Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Peering Into the Abyss

I'm not going to lie, I was hoping for a lockdown.

I was even preparing for it, with the limited cash at my disposal.  I filled up the freezer and bought a bunch of pasta and such.  I did not buy toilet paper.  I already had some.

I haven't had a vacation for years.  I'm a homebody.  I'm a semi-misanthrope.  The thought of two weeks of not going anywhere, of not being able to go anywhere, just seemed delicious to me.  I was already coming up with a list of deferred projects to work on that would have kept me busy for two months.  As long as I was healthy and not running out of food, I would have done fine.

And then it didn't happen.  I've been working every day.

Part of me knew there was no way I was going to get my "vacation".  Or, even if they did impose a lockdown, that everyone would do what they could to get around it.  Which may be why they didn't really impose one in the first place.  Or maybe they still will, who knows.

The Brazilians are doing the right thing, for the most part.  Masks, schools canceled, malls shut down.  But since my "vacation" didn't happen I'm seeing a lot of what laxness there is as I go back and forth to work.  People standing around with their masks pulled down so they can drink their beers, smoke their cigarettes.  No attempt to keep distance between them and their buddies, even though the approved distance here is only one meter, not two.  I know that people are paying each other visits.  But even though Brazil is one of the worst hit countries in the world (right now), the measures seem to be working.  For a city of three million, there are relatively few cases here.  Relatively few deaths.  Relatively.

The thing that took me by surprise, even though it shouldn't have, is that there are a city's worth of artists shut up at home with plenty of time to, you guessed it, make art.  And apparently they are.  I am kept very busy with people needing paper, and paint, and pencils.  I've been working every day, and more at home in the evenings.  A large portion of the sales are arranged virtually, either via WhatsApp or Instagram, or on my once comatose website, miraculously revived.  It's been good, but also a lot more work than just having clients come to the store and ask for what they want.  A sale can take all day of back and forth of messages before being finalized, and if they need delivery, there's a whole other process to prepare them and make sure I don't lose track of anything.

What people don't want is spray paint.  And that's okay.  I don't really want to work with spray paint anymore.  Of course, I'd feel a lot better about this decisive shift in my sales if I didn't also owe my suppliers of said paint some thousands of reais for product that I have sold and also cannot sell.

I suspect one of these days there will be a reckoning and accounts will have to be settled, one way or another.  If the store doesn't make it, I can say hey, I kept it going for five long years of economic crisis until it turned into an Economic Crisis.  It may finally be nearing my time to pack the bags for good, because no matter how bad it gets in the States, it's hard to imagine that it will be worse than it will be here.

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.