Dinners With Herman

Published: December 7th 2009
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Herman and IHerman and IHerman and I

This is as far away as Herman feels comfortable being from my body.
Four days after arriving in Playa Samara and moving into the house of our new Tica familia, our Tica mom bought four geese. After what they did to one of the pigs, I feared the worst.

Alisa and I woke one morning to find the pig’s back legs splayed apart and tied to the roof of a lean-to on the beach; it was hanging upside down. Its innards had been cut out and removed, and my Tico brothers were trimming off the skin and making fresh chicarrones in a pot on a happy fire. The severed head stared at us from the sink.

After that, our dinners were open to all kinds of speculation.

So when Noilyn bought four geese, naturally Alisa and I pictured future dinners where for once the drumsticks didn’t really taste like chicken. Alisa tactfully inquired as to Noilyn’s intentions with the geese and was reassured that the geese were for “the ambiance.”

“That’s what her husband said about the pigs,” I reminded my wife.

One evening, just before dinner, I was sitting at the edge of the property where the beach begins. It was dusk, and I was contemplating our new life underneath a purple sunset. Alisa was at school taking an evening cooking class. I was optimistic, hoping my wife would one day start cooking dinners, when I felt a little tug at my shirt. I turned to find the beak of a goose three inches from my nose.

Now it must be noted that my nose sticks out pretty far away from the rest of my head, and therefore nothing is too far away from it. That said, it was a bit of a surprise to find a sharp mouth apparatus perfectly formed for the removal of eyeballs so near to my eyeballs.

But I had been in Costa Rica for a few weeks by then, and had stopped jerking and flinching violently when encountering the wildlife. I shielded my eyes and slowly moved a few feet away. Only a minute later I turned to find the goose again uncomfortably close, as if it wanted a kiss. By then I could think about nothing but the beak, and what a crappy story it would be to come back from Costa Rica missing an eye. I began to picture how I would look with an eye-patch, and imagine how I would tell the story.

“No, no, it wasn’t a regular goose! You don’t get it. It was a giant evil goose. They train them there to attack humans!”

I left the goose standing there and retired back to the house. Alisa would be getting home soon, and another mysterious pork dinner was inevitably on the menu.

The animals in Costa Rica have a strange attraction for me. The dogs especially evoke an amazing emotional response. Every dog in Playa Samara is a furry case for Sally Struthers. They are roving, homeless, flea-ridden mutts looking for love, and I want to save them all. I don’t care about the poor, downtrodden humans, it is the dogs that really get to me. That is why the puppy was such a big deal.

Our familia has a dog, and their parents have two dogs, and there are a few puppies running around, which their cousins and brothers claim to own. It took us awhile to figure out who belonged to who, and whether or not they were okay to pet and play with. The answer to the latter was easy, you don’t pet or play with any dogs, because if you do your hands will stink for three days. So we began to sort through the various canines lucky enough to have owners, and within a few days knew who belonged to who.

Then there was the puppy.

The first thing we noticed were his ribs. We noticed them because that is his defining characteristic. This little guy was starving to death, even we could see that. And for a few days we tried to figure out who he belonged to. Our familia told us he was the next-door neighbor’s, and they didn’t feed him. Therefore he would sniff around our yard all day looking for a grain of rice, trying not to get shooed away by everyone.

I guess I should explain the dog situation. There is no dog food at the house, nor has there ever been, nor will there ever be. These dogs, although they have owners, are just as challenged in the area of cuisine as the rest of the dogs in Samara. They eat nothing but scraps. They also break all the rules you’ve heard about feeding dogs.

Don’t give them chicken bones.

These dogs crunch through chicken-bone like it was the Kibbles n Bits they’ve never had, and we toss bones to the salivating dogs at the end of every meal.

And so even the dogs with owners have to fight for every scrap. And they’re all skinny. They’ve never heard the American concept of “Free feeding,” and if they did, they would laugh and think it was a joke. My cat ate more dog-food at my mother-in-law’s house this week than all the dogs in Samara combined.

So little Starving Dog comes sniffing around but is too little, and doesn’t have enough energy to fight for the scraps.

Luckily Alisa and I are here.

Yesterday the dog ate more sausage than Alisa did. Plus Alisa has caught on that there is a reason we’re eating so much pork, and so the stringy, wet meat we get with our rice and beans goes straight to Starving Dog.

That is until Herman gets there.

The goose, which I decided to name Herman, is in love with me. The rest of the familia laughs at me and calls Herman my novia, which means girlfriend. Alisa is the one who came up with the idea. It turned out that first sunset was like a first date. Now when I come home from school, it only takes the sound of my voice to send Herman’s floppy feet tramping across the yard. He stands unreasonably close to me, and is curiously protective. He snaps at all the dogs when they get too close. It was funny for awhile, until he started biting Alisa. Now she isn’t as into it.

So we’ll be sitting at dinner, feeding Starving Dog, until Herman picks up the sound of my voice and comes out onto the front porch. He’ll stand with his breast on my knee and honk and hiss and anything that comes near. Alisa has started eating with a chair between us, because Herman doesn’t like the way she chews, and he takes it out by nipping her butt.

Lately it’s become a bit problematic because Herman follows me into the house, and would sleep with me if he could. It’s not uncommon to find Herman in the living room looking for me. This might not sound too weird on computer-screen, but words cannot accurately describe the sight of a lovesick goose walking between the couch and the loveseat, it’s orange flipper feet slapping on the tile.

And as our time in Playa Samara winds to an end, I have begun to get sad. Alisa and I bought presents for our Tica familia, and they were nice to us and are good people. But as our last days play out, I realize who I am really going to miss, and who I am really going to worry about. We’ve talked many times about taking Starving Dog with us. He would easily fit into one of my soccer socks, although after a month with Alisa and I around he has started to look like a real dog.

But Herman is who I am going to really miss. I’ve thought about my strange attraction to animals, as opposed to the humans around here, and wonder constantly what is wrong with me. Certainly growing up on a farm had something to do with it. Also for the last ten years my parent’s house has resembled a cat-resort more than a house for people. And we used to have geese when I was younger, which may explain Herman’s instinctive attachment. Maybe I’m a goose-whisperer and don’t even know it.

But in the end I think it has to do with the silence. Living with humans to whom you cannot speak is awkward and depressing. I won’t miss them as much because I won’t miss feeling like an idiot every time I open my mouth. With Herman it was easier. There I would be, sitting on the front porch in the chair I always sit in. It is at the head of the table. Behind me the porch slants down one step into the gravel of the front yard. Herman is standing next to me, his neck curling as he stoops to look for bugs. And as the evening deepens and the monkeys go to sleep I can sit and say nothing. I’ll rub Herman’s wings, which have been mangled to keep him from flying away. I don’t have to conjugate anything, or worry about my accent because the only voice in my ear is a soft honk every now and again. That’s what I’m really going to miss: knowing that if someone comes near me trying to speak Spanish, Herman is there to bite them in the ass.


27th February 2010

Can't stop laughing
Each time I read one of Mateo's blogs I think it's the best one. After reading about the bullfights, clicked back to read about Herman the Goose. Sitting here alone laughing my ass off. the depiction of the lovesick goose is just too much, especially how it bites everyone else in the butt who tries to get between it and Mateo. Once again, the author's sense of wry and often sarcastic humor is used to create a moral observation of the human condition. Having just come back from Costa Rica and testing my limited Spanish, can so relate to the awkwardness and even exhaustion of trying to keep up in a language that's not quite there yet. I even had a similar pig slaughter experience years ago in Bratislava visiting my best friend's Slovakian family. Force feeding of pork at every meal (gross after observing the making of sausages out of the intestines) plus trying to remain cheerful while communicating in a language I had not a clue about (ended up using German). Great story, Mateo. Am thinking of that poor little puppy, too....

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