The power goes off midway into the Fargo episode I’ve been streaming at home. It’s my night off, one of very few evenings that I’m not at the bar, and I’m heavily invested in watching the entire Fargo season. Using my phone torch I find the gate remote and head down to bar to buy electricity online.
Walking in, I spot G and N sitting at the bar counter. ‘Hey, howzit,’ I greet, ‘I’ll catch up in a mo, just gotta sort something out.’ I buy the power, phone Heidi with the code, telling her that I’m having a few drinks with my buddies, I’ll be back just now. Heidi sighs, experience telling her it’s unlikely.
N I’ve known for like two decades, but G and I go back even further, way back to my Jo’burg days in the late eighties, painting cycloramas with Rob Muir for big budget commercials, G doing props or sets in the Art Department.
Rob was a great boss, a Warhol-like pop artist who made lots of money doing sunsets or skies on the huge infinity screens of film studios. Never quite losing his subversive edge amidst all this money changing hands, working with Rob was a jol. We played as hard as we worked, especially since we often had to paint the cycs through the night.
Once on a big job that involved sets as well as the backdrop, Rob assembled his usual crew of maladjusted individuals, including several ex-lovers, and after explaining that the job had to be finished by seven the next morning, gave each of us a cap of acid, and hollered ‘Get to work, jerks!’
It started off pretty well, but by midnight the crew were starting to lose their sense of reality. At one stage, Rob was the only one working, paint stained coffee mug filled with whiskey in one hand, airbrush spray can in the other, at the top of the scaffolding with his assistant Gogo at the foot of it, pushing him slowly from one end of the cyc to the other, while the rest of the crew were cavorting around the studio, howling with laughter, snogging behind sets or painting each other instead of the walls. Every now and then he would shout instructions from the top, and we would call on him to get off his high horse and take a break.
By two, all sense of anything had disappeared. We were not on the job, we were having a very psychedelic party, music blaring from the sound system that always accompanied us. Rob had joined us on the ground. Paint tins had been overturned, and we were slipping and sliding in the spilt red, yellow and orange paint that now covered a large part of the studio floor. Rob would try and issue instructions amidst hysterical laughter, tears streaming down his face, with us rolling around howling with uncontrolled mirth, others staring into space, or getting caught up in some or the other beautiful detail.
At five o clock the alarm that was set earlier goes off. I am still busy putting the last bits of tribal patterns on Robs face, but he stands up, shouting ORANGE JUICE! Gogo, the only one who didn’t take acid (for very good reasons), running for the cooler box containing the antidote.
By seven sharp, the studio doors slide open to reveal the first of the shooting crew. Somehow, miraculously, everything is in place, the job finished, except for Rob still on the scaffolding, doing the finishing touches, Gogo below, the rest of us in the toilets trying to clean ourselves up before the director and agency people arrive.
‘Well done, Rob! Good job, guys!’ the director said, after glancing over the set.. ‘Had some fun too, I see.’ he added, Rob suddenly realising that he was the only one whose face paint hadn’t been removed. ‘Oops,’ is all Rob said, touching his face and grinning demurely. ‘All work and no play…’ said the director, smiling, me thinking, if only you knew…
I remember those days with great fondness… but I’m digressing.
I join G and N at the bar, and realise that N in particular is out of it, to the point of not being able to hold a conversation. G is fine though, and the banter goes this way then that way as we catch up. G is telling me about his sons wedding to an Indian girl in Mumbai. ‘I hope she’s not a Gupta,’ I say, joking. At the word “Gupta”, N who has all but fallen asleep, mumbling and making strange sounds, greying head nodding sagely, suddenly perks up.
‘The Guptas!’ he shouts, ‘those fucking Guptas!’
Surpised, I turn towards him, just in time for his swinging forearm to connect with my mouth, knocking me clean out of my barstool and onto the ground.
What the fuck just happened, I think, sitting up, shaking my head, blood spraying onto the wall and the floor. Then N is onto me, wrestling me to the ground, shouting, ‘Fuck them! Fuck them!’
Mayhem! Everybody in the bar shouting, the barman and manager grabbing hold of N, pulling him off me, one of them about to give him a klap. ‘Don’t!’ I shout, not wanting things to spin completely out of control. ‘He’th my fwiend,’ I add, ‘just take him outthide.’ I sit up, thinking, that didn’t come out right…
‘He’s your friend!?’ The manager says, shaking his head, probably thinking who needs enemies …
Feeling my mouth, I realize that something’s missing there. Fuck, they’re all gone, meaning my front teeth.
I stumble upstairs to the toilets and a mirror to make sure, and sure enough, all four are gone. The bar-back brings me some ice, which I press to my mouth, and I take another look at myself. Well, Sunday lunch with the neighbors is out of the question… but I’ll fit in nicely at the Mongrel’s annual meeting.
Meanwhile, N has been taken outside, and is now lying in the gutter, mumbling to himself incoherently, and G is on his mobile. ‘Pick him up, for fuckth thake,’ I say to the barman, who is standing around looking at this sight. I go back inside to look for my teeth, three of which I find lying in puddles of blood. ‘Push them back in,’ someone says helpfully, but I ignore this piece of advice. Still have to find the fourth one.
‘Jeez, Cas,’ G says, back inside again, interrupting my search, ‘I’m sorry bru. I don’t know what happened there. I’ve never seen N do anything like that.’
For sure, N is a toppie, almost my age, though his head of grey hair makes him look older. He’s a gentle soul, a pacifist, cultured, educated, informed. So what happened?
‘Did he take anything?’ I ask, knowing that alcohol alone couldn’t cause such an out of character action. ‘Booze, a bit of coke,’ G admits, ‘quite a bit actually, we had some left over from the Burn, and thought we’d klap it.’
‘That’s it?’ I ask, this serious short-circuit still not making sense.
G shrugs, ‘that’s all we did … but I think he’s on some prescription shit too.’
The manager interrupts, asking if he should call the cops. I shake my head. Something inexplicable just happened, but this is between friends.
G fetches his car, and we help N into it. They drive off, and I head home with three of my front teeth wrapped in a bit of toilet paper in my pocket, thinking, life is fucking weird, isn’t it? I just popped in to buy electricity…
The fourth tooth disappeared without a trace.