A slew of …

In a CNN Money article yesterday about the Facebook vs Google+ rivalry, my editor’s antennae started twitching when I read

“But defensive moves are not Zuckerberg’s style, and in September, at the company’s F8 developers event, he unleashed a sea of new features that alter the current service radically.”

“A sea of features”?

A sea change, yes, in a different context; better still, a raft or slew of new features.

My preference is for the latter, derived from the Old Irish, sluagh, meaning “army”.

“A slew of” — it sounds violent, cool and sophisticated in one shot.

Give it a try today!

Call me stupid

It’s heading for 1 am. About to shut down for the night, I carelessly copied over the whole folder of my current editing job in progress onto my USB stick, thinking that I’d be super efficient by having access to the files during the day tomorrow. Two seconds later I realized to my horror that I had already been super efficient by working on the document directly on my stick. By copying over the original version of the file, I deleted all of this evening’s work.

I don’t know whether to cry or give myself a slap for being so stuuuupid!

Bara the Wifebeater

It’s not the name he would choose, and no one dares use it to his face, but with his empire in our street reduced to his wife’s chop shop, Bara has little left to show for himself except his frustration and his fists. Yet at the peak of empire, the ruler of Rue 103 was a respected entrepreneur, running a general store from a one-room shack, a popular table-football club and a busy brickmaker’s yard. But he was squatting on land too valuable to be left to a poor man without connections, and so last month a bulldozer razed the vacant lots and a team of labourers quickly knocked up a wooden fence around the perimeter. After that, work stopped until ownership was settled between various well-connected claimants, downtown in the air-conditioned offices of lawyers paid to do what they’re told.

The brickyard used to be a hive of activity: a constant traffic of horse-drawn carts bringing sand and gravel and taking away ready bricks; one man mixing the concrete; two others filling the brick mould, scraping off the excess, carrying it to the edge of the yard and tapping it out to join the lines of other bricks baking in the sun. Each gesture repeated a hundred times; each man could anticipate the other’s actions and match his own in a smooth series of movements that was as choreographed as a ballet. It was hypnotic to watch under a white-hot sun.

Bara supervised horizontally from a cardboard mat in the shade of a lean-to by the wall. He fiddled with his radio and dozed until the worst of the heat had passed. Then he would stand and stretch, and inspect the pile of reject bricks. “This one’s ok! Fix this one! It’s good enough!” His workers sorted through the pile in silence, adding chipped and split bricks to the waiting carts.

Then Bara would straddle his most coveted object, a black and dented scooter, and ride loudly down the rutted lane, nodding to his peers and ignoring the others. Where he went, I don’t know.

At dusk, he returned and pulled the boys from the table-football, giving their places to the adult clients eating at his wife’s chop shop. The adults made more noise than the children ever did, living out their lost ambitions of glory on a battered wooden table and eleven player pegs. The cries and protests continued until after dark — a wonder since there was no light to play by.

Bara retired to his wife’s table and shouted for his food. She served him at arm’s length; unfortunately, Bara’s arm was longer and never failed to reach out and slap her, even while his right hand was already scooping up rice from the bowl. One smack was enough to make a point — I’m the boss.

With the loss of his other activities, Bara has turned to wifebeating full-time, chasing her into a corner and ignoring her screams or the calls from her customers. Disgusted by the violence, fewer people frequented the place, preferring to eat in peace in the hot, tarpaulin tents recently set up at the end of the street. And now, in Ramadan, there are no customers at lunchtime at all.

Which leaves Bara his final venture, renting out a tall ladder to his neighbours, including me. For the equivalent of a day’s wages, he lent me the ladder for a few hours so that I could install an air-conditioner for the kids’ bedroom. Others shook their heads when I told them the price, but none could get Bara to budge — he knew it was for me and he knew I would pay.

I don’t mind the price, really I don’t — it’s only a question of time before another rich person dispossesses him of his sleeping yard. And the worse it gets for Bara, the worse it gets for his wife. That I mind.

Crossing the floor

The following is loosely based on a recent local political drama. I’m not going to give any clues because those who recognize it, don’t need them, and those who don’t should be grateful they didn’t witness it.

“What do I look like?” he asked the TV.
With no reply forthcoming, he groaned, “Lord God!”, his head sinking into his hands.

Before this day, he had played out the scene many times in his mind. Churchill resolute he had been. A steadfast rock buffeted by outraged slings and arrows as he defiantly turned his back on the opposition benches and crossed the floor of the lower chamber to join the government. Once, in a dream, he had even seen himself float across in a transcendent glow, his passage marked in future history books as of biblical significance: He, Seff Gadala, would end the wandering in the wilderness and lead his people to power. Except there was no one following him.

No matter, thought Seff. I am a man of principle above all else. Those who choose to think otherwise are too blind to see that. For the members of the selection sub-committee of his constituency, however, Seff could hardly bear to contemplate them without muttering expletives and cursing their mothers. That they had dared put up another candidate for the local ticket was without precedent in his beloved party. Backstabbers! It had been his seat. He had done his time, paid his dues, stroked egos, sucked up and kissed enough senior party batty to have a job for life, just like the old days.

And if it was so that he had not set foot in the parish since the previous election, he had blustered at the sub-committee meeting, was that not proof that he had been hard at work representing his constituents in the capital.

“It’s not as if I can just pop down at the weekend,” he added in his defence. “The roads are diabolical!”

Several members nodded, grim-faced.

To his amazement, the members were unimpressed with his arguments and ignored his demand to abandon the vote to select the local candidate. It was too much to bear, and Seff’s wounded pride would not allow him to continue. At his final constituency meeting, he tore up his party card and left the room, making sure to slam the door hard.

In limbo before the next general election, Seff reflagged as an independent and tried to introduce a bill on electoral procedure. It was shot down in flames at its first reading, by both main parties, who argued that Seff’s bill was in fact a step backwards in time.

“Exactly!” thought Seff, pleased by the acknowledgment but hurt by the rejection.

For several weeks after, Seff had brooded about the obvious conspiracy against him, a conspiracy motivated by jealousy and fear of retribution once he reached his rightful place in government. It was so clear. Seventeen years in opposition had sapped his old party’s will to power. He was well shot of them. He would not turn back.

And yet, seventeen years in the wilderness with the party had been bad enough; now he would be alone in the desert …

The next day, Seff threw out all his green shirts and ordered several dozen orange Ralph Lauren polos from Amazon. The following week, he met the government party chairman, and the next month, his membership card arrived, with a post-it welcome from the Prime Minister.

The act of crossing the floor had been scheduled to gain maximum press coverage, during a debate on breaches of government tenders procedures. With the cameras of all the national TV channels upon him, Seff would stride triumphantly towards the winning side and trumpets would sound forth, this last part in Seff’s mind alone.

So what went wrong? Seff flipped to the News Network channel to re-view his glory gone awry.

“What do I look like?! A bloody schoolboy in a nativity play. Third spear carrier caught in the spotlight. Hunched and loping in an ill-fitting suit. Grinning with the rictus of a frightened monkey. Lord help me! What a fool! And yet I couldn’t escape. There was no curtain to hide behind. I had to go through with the whole bloody charade. Clasping a hand here, slapping a back there. And Lord God, crushed in the well-worn embrace of the PM, I lunged forward and kissed her on the cheek. By God, she’s a big woman, I realized when she pulled away and my feet touched the ground again.

I sank to the nearest chair and looked around me, still grinning like a fool. The desks were the same as on the other side. They reminded me of my old school desks that were pulled out at exam time. Whatever the subject at hand, my first concern had always been: who got the desk with the complete lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody engraved on it?”

Anyway the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me.

Ria in print

Just in case you thought I was slacking off, I rewrote my “Don’t bow” post and got it published in today’s Jamaica Observer. If you want to see it, you’ll have to register for the E-paper version (free) because the normal online version does not publish the full paper. My bit is in the “Bookends” section.

I am HIV (article)

Thanks to Charlene and Sharon.