I write letters to close friends. They collect in an A4 size priority mail envelope on the desk in my room. I am reading them now to remind myself why I don’t send them.
I found this in one: “Surround yourself with strangers and you can be exactly who you are with total impunity.”
One night P came over with his girlfriend and the guitarist from her band while my roommates were at work. We sat out on the roof drinking and taking turns on the guitar. G broke the bottom string and said he’d replace it. He never did. Turns out you can play a guitar with five rusty strings for months. It gets to where you don’t even notice the sound is incomplete.
P’s the one who encouraged me to start freelancing, helped me recognize my talents. He knows about the typewriter because he was there the day I bought it. He’s never asked what I do with it, I’ve never told him.
I’ve never told anyone. It’s my thing, my catharsis. The entire process has become so thoroughly mine that I can’t bring myself to share it. Sure the letters are addressed to people, but are they really for them? I found this in one: “Thing is, when you can’t backspace or edit, well it changes a few things. For one it makes you way too honest. Not in the way you’re thinking. Honest like this is me, right now, no plan about what I’m gonna say. Just bangin’ away at this fucking machine.
And that’s dangerous, you know?”
Last September I visited the States after two and a half years. In my home town I went to the house I grew up in. My parents no longer lived there. They had moved into a new house a town over, but they hadn’t really moved out of this one. A couch, two bookshelves, one dresser and my old bed were still there, along with closets packed with old clothes and shoes.
The dresser was in the center of my old room. A Halloween costume I’d worn a month before leaving was on the floor. The walls were still papered with magazine cut-outs of surfing and the ocean, floor to ceiling, wall to wall, peeling here and there. Hangars and papers were everywhere. Maybe forty or fifty of the books in my collection were still on the shelf around my bed. The notebooks were still there too.
I found some in top of the closet, hidden behind a magic set and a box of Lincoln Logs. Some were tucked between books. A few were in the hidden compartment of the book shelf that ran around two sides of my old bed.
I sweated against the heat while I read them. The later ones were full of narcissism and anger. Voltaire’s influence was everywhere, along with Huxley, Rand and a surprising amount of Bill Watterson. In them were seeds of ideas and opinions, some I still have. From fourteen back they became less pompous and more curious, explorative. At seven, he noticed that not everyone takes three hours to fall asleep.
There has been only one period I can remember not having insomnia. That was in 2008 while living in a tent.
This was in a letter too: “I keep finding them. Then I find the first one. It’s just pages, loose because I tore them out to use the book for something else. I remember doing that. I remember feeling a little ashamed of them, embarrassed, but I remember thinking I shouldn’t just throw them away. So there they were, hidden under a newspaper with “Mission Accomplished” as the headline, sitting next to the band-aid box full of foreign coins. And it was in them that I found the one thought about how I wanted my life to be, the only one that was truly mine, from the age of six. And I’d completely forgotten it.”
15th Apr 2012, 11:06
I wanted to make espresso but Cid was shouting in his underwear waving a wooden snake at Blue Balls who was sitting in the mango tree outside the kitchen. "Come on Blue Balls you fuck! Come on! I fuck you up you fucking bastard!"
Blue Balls raised his eyebrows and jutted his head.
"You know he won't do anything now," M said.
When I moved in I asked: "How many people live here?"
"Twelve I think. It's a big place though, you never see any more than four or five at a time."
My room is damp but the cockroaches are easily caught in leftover orange juice.
The day after I helped my girlfriend move into the room above mine she decided to be my ex-girlfriend. "I'm just not in a place to be able to care about anyone but myself. I know it's selfish."
That was a month ago.
She asked my friend and house mate to cuddle the other night. He said no. She said "I'll have sex with you." He said no.
R is a good friend.
When A and S were here things were better. They are a positive light. We all made a movie together for the Copenhagen climate summit, a football match between the Spoilers and the Sustainables. The ball was planet earth.
There was a lot of music then. We took turns on guitar and jembe; we wrote a song called "We Need a Maid".
Before Cid left to tour with his band Napalma he showed A, S and me beats on the jembe. "This is the I'm-gonna-finish beat. You do it at the end. Everyone knows this one. It's how you pass the beat around a circle."
I'm the only one who plays music now.
In November, D ignored the power notices and they cut it off. Candles and cold showers are only romantic for a day.
N's girlfriend arrived from his home town in Germany two days ago. He didn't sleep the night before. That morning when I asked, he said: "Yea, I'm fucking nervous."
A week ago he said they fight often. He said she can be very intense, that when something comes up she wants to deal with it right then no matter where they are. It sounded familiar so I asked what her birthday was.
"November the 4th."
I laughed. "That's my birthday too."
On the porch last night M studied the menu for his new job where they serve expensive wine while I read 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'.
"I'm smoking too much," he said.
He said he was ready for a change. "In 2010 I need to make money. I have a British passport and my sister lives there, so I know I'll be set up if I go. That's what I have to do."
Later he said, "I feel for you brother. It must be rough living with her here. But sometimes things have to happen for other things to happen. Like for me, It sucks that my mom had to pass for me to be closer to my dad. But I know I would never be this close with him if she was still alive. And I'm glad for the relationship we have now."
M is nineteen.
A German girl, K, moved in yesterday. She said, "I was in Cape Town for three weeks first to visit some friends. Then I decided to come here."
Later she said, "yea, I have a kind of boyfriend there. He needed to look for a job so I came here."
Welcome to the monkey house K.
21st Jan 2010, 13:07
Why are words so difficult? Impossible to pin down the fleeting bastards... Maybe some people find them easy. Maybe some people can sit down and words just shoot through their fingertips like lightning bolts of awesome. Maybe some people can work and weave adventure and mystery, knead history and myth to fashion pages upon pages of compelling copy. Maybe some people are born story tellers, natural word smiths.
If those people exist, then fuck them, because this shit is hard.
21st Sep 2009, 23:11
I could write adventure, working crew on an exploration vessel, mapping uncharted coastline and discovering strange unknown. I could write discovery, the Mediterranean and forbidding coasts of northern Africa. I could, but that’s not what happened.
Maybe if I’d left earlier when I got the email from Tomas the Italian, ‘london palma won way,’ it said, ‘trast ur tendmate.’ But that was him setting sail on the exploration vessel days before I arrived.
Instead I took a cheap room in a flat just outside the city center. My window looked at three cement walls that gave the sky sharp angles. Sometimes I couldn’t sleep so I didn’t. Then I would walk around the next day in that insomniac drunk, taking photos and watching people and feeling utterly useless.
I gave some private English lessons to not quite support myself.
There was dinner with a girl that laughed a lot and spoke excellent English. She told me she was a lesbian when her friend arrived. ‘I love being me, I can eat whatever I want and not get fat,’ he said. Later at a gay club I learned the other meaning of a dark room.
One day I woke up in a field to the sound of carnival music. My last memory: crawling into the back seat of a car because I was too drunk to make it home. Whoever found me was kind enough to wrap me in a fleece jacket and wool blanket before relieving me of my wallet and depositing me at Plaza Espana.
Another friend took me to Pueblo Espana for the evening. Before we got on the bus she told me not to say we met on couchsurfing. She said to say I lived with a friend of hers. She said, “I don’t want them to think I sleep on couches. People talk, you know?”
Weeks later I thumb through my notebooks hoping to find some ‘pearls of wisdom’, any sign of productivity out of loneliness and debauchery. Instead I find conceited and verbose musings on the human condition, scribbles of self-absorption and loathing, like this one: ‘my biggest disappointment in life is that I will never escape the pettiness of my humanity.’
People talk, you know?
And when I left London, that call mid sprint from what was becoming too real.
“How are you?” she asked.
“I thought we could have lunch today.”
“In an hour.”
And then perfunctory goodbyes. That is the last time we spoke.
I don’t need anyone’s permission to go a little crazy. This is me doing something, anything, so long as it’s not nothing.
24th Aug 2009, 17:45
I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to write this, ten, twenty maybe. It always gets stuck right at the beginning. I try to figure out why I went to London in the first place. It seems perfectly clear right up to the point where my fingers touch the keyboard, then it all goes to shit.
I suppose I could give a recap of the events that happened there, or maybe an account of how everything transpired, which is really all the same. Instead I think I’ll just give cryptic pieces of writing that I somehow managed to mash out in the insomniac hours of night (day?). Who knows.
Here’s a haiku:
I am on my way
The place does not matter but
I am on my way
I remember about a week before I got to London I spoke with my brother, ‘hey man,’ he said. ‘You know you can only stay with us for like a month.’
The fact is things change, fuck it, I’ve never really followed through with a plan anyway. I talked him up to two months, still a far cry short of the six we had planned.
His girlfriend had moved in.
So what did happen in those three months. A lot. Nothing.
The I Ching said I would find a friend who would be an ally. A few days after my arrival a guy I’d met in Mozambique contacted me, he had also ended up in London. What luck.
We both took bartending jobs in the city, we got riotous, London crept in and Africa seeped out. How do you explain what happens to your soul there? How the grey city reflects the grey sky and people are polite assholes and materialism is the only measure of a man and pseudo-intellectual hipsters pretend to be bi because it is fashionable.
We met a Frenchman. He would pay for an outrageously priced bottle of vodka and then steal a coke to go with it.
‘Diet Coke is for fat people,’ he would say. Then, ‘I love being French.’
The Australian girl studying fashion design. ‘Fashion is boring,’ she would say. ‘It never changes, just moves in circles.’
The Polish girl who liked to talk dirty. In the road. ‘You’re a mechanic,’ she would yell across a damp street in Hackney, ‘and I have a flat tire. Now seduce me you American fuck!’
The white Zimbabwean girl, ‘We didn’t have slaves!’ she screamed after much bating in my brother’s flat, ‘We had servants.’ The wounded dignity of one defending injustice.
The Hebrew rickshaw driver. The Russian Bar at 5 am.
The squat in Brixton, the wholesome South African girl I lived with there – a hidden respite of happiness in squalor. I learned that Heroin makes your mouth burn from the abusive man at KFC. He screamed at that poor Indian woman until the manager came and gave him his soft serve ice cream at one in the morning. He continued to hurl abuse with his lips and chin slathered in the melted vanilla of that ice cream cone. We left giggling.
And the capstone love that wasn’t. The pane of glass and our own separate prisons on either side. We were the same as before, but wholly different.
It leans in on you, that city does.
7th Apr 2009, 10:25
Pie Time. I love pie time. I love pies. We don't have pies back home,
well, we have pies, but they're desert pies, apple, pumpkin, cherry,
blueberry, that sort of thing. Not the kinds of pies I'm talking
about. Here the pies are more like Cornish pastries (which are
fantastic) but filled with all sorts of meats, cheeses and curries.
Well it was pie time and I'd walked down to the beach front with my
coke and pie to watch the few surfers attempt to ride the slop which
has been Durban surf for the last four days.
Now, I've been living here for a few months so I've seen the various
street performers along the esplanade, the children in white paint
miming with buzz whistles made from plastic straws, the sand castles -
elaborate and detailed, the tribal dance troupes (which make some of
the white beach goers visibly uncomfortable at the raw sexuality and
toplessness of these young Zulu girls).
But I hadn't seen this guy before. He was a street contortionist, if I
had to give him a title, and his two children - a boy and girl - were
part of the act.
"I love God who gives me this ability," he calls out above the crowd,
the boy standing atop his head, looking almost bored, as if just
milling on a street corner, and the girl is wrapped around his torso,
her eyes on the ice cream waiting for her by their shoes.
"God is my provida," he shouts, palms up, arms outstretched, "God is
(edit: I found this in my gmail outbox from months ago, not sure why I
didn't send it then)
23rd Nov 2008, 21:20
After a few months in Durban I sold my motorbike and my computer for ticket to London and some cash. I spent my last month of Africa back in Jeffrey's Bay, back with newly old friends and a familiar wave.
Within the first week I rolled my ankle badly while surfing and was meant to spend some weeks out of the water. Fat chance. Three days later I taped it up and limped my way to the line up with Tom the owner's '73 single fin under my arm. In retrospect it was the best thing that could have happened. The retreat from my usually aggressive surfing to the style and feel of early wave riding was the best rehabilitation I could have hoped for. It slowed everything down, forcing me to alter every aspect of my surfing, appreciate it that much more. And because that board needed a long, solid wave to really move the way it wanted, I found myself being much more selective, spending longer periods of time waiting, watching.
Stopping to smell the roses I guess you could say.
Unfortunately the waterproof camera I had bought was stolen, and so I lost almost all of my pictures from that period. I do have a couple though; this one is my favorite.
From shortboards to retro single fins to no board at all.
17th Nov 2008, 16:09
Every so often I see something that really sums up an experience, a
time or a place even. An image that is just poignant in its own way.
It doesn't have to be terribly literal or moving, just something that
captures things as I feel them at that moment.
This is one of those things. It really smacks you in the face when you
see it, the bold faced tackiness, the shamelessness. But it is what it
is. No one was laughing when they made this. It was borne of
This is Africa.
23rd Jul 2008, 21:33