duty free

I have been given a bottle of Cachaça Sabiá. Tonight I drank it and then shaved. Imagine me, sugar-drunk, hacking at my neck with a Mach 3, singing the old Brazilian songs! That’s inaccurate—that’s not how I shave. Today on the street we saw a man use a whip to whack a cigarette out of someone else’s mouth—three quick strokes toward the nose, in between much verbal build-up. That’s how I shave—with a whip, and cigarettes, and another man. After I shaved I went back to practicing that gesture they have here, the one that means “Yes, I am enthusiastic about doing that” or “Hurry up over there.” You whip your index finger into your thumb and the middle one, and even without any snapping it sounds like you’re snapping. You snap your wrist, but that’s it—nothing above the wrist is snapped. It’s done best by the guy who’s moving to San Francisco soon, the journalist who’s changing jobs to be a test subject at a newly opened psychedelics-research institute, where he’ll be working with Quilty—just kidding! Quilty will not be administering treble doses of jimson weed to him via eye dropper twice a day, for no pay—the whole operation’s volunteer-run. The eye dropper will have been donated, and inappropriate for clinical use. Not long ago the gesturing journalist brought back two hundred lucid-dream-inducing pills from a seminar in Hawaii. “You can do anything,” he told us. “You can fly; you can fuck.” “But when you wake up, do you still feel tired?” my coworker asked him. In America, his gesture can’t mean much besides “There’s something stuck to my hand,” but I will learn it.

My coworker bought a mango to eat on the plane, but it wasn’t ripe enough—the fruit-stand man bait-and-switched him! So he gave the mango to DP, who presumably brought it home to Rio Grande do Sul, to be eaten by his baby. Yesterday, DP told us, at his visa interview, the girl in front of him at the fingerprinting table was turned away—turned away from the United States—for having sweaty hands. “Do your palms normally sweat this much?” they asked her. “We rate fingerprints on a scale of 1 to 5. These are a 5. They’re unusable.” Where was this girl going? I imagine her en route to the Dakotas, where her sweaty-handed relatives can hide their shame in gloves for most of the year. “Let me get that for you,” her uncle says, wrapping damp fingers around the clammy handle of her wheelie suitcase. “If this is a temporary problem,” they told her at the embassy, “you need to have it treated by a doctor. Once it’s fixed, you can come back.” Maybe they had a Red Scare-era poster in there somewhere; I’m picturing it depicting Quilty grimacing in distaste at the liquidy handshake he’s receiving from a swarthy foreigner. The slogan below them says something in Portuguese, it’s not for my benefit—it’s diplomatic idiom, untranslatable. DP’s hands were dry as a bone, happily.