June 22, 2004

Get Your Talk On

(Uh, you people like really long entries, right? No? Gee. That's too bad.)

So my boyfriend's up visiting his parents this week and I'm on my own and didn't feel like cooking last night, so I went out to a bar and grill I frequent, where I know the bartenders and I know they'll make sure my food comes out the way I want it and, bonus, will "forget" half my drink order, because I am a mad flash tipper.

(Let that be a lesson to you 15-percenters out there: TIP. Tiiiiiiiip. It ends up saving you money in the long run.)

One of the things I had forgotten, one of the annoyances I lost in gaining a boyfriend, is what a magnet I am for troubled people, particularly troubled drunks.

Troubled talkative drunks.

They love me. They want me to lend them my ears while they tell Mama Ilyka all about it.

Last night it was a gentleman from South Africa who wanted to tell me about how he "fought the Negro in the bush" before "doing the chicken run" and emigrating here. Apparently he's been a U.S. citizen now for the last five years.

I have never met anyone with less of a clue about how Americans are, never met anyone more determined to tell all and sundry how Americans are, never met such an argumentative son of a bitch in all my life.

All I can say is I hope he's not typical.

I squeeze into one of the few remaining seats, a corner one, and am greeted by the bartenders, the female Glimmer Twins with similar-sounding names who I'll just call Vicki and Nicki with the understanding that these are not their real names, etc. I love these girls to death. It's nice to see them. Is my man arriving later? asks Nicki. No, he's out of town this week.

"Oooh, Vicki! Hey! You hear that?"


"She's on her own this week! Man's gone!"


"So what are you going to do, huh?" Nicki asks me.

"Whatever I want," I say, grinning. It's all nonsense anyway and she knows it as well as I do. I am a well-behaved woman and even if I weren't what prospects do I have these days anyway?

As soon as I think that I hear the gentleman on the other side of the corner say, "'Scuse me, love." Vicki bounces over to attend to him, chirping, "What's up?"

"This tab . . . I don't think it's quoit roight, see."

Hmm. Some Anglospheric flavor, but what? It's not U.K.; I am certain of that, but I don't think it's Australian either, though of this I am less certain. I have to generalize and say that to me, an Australian accent sounds more or less as if you "Texasized" a British accent. This sounds more like a "Georgia-fied" British accent. Where the hell's he from, anyway?

But I'm not going to actually ask because every time I ask someone where he's from, when it's obvious this isn't the person's country of origin--and especially when I ask it of people who say "shedule" for "schedule"--I get exactly the reaction I'd get if asked permission to pick the guy's nose for him. I have learned my lesson. I can keep my mouth shut. I can keep my curiosity in check for at least, uh, 10 minutes? I think I can hold out for that long. Maybe if he talks more I'll guess it.

It turns out the fellow's tab is correct and it's for a much smaller amount than ever he dreamed so in that case if Vicki would be so kind, may he have another pint please?

Vicki snatches up his glass, calls over her shoulder, "What're you drinking, hon?"

"Budweiser," he replies, "but it doesn't matter. You haven't got anything good on tap anyway."

Oh here we go with the beer thing, I am thinking. Stupid Brits-or-cousins-of with their precious beer issues.

Meanwhile I am staring across the bar at a tap labeled "Bass Ale," adjacent to another labeled "Guinness." What's this guy's definition of a good beer, anyway? He should--they all should, these foreigners who visit American chain bars and drink them clean out of Budweiser while bitching about it the entire time--he should do what any self-respecting beer snob does, and hie himself to a quality liquor store or even Central Market and pick up a case of whatever it is those fools drink over there. Pimms? I have no idea . . . and he can leave the bottles to sit out on the counter and warm up to "cellar temperature" and feel right at home. But of course, he can't do that as cheaply as he can sit up here at the tail end of happy hour and bitch about drinking Budweiser.

We Americans, we seduce you, we exploit your sense of thrift, we lure you into drinking terrible beer with our cheap, cheap prices. You will be assimilated, you limey tightwads.

Now I am playing an electronic trivia game so I'm no longer looking at Mr. Goodbeer, praise Jesus; but slowly I become aware that he is looking at me.

Am I getting The Eye? I haven't had The Eye in so long, I've forgotten what it looks like. I go most places with the boyfriend; no one's really rude enough to try to give me The Eye under those circumstances. The Eye, really? Geez, this guy must be in his cups for sure then. I haven't any makeup on beyond powder and lipstick, my hair's knotted up in a clumsy chignon, and while I certainly used to have some claim to smoking fineness, no lie, I am sad to report that these days I am distinctly chubby. This fellow's too old for me, somewhere in his 50s, but he's tanned and fit and has a fine head of silver hair, lots of it, and I'm sure he could pick up an aerobicized 40-something woman with no trouble. So he can't really be giving me The Eye.

I sneak a glance out of the corner of my own eye.

It is definitely The Eye. Gahhhh! I can only imagine the thought process: "Here now, that fat bird in the corner looks a bit of all right."

Great. A failed beer snob with his beer goggles on. Vicki and Nicki are down the other end of the bar doing their faux lesbian act, towel-slapping each other's behinds and tickling each other. They're not stupid; the clientele in here is mostly male and their antics bring in the tips, the tips which none of the customers who gawk at this display realize go, in Nicki's case, right home to her boyfriend, and in Vicki's case, right toward clothes and hair products and makeup so she can procure a boyfriend herself.

But this means I have no out at the moment. I don't know the people on the other side of me well, except that one of them sometimes beats me at trivia while other times I hand him his ass at it, which is what I'm trying to do right now, actually, so no more worrying about The Eye 'cause it's eyes on the screen time. Next question!

Cripes. I have no idea who wrote "Ain't Misbehavin'." I will be lucky to get 200 points on this one.

One of the other televisions is showing some sports highlights show. I glance up at it during a break in the trivia game. Baseball. Blecch. I'm without interest in sports until football season now that basketball's over. Not a baseball fan. Not a soccer fan either, which is what they show next.

"Boring, isn't it?"

Shit. Here we go. The chat-up. "I don't really watch baseball," I say tersely. "Nor soccer."

"I don't care for soccer myself."

"Really?" I ask before I can stop myself. I am surprised and I have just shown my surprise in the tone of my voice, meaning I've betrayed an interest in Where He's From, which is not good, because now he's going to tease me with it, because in my experience, that is what the vaguely-English-accented love above all else to do. Bait the American!

"I like American football. The NFL."

Not Australian. I'm sure of that now. Too bad. I wouldn't mind hearing about Australian football.

"I prefer that myself. I like that and basketball, but neither is going on right now."

"Basketball's very different."

"Yes," I respond, but I'm thinking, what's your point? I know those are two different sports but those are the two I like and you're the asshole who started this conversation so could you at least hold up your end of it? How long have I been talking to him now . . . not even a minute? Fine. I'm going to hold out for another nine at least and then I'm asking this bastard where the hell he's from.

I hope it's not New Zealand. I don't know anything about that country.

Which will make it harder for me to make fun of.

Seven minutes. Close enough.

"So if it's not too personal a question, would you mind telling me where you're from originally?"

BAM! Did he stiffen up right on cue or what? It's amazing. It's Pavlovian. This has to be some genetic reflex triggered right from the brain stem for these people.

"Actually, that's a very personal question."

I've had it with this geezer, though sadly this will not be the first time I think that tonight. I roll my eyes. "You people," I snort. "Annnny-time you ask people with British-sounding accents where they're from, y'all freak out like I asked you for a DNA sample or something." I laugh, shake my head, and go back to trivia.

I've made him mad now. Good. He's keeping it in check but I can still hear the anger beneath the even tones of his voice as he says, "Well, it is a personal question."

Snort again. "No it isn't."

"Then tell me where you're from." My goodness, they always do this too! As though it's like payback or something . . . see how it feels to be asked where you're from?

This is how it feels: Must be Monday. Why don't they get it? Americans ask each other where they're from all the time. I have adapted, I have assimilated, and I sound as Texan as I want to anymore, but I could put on my best New York accent and go out somewhere and if fewer than six people inquired about where I was from, or at least offered, "You're from back East, 'sat right?" I'd about fall over dead.

I smile pleasantly and answer, "Originally, New Jersey; but I grew up in California, then Arizona, and for the last 10 years I've been in Texas."

He is crestfallen. She answered and it doesn't seem to have bothered her a bit, damn her.

Also, now the only fair thing to do is tell me where he's from.

"Well," he begins, looking down at the bar top, "I'm from South Africa. And you Americans, you don't like South Africans."

Say what?!

"No, no," I protest. "That's not--"

"Oh, it's quite all right. Really. Americans don't like South Africans. I understand."

"No you don't," I insist. "It's ridiculous to make a statement like that. We don't--"

"No, you do. You don't like South Africans." He twists his mouth up as though something is stuck in his throat, something distasteful.

"You don't like us," he continues, his mouth working furiously, "because of apartheid."

An hour later I have made no progress convincing this fellow that the only person who's still stuck on apartheid is him. But by now, I'm beginning to figure out why.

It seems he was for it. He's too guarded to say so directly; just keeps repeating "I served my time in the bush, I fought to keep the Negroes out, but time and history and the U.S., particularly, were against us, and we lost, and I, like so many of my countrymen, I took the chicken run, and came here, and now I'm an American, too. So that's that." And here his chin goes up and he takes a swallow of beer and stares directly ahead of himself, and takes a drag of his cigarette, and you can tell he is thinking himself the very model of stiff upper-lippedness. The last bastion of White Civilization has made his stand and fought the good fight but come a-cropper in the end, alas, but he will still stand tall, he still has his dignity, and that's the thing, isn't it?

Criminy, I think to myself, this guy has real delusions of Churchill.

Also, he's a bigot.

"Look, I believe you. I never said you weren't an American," the guy to the left of me retorts. He is visibly irritated. He is arguing with the South African--the South African who is now an American, and don't you forget it!--and even though he's a polite little guy I can see he is starting to get to the place I've been since this whole conversation began, a little place I like to call My God But You're Obstinate.

He brought this on himself, of course, by interrupting a reminiscence by the South African Who is Now An American of--what else?--My Time in the Bush, to ask, "So have your views on the whole thing, that situation--have they changed any since then?"

The guy stares at him for a moment.


We don't really know what to say to this, this fellow to my left and I. We have an entire silent, telepathic conversation in a shared glance at each other: You want to say something to him? No, you? Erm. Uh, no? Yeah, me neither.

I mean what the hell do you say?

The South African adds, "You Americans--and I shouldn't say that, because I'm an American now, too--but you Americans, you wouldn't understand. Americans have never had to defend themselves on their own territory as we did."

"Uh, hold on a second," the guy to my left says, laughing, "we sort of had some people who were here first called Native Americans . . . ."

"That was hundreds of years ago. You wouldn't know what it's like to do that in your lifetime."

"Okay, but listen, maybe in your case--"

"You don't know anything at all about my case, mate."

And on it goes. I'm in the middle watching this ping-pong match.

"You don't really think I'm an American, do you? Just some South African. Americans don't like South Africans. But I'm telling you: I am an American."

"Look, I believe you. I never said you weren't an American."

I have a sudden and surprising thought: But he isn't. Not really.

I am wholly displeased to find myself thinking this, and yet there is an element of truth to it I cannot deny. He doesn't get it. He doesn't get any of it. He doesn't get the first thing about us.

Later this South African guy will leave and the fellow to my left and I will be chatting about the encounter and he will nail the problem perfectly:

"He's not an American. He's a naturalized citizen."

Exactly, I agree. He has the papers, but he ain't got the heart.

Nor the spirit.

"I shouldn't say this really, but . . . ."

"Nah, go ahead."

The South African exhales cigarette smoke. "American men," he begins, "American men are very . . . effeminate."

"Really? Relative to what?"

"You don't believe me," he smiles, "but it's true. American women seek out men they can dominate. And as a result . . . as a result, American men are very effeminate."

"Look, that's bullshit," I say flatly. "I have gay friends, right? If I want to hang out with an effeminate man, I know who to call. That doesn't mean I want to date them."

"I'm not talking about poofters--"

"Ha! Nancy boys?"

"--but American men are very effeminate."

I have figured out this guy's argument strategy: sheer bloodymindedness. He just repeats his statements until you give up in exhaustion. He brings nothing new to the table; just repeats himself. So I just roll my eyes at him now. "Whatever."

He knows he's got me, too, because he's grinning openly now. "And I'll tell you something," he continues, "American women are very . . . ."

"Oh, let me help you out," I sneer. "Very pushy?"


"Very demanding? Very aggressive? Very . . . emasculating?"

(Because you know, I've never heard any of THIS before, and certainly not from South African immigrants.)

"No, you're just very forward. Very direct."

"And we like effeminate men, don't forget that."

"Well, you see, I'm an American now. So I should try to be more sensitive, I suppose. But it's a very different . . . ." He seems stuck for the word.

"Culture?" I offer.

"Yes. A very different culture. You see, in South Africa, men are more like men, and women are more like women."

How spectacularly unhelpful, I think, can we have a few more circular definitions of that sort?

"There's more separation between the two," he adds.

"You mean women tend to hang out with other women while men hang out with other men? Like socially?"

He is staring directly at me now. "Let me put it this way," he says slowly, "this conversation we're having, you and I, it wouldn't happen in South Africa."

"Because in South Africa, you see, a woman alone, a woman at a bar," he continues, "well, if I were talking to a woman at a bar such as I am talking to you right now, it would be apparent to me, and to everyone else, that I was soliciting a whore."

"Wait . . . why? You mean no other kind of woman would be out by herself?" I ask incredulously.

"Precisely." He shakes his head.

"But I shouldn't say things like that anymore. I'm an American now."

I make a mental note to myself to try to find out if there's any truth to what he is saying, or if South Africa was like this even 30, 40, 50 years ago, because the more I am talking to this guy the more it seems to me as though someone has thawed a prehistoric creature out of an ice block somewhere and dropped him into the heart of Dallas, Texas, 2004, and my God, no wonder the beast is having difficulty acclimating to his environment

Then again, he could be making shit up. He could be making all of it up, or at least most of it, because heaven knows honesty is the about the last thing people bring with them into bars.

Also, I think on some level this guy thinks he is doing a little shock and awe routine on me. I am supposed to be shocked by the barbarity of his past life but in awe of his uber-manliness, and I think the end result is supposed to be that I go home with him tonight.

Clueless. The man is clueless about absolutely everything.

Then again, maybe it's partly my fault, because while I'm certainly not hot for this guy I do nonetheless maintain a little pity in my heart for him, so to cheer him up I buy him a pint.

"You're very sweet. Thank you."

"No problem. Enjoy your watery pseudolager!"

He makes a face, an embarrassed face. "I shouldn't have said that. Really, I like this beer, actually. It's quite good."

I grin at that. "You lie like a dog."

"It is important," he says stiffly, "to maintain civility."

"That's nice," I say, "but you should know that most Americans are perfectly aware that their beer is shit."

"It's just that we sort of like it that way," I add. Which is true for me at least. I went through my micro-brew phase; I still love a Guinness once in awhile, and my favorite beer splurge is a four-pack of 16-ounce Wexford Cream Ale, cans with the little widget inside just like Guinness does, a sort of vanilla version of Guinness, but I don't buy them all that often because boy, do they pack a wallop and one will have me loopy, two will have me buzzed, and by three I'm dead drunk.

I like some "good" beer, sure. But I like my shit beer too, which is why tonight I'm drinking pints of Miller Lite.

Besides, they're only $1.50 during happy hour.

He is jovial halfway through the pint I've bought him. "I like you."

"Thanks," I answer. "Say, I don't even know your name."

"I'm Tom," he says, which is not his real name, etc. He extends his hand and I shake it and tell him my name, and then he wants to know my last name too.

Geez. Now who's asking personal questions? But what the hell, I tell him.

"Ah, Italian," he pronounces.

"No. Spanish with a Portuguese spelling."

"That explains your intelligence. The Spanish and the Portuguese are very intelligent."

"Not lately they aren't," I snort. "What've they done for the last 500 years anyhow?"

"The Spanish and the Portuguese are very intelligent," he repeats. Such a broken record. He is determined to compliment me and he does not care that it's the stupidest compliment in the world, especially because I'm not even that much Spanish, which I tell him. The word "Irish" is uttered and provokes an immediate reaction:

"The Irish! Who can stand the bloody Irish?"

I give him a dirty look. "I can." He hath messed up and yea verily, he shall know it. And he does know it. He looks away, embarrassed, and offers his own last name which I can only render as Thwuquowieoe.



"What the hell kind of name is that?"


"A-ha. Vikings."

"That's right," he smiles. "Say. Why don't you come sit over here by me, love?"

Gah! That was out of left field. "I don't think that would be a very good idea," I tell him.

He's actually leering at me now. Ilyka, I think to myself, Ilyka, honey, you were a damn fool to buy this freak a beer. You know that, right? A damn fool. Stoopid with two o's. Why didn't you just buy a load of dynamite and soak the fuse in gasoline and flick live cigarette ash onto it.

The leering grin widens. He nods and says, "You're prudent, you are. You're extremely cautious around us . . . Vikings."

"What with all the raping and the pillaging, yes and anyway I have a boyfriend as you no doubt heard me say when I came in and, ah, hey, excuse me a minute! Be right back!"

And I am off that stool in a single bound and the door of the ladies' room has never looked more like the door to sanctuary than it does this very minute.

I actually didn't even dawdle in the restroom for once, but I see I was gone long enough because he's cleared out when I get back, and in fact Vicki has already wiped down his place at the bar.

"Vicki?" I say.

"What up?"

"Um, I know I tabbed out already, but could I please have one more pint and I will pay you cash for it because, like, I need it after dealing with the South African bush fighter all evening?"

The guy to my left is still here and he turns to me immediately and with a grave look on his face and in his best South African accent he intones, "I served my time in the bush where I fought the Negro but I'm an American now . . . ."

I am convulsing with laughter and so is Vicki and so, for that matter, is the guy I've been trying to beat at trivia, who is on the other side of the guy to my left, even though he's only heard bits and pieces of the whole business throughout the evening; but then again when someone goes on about the same subject for seemingly hours, even a person not seated nearby is likely to catch at least an instance or seven or thirteen of it.

"Man," the guy to my left says now in his normal voice, "was that guy an asshole."

Posted by Ilyka at June 22, 2004 05:30 PM in navel gazing

As one formerly-smokin'-but-now-a-little-on-the-voluptous-side woman to another:

You. Rawk.

Very enjoyable. Keep it up. Me likey.

Posted by: Emma at June 22, 2004 10:03 PM

When you say long, you mean long! I started to read, got to the Irish part, then realized I was supposed to be at lunch. Just got back, just finished. Fabulous post!

I actually had a South African friend when I was a teenager. Interesting family all around.

Posted by: Ith at June 22, 2004 11:24 PM

South African . . . opinionated yet strangely defensive . . . thinks American men are effeminate . . . thinks American women are mouthy . . .

You do realize you just spent an evening with Kim du Toit, right?

Posted by: Phil at June 23, 2004 12:40 AM

When you say long, you mean long!

I'm bad like that. You get no posting or you get too much. If it weren't too Doocean it could be the subtitle to this whole blog. Ilyka Damen: So Not Kidding About the Longness.

Posted by: ilyka at June 23, 2004 12:58 AM

ROTFL. Sounds like you could have picked up the guy on your other side by the end of the evening. You could have had a wonderful time entertaining each other with South African imitations all night.

Posted by: Dr. Alice at June 23, 2004 01:23 AM

I love long posts, at least when they're like this one. Damn did I miss your writing, woman. No more Sims for you! ;-)

Posted by: Jim at June 23, 2004 12:44 PM