Last week Wednesday I was part of a unique cultural event at City Hall. The Ministry of Planning and the Artists Coalition of Trinidad and Tobago (ACTT) got together a group they called the "Technicians of Humour" to a gathering – exchanging experiences, telling jokes and generally entertaining the small audience.
I had not been to City Hall since early in the seventies when the Government Calypso Tent was launched with Andrew Carr as the manager and with a cast including a calypsonian named "SnoCone" who later progressed to "King Austin".
I remembered SnoCone/King Austin because of his two hit songs which are appropriate in the context of City Hall today and that added to my discomfort. I constantly looked over my shoulder believing that at any moment the mayor armed with his chain would jump out of the backstage scenery and pounce, either threatening to charge us $700 for being there or instructing his policemen to look for any parked cars, call his favourite wrecking crew, and cost us an additional $500.
The major King Austin hit was "Progress" and, as the song concludes, "The Price of Progress is High." Every coconut vendor who plies his trade around the Savannah will attest to that. The problem is who defines progress? Is progress newly painted coconut carts? Why not a loudspeaker playing Harry Belafonte's "Coconut Woman" in a very husky voice. Since the vendors use cutlasses why not make them dress up in pirate costumes like Captain Jack Sparrow? That will make them picturesque indeed.
The other King Austin hit was, "Who Will Guard The Guards?" This is a question that is extremely relevant in the matter of the Mayor. Who will deal with his tirades and excesses? Who will curb his raves and rants? Who will say enough is enough? The person who put him there seems to like having him there as a distraction. True, at leash they rightly put a chain on him but they should now think of adding a muzzle and maybe keeping him tied to the big iron railings on Woodford Square for his own good.
The reason for keeping him bound, drastic as it sounds, is that there are three conditions that one associates with power. The first is corruption. Note carefully I am not accusing the mayor of that. But it is one of the hazards of power – as the historian Lord Acton pointed out, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The other is that power is considered an aphrodisiac more potent than Viagra. People with power feel they can get away with anything. Power is also an amnesiac. It makes you forget where you came from. Go to Parkade and you will see that the UDeCOTT bigwigs park at the ground level so if the elevators don't work, they don't know, don't see and don't care. The mayor has a designated parking spot at City Hall. So what if other people can't find a place to park or the $40 a day to pay? Make them pay $500 then.
There is a kind of madness too that comes with power – it goes to your head and messes it up. I think it is a race right now between people so infuriated that they might be tempted to take the mayor's chain and store it in a place where the sun doesn't shine or that the mayor himself, like an overloaded power cable, might collapse under the strain. I know he's coming after the doubles vendors in town next – that is easy to see. King Louis the Barra-cuda. However, before he gets to them, he might well buckle under the strain of his unpopularity and unpalatable ideas. As I sat at City Hall listening to the story-tellers and humorists, I kept imagining the mayor leaping out at me and instead of brandishing a cutlass and demanding "Your $700 or your livelihood" he would hold up a coconut threateningly and say, "Water or jelly?"