How off course was Karl Marx when he famously labeled religion “the opiate of the masses?” Did he mean to say religion had rendered the working class passive and listless and lazy and uninterested in its own survival? Or were the proletariat simply not interested in the gospel according to Preacher Karl?
Irresistible is the notion that Marx, in his atheistic denunciation, may also have underscored—God forbid—what many in our time are determined not to believe: dope dulls the senses, so that regular users (addicts?) willingly hand over wide-awake, constructive living in exchange for an arcane high that effectively anesthetizes the brain and the connected synapses, the consequence being a community of narcoleptic zombies.
How interesting that Marx cared not to mention what might be the opiate of aristocrats, in particular such as were neither adherents to his philosophy nor high on religion. We may rest assured, however, he did not include among the sleep inducers the politics of Karl Marx.
The above came to mind on Sunday following an unscheduled rap session with some senior citizens of the republic once known as Constitution Park, now about to undergo an expensive facelift under a new name. Or so says the too often underestimated word on the street.
It had been a long time since I permitted them to stop me as I drove by: a decade, at least. I had never known the majority by name, largely because names were irrelevant in the recalled circumstances. What mattered was what the psyched-up young men and women believed; or thought they believed, for the most part misunderstood echoes from the steps of the Castries market (otherwise known as the people’s university; but let us not be distracted by questions about the faculty or the graduates!) or from the William Peter Boulevard roundabout.
(Speaking of stale fish in fresh wrapping: if we are soon to have a Kenny Anthony Park, replete with larger-than-life John Compton bronze statue, shouldn’t we also be considering similar treatment of our premier boulevard that is really only a caricature of the real thing—defined as “a wide street in a town or city, typically one lined with trees?” All things considered, wouldn’t William Peter Boulevard be more appropriately named George Mallet Promenade? And now, younger readers that know not of George Odlum—and care not that they know not—are asking: What da fu#k is a George Mallet?)
But I digress: The faces I stopped to talk with late Sunday afternoon had changed, I almost said changed radically, when in truth there remained not the smallest trace of radicalism in them, or in what proceeded from them. Truth be told, if they stood still for a minute or two passersby might easily have mistaken them for garden statuary.
Was time to blame? Had they all found religion and lost interest in the here and now? Or was the killer opiate a devilish concoction of religion and the multiple effects of too much faith wasted on too many amoral politicians?
A few had lost a tad too much weight, others too many teeth, and it seemed they were most comfortable, standing or sitting, with arms folded on their scrawny chests.
“Long time no see, Rick!” exclaimed one of them, whom I barely recognized.
“Yeah,” I said, “I was lost but now I’m found.”
“Don’ mind dem people dat saying Rick feenish,” said another. The fire in his eyes that once had betrayed his passion for living was now all but dead. “Is just Looshan talk. Man, Rick, you looking good!”
In my ear his tone was more synonymous with surprise than with complimentary acknowledgement. Doubtless he, too, had believed the exaggerated reports of my demise two years ago—despite my regular twice-weekly contributions to this newspaper and my uninterrupted daily acerbic contributions to Newsspin.
“So what do you think of King, eh?” someone shouted hoarsely from the back of the gathering.
“Yeah,” echoed another, a wee bit more aggressively. “Wha’ you tink about King?”
“And Chastanet!” still another added.
No one asked about our current monarch of all he surveys. Or about the departed “father of the nation” soon to be replaced by a metal representation. Conceivably, everyone already knew my thoughts on the dead and alive. Or imagined they knew.
“King eh got no balls!” I had imagined the speaker stretched out on a slab of dry-mud-coated concrete was asleep. “Da man have no balls or he woulda fight back. No balls, I tell you.” Obviously a man’s man with little time for wimps.
I said: “Is it King who’s without balls or you guys, along with the rest of the nation, who’ve lost yours?”
“Well, I still have mine, eh!” The solicited sing-song response emanated from a source on my far right, a scrawny gentleman clearly experiencing trouble maintaining his equilibrium (a shared difficulty, if for reasons wholly different!), his right hand massaging his crotch.
“Good for you, man,” I said, still safely ensconced in my car. “But we weren’t referring to balls good only for holding on to. What chance does a ballsy general and a castrated army have against soldiers equipped from head to toe with balls?”
The body on the slab groaned: “You sayin’ Chastanet got balls?”
“You damn right he has,” said the guy with his hand glued to his jewels. “If he hadn’ta got balls he wouldn’ta blow away King like dat.”
“Chastanet eh blow nobody away,” said a newcomer. “King just was too damn lazy or too damn tired or too damn disappointed in dem losers to fight back. Or he trusted people only a damn fool would trust!”
The man on the slab spoke again: “You sayin’ da woman dat replace King, Gale Rigormortis, you saying da woman got balls?”
I wasn’t sure whom he was addressing; I let his ball go by. But he repeated himself: “I talkin’ to you, Rick. You tink Gale can stand up to Kenny and Dalson and Alva and dem udder hungry en-rouge corbeaux?”
Tricky questions deserve only trickier answers. I said: “I can’t say how different from her regular persona she’ll be in the coming months but I remember how Kenny & Company treated the last House speaker, and Sarah Flood-Beaubrun before her. I don’t anticipate Gale’s gender having any impact on those misogynists.”
“What you mean by that?” asked the crotch grabber.
“Well,” I elaborated, “if the House UWPees are counting on honorable treatment from Kenny’s robots just because Gale is a woman . . .”
“Who tell you dat? How you know dat?”
“How I know what?”
“Dat Gale is ah woman. She look like a woman to you?”
Had our congregation been indoors, the ensuing belly laughs would’ve lifted the ceiling. But for me the line was not in itself all that hilarious. Rather, it was the speaker’s stale-bread demeanor that had tickled my funny bone. As it turned out, he was just warming up.
“Gale look like a woman to you? Head clean-clean like her hairdresser is a STEP grass cutter. She have man glasses on her nose, a kinda necklace ting around her man neck, and when she smile is like Dalson dat smiling. Same big macko teeth and she talking like some kinda transvestite from Venus. So why should Kenny and dem treat her like a woman? And besides, you want to be leader of the opposition, you gotta have . . .”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” mocked the guy on the slab, “you gotta have balls. We get that. So with all the balls you say you have, why aren’t you Leader of the Opposition?” More laughter, more cackling, more wheezy coughing. Enough to chase Mr. Crotch Grabber to the back of the group, hands now clasped on his head.
The guy on the slab was now sitting upright. “You know the only person who can save this country? What this country needs asap is Compton. Jeannine Compton. This lady has more balls than both parties combined. If the House doesn’t prove too hot for Gale to handle, then Jeannine will have to somehow persuade her to abandon ship. Either to seduce her out of the way or force her to throw in the Micoud constituency towel.”
Very carefully, and with his audience suddenly silent, he returned to his stretched-out position on the concrete slab.
“It’s still early days,” he went on, sounding now like a drowsy Joey Boowick. (A numbing thought suddenly occurs: Was that my long-ago friend Joey? Joey Boowick, the one-of-a-kind Constitution Park prophet? Holy macaroni!)
“There’s still time for King or Chastanet,” he droned, “whoever survives this present political trough, to cut a deal with Jeannine and Gale. Then there’s Richard Frederick, who still hasn’t played all his cards.”
“Da’s because da man eh got no cards left, sucker. And no visa, either.” The previously near lethargic guy with his hands on his head had abruptly reverted. Talk about Jekyll and Hyde. Now he was this close to the prostrate man on the chunk of concrete, skinny arms working overtime, one minute a whirling dervish, the next a stumbling drunk attempting the Ali shuffle.
“Ya’ll tink you know everything!” he screeched. “Ya’ll know shit!” He let loose a flurry of wild swings, uppercuts and jabs that wouldn’t move a pussy’s whiskers, all aimed at a target he alone could see.
Only then did I recognize him and recall his close relationship with a particular shit-raining night in 1979. Time to make my exit. I promised to drop by next Sunday.
Meanwhile, as I start up my car, I’m thinking: I hope John Compton as a lump of iron gets more respect from the masses than was given John Compton in the flesh, at any rate the night Plywood City was born!