Thursday, December 9, 2010

Superhero Bonanza

In the interest of writing something absolutely silly, and shocking the world with two posts in two days, I will recount the following.

We went to the supermarket this evening. My son, who is big on his superheros, got dressed for the occasion. This involved putting on not one, but two costumes under his street clothes, grabbed a bag for the clothing (notably lacking in the real superhero stories), and announced his intentions. His mother said no way, his somewhat more indulgent father said let him have his fun.

So Lucas arrived at the supermarket as Lucas, in short order he doffed the street clothes and became Spider Man. After about twenty minutes or so he ducked behind a rack of clothing and became Batman, complete with mask. Ironically, it just occurred to me that I purchased that Batman costume at the same supermarket. Along with about half the other stuff I own.

It was pretty funny. Lucas generally gets a lot of attention when he goes out dressed as a superhero, particularly Batman. But to be honest I don't think anyone in the place batted an eye. Brazilians love kids and tend to be quite tolerant of them.

And now an update on my last post: the video I put on YouTube of the two women fighting has now been viewed 168 times, in about 24 hours. I presume this is because I tagged it with 'Mulher' (woman) and 'Briga' (fight). At this rate it will overtake my second most watched video, which is of my wife playing a berimbau while pregnant, in a little over a month. That video has been online for three and a half years.


I should just take it down. It's foolish and crass. Not that I've ever watched videos of fights on YouTube before- not me. I would never do that.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I Heart My Neighbors

I know, you haven't heard from me in a while. Lots of reasons for that, none of which I will get into just now.

I couldn't resist the opportunity to repeat my oft-expressed love for my charming neighbors. So sweet and polite, considerate and engaging. Here's a couple women engaging in a debate over their relative virtues, right outside my window, just this afternoon:

Isn't that wonderful? I could probably get this played on a daytime TV program here in the city if I wanted- and they'd play it about twenty times in a row while making disapproving commentary about how pathetic it is.

But ya know, I'm not gonna send it in. It is, my dear readers, for your eyes only.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Batizado and Reading

Note to self, and any of you who might be as dunderheaded as Yours Truly: Don't watch The Road, by yourself, if you're already kinda bummed out, even if you've been waiting months to see it. Some are born fools and some seek out a higher realm of foolishness by re-watching parts of the movie and re-reading the end of the book the next day.

And that's all I'm going to say about that. Instead, and in an effort to cheer myself up, I'm going to do a Proud Papa Post.

First up, and I should have posted this a while ago, Lucas had his Capoeira Batizado two weeks ago. Even though I no longer train Capoeira, I still think it's great that it is taught in so many of the schools here, and even though I wish Lucas trained the other style (like I did) I'm very pleased that he had his Batizado and enjoyed it so much.

For those of you not in the know, Batizado means baptism and everyone who trains the Regional style long enough participates in one, and receives their first colored cord, and often a nickname. Lucas' mestre had already given him and his other classmates nicknames, so that wasn't part of the deal for his group. Actually, I think the nickname bit is more formalized in the exterior rather than here in Brazil, or at least here in Bahia, where nicknames are an integral part of life. But I don't really know. My own first Capoeira teacher started us in Regional but he switched to the other style, Angola, before we had our Batizado, so I never took part in one myself.

Woah! Enough with the italics already.

As for the event itself, it was a bunch of proud parents in an auditorium watching kids be cute up on the stage and feeling bad for the ones that got scared and started crying. Well, I did anyways. Luckily only a couple kids freaked out. Myself, I hated getting on stage in front of people as a kid and I still remember when I was in kindergarten we put on a school play and at the last minute I refused to go on. My poor teacher had to cover for me. I think I was supposed to be an ant.

Anyhow, here's his game:

Traditionally the student is supposed to be taken down by the person playing him or her, but they don't do that at Lucas' school.

Bravo Lucas! Congratulations! Now he's after me to get a frame for the certificate that he got with the cord. Soon enough, my son.

In other news, I discovered that Lucas has started reading. Four years of private school finally starting to pay off. Despite all the grumbling I hear from other parents that his school is 'weak' and that 'they aren't learning anything' it appears my faith and patience with their method has not been unwarranted. This all came about because he has been bringing home some 'homework' every week with a simple phrase across the bottom that he is then supposed to draw a picture from. Last week the phrase was 'the caterpillar sees the monkey in the coconut palm.' He always rattles off the phrase, but I wasn't sure if he was actually reading it or just parroting it, and when I tried to pin him down on what the words were he would get confused and not recite them properly. This made me discouraged so I went and talked to the teacher. She responded by pulling out a big stack of flash cards, each with a simple word on it, and then tossing them out for Lucas to read. Lo and behold he knew a bunch of those words. Not all of them, but a lot. I was thrilled. Beside myself.

I couldn't help remembering my own experience with flash cards, which were an integral part of my learning Portuguese. Back in New York City, about ten years ago now, I realized that a big part of learning the language was just going to be rote memorization and what better way to do so than by making lots and lots of flash cards that I could then study on the subway. So I did. I made hundreds of the things, which I'd carry around in little packets and flip through whenever I got a chance. English on one side, Portuguese on the other, and I would go over and over them until the word sprung instantly into my brain in both languages. It worked pretty well.

When Lucas came home that night I told him how happy I was about his reading, and the next thing I know we are making a game of it, writing up our own cards and having his action figures read them out to one another, kinda like a game show. In the process of doing this I discovered that he can indeed sound out words (for the most part), so my approach must have been unfamiliar and confusing to him.

This weekend I decided to experiment with taking it to the next level, combining his experience with my own. I took some of the cards we made and wrote the English equivalents on the back to see how he'd handle it. So far, so good. I don't want to push him too hard, and I don't want to get him confused, but if it seems to be working I'm gonna go for it. I'm really not clear on how much I should be stressing the fact that an h or an r in English sounds nothing like it does in Portuguese, but since he seems to have the two spoken languages so clearly separated in his brain I figure it couldn't hurt to try it out with the written versions. Let's hope he continues to enjoy our word game show.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


I went to put out the trash just now, 10:30 on a Saturday night, and as I go to drop a bundle of cardboard on the sidewalk I hear "No no no no!" I turn around and this guy, socializing with the neighbors, reaches for the bundle, saying "What, you're just going to throw it away?"

I give him the cardboard, thinking, but not pointing out to him, that I have neatly separated my trash into a) a bag of plastic bottles, b) a bag of food scraps and other non-recyclables, and c) the aforementioned bundle of cardboard. You'd think we have curb-side recycling here in Salvador, but we do not.

The reason I do this is because we do have recycling here, even though it is essentially unsupported by the city government. It is market driven. Cardboard, plastic bottles, and especially aluminum are collected by 'entrepreneurs' because they can be resold. These entrepreneurs tend to be folks who don't have other work, including a lot of homeless folks, although lots of people will casually collect empty cans to make a few extra reis.

There's a reason why I separate my trash, and also a reason why I put it out at this hour, when I think the dump truck is likely to pass by. Actually there's two reasons. One is to be a nice guy, and help out the people who might want the stuff. The other reason is so that my trash bag doesn't get ripped open by people after the recyclables inside. I've put out bags of trash and had four or more people go through them over the course of a few hours; I've also had the remaining trash strewn across the sidewalk and street in front of my house. Putting out trash cans is out of the question- they'd vanish in an instant.

There's something that appeals to me about the organic nature of the recycling here, things are recycled because they really have value, not just because it's 'the right thing to do,' although I agree with that sentiment. Personally, I think that trash is going to have a lot more real value in the years to come, even in wealthy countries where people are known to throw out working TVs and such. I think that will be a good thing too.

I titled this post 'trash' but I really should have called it 'recycling.' I could write a lot about trash in this city, this dirty, stinky, trash-filled, rodent-infested city, but I won't. Except to say that I think the trash problem has gotten worse in recent years. Brazilians I know tell me it's the fault of the current city government- I woldn't know about that. I've also heard it will probably get cleaned up before the 2014 FIFA World Cup. I'm getting a feeling about this World Cup thing. I think it may be a convergence, a wave of good things that will crest here in Salvador and other host cities in Brazil. It may be the perfect wave to catch, and use the resulting momentum to fling me the hell out of here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Getting Famous

Yeah Right.

I had been told that a painting of mine had gotten into a TV commercial, but I hadn't seen it until just now, as it's on YouTube as well:

My little red monster can be glimpsed at 4 seconds in and again at 50 seconds, you can even read the 'Kuza' under it if you are really paying attention, or if you put it on pause.

Also in the video is work by my friend Limpo who now lives in Sweden (I found the link on his Facebook page) and many many beautiful women. And lots of other typically Bahian stuff.


PS Here's a photo of it right after I drew it, with Lucas' contribution as well, which I discovered also appears in the video, if you really pay attention and pause the the thing:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Bombs and Free Canvases

I had fun today.

Today was Brazilian election day, and I went out scavenging with a couple friends of mine. They are a Chilean couple who, unfortunately, are planning to leave Salvador in a couple months. Since none of us was obliged to vote (like that would have stopped us) we went out with my car and grabbed a whole bunch of these big political advertisements that have been lining all the boulevards- wooden framed portraits of cheats and hypocrites, grinning all the way to the bank, with big names and numbers so you'll be sure to vote for the right one. The ones we took home range in size from about 3 square feet to 3 by 6 feet, with one huge one that must be nine feet long. We strapped them on the car and carted them back to our house, where they are now clogging the hallway and causing my wife distress.

I plan to paint these monsters with spray paint. I've always been ambivalent about the use of spray paint on canvas, but these seem like the perfect thing to paint on- probably because they were free and will be re-purposed, which I like. Plus they're big, which is how I figure spray paint should be used.

The other thing we did was paint a bunch of 'bombs,' better known as 'throw-ups' in the English speaking world - big, quick pieces on top of the political ads that are painted or pasted on almost all the free wall space in the city. Now that the election is over, it's going to be a free-for-all to grab all the best spots and repaint the city with graffiti. That was also fun- it's always a rush to paint your name in huge letters for thousands to see- but my pleasure has been tempered by the fact that there is to be a runoff election, which means that in all probability the bombs we painted will all get covered up again. Which sucks. Spray paint is expensive.

I plan to take some pictures tomorrow, I will post them here after I do.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Jerry Pfohl, my Dad

Several weeks ago, at about midnight on a Saturday, I got a phone call, and Monday morning at 6 AM I was at the airport. That same evening I was in the United States, and the next day I was in a state of the art medical facility in the middle of the woods in New Hampshire. It was one of the most bizarre transitions of my entire life.

I went because my father had a heart attack, and sadly he died some days later. As I write this, a memorial service in his honor is being held on the property that was so dear to him, and to all of us in his family, the first home I ever knew, and the only place that has been constant for me over these forty one years. Standing in the field where they landed the helicopter to airlift him to the hospital, I had the strange realization that the last time he left his beloved property it was by air.

I've tried writing some things about this whole experience and it hasn't gone very well. I'm back in Brazil and wishing I was at the memorial. Something has changed and I'm not used to it yet. I think I probably won't write about this whole thing, beyond these few words, at least not here. One thing I keep coming back to is that this has always been, and continues to be, the hardest thing about living so far away from my family and friends; the fear, which is now the reality that something could and will happen. I am grateful I live in an age where I can get on a plane and be home the following day. I am more grateful that I have the means to do so.

Anyhow enough about me and just a few words about my Dad. He was a dear man and a great artist, he made many friends and few enemies. Even though we never spoke enough on the phone I never doubted that he loved me very much, and he knew I loved him too. He lived to 81 and he went out the way he wanted to- still physically strong and mentally sharp. No walker, no nursing home. He spent the last thirty years of his life with the woman who could only be described as his soul mate, and I don't use that term lightly.

I wrote a post about my dad on this blog a while back, really more about his artwork than him. The last thing I did before I left that weird hospital in the woods the day my father died was to finally register, and last night I launched his website, albeit with some rough edges. My family tells me it looks great, but really all I did was assemble a bunch of slideshows and put them online, it looks great because my dad was a great artist. Have a look and you'll have much more of an appreciation of who he was and what he did than I could possibly express in words.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dentists and Demolition

I went to the dentist today- which is only news because I haven't been in almost twenty years. The infamous Pfohl enamel came through for the most part- the dentist remarked that I have surprisingly little tartar as she dove in with a drill (and no Novocaine) to prepare a filling. No yankings, no admonishments, no shrieks of agony, only a brief fifteen minutes in the chair and another appointment for more drillings and cleanings. All covered by my health plan, and I didn't even know!

In other news they are blowing up the Fonte Nova on Sunday; our big, condemned stadium. It made international news (my mom clipped an article from her local paper about it) when one of the rows gave way and a number of people plunged to their deaths. Thousands of people are to be evacuated from their also possibly-condemnable homes on Sunday just in case of collateral seismic damage, then kaboom, and then they start on the new stadium they have planned for the 2014 World Cup. I'm starting to wonder if Salvador will really get a face-lift after all. Here's hoping!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Handy Andy Strikes Again

My last couple posts have left a bitter taste in my mouth, so I thought I'd do a silly little Mr. Fix-It post to act as an after-dinner mint.

My mom used to call me Handy Andy, because I used to like to fix things as a kid, and... my middle name is Andrew. Still like to fix things, yes I do!

I suppose this could be another grumpy post except I'm not grumpy about what happened anymore, which was that the dump truck trashed the side mirror on my car. The poor car, and particularly that side of it, has had bad luck with dump trucks. I rubbed up against one in traffic one time and the whole door got caved in by the tire on the truck, and then for a long time the mirror just sort of hung off the right side of the car. I finally came up with a decent fix some months ago, and it hasn't given me any problems until now. The problem with my fix is that the mirror no longer popped out of place like a dislocated shoulder on contact with another object, like, say, a dump truck. It was wired and glued into place, so when the truck smacked into it, the entire housing was shattered.

Luckily for me, the mirror didn't get broken. I had a look and decided that I would kludge a fix and be done with it. I scouted for materials and found the perfect thing: an empty bottle of fabric softener.

The rest of this story is best told in images:

I love my new workshop.

Looking good!

Ready for paint.

Good thing I have plenty of spray paint on hand!

And it's attached! Pretty convincing from this angle- at least at a distance.

Less so on this side. My wife saw these pictures and sighed, commenting 'what poverty.' Oh well! I think it's fun. I keep thinking of this thing I saw on TV one time when I was a kid, when some doctors gave this guy a 'Thoe' - making him a new thumb out of one of his big toes. On the upside, this should help to convince my neighbors that I'm not rolling in cash.

Hope you enjoyed that!

Friday, August 20, 2010


Man did I make a mistake.

I received a question, via my graffiti supply site, about spray paint caps. For those of you who aren't involved in this particular subculture, there are several dozens of different types of spray caps- all with different properties and that work better or worse on different brands of paint. One thing most of them have in common is a little stylized triangular logo stamped into the top, and someone asked me who the manufacturer is with this logo. This is something I've sometimes wondered about, but not very seriously- I am much less concerned about who makes caps rather than whether I have them and what they actually do. But, trying to be helpful and ending up being naive, I tried to find out. Google couldn't help, at least not in the time I allotted for the project, and since it wasn't worth spending hours trying to figure it out, I went to the 'experts' at an online forum associated with a graffiti goods supplier that I am quite fond of called Art Primo. The result of my exchange on the forum has left me less fond of the company, although it's not really their fault.

In the process of building my graffiti site I have been extremely relieved and grateful by the level of support that people are willing to provide for a product such as an open-source shopping cart like the one I use as the foundation of the site. The selfless assistance of total strangers has helped me fix busted parts of the site and the like, it's been great.

I built this same graffiti site using an open-source shopping cart called Open Cart, which is a wonderful thing. I love open source. Not only can you get software for free (let it be known that I do make donations for the open source software that I use) but on an active project there is a whole community building add-ons, writing translations, and generally helping out people who get stuck trying to get things to work properly. I have participated in a couple forums related to this cart, one in English and the other in Portuguese, and have received all kinds of friendly assistance from total strangers, and as a result my site works. I am extremely grateful.

Turns out that same selflessness does not extend to the world of graffiti paraphernalia. I made the grave mistake of not only asking the question posed by my potential customer, but actually starting a new thread on the subject when I couldn't find the answer (easily) by searching the forum. I got flamed. Ridiculed. Humiliated! Well, not that badly- they didn't make any personal attacks on my family or my receding hairline. But I have been informed that I am a lazy slob and my laziness in not pursuing the answer on my own is unacceptable- apparently I don't deserve an answer. You can read the thread here if you are curious.

Now maybe I really am stupid and lazy but I was under the impression that the internet was initially created to facilitate the exchange of information. Of course, it didn't take long for cynics to invade the works and realize it was the ideal platform for insulting and belittling total strangers. What the hell? One of the moderators of the forum writes that he's 'kinda tired of watching kids coming to the internet for answers from other people' - dude, that's what the internet is for. And when I pointed out that at 41 I'm not exactly a kid anymore, that statement for some reason 'sickens' the same moderator. Sickens! Moderator, you have a weak stomach. And correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought the role of a moderator was to keep the discussion civil. Silly, old-fashioned me.

This is absurd. I never did get the answer I was after, and I'm not willing to waste any more time on trying to figure it out. As I mentioned previously, it's just not that important to me. But a bunch of inane fools that I don't even know have annoyed me so thoroughly that I have now wasted even more time writing this post. I wrote back to my potential customer and informed her that I couldn't get an answer; for my trouble, I only got insults.

I suppose that if I continue selling graffiti goods for ten years I may look back on this post and sagely shake my head at my naivete for not knowing the name of the manufacturer of spray paint caps, as the name rolls effortlessly off my tongue. I find this scenario unlikely. And I must say I'm a bit surprised to discover this guild-like quality of the inner graffiti circle, where information is selfishly guarded so as not to be exploited by others. Or maybe it's just that none of these fools actually knows the answer. Experts my ass! Inane dolts is more like it. I'm glad they aren't running the Open Cart forums.

I'm the kind of guy that when treated poorly by a business establishment, I cease to be a customer. Forever. So now I have to decide whether this stupid forum is going to end my business relationship with Art Primo, a company that has been nothing but helpful and friendly in my relations with them. I cannot believe that if I called them up and asked the same question I posted on the forum, that they would tell me that they are 'kinda tired' of people calling up and asking about stuff, and that I should 'stop being lazy' and figure it out for myself. If they did tell me that, I'd hang up the phone and never buy jack shit from them again. I'm actually tempted to call them up and do just that, and then ask them just how closely the forums are related to the online store- I suspect not very closely at all. I doubt that any of these boneheaded moderators are employed by Art Primo, but if they are...

In all likelihood I won't make that phone call, unless they start insulting my family or my receding hairline. I really don't want to seem like a whiny thin-skinned loser who can't take having virtual rotten eggs thrown at him. As I now know: 'the sooner you realize you are more likely to receive bullsh*t answers on a toilet seat before anything helpful, the better off you'll be.' Thanks, I'll bear that in mind. I may ultimately prove to be too whiny and thin-skinned to participate in the global graffiti community, but I've survived nearly ten years in Salvador, which is no mean feat.

When the snide comments started, I jumped ship. It's tempting to continue to respond to these fools, but it would only get worse and uglier so I'm not going to do that. My second, distinctly annoyed post already fanned the flames. One of these charming participants told me to 'tell my friends' about my experience, so that's what I'm doing, friends. I found a wonderfully appropriate quote in Moby Dick last night (which I'm still reading, only 10% to go!!) where Ahab states "The greater idiot ever scolds the lesser." I think this would be a marvelous coda for the thread, if I could only be sure it was in fact the coda. In reality it would only unleash a fresh stream of juvenile invective, so I've posted it here instead.

I wish I'd never asked the question in the first place.

And that I'd ignored the email from the curious potential customer.

Probably the most astute post on the thread is this one: 'I guess lecturing a first-time poster about being lazy is easier that naming a f*cking company.' Thanks man, I appreciate that. Honestly. I may not have gotten my answer, but I did learn something, even if it wasn't what those dudes were trying to teach me.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Stepson Does Not Use Brain - Deliberately

What do you do when you discover that your 13 year old stepson has missed 59 classes in the last month, effectively blowing off an entire month of school?

I must confess that my first reaction was to do a Homer Simpson, and throttle the fool child, except we aren't neanderthals around here and plus, he's taller than me, and his arms are longer than mine, and he could just as easily throttle me right back. And I suspect he wouldn't mind doing so. I'm not a fan of corporal punishment, although it appears to be quite popular here in Bahia- for adults as well as children. Along with all the obvious good reasons not to physically abuse a child, I think it is a lazy and ineffective way to discipline. It's much easier to smack a kid because they did something wrong and then forget about it rather than actually deal with the issue and try to teach the kid not to do that same thing again.

So I did all the things I normally do: cut off the TV watching and the computer using. I locked the PlayStation in a filing cabinet. The TV bit is particularly effective because my stepson has a serious TV dependency, he really doesn't know what to do with himself when he can't watch TV. Actually, one of the things he does is read- which makes me want to discipline him more. I'm working on a plan that will couple his computer use, once he gets it back, to reading books, something he's never done. Up until now he's only read comic books. The other thing he does is play with Lucas- loud, rowdy games that often end with Lucas in tears. Again, he really only plays with Lucas anymore when he's not allowed to watch TV.

In addition to these steps, I cut his allowance and his weekly film rental and pretty much everything else. I don't think he really realizes it yet, but he has put a severe and permanent bruise on our relationship- I'm not the kind of guy who forgets this kind of thing. Ever. I don't understand what he possibly could have been thinking: apart from the fact that he was getting away with exponentially increasing truancy at the school, did he really think he'd be able to get away with it forever? Did he think we wouldn't notice if he didn't pass fifth grade, if he didn't bring home a single report card? And once we did find out, what did he think was going to happen to him? And why the fuck didn't he care??

The other thing he doesn't realize yet is that he has permanently changed his daily routine here at our house. Evani stopped trusting him a long time ago, and I have been his lone defender in many things for quite some time, but now that is over. I'm fucking furious. This latest phenomenal deception is but the most extreme in a long series of deceptions, and I've had it. He will not flunk fifth grade because he opted not to try, because he opted not to go, because he decided, as he told a guard at the school that school 'was not for him.' He's thirteen years old, he's going to school. Period. And he's not getting any more slack here at home. If he only chooses to read when I don't let him watch TV, then he will be allowed to watch very little TV, and he will learn something in spite of himself. And I already told him that if he misses one more class, he watches no TV. And if he flunks fifth grade, like he flunked (spectacularly) third grade, then the shit will really hit the fan.

He's not a dumb kid, so that's not the problem. And I've had the professional assessment that he has no learning disabilities, although I'm still skeptical. Something is wrong. Something is very wrong. Then again, his cousin is repeating fifth grade for the fourth time, and he seems to think that's okay. I obviously do not.

There's a couple other pieces in this very messed up puzzle. One is the school, and one is us. We were told when we finally showed up at the school last week to see how he was doing that they almost called in the Juiz de Menores, which is like children's social services here in Brazil, but since he had attended some classes, they didn't do so. Well, why didn't they pick up the fucking phone and give us a call? That would have put an end to the systematic lies and deceptions we'd been getting from Ruan. I've written before about how completely dysfunctional the public schools are here, so that's probably the only explanation I need or will get. I would have preferred it if they had called social services.

And the other piece was us. It should not have taken us so long to figure this out. The school is only two blocks away- we transferred him just so we could keep a closer eye on him, which we clearly did not. Trying to educate Ruan has been such an incredibly difficult and exasperating task- he resists all efforts to the utmost of his abilities- that I've completely given up, and so has my wife. I resent having to do anything related to his school- I already have to deal with everything relating to Lucas' school, and, let's face it- Ruan is not my kid. I'd like to see his mother showing a little more interest in his education. Then again, finishing school was never a big priority in her family, it wasn't practical. I'm not sure why it's a priority for me- the quality of a public school education for a kid who is completely unmotivated to learn is pretty much zip. At least he knows how to read- he has numerous relatives who cannot. And I really can't shovel too much blame on my wife- she has been suspicious that Ruan was not attending school for some time. I have been completely oblivious.

So now Ruan's life will change, and ours along with it. Maybe it will be a good thing. Maybe it won't. One thing's for sure- he's not missing any more school.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lights Out Again

(Note: I wrote this last night, but am publishing it today. I couldn't publish it for obvious reasons.)

I'm sitting here in the dark - again.

The power is out, but I can't tell you just how relieved I was when I went to the window and discovered that, this time, it's not just us. It's the whole freakin' street.

Luckily my laptop had a full charge- that's keeping me occupied, and the iPod was likewise prepared for disaster- that's keeping Lucas occupied and out of my hair. Kid won't sleep, that's for sure. Problem is I have a client who at this moment is wondering why the hell I didn't make our 10PM call. Well, I have an excellent excuse. Gotta say I'm feeling a bit nostalgic for a dial-up connection... at least that way I could send him an email. Oh well.

Some of you may have read my previous post about my frustrations with the electric company, frustrations that were ongoing for a couple weeks as our electricity fluttered and failed at unpredictable moments... The voltage regulators snapping angrily when the washing machine and/or iron and/or microwave were running. We put that all behind us a few days ago, or at least I thought we did until tonight. Hence my immense relief to discover that we are not the only dark house on the street.

One thing I didn't describe on this blog was the heated argument I had with the repair crew that finally showed up after one of my calls. At the time they arrived here, the electricity was normal, and despite my insistence that the problem came and went like the wind and the rain, the sun and the moon and the tides they said that if the voltage was normal there was nothing I could do. I decided, against my better judgement, to argue that they were taking the word of a stupid little machine over the word of a customer who knew very well that he had a problem, a capricious problem that wouldn't wait 3 hours for a repair crew to show up to prove that it existed.

So I decided to call the electric company every time the lights got funky- what other choice did I have? As it turned out, I got very lucky after only a couple calls- a very excellent repairman and one of a disappearing breed of 'good people' on the planet showed up here and although he couldn't help me, he didn't tick me off and better yet- he gave me his phone number. The next time the lights went out I called him, and even though he was off duty, he hopped on his motorcycle and came right over. Unfortunately, the lights were back on again when he arrived, and although he fixed a couple possible causes the problem continued.

A couple days ago- was it Thursday? the lights blinked out once more. By this time I had convinced myself that the problem was the wiring in my house, and therefore not the responsibility of the electric company (I even suspected ants at one point) so I went looking for another electrician who lives across the street. Turns out he was in the hospital with dengue fever. So once again I called Dênis, the Good Guy. He was at home, but he hopped on his bike and rode over.

This time, the lights were still out when he arrived. This was good! And better yet? The problem was on the power pole out in front of the house, and not in our internal wiring! Only problem? Dude was on his motorcycle, and my extension ladder is shortish, and aluminum. The nearest repair truck would take hours to arrive. Dênis said he'd give the ladder a try, so I went to get it. You're going to hold it for him, right? asked Evani, to which I stated in no uncertain terms that no fucking way was I holding an aluminum ladder for an electrician as he worked on our electric lines. I was more polite than that.

Dênis climbed to the top of the ladder but was still almost ten feet below where he needed to get to. Amazingly, he didn't stop- he just kept climbing- putting his feet on those old-school bulbous ceramic insulators and all the rest until he got to where the real electricity happens, at the very top of the pole. He started grabbing wires and stripping them and sparks were flying and I was praying that he didn't light up like a christmas tree up there; one of the good guys turned crisped electrician. I'm not kidding about the sparks. There were lots of sparks. They scared me. But he knew what he was doing and he fixed it and he came down safe and I put my ladder away and thanked my lucky stars, and his, too. I also thanked him, profusely, and tried to press money into his hand which he refused with vehemence.

And we've had no problems with our electricity since.

Until now.

But now my relief has dissipated, much as the charge of my laptop battery dwindles, my patience begins to wear once more, although I must say the relative quiet brought on by a lack of electricity is quite marvelous.

Here's hoping they fix the lights soon.

Monday, July 26, 2010

All of a sudden...

Not five minutes ago I was sitting here with Lucas watching a video on YouTube produced by a friend of mine here in Salvador, when all of a sudden, Lucas appeared in the video! A very pleasant and unexpected surprise.

If you've got nine minutes to kill, this video 'paints a nice picture' of the graffiti scene here in Salvador, and includes the filmmaker's arrest for painting on the street- a rare occurrence but great for street cred. If you want to jump to where Lucas makes his appearance, go to 7:16. Oh yeah, and I make a super brief appearance as well- you might recognize me if you know what the back of my head looks like. Both Lucas and I made the credits too!

Thanks to Eder Muniz and his crew Calangos de Rua for producing the video- um abraço!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My Event

I'm tired... but I wanted to write this real quick.

Today I not only attended a graffiti event, but I actually put one on for the first time. That basically meant buying a five gallon can of latex paint and making a big pot of feijoada for the graffiteiros, but it was good fun. And a lot of work. That's why I'm tired.

I ended up doing the event because this guy Does, who is a very well known graffiti artist from São Paulo is doing a tour of Northeastern Brazil promoting a line of Brazilian spray paint called WORX. Well, it just so happens that I am now the 'official' reseller of WORX in Salvador, so it kinda fell to me to make an event happen, or not. I decided to do so, basically at the last minute.

The trickiest thing about putting on this event was trying to find a wall to paint, preferably one that wouldn't get rained on. Problem is that it is now full-on election season here, which means most or all walls are fair game for big, ugly political campaign paintings. In some ways, it's a good thing, because it means all the old graffiti gets painted over and then once the election is done with we can go and paint everything all over again. However, it's daunting in that if you want to paint something you run the risk of it getting trashed the next day by an over-zealous sign painter.

I tried to find a good wall here in the center of the city, and had a couple good options, but they fell through. So essentially I handed off the task to another more experienced graffiterio and he worked out the spot. Not a highly visible location, it is in a bairro popular which means it will get seen by the folks that live there and probably not by much of anyone else. That's cool, generally people love it here when you go into their neighborhood and start making a big production of painting a wall with hundreds of dollars of spray paint. One woman in her fifties actually asked us if we weren't going to paint the remainder of the wall (it was a really big wall, the side of a garage for buses) because the 'pretty part' ended before it got to her house.

In case you're wondering, I didn't provide the hundreds of dollars in spray paint. Everyone brought their own paint. We had marvelous luck with the weather, a single cloud spat a few drops of rain on us at one point and I was glad I remembered my sunscreen. As for my painting, it was probably the most ambitious one I've done to date, and I was pretty happy with it, which is about as good a result as I can expect at this point. I should probably work from sketches more often, or spend more time evaluating what I'm painting. Or both.

Anyhow, that's all I'm gonna say. I'm pleased and I pulled it off. Here's a few pics, you can see more here if you like.

Does - the main attraction.

Bigod- which means 'mustache' - Salvador's finest

Iel - pronounced like the letters 'E' + 'L'

My contribution. The feet are doing a kind of Magritte illusory thingie - completely unintentional on my part.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Another Dad Post

I love my son. I really do. Even when he's driving me to distraction with his constant requests to draw Batman and Robin (which he then informs me that I'm not drawing properly), sharpen pencils, show him how to play games on the computer, etc. He's getting to the age where he's doing really neat as well as cute things- starting to make little projects of his own and do more imaginative stuff as well.

This week he made beds for Max Steel and his archnemesis the Extroyer. In my day the analagous toy would have been G.I. Joe, but he didn't have a mutant enemy with a wolf's head where his right hand should be. When we play together, I am always the Extroyer and he is Max Steel, and they are actually pretty good friends most of the time. Lately they've been planting magic beans, then climbing the beanstalk and hiding from the giant before they steal the hen who lays the golden eggs.

Here's a pic of the little beds Lucas made for the toys and himself. He didn't sleep there, although he has been known to fall asleep on the floor. The picture quality is not great, but hey, it's not fine art.

And now, perhaps against my better judgment, is another super cute item. This would be the following video of Lucas and myself doing Sun Salutations. Please note that the rapidly-approaching-middle-age-guy is not the super cute part. And you gotta love the look on the little guy's face at the end of the clip.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Fourth of July, Shmorth of Fuly

Yesterday was not a good day.

It started off promisingly enough, except for one detail- I woke up with a torcicolo, known in English as a 'stiff neck', an unpleasant and not entirely uncommon occurrence for me. It was supposed to be a good day because for one thing, the rain that has fallen continuously and in great abundance over the last week had finally stopped, or at least slacked off, and for another my wife and son were out of the house.

This is a terrible thing to say but I absolutely cherish the days that the family splits and leaves me at the house. I love it because like pretty much everyone in my family I am essentially a loner and have long lists of projects that I want to accomplish, that I can only get to when I don't have a five year old boy dogging my heels all of his waking hours. Currently the most important of my lists is the work related one, which has been getting longer as I have found it nearly impossible to get any work done at home, which unfortunately is now my only option. No bringing the laptop to Starbucks here in Brazil!

I had another item on my agenda for this weekend: shift my sleeping schedule by about three hours to the left. My response to the dilemma of the five year old (who I adore and would much rather spend time with than do something tedious like earn money) has been to do the bulk of my work after he goes to bed. Since he has no bedtime, and goes to school in the afternoon, this has meant that he goes to sleep later and later until now he is usually awake past midnight. This has meant that I have been up until four and five in the morning working, which was fine when I was single and lived in New York, but it's not cutting it anymore so I have to make a change.

In spite of my nearly immobilized neck, my morning and early afternoon went well and I took advantage of the lack of rain to take a bunch of pictures for my website. I was busy running around, taking care of business, when at three o'clock disaster struck.

I didn't realize disaster had struck at first. What happened was the power went out. This happens with relative frequency, about as often as I get the torcicolos (maybe every six months?) Usually it's off for a couple hours and then it comes back on and no big deal. I figured that was what had happened so I didn't worry too much about it; my laptop was fully charged, so I continued with what I was working on and waited for the power to come back on.

When it started to get dark at around six o'clock and the lights still hadn't come on I decided I'd better figure out what was going on. I went out (something I almost never do on the days I have to myself) and much to my dismay I discovered that I was the only one on the street without power. Which meant the electric company had not been notified. Which meant I'd been waiting three hours in vain, and now my laptop battery was dead, and it was dark, and I was screwed.

I called the electric company and was subjected to what was possibly the most obnoxious loop of promotional garbage I have ever listened to while I was on hold. This went on for about fifteen minutes, at which time my call was attended- sort of. I heard a woman talking to a coworker in the background before the line went dead. Well, at least I wasn't on hold anymore. Only problem? I'd been dropped from the queue and had to call back and do it all over again.

When I finally spoke to a representative, I was informed that a team would arrive to fix my lights within three hours. Hmm- nine o'clock. I can handle that. The question now becomes whether I will continue with my plan to go to bed earlier, or catch up on my work and work late into the night as has been my habit- the habit I'm trying to change. As it turns out it wasn't an issue.

Nine o'clock rolled around and still no lights. I called back, this time armed with my iPod to counteract the obnoxious loop of PR as I waited on hold. Thank goodness I'd charged the iPod the day before, it ended up being one of the only bright spots in an otherwise miserable day. This time I was informed that the repair crew was on its way- hooray! So much for the three hour time limit, but at least I'd be rescued soon.

I should mention that I already knew what the problem was. When the lights went out, they flickered a few times as they tried to come back on, and when I went to check the circuit breaker that lives in the metal box on the front of the house along with the meter, I got a shock. This happened to us once before when there was a bad connection: wire comes loose, no ground, human becomes ground, shock. This meant that in all probability it was simply a problem between my house and the pole out front.

By ten o'clock nobody had shown up. On a Sunday in Salvador, unless it is raining very very heavily, there is no point in the city that cannot be reached in an hour of driving from any other, so I called back. This time the news was worse. The team was no longer on its way and they had no idea when it might arrive. No more three hour time limit. No other information, other than that the teams 'work 24 hours a day' and they were aware of the problem and have a nice night with your candles in the dark.

I did the typical futile charade of pitching a fit on the phone. I pay a lot of money for my electricity, unlike a large percentage of this city who steal it. I didn't believe I was going to be helped any longer. 24 hour service? Bullshit. Only if I was rich or connected. These guys were in all probability having a beer somewhere and blowing me off, and the electric company couldn't inform me of this for obvious reasons.

Resigned to the fact that I would get nothing done work-wise I resorted to an improvised backup plan which was to go through some piles of papers that have been propagating in the house in a valiant effort to reduce or eliminate them. I've been working on a site for a guy who goes by the moniker VirgoMan, a professional organizer who has even written a book on the subject. I've picked up some tidbits of his method working on the site and I decided to apply them. I'm not totally disorganized but I do have some packrat-like tendencies which from time to time I beat back much to my wife's pleasant surprise. I sorted through old receipts by candlelight, and then I attacked the huge stack of Lucas' school artwork.

Lucas comes home every Friday with a stapled booklet of his work for the week. I have never been able to throw these booklets away. Our fridge is non-magnetic on the front, so unfortunately I can't post them there. His artwork has been getting more interesting in the last year or so and has even been featured on this blog. However, the stuff from when he was two is, let's face it, just scribbles. And little squares of colored foam glued to paper. There is no reason for me to save these, at least not more than a tiny sample of them. They mean no more to me now than they will in ten or twenty years so why hold on to them? I still have watercolor paintings from my own year in Kindergarten when I attended a Waldorf school, a book of mysterious colored stains on paper. I should throw those away too.

I ended up going to bed earlier than I would have with the lights on, but still later than I'd intended to. I was just drifting off to sleep when at 2:30 AM I heard the distinctive sound of the microwave beep downstairs, so I sat up and the standby lights were on on both the TV and DVD player. It was raining again. I went to the window to see if there were guys with ladders and tools hard at work in front of my house but of course there weren't. The rain or the wind had closed the connection once again.

As I write this, I have just received a call from the repair man, a full seventeen hours after I made my initial complaint. He asked if the problem had resolved itself, and I admitted it had (fool that I am), but also that I was convinced it would come back and I told him why. I told him that the lights had gone out for just a second this morning- which was actually true. He claims he's on his way.


(time passes)


Now it's almost one in the morning and the lights are still on, although they did threaten to fail a couple times... good thing I'm not waiting for the repair dude because he never showed up. Here's a picture I took of the wires where they enter my house. Can anyone say 'up to code?' Can someone else please say 'a disaster waiting to happen?'

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I Like To Ride My Bicycle

Tomorrow is my birthday, and this week I bought myself a present- a new bicycle. Well, a new/used bicycle. This is the sixth bicycle I have owned, although it would have been bike number seven if my brother Ben had let me buy his old one. More about him in a minute. Today is also the big mid-winter holiday here in the northeast known as São João, but I won't be writing about that today.

But first an apology. Judging from a comment left by my brother Ben (more about him later) it appears that I suddenly have the attention of the better part of my family on these pages. I had a feeling this might happen when my nephew Brian wrote a comment in response to my bitter and whiny post about no one in the family reading my blog. Now I'm feeling sheepish. I suppose I got what I wanted, which is for them to revel in the pure genius that is this glorious blog, but I didn't want it to happen this way. I didn't want them to be guilted into reading it. I also regret being such a passive aggressive fool that would write a stupid post like that. My apologies family!!

Another item to add to the sheepishness was discovering that a different brother of mine has a blog that I wasn't reading! In my own meager defense, I did know about this blog, but as it was getting almost no updates I had figured it was not an active concern and eventually forgot about it. Then the brother in question mentioned it on the phone and I, guilted like the aforementioned family, hurried over to catch up and subscribe to the RSS feed. That's the great thing about RSS feeds and news readers - you never miss another update, even if you can't remember all the things you want to be updated on. Sign up all ye uninitiated!

Anyhow, the bicycle. In spite of my somewhat desperate financial situation (which is actually showing some glimmers of improvement) I decided to get myself a present this year for my birthday. I buy almost nothing for myself, although I have a rather lengthy wish list. Having the Mil Muros site has been good as it has allowed me to get my retail therapy fix vicariously. In fact, tomorrow I'm scheduled to receive almost the entire line of Worx paint, which is the best that Brazil has to offer in terms of domestic spray paint for graffiteiros. On my birthday no less! Very exciting. Hundreds of cans of paint, and I won't be able to use any of them. At least I can fondle and gaze at them, and arrange them on shelves and take pictures of them.

Having decided to get myself something nice, I was wavering between a new bicycle and a new cell phone. Either of these items would have cost me about 300 reis, or $170 US. I really wanted the cell phone because mine doesn't have a camera, and I want to be able to take pictures of graffiti and such that I spot on the street. A built in MP3 player wouldn't hurt either. I count on my cell phone to keep me entertained when I have to stand in line anywhere, and my current one doesn't perform this function adequately. The bike I had my eye on was nothing terribly fancy, but it was new and shiny and had twist-shifters in the grips, something I'd tried just once and really enjoyed. As it turned out, I didn't buy either of these things- I 'settled' for a second-hand bike I spotted in the same shop. I don't regret my decision.

I've been reading Moby Dick lately... and have been for some time. My Kindle tells me I've only read 52% of the book so far. My theory is that if you have better things to do than read, which I do, then read a slow book- an un-page-turner as it were. Not reading anything is not an option for me, I always like to have a book going, but reading something that I can only get through three or four pages at a time before my eyelids droop is at times a good thing. Moby Dick has surprised me- I thought it was about a white whale. If you haven't yet noticed Melville's effect on my writing style, you will now, as I diverge from my primary narrative to present a lengthy aside, and as he would have done, it will rate its own chapter.

My Other Bikes

As I mentioned previously, this is bike number five for me, almost bike six. Let's take a look back the others.

Bike Number One was a kiddie bike complete with training wheels. In fact, it was only used by me as a training wheel bike because I never learned to ride it without them, although I came close. My best friend Jesse lost one of the training wheels when he went on an unexpectedly fast ride down a steep hill in front of our house- it had no brakes, you see.

Bike Number Two was the one I learned to ride on when I was about seven or eight. It was second-hand, having belonged to a classmate who moved away. It had that seventies chopper-type styling, with a banana seat and crazy curved handlebars. The spokes were tricked out with bits of drinking straw. My father and the aforementioned brother Ben taught me to ride this bike in my dad's driveway. The bike lived under a piece of plastic along with my brother's, which was also second hand, and had belonged to the sister of my former classmate. Having belonged to a girl, his was a girl's bike (eeeewwww!)

When all my friends got to the fifth or sixth grade, they all got 'ten-speeds' with racing handle bars and derailleurs and such. This was some years before the advent of mountain bikes, which would have been the natural choice of transport for a bunch of hippie kids growing up in the woods. Naturally, I too wanted a similar ride but for some reason my parents bought me a three-speed, which was Bike Number Three.

I don't know why they bought me the three-speed. I figure it must have been cheaper. I don't remember being terribly upset at the time- it at least looked like a ten-speed, even if it wasn't. I don't want to beat up on my parents too much, they were very good parents, but they did develop a strange (but not oft-repeated) habit of getting me these 'transitional' gifts instead of the real thing, and then subsequently buying the genuine article for my younger brother a year or two later. Jason didn't get a three-speed (actually, nobody I knew had a three speed except me), he went straight to the twelve-speed which at the time was the latest thing.

I remember protesting Jason's acquisition of the 'real' bicycle, so in relatively short order I received Bike Number Four, which had the prerequisite derailleur and ten gears. Both of our bikes were made by Fuji, and I distinctly remember that mine wasn't as nice as his was (we never forget these things, do we?) My mom bought his with this rather extravagant friend of hers who chipped in on the purchase price. I had no such luck. At least, at age sixteen or so, I had my proper ten-speed at last. I sold this bike many years later, lightly used, to a friend of mine in Brattleboro, Vermont.

Bike Number Five was also a hand-me-down and my first mountain bike. This bike had belonged to my dad, who loved mountain bikes because they reminded him of the old steel clunkers he grew up with. Indeed, mountain bikes are descended from those solid bicycles of his youth, and he determinedly un-mountain-biked it as much as he could, putting on a nice wide saddle, handle bars that allowed him to ride upright, and (shudder) a kick-stand. He handed this bike off to me when he decided he wanted to go riding with his wife and then bought a pair of matching red bikes for them to ride, better for him to keep up with those 'long legs of hers' (us Pfohls are a stumpy-legged bunch). When I got my hands on the bike, I promptly re-mountain-biked it, putting on some low, wide handlebars, knobby tires, and a teeny tiny granny gear so I could actually ride uphill in the woods on it. I took off the kick-stand and all those enormously weighty and un-cool reflectors. I did take this bike off-road from time to time, but never as much as I had intended to. This bike accompanied me all the way to Alaska and back on the back of my Honda Civic. I still own it, I think, although it has been moldering in the basement of my sister's barn for many years. I hope somebody rides it now and again.

Then there was The Bike that Might Have Been. This one belonged to the oft-mentioned brother Ben, a Specialized Rockhopper that he was selling to help pay for a much nicer full-suspension bike he had just purchased. In spite of my offer to pay his full asking price for this bike, which would have become the crown jewel of my series, he refused to sell it to me. His reasoning was that, as my brother, he wanted to give me a good deal on the thing, but since he needed to sell it to help pay for the new bike, he couldn't give me a deal on it and therefore wouldn't sell it to me. I insisted I was willing to pay his asking price but he likewise insisted he would not not not sell it to me. And that was that. In retrospect this was probably just as well, as I pretty much stopped riding at that point and this would now be the bike that is moldering in my sister's basement today.

I figured my next bike would be something more like the Rockhopper, with a front suspension at the very least, but it was not to be. I was actually leaning more toward the new cell phone, figuring it would get a lot more use than any bicycle when I went back into the shop with Lucas to see if they still had the bike I was interested in. They did, but it didn't look quite so glamorous to me anymore. I looked at some of the other bikes they had, and tried not to look at the really nice ones.

And then I saw it. A kind of maroon color, used, but lightly. Like one of my own old bikes. I'll call it the Batman Bike. Why? Because of the numerous faded stickers it is festooned with that read Batman Forever. Lucas took one look at this bike and insisted I had to buy it. I draw pictures of Batman and have to role-play him cast in plastic miniature on a daily basis. Of course I had to buy the Batman Bike! When the owner of the bike shop told me the price was half that of the other bike, it was as good as sold. I took Lucas for a walk, thought about it, and returned and bought the Batman Bike just before the shop closed.

It's a cheesy beast, this Batman Bike. Clearly targeted for the teenage market, it is a frill-less mountain style bicycle, with lots of plastic parts. No aluminum or alloys anywhere on the frame. It does have 21 speeds, which is more than twice what Bike Number Four had, and seven times that of Bike Number Three. There's no kick-stand on it, and it has brand new knobby tires. The beauty of it is that it is adequate, and, truth be told, adequate is ten times better than exciting.

Why, says you, is adequate better than exciting? Well, I'll tell you. It's not a fancy new toy, which means it doesn't have any fancy new toy baggage. This means that I can ride it and chain it up in public places without worrying about it getting stolen, or worse, scratched. It means I can lend it to my oversized stepson without worrying about it getting stolen, or worse, scratched. Even more importantly and realistically it means I can not ride it and not suffer the guilt and shame of having my expensive toy sitting unused and gathering dust. Clearly this poor bicycle has already suffered that fate- the movie it is themed after came out five years ago and it shows about two months of wear. If I ride it a lot, and wear it out, then I'll be fully justified in buying a fancier model. I'm also really into this urban-camouflage idea that owning something kind of ugly and unappealing is a good idea- it is much less likely that someone else will want to take it away from me. Another bonus? I can start upgrading it immediately. The saddle on the thing is horrid, and it has no luggage rack. I could put a new stem and handlebars on it which would drop me into a lower, more aggressive riding position. Add some bar ends, toe clips, a front suspension, water bottle...

Hold on a second. Slow down there, tough guy. You bought the cheap bike because you are friggin' broke, so don't go souping the thing up and spending a fortune on it. No sense spoiling the satisfaction of getting a good deal by blowing two hundred reis in accessories. I'll settle for the toe clips and the new saddle. And the luggage rack. And I really should get a helmet. And maybe some gloves. And... never mind.

The truth is I find it hard to believe I'll ride it very much. The thought of riding a bicycle on the streets of Salvador is enough to give me heart palpitations, which is why I've gone eight years without one. I mostly bought it so I could ride around with Lucas, who is still on his first bicycle, complete with training wheels. We did just that yesterday, by performing the humiliating ritual of climbing into the car and strapping the bike on top in order to go for a ride on the pretty bike path in Barra. The irony of this is not lost on me, but the reality is that if I'm going out to ride with my son, we are definitely not riding the streets of hell on flimsy two-wheeled contraptions to get to a nice safe place to ride. At least not for a long time. And despite the absurdity of burning fossil fuels to go for a bike ride, we had a great time. Lucas rode his bike longer and farther than I've ever seen him ride previously, and he wanted more when we were done. And wanted to go out again today. This could turn out to be a great thing- there are a number of bike paths in the city. I just hope my car doesn't die or need to be sold so we can get to them. And if it does? Well, at least I'll have a bike to ride around on.

It is impossible for me to imagine a Salvador that is bike-friendly. Curitiba, in the south of Brazil, is supposed to be a great city to ride a bike in, but I don't see it happening here in Salvador. You could never set up bike lanes on the main streets- they would be dominated by motorcycles. The motorcycles are like flies here- they get into everything. Don't stick your arm out your car window or a motorcycle might take it off. I remember growing up in Amherst, Massachusetts and being bewildered by all the asian folks who would ride their bikes on the sidewalks. Why didn't they ride in the street like everyone else? Now I think I know. I think I'll be riding on sidewalks just as much as I possibly can- and I'll keep my eyes peeled for motorcycles.


Mom requested a photo of the bike, here's a couple:

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What I'm Up Against

Sigh... I wonder where all the time goes, and then I remember that I live in Bahia.

Well, that, and then I remember who I am. If I had to pick an animal to describe me, and I had only two choices, and those choices were 'Tortoise' and 'Hare,' I'd have to pick... the... tortoise.

Anyhow. I've noted in the past that my grumble posts, and my Mr. Dad posts, seem to be a lot more popular than my art related posts, and whoa did I get a lot of response about my new website! (Insert dose of lighthearted sarcasm here) . So here you go, a grumble post for the masses.

My stepson Ruan changed schools this year, and today I went to pick up the transfer at his old school. When I requested it, they told me it would be ready in ninety days. That was over four months ago, so last week I called the school and asked if it was ready and I could go pick it up. Well, I was told they couldn't give me that information over the phone, so I had to go down there and find out. Don't ask why they couldn't just mail me the document, I sure didn't. The mail does not seem to garner a lot of confidence here in Brazil.

So I go to the school, and on the way I spot a big new store that sells tools. I'm not calling it a hardware store per se, it looks more like a specialty machinery store. I like stores like that, so I make a mental note of it. I get to the school, and ask about the transfer. My stepson's name is not entered into the computer, because there are no computers in the central office, if indeed anywhere at the school. This same school couldn't even inform me last year that they'd found a teacher so Ruan could start his classes- he missed a week of school that way. Par for the course. A secretary goes through a stack of folders and finds one with Ruan's name on it. Bingo!

Of course, it's not ready. I'm told by the secretary to call and check in a week to see if it's done. I tell her that I'd tried calling the previous week and was informed they couldn't give that kind of information over the phone. She told me no, just call, and they'll let me know.

Ya right. You know I'm going back there next week regardless. It may be the second of many trips to get this thing taken care of.

In an attempt to salvage some value from my fruitless trip, I stop at the store I had spotted on the way there. Now, like a lot of guys, including all the guys in my family, I really like tools and I get kind of silly when I'm in a store full of brand-new shiny ones, especially here in Brazil where it's much harder to get a tool-showroom-fix. The biggest hardware stores here, the vague analogs to the Home Depots and Lowses in the states, sell very little in the way of actual tools, and particularly power tools. Generally they have drills, 'Makitas' (which is what they call tile cutting saws here), sometimes circular saws, sometimes sanders, and that's about it. I've been idly looking around for a router, not because I actually plan to buy one, but just because I want to see if I can find one. I have never seen a drill press or table saw for sale here.

This new store was great. Lots and lots of power tools. Mostly related to masonry, but that makes sense. They had hand tools I hadn't seen anywhere else in Brazil, including squeeze clamps, something I had my mom bring down for me because I couldn't find them here. A whole wall of Makitas- Makita the brand that is, not just the tile cutters, although they had those too- a whole big stack of them. I actually gasped when I spotted a lovely little jigsaw, and I even looked for a price tag- my enthusiasm dimmed when I saw it was for 220 volt current.

No table saws.

No drill presses.

And, of course, no routers. Now, I didn't spend a lot of time in the place so I may have overlooked one, but I doubt it.

But all that was gravy. I was actually looking for something when I went into the store, and it was a product without a plug- I wanted to buy a respirator to resell on my site. Ideally something like this:

I have one almost exactly like this one, I bought it in the mom and pop hardware store in downtown Brattleboro, Vermont. You'd think the demand for these things would be relatively high here, particularly considering the amount of asbestos laced roof tiles that get cut up with the aforementioned tile saws, and the bold warnings printed on those tiles to use respiratory protection when cutting them.

Apparently not. I had given up hope of finding one of these, or a less expensive domestic version, anywhere in Bahia. Those big box 'hardware' stores? They either don't have them or never did. I'd resigned myself to buying them online.

I'm looking around the store... looking, looking... I find the section of safety equipment... hard-hats, boots, gloves... disposable dust masks... Paydirt!!! I find some respirators!! Not just one, but two kinds! In quantity! I could buy two dozen if I want!!

This is great. I'm very excited. Only one hitch: all these respirators use disposable filter cartridges, and the ones in the store are sold without them. I look around for the boxes of cartridges, there are none to be found. I finally consult an employee, and he says he's pretty sure there aren't any, but sends me over to a guy sitting at a computer to confirm this. He confirms that no, there are no filters anywhere in the store, and in fact, no request has been made for any, so they can't tell me when they might arrive, seeing as how nobody has actually ordered them. So why stock the things if you can't even use them I am tempted to ask, but of course I don't.

I leave the store, resigned but not upset, and certainly not surprised. I know there are respirators here in Brazil, I see pictures of graffiteiros with them on; many of the graffiteiros I know own one. I haven't found them because of my lack of initiative in tracking them down!! There's a district here that sells material to contractors, with dozens of stores- if I was to take an afternoon and go into all of them I would probably find a respirator in one of them.

But that's my whole point, see? I bought my respirator in a mom and pop hardware store in Brattleboro, and I live in a city of three million people where I can't find a single freakin' respirator without a concerted effort. Everything... takes... forever... and is like pulling teeth to get it done. But it's not just me. The fire department can't put out fires because they don't have the proper respirators either.

This is why the Brazilian World Cup team had to charter an entire airplane to bring back all the stuff they bought, last time the World Cup was in the States. This is why if you, who lives in the States, ever comes to Brazil, everyone you know here will ask you to bring something down for them. This is why every time I go home, I spend at least two days shopping for stuff I can't buy here. The USA may have its problems, but it is truly a shopper's paradise.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Markuza's Folly?

Weighing the options between another depressing post (and I have one) and something different...

Depressing post...

Something different...

I'm going to write something different.

I don't write much about what I do, how I make money, what fills (or empties) the coffers. And I'm probably not going to do so tonight, because at this point the topic in question is merely a concept of wealth, a figment of income, doing more emptying than filling of coffers.

I recently built a website called, or if you prefer,, as I registered both names. I'm trying to fill a gap I discovered here in the virtual Brazil, that being the absence of a fully functional online store to buy graffiti supplies. There are several websites for graffiti stores here in Brazil, but none of them offer a shopping cart and online payment except for one, and they don't even have spray paint. I'm trying to change that by building an attractive, easy to use store with everything a graffiteiro might want, from spray paint, to big fat markers, to respirators, etc.

So why is this a folly? Well, mostly because I don't think there's a lot of money in it, at least not yet. There appears to be demand, this country is filthy with graffiteiros and the stores to buy decent supplies are few and far between, so interest in theory should be substantial. Problem is that profit margins are low, material is difficult and expensive to obtain, and the stuff (spray paint at least) is allegedly spontaneously explosive.

Not to worry! My first ill-fated attempt at e-commerce, which never actually made it to the 'e' part, involved exporting material related to Capoeira. Although there's lots of stuff you can buy related to Capoeira, shirts, bells, stretchy pants, the principal item of interest is the berimbau, which is nearly impossible to ship internationally because it is just a tad too long. Since this new project is not an international endeavor, shipping little pressurized paint bombs around the country is a relative cake walk.

I got into this whole thing when I agreed to create an online store for my friend and ex-owner of the only graffiti shop in town, Bomb Bahia. Like a fool, I agreed to do this for nothing, an agreement that in retrospect I would have had to back out of. Not because I've shelled out a lot of cash- building and maintaining my site will be quite inexpensive for me, and I have very little in the way of operating costs at this point. The program which manages the whole store for me I downloaded and installed for free, and I'm almost smart enough to know how to use it. The real problem is the time involved in putting everything together, which is substantial. And filling orders so far has been quite time consuming, all three of them.

What makes this project so great is that I'm enjoying it. Thoroughly. Mostly because it's a change of pace for me, and ties in to my other interests. The problem is that it robs me of the time to pursue those other interests, and, as my wife keeps reminding me, it distracts me from making real money. Which is true. It does distract me. But the other reality is that my other work has dropped off substantially in recent months so I need to be pursuing other avenues. And what about my previous observation that there's probably not much money in this? Well, my mentor at college was fond of telling us that we could never see the end from the beginning- that by working on something for countless hours ultimately we would arrive at a conclusion that was far more interesting than that which we had conceived at the outset. Perhaps that will be the case here as well, with the hopeful addition of the word 'lucrative' right next to 'interesting.'

After Bomb Bahia closed its doors, I decided, after much internal debate, to proceed with the project on my own. Truth be told, I'd spent a lot of time with the owner thinking about how I would run his business differently, sometimes making suggestions to that effect, some of which he followed. I briefly considered opening my own retail store, but that plan was upended by two things: first, I didn't have the money to invest in inventory or the means to take on a lot of operating expenses, and second, two stores opened in the city while I was mulling it over. I was ready to call it quits when I had an epiphany of sorts- why not put their inventory on my site? That, my friends, is what I did and what is today. Their stuff (mostly), my site (entirely), and a small commission on each item sold.

So far, so good. As I mentioned previously, there have only been three sales so far but the last one was a biggie- over thirty cans of paint. It was a ridiculous amount of running around and phone calls and emails but I learned a lot even if I didn't make much money. I have people checking out the site from all over Brazil, and some inquiries, and an active social-networking component on Orkut, by far the most popular social networking site in Brazil. People aren't buying, yet, but at least they're having a look. And they appear to be interested.

Before I wrap this up I have to give a shout-out to Fabio, frequent contributor to this blog, who has been an immense help in proofreading and straightening out my sometimes strangled Portuguese. I can speak Portuguese fluently, even if I still screw up the gender of nouns and misuse prepositions from time to time- I doubt I'll ever stop doing that 100%. But writing it is another beast entirely, and I don't want to come off as an uneducated fool. I doubt I could learn to write Portuguese properly without a serious effort that would probably involve taking classes. Very frustrating! But then it occurred to me that Fabio might be the perfect person to help out, as he is also bilingual, and his primary language is Portuguese. He proofread the whole site and made numerous corrections. Thanks Fabio! You rock.

To conclude, this is the plan for the future of the project. I'm going to pursue this for a year. If it's too much of a hassle, or it doesn't make me any money, or I decide to move back to the States, I'll ditch the thing and move on. I doubt I'll lose much money as anything I invest in merchandise will be relatively easy to recoup, as it's in high demand. Maybe I'll end up selling the whole system to one of the stores I buy paint from.

But maybe, just maybe, it will be a success.

I think I'd enjoy that.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sticks and Stones, the Response

I tried to post my replies to the comments on my previous post, but what I ended up writing was so long that Blogger wouldn't accept it, so I'm publishing it as a separate post. I'm overdue for one anyways.

I want to say thank you to everyone who left a comment on this post- it was a tough one for me to write, and I guess that's why I haven't responded to the comments until now. I'm impressed by the thoughtfulness and breadth of opinions that went into these comments, and you all deserve more of a response than I'm going to give you, but here goes!

Claudia- I agree with you that there is no translation for culture, but I also think that it's worth trying to explain and to understand. I would certainly want to know if a word I was using was offensive or not to someone of another culture. What I found most interesting was your comment about 'the forced Afro-Americanism.' This isn't something I have thought all that much about, but I believe there are lots of minorities that assume these definitions, even if they are clumsy, as better than the alternatives. And to be fair I should probably start calling myself a 'European American.'

Daniel- my friend used another example, the word 'rapariga' which is little girl in Portugal, and a prostitute in Brazil. I don't think that's really what's going on here, as the n-word has no meanings outside of the US (that I know of), and I really hope nobody tries to create one.

Stephanie- I understand what you mean about feeling uncomfortable with the 'color talk' as it were, I actually find it kind of nice most of the time because it's so much easier to refer to these things- I used to find myself at times trying to describe someone in the United States (to another American) and not wanting to say that they were black so as not to come off as racist, which is just silly. Plus my wife is 'Negona' to many of her friends so I'm pretty thoroughly desensitized.

Elena- you summed up a couple issues better than I did. Regarding the conversation I hope to have with my friend, I don't know how much I'm going to get into it. It might just be me telling her that I'll never be able to hear that word without a strong visceral reaction and hope that she understands that.

TLC- laughter, as I learned from Reader's Digest, is the best medicine. I know a guy who everyone calls 'Capenga,' which means 'cripple,' and another called 'Mario Gago' which is 'Mario with the stutter.' Gasp!! To be honest, those nicknames bother me too, but that's what everyone calls them, so what am I going to do? On the other hand, 'politically correct' shouldn't mean 'sweep it under the rug.'

Fabio- good point, and something I've considered asking my friend, how she would feel if the tables were turned in terms of an offensive word used as a name. In Capoeira it's common to give Portuguese nicknames to the players, even in the 'Exterior' where most people just take the mestre's translation on faith. Lots of these words can't be found in a dictionary although you can find most of them online now. Wouldn't it be crazy if a mestre gave all his students really inappropriate names like Safada and Tarada and they had no idea? I wonder if it's happened. Regarding the pronunciation: she isn't off the hook if she can't pronounce the word, the intent is the same.

Mae- I was struck that you have actually had conversations about this subject with white Brazilians, I never have. I realize that I'm not actually friends with any white Brazilians, which is a bit odd, at least not good friends. Now that I think of it, I do have a couple white Brazilian friends, but they all live in New York- now that's ironic! The things I've learned from my friends and especially my wife about their experiences have made me realize just how much I don't (or didn't) know about the minority experience, either here or there, if you can refer to a single 'minority experience' which of course you can't. I often find myself wondering how far the similarities go between the Afro-Brazilian and African-American experiences. That came out totally jumbled, it's 2:40 in the morning. Got... to... finish!!! My friend does not fall into the category you described- privilege has not left her blind to these things. Regarding the conversations you refer to, you're absolutely right, they don't happen, or they don't happen often enough. I find myself desperately wanting to give a shout out to Michel Martin and her NPR program Tell Me More, which has given me more insight into more angles on more minority experiences than anything else in my life, with the obvious exception of my marriage.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sticks and Stones...

First it was Chinese babykillers, now it's a cat named Nigger. Sometimes I think my excursions into the world of social networking aren't quite what they might be in an ideal world.

The cat belongs to some friends of mine here in Salvador. I was browsing pictures of their pets (clearly a valuable use of my time) when I found a photo that made reference to the aforementioned cat. I was shocked, and I made a comment to the effect that in English you wouldn't be able to use that name.

Here in Brazil, or at least in Bahia, Negão is a common name for animals, and also a nickname (for humans), and even a term of endearment. Negão does not have the same connotations as the n-word, although I've heard that it can be considered hate speech in certain contexts. Then again, I've also known people to call one another Preto (black, male) and Pretinha (little black female) affectionately here, mostly by blacks but also by whites. These words, which would be super-charged and almost impossible to use comfortably in English, at least in the United States, at least by a white guy like me, don't have the same bite here. Although I'm sure they could under the right (I mean 'wrong') circumstances. I thought that might be what my friends' were thinking when they gave the cat this name- trying to translate the n-word as something more like Negão.

My friend replied to my comment, directing me to another photo of the cat, where a discussion had already played out about the dubious moniker. She had explained to someone else that she knew the word was offensive in the United States, but she lives in Brazil, and has both blacks and whites in her family, and they were using the word 'without negative connotations'.

Okay, I have to admit I was upset. Growing up in the States, with huge helpings of racial guilt, this word was, and still is, strictly verboten. But it's complicated. I remember when nigga started its rise in the hip hop community, and although it hasn't de-stigmatized the word, it has created a new context for it, even an affectionate one, for some in the African American community. I've even been called nigga in Brooklyn (but I assure you there was nothing affectionate about it). I also read a bit of the history of the word online, and apparently it was not originally an offensive term, back in the 17th century.

So how much of this is my problem, my hang-up? If she was African-American and named her cat 'nigga' would I be as bothered by it?

I've had some bad experiences writing down stuff related to strong emotions, so I either avoid doing so, or write very carefully and deliberately when I do. I thought a lot about what I wanted to say about this name, and then I replied to the effect that yes, she's in Brazil, so she can do what she wants, but "essa palavra eh palavrão mesmo para gente de meu pais, não se traduz como 'negão' mas significa odeio e racismo, mesmo com os B-boys falando 'nigga' estes 20 anos" or, to translate, "the word is a swear word for people from my country, you can't translate it like negão, and it signifies hate and racism, even with the B-boys saying 'nigga' for twenty years."

I don't think my friend has the same compunction as I do regarding choosing her words carefully, but then again, I don't know if she found the subject as uncomfortable as I did. She wrote me a fairly lengthy comment back, the kind of thing that makes me want to take my Portuguese to the next level, because my vocabulary and comprehension hit the wall pretty quickly when the subject matter gets more abstract and complicated.

I'm not going to quote her, but eventually I puzzled out that she was saying that no, she doesn't take the attitude that she can do what she wants because she lives in Brazil, she told me that hate and racism are not in the translation for the word nigger, and that I as an American know that if I translate the word nigger I won't find the words 'I hate' in there, and that it's all in the 'attitude' you bring to the word, and the negative attitude implicit in the word only exists in my country (the U.S), and here it doesn't have that because most people don't know what it means.

Well, maybe she did feel strongly about the subject. And I did pretty much quote her after all.

I had to disengage. I knew that the conversation was going to go downhill, and really we should talk about the subject face to face and not on Facebook. So I didn't reply, but I really wanted to. Mostly I wanted to tell her that my computer's dictionary (the iDictionary?) tells me that nigger "remains one of the most racially offensive words in the language." I also wanted to tell her that I hope she doesn't try to create a Brazilian usage for the word, one free from negative attitude.

But basically I don't agree with her. I think she is trying to do what she wants because she's in Brazil, and I don't think you should try to redefine hate speech if it suits you, or if it's even possible. I like to think that if I found out 'Kuza' meant 'genocide' in... Hindi or something, I'd stop using it. As it is, it's already uncomfortably close to 'Yakuza' which I find troubling.

I really have to stop doing this. I get into these sticky conversations on Facebook, which I bail out on, and then I go and write about it on my blog. I think it's some weird manifestation of passive-aggression. The first time it was about someone I didn't know, this time it's about a friend of mine. Well, sort of a friend. I happen to know that very few of my friends, and almost nobody in my family, reads this blog, so I could probably write a lot more about them and nobody would be the wiser. But I don't think I will. And I should stop writing posts like these. And I should continue the conversation with my friend the next time I see her.

But let me just make this absolutely clear, in case I've been vague or equivocal, that I think Nigger is a really stupid name for a cat.