Having started on such a sour note, I really hoped the afternoon would be sweeter. I should have known better . . . As I’ve already mentioned, afternoons are not usually my favorite period of the day. It demands further explanation. If the hours between 1:00 and 5:00 PM involve a function done solely for the purpose of fiscal remuneration (i.e. ball and chain), then I’m frequently yawning and staring at the nearest clock. If, however, the hours can be dedicated to any one of the three important R’s we learned in school: Reading, Resting, and Recess, then it is time happily spent. As the first and last of these were not possible on the jangada (as I had no book), that left only napping. But in that blazing heat on deck, even the napping was fitful at best.
It would have been cooler down below, out of the glare of the equatorial sun. But I would have crawled into hell on hands and knees before crawling back into that hold again, so soon after lunch. I’d eaten enough of the Tuna Surprise to know exactly what would happen if I followed that path. All it would take is a few wheezy breaths from João’s fishy lips and you know who would be blowing again.
Had I asked them to let me stay closer to the hatch, I’m sure they would have acquiesced. Anything to give the poor man access. But I didn’t want to take any chances. And besides, they deserved to rest in peace without having to worry about me tossing up. No doubt my recent disgorging was still fresh in their memories, as it was in mine. I could see it in their furtive glances as they quickly stuffed themselves into the hatch before I had a chance to change my mind. Nobody wanted a repeat performance of that, except maybe the few chub loitering opportunistically around the hull.
Mamede had left my nemesis (the farinha pan) on top of the icebox, and had asked if I could water the deck so the wood wouldn’t dry out. I was more than happy to oblige, both to be of service and also to dump the cool seawater onto myself. I was amazed by how quickly the deck dried off after wetting — wisps of steam rising up from the planks. Starting forward and working aft, the bow was ready for another dowsing by the time I reached the transom, just like painting the Golden Gate bridge.
Drenching myself with seawater did cool me down but it came at a price. Like the deck, the water on my body evaporated quickly, leaving behind a micro-dusting of salt. Normally I love the feeling you get on the beach after swimming in the ocean — like your skin has been shrink-wrapped in the sun. But at the end of the day you can wash the salt away with fresh water, and it feels even better. On the jangada this wasn’t possible. Fresh water was only used for drinking and cooking. To waste it on something as frivolous as rinsing off my body would be a stupid, stupid luxury.
Even more uncomfortable than the salt on my skin was the salt in my shorts. Clothing wet with seawater never fully dries out. The leftover salt holds in moisture, leaving the cloth feeling clammy and damp. This dampness was not cool or soothing against my flesh. It had the opposite effect — rubbing against me, chafing my tender skin, making it feel like I was wearing sandpaper for underwear.
Then why not take them off? you might be thinking.
Forty miles offshore—it wasn’t like you were on Wall Street protesting the bankers stealing the clothes off your back.
Truth be told, I have never liked disrobing in front of strangers. There was that retreat in Mendocino I went to with my girlfriend once — a two-day quest for the nearest rock or plant to stand behind while I smiled at other guests: Hello! Yes . . . Beautiful day, isn’t it? To be caught padding around the deck — starkers — would have been as embarrassing for me as it would’ve been for the jangadeiros — to catch me padding around said deck starkers.
And while we are on the subject of nudity, let me set the record straight. There is a prevalent misconception that Brazilians, because of the skimpy bathing suits they wear, their tangas, love to let it all hang out (ao ar livre, as they say). Well, nothing could be further from the truth. Brazilians, in general, are no fan of public nudity, except maybe at Carnival time. And even then the parade of flesh is never extreme or gratuitous — more artistic and enthusiastic — a bright display of the beautiful human body. And beautiful it is — just add glitter.
Brazilians, fundamentally, are a modest people, a respectful people, a devotional people. Yes. They are devoted to their families, as they are to their church, as they are to their national sport — futebol — which they love with a passion. True, they do have those funky Love Motels all over the place where you can rent a room or carport by the minute (and much fun is made of this, along with the whoopee). But the love motels actually serve an important function (fill an urgent need, you might say). In a country that is predominantly Catholic, where it is not uncommon for adult children to live with their parents until they get married, such liberal behavior is not usually condoned inside the home. The Love Motels provide a simple solution to this, allowing young adults to take part in yet another devotional act — one performed behind closed doors.
Above all Brazilians are devoted to life. They love life. And life is meant to be lived. Otherwise — why bother? How had Mamede put it:
Out here — you know you are alive.
So there would be no disrobing on the jangada. And thank God — I hadn’t brought enough sunblock for that.
Unable to practice any of my three cherished Rs, the afternoon quickly descended into a long secession of B&M (Bitching & Moaning). I can’t say I’m proud of it. I would rather portray myself as being strong out there, as being, well, manly. But truth be told that wasn’t the case. Surrounded as I was by four brothers, two up and two down, I learned a lot about the weakness of men while growing up. And believe me when I say this, I would rather not go back there.
I will only say we were not the closest of brothers. More a pack of wolves thrown together for the sake of survival — punching and kicking and biting. And we had a knack for discovering each other’s faults and using those faults to our best advantage — physically as well as emotionally.
Even now when we get together for Thanksgiving or Christmas (that is, those of us who can actually stomach it) we have a hard time lowering our guards. We tend to keep our knives and forks close at hand just in case. Though we may smile and say all the appropriate things one is supposed to say at such holiday festivities, behind it we are more likely thinking: What did he mean by that? Why is he looking at me that way? That was my piece of meat, dammit! Where this is going, I haven’t a clue. I guess I just needed to get it off of my chest. Oh, yes — weakness! — my own weakness on the jangada that third afternoon.
It was what you might call the self-pitying kind, the whining kind, the Bitching & Moaning kind, the why, oh why, oh why did I ever ask to go on this fucking trip kind. It was not very pretty but what weakness is? What can I say? It’s not like I’d turned into some pathetic lump of quivering flesh (a very irritated lump of quivering flesh), raising a bandaged finger to the heavens and begging for deliverance. But close, pretty darn close . . .
And still I have not yet touched on the biggest irritant of all during that long and trying afternoon; quite possibly the biggest burden of the entire trip. The one that makes the others pale in comparison. The one that makes the others contract, peristaltically you might say, in contraposition.
Yes — that one!
Oh . . . let’s get this over with.
Next chapter: If I Only Had a Toilet