"I was thinking you might want to use this trip to Costa Rica to dry out," Alan speaks the unspeakable through an ironic mouthful of airport Skoal. "You know, clean up your act a little bit."

Oh, no. This isn't going very well at all.

"Bartender, make mine a double," I 9 a.m. slur through my own personal fantasies of hot springs dripping vodka while plastic surgeons make the small things bigger and the thin things thicker. The last thing I want to do is to fly to another country just to get closer to myself. Besides, grapes "dry up" and I don't even like raisins.

"If this plane goes down in a fiery crash," I scream a goodbye in Taylor's direction via cell, "just remember I loved you the most!"

Alan throws me a Sept. 11, TSA warning face that makes his lips actually disappear. Alan, it appears, hates me.

By the time we arrive in San Jose, I already feel like a raisin — albeit a pickled one — and I'm donning my standard travelogue whine-and-kick, dragging Alan through the Third World to find some top-shelf vodka, a cooler and some mixers to create the seminal hotel-room first-aid kit. You know, in case something drastic should happen. Like, say, rain or something. I say "si" and "gracias" a lot, because that's all I know, and I really enjoy the various "me gustos" that always seem to pop back.

"Gusto" is a very fun word, after all, and I'm here to have fun.

The following morning, we opt for some of Alan's deceptively masculine brand of entertainment: gambling. Worse still, gambling at the Casino Del-Ray, a whorehouse-cum-hotel that is famous — at least according to Alan — for easing the inevitability of heterosexual infidelity, mostly because — unlike in a divorce court — you might actually win some money here.

In fact, just yesterday as we were exiting our plane, at least three winks and four nudges came from the sort of beefeater belly-bearers one might expect to sway their gin blossoms through this Jimmy Buffett concert or that NASCAR loop-de-loop. Overheard mentions of the Del-Ray are almost always followed by the obligatory "heh-heh" that wives at home never seem to hear.

"They tell their wives they're down here to go fishing," Alan explains without any notice of his own odorous double entendre. "And their wives believe them!"

Within a matter of just a half-hour — or two drinks, by my watch — Alan's already caused a stir at the Del-Ray, nervous croupiers growing armpit rings and shifting their eyes away from each other and back again, switching positions and looking quite dangerous. A nearby hooker (with child!) throws her napkin at Alan's $2,000 winning hand (he thought it was me at first, and his lips disappeared again), licks her lips and from my losing vantage point at the quarter slots, seeds a revolution.

"Can't we go, like, shopping?" I queer it up on Alan's shoulder, and we're off.

But shopping's not what we're here or queer for; we did enough of that last time. And apart from a bunch of thinly stitched shirts not suited for machine-washing (I doubt they'd survive much better with the beating of a rock on a babbling brook), all we came back with is about 150 acres of land.

A good portion of the remainder of our trip will involve the sealing of that deal (read: Billy not having a good time nor understanding a word of what anybody is saying). The next day, there we are in the lawyer's office with somebody from the jungle named Jorge — who apparently isn't supposed to know that we're gay — the hot little lawyer lady, her poodle, a couple of friends and my frown. About two and a half hours — eight drinks on my watch — of hyper-Hispanic negotiations involving something about the government being able to take our land whenever they very well please follows, while I ponder exactly what my own agricultural ambitions are. And if I had had those eight drinks, I'm pretty sure I could've figure out that the answer to that question would be: "none."

Something funny does happen, though. After some mutual consternation on how difficult these negotiations actually are, Jorge cracks a smile and says something in Spanish that is later translated for my gringo ears as "about as complicated as getting into the panties of a 15-year-old girl!"


Those panties duly stained, or signed, or whatever, we're left with a few days for tropical enjoyment in the rainy season out at our favorite resort, Palo Verde, near the Arenal volcano. But even that much-needed relaxation-with-threat-of-eruption is dulled by my own inner ability to get closer to myself, find out I hate myself and e-mail it to everybody (meaning, exactly what I didn't come here to do). It doesn't help that I've come up with a theory about most middle-aged white men who come here to subjugate a population, be lazy and avoid their stateside alimony payments — basically, that they're losers — as they are everywhere I turn. Am I about to become one of them? No. I'm way too cute.

Cuter, though, is my friend-from-last-time, Luis Miguel, who's just turned 22.

"That's my lucky number!" I erupt at him.

"Que?" etc.

Anyway, I give him a Spanish-language version of Crime and Punishment, which he is moved to ask me to inscribe.

"Remember what life is really about," I doomsday pen. "Love, Billy."

We all head over to Baldi Hot Springs — again, the joke is not lost on my hairline — and I'm either drunk enough or dumb enough to pull Alan aside and ooze out some sincerity. Something like: "You're the best person I've ever met. I really love you."

"You don't even remember what you said last night," Alan will lose lips again the next day. "You were so drunk."

"Yes, I do, and I meant it," I sniffle. "I was just all wet, and maybe a little dried up."

Adios, sanity. Me gusto.

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