Surfers waive the rules

In these outlandish times, the measure of all things needs to be constantly recalibrated if we hope to stand a chance of emerging relatively healthy and sane. So I don’t know if what is happening is a good thing or a bad thing.

I went surfing the other day. Don’t judge me. I didn’t drive through the suburbs spreading death and disease to get to the beach. I walk out of my gate, over some rocks and into the big wet thing. Yes, technically I broke the Law, but I, too, feel broken by the Law, and that’s all I can say about that.

I was among a handful of outlaws bobbing about in a cold, undulating ocean. A few guys and girls in their early twenties, a smattering of wild-eyed teenagers. One kid couldn’t have been more than twelve.

The waves were on the small side and there was no aggressive hustling as there usually is at this spot. Everyone was getting their turn. The sun, fat and orange like Donald Trump but way more useful, headed for the horizon as flocks of sacred ibises flew overhead in perfect formation. Then, in an instant, the mood darkened. Four police vans pulled up in the parking lot. They were about as welcome as a swarm of orcs gatecrashing Bilbo Baggins’s birthday party.

For surfers surfing illegally, there aren’t too many options in a situation like this. You could try paddling to Australia but you’d just get thrown into one of their filthy internment camps. The best is to sit tight and hope that the cops get hungry and go back to the station for a bunch of confiscated pies.

I wasn’t too worried. I’ve been arrested before – once in the 1980s under the Police Act, which was interesting. What I wasn’t keen on was spending a night in the cells in my wetsuit. A man of my boyish good looks and natural charm, wearing nothing but a figure-hugging latex rubber bodysuit, could easily find himself in trouble. Maybe they’d let me go home and change. Slip into something less comfortable. It seemed unlikely.

The younger kids, though. They were panicking. Their parents had encouraged them to get the hell out of the house for an hour or two so that mommy and daddy can have some alone time. Now look.

Unlike sex, surfing is not a team sport. Someone might paddle over and begrudgingly give a hand if it looks like you’re drowning, but generally it’s every man for himself. The coronavirus doesn’t stand a chance. You’d have to pay a surfer to get him to give you Covid-19.

The youngest of the crew was sitting near me. He had been having a great time until the cops arrived. The unsmiling enforcers of our insane new laws had spread out, sealing off the beach, and were settling in to wait for their catch of the day.

As I said, your choices are limited. You could pretend to be a piece of kelp and stay very still and hope that a great white shark doesn’t mistake you for a wounded seal. Or you could just keep surfing and wait for cover of darkness.

“What should we do?” the kid said to me, the very last person anyone should ask for sensible advice. His little privileged face was creased with concern and he seemed close to tears.

And that’s when it struck me. In the days of yore, white South Africans saw the police as allies. You’d call the Flying Squad if you were in trouble. Or if you saw a darkie acting suspiciously by, say, walking in your street after dark.

Sure, that particular kid wasn’t around in those days, but even so, it’s unlikely he or anyone in his family had ever considered the cops to be anything other than the Good Guys.

This whole fearing, dodging and lying to the police is all very new to white people. Out of nowhere (China), a virus is rapidly causing them to rethink their loyalty to an elected government and reconsider their trust in a police service which is quite clearly more of a force than a service.

Even though most whities never really bought into the ANC as a party capable of governing, they still clung to the idea that they could call 10111 and know that help would be on its way.

Now, they’re not so sure. Now the police no longer seem like the kind of people you’d want to call under any circumstances. If you had to, say, suffer an ischemic event while out for an illegal walk at 10am, you’d call anyone but the cops. Nobody wants to face additional charges of being drunk in public because their speech is slurred. Police are trained to recognise the symptoms of drinking, not strokes.

Obviously not all cops are vicious brutes incapable of independent, rational thought. But some people simply can’t help turning into instant assholes the moment you put them in a uniform. Hitler was probably pretty chilled on weekends, slopping about the Berghof in T-shirt and leather lederhosen, getting high on Bavarian skunk while painting tastefully lit nudes of Eva Braun. But come Monday, it’s on with the Schirmmütze and jackboots and suddenly it’s all, “Erschlagen alle Juden!”

People say children are adaptable and can handle anything. I don’t know about that. The kid in the water with me looked genuinely scared. This was clearly his first face-off with a bunch of angry black men with guns and handcuffs. Rookie.

He also knew that if he was arrested, his parents would discover that he was out surfing instead of doing virtual homework in his bedroom. During lockdown, angering mothers especially is to be avoided at all costs. Having had their husbands in the house day and night for two straight months, they are perilously close to cracking. There would be repercussions. Banned from surfing and without access to his phone, there’d be no point in living. I feel the same.

A lot of white kids, unless they come from a family of self-righteous snitches, are discovering that the authorities are not necessarily on their side. It’s quite an awakening. Breaking the law is a novel experience for a lot of whities and there’s a good chance they will develop a taste for it. As I said in the beginning, I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. It could go either way.

I didn’t surf today. Instead, I poured myself a bootlegged gin and tonic and stood in my sand dune of a garden, watching the sun melt into the sea. I saw a dad push his kid onto a wave. He couldn’t have been more than seven or eight. The kid, not the father, although they do start young in these parts.

Life seems so much better when the police aren’t around.

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  • This column first appeared in The Citizen on 27 May. More every Wednesday. Subscribe here: https://citizen.co.za/bundle-subscriptions/

Dear Cyril …

Dear Comrade President Ramaphosa, Defender of the Lockdown, Punisher of the Pandemic, Destroyer of the Economy, Nemesis of Smokers and Drinkers.

May I call you Cyril? I don’t mean to be overfamiliar but you have had such an impact on my life that you feel like you are a close friend or maybe a distant relative. You’ve been a good parent to us. You might even have saved some of our lives, although from what I’ve heard, dying of the coronavirus is about as rare as getting morning fellatio after ten years of marriage. That was crude. I apologise. We are all descending to the level of savage beasts. I don’t mean you, obviously. You have a support system to prevent that from happening. I only have myself and a cat who goes out of her way to avoid me.

I wish I could have seen the look on your face on, like, day 20 of the lockdown, when it dawned on you that people were still obeying your order to stay at home. We both know South Africans aren’t the most obedient people. You tell them not to rape, pillage and steal and the next thing you know, there they are, raping, pillaging and stealing. You tell them to stay indoors, and they do. It’s inexplicable. How did you manage that? Did you have our water supply spiked with Rohypnol?

I imagine you must have suspected a trap. Is this why you mobilised the army? You anticipated some kind of Dingane/Piet Retief ambush situation, right? As it turns out, we are exactly what we seem. Just millions of compliant, docile worker ants and drones paying obeisance to their queen.

It’s like some kind of Jedi mind trick you pulled. Speaking of which, I currently look like a cross between Jabba the Hutt and Chewbacca and talk like Yoda because I live alone and have lost the ability to communicate.

Also, you don’t want to see the state of my sheets. I am filled with self-loathing every time I get into my petri dish of a bed. Please open the laundromats. Covid-19 hates washing machines. Tell the hawks in the Coronavirus Command Council that social distancing isn’t a problem in laundromats. Nobody goes there to hook up or party. You drop your clothes and leave. If you like to hang around laundromats, there’s something wrong with you.

I’m surprised it has taken this long for people to start pushing back. South Africans are born fighters. We don’t take shit from anyone. We have fought the British, the Boers, the Zulus and each other and yet here we are, as disunited as ever, still obeying your command to stay inside even if it does mean losing our jobs, sanity and will to live. It’s wearing a bit thin, though. You might have noticed.

People started turning against you after that disaster with the fags. No, I don’t mean … I’m talking about cigarettes. The nation erupted in a happy chorus of hacking coughs when you unequivocally said that the sale of ciggies would be allowed when the country goes to Level 4 on 1 May.

Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma angrily stamped her small but perfectly formed foot and said there’d be none of that. Who the hell is in charge over there? This is not the time for flip-floppery or jellyfishing, collective or no collective. You’re the president. You have a massive amount of power. You’re just a bit shy to use it.

It doesn’t matter. You are rich enough to pay other people to change your mind for you. I have to do that kind of dirty work myself. For instance, I often say, “I am never drinking again” but then, two days later, there I am, chucking the filth down my neck like there’s no tomorrow. That was before I ran out, obviously.

We were all very grateful when the Collective decided to let us out of our cages for three hours every morning on condition that we didn’t stray further than five kilometres. Things is, I can only walk for 800m or so before having to lie down for a bit. It’s very triggering to see people running past and getting their full quota of 5kms. If I can’t do it, nobody should be allowed to do it. Please ask your prime minister to reduce it to one kilometre.

It should also be said that I am a special needs case. I have no children who need schooling, nor do I have a dog that requires walking. I don’t recall ever having run anywhere unless being pursued by the law and I think bicycles are for children. All I ask, really, is that you allow me to get into the ocean and do a bit of surfing now and again. I had a rather poorly timed birthday recently and I don’t have many good years left.

Living, as you do, in the hinterland, you might not be familiar with surfing. I’m fairly sure your sports minister is unaware of it. For a start, it’s not a blood sport like rugby, which should absolutely be banned even when there’s not a pandemic. Generally surfers are a peaceful lot who want nothing more than to be given access to the ocean. And maybe some beers for after. Anyway, see what you can do. Next to laundromats, Covid-19 hates sea water the most.

I’m still enjoying the Command Council briefings. However, like the lockdown regulations, they can be quite hard to follow in terms of coherence and logic so I’ve started watching the sign-language interpreter instead. I’m happy to say that, thanks to Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, I now know how to tell a deaf person, “It’s your turn to roll a joint.”

The compulsory masks have made things interesting. In the old days, a smile would tell us everything we needed to know. But with our mouths covered, we need to learn how to use our eyes to convey emotions. My first wife’s eyebrows spoke a language of their own. Man, those things could express whatever she was feeling. It was mostly disappointment and anger, but still. There were nuances. This one time, I thought she was giving me the bedroom eyebrows and I whipped off my trousers and rolled onto my back but she was, in fact, giving me the I-want-a-divorce eyebrows. Reading eyes and eyebrows is not an exact science and misunderstandings are to be expected.

People are complaining that we are becoming a police state. What absolute rubbish. There is still a long way to go. Right now, we fall squarely between a nanny state and a police state. I do, however, feel the nanny could be more like Julie Andrews and less like a cross between Margaret Thatcher and Imelda Marcos. It would also be nice if Field Marshall Bheki Cele stopped carrying on as if he’s from the Papa Doc Duvalier School of Policing. More lovey, less Haiti. Know what I’m saying?

Anyway, you must think we’re quite cute, with our petitions and campaigns, waving our little fists and making high-pitched mewling sounds, all the while under the impression that the government is paying us heed. I wouldn’t listen to us either if I were you. We’re all over the place. One day we want food, the next it’s jobs. There’s just no end to it.

 

 

 

Ready, aim, swallow …

Airbnb is a wonderful thing. You can make money simply by not being at home. Well, obviously other people need to be there for the money thing to happen. The downside is that you then have to be somewhere else. So I continue to lie low in Cape Town while Special Agent Banks deals with those who would abuse my North Coast home as they would their own.

He let the last batch in this week. He even helped carry their bags into the house, which will no doubt be listed under ‘additional services’ when the mercenary bastard invoices me. He said that when he introduced himself to the wife, she refused his hand on the grounds that it was against her religion. He said the husband was wearing some sort of a cap. Special Agent Banks is not an expert on world religions. Surfing, yes. And other things. But not religion. All he knew, he said, was that they had brought a suitcase with their own special food and she wouldn’t shake his hand. He said they might have been Arabs. Pressed further, he said they might have been Jews. He made it clear that further speculation on his part would be invoiced as ‘additional information’.

It mattered little to me. As long as they didn’t hurt the monkeys, fire nerve gas at the neighbours or offer human sacrifices to whatever gods they believed in, they could do whatever the hell they wanted. That’s the Airbnb credo. It’s all about the money, honey.

Fishy

Special Agent Banks has been dealing with a series of guests since early December. He says he’s had enough. One family from “somewhere foreign” complained that the fridge was too small. There were six of them. I live alone. The fridge I have is big enough for two ready meals and nine six-packs. It’s fine.

Another guest said she had spotted a cockroach. In Durban? Surely not. Just one? They usually move in packs and have been seen carrying small children down the street at night.

Apparently I am not leaving Cape Town any time soon. This is the problem with Airbnb. Just when you’re about to come home, someone emails to say they want to stay in your house. I suppose I could just say no. But this is literally free money. Besides, ‘no’ is one of my least favourite words.

In keeping with my New Year’s resolution, I went for a walk on Constantia something-or-other. The next morning I woke up with an ankle swollen to the size of a prostitute’s thigh and I could barely walk at all. I am bitterly disappointed with my body. One resolution. To use my legs for something more strenuous than simply operating the brake, clutch and accelerator pedals. And, obviously, walking from the couch to the fridge and back. It couldn’t even handle that one, easy task. Stupid body. I shall take it out at once and abuse it viciously. That will teach it.

On my way to punish my body, I stopped off at a doctor with whom I had made an appointment. I limped heavily through the doors, prepared to settle for nothing less than amputation or death. Some men are comfortable with the hobbling image. I am not. I stride. I swagger. Sometimes I stagger. But only wimps limp. Wimps and gimps.

The receptionist’s dead eyes drifted to my ankle and back to her appointment book. I noticed an imperceptible shake of her ridiculous head. My handicap was all that prevented me from vaulting the counter and biting her in her tight, judgemental face. I can understand that people who work for doctors must see terrible things at this time of year, but it’s not as if I had burst in off my nut on crystal meth with a chopper embedded in my skull demanding to put a million on number three in the seventh race.

The doctor, who looked as if his Bar Mitzvah was due next weekend, had an implausible name which I shan’t reveal here because that would constitute advertising and I’m not sure he should even be allowed to practice.

Almost immediately he asked me to lie down. “Shouldn’t you take me out for dinner first?” I said. He blinked once, then regained his composure. It was probably the wrong thing to say, given that my toenails were painted a delicate shade of blue. Long story. Even longer night.

I told him about my walk. He wanted details and I was quite proud to recount that I had covered approximately one kilometre. He seemed unimpressed. I assured him I had kept myself well hydrated at the rate of one beer per hundred metres. This is apparently the international standard.

He prodded my ankle twice. “Gout,” he said. I was outraged. How can a walk bring on gout? I am an athlete. People who walk don’t get gout. They have chauffeurs. Overweight, indolent capitalist pigs who can’t control their food and alcohol intake get gout. Oh, right.

He told me to present my buttocks for an injection. I could suffer no further indignities. My reputation as an athlete was in tatters. He might as well do whatever he wished with my buttocks. As it turned out, my underwear was also in tatters.

He said gout was genetic but I could see he was lying through his perfect, capped teeth. Neither of my parents suffered from gout. Perhaps I inherited it from mad cousin George. I always thought I might have got a touch of his special brain. Turns out I got his gammy joints that attract uric acid like weed attracts sniffer dogs. Thanks, George.

If the diagnosis is accurate, and there is no reason to believe it is, then I have to say that I’m not entirely to blame. My holiday in Cape Town has turned into an episode of Survivor, where the contestants are given nothing but alcohol and are only allowed off the island to fetch more alcohol.

I spent a night with a friend who has a PhD and a drinking problem. She recently did time in one of those appalling 12-step facilities that succeed mainly in turning people into atheists. I helped find her a place after her parents threw her into the street when, after a few days of sobriety, she dismantled the wagon and sold the parts for beer. It was a room in a house being sub-let by an ex-coke fiend and his three-legged dog. A second room was occupied by a sprawling, unruly woman with two cats who subsisted on nothing but vodka and chocolate. The woman, not the cats. A third room was taken by what appeared to be a Nazi war criminal. Drunk cat woman has since been hospitalised, the ex-shnarf addict has hit on my friend, the Nazi brought a hooker home and the bed capsized in mid-coitus because it was balancing on four empty beer crates. I haven’t been back.

The island I’m on is in the Deep South. It’s an island in the sense that it is surrounded by lunatics. I have fallen in with a trio of beautiful but dangerous women and am starting to feel like Jack Nicholson in The Witches of Eastwick. I affectionately refer to them as “me bitches”. I don’t know what they call me.

At night I sleep in the bed of a 13-year-old boy. Without the boy, obviously. Just because I allegedly have gout doesn’t mean I am a beast, you know, although I do have fairly catholic tastes in other areas.

A dozen surfboards are stacked against my bedroom wall.

komroom

There are more in the lounge. And outside. These aren’t your average surfboards. These are designed for surfing waves of twenty foot and bigger. The owner is currently in Hawaii and I am staying with his girlfriend. I am on my best behaviour. Only a fool would tangle with a man who can hold his breath for three minutes in shark-infested waters after taking nine tons of water on the head. Also, she’s not that kind of girl.

Her not-married friend is tactile to the point of compulsion and her relentless platonic fondling has sent so many mixed messages to my brain that it regularly overheats and I have to lie down for a bit. Often spontaneously. The married friend … actually, let me not go there.

A few nights ago I moved into the deepest south, to a hamlet on the edge of nowhere. I was woken at 3am on my first morning by the landlady banging on my door shouting something about the mountain. I assumed she was having some sort of psychotic episode and went back to sleep. I woke three hours later to what sounded like the 101st Airborne Division coming in low over a village north of Saigon. Thanks to the previous evening’s events, my eyes looked dangerously Vietnamese. But they weren’t coming for me. Their sights were set on a wildfire raging out of control 100m from my bed.

My landlady is a voluntary firefighter – that’s where she was off to at 3am. She came home at 7am and went to work, returning at 6pm, upon which she climbed into her overalls and boots and prepared to set off for the fire line once again, her two-way radio crackling like a burning pig. She popped her head into the flatlet to see if I was okay. I was sitting at my laptop, shirtless, with a beer at my elbow, my boep around my knees and my moobs swaying gently in the breeze. I asked if there was anything I could do to help. She smiled and walked away.

As I write this, the road in and out has been closed. There is no escape. Even worse, there is no bottle store. This may be the end.

Bushy

Stumbleweeding Through Life

I hope there is some kind of predetermined plan here, and that it isn’t all just loosely held together by a series of random events, because I cannot figure out why, exactly, I am writing this in a noisy backpacker’s bar at 2am on the Wild Coast when, at my age, I should be in a gated community with a devoted wife, 2.4 children and a pair of golden labradors lying at my feet.

Returning from my holiday to Cape Town, which wasn’t so much a holiday as it was an apocalyptic clusterfuck, I stopped off at Jeffreys Bay to try out the new surfboard I bought from Titch Paul’s shop in Muizenberg.

A stiff offshore was blowing and the waves were epic. I jumped out of the car in the parking lot in Pepper Street, overlooking Supertubes, then staggered for a few paces and fell over. A dog came up  and barked at me. A mother hurried her child away. That parking lot has seen some pretty wild stuff over the years, no doubt about it, but not at 10am.

I could barely walk. My right foot felt as if red-hot shrapnel was embedded in it. Other surfers were putting on their wetsuits and waxing their boards. It’s a small town. I didn’t want to be known as that tall, unshaven freak who drives around with a surfboard on his roof, then stops and falls down for a bit and gets back in his car and leaves, but it seemed inevitable.

I went looking for drugs. For many years, drugs were easily obtainable in J-Bay. Then the orcs and uruk-hais from the hinterland descended, with their facebrick houses and facebrick churches and facebrick mentalities, and nothing was ever the same again. Now, you have to get your drugs from pharmacies instead of hippies.

None of the chemists speak English. I tried explaining my symptoms but fell silent when I realised I had forgotten the Afrikaans word for foot. She helped me out by saying, “Jou voet?” Foot. Voet. Hard to tell the difference. Why even bother with another language? Can’t we all just speak English and get along?

She said from the sound of it, I had gout. They speak funny in J-Bay, so I laughed and said, “For a minute there, I thought you said I had gout.” Ja, she said, gout. I was outraged. Gout is something from which fat, old, rich men suffer. I am not rich. What a silly woman. Could she not tell by the way I was dressed?

“How much did you last have to drink?” she said. An odd question. I was wearing sunglasses and, for all she knew, I was a Jehovah’s Witness. It is, after all, only by the eyes that one can tell someone who is partial to the odd dram, or, in my case, nineteen beers and four tequilas two nights earlier.

I removed my sunglasses and looked her square in the eye. She flinched, nodded once, turned to her stockpile of snake-oil solutions and rip-off remedies and handed me a canister of colchicine. “Take two …” I immediately lost interest and began scanning the shelves behind her. Ever since I was a child, I have been astonished at the amount of drugs that are available in pharmacies. I no longer want to try them all, but I remain astonished, nevertheless.

It was vitally important that I cured my foot while I was still in J-Bay, so I began gobbling the little white pills the moment I walked out. The more you take, the better you feel. Isn’t that the guiding credo for pharmaceuticals of any kind? Well, apart from acid. I overmedicated on acid once and had two-thirds of my face fall into my lap while I was sitting on a park bench in Barcelona. I had a terrible job fitting it back on.

Colchicine works on a different principle. One of the side effects of overdosing is that you swerve violently into someone’s driveway and vomit in their garden. In front of their children. On a Sunday morning.

“It’s gout,” I shout. I wouldn’t want them thinking I am spreading blackwater fever through the neighbourhood. But I can see they don’t understand. They have given their facebrick house a name. Something in Afrikaans. I don’t understand, either.

My organs and joints eventually calmed down enough for me to get into the water. Surfing at J-Bay is to surfers what kissing the pope’s ring is to Catholics, only more hygienic. Getting out of the water is another story. To get back to the beach, one has to negotiate a strip of razor-sharp rocks that runs for hundreds of metres. It’s brutal.

Driving out of town a couple of days later, I pulled up at the N2 T-junction and turned the engine off. Left back to Cape Town, right to Durban. I’ve done 23 years in Durban, 14 in Cape Town and the rest … well let’s not talk about the rest.

I could have gone either way. It didn’t really matter. Nobody was waiting for me, on the west coast or the east. I took out a R5 coin and flipped it. Heads. But forgot to call it. Just then, one of those giant satanic crows flew low overhead and banked sharply to the left. I couldn’t remember if it was black cats, black crows or black people that were bad luck, but either way it struck me as an ominous omen.

I swung the wheel to the right, opened a beer with my teeth and headed for the legendary roadworks of the Eastern Cape.

The Prodigal Son Returns

Hello, Durban. It’s good to be back.

No, I haven’t been in prison. I was living in Cape Town for a while. This is my hometown. I’m from the wrong side of the Umgeni. It’s where I grew up, lost my virginity and was arrested for the very first time. Good memories.

Life and death conspired to deposit me in Westbrook, a settlement tucked away in the bush between Ballito and Umdloti. I beg your pardon. eMdloti. Does it really matter if it’s an upper case U or a lower case e? A small m or a big M? If so, then I insist we call our city d’Urban.

It was, after all, named after Sir Benjamin d’Urban, an excellent soldier and a vile human being. When the darkies refused to be ground into submission, he called them “treacherous and irreclaimable savages” and had them killed in large numbers. As far as I know, Umdloti never harmed anyone.

Westbrook, I have to say, is a bit isolated for me. For a start, it doesn’t have a bottle store. Then again, I was previously living in Fish Hoek, a town not exactly known for its plethora of bottles stores.

The only shop within 10kms is a café called Seagull’s Roost. I am on far better terms with the monkeys than I am with my neighbours. And on Saturday nights the only entertainment is provided by Tongaat’s finest spoilt brats, spinning the wheels of their triple overhead cam-shafted daddy-bought cars in the parking lot there by the beach.

Speaking of the beach, Beach Bums is only a few hundred metres away from me, but I need a machete to get to the bar on weekends. I also have to shout to be heard above the rave music and I must take care not to jostle any of the heavily tattooed steroid junkies who lurch about in their baggies and tight, white wife-beaters clutching jam jars full of liquor.

One of the reasons I prefer d’Urban to Cape Town is that the ocean doesn’t actively try to kill you. I have surfed in icy seas infested with kelp and great white sharks and let me tell you, the Indian Ocean is better.

When the surf gets big, my home breaks are deadly. You ain’t in Muizenberg any more, I tell myself as I once again fail to get to my feet quickly enough to avoid being slammed into the Westbrook sandbank. The waves in town are more forgiving. Which is more than I can say for the local crew. I have surfed at New Pier and had children shouting at me for getting in their way.

What I hadn’t done was gone into the city, proper. It had been a while. I was a reporter on the Daily News when it still had offices in Field Street. That was before Field Street became Qonda ngqo khona-manjalo jikela ngakwesobunxele Street.

When I told my family I was going into town to have a look around, you’d think I had said I was off to Mexico to bag cocaine for the Tijuana cartel. My sister wept and clung to me. My father begged me not to go. My mother turned in her grave.

“At least wear a bullet-proof vest,” implored my father. My sister pressed a Swiss army knife into my hand. I put it in my pocket. On a mission this dangerous, I might well need to open some kind of medication to steady my nerves.

I parked outside Zack’s on North Beach. The building is so run-down it should be called Cracks. Joe Cool’s is not much better. The only two places offering sustenance and libations to weary beach-goers look as if they were designed by the North Koreans. If you were a tourist who happened to be looking for a research facility that conducts experiments on animals, you would be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled upon it. Their kitchen staff probably experiment on animals all the time. Why do you think your beef bourguignon tastes like shikken? Don’t complain. Hybrids are good for you.

Heading south, a sign put up by the Parks, Leisure and Cemeteries Department – they fit together so well – informed me that I couldn’t fish on the North Beach pier. You can’t do anything on the pier at the moment because they are preparing to stuff it with giant bags of sand. Good luck with that, comrades.

I parked outside the Beach Hotel, had a quick beer at Harpoon Harry’s, then hailed a rickshaw. I asked him to take me down West Street.                                                                                                                “Pixley kaSeme,” he said.                                                                                                                           I put my hand out. “Ben Trovato. Pleased to meet you.”                                                                              Oh. I see. It’s now Pixley kaSeme Street. Presumably because West was a bit of a bastard.

I sensed things had changed when I saw a surgery sharing a wall with Mzamo’s Fast Food. Handy if the burger lodges in your throat. Or if you wake up hungry with a pig’s heart in your chest.

I thought I’d have a beer at El Castilian for old time’s sake. I was the drummer for a band called the Slaves of Janet and we played there one night but the crowd turned on us and we had to run for our lives.

El Castilian is now either the Miss Des Miss Hair & Beauty Salon or Zulu Palace, which probably doesn’t form part of King Goodwill Zwelithini’s burgeoning empire.

I took a left down Point Road. It’s not called that any more, of course. Point was even more of a bastard than West. Now it’s known as Mahatma Gandhi Road. What a brilliant idea. Let’s take the filthiest, most degenerate, street in the country – one that is infested with whores and junkies – and name it after one of the most enlightened leaders the world has ever seen.

I turned back after being offered heroin, coke, ecstasy, weed, crack, acid and ketamine in one city block. Where did they think I was going to put it all? I told the dealers I’d be back with a bakkie and ambled on down Smith Street. Sorry. Anton Lembede Street. However, a sticker over the name said it was Sutcliffe Avenue. The work of a right-wing nut? I don’t think so. It’s an honour to have a street named after you. So who benefits by sticking Sutcliffe Avenue over all the street names? I’m just saying. It wouldn’t hurt for the cops to have a word with the former city manager. I bet you’d find a ladder in his garage.

I walked past the Downtown Holiday Lodge – offering upmarket luxury accommodation plus free adult movies – and rated my chances of survival if I nipped in for a beer at their pub. They weren’t good.

I passed a man selling feather dusters and catapults and a tsotsi carrying a pair of handcuffs. You want my wallet? Fine. Cuff me and take it. Better than being stabbed. Later, after the mugging, the police drive past and shoot you in the head because you look like an escaped prisoner.

Then I got lost and couldn’t tell my Florence Nzamas from my Monty Naickers. “Don’t get your Naickers in a knot,” I said aloud, laughing at my own pathetic joke.

I could get away with this kind of behaviour because the only other white people on the streets were vagrants and vagabonds who looked as if they had drifted down from the hinterland on a river of mayhem and misery. I saw one wearing Crocs and socks and wanted to give him money. That’s not true. I wanted to give him a smack.

Realising that the people all around me already thought I was just another mad, homeless mlungu, I began shouting at the taxis. “Stop fucking hooting!” It was pointless. Do the drivers think everyone on the street is mentally impaired and that only by repeatedly hooting will they make people realise they need a taxi?

I found a market selling good quality pirated goods and, even better, a quarter chicken and chips for R20. I bought a quarter mutton bunny instead and ate it on a bench in Farewell Square, right there in the unsmiling face of the City Hall.

I got a few strange looks, sure, but only because I wasn’t eating like a white man. I was up to my elbows in curry juice. Half my face was stained orange. What the hell. If the Royal Hotel could let itself go, then so could I.

Anyway. My family’s worst fears never came close to being realised. Nobody was doing their laundry in the Medwood Gardens fountain. No one was slaughtering a goat at the foot of the Cenotaph. There was no stick fighting on the steps of the Post Office. No boys having their foreskins chopped off. No girls having their virginity tested.

I have been relentlessly hassled and hustled in Maputo, Lusaka, Harare, Accra, Gaborone, Maseru, Mombasa, Nairobi, Dakar and Banjul. But not in Durban. Not once.

If anything, it felt as if I was being allowed back in. As if I were some kind of alpha male monkey who had been expelled from the troop for bad behavior and was now being given a second chance.

On my way out, I wanted to stop at the Butterworth Hotel for a beer. For old time’s sake. Back then, it was the only hotel within walking distance of the Daily News that allowed black people to drink in the bar. I looked for parking but there was none. Probably for the best. Time hasn’t been kind to the old rebel.

* This column first appeared in the Sunday Tribune on July 8th, 2013.