The Primal UrgeWednesday, February 14, 2007
In 1961 I read British science fiction writer Brian Aldiss's satirical novel The Primal Urge in which all human beings get an Emotional Register implanted on their forehead at birth. The Emotional Register had to be a light emitting diode (before they were invented) that glowed when its owner felt sexual attraction to someone (in what I remember of the novel) at a cocktail party, for example. I found the book amusing. The sexually reserved Irish banned it.
My first job in Vancouver, when I arrived in 1975, was washing cars at Tilden-Rent-A-Car on Alberni Street, in front of the Ritz Hotel. Because of my Argentine perspicacity I was quickly promoted to rental counter clerk. On winter Sundays business was non existent. If I tried to read a book the manager made me wash windows. But I was left alone if I sat at my post to daydream. I remember one winter Sunday in February very well. Two cars were illegally parked in front of the hotel and had their four-way flashers going. I noticed that only in short intervals would both cars' lights be in phase. Most of the time they blinked with no apparent congruence. When the lights did coincide, ever so fleetingly, it was wonderful. I remembered The Primal Urge and what it would be like to face some woman at a party and suddenly see her light blinking in unison with my own. Those two cars seemed to parallel humans falling in love.
While I was never exceptional in mathematics I was competent enough to ponder on a formula that would predict when the lights of those cars would coincide. However complex, the formula would surely be simpler that one that would predict when and how two human beings would fall in love.
Until I went to St. Edward's High School, a Catholic boarding school in Austin Texas my love of women was from afar. There was one of the Argentine quintuplets (Maria Fernanda Diligenti) in kindergarten. The only way I could express my affection for her was by hiking up her skirts. It was all one-sided as she never acknowledged my existence. In the 8th grade in Nueva Rosita, Coahuila I fell for Anna Maria Ramos. She was in the 7th grade. But she knew whom she wanted and she had a boyfriend (Romeo!) whom she eventually married. The reason I was shunned by them all is that I had invented the concept of nerdness before it have ever become part of our vocabulary.
It was at St. Ed's where my attraction for a very short, sassy cheerleader (from St. Mary's Academy on the other side of Austin) finally forced me to try other tactics. It took me perhaps a year (11th grade?) before I had enough nerve to ask her out for a date. Of the date I do not remember much except she took me to visit her mother who diplomatically told me she liked my leather (fake) jacket. The sassy cheerleader was called Judy Reyes and I distinctly remember fighting with fellow classmate Joe Davis in asserting exclusive rights to the unaware Reyes. Not only do I think I lost that fight I simply could not compete with his ability to play a great piano. In comparison to my two left feet shuffling he probably could have danced the tango. My attempts at dancing with Judy Reyes in the sock hops in our school gym were embarrasing. I finally gave up. And went back to my old self of admiring from afar.
Before I met La Uruguaya I fell in love with Elizabeth Blew (below, left). She had red hair, a pale complexion and she reminded me of a tiny racing horse. She sounded exactly like Queen Elizabeth did at her coronation. We sat in a Buenos Aires boliche (a corner cafe) sipping cocas in 1965 and I was smitten.
But it was not to be. Not only was she my first cousin but our romantic interlude ended suddenly when her boyfriend, Bill or Bob arrived. He was very blonde, very tall and very German looking in his almost Wermacht-issue uniform (he was serving in the Argentine Army while I was in the Argentine Navy). He was scary. I also felt attraction to my niece María Inés O'Reilly who led me on with lots of flirting. If anything I would have defined her as a flirt.
I met Corina Poore when she was in bed with a cold. From her bed she read my hand and told me things about me that made my blush. I was fascinated by her million freckles and her pushy demeanor.
She swept me off my feet like a pampero, the Argentine wind that comes racing in from the pampas. She invited me for a weekend at her parent's ranch in Entre Rios Province. Since I was desk bound as translator to the Senior US Naval Advisor I had to sweet talk Cabo (corporal) Moraña for that weekend pass. Moraña told me I could have the weekend as long as I told him all the "details" when I got back. Corina's brother-in-law flew us in his private plane and landed in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly a cloud of dust approached and an ancient black Packard arrived. We were driven to a gentle hill on which a large house with a veranda stood. The house was surrounded by a forged iron fence. At the door I saw the biggest Great Dane I have ever seen in my life. Corina told us we would ride before dinner. We did and after putting on my suit and tie we sat down at the dinner table, which was complete with finger bowls and a servant in back of every chair. The next day we went riding again. The cincha of my Argentine saddle loosened up and the horse sensed it. It stopped suddenly and I went flying. The horse then began to stomp on me and managed to hit me near one of my eyes. I spent the rest of my weekend on the veranda hammock while Corina placed an ice pack on my swollen black eye. This was extremely romantic but I still realized I was going to have a problem explaining it all to Cabo Moraña.
After a very brief relationship Corina went on a ship (in 1965 ships still went to defined ports of destination) to Southampton to study in a London art school. It was a tearful goodbye at Puerto Nuevo and as a parting gift I gave her Miles Davis - Kind of Blue. She told me to visit her friend Susy Bornstein who would console me. She did.
I fell for Susy Bornstein immediately. We felt guilty. While Corina had wooed me singing Bob Dylan with her guitar (that was my first knowledge of Dylan) Susy fed me Swiss cheese sandwiches while making me listen to classical music. She took me to my first two operas at the Colón, Prokofiev's The Fiery Angel and Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice.
I sweltered at both those operas in a Buenos Aires December summer in my only suit a dark wool Botany Bay winter suit. Then in the middle of a bleak Buenos Aires winter she called me up to tell me to never ever call her again. As a sailor I had no future. She pointed out that I also had no manners. She had fallen for a much older man, who played first violin at the Colón Symphony Orchestra. I was in despair. I had fallen in love with her while both of us listened to Astor Piazolla play La Milonga del Angel at the Teatro Florida.
When I arrived to Veracruz in 1966 my hair was down to my shoulders and I was a bum on Mocambo Beach. I met a beautiful girl, Cecilia Borrego, who was visiting Veracruz. Her father was a bank manager in the state capital of Xalapa. Her gray eyes were an incredible shade. My friend Homero Aridjis would have described them as obsidian mirrors. Her nickname was Gris, gray in Spanish. I told her I was a hippie (the closest I ever got to drugs of any kind were my habitual Argentine mates). She was impressed even if I seemed to have no immediate future. She was whisked back to Xalapa by her concerned father and I never saw her again.
Corina sent me a letter from London informing me she had obtained a job to work in the 1968 Mexico City Oplympics. She had patched up her friendship with Susy. I wrote her back that I had married Rosemary Healey a Canadian blonde (a blonde is to a Latin what red is to a bull).
It was Rosemary, unlike the others, who decided to make sure we had some sort of future. Rosemary was the one who made the decision that we had to move to Canada with our two daughters.
And it was Rosemary who made me a man. I would often visit my mother in Veracruz and I would arrive on a Friday night. In the morning my mother would tell her housekeeper to make breakfast for el joven (the young man). When I first showed up with Rosemary I distinctly heard my mother say, "Favor prepare el desayuno (breakfast) para el señor."
I saw La Argentina in a visit to Buenos Aires in 1989. I rang the bell at her door. She opened it, and looking at me said, "Well, aren't you going to kiss me?" She died of cancer about 6 years ago. Corina, La Uruguaya lives in London. She came for a visit in the late 80s and when my lost Argentine accent suddenly came back my Rosemary knew. She was quite furious. I keep in touch with her. She has two sons. Three years ago Rosemary, Rebecca and I went to Buenos Aires. Rosemary met cousin Elizabeth Blew but I have never told her about my fondness for her. In the photo below Elizabeth is on the right. I am next to Rosemary and Rebecca is sitting in the front row next to Elizabeth.