This fine little fellow is a Tanganyikan Shell-Brooding Cichlid.
If he has a certain haunted look about the eyes, there’s a good reason for this. Sex. Sex is very complicated for the poor little Shell-Brooding Cichlid. Because they are just like us. At a glance, he finds himself a nice little Shell-Brooding Cichlid female and settles down to a happily married Cichlid life. He and his mate find a cosy little shell, he drives off any competitors, and then sets about raising a family. He wishes. It’s not all plain sailing for the Shell-Brooding Cichlid. He has some concerns. Pirates. And sneakers. A pirate Shell-Brooding Cichlid is a bigger male. Once our poor little male has done all the hard work, setting up his happy home and driving off potential rivals, the pirate simply moves in and takes over. Poor little territorial male.
But all is not lost. Because he still has a chance of being a sneaker. Which is ironic, because he spends a lot of his time trying to drive off sneakers. Fish don’t breed like us. The female lays her eggs in the water, and the male fertilises the eggs by releasing a cloud of sperm into the water. And that’s where the sneakers come in. Sneakers are smaller male Cichlids. They’re not big enough to settle down and hold a territory. But they are big enough to release their own clouds of sperm. They lurk around on the outskirts of the breeding grounds, waiting for the right moment. While the male is busy fertilising his mate’s eggs, the sneakers dash in, release their own cloud, and then dash off again. And the territorial male will settle down to raising a brood of little Cichlids that aren’t all his own.
Is this all sounding a little familiar? It should. How many men do you know who found the right girl, settled down, and then watched a pirate move in. And how many men out there are happily raising a brood of children that look suspiciously like the postman. This fine man is Zwelinzima Vavi. He’s the Secretary General of COSATU, our largest trade union movement. And he’s a territorial male. His wife has just given birth to his twins. He’s also a pirate. Or a sneaker. You decide.
You see, the good Mr Vavi has just found himself in a spot of bother. He’s been accused of rape. Maybe. A young subordinate at COSATU accused him of raping her at the COSATU offices. But it’s complicated. She did not bring a criminal charge against him. She also, by all reports, demanded two million rand from him to buy her silence. Instead, he broke the silence himself. She did bring a charge against him before COSATU’s disciplinary committee. Which she later dropped. It’s all one big sordid mess. One thing is certain. The good Mr Vavi did, beyond a shadow of a doubt, roger a twenty-nine-year-old married subordinate, standing up, in his place of work. I’ve just got one question. Why would you be so damned stupid? Mr Vavi is a public figure. He is a man of immense power. And he has taken the moral high ground. He’s not afraid to criticise our eminently criticisable government for their love of corruption and their dissipated lifestyles. He’s just handed them his head on a plate.
Because we are not fish. Fish are robots. They are guided by a limited number of drives and live out their lives without ever having to face tabloid journalists. We have been given something more than this. We have been given common sense. Or at least some of us have. We have been given self-control. Or at least some of us have. And that makes the Vavis of this world so hard for me to understand. I’m not talking about morality here, or my own views on fidelity or the sanctity of marriage. I’m just talking about common sense. That’s all.
If you’re a doctor, or a plumber, or an oil pipeline inspector, getting caught cheating on your wife is a private tragedy. Your partner will be deeply wounded, and whatever the outcome, your relationship will never be quite the same again. The neighbours might talk. You may lose a little respect. But the next day, you can go back to doctoring, or plumbing, or oil pipeline inspecting. Life will go on and you can pick up the pieces of the mess you left behind. Lots of people evidently feel it’s worth taking the risk. But if you’re a major political figure, that’s simply not the case. The press will eat you alive. The tabloids will bully your partner into a response. And you stand a very good chance, particularly if you’ve been breathing in the rarefied air of the moral high ground, of losing not just your job but your livelihood. For two minutes of vertical nookie with someone else’s wife in a dingy, fluorescent lit office in a soulless concrete office block.
Like I say, it’s just stupid. And it’s where the self-control comes in. I drop my kids off at school three times a week. There are mommies there. Women my own age. Some of them are quite attractive. Some of them are on their way to gym. Yoga pants are involved. And yet somehow, I managed not to roger anyone in the parking lot yesterday. In fact, I’ve somehow managed to do this for years. The head mistress frightens me and besides, it would frighten the geese. Not rogering someone is actually pretty easy. I popped into the local supermarket today, and didn’t have sex with anyone at all, despite the fact that they had a pretty comfortable looking fresh produce section. I stopped to check up on our post box. Did I get me some action there? I did not.
Peoples’ lives are complicated. All manner of things can go on. You can fall out of love with your partner. You can unintentionally drift into love with someone else. It happens. But surely if you’re a prominent politician with the press watching your every move and powerful enemies lurking around every corner it’s worth sitting up and thinking “maybe not today, thanks.” Which leads me to this guy.
You’ll probably recognise him immediately. That’s Anthony Weiner, a hugely successful American politician, and member of congress. Once upon a time. Now he’s the dong picture guy. Anthony, you see, had a bit of a hobby. He liked to send pictures of his aroused dong to women who weren’t his high-profile wife. On his Twitter account. How stupid can you be? Or how driven are you to take pictures of your dong? But it doesn’t end there. Anthony got caught. And lost everything. His wife stayed with him, but his career was in tatters. It was all over. No more congress. No shot at the presidency. It simply couldn’t have been worth it.
But Anthony is no ordinary Weiner. He clawed his way back from the shame and the embarrassment, and ran, successfully at first, for mayor, in New York. But it’s not going so well any more. After it all came crashing down, after he had torpedoed his career and set fire to his dreams, Anthony did something a little silly. He took pictures of his dong. And sent them to a woman who is not his high-profile wife. It’s simply breath-taking. His life is in tatters. Again. How much do you have to love taking pictures of your dong and sending them to women to do this to yourself twice?
Maybe I was wrong about us being smarter than fish. Or maybe I’m just imagining the wrong picture of Anthony Weiner. Maybe the proper picture of him is the one we never imagine. The picture of a funny little man standing naked in his bathroom mirror, the moment after the message has gone through, his head and his manhood both hanging down, while a single tear of shame and self-loathing rolls down his cheek.