Inhuman Swill : August 2012

Whether you'd like to join today's Unofficial Worldcon Pub Crawl in Chicago from the start, or want to meet up with us somewhere along the route, here's the revised itinerary I've come up. It involves three train rides and only two cab rides, and gets us all over the North Side to some great brewpubs and beer bars:

11:00 am: Group meets at front entrance of Hyatt Regency Chicago, 151 E. Wacker Dr.

Transit: Walk to CTA Blue Line at Clark/Lake, ride (in direction of O'Hare) to California stop

11:30 am: Revolution Brewing, 2323 N. Milwaukee Ave.

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Chicon 7, the 70th World Science Fiction Convention, gets underway tomorrow at the Hyatt Regency Chicago! In case you're interested, I'm so far scheduled to appear on two panels:

Sunday, September 2, 4:30 - 6:00 pm, Columbus CD

Incorporating the Personal into Speculative Fiction

If the sampling of short fiction presented and discussed in the New Yorker Fiction Podcast is any indication, mainstream literary writers draw heavily on events from their own lives, sometimes barely veiled, as inspiration for their work. Since science fiction is generally regarded as writing of ideas, is there any room for this same mining of one's personal experiences? Our panel will discuss to what extent when writing the fantastic they are writing about themselves.

Moderator: Cat Rambo
Panelists: Inanna Arthen/Vyrdolak, Gwynne Garfinkle, Nick Mamatas, William Shunn
Monday, September 3, 10:30 am - 12:00 pm, Columbus EF

Getting the Most out of Writing Groups

There are all kinds of writing groups for all kinds of writers. What should you look for and what rules should you follow to get the most out of the experience? How do you handle conflicting suggestions and how do you comment on others' writing effectively?

Moderator: William Shunn
Panelists: Derek Kunsken, David McDonald, Sarah Stegall, Tim Susman
That first panel was a programming suggestion of mine, so I guess it's only fair that I should be part of it.

I've been told there may be an opportunity to get slotted in for a reading sometime this weekend as well. I'll be sure to post an update if that happens.

Also, and most importantly, on Thursday, August 30th (tomorrow!), I'll be leading a small group on an unofficial daytime pub crawl to various breweries and beer bars around the North Side. We'll meet in the front lobby of the Hyatt at a little before 11:00 am, then take cabs and trains to Haymarket Brewery, The Bad Apple, Revolution Brewing, and more. We should be back no later than 7:00 pm, probably earlier.

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As the Republican National Convention gets into full swing today, one of the topics that probably won't be talked about very much is Mitt Romney's religion. It's odd that this has become such a non-issue during the campaign, given that a) Romney is the first Mormon ever to receive a major-party presidential nomination, and b) the Mormon Church is the fourth largest church in America.

Wait, what? The fourth largest?

Yes, I too was startled by that statistic, which I've been hearing time and again from various outlets—for instance, in an "On the Media" story from late last year about the LDS Church's "I'm a Mormon" ad campaign. I was catching up on that episode via podcast when this statement from LDS Internet and Advertising Senior Manager Ron Wilson caught my ear:

"Even though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the fourth largest church, fifty percent of the population didn't really know who we were."
The fourth largest church. I was raised Mormon, which means I was raised with the Mormon inferiority complex. Somehow that assertion didn't strike me as quite right. It sounded like a small man reporting his height in inches, not feet. I decided to do some digging.
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Wet, dirty feet
It was not without some trepidation that Laura and I embarked on the Active Transportation Alliance's Four Star Bike Tour yesterday. After all, we had to get out of the RAGBRAI kitchen last month because we couldn't stand the heat. Who know how we would fare on this route?

Actually, I was fairly certain we'd do fine. The Four Star Bike Tour, which takes its name from the four stars on the Chicago city flag, offers a 62-mile tour of various Chicago neighborhoods and western suburbs, none of which are particularly hilly. And since we wouldn't be likely to encounter any triple-digit temperatures, we figured this ride would be a good way to restore our cycling confidence in ourselves.

What we didn't count on, about 26 miles into the ride at not yet 10 a.m., was the early arrival of the torrential rains that were predicted for the afternoon. The rain did ease up or stop from time to time, but there were also stretched where it rained so hard we could barely see. We were navigating by a combination of route map and green stars painted on the street. With the rain so heavy it became almost impossible to use the map, and it was very easy to miss the street markers.

There was also another dropped-chain incident with Laura's bike that required the application of an Allen wrench to fix, and the occasion bit of backtracking, but we persevered and made it through in about six and a half hours. Along the way we saw some of the toniest neighborhoods around, and some of the poorest too. As a study in contrasts without borders, it was instructive.

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The Quiet American: a cocktail

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A couple of weeks ago, my friend Jeff Lang sent me a link to Studio 360's listener cocktail challenge—create a cocktail inspired by and named after a classic work of literature.

I wanted to give it a try, but I wasn't able to work on it before the August 12th deadline. Last night I had some spare time, though, so I cobbled together a drink I'm calling the Quiet American. I combined 1.5 oz. of Laird's Applejack, 0.75 oz. of Créole Shrubb liqueur, and 1.5 oz. of blood orange martini mix (blood orange, key lime and cane sugar), stirred with ice, and strained.

The result was not bad—sweet and orange-y with a slightly bitter undertaste. It gets that name because of the distinctly American spirit (the applejack) getting all into the poor tropical country's business (in this case, Martinique). Of course, it was Vietnam in the novel, so my cocktail inhabits the entirely wrong part of the world, but hey, it was the best I could do.

Laura thought it needed more of something tart, like lime juice or a twist. I'll keep meddling with it, like a good American.

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Shock and jaw


A few months ago, my jaw popped out of place on the right side. Suddenly my molars no longer fit together on either side of my bite. A month or so later, my jaw went back into place for a few hours, but it didn't last. It's still out of place.

I went to my doctor early on, who sent me to my dentist. He told me my bite problem, with a left-to-right sliding displacement, was pretty rare in his experience. He sent me out to get a panorex and i-CAT 3D scan of my head so he could figure out what my options might be.

Upon reviewing the results of the scan, my dentist told me there was very little he could do to try to fix my bite short of making crowns for half my teeth. My best option, he said, was to consult an oral surgeon, who would take the scans and work out the best way to cut my jaw apart and reassemble it into something with a proper bite.

I suspect that my dentist wasn't really listening to me all the times when I told him that the problem had come on suddenly. I hope the oral surgeon I talk to is a better listener, and has a better solution than turning my skull into a jigsaw puzzle. I've never had many dental problems, and I find the idea of surgery both extreme and terrifying. I've never had to have surgery of any kind before.

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Microwaves ruin everything

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The wonderful video below reminds me of a good story about a microwave oven. Two microwave ovens, actually. But watch the video first, before I tell it. Don't worry, I'll wait.

Wasn't that awesome? Especially the metal stuff. I used to have a girlfriend who would put metal in the microwave all the time. Spoons, aluminum foil, whatever—she wouldn't bother to remove any of it before nuking her food. I'd tell her that was a bad idea, a dangerous idea, but we had the kind of relationship where anything I said was considered silly and untrue just by virtue of my having said it, no matter that it was easily verifiable by checking with any other human being on the planet.

This was 1998. We lived together, and eventually the very bad breakup that had been coming for a very long time was upon us. Our microwave over was very old and very primitive, and my soon-to-be ex-girlfriend had at last saved enough money to buy the kind of very advanced, fancy new microwave she'd been dreaming of for a very long time. She didn't even take it out of the box when she bought it. It was going to be a housewarming gift to herself in her new apartment in her new city, and she was graciously leaving the old crappy microwave behind for me.

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RAGBRAI Recap: The Legacy

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Hmm, what could we possibly make tonight...?
[ continued from yesterday ]

Laura loves my Manhattans. I make them in the proper, original fashion, with rye and not bourbon. I always keep a bottle of Templeton rye on hand (though Bulleit rye is a fine choice too), along with Dolin sweet vermouth, Peychaud's bitters and Luxardo cherries. I make a damn fine Manhattan, if I do say so.

Laura wasn't always a fan of the brown-liquor cocktail. I'd been drinking Manhattans and old-fashioneds for a few years but never managed to infect her with a taste for them. But then our friend Scott Smith foisted one of his Manhattans on her, and it was all over. The primacy of the Templeton Manhattan was cemented when we attended a documentary about the distillery's history at Mayne Stage in Chicago.

Like I say, I always keep these ingredients on hand. Always. So when Laura texted me last Thursday afternoon to ask Will you make me a manhattan tonight?, my response was an automatic Hell yes.

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RAGBRAI Recap: The Road Home

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Bike arch, Lake View, Iowa
[ continued from last week ]

In retrospect, we probably could have come up with a solution that didn't involve throwing in the towel completely. We could have ridden each of the next two days until noon, then called for the support wagon and sat out the triple-digit afternoon heat. We could have just sat out those days entirely and picked up again on Thursday morning in Marshalltown.

But none of those compromises were within comprehension in our ragged states that afternoon as I laid out to Laura the math I'd run in my head, the risks of heat stroke or something worse, the exit strategy I'd worked out for getting us home, and most of all the fact that I just didn't think I could do another day under those extreme circumstances. And she agreed with me.

Once we'd decided we were leaving, there was no looking back. We quaffed more beer and stuffed ourselves with tasteless, wonderful carbs from the Glacier Bay buffet, then pedaled another five miles or so through Lake View in search of Team Nasty's campsite for the night. As we set up our tent, turkey buzzards were circling overhead. No doubt they were hoping to scavenge garbage from the influx of campers, but at the time it struck us as ominous confirmation that we were making the right decision.

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RAGBRAI Recap: Day Two

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Hanover's old-timey sawmill
[ continued from yesterday ]

A clap of thunder dislodged me partially from sleep in the wee hours of the morning. Because it was such a warm night and there was no rain in the forecast, Laura and I had gone to sleep without the fly sheet over our tent, leaving the mesh open to the air. But now I could see that the fly sheet was in place. As I blinked, a flash of lightning cast someone's shadow onto the fabric of the tent. I remember thinking, "Oh, it's so nice of Colin to take care of our tent," before lapsing back into sleep.

I slept fitfully after that, as did Laura, since the tent was now stifling. At one point I realized that she had tied back the door in the fly sheet on her side of the tent so that the rain would fall on her face and help keep her at least somewhat cool. I did the same.

I was chagrined to wake up at 5:00 am (when my alarm went off) and learn that, in fact, the lightning shadow on the tent had belonged not to Colin but to Laura. Since I didn't wake up, she had installed the fly sheet all by herself, not to mention dragging our bags to shelter and snatching down the clothes we'd hung over our bikes to dry. We broke down our tent and packed all our stuff away as quietly as we could in the sleeping camp. We dragged our bags over to the support van, hopped on our bikes, and headed out.

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William Shunn

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This page is an archive of entries from August 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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