Those good ol' days
By Terry Joseph
June 20, 2003
There's no denying it: runaway crime scares even the most valiant among us and consequently devalues our existence but, in the general anxiety, we must be careful to not mislead the nation's youth into thinking those good ol' days were absolutely pristine.
Sure. In the very Laventille, now focus of national concern (in the only context it ever attracts that degree of attention), Geraldine felt safe leaving all doors and windows open while shepherding us young children on walks into the city centre; confident her treasures would remain intact.
After all, it was the 1960s-the good ol' days.
But just next door, Boysie Rousseau would each day wake up cussin' wind where human targets weren't yet available and, when pre-lunch inebriety took root, proceed to chase perceived antagonists down the street with his perpetually gleaming three-canal cutlass.
At the other end of our short cul-de-sac, Mr Munroe routinely subjected his wretched wife to fierce bouts of domestic violence, the most gory of which inspired calypsonian neighbour The Hawk to compose "Never, never put your mouth in husband and wife business"; after he too was routed while trying to rescue the hapless woman.
"The Green-faced Man", a masked rapist preying on women in nearby Prizga Lands, inflicted this brutal depravity almost nightly, that story chronicled by Vivian Comma and sung by calypsonian Lord Christo. In the eastern quarry, a snatch-and-grab bandit, specialising in ladies' jewelry, ruled that domain for months at a stretch, every hiatus capped with more daring theft at resumption.
It was widely known in the neighbourhood that an aircraft mechanic who lived obliquely across the street from our home, owned (and often discharged) a firearm, this at a time when such weaponry was rare and its report suitably startling.
The rum-shop and grocery that stood on the diametrical apex, across Old St Joseph Road from our front-bedroom, was frequently robbed. In the most ruthless episode, an assailant purchased a bottle of pepper-sauce from Mr Fung, opened it and flung the contents at the proprietor's face; its corrosives catching both eyes.
The gangs of the good ol' days carried frightful artillery, operating under rubric, if not originally selected for that reason, grew to be equally fearsome, among them Apple-Jackers, Marabuntas, Silk Hats and Lawbreakers, the latter's name and nature going straight for the jugular. One member, who carried a sharp tomahawk as side-arm, is still known by the moniker "Li'l Axe".
Knives, ice-picks and shaving razors (rubbed with garlic) were invariably carried by gang members constantly expecting reprisal. Less obviously lethal was the "iron-bolt", an inch-thick rhomboid piece of machined metal, primarily designed for fastening wheel nuts on Mack trucks, but was conscripted to the war-effort as a projectile. The deadly iron-bolt often missed its mark, scoring collateral damage on ricochet.
While regularly in the news, Laventille and adjoining areas held no monopoly on criminal activity. Boysie Singh's best-known address was at Luis Street, Woodbrook. Singh's legend includes wooing boatloads of people into seeking better lives "down the main(land)" of South America and en route, relieving them of amassed cash and other valuables at gunpoint, before drowning his passengers.
The infamous Poolool brothers were from Caroni, while St James was home to a notorious Peru clan. Seawell Gordon, an incorrigible voyeur sentenced to long-term incarceration for that and other crimes, braved barracuda in escaping from the Carrera Island Prison, by swimming across the channel to Chaguaramas. That jailbreak resulted in the introduction of police dogs, the first, a canine christened "Bruno", immediately assigned to his pursuit.
Samuel Jacob, a killing machine, operated in Wallerfield. Mano Benjamin, a sadist whose adventures eclipsed the very Marquis from whom this perversion takes its name, made the Biche forest his home. There, he stitched shut the vaginas of two captive sisters, after using one for air-rifle target practice; blinding one eye with what police concluded was an intentional shot.
Well before that time, Igualmente Franco calmly walked into the BWIA reservations office, then on Chacon Street, and opened fire with a double-barrelled shotgun, registering the first such killing with malice aforethought.
One morning we discovered a human head in a flower-pot and on another evening, respected city medico, the bow-tied Dr Dalip Singh, killed his wife, Inge Paula Singh, in the pleasant Woodbrook suburb. Later, Sparrow dedicated an entire calypso to "Bad Johns", listing known heavies in an around Port of Spain. In the late '80s, a man sawed his spouse into little pieces, consigning them to buckets.
So crime is hardly new to us, still, you hear romantics yearning for a return to the good ol' days. And although the examples set out above were spread over decades, the acts were so gruesome they remain reference positions, many of the perpetrators' names even assuming metaphor status.
Even allegations of attacks by marauding members of the defence force are not new, St James having been the scene of a similar two-night incident in the 1980s.
Those, then, are snapshots of the good ol'days, a time when people somehow felt much safer, although in every category the crimes were far more gruesome than those of contemporary copycats.
Perhaps future comparisons should focus not so much on the crimes themselves but the level of respect enjoyed by police at that time, who still seemed on top of the situation and were yet untainted by allegations of corruption and indeed, collaboration.
Now, there's something we didn't have so much of in those good ol' days.
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