One morning in July 1979, my family awoke to a small hole in our living room window. After careful investigation, it proved some little shitter shot a BB gun at our house. This caused considerable alarm and phone calls urgently placed to the authorities. These were the days before CSI, so no fingerprinting was performed or DNA swabs sent to headquarters, but three squad cars did appear and took down the report, shaking their heads in unison concerning the blatant disregard for my mother’s picture window and Hummel figurines. The perpetrator was never found, and it was my first encounter with the dark side of living in suburbia.
Rob, on the other hand, wrestled a gun away from a druggie while driving car service. The older drivers would not take the call from the individual bearing a swastika tattoo (handsomely inked on his forehead no less) who staggered into the dispatcher’s office. Rob needed the money, took the fare, and ended up fighting for his life. Police were radioed and shook their heads in unison concerning the blatant disregard for calling them while on their coffee break. Needless to say, Rob has dealt with more than a BB gun in his life, and these experiences have contributed to his impression that people, if given the opportunity, might stick a gun in your face.
Due to these circumstances, Rob searches the Internet for any information about crime in Costa Rica. He’s learned that if your car is stolen, it will most likely be held for ransom. The crooks ask for a few hundred dollars, meet you in a park for the exchange, and give you back your car. If I had to choose which crime to be a victim of, this one might be it; I like the non-violent nature. I get to spend an afternoon in the park and can go back to my life without suffering the irksome side effects of Stockholm Syndrome, not a bad day. My sister would probably volunteer her minivan if it guaranteed her a few hours out of the house and away from her three kids.
To prevent this from happening to our car, Rob installed four hidden kill switches: two to disconnect the electricity, another for the fuel pump, and one to directly cut off all power to the battery. He also attached an anti-theft Club to the steering wheel, giving a criminal a well-deserved smack in the nuts if he attempts to turn the car during a getaway. It takes ten minutes to shut off all the kill switches and remove the Club, which confirms that we will never make a quick escape if the need arises. Rob claims his preoccupation with thwarting crime is a result of being married to me.
“You are a liability, but in a good way,” Rob comments. “I love you too much to risk anything happening to you.”
“I have a hard time believing I am any more of a liability than having you around.”
Rob lets out a snort. “Trust me. Having you here makes me extra cautious, and you can’t rely on the cops to come, so we need to take care of ourselves. And, don’t kid yourself. You’re the only person I know who asks crackheads for directions when we get lost.” Just for the record, crackheads are better than a GPS. They are more familiar with the neighborhood and know all the back alley short cuts.
After safeguarding the car, Rob decides to thug-proof our house, even though we live on top of a mountain, in a gated community, on a practically inaccessible road. The first thing he does is install battery-operated alarms around the house. A beam emits, and if something passes in front, it will beep a specific number. The back terrace alarm beeps four times; the porch beeps three times, etc. In the event one is activated, we will know exactly where someone is lurking. These alarms are not only sensitive to people, but also to spiders, butterflies, and absolutely nothing at all.
Last night, I awoke to four beeps. Realizing our perimeter had been breached, I peeked through the curtains to discover a black and white calico cat urinating in my basil planter. Rambo Rob never woke up and was totally unaware of the evildoer that invaded our turf. I went back to bed aggravated, more so because I’d been using that basil in my homemade tomato sauce.
In addition to the alarms, Rob buys a machete. He loves his new toy and insists on practicing his swing on a banana tree. One loud crash later, he learns that the trunk of a banana tree is as flimsy as a cardboard toilet paper tube. It will take nine months for the tree to grow back, but worse for Rob, it will be nine months of hearing me lecture about the consequences of swinging a machete around like Babe Ruth at batting practice. Also, he hid the machete tip-down behind our headboard in our bedroom. Since then, it has already fallen over twice: once snipping the phone line in half, and another time narrowly missing my cat’s tail. It appears the principal danger of living in Costa Rica is the danger from living with my husband. And, just in case this arsenal is not enough, Rob has just informed me he is going to buy a gun.
“Seriously Rob, why a gun? We have alarms, a machete… why do we need that?”
“Because if I had a gun right now and someone wanted to break in, I’d shoot the bastard.” As always, I can rely on Rob to provide interesting dinner conversations.
It’s not that I don’t like the theory behind gun ownership. I agree that someone who breaks into my house loses all rights on whether he leaves with a few bullet holes in his spleen, and the slogan, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is something I can stand behind, even volunteering to wave the banner during a redneck rally. But, Rob has no experience with shooting a gun. Now that my cat’s tail has narrowly missed amputation, I think this deserves a little reflection, which Rob tells me I can do while we are in the car on the way to buy the gun.
The gun shop is located in an upscale mall with shops for Armani, Tommy Hilfiger, and other high end lines. Who would think in the middle of Central America you could have access to such luxury? As we walk around looking for the gun shop, I notice that Rob clipped a can of mace, as one might clip a ballpoint pen, to the collar of his shirt. He thinks it makes him look scary, an observation reinforced by the expression on every salesperson’s face as we enter their store.
“Will you please take that off? You look like a nut. Seriously, is that how you’re going to walk into a gun store?” A minute passes before turning back around and catching Rob accidentally macing himself in the eye. He has now succeeded in looking like the scariest person in the mall.
“I’ve got to get to a bathroom; it’s burning really bad,” Rob says as the surrounding tissue of his eye begins to simmer. We find the food court and he disappears in the men’s room for half an hour. I enjoy the alone time and eat a slice of pizza; not surprisingly, it tastes like a taco. He exits the bathroom, and his eye is puffier and redder than before. I suggest skipping the gun store, but Rob insists he’s going to buy a firearm today.
The gun shop has numerous glass display cases with a large selection of hunting knives, nunchucks, and batons. Above the cases, a harpoon and AK-47 are mounted side-by-side on the wall. It’s an admirable inventory, one that any manslaughter enthusiast would applaud. I’m looking at ten years to life for just walking into this store.
We walk up to the counter and see the salesman buzz something hidden beneath him; consequently, another man walks from the back and stands in the corner, watching us. The salesman requests our paperwork: a criminal report and a separate corporation for the gun. Everything you own in Costa Rica goes into a corporation for legal purposes I still don’t quite understand. Even my cell phone is in a corporation. Since my husband has never operated a gun, he’s prepared a list of absurd questions. I take a seat next to a rotating stand of Zippo lighters, knowing, from past experiences with Rob, this is going to be more entertaining than the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“Will it shoot underwater?” Rob asks.
“Sir, why would you be underwater with your gun? I would suggest the harpoon,” he says while pointing to it on the wall.
“What about fire? If I was in a burning building, and the gun caught fire, would it shoot?”
“I would suggest if you were in a burning building you find the nearest exit and get out immediately.”
“Ah ha… so you’re saying it will not shoot?”
“No, the gun will shoot under high temperatures. Of course, if the bullets catch fire, they will explode… hey… what’s happening to your eye?”
Rob’s eye starts to squirt like a malfunctioning sprinkler system. The man in the corner runs into the back room and leaves his buddy alone to deal with Rob. It occurs to me that I should always carry a video camera when taking my husband out in public.
We end up purchasing a Smith & Wesson, or Saturday Night Special, or something with an equally badass name. Rob also buys a quick loader just in case five bullets aren’t enough to kill the grizzly-sized intruder we’ll catch peeing in my basil planter. I guide Rob out of the store since he is now temporarily blind in one eye and has lost all depth perception. The door automatically locks as we leave, and I don’t blame them one conjunctivitis bit.
The only thing worse than buying a gun with Rob is watching him search for the perfect hiding place. While he scouts for a spot, I go into the bedroom, only to come back and find Rob sitting in the fireplace, his legs poking straight out with his upper torso hidden in the chimney. He’s decided that hiding the gun up there is the safest place. I think hiding Rob up there is the safest place.
“What are we going to do if you forget it’s there and we start a fire?”
“That will never happen. I’ll always remember to take the gun down before starting a fire. It’s the best hiding place we have so far. Remember, I am doing all this because I want you to be safe.”
What a sweet thing to say, and to show his main goal in life is keeping me safe, he surprises me a few days later by forgetting to take the gun down before starting a fire.
“This is so nice and cozy. Where did you put the gun?” I ask Rob a second before we both see the gun drop from the hiding place and into the middle of the flames.
It lands with the nozzle pointing straight at me.
I find myself frozen for an unconscionable amount of time, even though knowing by doing so, I face a highly unpleasant and messy outcome.
Rob pushes me aside and screams, “GET A COOKIE SHEET!”
I race to the kitchen to grab the metal tray and a wet towel.
“Oh God… oh God… it’s gonna blow,” I scream while quickly trying to recall what the salesman said. I can’t remember if he told Rob it would shoot underwater, in a fire, or both.
“STAND BACK.” Rob throws the wet towel on the fire and slides the pistol onto the cookie sheet. He runs into the kitchen, drops both into the sink, and turns on the cold water. He submerges the gun and watches as the rubber coating on the handle melts into a congealed, amoebic formation. A toxic mushroom cloud chases us out of the house and onto the back patio.
While the black smoke fills the kitchen, Rob turns to me and says, “Well, you don’t see that every day.”
You’re right Rob… no… I can’t say I do.
To prove the gun still works after it has cooled and dried, Rob walks past the beeping alarms, over the fallen banana tree, and down to the river. He blasts three bullets into the ground, subsequently blasting three holes in our water pipes. The gun functions. Our water pressure doesn’t.
What have I learned about this debacle? Three things: a gun will shoot while on fire and after being submerged underwater; Rob’s stupid questions at the store eventually did serve a purpose, and gun practice is best done two hundred feet away from any utility lines.
Thankfully, he didn’t buy the harpoon.