Better to be mute than risk foot-in-mouth!

Deceased Foreign Affairs Minister George Odlum.

My dear Jeff: Your most recent STAR contribution that took the form of “a heart-felt message” brought to mind a review by Martin Amis of the latest book by Christopher Hitchens. I take this opportunity to inform you that the two widely respected writers have long been close friends and that the last-mentioned has for some time now been battling cancer of the esophagus, privately as well as on the world stage, even as he produces without interruption monthly articles for Vanity Fair and other prestigious publications.

The best-selling author of God is not Great also travels the world to debate with renowned scholars what is usually referred to as “the God question: does He or doesn’t He exist.” Small wonder that Amis considers him “one of nabels,” by which he means to say Hitchens “has no automatic respect for anybody or anything.” Before you recklessly form an opinion about that statement, please take note of the qualifying word automatic.

And now I am reminded of the countless times I have pleaded with you as we noisily argued at your house—within earshot of your perplexed charming wife Cheryl—to be meticulous with your analyses if you wish others to take you half as seriously as clearly you take yourself. For if your mission is to uncover the mating habits of say, African killer bees, how absolutely counterproductive to concentrate your research on the proclivities of your front-porch blackbirds, just because they too are winged creatures!

I have no idea where you researched the mindset of cancer patients. Or how you arrived at the delusion that I “lie in bed awaiting treatment.” Knowing me as well as you say you do, Jeff, why do you seem so surprised that I continue to write my twice- weekly columns—evidently with undiminished gusto? Would I be more like the cancer patients you presumably investigated if instead of writing I lay in bed contemplating a fate I refuse even to acknowledge? Take it from this horse’s mouth: my attitude to my work—which in truth is my life—remains as you’ve always known it. If anything, I am now enjoying what I do more than I have in a very long time. I suspect my current environment has much to do with that, free as it is of the several distractions, some welcome, some barely tolerable, that are a large part of my normal small-island existence. (Alas, I must confess I’ve not been able to kick my Newsspin addiction. Speaking of which: you don’t know how insane is our sound until you’ve experienced it long-distance. At a time when everyone else is crying over fuel prices and seeking ways to survive the Libya fallout, our oracular political leaders and their ever-loyal respective hacks are stuttering or otherwise chattering only about expected government handouts by various names as the day’s failsafe panacea—absolutely oblivious of the irreversible truth that in the end we all pay through our noses for generosities ill-conceived. Then there are the nation’s alleged best brains that come on the radio to glibly and without the smallest hint of embarrassment denounce the nation’s prime minister for accepting an invitation to Will & Kate’s wedding when our economy is ailing—as if there was an economy anywhere in the world not suffering the effects of this precedential recession—the same so-not-funny comedians who, when millions worldwide were losing their jobs, had insisted on pay hikes for Saint Lucia’s public servants though the heavens fall . . . Ah, but I must not digress too far. I did say I was enjoying my current relatively distraction-free environment!)

Columnist Jeff Fedee

Columnist Jeff Fedee

My friend, you seem to have forgotten that from age ten or eleven I have lived the life of a dedicated athlete, most of that time as a competitor. A “winning” one, if I might be permitted to borrow from the day’s most quoted nutty professor Charlie Sheen. It might come as a big surprise to learn that to be a champion in any field of endeavor—whether professional sport or real estate—demands a mind absolutely resistant to the remotest possibility of failure. I dare say that if there is one particular characteristic all winners share, it is their unflinching distaste for losers. For winners know only too well that to submit to negative suggestions before an event is to set themselves up for disappointment. Their unspoken mantra is: You are what you think!

As well you know, Jeff, I have always faced challenges head on, convinced that in the end I will prevail. You, of all people, know that when winning bodybuilding awards was my prime ambition and the idea of a black Mr. America resided in the realm of fantasy, I took on the mission impossible and transformed it into a mission accomplished. The publishers and editors of sports magazines of the day, like their showbiz and other counterparts, dared not feature on their covers an obviously black face, however attractive or popular, for that would be as an invitation to bankruptcy—if not visits in the dead of night from big-belly clowns with white bed sheets covering their heads. You know only too well that I not only appeared successfully on magazine covers in the US and in Europe, more than a few unrelated to bodybuilding, but that I was also for close to 30 years the only non-white editor-in-chief at Weider Publications—until I decided it was time for this prophet to return home, whether or not honor awaited. If more than two decades later some in Saint Lucia continue to judge me in the manner of illiterates judging books and consequently concluded I was some kind of alien being, simply because my face and attitude suggested a fit 45-year-old, well, bully for them, but expect no complaints from me. Let the record show, however, I have on numerous occasions reminded my friends and frenemies alike that when I am cut I actually bleed, that every morning (and sometimes also before bedtime) I do what the chronically constipated can only dream about, that once in a while I shed tears, whether of frustration or sorrow. I have never claimed infallibility. As for the evidently shocking revelation of my birth date, holy guacamole, Jeff, it’s up there on the World Wide Web—accessible for as long as the STAR website has existed.

Only a fool would imagine himself immortal—and I confess I am neither. Indeed a man would have to be a hair’s breadth away from imbecilic not to be conscious of his mortality until he hits 70. Might that be the reason human life in Saint Lucia seems so cheap? Could the reason so many of our young people end up as road kill on the Gros Islet highway have anything to do with an age-related lack of concern for life? Might that also explain why so many shoot each other in the head or decapitate each other with machetes?

Alas, my friend, I am at a loss what to make of the following, even though I suspect it is the soul of your “heart-felt message to Rick Wayne”: “Many people who face the now common disease of cancer, a disease we once thought was relegated to adults, now affects infants in abundance if one looks at the advertisements for Cancer Treatment Centers of America, with the large number of shaven-headed children receiving chemotherapy, with their plaintive eyes protruding from their skeletal frames. If one is a believer or faithful follower afflicted by this debilitating life-threatening disease, one must ask: What have I done so egregious in life to deserve this punishment?”

Plaintive eyes protruding from skeletal frames? Absolutely poetic, no? And what could an infant dying of malnutrition in simply beautiful Saint Lucia have done to deserve such a fate? Or, for that matter, the little girl in her freshly ironed school uniform who is run over at a traffic crossing by a drug-addled taxi driver. What had she done in her short life “so egregious as to deserve this punishment?” Or the pregnant eight-year-old? Is she too paying for her sin And what about the old man on his way to Castries aboard a transit bus who took a police bullet in the head, all because his driver failed to obey a cop’s stop signal?

This might come as news to you, Jeff: cancer strikes in various forms and has been around even before it had a name. Your expressed, somewhat primitive notions notwithstanding, the disease has never been a respecter of person, regardless of age. It has struck down as many nuns and priests as hot movie stars and whores. Only a warped, holier-than-thou individual would conceive of cancer as punishment for egregious behavior—a taste of hell in advance of the real thing. Brace yourself for another shock to your nervous system: Adolf Hitler did not die of cancer. Neither did Pol Pol or Saddam Hussein. And for all I know Robert Mugabe is cancer free. So what’s all this counter-productive guff about the disease being (God’s?) punishment for “egregious behavior in life?” Where did you get that one, Jeff? From the gospel according to William Brahman?

Which brings us to George Odlum. You will recall that pancreatic cancer was what dealt him the fatal blow. Do you suppose, as he lay dying on a Tapion Hospital bed (treatment was by then out of the question), his mind traveled back to his political career and related personal behavior considered “egregious” even in our anything-goes time? The irreducible truth is that no one knows the root causes of cancer. The statistics say one out of six men will contract prostate cancer. But the good news is that the disease is actually curable if caught in its early stage. I regret I am at this time unable to provide the figures for breast, cervical and other cancers related specifically to women. Neither the causes.

In your “heart-felt message,” Jeff, you took issue with my recent article entitled “Is George Still in the House?” If I read you correctly, what most bothered you about the piece was my “continuous rehashing of George’s foibles,” which you deemed “unnecessary in the present context.” Foibles? My dictionary defines the word thus: “A minor weakness or eccentricity in someone’s character.” Well, let me remind you that the effects of Odlum’s minor weaknesses and eccentricities on many who trusted him were nothing short of major and catastrophic. Our mutual friend Vic Fadelin, for one.

Just as I was about to ask what the hell you meant by “in the present context,” Jeff, your follow-up line elaborated: “Blame cannot be laid at the feet of George Odlum for every negative feature that plagues the Saint Lucian society.” If someone did that, don’t lay the blame on me. You go on to say I ascribed some of the worst behavior exhibited in Saint Lucia today to George Odlum, “from sowing racist seeds that threaten our tourist industry to the polarization of the people, and dramatizing the disgusting episode of the feces thrown in William Peter Boulevard.” Well, what to do with that? I never ascribed anything to anyone. What I did was revisit certain important events in our recent history and their undeniable consequences. As for what you yourself described as a “disgusting episode,” either it happened as I reported or it didn’t. Drama had nothing to do with my recollection, however disgusting to the suddenly sensitive. Even Joyce Auguste, who also wrote about the unforgettable night of Plywood City, would agree!

Recently departed former Newsweek executive Sidney Harman.

As for my unnecessary rehashing “in the present context.” Not once did you challenge the facticity of my take on what you refer to as the “disgusting episode . . . in William Peter Boulevard.” Indeed, by your own words, my friend, you confirmed what I wrote. You say also that what really ripped you up was that this all happened “in 1979, more than three generations” ago. Do you mean to say “the disgusting episode in William Peter Boulevard” should’ve been interred with the bones of George Odlum and forgotten? Or buried without further comment in the pages of Lapses & Infelicities? Isn’t that a little like saying there should be no new books, newspaper and magazine articles, no panel discussions, no new TV documentaries and movies about Idi Amin or Saddam Hussein? Or about Adolf Hitler, whose murderous heyday was over sixty years ago?

In any event, Jeff, this was no pointless rehashing of the inconvenient truth. The article that inspired your “heart-felt message to Rick Wayne” was in answer to a particular question put to me in two e-mails, one from a friend and the other from an online STAR reader. At the heart of the questions was whom did I consider the biggest contributor to the current extreme polarization in Saint Lucia today. Was it the curiously “endearing” George Odlum or calculating Kenny Anthony? By the way, Jeff, it occurs to me now that your heart-felt message never addressed the last named, even though I linked him with the mastermind behind the “disgusting” boulevard episode.

“When one is young and impressionable,” you wrote, “one is easily influenced. But every individual moves from immaturity to intelligent analysis and is able to distinguish between what is good from bad.” Every individual? Are you saying that at one point in his political career George Odlum matured from impressionable and easily influenced to a reliable discerner of good from bad? Who was the culprit that took advantage of the immature Odlum? As for his “radical ideology,” was it not responsible for the shitty explosion in William Peter Boulevard?

You credit Odlum with “illuminating” young minds blah blah blah, while ignoring the fact that in my piece I noted that the man was never all bad. Still there can be no denying many adulating young men and women were in one way or another led astray by Odlum’s “radical ideology.” Even his front-line apostles came to see him as a total sell-out who courted the enemy while stirring the hearts of young and impressionable Saint Lucians to rise and mutiny. Some were locked away in police cells and others were for years relieved of their passports. Indeed, it would be interesting to hear the once-upon-a-time Odlum protégé Kenny Anthony explain the process by which the object of his adoration miraculously metamorphosed into “The Great Satan.”  Oh, yes indeed!
History is history, Jeff. It is not for writers to determine good and evil. All that is required of us is that we write verifiable truth, not spin mushy tales concocted to appease friends and relatives of the departed, dearly or not.

In the piece with which you took issue, I wrote nothing but the truth as I experienced it, harsh and disturbing though it may seem to some. The events recalled were always disturbing. Time did not make them so.

My piece had nothing to do with lying in bed awaiting cancer treatments. Actually, my doctors have never required me to stay in bed. My widely respected oncologist has assured me the treatment I’ve been undergoing boasts a 95 percent success rate for patients at my stage. It is called brachytherapy. But that’s for another show. For now, let me reassure you and other similarly concerned friends in Saint Lucia and elsewhere that even if I eventually expire from the ravages of prostate cancer, my expiration date is hardly imminent. In all events, Jeff, what better way to keep my mind free of morbid notions than to engage at full throttle the very talents you say I was gifted with and I say I worked my ass off to acquire.

By the way, our mutual friend and fellow STAR contributor Nicholas Joseph has given me his permission to reveal here that for some forty-five minutes on his fiftieth birthday, having been earlier diagnosed with prostate cancer, he was lying on an operating table undergoing brachytherapy. He, too, never missed a day’s work throughout his treatment. Almost six years later he is enjoying a healthy and productive life with his wife and young son, excelling at his job in Atlanta, Georgia, while being part of a group of Saint Lucians dedicated to promoting in the US our island’s very best interests.

Instead of your no doubt well-intentioned heart-felt message, Jeff, it would’ve been so much more useful to inform fellow Saint Lucians of the strides in the field of cancer research. But then you probably care little about that. I certainly didn’t until my own recent wake-up call. Meanwhile,

I am reliably informed that scores of Saint Lucian men silently suffer with advanced cancer and other potentially fatal diseases because they are too scared to see a doctor, too poor to pay for treatment—or, like the majority of Caribbean males who die from disease, too macho to allow another male, for that matter, anyone, to mess around with their precious rectums. Rest assured that I’m not mad at you. I’m convinced your intentions were good, despite your characteristic heavy-handedness in this matter; despite your expectations of me with regard to your dead poet. Oh, and say hi to Cheryl.

Let me end with some enlightening words by Newsweek’s executive chairman Dr Sidney Harman, written soon after he was diagnosed with blood cancer: “I have just learned that I have acute myeloid leukemia, or AML. I don’t like it, but as the adage reminds us: ‘It sure concentrates the mind.’

What may save me is a combination of youthful enthusiasm, love, and, believe it or not, old age. I have just learned that if I were 30 or 40 years younger, I’d be a goner.

Those damn, unhappy white blood cells, called ‘the blasts,’ would simply eat me up—and fast. ”  Sidney Harman died on April 12—at age 92!

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