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Yesterday, two extra-ordinary things happened.

Yesterday, two extra-ordinary things happened.

The first extra-ordinary thing is that, while taking Goblin on her morning stroll, we were stopped by a gentleman with obsessive eyes, who said. “What is the dog’s name?”

“Goblin,” we said.

“Goblin,” he said, as if entering this information into a mental database. “Is the dog a boy or a girl?”

“Girl,” we said.

“Is it friend [sic] dog?”

“Uh. Yes.”

With this, he bent over stiffly, gave “Goblin” the “girl” and “friend” dog two perfunctory pats on the head (more as if he were ending a transaction than being friendly), and walked away.

The second extra-ordinary thing is that I went to New Jersey of my own volition.

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The other day, I bought

The other day, I bought a new sofa. That is to say, I ordered it, and it will be in my apartment within three months, a period of time so eternal that the moon could spin out of orbit before my butt has a comfortable evening in front of the television. (Right now, a typical night finds me, Rob, and Goblin jockeying for position on a comforter spread on the floor, the sole “comfort” my bare living room has to offer.)

Naturally, what I want to know is how on earth it could take three months to deliver a sofa. Certainly it must be custom upholstered in my choice of fabulous fabric, but is this fabulous fabric perchance being knitted by minuscule elves? Even so, they could probably do it in a month, tops. Or perhaps my sofa is being delivered by the Slug Brigade, and soon, I will see it coming down the street, progressing just a few slimy inches per day.

The clever thing is that I do not know the exact day of its arrival, so I cannot hold the sofa company to their word. “Ten to twelve weeks” certainly does not mean eight weeks, but they could conceivably stretch it to fourteen or even eighteen, if the minuscule elves go on strike or something. Then again, perhaps I should not be so anxious to know the exact day my sofa will come. I just read a short story in Harper’s about a city where everyone was cursed to know the exact day of their death, and that certain knowledge immediately took all the joy out of life.

Maybe if I could predict the exact instant my new sofa would cross the threshold, it would take all the joy out of sitting on the floor.

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At the end of last

At the end of last week, I went to the movies with one of my two new friends named David. We went to see Swimming Pool, which was rather languidly, if beautifully, filmed and had a thought-provoking ending.

Before the movie, we found aisle seats and made ourselves comfortable. The theater filled up quickly. A very old woman, dragging behind her an even older man, asked if the two seats next to us were taken, and we indicated that they were not. They squeezed past us, muttering to themselves the entire time, and then discovered that, lo and behold, someone might take the empty seat in front of them. “Oh dear, I hope no one takes that seat,” the woman kept repeating in a histrionic attempt to scare any potential sitters away. “We won’t be able to see!” When a young woman did sit down in front of her, the old woman said, loudly, “Oh no! Someone sat in front of us! She’s so tall! Isn’t she tall?” In fact, the newcomer was of average height. Then the woman leaned forward and said, “Could you sit low so we can see? We’re sitting behind you and can’t see!”

The funny thing was that this old woman was no doddering little creature; she was quite tall herself, and brawny. She was much bigger than the young woman in front of her, and she was, incidentally, also much bigger than my friend David, who is three feet tall and was not remotely concerned about his own view.

Finally, in exasperation, the old woman got up and managed to find new seats just as the film started. David and I thanked our lucky stars, because we just knew she would be one of those movie talkers. But that left two empty seats, and the one next to me was immediately grabbed by a middle-aged man who leaned so far over the armrest between us that he was practically in my lap. He put one of his feet on the other empty chair and the other on the seat in front of him (much to the annoyance of the young woman who had earlier been instructed to sit low and now found someone’s shoe next to her face). Then he started coughing without covering his mouth. I nudged him through the whole picture, at some points rather sharply, but he did not move an inch. David thought he was trying to pick me up, but I think he was just one of those New Yorkers who copes with the multitudes of other New Yorkers by pretending he is alone and doing as he pleases.

I had a sore throat for the next two days.

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I bought new sneakers a

I bought new sneakers a few months ago-a pair of black Sketchers slip-ons-but they gave me such blisters that I had to stop wearing them. I mentioned this to an online friend of mine, a young footwear fetishist who is always interested in my shoe news (not exactly a sizzling topic, since, until recently, I only had one pair). He not only recommended that I buy a new pair, he sent me a list of approved brands and styles and exhorted me to “come into the twenty-first century.”
Now, silly me, I had thought I was already in the twenty-first century, but despite the fact that the year on my calendar begins with a two, I have been living in a small residual bubble of the nineteen nineties. This explains my desire for a tattoo, my refusal to believe George Bush really is the president, and my recent purchase of black Sketchers slip-ons. But there is hope for me, oh yes, for last night I went out and bought the sneakers that nine out of ten young shoe fetishists recommend: the New Balance 806 in navy blue and grey. (Size ten and a half for those of you out there who care, and you know who you are.)

I wore them this morning while taking Goblin for a walk. We outran other dogs, chased squirrels, and climbed the five flights of stairs back to my apartment with ease; there was a new bounce in my step.

It was the dawning of a new day.

Of a new century, even.

I saw my friend online and told him of my purchase, and he begged me to send him my old, blistery shoes. “But you said you wouldn’t be caught dead in them,” I said, perplexed.

“They’re not to wear,” he said.

And that, my dears, is another example of Too Much Information.

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One of my dearest friends,

One of my dearest friends, Elizabeth, sent me an email today that got me thinking. Among other things, she wrote that, since I visited her new house several months ago, she had been inspired to make her bed every day, whereas before that, she almost never made her bed. She unaccountably credits me with the transformation. The obvious assumption one might get from this is that, on the occasion of my visit, I channeled Joan Crawford, Leona Helmsley, or some other anal-retentive sourpuss and did a white-glove inspection, but this could not be further from the truth. In fact, I cannot remember noticing whether or not her bed was made when I was there.

The interesting thing is that my boyfriend, Rob, also makes his bed every day, and when he sleeps at my house, he makes mine. This may seem uncharacteristic, as his crisply made-up bed is usually surrounded by piles of clothes, heaps of dusty electronics, or a strewn carpet of his laser-printed musical scores. Besides that, there are crumbs between the sheets, and I once found a lone M&M under his pillow . . . but this is easily explained if we accept my mysterious power to inspire (if not to compel) people to make their beds.

But here is where logic ends because it stands to reason that, given this power, I would make my own bed, and I do not; it is never made unless Rob does it. Further, one of my other dearest friends, Joe, not only does not make his bed, he somehow shares it with mounds of laundry, stacks of propped-open books, sedimentary layers of flatware from meals gone by, and his shaggy little dog. My powers are obviously either highly selective or not sufficient to cope with the indolent habits of myself and Joe.

Rob’s friend Jim said the last time he visited that, even if the rest of his life is a disaster, he makes his bed every day because it gives him the illusion of control over something. So (follow the deductive train of thought here) what I do is inspire (some) people to manifest authority over a small area of their life so they do not go mad when the rest of it overwhelms them or spins wildly out of control.

Not bad, but inspiring people to deposit hundreds of dollars into my bank account would help me sleep better at night.

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Perhaps it’s something in my

Perhaps it’s something in my horoscope: I have had a very social and communicative week. Not with my boyfriend, who is out of town on mysterious business and practically incommunicado, but with different people. I have had marvelous and/or in-depth conversations with Joe, Viki, two new friends (both also named David), two of my ex-boyfriends, my current boyfriend’s sister Rindy, one of my clients, one of my neighbors, my building manager, a night-shift taxi driver, the woman in the FedEx office after all of the customers got locked in, and a man I found sprawled across a path in Central Park and had initially taken for dead. This weekend, I am seeing my friends Mark and Lauri, and then Rob comes home on Sunday night and will doubtless tell me what he has been up to for the past two weeks.

Since I’m being such a chatty Cathy, do inform me if there’s something you want to hear about.

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When I was midway through

When I was midway through college, I dropped out for a year and then transferred to another school: I transferred from a school that did not have a foreign language requirement to a school that did have a foreign language requirement. I could test out of the foreign language requirement, have it waived, but at that time, rusty from my four years away from high-school Spanish, I had little realistic hope of doing so. So I signed up for Professor G_______’s summer class.

Everyone knew that Professor G_______ was a rampaging lunatic, a Cuban out of control. In his class, none of us learned a word of useful Spanish, but he expounded at great length on mythological monsters and his hypothesis that poor people’s flatulence smells differently from that of rich people; to this day, I can barely navigate a Hispanic street, but I know the anatomy of a kraken from its colmillos to the tips of its tentaculos.

In class and out, Professor G_______ was at once magnanimous and disagreeable, and he bounced between these two extremes with such ferocity that we were all terrified of speaking to him, or even in his presence. He drove around town wearing a construction hat in his car because, as he put it, he never knew when something was going to jump up out of the street and hit him on the head. His favorite word was motherfucker, and he used it often in conversation as a synonym for person, as in, “Who is that motherfucker over there? I’ve never seen him before,” or only slightly more appropriately, “That motherfucker at the cash register overcharged me for these beets.” He could be overheard creating variations on this theme while he alone in his office, muttering, or while interfering in his students’ sex lives at the top of his voice in the crowded hallways.

I don’t know why I think of my old professor now. Perhaps it is the comfort of knowing that people have exclaimed worse things than I have while wandering the streets, or that manifest insanity is apparently not a barrier to an otherwise successful life.

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This is my second post

This is my second post of the day.

Stop the presses. I just learned about the Star Wars Kid, and I am in love. Not in love in an ooky Catholic-priest kind of way, but in a platonic, mildly protective, favorite-uncle-ish kind of way.

Here’s the scoop, for those of you who have not seen this already: a fifteen-year-old boy privately recorded himself mimicking the Darth Maul lightsaber battle sequence from one of the new Star Wars movies. Some of his mischievous friends discovered the tape and posted it on the Internet, where it has since been downloaded more than twelve million times by adoring fans.

For me, this ranks right up there with getting one’s friends together at the dawn of home video technology and recording a few musical numbers in the guise of Riff-Raff and Dr. Frank N. Furter.

Go to this site for the scoop and to download the video yourself. You’ll have to scroll down to see the original thing (there are scads of “clones”), and there’s even a nice petition to sign.

Don’t say I never brightened your day.

Update: All of this happened while I was in the wilds of Costa Rica, and apparently I did not get the full scoop from the Associated Press story that turned me on to the Star Wars Kid today. Apparently, the posting of the video on the Internet was not as kindly an act as I had originally assumed (and why I should have assumed it was, knowing how evil teenagers are, I have no idea). Anyway, the “humiliation” of the whole experience has apparently caused this adorable child to drop out of school and check into a psychiatric facility. I’m leaving this link up, with my original words, because it is the first thing in weeks that made me unequivocally happy . . . not the awkwardness of it, but the sheer joy of it, the secret glimpse of pure and shining spirit in an otherwise humdrum existence. I am the Star Wars Kid: infinitely older and sadder, perhaps, but not dead yet. Better yet, everyone I love is the Star Wars Kid, too. And may the Force be with us all, because the gods know we need it.

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I appear to have a

I appear to have a vestigial third nipple.

Update: Maybe it’s just a mole.

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I am in yet another

I am in yet another dispute with yet another DSL provider, which is attempting to charge me five hundred dollars for an installation they had originally told me was free, and I cannot help but wonder what the hell has gone wrong with the world. These are people who continued to charge me for broadband service in my old apartment for two months after I cancelled it because, even though I had called to have them transfer service to my new apartment, they could find no record of my specifically saying, “Please cancel the account as of this day,” which I actually did do. In fact, I did it twice, but because they are either inefficient or incompetent enough to have not processed that, I am the one who has to either pay or stress myself out by fighting them tooth and claw.

You can guess which option I chose.

A couple of weeks ago, I was planning a trip and realized that I could change the day of my return trip in order to attend a very special event. I called the airline, expecting to have to pay a hundred-dollar fee to make the switch, and was informed that it would cost over five hundred dollars to change the return trip (the original round-trip ticket cost less than four hundred), and I could not change the flight out at all because it was less than a week in advance. I ended up buying a one-way ticket to return on another airline and when I showed up, I was informed that, even though I had paid full price for a ticket over a week in advance, and even though I had already picked out my seat on the Internet, and even though I had gotten to the airport so early that the gate was actually deserted when I arrived, I would not be guaranteed a seat on the flight because they had overbooked it. If they could persuade someone to give up their seat, for a fairly paltry credit, I might get on.

So I ask again, what the hell is going on? Companies used to go to extraordinary lengths to make their customers happy and earn their loyalty. They used to exist for our convenience. Now, we citizens and consumers (and these words are interchangeable for corporations that shape national policy, including recent wars in oil-rich countries) exist only to serve their bottom line. We are cajoled, tricked, and threatened into handing over our hard-earned money, our votes, and even our lives, only to be shoved into the whirlpool of their self-serving policies and bludgeoned with their hidden conditions and caveats.

Normally, I would blame Republicans for this-and they are certainly the standard-bearers for the graft, market deregulations, and flailing economy that have created this nauseating state of affairs-but current and past Democratic “leadership” has gone along for the ride because it fills their coffers, too. We now have a government that is of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations . . . in other words, fascism. “Fascism,” according to the Italian fascist leader Mussolini, who was certainly in a position to know, “should rightly be called Corporatism, as it is a merge of state and corporate power.”

Sorry to be so dramatic. It is not everyone who can link a bill dispute to the collapse of democracy, I realize, but they are symptoms of the same thing. One happens with increasing frequency, and the other is too awful to contemplate, but they exist hand-in-hand.

At least Mussolini made the trains run on time. My flights were all late.

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Here is the last of

Here is the last of my travel journals, which I originally forgot to post, and then decided not to post, but I actually heard that a surprising number of people were interested. It sort of ends with a whimper, but this will bring closure for us all.

WHAT I DID ON MY SUMMER VACATION, PART NINE
Costa Rica: Marriott, and Home

The Airport Marriott might be a mildly pleasant oasis in any major city, but in San Jose, it is a major deal. Signs (not commercial billboards, but actual municipal street signs) on the highway point it out from kilometers around in every direction, but despite this, our taxi driver could not seem to find it. After a meandering drive through suburbs and a shantytown that appeared to be constructed entirely of cardboard and corrugated tin, we pulled up in front of one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever seen. Alone on a huge plot of land, the building is constructed in the grand Spanish colonial style. Bellmen came to whisk our bags to the check-in counter, and after a brief transaction, the attendant led us through the tiled corridors to our room, pointing out restaurants and other amenities as we went. The room, though the cheapest in the building, was luxurious, overlooking the golf course. Toiletries lined the bathroom counter (I later stole as many of these as would fit in my bag), and robes hung in the closet. The room was even equipped for DSL, to which I wasted no time connecting my Internet-starved laptop. Coming from the Casa de las Tias, this was a pleasant step up. If we had just come from the beach, or some other squalid adventure, I would have wept tears of joy and handcuffed myself to the bed.

*

My brother Mike travels the world with a concentrated effort of finding “hotel” rooms for under a dollar. Before a recent jaunt to Southeast Asia, his record had been two dollars in San Jose, the same city Rob and I were currently basking in our one hundred seventy-five dollar palace. Rob went to the spa and worked out while I wrote, surfed the Internet, and took a nap. Later, we sat at the hotel’s gourmet restaurant (one of three), listened to live guitar music, and watched a lightning storm in the distance. It was a beautiful, comfortable evening, during which I almost managed to banish from my mind the images of poverty-stricken areas we had witnessed earlier that day and throughout our trip.

*

We awoke at four the next morning and caught the airport shuttle at five. We arrived at the airport several hours before our flight (as recommended by the airline) and killed time by browsing in the shops and eating breakfast. A crazy young woman sat near us at the gate, and I wish I could say that the conversation she had with herself was earnest and enlightening, but rather it seemed as if she was narrating her actions in maniacal tones. “I’m putting my hand in my purse now! I found a Kleenex!” This upset Rob on principle and me because I was trying to read, so we moved our seats to avoid her, as well as the sixty or so American teenagers from some exchange program who showed up in identical shirts and behaved like hyenas before, during, and after the flight.

*

And then we came home.

*

In the taxi from JFK airport—gliding over the slick, potholed streets—the driver said that we brought the rain back with us.

“No, we didn’t,” I said.

*

Goblin was rather thrilled to see us.

*

So . . . three weeks in Costa Rica, and what did I learn? Here it is in a nutshell:

1. Keep your wallet in your front pocket.

2. Plan for travel delays on bumpy roads

3. If you plan to fly on a tiny regional airplane, take the earliest flight possible to avoid delays and bad weather.

4. The continental plates will collide again before a Costa Rican waiter brings you your bill.

Have fun!


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A bit of wisdom from

A bit of wisdom from my friend Viki:

“Gay is a lifestyle. Lesbian is a career.”

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The other night, Viki and

The other night, Viki and I saw Garrett Wang. As we were emerging at the time from a rather risqué circus, I had the overwhelming urge to approach him and mention that I had seen a great amount of slash fiction involving his most famous character. This is not entirely true, as most such literature from that series seems to involve the Roberts—Beltran and Duncan McNeill—but it does make for a conversation opener that could be used only in rare encounters.

I should have done so.

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The old woman had clearly

The old woman had clearly not been working there long. Her gleaming pink nails hunted and pecked across the cash-register keypad, and she got the price of the coffee wrong on her first go. “You forgot these,” I said, simulating patience, as I slid the tiny packet of Tylenol forward.

She did not know how it cost, and as she studied it for a clue, something seemed to occur to her. “It’ll be all right, honey,” she assured me.

“Excuse me?”

“Everything’ll be all right, don’t worry.” She found the price (fifty cents) and began the monumental process of adding it to my bill.

What will be all right?”

She waved the Tylenol. “Whatever you need these for.”

I was unaccountably disappointed that she did not have the inside scoop on the outcome of my many tribulations. “Oh,” I said. “I just have a little backache, that’s all.” The truth was, I was in agony and could barely stand upright.

The clack of her nails on the keyboard stopped and she darted me a serious look. In one quick but oddly perfunctory motion, as if she did this every day, she lifted her palms toward me and chanted, “In Jesus’ name, release!” Then, as if nothing had happened, she returned her attention to the cash register and triumphantly pressed the final button.

“That’ll be five dollars and thirty-six cents.” Two enormous portraits of Liberace watched over these proceedings with approval.

My back did not “release,” by the way; it hurt more than ever as I handed over the money and thanked her for her efforts on my behalf. Which, really, was just as well. If a successful invocation of Christ had begun to affect aspirin sales, she might have been out of a job.

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“The female is looking for

“The female is looking for someone to mate with,” announced the Borg drone (referring to my friend Viki) to the rest of the bar. The Klingon asked why this was the case, as she had a perfectly serviceable male (i.e. me) right beside her.

“He’s my ex-roommate,” Viki attempted to explain, not knowing how well “long-time homosexual friend” would go over in the Empire. The Borg drone would not likely have a problem with this: under his pasty skin, he was attractive, had a sexy accent, and was likely the campiest Borg drone to have emerged from the Collective in some time. I wanted to show him the Teddy Borg my female ex-roommate had bought me, that I had already designated Rob-of-Nine in honor of my boyfriend, but his diodes blinked menacingly, as if he had assimilated Mommie Dearest and discovered a wire hanger.

“The roommate never gets any!” yelled a guy at the other end of the bar, who was drinking a frothy James Tea Kirk out of a fishbowl. He called for another round of drinks and said, “Put it on the roommate’s tab!”

The Klingon smirked with feral amusement when I attempted to sell Viki to him in exchange for the alcohol.
Later that night, I changed into the new chocolate-brown linen shirt I had bought, in a fit of depression, just days before. (Banana-Republic Therapy is so much more effective than Prozac.) The shirt looked great on me-it brought out my eyes-and I slicked down my hair to simulate formality. My pants were too tight, which was strange because they were the same size as the pants I had been wearing earlier in the Ferengi bar and during my brief flirtation with heatstroke on the way to stand next to the World’s Tallest Man. No second breakfast tomorrow, I vowed. Later still, through a feat of incomparable skill and derring-do, I transformed five dollars into nearly fifty, which I then transformed into a mere eight dollars and twenty-five cents through the magic of another bar tab.

Sipping one of many bloody Marys, sitting next to a female looking for someone to mate with, I found myself wondering what would have happened if I had indeed introduced the Borg to Rob-of-Nine. My poor stuffed bear would probably have spent the evening scrubbing the bathroom floor. “Scrub, Rob-of-Nine, scrub. You must comply. Resistance is futile.”

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Goblin thanks everyone for their

Goblin thanks everyone for their warm wishes on her birthday. “They like me,” she said, looking up from her birthday cupcakes with frosting all over her face. “They really like me!” (Yes, we did make cupcakes—well, Rob did; I don’t cook—and walked her around the neighborhood with a large pink badge that read “Birthday Girl” pinned to her harness.)

We will be updating this space erratically over the next few days, since we are on the road yet again. Here is the penultimate chapter of my travel journal. Don’t worry . . . I’m not keeping one this time!

WHAT I DID ON MY SUMMER VACATION, PART EIGHT
Costa Rica: Escazu

Our hotel in Escazu was Casa de Las Tias, “House of the Aunts.” It was a bed and breakfast, actually, run (but not owned) but a sweet Dutch woman named Wilhelmina, who reminded us of one of Lily Tomlin’s characters (without the irony). Casa de Las Tias was beautiful, civilized, absolutely luxurious by comparison with our mean accommodations in Playa Zancudo. I had picked it out, and we both breathed a sigh of relief as we arrived.

The exterior was yellow and turquoise, rising above the surrounding suburbs like a country plantation house. It was constructed entirely of cedar and had once belonged to the Costa Rican Minister of Finance. Though off a busy street, it was quiet and shaded, the best of all worlds. A security guard (many places in Escazu, which is a rich suburb of San Jose, have security guards) had a little area in a corner of the driveway.

Breakfast was filling and delicious.

A maid washed and folded our laundry.

Maybe, we thought, we did die in a plane crash . . . and went to heaven.

*

The guidebook claimed that Escazu was a city that mixed colonial charm with Western luxury. After exploring on our first full day, we had yet to discover any charm or luxury. The main street was lined with McDonald’s and KFCs, and the side streets had all of the Tico establishments. Traffic was everywhere, speeding and spewing out noxious fumes. The highlight of the day was the little Internet café we found, which cost about fifty cents an hour. We spent two hours on the slow connections, catching up on our correspondence.

Then we went to a pharmacy and bought a lotion for my agonizing mosquito bites.

Then we had frosty vanilla milkshakes at a place called Pops.

Then I came back to the House of Aunts to apply the lotion while Rob went to another Internet café.

Then (at Rob’s instigation, of course!) we both went to KFC, where I mistakenly ordered orange soda, which I have not drunk in twenty years and found as nauseating as nuclear waste.

Then I put more lotion on my mosquito bites.

Damned mosquito bites.

*

In fact, the charm of Escazu never quite turned up. The luxury became evident when we took a cab to the mall, which was high-end even by American standards. We decided to take in a movie called Legalmente Rubia Dos, which was a fascinating and insightful look at the American legislative system. You may have seen this award-winning film under its English title: Legally Blonde Two.

Our taxi driver got lost on the way back to the hotel, and we ended up passing enclaves of “luxurious” homes. Actually, they were cookie-cutter nightmares, clustered protectively behind barbed wire and high walls. This is where Costa Rica’s mistrustful American citizens live, sealed off from their host country except for quick jaunts to the McDonald’s or OfficeMax. We also passed the American Embassy, which was sealed off as if in concrete Tupperware.

Interesting that we saw Legally Blonde Two that day, as the movie featured the two American stereotypes prominent internationally: the greedy, manipulative politician/businessperson and the stupid, good-natured consumer obsessed with appearance.

*

One night, we went to dinner at a Thai restaurant near our hotel. Inexpert Spanish was the only language Rob and I had in common with the waitress, but we all managed to get our messages across. The food was cheap, plentiful, and delicious, my only complaint being that their soy sauce was not as salty or flavorful as I am used to (I am addicted to soy sauce).

For our dining pleasure, the establishment provided an endless loop of Christmas carols over the tinny sound system, while a television in the corner showed a History Channel documentary about comic book characters (without sound). I took the opportunity to tell Rob about the Sandman, my favorite, and lo, he appeared onscreen!

The commercial break featured a message by the local energy company: a hideous bunch of giggling drag queens waited onshore for Russian sailors to disembark from a navy ship. The sailors promptly did so and swept the “women” off their feet. I wish there had been sound, but I doubt that would have helped me learn what was going on.

*

Escazu went by quickly and largely uneventfully. It was clear our trip was winding down, and we were anxious to get home. With just one night left, we went through with our plans of spending it in real style . . . at the airport Marriott.


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Happy birthday to the most

Happy birthday to the most fabulous creature in the universe!

GOBLIN FOO UVULA IS THREE TODAY!

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This is my third post

This is my third post of the day. Scroll down to see more photos and a request for advice I could not resist answering.

WHAT I DID ON MY SUMMER VACATION, PART SEVEN
Costa Rica: Transit II

In his short story “Janitor on Mars,” Martin Amis posits an interesting theory. In it, dignitaries from Earth go to Mars to meet a robot that has been observing mankind since it evolved millions of years ago. The robot, puzzled by the human tendency to create art, says: “Now I know I’m halfway there on religion. Surely this has to be how it is. It’s like a tapestry sopping with blood, right? You had to do it that way: for the art. But tell me. Tell me. Does it go further? Like Guernica happened so Picasso could paint it. No Beethoven without Bonaparte. The First World War was to some extent staged for Wilfred Owen, among others. The events in Germany and Poland in the early 1940s were sent in motion for Primo Levi and Paul Celan. Etcetera.”

In other words, the robot janitor is suggesting that things happen (especially terrible things, it seems) merely as a genesis for art. I am beginning to suspect (although I would not in a million years put myself in a category with Picasso, Beethoven, et al) that the events I endured on 27 July 2003 occurred mainly so I could write about them. I shall proceed to do so, although I do not pretend I can do them justice.

Our Sansa flight was scheduled for one-thirty, and our ride picked us up at the cabinas at noon. So it was back down the muddy track by pickup truck, back across the swampy estuary by boat, and back through Golfito to the airport by taxi.

Shaken by the flight in, I had not noticed many details about the Golfito airport except that its landing strip was a gravel-paved gash cut into the jungle. There is no terminal associated with this facility. They unload the planes directly on the runway, taxis come up to the planes to get you, and off you go, all very efficiently. Waiting for your plane to arrive is a different story. One small office (with one desk only) serves as the airport maintenance office and as the local ambulance dispatch, both duties handled by an immense one-armed man named William (so to speak: his only task at the airport seemed to be placing an orange cone out in front of the planes’ spinning propellers once they pulled up, which might explain what happened to his other arm). Outside of this office is a small, tin-roofed area where the passengers could wait on benches that had rusted through in the salt air. Those who braved the benches’ support were quickly covered in the biting ants that apparently thrived on the rust; those who stood up were instantly surrounded by clouds of mosquitoes.

One-thirty came and went without a plane in sight. No one seemed to know or care why this was the case, or when it would come, or if it would come. William told one of our fellow passengers that it might come at two-fifteen, which it did not. Neither was it there by three-fifteen, which gave Rob and I quite some time to get acquainted with local color.

First we met Bill and Doreen, Americans who had bought a home on Playa Zancudo years before but were now in the process of selling it. Rob and I loved Bill and Doreen; we chatted for hours as we waited, and they regaled us with stories about the area and the trials and travails of being white foreigners in Costa Rica. Luckily, they had dealt with Sansa and the Golfito airport dozens of times and were there to show us the ropes. We told them about our trip, and about living in New York City. As we talked, a strange man strolled into the airport/ambulance office, where a television blasted some sort of sporting event. Suddenly, the strange man started jumping and hooting like a monkey, and by this we were to understand that the team he championed had just scored a goal or made a touchdown or some such thing. When he emerged from his fit, he turned to us, and we realized that his face had been scraped, lacerated, and cut in many places . . . a mess of healing wounds. “My heart is in Alaska,” he told us (in English). “I live there, but I have been here for a vacation. It’s turned into three months of difficult business deals.” He then went to make a phone call, and Doreen said that, from his appearance and demeanor, his business was clearly drug-related. A car pulled up full of yelling men, all so drunk that they could barely stand up—some of them actually fell out of the car—and they went into an adjacent bar. The strange man who had been talking to us went up to join them. He jumped around with them for a while and then started opening the hoods of nearby parked cars to look at the motors. (“Drugs,” said Doreen again).

Meanwhile, some monstrous little boys were playing nearby. One of them, having been given the task of emptying the trash barrels, took all of the garbage and dumped it, loose, in the culvert next to the road. Bill, incensed at this, told William, who yelled at the boy and told him to clean it up. “He’s saying, ‘You know you shouldn’t do that in front of the Americans’,” Bill joked with us. “’Wait until they’re not looking!’” The nasty boy, upon putting the garbage back in the cans, went into the office and came out with an enormous machete, which he used to poke at the ground and slash at the air rather near one of the stray dogs that was wandering around.

Eventually, the Sansa representative showed up in a pickup truck. “We call him Mr. Personality,” Doreen told us. We dubbed him “Mumbles” because nobody could understand him. Mr. Mumbles Personality at our service. They weighed our bags on a portable scale. Mine came up to thirty-eight pounds and Rob’s forty-three. Bill and Doreen told us that they charged extra for going over the weight limit, but that they changed that limit every time based upon how much they thought they could get out of you. Also, they only charged white people, not Ticos (presumably, Costa Ricans were too intelligent to fall for such nonsense). Sure enough, the guy came oozing up to Rob later and informed him that his luggage was eighteen pounds over the limit. Having spent several days in an area with no banks or teller machines, we were down to our last dimes. We scraped up enough to pay for Rob’s fee, but we lived in fear that they would shake me down, too. After all, his bags were only five pounds more than mine. And yet, I escaped that fate, for which I was thanking god when the strange man came back and announced to the world at large that he was not, in fact, waiting for a plane. So I thanked god, as well, that we would not have to be on a flight with him. He went back to the phone and was soon up to his eyeballs in mysterious business transactions.

The plane arrived at long last. It was not a six-seater, as before, but a twelve-seater. We all squeezed aboard and claimed our territory. The seatbelts were the ancient kind you find in racing cars, with a lap buckle and a shoulder harness you attach separately. A little sign said, in English, “Keep Belt Fastened While Seated,” which was ironic considering the ceiling was only an inch above our heads while sitting down, and there was no place to go, anyway . . . when would we not be seated? As on the way in, the pilots were in the cabin with us. We could see them and all of their instruments, which were quite a bit more elaborate than on the smaller plane, perhaps as sophisticated as the OnStar system in my father’s car. We took off immediately and smoothly, and I was able to relax for a little while. The in-flight magazine, which seemed to have been stuffed in the seat-back pocket for years, featured stories on Carlos Santana and how to take care of your newborn baby (in both English and Spanish). Then the pilots started pulling out their lunch and eating it in front of us, and I thought, that’s probably not a good thing to do while you’re flying a plane. But the flight was smooth, and the clouds were pretty, and although the smell of their chicken was making me salivate, I was able to relax again.

And then, a few minutes later, all hell broke loose.

Out of nowhere, we flew into a heavy storm. Rain smashed against the windshield like bullets, obscuring all visibility. Lightning flashed. Alarms whooped at random and were silenced. The pilots gritted their teeth and fought to control the plane, which shuddered and bucked like an evil amusement park ride. Rob and I clenched hands, and I braced myself on the back of the seat in front of me, certain we were about to plunge out of the sky like a brick, or get struck by lightning. Things smoothed out for a short while, and suddenly we were in the storm again, worse than before, and this time, it seemed, losing altitude. I was at once absolutely convinced we were going to die and absolutely convinced we were going to land safely, a confounding clash of paradigms that left me simultaneously praying to god and attempting to notice every detail to record later. Finally, once again, things smoothed out. We passed through the clouds, and I noticed some buildings below had, painted on their roofs, “Come back to Costa Rica, Loveable.” Clearly this message was not meant for passengers on Sansa flights.

Then we were coming in for a landing. The airport was obscured by low-lying clouds, but the pilots, it seemed, could do it by their instruments. Thank god for that. Except . . . they could not. We slowed to a crawl and dipped toward the ground; there was awhump, as if we had hit something, and then another alarm. Instantly, the pilot punched down on the throttle and aimed the little plane in a hair-raising ascent at an inclination of what seemed like sixty degrees, enough to throw us back in our seats and keep us there. San Jose spread out below us as we climbed back toward cruising altitude. None of the passengers seemed to know what was going on. Bill and Doreen looked pale as ghosts, and when I said to them, through a jaw clenched with anxiety, “Hey, you must have done this before,” they said, “Never like this!” We were heading back toward the mountains, the pilots looking down out the windows, as if they were lost and trying to find a landmark. Minutes passed, and we turned left and right uncertainly. Finally, we seemed to circle around and head back the way we had come. More time passed before the pilot came on the intercom, saying in Spanish that we were going to land at a different airport instead. Great, I thought, just get us on the ground. Just when I thought we were going to hit the rain again, we circled another time, and I suddenly recognized the ground below. We had passed over it the first time we tried to land. And we were going back to the same airport after all. And . . . well, we landed, of course . . . and rather smoothly given the circumstances. It was a short taxi, and then all of the passengers bounded out as quickly as possible. I directed a pulse of gratitude to the universe, and we went to get our luggage.

Later that night, after we checked in to our new hotel in Escazu, Rob and I found a swanky restaurant and had a delicious gourmet meal that cost a hundred dollars, but that was fine because it was a celebration of life. We drank too much wine and argued fiercely about politics, but I suppose that is part of life, too.


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Photos from the last day

Photos from the last day at the beach.

The road out.

Not to be confused with this tidal swamp, which we had to navigate to get to the airport. Do they not look remarkably similar?

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Interlude: Another etiquette question. My

Interlude:

Another etiquette question. My work is never done.

Dear David,
A coworker of mine just bought a house and moved into it over the past weekend. A manager here in my office requested we send flowers as congratulations. I put in the order. The flowers arrived and today the coworker sent out a thank you email to the office. Well, the email went to another coworker who had also moved into a co-op apartment over a month or so ago, but we never sent her flowers. She was insulted. She made a point to complain to me that management here in our office are inconsistent with their gifts and favor some over others. I felt bad because I had known she had moved and felt like I should have remembered that. Is there something I should do to correct this? Isn’t also rude to point out when you don’t receive gifts?

David responds:
Oh dear. This is not so much a question so much about gifts as the increasingly hideous practice of applying social rules to the workplace. American employees are paid slave wages and receive draconian health insurance and vacation benefits; we have no job security or pensions, working conditions are often deplorable (cubicles!), and our every email and Internet navigation is subject to scrutiny. The corporate overlords, in an effort to make this situation appear tolerable, have decreed that offices must be warm and fuzzy places, run like families or groups of friends. But as all families and groups of friends are, by definition, highly dysfunctional—and all coworkers are immersed in the cloak-and-dagger intrigue of office politics—we end up with situations like the one described above.

If I ran an office, we would acknowledge no special days . . . not birthdays or weddings or new homes. There would be no parties of any kind, no enforced fraternization, and no motivational posters on the walls. All of the money we save from buying gifts and flowers and cards and placards that read “There is no ‘I’ in teamwork” would go toward providing better benefits and more time off with pay, so my employees would get to spend more time with their real friends and family.

And we would all call each other by our last names, Mr. or Ms.

This may sound unfeeling, but it is nothing but the sort. It is dignified, it is fair, it promotes productivity and privacy, and it does not result in hysterical accusations about who has done what to whom. In other words, it has all the characteristics of the perfect workplace, rather than the day care centers or pits of vipers that most workplaces resemble today.

My little manifesto aside, there is no real answer to your question. Your managers have a policy of acknowledging some of the milestones of some of the employees. Employees have been hurt by this in the past, and they will be in the future. Anything you attempt to correct this will have disastrous results . . . speaking to the manager about the problem, requesting that no more gifts be distributed, will make you look like the killjoy in the eyes of the entire office, and it will make the employees who were left out in the past appear to be whiners. On the other hand, attempting to single-handedly create a fairer workplace, where all personal triumphs are acknowledged, will invite the immense burden of keeping track of everyone’s private lives to fall squarely on your own shoulders . . . and then you will miss one, and you will be responsible.

There is nothing you can do to correct what has happened, and it is not a matter of rudeness. In the future, as the middleman in the situation, the best thing to do is acknowledge no culpability. If people complain to you about the policy, smile sympathetically, congratulate them heartily on their new co-op or birthday or whatever, and tell them you were just following orders. Pass the buck. Name names. If someone wants to complain, point him in the right direction—and stay out of it.


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Still more . . .

Still more . . . you will find it is not quite the outlook advanced by Lonely Planet.

WHAT I DID ON MY SUMMER VACATION, PART SIX
Costa Rica: Playa Zancudo

Life, it is said, began in the sea, and human civilization mushroomed on its shores. It is true that oceans and lakes and rivers border the world’s most advanced cities, so one is led to wonder why tracts of similar real estate are commended for what amounts to devolution.

I hate beaches. Some may consider them lovely, but I have never known one that has not attempted to make a virtue of sand in the bedclothes, cancerous sunburns, the ever-present aroma of dead fish, and other atrocities that people would not stand for in their everyday lives. Our beachfront accommodations are a fine example of this. The ramshackle cabinas are constructed entirely of rotting wood, ants and lizards prowl in every corner, someone forgot to put glass in the windows, and the only amenity I spotted was a hook upon which to hang one’s towel. Add the sound of crashing waves, and civilized people consider this heaven on earth; transplant the whole squalid thing next to a freeway, or to the inner city, and the same civilized people would march up and down with picket signs protesting the inhumane conditions.

Did I mention I hate beaches?

I hate the sand, I hate bright sunlight, I especially hate the water, and I look terrible in a bathing suit. This last did not prove to be too much of a problem at our cabina, which was so remote that we might as well have been alone on the surface of another planet, but the others were present in spades. The establishment was co-managed by a German woman named Elizabeth, who announced immediately upon our arrival that they were out of eggs and napkins, and said with a chuckle that their Internet café (supposedly the only one in Playa Zancudo, and the only reason I agreed to this leg of our trip to begin with) was out of order.

Rob, naturally, felt as if we had discovered paradise. When the idea of a trip to Costa Rica came up, I initially protested because I did not want to go to the beach. “We don’t have to go to the beach,” he said. “There are other things to do.” After I bought the plane tickets, the tune changed to, “Well, we can’t go to Costa Rica without going to the beach!” Later, he tried to sneak in two beaches, and I am fairly certain he expected there to be a beach at Lake Arenal, the first stop in our Central American journey (blessedly, there was not). Clearly, he has some sort of beach fetish, to which I am thoroughly and unfortunately immune.

For his sake, I tried to put a brave face on things, but when I discovered the layer of slimy moss on the hammocks and the ants that had burrowed into the wood of the only table in the vicinity, transforming the entire thing into a high-rise colony, I retreated into the cabina and refused to emerge.

*

I did not sulk for the rest of the afternoon as planned. Rob bought me a beach towel with a picture of dogs playing poker, which lured me out into the hammock area once again. I also went swimming and had a decent time at it, although the waves attempted to sweep me out to sea. I have definite preferences, and I so love to grumble if given half a reason, but I think one of my better qualities is that I eventually try to make the best of a bad situation. And the situation refused to improve: both the fan and the showerhead in the cabina gave me electrical shocks, someone stole Rob’s wristwatch and Birkenstocks off the porch, and we learned the hard way that zancudo (as in Playa Zancudo) is the local way of saying mosquito.Yes: Mosquito Beach. Still, the food was good and the proprietors interesting and talkative. And I realized that, distasteful as I found the conditions, they were superior to the quality of life endured by three-quarters the country I was visiting. I just did not see the point of paying good money in order to suffer, myself.

In any event, none of this dampened Rob’s spirits very much (although everything else in the vicinity was so damp it oozed water). He found the ocean to be “magical” and organized his days around immersing himself in it at times when his skin would not burn too much or the ferocious tide would not sweep him off his feet. He also went on extended walks to explore the area. After we learned that a local beach club had an Internet connection for rent, I joined him on an excursion to check it out; the entire compound was as deserted as a ghost town except for three lizards that did not seem to know much about the World Wide Web.

*

A crisis arose when we discovered that, not only had Rob’s possessions been stolen, my new bathing suit was missing, as well. Of course, I was ready to depart immediately, and Rob astounded me by agreeing. At that point, naturally, I had to take the opposite approach and insist we stay. After a highly stressful discussion, we calmed down and swam naked in the ocean (not because my bathing suit was stolen: I had borrowed one of Rob’s and just decided to take it off, and he followed suit, so to speak). Things heated up later in the evening when lizards fell on our heads during dinner; the meal was interrupted at other times by caged birds that shrieked like murder victims and the necessity to swat away the kamikaze attacks of a swarm of mosquitoes.

In an impromptu game of Hangman, I spelled out the word nightmare . . . but we both laughed when he guessed it.

*

In an effort to be more positive, I decided that Playa Zancudo was not the worst beach I had ever visited. That distinction must go to Puerto Angel, a small beach Erich dragged me to on Mexico’s southwest shore, where a trail of red ants marched down the center of the hotel room, ants had also built an elaborate colony in the breakfast sugar bowl, spiders had so infested the hammocks that one could not tell where their webs ended and the fiber of the hammocks began, and all of the food—even the food that was not seafood, which I hate—tasted like fish. It was there, also, that I learned to my eternal dismay that roosters do not crow just once to herald the dawn and then call it a day; sunrise is when they start crowing, and they put up enough fuss until dusk to give a confirmed urbanite such as myself a nervous breakdown.

The one good thing about Playa Zancudo is that, between bouts of scratching the constellation of mosquito bites that spanned my body from head to toe, I made more progress on my book there than I ever have in my life. Although I had to keep my computer hidden from thieves and beware the random power surges that could have disintegrated its memory, I averaged about four pages a day . . . no great shakes, perhaps, but my previous average was approximately point-oh-one pages a day. Apparently the secret to being prolific is either to be uncomfortable, impossibly remote, or bored to tears, a fact somehow absent from my writing school curriculum.

*

Elizabeth, who ran the restaurant, was a bit of a mystery. A quiet German woman whose four dogs and two parrots raised a ceaseless commotion around the compound, she was an expert chef who created masterpieces with the scant ingredients available locally. She would have been a welcome addition to any restaurant in the world, so what was she doing in Playa Zancudo? Perhaps the answer lay in the stars, as she at one point claimed to have written a book on astrology, the file for which was lost in a computer crash as she finished the penultimate chapter. Rob and I became quite fond of her, although there were encounters that left us scratching our heads in befuddlement. As there was no established menu for the restaurant (supplies being unpredictable in the local markets during the off season), Elizabeth debriefed us upon our arrival as to the sorts of things we liked for breakfast. “I like gallo pinto,” I said, referring to a local beans-and-rice dish that is commonly served for that meal, “or anything, really.”

“How about pancakes?” she asked.

“Sure,” we said.

At breakfast the next morning, she asked what we would like. “What do you have?” we asked, remembering she had announced the day before that there were no eggs.

“How about some pancakes?” was the response. We said that would be great, and as she served them, it became obvious that she (like my former boyfriend Erich—also German—did when I first met him) translated crepes as pancakes. This was fine with me, as it had been years since I had had a good crepe, and hers were beyond excellent.

The next morning, she again asked what we would like. “Oh, anything,” we said again, not wanting to request something she was unprepared to make. “Gallo pinto,pancakes, eggs . . .”

“Oh, you like pinto. I made pinto yesterday because you said you liked it for breakfast, but then you requested pancakes, so . . . it no longer exists.” The last four words in a German accent were chilling.

We were horrified. “But you didn’t tell us!” we protested. “You suggested we have pancakes!” She shrugged, her face a mask of resigned tragedy, and went back into the gecko-infested kitchen to whip up some delicious omelets.

*

All right, don’t tell anyone, but I sort of liked the beach. I swam every day and quickly mastered the fine art of bogie boarding. (Yes, I know it is spelled “boogey boarding,” but it is illogical to evoke the boogeyman if unnecessary.) I got a tan, which I always find gratifying, because it is one of the only things my body does like other people’s bodies (although at a much slower rate). I got an immense amount of writing done. I read some great books. I learned to live with sand in the sheets (although I swept the cabina out three times a day) and was quickly able to face lizards in the bathroom without batting an eye. There is also some appeal to being miles from the nearest television set, although it might have been nicer if every Internet connection in the vicinity had not simultaneously combusted.

So Playa Zancudo was fine, although it was quite enough beach to last me for a long while. Then again, if I knew what getting back to San Jose would entail, I would have happily stayed there forever.

More photos below.


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Don’t worry . . .

Don’t worry . . . not many more photos after this.

Gilligan’s hut, home of the slimy hammocks and ant condominium.

Our home: the shack.

The beach.

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WHAT I DID ON MY

WHAT I DID ON MY SUMMER VACATION, PART FIVE
Costa Rica: Transit

Costa Rica is not the easiest country to navigate. Buses are cheap, but the extensive networks are privately owned, each company providing wild variations in quality and comfort. The terminals in San Jose are not centralized, so there is no guarantee that the one you show up at is going to offer service to the location you wish to travel. Some routes are overcrowded, such as the one we took originally from San Jose to Tilaran, and few buses are air conditioned, a deficiency that led to me picking road gravel out of my teeth and wiping a layer of dust off my glasses, courtesy of the open window on our trip from Monteverde back to San Jose. Further, the bus drivers are maniacs: apparently convinced that their monstrous vehicles have the maneuverability of mopeds, they dart in and out of traffic, pass in no-passing zones, and take mountain curves like a tilt-a-whirl. Despite these hair-raising exercises, bus journeys can take hours longer than advertised, leaving weary passengers (or, at least, this weary passenger) feeling as if they have been through a clothes dryer.

After our last such excursion (from Monteverde to San Jose), with another one twice as long planned for the next day (from San Jose to Golfito, on the southern Pacifc peninsula), Rob and I unanimously decided to forego the planned bus adventure for the imagined comfort of an airplane trip that lasted only one-eighth as long. The only problem was, there were no tickets to be had for the day we needed to go. Rob made arrangements for the next morning, but that left us with an unexpected free day in San Jose. In our room at the Hotel Santo Tomas, we made the mistake of watching a few moments of CNN, but the announcers were so wild-eyed and maniacal, and the commercials so bent on manufacturing hysteria, that I could bear no more. Having not been exposed to that sort of thing for two weeks, I spent the rest of the afternoon in a haze of anti-American despair, not suspecting how much the next day would have me craving the infrastructure of the good old red, white, and blue.

Our flight to Golfito was at six the next morning, and we woke up at three (the clock in the room was an hour fast; we thought it was four). We commissioned a taxi to take us to the airport, and the driver dropped us in the desolate parking lot of a nondescript building, where we awaited the rising of the sun and the unlocking of the doors, both of which occurred promptly. The first sign of impending doom came when the agent asked Rob and I how much we weighed, and then weighed our bags on a big scale. I thought nothing of this at the time. After an hour, they took our luggage away, and Rob saw the crewman load them on our plane. “We’re on the small plane,” he said. Having arrived in the country on a jet the size of a 767, I thought they all looked small, but not that small. I have flown a lot of commuter airlines in my day.

When our flight was called, I saw a group of people getting on a small plane and went to follow them. “David,” Rob said, “we’re on the small plane.” He gestured toward something I had originally dismissed as a novelty attraction of the sort one operates with coins outside the grocery store. It had stubby wings and propellers and was slightly smaller than my Volkswagen Golf. Having taken a Dramamine after awakening at three in the morning, I once again had descended into a trance and somehow allowed myself to be ushered into the model airplane. Rob and I were told to sit in the back, and we had to climb over two fold-down seats to get there, as if we were entering a coupe (a small coupe). The plane had six seats, one of which was occupied by the pilot. So much for beverage service, and I highly doubted if my threadbare seat cushion doubled as a flotation device.

Entirely too soon, we took off.

It actually turned out to be quite exhilarating, but rising to cruising altitude was a terrifying jaunt only Space Mountain could prepare me for. Clinging to the seat (and to Rob), I wondered if the bus could have been that bad after all. As things smoothed out, however, I became entranced by the scenery. We flew over the green mountains and down the coast, and I could see waves crashing on the unspoiled shore not all that far below. The unpressurized cabin played havoc with my congested sinuses, but other than that, it was an experience I would gladly repeat under the right conditions.

Upon coming in on what was essentially a gravel landing strip carved out of a jungle that seemed eager to reclaim it, we were met by a man sent by our hotel (at that point, I was still expecting something resembling a hotel) to ferry us over. We took a cab to his boat and were soon speeding over the bay and then through a narrow river lined with low-hanging branches. Rob and I smiled at each other, and I couldn’t help but think how far we had come, both in distance and in spirit, from our home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The river opened up into another bay, and we docked on the far side, where our boatman became our chauffer. He ushered us into his pickup truck and drove us past a small clump of shacks (which he called “downtown”). Then we headed down a narrow, rutted, muddy track (which he called a “road”) for a few kilometers until we got to our “hotel” for four days, and I instantly began counting the seconds until our spine-tingling flight back to the capital city.


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Yet more photos. Yay. Photography

Yet more photos. Yay.

Photography in the air, once I released my death grip on the seat.

The pilot is behind that guy’s big head.

The landing strip. Not quite JFK International.

Where do I put the coin?

The boat to Playa Zancudo.

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WHAT I DID ON MY

From Fortuna, we made our way to Monteverde, a cloud-forest preservation area founded by Quakers from the United States, who fled the Draft during the Korean War and now manufacture cheese in the wilds of Costa Rica. It is now a popular destination for tourists, who are lured by the opportunity to zip through the forest on a tenuous wire, a hundred feet in the air. This attraction is called, for some reason, a canopy tour. It has a certain appeal, but Rob and I elected to do the SkyWalkinstead. This begins in much the same way as the canopy tour, except one climbs the hundred feet upward on a slippery metal spiral staircase and walks amongst the verdant treetops on shaky suspension bridges.

The first few moments were unsettling, and I almost climbed back down. I do not mind heights, but the pouring rain and wind were disorienting, and the bridge shifted under our weight in a way that made my stomach flip. Worse, the structure was crafted from metal mesh, which appeared flimsy and afforded a dramatic view of the fate that awaited us below, should the bridge snap in two. Luckily, I overcame my fear. Rob and I walked, alone in the sky, enjoying the breathtaking vistas at a leisurely pace. My memory being a leaky sieve, I longed to whip out my camera and record the views that affected me so, but the rain would have damaged its delicate workings, and really, I feared that a photograph would not have done justice to the experience. What, to the naked eye, was a tableau of almost unimaginable beauty would have been transformed by the camera into a flat expanse of green, the layers and subtle textures rendered imperceptible.

*

I spent the journey to Monteverde in a cross-eyed daze, havt was transforming into bronchitis. The roads were too frightful to allow sleep, and yet remaining awake did not prove a viable option, so I went into a trance. I remember flashes of the gorgeous scenery and seeing a boy hold a baby sloth up to the tour bus window.

Another woman from the bus joined us at our hotel, Fonda Vela, and we had a pleasant lunch together after we finally arrived. Her name was Cathy, and she was from a town near where I grew up in Maryland. Traveling alone, she seemed eager for company, but she chose to relax in her room rather than join us in a walk to town (three kilometers). By that time, my cold had worsened, and I was not thrilled about the hike, either; I am not entirely sure how I made it at all. Much of it was a blur, and Rob said I had a terrible look on my face, but I trudged on, my lungs swirling with snot and the humors of infection. Fifteen years ago, similar symptoms would have had me begging not to be sent to school, but I had walked countless miles through unimaginable terrain since my nose had starting clogging and my throat started scratching at the Arenal Observatory Lodge.

I bought and consumed several medicines and let them slug it out in my system, a process that left me dizzy and irritable, but mobile and relatively uncongested. In that state, I judged myself well enough to sign up for a nighttime tour of the cloud forest, a spectacular experience that brought encounters with bats and owls (which swooped out of nowhere past our heads), tarantulas, moths the size of condors, and numerous other insects that I would not care to meet in a dark alley. We also saw sleeping birds clinging to branches, two creatures rather like monkeys that swung from tree to tree, and more stars than I ever knew existed. At one point, the guide instructed the group to turn off our flashlights and just listen to the sounds of the forest at night.

It was magical.

Scroll down for a couple of photos.


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Yet more photographs from my

Yet more photographs from my trip.

Somehow, a statue of my friend Viki got onto the grounds of our hotel.

Those cheese-making Quakers are at it again.