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.