Monday, June 16, 2008

From the novel Greener Grass: The Men The Chicken Run Left Behind

“Coming in to Joburg. Sandton swimming pools and Soweto shacks…”
Like the song says, it’s the main thing you notices flying in to jan Smuts. Or Joburg International, or whatever it’s called now.
What’s it now? Three years I’ve been away. I figured I’d take a bus down to PE from Joburg. See the countryside and recquaint myself with the land of my birth, I schemed. Ends up being 15 hours of lower-back-pain hell in the Translux. And most of the trip’s at night. 'Course I shoulda flown down, but there you go.
Finally the bus rolls into the windblown parking lot behind the Greenacres mall. It’s Sunday morning around elevenish; pale and blustery.
And there they were to welcome me back from the outside world. No folks, no girlfriend, no family friends. Just my three chinas. The men the chicken run left behind.
Joe looks like the dude from Korn, with one of those pointy bokkies, in a pair of combat pants, rave sneakers, a black lycra muscle top and dark brils. Dennis is in his wheelchair, stubbing out what looks from here like a entch of a scoobie. Girrick’s standing all hunched over in his same Sid ‘n’ Nancy T-shirt and his beige tracksuit pants billowing on him like he’s a scarecrow.
They look like they’ve come straight from the jol.
Joe just laughs when he sees me.
“Pitjie! You stingy bastard. Save R500 on plane fare, and spend six times that amount over the next four years on chiropractor's fees Typical. Welcome back, bruddah.”
After a moment’s contemplation, we give it a full body hug.
“Ja, man. Welcome back, man.”
“Ja. Shot. It’s good to be back.”
Ay, Pitjie. The Pitchmonster. Back in town. Hey!” says Girrick to himself, more than to me.
I pat him on the back and give him a “Hey Garr.”
Dennis whips out the roach from just now and relights it. “TK first-grade,” are his first words to me. “Bet you haven’t had a hit of that for a while, ay Pitj?”
I pull it deep and hard. It has been a while.
The other passengers are identifying their luggage still. I go fetch mine, and we start packing it into Joy’s new car, a second-hand Escort. Dennis is the only one who offers to help carry.
“So? How was overseas?”
“Ay awesome, hey. Kryp.”
“Kief, man. Must’ve got waves.”
“Ja, some places. Indo was the kryp. I’s also working in London for lank.”
“Ja I heard. In some bar?”
Jeremy had styled me in Jo’burg – I’m still pulling crystal rocks of snot out of my nose from all the Charlie him and his mate Carlo were feeding me during my stayover. The folks had sold up and gone travelling, so I’m gonna be staying on mates’ lounge floors for a bit.
I got Joey’s number from his old graft at Music World.
“Bailed that in a big way, bra. Year ago already.”

The place is called Francisco’s, and I can tell things are still pretty shimmery for the ous.
Dennis’s developed this sick, sick, depraved party trick where he lifts his remaining leg onto the table, puts his foot to the side of his face and pretends it’s a telephone. Totally dials numbers on it, and has conversations and stuff. You laugh, but it makes you feel sick at the same time. “You want warm or cold milk with that?”
“Milk? Er cold, I guess.” Coffee shops in PE. Who woulda thought?
“No bra. Finances is quite cool and independent at the moment,” is what Joe tunes me, all in this weird half-coloured accent way I never checked before.
“What, are you merting?”
“…bit, hey…”
“What? Pills ‘n’ shit? … Zol?”
“… Can get you that.”
How’s this? My bra’s a mert! A popular one. There’s other party okes in the coffee shop, still pilling, coming up to our table and just tuning Joe howzit, and shot. He’s fully urbane and like, “Have a nice time last night?” It’s rad.
Last I remember, Joe was just a chilled goofball. I realise all of a sudden that Girrick is actually a good deal more shambolic than usual. He’s shaking. And chain-smoking, all grimy from a whole night’s partying. He’s quite pink, flushed, and bopping his head to the background music, which – it being eleven in the morning – is Phil Collins.
His only contribution to the conversation is to say, at ten-minute intervals. “Jeez, I’m fucked, hey.” Dennis debriefs me.
“So where-all d’you go?”
“All over, hey. England… Europe… and then Indo… Hawaii… the States.”
“So then how long were you in…”
“…in Indo for?”
“Where? In Oz or in Indo?”
“I went to Indo twice. Once for two weeks, and once for three weeks. And I was in Oz for about a month, hey.”
“And Hawaii?”
“Ag. Actually, I just flew through Hawaii and the States on my way back to London. I didn’t really surf there.”
“And zol? How’s the weed over there?”
“Over where? It varies…”
“Ja, but I bet it’s way much more expensive than here,” says Joe, in this professional kind of tone, “gram for gram.”
“Yah. Depends who you know, though. And because you paying more for it, what you get over there is only the kryp. Generally it’s way better quality than TK’s. No seeds. But hectically expensive.”
At this point Dennis grabs his foot, which has been resting on the table near his elbow, and shakes it at me accusingly. It’s a total spin-out.
“Ja, Pitjie, my boy! And what’s with this ‘kryp’ shit? Hey? You been running it since you got off the bus. What’s it, some London lingo?”
It’s American slang for really hardcore. Over there everything’s kryp. But I actually picked it up from this Hawaiian guy I met in Indo. Billy. We surfed Ulus together. I think it’s from kryptonite – from the Superman comics. It’s that green stuff that comes from Krypton, from his home planet. It’s the thing that makes him lose all his superpowers.”
“…aaah! So the kryptonic weed is the one that makes you go all vlam?” postulates Dennis.
“Yeah. But you gotta say it just kryp, you know. Not kryptonic. And in Hawaii they call zol pukalolo. It means crazy smoke in Polynesian. That’ why some people over here even call it pockie, or puckalolly.”
“My babe calls it that,” says Joe.
“I don’t know,” says Dennis, the bladdy otherwise bastard. “I quite prefer kryptonic to just kryp. Girrick, remind me to start saying kryptonic more often. Like a ou tunes you, ‘can you score me some bain?’ And you tune him back, ‘Got a few packies of kryptonic TK, if you interested… Superman! Ha-ha ha ha-ha-hah. Coff. Coff.”
This is the funniest thing Dennis has heard himself say in moons. He has to put his foot back in his lap so he can lean on the table and wipe the tears of laughter away from his face and have a 30-second coughing fit. Joe gets up and goes to the toilet.
Our coffees come. I’m putting my milk in, when, out of the corner of my eye, I see this white flash.
I look up, and it's an Alsation. It shoots straight through the restaurant and into the bogs that Joey just went into. I scheme, “O-o”. Looked like a dagga dog.
Dennis is till crying and coughing into his coffee, Girrick is just bobbing his head in a Phil Collins trance and pulling on the cigarette he bummed from one of the shiny, pilling people.
“Did no one check that?” I ask out loud. As if. Girry raises his eyebrows to reveal a pair of eyeballs as pink as a couple of cherries that someone drew eyes onto. He says nothing, but Dennis pulls himself out of his laggies paroxysm and says, “What’s 'at, bra?”
“I’m not sure if I imagined it, but I’m sure I saw an Alsation just run into the bogs after Joey.”
“Ja bra. These Alsations are insatiable,” says Dennis and starts lagging and crying again. At one stage he even wipes the tears out of his eyes with his limp foot.
I’m just keeping an eye out for a bunch of police to come bursting into Francisco’s and start busting pillheads left and right. I just got off the bus, so I’m clean as clean, but the rest of the clientele look a bit sketchy.
“Ay, ay, look!” Here it comes again. “Gary. Check.”
There’s another grey flash through the coffee shop. The dog comes missioning out of the bogs like silent stealth and shoots between the tables with its tail down, underneath the radar and outta there. Girrick checks it this time. “Aaaiiiiyyyy, bra.”
Joe comes out a second later.
“Did you ous check that? Pitj, tune me you checked a dog come missioning out of the toilets.”
“Fully. I saw it go in and then come out about a minute later. Less than a minute.”
“I can’t believe it. I got robbed by a dog,” Joey’s scheming, all irate.
A couple of heads come over from the next table, all concerned. “What’s that Joe?”
“Bra! I’m in shock. You won’t believe what just happened. I go in the bogs to pop another ecccie. As I get in there, this dog comes shooting under the door of the stall, stands on its hind legs and pins me against the cistern. The thing fuckin’ growled at me.”
“Fuckin’ dog-mugging, bra,” one of the other okes schemes.
Joe looks a bit pale.
“Starts sniffing me all over, like he’s searching me. I had my bankie of pills out, and the fuckin’ bastard just grabs it in his mouth, and bails back under the door the way he came. Fuckin’ hound took about a grand’s worth of pills off me.”
“Ffffnnnnnrrrk,” one of the waitresses can’t quite contain her laughter as she serves Full English to the couple behind us.
“Ay it’s not fuckin’…” Joey shouts before realising he’s being too loud. “It’s not fuckin’ funny, okay,” he tunes under his breath now, glaring at her, but she’s off back to the kitchen, still lagging to herself and about to tune the coffee guy.
“Looked like a police dog,” I say.
“I scheme so too,” says Joey. “But then where the cops?”
“Ay, who knows,” this little 18-year-old raver oke with gelled-up hair that I’ve never met before tunes. “I gotta be going home now, though. Can you get my coffee. Cheers hey.”
“Ja. Shot, hey,” the rest of the okes at his table tune, and bail as one.
“Ay, fuck you ous” Joey blurts out. “I just been robbed of a grand and now I gotta pay for your coffees?”
But the lighties are outta there fast.
“And those little shits owe me about five hundred bucks each,” growls Joey with his face in his hands, lank bitter. “Fuck!”
“So let’s go get ghoefed,” says Dennis. It’s a winner, that suggestion. We all stand up, except him. Girricks tryna finish his bummed pot quick, having huge lung-hits of the Stuyvie.
“No refills for you guys?” asks the giggling waitress from now-now. Quite a sweetie, actually.
“Nah. We bailing. Gonna go have a wheat at Joey’s spot,” Dennis tunes her. “When d’you get off shift?” He’s spading her swak.
“What’s your name? I’m Dennis, this is Gary, you know Joe, and this is Pitjie – Steve – he just got back from overseas.”
“Hi. Hi. I’m Sharon. Not soon enough, hey. I’ll catch you guys some other time.” She’s got a beauty spot, and these wicked sexy, pouty lips. Arty kind of babe. Jewish looking, with her hair up and curly.
“Hope so,” says Dennis, and we’re off.
“I’m fully functional, in case you’re wondering,” he shouts back to the waitress as Girrick wheels him out.

“Let’s go for a cruise,” Joey schemes as we get into his car. “There’s a whole lot of okes passed out at my spot, and the chick's still dossing. Let’s just do the beachfront. I got a section here.”
Girrick lifts Dennis out of his chair and lowers him into the passenger seat. Folds up his chair, walks round to the boot and drops it in. Looks like he’s done it lank times.
Joey reaches into the cubbie and whips out a bankie. I lean through the middle and check it out. It’s not first grade, it’s second grade. Bit dry and lank little pitjies in it. And stalky. Smells quite peppery, though. Should put on.
Dennis starts crushing on the Sunday Times magazine. Picture of the blonde babe from Austin Powers on it. He’s got a new sorting technique, because he only has one thigh, so he can’t crush between his legs any more. He holds it folded over in his left hand, and picks the seeds out one by one. He’s got it down, though, and by the time we get off the freeway and onto Beach Road at the Bumble, he’s got a king-size zock blazing. Mmmmm. Splif de Paradis.
"Zheezzzz, how’s all this development,” I can’t help blurting out. They built an entire shopping mall behind the Bumble – Spar, gym, bottle store, shops, offices, a M-Net sports café.
“Even a McDonald’s”
“Bra, there’s four McDonalds’s”
Good grief. Leave town for a couple of years and they turn it into a city. I’m pulling on the pockie by the time we get to Hobie Beach. That whole section where Sea Acres was and the tennis stadium used to be is flattened. Full demolitions going on, and bulldozers levelling ground up where the rondavels were – where the Nude Girls used to stay. Although it’s Sunday, so the plant is just standing.
“Casino, bra,” Dennis tunes me. “With restaurants and five-star hotel and all kids of stuff. They taking over the army base too, and the Sugarbush roadhouse.”
The wind’s a howling south-west, so the sea is pale green, and being whipped creamy. Millers is half a foot, with cross-waves chopping the surf to deah. Building sand is being lashed all over the greater Boardwalk area, and it’s miserable.
It must be gale force. The only people braving the weather are a couple of die-hard car guards and a Despatch-looking family going for lunch at Barney’s. There’s some dude trying to sell necklaces out of his kombi, it seems, as we cruise by, heading round the corner. Scoob’s only half way. Joey rolls down his window a bit. “Bra, I can hardly see out the windscreen. Dennis you always gotta roll such huge joints.”
“Ay it’s organic, Joe. It comes from the good earth,” says Dennis, all defensive. “We have naturally evolved THC receptors in our brains especially for getting ghoefed. Smoking zol is our evolutionary birthright,” he says. “Unlike certain other synthetic medication.”
“Dennis, you weren’t being quite so judgmental at Logic last night,” Joey’s tuning in his mert voice again. “I gave you three pills on credit. Now you owe me six-forty. Make it a sweet six hundred.”
“So Pitjie…” Dennis changes the subject without even flinching. “Why d’you come back?”
“Just hang on,” Joey interrupts him. “Sorry Pitjie. I just gotta make something clear here. You two losers owe me almost a grand and a half for eccies and grammage. And I owe Benjie and Jerry fuckin’ huge. So if you don’t pay me back by next weekend I’m fucking you both up. Actually, I know. I’m confiscating your wheelchair, Dennis. And Girrick can go raving at Logic with you on his shoulders.”
“Ahh, come on , bra,” says Girrick weakly as he pulls the spliff. “Who made this girrick?”
“See what I have to deal with?” Joey tunes me. “So how long are you back for?”
“Ay I might stay.”
This is greeted with uncontrollable coughing by Girrick, a high-pitched “What?!” from Denny the Mushroom Mert and a cynical “Yeah, right,” from Joe.
“It’s like the president says,” sings Gary as if he’s copying some pop song. “Stay for our sakes.”
I’m serious. I made bucks in London, but waitering sucks, however well you get paid. I still gotto finish my accounts articles here, though. Wanna finish board exam. It’s hard to explain now, driving around pulling pockie with these ous, but when you’re in London, you miss SA a bit as well. The sun and that. And it looks like business is slowly picking up in the Bay.
“Okay, maybe for you,” says Joey. “You got a degree. But for vlam okes like us, there’s less chance. Bra, if I could wax it, I’d be over there like a shot. I was thinking of coming over to visit you, but you need, like, twenty grand in the bank. That’s almost what my bladdy debts are.”
“Anyway, you’ll check, Pitj,” comes Dennis now. “The graft is min, even for ous with degrees. I’d have an ancestral visa, but my ou-lady’s been divorced so many times I can’t find any birth certificates or anything. That’s why we just working for Joey.”
“Oh. You okes are together.”
“Sub-contractors,” Groans Girrick, with his lungs full of smoke. “Informal sector.”
“Ja,” says Joey, “I’m also spinning a few tunes. I’m DJ Salinger. But the drug industry’s the only business in town that half decent. And if it’s between being a barman and a mert, which it basically is, I’ll be a mert every time.
“If you merting pills, everyong loves you. If you’re a barman, everyone just tells you to move it up and you have to kiss their arses for a two-buck tip so they can go home pissed and beat their girlfriends. Fuck that.”
“Fully,” says Girrick.
“Or putting CDs in alphabetical order all day for six rand an hour. It’s childish.”
“Whyn’t you go to Cape Town?” I ask him.
“Bra! Cape town can fuck off. Between Nigies and Moroccans and gangsters and Pagad? There’s no ways I’m’onna go mert in Cape Town. It’s bad enough here!”
“What about the cops,” I tune Joe.
“Fffffffff… “ is what Girrick tunes, exhaling.
“Gary, are you ganna smoke that whole thing by yourself,” schemes Joe, leaning back over the seat while he’s still driving.
“Whoooaa! Hey man! Skort bra!” There’s a few seconds of pandemonium as Dennis grabs the wheel and Joe eyeballs Girrick, blank-faced and innocent as a lamb. We’re taking the right-hand bend near Cape Recife. “Okay, okay,” relents Gary, and passes it forward. And then, “I had a proper job.”
“Ja, listen to this,” says Dennis, chuckling as he takes the honey pot from Gary.
“PR,” says Gary. “Who’s got a smoke?”
Dennis issues him one, and he continues. “But it wasn’t for me. And they were exploiting me. Two gorillas a month was all I was clearing. Peanuts, man. Peanuts.”
“Two weekends’ work at Logic,” says Joe.
“Shooo. Proper graft, hey,” says Girrick to himself, shaking his head.
We’re driving around the back of the university, where the dunegrass and coastal fynbos has been supplanted by forests of Port Jackson willow. All the same. Just a sea of willow leaves beckoning in the gale, shining silver and green.
They brought in the Port Jackson to save the town, they say. Port Elizabeth was in danger of being swamped by invading sand dunes. Like Swakopmund. Then this one dude got the idea to plant the Port Jacksons and they stabilised the dunes. And the town was saved. There’s a monument to the guy on the PE beachfront.
“So what about babes,” says Dennis now, sort of to me, but actually to no one in particular, just sort of signalling that we will now talk about babes for a bit.
“So what are you on now?” he asks, more to me this time. Me and Dennis always had this sort of survey going on, of how many babes we’d had sex with. I was well over it, but it became a kind of vicarious sex mission for Dennis, who hardly ever got to have sex these days. I sometimes felt I was having sex on Dennis’s behalf.
It started at school already, when Dennis was the only one of us who’d ghoened anyone. Then after his accident, we started catching up gradually, and now we saw it more as a bonding exercise than anything else. I only caught up with Dennis two years after school – that’s about five years after his accident, so you must know. Damn lucky he missed the Aids era, but there you go.
“Must be into my thirties by now,” I tune him, not without some pride. “The chicks dig the SA boys that side.”
“Like where? Where was the sweetest honey that you ghoened?”
“Dennis! Jeeezuz!” Joey’s feigning embarrassment cos he’s got a babe.
“Ay shoosh Joe,” comes Dennis. “Just cos you get to ghoen Miss Rave PE doesn’t mean the rest of us have to ignore our rampant libidos, ekse.”
“So you can actually have sex, hey Dennis?” Joey asks, even though he knows the answer.
“Bra, just ask the girls from Karen’s if I can have sex,” is Dennis’s comeback. “They’ll tune you. The boy always gets his money’s worth that side.”
The king-sizer’s swak and we’re parked at Lookout, on the wilderness side of town, where the untamed ocean swells pound the rocky coastline, outside the calm sanctuary of Algoa Bay, the Bay of the Lagoon.
“So who is this babe you’re seeing?” I just gotta know.
“Ja man, you know her. Layla. Blonde babe.”
“Layla JAY?!!”
So the bastard got her. “The one you were perving from way back. I think I caught her by fluke the one night in London at Sunnyside Up.”
“Ja, that would’ve been her. But I wouldn’t say I used to perv her. We just felt a certain attraction, and we move in the same circles. She helps me with business and that.”
“Bra, you are in such denial,” comes Denny’s voice of reason. “Look at yourself. You changed your entire image to hook that babe. You gave up jamming music and took up DJ-ing, you dress like some oke from the Matrix, you started merting… and that was her business to begin with, not yours. Now you’ve got gangsters and Nigies living in your lounge selling crack and smack an all kindsa shit. Just ‘coz of that babe.”
I would’ve thought this would make Joey fully woes, but he’s mellow about it. Obviously they’ve had this conversation before.
“Ay. What can I say, ou’s. I’m pussy-whipped. Tell me you wouldn’t be.”
There are grudging grumbles of assent from all corners of the car, as Joe starts it up again with an air of triumphant finality and we leave the Lookout parking lot, following Marine Drive further round the corner towards the seaside villages of Willows and Schoenmakerskop, before the road loops back into PE.
Dunno if Joe knows about that fiasco me and Layla had before I left, but I know what he means. Men do crazy things for babes like that.

Joe’s is your basic drug house. Semi-detached Central digs.
There’s nothing too hectic visible at first. Just a section of doob lying crushed on a Skyf! Magazine. The room smells like basing, though, or buttons, or both. And thers’s little skietsels of powder on the lounge table you could probably make a line with. Girrick finds someone’s Makro card and starts doing just that.
There’s a huge black oke passed out on the couch with a curtan thrown over him. He’s still got his brils on. And some other whitie, looks young enough to be a schoolie, sitting tryna watch TV, but he’s catching fish. He’s passing out and waking up every couple of seconds. Every now and then he wakes with a start and says, “What was that? D’you check that?” before passing out again. I think it’s called narcolepsy.
I meet this coloured oke, Duncan, stopping a pipe in the kitchen with Dennis.
“Morning, boss. Morning, boss,” he tunes me. “So the boys ready for a bit of a bronchodilator this morning?”
I’m actually schmangled from the car spliff, so I weasel out of it. Dennis pounces.
“If Pitjie doesn’t have, we can put some of ’at coke in it?” he tunes Duncan, in a coloured style. “Give it a lekker skop.”
Joe’s snuck into the bedroom to check his babe. I guess that’s the end of the evening for him. I roll out my mattie and my sleeping bag and find a spot near the hi-fi, which is oozing this sparse piddly ambient music. Pee-pop. Pow-wow-wow. Woooooo-up. Jah Wobble kinda shite from two years ago.
The schoolie’s still catching fish. “Whoa!” he starts, and goes back to sleep.
Girrick’s compiled a three-inch line of cocaine, breadcrumbs, house dust and zol skietsels. I go to sleep to the sound of him sniffing it up his nose.
“Goodnight sweet prince,” I tune him facetiously.
He says, “Hey, what’s that?”
I go out like a light. It was a hell of a bus trip.
Must be half past one. It’s great to be home.

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