I’m sitting with Roberto in the milonga. He knows every song, and each one triggers a story about the men in the orquestra.
“This guy Alberto Castillo had 200 suits. And shoes to match each one. They called him El Electrico because he sings as if he put his finger in the power point. His voice would shake. He would shake himself to get the voice out really fast.
Also they called him Pejoteero (stingy), because he was so rich but he didn’t bring anything for the table. On Sundays the maestros would have lunch at the Taller de Mecanico (the mechanic garage) where I worked as as a boy. It was called a vermouth, like tapas. Cheese, with campari and cinzano.
One day I changed Hector Maure’s licence plate. I put it upside down. Because he never left me a tip. All the others tipped me, because I cleaned the cars. He had a Chevrolet Flier 1949, burgundy with white interior. Very nice car.
In the old times we used to live better. It was a more sweet life. There were no crises. Everyone used to say hello. The bus drivers used to drive very slow, saluting everyone on every corner. I had to get the bus 15 minutes early because it took so long.
One day my father sent me to get an ice block — we didn’t have a refrigerator. It was nearly 10 streets away, but I saw my friends and stopped to play soccer in the park. I got home and the ice block was half the size. I told him it was the last piece, the only one they had.
El Aguilucho. The pianist for D’Arienzo was a very little man, a Chileano. I don’t remember his name. He would walk back and forth in front of the piano because he couldn’t reach. He was a very happy man.
I remember the old D’Arienzo, Juancito. He was a little little man, very skinny. He was very comic. D’Arienzo is next to the bandoneon, and D’Arienzo is pointing right at the bandoneonist, face to face with him.
Julio Sosa. He was young. He had a sporty car, that’s the car he killed himself in. He used to drink a lot, he was a drunk. They used to put a concrete block on the corner to prevent the cars from cutting the corners. Julio knew it was there, but there was a lot of alcohol in his blood and the car rolled over. He was Uruguayan, but nobody cared about him there.
Discépolo. He was an insular man, he never met with anyone.
De Angelis was the most expensive orquestra in the city. He could keep musicians with him because he paid more. The other musicians moved around.
They called me Gardelito when I was 15 years old because I looked like him. I had a lot of hair and I combed it back with jelly.”
If you’re lucky some day at Jewel Lab, you’ll have a glass of wine with Roberto as he listens to the tangos and brings the maestros alive with lesser-known details and personal stories.