“I am here for a reason, these moments run into pages, the seamy side of life.” – John Fante
San Jose Costa Rica – I was alone then. What the hell I said. I was turning 50. And I was running out of days.
Tonight my little friend has locked herself in the hotel bathroom. Sweet Alex, out of service, guts churning, making the horrible rumble of a diseased organ about to shut down. Serves you right girl. You’re a native. You should know better than to buy food from a Tico in the street.
Easy Cojito, you need to get out man. You need to experience something. No one wants to read a story entitled, “Alex and the burning ring piece.” Anyway, she told you to go. She said she’ll be fine. And with room service and a mini bar, what could go wrong?
Three years ago, on our first trip to San Jose things were different. We were inseparable then. After dinner we’d sit in Morazan park and kiss like young lovers. Back then, the 38 year old Alex had the appreciative demeanor of a wino with a fresh bottle.
Then one night we hit the Blue Marlin for drinks.
“Many women have their eyes on you” she said.
She was talking about the whores. Alex’s eyes darted about the room like a feral dog, worried the other animals would steal her meat.
“That’s their job.”
“No honey,” she said, “many women work as prostitute to feed family, and look for good man.”
Alex held me close that night. I remember thinking, here I was free falling, and maybe Alex was my last shot at slowing down. “I thank god every day for bringing you into my life,” she said. Well, what would your god say now? Now that I’ve left you behind to search for stories and whores.
It’s well after ten when I begin that climb from Barrio Amon. Hookers, and junkies ooze onto the San Jose streets like blood from an open wound. On the corner a ladyboy haggles with a tourist. I can smell her perfume in the cool night air.
I walk fast, feeling the power in my legs. I approach a disturbed man glowering from an alcove. He demands colones. Money? You fool – haven’t you heard? Cojito’s fucking merciless. He’s left his woman behind to die.
I harden my fists. I’m ready for this vile creature. He sinks back into his hole like a crab, damning me to hell.
Hell, that’s more like it. Keep moving Cojito. Hell’s around here somewhere.
Just six blocks down, and I’m in the Blue Marlin. I scan the room. Maybe 25 guys, and over a hundred girls: Nicaraguans, Colombians, Panamanians, Dominicans, Ticas. Not bad. Not even I could strike out here.
I climb onto a stool at the bar, and order a Pilson. The first one goes down easy. It’s cold, cheap.
A thin black girl with snake-like dreads squeezes in next to me. Right away, I can tell she’s different. She’s wearing a red track suit, and sneakers. All the other girls are in hooker-wear: short skirts, war paint, and spiky heels.
Her eyes sparkle.
“Poi que?” she says, playfully looking down at her ensemble.
Forget it Cojito, tell her to leave. She could break you with those thighs. She looks like a sprinter. Her body lean, her chest flat. I can see her nipples, hard like berries, under her top. I buy her a drink, then another.
“I no meet many gringos speakin Spanish” she says in a husky voice.
I’m not surprised. Virtually every gringo in here is old, fat, and rich. Why trifle with Spanish when you’ve got a bottle full of Viagra and a pocket full of cash. She tells me I can take her home for $100.
“No gracias,” I say.
“Poi que – you no like me?”
“No offense, but I had my eye on the lady working the corner.”
“Nooo, she man.”
“Hey, I just got here. How do I know you’re not a man.”
I throw her the Cojito smirk and her face changes. She’s beautiful when she realizes she’s being played with. She smiles. Damn, almost too beautiful.
We drink and talk. I pepper her with questions, listening to her story like el chupacabra suckles goats. Her name is Zifa, she’s 31, from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. She shows me a photo of her kid standing in front of the family bohio. He’s a handsome black skinned boy of 8. He has that same kinky hair and killer smile.
“He never know father” she says. ” I send money. Mi mama watch him. One day I go back.”
Sure, that’s what they all say. How come I never meet the hookers who spend all their money on crack, sex toys, and breast enlargements?
“It must be hard to be away from him.” I say.
Cojito, master of the trite remark.
“I envy you” I say. “I just found out my girlfriend can’t have kids.”
“I want another kid someday,” she says. Probably for my benefit.
Time passes. we suck down several more drinks, and soon we’re both pretty twisted. I stand, unsteady, ready to leave. Zifa jumps up. “Ven papi,” she says, grabbing me by the hand.
I tell her I’m tapped. “Nooo, ven,” she says, like a petulant child. She drags me out the side door, past the bouncer, and into the street. Maybe she figures I’ll change my mind, maybe she plans to rob me in a piss-stained ally, or maybe it’s like Alex says, and she’s just looking for a good man.
Cojito, un buen hombre. We talk and walk our way over to Morazon park. It’s empty. The clouds have fallen from the mountains. Zifa holds her hand up, motioning me to stop. I fall onto a worn bench, and watch as this wild girl slides quietly across the park, and disappears into the night.
Where’s she off to? I think. Warily, I look around. Overhead, the flowering trees give off a purplish glow. It’s 1 am easy. Surely something big and dangerous is lurking in this park. I just sit there, waiting for my karmic beat down.
Oh Cojito, you know you have this coming. I close my eyes and lie flat across the bench. Mist swirls around me. It feels like I’m being licked by dirty sheep. Finally, I get up to leave, just as a red figure is coughed up from the darkness.
Zifa beckons me with a swing of her arm. I pause for a moment. I can’t make up my mind. Is this good news or bad? Then my legs carry me down the street.
Parque National is only three blocks away. “No watchiman,” Zifa whispers, and we enter the park. Zifa selects a tree with a fat trunk, and squats in the lee of the wind. I look around. The park’s empty. Thunder rumbles in the distance.
“Jurakan” she says.
“God of thunda.”
She laughes, drags a joint from her pouch and holds it erect. Hmm, this is getting good. It’s not easy to burn in the cool damp air of San Jose. I watch her unblemished face in the dancing flame until bluish smoke climbs into the drooling sky. She laughs again, pleased with herself, her brilliant white teeth flashing in the darkness. I take a deep hit, then another.
I can feel it expand in my lungs. Her harsh Tico stash, probably smuggled in the ass of a Nicaraguan donkey, isn’t fresh, or tasty, but it does the trick. Almost immediately, I feel at home with her in this park. There’s nothing quite like getting stoned with a beautiful girl, you’re dialed in to each other, and the conversation flows.
I drop down next to her on the wet grass. And she kisses me. Her lips are like a strange fruit. I chew on her lower lip softly, and lean back, my heart beating. Jesus. She laughs softly in the darkness and takes another long hit. The cherry glows in her liquid black eyes.
It’s almost toast, and so am I. Grey smoke snakes around my index finger and thumb as I snub the roach into the bark of the old tree. The same tree that stood by and did nothing as the president of Costa Rica Francisco Morazan was shot down in 1842.
Were you lured here by a Dominican hooker too El Presidente? I try to imagine the president here, surrounded by the solemn forest, his blood draining into the wild grass, his grand dreams of free speech, and a unified Central America lost. Was it all worth it El Presidente?
And then I’m hit with a herb-fueled realization, that the jungle’s always out there, waiting to reclaim us, waiting for us to die, fall, or give up. And that none of this matters. All we can do is grab our machetes, our pens, or our penes, and keep hacking to the end.
Zifa takes my hand, and pulls me up.
“Vamo pue” she says.
I shoot her a questioning look.
“Esta cerca,” she says.
We kiss. I lean into her, the warmth of her body feels like a double shot of Abuelo. I pin her against the last living witness to a great man’s murder. Sorry El Presidente. You understand old man. Zifa turns away, rolls like a hungry croc, and exposes a perfect rump.
I chew softly on her neck. It tastes salty, and smells of musk. My fingers trail down her back, and into her wetness. Her lips are sticky, and glisten under the city lights as if smeared with vaz.
Cojito, a nasty piece of work. Zifa arches her back and groans. “Vamo” she says. This time with real urgency. And I follow her, down the glistening streets of San Jose, and into the Stygian night.
– Cojito @ Panama After Dark
Hot Tip – Don’t be like Cojito. Morazon park is very dangerous after dark. Take taxis at night.