“The King of the Milonga” by Roberto Fontanarrosa

Download pdf: King of the Milonga

Believe me, Doc, nothing beats being King of the Milonga. You might think I’m exaggerating, but here in Argentina—I don’t know about other places—but here, here, nothing beats being King of the Milonga. Well, maybe, just maybe, goalkeeper for River Plate; sometimes I think that might be the lone exception, especially when I think back to Amadeo the Great. If you saw Amadeo Carrizo in the opposing goal, your socks would drop around your ankles. Tell me if that ain’t so. I don’t know if you follow football much, but you must have heard of Carrizo. Those looks, that presence, that grace. I swear, it was a thing of beauty to watch him play. And keeper for River . . . that’s no small thing. And the chicks were all over him. What beats that? What other job title could possibly be as attractive to the ladies when you sweet talk ’em? What could be more impressive? Economics Minister? Professional singer?

Well, maybe professional singer. I’m thinking of Alberto Morán, for one; he would simply sing the first few bars of “Pasional” and the babes would pee themselves. “Ya no sabrás, nunca sabrás, lo que es morrir de amor y enloquecer . . . ” (You’ll never know what it’s like to die out of love and lose your mind) But when they ask, “What is it you do for a living?” or “Hey, what’s your gig?” Because, nowadays, the younger chicks talk to all the guys like that, even if you have forty years on ’em. “What’s your gig?” “Goalkeeper for River Plate.” Oh, baby! They fall flat on their asses, Doc . . . Ain’t that a fact? Goalkeeper for River, and with those looks and those broad shoulders. Amadeo . . . that guy was phenomenal.

But . . . I tell ya, Doc . . . it doesn’t compare with being King of the Milonga. Want to know why? Because a footballer’s career is too short, way too short. They’re done at 30, give ’em 35 maybe for a keeper. For a milonguero, however . . . just take a look at me. I’m still in one piece.

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Milonga at La Ideal, Buenos Aires. Photograph from TangoTV.

Hey! What’s up, Turk? How you doing, my man? Good to see you. Never saw you with that tie before, Turk . . . Dr. Celoria, a dear friend of mine. See you, man. Hey . .  Turk! Lopecito got it . . . he got the good stuff. Amazing, that Lopecito. I’ll fill you in later . . .

As I was saying, Doc . . . I got a niece, for instance . . . Vicky. She won Queen of the Mechanical Milkers in El Trebol. Everything went well, fantastic, the lights, the interviews. But three months later, no one remembered the poor thing. My sister, Susana, had hoped it marked the beginning of the girl’s acting career. From El Trebol to stardom. Six months later, the girl was back at work as a telephone operator at the local hotel . . . Dear, God! . . . The milonga, now that’s something else. That guy I introduced you to, Josami, the Turk, man, can that guy dance. He’s a bit hobbled because he had his prostrate operated on, but he’s back, good as new. Incredible, the Turk. Physically, as good as new, but he’s broke, totally broke. Gambling killed him. Games of chance. He’s a compulsive player. He spends his time looking for numbers to play in the lottery, pulling them off the license plates of passing cars. He stole money from his mom so he could play at the casino in Paraná. He hitchhiked to the one in Rio Hondo. But you look at him now and he looks good, well-dressed with those shiny polished, patent-leather shoes. His coat is a bit worn, that’s true, the collar of his shirt somewhat uneven. That work shirt has seen its share of action, that’s for sure, but it’s a warhorse. He may not be welcomed anywhere else, but here people greet him with open arms, they are fond of him, they embrace him. Ain’t that right, Doc? He’s not like he used to be on the dance floor, that’s true, but, in the end, that’s not that important. The scar from the operation bothers him when he sits, he told me. Is that possible, Doc? Is it possible for the fibrillation of the wound to cause discomfort when you sit, or when you execute a quebrada and your partner sits on your knee?

Anyway, that’s what he says. Poor Turk. And we all believe him. We have a milonguero hierarchy, Doc, that you won’t see in any other country. I mean, I’ve never been abroad, not even to Uruguay. I dunno. The opportunity never came, and I have this thing, this stupid resistance to the idea of leaving, of going abroad. What do I know . . . I heard they dance tango in Finland . . . What’s happening, beautiful! How you been? We missed you the other night, on Marisa’s birthday. It was a good time. We stayed till seven. That hairdo looks marvelous on you. Ciao, beautiful, save a dance for me later . . .

She was really something forty years back, Doc. A real doll. She still does well for herself, but forty years ago, I was crazy about her. I was doing my time in the army in Zárate and the lieutenant would send me off to a pharmacy in Campana to buy sodium permanganate to polish the saddles. And she was behind the counter. A real beaut, with those Russian eyes . . .

So, as I was saying, Doc . . . looks like tango is all the rage in Finland. Have you read about it? Can you believe it? . . . A society so different from ours. But then, of course, everybody likes tango. If you have a heart, a soul, something inside you has to move when you hear it. Unless you’re a cold fish. Right, Doc? Ain’t that right?

Even in Japan they like it. I was invited to dance there once, with Victoria as my partner. She was from Corrientes and she danced like mad. Today she’s in a wheelchair, poor thing. “Victoria and Ricardo,” in Japan; everything had been set for our tour. Osaka, Tokyo, Hiroshima . . . Believe me, Doc, Hiroshima. Because those poor people need some fun. I was to replace Virulazo, who had a herniated disc; he was overweight, Virulazo was; that was always his problem. People would say, “Virulazo is so restrained when he dances, his performance is so tight.” And the fact is that his midsection was bound with four rounds of plastic wrap.

I’m not one to bad mouth Virulazo because, for me, he was a genius on the dance floor, on par with Nureyev, I tell ya. But he didn’t move much because he had a herniated disc. Is that something that can be operated on, Doc? Or maybe that would just make it worse. Imagine, Doc, if it turns out that Gardel was a Finn. Not Uruguayan, not French . . . but a Finn. Why not? Some say he was, just to stir up controversy, like those books that claim he was homosexual. Man, wouldn’t that be a blow to our national pride, eh, Doc? The Gay Finn. In the end, I didn’t go to Japan. I was going to go with Leopoldo Federico, from my neighborhood. I dunno. My old lady was ill, trouble with her lungs. It was like an allergy, her chest seized right up. She had this cough. That dust that gets in the air off the hoppers when they load grain down at the port. Have you noticed? It’s a problem for a lot of folks. We lived downtown, close to the port. I felt I couldn’t leave, go off to a faraway land like Japan with my Ma in the state she was in.

To top it all, she had it up to here with me because she said I didn’t work. “You’re 42 and you still don’t have a job,” she would nag me, between coughing fits. She went on about it the whole bloody day, how I didn’t work and got out of bed at three in the afternoon. I still lived with my parents at the time, primarily so that I could be there for Ma. My sister had graduated from college and moved to El Trebol, and my old man, I tell ya, he worked all day in his law office and didn’t help much at all. My old lady was pretty much all alone, poor thing. And she would break my balls over all that stuff. How I dropped out of high school during my freshman year, how I was unemployed . . . And my old man, I tell ya, he wouldn’t even talk to me. Let me tell ya . . .

So going to Japan under the circumstances . . . I dunno . . . it didn’t seem right. And it was a hell of an opportunity, my big break. I dunno. Maybe I got cold feet. I mean, like I said, Doc, I’ve never even set foot outside of the province, that’s a fact. Never. Besides, it would have required a radical change in my habits. If I had gone to Japan, I would have had to change some things. The producer, one Herminio Zapata, was a Nazi: he expected me to rehearse everyday starting at eight every morning. At eight! Doc, I don’t get to bed till seven. I think I’ve gotten up at eleven in order to do something only once, and that was specifically to go see the great Amadeo Carrizo when River visited Rosario Central and a friend of mine at the club got me a good seat. That’s the only time. The milonga never sat well with Ma. She was part of another world, playing Uruguayan canasta with the other ladies at the Club Español and organizing charity teas . . . What’s up, Pelusa! I love you, man. How you doing? Good? Glad to hear it. You went a bit overboard with the makeup, eh? I’m kidding, just kidding, Pelu. It was a joke, Pelusa . . . Dr. Celoria. Amazing, the Doc. He’s the traitor that put the knife to me. Pelusa, did the electrician drop by? I sent him over, incredible guy, the real deal . . . I’ll catch you later, my friend. I want to talk to you about that business of yours at the retirement office . . . I’ll work it out for you, don’t worry . . . Hey! Pelusa! . . . Lopecito got the stuff, the good stuff. Let me know if you want some. Let me know, eh? . . . Don’t pull the same stunt you did last time.

Stupendous, that Pelusa . . . It’s a shame about the drinking: he steps on a cork and he’s drunk. His tolerance is shot. Seems his liver is fossilized. Can a person’s liver fossilize, Doc? He tells me his is like pumice. He had an ultrasound done.

He’s an incredible guy. Still a good looking man. You’ll see, when he gets out on the floor, how the babes queue up to dance with him. Amazing. But that’s as far as it goes, because two drinks and he’s drunk as a skunk, and we have to carry him home. Sometimes they let him sleep here, in one of the couches in the back. Pelusa was also here last night, when my old man came by.

And that’s what I want to tell you about, Doc, because it drives home just what it means to be the King of the Milonga. It’s bigger, I kid you not, than playing keeper for River . . . What’ve you been up to, Flaquita? How are you? I’ve got a new dance move to show you tonight. But only after Jorge leaves, because he’s always copying what I do. He copies, that Jorge . . . I’ll look for you later . . .

She’s still a good looking woman, La Flaca . . . And she’s a veteran that one, but still going strong. If you’d like, I’ll introduce you to her, Doc, but she’s a bit of a rebel, sort of difficult. When she dances, she wants to lead. Can you imagine that? You know, when it comes to tango, the man always leads, he guides his partner by simply applying a bit of pressure on her back with his fingers . . . Over here, over there, back, to the side. Not La Flaca; she goes where she wants. I’ve always said that feminism means the end of the tango as far as dance partners are concerned. It broke up Eladia and Gustavo, that couple that danced at the Caracol for a thousand years. She began reading Marguerite Duras and started with that madness. She wanted to lead. Finally, after they danced “El Once” one night, Gustavo cracked a bottle over her head.

And last night, Doc, you won’t believe it but my old man came by. After fourteen years without having uttered a word to me. Fourteen years, pissed because I didn’t go to school, didn’t work, and slept through to the afternoon. And, all that time, I was sort of being supported by my folks, although not really, but it’s way too complicated to explain. My old man dropped by. I was dancing “Bahía Blanca” on an empty dance floor, because when I go out there, the crowd parts and gives me my space. I was dancing with a newbie. She was large and danced quite well, but she was heavy and tipped to the right. You could tell the girl had played volleyball and had a bum knee, her leg turned out to the side. It was a chore to lead her, because the big girl tipped to the right . . . Anyway, that’s when they came to me with the news. In the middle of the dance floor, Haroldo took hold of my arm and whispered it in my ear: “Your old man is here.”

There wasn’t even time to be concerned, because there’s got to be a very good reason for them to interrupt me while I’m dancing. The last time they interrupted me wasn’t long ago, when my Ma passed away, and before that, when Julio Sosa killed himself in that car accident. So I walked over to the main entrance and there’s my old man, in the company of a lady. “How are you, Marcos?” he said, and it seemed to me his voice was filled with emotion. I couldn’t believe it. Fourteen years since I had heard his voice; I almost didn’t recognize it. He looked elegant, a good suit on him. Bah . . . as always, a suit of Italian silk and a fine tie. Showing the physical effects of his age, sure, but still standing straight. Tall and, of course, gray haired. He embraced me and, I swear, Doc, I almost cried, almost. “You remember Lolita,” he said. And that’s when I recognized Lolita. A very close friend of my Ma’s, my Ma who had passed away barely two months before, poor thing. Of course, in the half-light it wasn’t easy to get a good look at her. Because that’s one of the secrets of these dance halls for us veterans, Doc: the half-light. You won’t see any wrinkles in this light, nor double chins, nor crow’s feet. The darkness hides it all; it’s the best cosmetic. But as soon as Lolita spoke, I recognized her. That same voice like a penetrating whistle: “How are you, Marquitos? What’s new?” Marquitos she called me, obviously, since she knew me way back when. But she said it with a bit of restraint and self-control, as if self-conscious. And that made sense, since my Ma, her best friend, had died less than two months prior and here she was with my old man.

“I’m a pariah, Marcos,” my old man would tell me later, when we had sat down at one of those tables over there, away from the dance floor. “No one wants to see me. Those friends of mine you know—Polo, Dr. Iñíquez, Medrano, El Rubio—won’t talk to me. They avoid me.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because of Lolita,” my old man said. “They find it unseemly that I’m going out with her so soon after your mother’s death. Ada has declared it a scandal. Well, Ada and all the other women. The women don’t even want to hear my name mentioned, Marcos.”

Lolita backed every word he said with a nod of her head, like this; she looked like one of those bobble-head doggies you see on the dashboard of taxis.

“Well, Dad, don’t worry about them,” I said.

“I’m not welcomed at the parties down at the Golf Club, Marcos. Where can I go? Where?”

That’s why he came here, Doc. That’s why he came with Lolita, because for two months, he had nowhere to go. They wanted to go out but they knew that if someone saw them, they’d rip them to shreds, Doc. Imagine. None of us, perhaps, would give a damn about that sort of thing. The day after I broke up with Gladys, I showed up with La Negra Villa at the milonga at the Club Almafuerte, as cool as can be. For three years, Doc, I went out with a set of twins, the Zalewski twins, simultaneously, and I was completely carefree. But for my old man, my old man, part of that circle of tight-assed hypocrites, from that world that made him . . . for him it was high drama. Given the cold shoulder by his closest friends. But, you know what he told me? “I don’t have much time left, Marcos. I don’t have much time.” And it’s not that he’s ill or anything, Doc, because my old man is as strong as an oak, but it so happens he’s 79. My old man, 79 years of age. What do you make of that? “We don’t have much time left. We don’t have much time,” echoed Lolita, in one of her few verbal contributions, because she uttered a word here and there. And, of course, what are they going to wait around for? For their 100th birthdays before they start dating? That, that very thing, is what El Valija, one of my friends, told them. He’s that little guy over there, Doc. He had sat down at our table, just like that, not even asking for permission. He brought his glass with him and sat down. “What are you going to wait around for, Adolfo?” he said to my old man. And then, taking him by the arm: “Full speed ahead, Adolfito. And if anyone has a problem with it, may they all go to hell and fuck themselves. What would you like to drink, my dear?” he asked Lolita, who was more than a bit shocked by his colorful French.

My old man never cussed in his life. And then Marino, El Negro Airasca, Florencio, Mendocita and others all came over to talk to my Dad, as soon as they learned who he was. They came over to meet him, and, when they heard of his dilemma, they comforted him. They even tactfully avoided mentioning my old lady or, worse, offering condolences. “Life goes on, Adolfito,” said El Oso, the cook, slapping him on the back; he had come out specially to serve Lolita a small piece of cheese. He nearly parted my Dad in two, but the old man was happy, happy because no one judged or even questioned him . . . Guillermo, my man! It’s good to see you, buddy! You’ll have to show me how to do that turn you did last night . . . Did you bring it? The good stuff? . . . Later, give it to me later in the men’s room . . . El Rulo also wants some . . . Amazing, Doc, this Guillermo, Guillermo Lopez, Lopecito. He’s an artist. A painter. He paints portraits. You ought to see them. Marvelous. The likeness is unbelievable, unbelievable. He painted one of that guy over there, Maisonave, that’s simply incredible. Because it captures not only his likeness, but his style, his soul. That’s what a true artist does, captures more than just someone’s likeness. Ain’t that right? Ain’t that right, Doc? But he is actually a hairdresser, because he can’t make a living with the portraits. He gets one commissioned every now and again. But now he’s found something that is essential, truly essential for all of us, and he makes good money from it.

I’ll tell you, Doc, because I can’t keep a secret from you. How can I keep a secret from the man who performed a hemorrhoid operation on me? You’ve already poked around in that most intimate part of my being, so I can confess to you, Doc, that I dye my hair. I dye my hair. But it’s difficult, extremely difficult to find a good hair color product. They either leave a red tint in your hair or run when you perspire. The other night, Mendocita, poor thing, had these large, chestnut drops—this big—dripping from his scalp right before his eyes because he had dyed his hair with a bottle of some infamous Brazilian dye that isn’t worth a damn. But Lopecito is a hairdresser, and there’s no fooling him. And it looks like he got the good stuff, the real deal . . .

When he was leaving, Doc, when my old man was leaving, at the door, because I accompanied him to the door, he hugged me again and said into my ear: “I was wrong, Marquitos. Your weren’t mistaken in your career choices. You weren’t mistaken.” Because everyone here, who went up to him to support him, to comfort him, to embrace him, did it because—and I don’t  believe I’m wrong about this, Doc—because he’s my old man, and because they love me. Because they love me. Understand? Right? Right, Doc? And maybe tonight he’ll return, my old man, with Lolita. And I just might get them out on the dance floor and everything. Because you can tango at any age. After all, it ain’t breakdancing, right? Right, Doc? It ain’t breakdancing.

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Translated by Dario Bard from “El Rey de la Milonga” as printed in El Rey de la Milonga y Otros Cuentos, published by Ediciones de la Flor, 2005, available from Amazon.

Roberto “El Negro” Fontanarrosa is an Argentine humorist from Rosario, Province of Santa Fe. Although he has written several novels and short story collections, he is perhaps best known for his comic strips, “Inodoro Pereyra” (following the adventures of the title character, a gaucho, and his faithful dog, Mendieta) and “Boogie, El Aceitoso” (a bigoted, homophobic Vietnam vet turned mercenary).

In 2003, Fontanarrosa was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and, starting in 2006, frequently used a wheelchair. In early 2007, he announced he had given up drawing, having lost complete control of his right hand due to the disease; he continued to write storylines for “Inodoro Pereyra” as well as jokes, and other cartoonists (Crist and Oscar Salas) stepped in to illustrate them for him. Roberto Fontanarrosa passed away later that same year from a heart attack.      

More information, including samples of his cartoons, are available at his official website.

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Fontanarrosa (center) in the company of his most famous creations: Inodoro Pereyra (left) and Boogie, El Acietoso (right). And lying under the table, Mendieta, Inodoro Pereyra’s dog.

Argentine public TV, Canal 7, aired a small-screen adaptation starring comedic actor Guillermo Francella:

The short TV spot El Señalador – Libros y Cultura, hosted by Norberto Masso, also provided commentary on the story:

 

“La Felicidad” by Isidoro Blaisten

Download pdf: La Felicidad

It all began when Shorty and I were thrown out of our respective homes.

We had, by then, exhausted all possibilities of landing a paid and stable job. Previously, we had started eight different businesses, all of which had failed. The last one had been a photocopy shop in a forgotten street where not a soul was to be seen. By the time we decided to work for someone else, the seeds of exasperation had already ripened, almost simultaneously, in our wives.

The fact of the matter is they lost faith in us, and we were turned out. Shorty moved in with his grandmother, and I was taken in by one of my sisters.

We determined not to see each other again. From then on, we would fend for ourselves and not attempt to go into business together. But a strange thing happened. We bumped into each other quite by accident.

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Photograph by Dario Bard.

We had both been fired. Shorty from his job as a gas fitter and I from my position as a photographer. Not because we were incompetent, but rather for excessive zeal. Shorty was dispatched to install a heating unit and, in no time, had befriended the lady of the house; he fixed a faulty light fixture for her, drew up a home decorating plan, moved the furniture around, and took apart her noisy washing machine. And, of course, there went his entire afternoon.

As for me, I’ve always been one to invent things, and the photography gig went well at first. But two days into the job, I convinced my boss that snapping ID photos wasn’t going to get us anywhere, and that we could make a fortune come wintertime by installing a solarium. I convinced him to buy a good-sized lot; the plan was to cover it with a glass dome so people could sun themselves during the cold winter months. I figured Shorty could warm it up for us, strategically placing huge heating units throughout the place. We would easily recoup our costs from the Coca Cola and hotdog sales, and the admission fees would be pure profit. The idea took hold. So much so, that my boss lost interest in his photography business and even began to turn down clients. He became taciturn, spending his days by the retouching tables, lost in thought. His wife – as wives are wont to do – began to suspect something when she noticed her husband bringing home less and less money. One night, right before closing, she dropped by the studio. I left them alone. I don’t know what they talked about, but the next day I was fired.

Anyway, three days later, I ran into Shorty on Cabildo. Both of us in the same predicament. We were happy to see each other. Hugs all around. Talk of destiny and magic. I told him about the solarium, and we both lamented some people’s lack of vision.

We didn’t dare admit it, but as we walked along the avenue, we both thought the same thing: it was time to go into business together again. Finally, I couldn’t hold back any longer and began rattling off ideas: a car with sliding doors, a new air conditioning system powered by the sun (it cools when it’s hot and heats when it’s cold), and so many other things. But, unfortunately, we needed money.

We continued down Cabildo, silently, each one immersed in his own dream: I imagined myself in a castle in Ireland with a young, beautiful blonde suffering from tuberculosis and serenading me with a harp; Shorty, who has the spirit of a performer, saw himself dancing in the biggest theaters of Paris, wearing a pinstriped suit and twirling a cane before the Queen of England, receiving applause and flowers from the ladies.

At the corner with Juramento, I noticed something on the sidewalk. A red, flat, rectangular box.

“Look at that,” I said to Shorty. He immediately ran over, picked it up, and tucked it under his coat. Just in case, we crossed over to the other side of the avenue and went around the block. When we were back on Cabildo, we excitedly examined the pair of stockings we had found. They were black, the kind that stretch when you put them on. Neither one of us wanted to keep them for ourselves, so we decided to hold on to them as a sort of good luck charm.

Suddenly, an idea came to me: we could dedicate ourselves to finding things. We looked at each other. It was decided then and there.

“Let me look at the sidewalk,” I told him. “You walk beside me, looking straight ahead and pretending we aren’t up to something.”

On the first block, we didn’t find anything. Same with the second block. That’s when Shorty suggested: “Let’s switch off. One block I look down, you look up. You take this next block. Look at the sidewalk and I’ll look up, making sure we don’t bump into anyone or get run over.” That first day, we didn’t come across much. Just a fifty cent coin, a burnt-out light bulb, two curlers, and a toy gun crushed by passing traffic and dirty with asphalt. But it looked promising, nevertheless.

We decided to meet up again the following day at 9:30am on the corner of Cabildo and Echeverría.

Things went better that second day. Before it was even noon, we had found a barely used pen, an earring, four ten-cent coins, a box of El Jeque brand pins (completely intact), a tie clip and a red watch strap still wrapped in cellophane.

At a café, we put everything on the table and took stock of what we had.

Additionally, on a paper napkin, we noted a few observations:

First: The curb is much more fruitful than the middle of the sidewalk.

Second: Things are more likely to be lost at street corners and bus stops than at mid-block.

Third: The mid-day hour and there abouts is when people lose things most.

To this day, we keep that yellowing napkin in a silver box, together with the pair of stockings we first found. That napkin marked the beginning of our organization, of everything that followed, of everything we are today, of our happiness and our misfortunes.

That afternoon, we rested. Things were looking up and there was no point in marching on that day. We had the experience of eight business ventures behind us: don’t use up all your ammo at the outset.

The next day, once more at 9am, we set off from the café. This time we had set a full day’s schedule: from 9am to 12pm, and from 3pm to 7pm. Each one of us had brought a bag and by noon we began to sense that something strange was occurring in our lives.

At lunch, we didn’t want to be overly celebratory or speak much about it, in order not to jinx it. But we were both on fire. Among the priceless items in our bags were a Parker 51 fountain pen (with gold cap) that Shorty had found, and a kid’s golden ring I had picked up (engraved with the initials R.J.). Gold was starting to pave our destiny.

In the afternoon, we decided to implement a new strategy: we split up.

It isn’t easy to walk several blocks with your head bowed, looking down, with no one looking up to watch out for you. First off, you have the tress: caught up in the thrill of the search for lost objects, you might very well crack your head open. Then, there are the children. Especially little girls. You might run into one and, to avoid knocking her over, you might grab her by the shoulders, and then, inevitably, an old woman might yell out, “Pervert!” Or, “Come over here, little girl.” And then a crowd of people might form around you and the next thing you know you are at the center of a scandal.

But even so we decided to split up. Because our confidence and inexperience made us overestimate the instinct to avoid obstacles when walking with one’s head down.

And it went well. I went along Cabildo and Shorty took a parallel path along Ciudad de la Paz. When we arrived at a corner, whoever got there first waited for the other, and then, standing a block apart, we waved to each other. This may seem childish on its face, but it isn’t. The psychological factor is vital in this profession.

Searching separately doubled our possibilities. By the end of the day, the afternoon’s take (not counting stickers and trading cards, combs, lottery tickets of questionable value, and a brown hardcover edition of Naná in Hungarian (that we were unsure how to catalogue)) included: a penknife with a mother-of-pearl handle; a pair of eyeglasses without a case; a key ring with three keys; two gold pendants; a change purse containing 725 pesos; a handkerchief and a coin with a hole through the middle; a fourth grader’s school workbook, almost new; and a gift-wrapped copper candlestick.

No doubt about it. Our enthusiasm was a thing of beauty. The following day, both of us, without having planned it, arrived dressed in our job-interview suits.

It was time to think of storage. We decided that Shorty’s grandmother’s house was our best option. She had become very excited with our latest business venture and let us stow our findings in a chest. When the euphoria of our early success faded, we realized we had a major problem on our hands: What to do with all this stuff? There was almost nothing left from the salaries of our previous jobs. And so at first we opted for the easiest solution: the pawn shops along Libertad, the used-clothing shops, and the flea markets.

Following the advice of Shorty’s grandmother, we set aside part of our profits to buy dollars and deposit them in an interest earning account. We then took the dollars we earned in interest and did the same in another bank, so that we wouldn’t be beholden to anyone. And that is how we were able to buy the store. But that came later, after we tweaked the organization, dividing the city in seven sectors, and hiring employees. We named the store La Felicidad, but, as I said, that came later, after we purchased publicity and evaded earned income tax. Later, we wouldn’t have to. But how can we not recall, with pride and sentimentality, our 11am radio soap opera, the newspaper contests, and the famous televised dance show, “You, Too, Can Be Happy.”

One day, Shorty’s grandmother went to buy a purging and laxative herbal tea at the pharmacy and, walking by the newsstand next door, she noticed a five-peso coin on the marble entranceway, just underneath the magazine display. She wasn’t able to pick it up (the poor thing can’t bend down) but she returned home with her eyes gleaming. She was practically speechless. We were, at that very moment, dividing the city up into sectors, and when she finally told us what she had seen, Shorty and I looked at each other in silence. A new gold mine had opened itself up to us.

We thought it over logically. Experience had taught us that it was never wise to abandon one success in pursuit of another.

Market research on newsstand entranceways confirmed that the investment was worthwhile. However, it was one thing to pick up objects from the sidewalk, and quite another to do so from underneath a newsstand display. The latter was a riskier proposition. Whoever took it on would have to bend down at an angle and run the chance of being spotted by the proprietor. So we filled the position with my nephew, a sharp 11 year-old who was on school break at the time. My sister was thrilled with the idea. Raulito started off earning 25,000 pesos for six hours of work per day, plus a cup of coffee with milk and two percent of profits. His job consisted of tying his shoes in front of newsstands, purchasing lighter flints, and inquiring as to prices.

Raulito pioneered our newsstand subsidiary.

And so we divided the city in seven sectors and new prospects began to emerge on the horizon. On the corner of Santa Fe and Mansilla we opened a store and hired two employees. La Felicidad started off as a sort of flea market or antique shop. But we introduced a twist that led to our great success: product request forms. We hired a client services assistant who approached customers looking about the store and asked: “What would make you happy, madam?” And the madam might reply: “An antique blue opaline lamp.” And so the assistant would fill in all the information on the forms and clients were notified when we found the object that would make them happy.

With respect to photo and video cameras and tripods, our Urban Trains subsidiary proved especially fruitful. It was run by one of Raulito’s friends, who demonstrated exceptional skill in the acquisition of walking canes, umbrellas, raincoats, books, and assorted packages.

Well, when people began to see that La Felicidad looked out for them, notifying them when the object of their desires had been found and offering it at a reasonable price, they became very happy.

But that also turned out to be the first blow to our morale. No one was ever satisfied. They kept coming back for more, and our client services assistant often took down new orders on a repeat client’s original product request form. Our profits skyrocketed, but Shorty was right when he said, “Look at how people are. You would have been satisfied with the winter solarium and I with the gas business. But not these people. They have everything, but they always want more.”

La Felicidad had that side to it.

But things were so promising that we launched a massive publicity campaign. There was the 11am radio soap opera, the newspaper contests, and the now-famous televised dance show, “You, Too, Can Be Happy.” We evaded income taxes and soon grew bored of making money hand over fist.

We all bought new homes. And all according to our tastes. I renovated an old mansion in Belgrano, with parquet floors, a swimming pool, an Andalusian patio, and a study (a large room with corkboard on the walls and all the modern comforts; it was where I went when I wanted to think). Shorty bought a three-story house in Villa Luro, and converted the entire top floor into his workshop. His Grandma moved into a house in Villa Urquiza, with a small garden in the back where she grew herbs and a modest laboratory where she made teas. And my sister bought a well-located apartment on Cordoba at the 5500 block. We all had our own cars.

And this is how things went: Shorty and I had new girlfriends every month and we had lots of children to carry on with the company.

But were we happier? I don’t know. Our ex-wives came looking for us with all our children, and I do know that they weren’t happy. Both of them had remarried. Mine with a pharmacist; Shorty’s with the manager at the Villa Adelina branch of Banco Nación. And the two returned to us after all these years. But we spurned them. At the time, I didn’t understand why they came back. They had everything they wanted but didn’t have when we were married. Yet, they came looking for us, and even made demands of us, wielding our kids like weapons.

Another woman cleared it all up for me, but too late. She told me that although our ex-wives had everything, they missed us. They couldn’t live without us.

My wife missed my waking her up at 4am to tell her about an idea that would make us rich; Shorty’s wife missed the pedal-powered washing machine he had built for her. They missed our business ventures, the mystery of our latest projects, of not having all the lights of the house turn on when they plugged in the iron. Maybe they missed our happiness.

But we spurned them. We already had many children and intended on having many more. We offered them money, but they refused.

In any event, today La Felicidad basically runs itself on well-greased rails. And Shorty and I can walk along the streets of Buenos Aires without having to bow our heads and look down at the ground.

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Translated by Dario Bard from “La Felicidad” as published in Cuentos Anteriores, published by Editorial de Belgrano, 1982, available from El Aleph. “La Felicidad” was first published in 1969.

Isidoro Blaisten was an Argentine writer from Concordia, Province of Entre Rios, best known for his short stories. His characters and the language he employed are typical of the City of Buenos Aires. These porteño elements, combined with his unique humor and touch of the absurd, define Blaisten’s unique style. He passed away in 2004 at the age of 71.