Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Adventures in the time of the Cruzado – part 01

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I left University in 1987; now the time had arrived to take life “seriously” and to begin climbing up the tree of success. I had left the fun job as a teacher and had managed to find a job as a trainee in a prestigious international bank, the Dutch ABN AMRO, on Rio Branco Avenue.

I began at their leasing agency, which I chose because it offered prospect of being transferred to the idyllic Northeast region of Brazil – the Nordeste -, which I loved and where I wanted to spend the rest of my life. However, in the middle of the program, someone dropped out of the main trainee group in the Bank itself and I was selected to join in. Everyone, including myself, saw this offer as a promotion and because of the change of status, I had to buy new suits and smarter ties to look good next to my ambitious and square colleagues from elite families.

An international Bank was an entire new world which I was not too sure about, the status of walking around in a suit and being treated as someone inherently better than the rabble around me was seductive but went against my gut instincts. Although secretaries, receptionists and other working girls looked at me with different eyes in my new uniform, I felt that I had sold out. There was also the issue that I was left wing to the core, my beliefs were anti-capitalist, my university was against neo-liberalism, I hated Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, my heroes were Fidel Castro and Che Guevara and all the Brazilian militants who had picked up arms to fight the regime only a decade and a half before. On the other hand, as far as mom and her circles were concerned, I was doing what was expected from me, which at an unconscious but deep level, gave me a sense of comfort. There were more superficial advantages; although the pay was not great our lunch vouchers gave us access to the culinary world of the city centre. Now I went for lunch at sushi places, the new trendy vegetarian restaurants and cheap barbecue houses. One of my favorites was a place on the second floor of an old building on Ouvidor Street that was proud to serve steaks that dropped off both sides of the plate. If they didn’t, the owner would personally take your plate back to the kitchen and come back with another one.

The most alluring part of that universe inhabited by the privileged and rotating around raw money was the stock market. Due to Brazil’s never ending hyperinflation, at different times the Brazilian government launched shock policies to try to stall it. Some were electoral stunts and others were sincere efforts, it would take fifteen years for them to get it right and finally come up with an effective way to end the inflationary spiral. What these plans had in common was that they created spasms of optimism and a temporary false sense of regained stability. Of course, these changes affected investors and made share prices soar. Outside Brazil, these were the days of the yuppie, the casino economics years, when “Wall Street”, the film with Michael Douglas, hit the screens and making easy money was almost a divine commandment. After witnessing a friend buy a Ford Escort, the coolest car available, from stock market money I decided to join the herd. I got the little money I had and put into a fund and was extremely lucky. I got into the market right after a serious plunge, two weeks later the government came up with the Cruzado plan, which “froze” prices and promised that, this time, they would recuperate the economy. The value of my stock more than doubled, I won tons of money in one month and considered myself a genius.

Meanwhile at the bank, everything was going fine until the day I answered the external phone line in the investment department where, as part of the program, I was learning the ins and outs of its operations. It rang shortly before leaving time and there was no one else in. I cleared my throat and answered the call with one thing in mind: the clear guidelines not to give clients’ balances no matter what they said. However, my Botafogo supporter’s luck dictated that this was exactly what the stressed out voice on the other side of the line wanted.

With politeness, I explained that I could not do that and that he should call his account’s manager the following day. With a bit less politeness, he replied that he knew this but that he needed to know his balance immediately.

“I am sorry Sir, your account manager will be glad to do this tomorrow morning but I am not authorized to give you your balance.”

“I can’t wait until tomorrow, I need to know it now; can’t you do me this favor? I know you have access to the information.”

“I won’t lie to you, I actually do, but the rules are strict and you can only know your balance through your account manager”

“Come on, do me a favor, just go to the list and tell me how much money I have in my account, no one will know about it.”

“I am sorry, I can’t, call back tomorrow morning.”

This continued for some fifteen minutes and his tome went from bad to worse, I could not hang up but I was losing my patience with that arrogant guy. The conversation ended as follows:

“Listen son, I am tired of this shit, give me my f…ing balance now!!”

“Listen my friend, number one: I am not your son, number two: why don’t you go f…k yourself?!!” and hung up the phone.

OK, I lost it, but come on… this was not exactly my fault. Anyway, my “good” star ensured that this guy was an ex-director of the Bank who knew all the relevant people who could decide my future in that establishment. It is not hard to guess what happened next, when the program ended everyone else got a job, and I went back to giving English lessons. Another factor that contributed to this sad ending was that I hung out with the only international trainee in bank, a Dutch guy who decided to make me his guide to drugs and prostitutes in Rio. He was pals with the son of the American consul, who asked me in a rather impolite way who I was when we went up to his luxurious apartment. The only thing Diederick had learned in Portuguese was “caralho” – the male sexual organ – end the only thing he said in the local language was, “Caralho man!!” – the equivalent “of shit man!” – and he did not stop saying it. This was funny, but the down side of the friendship was that did not care about boasting about his carioca adventures and saying who had taken him there, and this ended up falling into the wrong ears.

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