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December 11, 2009 – L.A.X.

In general, I feel good about this. Three months isn’t such a long time, and I certainly wasn’t accomplishing anything in L.A. So what if all anyone has told us about Brazil is that it’s dangerous, and we’ll be beaten and robbed within seconds of landing in Sao Paulo. Just because everyone has a third- or fourth-hand account of a girl who was slashed or a guy who was shot doesn’t mean we’ll be slashed and shot. Never mind that story in the Times about how Brazilian police kill hundreds of innocent people a year. Just don’t ask the police for help. And just don’t think about that other story in the Times that said gangmembers in one of Rio’s favelas just shot down a police helicopter. That was Rio.

Everything’s going to be fine.

 

December 15 – Sao Paulo

On Sunday, Day One, it was raining, so after breakfast we went to a nearby mall. I don’t see how Sao Paulo can be dangerous. At the entrance a man stands with a machine gun strapped to his bulletproof vest, the cuffs of his black cargo pants tucked into his army boots. That seems to be the hip look for scary paramilitary types. When a man tucks his pants into his boots, you can just assume he has no problem with cold-blooded murder. Think about it: those Blackwater Nazis? Tuckers, to a man.

Inside, there are five security guards for every civilian. Men in dark jackets stand about thirty feet apart, watching every move we make.  When I take my wallet out of my pocket to pay for some cheesebread, I do it very slowly.

Yes! We successfully ordered cheesebread! We communicate with the natives via pointing at what we want. As a result, we tend not to get exactly what we want, but we are adaptable and our stomachs are strong.

 

December 16

Stomach pain!

Shouldn’t have gone from being vegetarian straight to eating chicken wrapped in bacon.

Also, Portuguese is hard. It shares words with Spanish, but Brazilians pronounce the Rs like Hs at the beginning of words but like Ds in the middle of words. They pronounce Ds like Js, and Ts like CHs (as in “Chanukah”), except when they don’t, and I have no idea when that is. Basically I have to rely on context to make a guess about what people are saying to me.

Have discovered local Starbucks. Emotions: conflicted.

 

December 17

Karen is jealous that I get to hang out all day while she has to work. I sympathize, but hey, I’m working. These crossword puzzles aren’t going to do themselves! I mean, I’m trying to plot my novel, but well, it sucks. And right now, someone is using a circular saw right on the other side of this wall, and the sound is like a demon screeching inside my head. I would leave this place, but I’m waiting for coffee. Still learning the local customs. I’m relying wholly on tone and context here, but I think the barista just said to me, “Sit down, bitch! I’ll bring you your goddamn coffee when it’s ready!”

I miss my dog.

 

December 18

Brazilian greetings are complicated. Before noon, it’s “Bom dia!” (but you say, “Bong gee-a”). Then, “Boa Tarde!” (“Ta-ch-jee!”) and then at night, “Boa Noite” (“Noichee or Noich.”) But you also might get, “Tudo bem?” or “Tudo bom?” which are apparently interchangeable. If someone says “Tudo bem?” your response is supposed to be “Tudo bom!” and vice versa, but so far all Karen and I have been able to do is smile and repeat whatever they’ve said to us, or lapse into a lame “Hi.”

I’m at a mall. I flew six thousand miles to sit in a mall. Next to Starbucks. But in my defense, it’s an outdoor mall, and it’s the only place in like a three-mile radius where you can be outside without suffering the noise and air pollution from the cars that clog every street.  And I’m not at Starbucks. Just next to it. At Fran’s Café, which, I’ve been told, is the Brazilian Starbucks.

There are security guards everywhere. The patrons of this mall are professionals and the super-rich. I’m the sketchiest-looking person here.

 

December 19

I did our laundry for the first time yesterday. It’s a complicated business, that begins with my calling housekeeping and saying, “Posso reservar a lavanderia?” and the housekeeper’s saying, “Que?” and my trying again and her saying something unintelligible that goes on way too long but ends abruptly so that the silence extends into awkward territory until I say, “Um…” and she says, “Agora! Agora!” and I say, “Oh, now? OK!”

I took the elevator down to the stiflingly hot basement where the laundry room is and where the housekeepers all marvel at the gringo man doing laundry. I don’t know much about Brazil yet, but I’m guessing they don’t have house-husbands here. I think of saying in Portuguese, “A woman’s work is never done!” but my courage fails me.

The machines are slow and stubborn, and the dryers don’t actually dry. I used up my entire allotted three-hour window, and still had to hang clothes from every possible place in the apartment to dry them. I managed to hang all of Karen’s undies on hangers, five each, which I then hung from our dining table chandelier. If all else fails, I will become a panty-mobile maker and sell my crafts by the roadside.

 

January 4, 2010

New year, old shit. Trouble sleeping. How can I detach the critical part of my brain?

I’m in the penthouse common room of the hotel. The view is 360 degrees of high-rise buildings, beautiful in a sort of tragic, pre-apocalyptic way. Every now and then a helicopter flies by and keeps going or lands on one of the office buildings in the neighborhood. Those guys — the ones who take helicopters around the city — just have to be all-star douchebags. There’s just no way around it.

There are security cameras in here. They’re also in the hallway outside our room, and in the elevators. Do they make me want to adjust my scrotum and pick my nose more than usual, or am I just more aware of these urges?

 

January 7

The housekeeper is messing with me. I leave the room at the same time every day to allow her to clean, but today I leave for two hours and come back, and she still hasn’t been here. What do I do? I am a home-person. I’m the roommate about whom other roommates moan to their friends, “He’s always home!”

I can only sit in so many cafés, and the hotel roof gets too hot in the afternoons. Where can I go?  Who will care for me? Is this how my ancestors felt? Would building a golden calf make me feel any better?

 

January 8

No.

 

January 9? 10?

I’ve lost track. Feeling a bit… low. I’m working at the juice place I’ve been going to so the servers at the cafés don’t think I’m stalking them. It’s pouring rain. It’s rained every day that we’ve been here, which is fine with me. I could go back to the room, switch the green Favor Arrumar o Quarto card on the door handle back over to the red Favor Não Incomodar, but then the room won’t be cleaned! What if we should want to shower again today?! The towels will be — gasp! — damp!

Karen says she doesn’t think the room needs to be cleaned every day — we certainly don’t have a housekeeper in real life — but I’m afraid of setting a precedent. Skip a day and the housekeeper may never come back. Or skip a day, and then I’ll skip two, and then three. Before we know it, we’ll be living like animals.

Also, I just left the hotel, and I can’t run that gauntlet again. On my way out I had to walk past the front desk, where no fewer than four blue-blazered hotel staffers milled around, all smiling fakely and saying, “Tudo bem?” or “Tudo bom?” or “Bom Dia!” Then there was the stoic security guard at the door, his deep “Bom Dia,” and then the three valet parking attendants. I just nodded and kept walking, like someone who is busy, very busy. No time for chit-chat, I have places to be, people to order coffee from!

No. Can’t go back to the hotel.

 

January 11?

Why can’t I get my shit together and get some work done? What’s my problem? Why won’t the housekeeper be consistent? Why doesn’t this hotel have a back door?

It’s too hot to think in this climate.

Stomach pain is back. Yesterday we accidentally ordered a stew that had at least four different animals in it.

When we get back to the States, I’m going vegan.




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Jeremy Resnick Jeremy Resnick has taught writing at NYU and UC Merced. He lives in Santa Monica.

26 Responses to “Brazil: The First Month”

  1. Lenore says:

    MERCED!!! this is hilarious. i’m so proud of you that you’re eating animals like a real man. i miss you and i think that you and karen should fly me out there and i will clean your filth for you and eat your leftover bacon-wrapped chicken.

    LA is lonely without you. there’s far fewer funny people around me, for one. but don’t worry, nothing has changed. there are still no jobs here.

    i’m still laughing. i needed a good piece of merced writing. best way to start the say.

    • karen says:

      lenore, the problem is, there is no leftover chicken-wrapped bacon. no leftover pork stew, steak, no leftover sugar cane rum. (I don’t believe those panty mobiles are built sober.) we had ham *on* our hamburgers the other day, and ate every last bite.

      but you should come visit anyway and we’ll take you dancing.

      • Jeremy Resnick says:

        miss you too, lenore!

        karen brings up a good point: no leftovers. also, that hamburger is a perfect example of how we don’t know what we’re ordering. “hamburguer completa” would, you’d think, be “completa” without ham, but you’d be wrong.

  2. Irene Zion says:

    Okay, Jeremy,

    I think you hit on something moneymaking here. You could absolutely sell panties-mobiles to a certain segment of the population, but they couldn’t be washed.
    You could do it on e bay and develop a following.
    (While you are thinking about your book.)

    • Jeremy Resnick says:

      thanks, irene! i didn’t even think of the pervy angle. unfortunately, handling dirty undies, which would probably have to be stolen from their owners, would take a lot of the joy out of panties-mobile making, for me. i’m a purist, i guess.

      • Irene Zion says:

        Jeremy,

        If Karen is game, you could just buy her lots of cheap undies and use hers and shed never have to wash her undies!
        She may not go for it, though.

  3. When I read the 11 Dec. entry, I was picturing Li’l Zé from City of God (2002) shooting people to swiss cheese. Then I realized, wrong city.

    Security cameras always make me want to scratch my balls or ass in public. It’s not just you.

    • Jeremy Resnick says:

      thanks, i’m glad the camera thing’s not just me.

      re li’l ze, don’t sell those sao paulo favelas short. i think they have a real chip on their shoulder about all the attention rio’s been getting, and they’re looking to do some really top-notch murdering this year to improve their cred.

  4. Zara Potts says:

    Ha! This was great!
    My favourite bit:
    Jan 8 – No.

    Can we now have Jan 11 to the present day? I want to read one every morning!

  5. Jeremy Resnick says:

    thank you for reading, zara! unfortunately, my mood continued to deteriorate for several days, and much of the journal between january 11 and now is either blank or casts me in a more negative light than the already pretty negative light with which i’m comfortable. but i’m trying to sort through them, and maybe it’s not all trash.

  6. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    Yeah, this is extremely funny. The line “I think of saying in Portuguese, “A woman’s work is never done!” but my courage fails me” made me laugh out loud, but maybe I’m just being a house-husband. Hope there is more where this came from.

  7. Neil Resnick says:

    Jeremy,
    I laughed…I cried…I cringed…not bad for a chronology that only spans about four weeks! I love your characterization of your experience…it goes much deeper then the description of beautiful foliage and fauna. Bottom line…I love your writing. We miss you and Karen (how nice!). Jackie and I went to the Grammy’s this past Sunday night…trust me, I could write a novella on that experience! Come home soon…the Starbucks, effecive dryers and consistent food (and love of your family) await you! Love Uncle Neil

    • Jeremy Resnick says:

      Foliage? Fauna? I forgot all about that stuff.

      We miss you too! You have to tell me more about the Grammys. I knew you were high-rollers, but I had no idea just how high….

  8. Marni Grossman says:

    “Have discovered local Starbucks. Emotions: conflicted.”

    So fucking funny.

    I think everyone who picks up and moves to another country is fucking brave. I spent a semester abroad in Haifa in college and I spent the first two months crying to my parents on the phone every night. I got lonely and crazy. In the end, I came away with one very lovely German friend. Pretty sure everyone else thought I was nuts. And kind of a loser.

    Being with your girlfriend probably helps, though.

    • Jeremy Resnick says:

      Marni, I don’t blame you. Israel is a tough place. Being surrounded by people who want to kill you is stressful. Brazil by comparison is totally mellow.

      And coming away from any experience with a new friend is great. I tried to befriend the housekeeper, but I think I spoiled it when I stole the toilet plunger from her cart. More on that, whether you want it or not, later….

  9. My dad used to work in San Paulo, and my cousin went there once. My dad had about three or four friends kidnapped during his time there, and my cousin was beaten up and robbed on the beach… But it sounds like an interesting place, and I want to go there to see it with my own eyes.

    Did you ever read Hunter Thompson’s National Observer stuff from South America? It’s proof that he was (for a very short time) one of the greatest damn journalists of his time.

    • Jeremy Resnick says:

      David, thanks. You’re a comfort.

      I haven’t read Thompson’s South America stuff, but I’ll look for it. I agree; he was one of the greatest. The Great Shark Hunt is one of my favorite pieces of writing by anybody.

  10. Dana says:

    Hilarious!
    “No time for chit-chat, I have places to be, people to order coffee from!”

    Keep the faith. It’s apparent that the words are with you.

  11. Richard Cox says:

    I loved reading this because I’d like to move to Brazil for a year or two.

    So it true what they say about how you can’t walk three feet without bumping into a Victoria’s Secret model?

  12. Ben Loory says:

    i love how you’re always obsessed with shirts being tucked in and not tucked in. i feel like we share a secret madness.

    • Jeremy Resnick says:

      Is it madness to ask that shirt tails and pants cuffs be allowed to hang loose, free from the cruel bonds of belts and boots? Or is the sanest thing I’ve ever been obsessed with?

      I guess it could be both.

  13. Mom says:

    Very funny! Don’t eat pork!!

    Love and miss you,
    mom

  14. Wait, so… did it just take you a day to build that golden calf?

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