The Ipanema Boardwalk

On the boardwalk at Ipanema Beach, it’s a sunny Sunday afternoon in Rio de Janeiro. Skateboarders, rollerbladers, joggers, surfers, bikers, juicers, tanners, vacationers, staffers — they all pass by, skin shiny and mildly naked. Sand and salt and vanity fill the air.

There are small outdoor gyms every couple hundred meters along the beach: bars for pull ups, dips, incline push ups and stretches — a jungle gym for adults. Men stop and quietly pump up their muscles for the day, then move on. It’s a place where everyone is keenly aware of those around them. A surprisingly abnormal number of men have six packs and bulging arms. A modest, yet in-shape, man can’t help but feel a bit intimidated and envious at the chiseled physiques roaming around. Short, stocky men with barrel chests, powerful backs and perfect arms. He may think to himself: if only he could look like that, the day would be so much better.

And one imagines that the shorter men with chiseled physiques may look at the taller men and think to themselves of how many tall guys there are at the beach today, and how it intimidates them and makes them envious. How can they compete?

And a pale tall man may look around and loathe the guys with perfect tans, for they obviously have better beach bodies and get more attention. And the man with the perfect tan looks at the man sitting with four cute girls and envies him, wondering how does a guy find four hot girls in bikinis to go to the beach with him like that?

And the man with the four hot girls with him is annoyed at how loud and obnoxious his sisters and their friends are and wishes he could hang out with his guy friends instead. Not far away, a man at the beach with his guy friends ignores their games and jokes and looks longingly at the girls laying out tanning with their tops undone and wonders how one would go about meeting them.

And the girl laying out tanning wishes her boyfriend were around so the men would stop staring at her. And her boyfriend, wading into the water alone for hours on end, wishes his girlfriend would stop crowding him and demanding his attention all the time. He envies the single men who are able to roam free and do what they want whenever they’d like.

And other girls at the beach lament that the cute boys are always gay. And the cute gay boy is so sick and tired of men who just want to have sex all the time and wishes he could find romance and something more. And the man stuck romancing his wife on their vacation wishes he were still the young, handsome lad he used to be, strutting across the beach, commanding attention on a whim.

The white gringos admire the dark, powerful physiques of the black Brazilians and the black Brazilians admire the blonde hair and green-blue eyes of the white gringos. And the English and American and Australian boys would kill to speak some Portuguese. And the Brazilian girls wish they could understand English better.

The skinny girls wish they had hips and the girls with hips want to be skinnier. The brunettes dye their hair blond and the blond girls wish they were darker like the brunettes. The men playing volleyball wish they could surf and the surfers wish they had the time and money to buy drinks and a nice umbrella to sit under and the men with drinks and the nice umbrellas wish they were young and healthy and playing volleyball again.

The waves crash. Footballs bounce. People splash each other and laugh. The crisp crack of a Skol can echoes across every numbered post. Children play in their own little worlds. Meanwhile, the Christ statue watches over all of them from afar, arms wide and unceasing, with a stoic, loving acceptance. And the people pass on by.

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