Five Sailors, The Perfume Shop & Forest GumpFriday, January 18, 2008
Today's blog is a tough one to write because there are so many directions it could go. In times past, before the hyperlink, the internet version of the magazine sidebar was fashionable one could not write in any or every direction. My friend John Lekich, who has given me so much advice on writing, would have told me to stay centered and keep to one theme. I do not know if I will be able to do that here.
My story today begins with this one picture that was taken in 1966 outside the office of the Senior US Naval Advisor to the Argentine Navy. I was the aide and translator to my boss (I was seconded by the Argentine Navy), Captain USN Onofrio Salvia. I had clearance to view and translate top secret documents. These top secret documents usually involved money and how much money the Argentine Navy was spending in purchasing obsolete US equipment. By looking at those figures I could extrapolate how much more the Argentine Army was spending as the navy was more frugal and had less influence. Another top secret document involved a joint (Argentine, Uruguay, Brazil and the US) naval exercise, Operativo Unitas. The US document requested separate floors for black US non-commissioned personnel. The US Navy in the 60s did not want white and black non-comissioned officers hanging out together.
From left to right: Felipe Occhiuzzi, Jorge Waterhouse-Hayward, Victor Corrales, Carlos Alberto Santoalla and José Luís Alvarez.
Occhiuzzi was Italian and was over 6 ft tall. He was so poor that he wore his navy shoes even when he was not in uniform. He had worn them out so he put carboard on the inside to cover the holes. He was studying civil engineering. Even then he had these droopy eyes and with his extremely loud voice he would tell us the ills of the world. Occhiuzzi was used a messenger. One of his tasks was to pick up and deliver US spare parts from radars and other electronic equipment. He would deliver them to Electrónica Naval where the admirals ran a racket in which noncomissioned officers and sailors built TV sets from scratch and made a tidy profit.
Corrales was a Spaniard who loved to eat and on Mondays (we were usually given the weekends off and we had the privilege of not having to live in the naval barracks) he would tell us of the meals he had eaten. We were acomodados (an Argentine term denoting that we had friends, higher up, and we had comparatively cushy jobs). Corrales was in charge of purchasing snacks and sandwiches and making the coffee for the staff of American officers and the Argentine liaison officers.
Carlos Alberto Santoalla and José Luis Alvarez were both of Spanish origin. Santoalla was always depressed. He was extremely left wing and believed in all kinds of conspiracies involving the CIA. Only now have I come to realize that he was mostly right. Alvarez kept to himself and told us of his conquests (married women). He worked part time in a perfume shop. We all thought he had been born for the job. Both Santoalla and Alvarez cleaned around and served the coffee. Santoalla found it so demeaning to serve those American and Argentine brutes that he would look sickly and pale. We suspected that he sometimes pissed into the officers' coffee before serving them. After the navy, Santoalla went to work for a huge insurance company and he had a desk in a cavernous structure full of desks. He had always reminded me of an Argentine version of Kafka so I thought his job was perversely appropriate.
After our two years we all went our separate ways but somehow Occhiuzzi, Santoalla and I managed to keep in touch. Occhiuzzi graduated (in spite of overcrowded classrooms and numerous coups) and obtained a very good job building automobile plants for Ford Motor Company of Argentina. When Ford left Argentina he was laid off and was never able to find a new job. He had some savings and land investments that saved him in the end. Santoalla kept disappearing but we always managed to find him. His last job has been to sell, door to door, supplementary medical and ambulance insurance.
This now brings us to our story.
When I last saw Santoalla (around 1998) he told me that in his office he had a nickname. It was Foregún. It seems that while trying to sell insurance he was accosted by a thief who pointed a gun at him. Santoalla turned around and ran away. The thief was not able to catch him. He smiled when he told me the story. But I could not catch on and had to ask him to elaborate. "It had all to do with the fact that I was able to run away because I can run quickly like that actor in that movie." Finally he was able to explain the the movie and I realized it was Forrest Gump. About a week later Occhiuzzi, Santoalla and I met for a Pizza.
Five months later the doorbell rang at Occhiuzzi's house. A man with a Hitler moustache and large briefcase and a smartly dressed woman were selling ambulance insurance. Occhiuzzi told the man, "I would not let you in my house dressed as you are. You look a mess. You are as much an embarrasment now as you were when you served ungloriously in the Argentine Navy. As for you, young woman, I will let you in." The man in the moustache (Santoalla who had not recognized Occhiuzzi) turned around, grabbed the woman and both ran away. Occhiuzzi ran after them and with his loud voice called out Santoalla's first name. They stopped and a spooked Santoalla recognized his erstwhile navy buddy.
In 1994 Rosemary, Rebecca and I went to Argentina and we met up with Occhizzi on the beach in Punta del Este, Uruguay. Rebecca instantly liked the loud and lugubrious looking Occhiuzzi. She noted his large hands.
But we never connected with Santoalla. He was moving and he told me of many problems and said he was simply unavailable. He also told me that he was a private person who really had not much interest in seeing anyone from his past.