Tilt Republic. Johannesburg. New York. Cape Town. London.

cutting up the stairs

Up since 00:00, my ears orientate me immediately. Car noise starts around 6am, phonecalls from 8, numerous podcasts pinging their arrival and not to mention my aural nemesis, the retail speakers that puke their distorted beconings. Siff.

Here’s a view from the Parktonian.

p

I want no such view in my writing, not at the moment. In my experience anyone who claims to see the broader picture is either lying or stupid or worse. No, I’d rather have my scribbling congruent with this.

this

Grabbed a coffee from Alfred, a couple of cigarettes from ‘other guy’ and off I went, to the Springbok hotel’s front step. A bout of stationary, close up, exploration. A tiny narrative in a city of intertwined narratives. Perspective crushing, enhancing, distorting, cut up micro-observation. Looking for the Higgs Boson of city life.

This city is a complex place, visually, aurally, emotionally, economically- doubled to weird proportions when you add an internet connection, drugs and rage and knives.

I dreamt I was talking to an inner city academic. A man with a vested interest in rehabilitation and emanciaption. A street literate dirty trooping laureate
comprised of ideas and violence. His first bit of interaction was a brutal right hook. A vivid rattling of my pyschic core that left my dream self blitzed. We talked to each other about all manner of inner city pathology, but every beat of our conversation contained another beating. We threw each other over tables, slammed heads against walls- mayhem. All the while surrounding commuters carried on with their routines, indifferent to our brawl. I can offer no definitive interpretation of this oneiric bloodsport. Only that it didn’t unsettle me, it was consuming, vivid and it felt important, but non of the worrisome emotional tumult accompanied the conflict. It felt common place.

What am I doing trying to construct a hypnagogic map of a city when my I can’t even scrawl one out for my own interior? Perhaps it’s because my interest isn’t a noble one, I’m fixing shit.

The only thing more tedious than reaching out is reaching in, the banality of catharsis is wank’s patient zero. The first hard right in a downward spiral that ends in a genuflect smoldering fuselage. It’s the same transaction being forced onto Noah at the moment. When did our comedians become bastions of righteousness? We were never meant to solve anthing. These master comics, and their insights, have remedial properties but their words have always, and will always, belong to the fool. When Frankie Boyle, backed into a corner, was forced to justify his Tramadol Nights content with the same terminology utilised by NGO’s and social movements, well, my heart sank. Transgression has its own built in intent and it’s not meant to be pretty. Art has no business as social amelioration’s focal point, ever. It’s a self contained thing of energetic beauty. An exercise in creative destruction or at the very most, charming indifference.

The Springbok’s stairs. Thousands of pedestrians. Trudge power manifesting all around. I sighed deeply when a democratic representative said Hilary’s greatest challenge to next year’s presidential race is connecting with the ordinary American because she hasn’t driven a car in 20 years. I might have already lost interest in next year’s primaries. Reminds me of apartheid’s black faced second wave clashing with the gluttonous incumbents, a hellishly boring below par bout of almost no consequence.

I just promised I wouldn’t do this.

There’s a phenomenon known to us inner city pale folk, that only the unbelievably attractive or profoundly disfigured have privvy too. The collosal double take. I counted 10 in the time it took me to smoke a cigarette. 5am is a terrible time to surprise anyone, sure, but the consistency of registered surprise is tell tale of a fucked up class-race congruency. Every raised eyebrow, repressed smile or fumpled countenance has the same base element etched in, “Are you lost white boy?”

I refuse to lose my city’s wonder to fucked up middle class thinking. That the suburban gaze discredits these streets will not be ignored. Our technicians are working on the problem. Stage three opinion shedding.

He puts the Moses stick down and lights another cigarette.

A lady appears from behind me with a crate of muffins. Watch these will you. She hands me one and smiles, payment for my service? I finish my cigarette and stop staring at people staring at me. The little globule of topless baked dough looks at me with its blueberry eyes. About nine or so. That scene Casino…

ACE

I want the exact number of blueberries in every muffin, you hear me?

CHEF

You know how long that’s going to take?

Here I stand, on the stairs of the Springbok Hotel, the muffin muscle, I try and look menacing while eating my payment. A lot more difficult than what it seems. I’d go as far as to say nobody has ever eaten a muffin and managed to look menacing at the same time. It’s probably impossible. Having finished the thing and still in receipt of my charge I start thinking about how debt crushes the middle. I’ve just eaten my entire paycheck and am still on the clock. Is this a metaphor, am I underselling my services, are my employee rights being trampled on? I stare at the large tub of muffins and think about Zwelinzima Vavi…

She returns with a chair and places it next to her stash of bakedness. Her name is Mbali, she’s young, early 20’s and she’s self employed. It takes her about two and half hours to move between three and five hundred muffins. At three bucks a pop she’s turning like 40 grand a month, selling muffins? Jesus. She could, of course, be lying. It’s important to keep the employees motivated by projecting desirable circumstances.

I buy another muffin and ascend to my second floor pit to brood. A manifesto, and maybe a march.

April 23, 2015 The Lilian Ngoyi Street Papers By: Christopher Steenkamp

breakfast with Alfred title

The terms early and late have always been subjective notions. Particularly in the realm of the waiter, the freelancer, the comic, the writer, the drug addict or the profoundly under employed. No alarm clocks, no queues, no traffic. Biographies can be so enlightening.

So it’s 3am and I’m mumbling insults at a treatment for a sports drama. My desk looks like post apocalyptic stronghold, bits of take away, fruit flies and sad little piles of crumpled tissue paper prop me up against my keyboard. The long haul scribbler needs equal quantities of sugar, salt and self-abuse if the words ‘The End’ are of any value.

I’m out of food, well, edible safe to eat food, or so warned the tired but now sentient slice of hardened pizza. Luckily, in 45 odd minutes, the people who sell breakfast will setup on the corner of Lilian Ngoyi and Joubert. My vetkoek and fried hake feeding frenzy of one will usher in the sunrise and street noise and realisation that sports dramas are fucking hard.

My routine will have one addition, I’ll document the experience. Camera in hand, cued by the trolley noise I know to be the setting up part of the equation, I head downstairs. Well, not before I take and download this selfie.

s

See, this story might have been a very different one, it might have been about having a 600d taken from me at 330am. I respect this city, the few but fundamental rules won’t suffer neglect. No sun, no street walking, simple. Expensive things are solar-powered in a very literal sense. They tend to dissapear with the sun. Nothing personal, just the short end of the economic hardship stick, white boy.

I introduce myself to a cranky Alfred. The bearded creeper that is me can’t be the easiest thing to negotiate first thing on a work day. Knee jerk big city hostility is perfectly accepted, and advised. There are freaks on them streets. It took a solid 20 minutes to break the ice with this man, I almost gave up. Eventually he relaxed, realising that I’m simply interested in his scene.

Let’s talk about Alfred for a moment, decidedly manly, he reminds me of a war veteran, a man who’s been in the shit, nothing scares him, almost out-of-place in this domestic transaction so thoroughly uncomplicated & nonthreatening. His movements are rhythmic, sure and unforced. I watch as his trolley and crates slowly morph into a fully functional business hub for one.

1st

“Paulie moved slow, but it was only because Paulie didn’t have to move for anybody.”

– Goodfellas

Eventually Alfred starting speaking to me, the guy that he buys hake from doesn’t give him bulk discount, he has a menacing weapon he won’t show me and he rises at 1 a.m. every morning.

I asked if he’d ever open another shop, he said of course, but the daily grind keeps him busy. I find myself rooting for him. An ‘Alfred’s Breakfast Corner,’ ABC, springing up all over the city. He drives from stall to stall maintaining quality and glad handing the regulars.

My breakfast starts with fried hake. Having worked in top-notch Cape Town restaurants helps me here. I’d pair it with a high altitude Sauvignon Blanc, no fruit, nothing wooded, something with a short crisp finish. A subtle fish, no heavy flavours. There’s a bottle of chilli sauce with a pierced lid on the counter. I refrain but regret my decision as everyone else covers their fish with it. Next time.

w4

Next the vetkoek, OK three, they’re delicious and warm. Comfort food defined. Eating is almost as pleasurable as watching him make them. A rapid fire hand movement deposits perfectly rounded dough balls one after the other until the pot is filled. He sees me frantically pointing my camera as he does this. A photo does it little justice. Then he furnishes the moment with the understatement of the morning, he says through a hidden smile, “I like what I do.” Yes you do maestro.

w2

w1

Alfred has a gas powered kettle, I have a cup of instant coffee. Wide open for improvement, but what the fuck are going to do? It’s 330am on a Saturday on a Joburg street corner. Coffee, any coffee, is a godsend.

I see the regulars surface. There’s S, the heavy drinking monotheist. A porter of sorts, he’s helped me move canvases between studios amidst the bustle, my life’s work in a single tetris inspired load. We talk some shit, night’s highlights, day’s plans. Weekends for him are always a 48 hour unbroken fest. He doesn’t go home on Fridays, or Saturdays, but drinks and works non stop until Sunday afternoon. Trooper.

Talking about Troopers, look at these cunts.

3 cunts

Raging home from a night’s revelries. I hear concerns about raw dogging a stranger and needing another beer. The preoccupied countenance of youthful upfuckery. We also talk shit, the normal Cape Town- Joburg divide, then reign the gags. Tears stream as balls lay broken. Cecil’s balls to be exact. From Zille to Umsholozi, Basketball to hangovers- I linger in chaotic small talk’s mayhem. Parisian coffee shops can kiss my dick, this is how it’s done.

last

I smoke cigarettes and drink coffee watching a sub culture form around me. A place of economic transaction and early morning snackery transforms to a kind of third state. Difficult to explain but it’s in the conversations. A man tells me about getting robbed on the bus by four women, another laughs at him and they have a mock argument. Aaah, dead.

Another tells me he plans on starting a party photography business. He already has the camera and the portable printer, which he shows me from his friend’s backpack. They covered a party in Hillbrow, just stopping for a snack on their way home, an artful and dangerous endeavour, result.

I head back up the Springbok Hotel’s stairs, satisfied. Time to get back to ‘the end.’

April 12, 2015 The Lilian Ngoyi Street Papers By: Christopher Steenkamp

I remember a twisted comrade walking ripped down Cape Town’s CBD streets at 6 in the morning. A walking pharmacopoeia of contraband. He told me this once, I wasn’t there. The onslaught of chemicals had fried and dried him so severely that the need for hydration, any liquid, had sprung on him with a feint undertone of medical necessity. It had been raining, just moments before, and the gutters were overflowing. So he drank. Yes, he drank from the city, a rich metaphor, without the metaphor part. They say romance is dead.

I don’t know if that’s the kind of relationship I could sustain with Johannesburg, not on a long-term basis, but who thinks long-term nowadays? The take away from my comrade’s sordid parable is closeness, an intimacy. Something I want with this ‘now’, a now situated in Johannesburg.

The question remains, what does it mean to live in a city? Really live. There’s appreciation and interaction. Emotive exchanges, financial and social transactions, but there’s also the other side. The vices, dipping one’s wick, altering one’s consciousness, the filthy come beauteous come cum. I’m pretty congruent to the realm of the latter. Drugs, prostitution, public drinking and street fighting all seem like acceptable and logical pastimes to me. There’s no reason I shouldn’t be inducted into Joburg’s street walking elect.

smiling lady on the corner of Lilian Ngoyi & Jobert. Image by CS

SMILING LADY (on the corner of Lilian Ngoyi & Jobert. Image by CS)

So, what’s my strategy? A fuck ton of interviews, snapshots of people- that’s what a city boils down to after all, the people. Architecture plays its part, but a subsidiary one. Growing in intimacy with a city can only be premised on the conversations had with its inhabitants. The buildings will never be unimportant, I love them for their sheer sheerness. An echoing disregard to nature’s efforts, ‘look how well we do without you’, and we are. My long standing feud with Gia is for another time, but I will say she’s cruel and kitsch and deserving of confrontation.

IMG-20140608-00231

BUILDING (From Eloff Street, by Christopher Steenkamp)

 

Back to the impasse of courting a CBD, the pitfalls are obvious, I can read the headlines now.

“Embedded white boy shakes down the working class for artistic credentials.”
“First world troll animates the News24 comments section in carefully disguised thought experiments.”
“Saviour liberates the working class people of Johannesburg from the certitudes of relevance.”

The whole thing balances on the edge of wank.
Like Stephen Jeffreys scribbled, ‘any exercise in interest will always be at your own expense.’ Expense and risk are this thing’s currency. In exchange I’ll applaud the surreal in every, or rather any, beat I choose. Factual reporting can kiss my balls, a tedious place filled with austere bean counting prefects, the kind that hauled me in front of the headmaster for smoking. I , like Weingarten’s gang, refuse to write straight. Transposing the now cannot be embellished upon enough, or so says I. Of course we need the Richard Callands of this world to stay exactly where they are and do as they do, but I am no such. I’ll leave you with the prologue from the 2004 masterpiece ‘The Libertine.’

GLUT. (digital drawing by christopher steenkamp)

GLUT. (digital drawing by christopher steenkamp)

“That is it. That is my prologue, nothing in rhyme, no protestations of modesty, you were not expecting that I hope. I am John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester and I do not want you to like me.”

April 10, 2015 The Lilian Ngoyi Street Papers By: Christopher Steenkamp