By Anthony Deyal
Until this week, I believed there was no such thing as a bad pun. Then I found a message from the Jacquie Lawson card company that made me see green, red, and various other colours, shapes and sizes. It said, “One of the unexpected side-effects of the COVID-19 crisis has been the blossoming of interest in vegetable growing.” This was enough for me to reach for the malathion, not for myself, but for the vegetables pictured in their finery as Father’s Day Cards. Unlike Shakespeare’s Cleopatra who took up with Marc Anthony in what she called her “salad days” when she was “green in judgment”, vegetables give me nightmares. I once tried to make a salad and I spent the whole night tossing and turning.
The problem with salads, and so many other things to eat and do, is that people insist they are “good for you”. Whenever anyone says that to me about any substance or activity, I go back to Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, who demonstrated both his words worth and understanding of human nature when he wrote in Hamlet, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Fortunately, in my family, it is mainly my wife, despite marrying this Anthony many years ago, who is still in her salad days, chomping down carrots as if every moment in her life is crunch time. Even when she could just mumble the occasional few words, my younger daughter Jasmine was a chip off her father, the old vegetable blocker.
Immediately after she stopped breast-feeding and her mother started her on pureed carrots, Jasmine hated them. Her face had more contortions than an impaled worm, a whirling dervish and Einstein’s brain. Worse, her mother, while attempting to shove the messy mixture into her mouth, kept insisting and cajoling simultaneously, “Eat it Jasmine, it’s good for you.” Then one day, Jasmine retorted, “You eat it Mummy. Good for you,” and proudly repeated, “Good for you Mummy.”
It is like the Jamaican dish “Cow co*k soup” or “Cow cod soup” that is wrong on several counts. First, it is not from a cow but from a bull. Second, cod is not a fish but a bull’s reproductive organs which include its genitals. Third, it is perceived as having aphrodisiac qualities but for some reason, Jamaican men and women believe that the male’s sexual prowess is located behind instead of in front of him so they keep telling me, “Try it, Anthony. It good for your back.” My general response is, “Boss, the only thing that good for my back is a waterbed.” Or if I were a different Anthony, I would probably suggest, “Cleopatra.”
Living in Trinidad, I learnt early in life that every experience was “good for you.” There is an essay by Charles Lamb, the British Essayist and Poet, who was cheated of some money by someone he trusted and instead of being angry and wanting to see the man jailed, his view was that the whole episode was a learning experience and in that way, the loss of his money was good for him. My Chinese friend, Phillip, saw that I had a bad case of the ‘flu that had decided to make my sinuses its permanent home and none of the patent medicines could get rid of it. He decided to surprise me with a Chinese soup specially made for me. “Drink it, drink it,” he urged. “It good for you.” I made the mistake of not doing a Jasmine and responding to Phillip, “You drink it. It good for YOU.”
Unfortunately, my parents had made sure I had good manners and so I took a taste of the green slime that passed for soup. It smelt like Winter Green Oil (methyl salicylate), a medication we used as a muscle rub which is closely related to aspirin and has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. What I did not know at the time is that while you can use an extremely small amount as a food flavouring, drinking a large quantity can kill you. While Phillip continued, “Drink it, drink it. Good for you,” I saw bits of meat floating in the concoction. “What is that Phillip?” I asked. “Morrocoy,” he replied. “Good for you.”
A morrocoy in Trinidad is a small tortoise. I knew Phillip had a little cage at the back of his house with a few of them, but I thought they were pets. I had no idea they were Chinese medicine. I thought of Shakespeare’s view that nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so and looked at the green slop in the soup bowl and fled. “Thanks Phillip,” I shouted as I rushed through the door, “I have to go.”
What this lesson cemented for me was that in Trinidad, “good for you” does double duty. When I fell off my father’s bicycle and started crying, my mother shouted, “It good for you. Didn’t I tell you, don’t ride the bike?” My friend, Dr Ken Ramchand, identifies two kinds of “good for you”, the medical and the retributive. The medical is like Phillip’s morrocoy soup or the cow concoction, “Don’t mind that the medicine or food smell bad and taste worse, it good for you.” In addition, any activity inflicted on you by your parents, teachers, and neighbours, whether homework, washing dishes, cleaning your room, and even eating carrots was “good for you.” Retributive, however, really means, “It serves you right” and the person saying it triumphantly takes great pleasure in your discomfiture.
I was reading an account of a government minister who had shut down on the highway and most of the drivers and passengers in the passing cars told him, “It good for you.” A columnist in a Trinidad newspaper wrote about “a shooter disguising himself in school uniform and shooting to death a targeted man.” The writer was amazed that a lot of the comments in the Express newspaper fell into the “It good for he” category.
In Trinidad we also have other variations on the same theme where good is extreme. I have heard “He good ugly” or “She’s a good for nothing”. I have been accused of “taking my good time” and have heard of people who are “good greedy”, “good worthless” and food, including cow cod, that is “good no ass” and “good to rahtid.” The one I will always remember is when my neighbour, Miss Robinson, was telling my mother about the criminal activities of a village youth. She looked at my mother with a truly serious expression, alarm and concern mixed, and lamented, “I sorry for he mother. That boy good bad.”
* Tony Deyal was last seen talking about a man who went to the doctor with a piece of lettuce sticking out of his ear. The doctor looked at it and said, “That’s just the tip of the iceberg.”