Part V March 2018
Part IV December 2017
Part III September 2017
Part II June 2017
Part I Spring 2016
"Blessed forgetfulness, for it makes possible that supremely interesting spelunking through the nooks and crannies and sewers of the mind." Well said, but I don't remember who said it. Like wood shavings and dust in a carpentry shop, words and verbal fragments have settled all over my memory, blunting it; but there are special recesses, like the cushioned one where my grandmother's Yiddish expletives are preserved, or the gilded one where I keep the gauloiseries of Mme. de la Barre, jewels like « Le pet, c'est un laquais qu'avec fracas annonce Monsieur Caca », or that bawdy « La Rirette » or « La Lirette », which, were she alive, would plunge Madame into deep trouble today—imagine an old lady teaching a pre-teen boy to laugh at what can only be described as the gang rape of a young girl. And then, there's that remotest memory nook, where political slogans and partisan chants have been piling up, apparently since birth: a pile ever ready to receive new watchwords which invariably prove to be but rewordings or translations of older ones. The earliest I remember go back to the political campaign of 1945-6 in Argentina, when Colonel Juan Domingo Perón ran for president for the first time, and won.
The opposition ticket was lackluster. Tamborini and Mosca were openly supported by the U.S. Ambassador, Spruille Braden, a typical agent of the all-too-frequently ignorant and arrogant foreign American policy, and this gift from the North was seized by Perón, who immediately coined the slogan, "Braden o Perón", and had this Either/Or painted on walls all over. How could the colonel not win? Mr. Braden didn't last long as U.S. ambassador to Argentina, maybe four months total, but the damage was done, and it has lasted till now. I also remember the opposition's chant in their multitudinous meetings: "Juancito, yo te decía, que con el pueblo no se podía", which might be translated: "Johnny, I told you so, against the people you cannot go." Of the numberless invocations to the people since J.-J. Rousseau, to its supreme might and right, and to the sacrosanct general will, that anti-Peronist one from my childhood takes the palm for pathos of prophetic errancy. I should add that all the male members of my family voted against Perón (in 1946 women didn't have the vote).
"Alpargatas sí, libros no" was another Peronist slogan; alpargatas were the cheapest footwear available, a sort of espadrilles; libros means books. That was another Either/Or: Peronists were supposed to be in favor of the poor and against books. Well, not really against all books. They were against the kind of books read by university students (who, back then, proved to be particularly recalcitrant to Peronist doctrine), but with the publication, a few years later, of the ghost-written La razón de mi vida by Eva Perón, that book became mandatory reading in all Argentine schools. The reason or motive force of Eva's life was Perón: that's what we, kids, learned in her book. We also caught other pearls of wisdom, for example: "Para un peronista no hay nada mejor que otro peronista" — for a Peronist there's nothing better than another Peronist — or, "En la Nueva Argentina de Perón los únicos privilegiados son los niños" —In Perón's New Argentina only the children are entitled.
You would be wrong to conclude that Perón despised other, more serious books. The dance between state power and the word is a devilish tango; it has been so for a long time and all over the world. Kenyan dicatator Daniel arap Moi had worked as a school teacher for many years and even got to be Minister of Education; later, though, when the occasion required it, he coined the Swahili slogan "Karamu chini", meaning, Down with the calamus, death to the pen! No, Perón, like so many strongmen, respected the pen and liked to be seen as having read all the books (have you ever got a glimpse of Colonel Qadaffi's gilded library?) Actually, Perón claimed to be a philosopher. In 1949, in the western city of Mendoza (surely known to those readers who are mountain climbers or to those who enjoy Malbec wine), there was a world-wide convention of philosophers, the Congreso Internacional de Filosofía, and Perón gave the closing address. For over two hours, the Leader reviewed all of Western philosophy from Thales and Anaximander on. His conclusion was that his Peronist regime, "The New Argentina," was the crown and culmination of two-and-a-half millennia of Western thought. J.-P. Sartre was the only well-known philosopher Perón did not mention in his speech, but he ended up referring to Sartre obliquely when he said, "In the New Argentina the feeling of nausea is completely unknown."
If memory doesn't fool me, in my family we were all moderately anti-Peronists. His old enthusiasm for Italian fascism and Franco's phalange, and his granting asylum to prominent Nazis and the Croatian Ustaše, plus the support he got from the Catholic-nationalist bullies whose slogan was, "Haga patria, mate un judío" (Act like a patriot, kill a Jew), could not but make us wary of Perón. Yet once in power he did not show signs of antisemitism; his powerful Interior Minister was married to a Jewish woman; a Polish Jew was his economic advisor; pretty soon quite a number of enterprising Jews decided to support Perón. And it would be dishonest to pass over what my family, in particular, owed to Perón. As I have already told, we had moved to our house on Rivera Indarte Street in 1945. A little later Perón froze all residential rents, one of his many crazy efforts, I imagine, to hold back inflation (in Argentina that's like King Knut trying to hold back the tides). The result was that pretty soon my parents were paying for house rent the equivalent of what we spent in selzer bottles: that saved us from having to move to some hovel near the southern dumps. The other thing we all owe Perón was his naming Martha Argerich's parents to diplomatic posts in Vienna, so she could study piano with Friedrich Gulda. Other than that, and for all I could hear or see, Peronism and its legacy have been noxious to Argentine life, in spite of the ever-present slogan: "Perón cumple, Evita dignifies" — Perón delivers, Evita dignifies.
And then Evita the dignifier died. July 26, 1952, toward the end of my thirteenth year. The time, 20:25, is unforgettable, because all radio announcers had to recite at that time every evening, "Son las veinte y veinticinco, hora en que Eva Perón pasó a la inmortalidad" — It's eight-twenty-five PM, the hour at which Eva Perón entered immortality. Always in the same deep, threateningly funereal tone. The funereal part was clearly justified; as for the threat in the voice, my feeling was that it meant that the speaker was perfectly aware, as aware as I was, that what he was uttering was a contradiction, but that he and I and everyone else had to believe it, accept it, and submit precisely because it was absurd and inept — or suffer the consequences. It was not by the roulette of genetics that five years later, when I had to choose, I went first into chemistry, then into physics, and then math. Nor is it true, as Pascal wrote, that in that most important life decision, the choice of métier, « le hasard en dispose ». It was rather the solemn threat in those nightly announcements that pushed me, a born Moishe Kapoyr, to seek a shelter safe from contradiction.
There were other choices. I could have gone into Filosofía y letras instead of Ciencias exactas. Perhaps I preferred the former, since at the Colegio my most enjoyable subject was Latin, never math. But this was made impossible by the proximity of literature in all its forms, and of philosophy in many of its forms, to the spirit or the spiritual, something quite vague and undetermined, perhaps best defined as that which not only admits contradictions but thrives by them. The word "spiritual" I couldn't stand, it made me nauseous. Surely that had something to do with Evita having been named "Jefa espiritual de la nación" — the nation's spiritual boss and commander in chief — a title announced through the ether with the same threatening bass as her entering into immortality.
Viewed from this distance and after these many years, the psychological, theological, and rhetorical skills of Perón and his apparatus were awesome. Evita played mediatrix between the poor, the humble, the "shirtless ones," and her husband and the state. Every day she would be at her desk, attending to the needs of someone who had lost his job, or who needed some money: endless lines of "grasitas" as she called them, a slang word meaning roughly little trashy, shabby ones. The funds came mostly from extortion. Businessmen were regularly asked for contributions to Evita's foundation, and they soon learned not to turn a deaf ear to her suggestions. The brothers Groisman, for example, makers of Mu-mu, a chewable milk candy we kids liked, had their factory closed by the sanitary inspectors, after which, having learned their lesson, they agreed to contribute 2% of their profits to the Señora's foundation, and the factory was reopened: if you wish, another proof that the Peróns were not antisemitic.
It was only at age thirteen, in the second year of the Colegio and proudly wearing my first pair of long pants that had ipso facto transformed me into a man, that I understood the history of the role of Eva Perón, scarcely a year dead then. The illumination happened while reading Gonzalo de Berceo, a clerk and poet of early 13th century Castile, his Milagros de Nuestra Señora—Miracles of Our Lady. All events miraculous, wrote Berceo, signified, either by allegory, by prefiguration, or by some other means, the Virgin, and they all pointed straight to Her:
"El fust que Moïsés enna mano portava,
que confundió los sabios que Faraón preciava,
el que abrió los mares e después los cerrava,
sinon a la Gloriosa ál non significaba."
(The staff that Moses carried in his hand,
that confounded the wise men whom Pharaoh prized,
that parted the seas and then closed them again,
did not signify else but the Glorious Lady.)
In short, She was the source and total sum of all miracles, very much like Evita among the Argentine poor. The bulk of the stories or miracles in Berceo are of the following sort: a priest, or a thief, or someone dyed to the bone in deadly sin, is in the habit of daily genuflecting before Our Lady's altar and saying an Ave Maria; when his hour comes and the devils are about to carry his sinful soul to hell, the Virgin intercedes and either (a) the sinner is resurrected, after which he leads a saintly life, or (b) his soul is grabbed away from the devils and taken straight to Paradise, or else to Purgatory. The devils don't take such defeats lightly: they holler and argue that they have the eternal law and justice on their side (which they probably do), but the Glorious Lady doesn't give a shit about the law; Her thing is mercy, love of a certain sort, and the defense of Her faithful come what may. As Berceo put it in this slogan:
"Por poco de servicio gran galardón prendemos."
(For just a little service we fetch a goodly prize).
There, in a nutshell, is the ethos of Catholicism, in its most glorious 13th century as well as in 1953, when I was reading the stuff. And I would have enjoyed it more—for the language is tasty and gave me plenty of opportunity to test my little Latin—but for the pain I felt at the horrible and hateful stories involving Jews. In one of the miracles there is a Jew who throws his son into a fiery oven because the boy had partaken of the consecrated host, a.k.a. the body of Christ; but the Glorious Lady saves the boy and roasts the father instead. Decidedly, Filosofía y letras was not for me. Yet, on the other hand, I felt elation at having glimpsed the religious roots of Argentine politics and the popular success of Peronism. The glimpse was free from contradiction: one thing followed the other mathematically.
A greater poet, some fifty years after Berceo, expressed supreme spirituality in the beatific vision of the Virgin and in the hymn attributed to the monk Bernard de Clairvaux, the father of Marian theology:
"Vergine madre, figlia del tuo figlio,
umile e alta più che creatura,
termine fisso d'etterno consiglio,"
(Virgin mother, daughter of your son,
humbler and higher than all that is created,
fixed pole and goal of the eternal design).
Porca Madonna! How many contradictions can be packed into three hendecasyllabic lines? It cannot have failed to inspire Perón. Reader, I read your thought: —What? Are you saying that Perón was inspired by, or had as much as read, Dante Alighieri? To which I reply: Yes, I am, and yes, he had. Have you forgotten the little march, "Los muchachos peronistas"? —I'll sooner forget my multiplication tables. —Well, do you recall these lines: "¡Perón, Perón, qué grande sos! ¡Mi general, cuánto valés!" (Perón, Perón, how great you are! My general, how great your worth!) —Of course I remember that. —Then compare it to this line from the hymn to the Virgin in Dante's Paradiso XXXIII: "Donna, se' tanto grande e tanto vali" (Lady, you're so great and of such worth). Would you seriously say it is just coincidence?
The first street to the East of Rivera Indarte, where I lived, was Membrillar. You may remember that the music store where Father bought the records Señor Vega recommended was on that street. Five blocks down South from Casa Vega, and a block-and-a-half from my house, lived Bergoglio, a kid two or three years older than I; we attended the same school on calle Varela; he was known for a fervent fan of the soccer team San Lorenzo de Almagro. Mid-way between his house and mine, on calle Francisco Bilbao, there was a small butcher shop. A municipal enameled plaque informed the passerby: "Mercadito 'El Ciclón', de José Barja." Mercadito, small market, could have been an euphemism for carnicería, butcher shop; or it could have been the official name for a shop selling some vegetables, besides meat: those are just guesses, I don't know. As for El Ciclón, the Cyclone, it was one of the nicknames of the soccer team San Lorenzo de Almagro. There were neither cuts of meat nor vegetables in the window, only a framed photograph of a team of soccer players with the sign: "San Lorenzo de Almagro, Campeones 1946." There was an intricate arrangement of blue and red crêpe paper around the frame, and a couple of vases with fake flowers nearby.
I have already said I hated soccer and the other sport spectacles. All my childhood I resented having to appear "normal," meaning enthusiastic, or better, fanatic, about soccer ("fútbol"), having a favorite club and all sorts of meaningless names and statistics by heart. Lacking these, life could be hard: on top of being called "Russian," i.e. Jew, they'd call me "puto," "maricón," or "mariquita" (homosexual), and intensify their attempts on my behind. And now, after a night-long, exhausting work of memory, I succeed in recovering San Lorenzo's forward line: De la Mata, Farro, Pontoni, Martino y Silva. Yes, sir. And together with that, as a sort of surplus, I retrieve my feelings as I looked at the window of the butcher shop: the butcher's photograph of the San Lorenzo men transcended the merely athletic to touch on the divine. There was, it seemed to me, a similar holy aura in an image of the Virgin as in José Barja's photograph. You may say that it was no more than my feeling, that it was subjective and perhaps perverse; I know, however, that the link between religion and mass sports is strong and vivid in many—alas! far too many people.
Mariahilf, by CranachOh, and by the way, the colors of the crêpe paper strung around the picture of San Lorenzo's winning team were the colors of the San Lorenzo jerseys, chosen by Father Lorenzo Massa, the founder of the club. He was inspired by the mantle of the Virgin María Auxiliadora, Mary Help of Christians.
A friend of mine, an Argentine chemical engineer, was a devotee of Kurosawa and the Nordic sagas; he died young and left six children, and I remember with what sadness I heard one of the boys, about 15, describe his favorite soccer team as "a religion." A similar incredulous sadness, but now tinged with anger, I feel when I see, in an Argentine Peronist newspaper, a putz by the name of Wainfeld assert that being a Peronist is like being a Jew: you can change your name, your nose, and whatnot, but Judaism, like Peronism, cannot be hidden, denied, or erased. There you are: Peronism is the true new covenant.
Only one book by Nietzsche was to be found in my father's library, a Spanish translation of Also sprach Zarathustra. I had read a few pages and found it too highfaluting, so I gave it up and it was not until much later, when I was married and living in the U.S., that I read Nietzsche for the first time. Why bring it up now? On account of this old political problem of spectacle sports. I am looking at my copy of The Genealogy of Morality and see many scribblings on the margins, especially on the pages where Nietzsche quotes from Tertullian's book On Spectacles. Reading my old scribblings, I remember my admiration for that early Church father as a consumate proselytizer and politician. Consider how he managed to attract the largest groups of people (then as now) to the love of Christ. First, to the many brutish misologues or despisers of reason, Tertullian (in De carne Christi) offered two reasons on behalf of the Christan faith: we should believe that the Son of God died because it is inept, and we should believe that He was buried, and rose again, because it is impossible. And second, to those addicted to circus games, theater, or spectacle sports, he argued (in De spectaculis) that the greatest by far of all spectacles was promised the faithful lovers of Christ: from a glorious heavenly seat, those pure souls would watch, with immense joy and satisfaction, the horrific torments inflicted on the enemies of Christ, and hear their anguished screams and the gnashing of their teeth. A millennium later, Aquinas, the most authoritative Catholic theologian, reexamined the Tertullianic doctrine and found it perfect. The bliss of the blessed, even with succulent oxtails and Falernian wine, would not be complete without such a superb supper spectacle.
Perón and Evita profited from the lessons of those great politicians: Tertullian, Aquinas, and Bernard. Perón always encouraged sports figures to dedicate their triumphs to him and to his New Argentina. Having secured the votes and devotion of the unshod and the unschooled, he sent the champion soccer team, San Lorenzo de Almagro, on a European tour, where it played several matches to great acclaim in 1946-7, as a prelude to Evita's European visitation of 1947. But I must interrupt the story. San Lorenzo and Evita must wait, for something noteworthy just happened, and I want to tell it now, before I forget it.
With Tertullian in the mind, it was perhaps natural to inquire about the origin (Latin, I thought) of the fairly common Spanish word tertulia, meaning a small, informal meeting where matters of a cultural or intellectual nature are discussed, nowadays often at a café. As it turns out and to my utter surprise, tertulia comes from the name Tertullian. Phillip II of Spain, I just learned, was a great admirer of Tertullian, so much so that he invited a small group of scholars and academics to hold meetings in which they and the king read and commented those early Christian theological works: the meetings about Tertullian (which were going on not long after the closing of the Council of Trent, and of Spain to the rest of Europe) ended up being referred to as tertulias. In case you don't see yet how that strengthens the connection between Tertullian and Perón, let me repeat what I wrote in §13 (Part III) about the Argentine authoritarian, anti-liberal, antisemitic, anti-Anglo-American mindset, and its apostle Diego Luis Molinari, friend of Perón and of Drieu la Rochelle: "Now, sixty-six years after having sat at Molinari's feet, I reflect on the paradoxical fact that a teacher with no talent for, or interest in, teaching, a historian with little, if any, historical learning, did succeed in revealing to me the hard core and motor of Argentine political history: a twisted, defiant will to continue the work of the Counter-Reformation and the Council of Trent, and the policies of Phillip II and the Jesuits." And here I will add that nothing has changed. In 1982 the three military clowns who ruled Argentina were so generally detested that they took counsel with their foreign minister, Nicanor Costa Méndez, and decided to invade the Falklands, a.k.a. Malvinas. Costa Méndez was of the theologico-political school of Molinari; they were peas from the same pod or straws from the same sheaf; both knew that what the genuine Argentine soul most longs for is to avenge the 7th Duke of Medina Sidonia and the defeat of the Armada four-hundred years back. And they were right, if only for the short term: at the first news of the invasion of the Malvinas, crowds descended on Plaza Mayo cheering the clown in chief, who appeared at the balcony of the government house, in uniform, full of bravado, and challenged the Brits to come down and fight. And it was as if time had not passed, or as if Perón had resuscitated: the crowds were again hollering, "My general, how great your worth!" That it was not Perón but Galtieri at the balcony, that it was not quite the right general, seemed only a minor historical detail.
Naturally, not everyone went to the plaza to cheer Galtieri, just as not everyone went there to cheer Perón. Many stayed at home and watched the show on TV. Many disliked Galtieri, just as many had disliked Perón. But there seemed to be a general consensus that the invasion of the Falklands was the right and patriotic thing to do, and even those who were conscious of the horrors the military had perpetrated in the previous six years—all those people tortured and murdered—were prepared fully to shift their aversion to the present enemy, the Brits. "Sinister," a word well suited to each of the Argentine military men who had command during those years, became, instead, the favorite tag for Mrs. Thatcher. Why, even the Pope, John Paul II, latterly sainted, visited Argentina and, just as Sixtus V had blessed Phillip II's armada, he blessed Galtieri and the other commanders, which gave them new confidence that theirs was the holy cause.
Now, finally, a few words are due about Evita's European trip: she was feted and bestowed the order of Isabel la Católica by Franco in Spain; Pius XII in the Vatican gave her a rosary. It is said that in Paris she met Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, who blessed her and her work with the poor, and that in Switzerland she arranged the removal to Argentina of hundreds of Nazis, and the deposit of secret funds in Swiss banks. All that is second hand, for I wasn't there, needless to say. But about the time of Evita's passage to immortality, one morning my mother sent me to José Barja's butcher shop to get a couple of onions (she bought her meat elsewhere). There, while I waited, I saw Bergoglio in animated conversation with the owner.
From what phrases I could gather, I deduced first that they were talking about a recent soccer match, and second, that it had been a match between the "saints" of San Lorenzo and the "red devils" of Independiente (for so they were called). The butcher was making steaks, passing a big rib rack through the fearsome band saw, without, however, pausing for a second in the repartee. From what they were saying about the referee I gathered that San Lorenzo had lost, a result which did not move me in the least, except for a pang of envy at what seemed to me a perfect, clearly enjoyable communion between those two neighbors of mine. It brought to mind the pang of envy I felt that day, right after Christmas of 1946, when I was sitting at the top of our outdoor stairs, talking to Emilita, our neighbor, and she, showing me her new doll, asked, "What did the Child God bring you?"
Recalling the impression Bergoglio's aplomb and people skill made on me at the butcher's, I am not surprised he got to be Pope. Besides, there is, I think, a sort of justice in it. Perón and Evita had learned much from the Church, and much of it went into Bergoglio's early formation: now he has the opportunity to give the fruits of that wisdom back to the Church. It is common knowledge that he is the first Pope not from Europe nor from the Middle East; that he is the first Pope who is a Jesuit, and the first to choose Francis as pontifical name; but very few, outside of Argentina, are aware that he is the first Peronist Pope. He wants the poor to be blessed, not to become prosperous. His main problem seems to be the pederasty scandals, and recently Francis has been accused of not doing enough to put an end to them or to get rid of the hierarchs who have covered them up or ignored them. Those who blame Bergoglio have no idea of how difficult it must be for him, because of the kind of environment he came from. In that school on Calle Varela (boys-only, like his Church), he spent his recesses in the same patio where I spent mine. The bullies always tried to stick a finger up yours while shouting ¡orsai!, which in their jargon meant that you were in offside position, as in soccer, for which you deserved the penalty, and the other boys tried to keep their backs pressed against the walls. If a bully succeeded in sticking his finger, he hollered ¡gol! (goal!), meaning "I scored!" When Bergoglio was in fifth grade with Señor García, or in fourth with Señora Cortina, I was either in third grade with Señora de Arenaz, or in second with Señorita Naón. All those loving and gentle teachers saw what was going on every day, that sort of anal soccer, and said nothing; perhaps they thought, "boys will be boys." To approach one of the teachers and complain about the bullies was totally inconceivable to me, as I imagine it was to Bergoglio. You just had to grind your teeth and bear it in silence. So today, at this juncture, Ecclesia pereat, but Francis dares not, and perhaps cannot do otherwise.
One more thing. No doubt Francesco, the pauper-saint of Assisi, was in Bergoglio's mind when he chose his papal name. But I would bet Francisco Bilbao, the name of the street where stood the butcher shop, was in his mind too. For it is unforgettable, especially in the spring, with its chinaberries in lilac bloom, opening up toward the setting sun. Toward the slaughter house and toward my father's bones. Toward the present time.
Take Avenida Eva Perón, bordering the Southern side of the municipal slaughter house and, once outside the city, follow on Avenida Crovara; before arriving at Ciudad Evita, and to Avenida Eva Duarte, which is a little further on, you will see flower vendors to the left, at the gate to the Jewish cemetery. Go in. Don't buy any flowers, though, because as soon as one leaves the grave someone will steal them. Here, in the front sections, are the tombs of those who were respected for wealth or scholarship. Rodolfo Mondolfo lies there, a refugee from Italy, the author of a book on Heraclitus which I often consult. Keep walking to the Southwest, all the way to the end of this main field of tombs: there is a small door leading to the annex. It's open, just push it and keep going, always to the Southwest, until you reach the backmost wall. Notice that a railroad runs behind that wall, for above it one can distinguish the top of a semaphore. At the spot where the wall starts curving out, there it is, Dad's tomb. Dad, in a few months it will be fifty years since you died and were placed beneath this hideous black marble box, swept by pampa winds and hailstorms, spat on by bird droppings, surrounded by rows of ants.
But what is fifty years to the dead? Before another half-century slips by, however, while you are still alive, you would like to know if there is some guilt to be repaid, one Dad has incurred or one that's due him. Looking at the trusty Timex always on your wrist, you decide to interpret the passing of a train or an up or down motion of the semaphore arm, if within the next minute, as a positive reply from Dad. None comes. What did you have in mind? What guilt could your father have incurred that needs to be repaid? (other than the money he borrowed wherever he could, from usurers or acquaintances). Say it, say it: is it not whether the car crash was attempted suicide? November 20th, Wednesday night, on route 205, steel ripped through conflicting steel. Could Dad have avoided it? In a flash, did he decide not to? Life, for you Dad, had become impossible. Yet Mom was on the passenger seat, a thermos and a mate gourd at hand: did you think of her? You were going too fast, much too fast for the dark tractor abandoned on the highway. November 20th was her birthday, what a celebration! Her wounds, though, were not serious. She lived for a quarter century more; you, for only four months. On March 31st you were killed by a thrombus. The doctor said he did not see any reason for the denouement, and that you had been healing fine; but he didn't see inside your mind.
How often, during those four months lying in bed with a broken pelvis, when Mom was about to go shop for food, you asked her to place the phone near you, and, as soon as Mom was out, you called Malvina. She wept, the poor woman. You tried to raise her hopes: in another month, for sure, you would be back on your feet, and your feet back on the pedals of your newly repaired Rambler Ambassador; she had to be patient; yes, you loved her very much; actually now, since this accident, more than ever; also for you, absence was hard to bear, patience, though, was the name of the game; finally, you promised that before the end of the year you and her were going to be, at long last, living together. A little cozy nest, somewhere in Banfield or in Hurlingham. And you were so eloquent that you almost believed what you were saying. For a while, a dense fog of mindless optimism made your tribulations invisible. Gone were the papers guaranteeing Logares and Steremberg the return of their principal plus their usurious interest, papers signed by you, your wife, and some by your daughter (your son was spared, being ensconced in far-away Wisconsin); all those unpayable debts, plus untold others, vanished from your mind, which became absorbed in rosy thoughts of handsome profits. To your travel bag of rings and trinkets you would add expensive soaps and cosmetics; those have fabulous margins; besides, Malvina would like them. And you would fall into a happy stupor of computing and comparing geometric sequences of sales and profits. Until Mom returned, laden with bags from the market, ready to help you with your pee and your poo.
A loud click. The arm signal goes up. Should you stop talking to your Dad? You wait, until you hear a train approaching. As the train goes by, you hear some mournful moos, leading you to surmise that it was a cargo train carrying cattle, which makes sense, because it could be conveying those cows to the nearby slaughter house. Our lives are the rivers that flow into the sea, which is death. So it was said. Ha! that might have been true in a previous age, long ago, when our speeds and rhythms were fluvial, majestic; today, we are like cattle in a railroad car headed for the killing fields. Then you hear your Dad's voice:
"Brr! Take off that tragic mask, my replica and look-alike, my hypocritical son! Your imagination is good, and merits some reward. How you were able to recreate my life during those four months is remarkable, although one must always keep in mind that it takes a hypocrite to reconstruct a hypocrite. And your reconstruction is more meritorious still, when one takes into account that you didn't see me at all during those four months when I was glued to the bed, unable to stand. There is one detail, though, that you missed, which is how much I missed you. The last time we had seen each other was in June 1966, and we didn't have much to say. You were a doctor now, how did you call it? a pee-ache-dee, or gee, it is an ache to pee? a whippersnapper swollen with science, crest raised like a caracara falcon. It was evident that you disapproved of many things at home, like our watching TV at dinner table, my sympathy for the military—since it was the only institution in our country not infected by communism—, and my need to change the car every two years or so—after all, the automobile was, for me, not a nice, pleasurable toy, but a business investment. So Farragut came perched on the topmast, looked down, and disapproved. That was, in a nutshell, the last time I saw you.
"During those four months nailed to my bed, how many times I said to your mother: Do you think Ricardo will come? And she would object how busy you were, what with wife, kids, job, and with the theorems you were supposed to prove in order to keep that job. Oh, how I missed you. I longed to play a game of chess with you. We could have discussed the Euthyphro. But Mom didn't want us to sound the alarm, so you were told that everything was fine, finger-licking fine, and it didn't occur to the pee-ache-dee that he might not be seeing his father's face ever again. Ensconced in Wisconsin, safe from my scrounging. Since you have proved to have a large enough imagination to reconstruct my last four months, how come you were not capable to imagine that we were to meet no more, unless you got up your ass and flew home? Isn't that baffling? No, it isn't, if we consider your state of mind. Which was, briefly put: you did not want to meet me ever again. I was your father, and you were ready to acknowledge that I had been for something in your intellectual growth. To those who maintain that the universe has no center, I had enabled you to reply that the center does exist and is in each of us, whence it follows that our ultimate and supreme good is to be in complete harmony with ourselves. That's no small gift, and if put on the scales, all your petty causes for reproach will be far outweighed. Yet you are ashamed of me, which means, I can't help suspecting, that you are ashamed of yourself. Tell me the truth: are you absolutely sure that your sons will not be ashamed of you?"
"Hey, chief," a gruff voice roughened by rum and cigarettes interrupts the dialogue and awakens you from your reverie, "for two hundred pesos I'll scrub the marble, for one hundred more I'll fumigate the ants." You get up, hand out a five-hundred-pesos bill, and retrace your steps—till next time around, Dad, until next round.