The last 24 hours have been a bee-hive of tasks and tareas with which to contend and wipe clean from my slate. Any individual item is eezy-peezy by nature, but in the aggregate the combined to-do’s are sufficient to press the very limits of my sanity. Praise be to the Lord on High that a four-day weekend has materialized to accomplish it all, adequate time disencumbered from the entanglements of the consulate and its panoply of visa applicants to save me from the haywire mortars gone misfiring sideways from my spent body. (If you’re wondering why ’tis spent, read yesterday’s missive likening the abuses I have recently auto-inflicted to an imaginary form of animal cruelty).
My anguished and borderline-strep throat is finally under control, thanks to last night’s adventures in the Brazilian public health system. I went to a nearby pharmacy at 8 PM, finally having suffered enough that my tough-guy posings were no longer capable of resisting the urge to reach out and obtain assistance. Until last eve, I likened my pain threshold to an Octagon-frequenting lutador replete with cauliflower ear as badge-of-honor for his many struggles, but now I realize ’tis merely a child with skinned knee weeping for his momma. Would a sore throat have deterred the Portuguese colonists who beset Brazil, their rickety boats and scurvy-laced gums only a tiny representation of the problems they endured en route? It is true that modern man is a wuss by comparison. I told the pharmacist that I required antibiotics, and fast, for perish this very evening I might. Alas, the pharmacist told me that to obtain such drugs in her ingloriously over-regulated nation, a doctor’s prescription would be requisite, for which she directed me to a hospital four blocks away. So set I upon the emergency room, a one-man plague of locusts ready to consume the entire crop. I did not have soaring expectations of the quality of the facilities or care I would receive there; having arrived in Brazil shortly after multiple months of protests against various state inadequacies including the public health system, I assumed I was in for a sh*t-show of maladies that would in all likelihood worsen my health, no better it.
So you will imagine my shock at what transpired next. Upon arrival, I walked into an air-conditioned receiving area, floors shining from a fresh wax, staff all uniformed sharply. I halted, allowing my eyes to draw in the full grandeur of this sight. Then, the coup de grace: a reception desk staffed by no fewer than half-a-dozen nurses straight from a David Lee Roth video. For a moment, I entertained the possibility that perhaps I’d died on the way there and this was Heaven. But no, the pain in my throat reminded me I was very much in the land of the living and, to paraphrase Go-Go’s vocalist Belinda Carlyle, “Heaven is a place on earth.” I was expedited through the registration process rapidly, seen by the in-house physician: a blond with the most concavely-precise wine-colored nails upon which I have set eyes, and under which my flesh shuddered with the electricity of a faith-healer when touched. Dispatched shortly thereafter with a prescription for anti-inflammatories in tow, I returned to the pharmacy 5 minutes to closing and procured that for which I came: a remedy to my troubles. When I awoke this morn, ’twas as though I had never taken ill in the first place. So art the curative powers of Brazilian medications.
This morning, I received my household effects shipment. I am not sure how it will all fit into my apartment. While it took the crew of four hulking men merely two hours to unpack and de-trash it all, I am confident it will take me considerably longer to organize. I’m prognosticating days, perhaps weeks. Even months. Who knows? For I am not a soothsayer.
I went to McDonald’s around 11 AM, that I might purchase another bacon double-cheeseburger for sustenance. While making my way, I mentally war-gamed how to establish favorable conditions in the battle-space that is currently my living room. Along the way, I saw a man sitting on a skateboard. Smurf-height he, with a dyed-blond mullet reminiscent of the 1980s wrestling tag-team Rock and Roll Express and two arms sleeved with poorly-finished tattoos. I initially dismissed him as a punk teen truant from class. But upon closer inspection I saw the lines chiseled upon his face, his sunken cheekbones, the look of resignation making no effort to conceal itself in his eyes. It was a grown man begging for petty cash. He was sitting on a skateboard and had no legs, which explains his height. Even had he legs and stood erect, I could not envision him climbing taller than 3 feet; the layman physician in me deemed him possessed of a growth deficiency, congenital, ushered along by malnutrition throughout life. I noticed one more thing: he was not talking to anyone. Opening not his mouth to ask for alms, this man remained silent on the sidewalk and, I anticipate, hoped passersby would simply give unto him out of the kindness of their hearts, without asking. As though it were below his dignity to make the request. This man’s suffering and pride touched me, and I resolved that we would lunch together today.
So at McDonald’s I ordered an extra burger and bottle of water. I returned to his spot and approached him. As I walked toward him, this man clutched inward and drew up his arms as though he may need to defend himself an attacker. Could it be that people have struck him, in this state, defenseless in his deficiency? It is true that human cruelty knows no limits, were it so. But I held forth the McDonald’s bag and he dropped his guard, smiled, and offered his hand to me in acceptance. I was fortunate to be wearing sunglasses, for the site of this man’s face shape-shifting from alarm to welcome was not just visible, but palpable, and I felt I might cry. Then we broke bread. Rarely was a word exchanged betwixt us, but when he took first bite of the burger, he did tell me he’d never eaten McDonald’s and had always wondered how it might taste. He kept stopping to examine the burger, sniff it, study it as a jeweler scrutinizes a diamond to ascertain if, indeed, he holds a fugazi.
I worked at McDonald’s for 2.5 years as a teenager. I have eaten it countless times over the course of my life. At one point, I even joined the crowd of holier-than-thou naysayers which criticized (with some degree of accuracy, admittedly) the fast-food monolith for being unhealthy, its caloric and sugar-laden wares detrimental to human welfare when consumed in even occasional quantities. But try telling that to someone who has never eaten McDonald’s, who could never have afforded it otherwise, who associates eating there as an element of inclusion amongst his contemporaries, but who since childhood has been cast out of mainstream society not unlike how a puppy with gimp paw is pushed from the litter while his siblings nourish selfishly at the teet. What we take for granted in privileged society is often an unattainable delicacy for the downtrodden, like this man.