I used to date a South African gal. Having grown up a weird, little gay kid in a Chicago suburb where Greek salad was a risqué ethnic food and non-Catholic Christians an exotic race, her very existence impressed the shit out of me. “She’s South African!” I would loudly yell at whomever, because I am the worst. “Like, from Africa!” I wish I had been more chill about her background, but I was just beginning to date women and to see the world. To get to date a woman and to have that woman come from another part of this world I hadn’t seen? I was pretty floored.
Now, that wasn’t why I dated her. She loved Battlestar, modern dance, and frozen pizza as much as I did. We had similar goals, like to be artsy and wear fun vests. Yes, I thought her background was interesting, but I wasn’t trying to live a Toto song. In fact, because of her I know that singing Toto’s “Africa” to someone from Africa is very annoying, though not nearly as annoying as quoting “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”
(Note to Bono: You should have never agreed to belt, “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you!” I don’t care if it was 1984. That’s an unforgivable line, and you brought shame upon all mullets when you sang it.)
She also taught me about things that are actually South African. I listened to her responses as she regularly fielded questions about growing up white in South Africa during apartheid. We’d pop on Die Antwoord and she’d tell me tales of Bovril, a meat spread she used to make meat toast. She taught me to say about four things in Afrikaans, and I said them all the time. I still do.
While we were dating, her visa ran out. She had to return home and spend six months living with her family in Cape Town. I wanted to spend those six months in Cape Town with her, but didn’t have “take six months off from work” money. I did, however, nanny for a very cool family, and they let me take a full month off to live in Cape Town with her and her family.
For first-timers visiting Cape Town, here are some things of note: There’s a giant, flat mountain in the center of the city. And they have KFC! There are wild baboons on the side of the road, just living their lives, like how in my hometown we have squirrels. Silly tourists might go diving with sharks, but if you’re there with your South African girlfriend, you’ll probably just go see a movie. As a visitor, the racial tension and race-related poverty was palpable. (I do wonder if visitors to my home country say the same.)
One morning my girlfriend turned to me and asked, “What do you want to do today?” I said, “I don’t know. What do you want to do today?” And she was like, “I know this beach that has a natural population of penguins.” I did not expect a South African penguin beach. Toto doesn’t prepare one for the possibility that penguins might swim up from Antarctica and decide, “Let’s stay here, in Africa.” I had assumed all penguins lived at the North Pole with Santa or at the smelly, now defunct seabird house at the Lincoln Park Zoo.
So we went. Let me be clear: These beach penguins are not cordoned off in like in a petting zoo. They are right there with you on the beach and in the water. Picture humans surfing on penguins. Penguins surfing on humans. The whole thing is very Pixar.
At this point in the story that I should let you know that my favorite series of films are the Terminator films. From Linda Hamilton’s right bicep to Linda Hamilton’s left bicep, there is just nothing to dislike about the series. My favorite Terminator film? If I were a very obvious person, distracted by the groundbreaking use of facial-morphing technology seen before only in Michael Jackson’s “Black Or White” video, I’d say Terminator 2. But I’m not an obvious person, and I prefer the not-oft-seen Terminator 3.
T3 features my favorite Terminator character: the female Terminator. Fans like myself would call her the “Terminatrix.” Her arms can turn into guns and knives, but in the film, when she is pulled over by the police for speeding, she makes the decision to enlarge her robot breasts to try and sexy her way out of a speeding ticket. I like that she’s a lady with a wide range of skills. It’s like she has a buffet of abilities that she can pick from to defeat you, and she doesn’t have to use violence. But she can.
The Terminatrix is played by an actor called Kristanna Loken. She also had a bit part in the television series The L Word. Now if you are a lady who dates ladies like myself, The L Word is a little bit like the Bible: You don’t have to agree with its teachings, but you have to know about them. So if you were to do a Venn diagram of my interests—robot shoot-’em-ups and lesbians in the media—Kristanna Loken’s right there in my sweet spot.
Back to the penguin beach. We were at the beach when my girlfriend got a call from a bunch of her friends. They were like, “What’re you up to?” She was like, “We’re at the penguin beach.” They show up to join us and bring a friend. Their friend? Kristanna Loken. THE TERMINATRIX. Kristanna was in Cape Town filming a movie and looking for some downtime. Now, I understand that for many of you this wouldn’t be a big deal. For me, this was heart-stopping, and her arrival brought up the question: At what point when meeting a new friend do you let that person know in casual conversation that you own them as an action figure? I’m talking mint on card.
I went with “never.” I didn’t say a thing. I just sat on a rock, in Africa, surrounded by penguins, hangin’ with the Terminatrix, and just tried to be charming as hell. It was hot and many of the gals took their tops off and enjoyed the rays wearing only bikini bottoms. This included Kristanna. Of course, she is just a regular person and sweet and normal to chat with, but imagine your reaction if you ended up in a steam room with a pantsless Arnold Schwarzenegger (and you weren’t his maid). Yeah, each Terminator film features its Terminators time-traveling in the nude, but you don’t expect you’ll ever be able to verify the accuracy of those nude shots with your own non-scanning human eyes.
At the end of the day, Kristanna gave my girlfriend and me a hug as we left the beach. She hadn’t put her top back on before doing so. And so that day became Topless Terminatrix African Penguin Beach Hug Day from then until forever. Afterward my girlfriend and I didn’t talk for about two hours. We stared at each other. We ate some Bovril. We stared at each other some more.
Am I a creep for writing out this story? For sharing one of the breast moments (breast moments!) of my life so publicly and so breastily? Absolutely. Without a doubt. I see that. If you’re the kind of wiener that would yell, “She’s South African!” you might also be the kind of wiener that would write about a boob hug. But even now, reliving the moment years later and knowing I continue to be the worst, even now I thank God it was me instead of you.