My intention was to open this account with a calculated vague recollection of certain details, however important: dates, times, names, locations and other possible giveaways. I considered kicking off in the time-honored fashion of the best of the primordial writers of fiction, starting with the most creative of the bunch: “In the beginning . . .”
Or perhaps the more mundane “A long time ago” or “Once upon a time”—four simple words that politicians in or without bras should by law be required to say at the start of every sentence delivered in front of an audience. Grown men and women would then have absolutely no excuse for continuing to imbue proven charlatans with far more credibility than, say, an Internet-age toddler might his or her beloved great-granny’s scriptural tales about intergalactic tooth fairies!
I hasten to reassure readers that my initial intentions were nevertheless honorable. If from somewhere deep inside my Botoxed ego a soft sing-song voice accused me of seeking selfservingly to conceal my true age under pretentious hogwash, still that did not matter half as much to me as my well-intentioned ambition to protect the more or less innocent. In any event, the heck with all of that. Let the chips fall where they may.
The unvarnished truth is that some thirty years or so ago when I was still domiciled in Los Angeles but vacationing on the Rock of Sages, the absolutely unexpected had on a rainy early Saturday morning confronted me en-route to Gros Islet from Castries. It will hardly surprise my older readers that as I approached the area now known as the Mega-J roundabout I instinctively made certain my windows were rolled up tight, before I brought my pedal down to the metal. This was the common practice of the day’s drivers. As undoubtedly those still in control of their faculties will recall, the stench from what was then generally referred to as the Choc Dump was absolutely unbearable. So nauseating was the atmosphere along what was then, and remains, one of the nation’s busiest roads that commuters and pedestrians alike had taken to wearing a variety of protective masks, as would Michael Jackson in later years whenever he stepped outside his regular living quarters with Paris, Prince and Blanket.
I have no doubt that in the files of at least one local newspaper there exist intriguing photographs of tourists and natives, cupped hands over their watering eyes, mouths and nostrils (some with colorful scarves tightly wrapped around their heads, for fear the contaminated air might seep into their imported HIB and leave them smelling as if they carried, not junk, but skunks in their trunk!) What a relief for the citizenry when the day’s government decided under duress that enough was enough and covered over the garbage dump with countless truckloads of dug-up soil. In relation to that most welcome occasion John Compton had, according to Hansard, delivered a House address that was as idiosyncratic as it was shocking. Along the way the prime minister had declared the dumpsite out of bounds to developers and other seekers of house lots for at least a hundred years, for their own protection. As I recall he explained, something to do with explosive methane gas!
Never a mincer of words, and with his face as straight as its natural topography would allow, the prime minister revealed that most of the vagina-related complaints recorded at Victoria Hospital had been reliably associated with disease-laden discharge from the garbage dump seeping into the nearby Choc Bay, where unwitting citizens enjoyed ritual all-day-Sunday soaks in the irresistibly translucent cesspool. As I say, my car windows rendered atmosphere resistant, lips shut tight and eyes barely open, I raced up the Choc Hill, past the dump. At any rate, that was what I had attempted. Alas, when I was only halfway up, I suddenly discovered I was neither up nor down but jammed up against the rocky roadside where I had skidded to a jolting stop. To my pleasant great surprise, a desperate on-the-spot check detected no broken bones, no oozing face lacerations, only a heart pumping as it had never pumped before. As for the vehicle, it too had suffered no serious consequences. And so, my normal composure quickly regained, I very carefully got on the road again, then turned around to have myself properly checked out at Victoria Hospital. For all I know Tapion was quite possibly not yet even a wonderful fantasy shared by Martin Didier, Steve King and their other medical colleagues. Conceivably the mentioned gentlemen were in the earliest stages of their studies, happily unconcerned about the business headaches of local healthcare.
The staff at Victoria Hospital’s X-Ray department welcomed me. They were then not nearly as frustrated and cynical as time and uncaring and incompetent politicians have since remade them. Not long after my arrival I was declared still in fine fettle, as it turned out an over-enthusiastic diagnosis attributed to my prize-winning musculature. (As I say, that was a long time ago, folks; I still looked like a Mr. Universe do—to paraphrase “London Swings,” Roger Miller’s egregiously ungrammatical perennial hit song!) A whole year passed before disaster visited. In the middle of a workout at Vince’s in Hollywood, stumping grounds of both O.J. Simpson and Robert Blake (if you know not whom they are, you really are luckier than you deserve to be!) I felt what I can only associate with the zap of a powerful electric shock that started at the back of my neck and quickly traveled down to the fingertips of my left hand. Within seconds I had lost all feeling in my arm, forcing me to cut short my all-important training session. The time was around eight in the evening and the furthest thing from my mind was a hospital-related thought. Not with the Olympia just two weeks away and almost everyone having determined this was to be the Year of Wayne. I telephoned a friend and bodybuilder who just also happened to be a writer and respected Hollywood chiropractor: Dr. Richard Tyler.
“C’mon over,” he said, after I had explained my predicament. “Sounds to me like a pinched circumflex nerve. We’ll soon fix that!” Dr. Dick fixed me, all right. So completely that by the next morning I was wishing, as they say, God would take me away. (Forget about your earlier notions about my beliefs!) I suffered such excruciating pain as no human being was designed to withstand.
The unceasing spasms in my neck over and over brought me to my knees—and to tears. The smallest sneeze—even the tiniest hint that one was enroute— was enough to turn
me into cowering crybaby. Within hours of being worked over by Dick, my left arm had become immobile, locked without feeling at my side. My left biceps quickly deflated from
a ripped-up near twenty-one to a commonplace seventeen inches, while the other
retained its impressive massiveness.
Yes, quite sight! All of the above happened the year Frank Zane won his first
Mr. Olympia crown in Columbus, Ohio, and was kind and generous enough to tell the
whole world via a live Sports Illustrated TV interview that the only competition he had
been concerned about was on his back in a sick bed in Woodland Hills, Calif. Frank also took the time to wish me a quick recovery, knowing full well that however murderous the pain in my neck and shoulders, I would be watching with palpable envy. Ahhhh, sweet nostalgia!
I recovered, sorta, after several months of near paralytic inactivity, enough to set about rehabilitating my puny left arm. Never saw a doctor, never sought medical advice. Instead, I did what nearly all athletes do when they’ve hurt themselves: I worked around the injury. (I continue to wonder why even the most intelligent of individuals, the minute they step inside a gymnasium, mutate into absolute morons!)
Although my arm never quite returned to its earlier form, still it permitted training of such effective intensity that for a short time I actually considered preparing for another shot at the Olympia. Alas, by then the writing bug had taken such control of my soul that nothing
even came close to being a distraction. Not that I gave up working out. As I say, I soon resumed heavy training, although never with such poundages as I had regularly tossed around before I got zapped at Vince’s.
Many here will remember my Body Inc workouts with, or in the presence of, Wally Downes, Nigel Theophilus, Tom Walcott, Robert Lansiquot, Philip J. Pierre, Damian Greaves, Julian Felix, some really buffed ladies including Monica Dudley, Velda (now operator of Vel’s Gym) and others not worth mentioning (just kidding, guys and gals, just
kidding!). And then, just two years ago, something altogether unsettling gave me
good reason to visit a local physician. Be sure to read about that and much more in
my next installment. I promise you’ll sit up and think as you’ve never before done.
What I experienced over the last 24 months was definitely no Road to Damascus conversion, but it has certainly left me a man reborn. I feel today far more considerate of fellow human beings, even though I remain more than ever intolerant of BS, regardless of the source.
I’ve become more sympathetic to the plight of others— and acquired a comforting new appreciation of the fact that no matter how bad your current situation, countless others are enduring circumstances a great deal worse.
But lest you again understand me too quickly, dear Doubting Thomas, permit me to reassure you that I’m still as, er, demonic (I know, I know, exactly as you suspected!) as usual but now I have eyes capable of seeking far clearer than before, both up-close and long-distance, the world we live in.
I seem abruptly to have acquired a new sensibility that permits me actually to place myself in the shoes of others who may have put their foot in it one time too often, so to speak. Perhaps best of all, I now have learned of the meaning of true friendship. I know now the lapidary differencebetween varieties of hangers-on and a reliable support system!
In closing, a few titillations: have you ever wondered how many Saint Lucians die each day, but not from some fatal disease or even old age? Would you believe more succumb to the countless fallouts from abject poverty than from killer diseases? Can you bring yourself even to imagine the numbers not yet quite forty years old who paid the highest price simply because they could not meet the cost of life-saving tests and MRIs? How many Saint Lucians do you suppose expire daily from complications related to ailments generally considered not fatal because, for reasons beyond their control, the ailments went undetected until it was too late to make a difference?
Consider, if you dare, the scores of povertystricken children all over Saint Lucia who, for months before they succumbed, had suffered horribly—whether from hereditary diseases or malnutrition—and for whom (to borrow a biblical phrase) “it would’ve been better had they never been born.”
How many of us go to bed nightly without even a thought for the particularly unfortunate, whether because of our own selfishness or because the sick and starving are conveniently out of sight?
Recently there was much ado (for the usual two days!) about a young man in a wheelchair who ostensibly had been given the special opportunity to score some STEP dollars.
How many of us saw through the related wall-to-wall hypocrisy of certain crowing government officials, their echoing shameless sycophants and damning detractors, all of them as predictable as only party hacks can be?
How many readers of this newspaper were sickened by the dutiful calls to Newsspin, some to praise “our compassionate government for affording work opportunities to the differently abled,” others to denounce the same officials for their demonstrated callousness in “placing at risk an unfortunate young person obviously ill-equipped for the hard labor normally associated with STEP.”
When did we start caring about our poor, sick and tired huddled masses? Brace your cosseted consciences, dear avowed Christian soldiers, I’m here to tell you that while it is built on boulders of inconvenient truths too long sidestepped—the road to bottomless perdition remains ever vulnerable to courageous corrective action!
Stay tuned, pilgrim!