Friday, June 26, 2009

Slaughterhouse 27

Start time: 7:48 PM
End time: 11:39 PM (got to meet up with friends, so I started early and closed late after a 3.5 hour break)
Word count: 590, not counting the hyperlink and intro

Your birthday is Tuesday, so how would you choose to spend it? - Ken Faikus

The man's right. In four days, God willing, I'll turn 34. (For some details on what I thought about birthdays in general, check out Slaughterhouse 21 at

I would wake up early, around 7 or so, and head to the edge of the couch, because the sun would rise in such a place that the light would shine through the aquarium and create a rainbow on the wall behind it (1979-1992) unless I had a race the day before, which would be a reason to sleep (2008). I would go play tennis (1989) and would make sure to spend as much of the day possible outside. I would not work (1991-2002, 2004-2008) because it's not a day to be spent in those pursuits. I would check out my horoscope (1984-2008) and wonder about the days of the celebrities who had the same birthdays as mine (1986-2008). The main comparison would be to one Michael Gerard Tyson. A clear eyed assessment is done.

Midday would be dependent on the evening's plans. I might be unable to sleep on an airplane, wondering why in the hell I had to bring wire clippers, AAA batteries, and a baseball cap to France (2007), or driving a BMW Z3 convertible at 135 MPH towards Searchlight (2001), or browsing through Marie Laveau's voodoo shop in New Orleans (2000), or even swimming in the Caribbean after an all-day excursion around the pitons of St. Lucia (1999), or at an amusement park on a season pass (1995). The day may be more subdued, like heading to the movies for the first time in forever (2008) or playing basketball at Waiola Park (1993). One year it was a trip to the DMV for one of those coveted blue border driver’s licenses (1996) even though I hadn’t exactly had a problem procuring drinks beforehand, sometimes to excess (1995). If Brian was working, we’d try to meet for lunch (2001-2006, 2008)

But there would be a lot going on in the evening, and since everybody else would usually be working, I would need to be prepared early. Dinner was my choice, wherever I wanted it to be, so we were off to Giordano's (1985-1990) or, as I got older, J. Alexanders (1994) Riva (1997) or Gibsons (1996), where I had the great good fortune to see a horse-drawn carriage dragged down State Street at high speed after the right wheel had broken off. My memory for the look on the face of the couple being dragged before the carriage was spun into the back of a taxicab has kept me from ever setting foot into a hansom cab for 13 years and counting. There were always terrific crowds of friends at El Torito (1993) and Lalo's (1991-1992) and I always had a chance to spend time with my family. If I was in the country, they would either sing to me obnoxiously or call to do so, as would my aunt and uncle (1978-2008).

Nights consisted of miniature golf with wagering (1993), or Lyle Lovett in concert at Ravinia (2004), or walking through the rain on Bourbon Street (2000), or playing tennis on the side of the house and hoping not to be eaten alive by mosquitoes (1989). They’d also involved shots of tequila (1997) and illicitly imported Cuban cigars (1994) but one of the things I remember most clearly is driving home sometime in July after 3 in the morning, listening with a broad smile to Brian’s car playing “Today Was A Good Day” by Ice Cube (1993)

So, the key components are simple. Friends. Food. Laughter. If my years include those, I don’t care if I live to be a thousand; I’ll be just fine.

Writing Project Update

Words this week: 600 or so, varied media and some good summary ideas, but nothing to the projects in terms of raw word count, other than relaying an idea of about 200 words that will make the diet book.

Responses to last week's topic: 1

This week's entries: 2 (Ken, Ken)

This week's question: Your birthday is Tuesday, so how would you choose to spend it? - Ken Faikus

500 WORDS ON THIS TOPIC DUE BY: 6/26-27 midnight Friday/Saturday

Friday, June 19, 2009

Slaughterhouse 26

Slaughterhouse #26
END TIME: 11:06 PM

“So I was thinking, what if one of the best baseball prospects in the minors
was named Bartman and the Cubs had an option to sign him. Would they? What
position? Successful? Would he be on the team that actually took them to
and won a World Series? Would his decisive series play come in the same
game as the original Bartman incident? Would he have any relation to the
original Bartman?"

There were three people that popped into my head when I first saw this question.

The first was a young man named Jeffrey Maier, who was a 12-year-old Yankees fan who reached over the right field wall during Game 1 of the American League Championship Series in 1996 and deflected a ball into the stands. The play was called a home run for Derek Jeter and the Yankees went on to win the series. (Yes, this happened so long ago that the Orioles were actually contenders.)

So we have here a Bartmanesque character, though this one’s reach created a positive gain for the home team. The home run tied the game at 4 and the Yankees won in the 11th inning. The funny part was, there was some news drummed up in 2006, when he became the leading career hits leader in his university’s history and was featured on ESPN. Two sources reported Baltimore might draft him. This may be a match for the scenario described above.

The next person I thought of was last year’s Rookie of the Year, Evan Longoria. The guy hits 27 homers and bats .272 his rookie season with the Rays and they go to the World Series. Now, if his name was “Steve Longoria”, or hers was “Emily Longoria”, or even if she had the human compassion to change her FIRST name, rather than just tacking on Tony Parker’s surname, he wouldn’t have to hear a surfeit of jokes or awful Desperate Housewives puns. Anyone named Bartman would be better off pretending their middle name is their last name, and if there’s anyone by the name of Bartman playing in the majors now they have escaped the attention of Baseball Reference.

The third person was actor David Herman, who you probably know better as Michael Bolton in “Office Space,” who, when it was suggested he change his name, responded, “Why should I change it? He’s the one who sucks.”

So much of success in sport is based on confidence, and I would be willing to bet that anyone who could make it all the way up through the minors would have had to survive the inevitable, insufferable ESPN profile (you know Kenny Mayne is just licking his chops for the day something like this occurs), the jeers from fans, the night after night of the local sportscaster making leaden jokes, and still manage to overcome any of the million little things that affect an athlete would probably be a credit to whatever organization he wound up with.

I don’t think it could happen, though. I don’t think it could happen for the same reason that Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak won’t be broken. We are too immersed, too aware, and too bombarded by the opinions and summaries of others, furtively trying to explain what it all means. Joe D had the same group of a dozen or so newspaper guys. Their work showed up in the newspaper, and that was it. Now, with television everywhere – nowadays by the time someone gets to 30 there’s cameras at batting practice – there’s no way the process doesn’t interfere.

I wouldn’t see an MLB Bartman being related to our man in the blue sweatshirt. I think any hope of him being a baseball enthusiast in a normal manner has been dashed. If he ever has kids – and that’s really got to be the profile of a lifetime – I could see him wanting to make them cage fighters or defensive tackles. I couldn’t think of anything crueler than having to sit at a Little League game and you hear your name, announced over the loudspeaker, and some bozo has to make a smart remark. About something you did by mistake 6 years ago. Position? He’d catch. (And when I thought of that I was thinking of the fact he’d wear equipment and feel sort of protected and concealed; but when I wrote it down I realized the heckles wrote themselves.)

Though personally, I’d love to see a line of Cubs jerseys that would be specifically sold to irritate Cubs fans – “SIANIS 45”, “BARTMAN 03”, “MAC 03”, or “CAT 69.” Then again, I’m a White Sox fan.

Writing Project Update

Words this week: Maybe 1000 or so. There were a bunch, but nothing that you could call productive from a literary standpoint. There was a lot of training this week and a lot of stuff that will wind up in that book, but nothing I've had a chance to write about yet.

Responses to last week's topic: 1, along with responses to the past few weeks. It's been up and down, I know. I appreciate your following along.

This week's entries: 4 (Beth, Brian, Brian and Beth)

This week's question: This week's question was a little bit interesting, because the Slaughterhouse inbox was cc'd on another topic. Since the rule is 3rd email, here was Beth's question:

"This time of year always gets my baseball brain working, and... this may be
blending two worlds and violating some process rules, but I am offering up
this question to Slaughterhouse and the group at large...

It comes from a place of love and not meant to be obnoxious (sincerely,
Brian. Not meant to antagonize...)

Listening to sports talk radio and my children screaming, I heard scouting
reports and they were talking about a prospect named, Bartman. I think it
might have been football.

So I was thinking, what if one of the best baseball prospects in the minors
was named Bartman and the Cubs had an option to sign him. Would they? What
position? Successful? Would he be on the team that actually took them to
and won a World Series? Would his decisive series play come in the same
game as the original Bartman incident? Would he have any relation to the
original Bartman?"

Spickinawhich, when it comes to "process rules," there AIN'T no rules. Only rule is third one in the Inbox. Unless I call auction or something else, there's no rules at all for submissions - send them to Thank you!

500 WORDS ON THIS TOPIC DUE BY: 6/19-20 midnight Friday/Saturday

Friday, June 12, 2009

Slaughterhouse 25

END TIME: 10:58 PM

This week's question: "What non-essential item would you like to have had credit for inventing?" - Beth Badrov

I’ve always been fascinated by inventions, and more specifically, the future. Whenever I’m feeling a little too beat up by the workplace, I can look at the little blue USB Flash drive I have on my desk that’s solely for running virus updates and definitions back and forth between my desk and a secure server located in a secure cage in a secure facility. I realize that on that little amulet, I can wear around my neck more storage capacity than all of mankind had available 40 years ago. (In addition, these are now available at 64 times the size that drive can contain, and it’s only two years old.) What cheers me up about this is not the sneaker net process; it’s the idea that in a very short amount of time I’m going to see something else that makes me smack my forehead and wonder what we’ll get to see next.

But flash drives are slick, and technology is going to make even those items seem kludgy and bulky before my son’s old enough to drive. I would have liked to take credit for one invention, one that I appreciate more now considering my current location than nearly any other.

I would have liked to have been Willis Carrier, the father of modern air conditioning.

Think of how many inventions there are that legitimately change the world, things that we have absolutely no substitute for. You may think of things like vaccines, and while I’d certainly consider that an amazing achievement, human beings would contract another disease. You can hold up the automobile and I could point at horses and streetcars. You can look at the telephone and I can point to a Morse code machine or the smartphone in my pocket. (It’s probably my grandchildren who will one day look at a Bell rotary handset, the big heavy telephones with the clear red plastic hold buttons and inserts where you could type in the lines, and wonder why you can’t use it to get driving directions.) But I would argue that Willis Carrier’s invention changed the entire world in ways more profound that we even realize.

First off, without air conditioning, America does not become the industrial powerhouse that gives us and, more to the point, the middle class the highest standard of living in the world. The ability to cool factories extended the workday and increased productivity during the summer months. When this was extended to a residential model in the 1920s, it made it possible for Americans to move away from the industrial cities of the North, thus paving the way for Miami, Los Angeles, and my current abode.

There are a lot of stores in the Chicago are which don’t have central air conditioning installed, maybe just a window unit over the front door. It was a revelation for me to come to the land of misters, of meat locker indoor temperatures, of air conditioning repair technicians advertising a one hour response. (It was probably an AC tech who zipped past me in the Rolls Royce the other day on the 215, and having spent a decade here, I can say without a second’s hesitation he deserved it.)

Air conditioning has changed how far we travel, how we live (skyscraper living could only be possible by taking advantage of the efficiency of large-scale chillers) and how we’re entertained (the popularity of movies owes a lot to air-conditioned theaters rising to prominence during the Great Depression, where most homes didn’t have air conditioning but the theaters could use it as a selling point that they did). But I think more than any of the other inventions that I considered, air conditioning confirmed that we could manipulate our environment for something beyond survival, but comfort. I think air conditioning is a greater indicator of modernity in a society than any other item (and I’m sure that there’s some old-school “Civilization” players who might argue with me), but I’d love to have changed the arc of the average citizen in the direction of being more comfortable.

Writing Project Update

Words this week: About 5000, with 3500 of them on last Saturday's soccer game, which is going to be an Implosion chapter. If you haven't seen it yet - an honest-to-God excerpt that's actually happy - check it out here.

Now theoretically, this means that I've handed out an excerpt and I can send everybody home. But I can't resist doing these anymore. I love getting the topics and I love working quickly, next to no research, completely without a net. I like starting arguments and hearing back from people, and I think I'm getting better at organizing my thoughts, figuring out who my reader is, and working fast. And - in a development I'm stunned by and grateful for - I have followers. Thank you all for everything.

Responses to last week's topic: 3, and all of them were positive, even though I hated it. Some nights I finish these and I'm glad I broke the tape. Some nights I read them a couple of times and play with the words while I'm reading them aloud, some nights I know I've done what I wanted to do and take an admiring step back, and some nights I hate them. This was one of those I hated.

This week's entries: 4 (Beth, Beth, Beth, and Beth)

This week's question: "What non-essential item would you like to have had credit for inventing?" - Beth Badrov

500 WORDS ON THIS TOPIC DUE BY: 6/12-13 midnight Friday/Saturday

Friday, June 05, 2009

Slaughterhouse 24

END TIME: 10:48

Question: “What is ‘normal’?”

The hack thing to do would be to stroll over to and play cut and paste. These are fast and occasionally sloppy and disjointed, but I’m not a hack. If you don’t know what normal is and you want the easy definition, I’ll pause for a moment while you look it up.

I think normal is the enemy of interesting, the equivalent of plain, and yet still something worthy of aspiration. As a personality trait, it can either be an insult or a compliment.

Normal is coloring within the lines, driving the speed limit or right up against it, not because of a posted sign but because that’s what feels right. Normal is not sticking out in any manner, neutral shades against a riot of color, all peaceful white noise in front of a backdrop of every imaginable sound, from the cacophonous to the sublime.

There’s something about you that isn’t normal, and believe me, everyone around you is acutely aware of what it is. From how you look to what you do to how you talk or what you feel, the odds are pretty much a stone cold lock that it’s something the people around you could recognize. Could imitate. All of us, as human beings, start out as a little gob of meiotic cells that by every appearance is normal. The vinyl circle gets embossed with thousands of groves that turn two ounces of plastic into the Temptations. Or Tina Turner. Or the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Our grooves are DNA, and I guess “normal” is what makes up the canvas.

I don’t think I know anyone who’s “normal” as I don’t think that any of us are. I don’t run into a preponderance of abnormal people, but all of the people I interact with on a daily basis are normal enough to not be considered insane or troubled, but not so unusual that there’s orderlies with butterfly nets, chasing after them while they’re clad in a hospital gown.

And if the opposite of normal is considered crazy, or flawed, or imperfect, I happen to know a lot more people along those lines; does their existence as a majority make THEM normal, like a class-action kind of normalcy? Does normal get defined in increasingly smaller, concentric circles, so that the Venn diagram that makes me normal among my friends and family makes me abnormal by the standards of others? I write. I ride bicycles. I like pommes frites and an analgesic painkiller called Biofreeze. How many people are in that particular intersection of circles? That’s my normal, but I don’t think that’s the normal for a lot of other people.

So ultimately, I think trying to define what is “normal” without conext is the same as trying to define what is “blue” without context. What kind of blue are we talking? NO adjectives! Is it blue like the Cubs’ jerseys or blue like the Lions’ logo? Blue like the sky or blue like a cobalt glass vase? There’s so many variants that the word needs some help.

So with that, Nancy, I apologize; the definition was atrocious. The only thing that you can take away from this is the ability to say, “I asked him what “normal” was and he couldn’t answer it.”

Writing Project Update

Words this week: Around 1500 on a number of topics, none of them germane to sharing. There's been a lot of training this week but these Friday nights have kept me from dropping the other projects to concentrate too exclusively on exercise. Thank you all for your feedback and encouragement.

Responses to last week's topic: 0.

This week's entries: 4 (Ken, Ken, Nancy, Nancy)

This week's question: "What is "normal"?" - Nancy Beagle

500 WORDS ON THIS TOPIC DUE BY: 6/5-6 midnight Friday/Saturday