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.


Daniel @ Garanhuns said...

Two comments:
1) I am going through a similar experience trying to get the transfers for my stepkids. One trip was more than enough for me and I shifted the job to my sister-in-law.

2) On the list of "things I really miss that I never thought I would": HOME DEPOT!!!

markuza said...

Ha! Looks like we're on the same page. Only consolation: at least I'm not the only one with these troubles.

Fabio Bossard said...

I understand how you feel frustated about that. I would too,but man, remember that Americans make a loooot more money than we do, so it means more demand, more consumerism. If you go to a supermarket in a rich neigborhood here in Rio, you'll find a lot more variety and quality of things that you won't find in supermarket in a poorer neighborhood.

markuza said...

Point taken, Fabio, I imagine there are a *lot* more guys with full workshops in their garages or basements in the States then there are here in Brazil. However, I think there's more to it than that- these kinds of products are invariably twice as expensive here as in the United States, and I think that has more to do with the trade laws and high taxes on manufactured goods than supply and demand (although I could be completely wrong). Also, yes, Americans in general make more than Brazilians but the Brazilians who do have money have a LOT of money, and there appears to be a separate economy just to cater to the rich (as anywhere). One of the stores I described in the post is a very up-scale hardware store (something I've only seen in Brazil)- the povão don't shop there. Still, very limited offerings in certain areas- no respirators. No routers. And finally, I think there's a lot more available in terms of consumer goods in Rio and São Paulo and in general in the South than we find here in the Northeast, also, a higher standard of living. Take these foolish masks- I ended up buying a couple online today and they are coming from, you guessed it, São Paulo.

I don't think consumerism is a good thing, if you want to try to save the planet I think the best place to start is instead of buying a recycled something or other, just don't buy that something or other. But, growing up where it was easy to get whatever you want (with some notable exceptions), it's frustrating when you can't.

Fabio Bossard said...

Yes, you're right. Taxes in Brazil are high and that influence on the product value. But still, the people who have money in Brazil are the minority. If you don't have a population who can buy products, factories will produce in smaller quantities, which will also be a factor on the prices.

I don't think consumerism is good either, and the US is the biggest garbage producers. But I understand how you feel, because you grew up with plenty of variety.

Ahh..There is also the Chinese people who work hard so that Americans can have their cheap products. That also have an impact on the prices. Cheap workforce.

markuza said...

You are right Fabio- *but* don't forget that Brazilians also have a cheap workforce- Brazilians! A middle class Brazilian is much more likely to have a maid or a baba than a middle class American family- also you don't find a lot of elevators that have a guy that does nothing but push the buttons all day long - too expensive! Also, regarding cheap Chinese labor, bear in mind that the Chinese deliberately undervalue their currency against the dollar so their products will remain cheap in the US.

Fabio Bossard said...

Yes. The maid/babá thing is our shameful slavery inheritance. Slavery was abolished but the customs remained. Hey, I looked at Home Depot website and thought about Carrefour supermarket. You don't have it there? They have a section for hardware. But it's an expensive supermarket.

Anonymous said...


Nothing against your art ramblings but your "grumble posts" (great term) truly ROCK!!!!

Please keep them coming (if possible, in abundance)

markuza said...

Fabio- no, we don't have Carrefour, but we do have Extra, which might be similar. They have a hardware section too and I have bought numerous tools there.

Anonymous- I wonder if you are the same anonymous who has left other comments? Don't worry, I have lots to grumble about, just not enough time to grumble about it!

In the interest of laughing at myself, which is always interesting, I went painting with some graffiteiros yesterday and one of them had a mask essentially identical to the one in the picture. I asked where he got it, and he told me the name of the store that sells them- yep, right here in Salvador. It is, as I suspected, in the neighborhood I mentioned in the post. Did I write down the name of the store? Of course not. But at least now I know it's out there.

Ben said...

Interesting this discussion should center around tools. As a certified gear-head who does try to put his tools to at least reasonably good use, I am aware of how much I take for granted the ease with which I can find whatever it is I'm looking for here stateside. I in fact grow weary of Home Depot! (My testosterone levels plummit as I write those words.) A little rummaging through the dusty back shelves, or better still the basement, of the local hardware store used to be a favorite endeavor of mine. Too bad the store has been displaced. Isn't it ironic that my thickness-planer was made in Brazil?

markuza said...

It was??? That is bizarre. They probably make routers and table saws too, I just get my hands on them. And I have no place to put a table saw anyways. I can appreciate the appeal of rummaging around in dusty hardware stores- there are about six in the immediate vicinity of my house but customers can't rummage- they put a counter out front and the merchandise behind. Not that you'd find much I don't think- they often don't have such obscure items as screws and glue. I often make the circuit of every one of them in search of something I think should be easy to find, only to discover that none of them have it.