Friday, October 15, 2010

Slaughterhouse Project 69 - Century Ride Edition

I skipped writing last week because Saturday morning featured the Viva Bike Vegas Century Ride, which, unfortunately, was the first event I ever withdrew from after it started. Kelli and I rode it, and there were three moments that made the whole thing worth the price of admission:
1. The chance for both of us to start an event together, which we'd never done before.
2. The course started with a very exciting downhill ride through a rather scary portion of east Las Vegas, and being part of a great huge ribbon of very fast bicyclists was pretty cool.
3. The pictures from the bridge and the view from the bridge, the absolute last time that such a ride or picture will be possible, was terrific.
That said, it was a very tough day. Weather wasn't much of a factor for the time that we were riding; I could see it getting hotter later on in the day but by the time we stopped it was in the low 80s and pretty dry. If it were a race day I wouldn't figure the heat to be a concern. Besides, we knocked out the first 40 in about 2.5 hours. We were significantly ahead of the pace we'd set for ourselves by that point.
In terms of the course, it had its difficulties, but of the 45 miles we covered, I'd probably ridden about 35 of it before, and the rest was the bridge and several miles of downhill. Nearly 10 miles of it was my regular Lake Mead training ground, where I know which gear I should be in by specific weeds and reflectors.
To elaborate on what actually occurred leading up to the decision to quit:
1. Kelli's crash happened first, on the climb out of the Lake Mead area going back to US93 (Beth and Ken, you rode out this way after Silverman). I didn't see it happen. I knew I had gotten ahead of her and once I was into the climb myself, I knew it didn't make any sense to stop until I got to the top of it; it's a quarter-mile at about a 6-8% grade.
What happened was, she wasn't generating enough forward momentum, and fell to the right, over the curb, while still clipped into the pedals. She scraped up her right knee on the gravel and wound up walking her bike up the rest of the hill. Her seat twisted and her water cage was all askew. At that point she was thinking she would not be able to finish. I wanted to push forward, at least to the bridge, which we couldn't see otherwise.
2. What also happened here is the fall affected the adjustment on her front derailleur, the thing that switches the chain from the big to the small ring, next to the pedals. She couldn't shift up to use the big ring. When this happens, particularly on a road bike, it's like losing a kidney: you can live with it, but it's damned inconvenient. She would have no means of generating power at higher speeds, so she'd be forced to coast or pedal far slower. We knew there was an aid station at the bridge, though, so we figured we could get it looked at there. We made it the next mile or so to that aid station.
We got water and oranges and bananas, Kelli got her knee cleaned up at the ambulance, and we were on our way up to the bridge. Twice, on the way, which was mostly downhill, Kelli's bike decided to shift gears all by itself. Kelli's bike is a straight tri setup, so the shifters are out at the ends of the aerobars - and she wasn't even ON the aerobars, but on the hoods of the brakes.
We got in line for the pictures and were cheered by a nice line of volunteers. We also got some very nice pictures ourselves.
On the way back towards Boulder City, the front derailleur's not working again. She can't move to the big ring and loses the chain at one point; the mechanic on the side of the road had overcompensated. No problem, we'll find him on the way back and re-adjust. The chain is grinding against the derailleur at one point. This is not good.
We pull off and there are a few riders around, but they're taking down the aid station and the mechanics are already gone. We know the next aid station is about 19 miles ahead, and we'll get lunch and get it looked at in a little more detail.
3. At this point we're stopped on an uphill while a traffic cop is stopping traffic. There's about 20 of us. He points at us to go, and my left foot catches just fine to pedal a little bit forward. My right foot doesn't catch the pedal and I'm now generating no forward momentum. "Shit!" I fall on my left knee, still clipped in, several riders behind me waiting to see if I'm OK. Kelli was directly in front of me and she stopped. A guy in a green bike jersey stopped my Silverman water bottle from rolling to Arizona. My handlebar water bottles have emptied all over the road; they'd just been refilled when we stopped at the aid station the first time.
I assess the damage. A decent scrape on my left knee; there's blood but not a whole lot of it. I can stand. Nothing's broken. The bike is fine (amusingly, because I fell to the left, there's no damage to the gearing, which stayed on top). We decide to pedal to the hotel, which is about a half-mile away, and assess our situation there.
We get to the hotel and as we're riding alongside each other, Kelli asks, "Do you want to stop?"
"No. I'm too angry to stop right now."
We get past Lakeshore and start into a mile-long climb, and I'm starting to run through things in my head. For one, my knee is throbbing and starting to swell, but it's already scabbed up so it's not like I'm losing any blood. It's doing a nice job of reminding me it's there, though, every pedal stroke, every climb. I'm thinking of the following quote from "Kitchen Confidential":
"...And most memorably, Juan, the sixtyish day broiler man, a fierce, trash-talking Basque who, I swear, I saw one time sewing up a very bad knife wound on his hand - right on the line - with a sewing needle and thread, muttering all the while, as he pushed through the flaps of skin with the point, "I am a TOUGH (skronk!) mother fucker...(skronk!). I am a TOUGH son of BEETCH! (skronk!). I am tough...mother (skronk!) fucker!" Juan was also famous for allegedly following up a bad finger wound with a self-inflicted amputation. After catching a finger in an oven door, he had consulted the union benfit list for amount given to victims of "partial amputation" and decided to cash in by lopping off the dangling portion."
(I've gone to that chant a time or two on some difficult climbs.)
So I'm running through the scenarios in my head. The derailleur scraping noise could lead to the chain snapping. She's scraped up. I'm banged up. We're in the midst of a mild climb and this is the best we're going to feel all day.
And we have 70 miles to go.
Kelli has now ridden 20 miles farther on a bicycle than she ever has in her life. She's not going to be able to complete the race in the allotted time, and she's expending a lot of effort to get up this hill. Now I've never quit a race that I've started, and there have been points where things looked really, really bad, but I still had cards to play. Chest pains in the water in Chicago? Butterflies, just concentrate on the next buoy, breathe and listen to everyone on the shore. Kicked in the head in San Diego? Swim towards the sun and watch for the turn buoy on the left. Leg cramps at the Pumpkinman race? Break out of the shoe and walk some of the run if you have to. Heat exhaustion at Lake Las Vegas? Get back to transition, slam the Redline in your bag, and splash some water on your face.
But here, even though there's a number on my back and a timing chip on my leg, I remember this isn't a race. And I'm not by myself. And Kelli's not going to elect to drop out on her own, so I am not just responsible for my own safety, I'm responsible for both of ours. Well, not entirely - she's obviously going to take her own situation into account and can make her own decisions - but you know what I mean. My knee is swelling and my calf is bruised.
We have 70 miles to go. That's it. Stop the fight. Dammit. It's over.
I drift back on the climb and tell her about the gas station up ahead. We pull off there and I call Jenn and Ed to get their truck and come grab us. Kelli's dad had brought her truck as well, but not only are the Brusvens a few miles closer, I didn't want Kelli's dad to run out of the house to get us and have the kids hear we'd fallen off of our bikes and were coming home. That could sound scary. Better that we just get home early.
In the time that I'm stopped at the gas station, I tear off my race number in disgust, throw it out. I take the number off of my bike and do the same. (This morning, I tossed the race shirt in a Goodwill bin.) After I'd thought about it a little bit more, I realized that the part of the course we were about to go on was the River Mountain Trail, which would be inaccessible to cars for 17 miles. Getting to where we were over the last 10 miles had been dicey. There were a lot of variables that I wasn't sure were worth trusting over that distance.
So in terms of preparedness, I would like to think that I could have covered the distance if I'd have remained unhurt. Looking at the elevation, I wouldn't be surprised either way - we had almost finished the day's sharpest climb, if not the longest.
But I would go back, for precisely the same reason that I raced at Lake Las Vegas 6 days after Chicago; I had to know that I could beat it. The distance I'll get to conquer in 27 days at the Silverman as part of a relay team. I'm going to have a very aggressive month of getting miles in, so that I don't have the kind of doubts about my body that I have right now.
It really hurt to quit. If faced with the same matrix of options I would have done it again, but it really hurt. We talked yesterday about the nature of this event being more difficult - I rode differently than if I were by myself, and so did she. We're putting together next year's schedule and taking all of this into account. We each really like competing, and we'd be in different waves of a tri so we wouldn't have the pressure to see where the other one was. Same with a running event like a 10K or so; it's not like we'd be hours apart, so we could start together and catch each other as we finish. Even a distance swimming event, which Kelli would win because she's a far better swimmer than me, would be all right. But it's hard to ride together right this minute. Next year might be different.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Slaughterhouse 68

Start Time: 9:15 PM End Time: 11:20 PM
Word Count: 2,115


I am, as many of you know, a civilian employee for what I normally refer to as a large government agency. I'm a network systems analyst and have done so for almost nine years.

As many of you are aware, we are in a fairly deep recession, and Las Vegas has been hit particularly hard. Some of the industries that we were - and somewhat insanely, remain - dependent on include tourism and growth. Every horrible thing that happened to the economy seemed to hit us even harder. Housing bubble? Oh, we were right out at the front of that wave. There was a point where at least eight of Nevada's buildings were going to be among the tallest in the nation, and they were going to be condos, and they were going to make some people very, very rich. They didn't happen. At least five resort projects on the Strip are ghost towns now as the credit market for said structures collapsed.

Then people realized that they didn't have the money to go on vacation any more, so the main industry that we have here, gaming and tourism, lost out to a combination of "staycations" and that lovely Indian casino that's less than 250 miles away from anyplace in the United States. Gaming, sales, and property taxes raced for the floor.

The trouble with that was, we have lots of businesses who were attracted by this sort of business siren song:

"Nevada has no state corporate tax! It also has no franchise tax, estate tax, stock transfer tax, capital gains tax, personal income tax, inventory tax, tax on corporate shares, inheritance tax, estate tax, gift tax or minimum tax!"

So when our major industries, such as gaming (maximum tax rate of 6.75 percent; other jurisdictions it's 50%) and mining (allowed to deduct all expenses and, as a result, paying an effective tax rate of 1.5 percent) were asked by the citizenry (currently paying an 8.1% sales tax rate in Clark County, among the highest in the nation) to, y'know, help out.

Instead, they enlisted the Chamber of Commerce to produce reports that say that our public employees are overpaid. The Greenspun family (owners of the local Cox Cable franchise, two television stations, the Las Vegas Sun newspaper, and American Nevada Developers) was nice enough to produce a report on their CBS station that followed people from each public agency to ask them to justify how much money they were making. As a result, you can Google my name and find out how much I knocked down in OT last year. Requests for the reporters to reveal what they were being paid to read from a TelePrompTer went unheeded.

As for the publication of that number, I understand the rationale of it. I understand that I'm a public employee and my salary is a matter of public record. That's fair. But there are some things about being a public employee that you might not know about. I'm hoping this will help explain things.


America is the greatest country on Earth for a number of reasons, but the primary one is the opportunity for nearly anyone to go out and take a chance at making their fortune. You have a better shot at rolling the dice in this nation than anywhere else.

However, part of a structure's effectiveness is its ability to retain employees. The common saw for this in software is they are running a business where the most important assets walk out the door every night. This is not the case at Boeing, where that 777 Dreamliner will stay right there on the ground, or General Motors, where somewhere in the world, the lines are humming with activity. (That somewhere may be Mexico or India, but you're seeing the value of labor versus materials there.) At Microsoft or Google, the next big idea is merely that, and it's swimming in the head of one of the very smart bodies who populate the place.

A police officer or a sergeant or a lieutenant does not know the ins and outs of his squad or sector or area command the moment he steps on the beat, but through a combination of institutional knowledge and technology, he learns where to look, what to see, who's in charge, et cetera. That knowledge is critical to the overall safety of our community. It is prized, promoted, and paid for. And I, as well as dozens of other people within my specific area of responsibility, am in charge of protecting it.

But the tradeoff I made, and that those dozens of people made as well, is the guarantee that no one is ever going to throw their arm around my shoulder and say, "Someday, all this will be yours." Even if I ascend to the highest levels of management at my position, I'll never own any of the materials I develop. We'll never have profit-sharing. When Sheriff Civil repossesses that airplane on the tarmac and auctions it off for seven figures,  we won't see so much as a can of soda proffered in celebration. The work that my coworkers perform - particularly the ones in uniform who are listening to a motorist screech about how they pay our salary after they were caught doing 82 down a residential street while applying makeup - is often thankless, soul-destroying and dangerous. It's also non-profit.


If you think that I and my coworkers make too much money, consider this: I had to pass a background check that has been called as stringent as the CIA's (some of our applicants have Department of Defense clearances and aren't hired), a psychological profile, a polygraph examination, a written exam, a practical exam, an oral board of three panelists and a year's probation. As a result, I'm allowed to access data that most of the population isn't. A lot of work doesn't go home from the office. There's a whole lot I won't talk about. You cannot just drop by my desk without passing at least three checkpoints, and I know damned well how many exits there are from my building (four if you count the roof).

Considering the nature of the information that I have access to, would it make sense to pay me so little that I could be susceptible to bribery or blackmail? The New Orleans Police Department paid so poorly for years that their officers took side jobs as bouncers and bartenders, and theirs is a sordid history of murder, blackmail, graft, and corruption. It's a sad comment on human nature that you get the honesty and secrecy that you're willing to pay for, but it's true.


The Chamber and other groups love to point out that there's a huge disparity, a veritable chasm, between the average public employee salary and the average private sector worker. Of course. There's also a world of difference between the handicaps of the golfer who works in the pro shop and the guy who maybe gets to play every other weekend, too.

Let me see if I can explain the analogy. When I first started with the large government agency, I had been working in this field full time, 40 hours a week, for nearly eight and a half years. I had a binder full of professional certifications, references going back a decade, and exposure to the latest technology in a management role. I had just enough to get my foot in the door, and the starting salary for my position was lower than the job I currently had.

Now the guy in the pro shop isn't Tiger Woods. (This week, anyway.) But he doesn't get hired right off of the street to offer any sort of advice to a club's members if he's not sure which end of the golf club is the one you try to hit the ball with. He's going to be a very skilled golfer or he's not going to be hired in the first place. So if you don't have the bare minimum of qualifications, which excludes a whole lot of people who would be cheerfully hired at many private-sector organizations, your application is rejected. The eligible pool of candidates for my job is very small. Combine that with the fact that the background investigative process can be tortuously slow, and you won't find many talented people who can cool their heels for six months while waiting to walk through the door. I've been a subject matter expert for some of the positions we hire for, and it's not uncommon for us to look at 400 applications, reject 250 for testing, watch another 120 fail to pass the written exam, watch 10 more flunk the practical, lose 15 more by the end of oral boards and have a list of 5 people for the position, then watch them drop out as their backgrounds have problems.

We're selective. Much more so than the general public is subjected to before they're hired on to a private sector position. And I speak from experience; those first eight and a half years were in the private sector. I did very well until 9/11 happened, and I realized that job security and a pension were nice things to have - and I had the luxury of already having a job while the 8-month-long interview and background process took place. If you want to argue about my compensation, realize that I was smart enough to understand a stable retirement was more possible with a public agency than by taking a flier with an internet start-up in 2000, or by rooting for my 401k to not be underwater come 2009.


I work for the most fickle group of carbon-based life forms on the planet, people that believe that prescription drugs can be given away at a discount, where their mandated cost is pennies on the development dollar for those who aren't already suing the manufacturer for side effects and false claims. A group of people that believe you can ask for more things, demand electorally that they be provided, and then scream about the cost when the bill arrives. (Do they do this everywhere? The grocery store? Red Lobster?) That's right, my boss is the American voter.

Of course, as an employee for that large government agency, this is also my customer, who's more than willing to provide me with the verbal reminder that they pay my salary. As a professional, I have to agree to every single one of the tenets in our employee manual, which proffers that officers are not allowed to take a warning shot or refuse a direct order, such as an order to go investigate the burglary of that aspiring manicurist and knee-steering circus performer who felt I was insufficiently reminded of who's paying my salary. If I don't, I'll lose my job. Quickly. Think about the story of this man. Now, if he has a heart attack and needs medical attention, I guarantee you that the fire and EMS workers of Oak Brook are professional enough to avoid trying to put the blood pressure cuff around his neck. We send police officers and firefighters into situations that we wouldn't tackle on a bet - and part of my job is to make sure that the officer gets the computer record that says what's behind that door.

Up until three years ago, you didn't even have to be accredited in law enforcement to be the Clark County Sheriff. They changed it after we almost elected a con artist. One year an art student ran and was bounced out in the primary. I joked that the law enforcement side would go straight to hell, but the courtroom sketches would be top notch. I'm grateful that there's a provision that I can't be fired for political support of either side, and I try to honor that policy by not having any public or even semi-private opinions on the leadership of my department.

I don't deny or brag about my position or salary. I realize that I'm very fortunate to be in a position to serve the community and be well-compensated for doing it. There's not going to be an IPO, I'm not going to get stock ownership, and even if I have the greatest occupational year of my life it won't get me a raise, but I know that what I do makes this community safer, saving the lives of both victims and the accused. I'll never make anyone happy to pay their taxes, but I do hope that I could make you think. Thank you for your time.

Writing Project Update

WORDS THIS WEEK: 900. Still moving, got sick, what have you. Not easy to punch the keys when there's boxes hovering over your shoulder.



THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: Kelli sent in a very nice question that can actually wait for a bit, because I've had something on my mind for quite a while. Some of you got a preview of it today on another person's Facebook page, but I'm going to take a few moments to flesh this concept out.

500 WORDS FINISHED BY: 10/1-2 midnight

Friday, September 24, 2010

Slaughterhouse 67

Slaughterhouse 67
END TIME: 10:08 PM

Read the following article.

What do you think about the use of constant surveillance of high-level offenders (murderers and sex-offenders) as opposed to incarceration, and do you think there is any concern over their rights to privacy while under surveillance? 

Do you think people are justified in their concern that the implementation of the technology in this context could somehow lead down a slippery slope toward totalitarian abuses on the general population?

Indeed, research by the economists Jesse Shapiro of the University of Chicago and M. Keith Chen of Yale indicates that the stated purpose of incarceration, which is to place prisoners under harsh conditions on the assumption that they will be “scared straight,” is actively counterproductive. Such conditions—and U.S. prisons are astonishingly harsh, with as many as 20 percent of male inmates facing sexual assault—typically harden criminals, making them more violent and predatory. Essentially, when we lock someone up today, we are agreeing to pay a large (and growing) sum of money merely to put off dealing with him until he is released in a few years, often as a greater menace to society than when he went in.

Clearly, the concept of prisons without walls would be hugely unpopular among the general population and the smallest systemic failure would cause an uproarious backlash. Given the previous statement from the article, how do you think the benefits of success (cost-reduction and rehabilitation) weigh against the risk of potential systemic failure (repeat offenses by those being actively monitored)? 


First off, please read the article. I'll wait right here. Thanks.

You're right when you assume that "the smallest systemic failure" wouldn't be allowed to happen. The reason it would never be allowed to happen is even the most inebriated, tweed-jacketed leftover Poli Sci hack who's barely awake in front of a lecture hall at a college that's changed names three times to avoid tax inquiries can point to an exact spot on a graph, and that graph answers the question of why we have to distinguish between George Bush Senior and Junior for the rest of our natural lives. There was no Dukakis administration because of Willie Horton.

It woiuldn't matter if you were leading offenders around with a shock collar and and armed guard, we pay people to warehouse incredibly dangerous individuals because we, as a society, have no way to deal with them. The courts rule that prison overcrowding amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. The politicians who run the prisons don't care. There is no politician who gets elected by touting "an innovative approach that can get murderers to stop committing crimes" that doesn't consist of smashing rocks or receiving a lethal injection. 
A lot of people are convinced that the people in jail are too coddled. "They get cable TV and everything!" I probably entertained this thought a time or two myself, and then I worked in a jail for a year. It was there that I realized that if you have a large mass of people - and some of the units in the Clark County Detention Center have 75 inmates in a room with three guards - and you treat them as if they are worth nothing, then they will act as if they have nothing to lose. Many of the people in jail had an objective, and that objective was not to go to prison. I've spent time in the booking, medical, general population, and protective custody units of our jail (always on the law-abiding side of the counter, mind you) and you are in the overwhelming minority as a corrections officer. So the current setup of America's prisons and jails is putting the lives of those same personnel at risk. (Remember this when you read about "America's toughest sheriff" Joe Arpaio, whose guards at his tent city in Arizona are injured at a higher rate than comparable other correctional facilities. You can snicker about the green bologna and the pink underwear, but if you don't think someone's worthy of basic human dignity, chances are they won't think you are either.) So I'm in favor of anything that will keep the inmate population docile and compliant. For instance, I'd pull all the weight rooms out of all recreational facilities. Beach volleyball and step aerobics from here on out.

So while the Hawaii judge's work is interesting from a theoretical standpoint, it would work on a segment of the population that really doesn't seem to be what the public's most afraid of. The narcotics offenders in his courtroom may have been more than a few steps down the road as they made their way into the System, but ultimately they didn't sound far more harmless than the crews picking up trash along the side of the highway. They had obviously no desire to go to prison, and it was enough of a step for them to get them to continue to progress through drug rehabilitation with a far lower recidivism rate. (I can also argue that their testing and therapy, a fully funded rehab program in which they were very closely monitored, may have offered an even slightly better level of success than someone who wasn't part of the experiment could hope to enjoy or afford)I can offer a counterpoint, take the example of a gang member who's paroled for murder. He has objectives and loyalties that probably got him into fights or worse on the outside; for someone in that scenario, jail is more of a future engagement than something to be avoided at all costs. The violence that's plaguing Mexico has part of its origins in the American prison system. A murderer who's at home in the System but has an objective and can't find the way back - the anklet won't stop him.

I could also talk about the exceedingly small percentage of the population that's wearing these devices as having more to do with the gentleman's unfamiliarity with it in the family restaurant. If even the rumor of something like this occurring happened near almost any American small town, there would be more people looking at ankles in the areas nearby than an NBA trainer sees in pregame. I can't see the benefits outweighing the risks, particularly to benefit a constituency that's lost suffrage in many jurisdictions. Correctional empathy and common-sense applications may still be a long way away.

Writing Project Update - Slaughterhouse Returns

WORDS THESE PAST SEVERAL WEEKS: Hard to say. I've switched residences, switched cubicles, switched supervisors, switched nearly everything. But it's Friday night, the desk is facing northeast, and the keyboard still feels the same, so let's get to it.

RESPONSES TO LAST ENTRY: One, I think. I did have a number of people what happened and why I disappeared for a bit. and what can I say? Life intervened. It does that sometimes. In my time away I visited four states, jumped through the waves in the Pacific Ocean, hiked at Zion, dined at the Park Grill, watched friends get married and watched my children learn to enjoy swimming. If you can tell me how any of that doesn't beat sitting here typing, I'm sorry, I can't help you.
But I did miss it. And the amazing part is, I missed it enough that I wanted to get back into the routine of it. It's going to be great.

SUBMISSIONS: A bunch. I'll try to take them at different dates in the future, but I'd appreciate it if you could send some topics my way at


What do you think about the use of constant surveillance of high-level offenders (murderers and sex-offenders) as opposed to incarceration, and do you think there is any concern over their rights to privacy while under surveillance? 

Do you think people are justified in their concern that the implementation of the technology in this context could somehow lead down a slippery slope toward totalitarian abuses on the general population?

Indeed, research by the economists Jesse Shapiro of the University of Chicago and M. Keith Chen of Yale indicates that the stated purpose of incarceration, which is to place prisoners under harsh conditions on the assumption that they will be “scared straight,” is actively counterproductive. Such conditions—and U.S. prisons are astonishingly harsh, with as many as 20 percent of male inmates facing sexual assault—typically harden criminals, making them more violent and predatory. Essentially, when we lock someone up today, we are agreeing to pay a large (and growing) sum of money merely to put off dealing with him until he is released in a few years, often as a greater menace to society than when he went in.

Clearly, the concept of prisons without walls would be hugely unpopular among the general population and the smallest systemic failure would cause an uproarious backlash. Given the previous statement from the article, how do you think the benefits of success (cost-reduction and rehabilitation) weigh against the risk of potential systemic failure (repeat offenses by those being actively monitored)?


Oh, this is going to be fun. See you before the calendar flips.

500 WORDS FINISHED BY: 9/24-25 midnight

Thursday, August 26, 2010


"You coming back out?"
"Maybe. How long has it been?"
"Four months."
"Yep. 125 days total. What were you, hibernating?"
"Something like that. Can you give me a few weeks to get settled?"

Slaughterhouse returns September 24. New entry will be randomly drawn on the 23rd.
Topic suggestions welcome at

Friday, April 23, 2010

Writing Project Update

Slaughterhouse is taking the weekend off. Content next Tuesday. Thanks.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Slaughterhouse 66

END TIME: 10:30 PM

"Elaborate on the 'Turtle vs. Hitler's Skull' question; Briefly explain why you would rather display Hitler's Skull than keep a pet Turtle and what you find to be interesting about the idea of Hitler's Skull as an artifact. Then, pick an historical artifact that you would actually like to display in your living room without coercion and explain why."

From the Chuck Klosterman book "Sex, Lies, and Cocoa Puffs" here's one of the questions he asks to determine if he can really love someone:

"3. Let us assume there are two boxes on a table. In one box, there is a relatively normal turtle; in the other, Adolf Hitler’s skull. You have to select one of these items for your home. If you select the turtle, you can’t give it away and you have to keep it alive for two years; if either of these parameters are not met, you will be fined $999 by the state. If you select Hitler’s skull, you are required to display it in a semi-prominent location in your living room for the same amount of time, although you will be paid a stipend of $120 per month for doing so. Display of the skull must be apolitical.

Which option do you select?"

(I chose Hitler's skull, because I have a hard time with pets with my schedule the way it is.)

I’m not sure that my home is the appropriate place for the display of historical artifacts, but given the premise of the question (which I’m assuming has to do with what value someone places on money, and if they’re willing to do something socially repulsive in order to make a sum of money, versus performing a simple task against the threat of a fine)

My concern about choosing a historical artifact for display is it would have to be interesting enough that I would be willing to look at it all the time, but not so interesting that it would draw throngs of people, or require armed security, or lead to me being interrupted at all hours of the night by even the benignly curious. This rules out most religious artifacts or anything relating to Elvis. It’s also why Bill Gates had no issues with buying Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks – he already lives in a gazillion dollar compound that you can’t just stroll into.

If I had to choose something that were aesthetically pleasing, it would probably have to be small, to be displayed properly. For instance, there’s a Star Wars toy in my curio cabinet, from one of the newer movies that I haven’t seen. At the bottom of it, there’s the word “Coruscant.” If you open it up a little plastic figure floats up and down for a few seconds. Why? What does it mean? It looks and behaves like a little snow globe. Why do I have it?

Because several years ago, my then-wife and I lost a game of Uno with three other couples, and the penalty required us to display said object in a prominent place until the next game. Well, much like Robin Williams in the game “Jumanji”, one of the couples moved back to the Midwest, another player moved to California, we split up and I’m somehow forced to follow these rules as if they were some sort of a blood oath. I’m going to be stuck with this damned thing well into the next life. So the question’s not if I’m capable of doing it; that’s been answered. But what should it be?

I think it would be interesting to have something that looked fairly ordinary, but had a terrific story behind it. I thought that the first wrist watches that were displayed in the Louvre Museum were fascinating, and the knowledge that those were crafted without the benefit of modern tools or even much in the way of lighting or magnification boggled the mind.

Maps would be excellent. How on earth did Lewis and Clark know that river went in that direction? I have a GPS-enabled phone and I can’t find my way through clearly marked neighborhoods with signs. These guys found prairie dogs! I’m not good with vermin, so when these guys hauled off and sent one to President Jefferson as a gift, that might have been taking the exploratory spirit a little too far.

Ultimately, my home is a spectacularly bad destination for a historical artifact, and I’m more of a “going places” person than a “collecting things” person. But I think an early draft of a map or an early attempt at a clock that you could wear on your wrist would be amazing.

Writing Project Update

WORDS THIS WEEK: 1000. Illness, projects, what have you.


SUBMISSIONS THIS WEEK: 3 (Kelli, Kelli, Kelli, Ken, Ken, Ken)

THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: "Elaborate on the 'Turtle vs. Hitler's Skull' question; Briefly explain why you would rather display Hitler's Skull than keep a pet Turtle and what you find to be interesting about the idea of Hitler's Skull as an artifact. Then, pick an historical artifact that you would actually like to display in your living room without coercion and explain why."

The background, and the answer, appears shortly.

500 WORDS FINISHED BY: 4/16-17 midnight

Friday, April 09, 2010

Slaughterhouse 65

END TIME: 11:33 PM

“Write a diary entry.” –Ken Faikus

Dear Keyboard,

Today was full. There was no work of the occupational variety, which granted me one day where everybody could conceivably hate me behind my back without worrying about my potential appearance. There was a great deal to accomplish but there was no set time frame in which to accomplish it. I was awake early enough considering the lateness of the checkout time last night and I don’t think I slept late enough to inspire any resentment. I got the pictures done that I said I would do this morning and got those sent over after three tries. The camera saves the pictures with preposterously high detail and the SMTP servers for Google don’t allow this sort of foolishness.

Looking back on the day I think that I got everything done that I needed to. I remembered that I forgot the scotch tape when I was inadvertently reminded at 9:30 and I remembered that I forgot the maple syrup at 6 PM when I was on my way someplace else. I remembered to buy lucky cereal and I’m laughing sardonically at the last time that I had any of it, which now seems more than a million miles away.

I didn’t eat very well today but I ate sufficiently. I did work out for an hour, running a glacially slow three miles and doing an abdominal workout. I renewed for another year at the gym and gleefully noted that the charge for my membership comes to 50 cents a day.

I took [my girlfriend’s] bike to McGhies to get tuned up and prepared for her fitting on Monday afternoon. I said hello to old friends at the bike shop and caught them up on the lives of those around me that they knew about.

They still ask how Nannette’s doing; I mentioned she just moved back out west. She’s now done triathlon camps and is looking to race more seriously. [My ex-wife] is doing a triathlon. [My girlfriend] is doing a triathlon. All around me are people training, people getting faster, people thinking of what that first race is going to be like. The first race is one of those experiences I would gladly not do over again; the bottomless nerves, the swimming paranoia, the confusion, the endless obsessing over transition. Give me the cold dreary professionalism and thousand yard start of my third race in Chicago, or my third in San Diego, or the fourth Las Vegas Triathlon. Races where I could identify the climbs by where specific weeds were growing on the side of the road, where every speck of what I was feeling was already burned in my muscles from years prior. The first of anything is always the worst when you never know what to expect.

The kids are doing great and ate well, they found each other’s Easter eggs and helped out and had fun playing together. They fell asleep as quickly as I wanted to, but I had writing and such to take care of. There are things to do, people to meet, and places to be tomorrow. Today was pretty good and tomorrow will be even better.

Writing Project Update

WORDS THIS WEEK: 1000. Slight improvement but nothing spectacular. I'm starting to get a schedule down, now I just have to feel like writing a little more and make some progress. Events are overtaking introspection, and it's incredible to get to live life rather than just hear about it.



THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: "Write a diary entry."

Sure, why not. Plane leaves at midnight and the entry will be on it.

500 WORDS FINISHED BY: 4/9-10 midnight

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Slaughterhouse 64


Choose one place in the world you would most like to visit. Explain your choice in terms of the social history of any significant period that interests you. – Kelli George

I’ve been lucky enough to travel a few places, but if we’re going to throw time travel into the mix, I would like to visit Japan in the early 1990’s to follow the career of Chad Rowan, the Hawaiian-born sumo wrestler know as Akebono.

If you’ve never seen a sumo match, it’s essentially like watching trucks fight. In a society where men’s height rarely exceeds six feet tall, Akebono stood 6’8” and weighed 500 pounds. He had longer legs than most sumo wrestlers, and he had the record and the reputation to achieve sumo’s highest rank, yokozuna.

And here’s the conundrum. A wrestler promoted to yokozuna has a few more responsibilities than soda commercials and grocery store openings. Sumo is heavily associated with the Shinto religion, and was this something that could be bestowed upon a foreigner?

Another Hawaiian, Konishiki, ascended to ozeki, one step below yokozuna. In 1992, the chairman of the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee announced, “We wanted to make doubly sure that Konishiki is worthy of being a grand champion. Therefore, we decided to wait another tournament.” Konishiki was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “If I were Japanese, I would be yokozuna already.” Apologies were demanded and given. He never made yokozuna.

Meanwhile, Sadaharu Oh holds the Japanese baseball home run record of 55 in a single season. Three foreign players have come close to breaking the record – Randy Bass, Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes and Alex Cabrera – and each time that they faced an Oh-managed club late in the season, they were intentionally walked rather than given a chance at breaking the record. Bass was walked on four pitches in four at bats and would have been walked a fifth time had he not practically thrown the bat at an outside pitch and hit a flare into right field. The pitching coach of Oh’s team explained it would be “distasteful” for a foreign-born player to break the record.

Akebono became a Japanese citizen, renounced his American citizenship, converted to Shintoism, married a Japanese woman and followed every example and cleared every hurdle to become the first foreign-born yokozuna.

Something as trivial as wrestlers and baseball may not seem to present much in terms of social history. But sport can serve as a prism with which to view a nation as a whole, and try to remember the backdrop for this time period in Japanese and American relations. Toyota was dominating the auto industry and sending General Motors on the road to ruin (before the American mania for SUVs resurrected American manufacturers for a while). They had purchased Pebble Beach and Rockefeller Center. China had yet to coalesce as an industrial center. The fearsome Other to the American manufacturing sector was the Japanese. The real estate bubble was in full roar in Japan and their economic “lost decade” was just starting to occur, and they didn’t know it. (Japanese financial firms gorged themselves on a combination of hyperinflated land prices and extremely cheap and easy credit, and when the prices of the assets collapsed several “zombie firms” were seen as too big to fail. Stop me if you’ve heard any of this before.)

So in a sport that was central to the American identity, Americans were not allowed to succeed so that the Japanese league could retain its cultural moorings, and in a sport central to the Japanese identity, an American broke through and succeeded (and ultimately led to limits on the number of foreign born sumo wrestlers allowed to participate in professional sumo in Japan). I thought that the contrast of a society devoted to exporting goods, having spent an overheated decade as an economic powerhouse, that was fighting to retain its national identity through sport would be an interesting thing to see, particularly with the foresight of knowing how fundamentally different Japan’s global footprint would be in only a few years.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Writing Project Update - Plea For Continuance

It works like this. You can have something really good on Sunday night - I assure you, the question is excellent - or you can have something awful that I only have 20 minutes for.

I thought so. See you Sunday night.

NEXT UPDATE DUE BY: 4/4-5 midnight

Friday, March 26, 2010

Slaughterhouse 63

END TIME: 11:01 PM

“You've been doing these for over a year now, so what have you learned? Where have you gotten better and what are still weaknesses?”

Taking a clear look at this project is hard for me to do, because I’ve tried to impose a discipline on myself that writing has never really required. I know that I can write SOMETHING that comes out around 500 words in about an hour or so, that it may be confusing, or hilarious, or occasionally incoherent.

The most interesting part of the exercise, other than the topics at hand, is the timeframe that I chose to do it. I picked Friday nights with a midnight deadline because, in all honesty, I’m usually up. But increasingly I find myself keeping those hours in a sort of twilight, half-asleep-but not-awake haze that leads to unfinished sentences, meandering topics, and tacked on addendums in a futile attempt to cross the word threshold. I look at the finished results on Facebook as well as the blog site, and usually I’m amused to find out that the words are all spelled correctly, but I’ve forgotten to finish a sentence or a paragraph.

Slaughterhouse is not good writing, but fast writing, the same way that fast neurosurgery may not necessarily be good neurosurgery. Everyone who sets eyeballs on this reinforces the idea that I should write some more. I know that I should be writing about the projects that I’ve been working on, but right now it’s not as if the rest of my life is running with Swiss-watch precision. My work days scurry into the hours on either side of them. Training is ever-present. We’re beset with clouds of mulberry pollen all over the valley. I’m driving all over and actually enjoying life as a participant and not a spectator.

Where I’ve gotten better is just writing what I want and letting it go; avoiding the temptation to go back and repair everything was not easy to arrive at, but once I forced myself to realize I had to let the stuff I was doing stand by itself as I was prizing speed over quality, it made the rest of it go a little bit quicker.

I think I’ve done a better job of picturing who the target reader is, and interestingly, it’s no one who’s probably heard most of the stories or comparisons before. Occasionally I feel like I’m writing to the questioner but that assumes we each know the back stories – usually true but irrelevant to most of the broader audience. I have had the distinct pleasure of having other people quote back the experiences that I’ve had (and forgotten that I had written about) to me as I was talking to them about other topics entirely. That was surreal.

Weaknesses still include my maddening inability to write a beginning, a middle, and an end, the fact that I juggle points around whether or not they’re germane to the subject, and that more than a few of these haven’t provided any enlightenment but have the grim feel of punching the clock. Granted, it’s designed to be a punishment, but the reader shouldn’t feel like it’s theirs.

Writing Project Update

WORDS WRITTEN THIS WEEK: 250. I haven't had time to touch anything project-related in a very long time.

RESPONSES TO LAST QUESTION: 1, correctly pointing out that I botched the syllable count in the third haiku.

SUBMISSIONS THIS WEEK: 3 (Ken, Ken, and Ken)

THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: You've been doing these for over a year now, so what have you learned? Where have you gotten better and what are still weaknesses?

500 WORDS DUE BY: Midnight 3/26-27

Friday, March 19, 2010

Slaughterhouse 62

END TIME: 10:46 PM
WORD COUNT: 501 (Seriously, look it up. I’m exhausted, but it’s for real.)

“In the form of a poem with a clear rhyme scheme or a clear structure of syllabic count, what are your thoughts on the NCAA tournament?”

Pretty sure I’m now
Assured of complete failure
With 50 games left

My West regional
Hacked apart with a Ginsu
Chose Florida State

Must have thought it was
January, football
And puzzled seniors

Of course they could beat
The Syracuse Orangemen –
What have those guys done?

National number one?
I should be watching the games
Or maybe TV

Lost to Gonzaga
Popular in March, disappears
Just like St. Patrick

And whoa, look, Georgetown?
This was not the Ohio
I picked to beat you

John Thompson would have
Twisted open someone’s head
Like a coconut

What? His kid coaches?
Suppose next you’ll tell me that
Ewing’s kid plays too

“Jim, if you were any less
Informed, you’d be dead.

“He was drafted by
The Kings, traded to Houston,
Then wound up in New York.

Played in the D-League,
Hurt his knee pretty badly,
Joining Jamaica.”

“Jamaica?” I thought.
“How the irie have fallen –
Dad started Dream Team.”

Then I realized
Being prone to distraction
Had several drawbacks.

I returned to the
Scene of withering collapse –
My erstwhile bracket.

Louisville got thumped
Which made my bracket entry
10 points less funny

The name that I chose
Was “Pitino’s Dine and Dash”
True schadenfreude

You’d think a wealthy
Motivational speaker
Won’t tryst on the floor

But apparently
He was overtaken by
Passion, not hygiene

Guess I picked Marquette
With the misguided belief
Dwyane Wade was still there

Somehow and some way
My Elite Eight selections
Are still quite intact

Picked Temple; looks like
Those numbskulls get drubbed by the
Ivy League Champions

They lost to Cornell!
The hotel management school!
They’d better walk home!

Notre Dame lost, and
Suddenly my smile brightens
With dark-hearted glee

If the football team
Joined the Big East Conference:
Pounded like cheap veal.

But in March Madness
You collect conference bucks.
Doesn’t work solo.

UNLV lost,
Newly minted Las Vegans
Act disappointed.

They miss the days of
Ol’ Jerry Tarkanian
When they weren’t from here.

“If a kid can’t read
And after 4 years, reads some,
You’ve done right by him.”

Are you thinking that
A true university
Should aspire to more?

You must be in league
With those racist jackals at

The world got to see
How genuinely crazy
This place really is.

The courtside is still
Nicknamed “Gucci Row”
By the media

UNLV’s coach
Lon Kruger, fits in here like
Bacon with gum drops

The former coach was
Bill Bayno, who got
Caught with some hookers

I know! In VEGAS!
You’ve really got to wonder
“Wow, what are the odds?”

God knows where he’s at.
Wikipedia must know;
I could not care less.

The happy mistake
That would have let me win this;
It never happened.

If my picks were an
Expensive thoroughbred horse
They would have a limp

Got me an express
First Class ticket to Suckville
Population: Me

Clicking on “Word Count…”
Like a crack-addled mule deer;
Am I almost done?

But I finished this
Insane assignment in time;
Victory is mine!

Writing Project Update

WORDS WRITTEN THIS WEEK: 250. (Seriously? You mean it's already Friday?)

RESPONSES TO LAST QUESTION: 2, who interestingly each had different ideas of what the metaphors were. Were they right? Yes.

SUBMISSIONS THIS WEEK: 3 (Ken, Ken, and Ken)

THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: "In the form of a poem with a clear rhyme scheme or a clear structure of syllabic count, what are your thoughts on the NCAA tournament?"

Ye Gods. I've seen a grand total of eight minutes of basketball in the background all weekend. Let's give it a try.

500 WORDS DUE BY: Midnight 3/19-20

Friday, March 12, 2010

Slaughterhouse 61

END TIME: 11:23 PM

"Describe an aspect of your life only using metaphors."

The metronome is ticking, ticking, ticking, and I’m losing myself in the rhythm. The notes are laid out in front of me and so much of this piece is committed to memory that I’m playing with something much deeper than fingers and ears and timing, but I’m going for precise, I’m not interested in playing just to hear it. I stopped having to actually play the piano to know what it sounded like many, many years ago. Maybe you can read the script from a movie and hear the actors saying the lines that you saw play out? That’s me. I can read the sheet music and hear the symphony. Look at the walls – I’ve been there and done that.

When a lot of people hear the piano, they can identify it as such. Everybody’s probably been near one or touched one and maybe learned a song or two. I did a little more – OK, a LOT more – than that, but I still need to practice. There’s an aspect of something more finite that someone who walked by the room right now would understand that I’m looking for. I want the piece to work completely, and there’s a spot over here that’s a little bit off. Something seems a little out of tune, the high E is a little too sharp, and the natural translation that I’m hoping for isn’t quite there.

Repetition, tuning, more tuning, more repetition.

The funny part about it is, I’m not that good of a piano player. Don’t get me wrong, I can play, and I can almost certainly play better than you. But the end result of all of this piano, night after night, day after day, is it’s hard for me to just sort of lose myself in what it sounds like to play for the hell of it. A lot of times it isn’t fun because I’m searching for those minutiae, the difference between me and some of the greatest pianists in the world. I’m listening for fluidity. I’m listening for how it will fit together with the orchestra. Right there is where the bass player comes in. Here’s where the drummer will do the fill with the cymbal.

But I can still let it go, and I still love it, and when it all sets up and I get something to feel the way that I want it, everything all lined up and straight and smooth and precise – I love it even more, and I know enough to appreciate it. What I’ve never understood, though, is the assumption that if I walk into someone else’s house, and there’s a piano there, that I couldn’t possibly want to play it because it isn’t a concert grand in a room with session musicians. If I didn’t love the sound of it I’d never have wound up in that room with those session musicians. I can play just to play, without flourish, without showing off, without a care in the world. It’s still fun. If it stopped being fun, I’d worry.

Writing Project Update

Words written this week: Very, very few. I was busy getting my head shaved and working like a crack-addled lab rat. It simply wasn't happening.

Last Week's Responses: One.

This week's questions: 4 (Ken, Ken, Ken, and Anonymous)

This week's question: "Describe an aspect of your life only using metaphors."

Does an allegory count? I'll have to look it up. We'll be wrapped up at midnight.

RESPONSE DUE BY: 3/12-13 midnight

Friday, March 05, 2010

Writing Project Update

I just got home from work and Slaughterhouse won't be done in three minutes, so I'm taking the night off. I'll write Sunday if the chance arises. Thanks for your patience.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Slaughterhouse 60

END TIME: 10:19 PM

“Please give your personal application of "zeitgeist" to your last essay and include your view from your position on your space time continuum; also consider others younger and older.”

Now, what I was talking about in the first essay was the importance of attempting to participate in content or activities that were outside of someone’s defined comfort zone, because of the danger of living in a self-selected realm of knowledge. If you never make any effort to have your assumptions questioned, you’ll have no idea if you’re right.

Now the self-selected realm of knowledge that I’m picking from is a diverse range of opinion, because that’s important to me; I’m almost certainly reading someone’s work who you absolutely can’t stand, because part of why I’m reading them is to know why I disagree with them. I know that if I threw up my hands and dismissed every single person who disagreed with me as “haters,” that certainly doesn’t infer that I’m making a particularly persuasive argument. Unfortunately most of politics is currently conducted in this fashion.

From a cultural or music perspective, I’m at an age where I am simply no longer the target consumer. The people who buy music by the truckload, like I used to, Maybe you had to listen to a song by Beyonce that had nine writers and six words in it, but I actually know why I hate it because I tried so hard to get through it and couldn’t. I don’t really need to force myself to listen to anything new musically, because the audience is so fragmented that every radio station only plays the same 10-15 songs between the same 7-8 commercials. My sister and my younger coworkers have a much greater grasp on the cultural and music zeitgeist than I do; they’re around younger people, they see more movies, they have the pace and energy to worry about those sorts of things. I hope to God that there aren’t a lot of Us Weekly junkies over at the Strategic Air Command, but I think I know better.

And with where I’m at in my life – single, two kids, busy, self involved hobbies and interests – that’s why I’m not that immersed in it. I’m even a part of the growing number of Americans who don’t watch very much television, so all those big, collective moments that seem to happen every late spring that involve the disappearance of a beloved network television show that less than a few million people watch, I miss out on what all the fuss is about. I mean, were there people who missed any of those benchmark departure shows – Cheers, Seinfeld, Sopranos, Everybody Loves Raymond – who won’t have the opportunity to watch syndicated reruns or boxed episodes of the DVDs until the end of time if that’s what they so chose? Somewhere right now, a cable television station is showing a “Seinfeld” rerun.

I imagine when I was younger it was more important because it was a link to the rest of the world, and when I’m older I’ll be able to view current events against the perspective of more personal background and history. How much more fragmented things can get and retain a perspective that encompasses a collective zeitgeist, I’m not sure. If you think of something like Facebook, where the first page for everyone consists entirely of news from their friends, and the option exists to block news that you do not want to hear. (Since this usually relates to simulated criminology and agriculture, all is not lost.) The journey has been interesting, but the path ahead is murky. It’ll be intriguing to see where it goes.

Writing Project Update

Writing Project Update

Words this week: Less than 500. I did a lot of video work for Space Monkeys promotion this week (the results of which you can see splattered across my friends' and my Facebook pages) and worked late on a number of occasions. Rest assure that everything's falling by the wayside pretty much equally, not merely the writing.

RESPONSES TO LAST WEEK: 5 - and you wouldn't believe this, but my office found it rather popular.

QUESTIONS THIS WEEK: There were 3, but this week's winner is Jay Lyden, who contributed the largest individual donation to the Space Monkeys and the St. Baldrick's Foundation. You can follow his example and get us closer to our goal by donating at . Thank you!

THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: Please give your personal application of "zeitgeist" to your last essay and include your view from your position on your space time continuum; also consider others younger and older.

I'll try not to meander, but I think I have an idea.

RESPONSE DUE BY: 2/26-27 midnight

Friday, February 19, 2010

Slaughterhouse 59

Slaughterhouse 59
END TIME: 11:32 PM

"Write a scene as though your life were a sitcom."


A set of half-wall cubicles in a very grimy basement, with four desks being shown.

At a desk in the back corner, a shorter Asian gentleman is staring closely at a too-small computer monitor, tapping his right foot obsessively and singing along with the radio. His desk is meticulously neat, pencils organized, and he’s wearing a suit.

In the opposite corner is a woman with stacks of magazines lining several bookshelves, four framed pictures of different cats (one of them showing an article surrounding it that makes it apparent it was cut out of a magazine, minimizing the possibility that she actually owns the cat in question), and multiple tins of cat food.

Toward the forefront, staring straight up, is a heavyset gentleman with a shaved head. He is staring at the ceiling at first glance. A second glance proves he is asleep. A quick listen reveals he is snoring.

A twitchy, loud guy in a sports coat with a laptop bag slung over his shoulder strides through the glass door on the left, past a paper sign that indicates the door must stay closed. Four months ago he replaced the paper sign with a mirror image of the words on the sign showing through the other side of the glass, as if the letters had suddenly decided to turn around and face the other direction. No one has noticed.

TWITCH (into cell phone) Loved? Adored? Popular? You’ve got to be out of your mind. We’ll be lucky if they don’t want to shoot us. I know right now what my day’s gonna be. I’m going to walk into this meeting and the only thing that I’m going to come away with, after an hour and a half, is that when I walked in the door downstairs, the security guard at the desk didn’t take the snap off of his holster. That’s the ONLY thing that might go right. It’s all our fault. That’s why we’re here.

Twitch sits down at his desk, grabs an orange gumball from a jar on his desk, mimes dribbling it twice, and throws it at the heavyset gentleman’s mouth. It bounces off of his eye, startling him awake.

HEAVY: What the hel….lo, Mr. Happiness.

A shot of the floor reveals nine other gumballs scattered about.

TWITCH puts on a phone headset and covers his left ear. He is still talking on the phone as he’s doing this.

TWITCH: Look, if they actually LIKED everything we did, if they were so happy with the course of their day that they sent us cards and pizzas and nice little notes that said we were good to them? You know what that would mean? It would mean that when they ruined everything, when they lost the file they were working on, when they caught the virus, when they moved a whole mess of folders around on a group drive for no reason at all, they couldn’t blame us and they would actually OWN UP to the fact it was THEIR fault. They’d have to go home and look in the mirror at night and splash a glass of cold water on their face, and say, “You know what? The computer works fine. I’m the one who ruined it. I have an easy job. I don’t mine coal or unload cargo ships. I’m not a landscaper working in 110 degrees. All I do is push some buttons so that other people don’t have to. That’s all. And I suck at it.” You think that’s going to happen? You think anyone’s going home tonight and saying, ‘Wow, Thank Christ for IT, otherwise I’d be looking for paper files in a cabinet for about a week instead of pushing a couple buttons.’ Trust me, our only hope is that we stay right where we are at the moment – a cab ride away from the overwhelming desire to take our own life. I gotta run. I’ll talk to you in a bit.

MAGAZINE LADY (reading from screen) Wow. Guess who died.

No one responds.

CORNER SINGER: (singing) “I thought I knew what love was/What did I know/Close pays car lawn for Trevor/Pie wood bust get ‘em snow”

TWITCH stares at him with his mouth agape and adjusts the volume in his headset. He looks at a large digital clock next to his monitor, which reads 7:02.

TWITCH (to himself): 30 more years of this and I can retire.

Writing Project Update

Words this week: 650. Nothing on the projects. I may need to start setting the bar a little higher, because I feel like I haven't had much time for anything.

Responses to last week: Two.

Questions this week: 3. (Ken, Ken, Ken)

Third question this week: "Write a scene as though your life were a sitcom."

Looking up, staring at the ceiling, wondering what I have done to deserve this.


I started cross-posting these to my Facebook page a few months after I started it, and Facebook is where most people wind up reading it. For New Year's of 2009, I made a resolution that I was going to write 4000 words per week toward one of three writing projects: a memoir, a diet and fitness book, and a roman a clef about some of the more colorful aspects of a previous career. (I did make a good bit of progress on each.) If I didn't hit this word target of about 12-15 pages per week, I would write 500 words on Friday night, at random, on any topic that anyone wished. What I wanted to ensure is that I never stopped writing for longer than a few days at a time. I had a blog that was set up at, officially titled "Working Out The Bugs," a place where I could write something for an audience with no expectations of readership.

To ensure the randomness, I set up an email address at The mailbox automatically populates from my ISP when I push a button; I don't give myself a chance to study ahead, so the earliest that I know what's coming is usually Thursday afternoon. I don't start writing until 9 PM Friday night, and I have to have the whole thing finished by midnight. And whether I like it or I hate it, it goes up. I welcome and encourage feedback - you can do so publicly on FB through the comments or through email, and while I won't publish what other people write to me privately I post a count of how many people told me what they thought.

There really are no rules. Topics can be resubmitted over and over again; I will answer absolutely anything (because if I wanted to duck something I should have met my word target during the week) and if I quote something at length it doesn't count towards the word count - I have to write the 500 words myself. I may go back and correct spelling errors or if I left a sentence unfinished (sometimes I skip around) but I don't make structural changes or edits. They're designed to be dashed off, work quick, grind it out and let it rock.

I do try to write no matter the circumstances, but I have given myself a night off here and there, usually during my racing season. I've posted book excerpts and older material here some nights when there aren't enough questions or when I just know I'm not in the kind of shape to look at a screen for a few hours. I've put stuff together on my Blackberry while sitting in a laundry room or on a laptop in a hotel somewhere. It's part of the rhythm of my weekend and I have a lot of fun doing it. I don't know if it's made me a better writer, but I do know how to get just enough of an idea in place.

Thank you for reading, for contributing, for telling me it's awful or that it made you laugh. And one more thing...


Once again this year, rather than subjecting yourself to the cruel randomness that is the Inbox chopping block, you can buy your way to the front of the line. The largest individual donor to my page or to Team Space Monkeys by February 25 for the St. Baldrick's Foundation gets to choose next week's topic. Regardless of whether or not you want to win fabulous prizes, I'm shaving my head to raise money for juvenile cancer research. I would appreciate your donating to our cause here:

Thanks for your help!

RESPONSE DUE BY: 2/19-20 midnight

Friday, February 12, 2010

Slaughterhouse 58

Slaughterhouse 58
END TIME: 11:37 PM

You’ve reference Gu Gel a number of times. Performance enhancing everything has been in the news lately. What are the least natural occurring substances you put in your body/ingest on a regular basis? What’s your philosophy on man made chemicals?

(Your narrator grins broadly, and several people who learned long ago to stop asking “Why do your hands always shake like that?” glance down and sigh.)

I’m generally healthy. By the standards of the United States, I’m about the average of the bell curve when it comes to body mass, maybe I’m on the sweeter side of the needle when it comes to endurance, and I know that I have a very high tolerance for pain. (This became evident this week, when a doctor said that I had shimmied right past a common cold into bronchitis and a sinus infection. Apparently I’d been wandering around with an ordinary cold for a while and it wasn’t until it mutated into something a little zippier that I had to stand up (or, in my case, fall asleep) and take notice.

My philosophy on man-made chemicals is, I’m all for them. Man made chemicals began when somebody mixed some grapes with some yeast and realized that the result could knock you on your ass. I’m a fan of alcohol (particularly when I’ve been prevented from having any for a week because I’m tanked up on antibiotics) and its ability to erase the interminable span of time between evening and the next morning. I remember the Cheesecake Factory, across from the Ritz, had a drink on the menu called the “Twilight Zone” which was “double everything and fruit juice.” The bartender knew the reason I was there was I’d just cranked out some upgrade work at the hotel across the street, was still jacked on the raw terror of a high-wire database maneuver that could have thrown the place into chaos but had gone off without a hitch, and it was 1 AM and I needed all that adrenaline to disappear. The first was always like playing Where’s Waldo – is that 151? I think it’s 151! – and the second was always the one that would get me to sleep as long as I could cross the street and ride the elevator. But me and booze is an entirely different subject. (And here’s where I should mention I’ve never taken illegal drugs of any kind. Street pharmacology frightens me.)

The chemicals that Beth is referring to aren’t the stuff that’s sold off of backlit shelves, but by places that are ostensibly interested in my good health. I’ve found over the years that your body is your own laboratory, and you’ll never know quite how far you can push yourself until you try. The problem is the advice is always from someone who’s selling something, who’s bashing something, who’s really trying to get you to do something else entirely – and I hate it. You will not find anything more dangerous to your health than Redline, a powerful caffeine-based stimulant that has the world’s most comical warning label on it, including “The consumer assumes total liability if product is used in a manner inconsistent with its labeling” and they point out that there are two servings in a little blue bottle the size of a can of Red Bull. (Which tastes like yellow Triaminic. This stuff tastes like Children’s Tylenol.) There’s stuff hiding out in there that they barely have names for, and next to the US Recommended Daily Allowance there’s a little cross, because the boys at the lab haven’t figured out how much “vinpocetine” the human body needs in a day. They also say “Do not use this product if you are more than 20 pounds overweight” and have the slogan “Feel the freak/Feel the freeze/Watch the fat burn off with ease!” So a little bit of a mixed message, sure. But it has no calories. It has no sugar. They don’t even bother trying to pretend there’s natural flavors in it. It’s all lightning, and if you go for a run ten minutes after drinking one you’ll feel like something out of “The Matrix.” It’s wonderful.

This is the far outlier of anything I’m willing to put in my body, even further out there than the vitamins (my standard non-event day breakfast is a lot of vitamins and cold black coffee, no room no cream no sugar) and I, who can normally knock down espressos at 9 at night and sleep like a coma victim at 11, won’t drink any of it after 3 PM.

But aren’t there consequences? Aren’t you afraid?

Sure I am. I get my blood pressure checked when I visit the doctor and when I donate blood, along with cholesterol, and even just this past week I walked in dead sick and got 120/67. I can hear the people who (rightfully) point out that I don’t eat enough and I don’t sleep enough and it’s all going to come to a very bad end if I don’t knock it off with some of this foolishness and learn to pace myself like a normal human being. And I’d be more afraid of using this stuff when I was starting out and my heart rate monitor would occasionally show “200” than I would be now.

In terms of performance enhancement, I don’t use the stuff during a competition because it makes me too nervous. Gu’s a meal replacement – coffee and a piece of danish after a long night, making sure all of my blood sugar doesn’t crater and leave me a blubbering, Julie Moss-like mess after a carbohydrate bonk. Seeing as donuts would do a number on my stomach and the coffee wouldn’t be worth tasting again, the Gu does what I want. And nothing that I take is on the World Anti-Doping Association’s list of banned substances, so I’m in the clear in that regard, though I may need to look up this inhaler and nose spray they prescribed me this week.

I spend a lot of races alongside bodies a lot sleeker than mine, a lot faster than mine, that are in better aesthetic shape than me. I see bicycles that cost four times as much as mine and I see men with shaved legs and skinsuits. I nod to myself and think, “Better to work on the engine before the paint or the tires.” Yes, some of the fuel that I take isn’t the smartest thing to be doing. It’s the one area where I’m probably less cautious than I should be. But at the bleeding edge of success, there’s always a willingness to push yourself a little further than I think is reasonable, to know that I’ve hovered out over the edge of the cliff like Wile E. Coyote and been able to scramble back.

Writing Project Update

Words this week: Around 3500. I wrote about work and I wrote about the Wagerfecta and I finessed and bent the world to my will and I wrote about the Space Monkeys and I wrote some cool stuff you won't see and I got bronchitis and a sinus infection and I slept a lot when I wasn't writing.

RESPONSES TO LAST WEEK: 2. Thanks - I hated it, it was lazy and cheap and tossed-off and it actually posted with a clause just hanging out there, like Ron White talking about Lug Nut Day. I also can't break down my entire belief structure in 500 or 5000 words. It's tricky.

QUESTIONS THIS WEEK: 6 (Beth, Beth, Beth, Ken, Ken, Ken)

THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: "You’ve referenced Gu Gel a number of times. Performance enhancing everything has been in the news lately. What are the least natural occurring substances you put in your body/ingest on a regular basis? What’s your philosophy on man made chemicals?"

Heh-heh-heh. Oh, this will be fun. Catch you in a bit.

RESPONSE DUE BY: 2/12-13 midnight

Friday, February 05, 2010

Slaughterhouse 57

Slaughterhouse 57
END TIME: 11:07

“Assess President Obama's first year in office.”

See, I KNEW it. I know the political temperament of a lot of the Slaughterhouse readership, and I know some of you are ready to hurl a brick through your monitor at the very mention of his name, and a lot of you are looking to see if I can write something that rips the lungs out of every Republican from here to Crawford, Texas.

And I have a hard time doing this. First off, anytime somebody blames “the Government” for anything, I remember that I work for the taxpayers of Clark County, Nevada and the City of Las Vegas (doing what exactly, I’d rather not share), so I know that “the Government” is not some massive organism like Godzilla, stomping around and wrecking shit for the hell of it. It’s people who have been given a job to do because other people were too lazy or stupid or venal or criminal to just make things happen the way they were supposed to, so instead we get government. If you were smart enough to realize that we live in the middle of the fucking desert and you’re not going to be allowed to have a rice paddy or a cranberry bog because we don’t have the water for you to attempt that nonsense, you may not need much government. But maybe you argue against things like fluoridated water and vaccinations and zoning. Maybe you’re one of those people I see on television every once in a while screaming that the government should get its hands off your Medicare, which is akin to the butcher running after you in the parking lot and telling you not to burn his steak.

I believe in government doing a few small things for our country and then leaving us the hell alone; I believe that you can do pretty much whatever you want with your life as long as you don’t expect me to participate or pay for it. I believe there are things that we do collectively because it wouldn’t be as good to do them ourselves, like build a road or defend our nation, and that should be about it.

That said, I did vote for President Obama, I did help the campaign, and I extorted promises from several people who said that I would probably agree with a lot of his ideas – and believe me, my friends are anything but a bunch of giddy liberal crusaders who have shoulder-length hair and Phish albums – that the moment he turned out to be just another politician, they owed me drinks so that we could get drunk together.

It’s been over a year and I haven’t collected.

I like Barack Obama because he’s an intelligent man who has the capability to relate to other people as a human being. (If you want to doubt his intelligence I’ll expect a response as to why you weren’t the president of the Harvard Law Review.) Even though I didn’t vote for John Kerry because he made my skin crawl, I liked Obama's speech to the convention that talked about how we aren't red states and blue states, but people - and as a former Republican from a very blue state who's now more of a purplish character in a very blue city from a very red state, if you count all the empty parts - that resonated.

First off, he compares favorably to his predecessor. For everyone who said that the only reason the President sounds so smart is he’s reading from a TelePrompTer, I would respectfully point out that I have yet to see him wade into a sentence like a big game hunter with a knife between his teeth, and let’s all agree that presentation skills are part of the job. You never knew WHAT George W. Bush was going to say, sometimes with amazing results (“I can hear you, and the people who did this are going to hear from us soon enough”) and sometimes with genuine mystery (“So long as I'm the president, my measure of success is victory -- and success”). There was a reason he left office with an approval rating in the 20s.

Secondly, in the Sheer Raw Titanium Balls The Size Of Grapefruits category, you can’t beat the fact that both wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were proposed as supplemental expenditures. This means that they were not voted on as part of the budget, and therefore they were not counted as part of a budget deficit. The Obama budget when he came into office was the first to incorporate both wars to get a true fiscal cost of what these wars were actually running us.

Have you tried this yourself? Have you explained to your bank that you’re declaring your mortgage “off budget,” so all of the money that you’re spending on a mortgage doesn’t count against your net worth? They take a dim view of that sort of thing. So when the Republicans start howling about the fact that B. Hussein is some no good commie socialist who’s plunging the budget into areas the likes of which we’ve never seen, ask how that off budget thing is working. There was nothing supplemental this year, and there isn’t next year, either.

And if a Republican wants to start hollering at you about “things that are going to bankrupt my childrens’ futures, you can point out their side passed Medicare Part D, which cost $634 billion to give drugs to seniors, and which Wikipedia notes, “By the design of the program, the federal government is not permitted to negotiate prices of drugs with the drug companies, as federal agencies do in other programs. The Veterans Administration, which is allowed to negotiate drug prices and establish a formulary, pays 58% less for drugs, on average, than Medicare Part D.[32] For example, Medicare pays $785 for a year's supply of Lipitor (atorvastatin), while the VA pays $520. Medicare pays $1,485 for Zocor, while the VA pays $127.” Nice of you to jump on for fiscal restraint now, once we’re down to the last can of tuna fish – particularly after the Star-Kist was going out the door by the case in the last decade.

I’m curious to see how the rest of the administration’s efforts turn out. It looks as if the Republicans are on the verge of forgetting that hey, we don’t like you either, and seem to feel there aren’t consequences to obstructing rather than governing.

In short, I think it’s an improvement, but I also think it’s too soon to tell.

Writing Project Update

Words this week: 1500, and work's getting zany, so any progress in the short term will be hard fought.

Responses to last week: Three.

Questions this week: 4. (Dad, Ken, Ken, Ken)

Third question this week: "Assess President Obama's first year in office."

Oh, wow. You're going to make me talk politics here? Sigh. Here we go.

RESPONSE DUE BY: 2/5-6 midnight

Friday, January 29, 2010

Slaughterhouse 56

END TIME: 10:50 PM

This week's question: "You order all of your new books online at the library. Do you ever browse the shelves anymore?"

I always make sure to browse the shelves; my mind depends on it.

Because as human beings, it's easier than ever to self-select what information we interact with. We can now wake up in the morning to our favorite song, choose our lunch down to the growth origins of the vegetables we eat, watch and read nothing but news that we agree with, order only the books we want to read, watch television shows that a very small select group like us enjoy, and live in places with people exactly like ourselves.

In 1991, military personnel working at the PXs in bases in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, knew when the troops would be approaching the front. How? They'd sell out of AA batteries, the size that went into Sony Discmans. The Gulf War was the first one in which the soldiers had their own soundtrack.

There's a phenomenon going on called 'The Big Sort" and it's showing that people with like political beliefs are starting to cluster together - the "red" states are become redder and the corresponding is also true. Because we're creating a world where you can interact (virtually) with people who think and feel precisely the same as you do, there's no reason to attempt to interact civilly with people who share the same physical space. Think about your office. There are probably vast arrays of topics that you don't talk about, either by courtesy or by statute.

There are good things about this sort. If I were gay and living in a small community I would probably never be afforded a safe chance to meet anyone like me, but with the internet it becomes apparent that not only are there other people like me, but there are other people in my identical situation that are grappling with the same issues. If I have a rare disease I not only stand a better chance of getting treatment, I have a chance to see how others worldwide are coping.

The bad things, though, are that in an entirely self-selected universe, you run the risk of never being forced to think, see, hear, taste, feel, touch, or consider anything that would ever fall outside of your comfort zone - a perilous situation that leads to diminished powers of argument and reason. Let's say that you consider the steak at Texas de Brazil to be the finest on the face of the Earth. Could I ever get you to consider the entrees at Morton's, or Ruth's Chris, or Lawry's? Or if you were convinced that any one of those other places were the greatest, what would it take to get you to try something different (other than the sheer obnoxious force of my own personality)? The greater the certainty you have of your beliefs, the less likely you are to question them.

What is wrong with politics is only partially due to the participants. It's a climate in which one side believes the other is evil, dangerous, and stupid. And with both sides fanning the flames in opposition to those with the opposite colored pom poms, the situation will culminate in tragedy or doom.

So browse the shelves. It's really important.

Writing Project Update

Words this week: 1500, non-project related.

Responses to last week: Two, one of which made me laugh like crazy.

Questions this week: 5.

Third question this week: A curveball, one-off: "You order all of your new books online at the library. Do you ever browse the shelves anymore?"

Answer's attached, and this is one of my favorite topics.

RESPONSE DUE BY: 1/29-30 midnight

Friday, January 22, 2010

Slaughterhouse 55

END TIME: 10:29 PM

"Let's say you had a day to spend in Chicago - what would you do? Not what one should do, but what you would do."

I was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, and particularly in the last few years that I lived there I had the tremendous opportunity of working in the city, specifically a Five Diamond hotel on North Michigan Avenue (no, the other one; no, not that one either) and took advantage of my surroundings as often as I could. I know the city pretty well.

I get to go home about three times a year, so we’ll rule out the idea that in one day I’d like to see my family, or race in the Chicago Triathlon, activities that have a very specific schedule and set of destinations. Let’s make this the ultimate “this day’s mine” scenario.

First off, if it’s morning, let’s make it a Tuesday. I’ve already gotten my room at that hotel that I used to work at, and the wake-up call’s coming in relatively early, maybe 7:30. Breakfast will arrive shortly after that, so the lemon ricotta pancakes, pitcher of fresh-squeezed orange juice and small pot of espresso will be enough to get me moving fast and out the door. The morning temperature outdoors will be 61 degrees, which they’ll have told me during the wake-up call. I’ll look out the window towards a day with no clouds in the sky and start to put it together.

After a scalding hot shower and a quick review of the newspaper, I’ll head through the lobby and catch the elevator downstairs. The city’s already humming with shoppers and people making their way towards their destinations, the sidewalks already pulsing. In the old days I’d go kill a few minutes watching the few traders that do still shout at each other in the futures pits slug it out as the numbers on the board jitter around like the world’s most expensive sports book, but the viewing gallery is another casualty of September 11. Instead, I’ll walk south on Michigan for a bit, then catch a cab straight to Union Station. After a few minutes enjoying the sunlight in the Great Hall, I’m walking to the river at the bridge at Adams, so I can watch the sun shine down among the canyon of skyscrapers.

Next stop is the Sea-erm, Willis Tower Skydeck, which is better in the daytime, and I’ll try to pick out the spots looking west where, growing up, I could see it just driving around, a mere 15 miles away. I’ll give directions in the friendliest, most sincere voice I can manage to some genuinely lost people, hopefully making their stay a little more fun in the most American city there is. (New York’s a world city. Same with London and Paris. Los Angeles is American, but in a more fragmented manner than Chicago.)

It’s time for lunch, and that means the Park Grill at Millennium Park, watching how the sun bounces off of the Bean as everyone around looks at the sky, and the people realize that this is one of THOSE days, the ones that make six months of winter worthwhile, the ones that justify the sunglasses and maybe an unbuttoned shirt collar with a loosened tie, because it’s time to have lunch outside today. I’ll order a club soda with lime and watch people for a while – at the part of Michigan Avenue where the art students cross the tourists who intersect with the Loop lunch crowd.

I’ll go over the Promenade bridge and make my way to the lake, ultimately getting to the Shedd Aquarium to find the brightest yellow saltwater fish in existence, watch the field trip kids look at the electric eels, maybe see if I can watch the scuba diver feed them. Once I get back out of the dark, which is like leaving a movie, I’ll be looking right at the skyline, still breathtaking even after I’ve seen it thousands of times.

We’re at early afternoon, so it’s time to get ready for dinner. The hotel has left my suit pressed and ready to go in my closet and I got my shoes polished last night, so after a scalding hot shower I’m ready to go quickly. Tonight will be the tasting menu at the Everest Room, a seven course degustation coinciding with the sunset, because I’d like the same table I always liked in the old days, in the northwest corner next to the mirrors, looking out the 40th floor.

As darkness starts falling, I’m off to do something, but I’m not sure what. Reacquire my secondhand taste for Marlboro Lights at Blue Chicago? Have tickets to a show at Steppenwolf or ImprovOlympic? Catch something at Pritzker Pavilion? All I know is, if I got the opera tickets, I only have time for the pretheater degustation at Everest, but we all have our crosses to bear – and if I’m headed to a Sox game, I go somewhere for dinner that doesn’t need a suit.

It’s nighttime and it’s Tuesday and it’s warm. I scurry over to Navy Pier and catch the fireworks show from the edge, close enough that embers of paper risk singeing my clothes. After that, I’m going to the Observatory at the John Hancock Center, which is far better at night. I’ll look at the Mies buildings on the Gold Coast and at the rest of the city, maybe listen to the buzz from the skywalk.

If I don’t have my legs under me after all the traveling today, I’ll cross the street and go back to sleep. If the adrenaline still hasn’t worn off, I’ll head the four or five blocks to Underground Wonder Bar, grab a spot in the corner and make fast friends with whoever’s willing to provide me Sapphire and tonics while the jazz pianist plays until 4 AM.

I get back to bed before the sun comes up, confident that I’d done everything I could to make it the greatest day possible – one where every single second let me think, “God, it’s good to be home.”