Friday, August 28, 2009

Writing Project Update / The Race Wins Again

Words written this week: 1400.

Responses to last week's topic: 2.

Topics submitted: I have no idea; I'm away from the Slaughterhouse mailbox.

This week's topic: I'm in Chicago getting ready for a triathlon, so I'm not writing much.

THIS WEEK'S TOPIC FINISHED BY: Sunday, August 31, sooner than 10:50 AM.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Slaughterhouse 34

Start Time: 10:33 PM
End Time: 11:59 PM
Word Count: 723 (not counting intro)

“Write a review of an event or story from your life from the perspective/voice of Hunter Thompson.”

Wow. First off, the intro doesn’t count.

My first exposure to the writing of Hunter Thompson was when I was about 14, through a collection of his newspaper columns he’d written for the San Francisco Examiner in the mid-80s, entitled “Generation of Swine: Tales Of Shame and Degradation in the Eighties,” individual lines of which I can still remember. At that time he was writing a mad pastiche of politics, football, and human interest stories. I think at the time he was working as night manager at the O’Farrell Theater in San Francisco, “the Carnegie Hall of public sex in America,” for a forthcoming book, The Night Manager.

I didn’t realize what “Gonzo” was. I knew a little about the Uncle Duke character in “Doonesbury,” and I remembered a Time magazine back page article showing him in the plaid flannel coat, picturing him shooting a typewriter and mentioning burning a Christmas tree in a fireplace.

It was the summer after high school that I discovered “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas: A Savage Journey Into The Heart of The American Dream,” which about 98% of 18-year-olds pick up along with a Hendrix album, a Jim Morrison haircut, and an experimental attitude towards drugs. I spent the next few years after that reading nearly everything of his I could get my hands on. Everything the campus bookstore offered, I got. I’ve deliberately left some of it out there, because there’s one thing about reading Hunter Thompson: you, too, think that you should be able to throw yourself into any situation and find its essential truth through loutish behavior and two-fisted use of dangerous substances. And if you fancy yourself a writer type, you think, shit, I can do this.

And, being the impressionable young man that I was, I thought that I could. Some of the stuff from then was almost unintelligible, and these were the days of Vivarin and Ultra Pep-Back and chocolate covered espresso beans from Gloria Jean’s in the morning at my new job, Hunter and writing and Sominex at the end of the night.

In a wild bout of insecurity and overdramatization in my early 20s, I set everything I’d written up to then on fire. (Here’s a handy tip: ashes fly around a barbecue if you open the lid to watch, and you’re no less insecure after you set a ream or so of paper on fire.) Most of it deserved its fate, and in none of it did I write something as good as this:

“I remembered the girl. We’d had a problem with her on the elevator a few hours earlier: my attorney had made a fool of himself.
“You must be a rider,” she’d said. “What class are you in?”
Class?” He snapped. “What do you mean?”
“What do you ride?” she asked with a quick smile. “We’re filming the race for a TV series – maybe we can use you.”
Use me?”
Mother of God, I thought. Here it comes. The elevator was crowded with race people: it was taking a long time to get from floor to floor. By the time we’d stopped at Three, he was trembling badly. Five more to go…
““I ride the big ones!” he shouted suddenly. “The really big fuckers!”
I laughed, trying to defuse the scene. “The Vincent Black Shadow,” I said. We’re with the factory team.”
This brought a murmur of rude dissent from the crowd. “Bullshit,” somebody behind me muttered.
“Wait a minute!” my attorney shouted…and then to the girl: “Pardon me, lady, but I think there’s some kind of ignorant chicken-sucker in this car who needs his face cut open.” He plunged his hand into the pocket of his black plastic jacket and turned to face the people crowded into the rear of the elevator. “You cheap honky faggots,” he snarled. Which one of you wants to get cut?”

-Hunter Thompson, “Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas”

(I just opened my copy of Fear and Loathing to type that, the edition that has Generation of Swine as well, and not only did I find a note regarding a change to my Econ 121 schedule on one of the front pages, I saw a Post-It note in my ex-wife’s handwriting with three of my old phone numbers on it. I remember giving her the book early on, when we’d met up again. Wow, indeed.)

When Thompson committed suicide in 2005, I was saddened, but not devastated. His recent work had demonstrated that he had found a more lucrative life in being the cartoon character than the man who typed the Great Gatsby twice, for practice. I was a little wistful at the disappearance of that little writerly fantasy of standing there in his kitchen, reading his work aloud to him as he wondered if you could get the rhythm right, the cadence, betting on football and watching three satellite dishes in the middle of the Aspen night.

There’s a room in heaven where he and Warren Zevon and Artie Mitchell and Oscar Acosta and Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald are hanging out, and I imagine Ed Turner and Ed Bradley stop by every once in a while, just like they’d pop up in Generation of Swine, and the laughter is copious and the line for just a glimpse is probably thousands deep, and maybe I’ll get to elbow my way to the front to check it out.

Mahalo, Doc.

We were knee deep in booze at this point, somehow Certain that the next drink would be the discovery that we had been waiting our whole lives to find. Brian was leading the experiment.

“Fuck, this is terrible.”
“What’d you order?”
“Amaretto and cream.”

Christ, I thought, that doesn’t even make sense. Watching Logic get the better of our twisted little plan to try as many drinks as possible was discouraging.
It was 9 in the morning on a Sunday in Las Vegas, and that meant Football, on more screens than most of these rubes could count and nothing but nonstop speedy Action. The betting would be frenzied, and we had our share of action involved as well. We were the grist of the sports book, the people who think they have the slightest fucking idea what they’re doing.

The plan was to watch ALL of the games at once, darting our eyes back and forth like pinballs on fire to catch every play, fortifying ourselves with as many twisted chemicals as they would feed us for free. The sports book, the hotel, all of Vegas adored us. We were the tourists of their dreams: young, suffused in hubris and solid gold credit risks.

Ken looked on silently, taking it all in. Mark’s eyes were moving to glassy on the other side of his glasses. I had been fortified by a breakfast consisting of nothing but eight strips of bacon and Coca-Cola, shooting a savage look through bloodshot eyes at a senior citizen clutching her hands around a two-for-one coupon to the Fabulous Oz Buffet. With next to no sleep for my third day in a row at this point, I wasn’t in the mood for her grandmotherly gaze at my ignorance of the nutritional pyramid. Somewhere beyond the stubble and the pupils like rhesus monkeys, she declined to comment further.

We hunkered down for the first half, feeling like we were at a control panel for NASA. The yardage, the scores, everything up to the second, tearing through the games like crack addled mice, before DirectTV would stroll along a decade later and figure out this is what football should be about, not your fucking AFLAC trivia or the soul-crushing huddles and analysis by self-serving chuckleheads such as Dan Dierdorf.

They brought gin, beer, vodka, tequila, all manner of house-pour spirits in any combination we could think up. My stomach contemplated getting violently ill but hung on. By the second half, we had decided that we would be ill-served by such concepts as sunlight or doing anything outdoors. And travel proved entirely unnecessary; we were getting all of the action we needed right here.

In Chicago, I’d seen the crazed atavistic frenzy that was the Board of Trade open outcry pits; men hollering quotes for commodities through purple faces, a building that had a defibrillator since the Seventies, all with the sheer naked ambition towards getting Rich. The men had it here, too – cigars with baseball caps indoors, proclaiming loyalties and concealing baldness. And as quick as a flashbulb, a genuine Frenzy broke out.

The 1-15 Jets were going to beat the fucking spread. Mother of babbling Christ. Left and right, parlays that would have covered tuition were being driven to ruin. The Eagles were playing like winos and were headed to the playoffs that year, and held a one point lead. The spread favored them by 6 and they led, 21-20.

Cazart! A last-second interception! The bald, the fat, the unathletic, the doomed – they rose as one to cheer on the Eagles cornerback who’d intercepted the ball, headed for the end zone with less than a minute left! Hope! Payday! Redemption! GO! GO! GO! He was tackled at the 1, and that stone brute of a running back, Ricky Watters, would no doubt pound it into the end zone and deliver salvation to the wretches beneath the cathode ray masses at the MGM.

But the Eagles had a one point lead with less than a minute left.

I lingering sense of doom enveloped the masses. “NO!” a paunchy man shrieked as they took a knee. The Eagles would win but not cover.

We examined each other carefully, ensuring that none of us had been ensnared in Fortune’s trap. Then we began giggling hysterically, searching for Truth, Desire, and another free drink…

Friday, August 21, 2009

Writing Project Update

WORDS THIS WEEK: 1200. My biggest race of the year is next week and writing took a back seat to training for a bit. Most of what was there wasn't totally publishable.

COMMENTS ON LAST WEEK'S ITEMS: 4. (Thanks again for writing it for me, everybody!)


THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: "Write a review of an event or story from your life from the perspective/voice of Hunter S. Thompson."

Wow. It's time for some old school, no prisoners, straight no chaser. I assure you there will be a lengthy introduction.

If you're not already up to speed on the Gonzo Brand, familiarize yourselves with one of my heroes here. Cathc you in a few.

500 WORDS DUE BY: Midnight 8/21-22

Friday, August 14, 2009

Slaughterhouse 33 – The Runners-Up, January to June

Start compiling: 9:51 PM
Finish compiling: 10:22 PM

“Last weekend you said: "It’s unfair of me to speculate on what a Cubs victory would do to the city, because there are certain lodestones that my life depends on, such as the Cubs won’t win, the compass will show me true north, Mick and Keith will outlive me by about ten minutes or so, and I won’t want to see the movie if Freddie Prinze Jr. is in it."
Other than your marriage, what is something you once felt was absolute - whether your life depended on it is up to you - but not anymore?”

“What are your 500 favorite nouns?”

“Do opposites really attract?”

“Topic: “Why 12? What's makes it so freakin' special? 12 months in a year. 12 inches in a foot. 12 days of Christmas. 12 Apostles. Why?”

“The Resolooters sounds like a band name to me. Please come up with 5 fictional band names, outfit them, give their members some personalities and explain their sorted histories/antics and discography. This may be a multi-part challenge or you may come up with 5 bands with short descriptions and dive deep on one of your choosing.”

“As I write this, I am staring at what was supposed to be 3-6” of snow. It is well on its way to 10” with no sign of stopping. This has been a very snowy winter and I normally get a lot of pride and joy as a Chicagoan from being able to withstand crazy weather patterns and triumph in the cold. Hell, some days its even fun. Today, I am just done. Done with the snow. Done with shoveling. Done with out of line forecasts. As an ex-Chicagoan and someone who lives in the desert, how do you view weather and where do you draw the line of endurance vs. pure irritation?”

“I've been thinking a lot lately about faith. Faith in other people, faith and how it relates to religions. Faith. So there's my topic for you. Faith, in any, or all of its forms.”

“Write an epic haiku.”

This could be a two-parter. “Women” – Do we really want it all? (career, family, wife, mom) Or, “When we have it all (career, family, wife, mother), does it change who we are?”

“Explain why going over the top to impress virtual strangers in effect nullifies when you do something special for those whom you really love and love you in return.”

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Discuss the differences and the reason imagination is more important.”

“I think you should write about whatever you want! :-)”

“Cultural axioms tell us that we’ll never be able to physically feel like we did when we were younger. Do you think it’s possible to feel physically younger as we grow older?”

“Choose any political topic. Choose any political representative, local or Federal. Write a letter on a cause you wish to see reformed.”

“We've talked about the Chuck Klosterman Alice in Chains/broken collarbone question and my deep hatred for Alice in Chains. Please come up with your own no-win question and then give your answer and explain why.”

“There’s a bunch of ratings systems reviewing everything these days. Movies, music, wines, student progress just to name a few. Of the systems out there, which do you feel are the most useful, accurate and applicable to what they are rating?“

“Using the dart scene from Roxanne as a template, please list a variety of misuses of the word “irony” in their context and share the alternate and appropriate vocabulary choice. Obvious points for snarkyness.”

“How do you write the perfect apology to someone who you have wronged inadvertently? What makes it sincere, believable, and hopefully accepted?”

“How has training for the tris and working out changed your perception and understanding of distance and time?”

“Write a travel essay about somewhere you haven't visited in at least ten years.”

“If you could spend New Year’s Eve with any 10 people currently living or already dead, whom would you select and why?”

“Pick the State of the Union that you would least like to live and write a PSA for the Tourism Board advocating relocation to that fine state.”

“Since we were kids, there have been umpteen new information channels added to our world. Can you justify any of them as necessary?”

“Write the conspiracy theory rant explaining why there is no cure for the common cold.”

“If you were charge of creating uniforms for all men in specific social caste or occupation, what would it be?”

Writing Project Update

Words this week - 4100, but it was thrown at the book proposal, which I can't excerpt for proprietary reasons. (A book proposal attempts to convince a publisher that they should give me money and sign a contract for an idea that will take me a while to flesh out, and if I don't, they want it back.) So I need to come up with something else.

I also redesigned my website; you should check it out solely for the home page graphic that accompanies the link to Slaughterhouse. Those of you who know me wouldn't doubt that's what the process is like.

Responses to last weeks' items: 3.

Submissions this week: 0.

This week's question:

Folks, this week I'm beat. I hit my number, there's nothing waiting in the Inbox, and I could scrounge for an excerpt, but I have another idea.

This week's question wasn't yours, but it may as well have been. At present there are 162 emails in the Slaughterhouse Inbox. Less than 30 have made the cut, because I've given weeks to charity and posted excerpts. So there are dozens of worthy topics that I've never answered.

The following are Slaughterhouse losers from January to June. I'll keep the submissions anonymous, but for all of the topics that I did write about, you'll see what you missed out on me writing about.

TOPIC DUE BY: Midnight 8/14-15

Friday, August 07, 2009

Slaughterhouse 32 - Book Excerpt

Slaughterhouse 32
Book Excerpt
641 words

HEROES - Richard Simmons

Forget, for a moment, the striped shorts, the tank tops, the perm that's traveled decades, the high voice, the talk show appearances, and the cliches. (Forget that you already know who I'm talking about even with that one sentence.)

What you need to know is that Richard Simmons started out as Milton Teagle, selling pralines in New Orleans, and before you knew him from television, he'd lost 123 pounds to get where he is. He hated the fact that gyms were devoted to pretty people and people who were already in shape, creating one more barrier to the average person starting out. It didn't matter to him that someone was heavy or what they looked like in their workout clothes. He wanted to help them anyway. His fitness center, originally called the Anatomy Asylum and now called Slimmons, continues to teach aerobics and fitness to damn near anybody who wants to show up, and he’s teaching two nights a week when he’s in town.

His website claims “30 years and 30 million pounds.” Tens of thousands of people have collectively lost literal tons of weight through working with him. You may gag at the pathos or make fun of the methods, but the guy gets results. He reaches out to people who wouldn't feel comfortable walking into Bally's or Gold's, striated palaces of Lycra and bulk where the top one percent are attempting to make themselves the top one-half percent.

Sweatin' To The Oldies may not be for you. It's not SUPPOSED to be. It's for someone your mom's age, who's one slip and fall away from being bedridden and in a nursing home - or better after a weekend's rest on the couch. Someone who isn't going to feel comfortable next to an aspiring MMA fighter and some stripper-type on the elliptical machines next to her. And if someone is uncomfortable going to the gym, it makes it that much harder to go in the first place. And Mr. Simmons doesn't act like he's any better than these people, or that they don't have the power to change. He's been there. Some of the people who follow his program start at over 400 pounds and get AMAZING results; quite frankly, I'm hoping if you're reading, you're half as driven as some of his clients.

I'm from Las Vegas, and I've seen it all when it comes to health club denizens. I've seen people on so many steroids they look like they're going to pop like weenies on the grill. I've seen women wearing tops that look like they came out of fortune cookies. And during the peak of the nightclub boom out here, there were always postcards under my windshield wiper inviting me to parties at Prive, OPM, Light, and Rain - thinking that I looked like one of those other type of people, the sort of bodies that people go to nightclubs to see. I imagine they would have been rather surprised if I showed up in my typical "industry night" outfit of khakis and a polo shirt.

The only reason I kept going to that gym is what I've already told you; I had a crazy goal and I wasn't going to let anybody stop me from achieving it. The reason that I was in that gym with all of those people had nothing to do with the fact I didn't look like any of them, it's that I didn't want to look like ME any more, and nothing would change if I didn't show up. There are occasionally people there now who recognize me from before and ask how much weight I've lost. Those are nice moments. You deserve them too.

Eat sensibly and exercise, don't take yourself too seriously and have a great time. Does any of that sound like bad advice?

Writing Project Update

Words this week: 6800, between the diet book and a proposal for same; there's an interesting story with this that I'll be able to tell everyone someday. Hoping the proposal can be finished this weekend, but the training is starting to peak, so it'll be an interesting mix between potential and kinetic energy.

Responses to last week's topic: 2.

This week's entries: 5 (Sam, Sam, Sam, Ken, Ken)

This week's entry: An excerpt from "You've Got Right Now" one of the "Heroes" sections from real-life people who proved inspiring.

500 WORDS ON THIS TOPIC DUE BY: Midnight 8/7-8/8.