An Irregular Column
by Mykel Board
We live on spaceship Earth. We are its astronauts.
--Jim Bell, San Diego Mayoral Candidate
It's dark. The tile is cold under my cheek. I can feel the crisscross
indentation where it presses its filthy pattern into my skin. Something sticky
drips from my mouth. Something else sticky drips from my nose, mingling
nosehairs with mustache hairs, crusting over my upper lip.
I slowly return to consciousness. After my face, the rest of my body regains
sensations. My left hand jerks, like a frog's leg in a school experiment. It
hits something hard. Eyes closed, I feel the smooth coldness, following it
upward as it curves out. The toilet. It must be the toilet.
My stomach contracts like I've been punched. Something bubbles through my
guts, dribbles out my asshole, down over the back of my leg. I need a MONSTER.
Then it's dark again.
In five minutes-- or five hours-- consciousness returns. I try to lift my
head from the tile, fighting the gummy viscosity between my cheek and the floor.
I open my eyes just enough to allow a faint outline: toilet base, porn mags,
plunger, white toilet brush with tiny brown clumps clinging to the bristles.
I'm naked, curled like a comma. The pain in my stomach slightly less than
before, I try to stretch my legs. BLAU! I slam my toe against the bathtub. A
scream mutes itself against the floor.
Without standing, I swivel my body through the muck and roll up and over into
the tub. Feeling above me, I reach for the handle and turn. Ice cold water pours
over my head. JEEZUS FUCK! Reaching up, I turn the other tap and adjust to
lukewarm. When just the right temperature washes over my forehead, I reach up to
turn on the shower.
Lying there at the bottom of the tub, I let the water play over my body. It
washes away the offal encrusted on my skin. First my side. Then I turn over on
my stomach, and let the water pour over my back. I scoot up slightly so the
shower can work its magic a bit lower, carrying the excreted nutrients off my
body, and down the drain. Then the other side. Then I turn on my back.
The force of the water on the good parts frees them. It allows me to spray my
own shower, strong and beer colored, onto my hairy belly-- to be washed away by
the forceful stream from the metal nozzle.
I fall back to sleep.
Five minutes-- or five hours later-- I wake up drowning. I'm going to die.
Water is everywhere. Covering my mouth and nose. There's no escape. I spit it
out. Immediately, my mouth and nose fill up again. I twist away.
Oh, I get it. I turned over in my sleep and was drowning in an inch and a
half of water on the bottom of the tub.
Now, I'm fully awake. I don't know how long I've been under the shower. My
skin is pink and wrinkled like a deflated balloon. I can stand up now... not
easily... but with the help of the sides of the tub and the wall, I work my way
to my feet. I survey the bathroom. Gobs of food-speckled white cover the floor.
There's a yellow puddle near the toilet. A thin strip of dark brown lies halfway
to the tub.
I shut off the water and pick my way through the liquid obstacle course to
the door. Stumbling out, I turn the corner and head toward the promise of rest
that is my bed. My eyes still not focusing properly, I approach the bed. On it,
is what looks like a huge pink hairy kidney, curled on the black sheets.
From the kidney comes the sound of regular deep breathing. Uh oh. I brought
something home last night. If only I can remember.
Shit! Another one of those nights. Well, I buttered my bread, so I've got to
sleep in it. I pad over to the stove in the kitchen.
I take down the cream of wheat and put on the kettle.
"You want coffee with your cereal?" I shout to the form on the bed.
Yuck? I know, but it's the right thing to do. This whole column is about the
right thing to do.
Actually, there are two kinds of "right things." One is morally right, like
helping old ladies across the street. Or cooking breakfast for last night's
EXAMPLE 1: I used to have a best friend. Several years ago he stopped being
my friend because I wrote in a column that he had become "too L.A."
Even after an entire column of apology. Even after sending him my favorite
truck-driving record to say "I'm sorry," he refused to talk to me. Accepting a
gift, but not an apology... it pissed me off.
When GC Press published my Mongolia book. I sent copies to everyone who
helped me with it. I included a form letter thanking the recipient and asking
for any help they could give hustling the book.
My friend-turned-enemy helped me with the book back in the friend days. He
showed it to several LA film-makers, but could not persuade Brad Pitt to play
I thought about it for awhile, and decided to send him a book and form letter
just like everybody else. I was still pissed as hell at him, but he helped me,
so it was the right thing.
The second kind of right thing is not morally right, but situationally
right. It’s making the right decision. Like investing in a stock just before
it becomes the next Microsoft. In cards, it’s discarding the right cards and
holding the right cards.
EXAMPLE 2: My 70-year old cousin who lives near San Francisco is gonna make
Thanksgiving dinner. I have enough frequent flyer miles to get there for the $20
tax the airline charges to use those miles. I also have a fistful of free car
day coupons at Hertz. If I turn the whole trip into a book-selling tour, I can
make some bucks, see my cousin, have a turkey dinner with minimal family
squabbles, and visit my West Coast pals.
I can fly to San Diego, rent a car using my free tickets. Drive to LA then
San Francisco, and return to New York from San Francisco.
In San Diego, I can see my college pal John who I took more LSD with than any
twelve Deadheads. He now works for Fox News. Bob Beyerle, who used to do Vinyl
Communications records, might set up a show or two.
In L.A., I can visit Leslie, my former next door neighbor in New York. Plus,
I can visit the home of MONSTER. The energy drink that makes RED BULL, seem like
RED LITTLE LAMB. If you don't know MONSTER, you're probably stuck on a baby
drug... like methadrine. Wadda wimp!
MONSTER brews its magic right outside LA. I can do a day reading (Jennifer
Blowdryer gave me the name of "an underground spoken- word promoter"), then hit
the MONSTER factory and try to convince them to sponsor my national book tour.
After that, on to San Francisco, where my pal Jim will set up a book release
party in an old theater on Mission Street.
The trip should cost about $100 for two weeks-- less than I'd spend in New
York. If I can set up a few readings: San Diego, Los Angeles, and San
Francisco... with only 5 books sold at each reading, I'll make a profit. Sounds
like the right thing.
You got the examples. Now let's look at how far doing the right thing... in
either sense... will get you.
I call Delta. No problem. Fly to San Diego. Return from San Francisco. $20
charge for tax and security fees. Not bad. I've paid more for someone to
manipulate my anal cavity.
Then I call Hertz. That's when things begin to go wrong.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Board..." says the Alabama-twinged voice on the other end of
the line. I know there's going to be trouble when someone calls me Mr. Board.
"Those coupons do not allow returns except to the place of rental."
"Can I pay a drop-off fee or something?" I ask.
"I'm afraid not," says the Southern Belle on the other end of the line. "If
you want the car I can give it to you for $310 for the week."
"Shit," I say politely. Then hang up.
Damn. Ok. Change of plans. I'll call Greyhound and find out if I can take a
bus from San Diego to San Francisco with a stop-over in L.A.
"Sure," says the even more southern voice on the phone, "if you buy the
ticket now, you can use it any time within 365 days. If the bus stops in L.A.
you can just get back on and go to San Francisco."
[Aside: What is it with the south and service calls? Is Mississippi the new
Delhi? Is corporate America tired of people complaining about incomprehensible
Indians? Has globalism come full circle? Back to the Bible belt?]
The ticket costs $49. The Greyhound lady asks me for my schedule. Since I
have a year to use the ticket, I make one up, planning to change it later. I
give Mary Sue Beth my credit card number, hope for another few book sales, pack
a hundred pounds of books and go to the airport to take the plane to San Diego.
I know the suitcase is heavy and, as I remember, there is a baggage limit. Is
it 70 pounds? So how bad can it be? Ten cents a pound? Twenty cents?
"I'm sorry, Mr. Board," says the airline clerk, a meek little man who reminds
me of Mr. Bean. "There's a 50 pound weight limit on the bags. Your bag weighs 97
"I understand," I tell him. "What's the extra charge?"
"A hundred dollars," he says.
"Are you all right, Mr. Board?" he says. "Do you want to pay for the
"What can I do?" I ask him. "Do I have any alternative?"
He shrugs. "I can give you a receipt."
I hand over my credit card. There goes the free trip. Pop! Gone in a
Holding back the tears, I sign the charge slip. Mr. Bean lugs the bag to the
conveyer belt. I head for security, hoping someone attractive will want to
explore my inner cavities. No one does.
My pal Brian meets me at the airport in San Diego. We're gonna meet John and
then go out for some Mexican food. You CANNOT get good Mexican food in New York.
(I stick to Mexican food the entire trip. A flatulent cloud, like a silent
friend, follows me continually.)
The first reading is in the rented-out livingroom of
Jim Bell, a local political activist and Green Party candidate. When I go in to check out the space, there's Jim, tall, with a grey beard. He sits in an office typing away at his computer.
Around him, covering every available section of wall space, are posters for
vegetarianism, sustainable development, save the children, and the quote at the
beginning of this column.
Is this guy gonna actually BE at my reading? What's he gonna think about my
politics? For the googoleth time, I thank G-d that she didn't give guns to
At the reading I follow a cellist, and Matt. Matt is scheduled to talk about
his life in Peru. Because of a technical glitch in his slideshow, he plays 5
minutes of a telephone answering machine test message run through a sound
The audience? A couple of earnest-looking college girls sitting in the back
with their arms folded. An attractive, though preppie-looking guy, in a light
suit with a dark shirt. He later tells me his name, something like Reginald
Trumpet the Third.
Then there's his even more attractive girlfriend, who sits off to the side
with both her arms and legs folded, pressed tightly together, especially while
I'm speaking. Then, there's Brian. Jim Bell is not there. Neither is anyone
I'm the only performer who says a word. I say a lot of 'em. Talking about
piss-drinking in Mongolia, and sleeping in my own vomit.
After I finish, Matt and Brian applaud loudly. The preppie guy and his
girlfriend applaud politely. The girls in the back have left. I sell two books--
The next show is in downtown San Diego. It's a nice little space on top of
Gelato Vera Cafe. Kind of like an enclosed balcony, there are seats for about 20
people. I set up a little display. My $100 suitcase has books, CDs, cassettes,
anything I've done. Bob has given me the rest of the ARTLESS Beer Is Better
Than Girls Are 7-inches. I'm selling them for $5. Set up website for deal
This place as a few more people. At least a dozen are here for the start of
Matt's performance. This time the computer slides worked. Matt is ready to talk.
I expect he'll talk about his work with a film crew in Peru. Politics. I
don't know. A travel log. That's a perfect set-up for me to start the gross-out.
Hah! Is this crowd gonna be shocked when they hear the Mongolian piss stuff!
Matt is speaking.
So, I lie down on the table. The shaman takes the live guinea pig and rubs it
all over my body. It's not a gentle rub. She squeezes it against my head, my
neck. Down under my shirt. She unzips my pants and presses that squashed bit of
live fur between my legs. Up and down. Then down my legs, scraping it against my
feet. My toenails scratch rivulets of blood in its little hide.
Then she holds up the half dead animal and tears it open. Just rips right
into the stomach, pulling out heart, lungs, intestines. She runs the organs
through her fingers, poking here or there.
"See," she tells me, "look at this. This means your heart is strong. Look at
these lungs. See that blood on the left one. You need to watch. Don't smoke too
Piece by bloody piece she takes apart the animal. It's impossible to tell
when it was alive and when it died. It's a mess.
Then it's my turn to speak. Yeah right.
Despite being upstaged by a guinea pig and thanks to a newfound ability to
take credit cards, I sell about a half dozen books and a few CDs.
After the show, we go out eating and drinking at a local pub. I need San
Diego for fish and chips? Aw, that's a minor complaint. It was a fun crew with a
fuck of a lot of Guiness.
"Hey Mykel," suggests Brian. "Fuck that Greyhound stuff. I'll give you a ride
to L.A. tomorrow."
"Great!" I tell him. "Maybe I can get a refund on that part of the ticket.
Let's check at the station first."
Early the next day, I'm at the Greyhound station.
"Solly, Mr. Board," says the clerk. She's a short Oriental, with a severe
Chinese accent. "Yaw ticket dis morning. You cannot use aftah."
"But I was told I had a year to use it," I explain. "365 days."
"That's a legula ticket," she says. "You have 7 day advance ticket."
"I bought that ticket because I was told I could use it for a year," I whine.
"Who tol you zat?" she asks.
"Some hillbilly on the phone," I say, increasingly angry.
"I don't know hirbirry," she says. "You change yaw ticket. You must pay ten
"Can I pay in LA?" I ask her.
"You pay here. Use yaw ticket in Ros Angeres. No plobrem."
Ok, ten more dollars. Then to LA for my show. That's Sunday. Monday I'll use
a free day coupon to rent a car. I can return the car to the same place. In the
meantime, I'll visit the folks at MONSTER and convince them to sponsor me.
Tuesday night, I'll take the bus to San Francisco. It's an 11 hour ride, so
I'll be there Wednesday, in time to help Cousin Shirley prepare the turkey.
Having learned the right thing from my first misadventure, I call Greyhound
to check about baggage weight. They too have a fifty pound limit, but it's per
bag. You can take two bags. I spend $30 on another bag and repack.
Brian drives me to L.A. We stop for Mexican on the way. Because it's the
right thing I buy him a tank of gas. What the hell. If I sell 3 books in LA,
it'll pay for that.
Brian lets me off at Leslie's door, then leaves. From Leslie's house I call
Keith, the promoter for the LA reading. It's gonna be at a prophetically named
bar, The Little Joy Cafe.
"It's tough to find," says Keith. "It's in the Chinese section of a Mexican
neighborhood. There's a big yellow Chinese sign outside and it looks like a
Chinese restaurant. We want to keep it underground."
Leslie finds the address, but it's tough to find the bar. The entrance is in
a little alcove that looks like part of a Chinese supermarket.
Inside, we see a tiny run-down place with a pool table and a set of barstools
with un-matched tears in the vinyl.
We walk in. A couple thirty-somethings play pool. Behind the bar a long
haired, pot-bellied bar-tender who, in another life, was a computer nerd,
Trekkie, or zine-editor, slowly sips something white and bubbly from a chipped
glass. Standing in the middle of the concrete floor as if waiting, is a tall
grey-haired man wearing a dirty cloth jacket. His arm is in a sling.
I enter, lugging a bag with half a dozen books in it. In my other hand is a
MONSTER. I drop the bag in the corner.
"You look like you're a reader," says the grey-haired guy. "My name is Jake."
"Hi Jake," I say, reaching out my right hand. "My name's Mykel and you're
Jake wiggles the fingers on the hand in the sling. I take that as a sign he
wants me to shake that hand. I do. Then he leaves.
I sit at the bar with Leslie. Poolballs clank in counterpoint to Iggy Pop on
Now I wanna be your dog. KLAK! Now I wanna be your dog. KLAK! KLAK!
Now I wanna be your dog. Rrrssshhh. Thud. Thud. KLAK! Well all right!
Thud. Thud. SHIT!
In walks a late-twenty something, slightly hung-over looking. He sits down at
the bar next to me.
"You Mykel?" he says, peering deeply into the bottles behind the bar.
"Yep," I say. "Doesn't look like much of a turn-out. Did you put up the
posters I sent you?"
Keith shakes his head.
"I want to keep this underground," he says. "If we do publicity... If I tell
anyone... you know... it loses its purity. Before you know it, we'll have just
anybody here. Reading from notebooks or something. If we don't tell anybody,
then it can be really underground. If people know about it, it's... you know...
like everything else."
"But no one's here," I complain.
"Yeah," he says, "isn't that cool?"
"I need to sell some books." I tell him. "Besides, I don't think empty
barstools were the audience I was looking for."
"I'll listen to you read," he says. "I'll buy a book."
I get up to read. Leslie and Keith applaud. I shuffle over to the table with
the books on it and pick one up. I open it to the bookmarked page.
"You don't mind if we have another game," comes a voice from the pool table.
"Now, I want to write about kids and piss," I read.
"In Mongolia, piss is a home remedy, like Tylenol in America."
KLANK, KLANK, Shhhrrrr Bunk. YES!
And on it goes for the next fifteen minutes. When I finish, the bartender and
Leslie applaud. Keith is nowhere to be seen. Leslie drives me back to his place.
The next morning, I go to Hertz to pick up the car to drive to the MONSTER
factory. I'm early, but the car dealer says, that's alright. Now they know I'll
be there and they can order the car with the satellite system I need to help me
find anything in California. My reservation is for 1:00. It's now 11. In the
meantime, I'll go to Greyhound to pick up my ticket, then return for the car.
Another person of Asian decent is at the Greyhound counter.
"I'd like to change this ticket for one leaving on Tuesday night," I tell
him. "I already paid the $10 change fee."
"You no can leave Wednesday," he says. "This special fare ticket. Seven day.
Wednesday holiday. You ticket no good holiday. Look. Look."
He shows me a little sign that says SPECIAL FARE TICKETS NOT GOOD FOR HOLIDAY
"I never saw that sign," I tell him.
"It come today," he says. "Juss today."
I slowly inhale. Count to ten. Exhale. I can feel the blood pulsing at my
temples, ready to burst forth in a bleeding hemorrhage that will bring a red
tide to the entire terminal. I count again.
"Okay," I say, "when can I leave?"
"You can leave day afta Thank Give," he says. "No lestliction."
"But I have to be in San Francisco for Thanksgiving. That's why I'm in
"You reave today. Okay? Erevan tah-dee tonight. Okay? You be in San Francisco
There goes my MONSTER sponsorship. There goes... fuck it. I'm outta there.
Back to Leslie's, back to the Greyhound. Off to SF where my brave cousin picks
me up at 7AM.
I'm just about out of column space, so I'll speed up. San Francisco is the
best of the trip. Jim set up a good show at THE DARKROOM. John Trubee and
Jennifer Blowdryer also read.
Before I fly back to New York, I call Delta Airlines on a hunch.
"This is Mykel Board calling," I tell the reservations clerk, somewhere in
Delhi. "I'm calling to find out about your weight limits. I know there's a 50
pound limit. Could you tell me if that's the total? Or is it per bag?"
"You are allowed two bags," she says. "Fifty pounds each."
"Why wasn't I told this when I checked in?" I ask. "I had to pay $100 when I
could have just bought another bag."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Board," says the operator. "Did you ask?"
"How could I ask?" I answer, feeling my blood pressure rising again. "There's
no way to ask if you don't know the question. You can't ask EVERYTHING. Should I
ask if there's a penalty for wearing blue pants instead of black?"
"And what color pants will you be wearing, Mr. Board," she says.
I hang up.
So for this trip, the right thing was to make a bundle, promote my book and
find a sponsor. Yeah right.
And my former friend who I sent the book to? I hear he threw it away
immediately. He was pissed that I didn't sign it... make it special for him.
Listen buckaroos, forget about this right thing stuff. It'll only get
you in trouble and cost you a shitload of money. Be WRONG. It's easier... and
ENDNOTES: [Visitors to my website: mykelboard.com or subscribers (email to:
firstname.lastname@example.org) will receive hot links to some of the topics here.
Visitors to my blog (you can get it through the website) can comment on the
column... or anything else.]
-->Feeling Lousy? Pick on a Wimp! Dept: According to the
Achives of Disease in Childhood: Children who bully are mentally and physically healthier than
those they persecute.
Scientists studied more than 1,600 primary school children, aged between six
They found children described as "pure bullies" - those who bullied, but were
not themselves victimized - were the least likely to suffer either physical or
psychosomatic illness. On the other hand, bullied kids, had more physical and
psychological problems than other children.
Just further proof that it pays to do the WRONG thing.
--> And PETA Says We Don't Need Animal Research Dept: According to
This Week Magazine, Harvard University Medical School researchers removed
from rabbits the spongy penis tissue that swells during an erection. Then they
used cells from this tissue to grow replacements. Because the new penis cells
originated from the rabbits' own cells, their immune systems did not reject the
replacement. Once the rabbits recovered from surgery they could "copulate,
penetrate, and produce sperm." Their erections, however, were only half as firm
"It's analogous to the penis of a 60-year-old man versus that of a 30-year
old," explained one scientist.
His team is now trying to grow a complete penis.
-->Up Against The Wall Bubbela dept: Artists in New York, Tel Aviv
and Ramallah have coordinated their efforts against the Israeli constructed wall
between Israel and Palestine. It's amazing how people who were victims of
ghetto walls now build walls to ghettoize others.
Nah, it's not amazing for two reasons.
1. The worst violence is always committed by people who have had violence used against them.
2. They probably read about how bullies are so healthy.
--> Stop Welfare Abuse dept: Airbus, the European airline maker is
suing Boeing because of its huge subsidies-- typical for government Corporate
Airbus bases its case on the technologies used in the Boeing 777 and 787.
Those were developed by the US government and then released without charge to
Boeing. In addition, the Japanese government has provided "launch aid"
(government subsidies) for Boeing's Japanese subcontractors.
Oh yeah, Boeing is also suing Airbus. They say that European countries have
given low-cost loans to the plane-maker. I say Airbus should complain. They're
only getting a loan. Boeing gets the whole kit and caboodle-- interest free!
-->Let's Teach Them Folks The Real Meaning of America dept: A Spanish
language reality show called Gana La Verde (Earn The Green) provides the clearest view yet of melding American values.
The TV show features worm eating, jumping from a moving train and other
fear-factor type contests. But there's a difference.
The "Green" referee to in the title is not cash, but A GREEN CARD. That is,
legal permission to work in the US. Since the show is not actually run by the US
government (it should be!), the producers cannot guarantee a Green Card.
Instead, they provide lawyers, who do their best to help winners find nice LEGAL
$5.50 an hour jobs making tacos in Laredo.
-->I Only Followed (written) Orders Redux Dept: Both Bob and Dick had
comments about my last column where I wrote about falling into the trap of
obeying an order just because it's written.
Dick said it was lucky I didn't pass a sign that said VOID WHERE PROHIBITED,
or someone would have arrested me for public urination.
Bob said it's lucky people don't write the oft heard (by me) command GO FUCK
YOURSELF, or I'd still be stuck somewhere trying.
If YOU'D like to comment on a column, try it at the BLOG version, or email me
As for George W, with his low poll ratings, and universal scorn, it's about time to come to the defense of poor bastard. He may be a Christian. He may be amoron, but I'd sure like to be his friend. He sticks by his friends.
If Karl Rove, Scooter Libby or Dick Cheney were Bill Clinton's friends, they'd be at the bottom of a river by now.
--> Oh yeah don't forget dept: I have TWO books out now. If you're in the New York Area, you can check 'em both out through the BOOKS link on my webpage: www.mykelboard.com. Thanks.