From the moment I was able to envision my adulthood, I wanted desperately to be an oncologist. My friend Jenny was telling me this with a straight face with strips of corned beef falling from her mouth. “I’m sorry,” I said, handing her a napkin. “Could you repeat that?”
“Yeah. I don’t know what it is. Cancer and tumors just always…fascinated me.”
“Are we talking about the same cancer?”
What surprised me most about Jenny’s goals at such an early age was just that: they were goals at such an early age. I remember being around that same age and plotting passionately to acquire a militia of Chinese fighting fish and put them against a school of unsuspecting guppies. When I was not examining specimens I had left in the toilet, I was asking other people to examine theirs and report back to me with detailed summaries. This was a period of youth characterized by, well, juvenile adolescence.
The polar opposite of Jenny, I would not have been able to see myself owning an apartment rental company in Casco Viejo had you given me innovative spectacles that look into the future. In high school, my advisor, a jittery woman named Mrs. O’Grady asked me what I wanted to be when I graduated college while offering up a basket of tiny wrapped Jolly Ranchers.
“Muslim.” I told her.
“How about we look into some business schools? I know a great one in Virginia and the admissions councilor would absolutely love to meet you. In fact, they’re in town this week for our college fair. How’s that sound to ya?”
“Is he Muslim?” I asked.
“Oh, so you’re saying it’s a she?”
I somehow made it into a decent University and found myself alongside a class of students far more focused and driven than I was myself. At freshman orientation, people were asked to introduce themselves to the group by saying their name followed by an interest they might like to pursue after graduation that started with the same first letter. Rick the reporter. Paola the percussionist. Leanna the lawyer.
Saying that I tried intensely not to declare Matt the Muslim would be an understatement. “Matt…the Mechanic.” It got a rise out of my fellow freshmen, all of whom were paying roughly $30,000 a year to access the building blocks of an American dream. Upon graduation, I still didn’t really have any specific goal in mind, but spurred on by the encouragement of my parents, I felt the burning desire to, as they put it, “do something or we’ll kill you.”
The Los Cuatro Tulipanes investment opportunity presented itself something like two years ago, some time into my Panama experience, when I was working on The Panama Report and living off the cruel joke I referred to as my life savings. Having stayed in Casa Monjas 2B during one of my first visits to Panama and kept in touch with the owners, the break to buy the business arose via a phone call. I was sitting at my desk examining some weird sort of lint that had found its way into the cavity of my bellybutton.
The success with Los Cuatro Tulipanes thus far has been a special one: the kind of experience, not unlike randomly meeting a lovely woman or discovering by accident a delicious flavor of soup, which is made ever more rewarding due to its inherent surprise. Had I planned for this all my life, say, from the moment I was first able to envision adulthood, Los Cuatro Tulipanes as a business could have fallen short of my expectations. But in the odd and wonderful way that random opportunities present themselves, Casco Viejo and its vices have proven otherworldly in their charm and inspirational in their potential.