#FridayFlash: Brazilian Whacks

"Brazilian Whacks"

by Tony Noland

They had to park in a garage a few blocks away, but better a distant lot than a nearby curb. Together, they walked to the club, laughing and bubbling, but with the purposeful stride of rich people in a poor neighborhood. The women moved to the inside of the cobblestone sidewalk, away from the street; just as automatically, the men moved to the outside, with Henrique leading, Joao-Carlos trailing. All of them fell into step and position without conscious thought. In a bad part of town, it was how you walked.

And this was a bad part of Rio... not so bad as it used to be, but still bad. During the daytime, you could give one of the street boys a few Reais to "watch" the car, but that was chancy. You had to give them something, or your windshield would be smashed before you'd gone ten meters. If you gave them too little, they might not keep the other boys from throwing the rocks. If you gave them too much, they might take the money and run away entirely, in which case the other boys would really wreck the car, just for spite.

Two Reais was enough, so long as you were polite to the grubby little bastards. Trying to scare them or slap them away was like shouting at the tide on the beach. If you were polite, that left the impression that when you paid again on returning to the car, you might be generous. It was worth it to leave a decent impression with the street boys. They were like dogs, with a pack memory. The individual boys came and went, but when you returned to this street again, the pack would remember you. Even if you drove a different car, they would remember the man who paid willingly and well, and the man who kicked and insulted.

Three blocks on, they came to the Academia da Cachaca, its canopy of lights and swell of music like a grandmother with open arms. The women called out to each other, the men smiled and licked their lips. As they entered, under cover of the press of patrons, bodies brushed and lingered, hands moving lightly and quickly with the first flirtations of the evening.

Fried plantain and cassava, grilled beef, smoked pork, crab dumplings, all washed down with sweet-acid caipirinhos made with top shelf cachacas, although Maria Jose, that stuck-up bitch, insisted on caipirivodkas. Not all the teasing from the women could shake her resolve, and although the men roundly declared her to be a traitor and no better than a witless tourist, they each wanted her all the more. The women knew this, and hated her. Under the table, messages and threats, promises and apologies were offered and accepted with ankles, knees and fingers.

After the food came the drinking, the real drinking, the cachaca alone, the soul of Brazil. First was the usual expensive array of cachacas, then the I-dare-you foray into the ultra-expensive stuff, the R$100-a-shot cachacas, the kind of thing that even they could not afford to wallow in. Besides, even if they'd started there, none of them could truly taste what made it worth the extra ninety.

Then, of course, came the dip into the drink-like-a-gaucha rotgut, what sold in the supermarkets for eight Reais a bottle. One of the men, sometimes Henrique, sometimes Jesus, would claim to like the raw, benzene taste, to prefer it to the sissy expensive stuff, and would order a second round. The men would argue, the women would laugh and refuse to drink it again, which left each of the men to drink up his woman's in addition to his own. Then some good stuff to get the taste out of their mouths.

And so on, and so on.

More drink, perhaps more food, brought to the table to be smelled and poked at and left to cool and harden as the night wore on.

At the end, Henrique and one of the other men would go to get the car, so the women would not have to stagger the dangerous blocks back to the garage. Henrique never looked his state, no matter how long the evening had been. His drunkenness lent him an air of recklessness that was as good as bravery. Whichever man had been sober enough to accompany him would do the actual driving.

The car pulls up to the club, the friends tumble in. Back to the highway, back up into the hills, back to the gated community, and then to their beds, in twos and threes and fours.

And in a few days, at the Academia, or at a great little out of the way churrascaria, or even at one of the shitty tourist places down along the Avenue Atlantica, they would do it all over again.

Of course they would do it all over again. What else was there to do?

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. Sounds like fun… until you realize it's just the same old thing. First World problems in the Third World, right?

  2. Tony, please don't whack me, but I missed the conflict and tension. It was a great narrative, and did a fantastic job of giving you a feel for the characters, but it didn't really do much to make you actually care about them. I know a big part of #FlashFriday is trying out new things, and I can certainly see it as an experiment, but I don't know that it has legs beyond that.

    Of course my "Word Verification" is "trole." #notatroll

  3. Nice literary snapshot of "a day in the life". Might be a little *too* short though. Seems there's a lot of things in there I'd buy a ticket to, lol.

  4. I make a mean caipirinha. That was mean, making me crave cachaca during morning tea.

    This line stood out for me: Under the table, messages and threats, promises and apologies were offered and accepted with ankles, knees and fingers.

  5. This was forensic, the way you layered each nugget of behaviour & custom in say the car-minding boys and then the way the evening's 'entertainment' plays out. The one thing I think wasn't quite pitched right was the tone. It's pretty detached & clinical throughout the main - which is fine - but then it commits itself to a judgement at the very end which is not quite organically embedded between the lines throughout.

    But a really interesting piece nonetheless

    marc nash

  6. A great piece Tony. It's very well illustrated. (I love the line about more food being poked at until it cooled and hardened). I thought it was an interesting sketch, but then the last line about doing nothing else turned it into a mild Sisyphian hell.

  7. This sketch is beautifully executed, as everyone expects of you. Flavorful, colorful, soulful. But I'm with D.Paul. It's less a story than a portrait of a time, place, class of people. The amount of effort spent describing the culture of the street kids led me to expect that was what this would be about, but that expectation was frustrated. Beautiful work sir, but not your best. (Miker - if you didn't write so damn well, I wouldn't bother to troll-bitch ya)

  8. Feels like watching an episode of three sheets to the wind, but with more insider knowledge. Cool.

  9. @FARfetched: Yep - it'd be great to do this once, or once in a while. But three times a week?

    @D. Paul: Last week was all about how happiness isn't really happiness. This week is in the same vein, with the jollity of eating, drinking, flirting, sex, etc. all being little more a forced act, repeatedly papered over tedium, ugliness and fear. Is there any real happiness here? Experimental, as you noted. Thanks for the observations & the comment.

    @Apple: This was a different sort of thing, me playing around with atmosphere. More literary that usual. 8-)

    @pegjet: Cachaca with breakfast is NOT the most productive way to start the day! I'm glad you liked that line; it's one of my favorites, too. said...

    @Sulci Collective: Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Clinical and detached is a good description. I was trying to present joy and fun with all the fun sucked out of it, with little flashes of real, ugly emotion throughout. As I said to D. Paul, what's under the veneer of fun fun fun is far from enjoyable. The last line was a gamble, which could either have come across as a full reveal or one twist of the knife too many. It didn't quite work for you, but did for Monica.

    @Monica: You make a great contrast to Marc in how the piece came across. Thanks for reading!

    @Mike: Good eye. I considered making it a street fight, but decided to make it a more experimental, drawn out kind of conflict, within and among the rich and their pointless, dissipated lives.

    @Bev: I'm glad you liked it!

  10. You have a great ability to conjure mood and drive the story, but it just petered out at the end. The misleading title lent to this. If ennui is what you're after, at least give us a climax that fizzles, like they might try something new, but chicken out.
    You write well, and if they were all murdered or robbed, this would be a great beginning to a crime type novel. Not saying it should go there. I was expecting a confrontation of some sort, with the foreshadowing. Maybe the danger is mostly in their heads?
    Maybe a friend got robbed, and the danger is part of the fun?

  11. I think the detached air of this story is what makes it. The idea of getting wasted every few days, of falling into bed with more than one partner; of having everything and yet being restless and bored... the social commentary hides beneath the story's cool exterior. I don't think you wanted us to care about the characters at all... that's the whole point.

  12. For whatever reason I saw this as heading for a crossover with Mr. FAR's #fridayflash. Maybe you did, too, since you just retweeted it. There's nothing else to do? Except maybe build a philosopher's stone. They're opulent anyway.

    I agree with D. Paul that there isn't much of a narrative driving force. It's an observation piece, which I think was your point since you've come to say you were writing on a point/theme. What carries it is the sense of existence - and if you don't connect, then the fiction won't work for you. It's the same with Rachel Blackbirdsong's this week on a dead marriage (have you read that one?).

  13. Dumb question: What's wrong with a sketch? I like to write them and read them, and I enjoyed reading this one. You seem to have done your homework too.

  14. The opening reminded me of part of Hostel, when the acquiescence to the demands of the street urchins can ultimately led to escape, or death.

    I read it and I understand what others have said, but what came across for me was the boredom that underlies it all, the fact that these characters persist in repeating these actions because everyone else does, and because it has become a ritual (in the same way that treating the street boys becomes a ritual), and because no one can think of anything new to do.

    It's a portrait of ennui.

  15. Captured the grittiness of the "bad" part of town, the turbulance and intricate street know how. A slice of life Rio style.

  16. @Tommy: This could have been an action piece, but I took it in a different direction. Clearly, laying out the weariness of ennui is tricky.

    @Cathy: "I don't think you wanted us to care about the characters at all..." You, my dear, are a clear-eyed genius.

    @John: I hadn't read Rachel's yet, but there are some definite similarities in the vibe. Mine is loud and raucous, her's is still and quiet, but both are essentially lifeless. Excellent view point.

    @Mark: This sketch tried to capture a lot in one evening - hours, weeks, lives, an entire culture. Maybe it worked, maybe it didn't. "You seem to have done your homework too." As it happens, I once got drunk at the Academia de Cachaca in Rio. The neighborhood wasn't that bad, as long as you kept your eyes open.

    @Icy: "the boredom that underlies it all... It's a portrait of ennui." Exactly! The essence of ennui is joylessness, even in the midst of activity.

    @laradunning: Thanks! I've been in a lot of bad parts of different towns. Getting in and getting out intact is all about how you walk down the street.

  17. I really get the angst of this. In college, we used to do the same thing...go drinking on the shady side of town. Just looking for excitement.

  18. I found this piece very successful. The rich surface details but flat emotional detachment underscore the the lifelessness and desperation in their interactions and drinking. I especially liked the line: "Under the table, messages and threats, promises and apologies were offered and accepted with ankles, knees and fingers."

  19. Good sketch of their existence. They live monotonous lives which, if done in moderation, could be quite fun and exciting. But since it sounds like it's a normal occurrence, not so much excitement. The descriptions in this were excellent. Good story!

  20. I actually loved this piece, Tony. The writing was beautiful, it draws you in like a dream, and the last line brings it home...an illusion of happiness. Great job, Tony.

  21. I think this is a good example of literary fiction - characters, setting, mood, flavour taking over from action. I really like the tone you set, and the feel of the piece. Nice one, Tony.

  22. I think you have captured the nihilism of their existence very well. It's repetitive and cyclical with no hope of redemption.
    Adam B @revhappiness

  23. I'd counter FARfetched's comment saying that it could be third world problems in first world, if the setting was diverse, but I'm just being picky because I don't like generalizations. (sorry FARfetched? :)

    A few notes on names and the Portuguese language I think you'll find useful for future reference: (setting is very realistic, btw)

    - Enrique and Juan-Carlo sound Spanish. It'd be better if you'd spelled Henrique and Joao Carlos.

    - The plural to Real is Reais.

    - As in the picture, it should be Academia *da* Cachaca.

    - Jose Maria is a male name. If you invert: Maria Jose, it'd be a female name. ;P

    I have the feeling I'm missing another one, but I think you got the idea. Hope it helps.

    Ah, I've never had a R$100-shot of cachaca. Boo! Have you ever been to Rio? You sound like you have.

    p.s.: If you care for my opinion, keep on with your experiments. Not all writing has to turn into a "real story". ;)

  24. Clearly I love these kinds of stories. It's like peeling away and peeling away at people and their world to reveal who they are through sketches of place and time. I don't believe all stories have to have conflict or tension. I love the way you layered this story. I've already read it twice now. It's a feast.

  25. @Ramsey: Thanks, I'm glad you liked it. This experience is analogous, isn't it?

    @ganymeder: Thanks for reading, Catherine.

    @vandamir: I found this piece very successful. I'm glad you liked it! I'm being a bit twitchy about this piece, just because it's different than a lot of the work I post. Why was I not prepared for a different reaction? Excellent question.

    @Eric: Yes, this is a case of something enjoyable being a symptom of a quietly pointless life.

    @Danielle: Thanks, Danni! Your comment here dovetails well with the dope-slap comment you left on the blog post about this piece. 8-)

    @Laurita: This one certainly falls in the literary category, and as a fan of lit fic, I appreciate your thoughts. Thanks!

    @Adam: It's repetitive and cyclical with no hope of redemption. ... and in that way, it's a kind of Sisyphean hell.

    @Mari: I love your comment, not least for the attention. As soon as I'm done with this, I'll make these corrections. Yes, I've been to Rio (and Sao Paulo), and used to speak a little Portuguese, so there's no excuse for blowing the details that way. I've even gotten drunk at the Academia da Cachaca, although that particular neighborhood isn't nearly as bad as I make it out to be. Alas, I've never had a R$100-shot of cachaca either, and not likely to any time soon.

    @Rachel: I love the way you layered this story. I've already read it twice now. It's a feast. Of anyone who would read this, I suspected that you would find something to like here, Rachel. You work the same kind of layered atmospherics in your stories, emotions and relationships hinted at or flashed on the screen. I can't make this kind of thing work all the time, but it's something I like to explore.

  26. Reading this brings back rather too vividly a too-long night in Rio on the BAD C, as i call it. You absolutely got the taste of the cheap stuff (from bitter experience?), and the whole pointlessness of it all. Also, you really pinpoint the utterly ridiculous way in which well-off people try to attain 'gritty' 'real-world' experiences in a world that is not their own. I always feel the same about rich-kid backpackers slumming it in India. What's the point?
    God, i can still taste that cachaca two months on.
    My confirmation word is 'regalese' which sounds a bit like the ant-acid i had to take the morning after!


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