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Passing strange

Friday, January 30, 2015
Thank God it's Friday

Richard Pryor, the great American comedian-philosopher (to the extent there’s any difference between those titles, for black Americans, or Trinidadians of any shade) once warned that, whenever you go to the hospital, you should always take some piss. “The first thing doctors want,” said Pryor, “is some blood. And the second is some piss. You always have the blood—but you never have the piss.”

Not me. Maybe it’s the benefit of my one lifelong healthy habit of drinking lots of water (to compensate for a natural (and, indeed, often unnatural predisposition towards debauchery), but I’ve always got one in the chamber, so to speak. If what you really need is micturition-on-demand, I’m the man. 

I’m as close as humanity can get to instant piss-taking: just add water. Indeed, my first wife (a term that sounds vaguely insulting, somehow, to my real wife, so let’s call her something else) my first divorce pointed out I would go to the fridge, stand in front of it, drink three tall glasses of water on the trot and then trot directly to the toilet, stand in front of that, and get rid of about the same quantity. “Why don’t you,” she asked (borrowing from Joseph Heller’s Catch-22), “just throw the glasses of water into the toilet and eliminate the middleman?”

When it comes to that particular biological act, though, I’m the farthest thing from a middle—or low man on the totem pole; were it a paid position, I’d be earning top dollar. I have a different problem when I go to the doctor’s. (And there’s a thing: why do doctors ask, first thing when they see you in their examination rooms, how you are? If you were well, you would not be there, would you?) 

My challenge is not whether I’ll have anything on tap, when called upon, but at what point to cut off a ready and copious flow. Exactly how much of what they want should I give them? I got a nine, the lowest grade then possible, in my O-level, but I remember enough of my secondary school chemistry practicals to know just how little liquid one needs for a litmus test, viz, just enough to wet the paper; but what does one’s medical micturition reveal about one? How do doctors and nurses, examining such specimens, day in, day out, react to what they’re handed? Does water, after all, seek its own level?

Should you stand and deliver the smallest amount possible? The “just enough to wet the paper”? Is not the litmus test of medical micturition the amount that would be sufficient for an actual litmus test? Does one demonstrate one’s scientific knowledge of the practical reality? Or does one manfully assert one’s potency? Do you get a few drips in the cup, or fill it to overflowing? Are you aiming for, ideally, a golden meniscus? Ours is, after all, a culture that appreciates male potency of that most basic sort so thoroughly as to have created its own standard of manhood in “pee making froth.” 

Is a good head of foam as important to the doctor’s cup as it would be in a good ale pint glass? Do you wimp out? Or splash out? Do you want the nurse to snigger? Or raise an admiring or at least appreciative eyebrow? If you dress to impress, should you not undress likewise?

More important than how much piss doctors should take, though, is how much of the other stuff our bodies eject the nation of T&T should take. In Trinidad, I’ve marvelled at how only one building I’ve entered in the last nine days—the firetrucking doctor’s office!—did NOT have booming out of huge speakers what we pass for music loud enough to vibrate internal organs. 

I went into one large commercial enterprise, which I will not name, so as not to embarrass the Home Store of El Socorro, that big box retailer just past Bryden’s, and went straight to a big self-powered speaker they’d hooked up to blast soca from a radio station (complete with shouted-out advertisements for fetes) and turned it down. “It gives me a headache,” I told the bewildered girl behind the counter. (They didn’t put up with my bold-facity, of course: before I reached “Household Wares,” they’d turned it back up, way past comfort levels, to the lowest level acceptable in Trinidad: loud enough to defeat thought.)

For 15 years now, I’ve walked around Trinidad with ear plugs, the most vital piece of equipment necessary to health, after a Kevlar tracksuit and, for most of the time I’ve been here, I’ve been wearing them. No self-respecting Trini event—opening of Parliament, primary school sports day, fitness class, a fortiori, Canny-Voll—goes unaccompanied by literally earsplitting music. The bass, over-amplified to the point where it induces nausea, rocks you off your feet. Your brain vibrates in its pan. Your internal organs feel as if you’re being beaten by a gang of thugs. You go into fight or flight—but, all around you, Trinis are wining down low to that.

In the firetrucking pharmacy.

And, if private enterprises are annoying, public events are unbearable. The thumping bass from Sunday evening’s Soca Monarch murder of silence in the Savannah shook the cutlery on my mother’s dining room table a mile away, inside the St Ann’s valley.

And such Trinis as don’t put their hands in the air simply shrug their shoulders.

Were it not for the trouble that it landed me in, when I contemplated the same act involving a group of piously praying worshippers at the cricket, I tell you, I’d treat every speaker in every public space as a urinal.

BC Pires will be investigated for unpatriotic activities and sentenced to 50 hours of community disservice.


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