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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Mykel in Sydney

Mykel's Australia-New Zealand Adventure

March 9, 2007

One of the delights of senility, is that each day brings with it new surprises. Many are the same surprises that yesterday brought, but since you can't remember them, the world is as new as... as... I forget.

I write this sitting under an “illy” umbrella outside of a kabob shop somewhere in downtown Sydney. I just spent a couple of hours in the Sydney Museum of Science. It's a fascinating place that, among other things, presents the history and wonders of Australian technology. Lot's of lever pulling and button pushing. Most of the exhibits don't work.

I've got about half an hour before I try to public transport my way back to Shaun's, then to be driven to see Ilka and Liz, my next-door neighbors-- in Japan-- in 1989.

Before the museum, I just did my third radio interview of this trip. The DJ/interviewer was a tall, young thin young man. Much different from the box-shaped local footers I've gotten used to. Up until my audio intercourse with the guy, I thought the girls had it all over the boys here.

Now, I'm not so sure.

The interview went well. DJ Mr. Wonderful made a CD of it for me. I'll make it a pod-cast someday.

Shaun tells me that my next stop, Melbourne, will only be for a few hours. I change planes in the airport and go off to New Zealand to see Vera and do a few shows on the northern island. Then back to Christchurch. (I want to see a synagogue in Christchurch. That should be a good picture), then back to Melbourne. Then to Cairns, Tokyo, and New York.

The most famous landmark in Sydney is the Opera House. When you picture the city, if you picture it, that's what you think of. It's famous and beautiful. Just like me.

I stop typing to take a nibble from my fish and chips plate. The food in Australia is nothing to blog about, though I did taste my first kangaroo (in Australia) yesterday. It does not taste like chicken. It tastes like beef.


I now write this a coffeeshop in the Melbourne airport. Next to me are a few traveling girls. One of them continually directs her tubercular cough in my direction. It's one of the greatest signs of affection I've had since I arrived.

There's no internet reception here, even if you pay. That means I don't know when this will finally be posted. Just so you know, the Instant Time Zone clock on my computer says it's 09:47 on March 12, 2007.

I did have a chance to wish my father happy birthday, calling through my computer via Skype. It was tough to get the day and time right, but I did it without too much trouble. There's not much I manage to do without trouble, though. Take Virgin Airlines... please!

The plane is scheduled to leave at 8:15. I hate being last-minute, especially with a plane. I always have trouble with security, customs, or something. I'm the eternal RANDOM, who's RANDOMLY selected for a special screening for explosives, shoe bombs, or large amounts of intestinal gas.

A little girl has started screaming while on line waiting for her latte. The more I travel, the more I think we should skip a generation. Just dump every kid from zero to six years old. Use 'em for landfill, or dump 'em on McDonald island to fend for themselves like in Lord of The Flies. We could have a buffer of relative quiet.

Oh yeah, Virgin. I have a printout for e-check-in. It's got a nice little bar code that you put under the reader in the machine and print out your boarding pass. Being Virgin Airlines, there are at least two dozen of these helpful machines. Six of them without Sorry out of order signs on them. After waiting on line behind one of the machines, I put my barcode under the flickering laser.

Hello Mykel Board (actually, it says Michael Board), your reservation is for 8:15. Please choose your seat. I look at the seat diagram and touch a window seat about halfway down on the right.

Thank you, please wait.

The screen changes to a large PLEASE WAIT. After a minute, comes another sign. We cannot process your request at this time. Please see a Virgin Check-in agent.

There are no Virgin agents.

There is a large line of people bringing bags to the BAGGAGE RELEASE area. There are a dozen Baggage Release agents here. There is one agent at the INTERNATIONAL CHECK-IN. There is a window that says GENERAL CHECK-IN. No one is at that window.

[Computer batteries getting low here, I've got to find a socket. Not an easy job: wondering around like a terrorist looking for convenient places to plant explosives. I must look pretty suspicious. Eventually I ask. The only sockets are on center posts far from anywhere to actually sit down. I now type this sitting on the floor, legs crossed, computer balanced on the insides of my knees]

Back to Virgin:

I hijack someone in uniform dashing past me.

“The Virgin machine rejected me,” I say. “What should I do?”

“Go there,” she says over her shoulder, pointing vaguely toward a coin telephone.

“Thanks!” I shout after her.

“No worries,” she says.

[Aside: Australians say no worries instead of you're welcome. They also say it like an American teen-age girl might say like, you know, or whatever. It's one of their more irritating habits. I mean, who the fuck do they think they are with no worries? I'm dying of dysentery. No worries. Terrorists have attacked the Sydney Opera House. No worries. Evil customs guards have ripped apart my baggage. No worries. Hey, I have worries.]

The closest logical place to the indicated coin telephone is the INTERNATIONAL CHECK-IN window. I wait on line and when I finally get to the window.

“I'm not going internationally,” I say. “But I couldn't check in by machine.”

I hand her my confirmation print-out.

“Oh I see,” she says. “Your flight's been canceled. No worries.”

She continues, “You can take an earlier flight at 7:45AM or a later flight at 9:15 AM.”
Since I have to wait 8 hours in Melbourne as it is, I decide to take the later flight.

The agent types some things into her computer. Another agent comes over to talk to her.

“I'm sorry,” she says. “The empty seats on the 9:15 flight are being reserved for the passengers who come late to the canceled 8:15 flight. So, what you say we put you on the 7:45 flight?

“No worries,” I don't say.

Let's go back to Sydney. While I'm there, I stay with Shaun, who, for the first 2 days, I call Chris. He doesn't correct me, figuring it'd be better for his reputation if I gave people the wrong name. Here's our pictures together. Let this follow him to his next trip past customs.

Shaun is an active guy. Unlike my Brisbane hosts, he's always on the go--and not just for me. He's setting up shows, taking care of delivering records, working at something. Not my image of typical Australians, who're so laid back they make Los Angelans look like Japanese by comparison.

“I'm English,” says Shaun.

Oh, I get it.

My first show is in a kind of mainstream club. Not crowded, but fun. The best part was that the club was on a street called YURONG LANE. I shit you not!

Yesterday, I did the second show at a club called THE PITZ.

It was quite an unusual line-up:

The first show, the night before, went very well. I sold a bunch of books, got a few cents from the door money, talked with a lot of people. No groupies, but I did sing a SKREWDRIVER song with a guy visiting from Wales. The crowd wasn't bad and they even reacted.

For the second show, the matinee, the crowd was much less enthusiastic.

Still, I sold out of books, sold a few t-shirts, and talked with this cool kid from Korea about Korean bands I never heard of. Shaun took good care of me, shuttling me here and there, making sure I knew where to get on and off, like a mother might take care of her child just reaching that age of independence. Thanks Chris... er... Shaun.

My other adventure in Sydney was visiting Ilka and Liz, along with their brood.

Ah, what a story that is.

As I said, Ilka and Liz were my next door neighbors in Japan in 1989.

We lived in a gaijin (foreigner) house in a seedy part of Tokyo. We became good friends. They were on my new year's card list ever since, though I only heard from them once during all that time.

When I found that I was going to Australia, I Googled... and waddaya know? There's Ilka. (How many Ilka Talos are there in Australia, right?) Now he's a hotshot in some Aussie telecom company. Good guy to have as a host.

I email him.

“I can't believe it!” comes the answer. “I've spent 18 years avoiding you! Changed my city, my address, considered gender reassignment surgery. And you found me!”

“Beauty of the internet,” I tell him.

First I visit Ilka at his company. Huge office, lot's of employees, none of whom call him sir, but all of whom look like they should. We go in Ilka's Mercedes to meet Liz. Then we go back to meet the kids.

For a bit, Ilka looks that harried businessman, but in short time it's easy to see success hasn't spoiled him.

“Mykel,” he says over a great dinner Liz made from greens, beef and some red shoots. “It's great to see you. You look just the same as when we lived in Japan. Like a dessicated coconut.”

“Ok,” I think, “time to give the kids some lessons in American culture.”

“Hey kids,” I tell them, “I want to tell you about this special American tradition. It's a secret and until now, nobody outside America knew about it.”

They crowd around me, waiting for the secret information.

“It's the Egg God,” I tell them. “It's a way American children can get anything they want. Ice cream, cake, a new bicycle... you name it.”

“Even a beer like Daddy?” asks Hugo.

“Especially a beer like Daddy,” I say.

“Here's how it works,” I continue. “Late at night, after Mommy and Daddy have gone to sleep, you take all the eggs out of the refrigerator. Then you stand in the middle of the livingroom and throw the eggs as high as you can. While you throw the eggs, you shout, Catch, Egg God! Catch! If the Egg God likes you he'll catch the eggs before they fall on the ground. Then you can get anything you want.”

“He's taking the piss,” says Ilka.

“I'm not taking the piss,” I say. “But you will be... often... when you get free beer from the Egg God.”

I negotiate with the kids. They tell me that next week is Multicultural Week in school. I suggest they tell their entire class about The Egg God and ask students to try it at home and report who the Egg God likes and who he doesn't like. I'm still waiting for the report.

Besides an entertaining dinner, Ilka reveals that, as well as an entrepreneur, he's a lifeguard. Surfing every day before work, once a week he stands by the shore, mostly naked, to “trade saliva with fallen children.” Sounds like my kid of job... except that you have to know how to swim.

Still, I'd really like to go to the beach. Jumping into the ocean and letting the wave scrape my body on the sand is one of my life's enjoyments. In New York, my pal David warned me against it.

“It's the most poisonous water in the world,” he said. “There are green octopodi that'll kill you with one suck. Then there are man-o-wars, tile fish and Blue Bottles.”

“Blue Bottles? Left over beer cans?” I asked. “Maybe you'll cut yourself?”

“They're jellyfish!” He screamed at me. “They have long tendrills. They wrap themselves around your leg. Sting you up and down... like you've stepped into a wasps nest. It's horrible.”
I ask Ilka about it.

“No worries, mate,” he says. “This is a rich white area. The poisonous fish aren't allowed around here. It's against the law. They only hang out in the poor areas. ”

Seems reasonable to me, so I agree to a trip to the beach. We park in the private lot and then walk off to find the sand and the sea.

Before those, we find a sign.

“I'm gonna die!” I tell him. I can't go swimming with those tendrils.”

“No problem, mate,” says Ilka, “they keep away from Jews.”

Ok, I'll risk it.

Ilka goes over to talk with his fellow lifeguards. They're all dressed in a kind of yellow and red uniform. Colors New Yorkers would rather be washed up on shore in than actually seen wearing in public while they're alive.

Could you imaging how dumb someone would look in a long-sleeve yellow and red uniform, with bare feet, flowing shorts, carrying a dumb yellow float? Worse than that, they have these embarrassing little swim caps that tie under the chin. I can't imagine how someone could be seen in public in such a thing.

Well, getting into the life-saving spirit does have its privileges. For example, the locals will now sell me copies of those specialty publications I would never have had access to otherwise.

All-in-all the visit with Ilka and his family was the highpoint of this trip so far. They are great people despite their wealth and athletic ability. And welcome to crunch together on my couch in New York any time.

I also got to meet a member of one of my all-time favorite Australian bands: THE HARD-ONS. Ray was playing in another band the same night I was reading, but he stopped to talk with me and even let me take a picture with him.

Ho ho, little did he know that it would be splashed all over the internet universe. Or maybe he did know.

Next report from NEW ZEALAND.

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