Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Euro Oscar

This post has been a long time coming and, surely, it will be one of my fondest when I inevitably re-read these adventures years from now.

I met Euro Oscar in April 2009 during my first stay at Casa Club. He came in with a two-foot stack of magazines and started hawking them tableside. I am ashamed to admit that my first reaction was dismissive. Despite nobler intentions, frequently, I don't pay much heed to homeless persons or street vendors.

Oscar quickly changed tactic to get my attention. He started speaking in nearly perfect English. (He also speaks Spanish, French, and some German, I learned.) Now he had my attention.

I inquired about the magazines he was selling, OCAS" (similar to Chicago's StreetWise). He knew his product and a fascinating array of other things. He asked about my interests and then went digging through back issues, pointing out some articles I might enjoy.

I gave him a few reais and stashed the mag in my baggage.

I didn't revisit that magazine until I was cleaning off a bookshelf several months later. I thumbed through it. I rather enjoyed it--it was a high quality mag. Tucked inside, I found a little slip of paper Euro Oscar had included with his website address.

Euro Oscar, I learned from his site, is witty, curious, and highly educated, albeit in a nontraditional way. He writes poetry and creates word games and puzzles. I was so delighted by the optimism and content diversity of his site that I thanked him for creating it, belatedly, by email. His response was, of course, timely and gracious.

I revisited the site occasionally over the next year, perhaps in moments when I needed a spiritual lift. His greeting--"smile and feel happy now"--frequently served as a simple reminder about positivity being a choice we make.

Last October, after moving to Sampa, I was browsing the site and discovered (humbly located way down at the bottom of the navigation bar) an article about him that had run in a popular national magazine, Revista Época. I was, frankly, shocked and inspired by what I read. Euro Oscar (and yes, that is his real first name), has a wonderful sense of humor and speaks poignantly.

Here are some excerpts from the article, “O olha da rua” (The look from the street) in Revista Época [by Eliane Brum, published August 2, 2004, page 1, page 2].

"Não espere um Alain Delon," avisa o vendedor da OCAS, por telefone. "Sabe como é, estou mal-dormido, vou estar abatido nas fotos."
Euro tem 51 anos, diz que envelheceu uns 20 anos depois que ficou em "situação de rua por cause de traições familiares." Perdeu os dentes da frente, tem cicatrizes nos braços e muda de assunto sempre que indagado sobre os descaminhos que o levaram ao relento.
Euro é, como ele mesmo define, um "viciado em sobrevivência". Para gente como ele, a revista foi criada.
Fala um português não só impecável, mas com vasto vocabulário. Conta que chegou a cursar a universidade de Administração antes da queda.
Lá põe de tudo, de dicas de saúde a músicas da velha-guarda da Albânia. Ele, que aprendeu ingles ouvindo as músicas da Elton John, já conseguiu passar de excluído a incluído digital. "Como autodidata," explica.
O que ainda não reconquistou foram os dentes. Por isso, ajuda a filha de 13 anos, que vive com a ex-mulher, a se preparar para as provas, mas não a visita na escola. "Ela já é teen e hoje tudo é grife. Se eu for à escola, os colegas vão dizer que ela tem pai banguela." Euro divide um quarto alugado na Vila Madalena. "Na rua mesmo nunca dormi. Fiquei acordado. Já vi caminhão de lixo passar por cima de mendigo e sempre tive medo dos psicopatas de classe media." Seu sonho é encontrar um empresário que aposte não em diploma, mas em criatividade. "Como o Bill Gates faz. Porque eu tenho idéias. Se fosse me definir, diria que sou um buscador."

"Don’t expect an Alain Delon," warns the OCAS vendor by telephone. "You know, I slept poorly, I’ll look downcast in the pictures.”
Euro is 51 years old, he says he has aged about 20 years after he became "'on the streets' because of family betrayals." He lost his front teeth, has scars on his arms, and changes the subject when asked about the errant path that led him outdoors.
Euro is, as he defines himself, a "survival addict." It is for people like him that the magazine was created.
He speaks not just impeccable Portuguese, but with a vast vocabulary. He recounts how he began to study Business at university before the fall.
[On his website] he puts everything from health tips to music from the Albanian Old Guard. He, who learned English by listening to Elton John songs, has managed to pass from the realm of the digitally-exluded, to the included. “Self-taught,” he explains.
What he still hasn’t managed to regain are his teeth. That’s why he helps his 13-year-old daughter, who lives with his ex-wife, to prepare for exams, but he doesn’t visit her at school. "She is already a teen and nowadays everything is labels. If I go to the school, her classmates will say she has a toothless father." Euro shares a rented room in [the neighborhood] Vila Madalena. "When I was on the street I never slept. I stayed awake. I've seen a garbage truck run over a beggar, and I was always afraid of middle class psychopaths." His dream is to find a businessman who bets not on diplomas, but on creativity. "As Bill Gates does. Because I have ideas. If I were to define myself, I would say that I am a seeker."

I had sent Euro an email last October, asking him to honor me with a short interview. He accepted but he's hard to pin down, given the nature of his work. Then I left for Chicago and the idea was shelved.

I was delighted when, seated at a streetside table sipping a beer with Victoria, a man approached and distributed some booklets, collections of humorous quotes. Looking down at the material before up at the man, I saw "Euro Oscar" at the foot of the cover page and immediately introduced myself, again. He remembered me and my emails and sat to chat with us for a while, cracking many jokes about language and culture.

I was thrilled to see my handsome friend Euro Oscar again--and his ever-inimitable, now-toothy, smile.