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Friday, November 09, 2007

Photo of the week

Another note... I saw this in a store window on Lexington Avenue. It is my photo of the week... in a clothing shop:

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Beloit (Skipping the rest of NC for a bit)

My life moves a fuck of a lot faster than my blog. So I'll have to come back to NC later, now, here's the first version of

BELOIT October 2007

I start this blog at 7:11 on October 4 at the Delta Shuttle terminal at LaGuardia Airport. I'm worried. Things have worked too smoothly. Dale was supposed to meet me last night at 9:30, just when I got home from work. I walk in the door from work, immediately the doorbell rings. It's Dale.

This morning, he's supposed to be in front of my building at 6:15. I take my suitcases on the elevator to be downstairs waiting for him when he arrives. He's there when the elevator door opens. We make it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. That's where I am now.

Not much sleep last night, but I rarely sleep much before I travel. I'll sleep on the plane a bit or not. I'm trying to think of all the stuff that can go wrong. Dale is staying at my apartment so it doesn't even matter if I locked the door. There WILL be something, but I'll be nervous until it happens.

Sunday October 7 1:24PM Des Plaines Oasis, Des Plains IL: Except for a weird period of spaciness yesterday. Where I forgot people's names, was unable to come up with snappy answers, and felt an odd piece of blankness where I think my frontal lobes are, (This went away with increased alcohol consumption), things continue to go too well. The weather is HOT. In the 90s. Not Beloit in October weather.

The Beloit Reunion itself is disappointing. Many of the people I hope to see are not there. Being old, the first thing we talk about is who's dead. The only new death is the wife wife of a pal of mine who went from Beloit to being a brewmaster (imagine that!). His Japanese wife offed herself. The details are unclear, but it appears he was spending too much time in China and she hated China. Japanese people do these things.

Embarrassing moment for me: Jesse is the couch-surfing girl I'm staying with. She's in the Beloit Latino students leage. From Maine, she's a Latina by choice, not by birth. There's something Latina in her style too. The way she walks. The way she carries her body. It makes it necessary for me to... er... adjust myself. Cool, funny, with Mexican friends. She tells me about her adventures in South America. We take a walk to hit a new local food place. She's as friendly as a Brazilian.

When I walk in I see that she has her refrigerator planned for me, as well as her own future:

Later in the evening we hang at BERT'S BAR. That's Bert all the way to the right. Next to Bert is Jesse, and next to Jesse, her roommate Anya. Next to Anya you know, and the two on the end, I forget the names.

Everything goes great, except that the first night at her place, the air mattress slowly loses air as I sleep on it. At night I'm floating. In the morning I'm getting splinters from the floorboards. Then, there's the cow.

Jesse works at the Beloit “coffee house.” No coffee there. It's an on-campus bar. One of the beers they serve there is SPOTTED COW. (They also have a beer called FAT SQUIRREL.... but I do not accidentally ask her for a FAT COW. Jesse's not fat so it wouldn't make sense as an insult. But I could imagine ordering a FAT COW when a large female is sitting next to me. Hooey! My nose would still be in a splint.) I notice that behind the bar is a cow that just hangs wrinkled. I ask Jesse about it.

“Oh,” says Jesse, “it used to be blown up, but all the air went out of it.”

“I guess everything you touch deflates,” I say without thinking.

Jesse suddenly looks deflated herself. Then, thinking about my private IN-flation when we met, I realize how I've been misinterpreted. It's like an insult! No! No! No! But what can I say? That's not what I meant. Touch here! Check it out?” Too late! Sometimes I just say the wrong things! Who me?

The Beloit reading: As has happened from Harvard to Stamford, Barnes and Nobles has taken over the administration of the college bookstore. So far I've been able to avoid ever reading at a Barnes and Nobles, but now I've got no choice.

I'm competing with the college football game, Arab Women Speak Out on Arab Dress, folk dancing in commons, and several welcome back fratboy parties. I expected attendance to be sparse. Sure enough, at the appointed starting time, there's NO ONE! Within a half hour, though. The place is packed. Yowsah! The bookstore sells a ton of books. I sign 'em all. I'm happy and $35 richer from books the store had to buy from me because they ran out.

Despite it being a reunion, the greatest discover of the trip is the current students. I have more fun with them than with the old farts of my class.

Oh I like these people. Some of them are really good friends. But I know them. They're comfortable. I'm not such a fan of comfort. Give me adventure! And besides, I admire these new Beloiters. They've got something we didn't have.

I project backwards: It's 1969 and a bunch of alumni are back at school to celebrate their 30-something, or 20-something or something-teenth reunion. Keep them away from me! Those dumb fucks. They don't know anything's wrong, let alone that the revolution is just around the corner. Fuck 'em. They're part of the problem. I'm the solution.

Ok, if they want to talk to me. I'll talk. There's plenty they can learn from me. But I sure as a black flag aren't gonna sidle up to them and ask questions. What could I ask them? I have the answers already and they don't even know how to ask.

That's how I would've been. But now? The kids wanna know. They wanna hear stories. They want me to tell 'em about how we threw a piano out a third story window and spelled USA on the football field in partially dissected fetal pigs. They want to hear about the drugs, the riots, the firebombed dean's office (I didn't do that) or the plaster of paris in the keycard locks (that one,,, er.)

I'll have more to write about Beloit. I'll probably take this down after updating and rewriting... or maybe not. These adventures tend to fizz out, being replaced by new adventures that I start to blog and never finnish.


Monday, August 13, 2007


[Note: All names are real unless I let you know otherwise.]



Eight hours sleep. I'm riding the train to Raleigh from Penn Station. All is right with the world. Right? Yeah, right.

That eight hours sleep was the last TWO nights-- combined. It's pouring rain. There's a crying baby amidst a family of Hispanic androgenics. Not the David Bowie androgenics, but the PAT, kind. Lumps of fat with short hair, sideburns and an overwhelming smell of wet dog.

Besides the screaming kid, one of 'em has a cellphone that rings like an old-fashioned real telephone every time the train passes from one carrier to another. She keeps the ringer on just in case. She's worried that she might miss a carrier change. I'm sure it'd destroy her. That's my immediate hell. With it, the complete inability of me to fall asleep on this train, though my mind craves it. Soon I'll be suffering caffeine withdrawal. To drink? Lose the headache and stay awake from the caffeine? Or not to drink and stay awake from the headache.

It's pouring rain out. I had to stand in it to get a cab to Penn Station this morning. I wonder how sick I'll get from that. This trip is cursed and I'm only 45 minutes in to it. Let me tell you the ways.

I planned this because of a haiku conference in Winston Salem. I figured I'd make it a vacation, sell some books, do some garage sale shopping. I haven't been away since Australia. I could pay the hefty conference fee with some book sales. I'll have a ride back with the same guy I went to Canada with on my last haiku adventure. I have enough renter miles to get a car for free so it'll be cheap and fun, right? Yeah, right.

I set out with my bag of for-sale books, and my computer to write blogs, my column and this novel I've been thinking about that takes place in Punxsutawney but nowhere near groundhogs day.

It'll be too hot for my normal detective drag, so I'm off with a torn GWAR t-shirt, jeans, army boots, and my Yokohama Bay Stars hat. That was a gift from The Bear, my best pal in Japan. Being made in Japan, it manages always to look new and presentable in any haiku situation. It's one of my prized possessions.

So here I sit on the train. Wondering what tragedy will befall me. What will else will happen that is impossible... that cannot happen?

My tragedies are not like other people's. Things don't hit me. I don't get caught in a Tsunami, like Michel L. My apartment building doesn't get blown up by Con Ed, like Lori. Planes don't fly into my place of work, like Gopal. My tragedies are cumulative, like those old movies where the hero is chained to the wall in a closed room. Then water, slowly drip drip drips into the room until its up to his neck.

The plan for this trip was to work a bit extra before traveling. Teach a few more classes. Earn a few more bucks for pocket change. Make it easy. The changes of plans ends with a bang. The school explodes. A steam pipe under Lexington Avenue bought the farm, sending hot water, asbestos and assorted debris into a towering geyser, right in front of us. Windows smashed. Everyone thinks terrorists! Panic. Teachers in the hall, the stairway. Chaos on the street. A sea of high-heeled shoes on the sidewalk, fashion abandoned to fright. Just like what happened to Lori. The only difference is that I'm not there when it happens.

I'm at Yankee Stadium watching Roger Clemens pitch a mediocre game. Yanks behind 2-nothing after 4. I'm a bit worried because my second South Carolina cousin once removed and his son paid for my ticket to today's game. They're supposed to join me. A Yankee experience with a real Yankee. They have not shown up yet. The kid's a Yankee fanatic, and this was to be his first trip to Yankee Stadium.

My cellphone rings. [Note: my cellphone NEVER rings. Five people have the number. It's a death phone. If someone dies call me. Otherwise leave me alone. I HATE the cellphone. I HATE the phone. Period. It's an intrusion. A leash. You can never get away. And other people's cellphones? Jeezus! I hate 'em. Right now, in the train, some woman is jabbering about her laundry. People use 'em everywhere. They should be blocked-- prohibited-- except when I have to make a call.)

On the phone is Lori.

“Are you all right?” she asks.

“Huh?” I reply. “The Yankees are losing, but it's not that serious. They can pull it out.”

“Where are you?” she asks.

“I'm at Yankee Stadium,” I tell her. “Why?”

“Con Ed blew up your school,” she says. “Just like my apartment building. Everyone evacuated. I saw it on the news.”

“This is the first I heard,” I tell her. “Thanks for letting me know.”

Slightly shaken, I sit down for 30 seconds. The phone rings again. It's Ai, the attractive head of the scheduling department at my school.

“Don't worry,” she says, “we're all right. We had to evacuate. Marshall took us all in, gave us something to drink. Let us calm down. He even gave Sara an extra pair of shoes. She lost hers in the panic. School will be closed for awhile, though. We'll keep you informed.”

Yowsah! It's not like I'm a salaried guy. If I don't work, I don't get paid. Nothing to do but sit and hope the Yanks can pull it out.

“Mykel,” comes a voice from behind me. It's the relatives, breathless.

“Sorry we're late. We tried to get on the train at Grand Central, but everything was blocked. The sky was filled with white powder. We were covered in the stuff. We had to walk all the way to 59th Street.”

The Yankees won the game.

Flash ahead to the night before I leave for Raleigh. It suddenly occurs to me that under my rental plan, I have to return the car to the same place I rented it. Since I rent in Raleigh, and the conference is in Winston Salem, I have to return the car to Raleigh. In a panic, I write to my ride back to ask him to follow me to Raleigh on the way back. Then I'll get in the van and we'll go to New York.

I hate to spring this on him, but I leave tomorrow. He emails back a bit pissed off. The trip to Raleigh adds 2 hours to the total. He's got to go to Canada as soon as he gets back to New York. I should get a friend to drive me to some highway reststop and meet there. He's not going 2 hours out of his way.

I guess he's right. It's not fair of me to spring this on him. It's enough that he'll be driving most of the 12 hour trip to New York. I think about emailing my friends, asking for rides. But that's a lot to ask for them too. It's like New York to Philadelphia. They're not THAT good of friends.

So I check out the trains. With a AAA discount, I can get a train from Raleigh to Winston Salem for $17. I'll have to figure out how to get from the Airport rental to the train station, but once that's done, I can take the train. I make a train reservation Winston Salem to Raleigh. It'll be a pain... in the middle of the conference... to drive to Raleigh, drop off the car, then take the train back. But it's the right thing. Yeah, right.

Here's the next email:

Now there's another issue that's really screwing things up. My wife just told me that she needs the van that weekend because she's picking up my son in upstate NY from 8 week summer camp and he has duffel bags, art projects, etc. The plan was for her to use our other car, but the camp just notified us that they are not shipping the bags home as we thought. I have to let her take the van as it is technically her car.

If we can't make other arrangements that really limits the space we have. My other car is newer, but only seats 4 and doesn't have much room in the trunk. Just taking Cor, Carl and myself in that car is going to be tight. If I can't get the van, I won't be able to take you back at all. I’ll let you know if I can arrange something else, but maybe you better come up with a Plan B.

Plan B? There is no Plan B. The only reason I'm going to this thing is the ride back. Besides, the last minute is the most expensive to book alternate tickets. Fuck, am I pissed. No one's fault. No one to get pissed AT (except maybe the guy's wife, and I don't even know her). But I'm fighting mad. All this less than an hour before I have to leave, on no sleep, after just having changed plans and spent more money to accommodate the van.

This does not happen. There are too many things going wrong. Too much money being spent. Too many unpleasant hours in a train... maybe on a bus back. It can only be GOD who's responsible. The Bitch is at it again. If I just quit and don't go, she'll win.

[Note for those who are new to my personal religion: The Bitch Goddess is GOD! She runs things. Controls day-to-day events. You life is so miserable because of her. She is a 9 foot tall blonde who wears a black leather bikini and carries a whip. The “meaning of life” is a contest between you and The Goddess. If she can make your life so miserable that you kill yourself, she wins. If you give up, spiritually. Sink into a mind-numbing morass. Get married and have a 9-5 career as a K-Mart manager. She wins. But if you continue to fight, despite it all. If, at the end, she drags you clawing and biting into that great good night, you win. She's tricky though, lining every gift, every seeming bit of good fortune, with a layer of shit.]

So I'm out on the street at 5AM, in the rain, trying to catch a cab to get to Penn Station.

So here I am in this crowded traincar. Next to me is a hefty Negress. Grandmotherly, she talks to me about her teaching job in Baltimore, and how some kids just don't listen.

She's a nice lady. Not spreading her girth around like white trash bus-riders who seem to say, You skinny worm. I'm going to smother you with my earthy rolls of flesh. You have no business being your size and taking up a whole seat. Meanwhile, someone with my amplitude has to stuff themselves in a mousetrap. I'm just going to spread myself over you. Drape my flesh past the armrests. Push my ample thighs against your skinny little legs. You wanna do something about it?

Nope, this fine colored lady kept her body to herself. She's Miss Proper. Every action delicate. Her face, speckled with black spots of experience, is smiley, but unobtrusive. She speaks like a grandmother. Telling me about her daughter's cholesterol problem, and her love of North Carolina barbecue.

[Note for those who don't know: North Carolina has its own style barbecue. Not on the bone, like traditional barbecue. It's mostly pork, off the bone, finely chopped. Dry seasoned in the Eastern part of the state. Wet seasoned in the West. If I ever found out that was what they served for lunch in heaven, I'd jump off a cliff. As I type this, I can feel the saliva running like Pavlov's dog.]

I tell her that barbecue's what I come to North Carolina for. She laughs. Then I introduce myself.

(You can barely see me there in front of one of the main reasons to come to North Carolina.)

“I'm Mykel,” I tell her.

“I'm Hattie,” she says, laughing as if knowing that every matronly Negress is supposed to be named Hattie.

It's 4:36PM. The train was scheduled to arrive in Raleigh at 4:30. We haven't reached ROCKY MOUNT yet. That's the first stop in North Carolina. Today's gonna be a lost day. In the train, I spend my computer time cleaning out spam from my Eudora inbox. Not exactly a productive adventure.

We'll be at least 1½ hours late. Brian is supposed to meet me at the train station to take me to the airport to pick up my car. If he's there, he'll be pissed.

Most likely he won't be there and I'll have to figure out how to get to the airport on my own... and it just started raining again. It'll be raining when I get out of the train, that's for sure. I'll have to take an expensive cab to the airport. I won't be able to get the navigation system anyway. They'll be sold out. Even then, there's always Board's Law: Even if nothing can go wrong, it still will go wrong.

I can't predict. God always thinks of something else, something I couldn't imagine in my wildest dreams, like a tornado in Brooklyn.

It's not raining when I get out of the train. Brian is not here. I don't expect him to be here. That would mean things working right. I expect him to not even be in town. Called away. Uncle Rastus in Des Moines. Kicked off unexpectedly. Brian had to leave for the month. Besides the train is 2 ½ hours late. Who would wait that long?

I half-heartedly try calling him on the cellphone. I expect his voicemail. Maybe with apologies to me.

“Yo Mykel,” comes the answer, “I'm in the parking lot in front of the train station. Just walk around the other side.”

I don't get it, that means something went right. Things are not supposed to go right. But that's the way the Bitch Goddess works. She needs to stay unpredictable. If you can guess how she'll screw you, you can plan for it. She doesn't want you to plan.

So here's Brian with his giant dog-smelling poodle, Frank Zappa. Frank is the kind of dog who's all over you. Slobbering you with kisses, jumping up on your chest, nudging your hands to scratch him behind the ear. The kind that thinks your arm is a chewtoy. A big smelly slobbery messy kind of dog. The kind you probably love, if you love dogs. (The picture on the left shows Frank in a rare, tuckered out moment.)

We drive back to Brian's house, talking about the plans for the trip. I've got a show at Flynt Street on Sunday. The next at Katmandu, the bar Brian tends, on Monday. On Tuesday, I read at Internationalist Books in Chapel Hill. Then, it's onto the Haiku conference in Winston Salem.

I hope folks show up. I've sent out tons of email and nearly a hundred postcards to everyone I know in the whole state.

“You mean TUESDAY,” says Brian. “I don't work on Monday.”

The Bitch! That's the way she works. Making the impossible happen anyway. Pulling a thick turd out of an empty top hat.

Brian drives me to the airport. I pick up my Hertz rent-a-car with a satellite system. I only need to pay for the GPS. The rest is free, courtesy of frequent something miles.

On the way to the airport, Brian and I come up with an alternative. I'll show up at Katmandu on Monday, just to see if anybody's there. Then I'll PLAY Katmandu on Tuesday, at Midnight, after the show in Chapel Hill. That should work out. Yeah, right.

I call Derick (name changed by me-- you'll see why), who set up the Sunday show for me. I want to confirm the time and place.

I get his voicemail and leave him a message to call me back.

At Brian's house, I drop off the rental and get in his car. We go out to look for Sunday's venue. We have an address: 3104 Flynt Street. The closest we get is FLINT PLACE. Brian finds it on the map. When we get there, it's nothing but an alley that starts in a playground, runs behind the university and ends in a parking lot. There are no addresses.

Brian and I get out of the car to investigate the playground. It has a tetherball (one of those balls tied to the top of a pole with a long string), a slide, and a small stage, with a flag directly over it. The flag says FAITH IN GOD. Near this flag is another that says RESPONSIBILITY.

“I hope this is the place,” I tell him. “I'd love to talk about whipping a girl hanging from the ceiling under a sign that says FAITH IN GOD.”

“It must be the place,” he says. “There's nothing else around here.”

I call Derick again. Voicemail again.

I leave a message telling him we can't find the place unless it's the little playground. I ask him to call me back and confirm that it is indeed the little playgroup.

Then we go to Katmandu to hang out and check out the crowd. Try to sweep them into the show on Monday... er... Tuesday.

Since Brian works there, they let the dog in. [Note: a lot of places in North Carolina seem okay with dogs inside. Especially bars. They're also comfortable with smokers, and they don't press too hard on the ID checks. All a welcome relief after New York.]

The crowd in the bar is a beautiful colored hooker and her John, a leisure suited fifty something, with a grin from here to there on his inebriated face. Besides him there is the bartender. Besides the bartender is the kind of girl who is not pretty, but sexy as a teen-aged naval. She's got a large heart tattooed on her chest. Her t-shirt shows enough cleavage entice you to deeper investigation.

She's writing in some kind of journal.

That's the crowd. No one else. It's Friday night at 10PM

Brian and I sit at the bar and order some PBRs.

I lean to the side and talk to the girl. “What are you writing?” I ask her.

“I'm in charge of a wedding,” she says. “My best friend is getting married... in Florida... I need to make a list of everything I have to do before the wedding. Clothes, accommodations, everything. They're getting married on the beach... Before this, a bachelorette party... You know, a dinner, a few bars, a strip club...”

“You must be a pretty good friend to do all this work,” I tell her.

“The bride used to be my girlfriend,” she says. “The groom stole her away from me.... I don't hate him or anything... I like the guy... but still, he took her.”

“And you're still nice enough to plan the wedding,” I say, staring at her tattoo.

“Well, the husband asked me to come along on the honeymoon,” she says, “but...”

“Go! Go!” I tell her. “You should go. Jezus fuckin' Christ! It's like a dream come true. TWO girls and a guy on a honeymoon! Yowsah!”

She shakes her head.

The bartender agrees with her.

“Yeah,” he says, “it's every guy's fantasy. But I don't think so. A honeymoon is a bonding time. It's where the bride and groom, you know. They get intimate. They get to know each other. Kinda inside out. Ya know what I mean?

“Intimate, shimintimate,” I say. “Imagine a honeymoon. Two girls and a guy. Ho ho! You could write a book. All that money would be worth it. These days, most honeymoons are expensive shit. You go to some hotel in some foreign city. You pay $400 a night, and fuck a lot. You walk around the city during the day. Hand in hand. You have your first argument. Note that it's your first argument. Fuck some more. Go home. Drop puppies. Get divorced. Poof! But two girls and a guy! Ho ho! You wouldn't give a fuck about your first argument.”

(To the right are 4 of the remainders in the bar. The girl with the tattoo was camera shy. She took the picture.)

Soon after this, the girl leaves. The hooker and her John leave. Brian and I leave. We head for Brian's house, where I have the couch. On the way back we stop at an all night barbecue take-out. Two BBQs to go.

Home: I'm tired from the long day, the train ride, no answer from the promoter, no venue, no one at the bar. I walk inside and notice that the posters I sent Brian to promote my reading are sitting on the dining room table.

“Didn't need all the posters?” I ask. “I figured there'd be more than one or two record stores to put 'em in.”

“Record stores?” he says. “I thought you were taking care of all that. The promotion and all, I thought you were going to do it.”

This does not bode well. But it's the Bitch Goddess. She doesn't make a very good atmosphere for boding.

Brian and I open the barbecue sandwiches at the table. I'm ready to dig in and savor the oral ecstasy. The dog goes off to enjoy a rubber squeaky ball.

Boy, that tastes good. Even if nothing else works out. I'll at least have had my North Carolina barbecue.

A taste of ... wait a minute. There are no squeaks from the dog's squeaky toys. What's going on? Brian gets up to investigate. The dog has eaten my Yokohama Bay Star's hat.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Melbourne pt. 2

Part 2 of Mykel's Trip to Melbourne

(parts of this were used in my MRR column for issue 292)

I start typing this section in one of the hundreds of caf├ęs in Melbourne. It seems that's all there is in this town. Bars and coffee shops. Even McDonalds is a cafe.

No clothing shops, drugstores, furniture warehouses. How do people get their allergy medication... or replace their worn-out socks? How do they do anything except eat or drink? It's a mystery I never solve during my time in Australia.

Melbourne is the most relaxed, laid-back place I've ever been. Mexico city seems FRANTIC by comparison. For some reason it doesn't phase me to see a window sign advertising a special local holiday.

I did my first show in Melbourne last night. The second one on this trip with readers only. No bands. Two or three people walked out during the girl hanging from the ceiling part. You can see the crowd reaction below.

My fellow readers were all from a zine called YOU. Published weekly, anonymously, the zine features good, personal writing.

Each reader introduced him/herself “Hello, my name is Luke and I publish YOU.” Each piece then starts: Dear YOU. Most were funny. Some were touching. What I didn't know was that the readers were not reading their own pieces. Most were pretty convincing. No one left for their readings.

Melbourne is a great city for bars live music, etc. Rents are affordable, a cabaret license costs only $2000 (in Sydney it's $20,000), and most people don't bother with them.

Every bar has a band. That means a lot of opportunity, and a lot of competition. It's a nice atmosphere though.

Oh yeah, I seem to be following Limp Wrist on this tour. Everywhere I show up, they've just been. For those who don't know, Limp Wrist is a gay Latino hardcore band. A tough act to follow.

Tonight I perform at Exile on Smith Street. The bar managed by my host, Rich. I'm a flop.

I read after a PUNKROCK TRIVIA contest hosted by a light-skinned, but Negroid Egyptian punkrocker. A funny guy, with a mile a minute patter. He claims The Bangles were racist. After a “touch your head/touch your ass” contest... one that included Betty (read more about her below), the guy launches into one liners.

“If they wrote a song, Walk Like A Negro or Walk Like A Jew, they wouldn't last a minute. But Egyptians are okay targets. Egyptians walk funny, huh?” Funny.

He hands out sheets of GUESS THE BAND paper with funny pictures on them. One of them is a nailed-up Christ with an iguana head instead of the usual bearded/crown of thorns image.

“JESUS LIZARD!” I shout.

“Shhh,” he says. “This is a contest.”

I go for a drink.

At the bar, Rich introduces me to a sexy young woman who dresses pure 1950s. I'd just seen her on the stage at in the touch your ass contest. I forget her name, but since she reminds me of Betty Paige, I'll call her Betty.

“Mykel,” says Rich, “this is Betty. You met her on Couch Surfing. Remember?”

I don't, but hoping for a little crotch surfing, I lie.

“Sure. How's it going?” I say, grabbing her hand, shaking what feels like a dead iguana.

She pulls her lips back in a smile-by-the-numbers smile, more forced than Chinese labor.

Later, I look for her when I read the dirty parts of my books, but I can't see her. After the reading, a couple people applaud politely. Then the Egyptian returns with more trivia.

I keep drinking. I don't make any money that night, but the beer's free.

Later, back in Rich's apartment: We do what drunk guys do the world over. Discuss the meaning of life.

Rich's apartment is a bit away from the city center, but it's easy to get to-- a 10 minute walk from the subway.

I stay with him for the next couple of days. During that time, I do a reading at Polyesther Books, a local zine/bookshop that reminds me of Quimby's in Chicago. There's a picture of the inside of the store on the left.

A Canadian girl working in a local (what else?) cafe comes down the street to watch me. She walks out halfway through my “loving animals” reading.

“As a vegetarian,” she says, “I won't tell you what I think.”

Later that day, there's another reading at Missing Link Records, a great local records shop.

I'm setting up, checking the microphone, displaying my product, the usual. This guy in his late 20s bursts into the store. His shirt is soaked with sweat as if he's been running. He's a few inches taller than me, and much beefier. In his hand is something yellow.

“Are you Mykel Board?” he asks.

I check to make sure he's not packing heat, then nod.

“Look at this!” He shows me what's in his hand. A 7-inch record, released more than 25 years ago in a limited edition of 1000. The Only Record in The World, my first project for public consumption. Out of print. Unavailable. And here it is in Melbourne fuckin' Australia.

“Where'd you get that?” I say.

He just smiles.

“Could you sign this?” he says. “Autograph it to the only fan in the world.”

Yowsah! That makes my day!

Did you get that when it came out?” I ask. “You must've been 5 years old.”

“I cannot tell a lie,” he says. “I bought it on eBay.”

Ah well, he's still a fan, if not an original fan.

Though the crowd is small, it's feisty-- and they buy stuff. So, I sell a bunch of stuff at (and to) Missing Link. Then I go back to Rich's place.

It's fixed up. Boxes of dialysis equipment out of the living room. Underwear off the floor. Dishes washed and put away.

That can mean only one thing: NOOKIE ON THE WAY.

“Look Mykel,” says Rich. “There's this girl that's gonna be in town tonight. I don't know if I'll be lucky or not. You know what I mean? If her life is going well, she stays in town. But if she's having trouble with her boyfriend, she stays with me. Ya know what I mean?”

“Sure,” I tell him, wondering if he cleans his blood with the kidney machine plugged into his belly while this naked girl lies on the bed next to him, giving him a blowjob. Yowsah! I wanna see that movie.

“Anyway,” he continues, “that girl Betty will let you stay with her for a night. I hope you don't mind. You understand.”

“Of course,” I tell him. “Respect the nook. I always do.”

“Thanks,” he says.

Rich tells me a taxi will arrive in ten minutes. The taxi will take me to Betty's place. She'll be waiting. She'll jump in the cab, go off to Rich's bar and pay for the cab ride.

“Should I just go to sleep on the couch?” I ask.

“Make yourself at home,” he says. “Who knows where you'll end up.”

“Okay,” I say.

“Yowsah!” I think.

I check the condoms in my wallet, take a copy of my CD and each of my books and head downstairs. Sure enough, a cab comes in half an hour. That's 10 minutes Australia time.

I arrive at Betty's address. No Betty. She's supposed to grab the cab and head off to the bar. She's supposed to pay the driver. No she.

“Honk the horn,” I ask him.

He does. Nothing.

So I pay the $15, get out and ring the doorbell.

I pay the driver and ring the doorbell. Then again.

In awhile I hear footsteps. Here's Betty. Looking hotter than I remember. I smile at her and shake my shoulders in the most masculinely sensual way I know how.

She shows me upstairs. I follow her, admiring the view from behind.

“Thanks for letting me stay here tonight,” I tell her.

“Umph,” she says.

She has walked into a room and is now dragging a heavy mattress out of that room, across the livingroom floor and into a room on the other side of the house.

“This is where you'll sleep,” she says, handing me a key. “I'll be back late. I wish I could be chattier, but I've got to run and it'll take awhile to get a taxi.”


I'm asleep before she returns. I don't see her again. And then it's off to the airport to catch a plane back to Cairns, and from there to Narita in Japan.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Melbourne: Part One


"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.” --Australian Author, Kenneth Cook

A recent issue of The Utne Reader had an article called “Invading Our Own Privacy.” It was about how the government or telemarketers or insurance agencies don't have to snoop anymore. People just reveal themselves through blogs, MySpace and other cyber-whining. There have been legal persecutions, firings, school expulsions and more. Just because of what people reveal on the internet. The article laments that there has never been less privacy than there is now... and most people like it that way.

I'm not sure this is all bad. I like the right to be private, but in many ways I agree with Ghandi. He said, “If you live your life with no secrets, you never need to fear discovery.”

In that spirit, I confess that I'm a hypochondriac. 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 pharmacopoeia of exotic organic preventatives. I bring every bruise to the AIDS Clinic...

The plane from Christchurch back to Melbourne takes about four hours. It's back to the book promotion tour for me.

Before I leave New Zealand, 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 no one seems to care about when you finally get there. I can't chat. I want to eat and run. I feel my blood pressure rising in anticipation of the trip. If it goes unchecked I'll have an aneurysm. Fortunately, 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.

At the bus station: an hour before the next bus. I pace. Look at the clock in my cellphone. Pace some more. Finally, the bus. Then to the airport for the usual security hell. The two hours at the airport gives me 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. I know, it's a bit out of the way, but I'm worth it, no? We go see a German movie, Lives of Others. There is a scene where the communist interrogator explains to his class that the way you can tell if someone's lying is by their repetitious answers. If the person always repeats the same story in exactly the same way, he's lying. He has rehearsed his lines and cannot deviate from them. If a person is telling the truth, he will vary the words some. Use different phrases. Maybe even change the details a little from one interrogation to another. That's why interrogators keep repeating their questions. They want to see if the answers change or if their subject is lying. Of course, I don't know any of this while I'm busy at the airport, rehearsing my exact response to the customs officer. Line by line. Word by word.

“Promote books? What books? You see officer, I'm only here for a vacation while visiting my friend in New Zealand. I just came back and now am 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 will make the officer either laugh at your honesty or shake her head at your stupidity. They'll say, “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 that front of the line. Now, I hand my passport to the man behind the window.

[ Immigration advice #2: you should try to get in line in front of a window with a large hostile- looking agent behind the glass. Those guys have nothing to fear, nothing to prove, and probably believe that no guilty person would ever stand in front of them. NEVER go to an attractive female immigration officer. It's the kiss of death.]

“I've been in New Zealand,” I tell the gruff-looking guy on the other side of the glass. “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.”

Works like a charm.

I walk out of the immigration zone and and into the terminal lobby. Inside the terminal, I'm supposed to meet this guy named Rich. That's all I know. I've never seen him before. My bags sit on an airport trolley. I now wheel them through the waiting area, looking for Rich.

A few people are seated looking at their watches. A few others stand, anxiously surveying the deplaning passengers. I'm hoping for a spontaneous connection.

My picture has been interneted around enough and I always dress like the cover of one of my books. Someone will recognize me.

When I was 16, it might have been possible to 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 40+ years later, I feel really uncomfortable doing the same thing.

Instead, I stalk. 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 wheel my luggage trolley in his direction. 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 at 'im. His eyes widen as he sees me and my trolley on a collision path. Deftly, he steps to the side, like a toreador avoiding a charging bull. Nope, not him.

I go back to the kid with the studded belt. He's 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 your 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 any of this, but I force the thought 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'm scheduled to 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.

It's Rich.

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 driving, I just had this epileptic seizure while I was driving. Pow! I was flying off the road over a field, somebody's lawn, woke up with the car wrapped around a pole. 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 the day before I die, I'll figure out how I've lived this long. I hope I'll have time to let you know.]

Inside Rich's apartment: the wall next to the door is filled with LPs. At right angles, on the hinge side, 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 the hall of my apartment. Who could've figured on the digital revolution? People would stop 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 equipment. I'm on a waiting list for a kidney transplant. I only have one kidney and that 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 don't think it's anything particularly brilliant.

“It works like this,” he continues, knowing I'm curious. He also knows I'm not exactly sure of the protocol of asking about artificial kidneys or urine/blood processing.

“Most dialysis machines work 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, you know your body is just like this pit. It's kind of hollow inside, stuffed with guts and stuff. Know what I mean?”

I nod.

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?”

I nod.

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 now has gunk in it. That's all the stuff that's usually filtered out by the kidneys. Then, it'll squirt in another bag of salt water and do it again. All this happens while I sleep. It takes about 10 hours, but 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 is the manager for FIBBERS aka Exile on Smith Street, one of the places I'll be “playing” in Melbourne. I'm scheduled to go on before punk trivia hosted by a noted celebrity musician and one of the few Egyptian-Negroes in Australia.

After we're settled, 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 (except for 6 months in junior high school) I was never a smoker, 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. The music is competing Borns (To Run and In The USA). There's another TV, this one on top of a refrigerator, silently showing another 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 Rachel,” 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?”

I can see pink rising from Rachel's neck into her face. The other girls turn to look at us with embarrassed-yet-amused looks on their faces. Rachel's look does not have 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 and 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.

If they make movies 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 next.

When I say dirty blond hair, I'm not talking color, I'm talking hygiene. About 5' eight, both arms covered in tattoos that appear copied out of books on Buddhism and bird-watching. Her jaw seems 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 know that not even Americans can be that stupid. 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.

“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 run over and 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.”

Wow! 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 whose name I may still get. Rachel joins us. The beers keep coming and my first night in Melbourne is turning a bit riotous. Springsteen stops. The beer doesn't.

Here's a chronology of the evening at The Tote:

10 pm

The crew gets together for a picture.

L-R Standing: Kitten, The Bartender, Me, Rachel, Rich
Kneeling: The Birthday Girl

11 PM

After a few brews, it's a bit harder for the girls to stand. Looks like they're going for the lower
reaches. No such luck. Rich treats all around. The Birthday Girl is in love with him

Midnight: We're a row of dominoes waiting to fall.

1 AM

The gloves come off. The inhibitions go to hell.
And I don't remember much else of what happens.

But wow! I can't remember a better first night in a new city. At least one that did not involve some action below the waist.

Somehow, we get back to Rich's place. I quickly fall asleep on the livingroom couch only vaguely aware of a whirring/sucking machine sound coming from Rich's bedroom. I feel a pain in my lower back. I wonder if I have kidney problems. Maybe I'll need a transplant. I'd better see a doctor.

(more on Melbourne in the next chapter)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Mykel in New Zealand

Mykel in New Zealand

March 14

I slip my hand inside. Pushing upwards, I proceed on touch alone. Straining, my fingertips reach the the goal. A brief jerk of pleasure. Found it. I feel upwards, around the curvature. Then I look for the break, the opening, the edge. None. I move more, twisting my hand in the narrow slot. Still no edge, no break.

A frigid breeze comes from somewhere, bashing itself against my naked thighs. A chill runs up my spine as I push my hand upwards. There it is. The hard roundness I'm seeking. Still no opening. I dig in my nails... and tear. One two three. There is a ripping, as I pull down hard. Finally, the toilet paper comes out of the opening and I can clean myself off.

And clean I need to. It's not that the New Zealand food is so bowel stimulating. It's that whenever I travel something happens to my digestive tract. Other people suffer jet lag. I suffer digestion lag. I am not like other people.

I can go days without the smallest production, then all of a sudden KERPOW! I'm a barely walking ad for Imodium.

I type these words as the only whiteguy in an “Authentic Polynesian” restaurant somewhere in the suburbs of Wellington New Zealand.

Authentic sign in front of restaurant

The hefty customers look a lot like native Hawaiians. Square, broad-faced, vaguely oriental with darker skin and a much lower center of gravity than the average Japanese. They're speaking something (Maori?) that I have no clue about. The question intonation seems to be the same as English. Whenever the voice goes up, there's a short answer.

“Are you Canadian?” the woman behind the counter asks me.

New Zealanders are a little different from their brothers across the pond. Where a key feature of Australians was lack of curiosity, New Zealanders will often ask “Are you Canadian?”

At first I don't get it. Whoever guesses anyone is Canadian? It's not like the Canadians have a special way of talking, except for eh? and a weird o-sound.

My pal Vera explains it.

“People used to ask, are you American?” she says, “but the Canadians got so pissed off being mistaken for Americans, that nobody says that anymore. We ask if you're Canadian, because Canadians care. Americans don't give a shit if people think they're Canadian. They don't even know what a Canadian is.”

The Polynesian place turns out to be a surprise unpleasantry. At first the woman behind the counter is really interested. I explain that I didn't know Polynesian food. She shows me a styrofoam container. Three items, eight dollars.

“You chose,” I say.

She smiles and takes a little bit of some rice dish, a little chicken and a little of something mysterious, with clear noodles in a brown sauce.

I sit down next to a socket, plug in, type these words and eat. A few other people come in and order. I'm at one of two tables in the place. No one is at the other table. I just eat and type. Then, the patroness complains about me using her electricity. This is the first time that has ever happened to me. I try to plug in wherever I go. Caught off guard, I apologize, unplug and continue typing.

“Are you still typing?” she asks a few minutes later.

I show her the unplugged plug. I'm on battery power now. She says nothing.

When my styrofoam container is empty. The woman comes over.

“Are you done?” she asks with a falling intonation. Something closer to You are done!

Weird. It's so peaceful around here. Beautiful weather today. I hear sparrows in the background. The sun is shining. There's a thin scatter of fluffy white clouds. Everywhere in the country has a spectacular view. Mountains, the ocean. Like a postcard. But the people don't seem happy. I don't get it.

Now, I'm outside a coffee shop. In a small courtyard between the actual shop and a church with kind of stained glass windows, that look as if they're covered with stained-glass-window-colored decals. Unlike New York, where people walk around with determinedly neutral expressions, people here seem hostile. Make eye contact and get a scowl in return. And all the internet connections around here are secure. No open access. Everything tight as a virgin. Odd.

[Later Krissie tells tells me the Polynesian reaction was normal New Zealand. Sometimes restaurants charge you for plugging in.]

“Is that because they're cheap, or because electricity is so expensive here?” I ask.

“It's because they think you're taking advantage,” she explains.

Yow! I guess it IS a different mentality here. In Australia, taking advantage is the name of the game.

In Wellington, my hosts are Mr. and Ms Sterile. Actually it's Chrissie and Kieran, but they're in a band called MR. STERILE. Kieran is pronounced like KAREN. It's some sort of Scottish name, like half the names here. The country LOOKS like Scotland, for Feargan's sake.

Kieran has set up my shows in New Zealand. He's done a ton of work for me. He does a ton of work for everybody passing through. And his pay? Maybe I buy him a beer. I don't remember. That's it. It's guys like this who give me faith in punkrock. Shaun in Sydney is another one. They are Gods!

Kieran meets me at the Wellington Airport and drives me to their place. Walking in is a breath of cold air. It's colder inside than out.

“That's the way we do it in New Zealand,” says Kieran. “We don't believe in that house insulation stuff. We believe in personal insulation. If you get cold, just put on another sweater.”

I notice that there are pots on the floor, on the cabinets, everywhere.

We called the landlord,” he says. “The leaks have been fixed. We'll call again to have them fixed again. It'll take a few times.”

For a God, he sure could use a better landlord.

The first reading is in a Wellington community center library run by some anarchist punks. It's my first reading with other readers. No bands, just a couple poets, and me.

One of the poets is kind enough to heckle. It makes the evening much more enjoyable. A good sized crowd too, at least it looks like it in such a small place. I sell a t-shirt and made $20 from the door money. Not bad.

Fine crowd reaction too!

crowd reaction in Wellington

There's even someone with a SKREWDRIVER t-shirt. (I wore it just to piss off the anarchists, he says.)

Ah, you can always count on punks.

The second show is with MR. STERILE. What great fun! Noise! Costumes. Saxophone! A band you've gotta experience, as much as listen to.

Mr. Sterile

After the two shows in Wellington, I fly to Dunedin (pronounced dun-EE-dun). This is a university town.

The bar, called THE ARC, is a huge bar/cafe. In the front, they sell coffee, pizza, cakes and beer. In the back is a stage and the show area.

The beer in New Zealand is pretty good so far. I really like this Monteith's. They have both a porter and a Summer beer. Though it says honey on the label, it's not really sweet. I guess I'm lucky to be able to try it, because officially it isn't summer anymore.

Montieth's Beer

In New Zealand and Australia... like in Japan. Summer ends at the beginning of the month, rather than the equinox. As it is March 14th. That means autumn is 14 days old.

As for seasons. It's been like traveling across the calendar, as well as across the globe. When I landed in Cairns 2 weeks ago, it was hot, sticky, summer in the worse sense of the word. Then as I traveled south, the weather moderated from tropical to sub. Brisbane was still warm, with shower-every-day stickiness. Sydney was pretty much ideal. Like late spring. T-shirts and jeans... and you've already seen the sea and surf pix.

From Australia to New Zealand is a shock. When the plane lands in Christchurch it's a nice spring evening. Around 70oF. When I wake up the next morning, the wind howls, the rain blows, the surf pounds. Like a hurricane.

March 17

I sit here in the kitchen typing. Sitting on the floor next to me, are
the girls: Lilly 6, Hana 11. It's 7:10AM. I've been up for at least
an hour... probably more. In the bathroom, taking a shower while last

Vera's Familynight's beer and Thai food build up in my bowels, is mom. Upstairs dad gets ready to grab the bathroom before my bladder kicks in to join the painful bowels in family unity.

Vera's family is combining a good deed with a vacation. They've rented a motel room in Dunedin and plan to drive me back, the long way, so we can do tourist stuff. I'll have to cancel a show in Christchurch to do it, but since they're not going back until tomorrow, there's nothing I can do. It turns out to be a good choice anyway.

In the motel, Mom just came out and told me to take a shower. I think I'll sit it out awhile. See if I can get away with skipping it all day. Maybe if mom is too involved in taking care of her other kids, I can slip by.

I shouldn't complain. (Moi? Complain?) Vera and company have been GREAT to me. The trip from Duneden is spectacular! THANKS GUYS!!!! YOU'RE TERRIFIC!

There are too many great sights to describe in detail. You can see some of the pictures on the flickr website. I recommend you JOIN FLICKR too. That way we can exchange pix. There's even a setting for those kind of pix.

One picture I do want to show you is really important to me. It is photographic evidence that I reached one of my life's major goals. That is to see a live penguin outside of a zoo. Actually, I see several.

A real penguin

We go to a penguin nature preserve. I wish I had my telephoto lens. The penguins here don't cluster like in the movies. They're pretty independent. You have to look for them.

But you do get a guide who can spot 'em in the distance and point 'em out.

The preserve itself, is a large area that's part of a sheep farm. Everywhere in New Zealnd is part of a sheep farm.

Since penguins are sensitive, the reserve dug a series of underground tunnels covered in net, with a few bridges crossing over them.

The watchers go single file in the tunnels. We move underground from spot to spot. Then peep out of bird blinds into the distance to watch the characters.

Penguin Tunnel

I feel like a spy. Although the views are mostly in the distance, it's as fun as a roller coaster ride.

From the penguin reserve we go into the New Zealand countryside. There are lots of mountains, rocks, and sheep.

Everywhere you look is another magnificent sheepscape. We often stop to go rock climbing or browsing in a little country store.

Back in Christchurch, the next day, I fly off to Melbourne. That means again going through Australian immigration. I'm not looking forward to that!

More soon.... ish.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Worst Company In The World


I've been meaning to write about THE WORST COMPANY IN THE WORLD. I mentioned them in my last entry. By worst company, I don't mean morally, politically or environmentally. For that you can take your pick:


You know, the usual suspects.

I'm talking about worst company for its customers. I'm talking about the worst company to do business with. That company is called YES! OPTUS. It's an Australian telecom company.

In Brisbane, I buy a YES! OPTUS SIMS chip for my cellphone. My U.S. phone service, T-Mobile (actually a German company, and a good one), allows you to change chips once a year. It saves money while traveling.

In order to activate the new chip you have to check in on the web or call a special activation number. According to the booklet that accompanies the chip, to keep your previous number, you have to call from your cellphone.

I go outside the electronics store where I bought the chip. I dial the number. I get a recording that tells me how much faster activation would be over the web. Then it plays music for 5 minutes.

Finally, someone with a very heavy Indian accent answers the phone. [Aside: A New York comedienne said that the reason all those Indian cab drivers always talk on cellphone headsets is that they're moonlighting, doing tech support for IT companies.]

“Good day,” he says, “my name is Jim. And how can I assist you today?”

[Aside: Why is it that these guys are forced to take American/English names? Do they think it fools the customers? This guy is Jim, like I'm Abdul.]

Jim wants my name. I give it to him.

“That's Michael D-as in door, O-as in Open...” he starts.

“No, Board,” I correct, “Like a piece of wood. You know B-as in Boy, O-as in Opera, A-as in Apple, R-as in Rabbit, D-as in doll.”

“I'm being sorry, sir,” he says. “So that's T-as in Toy, O as in Orange...”

Eventually, he gets it.

And your Australian address?

“I don't have an Australian address,” I tell him. “I'm traveling and I won't be in one place for more than 3 days.”

“I'm being very sorry, I'm sure,” he says. “I cannot activate your card without an address in Australia.”

I look up at the street sign in front of where I'm sitting.

“183 Boundary Street,” I say. “In Brisbane.”

“Thank you for that information,” he says. “And the post code?”

“I don't know the post code,” I tell him. “Why do you need the post code? It's a phone. I'm not getting mail here.”

“I'm being very sorry,” he says. “I cannot activate your card without a post code.”

“I'll call back,” I tell him.

“Have a good day,” he says.

When I get back to my hosts apartment, I gather the necessary information and call back. Again I'm tortured by the announcement and hold time.

When someone finally answers, she's got an even thicker accent requiring me to ask for repetition every third or fourth word.

“Good day to you sir,” she says. “My name is Mary. How can I assist you?”

With several whats, excuse mes, and could you repeat thats? I get the information to the woman, including my postcode.

“And I'd like to keep my current number,” I tell her.

“Please be holding on sir,” she says. “That's a different department. Have a good day.”

On hold. More music. A voice.

“Good day to you, sir,” says the voice, “My name is Larry. How can I assist you?”

“I want to keep my current phone number,” I tell him.

“I'll be happy to help you,” he says. “My I have your name?”

I tell him.

“That's V-as in Victor, O-as in Orange...”

Eventually he gets it.

“And your address.”

I give it to him.

“And the post code,”

I'm ready and give it to him... with a touch of triumph.

“And the name of your current telephone company?”

“T-mobile.” I answer.

“And your account number?” he asks.

“You mean my current phone number?” I reply.

“No sir,” he says. “I need your account number.”

“My account is in New York,” I tell him. “Who knows their phone company account number?”

“I'm being very sorry sir,” he says. “We cannot switch your number without an account number. It should be on your bill.”

“My bills are in New York,” I tell him. “Who travels with their old telephone bills?”

“I'm being very sorry sir,” he says. “We need your account number to allow you to keep your old number.”

“Okay,” I tell him, “I'll call New York and get the number and call back.”

“That would be fine sir. No worries.”

“Yeah, right.” I say.

“Have a good day,” he says.

I spend real money on a call to T-Mobile in New York.

“You need your account number to keep your old phone number?” says the pleasant woman there. “I never heard of that before.”

“Don't get me started,” I tell her.

With German efficiency, I have my account number in a few minutes. I again make the dreaded phonecall to YES!

After the long recorded message tells me to go to the website, there's more music, someone answers.

“Hello,” says the Indian woman, “My name is Jane. How can I assist you?”

“I want to activate my SIMS card,” I tell her, “but I want to keep my old number so I need to speak to another department.”

“No worries, sir,” she says. “May I have your name?”

I give it to her.

“That's Michael D-as in door, O-as in Open...” she starts.

Eventually, she gets it.

“Yes sir,” she says, “I understand you are calling to activate your SIMS card.”

“That's right,” I tell her, “and I need to keep my old number.”

“I'm being sorry, sir,” she says. “Our system is down right now. Could you please be so kind as to call back in an hour. We will be happy to take care of it for you.”

“Why did you need my name to tell me the system is down?” I ask.

“It is most polite to know with whom you're speaking,” she says.

“I'll call back,” I say.

“Have a good day,” she says.

It's 3 PM. I call back at 4. The system is still down. “Please be so kind as to call back in one hour.”

I call back at 5. The system is still down. Call back in an hour.

I call back at 6. The system is still down. Call back in an hour.

I call back at 7. The system is still down. Call back in an hour.

I call back at 8. The recording is different from the one before. An Australian accented message tells me: Thank you for calling Yes! Optus. Our offices are now closed. Please call back tomorrow morning after 8:30. We'll be here, eager to assist you.

I wonder if Australian law allows me to sue for a stroke or heart attack.

At 8:35 the next morning:

Thank you for calling Yes! Optus. Due to unusually high call volume, your call may not be answered for [click] 15 minutes [click]. We suggest you use our website or you might want to call back at another time. Of course, you can hold on and your call will be answered by the next available service agent.

I hold. It's twenty minutes before someone answers.

“Hello,” says the Indian woman. “My name is Sally. How can I assist you?”

“I want to activate my SIMS chip,” I tell her. “But I want to keep my old phone number, so I think I need to speak to a different department.”

“Yes sir,” she says, “and what is your name?”

“Michael Smith,” I tell her.

“Certainly, Mr. Smith,” she says. “I'll be happy to switch you.”

Ah! A minute saved.

A man's voice this time.

“Hello,” he says, “my name is Ralph. How can I assist you?”


“My name is Mykel Board,” I tell him. “That's B-as in boring, A-as in annoyed, O-as in 'orrible, R-as in rotten, D-as in dumb.”

Eventually, he gets it.

“Yes, Mr. Board,” he says. “How can I be of assistance?”

“I want to activate my SIMS chip and keep my old phone number,” I tell him.

“Certainly,” he says. “Can I have your address?”

I give it to him... with the postcode.

“And your previous phone company?”

I tell him T-Mobile.

“And your previous phone number?”

“Phone number?” I say. “I thought you needed an account number.”

“No, sir,” he says, “I need your phone number to transfer it.”

I tell him my T-Mobile phone number.

“That's Australia, then 064..”

“No,” I correct him, “it's a U.S. number. The country code is ONE.”

“Please be holding for a few minutes,” he clicks off and the YES! OPTUS message returns, telling me how much quicker things would be on the website.

After 2 or three minutes of this he returns.

“I am being sorry,” he says. “You cannot transfer that number. You have to get a new number with YES! OPTUS. Would you like me to transfer you to that department.”

Can he hear my sobs?

“Please, do that,” I say, barely keeping control.

“No worries,” he answers.

[Do they train them in Australian English? If I called him from New York, would he say, I'd be happy to?]

I'm back to the basic activation department.

“Hello,” says the Indian woman, “My name is Nancy. How can I assist you?”

“I'd like to activate my SIMS card,” I tell her. “My name is Mykel Board.
That's B-as in Boy...”

Eventually she gets it.

My new phone number-- but only until March 25 is Australia: 043-561-097. Call me if you dare. Have a good day.

My website is at: