Category: Columns

The End?

There is a reason more and more people are reluctant to answer their phone if they don’t recognise the number. It’s because they know the odds against it being good news are staggeringly high. You have more chance of winning the lottery than of being pleasantly surprised upon answering a call from an unknown number.

I tend not to answer even if I know who is calling. Not because I am becoming increasingly reclusive and misanthropical, but because … no, that’s it. The only real chance you have of me answering your call is if I was in some way responsible for your birth and those odds are literally one in 7.6 billion. Not good. Don’t even bother.

So when my phone rang the other day and I didn’t recognise the number, I looked at the cat and we laughed and laughed and fetched another beer. I got the beer. The cat pretends not to understand about fridges. Smart cat, that.

But then there was a beep. I wasn’t expecting it. Nobody does. Random callers aren’t meant to leave messages. They are meant to give up and never try to contact you again. It’s far easier to ignore calls than messages. Something to do with the way the human brain is wired, I suppose. I’m not so curious that I’ll answer my phone, but leave a message and curiosity will gnaw away at my resolve until I cave in. I always regret it. The game changes the moment you listen to the message. Suddenly you are forced to make decisions and take steps and the chances of everything ending badly are magnified immeasurably.

I don’t always listen to a message right away. If it’s from an unknown number I might run it through Google to identify the caller. In this case it turned out to be my employer, the Sunday Tribune. I didn’t recognise the number because I’ve only been writing for the paper for five years and nobody has ever called me from there before.

The message was from the editor’s secretary asking me to ring him back. My first thought was, this can’t be good. My second thought confirmed my first. To cut a short story even shorter, I have been “let go”. That’s the term management uses when we freelancers get the boot. It’s as if we are caged animals that, through an act of great generosity on our captor’s part, are released back into the wild.

My column, Durban Poison, is no more.

Not having a weekly deadline for the first time in years has left me feeling light-headed. Okay, fine. It’s the alcohol that’s making me light-headed. Like all red-blooded South Africans, I drink to celebrate as well as to grieve. In these harsh economic times, losing a steady income is reason enough to grieve. Plus I have a potentially fatal skin condition which makes it even harder to get hired. There is no known cure for the Whiteness.

On the flip side, not having to put fourteen hundred words in the correct order every Wednesday night is cause to celebrate. My brain seems to think so, anyway. Then again, it’s been wrong before.

But that’s enough about me. Let’s talk about you. Are you going to miss the columns I post on my blog which inexplicably appear in triplicate on Facebook and Twitter? If not, you should absolutely email the editor at tribuneletters@inl.co.za and congratulate him on his decision to let me go.

What? You’re asking why I wouldn’t keep writing a weekly column just for you? Look. I’m not against the idea in principle. Thing is, I lost my day job in 2004 and accidentally became a columnist shortly afterwards. Ever since then I have struggled to write anything without some sort of incentive. It needn’t even be financial. I’m not a complete mercenary. It could be in exchange for beer, seafood, a modest beachfront property or what-have-you.

Let me know.

Pirate Ben

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Up In Smoke

BEN TROVATO – Durban Poison

For a little light relief, here is a column I wrote some time ago.

IllegalCigs_print_guns

There was a sphincter-clenching advertisement in last week’s Sunday papers. It came with a WARNING and featured a giant photograph of a thug pointing a revolver directly at my head. I automatically ducked and spilled hot coffee on Brenda who shot of bed and stood on the cat who attacked the dog who jumped on the bed and bit me in the leg.

After the paramedics left, I went back for a second look at the advert that caused all the trouble. WARNING. Sounded serious. The gangster with the gun looked pretty damn serious, too. He had the face of a man who has just walked in from a hard night of smoking tik with the boys, to find me shtupping his mother.

I thought the advert was going to advise me on what to do…

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A letter to King Goodwill Zwelithini

A bit of an oldie, but apparently still all relevant as hell.

BEN TROVATO – Durban Poison

Dear Comrade King,

You, sir, are a true king. You are not only the king of the Zulus, but you are also king of the land claims.

While everyone else is pussyfooting around, demanding a farm here or a game reserve there, you are putting in a claim for the entire province of Kwazulu-Natal. Now that’s what I call a land claim!

And why not? This is, after all, where the Zulus lived quite happily for years until those British bastards came along and ruined things for everyone.

The Ingonyama Trust, which is coordinating the claim on your behalf, currently owns 2.8 million hectares in the province. This is clearly not enough. What can a man do with 2.8 million hectares? Not a great deal. Not if you want to spread out a bit. Plant stuff. Grow some cows. That kind of thing takes room.

I see you’re also after…

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The buck stops here

BEN TROVATO – Durban Poison

 

Dear Tess Thompson Talley,

I had no idea someone as beautiful and brave as you existed in America until you posted that picture of yourself moments after executing an African giraffe. I don’t even care if you aren’t a real blonde. But if you are, praise the Lord! Which is exactly what you seem to be doing in one of the photos – thanking the Almighty for having guided this cloven-hoofed beast from hell into your crosshairs.

Tess-Giraffe-Praise God-Landscape

Your caption was so inspiring that it’s worth repeating. “Prayers for my once in a lifetime dream hunt came true today! Spotted this rare black giraffe bull and stalked him for quite a while. I knew it was the one. He was over 15 years old, 4000lbs, and was blessed to be able to get 2000lbs of meat from him.”

On behalf of Africa, thank you for ridding us of another giraffe…

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Whale meat again …

“More than 120 pregnant whales were slaughtered in the latest Japanese whale hunt in Antarctica’s Southern Ocean, reigniting calls for Australia to step up efforts to stop the annual killing spree. A further 114 immature whales were killed as part of Japan’s so-called “scientific” whaling program. Japan’s summer hunt stretches into Australian whale sanctuaries.” – News reports.

Here’s a column I wrote eight years ago.

JAPAN, Norway and Iceland have killed more than 30 000 great whales since 1986. And if you think that’s good news, wait until you hear this.

A new deal being negotiated behind closed doors could see a lot more whale meat on our plates come dinner time. To be honest, I haven’t sunk my teeth into a decent southern right steak since I was a child. As a special treat my mother would buy us whale meat. I remember it clearly. It came in a yellow box with a caricature of a blue whale on the front. The whale was spouting and grinning. It might even have been winking. It was the happiest whale I had ever seen. It was the only whale I had ever seen.

At some point I discovered that this tasty cetacean snack was meant as pet food. Thanks, mom.

I had no idea where the whale in my sarmies came from. I tried asking my mother the other day but she recently adopted a position of denying everything and it was hard enough getting her to acknowledge that she had a son at all. I never thought to enquire about the origins of my lunch at the time. I was just happy to have something to eat, even if it was cat food.

Then, one day, whale was no longer served in my house. I can’t remember what replaced it. Tortoise, probably. It was the end of an era. I lost 180kgs and girls stopped asking to see my blowhole.

The whaling station on the Bluff shut down in 1975 – 70 years after Jacob Egeland, the Norwegian consul in Durban, and his sidekick Johan Bryde, formed the South African Whaling Company. If you think the beachfront smells bad today, you don’t want to know what it was like when the Scandinavians were up to their elbows in sperm whale.

In their first year they harpooned 106 of the brutes. Always eager to please, a pod of whales got together off Umhlanga and voted to name themselves after Bryde, who they had grown particularly fond of as a result of his remarkably good aim. A clean head shot, every time. Whales appreciate this sort of attention to detail.

Meanwhile, a group of jersey-wearing jellyfish on the International Whaling Commission is at this very moment conniving with powerful interests who are just as comfortable with flensing knives as they are with numbered bank accounts.

For the first time since 1986, commercial whaling is poised to make a comeback and every budding Cap’n Ahab out there is dusting off his old harpoon and getting ready to sail for the Southern Ocean.

The carnage should be spectacular.

Speaking of large mammals, did you know that 50% of South African girls aged 15 to 19 are overweight and 30% obese? Boys waddle in at 29 and nine percent respectively.

Parents need to get their kids onto some kind of programme. I can recommend a good weight-loss tape. It’s called duct tape. You stick it over their big fat mouths.

28 March 2010

 

And here’s a letter I wrote to the Japanese ambassador seventeen years ago.

Dear Ambassador,

I see that one of your government officials has described Minke whales as the “cockroaches of the sea”. I could not agree more. Dirty great things cluttering up the ocean. They ought to be ashamed of themselves. Unlike land-based cockroaches, they at least don’t fly at your head when you least expect it. Getting struck in the face by an airborne Minke could ruin a good day’s fishing.

The Minke are vermin. Scum of the seas. They are forever lying there half-submerged waiting for unsuspecting yachts to come along. Many a sailor has cursed the smirking Minke while watching his boat sink. They are also far too big. Any fish that weights fifteen tons is a freak of nature. They upset the feng shui of the ocean and deserve to die.

I cannot understand why the members of the International Whaling Commission refuse to lift the ban on commercial hunting. We don’t even need them. They scoff all the shrimp and wallow about idly belching from their blowholes. And the whales are no better.

It was pure genius on the part of your government to tell the world that you are only catching Minke whales for “scientific research”. There is, after all, so much to learn from a dead whale. Made any exciting new discoveries lately.

By research, you presumably mean men in white coats inspect the meat as it is chopped into 1kg blocks and sold to fish and chip shops around Japan. Given the fact that 2500 tons of blubber are consumed in your country every year, I find it remarkable that there are so few fat Japanese. Do you feed it all to your sumo wrestlers?

As you know, whale season here in the Western Cape is around the corner. In fact, a few Southern Rights have already been spotted in False Bay. An old hand-held harpoon has been in my family for generations and I’ve been thinking of giving it a whirl. If I manage to bag a medium-sized aquatic cockroach, I can have it transported to the embassy in no time at all. What do you say to a thousand rand a ton? Translate that into yen and you’ve got a damn fine deal.

In the meantime, here’s R10 in “development aid”. Use it wisely.

Let’s stamp out the whales!

Yours truly,

Ben Trovato

 

A few days later, the First Secretary of the Embassy replied.

He basically said they’d love to chat about the subject but that “it would be somewhat difficult to do so if one’s opinion is based on inaccurate information”. I assumed he was talking about me. This was followed by a pack of lies about their “scientific research”.

And my R10 was returned. “We are, unfortunately, not in a a position to accept the attached donation as the Government of Japan does not allow any of its bodies to accept any form of donation as worthy as it may be.”

whaleben

The breast and worst of Valentine’s Day

Most women on Valentine’s Day are quite happy to wake up and find a couple of hundred rand on the bedside table. But not Brenda. Oh, no. She woke up and wanted new breasts. “No problem,” I said, getting off the floor upon which I had inexplicably spent the night. “I’ll nip out to the shop and pick some up.”

By the time I left the pub, I had completely forgotten what she wanted so I sent her a Please Call Me. “Breasts,” she snapped. “Chicken or beef?” said I. She pointed out that cows did not have breasts. “On the udder hand, Darren,” I said.

Anyway. Turns out that I had cocked it up as usual. She wanted a completely new set of human breasts and not something smothered in honey and mustard sauce and nibbled on at lunch, although why we couldn’t combine the two was beyond me.

Most women, I imagine, choose the enhancement option in matters this close to the chest. Brenda, however, wanted quite the opposite. Unheard of, where I come from. Come to think of it, given where I come from most things are unheard of. Intellectual gigantism is one of the few conditions my so-called friends don’t suffer from.

To men, the notion of a breast reduction makes about as much sense as gobbling handfuls of Chinese medicine guaranteed to make one’s willie shrink. Ever since we are born we are conditioned to believe that bigger is better – the exception being the willie department. Here, men are more than happy to cling to the unusually charitable Cosmo myth that size doesn’t matter.

The first thing boy babies see when they open their eyes is a giant breast bearing down on them like some godawful Peruvian landslide. It has a tremendous impact on their outlook on life, especially if they are expected to swallow a nipple the size of a bricklayer’s thumb.

I had a friend who claimed that he refused to be breast-fed on the grounds that his mother’s numbies were too small, so he tried to suckle the domestic worker instead. We used to call him Jungle Fever until he started dating black girls. After that, we didn’t call him at all.

I tried telling Brenda that if she really wanted a pair of smaller breasts, there was a far less permanent way of getting them. She headed me off at the pass. “You will never have a threesome for as long as we are married.” I keep a very good divorce lawyer’s number on speed dial for moments like these, but he is only due for release in 2025. By then I expect I shall be more interested in philately than philandery.

And lo, it came to pass that I found myself helping Brenda into a backless gown in the gynae ward of a city hospital. Private, naturally. Go for a boob job at a state hospital and you risk walking out with a size 36C bum.

The week before, she had gone to see a couple of plastic sturgeons. Apparently it’s like getting your car panel-beaten. You need to get at least two quotes. She wasn’t that keen on the first doctor because he specialised in labiaplasty. Can’t blame her, really. Even I think there’s something a little odd about a man who sculpts designer vaginas for a living.

Nurses aren’t what they used to be. The guzzling of ethyl alcohol, the hideous screaming, the broken bottles and the stabbings. Perhaps they weren’t nurses at all. Come to think of it, they didn’t have white clothes. Or teeth. And they were falling about on the pavement outside the hospital.

So I got Brenda into her ridiculous medical frock, all the while trying to talk her out of it. “Listen to me,” I said. “It’s not too late to run.” It’s not as if Brenda had enormous bazookas lashed to her front. Sure, they were more than a handful, but then so is she. Her breasts were fine. It’s her brain that could do with a nip and tuck.

A nurse walked in and began filling in Brenda’s chart. Judging by her questions, I thought she might have been one of the girls I saw in the street. “Where are the pain?” she asked. Brenda explained that she was about to have a breast reduction. “Dids you call a doctor?” I began giggling like a schoolgirl but saved my face by feigning stomach cramps. “Please may I have some pethidine?” I begged. Unfortunately, the nurse had absorbed just enough training to know not to hand out awesome drugs to people who were sitting in the visitor’s chair, even if they were clearly suffering from some sort of paroxysm.

Then the anaesthetist burst in, full of piss and propofol. He offered me a cursory handshake and proceeded to focus all his attention on Brenda. How very dare you, I thought. Why don’t you ask how I’m feeling? Maybe take my blood pressure? For all you know, I’m about to have a stroke. Brenda said later that he seemed nice. Yeah, right. To the bedside manner born.

I swallowed Brenda’s pre-med when she wasn’t looking and slipped out before Dr McDreamy swaggered in, flashing his scalpel and telling my wife to get her babylons out.

heart-shaped-woman-s-breasts-with-deep-cleavage-men-s-premium-t-shirt

A day at the races

I see the J&B Met is being run in Cape Town today, except it’s not called that any more. It’s now the Sun Met. I don’t know what happened to the whisky people.  I attended the race twice. Once in 2007 and again in 2009. Here’s what happened the first time.

 

I awoke late on Saturday and drove out to Kenilworth Race Course for the J&B Met, eventually finding parking in a side street on the outskirts of Darling.

Arriving thirsty as seven stoned camels, I made for one of the makeshift bars on the lawn in front of the grandstand. Gallons of vodka, brandy and whisky. But no beer. That’s a good idea, I thought. Pump this white trash crowd full of high-octane spirits in the middle of one of the hottest days in living memory, then rig the main race and take all their money.

Earlier, while researching the history of the race, I got sidetracked by the history of J&B and researched the whisky instead. One line stood out: “J&B Rare has a youthful personality and is drunk as a refreshing drink during the day and throughout the night.”

Being a youthful drunk with a refreshing personality, I knew right then and there that I had met my soulmate.

I ordered a double and the callow youth behind the counter tried to charge me a small fortune. I looked him in the eye and flashed my media tag. “I’m a journalist,” I said. He nodded and offered to make it a treble. “Forget it,” I said, “I need my money for gambling. Where are the rich and famous?” He pointed towards some sort of tented village on the opposite side of the track. Within minutes I was out of the refugee camp and among my people. All around me, packs of half-naked women and silver-coated freaks of no discernible gender wafted in and out of air-conditioned marquees.

I marched up to the J&B tent and flashed my tag at the security goons. They stepped aside and waved me through. This was more like it. Free food and as much whisky as any sane man could ever hope to drink. And a quiet area to place your bets without being jostled and spat on by a heavily tattooed desperado trying to win enough to feed his chronic tik habit for another week.

It was like heaven. Well, that part of heaven reserved for black people, anyway. I was the only whitey in the area. Either J&B are way ahead in the affirmative action stakes or whiskey has become this year’s umqombothi.

The company claims that its Rare blend is the most approachable whisky in the world. And they are right. I approached it time and time again, from many different angles, and not once did it turn its back on me.

Sauntering over to the bookies, I studied the stats for the eighth race. There was something called a swinger pool but my body clock told me it was way too early in the day to strip down and start hitting on another man’s wife.

I couldn’t work out if I was looking at the horse’s age, weight or odds, so I put R100 on number 18 for no real reason at all. The bookie gave me the lazy eye and said there were only 13 horses in the race. “I knew that,” I said. “What about this 50kg three-year-old? Is that the horse or the jockey?” She ignored me so I asked if she thought Wonder Lawn had a chance, but she said he had been scratched for coughing. “That’s a bit unfair,” I said. “Maybe he was just a little hoarse.” She asked me to step away from the counter.

My media tag was like a magical passport to pleasure, a free pass for freeloading. I was welcomed into every corporate tent I went up to. Except Standard Bank. I was determined to recoup some of the trumped-up charges they have inflicted on me over the years but a thug wearing an earpiece turned me away in no uncertain terms.

Seeking refuge inside a less hostile tent, a woman spotted my media tag and rushed over. “Marc Lottering is here,” she said breathlessly. I wasn’t sure how to respond to this so I didn’t. “He said he doesn’t want to be bothered by the press so we would appreciate it if you stayed away from him.” Why a joker from the Cape Flats with a drunk driving conviction and a hair-do the size of Athlone stadium would come to the races and demand to be ignored was beyond me.

How to place a bet without making a complete fool of myself was also beyond me, but I wasn’t about to leave without a substantial win on the big race.

All of it on Badger’s Gift for a win,” I said, seconds before betting closed. She was the only filly in the race and hadn’t seen a track in three months. This was a good sign. She had to be hungry for a flat-out run.

Pressed up against the rail, I couldn’t see the start. Actually, I had no idea where the start was. For all I knew it was in Milnerton.

Then I heard the commentator mention my horse. The crowd erupted and I spilled whisky all down my shirt but I didn’t care because my horse was winning and soon I would be able to buy a thousand new shirts. Badger’s Gift crossed the line so far ahead of the others that I couldn’t even see them. I dashed back to the bookie to claim my winnings but she said it only counts if the horse has a jockey.

I was appalled. The stupid cow had thrown her silk-coated homunculus and made straight for the stables for a bit of hay and a little lie-down.

If lame horses get shot, why don’t you shoot lame jockeys?” I shouted, trying to reach into the till to get my money back. I was escorted to the door and asked not to come back.

Outside in the cruel heat, the beautiful people were starting to melt and stagger. Having spent the rent and developed a lifelong addiction to whisky and gambling, I sensed it was time to leave.

FINAL