‘I mean look as this prick, prancing around in his white suit! What an idiot!’
Nurse Cindy glared at me.
‘The whole world’s loving Travolta now except you. Chill out, will you, Mikey.’
‘It’s a joke, that’s what it is: complete comedy.’ I pointed at the square metal speaker hooked to the driver’s door window. ‘And what’s with the Bee Gees suddenly singing like women. They sound like they’ve been at the helium.’
Cindy removed her hand from my neck and leaned away. Like many of the other Drive In patrons, we’d abandoned the front of the car for the marginal comforts of Cheese on Wheels’ back seats. Of course, there were other reasons for getting more comfortable and when we’d returned from the cafeteria after the interval we’d seen quite a few couples already looking very contented. One car in particular had steamed up windows and was bouncing along to the theme of a famous cigarette advert.
Cindy aimed a light-hearted punch at my shoulder.
‘You’re just jealous that you can’t dance like that.’
There was a lot of truth in that. I may have had music running through my veins but it certainly hadn’t found its way to my legs yet.
‘Yeah, but this is just a dumb kind of dancing. I mean, what the fuck is he pointing at? He looks like a mental case ordering a drink.’
She moved even further away and I could see that I was getting to her.
‘So if you hate this movie so much, then what the hell are we doing here?’ Why phone me up with your big sob story and invite me here in the first place?’
‘Look, I don’t like us not being friends. It upsets me that you feel that you can’t come to the club.’ I turned to look at her and thought I saw a flicker of disappointment in her eyes. ‘I hated this movie the first time I saw it,’ I continued. ‘But I’ve heard that the second show is great.’
The second show was Travolta’s new movie: Grease. The Umbilo Drive In, in their wisdom, had come up with the idea of having a John Travolta double-bill for the week. Judging by the half-full house on a Monday – usually a very quiet night – the idea was working as well as could be expected. Gone were the days when cars clogged Oliver Lea Drive, people arriving hours before the start just to get in – the Drive In in providing a DJ to keep them amused until it got dark enough for the show to begin. In fact, it had probably had been many months since this Drive In, or any of Durban’s other Drive Ins, had had a full house – even on a Friday or Saturday night. Gone too were the long queues in the cafeteria for popcorn, burgers, sweets and cool drinks. And when we passed, I noticed just a few people sitting in the small rectangular building attached to the cafeteria where walk-in patrons could enjoy the show without the need of a car. The seats in this area – a place where I’d had spent many evenings of my childhood – now looked tired and worn, their plastic covers ripped and the speakers above sounding tinny and distorted. I had to smile though when I saw a couple making out at the back. Some things never changed.
South Africa had been very late adopting television, the first programs only airing in 1976; the Nationalist Government citing technical reasons for the delay, although I always suspected that they were afraid of political influence from outside the apartheid bubble. (Once TV arrived, of course, they were the first to embrace its propaganda potential – as were the ANC Government who followed in 1994) By 1978, however, even a single channel broadcasting a few hours a day in English and Afrikaans was enough to keep people at home and herald the slow but sure death of the Drive Ins.
‘Well let’s hope that Grease cheers you up a bit then, you miserable sod.’ Cindy brushed a leg against mine. ‘But I don’t get your problem with Saturday Night Fever. Jeez, I thought you guys would have learnt all the songs by now.’
‘Not over my dead body,’ I countered. ‘Anyway, Dave’s trousers are already on maximum tightness, so he’s not going to sing any higher. But seriously, Cindy, this movie is the devil in disguise for us: the beginning of the end.’
‘Jeez, Mikey… too dramatic.’
‘You think so? Think it through. This doos in his white suit will soon have every oke in a club believing he’s some sort of disco king. And look behind the guy in the white suit… what do you see? A band? No it’s a bloody guy playing records. Soon the club and hotel owners are going to realise that these idiots will be happier listening to some guy play records than a band. And that’s just one guy to pay. You mark my words, work will start drying up, bands will turn into duos, duos will turn to solos and eventually the whole gravy train will turn to shit.’
‘Or maybe you’re just in a fucking bad mood!’
‘This movie puts me in a bad mood, Cindy. Already I’ve been to a few places right here in Durban. The stage is empty except for one guy behind a turntable. Does nothing but fade one record into another and stands there like he owns the place. Then you look at the dance floor and all anyone’s worried about is themselves. Ooh… look how I dance, look at my moves… look how I point my stupid bloody finger. No-one wants to listen to or watch talent anymore, it’s all look at me! It’s only a matter of time before some idiot comes up with the idea of making backtracks and putting words up on a screen so that they can wallow in the sound of their own shit voices.’
This time Cindy’s punch wasn’t so friendly.
‘Listen Mikey, I’ve had enough. Either shut up and chill, or take me home. I don’t know what you’re problem is, but I don’t want to be part of it.’
I didn’t trust myself to say anything for a few minutes and didn’t want to have the evening cut short. Cindy had been quite nice when I’d phoned up and asked her out the day before, although there was an understandable distrust in her voice that demanded an explanation. I’d gone with the semi-truth:
‘We’re friends, Nurse Cindy and I don’t like not seeing you. And I want to stop the bad vibe with your two mates.’
There was a pause on the line before she asked the question.
‘What about… her. I’m not blind you know.’
‘She’s out of the picture, Nurse Cindy. She’s found someone else; time to move on.’
‘I’ll come under one condition, Mikey. Stop calling me nurse. It makes me feel like a bloody object!’
‘Okay, but will you still wear the uniform later.’
She’d laughed and slammed the phone down.
That had been Sunday, the day after my telescope incident at the pool deck of the Laguna. It had all been a bit touch-and-go that Saturday afternoon. The woman who had threatened to call a manager had been deadly serious and it had taken me a few vital minutes to realise that she had stormed for the lift and was on her way to reception. Luckily, when I got it together, I was surrounded by kids. Any big blokes holding me down while a manager came would have been a disaster. I’d staggered for the stair-well, taken the fire-escape and negotiated the car park way out of the hotel, making straight for my Sealands flat.
I’d only just made the bathroom before I was sick – a cold shower, painkillers and cupfuls of coffee steadying the boat a little. Then during the night session, I’d nursed a worsening hang-over with beer glasses of water whilst watching the back of the club anxiously for any blue jacket activity. I was lucky, nothing happened. It seemed that no-one on the pool deck had known who I was and that the woman’s description of me wasn’t good enough for the management to work it all out. Still: a close one.
Cindy had moved in again, resting her head on my shoulder.
‘You can see my house from here,’ I said, pointing out of the side window.
‘You mean your parent’s house,’ Cindy corrected me.
‘Yeah, you know what I mean. From our house you could see all of the Drive In except the first few rows and the screen. That hill gets in the way.’ I pointed.
‘Well, nearly perfect then.’ Cindy rested a hand on my neck. ‘And there’s a big park over there, your school in walking distance and a Drive In right on your doorstep: All the ingredients of a perfect childhood.’
I pulled away from her.
‘I hated that school.’
Cindy was wise and didn’t pursue it. Instead she simply mumbled under her breath:
‘Why aren’t I surprised?’
* * * * * * * * * *
We were quite a way down Point Road before Cindy made her first comment.
‘Taking the scenic route, Mikey? Dives, sailors, dumps and prostitutes don’t really do it for me, you know.’ She pointed out of her window: ‘Wow, look at her!’
I tried to keep my voice casual and nonchalant.
‘I hope you don’t mind but I just want to drop something off with a friend.’
‘Jeez, Mikey, you’ve got friends in high places.’
She smiled but out of the corner of my eye I could see her looking at me curiously.
I pulled into a space reserved for taxis a few paces back from the entrance of Smugglers Rest. There were a few parking spaces right in front, but I preferred not to use them.
‘Do us a favour, Cindy.’ I kept my voice as steady as possible. ‘I don’t like leaving the car here. There’s a guy working on the door: massive with a bald head.’ I hoped she didn’t remember Norman or ‘Chrome Dome’ from the days when he was a regular at our club. ‘Just give him this, will you. I promised one of the regulars some freebie tickets for The Playhouse.’
Cindy eyed the envelope with mounting suspicion.
‘There better not be fuckin’ zol in here,’ she mumbled.
‘Come on, Cindy. Feel it! You can feel that there’s only paper inside. Besides, they don’t need any from me; you can probably buy enough marijuana in there to supply Woodstock. No, I know the teller at The Playhouse and now and again she slips me a few free tickets for evening shows. With our work, I can’t always use them.’
This was another half-truth. I did know a teller who used to go out with a bass player friend, and she did let me in free when she was on duty. But there were never any pre-booked tickets for evening shows.
‘So who is Cliff?’ Cindy flipped the envelope in her hands, studied the back of it for a while before turning it around to look at the single name written on the front.
‘He’s just some guy I met when I popped in there once to see the DJ. I was telling him about the free tickets and promised him a couple. It’s no big deal.’
‘So why don’t you get off your arse and get in there yourself. I don’t frequent such places, and I don’t really appreciate you asking me to do so.’
She was getting mad and I was just starting to see all the weak spots in my plan, when a taxi pulled up behind me and gave an annoyed hoot.
‘Come on Cindy, there’s a taxi up my backside and I can’t see anywhere to park. Look if you don’t want to do it, just forget about it.’
But before I could come up with any more half-truths, she was out of the car and walking quickly towards the entrance.
‘If the bald-headed guy doesn’t know who Cliff is, just tell him that he’s the smoky bastard who always sits at the back table,’ I yelled after her.
Cindy acknowledged this with a wave of the hand which quickly transformed into a two finger salute before she disappeared into the club.
As I hoped, there were no problems, with her reappearing in just a few seconds minus the envelope. She climbed into the car, studied me for a second, then folded her arms and shouted:
‘So let’s go, weirdo. Before the taxi behind us completely loses it.’
I couldn’t be sure, but felt relatively confidant that she hadn’t spent enough time in the foyer of Smugglers to check out the pictures in the glass-encased notice board.
* * * * * * * * * *
[The old-style speakers you'd find at a 70s Drive In that hooked onto the car window. The first thing you'd do when you found a decent place to park was check you speakers - many a time they didn't work]
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