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

The Lilian Ngoyi Street Papers: Cutting Up my Stairs

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.


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.