HOOTCHIE OF MANAUS
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"Pig Headed in Brasil" by Bryan Adrian
by Bryan Adrian
I first met Pete when he asked me for a job at our weekly newspaper in Greenpoint. Most reporters held him in high regard. He was a colorful and adventurous free-lance travel writer, who once in a while contributed a movie review. Good ones too. I always plugged them into the paper. It's a good thing Pete had a sense of humor, otherwise he couldn't have taken all the teasing from the permanent staff writers. "Gee we're jealous Pete ... what's next week bringing you, freedom or a paycheck?" This helped to pass the boring moments in the newsroom. The staff reporters were paid a handsome salary and given generous benefits for their loyalty to senior management. They're a bunch of nice steady, predictable guys.
Pete often complained to me about his slim prospects as a staff writer. In all honesty, I just couldn't hire him full-time as a reporter on our payroll. I am only a city editor, so my authority doesn't stretch as far as the publisher's. Anyway, Pete will always be too unpredictable and too radical in his politics for middle America. I gave him a sympathetic ear, sometimes, during our slower hours in the newsroom. He told me at these times much about his unhappiness in the advertising agency where he often put in a 40-hour week as a freelancer. He told me once in an angry tone that they paid him to produce copy for products made for the undeviating parade of mass consumption. His work was on a steady basis there. It didn't matter to Pete if he had to write up Mr. Coffee or Mr. Stephen Speilberg. To him they were birds of a feather. He hated to admit that he could swiftly discern the qualities distinguishing one consumer product from another. His artistic integrity gave him sufficient grounds to work up his spleen and go into furies. He became better and better at his quick wit and ready lies, despite himself, in writing effective copy about vacuous and superficial topics.
He grew so tense at times that a few of us at the paper asked him if maybe he ought to travel to Oregon, Georgia, or someplace like that, and unwind. Sort things out a bit. Well, he must have listened to us. It came as quite a surprise when on my return from a dull press conference held by the Fire Marshall, I found a thick envelope on my desk, postmarked Iquitos, Peru. It was from Pete, and our first correspondence in nearly half a year. The letter read as follows:
I couldn't live with myself anymore on the same old track. Thanks for the encouragement to bust out of Greenpoint. Oregon and Georgia didn't appeal to me enough, so ... here I am, ... in Peru!
Hitchhiking to Miami was the easiest leg of the journey up to this point. From Miami I caught a midnight flight with a no-frills South American airline that dropped me into the Peruvian Amazon for the price of a budget night out in Greenpoint. I will try to tell you as much as I can and as quickly as possible, but for the moment, I have only one nub of a pencil with which to write.
On that night plane I had to put up with a gaggle of Cuban capitalists. They spoke forever about money and people they heard about who were "making it." The many platitudes spewing out of their mouths put me fast to sleep (the rum on board contributed too). Hours later, I awoke and found myself the only passenger still onboard. The stewardess vacuuming the carpeted aisles pointed brusquely toward an exit door, all the while giving me an irritated look. You know, the same look you always gave me whenever I asked you for a staff reporter's job. When I got out into the open air, thousands of raindrops, sharp as needles, lanced my face and arms. At that moment, I felt for the first time, how the victim of a piranha feeding frenzy might feel.
Torrential rains were wiping coconut tree fronds in swirls around the runway. Fecund scents prowled around more violently than unrestrained bloodhounds through my nose. It was great to have buried memories brought back to life, dredged up by my sense of smell like bodies thrown from freshly dug graves. Life rushed at me without mercy. Ken, it scares me ... I'm afraid I'll never be able to slow down. It's great being in the belly of the Amazon. I want a lot more from her. Body and soul, fire and ice. I think I'll be reborn in this green and moist womb.
At the dinky airplane terminal I caught a cab. The taxista drove me to what they call "el centro" in Iquitos. It was hard to see clearly out the window as the cab pulled into the center. Rain was flapping in huge wet sheets of wind. It was extremely late. I paid a small sum to the driver and walked into the only cantina still open for the night. The bartender came from behind the bar and served me himself at my table. I leaned my chair back and rested my shoulders against the wall, chatting him up a bit. After a couple of beers he became helpful and told me I didn't have much time left to find a room for the night.
After walking around for nearly a half-hour, I discovered a simple hotel with a night porter asleep in the foyer, deep within his large hammock. It took a while but he heard my shouts and let me in. He gave me a key for a room. The key was so large I felt like a child walking with it in my hands, looking for the door with the correct number on it. The room, once inside, was just large enough for both the key and me, plus my leather overnight shoulder bag. A new home without many rips in the mosquito net. A good enough star on a new continent.
The next morning and for the next several days I bent many ears in bars and culled all the jungle gossip I could collect. Many of the locals told me about another foreigner, a German named Rainart, who wanted to join an expedition going downriver into the capillary like system of narrow Amazon river tributaries. I sought him out and was quite surprised when I finally caught him in a popular cantina and cornered him tactfully into a friendly conversation. The townspeople had described him as exceptionally tall and harmless with the airs of a lost schoolboy. They forgot to tell me any of their judgmental observations. Particularly, that Rainart's presence made one feel instantly nervous and uncomfortable. Something hard to put a finger on made him come across as awkward. A backward Inca indian suddenly thrust into Macy's at Herald Square during the Christmas rush would seem much better adapted to his new and unfamiliar surroundings.
Regardless, Rainart and I got along fairly well and made plans over the course of the next week to set out on a jungle expedition. We prepared ourselves for a rough journey. The last item on our checklist was to swear we would not discuss women in the solitude of the wilderness. Talk of women would only bring frustration, and perhaps worse, trouble. Sexual and romantic desires were left behind with the starched shirts and credit cards.
Finally, after buying only those provisions which were absolutely necessary, we boarded a diesel powered fishing launch. Thirty to forty sweaty natives competed with us for scarce hammock space. This forced Rainart and I to squabble over the tight little hammock slot that still remained among the tangle of bloated bodies. Not the most auspicious beginning, but we persevered and made it safely through this five day trial and initiation.
The launch dropped us off at the very small mouth of a backwater tributary. The water was black from stagnation and stillness. We camped there a few days and explored the area. We found a small encampment of five or six jungle families. One of the men, Tito, was a hunter and he agreed to join us on our travels further downriver.
We cut and slashed and hunted and camped in that jungle hinterland for five months. It would have been much longer, but Rainart was terrorized by an Amazon armadillo. Well it's not called an armadillo in the Amazon, but ... I've run out of paper and will write more to you soon. Say hi to your lovely wife and kids.
After this letter I didn't hear from Pete for ages. The reporters were always asking me what kind of trouble Pete was into now. I honestly couldn't tell them and usually just shrugged in response.
About thirteen months after that bewildering letter, a telegram arrived. It was very cryptic and much too brief.
CAN'T MAKE CONTACT FOR SOME TIME. WILL EXPLAIN LATER.
I was beginning to worry that if harm had come to Pete it would be my fault since it was I who had suggested to him in the first place that he get the hell out of Greenpoint and try something new. It seemed remote to me when I mentioned this to him that I would suffer many sleepless nights because of it at a later date.
The elections came and went in the City and my paper was awarded for its even-handed coverage of political and municipal events. A few violent anti-Rudy Giuliani protests rocked the city, but the only damage was to his "Bunker" at the World Trade Center, and this only brought more construction work to the City, which many of my unemployed relatives sorely needed. My wife and I had our third child, our first son, who will not grow up to be in the newspaper business if I can prevent it. Then, when least expected, there arrived another envelope postmarked from Brasil. This one was not in the familiar Pete handwriting whatsoever. Even more alarming, it was written in Spanish. I have read it over several times with the help of a dictionary and now I can finally say that the broken handwriting is just legible enough to understand. But the contents are puzzling and full of contradictions.
The letter was penned by a political exile named Ricardo, a native of Montevideo, Uruguay. That's what he wrote in the letter in which he introduced himself. He told me that Pete was a friend of his whom he had met on a boat in the Amazon, near Manaus. He had been separated from him for quite a long time since his initial escapades with Pete and only recently had met him again, near Manaus. He told me he had important news for me and requested that $1,500 be wired to him at the Banco do Brasil of Manaus so that he could fly to Greenpoint and tell me the news in person. He gave no reasons why he must come in person to explain Pete's situation.
At first I was reluctant to comply, but after a few days I began to think that I owed at least this much to Pete. I wired the money to Manaus, and within three weeks Ricardo was in my office at the newspaper.
He looked anemic and had several days growth of beard. The first thing he asked was whether or not I had a cigarette for him.
I gave him a freshly opened pack and waited for him to get on with his story. He had difficulty speaking, and on closer examination I noticed that he had small cold sores on his lips and that his skin was quite sallow. His throat was very dry and he made raspy utterances when he tried to speak. I motioned for one of the cub reporters in the newsroom to bring him a large glass of water.
After several deep gulps Ricardo told me in Spanish, a language I don't speak well but understand well enough to follow if spoken slowly, that they were both in New York City recently, down to the last few bills of the money that I had wired to Manaus. He explained how Pete had caught up with him in Manaus after their long separation, but I can't reconstruct the details until I've had more time to think it over. Suffice it to say they were both down on their luck and needed more money. What little money they had left after the air fare from Iquitos to Manhattan they had spent in New York pubs until there was only enough left for one of them to come out here to Greenpoint and make one last appeal to my largesse. By the end of Ricardo's tale it was simple to understand why they ended up nearly broke in New York City. They were as foolish with money as two incorrigible children. I asked Ricardo why Pete hadn't simply telephoned from New York when they first arrived. No straightforward answer followed my query. Perhaps I am dealing with two merciless pickpockets, but I'll reserve such suspicions until later.
As I was trying to decide which of the two of them was in the worst situation, Ricardo in a state of near exhaustion in my office in Greenpoint, or Pete fending for himself in Washington, DC, with or without his brother's anticipated help, with very little, if any money at all, Ricardo fumbled around in his shirt pocket and withdrew a thick and badly stained letter. He handed it over to me and made a slightly audible groan as he doubled over onto the floor. I sent for an ambulance and held the letter in my hand stricken with fear. After Ricardo was carried away on a stretcher I sat down in my leather chair and opened the overstuffed envelope. The first page of the letter was badly soaked by a fluid that could have been sweat, or blood, or beer, it was hard to tell. Here are the contents of the letter, starting at point where Pete's words are legible enough to read:
I wrote to you previously, long ago about Rainart the German and Tito the Peruvian hunter. We hacked our way into the jungle to where no villages existed. Only tribesmen passed our way but very infrequently. The three of us took along only the most basic supplies to reduce our total weight and gear.
But Ken, all this is inconsequential to the most pressing story I have kept from you. My love for Hootchie. I met her later but I feel I must tell you about her now. Perhaps I've known her forever. What I haven't done well up to this point is to keep her. If she is still alive, I pray she discovers I've told our story well and that she contacts me through the publisher of these memoirs that I'm writing about our time together. By the end of my letter, you too will share the heartbreak I cannot expel. Who is this Hootchie? I'll try to tell you as much as I can before
exhaustion forces me to stop. Please be patient if you are more interested in the adventures I fell into while on the road and alone, looking after only myself.
It was nightfall. A rainy afternoon had settled into a melancholic drizzle. It seemed to incorporate droplets of moisture from the tear ducts of all the poor of Brasil into one enveloping mist. Many of the restaurants and shops were boarded up for the evening and the only light cast upon the darkness came from solitary streetlights posted one to a street. I was about to give up my search for food, drink and merriment when a small cantina caught my eye. The light shed from its door illuminated not only the empty street, but also my heart, which had been buried too long in my cramped and squalid hotel room.
I entered into the aurora. Psychological intoxication set in quickly before my first drink. The room was amplified in scope and size by my mind into truly unbelievable proportions. The revelers within were highlighted with a supernatural warm glow of enticing camaraderie. The brightness of the room and the mirth of the guests caused a crescendo of retinal dilations, forcing my eyes into funny looking buttons as I stood in blind amazement.
A table full of Germans observed my disconcerted state and motioned me over to join them. For a moment I felt like a deaf and dumb fool with only his eyes to guide him in an awesome world. Rainer, Hans and Zigrid all introduced themselves and ordered me a capairinha, a sugarcane brandy-and- lime concoction.
There followed a breezy interchange of travel data not unlike the shoptalk between stage hands of the theatre. Hours passed. Many couples were enjoying themselves seated at tables in large groups. They all appeared to be lifelong friends, and were assembled in various stages of informality. As I studied the vista more carefully, I noticed the generous numbers of women. Many of them wore boldly printed tunics or tropical evening dresses or flashy halter top blouses. Most of these ladies found the knee of a sturdy young man more accommodating than the wooden chairs. The other less dazzling of the women sat comfortably on the laps of older gents.
Rainer, being a very somber German, sternly snapped his fingers under my chin. He proceeded to level his eyes into my own and stare into my thoughts. He remained expressionless, which further aggravated my perplexity. Finally, in a muted voice he warned me that all the ladies of this drinking establishment could be had for a price. I blushed without reservation, astonished by my own na�vete. Spurred on by this revelation I examined the faces much more thoroughly, this time with a calculated objectivity.
My eyes eventually rested on the most exotic beauty that I have ever seen. She was petite, mysterious, unadorned with cosmetics, excluding her plum-painted lips. Her features were elegantly carved and gracefully accentuated by an indian heritage. Her figure was regal, firm and poised. She noticed my impolite stare and subtly turned the corners of her mouth ever so slightly heavenward, displaying approval rather than indignation. I prolonged my stare until she turned her radiant eyes towards one of her friends with whom she had been speaking.
I began to deeply ponder mystical and metaphysical themes. Maybe ..., in each epoch of humanity, each millennium of tombstones, births and rebirths, only once does fate permit two searching spirits to indulge in a long awaited reunion. They leave a signature like a solar flare. The traces left behind by the millions upon millions of other played-out human lives are so ephemeral, in comparison, they can be banished by the mere sneezing of a child upon the surface of a rain puddle.
Before I could follow this train of thought another instant, a different disturbing and alien sensation overwhelmed me. It grew rhapsodic in its ever ascending intensity. I was certain a psychic phenomenon had me in its grip. I looked in the native girl's direction and confirmed my secret expectations. An identical an consuming joy was also reproduced in every contour of her face and figure. She emoted a far reaching, lyrical emanation that danced like a dervish in the face of destiny. This dervish was asking my hand for the next dance. I felt penetrated and captured by this spirit, and longed to be held captive by her, forever.
Rainer's expression, after I regained my senses, was one of grave concern. He sketched for me a verbal picture, in graduated lights and shadows, of the lady's habits at this saloon. Her name he told me was Hootchie, twenty-two years old, a woman madly sought after in this emporium of whores. She was feared for her intelligence, and respected for her depth of emotion. Very seldom did she leave with clients. Still, she fared quite well in comparison with her more unscrupulous colleagues. Rainer had seen her with oil barons, ship's captains, and diamond merchants, and clucked his tongue in admonishment when he saw the hunger in my eyes. I scarcely heard Rainer when he cleared his throat and stringently warned me that this woman would bring me heaps of trouble.
I looked at him pleadingly to give him a chance to recant or perhaps revise his advice. He became adamant. My chest grew heavier and heavier. I thought that my lungs would burst holding-in this brooding pressure which resembled the heavy atmosphere that precedes a storm. Not able to control my attraction any longer, I strode over to the empty chair beside Hootchie and sat near her.
She greeted me with casual aplomb, as if we had been husband and wife at some time in our past. I gave an introduction to myself. She studied my face, reacquainting herself with my eyes. We conversed in Spanish and Portuguese. The sound of her voice had the calming effect of softly punctuated harpsichord music. Both of us were oblivious to our surroundings as each respective tale was told.
We stumbled shortly afterwards into an ancient ritual. As soon as we undressed in a ramshackle hotel room we remembered making love in the same fashion hundreds of years earlier, or so it seemed, as passionate husband and loyal wife.
The next day we pooled our resources and set out for Rio de Janeiro. Our survival and happiness depended upon our cooperation and ingenuity, which we played between us in a perfect duet of four hands and four eyes. We swore that nothing would ever wrench us apart again. No force would be able to set us adrift. Our combined strength was ready for every threat and combatant. Never again would we unrequitedly linger century after century, desperately longing for one another as fate marked its cruel passage on the craggy terrain of time.
Within weeks the spoken word was considered no more between us than some clumsy device of archaic origins. It was no match for the empathy and intuition which circulated between us intravenously and transfused our essences one into the other.
But the transfusion suffered complications. When we arrived in Rio several months later we scarcely owned a cruzeiro between us. The time arrived when financial exhaustion was imminent and would lead quickly to ruin. Petty bickering and boredom soon eclipsed the brilliance of our transcendental festival of hearts. As we were beach combing the Copacabana coastline for food and money, on our first night without cash after many uncomfortable weeks, I grasped by the neck a bottle of blood-red wine from a three-foot pit. It had been dug near the waterline of the sea. This was a black magic macumba sacrificial pit which offered flowers, food, wine and a severed pig's head to the gods of the underworld. For many Brasilians, this gift placated the moodiness of both good and evil spirits, each capable of vengeful acts against humanity.
I nearly emptied three-quarters of the wine in an orgy of thirsty gulps. Somehow I stopped myself from entirely neglecting my Hootchie while showing my enthusiasm for the wine. I offered her the remaining quarter-bottle and she bristled in reproach. Then she ran up the beach in hysterics. I chased her and then clenched my arm around her waist as I caught her. My apologies gurgled up along with irrepressible belches. Hootchie tried to express something urgent to me, in words broken by sobs which ripped at her lungs as she tried to speak and break free of my hold.
My momentary lapse into greediness was not what had devastated her. She said we were cursed because I had blasphemously partaken of the feast left only for the spirits. This equated to a vengeful retribution from them, especially since they were fastidious about their bacchanals. Hootchie's horror came close to paralyzing her and she slumped passively into a fetal position in the sand. I couldn't reason with her, nor could I undo the superstitious beliefs of over six centuries of Brasilian customs which she had learned since early childhood.
Earlier in the day someone had given us a free pass to the Boite Florida, a cabaret club in Praca Maua, a district of dubious character. So we decided this might lighten our mood and we went to the club to enjoy the floor show. Several naked and scantily dressed chorus girls wearing a handful of feathers came out lip-syncing to Liza Minnelli's song "Money, Money, Money" from the movie Cabaret. Hootchie and I were not in any condition to dispute the message of the lyrics, "money makes the world go round."
That is why for several weeks we frequently returned to Praca Maua. Customarily I was in a comfortable hotel in bed before two o'clock in the morning, after an evening out with Hootchie in the Maua district. Hootchie, however, stayed out and worked until quite late, coming in customarily exhausted around dawn. We would then count the money together eagerly. There was never less than a hundred dollars in her little leather purse. She often was awarded a gift bag from the nightclub which contained a carton of American cigarettes and a large bottle of single-malt Scotch whiskey. Naturally, this line of work imposed a degree of harsh celibacy on our relationship.
Perhaps this was the curse of the macumba. In retrospect, I am forced to see the ramifications of my treachery against the macumba gods as something much more tragic ... the rupture of my relationship with Hootchie ... and centuries stretched between us, again, through the void of time and death.
Hootchie began to unravel now since she had reverted to her former life of self-denigration. She had, from the start with me, come to envision a healthier life. Here in Rio we had resorted to mutual debasement in order to survive, with the hope of pressing on ahead together, despite this sordid and very short chapter in our otherwise very rewarding life together. We caught hold of ourselves, somehow, before our descent into depravity was completely irreversible. We booked a flight to Manaus, back to her spiritual homeland and the support of her family in the jungle. For me it was also better. I was certain that my friend Ricardo was still living by his wits in Manaus or nearby in Benjamin Constant. Hootchie and I made arrangements shortly after arriving at the Manaus airport to get married in the Teatro Amazonas, an opera house built long ago by Fitzcarraldo, the mad German explorer. Ricardo was to be our best man.
There never was an official marriage vow exchanged between Hootchie and me in the old Teatro Amazonas. On the morning our wedding was to have taken place, I received word from the immigration officials that I was an illegal resident of Brasil and could not gain working documents through any type of marriage whatsoever. This meant next to no money at all for many long years if I tried to live with her in her country. Hootchie and I would have to live like paupers until we struck gold or some other extraordinary piece of fortune. We decided I should return to America, the land rumored to have great and mythical opportunities for success. The land which issued a passport to me. The land which took taxes from me and spent them unwisely, leaving many people poor and uninsured and unemployed.
I tried to reassure Hootchie the best I could. She held back the shock and showed little outward emotion. We agreed that I should leave immediately and try to get back quickly to America, where my chances were better. The next evening she walked me to the docks of Manaus. The crimson rays of the sunset carpeted our footsteps along the way. We both knew subconsciously that the macumba spirits had condemned us to another indeterminate separation, but we didn't discuss it.
Hootchie ingested four tranquilizers on the way so that her hands would be steady enough to wave a final good-bye. As my riverboat pulled away from the platform, we both cried out the multilingual utterances of our pain as it seeped out of the wounds of our separation. I watched her from the stern of the boat until she became no more than a mauve colored speck, absorbed by the ever darkening skyline. When I got to Iquitos I was devastated. My health was acting up and the first symptoms of dysentery were appearing. The immense sense of loss at having to leave Hootchie again and the grief of not having her at my side drastically weakened my immune system. In those endless lonely hours, Ken, I found the time to write this testimony to you.
... Let me get back now to the solitary travels and misadventures I had tumbled into before I got involved with Hootchie.
Rainart, the aspiring German anthropologist, became unhinged as early as our third month camping in the jungle and suffered a nervous breakdown late one night while Tito and I were dead asleep. Rainart was roused from his slumber by a nagging bodily function. He walked silently out of our hut and headed for a small clearing where he might defecate. In the middle of this procedure, with pants dropped around his ankles, a full grown jungle armadillo trampled across the clearing directly in front of him. This armadillo was quite a bit larger than those of the American Southwest. Poor Rainart was a physical and nervous mess when he came screaming into the hut, collapsing onto a pile of provisions.
We waited a few days for a Peruvian military aqua-plane to pass overhead and signaled to it. Rainart was packed off to a hospital in Lima, and I have never heard from him since. I said farewell to Tito knowing well that his joy in life was to hazard the dangers of the jungle with each successive sunrise. He clasped me firmly in a departing embrace and wished me luck in my travels further downriver towards Brazil. Then he followed the tracks of his next prey in the sandy topsoil and disappeared into the brush.
I set out for the city of Belem, a port plugged like a tooth into the frothy seaside mouth of the Amazon River. The route to Belem started out with a three-day foot journey near the small settlement of Nuevo Rocafuerte. Through a succession of riverboats I slowly repatriated myself back to the civilized world. As I neared Leticia the river broadened sufficiently to transport many trees the loggers had felled. Leticia commanded its position at the three corners where Brazil, Peru and Colombia intersect. Leticia has only two large commercial banks. Both banks launder cocaine money for the three adjacent countries. On business days between ten and four o'clock a steady flow of not very respectable businessmen enter and leave the banks wearing loose-fitting suits and carrying leather briefcases. These briefcases contain bricks of tightly compressed $100 bills destined for Miami, Panama, Washington D.C., Israel and New York City. Only here in Leticia can a person easily write traveler's cheques in exchange for hard American cash dollars, without purchases, without complications, without fees. "Nada," is the answer at the banks when one asks what commission is charged. Money moves briskly here.
I was to find out within a short time also that Leticia boasts one of the most nefarious whorehouses on the continent. Easy money insists upon feeding the extravagances of Leticia's guests. The women and girls who market their forbidden fruits are painstakingly chosen by community businessmen based upon their shapely merits. Leticia is a very small rivertown diced up into a labyrinth of corridors of control. Interlopers into the grand scheme of cocaine and prostitution who na�vely seek adventure and fast money never tell of their mistake. Their perforated and machine-gunned corpses are seen with regularity floating around the shallow end of the loading docks.
After a few days hanging around Leticia, I boarded another small riverboat, piloted by a three-man Portuguese speaking crew. I wanted to bypass the big ports so we chugged toward Benjamin Constant, the narrow river gateway that feeds into Brazil. We threaded through Benjamin Constant and plied northeasterly deeper into Brasil. The Amazon river yawned progressively wider and wider as we drew closer and closer to Manaus. It wasn't long before neither bank of the river was visible to the naked eye. In this wide expanse of water the Amazon resembles an ocean and has as many moods. International freighters and oil tankers ply these parts with frequency. In Manaus I hopped from the diesel fishing boat onto a much larger iron ship which could carry up to 300 passengers.
On board I met Ricardo, a political exile from Montevideo, Uruguay, who had run out of money, but not out of luck. The chemistry between us was mercurial and a bond of brotherhood quickly welded together our interests. We discovered that poker was for each of us an easy means of increasing ones honor and personal finances. In countless games of poker we skillfully milked thousands of dollars from a large group of Frenchmen and smaller clusters of married Swiss couples. The cards were dealt out in the early evening and we played on usually until dawn. Ricardo and I quadrupled our stock of money through this first of our collaborative efforts. We were combining our luck and our money and all the merrier for it.
Our generator puttered to a stop. A scruffy band of Colombian counterfeiters came on board along with some river mechanics. Our huge ocean vessel became a travesty in the eyes of the monkeys, who chattered mockingly as our stalled ship rotated idly in slow circles. We were anchored mid-stream and too far away to swim to either shore. The counterfeiters were selling U.S. hundred dollar bills at minuscule exchange rates to rapidly growing numbers of susceptible passengers. After a few hours of this frenzy, a group of Spaniards from Madrid approached me and solicited my advice on the matter. I examined their bills. They felt much too light and airy. By sight alone the bills were flawless. I had several suspicions, however, and I told my unsuspecting audience these doubts. Angry protests spontaneously combusted from several onlookers who would not accept that they had been gulled. I demonstrated their folly with a simple test. The iodine test. Authentic American paper currency will repel a drop or two of iodine, whereas a counterfeit bill will generally absorb the red coloration of the iodine solution. All the bills tested stained immediately in blots the size of bottlecaps. Alarm rang out in concentric orbs of shock and shouting which rivaled the jeers of the riverside monkeys.
Ricardo beckoned to me furtively from a receded doorway near the men's room. When I approached him he warned me that the Colombians probably had sharp hearing, in addition to their lookouts, and as a result might be thirsting for my American blood. My legs began to feel rubbery and Ricardo, accustomed to life and death situations in Montevideo, remained calm and collected. He told me to wait in the hold of the boat with the tons of beer which were in storage. He proceeded to investigate the exact cause of the rancor of the Colombians. We suspected that it was me that had outraged them.
Three or four beers later I checked the time. Twenty or thirty minutes had elapsed, but I couldn't trust my watch. During such an ordeal any measurement of time seems faulty or inaccurate. Ricardo was stone faced when he finally returned. The Colombians were cleaning their pistols in anticipation of seizing me at night when all the others were asleep. They were out to kill me.
Ricardo was not only a skillful card player but also a brilliant strategist. He had a plan and spoke with the ship's captain in an effort to recruit his assistance. The ship captain nearly exchanged his entire month's wages for some of the bad hundred dollar bills before he had witnessed my chemical analysis. He wanted to return the favor by helping me in some useful way. He arranged by radio with another ship captain to dock along side of us. The second vessel steaming toward us was only ten minutes away. Our captain made an announcement on the public address system giving all on board and official sounding procedure for our short delay.
Within a quarter of an hour, I was onboard the second ship, the only passenger to abscond in such a fashion. Two days later I was in Belem feeling a bit dazed from the cumulative effect of all the excitement. The city life of Belem created an uneasy sensation of readjustment. The regimentation of civilization stood in sharp contrast to the unrestrained techniques of survival I had depended upon as a hunter in the jungle. I now understood the tremendous reassimilation required of returning war veterans who must monitor their concept of reality on a minute by minute basis, until the transition is complete. Otherwise, they are a danger to themselves and possibly a threat to society.
I found a quiet hotel in a neglected neighborhood and stayed underground for a week waiting for the Colombians to give up their search or any ideas of revenge. When I finally emerged, loneliness was my companion and I was aching for social intercourse.
Again, my letter is nearing the entrance of Hootchie into my life. So I will slow my writing from a nervous restless pace long enough to ask you how Ricardo is doing. I suppose he is now under your protection in Greenpoint?
Ken, you know how love can make a man much more observant. It now seems terribly brutal here in Manhattan. The wild jungle life and predatory beasts and vicissitudes of nature in the Amazon didn't devour my life as much as the cash and computer driven clutch for money and property here in the Big Apple.
My first letter to Hootchie from New York City was one of anticipation. I would find a steady job as a writer and send for her at the first affordable moment. I did not tell her about the total lack of European-style social benefits at home. Nor, that as an industrialized superpower, we lack universal health care coverage, job retraining for the unemployed, and old age pension guarantees for everyone.
I couldn't bare to tell her either about the dog-eat-dog mentality that obsessively fuels the American dream, nor that the great U.S. machine was standing idle now, deep in a recession, and that jobs are few and far between. Or, that our world is a consumer jungle, in a marketing mayhem, stripped of the spiritual benefits of her great race and land. Here in America, humility is only a virtue among losers. In Brasil, it is an art form.
Ken, I'm almost finished. With this letter, and perhaps with my life.
Hootchie received my letter within a week and in return faxed me a photograph of a macumba ceremony which contained among other details, a prominently-placed, severed pig's head. Since she has faxed it to me, I have responded with numerous telegrams. She has never replied. I can only say to myself, rather than face rejection, that she must have died by her own hand to blot out our failure and wait
again a few hundred years for yet another chance. Or perhaps her disappointment is so great, this time, that the karmic chain has been broken, forever.
Finally, dearest Ken, can you give me another chance at the newspaper. I've got only forty dollars left and would greatly appreciate an advance sent to me immediately, care of the Greenpoint YMCA on Meserole Street. Otherwise I'll be quite soon in a homeless shelter, rat mites and all, or even worse, in jail. My hotel bill in Washington is already quite outstanding. My brother's new wife didn't want me in their house, but my sympathetic sibling gave me $500 bucks and wished me luck.
Waiting anxiously for your response.
As an editor, and a friend, after reading Pete's incredible letter, I was visibly shaken. I took out my checkbook and wrote another check for $1,500 to Pete and mailed it immediately to the Greenpoint YMCA on Meserole. I also rented a small studio in the Puerto Rican section of Williamsburg for Ricardo, after the doctors informed me that he would pull through after a lot of rest.
I found a publisher for Pete's letters, his first person narration of adventures and discoveries, both metaphysical and geographical, down in Atlanta. The senior editor of the magazine which published it is an old friend of mine. I did a small amount of editing to tighten it up a bit. But I still think Pete will be disappointed when he returns to Greenpoint. Why?
I still can't offer him a job. Just freelance. Some things never change.
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In memory of Dolores Ann Adrian, my mother
A few examples of Bryan Adrian non-fiction
during beautiful summer of 2014 during snap elections
Short stories, blogs, poems, filmscripts, news articles, video & tramp journalism, by Bryan Adrian ... click this link
TRANSPLANTS IN THE REPUBLIC
Short stories, blogs, poems, filmscripts, news articles, video & tramp journalism, by Bryan Adrian ... click this link
president temer; dilma; brics; brasil trade with china; panama says no to taiwan; ross mcconnell, norbert bergrath, sean young, norbert bergrath, theresa kuss, manfred mau, astrid theiss, suellen symons, electronic whip, caitlin kelch, donna salyer, Donna A Maanum, george haborak; biliana kraptcheva; jodie kay adrian; alan widdowson; marianne emmet;