Friday, June 23, 2006
Mykel's Column for MRR 280
An Irregular Column
by Mykel Board
I sit inside a park in Green Bay Wisconsin. In a field to my right are several guys with red t-shirts, and several others with white. A bat, and a fat white ball… softball! Thud. Second pitch. Fly out. Next batter also flies out… deep to center.
Ahead of me some really little kids play a kind of kickball. The kids wear shorts, and knee socks. They may all be girls, I can’t tell from this distance. If I get closer and stare, someone will call the cops.
Shit presses in my large intestine. It’s travel shit. My innards always act strangely while away from home. Not the runs. Just the need-- four or five times a day-- to evacuate long thin brown tubes, occasionally perfectly straight, but more often fragile, broken, or spiraling.
My computer battery will only last a couple hours in the park. I’ve brought a charger that works through the rental car cigarette lighter. With gas at $3.00 a gallon, I should feel reluctant driving around charging the computer, but I love doing it. Driving aimlessly. Listening to a comic detective novel on CD. Then returning to the park to write. I want to write backwards. Tell my story from the most recent to the beginning. Like remembering a dream.
I ate lunch/dinner in a local bar. Fried perch. The waitress collects from me as soon as she brings the food. No bill at the end. Just put down the food, collect. I wonder if all the customers have to pay when served. Or is it just me? Maybe I don’t have an honest face. I’m on a Midwest booktour. Chicago and Wisconsin. 9 shows 10 days. Punkrock.
I arrive in Green Bay from the Wisconsin Peninsula, aka Door County. I’ve left the house of Marge Grutzmacher who handed me a check for $83 for 5 of each book. She owns a bookstore in Sister Bay. After a year, she might sell all five of the Mongolia book. But there’s a hard-on-in-a-lesbo-bars’ chance of her selling even one of my books of columns, much less the five she bought. This is tourist-town Wisconsin. People come here to hunt, fish, boat. They’ll buy The DaVinci Code, not a book where someone gets her vagina stitched shut with boot laces.
Did she buy my books out of the kindness of her heart? Yes! I’ve known her for 35 years and haven’t seen her for the last 30. In fact, I don’t remember meeting her at all. Though, when I see her this time, she immediately looks familiar.
She was the wife of Hal Grutzmacher, Dean of Students at Beloit College, my undergraduate alma matter. Hal was a dean I had constant run-ins with. A dean in a place where I was the badguy. As often happens, my high-positioned enemies become friends when the power relation dissolves. I have a problem with authority.
The kids are leaving now… en masse. They walk by me, oblivious, not curious about what I’m typing, or doing at all.. One little girl says hi to me, then quickens her pace as she passes. I don’t have an honest face.
One year Hal suddenly disappeared from Beloit. I never got the whole scoop. Some say it was an alcohol-related incident. There are other rumors I neither can nor care to remember. Once a year, we kept in touch. His Xmas cards. My New Year cards.
Has it started to rain again?
When I next heard… maybe around 1980, Hal and Marge had moved north to Ephraim, Wisconsin. They opened a bookstore, Pastime Books, and settled into a new, non-academic life. A few years ago, I heard that Hal died. It didn’t stop the cards, however. Marge and I have kept in contact. It’s been a long time.
When I set out to book this tour, Marge offered me a reading at Passtime, in its new home in Sister Bay. A couple of weeks before the scheduled read, I was apologetically disinvited.
“It’s a bad weekend, Mykel,” e-mailed Marge. “Memorial Day. We just don’t get customers. But you should come anyway. It’d be nice to see you.”
Come I did. Marge bought 10 books from me. “For the store.” They’re gonna sit for a long time. It was a kind of charity.
Whoops, the trouble with writing backwards is that time passes forwards. Before you can get back to it, you’ve got more to write. I now sit at O’Hare airport, facing the last stage of this trip. The plane should take off in 7 minutes, but it’s not even in the airport yet. They project an hour and a half delay. Who knows what it’ll end up?
I sit far from the gate. The only noise is the chattering of some black-clothed Muslim woman… cellphone chattering. In my checked bags is a full bottle of Everclear, wedged carefully among my clothes. They won’t allow it in carry-on baggage. It could be an instrument of terrorism. The stuff’s illegal in New York, and I feel like a smuggler. I’ve got a 6 pack of Mickey’s Widemouth in my backpack. Plus multiply wrapped Wisconsin Cheese that is melting in the heat.
I’m really tired. I slept 4 hours last night, after having slept a glorious 9 hours the day before that, after having slept only 3 hours the day before.
I got a ride to the airport today from Lew Brickhate, who brought along his mother. Sid Yiddish, my poet-throat-singing host in Chicago, advised me not to get her riled up. She’s a rabid Republican, he told me. She gets upset easily. Turns out we get along well. We’re both rabid.
It’s 7:30. There’s an announcement. Passengers from flight 6465 scheduled to leave at 12:30 can now board. Passengers for my flight scheduled for 3PM, can also board this one… provided we haven’t checked bags. I’ve checked 2. One with my Everclear. I wait. A kid among the Muslims begins crying. I think back to Appleton Wisconsin, Home of Joseph McCarthy.
Rainbow Books’ partner, Alan Ruff, tells me that The Fugs used to come to Appleton every year on McCarthy’s birthday-- just to piss on his grave. I don’t visit the grave… no time.
I expect to be Christianed to death there. You know: those stupid little Jesus fish on the back of car, a ton of What Would Jesus Do? signs stuck into manicured front lawns. It’s not what I expect.
My reading is at a house party. A basement show, between two bands. The first band has two extremely attractive musicians, one of each gender. I don’t remember their name. The other, called Chinese Telephones, just rocks. I set my books up in the kitchen.
“We weren’t going to play this show,” the Chinese Telephone’s singer tells me. “Then we heard that you were gonna be here, so we changed our minds.”
Yeah! Stroke me! You’ll get an add on MySpace.
As usual, basement punkshows turn out to be the highpoints. I sell half a dozen books. Get plastered.
Hangin’ out at the showhouse, after the show, a long-haired guy, about 15, sits on the couch with us adults. “Come on, let’s put on some music!” he says, walking over to the record collection in the living room. I hear his voice.
“How ‘bout Damaged?” he asks.
“Yowsah!” I say. “That’s one of the ten best records ever made.”
The guy puts on the record and starts to sing along. To the whole thing. He not only knows the words, but all the TV shows in TV Party. He wasn’t even born when that record came out. Ten punk points, kid. You know your history.
Later, I sleep on the couch of a punkhouse where one of the guys is a big lug. He could have been a football player, but is soft, funny and smart instead. He spends the evening cooking pasta and complaining about not being able to get laid.
“If you were hard, stupid and a football player, it would be easy,” I tell him. “This is Wisconsin.”
In the punkhouse, a pretty Oriental girl plays with the cat and kittens. I chuck chuck koochie koo too—but it is other feline-related activities that occupy my mind. Eventually, the girl goes home, leaving me to the couch and my own ministrations.
Except for the lack of poontang, Appleton is the best show of the trip. The biggest crowd. The most merch. The coolest people. After Appleton is Sister Bay and Marge Grutzmacher. After that it’s Green Bay, home of The Packers (off-season) and Norb (also off-season—away camping.)
The show in Green Bay starts with a 50th birthday party. The bass player in BLITZKREIG ROK, a Ramones cover band, is just passing into AARP eligibility. His son plays guitar in the band… and is responsible for most of the dozen or so people at the bar tonight.
It’s an old scummy bar, in the best sense of the word. It’s a place for drunks, not book readers—but it’s friendly enough. At least the bar is friendly. I guess there’s been trouble, though. A crotchety neighbor has posted a notice on the door leading to the building next to the bar. Actually, he has posted several notices:
MEMBER OF POLICE WATCH. 0 TOLERANCE. I CALL POLICE. says one of them.
TUESDAY, MAY 30. WHO WILL GET BEATEN UP OR ROBBED HERE TONIGHT? says another.
A third lists offences from previous months:
JANUARY 10, 2006: SMOKING DOPE IN FRONT OF TAVERN
JANUARY 26, 2006; DRUG SALES ACROSS FROM TAVERN
MARCH 10, 2006: FIGHT ON STREET ACROSS FROM TAVERN
MAY 16, 2006, WOMAN SCREAMING AND CRYING IN FRONT OF TAVERN
MAY 17, 2006: DRUNK WOMAN TRIED TO KICK IN MY DOOR
It could be a novel.
The bartender is also the bar owner and booker. Rev Norb said he was well-meaning, but “an airhead.”
I’m not exactly sure if air is the chemical I’d use to describe his condition. About 5’ 5”, slightly plump, in his mid-40s, he’s got long stringy hair and wears a generic band t-shirt. He works at being accommodating. He likes to talk.
“Oh, you’re the guy,” he says to me when I ask him what time we’re going to start. “I like having these old punks around. Guys still doing what they want to do after all this time. I mean like I try. But I’m sort of married. Not exactly married, but like hooked up. Taking care of my girlfriend’s kid. That means like I’m a good person right? I can’t live like I used to. No punkhouse, but I try, right? I mean like I’m a good person, right?”
“Can I set up a table to sell my books?” I ask
“Sure, I’ll get one for you.” He pulls over a table and sets a chair behind it.
“Can I go on between bands, read a bit, then go on again?”
“Sure, I’ll ask the soundman to do a check for you,” he says.
As a matter of fact, he’s always saying. He never stops. Talks about music, his girlfriend, his girlfriend’s 20 year old son that he takes care of, the business, how hard life is, how he doesn’t get out so much anymore. And more, and more.
Besides me and BLITZKRIEG ROK, there’s a band from Boston called THE COFFIN LIDS. They’re a bunch of late 30-something rockers, tattooed, rockabilly-ish looking, friendlier than the neighbor’s Saint Bernard. They set up their t-shirts and CDs next to my books. Before the night is over, they sell out of t-shirts. I sell one book. To THE FAN.
THE FAN is a large heavy-metal looking guy with a nasty-looking scab between his eyes. It’s as if someone punched him in the face and broke the top of his nose. It was a heavy spurt and only just now, scabbed over.
“Man,” he says, “it’s great meeting you. I used to read you when I was growing up. All that stuff about GG Allin and screwing in the bathroom. Is that all true?”
I nod. “It’s all true, though stretched in some spots.”
“Man,” he says, “you’ve had a life.”
“It ain’t over yet,” I tell him.
He laughs. “I live right here in Green Bay. Not much happens here.”
“This is life,” I tell him. “Something always happens.”
And this is punkrock. Something WILL always happen. Anyone who tours, learns that the night isn’t over when the bands stop playing. Then, it’s PARTY-TIME. Here I am, a 65 year old writer, and I’m off to the punkhouse to listen to CDs (actually watch DVDs) with THE COFFIN LIDS at the house of THE FAN.
The guy’s house is like a record library. CDs, DVDs, 7”, LPs. On the kitchen table lies the 7” from the CHINESE TELEPHONES.
“Hey,” I say, “I just played with these guys.”
It then occurs to me that I don’t play anymore. I read/recite-- or at best, perform.
In the living room, we watch DVDs. There are neither girls, nor attractive buttboys. The Coffin Lids’ bass player is cool though—and not ugly. At this stage, he’s lookin’ better and better every minute. Yowsah! Pull back the sheets.
“I never read,” he tells me. “Well, maybe a fanzine once-in-awhile. I like the idea of reading, but it just takes too much work.”
“You guys got Everclear up here?” I ask. “When I went to undergrad school in Wisconsin, it was illegal. We had to go to Illinois to get it. I hear it’s legal in this state these days. We still can’t get it in New York.”
“You can get it,” says THE FAN. “I just don’t have any now. There’s beer in the refrigerator though.”
On TV, Tom Sneider is interviewing The Sex Pistols.
“What’s it all about, Johnny?” he asks.
I get up to get a beer. It’s Pabst… small cans, regular cans, a giant 40 ounce can like I’ve never seen. Here we are in Wisconsin, America’s beer capital, and all they have is Pabst!
“What’s with this Pabst?” I complain. “This is Wisconsin.”
“Waddaya mean?” says THE FAN. “Pabst is FROM Wisconsin. Milwaukee, ya know? Ever hear of it?”
“Oh.” I say, sheepishly popping open the 40 ouncer and going back to the couch. OK, it ain’t Leinenkugel, but it IS Wisconsin.
Another DVD is on. This one is a compilation of the classic punk bands: Buzzcocks, Ramones, Patti Smith, The Clash. I wonder if I’ll be in the audience at some of these shows. But looking for me is not interesting enough to keep me awake. I look at the clock on my cellphone. 4AM.
“Hey,” I say, “it’s 4AM. I have to get to Sister Bay tomorrow. I don’t know where I’m staying. What do you think I should do?”
“Hold on,” says the Coffin Lids’ bass player. He rummages through his knapsack.
I wonder how that’s going to help me with my sleep problem. Is he gonna pull out a sleeping bag and suggest a quick romp in the other room? But it’s not a sleeping bag he fishes from his pack.
“Here,” he says holding up a bright orange t-shirt. On the front of the shirt, in black letters it says: WHAT WOULD GG ALLIN DO?
Is that what my pal Sid Yiddish thought when he said, sure, Mykel, you can stay here while you’re in Chicago. Is that what he thought when he invited me to pick my way through the books, magazines, cassettes, old LPs of Jack Kerouac? You remember Sid. I’ve written about him before. He’s the rotund poet, tap dancer, throat singer, man of all interests. He’s a freak’s freak. An effortless freak. As unassumingly weird as GG Allin.
What would GG do? When Sid and his pal Mitch drove me to Madison where I promised him a chance to perform for the crowd… when “the crowd” was two people roped in from the other side of the store? Did GG Allin have a driver’s license? I can’t imagine it.
Sid throat sings and recites poetry. I invite him to join me in every town we’re together. He wears a new fashioned yarmulke that looks like a jazz hat. In Madison, the bookstore owner wants to hook him up with a klezmer band called Yid Vicious.
“Wadda double bill,” he says. “Sid Yiddish and Yid Vicious.”
What would GG do?
After the hell flight from Chicago, I’m back home. The front page of the Newspaper of Record— the same newspaper that said there were no bisexuals—reports that there are no humans at all. There are no independent entities with choice and free will. We’re all victims, pushed around by a genetic code that tells us whether or not we’ll be risk-takers, alcoholics or homos, as surely as it tells us if we’ll have brown hair or attached earlobes.
I don't know which is worse. A Supreme Court that says you have no control over your life because the government can take away your property and give it to a private company-after it busts in your door without a warrant. Or a newspaper-supported culture that says you have no control over your destiny because your genes are in charge of everything.
Humanity is free will. The choice between right and wrong, good and bad, boredom or excitement. Without that freedom, we're no longer human.
Jeezus fuckin’ Christ! Don’t take away my Mykel Boardness. Don’t stuff the life I made for myself into my genes.
And what about them? Is Sid Yiddish a tap dancing throat singer because of his grandfather’s genes? Is that kid in Appleton cool enough to know all the words to Damaged because his dad screwed into his mom’s coolness chromosomes? Did Marge Grutzmacher treat me like a lost relative because of a tiny marker in the 273th place in some DNA? What horrible thoughts. What’s more horrible, is that they’re trying to get you to believe this shit. It’s wrong! Not only because it should be wrong. And we should have control over our lives. But because it just is wrong. Plain ole BAD science. Basic science rules say this genetic-behavior stuff is wrong.
The key to science is predictability. If I believe in gravity, I have to predict that when I drop something it will fall. On the rare occasions it doesn’t—a helium balloon for example—I’d better have a reason. In the balloon’s case, it is lighter than air, and if I drop it in a vacuum, it will fall.
If I believe in evolution, I have to predict that a species will change its characteristics to survive better—or it will go extinct. The ever-mutating HIV virus and the dinosaur show that’s true.
If I believe in genetics, I have to predict that two blue-eyed people will not have brown-eyed children and that brown-eyed parents will have mostly brown-eyed kids. That is, in fact, how it works.
You know how many predictive experiments there have been on this new gene stuff? None. Zero. Zilch. You know how many brain scans of people have been done to predict their homosexuality? Their alcoholism? Their risk-taking? None. Zero. Zilch.
What passes for science picks a self-identified group, looks for a common genetic characteristic, doesn’t find one, but finds a tendency. Presto. That’s the cause. It’s as if voting for Bush causes stupidity, rather than results from it.
Oh, it’s a comfortable belief. We don’t have to be responsible for anything. Our genes do it. Hitler and Alcoholics Anonymous are right. Everything’s genetic. There’s no cure—yet. Is that how you want to live?
At times like this, you have to ask yourself What would GG Allin Do? If I know him, he’d take a shit right there on the social scientist’s floor—then throw it at ‘em.
Find a gene for that, Motherfuckers.
ENDNOTES: [email subscribers (email@example.com) or website viewers (www.mykelboard.com) will get some live links and a chance to comment on the columns]
--> It’s gotta be a bandname dept: As if medicine wasn’t loopy enough anyway. National Geographic reports: Three commercial companies are working on the use of medical maggots to treat various blood-related diseases. The maggots, when inserted into a wound, clean and disinfect the wound, preventing infection and allowing better healing. Also under investigation are worm eggs that “are swallowed by patients with inflammatory bowel disease.” Their purpose is to control internal infection.
--> Let sleeping dogs lie dept: While waiting on my interminable flight from Chicago to NY, I happened to thumb through the SkyMall catalog stuck into every seat back. A list of such useless stuff you’ve never seen before! My favorite is: Songs to Make Dogs Happy, a $14.99 CD designed to be played for your dog. This CD is recommended by PETA who says, it’s great for stay-at-home' dogs or dogs who have separation anxiety or are fearful of thunderstorms. Yeah.
--> Benefits of being old dept: One of the benefits of being old is that you get the AARP Bulletin. There you can read lots of stuff not reported in the punkrock press.
One of my favorites is a story about some New Zealand researchers. They discovered a formula that when taken right after strenuous exercise slows the aging process by boosting mitochondrial proteins in the body. The mysterious substance? Chocolate milk.
The same issue (May, 2006) also reports that the German government is now training former prostitutes as geriatric nurses. Streetwalkers are good with people, says a program official, and they have absolutely no fear about touching or being touched.
-->Those d*mn poets dept: Censorship News reports that a Reno, Nevada high school barred a 14 year old from reciting W.H. Auden’s famous poem, The More Loving One. It was supposed to be part of a local poetry contest. The reason? The poem had the words damn and hell in it. Fortunately, the local court overturned the prohibition. The kid won second place and $1,000 bucks.
-->Ah Americans dept: As if you need another reason to acknowledge American’s stupidity, the National Coalition Against Censorship reports that a recent survey says that 1 in 5 Americans believe that the first amendment to the US Constitution protects a citizen’s right to own pets.
-->How ‘bout transplants? dept: I found an old copy of the newspaper Extra. It seems to have my kind of news. One of the stories was about the Toronto Children’s Aid Society that started a program of free hairdos for mothers who beat their children. They say it “reduces aggressive urges.”
Oh yeah, the same paper carries the story of Derek Mayhew who took a British Airways flight from Bahrain to London. He was the only passenger on the plane. He checked one bag. The airline lost it.
-->Useful information dept: Knowing when you’re going to die is useful information for planning the rest of your life. Of course, there’s a website for that. I’ve still got another 30 years. Start getting ready for the funeral! Find your own deathdate at: http://www.deathforecast.com/