The Astounding Travel Adventures of a Miraculous Fellow

Rogelio and the Paddleball
September 3, 2008, 12:35 pm
Filed under: Brazil
Rogelio and I Battling it Out for Paddleball Glory

Rogelio and I Battling it Out for Paddleball Glory

Venturing out from the tourist inundation of the Pelourinho, Pat and I decided to take a trip to outer Salvador, for one last day at the beach.  After hopping a bus to what seemed to be one of many very nice beaches, we arrived at a smallish sand pile with some monstrous waves and lifeguards who did not like people entering the water, mainly because they didn’t feel like recovering a bloated gringo from the sea.  This combination of lack of nice beach and death-defying surf led to one simple conclusion:


Now, one of the best purchases we made in Venezuela (other than the bulletproof suit of armor) was two wooden paddles, bearing two names: “Sports” on one side, and “Champion” on the other.  Along with these paddles, which were clearly named after the Sports Champion Jeff Wheeland, came a small blue ball, which was obviously intended for paddling.  For those that have never heard of this delightful game, have never been to a beach, or are terrorists, this game is played by using the “paddles” to “paddle” the “ball” back and forth to the other player.  Hence the name, Paddleball.  Creative, no?

So, after playing with these marvelous toys for almost two months, Pat and I pretty much became two of the greatest players in the grand history of the sport.  Our best record was 54 (!) paddled balls in a row…wow, that sounded kinda gay.  However, in a completely ungay amazing feat of amazingness, this day was one for the record books.  Now, I could thrill all of you with the details of each ball paddled back and forth, but instead I will just tell you our new records, in chronological order: 55, 71, 149, 202.  Feel free to be amazed and/or dumbfounded.  If this feeling of dumbfounded amazement is insufficient, you can send me an envelope with $50 in it, and I will return it with 14 business days with a signed topless photo of yours truly.

So, after destroying the all-time Paddleball record, a 14 year old Brazilian kid had wandered over to watch.  After signing his shirt, and letting him bask in the glory that is “Team Wonderball” (which is our traveling group name), this kid asked if he could play.  For the next hour and a half, Pat, me, and our new buddy Rogelio (pronounced Ho-jay-lio) rotated in and out, and would have wowed legions of adoring she-fans with our incredible skills.  Rogelio was not quite as talented as we (but, in reality, only Jesus himself probably is), and he continually apologized for missing the ball, or hitting it away.  After assuring this kind little rascal it was not a problem, we played and played and played.  His thirst for Paddleball was akin to my thirst for ice-cold Brazilian beers, and sun-hot Brazilian women.
Pat and Rogelio in a Paddleball Deathmatch

Pat and Rogelio in a Paddleball Deathmatch

During a lull in action, Rogelio began to explain to us what he does in Salvador and why he was at the beach that day.  It seems that Rogelio hops on the bus every morning in Salvador, rides it all day long all over the city, and plays a plastic flute for change.  It was pretty clear that he lives in the favelas, and he told us he was at the beach that day to bathe.  It was an incredibly sad story, especially coming from such a nice, young kid.

At the end of the games, Pat and I discussed that this being our last day of beach time on the trip, we should give the Paddleball set to Rogelio.  After a few times of explaining to him in broken Portuguese that we were giving it to him as a gift, his eyes lit up, he drew a ear to ear grin, and said “Woooow, obrigado!”  I am fairly convinced this was the one of the few gifts he ever received.

He then invited us to listen to him play his flute, and we of course obliged.  While we walked across the beach to where he stashed his flute, he continuously thanked us for the Paddleball set, and couldn’t stop smiling.  When we finally reached the lifeguard stand where he hid his flute, Rogelio regaled us with a fun little song that sounded vaguely familiar, but we couldn’t quite put our finger on it.  But when he hit the chorus, it became oh-so-clear:

“Near, faaaaaar, wherEVER you aaaaaaare…”

You guessed it, Celine Dion’s masterpiece “My Heart Will Go On” from the movie Titanic.  After inducing a passion-inspired euphoria, we belting out the entire song along with Rogelio’s flute accompaniment. When he stopped playing, the passion overcame me, and I wept.  I just get so emotional when I hear Celine Dion.

It’s my one weakness.

Then the lifeguards had him play a few more songs, and we all chatted, and when they asked Rogelio how he met us, he replied “These are my amigos!” with a huge smile on his face.  This poor little kid’s gratitude was so incredible, especially just for a simple thing as a Paddleball set.  It was such a great feeling giving it to him, and seeing how much it meant to him.  I only wish it were possible to give him something more; something that could help him out of his current social situation and give him the chance of a better life.  The saddest part is that Brazil has an innumerable amount of these stories and has such a long way to go to solve its terribly complicated problems of inequality and poverty.

But, it gives me some comfort knowing that, with something as simple as a Paddleball set, we were able to bring some happiness into the life of one of these unfortunate kids.

And now, rest assured, when Paddleball becomes an Olympic sport, and I see Rogelio standing on the gold medal platform, I will be there, passionately shrieking “Near, faaaaaar, wherEVER you aaaaaaare…”

6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

meaningful and comical all at the same time. Jeff, you are a blogging genius

Comment by Jenna

I just cried as I imagined the beautiful, high pitch whistling that came from Rogelho’s plastic recorder. Anyone who can make that thing sound good deserves credit.

Comment by Patrick Hess

Que lindo!

Comment by Hector

Regilio. Great, great story.

Comment by jasonrbow

Regelho. Great, great story.

Comment by jasonrbow

Regilio. Great, great story.

Comment by jasonrbow

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