I met a guy named Clarence Joseph in Charlotteville, Tobago, around lunch-time in early January. He owned a ‘fish n’ chips’ shack right off of the main road, left of the bus stop that I became so acquainted with every other dusk, right behind the village gas station that had ‘please do not urinate on this wall’ artfully painted on its back side. Even though Clarence’s fish n’ chips were a dollar more expensive than everyone else’s and a few more steps away from the beach, I routinely returned because he’s the only one in Charlotteville who added tons of garlic and ginger and other spices that make my mouth water. Clarence was amicable from the start. He was a man of short stature but kind eyes, and he had an infectious ear-to-ear grin. He would incessantly tell me how much he loves his wife. He was a talker.
After my first visit, I thought I had him pretty much pegged, even though this is a ridiculous notion applicable to those who people-watch (it’s a nicer term for ‘judging’, but hey, we all do it). A lot of us forget that nothing is ever what it seems. We can never fully grasp the complete picture of anything because reality is chock full of complexities that transcend human reach. Just because someone wears their heart on their sleeve and obeys no rules of self-disclosure doesn’t mean I know the whole story just by reading the first lines.
But I chose to ignore this truth at the time and was subsequently shocked when Clarence went from loving his wife to ferociously bashing his lover circa 1975, the one he supposedly fathered a child with. She was from Sweden and she wanted Clarence to move to Stockholm to be with his son. But he refused to leave Tobago. He said: “Fuck her, and fuck my son”, and to Clarence, it seems, that was that. He has a 35-year-old son who he had no interest of meeting. Better yet, he said he had no regrets on the matter. Now, at this point, I just wanted some goddamn fried fish with extra garlic, and I didn’t appreciate such a conversation topic in the midst of my holiday. I didn’t like that a guy who was once so friendly turned out to actually be not-so-friendly. I didn’t like that my fish n’ chips came with a complementary ‘let me bitch about my life ‘ rant (maybe that’s what the extra dollar was for). I didn’t like that he condemned people for being stubborn (i.e. the Swedish lady for not wanting to move to Tobago) when he was clearly the most stubborn ass of them all. I didn’t like that he asked me to research American laptops for him and then organize this information in a ‘concise and neat manner’ and then send it via post along with the ‘2012 Buying Guide’ (prepare yourself for another disappointment, Clarence!). But here I go again, making unfounded presumptions and openly judging Clarence Joseph of Charlotteville, Tobago. I still don’t know him, I don’t know the whole story and never will, and thus, should refrain from applying my own personal dispositions to another’s life. The thing about the idiom ‘tip of the iceberg’ is that, yes, only a small portion of something is exposed and apparent, but I seldom think about just how large the ice is beneath the water’s surface. I know the expression, the meaning, and that it implies that something big and undiscovered and opaque is down there, but I’ll repeat: I seldom think about just how large the ice is. I looked it up. Holy shit. But Tobagonian icebergs are the same that can be found in the rest of the world. Clarence and I and everyone else are on our own paths, after all, and everyone should do and act as they see fit and spare judgements that will always be inherently and inevitably incorrect.
Anyway, the point of all this: regarding Clarence’s history, the aforementioned one but also his history as a Vietnam vet, he wisely told me: “People need to know how to let go”. And I wholeheartedly agree. As per the photograph, it’s clearly time for me to let go of my old shoes and buy some new ones. TO THE MALL!