Friday, May 23, 2003

Times Square Cafe, Yeoville

Friday, May 23, 2003

Service: * * *
Food: * * * 1/2
Ambience: * * * *
Babe Count: *

I'm in one of my old haunts from back in the old days. The glory days. The days of being an earnest poet who was gonna change the world. Times Square Cafe in Yeoville. Back in those days I used to write a lot of performance poetry here.

Tonight, I'm watching South Africa's most famous unknown filmmaker -- Aryan Kaganof -- playing speed chess against a local maestro. His ass is getting whipped, even though he's a viciously hot player away from the pressure of the clock.

Eric Miyeni is the reason we're here. I bumped into him earlier in Melville, at Spiro's, where he was playing chess against someone. I sat down to play him.

"Hey," he says to me, in that performance poet, radio talkshow-host, agitator voice, the sneering one, "what colour you wanna play?"

"Jesus, Eric, does EVERYTHING have to be about race?" I say.

He has the grace to laugh. We've known each other since before he got famous. We shared poetry microphones years ago in the Black Sun in Yeoville. We even shared positions in an ad agency a while back, both working as copywriters. He became the creative director there, and I quit advertising for film.

I end up playing black, him white, and we start our mighty race war. I hold out for twenty minutes, by which time Aryan Kaganof and his Dutch filmmaker/artist/maverick buddy, Dick Tuinder are looking over my shoulder clucking at my crap moves.

"Check mate," says Eric. I shake his hand. "Play again," he says.

Aryan introduces me to Dick while we're setting up the board. "The reason you guys need to meet is cos I think you're very similar." Dick also shaves his head. He's also a multi-faceted artist, working in all sorts of media. Also carries a sketchbook with him wherever he goes. Also tries to shag anything that moves. Also makes movies.

Eric and I finish setting up the board. Then, THWACK. He goddamn mates me in four moves.

"Kaganof," he says, "come to Yeoville and play some speed chess."

So we do. We go in Aryan's car, cos I don't want to risk having mine hijacked out from under me.

Yeoville is humming. It's bloody awesome. A real buzz of enjoyment in Times Square Cafe. Exclusively black faces. And no women. Not one. Not even a waitress. Sheesh. This is wrong, man.

Kaganof sits down to play speed chess. He's wearing an old army jacket with someone's name tag still sewn over the pocket. The previous wearer's name was LOVE. Yup. The irony has escaped noone.

Speed chess. Pretty much the same rules as normal chess, except that you don't say "Check" when you threaten your opponent's king. It's his job to notice that sorta thing. If he moves another piece instead of moving out of check, it's game over. He loses. And it's frenetic. Hands whir as they move pieces and slap the clock. Each is allocated five minutes. If your flag falls before your opponent's, it's game over.

Kaganof is impressive. But the jovial dude in the winner's chair is even more so, and he wins Aryan's massive stake of two rand. And we've watched him beat everyone so far. This guy's loaded, man. He must have won at least thirty rand tonight!

Eventually a woman arrives. Greets Eric Miyeni as if she knows him. But basically everyone knows him. He hugs her as if he knows her. She smiles. Spreads perfume around the joint, and all the guys look at her. Ample hips. Serious afritude. But this joint's not cooking for her. So she leaves. Eric shrugs.

I order a half portion of the lamb shwarma. I'm nervous. No. Not nervous. Petrified. You know... Yeoville isn't all that far from Hillbrow. And who KNOWS what kind of hygienic standards this establishment holds itself to.

The food comes. Attractively presented. A huge portion. Elsewhere, this would have been regarded as the full portion. I make sure, "Hola bra," I say, using my ingratiating whitey persona, the one that greets black people in township lingo so they'll know I'm a brudda, and not some Apartheid-supporting whitey. "You sure this is the half portion?" And I make that 'Hola sevens!' sign, where each hand looks like a pointing gun, with a twist of the wrists so that the fingers end up pointing at the floor.

"Yebo, gazlam," he says, and laughs.

I feel good. I'm a diplomat for whiteys all over South Africa.

I eat the food. As good as anything I've had anywhere. And no signs of food poisoning. Excellent.

Dick Tuinder gets his turn at the speed chess. Gets whipped.

I don't even bother to put my two bucks down. If Eric Miyeni could slaughter me in four in Melville, I think the humiliation here in Yeoville would just not cut it for me.

"Hey," says Aryan, "let's go to Stones and shoot some pool."

"Stones in Cresta," I say. "Cos then if I manage to hook up with a babe, it's a very short trip back to my place."

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