Buenos Aires diary: Cab driver No. 21; the plumber senor Benito


Cab driver no #
The cab driver who just brought me home, his hands on the steering wheel had untrimmed nails, ferret claw hands, a few strands of old gray hair, water ran down his nose, he drives with eyes glazed over either from cataracts or endless crying over the Anibal Troilo-melodies of his youth and middle and old age sounding on the car radio, biochronology of his life and its moments with women, the pitiful singing of the men who sing tango, it is the opposite of flamenco with the rough beauty of cantillation and the gypsy who is free, mystical, solitary and not needing much to survive in his trance, tango is the opposite: a music of the weak, the timid men working factories who lived their fantasies in nights when they could leave home without punch-card. Men shuffling and afraid to be lonely, hoping hoping to create spectacle that can exert pagan powers of attraction on the soul of a woman.
We drive by murals in Constitucion painted with satyrical cartoons about Jesus saving Paraguayans, then murals with prophetic anunciations of foreign cosmic change accompanying the Italian elections in 2013.
His hands with sharp ferret claws, the music plays, he asks me again once or twice for the altura, at which hundred-number height of Constitucion did I say he need drop me.
:
*****
:Senor Benito Plomero
.
For a few months I am trying to call the plumber, Senor Benito, to come and fix the humidity problem in my bathroom, as the fungi on the shower ceiling become greener and expand further outwards into the white plaster cosmos. Mr Benito shouted once he will come at 8, as he had a lot of jobs that day. He walked in and saw my face which was altered with bumps from allergies resulting partly from a reaction to the fungi (fungi in Lumfardo, the Argentinean old near-moribund street slang, meant a man’s hat, usually a Fedora, so perhaps his patience with the bacteria on the ceiling has some sentimental nostalgia of respecting the sweetness of the past)
He came in and looked about my apartment. Perhaps he knew my grandparents, Romulo and Natalia, or recognized Natalia in the picture by a rosewood table with some flowers–near her death she still wore lowcut dresses and had flowing Sicilian-Norman blonde hair; Romulo was a musician most of his life and they do well with girls even in near -death, his lungs survived seven months as a widower, weight of mourning and all that hysterical weeping. (Before her death had even sold his saxophone, his sacred friend, provider, to pay her treatment–the new owner was a young rocker in the Argentinean band Los Redonditos de Ricota, “The Kids Grown Fat from Ricotta Cheese” now famous on the radio and tele, it was not the boys talent, only Romulo’s saxophone alone that worked their money wonders.)
Mr Benito then looked at my face and took off his sunglasses. Did he pity the red-bluish pustules, I wonder, or my apparent loneliness and foreign accent, he glanced at the ceiling and explained even if I scrape off the pondscum, the humidity problem can only be fixed by a plumber, and he needs to also check the pipes in the room upstairs, for which he needs permission. He tugged on his leather belt, with tools like Christmas decorations, shook my hand, clapped me on my shoulder giving words of support–for what tragedy I know not–and excused himself out the door, saying I had his number and he would call me when there is availability next week.
I called him back, the fourth time he answered that I need call the owner of the building who lives in Calle del Rubi, Ruby Street, she need determine the price of his labors.
She said he has to call her, that I must tell him. After a month he returned my sms, in which I announced in an intensified language, a message with a threatening tone yet nonetheless written in the from of usted, Thou, in Spanish, as he is much older. I muttered to himself that is no wonder his parents named him after the Fascist leader, that he must be a Fascist who knew my grandfather was from a communist family, the son of a Portuguese Jewess.
I did not write this, however, but I mentioned that I cannot continue with ongos, fungus in the shower ceiling, as my skin is reacting with allergies, I have a health problem. It was true, I had not gone to the hospital as I needed avoid paying the 400 pesos for blood and stomach tests after my wallet was nabbed.
( In the sms I was direct in my complaints and lining up my case, almost too direct I feared–I had learned a thing or too, from 5 years in that prosperous little purgatorio that was the Netherlands, from the little Dutch bureaucrats and coordinators on how to complain with direct frankness and unarguable moral form. Yes, then it had made me feel oppresed in Utrecht and Bylmer Amsterdam, but maybe now it will come in useful in Argentina, the scars of Germanic discipline that I had failed to live up to will here make me seem very organized and powerful, though there I was treated as a barbarian creep. I remember in Greece some girls were impressed at how organized and clear-headed I seemed, I was shocked then, they, these Greek artist-women thought me to be more organized and practical? It might have an echo here in this country.)
Benito called me back. His voice was compassionate, he was tired and old but concerned for me, he called me querido, he said he was much work in the Holidays, but surely he will be here in January. The first week of January, I tried to rush in. Yes, the first week. He asked me about my skin problems, how I am holding up. I said I only mention this in relation to the moss of the shower ceiling that grows back like the hydra after I clean it. Perhaps that made him feel Herculean in his old age. He started telling me how he understood, he too has skin problems, reactions, he has to avoid the sun. Now I felt embarassed for overreacting, I surrendered, gave up: I don’t want to compete with his melanoma or the metastasis he prevented, or the little spots of benign tumor like discolorations on plaintain skins that appear if he doesn’t avoid the midday sun. Un abrazo, I embrace you my friend, he said to me, and meant every syllable, we hung up.
He did not wish me happy Christmas holidays, which I appreciated. Maybe it is because he found out from the building’s encargadora that I am the son of a Jew, or because he knows my grandfather was an atheist from a communist family of artists and the son of a Portuguese Jewess.

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December 15, 2012 · 12:18 am

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