Parking Enforcement & Other AbsurditiesTuesday, October 09, 2007
Not only do I not understand parliamentary democracy, crossing the floor, and no confidence votes I don't understand some of the other salient features of living in a democracy. An example is the strike. Why must so many people surround buildings and then march around with signs hanging from their neck? Prior arrangements could be made between the unions and the management to the effect that, "We won't be outside if you don't try to get in." Then those on strike could go on strike-pay holidays.
It was in the early 60s that I first read Albert Camus's El Extranjero ( I read it in Spanish) while living in Mexico City. I was deeply affected in reading how Meursault complained of the heat during his mother's wake and then how he went to see a comic movie after her funeral. This sort of thing made sense in a city (Mexico City) where bus drivers were paid per round-trip routes taken in one shift. The faster the drivers went, the fewer people to stop to pick up, the more routes they would finish and the more money they would make. It made perfect sense to me. And these bus drivers were told that if they ran over anybody they were to go in reverse and run them over again to make sure they were dead. Law suits were a pain in the neck. It was easier to pay off the widow or the widower, the mother or the father.
From living with the absurd I learned to live with the military logic of Buenos Aires under a general called Juan Carlos Onganía. On the day after the military coup, June 28, 1966, that sent our country doctor president Arturo Ilía (above in Time/Life photo) home in a cab, the first decrees passed by the junta (Onganía plus the heads of the Argentine air force and the navy) dissolved congress, eliminated all parties and the constitution was deemed a worthless piece of paper. Months before the coup, a local nespaper, El Mundo had published editorial cartoons in a Sunday magazine called Tía Vicenta in which Ilía was drawn as a turtle (slow democracy) and the general as a walrus because of his mustache. The general banned Tía Vicenta.
After these decrees the milicos decided that Argentine youth was being corrupted in dark night clubs. They decreed a minimum watts-per-square-meter in ceiling lights so that Argentine youths could count their money before paying their bill. This seemed entirely logical. It was also logical that my sailor's pay (equivalent to one US Dollar a month, since the pay rate had not changed since the 1920s) would be a crisp new bill in an IBM perforated envelope. Argentina was most modern!
Buenos Aires has an excellent, subway system, urban and interurban rail and many buses. You don't really need a car to go anywhere, except when you have transit strikes or general strikes. In general strikes the city stops except for the post office inside workers who must first throw all the mail that is inside, out the window, including the pay cheques of the retired. I saw this many times and when the strike was in the summer (as they often are) it was like a rare summer snowfall. With no transit, Buenos Aires becomes a knot of cars. But generals are logical and they often decide that public transit is an "essential" service. It was then that I first became aware of this word with so many meanings. So when the buses and trains went on strike, the petty officers of the navy ran the trains and we sailors checked for tickets, kept the train cars clean, etc. The air force petty officers drove buses and the army dealt with the subways. It was perfectly logical. Even Meursault would have nodded his head in agreement. And those sailors and soldiers of low rank had to pick up the garbage during general strikes. That was logical, too, since I was never singled out to do it.
I thought that upon coming to Vancouver that kind of logic would no longer come into play. That was not to be. I find that being on this side of the equator hasn't changed things much. Consider that our present city council and mayor (or whoever is in charge) stated (decreed?), when our city strike began some 81 days ago, that parking enforcement was an essential service but garbage collection wasn't.
I would not want the generals to come back, but if some retired old military guy with some semblance of logic would suggest we switch the definition of essential from parking enforcement to garbage collection, about now, that would suit me fine.
And as for Doctor Arturo Ilía I met him in 1972 when he was on a lecture tour through Latin America. He came to the Jesuit university, Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City where I was teaching spanish to foreign students. I was introduced to him. I told him I had seen him leave the Casa Rosada in a cab. With a little, but forgiving smile on his face, he looked at me and said, "It could have been worse, I could have been shot. And you were only obeying orders."