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FUSIONED - DIRECTED - WRITTEN AND CORRESPONDED BY: MENASSA 2002
DON'T KNOW HOW TO SPEAK BUT WE DO IT IN SEVERAL LANGUAGES
GRIS, IS A PRODUCT
INDIO GRIS Nº 89
Carmen Salamanca: Tell
us a little about your life. What did your father do for a living when you were
born? What memories do you have? At what age did you start school?
Oscar Menassa: Do you want me to tell you about the real drama in my life?
When I was the right age to go to school, at five years old in those times,
they took me to José María Gutierrez school, which was a girls school, they
took me in the morning and I escaped.
I escaped, I left the school because I didn't want to be in a girls school.
But wasn't there a school for boys?
Yes, but the girls school was two hundred metres closer than the Almafuerte
school, on top of it was called "Almafuerte", which was the boys
school. I ran away from women. Afterwards I had to put up with them all my life
and I had to support them all my life, for having run away. Cowardliness is
always paid dearly.
How old were you then?
And then, they must have sent you to another school, right?
They sent me immediately to Almafuerte School, the next day. If I hadn't gone to
the Almafuerte's, I would never have known the
"zarzaparrilla" (bramble or blackberry bush), as they called
it, which was a plant that had hollow branches. It could be lighted and smoked.
Yes, it was very easy, because we passed by a neighbour's house which was next
to the school and we pulled out a branch of that plant and that was good to be
So, Almafuerte school at five years old…
Now, thinking that I almost die of a pulmonary disease, it would have been
better for me to have gone to the girls school, because I wouldn't have known
When did you start selling bijouterie? Why did you start working so young?
I went to jail for the first time when I was eight years old, for selling in the
streets, I sold razor blades.
AT eight? And what happened?
the police came and kicked the stall I had because I hadn't given them money, I
imagine. For sure, I must have told them "Fuck you", because I used to
curse a lot when I was a child. And the policeman caught me, broke my stall and
arrested me. They called my father, who was a man that believed in work, he was
a worker and that was the reason why he didn't understand how they could put his
son in jail for working. Then he went to the police station and made such a
scandal that the commissioner told me: " Look, you seem to be reasonable,
so tell your father to stop, if not we are going to arrest both of you". As
the "turco" (Turkish origin) couldn't understand: "if the boy was
working, if there are so many robbers, why do you pick at him? You are a bunch
of corrupt people…" He said so many crass stupidities that the
commissioner said to me: " with you things weren't too serious, but take
your father away, if not…" What a laugh!
And afterwards, did this leave any trace in you in relation to work?
I learnt that, even if the police doesn't let you, one has to work anyway, if
not, how do you eat? That, even if your wife may not like you to succeed, you
have to succeed because if you don't, afterwards you won't have any food. That,
even if your friends may envy you because you earn money, you have to earn money
because not earning money is bad. That, you must put up with the mixed feelings
of people, if not, how can you live?
And did you go on selling little things?
I sold during my whole life, don't you see that now I sell paintings?
There, when they put me in jail at eight, I only sold razor blades, afterwards I
dedicated myself to selling custom jewellery because I realised that women had
something special, they were capable of spending money in useless things. You
had to take commercial advantage of that. I dedicated myself to sell custom
jewellery to women, who bought any worthless thing that you sold them: "How
pretty, how pretty!" and they bought them. So, I earned ten more times than
my mother, who worked as a nurse in the Pena hospital.
was a very religious child, I was an altar boy, I helped during masses, I was so
perfect that I masturbated every day so as to have something to tell the priest,
because I said to myself, "if you tell him nothing, what is his job then?
So, I masturbated myself all day to be able to tell him. One of the priests
started to hit me on the head with a fan while he asked me:
But, where do those who masturbate themselves everyday go?
he hit me on the head and I said to him:
To Don José's yard, and he repeated:
where do those who masturbate themselves every day go?
Well, sometimes I masturbate in the bathroom -I answered. An he hit me on
the head because he wanted me to reply "to hell" and I didn't even
think of it, how could I think of it?
You were stuck to reality: I go where they can't see me.
To Don José's yard, I told him first, taking into account that I had denounced
Don José, but well…
a way of putting it, as old people like me who say a lot of bullshit do, I may
say that I owe everything to the church. Of course because there I did my first
things: I met the first girls, afterwards I met an engineer who said to me:
"This question of the world is bullshit" and he delivered to me a
rational explanation of the creation of the world. I had to learn with him, he
was my teacher and he explained everything to me. And then, of course, how could
I believe in God… I was thirteen years old when he delivered his explanation
and right then, everything was over. I thought I had understood something and
nothing, and it was over.
And what does "it was over" mean?
That religion was over. I came to think a lot of nonsense. Not now, now I think
that it is good. If communism produces rickets and capitalism produces AIDS,
generalised infections and I don't know what else, to tell the truth, the Church
is not so bad, it only produces disorders of the sexual identity. Compared to
AIDS, cancer, famine and I kill you, I kill you,
I kill you, the Church, great. And the family, too, I think that family
is something important. Because the world is groping in the dark, you may not
realise, but it is going like my ass.
When did you write your first poem?
At nine years old. It happened after masturbating, I said: " How empty I
You always say that since you were very young you had already read Marx,
All sexual stuff, because my sister's friends were there and they were older
than I. and they were pretty, they had such tits… Because I was
small, but I did understand that, I knew what tits were. And as they read
a lot, they were intellectuals, they read Faulkner, they read Sartre, they read
Marx, I decided to start reading, to have theme to talk about.
To pick them up.
Said the way you say it, it was important, they were very cultured girls.
Because talking to a cultured person is like picking up a chorus girl.
There are some photos where you are with some boys. Do you recall some
"queer" friend from that time?
It was very difficult in my neighbourhood to fall in love with women because
right away the boys would pester whoever had a girlfriend, it was very
difficult, they were male chauvinist. What did you ask me?
About the friends of those early times.
The neighbourhood is a great apprenticeship, do you know why? Because no one is
a friend of no one else unless it's good for something, which is different in
the more elevated classes, you can have friends who are good for nothing. In a
poor neighbourhood that doesn't exist, you have to be good for something. And
don't you think that they were all jerks. There was one who was good at
conversation, one who was good at giving advice when things looked complicated,
one who knew about women, there was one who understood about work, one who knew
how to play football,
one who knew how to play dices… there were diverse people. There were
people that were good for nothing, those people who were good for nothing were
also made useful because they were the subjects of all our teasing. It was a way
to make them useful because, or we had to throw them out of the neighbourhood,
which was impossible to carry out because we weren't so powerful, or we made
them useful. Then, the way to make them useful was to throw on them all the
jokes of the world.
And you, what were you good at?
I was the Miss, I liked to insult people very much. Then, not to kill me, they
gave me that character as a personal matter, as if it were my personality. They
said: "Keep away from the Miss", and I came and said: Hi, fuck
you" and I was the only one who could say that in the bar, any other would
get stabbed. As I was the Miss, a girl, I could do whatever I wanted, that
meant, that I was allowed to do whatever I fancied. They already knew that I was
going to be the poet. I wrote at thirteen years old, more or less when I entered
the bar for the first time, it must have been about the same time.
At thirteen years old?
At thirteen years old. From eight to thirteen, I spent my time looking through
the windows how they played billiards, and at thirteen, when I went into the
billiard room, I already could beat several of them. Billiards is a very psychic
What does it mean that is very psychic?
Yes, I couldn't beat Rafa and I couldn't beat him, I couldn't beat him. The boy
had problems with girls. Then, one day when we were playing, I made up my mind:
I started talking to him about girls and he became nervous and I beat him. I was
the only time that I beat him. Then, whenever we played he said to me: "If
you talk, I kill you". Afterwards we kept on playing because he was very
good at it, I liked to play with him because with the people who play well, you
learn. And he, after that time,
would say to me: "Well, I play, but if you say one word, I kill
you". Good people.
And at that time you were thirteen years old.
When I started to use long trousers. Yes, then.
And at that time, you went on going to the institute.
Yes, like any good Christian's child.
And who were your teachers?
Well, there was Don Segundo. Don Segundo was a man that at that time was about
ninety years old. I, at least, listened to him attentively. He was the one who
invented (at least the first time I heard it was from his mouth), when we asked
for advice about girls, he told us: " A pussy hair pulls more than a
hundred yokes of oxen". That was Don Segundo.
And when did you start reading Freud, Marx?
William Faulkner, at twelve.
No, stronger books such as Sartoris,
Absalon, absalon, While I agonise,
Savage Palm Trees, The mosquitoes, which is an easier work to read and they
awarded him with the Nobel Prize for this. Sartre was read a lot in that time,
the one who hadn't read Sartre was a jerk. It wasn't necessary to agree with
him, I didn't agree with Sartre, he always seemed very French to me.
He had that small defect. There is a story you tell, later, when you were at the
That was great, that's how it was at the Medicine School, when we were queuing
to enrol at the secretariat, I had a book by Dylan Thomas who is a poet, I don't
know if you know this, then one of the persons asked me what was the book about,
"It is a police novel", I answered and he said to me: "That can't
be, I read all police novels and I have never seen that one, it can't be".
I asked him: "Where do you live?", "downtown"- he
said to me. "That is the reason" I answered him. What a laugh! That
was my first day at the Medicine School.
You were quite a joker.
Well, more or less, I was also revolutionary. That occurred the first time, the
second time I was at the Medicine School, was a few months after having enrolled
in my first year. I had only attended the admittance course and a
movement blew up between laic and free, because the Government wanted to open a
free University, which was the private University. Argentina has a very
important university tradition, while the University belonged to the State,
several Nobel Prizes were professors of the Medicine School. Then, the second
was at the Medicine School, I was hanging from a balcony, a twenty-days strike,
everyone fighting for the continuation of the laic university, because the only
institution capable of implementing free education, that is to say private, was
the Church, that is why it was said "in defence of the laic
education". A crass stupidity because, as I told you before, I was a very
religious person, I owed to the Church, my first masturbation, the first
knowledge of the world… because it is not bad to think that there is a
creator, if after one can develop a little.
Let's go back to your thirteen. You have already told us that you read Faulkner,
More or less at that time, when I was fourteen, I read Freud. Do you know
through what book I knew him? I have just realised when I'm telling you about
it, that Freud
might have had an influence in my way of thinking in his book Psychoanalysis
of the Masses and the Analysis of the
Ego, a very tiny edition, in which that was the only text.
What did you think of it? What spurred your attention the most?
That he could speak so clearly in 1921 about what was happening in my
neighbourhood. That really impacted me. Later, the next year, it happened to me
with Marx, "Look at this guy, how he explains in the year one what happens
in the market now."
What was happening?
That the relationships were asymmetric, there was always someone who made his
living at someone else's expense. That love had nothing to do with work. Or you
learnt about these things before you became fifteen or you went to jail or some
place like that.
Does, what you learnt before, coincide with what you think now?
That is like thinking that one comes fully made from his mother's womb. After 60
years, how can I think as I thought before?
What lasts from that?
Do you want to know what really lasts from my neighbourhood? That women should
never be said no.
Because once you say no, they will never use you for anything else.
What vanished forever?
Was it happy, was it a happy childhood?
When I was a child? Yes, we were the only privileged, that is why I am a
Peronist. Because I don't know if Perón did things well, but as I was a child
and it was a government in which the only privileged were the children... We
received presents, they treated you well at school, if your father beat you, you
denounced him and he was put in jail. I don't know if one can live a happier
childhood than the one the little Argentineans lived when Perón governed.
Any memory from your mother?
I don't recall my mother crying, I recall her dancing, singing.
And your father? When did he arrive in Argentina?
They came to Argentina from Lebanon, when my father was very young, the eldest
brother who was a little older than him was 18 years old., he was around 10.
Then my grandfather, who seemed to be a very cultured person, had to go downtown
Buenos Aires I don't know for what motive and got lost, and then he started
asking for directions in French, in Arabic, in English, in Russian and nobody
understood him. A man gave him alms thinking that the
"Turco" (Turkish) was asking for alms and the turco felt so
offended that he gathered his family and took them away and my father's eldest
brother said: no, I'm not leaving, ? I stay here. My father returned with his
father, but when he was thirteen, he forged his documents and travelled back to
Argentina with his brother.
first job he got, he left as soon as he got it. His brother got him a job with
an umbrella manufacturer, and his first chore was to carry two umbrellas to I
don't know whose house, and it began to rain very hard and the turco
didn't understand such cruelties, he was from a very wealthy family, then
he couldn't understand why having two umbrellas in the package, he had to get
wet, if he was his mother and father's son. So he took and used one of the
umbrellas and he quitted, that's why later he became an autonomous worker.
FISHERMAN OF ENAMOURED OLD WOMEN
fisherman of enamoured old women
today I'll confess everything for the first time.
have on my desk some photos,
played more or less games of marbles
never climbed a tree.
time I opened my eyes
smoked Fontanares (a brand of black tobacco cigarettes)
remember everything in full sunlight,
woman called me old man and cleaned up my snot.
they didn't believe me, they wanted to see the proofs.
tango, I danced it more or less,
it was necessary to grow up and discipline oneself
learnt to look sideways
persons come to ask me about growth and discipline.
decided then, to have more courage,
wrote some poems about that.
cunning gaze of the past
me your bread and my joy was to be your bread
me your milk love, give me your milk
your ego, that one which is good for nothing to you.