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Fun Times in Joburg

Posted by tobymuresianu on Feb 26, 2014 in Stories

In 2011 I performed at a club in Johannesburg for two weeks.

I was drinking with the staff after a show when Celine, a waitresses from Zimbabwe, asked if I wanted to go to a different bar. I wanted to see more of the city, so I agreed.

I thought a few of the staff were coming, but it was just the two of us. We squeezed into a minibus and I started to get a little nervous because I assumed it’d be close, but we were in the van for ~40 minutes and I had a flight the next morning.

A little past midnight we got off in Hillbrow, which Wikipedia notes is the subject of a BBC documentary on “the state of complete abandon and lawlessness in some parts of [Johannesburg]”. Celine told me “I want to show you how black people live,” which was something I was totally open to but probably would have picked a different time for.

She took me to her apartment to drop off my things. We went through a floor-to-ceiling metal turnstile and down crumbling hallways to a tiny studio apartment. There were insects crawling all over the walls and 5-6 people living in it, as well as a Playstation 3 and Ikea furniture.

I guess that’s globalization, but it’s still a little surprising to see a cockroach, a crucifix on the wall, and then the dresser you had sophomore year.

I introduced myself to the other folks – mostly in their 20s plus a child or two, all very nice – then dropped off my stuff and we left for the nightclub. As I put down my phone I noticed a text from the comedy club manager who heard where I was going and told me to be “extremely careful”. Celine said that as long as I stayed with her I’d be safe. She was about 5’3″ but seemed pretty confident.

The club entrance was through another floor-to-ceiling turnstile set into what looked like an abandoned department store. People were crowding to be let in, but we skipped the line – I think Celine convinced them I was a celebrity based on being the only white person for miles and wearing the only slim-fit purple H&M shirt for miles after that.

Once we got in it was less full. The first floor looked like the hospital the guy wakes up in in 28 days later, so we went downstairs to a bare, open space with thumping music and maybe 150-200 people clustered around the front of the dance floor.

As I waded through the crowd, to say I stood out would be an understatement – heads turned, drunks reached out and touched my face, and I slapped away hands going through my pockets. We finally got to the VIP area, which was really the DJ booth fenced off with a welded screen door.

Inside I met the DJ (from the Philippines) and had a beer while hanging out with the waitress, producer and one or two other girls. They asked me to dance and insisted I’d be good over my protests that I wasn’t. As soon as I started, though, they stopped and stared at me in confusion and began trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, which was amazing before that moment I didn’t think it would be possible to feel more conscious of my whiteness.

I was in the middle of failing my third dance lesson when we heard a bottle smash, then another, and yelling. A few fights had broken out, but most people just carried on dancing like nothing had happened. I checked my watch; it was 3am. I told her I had to go to catch my flight.

We went back to her building to get my stuff, two very large, rough-looking guys confronted us. Celine argued with them heatedly for several minutes. I stood there, nervous but numb, feeling like I was flipping to the appropriate page in a Choose Your Own Adventure novel with no idea what my fate would be. After a few minutes she motioned me to come with her through the turnstile. As we walked through she rolled her eyes, sighing “Pff, those guys, they just want to rob *everybody*”.

I grabbed my stuff from the apartment, and we got into a cab, where she negotiated a fare of about a third of the price of any cab I’d taken in South Africa to that point. Two hours later I was asleep on a plane.

 
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The High School Party Bathroom Story

Posted by tobymuresianu on Feb 19, 2014 in Stories

A few kind people on facebook said they liked my cab stories and wanted more. I don’t have any more, but as the next best thing here’s an embarrassing story from high school, which remedies the situation of my previous ones making me seem like the good guy.

The first real high school party I went to was at my friend Rob’s house (not his real name, I’m still not sure if he knows what happened or not).

I got there early and was talking with friends when I realized I had to – and there’s no polite way to say this, but we’re all adults with bodies and have been there – take a big dump. But I was afraid of stinking up the joint or having classmates queued up down the hall, so I didn’t use the main bathroom. I knew, cleverly, that Rob’s parents had a bathroom in their master bedroom and went for that one.

I did my business, but when I went to flush, it didn’t. It went halfway down the pipe, then stopped and the water rose.

I looked for a plunger, but there wasn’t one. I knew there was one downstairs, but I did not at all want to have to walk past my new high school classmates with it in hand, an undeniable scepter of shame. I weighed my options.

Sometimes when a toilet clogs, you know you earned it. But sometimes you just haven’t pulled the lever confidently enough to establish dominance. Hoping that was the case, I pressed the button again with authority.

At this point in my life I didn’t realize a toilet *could* overflow; I assumed there was some kind of fail-safe mechanism. As the water began to rise towards the lip and reality hit home, everything went into slow motion.

My eyes lit onto a tupperware container used for storing makeup. I dumped it onto the ground and started frantically baling water from the toilet to the sink. Too little, too late; the water rose over the lip and spilled onto the floor like a public fountain built to commemorate my failure.

This is also probably the time to note Rob’s parents bathroom is the only one in the western hemisphere with shag carpeting. Possibly the only one in history outside Liberace’s mansion or Gaddaffi’s Libya.

Fortunately, the water was all “fresh” water from the pipes (“fresh” being a very relative term). Either way, by the time it stopped the carpeting was soaked. I found a 36-pack of toilet paper in the closet and used half of it, hand soap and a hair dryer to sponge-dry the carpet over the next 60-90 minutes.

After finishing the toilet was still clogged, because there is no justice in the world. I gritted my teeth and tried to sneak downstairs. My friends immediately saw me and asked me where I disappeared to. Dodging the question, I hurriedly got the plunger and hustled upstairs to a chorus of jeers from the now-packed party.

What I did next was not mention it to anyone for 16 years.

 
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My Weirdest Uber Fare

Posted by tobymuresianu on Feb 19, 2014 in Stories

I occasionally drive for Uber in Los Angeles. If you’re not familiar, it’s a service that allows people to use their cars as inexpensive cabs (also, ask me for a referral).

I posted the story of my weirdest ride on facebook and it got a good response, so thought I would share it here as well.

The request came around midnight on a Monday. I pulled up outside a bar and three people – a hipster girl, a black hipster, and a tough looking guy – piled in, blurting out that some people had stolen the tough guy’s phone. They were following it through an app and would give me cash on top of the fare to track them down.

I didn’t have much experience as a bounty hunter but it seemed interesting and I started the ride, before immediately thinking of the more practical questions associated with tracking down criminals.

Had they called the police? Yes, they’d been blown off and told they ˜could file a case in the morning”.
Had they tried negotiating? Yes, some guy with an accent answered their call, but then hung up and didn’t answer again.
Were these actual criminals who might have guns? They were vague on this question when we converged on the dot about a mile away.

The street was deserted except for a guy running with a duffel bag while wearing a beat-up letterman-style jacket and jeans. He happened to be black. A collective wave of nausea swept the car when we realized what was about to happen.

“I feel like this is kind of racist, but…” said the girl.
Awkward “Ums” and “Ahs” from the other two.
“Pull up” said Tough Guy, rolling down his window. I pulled up beside the running man and he stopped.

“Do you have my phone?” asked Tough Guy.
“What?” the running guy replied in a thick African accent.
“You have my iPhone.”
“I do not know what you are talking about! Why are you accusing me? Is it because I am black?”

Tough Guy started getting out of the car. The black hipster leaned out of the window and started saying “Not a black thing man. Not a black thing!” probably seven times.

The African guy got increasingly angry, going through his pockets.

“I do not have your phone, look! This is my phone, it is a blackberry. You want to search me? GO ahead!”

He took off his jacket and angrily shoved it at Tough Guy, who didn’t take it. He started to unzip his duffel but didn’t finish as they argued.

The hipster girl had mentioned earlier there was a button in the app that caused it to beep loudly when pressed.

“Press the noise button,” I told her. She pressed it. Nothing happened. She called the phone. Nothing happened.

“He doesn’t have it. Let’s go!” She yelled to Tough Guy. He was still glaring at the African guy. There was palpable tension in the air as everyone waited to see if they would fight.

“Let’s go!” She yelled again. Tough Guy didn’t react. I let the car roll forward. He got back in the car and I drove off.

“The dot’s moving!” the girl said. “It’s up here, on the right!”

I stopped a half mile or so ahead, at the entrance to a community college parking lot where the week beforehand there had been a shooting over a drug deal. I told them I wasn’t going in there. They started to insist, citing the fact that I’d be paid. I was weighing my expected Uber wages against the cost of a lawyer/ambulance when in my rear-view I noticed the African guy running towards us, with a new, muscle-bound guy. I peeled out.

They broke into discussion of various theories for what was going on when the girl said the dot was at a 7-11 up ahead; we agreed this would be the last stop. I pulled into the lot. They went through the store looking to see if they recognized anyone or trying to suss out whether people there knew anything. I watched the pantomime through the glass window as a strangers got irate and defensive.

Two cops pulled up for coffee and the girl explained the situation. “Nah, those apps only give you a perimeter.” one said. “We don’t track those things down, you need a detective. You can file a case in the morning. Or we’ll be around and if you can get them to make an exchange, call 911 and we’ll respond.”

The thieves were still not picking up the phone. The girl had me drive to one more place the dot moved to, a block away, a residential complex. I told them I was done and would drive them home. The dot started moving again. I don’t know why it never occurred to anyone that the app could just be a piece of garbage and completely inaccurate (it wasn’t the built-in Apple one).

I drove them home. They thanked me profusely but didn’t pay me extra. The final bill was like ~$27 for 35 minutes which I think is way less than Starsky or Hutch earned per hour, even adjusted for inflation.

I didn’t really think about it more until two days later I surmised from the rating system that they rated me 3 stars, below average.

If I ever see them again, *I* am going to steal their phone. And tie it to a pigeon.

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