I don’t mind telling you I really miss the guy! For some time now I’ve wistfully wished the old geezer could’ve gone on forever . . . I mean, I felt that way long before his final curtain. Truth is that by the time he permitted himself to be persuaded him to participate in the Jackass-type reality show that killed him John Compton had ceased to be the man I had come to know, and to not-so-secretly admire, after quarter of a century of experiences good and bad. Which is to say, I knew him better than did most people still living today.
And now, dear impatient reader, please try yet again to control your urge to understand me too quickly. This particular impatience has been associated with breathing over an extended period the sulphuric atmosphere that passes for oxygen on this Rock of Sages.
Give any of us the first line of Proust’s three-volume “Remembrances Of Things Past,” or from Derek Walcott’s Nobel Prize acceptance address, and without further prompting we’ll tell you precisely how the books end and where Derek went wrong—if need be with the assistance of a cutlass sharpened on both sides. That’s just one of the lesser side effects of the air-pollution hinted at! It might, therefore, prove salutary to the afflicted if I should immediately assure one and all that the random thoughts I am about to lay on you have nothing to do with our first prime minister’s undeniable accomplishments in office.
Certainly that should spare us the trouble of having to resurrect the sins of the dead, and consequently having to confront the man in the mirror whose eyeballs are barely discernible for the motes there resident. But lest I digress too far, let’s return to my starting point. I especially miss John Compton for his often pithy witticisms, many of which were off the cuff, so to speak, without, I suspect, much assistance from his brain, largely underestimated, I dare to say, by his own people, not at all surprisingly. (Walcott suffers from the same curse that has nothing whatsoever to do with the ancient chestnut about prophets unappreciated in their own town, a rumor doubtless started by low-rent gardeurs with an overblown sense of their own importance. How the particular aphorism continues to have life consternates me, considering the overwhelming contrary evidence.
If life, travel, countless hours spent in countless libraries, to say nothing of personal experience, have taught me anything it is that wherever the popular concentration is on a writer’s perceived aloofness, there too you’ll find depressing hordes of illiterates carrying on as if ignorance were a virtue, noisily demonstrating with obvious pride their total lack of respect for the written word.
But again I digress . . . yes, but then again, no. After all, I was making the point about the discombobulating ease with which the mindless seek to trivialize what obviously they will never understand. We were reminiscing about John Compton. Remember his unforgettable “toutes Labar say voleur, toutes Labar say envioler?” When the end was nigh and one of my reporters sought to pry out of him the inspiration behind his shocking public declaration, this was how he responded: “I have an idea about what you’re asking but the man who knows all there is to know about that statement is your boss. You work for him, ask him. After all, he invented it!” After that, what else was there to say? The reporter, who was unborn when Compton spat out the particular pejorative about the party that had introduced him to politics, returned to her desk seriously embarrassed.
Oh, but I couldn’t help wondering for how long Compton had been waiting for the particular question from a STAR reporter and how much time it had taken to fine-tune his wickedly humorous response! I was driving home from town (the city?) last Saturday evening when for no reason I can think of right now a certain legendary playwright and poet, not Compton, came to mind. Indeed, the thought had more to do with the long ago departed than with the more recently interred other who had famously revealed during an episode of TALK that, unlike a certain pedigreed protégé, he had “no political enemies, only opponents” Maybe because of the current state of our streets and their gaping ugly jaws so eager to break axles and devour tyres, my mind just naturally turned to garbage and mediocrity. Again, I beg of you, dear reader, take time to divine where I might be headed. The garbage to which I here refer should not be confused with parliamentary speeches you may or may not have heard over the years with your own poor unfortunate ears. Neither with roadside STEP deposits, nor what passes for discourse over the local airwaves, aided and abetted by vacuous talking heads and sundry Unidentified Foolish Oddballs.
As I say, trash was on my mind. Trash, as in: “He who steals my purse, steals trash, but he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed.” Now be truthful, dear reader: can you imagine any of our leading citizens daring to make such a public pronouncement? Can you imagine a local parliamentarian crying over the filching of his, er, good name? Consider what might be the popular reaction? And yet the quoted sentiment is among the leading contributors to Shakespeare’s immortality. Strange, isn’t it? Even keeping in mind the author’s undeniable status among literary types, something about it reeks of childish naiveté and hypocrisy, if not palpable conceit. Suspicious by nature, I’m inclined to believe Shakespeare was referring to purses that their owners claimed were made from silk when it fact they were fashioned from sows’ ears. It’s not as if in Shakespeare’s London there were standards bureaus around every corner.
Today we have them island-wide, but that has never prevented imported dumped items being passed off as top-tier supermarket fare, expired use-by dates and all. Admit it, ladies, there’s not much you wouldn’t do for a bag by Chanel or Louis Vuitton! How about those to-die-for watches and bracelets with brand names you can barely pronounce, let alone spell? I’m here to tell you your dream items are easily available from the sidewalks of Micoud Street for a quarter of what you’d have to pay a Brooklyn shark or some barely awake Rodney Bay Mall salesperson. Scratch the last mentioned shopping center; local Syrians don’t do Chanel, neither Louis whats-his-name products. And speaking of standards, let’s not even mention the caliber of rat we allow to represent us all over the place, all expenses taxpayer paid! Consider, if you will, a public servant reporting to the police that some boulevard jumbie had jumped his wife and stolen her purse while she was momentarily distracted by the dazzling City Council Christmas decorations. Now imagine the officer telling said public servant not to worry, go home, his wife’s purse was just trash anyway, that the only thing he should be concerned about is her reputation. How do you suppose our public servant might react to that? Would he consider the officer’s advice out-and-out mauvais langue? Would he presume the officer knew more about his wife than even he had imagined? Or would our public servant dismiss the whole thing as typical police sarcasm and maybe report him to somebody way up in the service that just happens to owe him a favor or two (no need to go into why)? Better yet, let’s forget about our imagined civil servant. Let’s instead pretend it’s your wallet or your mama’s purse that she picked up at Macy’s just days before U.S. Immigration officers discovered she had overstayed her welcome in Obamaland.
Yes, let’s pretend your mama’s brand new purse was snatched outside the House by some guy with eagle’s wings on his feet and a face mask that resembled a police officer’s battered helmet. How would you react to some cop fresh out of training school describing your mama’s purse as trash and therefore not worth bothering about? Can’t you just hear the headlines that would immediately follow? Can’t you just hear Tim holding forth on the hot-button issue of equality before the law? What if local magistrates should suddenly take it into their heads to dismiss the pending scores of purse-snatching cases before the courts, on the Shakespearean premise that what really matters are our reputations not our trashy purses regardless of brand? And what if the snatch victims themselves weren’t all that enriched reputation-wise—if you get my meaning?
Again Compton comes to mind. I seem to recall him holding forth one evening several years ago in William Peter Boulevard, about how certain nefarious Labour Party types were hell-bent on destroying his reputation, sacrificing his good name on the altar of partisan politics. Did they not know his reputation was “Saint Lucia’s greatest asset?” he asked. Did the red devils not understand that without his universally respected good name there would be no foreign aid, no grants no nothing? I treasure my recording of this unforgettable meeting that was associated with a Canada-based company called Spiricor and a check that turned out to be trash after it bounced right out of the hands of either a Bank of Nova Scotia clerk or some other hotshot at another William Peter Boulevard dollar repository. And now, some flack catcher is on the radio carrying on about how Saint Lucia had placed 22nd out 176 of the least corrupt countries in the world—or something like that—thanks to our prime minister and his unshakable belief in the policy of transparency and accountability.
Now, if only our visionary leader would discover how to turn that particular reputation into a magnet for better days, I doubt very much he’d hear another complaint about VAT or Frenwell or Grynberg, let alone trashy purses full of funny powder and a certain genre of dried leaves. Which inexplicably reminds me of the famous English proverb about wishes, horses and beggars with tickets to ride.
Obviously, those magnificent English story tellers had never imagined a breed of peripatetic beggars whose favorite pastime is flying first class, not riding smelly ungulate mammals. But this particular revelation, which I assure you is not proverbial, will have to wait until next time, maybe!