Slightly Higher Apes

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“We’re just higher primates,” Rodolfo was saying, “and if anyone wants to argue with me, well then I’ll just bring in Pamela Anderson as exhibit number one. I remember when I was a manager, we’d be sitting around the table discussing restructuring or some such thing and my secretary would enter in a mini-skirt and everyone would stop talking.”

“You see,” he said, “We’re nothing but higher apes. Slightly higher apes.”

Rodolfo had brewed some metallic-tasting coffee in his office in Floresta and set out some cookies. Behind his mustache are lively, almost wild eyes, windows onto a mind which is manic, wiry and brilliant.

Rodolfo trained as an anthropologist. (“Anthropology is the key to everything,” he says.) His talents, to my mind, were squandered running a computer center for the electric utility in Buenos Aires. But he says his office was the happiest, most efficient office in the company – and I don’t doubt it. “If one of my employees got drunk the night before and showed up at three o’clock, so long as he got his work done on time, I didn’t say a thing.”

While unconventional, Rodolfo’s management style worked and he was repeatedly promoted to problem sectors to clean them up. He may have been a bit too effective for his own good. Not only did he uncover corrupt employees bilking the company, but he found the corrupt company bilking customers. He spoke out and under blows and a settlement meant to keep him quiet, he was forced to leave the company. But he doesn’t keep quiet.

Sometimes he does get on your nerves. He just keeps firing ideas at you. I could see why you might want to fire him just to have a some respite. “I would have fired you too,” I joked.

Rodolfo has had radio programs, written screenplays, is now publishing a newspaper for college students. His energy is both contagious and exhausting. After talking with him for two hours, my head is swimming. One doesn’t have conversations with Rodolfo, one has “sessions.”

In this session I learned, at a dizzying pace, that “stigma” comes from a mark the Romans burned into the foreheads of condemned criminals. Why the atomic bomb wasn’t dropped on Kyoto (Secretary of Defense Henry Stimson had spent some vacations there). How King Tut was an insipid ruler (“like a vice president. No wonder no one bothered to ransack his tomb.” Or that most soldiers in battle don’t fire their guns — for fear of killing someone.

I also learned that his great-grandfather William Cathcart had founded the venerable Buenos Aires Herald newspaper in 1876, one of the places I cut my teeth as a journalist. But doubtless possessed of the same irrepressible, crusading energy as his descendant, Cathcart soon sold it.

— by Kevin Carrel Footer

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– Kevin Carrel Footer

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