Tag Archives: Slayer

“If you’re not first, you’re last.” – Ricky Bobby’s dad.

My mother – Angel of Grace and Tolerator of Her Eldest Son’s Irrepressible Verbosity – always told me I’m a winner. And when pressed, my wife – whose womb bore me a tiny sliver of Heaven and who, indeed, is also a Suave Putter-Upper of Her Marido’s Loquacity – will likewise admit her station in life improved at least somewhat after having hitched her wagon to my locomotive. Though I didn’t get promoted at work on the first go ’round, I did pick up tenure as soon as I was eligible for it. So this tells me I’m slugging at least .500, well above the baseline Hall of Fame batting average. The significance of this sports metaphor: the cosmos lines up occasionally in my favor, and I reap a concurrent bounty.

And yet this morning when I embarked on what was supposed to be a bland weekly grocery run, little did I anticipate hitting the Brazilian jackpot. What transpired at the cash register, as I pulled forth my debit card to pay for the goods, was the supermarket equivalent of a game-winning, goal-scoring reverse-bicycle kick with three milliseconds seconds left on the clock.

There was something in the air this morn, and my mood was uncommonly uppity for a domingo. Perhaps ’twas due to spending last night jamming metal songs on dual guitars with a buddy at his apartment in Copacabana; and my levity of being ’twas aided in no small measure by the weather being 10 degree cooler today in Rio. Thus I set foot inside the Horti Fruti humming random tracks from Exodus’ “Bonded by Blood” and Death’s “The Sound of Perseverance”, even playing air guitar in the cart-infested aisles. I grabbed Tabasco sauce and a box of Choco-Krispies for my soon-to-arrive wife, a bag of frozen French fries, and enough fruits to eliminate a small nation’s worth of scurvy. Then I approached the cash register and placed my intended purchases onto the conveyer belt, striking up convo with Patricia, in whose line I always seem to end up.

About to pay, a woman with a microphone materialized before me. Her nametag bore the moniker “Sandra”. And indeed, Sandra represented the Horti Fruti Prize Patrol. Flanked she was on the right by a man toting a plastic Christmas tree adorned with folded pieces of paper on all sides. Another man to her left held aloft a box with a hand-sized hole in the top, and colored pieces of paper contained within its depths.

Sandra announced to the now-gawking assemblage of customers that I was selected at random to participate in their holiday contest. I was asked, first, to pull a piece of paper from the box and present it to her. Sandra would then open it and read the number written on it. That number would correspond to the number of one of the cash registers. She would then approach the customer in line at that specific register, and that person would snatch a paper from the plastic Christmas tree, open it, and read aloud his/her prize contained with it to the whole store.

This is where the Brazilian “jeitinho” enters the picture. I’m not a naturally competitive man, but do we not all enjoy winning something once in awhile? Even Ralphie’s toiling blue-collar dad netted the leg lamp in A Christmas Story. My winnings are of the Haley’s Comet variety: exceptionally infrequent, but slammin’ when they do roll down range. And so when I selected a paper from the box and opened it, it appeared to contain a 6. Or maybe ’twas a 9, depending on which end you thought was up.

It was not lost on me that I happened to be standing at register 6.

And so felt I a victory close at hand!

A look of understanding was then exchanged bewteen Sandra and I. My eyes spake unto her, “Sandra, oh with Rio’s inflation forever on the rise, my creeks are rising, for now I buy for three mouths!” And Sandra’s eyes responded to me, “Gringo, I live in Rocinha, and well I know the difficulties of purchasing for an entire litter of mouths.” This shared moment lasted no longer than two fleeting nano-seconds, but ’twas sufficient to turn the tide in my favor. And so Sandra announced that ’twas register 6.

Proclaiming me the winner, Sandra let me pick a piece of paper from the plastic Christmas tree. Upon opening it, elated was I to discover that I’d just won half off my next grocery purchase at Horti Fruti. I turned around to face the crowd – a covetous bunch of shoppers applauding in a muted fashion, a rotund player hate springing from their eyes – and pumped my metal-horned hands skyward, declaring myself “ganhador”. Sandra passed me the mic, that I might comment on the senstation invading my entire soul as the realization dawned upon me that I’d just beaten the odds. Clutching the mic in a triumphant right fist, I raised it to my mouth, took a deep breath, and loudly extolled the virtues of Horiti Fruti’s quality produce, reasonable prices, and above all else, righteous business model.

I cannot fault the lookers-on for believing that, somehow, the fix was in. They will doubtless contemplate this next week, when all of them are paying full price for their groceries. Let them eat cake, though sadly not a discounted one.

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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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