SMOKE: Getting Drunk For Charity

Originally published: 23 November 2005

I've never been a big one for charities. It's not that I'm uncharitable - it's simply that I couldn't really be arsed with any of them.

I dole out charity in my own anonymous way and am perfectly comfortable with not trying to get my name in the newspapers because of it.

I don't call it charity when a big star or business tycoon donates a huge sum of money to a charitable organisation - the very fact that we hear about who donated how much to whom indicates that it has less to do with charity and more to do with slick publicity boys in dark backrooms, working that image.

I find it disgusting and improper that people reveal who they give their money to. What happened to being discreet and simply donating to the needy from the goodness of your heart?

Reasons To Hate The World, Volume 1743.

Despite my loathing of glory hounds and their questionable charity motives I feel the need to narrate a tale of my own donation to charity.

No, no - I'm not a hero. Just another guy trying to get by in a crazy, crazy world, offering the odd helping hand to those less fortunate than myself. A sort of modern-day Claremont Ghandi, if you will.

The year was 1988 and I was in standard eight. We were given a huge task at the start of the year which counted for a large portion of our end-of-term exams, called the Special Outreach Project.

We each had to do a minimum of 20 hours of community service during the school term for a charity of our choosing and we had to package up what we did and make a presentation - with accompanying documentation - to the teacher and the rest of the class, explaining precisely what we did and how it affected the community in positive ways.

It seemed reasonable enough at the time, but looking at it now it was no more than glorified bloody slave labour.

Many, many aeons ago adults discovered that kids make brilliant slaves and when child slavery became unfashionable they cunningly freed kids and let them do things like theatre and community work for no pay.

Little angels. Helping grannies across the road and all. Stopping and caring for small, defenceless animals. The whole bit.

Naturally most kids in my class instantly began plotting how to get the easiest assignment that could be done in the least amount of time, although there were one or two decent kids who genuinely did care and who really wanted to help.

There was no way of getting out of it because you had to get a signed note from the person in charge of the charity you were working for once you were done, with the hours you'd worked tallied up.

I was vaguely considering working with NICRO (a crime organisation in the Western Cape for which I ended up - many years later - serving out another 20 hours of community service, for rather less charitable reasons), as working amongst criminals seemed like a natural place to be.

But one day a mate drew me aside in a dark corner of the playground and whispered a detailed plot he'd hatched to get us the greatest community service gig ever.

Every year Cape Town used to hold an event called the Community Chest Carnival. I'm not sure if it's still going but it was a regular feature on the calendar and a brilliant hook-up place for all those dirty little school hotties you'd been coveting, late at night, alone.

If you knew how to hook up with them, of course, which I didn't. But I loved them. Oh, I loved them. So much.

It was a huge charity event run by the Community Chest and its main attraction (apart from one or two crap ghost trains, knee-high rollercoasters and the inevitable tombola stalls) was the beer. Lots and lots and lots of it.

There were dozens of beer tents scattered about which featured beer from different countries. So you'd get the South African beer tent, the German beer tent (complete with large-bosomed Frauleins), the Swiss beer tent (they even had a dude in traditional Swiss gear with an alpenstock and a permanent beer drip) and the Mexican beer tent, to name but a few.

Great idea. You could stagger from tent to tent sampling the fine wares and after an hour or two the fact that anything other than Black Label tastes like a packet of piss didn't seem quite as significant.

Naturally I wasn't allowed to be drinking - I was only 16 years old.

My mate told me that some friend of his father's owned the Dutch beer tent and that a few of us could work in it for a weekend as our community outreach project. It was a charity carnival, remember, and thus it met the required criteria.

The carnival was over a weekend and we wangled a 10-hour shift for Friday and a 10-hour shift for Saturday, thereby completing our entire 20-hour social project in one weekend.

We were ecstatic. We'd found a way around the authoritarian Pigs who filled our lives with their bullshit about helping others, and bonus - we got to do it in a beer tent.

Never let it be said that the youth have anything other than their own inebriation in mind. The objectives of that particular Special Outreach Project were totally lost on us, I'm afraid.

Although we weren't allowed to be drinking naturally we were practically drowning in booze, and armed with no money but plenty of ambition we arrived at the beer tent on Friday afternoon to begin our dedicated, selfless community work.

We were put to work as waiters and just writing that seems unreal now - we were 15 and 16 years old, and serving beer to adults. These days people get put to death for merely looking at kids funny, much less allowing them anywhere near as ribald and booze-soaked an establishment as that.

Ah well. The good old days and all that.

My mate managed to get his father's friend to give us a couple of complimentary cases of Heineken and a bottle of Advokaat, which for those who don't know it is a thick, yellow alcoholic syrup that tastes like cough medicine and which plasters your face to the floor.

Nasty, nasty stuff. But vital to any youngster's ambitions of getting wasted beyond human belief.

We started out serving beers to the rowdy folk but the place eventually filled up so much we couldn't walk around anymore. Then we retired to a dark spot out back and started in with earnest on the beers and Advokaat.

The owner of the beer tent himself was legless on his own booze so he had no idea what we were up to, and as the night wore on we got increasingly unable to function.

When the vomiting began it was made especially unpleasant by the projectile stream of Advokaat, and I have no idea how we eventually made it home. We walked home as soon as the sun came up and I slept at my mate's house during the day.

We woke up in the afternoon, hastily downed piles of Panados and Regmakers and headed off for another 10 hours of the same dedicated passion and enthusiasm for uplifting our community.

We only worked for about an hour on the second night before the pissed owner told us to bugger off, signing our cards and confirming that we had done 20 hours of manful labour. In total we must have spent about four hours working - the rest we spent drinking.

After that all we had to do was dream up a bunch of crap about how serving the community by working for the Community Chest was an inspiration to us and had opened our eyes to many things, and we almost wept as we narrated stories about how so many needy folks could be helped by the money made from the carnival and that in some small way we'd been part of a greater human picture.

Little bastards, we were. We knew our shit.

So while I abhor folks who go around proudly announcing their charity to the world, I trust you won't mind my one little moment in which I pat myself on the back for my tiny, seemingly insignificant contribution towards a superior global ethic.

I sincerely hope I've made a difference.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

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

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