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Saturday, January 06, 2018

In Tahiti Pt. 1

Tahiti First Entry
by Mykel Board

I transfer this from my hand-written notes to my computer. It's 1PM. I'm inside the $30-a-night hostel in Pape'ete Tahiti. I've just returned from a visit to Mo'orea, “the most beautiful island in the pacific.” Hot, but rainless skies, mountains, beaches, friendly people... I hated it.

All my fault. I shudda known.

The plan? Take the 7:20AM ferry to the bus. Take the bus to the Sofitel. Have breakfast at the hotel. Walk through the hotel to the beaches on the other side. Swim in the nice/safe waters of the hotel for a few hours... eat lunch at the restaurant... once more swimming, hitch back to the last ferry at 4PM.

The reality? Take the ferry: Check. Take the bus to the Sofitel... a high end tourist trap where the rooms are “bungalos” with thatched roofs... and a jump to the sea... Got there: Check

Find the hotel restaurant: Check.

I'm sorry sir, you cannot eat here. We are full today and need the tables for our guests.

Is there a place nearby I can get something to eat? I haven't eaten since yesterday afternoon?

There is another hotel, five minutes... by car.

Can I walk it in 15 minutes?

The receptionist smiles a smile reserved for idiot tourists who can barely speak French.

No sir, you cannot walk in 15 minutes, but I can call you a taxi.

Are you sure they're not also full?

She picks up the phone. I can hear her getting switched from desk to restaurant back to desk. Then I here the merci. and she hangs up.

Good news, you can have breakfast at the other hotel... for 4500 francs. (About $45 dollars.)

No thanks, but thanks.

I walk out. $45 for bacon and eggs???? Maybe coffee??? I don't think so. I can go a day without food. I'm a Jew. We do it every year. Ah, but this sun... and the humidity!

Hungry, thirsty I head for the highway to THE NEXT PLACE

There's a little beach. No food or drink anywhere in sight... we'll a small yellow building a few hundred meters away... I go. It's a post office.

I struggle to the beach, change to my bathing suit under a towel.... Lie in the sun.. but don't go into the water. No sandals and I might step on a STONE FISH. After a half hour, hitch back to the boat (easy hitch). And take it back here.

Now to the transcription started yesterday:

I write this in an outdoor cafe in Pape'ete Tahiti. It's the rainy season... January... rainiest month of the rainy season... Guess the weather now.

The cafe is decorated with movie posters-- all obviously creased and unfolded... all French versions of American movies: Star Wars is the only one with the name not changed.

As I write, I eat a baguette sandwich... one of the cheaper things on the menu... about $5. It's a “Thon” sandwich.

I thought “Thon” meant “tongue.” You know, like you get in a Jewish deli, Hispanic taco truck, or Japanese Yaki Niku shop. Nope, I shudda known. “Thon” means Tuna.

It's a strange place here in Tahiti. I SHOULD like it, but I don't. It's like a puzzle with all its pieces:-- but they just don't fit together... at least not for me. It's tropical, relaxed, nominally Catholic, but with a history and culture steeped in mahu culture... and sexually tolerant. .

The mahu, for those who didn't click on the link, are usually the youngest boy in a family of all boys. This boy is raised as a girl. Mahu are an integrated part of society... more than accepted... just normal... everywhere, but most noticeable in restaurants, bars, and other service jobs. One of the receptionists at the hostel is one. They are everywhere, and-- like girls or “girls” everywhere-- are uninterested in sex with me.

Still it's a friendly culture, with people saying bonjour on the street... and greeting each other with a French style kiss on the cheek. They won't approach you, but will go out of their way to help if asked.

EXAMPLE: When I was looking for my couch-surfing hostess-- I had only an address and I couldn't find it. I hailed a guy on a bike. He stopped and I showed him the map on my dying phone. He shook his head and shrugged. Then, there appeared a couple of joggers. He waved them off their path and asked them in French if they knew where I needed to go. They huddled around the phone, tried to match landmarks... had a bit of trouble... One of them hailed a passing car. The car stopped. The joggers asked for the street I was looking for... the driver got out of the car... There were, then, half a dozen people huddled around my phone.

One spotted a landmark, another turned the phone properly to orient it to the street we were standing in. The bike driver said the French equivalent of Ah-hah! Then thanked everyone and took me to the building where the hostess lived. Outside was a complicated doorbell, where we had to electronically choose the apartment number. The cyclist couldn't figure out how to do it. As someone was leaving, the cyclist asked him in French. He not only explained in French, he manipulated the electronics and called the surfer. (Her name is Dominique.) VOILA!

Oh yeah, the bike guy's name was ANGEL, pronounced in French like New Yorkers pronounce the word orange. I gave him a big hug in thanks. He was not embarrased.

Maybe it's the rain... coming down like tigers and wolves now. Maybe it's the language. I try to speak French, but I do a poor and admittedly half-hearted job.

Maybe it's the contrast with New Zealand, where I stayed mostly with friends... while here I know no one.
It's not really bad... but I don't think I'll be coming back.

--More later

Mykel's more political and controversial columns are here

Friday, January 05, 2018

Journey to the Center of New Zealand Part 3

Journey to the Center of New Zealand
Final Part
by Mykel Board

So after water-blasting the seaguls while eating organic food, we're off to the local park... Before we get there, we need to go downstairs in the bug museum where there is a scary exhibit on a notorious Mauri-British confrontation. Created in twigs and dried cloth, it's as creepy as a loose floorboard in the middle of the night. These zombies greet you when you open the door to the WELLINGTON (non-bug) section of the museum.

OK, not soooo bad, almost civilized for sticks and rags... but check out the OTHER side of the floor.

And it gets heavier:

Coming out of the museum, we go to a park, another museum, then outside, I pull out the map and ask Kael... “where to next?”

He looks at the map.

“Can I help you?” comes a grandmotherly voice with a distinctly German accent.

The woman is indeed grandmotherly looking. About my age, she has that trust me, I only want to take care of you look that makes me wary.

“I don't think so,” I said. “We're just deciding what to do next.”

The woman looks at my army boots... my trenchcoat, by Bogart fedora. “Are you from New York?” she asks.

“You talkin' to me?” I don't say.

“I was thinking of going to the library,” says Kael.

“You instead should go to the Center of New Zealand,” she answers, slightly out of syntax.

“We don't have a shovel,” I don't say.

“Good idea,” says Kael. “I know where it is. But it's a walk. Is that okay Mykel?”

“I may be old,” I tell him, “but I can still walk.”

“Thanks for the idea,” he tells the woman.

“This way, Mykel,” he tells me, pulling my coatsleeve.

We bid the woman auf wiedersehen, and we're off... down a bunch of side streets, up a fairly flat hill.

“There!” says Kael, pointing to a sign.

“Fifty meters?” I tell him, “I can spit that far.”

“It's kinda uphill,” he says.

Then we come to the map. That bright orange line is the way up. A winding worm of narrow paths... and uphill? Think King Kong scaling the Empire State Building.


Starting on the hike... it seems like we've walked an hour when we come another sign.

Kael says (scampering ahead), “Come on... we're almost there.”

TWENTY MINUTES! That's not almost ANYTHING... except the time for pressing that snooze alarm ONE MORE TIME.

“Hang on,” I say, trying an exercise called BREATHING. “Okay, let's go.”

Up... up... Whenever we come to a turn... a choice between two paths... one side is steep... the other impossible... there we go.

Suddenly I have more sympathy for the Israelites leaving Egypt... it must have been a similar hike.

What's even more frustrating is meeting people who are on the way down from the trek.

“Don't worry. It's only five minutes.”

For YOU maybe. You're on the way down!

Kael scampers up ahead. He disappears from sight... then scampers back to see if I'm still alive.

“Don't worry Mykel,” he says. “It's right up there!” He points vaguely in the direction of the sun.

And finally, there it is. And what is IT? Is it a plaque on the ground saying YOU ARE AT THE CENTER OF NEW ZEALAND with a dot in the center? Is it a huge needle pointing to the spot that is the exact geographical center of the country?

Yes! That's exactly what it is.

The Plaque
The Giant Needle

Reaching the spot, I collapse on a hard stone bench and watch as a family of a dozen or so people try to fit themselves into one cellphone picture. “Can I take a picture for you?” I ask the woman struggling with the camera.

 “Are you from New York?” asks the woman. 

“Fugeddabouddit!” I say.

 They laugh.

 After the picture, it's a couple minutes rest and conversation with the Aucklanders who are in Nelson for a family reunion with their 80 year old patriarch. I tell them if they're ever in New York, they should come to drink club... And they can stay on my couch, though with 13 of them, it might be difficult.

 We bid our adieus and head down the hill. Yes we're going pretty fast as Kael and I have begun to feel some bladder pressure. After the restroom, we head into town. On a side street, we pass a woman, her husband with a toddler riding his shoulders.

The guy says HI and they pass us... the baby's hat falling from its head. Kael picks it up runs ahead and hands it to mom. Then mom and dad turn around.

 “You're Kale,” says the guy “... Aleister's son.” Kale nods.

 Then the guy looks at me. “And you're that punk rocker from New York.”

 “You talkin' to me?” I don't say.


 More later, check out earlier entries in this blog and my more offensive political blog

Friday, December 29, 2017

Journey to the Center of New Zealand Part 2

Journey to the Center of New Zealand

Part 2: A latte with a side of water bazooka

After the bug museum we head off to eat.

[ASIDE] I forgot to mention that entry to the bug museum was free for Kael because he was a Nelson native... and free for me because I was accompanied by a Nelson native.

“Let's go to the kitchen,” suggests Kael.

“We're already in town,” I explain. “The kitchen is back home...” I gesture with my thumb over my shoulder, “through winding roads, over mountains... past llamas.”

“No,” he says, “The kitchen... THE KITCHEN. Connor said it was good.

“Where is the kitchen?” I ask Google, confident it would tell me “next to the dining room.”

I was wrong. It gave me an address and a little map... so off we went. Not far from where Alistair, Kael's dad who I'm probably spelling wrong... has his downhill bike office.

I could see why Connor (Kael's older brother) recommended it. Plenty of vegan choices for the vegan siblings... Tolerent Kael didn't flinch when I had something nice with salmon in it. I ordered a ginger beer and Kael wanted some fruit thing.

STOP: Let me explain the system in New Zealand... It's similar to a few places in the US... and the same as MosBurger in Japan. You go to the counter, and order your food. Then you pay and get a number at the end of a metal pole that looks like a giant old-fashioned bill-spike. You pay for the meal and take the numbered spikey thing to your table. The waiter/ess finds you by your number.

I like to eat/drink outside. Kael was accommodating. We took a seat. Near us was a small cart with two shelves. On the top shelf were dirty dishes, probably just cleaned from the tables. On the second shelf, were two large green water pistols, and a huge water bazooka.

“Can I order a water bazooka on the side... like ketchup or hot sauce?” I asked Kael.

“They're called BLASTERS,” he tells me. “Sure you can.”

“Do kids come home... soaking wet... after going out with their friends... saying Hey Mom, I went out with my friends and got sooooo BLASTERED?” I ask.

“Sure,” he says, “happens all the time.”

Here comes the waitress with our food. Kael has ordered a vegan tart with his vegan sandwich.

“Can I get you anything else,” asks the waitress... one of those darker pretty women whose short shorts reveal that her legs go all the way down from her hip to her ankle.

“Yes please,” I say. “I'd like some hotsauce and a water blaster.”

“Sure,” she says, “you want a plain or a bazooka.”

“Uh...” I stutter. “I was kidding. Why exactly do you have water pistols in an outdoor restaurant?”

“For the seagulls, of course” she answers... like I'd asked why they serve food in an outdoor restaurant.

“The seagulls shoot water pistols?”

Kael kicks me under the table.

“It keeps them off the tables... we like to shoot them without actually hurting them.... They steal food and make poo over everything.”

[NOTE: POO is New Zealandish for SHIT. I've also heard the word in American places outside of New York... But I think it's an affectation.]

I open my mouth to say something else, but Kael kicks me again.

Okay, Mykel. Time to go to the OTHER MUSEUM... and the park. But what's this CENTER stuff? You'll find out!

--- next time: Is That The World's Longest Freshwater Eel in Your Pocket or Are You Happy to See Me?

This is chapter 2. Check out chapter one here

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Journey to the Center of New Zealand Part 1

Journey to the Center of New Zealand

Part One

by Mykel Board

There are two central characters in this true adventure. Mykel, your narrator, who you should already know. If not, I'll introduce you. Here's a picture with the Nelson butterfly man:

The photographer is also my guide. The intrepid Kael, ho has agreed to lead me through adventures on my last day in Nelson.

Here he is showing off his green rock... a traditional gift of Maori tradition, that cannot be bought for oneself, but must be given in recognition of some specific trait... like bravery, or skill in wild bore hunting. Kael won his for his HARD WORK ability. I don't think they have one for my special skills.

 That's Aleister... aka “Dad” in the background.

We hadn't originally planned to trek to the geographical center of the country. I mean, who visits Lebanon Kansas, right?

My usual goals in any city adventure are:

1. Something “in nature”
2. A local restaurant
3. A museum
4. A brewery
5. A strip club

Since Kael is 11 years old, I figured we might skip the last two... at least for a year or two. Kael wanted to include THE LIBRARY in the trip. (NOTE: Kael and his older brother Connor are kinds of superstars in my book. They're both under 15, yet do not spend their sparetime liking “friends” facebook posts about sneakers.

Both of them READ (I mean books... you know, things with pages, and ears that you can dog) and both of them follow mom into music. (NOTE: my connection to the family is through Mom who played guitar in an all-female band SPITBOY... in the 90s). When the kids have nothing to do and there are no books handy BLAM!! They're off to the soundproof room, on guitar and drums... sometime with mom sitting in.on bass or they switch instruments. Mom did it right!

Back to the trip. Dad... a cool guy and professional moutain-biker (it's complicated, but a great story in its own right) drove us into town from their place on a back road on top of a back hill in the foothills of the local local mountains.  He dropped us off at the bike center.

“Call mom when you're ready to come back,” he says. “There's not much to do.”

Boy was he wrong!

[NOTE: Right now the boat has begun rockin'. Up and down. Side to side. Passengers are staggering like drunks. This is so much fun... ]

FIRST STOP: The information center, where Kael takes my picture with the butterfly man, and we get maps (yes! He can read a map that is NOT an app! And that rhymes.) and ask how to get to:

THE BUG MUSEUM! says Kael. “We gotta go to the bug museum.”

A kindly local information officer knows what he's talking about and marks it down. The other famous museum in town is the Suter Art Gallery... the info man makes an X on the map. And we're off... following the map to the streets to a trail on the floor:

You guessed it. THE BUG MUSEUM.

I can't say I know a lot about bugs. Even the word BUGS conjures up-- for me-- a different image:

At first the museum looked like a piece of Andy Warhol pop art. Just a copy of what you'd see every day anyway. Can you say Mykel's Kitchen?

Other displays though, were  weird, interesting... surprising...

Forensic Entomology?

Just filled with MUST KNOW information that I'll put it to work as soon as we get to land.

Then there was this... encouraging people to EAT bugs:

And Kael, being a vegan, wasn't interested in the animal protean.

I found it interesting that the museum has tried the same It's just protein. It's good for you. line that I've tried unsuccessfully for the last 50 years-- in a different context.

 Maybe it works for them.

Leaving the museum, we stopped to take pictures before being devoured.

Coming up: A Latte with a side of water bazooka.

For a more offensive/opinionated read, check out

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Pacific Blog Entry 3... all over the place

Starting out in CHRISTCHURCH, NZ

I awaken naked... under a heavy blanket in the guestroom at Vera's place. Last night was shower night... There's something refreshing about sleeping nude when your body is clean and your mind isn't. I have no idea what time it is... there is light outside, but as this is the longest day of the year it could be 5AM or 9PM...

Wristwatches, as obsolete as human contact in 2017, I reach for my phone and press the turn-on button. PLEASE CONNECT YOUR CHARGER... it says. The time 6:36AM. Why?

I'm suffering a kind of jet lag...not from jets, though. Maybe I should call it social lag. Things stop here at 10... 9... 8. Two nights ago Vera and I went out to drink. We started looking for a place by the beach at around 8:30. Our first stop... a nice little restaurant/bar with outdoor seating... was closed... The waiter and waitresses were arranging the furniture for the next days' breakfast crowd.

At 9, we found another bar/restaurant... again with outside seating. (I love to eat and drink outside. People are more open, natural when there're no walls. You look up and see far... the sky. Often there are smokers, naturally friendly people... and facing nearly universally approved discrimination... joined together... with a greater solidarity than any ethnic, religious, or gender group. Smokers are friendly, often meditative, social in away that phone obsessed millennials cannot be. I often wish I could be one of them, but a bad lung and an over-active mucus system prevents it.

There are about ten others in the outside area. They all sit at a single long table. Their conversation is loud, but not unpleasantly so. Vera and I take a table close... but not too close. A single strand of cigarette smoke comes from someone at the other table.

Two or three minutes after we sit down. One of the guests-- a woman wearing a checked kercheif-- stands with that watch-looking gesture that means... Time to get out of here. I wonder if she really has a watch.

In two or three minutes, the table is empty and Vera and I are the only ones left drinking in the vast outdoor space. At 9:30 we leave.

So my jet lag comes from changing from a night to a morning person. From one who starts his night-crawls at 9:30... to one who ends them at that time. From one who sees the sunrise as a signal for bedtime to one whose sleep ends with the rising sun.

FLASH TO NOW: I sit at the library... the Manchester Central Library... but it's not in Manchest, it's in Christchurch. I've had adventures, but they've been (mostly) solo adventures. Tiny things I've done or felt. And feeling is the key.

My bad lung is acting up and my continual cough keeps people at a distance. My bowels are also acting up and that too keeps people at a distance. A massive dose of monolaurin has prevented a sore throat from following its usual 8 day progress into snotfilled nostrils--> sneezes--> runny eyes--> fever--> cough... and gone directly from the sore throat to the cough.

I sit at a long table with outlet extension cords placed every 2 yards or so. The table is poorly located in front of large open windows that require you to look directly into the sun... This being Christchurch... there is rarely sun.

ASIDE: There is a cliché in England that goes: If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes and it'll be something else. Here in Christchurch, it's more extreme. If you don't like the SEASON, wait five minutes and it'll be a different one. Mid-day, you go out in short sleeves. The natives walk around barefoot (but I think they do that every season), in shorts, t-shirts. Fall comes about 5PM... by 6:30 it's winter and those in-the-know put on the downcoats they've brought with them to the beach.

In the morning... at least at 6:36 this particular morning, it's early spring. Comfortable under the covers, but shriveling cool lying naked on the bed. I try to get back to sleep... but my 67-year old bladder needs emptying. Likewise my overactive bowels.

ASIDE: These days I can rarely go more than 90 minutes without having to shit or piss... usually both. I can postpone fecal exit by carefully controlled gas leaks that confuse my body into thinking it has produced an honest-to-god offal expulsion.... But before long the piper has to be paid.

Some days, when I have a specific adventure in mind... or when I'm planning on meeting old friends, strangers, or those with whom I hope to exchange bodily fluids... I take a morning Immodium with my daily vitamins and monolaurin. Today is not one of those days.

So I look out the window at the Rolling Thunder/Harley Davidson sale shop... the Honda/Ducati shop... and the powertools rental shop I can't see the name of. For the second time since I've started writing this, I fill the urge to relieve the gas slowly building in my bowels.

AND OF ASIDE: In many places, people go to the mountains... or to “the country” to feast on the peace and quiet of a non-urban landscape. As a city boy, the peace and quiet of Christchurch was country-enough. I couldn't imagine enjoying a trip to a place where the bars close even earlier. So when Vera suggested a ride out to a farm, I was less then enthusiastic... I was wrong.

The cityside does not have Bison, Llamas, or older German couples living an organic life... wearing Grateful Dead t-shirts. The countryside does... and it was great. I didn't manage to get the Bison, but here are the Llamas:

There are also sheep, cows, and horses. More cows, than sheep... this was something much different from the last time I was in New Zealand.

“Blame it on the changing economy,” Vera told me. “There is a dairy company... based in New Zealand... the largest in the world. And they give subsidies to farmers who change from sheep to cows. So they change. Herders become farmers. Cows... not native to New Zealand replace ... the native sheep. It's very sad.”

“I'm usually a fan of immigration,” I tell her. “but I see your point.”

ASIDE: New Zealand is very sensitive to the issue of invasive species. Sometimes, I think it's a codeword for HUMAN immigrants. Everywhere you look you see veiled references... you tell me if this (from the Wellington Museum) isn't something right out of Donny Trump's instruction manual on immigration:

FLASH AHEAD Today is Xmas Eve day... I've left Christchurch and am now in Nelson... Not named after the TV family, but after the British admiral who defeated someone or other. I'm in a park... there are bright yellow and red flowers. Birds are chirping...This morning... breakfast way the fuck up in the middle of nowhere. The kid of the family... 8 years old, I'd guess... first words at the table.

“Gee, I hope it rains today.”

Not something you usually hear at breakfast in a place by the ocean. But it hadn't rained for 3 months. Yeah, that's past perfect there, buckarooS! I did it!

--More coming

for my more controversial non-travel writing check out

Monday, December 18, 2017

6th Day of Hanukah-- Pacific Blog Day 2

Entry 2

I restart this entry after a computer crash that wiped out my previous attempt at an update..

I'm now on a bus traveling from Picton to Christchurch. It's been an event-filled couple of weeks, including Los Angeles, where Julien in the midst of several personal crises... still had time to attend to his friend on (mostly) and off (once for a long time) for 30 years. Waiheke island, where Reneta made me several meals a day and the only payment expected was my changing into a bathing suit to help wash the porch screens. Wellington where Mr. (and Mrs) Sterile took care of me like a long-lost punkrock friend.

Right now, the computer is on the blink. It shuts down and loses everything if the bus goes over a bump... and bump is the name of the game. The Internet is spotty in this mountainous land of 4.5 million people who walk barefoot on public streets. Where all the signs are in English, with an abbreviated version in Maori... which had no written language until the English transcribed it using English letters.

I don't think I've heard Maori spoken on the street, though I have heard German, Chinese, Swedish, some unidentifiable Slavic language and New Yorkese (“You talkin' to me? Fuhgeddabouddit!”). I've made it to Christchurch, the biggest city on the South Island. I hear there's a synagogue in town... it's long been my dream to take a picture of a synagogue in Christchurch. The irony is just too good to pass up.

I've been on the road for 18 days now... one in a hostel. It's the kindness of friends that bed me down every night (not THAT WAY!) and from start to now I have to thank:

Julien (LA in the fire)
Renata (Waiheke & Aukand)
Kieren & Chrissy (Wellington)
Vera (Christchurch)

I've been traveling in New Zealand using the INTERCITY BUS SYSTEM. It works like this:

You buy TIME in advance. For example, I bought 45 hours. Then you reserve a bus from Y to Z and they deduct the time it SHOULD take to go that distance. When you get to zero, you can “top off” buying extra hours.

The buses are more comfortable than Mega or Bolt... but they have no electrical sockets. (Which are weird here anyway. They look something like a facebook SURPRISE emoji.)

The “wi-fi” on board is pretty spotty, but that's what you get most places with a lot a mountains and few people. Most annoying, however, is the bus schedule. Yesterday, on the trip from Picton to Christchurch, the bus left at 7:30... AM!!! Oh yeah please be at the busstop at least 15 minutes early to check-in with the driver.

From Christchurch I go to Nelson, and the leaving time? 7AM??? Are they kidding? That's bedtime! What? Do we have to milk the cows before we leave?

I booked a hostel the night before so I could be close to the bus station.

“Don't worry,” says Vera, “I'll take you. You can cancel your reservation.”

“But that means getting up at 5:30 in the morning!” I say.

“No problem,” says Vera.

Like the others... I owe her big time.

Ah well, today was the sixth day of Chanukah. Vera's maternal grandmother was Jewish, so that means she's a Jew. Her friend Susan... visiting for dinner is also a Jew... a doctor! Vera had a menora... probably gotten in New York. No Chanukah candles in sight, but the age-old birthday candle trick worked like a dream. Waddaya think?

--more later

If you're interested in my nastier, more political writing, you can read me at:

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Pacific Trip: Entry One LA... ENTERING FROM THE REAR


Los Angeles Day One

Saturday Dec. 1, 8:18 probably Central Standard Time: The map in the seatback in front of me puts us over Kansas, 2 hours 54 minutes from LA. I've got a window seat... no one crawling over me to get out to piss. No baby screams behind me. Out the window, faint lights from the town below make an outline somewhat reminiscent of the Misfits skull logo.

Behind me there are two empty seats. In the middle one is a woman with a tubercular cough. I've already offered her a Fisherman's Friend .® She rejected my offer. Maybe because it was unlabeled and unwrapped. .

Her cough continually worsens. And while I'm not a gun-control advocate, it's times like these that I feel lucky in not carrying one. The woman behind me still has her cough... and her head.

It's just an allergy,” she tells me... as if that's a good enough excuse... Same excuse I used in Mongolia when I tried to pick up girls in the midst of a bronchitis attack. I forgot how to say Yeah right! in Mongolian... but I used to know.

I got to the airport, as usual, 4 hours early. Spent most of it in a facebook spat about sexual harassment® where I was called a shit, an idiot, and warned don't hurt your knuckles as you scrape them along the sidewalk when you walk. I love the intelligence facebook brings to discussions, don't you?

My travel reading is a thick book called A Gentleman in Moscow. It's got about 500 pages, and I'm about 10% through it. So far, an older aristocrat has befriended an 8 year old girl who want to be a princess. It's set right after the Russian revolution. Today, it would probably get the protagonist thrown in the clink for pedophilia. But so far, if there were a writers clink for boring the reader that's its crime.

I know. I know... I'm putting myself in a precarious position writing about writing.... but I've spent 70 years putting myself in precarious positions... what's one more?

December 7 I sit at gate 156 at LAX airport, closer to LA than Kennedy Airport is to New York. Of course, gate 156 is at the end of the gate path. The last gate. I remember a Jewish comedian (Jackie Mason?), who said that he had heartburn from childhood.. When, it once went away, he thought he was sick. So too, it would be if my gate were NOT the furthest one. I'd worry that something's wrong.

My pacific journey is 1/6 over. One week out of six. My looooong term pal, Julien Nitzberg has couched me for the entire trip. He's chauffeured me around in my Hertz Car, taken care of the dinner invitations, and dealt with my intestinal and sanitary peculiarities.

I've been treated to dinner by Julien's Dad. 4 nights of Oriental delight (nope, not THAT kind... I mean food) were orchestrated by Julien and attended by people I've known for longer than my beard has needed Just For Men.

Right now, I sit comfortably-though-slightly-chilled in the airport. There was a screaming baby-- suddenly silenced. One can only hope it was thrown to the tarmac. In the meantime, Los Angeles burns. What was a faint gray tinge on the horizon, has changed to half a skyful. What was a trickle of people leaving the park to escape the smoke, has changed to an evacuation of tens of thousands.

People stream out of LA to friends, relatives, Red Cross stations less comfortable even than airports. I wonder how the burbs will treat the refugees. Will they be deported into the flames? Meanwhile, against this outward flow of panicked Los Angelens, I drove my Hertz-Hyundai INTO LA, toward the airport... entering ...what most were leaving.

The first night is Thanksgiving. No... it's not thanksgiving, but somehow Thanksgiving was postponed and reincarnated. This being Los Angeles, the food has to accommodate, vegetarians, ovo-lactoites, vegans, non-glutens, organics, recovering alcoholics, feminists, turkifiles.

So, what's the food? Milk-free cheese, gluten-free crackers, meat-free pate, AND a bunch of terrific good stuff! Hooeeey! A friendly party! I brought the beer... a collection of weirdstuff from a beerstore with a bar in back. (What a great idea!) Here's one of my contributions.

The beer wasn't as bad as it sounds.

The party people weren't either! In fact, I had a great time. The food was good... though I skipped most of the vegetables. The crew was fun to talk to... laughed at the same things I laughed at. 

There were more girls than boys... for some reason that never happens when I host something. 

Among the conversations, several people talked about an era when I was in my 50s. They referred to that time as back in the day.

Oh yeah, the Turkey! Get a load of this!

Yeah it's a real turkey, but topped with.... CHEETOS AND DORITOS. Ho ho!

Great night ONE! No jet lag.

Postscript: I'm writing this from the library in a small town on Waiheke Island. (Google it!) Internet is spotty, and sooooo much has happened. It's December 10... I'm sunburned... spent the day so far washing... plastic drapes... in my bathing suit... (I was in my bathing suit. The drapes were not.)

Just 10 days out and the stories pile up... more later

PLUS: If you're interested in my contrarian opinions and other things, check out

More to come!