Inhuman Swill : Page 31
Why is my blog called Inhuman Swill? Because you can unscramble the pieces to make William Shunn.

And a brine chaser, please

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While Laura and I were in New York City about a month ago, we were introduced to a drink called the "pickle back"—a shot of Irish whiskey followed by a pickle-brine chaser. Yes, I was dubious too, but it was the best new drink I'd tasted in ages. Of course, the pickle juice needs to be of high quality. You can't just use the liquid from a bottle of Vlasic dill chips.

We first experienced the pickle back at Sweet Afton in Queens ([info]ecmyers was there!), so imagine our surprise when at Whiskey Tavern in Chinatown the next evening we found two varieties of pickle back on the menu! It's apparently a growing trend in bars in the know, as detailed in this New York Post article:

Give Pickle Juice a Shot

Time to invest in cucumber futures?

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According to Whisky Connosr: "Some ideas are so brilliantly simple you wonder why no-one has thought of them before."

Now, I love me some gimmicky new ways to quaff my favorite hoity-toity single-malt scotches, but seriously? No one's ever thought of "drinks by the dram" before? Maybe I'm revealing myself for the old fart I am, but in my day they called those "minibottles." And they were perfect for sneaking into a laser show at the Hayden Planetarium.

Okay, so that was only a few short years ago. My point stands.

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I know your heart, Joseph Purcell

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I love the AMC series Rubicon so much that I tracked down a copy of one of the out-of-print collections of producer/writer Henry Bromell's New Yorker short stories from the '70s. I've started I Know Your Heart, Marco Polo, and so far I'm very taken with the hallucinatory prose style. Can't wait to finish it.

I think it's the first time that someone's television work has prompted me to seek out his or her fiction. Racing through The Wire is what finally prompted me to read David Simon's non-fiction Homicide, a book that had been mocking me from the shelf for twenty years. (Interestingly, Bromell also worked on the Homicide television series.) I started watching Justified precisely because I was a fan of the Elmore Leonard novels featuring Raylan Givens. (Of course, it also didn't hurt that Timothy Olyphant from Deadwood was playing the character.)

But I'm pretty sure the Bromell conversion is a first. If I keep enjoying the stories, his novel Little America, a semi-autobiographical (I gather) tale of a son trying to understand his father's C.I.A. career, sounds pretty interesting.


Any of you other Rubicon fans recognize the name Joseph Purcell?
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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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We are all fucking assholes

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I am shocked, saddened, and sickened by the recent spate of bullying and harassment of gay youths that has led to so many teen suicides nationwide. It's disturbing that such vicious intolerance still exists in our country, and depressing that with so many positive gay role models today that the message that it gets better still hasn't permeated society far enough.

But I'm also uneasy with this week's rush to label every bully a "total fucking asshole." Lest there be any misunderstanding, let me stress that bullying is wrong. Bullying of any stripe, against anyone of real or imagined difference, is ugly and cruel and harmful and utterly wrong. It seems to me, however, that labeling anyone who expresses an opinion we don't like a "total fucking asshole" is counterproductive in a couple of important ways.

First, though I think it's important for gay kids (for all kids, really) to learn to stand up for themselves, calling a tormentor a "total fucking asshole" is not exactly a way to open up a pathway to understanding and enlightenment. It strikes me only as a way to close off communication and escalate conflict. (Still, I know it would be an awfully satisfying thing to say, and there might be a certain element of empowerment to it. That and a good right hook.)

But second, and more importantly, I think the "total fucking asshole" label is a great way for adults to draw a dividing line between "us" and "them," and to avoid confronting the hard truth that we all have some degree of bully in us. The trick for us all is to recognize and curtail our own bullying tendencies, and to spread that same message in constructive ways.

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Ella is seven

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This is a seven-year-old dog
Yesterday was 10/07/10, and Ella turned 7 * . Using the common yardstick of seven dog years to one human year, she's now older than either Laura or I, which makes me sad. (Good thing Ella is immortal, and will outlive us both.)

Ella was six months old when we rescued her in April 2004. Well, really it was Laura who rescued her. We still lived in Queens at the time. I was on a week-long trip to the west coast—business in San Francisco, seeing my son in Portland, and hitting the Nebula banquet in Seattle. While I was gone, Laura spent a few days visiting her parents in the Chicago suburbs. Her parents' neighbors had a six-month-old, 18-pound soft-coated wheaten terrier puppy they couldn't care for anymore. They had heard from Laura's mother that Laura wanted a wheatie, and asked Laura if she would like to take the puppy home with her. She called me.

"Do you want a six-month-old wheaten terrier puppy?" she asked.

"Sure," I said. And thus our lives changed.

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Just a reminder that tonight I will be reading tonight with the Tuesday Funk gang at Hopleaf Bar in Chicago. Since I was also recently named a co-producer of the reading series, that's two big reasons I hope you'll join us tonight. Adding in great readings from Connor Coyne and Jackie Adamski only sweetens the pot.

Here's what the event invitation on Facebook has to say:

Tuesday, October 5 ยท 7:30pm - 9:00pm

Hopleaf Bar
5148 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL

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Picky, picky

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Even with her bath Tuesday evening, I'm still picking little specks of dried algae out of Ella's fur. It's like someone sprinkled her with diced parsley.

If I smell a backyard grill, I'm not letting her out of my sight.

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In the bloom

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Algae bloom

We like to take Ella to a dog beach on Lake Michigan, a couple of miles from our apartment. The temperature was in the high 80s yesterday, so I tossed Ella in the car late in the afternoon and we headed east to Lincoln Park. Unlike the past few summers, the water at the beach there has been crystal clear all season, so I didn't stop to look at it before letting Ella run around in it.

When she emerged, her legs were green.

The water at the people beach still looked pretty good, but at the dog beach the water, once you stopped to look at it, was opaque with algae. You couldn't take a step without the dark green soup billowing in a cloud around your feet. When we left, people were amazed to see the dog with the skinny green legs trotting along. Thank goodness she's only a wader and not a swimmer.

I didn't take a picture of her green legs, but here she is in the opaque water:

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A graphic novel performed live

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The Astronaut's Birthday

On Sunday night Laura and I, together with our friends Maribeth and Larry, saw an immense theatrical spectacle of narrative, music, puppeteering, and images projected on a huge subdivided vertical surface. And no, it wasn't Roger Waters performing The Wall (though I did see that last night with my brother-in-law at the United Center).

What we did see was experimental theater group Redmoon's latest production, The Astronaut's Birthday, which is being presented in conjunction with Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art.

In fact, the production is being presented on the Museum of Contemporary Art. The Astronaut's Birthday is a motion comic performed live, with all the art projected onto the windows of the museum's facade from inside. In fact, each of the eighteen windows has two puppeteers behind it, slapping hand-drawn, hand-colored gels onto an overhead projector and manipulating overlays to make some of the visual elements move. In fact, sometimes the images extend across multiple windows, and when you add in the music, sound effects, live narration and voice acting, not to mention the occasional human silhouettes that dance through the images, and you've got an immensely complicated operation going on behind the scenes.

With all the beautiful visuals and impressive technical craft going on, the story falls a bit on the thin and sappy side. But with a show like this, you're not really there for the story. You're there for the spectacle. I took over a hundred grainy pictures of that spectacle during the show, which Redmoon in fact encouraged. In a pre-show announcement, they told us to take all the non-flash pictures we liked, and to disseminate them far and wide. (Which only goes to show that Redmoon gets this internet thing.)

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