Washington has gone home, and Buenos Aires is a little emptier. His grand final gesture was a valiant attempt to neck the remains of a bottle of Fernet while his taxi waited outside. “I can’t take it with me,” he reasoned, “so I have to finish it.” And on his special day no-one was going argue with that logic. He hugged us all, we packed him into the taxi, and suddenly he looked kind of small and sad, folded up at the window waving as the car pulled away and round the corner. The cobblestones were vacant. No-one said anything, and we gradually drifted inside.
His journey home, related to me later by email, was vintage Washington, straight from the School of Good Decisions handbook. He’d taken his taxi at about five in the arvo, after we’d been drinking most of the afternoon. Then there was the Fernet-pragmatism incident. Then, as he recounted it, “I ended up blacking out on the plane. I remember the flight attendant having a warning talk with me, but I don’t really remember what I did. I lost my iPod somehow, and when I got to Houston Texas, security though I had drugs, so they searched me and went through all of my stuff. Do I look like that much of a druggie? Oh and on top of all that, they lost my bag. And I’m still hungover.” I asked for some clarification of exactly how the hell all that transpired. I mean, we’d been drinking, but he definitely wasn’t that drunk. I’ve seen Washington drunk and that wasn’t it. “Well,” he said, “it didn’t help that I got a Fernet-Coca at the airport (I slipped the guy some extra pesos and told him to make it muy fuerte, which he did). Then I drank three bottles of wine on the plane.”
Gold. Just gold. This is the most perfectly fitting finale to his trip, that final apt touch to cap it all off. I mean, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. Back home Washington is a responsible guy, a manager at his work, considered one of the bright young talents of the company. But here, he said, he was on holiday, and he was damn well going to make the most of it. And I salute his full-blooded commitment in riding that sucker right into the ground.
It’s interesting that we ended up such good friends, because I really didn’t predict it. I tend to make very quick assessments of people when I meet them. I know very quickly if we’ll get along really well, and I know instantly if I think they’re a dick. The rest fall somewhere in between – not that I think they suck, they just don’t provoke a reaction either way. I’ll happily be nice enough but essentially indifferent. Washington struck me as a nice guy, fairly typically American, we worked fine in the same space, but we didn’t seem to have that much in common. That assessment came naturally and I didn’t really give it any more thought. But then we ended up in a Seinfeld friends-in-law situation. I became good friends with Hawkeye. She became good friends with Level Five. Washington was Level Five’s best friend. So via the others we spent a fair bit of time together. The party was loud and long and beer-stained, but when the two of them abruptly left at around the same time, there was just me and Washington, looking at each other in an awkward silence across the table.
Now, I know I have a reputation as an arrogant motherfucker. But I actually really like finding out when I’m wrong. So, we didn’t see each other for a couple of months. I went to Antarctica, he went to Chile. But we were both back in BA by February, and we each knew the other was in town. I figured that Washington and I would say we were going to catch up a few times, might actually follow through with it once or twice, and then it would gradually taper off. And it did take Hawkeye’s passing through town on her way home to actually force the issue the first time. But soon after that we caught up again. And again. And gradually, the in-law status faded and our own friendship began to develop.
The differences – the reasons why I hadn’t expected a friendship in the first place – still existed. We disagreed strongly, vocally, occasionally violently, over a whole range of issues. A lot of nights ended in fired-up debate. It was really fascinating to have a friendship that wasn’t exactly easy, or natural, one that maybe wouldn’t have developed if we’d been in a bigger group where we could each have split off toward more like-minded people. And granted, we would both (quite proudly) admit that this friendship was heavily based on a) drinking and b) the stupid shit one can do after drinking. But there were other aspects to it as well. For all the disagreements there were a lot of things on which we were in accord. The conversations got funnier. The list of shared exploits grew longer. Washington could seem incredibly earnest in that particularly American way, but once every couple of days he would drop in some left-field one-liner that completely took me by surprise and made me fall off my chair laughing. So yeah. I learnt some shit. I do make snap judgements. And what I think of someone first-off isn’t always going to be right. It’s good to trust your instincts, but it’s also good to be aware they can be fallible, and to keep an open mind in case they are. So, thanks for the lesson, man. That and the subjunctive tense.
And now, just to prove what a classy and debonair gent my friend was, here is my list (in no particular order) of the best and worst Washington moments, the ones that either left me open-mouthed in disbelief or rolling on the floor. (Try to imagine most of these quotes in a partial slur.)
W: “But California’s real big. It’s got, like north…and south…”
G: “Yeah, there’s a lot of places got those.”
W: “Yeah, but it’s… … …fuck you.”
“Whoah. This is an unbottomly beer.”
“These are the wasted troof.”
W: “I wish I just had, like, tons of money. And I could spend it on whatever and not even think about. I did that once, in that week we went to Vegas.”
G: “Well at least you tried it. You know what it tastes like.”
W: “Yeah. It tastes expensive.”
W: “Once they find out you have a small dick, you’re still fucking ‘em.”
Washington doesn’t let it get him down.
G: “We gonna smoke here or at the bus stop?”
W: “You can do what you like. I’m gonna smoke two. I smoked a whole packet once, and my face swelled up.”
W: “When you get up tomorrow, you’re gonna look at yourself in the mirror and say [pointing, Lord Kitchener style], ‘Hey. Hey! You’re gonna have a great day.’”
W: “Your problem is you drink too much.”
G: “You want to hear the best joke ever?”
W: “Women’s rights?”
W: “My life could be written as the worst incredible story known to man. His jeans stained with blood, and his severed finger… well it’s not severed…”
In Argentina the little Chinese-owned supermarkets are routinely called ‘cinos’.
G: “Man, this is like the biggest cino I’ve ever seen.”
W: “Yeah. This is a Wal-cino.”
W: “She’s not like…hideous…”
Wholeheartedly defending some prior choices.
[Pausing and pointing while passing a hotel mirror] “Hey buddy. You need to step up your game.”
(Fortunately this only stayed around for a couple of days.)
G: “This wine is weird, man. It smells terrible, but it tastes alright.”
W: [sniffs] “I don’t know if I’m smelling the wine or my moustache.”
G: “You can’t talk, peanut head.”
W: “Why am I peanut head?”
G: “Because you have a head like a peanut.”
G: “Your head is shaped like a peanut. You have a peanut-shaped head.”
W: “No I don’t.”
G: “Yeah, I’m afraid you do.”
W: [to Clemenceau] “Do I have a peanut head?”
C: “Yes, it’s a bit of a peanut head.”
W: “How do I have a peanut head?”
C: “Hmm, maybe it’s the beard… No, it’s definitely the head.”
W: “What, just cos it’s your birthday, I have to fuck you?”
Washington finds some female friends too demanding.
Washington vs. the Cockroach
We are on the roof terrace of La Casa Teixera on another warm spring night, drinking a couple of litres while the near-darkness and the drone of the autopista overpass sends its lull over us. Washington reaches down by his chair to grab his bottle, raises it to his mouth…and I see it. Sandwiched between his fist and the neck of the bottle is a cockroach, a giant palm-of-the-hand-sized brown shiny Argentine house cockroach. It’s struggling to pull free. Silhouetted against the streetlight, for a brief moment I can see its antennae duelling frantically with his moustache hairs.
He notices around the same time as I do, and pulls back with a guttural roar of disgust, somehow retaining the presence of mind to put the bottle down rather than drop it. “Oh God,” he babbles. “Oh no. A fucking cockroach. I almost ate it.” It must have been trying to steal a sip of his beer, perched on the neck of the bottle. Washington never grabs a beer lightly, so he has mushed most of the roach’s body against the glass. I’ve smashed these things with footwear before. I know how they squish open. I know that his whole hand is now covered in yellow gunk. “Ohhh,” he moans. “I could smell it. That’s how I realised it was there. It stinks so bad.” He creeps away to clean himself up. If you’re wondering whether he wiped off the bottle and finished the beer, you obviously haven’t been paying attention so far. But that’s ok, he needed something to steady him after the shock. He settles back in his chair, shaking his head slightly. “At least I didn’t get him in my mouth. Oh God…I hope his guts aren’t on my moustache.”