Friday, 19 June 2009


Bullet headed and thick throated, with stonehenge teeth and apple fat cheeks, Mr X was the girl never asked to the prom. No welcome seat either at The Table Of The World Of Men – a Gripper Stepson of a father leaving him with a life long fear of horny handed builders and oily knuckled mechanics. But as determined as Tensing, Mr X kept on keeping on, and after many years of bar stool therapy, and upping sticks and leaving the past behind at least as often as Baby Jesus`s birthday comes around, Mr X found himself, in his early middle years, being asked to the prom quite often, and able even to pass for um homen que é homen on occasion.

And in Brazil Mr X is a gringo, and as such can never ever be excluded from being a gringo, because every gringo is a good gringo, especially here in the nordeste, where all gringoes – Canadian gringoes, Argentinian gringoes, Irish gringoes, hell, even Porto Rican gringoes, are given a stirring snickers in the street welcome to the gringo club.

All this social acceptance and inclusion should make for a heart-warming tale. But yet but yet. Mr X sometimes, even today, feels that something is not quite right, here in Recife, that he is still, after almost four years of wasting his time in the finest possible way in Brazil, missing something vital from the gringo experience.

When Mr X takes his walks on the wild side, for example, strolling around the whys and wherefores of the teenage prostitutes in burguesinha Boa Viagem, or not as burguesinha Cais Da Santa Rita, Mr X is thoroughly ignored. Even in Salvador’s exploitation capital of Pelourinho, all Mr X ends up doling out is unwanted career advice to one shiny-skinned and shiny-toothed garota da programa (see entry dated 29th August 2008). And during his one potential roll in the type-of-hay-which-normally-costs-a-few-bob, he is told that his partner of choice is off-duty and can she and Mr X take things slowly and maybe become friends. Friends!, cries Mr X. No, no, no, for the love of God, no! Rob me, tie me up, take me hostage, steal my watch, overcharge me, yes, but friends, no, never!

Mr X has never even been robbed in the street, despite the fact that he walks everywhere and when he isn’t walking he takes the bus. Two buses a day, for four years, means nearly 3000 bus journeys, and not a thing, not a jot, not a sniff, not a knife or a gun pointed or a wallet or cell phone nabbed! How angry this makes Mr X! He knows people who have been robbed FIVE times! What´s wrong with me, he thinks, am I not fat enough, not old enough, not rich enough, not German enough? I´ll wear shorts with white socks, if that´s what it takes, but just rob me, please, just the once!

There was one time, a few years ago, a dopy Easter Sunday in downtown Recife, the rest of the population scarfing down big roast chicken lunches or out at the beach rolling fatly in the sand. Mr X walked his way down to the big bookshop in Old Recife, for want of anything better to do. A small boy hunched beside a phone box in an empty street. The boy scrabbled to his feet. Any change mister? he asked. Mr X fished in his pocket. The boy pulled a broken bottle out from behind his back. Mr X looked at the boy. The boy looked at Mr X. The boy was about ten feet away. You’re quite far away from me, Mr X said. I could run away quite easily. The boy considered this for a time. Mr X noted the boy’s stance showed less conviction than it had a few seconds before. Mr X sighed and walked away.

For the love of Neto Maranhão! Mr X has never even been exploited, or fiddled, or malandragemed! When Mr X forgets his change, shopkeepers run after him! Mr X gets charged less than his Brazilian chums! Fifteen reais, the barkeep says to The New Love of Mr X´s Life, after a dish of fried prawns and a few sharpeners. The barkeep spots Mr X, notes fluttering from his bulging wallet. Wait, he says, I added up wrong. For you it’s thirteen.

Mr X feels he is reaching the end of his tether. He wants to write to someone – his local councillor, Ana Maria Braga, Luis Inácio Lula Da Silva, anyone!

Until.

Oh happy day!

Mr X decides he can live his life on buses no longer. Not that he doesn’t love buses as he always did, but the 910 Rio Doce–Piedade is a bus that no-one can love – always late, always face-smushingly crowded, then 45 minutes or an hour of grinding through the traffic snarls around Derby and Boa Vista.

Mr X resolves to learn to drive the Brazilian way. Mr X takes lessons – he wants to both drive a car and ride a motorcycle. All goes swimmingly – Mr X soon learns to do the funny reverse parking thing and pilot a bike around the knee-jerky motorbike circuit in first gear without falling off too many times. Mr X even finds a car (or rather his chum in Jordão finds it for him – a 15 year old Fiat Uno bought for a mere r$5000, cars in Brazil generally being as expensive as original Renoirs).

Only one thing bothers Mr X. After a week of motorbike lessons, he has two weeks of car lessons. When he gets back on the bike, he finds that, disorientated, he rides for the first few minutes like old people run across the road – badly. He almost falls off a couple of times, and his foot comes stomping down on the tarmac on both the figure 8 and the ramp.

Mr X asks his weaselly instructor. On the day of the test, will I be able to ride the bike a little before I do the circuit, to get used to it again?

No
, the weaselly instructor says, beady eyes glinting.

Hum, Mr X says.

But don’t worry about it, the weaselly instructor says, leaning in closer. I know the meninos at DETRAN. I’ll have a word.

Mr X is cheered.

Just bring along a couple of guaranas, the weaselly instructor mutters in Mr X’s ear, and we’ll get it sorted.

Guaranas
? The teeth-gnarlingly sweet Brazilian soft drink? Mr X is confused. How is he going to fit a can of Guarana, or even two, in his pocket when he is doing a motorbike test? And why do the examiners at DETRAN place such stock in Guarana?

Mr X thinks for a minute. A long minute. Then Mr X feels the ficha caindo (penny dropping, non-bi-lingual friends) in his bullet head.

Guarana doesn’t really mean Guarana! It means wonga, spondoolicks, wedge, dough – legal Brazilian tender, the glorious Real!

The weaselly instructor is telling Mr X he can buy his licence!

Dishonesty! Corruption! Crookedness!

Mr X wants to sing, to dance, to skip and laugh, to hug the weaselly instructor!

The weaselly instructor looks alarmed. Of course, he says, only if you want to.

But the damage is done.

Of course, Mr X says, laughing. Of course I want to! Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!

Mr X wraps the weaselly instructor in a long, loving, but at the same time extremely manly embrace.

Dishonesty! Corruption! Crookedness!

Mr X is home at last!