This excerpt is taken from These Things Really Do Happen To Me by Khaya Dlanga, published by Pan Macmillan South Africa and reproduced by permission.
Lunch with Xolisa and William Shatner (aka Denny Crane)
One random Saturday, my cousin Xolisa Dyeshana called me to say he was about to have lunch with William Shatner, who was in South Africa to shoot an advert for an insurance company. Xolisa was a creative director on the job and he is an easily likeable person, so I can see why Denny Crane would have wanted to spend more time with him after the shoot.
Xolisa was supposed to have had dinner with William Shatner and the rest of the production team two nights before, but being the dedicated cousin he is, he had skipped the dinner to go to the launch of my first book.
William Shatner, in his infinite kindness, decided that he would still have lunch with Xolisa the day he was meant to leave to go back to the States.
My cousin knew that I was a big Boston Legal fan – I had all the DVDs of the television series. We were both fans, and we especially loved the scenes at the end of every episode where Denny Crane, played by William Shatner, and Alan Shore, played by James Spader, would sit on the balcony and wax philosophical while drinking
whiskey and smoking cigars.
I do not even remember what I was doing at the Rosebank Mall when Xolisa called me because everything before that phone call seems meaningless.
‘Chap,’ Xolisa said on the other end of the line. (For those who haven’t realised by now, ‘chap’ has somehow managed to become Xhosa lingo. I remember reading Long Walk To Freedom and noticing how often Mandela used the word in his book. It occurred to me that Xhosa folks completely appropriated ‘chap’ long ago.)
‘Drop whatever you’re doing and come meet me at the Saxon.’
‘Why?’ I asked.
‘I am about to meet William Shatner for lunch.’
I ran to an Exclusive Books immediately and went to buy the newly published In My Arrogant Opinion. I was extremely embarrassed because it was the first time I’d bought my own book. My face was slam-bam on the cover. It was impossible to hide. The cashier looked at the book, then back at me.
‘Is this you?’ she asked.
‘Yes,’ I said.
‘How does it feel to have your face on the cover of a book?’
‘Narcissistic,’ I replied.
She laughed and gave me back the book. I asked her to lend me a pen so I could write an inscription for William Shatner.
I then drove like the wind from Rosebank to the Saxon Hotel in Sandhurst, about five kilometres away. All within the legal speed limit, of course. After parking my car and being driven to the entrance of the prestigious establishment, I walked calmly for about two seconds before sprinting like a man possessed. Why the security did
not tackle me is still a mystery to this day.
I saw them sitting outside. Mr Star Trek Captain. Mr Rescue 911. Mr Denny Crane. The one-and-only William Shatner, with my cousin.
I approached them slowly, trying to make sure that I didn’t look overly eager. Xolisa stood up and said, ‘That’s my cousin, Khaya.’
‘Aah, the one with the book launch the other day?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ Xolisa replied.
‘Hi, Mr Shatner,’ I said as I shook his hand.
I reached into the Exclusive Books packet, pulled out my book and said, ‘And here it is.’
‘In My Arrogant Opinion by Khaya Dlanga. Is that how you say your name?’ he said as he extended the book away from him like old people do when they have forgotten their glasses.
‘You want me to sign it?’ he asked me.
‘No, I signed it for you.’
At this, he laughed so hard. It was the last thing he’d expected.
He wiped a little tear from his eye.
‘You spend your life signing things for people. I figured I should give you a rest – that’s why I signed this for you.’ I opened the book to where I had written him a message.
‘I’m going to read it tonight on my way back home. Thank you so much.’
We sat down and engaged in conversation about everything: South Africa, its place in the world, religion, and his daughter who was extremely religious. He wanted to know our views on religion.
He seemed troubled by his daughter’s unquestioning adoption of Christianity. I told him that I was a Christian but I do not follow my preacher’s words as gospel, nor do I not question the faith. He seemed to have a genuine interest in people and to be an amazing listener. When William Shatner listens to you, it is like he is listening with his whole body. He had razor focus on what I was saying to him, as if the only thing that mattered were the words
coming out of my mouth. His eyes did not leave me when I was speaking.
At one point, he called a waiter over and said, ‘Get me three of your most expensive cigars and whiskies,’ which he followed up with, ‘Actually, if this was your place and money was not an issue, which cigar would you give me? Get me those cigars.’
Xolisa and I smiled. We were about to be treated.
When I’d arrived, I was worried that we had no more than 30 minutes, but our great conversation lasted almost three hours. Eventually, William Shatner had to go back to his hotel room to meet his wife, pack his bags and leave for the airport. He stood up, shook our hands and thanked us for being interesting. Then he said, ‘All right, you fellows are paying,’ and left.
Xolisa and I looked at each other. Payday was a week away; we were still low-level employees then and this ninja had ordered some of the best whiskey and three of the most expensive cigars – at the Saxon. I could see the panic in Xolisa’s eyes. Were his eyes watering? Maybe my eyes were watering. There was a moment of silence, as we probably thought the same thing: How much was each cigar?
We asked for the bill, but when it arrived, neither of us wanted to open it, the words, ‘Most expensive cigars and whiskies,’ ringing in our ears. After losing a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, I opened it and forced myself to look at the total. Luckily, we had just enough money between the two of us to pay for the bill. We didn’t know how we would survive the rest of the month.
Whiskies: Daylight robbery.
Three hours with William Shatner: Priceless.