After plucking a dusty copy of Hunter S Thompson’s Song of the Doomed from that good old bookshop on Commissioner Street, triggering a welcomed opening the Universe’s floodgates, I’ve had my starved fangs in writings of America’s famous new journalists.
That day, after hours at Hing Hong Chinese Old Age Home coaxing information from reluctant residents anxious to get to their noodles stir-fry and corn soup lunch (what a treat.), I decided to brave the punishing heat and head to town on foot.
Commissioner street was my time-machine, the slanting path sliding out of Jeppestown into the shadows of the CBD’s skyscrapers, balancing the dread of staggering into the newsroom deadpan without a thing to write.
Late afternoon Joburg is unsettling if your spirit is already unsettled and your brain is already contracting in one long slow spasm. But you check yourself don’t you? and snarl a good one at your self-pity that’s not quite ennui.
But the weariness was contagion, really a harmless itch in a death-match versus all skin fingernails of a hypochondriac, contracted or imagined at the old age home.
Many of the elderly Chinese folks irrevocably flinched when the personal questions came out. Many shut the sole gate of the invisible Chinese wall when the general questions came out.
The journalist is cursed to be an outsider. It’s one of the perks, if you are wise to the strategic implications. I wasn’t that day.
So off the outsider went unable to turn rejection into koolaid, eh em soet aid. Jeppestown’s wondrous graffiti watched rather than offering consolation. It watched, I hadn’t.
The floodgates. Tom Wolfe’s New Journalism found its way into grateful palm via those dilated canals. In the Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved Thompson, hunting for way to report on the crazy spectacle, finds himself anxious to get close enough to watch the faces of people that matter.
For him it is the “gentry of whiskey”.
For me and my quest to know what death and burial and the city mean to Joburg’s Chinese community, what does this mean?
Up to now faces only appeared and disappeared on my radar.