She stands there, without benefit of a filter lens, in a room so red it raises your blood pressure. There is no script. The retro-futurist chair she’s now sitting in was chosen for its aesthetics, not comfort, but still she is all elegance, gracefully perched inside the Barbarella inspired dome that she ever so slightly swivels with the pointed toe of a fuck-me heel.
Otherwise she wears black leather, or at least something that fits to her tiny frame like leather. Maybe it’s not even black? Maybe her skin is just that luminous and her smile so bright that they relegate everything else around her to the shadows?
Jeannie D finds her angles, arches her back and thrusts her boobs out. Showtime!
No, Jeannie D’s mic isn’t properly positioned and so a man comes and fits the lapel mic on the ridge of her top, just above the famous Jeannie cleavage. Jeannie looks at all the other eyes in the room, which are all very busy looking at her, smiles her Jeannie smile, and says, “And to think that they wanted to promote this guy to cameraman three years ago already…”
Along with Jeannie there are five other people in frame. A chipper little fashion pundit holding a tiny pug puppy, which he just picked up from doggie-daycare, because this is Cape Town and obviously his dog will go to doggie-daycare before those difficult teenage years and it’s shipped off to doggie boarding-school and ultimately doggie rehab. There are also three celebrities: a swimmer, a musician and a mixologist. And then there is me.
I’ve been invited to share my knowledge with the viewers of Top Billing, on the subject of social media makeovers. I don’t have a Tinder, I’m not on LinkedIn and I dress exclusively in things that brands give me for free. Still, when someone invites you to be on TV you don’t say no.
A makeup artist powders my forehead and a stylist asks me to remove my Levi’s denim jacket and replaces my Vans V-neck knit with one from the sponsor.
Cameras ready, panelists positioned, experts steepling their fingers in an authoritive manner and about fifteen other people watching on the peripheries, who are all hoping that this goes smoothly so that they can go home already.
“No, wait,” says the first cameraman. “I’m getting too much crotch, can you please close your legs and sit up a bit.”
I do, before the second cameraman chimes in.
“And sit back, you’re blocking Jeannie.”
Jeannie is the consummate professional. She riffs on anything, is whip sharp, smiles with her eyes and requires no prompting or direction. By contrast, every time I open my mouth it emits an umm, or an ahh. I’m asked not to look directly into the camera, and not to look up to the right when thinking about what I’m going to say next. But I can’t help it. Whenever the camera turns to me my mind goes blank.
You see, my chosen discipline is the written word. And for good reason. Just ask anyone who witnessed me MCing Cabbage’s wedding, or saw the speech I butchered at my own. Likewise the three stay-at-home mom’s who watched me on Noleene’s 3Talk that one time. All will attest that between the Eastern Cape accent, too many shy-bones in my body and the hangover of a stutter that required years of speech therapy, I’m just no good at public speaking. TV is not my forte.
But it’s too late to back out now.
However, in the same way a million monkeys behind a million typewriters will eventually write Shakespeare’s complete oeuvre, I manage to mumble something that doesn’t make me want to kill myself. But because the camera wasn’t focused on me at the time, or I’d just interrupted the man with the little pug puppy, the producer must ask the camera to focus on me, and for me to repeat whatever I’ve just said. Sometimes I need to do this several times, and by then my voice lacks conviction and my timing is out and I think about my one moment of celluloid greatness being left on the cutting room floor, and my mom flicking over to Masterchef.
Then Jeannie is done. We still need to film cutaways, but we don’t need Jeannie for that so she can go. She showed up at 4:30 and now it’s 6:30 and much to the disappointment of every other man in the room, the producer asks me to walk Jeannie to her car.
We’re shooting at MH HQ, you see, and because our building works on fingerprint recognition mine are the only prints that can get everyone in and out the building.
Jeannie needs me.
I open the first door, allow her to walk through it, press the button for the elevator, allow her to enter, we travel the five floors down together, alone, just me and the woman from the teevee… I open another door to get into the lobby and another door to get out of the building, and then I walk Jeannie to her car, an Aston Martin DB9 that’s so new it doesn’t even have numberplates yet.
Jeannie says goodbye, and thank you, and it was nice to meet you, then drives off into the night as I’m left standing in the soft drizzle. Her tail-lights turn around the corner and I say, to nobody in particular, goodnight Jeannie, and God Bless.
* The show airs tonight, Thursday, 5 June, 20:30 on SABC 3