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Peter Weller's Cigar Paradise

Africa, or finding the Founding Fathers (Rolling in Their Graves) While Smoking my Way Through Post-Apartheid Cape Town
Peter Weller
From the Print Edition:
Tyson vs. King, Jan/Feb 04

(continued from page 1)

I enter puffing a Punch D.C. to a few snide comments from the eco-hip.

"We are in a friggin' cigar bar, people," I chortle. "And it's my party." Alfred, a fan of forceful declaration and a resuscitator of Dylan Thomas, applauds. Much wine has begun to flow, and some guests are well on their way to gaga land, including Rick. We sit around a long rectangular table in the alcove of the upstairs salon, viewing the entire room, the bar and the balustrade. Jazz from the downstairs bar floats up around our small talk until the new and massive cake arrives. Like the one from the afternoon, it is chocolate; "Happy Birthday America" is scrawled in some kind of coconut goo along its face.

"I think Peter should give us an intro before we begin the chow," Roger, forever the Aussie provocateur, bellows.

"I think our guest Dave should speak first," I respond, intending to co-opt the opposition right away. Round of applause. Dave reluctantly stands, looks around the table.

"I had several things to say. And I said them to Peter this afternoon, so I will just leave it with this: in spite of the misgivings I have about the racial origins of the United States of America, I am happy to have been invited to this party and to share this evening with all of you here and now." He sits down to applause. Roger then gives me the shove to speak. I stand, not realizing Benedict Arnold (Rick) is about to fire six-pounders off my bow.

I began, "When I was in London in 1977, doing Sticks and Bones, David Rabe's play about Vietnam, I was roasted nightly by my landlord, Phillip Gundry, a professor of English history at Oxford, who, at my expense, made constant jokes of the great imperial sin of Vietnam perpetrated by America, at that time too dumb to learn from Europe the ultimate hazards of colonization. The night before I left London, Phillip threw a dinner for me, inviting all his professor friends who, one by one, went around the table and blasted the United States one more time, lest I forget every wound Phillip had opened during my stay in his house. However, when it got to Phillip, he stood and said, 'Whatever her mistakes of the last half century and in spite of her own problems concerning human rights, the United States of America has taken the torch of civil liberties from Europe and waved it back at us. And we, the globe, must listen, for it is the United States that is foreshadowing what must come concerning problems of race economics, so that all on the planet may live in liberty.'"

I continued to the table, "And, folks, at Phillip's proclamation I almost started to weep…."

"Crap! Jingoistic ignoramus crap!" the cannons sound from across the table, out of the mouth of Rick, an American and…traitor.

"Let me finish!" I ask.

"Why should you finish? I've heard that crud forever, and you know as well as I do, the United States has done more to subjugate the world with money and guns than any other entity in the history of time."

"I'm not talking about that. Can I finish?" I plead.

"WHO WANTS TO HEAR THIS GARBAGE?" Rick jumps out of his seat.

"I DO!" yells the Doc.

"And so do I," yells Roger, the fairly sizable and imposing Aussie.

"WELL, I THINK I SPEAK FOR MANY OF US WHO DON'T!" yells Rick.

And I look around and see the beady eyes of Alfred connecting with Dave and Ida.

"Let me finish and then you can…." I try to continue. But Benedict is on a roll.

"NO, don't finish, you righteous bastard, you're speaking patriotic hogwash, and you know better, and we don't want to swallow it."

"Shut up and sit down, ya C---!" Roger bellows at Rick.

"What?" responds Rick, stunned at Roger's blast, as all heads turn and mouths drop, at the Roger's use of the 'C' word, a normality in Australia, a heart attack with the rest of Western-dom.

"It's Pete's f*$#*ing party, and you're an invite same as all of us," Roger bellows.

"Let me ask you." Dave interjects to Roger. "Were there slaves in Australia?"

"You bet, mate!" twangs Roger. "And we're still treating the Aboriginals like 'shite,' but that ain't the point. The point is that it's Pete's party and I f*&$#ing asked him to make a speech, and I ain't heard a f*&%#ing ending to the speech for all the f*&%$ing yammering from that your f*&%$ing traps."

And then Doc, looking sideways to Dave, interjects at him, "Did you fight in a war?" This stops the traffic. The three students bounce looks from Doc to Dave and back again.

"That's beside the point here," a calm Dave responds.

"No, it is exactly the point. How much money do you make?"

"That's a &^%$ addendum!" yells Benedict (Rick).

"NO IT AIN'T," shouts Roger. "How much money YOU got? Where do you live?"

"He lives in a triplex in Paris, France, with his own personal wine cellar," I yell, looking for the easy kill, now that Lafayette is to the rescue.

"Holy Geez, MATE! A f*&$#ing wine cellar!? You're the f*&%$ing CULTURAL ELITE! Give up all your loot to these doctors' AIDS project here, and I'll listen to ya, but right now, all your backwash is making my teeth ache."

"And while you're at it, pay your per diem on time!" another volley from me at Rick who, two years earlier, had produced a fun miniseries in which I had starred, although the company was consistently late with per diem; that was probably because we were in the Sahara Desert, but I used it as ammunition anyway.

"You don't work for me now, you contemptuous bastard!" Rick shoots back.

And we are off, in a screamfest that I have never witnessed before or since. The battle lines are drawn. I torch up another D.C. for war.

And we are off, in a screamfest that I have never witnessed before or since. The battle lines are drawn. I torch up another D.C. for war. One side shouts down the other. The African-American exchange students each take their turn. As do my assistant, Marie, and driver, Pete, with his horrific experiences in Angola. Then they begin yelling at each other about the European imperialism in other countries in Africa. The three exchange students, having parents who suffered under this problem, chime in, and the whole shebang turns into an unimaginable, politically incorrect Armageddon.

"The U.S. is forcing its self-aggrandizing agenda on the Third World, and only if there's a financial interest at stake!" raves Dave.


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