Thursday, May 30, 2013

Why I love this fucking city

It’s the bare-chested pudgy bellied fellow waddling with a beer in one hand and a Redbull in the other, the young father riding with a small child on the handlebars while yelling obscenities to the bus behind for almost hitting him. It’s the gap-toothed man selling bottled water on a silver platter with the arch of a butler’s palm in the middle of a busy intersection, the guy who hops thru the backdoor selling packets of caramels for change to feed his family. It's the wheatgrass stand telling me the next batch is up in five minutes then showing up in twenty, the girl with the perfect earl grey eyes at the organic market who makes my heart skip a beat every time she smiles. It’s finding out the braided neighborhood waterman who says "konichiwa" to me every morning has a YouTube channel where he dresses in drag and an oversized baby diaper, the fact that an entire crowd of children get together on a holiday Thursday to beat the shit out of a doll with the name "Judas" scribbled onto its vest pocket. It's the tattooed gentleman who skips onto the bus with a grin and a giant plastic pillow-sized bag of roasted cashews, the girl at Lojas Americanas using the back of her earring to open the SIM card slot to an iPhone. It’s the gray-haired grandma at the supermarket telling me that I’m buying some weakass Chilean wine, the cacophony of car horns playing for a crippled elder holding a “thumbs-up” the entire time he’s inching across the street. It’s eating bacon popcorn drizzled with condensed milk while walking down the strip of transvestite prostitutes, the homeless man who refused my leftovers because he’s a vegetarian. It’s the old woman in Maré who grabbed my arm for absolutely no other reason but to give me a smile, the fruit vendor gifting me two bananas cuz I asked him for the price of one. It's the kid at the gym fighting to get his drug-addicted parent out from beneath the freeway underpass and back into the home, the soft coos of a young mother wiping the tears of her child from the sound of fireworks. It’s the struggle and the heartbreak, the love and the hope. It’s the perfect fight. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Sparring with Michel (Part II)

I walk into the gym for the first sparring session with Michel. I don’t even check to see with Harry if things are calm in the neighborhood, I just go in. I gave my word goddammit, and a person is only as good as their word. I walk in nervous, scared, awaiting the forthcoming ass-whoppin' that I'm sure to receive. But when I finally show up, Michel is nowhere to be found.

“He usually shows up late,” Harry tells me.

We go through our warm-ups, even make it out to the unlit dirt track for our roadwork and he still hasn’t shown up. Harry tells me before we head out that he’s probably not coming. He’s never this late. Part of me is relieved, part of me strangely disappointed. I had done all these things to prepare. All the psychological pep talk, all the “last stand” cheese sandwich bullshit for nothing. 

I start running harder than I normally do, actually try to keep up with the other fighters. Any of these guys in the ring I could take; there just isn’t enough mass on them to hurt me. I sprint when they sprint. Turn when they turn. Halfway through the track I see a red blur creeping up to lap me. It’s a slim wiry figure running in a matching track suit. It’s Michel. He runs by and flashes his trademark grin and claps my hands in a high-five. Great. Not only have I already expended what little energy I had for the sparring session, but he’s coming in fresher than I am to this thing. 

We trudge back into the gym, doused in sweat and dust in our faces. On sparring days we don’t go through the circuit training with the weights. We don’t shadowbox with three pound dumbbells in our hands. We don’t hit the bag for six rounds, or at least we don’t have to. I watch Michel jump rope in the corner. A thin film of sweat begins to cover his body, accentuating every cut in his biceps, every lump of muscle in his shoulders. He breathes heavily through his nostrils, like a mechanical bull wisps steam when getting ready to be set loose. Gibi comes by and wipes my face down with vaseline. It feels like he’s prepping my dome for the electric chair.

I stand there and watch the other kids fight. I suddenly wish I was fighting any one of them. They all have heart, they all have skill, but I can tell that none of them could knock me out. None of them have the same fire in their eyes. None of them are Michel. One of the kids hop out and crowns me with the sweaty blue helmet worn moments ago. I’m up. 

The round starts off slowly. I trot around getting a feel for the canvas. I don’t know what kind of flooring is used, but it is uneven and stiff. The padding is thin too, making it hard for my feet to get accustomed to the ground. I bounce around feinting jabs, throwing them lightly to test the range. Michel stares back at me with beady eyes of concentration, of absolute focus on the task at hand. He is waiting, so I decide to strike first. 

The first jab bounces off his gloves, the second one he parries. I return the favor by passing one of his own. We’re starting to dance. I land a sneak right hand into his face, duck under his counter lefthook, step to the left, and shoot off another one to the side of his headgear. Michel reacts up with a look of surprise. Gibi glances over with look of surprise. I think the whole gym has a look of surprise. But I’m tired. Incredibly tired. Already. 

Michel bangs his gloves together and moves forward. The barrage begins. He lands straight 1-2’s that push me back into the corner, digs hooks into my midsection, uppercuts to the chin. Television static flashes through my eyes, concrete boulders are being pummeled into my abdomen. I’m doing my best impression of a Philly shell defense, grazing rights and lefts off my shoulders, taking damage in between. I get him with a crisp right hand right between the gloves and it buzzes him. I slip out of the corner and dance around the center. I’m wheezing. My chest is tight. I’m regretting everything I’ve ever smoked in the last decade. 

Michel forges on, battering me in the middle of the ring. He lands a hard right hand that whips across my face, follows up with a perfectly placed uppercut that snaps my head back. I’m left covering up with my back against the ropes. The best way to describe how Michel fights is a cross between a Sherman tank and a farming tractor excavating the earth. Something about his workrate. It’s constant, non-stop. He’s a machine without a lower gear, let alone a shut-off valve.

Gibi calls the round and tells me to step out. Arthur, another fighter about our size, steps in. Gibi is taking is easy on me, switching out Arthur and I in between the rounds. Again that strange feeling of disappointment washes over me.

I watch Arthur and Michel go at it for a round. Arthur is strong, but unpolished. He wings a couple of wide hooks, but Michel counters them with a short right crosses straight up the middle. Arthur trudges forward unfazed. The round goes on in the same manner. I get switched out in between rounds and I do progressively worse as my fatigue sets in. But I walk out on my own two feet. I walk out with my respect in tact. 

I realize after the session that when I fought Eddie Hunter, I was 23. When I fought Maicelo, 25. I am 29 now, Michel is 9 years my younger. My body is starting to deteriorate and I’m suddenly reminded of my mortality. This, of course, is merely a fact of life; everyone eventually dies, but in the fight game the life of a fighter is shortened, their death accelerated. The peak of a fighter is about 32 years of age, their way out maybe 7 years after that. And that’s the timeline for a professional fighter, god knows what it is for a intermittent hobbyist. All I know is that I won’t be able to do this for much longer.

I’m standing there contemplating the longevity of my timeline as a fighter and Zulu yells "Sombra!" to me across the room. I look over and nod, then take off my gloves and begin boxing with my reflection. I see Zulu strap on a pair of gloves and wait for me in the middle of the gym. I forget that the term “shadowbox” here means shadowboxing with another person. 

This time we start out with no range testing stanza. We just go straight into the fight. We’re exchanging hard blows, but I try to keep mine restrained since I’m about two weight classes above him, but I figure I just spend 3 rounds going toe-to-toe with Michel, so my fatigue evens up any advantage I have in weight.

In the 3rd round Zulu tags me with a left hook that rattles my jaw. It would have set me on my ass if I was in his weight class. I try my best to compliment him afterward about the strength of that shot. He tells me he was holding back, that in shadowboxing he only goes fifty-percent. Bullshit. This kid was swinging for the fences, but for me, I'm flattered by the fib. 

Every culture has their own rite of passage. Boxing is no different. It is about being willing to hurt and be hurt, get knocked onto your ass, then get up and ask for more. It's about the fear you find in the ring, and the willingness to fight on in spite of it. There is no quit in boxing and every boxer is tested. This was my test, and it was given kindly. I know I can trust them now, and at the same time, they can trust me. Words were said and words were kept. Sparring is a big step in the relationship with a boxing gym. 

I collect my belongings and throw my sweat drenched gear into a plastic bag. I go around and give my farewells. This time, it’s different. Something in the smiles tell me that. Michel clasps my hand with both of his and gives a slight bow of gratitude. Zulu asks about the next time I’ll be coming into the gym. Gibi nods to me and says "thank you for the work". We’ve moved onto another stage, this gym and I. I can’t say I’m too satisfied with my performance, but I’m proud of seeing it through, for keeping my word. I think now things will be different here with the gym, different for my life here in general. And for the little life I have left in this game, at least in this place, I've earned my pass. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Notes from my 1st trip

I am morphing with a host. Brazil has attached itself to me. It is trying to be a part of me. It is sinister. It is SINISTER. I can feel it. I can see it. I feel it on my back. It is sharing its evil. It is trying to morph with me. It is trying to enter my being. It is EVIL. IT IS EVIL.

There will be those who cry because they do not know how to love.

I said at one point of the night, “I have a corrupt soul.” 
                          I don’t know why. I’ve never done anything.

Neste dia
Muita gente vai chorar
Porque tem muitos deles
Que não sabem amar


As fighters, as writers, we are constantly taming our true selves.

Tina has had a part of god always there.

I hope I come back.

Brazil is the land where my nature is allowed to run  free.

              I finally understand my life.


I see your FIRE.

You’re angry at what you don’t understand.

Fonte —> Bukowski —> Shaw —> Wong

When I fight, I’m tapping into something. This is why I am drawn to it.  It is how I communicate with the world.

FIGHTER                  WRITER

All I have are these words for you, Desireé:

             I love you.

    I am reduced to nothing but I understand everything.

I need my mother.

We do it all. We drink, fuck, kill, lie, cheat, steal, just to be closer to  God.

Seeing you kept me on this side.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Journals from Porto Alegre

April 20th, 2013

I meet Laurie on the bus going to the hostel. She has an average face but the hairstyle brings out something special in her. She sits down next to me and we start talking. She’s from Goiana, but lives in Porto Alegre working as a hairstylist. I tell her where I’m headed. Cidade Baixa. She lives in the same neighborhood.

She gets off the bus and offers to walk me to the hostel. Along the way we talk about philosophy and literature. She mentions Freud. I say something about Nietzche. She says she reads Agatha Christie. I tell her my favorite writer is Bukowski. She tells me she’s never read him. I tell her she should.

I get my first text message later that night while eating pizza and pasta engrossed in cheese, meat and salt. 

“Hello Dear. We might go out to the bar, ‘Dirty Old Man’ tonight” it reads. It’s from Laurie.

“That’s the name of a Bukowski novel,” I reply.

She sends me a laugh in return. “I had no idea,” the text says. “I’ll have to check it out.”

We try to go in later in the evening but it’s too packed. A cute girl with a feather earring is standing outside smoking a cigarette. I shake off the dust and try my best line. She makes an absolute fool out of me. Oh well, it’s been a while. We still got four days.

April 21st, 2013

I meet Tina Felice at the fair in Parque Rendaçao. She’s selling art at one of the stands and this large painting of a woman catches my eyes. The colors, the expression, the centering of light, all of it is just perfect. I walk up to the woman sitting behind the curtain and ask if this is her work. She nods. I notice that she has achondroplasia, her condition fated her to dwarfed arms. I wonder how she was able to create such art with the handicap, but a true passion to create art will surpass any handicap.

The painting is too expensive for me but I tell her that I’d like to see her other work. She hands me a card to her studio. I think I’ll go visit someday while I’m here.

I walk through the rest of the fair, pick up some some coasters made of paper-maché and a mask made out of a calabash shell. At this point I’ve lost all my friends so I find a tree and sit under it. I read some Bukowski and fall asleep for an hour. Probably the best rest I’ve had since I’ve been in Brazil.

I walk back to the hostel and I see the feather earring girl from last night sporting a “Dirty Old Man” t-shirt. Apparently she works there. She remembers me and is much friendlier this time. We have casual banter and she points me in the direction of Usina de Gasõmetro to see the sunset. A friend and I go to meet Grasie, another girl I met who is working as a clown in Rio. She’s quite lovely and her playful personality eases the day. The sunset is beautiful and we spend the rest of the late afternoon browsing comic strips pasted on the walls of what used to be a large shipping dock. We stroll the streets until we return to the neighborhood of our hostel. We all part ways, promising to reconnect in Rio. My friend and I return to the hostel and regroup with the others. We all head out to “Dirty Old Man”.

I see Laurie sitting at a couch with about seven other women. I walk up and tap her on the shoulder. She’s excited to see me, introduces me around the circle as “the guy she’s been talking about.” I look up and see a giant portrait of Charles Bukowski smoking a cigarette and talking to a person I don’t recognize.

“THAT’S Bukowski!” I say to Laurie.

She tells me the entire bar is based on his work. I look around and there are portraits of him plastered all over the bar. The bookshelves behind the couch are filled with his work. I’m in absolute awe. I run upstairs to my friends and babble like a child with excitement. I tell them about how I first discovered Bukowski from a promise to write someone a three page excerpt in the style of their favorite American writer. Being Austrian, she didn’t know any.

“Bukowski,” her friend chimed in. “You’ll like Bukowski.”

Alright. Bet. I went home and picked up Women, Love is a Dog from Hell and Ham on Rye as research material. The rest is history.

As I descend the stairs I see Laurie sucking face with one of the girls. Hm. Doesn’t really surprise me to be honest. I go back and talk to Laurie as if I didn’t see anything. Laurie grabs my arms and begins pointing at each girl on the couch like a game of "Duck, Duck, Goose". 

“Gay, gay, gay, she’s bi, and those two are hetero,” she tells me. She gives me a wink with the last two. I’m really starting to like Laurie.

I ask her how gays are treated in this city. She shrugs and gives a so-so response. I ask her about her love life. She tells me the gay community here is all about sleeping around, that there is some preconceived notion that if one is gay, one must also be promiscuous. She says she’d rather be in a monogamous relationship, but it’s hard to find. I feel a sadness in her words, like she gave up on searching for meaning in a world and just settled for the way things are. I begin telling her my own sob stories of the heart. It’s funny how when the pretense of sex is taken out of the equation, people are able to be much more honest with one another. 

“She didn’t want to come,” I say to her. “I would have paid for everything, but she didn’t want to come.”

Laurie grasps my hand and stares into my eyes. They give a look of understanding and pity. 

“Human beings are not built to take rejection,” she says kindly. Something tells me she’s speaking from experience. 

The friend she with whom she was sucking face yanks her back into the frenzy. Laurie returns to the laughter, but this time I notice a falseness to it, like she’s performing in a play she never auditioned for. Someone taps my arm from below.

“I can’t believe you don’t like Austin,” the voice says. Right. Natalie. I met her briefly in the round of intros Laurie gave when I first arrived, and gave her a look of surprise when she raved about how much she enjoyed living in Austin. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Austin (I’ve actually never been there), it’s just surprising to hear that out of all the places in the US a Brazilian could go, they’d choose a city in Texas.

Natalie and I talk about TV shows for about an hour, mostly HBO dramas. Her favorite is The Sopranos. Mine is The Wire. I give her shit for never having seen it. She gives me shit for rating The Sopranos  a 7 out of 10. We agree that Game of Thrones  is the best show out at the moment. The conversation runs well for a bit, but then it starts to die off. I quickly make an excuse and leave the bar. The girl with the feather earring throws me a wink as I pass towards the door, but I do nothing. Human beings are indeed not built to take rejection.

April 22nd, 2013

I meet Marcella behind a book of Silvia Plath and a computer screen. I ask who is reading The Bell Jar. 

“I am,” she says. 

A pair of eyes behind some thick black rimmed glasses gazes towards me. They sit on top of a mousy button nose and she smiles with just the perfect amount of overbite, just enough to see the petiteness of her teeth. She looks exactly like the girl who plays Imogen on Degrassi, my favorite character in the show, or at least the one that I think is the cutest.

I ask her if she likes poetry. She says something along the lines of, “Well yeah, I’m reading it.”

A smartass. I love it. She’s 21 and publishing a novel in two months. She wrote a book of short stories back when she was 19. She speaks English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and god knows what else. Hm. This is interesting. 

Christian walks by and we begin talking about boxing. I met Christian in the stairway in front of our dorm room trying to stream the latest UFC fight on his iPhone, and from there we find out that we both love the Sweet Science. He really knows his shit, and I don’t say that about many people I meet who talk about boxing. 

We talk about the latest fights, the Pacquiao knockout, the legacy of Floyd Mayweather Jr. We both agree that Mayweather would have knocked the Filipino senseless regardless when the fight would have taken place, but it still remains a speculation. We talk about the state of the heavyweight division and how the Klitskcho brothers, despite having an underwhelming career due to lackluster competition, are decent, intelligent people. Both of them hold PhDs in sports science and Christian and I both respect that. He has the same sensibility about boxing as I do. 

I end the conversation with Christian and have this vision of going to “Dirty Old Man” with a pen and the journal. I envision this scene of me writing in a gift she gave me before I left Seattle, working the pen in the right hand, switching between a cigarette and a glass of red wine in the left, channeling the spirit of Bukowski while scribbling sappy love poems, or whatever horrible prose one writes with a broken heart. But when I walk up the bar is closed. I decide to call it an early night.

April 23rd, 2013

I get back early from playing capoeira in the park and I find Marcella sitting behind the computer screen browsing the internet. “Look,” she says to me. She points to an internet meme that reads, “My favorite exercise at the gym would probably be judging.” She smiles a semi-sinister grin. I like her style.

I ask her what her next novel is about. She tells me it’s a love story within a love story, layered in some kind of Inception-style of format. She’s having trouble with the ending. She’s still trying to figure out how to settle the protagonist’s conflict. I ask her when the book needs to be finished.

“Two months,” she says. “But it’s going to be difficult because I’m going to Europe in July.” 

“Before you go to Europe, you should watch this one movie,” I say. “Before Sunrise.” 

“That’s my favorite movie,” she says. 

I raise an eyebrow, wondering if this girl really exists. She could destroy me, this one. One word. That’s all it would take.

She gives a quick goodbye and dashes off to her evening class. I go back inside and find Christian sitting at the counter browsing more YouTube fights. I offer that we go out. He agrees. “Dirty Old Man” it is.

I meet Lourenço behind the bar mixing drinks. A bald man with round glasses sporting a long fu manchu mustache. I find out later that he’s the owner. He tells me that he always envisioned a place where people could chill out, have a decent conversation without all the nonsense that most bars carry for distraction. He makes a round of shots and we all cheers to the bar. He wishes us a good time in the bar of Bukowski.

Christian and I head upstairs and we begin talking about something else besides boxing. 

“You’ve been traveling for 14 months,” I say. “What would you say is the one thing you’ve learned from all of it?” 

“Well, you learn about a lot of cultures,” he starts. “But you really learn about yourself. It’s reaffirmed a lot of the beliefs I previously had.”

I’m intrigued. “Like what?” I probe.

“Well, that my country is the best place in the world,” he says. 

I’m a bit surprised by that response, but sure, people have their opinions. We delve more into his theory of Norway being the best place in the world. Clean, efficient, great healthcare. It all sounds wonderful. Somehow the topic gets shifted to immigration. Christian believes that all immigrants need to assimilate into the society they are entering. I offer that new cultures are born from the fusion of immigrant communities intermixing with the old. Christian acknowledges my argument, but retains his view: if they want to benefit from the country, they need to conform. 

“None of this headrag shit,” he says. The last sentence lingers in the air a bit longer than the others. “I guess I’m kind of a racist,” he finally says to break the silence.

Kinda?” I think to myself. But at the same time, in some weird twisted way, cultural faux pas aside, I can understand the reasoning. And he stuck to his guns. I respect that above most else.

Lourenço comes to our table armed with three shots. I have no idea what kind of liquor is in those glasses. We drink to his bar. We drink to Bukowski. I point to my shirt and tell him he would like this place. The Cha-Cha Lounge. The best bar in Seattle and one place that has certainly changed my life, perhaps even saved it. It’s exactly what he described to me earlier about this place.

Christian mentions that after soccer matches the players change shirts as a sign of respect. Lourenço strips off his shirt and stands bare-chested beating his fist against his heart. I follow suit. Now the whole bar is going crazy. We hand over our shirts, put them on at the same time. “Cha-Chas” for “Dirty Old Man”. Hell yes. We close out the bar with a final shots all around.

Lourenço invites us out to a 24hr restaurant for some snacks and more drinks. He orders a round of beers to chase another round of shots. My stomach begins to grumble. There have been too many different liquors mixed in my belly. Beer, wine, liquor, and god knows what was in the “Bukowski” drink I ordered earlier. 

I scarf down the fried pastries of meat and cheese that Lourenço has ordered. Fried food. I remember once I had to take a mandatory drug and alcohol course and the instructor told us greasy food was the remedy to curing drunkenness. Bread? Fuck that. Mickey D’s all day.  

But at this point I’m drunk beyond return. I’m hardly able to walk straight and I stumble to the bathroom. I pull out my phone and begin drunk texting. Something about seeing the role she plays in my life here. It’s true. I’m starting to understand. She texts back something friendly-like. I tell her there’s a new photo essay on my site. I want to her to see it. I misread the next message. I thought it read, “Is there something between love and anger?  I shoot back,  “There’s you.

The texts stop coming after that one. I go back to the table and Christian and Lourenço are in the middle of a heated debate. Something about the historical evolution of societies and where we stand today, real Jared Diamond shit. I’m zoning out drunk in the middle of my chair, trying to feel the beats of my heart. Christian drops the crescendo and says something like, “In my country we are Vikings! All your countries are cowards!

Lourenço doesn’t find it amusing. Neither does his friend. They both stand up and push in their chairs. 

“We have to go now,” Lourenço says. He pays the bill and refuses to take payment when I approach the counter to offer my share.

“You’re cool,” he leans in to tell me. “But next time don’t bring your blond-haired-blue-eyed racist fucking friend!”

Lourenço gives me a hug and his friend shakes my hand. They give a half-hearted wave at Christian, who uncomfortably shifts back and forth alone in the street.

Christian feels bad, I can feel it. I know he didn’t mean it the way they took it, but his Scandinavian sensibility makes it sound like he did. We have a good talk on the way home about something that I can’t quite remember, but I know he thought less about what happened at the bar, so it must have been decent. We’re only four blocks from the hostel yet we somehow manage to walk eight. Some drunk homeless guy asks me for some change right as we approach the front gate of the hostel. I seriously lose my shit.

“Não temos nada!!” I spew. Fire is brewing in my breath. “NADA! NADA!” 

Spit is flying from my lips. My mouth is foaming with rabid hatred as I lunge towards the poor sap. I want to take his head off. I want to eat his heart. He has fear in his eyes and scurries away. I have no idea why I just did that. Even Christian is surprised.

“Dude. Calm down,” he says almost laughing 

I shrug it off and stumble up the stairs. I lay in bed absolutely drunk. The room is spinning. My thoughts are spinning. I put on my headphones and play Winter Song  on repeat. It’s the song that we used to wake up to together. I’d take off my wrists braces and hold her for ten minutes before she went to work, feel the softness of her skin breathe through her body. The music brings back pleasant memories that burn through my chest. I’m in a dark room setting myself on fire. I’m bent over broken crawling blindly on a jagged glass carpet trying to pick up shattered pieces of my heart. I don’t understand why we sometimes do this to ourselves. 

I get up and go into the hall. I sit on the stairwell and start reading Bukowski. I can hardly set the words straight. I read one poem: “The Night They Took Whitey”. Marcella’s name appears in the poem. It’s spelled exactly like hers. Two L’s.

My mind start wandering, but it quickly stops. No. Too soon. My heart is still too weak; it’s been trying for too long. I go back into bed and let the thoughts spin. Spin, spin, spin until I can take no more and have no other option but to fall asleep.  

April 24th, 2013

I wake up and decide to skip Capoeira in the park. I call Tina Felice instead. She happens to be in the neighborhood looking at a used car and offers to pick me up. She comes thirty minutes later.

We drive to her house about forty-five minutes outside of town. I watch her maneuver the steering wheel with her one moveable arm, in fact she really only has three functioning fingers. It’s clear that she’s learned how to adjust after all these years. She’s got it down to a science.

She unveils her workspace and it’s the shrine of an artist. There are open paint canisters everywhere, draped drop-cloths carpet the ground and catalogues of large canvases fill the room. Most of the paintings are of that same woman that I first saw in the park. She’s told me the image came to her 7 years ago and she’s been painting her ever since. She shows me her favorite one.

“I’ve been working on this one for about two years,” she tells me. “Every time I come back, I always take something away, and then I later add it back on. There’s something about this one that demands attention.” I ask her when she thinks it will be finished.

“Who knows?” she says. “Even when it finally sells, it will won’t be finished, not in my eyes.” I laugh at that concept. I tell her I’m starting to see that in my own work.

We slowly go through her collection and I sit for minutes with each one, getting a feel for our potential relationship with one another. I finally make my choice and drop more than a month’s rent on two paintings. But something about it feels worthwhile. Something about it doesn’t feel like I’m spending money at all.

We go back into the house and her maid is making lunch, so she invites me to stay. I meet Tina’s twelve year old daughter Elizabella. She’s a charming girl full of imagination and curiosity. I ask her if she’s ever thought about traveling. “Of course” is the response. Disneyland is first destination for the United States.

Tina tells me that she wants to one day take her to Spain to live for two years. I tell her it’s a beautiful experience to live and learn the language of another way of life. I ask her when she plans to go.

She tells me that she can’t leave the country yet because her granddaughter is ailing from a rare disease that is supposed to kill her. The girl is seven. Tina tells me she’s been falling in and out of comas since she was five . 

“Every time the doctors say she’s supposed to die, but she just keeps coming back,” she says. 

“She’s fighting,” I say. Tina nods. 

“She wants to live."

Tina sits me down on the couch and pulls out three albums full of her past work. She’s not only a talented painter, in fact she’s more well known for her sculptures. She’s won national grants to do public works in Brazil. One of her pieces sits in the center of the city, and others throughout Latin America and Europe. Some have even hit the States. She was once married to her professor who was competing for the same grants, she told me after she won a couple back-to-back, he got extremely jealous and started becoming abusive. To what capacity, I’m not so sure, but either way she left him for that reason.

“You sacrificed love for your art,” I said. 

“What are you talking about? He’s the one that had the problem,” she laughed. I laugh in return. I realize that I’m talking about myself more than about her. That trade is starting to show itself the longer I stay here.

Tina and her maid begin packing up my purchase. I stand admiring a small white marble sculpture of what appears to be a woman sitting in a meditative pose. I move around it, analyze it from different angles. When Tina finishes the packing she grabs the sculpture and begins to sign it.

“I’m going to give this to you because I saw that you noticed it,” she says. It has to be worth at least a couple hundred dollars.

Tina drives me back to the hostel, telling me that I’m welcomed back anytime. I think about returning and purchasing the large painting if I can manage to save up the funds. I think I’ll come back either way.

I go back inside and see Marcella behind the counter chatting with Christian. She has this guilty look on her face. I already know what it’s about.

“You forgot it, didn’t you?” I asked.

“Yes,” she frowns. 

“I swear, at first I was joking about your book being exclusive, but now I’m starting to think it’s true,” I tease.

“Shut the fuck up,” she smirks.

We talk more about Before Sunrise  and Before Sunset. I ask if she’s ever seen Waking Life  and the one scene with Jesse and Celine. Of course she has.

“You know it’s funny, but my ex-boyfriend is the one that told me I need to watch that film,” she says. “I told him he needed to watch Before Sunrise. But he never did. He said it was a chick-flick.” 

“They’re basically talking about the same thing. One is just embedded in a love story,” I say.


We arrive to a quaint bookstore tiled with hardwood floors, real wooden bookshelves - old school style - and a small cafe in the back. I invite her for a coffee, learn that an “Americano” in Brazil is called a “Carioca”. Funny coincidence.

We talk about literature, we talk about love, we talk about life. We make a pact to watch “Before Midnight” together one day in Rio. There is an unearthed strength about Marcella, something really grand if she looked deep enough. There’s nothing concrete between us, just a faint connection. It’s something that could go a million different ways. For the first time I’m not “taking this girl to the zoo”. I’m not jumping six steps ahead before anything even starts moving. I just let it be. I guess this is what I'm supposed to learn.

I have Marcella sign her book and we depart ways at the bookstore. I wait in the hostel for my friends to arrive to go to the airport. I see Christian sitting in the hallway and we start talking about boxing again. This guy is one of the only other persons I’ve met in real life that stays obsessively up-to-date on random boxing news like I do. At some point it feels like a way to gloss over saying to another man, “Hey, I like hanging out with you.” My friends finally return and Christian and I promise to see each other again in Rio.

I’m sitting on the plane and somehow managed to finagle on all my artwork onto the plane as carry-on luggage. I look across the passenger next to me and look out the window. I feel a renewed energy to take on the city of Rio De Janeiro. I’m ready to be thrown right back into the shitstorm. Something about this place has healed me. Something about this city has reminded me that I have options. I can be generous. I can be kind. I don’t have to be the person I think I'm meant to be. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Interview with Gabriela Pinheiro

On Wednesday I sat down with Gabriela Pinheiro, Institutional Relations Manager at Fight for Peace to talk about her recent trip to Lima, Peru to receive the "Sport for All" grant from the International Olympic Committee on behalf of Fight For Peace. Read her interview below to see her thoughts on the experience and what this award means for the future of Fight for Peace.


Why were you in Peru?

I went to Lima to receive the IOC’s Sport for All grant on behalf of Fight for Peace. We were amongst three organizations in the world that received this award. There was one from Peru, one from South Africa, and us from Brazil.

Can you tell me a little bit more about the award? 

It was a recognition of excellence for working in sports with everyone. We here at Fight for Peace work with all kinds of young people, no matter their situation when they arrive at our door. Specifically, we won in the “Partnerships” category for our Global Alumni Programme, which creates partnerships with local NGOs around the world, and requires us to collaborate with other international organizations to help us select these organizations.

And what did Fight for Peace have to do to reach this point to win this award?

Well, I think through our thirteen years of work we have learned a lot. We made mistakes in the past, but thanks to them we’ve learned how to do what we do well. Three years ago we started writing our processes and methodology for the Global Alumni Program, and everything that worked along these years resulted in the innovation that we have now. We are able to replicate what we are doing in Brazil. We did it in London, and we can and are doing it in many other countries as well.

What does this IOC award mean for Fight for Peace and its future?

Well I think it’s a huge recognition for our work. The criteria that the IOC sets is very rigorous. I think if you receive these awards, it’s because they truly believe you are making a difference. Even the moderator kept telling us that not many people do this kind of work in violent communities. And it’s not because of the social legacy or that we just started doing this work from now until the Olympics in 2016; we’ve been doing it for 13 years.

I think for the future, we will start working towards building relationships within Brazil. We are more well known abroad than in Brazil, so now I’ve spoken with people from the Brazilian Olympic Committee and the Ministry of Sport of Brazil, so I think this will bring awareness to many levels in the world of sports, and I think we will make partnerships, receive further government funding, etc.

Can y
ou tell me more about the presentation that you gave in Lima? 

Well the IOC moderator interviewed me and three other organizations in front of an audience of 500 people. It was kind of like a talk show (laughs). Because the Global Alumni Programme won the prize, I had to talk more specifically about that although in fact I was asked many questions about the Fight for Peace organisation in general, about our work with at-risk young people and especially about gender. They really enjoyed knowing that we worked with girls as well.

How was your interview received amongst the audience?

I received a lot of compliments. When I finished talking and the session was over, everyone at the conference came to talk with me about what a wonderful job we do, and that Fight For Peace is a real model that works. Up until the last day, people were coming to introduce themselves. I spoke with everyone from the special advisor of the United Nations for Sports Development and Peace, to a woman in Canada that has a ballet program that works with girls that wanted to know about our gender programme at Fight for Peace. I couldn’t believe that what I said during the interview would have this huge impact, you know? It was very positive response.

Did you get to see a lot of Lima? Where did you visit?

On the first day, we were in the best part of Lima: beautiful, clean, and delicious food. But later that same day, I was invited by Beyond Sport to visit the Peruvian project that won the same award as us. They were about 30kms away from the city in a community that was just like the favela we are in based in Maré. I was shocked by the similarity of the physical landscape.

The founder is a priest of the Catholic Church, and he said that when we started his programme fifteen years ago it was very violent, with gangs, shootings, like everything that we experience right now in Maré. And he was able to change a lot of that reality through football. He works with over 400 children, all males. We didn’t see girls in his project. That was a big conversation that I had with them, how we at Fight For Peace attract girls even though we work with boxing and martial arts. They were very interested in that.

So how did the communities that are affected by crime and violence in Lima compare to the communities here in Rio?

I was not there long enough to make any sort of developed analysis, but I did see a lot of similarities. I didn’t see guns in the streets like I do here, but I saw the poverty. Another interesting thing I saw was the involvement of parents. They were very involved with the kids. We do have parents involved here, but I think at a lower level.

What were your overall impressions of the IOC event?

I had a very positive impression. It was a very big conference of over 500 participants and it was very well organized with interesting subjects and networking events. I think it was really good for us at Fight For Peace. I made a lot of connections such as the IOC Commission, the Ministry of Sports, the International Judo Federation, people from all types of sport throughout the world.

Do you think that experience at the IOC will change the work you do here at Fight For Peace?

I wouldn’t say it would change the way we work – our Founder & Director Luke always tells us never to ask but instead to just show the great work we do. Some organisations take the angle of being poor and needing money but here at Fight For Peace we look for things and we go after them. We don’t try to paint a sad story of being from the favelas and that donors should help because we are poor. No we don’t do this. We show that if you give an opportunity to people, they can grow and become stars – I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

* Read the interview online here.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sparring with Michel (Part I)

Maré has been hot for the past few weeks. Rates of violence have shot up due to the impending attempt at “pacification” by the Brazilian government (more on that later). The day before my own brush with death, an elderly trash collector was found bleeding outside the academy, shot shortly after a skirmish between the drug gangs and the police. Luke packed him into his car and rushed him to the hospital, ruining his exhaust pipe in the process. The man died in the hospital the next day.

Now I check in with Harry before I go into everyday. He send me emails with subject lines like “things seem pretty chill”, but you never can never really tell as the hours go on. Things could pop off at any moment. Monday I work with fireworks and machine-gun fire going off in the background. It sounds like a popcorn maker in the distance. 

I walk out to the street to get my green "Strand" bag fixed at the local tailor and I run into Coach Gibi on the way there (I’ve been spelling his name wrong this entire time). Gibi begins by asking where I’ve been, but before I can explain that Carol told me not to come in last Wednesday due to the spur in violence during the holidays, he tells me we should move out of the street in case any stray bullets fly by. We’re standing on the connecting road between two warring favelas. Nova Holanda and Baixa do Sapatiero. Comando Vermelho and Amigos dos Amigos. “The Gaza Strip”, they call it.

We move closer towards the academy and I ask him if there’s training tonight. 

“Yes of course,” Gibi says. “Boxing doesn’t stop. You and me, we do. But boxing doesnt.” 

I like that answer. 

I go back into the gym and see Michel sitting on top of a stack of mats listening to his headphones. He has a worried look on his face as the tunes pass through his ears. He lowers his headphone and greets me with that classic smile. 

I ask him how he’s been. He tells me he’s going to Sao Paulo this weekend for a championship. I ask him if he’s been sparring. He shakes his head. I think about it for a moment. I tell him that I’ll spar with him on Wednesday. I get this weird giant-eyed response, as if I just agreed to donate a kidney. 

Serio?!”  he asks. 

I nod. He calls Gibi over and starts deliberating with him under a hushed voice. Gibi listens with arms crossed over his chest that drop when what I assume to be the moment Michel informs him of my offer. Gibi turns to me with a stern demeanor and inquires further. 

“Like sparring or shadowboxing?” he asks.

“Sparring,” I say.

“Ok, but this is forreal,” Gibi states almost as a question. 

I nod my head, this time a bit hesitantly. Him and Michel gleam with excitement. Both of them are rubbing their hands together as if they’ve just pulled off the biggest scam in Brazilian history. Their happiness is a bit unsettling.

I go back upstairs and tell Harry the news. Harry kind of gives me this crooked stare and gulps air down this throat. 

“You know we have other welters, right?” Harry starts. “Are you sure you don’t want to warm up with them first?” 

“I’ve already made the promise,” I say a bit worried. 

Harry gives me a grim look like I just signed my own death certificate. Forget the bullets. It’s the punches I’m scared of. 

I go into training that night with the preoccupation of sparring on my mind the entire time. I watch Michel move around in the mirror, studying his movement. I try to smile at him. He gives me nothing. He’s all business in the ring. 

Gibi assigns me three different fighters as shadowboxing partners that night. The first one is a beginner. I can tell by the way he moves his feet. He still thinks about where to put them before they get there. He’s sloppy, but that also means he doesn’t know how to control his punches. He has a strong jab that never seems to be meant for probing, but I’m handling him easy. I’m landing lead rights. I’m digging to the body at will. I can dance around with my hands down if I want to. I’m toying with him before the round is over. 

Gibi changes him out with a fighter nicknamed “Sugar”. You can’t get that nickname in boxing unless you’re really really good. Sugar has to be a couple weight classes below me, but he fights like he’s takes on giants. He doesn’t back down like the other ones. He holds his hands up in a perfect turtle shell turtleshell defense. Everything I’m throwing bounces off his gloves. I manage to get him with a few good body shots, but he stings me in the face in return. He’s good. He’s definitely earned the nickname.

The last fighter gets switched in, but I never learn his name. He’s shorter, fights kind of like a pitbull. He’s maybe only one weight class below me, and fights with the same determination as Sugar. He doesn’t back down after I land a solid right. Doesn’t flinch when the left hook scrapes across his face. He keeps the pressure on and I’m forced to fight backwards. I don’t get a chance to rest. His punches carry sturdy pop and he can definitely bang. I manage to duck and dodge most of the barrage, but these guys are making me work. My chest tightens at the end of the round. I wonder if this was Gibi’s way of saying, “Do you really know what you’re getting yourself into?”

Since then I keep thinking about my upcoming sparring session with Michel. It feels like I’ve already been sentenced and am now just living out my last days on death row. But I’ve sparred hard hitters in the past. I sparred Eddie Hunter, a solid middle weight at the gym back home. The best way to describe getting hit by Eddie is having a bag full of bricks thrown at your face. I’m thinking I can do this, but I’m not so sure. I’m not so sure at all. 

I wake up today and crank out six miles on the beach. I sprint the last half minute and don’t get winded. It brings some confidence, but not much. I got back into Fight For Peace later in the day and receive some new assignments. Bryony, one of the coordinators for Global Alumni program, asks if I’d like to help out during a visit from some of their partner organizations from Nairobi. The Global Alumni program is part of the Fight For Peace methodology where they bring in organizations from around the globe to train in their Five Pillars philosophy, proliferating the use of education and fighting throughout the world.

Bryony asks when I could come in and start meeting some of the visiting members. The first one comes in tomorrow. I tell her I’ll be here tomorrow, but only to box. I then tell her I’ll probably take Thursday off because I’m sparring with Michel and expect to be in a great deal of pain. We both laugh, but my laughter is more out of pleasantry, not that I actually find it funny.

I go back home and take a long nap. My body aches as I try to rest and the impending slaughter is still fresh on my mind. I attempt to write for about an hour, but can’t seem to concentrate. I know the solution: queijo quente. That always does the trick. 

I hoof it down the twenty minutes trek to Café Lamas, sit down at the counter and order my usual. I shouldn’t have one, I know. Gooey cheese sandwiched between two greasy squares of white bread doused in ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise isn’t exactly championship caliber alimentation. But this is Café Lamas goddammit, and there are few things in the world more sacred than late-night queijos quentes at Café Lamas. I have two for good measure and wash each one down with a cup of sweet Maté. 

I sit there and think about all that’s happened to me  so far in Brazil. I think about love, I think about life, and all of it is just a mess in my head. A woman sits down next to me and orders a beer. She gracefully asks the barman for a glass in exchange for the paper cup she was initially given. I want to start a conversation, but write a poem about her instead. Something about her eases the night.

I go back home and start extracting blog posts from my fingers. I suck down two Marb lights in the process. I figure at this point my body is already in fuck-all shape to fight, might as well take it the rest of the way home. Maybe I have a subconscious desire to destroy myself. 

Or maybe it’s that this sparring session is a measuring stick of where I am. Brazil has made me fight ever since I landed and now it’s trying to see how much I have left in the tank. But I’ve carried a decade of my life here. I have the love and support of all the beautiful souls I’ve met thusfar on this earth. Maybe it’s not a subconscious desire to destroy myself. Maybe it’s a big “fuck you” to this place and all it's put me through. Maybe it's not even my own body in the equation, but the strength of everyone else who has carried me here. 

I won’t go down without a fight; that much, I do know. I’ll go into the ring out of shape and all sorts of fucked up, but I'll still try to survive. You just wait and see, Brazil. Just wait and see. 

* For more on the Global Alumni Program, please visit here.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

On teachers

Last Saturday I was almost shot in the face. Ok. Slight exaggeration. Maybe the bullet would have hit me in the shoulder, the neck, the arm, or some other non-fatal extremity. Maybe it would have missed me completely and hit Luke instead. Maybe the shooter wouldn’t have shot at all and I’m just dramatizing things in my mind. All I know is that I had an M-16 rifle pointed at my face because we were driving through the favela after dark without an illuminated dome light and the traffickers couldn’t see who was inside the car. A violation to a standard code in the community. It wasn't until Luke jolted up with raised hands yelling “Calma! Calma!” did the shooter look in and lowered his firearm. Seeing Luke shook up was the one reason I knew the situation was somewhat serious.

I’m now one of the official event photographers and bloggers at Fight for Peace. When Luke said that was what he wanted me to do, I couldn’t believe it. 

“That’s like what I do in my spare time!” I exclaimed.

“Well, then you should be good at it,” he said.

At first I offered to teach English, but Luke shot down that option with a real quick “fuck English classes” type response. Actually, that was just what he said. Apparently it’s never worked out in the past. Either the teachers weren’t qualified or the kids weren’t interested. Probably a little of both. Most people think they can teach English just because they speak it, which is absolute horseshit. But the situation in Maré is that most of the kids are still trying to finish their official Brazilian classes whilst helping their family survive. Learning another language gets pushed down the list of priorities when you have nothing to eat at the dinner table. 

This past Saturday was my first assignment: a boxing and martial arts event in Marcilio Dantas, a satellite site located in another part of Maré. I was told to show up at 11, but Harry, Luke’s brother, whispered not to show up until half past as most things in Brazil tend to be delayed. I show up at 11:40 and wade through a crowded weekend market to arrive at an empty building. Apparently the one time I’m told to show up late, they actually start on time. I call Carol, a staff member at Fight for Peace, and the one person at the organization I secretly have a crush on. She tells me to wait outside the academy for the driver Samuel to come by in the official van.

I’m sitting outside waiting and this lumpy kid strolls in. He has chipmunk cheeks and a bit of an overbite. Overall he reminds me of a polar bear when he sports the white team shirt. His name is Alex and he used to box at Fight for Peace, but stopped for a reason I couldn’t understand because of the Maré accent. I ask him if he’s going to return. He say he wants to but it’s hard to get rid of the gut. He looks down and grabs the overhang of his belly. I ask him what he’d like to study. He tells me with a look of concern that he still doesn’t know, but he’d like to go to college one day. I tell him that I’m 29 and I still don’t really know what I want to do. The sad thing is that shit is kinda true, but at least I got a smile out of him.

Samuel pulls up and we hop in the front. Carol bursts out and struts towards the building.

“They're two hours behind!” she laughs. “We have plenty of time!” She disappears into the large blue building and emerges with a large plastic bag. The winner and runner-up medals, an essential component to competitive events. 

We start driving and Alex asks if I watch professional boxing.

“Of course,” I say. “Who is your favorite fighter?”

“Canelo Alvarez,” he replies.

I mention Alvarez’s last fight against Austin Trout. He knew about it. This fight happened only two weeks ago. He even knew about the controversial split decision. This kid is serious about boxing. I ask him who he thought won. 

“Well, I’m a fan of Alvarez so I don’t think I’ll give a fair answer, ” he says. Jesus. This kid is only 17. 

“Well, you're honest,” I chuckle. “And that’s what counts.” 

We pull up to the event and there is a large crowd of people already there, mostly kids. All of them are held back behind metal gates that come up to the abdomen, the type you have at a major celebrity event. Only the fighters and people working the event are allowed in.  Immediately you can see the difference between the kids that fight and the kids that don’t. The fighters carry themselves with an elevated sense of self, a greater self-confidence than most, like gladiators who understand the fragility of life. The other kids admire it. I can feel it.

I start moving around the fights and I notice I’m using all of the sports I’ve practiced over the past decade of my life. Jiu-Jitsu and Capoeira have made my legs strong and now I'm virtually a human tripod. I move in and out during the action, reading their movements, adjusting them to my own. One of the spectators asks for my autograph.

“But I’m not doing anything,” I smile shyly.

“You move like you’re fighting,” she says back to me. 

I think about that connection for a minute. Fighting and telling stories. It makes perfect sense. 

Everyone is making a commotion about my shoes, I mean even more so than the Brazilian giant from a few weeks back. Moço! Moço! Onde comprou os sapatos?  When I tell them the US, there's a slight look of disappointment, but they always manage to throw a thumb-ups at the end of it all. Carol comes up to me in the middle of the event and laughs. “Nick! I think your shoes are the main attraction of the event!” I blush in return. 

Luke brings over this kid with a kind face holding a point-and-shoot. He has a cast wrapped around his right arm from a football accident that put him out of the boxing gym for a few months. I remember I met him the first day I showed up at the academy. Raynne is his name. 

Luke tells me that the kid loves photography and asks if I can show him the ropes. For the first time I feel I can offer legitimate advice on the subject. Strange that this kid coming up for pointers is the only thing that put confidence in my own abilities. Funny how the students sometimes make the teachers.

Raynne shifts around nervously in his sneakers. He looks hopeful. I ask him to show me some photos. Some of them are actually pretty good. I have my old D80 strapped around my shoulder, but haven’t really found much use for it through the event. I snap on a 24mm and wrap the camera around his neck. He gives me a look like a squire being promoted to a knight. I lean over and tell him that I need help taking photographs of the event. There are too many corners to cover. It’s actually quite true. I tell him to be careful with the camera. The way he nods tells me my gear is in good hands. He would care for it like his own.  

Raynne moves like a photographer, even with only one good arm. The look of concentration on his face, the quick trigger draw of pointing the lens and snapping the shutter is quintessential photography reflexes. We switch corners after each round as the fights go on. He gives me a fist bump as we pass each other during the breaks. 

I look over and I see Alex working the mitts. This kid has natural instincts to be a trainer. The “all-business-no-nonesense” look is plastered all across his face. The way he holds out his hands to redirect the fighter, the way he leans in and gives instruction. He could be a fabulous trainer. I tell him this. 

“Oh, it’s nothing. I just try to help out,” he says smiling.

One of the kids walk by and says something about his weight. It was meant to be a joke, but the slight quiver in his lips told me he took it to heart. I ask him if he would like to still be a fighter. He told he’d like to try but fears it would interfere with his studies. I tell him about the fighters in Bogotá that I trained with in the past. Most them studied nutrition and sports medicine at the same time because it helped their career as a boxer, and if things didn’t work out for them in the professional boxing realm (as it doesn't for most fighters), they have an education to fall back on. They usually become trainers. That way they can find a way to feed themselves and still be an integral part of the sport. Alex shines a brilliant grin and nods. He fills his chest with a deep inhale. I think he might start to believe it. 

One of the last things I did back in Seattle was present at Franklin High School’s “Power, Justice and Freedom through Education” seminar, an event targeted at underprivileged students of color where various presenters come in and share how education can change lives. I’ve done this for the past four years and am just starting to get the hang of it. I honestly don’t know how teachers are able to do this everyday. At the end of the event we always sat around with the keynote speaker to have a round table discussion. Usually, I’m pretty bored with it because it’s kind of a soapbox for teachers who don’t get a chance to voice their opinions. Teachers often feel that like they get shitted on because, well, for the most part, they are. 

This one woman got up and I’m expecting more ranting. Most of the first minute was just generic appreciation for teachers. I’m thinking this is going to be some real typical PC-Northwest-Seattle-we-love-the-entire-fucking-world-regardless-of-race-sex-class-gender-or-sexual-orientation type of after school speech. But what intrigued me about this woman was that she started by saying, “I never had the courage to become a teacher.” 

It turns out she wasn't a teacher at all, just recounted old memories of watching her mother hunched over the dining room table grading papers into the late hours after making dinner and finishing other household chores. Her mother had changed countless lives, in fact many of the teachers in the room had her as their high school Spanish teacher. They said she was strict, real military type demeanor, but you could always tell she cared. I think it gave the daughter some ease, especially since her mother had recently passed. But at the same time it also seemed to dig at her guilt; her admitted shame of being part of a society that treated teachers the way they do. 

“Our country has done you a great disservice and I am so very sorry how you have been treated.” 

I will never forget those words.

She was crying by the end of it. Most people in the room were. Shit, I’m actually tearing up writing this and I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s because teachers saved my life. My senior high writing teacher is the only reason you’re reading this now. She made me promise to take a writing course in college because she said I had talent. My Chicano studies professor scribbled on the back of an essay that I should apply to be a tutor at the writing center. I ended up working there for three years and discovered there through a co-worker about the fellowship that funded my first boxing excursion. Even my writing teacher today still emails me after every blog post, kindly saying, “I know you wrote this, which kinda makes sense, but did you really mean this?” Of course I always meant the second "this"

I think about all that teachers do in society and how little of it is ever noticed, how much they give of themselves for the sole purpose of keeping the world alive. I think about the teachers in Sandy Hook that pushed their students aside and acted as human body shields so their students could have a chance. A fucking chance. That's all that anybody really wants.

I’ve been thinking about my most recent near-death experience and what it all means. I keep telling myself that I’m exaggerating the story in my head, something for the blog, something that sounds violent, something sexy, exciting. But it wasn’t an exaggeration. The way that kid held his gun, the way he hopped up off the curb and drew it. That crazed look in his eyes. He was ready to go to war.

At first I thought the whole incident on Saturday was kind of funny, in fact, both Luke and I looked at each other and started laughing right after it happened. Then I thought it was a cool story and I wanted to be on the phone with all my friends to tell them about it. I wanted to make it a racy adventure story, something people would admire. I’ve done that with all my posts. I try to make what I’m doing sound cool. But it’s not cool anymore. It never was. This how people have to live everyday and it's not a cool fucking adventure story.

It makes me angry that people think that this shit is cool, that people want me to take them to the community to see the poor. It makes me angry that tourists ride around in fucking safari jeeps through the favelas to have this adventure story to “wow” their friends. It makes me angry because that’s how I used to be. 

When I think about what happened now, I just feel sad and I’m not sure why. I realize that I kept trying to tell people because I’m having trouble being alone. I just can't sit that close to death by myself. I also haven’t slept well since the incident happened. I average maybe 3 hours a night, and since I was out partying the nights beforehand, it has, to say lightly, been a rough week. I guess it’s the brevity of it all, life, how most of the shit we worry about has no bearing at the end of it and you start to see what’s really important.

I went into the gym on Monday because I could no longer stand staying in the apartment by myself. I had to do something. I had to box. I trained harder than I ever had in my life. I went two hours on almost no sleep and exerted just about every ounce of water out of my being. As I wound down my workout I looked at myself in the mirror and felt a stillness, a complete and utter bliss. It’s funny that I was doing the same thing during the my semi-meltdown in the park a couple weeks back. But this time the breath flowed calmly through my body. This time I felt at peace. Being around these kids put my soul at ease. They returned to me my humanity.

Fighting. Teaching. At this point, it’s the only things I have to keep me alive. 

I hope I can find a role as a teacher somewhere in this community. I hope I can give back what they’ve already given me. A sense of purpose, a reason to be decent. I tell this story to people and they say I need to stop for my safety, but I can’t. I can’t leave behind the promises I made. I can’t abandon these fighters. And if I’m to be shot in the face for that, well, there aren't many worthier things to die for in this world.

*To see photos of the event, please visit here.