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Rock, Roll, Rule, Reggae, Whatever
POW November 2009
Point Mango Montserrat, British West Indies
A steamy jungle harmony of treefrogs, birds and
honeybees dances on air colored by perfumes of jasmine, frangi pani and rot. Out of the East, gusts of late trade winds stroke the casuarina pines and makes them hum. The rhythmic thwach ... thwach-thwack of my machete on the banana tree is God playing snare drum for nature’s scented, singing chorus. For an instant I swear the melody of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition comes through the forest. Listen now ... yes! Movement Fourteen - The Little Hut on Chicken’s Legs. Sitting in Royal Albert Hall, in the years before I came back to the island, I had been smitten by this piece, and astonished. How could an alcoholic, epileptic Russian composer title a piece after Caribbean architecture? I was born and raised in a little hut on chickens’ legs. When the hurricane of ‘89 hit - hurricane Hugo - I moved back and forth from England. Hugo ate my roof. Then in ‘95 the volcano woke from the dead - they never name volcanos, do they? The volcano ate my little hut. It also ate its chickens’ legs. Yet, here I am again. Back on the island. Does any of this make sense? Thwack. Thwack-thwack-thwack. Yes. Yes, indeed, it makes sense. That really is Mussorgsky. I’m not sure just how it makes sense, and that is wondrously fine by me. Thwack.
Thump! Some tympani, thank you, as a hand of bananas - my breakfast for the next fortnight - lands in the bush.
The whisper of music was rudely overwhelmed by mechanical sounds: straining motors, shifting gears and odors of exhaust. Welcome to the Third World, where the smell of dead dinosaurs and orange blossoms mingle, where paradise meets progress and all Hell breaks loose.
From my perch in the bush, a caravan of shiny new Land Rovers, Land Cruisers and Jeep Cherokees comes crawling up the steep mountain toward a large open area with two mahogany trees in the center. My Mother was married down there, under the smaller tree. This broad, flat glade tonsured with lime and banana trees, several acres in all, is known as The FishPond. It is hallowed ground. One of the first Colonial families on the island lived here. Their slaves worked this land. The family is gone, but I remain, rooted like the vine, perhaps as poisonous as the brown mushroom. The view to the east pulls the eye up to the top of Center Peak. It is March, and the yellow-flowering Ylangi-langi trees mix with a dozen hues of green. In three days the trees will be bare, their blooms will drop. A cheerful confetti on the
ground; the donkey brays; the banana falls, the parade moves on. To the west, shades of sky blue and aqua are dotted with islands: Redonda and Nevis and St. Kitts. The line of SUV’s hops like toads over ruts and around rocks, out into the open, and then forms a crude circle at the center of the glade. ‘Stonehenge comes to Montserrat,’ I think. ‘The Sunday invasion of the Pink People. The Garden of Eden just swallowed the apple. No Pond. No Fish.’ My donkey, James, eyed them with an appropriate level of fear, as they tumbled from their vehicles and cavorted like raucous children onto the grass. These folk were organized; they had a plan, a sense of purpose. Breaking into small groups, they started coal-pots to cook fish, spread blankets on the ground to sit, and then arranged plates and silverware fork on the left, knife on the right, facing in - and cloth napkins. Then they began to pour the wine. Wine? OhMaGod! James and I eyed the Pink People with amazement; on this island wine costs a King’s ransom, yet rum is cheaper than bottled water. For the price of a halfway decent bottle of white wine you can buy a dozen bottles of Cavalier rum. A six-pack of shot-out-the-lights dynamite, or two glasses of lift-your-little finger grape juice. Which do you
prefer? Do the poetry and then get back to me. Some refer to this weird cost-benefit ratio as “The Royal Shaft.” Conspiratorially, many whisper that here lays the politics of alcohol: the Queen Mum’s devious way of keeping us islanders pleasantly, permanently and affordably stewed. The Evil Empire has bottled their subversion of our sedition. She suckles us with a regally fermented brew, thus assuring that not an ounce of work will get done - an odd concept for a nation of former slaves. It guarantees that thoughts of Independence will never appear in our minds. We have become a thoroughly infantilized island-nation, forever young, forever ripped to the tits. And demon rum is truly the cannibalistic broodmare. One straight shot births in the mind a thousand creative infants. Two more shots and they are gobbled whole. Each night our sky is lit brightly with ideas, doomed to death by the time the sun rises. Across the island there are twenty-three churches. There are four schools, one hospital and two clinics. Across the island there are fifty-nine bars “licensed to serve liquor by His Excellency, The Governor.
United Nations Charter: United Nations Declaration Regarding Non-self Governing Article 73 [e]
Members of the United Nations which have or assume responsibilities for the administration of territories whose people have not yet attained a full measure of self-government recognize the principle that the interests of these territories are paramount, and accept as a sacred trust the obligation to promote to the utmost ... the well-being of the inhabitants ... to develop self-government ...
“That party last night was a blow-out,” the lady in the indigo silk slacks and the triple pearl choker expounded. “A total bust. He lives in that huge house by the sea. With all the British Government’s money and power and clout, you’d think His Excellency, The Governor, would at least serve a decent wine. The label said French but my palate said vinegar. Yes, salad dressing would have been an improvement.” She chewed on pasta and shrimp, while tossing a glass of Puilly Fuisse. “Really, now,” her British warp foreshadowing her intent. “Even a California white would have been bettah, ehh?” “It was a California white,” came the voice of an American male, strident yet not defensive. “But the Governor did the old ‘switch and bait’ trick.” “Oh, really! Whatever is the ‘swish and bite’ trick’?” “Bait. Bite. Whatever. I sneaked behind the bar and looked - they were serving from Carlo Rossi fat boys - gallon jugs with screw-off metal caps. Deadly stuff. One step up from formaldehyde. Don’t even think about drinking near an
open flame. The barkeeps had a big funnel. They poured the junk into the smaller bottles with French labels. Then they served you.” “Served with white gloves, those blackguards,” she shrieked, shaking her head and sticking out her tongue in disgust. “In college - or university, as you Brits would say - we called that stuff ‘rutgut.’ We held contests to find the cheapest shit. Always after exams, though, ‘cause the stuff bores holes through your brain. But remember, this is a very special swill, the potion that John Steinbeck would collect from unfinished glasses then throw in a bucket under the bar to drink on the weekend in Tortilla Flats. It’s the same swill that his character, Danny, drank then killed himself falling drunk over the cliff.” “Ahh, Steinbeck,” muttered a tall, big-boned, gone-toflesh Brit, a twinkle of mischief in his eye, a tone of indignation to his voice. He radiated the appearance of jolly irresponsibility, of someone born with a silver spoon in his mouth that soon found itself desperate to share space with a joint and a martini. “Isn’t he the one who won the Nobel Prize ... writing about a whorehouse?” It required thirteen seconds for him to enunciate the last word.
“No! Steinbeck was writing about women’s liberation in East of Eden. That was your George Bernard Shaw. He won the prize thirty-seven years earlier by writing about hookers in Mrs. Warren’s Profession.” The fleshy Brit - Hank was his name - smiled politely. He paused, slack jawed for a moment, slowly rubbed this sunburned nose with the back of his hand, and then recovered his composure. “Oh, for Christ’s sake,” he spat. “Shaw was Irish.” Furtively, he looked around the picnic blanket for something to fill his empty glass. He spied a bottle of over proof Montserrat Volcanic Rum in his wife’s hands and snatched it from her. He read the label out loud: “101 Proof Good For Your Health.” And then he said again, “Shaw was Irish.”
The American was right about that despicable wine. I even helped mastermind the ‘bait and switch’ thing, as the boat from Guadeloupe with the good French wine was running late; a couple months late. Last night had been a big affair, and I had worked a double shift. In the morning I collected all the overnight FAX’s from the machine and delivered them to the Governor’s office. Easy work. No heavy lifting. Many of the FAX’s made
interesting reading - a skill the Governor thought I lacked entirely. Some were silly newsletters about Australian Rules football and NASCAR updates, the Governor’s twin fetish. Others were profound; policy dictates, high level Whitehall communications marked “CONFIDENTIAL - READ THEN BURN” These were the FAX’s, the flimsy, poorly protected future of my island, my island in the sun. Enough about my important day job. In the evening, I was just another Black bartender in white gloves and obedient demeanor, my mute button pushed as I eavesdropped with the zeal of a Scotland Yard dick and the ears of a fruit bat. I knew everything there was to know about the Pink People in the FishPond; everything and more. No one at Government House knew that I had taught Colonial Law and Policy at London College for fourteen years; they never asked and I never told. But after all, what’s in a resume? This was the last St. Patrick’s Day Invitation Only Gala Cocktail Party for Governor Abbott, a tall, thin, likeable career Foreign Service employee who looked a lot like Allan Greenspan’s happy, younger brother. The Governor was scheduled to fall off the edge of British Civil Servanthood, into the dark abyss of retirement in one more month. All the workers around the Governor’s Mansion enjoyed working there, and felt kneaded
into importance by his humor and attentiveness. Surely we would miss him. Out of heartfelt appreciation for his paternalistic asskissing, we all called him “HE da Gov,” as in “HE da Man!” We liked the sound and chanted it repeatedly; a martial cadence to go with our white faux military uniforms and matching gloves. “HE DA GOV!” we all would repeat, while making tiny meat pies in the kitchen, or gardening around the pool; say it loud, say it proud. Before he had first arrived, a plaque had been sent emblazoned with his official title - omitted were the little dots after the “H” and the “E” of His Excellency. HE the Gov, it said, and so did we. Queen: Hey, Mum! One of our islands just went volcanic! It is streaming with hot blocks of grey ash. Whatever should I do? Queen Mum: Oh, Dear! How you do make me blush and giggle like a Princess. Hot rocks and a great ass! But hey! You want to go on Spring Break? Go! I won’t tell a soul. After all, You DA Queen!
Perched in my banana tree, one could see this was a racially mixed picnic; not all the revelers were Pink People. Two were mocha; another was Black, and one Asian. The Black man was a former island politician, known for his stern gaze and quick opinions. Among his ‘quick opinions’ was a strident assertion that the island should become independent. That’s
why he is a former politician. The mocha couple, one Jamaican, the other from nearby Barbuda, ran the best restaurant on the island in a large caravanserai tent in the middle of the forest that glowed at night like a magic lantern. The lone Oriental, a short, plump woman of undecipherable age, was an architect sent to the island from Hong Kong via the United Nations. Her picnic favor was a Bento box packed with hand made shrimp dim sum and egg spring rolls. She carried the box with strangely powerful hands, small yet muscular, like a boxer’s. It is said on the island that after the Governor, she - Fuh Soo Mei was her name - could squeeze money from the government or blood from a stone. Then, of course, was the obligatory California couple who appear everywhere and add really nothing beyond their cachet of free-agent life style, totally unfettered as long as there is a beach nearby and access to good wine. So goes America, that one Colony that roared. And so goes California, the Poster State for independent thinking. “So tell me, FuckSmoothly,” Hank asked over the edge of his half-full bottle of Volcanic Rum, his eyes glazed with benign evil intent. “How is it that we gave up Hong Kong to those Imperialist bastards, the Chinese? Or did I affront you? Are you, perhaps, one of them?”
Fuh Soo Mei giggled like a Pokeman character while shuffling the contents of her Bento box. “Oh, Honk,” she said, “I am citizen of wold, citizen of wold.” “I don’t understand, FuckSmoothly,” Hank prodded further. “What do you mean by ‘citizen of the wooold,’ “ he asked, inflicting such damage on her already-butchered Queen’s English that it became a joke, rather than an insult. This was Hank’s true skill: The high, rare, and brazen art of shoving shit in peoples’ faces and making them - and the entire party - hoot with belly laughter. “Is that anything like Bob Marley and his One Love thing, or is it something that only you Chinee understand?” Fuh Soo Mei had just been giving the picnickers a workshop on her Oriental skills of massage, acupuncture points, and - should the first two fail to cure, the ultimate island analgesic: How to peel-off the tender inner skin of the banana stalk to use as rolling paper. It was general island knowledge that she could often be found hanging around Rootsman’s, a Rastafarian beach bar. “Bob Mal-ree; you like him, Honk?” “I like his music, not his politics. Overall, he is having a great career. Not bad for someone who’s been dead nearly thirty years. Don’t you think it was all that ganja that gave him the brain tumor?” ‘Gan Jah’ rolled off his tongue like Lord
Mountbatten pronouncing ‘India.’ The language barrier - and the cultural barrier conveniently rose a foot or two, as Fuh Soo Mei politely feigned to not understand Honk. Instead, she stopped her massage demo, and passed him the Bento box. “Don’t mind if I do,” Hank said, gripping the neck of the rum bottle between two huge fingers, loading the palm of his hand with enough food to feed a village. “This stuff is so delightfully good. Tell me, FuckSmoothly, what would you charge to come over to our house and cook up a mess of this stuff for a dinner party?” The others nodded in agreement: A dandy idea - render the little yellow architect into a servant, and then put her on display to your guests like exotic chattel.
“Oh, Honk, I coook fo you fo nutting,” Fuh Soo Mei said, turning her head toward him as he washed down three chicken dumplings with a mouthful of rum. The bottle was now halfempty. She then continued her display of massage techniques while kneeling on the Pink Man’s back; he had complained of a stiff neck. He lay prostrate on the ground, arms outstretched, his head face down. “Oh, my!” Fuh Soo Mei suddenly exclaimed. “Here is beeg, beeg knot in neck!” She grasped halfway between his
shoulder and neck with one hand and pounded with the other. It made a noise even I could hear, that of a beached fish flopping on a flat rock. The audience was aghast, yet fascinated. The man with the stiff neck had his face stabbed deep into the muddy turf, then yanked back by his hair in an arch by Fuh Soo Mei, who pulled until it would move no more. She held it there while he made strange noises, and then plunged him back into the mire. A fine sprinkle began. Some took shelter in their vehicles. The rest stood in a circle. They observed the healing art of the Far East and listened to muffled grunts of sheer physical torture. Oblivious, Hank became the self-appointed Royal Scavenger. A campground bear down on all fours, in shorts and fuschia-and-gold shirt, he joyfully rutted his way through the leftovers - solid, soggy, or liquid, as the rain intensified. Following another ear-piercing shriek, Fuh Soo Mei said, “Ahhh sooo ... need acupuncture light heel.” She proceeded to unleash a dramatic Bruce Lee move; a full body twist, then rocketing her middle knuckle deep into the flattened man’s neck. This, don’t you know, elicited a third shriek that made those watching shake like wet mutts with fear, and brought Hank to the party. More accurately, Hank became the party.
Still on all fours but firmly grasping the Bento box in one hand and the bottle of Volcanic Rum in the other, he abandoned his search for food. Suddenly, his eyes became clear as the Cullinan Diamond. They gleamed with feral attentiveness. He crawled through the ring of observers, closer to where Fuh Soo Mei, knees bent, arms outstretched, was riding the pained man’s back like a rodeo Brahma bull rider. Hank’s next move was entirely unpredicted - at least by the others. The only one who seemed to understand was James, who snorted in bestial approval. Call it rum-soaked polymorphous perverse; call it another rainy picnic in the park with Honk, I just pray you don’t call it anything you’ve seen before, and if you have, don’t go public with it. Beginning with a low, thundering roar that could compete with the volcano, Hank gathered himself from a four-point stance to three, and then finally to his full six-plus feet of height. He lumbered his way forward. In a flash, he straddled the therapeutic workshop. Waiting for just the right position of Fuh Soo Mei’s bobbing derrier, Hank timed his next move with precision. He strapped-on doggy style, grabbing her shoulder with the hand holding the Bento box, all the while hooting, humping, swigging Volcanic Rum, and shouting,
“You’re my number two wife! FuckSmoothly, you are my number two wife! She cooks, she massages, and take a look at this! Bloody good stuff, eh? Yahh-hooooeeee.” With the finest of canine thrusts, Hank humped his number two wife with such vigor and energy and enthusiasm and rhythm that he tossed out a clump of soggy rice noodles from the shiny lacquered box, yet lost not a drop while swigging Volcanic Rum. His number one wife looked on, jaded, as if this was yet another party prank of Hank’s, just a notch above card tricks or pulling a quarter out of someone’s ear. His face stuffed even further into the muck, the hapless massage victim could only begin to contemplate what had turned his backrub into three-hundred-pounds of madly thumping whoop and giggle.
The rain paused briefly and the clouds parted. A bolt of sun shined down like a klieg light on this oddly kinetic menage a trois. It has been said that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun. For an instant, Hank had become both. *** James was fully loaded with bananas as we made our way past this carnival of folly, along the fringe of the FishPond
glade. Sundays before church James and I made the rounds of several eateries such as the Vue Point Hotel, and then to Sweeney’s, a beach bar next to the island’s only tennis court, a place wildly popular with the Pink People. We would sell our fresh produce. It was a modest living; an honorable way to claim poverty, much like teaching law but infinitely more rooted in reality.
Quiet as we were, one of the Pink People spotted us and they all rushed over. We were soccer mobbed. I became a one-man Mt. Rushmore-with-donkey, a Caribbean version of the Horse Guards at St. James Gate. Before I knew what hit me, I was iconic, emblematic, heraldic, touristic, artistic, and photogenic. I had my fifteen minutes of fame in ten seconds.
“He’s perfect! The bushman of the Colonies,” warbled Mrs. Honk. “He should be on a coin.” “No. Not on a coin. That won’t work. He’s far too colorful,” another noted. “He should be on the island stamp! Philatelists around the world would go nuts over him and his mule, with palm trees in the background! Oh, tell me sir, what’s your mule’s name?” “James,” I said quietly, gently rubbing his nose to calm
him. “And he’s not a mule. He’s an ass.” They burbled with childish laughter at the proper Biblical - and island term. ‘And whenever you send home a postcard, you can take your
stamp and lick my ass,’ I said to myself ... and to James.
“Oh! They’re so ... islandish,” gushed another Pink Lady. “Just drop-dead quaint,” said another. “I wanna take them both home!”
‘Try it, lady,’ I said silently. ‘James will shit all over your carpets, and I will drink all your wine. And that’s just for starters.’
“Just look,” another pointed at my ankles. “His pants are so perfectly frayed!”
‘Believe it or not, I have several pairs just like these.’
“Photo Op! Photo Op!” One of the Californians rushed around with a camera. “Let me take your picture. Could you get a little closer to your donkey?” “Those bananas are so plump. How much for a bunch?”
They say true piracy in the Caribbean is a lost art, something now rendered-down into three-hour-long motion pictures for kids with a seventh-grade mentality. Personally, I disagree. Instead of using cannon and cutlasses to loot, rob and pillage for gold and emeralds, nowadays we just fuck with the tourists’ minds to gain the high ground controlling their wallets. Remember those two huge lobsters you paid fifty
dollars for? Well, I traded my cousin the fisherman, six cucumbers and a chicken for them. Each from his own ability, to each according to their needs. The price of bananas suddenly skyrocketed, but no one seemed to care. They snapped pictures, petted James, and forked-over grotesque amounts of dollars for my fruit, and then finally let me go free. An hour earlier I had overheard their collective depression over the sick stock market and the bottom dropping from under real estate prices. Hank had recently sold his company for a bundle, and spoke loudly [how else] about his nightly regimen of “praying to the God of Stock Options,” as he now had but a few million dollars left. Yet here they were, artificially inflating the price of banana futures. God bless an agrarian economy. As James and I ambled down the mountain, the crew packed up and gathered themselves together to make plans for the remainder of their day. Hank led that charge, saying, “Let’s go terrorize the Sweeney’s.” They all howled with glee and jumped in their vehicles.
While the automobile is faster than the ass, it’s difficult
to carry on a conversation with a Toyota such as James and I did on our way downhill. We covered many topics as we plodded our way first to the hotel, and then to Danny Sweeney’s beach bar, a rustic wooden shed named “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” where the FishPond picnickers were well into terrorizing the Sweeney’s and everyone else around. Several years earlier, drinking there after locked-in to a long recording session at Air Montserrat Studios, Mick Jagger had generously tipped the owner; hence the name. Until Hurricane Hugo damaged the studio, Montserrat was the rock built by Rock, and Jumpin’ Jack Flash was the watering hole for titled idlers, scam artists on the lam, shipwrecked beachbums, the rare tourist [the island refuses on Christian grounds ever to have a casino], and two-thirds of the inaugural inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. While enjoying a drink, or waiting one’s turn on the abutting tennis courts, it was considered commonplace to play air guitar with Elton John, all the while critiquing Paul McCartney’s backstroke, or trading rugby scores with Sting. “Stardom” was not in the local vocabulary; anonymity was. The Beatle’s manager, George Martin, had lived here for years, searching for a place to record rock music away from the temptations of the flesh. Martin finally decided that the
best form of “control” was to plunk the musicians down in his own back yard, an inaccessible rock in the middle of the ocean. Just think of Alcatraz, or Devil’s Island, and then take away the prison cells and add Jumpin’ Jack Flash in a setting of lush tropical mountain forests plunging into sapphire seas that frost the edge of black sand beaches. Carl Perkins’ first morning on Montserrat, after a late night flight to record with Paul McCartney, was spent walking around the veranda of his house in numb awe. Then he phoned George Martin’s wife, Judy, and drawled, “Miz Martin? I think I just died and woke up in heaven.”
Keeping with island simplicity, Sweeney’s consists of a square wooden roof held up by four shaky posts. Underneath are a refrigerator, a tabletop littered with liquor bottles and a two-burner propane stove. Bar stools line one side, a veranda of plastic chairs and tables form another, bathrooms on the next, and last, a small menagerie of goats, sheep and chickens, seeking shelter from the sun. Under normal circumstances, Danny poured mild drinks,
measured with scientific precision in a Pyrex lab beaker. He would bend at the waist to check the level while telling stories. His favorites are classic: teaching Sting to windsurf or Mark Knopfler’s odd creativity behind Dire Strait’s Brothers in Arms CD - locking himself in a room for a week before the other band members arrived, then emerging with lyrics and music for fourteen songs that sold over sixty million copies. After sessions, when the musicians were wiped out from focus and fatigue, they would ask Danny to dance with their wives and girlfriends; the cut, Walk of Life is Danny. When pressed, Danny will produce a weather-beaten copy of the second issue of Spin magazine; a young Danny poses for the photographer, and the list of names of rockers at Jumpin’ Jack’s is a piece of musical cultural history in its own right. Today, however, is different: Danny is being terrorized.
As James and I approached, we could hear Danny’s voice of utter frustrated anger, and see him manically pacing outside the bar, waving his hands dramatically. “You gonna drink up all my liquor,” he was shouting. “How I know what to charge? This is a business, not one of your parties. Come away from my bar!” Behind the bar was a Pink Woman in a two-piece bathing
suit - one of the Americans, I think. She brandished a huge flower vase taken from one of the tables and emptied of its contents. “Danny, you stingy little bastard, whenever I order a Margarita you give me a thimble filled with something that tastes like crushed ice and sweat. When I order a glass of wine you give me two ounces of something liquid that I swear is Gator Aid with a hard-on; I just know it’s more of that watered-down Carlo Rossi. You’re as cheap as that damned Governor, so I’m gonna make my own drink.” A well-trained octopus could not have made more effective use of its limbs. She spun in tight circles, grabbing bottle after bottle and pouring her measures with orgiastic abandon. One could almost see her liver shiver within her. “Get outta my bar, woman,” Danny yelled. “You drink me to da poorhouse!” Like a Hogarth caricature with a bad sunburn, Hank’s face suddenly popped into view, framed by the window to the outside where he was sitting on the veranda. “Mistah Sweeeeeneeeey,” he said with an asymmetrical grin, his eyes at half-mast. “Isn’t that an Irish name? Don’t you and the Misses fret about going to the poorhouse. We wouldn’t let that happen. Who else could we terrorize on our Sunday afternoons? We’ll gladly buy your fucking lovely little wooden
driftwood dollhouse bar for the night, before high tide tugs it into the deep. Here,” he said, as he slowly fumbled though the pockets of his shorts. “This should cover all the damages.” Hank reached through the window and slapped down a messy wad of hundred dollar bills that reeked of rum and dim sum. Rendered mute, Danny rushed behind the bar, took the money and counted it repeatedly, all the while throwing glances of fear, disbelief and loathing in Hank’s direction. All attempts to unload my bananas quietly then leave discretely were shattered when one of the Pink Men spotted James and me. “The ass man cometh; the ass man cometh,” he bellowed, and once again I was soccer mobbed; photographed, interrogated, humiliated, idolized, lionized and immortalized. I didn’t know whether to hide or run for office. James and I shambled off to observe from a distance fatigued, yet tingling with Warholian energy. What a day: a whole half-hour of fame. On the veranda, Pink People slurped rum Margarita poured from a flower vase, and slumped further and further into their Rubber Maid chairs while watching poorly played tennis, ten feet away. “He serves like a girl, Hank said with loud conviction. “For Christ’s sake, dahling, tone it down,” Misses Hank
said in a rare moment of assertiveness. “That’s our Governor.” “I know its our bloody Governor. That is my concern. This is my island and I don’t particularly like it when my Governor plays tennis like some Monty Python fop. I swear, he’s girl.”
Hank then stood on wobbly legs and somehow made it to the fence, where he leaned, legs spread, arms outstretched, looking like a frisked perpetrator. “Drop your shorts ands show us your gender, you crossdressing twit,” he bellowed, shaking the fence for emphasis. He could have been a two-hundred-pound Gibbon attempting a zoo-break. Focused on a long volley, the Governor was slow to turn toward the ruckus. He waved and smiled and went back to his game. The crowd at Sweeney’s grew tense - or as tense as is possible after drinking rum in the tropical sun for five hours.
“Listen, Hank,” the American said quietly. “You really shouldn’t be so concerned. After all, you don’t get the chance to elect Governors like we do in the States. You just get stuck with whomever the Foreign Service wants to plug in. It’s not
as if you could FAX your request, is it? That works for Oldies radio stations, not Crown Colonies. And let’s be realistic,” he added, grabbing the lip of the vase of Margarita, standing to pour Hank’s glass to overflowing. “This island is not what you’d call a Diplomatic plumb. The geezers they send here are on the last legs of their careers. Where do they find these people? I can hardly wait to see who shows up next month when that guy retires. No one younger would even consider taking this posting, ‘cause were they to put it on their resume, their future would be doomed.” “Doomed ... Doomed.” Hank liked the sound of that word and repeated it several times with the sound of a Salvation Army bass drum at a dirge. “Doomed. Just like Montserrat. That volcano blows and we’re in trouble.” “Rubble, Hank. Two-thousand-degree white-hot rubble. Then, next millennium, we become a tourist attraction.” “From Paradise to Pompeii; in under twelve minutes we become a theme park of the fossilized rich and famous, captured precisely as we lived our lives.” “Right. A huge collection of badly charred George Segal statuary.” “A catchy thought. I rather like it. And when the archeologists dig us out, they’ll find our Governor serving like
a girl! I have never seen anyone serve a tennis ball with his little finger lifted.”
From my view, I felt Hank had a point. The Governor’s serve had neither the style of Rod Laver nor the power of Andre Agassi. His serve looked like a French maid fearfully dusting a large spider off a high ledge. But the man was having fun, even if it was awkward fun. He was out among his people, doing his traditional Sunday congeniality thing. His last Sunday, too.
“Oh, my,” Hank muttered, putting his head in his hands. “Oh my, oh my. If this Governor is any indication of the future, I can see all the flapdoodle now. In a month the next Governor, that poor miserable bastard, will come down here on Sundays driven in a fuschia Bentley convertible, wearing hot pants, a tank top and rhinestone sunglass. We will end up being governed by a poof out of Burke’s Peerage, some blueblooded preening exotic here to work on his tan. We need direction and leadership, not mascara and feather boas. And he’ll want to sit with us and drink fucking tea! Bosh! Real men don’t drink tea - we drink warm beer! When the tabloids get ahold of that, we’ll be the laughing stock of the Empire. I
can see the headlines now REAL QUEEN RULES BRIT COLONY: VOLCANO WON’T BLOW ALONE. And in the photo we are all in the background. Where did it all go so wrong?” Loudly nuts, Hank rushed to the fence again. “I want my independence, you Royal Lilly! We don’t want to be ruled by anyone, let alone a septuagenarian stiff with bad hair and worse teeth ... whose Mum calls all the shots. Good Lord, man; her gynecologist works for Midas Muffler! Will the last Governor to leave the island please turn off the Monarchy?” “Oh, Honk, you too funny fol woolds. Too funny!” “Is that too funny for One World, FuckSmoothly?” Hank eyed the small woman with an ominous glint. Then he leaped from his chair, grabbed her from behind in one arm and swept her off her feet. He repeated his doggy-style humping, all the while smoking a fake joint with his free hand and humming Bob Marley. He slowly turned crimson as he stood watching tennis, oblivious to her flailing hands and feet. “Hey!” shouted someone inside the bar. “Stay off that woman, you pompous limey Brit!” Slowly, Hank turned around. Still clutching Fuh Soo Mei, he picked up a chair and hurled it at his heckler. It bounced
off the wall and then cleaned out a month’s supply of rum bottles. Danny rushed out the back and into the bush. “We aren’t ‘Limeys.’ We aren’t ‘Brits.’ And she’s not ‘little,’ you stupid Yank blighter,” Hank admonished. “We are Celtics. We are Druids. We are Picts and Jutes and Cymris and Caledonians. We are fierce, proud, independent, bloodthirsty and bellicose. We don’t eat our vegetables - we eat our vegetarians. We put our Kings’ heads on spikes as a letter to the Editor. The Romans had to build a wall to keep us from raping their villages and robbing their women. A thousand years before your Iroquois were living in teepee ands shiting in the woods with the bears, we had built Essex, Wessex and Sussex. Sex isn’t just in our pants; it’s in our DNA. We fight, we fuck, and we drop until we drink.” Hank paused like a Hyde Park orator facing the crowd, albeit clutching a spastically jerking, chunky China woman in one hand, and a glass of rum in the other. His brief-yetzealous cultural history of the British Isles had taken a toll, and he gasped for air. A pool of sweat spread beneath him, as though he had sprung a leak. In the wake of his silence, even the Governor drew closer to watch the one-man, one-woman, one-love, one-glass-of-rum spectacle. If people can agree that Western Civilization is nine meals removed from Barbarism,
then Hank was one sip of rum removed from going Tribal. “ Say, chap,” Hank said politely to the Governor after gaining adequate composure to begin anew the slow doggyhumping of Fuh Soo Mei. “Terribly hot, don’t you think? How’s about a spot of libation? After all, this is the tropics. It’s not as if you were back home playing badminton in the fog at Conway-on-the-Twitty, is it, now?” He leered at the Queen’s designated diplomat for what seemed like an eternity. Then he chugged his remaining rum, launched his glass at the soonto-be-retired career civil servant, and grabbed an American woman as she sped past, attempting to leave before blood was shed. It was an impressive effort, one that would render both Jack LaLane and Mick Foley green with envy. Hoisting a feisty, threshing, sharp-nailed woman in each arm, he took three steps toward the Governor. “The sun shall nevah set on this Empire, your Excellency. I give you the EAST,” he said, extending Fuh Soo Mei. “And I give you the WEST, he concluded, extending one-hundred-twenty pounds of violently aggressive American womanhood. With that, he stepped back, cargo intact, and sat down in a Rubber Maid chair that slowly wilted beneath the weight of the Empire like a pressed flower. The two women scampered away. Hank sat on the ground,
feet straight out, his back amazingly upright. With a sheepish grin on his face, his head rolled forward as his eye lids fluttered to below half-mast. One hand clung to a plastic glass that slopped its contents. He began to snore.
The new Governor proved quite generous; I was given the title Chief Info Guy and placed in charge of the FAX room. In addition to a startling increase in wages, James was provided a special spot in the shade, where a hand-painted sign bearing his name hung from a palm tree. We were stepping in high cotton, James and me, and we both knew we deserved it. The new Governor made some interesting changes around the Official Residence, most notably with the artwork and the sound system. Especially during the early months of his tenure, he worked diligently to improve relations with both the island people and the foreign Press. Often, people would appear on his doorstep like love-starved groupies just before the concert. He was a tolerant man, the new Governor, and no young writer or Tele-journalist was ever turned away. His attentiveness to things local was somewhat rote; every Friday evening I would drive him in the new Official
Vehicle to one after another of the small local bars, where he would meet and greet. Every week he would make a list of the watering holes he visited; every week new ones would open. It was a mobius band lubed by liquor, driven by dreams and lit by the stars. Regardless, it was a pleasure for me to cruise at the helm of a Bentley convertible through the lush air of a tropical night; the wind in my hair and the bugs in my teeth, over potholes and around sleeping goats. I went so far as to put this on my resume, should HE Da Gov! Ever move on. But that did not seem likely.
His primary, overarching focus was on international relations. Given my job description, I felt overwhelmed on occasion, the mornings greeting me with huge piles of FAX’s requesting interviews with the new man. It seemed everyone from Katie Couric to Radio Bhutan was forging their way to our tiny green dot in the Caribbean. In the early going, it could be embarrassing. A journalist from Perth or Des Moines would materialize in the cavernous living room and catch one of the Staff sucking down a beer. Even James made a televised appearance, sticking his head in the window and braying with a noise that could raise the dead. Soon, we got serious, and added Protocol. It was called “The
Half-Hour Before Drill,” and it went like this:
30 minutes before scheduled TV interview: Wake the Gov.
2) 3) 4)
23 minutes: sweep debris from front doorway. 21 minutes: remove all empty beer bottles. 19 minutes: remove articles of clothing and recumbent bodies [check under big couch].
17 minutes: remove all full beer bottles. 14 minutes: ditto with any other bottles, cans, paraphernalia, etc.
12 minutes: ditto with all signs of Rastafarianism, excepting color pic of Queen.
9 minutes: wake Gov again; make sure he is appropriately garbed.
7 minutes: shave Gov with Remington electric. 3 minutes: fluff pillows, arrange interviewer’s chair for pool/sea/sunset view; check for background shot.
1 minute: escort and place Gov in interview chair; hold colored Orientation Flash Cards behind Interviewer’s head.
The first interviews were oppressively mundane [“why,
Governor! It’s so lovely and peaceful here - I had expected Tarzan on vines and half-naked warriors with spears!”] Nevertheless, ever obsequious to duty, I monitored each and every telecast from a small plasma screen HDTV in my Official Info Office. Plugged-in to their mobile satellite dishes, surrounded by cows and egrets, I could watch it live with one eye, and then catch a three-second delay on the outdoors satellite TV-feed with the other. Often, this became confusing. But, after all, I was the Chief Info Guy. A few months into the new man’s regime, a woman from BBC came along asking the tough, tough questions. Thinking back, this was an inflection point in the history of our island. A Big Time inflection point. It was ground zero for all that was to come. Protocol of the “Half-Hour Before Drill” was choreographed to perfection as the clock ticked down for the BBC woman’s arrival. In the “... check for background shot” time-slot, someone had stumbled on a previously overlooked couple, buck-naked and moving with true island rhythm in the friction-wrestling position, nearly obscured by tall grass. Heaven knows how long this might - or might not have lasted, but they were escorted away. Protocol, go figure - for rock ‘n roll Montserrat, this was just another unplugged performance. The Gov was seated, and the BBC woman began to fire
barbs and slings. “Were you surprised by your appointment as Governor, given the history of bad blood between you and the former Governor?” she asked. With all the smoothness of a machine-made pina colada the new guy poured forth a cool, detached monotone. “No. No, not at all. As you know, Protocol has the standing Governor recommend his successor. And on this Colony, such a recommendation has never been challenged. By the way, that baton was passed to me months ago, long before that silly photo of him playing tennis appeared. “How, exactly, is that ‘recommendation’ made? Isn’t the Official List of Career Diplomats on Her Queen’s Service used?” “List? Don’t know of it. Nope. Not here. We are sort of off the grid, don’t you know.” “Well, then, off the grid or not off the grid, how exactly is the recommendation made? Isn’t there Protocol, after all?” she pressed on. “Yes. Yes, of course - Protocol. We FAX it.” The new Guy snapped his fingers crisply when he said “FAX.” He turned his head a bit, and it bobbed as he did. Then he shot a subtle smile toward my office. Three seconds later, I saw it on TV.
The BBC woman shuffled through some note cards, perhaps stunned by the offensively informal-yet-effective nature of Island Protocol. With a hint of a smile on her face, she tossed-out her next inquiry. “Are you aware of the present condition of your Predecessor, the former Governor? As we speak, he is confined, heavily medicated and in restraints, after bursting through security into the Queen’s weekly tennis match, grabbing her firmly around an ankle and spluttering, “make me another rum punch you Regal bitch, or I’ll never leave you alone again.” Many believe it was an island curse that sent him around the bend.” “What do you mean by ‘around the bend?’ The man was always prone to thirst. Forget about the ‘island curse’ bunk. What got him was Karma. Centuries of very bad Karma.”
On my TV, I could see the new guy’s cool gnawing away at her professional demeanor. She grasped for a straw, pointing off-camera and asking, “That portrait of the Queen isn’t that somewhat ... uhh ... randy?” The camera panned back, searching for a while, then zoomed-in on a life-sized portrait of the Queen, as my boss responded, “Not really. She does have a slight mustache, you know. But hey! When she formally presented me with my
papers, I was close enough to smell her pedigree. It smelled of tyranny; generation after generation of tyranny.” Before her last question, the camera caught and held this life-sized, yet two-dimensional Queen. She was so twodimensional that she had no frame, nor any canvas. She had been painted on the concrete and was there to stay; a thief would need a chisel and hammer. She was quite permanent. We called her Queen For Way More Than A Day. Nevertheless, she had been painted in a tasteful rural setting, under azure skies and perfect puffy clouds, with topiary bushes and swans gliding in misty pools in the background of her Harley. The mustache was barely visible, especially in contrast to her heliotrope bikini, her Rasta-irrigated hair, and the open halffull bottle of Montserrat Volcanic Over proof Rum in her right hand. Only those with keen vision could, in such a short time, see the red-white-and-blue tattoo “MUM” above her well-cut U left biceps, or catch the reflection from the diamond nose stud. Eat your heart out, John Singer Sargent.
“The future of the island?” She asked for BBC viewers the world around, in a breathless tone implying that, if she had seen the future, it sure as hell didn’t work for her. “As you may or may not know,” warbled the new guy,
“we have recently seceded from Great Britain. We are now an Independent Country.” ‘Recently?’ I gasped. ‘Shit! The ink is still wet from his signature! I have yet to FAX the news to the world and he’s out there stamping her visa.’ I looked at the TV. He was using the “I” word again: “Independent.” Here it was: The birth of a nation, a live delivery witnessed by 900 million viewers, sandwiched between ads for Preparation H and Guinness Stout, a six-foot color image of a hairy, deadlocked Queen on a bike looming in the background. ‘Have a nice life, Montserrat, ‘cause it can’t get any weirder than this.’ Where’s Protocol when we need it - or is this the Protocol of the new Empire? “Ahh, the future,” he repeated. The camera panned back to show a shiny Bento box that had been just out of view. Behind him, a smiling Fuh Soo Mei massaged his bobbing neck. Hank pointed to her with his thumb. “Number two wife. All legal down here now. We re-wrote all the laws. As far as the future goes ... well, here - you’re going to need these.” Hank grabbed the Bento box and handed something from it to the Interviewer. He put on a pair of iridescent blue sunglasses. “The future’s so bright, these are going to be - as of this moment - Protocol!”
The last TV camera coverage I saw, just before the really big cow chomped through the power line, cutting off all electricity and sending her in a very spectacular and sparky manner directly to Bovine Heaven, was of a pool party. The entire FishPond group was there. And as the loud speakers blared “Let’s get together, and feel all right,” Danny vaulted from the high dive board and hit the pool with a cannonball that soaked the crowd and splashed half-way to Antigua. The perfect Christening.
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