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Welcome Invierno

By Matt Casseday

I was walking down the street at mid-day. It was late in the dry summer season, and the sun was right overhead, blazing hot, ready to fry the skin of anyone who lingered in the glow for too long. It was heat that could wound as easily as heal. The afternoon before I had gone to the playa, walking at full stride through the sun-baked sand, bouncing and grimacing like some beach loony, making little noises of pain until I reached the shoreline and immersed myself in the sea. Twenty-four hours later the bottoms of my feet still tingled. This flaring sun could do the same thing to your face or back or shoulders in the time it took to eat lunch. Pedestrians sought whatever puny shade they could find in the center of town. Indoors, people hunkered down near ceiling fans or hid out in air conditioned offices. Life went on under the sun in a distorted, hazy, slow motion dance. Days and days of unabated heat could make one crazy, or at least desperate for a change in the weather. 

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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.” 

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My Salute to El Diario Extra

By Matt Casseday

When I was in college I had a friend who was getting a PhD in Literature. His opinion of my choice of reading material was typically summed up as, “While you spend time reading THAT, another classic sits unread”. I think my usual response was, ‘Yeah, I can dig it’; I had read some classics but left thousands unread, while perusing 20th century bombast. And I am still guilty of leaving classics unread. The other day, I started The First Circle by Solzhenitsyn, a highly praised  post-World War II Russian novel. I struggled into chapter two, put it down and picked up Murder Machine, a long ghastly true account of a 1970s Brooklyn Mafia gang that killed and dismembered dozens. This was 450 pages of sensationalism, death, sex, gore, betrayal– the Mafia food chain in action, 15 years of slaughter leading up to the ascension of John Gotti as Capo di Capos. I devoured Murder Machine while another classic sat unread. This book had all the graphic shock value the modern reader could ask for; even the cover had the words Murder Machine in blood red capital letters.

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My Evil Twin Tomás

By Matt Casseday

My given name is Matthew, but for better than 20 years I have also been known as Mateo, the Spanish equivalent of Matthew. In my early years here, like many wishing to reinvent themselves in one way or another, I sought to be called only by my new Spanish name. I became Mateo—to my wife, kids, friends and acquaintances of all nationalities. Over time, I have introduced myself as ‘Mateo’ to countless people. Most remember my name, but for some unexplainable reason, there are a number of Costa Ricans who upon seeing me a second time, call me ‘Tomás’. It is not as if this has happened one or two times—indeed, it occurs with such startling frequency, that it makes me wonder why I am never misremembered as ‘Marco’ or ‘Miguel’, or another name that begins at least with the same letter as mine.

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Road Tranquility

By Matt Casseday

A few years ago, I was on the receiving end of the only “road rage” incident I have experienced in over 20 years in Costa Rica. It was near the airport, at night, at a stoplight on the multi-lane highway from Alajuela. I had unknowingly moved in front of another car while coming to a stop at the red light,  concerned with positioning myself for the upcoming airport exit. While awaiting the green light, the driver began flashing his high beams and blowing his horn. When the light turned green, he blew around me, cut dangerously in front of me and braked. When I attempted to pass he sped up and when I returned behind him he slowed down again. Obviously whatever I had done while approaching the previous stoplight had angered him enough to risk an accident while he worked out his anger toward my benign driving error. (He was actually very lucky, as I was driving a sleek, compact rental car, on the way to pick up my teenage son and daughter at the airport. Had I been driving my Trooper or Pathfinder—whichever aged and battered model I owned at that time—I might have just rammed into him when he cut in front of me and slowed abruptly).

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Juan Santamaría Must Be Rolling Over in His Grave

By Matt Casseday

Every April 11th, Costa Rica celebrates Juan Santamaría day. On that date in 1855, young Juan helped defend Costa Rica’s northern border against the forces led by the American mercenary William Walker, whose goal was to annex Central America for the ignoble purpose of the slave trade. The image of the humble young campesino, torch in hand, giving his life to ensure that Costa Rica was not tarnished by any kind of occupying force is in the heart and mind of every kid who grows up here; so great is the remembrance of his deed that the country’s largest airport is named for him, and a large statue of him greets every arriving visitor.

Flash forward 156 years to a little piece of land called Isla Calero. Part of Costa Rica, the isla has been technically occupied by Nicaragua for the past few months, while they allegedly work to improve the navegability of the San Juan River, which flows between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, but is considered part of Nicaragua.

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Strange?

By Matt Casseday

Someone recently asked me to describe the strangest thing that had ever happened to me during my 20 plus years of living in Costa Rica. My first memory was of an incident that occurred in downtown San Jose in the early 1990s. I had spent the night in a pension in Barrio Mexico. The following morning I walked the kilometer or so toward the small, congested center of downtown San Jose. The most direct route took me through a bedraggled district of cheap all-night bars populated by loud and broken-down street people, but as I was walking among a multitude of pedestrians all en route to downtown, the scene—which was right out of Hogarth’s Gin Lane—seemed harmless. At 6 feet 1 inch, I had no problem seeing over the heads of the people walking in front of me, and ahead I saw a small, boisterous woman, standing in the street and clutching a sort of bedroll. The first thing I noticed was that she was missing an arm. The second thing I noticed was that she was staring right at me. Her wild eyes locked onto me as I approached and did not waver. I glanced away and glanced back and the look in her eyes suggested that I might have been a walking composite of every man who had ever wronged her on her life’s tortured path, As I passed where she stood, I saw a sudden motion from the corner of my eye, then was struck hard on the side of my head by the thing she had been clutching. If it was a bedroll it must have been of the cement lined variety. I reeled and grabbed the shoulder of the person in front of me to keep from falling as she continued whacking me with all the force her one arm would allow. She was saying something as she swung, but I did not understand. Within a couple seconds I was out of her reach, absorbed by the flow of the pedestrians. I heard laughter coming from across the street as I regained my senses and continued toward the city.
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Getting Tough with Tourism

By Matt Casseday

This current situation with Nicaragua makes me feel like I am witnessing some mean, underfed yet frightening school bully stealing lunch money from the timid, studious kid the next barrio over. The powerless one—Costa Rica– offers no resistance, hands over his change, and looks about pleadingly for help, for some authority figure or big brother/mentor to step in and make things right but no help is forthcoming. Meanwhile, the dull bully –Nicaragua– flexes his angry anemic muscle as Costa Rica waits and waits patiently for someone to come and put the meanie in his place. I love this country, but I don’t love the wimpiness, the “turn the other cheek for we are a trembling but proud people of peace” image we seem to be cultivating. Our answer to this illegal occupation of a small piece of Costa Rica has been to….wave flags. We lack toughness. It’s a brutal world out there and too often the Costa Rican response to turmoil is to seek immediate refuge. And while I have no solution to aggressive neighbors, I do have an idea how Costa Rica can assert itself and show some huevos on the international stage.
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THE SCORE

By Matt Casseday

It was my first month in Costa Rica. I was living in Dulce Nombre de Coronado, a suburb in the hills northeast of San Jose. It was October, the rain fell daily, and the temperature early in the morning hovered around 50 degrees when the sun was obscured by clouds. I was living in a standard Costa Rican 2 bedroom, 1 bath, cold water cement block bunker. The rent was 11 thousand colons a month, which at that time was around 110 dollars. The neighborhood was Tico working class. From my front door I had a view of the narrow street running in front of the house and a sudden drop beyond that widened into a 100-foot deep chasm. The locals used this depression as an impromptu landfill.
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Sharing An I.C.E. Moment

By Matt Casseday

I recently received an afternoon visit from a squat, unsmiling man who arrived at my house on a small motorcycle and without a word of warning cut off my electricity. His bright yellow shirt easily identified him as one of the seemingly tens of thousands of people employed by ICE (which for the uninitiated, is our national electric and telecommunications company). A visitor to my house saw him removing the cap to the meter and came inside to alert me. By an amazing coincidence, I was at that moment attempting to pay my electric bill via internet. It was not easy, as I only have one option for internet where I live (controlled by ICE) and the speed with which I receive the service puts me in mind of those old time room-sized univacs that probably took a couple days to warm up once they were turned on.
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Say Goodbye To My Outie

by Matt Casseday

So there I was, strapped to a gurney in the Quepos hospital. My bata was askew, private parts exposed, and a self-assured man in a green surgical suit was fitting a breathing apparatus over my nose and mouth. “Respire profundo”, he ordered, and I took one, two, three deep breaths. As consciousness slipped away, brutally and rapidly, my last thought was: `This must be what its like to die.´

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The True National Religion

by Matt Casseday

One day last week, I had to pay visits to three different government offices. I spent a lot of the day seated, waiting and waiting for my number to be called. Each office was similar: A casher seated behind a plexiglas window; an armed guard seemingly ill-prepared should he – God help us all —  ever have to actually use his gun; a number of sober-faced Ticos behind desks; and a much larger number of patient citizens awaiting their numbers to be called. I had forgotten to bring something I had recently purchased to avoid long waits: My own roll of numbers just like the ones you pull off from the dispenser in order to receive attention. Mine were the real thing, courtesy of the ´´Take-A-Tab´´ company. The trick is to wait until they call a ´dead´ number, that is, a number no one responds to. Then quickly and surreptitiously leaf through your Take-A-Tabs until you get the number you need. Much time can be saved employing this method; all you need is your own personal roll of numbers, but I had forgotten mine.

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Crazy from the Heat – Review

By Jim Parisi

Crazy from the HeatWriting humor is a cruel, nasty and thankless endeavor more times than not. Trust me because I have tried. Telling a humorous story in person to a group of people is completely different because the speaker can control the pace, the cadence, the intonation and eventually, the punch line. Writing these same words onto a page, handing it to a complete stranger, walking away and allowing the writing to convey humor on its own takes a leap of faith and a unique storytelling talent for the humorist to succeed. And Matt Casseday has pulled it off.

Sr. Casseday is a fifty-something ex-pat who has been calling Costa Rica home for more than two decades. He has been living in the Quepos area for about half that time and writing columns for Quepolandia, the local monthly magazine there, for more than five years. He recently culled through his collection of articles, selecting fifty-four of them to compile into a publication of his own, titled Crazy From the Heat. I think the operative word in that title is the first one, and I mean that in a good way. Matt takes a wry look at the trials and tribulations of living within another culture, specifically, being a “gringo in Ticolandia”, as he calls it. Sr. Casseday has lived and worked in a few different locales as well as owned a car and a business in Costa Rica, is married with a Costa Rican woman, and in short, has easily garnered enough material for his book with first-hand experience.

Jaime Peligro Books and Music

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Soon to be Seen on You Tube?

by Matt Casseday

When last seen, my old friend Dedson was leaving the area in a battered Range Rover, bound for a ‘tour’ of Latin America. This was years back and the ‘tour’ he had planned revolved around the dented left rear hubcap that he swore bore an image of the Virgin Mary when the angle and lighting was right. “People will pay good money to see an apparition of the Virgin Mary on a dented hubcap,” he assured me. “Especially humble God-fearing Latinos always on the lookout for the latest Our Lady of Fatima.”

I had studied the hubcap at length, from all angles and at various hours of the day, straight and sober, unstraight and unsober, but the alleged vision never materialized. There was one occasion when I caught a fleeting glimpse of an image that strikingly resembled Moe of the Three Stooges, but it turned out I was staring at the hubcap of a different Range Rover. I wrote off my friend as another hopeless expat lunatic, brains fried from too many hours in the equatorial sun. My last sighting of Dedson was of him behind the wheel of the Virgin Mary Express, heading north on the highway toward San Jose, plumes of dark diesel smoke streaming from the tailpipe.

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A Message from Costa Rica to the Sons of Al-Qaeda

Crazy from the Heat by Matt Cassedayby Matt Casseday

On the other side of the globe suicide bombers are blowing themselves up more than ever, and although it may sound politically incorrect, even appalling, I must admit I typically feel a bit of sympathy for these desperate young men. I can not imagine what it must be like growing up in that part of the world, living an existence so cloistered, so bleak, so futureless, that the notion of blowing ones self up to kill other people because you have been promised 72 virgins in the afterlife seems a good option. Any time I read or hear about yet another of these acts of terror committed by relatively innocent kids, I consider what, in a perfect world, could be done to dissuade them.

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