Sunday, May 27, 2018

Strikes, Vegetables, Armies, Shit, and Fans



When I arrived in Brazil the mood was decidedly different from what it is today.

Brazil had just elected Lula.  Apparently lots of people were furious, but the ones I met were thrilled.  It was, as they say, the beginning of a new era, and I can attest that in some ways it really was.  I think largely about this in the context of having learned something, if not a lot, about Brazil's past, even its relatively recent past.  The dictatorship that ended while I was still in high school.  The hyperinflation that ran until after I graduated college.  The fact that Brazil has had seven constitutions since it declared independence.

At some point I asked myself, would I have moved down here during one of the rocky periods?

Lula's presidency was marked by a great economic boom, giving at least half of the national slogan "Order and Progress" (it's written on the flag) some substance.  We managed to fend off the global slump for a few extra years.  Things looked pretty good.  Of course, we didn't know that Lava Jato was going on, hollowing out the economy from the inside.  Eventually it came to light and Brazil impeached Lula's successor and Lula himself is now in prison.  The economy went to shit.  The Brazilian currency fell to less than half of what it was against the dollar.

Only now, I was in up to my eyeballs.  I was married, I had a kid, I had a business to try to keep alive to pay the ridiculous price of living down here.  My wife didn't want to leave, so I resigned myself to staying.  I have been plugging on for several years, usually one step away from disaster.

The marriage seems to have played itself out but the business clings by a thread.  The kid is entering adolescence.  And now it appears that the shit may indeed be hitting the fan.

Last week there was a bus strike.  Pretty normal, we get those every year or two.  Then I heard there was a trucker's strike, and I asked a friend if the two were one and the same.  No, I was informed, they are not.  In retrospect I realize how uninformed I was: oh, how woefully uninformed I was.  I'm being a bit dramatic, but now, a week into the strike, there is no gasoline in any gas station in the city, airports are shut down for lack of fuel, and at my local supermarket there was basically no perishable food to be had.

I was supposed to go to a graffiti event in the interior of Bahia this week, a six hour drive.  It got postponed: there is no fuel for the bus that was to take us there.  The paint that was intended for the event is stuck in a truck out on the highway somewhere,  a hostage of the strike.

I can kinda enjoy a lack of gasoline.  I'm a tree hugger.  I haven't driven a car in at least a couple years.  I walk everywhere I need to go.  Even the metro runs on electricity in case I get the urge to leave my neighborhood.  But it makes me realize that this, so far, is nothing.  It sucks that I can't buy carrots and onions, but people aren't hungry yet.  Dude, we live next door to Venezuela.  We've got a refugee crisis happening on the border.  That could happen here really fast.  I like cities, I (usually) like living in the city, I think it's ultimately better for the planet if we live in the city.  But it all falls apart if, for instance, you no longer have trucks bringing in the food.

And they're talking about what's going to happen if the cops run out of gas.  No bike cops in Bahia.  And when the ambulances run out of gas.  Supposedly there's fuel for a couple more days.

And I can't even take the nuclear option and catch a plane out of here if there are no flights.  Not that I'm particularly excited about that option, what with the USA currently making as much mockery of "Order and Progress" as Brazil is.

About an hour ago the neighborhood erupted with people yelling "Fora Temer" (Temer, the much hated president, Out)  You usually only get that kind of excitement when there's a goal scored in a soccer game.  I thought maybe he had resigned due to the crisis, but I can't find anything to that effect online.  Dude did call out the armed forces to deal with the strike a couple days ago.

It could, and probably will, get worse before it gets better.

The petroleum workers are scheduled to go on strike tomorrow.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Compromise

So I know this guy, he parks cars.

That's a relatively common profession here, for people who don't have anything else in the way of opportunity - take charge of a number of parking spaces, collect money to help them parallel park and ostensibly watch over the vehicles while they are gone.  In a land without parking meters, or jobs, the flanelinha is king.

I don't know his name, alhthough he did tell me once, but it was complicated and I didn't get my head around it.  I'm sure he's got a nickname but I don't know what it is.  There used to be another guy who parked cars in the same spot, but his problems overtook him and now he's gone.  The old guy used to be friendly to me, when I walked by I always said hello, at least until he abandoned his post and started wandering around my neighborhood, talking loudly to himself, collecting aluminum cans instead of watching parking spaces.  Haven't seen him around for months.

The current guy used to ignore me, until I bought something from him, or employed his services.  I think I paid him to carry some rusting shelves to my store, where they sit, rusting still, waiting for me to put them into use or put them back on the street.  Now he's friendly to me when I walk by.

This guy - he's got these serious buggy eyes, which make him look like a crack head, which in all likelihood is what he actually is.  Whatever his faults are, he is very polite to me, as well as lots of other people who frequent the road where he maintains his parking spaces.  I call him Amigo, which here in Bahia could mean pretty much anybody.  He returns the favor.

The other day I was finally off to get my lunch after a long and exasperating morning waiting on customers and otherwise trying to maintain my tiny and possibly failing business, when I walked through his territory and spotted a large stack of steel shelving.

Steel shelving is one of my obsessions.  I've bought a lot of it over my time here, it's great because the termites don't eat it, and you can put stuff on it.  There's a standardized shelf size but a considerable variety of shelf weights and qualities, and the uprights that the shelves are bolted to vary in gauge and format as well.

I spotted this stack of shelving and it literally stopped me in my tracks.  You see, I'd been looking for some new shelving since the last units I purchased got put into use at my new apartment and the wooden shelves I built to hold my overstock at the store began to get full-bore devoured by termites, or carunchos, or whatever the fuck they are, these bugs that eat wood.  They are eating with such gusto that I can smell the by-products of their digestion whenever I get near the soon-to-be-history shelves.

So basically, I needed more shelving.  And there it was.

My bug-eyed amigo was nearby, so I called out to him to see what the deal was with the shelves, and he told me they were his.  In all likelihood, he picked them out of the trash, or took charge of them as soon as they were being tossed out, more credit to him for his entrepreneurship.  I picked out the best, least-rusted shelves and uprights, which made up less than half of his stock, and offered him ten reais as kind of a joke.  He replied with "Come on, give me at least fifteen!" which I promptly did, as I was more than prepared to give him thirty.

Dude took my money and ran.  During lunch I decided that I should really go back and buy some more uprights, but when I went back I found a couple other homeless guys pillaging what was left of the stock of shelves, and my amigo was gone, presumably indulging in whatever it was that fifteen reais would buy for him.

So a little while after that my friend spots me and tells me he has a wheelchair to sell.  That's all well and good, but I have no real use for a wheelchair, and my packrattish tendencies aren't so far out of control that I'd buy a wheelchair just because, at least not yet.  I tell him that if I know anyone who needs one I'll tell him, being completely honest but also knowing full well that there's basically zero chance of that happening.

That was about a week ago.  In the meantime, they've been repaving the street where he parks his cars, which means his income is pretty much shot for the time being.  Every time he spots me he tries to get me to buy the wheelchair, he's worried someone will steal it, which judging from past experience is an honest concern.  Guy lives on the street after all, not like he's got a locked door to keep it behind.

Today I started in on my "If I find someone who needs one, I'll tell you" spiel,  when the futility of the whole thing just got to be too much for me.  "You know," I tell him, "You need to find a place that could really use a wheelchair," and I remember the shelter.

There's a shelter, or "abrigo" as they are called here, right on the same street that he lives/works on.  Lots of elderly in there, probably exactly the kind of place that could use an extra wheelchair.  I decide it's time to do a Good Deed.

Everyone should do a Good Deed from time to time.  I really do them way too seldom.  It makes you feel good, being all altruistic and shit, which can be especially useful if your day-to-day is, you know, less than optimal.

I tell my amigo: if you bring the wheelchair to the shelter and they accept it as a donation I will give you ten reais.  Again, this seemed like way less than what the thing was worth, even beat up and rusty, but if I've learned anything after fifteen years in Brazil it's that you start low and work your way up - often you discover that what you thought was ridiculously cheap was in fact more than the other party thought to be a reasonable offer.

Such was the case today.  Amigo said great, ten reais, and charged off with the wheelchair in the direction of the shelter.  I trailed behind, arriving in time to ascertain that 1. they did take donations, and 2. they would take the wheelchair.  I gave my amigo his ten reais, completed my Good Deed, and everyone was happy.

Amigo didn't stick around to walk back up the hill with me.  He was already negotiating something with another sketchy-looking dude as I made my way back to my store.  Didn't matter - if he blew his cash on crack, or whatever, that was up to him, the wheelchair was probably going to find its way to being a real help to someone, and that was the important thing.  And the dark cloud that follows me around just over my head dissipated for about half an hour.

Of course, now I'll be even more of a target for whatever else this guy has to sell...

Monday, November 20, 2017

Não Tenho

Some days are just too stupid for words.

Some days, you should just be able to delete them.  Throw them in the trash, and empty the trash and they are gone forever.

Today was one of those days.  Actually, it wasn't.  It had one of the worst couple hours of all time in terms of pure stupidity, and you know how they say, one shitty customer can ruin your whole day and all that.  There are parts of today I will cherish forever, or at least, for a week or two.  I scored two bottles of stout which is no mean feat here in Salvador, and I pretend to enjoy one of them shortly.  It may be the best thing that happens to me all week.

So, my friends, I'm about to embark on one of my semi-complicated rants and if you're not in the mood I suggest you proceed to your second favorite blog in the world cause there ain't no stopping me now.

Okay.  Let me start by saying that the 20th of the month has become Hell Day for me in general; it's the day I owe my monthly taxes on my sales at the store, and also the day I pay my health insurance, and for some reason there's always at least a couple other large bills that need paying on the 20th so it's a day I've come to dread.  I've been reflecting a lot on the fact that I don't spend nearly as much time as I used to hanging out in banks waiting to pay bills (you don't pay bills via mail and check here, good heavens no), which is decidedly a good thing, and I take full advantage of the Internet option to pay whatever I can.  I also pay a lot of bills at the ATM, which is good too.

Both of these options crapped out on me today.

First off, and getting the stupidity ball rolling, I forgot my ATM card at the house.  I really don't like walking around with this card if I can avoid it, I don't like walking around with any cards that have the potential for being abused or whatnot, you know, visions of a gun to my head while I withdraw 2000 reais for someone who neither earned or deserves it.  But I really need to remember to bring it with me on the 20th.  Here's why.

To go with my bank account, I have this nifty little gizmo that gives me a code whenever I press a button.  It works great when I am paying bills online - I pay the bill, get the code, payment authorized, 'vapt vupt' as they say here in Bahia.  BUT this same gizmo has this @#$@# $%ˆ$% @#@#%  function that is not vapt vupt at all.  The furshlugginer thingie has a sensor on the bottom, and for certain kinds of transactions I need to hold the @#$@#$ thing up to my computer screen so it can try to read a series of flashes generated by my bank's website and generate a different kind of authorization so that I can proceed with my payment.

Stupid piece of shit almost never works.

I'm sorry, I did warn you this was kind of a complicated rant.  Feel free to bail if you want, but it does shift gears in a couple paragraphs.

Okay.  So I can't pay my taxes without my card, which I forgot at home.  If I leave it until tomorrow, I'm fined, so I decide to go home.  Once I get home, I try the online banking again, because for some reason the monitor on my mac works much better with the aforementioned furshlugginer gizmo.

Hey presto, it worked!  The gizmo gives me the code, which I eagerly enter.

And wouldn't you know it, the system is down.  So it's off to the bank after all, card in hand.

Most folks really hate walking around Salvador after dark, with good reason.  It's not safe.  It's not nice.  It's not leisurely or enjoyable, at least here in the center, where I live.  I go charging off to the bank, card in my pocket, to the nearest ATM to get this taken care of.  I'm quite annoyed at this point and just wishing I could relax at home behind all my locked gates and doors and such.

On my way to the bank I have to go down this certain alley that I walk down every day.  It tends to be deserted at night.  Tonight, a large dude who is quite clearly tweaking out and looking for his next hit of crack asks me if I have any change and I say no.  Not an uncommon occurrence, but this guy did seem particularly desperate.

Once in the bank, I go to make my payment.  And what the _______ - I left the _____  _______, _____ bills on my desk at the house.  I did my semi-regular routine of throwing my hands in the air and swearing in English and all that.  The agency was deserted, so I indulged myself mightily.

Okay, now I have to go back to the house and do the whole routine all over again.  Crank the annoyance level up to 11.  I stomp back to the house, get the bills, and stomp back up the hill to the bank.  Just at the end of the aforementioned alley, the same big tweaker dude rounds the corner.

He stops right in front of me.  He grabbed my shirt in both hands and balled it up in his fists.  I remember very little of what he said, except for "I'm not a thief." I think he was extremely torn between his desire to rob me and his desire not to.  He motioned to his waistband, like he might have a weapon there.  He said a lot of things, but like I said, I don't really remember.  He wanted to get high.  That much was obvious.

I do remember what I said.  "Não tenho," which means "I don't have." I said it a couple times.

Let me just mention that I really wasn't scared as such.  I was extremely annoyed, and I get in a really stupid head space when I'm annoyed like that.  Also, I really didn't think this guy wanted to hurt me, he just really, really, wanted to get high and he knew I had the money that would help him achieve that goal.

So I did something I remembered having read about somewhere about these kinds of situations, which is that the people who initiate them really don't want to get caught.  I opened my throat and I howled.

Não Tenho

I put all my frustration and fury behind it, and I'm sure there was a little divorce and financial insecurity and various regrets and embarrassments behind it.

Não Tenho

I screamed it again.  I really did it because I wanted to attract attention to the situation, which I may or may not have done.  Certainly nobody came to my rescue.

Dude coulda hit me right then.  Coulda had a weapon in his waistband and done something worse.

But he didn't.  My screaming worked.  He let go of my shirt and kept walking.

And then I opted to walk to a different bank, further away and in a shopping mall, and I watched my back very carefully until I got home.

And here I am, and my stout is almost finished, and my story is done.