On my porch, looking south to Brazil

I belong in Brazil. Right now, I need to hop on the next plane bound for Brazil. Tomorrow morning I need to open up this laptop in a café in Rio, and write about country #21 on the world tour.


The World Cup is going on in Brazil, a perfect way for me to experience the culture—and all the world’s cultures—in a heightened, frenzied way. My friend Stefan is there with his uncles from Stockholm, the three of them on a pilgrimage to the World Cup every four years. I need to be with him, with all the Swedes, my face painted blue and yellow even though their team isn’t even in the tournament. I’ll eat sausages with them and four steins of beer, and at night we’ll stroll the boulevards of Rio wearing jesters’ hats. Or who knows, maybe in Brazil I’ll finally find a surge of patriotism within this hard heart of mine, and I’ll paint my face red, white, and blue. I’ll dress up as Uncle Sam and walk the streets on stilts. The drunk fans from Belgium—America’s next opponent in three days—will kick my stilts but I’ll not falter. A socialist European will not topple the greatest nation in the history of the planet, a nation which God Himself appointed the savior of all Muslims and infidels. U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!


Yes, all the rhythms of this traveling boy are inclined toward Brazil. Things are happening there, and I never want to be left out of the party. Can’t all of you donate $50 to send your faithful correspondent on his way? Come on, don’t be so cheap. Make it $100 so I can eat well.


What do they eat in Brazil? I promise to tell you in detail… for $100.


Meanwhile, I’m living the easy, sedentary life in Columbia, California. And the quiet life, now that Liam and Dolora are off for the weekend visiting sister Moi in Santa Rosa. Oh how I love when they are gone! The silence, the freedom to do whatever I want for a few days, the visitation into the other room of bachelorhood just to see what it feels like. It would seem such an easy trifle to add a 0 to the 4 days that they’re gone. Why not 40 days… and nights? It’s a wonderful number, a Biblical number—and who are we to thumb our noses at Moses.


It was Moses, right?


And Buddha. Buddha was a wanderer for 40 days… I think.


And Mickey Mantle and Cindy Lauper and Goldie Hawn and Keith Richards—all wanderers in the desert for 40 days, and Lassie and Mr. Ed and certainly a porpoise or two, and a whole nation of aborigines. Let’s put it this way: Who hasn’t been on a 40-day walkabout. Well, Dolora and Liam, join that long and noble tradition, and we’ll see you back home in early August. I’ll have two bowls of cereal ready for you on the porch.


What would I do with 40 days?


Yesterday I dipped my toes into the tasks that await me at the college. That’s what I’d do for 40 days, continue that work in the cave of my office until I’d emerge in early August, to trumpets and Brazilian dancers, with these jobs completed:


  1. A 30-minute movie of our trip. To do this I’d have to learn iMovie, then gather all our film clips and figure out what to do with all that mess. A big job for lil ol’ Jimmy.


  1. Compile everything I wrote on the blog. Print it all up, stick it in a binder, marvel at the inch-thickness of all that paper—and then read it all, word for word, beginning with day 1 in Los Angeles and finishing… whenever I decide to finish this thing. While reading it, I might begin to get a sense of whether I could do something with this inch-thickness—that is, rewrite it into a book.


  1. Create a whole series of 5-minute videos modeled after what the Khan Academy created for math and the sciences. (If you’re unfamiliar with the Khan Academy, type in its name into Youtube and watch one of the clips. They’re fabulous.) Mine would me mini-lessons on grammar, dialogue, essay writing, research papers, and creative writing. How many? Well, in honor of Moses and Lassie and Dolora and Liam, how about 40?


Right now I’ve begun the process of researching what equipment I need—both hardware and software. And also I’ve begun thinking about the approach: either a simple capturing of whatever I write on the screen, to something more elaborate and creative. For that, I got a slick camera from the college and could produce a series of movies that might run like this: Imagine Liam at a desk, struggling with… semi-colons. His witch of a teacher (played by Dolora) tells him to climb to a mountaintop in search of the Grammar Guru. There I’ll be, dispensing wisdom on a white board on the perils and glories of the semi-colon.


Whatcha think?


  1. Have all my classes prepped and ready to go. Sounds easy, but one of them—an on-line film appreciation course—is a bear to prepare. At the very least I’ll need a good 39 days to get it all ready for the little darlings. Oh, let’s just round it up to 40 days.


  1. Brush away all the cobwebs that have turned my office into a gauzy mess.


40 days. That’s all I’m asking—40 days—and on the other side I’ll emerge with all these accomplishments on a pillow.




It’s now two days later. I’m sitting on my porch with my usual cup of coffee by my side, its word “Integrity” scratched onto the bottom as if the Catholic monsignors and cardinals themselves were etching that word across my forehead. I tell people that I hate that word and they cock their heads to the side. “Why?” they ask, as if “integrity” is a warm woolen sweater on a damp December evening. Maybe the issue is in the definition, as if we’re all looking at the same colors but one of us has a mixup of the spectrum, so that orange is red and red is pink.


Perception. It’s all about perception. There is no absolutes anywhere in the world, or at least that’s what we atheists propose from our soapbox. There is no good or evil that can’t be understood as its opposite from a different perspective. “The great tragedy in life,” says the French director Jean Renoir, “is that everyone has his reasons.”


Traveling the world rams home this whole notion of relativism. A dog to us is dinner to a Vietnamese. Things as a measure of success to us is paper-thin to a culture like India, where Amit measured his success by the number of guests he hosted—an act that would increase his chances of a better life on the next go round.


Or just take America itself. What is valued in Texas is abhorred in California. I just read a New Yorker article on the Republican senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, whose beliefs are so extreme—marriage only between a man and woman, roll back “every word” of Obamacare, close the borders to immigrants, deregulate industries, global warming is a myth—and yet he represents the views of a huge American state. Flip those views around, and there you have Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, our two Jewish female senators from California.


The point yet again: What is America? What do Americans believe? What is meant by “American culture”—a concept that is so easy to define within seconds of landing in Kathmandu or Hanoi or Jaipur.




Meanwhile, the World Cup in Brazil goes on, and the closest I can get is emails to my friend Stefan right there in Rio. Yesterday I wrote to him about how absurd it is that people get so riled up about soccer, that there is more collective euphoria or agony over the bounce of a ball than over just about anything.


Stefan’s reply: “As the great Bill Shankly once said, ‘Football is not a matter of life and death. It’s much more important than that.’”


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