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.

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(time passes)

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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?'