This is part ten in my ongoing Friday feature to regale the story of how I came to live here and why I decided to stay. If you've just joined us, I've posted nine links to the previous nine parts below if you'd like to catch up. I have been asked if this is a true story or if there've been any embellishments, and I'd like to make it very clear that every part of this story is in fact true with the exception of some of the names.
The following chapter in this story contains very mature subject matter that may offend or appall certain readers. It was my plan from the beginning to to tell this tale as truthfully as I can, so there'll be very little censorship on my part for the sake of the more sensitive. If you are a family member or friend coming in from Facebook and you have a certain fixed opinion of me, it may very well change after reading this. If you are one of my closer friends, very little of what you are about to read will come as any shock or surprise. That said, you have been warned....
MOM, DON'T READ THIS!
The office downstairs took up the entire first floor of the complex, and it was a labyrinth of cubicles and rooms with nothing in them. Gary had someone assemble the server, but the operating system had not yet been loaded, nor had any of the networking been set up. All of the workstations were connected to the Internet via a wireless connection attached to a cable modem. So consequently the cubicles were arranged as close as possible to the concrete pillar in the middle of the lobby area by the main entrance. I was still trying to make sense of the chain of events that took place from my waking up to then. And as Katya gave me the quick tour, I noticed how all of my new coworkers were dressed in shorts and T-shirts and some even had their feet up on the desks of their cubicles. Welcome to Costa Rica, I thought to myself.
Katya then called everyone's attention by snapping her fingers and yelling something I didn't yet understand in Spanish. "Everyone, this is Aaron Gipson, he is good personal friend of Gary and the company's lead technical engineer. He will be in charge of all things related to IT so be sure to behave yourselves on your computers."
I didn't really like to be put on the spot like that, but I smiled at everyone and waved and said something to the effect of "Great to be working with all of you, my door is always open, bear with me on my Spanish." I'm not really one for making speeches to people I've just met, so I kept it short. Gary wasn't going to be in that day, and from what Katya told me, he only really showed up at the office once or twice a week. Mostly he just stayed at his huge house and hung out by his pool while monitoring everyone in the office via his laptop. We were going to meet him for lunch at a Lebanese restaurant later that day, and we were going to discuss the office set up as well as vet some employees based on their technical knowledge to be my assistants.
Katya then showed me to what was going to be my office, and it was just as ridiculously nice as my apartment. The desk was enormous and I had a dual PC workstation already set up and connected to the wireless with two huge flat screen monitors. And I also had a big picture window to my right that had a very nice view of the mountains to the east. I had only arrived there last night, and couldn't see much of the scenery in the dark. But I was absolutely floored by the bright green mountains that were covered with coconut palms and vines of flowers that you can make out from miles away. I sat down in my new chair, and Katya walked around from the front of my desk to right in front of me, between my chair and the desk itself. She leaned back and rested her hands and her butt on the top of it.
"So what do you think?" she asked with one eyebrow arched.
What I wanted to say was "I never thought there would ever be any point in my life where I was concerned about there being a Russian ass-print on my new oak desk." But what I said instead was, "I like it a lot, this looks more like a gamer's set up then an IT manager's..."
"The girls in the office are going to be fighting over you, you know that right?" Katya asked with a mischievous smile.
I chuckled a little bit. "Well that's sweet of you to say, but I just got out of a relationship and I'm not really looking for anything right now. Besides, that sort of thing should never be in a work environment anyway. Best to keep things professional." I made it a point to lock eyes with hers when I uttered the last two sentences of that statement. I'm not a fool. Her body language, mannerisms, and tone when she spoke with me were going in a very unprofessional direction to say the least. Best to nip that in the bud on the first day then have to deal with it for the rest of the time I worked here.
She smiled a little bigger, and said "Ya prinimayu tvoi vyzov" before sliding off of my desk and gliding across the room towards the door. "Come with me, there is more to show you."
After seeing the rest of the office complex which consisted mostly of empty space and future plans, she and I got into her SUV and took off for the local market so she could show me where I was going to do all of my grocery shopping. Everything was sold out doors by different vendors and looked more like a flea market than anything that resembled the grocery store in the United States. This market was within walking distance of my apartment, and the nearest American-style grocery store was about 5 miles away. Luckily though, there was a convenience store right next to my apartment building if I ever wanted to just grab a snack or something to drink on a whim. I actually really liked the idea of shopping this way. For some reason it just seemed more "honest" than a big link on a corporate juggernaut's chain. Most of the people selling the produce had grown it on their own properties, and all the butchers had probably killed their animals themselves.
Katya and I walked around for a bit and headed back to her car so we could meet up with Gary in San Jose. Downtown San Jose was about 15 miles from my apartment and seemed to just spring out from nowhere after leaving the trees and cherry blossoms of its embassy district. Even though it is the capital of the country, downtown San Jose looked like a more weathered version of Orlando, Florida but without any of the buildings going higher than 10 stories. The effects of a six-month rainy season were easily seen in the permanent staining of most of the buildings. And almost every city block had a park with a fountain or statue commemorating some national hero.
The Lebanese restaurant we were going to was near San Jose Centro, and we got there pretty quickly considering the fact that this chick drove like a freaking maniac. Apparently, red lights are taken more as "suggestions" then actual points of law down here.
We walked through the double doors of the restaurant, and suddenly it was as if I was transported to a theme restaurant at Epcot. The restaurant consisted of around room with individual tables partitioned off with semi transparent silk curtains that hung from the ceiling. The tables themselves were only about a foot and a half off the ground and were surrounded by enormous pillows. In the center of each table was a large hookah with about six hoses attached to it. And in fact, the whole restaurant took on a cloudy and smoky appearance from all of the aromatic tobacco being smoked by the patrons from these things. In the center of the room was a line of belly dancers doing their thing to the sounds of live drummers and flute players.
Gary was waiting for us there in one of the tent-like dining spaces, and it was quite obvious that he was making the most of his experience there. He was puffing away on a hookah while reclined on a stack of pillows like a makeshift beach chair. The host, dressed in a long white Middle Eastern shirt that went down to his knees, brought Katya and I more pillows so we could construct our own personalized sitting arrangements. I chuckled a little bit at Katya while I watched her try to negotiate a bunch of pillows while wearing a short skirt. I bet she wished she wore the pantsuit that day.
"So how was your first night in paradise, man? You like the new place?" Gary asked while doing his best impression of the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland, blowing smoke rings up at the ceiling.
"I still can't believe it's mine, dude. And it's right above the office where I work, I don't think I could've imagined anything better!" I was glad to be around somebody familiar because hanging out Katya all morning was beginning to wear on me. "How did you find this place? I feel like I am in an Indiana Jones movie."
"The owner is a buddy of mine, he just moved here a few months ago after Israel bombed Beirut. The food is excellent, and you sure can't argue with the live entertainment." He seemed quite fixated on the line of dancers who were moving the bottom halves of their bodies in ways that should've been anatomically impossible.
He then reminded me that I was still technically on vacation and insisted that I drink with him to celebrate our plans for the future. So I ordered a mojito and was floored when it came with actual mint leaves and tasted more decadent than anything I had ever drink up to that point that contain alcohol. After a couple plates of stuffed grape leaves, falafel, lamb shish kebab, and about three more mojitos, all three of us were laughing it up and feeling like drunken sultans. Gary passed me a hose from the hookah, and I asked him if there was anything illegal in it. He responded to my question with a smile, and said "nothing that's illegal here."
I laughed at him and said "oh yeah, I'm not in America anymore!" I grabbed the hose and took a long pull from it, as did Katya and Gary. I was a little tipsy from the mojitos, and I really thought that we were all just joking around about what was in it. But even in my semi-drunken state, I recognized the taste almost immediately as soon as it hit lungs. This was some kind of crazy Middle Eastern tobacco mixed with equal parts marijuana. A huge cough exploded out from me, and continued for about 3 min. before I could catch my breath again. Both of them were laughing their asses off at me, and the hilarity of the situation resulted in a half laugh/half coughing fit on my part that lasted for a good long time.
The surreality of getting stoned with my boss at his own insistence aside, I was beginning to really enjoy the moment. Up to that point, there was a huge stretch of "clean" living that started at the end of college and maintained itself all the way up through my professional life. But as the music began to sound more interesting, a familiar sense of relaxation and philosophic thought began to take hold again after a long absence. I settled back into my pillows and began to really take in my surroundings. I couldn't shake the thought that this was somehow some crazy dream or that maybe Megan stabbed me in my sleep, and this was some surreal version of an afterlife.
After a while of pondering whether this existence was real or not, Gary roused me from my thoughts. "I'm really glad you weren't uptight about this, I wasn't sure how you were going to react."
"Am I doing anything illegal?" I asked.
"Nope. Herb was decriminalized here about three years ago." he responded."It's not endorsed though, I mean it's not like Amsterdam, they don't have coffee shops here, and this place requires you to bring your own. Hey, is she asleep?"
I looked over at Katya, and yes indeed, she was even snoring. I started laughing, "yeah man, she's out like a light! What's with this chick anyways? Did you know she just let herself and her little friend in my apartment this morning while I was still in bed? And all while she was giving me a tour the office today she was trying to act all "Russian spy seductress" with me.
"Yeah that might be my fault." Gary looked at me a bit sheepishly. "I didn't know what the hell was going on when the store was raided. It seemed kind of funny that it happened on the first day you had the place to yourself. So.... I had her do a pretty thorough background check on you, in fact, I paid quite a bit of money for it to be done properly."
I wasn't sure if I liked how this conversation suddenly turned like this, but he had an apologetic wince on his face that told me he didn't find anything that would lead him to believe I was some kind of FBI plant. But I wasn't sure how this had anything to do with how she was acting around me. Unless....
"Yeah man...I am sorry, I am so, so sorry." Gary said softly as he nervously scratched the back of his head. "But hey, there are worse things to dig up about a guy, right?"
"How the hell did you find out? It was just a few times, and I don't think you can even find the videos anymore." My mood had gone from ecstatically relaxed, to a mix of anger and embarrassment in the span of about three minutes. I felt my face flushed red with both emotions as I struggled to figure out what loose end I didn't tie up back then.
Gary answered the question for me. "You got a paycheck from them, and banks tend not to cash checks written to a stage name." he said. "Like I told you, I paid a lot of money for it to be done right. I'm sorry that fact got out, but I'm pretty sure she's the only one who knows about it..."
"You're pretty sure... Awesome." I quipped sarcastically. "With my luck, the whole fucking office knows!"
"Well again, Aaron, there are alot worse things for a guy to have a reputation for", he offered. "I'd love it if some hot blonde chick was pining over me for that!"
"I don't like blondes!! And I sure as hell don't like the fact that every time I try and be professional with her or God knows whom else who knows, I'm going to be viewed as something I did so many years ago and that's it." I didn't want to be this pissed, but the more I thought about it, the more pissed I became. I was seriously considering just hopping on the next return flight to Florida, but I knew I would regret that decision if I made it. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and this little breach of privacy was apologized for. I made him swear that he would not let any of this information get past him or Katya, and further make her swear the same thing. He agreed, and we shook hands chalking it up as water under the bridge. If I were in his position and the guy had I just hired was the subject of a curiously timed FBI raid on his first day with the store, I would want to know everything about him too.
I took a cab home as something told me that riding in a car driven an inebriated Russian woman might be a bad idea. I made sure to deadbolt my lock when I got in, and plopped down on my sofa to review the events of the day. I was still a little tipsy, but somehow even after having a secret laid bare like that, I was in a pretty good mood again. This was MY place where I was going to being MY new life. Events of the past be damned. Besides, I don't regret a damn thing I have ever done. I'm just wary of other peoples' reactions I guess.
As I was floating into a delicious nap, my phone rang. I thought it a bit odd because I didn't even know my own number, so I couldn't have given it out. Probably Katya again....dammit. I got up and answered it, but the voice on the other end didn't have a Russian accent. She sounded quite Hispanic and quite frantic, in fact I couldn't even finish saying hello before the panicked voice half-whispered to me.
"You need to get out of there!" the voice said.
"Huh? Who is this?" I asked.
"He is going to kill you!" she then abruptly hung up.