Inhuman Swill : Page 221
Why is my blog called Inhuman Swill? Because you can unscramble the pieces to make William Shunn.

Sweeping the clouds away

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By the way, for all you closet Sesame Street fans out there, I thought I'd point out that we have at long last made your favorite old songs from the show available on our Web site. Just try Sesame Street Radio if you really want to annoy everyone near your cubicle.

Alternately, you can call my office and I will put you on hold. Then you'll hear the same thing.

(For the record, we launched a cosmetically altered version of the site last week. It's very cool—if you have Flash, a powerful machine, and a fast connection. Try it.)

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Ray Bradbury

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The visionary whose stories foretold the Sony Walkman, who imagined virtual reality at a time when there were 400 television sets in the entire state of California, does not own a computer.  He does not like the screens.  "Computers are for people who make mistakes," he says.  "I don't make mistakes."  He does his work on an electric typewriter.  But if not for writing, surely Ray Bradbury surfs the Internet?  "There is nothing on it that I can use," he declares.  "I'm not a researcher.  I am an emotional hand grenade. . . ."

No one less than Aldous Huxley--fellow Angeleno and author of Brave New World--made a dose of hallucinogenics available to Bradbury.  "I was offered," he recalls.  "Aldous Huxley offered me a chance.  He said it would be perfectly safe.  There would be doctors and attendants.  But I told him, 'What if the trapdoor on the top of my head stays open, and all the nightmares come out and they won't go away.  Then what will your doctor do for me?'  I wasn't being moral.  I was being hygienic. . . ."

As a writer, Bradbury says he was blessed with total recall.  He claims that he can remember his own birth, the taste of his mother's milk and being circumcised.  Total recall is "a damn wonderful thing for a writer."  And what about the memories of people he knew and loved?  "No, memory is a curse, especially at my age," he says.  "All my teachers are gone, and most of my friends are dead, and the ones who are alive, you see all these old people, including yourself."

—William Booth, Washington Post Service
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The book of three

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I'm taking my first karate lesson tomorrow. I'm a little anxious.

I think the last time I had formal private extracurricular instruction in sport of any kind, I was about ten. The sport was gymnastics. The second week of class, I came off the uneven parallel bars and landing flat on my back. I couldn't breathe correctly for several minutes. That was the end of gymnastics as far as I was concerned.

Laura and I went to observe a class at Tiger Schulmann's last Saturday morning. Then we had to fill out a questionnaire to sign up for our introductory class. We were asked to choose up to three reasons we had for taking karate:

  • PHYSICAL CONDITIONING
  • WEIGHT CONTROL
  • SELF-DEFENSE
  • SELF-CONFIDENCE
  • SELF-DISCIPLINE
  • ATTENTION SPAN
  • MEDITATION
  • FLEXIBILITY
And so forth.

Staring at the list, I couldn't wrap my mind around all the choices. I could have marked every last reason and it would have been reasonable honest. MEDITATION and FLEXIBILITY I threw out early because they seemed like tertiary goals—they would come with the territory. I threw out WEIGHT CONTROL because, despite the fact that I could stand to lose some, that seems like a secondary effect of the more important PHYSICAL CONDITIONING.

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A toss-up (as in cookies)

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I'm looking at a map at CNN.com and feeling like tossing my cookies. I mean, the facts aren't as bad as all that. Going into the election this morning, Gore has 181 electoral votes locked up (12 states plus DC), to Bush's 224 (26 states). Up for grabs are 133 electoral votes from 12 "toss-up" states.

It doesn't sound so hopeless for those of us who would prefer to see Gore in the White House than that empty suit George Dubya. However, if you look at the map, it sure looks scary, because Bush has most of those big empty western and midwestern states. Gore has California and Minnesota and Illinois and New York and no other geographically imposing states. Areawise, it looks like Bush has about 90% of the country in his deep, deep pockets. I feel sick.

I can't tell you how glad I am to live in a state that's going to Gore. That frees me up to vote my conscience: Ralph Nader. I'd like to see the Green Party get matching federal funds in the next election and start bringing a viable third candidates back into the political discourse. My vote for Nader in New York is not likely to hurt Gore's chances of winning this state's electoral votes.

That's why I'm so puzzled by the woman who followed Laura and me into Old Navy on Saturday. We were checking out some cheap clothing on Sixth Avenue (that's Avenue of the Americas to you out-of-towners), and the street was crawling with Democrats "getting the word out" for the Gore-Lieberman-Clinton ticket. (I had to consciously remind myself that the "Clinton" meant that carpetbagger Hillary.) A myopic woman with a bad dye job was passing out these leaflets in front of Old Navy. "Vote for Gore!" she said to us as we entered the store.

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Sometimes we do things in the name of keeping ourselves sane and call it a little reward. (Really, we are keeping ourselves insane by indulging obsessive-compulsive behavior, but let's not split hairs.) Usually that little tickle at the back of my head can be soothed by going out and buying a stack of books or CDs. (I work just a couple of blocks from both a Barnes & Noble and a Tower Records, which is very dangerous in this regard—but then again, who in Manhattan can't say the same thing?) The latest tickle, though, required some more vigorous scratching. It happens once every year or so.

I've redesigned my Web site.

I've been working on this, little by little, stage by stage, for several weeks. Now it's pretty much done. I've even indulged that geekiest of yearnings and created styles for my LiveJournal so it blends in seamlessly with the rest of my site. I'm unaccountably happy with the result, and now I'm done.

Almost.

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Today's weather

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Okay, I'm a little slow on the uptake, but finally I get it:

MOSTLY SUNNY
MILD
JACLYN SMITH
It's Charlie's Angels week at Biography. Pretty boring week for weather poetry.

(Btw, after all this talk about childhood television, I have to point out that Charlie's Angels is probably not the show I would choose to live on if I could choose only one. Now, if I could choose two . . .)

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Tomorrow's weather

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As reported by the A&E Biography sign:

MOSTLY SUNNY
MILD
DREW BARRYMORE
Apparently the forecast this week is mostly babes.

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Halloween didn't seem quite like Halloween yesterday—not to me, anyway.

First of all, Laura and I got the costume thing out of our systems on Saturday. We went to a terrific party at our friends Andrew and Stephanie's house in Astoria. Laura dressed in an Indian sari—and so did Steph, which led to a strange cataloguing of all the hitherto unguessed things they had in common. I dressed as Bilmo, the only official Sesame Workshop Online Muppet, with a red fleece sweatshirt, a red knit cap, a read foam rubber nose, and the rod from my Venetian blinds depending from my wrist. (That was, you know, the stick my Muppeteer uses to control the movement of my arm.) We drank lots of spiked punch, and I ate a space brownie that didn't have any effect on me. (Same result in Amsterdam, dammit. Some day I'm just going to have to smoke the stuff.)

When the 31st finally arrived, it seemed like Halloween was already weeks past. When Laura and I saw a little boy in a baseball uniform walking to school that morning, our first reaction was to wonder why the baseball season hadn't already ended. Then I spent the morning with Ellie at Sesame Street, which exists so much in its own make-believe world that Halloween seems irrelevant. (In fact, neither Ellie nor I batted an eye when we saw a boy dressed as a girl and a dominatrix out smoking in front of the studio. It didn't occur to either of us that these were costumes. Hey, it's New York.) What's more, walking back to the N train, Ellie and I realized that Christmas decorations were already up on the streetlamps on Broadway in Astoria. This did not contribute to any sense of the cold-chill-in-the-air that is Halloween.

Things did not begin to seem sinister until nightfall, when I was walking from the train to Laura's apartment after work. I emerged from underground to find Astor Place crawling with goblins and ghoulies. There were visiting aliens with their faces painted green. There was an angel, a devil, and a zaftig Elvis with a low-cut jumpsuit and huge push-up breasts. There was someone in a black cloak and a "Scream" mask, carrying a plastic knife. Dark blood ran down the runnels of his mask—it actually pulsed from a concealed valve somewhere above his forehead. Masks all around. Masks everywhere. So many masks it creeped me out. So many masks, seeming so potentially normal for this town, so de rigueur, I got nervous. I started to wonder why I'd wanted it to be more Halloweeny. I like to be scared, but I like to be scared when it's safe to be scared. I suddenly didn't feel safe on those streets.

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Bill visits Oscar on the set of Sesame Street
Boy, if anyone's reading this on someone else's "friends" page, it's going to look like I'm hogging all the space!

I was just barely two years old when Sesame Street debuted in 1969. My mother and I watched the very first episode together, when Oscar the Grouch was orange. I was there at the beginning, but I was young enough that I can't now remember a time when there wasn't a Sesame Street.

In fact, I thought Sesame Street was a real place. I thought it must be in Los Angeles, which is where I lived until I was six. I imagined that if I ran away from home (something that often seemed highly desirable) I could somehow find Sesame Street out there in the city somewhere and live there forever. I could sing "I Love Trash" with Oscar, and I could pronounce that amazing word that goes "ab-kuh-deff-ghee-jeckyl-muh-nop-queer-stoov-wixes" along with Big Bird. I took the rhetorical question in the theme song very literally. I wanted someone to tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street.

In 1998, at the age of 31, someone told me how to get to Sesame Street. There is a way to get there, but you have to know whom to ask. No one will just come out and tell you, even when you work for the Children's Television Workshop. But I found out whom to ask, and I made it there.

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It's miraculous, though not at all surprising, how a little good press can change one's outlook on one's career.

I'd been in a little email exchange with a writer named Nick Gevers who lives in South Africa. Nick has a pretty esoteric Ph.D.—the use of history in science fiction. He also helps edit an online zine called Infinity Plus, and on the strength of a story of mine he had just read for review in a recent anthology, he had asked if Infinity Plus could reprint one of my older stories.

That was flattering enough, but then Nick sent me the text of his review of the anthology, which will appear soon in the fanzine Nova Express. My favorite line was this:

[H]is meditations on ecological conservation, intercultural dynamics, and the limits of human understanding are powerful and true, making 'Dance [of the Yellow-Breasted Luddites]' one of the best novellas of the year."
(Of course I posted a larger excerpt on my Web site almost immediately.) Reading this, my prospects seemed suddenly brighter than they had a few minutes before, when all I could think about was how many times my memoir had been rejected. The timing was perfect.

So what does it say about me that I cling to good notices like Leo DeCaprio to a chunk of floating ice? I don't really care, because one fellow in Capetown thinks I've written one of the best novellas of the year.

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The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

Signed editions
cheaper than your
local Mormon
missionaries.

Order yours now!

William Shunn

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