I’m sitting in the Mugg and Bean, in a shopping mall. Doesn’t matter which one, they’re all the same. Mind you, all the Mugg and Beans are all the same. But the people change.
Maybe that’s why I come here; it’s good to have a little bit of “all the same” now and then. A change from the same to the same. I suppose we get like that when we often start feeling that you’ve “Been there, done it … etc.”
The majority of those in the place fall into unique categories. There are the senior citizen Afrikaners – you can spot them; the ladies wear cardigans – that nice word for shapeless wool button ups. The men wear those funny baggy mid-calf shorts that make small men look smaller, and fat men look fatter. They’re all in couples, and never say a word to each other. Probably the last time they ever said a civil word to each other was when they said “I do”.
Then there are the racing drivers. That’s what I call them. Recent mothers, they come in with their formula-1 prams, 4-wheel drive, air-conditioned monsters with a boot space for an entire maternity ward. They show off their plump, smelly wads of dough to each other, and destroy the aisle space.
Then there are also the solicitors, not legal ones, but females, aged 20 to 35, come here to announce their state of availability. No race distinction here, the blacks and the whites are all the same, with one exception. Whites giggle a lot. They do this to hide their teeth, because unlike the young Black 20-somethings, they haven’t had orthodontic braces. The Black somethings talk English loudly so that you can hear that Daddy is some BBBEEE millionaire. They give away their education: Model C or semi-private school. They got empowered, which is the 21st century replacement for education.
They seem to come in pairs, a 35 year old him with a twenty year old her. The 35 year old is actually over the hill, but impresses the 20 year old about how worldly she is. They say things like, “I just love the beach in Paris”, and “Put a man on 5th Avenue and he’s hot.” Direct plagiarism of “True Love” magazine, cheap imported TV shows, and “O – Oprah”, which to them is high culture. Their Theodore Adorno is Snoop Doggie.
Then there are the white Afrikaner youth, ambitionless, usually looking as if they are the results of centuries of inbreeding. Shouting at each other about last week’s customer service training course. They speak Afrikaans that sounds like they are choking on Broccoli. Afrikaans sounds as beautiful as Nederlands when it is spoken in the Western Cape. But not in Johannesburg. The one next to me has just laughed about a rabbit going down a hole. She can’t have read “Alice in Wonderland”, must have been the TV cartoon. South Africans don’t read. If you want to hide money from a South African, put it inside a book.
I get better company from the waiters. Mugg and Bean calls them “Waitrons”, as if they are other-worldly robots with superior intelligence. Actually they’re all quiet little Zimbabweans who are grateful for a job of any kind, and just hope that they won’t get killed in a xenophobia riot on the way home. They also get the work easily because “waitoring” is below the dignity of South Africa’s unemployed.
I tease them. I tell them I’m a Russian spy who’s gathering intelligence on women’s retail stores so that my oligarch father can open up a Van Cleef and Arpels franchise in the Red Square. I don’t care if they believe me or not, or if they even know what I’m talking about.
It’s not whether they believe me or not – sometimes their English is so limited that a “Tomato omelette” is sometimes beyond their capacity.
I tell them I was Professor of Gynaecology at the Sorbonne, and I left there because I got too deep in the subject and people were jealous of my brilliance.
I tell them I was Professor Law at Oxford, but I gave legal advice to Al Qaeda, and the Pope lobbied for me to be removed from my chair.
I tell them …
When you get to my age, people believe anything you say. Funny, as your body and brains rot, you gain respectability.
Against the wall is a row of benches with a plug point next to every second seat. They encourage people who want to work on their laptops to come in, buy just one cheap bottomless and let Mugg and Bean pay for the electricity. Some of them are genuinely working, you can see them – they are the reps, checking orders and call sheets. In between them are the wankers, the ones I call the “BBB Brigade”. They pretend that they are serious management science MBA types. In fact they googling “Big Black Boobs”.
They also try and pick up girls. I told one of them once that I would never pick up anyone in a Mugg and Bean. I prefer Exclusive Books – at least I have some assurance that they may be literate. Load of crap, actually, I’ve never picked up anyone before, not even in a book shop.
I sit there trying to think up a new idea for something, another column due yesterday, a training course that has to be finished by tomorrow. Or just have some fun, like when I told a cute little waitron that I have opened a business in Soweto doing penis enlargements: a dab of Super Glue and a Vuvuzela.
I open the latest Paris Match. Hard to find, but they get passed down to me from a French woman who swaps them with hand-me-down copies of my The New Yorker. Francoise Hardy is 67. She looks better than the 30 year old secretary I have to flatter at M-Net.
But then Francoise Hardy is immortal. Like Neil Diamond who came to South Africa a few years back for the first time next year. I had to get a ticket.
I’m was 63, and I was sitting in the gutter outside Computicket at 6 am on a Saturday morning to try and be at the front of the queue when it opened at 9 am.
I wasn’t at the front of the queue. I’m at least 20th. There are lots of people still alive who started buying his records in 1967. I could only get the second priced seats, someone got onto the Internet on the stroke of 9 am, or else those crooks, the promoters, have presold block bookings to the cellphone companies and the breweries. Shit happens. Usually when big business is involved.
But I got 10 tickets. I thought I may go alone. Sell the rest nearer the time. South Africans have a last minute culture. They cannot plan, have no idea what it means, especially if they are fully armed with a ’45 calibre Blackberry.
I didn’t go alone. I took very close friends that I wanted to embarrass with behaviour that was a reasonable impersonation of Woodstock 1969. I had retro bellbottoms and a psychedelic shirt made by the tailors at the Oriental Plaza. And a cheese-cutter straw hat.
My behaviour was appalling.
It was two hours that compressed in them all the things that have happened since 1954. Like that mythical moment before you breathe your last, and the whole of your life goes flashing by in front of your eyes.
I don’t care if I breathe my last, as I have a nano-second to remember the show.
Back to Paris Match. I turn to the society pages. There is absolutely no one I recognise or know of at all.
I don’t stifle the yawn. I’m tired.