Matisse, Hodgins, Dylan, Self’s face, Burroughs’ cranky smile, overflowing ashtray, empty cans of everything, toilet role, notebooks, typewriter, screen, smell, motherfucking Ulysses, Infinite Jest…Time to bounce out of this overstocked mess, this lot can get a bit much. Geniuses and all, but at the end I’m still inside. Into the night with me, deep into it, 969 festival, Kafka, Miyambo, wine. These dead (and nearly dead) and definitely dead workaholics are getting me down, I need some cultivated flesh in motion.
Check for the keys, rummage through the everything drawer, it isn’t easy, why is there a cigarette butt in here? They’re everywhere, are they humping? Metamorphosis was a good read, not sure what the monologue I’m about see is about, but K scribbled with conviction, won’t be kak. I rise slowly, unevenly, like a man freshly tackled, prized keys in hand, bank card, access card for gate. I sigh at the half smoked pack peeking at me. Maybe I should leave them on my desk, buy another en route, I always forget to have enough cigarettes. Slow bureaucratic suicide. Finicky, fiddly, guns are so much better, why I bother with combustibles of such a low caliber when there are glocks in the world.
I grab the cigarettes. Slow-mo self emulation with a morning cough it is. Metamorphosis was about a young man turning into a bug, this one’s about an ape? Racist South Africa clears his throat, I reach for the door before the dog speaks.
Fast forward to 2055, my children watch me die. They don’t understand my obsession with race, it was another time I guess, but the dark side of nicotine addiction gives Christopher Jnr. nightmares.
Stairs now, I might see, I do, a neighbour, grease proof interaction commences in 3, 2, 1… Don’t say heita. Don’t say heita. Embarrassment averted, my people need to do a course.
Who are my people, note to self, find out where my people reside, call a meeting, maybe take a gun.
Where would I holster it? The back of the pants thing seems dangerous, little silver clip visible to the world, I can’t put it there. Kafka made the sublime, the other, the weird, seem so natural. The young man who turned into a bug seemed so plausible.
Guy who tried to rob me had a piece down the front of his pants, seemed weird, too cock blow off’ey for my liking.
The side holster seems cliched, death should always reach for originality, anything permanent in fact. Under the arm holster, like Dicaprio in that remake, thirteen year old’s shouldn’t have guns, but he did look older than 13. Miyambo is short like a 13 year old, when it comes to genius, size doesn’t matter.
Gate coming up, greet plastic copper at the door, security agent, buzzers and sign ins and calling the people with guns. He should have a gun, maybe he does. Shit, I wonder if he’s prepared for all the eventualities that could occur. Does he know CPR? Does he floss? Immaterial in a life or death situation, but dying with someone else’s bad breath in your mouth isn’t necessary. Inner city security guard, he smokes too. In a thousand years we’ll be able to bum bullets like cigarettes. A smile, a wave, he doesn’t suspect a thing, poor fucker… Miyambo is superlatively adaptive, screen or stage, big with the red curtain, calm with the celluloid. Master of his craft.
Final step onto Joubert Street coming up, the plunge, the juxtaposing border, binary switch, the click, bam. 6 million people, just like that, chest feels pressed on. Eyes on me, mine to floor first, sigh, then straight ahead. Size me up fucker, do it, you and your buddies, wait- he sells apples, I know that guy. Stay calm, smile, don’t smile. This white skin makes me stick out something terrible, I’d stick out less as a 6 foot roach. Is this a panic attack?
Theatre time, Miyambo, funny guy- theatre guy, actor guy, Wonderboy (in cinemas soon), Late Nite News, Bantu Hour (coming soon), The Secret Ballot… I get into an Editor’s Uber. I’ve never seen Miyambo do something serious.
Wits theater, heavy cement exterior, fascists sure know cement. Nevermind, ours now.
Miyambo, Miyambo, there’s a musicality in his name. Two glasses of wine please. Theater foyer looks important. Flirt, small talk, exhibit excitement, then show steely indifference.
-A spill over showcase, hard to crack I’ve heard.
Kafka’s Ape, simply named, brutal. Dactyl like, stings like a Bukowski uppercut.
Grandiose, be a part of the intellectual continuum, be a smarty pants. Cue haughty eyes, feel for flask, fucked and clever, nicely done bru, nice.
-Have you read much Kafka? I hear my arsehole squeek.
Pretension hails an Uber van.
INT. THEATRE- NIGHT
A chatty woman, MAUREEN (32), sails by. Eyeing the room for new conversations.
(To no one in particular)
Blah, blah, blah Kafka.
Her FRIEND climbs out of her ass covered in what looks like chocolate spread.
(Muffle muffle muffle) Kafka.
CLAUDIA (27), a wild eyed young woman, comes running up the isle, she unpins a hand grenade and throws it at Maureen.
I talk about wanting to finger a goat, or fucking an orange, some such triviality, time to level out, stick my upside down flag into this over tilled soil. Raw grotesque salvation. What would Lenny Bruce do?
-Then fuck out a window and be talked about like Jesus.
-Overkill, what kind of goat was that again?
We’re herded into the small amphitheater that is the downstairs bit. Cushions laid out, like those bonfire pits favoured in beachside resorts, watch mother nature take a hit for our warmth. Exchange the driftwood for psyches and the kindling for ideas and we have an apt metaphor. Joburg theater’s studio space versus this one? Same, but different, this one seems more demanding. Let’s see how it burns.
Not quite a fire, more a white hot solar flair, aimed straight at my guts. If I tell you I nearly cried would you think less of me? For not allowing the salty bulbs, well earned, well satisfied, brilliantly harvested emotions to enjoy their moment? Well, my tear ducts have unionised, man territory, you need to consult the proper structures to get in.
I wipe an undisclosed wet something off my cheek. Miyambo, the talented prick, he did it.
Kafka’s original bit of scribble wasn’t changed much, but I doubt the world has ever seen this version. It wasn’t a play as much as an onslaught, a one act riot of one. I want to feed an armed Miyambo cocaine and write the exclusive. Continents would fall.
Buck Mulligan spoke of Irish art being represented by a servant’s cracked looking class. He means identity, originality, Ireland’s crown shaped dominion. Are we like the Irish in the 20’s? Added to the need for progression, is authenticity, severing ties with the whip’s library, that slavery came with a reading list is unfortunate, but must now be dealt with. We don’t want reversion to some previous time, but a seat at the world’s table, as us. I hazard that Kafka’s Ape is both ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’, a happy middle ground filled with beautiful unhappiness.
You can’t but feel like an insider, partly the crisp clear narrative, partly because you’re inside, but detailed energetic genius & superhuman physicality pulled this one off. An unfettered, to the point, business meeting for the soul. Bravo Phala O. Phala (adapted & directed by) and bravo Tony B. Miyambo (as Red Peter-The Ape), as a liker of things, yours was liked superlatively.
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.
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.
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…
I want the exact number of blueberries in every muffin, you hear me?
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.
Mpeng Morobe, Camilo Saloojee and Christopher Steenkamp shoot the political,cultural and comedic breeze on Main Street Johannesburg.
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.
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.
“Paulie moved slow, but it was only because Paulie didn’t have to move for anybody.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.’
“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.”
There are all kinds of things to worry about, constantly. The neurotic self rendered spoilt at an ever widening buffet of injustice, indifference- mayhem upon selfishness. Drowning in devastation, cue gun shots, detonate squibs. A world too far gone and permanently fucked. Someone call somebody and quickly.
Those are the darker moments. Other times are sweeter, I often walk between the Bree street bustle. Beer drinking porters, Bangladeshi shop owners performing their cash register concertos and the hustling hawkers spraying their produce with little water bottles sporting modified lids. Does wonders for presentation and fly shit.
There’s feeling safe and then there’s actually being safe. A difference I can’t quite claim to understand. See Jozi has all the elements of hellishness, but once you’ve done some street walking nothing but the opposite is obvious. I still can’t decide if it’s me feeling instead of being safe though. The truth is I lead an irresponsible life, I keep weird hours and dabble in considerable amounts of contraband. So, the fact that I’m still alive is testament to something. Safety might not be at the top of that list but it features. I think, and I might be wrong, but I think this place works.
A makeshift economy operating on a peeling infrastructure, but where there’s hustle there’s hope. It’s not just the wanting that ministers to my misery, but witnessing the act of acquisition. That essential life giving motion. And motion there is a plenty, like the taxi drivers with loud hailers beaconing clientèle. A new group of vans have gathered on my corner, fat men take turns on their shiny loud hailer announcing their new route. The sweet distorted sound of progess. There’s grumbling about the noise, but nobody does shit, the men are working and these men don’t fuck around. Undefeated.
I once asked a driver, while sitting up front, somewhere I rarely sit- rhymes with white up fuckery, but I asked why criminals fear them so much. Something I’ve heard but also noticed. Nobody gets mugged in front of these guys. One night, about two am, on the corner of Bree and Mooi, I saw two vans chase down a cellphone thief. They disappeared from my eye line, but minutes later the perp ran by naked. True story.
Not too long ago I spent a weekend smoking crank in Grassypark with what can only be described as a policeman. This bonafide boy in blue was less public servant and more public consumer. There was nothing he wouldn’t or hasn’t put inside himself. The 48 odd hours we spent upside down was insightful and decidedly dangerous. After sifting the canon of conversation our jacked up minds produced I have but one line to report. “See bra, the police, they’re nothing but the country’s biggest gang,” a pearl right?
I pushed the driver for an answer. His whole head broke into a smile as he shifted comfortably in his well worn seat. I insisted. Scorsese couldn’t have improved on what he did next. He dropped the smile, looked at me with crackling eyes, then pointed his index finger at the wheel and made a hammer flick motion with his thumb. And people say violence can’t be cool. He then laughed thunderously, calmly, clocking my tumult I suppose.
These are the unofficial, but decidedly authoritative, sheriffs of Joburg city. Fuck I love this place, I feel safe & welcome- I really do. Yes there are muggings, I’ve almost been jacked twice, but the key to that kind of shit is to not take it personally. Too many people exaggerate their roles when they fall victim to crime, it really has little to do with them. It’s just economics, or the arse end of unfairness manifesting, there’s no sinister plot. It’s just crime, and I think that’s ok, because we have superheroes.
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