Inhuman Swill : Page 2
Why is my blog called Inhuman Swill? Because you can rearrange it to make William Shunn.

The Bone Clocks: A Novel by David Mitchell
This post about The Bone Clocks contains mild spoilers.

When grappling with works of genre fiction, most mainstream literary critics can be counted on to demonstrate a peculiar tone-deafness. Take the case of The New Yorker's James Woods, who calls David Mitchell's new novel The Bone Clocks "weightless," "empty," and "demented." So "frictionless" does Wood find it, in fact, that it prompts him to call into question the soundness of such earlier Mitchell works as Cloud Atlas.

Upon reflection, I have to admit that The Bone Clocks is probably my least favorite of Mitchell's novels (The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet being the only one I haven't yet read). But I found it for the most part extremely engaging, even thrilling, and I dispute Wood's contention that "the realism—the human activity—is relatively unimportant" when stacked up against the novel's science-fictional premise.

The Bone Clocks is built, like much of Mitchell's work, around a structural conceit that passes the duty of first-person narrator, like a baton in a relay race, to a new point-of-view character every hundred pages or so. Each of the book's six sections becomes, in essence, a novella of its own, conveying the overall narrative from its intensely realistic beginnings with a runaway teenager in 1984 to its apocalyptic, post-oil conclusion in 2043.

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Little neighbor girl
Waving to a cardinal:
"Parrot! Hi, parrot!"


This poem debuted live at Tuesday Funk #48 in Chicago on September 4, 2012, the same day it was written. I've submitted it to a few editors since then, but since they (probably sensibly) turned it down, my birthday present to myself is to publish it here.

It was the early 23rd and I was just the latest turd
Of a miner to get dumped on Harkin's Moon.
I had finished my first shift and took the slow repulsor lift
Up to a weightless bar called Betsy's Grand Saloon.

We were sipping bulbs of beer in artificial atmosphere
And watching servers flit around that hollow space.
My hair still caked with sand, I said the place it sure was grand,
And my new buddies smirked and pointed 'cross the place.

"You see that mope sitting alone like some sad king up on his throne?"
They said. "That bastard is the grandest of the grand.
And if you go and ask him why and make it back, why, then we'll buy
Your drinks all night, and we'll know you're a real man."

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I've told this story many times, in many ways. This particular version was written for The First Time: First Crime, an evening of readings at Second City's Up Comedy Club in Chicago on April 17, 2013. I read it again at Tuesday Funk #61 on September 3, 2013, and later posted it as an answer on Quora (to the question "What are you banned from? Why?") and as an essay on Medium (where it became an Editor's Pick). As long as it was available for free in those places, I figured it ought to have a home here too. So here it is. Happy Canada Day.

They caught up with me in the men's room of a bus station in Great Falls, Montana.

Now, the fact that "they" were after me might lead you to presume that I was running from the law, that the cops or other authorities were hot on my trail, but that's not the case. My felony was still two months in the future at that point, though I was on the lam.

I was on the lam from the Mormon Church.

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Packing Kevin's painting
"What the hell are you doing?" the old man yelled into my window. "You can't park here! What's wrong with you?"

I had just backed very carefully into a space barely wide enough for the car. My friend Kevin was riding shotgun, my dog Ella in a nest in the back seat. Funny, I thought as the man angrily waved me back into the alley, we only missed our target by about twelve feet.

That was exactly one year ago this evening—Wednesday, June 26, 2013. It was the tail end of a twenty-four-hour odyssey that already felt like a dream.

In reality, though, the odyssey went back much farther. For months, Laura and I had been planning a move from Chicago back to New York City. The company she worked for had offered her a job in its New York office, and in fact she was already spending much of her time there, transitioning into her new role. It fell to me to make all the arrangements for moving, to get everything packed, and to find us a new place to live.

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Laura runs on Dunkin
This happened back on Sunday, April 6. That morning, like we do most Sunday mornings, we took the dog out for a walk for a couple of hours. On our way back to the house, Laura developed a hankering for a donut. We stopped by a couple of neighborhood bakeries that were on our way but none had donuts, and no other type of pastry would do.

A few blocks from home, I pointed across the street. "How about we stop over there at Dunkin."

"No," she said resignedly, "I don't want a donut from Dunkin."

That evening we went into Manhattan to see Lady Gaga's next-to-last concert on the next-to-last night of Roseland Ballroom's existence. I didn't consider myself a Lady Gaga fan, but the spectacle was pretty great.

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Share the wealth

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Homeless man feeding
his McDonald's French fries to
pigeons. Share the wealth.


Curious squirrel
The other morning I truly thought for a moment that Ella had at long last caught a squirrel.

We were walking in Astoria Park in Queens, as we often do, where dogs are allowed to roam off-leash before 9:00 a.m. There's a lightly wooded section of the park near the big swimming pool that I call Squirrel Alley, because all the trees and undergrowth ensure a robust population of arboreal rodents for Ella to chase.

We were walking past a tree that one squirrel had just used as an escape route when I spotted another squirrel on the far side of the tree. It was sitting on an exposed root eating a nut. It was three feet away from Ella, but she didn't see it—and it didn't yet see her. It was facing the wrong way.

I nudged Ella's shoulder and whispered, "Right there!"

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Just a quick reminder about tonight's Boundless Tales reading in Queens. The listed time is 7:30 pm, but if you're making the trip out I happen to know that the event won't actually start until 8:00 pm, and that I'm the last of the five readers in the lineup. That's not to give you an excuse for showing up late, but, you know, it's a bit of a trek from the city so you don't have to kill yourself to make it there on the dot.

Thursday, April 17th, 7:30pm
Boundless Tales
@ Waltz-Astoria
23-14 Ditmars Blvd.
Astoria, Queens, NY 11105

(N/Q train at Astoria-Ditmars Blvd)
Boundless Tales features themed personal essays, the theme this month being "I Dominated/I Was Dominated." My fellow readers include Michelle Augello-Page, Sarah Bonifacio, Danny Herrera and Joan Willette. See you there!

I keep forgetting to mention this, but I'll be reading with the Boundless Tales reading series this coming Thursday evening in Queens. Boundless Tales features themed personal essays, the theme this month being "I Dominated/I Was Dominated."

Thursday, April 17th, 7:30pm
Boundless Tales
@ Waltz-Astoria
23-14 Ditmars Blvd.
Astoria, Queens, NY 11105

(N/Q train at Astoria-Ditmars Blvd)
My fellow readers include Michelle Augello-Page, Sarah Bonifacio, Danny Herrera and Joan Willette. This is my first public reading since moving back to NYC from Chicago, so I hope you'll make the trek and check it out.

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