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An Irregular Column
by Mykel Board
Mykel's Column for MRR #291
"Peculiar trait,” thought Grant, “that you could sleep with their wives, despoil their daughters, sponge on them, defraud them, do almost anything that would mean at least ostracism in normal society, and they would barely seem to notice it. But refuse to drink with them and you immediately become a mortal enemy.” --Kenneth Cook, Australian Author of Wake in Fright
It's more predictable than a Crass t-shirt at a Peacepunk show. Hillary fuckin' Clinton. Iraqi war supporter. Number one receiver of finances from insurance companies. Censorship lover. And the lily livered liberals line up to lick her sphincter... just like they did for her war-mongering, anti-gay hubby. What can I say about that? I won't be voting for her. You will. Sucker! Unfortunately, I'll get what you deserve.
This month there've been no new massive disruptions. No wacky Koreans showing the real way to make politics. [Note: I didn't mean that. Only joking. I wasn't serious. Got that Mr. Government Spyman? Just a joke. Please let me take that airplane ride.]
A recent issue of The Utne Reader included an article called “Invading Our Own Privacy.” It's about how the government or telemarketers or insurance agencies don't have to snoop anymore. People reveal themselves through blogs, MySpace and other cyber-whining. There have been legal persecutions, firings, school expulsions and more. Just because of what people like you reveal on the internet. The article laments that there has never been less privacy than there is now... and most of us like it that way.
Me? I like the right to be private, but in many ways I agree with Ghandi: “If you live your life with no secrets, you never fear discovery.” Fuck privacy.
My columns are my life. As open as a fist-fucked asshole. I still have a few secrets left, but not many. Now, I'll have one less: I'm a hypochondriac. There, I've said it. I'm out.
For me, every headache is a stroke. Every upper intestine gas bulge is a heart attack. Every lump is cancer. Stiff muscles? Arthritis! I start each day with a fistful of vitamins, amino acids and minerals. I travel with a pharmacopia of exotic organic preventives. I bring every bruise to the AIDS Clinic. I subscribe to a ton of herbal newsletters.
When I travel, I worry about my health. And, I worry that my worry will give me high blood pressure and cause a stroke from too much worrying. Remember my last tour column? The one before the Virginia slaughter rant. I'd just entered Australia. Enough to give me two strokes... and a heart attack.
It was a horrible experience at Cairns immigration, after a nasty series of planerides. Since things can only get better after that, they do. Brisbane's an improvement. Sydney an improvement over that. New Zealand's great. Details are in the blog. I'll skip them here because I'm so far behind. Bang. Fast forward. I'm leaving New Zealand.
Before I leave, I go out for brunch with Vera. I'm a nervous airporter, so I want to actually get to the airport the 2 hours before departing time that the airline companies say is a must, but no one seems to care about when you finally get there. Vera wants a leisurely goodbye. I can't chat. I want to eat and run. I feel my blood pressure rising. If it goes unchecked, I'll have an aneurysm.
Vera insists we at least sit in the grass and watch the ducks by the river. I'm glad she does. I need a little duck before I get to Melbourne. After ducking, Vera walks me to the airport bus stop.
It's an hour before the next bus. I pace. Look at the clock in my cellphone. Pace some more. Finally, the bus. I still arrive two hours before the flight. Those two hours give me plenty of time to worry about entry into Australia.
My initial encounter with Aussie customs was so horrible that just the thought of going through that again rumbles the lunch I had with Vera. I rehearse the story in my mind.
[Aside #1: by coincidence, I see Vera again in New York, on her way back from Germany. We go see a German movie, Lives of Others. There's a scene where the communist interrogator explains how you tell if someone's lying: their repetitious answers. If a person always tells the same story with exactly the same words, he's lying. He's rehearsed his lines and can't deviate from them.
If a person is telling the truth, he'll vary the words. Use different phrases. Maybe change the details a little from one interrogation session to another. That's why interrogators keep repeating their questions. They want to see if the answers change or if the torturee is lying. I don't know any of this while I'm busy on the plane to Australia, rehearsing my exact response to the immigration officer. Line by line. Word by word.
“Promote books? What books? You see officer, I'm only here for a vacation after visiting my friend in New Zealand. I'm spending a few days in Melbourne before I go back to the US.... Yes officer, I'm only here for a vacation while visiting my friend in New Zealand.... Yes officer, I'm only...]
We land in Melbourne. I stand in line with my passport.
[Immigration advice #1: Customs is smoother if you go through the red door. Just pick something stupid to declare, a pack of cigarettes, a little bottle of booze, anything that'll make the officer either laugh at your honesty or shake her head at your stupidity. She'll say, “You're very honest. Don't worry about that, just go ahead.” and let you walk out.]
In Cairns, there were no doors-- red or green. I was stuck.
Now, I'm in Melbourne. There are no doors here either, but there is a sign that says Please inform the customs agent if you have recently been on a farm or close to livestock.
Yes! That's my escape.
I'm at the front of the line. I hand my passport to the man behind the window.
[ Immigration advice #2: try to get in front of a window with a large hostile- looking agent behind the glass. Those guys have nothing to fear, nothing to prove. They believe that no guilty person would ever stand in front of them. They're too intimidating. NEVER hand your passport to an attractive female immigration officer. It's the kiss of death.]
“I'm supposed to report if I've been close to livestock,” I tell the gruff-looking guy on the other side of the glass. “I've been in New Zealand. I went to a penguin reserve and traveled in the back country. There were lots of sheep.”
“That's all right,” he says. “Just go to line B and explain it to a customs officer.”
I collect my bags and go to line B.
“I was in the countryside in New Zealand,” I tell him. “You know. Sheep.”
“Which shoes were you wearing?” he asks.
I point to the boots on my feet.
“Could you lift them up so I could see the soles?”
I raise one foot at a time.
“Ok,” he says. “Thanks, and welcome to Melbourne. You can leave that way.”
He gestures toward the EXIT door. I walk out.
That's it. No questions. No bag disassembling. Just welcome to Melbourne.
Yowsah! Works like a charm.
I walk out of the immigration section and into the terminal lobby. In the lobby, I'm supposed to meet this guy named Rich. That's all I know. I've never seen him before. I stack my bags on an airport trolley. Now I wheel it through the waiting area, looking for Rich.
A few people sit watching their watches. A few others stand, anxiously surveying the deplaning passengers. I'm hoping for a spontaneous connection.
When I was 16, I could walk from strange man to strange man in an airport and ask, “Are you Rich?” Who knows who I might have wound up with? But 50+ years later, I'd feel really uncomfortable doing the same thing.
I look for someone young, punkish and expectant. Here's someone. An attractive young man, vaguely oriental, with a wide studded belt, slung at an angle over his hips. I stalk him. Wheeling my luggage trolley in his direction, I give him a good stare. He looks away. I come closer. He clicks his tongue, trudges to a bench and sits down hard.
Okay, here's someone else. Squat, slightly plump with a head that connects directly to his broad square shoulders. He's talking on a cellphone. I walk toward him. Head straight for 'im. His eyes widen as he sees me and my trolley on a collision path. He steps aside, like a toreador avoiding a charging bull. Nope, not him.
I go back to the kid with the studded belt. He sits on a chair, still looking at his watch. I pull up next to him. Just stand there. Give him the sideways glance.
“Yo Rich!” I psychically transmit to him. “It's me you're waiting for. Don't you know me? Yoo hoo? Ever been buttmeat for an American before? I'll treat you right.”
I don't actually say this, but I force the thoughts through my eyes so hard he glances up at me. Then he stands up, shakes his head, and heads for the safety of another part of the airport. Not Rich, I guess.
It's half an hour after I land. I call Shawn in Sydney. He answers with He's on his way, Mykel.” I thank him, and hang up. Fifteen minutes later, I text message Shawn.
What does he look like? I ask.
The answer: Haven't the faintest.
Suddenly, the outside revolving door revolves. A large guy with a shock of dirty blond hair, a chipped front tooth, and a Goliath-stride rushes into the lobby.
He looks around, sees me, and walks up to me.
“Mykel?” he asks.
From the terminal, Rich walks me to his car. We pile my bags in and take off.
“It's lucky you have a car,” I tell him. “Lots of my friends, especially in New York, don't have cars.”
“It's my brother's car,” says Rich, “He's not too keen on me borrowing it.”
“That's not very brotherly,” I say. “Maybe you should get your own car.”
“I totaled my car,” he says. “Not drunk. I just had this epileptic seizure while I was driving. I was flying off the road over a field, somebody's lawn. Just a straight line, evidently. Nothing to stop me until I met this phone pole. I woke up with the car wrapped around it. The cops had to bring this machine like a giant can opener and cut me out. Know what I mean?”
“How often do you get these seizures?” I ask him, tightening my seatbelt... then loosening it again.
“I never know,” he answers. “There's just no way of knowing.”
[Aside #2: Maybe before I die, I'll figure out how I've lived this long. I hope I have time to let you know.]
Inside Rich's apartment: LPs fill the shelves next to the door. At right angles, is the stereo, CD player and a 7” singles rack. There's a couch next to a large table. In the middle of the room is a stack of boxes looking very much like the boxes of ARTLESS CDs in my apartment. Who could've figured on the digital revolution? People stopped buying CD's and let their computers just move electrons.
I set down my bags flinching slightly at a twitch in my shoulder. Maybe I have rheumatism.
“Looks like my place,” I tell Rich. “I can't sell my CDs either. I got boxes of 'em lying around. Just like you.”
“Yeah,” he says, “only those aren't CDs. They're dialysis liquid. I'm on a waiting list for a kidney transplant. I only have one kidney and it doesn't work very well. I need to get flushed out every night. That's the flush.”
I don't remember what I say at this point. I doubt it's anything particularly brilliant.
He knows I'm not exactly sure of the protocol of asking about artificial kidneys or urine/blood processing. But he also knows I'm curious.
“It works like this,” he continues. “Most dialysis machines process in a few hours. They hook up to a vein and your entire bloodstream passes through the machine. Those machines leave you beat, worn out, like you've just lost to Les Darcy. (Who?) This one works different. See, your body is a pit. Kind of hollow inside. Stuffed with guts and stomachs and stuff. Know what I mean?”
He continues, “Between your guts and the inside of your belly is this bloody tissue called a peritoneum. It's just a white sheet of gop with millions of little blood vessels running through it. All those blood vessels are close to the surface and ready to be scrubbed. Know what I mean?”
He continues, “ so I have this valve built into my side here, like a plug in a blow up sex doll.”
“I know what you mean,” I tell him.
He continues, “It goes right into the peritoneum. I keep it covered during the day, but at night I just plug in a huge bag of salt water. It flushes around my insides, washing the blood through the walls of that bloody tissue. After a few hours of washing, that machine there...” he gestures to what looks like a metal night table with a meter, “will suck out the water that has the gunk in it. That's all the stuff usually filtered out by kidneys that work right. Then, the machine'll squirt in another bag of salt water and do it again. All this happens while I sleep. It takes about 10 hours. Afterwards I feel right as rain. Know what I mean?”
He lifts his shirt up to show me a square patch of gauze taped to his belly.
“Ummm... you got anything to drink?” I ask. “I gotta take my vitamins. I don't want to get sick while I'm away. I donno, I'm rarely sick, but I always feel like there's something wrong.”
“I'm the opposite,” he says going to the kitchen sink. “No kidneys, epilepsy, everything you can imagine wrong. I don't even think about it.”
Rich manages FIBBERS aka Exile on Smith Street, one of the places I'll be “playing” in Melbourne. He scheduled me right before punk trivia, hosted by a noted celebrity musician and one of the few Egyptian-Negroes in Australia.
After I dump my bags, Rich takes me to my first Melbourne bar. He buys me a local beer, Melbourne Bitter, and a plate of roo stew. Both are satisfying if not spectacular. That's just the start, however, of a pretty spectacular night.
“I want to take you to the CBGBs of Melbourne,” says Rich. “It's called The Tote! This being Monday, there's probably not a lot going on... but you should see it.”
So we take a cab to this bar in a slightly seedy-but-hip part of town. Inside, the first thing that hits me is the cigarette smoke. It's wonderful. Although I've never smoked (except for 6 months in junior high school), the smell of cigarettes and the spirit of drinking go together in my mind as sure as the smell of twat and the spirit of eating.
The next thing that hits me is the music. Bruce fuckin' Springsteen. Not only from the jukebox, but on a widescreen projection TV. Two different songs. Competing Borns: To Run and In The USA. Another TV, this one on top of a refrigerator, silently shows yet a different Bruce Springsteen video.
“Didn't you say this was the Melbourne CBGBs?” I ask. “I don't remember a Bruce Springsteen night at CBGBs.”
At the bar are five or six girls. They're smiling, chatting, unaware of our presence. Rich taps one of them, a large blonde wearing a tight dress.
“Hey Gnarly,” he says, “what's up with this Springsteen shit? This guy came all the way from New York. I brought him here to see Melbourne's CBGBs... and he sees Bruce fuckin' Springsteen? Ya know what I mean?”
I can see pink rising from Gnarly's neck into her face. The other girls turn to look at us with embarrassed-yet-amused looks. Gnarly's expression lacks the amused aspect.
“W...well... you see... it was just us in the bar. And it turns out we're all Bruce Springsteen fans... oh I know... It's not musically correct... but... anyway... nobody else was here, so we asked Jack...” she nods toward the skinny young bartender, “we asked him if he had any Bruce Springsteen stuff... it's not like that's all we listen to... it's just that...”
I can't help laughing. Rich too. We order a couple beers, then go around the corner where Bruce is at a less piercing volume. There are no seats in this part of the bar, so we stand around a large high table and drink.
Somewhere someone made a movie on how to identify junkies... on what to look for when you want to spot someone on the stuff... on how to spot someone so juiced they they wouldn't know it if you stuck a pitchfork into their kidneys. The lead actress in that movie walks up to me.
When I say dirty blond hair, I'm not talking color, I'm talking hygiene. About 5' 8, tattoos copied from books on Buddhism and bird-watching cover both arms. Her jaw must've been reconstructed by a discount surgeon, who removed part of the bone to sell on the black market. High cheekbones, and a grey t-shirt over a white t-shirt complete the look. She sways back and forth as she speaks.
“Can I talk to you?” she asks me without caring what my answer is. “Hey, I don't like to say, but I gotta tell someone. Ya' know what I'm saying? I mean it's my birthday. I don't celebrate or tell anyone. Ya' know what I'm saying? I'm...”
She introduces herself, but I don't catch the name. Maybe she mumbles it. Maybe I don't want to hear it. So I'll just refer to her as The Birthday Girl.
“I mean, I need someone to buy me a drink,” she says. “Ya know what I'm saying?”
“What are you saying?” I ask her, hoping the drugs in her veins will confuse her enough to move on to someone else. I'm wrong.
“You saying you're not gonna buy a girl a beer for her birthday?” she asks. “Is that what you're saying?”
“Sorry,” I tell her putting on my thickest New Yawk accent. “I's just dat I got offa da plane an' I ain't got no Aussie greenbacks. Ya know what I'm tawkin' 'bout? I mean fuggeddabouddit.”
“And pool,” she continues. “I need someone to play pool with. You play pool? You a good player? I came with my friends. They just left me. Left me. Can you believe it? I'll play you for drinks. Let's play some pool. Ya know what I'm saying?”
I see her hands clench into a fist. I fear that tonight I will lose at least a tooth. Maybe more.
“I don' play no pool,” I tell her, keeping up the New Yawk tawk. “I admire da game. I wish I kud play. Pool is cool, ya know? But sorry. I don' do no pool.”
“So,” she says, “you won't buy me a beer. You won't play pool with me... and it's my birthday.”
Now her entire arm is tense. The knuckles on her clenched fist are as white as The Klan. I can feel my own approaching death.
I walk over and casually hide behind Rich who's amusedly watching the whole thing.
“I'll buy you a drink,” he says to The Birthday Girl. “And I'll play pool with you.”
Saved. He's my hero!
While Rich and The Birthday Girl play pool, I converse with a dark-haired goddess who I'll call, Kitten, and her nearly equally attractive boyfriend, Tim. Gnarly joins us. The beers keep coming. Springsteen stops. The beer doesn't.
Soon me, Gnarly, Rich, Kitten and the bartender are falling over each other. Pool balls clatter to the floor. The Birthday Girl spills. I fall over her, my face against a tattoo of a circle with i-ching lines. I don't remember much else.
-->It doesn't pay to be chivalrous these days dept: James Van Iveren from Oconomowoc Wisconsin broke into a neighbor's apartment with a cavalry sword. He said he thought he heard a woman being raped. Actually, the sound was from a porno movie his neighbor was watching.
"Now I feel stupid," said Iveren who faces court charges.
I'd love to go to THAT trial.
-->Remember Ritalin dept: Drugs that used to be forced on kids in school will now come with guides to alert parents of the risks of those drugs. Among the risks: mental and heart problems... and sudden death.
Which is worse: a wild, unmannered kid? Or death? Ask a mom. You might be surprised.
-->Another internet scam dept: So I clicked on one of those little blue ads. It said ARE YOU EMO? GO TO TheEMOQUIZ.COM. (If there are any computer geeks out there and they want to try their hand at fucking up a website... Nope, I'm not really suggesting that. That could probably get me tried as a terrorist! Just a joke? Okay Mr. Spyman?) The quiz asks a bunch of silly questions about haircuts and if someone punches you, do you punch back or do you write a song about it.
When you get to the end of the quiz, you find out it's a scam. You have to give your name, address AND PHONE NUMBER. Worse than that, you get a ton of ads and have to click on NO for each offer. Worse than that, you can't click no on all of them. It won't give you a score if you do. That's when I quit... and cry.
--> No wonder Hillary will be president dept: The New York Times reports that 42% of the American people believe that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. A Harris poll shows that 35% of us believe that the U.S. found evidence of “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. A Mykel Board poll finds the average intelligence of an American is slightly higher than the average intelligence of a slug.
--> Speaking of the U.S. dept: During the last 5 years the U.S. has fallen from fourth to sixteenth in “broadband penetration.” Sounds like a sex problem. Actually, it means there are 15 countries where more of the population has a broadband internet connection than the U.S.
Japanese connections, for example, are 20 times faster and half the price of U.S. ones.
--> Small victories dept: Remember all that controversy about net neutrality? Remember how AOL Canada censored union criticism of its sites? Remember how big providers wanted to block Skype and other companies that competed with their own services? Well, that law went down the tubes. Thanks to savetheinternet.com enough people got so riled up that the bill was scuttled in committee. Sometimes good news is as satisfying as a good beershit.
--> The Canadians are Doing It dept: Remember that South Park song, Blame Canada? Good humor predicts the reality it makes fun of. Because of global warming, the melted ice near the North Pole has become a waterway shortcut from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
To protect its ownership of the passageway, the Canadian government has changed the name of the Northwest Passage to Canadian Internal Waters. More than that, they've started military exercises in the arctic, and are purchasing 3 military icebreakers for use in that water. I wonder who they're gonna buy 'em from.
-->He's not a monkey doctor dept: The U.S. Department of Justice has come down on the side of a Texas student in a school dispute. He was refused a recommendation to medical school. The reason? He doesn't believe in evolution. Much of medicine (the building of resistance to antibiotics, for example) is built on evolution. A doctor who doesn't believe in it would be like a dentist who doesn't believe in cavities.
The student's professor rightly felt that a belief in divine creation and a career fixing God's mistakes don't go well together. The U.S. dept of justice disagreed. They're charging the professor with religious discrimination.