The Day I Met Pele’



The World Cup and soccer in general remind me of Brazil and Pele’. In my youth I traveled to Brazil as an exchange student as a fresh-faced 17-year-old American girl. One of the highlights of my stay was meeting Pele’ at the American Ambassador’s Independence Day celebration. Fourth of July parties are common in the various American Embassies worldwide, and local celebrities are often present, as were McDonald’s and Pizza Hut. Local Americans who are registered at the Embassy get an invitation. Simple as that. It was merely a party for about five thousand guests with American fast-food and the most famous Soccer player in the World!

Upon arrival, I took the opportunity to meet our Ambassador, who cheerfully urged us exchange students to drink up, as there was plenty of beer! He winked when I pointed out that we were under age…hey…it’s a party, and this is American soil, kids. Feeling less interested in beer than in the guest of honor, I asked “Where is Pele’?” The Ambassador pointed to a large group mobbing someone on the lawn; so I trotted over, invitation in hand, already signed by the Ambassador. Soccer was just starting to gain popularity in the US, and I knew Pele’ was important to the world as a “Soccer Ambassador”. I learned to love soccer in Brazil, and here was the beloved Brazilian GOD of soccer in the middle of a writhing mass of humanity. Gulp.

In Brazil, people tend to touch each other more than we do in American culture. When an American girlfriend and I took the bus together, we would often play a game we devised called “How Many People Are Touching Me Right NOW?” We kept a running tally, and my record was 8. People were pressed tightly against us, but in haphazard ways that often involved random erections.  Lurching random dickery. Bleh. So tiresome, but we girls got used to it, as a part of the culture that creeped us out, just as surely as the weird sucking sound men would make when we passed. We laughed about it, but it was scarier being a girl in Brazil because of the lurching dickery and mouth suckery for sure. To get that autograph, I had to steel myself a little.

So Pele’ was in the middle of a writhing mob of humanity, mostly Brazilians. When I say a writhing mob, I mean a fairly large group comprised of hundreds of people surrounding a person on all sides and pressing in CLOSE. The man had no bodyguards, you simply slithered toward him as best you could, running a gauntlet of random dickery. My companions were too cool to crowd plunge for an autograph, so off I went. My persistence paid off when ten minutes later, I was plastered against Pele’s back. The man was clearly fit, rock hard, healthy and signing autographs as fast as he could. I saw him write over and over “Do Amigo, Pele’”, meaning: “Your Friend, Pele’”. When he saw me over his left shoulder, he signed one more autograph and turned around to face me. He kept me there for several minutes as he signed autographs, smiling. He kept me there longer than entirely necessary, but when he finally signed my invitation, he signed it “1 Beijao, Pele’”, meaning “A Big (tongue) Kiss, Pele’”.

Wow! Plastered against Pele’ I had connected in a tangible way with  a living legend whose brilliance, leadership and humility has ensured his continued “Icon” and “Ambassador” status today as we watch the World Cup in Brazil.  It is humbling to think that I was literally touched by greatness: full frontal greatness! Instead of merely being my friend, the gentleman would indeed have perhaps given me a passionate kiss had the situation been less mob-like. Ahhhh Brasil…


Despite the dicks I had to ignore to get it,  I still have the invitation as a sweet memento of success. I am so grateful to the Universe that I have a personal tale of persistence and success when faced with constant and relentless dickery. Sometimes you have to keep your eyes on the prize and ignore the dicks and potential dicks that could frighten you or hold you back in the first place.

Enjoy the World Cup!


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