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As Politically Correct As He Wants To Be

By Matt Casseday

A friend of mine who shall remain nameless collared me in a downtown Quepos bar the other day. “Have you heard about the new law?” he asked. 

I admitted I hadn’t. 

“The Costa Rican congress is about to pass a law making smoking in bars—and any public places, illegal.” 

My friend smokes a couple packs a day of a cigarette called Delta. I have sampled Delta cigarettes a few times over the years and am of the opinion that the name of this cigarette should be “Nicotine Bomb”, so briefly head-spinning is the rush from inhaling one. My friend lit one up and shook his head in disgust. “Its going to be just as bad as in the United States,” he said. “Once that law is passed they’ll probably have the health department making surprise enforcement visits. Busts left and right. Every bar in downtown Quepos will have “clausurado” stickers plastered on the doors and windows.” 

I tried playing devil’s advocate. “Its not a bad law,” I said. “Its hard to argue aginst the evidence that all that smoke in a public place is bad for your health. Think of it like this: All they are doing is treating tobacco like marijuana, in a way. I mean, we can’t just walk into a bar, sit down, and light up a doob, can we?” 

“That’s what the rest rooms are for,” my friend interrupted. 

I laughed. My friend had always treated the local restaurant bathrooms as private weed-smoking areas. You could get a contact high simply by going to the toilet directly after he had spent a few minutes locked inside, toking away. 

“Just relax,” I told him. “Somebody, somewhere will challenge this law, and it will go before the Sala Cuarto.” 

“The what?” 

“The Sala Cuarto,” I repeated. “It’s the Costa Rican equivalent of the Supreme Court. Except it functions more like the Argument Clinic in the old Monty Python sketch, where people paid to argue with a guy who simply contradicted everything they said. If a guy said ‘It’s a nice day’, the guy in the argument clinic responded, ‘No it isn’t’. Well here the Costa Rican congress passes legislation, says ‘This is the new law’, and the Sala Cuarto responds, ‘No it isn’t’. You watch: This anti-smoking law will either be tossed out or sent back for modification. By the time there is an actual law in place, you will probably be dead from smoking too many of these.” I pointed to the pack of Deltas on the bar. 

My friend excused himself and walked back to the rest room. A few moments later he hurried past me, went out onto the street and exhaled a volume of pungent smoke. Then he returned to his seat and gave me a glazed smile. I smiled back. “See how easy that is,” I said. “That’s how you’ll be smoking your cigarettes sooner or later: Outside.” 

My irascible friend was temporarily pacified, which was a good thing; over the years he has been banned from numerous local bars and restaurants, some of them more than once under different owners. Of course, many people have found themselves declared  persona non grata from a bar or restaurant, but how many have been 86ed from a dental office? Or a corner pulperia in the barrio? Or an acupuncture clinic? Or—my personal favorite—a hardware store? My friend had somehow gotten himself permanently banished from all of the above for bad behavior; I sometimes wondered how this classic obnoxious Gringo interloper had managed not to get himself permanently kicked out of the country. 

Before I left him that day, he lamented how much Costa Rica was changing. “Once upon a time you could get drunk and drive here,” he said. “You could smoke weed in the middle of the street, snort lines off the bar top and take a girl back to your place without worrying about what her birth certificate said, and easily pay off any cop that pulled you over. I didn’t used to care about all the corruption that goes on here because we were all welcome to be corrupt.” He gestured in the direction of the Quepos ‘Palacio Municipal’. “Now the politicians here have gone completely over the top and its like they want to punish everyone else for their sins.” 

A few nights later I received a 3am phone call from my friend. “Guess where I am right now!” he shouted. I didn’t have a guess. “I’m in front of the Quepos Municipal building! Listen to this!” 

He began shouting something about the Chinese. “Our big papis in Beijing would know how to handle this! Justicia China! Una bala en la nuca! Death to corrupt public officials!” 

I listened to a bit more of his drunken yelling, trying to picture him doing this in the street in front of the closed and dark government building. He was saying something about how they should all be put to death like rabid dogs foaming at the mouth when the cell phone signal was cut off. 

I later learned that my friend was indeed detained by members of the fuerza publica in mid-rant; neighbors awakened by him had called the police and they had actually arrived within a few minutes time. As for my friend, he was released after a few hours in the drunk tank; fortunately for him, it was Tico justice that was administered, and not that of the Chinese.


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