AppearancesSunday, November 22, 2009
During my stint in the Argentine Navy in the mid 60s I learned to manipulate my superiors. It was the only way that I could prevent my immediate superiors, the Argentine Marine Corps corporals and other petty officers from making my life hell. This technique had all to do with appearances. Captain USN Onofrio Salvia, who was the senior US Naval Advisor in Argentina, and my superior since I had been seconded by the Argentine Navy as his translator, had a chauffeured black Chevrolet Impala. The Impala would not have turned heads in the US. In Buenos Aires it did. There were very few American cars in Argentina in the 60s. I decided to play a game. Captain Salvia had instructed me to deliver a letter to the Argentine Admiralty. He told me, “I need this delivered immediately so ask Juan to take you in the car.” I looked for my beautiful and supple black Argentine leather gloves, I picked up my very nice Lopez Taibo black briefcase and put on my sunglasses. I told Juan to take me to the admiralty and that I was going to play a trick and sit in the back seat. When we arrived at the admiralty I asked Juan to open the door for me. When I left the car every posted guard saluted and came to attention. They all ignored that I was simply a lowly Argentine Navy conscript. My appearance had trumped it.
A few months after that funny incident, I was being harassed and given orders to go to refresher boot camp sessions. I hated them. In boot camp I had no protection from the understanding Captain Salvia who tried his best to bend the rules to keep me in his office. But even he had his limits and his pull only went so far. One of my methods for avoiding boot camp was plain and square insubordination masked as forgetfullness. This did not work and I spent many a day in the brig and still going to boot camp.
One afternoon as I nursed my sore muscles from the many push-ups I had been forced to execute I had an idea. I went to the Captain’s picture files and I removed a glossy 8x10 of Almirante Benigno Varela who was the Argentine Chief of Naval Operations. In my best handwriting I wrote in Spanish (to my good friend Conscripto Jorge Waterhouse-Hayward and signed with a flourish Almirante Benigno Varela, Comandante de Operaciones Navales, ARA. I slipped the picture under the glass of my desk. It was soon noticed.
As I expected the harassing stopped and I was treated with kid’s gloves by the corporals and petty officers. I had learned the importance of appearances.
It was my intention to write about elitism today. I began it with the chauffeur incident above and quickly realized its connection to elitism was tenuous. I will continue tomorrow.