Inhuman Swill : Sports

This past Sunday my father-in-law turned 71. He used to be (and quite possibly I will get this wrong) a Formula Four racer and has always had a thing for cars. In planning for this birthday, he found a Groupon for an exotic-car driving experience at the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet. The country club is exactly what it sounds like—a place where, instead of golfing, members get to race their high-performance cars on one of the private tracks. And for a few weeks every year, an outfit called Imagine Lifestyles puts on events there where reg'lar folks like you or me can drive Lamborghinis or Ferraris or Maseratis or what have you.

It was supposed to be my father-in-law, my brother-in-law Tom, and me, but it so happened that my father-in-law was ill on Sunday so he offered his slot to Laura. (Our friend Barbara Lynn was in town from New York, so she tagged along with us to the track, too.) I was very nervous about driving, especially after the quick safety-training session we had to go through, which explained all the flags you might see around the track and how to use the orange and green cones to guide you through the execution of each curve.

Tom drove a Lamborghini Gallardo (I believe that was the make). Laura drove a Mercedes SLS with gull-wing doors. I drove a Ferrari F430. Four cars would go out at a time, led by a souped-up Mustang as the pace car. My Ferrari happened to be the first car after the pace car, and I was pretty worried about not keeping up and ruining the experience for the three drivers behind me. Fortunately, there was a coach in the passenger seat beside me, and though I lagged a little through the first lap, I managed to keep up pretty well through the next two. My knuckles were white, though.

There was a video camera mounted in every car, so we each got an SD card with our cockpit video on it after the "race" to take home. Here's mine, if you want to hop into the Ferrari with me for a little spin:

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Yesterday I mentioned a pub in Brooklyn called Mooney's, which sadly no longer exists. It was on Flatbush Avenue near Park Place, right around the corner from the apartment where I lived from 1995 to 2001. My 30th birthday party there was a very memorable occasion, but thinking about Mooney's reminded me of another funny memory from that place.

It was June of either 1997 or 1998, I can't be sure which. I don't usually watch much sports, but I was still a relatively recent transplant from Utah and the Jazz were playing the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals. I made a habit of slipping out to Mooney's to have a few beers and watch the games.

Mooney's was a great bar and always drew an eclectic clientele. I got to know a few of the other patrons over the course of the series, simply because they were curious about why I was cheering so loudly for Utah. I had been noticing one other patron in particular, who seemed to know a lot of other folks in the bar. He looked like an Orthodox Jew, with a white dress shirt, black pants, prayer fringe, skullcap, thick beard, and side curls. He always had a lit cigarette in one hand and a pint of beer in the other, and as he watched the games he was more vociferous and profane in his cheering than just about anyone else in the place. He looked to be about my age, and was the biggest bundle of contradictions I think I'd ever seen.

One night late in the series, I was sitting by myself at a high table opposite the bar when this fellow came weaving my way. "Hey," he said to me over the din, jabbing his cigarette at me. "I just heard from some people that you're a Mormon. From Utah."

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Okay, I have to come clean somewhere, so you just got voted my confessor. Lucky you.

So Laura and I started playing Wednesday nights in a pub trivia league late last spring. It's a uniform game that takes place in different bars not just all over Chicago but in several cities around the country. Our first few outings were dismal, but gradually we improved to the point where we took several firsts at our home bar, and we regularly place near the top of the pack. During this past season, our team—then known as The Reigning Cats and Dogs—did well enough to get invited to the city league championship match on February 13th. We placed 15th out of about 25 teams.

Using cell phones to look up answers is strictly forbidden, and we never cheat on that score. Sometimes, though, if we're nervous about a question, we'll look up the answer after we've already turned in our response. We're there to have fun, but we also love winning, and we can get pretty competitive with the other regular teams. It's a friendly competition, though.

Besides Laura and me, we have a few regulars on the team, most consistently Diane and Chuck. On a normal night, we have three or four players. There is no real limit on team size, though. We've had as many as six and as few as two. Everyone has categories they're strong and weak in. Laura does great at business and advertising and celebrity questions. Diane has TV and politics. I'm good at music and science and geography. Chuck has history, and he's pretty good at sports too. We generally dread sports questions, though, and there are usually a lot of them, so we recently recruited a new player, Randy, to help shore up that weak area.

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New short story online

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The Visitors at Wriggly Field, by William Shunn
Batter up! My pulpy new short story, "The Visitors at Wriggly Field," is now online as part of the Pulps series at It's probably my first sports story, and may well be my last, so I hope you enjoy it. (The illustration is by Frank Wu!)

The Pulps series supports Chicago's bid for the 2012 Worldcon. Earlier stories in the series, both in print and online, have been contributed by Frederik Pohl, Gene Wolfe, Mike Resnick, Phyllis Eisenstein, Roland Green, Richard Garfinkle, Lois Tilton, and others. I'm glad I hadn't read any of the earlier stories before I wrote mine, or I might have been too intimidated to produce.

The stories are an homage to Chicago's past as a home to many classic publishers of pulp science fiction. The guidelines we all were given were that:

  • the hero must be square-jawed and dim-witted, with B.S. for his initials;
  • the heroine must be smart, capable and beautiful, with the name Elaine Ecdysiast;
  • the evil-genius villain must be dastardly and scenery-chewing, with the name D. Vice;
  • and the story must be set at least in part in Chicago.
Even by those standards, I clearly went for the lowest common denominator. No, seriously. Frank chose wisely by not illustrating the story's climax.

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A parabolic tangent

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It's not hard to understand why I got so caught up yesterday in the drama of the U.S. Open. Rocco Mediate is in his 40s, he's damn good at what he does, and he's had a little success in his twenty years in the game, but he's toiled in relative obscurity while watching younger, more prolific players rise up after him and dominate the field. Nonetheless, for a few holes there, he outplayed and even rattled the best player in the world, and it looked for a while as if he might actually pull out a once-in-a-lifetime victory.

Yes, even hurt, Tiger Woods still could not be beat. But I don't think Rocco really lost yesterday. With good humor and grace under pressure, he showed the world that, even if he doesn't have the juice to fly steadily at Tiger's altitude, he always had the potential in him for one mighty leap that at least grazed that height. I admit it—I had to wipe my eyes there at the end. He won one for me, and maybe he won one for you too.

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Live playoff

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I'm happy to discover that you can watch the U.S. Open playoff live online at:

(And Rocco just made a hell of a tee shot on the third hole.)

This means I don't have to run back and forth between the office and the television.)

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I wish Tiger Woods no ill, but I'm rooting for Rocco Mediate today in the extra playoff round of the U.S. Open. Even with Tiger hurting from his knee surgery, you still have to figure Rocco as the underdog. Can you imagine being practically over the hill (in golf terms), not ever have won a major tournament, and suddenly finding yourself playing one-on-one all day against the greatest player in the history of the game? It's just my opinion, but it seems obvious to me which victory today would be more meaningful to the winner.

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Laura's big finish

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Laura's big finish

Click photo for race result.

You'll note, of course, that this is the same spot where Robert Cheruiyot slipped and hit his head. Laura manages to keep to her feet.

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Shunn's Huns

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I took it easy last night, no running out into the insanity that is the Irish pub scene in Astoria to drive out the snakes. It was just the dog and I, Laura having stayed over with a friend in Brooklyn to get a quick start on the half-marathon they're running this morning.

Me, my plan was to take Ella to the park for our standard two-hour Saturday outing, then get her medications in her and head out to New Jersey for Lunacon. But when I woke up at five, I could barely move. Every muscle in my body ached. I couldn't get back to sleep. It's no secret I've been burning the candle at both ends, but I don't want the flame to go out today.

Ella needs her walk, so we'll head out in a few minutes and see how that goes. (Though I'm seriously tempted to take a car service to the park. It's a half-hour walk.) I'm full of water and coffee, and an Aleve will go down the pipe next. I hope when we get back I will no longer feel as if the Huns of Ill Health are lying in ambush just beyond the next rise. Ella is pouting on the floor, but maybe her enthusiasm once we get underway will scatter those ruffians!

Update: Feeling better already, just being up and moving around. We'll see how I am at 9:30.
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William Shunn

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