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Comedy's More Powerful Than COVID. Remembering My Cuñado, Arquímedes Pérez

Tim Padgett
CHI-CHI: Arquimedes Perez (left) with his sisters (from left) Lin, Yola and Marisol in Lecherias, Venezuela, celebrating a New Year's Eve.

My brother-in-law's coronavirus death in Venezuela is a reminder of what so many South Florida families face in this pandemic — and of the need for memory.

This is another in our series of reminders that COVID-19 deaths are not just statistics — they’re people.

One of the saddest realities of the novel coronavirus pandemic is that families usually can’t be there when loved ones are hospitalized for — and die from — COVID-19. And in immigrant communities like South Florida’s, that can be devastating, with relatives often thousands of miles away.

The family of WLRN’s Tim Padgett recently experienced that heartbreak here and in Venezuela.

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This is his remembrance of his cuñado, or brother-in-law, Arquímedes Pérez:

I’ve been trying to remember my cuñado Arquímedes not in sadness but through the uproarious and razor-sharp wit of Venezuela’s most popular comedian, Benjamín Rausseo — better known as El Conde del Guácharo, or The Count of Guácharo.

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Arquímedes — we called him Chi-Chi — was a bear of a man with a big, tough heart and an even bigger sense of humor. He was a savvy businessman, a loving father — and a huge Conde del Guácharo fan. But that always seemed backwards to me: I thought El Conde should have been a huge Chi-Chi fan. To me, Chi-Chi was an even more masterful humorist.

Like El Conde, Chi-Chi possessed that richly Venezuelan gift for raucous but rapier-like satire — spontaneous repartee that would have made even Robin Williams sound at a loss for words.

Chi-Chi possessed that richly Venezuelan gift for raucous but rapier-like satire – spontaneous repartee that would have made even Robin Williams sound at a loss for words.

If you watch family video of our holiday beach outings in Venezuela over the years, you’re likely to catch Chi-Chi regaling us with the kind of contrapunteo riffing that’s an art form on the country’s eastern coast.

I’d pour myself a rum and Coke and savor his rapid-fire growl as he skewered the foibles of the high and the low. Even the parts my gringo ear couldn’t catch still made me laugh until I cried.

So I’ve been trying to recall the laughs and suppress the tears since my wife Yola and I received the terrible news on Aug. 14 that her brother Arquímedes — Chi-Chi — had died of COVID-19, at a hospital in Barcelona, Venezuela.

He was just 56 years old.

Framed autograph

COVID-19 infection carries especially serious risks in Venezuela. Thanks to the worst economic collapse in the world today, its healthcare system is wrecked. The novel coronavirus pandemic broke out later in Venezuela than in most countries. But since mid-summer its number of cases and deaths is spiking.

Compounding our grief — and the grief of so many families like ours in South Florida — is the fact that the pandemic kept us so far away from a loved one battling this plague.

And that’s why our capacity for memory is perhaps more important during this tragedy than any other.

COMIC HERO: Venezuelan humorist Benjamin Rausseo, aka El Conde del Guacharo

One night in Caracas while I was interviewing a source over dinner, I spied Rausseo — El Conde del Guácharo — sitting at a nearby table. I introduced myself and told him he was my brother-in-law’s comic hero. I asked for his autograph — and I of course had him sign it to Chi-Chi.

I framed the autograph and gave it to Chi-Chi the following Christmas. He wasn’t one for big displays of affection, but it was enough for me to see one of his impressed smiles.

My big regret is that I never sent Chi-Chi’s autograph to El Conde del Guácharo.

Arquímedes Pérez is survived by his wife Lismaira and his six children; his mother Yolanda; his sisters Marisol, Lin, my wife Yola; and me.

This is part of our ongoing series of remembrances of those in — and close to — our South Florida community taken by COVID-19.

We’d like to remember more of your loved ones. Tell us about them in an email. You can send a note to talktous@wlrnnews.org Write COVID MEMORY in the subject line.

You can also fill out the form below. Stay safe and take care.