Thursday, December 13, 2018

Easy Come, Easy Go

Today, finally, after three and a half years, I received a settlement for my car that was involved in an accident.  I got almost ten thousand reais.

It's already gone.

I started the morning with a big old negative balance in my bank account, and I now have another big old negative balance in the same account.  At some point around eleven this morning, the balance peaked out at about 6.5 large, before rapidly plummeting back towards zero and ending the day at about half the deficit I started with.

All in all, I feel pretty relieved.

I will spare you (and me) the details of the agony I went through to get this stupid money.  Suffice it to say that I gave up on getting anything at various points, and tried to forget that I even had a lawsuit pending in the Brazilian legal system.  But justice, finally, was served.  And I'm happy about that.  I'm happy I got some cash, I'm happy I don't have to worry about this anymore, I'm happy I don't have to contact the lawyer ever again.

Most of all, I'm happy I was able to stave off financial disaster and the likely closing of my store in the face of large, unpayable debts.  I threw nearly ten grand into the Debt Hole, and although I didn't fill it up, I made it much smaller.  Instead of grappling with a firehose of cash outflows, I now have in hand a garden variety hose and I am reaching for the faucet... if I can hold on for say, a month or two, I think I can shut it off.

The thing that's sad is that I had so many wonderful plans for this money... this "free" money, even though it really wasn't free, I lost my car after all and had various expenses over the course of the lawsuit.  I was going to get some much needed maintenance done on the house that I no longer live in, but still houses my only son.  I was going to treat myself to a telescoping ladder.  I was going to... go out...  I was going to buy myself a kitchen table, made of real wood, because I'm sick of the patio plastic version I have.  I was going to invest in making some prints to sell to raise money for a trip back home.  I thought about renovating the store.  Buying some new stock.  A digital camera to take better pictures for the website.

All that was before the reality of the Debt Hole sunk in.  Before the near panic attacks.  Before the furrowed brow.  So what did I do to treat myself, once I finally got the cash?  I had lunch at a restaurant that I used to go to twice a week, until I recently decided it was a little too expensive for my current financial situation.  After lunch I paid another bill and my account balance fell below zero once again.

It's been a crazy year.  I've taken on lots of new expenses and (mostly) readjusted to living on my own.  I've been waiting for the dust to settle so I can get my expenses under control and hopefully continue my gainful self-employment.  I've also had to contend with a competitor, another graffiti shop, which has been siphoning off business and making me wonder if I even want to run a graffiti shop anymore.  My store is half way between a graffiti shop and a regular art store, maybe I'll just let the graffiti part wither away to a mere shadow of its former self... if I can get away with it.

If I can't, I don't know what I'm going to do.  There aren't exactly a ton of employment opportunities here.  I don't want to have to give up my apartment.  I don't particularly want to move back to the States right now, not if I can't bring my son with me.  Plus it's winter there.

But hey man I'm looking at a brand new beginning.  At least, that's what I think I'm expected to say at this point.  My divorce is a done deal.  I'm a free man!  Sort of.  As free as you can be when you have to work at your store six days a week.

But at least I still have a store.

For now.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Just Another Weird Metro Story

So I'm waiting for the Metro this evening, which is still shiny and new and crawling with security.  I didn't realize just how much security our Metro has, until I went to São Paulo recently and rode on theirs, which is about fifty times larger.  I don't remember seeing a single security guy on any of the trains, and we took a lot of them.  I call the metro the "Xodó de Salvador," which is to mean it's favorite son, its prize jewel.  Should be, considering how long it took them to build the thing.

Anyhow, I'm sitting there, and this guy who is pretty obviously homeless comes and sits down next to me.   He had a big scraggly beard and one of his flip-flops was broken off mid-heel.  I see homeless people all the time, but I must confess I was surprised, because they rarely make it onto the Metro.  To be honest, this was the first one I'd seen, and I go out of my way to take the Metro.  For me it's like a moving island of first world opulence in the middle of the mess that is Salvador.  I go places just because the Metro can get me there.  Actually, I usually go to the same place, the shopping mall called Bela Vista, which for a long time was really the only place the Metro went.  Now you can take it all the way to the airport, it's pretty slick.

Dude sits down next to me and pulls out a cell phone.  So I think maybe I was wrong to assume he was homeless.  The train comes, we both get on. 

We've been riding for about five minutes when he leans over and asks me if I still work with spray paint.  Actually, he had to say it twice because I had my headphones on.  I was surprised on a number of levels - I also have a scraggly beard now so I'm less recognizable than I was.  At least I like to think so.  Blond dudes stand out like sore thumbs in this city.

I was also surprised because I had no idea where or when I'd met this guy.  I figured he'd must have been a customer, since I get a lot of them.  I asked him when the last time was that he was in the store, and he didn't know what I was talking about.  He starts telling me about this found object sculpture he had made and how great it would be if I would add something to it paint-wise.  He showed me a picture.  I tried to sound interested but non-committal as well.  He mentioned that he was indeed homeless, or at least partially so.

So finally I asked him where we had met before.  He told me that he was the ex-boyfriend of one of our Airbnb guests, and then I did remember him, although I would never have recognized him.  She was a total sweetheart from New York City, and he was the stereotypical psycho, abusive boyfriend.  I think he did enter the house at the beginning of her stay, but by the end he was banned from our property, spent hours lurking outside on the street.  He really was kind of nuts.  I could hear it in our ten minute conversation, talking bitterly about how he had wanted "just one slice of the pie," although he was also clearly a pretty smart dude.  She finally dumped him for another Brazilian guy living in New York.

About five years or so ago I ran into him another time, and this time I recognized him.  He wanted to know if I knew how to get in touch with his ex.  She was a friend of mine on Facebook at the time, but I said I had lost touch with her.  Now I actually have.

The train reached my stop and I got off.  I didn't ask his name but I did shake his hand, even though I didn't really want to.

And then I went into the shopping, which is another homeless-free-zone, with its own big security force designed to keep it that way.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Still here, sort of

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

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

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

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

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

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

My instincts are sometimes self-destructive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Strikes, Vegetables, Armies, Shit, and Fans

When I arrived in Brazil the mood was decidedly different from what it is today.

Brazil had just elected Lula.  Apparently lots of people were furious, but the ones I met were thrilled.  It was, as they say, the beginning of a new era, and I can attest that in some ways it really was.  I think largely about this in the context of having learned something, if not a lot, about Brazil's past, even its relatively recent past.  The dictatorship that ended while I was still in high school.  The hyperinflation that ran until after I graduated college.  The fact that Brazil has had seven constitutions since it declared independence.

At some point I asked myself, would I have moved down here during one of the rocky periods?

Lula's presidency was marked by a great economic boom, giving at least half of the national slogan "Order and Progress" (it's written on the flag) some substance.  We managed to fend off the global slump for a few extra years.  Things looked pretty good.  Of course, we didn't know that Lava Jato was going on, hollowing out the economy from the inside.  Eventually it came to light and Brazil impeached Lula's successor and Lula himself is now in prison.  The economy went to shit.  The Brazilian currency fell to less than half of what it was against the dollar.

Only now, I was in up to my eyeballs.  I was married, I had a kid, I had a business to try to keep alive to pay the ridiculous price of living down here.  My wife didn't want to leave, so I resigned myself to staying.  I have been plugging on for several years, usually one step away from disaster.

The marriage seems to have played itself out but the business clings by a thread.  The kid is entering adolescence.  And now it appears that the shit may indeed be hitting the fan.

Last week there was a bus strike.  Pretty normal, we get those every year or two.  Then I heard there was a trucker's strike, and I asked a friend if the two were one and the same.  No, I was informed, they are not.  In retrospect I realize how uninformed I was: oh, how woefully uninformed I was.  I'm being a bit dramatic, but now, a week into the strike, there is no gasoline in any gas station in the city, airports are shut down for lack of fuel, and at my local supermarket there was basically no perishable food to be had.

I was supposed to go to a graffiti event in the interior of Bahia this week, a six hour drive.  It got postponed: there is no fuel for the bus that was to take us there.  The paint that was intended for the event is stuck in a truck out on the highway somewhere,  a hostage of the strike.

I can kinda enjoy a lack of gasoline.  I'm a tree hugger.  I haven't driven a car in at least a couple years.  I walk everywhere I need to go.  Even the metro runs on electricity in case I get the urge to leave my neighborhood.  But it makes me realize that this, so far, is nothing.  It sucks that I can't buy carrots and onions, but people aren't hungry yet.  Dude, we live next door to Venezuela.  We've got a refugee crisis happening on the border.  That could happen here really fast.  I like cities, I (usually) like living in the city, I think it's ultimately better for the planet if we live in the city.  But it all falls apart if, for instance, you no longer have trucks bringing in the food.

And they're talking about what's going to happen if the cops run out of gas.  No bike cops in Bahia.  And when the ambulances run out of gas.  Supposedly there's fuel for a couple more days.

And I can't even take the nuclear option and catch a plane out of here if there are no flights.  Not that I'm particularly excited about that option, what with the USA currently making as much mockery of "Order and Progress" as Brazil is.

About an hour ago the neighborhood erupted with people yelling "Fora Temer" (Temer, the much hated president, Out)  You usually only get that kind of excitement when there's a goal scored in a soccer game.  I thought maybe he had resigned due to the crisis, but I can't find anything to that effect online.  Dude did call out the armed forces to deal with the strike a couple days ago.

It could, and probably will, get worse before it gets better.

The petroleum workers are scheduled to go on strike tomorrow.