October 24, 2007

My Jamaican Touch

Jamaican FlagOne of my biggest problems. Scratch that. My New Age, American friends tell me that there are no "problems" only "challenges."

One of my biggest challenges has been to control what my wife calls my "Jamaican touch." Similar to the "Midas touch" where everything that the king desired turned into gold, everything I touch (people, places or things) begins to speak and act Jamaican.

Now, as with everything else in life, my "Jamaican touch" is both a blessing and a curse. One of the blessings is that wife, who is originally from Colombia, has really begun to understand me and my idiosyncrasies. But I was shocked when about ten years ago, she began to use words like wet-up—a sure sign that my Jamaican touch had worked on her. In fact, you could say that a sure sign of the “Jamaican touch” is if a non-Jamaican begins to attach the word “up” to words. I swear, Jamaicans have an innate sense of the transcendent because of the inordinate amount of words to which we have attached our own suffix "up": Fix up, chop up, mash up, bus' up, bruk up, pretty up, dirty up, tear up, nice up, and tangle up. And everyone knows how Jamaicans love to “big up” themselves.

The first time I heard my wife say wet-up, I nearly burst out laughing. Nearly. We've been married for more than twenty years and unlike when we were newlyweds, I know what's good for me. I now keep my mouth shut. But when she asked me, "What sweet you so?" all I could do was to go outside and cut the grass so the lawnmower would drown the noise of my laughter. Learning to keep quiet or running away if I fear laughing at the wrong time has been a hard-won wisdom. But as Jimmy Carnegie, my history teacher at Jamaica College once said to me before he gave me a detention, "Mr. Philp, discretion is the better part of valor."

So, the blessing, if used wisely can lead to all kinds of bliss, marital and otherwise. But you have to be in control, especially when appliances begin to speak and act Jamaican. Not to boast, but anything, even the most stubbornly American or American with Chinese-made parts, in time, will yield to my touch. Sometimes I feel like the Borg in those Star Trek shows my friend, Leon, likes to watch: "Resistance is futile."

And all the appliances speak differently. The fridge is the nicest. Everything is "my dear," and "How you feeling?" "You hungry? You want something to eat?" whereas the toaster is all fiah and claat this and claat that with the dishwasher bawling, "Lawd, a mercy! Can't we all just get along?" and then starts to sing, "One Love, one heart. Let's get together and feel all right."

Unfortunately, I'm the only one who hears them and to whom they speak. Which is all right with me. Sometimes, I can't get along with some people and when I get home, it's always good to hear, "You looking tired, my dear. I have just the right thing. Reach inside my freezer and get yourself a nice, cold beer."

Now in general, my fridge behaves in many ways like the sturdy Frigidaire we had when we lived in Mona Heights, Jamaica, and she is just as dependable. I use the pronoun "she" because as with all things female in Jamaica, you have to adopt certain behaviors in order to get what you want. In her case, you have to talk nicely with her if you want your ice cream to stay cold. With the male appliances, such as my toaster, you have can't be saaf. You have to be willing, if necessary, to chuck badness, as one of our prime ministers once said, to get what you want. Bax* it on its lever to get a piece of toast--and not burned! Or you bax it again. And sometimes another bax for good measure. You have to be willing to go Jamaican on them. It's the only way they will respect you.

The curse, however, can lead to the most horrendous disasters. And last week, I saw the worst side of the curse and my beloved fridge. She wouldn't even cool a glass of water for me.

At first, I didn't pay attention to her--which in hindsight may have made things worse. She was acting up, and I was busy last week with all kinds of Anancy business, so I really wasn't in any mood for her foolishness. I told her before I left the house, "You better have my ice cubes ready when I get home!" Well, she showed me. She also made me fear that I was beginning to lose my touch.

When I got home, she had leaked out all the water over the floor and I had to mop it up before one of my wutless, Red Stripe drinking friends, slipped and fell. For if one of them broke an arm or leg, the next thing you know, one of then would turn around and sue me. Everybody's changed since they've come to America, and some of them think, "Bwai, Geoffrey mus have money. Look how much book him publish."

One of them, Winston, who knew about my challenges with the fridge, whispered in my ear, "So, Geoff, why you don't buy a new one with all the royalties from you books?" I was going to chuck some badness on him, but changed my mind. I just kissed my teeth and said, "First, stop farting on my new sofa. And second, if a buy a new one, she will become just as Jamaican as this one, so what good will that do me?" He thought about it for a minute. "You right," he said and went back over to the sofa.

Things really got bad though when my wife after watching Desperate Housewives, handed me a limp popsicle from the freezer and said, "Your fridge gone on strike. Fix her now. I'm not sitting through another episode of Brothers and Sisters like this!"

I didn't pay much mind to my wife either; I was concentrating on challenges at work. But later that night when I was snuggling up to my wife, she said, "You fix the fridge yet?" I had to confess. "No, I haven't." And she said, "Well, you know what to do then."

So, I put on my pajamas and went downstairs, in the middle of the night, to talk to the fridge.

"Luscious (she likes it when I call her that)," I said, "what's wrong, baby." She didn't feel like talking. I spent the whole night wiping her down with water and cleaning her gaskets. Still, she wouldn't talk. She just kept blowing hot air from her back until the next morning when my wife came downstairs and saw me sitting on a stool, half-asleep with the rag in my hand and mouth water dripping down to the front of my pajama shirt.

My wife came over to me, took the rag out of my hand, and cleaned the mouth water off the side of the fridge. "She still not talking to you, eh?" I told her no. "Well, you better have her fixed by tonight because my mother is coming over tonight and you know how she feels about you already."

I still haven't converted my mother-in-law with my "Jamaican touch." Everything that I've tried so far has failed. She spent a lot of time in New York before she came to Florida, so I think this is why she has been able to resist. And she is mortified at my interest in Anancy and Rastafari. She feels I have led her daughter away from the true Church, which according to her is "Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic!"

I spent the whole morning talking to Luscious. Nothing worked. Even when I opened her door, she wouldn't even turn on her light. It wasn't until ten o'clock in the morning when I got a slight hum out of her. Then, I had to call in sick because I realized, I was making some progress.

Luscious and I watched Dr. Phil and The View together, and by the time Oprah rolled around, she was ready to talk.

I took the toaster and the blender to another room so they wouldn't hear. I didn't feel like baxing them anymore. For if they overheard and word spread through the house that I was getting saaf--pleading with the fridge instead of baxing her like a real Jamaican man should when things are out of order--then, the next thing you know, they would start spreading rumors, like, "I hear Geoffrey begging the fridge to work. Imagine that. I always knew he was saaf." That would mean I would have to start baxing the TV, stereo, and clothes dryer--probably mash up a few to keep order in my house.

But like Brother Bob said, "We don't need no more trouble."

I patted Luscious on her handle and asked her, "What's wrong, Luscious?"

She sputtered for a few moments.

"You better have a long talk with your son."


She remained quiet until the commercial break. Oprah was talking about a new, sensational diet.

"Two days ago," she said, "while you were upstairs on the computer (you wouldn't believe the things he says about you when you're not here--telling everybody and their mother which web sites you visit and how much money you don’t have in the bank), your son just came down to the kitchen and just tore open my two doors and just kept looking at me like he lost something. Then, he had the nerve to leave me open all night. And you have the nerve to ask me what's wrong?"

"I will talk to the boy."

"You see, that's the first part of the problem. He is not a boy anymore. He is a man! Ever since he started growing hair on his chest and over his lip, he feels he can just come here, tear me open, and treat me any way he wants to."

"You right, Luscious. You right," I said. "I will have him apologize to you."

"You better do something and do it fast. For that is a man you're dealing with."

I really didn't want to chuck badness on my half-Jamaican son who was now becoming a half-Jamaican man. I never have. I waited for him to come home from school.

As soon as he skateboarded up the driveway with his girlfriend, I called out to him, "Bwai, come here."

From the sound of my voice, he knew he was in trouble. But he figured I wouldn't embarrass him with his little girlfriend by his side.

"Yes, Dad?"

He was beginning to sound the way that Kamau Brathwaite described George Lamming as having an "organ voice."

"Come over here and apologize to the fridge."

He was surprised. This is one of my idiosyncrasies that we hide from outsiders and especially Americans, who if they found out would certainly report me to the police. Then all my neighbors would see me doing the "perp walk" because I was arrested for "reckless endangerment of a minor." And just for talking to a fridge. If they only knew what I was going to do to the mout-amassi computer!

"Dad, please don't do this in front of my friend."

He didn’t realize how desperate I had become. But my mother-in-law was coming over in two hours. And as President Bush keeps telling us, "Desperate times calls for disparate measures"

"You know what you did," I said. "Now apologize."

He was going to disobey me, but he heard the tone in my voice. He also knew I was capable of chucking badness, so he walked over to the fridge and mumbled an apology.

"Talk louder," I said. "She can't hear you."

"I'm sorry," he said.

His American girlfriend, usually dressed in black and with black eyeliner, lipstick and nail polish--Goths, they call them--turned to him and said, "You talk to your refrigerator? Neat!"

She then pulled out her brand new I-Phone and called her mother to complain. She asked her mother why they didn't have a fridge she could talk to. Her mother started crying and said if her father had paid the child support and hadn't run off with that little tramp from the office, then everything would have been all right. But she said she would try to get a talking fridge as soon as she could. But right now, her life was falling apart and she needed to take some Xanax before she went to see her therapist.

The little girl and her mother were having their own challenges and more than I could handle. I turned to my son.

"Say it one more time," I said.

"I'm sorry, okay?"

Luscious purred back to life and my son went downstairs with his girlfriend. I would soon have to have that other talk with him.

But, in the meantime, I had more pressing concerns. I went to work with stuffing the fridge with popsicles, beer, and sodas. By the time my mother in law came over at seven o'clock, everything was cris' and curry. I even got my mother-in-law to try a drink she had resisted for as long as I've known her. I fixed her a cold Ting with crushed ice and that well-known corrupter of youth, Appleton Rum.

She looked at the drink, smelled it, but then saw the beads of water running down the side of the glass, and she took a sip.

"It's nice," she said and drank it all in one gulp. "Mix up another one."

My wife turned quickly and laughed. I laughed too.

"What? What?" asked my mother-in-law.

We didn't answer. Like I said, we've been married for more than twenty years. We know what's good for us.


*Bax: To hit. This is not to be confused with a shub.


Mel said...

I'm so glad Afrobella linked to your blog!
I talk to my appliances all the time -- and so do my mother and my grandmother and my great-grandmother. My boyfriend thinks it's crazy, but now I can tell him to just add it it his list of "Things She Does Because She's Jamaican". Yes, he really does have a list. :)

Anonymous said...


This is hilarious! What a storyteller you are. I like the Jamaican-ness of it.

Is not you one. Some persons in my family, as well as some folk I know, also talk to, or bawl at inanimate objects. And I've been known to threaten or cuss a computer or two :)

Geoffrey Philp said...

Greetings &Welcome!

He has a list! LOL
You should post it one day.


the prisoner's wife said...


i am not jamaican, but rather come from a Belizean family. same thing tho. we talk to our appliances, especially when they dont act quite right.

like your wife, i find myself using my beloved's jamaican-infused words in my everyday language. "bruk up" "lick" "my yute" and a few claats have escaped my lips as of late (LOL), especially when i'm hanging with the younger side of his family (and mine). LOL

Geoffrey Philp said...

welcome back, prisoner's wife.
it's strange the habits that we pick up from family and how they've changed us.
glad you liked the peace.

one love,

Rethabile said...

Do let's get together and feel all right!

I know a sure-fire way to reach your mum-in-law. Tell her you know people from Lesotho. She'll say, "Where's that?" And you'll tell her of the link Jamaica has with Africa on a monumental level. And she'll fall to your charms right there and then. What do you say?

Brilliant post, BTW.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Dear Rethabile,

I'll try that this weekend.

Thanks for the comment.