The Watchyman made history when he decided to marry a Bolivian woman to obtain Bolivian residency. He may be the first Chilean to do so, and perhaps the only since the Pacific War of 1879 when Chile conquered the Atacama Desert, capturing a sizable portion of Bolivia. What could Watchyman possibly do in Bolivia that he couldn’t do in Chile?
I discovered the Watchyman when I moved into one of the third floor apartments on Estados Unidos street near downtown Santiago. Estados Unidos is not a long street, with seven apartment buildings. There is also a café, a small store and a radio station.
It is common for residents to park their automobiles on the street, but other than my neighbors, many other people parked their cars on Estados Unidos street, usually in the evening after work.
Watchyman took it upon himself to watch these cars and made sure thieves, or flaites as they are known in Santiago, did not attempt to break into the cars. Drivers were usually pleased to come back to their cars intact and thus gave Watchyman due payment for such excellent watching.
He was indeed an outstanding deterrent. Watchyman was notorious amongst the people living on Estados Unidos street. Mostly for his colorful Miami Dolphins jacket that had lost none of its luster to notorious Santiago smog. His lanky body stood over 6 feet tall, and he rarely wore a friendly expression. The Watchyman’s eyes were always alert, and a gap had split his front teeth considerably. Below dark scrubby hair, his high forehead had enough room for a calculus equation.
But the Watchyman on my street was special, and I knew he was special. I have seen hundreds of Watchymans in Santiago; I have seen Watchywomen, sometimes alone, sometimes with their Watchychildren and even a Watchymidget (who works a backstreet near Los Leones metro). But none of these Watchys were bilingual. My Watchyman was well versed in American English.
When I found out that the Watchyman’s real name was Ignacio, we started exchanging pleasantries. You might expect this to mean “hola, ¿cómo andas?”, but not with Ignacio, it usually meant something like this:
“Waddup Igna?” I would reply.
“Fuckin’ shit,” he would answer.
“How much did you make last night?” I always asked.
A “G” is of course American street slang for a grand or 1,000. The Chilean pesos have never been devalued which means that 1,000 Chilean pesos is approximately $2 US dollars. Thirty Gs was then a sixty dollar night for the Watchyman, which is not bad for standing around protecting a bunch of parked cars in a relatively safe neighborhood.
“Thirty G’s dog,” he says.
On a different continent and within a culture that lies pretty far from America’s sitcoms, hip-hop and bad action flicks, this guy, whose livelihood came from the informal market of automobile protection, spoke to me like an urban, American teenager.
After that we were friends, and every time the Watchyman threw a “fuckin shit” my way, the coils of friendship clinched tighter and tighter.
WATCHY CON PIERNAS
Chile is not a coffee republic. Geographically, it is included in Latin America, but Chileans have not developed an addiction to coffee the way other Latinos have, like Brazilians and Colombians. In fact, Chileans prefer tea more than anything, and when they do drink coffee, it’s usually a reconstituted spoonful of Nescafé, which tastes the way coffee would taste on the space shuttle.
So “coffee with legs” is an innovative concept that has given Chile another chance at coffee: in the way of quality espresso served up by women wearing a homemade costume of high heels, g-strings and bikini-tops. While Chileans may not be addicted to coffee, many of the men working in downtown Santiago are definitely addicted to the legs. And the Watchyman was definitely seedy enough to make a dark café with neon lights, loud reggaeton and sweaty, half-naked Latinas appear normal.
I admit that the Watchyman took me by the hand for my first foray into the underground world of Santiago’s café con piernas. “Do you want the real dirty cafés? “ he asked me. I asked him if we would need to wear surgical gloves and a mask. If it weren’t for the Watchyman, I might have wandered into Café Haiti or some other café of considerable decency.
Instead he took me to Romeo’s, a block off the city’s historic Plaza de Armas. When you enter one of these cafés, you usually pay for your drink at the door and receive a ticket. With the ticket, you choose your waitress or in most cases, she chooses you. There are no places to sit because when you drink coffee with legs, you do it standing up. There‘s a bar, plenty of mirrors and lots of gray matter distorting the faces and fleshy bodies walking back and forth between patrons and the coffee machine.
Watchyman’s appearance at Romeos seemed like a big deal. Several girls came out from behind the bar to greet the legend. He doled out chocolate sticks to each one never forgetting to introduce me to his downtown harem, always in English, which gave him an international flare.
As we waited for our coffees, Watchyman went through the Q&A with a waitress called Flor. From the conversation it appeared that Watchyman had plenty in common with her and her piernas. Turns out that Flor is the proto-café con piernas-waitress: an unattractive, single mother from a low-income part of town. Amazingly, when Flor smiles, she becomes even more revolting.
Alcohol is not allowed in the café, for when the coffee with legs concept dropped its anchor in the 70’s, the government made sure it did not evolve into the more lucrative “pisco con piernas”. Despite having no permit, the girls at Romeos always have a bottle of rum on hand for frequent visitors like the Watchyman. We had two rum and cokes for $3 dollars apiece.
The Watchyman told me that if you’re friendly with the girls, they would spend more time talking to you. Nevertheless, if you weren’t a professional parked-car watchman, touching was generally forbidden.
There were those frequent guests however that could get away with a brief breach of hand to pierna contact. Chupapatas is without a doubt the most famous of these proverbial perverts. He didn’t care much which waitress served him, for Chupapatas is a foot-fetishist to the core, and all the girls at Romeo’s fit the bill for feet.
“When Chupapatas comes in,” Veronica told me as her recently-operated, oversized breasts hung motionless and rigid, “he orders tea.”
“Is that so?”
After he takes a sip, he bends down on one knee and the waitress slips her black, synthetic booted foot into his arms. Chupapatas –which loosely translates to Footsucker— then strokes the boot for the duration of three or four reggaeton songs. Mid-fetish, Veronica must often hold onto the bar with both hands as Chupapatas violently rubs his fragile, 78-year-old body up and down her leg, ankle, and foot.
“There’s always a good tip from Chupapatas,” she says unconcerned about the man’s mental condition. Watchyman said he had never seen a Chupapatas in his life, and his familiar “dat’s fucked up” was all he could utter.
They say Chupapatas comes in once a month, maybe more than that. But the Earlobe Lover, or orejón as he’s known among the waitresses, makes a weekly appearance at Romeo´s coffee and legs. Much like Chupapatas, he obtained his nickname status thanks to his unusual fetish.
When Orejón chooses you he never looks you in the eye, an 18-year old Peruvian waitress named Diana tells me. After drinking his coffee, Orejón skips the small talk and goes straight to the heart of the matter: getting his earlobe stroked.
For only a few minutes, Orejón leans his head over the bar and daintily places one of his earlobes between Diana’s thumb and forefinger. She then rubs the earlobe lightly and before the reggaeton ballad has even begun, she watches him in the mirror across the bar capitulating to a woman’s touch. When the Earlobe Lover looks up to see her bare stomach practically swimming in his cup of coffee, he loses it. Orejón smiles and walks out, sometimes without saying a word.
“But most of our clients are normal,” Diana says. “Like Ignacio.”
Once the Watchyman and I finally left Romeo’s, he turned to me and said that the café turbio (murky café) was only three blocks away. I grinned, and wondered if the Watchyman also has a secret nickname among the waitresses.
The Watchyman Café con Piernas tour had just begun.
The Watchyman tried his hardest to be a facilitator. If my roommate Ben or I made any mention of wanting to purchase, share, or acquire any type of service or object, we knew that the Watchyman’s antennae picked up signals that ours could not. Although neither of us had a car to be watched, he tried his hardest to fulfill our needs and paid consecutive house visits.
The Watchyman usually buzzed my apartment Tercero/Tercera on a weekday. My door made a sound like a contest on the Price is Right. Afternoons on my street were very quiet. A late afternoon chime was either the Watchyman or a missionary.
“What do you want?”
“I got the password,” he said.
“Ok, so what’s the password this time Igna?”
Wireless network passwords were one of his specialties, though I I’m not sure if he actually had a PC. He often told me about discreet, military software that could decipher the wireless network passwords and break other codes too. Yet despite all the passwords that the Watchyman whispered through my buzzer in my apartment, internet remained an unloaded page, as if every time the Watchyman learned of a new password, the network administrator changed it.
Since Watchyman worked day and night on Estados Unidos street, he was bound to pick up on everybody’s schedule, habits and girlfriends. If you stumbled home late on a Friday night in the arms of a woman, the Watchyman knew. And if you came home late on a Friday night without any company, the Watchyman knew.
Watchyman also knew who was paying for cable television and who was not. He had on good authority that Fernando and Señora Ana, the owners of the store below my apartment, allowed my building’s super, Don Mario, to illegally cable their shop’s television. They made a deal, Watchyman said. I asked him what Mario was getting in return, Watchyman said I’m asking too many questions.
So was the neighborhood of Estados Unidos street, a network of trade-offs bartered for favors, where few things are bought and sold, because when everybody offers something of value, if not just advice, but a service, this would be paid back in kind. The world seemed to get along as long as this system didn’t get out of hand.
One day I went into the Watchylair, which was the basement apartment of the yellow building across the street. I told the Watchyman that I was in the market for a new mattress and he had a guy, because the Watchyman always had a “guy”. He wanted to show me his mattress, which was custom fit to the Watchyman’s body. Watchyman was a rare six footer in Chile, making him an outlier in the height dimension.
He lived in a one room apartment with a broom closet bathroom in the corner. There was a small vent through which a thin ray of light slipped into his room, bouncing off the sidewalk above. Otherwise it was a cave, some kind of urban grotto where the Chilean Steppenwolf bedded down in the early morning when the last drunken driver fumbles his foot over the gas pedal and rumbles away into the vacant streets of Santiago.
He had an electric cooker plugged into an extension cord. A pot of a soup like substance sat next to the cooker. And of course his Dolphins jacket hung on the wall.
“Igna, where did you get the Dolphins jacket?”
( to be continued Part II)