Inhuman Swill : Page 34
Why is my blog called Inhuman Swill? Because you can unscramble the pieces to make William Shunn.

Targeting violent rhetoric

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A green light for gunmen?
It has come to my attention that a major American retail chain, in an orchestrated campaign to "take out" high prices, may be quietly encouraging violence in our cities and towns. I'm sure the perpetrators of this offense don't mean it that way, but what other message than an invitation to mayhem are the impressionable and unstable amongst us supposed to take from the sight of a local area map covered with red bull's-eye symbols?

I hereby call upon Target Corporation, in these times of hyper-vitriolic political rhetoric, to change their store-locator symbol to something less inflammatory. A nice, neutral asterisk, perhaps? Who could possibly object to that?

Please. It's for the good of the country.

Full entry

No, I don't mean dancers smoking pot. I mean dance choreographed on an indoor set of living grass and trees. It's "Wooden," by our good friend Laura Peterson (with sets by Jon Pope), and you lucky New Yorkers can see Part 2 at Here Arts Center tonight and tomorrow night only. Please go, since we can't! Tickets are $15.

Laura's choreography always strikes me as supremely logical, whether rooted in organic forms or technological ideas or a hybrid of both, and entirely superior to the hackneyed vocabulary that seems to compose much of modern dance. Here's a video of one of the improvisations that led to "Wooden" to whet your appetite:

at MoMA 2/14/10 from Laura Peterson on Vimeo.

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

Full entry

Under their skirts

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Under Their Skirts
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?

Full entry

The tissue at hand

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Having finished the first draft of a novel a few months back, I am now slowly but surely whittling my memoir, The Accidental Terrorist, down to its fighting weight. This means chopping out certain scenes I'm very fond of, but which don't fit the focus and tone of the revised manuscript.

Here's one of those scenes I'm sorry to see go, surgically excised and preserved under glass for your inspection.

October 1986

"You want to see my what?" said Elder Vickers, assuming that expression of shock and disgust he feigned so well.

Full entry

And your little Terriers, too!

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Dear FX Networks:

I've never before been moved to write a television network to express my love for a program that has struggled in its ratings, but that's exactly what I'm doing now. There are few shows I've ever come to love so quickly and fiercely as I love Terriers. I hope you'll renew it and give this compelling, idiosyncratic show a chance to find a wider audience.

You know, of course, that the writing and directing on Terriers is top-notch. The show is brisk and involving, witty and suspenseful. (In what was probably my favorite single episode, "Agua Caliente," the suspense was excruciating.) At the outset of the series, I assumed I was watching nothing more than an unusually good PI drama with snappy dialogue. It wasn't long, though, before I realized how attached I had become to the characters, and what an emotional stake I had in their problems, both personal and professional.

This points out that no matter how good the talent behind the cameras, the show would be nothing without great acting, which is exactly what Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James deliver in every episode. They're tough when they have to be, they desperately try to be as smart as they need to be, but they never fail to exude warmth and charm and vulnerability. Their friendship is one of the most natural-seeming I've seen on television, which only makes the ordeals they endure all the more devastating. Donal Logue, in particular, has never been better.

Full entry

Floppy puppy

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Between five and six this morning, I had a pretty awful dream. I was somehow in a big grungy rusty white panel van with my family, who I guess were visiting town. Except it wasn't my family as it exists now. It was my parents circa the mid-seventies and my four youngest brothers and sisters circa the mid-eighties. My three other siblings were not around, but for some reason I was being forced to go to church with the family—a stake conference, to be precise. I didn't want to go, but there didn't seem to be a way out, and as we parked in gray dusk light near the church I realized angrily that I was going to miss meeting my friend Kevin that evening for beer (which is actually on my schedule for tonight).

The church was a strange one inside, with a chapel that was much wider than it was long, and with the congregation seated on rising auditorium-style benches looking down at the pulpit. The only door in or out was in the corner behind and to the left of the pulpit, so if I tried to leave everyone would see. As I tried to work up my courage to leave, I realized that I wasn't wearing Sunday clothes like the rest of the family. I had on white shorts and a black T-shirt with something printed on it. (Probably something obscene, I don't know.) Feeling hideously exposed, I turned to my parents and loudly announced that I was leaving and they couldn't stop me.

Outside the church, I found Ella on the porch leaning against the wall beside the door. Apparently she'd been in the van and someone had left it open. Anger surged inside me. Ella was very groggy and didn't even lick me as I picked her up and cradled her in my arms. She flopped bonelessly, like a rag doll, and somehow I knew she'd been hit by a car that pulverized her skeleton. I kicked open the door to the church and strode into the chapel bearing my dog like an accusation. "You did this to her!" I screamed.

That's when I woke up.

Full entry

Mixed signals

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So Laura and I met up after work down in Wicker Park, so we could each buy some jeans at the Levi's Store. Sadly, we left the store jeanless. (Well, I did still have on the ones I wore in.) I should have remembered this, but the Levi's Store only stocks sizes suitable for pipe-cleaner people, because of course there is no such thing as a tubby hipster.

The scales were somewhat balanced, though, by:

  • the man who crossed the street while Laura was waiting for me in front of the store to tell her how strikingly beautiful she was and how lucky her husband was.
  • the hostess at Piece Brewery and Pizzeria who carded us both.
  • the waitress who told me how cool my glasses were.
  • the drunk who apologetically addressed me as "young man" after not bumping into me (though he seemed convinced he had).
So all in all, last night was a push. And there was pizza and beer.

Full entry

Frey-ing fish in a barrel

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After reading last week's New York Magazine feature article "James Frey's Fiction Factory," I was tempted to post another jeremiad against the author who proves himself time and again the slimiest, most brazenly unapologetic charlatan to disgrace our industry in the past decade.

Fortunately, doing so would be redundant, since I can just send you to John Scalzi's two excellent posts analyzing Frey's latest hijinks:

  • The Man in the Frey Flannel Suit
  • An Open Letter to MFA Writing Programs (and Their Students)

    All I will add is that you should never sign a contract with a man who claims there's no difference between fact and fiction.

    Full entry
  • Infidel dog

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    Infidel dog
    This morning,
    with a high of seventy degrees in the forecast,
    amazing for a November in Chicago,
    I drove the dog to Warren Park.
    That's where we go for a special treat
    instead of our usual neighborhood walk,
    because the squirrel chasing is most excellent,
    and there are never any cops there to harass you,
    a scofflaw walking his dog off its leash.

    We like to run up the steps of the sledding hill,
    which a parks department sign actually proclaims "Sledding Hill,"
    and then charge down the slope,
    after which we make our way around the skirt of the hill
    where the squirrels rummage through the leaves
    like so many bargain hunters.
    We crunch crunch crunch across the orange carpet,
    and if we're lucky we spot a squirrel far enough out
    in the open that Ella can chase it full-bore
    back to its tree.
    She has never once caught one.
    Or at any rate never killed one.

    Next we like to follow the cinder jogging path
    all the way around the little nine-hole golf course embedded
    like an off-center yolk
    in the albumen of the park,
    and that's exactly what we did this morning.
    I walked in the leaves at the side of the path,
    trying to encourage Ella to do the same,
    but unless she has a rodent, lagomorph or marsupial in her sights
    she prefers to walk on pavement. Go figure.

    We were on the south side of the golf course,
    the tall chain-link fence meant to protect us from flying balls
    off to our left,
    when I saw two men coming our way along the path,
    youngish men—younger than I, at any rate—
    neatly bearded men dressed in long robes the color of wet sand.
    It was already warm enough out that I was regretting
    the heavy coat I wore over my hooded sweatshirt.
    I snapped my fingers imperiously,
    calling for Ella to return to my side,
    to leave the path and get out of the way
    of the two youngish men engaged in animated talk.

    Full entry


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    I make it my general practice
    not to drink and write.
    At least, I try not to drink
    when writing fiction,
    where the prose should be clear
    and lucid as water,
    even as it refracts the light.

    But poetry's a different matter.
    A little whisky never
    hurt a poem. Not much, anyway.
    Certainly not this
    glass of it, distilled from smoke
    that might have
    scribbled words like these in
    the air as it
    jittered away, leaving only this
    amber residue,
    not so transparent as it appears.

    Full entry
    William Shunn