“So you’re actually staying?”
Confused by the question, which had come at the end of a conversation about buying a house in Monteverde, I replied, “Yes. I’ve already picked out a spot in the backyard for my grave and everything.”
“Huh. Well good. We need to spend more time together then.”
The conversation then shifted to an interesting Costa Rican law prohibits me from having have my body buried in my yard. Instead, my heirs will have to pay an annual fee to the municipality for my grave in the town’s official cemetery. Viewed through the prism that most laws around here are either bent or flat-out ignored, I found it odd that the location of my remains would one-day be a hotly contested source of revenue. At the same time my mind continued to chew on the prior topic: since I planned to stay for the long-haul I was now apparently a candidate for friendship.
I’d had variations of this same conversation a half-dozen times with other residents, both Tico and Gringo, over the past few months. In most cases the confirmation of my permanent status elicited overtures from those who previously kept me at arm’s length. It is, I suppose, oddly refreshing as my only other experience living in a small town was in Texas, and it was made very clear that those not born there would need to wait about 200 years before obtaining acceptance to polite society.
Newfound acceptance is great but, to paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, I haven’t been interviewing for new friends for a long time. I’m sure you’re a very nice person you seem to have a lot of potential, but we’re just not hiring.
I am very fortunate to have a small group of unfortunately far-flung friends. These friendships have survived marriages, divorces, children, relocations, misdemeanors and incredible lapses in correspondence. None of these life-long friends made the decision to drop everything else in their lives and follow me to Costa Rica. And so, while I am technically not interviewing for new friends it probably makes sense to lighten my stance and at least take applications — particularly now that a significantly greater percentage of the local population now considers me an eligible, though not necessarily attractive, candidate.
I approach the proposition of new friendships with trepidation, and with the idea that Woody Allen/Groucho Marx had it right when they said that they wouldn’t want to be part of any club that would have them as a member.
I’m also reminded of one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes — the episode where Elaine had to evaluate whether each man she was dating was “sponge worthy.” In her case there were plenty of men, but only so many sponges. In my case there is only so much time and interest to go around, and writing isn’t a social activity.
I do not know that I’m worthy of anyone’s time or attention, but I already count myself lucky for the fact that, in spite of myself and my previous status as a short-timer, I’ve inadvertently already made several good friends here in Monteverde.
As I enjoy my new status as a permanent resident I also find that I have to fight the strange new impulse to remove any short-timers from my pool of potential applicants. None of us know how long we’ll be around. Unlike a gallon of milk, we bear no stamp predicting our expiration. A lot of good people could spend ridiculous amounts of time putting up with me for the next six weeks only to find that they’re soon saying nice things about me at my funeral (which will hopefully be a free event taking place at least twenty years from now in my backyard, under the bitter orange tree but not in the leaf-cutter ant bed).