Curtain Raiser

No Vote for the Unraveling, Colltalers

The despondency and sense of hopelessness pervading our age haven’t discouraged at least one group of people: doomsday hopefuls. On the contrary, they’re actually thriving. Which is not new, except that now, they have a good source of inspiration residing in the White House.
That should come as no surprise given the floods, raging fires, starving refugees, and widespread war mongering. Humanists and advocates for hope are not too popular these days. And the many who’re convinced that the human race is unworthy saving don’t help matters either.
Hordes of survivalists, Apocalypse whisperers, ‘preppers,’ however one calls then, have always spiked in times of crisis, despite different agendas. Religion, social unrest, fears of a nuclear Armageddon, all make strange bedfellows out of phony prophets and conspiracy nuts.
Those who would rather take what comes unfiltered and prepare without being preachy, are feeling the pressure to ‘make a stand,’ or ‘get down from the fence, already.’ Apparently, Lao Tzu’s ‘the best way to carve is not split,’ is falling out of fashion, arguably out of impatience.
They may want to hold on to their perch, though, at least for now; we’ll get to that in a moment. But first, why so many subscribe to the cliche, the more things change, the more they remain the same? That is, without comparing now with, well, all else that may’ve come before.
It’s certainly not mere disillusionment about disenfranchisement and alienation, for that is old news. And so is blaming obliviousness and apathy, a fair charge Americans get all the time. That it’s now a widespread malaise may be explained by the U.S.’s diminished stature in the world, but that tells only part of the story. The same about access to higher education, or the proverbial lack of confidence in political leaders.
Technology, veiled economic interests, income disparities, always, we could go on lining up reasons why the increasingly more privileged few (and fewer) have been gathering greater control over the destiny of everyone else, and the planet, seemingly with little reaction from the oppressed, and often with their very acquiescence. It’s baffling. To some, the very system, like Humpty Dumpty, is broken beyond repair.
That’s where unbalanced minds, who see foes all around; end-of-the-world apologists, rooting for a final conflict to fulfill archaic prophecies; and, hold on to your amulets, perfectly rational citizens, to whom we’re already a lost cause, gather and find a bewildering common ground.
What’s left then, one wonders, to those who still heed to the merits of living a decent life, of remaining open to the joy Continue reading

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Hell Holds No Pets

Meet Some of My
New York Friends

Paraphrasing Mario Puzo, keep your friends close, and the friends of your friends, closer. He may’ve known a thing or two about family sagas, but as far as animals are concerned, not so much. In fact, most of us wouldn’t flinch about harming a pet, even if Hollywood had an offer we couldn’t refuse.
Gentle beasts, they earn from us more than we could ever give friends, lovers, and relatives. So let me introduce you to a few of my acquaintances’ cats, and one tender dog, in the company of whom I satisfy my fix, and sense of loss, since mine left me long ago and I’ve run out of time to outlast new ones.
Life gives us no choice: once time comes, we leave it all behind. Which is fine. But unlike sons and daughters, there’s no telling them, now, go get your own place and pets to tend to. Once you’re together, you’re down for the long, or short, run, or whenever one of you checks out. Try to not to be the first.
For the accidental petsitter like me, it’s always clear which one of us is the needier, and who’s actually providing existential relief. Just like it was when they adopted us. So I tackle my duties like a priest sets up the altar for a mass: everything has to be carefully arranged to assure a safe trip to heaven for all involved.
Things usually follow a natural path, from wearily seizing each other’s out, to lending a tad of trust to the proceedings, to the time when it gets to be all fun and games. Such a progression may seem casual to the untrained eye, but let’s not let looks deceive us. For in the end, we may all feel better for having shared those moments together.

OLD SCHOOL & THE INTERLOPER
Ziggy was once the new kid on the block, but was never as big as his elder brother, who’s left us. When he finally got his shot at the top, KittyKat showed up and won everybody’s heart. Soon, he grew bigger and is now the dominant dude. Ziggy is right to be bitter.
Two beautiful Coons, they’ve got ways to go to get along, if they’ll ever. Most likely, Ziggy will keep on being cranky, despite such a Reggae name, while Kitty gets away with mayhem. And some dare to say that cats have it easy. Life has no patience for fairness. I love these two.

THE MAJESTIC QUEEN GRACIE
There are not enough superlatives to describe this lady, and to keep it simple doesn’t do her justice either. The thing about striking a feline-like balance when writing about a cat proves us how inadequate is our own sense of balance. And how poor. That’s not Gracie at all.
It took me a while to show her I was at her service. For she’d never demand anything. But when she finally vocalized her state of mind, I understood it perfectly. Many a silent sunset we’ve enjoyed together, as I dabbled in her generous name-sake mood. Everything about her speaks of harmony. I look forward to indulge her light again soon.

BIRDIE & SQUIRT, TWIN SHADOWS
These two could be spies, and I swear they like to play doubles. Just when I thought I knew which is which, they’ve proved me wrong. Twice. I’m sure at least one of them flies, when no one is looking. Then again, to wonder what cats do when we’re not around is like trying to build walls of shade. I think they can read my mind too.
Once I dozed off and just before I came to, I had this vivid impression they were staring at my reverie. But when I’ve opened my eyes, neither Birdie nor Squirt were anywhere to be seen. I’m sure they know something about me I don’t dare to imagine what. Next time, I’ll wear a disguise.

LULU TRAPEZIST & PRINCESS FURBALL
Lulu is the girl next door, who flirts with the string I flicker in front of her paws, and then disappears in the back. Princess came after, her beautiful fur covering up her round body. While she hardly moves, Lulu entertains dogs of all sizes. They both live in a pet store, you see.
Lulu‘s the one I seek when I need a quick cat fix. She won’t let (more)
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Curtain Raiser

When Peace Comes to Town, Colltalers

Friday’s announcement that the International Coalition to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN, is this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, is the kind of good news we haven’t had much lately. It helps refocus attention on the threat of nukes, and may boost the global peace movement.
It helps that ICAN, a 10-year old coalition of non-governmental groups, is also a worthy recipient. It’s been praised on its efforts by other peace organizations and, in July, played an important role getting 122 nations to sign a United Nations Treaty for banning nuclear weapons.
The news are timely, given the Trump administration’s confrontation stance towards North Korea, and reported intention to decertify the Iran Agreement. ICAN deserves the honor, even as the nine U.S.-led, non-signing countries are exactly the ones that own such weapons.
Times have been such that even a mostly symbolic award, as prestigious as the Nobel may be, can bring us some measured relief. It’s been the year when climate change has rendered all excuses not to act into just that, excuses, even as mostly the poor and the dispossessed are the ones charged with the bill. Apart from staggering hurricane-related destruction, Americans have also to contend with the fruits of their own sins.
For the land where the archaic myths of the gunslinger and the hunter are alive, despite their senselessness, is bound to periodically produce an exterminator, a mad vulture with an automatic gun. So often it happens, we’re used to be momentarily jolted, and then to forget it all.
The Las Vegas tragedy is as much about the massacre Continue reading

Middle Brother

Thanks to Him, I Got My
First Yellow Plastic Bus

Norris Coll would’ve been 68 today. Eighteen years since he’s gone, I still struggle to place his life in a coherent timeline, one that would make him justice, and ease my heartfelt emotions.
Fact is, I could never draw a decent portrait of my brother, whose sharp wit I still hear at times. Like a blade sliding through soft butter, even in the most casual of the moments, there was always a chance for bleedings.
And there were quite a few of them, along with flareups, recriminations, little betrayals, and several years squeezed between our times together and apart.
Fortunately, there were laughter too, and joy, and discoveries shared and explored. And much of what I am today, I thank to Dois, who at least once, played the big brother to my advantage, and chased some bullies away from me.
In the perforated fabric of my memories, none forms a complete picture, but many have an underlying narrative of challenge, of daring to be bold and get away with it, or almost. He certainly would’ve never looked back, like I’m doing now.
***
I was there the morning he got married by a judge. And we were together in the afternoon too, when he decided not to show up for his own wedding. Once he made up his mind, I couldn’t change it back.
Somehow, he made me his emissary to the puzzled guests crowding the sidewalk in front of the church. Even though I managed to face them all, I never had the guts to ask his wife why she stood by him as she did. Till the end.
There must be some measure of irony and good karma in the fact that their baby girl is now an accomplished trapezist, an aerial performer, and the only certified artist of the whole family.
***
In the early 1980s, we would often walk down a busy São Paulo avenue, smoking joints and watching thundering planes passing overhead on their way to land at his neighborhood airport.
That’s when his volatility would run the gamut, reaching its highest point even before a single airliner would touch down. But our sibling fights never lasted too long, and we’d wake up the next day with no hangovers.
Because we were so different, they could never be as vicious as the ones he battled with our old man, who was truly his double in candor
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and determination. I’ll never know who broke the other one first, but neither quite recovered from their clashes.
In hindsight, he must’ve treasured our times together, as I did, since he always knew he could trust me like no one else. Things I’m telling you now I’ve told no soul for all these years. It was a thought I had the day I became ‘older’ than him, too.
***
We both also knew when the last of those times finally got behind us. We’ve cried our goodbyes in a cool hospital corner, a few months before he left us. He was gone before the first dawn of the 21th century.
It was the year my first born came to this world, and a decade from Dad’s own passing. Numbers can never make up for missing words, though. And about this great guy, there are so many. In all his youthful eloquence, when the end came, he didn’t care to say much.
***
We were with father once when I got one of the toys that defined my childhood, a bus. We used to make constant short trips to the countryside, where Dad would tend to small missions, as a pastor.

So I loved buses back then, and immediately got attracted to one at the children’s section. It was yellow and plastic and, gosh so simple, and so beautiful. Naturally, I had to have it. Not so, said Father Heitor.
That’s when Norris, still a teenager, stepped up and pleaded my case, saying something like, come on, Dad. I think that was my puppy eyes moment, because the pastor looked at me and actually asked me, do you really want this?
And how? I’ve kept it, and played with it even when it’d lost its wheels, was always covered in mud, and its once bright yellow had all but faded. I don’t think I ever got to thank my brother for such a gesture.
***
So, if you don’t mind, let me take this moment to say, thank you for that bus, Norris. Thank you for your life, for giving me this moment to share with the world, for having been such a loving and caring partner.
You’ll always be missed. Happy Birthday, my ‘little’ brother.

(*) Originally published on Oct. 4, 2012.

Curtain Raiser

Three Shouts for Autonomy, Colltalers

The two-punch tragedy of Puerto Rico – Hurricane Maria’s devastation and Trump administration’s neglect – has unexpectedly resonated with two political events that happened far from the Caribbean Sea over the weekend: the independence referendums held by Kurds and Catalans.
That’s because Puerto Ricans too have sought independence from the U.S. through popular consultation, or at least, to gain the power to vote on matters of their own sovereignty. Their only upside over those other groups, is the small land they own, which is currently underwater.
While the results in Iraq and Spain may seem encouraging, though, they’re unlikely to galvanize enough international support to their cause. On the other hand, the flood in Puerto Rico does have the potential to revive its independence movement, more than previous referendums.
Without getting in too deep about the changing nature of autonomy movements in modern times, or generalizing about what’s essentially diverse situations, is still possible to gather insights about the challenges ahead for the three nations. And for all the political will and genuine desire Kurdish, Catalans and Puerto Ricans may have for self-determination, they’re faced with formidable adversaries on their quest.
By far, the biggest obstacle to old fashioned assumptions of national identity and independence is the globalization of the economy. The world’s means of production and sustainability was never more intricately linked as now. And that conspires against the birth of any new nation. Not just what kind of trading partner it aims to be, based on what it produces, but also, who it’ll trade with and under what conditions.
It’s at this intersection of economic interests and geopolitics that lies the success, and more often, failure of contemporary movements for independence. Unlike the mid 20th century wars for self determination, waged by former European colonies in Africa and Asia, or the turmoil and resistance against military dictatorships in Central and South America, the world circa 2017 is an entirely different animal.
It took a major coalition of nations to end the ethnic cleansing massacres that followed the already bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia, in the 1990s. And the independence referendum that forged South Sudan has only worked so far to the extent that it halted a brutal civil war. Hostilities and starvation, however, rage on, and the international community seems to have run out of ideas about what to do about them.
To have an idea of the complexities involved in any kind of secession, no matter how legitimate it seems for those longing for independence, consider Quebec and Scotland. Despite a respectable Continue reading

Scary Night

A Great Ruckus on
the Grand Concourse

I was called again to the precinct. It’s the second time this month. I’ve already told Willem that whenever he puts up that sort of stunt, not just me but everyone is affected. I don’t mind it myself, but after all, it’s 3 am and I’ve got patients to see tomorrow morning. But as usual, once out, he’ll likely walk away without listening to anybody.
I can’t bring myself to call his brother, because I know that he and his wife are going through a rough patch, and I don’t need to tell who’s the culprit for that. Their relationship took a hit from Williem’s behavior, showing up at all times, usually drunk, and asking for another loan.
No marriage can withstand that kind of interference. In our talks, I always try to drive home this point. At the end of the day, Theodorus is his only relative to not just care about him but also support him financially. Not so much for that, but without his brother, Willem would be done, couldn’t last another crisis.
As for crisis, well, there were so many that after all these years, I’d need to go over my notes to find out how many. On the other hand, I feel sympathy – not pity – for his plight, the demons he faces daily, the horrors that frighten him and prevent him from getting any sleep. This nightmare-induced insomnia only aggravates his state.
And then, of course, there’s his creative genius, his fury which cuts him off from everyone. To tell you the truth, he scares people away, especially when brandishing threateningly his brushes against the canvas. It’s his armory, to avoid getting hurt, but go tell this to those he insulted and yelled at. They’re quite a bunch.

In the end, few get him. To them, his work is offensive, almost pornographic in its distorted colors and shapes. I understand; it’s not easy to appreciate his paintings for what they are, peasants, flowers, landscapes, and stars, but depicted through fouled traces and exacerbated emotions. They’d rather have romance, reassurance in art. Just between us, folks can be boring, but that’s just my opinion.

II

When we talk, his solitude always comes up. That’s when I truly feel sorry for him. Compassion, even, for no young gal, on her right mind, would put up with such a caustic personality, without being crushed. That’s why, despite the obvious risks to his health, I pretend I don’t mind his habit of sleeping with prostitutes.

For only angels like them can offer comfort and company to such an afflicted soul. At the same time, he’s always getting into trouble, fistfights and drunken stupors, let alone that he spends what he doesn’t have in those sinful nights. Willem has no sense of restrain, and is absolutely oblivious to the concept of saving money to pay rent, or even food the following day.
Anyway, I’m here, waiting for Inspector Rolland, who at this point is an old ally. He’s been extremely patient but every time I come, I’m afraid that it’s the moment of rupture, when he’ll finally throw the book at Willem. No wonder. He’s been through so much with his superiors, as he always lets such a ‘rowdy dopey,’ as they call him, walk without bail.
A few moments and Rolland brings him over. Disheveled, bloated, covered with the dirty blanket cops who arrested him had given him. This time, he was naked near the Reservoir, doing heaven knows what. I know he’s harmless, incapable of hurting a fly, but would believe it?
That is, as long as you don’t pick a fight with him when his under the weather. But usually, he’s the kind that directs his anger against himself, which is sad. I’m always afraid for the worst. Thankfully, coming from him, I’m used to be prepared, sort of, and brought him a change of clothes; this is neither the first nor will be the last time that he strips in public.
To him, it’s not even ‘public,’ as in exposing himself. It’s more like an attempt to get himself rid of the chains he imagines (more)
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Curtain Raiser

Threats to Gay Rights in Brazil, Colltalers

To start a newsletter with a checklist has many pros and at least one con. It makes it easy to track what’s keeping us up at night, and signals that we may return to any of these boiling pots at anytime. But if listing is made into a habit, only mentioning them may as well be pointless.
This time it may be inevitable to do just that, though. For we need to discuss the assault the LGBT community in Brazil is undergoing right now, and the risk its advances may be dialed back by rightwing political forces. More of that in a minute, but first, back to that list of issues.
There’s Trump’s mishandling of North Korea, while also rubbing Iran the wrong way; the hurricane season’s ongoing devastation; another failed Republican stab at Obamacare; and more angst about immigrants, Dreamers or not. These are now part of our routine of afflictions.
Still, since the world does not revolve around the U.S., these may be far from being concerns to millions of people. The plight of Rohyngia Muslims, for instance, being mercilessly chased away by Thailand, and seeking shelter at mostly-flooded Bangladesh, can’t be ignored. In fact, the whole South Asia is drowning in inundation and misery. And let’s not forget those still trapped in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
But that’s the reason why lists are so ineffective as action mechanisms: they trivialize pain and turn despair into mere PowerPoint schematics. The breaking news about American football that came up last week, which seems to confirm that players are being severely brain-damaged in the name of entertainment, and to help a multibillion sport franchise profit from it, is another interesting metaphor for what’s happening.
The realization that the game is irredeemably hazardous to those who practice it may spell its end. Or make us all accomplices, and slaves, to its destructive power. Many knew the risks, but only when players started killing people, and themselves, the issue was finally confronted.
It may sound flippant to insert news about an American sport that attracts little interest around the world. But the $13 billion in annual revenues the league makes – not including Continue reading