Inhuman Swill : Memories
            

We had no idea that what we were really doing was a cover shoot for my memoir.

It was the late summer of 1987. I was stationed with my assigned mission companion, Elder Tim Bishop, in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. We lived rent-free in a small house owned by a local Mormon farming family. The house was a couple of miles outside of town, in the middle of a vast swath of wheat fields. The Kootenai River meandered nearby. Occasionally a moose would wander by or a bald eagle would sail overhead.

I'd been there since May, so I'd gotten to watch much of the growing and harvest process. At the end of the season, the farmers let us know that they would soon be burning the stubble of one of the fields, which would lie fallow the next year.

Even with advance warning, it was quite a shock when Bish and I, returning home in the late afternoon from a day of whatever missionaries do to occupy their time, spotted the smoke rising in the distance. Driving up the dirt road between the burning fields was a surreal experience, even with the greatest part of the fires having died down. It was so surreal, in fact, that we did exactly what you would expect from bored 19- or 20-year-old kids.

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I've always believed that I have a pretty good memory—in particular, that I can recall formative events and conversations from years or even decades ago in reasonably good detail. When I started work on my memoir The Accidental Terrorist, I made a list of incidents, events, and bits of lore from my mission that I wanted to include. The more of these that I wrote down, the more others I started to remember. My notes ran pages and pages and pages.

I'm now working my way through a revision of the book with notes from my editor, Juliet Ulman. The occasional query scrawled in the margin questions details I seem to recall clearly. I've started wondering how much I can trust those old memories, especially the smaller moments I could easily have misremembered or invented. I've started looking for bits I can actually confirm.

Last night I came to the passage below, which seemed like it should be eminently verifiable. The scene is southern Alberta, October 1986:

On Friday of that week, we were talking heavy metal when I mentioned that the only band I liked of that sort was Rush.

"Ah, so you're one of those," said Fowler. "Same as every other missionary in Canada. You know last winter they had a concert scheduled up in Edmonton?"

"That was the Power Windows tour. What a great show. I saw it in Salt Lake."

"Well, I was serving in Edmonton at the time. I swear half the elders in town must've had tickets."

I gaped. In my civilian life, I had the right to choose to see a rock concert if I wanted, whether or not the Church or my father approved. But for a missionary, ordained and set apart as a representative of Jesus Christ, the rules were different. No music, especially not rock music, and especially not live rock music. That was just handing Satan the keys to your soul's front door.

"Including you?" I asked.

"Naw, Rush ain't my thing. But anyways, the day of the show this massive blizzard hits. No joke. Shuts everything down. No planes in or out. Concert canceled."

"Whoa."

"You're telling me. You think God wanted all those missionaries rocking out in clouds of dope smoke? No way. It would have killed the Spirit dead in Edmonton for a month."
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My first R-rated movie

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The Star Chamber
Reading this edition of "The Big Question" at Hitfix.com got me thinking about the first R-rated movie I ever saw. The film itself—a Michael Douglas thriller called The Star Chamber—was not so memorable, but the circumstances around my viewing of it are, in retrospect, amusing.

When I was growing up, the LDS Church strongly cautioned parents not to let their children see R-rated movies, so that was exactly the rule my parents established for us. I followed it, too, though not always happily.

I don't remember what it was about The Star Chamber that made me willing to break that rule. Since I was close to turning sixteen, it was probably just time for it to happen. My friend David, who was a little younger than I was, kind of wanted to see it too, so he asked his parents to take us. So, it was time plus opportunity, I suppose.

(I had seen R-rated movies already, but on video at friends' houses, not in an actual movie theater.)

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Glitter & mayhem & music

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Glitter & Mayhem: The Speculative Nightclub Anthology
It was almost a year ago that I received the invitation—would you like to contribute a story to a speculative rollerderby/nightclub-themed period anthology? Well, yes, obviously!

But what was not so obvious was what I was going to write about. I mean, I was a good little Mormon kid back in the mid-'80s. I went to shows, sure, and I went dancing at a few clubs, but I wasn't exactly seeking out the seedy side of the scene. I remember going to see Gene Loves Jezebel at Club DV8 in Salt Lake City in probably 1986 and being distinctly uncomfortable at all the androgynous twin-brother sexuality on display. That was about as seamy as things got in my world.

But Laura was quite a bit more familiar with the corresponding Chicago scene, so I thought would be fun for us to collaborate on the story. We talked the story through as we walked the dog, and we took the milieu and its underlying ennui straight from her memories. (Other details of the club where much of the action takes place came from the Gapers Block article "A Look Back in the Mirror at Medusa's," by Sheila Burt.)

Right at the deadline we sent "Subterraneans" off to the editors. I felt like a complete poseur submitting a story of this sort, but Laura's memory was validated when this reply came zinging back from Michael Damien Thomas:

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We shout at the chatroom!

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Generation Swine Let me tell you about the night I hung out with Mötley Crüe.

Okay, to be honest, it was only half of Mötley Crüe, and it's not like we were out clubbing it up with groupies and blow. But we were at a club. I was reminded of this story the other day when I happened to hear "Shout at the Devil" on the stereo for the first time in quite a while.

This was June 1997. I was working in New York City as technical producer for a website called Rocktropolis.com (sadly now long deceased). Our company, N2K Entertainment, ran a variety of genre-specific music sites, all meant to drive traffic to our online CD store, Music Boulevard. At Rocktropolis we ran rock music news, contests, curated streaming radio, artist chats, and—coolest of all—live concert webcasts.

Some of our live shows were simply streamed versions of special syndicated radio broadcasts, but more and more we began to arrange our own on-location webcasts. We would get a temporary DSL line installed in the venue (if they didn't already have one—and they usually didn't), hump our equipment over there, tap directly into the soundboard, and stream the feed out to users via RealAudio. Believe it or not, this was trailblazing stuff at the time.)

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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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Memories of my father's memory

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Clearing out my inbox (a task that requires a pitchfork, a shovel, and high-volume hose), I ran across an email from a old, old family friend who had known my father since they were young together in Los Angeles, and whom my siblings and I have always known as Uncle Lee. Laura and I dropped in on him last February, and while we shared a meal of takeout sushi he regaled us with stories from Dad's younger and wilder days.

In the followup email, Uncle Lee had one more memory to share:

I think I forgot to tell you that your dad could dance and memorize at the same time. If he liked his dance partner he would ask her for her telephone number which he would memorize immediately so he could call her and thank her the next day.

I am not sure how many telephone numbers he could memorize in one evening.

Dad passed on a lot of interesting genes to me, but not that one!

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Remembering Algis Budrys

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Algis J. Budrys
It was a simple drive twelve miles north this morning to get to Skokie for Algis Budrys's memorial service. Laura was unable to join me so I went alone, and I found when I arrived at the funeral home that there was no one there I knew. Actually, I did meet Ajay's dear wife Edna back in 1985, but I wouldn't have expected her to remember that brief occasion all these years later.

I don't do very well in crowds where I don't know anyone—heck, I can get intimidated in crowds where I do know people—so I sort of slinked around at the back of the room, feeling somewhat like an intruder. Two display tables helped me occupy myself. One was covered with an arrangement of various editions of Ajay's books. The other displayed a selection of interviews with and articles about him, both from print sources and online. On a widescreen television ran a slideshow of photos of Ajay and his family.

The service began not long after I arrived, and I found a seat toward the back. There were fifty or sixty people in attendance, I would estimate, and the number of chairs for everyone was almost exactly right. A pastor spoke for a few minutes about Ajay's greatness as a husband and a father and a writer, and offered a prayer. Then she turned the time over to Ajay's sons.

Jeff shared remembrances and appreciations of Ajay he had gathered from people online over the preceding few days. Among the poignant, funny, and just simply factual snippets he read, I was startled to hear a line I had written in a brief post on Monday. Tim expressed his good fortune at being able to spend many of his adult summers with his parents' house as a home base, and shared an observation an associate at a Renaissance fair had made—that no wonder he seemed so even-keeled, with parents who had always stayed together. Dave recounted the last years and final days of Ajay's life, when despite setback after setback, Ajay had remained cheerful and become even more of a sweet man. All three sons credited their parents with giving them the space to do their own thing—as long as they did something. There was also much talk of Ajay's prowess as a bicycle builder and mechanic—the boys grew up having by far the best bikes around, at a time when 10-speeds were still exotic—and stories like the time he singed his eyebrows off cleaning bike parts with gasoline.

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Google me a memory

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A meme via [info]curmudgeon:

The Rule is that you take the best picture you like from the first page of Google Images results.

1. The city and state of the town you grew up, no quotation marks.
http://home.comcast.net/~utahauras/trevorspider1a.jpg

2. The town where you currently reside. [Sorry, had to pick two, tempted by three!]
http://www.ohfs.org/images/PictureGallery/2004/2004NewYork7.jpg
http://www.wirednewyork.com/parks/astoria_park/astoria_park_pool.jpg

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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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