One night upon my motorcycle through the desert spread

Music – The Meat Puppets – A Hundred Miles

The bat-signal went up, as they say, and we had to go.  Somebody had signed Omulu up for a paid demo, flaked, and called us in as replacements at the last second.  Two hours notice for a professional demo on a Wednesday afternoon.  I was at work, of course.  Because I am a regular fucking human, unlike the majority of capoeiristas in the world.

But we had to go.  So I went.

Capoeira, strange and cultish thing that it is, attracts a wide cross-section of humanity; a variety of people from all walks of life united only by their love of capoeira and their complete unreliability.  Capoeiristas are the most disorganized group of people on earth, bar none.  The belt system, strict hierarchy, and in-class discipline belie an essential truth: that capoeira groups are unruly mobs of irresponsible and mercurial assholes unfit for life in a stable society.  Planning and forethought are concepts wholly alien to the capoeira mind.  They are exotic, blasphemous, they are ideas reviled with an almost religious fervor.  I’m pretty sure Portuguese doesn’t even have a word for ‘punctual’.

If you’ve ever run down a steep hill, and you’ve reached that speed where you’re not so much moving along under your own power as trying desperately to keep your legs underneath you so as not to die a crashing mangled death, you know the feeling of working with capoeiristas.

So of course Lindsey was calling me at noon on a workday, in full crisis mode, saying we had a demo in two hours.

I’m used to it by now, though it grates against my upstanding, employable, American nature.

“Can you do a demo today?”
“I’m at work.”
“We seriously need people.  It’s a paid gig.”
“I’d get paid?”
“The group gets paid.”
“Ah.”
“Can you be in SoMa in two hours?”
No.
“Yes.”
“Awesome.”

She rattled off an address in the ass end of nowhere, south of China Basin, and hung up.

——-

I’ve done some weird, awkward demos in my time. Elementary schools, weddings, parades…  I’d like to say this one was the worst, as it would make a better story, but it wasn’t.  The worst was the time we had to perform at some low-end Professional Wrestling event in South Hayward.  Compared to that crazy shit this is a distant, distant second.

Still…

Alison met us at the door of a brick, loft-style office building.  She thanked us for coming.  All the plans and explanations of the demo, if there were any, had been given to the capoeirista that flaked.  We tried subtly to ask what the hell we were there for.  Professional courtesy demanded that we not act completely clueless.

Apparently this was a demo for an ad agency.  This ad agency is in charge of marketing Vitamin Water’s biggest competitor. We’ll call it ‘Retractade’. Again, professional courtesy.

Alison felt that capoeira provided a good metaphor for how Retractade’s new marketing campaign was going to fight and overcome Vitamin Water’s market dominance.  She had invited us to give a demo as a sort of exciting motivational presentation for her fifteen-person marketing team.

Yes, we said.  Of course.  Excellent.  What an insightful parallel.  We nodded a lot, and furrowed our brows.

Lucas asked for the money.

We stretched out and warmed up.

“So who’s gonna talk?”  Lindsey asked.

Lucas and I looked at the ground, silent.  Sapo played absently with his phone.

“Fuck you guys.”

——-

The marketing team consisted of fourteen UMC white chicks and one dude in pink shorts and a mesh shirt.  Ah, San Francisco.  Generally demos just consist of us doing capoeira.  We’re capoeiristas, not public speakers.

Things started off alright.  Lindsey began by talking about the history of capoeira, rattling off the litany of factoids every American capoeirista memorizes about the game’s vague and contentious origins.  The white chicks nodded politely.

Then we got in to talking about the game itself.  Explaining capoeira to the uninitiated is very, very difficult even at the best of times.  A captive and totally out-of-touch audience just makes things worse.  Lindsey started in talking about the facets of the game.  About the heart of capoeira, which is, of course, treachery.

That’s not just a saying.

“It’s like, you go in to an open roda.”

“Roda means circle!” Lucas chimed in.

“Yes.  You go in to an open roda and you’re playing someone.  But they aren’t your friend.  You don’t know them and you don’t know their game.  So you smile, and you play nice.  All the time you’re watching, learning their game without showing them yours.”

“Yes.” Sapo and I said.

“Then outside the roda, you say Hey there, Nice Game, That was Fun, and they smile and they let the guard down even more.  Then next time you get in the roda with them, you smile, and play, and then WHAM YOU KICK THEM IN THE FACE.  BAM.  Knock the fucker out.”  She kicked in the air, high and fast, to demonstrate her point.  The girls jumped in their chairs, wide-eyed.

I looked at Sapo.  I tried not to smile.  The white chicks looked on, mystified.

“It’s like, I’m smiling so you won’t suspect I’ve got a knife behind my back.”

“Just like marketing.” I said, unable to contain myself.

Then she started in with the gang metaphors, explaining capoeira in terms of the Nortenos and Surenos.

The marketers made faces of horror, confusion.

Lucas and I held back tears of laughter.  Professional courtesy.

——

We played for a while, which was of course the highlight. We’re not public speakers, we’re capoeiristas.  They wouldn’t hire motivational speakers to do backflips and conversely they shouldn’t hire us to explain god damn marketing strategy.

I think Alison learned her lesson on that one.

Fifteen minutes in to the presentation, while Lindsey had Sapo on the ground in a choke hold explaining how to dislocate his clavicle without crushing his trachea, one of the girls piped up.

“So you’re saying we can use trickery and deception to defeat Vitamin Water?”

Sapo gasped as Lindsey released him.

“Uhm.  Yes, exactly.”

“It’s about attack and escape, about opportunism.  Using your opponent’s mistakes and weaknesses against them.”  I said, trying unsuccessfully to bring things back.

Lucas said something about Awareness, probably the first applicable and coherent thing any of us had said the entire time.

There was a long and awkward silence.  Not the first.

“So let’s play some more!” Lindsey said.

And we did.

We had the girls clap, which was good.  People like to clap.  It’s a form of participation.

——

“Thank you guys again for coming!” Alison said, giving us all free samples of the latest Retractade flavors.

“Sure thing, sure thing.”

“I think we got a lot out of it.” She said.  I stared at her.  I guess lying with aplomb is a necessary skill in the advertising world.

“Yes.”

“See you guys around!”

The elevator door closed.

“Great job guys.” I said.  Sapo started laughing.  “Lindsey, I really liked how you compared capoeira to gang violence and backstabbing murder, that really made things clear. ”

“Hey screw you guys at least I was trying! Why didn’t you chime in and say something! God damn!”

“Fucking Nortenos and Surenos.” I was laughing hysterically at this point.  “I’m sure those fourteen white women and one gay dude all knew exactly what you meant.”

Lucas uncapped his purple Retractade and I took a sip of my green one.  He made a face and slowly spit his back in to the bottle, which of course made me laugh so hard I spit my entire mouthful out on the elevator door.

“Wow this stuff is terrible.  No wonder they need new  marketing.”

“This tastes like Crystal Light strained through somebody’s socks.”

“You ever put water in a cup that had like, a quarter inch of diet coke left in it? That’s what green tastes like.”

“You guys wanna stop at 7-11 for some Vitamin Water?”

———-

Lindsey felt bad about what a shitty job we’d done.  She’s a teacher by profession and I think she felt badly about our total and complete failure to connect with the audience.

Fuck those people and their awful water, I told her by way of consolation.  It’s their bad for putting us on the spot.  If they want to use capoeira as a tenuous, crappy metaphor for their little presentation, that’s fine.  But that’s on them.  Hey, we got paid and that’s what matters.

We took our money and went home.

Just another day in the life of a semi-professional capoeirista.

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