Wednesday, September 11, 2002
Service: * * * * *
Ambience: * * * * *
Babe Count: N/A
It's been quite a week. Last Thursday I'm at work, and my phone rings. It's a pal of my mom's. "Roy, this is Cherry. Take this number down immediately and phone your mother. She's standing at a public phone in the rain waiting for your call."
I take the number, make the call.
My mom's got her manipulation voice on. "Roy, have you got a pen? I need you to phone Anton. Here's the number."
I write it down. I say, "Who's Anton?"
"Before your father died he sold all of his machinery to Anton. He's supposed to be paying me every month for forty-eight months, but he's only made one payment. I haven't eaten anything except mealie meal for the last two weeks."
My parents retired to some remote place in the Transkei just after my dad decided that one more bankruptcy wasn't for him. So they headed out into the wilderness, with no electricity or running water, and claimed they were loving it. When I could reach them, that is. The people around those parts seem to love stealing cellphones.
"Why haven't you phoned me?" I say, outraged that my mother is standing in the rain, hungry.
Silence. That manipulative silence. She wants me to say, "Don't worry, Mommy, I'll send you a thousand bucks right now via electronic banking. By the time you put the phone down you'll be able to buy a square meal." Instead, I say, "Who the hell is this Anton? I'll kill him!"
I'm not sitting at my desk as I say this. I'm on my cellphone, and I'm pacing the corridors of the SABC. The hangnail on my unused ring finger is satisfyingly sore. I seem to have ripped a chunk out of it, and there's a little bit of blood.
If I pound Anton to a pulp, and he has AIDS, is it possible that the rip in my hangnail might somehow let it infect me??? Sheesh. There's an argument for a non-violence policy.
"I'm freezing out here, Roy. I'll come back on Saturday and call you. I've only got thirty-three rand left on the phone card though."
So I phone Anton, and he gives me this epic sob story about how this guy took him for a hundred and eighty-two grand, and he can't pay at the moment, cos he's battling just to keep the lights burning and the phones on the hook, and he promises he'll pay as soon as he can.
Which is all a load of nonsense. How do I know? Cos I've heard it all before. My dad went bankrupt a good five or six or twelve times, and his stories were all similar. But I'm a good guy -- right? -- so like Kippie, I let the guy off the hook. I tell him we'll speak soon. And good luck. And I hope everything comes right. Yadda yadda.
I notice a missed call on my cellphone. I've been monitoring the damn thing for hours, and I must have slipped into the kitchen to make some Oatso Easy or something. When I phone my mom back on the payphone, it rings about forty times, and some rural Transkeian woman answers. "This is Roy, can I speak with Tess?" I ask, politely.
Phone back. Nothing. Very frustrating. I need to get some facts out of my mom. Like how big Anton is. Whether I need to invest in knuckledusters. How much he owes. What the state of my dad's estate is like. Maybe some phone numbers of my dad's old thug cronies. But she doesn't contact me again.
I wait a few days. Till yesterday. I psych myself up, and phone Anton. It rings. Goes to voicemail. I leave a message. "Hi Anton. This is Roy Blumenthal, Sam's son. You owe my dad's estate a substantial amount of money, and I think it's important for you and me to speak about how you plan to pay it back. I'd like you to write out all the facts -- what you owe, what you agreed to, and what trouble you're in now. Also, when and how you expect to make the next payment, and how much it'll be. My phone number is --"
"You have reached the voice mailbox recording limit. Thank you and goodbye."
I phone back. It rings. Goes to voicemail. I leave the number.
This morning, the anniversary of America's foray into real politick, I decide to take the bull by the poopscoop. I phone Anton from my car on my way to work. A woman answers. "May I speak with Anton please?"
Hand over the receiver. "Anton?"
From near the woman, "Who is it?" Shuffling sounds. Hand withdrawn. Anton on the phone, in person. "It's Anton here, who's speaking?"
"Hi Anton, it's Roy Blumenthal, Sam's son. I left a message on your phone yesterday, and you haven't replied."
"I got back very late last night. I haven't listened to any messages."
"Anton, I would like you to write me a plan of how you intend paying your debt back to my father's estate."
"Sorry? Who did you say you represent?"
"The estate of my dead father."
"I'm very busy right now. We can speak another time. Bye." Click.
I phone back. The woman answers.
"I would like to speak to Anton please."
A pause. "He's just gone. Here's his cellphone number." She gives it to me.
"Is this a real number? Are you kidding me? Did he tell you to give me this number? Is it fake?"
Laughter. "No, it's real."
After the call, I phone the voice mail directly. It's a little trick I've learned. If it's a Vodacom number, you just add the digits '1-3-1' after the '0-8-2' part. For MTN, you add '1-7-4' after the '0-8-3'. I don't know what it is for Cell-C yet. I'll find out. Anyway, I get to the voicemail. "Hullo. This is Anton speaking. I am not available . . ." I clip off the call.
I'm now at work, and I've got editing to do. I'm making promos for MANCHILD and ICE WARRIORS.
The one show is a sitcom about 50-year-old men who think they're entitled to be kids again. Very funny. Considering I grew up pretty quickly, and my dad always had advanced kid syndrome.
The other is a game show that's like GLADIATORS on ice, with serious physical contact. Maybe even torn hangnails.
And I've got some thinking to do. About violence. And my dad's cronies. And extracting money from some slab of dead meat in Midrand.