Big Ass Mess

Despelote is s great word in Spanish. It means chaos or, for some, a great laugh. For me, it perfectly describes the administration of my apartment building in Buenos Aires. A big ass mess. Another good word for them is crooked.

I went back for a meeting of apartment owners, leaving behind the pine forest for a few days. We met to discuss the administration’s decision (in cohesion with a select band of apartment owners, no doubt taking a cut somehow or other) to hire a security company to keep an eye on us, protect us. Armed rent-a-cops soon were sat on their big or puny asses in the entrance hall all night, fighting sleep and clocking our comings and goings. I’d always felt safe in the building. Not now with the rent-a-cops and an administration stinking of negligence, wrongdoing and crookedness.

I arrived to the meeting fuming, out to kill. It costs me to rent the cops. All because they – the administrators and their cohorts – say we need them. No way! We gathered in the entrance hall, about 35 of us – a record turnout, so I was told. The administrators came with their own lawyer, hired on our dime. The nerve! An elderly neighbor saw me fidgeting as the meeting got going. I was getting wrapped up in it, headstrong. Arguments broke out; people had their say and vented their frustrations with the administration. The elderly neighbor tugged my shirtsleeve and said, “It doesn’t pay to get worked up. Play it cool, son. Take my word for it.” Two minutes later he was shouting out, arms flailing, fingers pointing at the administration.

Then the son of one of the pro-security guard neighbors (that is, the enemy) came down. He stood in the middle of the proceedings, with a tank top exposing his muscles, arms crossed tightly, eyes beaming at us. Shit! I thought. They’ve brought him in to rough us up, stare us down and stir shit up. It makes you want to shout. Your money is at stake, and justice. So you do. But you’re drowned out. There are shouts and clamoring. Blood boils. But you’re in the majority and the ruffian is expelled – he has no reason to be here. It takes three men to push him out the front door, women screaming. The ruffian pushes back. A man almost falls over. The ruffian only gives up after his mother (the enemy) gives him the nod to back down.

Then a reasonable man stands up and beseeches for calm. Order returns – for two minutes. Then the shouting escalates again, arms waving, fingers pointing at the administration and their lawyer.

I lost track after a while – and steam. The situation came to a vote and we won. The majority voted against the administration and its cohorts. Justice reigned. In the end an elderly woman said to me, “We’d better be careful and watch our backs. There’s no telling what they’ll do next.” The ruffian was still out front, in the street. I took the elevator upstairs and locked the door.


We’re going to outer space. My five-year-old daughter has figured out how. The family has to gather upstairs, all of us. The big dog and the pesky cat, too. And the baby. Here’s what we have to do. We have to stand together and tilt our heads back – all of us – and start blowing, very hard and again and again and again. Up into the rafters. Then the house will rise off the ground and soar into outer space.

“What are we going to do when we get there?” I ask.

“Fly around, silly,” she says. “And then we’ll go to America and visit your mummy.”

Who’s The Boss?

My dad came for a visit. He’s the most vivacious eighty-something you’ll meet.

He does tai chi in the morning, in the forest behind the house. Then after a breakfast of nearly black coffee, fruit and toasted rice cakes (often burnt, by mistake), he walks to the beach and back through town, a round trip of more than an hour, nearly two.

When he gets back, he takes a break to read the newspaper, check his emails and then sits down with a book. He’s reading “The Iliad” and something on the early years of the oil industry in Argentina.

He plays with the kids in the garden-cum-forest and the house, helps my son water the plants, getting wet and laughing in the process.

Later, he sits down to watch TV, to check out the latest in tennis. Now, here’s where things get troublesome. You see, my dad is known as El Jefe, or The Boss. His brothers and sisters have told me so. As the eldest, he ran the games, called the shots, orchestrated things.

So El Jefe sat down to watch a quarterfinal of the Masters Cup in Shanghai. The problem was that my three-year-old son was watching “Lazy Town.”

El Jefe got me (for all his vigor, he doesn’t know how to use DirecTV, except to turn the volume up to ear-shattering levels) to flick to ESPN. Well, my son screamed, shouted, stammered and turned red in the face.

“What’s the matter? Don’t you want to watch tennis?” El Jefe asked him.

“No!” my son said.

Outmatched, my son stormed out in a sulk and left with my wife to go to the doctors. He hates doctors – but apparently not more than tennis.

The next day, a repeat episode was unraveling. El Jefe wanted to check out the tennis again.

“No, Gran-Gran. My TV,” my son said.

He was watching “The Backyardigans.”

But El Jefe thought he’d have a look anyway. My son screamed, shouted, stammered and turned red in the face. And then screamed, shouted, stammered and turned red in the face. Well, his performance this time rattled El Jefe, who turned to me and said, “Let’s let him watch cartoons.”

El Jefe turned and went to the couch and “The Iliad,” and I thought, Wow, El Jefe may have met his match.