Neil Coppen

writings/ plays/ poetry/musings/travel journals and newspaper columns

BRANDED

October21

I hate being advertised too, lumped into a demographic and assumed to be a certain type of individual, who will want to dress a certain way and drink a certain beer while driving a certain car. From a recent experience at the Gateway shopping mall (and more disturbingly a urinal in the gent’s bathroom) I have come to conclusion that advertising has officially gone too far.

Last Friday evening I made the dreadful mistake of braving Gateway (The theatre of shopping) to attend a movie at Cinema Noveau. One of the joys of Noveau is, of course, not having to endure the half- hour bombardment of trailers and adverts used to indoctrinate teeny boppers in the more mainstream movie houses. You know the drill—roller skating meerkats and offensive Kentucky fried stereotypes served up by the greasy bucket load. Teenagers at this mall thankfully avoid cinema Noveau like a plague of impending acne. This, you see, is the designated arena of the ‘arty fartsy’ types. Movies that are just like sooooo annoying cause you have to like read the film half the time. Read the rest of this entry »

Demystifying The Male Nude

August13

The vagina used to be a conversational no no, that was until playwright and activist Eve Ensler’s long- running stage play The Vagina Monologues managed to wrench open the flood gates of discourse surrounding female genitalia. So what theatrical equivalent or global phenomena does the male appendage have to rival Ensler’s? Read the rest of this entry »

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Manda Bala (Send a Bullet)

July24

What do a philosophising frog farmer, a ropey plastic surgeon, a fat-cat politician and a professional kidnapper all have in common? You might be forgiven for thinking they are the odd ball line up of characters constituting the cast- list for the next Coen brothers film. These are however all too real peopleeach of whom plays a crucial role in the sprawling cycle of violence and corruption currently plaguing modern Brazil.

Read the rest of this entry »

Blame the burning man on the Moon

May20

We could of course blame it all on the moon– this insanity. Last nights orb more ominous, potent, pregnant then ever. Such a force has been known to drive men to distraction, senses to senselessness, ocean’s into significant frenzy. Read the rest of this entry »

A post apocalyptic love story for these dark ages

April23

With the power and water stations long collapsed and no diesel left to fuel their stagnant SUV’s (let alone the standby generators) life had become near unbearable for the powerless Houton couple– Ned and Nancy Van Der Spuy. Shacked up in their three story mansion in a once plush and functioning suburb they were left with little option but to wait, wait until their number (sixty- five thousand) on the immigration list to Aus would be called. Read the rest of this entry »

Too Many Crooks (A state of the nation undress)

March7

On my recent three month travels in South America, I picked up a book
by Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing titled ‘The Prisons We Choose to
Live Inside’. In one of its chapters Lessing writes…..

‘We are all of us, to some degree or another brainwashed by the
society we live in. We are able to see his when we travel to another
country, and are able to catch a glimpse of our own country with
foreign eyes. There is nothing much we can do about this except
remember that it is so. Every one of us is part of the great
comforting illusions, and part illusions, which every society uses to
keep up its confidence in itself. These are hard to examine, and the
best we can hope for is that a kindly friend from another culture will
enable us to look at our culture with dispassionate eyes.’ Read the rest of this entry »

ON WHACKJOBS

February19


 

In a continent gone loco, a universe crawling with itinerant nutters, Charles undoubtedly saw himself as a long standing pillar of sanity. I met him one evening, on the stoep of a hostel in the coffee region of Solento, Columbia. Through the clenched teeth inhalation of a joint he had cautioned me against the epidemic of whack jobs currently plaguing our globe.

“The what?”

“Whack jobs” he repeated, his fingers sifting through a tangled clump of marijuana he had removed from a zip lock bag.

“God damn South Americans” he grunted, picking through and tossing out stalks and seeds. “Why don’t they clean this shit up! That’s what we pay for isn’t it?”

Charles I discover is easily distracted, prone to loosing his chain of thought, a short term memory deficiency common to most die- hard dope smokers.

“Tell me about the whack jobs?” I encourage him.

“Oh yeah the Whack jobs, the whack jobs you gotta look out for these guys.”

“Why?”

“Well because they’re loonies, nutters, raging god-damn lunatics, that’s why!”

I watch as he sprinkles a pinchful of green dust onto the rolling paper while raising a cautionary brow over the rim of his glasses.

“They’re everywhere man, just everywhere. People who travel because the folks back home can no longer put up with them. So you know what they do? They pack their bags for them, even pay their air ticket, inflict them on someone else for a while. I read a book this one time” he continued , “about the turn of the century mental patients, who ordinarily would have been locked up in loony bins. Crazies who the sane population, the normal folks like you and I didn’t know what the heck to do with. Back then they didn’t have the psychology or medicine, the means to diagnose them. So you know what they did?”

I shook my head politely.

“They bundled them into Galleons, set them adrift on the open ocean. Eventually these ships of cuckoos would beach on some foreign shore, say Australia and the nutters would pour out, terrorize the natives and start their own nutter populations.”

I remark that it sounds like a pretty concise definition of colonialism but Charles is too focused manoeuvring his tongue along the edge of the rolling paper, to hear.

‘Things haven’t changed man, that’s how these Third world hostels become asylums for the unwanted whacko’s of the West. When they over stay their welcome, or at least stay long enough for everyone to realize the true extent of their instability, they just put on their back-packs and move somewhere else. You know, go and find a new bunch of locals to terrorize, god damn loonies! Oh I’ve met some prize winners in my time, prize winners!’

Back in the States, Charles told me that he worked in construction over the summer. He had no home, just a temporary trailer he’d rent over the months of his employment. He’d been doing this for several years and as a result had managed to travel the world extensively. Throughout his desultory roaming he claimed to have encountered enough whack jobs to consider himself an expert on the cause.

 “Oh I could write a book” he chuckled, “even better an encyclopaedia.”

When construction work was hard to come by, Charles would take odd jobs as an extra on film sets down in Baha Mexico. It was on these shoots that he claimed to have met some world class whack jobs. Usually unsuspecting crack pots, plucked from homeless shelters and plonked in period costumes, enticed by the promise of free catering.

“That’s Hollywood for you. One big corrupt soup kitchen .Cheap disposable labour they can throw off sinking ships without having to worry about life insurance or law suits.”

He was quick to inform me that his crowning celluloid achievement was as the ill fated fiddler in the blockbuster ‘Titanic. He urged me to revisit the film (which I half heartedly assured him I would) pause it at two hours and forty –five minutes and look for the guy on the life- raft with his back turned to the camera. “Swear to god that’s me, you can tell by my ears.”

I watched as he rolled his joint with the ease and commitment of a hardened stoner- a stoner who later confessed to feigning terminal illness back home for the benefits that come in the form of the gratis high-grade.

“Israelis” he huffs, “Look no further. They say it’s the two years of compulsory military service that does that to them. By the time it’s all over, they’re in need of a little down time, a vacation, so unlucky for us, they head out into the third world in their droves. Wherever the drugs and falafels are cheapest. When and if they get round to going back home, it’s usually gift wrapped in a straight jacket. Peru, oh man Peru, more Jews then Jerusalem. Loco fuckers too.”

He twisted his finger in circles beside his temple for emphasis, then sparked up his second spliff.

“Running through the Amazon Jungle in nothing but their underwear, over dosing on whatever mind- mangling jungle vine or mushroom they can get their hands on. It’s a lethal combination, causes hellish flash-backs from their army days. When I was down in the Amazon, by the Columbian Peruvian border, this Israeli dude licked the back of a hallucinogenic frog outside the hostel I was staying at. The locals had warned him, told him it was a trip reserved for the most potent of shaman. Did he listen?”

I shrug.

“You bet he didn’t!’ He yells, thumping his hands on the table. ‘Lost the plot, ended up stabbing himself in the neck, ten times, with a piece of glass he had recovered from the same window he had just head butted.”

Charles I gather is in his early sixties. On his right arm, I can just make out a series of faded tattoos, ink stain vestiges of his more reckless years: scantily clad girls and skulls. He wears a tie dyed shirt, a pair of seventies shades and red bandana. I can’t quite decide if his handlebar moustache ,groomed to perfection, reminds me more of a member of the Village People or decrepit Harleys Angel. He brims with a ‘know it all nostalgia’ the sort of Yanky conviction that leaves little room for objection let alone input.

“Now the French, oh the French” he sighs, a heady mist of smoke escaping from his lips, “Now there my Amigo is an entire nation of Whack jobs. I’m yet to meet one that isn’t certifiable. Rude fuckers too, wouldn’t piss on you if you were burning. Don’t want to be stuck at the dinner table with them after the tenth bottle of wine having to listen to their misinformed politics and whackjob philosophies.”

Here Charles launches into a feeble but impassioned imitation: “The Faheeeeests this and the feeeekking feeeeesheeeets that! Nuff to do your head in. Did I mention the Jap whack jobs?”

“Not yet.” I groan internally.

“Good, cause these my friend are what we call travelling pestilences, the now ya see em now ya don’t annoyances. Whirlwinds of gobbledegook and technology, ravaging the ruins and vistas with their obscene lenses and half baked curiosity. A billowing wake of their tour bus dust the only trace that they ever came at all.”

He exhales a trail of dissipating smoke for effect.

“And the Germans, now if you ask me being a Whack job is bad enough but whack jobs with out a sense of humour, well that’s just inexcusable. When it come to the Brits, it’s the Chav chicks you gotta keep an eye on, loony as hell not to mention about as common and attractive as cockroaches. Mostly they travel on the doll, either that or make part time livings jigging their sequenced ‘surgery enhanced’ titties on cruise line cabarets. Ever tried to share a dorm with these Nypho whackettes?”

I shook my head because I hadn’t yet had that misfortune.

“Oh man you don’t want to be awake when they come stumbling in during the early hours of the morning, coked outta their brains from some down- town Salsa club, and you certainly don’t want to be on the bottom bunk when they going at it in the saggy mattress above you.”

“Going at it?”

“You know, banging! Usually some beer tanked Ozzie bloke whose lucky enough to have his ticket booked on the early bus so he doesn’t have to stick around to see what she looks like in the less than complimentary light of morning. Christ these chicks must be aborting Whack job half breeds from every corner of the globe. Now there’s a scary thought. And the Dutch, take note my esteemed amigo that is what happens when you spend your entire life in a country that’s the size of a small-holding and whose principal industry is dope and tulips. No two ways about it–live in the Netherlands, come out a whack job-period!”

Charles must of gone on for another two hours: the missionary whack jobs–Christ’s noble crusaders, bible belting the decimated tribes who barely have an Amazon bush left to hide behind. The flora and fauna Whack jobs: “Try talk to them about anything other than botany and butterflies and you screwed.” The Astrology Whack jobs, congregating around the ancient sites and Machu Picchu and Nazca in the belief they’re extra terrestrial landing pads awaiting a second coming.

The suburban sicko Whack jobs: “Now these are an interesting species altogether– usually of Swiss or Austrian origin, driven to insanity by the impeccable order of their first world nutshells. Back where they come from, folks commit Hari kiri when the train happens to be five minutes late. These ‘head cases’, Nietzsche freaks, toss themselves into war zones, humanitarian nightmares for the same reason skydivers leap from aero planes. Sick kicks, cheap thrills, anything to feel more…more, god dammit whats the word I’m looking for here?”

“Um Alive?”

“Exactamundo! Met an Austrian male nurse who took his yearly vacations in places like Kashmir, Baghdad, Palestine and the Sudan. His reasoning? Said it was cheaper and there were no tourists. His most prized souvenir from all his travels was an Afghan bullet wedged in his left butt cheek. Wore it like a trophy.”

Furthermore, during my comprehensive induction into the Whack jobs’ hall of shame, I learnt about hick whack jobs, jock whack jobs, anthro, historical, journo, Homo, Paedo’ whack jobs. What Charles fondly and aptly titled - a united nations of nutters.

“The saddest thing man” he sighed, taking a final concentrated pull of his spliff so that the roach now scaled his fingers, “is these Whacko’s of the world are terrible ambassadors for their countries, for all us travellers in fact. You gotta pity these South American locals who run these hostels and tour agencies, the folks who have to put up with these deranged weirdo’s twenty –four- seven. You can’t blame them for thinking we’re all like that and I object — it’s giving us ‘normal’ folks a bad rep.”

Normal? I wondered or rather shuddered to imagine what Charles, chain smoking spliffs in garish Hunter S Thompsonesque attire, considered normal. What warped definition he might come up with if I dared to ask. I refrained from showing further interest, said goodnight– the glaring ironies of his monologue too much to endure.

How could I sit a minute longer listening to a man ranting on about the collective insanity of the world, ranting as if he were the solution when quite evidently he was the champion, the president, the international ambassador to the Whack job wonderer’s iniquitous cause.

 

Bolivia (part 2) Above and Below

December16

A visit to the Patosi Silver Mines in Bolivia, to get an alternative view of the state of things, proves both frightening and enlightening. A descent deep in the bowels of the hellish Cerro Rico mountain which looms over the the city as lugubrious monument and Colonial shit pile. I take a tour with an ex- miner, who on our way up, stops our vehicle outside the Miners Market, insisting that Gringos will only be welcome should they arrive baring gifts. I oblige, purchase a packet of coca leaves, some soft drinks and for good measure, a few sticks of dynamite (bound to endear me instantly I’m told). That’s right, perfectly legal, sitting there amongst the cigarettes, candy, toilet paper in the local Cafeteria´- a wad of explosives (extra mild). Can anyone pop in and buy a pack of Dynamite? I ask, a little perplexed to which my host merely shrugs- Porque no? (Why not). I hope it isn’t on sale to kids, you know to minors ( pun unintentional -honest) or revolutionaries for that matter. Its a question which before I have time to ask, before my very eyes, a boy not past ten ambles in and leaves with two sticks wedged firmly in belt.

From the market one ascends to the crest of the gloomy mount,-lightening and lashings of rain only adding to the Hellish apparition, my mounting apprehension. This is after all the most medieval of mines functioning in the world today- the kind of death toll where authorities have grown bored with counting. Workers must make do without illuminated shafts, lifts or machinery- a far cry from the comparatively cushy Gold Reef City tour (No Toto we are not in Egoli anymore) .Here locals employ ancient push carts, poorly supported tunnels and rickety wooden ladders which plummet into those forsaken depths. As we move deeper the walls begin to tremble with the dull thud of dynamite. Air filling with acrid smoke causing, what little light the feeble head lamp offers, to vanishes instantly.

As for the Silver, for which the very foundations of Patosi are built upon?-nada. The Spanish Conquistadors, back in the day made quick work of that, exploiting every indigenous bloke who happened to wonder into view. Expanding empires, decking crowns and no doubt toilet seats with the ample takings. Sadly the modern day Patosian is left to suffer and scrape by one the remaining (and hardly lucrative) zinc deposits, burying it seems to the very core of the earth to retrieve them. I meet a gang of miners in one of these pits, swerving, slurring and wreaking of booze. What concerns me more is that they happen to be chugging on cigarettes when I extend my dynamite stick offerings. They respond by tugging me by the sleeve to meet the master and cause of their subterranean revelry.

There in a damp cavern, he sits. TIO. A life size replica of the miners revered devil (of which there are over 800 similar idols all over the mine) Carved from rock and clay, decked in traditional regalia, his eyes open, mouth agape. More famed (amongst giggling tourists) for his more than prodigious photo op appendage. A cock one might say as hard and prominent as the rock he has been shaped from. Here the miners proceed to fill his mouth with lit cigarettes, burn coca leaves at his feet and drink themselves to further stupor.According to the legend, TIO is the roving bachelor and veritable party monster of the mount. At the end of each day the men must incite him with an assortment of cocoa, tobacco and booze. Only once they have left does TIO wake, stammer to his feet, stalk the midnight corridors (minus hard hat, but certainly not hard on.)It is said he goes in search of Apache Mama ( Mother Earth- here symbolised by the whole of Mine) where, if i am to understand correctly, he is to give her a rogering to remember. Their vigorous love making of course proliferating the mountains depleted mineral resources.

Back on the ground, tensions it seems are running high. Its not hard to note the Bolivian phenomenon known as the daily newspapers.Seldom have I seen a nation or people as obsessed with their daily news. A scene typical to the ubiquitous city Plazas features elderly women, teenagers, business men (smug in shoe shine boy thrones) scanning their morning print. And if they are too young to read them then you can be certain they’re selling them. A politic obviously worth keeping a beady eye on- as volatile and in many ways as farcical as our own. Small cabbies bustle through city streets with over sized speakers attached to roofs. Above pompous band stand static, a voice beckons the public to arms. The same can be said for fish markets, where impassioned citizens(usually fish still flapping in hand) vent frustrations from upturned crates. Their disdain over the increase in food prices. One wonders what might become of this spark, about to ignite candle or keg? only time will tell. The Police forces, despite their daily proliferation, seem unfazed. Rather they slouch against barricades, pruning appearances in the reflection of their glass shields.

One does however pity poor ol TIO then, the miners Devil, despite his nightly philandering, his perpetual readiness, the current state of the countries natural resources seem to render him impotent.The people are hungry, food prices escalating. And if TIO and Apache -the all providing mama, can no longer deliver the goods, one shudders to think how the less benign (though no less omniscient) Bolivian Government plans to?

UP IN THE AIR ATHEISM

November22

Finding Atheism a godzillon metres above the ground,on a SAA flight to San Paulo, might not be the most advisable of epiphanies to find yourself having.Best wait, might I advise, till grounded on more substantial terra firma . Such was the lesson I was to learn last week, after reading- mid flight- Richard Dawkins impassioned (if not all together- life changing) ¨”The God Delusion”. So convincing is his polemic :Religion shown up to be the supernatural hoey that deep down our rational minds have always suspected it to be. So irrefutable the evidence ( his Darwin for dummies approach, particularly insighful) that one can only hope that the god fearing nutters, who govern and war beneath the dictates of a dusty volume of out dated fairy tales, would take a good and preferably long, open minded look.As novelist Julian Barnes claims on the overleaf ” This book should be read by everyone from atheist to monk. If its merciless rationalism doesn’t enrage you at some point, you probably aren’t alive.”

Thankfully “The God Delusion” doesn’t express the bleak- well now that gods dead does that mean we are destined to crawl and suffer uselessly across the face of the earth- type existentialism. Rather it provides a ridiculously enlightening and liberating re-education into our scientific (sans the big bearded guy in the sky) world of wonders. A reminder of the here and imminently miraculous “now”. Forging purpose and truth no longer in non -sensical speculation of yester year, relinquishing the terror of past incarnation, the horrific potential of future damnation. In short read it, for its a cause worth believing in. Before attempting to save the whales, the ozone, the decimated rain Forrest’s, we should turn our efforts to salvaging humanity’s logic from its own perilously over excitable and gullible imaginings.

And so it is with this revelation, that upon completing the book (several minutes prior to landing) I exalt- God damn it I’m an atheist! No longer afraid to concede my agnostic indifference . Dawkins encourages us to avoid playing it safe, you know the just in case , cowardly fence sitting stance to which most of us are guilty of. You either in or you out. So yes, I decide I am a full blown, out the closet & proud of it- Atheist. I say it now without a hint of fear. Safe from ever having to dread providing the tortured flesh to Beelzebub’s eternal barbecue. I realise only a moment later that such confidence may have proven, well, a little premature. For just as our flight is coming in to land, the plane suddenly lurches upward, causing horrified gasps from the passengers. A terrific storm has broken and rain begins to lash the aircraft windows. Suspicious engine noises hum below.

At this moment I begin to reconsider (hell even curse) my new found Atheistic leanings. Ones memory has the habit of working in the most torturous of ways, and I find myself recalling the recent slew of South African Airways calamities, ie: a plane engine (Ala Donnie Darko) plunging unexpectedly from aircraft wing mid flight. Then of course there is San Paul- the very wet runway our plane is destined (or not) for, which just three months ago saw a TAM Airlines Air Bus collide, killing all 200 hundred of its passengers.

Now I attempt to swear myself a Mormon, curse Dawkins and his delusions and wonder whether I have packed a high factor sun tan lotion- for my lengthy new vacation in hell.

‘Er..hello God, hi its me again, I’d like to maybe retract one or two of the comments I made earlier, can have ‘un momento’ to rethink my options-yes? NO! The plane shudders, rain pelts, children start to wail. No word of re -assurance comes from the cockpit. I clutch my Saint Christopher, worn under my late grandmothers insistence (but also, if I may confess-for superstitious fence sitting purposes.) Now I mumble the semblance of an apologetic prayer but to what avail? I have willingly, yes even foolishly just expelled the skies of my celestial hearing aid. I’m an atheist remember-and atheism (like Africa I suppose) is not for sissies. There’s no turning back. Despite the separation anxiety, no dialling Nirvana 911 as imminent catastrophe looms. You’re on your own kid and so with no one left to turn to, I contemplate weeping my last rites into the bosom of a Brazilian mama beside me but am thankfully spared that humiliation when rubber bumps tar and an announcement apologises for the turbulence, welcoming us to San Paulo International.

Upon landing I find my Saint Christopher necklace wedged in sweaty palm, a token akin (and about as comforting) to still wearing ones wedding ring after having just undergone a brief but nonetheless very messy divorce.

Gary Thomas

October23

When I first lay on my bed and slipped in the Jeff Buckley-Live at Sine CD, I found myself submerged in something inexplicable, profound. Yes this was genius, I understood the word and for the first time I could place a sound alongside it. Not refined, produced, tampered with by the machine. Here was Buckley a dead man, live, living, breathing, wailing in my bedroom. Immortal Buckley, one man and his guitar, the sounds of clinking glasses from the bar, casual chatter littering the track. An exiled Lucifer lamenting for a lost paradise, angels powerless against the seduction. Fingers bled on strings.

This is how I come to Gary Thomas- a born bred now living in Cape Town Durbanite-a man who I would go as far to say is master in our midst. There is no niche, no market he panders to. Thankfully his music is far to complex to find its way to mainstream radio stations, the backgrounds of coffee shops and dinner parties. This is music that demands attention. Preferably a dark room, silence, hell a joint if you up for it. To listen is to be lost, transported, shaken. A musician who side steps the futile pursuits of ‘adoration’ rather and wisely so, seeking ‘appreciation’. This is craft, he is a craftsman not a rock star (the world has enough of those)

Thomas is a music addict, a compulsive listener but it’s to his credit that none of the songs are derivative, references only detectable through homage. Once thrown in the Gary blender a sound arises unlike anything one has heard before. One of the rarest things to find, let alone create- a new sound, a sound unlike all the others.

I imagine ‘twenty something’s’ in the future uncovering this early recording. Perhaps Gary is touring the world by now, has several albums under his belt, but this, this one- these mythical, unobtainable Kalk Bay sessions (the signed copies sell for millions on E-bay) the ones that came before the producing giants, the record label vultures swooped in. Before international recognition, acclaim, stardom. Before all that. When life was simple and Thomas was scraping by- an unsuspecting loafer with a supernatural gift.

I imagine one of these twenty something’s shifting through his dad’s old CD collection, pulling out this CD, slipping it in the player, lying back on his bed, eyes closed. What occurs takes the form of revelation. He finds himself drowning, battles to breathe, only once the CD ends does he swim to the surface- gasping. Blessed, now he will not settle for anything less. Anything less is a compromise. He throws out the kak he has been listening to in the past. A bar has been raised, the standard set.

I look forward to the day I can say ‘I told you so”. To own this album is to own a (minor/major- time will tell) piece of history. Not just a necessity then but a wise investment.

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