Torrid Zone Follies


    A friend recently visited Costa Rica. Let’s call him, ah, Warren. We attended university together. Like many of the acquaintances made then, Warren became one of my closest associates.

    Strange thing is almost all of those undergraduate buddies have become and remain closer than most of my childhood friends. The latter group was bound from nursery school through high school. Yet our first September apart all the permanence fractured. Makes me wonder is that the world or was it just us.

    Anyway, hard as Warren works his Costa Rican vacation was fully deserved. Poor fellow almost has a mania for toil.

    Conversely, he rewards himself in quite stingy manners. Others would be right in viewing the downtime he takes as miserly. With as much time off as he’s earned, he owes himself plenty.

    Having known Warren for three-plus decades, I’d say his self-inflicted short changes have just developed across these last five years. We’ve both arrived at our career points where added responsibilities also bestow greater benefits.

    It’s no exaggeration stating that Warren has subordinated himself to his job. When he does stretch the chain connecting him to his desk, those breaks are attuned to lulls in work, not for fulfilling his needs. No wild-hair whims for the newer Warren. Neither are there lazy days enjoyed during high seasons. He frees himself for the deadest parts of the shoulder seasons.

    These badly bracketed times constrict a good deal of his socializing with our set. We’ve all accrued seniority. Most of us also exploit vacations with an identical ruthlessly fun purpose. Nothing less than crucial twists of life shall deviate us from our pleasure and leisure.

    Except for Warren. The new Warren. He has yielded to the office and its clock.

    His new comportment is a mysterious development. Before, he’d always been among the most indulgent as far as relaxing. There’d been a time when the consensus was Warren would become our representative beach bum. Aloha shirts, straw hat, and novelty cocktails sipped from miniature umbrella-garnished cocoanut shells. All that Warren lacked was a white belt and white shoes.

    What are the reasons behind his new misalliance? There are none. Like me, he lives in near perfection. No fading spouse, no sponging dependents, no worrisome debts. We are free to be moved by caprice without consequence.

    I’m certainly moved by it.

    Seeing how the last years have misguided him, I saw his destination choice of Costa Rica as stunning. A selection befitting me actually. In fact when Warren started flooding our inboxes with letters and pictures extolling the tropical Central American nation, I enviously wondered why I hadn’t already dropped myself and my coin there yet.

    Costa Rica offers many diversions. Sport fishing. Diving. Beaches. Tours through spectacular nature reserves. And if you’ve retired, transferring there what could be counted here as comfortable stakes might transform adequate living into kingly.

    Well. The above is the ideal Chamber of Commerce boilerplate. Despite an excellent public school education, I’m still a guy. I look at Costa Rica and see gambling and whores.

    About the former, nothing too involved. No poker. No craps. The tropical locale should insist I play dozens of hands of manly blackjack and acquire a quick fortune at the roulette table. Both games ought to be fueled by ever-present big-armed cocktails. Cuba Libres, not gimlets.

    About the latter, the Costa Ricans maintain one of those rare societies where sexual priorities are aligned properly. Engaging in the business of prostitution should remain a personal choice. Pimping should always be a crime.

    If some lovely cinnamon complexioned darling willingly wants to trade legal favors for legal tender, why not? At its base it’s just another job in the hospitality industry. Nonetheless I’m aware of the moral queasiness. First World moral nausea, that is. Two kinds of people always lead complaints against pay-for-play promiscuity: hypocrites of all denominations and comfortable women who detest the thought that their “sisters” need to abase themselves in order to draw sustenance.

    What’s so noble about starving? Or living in substandard housing? Or being otherwise materially impoverished? And why is it always better if some distant stranger suffers from want rather than uses a means of alleviating it?

    Just once I’d like to witness some member of the elect possessing rectitude and affluence deprived of lucre then see how fast his or her virtue vanishes after missing a few meals. It’s easy to look down when you’re living high on the hog.

    Warren, today’s Warren, proved ill-suited for Costa Rica. He doesn’t gamble any more. Too much hard liquor now renders him poopy, then sloppy, then asleep. Most discouraging of all, his new persona mysteriously avoids available women.

    In the past, Warren was a guy. He could go to Vegas and indulge in goodtime vices with friends. Why, many were the times we’d watch him blow an entire roll at the craps table, or drink away and drown his resulting poverty at some gentlemen’s club while trying to relate his sorrows to a pair of store-bought breasts retained in a miracle of supportive garment engineering.

    Indeed, many were the times.

    Costa Rica could’ve been his reboot. He could’ve jumped in head first and been up to his hips in the sort of licentiousness his friends would’ve envied. Especially the married ones.

    When he wasn’t catching rays, grooving waves lapping at the beach, and making waiters relay beer between the bar and him, Warren took the Chamber of Commerce tour of Costa Rica. Flora is safe. It’s also dull.

    Those instances when he found himself clubbing, he behaved worse than indifferent. He was objective. I’d almost have preferred him to have been aghast. That would’ve been a more flesh and blood response than objective.

    In San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital and largest city, his steps delivered him to a hotel renown for whores who waylay johns. Or as Warren explained it, a different kind of Wild Kingdom. (Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom TV program was the Nature of our youth.)

    He had us imagine the prostitutes as hungry cheetahs and potential customers as ibex. Using a vivid memory from a long ago Mexico excursion, he said those Costa Rican whores far surpassed their Mexican equals in package-grabbing. Which is saying something because those Mexican chachas had heart-tugging grips.

    Of course the difference was in Costa Rica he didn’t succumb to any such abrupt introductions.

    Away from San Jose’s insistent proposals, a few of Warren’s beach stops offered less intense yet similar distractions. Instead of pros, though, American exchange students were on the beat. Not that these women were trying to supplement remittances from home.

    Rather, it’s an old oft-told story. Despite being recognized as fully adult upon reaching 18, our great nation’s more lamentable laws enforce prohibition until 21. Naturally if “minors” must sneak-slake their booze thirsts in the United States, they’ll go wild beyond the border where consumption age is “do you have money?”

    Warren found himself in several beach establishments where management recognized and acted upon one basic bar principle: prime the pump. Women lure men. Drunk women lure men who drink more. Reduced drink prices for women make men exceed female consumption. Alcohol lowers inhibitions. A fact that also lures more men to bars. All of this can prompt cash registers to sing arias.

    Thing was at these saloons management erased discount prices for women. More chumming the water than priming the pump, management ladled ladies free drinks. Nothing like bathed and perfumed women ready to possibly be stripped and hosed to assure a packed house of parched men.

    The new Warren turned his back on the previously sought and accepted normal. In his emails he made his disdain clear. Several years ago he’d have shared a generous overview of his part in the bacchanal. And his friends would’ve gratefully lived through it.

    In this respect he’s become the reverse Ricky. Truly. (Read “Yield From Effort,” my post from January 20th, 2011.)

    During my reading of his Costa Rican notes I tried remembering whether it was Saul who became Paul on the road to Damascus. Somehow recalling Scripture does not lend itself easily when a non-participant denies his buddies chances to live vicariously through earthly pleasures.

    The one verse I did raise aptly sums up Warren’s plight and our confusion: “If He did not want them sheared, He would not have made them sheep.”

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