February 14, 2010

To Africa, On Pills

1.
My mom said she's worried that I'll come back from Africa skinny. I asked her why she worries. Because, you don't take care of yourself, she told me. Maybe that's true. I wonder if she also thinks I'll come home with a bloated belly and flies in my eyes.

2.
It was 5 in the morning when when my dad and I pulled up to the curb at San Francisco International. I got out of the car and went around back to take my bag from the trunk. I put it down on the sidewalk and my dad came around and gave me a hug goodbye.
"Call us when you get to New York," he said.
"I will."
He went to get back into the car, and I put my bag on my back and stood there. He looked to me. I said, "I'm still not excited."
I don't know what I expected him to say.
"Wait for your next flight," he told me.

3.
That Jay-Z/Alicia Keyes song about New York. It's true. The lights do inspire me. It all inspires me so much. The cement and noise and trash heaps. And the crazy people. So many crazy people.

4.
I met Homer on a corner somewhere in the city. We were gonna go for dinner but weren't hungry. I told him I wanted to go somewhere cool where I could get an awesome drink, and not to worry about any budget.
We walked halfway down a side street and off the sidewalk down a staircase. There was a black door, no sign. We rang the bell and a guy answered, let us in, took our coats, showed us in. It was a beautiful, quiet place. There were just a few seating areas down the long and narrow room, old, comfortable couches and worn-in chairs, maybe ten people in the place. The waitress came over and gave us a menu and explained that if we needed anything, just to pull the cord. Coming from the wall between our chairs, a cord.
We each had a couple drinks. Great drinks. I wish I'd recorded the contents - honey, sugar, nice Champagne, 20-year-old Scotch, spiced salt, lemon, Tequila, Rum - all this shit that tasted great. The bill came to eighty bucks. It was awesome. Matthew Broderick was there.

5.
I have a 15 hour flight ahead of me. I don't think I'm excited. I have a window seat and a few different sleeping pills, different colors and strengths. I'm seated, watching as the others board, waiting to see who will have the seat beside me. Turns out it's only the biggest guy I've ever had to sit beside on an airplane.
When he sits, his body presses against the arm rest between us and it squeaks. He's held there at the arm rest, but his side-fat seeps beneath it and hangs over the top of it. And he's sickly, too. He covers a portion of his body with the red blanket we all got. He holds it to his face and coughs into it. And his arm is bandaged poorly, wrapped like it's been broken or burned. I try and keep positive. I do have some space. But when I pick up my right leg and put it over my left, coffee-shop style, he expands into that space that has just become available. Any space I give, he takes, and so I take a sleeping pill.

6.
I'm in Africa to make wine. I'm living and working in a place called Paarl, about a forty-five minute drive from Cape Town. The prison where Nelson Mandela spent his last days locked up is in Paarl. I live on the farm in a cottage surrounded by electric fencing, surrounded by vineyard on one side and cow pasture on the other, mountains in the distance. I live with Bertus, who's the assistant winemaker at the winery(and only 23). It's a nice enough house. Bertus seems a nice enough guy. His dog, though, is a fucking asshole.

7.
My second night in South Africa, Bertus takes me to a bar/dance club called Op Skopp. I bet it means "hop-scotch" in Afrikaans. Most everyone there is Afrikaans, of Dutch descent. Bertus explains to me that they have a dance they call "the long arm." Basically, what it is, is this: The guy and girl hold each other in ballroom dance fashion. Then, all the couples on the floor rotate around the room in one big circle, doing simple swing-dancy maneuvers. They do it with a lot of gusto.
Bertus tells me that they do this dance to a certain type of music, Afrikaans music. He describes it as a blend of that Eagle Eye Cherry song and "Summer of '69." And that's exactly what it is; pretty awful stuff.
I have a lot of anxiety about all this. I'm not good at dancing like that, and I don't know any of these girls. I have a few beers and about a hundred cigarettes before someone clues me into the local drink of choice - the double brandy and Coke. They say that brandy has no brakes. They say that brandy is made from tires, panties, and boxing gloves.
A few double-brandy-Cokes later I'm on the dance floor with a girl named Crystal. We're moving in the circle but everyone's passing us by. I don't understand. She tells me to hold her closer and I do. I step on her toes repeatedly. I'm apologetic. I say, "I'm sorry. It's been a while."
She sort of smiles, not a real smile, says it's alright, that it happens.

8.
Bertus takes me for a weekend at a friend's beach house. There are ten of us staying there. Everyone's very nice, but conversation feels strained, on my part.
It's the same with everyone, which is understandable. "Where are you from?" "What are you doing here?" "How do you like it so far?" "Will you travel when you finish working?" "For how long?" "Why are you still in Iraq?" It's exhausting, doing this over and over again.
So I do this with everyone. I get through it. But after that there's nothing. It's seems I'm the shy guy. I wonder what's wrong with me, why I don't have anything to say. Am I a shy guy?
I'm not a shy guy. Really, there's hardly a chance to get in on the talking. The conversation tends to be about one of their friends who isn't present, about something he did this one time, about how funny or dumb he is. It's hard to comment on someone you don't know, and really hard to care. And when it's not like that, all these guys do is quote movies. Just on and on, the quoting of movies. They run through entire scenes of Anchor Man. "Jazz flute," the one guy says, and everybody laughs hysterically.
I can see myself becoming negative, cursing these people in my mind. Some more people arrive and I find that I'm happy to answer all those questions from before. "America." "Wine." "It's interesting." "Yes." "A couple weeks." "For the oil, idiot."

We go down to the beach. There is an ambulance and fire truck and a helicopter in the sky and boats searching the waters. They pull a body from the water and take it to shore. A dead little boy. They continue to search, for the boy's father. They'd been swept from the rocks while fishing. People take pictures of it all. It's awful. We go body surfing. The water is almost perfect.

In the evening we start drinking heavily. Conversation gets a little better, but surprisingly, only a little better. We have a lot of wine, and we talk about the wine. I have a hard time articulating what it is I taste, but I'm working on it. We open a bottle of Pinotage. This is a red wine unique to South Africa. I'm smoking a cigarette and drinking the wine. Somebody asks what I think, and I say I like it. Bertus asks, because I'm smoking, "Can you even taste anything?"
I say, "Yeah, I can taste just fine." Then I take a sip and say, "And speaking of, this is the best fucking Chardonnay I've ever had!" Nobody seems to get the joke.

In the morning I wake up on the top bunk of the bunk bed, hot and sweaty with a dry mouth, bladder full, the ceiling a foot from my face. I climb down, go to the bathroom, put on my shorts and walk out the door. I'm happy to be alone. I walk barefooted down the road and to the beach. I spot a rare bird. I take some photographs. It's a beautiful morning. Rugged mountains are pressed right up against the sea shore. I go body surfing. I run back and forth down the beach. I do ten push-ups. It's six in the morning. I'm still very drunk.

9.
I read an article in Men's Health about cigarette smoking. It says that something like 80% of smokers don't want to smoke, that they wish they wouldn't, but do anyways. I can't remember the science, but it went something like this. When you smoke, all that stuff in the cigarette, you crave it because it releases something in your brain, dopamine, I think. Because you're always releasing the dopamine, your brain grows more and more of these, let's call them, dopamine-receptors. Like, thousands and thousands of them. And the more dopamine-receptors you have, the more you want the dopamine.
I imagine my brain, like a Ren & Stimpy closeup, covered in thousands of these unnecessary things. It's gross. My brain is over-populated with this junk. I picture my brain covered in zits, zits that control my desires. And this image is exactly what I need to quit smoking.
I tell Bertus that it's actually easy to quit smoking, that I've done it ten times already.

10.
I have to keep reminding myself that I'm not on vacation. I'm here to work, and the vacation part won't come until afterwards. For now it's more like a home stay. I'm immersed in someone else's way of living, and that someone is Bertus.
Without a car I am very much in the hands of Bertus. And because I live in the middle of a farm, within walking distance of nothing, I am even more in the hands of Bertus. Luckily, Bertus is happy to show me around. We keep very busy. But this is quite challenging for me, for it leaves me with hardly anytime to just relax, to sit and do nothing, and absolutely no time to myself, to be away from Bertus. I'm having a hard time with this.
But I tell myself that it's good for me. I tell myself that it's Zen. Anything that challenges me, that bothers me, that I have to put up with, is Zen. I decide that I'll hold my breath, figuratively, that "this too shall pass." I know that I'll come out of this alive, that I'll be all the more grateful for my freedom, and my independence, and that maybe because of it all I'll be able to handle people for longer periods of time, which would be good. I decide I'll be a "Yes-Man," that I'll say yes to anything. I'll do it all. I might go a little crazy in the process, but I'll do it all. I go to the mall, to the movies, the parents house, to the cricket, to the rugby, the car show, the horse races. It's good. I see a lot this way. Maybe not the things I would choose to seek out, but it's interesting. I do, however, worry that in trying to be a "Yes-Man," all I'm really doing is being a push-over.

11.
I buy a pair of neon orange Nikes and I start jogging. I run a two-mile loop in the evenings, on a dirt road around the farm. This is my time to myself. I return home elated. I am proud of myself. I'm proud that I'm not smoking, and that I'm jogging. I feel like the guy who makes going to prison a good thing. He goes to prison and does push-ups all day and reads philosophy all night and when he gets out he's the Count of Monte Cristo. And I want blood.

5 comments:

britt. said...

I think that 1 is my favorite. If I'm allowed to have one. Loved it all though!! Miss you Charlie... you know... South Africa is just a op skopp away from Buenos Aires. Happy Valentine's Day!

ME/YOU said...

charlie! did you go to milk & honey? send me some wine from africa & i'll try to think of something worthwhile to send from this country. maybe a sandwich to appease your worried mother.
XO colleen

假日的 said...

原來這世上能跟你共同領略一個笑話的人竟如此難得........................................

無尾熊可愛 said...

great msg for me, thanks a lot dude˙﹏˙

danweg said...

for the oil you idiot!