Saturday, April 29, 2006
An Irregular Column
by Mykel Board
As individuals, we Jews are like everybody else. We may be less prone to drunkenness, we may be more prominent in certain professions, and we may have produced more Nobel Prize winners than any other people; but we don’t boast about these things.
-- Rabbi John D. Ruyner, Liberal Jewish Synagogue, London
I probe my thumb deeply into my right nostril. Forward, toward the tip. The side of the nail scrapes a crusty mass. No room. I switch fingers. The pinky. This is what it’s made for. I wiggle it inside until I manage to catch the top of that crusty mass. I pull. A sharp pain. I wince, withdraw, and try again. Tug. Tug. Uh, aaaah, got it. Loosened and free. Needing only to be withdrawn. Damn, I lost it again. Somewhere high. I don’t want it to escape into a sinus or be drawn into a lung. I hold the top of my nose on either side and blow. Hard. Fast. There it comes. Reaching back in with the thumb, I snag it. Drag it down until I can pinch the thing between my thumb and index finger and take it out completely.
I hold it up to the light to examine it. Green, with flecks of blood red. It’s about the size of a small pea. I put my pinkie back into my nose and withdraw it. The fingertip is crimson with fresh blood.
Shift: I’ve just returned from a 10 day tour of the Northwest. Book readings, heavy drinking. I wrote about it last month, except for the part about the strip club in Portland where this girl had the most amazing breast control I’ve ever seen.. Dancing to the music, she pretends she’s tied strings to her nipples.
Using her fingers to pull up and down on the fake strings, her breasts jerk up and down exactly as if tied to real strings. She bounces her breasts, hands-free, one at a time, up-down. Like you might raise your fingers to type on the keyboard. Jump. Jump. Jump. Jump.
In the back of the club lies a secret passageway that leads to the burrito place around the corner. After the puppet-breast set, my hosts and I go through the passageway and order burritos. Then, we return to the strip club. Faster than a beanfart, the burritos are delivered to our seats—right in front of the stage.
My hosts tell me that, in addition to the highest bar count per capita, Portland has the most per capita strip clubs. It’s weird that people know these things, but I guess it’s part of their identity as Portlanders. I could live there.
Shift again. The deadline approaches for another column. My trip stories have run out. (Except for a fire hydrant running smack into the back of my rental car, but what’s to tell?) I look for inspiration for number 278.
I find it in number 10, where I first started writing for this zine. I find it in all those early columns. I find it in the changes since that time. In what I did, but never said.
I look back and see that 20 years ago, other columnists didn’t write about their own lives and adventures. They wrote about lofty ideas and punk purity. I wrote about anal folds. Now, others do. Other columnists didn’t write in the present tense. They wrote about things as if they were historians. Like they were telling about something that happened long ago and far away. They couldn’t grab the immediacy, the what-happens-next of the present. They were detached and impersonal. I wrote in the present. Now others do.
Other columnists didn’t write about sex, except in passing, as jokes, or to talk about how awful and exploitative it is. I wrote about sex. Others do now. Other columnists didn’t mention their own faults, their pimples, their falling-out hair, their dribbles-not-spurts. I wrote about that. A few others do now. No one else had Endnotes in 1982. Check it out now.
Am I saying I’m responsible for all this? Am I saying if it weren’t for me, columns would be nothing more than thoughts on how bad GW Bush is and how good CRASS was? YES! That’s exactly what I’m saying, but I don’t want to boast.
Shift back to my booger. Like that booger pulled from my nose, I love removing things from my body. I scrape off those calloused brown skin marks that old Jews get. I pop the whitehead on my cheek, letting the white pus ooze down my fingernail. I rub the loose flesh from between my toes. I dig in my anal folds for the recalcitrant dingleberry that I just know is there.
A young white-trash couple visit New York. They wheel their gender-ambiguous toddler in one of those new 3-wheeled strollers. The kid softly gums the ear of little teddy bear. The parents stop to read the menu in the window of The Noho Star. The toddler takes the bear from its mouth and throws it on the ground.
I reach down and pick it up.
“Your baby dropped this,” I say to Mom, as I hand the toy to the kid.
“Thanks,” says Mom.
The kid shakes the bear a couple of times and throws it on the ground again.
Mom takes it this time and hugs it to her chest. The child screams.
“I won’t give it to you if you’re going to throw it away,” she says.
The kid doesn’t get it. He (or she?) screams louder, reaching up, straining against the stroller seatbelt, in a vain effort to reach the bear.
“Don’t give it to him,” says Dad. “He’ll just throw it on the ground again. It’s probably filthy already. Remember, this is New York.”
Mom wants to give in. She does, handing the bear back to the child. The child stops crying… and immediately throws the bear on the ground again.
This time Dad grabs it.
“That does it,” he says. “Let’s get out of here. This place is too expensive anyway.”
“Don’t you know it’s healthy for kids to do that?” I don’t yell after them as they waddle off into the distance. “Don’t you know that’s how kids learn the limits of self? That child is only discovering me and not me. It’s what kids do. It’s what everyone should do.”
Centuries before me, Rene Descartes did his own bear throwing/booger pulling. He too tried to scrape everything away until he came to a center that was really him. He called it THINKING. But GW Bush, a six pack of Sparks, and most of the readers of this zine have shown me that it’s easy to exist and NOT think. So the core must be something else.
I mean, what about you? Are you a punk? A lefty? An anarchist? How long will you stay one? What’s your core?
People usually start as lefty idealists. As they age, they grow increasingly conservative. Punkbands bands start their musical lives as idealistic social activists and end their careers wiggling on stage in Las Vegas. Charges of hypocrite and sell-out follow every move. The band either spends time and energy lamely trying to defend itself, or it simply cuts itself off from its old world and embraces the change.
In Anti-Flag’s UNDERGROUND album they say, Just take a look around the world and you're going to find that nearly all mass media are owned and controlled by a handful of conservative capitalists. We must devise and implement alternative methods of distributing our ideas -- People worldwide working together to make a stand, to tell the truth!
Anti-Flag jumps to RCA-Sony, the notorious major label that infects computers with spyware—just by playing their CDs. You’d expect a chorus of “sell-outs” and rants against hypocrisy. Yet, when I google Anti-flag and RCA and Sell-out, most of the 318 sites that come up defend the band. They say their heroes are NOT sell-outs. They explain how they are getting the word out—avoiding preaching to the choir. Gaining new converts to a righteous cause.
I dunno. It’s my guess that Anti-flag are throwing down their teddy bears. They’ve decided that smallness is not them. They’ve decided the singing to the sung-to is not them. They’ve decided that touring in a rent-a-van is not them. With each this is not me, they have to decide what is them. Or what they really want.
They want to live from their music. They want to get laid more. They want more money. They want to spread their message to more people. I don’t know. Maybe, they don’t know. They’re learning. Picking up the major label, and maybe throwing it down again, like Bad Religion did.
I’m not writing this to criticize Anti-flag. Any band that uses the words devise and implement does not need me to criticize it. Besides, it’s YOU I want to talk about. Not them. YOU haven’t examined life without the teddy bear yet. In fact, you have such a furious grip on it; you can’t tell where YOU end and the bear begins.
Right now, you’ve gripped your own ideas so tightly that you’ve made people believe they ARE you. When you finally throw them down, your friends are gonna point their fingers. You may not jump to SONY, but you’ll have more money—and a family. You’ll change your politics. They’ll call you a sell-out. You’ll throw your friends down too. You’ll say you’ve outgrown them.
Where will it come from, this change? Usually, the move from left to right comes with money and family. If you have money, you want more. You want to keep it, spend it on yourself, not give it to people who don’t have money. You want to protect your money and what it’s bought. You want to build prisons, keep away foreigners, get the local beggar off the street. You lose track of where you end and where your money begins. You begin to think that because you WORKED you deserve the money. Why should you give it to someone who just sits on the street and asks? Money IS you. And you don’t want to part with it.
And family? The pull of family is so strong Republicans win elections by appealing to it. Disney sells stock with it. When you have a family—especially kids, the family is first. Everything else be damned.
I love my family. Sometimes they piss me off. Sometimes they annoy me, but I still am happy when I see them and am sad when one kicks the bucket. But they are not me. When I travel, I leave them behind. When I’m home, they’re a burden more than an asset. People say blood is thicker than water. Maybe. But is blood thicker than ink? I dunno.
So what am I? What’s the closest things to me? As I type this, I think about what’s close. My boots, my jeans, my Stackers t-shirt?
It’s clear I’m not my clothes. I can take them off—and do—more often than most people would want. But my clothes are a choice. They come from somewhere inside. They may not me, but they are OF me. I use Dick Tracy, Lemmy Caution, Mike Hammer, like other punk columnists use me. I choose what I wear because it means something I like. It is NOT be me, but it lets people know about me.
Big Mike Loney tells this anecdote:
Mike’s working the door at ABC NO Rio. Some tall guy with a spiked jacket comes in. Mohawk to here, leather pants, torn DISCHARGE t-shirt, old Doc Martins… the works. Following him is a rather ordinary-looking guy, California style, loose long shorts, sneakers, a backwards baseball hat. The mohawk guy looks the other guy up and down, then points toward his feet.
“Tube socks!” he says, laughing. “Get this guy. He’s wearing tube socks!”
It is funny to imagine the big mohawk lug putting down someone for something so minor. It’s funnier to think he even noticed the tube socks. I laughed too. But now that I think about it, I’m not so sure.
The big punk decided what he was going to wear. He spent hours on his hair. Every aspect of his appearance was calculated. He had a self image, THIS IS ME, and dressed accordingly.
The other guy didn’t think twice about his clothes. Tube socks are cheap, so he’ll wear ‘em. I don’t think the big guy was right to laugh, but he was more conscious of himself than the littler guy.
Like Mr. Mohawk, my clothes are a reflection of what I am. They are the weirdo, the detective, the outsider, the guy who creeps around with a magnifying glass, exposing the wicked, throwing light on the hidden darkness. I am not ONLY my clothes, but they are part of me.
So what’s the point?
It’s that you’re stuck with somethings, you copy others, and still others you create. The real you is what you choose from among those things. What you allow people to see. What you consider and what you don’t. I choose pretty carefully. I choose paths others don’t take. I make paths for others to walk on. You’re free to walk on them, take another paths or make your own. I’m pretty happy with what I’ve made, but I don’t want to boast.
ENDNOTES: [email subscribers (firstname.lastname@example.org) or website viewers (www.mykelboard.com) will get a few extra endnotes]
--> Real vinyl dept: In Vancouver, I discovered a cool vinyl-only record store creatively called VINYL. The owner, David Jones (no, he was NOT in The Monkees) bought at least one of everything I had. He bought two of some. He’s interested in building a punk section in his store.
Contact him at email@example.com or 1-604-488-1234
--> Credit where it’s due dept: When I talked about how I changed the face of zine columns, I did not include two points:
One is that other columnists did not simply imitate me. They used my ideas, or were influenced by those ideas and took them in a new way. Or maybe it’s that great minds flow coincidently in the same gutter. Some column writers—even in this zine—have developed a completely unique style, using the tools I brought to column makers. I’m not accusing anyone of plagiarism. The guy who built a bookcase did not plagiarize the guy who invented the hammer.
Two is that not everyone followed my lead. The Rev. Norb (C.R.I.P.) is NOT often imitated, or copied. But he IS the most original voice in punkdom. I don’t know what his influences are, but he is the king of creativity.
--> There’s racism and then there’s racism dept: In April, The Nebraska Legislature voted to divide the Omaha school system into three districts – one black, one white and one Hispanic.
Supporters, including the legislature's only black senator, said the plan would give minorities control over their own school board. It would ensure that their children are not "shortchanged" in favor of white youngsters. Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, signed the measure into law.
Sen. Pat Bourne of Omaha condemned the bill. "We will go down in history as one of the first states in 20 years to set race relations back," the Democrat said.
"History will not, and should not, judge us kindly," said another senator.
"There is no intent to create segregation," said the black senator. He argued that the district is already segregated, because it no longer buses students and instead requires them to attend their neighborhood school. He said the black students he represents would receive a better education if they had more control over their district.
I say, the whole thing is fucked up and shows that “local control” even at the state level is THE PROBLEM, not THE SOLUTION. How ‘bout if America becomes like every other country (G-d forbid!) and has one set of rules for ALL schools? Then we wouldn’t have to worry about teaching creationism in Kansas or Ebonics-as-a-second-language in San Francisco. Local control is local out of control.
-->Predicting the unpredictable dept: The US Transportation Security Administration said they were going to lighten up a bit. They’ll allow short scissors, and tools in your airplane carry ons. A return to senses? Not so fast!
The TSA also announces, “more frequent searches of body and property at various checkpoints in the airport.” This they said will make the skies safer by “incorporating unpredictability” into the airline process.
They want unpredictability? They should hire some terrorists. That’ll give ‘em unpredictability. Jesus fuckin’ Christ. If there’s anything airline passengers DON’T want, it’s unpredictability.
-->Tears of joy and sadness dept: It was a great show. A CD release party. 21 of New York’s best punkrock bands all on NEW YORK SHITTY PUNK ROCK 2005, put out by Attention Punk Records. I got there late, but did manage to see two of my faves: WORLD WAR IX and THE STACKERS, plus a new favorite: BLACKOUT SHOPPERS.
It was a great night, but why all the tears? Especially on those petite and attractive Orientals? It was THE STACKERS last show in the US. Their drummer was deported when caught by a roaming border patrol in Texas. (Expired visa) I guess they were looking for Mexicans. Now, they all decided to return to the rising sun and play there for a while. I’ll miss ‘em.
Oh yeah, I just had a thought. Motto for Calgary, where Jesus died and was… er… resurrected. Land of the Rising Son.
--> Still recruiting dept. The bisexual email list has been too quiet lately. So, it’s time to RECRUIT. If you want to participate in our discussions, send an email to: LISTSERV@LISTSERV.BROWN.EDU. The entire message should read SUBSCRIBE BISEXU-L That should do it. You never know who you’ll meet. And, yes I have, but not often enough.
-->As if you needed another reason dept: Remember when everyone had AOL? Supposedly the company is still the largest Internet provider, but how many people do YOU know with AOL addresses?
Well, for those few, there’s another reason to quit. This edited from the LA Times:
A group of 600 organizations that includes the AFL-CIO and the Gun Owners of America has been circulating an online petition protesting AOL's plans to begin charging extra to route e-mail around its spam filters.
On Thursday, though, the world's biggest Internet service provider blocked e-mails containing links to the petition against the "CertifiedEmail" plan at DearAOL.com.
Yep, AOL reading and censoring your email again. Is it a kind of parental control?
-->Speaking of censorship dept: The entire Internet is under attack by a new law pushed by the big Telcoms. They want to charge a fee to content providers to insure fast and efficient download of their materials. This will destroy the basic equality of the internet and put more power in the hands of a few corporations. (How long before Anti-flag sings against it?)
You can sign a petition against the thing at: www.SavetheInternet.com
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Here is a diary fragment that may well become a column. I figured I’d put it up to make a more bloggie blog.
I start writing this on the Fung Wa bus between Chinatown NY and Chinatown Boston. There is an empty seat in front of me and one behind me, but a young woman – out of breathe—has decided that the seat next to me is worth taking—at least she isn’t fat. The guy ahead of me has the system figured out. Sit in the aisle seat as people enter. They’ll be unwilling to climb over you. Then, if someone insists on sitting next to you, you shift to the window seat.
Ahead of me, and a few seats behind me, cell phones go off like carbombs in Iraq. Makes me wonder about the idea of space. Sara often complains that I don’t respect personal space. I reach over people, climb over seated folks legs, bump and touch. Yet she’s constantly on the cellphone, no matter who’s around or being left out of the one-sided conversation. Isn’t that personal space? Aural space? Psychic space?
Why do people download ringtones? It’s like riding with the car stereo turned up and the windows down. It’s a proclamation. LISTEN TO THIS! you tell the world, while the world is only annoyed.
My cellphone vibrates—and not often. I like it like that.
My thoughts have been taken over again by Julien, a former friend who got angry at me for writing a column where I called him too L.A. Even though I sent him email to apologize, wrote a whole column to apologize, and sent him my favorite truck-driving record, he refused to accept any of that. THAT pissed me off.
Over time the piss offedness reduced—but I was never happy. When my book about Mongolia came out, I sent copies to everyone who helped me with it. Julien had made some useful suggestions so I sent him a copy. I enclosed the same any-help-you-could-give-me-promoting-the-book-would-be-appreciated letter I enclosed with everyone else. I was reluctant to send it, but if it helped patch things up, okay. If not, well it was the right thing to do. He did help me with the book.
So what happens? I hear that he threw the book away because I didn’t write a personal letter thanking him for his help. I don’t know. This made me so furious that I recently turned down an invitation to a friend’s wedding because he’ll be there. I refused to see a move that I’m in because it was made by a friend of Julien’s. I’m losing it.
It’s weird too, because I hear he doesn’t care—that it’s affecting me more than it’s affecting him. 20 years of friendship and he doesn’t care. Now I’m getting pissed off again.
This trip is for a 20th wedding anniversary party. Michael Gilbreath, who I knew at Beloit and was even my roommate in Chicago for a time, He met his wife in AA—but there will be booze at the party. 36 people, 22 drinkers. That’s a good ratio if you ask me. I’ll be early—what else is new—I arrived at the bus station in time to catch an earlier bus. The rain seems to have let up, but I won’t be so free to get around. Ah well, I can write, if I find a place to plug in.
I wanted to transcribe the conversations (she’s scared of it… cause… you know) that take place on the cellphones, But I can only hear the buzz of the voice, and not the words. I had a plan when the guy behind me was talking. Just put the seat back—in his lap—and then pull it forward when he gets off the phone. This I did… and found out it was the guy TWO seats back who was talking. The poor squished guy behind me was innocent. G-d, sometimes I can be such an asshole.
Several people on this bus are now talking. No one on this bus is talking to anyone else on the bus… whoops there’s one conversation, in Dutch. Lately I’ve been thinking a lo about isolation. I’ve been blaming it on technology, the internet, the cellphone, all these ways that people can interact without actually having another person present. But now I’m wondering a bit. At the last drink club, I saw gangs of college-age girls, and other groups of college-age guys. They were bar-hopping or otherwise on the town. They were talking to each other, gabbing with the bouncer, together. Yeah, they took breaks to come outside and gab some more on their cellphones. No more girls than boys. So maybe I’m wrong… nah, they came out of a bar that cranks the volume so high it’s impossible to talk. They did not come out to talk with each other. They came out to talk on a machine.
The Dadaists refused to talk on the telephone, though they would communicate by mail. Somehow they felt the phone more dehumanizing. I feel it all dehumanizing. I know, here I am typing on a bus, not talking to the person next to me, but I too am dehumanized. Besides, she’s sleeping.
Since the beginning of this year I’ve been in Boston, Providence, Baltimore, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Portland, Seattle, Bellingham and Vancouver. In all of these cities I found a hunger for… grouping? I don’t know what else to call it. But whether it was punks, Jews, writers, readers, Chihuahua owners…
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Column for MRR 277 May
An Irregular Column
by Mykel Board
[Note: I don't know why the formatting in the blog is so fucked up. It looks okay in the HTML program. Suggestions would be appreciated.]
You always have to watch out when people start talking about purity,
ethnic or otherwise. It usually means someone is going to get hurt. –Elena
The MRR editrix suggested we write about DIY, the invasion of big
corporations into punk, the difficulty of remaining true to the vision, and of
keeping punk pure. Interesting topic, though not unusual in these pages of
There are a few issues here.
1. Does punk mean DIY, small label, independent?
2. Is DIY, small label, independent inherently better than big
corporation? If so, better for whom? For the individual/band/writer/zine? For
the world? For rebellious teenagers living off their parents’ allowance?
3. Is punk a style or a way of life?
The answers depend on your point of view. If A, then B. If you don’t
believe A. Then B is not true.
So let’s look at the questions above. The first is easy. GG Allin was the
punkest human being in history. Or at least in the 20th century.
Would he be any less punk if Eat My Fuck were released on Warner
Brothers? Of course not. If GG Allin continued doing what he was doing. Shitting
where he was shitting. Getting arrested the way he got arrested. Living a life
of just not caring, of having no fear, of being able to piss on the president of
his record label, GG would be just as punk. No matter who put out his records.
If GG were inhibited in some way, if he didn’t do something because he
feared being dropped by the label, or lack of promotion, then he’d be less
punk. It’s not the label that makes the punk. It’s the balls.
Question two is more difficult. I usually prefer independents over corporate
giants. I never go to Starbucks or McDonalds. I don’t buy Nike. A Sony-induced
worm does not infect my hard drive. But I make compromises.
Sometimes I feel forced into the corporate world. I use a Windows
computer because I grew up with it. All my bootlegged software is in
Windows—or MS-DOS. Is Apple better? The system sure is. But is the company? I
don’t know. I only know it’s smaller.
Sometimes, on a personal level, big corporate stuff is just better. I rent
from Hertz because when I call they don’t put me on hold. I can change my
reservations at the last minute. The guys at the rental garage know me, and will
hold my favorite car even if I’m late picking it up. They give me a free
rental for every 6 paid ones. I can get a satellite system that somewhat
makes up for my lack of directional sense. And they never complain when I bring
the car back with a flat tire, or the back seat carpet missing.
Sometimes, a product is good, but the corporation is total shit. Pfizer and
Coca -Cola are horrible companies. Pfizer’s pricing and tight patent control
kills people. Coca -Cola has overthrown leaders to get its product into
countries and cheap raw material out. But Pfizer makes Viagra, for G-d’s sake.
And Coca-Cola makes, well, Coca-Cola.
So waddaya do? You can’t be pure. Even vegans wear polyester (made from
animals—dinosaurs) and cotton (containing the helpless bodies of millions of
ground-up bol weevils). We’ve all got to draw lines—or die.
The question is not how to remain pure, but how to draw our lines.
Question three has as many answers as there are people who call themselves
[Aside: Like in the mid-eighties, when everyone was suddenly New Wave,
these days, there’s a taboo in calling yourself punk. A good taboo if you ask
me. Punk is balls. You’ve got to have balls to break taboos.]
For me, punk is an attitude. It can be music, literature, a drunk on the
street sleeping in his own vomit, a whore on the corner whispering Hey
Mister, you wanna go out?
It is not style. A $300 designer "torn look" dress is not punk. A
$3 thrift shop plaid business suit is. But other than the obvious, there’s no purity.
No arbiter. No this is, or isn’t punk. There’s no manual that lists the
criteria for true punk or not.
It’s as dangerous as hell to keep punk— or anything else, except maybe
air and water— pure. Who’s gonna be your punk cops, policing against
contamination from lesser cultures? It used to be MRR—but Tim’s dead now.
What the Supreme Court said about pornography, I say about punk. I may not
be able to define it. But I sure as fuck know it when I see it. That’s
Part Two (continued from last month)
In the US, 40% of those surveyed say they were shy. In Japan it was 57%.
The lowest percentage was in Israel with 31%. We speculate the reason was that
in Japan, an individual’s performance success is credited externally to
parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, and others, while failure is entirely
blamed on the person.
In Israel, the situation is entirely reversed. Failure is externally
attributed to parents, teachers, coaches, friends, anti-Semitism, while all
performance success is credited to the individual enterprise. Israelis are free
to take risks, since there is nothing to lose by trying and everything to gain.
--Thomas H. Benton
Summary of last month’s adventure:
I’m in Fort Lauderdale on a two-pronged mission: (1)promote my books (2)go
to my pal Ms. S’s wedding. The first two nights I stay with Tom Clearman, a
Catholic Mensa Wobblie. He tells tales of things I’ve never heard of. He also
introduces me to strange people, who though brilliant, have few of what the rest
of society would call social skills.
For the wedding, I wear a tie for the first time in 10 years. With my
overcoat, tie and fedora, I think I look like a Mafia hit man. Entering the
wedding site, Uncle Charlie asks if I’m the rabbi. Instant ego deflation.
Before the ceremony, Ms. S introduces me to Fletch and Greasy. Neither of
them are wearing ties. Both, in fact, are wearing hooded sweatshirts. Ms. S
tells me they’re skaters, friends of her famous skater husband to be. They
speak in a language I don’t understand. Transcribed, this is what Fletch says:
Hey, remember that time we were on the halfpipe in back of PK’s? You
were killing it, doing narly hand plants, landing all the way on the bottom of
the tranny. So this guy wants to show he’s a hotshot. He comes to the top of
the pipe and wants to do an Ali to grind revert. He goes flying completely off
the end. Just slams onto the flat bottom. Pow! Right on his head. Cudda killed
himself. We pissed ourselves laughing so hard. He didn’t die though. Still, it
Though I don’t understand it, I figure the word Ali has something to
do with Islam—or maybe boxing.
Greasy sticks out his hand. "Yo, Mykel Board," he says, "I
didn’t expect to see any other famous people here. It’s great meeting you. I
used to read your column when I was a kid. You still writing for Maximum? Does
it still exist?
"Yes. Yes." I answer.
"How do you know Alan?" he asks. "Are you a skater?"
"Nope," I tell him. "I can’t even stand on one of those
things without falling off. I’m not gonna ride one…. And Alan? I met him
once in New York. Cool guy. But actually I know the bride."
"Know! Know!" he says winking at me. "I get ya’ Know!"
"No," I say. "I don’t know her. But we’re
friends. We went to Europe together. I’ve known her for a long time."
"You went to Europe together and you don’t know her? I don’t
"It’s a long story," I tell him. "You can read it in a
"I can read everything in a column," he says.
"Mykel," comes the voice of Ms. S, "you’ve got to come
upstairs and sign the ketubah."
For the goyim amongst you, a ketubah is a Jewish wedding contract. It’s a
document that needs two witnesses who are in neither the bride’s nor the
groom’s family. It’s a fancy piece of paper with lots of Hebrew on it.
I forgot to bring a yarmulke—I’m not supposed to sign the thing
bareheaded. They let me wear my detective hat.
After the signing, there’s a hubbub. The actual wedding is about to begin.
The ceremony takes place outside, in a space that used to be a gazebo before
the last hurricane blew it away. The real rabbi speaks with a strong Eastern
European accent. A Jewer guy, I never saw. He goes through the mystical mumbo
jumbo. Then, before he does his husband and wife pronouncing, he talks about
each of the couple-to-be.
Ms. S’s story I know—better than he does. Her hubby-to-be, I don’t know
that well, but the rabbi’s heard all about him. He’s famous. A
skate-boarder. He invented a word that’ll be in the dictionary. Some kind of
skateboard jump where the board stays attached to your feet. It’s called the
Ali—a weird name for a jump invented by a Jew. At least I know what it is now.
"… husband and wife. You can break the glass," says the rabbi as
I zone back into the ceremony.
Someone once said that you can sum up all Jewish celebrations with:
They hurt us.
We killed them.
Weddings skip the first two parts: fish, chicken, huge mounds of cheese, tons
of booze. Yowsah!! I’m sitting at the table with the skaters. I still can’t
understand more than three-quarters of what they’re saying.
"So how come he called it Ali?" I ask. "Is it like Mohammad
"No," says Fletch. "It’s O-L-L-I-E, not A-L-I. It was
Alan’s nickname, from where he liked to eat. That’s why it’s called the
Ollie. Dude, you can’t be that dumb."
"Of course not," I lie with a perfectly straight face. "It’s
just this way I have of putting you on. It’s a Jew thing."
After eating enough to shit for a month, and drinking enough to puke as long,
it’s time to go home. The problem is, I don’t know where home is.
I call Tom Clearman.
"Sorry Mykel," he says. "My gal from Boston is here, and well,
you know how it is. Sorry. But you left your toilet kit in my bathroom. I’ll
mail it to you."
"Shit!" I say loudly after hanging up. "I’m screwed now. A
Miami motel will cost a fortune. Besides, I’m gonna be sick."
A voice comes from behind me. "You can stay with us."
It’s Alan, the groom. He’s offering me a place to stay.
"Yo," I say. "It’s your goddamn wedding night. I’m gonna
stay with you on your goddamn wedding night?"
"What the fuck?" he says. "You’re mishpocha (family).
You’re one of us."
I stay on their couch.
Flash ahead several weeks: I’m in Portland Oregon, reading at a cool
bookstore called Reading Frenzy. It’s Northwest Book Promotion time.
I’ll be in Portland, Seattle, Bellingham, and Vancouver, BC.
[Aside: I can’t figure out why Vancouver is considered the Northwest. Look
at a map of Canada! You can’t get more Southwest than that. It’s the
Arizona of the North—but even the Canuks call it the Northwest.]
I’m surprised by the number of blonds up here. In New York, a blond is as
rare as a protestant. But here, you see ‘em all the time. Maybe half the
people. Fat ones, thin ones, cute ones, ugly ones. They just walk around on the
street, like they’re ordinary folks.
After my reading, this guy comes up to me and introduces himself. He’s got
short dark curly hair, thinning in front.
"Hi," he says, "my name’s Seth. We met about 15 years ago. I
used to write for this fanzine called Factsheet 5."
I don’t really remember the guy, though I do remember the zine. One of the
"I’m not sure I remember you," I say.
"Oh sure you do," he says, "I’m the Jew."
Flash ahead 2 days: In Vancouver, after the reading, a slightly shlubby guy
with curly black hair comes up to me.
"Hey Mykel," he says, rolling up his sleeve. "Check this
He’s got a blue Star of David tattooed on his upper arm.
"Cool," I say, "you’re one of us."
"Yeah," he says, "I thought you’d be offended. I mean Jews
aren’t supposed to have tattoos."
"Well," I tell him, "the rabbis recently ruled that it’s
okay to have a design tattoo. Something like a Star of David, or one of those
Celtic bands. The rule is you can’t have a graven image, like a person
or an animal."
His face drops like a Matzo-packed turd.
"What about pets?" he asks. "I mean like cats. I mean like
cartoons of cats. You can’t have one of those?"
I can see by his one unrolled sleeve that he’s got something to hide.
"No pets," I tell him. "No animals. No people. Or you can’t
be buried in a Jewish cemetery."
"And… there’s… nothing… ???" he stutters.
"Oh, sure," I tell him, "you can have the offending tattooed
limb cut off and buried separately. It’s no big deal. It’s not like you’ll
need it in the afterlife."
I can see his features soften as he begins to believe I’m putting him on.
"Funny, Mykel," he says. And there starts a conversation about
Skrewdriver, Muslims and how Noam Chomsky is a self-hating Jew. And about all
the people who are anti-Israel.
"I’m anti-Israel," I say.
"I thought you were Jewish," he says.
"I’m a Jew," I tell him. "No –ish about it. But that’s a
cultural Jew. I’m not a religious Jew. I’m not a Zionist Jew. I’m just a
plane ole’ ordinary Jew Jew."
"Oh," he answers.
And that brings me to the second theme of this bi-themed column.
What is it about Jewtude that makes me say I’m a Jew, rather than I’m
a Punk or most anything else when asked about my identity?
It’s certainly not the religion. You know Jews have a prayer where men beat
themselves on the chest and say thank G-d I wasn’t born a woman? You
know that according to Jewish law, if you see someone working on Saturday, you
should stone him to death? You know that, as a Jew, if G-d tells you to kill
your kid (Abraham) or murder a complete village of innocents (Canaan), you’ve
got to do it? It’s an awful religion.
It’s certainly not Israel, which is—next to the U.S. and maybe Russia—
the most murderous country in the post WWII world. It’s killed thousands and
tortured thousands of others in a paranoid attempt to protect its theocracy.
Even the State Department of the US—the most pro-Israel country in the
world—says that religious and racial discrimination is rampant in Israel.
Israelis are Jews, so they have some of the great Jew qualities, like not being
shy. But Israel is not a nice country.
So what is it that makes me proud of being a Jew?
It’s the Jews, that’s what. Not all of ‘em of course, but the culture,
and personality traits that make up Jews are what I love about it. The
pushiness. The self-confidence. The boldness. The balls. It’s the Chomskys,
the Lenny Bruces, the Norman Mailers, the Karl Marxes, the Joey Ramones.
It’s Deborah Libstadt a Jewish professor at Emory University who commented
on the recent jailing of a Holocaust denier in Austria. She said, "We Jews,
who have suffered from censorship should not be supporting it. Censorship
renders the censored item into forbidden fruit, making it more appealing, not
less so… The best way to counter Holocaust deniers is to teach the truth to as
many people as possible."
It’s my Arab friend Bassam, who I call right after the World Trade Center
"Bassam!" I ask. "Are you okay? I thought that Arabs might be
targets after this thing and I just wanted to check up on you."
"Mykel," he answers, "thanks for calling. Everything is all
right here. But you should know, it’s only my Jewish friends who called me.
They’re the only ones who care."
It’s how Jews walk into a restaurant and look at food on a stranger’s
table and just ask how—and what— it is. It’s the way we are not shy.
It’s how we talk with our hands and how we refuse to be like everybody else.
It’s how we hug and kiss when we see our friends. Not a toot
toot oui Monsieur
two cheek kiss like the French. Not a Negro style chest-only hug and slap on
the back. Nope. An honest-to-G-d wow!
It’s the way I can talk about books and art and punkrock, and the Jew I’m
talking to knows at least something about books and art and punkrock. It’s the
way Jews bring new words into the language—like mishpocha, bagel or Ollie.
That’s why I love being a Jew. Religion or nationalism has nothing to do with
it. That’s Jewish. For me, there’s no –ish about it.
editorial staff of The New York Press walked out en masse after the
publishers refused to print the Danish cartoons that sparked international
riots. Have the cartoons been printed at all in the US? I guess they’re on
the web, but are they in print? I haven’t seen ‘em. [Last minute note: I
hear a few papers printed them—none here in New York, that’s for sure.]
A weird thing about this, is the universal non-Muslim reviling of the riots.
Strange, how Americans will allow internal spying, Wal-Mart
music censorship, TV V-chips, but when someone else complains—oh
no! The other guys are anti-free speech.
Plus the news has been so distorted. Headlines like, 9 KILLED IN
ANTI-CARTOON RIOTING make it sound like the rioters killed people. It was
the police and NATO troops who killed the rioters. Not the other way around.
And, where were they rioting? In front of a US sponsored torture chamber,
that’s where. The cartoon was only the tip of the Goldberg.
Ah no, but Americans can be self-righteous and revel in our freedom of
speech, while the CIA reads our email.
à Ah the government dept: Under the
THREATENS TO RAID CHERRY ORCHARDS, Life Extension Magazine (March
2006) reports that the Food and Drug of Administration sent warning letters to
29 companies that market cherry products. In these letters, the FDA ordered the
companies to stop publicizing scientific data about the benefits of cherries.
According to the FDA, When cherry companies disseminate this information, the
cherries become unapproved drugs subject to seizure.
Oh yeah, the FDA doesn’t say the information is false. It only says that
making the claim makes the item a drug and subject to penalties.
àAre they gonna raid the breweries?
dept: The Bottom Line Daily Health Report says that an increasing
body of serious research backs up beer's health benefits. One of them is bone protection. According to a medical team at Tufts University in Boston, beer may help prevent bone-thinning osteoporosis.
Other findings show that beer lowers the risk of heart disease and
increases the survival rate after a heart attack. Plus, it improves levels of
"good" cholesterol and preserves mental agility into old age.
Other studies at Harvard show healthier kidneys and stronger antioxidants
in beer drinkers than in non-drinkers. Let’s drink to that!
à Twelve dollars and thirty-five cents
for your thoughts dept: The Economist magazine says that Oslo,
Norway has just passed Tokyo as the world’s most expensive city. Third
is Reykjavik. New York where no-bedroom studios go for $3000 a month, is the
highest placed American city. But it ranks only 27th in the world.
If you live in the 26 higher ranked cities, you owe me a beer.
à Don’t pray for me Argentina dept: I’m
not an atheist, but I hate the religionists more than I hate the atheists.
That’s why it was such a joy that The
NY Times reported
on a $2.4 million study on the power of prayer to heal sick people.
The results: Prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery
of people who were undergoing heart surgery. And patients who knew they were
being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications.
Yeah! It’s not the time to be a Christian
Scientist—that’s for sure.