Archive for September, 2010

The pros and cons of competitive advertising.

September 30, 2010

There’s competitive advertising… and then, there’s COMPETITIVE ADVERTISING.

Burger King puts big tacky price specials in the window. McDonalds buys a billboard that towers over their store...

Every fast food outlet with outside seating comes complete with its own Crazy Old Guy who says random stuff nobody understands to whoever swings by. This Burger King is no exception. Off the grid at the grill...

In South Africa it’s not legal to advertise competitively. This makes for more entertaining advertising – there’s nothing more boring than a “I’m better than you” contest. American advertising’s lack of entertainment value is one of the major reasons I chose not to get cable! Way back when, Mercedes filmed a commercial on Cape Town’s gorgeous Chapman’s Peak drive, showing the car speeding along and then flying over the edge. BMW responded with an ad in which it didn’t fly off the edge, with the pay off line, Beats the Benz. They were forced to end the campaign, but it was so memorable that that hardly mattered.

At Cape Town international Airport, two of SA’s top advertising agencies showed how you can get around laws like this.

competitive advertising south africa

I originally blogged this last year in July sometime... possibly before that. The blog, which I wrote in my own time while working as editor of Channel24.co.za, has now been handed over wholesale to the new editor, Annel Malan, as if she wrote it. Which isn't her fault but pisses me off. I mean, can't they set up a new one for her? Pathetic, people. My name is now nowhere now, so what's next? She gets the byline on every article I wrote for you?

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The moment when a place becomes home…

September 29, 2010

Home being a relative term, considering if it is where the heart is, I can’t say I’m sure I still have one, I know what makes me feel I’ve taken root, a little. It’s not appliances, a first shag, or a first meal. It’s the first time I go away and while driving picture myself arriving at something which in my mind is called “home”. Not a motel. This I got quite soon after I took possession of my apartment. Then there’s the first time you wake up and don’t wonder where you are. This mostly hasn’t happened to me for about two weeks. Then there’s the moment where you begin to include a living thing in your life. Since I’m still not sure younger men are living things, I’d have to name my plants as this – my nasturtiums in particular, which I’ve planted in a heart shaped bowel. Aaaaawww. Right? And then there’s the real moment. The moment when you first sit around a table with people and think “Cool. You guys are a bit fucking weird, too! I can deal with you people.”

That happened to me today, in Little Korea. Every town in the USA seems to have a “Little [insert name of country invaded by the USA at some point]”.

The food is eat all you want for $16.99. A lot in South Africa, normal in restaurants here unless we're taking a burger joint. Dessert is ice cream (great ice cream) and you can have as much as you like. I had two cones... I took this picture at checkout, where separate bills were no problem at all.

I drove there with a new friend listening to Tom Waits on my iPod (he got to play DJ) with two women in the back. We (including the two women from Chapman who were with us, both of whom were Asian and should have known better) forgot it was Full Moon festival, a fairly important event in Little Korea so most of Little Korea was closed for lunch. But we found something by asking the guys in the window frame shop, which was open. And the food we got was the best food I have eaten since I arrived in America. Thinly sliced raw meat is cooked on a broad-slatted gas grill – spiced pork, beef brisket, fatty beef, and whatever else… sometimes squid but in this case also some pork belly and the usual strangely tasteless American chicken.

One of the guys at the table kept going on about some girlfriend he’d had, and how he had to date an Asian girl for the food, and his random bangter was so clearly tasteless that it was okay. We girls rolled our eyes and feigned shock. The other two guys went haw haw and told him to shut up. This must be the first time I’ve really had that moment here, where people were comfortable enough with racial issues to take the piss as friends. A keen sense of irony is not what’s charming about the average Californian, although the absense of routine sarcasm is a wonderful by-product of what they lack.

Anyhow, the food, the food… Wow. Perhaps that’s why countries wage war – because they want to steal the food. God knows I would hate to live in the UK if it weren’t for curry. Perhaps the whole “the USA needs oil” thing is just a cover up. After all, if the USA was really short of oil, surely they wouldn’t fucking deep fry absolutely everything?

I made it home in time to sit around for two hours trying to work, feeling happy, feeling that for a moment or two, I’d found my place, for the first time really.

Braai me a liver… my beef with barbecue.

September 27, 2010

Americans have many great things. Ok, a lot of them don’t really belong to them… like Ohio, or Michigan, for example, and half of what should be Mexico (what’s it called now – New Mexico? California? Oh, both?)… although thanks to the need for cheap labour and the resultant immigration, this injustice is gradually being reversed. But stop feeling smug, because this makes them no different to people anywhere in the world. All land has, at some point, been stolen. Yes, Shaka Zulu, I’m talking to you. It’s the top stolen item of choice worldwide, and how much you can fight about it only really correlates directly with how far back in humanity’s sordid history of violence you’re prepared to go. Doesn’t make it right, but who’s going to stop first? Not you, right?

One of the first T-Shirts I saw in the USA - at Atlanta Airport featured this poster. We're all immigrants. As one poster commented on Amyoops.com, "I freaking love this! Give this country back to the natives, and forget the whole 1492 thing ever happened."

America has many great things. Great education. Great land. Great money. Great patriotic unity. A pretty cool flag. Amazing films and music. Even very beautiful places. Cheeseburgers. And a persona that’s made them the most popular kid in the world – even if they can be a mean girl sometimes.

But one great thing they do not have is the braai. Why no braai? Well it’s because the wild, wild, west is in truth just nowhere near as wild as the quietest suburban cul-de-sac in Cape Town. John Wayne has nothing on the average cop in Hillbrow. Africa is not for sissies, like Syd Kitchen sings. And braais are primal things. As I said on twitter today, I never thought for a second I’d wind up being one of those people that arrived in a foreign country and immediately started trying to find the biltong stand. But I am one of those people. In Atlanta airport, I was stuck waiting for hours, with no idea what to eat. I remember arriving in Madagascar and meeting a South African on an island. I knew he was one even before I saw him cutting bits of biltong off a stick with his knife. Turns out he couldn’t get cow there, so he’d been making it biltong with the local water buffalo. South Africans make biltong out of fish, Chicken, ostrich, crocodile, wildebees, buck, and ja, boet. Keep an eye on your pets, cause they’re next.

The American equivalent – beef jerky – is nothing like biltong, and despite some well-targeted Gorilla Advertising (the spelling is deliberate) on cool sites like theonion.com, beef jerky will always taste like biltong that’s already been through a couple of guys, then just been glued together with corn starch.

All the way across the USA, my sister from another mother @lihle_z, who also recently moved to the states, replied to my mournful Sunday biltong tweet: “Same here! Lol!” Ah, how we lolled.

And then I started organising Braai Day USA. It’s a slightly smaller affair than South Africa’s #braaiday – an event so important that everyone from Helen Zille to AZAPO has to weigh in on whether it’s a bastion of racism or a unifying force, while 99% of South Africans don’t give a fuck provided there’s plenty of beer, boerewors, seshebo, and krummel/putupap to keep their mouths full.

So here’s a quick rundown of what separates the braai from the barbecue.

Braais are made on fires: This most important characteristic of the braai is what sets it apart. Wood fires smell different, generate human-seeking smoke that it takes a real South African to survive, and can go out or burn down your house. Gas barbecues are controlled heat sources, childfriendly, and for wimps.

Braais taste better: Food cooked on gas tastes completely different from food cooked on port jackson, under the shade of your rapidly blackening indigenous yellow-wood shrub.

Braais are macho: Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t mean they’re for men… although men are more easily suckered into doing the cooking at a braai than at any other occasion. At a braai, fighting for your place at the fire, and the placement of your bring-and-braai meat, is completely acceptable, and transcends social boundaries. It’s quite acceptable to tell your boss to fuck off and move up at a Braai, or to leave your potjie alone.

In some South African cultures, specially in the small Afrikaans towns, the braaiplek is the only place that men are permitted to decorate. Their wives tend to cover all other available space in doilies, and pink stuff, including the marital bed. Tuisnyverheid (hand craft) shops in areas behind what's known as the "boerewors curtain" (like the iron curtain) cater to male decorating urges as best they can with signs like these.

Braais are for sharing: Van-confusus say: Everyone who brung to braai must brung enough for everyone. There will always be way too much meat at a braai – for there shalt always be sufficient to sacrifice half to the gods of beer, and half to the fridge clean out next week – and although you fight for cooking space, you never, ever fight over cooked food. “Help yourself”. Unlike at BBQs where guests may contribute cash, cookies, salad, or booze – but rarely meat.

Braais take hours, even days: Braais are not about the food. Nobody has ever complained that a braai sucked because all the meat was blackened to death. Braais are about the primal experience of hanging around around a fire. This can and should involve food, but it’s not the point. I have been to braais that began only once the alcohol ran out. Barbecues are tragically efficient. No sooner have they turned the gas on than it’s lit itself. Then the meat is cooked. And within less than an hour, it’s all over.

Braais are for the whole farm: Meaning it will involve the death and marination of every animal in every isle of the supermarket except the dogs, cats and other pets. Expect Lamb, Chicken, Pork, Beef, fish, boerewors, small sausages like chippolatas, and the occasional veggie burger to share the grill. Barbeques are limited to pork things and burger patties.

South African meat is more lekker: It just is. In every way – how it’s farmed, how it looks wrapped up in a supermarket, and how it tastes. American chickens, for example, are free to range. But since they’re too interbred to walk… well they don’t range much. It’s ridiculous. That’s why America won’t let foreign meat in on domestic airplanes. Once Americans had tasted the stuff we smuggled over the border they’d never eat at an in-and-out burger again. My mouth waters at the thought of that chicken I wrapped in foil, that lamb chop with mash, that meat salad at Mzoli’s… that potjie that I cooked until the meat fell off the bones, and we could all barely stand.

Braais are served on china, tjina: There will always be exceptions, but the idea is usually that you try and sit around a table to eat, with proper plates, knives, and forks. This is serious food – so treat it with respect.

When you braai, accessoraais Potato salad, mielies (that’s not-sweet-corn), foil-roasted veggies (garlic, potatoes, sweet potatos, onions), beans, cole-slaw, garlic bread, putupap (krummel, ideally) and braaibrootjies… starch rules and should all be cooked on the braai, unless you have a British passport or something, you soutpiel. Plus (especially in Durban) you’ll need some hot sauce, usually ‘seshebo – tomato, onion, an d plenty of chilli. Guests should also be offered so many different chips and dips before the food is ready in an attempt to keep them sober, that they can’t really eat when their food is cooked.

And when it’s all over… it’s not over! It’s traditional for the drunken guests who haven’t yet bred themselves a litter of screaming kids to heap more wood on the fire as soon as the last meat’s off, open another bottle of wine, and sit around the fire until a) someone drags them home, or b) someone starts crying, someone or c) some bright spark realises that the hosts have gotten the moer in and gone to bed, leaving the guests to break all their plates while “cleaning up” d) a fight breaks out over politics. Eish – not again.

All South Africans braai: They may do it while watching rugby, soccer, cricket, or just while drinking. They may not drink. They may not eat pork, may eat halaal, or kosher, or perhaps only fish – like smoorsnoek – or maybe only veggies. Or they may just light the fire for no reason except for light to drink by. But we all do it. It brings us together, whether we do it together or not.

*Having said all this against America’s second-favourite way of cooking things (deep frying is easily the first), I’ll have to add that I’ve really enjoyed at least one BBQ since arriving in the States, and that it has its own charm… real guacamole dip, for one. Home brewed beer, for another. And someone brought soft, chewy chocolate chip cookies for dessert, which was truly awesome. The lack of drama is still foreign to me, but in time I’m sure I’ll come to find it refreshing in its own way.

A voyeur’s guide to New York

September 25, 2010

New York. Never been there. Always wanted to go. Can’t wait. I actually originally planned to go there and not to California to study film but I missed the application deadline for Tisch, and the New York Film Academy struck me as a bit of a moneymaking racket. So I applied to Miami, Boston and Chapman instead, and got my first choice of those three in the end. But I have a couple of friends in NY.

I have vaguely kept in touch with my old classmate, Bianca Amato, who’s now a top theatre (and occasionally film) actress. I plan to visit her when I get to the big city someday.

Then there’s Niel Bekker, who I used to work with and who is a great photographer, is studying Multimedia Journ there. He’s a brilliant and very funny writer and you can follow him on Twitter – I would highly recommend him. He facebooked these photos and said I could re-use them here.

Just looking at this made me shudder... and remember my own war on bed bugs.

Beautiful and creepy mural. Humans insected. Ghosts of cartoons that look like they might live on unwanted pizza crust.

Home of the brave, land of the free. I don't know the story behind this one.

Jesus Saves*... (*not electricity).

Click here to vicariously experience life as a college student in New York courtesy of Niel’s tweets.

Fucking. Paul’s. Cocktails.

September 24, 2010

A friend described my night last night as “Not your fault, any more than it would be your fault if you looked the wrong way before crossing a road and got hit by a bicycle.” I won’t be going into too much detail, but let me just say that I need to accept the fact that I
1. No longer have an alcohol tolerance. Two or three beers is now enough to make me too drunk to decide not to have six.

That’s about it, actually.

fucking paul's cocktails, orange, CA

The napkin holder is labeled "Fucking Paul's Cocktails" - spoken like a regular. Pauls is a dark, divey bar where the regulars arrive around five and stay till 11, when the students get rowdy, go home and have messy monkey-sex by accident - probably.

I’m interviewing the Paul’s bouncer for a production assignment – my next due – and persuading him to do it was the initial reason for going there. I also arranged to meet an editor from LA who befriended me on Facebook. And somehow I wound up playing pool. When I came back, my “friends” had stolen my beer and vanished. I solved the problem by ordering a dirty martini and rashly leaving.

beauty is in the eye of the beerholder

In the women's bathroom. I think it was Paul's but it might be O'Haras. Unlike Paul's O'Hara's doesn't open at 7am.

Later, I decided to relive my Undergrad Durban Fun times of bush diving. Woooot! Yeah, well, I had scratches all over me and a couple of bruises, bits of hedge and dead flowers in my hair. I generally do stupid things when something presses my panic button, as had happened earlier in the day. I’ll know I’ve finally grown up when instead I have a nice warm bubble bath and go to bed early instead.

After that adventure, I stopped in at a shop somewhere in Santa Ana, where a kind man from India who wore an America The Brave eagle cap called me a cab home. We had a warm chat about South Africa and the trickyness of moving to California, despite the fact that I was semi-hysterical, only just sobering up, and gulping down some strange green health drink. Then the cab came and took me the couple of miles back to my apartment, where I showered, managing to scratch myself again really badly with my conditioner tubing. I don’t know what I would have done if my friends hadn’t been online when I logged on… I really needed them right then. The one advantage of the time zone difference is, I guess, that now and again it works in your favour. But that’s usually when you’ve been up to no good.

I somehow – because the only thing worse than fucking up is failing – managed to turn out the assignment that was due at lunch time, get to class on time, and get over my sense that there was some kind of rip in the frame that could never be repaired. Almost everything can be repaired.

Tonight at a birthday party the LA guy told me he passed out in his car outside the college rather than driving a few blocks to his planned crash spot – and confessed to stealing my beer. This made me feel better.

But better or not, I don’t like feeling like a a character in a story from Textsfromlastnight.com, and I really don’t want to see what got charged to my credit card while it was sitting behind the bar. It’ll be funny by next week – I can spin anything given a few days to reinvent the memories – but until then I’m saying an atheist’s Mail Marys.

Why I’m here

September 21, 2010

People often seem surprised that I came all the way to Chapman in California to study film. Now there are of course some obvious reasons, like…

1. There really isn’t a dedicated, world-renowned screenwriting program in SA. This isn’t because there aren’t great teachers or screenwriters there… but there just isn’t the money to pay for it. My fees are about 20 times more than they would be in SA.

See this awesome fountain thing? Ja, I'm helping to pay for that. Well at least there's an SA flag there (top right).

2. It’s good to be 25km from LA, and be taught by people who work in the industry there. My teachers are all really, really good. And they work hard. One of them even split the class into two and teaches it twice now, as he feels we deserve more one-on-one attention for that three hours.

mi casa mexican food

I got lunch here today... a burrito. Really good. The inside of the restaurant is amazing too - definitely going to sit down there for some food and drink one day.

3. The Mexican food is really good. No seriously. Even though I know the pigs are treated badly and stuff, cause I read Eating Animals, I can’t help myself around Carnitas. Carnitas. Carnitas. Oh, jesus, oh… jesus. Carnitas. Save me, for I cannot say no.
4. California is beautiful in its own way. It’s not Cape Town, but it’s nice to look at. It’s… you know… it’s got a good personality.

Pretty, safe, flat, friendly, windless, warm. Socal, they call it.

5. Also, this sounds cool, right? “I’m studying screenwriting in California”. Even if it does scream “What the fuck are you going to do if THIS doesn’t work out? Move to Kommetjie and invent some kind of curative massage nobody’s thought of yet?”

As a journalist who worked for South Africa’s biggest website, with some of its best journalists and editors too, I’m used to being surrounded by talented, opinionated, young people. So the fact that the talented, opinionated people I hang around with now are a little younger than the average intern at 24.com doesn’t bug me. In fact, I mostly quite like it.

So here are some of the cool things that I’ve done in the first two weeks at “school” as they call university here.

Assignment one – portrait of a character or location.

I didn't really do much. Mostly watched Ryan Broomberg - he's in my class - do stuff. You can watch the results here.

The In Memory of 911 sign is visible from the Stadium drive. This Fire Training centre is near the Angles Stadium. The day we were there they were training oil rig workers - not firemen. You could tell they weren't firemen cause they weren't *hot. *management would like to apologise for this bad joke.

My own assignment wasn’t as awesome but I learned a lot by doing it. The task: A portrait of a location in under a minute. I made a few mistakes, the most obvious of which was the use of zoom. I mean, I know better. Anyhow, here you go, Ma.

Assignment two: Moment of decision

Next up was: Show a character making a decision. Same time – 1 minute limit. No dialogue allowed, again. My major mistake here was to show him changing his mind back and forth rather than just progressively changing his mind, says my production teacher Gil Bettman. He’s right, of course. I tend to overcomplicate everything I do.

There were many other good ones. Many were posted on facebook video, and can’t be embedded. Here’s mine…

After we shot mine, we all helped shoot this one – we work in small teams to do these assignments in order to pool some skills and resources, each taking turns to play director / camera and producing, writing and editing our own assignments of course.

So that, my friends, is why I am so far from home. Of course, it’s not all a simple case of happy learning. I’m half way through writing tomorrow’s assignment. A personal reaction paper to the movie The Blue Lagoon. I’m comparing Brooke Shields’ performance unfavourably to that of the movie’s dolphin trainer and Brooke’s body double, Kathy Troutt (seriously), who according to the boys in my grade 7 class was the true stars, narrowly missing the top spot in that decade’s Tosscar Awards. Kathy lost first place to Bambi Woods. But only just. Now this would all be fine if I were writing it for South Africa’s online audience of drooling morans (their spelling not mine) because I am used to them hating me. But unfortunately, the director of the movie might be grading my paper.

I wonder if it’s possible to get a DD?

Catholic jokes

September 19, 2010

London, 2010

I googled “Catholic Jokes” and found a site called fish eaters – yes, I’m serious – full of jokes. But I didn’t understand most of them. The first few seem to require a fair amount of religious (more dogmatic than biblical) knowledge of Judaism and Catholicism – more than I possess. Here are a couple I did understand…


A rabbi, a priest and a minister walk into a bar.
The bartender looks up and says, “What is this, a joke?”

And then there was this one…


A nun at a Catholic school asked her students what they want to be when they grow up.
Little Suzy declares, “I want to be a prostitute.”
“What did you say?!” asks the nun, totally shocked.
“I said I want to be a prostitute,” Suzy repeats.
“Oh, thank heavens,” says the nun. “I thought you said ‘a Protestant!'”

And this is my favourite:

A man walks into a monastery and says “I want to be monk.”
The abbot replies “Great! But you realize we are not allowed to talk except every ten years.”
The man replies “Fine.”
Ten years go by and the man goes into the abbot’s office. The abbot asks, “Well my son what have you to say.
The man replies “Bed’s hard.”
The abbot remarks, “Is that it?”
The man says, “Yes”.
Another ten years go by and the man goes into the abbot’s office and says, “Food stinks!”
The abbot asks, “Is that it?”
And the man says “Yes.”
Another ten years goes by and the man goes into the abbot’s office and says “Water’s cold. I quit!”
And the abbot replies, “Figures! You’ve been complaining ever since you got here!”

It’s a Jewish joke, really, if you ask me. But then, Christianity is too.

Thanks to Jeanine, my former flatmate and my friend in London, who said I could use her friend’s picture, which I found on Facebook yesterday.

What is it like? Where I’m from.

September 19, 2010

A friend (I think) from California asked me over a frozen yogurt what I missed most about South Africa. “Ah” I said, for my land is beautiful. Well it’s my land for now. Malema KAN LIKE 2 HAV. But for now… no I didn’t bring that up. I have realised that a lot of the expats’ whining is really boasting – an attempt to make themselves sound interesting by pretending that their rich, middle class lives were really more in danger than those of the millions of (yes, majority black, but not only) people who are so poor that they know the police won’t come if they call.

It was Friday night, and Orange pumped… like the last pulses of a dying aorta. Cars dawdled home in time for pumpkin hour. Cyclists broke the 25mph speed limit, their spokes hissing. My arteries pulsated with joy and pain in response to a dose of “cookie dough” flavoured sweetness. And actually, I was having a cool time, in my own weird way.

I told him I missed the mix of voices most. And that is true. Here are a few that make sense of it for me – just stuff I’ve plucked off my South African friends’ facebook profiles (with their permission) or been sent by mail by them (and yes, I did ask before blogging).

Sent by email. Malema is "youth" leader of approximately 40 years whom the media ridicule, but who has a surprising amount of support. He's awful. Like a post-mugabe-post-joke media monster... who just won't die. But he's funny!

This is not a joke. Recommended to me by Facebook, which as in very poor taste, given the source...

New U. New You? Is this a joke? Sent to me by an ex, who says he could never find this street again, or any information about the supposed union. Taken in Jozi somewhere. Down a side street. Somewhere.

And then there’s this – a conversation I found on facebook and am using with permission, on condition I change the names… so I went with A (for the African person, who really is black) and B (for the Afrikaans person. who really is African, too). This conversation illustrates the openness and fearlessness with which South Africans address racial issues. Something I really miss here. Because it’s not like there’s no racism here. It’s just prettied up with this veil of so-called good manners… which really means not mentioning it at all, unless you’re entitled to by being African American, or Mexican-American.

Well, from someone who’s actually kinda like BEEN to africa..

FACEBOOK, A FEW DAYS AGO – CYBERLIGHT

This is the shop, launched by an ex colleague. An upmarket shop for weaves and wigs and such.

Translations for Amerians:
1. Baas=Massa
2. the weird English is mockery of the way some people speak – sometimes because English is their third language, sometimes because they’re working in a servile personality they can leave at work. In this case, my former colleagues, of various races, are all taking the piss of course…

Someone posted the picture together with a comment like “Ohhh. This is why A left. Look how well she’s doing for herself out there…”

Quoted convo follows (only names are changed)

A at least am making a living rather than looting from people….like someone’s ancestors!!!
9 hours ago ·
o
M O I can supply some mopcaps to cover those afro’s !
8 hours ago ·
o
A ‎@ mark for free???
8 hours ago ·
o
W I would also buy hair if….
6 hours ago ·
o
A haaaaaaaaaa OMG W….well I was working in the fields (farm) and given no time to take care of my hair…..you can’t blame me!!!!
3 hours ago ·
o
W Did you say work?
3 hours ago ·
o
A yes that thing my aunt does in your mama’s kitchen is called work, that thing my uncle does in your garden is called……not sittign in the sun tanning ….WORK yes you read it right!!!
3 hours ago ·
o
WC You two need to get a room…
2 hours ago ·
o
A he started it…….I think W likes me….its OK W you won’t get arresred we can be a couple its allowed…..
2 hours ago ·
o
WC I think it’s mutual…Is that why you moved to JHB, A?
2 hours ago ·
o
WG You should have learned from you aunt and uncle.
2 hours ago ·
o
WC Ouch!
2 hours ago ·
o
A nah…I was weatching baas and now am using those skills…..thanks for alowing my aunt to bring me to work…i got a chance to watch how baas moves….look at me now!!!
2 hours ago ·

Maybe I’m weird, but this is the shit I miss.

Escape from Orange to the city of San Diego

September 19, 2010

“I’m not complaining but …” BEEEEP BEEEEP BEEEEP BEEEEP…

If someone starts a sentence with “I’m not [insert undesirable action or tendency here] but…” they are. Whatever they’re “not”, oooh, they so are.

So let me be straight about one thing: I’m complaining. I admit that Orange is peaceful, safe, so crime-free that I sometimes feel the urge to remove the tracking device from the back of my neck.

Unfortunately, peaceful places make me feel like a total freak.

I was finishing a project in Starbucks on September 9th, when I realised the place was full of ex military. They mostly wore biker jackets with creepy naziesque eagles on them. But this guy was hanging out with an ex-war-buddy, spinning conspiracy yarns based on books, movies and music. Scary and almost like a left wing version of Fox News.

I’ve rarely felt like an outsider as badly as I did this September 11th, a day on which the sounds of celebration of what right wing Americans call “freedom” and other people call “war” seems to increase in volume until it’s pretty much deafening.

From the militaristic overtone so of the whole thing it seems to me that it’s not so much freedom being celebrated, or the lost lives of 911 being mourned, as the freedom to bomb the people they were already planning to bomb, but without feeling guilty about it anymore.

I left home in a pretty good mood – I’d conquered the Friday blues with a quick pop in at a party, and due to the fact that I no longer have a proudly South African alcohol tolerance, get drunk on two beers and therefore can’t get a hangover anymore, I was feeling good. But by the time I hit the highway I was overcome with loneliness and desolation.

From feeling a little alienated by the site of scary eagles on biker jackets and other forms of nationalistic displays, I went to missing my friends (you know, someone who would understand) and from that to musing on love…

And in somewhere along the I 5 South going 70mph through wild west landscape covered in malls, I wondered if I would ever have the courage to get my heart broken again.

I stopped here, found these two guys in white Ts and black pants feeding the gulls under the DO NOT FEED sign. The rest stop was like a lift to a medical centre. Nobody spoke. Everybody seemed a little bit suspicous.

The light kept shifting.

Then I realised it’s pretty sad that I assume that that is how it would end.

Then I realised that although that was sad, what was even sadder was that nobody had come close to breaking my heart for years. Because you have to actually have one to break – you have to fall in love. You have to be prepared to risk something.

And since sometimes you just don’t find the sense to laugh at your own self pity, I cried all the way to San Diego, listening to Radiohead and wallowing in it.

But when I arrived in the city of San Diego I felt instantly better. Finally here I was in a place with as many rainbow flags as Orange has Marines recruitment posters. The coffeeshops aren’t all chains. The names on buildings and election posters aren’t all english. And the whole place doesn’t look like it was built yesterday.

Stopped here to look up the location of my lousy, overpriced motel. America is seriously lacking affordable accommodation for people who don't want diseases.

The toilet at Filter coffeehouse. I could have stayed there for hours, crying about my life, except that two guys kept knocking on the door. Ok, I'm sorry, even as tasteless gay jokes go, that was bad.



Thanks America, for restoring my faith, just when I was losing it completely.

Alone on the pier with fishermen and kissing couples, a trainee cougar prowls the beach…

September 17, 2010

I went to a party tonight. The guy was turning I don’t know. 25, 26, maybe.

surf boards with flags

South Africa... I hate empty nationalism, but the sight of that surf board with our flag on if made me long for Muizenberg Beach, as I stood in the dark at Huntington Beach, feeling lost.

I thought “You know what yes, I have work to do, but I’m sure I could do a lot more if I felt less – and I’m just going to say it – kinda sick of hanging out by myself”. I thought I’d just go. Sure, I’m older than most of the other students, though my life circumstances are more similar to theirs than to most people my own age. But I’m sure they’ll like me if they get to spend some time with me, and realise that it doesn’t have to freak them out. For an overweight, aging nation they seem pretty set on the ideals of youth and beauty when it comes to what they admire. Both my screenwriting teachers – one of whom is an obviously attractive guy in his mid-40s (guessing here) and one of whom is a comedian type of around 63 (again, guessing) – have made pretty nasty “Cougar” comments. The younger one just seemed to be using the word experimentally, because it’s currency right now. But the oldest one described a relationship between a 30-year-old woman and a 25-year-old guy as “venturing into cougar territory.” I wonder how old his wife is. I have an ex whose relationships ALL end when the woman’s about 27-29 years old, and start when she’s younger. They ALL think it won’t work this way with them. But at this age, they ALL find themselves breaking up with him. And taking the blame, too. He keeps getting older, but not more mature, so he can’t bear it when his girlfriends grow up. What’s the word for guys like him? If they had their way, women would be like race-horses. When they stopped winning the money, or injured their leg, you’d just shoot them. Put them out of their misery. Actually, I think that is how it works in parts of Iraq and Afganistan.

I went to the loo for a while. I can’t afford to be so sensitive. He’s a good teacher otherwise, and I’m determined to pick no fights. I tell myself in the toilet: He’s playing to the 22-26-year old crowd, and it’s not like I can’t see how pathetic and needy that is really. “I get your jokes… haw haw.” Sure you don’t. Your favourite movie is “What’s up, Doc?”, Grandpa. And then I feel better.

HB is for Huntington Beach.

But I am sure none of this ridiculous shit applies to me. I may not be young at heart, but I never have been. Only stupid people are, right? I’m secretly convinced that anyone could come to eventually realise that even if they’d met me when I was 10, I would still have been kinda awkward, cynical, opinionated and unable to accept that I couldn’t change the world – all at once. Then really like me.

So I went to a party tonight. I drove the wrong way, and GPS Lady got lost (for some reason, The Beach” isn’t listed) but I persevered and found Huntington beach. After parking, I went looking for the right bonfire. 45 minutes I walked. 45 minutes back. No sign of my party. And of all the people I passed, I was the only person who was alone. I tried to act like I didn’t mind everyone wondering why.

Back in my car, I sat for a while with my head on the steering wheel, overcome by a physical craving. It’s a feeling my friend Lili calls “vel dors” – a thirst for touch. And I remembered a truth I’ve sometimes tried to deny: You can’t buy love. I don’t mean sex. I mean the touch of someone who cares, who would need to help you when you were hurting, because making you feel better is making them feel better. And who could just as easily say to you when you needed them, “Not tonight, sorry” without hurting your feelings – because you only want what they want to give and you trust them to tell you the truth. My friend and sex columnist Dorothyblack wrote about this on her blog, A Case of Nerves. I couldn’t find the link, though.

It takes time to make friends. I know this. But tonight I was impatient and I was lonely, and I wanted to be lost looking for a party with someone, not on my own among the couples, the people fishing, the groups of friends around fires, the people playing vollyball in the dark, the yuppies clustering around the bar all smug and snug in their lives, like I once was myself.

The teenagers get drunk illegally around beach bonfires (just like in The O.C.), the healthy types play vollyball until 10am, leaving tourists, romantic couples, fishermen and... me... to prowl the boardwalks.

I walked along the pier, just so I could say I did it, and back again. And I wrote this whole blog post so I’d have someone to tell. It’s true what they say about lonely people and social media, you know.

"Fish or cut bait" - yep thanks, because I was thinking of making a sandwich. Perhaps Arnie just put this there to stop Lindsey Lohan chopping lines on it. Who knows.



*Cougar: my favourite definition from Urban Dictionary

A woman in her sexual prime who prefers to hunt rather than be hunted. A cougar’s victims are usually under 25, as cougars prefer to mate with men who still have hair. Cougars generally feed and then continue hunting, as they enjoy role reversal.
For a variety of other definitions ranging from insulting to overly post-feminist, click here.

Of course, nobody, male or female, is as simple as that. We are complicated and delicate and powerful machines of chemicals so mysterious we invented gods. Or discovered God. It really depends.