I recently received an afternoon visit from a squat, unsmiling man who arrived at my house on a small motorcycle and without a word of warning cut off my electricity. His bright yellow shirt easily identified him as one of the seemingly tens of thousands of people employed by ICE (which for the uninitiated, is our national electric and telecommunications company). A visitor to my house saw him removing the cap to the meter and came inside to alert me. By an amazing coincidence, I was at that moment attempting to pay my electric bill via internet. It was not easy, as I only have one option for internet where I live (controlled by ICE) and the speed with which I receive the service puts me in mind of those old time room-sized univacs that probably took a couple days to warm up once they were turned on.
I hurried from the computer in time to see the lights go out and hear the fridge shut down. I ran outside and confronted the man because the local ICE office had told me that morning that I had until the following day to pay the bill. Not that it mattered to him. He insisted I was 10 days late (it was actually six) and waved me off before hopping on his moto and heading back toward town.
I grabbed my 6-days overdue bill, jumped in my car and headed in the same direction. I wanted to catch up with him and wave my bill in his face. Flurries of delicious insults ran through my head as I drove down the road. Just before the Naranjito school I saw him, cutting off the power of another irate customer (who may also have been advised that she had another day to pay). I braked to a halt and waved my electric bill at him. “Solo seis dias tarde,” I shouted. I told him he was wrong and challenged him to come see for himself. He turned and laughed out loud, and it wasn´t an “I´m just doing my job” laugh. It was more like the laugh of a movie villain who has just finished tying his victim to the railroad track as the distant whistle of the train sounds in the background. Then this insult came to my lips: “Cuanto se pagan para hacer eso? Digame cuanto gana usted. Es mi turno a reir.” (How much do they pay you to do this? Tell me how much you make. It’s my turn to laugh.)
I held my tongue though, primarily because I would have been delivering this put down from behind the wheel of my battered and rattling 1991 Pathfinder, the irony of which may have made him laugh even harder (had he an appreciation for irony). What I did yell was a benign, “Coño! Idiota!”, before heading into town to pay my bill and have my service restored.
The above incident is what I refer to as “An ICE Moment”. If one went around Costa Rica collecting such anecdotes of injustices suffered at the aggressively indifferent hands of ICE, one could likely fill a book as long and frightening as anything Stephen King has ever written. ICE can best be thought of as a cross between a corporation and the mafia, with a dash of left-wing street gang thrown in. They make the rules, change them at a whim, and if you don´t like it, you can always live as everyone lived a hundred years ago, reading by the light of the wood fire that dinner was cooked on. Unhappy with the phone service? Do not ever do as a friend of mine once did at the local ICE office. After tearing into the rep about various problems with her telephone line, she concluded by saying she anticipated the day that competition would be allowed in so she could leave ICE and their stinking service behind.
She left the office and went home to find that her telephone service had been cut off.
Personally, I have discarded the idea of going to the local ICE office for just about any reason. I don´t know about the rest of Costa Rica, but the office here in Quepos is so slow that instead of taking a number to be waited on, one should take a date, or a day of the week. There should be a sign hanging over the office entrance that reads “Abandon the rest of your day, all ye who enter here”. True story: The last time that I had no other choice but to go to the local office (to get my new cell phone activated) I took a number, left the office, did some errands, did my banking, went to the gym for a workout, showered, bought some groceries, returned to the office and still waited almost an hour. I half expect to someday walk in their office and, like in some cartoon drawing, see a cobweb draped skeleton seated in the corner, still clutching the “take-a-tab” between its finger bones, waiting its number to be called. If I could, I would put a statue in front of the ICE headquarters. It would be, say, four ICE employees—one working at something, the other three observing. There would be an inscription at the base, inspired by the words one sees when visiting the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.), but tailored for prospective ICE employees. It would read: Give me your slow, your tired, your unmotivated yearning to wield power and abuse their clientele, The wretched mediocrity of your public schools.
The Spanish word for this is “prepotentente” or all powerful.