February 28, 2015 - Volume 1, No. 18
Panyard Stories - 1 of 4
I did not travel to Trinidad this year for carnival. I had some important business to take care of so I canceled my trip. But, I know my fans are expecting me to write something about the steelband. As a result, I decided to do some panyard stories. I know you saying that there is nothing more I can say about steelbands. I gotcha, don’t ever underestimate a panjumbie. We have not heard stories about the pan arranger, pan tuner, panist and the panyard. Here are my panyard stories.
THE PAN ARRANGER
Earl Bradshaw used to say: “Fear is the dungeon of a man’s liberty.” These words guided Earl throughout his life. He believed that if you were afraid of another man then you were not free. Whenever he was leaving a lime he would utter them. Everyone on the corner knew that Earl wanted to travel to America. He was always impressed by the things his friend Andy told him about the country. Well, not the country but New York, and, not really New York but Brooklyn.
In the 1960s, the two areas that stood out for Trinidadians in Brooklyn were Fulton Street and Nostrand Avenue. Fulton Street was the main commercial street in Bedford Stuyvesant where many African Americans lived outside of Harlem. It is in Brooklyn where many Caribbean people carved out an existence among the majority African American community. Nostrand Avenue housed many Trinidad clubs (Rainbow Terrace), restaurants and bakeries (Conrad’s) where Trinidadians felt at home.
These clubs, restaurants and bakeries served drinks, food and cakes like back on the island. Each island had its own club, restaurant or bakery to represent its population. Every Saturday night at the clubs, they danced to ‘ska’ and ‘rock steady’ from Jamaica, ‘calypso’ from Trinidad and ‘spooge’ from Barbados. Most important, these institutions hired Caribbean people, including those that were undocumented. This was the early 1960s, when Brooklyn was becoming the new immigrant center for Caribbean people after they migrated from Harlem.
Andy Brown lived in a kitchenette in the basement of a building on Fulton Street. Although basements were illegal many immigrants rented them because the rent was cheaper. Across the street was Myron’s roti shop. Whenever he got the chance, Andy wrote to his friend Earl about life on the streets of Brooklyn, as he called it. Between work and managing a steelband, he had little time left to write. But, when he wrote, his letters talked mostly about meeting old friends at the ‘Trini’ restaurants, clubs and ‘basement’ parties held in private homes. Andy knew who got arrested for gambling or fighting. He knew who had their ‘green card’ and who didn’t. He would mention the stores where goods were cheaper compared to the prices he left in Trinidad.
Andy paid twenty-five dollars a week for his kitchenette. He was impressed at the low prices for essential foods like milk, rice, juice and meat which were very cheap. At some groceries you could get chicken feet free because they threw it away. Soon, that would change as the age of ‘chicken feet souse’ arrived and Caribbean people demanded more chicken feet. His letters drew a picture for Earl that Earl knew the area well from those letters.
It was around midnight when Earl heard the neighbor’s Redifusion signing off. The island had three local radio stations: Radio Trinidad, Radio Guardian and Redifusion. Every night they signed off at midnight and returned at six o’clock in the morning. Earl packed his clothes in the green colored grip he bought from the LGT Store on Charlotte Street. The store was known for its cheap and affordable products. The owners bought the products in bulk and were able to sell them cheap. It was a paradise for the working poor who could not afford the expensive stores on Frederick Street, the main shopping center. Earl did not want to spend too much money in the event that his plan failed. So he bought a cheap grip. After all, it was not that he traveled too often.
The trip to New York would decide Earl’s future as a pan arranger in Trinidad. If he won the panorama competition in Brooklyn his reputation in Trinidad as an arranger would improve. Earl took his shower while he whistled a calypso by the calypsonian Kitchener. As an arranger, he loved Kitchener’s music because Kitchener wrote calypsos music for the pan. He liked the melodies and harmonies Kitchener used in his calypsos. He soaped his skin with the Palmolive soap he brought at Reggie’s shop that morning. It smelled good. While whistling, he pictured seeing his friend Andy and liming with him on Fulton Street.
The thought of walking up and down Fulton Street ran through his mind when Marylyn called him for his coffee. Marylyn was Earl’s common-law wife. Earl drank his black coffee which was sweetened with condense milk. Again, he imagined meeting Randolph, Judith, Ricky and Elsie. They left for New York many years ago before Andy. But, it was only Andy that wrote to him. He wondered if they made it big. For Earl, making it big meant that you could afford to pay your rent, buy clothes and go to parties every weekend without having to depend on anyone.
Earl and Marylyn had two small girl children, Jean and Helen. They lived as a common law couple. Marylyn wanted to get married but Earl said he wanted a big wedding. So, she had to wait until he had lots of money to afford this big wedding. How much, he never told Marylyn but she knew he was not the marrying kind. Most panmen never married but lived with their women for many years acting as husbands and fathers taking care of their children. Some of them had children with other women. But, Marylyn considered their relationship a common law marriage. Anyway, Earl was not a bad man compared to the rest of panmen who was known for mistreating their women.
Earl took good care of his two little girls and always provided for the home. He had a small account at Sam Kee’s shop and Mr. Marshall’s parlor where Marylyn received credit until the end of the week when she received money from Earl to pay them. Every Friday evening, Earl would give Marylyn money to pay the shop keepers who kept a record of Marylyn’s credit in a copy book. When Marylyn came to the shop, Mr. Kee would open the copy book and add up a total for Marylyn to pay. Mr. Marshall did not keep a book but had a good memory. Earl was a proud man and never owed beyond the payment date. As a result, Mr. Kee never hesitated to give Marylyn credit.
Earl never went to the shop. For him, that was his woman’s job. After all, he was minding her. Her responsibility was the house, cooking, washing and the children. He did not have time for those things because he was busy trying to make money. Sometimes, on his way to the panyard he would go to the parlor to buy a cold mauby drink. But, Earl never ate out. He loved home cook meals and boasted about Marylyn’s cooking.
Earl was also a gambler He was well-known at the clubs on Prince, Charlotte and Park Streets. Everyone called him ‘Sugar’ because of the smooth manner he played cards (wapee). He never raised his voice but whispered to himself when he won. Also, he was always well dressed and wore two tone (black and white) shoes. On a weekend, Earl visited the clubs to drink and gamble. If he won he put aside money for Marylyn and the children and the rest was used for booze and whores. If he lost, he would tell Marylyn that it would be better the next weekend. She never complained because deep down Earl was a good man and father. He was the best man she had since she left Fred. Life with Fred was pain and misery and Marylyn never forgot it. Fred liked to beat his women.
Earl and Marylyn lived in a two bedroom house on Sackville Street in Donkey City. The house was situated in a large yard with the kitchen and bathroom outside. He sent all his clothes, except his socks, to the Chinese laundry on Edward Street. Every Monday morning, Marylyn dropped them off at the laundry and collected them on Wednesday afternoon where she would deliver the clothes to his room and put them on the bed. Many times she complained that she could do a better job than the laundry. Earl would smile and say: “I know, but who go wash and iron for me if you left me?”
Marylyn worked as a waitress at nights at Club 48 on Park Street. Before she met Earl, she worked at the Himalaya club. She knew that Earl had fathered a child with another woman but it did not bother her. She enjoyed her life with Sugar and Saturday night was her night. Every Saturday night after Sugar finished gambling at the clubs he would take her to one of the fetes on the Gaza Strip down Wrightson Road. Sometimes they would attend two or three fetes. Sugar liked to party and he loved to dance. He spent his money just as he earned it, freely. If he was broke his friends would take care of him. That is how they lived with one another. If one was broken the others would help out. Even though they gambled against one another, the friendship remained, win or lose.
The next morning, as Earl sat thinking about his trip, Marylyn asked him when he was returning from New York. He smiled and said, “That is for me to know and for you to find out. Just don’t bring any man in my house.” Marylyn and Earl lived together for the last five years. She understood what he meant and kept quiet. They met at the Himalaya club in Gonzales. A friend of Marylyn introduced her to Earl. It was love at first sight for Marylyn. She was impressed at Earl’s self confidence. And he could dance. He told her that he was a pan arranger for one of the steelbands in the Valley Road but never won a panorama before. Yet, he competed with the top arrangers: Beverly, Neville, Kim and Tony. At the last panorama competition his band placed fourth beating out the rest of the other top steelbands in the competition. After that, all he talked about was winning the next national steelband competition.
Earl did not want everyone to know when he was leaving. So, he asked his cousin George if he could spend the night by him to drive him to the airport. He had one more appointment at the American Embassy before he left. In those days it was easy to get a visa to go to America. It was the 1960s and Americans were fascinated with Trinidadian artists, especially calypsonians and pan men. They were introduced to steelband and calypso music in the 1950s. Calypso they knew through Harry Belafonte. They knew of the steelband because of the American base in Chagaramus, Port of Spain where steelbands performed at the American club parites.
Earl listed on his visa application that he was a pan player and arranger. That impressed the Embassy. They knew he would return because pan men never missed the panorama competition. His passport was stamped. He picked July to travel because someone told him summer was the best time to go to Brooklyn as it was very warm. He was warned that if he came in the winter it would be cold and life could be difficult in the cold. Earl never saw a winter except in the movies, especially the blizzards in the western movies. He loved the movies. Also, he knew that if he went in the winter he would have to buy winter clothes which would be expensive. He could not imagine himself dressed in long under wear, two pairs of socks, hat, gloves and tall boots. That would cost a fortune and since a young boy, Earl was thrifty and always tried to save his money.
Andy and Earl were best friends since childhood. They grew up on the same street behind the bridge. Andy lived at 12A Resource Street and Earl lived around the corner at 15 Fromager Street. Both young men’s families attended different churches. Andy’s parents were Anglicans and went to mass at Trinity Church. Earl’s mother was Catholic and his father was Anglican but Earl attended mass at Rosary Church. As a result, Andy attended the Anglican Boys School on Richmond Street and Earl attended the Catholic Boys School on Charlotte Street. In those days a child attended their church’s denominational school unless they went to a government school where your religion did not matter.
The week before his friend Andy left Trinidad for America, he had a fight with a fella from Cadiz Road in Belmont. He was walking through Cadiz Road when a guy from up Belle Eau Road approached him and asked him what he doing there. Andy replied that it was a free country and he could walk anywhere he chose. The guy started to threaten Andy. Before you know it, Earl came up riding his Raleigh bicycle. ‘What happening here?’ Earl asked. Andy answered: ‘This fella said I can’t walk here.’ Andy was a skinny kid. The fella was larger with broad shoulders. He stood nearly six feet tall. But, now that Earl was there, Andy felt ten feet tall. Without saying a word he hit the guy. Suddenly, they were rolling on the ground. Andy’s blow caught the guy by surprise. Andy started to hit the boy when the boy shouted: “Surrender!” It was the call of defeat. After that little skirmish, they both laughed and Earl towed Andy on his bicycle and headed for home. Anyone who knew the boys knew that if you hit one you hit the other because both would fight you. Andy and Earl did everything together.
As Andy and Earl rode around Piccadilly Street toward the Duke Street Bridge they saw Clyde liming on the bridge. They joined Clyde. Clyde was always on the bridge. He worked at the Quarry but whenever he was not working he was liming on the bridge. Soon, other boys joined the lime: Carlton, Sonny, Sam and Boyie. For the rest of the night, they talked about steelbands and movies. Then they started a game. One guy would whistle a panorama tune and the rest had to guess the name of the tune and the band that played it. Earl always won that game. He knew every panorama tune and which band played it. Next, they decided to play a game called ‘name the movie’. That was Andy’s forte and he would win every time. The other guys did not stand a chance.
For Christmas services, Earl attended Andy’s church after the services at Rosary because he liked to listen to the Trinity choir. It was easy for Earl because Rosary held an early Christmas mass around seven in the morning while Trinity started their mass later in the morning around eleven. Earl would first go to mass at Rosary. Later, he would walk down Park Street and turned into Frederick Street to Trinity. Then, the two boys would walk home together making some mischief as they walked. Earl was the elder of the two boys.
As boys, Andy and Earl were always seen together. During the week, they would leave home together for school. Andy would be the one to wake Earl because his school was further away so he got up earlier. The boys would walk down Duke Street and Andy dropped off Earl to school and then headed down Park Street to his school. On a weekend, they went to the movies together. Everyone knew that if you saw Andy you would soon see Earl. At times, their mothers would try to separate them. Once, Earl’s mother sent him to his Aunt for a weekend visit. His Aunt lived in Arouca. That weekend Andy behaved so badly that his mother complained to Earl’s mother: ‘But, Ms. Bradshaw why you sent Andy away? ‘Why you asking me my business?’ replied Ms. Bradshaw. ‘Girl, Andy misbehaved so badly and when I asked him what happen, he said that he missed his friend.’ Earl’s mother never tried that again.
Andy arrived in Brooklyn at a time when the city was very segregated. He stowed away on a boat. The night before he stowed away he and Earl went to Royal cinema to see a double feature: “Six bridges to cross” and “Mr. Cory,” which starred Tony Curtis, a very popular actor at that time. After the movie they walked around the Piccadilly Street bridge toward their home when Andy said to Earl: ‘You know ah leaving Trinidad tomorrow night.’ Earl said nothing for a while. Then, he said, ‘Boy, what I go do when you leave.’ Andy response was, ‘Doh worry I go write you.’
Andy arrived in America in the summer of 1966 with $200 US dollars in his pocket. At that time, most of the Black people lived in the Bedford-Stuyvesant portion of Brooklyn. He found an apartment in a building on Fulton Street in Bedstuy as it was called. He got a job at a clothing store in Queens. He was paid $125.00 per week but with overtime he brought home about $300.00. He worked every day including Sundays. On Fridays, he left early because the owners were observing Jews who closed the store every Friday at 3pm for their Sabbath holiday. Every couple of months, he would send Earl a few dollars. When the mail came, you would see Earl heading to the General Post Office on Wrightson Road to cash the check from Andy. For Christmas, Andy would call Earl to say Merry Christmas. In those days, if you did not have a phone you had to go to the Cable and Wireless Company on King Street to make or receive your overseas call. Earl had no phone so Andy would call the neighbor and tell Earl to go to cable and Wireless to receive the call.
Before Andy left for New York, he used to be a part-time street barber and full time hustler. A street barber did not work in a barber shop. Every Saturday and Sunday morning, Andy set up his stool on the pavement in the neighborhood. Soon, parents brought their young boys to stand in line behind the adults waiting for their hair-cut. The parents brought them to Andy because he charged less than regular barbers and they knew Andy’s father who lived in the neighborhood. As a street barber, Andy made a good living working those just two days a week. On a bright Sunny Saturday morning around 10 am he would set up his stool. Then, he would stand on the sidewalk until his first customer arrived. Most of the time, it was one of the saga boys from the community. Andy took his time cutting hair. He was very professional. At the end of the hair cut he would administer some Johnson’s baby talcum powder around your ears and at the back of your neck. He said that the powder kept the hairs from scratching your neck. For the adults who needed a shave he charged extra. Children were much easier to please than the adults. Some adults could be very picky.
When Andy saw his first customer he would jump up and pull out his barbering tools, which he kept in a bag: a pair of scissors, a Gillette razor blade, a fine tooth comb, a tin of Johnson’s talcum powder and a hair brush. As Andy started to cut a customer’s hair he would begin a conversation which lasted until the hair cut was over. The conversation was a main component of the haircut and would continue with the next customer. For every customer there was a different topic and Andy was well versed in all the topics. Sometimes, it was sports, movies or women.
Other times it was the latest fashion or a big fight some time ago. Whatever the topic, customers engaged in the conversation while they waited patiently for their hair cut. But, some customers complained that Andy took too long cutting their hair. Andy would tell them that if they could not wait they should go somewhere else. Not many left because they liked the old talk.
One Sunday morning, a customer got very upset and challenged Andy. Andy, who was a staunch steelband supporter, mentioned that his band played the biggest sailor steelband on carnival Tuesday. His customer Lance disagreed. Lance, who supported another steelband, said that his band played the largest sailor band. And so the argument went on into lunch time as the other customers joined in. At the same time, there a little boy waiting for his hair cut. The boy begged his mother to take him to Andy early so that he could finish his hair cut before lunch time. He wanted to attend the 12:30 PM movie at the Royal cinema.
As twelve o’clock arrived the little boy got angry and interrupted the conversation. Everyone was startled. In those days children did not interrupt adults. Andy turned to the little boy and said: ‘Who is your father?’ ‘My father is Mr. Johnson,’ the boy replied. Andy said: ‘Go bring your father I not cutting your hair again.’ The boy left to call his father. The father returned with his son and asked Andy, ‘You send for me, what happen?’ Andy explained what happened to the father. The father looked at the boy and said: ‘Didn’t I teach you to respect your elders. Ah go cut your arse when we get home.’ They both left.
Andy got his ideas about traveling from the movies. He loved going to the cinema. The movies were his window to the outside world. He went to the movies every week and would day dream about living in America. On Saturdays, he started the movies at 9:30 at the Odeon cinema. Then, at 12:30 he went to the Royal cinema. Next he would attend the 4:30 showing at Strand cinema. His cinema attendance ended with the 11:30 (late show) show at the Empire cinema. The guys on the block used to say that Andy dressed and talked like a ‘Yankee’.
Andy was also a staunch limer and limed with a group called The Hollows. They got that name because they played football every Sunday afternoon at the Hollows in the savannah. Every afternoon, both guys who worked and went to school would lime in front of the furniture store on Abercromby Street until late at night. On a weekend, all the boys dressed up to go to ‘Dutch parties’ at one of the boy’s homes. A Dutch party was one where everyone brought something to eat or drink to the party. Some said that it was an Old Dutch custom which sailors brought to Trinidad. Some people brought wine: Charlies or Gilbies, Cola Tonic or Beers. Usually, the girls brought sandwiches or pelau. Others brought sweet drinks. The host provided the music by steelbands and instrumentals by the local orchestras.
On a Sunday afternoon the boys went to the Queen’s Park Savannah to fly kite. If you invited Earl to a fete you expected to see Andy. If Andy talked to a girl he inquired whether she had a sister or friend. Andy was the saga boy of the two. Earl was only interested in steelband. He loved pan. He lost many women due to pan. One time, he left a girl standing on Green corner because he was in the panyard and forgot that they going to the movies. When he finally arrived, Frankie gave him a message from the girl. The girl left a message with Frankie from St. Vincent Street: ‘Tell Andy he could take he pan to the cinema.’
Andy was a saga boy. He loved women. His father was an Indian and his mother was African. He inherited the ‘soft’ hair that the girls liked from his father. His friends called him ‘dougla’. In the social-class grading among Indians, douglas were considered outcasts because of their African mixture. Among the Africans they were not trusted because of their Indian. But, the African girls loved dougla boys because of their white looking and soft hair. Soft hair and light skin color were liked by some African girls.
Earl was the darker of the two boys. He had kinky hair and was proud of his color. His father always told him: ‘Doh worry when your friends tease you ‘bout your color because black came before white.’ ‘Remember, God created the darkness before light.’ So, when lighter-colored boys teased Earl, he would say: ‘My color was created before yours.’ His mother was very black and his father was brown-skinned. Earl took his color from his mother. He remembers his mother warning him that an education was all the black people had and he should try and get one because if you don’t have one ‘crapau smoke your pipe’. But, Earl was not into books. He just loved pan. But, he managed to graduate from Xavier High School on Oxford Street, one of the premier private high schools.
One Friday afternoon, as Earl sat on the Duke Street Bridge, his friend Clyde told him that he received a letter from one of the steelbands in Brooklyn. No one knew why the letter went to Clyde. The band wanted him to come up to Brooklyn and arrange their Panorama tune. Earl had already won three Panoramas and four Bomb competitions in the Mecca of the steelband, Port of Spain. The first thought that came to Earl was about Andy. He thought that it would be an opportunity to see his old friend. But, he also thought that it would be nice to win a Brooklyn or a London Panorama. And, he heard that they have a Bomb competition as part of the Panorama competition.
A few years ago, his other friend Steve from Belmont went to London to arrange for a Notting Hill steelband. Earl heard that Noting Hill carnival was second after Trinidad in the size of its masqueraders and steelbands. Many of the older panmen went to England in the 1950s and stayed. Steve told him that he saw white people in London with their own steelbands and playing mas in their own bands. It was not like Brooklyn where almost all of the panmen, panwomen and masqueraders are of African descent and Trini or children of Trini parents. His sister Cheryl who lived in Canada told him that the white people in Toronto join the steelbands and mas camps for Caribana. Earl could not understand why white people in America did not join the steelbands and mas camps in Brooklyn. But, he knew it had something to do with Trinidad’s former colonial status. Both Canada and England had close contacts with the island during the years of colonialism.
Earl began his pan arranging career with ‘bomb’ tunes for the jouvert festival before he started arranging for Panorama, the national festival. He used to arrange ‘bomb’ tunes for a steelband in Belmont who had their panyard upper Belle Eau Road. He never liked the fellas on Belle Eau Road since one of them tried to beat his best friend Andy. They were always harassing people who walked up Belle Eau Road or came to Belmont. If you did not live there, they felt that you should not come there. But since they were paying him, he didn’t mind.
That evening, some panmen from the Belle Eau Road steelband came to ask him to arrange their ‘bomb’ tune for carnival. Earl was not at home. He was in the club drinking with some friends. One of the McCarthy brothers came and called him. He told him that a band wanted him to arrange their ‘bomb’ tune. Earl didn’t want any ‘bomb’ tune talk while he was drinking. He always said: “When a man drinking he should not think or talk about work”. So, he told the boy to tell them that he was drinking and to come back tomorrow. The Belle Eau Road fellas didn’t like the message Earl sent. But, they knew how Earl liked to drink and how he behaved when he got drunk. They told the boy to tell Earl that they will come back tomorrow and left.
At the time he was living with Marylyn on St. Thomas Street. She was a half-white woman named Marylyn de Norine but everybody called her Miss Marylyn. Behind her back they called her ‘the bacra lady.’ Before she met Earl, Marylyn lived at Carlos Street in Woodbrook, one of the middle class areas in Port of Spain. Her parents were well to do French Creoles. After she moved from Woodbrook, she lived in St. James. Her family owned a few businesses in the city and was well known. Some said that she graduated from the Convent Girls’ School, a prestigious high school attended mostly by whites, Portuguese and Chinese students.
Before she met Earl she worked as a secretary at Munroe & Sampson, a shipping company in Port of Spain. The old talk was that Marylyn and her family had a big argument and her family put her out after they discovered that she was seeing Earl. Soon, she lost her job. Rumor had it that her father spoke to her employer who fired her. Since she got the job through her father’s influence, she lost the job the same way. She got a job as a waitress at Defiance club upper Hermitage Road in Gonzales. It was there that Marylyn met Earl one Saturday night. Her friend Caroline introduced her to Earl. She liked how Earl was quiet and didn’t swear too much. And, he could dance. She liked that. Soon, Marylyn left St. James and moved in with Earl on St. Thomas Street, behind the bridge.
After Marylyn moved to St. Thomas Street, she hardly talked to anyone in the area. She never knew anyone from behind the bridge until she started dating Earl. That was the first time that she interacted with people from that area. Even as she lived there she never visited any of the homes in the community. When she lived at Woodbrook, the farthest Marylyn traveled was to Frederick Street, Port of Spain and only to do some shopping or pay her bills. She had no friends from behind the bridge. She remembered one girl in school who lived there. But, she never spoke to her. She remembered travelling to Fatima Church at Laventille for the annual Novena celebrations. But, her first serious contact with someone from behind the bridge was when she met Earl at the club.
Marylyn started to live with Earl, but she never talked to the people who lived on St. Thomas Street because she felt that she could not identify with their class. People said that she felt that she was better than them. Marylyn wanted to speak to them because she held no prejudice against them. It was just that she did not feel comfortable among them. It was her way of staying out of trouble. And, to tell the truth, she was afraid that they won’t accept her due to her upper-class background. She blamed it on her upbringing. Rather than provoke a confrontation, she kept to herself.
When Marylyn was not working at the club, she was always at home doing something for Earl. Marylyn was a short stocky woman with long hair which she used to comb in a bun. She had freckles on her face with a straight nose that made her look British. But she had a big ass. She was what people called slim-thick. When she walked down the road all the fellas on the block used to whistle at her. Earl used to tell Marylyn that she should stop walking and winning. She would only laugh and say to Earl, ‘I like to walk and wine.’ Earl would reply: “Woman, you want meh to get in trouble or what.” Marylyn knew what that meant. Earl did not like anybody whistling at his woman. But, he bore it because he did not want to shame her family who expected him to end up in jail since he was a panman. The fellas on the block knew that. That is why they whistled at her every time she passed.
The morning that Earl left for New York all his friends gathered at Piarco Airport to see him off. Terrence, Jean, Charlie and Brooks from Gonzales, Harold, Tom and Neville from Maraval, Judith from St. James, Lloyd from Belmont, Malcolm and Carlton from George Street, Ramcharan from San Juan, Merle Singh from Petit Bourg and Christine and Theresa from Rose Hill all gathered at the airport to see Earl off. They had a few drinks in the lounge and talked about New York. Some warned Earl to be careful about getting mugged. Others told him to be careful on the subways. Everyone acted like if Earl was going away forever and was not returning. Earl reassured them that he was only going to Brooklyn to arrange a few tunes for some steelbands. ‘Don’t worry, man I coming back to sweet TnT. My navel string bury here,’ Earl assured them.
On a hot July morning, Earl arrived at Kennedy airport. The temperature was about 85 degrees hot and humid. As Earl left the plane he felt the hot breeze on his chest. Hot weather did not bother him. After all, he lived on an island with hot weather every day. His luggage and passport were checked. None of the panmen from the steelband met him at the airport. Andy had to work so he could not meet him. He had some directions which Andy gave him and took a cab to Brooklyn. When he got into the cab he told the driver that he was going to 22 Jefferson Avenue in Brooklyn. The driver said that he knew the place and drove off. After an hour and a half Earl asked the driver how it taking so long since he was told that it was a half-hour drive. The driver said that it was because of traffic. ‘What traffic? Is only a few cars on the road,’ Earl said. ‘We will be there just now,’ said the cabbie. ‘How come you don’t have a meter in this car,’ Earl asked. ‘The meter broke,’ the driver explained.
The cab arrived at Jefferson Avenue and the driver told Earl: ‘That will be twenty-five dollars.’ ‘Twenty-five dollars for what,’ Earl asked. ‘For the trip,’ the driver answered. ‘I ain’t paying you all that money, you better call the police.’ The driver then said: ‘All right pay me ten dollars.’ Earl paid the money and cursed the driver as he took his grip out of the car. ‘Ah ain’t giving you no damn tip,’ Earl told the driver.
Earl rang the bell and no one answered. Earl wondered if he had the right address. He took out the piece of paper in his pocket and looked at it. It said ‘22 Jefferson Avenue, Apt. 5B.’ He rang the bell again and a light went on. ‘Who is it?’ It’s me Earl from Trinidad.’ ‘Just a minute,’ the person said and opened the door. He asked Earl: ‘Who is you? ‘I am the pan arranger from Trinidad,’ Earl replied. ‘The person you want don’t live here again. He said to go to 24 Fulton Street and ask for Frankie.’ He asked for Andy but no one knew where Andy was.
When Earl arrived at Fulton Street he was surprised to see so many black people. And, they all spoke like West Indians. He asked a young man on the street if he knew where the steelband is. ‘They in a basement two blocks from here,’ the young man said. Earl was getting tired walking with his grip. But, he did not want to take a cab after that little experience he had. So, Earl started walking. When he got to the basement he heard the sound of pan. He smiled because he knew he reached his destiny. He pushed the door and saw some panmen. He asked for Andy. ‘He just went up the road. Sit down, he will be back soon.’ Earl thought to himself: ‘Dem fellas behave the same way like back home. No discipline.’ Finally, Andy came to the panyard. He and Earl exchanged hugs. Andy asked: ‘Boy, how things back home?’ Earl replied: ‘Everything all right, dem fellas send their regards. Is this the band?’ ‘Yes, we have a small side but soon panmen will come once they hear you here.’ Andy said: “Don’t worry boy, I fix up a room for you. I told the landlord that you are my brother so he said that he won’t charge me any extra rent.
Andy told Earl that he was the manager of the band. Earl was surprised. He did not know that Andy could manage a band. Andy explained that he worked as a travel agent at All Islands Travel Agency on Church Avenue. A few years ago he volunteered to help the band with their finances. Soon, they made him manager of the band. He got jobs for the band to play at parties, weddings and christenings in places like Long Island and Queens. Sometimes he would get jobs in other nearby cities like Baltimore, Boston and Silver Spring where there were Trinidadians. He was a great asset to the band and the panmen respected him because he was a no nonsense guy who did not tolerate any foolishness. Plus, they could always depend on him for a loan if they needed it. Andy was a money lender on the side.
The captain called for attention to announce that the arranger was there. He introduced Earl to the panmen. Earl said hello and told Andy that he was hungry. Andy sent for a roti at Ali’s Roti Shop. Earl wanted a sweet drink too. ‘No problem,’ said Andy. Andy could not wait to chat with Earl and show him his house and family. Andy asked Earl if he had already picked the tune. Earl said, ‘We going with a tune by Kitchener.’ ‘Which tune is that?’ Andy asked. ‘The Road,’ Earl replied. Andy asked Earl why he did not chose a Sparrow tune. Earl replied: ‘Boy, when you hear the tune you will see why.’ Earl liked Kitch’s music because he believed that the melody was sweeter and there was plenty room for arrangement. He felt that Sparrow’s music was too arranged and left little room for his arrangements. Besides, he did not believe that Sparrow composed his calypsos. Also, Kitchener used to plat the bass when he lived in London.
The steelband started to practice every night from Wednesday to Saturday. The panmen liked the tune so it was easy to get them to play it. One night Earl came to the basement and found it in darkness. ‘What the hell is this,’ Earl said to himself. ‘Like they shut off the lights,’ he wondered. Earl started to wonder if this steelband was the right band for him. He never had this experience in Trinidad. If a steelband owe the electric company they would not shut off your lights because the government would intervene. After the prime minister did his steelband tour of the panyards steelbands started to get a little recognition from businesses.
The steelbands now had sponsorship so it was easy to go to your sponsor and ask them to pay the light bill or you could go to the ‘doctor’ and plead your case. Usually, the ‘doctor’ as everyone called the prime minister, would intervene by asking a minister to contact the electric company. But, steelbands in Brooklyn don’t have sponsors or a ‘doctor’ to protect them from Con Edison electric company. The panmen had to put their hands in their pocket to come up with money to pay the bills like rent for the basement, heat and lights or else face a shut off.
When the captain of the band came to the basement, Earl asked him why they shut off the lights. The captain answered: ‘Boy, I gave the man the money to pay the light bill and he lost it. So, now we have to go to Con Ed and ask for some time to pay the bill and see if they will turn on the lights.’ Earl could not understand how this was happening in America. ‘How long this will take?’ Earl asked. ‘Don’t worry, if that don’t work we can always take some electricity from the landlord or the lamppost in the street.’ The next night when Earl came to the basement he saw lights. He did not asked any questions. The band practiced until midnight. After practice, some of the panmen stayed to lime and drink. Earl made some observations. He wondered why the steelbands were not better organized since they were in America. Also, he was amazed at how many times a steelband could move from one place to another every year. This was another difference with the Trinidad steelbands. No one would dare to put out a steelband from a Panyard because most of the panyards were on government land.
The band’s music was improving and many people believed that they could win the Panorama. Earl drilled the panmen for hours with the tune. Earl noticed that many non-Trinidadians in the community came to hear the band play. He could tell by their accent. He was impressed but wondered why none of them was beating pan in the band. He asked the captain. The captain told Earl that Americans don’t like pan because they found it too noisy. They would come by the band but never joined. On the Parkway, for labor-day they would sit in front of their apartments and look at the bands. Earl did not mind because it was easy to talk to Trinidadian panmen who understood the whole culture. Many of the panmen were guys who left Trinidad and still beat pan. They understood leadership. Anything the arranger showed them they did not argue. Plus, all these panmen were once the best in their home steelbands so it was easy to get them to play the arrangement.
On the night of the Panorama there were about eight steelbands in the competition. A steelband from Flatbush Avenue won the competition. His band won second place. Earl did not mind because he got paid and saw a little of Brooklyn. He met some of his old pan friends who left Trinidad many years ago. He saw Bertie from Belmont, Carlton and Steve from John John, Rider from Carenage, Cardinal from Duke Street, Boyie from St. Paul Street, Roy from Mariquite Street, Arthur and Selwyn from Cadiz Road, Cyril and Herbert from Jackson Hill. Most of them still supported the steelbands and would go the different panyards during the labor-day celebrations. Even though most of them did not play, some of them would still help a band clean the yard or put up some racks for the Panorama. Earl did not visit any other band as he was in his panyard every night drilling the players.
When Earl returned to Trinidad everyone was excited to hear from him. Everybaody gathered in the panyard. ‘Boy, how was it?’ Mickey asked him. ‘Everything went all right, man,’ Earl responded. ‘Did you pick up any woman?’ No, but I saw a few of them girls who lived with a ‘Yankee man’ or by themselves. I used to go by one of them for food every Sunday.’ ‘Boy, she could still cook a good callaloo.’ Earl told the fellas that things were very different with steelbands in Brooklyn. He mentioned that some steelbands move every year to a different spot because the American residents complained to the police. But, the police would not stop the bands from playing. Instead, they would only tell the fellas to play a little softer. He pointed out that the Panorama was held behind the Brooklyn Museum which was very small compared to the Savannah. And, the steelbands were smaller and they did not pay the steelbands any appearance fees. ‘Boy, they don’t even have a steelband association, I staying down here’, Earl told them. As he left the panyard he started to whistle a calypso by Kitchener that he heard on the radio. Earl said to himself, ‘Boy, this is a good tune for next year carnival.’ He left the Panyard and headed home to Marylyn.