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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)

On the day of the party, while on the movie set, I, as the only American on board in this shoot, had a massive chocolate cake delivered to the crew (South African) and cast (Scottish, Australian and English) with a "Happy Birthday America" logo across the top. After a short speech and round of applause, I was invited by co-actor and dear friend "Alfred," a surreptitious Scotsman, to meet his visiting pal, "Dave," a black American actor from Chicago. Previously I'd conveyed to Alfred how much I'd enjoyed Dave's work in a certain film, so Dave had a sucker for a fan -- me -- at the handshake.

Dave greets me in a very debonair and polite fashion. Alfred and his friend Ida will attend the festivities at Kennedy's that evening, so I extend the invitation to Dave. Weirdly, Dave, the only other American present in this lunch tent, retorts that he will come but he will not celebrate the Fourth of July.

Taken aback, I stammer, "Well…don't come then."

And I walk off and sit down with my assistant, Maria, on the other side of the tent and light up a Choix Supreme. As I become aggravated over the impasse, I can see Dave on the other side of the room brooding as well. He's thought to impress me with some revisionist racial jive, which I don't buy because I know the guy's making more loot in American movies than the average farmer. To add, I, although never thrown in jail, am an aging hipster. And, as such, was a participant in the social revolution of the U.S. of A. -- the '60s. (Don't all you young'uns groan.) That glorious and painful decade was indeed the eye of the American cyclone of the twentieth century U.S. So I could hear Dave's tin drum of "Tom Jefferson and his slaves" before he even spoke, and nowadays, for me, that's all so much manure. Leveraging perfection over progress, one could blow off Aristotle because Crete didn't have the vote. On the other hand, I will scream against all the do-gooder jingoists when starting their "anti-immigration" rap, because the world movement and mixing of people is a force of nature that never has and never will be stopped; plus it makes the planet interesting. And, in spite of the Founding Fathers' originating their idea only for the white male elite, the context they created has allowed future generations, albeit sometimes in blood, to bring forth the most functional, however flawed, political system in the world. And I am, although a U.S. citizen, a world traveler and also a European resident. I love Europe, but Europe's infrastructure steps on its own @#$% in the name of the "state"; in addition, more often than not, the small business has little chance of finding bank backing. Utopia is not to be found, but, unless you wish to live on planet Zeno, there is no better place given to the opportunity to raise social Cain than the States. And this is thanks to, I believe, a bunch of guys, some of whom were major assholes and had slaves but who, nonetheless, laid down a malleable set of principles that would bring about the most opportune reversals in the tide of inhumanity. So for me, the old reverse Jim Crow, powerful in '68, is paltry in 2000, the year of this cacophony.

And now my rapid departure has stolen Dave's soapbox. In order not to piss off his peers, here he comes over to my table. I am manically puffing on my Choix Supreme.

"I'd like to explain myself," he says. "Perhaps I was unclear."

"Your intent was clear. You find America racist; thus your refusal to celebrate its birthday."

"You do not know what it is to be black."

"No I don't. And I never will. So you can use that line for life. What am I hearing? You're a victim?"

"The Founding Fathers owned slaves."

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