SMOKE: The Games People Play
Originally published: 29 June 2006
Don't you hate headgamers? People who are absolutely unable to be straight with you? People who twist and distort and suggest and hint and basically do anything other than be honest?
I do. Loathe 'em. If you're a headgamer - I loathe you, man. And I haven't even met you.
The reason I loathe people like that is because I had my fair share of them in the theatre world - very few people are straight with you in an environment where vanity and narcissism prevail.
There was one drama school couple in particular who were the worst - both had big egos, both were coveted by others, both were talented actors, both were reasonably hedonistic and neither was faintly honest with each other or anyone else.
Both of them were a year ahead of me and their relationship was so sordid I doubt even the British tabloids would have touched it. Scary stuff.
I'll give you two examples from that famous relationship, to hopefully drive home my point.
The first was a 'meeting' a cast I was in went to at someone's house out in the suburbs. We had workshopped a comedy play which we were taking to the Grahamstown Festival (called Dances With Herrings, which had nothing to do with dancing, fish or indeed Kevin Costner) and we decided to meet out at the house for an afternoon of wine and line learning.
Heh. Yeah - riiiight.
We all arrived with booze and since each and every one of us - the girls included - were absolute slaves to the bottle you have to try and imagine the amount of alcohol on the premises.
Beer, wine, champagne, vodka, brandy, whiskey, bourbon, schnapps and even a solitary bottle of Advokaat - that disgusting yellow goop that tastes like cough medicine.
Does the trick, though, if a trick needs to be done.
There was plenty of fine marijuana as well and needless to say two hours in everyone was ratfaced and the weird shit had begun.
We got involved in closely examining the nipple of one actress who went topless in the show - she was explaining something about it and we were obviously fascinated. There was nothing sexual about it at all - I remember it being a very practical matter. A nipple in need of discussion. Happens, you know.
Then people started drifting off as they became more plastered, splintering into groups all over the house. I was still lost in that nipple and after a long time came up for air to discover not many people around.
Getting up to go to the toilet I saw one of my mates stagger from the bedroom at the end of the corridor, and asking him what was going on he mumbled something about Ivana (the headgame chick) being in there.
He went past me and said something to someone else, who went into the room and closed the door. I had to see what was going on so I opened the door. She was lying on the bed with gentleman number three or four just diving in for some hot, hot action where the previous dude had left off.
I slammed the door and left, reeling - where was her boyfriend, Mark? He was not the sort of oke you wanted to be messing with.
I went back to the lounge and carried on drinking (nipple-girl had moved into a corner and was examining her breasts in a mirror by herself - if I recall correctly she had a third nipple somewhere - underneath her armpit, I think), and a while later the dude came out of the room and another went in.
But just then Mark arrived back (he'd apparently stormed off somewhere after having a fight with Ivana, all of which I missed), and he made a beeline for the bedroom. I got up to watch what would no doubt be great sport.
The most recent lover came flying bodily out of the room, the door was slammed shut and the screaming and yelling began. We tried to get in but couldn't without breaking the door down, and it was worrying - it sounded like Mark was being killed.
We decided to leave them to their own devices and after about an hour of yelling and another hour of muted mutterings they came out, deeply in love.
They didn't even acknowledge anyone - just headed off into the sunset, like we didn't exist.
The second incident happened not long after that. I was sitting alone in my flat about a week later, when at around midnight the doorbell rang. It was Ivana.
She said she was upset after a fight with Mark and wanted to go for a drink with someone, and I was It.
Against my better judgement I hopped into her car and we drove down to The Crowbar for a pint or seven. While we were sitting there drinking at the bar Mark came in, obviously upset. He didn't say anything - he just stood next to us at the bar, bought a drink and stared at us as he drank it down.
Lots of intensity; lots of inner turmoil; lots of pain.
After breathing heavily for a while (Ivana ignored him, and after my initial greeting was met with a blank stare I ignored him as well) Mark left - still without saying anything.
We carried on chatting as though nothing had happened. After about an hour Ivana suggested we go down to Arties Cellar Pub, an underground dive in the heart of Cape Town in which you could hardly stand up - the ceiling almost brushed the top of my head.
Tiny, dank and claustrophobic as it was, don't be dissin' it, man - it was the venue where the Springbok Nude Girls played their very first ever live gig.
Once there Ivana insisted we dance. Not body contact dancing - just the sort you do in a club that plays alternative music. We were dancing no more than five minutes when Mark walked in and settled down to watch.
I was freaked out - how come he kept knowing where we were? I really wasn't into his girlfriend at all - I was just thrilled to be going out and getting wasted with someone. But it sure looked as though I was doing the whole wine and dine routine.
I went off to the toilets and when I came back Ivana was sitting with Mark, holding hands over a table and staring deeply into his pained eyes. I kept my distance and after a while they left, without once turning back.
I had to walk home from the city centre that night, and in the state I was in that was no mean feat. But one I was used to.
I've still never understood what was going on either time, but they had a whole head game thing going. They were completely wrapped up in it and would drag whoever they needed into it with them when it suited them.
I know it seems like a sex thing - but it wasn't. They used sex and sexuality to get at each other, but it wasn't a sex kink or anything like that - it was a game of mental dominance for control of their relationship that neither ever won.
What freaked me out was why anyone needed to win - it all just seemed so complex to me. Until I realised that they were just a larger than life microcosm of so many other seemingly normal relationships in the world, which are anything but.
People who play head games are insecure - of themselves, their relationships and just about everything else. They can appear confident because that's the persona they give themselves, but the fact that they have a need to assert any sort of mental dominance over anyone means they don't have true confidence in themselves and who they are.
I see it all the time - the way couples look at each other in a moment, or the weight behind a seemingly innocuous comment, or even just a particular glance done in a particular way. Or people who make a joke - but it's not really a joke. Even though it is. Not.
I can't tolerate it. I believe in saying things up front and getting issues out in the open, because far too much time is spent negotiating with people who shouldn't need to be negotiated with. I find it a waste of time screwing around the fringes of an issue - say what's up, be honest about it and we'll deal with it and move on.
I can't understand why that's so hard.
All Smoked Out,