No Pussyfooting in Cock Tales

 

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It takes a lot of spunk to call your play Cock Tales. And then to tack on “Shame on Me!” Exclamation mark! This clearly shows you’re not ashamed at all. You’re brazening it out. That’s Debra Ehrhardt for you. This cocky Jamaican playwright and actress is certainly not afraid to talk up di tings. After the spectacular success of her brilliant one-woman play, Jamaica Farewell, Debra’s back with another winner.

Cock Tales is about penises and the men attached to them. It’s also about how one woman deals with the penises she unexpectedly comes upon. From childhood to adulthood! But, as Debra coyly admitted on ‘CVM at Sunrise’ last Thursday, it’s not all that many penises.

In the programme notes, Debra reveals her husband’s reaction to Cock Tales: “When my husband heard the name of my new show, he about lost his mind. I gently explained that his penis was not the first I’d encountered in my life, and that Cock Tales and all my one-woman shows have come from my own life experiences.”

Debra’s play addresses serious social issues such as sexual abuse of girls and sexual repression in Christian families. But there’s also lots of humour. When a well-dressed man on a train in New York invites Debra to view his penis, she raucously exposes him, much to the delight of the audience on the train and in the theatre. Debra skilfully seduces us to laugh even when she’s dealing with trauma. It’s a subtle art. Laughter often masks pain. And it also helps us cope with pain.

PASTOR COULDA NEVER DO DAT!

th-1Debra grew up in a Seventh-day Adventist home. The church doesn’t come off so well in the play. Pastor White offers the young girl a ride home. In the seclusion of the car, he grabs her hand and places it on his penis. She knows it’s a sin and puts up loud resistance. And she tells her mother.

Fortunately for Debra, her mother believes her. They dash off to the pastor’s home to confront him. Many abused girls aren’t so lucky. Their mothers refuse to even consider the possibility that the child is a victim of abuse. Not if the predator is an upstanding member of the community. And certainly not if he brings groceries regularly! No sah! Pastor coulda never do dat!

Cock Tales makes us contemplate the shame that victims of abuse often endure. That’s the other meaning of “Shame on Me!” It’s the victim who feels shame. Not the heartless attacker. And no matter how innocent the child, she is tainted by abuse. And it can mark her for life. Yu never hear what happen to her? Poor thing! Her life mash up now. She done fah. And the perpetrator of the crime often gets off scot-free.

Of course, I’m not going to tell you all the tales in Debra’s play. You have to go and see for yourself. The play opened last Wednesday at the Jamaican Shopping Club Theatre, formerly Green Gables, on Cargill Avenue. It’s on from Wednesday to Sunday until the 19th of February. Seventh-day Adventists should turn out in large numbers to look in Debra’s mirror. It’s an opportunity for reflection. I hope it’s not still a sin to go to the theatre.

FOUR CAN’T PLAY

Cock Tales isn’t the only play in town that’s dealing with men out of control. Basil Dawkins’ Four Can’t Play is on at the Little Little Theatre. It stars Oliver Samuels. He’s not the bad guy. His only problem is a very bad case of snoring. The villain is an irrationally jealous man who attacks anyone he thinks is attracted to his wife. He ends up in prison. Again, the play’s serious message is delivered with much humour.

Then there’s Tek Yuh Han Off A Mi, written by Michael Dawson, the local producer of Cock Tales. He also wrote the song of the same name that’s performed by Queen Ifrica. The play deals with domestic violence. And it attempts to free men and women trapped in co-dependence. It’s on today at 6 o’clock at the Jamaican Shopping Club Theatre.

blow-the-whistle-for-truth-t-shirts-mens-premium-t-shirtDebra Ehrhardt’s Cock Tales couldn’t have come to Jamaica at a better time. The constant abuse of girls by powerful men in and out of the Church has now provoked national condemnation. I hope it’s not a nine-day wonder. The abuse of children really isn’t news. We’ve long known about it. But it’s often hushed up. Debra has certainly blown the whistle on this nasty issue. Very loudly!

The Bible says, “A whistling woman and a crowing hen are an abomination to the Lord.” Actually, no! That sentence does not appear anywhere in the Bible. It sounds like it should be in the Book of Proverbs. But it’s not.

Donald Trump’s right-hand woman, Kellyanne Conway, might very well insist that it’s there in the Bible. But that would be an ‘alternative fact’ – a downright lie from a shameless con artist.

Even though the Bible doesn’t condemn whistling women or crowing hens, supposedly holy men of God have used the ancient book for centuries to silence women and keep us in our subservient place. But women keep on putting up resistance fearlessly. In Cock Tales, Debra doesn’t pussyfoot around. She stamps on abusers and shamelessly crows down deviant men: Cock-a-doodle don’t!

Dr Ferguson’s premature ejaculation

unnamedI’m no Mark Wignall. But I’m predicting that if the prime minister does not immediately fire her minister of health, the PNP will soon be voted out of office. In his column published last Thursday, Wignall prophesied, “It is more likelihood than possibility that after the next election, the people of this country will still get to call Portia our prime minister.”

It depends on what she does about Dr Fenton Ferguson. The ill-fated dentist is an ominous symbol of all that is wrong with the present PNP government: incompetent, arrogant, stubborn, hard-ears. Why is Fenton Ferguson still minister of health? After all of his errors of judgement and his repeated failure to protect the health of the nation! Why is the prime minister still upholding him?

Last Wednesday, one of my friends asked if I’d heard what Ferguson said about the dead babies. My cynical answer was, “That is not him did kill them?” I cannot forget the prime minister’s ill-considered response to repeated calls for the removal of Jennifer Edwards from her post as executive director of the National Solid Waste Management Authority.

As the fires raged at the Riverton dump, this is what the prime minister said in a bumbling interview on CVM TV: “I’m sure she wouldn’t set the fire. If she had set the fire, she would be gone! But I’m sure because she wasn’t there; she was nowhere near there until when they heard that the place was on fire. So I don’t know why anyone would be calling for her head to roll.”

TOTAL DENIAL

Wayne-J-Chikungunya-Well, Fenton Ferguson has definitely set several fires and his head has not rolled. The most deadly conflagration was his mishandling of the chik-V epidemic. No notice given to unsuspecting victims about the impending disaster, despite the many warnings issued by the Pan American Health Organization. Total denial of the true scale of the epidemic. And no serious attempt to count all the deaths resulting from the impact of chik-V on chronic illnesses.

Refusing to listen to the clamour of voices demanding the resignation of the minister of health, the prime minister unilaterally declared that Dr Ferguson had done nothing wrong. But what he had done right? Given the widespread trauma caused by the chik-V epidemic, Ferguson himself should have had the decency to resign. But he knew he had the backing of his prime minister.

I wonder if this is how she justified her decision to stand by him: I’m sure my minister of health is not a mosquito. And he did not bite anybody. If he had bitten anybody, he would be gone! But I’m sure because he wasn’t there; he was nowhere near where people were getting bitten. And he even wanted an infected mosquito to bite him, so he could feel the pain of those who had been batter-bruised by chik-V. So I don’t know why anyone would be calling for his head to roll.

ANOTHER FIRESTORM

tiny-hand-of-premature-babyDr Ferguson has now set off another firestorm with his incomprehensible ejaculation that premature babies are “not babies in the real sense”. I use the word ejaculation here to mean something said hastily without any thought. Not the act of discharging semen.

But Dr Ferguson was addressing Parliament. He should not have been ejaculating. He ought to have carefully considered his words. I know that Dr Ferguson is neither an obstetrician nor a gynaecologist. He’s a dentist. He’s an expert on the oral cavity. So he really should be much more cautious about how he opens his mouth. The discharge can be nastily explosive.

The minister’s lunatic claim that premature babies are “not babies in the real sense” is a reckless attempt to evade responsibility for the disgraceful condition of our hospitals. His cowardly line of defence is to blame the innocent victims. It’s the babies who caused their own death. It is true that the compromised immune system of premature babies makes them vulnerable to disease. But this is precisely why they need to be given high-quality medical care.

BUSINESS AS USUAL

Dr Ferguson’s apology for his public ejaculation is an insult to the intelligence of the Jamaican people. He simply repeats the fact that premature babies are susceptible to infection. But he admits no responsibility for the failure of the hospital system to protect these babies. It’s business as usual, masquerading as an apology.

And, what is even worse, all that the prime minister expects of Dr Ferguson is this: “I hope that the Ministry of Health and the minister will look at the present system to see what needs to be done to ensure that what happened will never, ever happen again.” Another excuse for failure.

imagesLast Sunday, after witnessing the brilliant trial of Governor Eyre in Morant Bay, I set out for Bath Fountain. On the way, I passed Dr Ferguson’s constituency office. And I had a revelation. The minister of health has survived disaster after disaster because he has access to a regular supply of ‘oil of Portia can’t fire me’.

Fun and joke aside, no oil from St Thomas is more powerful than the collective will of the Jamaican people. In theory, we have the right to choose our leaders. We can vote. But for who? The real tragedy of our times is that our politicians are certainly not public servants in the real sense.

Cooking Up A Storm In The ‘Intellectual Ghetto’

Last Wednesday, CVM TV aired an intriguing documentary on the life of Wilmot Perkins.  The sinister title of the programme promised high drama: Unmasking ‘Motty.’  Presumably, Motty had been masquerading all along as everything but himself. The TV programme was, apparently, designed to blow the dead man’s cover.

Elaine Perkins

I did see a new side of Motty.  He was very much a self-made man.  The most memorable mental picture from the documentary is the room full of tools for the many trades Motty mastered.  According to his widow, Elaine, Motty had a passion for shaping his world with his own hands.  He built several houses from scratch, a challenge that would stump his less clever detractors.

As it turns out, all of us who agreed to be interviewed for the documentary unmasked ourselves to some degree.  Our view of Motty was defined by our own angle of approach.  D.K. Duncan was deadly.  He pulled no punches.  By contrast, P.J. Patterson was rather restrained.  Much attacked by Motty, P.J. was, nevertheless, quite gracious in his final judgment of the man.

I thought I’d behaved myself.  All the same, I ended up in trouble with Mrs. Perkins. In response to a question from the presenter, Andrew Cannon, about why the University of the West Indies, Mona (UWI) was constantly attacked by Motty, I offered this opinion:

Motty at St. Peter's College

“Well, I saw Motty as a man who didn’t get a chance to get the formal education that he wanted.  And I felt that having dropped out of ahm the seminary, and didn’t, you know he didn’t get the opportunity to go back to university, he ‘carried a little feelings’ against university-educated people.  He used to ‘throw word’ on the University of the West Indies – the intellectual ghetto.  And, you know, you don’t want to say is because he didn’t come to UWI; but he sounded like a lot of it was just ‘bad mind an grudgeful’”.

Elaine Perkins was not amused. Staunchly defending her husband’s contempt for the intellectual ghetto, this is what she had to say:  “Well if it produced her, it is indeed a ghetto.  He’s not wrong.  You know, why doesn’t she go and, you know, do some good work for her country.  She should do something worthwhile with herself.  Go and cook!”

Miss Hottas

And there I was thinking I was already cooking!  My students in the intellectual ghetto like to call me ‘Miss Hottas’.  I tell them I can’t leave all the hotness to them.  I have to keep ‘lickle fi miself’.  So I just laughed when I heard Elaine Perkins trying to relegate me to the kitchen in a most classist and un-feminist way.

But so many people have commented on what they saw as her deliberate rudeness, I felt obliged to become aggrieved.  I didn’t want to disappoint my defenders who were winding me up.  But before getting all hot and bothered, I thought I should ask Mrs. Perkins exactly what she meant by cooking.  Perhaps, she simply wanted me to have a nice diversion from intellectual work.

I called CVM TV and asked the producer of the show, Garfield Burford, to put me in touch with Mrs. Perkins. She told him she didn’t want to talk to me.  And I could write anything I felt like about her. Living with Motty must have its rewards.  You learn how not to give a damn.

So here’s how I deconstructed Mrs. Perkins’ off-the-cuff remark.  The ‘ghetto’ bit didn’t bother me.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘ghetto’ is an abbreviation of the Italian word  ‘borghetto’, meaning “the quarter in a city, chiefly in Italy, to which the Jews were restricted”.  True, the word implies discrimination.  But people who are culturally isolated often turn disadvantage into opportunity.  They are forced to become self-reliant and very creative.

Last Thursday, as I watched Kevin MacDonald’s magical documentary on Bob Marley, I kept thinking of just how many talented people have emerged from Trench Town!

That ghetto has certainly been a centre of intellectual ferment.  If the University of the West Indies could find a way to recharge and transmit the creative energies of Trench Town in its heyday, we’d definitely be cooking.

Flying past my nest

Elaine Perkins appears to have unmasked herself by sending me off to the kitchen.  Throughout the documentary, she tried to present a pretty image of Motty as a defender of poor people.  He was a heroic figure who wanted to see the underprivileged rise up to claim their rightful place in a truly democratic Jamaica.  And Mrs. Perkins’ seemed to share her husband’s love of the oppressed.

Caribbean Domestic Workers Network Launch

But her dismissive ‘go and cook’ comment could reasonably be interpreted as a sign of vexation that I had flown past my nest.  My branch of work clearly ought to be domestic service. Even so, are helpers not entitled to pass judgment on Motty? And how could I be bright enough to think I’m qualified to be a professor?  Only at a ghetto university.

For the sake of my supporters, I must defend myself against Mrs. Perkins’ charge that I’m good for nothing but cooking.  By the way, I’m a pretty good cook.  The problem I have with cooking is that the fruits of one’s labour are so quickly consumed.  You cook for half a day and it’s all over in a few minutes.

I know I’ve done ‘something worthwhile’ with myself for the three decades I’ve taught literature and popular culture at the University of the West Indies.  Just last week, at the final class for the semester on “Reggae Poetry”, I asked students what had they really learnt in the course.  One of them said, “I’ll never look at reggae the same way.”  Another said, “I didn’t know it was that deep”.  That’s good enough for me.  I’ll just keep on cooking.