Mike Welch is a Hero

Part One

(As an aside: if you think I sound like a pig saying all this, it’s because YOU are judging these women. I am not. All right, here we go!)

I accidentally planted this obsession in my white friends Buck and John, who’d returned from Dominical as I was sitting in my hot little office, writing and obsessing. When they stepped out of the dirty blue Astro Van, I hoped they might save me from myself, pull me out of this ridiculous space I’d been exploring while alone. But as I shook their hands, I couldn’t stop talking about hookers, and they listened with encouraging ears.

As I prattled on, a white mass emerged from the back of the van, some girl they’d brought with them from Dominical. I’d never met her before, and I couldn’t tell what she thought of all my unstoppable babble about stealing a hooker’s underwear and realizing it was a little girl’s T-Shirt. She smiled as I vented all these stories I had been dying to tell, but she didn’t really laugh. So I shut up, and held it in for awhile. It was surprisingly hard.

But I felt healthier, abandoning the computer and crashing the unpopulated beach with them. The water was huge and white and unfriendly but, as the girl stayed sunning by herself on the beach, Buck and John and I took on the water, getting scraped and stung and pushed under with a dog named Chester.

Chester is a huge white stray who lives on the jungle beach. Other than trying to steal our shoes and bury them, he is very friendly. He stayed in the water with us for hours, swimming the rough waves, farther out than I am willing to go. Paddling and paddling four paws for an hour-and-a-half with not one pause; pure fucking stamina.

The girl stayed on the beach as we played with Chester in the water. We were so happy to have him there with us, in all his unconditional loyalty, that it gave me a brilliant idea.

“We should start a business here on the beach,” I suggested, “where we rent out big loyal dogs, by the hour, to lonely tourists.”

“Beach buddies!” John agreed, as a big, loud wave took us all under.

When we emerged coughing up salt, I suggested, “Our slogan could be, ‘Lonely? Have we got the bitch for you!’”

“A dog whorehouse!” Buck yelled.

And from that point on, I was all hooker talk. So much so that I was sure it said something bigger; a comment on my tendency to obsess. For me, there’s always an obsession. If not, there might be emptiness. It’s a family tradition. I don’t know what kinds of obsessions she had before I was born, but since I’ve known her, my mom has had shelling, then parrots, then BINGO. For me there was The Incredible Hulk, then Raiders of the Lost Ark, then pro-wrestling, then fishing, then her, then music, then her, then her, then pot, then her, and now there is writing. I am merely a more thoughtful and elegant version of mom.

But despite the uncomfortable stomach it gave me to think of all this as we swam, when we returned to the cabinas, and the white girl took a bus to some other village, we were left alone with our rotten ideas and the rotten mouths they came out of. That night at El Rancho, we were drunk as I pointed out all the hookers in the room, to the awe of John and Buck, who had no idea. I had learned a lot while they were gone.

Since he’d been in Costa Rica, John had also heard the line, ‘They’re all hookers,’ but had been unable to understand it. Like me, he’d been wondering, Well, where the hell are they then?. But while he was gone, I’d learned a lot of Spanish and made friends with a lot of locals, and found out that most of the hookers in the village are not traditional streetwalkers. They hang at the bars, waiting for free drinks, and if you can make them laugh enough, and get them drunk enough, they will have sex with you for free because, like everyone else, they like sex, but since they live in Costa Rica they’re allowed to like it and they don’t have men looking down on them for it. And so, if they’re already drunk, and you can’t speak Spanish well enough to make them laugh, they will skip the formalities and go to bed with you for $15, because money is always good, and sex is almost always fun, even with strangers.

And this is what we talked about all fucking night. There were even some guys in the bar who had just hitchhiked from Canada all the way to Central America, and had some of the most amazing stories we could have ever heard, but it didn’t detour the topic at hand. These guys were in a fucking Zapatista rally, and all John and Buck and I could talk about were hookers, hookers, hookers. And hookers.

John and Buck were enthralled. They let me go and go, giving into the part of me that loves to obsess. And as I talked too much, I felt it consuming me. With every word it was becoming more real. I felt like The Fly, watching as the good side and the bad side fused together, and all the while knowing the bad would win. As the blurry night went on and we drank and talked more, I began to annoy myself, but couldn’t stop from turning into a giddy, self-conscious mess of evil enthusiasm.

It was hard to focus (because Heinekens are 60 cents) as Buck and John looked around the bar and I explained to them what was what. I pointed out the older hooker, the teacher with the missing tooth. She sat with a giant, balding gray gringo who was calling her a “piece of ass” to her face because she didn’t understand English. She forced a smile but didn’t look happy.

I pointed out the super-skinny runway model that my Tico friends insanely refer to as “The Ugly One,” because they like nothing more than giant asses. And there was also the Semi-Professional, whom I’d found out the night before was Orlando’s sister.

The night before, at the same bar, when I was by myself without Buck and John, I’d asked Orlando, “So, what’s the deal with your sister? She’s cute.” I didn’t allude to prostitution.

“She like a sex very much,” Orlando said, nodding. I blushed.

“She’s always with those old gringos though,” I said.

He simply nodded again and responded, “They have money.”

The next night, as I sat pointing out all the hookers to Buck and John, I noticed that Orlando’s sister, The Semi-Professional, was finally alone. But before I had a chance to act, Orlando came over to our table and leaned into my ear.

“My sister very drunk right now,” he said, pointing at her across the bar. “Now is good time to go talk to her.”

But before I could even rise, a fat old gringo saddled up next to her and she began to smile and talk.

“Oop, you missed it,” Orlando said, standing beside me as I sat in defeat.

“What about that girl over there?” I asked, pointing to the skinny runway model.

“The ugly one?” he asked.

I laughed, “Yeah, we white guys think she’s gorgeous. What’s up with her?”

Without answering, Orlando walked across the bar to her. I saw them talking but couldn’t hear. He pointed at me. She looked over, but didn’t smile. In a minute, he returned.

“She have sex for 5,000 colones,” Orlando said.

“Oh geez,” I faked it, “I didn’t know she was a prostitute. I don’t wanna…”

Orlando laughed at me and walked off to hit on a big fat white girl. Buck and John asked me what we’d been whispering about. I told them.

“You’re fucking kidding me!” Buck yelled loud, staring at her. “She’s amazing!”

We all nodded.

Later, when we were all too drunk to entertain the idea of sex, I walked to the bathroom to pee, in preparation for the stumble home. On the way to the john, I caught the eye of the teacher/hooker with the missing tooth; the eye was watery. I was sure she was sad. Her old gray gringo was rubbing her ass and yelling, spitting on himself, stinking drunk. As I wondered how such an old dude could get it up at all, much less when his blood was thin with alcohol, she rose and followed me to the john.

Outside the bathroom door, I wanted to ask her how she could fuck someone so disgusting. Instead I took her hand and fumbled some Spanish, trying to ask her if she was O.K.

“Si, si, esta bien,” she said, while staring at me with watery eyes. She’s only about 30, but she looked very old.

I asked her if she was sure and she repeated, “Si, esta bien.”

“O.K.” I said, walking away, and halfway through the phrase, “buenos noches,” she grabbed my hand hard and jerked me back to her, staring into me like “please don’t let this happen.”

I didn’t know what to do but cry, though I was able to hold it back.

“Lo siento,” I said, “No tengo dinero.” I’m sorry, I don’t have money.

She nodded, forcing a smile and staring at me as she waltzed back to the drunk old gringo. He grabbed her like he owned her, when really, he was only renting.

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