Monday, August 27, 2001

I think I hate the 2nd Avenue Border's. Maybe I just hate what it does to me.
The day I returned from Brazil, all full of vim and vigor, fully prepared to speak English to each and every person I met, absolutely anticipating making love to the first willing woman I saw, I biked down to Border's, and saw what could well have been the first willing woman.
She was beautiful, and she was looking at books near me - a clear sign of interest. OK, maybe I'd followed her to where she was standing. It's been a while.
I was all ready to approach her, all ready with a line of bullshit, only, of course, I wasn't ready. I had no line of bullshit. All I had was angles and curves in my stomach making me queasy and wheezy, and, even leaving the bookstore the same time this cute girl did, I said nothing.
All my plans, all my oaths sworn after a month of isolation down south, all of it denied, and right there within the confines of Border's Books.
And then, yesterday, Sunday, back in the same store, I spied the most gorgeous amazon I'd ever seen that day. Probably five eleven, short blonde hair, wearing pre-Labor Day white (including a tight laced halter-top that barely attempted to contain her), she was a vision like no other.
She was way out of my league, but also alone, and I even came up with a line or two of bullshit to try and feed her, but there I stood, across from her, only going so far as drooling over her cleavage, looking down her shirt.
I could say nothing.
Humbled by my own inadequacies, I hit the door, only to see another cute blonde, exiting.
We walked the same path downtown for about ten blocks, and in all that time, I could think of no way to approach her, no way to confront my own fears and her, all at once.
All I could do was think about how much I hated Border's.
Though by Border's, I probably mean me.
Waking up at noon is not something I like. I've been doing that more and more, what with my later and later schedule. I really need to rearrange the trend, make myself one who functions during the days. I figure, within a month or two, I'll be back on track.
On Saturday, after an especially late Friday night, I got up at noon.
"Oi," I said to the absence in my bedroom, knowing I had shit to do.
I trudged over to the computer and started writing. I had a gig that day, and needed some original material for it.
In the nigh-REM state, the writing was pretty easy. It was a quick script, for a quick performance in the early afternoon.
By three ten, I was heading uptown to the Bronx.
I got to Liz and Terence's building a little after four. Liz came down to get me, all in white, and brought me up to her aunt's apartment. A couple of people had arrived.
"Jon, this is Bill, and this is Suzanne."
Suzanne was gorgeous. Something clicked, but I didn't know what it was.
"I need a printer," I said to Liz.
"Just a moment," she said, going to the door, "That's Jenny."
Jenny and Shad came in. Jenny was gorgeous.
Every now and then, Liz tells me about friends of her that I'd not met. Since I'm the only friend of Liz's that matters, the list of alleged other friends in slight. Among them was her way cute friend Jenny, whom, before meeting, I'd professed undying love for. I'd finally met a year or so ago. She was cute, married, and a mother.
Suzanne on the other hand, turned out to be another friend I'd heard about years ago. Back in '92, I was told about this doctor-m-training that was real cute. I'd fallen in love with her, sight unseen.
Now I'd seen her, and my love was just as strong as before.
Which reminds me of an old poem:

SUICIDE MOTE

I hate your nose. And your hair. Your smile and your clothes.

I hate how you look into my eyes, pretending to see something deep or important there, and tell me, "That's very smart."

I hate when you smile at my stupid stories and laugh at my dumb jokes.

I hate that you and your god forgive all my sins, and how you swear you care, and you'd never do anything to hurt me.

I hate how you're good and sweet and considerate. I hate that you complete parts of me I forgot were missing, or never knew. I hate how you see me cry, and how you're the only one to do this to me. I hate that it took me so long to say this.
And I really hate your husband.

Suzanne had married Bill, apparently, soon after Liz had mentioned her, lo those many years ago.
Sigh.

No matter. I had things to do that day other than lust after married women – though, really, that should always be given some certain priority.
Terence took me up to his apartment so I could print out some pages and pocket most of them.
"You look slick," I told Terence.
"I'm surprisingly nervous," he said.
"Well, don't worry. All eyes will be on me. It's really my show."
He laughed, and we went back downstairs.
"Whenever you're ready," Liz told me.
"Cool," I replied, put on my judge's robe, and put Terence in place before me.
"Ladies and gentlemen," I said, "We're about ready to begin."
They quieted down, until Liz appeared with Jenny on her arm, and her Aunt Marian, one of the ringleaders of the event, began humming the wedding march.
Everyone laughed, as the two ladies marched down, and Jenny handed Liz off to Terence, and they both faced me, angled so the fifteen people present could see their profiles, but mostly, me.
I began to read my script:

"Love is a many splendord thing
Love is all you need.
Love is never having to say you're sorry
And I'm sorry, but when I see the love that exists between INSERT NAME and INSERT NAME, it just makes me feel so very special. As If I am in the sight of a once-in-a-lifetime vision.
If anyone in this room can experience on fourth of the genuine affection that my close personal friends, TRENT and ELISA have for each other, we would be truly blessed.
INSERT TEARS.
I'm sorry. I can't go on…."

I crumpled up my sheet of paper, and said, "This is crap. This was written in fifteen minutes, and I don't think it's any good. I'm going to have to speak from my heart, and tell you what I really think."
Then I reached into my pocket, took out the rest of my script, and returned to reading.
It got the requisite laugh. It's a cheap shot, but it always seems to work.


"We are gathered here today… Liz, you're not pregnant, right?
OK, Cool.
We are gathered here today to celebrate the fake union of Liz and Terence, who really, in the eyes of god and the governments of three minor states are already married.
It's a good opportunity for those who know and love Terence and Liz to come together and toast to their happiness in all things, and more importantly, to eat. There IS food, right?
OK, Cool."

Marian and her friend Carol came up with this. Liz and Terence have lived in infamy for a couple of years now, and I think the oldster's thought a faux wedding would be fun, but might also set a fire under their butts. The reason didn't matter. Liz had first invited me to attend the bash, then to officiate at the wedding. I'd agreed to each.

"I don't know about you," I read, "but I never ask friends and family if they're in love, or if they're happy. Those are kind of huge questions, and I never think to ask them.
And weddings, fake or otherwise, aren't really about love, or happiness. They're about consolidation of gifts, and cake.
Weddings are about dedicating your life – or the next five to fifteen months – with the same person. And it should be obvious to all inhabiting this room and that Liz and Terence are committed to other, or should be.
Anyway, I think they do really love each other.
I write poems. Sometimes, I just steal what other people say and put them on a page. This is one of the things I stole, based on an anecdote between this happy loving couple."

I then read the old hit, only without the title, to give it a little more neutrality:

TO ELIZABETH

Honey, I'd love you no matter what.
I'd love you even if you lost both of your arms and legs in a horrible freak accident.
They say the course of love never runs smooth,
but my devotion for you's so strong,
If I had to feed you
And wash you
And roll you out for walks,
I'd love you just as much –
Maybe more.
Honey, where do we keep the saw?


"Don't ask about the real incident," I said, "I think they're both embarrassed by it now. But the prosthetics look pretty convincing, don't they?
"Anyway, I think that fairly represents why we've all gathered here today:
To celebrate our friends, and their relationship, and… well, food.
So, without further ado:
Terence, do you take Liz to be your lawfully recognized housemate, as long as you share the lease?
OK, Cool.
Liz, do you take Terence to be the guy you bring to all family functions, as long as you find the situation mutually viable?
OK, Cool. I now pronounce you both ready to eat cake.
There is cake, right?
OK, Cool."

I told the people to throw rice at them, or something, and since no one had anything, I decided to continue.
"I have an extra little piece that really should have been read earlier," I said, "But since I do have the floor."
"Encore!" Somebody called, "ENCORE!"
"Right," I said, and finished with what should have been the introduction:



SEX WITH ETHEL.

Marry me, for the passport.
Marry me, for a bigger apartment.
Marry me, for all those presents.
Marry me, for the tax break.
Marry me, to see all your friends in hideous purple chiffon.
Marry me, and get your parents off my back.
Marry me, please; I love you.
And I don't want this one to be another bastard.



They laughed, they clapped. They enjoyed.
"It seemed to work," I said to Melle, afterwards.
"Oh, yeah."
All the couples present asked me to officiate at their next weddings.
"Look like I've got a new job," I said, "A cottage industry."
Some people asked me about parties and clubs, and when I could perform. No one offered to buy a book or come to future shows. Well, no one who wasn’t already on my list.
Still, I think I impressed the two married girls I'd so long been so in love with.
Another successful gig, successfully completed.

After the party, I could go back to sleep – though not until noon. That's just too late.


Monday, July 16, 2001

Final Observations:

Biking through the City, seeing where I belong, leaves me strangely homesick for Sao Paulo. The women are really beautiful there.
Also, fashion conscious. It's a Latin country, so the women dress to impress. So do the men, of course, which left me in something of a bind. It's good to be back among the slobs.
I've noticed a couple of things I didn't quite recognize, while away.
Women wear loads of black in Sao Paulo. Very sophisticated. Probably has something to do with it being winter, but the temperatures, so far, seem pretty similar.
There are no flip-flops in Brazil, and few sandals. Most women have black heels throughout the city. Even in Rio, a beachfront city, flipflops were infrequent. Already, I miss that.
The stores here are so big. For such a spacious country – for such a spacious city – Sao Paulo had innumerable tiny restaurants, small stores, lots of street vendors. The entire economy was more down to earth.
People yell at your more in New York. While biking around, cars approached me/confronted me on various offenses. Maybe they did that in Sao Paulo too, and I just didn't know. Certainly, it would have mattered less.
I am definitely back in my element. I went to a library, and luxuriated within a room filled with books that I could read. I was in a place I could understand. I was surrounded by English; was at home.
I didn't realized how servile, how polite I'd been lately, because I was so afraid of my communicational deficiencies. Someone looked cross-eyed at the twenty I gave her yesterday, and I immediately reached for exact change. I was afraid she would explain a problem to me I wouldn't understand.
I NEVER do that in New York.
Or, at least, never will again.
It is good to be back.
Off the plane and flashed through customs.
"Enjoy your stay," The Queens guy said.
"Thanks," I said, "Thanks for speaking English. It's been a long month."
It was the unaccented English that was the issue. There were good speakers in Brazil, but no one was from my part of town. Ricardo is from New Jersey, so he was good, but he's also from Chile, so…
It was good to be among right-speaking people.
Maybe it was excitement about being back, maybe it was that I only got a couple hours on the plane, but probably it was the language. All through my excited Saturday, it was hard to keep my mouth shut. Breathing became something of a chore – when to do it, when to talk. It was so good to be around people who really understood me, or could at least fake it sincerely.
Several people have said I’ve lost weight, which makes no sense at all. I’ve been in the office more hours than not, drinking, eating, abusing…
They say I’ve gotten color – which is possible – except that I’ve been working all daylight hours in the middle of Sao Paulo’s winter. So it’s kind of doubtful.
Are they lying? Are they wrong? Do I somehow seem happier? Or do people just have to say something?
Any number of people told me that New York wasn't the same without me.
"I know," I replied, "I know."
The winds blew turbulent.
An open window in the office whipped randomly about, representing storm.
"Good luck traveling tonight, Jon," Ricardo said.
"That's right," Carlos added, "Friday the Thirteenth. Whoo!"
"My flight's at eleven fifty five. I only have five minutes of cursed time to contend with," I said. "I figure that that means we won't be leaving until Saturday the Fourteenth."
"But you have to take into account," Carlos said, "That you're going to New York. So you have to use their time zone."
New York is an hour earlier than Sao Paulo.
"Oh shit," I said.
“It’s getting off the ground that’s the worse thing anyway…” Ricardo said.
We finished work and left.
Gustavo hugged me as we parted company.
Chris and I walked back to the hotel – my last chance to see Sao Paulo on foot. We talked about our respective national cuisines. I said, "Other than hot dogs, hamburgers and french fries, I don't know what US food is."
Chris claimed that Brit cooking gets a bum rap.
On the elevator up to our rooms, Chris said, "Well, I think you did a great job, and I hope you'll keep in touch."
"All right," I replied, "Talk to you Monday."
I got off on my floor.
"Safe flight!" Chris called through sliding doors.
"Thanks."
It took ten minutes to clear out my room, ten minutes to pay the bill, and forty five minutes for the taxi to get me to the airport. I stared out the window throughout.
I gave my remaining reais to my driver, and walked past a line of economy registrants to go first on the Business Class line.
I got on the plane right after the children, but before the general cattle call.
We didn't attain altitude until Saturday in Brazil, and we flew into Saturday in New York without much incidence.

Friday, July 13, 2001

There have been some limited goodbyes.
The men have shook my hand, some have asked when I’m coming back. I say I don’t know, but soon.
I told Glaucia she must come to New York. “I’ll show you…” I said, and paused, thinking.
“Your skyscraper?” Chris suggested.
“Come to New York,” I said, “You’ll have a good time.”
I went down on my knees and begged Liza to take the plane with me.
“Don’t ask me twice,” she said, “Or I’ll come.”
“I need someone to talk to,” I said, “You can have a place to stay. If not now, next week?”
“Next week,” she said.
I really have to clean my apartment.

I have only a few hours to go. My flight is at eleven fifty five on Friday the Thirteenth, which would be a problem, if I expected the plane to leave on time. International flights never leave on time, do they? If so, I’m fucked.
I’m supposed to get there two hours in advance of the flight, and it takes at least an hour to get to the airport.
We’re still working on today’s Morning Line, but that’ll be done soon. It takes half an hour to walk to the Hotel, and I’d kind of like to do that this one last time.
Then I have to check out, pay the bill, carry my bags. I probably need to begin leaving four hours before my departure.
Which was about TEN minutes ago.
So what am I doing writing you?
I woke up reasonably early and nervous – nervous and excited – with sixteen hours left in Latin America. I had a lot to do.
Not that much, really. I needed to do the job, pack, get to the airport, shave.
Shave I did right away. Without an electric razor, it’s a more time-consuming process, but I get a cleaner head. I still wonder if I forgot my electric, or if it was stolen. When I get home, I’ll have to look…
“When I get home…” I said aloud, almost sang.
I was nervous and excited.
After shaving, I packed, so when I returned to the hotel after work, I could just pick up my bags and jam. Because my room was so small, packing was amazingly simple. There just was no place to sprawl all of my stuff. It was contained in the closet and the bathroom. So I left my room around nine, went for the free breakfast – that I’d only discovered days before – and got to work soon after.
The day was smooth and easy. Because Gustavo is becoming increasingly comfortable with his functions, I’ve performed in more of an auxilary capacity. I’ve written a few good poems out of that available free time.
I was having difficulty getting up the gumption to call Thais, to see if she wanted to get together for coffee. Nothing was going to happen – obviously. Nothing was going to happen anyway. But I did want to see her again, give her my poems, get the obligatory kiss on the cheek. Which was why I was excited. Nervous and excited.
I called. She picked up on the first ring.
“Thais?”
“HI, Jon!”
She remembered me.
“Of course I recognize you!” She said.
She couldn’t get together before she went to work in the afternoon – that had been the plan, but she hoped she could read my poetry, and asked me to write her, and call her.
“And when I come to New York to visit my brother,” she said, “I’ll visit you, too.”
“That… would… be … excellent,” I said.
She kissed me goodbye and I got off the phone.

When Falcone came in by early afternoon, we asked him how he was. He was polite and friendly, and couldn’t remember much of the night before.
“We were worried about you,” I said.
“Did you have a good time?”
“Yeah,” I said, “I did.”

We went for rodizio for lunch. Samuel had said we would do Feijoada this last day, and I lived in fear of that. My cast-iron American-fried stomach has been devastated by Brazilian cuisine.
But when Ricardo suggested rodizio, I was SO into it.
Some things are worth dying for.
“Are you happy?” they asked me at lunch, over and over. It was a stupid question. I was so excited to be eating the beef one last time. The pao de queso, the hump roasts, the endless cokes... it was heavenly.
Was I happy? DAMN!
Still, I was excited to go home.
I still am.
After my first night showing off as a poet (when I first made the claim that ‘they love me in Brazil,’ Carlos showed me a poem that he particularly liked.
ITHACA
When you set out for Ithaka
Ask that your way be long,
Full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
Angry Poseidon -- do not fear them;
Such as these you will never find
As long as your thought is lofty,
As long as a rare emotion
Touch your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
Angry Poseidon -- you will not meet them
Unless you carry them in your soul,
Unless your soul raise them up before you.
Ask that your way be long,
At many a summer dawn to enter --
With what gratitude, what joy!
Ports seen for the first time;
To stop at Phoenician trading centers,
And to buy good merchandise.
Mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
And sensuous perfumes of every kind.
Buy as many sensuous perfumes as you can,
Visit many Egyptian cities
To learn and learn from those who have knowledge.
Always keep Ithaka fixed in your mind;
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But do not in the least hurry the journey.
Better that it last for years
So that when you reach the island you are old,
Rich with all that you have gained on the way,
Not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.
Ithaka has given you the splendid voyage.
Without her you would never have set out,
But she has nothing more to give you.
And if you find her poor,
Ithaka has not deceived you.
So wise have you become, of such experience,
That already you will have understood
What these Ithakas mean.
Konstantinus Kafavis (1863-1933),

“Here’s why this poem sucks,” I said, and explained my understanding of the greeks.
“This is all about going off on an adventure,” I told Carlos, but Odysseus, he was returning from adventure. He’d been in Troy for ten years, living the life of a warrior – something he never wanted to do – and at the time of the Odyssey, he was on his way home. Ithaca is not a place of adventure. It’s a place to cease such childish things.”
“Well, I like it,” Carlos said.
Later, I realized how callous I was. Carlos had liked my poetry, bought my books, and shared with me a particularly meaningful poem to him. And I’d spat on it. I felt guilty. I felt ashamed. In an attempt to do penance, I wrote the following:

CONSTANTINE’S WORD

They tell me of my great adventure; speak of all the things I’ve seen.
They tell me how it must be grand to be a warrior, voyager, king.
So many wish they’d had my fate so see the world so long and slow
and often will ask my advice as to the best way they can go.

I tell them that the road is long, will pass you by if you’re not on it
I warn them not to miss the joys of waves and love in witches’ sonnets.
I threaten them to take the chances, ride on ships and go as far
as they’ll allow – and fight in battles, big and small – and go to war.

I tell them all deceit is fun, and gods exist as victims, foes;
to love and live and leave behind all that was good, but now must go.
I warn the young to quickly do all that the world will let them do
and am sure in my sage wisdom for a wise man is an old one, true.

And I am old, my face is worn, my beard is grizzled, full of gray
but I have lived and now the people care enough to hear my say.
But if I had listened to one like me, before I’d traveled as a boy
I hope that I’d been blessed enough to hear the words, “Don’t go to Troy.”
Jonathan Berger (1969 –2238)

All of this is precursor to the fact that now, I’m on my way to Ithaca. The adventures have passed, the exploring is done. I have done my clever tricks, and my smartass maneuvers. I’ve been to Troy. Now I’m off to Ithaca – both of which, of course, lie in New York.
My last full night in Brazil was not bad. There was an office party to go to as soon as the work days was finished, and various companions who might be willing to spend time with me.
I called Thais, the hot lawyer girl I met a couple days before.
“I’m leaving tomorrow. Do you want to pick up my books?”
“Of course I want your books? Are they a gift?”
“For you? Of COURSE they’re a gift. To see you smile…” I said, before gazing off into space.
She laughed, “I could come to your office in about half an hour?”
“We may be gone by then.”
I told her we were going to the Mata Bar, and gave her Gustavo’s cel number, to see if we could reconvene sometime during the night.
“Don’t forget your phone!” I said to Gustavo, maybe five times.
We arrived at the Mata Bar to see Brazilian fortune tellers telling the group of analysts and sales guys what stocks they should buy. There was laughter and joy, but it was all in Portuguese, so I started drinking kiwi Caparinhas. Maybe that way I'd understand – or think I did.
Hor devoirs - which are probably called something else here (maybe ‘eats’) were served.
I ate. I drank. I enjoyed. Some of the clients whom I’d met earlier in my trip were there, and I schmoozed with them. I hung out with the hot interns, Glaucia and Liza.
“When are you leaving, Jon?” Glaucia asked.
“Tomorrow night,” I said, so if there’s anything you need to do, do it soon. You have to marry me tonight, if you’re going to.”
She laughed, but didn’t take me up on it. I was bluffing anyway’ there’s always tomorrow.
I talked to Falcone, my gigantic companion of the night before.
“Thais is a very nice girl,” he told me.
“Absolutely,” I said, “I’m in love. At least until I leave.”
He laughed.
“So what do you want to do after this?” He asked, “We could go to the best bar in town, with a seventy reais cover charge, or go to the best whore house in town, with a seventy reais cover charge. CHOOSE!”
Falcone is about nine feet tall, and nine feet wide. It’s not muscle, but it’s not fat. He’s an imposing motherfucker. Really nice guy, but at the moment, I didn’t want to tell him I didn’t have seventy reais to my name. Dollars? Lots. Reais? I’d run out.
The CL event ended, the interns left, and the crowd changed. The suits disappeared, and the girls showed up. Lots of girls. Beautiful girls. A band started playing. Live cover music.
“Every band I’ve heard hear plays ‘Ladies Night’ at the beginning of the set,” I told Andre, “Any idea why?”
“What?” He said.
I vaguely danced to the music, having long since given up on Thais arriving. I was disappointed, naturally, but there were lots of other women to stare at. And talk to, sort of.
Falcone had made it his mission to get me some in my last night in town. “You should drink,” he shouted, downing his fifth chopp after four Caparinhas. Then he knelt to talk to this incredibly hot mixed breed. I was guessing Afro-Brazilian, though maybe some nipo-was in the mix, as well.
The two of them talked. He gestured at me, and she shook her head, frowning. Falcone grew more emphatic. I shook my head, trying to ignore their interaction, genuinely afraid. I failed in my attempt to focus on the music.
Finally, she stood up, saying something to me, and Falcone, grinning, nimbly moved off.
“What?” I said, “I can’t hear you!”
She smiled wanly, gave me a thumbs up, and sat down again.
I more successfully followed the music. They did a pretty powerful version of Prince’s ‘Kiss.’ People danced, sort of.
When I rejoined Falcone, he did what he could with a couple more women, but they wouldn’t look at me. Frankly, I was relieved. Falcone is a kid, but he’s obviously an Old Boy, very much a “How YOU doin’” type, and I wanted none of that.
Also, the idea of hooking up with an incredibly hot foreigner my last night in town – while in some ways really appealing – seemed in most ways pretty sad.
If I wanted something quick and dirty, there were houses all over town begging for my service. And I wouldn’t have to worry about the major language anxiety that’s plagued me all month. I didn’t want to deal with romance with someone I’d picked up. I don’t do that in New York, where I feel comfortable. Working it out in this town would have been exhausting. Impossible. Hard.
“You should drink more!” Falcone said.
I had another Caparinha. He had two. From the way he was stumbling, I knew I wasn’t asking for a ride home.
After an hour’s absence, Chris reappeared.
“Where have you been?”
“I was talking to that Amazon we saw when we came in.”
I remembered. She’s popped out from behind a counter, and very pleasantly surprised me.
“She was a big girl,” I said, impressed that he could hold her attention.
“And she’s really from the Amazon.”
“Isn’t that Amazonian?”
We talked for a while, drank for a while. Some of Falcone’s friends told me about all the cool clubs to visit to get laid the next time in Brazil.
“Carnaval!” Andre said.
“Maybe next year,” I replied.
Probably not, though. I won’t be back for work – unless some miracle gets me re-employed in the LatAm sector. If I come back, then, I’ll probably explore more.
But I’d have to learn the language. And I’d have to travel more. And I’d have to not be working twelve hour days.
Around one o’clock, Chris and I agreed we’d had enough. Falcone, drunker than anything, cursed me for a homosexual because I wasn’t helping him help me hook up. I shrugged, too his abuse like a fey man, laughed a lot, and said, “I’m out of here.”
Falcone tried to shame Chris into staying, so we didn’t get out until one thirty.
“A cab, then?” Chris asked.
“We’re about five blocks from the hotel.”
“How did you get to know the neighborhood better than I did?”
“I walk,” I said.
We headed off.
I was fairly proud of myself. I had drunk much less than the last several nights, and suspected that the next day wouldn’t be anywhere near as difficult.
At least, I hoped.

Thursday, July 12, 2001

So naturally, I go out drinking.
“Jon,” Chris said, near the end of the day, “Fancy a few drinks?”
“Sure!” I said.
Why? I felt bad and achy and lousy, and, if I were home, I’d take it easy, and get comfortable, and not feel lonely, because I was at home. The best that was available to me if I took it easy was a chance to follow that great Brazilian show, Familia Soprano. I had finished my book on decoding and probably wouldn’t have been able to concentrate on the novel I’d just begun.
I didn’t want to be lonely in a lonely land. I didn’t want to be alone.
So I said “Sure.”
We went back to the hotel and agreed to meet up in half an hour, at ten.
I was asleep when he knocked.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Andre suggested this place Robert Charles,” Chris said.
So we went. We took a cab, and I recognized every street we passed. I knew the neighborhoods, I knew the roads… it was only a ten minute drive, so my feat was only so impressive.
We entered the crowded Robert Charles to see swarms of middle-aged women, looking.
“Apparently, it’s a pick-up bar.”
“Ah,” I said.
We stood between crowds and watched the end of the Billy Soul Band’s set.
“I understand this is something of an expat hangout,” Chris said.
Everyone around us spoke Portuguese. For expats, they weren’t doing me any good.
Some of the women were attractive. We stood next to a pretty impressive group of young lovelies – younger than us, which was rare in the club. Still, the language barrier…
We finished our Caparinhas and got out of there.
“Want to try another place?” Chris said.
“Sure!” We went to a bar across the street from Porta Luna, where I’ve spent several entertaining evenings. I don’t know the name of the new place, but there was a picture of a turntable by the entrance. I doubt I’d be able to find it again.
The women there were much prettier, much younger, but spoke just as much Portuguese.
“They probably understand a little English.”
“They need a lot to hang with me,” I groused.
We drank more Caparinhas.
“We’re reaching my maximum,” Chris said, “When I went home, stumbling, blind drunk, I’d had five Caparinhas. We’re at four.”
We drank, we talked. I ogled. Lots of lovely women there.
“So, if you leave here after a month without scoring,” Chris said, “in Brazil? That’ll be some kind of record.”
“Well, so long as I’m unique…”
I felt my tongue stiffen, and heard my thought processes shut down. During my repeated trips to the bathroom, I found myself stumbling more and more. If I were to start vomitting, how could I apologize to the world around me?
We hadn’t spoken to anyone all evening, though, as per usual, many of the locals would look at us curiously, interested. By twelve thirty, we stumbled home.
It was difficult walking the five blocks back to the hotel, but we managed, went to our respective rooms, and prepared for another work day. I drank as much water as I could, but, based on my head this morning, I don’t think it was quite enough.
Sao Paulo’s gonna kill me.

Wednesday, July 11, 2001

All day, I have been slow, aching, hurting, short-tempered and sharp.
I have looked too long at people and spoken too little.
I do not like drinking, and I’m not very good at it. I drank as much water as I could last night to ensure that I’d have no hangover. And I’ve had no hangover, but I haven’t felt good.
As ever, I think I’m depressed that the joyous feelings of last night – the potential in connections – the thrill of meeting new people who don’t know all of my schtick, everything about successful socializing ends up with me feeling let down and slightly depressed.
Also, far away from home and nobody wanted to go get Feijoada with me.
It’s probably for the best. My sour stomach wouldn’t have been able to handle the salty low-quality pork.
Probably, I need to get home, to be done with adventuring for a little while, so I can figure out what is next.
Probably that’s it.
Everything hurts, just a little bit.
Everything aches.
“I should tell you,” Falcone said as we drove, “My sister is very beautiful. Very tall, very intelligent. And if you so much as look at her…”
I licked my lips. “Your sister’s gonna be there?”
Turns out I recognized the place where Falcone led. I’d passed it in my travels in Pinheiros the day before.
He brought us into a labyrinthine restaurant, looking for his sister and her party. After one turn too many, she found him.
Carolina was pretty. She wasn’t the most gorgeous girl in the world, which was probably for the best, since Falcone was such a big guy. I would have hated to have bled all over him, ruining his shoes, getting the police all up in his face about some voluntary manslaughter rap…
Her friends, though…
Man.
“Brazilian women are the most beautiful in the world!”
Cintia and Thais each kissed my cheek, as is custom in this part of the world, and I tasted a little bit of make-up.
Each with long dark hair, sparking eyes and business suits, I was in love. Twice.
Because we added so much to the group, we moved upstairs to a secluded booth – all ten of us. I sat across from Cintia, with Thais at my side.
“Jon,” Falcone said, “Could you tell us one of your poems?”
I couldn’t.
“I don’t have them memorized,” I said, “But here!”
I pulled out the copies, since reading to non-English speakers in a loud bar isn’t my forte (outside of the East Village).
I passed my books around, and the women laughed.
“Oh this one is for me!” Thais said, and read, “I hate your nose.”
“I think your nose is great,” I told her.
“I love you,” she said.
I drank margaritas, because that’s what you do in a Mexican place. Most of the girls were in school to be lawyers, a five-year program hereabouts. The only one who argued with me was Carolina, Falcone’s sister.
“What makes you think New York is such a great place?” She asked.
“Uh… it’s the center of the world”
“Only a New Yorker would say that!”
“Only a non-New Yorker would deny it!”
I didn’t use the word “Third World,” since I didn’t think that would serve me well. I’ve grown to like Sao Paulo a lot, appreciate the streets, the culture, how affordable everything is to me, and if not for the language… my god, I would very much regret my decision not to relocate.
“How can you not love New York?” I asked, “How long were you there”
“I have to go,” Thais said, “I’m very tired.”
“Oh,” I said, “Give me your number!”
She did. She wrote her cel phone, her home phone, her email. This way, I could get her books if she wanted.
I hoped she wanted. The reason I write is to impress the hot Brazilian chicks. I mean, what’s sexier than a bald sweaty man screaming psychotic non-verse to his non-adoring audience.
She left, and the night went on, with me vying with Chris for Cintia’s affection. I think he was winning, but only because he was sitting next to her, and I was sitting next to Carolina.
The arguments raged. She took my lighter. She was very mean to me, very argumentative.
Strangely, I still like Cintia more.
The evening was great. The combination of Mexican food and Mexican drink, I knew, was going to serve me very poorly the next day – and maybe the next. But easily, it was worth it.
Falcone drove us home, with Cintia sitting between Chris and me. The warmth of her stockinged leg made, as most things do, me sweat.
When we parted company at our hotel, Cris and I kissed Cintia and Carolina. Falcone said he’d seen us the next day, in about five hours, and suggested there be a send-off party for me.
“You haven’t had good tour guide while you’ve been here,” Falcone said, “I’ve been studying for my examinations. Now, though, we can go to all the clubs. We can go to Love Story.”
“Not tonight,” I begged, and crawled up to my room to get a few hours before facing the new day.
It was a difficult work day. We had two sizable reports as well as our daily LAML responsibilities. With Gustavo on LAML and helping fix stuff and me doing the major fixes, we were working full tilt for a sizable portion of the day. It was very much a Monday, even though it was Tuesday.
Making matters harder was an office party at six o’clock sending pregnant Andrea off into the world. I met Andrea right before she was married, and couldn’t help but think, “What a waste.” Now, of course, it’s “What a WAIST.”
So we went in for some cake, some bread, some wine, but had to go out again to finish our work, which, finally, by eight thirty, we’d completed.
In the conference room was the remains of the party: Carlos, Eduardo, Samuel, and Falcone, with a couple bottles of Johnnie Walker Black between them.
“Jonathan Berger!” Carlos said, “Tell me this: If you could have any of the women in the office, who would you choose?”
And we got into it.
Chris and I both joined the confab, which Gustavo had to get home for some design work. The rest of us sat around drinking.
Falcone, a big young guy, said, “The trouble with Brazil is, we never had it rough. Never had any major wars, any revolutions… Nothing has been too difficult for us.”
“Seems like the country has a lot on the ball,” I said.
“Oh, I love Brazil. And I love Sao Paulo. But…”
And we got into it.
We didn’t leave the office, stumbling and drunk, until eleven thirty, and then, it was to go to a Mexican place.
“That’s why I came to South America;” I muttered, “To have North American food.”
Eduardo and Carlos begged off, heading to Porta Luna. We agreed to try to catch up with them later.
We would not seem them again.
I just heard that the girl of my dreams (V.010710) has a boyfriend.
Needless to say, I am devastated.
Liza came back from a weekend at Campos – a winter retreat for the Sao Paulo elite (like the Hamptons – or Fort Lauderdale) – with her boyfriend, where he has a house.
How do you compete with that?
Of course, I’ve been here for weeks, and hadn’t asked her out, and only had a couple days left to make a move before losing her forever, so nothing ventures, nothing lost.
Still, as I said, I am devastated…

Tuesday, July 10, 2001

The streets were empty; the stores were closed. The city, apparently, was taking this Nove de Julho thing pretty seriously.
I walked around Pinheiros on this very seasonal Monday, to no availo. Nothing was opened to see. No one was out to study. Sao Paulo seemed all rolled up, so I headed over to Ibirapuera Park.
That, apparently, was where the action was. Banners said something was happening by the obelisk, so that’s where I went.
Bands were playing. Rock bands. Kids were dancing, playing volleyball, soccer. Some young men were doing acrobatics.
The bands were good and I sat out there for a while, listening, grooving.
There was a display about the celebration of July Ninth.
It’s a Sao Paulo specific holiday, and some of the slogans bandies about were ‘celebrating the heroes of 1932’, and ‘Constitutional Revolution.’
Hardly suggests like the makings of a dictatorial overthrow. It seemed like a day for freedom and liberty, and all that.
So I was more confused than ever over the origins of the holiday…
Turns out, the solution was in the office.
Carlos clarified that, in the middle of Vargas’ reign, the state of Sao Paulo insisted on a new Constitution that gave concessions to this important commercial state. It was to give the coffee and sugar barons additional rights, but it was a stab against the fascist regime. It was a matter of heroics.
So it was a good thing – even if it was for economic betterment…

Monday, July 09, 2001

In Sao Paulo, there are any number of streets named after famous people, famous places. No numbered streets here, so Avenida de Brigaderio Faria Lima butts into Avenida Pracao, I think, and runs slightly parallel to Rua Dr Maria Castellano (I’m making that up; can’t be troubled to look at the map).
In the city, though, there are lots of streets named after dates, which is very curious. My first weekend out, I spent a lot of time on Maio de 23, which is easy to write, but I have no idea how to properly pronounce 23 in Portuguese.
Right next to my hotel – the nearest major intersection – is Nove de Julho, which is, by strange coincidence, today. It is a holiday throughout Sao Paulo, and I don’t have to be at work this Monday, which sort of makes up for working on the Fourth of July.
I asked Gustavo what July Ninth symbolized, and he wasn’t entirely sure, but did clarion-call out, “Revolution! Constitution!”
While walking through the park, a poster said something to the effect of “Celebrating the heroes of July ninth, 1932.”
Looking on the web, I discovered that Getulio Vargas orchestrated a military coup in 1930; he was in and out of power until 1954. I’m guessing, then, that 1932 was when he designed the constitution, which is pretty much the document of law to this day.
Still, it sounds somewhat strange to celebrate the overthrow of a democratic republic during the age of fascism. It struck me as very much like celebrating what we did to the Japanese-Americans during World War II.
Of course, it took me a little longer to think about Thanksgiving, and all that is represented in us remembering a day when the white and red man ate together peacefully – right before three hundred years of institutional genocide.
So we’ve all got our freakish holidays.
Luckily, I get a day off because of it…
Youth Culture

I couldn’t get moving on Sunday, so when Chris called me at two something, I was still in bed.
“Gustavo is taking me shopping. Do you want to come?”
“Sure!” I said. Better than not doing anything.
It wasn’t straight-up shopping. I’d heard Gustavo mention this market where cool designers meet once a month. I didn’t think it would be the kind of fashions I’d be into (i.e. not dirt-cheap) but the experience? That could be cool…
We traveled for about twenty minutes by car. “What neighborhood are we in now?”
“Pinheiros,” Gustavo said.
I thought I’d been all around Pinheiros. I didn’t realize it was so big.
Actually, most everywhere I’ve been in Sao Paulo has been within a five-mile radius. All the rides I’ve taken, however, suggest a much bigger area. It’s not that Sao Paulo sprawls – it does – but that the city is filled with curving one-way streets. Some of the places that appear – driving at a nice clip – to be miles off are often in fact five blocks from the starting point. Getting to the small side street of my hotel is quite a burden…
So the part of Pinheiros we were heading to could well have been five feet from the office, and I’d have never noticed.
We reached the market, which was not an outdoor mall, as I’d imagined, but a large warehouse with a line outside.
“There’s an entrance charge?” I asked, feeling that sinking feeling of an international explorer who is about to give up some cash, “How much?”
“Four reais.” Gustavo said.
“Oh, no problem.”
The people on-line ran something of a gamut. There were some slick older women to my left, a variety of braces-wearing teens ahead of me, and, off the line, walking back and forth, a giant transvestite wearing clear plastic high-heeled shoes.
“Interesting mix,” Chris said, “Do you like young girls, Jon?”
“Best thing about young girls is, no matter how much older you get, they stay just the same.”
“Mmm, good point.”
We went in.
The music pumped, but I recognized a bunch of the tunes. There had to be a DJ for the warehouse, since there was a version of the Beatles’ “Love Me Do” with extra scratches and beats. I heard the Clash and the Cure and Jane’s Addiction… why didn’t the club last night have music like this?
Inside the place, I saw mostly kids. The entire placed was pretty much filled with alterna-kids, wearing ironic t-shirts like Kurt Cobain or Batman or the Union Jack or whatever. I didn’t know why so many kids would wear the Union Jack, but not one would wear the American Flag. Maybe because it didn’t have a cool name.
Whenever I see the kids, all massed together and hanging out like this, I kind of want to interview them, get a sense of their views vis a vis mass culture. I almost never do: it’s creepy, and the few times I’ve had a chance to talk to the kids of today, it’s never satisfying (when massed together, they’re pretty stupid).
Of course, that wouldn’t be an issue here. Much as I would have liked to talk to the silver-haired fifteen-year-old, or asked the I Love NY-wearing cutie if she’d ever been to the City, it wouldn’t have made much sense. I can’t even communicate enough to clarify why I can’t communicate. It was just watching for me.
I ended up buying a couple of comic book T-shirts. I got a Brazilian Superman shirt, which looks like it might, in fact, have a different template than the one I’m familiar with. They had some pictures of Batman and Spiderman that look nothing like I’d ever seen of the guys. It was strange.
The girls were cute all throughout the warehouse, at all the different stalls. Pity they were illegal. Though, I wonder, maybe in Brazil, it’s not wrong to date a fifteen-year-old?
No, it’s wrong everywhere. Wrong wrong wrong…
After a couple of hours of shopping for vinyl jackets, Chris and Gustavo had found their fill, and were ready to go. I only had a few reais left in my pocket, so I was ready to go with them.
“Did you like?” Gustavo asked.
“Yes,” I said, realizing, though, that I might not really have answered his question.

Later in the day, I went for a walk-about, and headed over to Eldorado to buy some chocolate. The place was closed down, so I went walking blindly, and found myself on a side street with music blaring and people out on the street. Upon closer inspection, I found that the music sounds live and most of the people were kids. They were getting ready to celebrate the extra day of the long weekend, so probably, no school for them tomorrow. Though I think this is winter break for the kids of Sao Paulo.
Everyone was on the street with drinks. The drinking age in town is eighteen, but I don’t know if they take it any more seriously than New York does.
Just like at the warehouse, I was interested in the pretty young girls’ motivations for being out and about, fantasized about talking to them, understanding them, experiencing them, but this didn’t feel like an especially comfortable environment. I don’t know if I scream TOURIST or not, but I do certainly feel like a stranger in a strange land, and don’t really want to call attention to that fact.
Of course, if I did, maybe I’d have a thousand times better a trip? Doesn’t matter. I don’t know if that would work for me.
Anyway, kids. Kids everywhere, kids galore.
I was the dirty old man sniffing out the children wherever they were.
Kinda creepy. Kinda fun.
I walked back to the hotel after dark and decided to search out dinner. It was Saturday, a traditional Feijoada day, but I was still tasting some of the prior day’s rodizio churascarria, so I opted for something similar: all you can eat sushi.
I feel a little embarrassed going back to old glories when there should be so much to explore, but I felt like I’d hit a wall. I wondered if maybe I’d pushed my stay too far. I felt homesick.
Of course, I could never get delicious endless sushi in New York, so I bit the bullet and ate the fish.
My legs were hurting. Throughout the week, the only walking I’d done was to and from work – which is perhaps, at the end of the day, two miles, but not enough exercise. Throughout the Saturday, however, I’d been moving and moving and moving. After dinner, I went to my room and began to read. Maybe I’d get a second wind and want to go out. At the moment, though, I was ready just to give my poor legs a rest.
At ten thirty, the doorbell rang.
“I’m up!” I said.
Chris was at the door. He wanted to know what I was up to for the evening.
“Uh…” I said, then paused some, to get my bearings, “What did you have in mind?”
“Maybe look into some bars…” he said.
“Sounds like a plan.”
Then I remembered Gustavo was going to a discotheque tonight.
“Why didn’t you say so?”
We called Gustavo, who said he’d pick us up in an hour.
“That gives you another hour to nap,” Chris said.
“Oh, I won’t be napping anymore,” I chuckled.
I was wrong.
Gustavo called at eleven thirty saying he’d be late. I didn’t quite understand, as I was just waking up, again, trying to get my bearings.
Tired as I was, I didn’t understand why I was so tired. When Gustavo and his roommate Beto arrived at quarter after twelve, I’d again been sleeping. It must have been quite a day.
“We go to Monica’s,” Gustavo said. Monica was a friend of his. We drove to the center of Jardins, one of the nicest neighborhoods in town.
“Aren’t we in Jardins?” I asked Chris.
“No, we’re in Itaim.”
I yawned at that.
We passed the guarded gate to go up the elevator to Monica’s apartment. Everything seemed very nice.
We were introduced to Monica and Daniella; Daniella spoke some English, Monica virtually none. It was fine. I was busy looking at things.
“This is the first residence I’ve seen in Brazil,” I said, “It’s nice.”
We sat there, drinking wine, eating fruit and talking, until about one thirty, when we headed out.
There was no line outside of Lov E. As we paid, friends of Gustavo and Beto’s joined us and talked in Portuguese.
I nodded, and waited to get inside.
We entered to see many people sitting comfortably in a dark room, with a bar to our left. Further in, pulsing lights and music hinted where the action was. After our crew got lubricated, we hit the floor.
The music was heavily percussive, as is right for a dancing, and impressively anonymous. There was no character, no soul to the music, and most people in the club, I noticed, were not smiling.
Even so, there was much to look at. Beautiful people were everywhere, and in different shades and styles. Cool, black wearing sophisticates stood beside tattooed black-wearing punkers, with an occasional multi-colored tie-dye sprinkled in for flavor.
Like in most clubs I’ve viewed, people didn’t seem to mix it up, but we had a large enough group. I danced for about an hour, yawning more and more, building my excuse.
See, I go to clubs to have fun, and I have fun in a few of ways: enjoying the music, showing off my spastic dance moves, and impressing the chicks.
I didn’t think any of them were possible here. The music weren’t my cup of tea, and, even if I could generate the proper enthusiasm to become the freak-moving monstrosity that I so like to be, I wouldn’t afterwards be able to field all the compliments from all the lovely lasses. There was nothing for me at Lov E.
So, after a particularly extensive and sincere yawn, I told Gustavo and Chris I was on my way out.
“Enjoy the night,” I said, and walked out, to enjoy mine.
I got home around three thirty.