LAPSES AND INFELICITIES

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT -

Rick Wayne’s eclec­tic prose me­an­ders through­out 600 pages of this book, rem­i­nis­cent of the old road from Cas­tries to Vieux Fort when the jour­ney was a butt-peel­ing two-hour drive. That was be­fore crown agents in­ter­vened in the Sev­en­ties and straight­ened out the hair­pin bends, with the ex­cep­tion of Morne Road, at the right an­gle sui­cide spin be­low Gov­ern­ment House. A rich lively rhetoric rem­i­nis­cent of Gore Vi­dal’s Wash­ing­ton D.C. and to a lesser ex­tent Nor­man Mailer’s The Ar­mies of the Night, par­tic­u­larly as Rick paints his livid car­i­ca­tures, brush stroke af­ter brush stroke, to peo­ple the work.

“So now, in the all­re­veal­ing light of time’s torch, come with me as I re­visit Oc­to­ber 1994, shortly af­ter Saint Lu­cia’s prime min­is­ter… res­cued a failed politi­cian… from more or less per­ma­nent res­i­dence at a vil­lage rum shop and re­lo­cated him to New York…”

“Barely had the com­mence­ment date been an­nounced when … a pro­grammed Labour Party ro­bot who on the oc­ca­sion de­scribed him­self as a build­ing con­trac­tor, filed a No­tice of Mo­tion for an or­der to pro­hibit the at­tor­ney gen­eral—cited as re­spon­dent— from hold­ing the Com­mis­sion of In­quiry.”

“…the day’s em­cee was in­tro­duc­ing the event’s first speaker fol­low­ing the open­ing prayer when all eyes turned from the podium to fo­cus on the ap­pari­tion stand­ing in the con­ven­tion hall’s only door­way. If he was to the ma­jor­ity of the con­gre­ga­tion a mys­te­ri­ous stranger, still there could be no deny­ing the apoc­a­lyp­tic tone of the scrawled mes­sage on his plac­ard …”

Sounds like a work of fic­tion? Well, it’s not. To the unini­ti­ated, this book could well pass as a novel; but then again that would be a dan­ger­ous as­sump­tion, even as his­tory is some­times as in­cred­u­lous as the truth. This book is con­tem­po­rary po­lit­i­cal his­tory of Saint Lu­cia af­ter In­de­pen­dence, cov­er­ing the ac­tion of the first 30 years in the life of our small na­tion. To be­gin, it is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult be­yond re­portage to write con­tem­po­rary his­tory and to in­ter­pret the facts as they man­i­fest. Bi­ases and per­sonal fla­vors will come to the fore; af­ter all, we are hu­man and our feel­ings will per­me­ate through the wood­work. There will al­ways be among read­ers, as in gov­ern­ment, sym­pa­thiz­ers and op­po­si­tion. There will be the mis­cre­ants that will twist facts with the agility of steel ben­ders and also the usual sus­pects who will agree with ev­ery­thing writ­ten, un­til you are led to be­lieve they had dic­tated the man­u­script un­der a pseu­do­nym. Rick has, since his re­turn to Saint Lu­cia, worked with all sides, in and out of Gov­ern­ment. As he aptly puts it, he has been in­side the belly of the beast. He un­der­stands its machi­na­tions. He writes naught that needs ev­i­dence to sup­port his claims, which he gen­er­ates in a series of episodes, like in news­reels, to make his case, but in forth­right force­ful lan­guage that com­mands the reader to sit up and lis­ten.

“The pam­pered first son of a pop­u­lar Sev­enth Day Ad­ven­tist city bar­ber, he had started out with much prom­ise. At sev­en­teen he was a star ath­lete, nick­named “the fly­ing darkie” by foot­ball fans for his prow­ess between the goal posts . . .”

Be­fore this book, there was “It’ll Be Al­right In The Morn­ing” and “Fool­ish Vir­gins.” They cor­rob­o­rate var­i­ous bits and pieces of tes­ti­mony through the voice of other char­ac­ters, where ap­pli­ca­ble, if only in modus operandi. There are count­less ar­ti­cles ap­pear­ing in the STAR un­der the au­thor’s name since time im­memo­rial that re­main un­chal­lenged to this day. Is it all truth? I don’t know. Is it con­tem­po­rary po­lit­i­cal saga? Yes, and what a hel­luva story it makes! Ev­ery­one is en­ti­tled to his pe­cu­liar brand of fetish; Rick’s is pol­i­tics—and he wal­lows in it!

Lapses and Infelicities will mean dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple. In­ci­den­tally, the book’s ti­tle is a quote from Kenny An­thony de­fend­ing some of the er­rors made dur­ing his ten­ure in of­fice, in par­tic­u­lar the so-called Poverty Re­duc­tion Fund scan­dal. No need to go fur­ther into this here, I can guar­an­tee it’s all in the book. Also there is the long for­got­ten UN Scan­dal, Labour’s fall from grace in 1982; the UWP’s de­feat in 1997 and the rise of Kenny An­thony as a for­mi­da­ble politi­cian. If it is pos­si­ble to block one’s mind from the grand events still shap­ing our po­lit­i­cal land­scape and as­sume an ap­proach with­out bias, it could quite eas­ily be for­given as one of the most hi­lar­i­ous pieces of con­tem­po­rary po­lit­i­cal satire that one finds only in ca­lyp­sos. The se­quence on page 347, between Rick and Ge­orge, be­fore and af­ter the an­nounce­ment of the 1997 elec­tion re­sults, is as funny as it is bizarre:

“I was never quite cer­tain about Ge­orge Od­lum’s chances in Cas­tries North­east. One minute the tea leaves promised sun­shiny weather; the next, rain. To be ab­so­lutely can­did, his pub­lic meet­ings never drew any­thing close to the crowds that once had trav­elled miles to join his mostly il­le­gal pub­lic demon­stra­tions, omi­nous pos­si­bil­i­ties be damned. De­spite the sweat poured into his cam­paigns, the re­sponse to him per­son­ally, not nec­es­sar­ily to his guest speak­ers, was rel­a­tively luke­warm, con­ceiv­ably a con­se­quence of fa­mil­iar­ity—if not his chameleonic char­ac­ter­is­tics. Shortly be­fore the bal­lot count started, I sat with Od­lum in a dimly lit far cor­ner of his cam­paign head­quar­ters while a half dozen of his go-fers made short thrift of left­over luke­warm bev­er­ages and sus­pect cheese sand­wiches do­nated by per­sons un­known. He did not ap­pear con­fi­dent. But some­thing told me he was merely in­dulging his thes­pian in­cli­na­tions. Af­ter a time, I said: “Hey, Ge­orge, c’mon, let’s get some air.” We ex­ited the room, walked list­lessly down some con­crete steps to the near de­serted main road, strolled around the block in eerie si­lence. Then I said, ‘What’s bug­ging you man? For crissakes, cheer up. The fat lady’s still in make-up. The show’s not over yet. In any case, we gave it our best shot. Now it’s out of our hands. All we can do now is keep our fin­gers crossed.’”

“No big thing,” he said, “it’s just an­other elec­tion, right?” No big thing, in­deed. Nev­er­the­less I said: ‘If things don’t go as we ex­pect, you’ll still be OK. It’s clear the party is win­ning big-time. Kenny won’t turn his back on you!’

“By the time we re­turned to base, the wind of change had blown away the ear­lier gloom. Now his cam­paign head­quar­ters was a zoo. More peo­ple than ever at­tended all of his ral­lies put to­gether were now hang­ing from the rafters, shout­ing from the bal­cony, mess­ing with the re­frig­er­a­tor, blow­ing red plas­tic whis­tles, de­mand­ing that Brother Ge­orge join the car­ni­val-like jump-up out­side. Small won­der that he was soon tak­ing full credit for the Labour Party’s vic­tory in the Cas­tries basin. Osten­si­bly, he had done for Philip J. Pierre, Jon Od­lum and Sarah Flood what only one year ear­lier he could not do for him­self.”

There are the crude as­per­sions that rep­re­sent the build­ing blocks of Caribbean pol­i­tics and sub­sti­tute most times for de­bate. For ex­am­ple, Vaughn Lewis’ ‘Chi­nese Cabi­net,’ with such char­ac­ters as Tu Ju Su, Phuk Em Yung, Fan Chou Moon and Lim Ping. They hold no real value, ex­cept to an au­di­ence present only for the night’s en­ter­tain­ment and more of­ten than not have no im­pact on the out­comes in the bal­lot boxes. How­ever, our peo­ple have long since been hon­oured for plumb­ing the depths of their cre­ative in­ge­nu­ity to fa­ther these fig­ments of the imag­i­na­tion and clothe them in the per­son­al­i­ties of real men with a cred­i­bil­ity far greater than their liv­ing ac­com­plices can ex­ude. Then there is Rick’s own ne­far­i­ous wit that stings like a gloved hand to the so­lar plexus.

“In the dis­tance a fa­mil­iar voice sounded: ‘Broth­ers and sis­ters, I call on you now to stay cool. Pro­tect your rev­o­lu­tion!”

“Dear God,” a shaken, per­plexed Al­lan Lousy mut­tered un­der his breath. “What the hell is Ge­orge up to now?”

If God knew the an­swer, he wasn’t shar­ing it. In any event, Od­lum was as much in the dark about his next move as was any­one else. With­out a script and with no idea what­so­ever how this par­tic­u­lar pro­duc­tion was sup­posed to play out, the ridicu­lously cos­tumed rev­o­lu­tion­ary had lit­tle choice but to im­pro­vise…”

The story line weaves from chap­ter to chap­ter with the ease of film. Light on the eyes, sel­dom pedan­tic and joc­u­lar. Rick Wayne no doubt had a novel in mind when he wrote this book, but nov­els are works of fic­tion and the clos­est this work comes to fic­tion is where the leg­endary ‘Yo Dee’ ap­pears, which is sel­dom. Of course the au­thor is en­ti­tled to mak­ing his own as­sump­tions and I am not pre­pared in this brief re­view to chal­lenge the ve­rac­ity of his state­ments. I am not equipped to hunt down the mun­dane and if asked whether I be­lieve ev­ery­thing in the book, I have no com­ment. I en­joyed it im­mensely and would rec­om­mend it to ev­ery po­ten­tial ap­pli­cant for the post of politi­cian. One mes­sage is quite clear, be­ware the du­plic­ity of pre­tend­ing to serve the peo­ple while drain­ing their pock­ets.

Rick also gives us short in­cites into the early life of one our for­mer prime min­is­ters, the Hon. Kenny An­thony, as well as the dif­fi­cult teething pe­riod prime min­is­ter Vaughan Lewis ex­pe­ri­enced on as­sum­ing the man­tle of lead­er­ship. Rick also shows how in pol­i­tics vil­lains in one life, be­come he­roes in an­other. This was skill­fully done with Sir Al­lan Louisy’s writ­ten en­dorse­ment of Kenny An­thony as po­lit­i­cal leader of the Labour Party. Web­ster, in his fa­mous play The Duchess of Malfi, wrote: “A politi­cian is the devil’s quilted anvil, he fash­ion’s things.” These words as­sume a sem­blance of truth as you read through the pages of “Lapses and Infelicities.” From the machi­na­tions of Ge­orge and Josie to the Chi­nese check­ers game between Sir John and Lewis and the vain­glo­ri­ous con­tretemps that caused Kenny An­thony to emerge over Ju­lian Hunte. This is a book all na­tion­al­is­tic Caribbean per­sons should read so as to un­der­stand that all the di­vi­sions that they so vo­cif­er­ously sup­port, rip­ping the ve­neer off the ma­hogany that is our lit­tle so­ci­eties, are noth­ing more than egos bask­ing in a mo­ment’s glory. The real power rests with the peo­ple, free and in­di­vis­i­ble un­der God. Thank you, Rick, for this poignant ex­pose of our times, lay­ing bare for all to see—the can­cer that is our pol­i­tics.

Lapses And Infelicities of­fers a crit­i­cal anal­y­sis of the po­lit­i­cal his­tory of Saint Lu­cia with pre­cise his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ence.

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