RIO – Chapter Two

Saturday mid-day, February 2, 2008

Thirteen-year-old Lucas “Pantera” Rocha had a bittersweet morning. He was now R$129 richer from effortlessly fleecing a stupid tourist. He had just bagged an equivalent to the average income that forty-five million Brazilians earn in an entire month. This was his first day back on the job in over a week. His future should have been promising, a cause for celebration. Yet he sullenly rode the bus back toward Ipanema beach. Patricio, he thought, you would be proud of me. Hustle the arriving tourists at the airport when they don’t know any better—this was my idea.

 

Lucas adored his older brother Patricio, and why not? Patricio was always there for him and the family. Patricio had shielded them from their mother’s drunken boyfriend for some troubling years when they all dwelled in a shack northwest of Engenho de Dentro in Rio. In 2002 the scoundrel bolted rather than marry their beloved mamãe, Ana, right before she gave birth to twin-daughters Fernanda and Inez. Patricio became the man of the house. While Ana nursed her, Patricio earned what money he could through buying Marlboros or Derby cigarettes at wholesale rates and selling them on the beaches at a 50% markup. Lucas tagged along and eventually learned the business. Local kids sometimes made fun of him because of his hyperpigmentation, but a protective Patricio saw to it that it would only happen once. Together, they scraped together enough for the Rocha family to subsist. Life was palatable only because of Ana’s unwavering love. Patricio, he thought, you were right. Mamãe was the glue to our family. 

In August 2002 Rio was awarded the 2007 Pan American Games. Citizens had gushed in joy, for this event would bolster the economy.  In early 2004 the government condemned the Rocha home in order to clear the area for construction of Engenhão Stadium to host the games.  Ana held a family meeting and bravely stated that they would take this challenge in stride because, “A vida acontece”—life happens. Patricio helped the family relocate to a dingy hovel situated in gritty Favela Chácara do Céu, nested in the rocky hills just above the stunning Vidigal beach and the Sheraton Rio property. His ailing mother later said their home’s proximity to the hotel was a “gift from God,” for she had been able to secure a job there as a maid.

When Ana ambled to work early each morning, Patricio and Lucas raised Fernanda and Inez. They carried the twins everywhere: to the mountains, to the market, to the beach. Little Lucas was sure-footed as a cat and could climb any tree. He and Patricio regularly harvested the orange, lime, mango, banana and fig trees. Lucas would scale each tree and toss down the fruit to his brother.  They would then sell it in the market, and then take their sisters to frolic in the ocean. Life was as good as Lucas could remember.

Lucas’ daydreams were interrupted as the bus turned right on Avenue Delfim Moreira and drove westward along the Ipanema and Leblon shorelines—two miles of the most awe-inspiring scenery in the world. International tourists and wealthy locals sauntered along on the signature black and white mosaic walkways that border the beachfront. Hundreds more frolicked in the Atlantic Ocean waves or played volleyball on the toasty-white sands. The substantial remaining tourists were drinking from whole coconuts under traditional yellow beach umbrellas or were on siesta, basking nearly naked in the mid-day sun. Lucas’ keen sense of smell breathed in the sea air tinged with a scent of tanning oils. Mamãe, he thought, you were right. Our home was a gift from God.

The bus shuttled past a gated, opulent estate on the west end of Leblon, and Lucas bitterly recalled his first brush with prejudice. Three years prior, he had naively crashed an outdoor party at this mansion to sell them some fresh-picked fruit. Like any street peddler, he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer from the insouciant guests, except that this was a private event for the privileged. He had mouthed off to a security guard, who smashed his beautiful smile with a steel truncheon. Lucas reeled back in pain, but collected himself and threw his open box of fruit at the man, then adroitly scaled an eight-foot high stonewall, leapt up to a towering Tipuana tree and swung back down to the ground outside the property. Once home, he cried bitterly in his mother’s arms. She embraced him with all of her love until nightfall. He looked up at her with misty eyes and asked, “What did I do to deserve this hatred?”

“Sweet son of mine,” she replied, “Hatred is ignorance. Wipe away your tears so you can clearly see the stars.” She gently stroked his nappy hair. “Always remember, son, that life is only beautiful if you leave your heart open to receive love.” How she could she mean this when her boyfriend regularly beat her, so he was told. But she was sincere because she was filled with nothing but joy and love. Mamãe, he reflected, you were right again. Hate is boundless prison.

The morning day Patricio bestowed Lucas his nickname. “Brother, only a jaguar could scale a wall twice its height, sure-footedly navigate the thinnest of tree limbs and then gallop fast as the gale winds. Now that you have added fangs to your spotted face, I am convinced you are a black jaguar.”

Lucas was so offended he charged his brother, who quickly grabbed his strong arms and wrapped him tightly against his own body. “Lucas,” he said, “hold still. I am not teasing you; I am giving you a supreme compliment. We are all born with blessings and curses. The question is how we deal with them. For example, a spotted jaguar is the most powerful cat in the Amazon, but a black jaguar is also very rare. Is this animal blessed or cursed? I choose to believe it is a distinguished breed just like you.”

As Lucas daydreamed about one of his favorite moments, he smiled when he remembered his brother then said, “Think about this, little brother. All true champions are remembered by a single name. When the name Pelé is spoken anywhere in the world it is spoken reverently. Someday soon, this will also be true of your new nickname, Pantera.” From then on, Lucas proudly used his moniker. Later, his mother explained to him that the species Pantera Onça symbolizes passion, self-confidence, independence, tenacity, awareness, and empowerment. Mamãe, he thought, you were right again. This is what I am and what I am intended to be.

The bus ascended up Avenida Niemeyer’s winding ways into the Vidigal hills, approaching a scheduled stop across the street from the Sheraton Rio. Lucas hopped off because the entrance to Favela Chácara do Céu was just up the hill. A few paparazzi were staked out in the hotel parking lot, signaling that a celebrity was staying there for Carnival. Given my last week, he thought, a pantera like me should live like the beautiful people, if only for today. Brimming with confidence and his newfound cash, Lucas ventured down the circular driveway to the lobby doors, only to be promptly stopped by a razor-thin, massively hook-nosed, mono-browed bellman. “Are you a guest of the hotel, sir?” the man snipped in an odd, nasal Portuguese, clearly not the local carioca dialect used in Rio.

“Don’t I look like one, senhor?” he deadpanned in a mock nasal tone.

“Then what is your name?” The bellman asked with growing irritation.

“Pantera,” Lucas proudly replied. “But enough chatter. I’m going inside for some lunch. Will you let me by, please?”

“You know already know the answer.” He folded his scrawny arms, clearly swimming within his oversized uniform. Torso for torso, Lucas would have truly filled out this uniform more fully except for the fact that the man had eight-inch longer legs.

Lucas peeked around him, eyeing the plush, gold-lit marble lobby inside. Ironically, his mother never brought him to her place of work. Maybe it was a hotel policy, or maybe because Ana had been on sick leave more than not. Lucas pulled out his newly acquired wallet, flipped it open and flashed the cash. “Are you saying my money isn’t good here?”

The bellman edged closer and glared down at him. “That might buy you a fancy lunch, my little friend. Maybe even a few trinkets from the gift shop, but nothing more,” he grunted.

“How silly of me. I know what you want,” Lucas replied. “Tips.” He held out 10 reais. “And in return, I want to take a nice relaxing swim after I eat my lunch by the poolside. A tip for your favor, meu bom homem.”

“You would be correct,” the mono-brow replied as he snatched the bill like a vulture snaps up road kill. “Money makes my world go around. But even if you offered me ten gold coins, I would never let you in because I would surely lose my job. Still, I am curious how a punk like you is old enough to qualify for an American driver’s license. So what’s your real name, wise guy?”  Mono-brow edged closer.

Lucas slowly backed up. “Like I said, Pantera…but who says I wanted to spend my time in a shit hole like this anyway?” Mono-brow grabbed for the wallet, but Lucas quickly reared back and sprinted up the driveway, his keen grey-green eyes darting everywhere for nearby police.

“Don’t let me see your face around here again, gutter trash.” Mono-brow bellowed.

Lucas flipped him the middle finger salute and continued running until he crossed Avenida Niemeyer and entered the safe zone—the narrow mountain path that leads up to his favela. Idiota, he silently cursed. Here I am supposed to be the robber, and I almost got robbed.

Few roads, if any, lead into a favela. Tragically for its residents, no roads ever seem to lead out of one. Chácara do Céu is no exception. Makeshift shacks, fabricated out of scrap plywood, stones and concrete, sheets of plastic and tin roofs, were built as far back as the 1940’s by hundreds of thousands of squatters who migrated from the country to Rio in search of jobs. The lucky ones found work but in the late 1950’s the Brazilian government relocated its capital to Brasilia, moving with it all government and related service jobs. The squatters that stayed behind never found employment and thus never escaped the slums.

Every shantytown was built with a total disregard to urban planning. There are no numbered streets that run through a favela, no sewers, few telephones, and only pirated electricity. Only the most luxurious shacks have kitchens, which may include a small refrigerator, propane stove, and a rubber hose that sprinkles cold water into a sink that drains into a tin bucket below.  There are no hospitals, police or fire stations in a favela. The desolate must fend for each other, yet they do so with joy because they never forget how to celebrate life.

Locals can grab exceptional cuisine and enjoy a beer in some ersatz pubs, such as “Rodrigo’s.” Lucas treated himself to one of his favorite meals—a bowl of eijoada, a thick black bean stew with chunks of beef and pork. Seated at rusty metal picnic table underneath a torn green striped canvas awning, Although a nearby boom box blasted samba music, Lucas lowered his head and prayed, “Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.” After crossing himself, he reverently ate in solitude.

His mother, Ana Rocha, made her family recite these words before every dinner. She was a devoted Catholic who dragged her children to Our Lady of Peace as many Sundays as she could with the hopes that the church and Padre Andréa’s sermons would rub off on them.

Had she not been a regular attendee, Padre Andréa probably wouldn’t have visited their one room home to administer last rites as she finally succumbed to Aids. Lucas swallowed hard, remembering that moment. Aids, he thought, is the only lingering memory I will keep of my drunken father—this toxic gift that he gave to my mother. Yet Lucas’ once vibrant mother, now a lesion-riddled shell of herself, had still radiated joy as the wise old owl of a priest called upon God to receive her soul. How could you have been blissful at the very end, Mamãe? He thought. And how could you forgive that devil of a boyfriend? How do I learn from this?

Before leaving, Padre Andréa emphatically prayed for the Rocha children. “O Heavenly Father, I commend these children unto Thee. Be Thou their God and Father.” Having done all that he could, he said, “Remember this. Some day you and I will all be in a better place—a place with God.”  Padre Andréa then moved on to do the will of God elsewhere in the city.

Ana drew her children around her. In her final breaths she had tenderly delivered parting thoughts to each of her children, starting with her oldest son. “Patricio, when you were born, I chose your name because it means ‘noble.’ Did you know this? Did you also know that our family name, Rocha, means ‘rock or unwavering?’ Very soon you will be the head of the family. I ask that you be unwavering as you do noble things. I love you, son.”

Patricio would have his first chance to honor her wishes only a few hours later when she died. He cloaked her in his black poncho. He handed the only two dented aluminum-cooking pots they owned to his sisters. “Bring these with you,” he instructed. “Minha família, help me take our mamãe as close to heaven as possible.” Lucas helped Patricio carry his mother to the very top of Favela Chácara do Céu, the “outskirts of heaven,” which accessed a winding road that ultimately led them to Two Brothers Park.

Lucas would never forget that night when he first contemplated the panoramic vista of glittering Rio below. A full moon lit a distant Cristo Redentor on top of Corcovado Mountain. “Jesus,” Patricio called out, “we have delivered mamãe as high as we can. Please take her from here.” Behind a small wooden concert stage stood a single eucalyptus tree. Both boys dug a shallow grave using the cooking pots. Once their mother was buried, Patricio pried a wedge of basalt slate from the walkway. He pulled a switchblade from his pocket and inscribed “ANA” into it. Satisfied, he pressed the wedge into the dirt. “Ana Rocha, you were our rock,” he cried.

On their way back down the mountain, noble Patricio instructed his siblings to act as if nothing had happened. “If anyone asks, tell them that mamãe went away for a while.”

Lucas couldn’t finish his lunch at Rodrigo’s. His memories only compounded the realities of his life, which created an aching pit in his stomach. He threw the remaining scraps to some stray cats that were lingering about in hopes of a treat besides the usual mice. He plopped down a healthy tip and continued hiking further up the zigzag paths through the slums, observing many homeless children who were less fortunate than he. Children without parents usually find themselves homeless, because ownership of shanties is largely determined through squatter’s rights and a survival of the fittest. Street kids sleep in city parks and alleys. Oh Patricio, he thought, how wise you were to protect our home. How wise you were.

Patricio had continued to honor his mother’s wishes by doing many virtuous things. He told his brother stay near home to raise his sisters and keep an eye on their home. Before leaving, Patricio flipped open his switchblade and told his brother, “If anyone gives you or your sisters any trouble, they will have to deal with me.” Nothing ever happened. Lucas played with his sisters near their shack until the neighbors accepted the new order of things. Patricio also shielded his family from gang activities such as gunfights, drugs and child prostitution. Lucas paused from his walk to light a cigarette, rationalizing that smoking, at least, was his only addiction. I guess I owe this to you as well, my brother, he mused.

Stealing was another matter. Thou Shalt Not Steal may be one of the Ten Commandments, but a street kid is forced to beg, borrow or steal in order to survive. Patricio once justified stealing when he told Lucas the story of Robin Hood.  “Lucas,” he said, “that man stole from the wealthy and gave to the needy. He was a hero. Well, maybe Patricio Rocha can be a hero as well. After all, who could be poorer than us? I need to go out and be a hero.”

Patricio worked the Leblon/Ipanema strip by pickpocketing or purse snatching. Occasionally he’d threaten a wealthy tourist with his switchblade to guarantee results, although he promised his brother that he would only put it to use in defending their home.  Patricio made folly of the juvenile justice system, stating that it was a nothing more than revolving door. He was arrested only once, which resulted in one day’s detention and complimentary prison chow.

Meanwhile, Lucas would take his sisters near the Sheraton Hotel entrance to beg. He turned panhandling into a game. Whichever sister received more handouts that day would be recompensed with a piece of brigadeiro candy when they arrived home. Fernanda was an adventurous actress who concocted amazing stories to solicit money. Her eyes grew as wild as her unkempt sun-bleached russet hair when she told her tales to sympathetic tourists. Just like mamãe foretold, her daughter Fernanda’s name had the meaning, “To be brave and bold,” which described her precisely. And Inez, who carefully pulled her tight-curled hair into a ponytail, would pleasantly ask people for money just so she could eat. Her name meant, “To be gentle and pure,” which described her perfectly as well. Paradoxically, each girl’s approach to begging was equally effective.

At night, the Rocha kids would stay at home and watch a small TV that their mother had “borrowed” from the hotel years ago. The one power cord that fed their shack also borrowed power from a shack next door, which in turn was bootlegging power from further down the hill.  Life was good. Why Patricio, why wasn’t it good enough for you?

Patricio had decided that it was more lucrative to rob prominent shops along the strip. He’d brazenly march into a store at closing time and flash his switchblade at the store owner, saying, “The Bible says that it is better to give than to receive, does it not? So give me your money—now!” And with several store heists, he was proving that crime does pay. His family ate better cuisine. He bought them firsthand clothes. He even saved some money. Patricio had dreams that someday they would escape the favela and even live in a normal home. “After all,” Lucas recalled Patricio saying, “What can the police do, little brother?”

But in the struggle to survive on the street, the street ultimately wins. What Patricio hadn’t anticipated was that shop owners would eventually retaliate by hiring Esquadrão da Morte, a death squad of mostly off-duty police, to solve their problem. One night, under a moonless sky, a faceless militia of three men wearing masks quietly entered their shack. They dragged a kicking and screaming Patricio outside and began savagely beating him. Lucas bravely tried to pull them away. He tore the mask off the smallest officer, a pit bull of a man, who reeled around and smashed the butt of his M-16 rifle into Lucas’ left arm and then kicked him back into the shed. He and his sisters watched helplessly as the same man raised his weapon and fired a single shot into Patricio’s head. The three paramilitaries quickly retreated, but Lucas ran after them, screaming, “You’ll pay for this!”

The pit bull assassin spun around and pushed a grimy finger in Lucas’ forehead, thundering, “Você está próximo!” Even in darkness, Lucas was close enough to never forget the man’s pot-holed face or the crimson red serpent that was tattooed on his neck. His guttural words, “You’re next,” continued to echo each night in Lucas’ nightmares.

Lucas finally arrived at his intended destination—Two Brothers Park. Behind the stage, under one single eucalyptus tree, were two large mounds. One mound, lush with natural grass and vines, had a wedge of slate marked “ANA.” The other mound was fresh dirt with a slate newly inscribed, “PATRICIO.” The dank night air was laced with an acrid odor of something burning, although he couldn’t place it.  All he knew was that the smell was appropriate.

Lucas “Pantera” Rocha carefully plucked two orchids off a nearby bush. He laid one on his mother’s gravestone. “Mamãe, I asked around to find out what your name means. You must have known this although you never told us. Ana stands for ‘grace’, which is what you always shed upon us.”

Lucas placed a second orchid on his brother’s stone. His eyes moistened as he stuttered, “Life happens…bullshit! Tell me Patricio, what do I do now? How do I care for my sisters all by myself? How can I survive?” He nervously scratched his rash, and carefully removed his splint and examined his muscular, festering arm. Standing above “the outskirts of heaven,” he surveyed the paradise lost below him. Lucas turned to face Corcovado Mountain far on the horizon and squinted through watering eyes to regard Cristo Redentor. “Mamãe told me that my Christian name, ‘Lucas,’ means ‘enlightened one,’” He called out somberly. “Do you always make it this painful to become enlightened? What kind of God are you anyway?”

Christ the Redeemer didn’t reply.

 

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RIO – Chapter One

Saturday morning, February 2, 2008

John Burke gazed upon Jesus, and promptly rubbed the crust of sleep deprivation from his eyes. Nothing he’d imagined could ever portray the majesty that he was witnessing. Jesus, in sun-drenched regal white robes, stood at the summit of a mountain peak amidst the pastel clouds of dawn.  His outstretched arms delivered mercy to a world of sinners below. John suddenly felt thirsty to receive His forgiveness too. The Lord wasn’t smiling.

The celestial morning service was tersely interrupted. “Good morning,” a tinny speaker directly above his head blared. “This is your captain wishing you a happy Saturday from Rio de Janeiro. On the left side of the plane is Christ the Redeemer, known here as Cristo Redentor, sitting high atop Corcovado Mountain. It’s one of my favorite views in the world, and I hope you like it too. The local time here is 5:42 a.m. The local weather is 22 degrees Celsius or 72 degrees Fahrenheit, with a high today expected to be a toasty 32 Celsius, 90 Fahrenheit.  But with over two million people here to celebrate the Carnival straight through Fat Tuesday, Rio will be one of the hottest places in the world, if you know what I mean.  I wish all of you a fun and safe stay while you’re here in Rio. We will be landing in fifteen minutes. On behalf of my entire crew, thank-you for flying American Airlines.”

As the American Airlines jet touched down, John was still fuming about spending another late-night reworking the presentation his boss, Waverly. Talk about putting whipped cream on a pile of bullshit, he thought. John had dressed in his finest black pinstripe suit, like he always did, and listened just outside the boardroom should there be any questions. There never were. Waverly’s performances rarely used John’s extensive risk analysis. In yesterday’s meeting, Waverly extolled the potentially favorable impact of the government’s $146 billion economic stimulus package. He also ineptly downplayed the firm’s looming toxic junk bond peril, for it had been management’s decision to make these investments in the first place. Everyone in the boardroom huffed and puffed and took another hearty gulp of the Jonestown Kool-Aid. This renowned Wall Street flagship would weather this storm, as it had all others. Lehman Brothers was simply too big to fail.

Adding insult to injury, as John rushed out to flag down a taxi for LaGuardia Airport, Waverly’s parting words were: “Burke, you could use some time off. But you damn well better leave your Blackberry on. In these tumultuous times, you never know when I may need you.”

John had begrudgingly strapped on his Dell laptop backpack and lugged his leather workbag to the airport, rolling his carryon suitcase behind him. But due to the airline’s two carryon bag limit, the agent had required John to check his suitcase. His flight to Miami was delayed by snowstorms, so he barely made the connecting night flight from Miami to Rio. Sweating and stressed, he wedged his 6’4” burly frame into a window seat in front of the exit row. The blessing was that he had a view. The curse was that due to FAA regulations his seat didn’t recline, thus he had been shoehorned for a ten-hour sleepless flight to Rio. After landing, he trudged through the Galeão Terminal 2 corridors only to discover that his suitcase had missed the connection in Miami. Agents promised that the bag would be delivered to his hotel sometime this week. “Whatever,” John rejoined.

Then, after standing for an hour in the immigrations line, the agent officiously asked him if he had anything to declare. “Yeah,” he stated, “I declare I’m gonna’ to party ‘til it’s time to head home.” The officer barely understood English, not that he would have gotten John’s play on words anyway. Nor did he know that John would finally be reuniting with his former roommate Peter Chroust, who was flying in from Indianapolis to join him in the pagan rituals and debauchery of Carnival. I haven’t seen Petey since graduation. John thought. He and I have a lot of catching up to do. Done right, we’re both gonna need lent to regroup.

Omniscient and Omnipotent God always forgives, doesn’t He? Then again, when mankind makes plans, the Lord merely smiles. John exited security into the airport lobby and made his way to the currency exchange window. That’s when his Blackberry, tethered to him by holster, buzzed once again, as if to remind him that he was still a prisoner to its whims. There’s no escaping this Lehman crap, he thought, but then read an unexpected e-mail:

Hey Big John—

It looks like you’re on your own, buddy. Last night I was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. No worries—they got most of it out before it burst. Believe me, I would rather have rushed to Rio but now I’m stuck here for a week due to peritonitis.

I hope this doesn’t deny you a fabulous vacation. Remember last year’s loss to Northwestern? We should have won, but shit happens.

You always bounce back. Start by having your first caipirinha on me.

Best—

Petey

“Aw crap.” he mumbled, scratching his sandy-colored, two-day stubble. “What the hell’s next?”

“Excuse me, but are you all right?” John was startled to see an exotic young woman seated behind the exchange window. The teller’s bronze skin beautifully contrasted with her tight, white shirt and navy skirt uniform. He nearly forgot about his friend Peter and even Lehman Brothers.

“Uh, I’m sorry. You must have seen me wince.” John quickly re-holstered his Blackberry. “I’m okay but dog gone it, my roomie from college is all laid up.”

“My English is not so good. What’s a roomie?” she asked in a Rio carioca-accented English.

“Someone who won’t be making it down for Carnival.” John shook his head in dismay.

“I am very sorry, but I think you will still have a nice time here. This is a friendly place. You should meet a lot of pretty girls here.” Her half-moon smile beautifully offset her olive-yellow and sky-blue sunflower eyes, which were framed by stunningly high cheekbones and lush black eyelashes.

John ran his hands through his tousled curly hair stammering, “I’m not any good with that kinda’ conversation. Petey was…the ice-breaker.”

“What is an ice-breaker?” Her eyebrows rose with intrigue. “You are telling me you are shy with women, no?”

John’s fair complexion quickly blushed, and so he quickly changed the subject. “So…is this Carnival everything it’s cracked up to be?

“It is more than you could ever dream, but let me suggest that you are a bit overdressed.”

“Oh, you mean my crumpled suit? Or maybe I should lose the salt-streaked trench coat?  I guess I’m not a fashion statement at the moment.” The woman looked at John quizzically. He fidgeted while searching his fatigued brain for something clever to break the deafening silence. The best he could do was, “So what’s a guy like me supposed to do while I’m down here?”

“That all depends on what kind of guy you are, Senhor.” She suppressed a giggle.

“I guess I’ll just have to figure it out on my own,” he said, sensing a high risk in pursuing a beauty like her. He reached into his wallet and dealt out all his bills. “Please change eighty-five dollars into reais, if you don’t mind.”

“As you wish,” she sighed. “Your passport please.”

He slid it under the bulletproof window. She studied his passport. “That will be 129 Brazilian reais and 20 Centavos, Mr. Burke.”

“I thought the exchange rate is 1.6 reais to the dollar. Doesn’t that make the conversion closer to R$134?”

“I see you are good with numbers, sir, but there is also a five percent service charge.”

“Well,” he ventured, “I have to admit you’re nicer than an ATM, that’s for sure.” John put his new currency in his wallet.

She smiled. “What’s an…”

“Never mind,” John cut in. “I’ll be using credit cards from here on out, so anyway, its been nice talking to you.” He set off on his adventure.

“Bem-vindo ao Rio,” she quietly offered from behind. “Welcome to Rio.”

He made his way through the airport lobby and exited to a very long taxi line. That figures, he thought. If I didn’t have bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all. The pilot hadn’t told him that although the temperature was in the 70s, the humidity was stifling—especially to a guy who still wearing layers of Wall Street armor. His shirt began sticking to his skin, and so he removed his London Fog raincoat and his Pierre Cardin suit jacket and draped them over his arm.  From the corner of his eye he saw a grimy, chewed up hand scatter some dust across his black Florsheim wing-tipped shoes.

“Oi. Bom dia. Shine your shoes? Shine your shoes, patrão?” It was a blotchy dark-skinned early-teen male garbed in a soiled, unbuttoned plaid shirt, jean cut-offs and a chewed-out pair of Havaianas flip-flops.

“Hey, you think I was born yesterday? I saw you toss that dirt on my shoes.”

“Shine shoes cheap,” the boy said in a raw, phlegmy voice.

“What’s the difference, I’ve got nothing but time,” John groaned. “Why not?”

The boy knelt down, hastily dusted off the wingtips with a rag, and slapped some wax on lest his customer change his mind. “Put foot here,” he commanded, slapping his right knee. John obliged and the boy vigorously seesawed his rag across John’s shoe.  Though a young pup, his muscles rippled throughout his husky black torso.

“So what’s your name, anyway?”

“Pantera. Now…other foot,” the boy commanded. His limited English was obscured by a thick, native accent.

“Pantera, huh. That’s an interesting name.”

“Good name.” The kid’s broken-tooth grin gleamed against his black freckled skin. His left forearm had a makeshift splint around it secured by rags.

“What happened to your arm?” John asked.

“Which one?” Pantera teased.

“Come on, you know,” John replied. “What’s the story?”

The kid shrugged and replied, “A vida acontece.”

“What was that?” John asked. “I didn’t catch what you said.

“A vida acontece,” he repeated emphatically. He snapped his cloth one more time across each shoe and then stood. “Finish. Twenty reais, por favor”

“Hey little man, not so fast. That’s more than twelve bucks.”

“What you got?” Pantera scratched a rash on his neck like a dog with fleas.

“It’s not about what I got. It’s about what a fair price should be. How about five reais?”

“Obrigado,” Pantera nodded nervously in agreement. Like a predatory animal, his high-set wedge-shaped ears perked up and his eyes darted about scanning the area for anything suspicious.

“Okay, just hang on a minute.” John transferred his raincoat and jacket to his right arm, and then awkwardly removed his wallet from his rear pants pocket. In a flash Pantera snatched it from his hand. “Até logo, sucker” he barked as he dashed into the crowd.

“You son-of-a-bitch!” John began sprinting after him, but reconsidered when he saw other street kids loitering closer to his two bags that were as good as gone if left unattended. “Shoo, get outta here,” he yelled. “Jesus, what kind of place is this anyway?”

An elderly woman pointed her spindly index finger at him. “Never encourage these rats,” she scolded. “You’ll only make the problem worse.”

In disbelief, John reentered the airport. “Hello Mr. Burke. Back so soon?” The lady teller was returning to her station with a morning coffee in hand.

“This hasn’t been one of my finer days, Miss…what’s your name anyway?”

“Serrano, Gabriela Serrano,” she replied with cheerful interest.

John did his best to compose himself. “Gabriela, someone just stole my wallet.”

“Oh meu Deus.” Her face fell to an all-business mode. “Who did this?”

“Some street kid. I never saw it coming. He snapped it out my hand and took off like the wind.” John nervously rubbed his flushed forehead. “Now what am I supposed to do?”

She took charge. “Never take your wallet out for starters. Come,” she instructed, “we should sit down over here.” They settled on a lobby bench. “Do you still have your passport?”

“Yeah, thank God. It’s in my jacket.”

“Do you have any traveler’s checks?”

“Nope, and my debit card was in my wallet too. Damn.”

“I’m truly sorry.”

“Shouldn’t I file a police report?”

“That would be a waste of time. There are thousands of homeless children here. The police will not even try to find him. I am sorry, Mr. Burke.”

“Call me John,” he said, “and the kid’s name is Pantera. There can’t be that many kids running around with that kind of name.”

“Probably not…John,” she replied. “In your language, a pantera is a ‘panther’, which is an all-black jaguar. There is little chance this is his real name.”

“Well, he definitely preyed on me then bolted like a panther, that’s for sure. But for his sake, he’s gonna need nine lives if I ever run into him again.”

“To survive on the streets, I’m sure he has at least nine lives.”

“Are you defending him? That little shit ripped me off, and I was even going to tip him.”

“This may not make sense to you, but to a child who has nothing, the money he stole from you means everything. When you pulled your wallet out, it was like dangling a hunk of raw meat in front of a starving predator.”

“Well, you’re probably right,” John agreed, sensing that Gabriela had an inestimable pool of compassion for the disadvantaged, and so no argument of his would have made a difference. “Pantera also said something else that I didn’t understand. What does ‘A vida acontece’ mean?”

Gabriela didn’t blink. “Life happens.”

“The kid has a point,” he replied with resignation. “Maybe I should just turn around and go back home and get on my life. I don’t belong here.”

She saw his shoulders slump and his expression morph from anger to melancholy, so she gently patted him on his knee. “Senhor, what matters right now is that I help you get your life back, if not your wallet. I sincerely believe you need this vacation more than ever. Now do you want to use your cell phone to cancel your credit cards or should I do it for you?”

John’s adrenaline was spent. “I didn’t sign up for the international call plan. I can only receive or send messages.”

“Then I will make the calls for you now.”

“Naw, I’ll do it but after I settle into my hotel room.”

“Where are you staying?”

“The Sheraton Rio—I guess it’s just west of Ipanema beach.”

“Yes it is,” she said. “That is where many Americans stay.”

“Yeah, well, I’m still on a budget, so I’m staying where I could use my travel points. I hope it’s a nice place, ‘cause if my luggage ever arrives, I might be able to enjoy it.”

“Your luggage did not arrive?”

“Look, absolutely nothing’s gone right today, Gabriela. In fact, nothing’s gone right this year, and I don’t see my luck changing anytime soon.”

“And I live by my faith, not by my sight.” She reached into her purse and pulled out three-crumpled R$20 bills. “This becomes the moment when your luck will change. Here—use this for your taxi fare.”

“Sixty reais? Hey, you don’t have to do this,” John protested.

“Can you tell me how else you will get to your hotel?” Her plump raspberry lips formed a sympathetic smile. “John, I want to do this.”

“Maybe I should take the bus and save you some money.”

“Absolutely not.” She adamantly shook her head. “Tourists should never ride the bus. Believe me, you have had enough excitement for one day. I want you to enjoy the rest of your time to Rio. Repay me when you can.”

He studied her benevolent eyes. “With interest, no doubt,” he responded. She scrutinized his sky-blue eyes, and her right eyebrow rose as he realized his unintended double meaning. His face reddened and he quickly added, “I mean, obviously I need to return the favor.”

“I hope you do,” she whispered.

They stood to exchange contact information and part ways. She was so sleek, so refined beside his chiseled frame, and yet he was the one who was helpless. “Thank-you so very much.” John shook her silky warm hand as it melted into his big paw.

“It was my pleasure.”

“See you soon, Gabriela,” he said as he timidly placed his other hand over hers.

“Até logo, John,” she gently responded. It occurred to him how sweet her parting words sounded as compared to the same phrase Pantera had used to taunt him.

His cab ride proved to be as thought provoking as his dawn arrival at Galeão Airport. In the distance, he could see colorful shantytowns, accentuated by lush surrounding mountains. The villagers lived in jerry-rigged shacks, built upon mud and rock, powered only by stolen electricity, and yet how happy they seemed to be. As the cab rambled down toward the voluptuous south beaches, it was clear to John that Rio was unlike any world he knew—one filled with wonders but fraught with risk. Rio was going to be a treacherous yet exciting rollercoaster ride, and undoubtedly not mere merry-go-round.

For the first time since New York, John loosened his striped tie. As the cab zipped along the shores of Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, he spotted Jesus atop the Corcovado. This time Lord appeared to have a twinkle in his eye.

 

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RIO

Stay tuned.  I am putting the finishing touches on a romance thriller called RIO.  It is a 2008 historical fiction story of the upheaval in Rio favelas as the government seeks to dislodge the drug lords and make room for the World Cup and a hopeful bid on the 2016 Olympics summer games. It is also the crashing together of a family of street kids and a vacationing American tourist during the Carnival celebrations. In the next installment, I will post the first few chapters.  I hope you like them!

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TAKE THE HIGH ROAD

highroadFirst of all, let me clarify what “the high road” isn’t.

  1. Stoners will tell you the expression means “get stoned.”  Not what I mean.
  2. Nor am I referring to the British soap opera from 1980 – 2003.
  3. It certainly doesn’t mean a treacherous mountain pass in the Himalayas

When you “take the high road” it means doing the right thing even if is not popular or easy. However, many people believe that for one person to “take the high road” infers that the other person isn’t.  Sometimes this is true, that one individual is treated unfairly by another.  In this case, taking the high road means don’t stoop to someone’s tactics and be drawn into the muck. You can control how you respond to any situation. Things happen but time marches on. Remaining calm and civil will prevent any argument from escalating. Never, ever, say anything or do anything that you would regret at a later date.

But too many times, a person has to feel that he or she is the victim, and that they are taking the high road by burning at the stake.  True victims have all the rights to be justified in their anguish, but negative energies only take away from the possibilities for positive energy. Consider heroes like Gandhi or Mandela who could have easily thrown in the towel. Bad karma merely manifests. Taking the high road leaves the poison below.

Let me also suggest to you that just because one person takes the high road, it doesn’t automatically place the other person in the gutter. Two people can simultaneously become polar opposites in how they feel, yet neither is necessarily wrong. Just look at politics. If such disagreements can’t be resolved, each person should take the high road, although it is not always going to be on the same pathway.

Even when the chemistry of a love affair or long-term friendship has soured, it’s better to drift apart rather than to blow apart. Feelings can sometimes change inalterably during a long-term relationship. Taking the high helps prevent the ruination of that relationship.  Hopefully, if love makes the world go around, Dating for Life will always keep it spinning. But even if a marriage must end, when two people both take the high road, they can preserve a friendship.  The Golden Rule is golden with good reason.

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DATING FOR LIFE VERSUS ROUTINES

Same Old Sign.Let me guess.  Every morning you get up and for the first 30 minutes, you routine is pure Pavlov’s Dog.  In terms of getting ready for your day, it’s more efficient to prepare for the day in the same way.  Why reinvent the wheel, as they say.

Now you’re entering your daily activities, most likely work or parental responsibilities, which is surely also a form a work.  Your commute to work takes the same route, unless the traffic reports on the radio suggest otherwise. You grab a coffee and/or breakfast en route, and finally settle into your day, perhaps at a desk, retail store, construction etc.  If you are at a desk, there are important e-mails to read, phone calls to make, meetings to attend.  Breaks are normally mid-morning, lunch and mid-afternoon.  Then, finally, you’re done! You can leave work and go back home to…run errands, eat dinner, watch television etc.

If your life is anything close to this kind of routine, imagine how easy it can be to treat your relationships in routine ways. I don’t have to tell you that routines create ruts.  Chivalry actually doesn’t die, it slowly lapses into a coma. But if love makes the world go around, Dating for Life keeps it spinning. The four keys to “dating” anyone for any aspect of life (romance, friendship, business colleague, neighbor) will break the routines that lead to relationship ruts.

Now that Valentine’s Day is over for 2014, don’t think that you’re off the hook for chivalry until next year. One day of resurrecting any relationship doesn’t repair 364 days of taking it for granted.

In my next few blogs, I will give you several simple ideas that will break the monotony and open the door to spontaneity in friendship, love and romance.  Stay tuned.

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ARE YOU BETTER OFF SETTING NEW YEAR’S REINVENTIONS?

pastFutureSo, how many of you out there have already broken every one of your New Year’s resolutions?  My guess is that if you haven’t broken them, you may already be on a slippery slope of a broken promise.  As there are millions of resolutions floating about in the ether of hope, there are also millions of ways for these solemn vows to be dashed as well.  But regardless of your specific resolution(s), here’s an idea that will apply to all:  pursue New Year’s Eve reinventions rather than resolutions.

First of all, a resolution is usually fairly black and white.  For example, “I resolve to stop swearing.” (I do, dammit!) But if have established a pattern of swearing for whatever reason, unless that pattern is broken, it is unlikely that my resolve will be achieved. Therefore, what is the trigger that prompts swearing, and what is the methodology to permanently disable that trigger?  Thus enters in reinvention.

A former minister of mine suggested that every step taken in life is either a step toward good, or a step toward evil.  Equate this statement to climbing up a mountain.  Now and then you may slip or fall if the pathway is steep or hard to navigate. But you can only climb any mountain one step at a time. I like this concept, because anything worth achieving normally takes a commitment to the process.  Einstein didn’t wake up one morning and invent the Theory of Relativity. And John Wayne Gacy didn’t just decided to commit heinous crimes.  There was a long pathway that led him there.

One more piece of advice:  don’t set goals that are a one-time finish line.  For example, when a person vows to “lose ten pounds by the end of the year,” what is the motivation to keep them off the following year? A reinvention goal would be more likely to be to modify a lifestyle habit and establish the methodology to do so.  Losing the weight is only one metric to monitor the process.

Consider what you want to accomplish and design a strategy on how you should live your life to become the vision you desire. Your New Year’s resolutions will quickly fade, but a New Year’s reinvention could last a lifetime.

 

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A METHODOLOGY FOR NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS!

NYELet’s talk about goal setting.  Psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews, Professor of Psychology of the Dominican University of California, recently conducted a study related to goal setting.

Matthews recruited 267 participants who were randomly assigned to one of five groups.  Her methodology is stated below:

Group 1 was asked to simply think about the business-related goals they hoped to accomplish within a four-week block and to rate each goal according to difficulty, importance, the extent to which they had the skills and resources to accomplish the goal, their commitment and motivation, and whether they had pursued the goal before (and, if so, their prior success).

Groups 2-5 were asked to write their goals down and then rate them on the same dimensions as given to Group 1.

Group 3 was also asked to write action commitments for each goal.

Group 4 had to both write goals and action commitments and also share these commitments with a friend.

Group 5 went the furthest by doing all of the above plus sending a weekly progress report to a friend.

Goals were a wide-ranging as completing a project, increasing income, increasing productivity, improving organization, enhancing performance/achievement, enhancing life balance, reducing work anxiety, and learning a new skill.  Specific goals ranged from writing a chapter of a book to listing and selling a house.

Of the original 267 participants, 149 completed the study. At the end of the study, the individuals in Group 1 only accomplished 43 percent of their stated goals. Those in Group 4 accomplished 64 percent of their stated goals, while those in Group 5 were the most successful, with an average 76 percent of their goals accomplished.

“My study provides empirical evidence for the effectiveness of three coaching tools: accountability, commitment, and writing down one’s goals,” Matthews said.

So if you are planning on making a New Year’s resolution that will actually come true, remember to:

  • Set a goal that is realistic and attainable
  • Write it down
  • Put together an action plan with metrics
  • Share this goal with a friend or publicly
  • “Inspect what you expect” and measure your goal until you have achieved it.

So, what’s your New Year’s resolution?  Write me and I will post it on my website, so you are effectively telling the world what you hope to achieve in 2014!

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INTERESTING TRENDS IN DATING

textI find it interesting that with all of the development of “Love Apps”, technology that makes it easier to find a date, it seems harder than ever for people to fall in love. Although men seem to be having “their cake and eating it” in major metropolitan areas, there is a backlash developing.  Here’s why:

  1. Texting has digitized the emotionality of asking someone out for a date, thus depersonalizing romance.  According to a Match.com study, 50 percent of guys reach out within 24 hours of a date by confirming interest.  If a girl doesn’t hear back within this time, her odds of a next date are slim.  Picking up the phone is a complete passé protocol.  Question:  do you feel that this sets up a deep seated (justifiably) resentment of women toward men?
  2. Ghosting is the current term for guys that no longer want to pursue a relationship, even after several dates with a woman.  Is chivalry that dead?  Or, even more bluntly put, are relationships that undervalued?  Question:  do you feel that women that feel undervalued will eventually turn the tables in the future?
  3. In a recent British poll, 62 percent of men said that they turn down sex more than their partners do. This is symptomatic of women that have become more aggressive toward “one night stands” and who only want “boy toys” similar to men’s attitudes in the past.  Question:  What does this do with regards to the attitude of men toward woman and what values they represent?
  4. In major cities, unmarried young women out earn young men by a median of 8 percent.  The catch—Researches at the University of Chicago found that in these cases, there is a much larger incidence of divorce. Some of these divorces are prompted by the frustration of the man not being the major “breadwinner” but this is only symptomatic of the deeper root cause, where the woman is simply fed up with the man’s attitudes and no longer needs or wants him.  Question:  do you agree?
  5. In Asia, Africa, and Latin America, there is a rising rate of divorce, as women are abandoning men to better their careers and perhaps personal lives as well. Laws are softening to allow women to do this, whereas in the past they were more-or-less indentured into marriage.  Question:  Why do you believe that women are taking this course of action?  Could it be that they are tired of being treated as true partners?
  6. Time Magazine did a recent survey of people born from 1957 to 1964 which shows that a bachelor’s degree not only increases the likelihood of marriage, but it also lowers the risk of divorce. The well-educated tend to marry later, so their apt to be more mature and financially stable.  The median income of a college grad is 116 percent more than someone with a high school diploma.  There are multiple reasons for why college grad marriages are preserved, not all of which are related to love, such as there is more at stake to lose.  However, there are also higher-evolved relationships where partnering is at multiple levels of business, charity, family, trust, respect and love.  I would also offer that males who marry very early in live haven’t evolved nearly as much as post-college grads who are established in their careers.  In fact, if “thirty is the new twenty-one” then this means the males focus on career and having fun is a higher priority than settling down, as a rule.

Dating for Life is a methodology based upon treating anyone whom you associate with in a respectful manner.  The Greek origin of the word “date” is didonal which means “to give.”  The onus is on anyone who invites someone else out on a date to show them a good time.  Treat life as a date and eventually a mutually respectful relationship will evolve, whether it be in business, friendship, or romance.  The FOUR KEYS of Dating for Life show you the way.  Chivalry needs to be resurrected, and cannot be replaced by technology.

  • The only purpose of Texting is to communicate time-sensitive information.
  • The only purpose of dating sites should be to filter out those people that don’t fit within either male or female’s horizons.
  • Lose the PDA and get to know someone whenever you go out on a date.

People matter.

Romance matters.

Both require cultivation.

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FREE FOR YOUR SWEETHEART!

sweetestdayHere’s a gift for you to give to ANYONE you consider sweet—a FREE DATING FOR LIFE e-book. In an age when chivalry is tarnished and needs some polishing, it never hurts to brush up on how to treat anyone you associate with as if you were on a date. In case you forgot, the four keys to Dating for Life are:

  1. Pursue common interests
  2. Set no expectations
  3. Learn and grow
  4. Express gratitude

But how do they apply to everyday living?  FIND OUT.  Please go to AMAZON on SWEETEST DAY, Saturday October 19, and download your free e-book, DATING FOR LIFE. This free gift from me to you will run through Monday, October 21.  After you read my book, I guarantee you will have a healthier outlook on how to interface with your friends, business colleagues, family, and of course any romantic interest. Download my book, and please subscribe to my weekly newsletter by going to my www.DATINGFORLIFE.com site.  I promise to give you valuable tips and insights throughout the entire year. If friendship and romance make the world go around, then DATING FOR LIFE keeps it spinning. Best wishes, Craig S. Wilson Author

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EVERY DAY IS LABOR DAY

labordayI’m marveling at the evolvement (mutation) of people’s perception of Labor Day.  Here’s how it started, according to Wikipedia:

In 1882, Matthew Maguire, a machinist, first proposed the holiday while serving as secretary of the CLU (Central Labor Union) of New York. Others argue that Peter J. McGuire of the American Federation of Labor first proposed it in May 1882, after witnessing the annual labor festival held in Toronto, Canada. Oregon was the first state to make it a holiday on February 21, 1887. By the time it became a federal holiday in 1894, thirty states officially celebrated Labor Day. Following the deaths of a number of workers at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the Pullman Strike, the United States Congress unanimously voted to approve rush legislation that made Labor Day a national holiday; President Grover Cleveland signed it into law a mere six days after the end of the strike. The September date originally chosen by the CLU of New York and observed by many of the nation’s trade unions for the past several years was selected rather than the more widespread International Workers’ Day because Cleveland was concerned that observance of the latter would be associated with the nascent Communist, Syndicalist and Anarchist movements that, though distinct from one another, had rallied to commemorate the Haymarket Affair in International Workers’ Day. All U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and the territories have made it a statutory holiday.

But what is Labor Day today?

  1. Labor Day is the symbolic end of the summer. Fashionistas feel that it is inappropriate to wear white or seersucker after this holiday, until Easter.
  2. Labor Day marks the beginning of the NFL and college football seasons.
  3. Most US public school districts that started summer vacation 1-2 weeks into June will resume school the day after Labor Day, although this trend is changing.
  4. It is the second largest retail day of the year, second only to Christmas season’s Black Friday. Retail counts on the Labor Day weekend for big sales, and those employed in the retail sector not only work on Labor Day, but work longer hours. Retail employment making up 24% of all jobs in the United States, even though only 3% are members of a Labor union.

What does this mean?

  • Americans still live to work, not work to live. As the world becomes increasingly competitive, achieving a high standard of living is still possible, but not without a high price.
  • Work and play are largely co-mingled, thanks to PDAs. People are unchained from a physical desk, but their work never leaves them.
  • Labor Day is a dated holiday, honoring a time when there was a division of work and play and most workers slaved away in more of a physical endeavor. This is still true and necessary in many jobs, such as construction, farming, and manufacturing industries. However, when Labor Day was created, most workers went off to work as single-income earners. Today, everyone works!

Conclusion:

Whoever you may be, throw a steak on the grill and enjoy a beer. You earned it!

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