Brave enough to look for work in a foreign country and smart enough to teach himself Spanish by watching television and immersing himself in the culture. His intellect was keen, but discipline… that was his challenge, and it led to severe chemical imbalances in his physiology—which directly affects a person’s psychology. I guess things build up over time in a person’s heart and mind, to the point where one feels that no one cares about them so why go on? I cared about you, Kevin, but you were too far gone to ever recover.

Anita had physical problems before she got here and they continued to plague her throughout her stay. She finally returned to the US after her insurance company complained that they needed a test of her water or they’d stop paying her medical claims. Shortly thereafter, she died. The once proud Shaman, who beat the drum for divine inspiration and promoted enlightened communication in an unenlightened world, succumbed to the rigors of her uncooperative body.

Irene passed away suddenly, even though she had a history of physical problems, leaving her husband with a new house in Costa Rica he can hardly bring himself to visit. Poor Harold (her husband)… When he comes to Costa Rica now he is already in tears. When he returns to the States he’s greeted by Lucky, the Tico dog Irene insisted they bring back to Florida. Poor guy can’t make a u-turn without running into himself, and Irene, all over again.

And there was Ron McDonald, whose jeep rolled into a river—killing him and a local girl. Who doesn’t have a story about Ron, one of the funniest persons I’ve ever known? When we first met I admit I snickered at his name. He was okay with that and almost seemed to relish in the humor, which impressed me right away. He was proud his parents named him after an iconic American clown (better than Bozo, which was my nickname in high school). As two clowns, we were instantly compatible. When he told me he was conceived at Woodstock I mentioned that I had been to the concert. He immediately threw his arms out and said “Daddy!”

Ron… you had the whole package, almost (let’s be honest). You could be obnoxious to the humorless, but you were sharp witted, clever, absurd and even brilliant all in one afternoon—in time for happy hour hors d’oeuvres. What you lacked in discipline (at times) you made up for with laughter, personality, character and pura vida in the best possible sense. I hate that you’re gone (I’ll work on it). To imagine myself in your parents’ place is deeply painful. You had quite a heart, hermano. But such is Life, as they say. It’s not your fault. It’s karma, destiny, whatever…

Ron… who would gladly buy the house a round, then put it on someone’s tab he didn’t like. “Fuck ’em!” he’d say, raising a toast (fist bump), and laugh. Ron, who told prospective buyers he was coming to live with them as their son. Ron… fond of women, animals and children (in that order). Ron… for whom no couch, chair, hammock, car seat or kitchen floor was too uncomfortable to sleep on. Ron… at times inappropriate to the point of hilarity. Over the top, irreverent, some say wild, always smiling, kind-hearted, great-souled Ron. I’m going to miss the hell out of you. There’s nothing I can offer to those who miss you except time heals. Ronny was a gift to my life and to many others. We thank your parents for that, Ron. And a big thanks to Max Yasgur, without whom Ronald McDonald may have only been a gleam in his father’s eye.

(Musical interlude: Woodstock, 1969)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqZceAQSJvc

The good news, Ron, is there’s still a bartender on the mountain. The bad news is there’s no bar at the moment. For now at least, provide your own merriment and cheer. You were good at that, Ron. You too, Kevin and Anita and Dan and Irene and even you, Brad. Maybe you had personal issues and troubles (or not) but you added to my merriment and cheer. I would add, Mr. Dickens, that to lighten someone’s load is its own reward. He would have loved you all, and grieved after your passing. Rest assured, you are in fine company.

For those who have left the building, memories of lost friends may soon fade like an old photograph. For some of us here, they are as fresh as today’s bok choy. As for the community, there’s a position open for fire spinner. Apply within.

Tropical Cancer—Moonlit Nights, Silent Days and Zippers

Moonlit Nights, Silent Days and Zippers

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An unfinished parody of the song Misty.

Musty

Look at this
It’s as soggy as a mitten in iced tea
and I feel like I’m clinging to a mold.
I can’t understand,
It gets musty just being around.

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“…it was the age of foolishness…”

2011

I didn’t see moonlit clouds in the US very often. Forget about Los Angeles. San Francisco was mostly foggy, and Silicon Valley was not unlike Los Angeles for any cloud in general—that is to say, those places have a whitewashed, nondescript and what I’d call a generic look. Blasé, if you will. New York City was the best place for moonlit clouds. When you’re perched atop a 30-story apartment building the sky is a gorgeous sight. As I sat on my deck one night transfixed by the crescent of a quarter moon I wondered what Calcutta would look like under such skies. Then I wondered why I wondered that.

We’ve had moonlit nights with soft music in the background. We’ve danced a little, and performed kabuki on the crawling mist. We’ve watched our variegated green, golden-lit-between-steamy-shafts-of-tropical-mist landscape change before our eyes while sipping lattes over a breakfast of fresh eggs, pineapple and toast. There’s been quiet daybreaks, each one with a new face on it. I slide open the tarp in the morning and breathe it all in as if for the first time—hoping I won’t wake up from this dream and have to go to work.

We have new friends in our life committed to making our community a fun, happy place. Helpful people who pull us out of the mud when necessary, or take us by the hand into the bank in order to be told we don’t have the necessary papers for whatever it was we intended to do. There’s parties, dancing and poker nights. There’s sharing of washing machines and showers for those of us who run out of water.  The coffee is ridiculously delicious, the Ticos are gracious, beautiful people and there’s a political common sense in Costa Rica you won’t find in the US.

All that considered, I was happy to let Babe suck a wasp nest into a vacuum cleaner in order to make the temporary inconvenience of “luxury camping” more palatable.

There are days of silent testimony to the power of the jungle. As the tropical mist rises, the low clouds slide overhead like a lid on a pressure cooker. There’s a slight breeze and the sun is hot. No bugs are squeaking, clacking, buzzing, clicking or otherwise whining this morning. The monkeys are on a banana break. The birds drift on noiseless auto-pilot. If a butterfly flew by I’d have to tell it to shut the hell up. The fans are off, as is the air conditioner which sits outside the canvas tent on a shaky step ladder. There’s no background music playing to the subtle dance of the elements. Even the refrigerator and ice maker stand mute.

It’s so quiet you could hear a snake drop.

One of our cats pads across the deck and I ask her to Keep it down, willya. I think I hear leaves sprouting on the hibiscus. She looks at me as if to say the feline equivalent of Blow me and keeps walking.

All this can only mean one thing: the power is out, again. Were it not for the fact we have a propane stove I might be tweaked in a negative way about this, but I can still make coffee so it’s alright. It’s even welcome, in a way. The silence goes with the landscape like tapa dulce to my java. It makes me feel metaphysical, though no life-shattering cognitions come to mind. Perhaps that’s the point of silence—to not have any thoughts whatsoever, but to simply Be in the present.

I can do that, but I gotta have coffee nearby.

Dear Lord, I prayed, would it be possible to have power and water on the same day?

More silence for answer. I stifle a sigh when I realize I’ve left my butts in the screened tent. No big deal for an ordinary citizen who doesn’t live inside polyester, plastic and canvas but it means I have to squat to the floor to unzip the tent, squat again to zip it up, grab my lighter, squat to unzip, then squat again to zip up. It’s the bugs, of course, who make me do this. Sometimes I can’t help thinking that, in the final analysis, the bugs win the battles and the writing’s on the wall as to who will lose this war. Frodo Was Eaten Here.

The days start by climbing out of the tent. Squat/zip open screen door, step outside, squat/zip close screen door. Damn, I forgot to let Lucy out. Squat/zip open screen, squat/zip close screen. Squat/zip, let cat out. Squat/zip open screen, squat/zip close screen. It’s a little chilly this morning. Squat/zip open bedroom tent, squat/zip close bedroom tent. Grab shirt. Squat/zip open bedroom tent, squat/zip close bedroom tent. It’s no wonder my back is tight.

Where the hell are my butts? All I have is my lighter—the butts are still in the screen room of the other tent. Squat/zip, squat/zip. Grab butts. Squat/zip, squat/zip. Fucking bugs are making my back stiff and laughing at me from the rafters. Bastards. I grab my racquetball racquet, sit in the lounger, and wait. Sooner or later a waspy thing will hover too close and I’ll ping the shit out of it. I smile and chuckle. The last one went clear down to the next lot.

Ping! Ha-ha-ha! Beat the crap out of him with a backhand winner. Pura vida this, bug-holio!

…teach that sucker NYC hombres ain’t to be trifled with…

At the four month mark most of our clothes need to be replaced. If there’s not clay stains, or food stains from eating in a lounge chair rather than a proper table, then there’s mold. Even the cats are getting moldy (I tell them to keep moving). Holding up a pair of fuzzy green pants that should be white, I tell Babe: “It’s just stuff,” all of it replaceable. She Hmms.

Beats workin’! Don’t go there. Concentrate on the good stuff. The view from our property, for one thing. A steaming cuppa joe over-looking the Pacific and the unbelievable wildlife all around us. I should drag out the laptop and make a list.

Squat/zip open screen tent, squat/zip close. Grab laptop. Squat/zip open, squat/zip close. Fuck, I forgot my glasses. Squat/zip open, squat/zip close, grab glasses, squat/zip open, squat/zip close. The call of the six-foot zipper pierces the heavy stillness. Toucans are becoming annoyed.

Where the fuck’s my coffee? Augh! Squat/zip open…

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Tropical Cancer—Happiness

Happiness

“…we are all going direct to Heaven…”

(Written fifteen months into our “luxury camping” experience.)

June, 2012

My mother once told me: “Happiness isn’t necessarily at the end of a hard decision.” She was correct to specify “necessarily…” (She also told me Saint Germaine incarnated as a poodle and peed on George Bush’s foot. You had to separate the wheat from the chaff with Ma.) Moving to Costa Rica was one of those hard decisions. With all our circumstances pointing the way out of the US, it was still difficult to let go of the land of our birth. Even as recently as a few weeks ago I mentioned to Babe while we were driving that we’d have to borrow Winter clothes if we ever want to take a vacation in snow country again. My Hawaiian Babe said, and I quote, “Fuck snow. You’re never seeing that shit again!” 

R-r-r-rip! I nearly swerved into a ditch.

What? Huh? I hadn’t counted on that when we left the States and it came as quite a shock to realize it may be true. No more snow? I grew up with snow! After I calmed down, I thought: Yeah. Who needs snow and frozen feet any more?

It’s been intermittently sunny, clear, warm, thunderous, rainy, windy and chilly the last couple days. After fifteen months, our residency papers still aren’t ready but there’s hope they will be with-in 30 days. With the advent of some unexpected expenses, money is tight again. We don’t go to restaurants any more, or indeed, even go off the mountain except for supplies. Going to the bar is our sole extravagance, where I play pool and drink coffee with whiskey while Babe plays penny-ante online poker. Some of our neighbors do the same, and we all have a good time. We joke and laugh and say stupid or wise things. The music plays and a hundred toads sing in croaky counter-point. News is passed from one person to the next. The cue ball flies off the table…

And sometimes there’s gossip. Did you hear about so-and-so? He was arrested for drinking 100 beers and skinny-dipping in someone’s pool.

So what’s wrong with that? He then drove away in someone else’s car. Upon hindsight, as they hauled him off to jail, he probably thought it wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Yesterday I caught three talapias for dinner. Okay one was a suicide (it jumped out of the tank), and some helpful Tico workers showed me how to catch the other two, and how to hang them on a stick for carrying. We grabbed salad vegetables and herbs from the community food table, added a bottle of Malbec and a fresh loaf of sourdough bread Mr. Underdog made for us and Babe put together a delicious dinner.

At the moment I’m sitting next to our fire pit—contemplating whether I should make a fire. The weather is overcast, comfortable and calm. Lowland visibility is clear to the horizon. The view is every shade of green with a spattering of yellow and three ribbons of shimmering rivers emptying into the blue Pacific. Isle de Caño is a sharply defined bump in the ocean. Spanish Caravan plays in the background. Next to me is a cup of coffee and a beer. As the sun descends it floods the landscape with orange highlights. A hill in the distance turns golden, then back to old forest green. A cloud is wrapped in rosy pink swathes of the sunset. A thick, gray mist encroaches from the east as the west explodes with ember-colored thunderheads moving quickly south to north. The sun pushes the greens, grays and soft blues of the ocean along the surface as it sets—smearing the water with currents in pastel colors. I can almost hear it sizzle as it slides off the Terraba river into the ocean. Sheets of dark rain reach the horizon…

Yes, I decide, it’s a good night for a bonfire.

And I know as I sit here, Ma, that you were right. Happiness isn’t necessarily at the end of a hard decision, but sometimes it is.

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Rules of Costa Rica

Rule Number Fourteen: Don’t expect good directions.

The most common phrase of the GPS device we rented was: Go 300 meters and make a U-turn. At one point it asked us to get on the highway where there was no entrance, insisting we make 18 about-faces until we accidentally found the road ourselves (and acted as if it were correct the whole time). For ten bucks a day who needs this abuse? Mostly you’re guided to landmarks—or where a landmark used to be, maybe four generations ago.

The following is a nearly perfect transcription of a conversation Babe had on the phone with a receptionist at a hotel we were trying to find in San Jose (a place with few street signs and fewer house numbers), who had advised us to call for directions when we were nearby.

Babe: “Hola!” (Blah-blah-blah) “…we’re in town. Can you guide us to your front door?”

Reception: “Ah… uh… yes. Is dificil.” Pause.

Longer pause. “What did he say?” Babe asked.

“He said it’s difficult—”

Reception: “You know there are not [sic] tall buildings in Costa Rica?”

Babe looked to me for help. I had been behind the wheel for seven hours and not in the mood for trick questions. I shrugged and kept driving in the hopes of accidentally finding the place, or a descriptive landmark, or a sign saying I was still in Central America.

Babe (into phone): “Ok-a-a-ay…”

Reception: “Yes, so, yes. Do you see any tall buildings near you?”

What, did he think we drove to Manhattan? Ultimately, he suggested we follow a taxi.

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Tropical Cancer—Two National Parks Nearby

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A couple months before moving here, I rubbed my hands together with anticipatory glee and searched google maps to see which National Parks are near Cortes.

Bingo. Marina Bellini. (Wait, that’s champagne and peach schnapps with brunch at the yacht club.)

Parque Nacional Marina Ballena is roughly twenty miles north. Google promises it takes exactly twenty-eight minutes to get there under any conditions. I can live with that. So let’s check out the Official website.

Oh wow. Beautiful cross-fading slideshow of stunning coastline. Whales in the water. There’s no copy on the Home page except the links on top, so I picked one that’s currently inactive.

Oh wow. What does this all mean? It’s en Español, naturally.

ACTIVIDADES DEL PARQUE AQUI
La Costanera Sur
(Dominical – Palmar Norte) 

Never fear! At the top of the page there’s a Translation link. How wondrous is this new tool the Ape has got hold of—the browser? Translation:

PARK WORK HERE
The Costanera Sur
(Sunday – Palmar Norte)

Below are excerpts of the translation, which turned out to be a tour of the southern beaches:

Sunday is the starting point for this route, we can now do so
without shattering the vehicle…

That’s reassuring. Followed by some non-sequiturs, such as:

Upon leaving we left Sunday, forested hills under the Fila called Sunday.

They got this thing about Sunday, apparently. And sentences requiring critical thinking before they make much sense, such as:

Its height and proximity are factors that cause in the winters which streams flow from becoming violent and drag the bridges, as water has
no place to rest during the floods.

I had to rub my temples after reading that. Then, a shocker:

Hovering there, called my attention to a foreign body in the sea.

No one I knew, hopefully.

I took out the binoculars and I was lucky to witness
something that in my life seen two whales…

Whew. Followed by some solid info:

Do not know much about whales but, ask other people… Anyway…

And another non-sequitur:

I had the opportunity to enter, but since the road is very attractive.

Describes an interesting bit of architecture:

It can be seen across the river on the island of Punta Mala,
which in this room has beautiful mangroves…

Must be either a big room or small mangroves—or a room under water, obviously, because “water has no place to rest during the floods.” It wraps up with a bit of local news:

Many people speak the transfer of Cortez to another place, because of the threat of flooding of the terrace. However, it is considered by its
inhabitants as a crazy who are not willing to allow.

Those whacky Cortesians! And finally, it admits:

Here ends this route, which, in the short term, it has become the preferred way of heavy traffic that flows from border to border, to prevent the ascent of Cerro de la Muerte and the entrance to Central Valley.

So after all that, don’t bother to go there because the traffic sucks anyhow. Not exactly what I was googling for, but a fun read nonetheless. Now that I’ve been to the park I can tell you that it is quite beautiful and worth the experience—and the traffic’s not that bad.

The next website I went to was in English and showed some of the fauna in Marino Ballena National Park.

Check out the photo of a bananaquit. How cute is that little guy? Makes me think of corn flakes, for some reason. I haven’t met a critter in Costa Rica yet who isn’t at least slightly lovable, for one reason or another. Simply being utilitarian is enough for me to appreciate an animal who may look like it’s from outer space. It wasn’t their fault (indeed, it was their strength) the black-ctenosaur looks like the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

“Oh yeah? Google insects and snakes in Costa Rica,” Babe asked, as long as I was googling. “If there’s a lot of snakes I’m gonna be freaked—”

“Nah,” I cut her off. “Snakes are cool, for one thing. Besides, one doesn’t have a snake problem, they have a mongoose deficiency.”

“You want a mongoose now? Do they even have mongooses in Costa Rica?”

I confessed to not knowing whether one should say “mongeese” and asked Jeeves: Are there mongoose in Costa Rica?

Yes. The small Indian mongoose is now found in Costa Rica, Hawaii, Fiji, the islands of the Caribbean, and other places around the world.

There you go. Got a problem? Nature provides a solution. On a roll, I asked Jeeves if there were any insects in Costa Rica.

Yes. Costa Rica Insects and Insect Repellents.

No hay problema!

Moving along, now we head approximately twenty miles south to Parque Nacional Corcovado, where we find OMG A GIANT (insert your preferred expletive) SNAKE! Oh (insert favorite deity or prophet), it’s probably got the half-digested remains of Detroit in there!

Some words from the website for
CORCOVADO NATIONAL PARK FOR ECO-TOURISM:

…an international attraction for eco-tourists.
…[contains] 4% of the world’s biodiversity…
…paradise for eco-tourism…
…best place to glimpse the diversity of flora and fauna that exists in Costa Rica…
…Biologists estimate that the area contains approximately 10,000 species of insects, at least 2,418 species of plants, 700 species of trees, 140 species of mammals, 367 types of birds, 117 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 40 species of freshwater fish. An estimated 49 species of trees in the area are in danger of extinction, at least 12 of which are endemic to Costa Rica.
…the home of an endemic species of bird and 17 endemic subspecies of birds…
…also contains the most significant populations of large endangered mammals such as jaguars, pumas, ocelots, white-lipped peccaries, and tapirs on the Pacific coast of Central America…
…relatively large populations of endangered birds in Corcovado including scarlet macaws and the great curassow…

Curassow? Isn’t that an orange liqueur from a small Caribbean island? (Whatever it is, don’t let it get near your peccary.)

Corcovado National Park is, in a word, happenin’. One website says there’s approximately 600 species of insects in the park, while the quote above says there’s more like 10,000 (neither site was dated). Excuse me, but in my mind that’s a big-ass discrepancy. Birds are one thing, but bugs are quite another. They may be small, sure, but stack 9400 of them in a black helmet and give it a cape and you’ve got Darth Vadar.

“But I am your father!”

“No-o-o-o!”

Whether I ever make it to Corcovado remains to be seen.

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Tropical Cancer—Bioshelters: Re-inventing the Wheel

Bioshelters: Re-inventing the Wheel

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Rules of Costa Rica, Number Six:
Try to learn at least some of the language.

It’s a Costa Rican version of Spanish, but close enough to American Junior High Spanish that your schooling will help. (If my teacher were here (Miss Raab) I’d kiss her on the lips for what she taught me. I don’t care if she is 106—she used to be hot!)

Our biggest challenge is communicating. Trying to open a simple conversation typically results in non-sequiturs. “Hola,” I might say to an acquaintance, say, at the bakery. “Como esta?” (Hi, how are you?)

The reply quickly degrades into phonetic misinterpretations: “Been ass, Esther’s nachos tangle who said.”

They may as well have asked for my address. (I’m never prepared when someone asks me our address, since they don’t have addresses like I’m used to, they’re descriptions—in Spanish, of course. My answer is usually Uh-h-h…) “Uh-h-h. What? Quien es Esther?” (Who’s Esther?)

“Que?” (What?)

“Quien es Kay?”

For awhile I was saying: “Lo siento, mi Espanol es estrictamente siete grado,” which I thought meant “Sorry, my Spanish is strictly seventh grade” until I realized they understood it as: “Sorry, I had a strict seventh grade.”

“Tiene a bonita dios!” I’d offer, which I thought meant “Have a nice day” but literally means “You have a beautiful god.” This makes some Ticos wonder about you. The pleasantries fizzling rapidly, confusion is followed by walking away. The Corollary would be to not speak the language if you don’t know exactly what you’re saying. You may think you’re saying hello to a room full of people when you’re actually calling them all toads.

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I think I’ve got Bob Crosby (former Director of the Alaska Inventors & Entrepreneurs Association) figured out, since we’re both baby-boomers. I studied him keenly and came to the conclusion, “You’re a hippie, but one of those smart, engineering-type ones, right?” He stroked his beard as if he didn’t know whether to admit that shady past, or the fact that he was a Hippie at one time. He’s the perfect storm of personality, if you ask me (a nobody)—smart, open-minded, clean-living and dedicated in a positive way to not only Mother Earth, but all of humanity.

This is what happens when an ambitious Hippie tasks himself to construct the ideal living space for the human race. However, to pigeon-hole his concept of a “bio-shelter” as a “life-style” stereotypical with that of a Hippie would be like equating Humanitarianism to the Hare Krishna folk. Simply put, his bio-shelter concept demonstrates the ability to play nice with the environment.

Bob likes to share, teach and support. He and his wife like to live healthily, thoughtfully, playfully, and abundantly. They don’t like work for work’s sake—preferring instead to let a duck get rid of the snails in the garden (which gets you an egg or two in the process). If the Perma-science they adhere to could teach a duck to make coffee and toast, I’d happily brush the pellets off my bed every morning.

The idea is rooted in the fact that Nature has this pretty good gig set up whereby She is considered as “Self-sustained.”

“Let’s say She is the benchmark for such a term,” Bob the engineer tells me. Along comes critical-thinking, hungry, basically lazy and motivated enough to be creative about it, Man. (And when I say “lazy” I mean in the highest possible sense. Lazy enough to invent the wheel, for instance, followed by the hammock, gin, and tonic.) Man quickly realized (somewhere between 15,000 and 8 million years ago) that Nature can be “tricked” into working for him simply by mimicking Her techniques and principles—which allowed Man to get back to designing more drinks.

That’s the intellectual basis of Permaculture. It’s about sustaining a quality life for Man without sacrificing the planet. It’s about having more time to re-visit the nap, read a book, paint a picture, or dance with your friends and family.

I liked the idea. “Kick back and let Nature do the work. Good thinking, Bob.”

I suggested to Babe that maybe we shouldn’t refer to Bob as a “smart Hippie” anymore, but something more lofty like a “Sustainite”—a moniker I made up—but it didn’t pass the Babe Test. “Sounds like a religion,” she argued.

“Maybe,” I countered. “But it’s not my fault Sustainite sounds like Mennonite. It also sounds like kryptonite, pair-of-tights, and Bud Lite.”

I’ll work on it. In the meantime, Lazy Man invents the greenhouse and employs vertical growing methods to maximize both the quality and quantity of his yield, and so he doesn’t have to walk as far. He dreams up Hydroponics for the same reason. Then he combines Hydroponics and Aquaculture so the fish keep the plants happy and vice versa—leaving even more time for Man to do whatever he’s supposed to do on Earth other than Work.

All the world’s problems can be solved in a garden.—Geoff Lawton (really smart lazy person).

Lazy Man, I mean Bob, watches, listens to, and contemplates his dwelling.

“So what’s your bio-shelter concept?” I asked him.

He answered right away, “A bioshelter is an integrated house-greenhouse-aquaculture system designed to emulate natural living systems in which the subsystems interact with each other to collectively create a self-regulating whole.”

“I get it, I think.”

His eyes were bright. “The goal is to simulate the thermodynamic efficiencies of a complex ecological food chain.”

“...then a human moves in,” I said, feeling a little like fuel. 

“Sure!” Bob was alive with the idea of his living habitat. “We capture water through run-off and streams, make ponds for fish, and plant a garden in which one plant or tree protects another by virtue of its chemical or physical properties. The house utilizes similar concepts—where one action’s byproducts fuel another’s energy.”

I understood the concept. “Man invents another wheel, in other words—one in which he can live.”

“Yeah, you could say that,” Bob agreed, and sipped his beer.

“I don’t need an oil can or anything?”

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For all the geeky specs, go here: www.biorealis.com/bioshelter/

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Tropical Cancer—I’m Blessed

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2013

I walked out the back door carrying a handful of dinner scraps to throw on the mulch pile. It was a humid and warm evening, which always reminds me of the Summer months of my youth. Those were City nights; this is a tropical rainforest—a fact I remember daily. This is the jungle I dreamed of while encased in the cement, incinerator ash, iron bars and subways of NYC. To the south, a powder-blue sky with puffy white clouds are backdrop to pods of tropical mist making their wispy way over the top of nearby hills to the valley below. The mists will soon cover our exposed ledge of property like a soggy blanket.

An evening bird with a mellow voice repeated “Who? Who? Who?”

“It’s me, me, me!” I said aloud. “Como esta, birdie?” I dumped my trash in the dirt and stood transfixed, listening to the myriad sounds coming from all directions while the sun set. A toad sounded like a huge drop of heavy water. Ba-a-a-a-a-loop! There was a see-saw somewhere in the opaque thicket of old growth out there, accompanied by a set of castanets, the squeaky hamster wheel bug, the uh-oh bird, the “tearing paper” bug and the ever present heckling gecko.

A creature giggled. Twice. Three times, then laughed as if it found mushrooms and a pot plant for dinner. “Giggle. Giggle. Giggle. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!” Repeat, until the thing had me giggle-laughing also. We giggle-laughed in harmony.

A car alarm went off, but it wasn’t a car alarm. Bweep! Bweep! Bweep! Please back away from the bug!

“Giggle. Giggle. Giggle. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!”

“Ow!” I did the ant dance, “Putas olmigas!” (Whore ants!) and shuffled away.

“Giggle. Giggle. Giggle. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!”

“Shut up. Stupid bug.”

I do a lot of that.

I also grew a fig, started cantaloupes, and have twenty pineapples growing. Banana, avocado, papaya, pepper, tomato, spinach, plumeria, lime, halyconia, huevos de monos (sweet smelling “monkey eggs” trees), almond, aloe vera, coconut, various herbs… It’s all very cool and kinda bizarre to be called Farmer Meech by some, but that’s not the most unexpected result of moving to Costa Rica. Not at all. Of course I felt excited when we touched the tarmac as immigrants on the Ides of March in 2011, but I’m convinced now I know why. The plain and simple reason is the weather. When I mentioned how it reminded me of my youth, and those hot Summer nights that were so full of anticipation, freedom, optimism, curiosity, and heady mischief, it was a casual reference to what’s become a profound transformation. Sure enough, the association with weather, of all things, has turned this living, thriving, chirping, burping, blooping, dance-the-ants-away playground into my personal fountain of youth. Therein lies my fun-damental love of Costa Rica.

Either that or dementia is setting in early. Whatever, I’ll take it.

Headline encapsulations of other stuff:

I dropped about thirty pounds in thirty months. (Organic diet, lots of walking up and down steep hills, hauling rocks, digging plant holes and water control trenches, running away from ants, some pull-ups and push-ups (!), in a climate where whizzing outdoors breaks a sweat. Also, a Starbucks coffee cake and quad latte would require an overnight trip at a cost of roughly two- to three-hundred American bucks!)

It took 28 months, but I received the blessing of Immigración for Temporary Residency. My cedula was ready for pick-up after I joined the Social Security health plan. I’m card-carrying legal. Very cool news, particularly with regard to health insurance and meds (should I need some). When Babe joined in May, 2013, (residency approved separately, doesn’t matter if you’re married or even if it’s your kid, you’re not necessarily approved at the same time —requiring an extra over-nighter to San Jose) she was charged $48 a month for full coverage (hospital and meds) based on her income (SS). Since I won’t get SS until 2017, it won’t cost me anything for the same coverage. (And when I do collect SS, it’s likely no one here will ask if my income status has changed—which I’ll confess since I don’t want to take advantage of Grandma Costa Rica. She’s been good to me.)

That’s a boatload more than I could get health-wise from the US after forty-plus years of work. I’ve learned that the US totally sucks on tons of levels, but is a mere puppet (like every country) of the money lords, Mafias and malevolent aliens who successfully control the world.

I’m cynical, but happy. No longer does a night out qualify as a special event, but finding half a discarded cinder block makes my day. I will give it a use in the garden or fire pit. Who among us can say a cement block makes them happy? I am blessed.

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Rules of Costa Rica

Rule Number Nine (Swanson’s Rule): Never lend anyone your vehicle.

Rule Number Seventeen: Men, never take a leak outdoors at night while holding a lit torch.

A bug the size of a small mallet knocked a flashlight out of my hand in mid-stream. Confusion ensued. Inches to the wrong side of that light beam, with zipper open, while placidly whizzing over a 20-foot drop-off… I’m just saying there could be lasting trauma. Your life (and that of your progeny) is in your hands!

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How Not to Get Electricity for Your Property in Costa Rica

How Not to Get Electricity for Your Property in Costa Rica

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2011

We are going to the government run utility office to get electricity for our property. We’re optimistically attempting this on our own, without the help of a translator. We have a contact there, let’s call him “Diego” because that’s his name, who speaks English pretty well but we don’t know if he’ll be there. He was the first person we talked to about the transformer and meter we needed.

We presented the required documents, which included a  Personerîa (proving we were people in good standing) and a set of papers stating we were a Corporation (on advice from everyone we know here. All your major assets are enveloped by separate Corporations in order to limit your liability). Diego read every line of these common Official Documents before assessing: “These are copies.”

“Yes, I know,” I said. “The bank took the originals when we opened an account—”

“Hmm. I can do it with these.” He worked at his computer for half an hour and finally produced our application. “See, I am putting here that you only speak English. Someone will call and tell you when they will come to your property.”

“Excellente.” I said, in Spanish. “When will they call?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe a week?” It was a question to which he thought I might have the answer.

“I see. Okay, we’ll wait.”

“But when you come back you must see me.”

“We have to come back?” That turned out to be rhetorical. Of course, gringo.

Three weeks later…

I got a call from a guy who didn’t speak English. The connection was bad, so I had to walk around outside after dark to find the best signal. I thought he had a wrong number and almost hung up until I realized he was saying electricidad  and mañana.

Electricity. Tomorrow. “Oh! Si’ si’!”

Two weeks later…

I stood on our deck at 7:30 in the morning, coffee in hand, and a man on a quad (a four-wheel motorcycle, basically) showed up. He was from the utility company and was there about our power, but I understood nothing that followed. He drove away in order to pick up Jonathan, a worker who speaks English, and brought him back. Without removing his helmet, he and Jonathan had a long conversation while I sipped coffee and lit a smoke.

I was blowing smoke rings in the absolutely still air when Jonathan turned to me. “He says you need a transformer.”

“I know that, yes, and a meter.”

He spoke again at length with Helmet man, then turned to me. “You have to put your name on a waiting list.”

“Aha. How long does it usually take?”

More translation chatter ensued. In a nutshell, it could take a year unless I wanted to purchase one on my own—which will run in the thousands. Or I could put my name on the list and still have to pay something (he didn’t know how much) when they deliver.

So it was back to Diego in order to get on the waiting list. Once again, he read our documents and assessed, “These are copies. No puedo.” (He can’t.) Doesn’t matter, because he recommended we wait until we get our “cedula” (official residency card) before signing the list because “it’s better that way” and who can argue with irrefutable logic? In the interim, the Angry Mountain Villas community allowed us to patch into their power so it’s not an emergency situation. Still, it’s something I should have researched and known before moving all our worldly stuff and two cats here.

That being stated, the way to get electricity to your property in Costa Rica is to have your architect handle the details. In the meantime do like we did—get a long extension cord and plug into your neighbor.

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Rules of Costa Rica

Rule Number Eighteen: Get a Consensus.

If you need to know the answer to an important question get a consensus. Five people will give you five different answers, maybe seven. If two are similar, that’s probably not the right answer either. The true answer depends on who you talk to, when, and what they know to be true—and it’s probably not. Sorry. Your best bet, in all cases, is to find someone with a relative in the department you need information from.

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Tropical Cancer—It Won’t Cost an Arm or a Leg

It Won’t Cost an Arm or a Leg

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Every Saturday morning at 9:30, 10:00, 10:30  somewhere between 10:30 and 11:00 (ish) there’s a pick-up softball game at the soccer field in Bahia. This is coed, purely recreational, and all are welcome—especially chiropractors. You’ll find expats, travelers, locals, kids and other fool-hardy types in the field and plenty of onlookers in the shelter of a large ficus tree, which serves to block Chuck’s sharply hit foul grounders. (It also serves a somewhat clumsy iguana Adam got to know intimately [not the original Adam] when it fell on his back. Stupid thing crapped on my car, too. But anyway…)

After playing for five years I’ve come to think of my Saturdays as a weekly Labor Day, where family and friends come together to forget about “all that other junk” and concentrate on the truly important things in life: Beer, Mike’s baked goods, and a tropical breeze in the shade with good company.

All equipment is provided (donations accepted). Any age, gender, or trans-gender can participate—even Republicans. In all the years I’ve played so-called “recreational” softball (in “hangover” leagues), I’ve never been with a more socially accepting crowd. In the heat of battle there may be a contested call, but our “Commissioner,” Señor Bicker, is so annoying to argue with that we all just let him have his way. Play ball! Besides, he knows the rules of the game from as far back as 1890—some of which are news to the rest of us. (Who knew that a “pickle” is trumped by committing yourself to advancing more than halfway to home? The “Don” of Uvita softball knew.)

If that doesn’t impress you, the fact that there’s a bathroom on site should.

One of my favorite aspects of this unique gathering of people from many parts of the world is watching the neophytes learn the game. I love that they have an interest in not just the sport, but the ambiance of the event. Plus, they save me from getting picked last… again. (Reminder to self: When telling a beginner they have to tag the runner with the ball, specify that doesn’t mean they should throw the ball at them.) Don’t worry, there’s no barrel-chested pros on the field. Some of us regular players can make a routine play look more like an awkward suicide attempt. If you’ve never played the game, instruction is provided at no cost (abuse is extra). There’s also a short video here: How to Play Baseball.

It doesn’t seem to matter what mood you’re in, or how preoccupied you may be with the neighbor’s stupid rooster, or the bank misplacing your savings, or that you forgot where you parked your quad, softball can quickly take your attention off such inconveniences with a blistering liner to the kneecap. Works every time. When Mitch tried to catch a throw from the outfield with his nose he completely forgot about the dog digging up that medicinal plant.

Okay so maybe it’s not for the faint of heart—but for the young at heart, at least, it’s not to be missed. Compared to surfing, I can pretty much guarantee you won’t get an appendage chewed off. Amazingly, this activity is free. Even more amazingly, the road there is paved. (Turn toward the ocean at the bus station just south of the southern BM market.)

It’s good to bring a chair, and water (not sure what that’s for). Which reminds me, visit Oscar and Irina’s Discount Liquor Wine & Cigars in Uvita (near the gas station) before the game and tell them you’re going to play softball. They have a great selection and you’re going to need the fluids.

If we can’t use the field in Bahia due to an event being held there we move to a field 100 meters (or so) past the farmer’s market in Uvita. If it’s raining, we blow the whole thing off and head either to The Flutterby House (near Bahia field) for a beverage, a snack and some corn hole (will explain later), or Soda Lily’s in Uvita (across the Costanera from the northern BM market and BCR).

Wherever we end up, Saturday’s objective is to have fun and not get hurt (unless the game’s on the line, then go for it. We have chiropractors…).

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Tropical Cancer—Dog Owner’s Misnomer

Rated PG

Dog Owner’s Misnomer

(Note: If you’re here to read about Costa Rica it might be wise to move on, for this is not about that. It’s about dog poop—something I felt needed to be said. As a consequence of and befitting the subject the language may be, in some cases, offensive to the squeamish. I figure if you’re curious enough to read about dog poop you’re okay with certain “colorful” descriptors, but if that’s not the case you can choose a replacement word for s**t from the following list:

Bowel movement
Doody
Excrement
Caca
Chips
Cocky-doody
Crap
Discharge
A dump
Droppings
Dung
Manure
Poop
Stool
Waste
Bruised dinkleberries

Additionally, if you don’t like the verbiage “…take a s**t,” please consider using in your mind one of the following substitutes:

…defecate
…squeeze cheese
…pinch a loaf
…drop a log

Thanks for your participation, though you may have regrets. (Author not responsible for lasting trauma in the form of recurring visuals.))

Babe and I have had, all together, five cats over a span of 22 years. In all that time I think I’ve seen one take a shit maybe twice. I’ve watched them go in the box, but its obscured such that I don’t have to see the actual excrement coming out of… you know. All I see is their head, and how they flatten their ears when they push—seemingly annoyed with the process. And the little “ah” look when the deed is done. It’s all very civilized. Not so with dogs.

Our friends (John and Brando) have gone to Europe for three weeks and we’re staying in their villa, minding the two dogs (Toby and Chloe). For Babe and me, this is a chance to live indoors for a while—where there’s a tile shower, a real kitchen with an oven, and a toilet that isn’t a bucket over a shithole crawling with… whatever the fuck they are. You know, a “real” place that’s not a “dump.” That was the motivating factor when we agreed to watch the dogs.

“Yeah sure, whatever,” I think we said about the dogs. “No hay problema! We love dogs!” And for the record, we do. We just prefer cats. They’re less trouble in every regard—including repair and operating costs. They require less maintenance, generally. Plus, you don’t have to “take them for a walk.” Therein lies the dog owner’s misnomer. We’re not taking them for a walk. We’re actually going to make sure shit comes out of them some place other than the upstairs bedroom.

“Someone pooped all over the floor upstairs,” Babe told me one sunny morning.

I responded quickly. “It wasn’t me,” I said, backing out the front door.

And later, “Someone pooped all over the upstairs again.”

Babe knows I never touch warm bodily ejections. If a hairball lands on the floor I leave it there until it’s room temp before picking it up.

“I guess we have to walk them more,” I decided.

“Ya think?” she said (not really a question), as she headed upstairs with a roll of flimsy paper towels.

 

So this is how it goes approximately every four hours:

“Hey, you guys wanna go for a walk?” What I’m really asking here is: “Hey, you guys wanna take a shit someplace other than upstairs?” but they don’t get that. To them it’s just a walk.

Attach leashes. “Okay, vamos!” They’re all smiles and wiggles as they fly out the door, yanking me behind them. “Please don’t pee on my tires,” I beg.

They pull, they stop and sniff, they pee a little, and I’m obligated to watch all of it. I have to make sure they shit, see, so I’m forced to look directly at that scrunched up brown hole. And they can’t shit on the leash, so I have to watch out for that, too. The young Chloe is what Babe calls a “leash dufus,” since the thing is mostly lodged between her legs like a thong. If the pup walks a little bowl-legged, that’s probably why.

Eventually, after repeated false alarms of stop and go inspections for no apparent reason, they arch their back and assume the squat position. I have to quickly move the leash, but not so as to disturb the procedure, and I have to watch in order to make sure the shit looks normal and is a healthy size, shape and color. At night I shine a spotlight on the whole production, giving it a showcase sense of importance and a theatrical flavor. It’s all very dramatic and more than slightly disturbing.

Then, of course, it’s time for the unveiling of the matter. Lump after lump, the stuff is squeezed out of the tube we call “dog” like Tootsie Rolls coming out of a meat grinder. I’ve noticed there are varying speeds to this evacuation, but that’s not important. What’s important to realize is that I’ve noted the varying rates. I can tell the difference between a “casual” shit and a hurried one. What does that say about me? It says I’m an experienced shit-watcher, that’s what. The point is, I could care less about how they walk but I’m intimate with the gushy details of their bodily ejections. In other words, I’m not taking them for a walk, I’m inspecting the shit process. “Walking the dog” is only a polite euphemism for “watching the shit.”

All that being said, I’d like to fess up and offer my apology to my neighbors for not picking up either Toby or Chloe’s steaming piles. (As noted above, I don’t touch the warm stuff.) But I can assure you this practice will cease as of this Thursday, when John and Brando retake possession of their dogs. In the meantime, watch your step.*

*(I know what some of you may be thinking: Why not carry a shovel and bury it where it lies, you disgusting excuse for a neighbor? To which I say, you’re talking about a hand trowel, right? There’s no way I’m supporting a full-blown shovel along with the leash, an umbrella and a travel cup of Irish coffee on the shit inspection (let’s call it what it is). How could I smoke? And if you think I’m walking by a dozen Tico workers with a little white dog and a hand shovel you don’t know that I’m a cat person, and that these are not my dogs. The derision, however good-natured, would be unbearable! So I’m sorry, but no. You’ll have to mind your step until it rains.)

Tropical Cancer—The $500 Mackerel

Calendar illustrationRated G

 

 

 

 

 

 

November, 2011

When Babe suggested we go deep sea fishing I should have given it more thought before agreeing. Such as: No. For one thing, I didn’t think about what time I’d have to get up in the morning for such a venture. For another, we don’t have enough freezer space to store $80 worth of fish—which is what we hoped for after paying the captain that amount to take us out. And there’s the fact that I don’t know how to fish, nor do I particularly like to handle them.

What the hell was I thinking? Oh, I remember… how nice it will be to drift on the ocean in the sunshine with my thermos of gin and tonic and catch a nice, fat tuna. Ahi

Yeah, that’s it. Below is the condensed version of how the whole episode played out in my head:

It’s 3:30 already?

My eyes are scratchy.

Make coffee.

Make gin and tonics.

Pack cooler with tuna sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, papaya, bananas, chips, gin, tonic.

Wonder if it’s in bad taste to eat tuna sandwiches while fishing for tuna.

Jim is here to pick us up. “I just woke up 4 minutes ago,” he says.

Grab the umbrella for shade.

Jesus, does he always drive this fast down the hill?

Hunger. “What did you bring to eat, Jim?”

“Tomatoes and cookies.”

I peel a banana and think: Ew?

We pick up Bob, Wes, Jeff, Lisa and Christian—more suckers hoodwinked into this folly at $40 bucks a head.

Drive half an hour to the river dock. Daytime finally shows up.

The crew is friendly, the dock nice, the boat small. I climb aboard and pull out the gin, wondering where the key to wind up the boat goes.

Sky is cloudy, but the tropics are warm.

Thought: ALGEBRAT should be a Scrabble-worthy word. (Don’t know how that got in there.)

I convince Bob that Babe and I should sit in the back, so we can smoke downwind. He buys it and moves up front. The bow, I guess it is. We face the rear. Aft, I reckon.

Here we go! Only a half hour to get to the ocean, I’m told.

Was that a raindrop?

Love how the jungle looks from the river. Flocks of different birds (some black, some white, all with a dash of fluorescent color here and there) fly beside us intermittently, coming off the  beautiful palms, bamboo, mango and other trees lining the river. Thick, lush, redolent jungle. I breathe deeply and choke a little on the exhaust from the engine.

It was definitely a raindrop, followed by more of them. Lots more. I put up the umbrella and Babe and I are cozy and dry. Everyone up front is getting wet fast. Babe and I light smokes, congratulate ourselves about how toasty dry we are and pass the gin between us. For the next half hour I marvel in silence at the abundance of life along the river’s edge.

Aha, the ocean! Only an hour more to go, I’m told by Steve, the very pleasant co-captain who sits by the outboard. Or two, he says, looking over us at the ocean ahead. I’m thankful the bench is padded.
At least it’s not hot. Clouds and rain are a good thing in the tropics. Sun and humidity make an uncomfortable twosome. Wow, that’s a lot of rain!

Whoa! We’re going UP-UP-UP and D-O-O-O-WN, UP-UP-UP and D-O-O-O-WN.

Now WAY up and WAY down on fifteen-foot swells. The wind whips the rain around such that only our bust remains dry under the umbrella. Correction: damp. Each pounding wave is accompanied by screaming from the people up front.

I chance a look around the umbrella and get a bucket of water in my face. Poor Lisa looks like she’s been in the pool with her clothes on. Her hair is stuck to her face.

Wes barfs over the side. Pura Vomit, baby.

Steve corrects course towards Gilligan’s Island.

More gin, please, except it pours down my face as I try to drink.

Blank.

Is that… is that… motion sickness? The horizon is wishy-washy. The waves deep. There’s UP, there’s DOWN, UP and DOWN, up-up-UP, down-down. UP. Rock side to side.

Down.

Up.

Ugh. I close my eyes and concentrate on a vitreous remnant. It’s like a squiggly gyroscope on the inside of my eyelid and it stabilizes my queasiness.

Babe and I huddle for half an hour. We’re soaked except for our heads. “Good!” she says, I’m not sure why. The ocean is coal gray, spotted with whitecaps.

Remind self to thank Laurie for organizing this fiasco. When I see her next and she asks me how it went I’m going to throw a glass of water in her face and heave on her sandals. Then she’ll have an idea.

THANK GOD ALMIGHTY WE STOP. Time to fish!

Everything is soaked through and through—even the ocean looks wetter than usual. Jim is freezing and Lisa has goose bumps. Bob pees while Christian sings a good-luck song for fishing. At least I imagine it’s such because I don’t understand a word. Nice touch, I think.

Jeff vomits.

Steve is already casting off the back of the boat.

Grab a freakin’ fish and let’s get the hell out of here.

I try to eat a boiled egg but my mouth is dry. It takes forever since most of the gin to wash it down is flowing down my neck. Stupid thermos.

After much casting this way and that there’s a catch! Steve hands me the rod and I think I hear thunder. Oh great, a lightning rod in my groin area.

Crank-crank-crank-crank… Oy, this is a pain in the ass. I’m supposed to pull and crank, I’m told. Of course! I recall what I’ve seen on TV. Pull-crank-crank-crank, etc.

What is it? Boy or girl? Should I pass out cigars? It’s a 10 pound mackerel, sex unknown. Steve tears the hook out of its spine and throws the fish in the cooler on top of the oranges and juice. I feel guilty.

We’re moving on. UP-Down. Rock a little. UP-Down.

More of the same sin the fish.

We look around but still no fish. If there are fish they’re playing cards and laughing at us. I wish I was playing cards.

THANK GOD ALMIGHTY WE’RE GOING BACK.

Another hour and a half of… ugh, I can’t even write it without getting nauseous.

Pay the man $400 and another $100 for gas. That’s a five hundred dollar fish to split between eight people—a fish I had to get up practically the day before to haul out of the ocean. A fish that nearly cost me my life, or possibly my groin area. A fish who made me wear half a thermos of gin!

If you ever ask me to go deep sea fishing don’t be surprised when I ask you to sit on a blowfish instead.