Monthly Archives: November 2013

Rio’s Underclass and the Transformative Power of a McDonald’s Burger

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.

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Thanksgiving in Rio: Reflections on the Nutritional Perversion of a Vessel Already in Despair

Today I witnessed an atrocious act, the kind of human cowardice PETA extremists deem adequate justification for killing in the name of the animal kingdom. An unfortunate quadra-ped was felled by a runaway truck while traversing the street. It lay twitching, gurgling as it sucked ever-shallower breathes while its lungs doubtless spoomed with bile; it vainly clawed at the pavement, a lost battle to conjure the strength to pull itself from the still-transited road and out of harm’s way. Yet the beast lay imprisoned in the final miserable and fleeting seconds of its life, rendered immobile in a coagulating pool of its own blood and excrement.

When it seemed unconscionable that the scene grow any less pleasant, a man sprinted into view, and he did something far beyond unthinkable: he began kicking the creature, spitting on it, insulting it roundly and cursing the beast’s lineage, in particular the “puta que te pariu”. A gathering crowd of slack-jawed yokels intervened not, doing nothing to brake this flagrant disregard for the sanctity of life. And the fact that his barbarous anti-mamallian acts were executed so publicly, and with mighty fanfare on his part, led me to the immediate belief that, indeed, this man had committed similar acts of bloodletting throughout his life – the variety of rat bastard kid who starts with pulling the limbs off daddy long-legs and graduates to stuffing M80s up kitty butts for his own entertainment – yet had never been brought to heel, made to answer for his crimes. I left the scene, disgusted with myself that I, too, did nothing to halt the horror.

At least, this was how it played out in my head. It was a metaphorical man and animal, in reality. If you consider my body the poor beast being kicked while down, and slack-jawed yokels the random passersby with no stake in what iffy substances I put into my own body, then you begin to reconcile a more apt notion of what just transpired at a McDonald’s in Rio de Janeiro.

I have been sick these three days, and verily I declare it: my throat feels like a porcupine has taken up residence, spreading out his spines that he might be more comfortable. I believe some glands are swollen, if I’m not mistaken. The crackling behind my ears is second only in volume to the sounds made by a named American breakfast cereal brand. The weakness I feel in my limbs, to the meaty core of my very corporeal being, suggests that perhaps I ought visit a physician. I have continued exercising even though it yields no triumph of fitness, for my body would be better served guarding the spent energy in reserve for healing instead. I have stayed up late reading or watching movies or checking http://www.blabbermouth.net for the latest metal news, all instead of resting. You would think that the least I’d do is ensure a healthy diet during these days of plague and contagion.

But what did I do instead, thou asketh? I went to McDonald’s and ordered two bacon double-cheeseburgers and a large fry. Plus the most sizable milkshake they offered, and a large Coke as chaser to the terrors running amuck in my tummy. All of this in 98 degree heat with humidity. Oh, and at high noon, when the heat ’twere the worst, the sun mocking fools senseless enough to venture forth into Rio’s streets. Indeed, the poor beast that is my body is unsure of precisely what hit it a few moments ago, but it does feel – in a figurative sense – as though I am beating an ailing animal for no apparent cause.

Thou are aghast, no? Well, to that I respond: is it not the spirit of Thanksgiving to eat myself into a coma? Oh waddling America, I am your dutiful son, come home to say grace and eat ravenously, heartily! I am your product, punctually emerging from a state-of-the-art assembly line oiled by the Golden Corral buffet. I am your anti-nutritional poster child, the 9-year old glutton whose thighs rub together ’til a rash breaks out and who hyperventilates with excitement over the prospect of Taco Day in the school cafeteria!

Never the less, continue eating I shall. America, I am your expatriated representative, fending solo on this holiday and consuming unmeasured quantities of Lord-knows-what in an effort to dull the pseudo-homesickness provoked by nostalgia of his mother’s cooking, his father’s conversation, and the browning Virginia tree leaves as they blow through the front yard on this crisp day back home.

Happy Thanksgiving one and all!

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Celebrating My 37th Birthday in Brazil: More Reflective than Pronto to Party

Today is like any other day, but today I turn 37. And today is the first time I have called into work sick in a long while. I awoke to feel a claw-claw-clawing at my larynx, crack-crack-crackling behind my ears, and thud-thud-thudding in my cranium: all the patented calling cards of an ENT infection, though I hope ’tis but an allergic outbreak, as the symptoms are oft confusedly similar. The combination of feeling sick and sorry for myself (having cancelled all my birthday evening plans to rest instead) left me in my annual existential reflective mood. I should not neglect to mention that whereas I normally would not want to spend much time before my computer while sick, the Brazilian cold medication I ingested a few hours ago – which for all I know may well contain a banned substance given how trippy it leaves me feeling – has nearly wiped clean my slate of flu-like symptoms and seems to have resolved the contagion with same ease Mike Tyson dispatched every opponent before Buster Douglas.

I do not normally partake of the celebratory aspect of birthdays, but I do contend they offer a unique time for recounting, of taking stock, for remembrance. This is the time when I will do, in my own head, a regression analysis, plotting a chart showing where I was and what I was doing last year, the year before that, and the year before that, eventually going back to childhood. Reverse-chronologically, you visualize your own progression and even detect your own patterns, if you’re fortunate in time to right the course of the bad ones.

So what is there to say about the past year and how ’twas lived? Part of the response – the literal component – lies in the logistical facts of the last 12 months: the pathway from Mexico-DC-Brazil and all the things that happened during those thousands of miles. This is the most obvious aspect of my 36th year and is the one most outside observers will note. This is the part that makes me proud: lots of ground conquered, and a sense that more is to come.

A second part – the experiential component – rests on the people met, the things learned (and assumedly contributed), the experiences lived. This is the part where, really, “you just had to be there” for it to mean anything whatsoever. And this is the part in which a warm nostalgic wave flushes over my stomach when selectively recalling the faces, conversations, sights and sounds.

Yet a third part – the spiritual component – uneasily bestrides the first two, walking a kind of unspoken tight rope in the ether, and is the one to which I’ll devote my time in this post.

To start, my 36th year was the one in which one of my heroes died: Jeff Hanneman of Slayer. Battling a lifetime of acute alcoholism, though a venomous spider bite in 2011 was the precipitating circumstances that began plucking feathers from the chicken of his life, Hanneman expired untimely in May 2013. I do not use the word shocked lightly, but I was: this man, who was a titan to me during my teenage years, turned out to be all-too-human after all, with the same vices and bad decision-making that would lead any mere mortal down a path of perdition from which he never recovered. Hanneman will not celebrate any more birthdays.

And it left me wondering: what of the afterlife for a man who sang of death his entire 30-year career? Not being a religious man, I do not hold out hope for life after death, so when the metaphorical bone ’tis pointed at me one drizzly day many years from now, I’ll resign with a smile and ideally taking a few pats on the back walking out. If there isn’t a Heaven, at least I’d like to think there’s an elevated consciousness to which I can pertain in the universe, beyond the confinements of this mortal coil where peace reigns and the negative gamut of the human experience – the avarice, greed, and competition that so frequently pollute our precious little time here – are afforded no quarter, no seat at the grand table of the just, caring, and patient.

But Hanneman’s passing is not a real brush with mortality for me. He was, after all, merely a character in magazines or onstage to whom I bore no personal tie other than loving his music. As I come into my 37th year, however, the effects of time are beginning to creep under the door of my personal life: as I write this, I have one immediate family member with a heart condition, and another recently consigned to a wheelchair part-time due to vertebral problems. I do not have a big enough family to afford giving them up to illness or handicap without it going painfully noticed. Time passes, situations intervene; people feel the effects largely upon their bodies, and the loved ones witnessing the people they care about stepping into the season of wither feel it upon their souls.

Make no mistake: my glass is still half-full, and I intend to live life as fully as my capacities permit. But at 37 I have effectively expended half my time, if statistical estimates can inform expectations. This is essentially where middle age commences. I am no longer young. In the last two years alone, I’ve had to get a hernia repaired, varicose veins corrected, and sun damage on my bald head addressed, all the consequence of a half-life of activity. I exercise frequently and eat right, but it’s harder now to keep weight off, clothes do not fit as they used to, and I need more sleep than I once did. I occasionally forget things I should not. I don’t really enjoy clubs or bars any more, instead preferring quiet places where I can actually hear myself think or be heard without having to shout. These are the signs of aging.

And you wonder, where is it leading? How will the second half play out? When I leave Brazil in 2015, I’ll be nearly 40. When I turned 20, I could not imagine even 21; but now rounding the corner to 40, I can see 50 quite clearly on the near horizon. I am happy to go there. My thirties were infinitely better than my twenties, and I anticipate the forties beating them both by a long-shot. Yet and still, it frightens me to think life may play fugitive to any of us with such velocity.

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Coincidence, Kindness, and White Chocolate Mocha at Starbucks Ipanema

I am reminded today of the power of coincidence. The subtext might well reference the multiplier effect of human kindness and the portals it opens to those who shine a minute ray of relief into the lives of the afflicted.

Two weeks ago on the sort of brilliant Sunday Rio concocts, I was waiting for a friend at a Starbucks in Ipanema. She would accompany me to the Alemao slum complex, since I knew not the way and, more importantly, did not wish to venture into those specific unknown parts sozinho. But having overslept, she was late. Half an hour beyond when we would have left and sitting in front of the cash register countenancing a serpentine line of Brazilians patiently stepping closer to soothing sips of a white chocolate mocha, I observed a very young child in a stroller. His left eye was nearly shut, and at first glance I believed he was in the midst of cherubic repose; but upon noting his right eye still open and determining he was not a subscriber to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” dictum (“…sleep with one eye open…”), I realized he had a condition called “ptosis”, of which I know something about, having been born with it myself.

A ptosis is usually congenital. It’s when the muscles in your eyelid fail to function correctly from an early age, causing the eye to shut. If uncorrected, a ptosis can affect the amount of sunlight entering the cornea, stunting overall visual development. While it’s true a surgery (or two, in my case) can correct this, the lingering unforeseen social effect is the sensitive period of time in which healing occurs (this can take several years) and the eyelid muscles calibrate. During this period, the affected eye looks either bigger or smaller than the other, creating a bizarre lack of symmetry and, by extension, gifting mischievous children a big, honking target onto which they will readily project their angst. I vividly recall being called “left eye” (long before the artist/performer Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez of TLC fame made the term cool) and a host of other more insulting things, and looking back on in, none of them was particularly cruel by, say, gangsta rap standards, but to an eight-year old wishing nothing more than to fit in, it was at times mentally torturous enduring the all-too-direct interrogatives and commentaries of my sometimes-malevolent classmates.

And so I felt compelled to act. I introduced myself to his mother, a young woman of about 30. In a move bolder than I would normally make (admittedly, this could have been really awkward for us both, and certainly for her, but I only wanted to help), I told her that I couldn’t help but notice her son’s eye, and asked if he had a ptosis. She confirmed it, and said she and her husband were concerned about it, not sure how to proceed or if a surgery would hurt more than help. I reassured her: look at my bald ass, I totally had the same thing and turned out just fine. I had my surgery in the late 1970s when debate about the earth’s flatness still raged hard in some sectors of science, and I even rubbed the stitches out the first time accidentally, necessitating a second procedure. Even after all that, it still turned out ok. She seemed relieved, and though it might have seemed a bit interventionist for me to say anything at all, I considered it my good deed for the day.

Fast forward two weeks to last night. I attended a book-signing event sponsored by the Brazilian Ministry of Culture. It was around the corner from work, and gave me an excuse to eat McDonald’s for dinner (what would YOU be doing between 4:30 and 6 PM waiting for an event to begin?). When I finally arrived in front of the author to get my copy autographed, who should approach but the very woman from Starbucks two weeks ago.

She kissed the author, introduced herself to me as his wife, thanked me again for the counsel provided and assured me that it really helped alleviate their parental concerns. The author stopped everything he was doing and told me how the wife had come home that day detailing a brief utilitarian chat she’d enjoyed with a random gringo in Starbucks about his son’s welfare, and how much he appreciated hearing from someone of similar ocular history that the chips were long from being down, that in the casino of life this kid could still hit a jackpot. We exchanged information and pledged to meet soon for coffee, and they offered to show me around the city and introduce me to other local authors if I was so inclined to delve into Rio’s literary scene.

I am reminded of how often our paths cross people with whom we share multi-layered commonalities, yet we are too busy or slothful or careless to make note of it.

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Ouro Preto III: Somewhere Back in Time

Yesterday while making my timely exit from Ouro Preto, I hoofed it to the bus terminal. “Get a taxi or take the bus,” they all told me. But never one to buy wholesale into conventional wisdoms, sadly even in cases where locals with superior knowledge are trying to make me see The Light, I refused to listen. Walking will be fun, I stubbornly convinced myself, and it’s good exercise that I might purge my corporeal coil of excess calories consumed over 72 continuous hours of sow-snouted gorging which included, daily, a large calabresa pizza, various sweet breads and slices of carrot cake given free at the hostel, more coffee and soda than I can recall, and at least one Subway run I am willing to admit. How does mommy’s lil’ piggie eat? Oink, oink, y’all.

It didn’t seem like so far a trip on the surface – by all estimates a piddly 15 minutes – but climbing cobble-stoned streets on hills on too few hours of sleep will bedraggle even the hardiest of walkers. The 4,000 degree incline of the hills did not further my plans for speedy arrival. (In the mythical land of Ouro Preto, close second only to Puff’s Hawnolee, uber-steep grades are equal parts possible AND normal.) Here I learnt something important: thou shalt not drink too much water before doing something like this on the assumption that it will sweat out of your body rather than pipeline straight to your bladder. For the bladder is not a finishing school for sweat glands and human physiology does not permit a single drop of fluid be diverted to the epidermous. In other words, when you gotta go, you REALLY gotta go.

So it ought come as scant surprise to you, dear reader, that Brianzinho arrived at Ouro Preto’s primary transportation hub a sweaty, knee-clenching morning mess and bee-lined directly to the lavoratory bearing the pants-wearing silhouette. When I emerged moments later to the land of the relieved, would you believe that my wrist watch read 10 minutes EARLIER than when I entered the bathroom?

At first, I assumed the culprit to be an aging watch battery; now 6 years old, I purchased this G-Shock before deploying to Iraq in 2007 and while it’s withstood righteous amounts of punishment, to negatively paraphrase Liz Taylor, a watch battery is not forever. But then I saw that all the wall clocks were likewise sitting behind a full 10 minutes. And like a bolt of lightning, an epiphany was laid bare unto me: clearly I ran so fast on the way to the station, such being my mania to procure a bathroom, that my keds hit 88 mph, thereby generating the required 1.21 gigawatts of electricity and sending me back to the future. While I was bereft of a Delorian and requisite flux capacitor in the strictest sense, nor do I recall my feet being plutonium-powered, I remember reading in 2008 of the Guatemalan government’s own generation of over 700 non-nuclear gigawatts at a national-level power plant, so it’s clear to me that you can create time travel-worthy levels of energy in various and sundry manner.

Why just 10 minutes into the past? Good question. A broken record cycled a single, poingant message thru my boggin the entire time I sprinted to the bus station: “If only thou had departed 10 minutes sooner…”, so I must have willed myself backward on those 600 full seconds. Upon reflection I instantly discounted the water I drank on the way, since technically speaking, it never really happened. Just as I was prepared to celebrate victory for having made scientific history as the first real time traveller, I suddenly felt lame and decided not to ring the folks at the Nobel committee.

For had I known I’d be going back in time, might I have used the opportunity to travel back even further and fix more important, pressing issues? Verily, might I have studied harder in college, played the lottery more frequently, taken Rogaine when it was still possible to save my hair, or avoided going out with 90 percent of the people I’ve dated? We shall never know; for the die was cast and 10 minutes, plus a non-consumed metric liter of water, was all I was going to get. I’ll never have to pee so urgently again, so fat chance I will be afforded the luxury of another dead sprint sparking 1.21 gigawatts.

Ouro Preto II: Extreme Conditions Call for Extreme Responses

Ouro Preto, the colonial Brazilian town in which I find myself, bears the hallmarks of a great number of villes throughout the Americas. The morning mist lifts deliberately from the mountaintops like northern El Salvador. The climate resembles that of Villa de Leyva in the Colombian highlands. The surrounding lush verde foliage is not unlike Oaxaca, Mexico, though the subtropical humidity is thankfully absent from the equation. Houses (some merely shanties, though these are relatively few in number) hand-over-fist up the hillsides like Valparaiso, Chile. And the volume of tourists glutting every available public space is like Antigua, Guatemala, though it feels more like the Venezuelan capital due to the sheer sardine-like compression of corpus.

And yet all these many comparisons matter not, for their beauty hath been torn asunder by two turd-faced, nose-picking children in the room next to mine. Their havoc-wrecking behavior is like a backstage moment at a Motley Crue gig. These two are human molotov cocktails, screaming like effing bottle rockets thru the hotel halls, keeping me up late, or awaking me too early, these two days in Ouro Preto. This morning, the ass-kicking American instinct overtaking me, I was ready to invade.

And yet a cooler head prevailed and I opted for the only sure-fire psychological operation known to shut mischevious children up, at least for awhile: through the paper-thin wall, I made a voracious fart sound. The bombs-over-Baghdad shock-and-awe had the silencing effect I so desired on these sinister creatures, and I subsequently enjoyed the first five unmolested moments of silence, though punctuated with stifled snickers and snorts from the room over, that I have gotten since arrival.

Let me expound on my theorem of a proper imitation toot; the brilliance lies in its sole postulate. Namely, I needed it to be credible. These boys are now of an age to know the Tooth Fairy is a work of parental fiction, hence their natural sense of wonder can no longer be piqued by creations of readily-apparent grown-up fantasy. So I had to straddle the delicate equilibrium between the famine of a popcorn flatulant and the smear of a “shart”. Wetting my whistle and loosening my cheek muscles, then, I sought the right friction betwixt lips and inner-cheek, urging juuuuuust the proper amount of saliva into my mouth, that I might blow this trumpet in a manner sufficiently convincing to 10-year olds that, indeed, their undivided attention was not only merited, but demanded. With 36 years of practice, and two years of teaching at the middle and high school level, I know something of these matters.

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Ouro Preto I: The Brazilian Baloney Log

In a few hours, I’ll board a bus bound for Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais state, Brazil. The trek will last nearly eight hours, ultimately delivering me unto one of the country’s allegedly best-kept colonial towns for a three-day weekend of hiking and photography. One would assume that before mounting the steel-wheeled coffin for an entire day and rolling into parts unknown, I’d smartly avoid consuming anything to irritate my innards, that I won’t have to utilize the bus’ onboard services – or even worse, a roadside diner – during the journey. This is good sense: experienced a bus bathroom lately? And yet foolhardy man that I am, I unwittingly did the opposite while slaking my hunger after exercising and showering tonight: I partook of the Brazilian baloney log.

Haben sie munched a Brazilian baloney log? Fools step in where angels fear to tread, amigos, for the baloney log hath already begun to dole unto me bowel-trembling punishments and my eyes can see no end to this torture for at least a goodly fortnight.

I now understand why they warned me not to fall prey to its charms, for like the Wizard behind the curtain, so too does the Brazilian baloney log try to pass as something better than ’tis. It seeks recognition in the phylum of salami but is a shadowy pretender to the title. Yet for all the damage this has done, and likely will do, I will say this in my own defense: similar to salami, the baloney log bears uncanny likeness to plastic-wrapped equine genitalia, which is why I got confused at the supermarket and purchased it in the first place. I should not neglect to add that also like salami, the Brazilian baloney log goes dandily with cheese and crackers.

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Hated Worse than GG Allin: The Most Despised Brazilian Bus Driver in Rio

Now that I’ve posted regarding Brazilians’ sumptuous corporeal aromas and sensual speech, what item next on their lengthy list of national attributes shall I scrutinize as a foreign observer in near-constant state of bewonderment? Admittedly, amigos, so too have I beheld yet another stunning quality these Brazilians possess: despising a bus driver with greater vehemence than the general public hated punk rocker GG Allin (see his documentary “Hated” if this admittedly obscure reference was lost on you).

Let me set the scene:

On the 132 riding back from work, the driver stopped at a red light. Not a bus stop, mind you, just a red light. Random passersby instantly coagulated at the bus door; they gestured in a manner intended to pique the driver’s attention, that he might open the door and allow them to board. Both genders and all ages were represented in the dense and amassing humanity, yet one suspects the septuagenarians and young hotties were forced to the front strategically, that their presence might play on the driver’s devotion to mother or lust for ferule woman. Yet this driver’s heart of stone went unmoved by the pleading inherent in their collective puppy-eyed petition. The porta remained chaste, the driver disinterestedly facing forward with his earbuds firmly rooted and iPod floating soothing bossa nova into the recesses of his brain, spiriting him to a mythical faraway land where all buses have air conditioning, there are no traffic jams, and people take taxis instead.

What can only be described as a war of nerves ensued, led by what I divined a beefy man pounding the side of the vessel with his hammy clenched fist. The din increased directly proportional to the crowd’s anxiety, doubtless pushed to crescendo by the late day humidity. And then came a voice: a grandmother bellowing “P-A-L-H-A-S-O!!!” (“YOU EFFING CLOWN!!!” in context here) at the uppermost capacity of her lungs, each of the word’s three syllables emphasized with a distinct slap to door’s glass, over and over and over. Peering through the side window, I realized the pounding had been gramma all along, and she only escalated to adding the soundtrack when the driver ignored her opening salvos launched by her angry palm against the vessel’s aluminum siding.

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On the Aromatic Emanation of a Commuting Homeless Man, and its Pretensions for the Whole of Brazil

In the wee hours this very morn on the bus, we passengers came to know one another in the Biblical sense quickly, for even during the off-peak hour are modes of public transport are seldom exempt from getting packed beyond capacity. I was able to procure a seat, but not everyone enjoyed such fortune; and in fact a man who I was sure lived on the streets – for verily tucked he under his right arm a folded cardboard box – was forced to stand beside me, his groin pressing into my left bicep due to the sardine-like configuration in which we were crammed together. His right arm raised so that his hand might grip the overhead bar and enhance his stability during the Top Gun moments (think Maverick/Goose’s “jet wash”) of the commute, I held my breath expecting the worst.

Hast thou ever smelt the underarm of a homeless individual? I am not one to judge, and well I know  it is often beyond the capacity of the homeless individual to control his/her own fate better, as life circumstances are oft brutal. Thus the lack of personal hygiene routinely accompanying homelessness is hardly a trait worth criticizing in the affected individual, for his concerns are far beyond the merely superficial and those of us more fortunate are hardly within our rights to make a big deal out of a bit of stink. But let us just say, in my non-judgmental capacity, that indeed I was expecting the worst.

And yet when finally forced to draw air, what odor filled my nostrils surprised me exceedingly for the  contradiction it beheld: the fragrance of pink ponies whinnying atop rainbows! And perplexed as I was by the dischord between expectation and reality, I was even more taken unawares at the emotion next overcoming me: I wanted to snuggle. Not with him, mind you, but ’twas as though a named fabric softener mascot teddy bear got in my tummy and let off a net full of butterflies. Further to my last post about how Brazilians all speak sensually even when breaching the scatological, is there another people on this planet who are so hygenic that even the unfortunate homeless amongst them bears wonderous aroma?

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The Singular Joy of Conversing with Brazilians… Even About Subjects Scatological in Theme

Since arrival in Rio in early October, I have noted a great many things, ever the formidable observer. Yet one thing stands out most apparently to me: there is a singular joy in conversing with Brazilians. Even routine tasks – like grocery shopping – habitually morph into The Best Conversation I’ve Ever Had With Another Living Being. The even-handed exchange of ideas, the modalities and politeness, the broadness and sincerity of grin, and the girth of intrinsic good humor, all teleport me to a heightened social plateau where the spirit is not just elevated, but verily ’tis elated.

I spend a good deal of time alone. My constitution is one of being apart from the pack. I can spend hours sitting in a single spot observing people’s movements, behavior, and interactions with one another, my only companion a can of soda or cup of coffee, jotting mental notes about the nature of this place to whose walls I now cling. I am not judging or plotting; I just like to watch. Idle time spent solo allows for a goodly degree of reflection and analysis. And when it comes to speaking with Brazilians, I’ve waxed overly-philosophical perennially in the last month since my arrival in Rio, settling on a single factor I’ll wager predetermines the positive outcome of every chat I have with someone here: the carioca accent.

Great linguists of the world, riddle me this: is it possible for a people to speak with a delivery and cadence more intrinsically delightful? With a word choice teetering on such perfection, divinely selected for the specific millisecond in which the syllables slide gingerly from the speaker’s mouth, one at a time like verbal pearls from a loquacious Brazilian oyster? And perhaps most important, is there another people in this world that can make even otherwise unpleasant topics of discussion feel like soft-core HBO porn?

Case in point: an hour ago, I was grocery shopping. Having already made google-eyes at every newborn baby to elicit a babbling smile, discussed the merits of croutons vs. hand-crumbled crackers with three distinct maids purchasing for their employer’s weekly eating exigencies, and consumed succulent Brazilian cheese bread ballz at the in-store cafe, I paid up and stashed my cart for a brief moment, that I might use the bathroom prior to departing the supermarket. Once in the bathroom, however, I was confronted by a sight only aptly described as vomit-inducing; you’ll forgive me for being too descriptive here, but someone left the Lochness monster chillaxin’ in the depths of the only toilet. And that individual – shame be upon this bastard man child for employing not the good manners his mama surely imparted him – attempted to conceal his sin by leaving no small amount of toilet paper in the bowl, much like a child hides the unwanted carrots on his dinner plate through careful placement of a napkin. And yet Nessy’s head and hind still peeked out sheepishly from respective opposite end, hiding in disdainfully plain sight.

Holding my breath the only survival tactic readily occurring to me at the moment, I sucked a deep lungful of oxygen, finished my business, and went in search of someone who could help expel this watery demon. Rapidly chancing upon a woman who appeared involved in matters of cleaning on the store’s behalf, likewise appearing every day of her probable 60 years of age, I stutteringly conjured what vocabulary I could to describe the situation, laying bare my concern in stark terms.

It went something like this:

Me: “Ma’am, I just came from the bathroom. I promise you it wasn’t me, but someone pinched a loaf far mightier than most. Canst thou assist in seeking a resolution?”

Her: (Indecipherable words, all spoken in sexy Rio accent. She’s smiling. Can it be? Is this cleaning lady asking me out? Because, oh Lord, so beautiful is her voice that I’m taken by the sensation of a hundred kittens purring in my tummy.)

Me: “Yes, you see, I’m not sure what you just said, but you must understand: the dragon lying in wait in that crapper really ought to be smote. Really, it’s dangerous to life and limb – neigh, to Horti Fruti’s very core client base! – to leave it sitting there. Surely your manager can intervene, yes? Or canst thou simply call the bomb squad?”

Her: (Indecipherable words, again all spoken in sexy Rio accent. I’m now certain she’s telling me she’d like to have my baby. But this sexagenarian, she’s well past child-bearing age, so certainly this cannot be her desire. And yet I’m taken by the sensual and exotic tones with which she speaks of this turd which so concerns me.)

So on and so forth. You get the idea. An older woman, talking to me about poop, and I’m smitten forever. Such is daily life speaking to Luso-philes in the city of Rio de Janeiro.

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