Tag Archives: i was cute and sweet – what happened?

I love the nineties

11 May

I was a wee thing in a button down white shirt and navy blue pleated skirt – the school uniform – as I glued my ear to my brother’s bedroom door. He was blasting new music and I wanted to know what it was. Knocking to ask was useless; he couldn’t hear or didn‘t want to. Going in unannounced was… suicide; he’d charge to the door, screaming at me and my bad manners. Once he started locking himself in for hours, I had no alternative but to eavesdrop.

It was 1989 and I soon learned what he was listening to was Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction album. It was loud, fast, dirty, and way cooler than my dad’s rock n’ roll. It was also way cooler than the Balão Mágico (Magical Balloon) shit my mom bought for me. Once the band became insanely popular my sister also got into them, and the vinyl made its way to the living room records cabinet where I had access to it. The cover was more than I could grasp at the time – a Robert Williams painting of a robot ready to avenge an innocent woman’s rape – but I stared at it for a while,  with headphones blasting the album back to back in my young and fragile ears.  Every single song was good, but Rocket Queen, the closing track, was a favorite, and still is. The bass line and guitar riff were sexy right off the bat. I had no idea what the lyrics meant, but my little cousin and I danced and karaoked to it. Once in a while I’d “borrow” my brother’s guitar to “play” along (and break strings).

Here I am
And you’re a Rocket Queen
I might be a little young
But honey, I ain’t naïve
Here I am
And you’re a Rocket Queen
I might be too much
But honey, you’re a bit obscene

I eventually found magazines in my siblings’ stuff and got a hold of translations. The lyrics made me go “Yeah!” because I could tell they were about sex. I’d yet to come across my brother’s porn but that didn’t stop me from dreaming about the guitarist. Unaware of what sex really was and that doing it with Slash might come with a side of crabs, my subconscious had me kissing and rolling around in bed with him, as adults in soap operas did. I could never actually see his face behind all the hair, but that was part of the appeal. While other little Catholic school girls crushed on Menudo (Ricky Martin’s Mexican boy band), I perused magazines for pictures of a tight jeans-wearing, whiskey-drinking, cigarette-smoking, bad boy with magical fingers.

I wanted to go to a show really bad; I envisioned myself dancing to Rocket Queen and getting picked by Slash to dance on stage. I thought I’d finally get my chance at age 9, when Guns N’ Roses were set to tour South America, playing in Rio twice. My dad promised to take my brother and sister, but apparently I was “too young.” Completely desperate and totally out of character, I threw a minor fit, but they wouldn’t budge. My dad and siblings left for the venue in early evening and mom, feeling bad for her  self-proclaimed precocious daughter, let me stay up late to catch the show live on TV. Months later, Axl successfully pissed off every band member, the group was no more, and at 18, I got a Red Hot Chili Peppers tattoo instead of a Guns N’ Roses one.

Rocket Queen – featuring the drummer’s girlfriend moaning over the break, recorded as she had sex with the vocalist in the studio – is still one of my favorite tunes. It is raw and sexy and it’s possible that I do on occasion put on a 90’s type leather mini dress and dance to it at home.  I’m happy nineties fashion is in again; too bad the hipsters aren’t bringing back good music along with lycra skirts.

Sampson the bunny and second grade cheese

3 Apr

Until I was about eight, my father had a very well-paying job at Shell Corporation, but chose to leave it so he could  spend some time at home to enjoy his children growing up. My mother was a public school History teacher –  in Brazil this means she went to work every day but would sometimes go months without seeing a paycheck – the government “had no money.” My father tried self-employment after leaving Shell, but his business went under months after (something or other about thousand per cent inflation and all of his investments suddenly being worth less than a pair of dirty knickers). That was the toughest time financially our family had.  My dad spent over eight months officially unemployed, doing odd jobs here and there – he left early in the morning, returned for lunch, and was out the door again until dinner time. Out on interviews, at employment agencies, doing temp work, soliciting interviews at companies… doing whatever he could to bring home good news.

I knew things weren’t the same because amenities were cut here and there. My after school English language course was no more, our country club membership was cancelled, eating out became a special occasions only deal, and most memorably, the cheese I was consuming looked different. My ingenious, money-stretching mother started buying cheese scraps – the bits that don’t go into the deli bag after going through the slicer. Same taste, lower price.  But what mattered; tuition for the best school in the city, film and book rentals, trips to museums, zoos, parks, family quality time; those were as certain to me as the sun rising the next day.

Tivoli Park

I was 8 years old when my father resigned his position at Shell and I was PISSED at him for it. See, Shell sucked all the blood out of its workers but the company spared no pennies on Christmas season. Every year they rented out the largest amusement park in the city of Rio and bussed entire families of employees to spend a Saturday,  providing meal tickets and Christmas gifts. Oh yeah, and each family could bring a kid friend, who also got a gift. It was a LOT of fun and something to brag about at school. It’s no surprise I disapproved of my father’s decision to cut ties with the best company ever. I  remember sitting on his lap one afternoon as my mom prepared dinner a few feet away from us.

Ju, dad doesn’t work at Shell anymore. It was a very tough job and I had to spend too many hours there, and it wasn’t good for my health (he apparently was this close to a heart attack and the doc told him to lower his stress level ASAP).

You don’t? What are you gonna do?

I’m going to own my own business now.

You are? But what about the Christmas parties? Can we still go?

No, I don’t work for Shell anymore.

But, DAD, I never got my Barbie house! They’re gonna give me the Barbie house when I’m 10! Can’t you work there for two more years?

My mother must’ve interjected with some logical argument about having to make sacrifices in the midst of an unstable economy and a promise that I’d be able to use my sister’s Barbie house whenever I wanted.  I, a genuinely good and empathetic kid, spoke no more of the issue.

That’s how my parents dealt with everything; calmly, reasonably, and truthfully.  A toy wasn’t offered in exchange for good behavior; I behaved because that’s how I’d get others to respect and listen to me. I studied because the more I learned, the more I understood about the world around me. I thought twice on how to spend my money because I had to earn it – and that took time, effort, and lots of good behavior. I remember so well walking into a store to buy a stuffed animal I had been eyeing for months. It was a replica of a toothy blue bunny that my favorite cartoon character lugged around and occasionally threw at the heads of insolent little boys. She was feisty and so was I – Sampson the bunny had to be mine. It took weeks of chores and good behavior to save enough for that weekend afternoon when my dad and I walked into Lubene store.

Sansão

That one. I want that one, please. I inspected the box, the painted eyes, the plushness of his fur and took big whiffs of the new toy smell. This one would do. I parted with my money at the register and walked out, clutching to my dad with one hand and my new inseparable toy with the other. I still have the little guy – he survived a  left leg amputation, courtesy of my ex-boyfriend’s pit bull, but his toothy smile brings me back to these irretrievable days of joy and simplicity.