Inhuman Swill : Page 222
Why is my blog called Inhuman Swill? Because you can unscramble the pieces to make William Shunn.
            

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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I'm not sure why I'm thinking about this today. Maybe because she was the first friend I ever took with me to Sesame Street. (You've heard about the latest trip if you read Eleanor's journal, though I may eventually have more to say about it myself.)

I met her two years ago, more or less. "Oh, come on," said Rob, dragging me to another bar in the Village at one in the morning. "Just one more drink." Rob would soon be moving to Seattle, so I agreed.

If it weren't for Rob, I never would have started talking to the two German women sitting near our table. With the notable exception of Laura, who I would meet two months later, I don't pick up women in bars. But somehow she and I started talking, and before you know it she was invited to Rob's going-away party, and her suspicious, ill-tempered friend was dragging her out of the bar, and she was throwing a "Help me" look back at me over her shoulder.

Miracle of miracles, she showed up at the going-away party a couple of days later. Rob was handing a journal around the table, asking his friends to write something in it. My new German friend spent a long time over her entry. Rob showed me later what she had written. It was all very dark and poetic, and one line of it stuck in my head: "I'm a fountain of blood in the shape of a girl." This disturbed me quite a bit, but it also attracted me—the way some people are attracted to knives, I'm sure.

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I've been working at my present job for two and a half years now—if you overlook a brief absence during the summer to recklessly pursue alternate employment, that is. After returning here in August, I fell quickly back into the old familiar habits. (In many ways, it felt as if my three months at Vindigo were a strange dream, from which I awakened to discover myself in an old changed world.) One of the habits I must recultivate is that of noting the found poetry every day on the A&E Biography sign.

When I leave the office and head south on Broadway, I see the electric sign atop a tall building somewhere in midtown. The sign offers a weather forecast and then announces the subject of that evening's Biography episode on A&E. Sometimes this results in startling poetry. Other times the effect is simply weird. Other times it's more matter-of-fact, like last evening's forecast:

MOSTLY SUNNY
MILDER
FARRAH FAWCETT
I must keep notes more assiduously. Were I more cabalistic, I would study these notes religiously for clues to the underlying structure of the universe.

Speaking of Farrah Fawcett, I saw her up close nearly two years ago. I was hanging out at the annual Lincoln Center Xmas tree-lighting ceremony with my friend Geoff. We were there to see the Sesame Street Muppets perform, like the hundreds of other small children on the plaza, and to see two thirds of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Geoff and I were standing toward the back of the crowd, and I noticed a stunning older blonde woman walk past me. A few minutes later she walked past me again, going the other way. She looked fabulous, dressed simply but expensively in warm clothes.

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Goth girl

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I had John Wesley Harding on the stereo as I got ready before work (the artist, not the album), and the following lyrics made my morning:

Goth girl, who is the guy on the leash?
Does he wash dishes?
Goth girl, he looks like Pete Murphy to me,
Oh yeah, he wishes.

I know he's appropriately frail,
But I bet he can't afford
To take you to the Nine Inch Nails.
(I've got two tickets.)

Had to share.

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No room at the pigeon hole

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The long silence has ended. This is what the Interested Editor at the Major House had to say in response to my agent's gentle inquiry:

Sorry to be slow--I've been fighting in my corner here, and in the end I failed. The draft of the letter I was writing you follows--I'm very upset I couldn't do it, but there were just too many questions in people's minds. Anyhow, here's the letter, and I'll send the materials back today. Best for now, **:

Dear ******:

Sorry to report that I won't be making an offer for THE ACCIDENTAL TERRORIST by William Shunn. As I told you, I've never come across a manuscript that caused as much consternation—consternation in a good way, mind—than this one. Most of the editorial group read most of it, and all agreed that it's very well written, very compelling, and not a little disturbing; Lord knows what's coming in part two. Mr. Shunn can really handle a tale, and his writing line-to-line is never less than impressive. Unfortunately, though, in the end we just couldn't work out how best to publish this book—the sting in the tale is perhaps too sharp, especially as it does shine such a light back on the rest of the book. A Mormon coming of age story with a terroristic ending—I just couldn't convince my colleagues how best to read a substantial readership with that as my hook. It may be that other editors see the opportunities more clearly, and I hope that's the case as the book is certainly not one I'll easily forget. If Mr. Shunn's work should come free in the future, I'd be very happy to reconsider it—he's a real writer, that much is for certain.

The material you submitted is enclosed, and thanks, as always, for thinking of me.

Yours,
**** *******
I feel sort of like Evel Knievel, having missed the far rim of the Grand Canyon by mere feet. I'll make it next time, dammit, but I need some time to mend.
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Fuck my mood

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I installed the latest version of Eudora a couple of weeks ago, and I immediately became curious as to why two or three chile-pepper icons were appearing next to some of the messages in my inbox.

Investigation revealed this to be a mood indicator, although I had no idea until a few days ago what that meant.

It seems that this new Eudora scans incoming and outgoing messages for offensive words and then rates the text according to how incendiary it is. If you try sending a message with a bad word in it, you get a warning like this:

Your message to "laura" regarding "Nice ass" is the sort of thing that might get your keyboard washed out with soap, if you get my drift. You might consider toning it down.

Send anyway? Cancel?
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Once in a while in my Usenet newsgroup, I post the current state of the table of contents from my book, just so I can demonstrate to myself that I'm making progress. If you don't care for statistics or for recitations of accomplishments that don't affect you, you might want to steer clear now.

I finished Part I of my memoir late in August (including an interlude that forms the connective tissue between the two halves), then shipped it off to my agent. That was 25 chapters plus a prelude and an interlude, and it amounted to a horrifying total of 523 manuscript pages.

Over the next few weeks, I whittled about 70 pages (and two full chapters) out of the manuscript, completely replaced the prelude, wrote a synopsis of the second half, and let my agent start submitting the thing. I also carved two excerpts out of what I had already done for her to try selling to magazines.

This was all a lot of work, and it took me a while after that to get my notes for the second half organized, get my head around the shape of the rest of the book, and get all the necessary loafing out of my system. It seemed like I'd been away from the book itself for quite a while when I finally sat down a week and a half ago, at last, to start producing new material. This morning before work I finished what is now Chapter 24, the first chapter of Part II of the book.

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American fire drill

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I'd been smelling the smoke for a while and wondered vaguely what was burning. So had everyone else. We even talked about it, but no one knew what it was.

This was yesterday afternoon at the office. I'd been trying to catch up on some overdue LiveJournal comments, and I was exchanging a flurry of email with Eleanor as we tried to work out a place to meet for drinks that evening. Then my coworker Monjay poked her head around my cubicle wall and said, in her soft, unflappable voice, "There's a small fire on the first floor, and the other half of the floor is all evacuated."

I wasn't sure what to do with this information, and I'm not sure many of us were. We heard no fire alarm. Surely there was no danger.

Then my friend Geoff, our lead Muppet illustrator and creator of the wonderful caricature on the front page of Inhuman Swill, strolled by and drily said, "Hey, there's a fire in the building. I'm thinking we should all get outside."

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The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

Signed editions
that even a
missionary
could afford.

Order yours now!

William Shunn

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