And on the 23rd Day of Awesome, we correct our mistakes . . .
First off, if you’ve had trouble getting to the tag for this entire series, that’s because Textpattern and its codes for italics defeated me. Click here and you should be brought to the page listing all 22 Granta “Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists.”
More importantly, due to Internet issues in Bay City, MI (yes, they do finally have it there), I missed one author . . . So today, we’re featuring Peruvian author Carlos Yushimito, whose “Seltz” was translated for this special issue by Alfred Mac Adam.
Carlos Yushimito is one of the few authors featured in this issue who currently live in the U.S. He fled his native country in 2008 to study at Villanova (which, once again, has a scary good men’s basketball team) and now lives in Providence, RI where he’s working on a doctorate at Brown (whose team is a little less than stellar). He’s published four story collections: El mago (2004), Las islas (2006), Madureira sabe (2007), and Equis (2009). He’s currently finishing his first novel.
Also mentioned in the Granta intro is the fact that his stories are inspired by Brazil, although he has never been there . . . The Brazilian connection is also mentioned by Tibor Fischer in the bit he wrote for Granta‘s website.
After Borges, (particularly in the Spanish world) one has to be circumspect about bandying around once-simple words like author and story (I don’t think I can ever forgive him for that). Kindly, Yushimito flags up his game straight away. Catch the word ‘costume’ in the first line of ‘Seltz’. Yushimito slips on Brazil just as his protagonist slips on his crocodile costume. The great thing about a costume is that you can see but you can’t be seen.
All the guidebook references you would expect from Brazil are present in Yushimito’s camouflage: cachaca, caipirinha, Ipanema, Daniela Mercury. The only things missing are football and favelas (and you have to save something for another story).
Disguising yourself or dressing up (to change your station or your gender) is more a device of the theatre than prose, and generally goes one of two ways, either the transformation is a resounding success for comic or dramatic effect or a failure for comic effect. [. . .]
In charting Toninho’s trajectory from clown and poverty to plutocratic playboy for a night (by simply donning a good jacket), Yushimito is more delicate and oscillating. But judge for yourself.
And to make the Toninho reference make sense, here’s an excerpt from “Seltz”:
I was in the back room taking off the costume when I felt his hard cachaca breath next to my ear. It was Bautista, the manager. His face was sweaty. I assumed that, as usual, he must have been partying hard already by the way he twisted his mouth and how his disconnected words rushed toward me. So it wasn’t at all odd that I was overcome by a strange feeling of shame. A furtive sense of guilt. For a few seconds I felt as if someone were watching a pair of lobsters copulate in slow motion and that I was standing next to that person in front of twenty television sets all showing the same picture. In slow motion, extremely slow motion.
Zé Antunes says the best advertising strategy for an electronics shop like ours is to keep every television set in the place tuned into the Discovery Channel. ‘For example,’ he would say, ‘let’s imagine they’re showing a rock concert or a football match: parents associate television with drugs or squandered leisure time. Whenever they show a movie, women in their forties, married and with kids in college, usually remember with nostalgia and subconscious anger that their husbands almost never take them to the movies.’ Zé Antunes says the educational channels increase the probability of making sales, and it must be true because to parents education will always seem a good investment and they’ll never stint when it comes to that. ‘That’s the area we should be attacking: the jugular vein of sales,’ he declares.
Zé Antunes knows a lot about the animal world, but not as much as he knows about sales and marketing. Which is why I try to listen to him often, so I can pick up all that knowledge of his. But it’s different with Bautista. While I stared at his exaggerated gestures, almost certain that his well-pruned nose had poked into a good party that afternoon, I thought about his idea of happiness and about the good deal he’d most certainly have made with the Draco distributor. One thing leads to another; anyone knows that. And Bautista knows the business well because he’s the owner’s son, and the owner is one of the most important and richest men in Rio de Janeiro.
‘Tonight I’ve got a new disguise for you, Toninho.’
Patting me on the back complicitously, Bautista was still on the alert, not realizing that I had no desire to spend another bad night at his side. That’s why, even though he insisted, I didn’t raise my head to affirm or deny anything. I went on with my capricious striptease until I recovered my human shape.
He finally gave up, perhaps stymied by my extreme confidence.
He made a pistol with his hand, and a trigger squeezed in his eyes fired.
‘I’ll wait for you in the car.’
He was waiting for me in the hall, not the car.
‘Did you make sure to turn the water off all the way?’ Zé asked.
I told him I did but the suspicious prick made sure to check for himself. He came back a minute later drying his hands.
‘Forewarned is forearmed.’
By then the sliding metal gate had sealed the main entrance. Only the three of us were left inside, bottled up among white tiles and television screens all showing the same screen. A red-maned lion lumbering away with the last piece of a crotch in his mouth, wagging his backside while some hyenas fought over the remains of what had been a zebra. They ate with ardour, with an African appetite. Bautista and Zé Antunes, paying no attention to me, went on chatting animatedly next to the register.
‘In the trunk you’ll find a jacket and some good hair cream,’ said Bautista, interrupting their talk for an instant. He moved his hands, as if his head were a fortune-teller’s crystal ball. ‘Put on the jacket and get in the car.’
He tossed me the key.
Before we left, Zé handed him a small yellow envelope.
It was the kind used by the accounting department at the end of the month. Zé Antunes has been working in the shop longer than anyone else. It’s he who has the job of putting the padlock on the gate, of turning everything off and disconnecting the electricity.
He’s the last to leave and the first to arrive, except on Tuesdays, when he has the morning off. During the four years I’ve been working here, I’ve never seen him miss a day or take a vacation. And I’ve never heard him complain, curse out or pester anyone who didn’t deserve it.
He’s a man everyone should imitate.
When I shut the trunk, I felt livelier and more alert than before. I put on the freshly dry-cleaned jacket, finished rubbing the cream into my hair and leapt into the passenger seat. I looked myself over in the rear-view mirror and wasn’t terribly disgusted. I turned on the radio. The voice of Daniela Mercury growled from the speakers with the same sensuality as her body: Vem ai un baile movido a novas fontes de energía. Chacina, política e mídia. Bem perto da casa que eu vivia . . . eletrodoméstico . . . eletro-brasil . . .
Open shirt, brown tweed jacket, slick hair. After a few minutes I’d become another Bautista, hardly different from the original, though smaller and less elegant. My chest, a bit exposed, enjoyed the air that kicked its way in, broken into gusts through the window of his Audi. I really liked the role of the carefree man who goes out on a Friday night to get rid of the stress that comes from unpredictable business deals. I had that tense look – as if I were about to explode – that so attracts women. I looked myself over in the side mirror. I looked again and again. Yes, I really did feel elegant, sophisticated. Freed from my usual worn-out, cheap clothes, I was a born seducer: the seducer’s instinct was boiling up silently, fighting to burst out of me.
Even so, my new self-image only lasted as long as a flash of light. Bautista is a rich kid who competes in sports, rarely for fun, and wears pricey threads I could never buy, not even with five months’ salary. He knows how to handle himself in society and doesn’t have to work for things to fit properly in either his body or his life. He’s got green eyes like two fireflies in the night and a good bone structure that simply reeks of testosterone accompanied by the smooth aroma of Gucci. I only wish I had his ability to seduce with words, that conductive determination (as Zé would put it), when he wants to get a pretty girl into bed with him.
And after a long night . . .
We open up the shop at ten. I’d only managed to rest for fifteen extra minutes. Far from what I might have thought, the people outside flowed by with a disturbing continuity. It was a long train of infinite heads, hasty marches and unsatisfied needs. It was life in motion. On my corner, opposite the main entrance, I’d managed to get the costume on properly: the big stomach with green spots, the enormous head on top of the small human head; the jaw; the two soft fangs; the pair of well-disguised holes that were my eyes. I was once again the grand crocodile that promoted the electronic devices sold in Mattos Electronics, dancing for children. By using my talent, I quickly attracted and gathered kids and their parents. With the bounce of my long legs, with the strength of my arms, I lured them to the Draco refrigerator department, and there Roberto’s skills did the rest. I went back to my corner and kept on dancing. I never stopped for even a moment. Half an hour later, I saw a married couple, followed by Zacarías and an enormous 21-inch television set, along with a free complimentary coffee-maker. They were smiling, holding hands tightly.
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