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We make Bertie's acquaintance
¿Dónde está el baño?

(Stephanie Schrauth)
Our third bathroom didn’t belong to us. It belonged to Bertie, at least at night. During the day he begrudgingly left the room to us, thank goodness, as we desperately needed the shower stall. I took three showers that first full day, one in the morning, one after the horseback ride, and one after tree-climbing. Each time, before I had even exited the bathroom, I was already dripping with sweat.

“I’m eternally disgusting,” I complained to Jeffrey.

“Yes, you are. In so many ways.”

I had walked into that one.

Like our skin, our clothes never dried either. After my second (or third) shower, I came out to find Jeffrey swinging his shirt around his head like a helicopter.

“That’ll work,” I said.

“I’m putting it on the spin cycle.”

Jeffrey was a good sport, braving outdoor activities and perpetually damp attire for me. I had contacted him in September to suggest the trip. The phone call had gone somewhat like this:

“Hell-o?” Even though we have been friends for 20 years, he always sounds surprised when answering the phone, as if he can’t fathom why I would be calling him.

“Jeff?”

“Yeeesss?” Again, the baffled hesitancy.

“I am going to kill my boss.”

“OK.” That, of course, doesn’t confuse him.

“I am going to strangle him soon, I can tell, unless I go on vacation. I don’t want to go by myself, because that sucks, and none of my friends have any money, and I briefly considered going with a singles group, but I don’t need that sort of pressure, so I need you to come with me. You like vacation. I want to go for a week because that’s all the time off I’ll be able to get, I want to go somewhere I haven’t been, and I want to go in the next month or so. OK? Want to come?”

“OK.”

“OK?”

“OK.”

“Cool. Where do you want to go?”

“Wherever.”

“When do you want to go?”

“Whenever.”

Jeffrey is surprisingly amenable when it comes to vacations.

“OK, I’ll look into it and call you back.”

“OK.”

“Bye.”

I decided on Costa Rica because I needed someplace as unlike New York as possible. The regal cities of Europe, usually so alluring to me, had no draw this time. I couldn’t contemplate any more cement and brick and steel. I didn’t want to sit – I’d had enough of that at my desk – I wanted to move. I didn’t want nightlife, I wanted nocturnal life. Greenery and dirt and quiet and crystal water and sweat and jeans and sunburns and darkness and candles and adrenaline. Everything New York wasn’t. No alarm clocks or deadlines or Gucci or bitter wind or grayness or swearing or emails or upper class or trends. Nothing New York was. The second phone call had gone something like this:

“Hell-o?”

“Jeff?”

“Yeeesss?”

“How about Costa Rica?”

“OK.”

“OK?”

“OK.”

“Cool. I’ll send you the website for this adventure tour agency I found.”

That first full day at Selva Bananito Lodge was a test for him. To put it nicely, Jeffrey’s not the most coordinated person. At 13, he was already over six feet tall, yet, sadly, completely inept with a basketball. The years since apparently hadn’t been enough for him to acclimate himself to his gigantic size.

Jeffrey started well. Sitting astride his horse after only two attempts, he dwarfed the animal, making it look like a plastic carousal decoration. Once on, though, he stayed decently in control of the beast, keeping a good distance behind mine, a stallion whose Spanish name translated to Warrior. I had learned how to ride well years ago in Girl Scouts and hated the nose-to-butt meanders that most trail rides turned out to be. But there were only four of us – Alan, the German tourist Gitta, who was keen on taking close-up photos of just about everything, Jeffrey and me – so I hoped we would get to let loose a bit more on the way to the swimming hole.

“Can we gallop?” I asked Alan.

“Sure,” Alan said.

Jeffrey groaned. But the boy handled himself well. No worries there.

After lunch was another matter.

“See that tree over there?” Alan had asked at the end of the midday meal. “That tree is 30 meters high. We’ll meet in about twenty minutes at the base, and if you want, you can climb it.”

“Awesome,” I said.

“No, thanks,” Gitta said. “I’ll just take pictures.”

“I think I’ll just take pictures, too,” Jeffrey said.

“No, you’re doing it.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are. Come on.”

“We’ll see.” “We’ll see” is Jeffrey’s smug way of saying, “You’re crazy, there’s no way in hell,” but I wasn’t having it.

“No, you’re doing it.”

“We’ll see.”

“Just try.”

“We’ll see.”

“Just try.” I wasn’t above whining like the little sister I’m sure he saw me as. “Please.”

“Fine, I’ll try.”

He tried. He donned the yellow safety helmet that was three sizes too small for his head and perched wobbly on top, like an idea light bulb. He allowed himself to be fitted with a harness. He even listened to Alan’s instructions. But as I shimmied up the trunk (although that’s misleading, since you don’t really ever touch the tree), he couldn’t get off the ground. Alan repeated his instructions and I, in my newfound tree-climbing wisdom, shouted out encouragement from on high. But this time, Jeffrey wasn’t having it.

“Nope,” he said after several fruitless tries, “it’s not happening.” He stood and shrugged himself out of the harness as I leaned back in the ropes and tried to simultaneously keep from touching the ant nest near my head and nonchalantly tug my shorts back into a less revealing position.

Happily, when we returned to our cabin after both of these excursions, Bertie the Bathroom Bat was nowhere to be found, and we were able to take our showers in peace. When we returned from dinner, we were less lucky. Before Jeffrey or I had the chance to brush our teeth, Bertie flew into the bathroom and settled on the second ceiling beam from the right.

“Did you see that?” I asked Jeffrey. “A bat flew in there.”

“Yep.”

“Let’s go look.”

“Nope. Not going in there." Jeffrey is mortally afraid of birds and their ilk. I considered pointing out that birds and bats had evolved along completely different lineages, but figured it wouldn’t matter.

I grabbed the flashlight from the corner where the lantern and tea lights sat.

“What are you doing?” Jeff screeched.

“I want to see.”

“Don’t do that!”

“Why not?”

“You’ll make him angry.”

“I will not.” I directed the beam to the ceiling. Bertie didn’t budge. “Give me your camera.”

“You come get it.”

I sighed dramatically. “You big wuss.” I picked his camera off his bed and turned it on. The flash from the photo seemed to disturb Jeffrey more than it did Bertie.

“Huh,” I said, surprised. “He’s not moving.” I cocked my head to the side and tried to figure out my next move. “I have to go to the bathroom and he’s right over the toilet. I don’t want to get pooped on.”

“I say, let him be.”

“But I have to go to the bathroom.”

I couldn’t see Jeff very well in the dim light, but I think he shrugged at me. Unhelpful.

I reached in and unrolled some toilet paper, wadded it into a ball, and flung it at Bertie. I can’t say much for my baseball skills – it didn’t even come close. I tried several times. Nothing. Eventually I decided to just keep my head bowed and hope for the best. As I stood in the doorway, about to leave, another bat breezed in inches above my head. I screamed and ran out into the main room.

“Heh, heh,” Jeffrey laughed his signature laugh. “Serves you right.”

The next morning when we went to put on our sneakers, we found them full of guano.

“He did it on purpose,” Jeffrey accused. “ ‘You think you can shine your lights and take your pictures, well, I’m going to get a buddy and we’re going to sleep over your shoes.’ ”

At breakfast, we told Alan and Gitta about our nighttime guest.

“The CDs hanging from the ceiling in your cabin are supposed to keep them out, but sometimes they don’t work,” Alan explained. “Did you know that when bats fall, they can’t walk on the ground? Except vampire bats. They get stuck if they don’t have a perch to fly from. They just die.”

Suddenly, I felt horrible. What if I had succeeded in knocking Bertie down? I could have killed him with my toilet paper shenanigans.

“It’s his bathroom,” Jeffrey said, nodding at me in understanding. “We’re just guests. We’ll leave him alone.”

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