The Last Invoice
A couple of years ago, when Alan and I started “dreaming” — I mean, planning — our next move on the chessboard of life, I came across a miraculous way of guaranteeing a secure retirement, called a “reverse mortgage.”
Once we reached the other side, and the time finally arrived for us to build the necessary house, I decided it was in our best interest to go to the bank and explore our options.
Let me get that straight: I am not so excited about reverse mortgages anymore, and it’s not only because of the money. In fact, my old, apparently relentless enthusiasm has been recently rekindled by a new publishing company in the United States and by a few valuable partnerships that will allow us — me — to move forward, hopefully with some success and increasingly good foreign ties and translated titles. So I’m bidding farewell to retiring any time soon.
At any rate, we still had business to discuss at the bank, so we headed that way in our best clothes, sets of drawings under our arms.
“It’s not that we need your money at this point, but, well, I would like to know what our possibilities are.”
“I don’t advise you to apply for a loan now. It will cost you, and you don’t exactly need it. I advise you to move forward, and if at some point in your project you need our help, we will evaluate your property and discuss an interest-only option.”
This sounded okay. I was reassured. Of course, if we were in Brazil… in four or five months, when we would supposedly need some support, the bank manager would probably be gone, replaced by someone else (in Brazil, they make a practice of “rotating” bank managers, to avoid any possible closeness with clients), and the interest rates would have doubled, or tripled, or worse: The available loans would have disappeared from the bank’s agenda.
In all honesty, for my own survival purposes, I’m trying my best to sever my ties with Brazil right now — not the emotional ties (for this will never happen nor do I want that), but the business and financial ties… and expectations. Frankly, it is impossible to go on living with a threat constantly hovering over my head, like I have for most of my productive life. I’m even ready to renounce my significant retirement funds, which at best would amount to, hmm, let’s say, around US$200 a month, and I’m not even qualified yet. I would have to go on working and paying for another 5 years, at least. Not “gonna” happen.
While I was entertaining these divisive thoughts, my accountant wrote to say he would soon be dropping our account, since, due to the (eternal) Brazilian crisis, he will no longer be working for small companies like mine, rather focusing on a single client. His call, no doubt. But there’s no dispute his decision left me out in the cold. What was I supposed to do, 4,700 miles and a bunch of new economic rules away?
I was already considering communicating my change of residence to the Brazilian equivalent of the IRS, not that this was optional. After 12 months abroad, this report is required by law, but I was hesitant. This would result in serious changes to my company’s tax regimen — benefits and such are not available for residents abroad — and the fine for non-reporting is small, to the point of insignificance.
Therefore, my accountant’s notification did not fall on deaf ears; on the contrary, it set me in motion. I’m not a procrastinator by nature, much to the contrary. So the next day, I went to the “IRS” website and started to fill out the form.
I have no idea of how it happens, but as you all know, one’s emotional state has a huge effect on computer apps and such: I went to the wrong year’s page and had to repeat the process a couple of times. After I was done, I was left in a state of depression and sad prostration I could hardly explain. Or fight against.
Friends, I was depressed for the whole week. But I had to move on, and I had put a deadline on myself: Starting March 1st, I would not write any invoice from or receive any bill directed to KBR Brazil. As I rushed to communicate to my authors, the company — we maintained our initially proposed transparency to the very end, against all odds and convenience — was about to be encompassed by its younger sister, the much more stable KBR LLC. Despite crying every day, I was quite effective in keeping my head up, negotiating new international distribution deals, all converted to the much more stable American dollar — the Brazilian real getting less and less real, at least for me. What can I do?
The awaited and much feared day arrived quickly. It was now time to remit the last invoice. I was exhausted — emotionally exhausted, at least. And here a sidebar is necessary.
An “invoice” in Brazil is nothing like you Americans are used to. What do you mean, a simple Word document with your company’s name and a randomly assigned number? Not in our over-controlled, over economically chaotic Latin American country, no, siree. As one can fathom from the sorry state of our state-level corruption, a lot of effort is put in place to guarantee everything and everybody complies with the rules, and the invoice-making process is no exception.
First of all, you need a software approved by the government, or at least a subscription with an authorized invoice-remitter company, believe me. You also need a magnetic card that you have to renew every one or two years (meaning, to pay over and over again), also provided by a small bunch of officially authorized happy few. Once you fill out the form with all the data and requirements previously approved by the government, it is impossible to cancel it, or even correct it, depending on the data you need to alter. It’s even more serious if you consider that, once you click “Send,” the invoice is sent directly to the tax office.
And don’t you go imagining that once these rules are established, they are conveniently set in stone, so you can relax and proceed. Not at all. The government keeps changing them and adding new ones, which makes every entrepreneur’s life impossible without hiring a permanent and highly competent accountant.
Now picture me in another country, not exactly following the latest developments in Brazil — let’s face it, Brazilian developments are overwhelming and difficult to follow wherever you are — and, last but not least, abandoned by my accountant. End of the sidebar.
On the appointed day, I woke up early, took a deep breath, fetched the orange plastic bag where I store all my Brazilian cards and tokens and stuff like that (the workings of our bank security will be left for another text) and prepared myself for the big event.
Bingo. I had filled out the form to register a new client, et voilà, for some unknown reason the “system” wouldn’t accept the name of the city. I tried a few times, always getting the same error message, and then decided to call Customer Service, which, miraculously, is quite efficient, even from 4,700 miles away. Not that I tell them where I am, right?
After a few comings and goings, everything was finally set. The invoice was sent and the last book delivery was on its way. KBR Brazil was about to cease to exist, after 7 years of pioneering and no small struggle. Yes, for those of you who still don’t know it, this humble chronicler was the first editor in Brazil to publish an e-book in Portuguese. I was set free, after a long career of being the first this and that in Brazil, after being forced to react to all impossibilities that ever crossed my mind and that I managed to overcome, no matter in which field. I was a furniture designer, then a jewelry designer (Alan will certainly complain about this one, for he does not fancy me as a jewelry designer, which he claims he was also once), an art director, then a graphic designer, and finally a writer and editor, when at last I could refer to myself as a professional without any shame. And writer and editor I am, loose and lost as a floating balloon released by a careless child.
It was a terrible sensation, albeit a much awaited one. I had finally ceased to be a Brazilian entrepreneur, a position I don’t plan to occupy ever again. And it hurt. It still does. But for the first time in my troubled existence, I’m finally willing to let it go, to surrender, to “let the universe help,” as so many credulous people say. I sincerely hope it does.
As for the team of 200 and something authors in our Brazilian portfolio, and counting, I ask you all not to feel abandoned, suddenly left out in the cold. I will make you a final promise, which I’ll do my best to honor in any way I can. Rest assured I’m not abandoning you, leaving you behind. Much to the contrary, I’m carrying you along to a better, more stable future. We are all writers of the world from now on, and better still: paid in American dollars. You may spread the word.
Now, on a short note, and on very short notice, I could not publish this chronicle without acknowledging the much-awaited light at the end of the Brazilian politics dark tunnel, as the former working class hero Lula da Silva was taken for interrogation to the Federal Police headquarters. More on these developments next week, I hope.