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The 27-year-old hottie?
In 1988, on what I call “Ash Friday”, 19 February, the first Friday after Carnival, the first Thank God It’s Friday column appeared in the Express; that was 27 years ago, today, measured from Friday-to-Friday, and one day more than 27 calendar years, by date; and it gives me real pause to think I’ve been holding down this gig for that long; why, I’ve had sex with people that age.
Of course, I was near that age myself, back then. In June 1988, I turned 30 “in the papers” (and wrote a birthday column, “30 With a Bullet”, that I’ve since taken to 35, 40, 45, 50, 55 and 56 With a Bullet”). I’ve done this job now longer than anyone bar Selwyn Ryan, and longer than many people have been alive; particularly young black males between Queen’s Park East and Arouca who, if they reach age 30, become elders, and are venerated for their wisdom; like, “Remember, it have one in the chamber”.
That first column was called, “Having Fun & Not Knowing It”, a headline written by Raoul Pantin, who, Satan bless him, was then my editor, and gave me what I look back and see, now, was permission to mash up the place; even though I was, myself, rudderless.
Raoul clocked out earlier this year, joining three formidable writers produced by Trinidad, Wayne Brown, Keith Smith and Anthony Milne (in order of departure, not worth). Wayne created the modern West Indian literary newspaper column, Keith was its best exponent (at his own best) and Anthony the most vivid recorder and celebrant of the great promise of Trinidad: CIC; the Pelican; and that non-racist portion of French Creole society that was as vital as it was small. (Who’s next, I wonder?)
It took me near 30 years to come to the job of writing, the only one I ever really wanted. Only two other professions tempted me at all, law and teaching, one of which I got into (and, thankfully, out of, or I’d weigh 20 kilos more today, have a drinking problem as massive as my income, and still be smoking like an HAA-licence plate maxi) and the other of which I’d like to think I’ve always been in; as long as I keep learning, I reckon I’ll keep passing it on.
I was very lucky to come to this gig at all: my parents, wanting the best for me—which, for them, meant wanting me to earn the most money—did everything they could to prevent me from writing (presaging most newspaper publishers I’ve had). My father wished me to remain a lawyer in the hope, I think, of leading me back to where he really wanted me: working for, and thus connected to him, for as long as we both lived/worked. My mother would have loved me to have become a judge, a job with serious clout and real social prestige.
Instead they got this.
I was lucky, too, that what I felt driven to write in the papers lined up with what people were feeling like reading, at the time. Trinidadians, myself included, make their most important life decisions—electing a government, cooking a pelau instead of a stew, marrying somebody—on gut feelings. Those early columns were as much exploration of self as of the possibilities of a newspaper space, as much therapy for me as it was entertainment for you: with 100,000 readers telling me I was good on a Friday, I slowly began to believe it myself.
There’ve been great changes in me and in media in our time: most people who read this column today will not hold a Guardian in their own fingers, but click on a link; but there has been little change in the actual readership itself.
We have faced an ongoing crisis, manifested in different ways, that would have destroyed us, if we did not have a huge and steady stream of unearned income, which we spent more wildly than newly-arrived drug dealers. Whatever our challenge, our response has remained the same: Trinidadians primarily want the hoity-toity mocked, not held to account. In other places, some of our leaders would have been overthrown; here, we are content to pappyshow them. As long as none of us are made responsible, all of us avoid responsibility; that is the Trini social pact.
Today, just as it was 27 years ago, when I first began tilting at our windmills, the Trinidadian avoids the fabric and minutely examines the hem of everything important. Today, Leader of the Opposition Keith Rowley has a 17-year-old wine back on him on Carnival Tuesday and the nation is outraged; 27 years ago, it was a primary schoolteacher waving a panty at a calypso show. Everyone gets into the finger-pointing but nobody pinpoints the only important question: why have we put so much value on what we have worked hard to transform into an entirely shallow event that a 17-year-old child is not just drawn into it, but given prominence? Keith Rowley, panty, AG, US$1M worthless firetruck—we sidestep the essential and pounce on the irrelevant.
If I see a 27-year-old hottie, my gut—and lower—reaction is to want to meet her mother. If I see a 17-year-old child presenting her rear to a prominent male, I don’t point fingers at her, him or even them. I see only us. I may not be doing this job in another 27 years, if only because I’ll probably be dead; but it is reassuring that Trinis will continue to need mashing up for as long as it takes them to realise they could make something new from the rubble of the old.
BC Pires is the man with the hammer
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