Sunday, April 14, 2024
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HomeEducation / CultureDown but never out

Down but never out

By Anthony Deyal

Driving into Port-of-Spain, my friend Jimmy, overwhelmed by the stench, smoke, and garbage truck that was coming directly into his path, took an abrupt left, skidded, became airborne and ended in the landfill with his front bumper buried in waste, garbage and black water above chest height. His neck was stiff enough for the vultures (John Crows or Corbeaux) to pounce on him with glee, and his exhaust and radiator added deep black smoke to the pall that almost permanently hangs over the city. While all of us have our moments of despair and our dark days and nights of the soul, this was the first time Jimmy was almost up to his eyebrows in trouble, as well as being totally and “litter-really” down in the dumps.

The abruptness of the experience almost caused Jimmy to take a dump but he was made of sterner stuff. He was very much like the guy who, when accosted by a policeman and informed that the area he had entered with his garbage bag was a park and not a dump, replied, “Officer, I think you should read the sign right here. It says, ‘Fine For Littering.’”  One day he found a bunch of LEGO pieces some youngster had dumped on his front steps and had no idea what to make of it. Then his girlfriend Ruth dumped him and since then he has been absolutely Ruthless.

Worse, after Ruth departed he met and married a young woman who told him she had to dump her ex-boyfriend to get married to him. They haven’t found the body yet. I suppose you’re all wondering why I am on this subject of dumps? Here are a couple more before I explain. Why did the girl steal her boyfriend’s wheelchair after she dumped him? Because she wanted him to come crawling back to her. And do you know what Aquaman said when he got dumped? There’s plenty more fishes in the sea.

The fact is that while I know about seas and fishes, I am not in the best mood this morning and am trying to fight my way out of the mental dump that I found myself in yesterday after having to deal with some people and a situation that left me stunned. I realised that meeting a particular type of person is like using an elevator. The first time is an uplifting experience and the second time inevitably lets you down. Worse, like elevators, our experiences with them work on many levels, some of which lead directly to disenchantment, disillusionment, dissatisfaction and deep, dark distress and disappointment.

Typically, my first response to issues that leave me troubled is to bury myself in a book. It is the way I have always dealt with a world that I do not always understand and people who are never ever totally logical or straightforward. I found out that Disappointment is not just a feeling or emotion but is also an uninhabited island in an Archipelago in New Zealand inhabited by a large company of white-capped albatrosses.

At that point, fed up with people and totally disappointed by them, I thought that it was the right place to deal with my issues. I believed I could live there forever. Even better were the albatrosses, especially because as a fan and student of the poetry of the “Romantics”, a group which include Samuel Taylor Coleridge whose Rime of the Ancient Mariner was one of my favourites, I would not just feel right at home but would not make the mistake of shooting an albatross. Trespassers would be prosecuted or, as the sign, supposedly Jamaican, warns, “Tresspasses Will Be Prostituted.” I suppose in such circumstances you could buy your fish soup in an albatross “brothel”.

This is when I picked up my favourite book of Anecdotes and looked up “Disappointments”. I immediately struck gold. In 1858 the legislature in Illinois elected Stephen A. Douglas as a senator instead of Abraham Lincoln. Douglas was insufferable and he once tried to embarrass Lincoln by telling a gathering that he first met Lincoln across the counter of a general store in which Lincoln was serving. Douglas concluded, “And an excellent bartender he was too!” When the laughter had died away, Lincoln responded, “What Douglas says is quite true: I did keep a general store and sold cotton and candles and cigars and sometimes whiskey, and I particularly remember Douglas, as he was a very good customer.

Many a time, I have been on one side of the counter and sold whiskey to Douglas on the other side. But now there’s a difference between us: I’ve left my side of the counter, but he sticks to his as tenaciously as ever.” This is why, when Lincoln lost the election and was asked by a friend how he felt, he replied, “Like the boy who stubbed his toe; I am too big to cry and too badly hurt to laugh.”

In my younger days, I had a superior remedy and if Lincoln had a shop in Trinidad selling whiskey, or better yet, rum, he would have found me and my friends among his best customers, much easier to deal with than Douglas. Under pressure of disappointment, whether from fickle ladies, lost jobs and dismissals, gambling debts or other albatrosses around our necks, we went up to the counter, called for over-proof rum, put lots of coins in the jukebox and drank ourselves into temporary forgetfulness. I will never forget the night Ruth left Jimmy and he took us to the rum-shop, packed the jukebox with coins of the realm, and spent the night listening to the Jim Reeves classic, “He’ll have to go” with its plea for the woman to put her sweet lips a little closer to the phone and pretend they were together all alone. Ruth did not have a phone and her friend did not go, but we staggered home and eventually woke up in high spirits instead of high in spirts, and in a much better mood.

Despite the lack of, or need for, alcohol, I finally fell asleep remembering young Jimmy and when I woke up found myself in memory land and laughing. It was my English teacher, Brother Theodore, who thought I was the best English student in the school, so when I mixed up Jeeves, Bertie Wooster’s valet, with Beach the Butler for Lord Emsworth, he was stunned. “Deyal,” he said, “you disappointed me.” I replied with my usual insouciant grin, “It is a good thing Brother that I never appointed you.”

*Tony Deyal was last seen talking about the man whose son got a job as a scarecrow and boasted, “At least he’s outstanding in his field.”

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