Wednesday, January 08, 2020

COLUMN: Bamazon

DISCLAIMER!

The following morality tale is a work of fiction. It is merely an imaginary anecdote to serve as a valuable lesson why one should never ever cheat the system. Any resemblance to any person, place, and/or newspaper columnist should be considered pure coincidence. This fictional story in no way constitutes or should be construed as an admission of guilt, wrongdoing, or liability by any party.

Once upon a time long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, there lived a smart youthful prince of a man who was beloved by all. Let's call him... Shawn.

About a year ago, Shawn was hanging out at his house watching TV with his friend, umm, "Felissa," who had been raving about a show that she wanted Shawn to check out. There was just one problem, and it made Shawn very, very sad.

The program in question was on a streaming service that Shawn didn't subscribe to. Let's call it, oh I dunno -- Bamazon Rhyme. This bummed Shawn out a great deal. You see, Shawn was a pop culture junkie. In fact, some townsfolk in the village went so far as to accuse Shawn of "wasting his life in front of the TV." Shawn didn't care. He wanted to see ALL the shows.

"No problem," said Felissa. "I can just log onto my account from here."

Within minutes, Felissa had synced her Bamazon account with Shawn's TV, and the two had a great afternoon channel-flipping and geeking out.

Time passed and Shawn forgot all about Bamazon Rhyme -- until the night Shawn happened to catch the Emmy Awards, where nearly every top prize went to something on Bamazon. Grr. If there's one thing Shawn hated, it was feeling like he was missing out on something special. But sadly, even though Shawn had few complaints with his station in life, he wasn't exactly rolling in expendable income. He already had subscriptions to Metflix, Hooloo, and Zpotify. He just couldn't afford Bamazon Rhyme.

But the lure of these award-winning shows simply proved too much. Here he was, sitting at home, while others were probably enjoying quality Bamazon programming like the Fabulous Ms. Faisel. How could he call himself a pop culture expert when he hadn't seen a single episode of Phleebag? That's when Shawn made a bad choice.

In a moment of pure pop culture weakness, Shawn may or may not have called his old friend Felissa up and asked to use her Bamazon Rhyme account.

Was this illegal in the fictional world in which Shawn and Felissa lived? Who's to say, other than perhaps a team of highly-paid entertainment lawyers? Bamazon Rhyme members get to stream on three different devices, and Felissa only used ONE. It might be legally fine for Shawn to temporarily lay claim to one of those extra devices with Felissa's permission. Shawn had to admit, though, that it was probably a grey area at best.

But Shawn had no time for internal debates about fairness and morality. He was too busy watching Phleebag. Hooray!

Several months passed. Shawn had only watched his bootleg Bamazon Rhyme shows for about a week before moving on to the next trendy show that came along. But last week, something tragic happened. There was a new novel he'd been looking forward to reading, so good ol' Shawn hopped onto Bamazon's website and quickly ordered the e-book.

Later that night, he opened up his Bamazon Kindle... but there was no book there. "What the...?" pondered Shawn. In his mind, he was already composing the indignant e-mail he'd fire off to Bamazon's tech support line in the morning. First, though, he logged onto the Bamazon website to make sure his credit card processed, and that's when he saw it.

"THANKS FOR YOUR PURCHASE, FELISSA!"

OMG. When Shawn used Felissa's account to watch Bamazon Rhyme months ago, it logged him onto Bamazon as HER and never logged her out. A really nice friend had done him a solid favor, and he had just repaid that favor by accidentally sending her a book -- worse yet, he had just unknowingly charged it to HER credit card! Shawn had made some awkward apologetic phone calls in his day, but never one like, "Hey, I just bought you a present! Umm... and you paid for it!"

Thankfully, Felissa was kind and forgiving and not too upset at her unwittingly purchased "gift." Thankfully it was a cheap fantasy novel and not something embarassing like "How To Talk To Women" or "Stop Picking Your Nose In 10 Easy Steps."

Moral of the story? Don't be a Shawn. Don't use your friends' streaming services. And if you DO, log out before you accidentally spend THEIR money. And whatever you do, you probably shouldn't write about it in a widely distributed newspaper column. Thankfully this was all a work of fiction and clearly never happened in the real world.

On a completely unrelated note, Dear You-Know-Who, my apologies again for you-know-what. I'll pay you back soon.

COLUMN: Rugby

It's time once again for another riveting installment of what I like to call "Shane Attempts To Understand Sports." Trust me, I'm about to give it a good try.

I've just never been one for the gridiron. Or the diamond. Or the court or the pitch or the rink or the field, for that matter.

Some people grew up on ESPN. I grew up on MTV. Some kids collected baseball cards. I collected records. Some kids spent Friday nights cheering their high school's basketball team to victory. I was a few doors away in the cafeteria, lugging in speakers and getting set up to DJ the after-game dance.

This is not to say I live an entirely sports-free existence. I'm pretty skilled at fair-weather fandom. I've breathed rarified Jordan air at the United Center. I was in the stands at Wrigley during Sosa's streak. I seldom miss a Super Bowl and I'm glued to the Olympics every four years. But if there isn't any regional or national pride luring me in, I usually can't be bothered.

Well, with one exception. I like NASCAR, and I'm tired of apologizing for it. Sure, it might represent most societal aspects I detest, but cars that go fast are cool, so sue me. On most Saturday nights, I'm DJing at some club until the wee hours. That usually means I wake up mid-day Sundays groggy and braindead. In those ugly Sunday moments, about the only thing my brain can successfully process is cars turning left for three solid hours.

Last Sunday, I woke up in my usual addled state of post-gig numbness. I flipped on the TV, but no race was on. That's because it was Saturday, not Sunday. (Told you my brain was addled.) Instead, I happened to have tuned in to the start of the final game of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

"Well," I thought, "this could be a rare treat." Here was a perfect opportunity to see a sport I'd only glimpsed for fleeting moments while channel-flipping. And this wasn't just a chance to watch some rugby. This was a chance to watch the BEST rugby on Earth, right? This was the World Cup, and the last match of said World Cup. (Honestly, until last weekend, I didn't even know rugby HAD a World Cup.)

I sat there and watched the whole thing. And two hours later, I can safely report that I still have absolutely no idea what was happening. I'm somewhat convinced that the players didn't have any idea what was happening. I'm not even sure if the announcers were speaking English. I'm not even sure rugby is a sport.

I like to think I'm at least of average human intelligence. As the game/match/whatever its called went on, I assumed I'd eventually understand the gameplay. Nope. The more I watched, the less I understood. The less I understood, the madder I got. By the end of the game, players were celebrating and I was seething.

Rugby is sort of like football, in that there's a ball and you (sometimes?) use your feet. The field/pitch/whatever it's called looks footballish in nature, but with way fewer lines. Players attempt to score the rugby version of a touchdown, which is called a "try." This I like, because "good try, Brown," was really the only compliment I ever heard from any P.E. teacher (albeit often with an eyeroll.) If only we had been playing rugby, I would've been a hero!

So rugby is like football... mixed with a fair dose of Red Rover, keepaway, and "A Clockwork Orange" level of ultra-violence. If we had been playing rugby in P.E. class, I'd be no hero -- I'd be dead. Every rugby player looks like an MMA fighter. Just giant menacing dudes running full bore into one another. In most sports, when a player starts spitting blood, they're considerately and promptly led off the field. In rugby, they wipe it on their shirts like a bold fashion choice and just keep on keepin' on.

The teams try for a try (sigh) by running, kicking, and passing the ball downfield. Well, except they actually have to pass the ball UPfield, because you can only pass to a player that's behind you. The opponents, meanwhile, attempt to tackle the ball carrier -- and that's when things go entirely off the rails.

If a defender stops a ball carrier's progress, a bunch of players come together for a violent game of footsie called a "ruck." If the carrier keeps the ball in his hands, it gets even more violent and is appropriately called a "maul." If neither of those resolves the issue, someone yells for a "scrum" and all hell breaks loose. Basically, all the players dogpile into one another in an attempt to become WAY more intimate than necessary with the nether-regions of their smelly, bloody teammates. Based on the evidence I saw, I believe the objective of a scrum might be to successfully insert one's head entirely into the buttocks of the player in front of you. No offense to you rugby enthusiasts out there, but that's not the kind of try I'd ever care to try, thanks much. Eventually, the ball comes flying out of the middle of the fracas and play resumes as soon as the players gather up their missing teeth.

So, congratulations (spoiler alert) to the South Africa Springboks for (I think) beating the British team, who apparently have no name because nothing else makes sense in rugby, so why start now? The Springboks, by the way, are also called the Amabokoboko, because presumably that's the noise one makes when your teammate behind you successfully scrums.

Does anyone out there actually understand this game? I'd love someone to explain it to me. The crowd sure seemed to dig it. The announcers REALLY seemed to love it. I tried to understand all the tries, but it was too trying. Maybe it's a great game. Maybe it requires alcohol to appreciate. Or maybe I should just stick to spinning records and watching cars turn left. Go Springboks! (p.s. What's a springbok?)

COLUMN: QC Pizza

Dear Dispatch-Argus Guest Columnist Josh Boelter,

J'ACCUSE!

You, sir, are a heretic! A blasphemer! A very incorrect opinionator! Dare I say... you may even be a PIZZAIST.

But you're also a funny writer, and I laughed my way through your recent column, "Floppy Pizza... A QC Tragedy." Just, please, let us know where to forward the hate mail.

I've been blessed to own this little parcel of newspaper real estate for some years now, and I'm still learning as I go. When I was first given this outlet to spout my weekly nonsense, I was SUPER intimidated. I wasn't sure what to write about, how to approach it, or if anyone outside my friends and family would remotely appreciate anything I had to offer.

The first time I heard positive feedback from a reader, I was over the moon. The first time someone recognized me on the street, I felt like a rock star. Honestly, whenever anyone takes the time to read this column, it fills me with sincere gratitude and sheepish pride and I want to grab the nearest microphone and have a Sally Field "you like me... you really like me" moment.

But oh, how the tide can turn. A few years back, the Rock Island City Council was debating whether or not to allow residents to keep chickens within city limits. As in real chickens, not the Kentucky-fried variety. In my usual role as an allergy-riddled weenie with a well-established fear of nature, I decided to write a cutesy little anti-chicken column. As it turned out, the local pro-chicken contingency did NOT find it cutesy. People showed up at the office wanting me FIRED. My inbox flooded with hate mail. My house got egged. Someone covered my back steps in chicken poo.

There are some column waters not worth wading in and certain topics best left to poles longer than ten feet. Thankfully, most don't apply to me. I don't care about the Cubs OR the Cards. I hold no ill will toward Iowa drivers. I am relatively ambivalent about the fate of the county courthouse. And I know some things in the Quad Cities are sacred. Whitey's Ice Cream. Boetje's Mustard. Combine harvesters. And above all else, Quad City style pizza. Never criticize our pizza.

Don't feel bad, though, Josh -- once upon a time, I held a similar mindset.

It was September 1988. I was a young, sheltered, extremely naive high school graduate experiencing freshman orientation weekend at Augustana. With few exceptions, it was my first real weekend away from home. I was excited, terrified, intimidated, and guided only by a desire to fit in and make friends. At some point during that weekend, Augie threw a pizza party for the entire freshman class. Cool, I thought. In this crazy new world I found myself in, one thing I could cope with was pizza.

But instead of a slice, I was handed this weird strip of... what WAS it? It looked like a rectangle of pure cheese. How do you even eat this thing? Do I use a fork? THERE WERE NO FORKS. The only thing I could think to do was flop it over onto itself, shovel half of it into my mouth -- and almost retch at the weird sausage grit I'd never before experienced. I was clueless at living on my own. I didn't know how to cook food, I didn't know how to do laundry -- and now it was clear that either I or the Quad Cities didn't even know what pizza was.

I was a kid from the country experiencing city life for the first time ever. But most of my Augie friends were from Chicago. To them, Rock Island WAS the country, and I'd have to listen to them bemoan about being trapped in a town so hick it only had (gasp) THREE major shopping malls (sob!) You backwards "townies" took a lot of ribbing, as did your weird backwards rectangle pizza strips.

So much so, in fact, that I never touched the stuff again. Until, that is, I took a job at a plucky daily Moline newspaper, who once rewarded their hard-working staff with a pizza party. "YAY!" I thought, until I saw them bringing in boxes of weird rectangle pizza strips. Eww! Not townie pizza! But I was a new employee once again eager to fit in, so I grabbed a piece and this time I DID have a fork. "Okay," I told myself. "You'll just have to suffer through this. Don't think about how gross this weird pizza is. Just take a bite and try to get it down quickly." I steeled myself, grabbed a forkful of rectangle, begrudgingly stuck it in my mouth, and... and...

OMG. It was good. It wasn't just good, it was delicious. Wait, was this the best pizza I'd ever had in my life? How could I have ever found this gross? Thus began my love affair with Quad City style pizza. I'm Team Harris all the way, but any will do in a pinch. And now our beloved pizza strips are written about in major publications and considered a delicacy in Chicago.

Poor Josh has already seen some negative comments for daring to critique our pizza in his debut guest column. But you guys need to cut him some rectangular strips of slack. If you bothered to read past the headline, you'll find that Josh actually LIKES QC-style pizza. He's just new in town and doesn't understand why its cut into strips. But here's the thing, Josh. If you took a Harris Pizza and sliced it traditionally, it'd fall apart in a heartbeat. That delicate malted crust can't support a mountain of cheese and a metric ton of sausage. Just slide it onto a plate, grab a fork, and deal with it. It's way worth it.

No matter how you slice it, Quad City style pizza is a treasure. Maybe it's why I never left after college. Or maybe it takes becoming a townie to properly appreciate our townie pizza. It sure worked for me. So stick around for a while, Josh. You're a great writer and I look forward to more guest columns. Next time you're at the office, stop by my desk and let's do lunch. Your next rectangle's on me. 

COLUMN: Halloweenie Again

Well, here we are again. Hallo-week. Hurrah.

Can you sense the enthusiasm in my font? What's that, you say? I don't sound enthused? Whatever gave you THAT idea? Was it perhaps the umpteen columns I've written about how much I despise this week? Well, it's time for one more.

Truth be told, I actually adore a good chunk of Halloween. I love brisk, crisp fall air and the crunching of leaves underfeet. I love buying WAY more candy than I ever need for trick-or-treaters. And I love devouring the non-stop stream of cheezy paranormal shows on TV this time of year almost as much as that candy.

I adore spooky stuff. I'm in favor of all things eerie, creepy, and haunted. I love the mystery and magic of dark woods, abandoned houses, and cemeteries at night. Tell me ghost stories all the live-long day and all the dead-long night. Life needs a little mystery and wonder and spirits and things that go bump in the night.

But there's some things Halloween doesn't need -- like grown adults in costumes. Some find it charming and fun and a chance to let one's hair down and act a fool. Others (specifically: me) find it disconcerting and off-putting and a chance to make a fool out of oneself.

I've said these exact words in a column before and I'll say them again now: I am a weird, socially awkward, somewhat sorry excuse for a human being on my best days. I have a hard enough time making eye contact with you as is. PLEASE don't make me do it while you're dressed up like Chewbacca. I know these words will never stop you. Year after year, you will put on some outlandish costume that you've proudly spent hours perfecting, and then at some point you'll want to come over and have small talk with your favorite newspaper columnist. But John Marx will be busy, so instead you'll find me. And I will laugh and stammer and make idle chit-chat while my brain has 1000 little panic attacks over how to respond whilst talking to a vampire and/or princess and/or Marvel superhero.

I know this makes me a no-fun-nik Halloween grinch, and some of the costumes people come up with every year are amazing. A couple years back, I saw a guy dressed up like Lloyd Dobler from "Say Anything" complete with fake arms holding aloft a paper mache boombox and it was pretty much the best Halloween costume ever. But I've never been one for dress-up. Hated it as a kid, hate it more as an adult. I only remember two costumes I wore as a kid: once I dressed up like an impoverished hobo, and once like a Native American. Two costumes, and both were essentially hate crimes. Thanks, mom.

But the only thing more awkward than adults in costume is when those adults are trying to scare the pants off you. I am NOT a haunted house-goer. Give me creepy and eerie, but do NOT give me things that jump out all boogity-boogity. I prefer to keep my urine safely inside my bladder where it belongs. People are scary enough when they're NOT dressed up like chainsaw-wielding zombies, thanks.

I'm sorry that I'm a Halloweenie. I have friends that work at Skellington and I know how much effort they put into terrifying their eager ticket-holders. If you want to be mentally and emotionally scarred by some of the best and kindest people I know, I can't recommend it enough. But I'll be recommending it several blocks away from the relative peace and zombie-free quiet of my living room.

When it comes to frights, I am a self-admitted fuddy-duddy. But sometimes it's less fuddy and more common sense. Did you guys see the story about the "world's scariest haunted house" down in Tennessee? If you want to check it out, you need to sign a 40-page waiver and bring a doctor's note certifying you have the stamina. You also have to watch a two-hour video of others giving up and leaving early. If you make it to the end, you get $20,000. Thus far, no one's made it. The price of admission? One bag of dog food for the owner's pooches.

Ummm... I have some questions. First off, the waiver and the physical are genius. Movie studios have done that sort of thing for decades. "Psycho" and "The Exorcist" came with warnings that the films could cause adverse physical effects on their audiences. That's just good marketing. But that only makes sense if you're trying to get rich. This guy's just getting dog food. At what point does it stop being a "haunted house" and start being some weird dude's torture fetish basement?

He claims to have invested over $1 million on this "attraction" and makes no money from it. That means the joy he gets from terrifying people is worth over one million dollars to him. That's a bit of a red flag. I mean, a clown named Pennywise once hosted his own free haunted "attraction," too, but you don't see me lining up with dog food outside the sewers of Derry to find out just what floats down there.

I'm guessing that guy's dogs are eating pretty well right about now. Honestly, if you're willing to sign your life away and drive to Tennessee with some Alpo for the privilege of being tortured until you surrender, I can't be too sympathetic towards your plight. Besides, I'm too preoccupied trying to figure out what to say to the dude next to me dressed up like Donald Trump. Don't worry, I have a few ideas.

Happy holidays, all. Even the scary ones.

COLUMN: Country

I love a good challenge.

Okay, that's a lie. I hate challenges. By their very nature, they're, well, challenging. I'd much rather coast through life doing precisely what I want to do and having no obligations or challenges whatsoever. Of course, it's pretty tough to get someone to pay you for that sort of lifestyle, unless your last name is Kardashian or you're that one guy in Depeche Mode who doesn't actually do anything but stand on stage and try (and fail) to look cool.

Instead, like most everyone, I'm sidled with responsibilities. Bills to pay, chores to postpone, and jobs to work. Luckily, thus far in life I've been able to land jobs that I actually like. As many of you know, I actually have THREE.

Nothing beats the hustle and bustle of a newspaper office and working alongside a devoted staff dedicated to bringing you decidedly NON-fake news and advertising. On the weekends, you can often find me behind the counter at Moline's Co-Op Records, which was kind of a no-brainer since I hang out there all the time regardless. And on Friday and Saturday nights, you can usually find me sweating away in some DJ booth, sacrificing my hearing for the good of a dancefloor. 

Some might think I'm getting too old to play records for people half my age. All I can say is come dance and let me try to prove you wrong. DJing's been a passion of mine since high school, and that passion hasn't subsided. I love it when strangers talk to me about something I wrote in the paper. I love spending time with fellow music nerds at the record store arguing over the best albums of all time. But nothing -- and I mean NOTHING -- beats that moment when you drop JUST the right song at JUST the right time to send a dancefloor over the edge. I know I'm just pressing play on someone else's song, but for those few seconds, it's the closest this chubby dork will ever come to feeling like a rock star.

But just because I like a job doesn't mean it's free of challenges. I'm sure a lot of you think the "art" of DJing is little more than button-pushing a stereo, but I could spend the rest of this column talking about tempos, floor control, blending, mixing, syncing, beat juggling, and DJ theory (there really is such a thing.) Don't worry, I won't. Suffice to say there's a lot more to it than just pressing play. If you're NOT a music geek, you might not recognize when you're in a club with a good DJ, but I'll guarantee you'd notice when you suffer through a bad one.

Right now, I'm facing the biggest DJ challenge of my life -- and so far, it's been nothing but fun. As I mentioned last week, I've got a new gig in the District of Rock Island. This is nothing new for me -- I spent over a decade running the music mix at one of the District's most popular clubs. I'm used to the late night crowds and controlled chaos. But there's one teeny tiny difference this time around.

I'm DJing at a country bar. Challenge, thy name is Shane. Yee-haw?

I'm not exactly your stereotypical country music enthusiast. I've never worn a cowboy hat or a shiny belt buckle. I don't have friends in low places. All my rowdy friends are NOT coming over tonight. I am NOT rednecker than you. I do not believe we are currently making America great again. I fit in a country bar like a vegan at a barbecue.

But here's the thing. I don't look like a hip-hop DJ, either, but that doesn't matter when I'm at a club. At home, I listen to mopey pale Brits who sing about disillusionment and depression. But DJ Shane has no time for Radiohead and remorse. I'll play anything that gets feet moving and floors swelling. I'll play "Baby Shark" if I have to. I might not be a country guy, but I can BE a country DJ.

Heck, I'd probably have an easier time if it was all country on our playlist. But here's where the REAL challenge lies: The club I'm working at has country bands lighting up the stage until midnight. Then I take over, and we proudly switch to what DJ's call "open format." You might call it "anything goes." You want country? You betcha. You want hip-hop? I'll play it. Rock? No problem. Thumping techno? Yessir. Some vintage 80s gems? My specialty. Disco? Dare me. Basically we specialize in party music, regardless of genre.

The challenge is finding the perfect balance to make fans of all music genres happy. The challenge is figuring out a sexy way to mix Luke Bryan into Rihanna into AC/DC into Lizzo. The challenge is still all about dropping JUST the right song at JUST the right time to make a crowd full of cowboys, college kids, line dancers and lunatics all feel the party vibe.

So wish me luck, Quad Cities. Better yet, come down to the District, put your musical hangups aside, and come have a blast. I'll do my absolute best to play the most fun songs I can muster. This old DJ's still got a kick or two left in him. So does our mechanical bull. If you need to find me, look for the guy who absolutely does NOT belong. Then watch him hopefully fill that dancefloor. This is MY kind of challenge.

COLUMN: TV Bars

Long before I was Shane The Columnist, and even long before I was Shane The Guy Who Takes Your Classified Ads, I was Shane The Socially Awkward Weirdo Who Still Got Invited To All The Parties Because He Brought The Music.

When I was in high school, the DJ they always hired for our sanctioned dances was terrible. I knew I could do a better job, and my friends agreed. When the next dance rolled around, we underbid the other guy, showed up with our home stereos wired together and a mixer powered by four D batteries, and somehow managed to turn a lame high school dance into an epic party.

Sure, maybe I got in a teeny bit of trouble for playing the Sex Pistols and causing a mosh pit to break out in the cafeteria, but I suddenly found myself as our school's resident DJ. Thus began my long side career pumping tunes for parties, proms, frat houses, raves, and dance clubs. Since my teens, there's seldom been a weekend that I haven't been pushing bass cabinets to their limits.

What a lot of you don't know is that, for the past few months, I've been gig-less. The Davenport bar I've worked at for years changed hands and the new owners decided to take the place in a decidedly non-musical, non-Shane direction. I was sincerely considering DJ retirement. I'd had a pretty good run. I manned the decks for my hometown's only teen club, I kept our frat house bouncing for years, I helped bring rave culture to the Quad Cities, and I held down a dancefloor residency for over a decade in the District of Rock Island.

And now I'm back. Just when I thought I was out of the game, a phone call from an old friend has brought me back to a DJ booth in the District. I'm still getting a feel for the place, which is honestly the hardest part of starting any new gig. Sometimes when I try to figure out a new club, I picture myself in the crowd. Sometimes I compare it to other places I've worked.

And sometimes, I compare it to the bars, clubs, and coffeeshops I know best: the ones on TV. I'm a television junkie, and some of my favorites drinkeries don't even exist in the real world. This got me thinking about some of television's best known liquid lounges and how well they'd actually stack up in the real world.

Let's start with CENTRAL PERK. Okay, so they don't serve booze, but in the world of "Friends," I'm not sure if bars exist. Instead, everyone's favorite sitcom characters gathered daily at one of the least interesting coffeehouses in all of New York. From the evidence we know, Central Perk makes its name on bad service and folk songs about smelly cats. Also, all of the seating is generic save for ONE couch that's somehow always available to any of our six heroes upon their arrival. Could Central Perk BE any more boring? Hard pass.

Instead, if we're talking coffee, you'd be more likely to find me at CC JITTERS. The coffee is pretty much liquid caffeine, the ambience is dark and futuristic, they serve cronuts, they hold trivia nights, and there's always about a 20% chance of a superhero fight or amazing supernatural event that will NEVER hurt you because The Flash is always around to protect you. Last week, a freaking BLACK HOLE opened up at its front doors. That's something I'd like to see.

If we're discussing proper fictional bars, everything has to be compared to CHEERS. Frankly, I'm back and forth on this place, and I was actually INSIDE its replica once when I visited Boston. A basement bar means cool ambience, and Norm WILL make you laugh. Cliff is kind of a nightmare, but its a big enough place to avoid him. The problem I have with Cheers is the clientele. Watch any episode. It's a weird mix of old alcoholics, street hustlers, businesspeople in suits, vapid floozies, and an owner who -- let's face it -- in the #metoo era is likely behind bars.

In fact, I can't think of any fictional big city bars I have an affinity for. It might always be sunny in Philadelphia, but not at PADDY'S PUB. The neighborhood is terrifying, the furnace is fueled by trash, the rats outnumber the staff, and there's an unfixable "yuck puddle" in the bathroom. Come to think of it, this would be the PERFECT place to throw a rave.

They DID throw a rave once at THE PEACH PIT. David Silver DJ'ed, Dylan stole all the money, and I think Donna and Kelly learned an important lesson about drugs. It might have been a burger joint by day, but when the Peach Pit After Dark opened up, it became the hottest club in all of 90210, playing host to the likes of Color Me Badd, Adam Levine, and even the Flaming Lips, which caused Steve Sanders to utter the immortal words, "I've never been a big fan of alternative music, but these guys rock the house!"

Then there's the SNAKEHOLE LOUNGE, "Pawnee's Sickest Nightclub." If it's good enough for the staff of Indiana's finest Parks & Recreation department, it's good enough for me. Drizzled in neon and awash with loud music, binge drinking, and cocktails with a high enough alcohol content to get Ron Swanson dancing, this hotspot is a sad testament to the... oh, who am I kidding? If I lived in Pawnee, I'd probably be heading there with a stack of records right now.

But if you want MY opinion, no better bar has ever NOT existed in real life than The Roadhouse from "Twin Peaks." (I'm trying SUPER hard not to be a nerd and point out it's actually called The Bang Bang Bar -- Roadhouse is just a local nickname. I've clearly failed.) But where else can you walk into a rustic rural bar half full of bikers while being serenaded by any number of ethereal otherworldly musicians. Nine Inch Nails played there! Our own Lissie played there! And if you're lucky, a terrifying dream giant might appear in a prophetic vision. Is there anything better than booze, mellow tunes, dream giants, and an overall sense of foreboding dread? I love the Roadhouse so much I've walked into OTHER Roadhouses hoping it'd be even 1% like the Bang Bang Bar and it never is. Not even one dream giant. Boo.

Maybe one day I'll see a club on TV that looks like the one I'm spinning at now. Odds are slim. It would need a mechanical bull. More on that next week.

COLUMN: Smoke Detector Hell

Sometimes it's good there are only twenty-four hours in a day.

Recently, I had a day that may have set a new record in stress. I've been telling you guys about it for three weeks now. It started with me waking up in a pointlessly foul mood and my last nerve already frayed before breakfast. This led to a lunch hour where I tried an Impossible Whopper. True to form, it was Impossible to fix my bad mood.

When I got home from work, I was met by an adorable soggy stray cat in need of rescue, which led to an evening vet visit, some emergency supplies, flea baths aplenty, and a friend coming through with a second litterbox at the eleventh hour. But as it turned out, I could have really used help at the twelfth hour, too.

The night was starting to look up, or at least starting to look DONE. My new houseguest was safely quarantined. Litterboxes and food bowls were deployed. It was 11:45 p.m. There was nothing to do but call it a day and quite litter-ally put this bad mood to bed. Since my new feline friend was making herself at home in the bedroom, I decided to set up shop on my comfy living room couch. I put on some relaxing music ("Victorialand" by the Cocteau Twins, my go-to relaxation mood-fixer,) dimmed the lights, and laid down for peace, quiet, and

BEEP!

Except it wasn't a beep. The word "beep" has kind of a pleasant connotation. There was nothing pleasant about the shrill, high-pitched nightmare noise that suddenly pierced my entire house, shot straight into my ear canals, and traveled directly to the part of my brain that controls wincing. If I had to attempt to make a word of it, I'd probably go with:

SKREEEE! Then silence.

I shot straight up and assessed the situation. Was I having an aneurysm? No. Did I imagine it? No. Was the house on fire? Maybe.

The advent of smoke detectors is a wonderful thing. I'm certain they've saved many, many lives. I'm happy they're in my house. And I know how important it is to change their batteries. I mostly know this because when said batteries get low, they start chirping. Or at least they SHOULD chirp. Actually, they should make no noise whatsoever. They should just send an e-mail. "Dear Shane, my batteries are low. Love, your smoke detector." That would suffice just fine. If it HAS to make a noise, give it a different noise. A change-your-batteries noise. A pleasant noise. A beep, if you will.

Instead, when my smoke detectors need new batteries, they make the exact same noise as when they detect smoke -- only shorter. So it's kind of like being alerted to a dozen tiny fires spaced about five minutes apart. This would still be acceptable, were it not for one crucial thing:

Whoever installed the smoke detectors in my house is a sadist.

When possible, smoke detectors should be placed on the ceilings. Groovy. Except my house has a lofted bedroom and vaulted ceilings. Changing them generally requires multiple people, aerial acrobatics, and a two-story ladder. I own two ladders: a tiny one and a fancy telescoping beast gifted from my dad which weighs eleventy tons and takes a master's degree in physics to assemble. The last time I had to haul it out, it took my best friend and I about an hour to change one battery.

This time, though, it was the smoke detector in the lofted bedroom that was chirping. Well, it's kinda in the bedroom. It's more like right on the edge of the loft, at the perfect position where even a fall off the tiny ladder could drop you two stories. With a brave sigh, I brought the tiny one up the stairs and tried to climb it.

Remember earlier this summer, though, when I hurt my foot? Okay, let's just be honest: I'm pretty sure I broke my foot. But I was also a stubborn idiot and didn't go to the doctor and instead spent the majority of the summer limping around like a fool. Fool or no, my foot feels fine now, or at least it DID until I stepped on that ladder and felt stress on the exact spot of the injury. Between my fear of heights and my fear of my foot collapsing into bone shards, I was NOT doing this on my own.

Instead, I decided to sleep in the basement. I hauled blankets downstairs, tried to get comfy, and SKREEEEE! Glad to know that my smoke detector is SO powerful, even the nearly soundproof walls of my house are no match for its shrill wails. At least I know I will never ever sleep through a fire. I also might never sleep again.

I tried to process my options: (1) I could stay here and go insane. (2) I could spend money I don't have on a hotel room in the pitch middle of the night. (3) I could get on Facebook and post about how horrible my life is. I picked up the phone when it suddenly hit me: Jeff Konrad.

Jeff is one of the best people I know. He's an area musician, studio engineer, and tech geek. We're not BFF's or anything, but at least once or twice a year, I can count on him showing up at my door, sometimes unannouced, with a pizza from Alfano's and a dire need to geek out to new wave synth jams while discussing everything from music theory to world religion. He's a weird, fantastic human being. A weird fantastic human being who happens to live about five blocks away from me and who often shuns sleep in favor of recording music in the wee hours.

I sent a desperate text: "Hey man, you up late by chance?" "Yessir," came the reply seconds later. "Can I cash in EVERY friend favor I've ever earned and get you to come over right now for a quick assist?" Five minutes later, he was at my door, battery in hand. Ten minutes later, this lifelong audiophile was never happier to hear the sound of silence.

The next day I was a sleep-deprived zombie, but a happy zombie. My bad mood was gone (yay!) My smoke detectors were no longer torturing me (thanks, Jeff!) And, strangest of all, I think I have a new cat (skreee! The good kind of skreee!)

Here's to better days.     

COLUMN: New Cat

I don't often write column sequels. But I also don't often have days like the one I experienced last week.

If you're a regular visitor to this nook of the newspaper (and thanks if you are,) you might remember last week when I told my tale of Shane's Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day. It was just like any other normal workday, except I woke up in a foul mood, pretty much hated everyone and everything, and decided it was a jolly time to try one of those Impossible Whoppers at Burger King, which immediately turned the day into sunshine and roses and made me swear off meat for life.

Or not.

Truth be told, the burger was better than expected, other than causing my stomach to make a delightful array of odd noises all afternoon as it figured out how to digest this foreign soy invader. Still, I couldn't quite shake the bad mood. As it turned out, I needed help to do that -- help that would come unexpectedly a few hours later.

I have long been a sucker for anything with four legs, sad eyes, and a well-timed meow. I share my living space with two cats who have graciously allowed me to house them, feed them, and see to their every need. But at any given time, I also have anywhere from 1-8 stepcats, who long ago realized that showing up at my back door with big eyes and timid meows usually results in a bowl of food their way.

Rock Island is rife with feral and stray cats, and I'm pretty sure most of them know my house. I'm an easy mark, or at least I used to be. A few years ago, one sad kitty started dropping by every night for a meal. Then it started bringing a friend. And another friend. But one day when I opened my back door to find no fewer than seven raggedy alley cats impatiently awaiting dinner, I closed up shop on Cafe Shane. Well, for a while.

I've recently had a new visitor to my back door. I first saw her tiny little frame last fall, timidly slinking around the edges of my yard. When I surprised her on my steps one day, I did what any normal grown adult would do: I looked her square in the eye and went, "Meow?" To my surprise, her tail perked up, she marched right over, and meowed back.

Thus began our long friendship. It didn't take long until I gave in and started feeding her. But this cat is no ordinary stray. She'll carry on full conversations with you. She'll ignore the food in favor of skritches and a lap to jump in. Her purr is so loud I can hear it from across the yard. But when the weather got cold, she disappeared for the winter. "Awesome," I thought, "she has a home somewhere." But as soon as spring sprang, she was back.

All summer long, this cat has been living in my yard. No matter the day or time, you can find her lurking nearby. I get home from work, she's on my back steps. I get back from a DJ gig at 4 a.m., she's there. I leave for the office first thing in the morning, she's under foot. Maybe she DOESN'T have a home? When I stepped out a couple weeks ago and found her politely sitting there in the middle of a rainstorm drenched to her little kitty bones, I decided it was time for action.

So last week, I put a collar on her with a day-glo note that said, "READ ME! Is this your cat? She's been visiting me and I want to help if she doesn't have a home. Call me!"

That brings us to my Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day, when I came home from work to find her on my back steps, still wearing the collar I'd put on her days before. No one saw the note. No one called me. It was fixing to rain. There was no better time to act.

So I took her to the vet to get some answers. She's definitely a she. No micro-chip, but she's been spayed -- if she's not somebody's cat, she probably once was. But the vet also said she has several broken teeth, which is the sign of a cat who's led a hard outdoor life. Best of all, the tests came back negative and she didn't have any toxic cat heebie-jeebies.

So, as I type this, I have a new houseguest. The vet wants me to quarantine her for a couple weeks to make sure she doesn't have any lingering respiratory issues, so I've turned my bedroom into a makeshift kitty hotel. I'm still desperately trying to find out if she has a home -- I've put flyers around the neighborhood, ads in the paper, and posts on social media. If you or someone you know in Broadway/Longview Rock Island is missing a kitty, e-mail me.

But if no one claims her, I might just have a new roomie. The key word is "might." She seems cool with the arrangement, but my other houseguests appear less than enthused. She doesn't have any cat cooties, but she was providing transportation services to a wayward family of fleas, so now all three cats had to get flea treatments and stink to high heaven. And I won't gross you out, but there's been some tummy issues. Let's just say my new friend gets a little less cute every time I have to clean her poop off my WALLS. Ugh.

So yeah, what started as a Very Bad Day ended with me getting a new roomie. If she has an owner, hopefully I can find them. If not? Time will tell. But there's no bad mood a purr can't fix.

Or so I thought. Wait, isn't this crazy day OVER yet? Nope. Part 3 next week.   

COLUMN: Impossible Whopper

Today I woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

Okay, that's a lie. I didn't wake up on ANY side of the bed. I fell asleep on the couch watching TV. The bed had absolutely nothing to do with the lousy mood I've found myself in all day, but I want to blame something, so j'accuse, cursed bed!

From the moment I was greeted by the shrill tones of my alarm clock, I've wanted to take a mulligan on the day. Once upon a Shane, I would've most definitely switched the alarm off and been asleep before my head hit the pillow. But those days were called "college," and they're long gone. Adult Shane has a job and responsibilities and things to do regardless of random mood swings.

So instead I sighed deeply, grumbled something incoherently at a passing cat, and got ready to face the yucky day ahead. And, as is always the case whenever I find myself in a bad mood with a short fuse, people and places and things began queueing up to test my patience.

At least three drivers cut me off on the way to the office. I got stopped by a train. The woman ahead of me in line at the gas station chose that exact moment to purchase FIFTY lottery tickets -- and with my luck, she probably won. The other woman in line looked at me and then suddenly covered up her hand as she entered her PIN number at the register as though I were a Nefarious Dude Up To No Good -- then again, I'm sure the scowl I was sporting would have frightened anyone at that moment.

At the office, my co-workers (who are all honestly lovely people) accidentally did everything to get on my last nerve, from chomping on butterscotch candies to, well, breathing weird. Or breathing normally. I've never noticed my co-workers breathing before. But today? Suddenly I did, and I wanted them all to stop their needless breathing immediately. Clearly, I was in a rotten mood.

A perfect time, then, to tackle a topic I've been meaning to for weeks. On my lunch hour, I went straight to Burger King to try their much-touted vegetarian creation: an Impossible Whopper. My logic was infallible: Nothing could make my day any worse, not even a patty of soybeans pretending to be meat.

I've actually been curious about the Impossible Whopper for some time. I just assumed it got its name because it's impossible to make soy taste good, let alone taste like a burger. Still, I wanted to give it a shot. I've never met a burger I didn't like. But I've also never met a burger without the meat. But if I can give my arteries an occasional break from non-stop red meat infusion, I might just get to live a little longer. So I summoned up all my courage, pulled through the drive-thru, saw a menu full of hundreds of delicious things, and instead proudly ordered a bag full of (shudder) vegetables. Or legumes. Or whatever the hell this thing masquerading as a "burger" is.

I'm no food critic, but here's my take on it. First, there's the look. Honestly, it's kind of impressive. The patty has the right color. This is due to something called "soy leghemoglobin," which I believe is science-speak for bean blood. It gives the patty a brown-pink hue that legit looks like beef. That said, the patty's also thin and a little too unnaturally uniform. It's a perfectly round disc of whatever-the-heck-it-is that clearly says, "This did not come from a cow."

I did my best to just unwrap the thing and bite into it without judgment like it was any other Whopper. From a texture standpoint, it sure felt like digging into a burger. But I've got to be honest, the first taste that registered was definitely not-a-burger. It's a savory flavor, but not a beef flavor. Epic fail, I thought.

But only for a second. Because right after that flavor hits, its replaced by everything else a burger should taste like: ketchup, mayo, pickles, mustard. Grilled deliciousness. And the more I ate, the less I registered the not-a-burger taste. Maybe I just had to get used to it. After a few bites, I was pretty much okay with the thing. I still wouldn't call it a burger. But it's enough like a burger that I absolutely didn't mind it.

We as a society have a love-hate relationship with food that is bad for us. We don't call it "unhealthy," we call it "decadent" or a "guilty pleasure." Whenever we learn that some food item is slowly killing us, we don't stop eating it. We just look to science to make a healthier, less scary version of it. Our store shelves are stocked with diet sodas, almond milk, low-sodium salt, and whatever laboratory miracle "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" is.

A red meat diet is not good for you. So should we abandon burgers altogether? Or should we be happy there's a fairly-okay meat-less burger option out there? It reminds me of NBC's "The Good Place," when Michael the Architect attempts to explain why the afterlife is packed with frozen yogurt shops. "There's something so human about taking something and ruining it a little so you can have more of it."

Is the meat-free Impossible Whopper better tasting than a Whopper? Nope. But it's not awful, either. If you're the kind of person who can eat frozen yogurt and pretend it's ice cream, you can probably eat this and pretend it's just as good as a Quarter Pounder. And let's be real -- anything can taste good if you cover it in enough mayo, ketchup, and pickles. The whole thing was better than expected, and almost enough to turn my day around.

As for my bad mood? Well, a few hours later it got a infinitely better. And then infinitely worse. More on that next week.

COLUMN: Youtube

Everyone needs a hobby. I've got a few.

I love music. I love driving around aimlessly and seeing new places. I go to movies, restaurants, and concerts. I like auto racing. I like spending time with friends, listening to podcasts, and playing with cats.

But this past month, I've been nursing an injured foot that's turned me into even more of a hermitic couch-dweller than usual. For a while there, my biggest hobby was playing frostbite roulette with an icepack. That's when I developed a new passion: Youtube. Yes, in front of me sits a television capable of receiving 236 channels programmed by, written by, and starring people whose sole job is to entertain me -- while I instead choose to watch random snots with GoPros filming their version of "entertainment." (Spoiler alert: most of the time, it's not.)

The days of burying time capsules for future generations is over. Instead, I hope there'll be an archive of Youtube clips somewhere. That way, our children's children's children can look back, examine the evidence, and come to the natural conclusion that life in the 2010's consisted mainly of makeup tips, dumping ice over your own head, dancing to Drake, and watching other people play video games.

Thanks to the miracle of Youtube, you can watch the new Billie Eilish video. Then you can watch other people watching the new Billie Eilish video. Then you can watch Billie Eilish watching other people watch the new Billie Eilish video (seriously). What's HAPPENED to our world?

But Youtube really is amazing. You name the topic, there's channels and clips for it. If you want to watch lizards, there's a channel for you. If you want to watch Elizabeth Warren, there's a channel for you. If you want to watch a guy tell you that Elizabeth Warren is secretly a lizard working with the Illuminati to hide the fact that the Earth is flat, there's a channel for you. There's videos to love, videos to hate, and videos you love to hate. But what does Youtube have to say about OUR neck of the woods?

I've fallen down some deep online rabbitholes before, but never had I attempted what I just did: an entire evening of searching Youtube for "Quad Cities," "Davenport," "Moline," etc. The results were staggering, and I've learned much.

To be precise, I've learned that:

• Way too many people own drones. I've seldom seen drones flying around the Quad Cities, but it's clear they are. In fact, Youtube is home to dozens and dozens of soundless scenic aerial videos shot from drones flying above our downtowns, bridges, and flooded rivers. And they're all super duper boring. The only fun thing is trying to date the videos by whether or not you can see my car parked in the lot of our old downtown Moline office. I miss that place.

• People like trains waaaay too much. Look, I get it. Trains are cool, I guess. They're a vital part of our nation's history and infrastructure. They were also my dad's employer and a vital part of my financial well-being. But I don't really get the appeal of standing next to railroad tracks filming every car of a seventeen-minute-long coal train, let alone watching someone else's video of it. If you're into trains like I'm into music, you're as weird as me. But I'm also kind of jealous of you railfans out there. When I get stopped by a train, I'd love to feel joy and fascination instead of my usual response, which is to swear like a sailor and make exasperated sighs to no one at all.

On a side note, there's also an alarming number of videos out there of people sneaking onto freight trains and filming themselves free-riding to who-knows-where. This is just especially stupid. For one, here's a pro tip: when committing a crime, you should probably switch your camera to the "off" position. I'm all for the occasional act of rebellion, but if you think freighthopping is cool, I'll let my dad tell you the story about how he once had to helplessly watch a freeloader get decapitated. Use your head, don't lose your head, people.

• Fifteen years from now, there's going to be a lot of Quad Citians REALLY embarassed that their parents put their dance recitals online for all to see.

But I also found some real gems.

Search Youtube for "Davenport police" and you'll find a promo video from 1965 showing off the cutting-edge police technology of the time (radios! meter maids!) as well as some amazing shots of yesteryear Davenport.

I stumbled into a series of videos from street evangelists ministering and scolding Quad City pedestrians and passersby. To each their own, and I'm all for freedom of speech and religion, but they all come off a little self-righteous and mean-spirited to me. But then I discovered that there's another street evangelist in Oregon who takes issue with the street evangelists in the Quad Cities and there's a whole series of response videos and a Biblical battle royale I never knew existed. Fascinating stuff.

I've been at it for hours. I've seen everything from rap battles to cemetery tours. I've seen tornados in Davenport and UFOs over Moline. But I also found a clear winner - my favorite local video on all of Youtube. It's simply called "Cruisin' in Davenport" uploaded by a user called "OLDSCHOOLNEVERDIES". It has 546 views - well, now proudly 547. And it's just a fixed camera on the dash of what I believe to be a vintage Lincoln Town Car as it drives around the Quad Cities at night blaring all 6 minutes and 48 glorious seconds of the vintage disco/funk jam "First Time Around" by Skyy. And that's only one of several inexplicable videos of the same car night driving around the QCA unapologetically pumping amazing disco ear candy. Dare I say, in one of the videos, he drives right past my house.

We all need hobbies to cope with and avoid the stresses of everyday life. But my life is a LOT less stressful just knowing that somewhere as I type this very sentence, an anonymous disco avenger is out cruising our streets making the Quad Cities a whole lot funkier. If you're reading this, OLDSCHOOLNEVERDIES, please know that if you ever need a co-pilot in that sweet, sweet ride, I'm always available. Forever in disco, your funky pal Shane.

COLUMN: Stage 2

Last week in these pages, I offered my take on the ideal Quad City travelogue -- the things I'd want to show off to a QC newbie to welcome them to our neck of the cornfields.

Of course, it was an incomplete list. I could name-drop and shout-out my favorite things in the Quad Cities for days. If I were really showing off the area to someone unfamiliar, I'd ask them how much time they had. If I could swing it, I'd have Roald Tweet wow them with history. I'd have Kai Swanson lead them on a guided tour of Augie. I'd have Patrick Adamson drag them onstage. I'd have Jon Horvath pour them a beer. I'd take them to the Freight House Farmer's Market and Mercado on Fifth. It'd probably be easier to make a list of places I wouldn't take them.

But I can't take them to my favorite Quad Cities landmark, because it no longer exists. The building that quite possibly had the greatest impact on my life is little more than dust and distant memories these days. For a few brief years in the late 1980s, though, it was pretty much the center of the universe. I'd only visit once a week, but it's the spot where I made life-long friends and pretty much learned what I wanted to be when I grew up.

The Quad Cities Waterfront Convention Center in downtown Bettendorf is a majestic structure we should all be proud of. But when I look in the direction of that building, I don't see a convention center. I see what used to stand there: an unassuming, run-down, multi-use office space that looked like nothing special from the street. But if you were one of the cool kids, you knew to drive around to the back. THAT was how you got to Stage 2, the Quad Cities legendary under-21 teen nightclub.

How big of a deal was Stage 2? Well, I was there almost every Friday night for the better part of four years, and so were most of my friends. I wasn't even a full-time Quad Citizen at that point, so many of those Fridays involved driving up from Galesburg and carried on into my college years at Augie. My college friends oft spent their Friday nights at frat parties or out test-driving their fake IDs. As for me? I had overage friends with fake IDs showing they were UNDER 21 in order to sneak into Stage 2, where the most hardcore thing you could chug was Pepsi.

WHY was it such an important place to so many? I don't think kids today would understand.

I help out at my friend's record store from time to time, and I'm constantly flabbergasted to see what kids bring to the counter. The other day, a girl walked up with CDs from Tool, Taylor Swift, and Lizzo in one buy. "I listen to all kinds of stuff," she said with a smile. With streaming audio and easy access to all kinds of music, today's kids are a lot more worldly in their musical choices.

When I was a kid, your musical taste defined you. Especially growing up in Galesburg, it seemed everybody was either a Top 40 fan or a metalhead. Me? I was a socially awkward weirdo with a penchant for alternative left-of-center new wave music. As a hopeless square peg, I suppose it was natural for me to gravitate to dour tunes made by pasty-faced Brits who spoke to the loners, rebels, and weirdos of the world. Stage 2 proved I wasn't alone, and suddenly I found myself trying to fit in with other misfits. Saturdays at Stage 2 were for the Top 40 crowd, but Fridays were ours. Every weekend, the dancefloor would fill with goths, punks, gays, misfits, and freaks convinced (often accurately) that we were better than everybody else.

Somewhere along the way, we earned the monicker "corn chips," but nobody really ever knew how or why. (The glossary at inthe80s.com says: "Cornchip (noun.) Started off meaning a punk or new wave look. Later, any slightly avant-garde fashions, hair, or music. Mainly Illinois/midwest.") You may have had Bon Jovi. We had The Cure and Depeche Mode and a slew of lipstick-smeared bands of decidedly UN-merry men. You rocked out to Guns n Roses. We cried along with Morrissey & The Smiths. Nowadays in his old age, he's just kind of a bitter (and arguably racist) old man, but in his heydey, Morrissey was the only rock star who understood. He sang our woes and we loved his unconditionally (Sample lyric: "There's a club if you'd like to go, you could meet somebody who really loves you. So you go and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own, and you go home and you cry and you want to die."

Were we better than everyone else because we wore black and claimed to see through society and all its trappings? Heck no. Every Friday at Stage 2 was like living a bad Afterschool Special except with a MUCH better soundtrack. For a group of people so sure of our intellectual superiority, we were rife with all the stereotypical angst, drama, and trappings of teen life. When the DJ would throw on a slow song, you could count on at least three people running to the bathroom in theatrical tears over whatever the daily drama was. It was our real-life teen soap opera, and I wouldn't trade those years for anything.

I doubt you could pull off opening a teen club these days. It'd probably just be a sea of underage twerking and worries about weapons at the door. That's a shame, because Stage 2 was the very best of my teen years. Its the sole reason I spend my weekends DJing in clubs to this day. It gave me lifelong friends I couldn't imagine being without.

I'm supposed to be all grown and mature and wise nowadays. But sometimes I still feel like that awkward loner. Sometimes it still seems like Morrissey is the only one who understands me. Sometimes I'd just like to be in a room full of weirdos dancing like our lives depended on it. Stage 2 may be gone, but it'll always be a Quad City landmark to me.

COLUMN: Travelogue


Sometimes -- but not often -- I can be a (gasp) nice guy. Don't tell anyone, I've got a rep to maintain.

We've got a new manager at work. He comes to us from a far-off distant land called Peoria. Soon he'll procure some real estate, move his family up here, and begin the long and arduous process of becoming a Quad Citizen. Until then, he's living out of a hotel and commuting home on the weekends.

I couldn't imagine the difficulties of a temporary arrangement like that, but I suppose I've got SOME idea. I spent my first years here living in a dorm room and commuting back to Galesburg to see my family. The tedium of the I-74 stretch between here and Galesburg is barely tolerable. Double it and you're in Peoria. The last time I drove from here to Peoria, a pothole made mincemeat out of not one but TWO of my tires. I feel his pain.

Regardless of where you hail from, it'd be a little intimidating to be stuck in a hotel room trying to make sense of a strange town, let alone four strange towns across two states while the main artery connecting them all is under attack. Welcome to the Quad Cities: Land of A Thousand Detours.

So I, being the aforementioned nice guy that I am, offered to take him out, drive him around, and show him all the important things he needs to see and know about our Quad Cities.

Okay, so maybe it's less about me being a nice guy and more about me trying to suck up to the new boss. But I remember what it was like arriving here my freshman year at Augie, not knowing a soul or how to get from Point A to Point B. I'd get lost on the daily. The first time I accidentally turned onto Arsenal Island, I had a panic attack assuming I was trespassing on a military installation. One time I got lost, crossed the Rock River, and thought Milan was Iowa. I needed a buddy (or at least a GPS) back then, and if I can help somebody make heads or tails of this place now, I'm happy to.

I have no idea if he'll take me up on my offer, but it got me thinking. If you had the opportunity to introduce a new arrival to the Quad Cities, what would you show them? I started daydreaming about my optimal Quad Cities travelogue, and I think I've got the basics down pat:

• This wet part here is called the Mississippi River. It flows north to south, except here where it flows east to west because the Quad Cities is cooler than physics. Oh, and except in spring, when it flows pretty much any damn place it wants. You DO own a pair of waders, right?

• This little boat is called the Channel Cat. It's a leisurely way to see the river. It's also currently the fastest means of crossing it.

• Okay, this is 12th Avenue. Except in East Moline, when it's 30th Avenue. And in Silvis, when it's Crosstown Avenue. Don't worry, you'll get used to it.

• Alright, see this big abandoned lot? Once upon a time, it was Watchtower Plaza. Then Rock Island turned into a field in hopes that magically a Wal-Mart would appear. We're still waiting.

• This is called a pizza. Yes, I realize how flat it is. Yes, I know there's enough cheese to clog the arteries of 3-5 fully grown adults. Yes, I realize it's cut into rectangles. Just shut up and eat it. Then you'll understand.

• Speaking of food, this place on your right serves the Quad Cities' most cherished culinary treat. That's right, it IS just cheese and beef poured over hash browns and toast. You got a problem with that?

• This is Harrison Street. Say, you don't happen to own a truck that's taller than 11'8", do you? Why am I asking? No reason...

• Here we have Moline's Riverside Cemetery. Did you know it was built by the "Father of the Skyscraper"? Neither did I til I just read it on Wikipedia. Now, get out of the car and go walk around that grave three times counter-clockwise while chanting "Nothing runs like a Deere." You'll either summon the ghost of John Deere or give me an awesome photo opportunity.

• Speaking of our ghostly friend, here's the John Deere Pavilion in downtown Moline. Inside you can learn all about the man, his innovative company, and the science behind modern agricultural equipment. Or you can just climb onboard a combine the size of New Hampshire and yell "VROOM!" while you pretend to be a farmer. Either way, it's culturally enriching.
 
• This here is the crown jewel of the Quad Cities and sums up everything I love about this crazy town. Behold the majestic downtown Davenport Skybridge that connects nothing to nothing. Let's say you want to cross River Drive here. You could either wait thirty seconds for this stoplight to change... OR you could climb five stories, walk across a nausea-inducing psychedelic light show, and climb back down. Ta-da! The convenience it affords us all is priceless. Actually, no, the convenience it affords us is apparently worth $7 million dollars, because that's how much it cost to build. What can I say? When we connect nothing to nothing, we do it in STYLE. 

• Oh, and here's some chocolate and ice cream and an art museum and a ballpark and a record store and a bar with video games and a college and a university and eleventy different microbreweries and parks and coffee shops and concert venues and antique stores and festivals and neighborhoods and some of the nicest people you'll ever meet.

Welcome home.

COLUMN: Mayomust


I've been called many things in life. "Go-getter" has never been one of them.

That's not to say that I have a lack of motivation. On the contrary, I'm usually highly motivated -- to do as little as possible. Nothing makes me work harder than knowing the sooner I get done, the sooner I can bellyflop onto my couch and watch alarming amounts of bad TV without interruption.

Some people claim that leading a sedentary lifestyle is bad for you. I believe these people are called "doctors." They're probably right, but there DOES exist evidence to the contrary. Three weekends ago, I got off my butt, went to a trivia night like a normal active human being, and ended up tumbling off a step and bruising my foot to kingdom come. Had I remained safely on my couch, no harm would have come to me except eye strain and moderate brain damage from watching seven episodes of Ghost Adventures back to back to back. Say what you will about couches, but it's tough to fall down stairs while you're sitting on them.

"You can't stay in shape unless you get off the couch, Shane." Untrue. You DO stay in shape. It's just a round and squishy shape.

Okay, so I'm probably not the ideal role model for how to live your life. One day soon, I'll be motivated enough to change that, promise. For now, though, I've got a foot to elevate, which gives me the perfect excuse for a few more days of guilt-free laziness. In fact, it's a good time to sit back and take stock in everything around me that makes life easier.

Has there ever been a greater advancement in modern laziness than the invention of the dishwasher? Think about it. Once upon a time, a team of scientists and engineers could have spent their precious time on Earth curing disease, eradicating famine, or answering any of life's mysteries. Instead, they came together and focused on the most pressing problem in all of society: those ten annoying minutes after every meal when we have to stand there and rinse off our kitchenware. God bless those legends of science.

We take so much for granted. I have a robot that does my dishes. I have two more that wash and dry my clothes. Magical machines heat and cool our food. But the machine sometimes takes too long to heat my food (waaah!), so I went out and bought a machine that heats food really, really fast (and sometimes blows it up when you forget to poke holes in it.)

I can roll over right now, yell a command at an always-attentive robot named Alexa, and instantly watch any TV show or listen to any music I fancy. Remember those days when you had to walk all the way to the DVD player to play a movie? HOW DID WE SURVIVE?

When it comes to new and exciting ways to do less with your life, consumerism can be our friend. But sometimes, it can take things too far. I'm talking to you, Heinz Corporation.

As Americans, and especially Americans who live in the Midwest, we all love a good burger, right? Even the vegetarians I know always cheer when someone figures out a new way to turn non-meat into meat-like patties you can throw on a grill. But our love for burgers comes with a unique hardship that we all must suffer through. I speak, of course, about the precious time and energy it takes to apply separate layers of ketchup, mustard, and mayo. Yes, the burden of condiment application is a Herculean task that has plagued our fragile Earth for far too long. There has to be a better way.

Thanks to the good folks at Heinz, our worries are over. Earlier this year, they released a series of new products onto supermarket shelves that take all our condiments and mixes them together into squeeze bottles of unimaginable horror: Mayochup, Mayocue, and best of all, Mayomust. Look, I'm the laziest person I know, and even I'll say it: if you need to buy pre-blended mayonnaise and mustard, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Is there a less appealing name for any product anywhere than "Mayomust"? It sounds like something you should be treated for, not eat. I suppose their hands were a bit tied. "Mustaise" sounds like something you apply to your basement after a flood and "Mayotard" just sounds like a hate crime. But perhaps the failure of the names to merge in any appetizing form should have been a clue that mayonnaise and mustard should never be stirred together.

If you're looking for creamy mustard, I'm pretty sure it already exists and it's called dijon -- and you don't procure that in a supermarket. As we all know, you simply pull your Rolls-Royce up to another Rolls-Royce and politely ask the elderly gent for some Grey Poupon. I don't personally know any of the folks who make Rock Island's legendary and delicious Boetje's Mustard, but I'm going to guess the threat of competition from Mayomust didn't leave them quaking in their boots.

I'm all for making life easier -- but not at the expense of a good burger. If Mayomust is your thing, more power to you. But please know that you ARE weird -- and your support of this product will inevitably lead to a future world where instead of grilling out, we're just going to have a squeeze bottle that goops out a mushy mix of beef, onion, and pickles onto a bun. It will probably be pumpkin spice flavored. You've been warned.

Now, if you'll excuse me, all of this typing has really worn me out. Alexa, close Windows and play Ghost Adventures.

COLUMN: Foot


"How far that little candle throws his beams!" Shakespeare once wrote. "So shines a good deed in a weary world."

Shakespeare's an idiot.

Once upon a time, I was an optimist. I was pretty sure life was grand. I thought good deeds were supposed to pay you back, fill you with warm fuzzies, and make the world a better place. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Let's flashback to two weekends ago. Having just gotten off work on a Friday night, your intrepid columnist thought it a wise idea to compete at a charity trivia event. I've always found trivia nights great fun. Not only do you get to contribute to a good cause, but it's pretty much the only occasion where the pointless amount of pop culture knowledge in my brain can actually be useful.

At the event, I was happy to discover that I knew the emcee and his reputation for very good trivia questions. As I sat there waiting for the event to begin, I noticed him having some difficulties getting the microphone PA set up. Having DJed parties and events since puberty, I know my way around a PA. Hence, I thought I should probably be a do-gooder and offer assistance.

That's when I sprang into action. Specifically, the action of breaking my foot.

Okay, I don't actually think it's broken -- but I definitely jacked it up pretty good. I'm still not quite sure how it happened. I went onstage and helped bring out a speaker. Then I turned to hop down and instead slipped off the step and landed on my foot sideways. I can now cross stage-diving off my bucket list. I gamely walked back to my table, but I knew I'd just done a bad thing. Minutes later, it felt like my rapidly swelling foot was about to split my tennis shoe in two. By the end of the round, I knew I had to get home to elevation and ice pronto.

So, yeah, if you were at a trivia night and your between-round entertainment was a grimacing fat guy in the throes of hysterical embarassment getting carried out by two poor trivia judges, that was ME and you're super welcome. I'm never doing a good deed again. My hero days are through. If I'd have just minded my own business, I might not have been able to hear the emcee but I also could've walked out of the place on my own power.

Don't worry, it's much better now and I'm already back on both feet, but only after having spent the past two weeks dwelling on my couch, using up every cube of ice in Rock Island and every ounce of charitable goodwill I could wring out of my friends. I've also been learning just how horrible summer TV is. When I broke my ankle several years ago, I at least had the common decency to do in the middle of winter, which got me out of snow shoveling AND allowed me to catch up on some great shows. In summer, though, the TV landscape is pretty bleak.

They say we're living in a renaissance of fantastic television programming. You wouldn't know it in August. About the only thing I've learned over the past two weeks is that America's got both Talent and Ninja Warriors, and I couldn't care less about either. Every channel is filled with Love Islands and Big Brothers and vapid people being vapid and it about did my head in. Until, that is, I found a show that single-handedly reinstilled my faith in humanity and the power of good.

How have I slept this long on "The Great British Baking Show"? I always assumed it was just another boring cooking show -- and it kind of is. I don't even like baking. But in a moment of boredom, I tuned in -- and was instantly wooed by its charm. I'm used to reality shows full of big personalities, back-stabbing and cutthroat competition. TGBBS, though, might be the nicest reality show of all time.

It's a competition, but you'd barely know it. Aspiring amateur chefs show off their best bakes, from cookies to cakes to truly weird pies (haggis and lamb? No thanks.) But they're all so unbelievably kind that it's endearing. They take tea breaks. They compliment each other. When one competitor finishes early, they help the others. And I'm pretty sure the winner gets nothing more than a plaque and a handshake. The closest they ever had to scandal was when one baker accidentally removed another's cake from the freezer forty seconds early. I've binged two seasons now and it's already rekindled my hope for humanity.

So even if you end up with bruised feet, good deeds and common decency are worth it. And right now, you've got a chance to prove it. Do you guys know what Codfish Hollow is? It's a barn up in Maquoketa that plays host to the most amazing concerts in our area. It's a magical place I visit as often as possible. Attendees park in a cow pasture and take a hayrack ride to the venue.

But last weekend, there was an accident. The tractor that pulls the hayrack toppled over. Codfish's friendliest face, 74-year-old driver Marv Franzen, was briefly pinned underneath. He's now in Iowa City facing a lengthy hospital stay with broken arms and a broken pelvis. Marv's a legend and needs our help. Friends and family have set up a fundraising website to assist with his medical expenses. If you have any spare coin, please consider a donation at gofundme.com/f/fundraiser-for-marvin-franzen.

I'd do just about any good deed for my buddy Marv and Codfish Hollow. Just don't ask me to fix their PA. Stage diving is NOT all it's cracked up to be.

COLUMN: Sky Potty


The Quad Cities is a uniquely diverse place -- one populace spread across two states, four cities, multiple villages, dozens of neighborhoods, and a countless number of cultures. Yet despite the many people, places, backgrounds, and life stories that make up our Quad Cities, there's some things we can all agree on.

Iowa is north of Illinois. Whitey's really IS the greatest ice cream on the planet. Paula Sands is a national treasure. The only acceptable color of tractor is green.

And the #1 thing we all surely agree on? We just can't get enough of the I-74 bridge construction project.

Can you believe there was once a time when we had to suffer through uneventful direct commutes to work without a single exciting detour? Imagine the stress of having to drive from Point A to Point B without the respite of a refreshing ten minute traffic jam. Just think how boring life would be without the thrill of zipper merging.

Okay, so maybe the construction sucks and there's no good way to spin it. Maybe my optimism is waning. Maybe I'm still frosty over having to sit there today while a flatbed hauling some impossibly long piece of bridgework had to pull an 18-point turn to get on the downtown ramp. I don't want to say the bridge project is cursed. I can, however, personally attest that it's been cursed AT -- and I'll wash my mouth out with soap in due time, promise.

But the end will come, and it's going to be amazing. As annoying as the detours and traffic backups are, it'll all be worth it. One day in the not too distant future, we'll be able to drive from Iowa to Illinois without fearing for our lives. We'll have bridge lanes wide enough that we won't have to white-knuckle clench our steering wheels every time we pass a semi. And we'll have enough lanes that we won't be guaranteed half-hour delays every time a fender bends.

Until that day, my daily riverside commute from Rock Island to East Moline might sometimes be arduous. But it also affords me a daily view of the construction progress, which is nothing less than amazing. What began as floating platforms have rapidly become epic towers erupting out of the water to hold the framework arch of what will soon be our new bridge. How it was done I haven't a clue. Magic? A genie? A well-trained army of catfish?

Those towers now rise some 225' above river level, jutting into the sky and adorned with a bright red topper that surely holds important construction gear and fancy technological bridge-making wonders. At least I assumed it did. Then my friend Cindy Anderson came along and shattered all my understanding.

Nearly every day, Cindy goes down to the river, takes a picture of whatever strikes her fancy, and posts it to Facebook as her photo of the day. Recently, she took her zoom lens to the red box atop the temporary tower. Sure enough, it's a vital part of the bridge construction process.

It is, in fact, a portable toilet.

Yes, precariously perched atop a 225' testament to mankind's ingenuity and triumph over adversity sits -- a sky potty. Normally I'm above toilet humor. But this time, the toilet humor is above me.

So bad news, anyone who hoped to be the first to, umm, christen the new bridge. Someone's already beat you to it. I had to learn more about this heavenly latrine, so I got ahold of Danielle Alvarez. She's the I-74 Project Manager for the Iowa DOT and knows more about the science of aerial toiletry than anyone really should. So what on Earth is a porta-potty doing waaaay up there? It's simple, really.

"We have men and women constantly working atop that temporary tower," Alvarez explained. "When you gotta go, you gotta go!"

Makes sense. I thought MY commute was bad. Imagine if your commute involved a 225' climb -- only to get to the top and go "uh oh." That's the definition of a bad day. That's why a crane routinely takes the lofty loo to its dizzying heights, where workers move it into place in case they have to make a movement of their own.

How's it stay up there? "Besides being tied down?" responded Alvarez with a smile. "Gravity. It gets heavier throughout the day." Wow.

So what's it like to answer nature's call some 19 stories above the mighty Mississippi?

"It's only scary when you look down," said Alvarez.

Working on that bridge must be a high-pressure job reserved for our most heroic. But does anyone feel the pressure more than the poor crane operator tasked with gingerly bringing THAT bad boy down without, umm, spillage? According to one crew worker, we needn't worry.

"Our crane operator takes crap very seriously. He considers things like wind velocity rocking the porta-potty and making sure no one's in it before it's moved. He's got it down to a science."

I wish I knew anything about construction. I have no idea how a project this massive gets accomplished. Maybe it's a team of highly skilled, death-defying workers. Maybe it IS magic. And maybe sometimes, it's literally just a big load of [expletive]. All I know is I'll be happy when it's done, and I think that's something we can all agree on.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

COLUMN: Cats (With A Capital C)


Congratulations, Hollywood. You actually did it.

I'd read some of the reviews and I just couldn't believe it. "The scariest thing you'll ever see," they said. "A new masterpiece in modern horror," some proclaimed. I didn't believe the hype. There was no way it could be more terrifying than the classics. But I've seen it for myself, and they're not lying. Move over, The Exorcist. Make way, The Shining. Step aside, Mr. Krueger. Hollywood has just released the most terrifying film you'll ever see.

I speak, of course, about the brief trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation of "Cats."

Last week, Universal Pictures released this nightmare fuel unto the world with little warning. Mankind was clearly not prepared.

The "Cats" trailer is truly two of the most off-putting minutes you'll experience all year. If a brief montage can elicit this kind of repulsion, the full movie (coming this Christmas) might be the end of us all. You've officially been warned.

It isn't just that you're watching a star-studded cast prance about in cat costumes. That would be bad enough. But the makers of "Cats" then took the footage and added CGI effects to make everyone look like beastly half-naked singing-n-dancing cat aliens from some untapped plane of Hell. If there really IS a secret UFO stronghold under the mountains of Area 51, we now have a pretty good idea what its residents resemble. Finally, the world has answers to questions that have plagued mankind, such as "What would Dame Judi Dench look like with fur and a tail?" (The answer? REALLY creepy.)

It doesn't help that this trailer is for the movie version of my least favorite musical of all time. Even without CGI and fraudulent feline fur, "Cats" creeped me out as a kid and continues to creep me out today.

For one, it has NO plot. Zero narrative. Zilch. Here's what happens in "Cats": cats sing about being cats. The end. Okay, maybe there's a TINY plot. "Cats" is the story of a tribe called the Jellicles, who meet once a year to elect one cat to travel to the Heaviside Layer, where they'll be reborn into a new life. Essentially, the entire musical is nothing but cat-people singing about why they should die -- and frankly, if I was trapped in this plot, I'd be pleading to die, too. In the end, I presume one of them does. I don't know for certain -- I've never made it that far without fleeing for my life and sanity.

I don't know a THING about how "Cats" came to be, but I have a guess. Once upon a time, Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote an amazing song called "Memory." It's a boss tune. A real tear-jerking show-stopper fit for a diva. Trouble was, he had no musical to put it in. Just then he looked down, saw his cat sleeping, and thought to himself, "That'll do." "Cats" is a two-hour excuse to hear "Memory" and little else.

At some point, he must have come up with the word "jellicle" and thought it was cool. But nothing rhymes with "jellicle," so most of the songs rhyme "jellicle" with "jellicle." If "Cats" had a drinking game where you had to swig every time someone said "jellicle," the entire audience would be dead of alcohol poisoning fifteen minutes in.

Other songs just abandon rhyme altogether, because why bother? You're already in the theater, you've already paid the money, and you're only there to hear "Memory" in the first place.

Mr. Webber, I know cats. Cats are friends of mine. This is not cats.

Either my cats are really weird (admittedly a possibility) or Andy Webber got it all wrong. Despite my constant encouragement and deepest desires, my cats have never spontaneously broken out in song and dance. At best, I might get a meow, and even that's pushing it.

Maybe its up to me to fix what's broken in "Cats." I might not be able to carry a tune or play a lick of music, but tonight, my cats and I put our heads together and came up with the basics of a musical I like to call "Actual Cats."

Act I, Scene I. The curtain opens to reveal two housecats sleeping on a couch. Upon the sound of a housekey turning a lock, they yawn, stretch, and immediately go into the opening number, "Hungry Songs for Hungry Cats."

This is followed quickly by other memorable sing-along numbers, such as:

"Back To Sleep"
"Guess Where I Peed (It's Not the Litterbox)"
"I Know You Have Food, Where Is The Food?"
"I'm Not Staring, I'm Judging You"

Act II is a little more emotional, with songs like "Pet Me Pet Me DON'T PET ME THERE" and the dramatic tale based on a true story, "I Don't Know This Girl You Invited Over (So I Pooped In Her Shoe.)"

Then, once the audience is deeply invested, hit 'em with the show-stopper. "Hunnnngry! It's so eeeasy to feeeed me / When you feeeed me, I'll understand what happiness issss, tilll the food bowl... FILLS AGAIN!" The audience weeps. Someone hacks up a hairball. Curtain.

Easy peasy. No need for a Heaviside layer or cat reaping ceremony. No one had to hear the word "jellicle." No one had to see a furry Dame Judi Dench. Dear American Theater League, you may send my Tony to the usual address.

COLUMN: Too Hot


Well, well. We meet again, empty white Notepad screen.

I can't wait to share the super exciting column topic I have this week -- except I don't have one.

Here's the thing. I usually write about what I see, where I go, and the things I do. But THIS week, the only place I've gone is my couch, and the only thing I've done is sit here on my e'er-expanding fanny. Sorry, but it's just too hot to do anything else, and I have ZERO patience for triple-digit forecasts.

I just looked out my window and witnessed a dude jogging by. In these temps, that's just death-wish levels of insanity. It's hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk right now. At least I think it is. It's too hot to go outside and actually try it. But that's not gonna stop Joggerman. He had a clear look of superiority on his face as he proudly strode past all shirtless and self-righteous. He's not gonna let a little thing like an Excessive Heat Warning interfere with HIS exercise regimen.

As a rule, I don't generally wish ill fortune upon people, but I've gotta say, it would probably serve him right if he doubled over and started power barfing all over the sidewalk. Well, as long as it's not MY sidewalk. If it's hot enough to fry an egg, I don't wanna know what it would do to THAT. Eww.

Give us chubby nerds one bit of credit: We know how to stay indoors, especially when outdoors feels like a torture sauna. I'm supposed to be skilled and gifted at wasting time watching bad TV and obsessing over good video games, but I've already got cabin fever. How does this happen? A few years ago, I broke my ankle and spent the better part of six weeks surfing this couch with few complaints. Why can I not spend six hours on it today without the walls closing in?

But hope is not lost. On my lap sits a machine of infinite power, with access to all the knowledge of the world and at least 10,000 cat memes. If there's an answer to these heat-addled doldrums, surely it can be found on the internet. Back in a second...

BOOM. It took less than five minutes. I just went to a self-help site and pulled up an article entitled "GREAT THINGS TO DO ON A HOT DAY." Shall we dive in?

- "Cool off in the nearest stream or river by kayaking." Umm, okay. First off, don't own a kayak. Second off, can't swim. Third off, this author's clearly never endured a spring flood in the Quad Cities, because the nearest river is barely in its banks and still reeks of unhinged raw sewage. This helpful hint might as well just say, "Nothing to do on a hot day? Why not drown yourself in fetid feces water?" Hard pass.

- "Fill a child's swimming pool with ice and jump in!" It's so hot outside I'm not entirely sure that a bag of ice wouldn't just turn to steam the second I walk outside. Plus, this solution would first require me to roam the streets approaching random children and asking to borrow their pools. Clearly not a good look. Shane-ger danger.

- "Grab some water pistols, fill them up, and shoot your friends!" Because it always ends well when you go running around the neighborhood brandishing a mock weapon. That's never gotten anyone in trouble. Pass.

- "If you have a dog, give it a bath! Watch it run around like crazy trying to dry off!" I don't have a dog. I have cats. Specifically, I have cats smart enough to hate stupid activities like baths. If I tried to give my cats a bath, they'd watch ME run around like crazy trying to find something to stop the bleeding. No thanks.

- "Put on your favorite beach music and dance like a crazy person!" The music's already playing. In my house, it's never NOT playing. But the sight of me dancing is too embarassing for ANYONE to witness, including my cats or, God forbid, myself should I accidentally side-eye a mirror. Absolutely not.

- "Get in your car and drive somewhere you've never been before, somewhere cooler!" It's a 22.5 hour drive to Lake Windigo, Ontario. That's the furthest point north of here accessible by car. It's only 8 degrees cooler there, though admittedly you might catch a refreshing breeze whilst running for your life from angry moose.

But just when I thought this list didn't know me very well, I think I just found one of their pieces of advice that might be doable:

- "Stay in, write an opinion column, and see if your local newspaper will publish it."

Hi, I'm Shane, and my opinion is that it's too [expletive] hot outside. Let's see if my local newspaper will publish this.

COLUMN: Love Island


Sometimes it's easy to believe the world is beyond saving.

After all, the evidence in support of a society beyond redemption is staggering. Half of us hate the other half for entirely asinine reasons. Social media was supposed to unite the world, but it just gives us new and exciting ways to argue with strangers. Taxes are rising. Businesses are closing. Racism. Sexism. Homophobia. Tom Cruise. The future looks grim. There are some who say we're done for.

Not me. I'm an optimist. This morning, I watched a man nearly trip over himself to hold a door for an elderly lady. On my lunch hour, a car backed up an entire lane of bridge traffic just to let me make a left turn. At the gas station, a stranger complimented another stranger on her shoes. We as a people are innately good, and goodness is always worth saving. Humanity is strong and intelligent and one day, we -- or at least our children's children's children -- are going to live in world of positivity, equality, intellect, and hope. This is what I believe.

Then I turned on the TV and watched "Love Island" and I take it all back. Society has failed. We're doomed.

I have no patience for schlocky reality dating shows, but I needed to check out "Love Island." The British version has been a ratings juggernaut and the talk around every UK water cooler. When CBS announced the risky commitment of launching the American version five nights a week all summer long, I had to see what the fuss was all about. It must be great fun, no?

No, indeed.

I've now watched three episodes of "Love Island," and I'm honestly not even sure WHAT I've been watching, other than I definitely feel icky for doing it. It is a reality show? A dating game? Or has CBS just finally figured out how to air family-friendly pornography in primetime? I dunno what it is, other than gross.

Today's young people have advantages we never did. They've been raised in a tech-savvy world of limitless potential, walking around with instant access to all the knowledge of the world right in their pockets. Surely this new generation must be the smartest, most worldly, woke creatures ever raised on this planet, right? Just imagine the important discourse, soul-sharing, and refined conversations a modern dating show would contain.

Then chuck it all out the window, because here's how "Love Island" starts:

"Hi, I'm Caro! I'm 21, I'm a marketing student. I recently just started loving my hair, so I'm, like, really trying to own it, and so that would be my number one best quality!"

Within minutes, "Love Island" has already set us back as a society by about a kajillion years. Caro was quickly followed by Alana.

"I think my personality is a good quality," she announced to the camera. "Well, and I've got a nice butt! I really do! I'm just gonna let Jesus take the wheel!" I'm hoping if Jesus took the wheel, he'd immediately pop a U-turn and drive as far away from Love Island as he could.

In a post #metoo world, how could something this insipid, shallow, and sexist ever get green-lighted? Then I rapidly discovered it's not just the girls who are an embarassment. No, thankfully "Love Island" is an equal opportunity flaming dumpster pile.

Ladies, meet Michael. "Being this good looking is a gift and a curse," he philosophizes. "People make assumptions and judge, like I'm this dude who's way into myself. That's just not me. I also love animals." Clearly Michael's a catch, or possibly someone you could catch something from.

The plot of "Love Island" is simple. Painfully simple. Five impossibly attractive women are instantly paired with five gym-raised dudes and forced to live together in a tacky villa in Fiji. Remember that 80s music video that ruined the career of Billy Squier? The one full of bad decisions where he pranced around a neon set that looked thrown together by the decorators of "Miami Vice" during a bad cocaine binge? 

"Love Island" is like being stuck in that video forever, except Billy at least had the decency to don a pink t-shirt. On "Love Island," shirts and pants are clearly optional, and most residents opt out. The rest of the show is just skeevy makeout sessions, muscle flexing, catfights, and camera crews with itchy trigger fingers on the zoom button. In the end, somebody wins $100,000 but I still have no idea how. If this is what modern love's all about, then consider me perfectly cool with being eternally unlucky in love.

Maybe one day someone will green-light "Nerd Island," where human beings with actual personalities sit around watching anime, playing video games, and judging others not by the niceness of their butts but by truly important standards, such as the contents of their record collections. I'd watch that show. Heck, I'd go ON that show.

If "Love Island" becomes a hit over here, I'm officially pronouncing society beyond redemption. PLEASE tell me you have better things to do with your summer than sit around and watch vapid hot people be vapid and hot. Don't worry, I'll tell you everything you missed later. I mean, SOMEONE has to keep tabs on this show for the survival of mankind. These are the sacrifices I make for you, for journalism, and for the common good. Now if you'll excuse me, its almost 7 p.m., gotta go. Caro's going on a private date with Cormac. SQUEEEEEAL!