IF YOU'VE GOTTA GO DOWN, GO DOWN SWINGING

Trip Start Feb 20, 2001
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Trip End Jul 30, 2001


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Flag of Brazil  ,
Wednesday, July 18, 2001

Along clear, light-colored sea with waves rising and breaking near shore, lies Rio de Janeiro. Beneath huge, bulging rocks that break apart the town and necessitate tunnels, lies Rio. Among green forests that climb the hills which lead to the rocks, lies Rio.

And, in one of the many tall apartment buildings within three blocks of Copacabana beach's soft sand and rock book-ends, lies me.

The halls of my building smell like a bag of stale Fritos. In my first week, the closest I came to making a friend was a girl on her way to a nightclub to sell herself. And, if you include a more-productive-than-usual day of selling "Modern Oddyseus' Travel Annals" on the eighth day, I'd managed to earn only eighteen Reals (a little under $8) in the city. Rio had been tough on me. I'd known it was going to take wiliness to survive; it might require more than I have.

Money or no, I needed a good night of dancing.

So, I went to the club, Bunker, went to the front of the long line, and asked in english if I could check inside for a friend. My wily language-confusion tactic couldn't earn me a free entry, though, as the ticket-collector wasn't confused. "Leave your indentification with the door-man," she said, "you have FIVE minutes."

Five minutes later, my free entry had expired, and permanent entry was thirteen Reals more than I wanted to pay. The secondary door-man showed me outside: "Quer sair e voltar de novo?" (Are you going to leave and come back again?)

I nodded. With him believing I'd already paid, the only thing keep me from an economical night of dancing was that I'd etched myself into the memories of the ticket-collector and primary door-man, who'd heard me yelling in english that I wouldn't pay because my "friend" was supposed to have my ticket.

Plotting, I walked to the beach. I had to change my appearance. I messed up my hair. I tucked in and un-buttoned my shirt. I rolled up a pant-leg. Eventually, I decided to drench my hair, forehead, armpits, chest, and arms in sea-water.

I rushed back to the club. The secondary door-man called to the others that I'd already been inside. I buried my forehead in my forearm, giving the impression that I'd danced myself into a sweat, while also hiding my face. I tried speeding in, but the thick, black, muscly arms of the no-nonsense door-man wrapped around me. "Nao tao rapido," he said. (Not so quick.)

"Eu estava já dentro!" (I was already inside!) Crying in Portuguese for the first time, I took the language-confusion tactic to the next level. I planned to say I was a Brazilian southerner, to take offense at any suggestion that I was a "mentindo gringo" (lying 'gringo'), and, if necessary, to give the language-confusion tactic a clinching double-turn by speaking poor english with a Brazilian accent ("fiv-ee, six-ee, seven-ee").

All was good, though. The door-man was merely checking me for weapons, and the ticket-collector didn't notice me. It was a fun night, led by electrical dancing in one room and headbanging to Nirvana's "Gotta Find A Way" in the other.

You can call me a liar after this little antic. Just don't call me unfair. If I was going to get something without paying for it, I was also going to do some work without getting paid.

When I woke the next day, I was down to two final schemes for gaining money in Rio. The final idea was going to be illegal. The idea I'd be trying on this day was to sneak into a big Rio fashion show, sneak backstage, find some fashionable clothes to put on, and somehow get on the runway to strike a chic-y pose. The idea was this would somehow generate money.

Despite the many obstacles I faced (most of them located in my face), I quickly convinced all of the fashion show security that I was a working model. I even made it into the dressing rooms where some of the girls were changing.

Unfortunately, though, the day's modelling line-up was already set, and no male clothing was to be shown. The only help I could offer was to open a designer's bottle of Coke, which I did by banging it against a table until the cap flew off and Coke shot out like a hose. A brown stain was left on the dressing room carpet and, in it, my mark on the modelling world. A job well-done, I thought, and I helped myself to some of the models' sandwiches and yogurt.

So, I was down to my last money-making option. I stood on a Copacabana street-corner with posters advertising Modern Oddyseus e-mail subscriptions to those who speak english and marvelous english lessons to those who don't.

The non-english-speaking, e-mail-less, and money-less loved the Modern Oddyseus idea, but they unfortunately weren't my target audience. I earned no money. All my wiliness must've been used up in getting into that club.

Giving up, I went to comfort myself in the best way Rio offers. I caught samba night at a cozy, downtown restaurant. The ever-changing band members shook their tambourines, tapped their tiny drums, plucked their acoustic guitars, tooted their flutes, and warbled their Portuguese lyrics in a soothing blend that made me feel like I was floating on a slightly bumpy cloud.

As I returned to Copacabana late in the morning, the city tried to finish me off.

By walking towards me and calling me "amigo"(in that scrupel-less way poor Brazilians call you when they want something from you), a guy on my street sucked me into shaking his hand as if he was a black hole.

He asked if I wanted cocaine, if I would give him money for cocaine, or if I was interested in meeting the four girls he had sleeping in his room. He was thin, bald, and brown-skinned. His short, light tan friend had the face of someone who wouldn't know the meaning of the worlds honesty, fairness, or "amigo."

I wasn't interested. They followed, and I told them I had no money. (I had two Reals and forty-six centavos, about a dollar.)

Leaving the druggies outside, I entered my building. When my elevator reached my floor, the seventh, I heard people running up the steps.

It was my "amigos." I unlocked my door, and the bald guy started feeling around in my pockets. I resisted; heck, two Reals and forty-six centavos is a day and a half's wages for me!

The bald guy made a threatening fist and held the pose. His hesitation was a sign of weakness. I decided I could take these two. It may not have been the wisest decision, but nobody's hand enters my pocket besides my own. They were the bad guys, and I had to fight them.

I punched the bald guy in the stomach, then the cheek. I turned to face his little maggot friend, but I was too late. The miserable little orc popped me right in the left eye and, with his other hand, tore the buttons of my shirt and destroyed the blue, rock necklace a girl had traded me in Amazonias and I was beginning to really like.

The eye shot had hurt worse than I would've expected, and I threw up my hands in resignation. They took their two-Real prize and left.

Meanwhile, I'm left in a state of limbo. Searching for flights home while still keeping an eye open (that would be my right eye - the left one's pink and purple and swollen mostly shut) for the possibility that I can still put my wiliness to work in Brazil.

To prove that not everything in Brazil is unsafe, I'll give an example of something else this country can be: just plain stupid.

For example, I asked the door-man of my apartment what his job was. I was particularly curious as to why the door-man who'd been working the previous night had let the cocaine-users enter our apartment and race after me up the stairs.

I asked if part of his job was security. He said no.

"Se um ladrao estava entrando para me matar, voce o pararia?" (If a criminal was entering to kill me, would you stop him?) He thought a moment and said no.

"Que voce faz?" (What do you do?) He said, "Informaçao." (Information.)

Mind you, the entire time I was talking to him, he was trying to ignore me, as if answering people's questions was the last thing an "informaçao" worker should be bothered to do.

I asked if it wasn't true that there were sometimes two or three people doing his job at once. He said it was.

Trying to shed some light on what exactly he was paid for, I said, "Realmente, cuantos pessoas num dia perguntam por informaçao sobre o edificio?" (Seriously, how many people a day ask for information about the building)

He paused and said, "Vários." (Various.)

I thought about this for a second, and I did come up with the following, possible scenario in which his job would be useful:

GIRL: Excuse me, sir, what do you do?

DOOR-MAN # 1: Information about the building, ma'am.

GIRL: Oh, great. What floor is Apartment 723 on?

DOOR-MAN # 1: Let me just think back to my training ... um ... you know, it IS a big building. You can't expect me to know the answers to all of 'em. Luckily, they don't make me tackle this job alone. Earl, you don't by chance know what floor # 723 is on, do you?

DOOR-MAN # 2: If I was her, I'd start searching somewhere around the tenth ... but, then again, if I was her, I wouldn't know Vern. Vern here - dang, Vern, wake up! You're working! - Vern here is the best door-man in all of Copacabana. He's been on the job fifty years now. We can't believe the stress hasn't gotten to him.

DOOR-MAN # 3: What floor is Apartment 723 on? Ah ha ha! Why, my little lady, I'm glad you asked. I haven't heard a doozy like that in twenty-some odd years. I believe you'll find what you're looking for ... on the floor they call "seven."

DOOR-MAN # 1: Vern's done it again!

DOOR-MAN # 2: He's the best.


- Modern Oddyseus

"Sempre, procurei alguem que sofreu como eu, mas eu nao consegui ... " - a samba (I've always looked for someone who's suffered as I have, but I've never found him ...)

"Que samba boa ... que coisa louca ... " - a samba (What a good samba ... what a crazy thing ...)

"Gotta find a way, a better waaaiii, a better waaaaaiiiii!!!" - Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), "Gotta Find A Way"
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