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Unraveling the Mystery of a Costa Rican Expat’s Past

Expats come to Costa Rica for all types of reasons; Some come to live, some to die. Some are running from something, others in search of something. Some come to embrace nature, some to sell it to the highest bidder. Some come to immerse themselves in the local culture, some to live only among fellow expats.

Some come to get healthy, and some, unfortunately, once here, succumb to the myriad temptations of partying. An expat friend used to say that one thing all the refugees here have in common is that we are all ‘tweaked’ in some way. He wasn’t referring to drugs, although substance abuse is one of the components making up the daily lives of certain expats.

Recently, I thought about one such visitor I encountered a couple decades back. I was the bartender/manager of a popular North American sports bar on the central Pacific coast. This was the perfect location for observing the full spectrum of ‘refugees’, both temporary and permanent, who were flocking to Costa Rica. And as my friend put it–all were tweaked in some way. Few more so than a guy who called himself Sammy the Smasher.

Sammy was a big guy well over 6 feet tall and probably 250 pounds. He looked like a one-time athlete gone to seed. He wore the same pair of baggy sweat pants every time he came by, walked with a pronounced limp, drank heavily and loved to talk about his past exploits. He claimed to have once been, among other things, a bodyguard, a pool shark, a golf hustler, a ski instructor in Aspen, and a highly feared rugby player, which is where he claimed to have earned the moniker of Sammy the Smasher. Few believed him.

After a time, his arrival at the bar would be greeted by an assortment of eye rolls, derisive laughter and negative and doubtful retorts to his claims. None of it fazed him. He would happily drink and recount his supposed glory days, without a care as to the responses.

Once, he ran a tab and then pulled out a card with a woman’s name when it was time to pay. I asked him whose card it was. He said the name on the card was his mother but that he had permission to use it. His ID showed the same last name, so I accepted it. From then on, he used the card to pay for his bar tabs.

One night, I closed early and went to meet friends at a bar that had a couple of pool tables. There I watched in amazement as Sammy limped around the table, studying his angles with a seriousness I had never before seen, and sank shot after shot. He held the table the entire time I was there. That was one of the last times I saw him.

Sometime later, word got out that he was very ill. He was staying in a small room he rented in a house in a hot barrio near the ocean. The news was grim. He was bedridden, with fluid accumulating throughout his body. Rumor was that he continued to drink heavily, even in his deteriorating state. Then came the news that he had died. A person close to the family that rented him the room told me that Sammy’s teeth were gritted and his fists tightly clenched at death.

A few days later the same person dropped by the bar with a photo he had found among Sammy’s scant possessions. It was a black and white photo with the inscription ‘Iron City Rockers 1973’. The photo was of a rugby team. There in the back center, the biggest guy in the photo, was a young Sammy.

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