First Chapter Happier House

Costa Rica Costa of Living Update: Price per Gallon of Super Gasoline — $4.15 (And there was nothing super about it.  My car immediately stalled after filling the tank)

As many of you know from following my Facebook page, I’ve been diligently working on my next book about building The Happier House. Why am I not entering the culinary profession after my smash video, How to Screw Up a Mango Salad you ask? I stay in my lane folks, and for me, that means documenting the stupid things my husband gets us into. This is the perfect profession since it requires minimal effort from me. Like right now, as I’m writing this, my husband is pruning a palm tree with a weed wacker. All I need is eyesight and an elementary school education to predict how this day will end.

I’m so excited to share with you the first chapter of my fourth book. You’ve all been so wonderful to me, and I often think of you as I write. I imagine that person in bed who only has ten minutes to read before falling asleep. Or that individual who loves armchair travel, and dreams of moving abroad one day. Taking you on this journey with me has been a dream come true. I can’t thank you all enough.

Burrito Man

“I’m starting a burrito business,” Bobby says while standing under a palm tree. “I’m calling it … are you ready… Bobby-ritos.” He splays his hands in the air as if revering a neon-lit Vegas marquee. To seem polite, I look up as well. I do not splay or revere.

Tonight, people are approaching me with the very first thought on their mind. They pick me straight out of a crowd or corner me in the bathroom. It appears I wear an expression of someone who is keenly interested in what others have to say. Most times I am. But not tonight.

So far I’ve been approached by an expat who—because of my big, stupid face—felt the pressing need to confess that he’s in charge of covert operations at the Pentagon. That tete-a-tete was a walk in the park when compared to the gringo who, moments ago, sounded the alarm that the United States government was currently herding its very own citizens into internment camps. Right now… as we speak.

“They are coming to get us, they are coming to get us,” the man yelled.

Of course, this concerned me. I may not be versed in all current affairs, but surely this was something I needed to investigate further. I asked Paul Reverie, who was one Corona away from falling face first in the dirt, “When are they coming? When are they coming?” Are they headed to West Palm Beach? Browsing Lake Tahoe? Will the internment camp have a pool and a meal plan, because frankly, that doesn’t sound all that bad. The man nodded and glanced up at the sky as if summoning the mother ship.

However, Bobby doesn’t appear inebriated or crazy. He isn’t wearing an aluminum foil beret and did not mention one internment camp. This is a deliberate career strategy.

“I’ll be selling burritos full time. That’s the biz I’m in,” Bobby says, putting his hands on his hips while rocking back and forth on his heels.

“So you moved from the United States to Costa Rica and your plan is to sell burritos? In a Latin country that is already proficient in the art of encasing food in tortillas?”

“That’s right,” he confirms, using a tone normally reserved for inviting applause for one’s endeavors. According to Bobby, this Fortune 500 idea has early retirement written all of it.

I’ve never seen someone so happy to open a burrito business. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen someone so happy, period.

Bobby reaches into his pocket and hands me a business card. The logo is a smiling, blue-eyed burrito, overflowing with sour cream, guacamole, and a cheesy sauce dripping over the side.  The cartoon looks delicious.

“Contact me for any and all of your burrito needs.” Bobby-rito then tips his imaginary hat and exits under his equally imaginary marquee. I’m left asking myself how many burrito needs can one person have?

Rob steps down from the stage and lifts his guitar strap from around his neck.

“Who was that?” Tonight was supposed to be a relaxing one, watching my husband play guitar on the beach.

“A burrito salesman. Odd business choice, don’t you think?”

“I don’t know. It’s not the worst idea.”

“Come on. It’s strange. Of all things, burritos?”

“Why do you find it so odd?”

“He’s calling his business Bobby-ritos. And he already printed out business cards.” I grab the one from my pocket to show him.

“Aw, the logo is adorable. Come on, give the guy a break. I freakin’ love it!”

Rob is always urging me to grant people breaks, but usually, it’s him who is requesting one. This commonly occurs when I change the television station to any reality program, specifically one with women screaming at each other.

“So, because the blonde didn’t invite the brunette on an Atlantic City spa vacation, she tossed wine in her face?” he said as I explained the complexities of reality show female dynamics. “That’s just Thanksgiving day in Brooklyn. Give me a break, Nadine.”

Rob has been asking for these breaks for as long as we’ve been married. He’s requested so many over the years that I began asking him how long each should last. Should he be left alone in the living room for a few hours, or would he prefer I pack him a weekend bag? Apparently, they are herding people into internment camps, so I’m sure I’ll be able to flag down the next shuttle bus.

“When you think about it, Bobby-rito is no weirder than us,” Rob states. “We did the same thing he’s doing, short the guacamole. He probably had a crazy job in an office somewhere and dreamed of doing something completely different.”

“You could be right. Or he could be nuts. I’ve met a lot of nutty people tonight.”

“Either way, when you break it down all of us expatriates are Bobby-ritos.”

Can this be true? Are we all Bobby-ritos? Rob and I did sell everything we owned and moved to Costa Rica. No one said it was a good idea. My parents wholeheartedly did not think it was a wise decision, but Rob and I knew we had to go. The thought of spending the rest of my life in an office was sinking me into an abyss of depression, which for me meant being irritable ninety-nine percent of the day. That, in turn, resulted in Rob steering clear of me one hundred percent of the time.

Rob grabs his amp and hands me his guitar. “Let’s get out of here. We’ve got a long day tomorrow.”

He’s right: It’s going to be a long day because we’re moving once again. The time has come for us to say goodbye to our rental house. Our landlord decided to put it up for sale, and we are moving into a different place about fifteen minutes away. Every time we move, I go through a delusional process of denial.

“I’m not doing it. They will have to drag my cold, dead body out of here.”

Rob ignored me and wisely began calling property managers. “It’s not going to happen!” I scream over his shoulder.

The main reason I don’t want to leave our house is that it’s where I photograph hundreds of howler monkeys right from our balcony. Mature trees surround the home, and monkeys climb straight up to its windows. This allows me to take the most remarkable pictures of their faces and hands, as well as video of them cramming lavender flowers into their mouths. I’ve watched babies jump on and off their mothers’ backs, and males fighting for dominance before falling asleep seconds later.

For the longest time, the monkeys congregated across the street in a neighbor’s yard. I waited patiently, howled at the right times, and tossed a few bananas outside, only to learn howler monkeys don’t eat them, iguanas do. And once the iguanas finished the bananas, they turned their sites toward my husband’s baby hibiscus plants. I call this the circle of life, or things a wife never admits to her husband.

“Where the hell are all these iguanas coming from?” Rob yelled after finding yet another plant eaten down to the stem. I just shrugged my shoulders and acted bewildered, which is something I can clearly do on demand.

But I never gave up, and soon it happened: the monkeys came to my side of the street. And once they did, I never wanted to live anywhere else.

It’s not only the monkeys that I love so much about the house but also the birds: Trogons and Mot-Mots, White-throated Magpie-jays and Squirrel Cuckoos. I even spotted a Painted Bunting: a bird that often hides in dense brush. My backyard is a perennial aviary.

One morning, I glanced out my bedroom window and witnessed a huge anteater jumping from branch to branch searching for a termite’s nest. He stuck his snout into the air, concluded that none were around, and disappeared back into the canopy.  That never happens in New Jersey, and if it does, I can assure you that’s not an anteater loitering outside your bedroom window.

“I feel like we move a lot. Maybe too much,” I say.

“You have to look at it as an adventure. Almond trees surround our new rental. Can you imagine all the parrots we’ll see? It’s going to be great. Plus, there will still be monkeys, maybe not up to our window, but we’ll still hear them every morning.”

I exhale. “You’re right.”

“And we’ll be right next door to Sandy and Ian. Having our friends so close will be a blast.”

I like the idea of living in the same community as my friends. Our cars regularly break down, and one of us always needs a ride to German mechanic. We all spend a lot of time there.

Ian is a cool guy. While out in the ocean, Rob once accidentally yanked the plug on Ian’s inflatable kayak. Ian took a drag from his cigarette, blew smoke signals in the air, and casually said, “I guess we’re going down.” And that’s the most excited I’ve ever seen the man.

I am also eager to live closer to Ian’s girlfriend, Julieta. She’s Costa Rican and doesn’t understand much English, and Ian is American and doesn’t speak much Spanish. But they’ve been together for years and enjoy each others’ company more than most couples I meet.

It’s endearing how Julieta always addresses him as “my love.” When we’re at the grocery store, I can hear her call over the aisles, “Need cafe or leche my love?” Or while waiting for him in the parking lot, “I missed you, my love.” I once told Rob that I thought it was sweet how they spoke, so he started calling me hotpants, which doesn’t have quite the same romantic ring when called across the produce aisle.

“Hey hotpants, where are the bananas?”

I like spending time with Julieta. She’s tall, voluptuous, and every picture we take together I resemble her Raggedy Andy doll. I even started practicing cooking authentic Costa Rican dishes for her, like my fried plantains, which turned out to be fried bananas.  She smiled and ate them regardless.  Julieta tries so hard to understand my crappy Spanish, and I try so hard following her lousy English, we both spend a sizeable amount of time squinting at each other. Our friendship is unquestionably ruining our eyesight.

However, the number one thing I like about Julieta is she is a wizard when dealing with bureaucratic red tape. Can’t get your driver’s license? Julieta will speak with the clerk. Want an extra ten percent off your deep fry cooker? Julieta has got it covered. I never met a woman so persistent.

“I know the new rental will work out. It always does,” I say. “But the house is down such a long, bumpy dirt road it rattles my brain.”

“But what do we always say? Everything that’s great in Costa Rica is usually down a dirt road. Look on the bright side; we’ll be right next to the beach. We can kayak and snorkel all the time now. Trust me. How bad can it be?”