Originally published 10 January 2012
Sitting at the counter inside the Vida looking out on the Street, I notice walking on the pavement a man – except he is not a man. He is far less. He is a bergie. Uncertain, he hesitates before (and this is me, assuming) hunger presses him forward.
He approaches a young man sitting at the tables outside. The young man has a perfectly coiffed quiff and is wearing round eyeglasses. Hand cupped under hand, the lesser man asks for the last of the young man’s breakfast wrap. It has too little bacon, too much egg and anyway tastes of cardboard, so the young man hands it over with some uncertainty.
Before the lesser man, Untermensch, can tuck in, a Barista approaches.
“You do not belong here,” his cocked head and twisting, stacked delts say.
Untermensch steps back and mutters under his breath, which the South Easter lifts, exposing that which is at the conflux of the barista’s mom’s legs. Quick as a flash, Barista has Untermensch by the scruff. He hoists him – one, two, three – he hurls him out of our sight.
“Hectic,” the guy next to me says.
“Hectic,” I say, “but this is Cape Town.”
Sensing an opportunity to affirm our solidarity, he presses on. “It’s a public street. Untermensch has every right to be here,” he says, flashing his counterculture credentials.
I check them. They’re three A4-sized pages long, and laminated. Leafing through I learn he’s an AfrikaBurn vet and votes AZAPO. He’s seen and loved all three members of the current Trinity in concert, Bantwini, Mathambo and Blk Jks – amen. I flip them over. On the back it says they were issued by a liberal university and paid for by his dad, a Greenside podiatrist, and his mom, a work-from-home art teacher.
Duly impressed, I hand them back. “Of course Untermensch has every right to be here. It is a free country, after all,” I say. “But this is Cape Town.”
“I’m from Joburg – it’s like this everywhere,” he says. “You know it’s not about race anymore.”
“Yeah, it’s more about class, man” he says. He pauses to think. “Fuck the class system,” he says.
“Fuck the class system,” I say. I raise my latte and give a nod.
Before I can return to my book, Untermensch steps back into view. Barista and his delts are behind the till and coiffed quiff boy skedaddled at the first sign that shit was about to go down. Untermensch catcalls a blonde model-type who walks by pretending not to hear. He leans against a lamp pole and adjusts his dirt brown and faded cap, which has a J-Crew emblem stitched to the front. He closes his eyes and lifts his face to the sun.
“Does it make it any better,” I ask aloud, “if it truly is now about class, not race?”
“Of course, man,” guy-next-to-me says. “Just look at the history of the world, of this country. Racism’s pernicious and grotesque. We’d be fucked if we were still doing it.”
“Which is why racists get a swift kick to the keister when they show their asses. It’s the kind of thing only a fucked-up person would see happen and not try to stop,” I add.
“For sure! I’d kick a racist’s ass all day any day.” He bangs the counter.
“Me too, my brother, me too,” I say. “But a classist, I would not touch. Why should I? I’m on this side of the glass and Untermensch, well, he’s over there.”
Guy-next-to-me flushes pale. I raise my hand for a fist bump. He leaves me hanging.
“Buck up, old boy,” I say. “It could be worse. At least you’re not a fucking anti-Semite.”
We both look out again at Untermensch. He’s looking right at us. He smiles warmly and grabs his crotch. He flashes us a peace sign, palm inwards. Drawing his hand to his lips, he snakes his tongue between the two erect fingers.