Tuesday, 18 August 2009





Disciple




From The Psychological Benefits Of Exercise


Jesus wonders; when he named him did his father know he would turn out this way? The gaunt face, the dank, straggly vines of hair, the rope thin body? But then how could his father have known, back then, when Jesus was just a fat baby like all the other fat babies? Jesus supposes he couldn’t have known - it was just a name like any other. Still he feels different because of it, knows that people think it when he passes, there he goes, there goes Jesus.

He knows a great many people, but also he does not truly know any of them. Most of what he feels is not loneliness, for to be lonely, after all, is to feel a sense of missing something that others have. And if he has never had this something, how can he feel its lack?

What he feels, then, is alone, which is not the same as loneliness. He is alone almost all the time. But that is alright, too.

***

Tonight is a good night. Thursday is usually good, people out drinking, talking, laughing, music playing. Sold - four lighters, three mini-torches, two of the toy dogs with the nodding heads. Before he goes home he stops for a drink. Michelle brings him his beer, he watches her walk away from his table, turn and look back at him, smile at him.

Jesus, he knows she is thinking, though she does not know his name.

Sometimes he even feels like Jesus, moments like this, when he finishes his beer and pays and walks away through the crowds, for alone amongst all these people, passing from one bar’s tumbling fall of music into the next bar and its tumbling fall of music, the night sky above him milky white under a coat of sea clouds, he has somewhere to go. He, unlike them, is not merely carousing. He is working, thinking clearly, his mind not fugged by alcohol. And when he has finished working he will go home, to where his sister and brother and father are waiting for him.

He has a mission, like the other Jesus had, even if his mission is only to sell lighters and mini-torches and toy dogs with nodding heads.

He wonders would he feel like this if he believed in God.

Probably not.

***

He stands at the bus stop and looks back across the road to the praça. From here it looks both quieter and more busy, the crowds thicker but less chaotic. From here the moving people have a rhythm like ballet, the children screaming and running between the tables, the silent old men underneath the tree in the middle, the girls lapping the square, sucking on popsicles, ignoring but not ignoring the men, the men in the bars staring at the girls in a way that seems to Jesus impossibly obvious. It is not that Jesus does not stare at the girls too, only that he likes to stare in a different way, a little more surreptitiously.

Surreptitious Jesus. He tells himself that he stares this way because he thinks it is impolite to stare openly like the other men, which is partly true, but he also knows that he stares this way because he thinks the girls like it better and will think him different.

And when he has to, Jesus knows how to turn it on, how to stare intently, to let the girl know it’s her, out of all of them, that he wants. The staring intently, coupled with the whole Jesus thing, works sometimes, doesn’t work other times.

It worked with Michelle, that one time. It was only afterwards he noticed she had not asked his name, and when he went back to the bar the next night although she smiled at him when she brought his drink it was as though nothing had happened at all. Perhaps, Jesus considers, nothing had happened at all. Perhaps Michelle had been like a sound in the night strong enough to wake you but that afterwards you think - what was the sound that woke me?

Did the other Jesus think like this?, he wonders. As he hung from the cross did he think, what, was I just kidding myself all along?

***

So he is not always alone. There was Michelle, and there have been other girls too. Mostly he pays, it is easier, Jesus has not the time for romance. Though he likes the way it can seem like romance, sometimes, the girl coming over to his table, sitting next to him, Michelle bringing her a glass, him pouring them both out some beer. He likes to remember their names, Alice, Bel, Maria, Lizia. So they talk for a while, not long, and then she asks him does he want to go somewhere, and they stand up and go across the street behind the bus terminal and he pays the motel owner, five for the hour, and then they go upstairs, the room neither clean nor dirty, the roar of the buses outside, the smell of the engine fumes coming in through the open window. Afterwards he gives her the money, ten or fifteen, and they go back to the square and he has another drink and goes home.

He wonders did the other Jesus ever do it. There was Mary Magdalene, he knows that, but what about the other stuff, the stuff not in the Bible, the shitting and the pissing and the fucking? Doesn’t everyone do it, even the Son of God? Didn’t Jesus ever sit in the square on a Friday night and have a girl come over and ask him if he liked her? Didn’t he ever drop a few shekels (if it was shekels they used – Jesus doesn’t know history) on the ground and have the pair of them slip away from Mathew and James and John and the rest of that doleful lot, even just for a few moments of relief from all the pressure, all that aching responsibility?

Jesus likes to think so. When he goes into the motel room he likes to think of the other Jesus doing the same in dusty old Bethlehem, all that long silver time ago.

Once, a long time ago, there had been someone important for Jesus, but she left, and for forty days and nights Jesus was sad, until he decided she didn’t matter anyway, not one of them really mattered, no-one was to be trusted.

And now he is as he is.

Jesus alone.

***

When he gets home his sister is on the couch naked with her legs in the air; everything is on display. Her belly is fat and tight with the baby. She gets up and hugs him and her thick glasses bump against his neck and fall onto the floor and she bends and picks them up and then lies down on the couch again and puts her feet in the air.

He watches for a moment, then goes into the kitchen and puts water on to boil. They used to go to the cinema together a lot, Jesus and his sister. But she would talk throughout the film, even when he didn’t answer, or told her to stop. She would commentate on what was happening in the film. Look, he came back, she would say, or she likes him, or that’s his father, as though she could not stop her thoughts from coming out of her mouth. Other people turned and stared. His sister is nineteen. The father of her child is sixty seven. Sometimes when he cannot help it Jesus imagines them together, the old man’s body, as crinkly as old newspaper. Then he makes himself stop thinking about it.

***

Jesus thinks people are rude, in general. On Sunday he goes to buy chicken sausages from the woman who stands on the corner with a barbecue grill. When he gets there the woman is talking to a friend. Jesus says hello. She looks at him and turns back to the friend. Are the sausages ready, he asks her. No, she says. When will they be ready, he asks. The woman says she doesn’t know. Well, he asks, will it be a long time, do you think, and she tells him to come back in half an hour.

Jesus goes away, and half an hour later he comes back.

Are they ready, he asks her.

She looks at him. How many do you want, she says.

Four, says Jesus, and gives her five reais. The sausages cost one real each.

I don’t have change, she says. I only have a two real note.

Jesus tries to think about the other Jesus, how he never lost his temper.

How about you take three sausages instead, the woman says.

Jesus remembers the other Jesus and the money lenders in the temple.

Because I don’t want three, I want four. So why don’t you go and find some fucking change, he says.

The woman looks at him for a long time then goes into her house and comes out with his change.

Don’t come back here, she says as she gives him the sausages.

I’m persecuted, Jesus thinks.

Persecuted Jesus. Just like He was.

***

One night they go out together, Jesus and his sister. There is a bar across the street from their building, where they have a band some nights that keeps Jesus awake. So tonight, tired Jesus thinks, what’s the difference, I won’t sleep anyway, and they go out.

Jesus and his sister sit and watch the band and the people dancing. Jesus notices some people staring at him. He looks away.

Jesus’ sister’s friend turns up. She is wearing a wooly hat and a short skirt.

They sit and watch the band and the people dancing.

After a while when they are talking Jesus’ sister’s friend touches Jesus’ hand with her hand, and a second later their fingers are intertwined. A little later when they are talking Jesus kisses his sister’s friend, and they sit holding hands.

Smooth Jesus.

Jesus’ sister’s friend’s cell phone rings, and when she has finished she says she has to go, but that she might come back.

You better come back, Jesus says.

Forceful Jesus.

She smiles at him. And she comes back.

***

The next day Jesus calls her.

Let’s do something, he says.

I can’t, Jesus’ sister’s friend says, I have to look after my kid.

I didn’t know you have a kid, Jesus says.

More than one, truth be told, Jesus’ sister’s friend says.

How many, he asks.

Three.

Jesus takes a moment to listen to the sound of crickets outside his window.

How old are you, he asks his sister’s friend.

Twenty two.

Jesus wonders what the other Jesus would say in this situation. Would he condemn? Would he preach? Would he forgive, call her my daughter?

Jesus realises he doesn’t know that much about the other Jesus.

Later on he goes to his sister’s friend’s house. He brings her a toy dog with a nodding head.

She comes downstairs and they stand on the street.

They kiss for a while.

After a while they go upstairs to stare at the children, two of them asleep in his sister’s friend’s bed, a knot of pink sticky arms and legs, and the other, a baby, tiny and bald, lying in a cot.

After a while Jesus goes home.

It is late enough that the streets are empty, the wind blows, trees scatter leaves.

Jesus, God, the world.

***

Jesus finds himself going to his sister’s friend’s house most days. They sit on the couch, he watches her changing the baby’s nappy, bathing the baby, feeding the baby. He plays with the children who are not babies.

Do you have a job, he asks his sister’s friend one night, as they stand looking at the children in their beds.

I didn’t finish school, she says, you know, what with, and she makes a sweeping gesture with her hand across the top of three sleeping heads.

Where is the father?, he asks her.

-s, she says. One is around, one isn’t.

When she tells him these things she looks at him in a way that says, don’t go yet.

They sit on the couch, kissing.

Jesus puts his hand on her thigh, then her face, then her breast.

Not yet, she says, I’m not that type of girl.

Jesus walks home, the wind blows.

Jesus, God, the world.

***

When he works he thinks about her, thinks about the children, thinks about what they might be doing. When he visits he brings chocolate for the children, small pieces of jewelry for her.

And when he works now he feels different, more pure. Though the girls still come over to sit with him, now he says, sorry, I can’t. Now his mission is more than just nodding dogs and lighters.

Now he is more like the other Jesus, and he feels himself bathed in his own holy light, white and blinding.

***

On a Saturday she calls him and asks him to come round, says she needs to talk to him. He goes to the market, buys some oranges, thinking they will be good for the children.

It is raining, a grey thin day.

So, she says, sorry.

What, Jesus says, not understanding.

You’re a nice guy. Kind. Sweet. But this, and she holds up the bag of oranges, and shrugs, and makes the gesture over the top of the children’s heads again, and shrugs again, and says, the chocolate, the jewelry, it’s too much, you know?

No, Jesus says, I don’t know.

You’re too kind, she says. I don’t want kind.

One of the children starts to cry.

Jesus leaves.

That night he works. At the bar he drinks one beer, then a second, then a third. Bel comes and sits next to him and he puts his hand on her leg and they leave together. Afterwards, when it is over and Bel lies dozing beside him, he stands and stares out the window at the bus station and the praça beyond.

Too kind, he thinks.

No-one ever told Him He was too kind.

Jesus looks for his wallet to pay. And later, as the bus rattles over pitted and cracked roads, carrying him home, he rests his head on the bouncing glass of the window and dreams of things impossible to know, impossible to have.


End.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009




Goodbye to all that, said Robert Graves, and after Sunday, 9th August 2009, the supporters of Santa Cruz Futebol Clube are left feeling as if they’ve just spent a couple of years in a WW1 trench. Goodbye then, to Santa for another five months, out of Serie D after six games, and goodbye to the Serie D galaticos, Neto Maranhão, Gobatto, Juninho, Alexandre Oliveira, Thiago Laranjeiras and the rest, all of whom will pack their bags now and wander off in search of a game somewhere else. Cruel as a cat baiting a mouse, it was, on Sunday – the 30,000 inside Arruda raising the roof four times – twice for Santa goals, twice for Central goals far away in Sergipe. When the last Central goal, the winner, came in the last bloody minute, when Santa’s game was 2-2 and there were still ten minutes left, the old republicas fairly shook – of course we’re going to win now, look, it’s fated.

And Juninho hit the bar, and Paulo Rangel headed softly to the goalkeeper when he couldn’t not score, and in the very last minute everything pinballed around in front of the CSA goal, and a woman in front of me screamed, and (I learned later on the radio) another woman in the expensive seats suffered a minor heart attack, and one of the CSA supporters fell over the wall up in the anel superior and broke if not his neck then at least his hands, and fingers knees and toes, knees and toes, before the ball plopped gently into the hands of the CSA goalkeeper. And then the referee blew his whistle, and everyone just stood around looking at each other, thinking no, no, this can’t be right, we haven’t scored yet, this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Before drifting home, silently, silently.

A final word, then, on tricolores and the Inferno Coral. Three home games at Arruda saw approximately 120,000 people roll up to watch Santa, the highest average crowd in Brazil this year. More than Flamengo, Sao Paulo and Corinthians. 6,000 followed the team four hours down the coast to Maceio. Another 3,000 went further still, to Sergipe. 7,000 hopped the short trip over to Caruaru for the away game against Central. The Inferno and Brazilian torcidas organizadas in general have a tremendous reputation for ultraviolence, but other than a small kerfuffle on the terraces in Caruaru, in Serie D Santa´s fans have given an impeccable demonstration of how to support a football team with great heart and passion and vibrancy (and could teach the fans of big European teams a thing or two about this) and without violence or mass destruction (despite, of course, the performances of the team providing much incentive for both).

I will remember all of it, for a long time. I will remember standing mouth agape as Arruda shook under 90,000 feet against Central. I will remember the bus trip down to Maceio and the six hour bus trip back and standing in the rain outside a sugar cane plantation somwhere in southern Pernambuco after the bus broke down drinking cachaça and eating clube social crackers. I will remember the big iloveyouido party between the fearsome Inferno Coral and C.S.A´s hardcore Mancha Azul in Maceio (the two being allies under the Brazilian football mafia’s complicated we like them but we don´t like them network). I will remember other things too, but I can’t remember them now, because that’s the way memory works, at least for me.

Ps. Now that Santa are RIP, normal pseudo intellectual service will be resumed shortly. Hooray, says everyone (both of you), who cares not about Santa or the Inferno. Though how, really, can anyone not care about Santa or the Inferno?

Friday, 7 August 2009


Up on the ladder they sing - how high must a brother climb to reach the sky? is what Afghan Whigs holler on Jacob’s Ladder, a song , no, not just a song, a reworking of an old negro slave anthem all dripped in guitars and booze and cigarettes and feedback and sex and revenge and hate and obsession, on the finest rock and roll record the world has ever seen, Black Love. And before launching into what all this might mean, a quick word to say that no, that (the finest rock and roll record the world has ever seen) is not Revolver, or whatever the best Rolling Stones album is (who knows or cares), or even Definitely bloody Maybe, and in a world full of tragedy maybe the greatest tragedy of all is that the great Greg Dulli is washing pots while (sensitive souls look away now) a See You Next Tuesday like Bono Vox is more famous than God.

And the link to all this is as follows (rather torturously) – up there in geral they sing - how loud must a brother sing, how long must a brother travel, how much pissing money must a brother spend, to see Santa Cruz reach not even the sky, but at least the second round of Serie D?
Very far indeed, it looks like. Because (and I know, I’m doing it again, but I just can’t stop myself, and anyway real life has become sweetly tedious these days – dog/car/work/The Fanautico Girlfriend/reasonably heavy drinking being about the size of it) this is all really beginning to take the piss now. All started brightly enough away in Maceio, of course, but since then it’s become about as much fun as watching a prozaced to the eyeballs Ana Maria Braga discussing her menstruation cycles live on TV while eating buchada (goat-tripe-haggis, if that makes any sense) with her fingers.

Though Old Willy S would be hard pushed to beat the tragic drama of it all. A billowing swell of 45,000 (45,000! In one game in Serie D, Santa pretty much match grubby little Sport’s total attendance in three home games in Latin America’s biggest club competition, the Libertadores) roll up to Arruda to see Santa pimp roll aside Central, a pub team from up-the-road Caruaru. Only Santa are buttock clenchingly awful, somehow scraping a dreadful 2-2 draw with two goals in the last five minutes. Much gnashing of teeth. No problem, think the Inferno hordes – a mere blip. Until the team lose 1-0 in Sergipe the week after. And then – despite El Presidente’s dire warning to coach Sergio China that anything else than a thumping victory might well represent his end of days – lose 2-0 to Sergipe the week after. This time at home, in front of a glorious bouncing multitude of 40,000 (during the week El Presidente bets his fellow directors at Sport and Nautico r$1000 worth of cesta básicas that Santa´s crowd will be double the attendance in the Classico Dos Classicos the following day – needless to say, he wins). Sergio bites the dust, and Santa are getting a lot of national press in Brazil these days, for presenting the best comedy-tragedy double act in football – the best fans, the worst (by a country mile) team. (And if you want really good writing on huge crowds of people watching terrible sporting teams, read Roger Angell on the 1960’s Amazin’ Mets, and not this rubbish).

It couldn’t get any worse, though, surely. Except it could. Seconds out ding-ding-ding Round 2 against pub team Central last weekend, this time in Caruaru. I’m not going. I am going. I’m not going. A few too many sherberts at a house party in the little favela that nestles up against what was once the biggest shopping mall in Brazil the night before (booze and snacks for free courtesy of the ample charmed friend of The Fanautico Girlfriend (no numbers any longer – looks (gulp) like a keeper (having ample charmed friends who supply free booze and snacks helps a lot). Crumbling hangover the next day. I’m not going. I am going. I’m not going. I am going. I’m going to drive – 120km over the hills and the pot holed Death Race 2000 highways and far away. I’m not going to drive. I’m going to drive. I’m getting the bus. I miss the bus. I get one of the jaunty illegal rides that hang around smoking fags outside the bus station – me and three other tricolores and an old man with a face the colour of asphalt and no teeth. The driver takes it easy on the way out – never dipping below a come on grandma 100 mph whilst chewing corn husks and looking for CDs in the glove compartment and Paraguay cigarettes. I close my eyes and pray to Eamonn Holmes.

And then I get the flashback – Michaeljfox it back a year ago and there I am rolling out from Joao Pessoa to Campina Grande in what might well be the same bloody car along the same bloody highway for all the difference it makes, and we all know (see entry dated 9th July 2008) how that little adventure turned out. But lightning never strikes twice, and there’s no way Santa are losing this one too.

Except they are. Caruaru is jumping with 7,000 or more Inferno and while pre-match atmosphere on the ground is chummy enough, in the back offices it isn’t. Santa call for doping tests of the Central players, presumably fearing the sight of 11 Schwarzenegger-esque patativas all hopped up on performance enhancers (unlikely). Central demand an out of state referee, presumably fearing a few brown envelopes changing hands in exchange for a few dodgy decisions (extremely likely). They don’t get their wish, and the local radio boys are climbing the walls – “and the ref gives Santa another free kick, just `cos he feels like it!” and so on. El Presidente wanders down into the dressing room and flashes a few wads of cash at the Santa players – it’s yours if you win it, boys.

In the middle of it all, coach Marcio Bittencourt stands around and looks confused – as well he might. Marcio’s story is as Brazilian football manager as it gets. Tempted to Arruda by talk of a five year project/director of football from Santos/established players from the higher divisions and not a bunch of clowns from the interior of Pernambuco promises made by El Presidente, a job well done in the Pernambuco championship (Santa finish third) gets him a lot of slaps on the back and, after the numbers boys have looked at well, the numbers – the offer of a healthy reduction in his salary. Spoilt brat Marcio says thanks but no thanks, I’ve got, um, a contract and you can’t drop my wages just because you’re skint (the above argument is entirely logical only until it is remembered that Santa are generally in no position to be paying anyone’s wages, at the contractually agreed level or otherwise). Marcio walks out, gets a nice job at nearby lil’ Nautico, where he does not very much at all for a few weeks except - as the team are garbage and lose all five games he oversees - get the boot. Nautico don’t pay Marcio either, so he hangs around in Recife waiting for his dough. Santa dump their won-ton dumplings in the trasher (aka China, Sergio) before realising that, um, they’ve got bog all chance of hiring anyone to replace him who can even tie his own shoelaces, what with only two games left in Serie D. One would like to imagine the sheepishness of El Presidente when he called up Marcio and asked him to come back and sort out this mess for a couple of games, but then El Presidente is a big cheese Brazilian wielder of power, and big cheese Brazilian wielders of power don’t really do sheepishness. We’ll pay your wages this time, if you come back, we really will, appears to have been the deal clincher.

So all’s right with the world, and Santa are bound to win. They even play quite well. Alexandre Oliveira thumps a rocket against the crossbar. Marquinhos thumps another. It bounces down on the goal line but doesn’t go in. No matter – victory is within thy grasp, Santinha!

Then the sun starts to go down behind the hills around Caruaru and the sky turns a golden blue and big pink streaky clouds hang over the ground and the shadows grow long over the bumpy grass and the people huddled watching on the roofs of the houses overlooking the pitch, and Central score.

And Santa huff and puff but don’t blow anything much at all down. And they lose 1-0. Open mouthed faces of i´ve just seen mum and dad doing the nasty horror and disbelief on the terraces. Christonatricycle. All hell breaks lose amongst the Inferno, as well it might (I’m no defender of ultraviolence, but if I was, then by jiminy I’d probably have been smacking myself really hard in the face after such a shambles). I leg it back to the bus station on a moto-taxi and then get an interstate bus back to Recife, even though I’ve got an offer of a seat on one of the paid-for Inferno buses back home, because I just can’t face talking and thinking about Santa any more and getting all angry and upset again.

So now it all boils down to this, ex-friends and ex-neighbours and ex-country men and women and people I don’t know – Santa have to beat CSA at home on Sunday, in what lazy journalists are already calling the game of miracles, and hope Central beat Sergipe. In Sergipe. Buckley’s chance of all that happening. Huge suitcases of wonga are already winging their way to Caruaru to um, incentivise Central (who only need a draw to qualify, as do Sergipe, which royally messes things up for Santa, as a chummy little yourmybestmateyouare empate between the other two leaves Santa in the abyss). Santa are desperately persuading any current or ex-footballer in the region (or country, or world), to come and play just one game on Sunday – they want Romario, Pele, Eamonn Holmes and Barack Obama, but get Paulo Rangel from Salgueiro instead. Father’s Day on Sunday, and maybe 30,000 will turn up at Arruda for the wake, maybe 50,000 (ok, not 50,000 because there’s only 49,000 tickets on sale, but close enough). I’m planning to read Don Quixote again over the weekend (not all of it, probably) because tilting at windmills seems to be the order of the day, partake in a few black magic ceremonies, and sacrifice the virginal body of Guinness The Dog upon a funeral pyre – as long as pissing Santa win and pissing Sergipe lose.

Fun and pissing games, no?

ps. apologies for robbed photographs of late, but, um, such was the jumping up and down excitement at the Central home game that I, um, lost my camera. And no, it fell out of my pocket, it´s like living in Iraq here burgesinhas of Recife, it wasn´t pinched. Though the result, obviously, is the same.