Saturday, January 30, 2010

Mykel's MRR Column for #321, (February, 2010)

You're Wrong
An Irregular Column
for MRR 321, February 2010
by Mykel Board

"I do not take any pleasure in suffering the torments of travel merely so that I could dine out on them.”--Paul Theroux

It's amazing how easily my thumb slips into my right nostril. How it perfectly conforms to the skin inside. Better than an ice scraper on a windshield. It scales the inside nasal wall as New York's pollution collects under the fingernail. A little twist... a pinch... a pull. A bloody booger comes out with two hairs crossed through the middle. 

Yeah, I'm back in THE CITY. My trip to Albania behind me. Gone. But far from being forgotten, despite my creeping senility. Last week I wrote about being tricked by a mysterious bus rider, into a spooky house? Hotel? Abattoir? “You can stay at my place,” he mimed, unable to speak a word of English, and my Albanian limited to less than a hundred words.Now, I'm in a room that only locks from the outside. I'm in the middle of the countryside, on a hill, in Albania. I don't know how to get to anywhere from here. I don't even know where here is. My tormentor's only motive for keeping me like this has to be torture and then (mercifully?) murder.

I don't sleep very well that night. When I do drift off the dreams are terrible. Fortunately, I can't remember most of them. Only one. I'm standing outside. Just standing... eyes closed... seeing nothing. I feel a hand grab the front of my shirt, at solar plexus level. In the dream, I know it is a dream. This is not real. I reach down and feel the hand. A human hand, masculine, holding tight. I grab the hand and squeeze. It crumples like hollow plaster in my grip.

Then I wake up.

I must have drifted off yet again, because I'm again awakened. This time by the sound of the glass door sliding open. There he is, my abductor, impossibly old, pillow-shaped, face frozen into a perpetual frown. He carries a large cup of coffee and more fruit. 

The only thing I've eaten in the past days is fruit. Figs, pomegranates, and a mysterious cactus fruit. It all grows in the garden 30 or so feet directly below. Fertilized, I'm sure, by many others who have stood in this exact spot. The fruit keeps constant pressure on my bowels. I don't take shits. I explode them. 

I understand why he asked me how long I'm staying. He hates what he has to do, and wants to postpone it until the last possible minute. I could escape, maybe. But I'm so far out of town, so lost, how would I ever get anywhere? And he'd see me with my backpack. That'd be a... er... dead giveaway.

He tells me his name. Cocho. I'm horrible with names, but somehow I feel if I don't remember this one, I'll be in even worse trouble. It becomes the most important task of my life to remember it. Let's see: Ocho is eight in Spanish. Co-means together like co-worker or cooperate. Two eights together. I fix the image in my mind and superimpose it over his face.

I take out my camera and motion that I want to take his picture. I figure when my remains wash up on shore, they'll find the camera and catch the guy. Surprisingly, he agrees. I guess he'll dispose of the camera when he disposes of me.

After the photos, he points out to the sea. He asks if I'm going to go swimming. I tell him it's too cold. He says maybe tomorrow. I say, “No I'm leaving tomorrow.”I can see the sadness in his face when I make it clear I'm not staying another day. The longer he can wait, the better. I know he doesn't want to do this, but he's got to. And now, it has to be tonight. 

Dua te shikoj Himara. (I want to see (the town of) Himara.), I tell him. 

I'm not thinking clearly. Even if I manage to get into town, I could never find my way back to his place. I get lost in Soho, for God's sake. And I can't take all my bags with me. He'd know. I have to come back here.

He points to me, then himself, and then makes a two-fingers-next-to-each-other sign that means together. Ok, we'll go together. People will see us. When they find the body, they'll be suspicious. 

At least that will get me back to the death chamber. 

So together we climb the stairs to the alley that leads to the tunnel that leads to the ditch that leads to the stone steps that lead to the road where the bus will come to take us to Himara. We wait for a bit. The bus does not come. 

I take a picture of the stone staircase, another of the garage door close to it, another of a sign that says QEPARO FSHAT, right near the descent from the highway. Qeparo is the name of this tiny village. I have no idea what “fshat” means, but maybe some cab or bus driver will recognize the sign. Besides, if I escape, like that girl in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I can use the photos as clues for the cops to find Albania's Ed Gein. Still, the bus doesn't come. 

A car pulls out of a nearby driveway, off the main road. Slowly, it makes its way to the outer street. Cocho walks over and signals the man to stop. They have a conversation. Cocho opens the front and back doors of the car. He motions for me to get in the rear. I do. Then he closes both doors and waves good-bye. We head into town.

The driver lets me and another passenger off at the post office. I look up the word return in the Albanian-English dictionary: kthim.

Ku kthim? I ask him. (When return?)

He shows me two fingers, one bent halfway. I guess that means in an hour and a half. I figure he'll park his cab here and return to it when it's time to leave. That doesn't give me much time, but I can buy some stamps and mail my postcards, go for a stroll down the beach, look at the ocean, have a last cup of coffee before I die. I figure wrong. 

When I get out of the post office, the cab is gone. 

I'll never find my way back now. My bags, most of my money is with Cocho. My computer, too. I know the only logic is death, but what if I'm missing something? What if he's just this nice eccentric old coot who really does want to take care of me? It's not logical (or true, it turns out), but what if?

I walk to a taxi stand near the post office. Maybe my driver will be there. He isn't.

Most of the cabs are empty. In the only one with a driver, the driver is asleep on the front seat with the door open and one leg out of the cab. Knowing my own consciousness on just awakening, I decide not to wake him for the drive.

From a nearby restaurant, another guy, late thirties, needing a shave as do all Albanian men, walks toward me. [Note: Albania joins that list of countries: Turkey, Mongolia, Brazil, where the women are neck-wrenchingly beautiful, but the men are as ugly as the Bush family.

Taksi? he says.

I pull out my camera and flip through the pictures until I find the garage on the main road. 

Ju dini ketu? I ask. (You know here?)

He squints at the picture and then shakes his head. “Po (yes),” he says. Then he says 13 Euros in English. I try to bargain, but he sticks to the price. 

Taxi-meter he says. 

During the ride, he never turns on the taxi-meter.

He does, however, get me to the garage. And actually a little past where the QEPARO FSHAT sign is. I get out and go down the stairs, trying to remember the way to the house of horrors.

A strange kind of trance music comes from someplace. It's like a pop version of Phillip Glass. I've never heard it before. It may be what's popular these days. I'm out of touch. But it sounds spooky to me.

I walk down some steps, through a tunnel, another tunnel, past a ditch, through an alley. I see a pile of bricks I never saw before. A door with a large round knocker... never saw it before either. I'm lost.

I turn to retrace my steps. An old man comes the other way. 

“Cocho?” I ask him.He laughs, and points back where I came from. Then he makes a downward motion with his hands, and a sweeping curve with his arm. I retrace my steps, and soon get lost again. 

“The sea, the sea,” I think. If I can find the sea, I can look up at the houses. I'll recognize my jail from the blue front and the sheer drop. If I go down, any path down, I'll find the sea. 

I pick a downhill path. The music is louder here, more menacing than mellow. Like a horror movie soundtrack. I follow the path until it ends... dead ends. Then I go up a little and take another path through a bunch of fruitplants, and then down again. Sand, plastic debris, I've found the sea. 

Turning my back to it, I scan the houses. There it is. Blue, in its glory, ready to fall with me, into the sea. I head right for it, up the path to the lower gate to the house. I know this gate, Cocho took me through it yesterday, to show me the fruit and the way to the beach. I'm sure this is the way back to the house. 

The gate is locked.

I do not scream. I do not pound on it. Instead, I keep the house in view, and go up through the trees, catching my sleeve on a cactus, then pulling free. The music continues, insistent, droning. Up to a small trail. I've lost sight of the house, but I think I know where it is. I follow the path. The house comes into view again. I can see it slightly below and to the right. I reach the set of steps I recognize. They lead down toward the house. They end at a gate.

The gate is not locked.

I walk through it and escape into my room. It's warm. I collapse on one of the two beds in the room and fall into a dreamless sleep. 

I awaken when it's still light outside. There is a rattle as the glass door slides open. Cocho brings a tray with more figs and other strange fruit on it. Much of the fruit from yesterday lies rotting by the sink. He doesn't seem to notice. He moves the food in smooth motions, like a robot. Gliding the tray to the plastic table in my room. 

He makes an eating motion, putting his hands to his lips. 

Bukë? (Bread?), he asks. 

Po (yes), I say. I need something besides all that fruit. It just goes right through me. I'll be a pretty messy corpse. He'll deserve it.

“Did you take a shower yet?” he mimes. “Yo (no),” I say.He shrugs, goes away and comes back with a couple slices of bread and a few cubes of cheese. He also brings about a cupful of cold spaghetti with tomato sauce. Everything looks homemade. Too homemade. 

Then he goes away for a bit and I write a little more. As the sun is setting over the Adriatic, he returns. He looks grim. 

Opening the sliding glass door, he takes a chair and puts in next to mine. 

The miming starts again. You eat. You sleep. Now you pay. I recognize the Albanian word. Pagoni. You pay.

“Pay with my life?” I don't ask.He holds up one finger. A thousand Lek?? That's ten dollars. Hah, that's wonderful. I give him two thousand. 

“You're my friend (I use the Italian word amici, since it was a word I never needed in Albanian),” I say. “Take more.”

He nods NO.I don't understand. 

He shows me with more miming. His face never changing: One night, four thousand lek. Two nights, eight thousand.

That's robbery. That's more than I paid in my Jacuzzi hotel in Vlora. This is a haunted house! $80, that's ridiculous. I'm not going to... Yeah, right.

I hand him the money. It's most of what I have left. But, he's only robbing me! He won't kill me. It's just extortion. He's a hustler, a con artist, not a murderer. Take my money, please! I could kiss the guy.

I ask him what time the bus leaves for Saranda tomorrow. He tells me 9AM. I say I'll get up at 8. Too late, he says. 

OK, I tell him. Statë ore. Seven o'clock.

I set my cellphone alarm (that's all it's good for, it can't make calls here) for 6:30. I want time to clean myself up and empty out all the fruit. 

At 6:15 Cocho opens the door to wake me up. He stands and watches as I get dressed, stuff my remaining clothes into my pack and go out the door with him. He leads me back upstairs through the alleys and ditches to the road. 

My bus comes and I get on it. He does not say good bye. I watch him cross the street to go back to Vlora, where he found me.

He'll wait at the bus stop. Someone not from around here, will get on a bus headed South. He will ask them where they're staying. Then he'll offer his own place. Eventually, someone else will say yes, and move into the room I just left.

ENDNOTES: [email subscribers ( or website viewers ( will get live links and a chance to post comments on the column]

-->Somehow it sounds like propaganda dept: Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal reports that the family of a protester in Iran was told that they had to pay a $3000 BULLET FEE-- a fee for the bullet used by security forces-- before they'd get the body of their son.

I don't believe it. Sounds like the Saddam Hussein dead babies stories, or the Qadaffi drag stories. Or the Japanese-women-built-differently stories, during a much earlier war.

-->Democracy Now, yeah right dept: Democracy Now, a liberal magazine, complains that a Tennessee Republican State Senator refused to fire a staffer who sent out a racist image of President Obama. The staffer sent out an email with images of all the Presidents. Obama was in the bottom right hand corner-- only a pair of bright white eyes on a black background. 
It was Nat Hentoff who wrote the book "Free speech for me, but not for thee." Go Nat! Now more than ever!

-->Clark University, in enlightened Worcester Massachusetts, canceled a talk by Norman Finkelstein who is both a Holocaust scholar and critic of Israel's occupation of the West Bank. The reason for the cancellation? The university said the talk "would invite controversy." 
I say, what the fuck are universities for if not to invite controversy?

-->Also from Massachusetts dept:, a bill in the legislature proposes to criminalize nude pictures of people over 60 and people who are disabled. Why? For their own protection, of course. We can't have old people or cripples thinking about sex... or even nudity, can we? It just wouldn't be... er... liberal?

-->1984 Redux dept: Many people who read their books with Amazon's kindle e-book reader suddenly found that Amazon had deleted copies of George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm from the device... even after they purchased it. The reasons are obscure, but just that they CAN do this, should scare people back to paper. But then again, paper can be deleted too. Fahrenheit 451 anybody?

-->It's all happening in South America dept: Lawmakers in Uruguay approved a bill to legalize gay adoption. It's not finished yet, but it should become law later this year. In the same week, the Argentinean Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to punish anybody for possession of small quantities of cannabis. The week before, Mexico passed a law that decriminalized possession of small quantities of most drugs, including marijuana, heroin, cocaine and LSD. Then, earlier in the year, a Brazilian appeals court ruled that possession of drugs for personal use is not illegal. Mind you, they are way behind Portugal which decriminalized all personal drug possession back in 2000.
Time to move?

--> Progressive Pollution dept: The EPA in 2006 named BP (British Petroleum) as the worst polluter in the U.S. Guess who advertises in the liberal NATION magazine... with a green flower as their logo.

-->Spy vs. Spy dept: Jim Hightower reports that Starbucks' newest competitor is... well... Starbucks. According to Hightower, the awful coffee giant is finally getting the message that people don't want to drink coffee produced by an awful coffee giant. According to Hightower, Starbucks will open new shops, keeping their name off the marquee. 
Hightower reports, “The new shops strive to be the anti-Starbucks, with funky stylings and localized names that disguise the corporate presence behind them.” 

  So, before you buy from that new coffee shop down the street. Ask 'em who signs their paychecks.

Mykel's homepage is here. 

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Mykel's MRR Column for #320, (January, 2010)

If you want to read more about Mykel's adventures in Albania, The US South-- or life in General-- check out Mykel's Diary For a look at the weird, the scary and the funny in real life, check out Mykel's Article's and Propositions.

You're Wrong
An Irregular Column
for MRR 319, December 2009
by Mykel Board

If you want to make God laugh,tell him your plans. --Junot Diaz

Albanians do not eat. I don't understand it yet, but I've been in this country for two weeks now. Maybe I'll have it figured out by the time I leave. 

Yeah Albania. Country of Mother Theresa and John Belushi. A land where the people are not quite like either one of those. 

I write this part of the column sitting in Saranda, in a $20 a night hotel. It's 6AM. I went to bed at eight last night with a headache like I've never had before. A grinding split from my nose to the back of my neck. Three lines. One down the middle of my head. One on each side, where a part would be, if had I enough hair to part. It was like a double migraine. So severe I wanted to puke. I would've if I'd eaten anything. 

Every town in this country has dozens of outdoor cafés. In each of them, tables full of men (mostly men), drink coffee from tiny cups. In the evening, they drink beer or raki-- a kind of grape vodka. They don't eat. There are restaurants, pizza parlors and places with FAST FOOD signs on them, in English. No one eats in them. They just drink coffee.

It's weird, but only one of the many mysteries of this country, the least visited place in Europe. But this column will not be a mystery, it will be a tale. A true tale, written fittingly in the month of Halloween.

The tale starts in Vlora, a city about 100 miles up the coast from here. I wanted to come here directly from Vlora, but by the time I woke up, all the buses to Saranda had left. My only choice was to go to Himara, about half-way. That bus doesn't leave from the regular bus station, but one a bit out of town. I can get there by taxi. No problem. 

(My guidebook lists S'ka problem! as Albanian for “No problem.” It also has this note: Often turns out to mean there is a problem.)

The bus leaves at 1PM. It's now 9 o'clock.

“Is there anything I can do at the bus station for some hours?” I ask the hotel concierge.

She nods. “There is nothing there,” she says.

(Oh yeah, I forgot to mention: Albanians nod when they mean no, and shake their heads to mean yes.)

The concierge makes a plan for me: take a walk, return to the hotel and eat lunch in the hotel restaurant at 11. Then, after lunch, take a taxi to the bus terminal. I'll be there in plenty of time.

Maybe that's why I don't see people eat. They have lunch at 11AM. Maybe dinner at 4 o'clock. Who expects people to be eating at those times?

Nope, that's not it either.

I walk along the beach for a little bit and sit to watch a bulldozer push the plastic garbage around. I go to the post office and mail some postcards.

At 11, I return to the hotel and go to the restaurant. It's empty, though the door is open. A heavy-set woman mops the floor.

Une dua te ha ditchka. (I want to eat something.) I say. She tsks once and motions for me to sit down. I'm the only one in the place.

I ask for the menu. She brings it to me and stands over me while I decide what to eat. It's my first meal of the day. The menu has beefsteak, fish a la hoity toidy, pizza, pasta. Not exactly breakfast. I order a salad and a mineral water.

“Vetem salata?” (Only a salad?) asks the waitress, clearly meaning You disturbed me, made me open the kitchen and neglect my cleaning duties for a salad? What's wrong with you?

Vetem salata.” I reply.

It turns out that the salad is enough. It's weird, but on this trip I have less of an appetite than I do in New York. I drink more beer here, but eat a lot less. I wonder if I'm going to lose weight.

My stomach is strange, as it always is when traveling. It suddenly clenches, in extreme pain. A rush to the bathroom cleans me out, and I'm good for the rest of the day. After my salad, come the clenches.

I have a long bus trip ahead. So after I pay the bill, I'll clean myself out, and be ready for the ride to Himara.

I stand to signal that I'm finished. The waitress comes to me, collects my money and through the open restaurant door walks a burly guy wearing a black and white knit sweater. He walks right up to me.

“Taxi bussi Himara,” he says grabbing my bags. “We go.”

So, me, my stomachache and I are off to the bus station. It's just a space on the side of a street out of town. It's barely big enough for one bus. I get in the only bus there.

The driver takes my backpack out of the bus and puts it someplace I can't see. I'm the only passenger, but not for long. People arrive about 15 minutes before the scheduled leaving time. Lots of people.

One of the first is an older guy. About my height, he wears a typical Albanian tan straw hat. He has a worn-but-clean tweed jacket, and black slacks. His eyes are deep-set, and half closed, like they've seen too much. He sits in an empty seat, the one behind mine.

He taps me on the shoulder and I turn to face him. His eyes are watery-- not sad watery-- but sick watery. One of them doesn't look exactly in the same direction as the other. He says something to me in Albanian.

“Une nuk flac sqip,” I say. (I don't speak Albanian.)

He shrugs, then motions for me to come and sit next to him. I do. It's not long before I begin to fear that is a mistake.

The bus leaves about a half hour past schedule.

With very few words, THE GUY speaks to me: some Italian, some Greek, some Albanian... but mostly sign language... like he's done it hundreds of times before.

He asks me where I'm from: New York.

Where I'm going: Himara.

Where I'm staying in Himara. (He puts his hands together and tilts his head on them. Then closes his eyes meaning “place you sleep.”) I don't know, I shrug.

You (he points to me). Sleep (the sleeping gesture again.) My place. He points to himself, makes a little house-like triangle with his fingers, and then the sleeping gesture again.

I know. I know. I must be crazy to say yes. But I'm sick of hotels, and Albania is supposed to be safe and small-town people are always friendlier than city people, right? I shake my head in agreement.

There's not much more to say as we ride along. Once he taps me on the shoulder and makes a straight ahead motion, then up and down, as if he's explaining the torturous mountain road ahead.

I say koptoj (I understand). But maybe I don't.

During the next hour or so, I look at him every once in awhile. I'm trying for human contact. A smile or something. There is nothing. He looks straight ahead, eyes half closed as in worry, or very serious thought. Sometimes he looks at his knees. His forehead furls. I begin to feel uneasy.

After about two hours of silence, the bus pulls into the Albanian equivalent of a highway rest-stop.

It's a small mountain restaurant called: BEGO

The bus empties. Most everybody goes inside to eat. A few have a smoke first, then join those of us inside. THE GUY stays outside. He walks around. He does not smoke. He just walks, looking at the ground most of the time. Sometimes he does something with his hands, but I can't see what it is.

I eat a simple rice dish and have some water. As I finish, THE GUY walks in and sits at my table.

Juu doni te ha ditchka? (“You want to eat something?”) I ask.

He smiles weakly, shrugs and leaves again. A few minutes later, I leave, take some pictures of the restaurant, then get back in the bus. THE GUY looks at me without smiling and pats the seat next to him.

We take off, going up and down mountainsides, hairpin turns. The way buses in the mountains always do.

I look at THE GUY and smile. He doesn't smile. He looks at his hands. In them now are rosary beads. He's running them through his fingers. Squinting in something between worry and sorrow. NOW, I understand. I begin to read his thoughts.

Forgive me mother Mary for what I am about to do. I know it is evil and against your ways, but I must. I have no choice. This is my life. You know me, mother Mary. I know it is wrong to take a life. To inflict so much pain, spill so much blood. But I must. You know that, mother Mary, don't you? I pray for forgiveness.

The beads run through his fingers, one after the other, until they run out at the cross. Then, he starts again.

The bus stops to pick up some school children. They look somehow off. Especially the boys. High foreheads and small jaws. And they're quiet. Ages that from six to ten... and quiet. It's spooky. Like Children of the Damned. They don't stay on the bus very long.

We pass a road sign. 5km to Himara. Somehow, that's a relief, even though I don't know what I'm in for once we get there.

When we reach Himara, most passengers get off. We do not.

An old woman, wearing all black, with a black babushka, gets on the bus. THE GUY excuses himself and talks to her. She glances at me, a sad look on her face. Then, he shoos me to the window and sits down on the aisle seat, blocking my exit.

The bus closes its doors and heads out of the city.

THE GUY taps me on the shoulder and points to the woman. Then to a ring on his finger. I guess that means she's his wife. They sure don't act very friendly. Maybe she doesn't approve of what he feels he has to do. I look at her. She does not look at me.

For the next quarter hour, he's back to his rosaries.

In the middle of a hill, the bus doors open and the women gets out. The only two people left are THE GUY and me. A little further, the bus stops. The end of the line. THE GUY gets out. Me too, retrieving my pack from the back.

Then we walk. Through a little opening in the wall. Down a long street. Through a tunnel, twisting and turning following a gravel path, through a ditch. Turn here. There's a staircase, probably built by the Romans, or the ancient Greeks. They'll never find the body in a place like this.

Will I be slowly tortured in the basement? Tied to a cross like Jesus? Helpless. THE GUY wraps his rosary around my balls and asks mother Mary for forgiveness before he bites them off. Will it be quick? Have a seat. I'll be right back. POW! Between the eyes. Will he drug me? Then do things to my unconscious body before slitting my throat, severing my head, and boiling it for dinner?

Finally, we end up at a building that overlooks the sea, sheer cliffs to the rocks below. THE GUY brings me to a room that has glass doors and enters from a balcony-- like a motel. The room has two beds, a small unplugged refrigerator, a sink, cabinets, and a bathroom. It's almost like a hotel room.

THE GUY takes a plastic table and a couple chairs from MY ROOM. He motions for me to sit down. Then he walks away. While he's gone, I run my eyes over the tile floor and plaster walls, looking for bloodstains, stray pieces of flesh. There's a dark spot. Some discoloration along the wall. I wonder who that was.

He returns with some coffee, some strange looking fruit, and a bottle of water. I see by the plastic ring that the bottle has been opened, and then refilled. I'm sure it's drugged. I don't drink from that bottle.

The coffee is delicious,though. Turkish style, made by boiling water, and coffee grounds together and pouring the mixture into a cup. After you drink it, it leaves a thick black sludge on the bottom of the cup. Heavily sugared, it's the best.

It's hard to find real Turkish coffee in New York. The first time I had it was in the former Yugoslavia, with a friend whose mother read coffee grounds like old gypsies read tea leaves. I wish she could read my future now.

“Kafé Turke?” I ask.

He nods, “Kafé Grek! No Turke!”

Yowsah, some rivalries die hard.

Then he asks if I'm married, do I have kids. All the things that will tell him how much the world will miss me when I'm gone. He's relieved when I say I have neither.

He asks how long I'm planing to stay. An encouraging sign. If he were going to kill me, why would he care?

I tell him two nights.

He shakes his head. I realize it's a trick. Something to make me feel more at ease.

Then he asks me if I want a shower, Douche, he uses the Italian/French word.

Uh oh, here it comes. Get me naked and the fun can begin.

“Yo, falaminderet” (No thank you) I say, shivering to show it's too cold to bathe.

Actually, it's unbelievably cold. In Italy, and the first two days in Albania, it was summer. When I got to Vlora I bought a bathing suit, a $30 Armani-- the only one they had left-- for the beaches in the south. Then came the rain and since then, cold. Now, it feels barely above freezing. My Inspector Gadget hat and coat are not enough to keep the chill out, especially at night.

It's about 9PM. THE GUY wishes me good night and I open the glass doors and enter the room. I try not to think about what will happen later. I try not to think about how none of it makes sense in any other way than MURDER.

If he was just being generous, why didn't he take me inside and introduce me to his wife? Why didn't he offer me a little family? Why the lack of smiles? The questions about who will miss me?

Inside. the little room is so cold that I wrap myself in the only blanket and sit with the computer, typing this, photo-shopping my travel pictures, playing spider solitaire, planning as if there were going to be a tomorrow.

It's then I notice that the glass doors to the room-- the only entrance and the only escape-- lock from the outside. Only the outside. What kind of place is this? What hotel has rooms that only lock from the outside? What house?

About 9:30, I go to sleep, fully clothed, wrapped tightly in that blanket. Outside, a dog barks incessantly. But it's not the dog that keeps me awake. I'm freezing. I wonder how much of the shaking is from the actual cold, and how much is from fear. I shake like the flu chills. Shake like there's no tomorrow. Shake waiting for the sound of bursting into the room with guns or machetes. Or worse, the sound of a key turning in the lock outside.

ENDNOTES: [Subscribers to this column can receive live links and a chance to discuss the content with Mykel. Subscribe with an email to: You can check out my travel blog with pictures at My Albanian pictures are parked in Picasa. You can get to them from the picture link on my website]  

--> Squirreling away the ACORNs dept: The US government has blocked funding for ACORN, a voter registration and poverty assistance group. Why? A pair of conservatives dressed up like a whore and pimp asked them for help. After being rejected a couple of times, one person in ACORN gave them advice. Can you imagine?

Meanwhile, the U.S. still buys from Haliburton, Dick Cheny's company, that received $80 million in government funds for electricity in Iraq. That wiring electrocuted several U.S. soldiers. The US also still pays Blackwater, the company that murdered Iraqui civilians... and has some members on trial for murder. Which is worse, murder or whoring? You know which Obama has chosen.

Virtual death/really dead dept: The Nation reports that, in China, courts gave Qui Chengwei a suspended death sentence for fatally stabbing someone over a piece of property that didn't even exist. Qui and his victim, Zhu Caoyuan, were players in the Chinese game Legend of Mir II.

Qui and a friend had jointly won a valuable Dragon Sabre by battling through a tough quest. The pair lent it to Zhu who, instead of returning it, sold it via an online auction, kept the money (about $900) and ran. Chinese police don't recognize virtual property as real goods, so technically there was no theft. There was, however, murder.

Nerd crime shows a lot about capitalism in general. By creating the NEED for something-- even if it doesn't exist-- you get people to buy it. And cheat and kill for it.

 It also bodes well for the future. Maybe those on-line gamer types will just take care of themselves. A world without Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Isn't that a dream come true?

Whoops dept: The Investor's Business Daily wrote about the evils of a national health plan: People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K. where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.

 Hawking actually lives in England and said, “I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for the National Health Service. I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived.”

Not a sick joke dept: the Times-News of Hendersonville, North Caroline reports that state officials have advised visitors to their county fair to wash their hands BEFORE entering the fair. They are afraid that humans might spread swine flu to the swine.


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