The morning music of São Paulo's city birds is carried through my in-laws' 21st-floor condo by dry heat wave winds.

My eyes opened for the first time onto my fifties. I looked over at the other twin bed of their guest room; it's empty. Somebody let me sleep in today.

I sat up, scratched my stubble, catching my face in the closet mirror: I look exactly the same as I did yesterday. Arbitrary life milestones are bullshit.

Everyone in my life warned me "50 gonna hit harder than you think", but it didn't. I wasn't feeling old or tired, broken or regretful. I felt joy that I was still on the ride, gratitude that the ride was still so much fun. I was aware of my own ceaseless motion through time, through my own life and the corners of the world I've been able to visit.

Washing my face, I head into the kitchen, where L. is cutting fresh fruit and brewing coffee. I'm greeted with a big smile, a birthday wish, a kiss, and then:

L: Okassan went to the park, but she wanted me to tell you: she has your diploma.

ME [not awake]: That's a... weird sentence. [sips coffee] What diploma?

L: In the other room. There's a plastic bag on the couch with fish all over it.

I took my coffee cup with me and poked the zippered plastic sack on the couch, grabbed it by its handles and lifted. It was heavy. I cleared some space and sat on the rug, spreading out its contents along the floor.


Inside the bag were documents, drawings and stacks upon stacks of photos.

  • First reunion after many years with my estranged grandmother  (2006)
  • Sleepaway camp pics of my first kiss & first love (they were best friends) (1988)
  • South Beach photo shoot I did with a friend to test her new camera (1998)
  • Polaroids of my first apartment in Greenpoint, including the rickety Goodwill drafting table I drew my first full-length comic at  (1999)
  • My first apartment with L (originally my 300sq foot studio). It was even cuter and happier and space-efficient than I remembered. (2005)
  • Wedding party photos from our São Paulo celebration I'd never seen before, taken by other folks' cameras (2007)
  • Photos from my first psychedelic experience(s) with a friend who's no longer with us (1994)
  • File folder of my sharpie doodles, club flyers, sketches (1998-2001)
  • And yes, my high school diploma (1992) in mint condition.

They were all treasures thought lost, now returned. Seeing them again – on this particular day – was whole-again-making. What a gift, right?


In the week leading up to my birthday, the visit was homey by design: we came here primarily to spend time with family, friends where we can squeeze them in. We ate most of our meals at home, took little strolls, swam with Okassan in the pool downstairs, visited with nephews and nieces and uncles and aunties.

From the very first morning we arrived, we were whisked across town to CEAGSP, a giant open-air market to select fish and fruits we'd spend the rest of the day and week eating together. The dinner that first night was luxurious and homey.

Every morning I'd sit at my laptop at the dining room table where the only piece of art on the wall, prominently displayed, is the framed portrait I made of Otossan and Okassan when we lived here in the early 2010s. I felt honored, even in my absence.


After my birthday, we took a road trip for a few days out of Sampa's mega-city orbit into the rolling green hills and old growth forests of Sul de Minas. We  planned on visiting a coffee farm and an olive oil producer – lots of agriculture in Sul de Minas – but the itinerary was left loose on purpose.

I rode in the backseat most of the time, staring out the windows at the hand-painted bumpers of trucks we traveled behind on winding roads that curled like ribbons around forest mountains thrumming with bright green life.

Being back out in interior São Paulo again – in "real Brasil" – my imagination lit up: characters and details from yet-unfinished works of mine woke up and started dancing, stomping on the ceiling of my subconscious to get back out onto the main stage. I started a fresh notebook called "Spillover" and scrawled our entire trip.

Once we got back to the city again, my window in Brazil to catch people and see things was shrinking. We kicked into high gear, devouring as much art and food and music and food and food as we could before it was time for me to get on the plane solo. L wanted extra time with her family, and I needed to get home to the neglected cats triggering our motion-detecting cameras around our apartment.


Rather than recounting my two weeks blow-by-blow, here are some Spillover moments, out of order, like a bag full of photos:

  • When we first arrive in São Paulo it hasn’t rained for a month. When I leave two weeks later, it still hasn’t rained. The air is a haze hanging over the city and my throat burns day and night. Every day I wonder if I’ve caught COVID before remembering I need to triple the amount of water I drink daily. All day long I blow bloody pebbles from blocked nostrils and slap palm-fulls of cold tap water into my stinging eyes to rehydrate them for another ten minutes.
  • On the evening of my actual 50th birthday, I'm sitting in Rota do Acarajé, my favorite restaurant in São Paulo with L and my dear friend Kako. The table is sticky, covered in empty plates and splatters of hot sauce. The sun has already set a birthday I've spent eating food, looking at art, buying yet more goddamn books. I'm sipping my second (and last) drink, smiling ear to ear. I'm not even talking, I'm listening to L answer Kako's questions about what "freedom" means to her. This isn't political talk at all, it's about self-actualization. About how crossing borders temporarily and permanently changes you. We are so lucky, she and I, to have stumbled into adventure after adventure together, growing together like trees. My heart is so full.
  • In Gonçalves, I'm woken up at 4am by a crowing rooster downstairs. It's too early to get coffee from the hotel breakfast. I'm grumpy as I begin meditating on the balcony of our room. As the sun comes up, I open my eyes to see a trio of toucans flying across the vista from mountains in the distance to the tree facing our room. They stare back at me like awkward relatives.
  • In São Paulo, we're walking out of the condo security gates alongside a chatty little girl and her loving mother. As we wait on the building steps for our Uber, the little girl squeals and runs, leaping into her waiting father's arms. They're both so happy, but the mother's smile melts, her love freezes; they can't even meet each other's eyes. He tells her he's been doing well. Looking anywhere but his face, she reminds him she didn't ask. City people are the same everywhere.
  • We were warned via family WhatsApp messages before we arrived that Brazil was in the middle of a dengue fever epidemic. Spread by mosquitos, everyone was getting bitten and having "bone-breaking" fever symptoms. hyper-vigilant not to get sick and ruin our trip, we slathered ourselves with insect repellent every time we left my in-laws' apartment. Every mosquito circling me, whining in my ear, made me flinch, on full alert. Shades of COVID all over again.
  • High up in the Serra Mantiqueira, we pull into a crowded highway rest stop. Everybody needs to pee. Clusters of men in shorts and flip flops drink beer, talk shit, and smoke cigarettes outside the gas station. All eyes magnetically flick towards and away from my father-in-law’s shiny SUV, from our not-from-around-here faces. We pee in shifts: three Japanese paulistanos and a gringo in an African shirt, all alien as shit out here. I wander into the men’s room and piss into a broken toilet. As I exit, I see a sleeping old mama dog – lots of nipples, no puppies — blocking the entrance of the ladies’ room. Women step over her quietly and with care as they bustle in and out.
  • In the back of an Uber stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I watch over our middle-aged driver's shoulder as he scrolls his WhatsApp feed filled with evangelical and military conspiracy groups. Every time he brakes, he responds to another thread of flashing animated GIFs of Jesus and AK-47s and blue-eyed cherubs, dragging one finger across his Android keyboard in posts that always begin "Oi Galera" [hey everyone].
  • Everywhere, everywhere, people are holding hands, touching shoulders, embracing. In closed shop doorways couples make out, groping each other passionately before the city bus arrives to pull them in different directions. In the States, you'd run out of air telling them all to "get a room". This is a better, hornier, more honest version of human than we have become.


Rereading this, some of the above details might sound harsh. Critical. They're absolutely not. They're how Brazil feels, how Brazil lives: with humanity and chaos, struggle and music and contradictions, at full volume. It's fascinating and exhausting and fucked-up and fun... and meu deus do céu [my god in heaven] I'd forgotten what an idea-sparker this place turns my brain into, what a booming surdo [bass drum] my heart is here.


It's not yet 4am. L and I lie in our separate twin beds. I'm not sure how long either of us has been up, but I hear her softly humming, which she does sometimes when she's thinking. I whisper "hey" so she knows I'm awake too.

L: Hey. How are you feeling? It's your last day in Brazil.

ME: I feel great. It's been wonderful to be back... but I think I'm ready for quiet time again. Some space to think.

L: Yeah... you don't really get quiet here. Not at home nor outside. You're always around other people, always interacting, your lives always touching. It used to drive me so crazy growing up.

ME: It's been an... adjustment. I'd forgotten about it.

L: Well, in the U.S. it's the total opposite: in cities, in suburbs, you are always utterly alone. Alone in your apartment in a building full of people. Alone in your car stuck in traffic. Even on a crowded train, you never interact with anyone, avoid all eye contact.

ME: That's why Americans shoot up schools. Without that connection, you lose your humanity.


And before I knew it, that last day passed too, quickly. I said my goodbyes, got on the airplane alone, the entire cabin dry-coughing in my masked face, and flew back to the USA.


My plane dipped below the clouds and I began filming our final descent in slo-mo as Fort Lauderdale Airport opened up to receive its wheels, first like a flower, then like a wall. We rattled, we lurched, folks clapped.

I slung my carry-on backpack and followed the queue towards the cockpit and out to the jetway. Moving around pushed strollers and toddling old folks, I pass four Customs & Border Patrol officers: thick-necked, beefy, golden badges shining, scanning the departing passengers from behind mirrored sunglasses. I chuckled to myself: Wooooooooo.... somebody was in trouuuuubllllllle.

The usual deal for my baggage claim, but make it South American: the herd of passengers from my flight had to change carousels twice before our luggage begins dumping out onto the farthest carousel. Loading my bags on a "SmartCart", I scan my face (brrr) at the Global Entry kiosk. I make my declarations at Customs: I'm transporting neither agricultural nor animal products, no large amounts of currency nor weapons. The fellow behind the Customs counter smiles, sliding my stamped passport back to me:

CUSTOMS OFFICER: Welcome back to the United States of America, Mister [checks screen] Goldman. Next!

I wheel my bags out of his lane. In my pocket, my phone buzzes with a text from my aunt who's promised to pick me up from the airport:

AUNT: text us your door number once you get outside, k?

I long-press back a thumbs-up reaction. Almost outside, I'm squinting at the exit door number but I can't quite make it out from he--

MILITARY VOICE: Sir! Stop right there!

I look up from my phone. I'm surrounded by four officers in Customs & Border Patrol uniforms – the same ones from the jetway as I was deboarding – all sizing me up behind their Terminator sunglasses. The main CBP Officer – Latino with an immaculate barbershop-fresh line-up – holds out one hand wrapped in a black latex glove, at the end of a drumstick arm:

LINE-UP: Sir, your passport?

ME: Yes, officer. Of course.

I fumble for my travel wallet and hand it to him. Without looking, he snatches it from my hand and begins walking away, quickly, towards a door at the far end of the hall. My panic sparks to life here.

ME: Hey!

The other officers follow him without looking back.

LINE-UP [calling back to me]: Follow us sir, and bring your baggage.

Non-compliance is – of course – a non-option, but they've taken my passport away in case of... what exactly? Did they expect me to make a break for it? For freedom? After I've already scanned my face in the Global Entry kiosk?

I follow the CBP officers through an unmarked set of double doors in the far wall that opens up into a 62-degrees screening room the size and shape of a bowling lane. My knees are instantly too cold. Inside the scuffed-up beige walls, a single stainless-steel conveyor belt sits at the center middle, humming as it waits to swallow my bags and pass them through an additional scanner.

Line-Up walks past the X-Ray machine and takes his post behind the monitor. Another officer – pink-skinned with a blonde brush-cut – straightens the Oakleys in the swoop of his piggy little nose and points his finger at conveyor belt, clearly living his best life right now:

PIGGY NOSE: Bags into the scanner. Backpack too. [nods] Now walk down to the area marked with the yellow line.

I'm rattled, clumsy with my bags. This hasn't ever happened to me before, not with this level of electric aggression:

ME [loading the machine]: Whatever you need, officer... [swallows] Can I ask what's going on? I have Global Entry and I've alread--

PIGGY NOSE: Sir, WE are asking the questions. Proceed to the, uh, yellow.

My eyes flick up to Line-Up and the other two officers, conferring behind the scanner station. They've removed their sunglasses so they can squint like hunters at the monitor as my bags pass through the guts of the machine. One by one, my bags come out the other side, and the officers slide them down to where I stand by the yellow line.

They stand in a row, like Huey, Duey and Louie, except there are four of them with not a neck between them. Line-Up stands back a few steps, my passport peeking out from underneath his folded arms. Another officer with a Y-shaped vein in his forehead straining like he was rolling a dumbbell between his eyebrows bares his teeth as he questions me:

FOREHEAD VEIN: Where are you coming from?

ME: Brazil. With a layover in Panama City. [this doesn't land well] The tickets were cheap and I didn't leave the terminal.

LINE-UP: Where in Brazil?

ME: São Paulo.

FOREHEAD VEIN: Why were you there?

ME: I was visiting my family.

Piggy Nose looks over at the cover of my passport in Line-Up's hand:

PIGGY NOSE: Wait... are you Brazilian? Says here you're American!

ME: I am American. My wife's family is Brazilian.

FOREHEAD VEIN: Do you speak Por-tuh-geez?

ME: I don't see why that's important.

PIGGY NOSE: Answer the question, sir! Do. You. Speak. Por. Tuh. Geez?

ME: Sim palhaços, claro que eu falo português. [Of course I speak Portuguese, you clowns.]

They look at each other confused, like dogs I'd just showed a card trick to.

LINE-UP: Why do you speak Portuguese if you're not Brazilian?

ME: Because I lived there – with my wife – for three years.

While Forehead Vein and Line-Up handle the questioning, Piggy Nose begins grunting and yanking desperately at the padlocked zippers on my checked bags, his rage rising until he barks at me:

PIGGY NOSE: Sir, can you just... OPEN these for me?!

Of course I can do that. I unlock my tiny TSA-compliant padlocks and he immediately attacks my luggage like an unsupervised puppy with a box of Kleenex, throwing my underwear and packages everywhere on the scanner bed.

LINE-UP: Sir, are you carrying any agricultural products or animal products?

ME: Absolutely not. I already answered all th--

Piggy Nose comes out of my luggage with a wicked "gotcha!" grin, holding up two knotted plastic bags. Instead of untying them, he rips them open. Inside are sweets I purchased for my family, purchased from country vendors while in Sul de Minas. He smiles droops into confusion:

PIGGY NOSE: What are these things?

ME: They're Brazilian sweets. To give to my family here.

PIGGY NOSE: I thought– you said you didn't have any agricultural products!

This is what happens when you cut a nation's educational funds for four decades.

ME: That means fruits, vegetables, seeds. [It's his job, he should know that.] These are all packaged goods, and if you look [pointing] here on each package, you'll see the Brazilian "Ministry of Agriculture" seal of approval for export on every one.

Piggy Nose stares into the plastic bags, lips moving silently, trying to read their labels.

The last officer has an American eagle neck tattoo. He turns my other suitcase upside down, dumping out two weeks of dirty laundry and eight plastic bags full of heavy books that land on now-dented corners and crinkled spines.

NECK TATTOO: What're these?

ME: They're books. These bags aren't sealed, please have a look. They're all books.

NECK TATTOO: What kinda books?

ME: Mostly art books. Brazilian art, some comics.

LINE-UP: Why did you buy so many books?

This is the point where I have to take a beat and breath. Deeply. Take the air in through my nose. Let it cool my brain, circulate through my lungs, before sending it back out again in a non-threatening sigh of absolute fucking disgust and also simultaneous total submission.

ME: Because I can't get these books in America.

NECK TATTOO: Why not? Amazon has like, every book that exists.

I wasn't sure if I was my responsibility to explain the imperfection of international publishing and distribution, but I was angry now:

ME: Listen officers, can you tell me – respectfully – what is going on here? Have I done something wrong? Because I have never--

LINE-UP [in his best Saving America voice]: An anomaly was detected in your luggage.

ME: An anomaly? What kind of--

Now it’s their turn to lose their patience.


LINE-UP: Are you transporting large amounts of currency?

ME: What? No man, I'm a writer...

Blank stares. The sad reality of my chosen profession didn't land. Then a woman screams.

Over by the mouth of the scanner I fed my bags into, there's a Caribbean woman. She has short gray dreadlocks, wears a chunky amethyst crystal around her neck. She looks successful, expensive. Another quartet of thick-necked officers surrounds her. They've taken her passport too. She is not having it.

CARIBBEAN WOMAN: You cannot just do whatever you like! I demand to speak to your superviso--

I watch from the corner of my eye as she is thrown face-down on the stainless steel counter and restrained by a – thankfully – female officer. The officer with her passport walks away and the other three walk her, wild-eyed, into yet another invisible set of doors.

My eyes flick back to my quartet of interrogators and I just smile, blood in my cheeks hot and humiliated. Non-compliance is a non-option.

LINE-UP: I'm going to ask you one more time, sir: ARE YOU TRANSPORTING LARGE AMOUNTS OF CURRENCY.

Neck Tattoo hoots loudly and all thick necks snap to that direction. He holds up a heavy brick wrapped in a plastic sack with fish printed all over it. My photos. My birthday treasures from Okassan.

NECK TATTOO: What are these?

ME: There's a zipper at the top. You can just open it.

He rips that zipper like it's the blouse of his drunken date. The change in his expression – in all their expressions – from their sex-death border patrol power-fantasy to the realization that I am just a guy who brought back too many books and photos from Brazil and they got nothing is absolutely delicious, but I don't dare laugh or even smile.

I lock eyes with Line-Up. He takes a step forward, hands me back my passport without a word. I put it back in my travel wallet, with care. With his silent nod towards my exploded belongings, I know I'm clear to start packing my bags back up. The floor is still littered with my socks and underwear. No one moves to help me.

LINE-UP: My apologies, sir. We appreciate you not losing your temper like the other [tips head towards the door the Caribbean woman went through] guest.

NECK TATTOO: We have a responsibility to keep our country safe.

I fake-smile, politely nod, fold all my underpants quickly as I can, stack my bent-up books with shaking hands. My blood must be half-adrenaline at this point.

And with a deep breath, I heave my luggage back onto the SmartCart, one after the other, wheel it away from them towards the door marked in bold letters on its frame is "Terminal 1, Door 111" which I text verbatim that to my Aunt circles outside for what feels like three hours.

I'm back in the United States less than twenty minutes and I'm already traumatized.


As ever, thanks a zillion, y'all.

And hey: if you were forwarded this newsletter by one of my awesome subscribers and want to sign up to Dang Old Man, scroll down just past this cartoon: