Inhuman Swill : Chicago

I wanted to let you know about a couple of upcoming appearances of mine in the Chicago area.

First, coming up on Tuesday, April 5, I'll be reading at Tuesday Funk, the monthly series of which I'm also a co-producer and co-host. Our other readers that night are Robert K. Elder, Ian Belknap, J.H. Palmer, and Lisa Chalem. (See here for bios of all the readers.)

Tuesday Funk is an eclectic reading series that features all types of writing in all genres. It takes place at 7:30 pm upstairs at Hopleaf Bar, 5148 N. Clark St. in Chicago, and is free. The upstairs lounge opens at 7:00 pm. Arrive early for a seat!

Tuesday Funk, December 7, 2010

Later that week, I'll be appearing on the public-affairs program Senior Network on CAN TV 19 as part of a panel discussion on contemporary science fiction novels and films. The panel also includes Jody Lynn Nye and Edison Blake and is hosted by Dr. Bob Blackwood.

CAN TV is a Chicago public-access cable network with five separate channels. Our episode will air on Channel 19 on Friday, April 8, at 5 pm, and then again on Sunday, April 10, at noon (though I'm not sure whether our part of it will air in the first or second half of the show). If you get CAN TV 19, please tune in!

On the set at CAN TV

Laura Peterson is one of the most innovative choreographers at work in New York City, or anywhere for that matter. Her choreography is always supremely logical, whether rooted in organic forms or technological ideas or a hybrid of both.

Want to see Laura Peterson Choreography perform in Chicago? They've been invited to participate in an exciting throwdown at Links Hall called collision_theory, but they need your assistance to do it. They're trying to raise $1,700 for production expenses in just 30 days with a kickass Kickstarter campaign. Won't you please help?

KICKSTARTER: Laura Peterson Choreography is going to Chicago

Do it for the dancers.

See more of Laura's videos here, here and here. And here's a past favorite of ours, just because:

Dan Sinker, a/k/a @MayorEmanuel, appeared on The Colbert Report Tuesday night, and I have to say he hit it out of the park. Occasionally a guest will say something so funny or bizarre that Colbert has nothing to say in response. Sinker did it twice.

The first clip here sets up the interview in the second clip:

By the way, I've also meant to point out that [info]rjl20 captured the entire @MayorEmanuel feed in chronological order, together with most of the mentions to which he deigned to respond. Read the whole motherfucking thing at:

I don't say enough here about Tuesday Funk, the reading series at Hopleaf that I co-produce and co-host with Sara Ross. We have a great show coming tonight, with a lineup that includes Joe Weintraub, Keith Ecker, Maggie Kast, Steven H Silver, and Jenny Seay. I'll even read one of my poems (which is what I normally do, at least when I'm not reading someone else's).

We bill Tuesday Funk as Chicago's Eclectic Monthly Reading Series. We feature essays, poetry, short stories, and less categorizable performances in all genres of writing, but since being asked to help out with the series I've tried to shine a light where I can on science fiction. This month I'm very pleased to have [info]shsilver on the bill, and in future months we'll have [info]brad_beaulieu, [info]finitemonkey, and even a night featuring participants from this summer's Wellspring Workshop.

All of which is by way of saying, please come out and hang with us tonight! Hopleaf is at 5148 N. Clark St. in Chicago. The reading takes place in the upstairs lounge. Seating begins at 7:00 pm, the reading at 7:30 pm. Arrive early or stand! Click the image below for more info:


The man behind the curtain has been revealed. Well, really, he came out from behind the curtain himself. As reported by Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic, @MayorEmanuel is Dan Sinker, a journalism instructor at Columbia College in Chicago, Dan Sinker is @MayorEmanuel and one of the founders and editors of the zine Punk Planet.

Having myself waxed rapturous over the @MayorEmanuel tweet stream, I can't help but feel a little disappointed that the mystery is no longer a mystery. I'm not nearly as disappointed as Jim DeRogatis is, because, hey, that Twitter account was a brilliant, engrossing, and uplifting example of a new form of literature, accidental as that might have been, and its author has every right to reap the benefits of his achievement. My disappointment is more that of a fan for whom part of the thrill was the not knowing, and the hope that we would never know. Did you honestly want to know for certain whether or not that top in Inception was ever going to stop spinning? I didn't.

But to be pragmatic, it was probably better that Dan Sinker control the revelation than that someone else out him, which no doubt would have happened sooner or later. And at least now we know whom to nominate for that Hugo next year in the Best Related Work category. (Hey, Chicago in 2012!)

Hats off, Mr. Sinker. As your character wrote: "Only things that fucking suck never end: look at laundry, or dishes."

I had been meaning to do this anyway, but here's a selection of some of my favorite @MayorEmanuel tweets, selected by the very scientific method of searching my own tweet stream for the nuggets I retweeted over the past few months. I've provided a bit of context where necessary.

Motherfucking pro tip: soy sauce and fucking cognac. Motherfucking amazing.
9 Dec

Axelrod is a motherfucking parking-space shoveling artist. They should hang his fucking shovel in the Art Institute.
26 Dec

He's marked his space with 14 lawn chairs, an ironing board, and a pyramid of milk crates. He'll fucking shank someone if they move them.
26 Dec

Jesus fucking Christ, there is not enough motherfucking coffee in the whole fucking world this morning.
29 Dec

Fuck these Angry Birds right in their motherfucking feathered fucking vents.
30 Dec

These giant bowling ball red birds would be motherfucking amazing if this whole game wasn't fucking me in the ass right now.
30 Dec

All I want right now is a motherfucking cheeseburger and to claw my goddamn eyes out. Instead I'm fucking flinging these fucking birds.
30 Dec

Carl the Intern's at the circuit court with three pounds of my shit in ziplock bags. He's tossing 'em if the verdict comes in wrong.
4 Jan

Fuck this motherfucking brutal fucking cold right in its frozen fucking asshole.
21 Jan

We finally got Spielberg to take off his cheesehead, but he's got a Packers doo rag on underneath it. What the fuck.
23 Jan

Kanye's choking back fucking tears: "Cutler's knee injury is a nice match for my heart injury."
23 Jan

23 Jan

Double birds to the motherfucking world. TO THE MOTHERFUCKING WORLD.
24 Jan

We're all fucking crying and laughing and barking and quacking and the city has never looked more beautiful, and in four weeks I'll be mayor
27 Jan

Now we're all crammed in Axelrod's fucking Civic, the ceiling's still dented in, driving down Lake Shore Drive, just fucking freestyling.
27 Jan

Report from Axelrod's weathercenter has the big storm hitting later this afternoon. Perfectly fucking reasonable to get drunk now.
1 Feb

Speech preview: "We're Chicago. Maybe--just fucking maybe--we can build something better than stupid T-shirts and half-off deals."
8 Feb

Original plan was to do this speech at Groupon, but now everyone thinks they're fucking assholes. Note to self: Lay off the Tibet jokes.
8 Feb

Hanging out with nerds at Google today. Up half the night building up my elfin sorcerer, in case anyone throws down a motherfucking 20-side.
10 Feb

Snow stopped, week's done, MOTHERFUCKING BEER O'CLOCK, BITCHES.
11 Feb

Our Grammy party got ruined when we remembered that the Grammys are motherfucking awful.
13 Feb

18 Feb

Hambone just brought the schedule: (1) shake 10,000 voters' hands (2) pick up Ari from the airport (3) keep Ari away from voters. Fuck.
21 Feb

"There must be something we can do..." But there's not. Only things that fucking suck never end: look at laundry, or dishes.
23 Feb

This can only give a bit of the flavor of the feed, if you haven't followed it. For two good distillations of the story's climax, I still recommend you read Tim Carmody's "The Two Mayors" and "The Last Hours of @MayorEmanuel."

Into the time vortex!

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The most entertaining and rewarding piece of fiction of the past six months has been, without a doubt, the Twitter stream of @MayorEmanuel. (Sorry, Mongoliad.)

@MayorEmanuel @MayorEmanuel is, or was, a delightfully profane Rahm Emanuel impersonator whose tweets started appearing six months ago, after the real Emanuel expressed his intention to enter the Chicago mayoral race. (Tagline: Your next motherfucking mayor. Get used to it, assholes.) The tweets were drop-dead funny—so much so that I'm sure I retweeted them more frequently than I've retweeted anyone else's—but at first seemed like little more than an amusing and perceptive piss-take on the real Rahm and Chicago politics.

But then a surprising thing happened. Characters from @MayorEmanuel's entourage began to develop, some based on real people (David Axelrod), others fictional (Carl the Intern, Quaxelrod the mustachioed duck). Storylines began to emerge. Riffing off the real ups and downs of the Emanuel campaign, the daily news, and even the weather, the tweets led followers through the dark underbelly of a fantastical Chicago populated by celebrities and politicians, by the famous and the infamous, by the living and the dead alike, with the gang often tooling around town in Axelrod's beloved but increasingly damaged Honda Civic. (Even the real Rahm tried to insert himself into the story, famously offering a large donation to charity if the anonymous author would come forward.)

From Jane Byrne's secret dungeon to a harrowing ride through the flooded sewers beneath City Hall, from New Year's Eve bacchanalia with Kanye West to Mayor Daley's secret celery dome, the story blended an insider's knowledge of the minutiae of Chicago politics and an intimate familiarity with the geography of the city with a stew of pop-culture references and jaw-droppingly absurdist comic sensibility to create a prodigious, profane, and ultimately moving kaleidoscope world that nonetheless captured the essence of this city-like-no-other. Wilco and Gene Siskel, Groupon and Threadless, even celery salt, that key ingredient of the Chicago dog, all get their moment in the spotlight.

You'll note, I did say moving. The night before the election, the narrative took a cosmic and elegiac turn, with @MayorEmanuel snatched away for a tutorial in the secret powers of which Chicago mayors are custodians. I don't want to spoil the story, but let me just praise the brilliance with which the promise of that sequence was fulfilled last night. In an inspired feat of improvisation, the unknown author actually wove the real hailstorm taking place outside our windows into the climax of the story, and somehow managed to time the culmination of @MayorEmanuel's hero's quest with the single giant peal of real thunder that reverberated over the city (and that not to mention scared the crap out of my dog).

Timothy Carmody has compiled and annotated some of the key tweets from the past few days here and here, and I urge you to read through them if you haven't been following the story. But really, to experience the story properly, you had to be following it as it unfolded, and even more so, you had to be in Chicago at the end to properly appreciate that cathartic thunderclap of a conclusion. Sorry, everyone else.

In all seriousness, I want to nominate the @MayorEmanuel tweet stream for a Hugo. (Best Short Story? Best Dramatic Presentation? I don't know.) It's too bad the story had to wrap up in 2011, since that won't make it eligible until next year, if it's even eligible at all.

But moreso, now that the campaign season and the election and the story itself are over, I want to state for the record, a la those West Wing bumper stickers, that @MayorEmanuel will always be my motherfucking mayor.

First off, I must say that I made it home and back safely.

There was some debate about whether or not this month's Tuesday Funk reading would even happen, what with the blizzard and all going on here in Chicago. Hopleaf's opinion was that snow doesn't tend to keep audiences away as much as rain does, so we should go ahead and do it.

And I have to say, they were right. At least in a sense.

The amp With so much snow predicted to fall, I didn't want to take the car over to Clark Street, so I tied our bass amp up tight inside two blue garbage bags, picked up the mike stand, and staggered the (according to Google Maps) 0.8 miles from my house to Hopleaf, with the frigid wind blowing in my face most of the way. I stopped to rest once in the lee of an alley just about sixty feet from Ashland Avenue when I felt like I couldn't continue. After a couple of minutes, the final stretch no longer seemed so daunting, and soon enough I was warm inside Hopleaf, setting up the speaker and mike and enjoying a Chimay our bartender provided free of charge.

By this time, three of our five scheduled readers had written to bow out, owing to the storm. But I had already lined up myself and Jackie Adamski as standby readers, so, with Eden Robins and Brooke Wonders present, we ended up with four readers in all. Ten audience members, including our bartender John.

Tuesday Funk's amazing audience

All I can say about the reading itself is, it was one of those amazing evenings that when you try later to describe it to people who weren't there, you inevitably fall back on the lame descriptor, "You had to be there." There's just something about being part of a group of people who actually showed up at an event that no one in their right mind would have attended. Being there was a badge of honor in and of itself. Reading there was like being part of a secret cabal solving world hunger and global warming.

The only truly hairy bit, for me, anyway, came on the cab ride home. Sondra Morin and I shared a cab, and once it became obvious that the driver wasn't all that familiar with driving in snow, and given the fact that the outside world was only barely visible through the icy windshield (and that much of that consisted of glowing traffic lights alternating with the revolving lights of ambulances and fire engines), we abandoned the idea that the driver would take us each home to our doorsteps. Instead, we settled on a major intersection midway between our homes, flung twenty bucks at the driver, and each made our separate way home through the foot-or-more-high drifts. Yes, at least a foot of snow had fallen between the time I set out and the time I returned home.

And do you know what? I wouldn't trade the evening for anything, including having sat at home warm and cozy in front of the fire with a good book. Tuesday Funk rocked the free world tonight. Ten people know it, and the rest of you will just have to take our word for it.

The bully's speech

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A couple of weeks ago, Laura and I bought tickets online for an evening showing of The King's Speech. We went out to dinner first but failed to leave ourselves enough time to get to the movie theater early. By the time we arrived, our theater was nearly full. We could have sat together in the front row or sat apart. Neither prospect appealed to us so we went to the box office and got a refund. We had to eat the $2.00 online ticketing fee, but it was our own fault for not getting there early enough for decent seats.

Last night we tried seeing The King's Speech again. This time we got to the theater a full hour early. This was probably overkill, but we did end up scoring ourselves the perfect spots, dead center two rows up in the stadium seating section.

Well before the previews started, we couldn't help but overhear an elderly couple bickering in the seats directly behind us. I rolled my eyes, hoping this wouldn't continue once the movie started.

The theater was filling up fast. Shortly after the old man excused himself to go buy popcorn or use the restroom or whatever, we heard a young woman asking the old woman if she would move over so she and her husband could sit together.

"I'm sorry," said the old woman, "but we arrived early so we could have these seats. My husband likes to sit in the center."

"But you could just move over one seat, and we could sit together."

"I'm sorry, but my husband likes to sit in the center."

"All you'd have to do is move over one seat."

"I don't want to move without asking my husband. He's not here right now. When he gets back, you can ask."

"Why won't you just move over one seat?"

The old woman was starting to sound peevish. "My husband likes to sit in the center. He's not here. When he gets back, I'll will ask him."

The young woman eventually went away. Laura and I heard another woman in the row behind us reassuring the old woman that she hadn't done anything wrong.

The movie started, and it was a wonderful film. We laughed, we cried, it became a part of us. The couple behind us didn't make a peep, at least not that I noticed. We were transported.

The lights came up and people started filing out. Laura and I always sit through the end credits when we can, so we stayed put in our seats. When the theater was nearly empty but the credits were still rolling, I heard a young man's voice in the row behind us.

"Excuse me, ma'am," he said, "but do you mind if I ask you question?"

"What is it?" asked the old woman, mildly.

"I want to ask you why you wouldn't move over one seat so my wife and I could sit together," the young man said. "I want to ask why you would be that rude."

"What do you mean? We got here early so we could get the seats we wanted. My husband was out."

"I wasn't here," chimed in her husband. They both sounded so old.

"Why would a person be that rude?" the young man said, with some hostility. "Not to move over one seat. My pregnant wife had to sit by herself."

From his tone, you would have thought the old woman had personally slugged his pregnant wife in the belly. Laura and I both turned around in our seats at the same time, and at the same time we both said, more or less, "She's not the rude one. You're the one being rude."

This was the first I had even seen what the old woman looked like. She had to have been at least eighty, sitting hunched in her seat like a frail, lumpy frog. Her hair looked purple in the half-light.

The young man, on the other hand, was small and slender but very tough-looking. He wore a skin-tight white T-shirt under his jacket, and his hair was shaved down to uniform stubble. He was no older than thirty.

"This is none of your business," he said to us. "How can you defend that kind of rudeness?"

"She didn't do anything wrong," Laura and I both insisted.

"I wasn't even here," the old man said.

My hands were shaking at this point. I am rather confrontation-averse, but who can sit by while some angry thug bullies an old woman?

The "conversation" went back and forth like that for a few more exchanges while I tried to mentally prepare for it to turn violent. Thankfully it never did, but it did end with the seething young man standing up and pointing a finger at the old woman as he retreated down the aisle.

"Shame on you, shame," he said. "And shame on you too, for your rudeness."

"I wasn't even here!" complained the old man.

"I'm not talking to you," said the young man, who was now nearly at the theater exit. "I talking to you and you. Shame on you two for encouraging this kind of rude behavior. Shame! Shame!"

Then he was gone.

The elderly couple thanked us profusely for taking their side, and we reassured them that we didn't think they'd done anything wrong. I kept an eye out for the guy as Laura and I exited the building, but we didn't see him.

We talked the incident over on the way home. We were both glad we had said something, and we were proud of having helped run off a builly. But there were other things we wished we'd had the presence of mind to say to him. One was, "What kind of person needs to bully an old woman just because he didn't get his way?" Another was, "Are you going to stop harassing this woman, or do I need to go talk to a manager?"

I don't know what you think about situations like this, but here's my take. I think there's a culture of entitlement at work here. I'm used to getting my way, I expect to get my way, and if I don't get my way then you are doing me injury. If there's something you could give me that I want and deserve and you don't give it to me, then you are a terrible person. You are rude.

It's a two-year-old's mentality, but you see it in adults all the time. I frequently act that way, I know. But the bottom line is, just because someone could give me something does not mean they are obligated to give it to me. I don't have a right to the theater seat of my choice any more than I have the right to punch you in the nose. Even though I might want to.

Yes, the old woman could have moved over a seat. (Or maybe she couldn't. I don't know what her mobility is like. Maybe she and her husband were waiting to leave until the theater was empty because it takes her five minutes just to stand up.) But when she doesn't, for whatever reason, the adult response is to nod your head and accept the consequences of not arriving at the theater half an hour early. The adult response is not to sit and stew so thoroughly through a two-hour movie that you have to start harassing an old woman afterward.

I don't know, maybe all bullying stems from a sense of entitlement. You have something I don't that I think I deserve to have, so I'm going to take it from you, you rude, selfish person. Even if that something is self-respect.

So that's my take on an incident I'm obviously still stewing over myself. What's your take? Who was right and who was wrong? Or was everyone wrong? I'd like to hear.

Under their skirts

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The sidewalk trees drop
their skirts of dirty snow
for a silver-tongued winter rain,
exposing a careless mulch of cigarettes butts,
not to mention the occasional dog turd
and chicken bone.

Nothing better to do, trees,
than eat, shit, and smoke
as you wait at the curb
to be picked up by spring?

Under Their Skirts

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