Monday, May 9, 2011
Police Try to Close Freakshow
I know there are more important things going on—for example, apparently, a mini-tsunami has drowned several and thrown sea and sand all over Rio's coastal areas—but I couldn’t resist this item that hits so close to my former home: I’m almost sad to know that police rounded up 52 homeless people and crack heads in Glória and Largo do Machado this morning.
My girlfriend and I lived in an apartment in Glória for a month, and the metro station there was the closest one to the house in Santa Teresa where I spent three months, so I took many morning coffees at Mr. Chan’s and often paid too much for groceries at the MercaDez. As we got to know the area, we came to affectionately refer to the road that runs from Lapa through Largo do Machado—officially, Rua da Lapa, Rua da Glória and Rua do Catete—as the Freakshow Corridor. I don’t want to be insensitive to poverty, drug addiction and deformity, but when you live with this sort of thing month after month, you kind of come to terms with it. And boy, did we live with it.
For reasons I don’t pretend to understand, the homeless, addicted, demented and misshapen are drawn to that stretch of road like a mental patient is to sharp objects. In Lapa and Catete, the homeless sell random items they’ve salvaged from the trash and cleaned off, often at bargain prices. Lost a single shoe? You might be able to find it sitting lonely on a blanket on the sidewalk in Catete. While you’re there, you can pick up a naked Barbie doll for the kid and a greasy wig for the missus.
The cast of characters, of course, had its stars. There was the guy who could often be seen talking urgently to the piles of trash that were heaped on the roadside for pickup. (Maybe he fancied himself an environmentalist?) And the one who always wore the detachable hood from a winter jacket, regardless of the heat. (Keeping the government from reading his mind, no doubt.)
But the real star was a guy who looked to be in his late-30s and who strutted up and down the way in ill-fitted women’s clothing, face sloppily caked with makeup, snarling threateningly and constantly at passers-by. Try as I might, I could never come up with a possible explanation for this one. Transvestites are a dime a dozen in Rio (actually, I never checked the prices), but most of them are at least girlish enough that they don’t appear to want to bite your face off. Things took a scary turn when, sometime in November, she found a metal cane which she carried from then on, banging it on the sidewalk and swinging it menacingly as she rasped curses at anyone in earshot. I certainly hope she wasn’t rounded up today. People like this are too exotically weird and rare to be thrown in cages.
Even many of the “normal” folks who walk the Corridor look like figures from an R. Crumb cartoon, twisted into caricatures by age, hardship or constant exposure the Weird.
The most incredible sight I saw in the area was when I rounded the corner onto Rua da Glória one night to find that a family had pulled a sofa up against the stairs to the Metro station and was carrying on as if they were in their living room. As people passed on the bustling sidewalk, the man sat on the couch looking dazed while a toddler joyfully beat him about the head and shoulders, and the woman yelled at the two children who were wrestling on the sidewalk. You can’t buy this kind of sight.
And now the police are trying to take all that away. According to O Globo, today’s round-up was the beginning of a campaign that will see police conducting sweeps in the area twice a month, into the indefinite future. Hopefully, some of the folks who are taken in will get the help they need, but my guess is that most of them will be turned loose to bring personality to some other neighborhood. Or will they be drawn back, again and again, by that mysterious attraction that the Corridor seems to hold over the minds of the deranged?
Just another day in Glória. Look, some of them appear to be Comlurb guys!
Posted by Mike DiCicco at 6:34 PM