A COLLECTION OF STORIES BY LUKE TAGG
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SMOKE: A Lack Of Class

Originally published: 25 October 2004

This story was inspired by an incident that happened on Saturday, as I was driving through the Claremont CBD.

I was returning home from town in the middle of the afternoon and had to stop at a set of traffic lights on Main Road. There were a few cars in front of me and a few cars to either side, and we all arrived there just as the lights turned red.

Looking idly around I noticed what appeared to be the bog-standard traffic light beggar that you get absolutely free at every single light in the city and surrounding areas - he was a stumbling bloke dressed in a shabby coat and hat, and he was walking amongst the waiting cars.

At first I thought he was simply asking for money, but when he got to the car to the front and right of me I learned to my horror that he was making an attempt to earn his money.

It was a station wagon packed to the rafters with kids (it is a life mission of mine never, ever to find myself in a situation where I am driving a station wagon full of kids through the hot streets of Claremont on a Saturday afternoon), and the beggar walked up to the back window and doffed his cap to get the kids' attention.

They turned to look and then the screaming began as he first pulled his obviously dislocated bottom jaw up over his top jaw until his nose was stuffed into his mouth, and then - his coup de grace - he stabbed his two forefingers into his eyes, grabbed his lids and turned his eyes inside out.

I've never seen anything more appalling in my life. I've seen some bad things in my time but this dude was evil incarnate - walking around with his lips over his nose and two bright-red orbs instead of eyes. It was horrifying.

The guy stuck his cap out for some cash and the wagon-driving Mum put foot in a squeal of tyres and children, taking advantage of a right-bleed arrow that had fortuitously started flashing.

He then turned his unsighted eyes to me but my light changed before he could approach, and as I gunned it within an arm's length past him I heard him muttering an insane litany of garbage that was impossible to interpret.

For the rest of the journey home I sat and pondered the meaning of it all and I came to the conclusion that I am sick to death of the lack of class in this country.

To reduce yourself to the status of red-eyed jaw-boy who can't string a decent sentence together could be considered an attempt to make a living, or it can be seen as a cop-out on a grand scale. I believe it's the latter.

It's just not necessary to make a fool of yourself. No matter what your station in life the one thing everyone can have is dignity - I've known seriously down and out people before who have held their heads high and kept fighting honestly, and you don't need to be a cocktail-sipping man of leisure to have class.

The guy at the traffic lights was just the trigger for my musings and this story ultimately isn't about him. He was just another example of what I see around me every day - sloppy standards, bad attitudes, arrogance, neglect and comfort, and it's slowly but surely wearing me down.

When I got married in 2000 we were very fortunate to receive numerous wedding gifts from family and friends, and I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that at least half of those gifts had to be returned to the stores they were purchased from to be replaced with working versions.


The after sales service was atrocious, managers were belligerent, and in a few cases things had to be returned a second time.

Appliances and cellphones and just about anything with moving parts have an extremely short life these days, and the classless companies that sell them have long since learned to restrict guarantees and make them "service only", thus denying the possibility of a cash refund.

The reason they do that is because they know that they'd go bankrupt in five minutes of people could get their money back for defective products. Yet a couple of decades ago you got lifetime warranties with everything, because products were built to last.

Customer service - in Cape Town at any rate - is completely and utterly a figment of the imagination, if that.

The most disgustingly sloppy people with no passion for their jobs or lives get such jobs and they just simply couldn't give a continental toss about being polite or helpful, regarding each complaint or query as a major affront to them personally and an enormous waste of their time.

Nobody is ever accountable for anything and no amount of complaints ever make a difference. Thus it all deteriorates, to the extent that we have people behaving like idiots at our traffic lights, selling their souls for a few measly cents.

It has to end somewhere, or it will only get worse. And worse is not an option.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
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Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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