Saturday, May 5, 2007

Waiting for the Gush of Seamen

When I get downtown, the dockside clubs are totally empty. No sailors anywhere. Everything else is in place—willing women, cross-armed bouncers, bored barmaids, earphoned DJs, sleepy cabbies—but their presence lacks meaning without the seamen. They are the source of their livelihoods. Needless to say, everyone feels slightly agitated.

The women lounge around in the booths and watch Animal Planet on the big screen TV. The "Crocodile Hunter" is busy taunting spitting cobras into squirting venom in his eyes. He relishes every jet of poison deflected off his glasses. Meanwhile, the club girls squirm as they watch slow-mo close-ups of snakes shooting liquid death from their hissing fangs. For the moment, it relieves the boredom, but it doesn't shake their deeper financial anxieties.

Eventually, a couple of Taiwanese sailors walk in. Three women race to them. The men sit down and enjoy the attention: their laps are never empty. And they're generous enough, buying beers for themselves and the ladies.

But after awhile, the women realize that one of them has to go. Three ladies with two sailors: not gonna work. Despite the promiscuous atmosphere at the club, the women are profoundly monogamous in their sexual negotiations: they insist that everyone pairs off. No three-somes allowed. (No one wants to split the fees.)

While the men crawl deeper into insobriety, the women follow close behind. But they also become aggressive with each other. Then it happens. Two of the girls go at each other. Fists fly toward faces, hands grab for hair, palms hurtle toward cheeks, fingernails claw at flesh, feet kick at shins, tongues hurl abuse, and lips spit at eyeballs. Their smacks reverberate across the room above the noise of the music as the two stumble, struggle, curse, and thrash about.

The bouncers watch with mild interest—quite unperturbed—then reluctantly break it up. But like on Jerry Springer, the bouncers don't separate them so far that they can't still smack each other every now and then.

The three girls—who live together!—forget about their quarry as they are escorted outside. They yell endless accusations and insults at each other while a small crowd of women gather around them (happy for the distraction). They eventually share a cab home and continue the drunken dispute there. The Taiwanese, meanwhile, just laugh, imbibe a few more beers, and accept the attentions of other ladies.

Cape Town's dockside clubs are prone to seasonal fluctuations. But usually there's at least a couple dozen sailors to go around. Tonight, virtually NO ONE came. Instead, what came out were the women's expressions of boredom, anxiety, and frustration at a totally wasted evening of work.

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