There used to be a charming little shop in Menlyn Square in Pretoria called Kitch & Kool. It was frequented mostly by people who could actually tell the difference.
It was my favourite place to pick up delightfully rude cards to send to people who have a sense of humour and a forgiving nature – or to people I no longer wanted to be friends with. The last time I was in there, I bought one with two nuns in full habit splashing about gaily in the surf. What really made me reach for my purse was the speech bubble on the removable button that read: “Jesus loves you, but I think that you’re a bitch.” I bought three. I have one left. I am keeping it for a truly special kind of person.
In the meantime, I have resorted to making my own Insult Cards to suit occasions as they arise.
I mean people just don’t expect to get a card like that, do they?
No matter how badly one behaves, people very rarely tell you so. People usually witness one’s abominable behaviour without communicable expression. They will gossip about it, of course, but not to one’s face – and certainly not in writing.
Indeed, when it comes to controversial mail, the worst one can expect in the post is a blackmail threat and the best a ransom note for a missing (but not missed) husband followed immediately by a letter from the bank calling in the overdraft.
So, when one gets an insulting card that is wholly unexpected and, in one’s infinitely high opinion of oneself, wholly undeserved, it is bound to spoil the mood somewhat, which is exactly what the sender is after.
Thus I, Marietjie Botha-Buthelezi, have now gone into a small Custom-Made Insult-Card manufacturing business. My friends simply tell me who has offended them and why and I make them a little card in which they are able to truly express their feelings – anonymously if they so wish. For a small fee, I even send it down to my cousin-by-marriage in Ulundi, who posts it from there to one of my hundreds of relatives emigreing in London, New York and Paris who re-dispatch it to South Africa, foreign stamp et al.
For instance, my sister-in-law Solizwa confided that a rather jaded looking ex-friend of hers had accosted her husband at a wedding over the weekend. In no time at all, a card was winging its way to her. It read:
Saw you at Bongi’s wedding. You looked as fresh as a sun-faded plastic wreath in the dusty window of a downtown funeral parlour. Shame.
That friend was barely out of the door, smug with joy at the misery that nasty little card was likely to bring to her competitor, when another aggrieved friend arrived. He needed a card for a business colleague who had spent their entire lunch with the visiting CEO dropping the names of all his heavy political connections in Africa. Within days, his card was posted from London, where said CEO whom he tried to hard to impress, is based. It read simply:
Small names dropping big names often end up getting dropped. Ouch!
My friend and I were just having a vicious little giggle about how the card is going to make his colleague worry about his corporate future, when a niece-by-remarriage arrived in tears. She had made the dreadful mistake of getting intimate with Lucky Somo the biggest sexual braggart in Egoli (Johannesburg, the City of Gold). To compound matters she was quite unable to perform at the level of his previous conquests, mostly paid in counterfeit cash, and now sniggery, little remarks were drifting back to her on the Black Diamond (burgeoning black African middle class) grapevine. The humiliation she felt was indescribable. Such a distasteful situation called for something more drastic than a card sent discreetly to the offending party only. We needed something much more public. What could be more so than a small personal advertisement in the Daily Sun newspaper, read by practically everybody in Soweto very openly – and secretly, but thoroughly, by all the upwardly mobile security estate dwellers who have not forgotten their squatter camp roots. It read:
Lucky Somo, Only men who are a joke in bed, joke about the women they have been to bed with.
It was signed: Diepkloof Support Group for Disappointing Sexual Experiences.
But, of course, it is not just in townships that people have these problems. It is far worse of this Esteemed Estate, where most people are daily in need of a perfect put-down to avenge themselves. Not that I ever expected any of them to approach me, Mariejtie Botha-Buthelezi, for assistance in such a delicate matter. In fact, if Mrs Doctor Professor Susara Von Struwig-De Doorn had asked me to send my husband Manto over to clean the floor, I would have been less taken aback. I can only suppose that my reputation in the Insult Business had so impressed my neighbour, that she could somehow bring herself to pretend that I was not really married to Manto. Or maybe she was just desperate. Sjym (Shame). Anyway, it turned out that she felt rather downcast after having received a visit from her formidable mother-in-law who had pointedly told her that it was time to do something about her “dowdy”, appearance. She was stunned, considering that every time veryGRANDmother visits, the children give her one look, run away screaming and go and hide under their beds from where not even obscene amounts of money can dislodge them. Now, VeryGRANDmother, mistakenly believing herself to be a paragon of style, contrives to look like the corpse of Barbara Cartland with enough extra Black Nugget shoe polish-coloured false eyelashes to get her through two afterlives. Having discussed the matter, we felt it was time that Mrs Doctor Professor Lucinda Von Struwig-De Doorn was sent an admonishment from the Fashion Police. In no time at all we had designed a letterhead for a Paris-based organisation called The Institute for the Stylish Lady. In it, we informed the despicable mother-in-law that she had been nominated by unidentified South African fashion scouts as one of the world’s leading style queens and was invited to send in a picture of herself suitably attired forthwith. The address of the “institute” belonged to another of my refugeed relatives who, on receipt of the picture and accompanying gushy diatribe, had instructions to dispatch the next letter we had written. It read:
Dear Mrs Doctor Professor Von Struwig-De Doorn
The judges have studied the photograph you sent in for inclusion in The Global Fashion Bible of 2011.
We regret having to inform you that we were obviously grossly misinformed.
We suggest that you contact Scarecrows of the World Inc. for inclusion in their annual Scariest of the Scary List.
Please DO NOT send anymore pictures!
I would imagine that Mrs Docter Professor Von Struwig-De Doorn is still choking on that one.
Somebody once said that he drank only to make other people more interesting. Well I, Marietjie Botha-Buthelezi, drink to make them more bearable. Frankly, my dears, how else can one endure the dreadful inconveniences visited upon one by one’s house guests?
As it is, I have a long list of House guests from Hell. Not the Normal Hell, reserved for Very, Very Bad People, but the Seventh Hell of The Most Parasitical People, some of who have presented very significant obstacles on my Road to Enlightenment and Spiritual Peace.
Now you may think that I am referring to the extremely extended, and ever extending, family of my ever unloved husband, Manto, or the proliferate and politically incorrect members of my Afrikaans-Scottish clan. Unbelievably, you would be wrong.
The worst, the beyond worst, house guests we’ve had ever had have been foreigners from the so-called 1st World. Now I, Marietjie Botha-Buthelezi, am not often at a loss to explain bad human behaviour, but I admit, I am stymied. I can’t begin to explain why foreigner visitors to the Southern-most tip of the Continent make such appalling house guests. It is because they are so burdened with misconceptions about us so-called 3rd World Africans? Is it because they think our backyards are veritable slaughterhouses? Or that we cook unwanted passer-bys on open fires in the lounge? Or that because we live in a culture where men can have multiple wives, anything goes? Or that we are so used to crimes being committed against us in our homes, that we will put up with any behaviour that does not involve us losing (all) our money, (most of) our possessions, or (at least half) our lives?
One guest in particular has persisted in the deepest, darkest side of my memory with some perversity. He was an odious self-righteous person who thought he understood Africa perfectly and never failed to create an opportunity, especially when absolutely none existed, to hold discourse on Africans as if Africans, including Manto and I, have no clue about our own history, have no understanding of our present, and would not know what to do with our futures without the advice of foreigners who pretend to have had colonialism and imperialism bred out of their decidedly murky gene pools. We didn’t hold that against him. We have had many visitors like him. We usually just nod gravely and let them wallow in their delusions of civility and their self-acquired superiority. So when he came to South Africa for a couple of months to do “research” for a book, hearty African manners triumphed over sound judgment and we invited him to stay. Manto promptly left on a business trip, laughing mockingly all the way into the 1st Class Lounge at OR Tambo. The pesky children were visiting Uncle Gatsha in Ulundi.
That left me v/s the house guest.
He was a hard drinker. With that I could live. Still, I did think it slightly inconsiderate of him to polish off a minimum of two bottles of the finest vintage by himself every evening – especially as I was, at that time, on a futile spiritual quest that precluded the imbibement of alcohol.
He did not shower. With that I struggled to cope. I am a germaphobe. An extreme germaphobe who makes the phobic television detective Monk look like a slob and who secretly spends more on facemasks and gloves than Michael Jackson did. In fact, once Manto, bless his BEE soul, can afford it, I will employ a personal assistant just to carry my hygiene sprays and mobile disinfectant kits.
Anyway, back the house guest:
He talked excitedly with his mouth crammed (too) full and open (too) wide. I acquired excellent gag control. I even considered converting to Islam so that I could have an excuse to cover my face and protect it from his conversational saliva sprays.
He used cutlery as arm extensions/punctuation markers/emphasisers of already heavily-stressed syllables and other already pointed remarks. I learned to avoid serious injury by placing myself at the furtherest possible distance from him.
He had a demanding appetite and would not baulk at filling the supermarket trolley daily with choice delicacies to be prepared at my inconvenience – and in total disregard of his own pre-diabetic condition brought on by careless consumption. I deemed his culinary excesses unforgivable – especially since he was a self-proclaimed Socialist and should therefore surely have been more concerned with doling out staple foods to the poor than piling in the gourmet goodies just for himself.
He had a gold credit card, but never offered to pay for anything. Not that African hospitality would ever have allowed me to allow him to pay for anything. All I wanted was a token offer, however insincere. But he was not going to risk making one. I took that in my slightly faltering stride. He was staying at our insistence, after all.
However, one morning all his worst qualities converged into a single ghastly incident: He had ordered haddock poached in milk for breakfast. He had handpicked the freshest available fish from the delicatessen the previous day. Despite becoming increasingly agitated at his presumptuousness, I nevertheless poached the damn fish with due care. At the end of the meal, with a third of the giant haddock remaining in the serving dish, he asked for a plastic shopping bag. Imagine my horror when he scooped up the fish, milk-a-splatter, stuffed it into the bag and shoved it into the pocked of his crumpled suit trousers.
While, I was still in the process of reassembling my face, he nonchalantly waved goodbye and set off for Johannesburg for the day. Mind you, he first inquired at what time dinner would be ready.
I had somehow coped with him arriving with his dirty laundry from the fortnight before he left home, paying for the art gallery quality “souvenirs” he picked for the wife he hated, the mistress he didn’t particularly love either, and the young male colleague he spoke of so very fondly so very often; forking out for the few essentials he needed urgently, like designer trainers, but The Haddock Caper just finished me off.
I was still standing there somewhat shell-shocked when Mango called from London to tell me that he had run into a colleague of our house guest and found out quite by accident that he was in South Africa on a very generous grant covering accommodation, meals, etc. And then they have the cheek to call us Africans corrupt. If Manto had not confiscated my shotgun during an emotional exchange about him wanting to take a second wife, I would have given our house guest a taste of true African life there and then.
The next morning, shortly after I had watched him disappear up the driveway in a somewhat coerced departure, I abandoned all attempts at spirituality and reached for the bottle again.
Help me! I am only 21 years old and have been married for three terribly long years to a very wealthy, but frightfully boring and increasingly unattractive, man. I never loved him anyway, but somebody had to pay my credit cards bills. I now wish to divorce him, but my lawyer has advised me that the prenuptial agreement translates into a much-diminished lifestyle for me. It does not entitle me to the marital home or one even vaguely resembling it. I don’t want to downsize. I need a walk-in dressing room for all my clothes. I need a walk-in safe for my jewellery. I need three garages for my sportscars. I won’t be able to claim maintenance either because we have not had children because he had a vasectomy after a love child by his mistress during a previous marriage. Help me, please! I am trapped in an unhappy union with no way out.
Dear Miserable Mona
Suburban prostitution is common. Don’t feel alone. Many of your neighbours also stay married to their husbands for their money. Some manage to do so for decades.
Frankly, I don’t know if it gets easier the longer you are at it, but it is obviously possible to endure.
As you are now in your early 20’s, you have left only about another 60 years of marriage.
Whatever you do, don’t let your pride get in the way. With a prenup like yours, standing on principle and abiding by values of human decency can only lead to poverty.
My stepmother is making my life Hell. She expects me to have a limited allowance instead of unlimited spending which my father was quite happy with – until SHE came along. She has even suggested to my father that he stops my allowance when I get married. My father used to give me whatever I wanted, but now he is beginning to side with her, especially since they found out that I had not been attending classes and will probably not graduate from university. I don’t see why I have to worry about a career when all I want to do is get married and have babies. Anyway, I am going to inherit enough not to have to concern myself with earning a living. But in the meantime, I am battling financially and have to rely on other family members to pay for the things I can’t afford because of my stepmother’s meanness.
Dear Outraged Octavia
You are quite right. Your stepmother is making your life miserable. Somebody has to.
Since money matters so much to you, why don’t you poison her so that your father can return to his old self and let you spend mindlessly until he dies enabling you to spend what is left. With law enforcement being as lax as it is, you will probably get away with it too.
But, wait! Poisoning takes effort. And that does not seem to be something you are at all familiar with.
Hell, it looks like you will just have to wait for everybody to die.
But, wait! With life expectancy what it is these days – even deducting a decade or so from the life of each benefactor to accommodate the criminal classes – you may just grow quite old yourself before your finances are topped up to your satisfaction.
Gosh, what can I say? What is the world coming too when the idle rich have to beg from their own relatives?
Your story will certainly inspire countless less privileged people to study and work as hard as they can to avoid such indignity.
I am writing to you from a very prestigious facility for wealthy people in need of psychological pampering. I am here following a number of failed efforts to impress my snooty neighbours. I gave lavish dinner party after super-lavish dinner party. All I have to show for it is liver damage. I Botoxed myself until I looked like a wax work in Madame Tussaud’s. I subdued my grating personality with a cocktail of medicines that will make Michael Jackson squeal in his grave. I ordered my car from England, my horse from Germany and my children from Malawi. My evening dresses were from Italy and my jewellery custom-made in Switzerland. I even doled out Harrods gift baskets to people who just popped around to decline invitations. Why do my neighbours still treat me like I am from the wrong side of town?
Dear Sad Suzy
I really hope that the very prestigious facility in which you currently dwell is also highly secure and that its staff will not contemplate letting you out without a court order, a lengthy legal wrangle or…a Presidential Decree… In fact, I hope they keep you there forever. That really would be for the best. Trust me.
Since this is an advice column, however, I suppose I should probably explain the rationale behind what you may perceive as yet another unwarranted and inexplicable social rejection.
The reason, Sad Suzy, that your shameless social climbing failed was because you sucked up so desperately to other shallow, superficial beings that they could not help but feel vastly superior to you.
I am not a qualified psychiatrist, but I detect in you all the symptoms of Social Climbing Fatigue. And I am fairly confident that you can’t be cured in this lifetime.
OMG, as certain Other People like to exclaim repeatedly, I have been totally inundated with letters from readers wanting advice on their personal lives.
What makes these people think that I can tell them how to run their lives when I have made it patently clear in posting after posting that I have no clue how to run my own?
Moreover, I have absolutely no sympathy whatsoever for anybody else’s problems. I have social aspirations, a social calendar, a social circle, but NOT a social conscience!
Anyway, to put an eventual, if not swift, end to the notion that I, Marietjie Botha-Buthelezi, should become an Agony Aunt, I decided to become an Agony Temp.
I shall therefore post a selection of the most pitiful pleas for help. Because of the obscene volume of correspondence, this may take a few days.
Meanwhile, I trust that my very honest answers will ensure that people will stop asking me for advice forthwith and that they will in future write to people who will tell them what they want to hear. Not to me who will tell them what they need to hear.
I think my husband is having an affair.
I am completely devastated.
I can’t sleep.
I can’t eat.
I can’t imagine life without him.
I think I would be better off dead
Dear Crying Chantelle
If you think your husband is having an affair, he probably is. However, you are quite wrong about the rest: You can sleep. You can eat. You can even live without him. And you certainly would not be better of dead. In fact, you would be better off with HIM dead. But since murder is still a crime in South Africa, I suggest you visit a sangoma (witch doctor) and pay him to either cast a nasty spell on your husband and his mistress or to give you some muti (traditional medicine) guaranteed to return this faithless piece of trash to you.
If such quaint traditional means do not appeal to you or do not have the desired effect, you can choose the moral low ground and have an affair yourself or the moral high ground and depart with dignity.
I am being stalked by a lesbian friend. Need I say more?
Dear Put-Out Patsy
Indeed you need to say more. Are you bi-curious? If not, get a court order.
Lately, I have had much cause to ruminate on one of the many wisdoms of one Gladiola Montana as contained in her better-than-most-selling little book Grit and Gumption. This particular literary profundity highlights the big discrepancy there exists between some men’s actions and their words. It certainly makes nonsense of another old British stupidity that Manners Maketh the Man. Gladiola’s gullibility just didn’t extent to that kind of perilous generalisation. She saw it simply thus: Just because a man is polite, does not mean that he ain’t a low down skunk.
Indeed. I myself, Marietjie Botha-Buthelezi, have met more than a few such men right here on the country’s prime Security Estate; men whose very politeness sends chills down – and back up again – my spine, and leaves it tingling with persistent warnings long after they have gone, reminding me that characters do not always have a character.
This manners-for-causes syndrome is rife today not only amongst trashy-going-for-gold types, but also amongst the most pious-acting politicians, businessmen and clergy (yes, evil can have an innocent face too). And let us not forget the sludge-dredgers without-power-to-abuse-but-getting-there-fast lot.
Ah yes, these polite men whose “fine” manners disguise their true agendas and veil the hands they are about to deal others.
Now, being one streetwise woman, I know only too well that the way a man speaks and dresses only tells you what he wants to be – not who he is.
And since I have moved on to this so-called prestigious Estate, I have been positioned rather well to make a veritable anthropological study of the Skunk-in-a-Suit species.
In the process, I have rather honed my skunk-detecting abilities to the point where I might actually be a little hard on these guys (trying-to-be-men-people). Still, having seen firsthand the damage a Skunk can inflict, I don’t take a chance. The way I see it, is thus: If his manners are false, then I don’t have to waste mine. When my skin starts crawling with warning signs, I cut the dude dead before he can try and flatter me with calculated pleasantries. And so should you.
That is why I am happy to share with you some of the most common tell-tale signs that the ‘nice gentleman’ you have just met, is probably a Supreme Skunk (even if, in fact, especially if, he is your charming neighbour on the country’s top Security Estate):
- His manners are literally too good: his face is too open with “innocent earnestness”; his handshake is too firm with “character”; he looks you too straight – and too much — in the eye; his laugh is too hearty, his frankness, well…too frank…;
- The intensity of his “good” manners increases proportionally in accordance with the degree of manipulation he judges necessary to manage a particular opportunity, i.e. you or your money or both. His eyes positively glitter with triumphant anticipation when he thinks you are not looking at him;
- He under-informs you on matters that may expose him unduly and over-informs you on issues that you don’t want to know anything about. Yes…sticking to your point, is not his strong point;
- He gushes with inappropriate and undeserved compliments. For instance, my behind is big – by any culture’s standards. So, when a guy tells me I have a cute behind, I know without a doubt that he is a lying Skunk;
- He agrees with every inane utterance you make and pretends to know what your are talking about — even when you don’t;
- He promises you everything he thinks you don’t have so that he can have everything you do have;
- He tells you that he is trustworthy/ that he is a deeply religious, that he is profoundly spiritual/ that…Blah, blah, blah. Believe me, if he really were any of those things, he would not have to point it out, would he, now?
- Quite often, he will portray himself as one of life’s hapless “victims” and will regularly lament the “unfairness” of life. In the process, he will introduce you verbally to all the bastards and bitches he has had the misfortune of knowing. Whenever you feel tempted to feel sorry for him, just remember: when you don’t give him what he wants, your name will be added to that list of bastards and bitches who had it in for him;
- He will not take direct responsibility for actions that need to be taken, but would rather try to manipulate others into doing what he thinks he would benefit from most if there is a positive result and suffers from the least if there is a negative outcome;
- By the same token, he can’t handle direct confrontation. Even when offended to duelling-point, he will find a cop-out so as to not have a showdown that could unmask his true nature; and
- He is psychotically unwilling to commit himself to a bottom line. Oh, he has lines a plenty – but never a bottom line.
These are just a few of the Skunk Indicators I have space for in this posting.
Maybe the most important thing to remember is that when you are with human skunk, he ain’t going to smell.
That is not how Skunks work.