The Chevrolet Malibu & The Other Edward KennedyThursday, November 04, 2010
In our games with soldiers I always represented Columbia and I would trounce Mario’s soldiers every time. Paradoxically, perhaps because we Argentines were far away from Norteamerica we loved everything and anything that was Made In USA while keeping a distance by writing slogans on walls, “Fuera de Korea, Gringos.” Argentines would throw Molotov Cocktails at the American Embassy and Lincoln Library on Calle Florida every once in a while to prove to the Norteamericanos that we were not completely in bed with them.
A big huge ad in the central train station of Retiro told us that Portland Cement (made in USA) would make the world a firmer and better world. Before Latin Americans thought of smuggling drugs to the US they made a killing by smuggling Levis into Argentina.
By the early 50s I thrived on weekly visits to the Lincoln Library that had rows and rows of beautiful books and they also had a concept, unique to Latin Americans, in which you could take the book home! Can you imagine that!
Perón would brag of the latest Argentine jet fighter the Pulqui II (mostly built from an Italian platform) but we soon to be teenagers lambasted the man with insults, after all you could not buy in Argentina, Argentine made bubble gum. We could build horrific fighter jets but could not fathom the chemical formula of real bubble gum like Bazooka and Fleer’s Double Bubble Gum.
Once my family arrived in Mexico City in the mid 50s my mother purchased a Zenith TV. I would watch Boston Blackie while sipping on my Delaware Punch. I could buy Bazooka and Kellogs Sugar Corn Pops at the local Piggly Wiggly.
By the late 50s I had a short wave radio so that I could listen to Willis Conover’s Voice of America jazz program. It was there that I discovered the likes of Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan and Duke Ellington.
When we moved to Nueva Rosita, Coahuila and my mother taught in the school for the American engineers of the American Smelting and Refining Company my hero was my fellow classmate Sammy Simpson who apparently had a better radio than I did. He would come to school and give us a play by play account of Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game. Sammy was the first one to come to school who gave us his interpretation of Elvis Presley’s Blue Suede Shoes. I became instantly jealous when Sammy was allowed to drive his dad’s 57 Ford with the snazzy fins. We marveled at one of the engineer’s Packards that had some sort of new fangled suspension. We would jar the back bumper and the car (with a quiet whirr) would move down towards the pavement, then move up and then stabilize. Juan Jaime, the Packard’s owner would come out shouting at us telling us we were going to drain the car’s battery.
The woman who ran the hotel where my mother and I lived (I cannot remember her name) would sometimes drive us over to Eagle Pass in her beautiful 57 Chevy. We would cross the grimy ugly Piedras Negras into a city that had detached houses without fences. Imagine that, no fences! I would buy Revell plastic kits of beautiful American cars and of fighter jets that could fly circles around our puny Argentine Pulqui II. It was in one of those trips to Eagle Pass that I spotted a tall man wearing cowboy boots emerge from the Eagle Pass Hotel. It was John Wayne. Imagine that!
Once I was ensconced at St. Ed’s in Austin, Texas I was finally living in the Promised Land. I became an American and forgot my Argentine heritage. Every year my friend Stephen Burdick and I would visit all the car dealerships sometime around October when the new year’s cars were being brought in. We would demand the beautiful glossy brochures. Our faves were those of the hugely long Lincolns, and complicated Mercury Turnpike Cruisers and the oddly shaped but, still so beautiful, Chevrolet Corvair Monza.
We thought that our more sophisticated classmate Daniel Sherrod was a sissy as he read Road & Track and told us of fantastic cars called Peugeots, Ferraris and Citroens. The young man was mad. But it was through Daniel that I first found out about the speedy Chaparrals and other American made sports cars.
In my tenth grade Brother Andre, our dormitory prefect would play classical music. But he also had us listen to Amos ‘n’Andy. I was too young to understand the inherent racism of the program. After all, our school was liberal. Proof of it was a classmate, a day student, called Richard Mosby who was black. He was black and sort of talked funny but he seemed normal enough to me. If there was any racism in our school it was directed to some of the Mexicans. The Anglos made fun of them. I avoided the Mexicans so as not to be labeled one.
I then became friends with William Shieffer, and odd day student who was very quiet, studious and drove what we thought was the dumbest and ugliest car in the world, a Nash Metropolitan. I made fun of his car too many times so that finally he wrestled me to the ground and told me that if I did not shut up he was going to pound me. I acceded and when I got up he told me, “The best jazz quartet in the world is playing at the University of Texas this weekend. Do you want to come? And that is how I first heard the Dave Brubeck Quartet and I abandoned my interest in KTBC, Lyndon Johnson’s radio station that played The Ventures, Paul Anka, Brenda Lee and such crap as that song Teen Angel.
I was soon comparing notes with Daniel Sherrod who taught me to correctly pronounce Peugeot. But I did not really abandon those American cars completely even though I admired Sherrod’s father’s Aston Martin DB-4. I just became a bit more sophisticated and Sherrod explained to me the wonders of Shelley Berman and buttermilk.
But no matter how I think about it I realize that in many ways I became an American in Texas and there has been a little bit of the American in me since then. It is still a vivid memory as I watched Kennedy and Nixon square off on their TV debate and the sheer joy of finding out that Kennedy had won.
It was a few years ago that Rosemary and I headed for Seattle. I did not know that Rosemary had packed an orange for our lunch. “No sir, we have no fruits and vegetables.” We were removed from our car. They scraped off our special quick pass on the windshield and while my wife was in tears one man threatened to impound our car. We had to pay a $200 fine. We have not returned to Seattle since.
It was two years ago on a trip to Austin, after all these years that I realized that my pleasant classmates had ideas that were alien to me. I could not discuss gun control, universal medical care and much less anything to do with the interloper at the White House called Obama.
What had happened to my Columbia in all the years that I had not been there? It was a shocker. But once the shock wore off I changed my tack. I stopped talking about guns, medical care and all things liberal. My friends suddenly seemed to be the friends of old.
I feel most depressed in the results of the elections in the US. I would propose a few solutions among them, central in my opinion would be some sort of campaign to buy American, to build American to produce American and to outsource from New York to the folks in Idaho and not in India.
I remember going to a concert of the Dave Brubeck Quartet at the Mexican American Cultural Institute in Mexico City in the early 60s. They were there courtesy of the State Department. The room probably had a few spooks watching us. In 1968 Edward “Duke” Ellington took his band on a tour of Latin America. Perhaps Americans could refurbish their image by repeating these musical and cultural exports.
But things might be looking up. When I opened my November 2010 National Geographic, there was no Statue of Liberty, no American footbal players, but there was that two-page spread, on the immediate inside, of a Chevrolet Malibu. Yes, things are looking up.