Kumquat Blues, Extortion and Financial Collapse: The Soundtrack Posted on 08 Sep 14:53 , 0 comments

By Vivi Rathbone.

My mouth tasted like kumquats.

And no music was playing, but I sang along anyway.  It was 12:30pm on a condensation filled night in late winter.  The economy was collapsing and the melancholy was acrid on my tongue, kind of like the bitter rind of the kumquat.  I was just a lonely girl, singing along to no music in the backseat of a taxi cab.

Rescue me. Take me in your arms.  Rescue me.  Come on baby, and rescue me.

I sang the entire song over the sound of the windshield wipers and the radio intercom rambling street addresses as they were called in.  I don’t know if the driver noticed or cared about my singing, as I peered through the foggy glass, as we drove through the quiet and dark streets of Barrio Norte.  The buildings looked dark, haunted and daunting.

Take your love and come for every part, because I’m lonely, and I’m blue, I need you, and your love too.  Come on and rescue me.”

The lighthearted brass playing along in my head broke it down and detracted from my deep and pathetic sentimentality.

What the hell am I doing in this God-forsaken country?

I took this solo taxi ride as an opportunity for brutally honest introspection of life decisions.

Once I loved a boy who looked me right in the face and said:

Vivi, you’re so afraid of death.”

He hardly even knew me but he picked up on my most intimate insecurity.

I thought it meant something, but maybe he was just smart enough to know that most humans are afraid of death.  Death is the unknown, and the unknown is frightening.

Then he said:

Maybe we’re already dead, and this is just a dream, and when we wake up and die, we’ll be in another dream.

I wondered where that boy was now and recalled a nightmare I had a few months ago.  In the dream I was abducted by a taxi cab driver and it felt so real that I didn’t realize it was a dream.  The driver was friendly and chatted with me casually.  I thought the ride was taking a bit too long, and I looked at the meter.  It was up to 90 pesos.  I said something to the driver, who turned around and stared at me with an evil, bloodthirsty grin like the Cheshire Cat.  My heart stopped, and then I realized that I was dreaming, and woke up.

Now when I take a taxi ride, I always watch the meter anxiously, afraid of reliving my nightmare.  That dream felt so real, that now I doubt my reality.

Argentina in September, 2012 is doubt-filled reality of discomfort and foreboding speculation.  Currently, my landlord is extorting me for money.  Our contract is in dollars.  It is illegal to buy dollars in Argentina, so our contract is illegal.  We paid him in pesos at the official exchange rate to the dollar equivalent.  The official exchange rate is around $4.50, but the official exchange rate is useless, because you can’t buy dollars officially, you can only buy them illegally, and they cost around $6.25.

I couldn’t buy dollars legally.  Why should I pay my rent illegally?  I earn pesos, the official currency of the country.  Why should I pay rent in another currency?  Anyway, it wasn’t an option, I had no access to dollars, so my landlord accepted pesos for the past ten months and never cared.  But the past ten months weren’t as dire as now, and now he cares.

Our contract is illegal because it violates typical contact terms established by law in Argentina.  It is illegal to have a contract in dollars, and it is illegal to buy dollars, ipso facto, it is illegal to pay our landlord in dollars.  Everything is illegal in a dictatorship, and as the dictator enacts more restrictions, the black market grows stronger, and the instability becomes unbearable.

And now the peso is collapsing, dollars are more valuable, and our landlord decides to intimidate and threaten us, in attempt to squeeze us for what he can get.  I can’t think of any eloquent way to express the truth than to say: this sucks.  

Jesus said: ‘If anyone sues you for your tunic, give him your coat as well.’

I’m paraphrasing, but I guess Jesus would say: ‘When your landlord asks you to pay USD for 10 months retrograde rent in the illegal exchange rate, give it to him.  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you and threaten to take you to court.

I think Jesus is probably right, but my Twitter followers disagreed.  ”Tell him to go to hell.”  They tweeted to me.

What hell could be worse than this crumbling economy?  I wondered.

I want to cry and run home to Mom and Dad, but respect myself too much to play the victim card.  I know that my troubles are the direct result of my own choices to sign an illegal contract and live in a country with a history of dictatorship and financial collapse.

Should I just go home?!”

I burst into tears on the couch of my psychoanalyst’s office on an emergency Friday evening session.

If I fail, I have a million people waiting to tell me ‘I told you so!’.  What am I doing in Argentina?  I’ve spent the past few years working in dead-end jobs making no money in a country that can’t seem to pull it together, and this is all most certainly to my own future financial demise.  I’ll die poor and alone.  I won’t even live well enough to kill myself in Sun Valley like Hemingway.

Killing yourself in Sun Valley is every writer’s dream death, and if you can’t be melodramatic while lying on your back, spewing your guts to your psychoanalyst, then you’re not cut out to be an expat princess.

Vivi, you’re just in a bad mood because you had one son-of-a-bitch landlord.  Get yourself a lawyer and a new apartment, and next time, save the receipts.

This is tough love from my compassionate and beloved psychoanalyst.  I cannot see his face, but only hear his voice as I lie on my back on the couch in the office.  He has become as familiar as the voice in my head, and I trust him.

You ever think about who the voice in your head is?  And who is the listener?

Will someone cut me a break?  Jesus?  Am I bad person?  How can you be a good person in a country that is quickly going to hell and hyperinflation, and the only way to survive is to play dirty.  I don’t want to play dirty.  I’m a nice girl!

This week BA seems dark and hopeless.  So I pray, and sing lots of soul.

Rescue me?  Come on and rescue me!