This is the first time in ten years that I haven’t had a weekly deadline for a newspaper column.
The first five were with the Cape Times, the second five with the Sunday Times. It’s very unsettling to suddenly have an extra six hours a week to fill. I suppose I could go drinking, but then it would just feel like deadline night without the writing. It would be too sad. They go together, writing and drinking. They are old friends from way back and it would be wrong to do one without the other. It would be like cheating on a lover.
The Cape Times was good to me. They gave me an extraordinary amount of leeway to write whatever I wanted. Week after week they allowed me to denigrate, defame, belittle, taunt and tease anyone I pleased, irrespective of race, colour, religion, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, political affiliation or social standing.
On September 3rd, 2002, I wrote my debut column. In case you were a semi-literate wastrel languishing in grade ten when it appeared, here it is again:
Gorilla Tactics in Mating Season
“I am looking forward to spring more than most men. It is the time of year when somebody cleans the house. But more importantly, there is a very good chance that my wife will thaw.
Brenda’s libido has been trapped in pack ice ever since the first rains fell. My efforts to send out a metaphysical icebreaker have repeatedly failed and I still bear the scars from an incident involving a multi-pronged kitchen utensil.
A warning to other men. Do not, under any circumstances, approach your woman silently from behind while she is bent over a sink overflowing with dishes and try to pull her skirt down in one fluid movement expecting her to whip around and sink gratefully to her knees. Granted, not all women will instinctively lash out with a blunt instrument, but my Brenda is well trained in the untidy art of suburban warfare.
My latest attempt to imbue a little spring fever in her was met with howls of outrage and a running battle that swept through the house until the neighbours threatened to call in the army. Ted and Mary usually call the cops but they switched to the military after the local police station had its telephone stolen.
These days I wear padded clothing and a fencing mask when I try to instill some of the passion that once raged in Brenda’s ample bosom. She is a bit of a tease and likes to play hard to get by locking me out of the house.
Ted suggested I approach the Constitutional Court since Brenda is clearly violating my conjugal rights. A brilliant idea, I thought, until I remembered that judges these days are a bunch of limp-wristed nancy boys who are more concerned about appeasing disgruntled lesbian couples than they are about protecting the interests of red-blooded males who have wives that refuse to meet their connubial responsibilities.
Once Cape Town catches up with the rest of the country and realises that winter is over, I stand a far better chance of getting Brenda to see what she is missing. I won’t even have to use force. With warmer weather, she will stop wrapping herself up like a beef roti before going to bed. And once she realises that direct eye contact no longer signals an impending outbreak of hostilities, she will become more generous with her favours.
She might even start cooking dinner again. The laundry may take some time, but I have no doubt that once the birds are singing and the flowers are blossoming, she will make a start on the enormous pile of dirty clothes that threatens to topple over and suffocate me while I sleep.
It’s not that I refuse to do any domestic chores. It is simply that I do not know how. Women are genetically programmed to clean, cook, sew, crush a man’s confidence with a single word and so on.
A man, on the other hand, will see a vacuum cleaner and immediately start thinking that with bigger wheels on it and a small petrol-driven engine mounted on the back, it would be possible to ride it along the beach and discover new fishing spots while circumventing the ban on 4x4s. The dirty floor is quickly forgotten while he sets about designing this revolutionary vehicle. She gets home to find the vacuum cleaner has been disemboweled and her man has gone off to the pub because he knows there is safety in numbers.
As for me, I’m on my best behaviour. I simply cannot allow another rutting season to slip through my fingers.”
My inaugural column was not received as well as I hoped.
L Koekemoer was among those who wrote to the newspaper: “Ben Trovato is obviously an obnoxious, uninformed womaniser. I can understand why his wife has lost her libido. Living with such a man could be a complete turn-off. I wouldn’t touch him with a ten-foot pole.”
H Nichols joined in: “Ben Trovato’s column is beyond offensive. I cannot believe the Cape Times would publish something which reinforces and perpetuates the degradation of women. Please don’t insult us with this kind of pathetic drivel again.”
P Eloff wrote: “Your editorial staff have sunk to new lows. I will not be renewing my subscription to the bigoted trash that you call a newspaper.”
Jaco MacGillicuddy wrote: “What kind of human being are you?”
G Marschner wrote: “You must have been beaten up terribly as a kid.”
As the hate mail vomited in, I waited for the call from then editor Chris Whitfield. It came soon enough. Not to fire me, as I expected, but to laugh like an anarchist who has just won a year’s supply of Molotov cocktails.
Encouraged, I wrote my second column.
Happy Men, Happy Planet
“I am appalled. In fact, I am more outraged than Outraged of Oranjezicht. I was absolutely boggled to read the scathing responses to my very first column.
To be honest, I was expecting a flood of letters from sympathetic females offering me a little rumpy pumpy on the side. I did not anticipate a tongue-lashing from women who are clearly in desperate need of what I am not getting enough of.
I stand accused of encouraging men everywhere to insist that their wives and girlfriends do the cooking and cleaning and whatever else it takes to keep the smile on a man’s face. So what?
Unhappy, frustrated men go into politics and declare war on one another and hold boring international conferences. It is vitally important that men are kept happy. And let me say the fact that I am one is purely incidental. I have only the interests of the planet at heart. To the credit of delegates, and here I must single out Sam Nujoma, the only worthwhile resolution to come out of the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development was the one calling on women to be more aware of the need to keep their men happy.
If I were a woman I would want to make men happy. It is a fulfilling and potentially lucrative calling. Look at Suze Orman and the girls from Teazers.
But I was not born a woman. And when you are a real man like me, you don’t go out of your way to make other men happy. Unless you want them to buy the next round, of course. I want other people, who aren’t men, to make me happy. Men are happiest when they aren’t doing the dishes and getting French kissed at the same time.
When men are unhappy they want to go off and invade Angola. They start devising ways of killing people just by looking at them. Women take out their frustrations by cleaning things. It is a cathartic process for them. They enjoy picking up wet towels off the floor. Men don’t.
Forcing a man to clean the house is tantamount to taking a blunt panga and hacking off one of his testicles on the bread board right there in the kitchen in front of his friends. On the positive side, you can get him stitched up and by suppertime he is making moon-eyes and trying to slip his hand up your skirt.
Forcing him to dust and vacuum is guaranteed to fill him with hostility and self-loathing. Sure, the house will be clean, but forget about any action in the bedroom for a while.
Men have always believed that hand-to-hand combat is the best way of sorting out a domestic argument, but they have learned, through bitter experience, that the withholding of sex is a far more powerful weapon. Foolishly, some have even tried it themselves. Needless to say, they failed spectacularly because this is a form of resistance that violates every masculine instinct.
Even though the man is still seething at the indignity of having to hang up the washing, he is genetically predisposed to slipping into something more comfortable as soon as the last load is on the line. But since the target of his affection is also the target of his resentment, he gets confused and becomes gay. This is what has happened to most of Cape Town’s men.
I have overheard women complaining about the lack of straight men in this city. But it is they who have created this situation by forcing their men to cook casseroles, do the ironing and wear pastel cardigans and clean underwear on the assumption that if they comply they might be rewarded with a little non-violent physical contact.
In some parts of Cape Town it is even worse. In suburbs like Camps Bay, men are expected to know the difference between their Cabernet Sauvignons and their Augustus Pinochets. In the good old days we could just order a beer and a tumbler of whatever it was that made our woman drunk enough to stay the night. Sadly, this glorious age is coming to an end.
Men are constantly being told to become more sensitive, more in tune with their feminine side, but nobody has bothered telling them when to stop. And when your husband is eventually caught flouncing around the house in nothing but a lilac apron and bobby socks, it is people like me who are blamed.
I am outraged.”
I wasn’t the only one.
This time, the brothers were up in arms.
Modise wrote, “I’m a strong African man and DO NOT share your opinion, Sir. Women are not there to serve Men. The days of Men being out hunting and Women staying at home cooking are gone. We don’t hunt anymore. Women have also entered the labour market and it is both our responsibilities, as Men and Women, to make each other happy and share our responsibilities.”
Anton Jansen, clearly a sensitive man in his own right, said: “I can only say that I have not come across a bigger load of tripe in my life. The rubbish you spout about unhappy men wanting to go off and “invade Angola” is, in my opinion, indicative of the fact that you have never experienced the horrors of war. Please stop referring to yourself as a man. In my opinion you do not know the meaning of the word.”
You’d think they would run out of outrage. Or at least cotton on to what I was doing. But no. Three months later, they were still at it. Jeanine McGill developed rabies over something I wrote a week before Christmas:
“Ben Trovato’s column is the most disgusting I have ever read. I recommend that you do not re-employ him when he returns from Durban. In my opinion, he is welcome to stay there. How can a columnist get away with so positively describing Ted’s abuse of his wife, Mary; his cruel and unusual plans for his faithful dog Gonzo and the senseless slaughter of birds? In there no-one in Cape Town who can write a positive and uplifting column, that this trashcan columnist receives 64cms in your paper to spew his hash-rotted drivel?”
Jeanine was wrong on one score. In 2002, it was almost impossible to get your hands on decent hash in Cape Town. My drivel was rotted by beer alone.
Fortunately, the Cape Times readership was, by and large, an intelligent one, and the bright, bold and beautiful began leaping to my defence.
Velile Phato called me a “really crazy whitey”. I took it as a compliment.
Michael Rolfe, who I suspect might have been on drugs, said: “Ben Trovato is not merely South Africa’s foremost journalist; he is also a seer, a visionary, and the still, small voice of reason in a world run mad.” I am not related to Michael Rolfe, nor have I ever met him.
D Chaplin helped enlighten the sourpoeses of Cape Town: “Warning! This column contains irony, satire and other forms of humour. Readers who are unable to distinguish these literary devices from bona fide opinion or fact are advised to avoid reading further, and are referred to the TV guide or the classifieds where there is a lower risk of misunderstanding.”
In those years, much like now, my identity was a closely guarded secret. Perhaps too closely, if JA Browne’s letter was anything to go by.
“Since so many people are asking who Ben Trovato is, may I be allowed to spill the beans on this imposter? Ben Trovato is a woman. It becomes clear after much reading of these columns that Brenda is a symbol of oppressed womanhood, especially those married to gin-sodden men. Only a woman writer could so cleverly get under the skin of this bully, and by doing so make this Trovato creature a thing of scorn and contempt to all women. It is all very cleverly contrived by the feminist lobby. How can we be so sure that Ben Trovato is a woman? There is a certain sensitivity about the pieces – notwithstanding the pretence of macho image – that betrays the truth: the deep-seated need to denigrate men.”
As I weren’t confused enough, I received this email from a Dr Enetia Robson in London: “One has a sense of people like yourself being challenged by chaotic and violent events and trying to find a new modus vivendi while still retaining a sense of rationality and a wicked sense of humour.”
Jou ma se modus vivendi.
So, anyway. Chris Whitfield, and the editor who came after him, Tyrone August, never flinched in the face of calls to fire me or have me publicly executed. Brave men of honour, they were. And not once did they change my copy or censor me.
I repaid their loyalty by abandoning ship when the Sunday Times offered me more money to write exclusively for them. That’s right. I behaved like a common whore, dumping one client who was giving me a perfectly acceptable blowjob for one who was offering a full house. In my defence, they also offered me a full page.
By way of introducing myself to a national audience, I wrote on June 8th, 2008: “When I told my wife, Brenda, that I was going to be writing a regular column for the Sunday Times, she unleashed a scream the likes of which hadn’t been heard since she saw me naked for the very first time. I thought some kind of wild animal or housebreaker had walked into the kitchen and I almost wet my broeks.
“The Sunday Times?” she shrieked. “Don’t you know what they do to columnists over there?”
I poured her a stiff drink, quickly drank it myself and reassured her that I am an Untouchable. Like Essop Pahad. Unlike Pahad, however, I expect to retain my position after the next election. Unless, of course, the editor is instructed by his handlers in the Illuminati to terminate my services.
I ask readers to bear with me during these difficult times.
This dreadful xenophobia rumpus has caused a tremendous upheaval in domestic arrangements at the ramshackle pigpen I laughingly call home, and it may take a week or two before I can get to grips with matters of concern.
Right now, the gentleman in charge of ensuring that my garden does not degenerate into a hideous eyesore infested with alien species and itinerant drunks has moved into the spare room at the bottom of the house. This wholly unsuitable turn of events occurred two weeks ago when he asked permission to work nights as well as days rather than return to the warm welcome that awaited him at the hands of his South African comrades.
Brenda made him a cup of cocoa and said he could stay as long as he wanted. This is a situation fraught with complexities, but there is little I can do about it. Certainly, I could emigrate and cut my own lawn. Or I could stay here and have my lawn, and possibly my throat, cut for me. It is a risk I am prepared to take.
The reluctant lodger is called Sudan Red. He says his name is John but, quite frankly, I find that ridiculous. He is a refugee from Darfur, for heaven’s sake, not an accountant from Sandton. He keeps trying to tell me about the horrors of the ganja weed but I have advised him not to believe the propaganda and that if he smokes less than half a kilogram a day, he will be fine.
When I pointed out to Brenda that he was eating us out of house and home, she said that he at least earned his keep, unlike some people who apparently sit around all day waiting for something to come along and amuse them. With the application of minimum force, I explained to Brenda that writing was a noble pursuit. She silenced me with an elbow to the epiglottis and threatened to zero the counter. Like most white women, Brenda sees sex as something to be earned. Apparently it all works on a rather complicated points system. Getting into Australia would be easier than getting into Brenda.
In the meantime, I appeal to my fellow South Africans to allow our foreign domestic workers safe passage. We need to learn how to live with each other. I don’t mean me, of course. My house is full. You will have to learn how to live with other people – people who have spare rooms that aren’t filled with broken furniture and empty beer bottles.”
That’s where it all started. Now, half a million words later, it is I who have been unceremoniously dumped on the boulevard of broken dreams.
We deserve it, though, us freelancers. We go about accepting jobs willy-nilly, unprotected by unions and indecently exposed to corporate fuckery, then we fritter our wages away on luxuries such as medical aids, retirement annuities, second-hand cars and exotic dishes like mutton bunny chows. And then BANG! In an instant, we can no longer pay for any of it. It’s our own damn fault.
I am not left without a choice. I can ferret about for work in the hope of staving off the repo men, or I can run a hosepipe from my exhaust through the back window of the Land Rover. No, that won’t work. It would take six months to gas myself – my car has more holes in it than Jacob Zuma’s alibi. Besides, as a result of latest developments, a hosepipe falls under non-essential goods in my revised budget and it would be silly to waste the last of the beer money on it.
So there it is. The end of this particular road.