Poor chap. He’s obviously here on a tropical vacation. I can smell the stress oozing out of his pours mixing with the faint smell of rum from the night before. It’s about 9am, and yes, we’re sitting at the bar—a quaint seaside bar in a Costa Rica fishing village around Potrero. His eyes poured over me in an attempt to size me up, and he was a handsome gringo from the States. Sandy, blonde, disheveled hair with a sturdy athletic build framing a small, plump belly that no doubt served as the aftermath of far too many craft beers. I’d say that he looked ordinary and familiar, except that over the three months that I have been living here, the familiarity of America had dimmed to the flickering of a candle—a memory that I can still recall, but only in glimpses.
He began three seats over, and I pretended not to notice him much. Within the course of a full minute, he had maneuvered his way to the seat next to mine through a series of gestures, beginning with taking a lime out of the bar caddy to squeeze into his seltzer water, then shifting over to give room for his right leg, which sported the faint scar of a jellyfish sting.
“Hi. I’m Carver,” he said, and reached his smooth hand over to offer mine a polite shake.
I took his hand and cupped them in both of mine, rolled his palm upward and began tracing the lines with my finger. “You’re here on vacation. You had a terrible encounter with a sea creature when you first arrived, and you’re only hear for less than two weeks. You drank too much rum last night, but your leg is feeling much better.” I continued examining the palm of his hand.”
“You read palms?”
“No. I just don’t think you’ve ever done a hard day’s work in your life,” I winked at him and smiled. “I’m Veronica,” I said, as I smoothed over his hand and gave it back to him. He suddenly broke open with a smile that engulfed his entire face, and he lit up with beams of gorgeous energy. I’m certain I blushed, so I looked away to conceal my excitement.
“Do you live here?” he asked.
“I think so,” I said and turned back to him. “I’ve been here for three months. An expatriate of sorts. I don’t know how long I’ll stay. I’ll stay as long as I like.”
“Wow. An extended vacation. Must be nice. I might have met a rich heiress, or just a freedom-loving beach bum who roams the world unencumbered. Intriguing. I want to know your story.”
Oh, and what story is that?” I asked leaning into him slightly.
“What is your take on being rich or freedom-loving?’ He looked down and his face dimmed as if he were being reminded of all that stress that had recently started melting away from him. “I could sure use a different perspective right now.”
“You really want to know. Want to know what I really think about all of that?”
“You have no idea how badly I need to know,” he sad as he craned his neck over to glance into my eyes.
I placed my hand gently on his shoulders and glided my fingers over them, “Well then I’ll tell you.’
“About money. I prefer having money over not. I’ve had a whole lot of both. But, I’ve also learned that I prefer freedom over money. I used to think that money could buy freedom, and that it broadens our spectrum of choices. That’s only partially true. It matters where the money comes from. In looking drearily over the state of our political affairs back in the States, it’s clear the effects of having a bought government has on our liberties. The same can be said for most Americans. We are a bought society mostly, as most of our countrymen (and women) are owned by another corporation or set of persons for the better part of their day, nearly every day, with some temporary time off for good behavior. During the time we are at work—another party benefits far greater for our service than we do, and the majority of our actions, behaviors and even image is dictated by another. And, usually, the better we are at feeding the monster’s greed in some fashion: money or prestige or obedience, we are rewarded with a small share of money for ourselves and a few regulated freedoms.”
“Some smaller than others, and yes. I can’t disagree with any of that. But what can we do? We have bills, mortgages, responsibilities. We must obey,” he said, sitting up straight and taking a few gulps of his soda. “We’re in the machine—just a cog in a dysfunctional, evil wheel.”
“Well, we don’t have to have all of those responsibilities. That’s the first part of the trap. We need shelter, food and clothing and a few dollars to help us get around and handle an emergency if needed. That’s it. It’s all the other shiny stuff that lures us in, and then we find ourselves trapped. Or perhaps we just think we’re trapped. In fact, they left the cage door open. We just didn’t realize it. We continued behaving like we were trapped, so they didn’t bother locking the door. They got lazy because so did we.
“Okay, but if walking through that door really was easy, don’t you think more people would do it?” he said.
“Most people never see the beast. One day, I saw the monster for what it was. It showed itself to me, and I spit on him. I took the most unimaginable leap into freedom that most people could not fathom, and I walked out into a sea of limitless uncertainty. It was easy for me to do—I just put the focus on “limitless” and used the power of uncertainty to fuel my adventure!”
“Oh come on! I believe you’re good. But you didn’t escape clean like that. I know you didn’t,” he said.
“I made a few small missteps along the way. At one point, I became “self-employed,” working on projects with dozens of individual clients, and it didn’t take me long to realize the horrible truth—that I had traded in one master for many! The only thing that I had taken control over was my earnings. I was still owned.”
“I can see that. But, then what? That didn’t land you here, did it? You still need to pay for the shelter, food and clothing, right? Someone has to provide the cash for you to do it, and you are accountable to them for something, right?” he asked.
“Sure, and that wasn’t the end of my mistakes, either. In my ennui, knowing that I didn’t want to be owned by these people either, I started doing more things I enjoyed for much lower pay, and my income and expenses were not even remotely in synch. A little of that had to do with me helping to support a sick family member… back to those emergencies I mentioned. So, I was in a whole, behind on most of my bills, and I needed to catch up. Along came an opportunity—one high-paying client. After three months there, and allowing another fluorescent-lighted cubicle littered hell to eat my life for a bit, I walked away.”
“But,” I said, “I walked away with an epiphany. I learned that I could command a much higher rate of pay than I thought. My expenses had already been reduced to a minimum, combine that with a high rate of pay, and now I’ve found the balance that I needed. I take on just enough work, doing work that mostly I enjoy, for people I enjoy working with, to cover my expenses and a little more to pad the wallet for rainy days and my work can keep me roaming about the planet as I please. I can do what I do from any corner of the globe where I have internet access.”
“And that mostly sums up my perspective on money and freedom and how I like to keep it balanced for me. Not to fulfill everyone’s dream—my dream.”
Carver stood up, and rubbed his eyes, then he slowly began walking away back to his motel room.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“I’m instructing my brother to sell my Porsche.”