Sunday, August 12, 2018

Still here, sort of

I had an encounter this evening with a guy who was almost too drunk to stand. “Someone’s going to exploit you,” he told me. “What makes you think,” I replied, “That I haven’t been exploited already?”

Not the cleverest of rejoinders, but a pretty good window onto my thoughts lately.  Facebook informed me, not entirely on purpose, that I have now lived in my apartment for a whole year already, which is bizarre in itself.  It's Brazilian Father's Day, and my now teenage son slammed his bedroom door because I turned off the internet at 10 PM.  I'm supposed to expect this kind of behavior, right?

This message references someone
I've never heard of, like it's some
kind of big reveal
Yes I am.  And I do.  And as a parent I will bear this burden.  What I don't expect or think warranted are the anonymous messages I've been getting, again, after a pause of several months.  Someone has been tormenting me via WhatsApp, using various numbers (I suppose it could be more than one person but I very much doubt that).  This person, who is indeed anonymous although I hope they won't remain so for long, has been trying to get me not to trust my friends, saying that they are laughing at me behind my back and taking advantage of me.

They're saying a lot of other things too, I'm not going to get into all the details.  As usual, I should be doing other things, like sleeping.

The thing that really sucks about this situation is that to a large degree it's working, I have stopped trusting my friends.  But I'll tell you why: half of what this person says is total bullshit, but the other half has at least some root in reality.  Conversations I had a few days ago with one of my friends come back to me, albeit scrambled, via this anonymous asshole.  It's infuriating.  I have a few theories about what is going on, but I'll only post one here.  I am confiding in my friends, or one friend in particular, who is then confiding in his friends.  Who is then sharing this information with my online heckler.  Like a game of telephone, this would account for the scramble in the messaging.

Finally fed up and furious with my helplessness in this situation, I did what I suppose is a relatively common solution these days, I posted some of the messages on my Social Media.  This was probably a really dumb thing to do, but it's still too early to tell.  One friend of mine now tells me he is an enemy because of half of a letter that didn't get blurred out when I tried to anonymize the thing, although that's tied up in some other bullshit I have going on, which I will touch on in a couple paragraphs.  Other people are pissed as well, and lots of people are talking about it.

My instincts are sometimes self-destructive.

In other news, my business clings by a thread to solvency.  I've had to take out a couple loans to pay the bills, and at this point my feeling is that if it looks like I'm going to have to do so again to keep the place open, I won't keep the place open.  The Brazilian economy, especially here in the northeast, remains in the toilet and I actually think I've done a pretty amazing job at keeping the place open as long as I have.  But my expenses are enormous and I never seem to get ahead.  And I'm working like a dog and I'm in the middle of a contentious divorce.

I really haven't talked much about the store here on the blog, I really haven't talked about much of anything here on the blog over the last few years.  But this whole graffiti shop thing is kinda playing itself out, at least for me.  Ever since I started the thing I've been working on diversifying my offerings, which is a good thing because it appears that a large number of my spray-paint-buying clients have abandoned me.  There are a number of reasons for this, partly because the spray that everyone wants can be bought in dozens of stores in the city now, partly because the spray has gotten expensive.

But apparently part of the problem is that a lot of people just don't like me.  As I mentioned I have some self destructive tendencies, and apparently I've pissed some people off.  I've also been hearing that some people resent me because I'm a foreigner, and they think I'm taking advantage of them.  Someone told me on Friday that he was told it was better to paint with latex paint than "give your money to the gringo." I didn't bother to ask who said that to him.  I really don't want to know.

From my point of view, and here we go with the self destructive tendencies again, I think...

Time for a disclaimer.  Never can have enough disclaimers in this turbulent world we live in.  I have a lot of great and loyal customers who appreciate what I do, and I am thankful for that.

So as I was saying, from my point of view the people who think this way are not only assholes, and wrong, but they also don't appreciate what I've done over these last almost ten years.  Sure, I took advantage of a market that I saw was available, but I also invested pretty much everything I had in an art store, providing things that nobody else was selling at the time, and largely to this day.  Lots of people "In The Scene" don't seem to really care about the unique things I have to offer in terms of graffiti paraphernalia, and a lot of things that would be staples in any other graffiti shop I don't even bother to carry anymore because there's no market for them here.

Also it should be mentioned that the ranks of those In The Scene seem to have thinned considerably.

I would love to just say fuck it and believe it or not I have said that, to myself, from time to time.  I have tried to move to other art supplies to provide other markets to other customers with a different set of needs and motivations and idiosyncrasies, but the unfortunate reality is that the majority of my sales are still spray paint.  Hundreds and hundreds of cans of spray paint.

I have made little secret of the fact that I'm getting tired of running a graffiti shop.  Be careful what you ask for... a bunch of my (ex?) customers are flocking to a store that sells Chinese watches and perfume because the owner has decided to sell spray paint and doesn't appear to be interested in making any money at it.  Mostly what my disgruntled ex-customers want is cheap paint, so an idiot who is willing to sell paint basically at cost is a dream come true for them.  One of my formerly best customers is planning to open a store as well, which would probably be much more serious competition for me because he is steeped in Graffiti Love in a way that I never have been.  For me graffiti is just one medium amongst many.  A very cool one, to be sure, but I've never been one to dedicate myself wholly to one way of making art.

Anyhow if the store closes that's the end of that.  And I'm fucked in more ways than one.  It would probably be the beginning of the end of my time in Brazil, but it's possible those seeds germinated some time ago.  Who are we kidding, this blog is called "What am I Doing Here."

Back in the day I edited my posts carefully, and they were better for it.  But it's midnight, I need to be up a 6, and I'm the kind of guy whose day is essentially shot on six hours sleep.  So I'm gonna click Publish and hope none of my words come back to haunt me.  Thanks for sticking with me, dear reader, and here's hoping I have more and better news in the relatively near future.  Good night.

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...