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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 3)

I walk over to his table.

"Dave, I hereby invite you to the birthday of the U.S. of A. at Kennedy's tonight and, in the spirit of liberty, I invite you to celebrate or not celebrate; whatever you wish." And I walk away, puffing the Sir Winston, now feeling less like Churchill and more like Ben Franklin, by Jove.

On the way to the Revolution, I inform the Doc of the afternoon's impasse and my transformation by way of my flag-burning stand. He only responds: "I landed at Normandy Beach. I saw many die that day, and I do not hold with flag burning." Hmm.

At the battlefield -- the grand salon at Kennedy's -- the colonial army arrives. There are the Doc, his daughter, three other black American doctors, the three African-American students, a dear friend and Australian actor named Roger, myself, a young (19 years) actor from South Africa whom we call Red (Roger's dubbing because Red has hair dyed blue). The Redcoats arrive in the guise of Alfred, his friend, Ida, Dave and the last guest, Rick (Benedict Arnold), an American television producer, whom I know from a previous gig, who is in Cape Town with another shoot and arrives with two of his cohorts. I bring my driver, Pete, an ex-Rhodesian War mercenary vet, who is one of five known persons in the world to have survived a non-opening chute from a paratroop jump. And along with us is my assistant, Maria, a lovely Danish girl, living in Cape Town for 10 years.

So there are 18 people in all, nine of whom are black, five of whom are South African, three of whom are Australian, one of whom is Scot. Rick (Benedict Arnold) and I (Paul Revere) are the only white Americans.

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.

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