Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Portrait #47: O Cara das Casinhas

(I'm back! Funerals, Goodbyes and Reunions all behind me for a few more months... This week I'm sharing some portraits from my trip to Brasil last week.)

O Cara das Casinhas

or, the Little House Man. or, the Doghouse man.

I didn't meet him, but I saw him, for a split second as I zipped past him on the highway. He wore dirty baggy jeans and an even dirtier even baggier t-shirt. As he stood over his workbench, almost floating as his hands deftly worked the wood, a cigarette hung out of his mouth as if it was a permanent part of his physique. I got the impression he was short. Behind him was displayed an array of doghouses. Behind the doghouses was some sort of a quarry, but for wood that appeared to be scraps from construction projects.

Come to think of it, I'm not sure that the man I saw really was the Cara das Casinhas, because 200 metres further down the highway, as we went under a bridge, I saw half a dozen more people also working scrap wood to form different creative designs of doghouses. They all looked to be hard at work and highly productive, and I had the sense they knew how to work as a team. It looked like an efficient doghouse factory had been set up right there on the side of the highway.

Even though it was an eye-catching sight, considering all the activity of the doghouse-makers and the pure size of the operation, I'm not sure I would have noticed them if I hadn't been told to look out for the Cara das Casinhas. My friend who was driving told me that her exit came right after the Cara das Casinhas, so we had to keep an eye out for him.

As we drove, she told me his story. This guy was a homeless man who lived under a bridge, presumably the very bridge under which there now stood a bustling doghouse production line. Somehow he got into his mind to take advantage of the scrapwood in the surrounding neighbourhood and of the fact that there was a generous shoulder on the highway for cars to pull over right under his bridge. Somehow these two factors led him to start building doghouses. He put his creative juices together and made his home into his workshop, creating unusual designs of doghouses. Then when he had some houses to sell, he made a cute little display in the generous shoulder space under his bridge and started hawking his masterpieces to drivers commuting around the Marginal, the Sao Paulo "Beltway."

And it worked. The houses sold. He has now hired a staff of at least half a dozen, from what I saw that day, and he has moved away from the bridge, managing to buy himself a humanhouse with the doghouse proceeds.

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