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Grijalva Pereira dos Santos, June 6, 1925 – January 22, 2005, pt. 2

A recent picture of Pop

My father was born in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil in 1925. He was one of 3 brothers, a half sister, and an adopted sister. His father was an officer in the Brazilian navy, and his mother was a seamstress. He did a stint in the Brazilian Army reserve right out of high school, but was never called to active duty during WWII (the Brazilian Army was part of the Allied Forces). He attended business school in Rio De Janeiro, and at the age of 22, he was appointed manager of a major bank in Rio.

He worked at the bank for several years, until he decided that he was being passed over for promotion too many times, and walked away from his career. He then put his savings together and bought a popular bar and restaurant in Rio. He was quite successful, and the place soon gained a solid reputation. He married relatively young and had 2 kids by the time he was 30, Gilda and Gustavo, both whom still live in Brazil.

His first marriage came to an abrupt end when Pop met my mother Lorenza, an Italian girl who was in Brazil visiting a sister of hers who was living there with her family. They had a torrid affair. Pop was so smitten, he decided to leave his wife and family, sell his business and move away from Rio so he can be with my mother. They left Brazil, married in Mexico, and immigrated to the US in 1960. They first settled in New Jersey, where Pop bought a gas station with an adjoining small bar/restaurant. They sold out a few years later, and moved to Chicago. My mother had some close relatives living in Chicago and she wanted to be closer to family.

Once in Chicago, my father bought another gas station, in the south side neighborhood of Bridgeport. Over the next couple years, they would have 3 kids, Judy in 1962, me in 1964, and Nick in 1965. We grew up in a little bungalow house on Quinn Street in Chicago, living the somewhat idyllic upper-middle class city life.

I remember my parents being quite the entertainers when I was younger. They were always having huge parties at our house. The house would fill up everytime to capacity. It was always a lively crowd with lots of drinking, smoking and dancing. Pop even built a fully stocked bar in our basement to handle the partying demands. Those looked like they were good times, too bad I was too young to fully participate.

After a few years, he sold his first gas station and later bought another gas station in the suburb town of Morton Grove, which thrived. After about 10 years in the gas station business, Pop decided to try something new. Pop decided he was done working with his hands all the time, and the long hard hours that the gas station business demanded. He sold his Mobil gas station franchise, and started an import-export business. He was going to import various food and wine products from Brazil and market them in the US. He worked furiously at the business for several years, but could not make it a success. This was pretty hard on Pop, because he had never really experienced failure at this level before, I think.

After several years of major losses and deals gone bad, he had to make the call of whether or not to file for bankruptcy. Pop was trying everything he can to keep money coming in. Even going back to being a car mechanic and driving taxi at night around Chicago. But they just could not get out of the hole. My parents were apparently the free-wheeling, big spending kind. They spent lots of money living a life that perhaps was just a bit over their heads. Needless to say, it took its toll, and things started to crumble.

Rather than do the right thing and file bankruptcy, wipe the slate clean and start over, my parents decided to go a little different route. They chose instead to hatch a scheme involving life insurance, a John Doe body claimed at the morgue and other craziness. We even moved down to Brazil for about a year to “lay low” after the deeds were done. When I found out later about what they had actually pulled, I thought I was in a movie or something. It was surreal when I learned what my parents were capable of.

In doing all this, my father lost his legal identity, his ability to ever do business again as himself, to own property, or even get a normal job. Ultimately his own sense of identity was lost as well to some extent. They did start a jewelry business when we got back to the states with their new found insurance proceeds. Unfortunately, Pop had little say in how things were done, or how any money was to be invested and so on, since all control was now in my mother’s name. This led to major upheavals, disagreements, and general out and out war sometimes between them. My parents’ marriage was never a loving or harmonious one, by the way. But by now, things between them had intensified to a level that was untenable.

They then decided that a move would help things get better. So we moved from New Jersey (yes, we went from Brazil to NEW JERSEY!!) to Daytona Beach, Florida in 1976. They bought a small motel on the beach, and opened a jewelry store on one of the better shopping streets. For a while, it looked like things were getting better. We kids definitely liked Florida a hell of a lot more than Jersey, that’s for sure.

Things again started to crumble when the jewelry business started to fail. The beach motel was also not doing well and needed to be sold off. By this time, they were fast out of options because of my dad’s lack of a proper name and the fact that by now my mom had just decided to use her level of control as a weapon against him. After they finally shut the jewelry business down, Pop decided he wanted to open another bar/restaurant, like he had in Rio. He found a little dive restaurant and beer/wine bar in Daytona for sale on Main Street of all places.

To give a little background, Main Street at the time was an area that catered to derelicts, druggies, and hookers(it still is more or less). If you were looking for the absolute unsavoriest people in Daytona, you found them on Main Street. This was the only place Pop can afford, so he bought it.

Surprisingly, the place actually did quite well for a few years. It seems that the derelict clientele he catered to actually had a sense of loyalty and knew good food, cheap beer and a good deal when they saw it. On Bike Week, you couldn’t get into the place, it was that busy. Pop was rather encouraged that his hard work maybe was starting to pay off.

Then, the Daytona Beach Police decided to try to clean Main Street up. That meant busting all the drug dealers, hookers, and other lowlifes around the area. They gave them ultimatums of either getting out of town, or going to prison. Most opted to leave town. Within a year or so, things got REAL quiet on Main Street, and business dried up completely. Pop had another failed business in his hands.

By this time, my parents had come to a breaking point, and they finally split up, after more than 20 years of marriage. Believe it or not, this was a very happy time for us kids. At least we knew that we would not have to put up with any major fights anymore, and maybe our own lives might return to some kind of normal.

Pop ended up moving back to Chicago while I was still in high school because he had run out of options in Daytona, where the economy sucked. He figured he could drive a cab in Chicago and help support us from there. So off he went.

We stayed in Daytona with my mom, but she was always taking off and going to Italy or New Jersey or wherever. So many times we were left alone. In fact, Nick and I spent 2 summers in Daytona at our house TOTALLY UNSUPERVISED. And yes, at the teen years we were at, we exploited that kind of freedom, no doubt. While we thought it was pretty cool to be on our own and have a whole house to our disposal, it was obvious that this was not a good situation to leave us in. Things went wrong, money ran out, we ran behind on bills. I got hit with the reality that I actually had to be responsible for the household because I was unable to get help from anyone.

Things got so desperate that I resorted to selling things out of the house just so we can have enough money to keep the electricity on and food in the fridge. I learned not to expect too much from my mom, who was in her own little world by that time, and many times unable to even be reached. I did find it very painful that Pop would not come down from Chicago and pull us out of the dire straits we were in. Judy was already in college in Boston so she was well removed from the situation and on her own. Nick responded to the crisis by just hanging out more with his friends, surfing, and distracting himself. They’d keep him away from the bad situation at home for a few days at a time. I too had friends that would help me out, thankfully.

But for the most part, I felt pretty alone and desperate, because alot of onus was thrown on me. I became severely depressed by the time I was a senior in high school because this whole thing had really taken its toll on me. Pop helped when he could, but unfortunately he allowed himself to get so detached from the situation that he never really grasped how bad things were for us, no matter how much I tried to tell him. I think he made it easier on himself by doing that.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I end up going into the navy, and am finally out of the situation that was hanging over my head for many years before. Pop was still in Chicago driving a cab. He ended up being there for almost 10 years if I estimate correctly.

Pop worked pretty hard at being a Chicago cabbie, working 7 days a week, 12-14 hours a day for several years. He saved as much as he could, hoping that he would save enough to start a new life someday. But he also spent a lot of it on silly things such as the Lotto. He joked that the lotto was his “retirement plan” (but he wasn’t really joking). That drove me nuts, because I knew that way of thinking was going to drive him into the poorhouse, and it ultimately did.

Back in the late 80’s, he decided that he had enough of Chicago and its brutal winters. He headed back to Florida and make a go of being a cabbie in Orlando. He also wanted to be closer to us, even though I was already planning on heading down to the Virgin Islands after selling my house in Daytona, because for me, it was time to get out of Florida.

He settled in Orlando and made a decent living driving cab there. He worked just as hard as he did in Chicago, but for less money. He didn’t seem to mind. It was easy to see that he was not getting any younger and that the pace he was keeping was really wearing him down. On several occasions, I tried to get him to start a different kind of business, something that would be easier on him and not work him to death. He never really gave my ideas much attention. He was stubborn that way.

Back around 1995, he had a major health scare. Seems that his heart was working at half its usual level, and he started filling up with fluid something terrible. He was admitted into a hospital in Orlando, and spent more than a week in ICU there before being discharged. Since he didn’t have a “real” name anymore, the system kicked the hospital’s Medicare claim for his hospital bills. This resulted in him getting a whopping hospital bill of more than $15K for his hospitalization. This scared Pop, and instead of working out something with the hospital, he bolted.

He went to Brazil for several months and “hid out”, thinking that some feds were after him or something. When things went dry in Brazil, he came back to the states. He was not willing to go back to Orlando to drive again, because he was afraid that “they” would find him. So for the next few years, he would bounce around between Judy, Nick, and me as well as family in Brazil and live off of us. For the most part, most didn’t seem to mind having him for a while. Emphasize “a while”. Pop tended to wear people down sometimes because he always liked to be the center of attention. He also had this obsession with keeping conversation going even when there was absolutely nothing interesting to say. Then if you didn’t participate, he’d take it personally. This tended to wear down even the most patient family members.

Back when Mahi and I were working really hard at our internet business in LA, we’re talking 14-16 hour days, Pop would sometimes stay with us, and he’d expect us to somehow keep him entertained after we got home from a horrendously long workday. He didn’t understand that all I wanted to do was just fall on the couch and watch some HBO until I crashed. That became a big sticking point for me, but he couldn’t understand.

Anyway, this kind of thing went on for the next few years until Pop hit what many would call rock bottom. He had run out of money, got pretty desperate and was out of options for help. I told him that he needed to go to Social Security and get his stuff straightened out with them and get his name back. He insisted that if he did that he would end up in federal prison. He didn’t understand that whatever he and my mom had done happened decades ago, and nobody was going to care about it. He always had this paranoia about “getting caught”, and it stifled him in fear.

At some point, he finally gave in and went to Social Security to tell them the whole story. To his surprise (but not ours), they restored his name and status, and he immediately started receiving benefits and Medicare. They even gave him benefits that were retroactive for something like a year. It was then that he realized that he should have done what he did years ago, like we had been telling him to.

He got the opportunity to buy a small and cheap trailer home in a retirement park in Daytona, he asked me to help him buy it, and I did. For the first time in decades, he had a place that he can call his own. For the first time in decades, he could relax and not worry about where the rent was going to come from. I was glad to see that he finally came to that point. Now the question was, what would he do now?

Pop’s biggest problem was that he was an expert at wasting time. He spent LOTS of time just sitting idle in front of the TV, usually for the whole day. Now that he wasn’t working anymore, he made no effort to find other things to fill his time and give his life any real purpose or direction.

He seldom got out, mingled with his neighbors or did anything else for that matter. He was quite crazy about the fact that for him to do anything would cost money. He became quite lethargic and that didn’t help his health at all. He didn’t understand that there were all kinds of senior activities or volunteer programs that would get him out of the house for a few hours each day. His stubbornness was always his greatest liability.

He stayed in this mode for the next couple of years, and in the course of things his health declined on a pretty steep precipice. His lethargy, poor health, and other factors led to his needing heart surgery in late July of last year. He had two valves replaced and one artery bypassed. His doctors put him on a very strict regimen of medications, exercise and diet, none of which Pop really kept up with. His health actually declined even faster after the surgery because of his inability to follow the instructions his doctors laid out for him. That’s what ultimately led him to his demise, I’m afraid.

I know I’ve mentioned lots of Pop’s faults and weaknesses in the story of his life, didn’t mean to put it that way, it is what it is. But what were his good points?

Lucky for me, he had plenty of those too.

Pop was the most gregarious person I’ve ever known. Some people tell me that my own gregariousness is directly from him. I’ll take that. This guy could get into any conversation anywhere and engage everyone around him. Part of his ability to do that was his need to be the center of attention, of course, but most times, that worked for him. He could get the whole room laughing at one of his old, corny jokes, and wanting more. He was just so endearing that way.

Pop wasn’t always an avid listener, but when he got into the right mode, he would take the time to learn all about every person in the room. This is part of what made him so engaging. He had the natural ability to get anyone’s guard down in seconds flat. One of the things that really bugged me was that even at his later years, he was able to attract some very nice women with his personality and demeanor. But whenever presented with an opportunity for him to make a new lady friend, he’d run the other way, saying he was “too old” or that he was through with women, thanks to my mother, blah blah blah. I think that had he let just one of those nice women into his life, things may have turned out differently for him later on. Instead, he chose to stay alone, and that was tragic.

Pop had a strong sense of family. He always wished that our family was closer and more in touch. The one item that was most important to him was his huge album of photos of his children, his grandchildren and everyone else around and in between. Everytime he got a new visitor (which wasn’t often enough), that damn photo album would get out. I’ve seen him get a little choked up when he talks about his family. It was those times that I realized that his family was pretty much all he had. It made me wish sometimes that I had been a better family member than I actually was.

Pop was a man of passions, but never executed or followed through on any of them. His biggest passion was sports, if you ask anybody. But I think that was just by default. It was easy for him to be a sports fan. I used to ask him all the time what his real “dream” was when he grew up. What really excited him that he wanted to do but never could? And he never really gave me a straight or consistent answer.

I think part of the problem was that he was fascinated and intrigued by so many things in this world that he can never focus on any one thing that really gave him any satisfaction or “joie de vivre”. So he’d essentially backed from all of them. He was what I like to call a closet “renaissance man”, fascinated by so many disciplines, arts and sciences but truly impassioned by none of them. I just wish he had had more focus and direction to really nail down one thing at a time and make it a passion for his life.

I think I found my passions in life by observing him and what he was and wasn’t doing. Does that make sense? I name this as a good point because it’s what made him all the more fascinating, even if it was at his own expense.

Not long ago before we left California to start cruising on Andiamo, Mahi and I finally got a chance to get Pop out on my other boat, La Dolce Vita, for a wonderful daysail out of Marina Del Rey. The weather was perfect, the beer was cold, and Pop was in good spirits. He loved being there, you can tell off the bat. Interestingly, it was the first time Pop had ever seen me sail my boat, and he saw quickly that it was my passion. He went on to tell me during the sail that he was glad to see that I had found something that I was passionate about, even if he never did. That was a wonderful day, a wonderful moment, and I only wished that we had more of them.

Pop had a sense of humor that was able to work on the most intelligent and most insipid levels. He was a big fan of dry, subversive humor as well as blatant and juvenile humor. One of my own joys in my relationship with him was that I was able to make him laugh even at my most cynical and sarcastic mode. Whenever there was a true funny moment that happened it went down in the record books with Pop, and he would recount the whole incident in stunning detail to anyone who’d listen years down the road. The guy knew funny when he saw it.

Pop was not always open to new culture, music and other stuff. Before he bought his dive restaurant in Daytona, he never really listened to modern music. He always stuck with his old standards, like Frank Sinatra, Percy Faith, Mantovani, Brazilian music and so on. Only the stuff he was comfortable with. He had reams of records of the old standards and that was all he ever cared about. Once he had the restaurant, he became exposed to all kinds of other music mostly from the jukebox in the joint. There was all kinds of stuff, Rock, Punk, Jimmy Buffett, country and other styles and he realized that he liked them all. This made him open up to a whole new world of stuff that he had never really given much time to. He developed a new appreciation and learned how to step out his “comfort zone” as far as taste was concerned, better late than never.

And finally, Pop always left a lasting impression on everyone he met, and it was almost always a good one. In fact, he would meet a friend or acquaintance of mine just one time, at a party or other function, when he was in town visiting. Then, for years after that one meeting, that friend or acquaintance would inquire about Pop and how he was doing, each and every time we’d meet. Friends of mine from school would affectionately ask about Pop, even though they hadn’t seen or talked to him in so many many years. This never happened with anyone else, only Pop. This is a guy who people truly remember and care about. I hope I’m remembered half as much by the people I happen by through this life.

For much of my life, people would tell me how much I was like my dad, in mannerisms, or personality or whatever. I’d always take it as some kind of jibe or insult. Don’t know why, just because. But like I told him that last night I was with him in LA before I head back to Belize City, I’m glad that I’m alot like him, even if there is some baggage attached.

So are there lessons to be learned from Pop’s life? By what he has done and not done with his? I like to think so.

Take an interest in other peoples’ lives, enjoy the people around you and find things to laugh about. Live life to its fullest, chase your real passions, there is nothing better to do with your life. Don’t fear them, embrace them. Money is not the goal. Freedom to enjoy your life the way you want to is. Don’t expect the lotto to be your retirement plan. Love and accept those in your family for who they are even if they are not who you want them to be. Don’t waste time in a bad relationship, and definitely not for the sake of the kids. Remember that no matter how bad your situation may be at a particular place or time, there is always someone else whose situation is worse. Don’t be afraid of new love possibilities, no matter how old you are.

And goddammit, don’t waste time. It’s simply too elusive and too precious. It’s never, ever too late to do something real with the time you have left on this rock.

Thanks Pop.


  1. Bonnie Thompson says:

    Tony, It sounds like you have learned a lot of lessons and values from your father’s life, I still think you should take up writing!

  2. Janet Romero Ramirez says:

    Thanks for sharing this Tony – I’ll always remember Pop – his voice is unforgettable. Please know that we are thinking of your during this tough time.

    Hugs and love,

  3. Nick Santos says:

    Part of Pop’s life was a mess and he did toil in it for way too long! There’s a part to this story that if not careful is going to go un-noticed or simply overlooked. What pop wanted more than anything was for his family to get along. He felt responsible that he could never achieve that no matter how hard he tried. So is that it now that he’s gone does it end. Pop’s death did something that hasn’t happened in a LONG time and that is that we all shared in the grief the memories and the pain. Most important we all talked. Is that what it takes to open doors that have been closed for years? The best way we can honor Pop is to continue to hold those doors open, it is what he wanted more than anything. Or maybe I’m just too stoned? Surf’s UP !

  4. The neice says:

    thanks, i really needed to read that. I don’t know how to put it, but that really helped, cuz i haven’t really talked to anyone in debth about pop , just cuz it didn’t really seem real to me. But it was so nice to be able to read about his life and remember him.
    and i loved looking at all those photo albums with him! and that’s one of the last and sweetest memories i will have with him,is looking through those pictures together.

  5. Mietsie says:

    I didn’t read about your dad when I came to the andiamo and met you, till now. My English isn’t good enough to express what I want to say, but I’ll try anyway. The way you write and talk about your father touched me because it says everything about the wonderfull man you became despite all of the things that could have had a better turn. It shows the strenght and the fire inside you and your love for life. You definitely touch peoples lives like your dad used to do. You touched mine.

  6. Eric says:

    Oi Tony,

    isto e uma das elogias mais bonito que tenho visto em muitos anos. O meu pai tambem tem muitas falhas mas lendo sua historia me deu outro perpectative nas coisas com ele.



  7. Dean Waddle says:

    A nice honest tribute Tony.