April 6, 2008

"Hey, Where Is All That Money Coming From?" – A Too-Much-Information Chronicle


Not that this is really something you necessarily need to know, but it’s rather inexpensive to build a house in Costa Rica, at least compared to the U.S. That is also probably the only reason that Angela and I are able to even build a house here, because we’d never be able to afford it in America. I say all this only because many people have asked about this at some point, and also to introduce today’s topic: our funding of our Dream House In The Mountains. (By the way, if you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, check out our house blog at http://gringiticasa.blogspot.com). The reason I am writing this, then, is because as I was at the ATM the other day, it occurred to me that paying for this house has been really bizarre so far. Since it made me laugh at the absurdity of it all, you might like to read about it, too.

To pay our contractor and to pay for the materials we buy, we’ve been using cash so far. I know that may sound strange, but apparently, it’s the best way to get good prices around here. No one here has or accepts checks (in fact, the girl at the bank flat-out refused to open a checking account for us). Additionally, most places, if they do accept credit cards, they apply extra charges which can rack up the cost of materials by 10% or so. All of this translates into cold, hard cash. Or, as in the case of colones, which is Costa Rica’s currency, it translates into warm, limp cash.

This issue is more complicated because most of my money is still in my account in the U.S., and I’ve not made a large transfer so far partially because of safety concerns, and partially because of a Costa Rican anti-drug-trafficking law which requires a lot of paperwork for large transfers. So now, on various occasions, I’ve had to resort to the ATM.

Fortunately, the company I work for is located in a free trade zone or a duty free zone…I’m not really sure what it’s called, but the bottom line is they look in your car’s trunk when you leave, and while you’re anywhere in the commercial park, you have to wear a badge that makes you look like a big tool. But, the ATM is inside of my company’s building, so it’s probably the safest ATM in the entire country (which IS actually saying a lot, if ATM robbery reports on the news are to be believed).

So, when we need money for construction, I go to the ATM, take out 250,000 colones (about $500), which appears to be the maximum that I’m allowed to get in one day. I quickly snatch the money, fold it, and cram it into my pocket. I then head toward the bathroom, find a stall, lock the door, and sit down. This is where it gets weird. In my other pocket, I’ve already placed a napkin and a rubber band (wow, this is turning into a totally heroin-y story!). I count the money, just to make sure it’s all there. It always is, which is somewhat remarkable, due to the colon’s notoriety for being a physically flimsy bill that is prone to mold and ill odors; I’m just surprised that the mechanical parts of the ATM’s bill counting machine would not have more problems with this currency.

When I know it’s all there, I carefully wrap the napkin around the money. I then double-wrap the rubber band around the bundle. Then I stick it in the front of my underwear. Of course! I know this may sound totally weird, but it was a technique that developed through trial and error over a long time. I used to carry my money in my shoe, like when I had to go pay my immigration lawyer in San Jose, but I noticed that that technique left me with a slight gangsta limp and a sore foot at the end of the day, to say nothing of the subtle humiliation that comes from handing a lawyer a slightly moist and smelly wad of bills.

That, of course, could possibly explain the use of the napkin, but it’s actually not to absorb sweat; instead, I do it to protect my own skin, as there are few things I would like less than a moldy paper-cut on my wang. And the rubber band keeps all the money in place; I’d feel somewhat like a hooker if I pulled forward my drawers to find a disorganized and scattered collection of large-denomination bills. So, the napkin and rubber band are a must. If you have tight-fitting drawers, you can put the stash against your thigh, right about where your front pants pocket would go. Tight-fitting? Oh, I’d recommend boxer briefs. Conventional boxers are obviously out of the question, and bikini briefs are just too small (and pervy) to get the job done. And it shouldn’t be just any style of boxer brief. I’ve found that the American Hanes and Fruit of the Loom just aren’t nad-squeezingly adequate; for our purposes, you’ll have to look to the Old Country and track down some good quality tight-weave Eurotrash boxer briefs. Try Germany.

If all else fails, you can stow the “package” of money by placing it under your pants button, and further secure it with the help of a tight belt over that. Then top all that with a some ribbon, a bow, some whipped cream, a cherry, and a small cocktail umbrella. This whole process should obviously be done near the end of the day, because it’s not comfortable, mentally or physically, having that much cash bouncing around so close to your junk.

From there, it’s probably smooth sailing. If you’ve got a car, you can basically head right home. If you’ve got to wait at a bus stop like a loser, you can take comfort in the fact that at least if you’re mugged, the homophobic nature of most Latin American criminals will probably mean that although they may steal your wallet, they probably won’t be looking to do a pat-down in your groinital area.

Anyhow, the only reason I mention this is because the other day, as I was securing my cluster of currency to my body much like a police informant secures his hidden microphone, I asked myself, “Man, I wonder if paying for house construction is this complicated in the U.S.” And my immediate answer was, “No, of course not. I’d just use a check.” Oh well, different strokes for different folks, I guess.


365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

1 comment:

annie lee said...

"warm, limp currency" is the funniest thing I've heard all day