Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Gym Rant

Some people should be offered a waiver when they sign up for the gym. Sure it’s in all the documents you have to subscribe without reading when you get a membership, but for a few bunch of arseholes it should be specific, personalised with every idiocy they like to perform when pretending to be working on their fitness. And I’m not even talking about those bodybuilders (ahem!) who scream with the heaviness of their weights; those already bear an universal hatred that in my opinion only makes them worse, flattered they get by all the publicity.

What I have in mind, instead, is that kind of person who uses the publicly shared space within the “health club” like it’s their own place. Maybe not their house, because I hardly doubt they would kick the flush in their own toilet just to make it work, but a place which they only daydream about (don’t we all?), wherein anything is possible and nothing ever breaks up or go out of service.

Just imagine the bald, middle-to-old-aged, protruding-belly man who seems to use the premises only and solely to hang around the showers. They check in every day right after work, spend six minutes on the treading mill, four or five on the ergonomic bike, eight-and-a-half seated on the leg press machine (not necessarily doing it) and head straight to the locker room. The more sweaty they manage to get during this “workout” the happier they look like. Also the more people they see going in, the sooner they’ll finish their set.

Merely illustrative. It's not your grandpa. Or it shouldn't be.
Inside they feel like in heaven. From their immense sports bag they produce two towels — one to dry up after shower and the other to throw flat on the floor —, a complete set of funky smelling shampoo, conditioner and body wash and, of course, a disposable razor, because a public bathroom is not only where they like to shave but also the best place to bleed miserably while doing it. Or do you think at home they don’t use a Gillette Proglide 5.0 XL? On Sundays they won’t have anyone to complain about the scars it’s going to leave on his face. “Evidence of the war,” they invariably say.

Yes, they obviously talk to everyone in the room, from the old man struggling to reach his toes in order to cut the nails to the unfortunate janitor who just wanted to mop the floor. The only ones who can somehow manage to avoid any sort of interaction are those (also characters of particular interest; more about them in some other opportunity) whose head are hid between their headphones. These can come and go as long as they never, under any circumstance, make eye contact with the subject.

In any case, what these men are most known for is their true obsession about making noise. Any kind of noise, as long as it is loud and unique. They grunt outwardly to get up from the bench, snort inwardly while soaping their asses, whistle to wander around and, more importantly, wham the button that turns the water on repeatedly. It is so hard and so often they smash it that you can only wonder whether they understand how a timed shower works. And if it breaks it’s the gym’s fault for not making some sort of regular maintenance; if it doesn’t, well, it’s not supposed to.

This is so very true that you never see such a person where these buttons have been replaced by those modern, silent hand sensors.

There are so many other examples of this kind of comportment that it would take a series of articles to cover them all. From the young, slightly overweight yet pretentiously fit lad who sprays the menthol bottle in the sauna until everyone’s skin gets dry and greenish to the overdressed girl who won’t leave the completely packed room unless the instructor asks individually who’s not registered for the class, these are all instances of utmost disrespect fomented daily by a society in which expressing disapproval is considered wrong and rude.

But the worse of them — it has to be said — is the farter. It can literally be anyone. Anyone. O, if I catch the motherfucker...

Thursday, 17 July 2014

It's going to be a long, dark summer

The Campeonato Brasileiro is back, and with it the incredible agony that watching Flamengo playing has lately been. If before the paralyzation for the World Cup they were the penultimate team on the table, ahead of the last one by three points and in need of just a draw to get out of the relegation zone, they now reached further down: with only seven points conquered in 30 possible, Flamengo are the worse between the four clubs leveled at the bottom, losing it in every tiebreaker. Yes, not only goal difference of number of goals conceded or scored, but all of them.

To understand why the biggest and most beloved team in Brazil is in such a bad situation it is necessary to set aside all forms of wisdom, coherence or contextualization and think like one of the executives that work for the club. Then it goes as follows: the goalkeeper does not demonstrate any willpower to play at a higher level anymore; the full-backs, who play in the most physically demanding position in the field, have a combined age of 66; the midfielders can neither tackle nor create chances, and the longest period of time they’re able to keep hold of the ball is exactly three seconds; and the attackers, for their need to run back to receive a decent pass and, most importantly, their complete lack of technique, do not get to make more than four attempts in 90 minutes of play, one of them on goal. Tops.

In a more analytical and pointing-fingers way, Felipe, the keeper, seems to have given up his desire to be called up to the national team at some point in 2013 (not that he stood a chance) and almost left the club last June (not by his own choice), yet somehow he managed to keep his position in the starting XI. Léo Moura, the everlasting right-back, 35 years of age, had to be rested every second match for fitness reasons already in the last season, so imagine how it is now. His left counterpart, André Santos, aged 31, had played only 30 games in the three years prior to his purchase. Elano, a once talented midfielder who now alternates between injuries and recovery periods inexplicably taken on the pitch; Hernane and/or Alecsandro, two strikers whose names bear more folklore than memorable performances; the whole youth academy of the club, which is always said to be full of potential but never make it professionally unless they leave Flamengo for any other team in the world; etc, etc, etc...

This list can go on forever, and it has to mean something.

It seems pretty clear that the board of directors, either out of a perverse desire or by pure lack of competence, is doing something wrong. Or maybe they see the situation in a completely different manner than everyone else, which is probably worse. The fact is that urgent issues are not being taken care of, while other stuff, like the signing of Eduardo da Silva, a player who hasn’t placed his foot on a clash for the ball since his unfortunate accident in 2008, demands all the attentions of the board.

Of course, there is the ridiculously endless debt Flamengo is in and at least this problem seems to have been addressed by the current legislature — which is important and understandably makes any extra financial effort even more strenuous —, however the main thing for a football club is the way they play the beautiful game, not how good their balance sheet looks like. And, by Jove!, there’s nothing, positively nothing beautiful in the way Flamengo are playing nowadays.

Anyway, it’s obviously too early to be throwing the towel now. There are still 28 matches to be played this season and every single one of these remaining 2.520 minutes shall be of intense anguish and torment. The problems with Flamengo are so incredibly apparent that there is nothing else for their 42 million supporters to do other than suffer in resignation. If the direction doesn’t address the issues accordingly it is better to play it like them and pretend everything is fine. This is the only way to get past the long, dark summer that lays ahead.

Monday, 14 July 2014

It's All Over Now, Baby Blue

Now that the World Cup is finally over we can all get back to our normal lives. It sounds dreadful alright, but an event of this size and importance when finished must be mourned following all the stages of loss and grief, depression included. Especially for those who now have to resume watching a national league that fails by large to fulfill its potential, namely the Campeonato Brasileiro.

Mind you, a national team is only a reflexion of its local tournament. The Bundesliga, for example, is adored by everyone who likes watching good football for its organization and, despite the thorough domination in recent years by Bayern Munich, its evenness. The Spanish La Liga for some reason still has dedicated followers, but whenever the only two teams in it fail to win La Fúria accordingly flounders in an international level. In the Premier League there is all the money in the world and no national pride, being its winner often criticized for having 95% of foreigners in their squads. Internationally unknown, the Eredivisie is always revealing new great, and not exclusively Dutch, players. Italian Serie A ages itself year after year, purposely or inevitably. The Primera División in Argentina is a stage for incredibly passionate clashes, with only one or two technically gifted players winning the league for their clubs each season.

And the Brazilian Campeonato Brasileiro, poor thing, in spite of having amazing players throughout (so much so that at least two or three go each year to a “major” European league), the most passionate fans in the world (even though for them their teams are either the unbeatable champions or the crappiest thing in the universe) and now even 12 stadiums of FIFA standard (although only nine will be properly used in the future), remains trapped in a past where everything always worked out no matter how disorganized and chaotic it was.

Not Germany, but a deranged Flamengo who ended up winning the national league in 2009.

This happens because the same body who controls the local tournament also manages the national team, and their visions, methods and posture are clearly seen in each and every step of their administration. While in Brazil things are taken lightly after a 7-1 defeat in a semi-final of a World Cup at home, the Germans, after a few desillusions (aka not getting into the final) in a row, imposed a rule in which every major team in the country must keep a youth academy in order to develop new players in accordance to their own understanding of how football should be played. This is called planning, something that will hardly ever be seen in a FA which could choose any training ground in the country but deliberately opted for one where having a secret session was impossible and the temperatures were considerably lower than those in the venues the team was supposed to play. And that, my friends, for pure political reasons.

It would take a few other longer paragraphs to discuss the rotten insides of the Brazilian Football Confederation — on how a 82-years-old contributor to the dictatorship still rules it, on how he manage to anticipate the voting process in the organization just to elect his successor before a possible humiliation in the World Cup, on how this successor is under investigation by the federal police for fraud and many other things, etc. —, but since this article is only a passage from anger to bargaining the matter shall be left for another occasion.

The only hope now is that missing the chance to win their sixth trophy at home brings many changes to the football practised in and by Brazil. Not only for pity towards the grieving country, kings of the sport in yester-years, but for the humanity as a whole: remember that a sad Brazil is a place without carnival, samba and caipirinhas.

The vagabond who's rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore
Strike another match, go start anew
And it's all over now, Baby Blue

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Food for thought

They’ve been saving money for a year now. It was either this or visiting grandma in the south. Since the banning of all airplanes, though, crossing the country has been a real nightmare. It would take them three whole days just to get there. The kids made it very clear they hated the trip last time. In the end taking everyone to a smuggled buffet is just easier.

Richard is reaching for his tie in a chest and thinking of the last time he attended a buffet. It was a few months before the prohibition, in a family restaurant a few blocks away from his college. He was very disappointed they created the law without consulting the population, but perhaps it was for the best. Many lives had already been taken by the starvation and since the establishment of the governmental ration everyone seemed slimmer and healthier. Not happier, no, for happiness only comes with a full belly, but definitely slimmer.

His face shows a mix of excitement and despair. Never before he has done something illegal in his life. His time in prison after graduation was due to his thought, not actions.

“Are you sure you want to do this,” he asks Melissa, his wife. She turns slowly at him from the bathroom. A red silk dress is hung on the back of her chair. “I mean, we don’t need to, you know?”

“What do you mean ‘we don’t need to’? It was your idea.” Melissa shrugs, turns back to the mirror and resumes putting on make-up. “You’re the one who’s been over the sky about it.”

“I know, I know. But it’s just — it’s risky, you know? We surely can’t afford the fine if they get us.”

Melissa lowers a brush with a thud and turns to Richard again.

“You told me it’s one hundred percent safe, Richard,” says she.

“No, no — it is,” he says defensively. “It is a hundred percent sound. My friend Tommy has it all figured out. It’s guaranteed. That’s why we’re paying all this money. It’s just, I don’t know.”

“Do you wanna back off now?”

“No, no. Of course no.”

“So relax, babe,” Melissa smiles. “It’s going to be alright. You said so yourself. And the kids will love it.”

The kids won’t even know what to do, Richard thinks. Facing the mirror while trying to knot his tie for the second time he calculates how long has it been since the law came into force. The boys probably never heard the expression “all you can eat”. When buffets were made illegal Junior was just a baby. Daniel hadn’t even been born. It’s been ten years now, maybe eleven. Too long a wait for a plate full of food. Those were the days. Those were the days.

Richard unties his tie again and speaks thoughtfully, his eyes fixed on his collar.

“What are we gonna tell them?”


“The boys. What are we supposed to say to them?”

“What boys?” Melissa isn’t paying attention.

“Our boys, Melissa. They have never heard of such a thing. I mean, not even schools are allowed to tell them the way things were. Their minds are going to blow up when they see a bow full of pasta.”

“It’s true,” she throws her thing in the drawer and begins to get dressed. “I suppose we could just explain the situation—?”

In listening that Richard feels the need to sit. Just explain the situation, he thinks. They’re kids, Melissa. They’re not even allowed to hear anything about those who perished. It’s a crime. How to explain to them a mere thing like a buffet has been prohibited worldwide without telling them what happened? What if they let it slip in a conversation with the curfew agents? Richard doesn’t want to go back in. He, who in a surge of some adventure decided it was a good idea to commit a felony and involve his whole family in it, has not thought it through. Just explain the situation.

“Yeah,” he says at last. “I guess we just have to come up with something.”

The following minutes are of complete silence between them. Richard settles with a clumsy half windsor and goes after his vest and jacket. Melissa feels unsure about her legs in that dress but wears it anyway. After getting fully dressed they wrap everything up in their room and head for the boys’. Junior and Daniel are on the floor playing roshambo.

“The thing we’re going to do now,” Richard says without introduction, “is completely illegal. Not only here, but anywhere else in the world.” Ignoring the ghostly stare from Melissa he sits down between the boys. “I think you’re old enough to know that now, so listen carefully. The most important thing here is that you guys never, ever, under any circumstance, talk about it outside this house. The only people who should— the only people who can know that you know about it are me and your mother. We might go to prison if anyone finds out.”

The seriousness in his voice and the eagerness of his movements attracts Melissa’s attention. Richard has never spoken like that since they met. He is the kind of guy who looks resigned at all times, never emitting a harsh opinion on any matter or getting angry at anything. Listening to his way of explaining to a pair of pre-adolescents how “several years of excessive and increasing inequity has provoked the undertaking of drastic measures by the UN” is just too strange. Decided not to encourage even further her husband’s outburst of passion Melissa calls everyone’s attention.

“I’m afraid we’re late, Richard,” she says rather tentatively.

“I don’t mind if you are 12 or 36,” Richard keeps saying while getting the boys up. “Since we’re doing this I need us all on the same page. This cannot going to be an illegal, erm, conduct just for the sake of it. I want to show you what life could have been. I want you to understand that a man shouldn’t be deprived of his vices or hobbies due to a governmental misconduct. It was not my fault that some people couldn’t handle their food. I used to enjoy eating, you know? Full plates of rice and potato. Stew. Beef, loads of beef. Ah! Now there’s only these tasteless rations and pills. Pills for everything.”

The night is going to be splendid, Richard thinks while being pushed ahead by Melissa. He has no recollection of the last time he went to bed with his belly full. If only he could explain why this is so important. The kids will never understand anyway, and Melissa, well, she won’t accept. Why, though? Life is so confusing right now. I just want to eat.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014


When it started they all thought it would be a great advantage for the handicap mainly. It was, in a sense. I remember my grandpa got a new set of eyes and was able to see again. I mean, he was 115 already; he was one of the first ones. Before they picked him he’d lost his hopes. The only problem is that after that things kind of got out of control.

Do you remember, doc, the boy who received a liver while still in uterus? I think this was when it really started. It was just too much, you know? I mean, helping people is a nice thing to do, especially the old ones in need and everything. Like my grandpa: he understood what was going on and was grateful for all that. But then do that to an unborn child? They don’t even know what they are.

After the boy more and more babies were delivered already with bionic parts. That was crazy, doc. Be it an internal organ, limbs or even hair — I don’t understand, I really don’t understand. What’s the matter with being bald? We don’t see hairless people on the streets anymore. They’ve been fixed up before they were even born. There’s no differentiation; we’re all pretty much the same, except that some have more parts than others.

My father was one of the first “in uterus” cases, did you know that? He was born after my grandpa’s surgery, so they kinda offered him the privilege. They found out during a prenatal exam that my dad would eventually develop some kind of cancer in his stomach and then they replaced it with a bionic one. It’s a good thing, I guess. He’s 147 now, isn’t he? I mean, still healthy as a baby — he’s able to control the vitamins his body absorbs and whatnot. But is it fair? Everyone’s got one of this now. These things just make people lazier and lazier.

I still read books, doc. Did you know that in the past people would go on a diet? They had to. Not only for aesthetic reasons, no. Some people were actually allergic to things. I mean, as in they couldn’t drink milk or eat peanuts. Their organisms wouldn’t respond accordingly to some substances. How unthinkable is that? Took me a while to understand all that. Apparently it was a big thing in the 23rd century; they mention it on every book. There’s nothing about it nowadays, though. No studies, nothing. It’s like it never existed. 

The thing is: where do we want to get with all this? What do we still want to accomplish? People already live up to their 260s, and I wouldn’t be surprise if that chap from Okinawa made it to his 300s. I don’t even know why we die anymore! But what’s the point, doc? Why do we live like that? Our health is completely artificial, our bodies are manufactured by robots somewhere in the galaxy, even our happiness is somewhat invented. There’s dopamine in the cereal, for gods’ sake.

But I don’t want to live that way. I want real interaction with people, with the world. I want to learn things, not just order some new chip. We need to struggle, doc. This is the only way people build different things. This is the only way we develop. We’re still trapped in the 2700s, doc, don’t you see that? What have we achieved in the past few centuries? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Things have been exactly the same since Mars. Ever since we dealt with our last fear — what now?

Yes, I know this is the way the world is now, but don’t you think we’re exaggerating? I have my parts too — one of the lungs, some bones here in the right arm and my liver, but this only because they found out too late the gene that will lead me into alcoholism —, but how much is too much? Of course I am grateful for what they have done to me; it was preventive, even though I think I would enjoy breaking this arm at least once, you know? I’m not crazy, doc. This is human nature. We’re supposed to be weaker than the world around us. You see, even if I fall from an intercontinental hoover I wouldn’t break these bones. They’re indestructible. Trust me, I tried. Look at the scars. No, I didn’t want them removed.

And that’s what they want to do with my son, doc. They want to replace everything in him. If they go through with it he’s going to be 53 percent bionic, the first one to go beyond the limit. He’s going to be unbreakable. What is he going to be afraid of?

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Mount Sullivan

It had been around for as long as everyone could remember. Books of history and geography alike had it mentioned in them. Wars had been fought upon and around it, with its various depressions and valleys working as natural trenches. It’s the Mount Sullivan I’m talking about. It even named our city. But then one day it simply woke up.

Aside the regular complications of a whole mountain suddenly arising from the ground of course there was a lot of distress among the population. An epidemic of heart attacks ensued on both old and susceptible young people (most of which of sturdy muscular complexion, who you’d think would be the most apt to fight the thing), and loads of people left with only their clothes on. Those who stayed were so appalled with the sighting of a moving creature who could pinch trees as they were mere pimples that all remained motionless. All residents were out on the streets just watching that ungracious being trying to find a more comfortable position probably to kill us all.

When a body of special military forces was finally assembled the thing had already seated on what looked like a lotus pose. It spoke our language.

“Thou shalt not fear,” it said solemnly. “I won’t be going about talking like yer aul’ fellas, I won’t. I know the way ye speak nowadays — I’ve been listening to it in my dream.”

Taken aback by the incredibly power of its voice — and also its accent of singular similarity to those of the adolescents who used to hang around the big “Sullivan City” sign, now a hanging earring on the mountain’s, well, ear — the army persisted on a defensive stand. Thinking about it now they were trembling from fear and the loudness of its voice, however the latter also affected everyone else and buildings within a five kilometer range.

“Sorry; I didn’t mean to cause any disturbance,” the thing now whispered, which still sounded like a rock and roll concert. “I know it seems a little bit odd, but I just want to be your friend. Well, I know exactly what some of you have been doing lately, don’t I?” Here it added a childish smile. “Right, Ralf? Stacey? It was right over my ear, guys.”

It took the population a little while to accept that our Mount Sullivan was now a living thing and another greater while to start to cope with the fact that he knew everything about everyone who’d ever been to the sign, ever, but once these things were settled and a more convenient way to communicate established Sullivan became part of the city’s landscape and culture. No one ever understood how he had learnt so many things having been asleep like forever nor what kind of creature he was, however his civilities towards the citizens and the airspace protection he provided proved enough to conquer everyone’s hearts. Sully was a friend of everyone’s and the guardian of the town, and with the precise advices of someone who sees everything from a privileged point of view he will eventually be proclaimed a saint.

That reminds me of the reason why I’m telling this story: not all abnormal creatures are bad for you. Some, of course, are — they climb skyscrapers, eat flying airplanes and talk about personal stuff in a business meeting —, but some definitely aren’t. You’ll only know for sure after its initial address to you. If it doesn’t know how to talk, which is commonly the case with outer space beings, you must always give it first the benefit of the doubt. You never know when you’re about to make a new, giant friend.

As for Sullivan, the city, it has since the occurred grown exponentially in both population and economy, despite many countries having ceased to trade with us because of the “menace to the standard-man self-esteem”. Sullivan, the man, an ex-mount, who has nothing to do with it, keeps going with his life, helping everyone, treating the ladies with the utmost respect and using his spare time for personal growth only, including activities like reading (some classics have been reprinted for him in a more convenient size) and taking care of the environment (replanting trees used in the paper industry and providing large quantities of natural fertilizer).

Long live Sullivan.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Lady of the night

Before I met Roberta (this is a fictional name; if I used her real one, Candy, you wouldn’t believe in this story) I had a much different opinion on the workers of the night. I thought them to be all very cynical, arrogant even, and that they only treated with respect and kindness those with money in their pockets. My brief encounter with Roberta on a summer evening, and our eventual intercourse later on, was sufficient to prove myself terribly wrong. I am grateful to her for that.

Roberta and I met for the first time in a rather unusual place for this kind of introduction. I was coming back home from a late shift and she was at the station reading “Madame Bovary” while the bus repeatedly failed to arrive.

“Oh, I’m used to it,” she said. “It’s always like that on Fridays. Who can blame them, right? It’s Friday.”

That sweet and stoical way of talking didn’t give me any clue on what I was about to learn. Instead it made me fight my own need to ride alone with my earphones on and engage in a conversation for a change. In my defense she had already closed her book and seemed interested in whatever I had to say.

“So,” I made sure to disappoint her. “Do you always take this bus?”

“Yes — yes, every time I go to work.”

Her constant smile, white but natural, wide but just enough, was captivating. It seemed like no matter what I had to say she wouldn’t be bothered. I wasn’t used to that. At the time it didn’t strike me it could be part of her job.

“This time of the day?” I asked.

“Well,” she replied. “One’s gotta do what one’s gotta do, right?”

Assuming from that she was a nurse the conversation went on just beautifully. She was always introducing new topics and making me feel comfortable; I just answered as plainly as I could trying not to look uncomfortable. I hadn’t had a chat with a stranger on a bus stop in years, probably since high school, so I had no idea of what would be polite to say and to what extent my touching her once we were inside the vehicle would be convenient. Her pushing me towards an empty seat when it arrived pretty much settled the matter and encouraged me to ask where I could find her later on for a cup of coffee.

“The Pinewood House,” she said promptly. “I’ll be there from now till six in the morning. You can come at any time and I’ll make some arrangements to be with you.”

I had no idea what the place was. By the name of it — and her profession — I assumed it was a retirement house. For that reason I decided to check in only later that night, to make sure the elderly would be already in bed and Roberta would be totally free.

When I searched the address on the internet nothing on the business came up. It must be new, I thought, that’s why I never heard of it. Or maybe this kind of place never got my attention before. In any case I put some cologne on and left to see my new friend. I could already picture her at the nursing room and shivered with the thought that she would want to introduce me to the other night-shifters. I have never been good with public appearances.

To my surprise when I got to the address I had in hands the place looked nothing like a resting house. It was surrounded by pubs and nightclubs, some of them of terrible taste, and its external decoration reminded me of Eric Clapton’s 461 Ocean Boulevard. The Pinewood House sign was minimalistic and dim-lighted, which led me to think it was closed and I would never see Roberta again. I checked again on my phone and there was no other business with the same name in the city. I felt miserable again, and looked around deciding where I would end up my night in. Alone.

But then out of the dark porch came a flashlight followed by a person wearing a police cap. It took me a few seconds to recognize her.

“I thought you were not coming anymore,” Roberta grinned. “Come on in; let me show you the place.”

She was not a nurse after all. The Pinewood House was a furniture store during the day, and my friend took care of it during the night. Roberta was the watchman, a night guard who reads Flaubert at the bus stop and talks to strangers in a pleasant way. I was really surprised.