Sunday, March 12, 2006

Column for MRR 276 May

Column for MRR 276 May
You're Wrong
An Irregular Column
by Mykel Board

We shall never be at peace until everything has been said, once and for all time; then there will be silence and one will no longer be afraid of being silent. It will be all right then.
-- Celine

     Things move too fast. I wanted to write about my adventures in Florida. Then the Washington shit hits the Washington fan. By the time you read this, there’ll be two or three scandals I haven’t even imagined. I’ll talk about two of ‘em before I get to Florida.
     The first is Dick Cheney shooting his hunting buddy in the face. Of course it was fun. You only wish the guy died. But come on. Is it news? It was a fuckin’ accident for G-d’s sake. A mis-pulled trigger. Do you think Cheney wanted to shoot his pal in the face? Was it an international conspiracy of corporate face-shooters? Was it a plot hatched by the plastic surgery lobby? What’s the problem? The guy didn’t go on TV immediately and say, “Yo! I shot my best friend in the face.” What the fuck? Cheney’s a sinister asshole, but this has nothing to do with it. It was an accident.
     The second “scandal” is even more disgusting. I’ve written about how nasty it gets when people “on my side,” turn out to be as shitty, as people on the “other” side.
     So when the Democrats (I’m a party member) and the liberals (I am one, but am usually embarrassed to say so) let the racist flag fly high, I’m not shocked. But I am nauseated.
Some foreign country operates every major harbor in America. The US hasn’t been running it’s own ports since Reagan was president. So when a port-running country changes hands, it’s no big deal. Business as usual. Oh yeah? What if the new owners are ARABS? Oooo scary.
     Is there any evidence that the United Arab Emirates has something to do with dangerous people? Other than George Bush, the answer is no. Have they been investigated more than other countries to make sure they're qualified? Yep.
     One of my liberal friends says, “How could he do it? We’re in Iraq fighting Arabs and he wants to give our ports to them?”
     Huh? There are probably more Arabs in the US than in Iraq.
     “Well, they’re Muslims,” she says.
     “Mohammad Fuckin’ Ali was a Muslim,” I tell her. “The idea is not to get people hating us because they think we’re anti-Muslim. Bush hasn’t done anything right about that-- until now.”
     “Well,” she finally says, exasperated. “The only good Arab is a dead Arab.”
     Could you imagine a liberal saying that with any other group inserted in the Arab spot? But this racism is okay. It’s like the Yellow Peril of WWII and ‘Red China.’
  Maybe, It’ll elect Democrats. New York’s two Senators, the amoral, Hillary Clinton and the awful Chuck Schumer held a rally in Newark.
     Keep U.S. ports in U.S. hands. They say. What ports are in US hands now?
     Could you imagine this crew holding that rally if Israel wanted to take? Yeah, right.
     OK, that’s my political rant. Now let’s get to Florida. I’m here to do a couple of book readings and go to the wedding of Ms S, a hard-to-travel-with Goddess. You’ve read about her before.
     I pull my rental Ford Taurus into the parking lot of an ugly condo, off an ugly street in Fort Lauderdale. I wonder if I'm in a tenant-parking place. Am I gonna get towed?
     Taking my father's DISABLED tag out of my travel bag, I hang it on the mirror. Who's gonna tow a cripple's car?
     I open the trunk, pull out my suitcase full of books, and head for the elevator.
     The graffiti-ed door opens slowly on a graffiti-ed interior. I roll in my suitcase and hit the ‘4’ button. The elevator door creaks shut. With a jerk, it slowly carries me upward.
     I've never met my host before. I got his name out of a traveler’s directory. Any members can stay with any other member. We’re both members.
     When the elevator opens again, I wheel my bag out and around a corner to door 465. The inner door is open. Through the screen door I can see chaos. Desks filled with old newspapers. Books everywhere, on shelves, half opened, lying like dead birds on the table, couch, a rocking chair. An old antenna-TV is in a corner. Two pieces of aluminum foil wrap around the antenna. There are large picture windows in back. Past them, a balcony.
     I knock.
     A man about 65 answers.  I can see two hairless legs coming out of bright red shorts. He also wears a MIAMI adVICE t-shirt. His full head of gray hair, and a handsome, ironic face make me think of Leslie Nielson.
     "You must be someone," he says in a deep, almost actorly voice. Opening the screen door, he motions for me to come in. He does not offer to take my bag.
     Inside we shake hands. "I'm Tom Clearman," he says.
     "Mykel Board," I answer.
     "Have a seat," he tells me, motioning to the couch, then sitting himself in the rocker. "Everything is self-service around here. There's juice and water in the refrigerator. Take what you want."
     I get up and pour myself a glass of Pineapple-Apricot Smash.
     "The refrigerator," comes the voice from the other room, "you have to watch out for it. It doesn't always close. Sometimes you have to take a knife and poke it."
     I hear the rocker creak as he stands up and flip-flops over to me. He takes a large knife out of a drawer, three-quarter closes the refrigerator door, inserts the knife pushing a little switch that controls the light. Then he shuts the door and withdraws the knife. "Like that," he says.
     I reseat myself on the couch.
     Tom talks. He's written a bunch. Comes from a Catholic background. I tell him I'm a Jew. He's an atheist.
     "But being a Catholic is like being a Jew," he says. "You always are one. It's in the blood, the sub-conscious. You can disavow it, but it's still a part of you-like a club foot."
He doesn't 100% disavow it, though. It gave him an education-a good one. At that time, the church gave free schooling to any Catholic who wanted it. He believes the church helped a lot of people. He couldn't of gotten an education if it weren't for them. Throughout history, the church preserved learning when others wanted to destroy it.
     Now, he writes for the Industrial Worker (I.W.W. newspaper). Yep, the anarchist wobblies of the 1920s. They're still going. Sort of.
     He talks unions. Sell-outs. How the airline unions sold out the airline traffic controllers. How the trouble with unions today is that they don't support other unions. He's a non-stop talker. It's as if he so rarely gets a guest that he's got to tell me everything he's done and thought-- ever. He's got a theory about World War II, Iraq, the price of milk.
     The killer is, it's interesting. I like listening. He's had a fascinating history, filled with stories I'll use myself.
     There’s one about a famous atheist who stood in front of huge church groups calling on God to kill him NOW if he had any guts. Another story about a lone pro-Roman hold-out in France 10 years after the Roman Empire fell apart.
     He tells me he was fired as a professor for trying to organize. He's now a semi-retired full-time writer. He's published an e-book about the pro-Roman hero and some other things. He has a motorcycle and belongs to Mensa. He invites me to a Mensa dinner.
     "I think it'll be interesting for you," he says. "A lot of weird smart people. We call it a jaw wag. That's mostly what people will be doing."
     I thank him and tell him I don't want to intrude on his life.
     "Oh no," he says. "You're welcome to come. And to stay here as long as you like. The only kink could be if Alberta, my lady friend from Boston, comes. Then I'd, well you know.... but you could stay here. She'd be in the back with me. She wouldn't take up the couch... you know."
     By this time, I've graduated from juice to tea. I've just finished my second cup and am taking the teabag into the kitchen to throw it out. I look around for the garbage. Then I ask.
     "Garbage?" says Tom. "No garbage. My mother taught me: never waste anything. Space. Especially space. People ask me, `Where's the garbage?' Why, there is no garbage. See here? It's a cereal box. But look inside."
     I look inside. There's a pop tart wrapper and a banana peel.
     "See," he continues, "everything is it's own garbage bag. I never use plastic bags. I don't waste landfill."
     "I use the plastic bags from the supermarket," I tell him. "I never buy garbage bags. It's stupid to buy something just to throw it out."
     "You don't go far enough," he tells me. "I shop with a canvas bag. I just reuse it. Bring it everywhere. I never take a shopping bag in the first place."
     It doesn't occur to me to ask him how he gets his cereal boxes filled with banana peels, and margarine tubs of cherry pits to the garbage cans. Maybe he carries them, one by one to the waiting bins.
     I awaken the next day to the tap tap tap of a keyboard in the other room. Not loud, but enough. I got a good 7 hours sleep, I think. Bad 8 hours. The last hour taken by a dream about two girls-- both wanting me-- one with bright red hair. I agree to both but have to avoid one when I’m with the other. I don't remember much more. Also there's gas.
     Most folks have morning gas. A horizontal buildup of methane, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen, trapped in the large intestine while you sleep.
     Usually morning farts are huge noisy blasts. As if they started somewhere chest high and forced themselves through your body. BLLLLAAAAAAAATTTTTT. But this morning, it's Pop. Pop. Pop. Almost dainty farts. Pfit. Pfit. Weird.
     Weirder still, when I evacuate the farts, the related fecality is a giant brown spiral on the bottom of my host's toilet. A huge single curl, like skin peeled from an apple in one line.
     When I flush the toilet, I hear Tom's voice from the other room. "I guess you're up," he says. "Like I said, everything is self-service here. Help yourself to coffee and some breakfast."
     I go to the kitchen and pull the can of coffee from the cabinet shelf. I open it. Inside is a gum wrapper, an Almond Joy wrapper, and a very ripe apple core. The smell hits me before I can close the plastic lid. I check the other cabinets. A second can of coffee is even lighter than the first, and it feels warm. Mmmm compost! I think I'll do coffee at the 7-11.
     Flash ahead to the MENSA JAW WAG. It's at a Chinese restaurant. I see a long table in the back with a few octogenarians, and a few slightly younger people.
     "Is this Mensa?" I ask.
     "Sure is," says a woman at the end, her walker parked behind her.
     "I'm a friend of Tom's," I say. "He suggested I join you guys tonight."
     "A friend of Tom's, huh?" says a hefty guy wearing a HARVARD t-shirt. "We won't hold it against you. He's not here yet, so have a seat."
     I sit down and people say hello and then return to the conversation in progress before I arrived.
     "You know, the biggest problem for intelligent people is snobbery. Too much, we look down on average people. We think we're better than they are."
The speaker is Mitch. Maybe my age with grayer hair, though more of it. He sits several inches away from the table, making room for his copious middle.
     "I disagree," says a 30 something. He's the youngest person in the room, other than the busboys. Skinny, with light brown hair, his face is Mork-era Robin Williams. His accent is pure hillbilly. A dialect I cannot reproduce in print, so I won't.
     "We really are better than those people," he says. "Our biggest problem is that the world is made for them. Not for us. I can't take classes anymore because things move so slow. For example, I'm in this computer networking class. The problems are binary, so there are only 7 possibilities. By the time the professor finishes writing the problem on the board, I have the answer. It takes everyone else ages."
     Next to me is an attractive Oriental woman with gray streaks through her jet black hair. She has a perfect American accent. A.B.O., I guess. She asks Robin Williams, "Where are you from? Not from around here, I'd guess from the accent.."
"I'm originally from Arkansas," he says. "And where are you from?"
"I was shipped from Korea when I was very young," she answers. "A mail-order baby."
     "Did you come in a box?" I ask and immediately remember the joke about what has to do with film and comes in a little yellow box: Woody Allen. I hope she hasn't heard it.
     I fear she has. "No," she answers. "Did you?"
     By this time Tom has come in and taken a seat next to me. The table is filling up fast. The waitress comes over to take our order.
     "Hi Tom," says the fat guy.
     "Hi, Jim," says Tom, "either of these two seats taken."
     "Two," says the Jim. "Don't get me started with two. You know there are really very few two-punchline jokes. Ya, know what I mean. You get a punchline, then BLAM! another one.”
     “A man has his last fight with his wife,” he continues. “She's on her deathbed. It's the day before she dies, both of them know it. She says, 'Sammy, it's my last request. I want to you to promise me you'll let my mother ride in the same car with you during the funeral procession to the cemetery. Will you promise me that? My last request.'
     “'Well,' says Sammy, 'I'd rather she was riding in the same car with YOU.'
     “'Sammy, please!' says the wife.
     “'Okay,' he says, 'but it'll spoil my day.'"
     "Very funny," says the Korean mail-order woman sitting on my right. "But this is a restaurant, and we have to order. The waitress is standing right there."
     "Waitress? Restaurant?" says Jim. "Don't get me started on restaurant jokes. A man at a restaurant sits down and orders soup. The waiter brings it, but the man raises his hand to stop him.
     'It's too cold,' he says, 'take it back.'
     The waiter is a little surprised, but returns with a fresh bowl of soup. Again the man complains, without tasting it. 'It's too cold. Take it back!'
     This time the waiter speaks up. 'But you haven't even tasted it.'
     'I know,' says the patron. 'Take it back.'
     After several times, the waiter is finally exasperated. 'Why are you complaining that the soup is too cold when you've never tasted one bowl?'
     The man answers, 'It won't be too cold when you need a tray to carry it instead of dipping your thumb in it.'"
     "Jerry please," says the Oriental. "The waitress is here. You have a soup joke. You want soup?"
     "Soup? Don't get me started on soup jokes. A man complains to the waiter about the soup.
     'Waiter,' he says, 'taste this soup.'
     The waiter walks over to him.
     'I'm sorry sir. Whatever the problem is we can fix it. If it's too bland we can spice it up. If it's too salty, we can…'
     The patron interrupts. 'Taste it!' he orders.
'Sir, if you'd just explain the problem, I'd be happy to ask the chef.'
'Taste it!' orders the customer. The waiter shrugs and decides that he'd better accommodate. 'Ok,' he says. 'Where's the spoon?'
'Aaahh,' says the customer, 'you got it. That’s the problem. Now bring me a goddamn spoon!'
I could go on about Tom and Mensa, but don’t get me started.
     Flash ahead: It’s the wedding day and it’s cold.
This is Florida, but it’s cold. That’s okay. I can keep my trenchcoat and hat on I’ll look cooler. Less like a bald old New York Jew.
     So I arrive at the wedding wearing the first tie I’ve worn in a decade—a wide blue thing I found on the bottom of my closet. I’m looking cool. I got my trenchcoat, my Mafia hat, my army boots. Ho ho, I’ll be the toughest looking guy there. They’ll smell the importance of my presence.
     I get out of the rented car, hand the keys to valet, and stride into the restaurant by the river.
     As I enter, I spot older man with gray hair, a thick red-veined nose, and large gravity-inflated ears. He spots me too.
     “Are you the rabbi?” he asks.
     “Huh? I’m a friend of the bride’s.” I answer, crestfallen.
     “You look like a rabbi,” he says. “Are you sure you’re not a rabbi?”
     “I’m sure,” I tell him.
     “Mykel,” comes a familiar voice off to the side. It’s Ms S, in her white gown, with a veil. I’ll tell ya. I don’t know much about wedding gowns, but this one is a beaut. Not puffy. Not looking like the top of a cake. But more like a collection of carefully preserved doilies. Beautiful in a melancholic 19th century way. And Ms S herself, is easy on the eyes. The two of them (Ms S and her dress) carry me out of my-are-you-the-rabbi depression.
     We cheek peck.
     “I’ll get you away from Uncle Charlie,” she whispers in my ear.
     She brings me to a couple of guys named Fletch and Greasy. They are not wearing ties. They’re wearing hooded sweatshirts.
     They’re talking as I come up to them. Fletch is saying, “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 was funny.”
     I don’t get any of it. I’m not even sure they’re talking English. What the hell is a halfpipe? What’s a handplant? What’s an Ali? Like Mohammad Ali? Is this Muslim talk?
     I’ve come to the end of my allotted space. Looks like this is gonna have to finish in Part Two. More next month.

ENDNOTES: [Visitors to my website: or subscribers (email to: 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.]

-->Just in case you missed it department: I'm not going to have a sex change operation. That was my yearly April Fool column.

-->The Wall Street Journal says that gynecologists who prescribe long-term birth control pills may be helping prevent more diseases than K-I-D-S infection. These pills suppress menstrual periods for months or years at a time.
The article quotes Patricia Sulak, a Texas obstetrician: "Having monthly periods are a modern phenomenon anyway," she says. I don't get that. Menses? Period? Those words mean MONTHLY. We didn't invent them in the 20th century.
     According to Sulak, however, because of frequent childbirth and breast feeding, the average aboriginal woman in Australia as 150 periods during her lifetime. The average North American woman has 400. Each of those extra ones could increase the risk of cancer, says the doctor. Unlike those birth control pills that really prevent cancer. Yeah, right.

-->No wonder those people who talk on cellphones in restaurants are so dumb dept: Scientists at the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland have found that cell phone radiation can damage the blood-brain barrier, a membrane that prevents harmful substances in the body from entering the brain. In their tests, as little as one hour of cell phone radiation caused blood-vessel cells to shrink.

-->Do deer use cellphones? dept. Mad deer disease has been reported in eight US states and Canada. The rate of infection may be as high as 3%. It looks like the disease can jump species too. Five young people in the infected areas died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease-- the human equivalent of Mad Cow/Deer. Three of the five were regular venison eaters.

-->What's in a Word? dept: Utne Reader reports that COUGAR is Canadian slang for an older woman who seduces younger male "prey." It used to be a put-down, but, like "queer," it's now worn proudly. There are cougar dating services, cougar cruises and that promote the idea. Could you imagine a similar thing for GUYS who like younger women. NOW and The Christians would be up in arms!

-->I'll Write One dept: reports that McDonalds is looking for hip-hop artists to mention it in rap songs. Of course, the artists would be compensated for the product placement. As of January, McDonald's says they have not yet found a hip hop song they can use "to positively reflect our brand."

-->The Truth So Nobody Believes It dept: I told you there’d be a scandal a minute. Here in New York, a female day care worker is arrested for having sex with a 4-year old boy. The city is shocked. The woman talks to the press.
     “The boy enjoyed it,” she says. “He was enthusiastic.”
     People are even more outraged. How could a four-year-old enjoy sex? (I guess they’ve never seen kids play doctor.) And what’s more? Even if the kid did enjoy himself, he’s too young!
     Of course, at 4 years old, you’re too young for pleasure. You should be miserable. You’ll need the practice for later in life.

-->So what's the problem? dept: BNI (great no-pix sex review newsletter! Info from reports that a Sacramento court arraigned a California highschool teacher for having sex with a student in a car. Her two-year-old was strapped into the back seat. The boy was 16. So what? The baby was strapped in, safe. What more do they want?

-->This is the problem! dept: The same issue of BNI reports that in South Africa Ann-Marie Engelbrecht was convicted of killing her husband. Her sentence was 5 minutes of detention. Supposedly, the husband was unkind to her. The judge, a woman (surprise!) said that Engelbrecht already served her sentence by being married to the guy.

-->Diet? What Color? Dept: AARP Magazine reports that an 8 year study by the University of Texas in San Antonio found that 54.5 percent of adults who drank diet soda became overweight. This compares with 32.8 percent of those who drank sugared soda.

-->Smell This Baby dept: You know that "new car smell" that everybody likes? It reminds me of sniffing a packet of Lipton's soup. Well, that lovely smell comes from volatile organic compounds. The fumes from these compounds can cause nausea, headaches, throat irritation and more. Japanese carmakers have already begun to cut back. They say by 2007, their vehicle interiors will meet air quality guidelines set for residential buildings.
     In the US, I expect laws to require a similar parity. But rather than decrease the chemicals in cars, the US will take the more business-like approach and INCREASE the pollutants in buildings.

-->Inadequate Thanks dept: I wanted to list names and addresses, but I don’t have time or space. But MUCHO THANKS to the folks who helped me out with readings in Ft. Lauderdale, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, The Bowery, and especially Providence Rhode Island. You guys ROCK… or at least walk unsteadily. Thanks for everything.

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