Monday, March 20, 2017


It took less than 24 hrs. for someone to crack the code and find my $3 treasure!  Details to follow in my next column.  Thanks to EVERYONE for playing and harassing me all day long!  This might have to become an annual occurrence.

UPDATE: The Great $3 Treasure Hunt

Hey all!

So I know my blog is woefully out of date, I'm trying to put all my recent columns up this week. But if you're playing along this week, you'll know about the Great $3 Treasure Hunt going on RIGHT NOW.  If not, read my newest column to catch up:

Just so you know, the hunt has been live for just about a day now, and NO ONE HAS YET TO CLAIM THE TREASURE.  That's not to say that it's still there... there's a chance someone's found it. But there IS a note with the treasure to e-mail me with a secret phrase, and so far, no e-mail.  So the $3 could very well still be out there. 

If someone claims responsibility for grabbing the treasure, I'll let you know right here.  And in a few days, if no one claims it, I'll check to see if the treasure is still in its hiding place...

COLUMN: Sports Expert

I am not a big sports guy.

I know this must come as a shock to those of you staring at my fifteen-year-old photo naturally assuming that I must be a muscle-clad jock. I'm afraid you were once again led astray by my brute machismo. Unless we reach a day when Guitar Hero becomes a recognized sport, I'm just not an athletic supporter.

I'm not entirely bereft of sports knowledge. I've sat through many a Bowl that was Super (but secretly, I just watch for the commercials.) Like any good fair-weather fan, I enjoyed watching Jordan and the Bulls dominate back in the day, just as I enjoyed seeing the Cubs make their championship run last year. If you catch me in the right mood and the scores are close, I've even been sucked in by golf telecasts now and again. And, of course, there's my closet NASCAR obsession, which I can only blame on genetics and perhaps a few too many years growing up in Galesburg.

For the most part, though, I'm completely clueless when it comes to sports. I don't keep up with players or stats or teams. I only recently learned that the Montreal Expos are no longer a thing, and that happened in what, 2004? I've got other interests, sorry. There's enough on my plate as is without obsessing over people running, throwing, and catching things.

There's just one problem. Through no particular fault of my own, I have an acquaintance who may have been misled into thinking that I am a sports enthusiast. And because I'm the most socially insecure person on the planet, I've been playing along for way too long to come clean now.

I have to stay vague, because this person is real and in the Quad Cities, but I'm pretty sure he has no idea that I write a newspaper column, so shhh. Let's just say that I wear a lot of different hats in life, and one of those hats requires me to engage in brief bits of small talk with this person regularly. I don't know the guy well, but he seems like a good enough dude.

Well, a few months ago, we were chatting and he mentioned that he was bummed because there was some UFC thing on pay-per-view that he was missing. I don't know a thing about ultimate fighting, but I DO know my way around the internet. All it took was two swipes on my phone to find someone bootlegging the fight on Periscope. "Here you go," I said as I handed him the phone.

Little did I know my gesture of kindness would open a Pandora's Box of sports small talk that I've yet to escape. Worse yet, most of the time I have NO idea what he's on about.

"Today's game sure wrecked my pool," he said to me the other day. And no, I had no clue what game he was talking about. "I had them by fourteen," whatever that meant.

A self-confident Shane would have replied, "Sorry, I don't follow sports." A Shane who doesn't suffer from social anxiety might have said, "No clue, man, sorry." A Shane without a childish need for acceptance could have just shrugged his shoulders and been done with it.

Instead, here's what I said:

"Well, they went to sleep after the half. It was sad to watch."

I don't know who "they" were. I could only hope it was a sport that HAD a "half." But it must have sounded right, because he nodded right away in agreement. Thus began the pitiful dance of me having to fake my way through sports conversation on a regular basis.

Now, you may think this whole episode to be kind of pathetic, and I'm right there with you. Well, I was... at first. I should be far too grown up to still fall victim to an insecure need for acceptance. But now that I've carried on the ruse for a few months now, pathos has given way to fun.

You see, I've decided to turn our sports talk into a game unto itself, and that game is me figuring out how to continually fake my way though small talk while not knowing a thing about what I'm talking small about. Every time I see this guy, he comes at me with some sports comment, and I have to come up with some random reponse that hopefully doesn't make me sound like a lunatic. Most of the time, I'm just spouting total nonsense, and it's yet to fail me. Some of my go-to's thus far:

"Those refs had to be blind!" (Met with an enthusiastic nod. There's always a bad call somewhere in every game, right?)

"They played okay for what they had to work with." (Result? Solemn agreement paired with a thoughtful chin gesture. I'm clearly insightful.)

"They wanted it more and they played tough. What else can you say?" (What else, indeed. But please don't ask me.)

"I don't even wanna TALK about that game!" (Which is, most definitely, the truth.)

"The defense was reckless!" (Can a defense be reckless? I have no idea. Sounds good, though, right?)

"You could tell which way the wind was blowing." (This could mean 35 different things. I think.)

And my personal favorite?

"It's like 1994 all over again!" (I thought I was a goner with this one, but once again, it was met with a solemn nod. Maybe anything sounds believable if you put the right tone of self-confidence on it. Perhaps I should do infomercials.)

Thankfully, our encounters only occur in a few quick-sentence bursts, because this is a charade I clearly can't maintain for long. Heck, maybe he knows I have no idea what I'm talking about and just finds it funny to listen to me flounder. Either way, it's more entertaining than making banal comments about the weather to pass the time.

At some point, I should probably come clean and own up to being woefully ignorant about sports. Then again, I suppose if he mentions a team, I could always run to the bathroom real quick and look up the score on my phone. Or heck, I could take some time out and watch ESPN for a few minutes so I can REALLY fake him out. All I need to do is watch all the games, drive up to see a few in person, and maybe buy some jerseys and souvenirs. If I really want to be a convincing sports fan, all I need to do is become a sports fan.

Easy peasy. Just like 1994 all over again. (Smile and nod, people.)  

COLUMN: Change

It's probably not a good omen to kickoff 2017 griping like an old man, but it might just be my new specialty.

By the time you read this, I will have made my 46th revolution around the sun, which officially puts me closer to age 50 than 40. This does NOT sit well with me. I'm not QUITE ready to call myself an old man, but I think my days of self-describing as a "club kid" are over. I'm more like a "club man," and that just doesn't seem to work.

I am, inarguably, an adult. So why am I so bad at adulting? I don't know the first thing about car maintenance. The only things I know how to fix are empty dancefloors and frozen pizzas. I'm still not exactly sure what an "escrow" is, other than I keep paying it along with my mortgage because that's what adults do.

But there's one secret of adulting that eludes me more than anything else: I am incapable of saving money.

A streaming movie here or there, a trip or two to the record store, and a journey to the Taco Bell drive-thru now and again never feels like I'm spending a fortune, but it must add up. There's no other way to explain why I've spent the better part of my life living paycheck to paycheck. If it's in the bank, I'm spending it -- with little to show after the fact.

I might not make a very responsible adult, but I'm nothing if not creative, and I've figured out a way to defeat my own spending habits and save at least a little bit of scratch every year: I bought a jar. Okay, let's start 2017 with some honesty. I didn't buy a jar. I bought an oversized container of cheese balls. But I now refer to that cheese ball container as the First National Bank of Shane.

When I come home from work every night, I empty my pockets and throw all my extra change into the jar. It might be the grade school method of saving money, but it works. Remember two summers ago when I took a vacation to New York City? Paid in full by the jar. My X-Box One? Thanks, jar. Christmas gifts every year? Here comes Santa Jar.

Na'er-do-wells: Please do not break in and ransack my house looking for the jar. I have a security system and you WILL be on candid camera. Plus, trust me on experience when I tell you that there's nothing more embarassing than rolling up to a bank to deposit a giant jar of "CHEESE POOFS." And, as it turns out, now they won't let you.

When I went to cash in my change last month, I swapped the cheese poof container for three different smaller, slightly less embarassing jars. The cashier watched as I brought in one, then two, then the third jar of change.

"Hi!" I said with the pride and satisfaction of an adult capable of adulting. "I need to deposit this change into my account."

"I'm sorry," she replied. "We no longer accept change."

Umm. Say what? (AND why not tell me this BEFORE I lugged all three jars inside?)

Webster's defines "bank" as "the land alongside or sloping down to a river or lake." Wait, whoops. I need the other definition. "A tier of oars." No, that's not it. "The cushion of a pool table." Dagnabbit, hang on. Okay, here it is: "A financial establishment that invests money deposited by customers, pays it out when required, and exchanges currency."

Last I checked, silver change is currency. But no, apparently MY bank has now decided that it can be picky-choosy when it comes to what currency it takes in. As she explained, they recently did away with their change-counting machine due to its tendency to break down, and instead just decided to establish a corporate rule to not accept unrolled change.

"So you won't take this money for which I've established a savings account in order to save?"

"Sir," she said curtly. "We simply have no way of counting this money."

"That's funny," I replied. "I know a way to count it. Twenty-five... fifty... seventy-five... ONE dollar. Twenty-five..." She was not amused.

She gave me two options: Either take the change to one of those Coinstar machines that splits the profits with you, or come back later with the money neatly secured in coin rolls. There was nothing I could do but express my displeasure and storm out of the bank, an act that loses a bit of drama when you have to storm out three times in a row in order to haul three jars of change BACK to the car.

Look, I get it. I wouldn't want to count change either. That's why I'm not a bank. I don't like it when I'm at a DJ gig and somebody requests "Baby Got Back," but I still play it, because I'm a DJ, and that's my job. How are rolled coins any better than loose change? If there's no one at the bank to count it, what's to stop Joe Q. Public from short-changing the rolls? Or, even more nefariously, someone could easily roll up wooden nickels or a row of quarter-sized washers. This policy seems like it would create more problems than solve.

I'm sure some families spent Christmas night basking in the glow of a warm fire, singing carols and reflecting in the joy of the holiday season. The Brown family, meanwhile, spent Christmas night like Ebeneezer Scrooge on a bender, huddled around a pile of coin rolls indignantly muttering, "ONE penny... TWO pennies... THREE pennies..." If there were chestnuts roasting on any open fires, I sure missed it. I had dimes to roll up.

I tried to be an adult, I really did. I saved money like a grown-up (or, perhaps, like a 5-year-old with an alarming affinity for cheese balls.) It's not MY fault that my bank would have none of it. Maybe this is a sign I should take my freshly-rolled coins to the record store instead. I'll be the one shopping for old man music.

COLUMN: Almost A Car Wreck

If you're reading this, it's a good thing. You survived 2016.

Hopefully, so did I -- unless, of course, the paper is running this column posthumously as a moving tribute to my memory. If that's the case, I'd better see some tears from you people, because I WILL be watching. Also, please contact Zak Bagans and the Ghost Adventures crew and tell them to investigate my house pronto, because I have full plans to haunt the heck out of this place after my demise.

How much did 2016 suck? Some of my favorite TV shows got cancelled. Most of the summer blockbluster movies were awful. An orange-tinted reality star is about to be our next President. And yes, all the celebrities that ever mattered to my childhood seem to be shuffling off this mortal coil at an alarming rate. This jerkwad of a year took away Alan Rickman, Carrie Fisher, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, Phife Dawg, Garry Shandling, and a kajillion other people we loved, including our good friend Ellis Kell. We lost Carol Brady, Jason Seaver, Grizzly Adams, Willy Wonka, Miss Cleo, and Mr. Drummond. Ziggy no longer plays guitar. No one wants to see us dancing in the purple rain. There's nobody to spin us right round, baby, right round, like a record, baby.

I'm writing this on December 27th. The serial killer known as 2016 has four more days before its execution. Earlier today, it almost got ME.

Technically, I'm on vacation this week. I had some extra time-off to burn in 2016, so I thought I'd splurge and extend my Christmas weekend by a couple of days. And oh my, did I have exciting plans. I wanted to spend my vacation at the happiest place in all the world. That's right, I went on vacation to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

My driver's license is set to expire soon, and I don't fancy a repeat of last time. A few years back, I had no clue my license had expired until I tried to go to a trivia night on Arsenal Island and handed my ID to the guard at the gate. Next thing I knew, I was surrounded my military police and my poor car nearly got impounded to federal car jail. Worst of all, we lost the trivia game, which if you know my team is nearly unforgivable. No siree, I needed to play by the rules this time and procure a spanky new license in sufficient time.

As you know, our local DMV is conveniently located on the absolute edge of nowhere in a strip mall that's so ridiculously hard to access, they might as well just hand out licenses to anyone who makes it in the door -- if you can find the place, you know what you're doing behind the wheel. The DMV is at the polar opposite end of the Quad Cities from my house, and any attempts to make it from here to there are less an errand and more like a daytrip.

I mustered up every remaining ounce of holiday spirit and climbed into my car with a positive attitude -- which lasted for eleven minutes.

That's how long it took for me to get to downtown Moline, where I witnessed one of the nastiest car wrecks I've ever seen. It was the kind of thing you simply can't make light of -- it was awful and I'm sure people got hurt. It happened just a few blocks ahead of me and caused a pickup truck to flip onto its roof, or what was left of it. It certainly wasn't what I wanted to see en route to renew a license that allowed me the privilege of perhaps being in a similar accident someday myself. My thoughts and prayers go out to all involved, and I hope everybody's okay.

Witnessing the aftermath of that collision up close and personal made me grip the wheel a little tighter as I continued on my way, and it's a good thing I did. Just minutes later, I was toodling down 12th Avenue when a woman in a pickup made a left turn against oncoming traffic. The oncoming traffic was me. This woman just turned smack into my lane as if I were Wonder Man flying my invisible jet instead of Chubby Guy driving a perfectly visible Hyundai.

I'm not usually known for my lightning fast reflexes. Thankfully, they were there today. The instant I saw her, I slammed on my brakes and missed t-boning her by three feet. She, meanwhile, had seen me coming and ALSO slammed on the brakes, stopping across my entire lane frozen like a deer with a dumbstruck look on her face.

I am a nice guy. I pride myself on being pleasant to people. But everybody has their limits. There are times when its proper to say "thank you." There are times when it's polite to say "excuse me." And now I can say with some certainty that there are times when you just have to roll down your window and yell "WHAT THE [EXPLETIVE], LADY?!" Sorry, my bad.

I picked my stomach up off the ground and headed on, leaving a good portion of rubber and a not-so-good portion of my lunch on 12th Avenue. Eventually, I made to the DMV -- to find it closed for the holiday. Exactly which holiday they chose to celebrate on December 27th is a mystery, but if I had to reckon a guess, I'd say they were observing International Elevate A Shane's Blood Pressure Day.

There's not too many things worth dying for. A visit to a closed DMV is certainly NOT among that list. "Here lies Shane; License Expired January 2017" is NOT the epitaph I'm looking for. If 2016 wants to end me behind the wheel of a car, it had better be preceded by a booty call from Katie Holmes or some equally worthwhile endeavor. Until that happens, I'm staying as put as put can be for the next four days.

Here's to a much happier new year. Sorry I swore at you, lady.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Daytrotter Downs 2017 This Weekend

If you need something to do this weekend, there's only one correct answer.

The line-up for this year's Daytrotter Downs festival is their best yet.  I'm beyond excited to check out Post Animal, Nothing, Gaelynn Lea, Joan of Arc, SSION, and that's only scratching the surface of the 40+ bands playing over the next two days.  You'll find me there for sure.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

COLUMN: Best of 2016 - TV

Some people say I waste my life in front of the TV. Poppycock, I say. I'm no couch potato. I'm simply a devoted journalist committed to his craft. If I didn't spend every night in a sedentary position, how else could I give you such accurate picks for the Best TV Shows of 2016?

Truth be told, when 2016 wasn't busy killing off all our heroes or turning a reality TV star into the leader of the free world, it really DID give us some amazing televised treats.  Here are my ten favorites of the year:

#10 - EXPEDITION UNKNOWN (Travel Channel) - Simply a retooled version of his former show "Destination Truth," but this time around, explorer and archaeologist Josh Gates hunts down evidence of legends and buried treasure in any number of exotic locales. Does he ever find anything of note? Nope. But the quests themselves take a backseat to the charm of Gates, whose charismatic everyman appeal makes him the ultimate travel buddy.

#9 - ROADIES (Showtime). Critics haaaaated this show. I haven't seen a "worst of the year" list that doesn't include it. Call me weird, but I thought it was great. Writer/director Cameron Crowe's unapologetic love affair with rock-n-roll energized this already-cancelled series that followed a team of rock's unsung heroes. Was it an overly sentimental, saccharine, and entirely unrealistic portrayal? Absolutely. But just as rock music thrives on myth, so too should have this show.

#8 - GILMORE GIRLS: A Year in the Life (Netflix). For six seasons, "Gilmore Girls" was among the smartest shows on TV. Then creator Amy Sherman-Palladino left, and the show's final season was a creative disaster. Palladino always wanted the chance to end things on her terms, so Netflix lured her back to Stars Hollow for a final arc of four movie-length episodes to conclude the series the way she wanted to. Based on the critical and commercial reaction to the new episodes, we may not have seen the last of Stars Hollow yet.

#7 - WESTWORLD (HBO). When I first heard that HBO was trying their hand at a remake of "Westworld," I'm sure I rolled my eyes. Few movies creeped me out like the campy 1973 original. But boy, did HBO get it right. It's still the same dystopian future where a wild-west theme park becomes overrun by sentient gun-slinging robots gone rogue, but HBO's reimagining focuses on the robots and their gradual awakening to the true perception of their existence. This "Westworld" takes a hard look at the morality of artificial intelligence and makes you wonder what the future of "Hey, Google" has in store for us all.

#6 - THE GOOD PLACE (NBC). "Parks and Recreation" set a new standard in sitcom writing, and its farewell in 2015 was a sad day. But "Parks" producer Michael Schur came right back with "The Good Place," a sitcom WAY too smart and quirky for its own good. Kristen Bell plays Eleanor, who dies and awakens in "The Good Place," an afterlife of stereotyped perfection. There's just one problem: she's a horrible person who made it to the Good Place on a clerical error. What follows is a captivating and amusing look at the nature of what makes a person "good" or "bad," as seen through a host of heavenly deranged residents. Whether its got more than one trick up its sleeve remains to be seen, but if anyone can do it, it's Schur.

#5 - THE FLASH (CW). Network television is needlessly overrun by superhero shows these days. The whole let's-defeat-a-bad-guy-of-the-week schtick gets old quick. Most are either too dark and heavy-handed (Daredevil, Gotham) or too soapy and breezy (I'm looking at you, Supergirl.) The one show that gets it right is The Flash. It's the perfect mix of action, morality, long story arcs AND monsters-of-the-week, and a healthy dose of fun with a cast that looks like they're having the time of their lives.

#4 - GAME OF THRONES (HBO). HBO says there aren't many episodes of GoT remaining, which I find hard to swallow, because I'm pretty sure winter is coming, and along with it an undead army of ghouls and a cadre of ill-tempered dragons. George RR Martin has created a world more complex and compelling than even Middle Earth, and "Game of Thrones" remains my only annual appointment viewing.

#3 - CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND (CW). This deserves to be the most talked-about show of the year. Instead, hardly anyone knows that its on, buried in the Friday night lineup of the CW. First off, how cool is it that there's a successful musical comedy on TV that performs original songs? But hiding behind the music is perhaps the most envelope-pushing comedy in network TV history. If you like your laughs a bit bawdy, you really need to get onboard.

#2 - SEARCH PARTY (TBS) - A "dark hipster comedic mystery starring Alia Shawkat" must have been one tall order to pitch to a network, but I'm so glad that TBS bit at the chance. This sleeper of a show is about a group of self-absorbed, highly damaged millennials who decide to play detective when a classmate (who they didn't even know very well) vanishes. But what the show's really searching for is humanity admidst dysfunction. Do the characters know the difference between being selfless and being self-obsessed? Or can a person be BOTH? It's a fun ride trying to find out.

#1 - STRANGER THINGS (Netflix). It's not perfect. Sometimes it's TOO nostalgic, and if you stop and think, it's got plotholes big enough to drive a Buick through. But the virtually unknown Duffer Brothers behind Netflix's surprise hit of the year figured out a way to take everything we loved about vintage movies like "E.T." and "The Goonies" and translate it through modern storytelling that makes everything just a bit scarier and more amped-up. I sat down to watch the first episode out of curiosity and binged the whole series right then and there. It's THAT good. In a year that seemed like the whole world was going to heck in a handbasket, there was no better escapism than watching a ragtag group of kids trying to save the day against unspeakable evil. Throw in a much-missed Winona Ryder for good measure, and this is the show that 2016 desperately needed.

Monday, February 20, 2017

COLUMN: Best of 2016 - Music

You know what they say, right? Nothing in life is certain except death, taxes, and that one column you have to suffer through every year when I tell you my picks for the best records of the year:

#10 - David Bowie - Blackstar - When we first met "Blackstar" with its bleak jazz and troubling lyrics about alienation and separation, none of us realized we were listening to David Bowie performing his own epitaph. Leave it to the Thin White Duke to turn even death into art. Bowie might be dead, but "Blackstar" is very much alive and unwell. "I’m dying to push their backs against the grain and fool them all again and again," he sings. We loved the grand charade, sir.

#9 - Patrick Boutwell - Hi, Heaviness - The most under-appreciated band in all of music -- Providence, Rhode Island's The Brother Kite -- is on an extended hiatus. In the meantime, lead singer Patrick Boutwell took it upon himself to attempt the RPM Challenge: create and record an entire album in 28 days. Long nights and marathon recording sessions birthed "Hi, Heaviness," a quirky collection of would-be demos and power pop gems that prove yet again how badly the rest of the world needs to get clued in.  

#8 - Trashcan Sinatras - Wild Pendulum - My favorite Scottish band's sixth album is neither wild nor pendulous, but remains full of the refined romanticism, fragile harmonies, and layered understatements that have become the band's trademark sound. The Trashies take their sweet time between records, and I'm pretty sure the entire latter half of their career has been crowd-funded by their small yet ardent fanbase. But with this band, the results are always worth the effort.

#7 - ette - Homemade Lemonade - Maybe I'm just a sucker for Scottish indiepop, but this record soundtracked a majority of my summer. ette is the side project of Carla Easton, who fronts another great Scottish band called TeenCanteen. On her own, though, this is the clear sound of liberated, independent, lo-fi fun -- and it's contagious as all get out.

#6 - Viola Beach - Viola Beach - An aspiring UK band gaining ground on the back of their debut single, Viola Beach were on their first major tour back in February when their car plummeted through an open drawbridge in Sweden, instantly killing all four members and their manager. The tragedy made Viola Beach household names in the UK, and Coldplay even covered one of their songs at Glastonbury so the band could fulfill their dream of headlining a festival. All of their completed tracks were compiled posthumously into an album full of promise and exuberance that I wish we could've heard under different circumstances.

#5 - Lush - Blind Spot EP - When veteran British shoegazers Lush announced their 2016 reunion, it was exciting news. Sadly, it only lasted long enough for a quick tour, but they were still able to produce a 4-track EP that's among their best ever work. Towards the end of their original run, Lush abandoned their hazy shoegazer roots in favor of the more trendy Britpop sound at the time, but on this final EP, their gaze is again pointed directly shoeward. It's a mighty final gasp from a band it was an absolute pleasure to revisit.

#4 - A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service - When ATCQ's first album showed up in 1990, it was the first time I realized that hip-hop could be SO much more than braggadocio and dance beats. When co-frontman Phife Dawg passed away earlier this year from diabetes complications, it was a sad end for the most groundbreaking group in hip-hop history. What no one knew, though, was that they had secretly recorded one final album before Phife's death -- and it's every bit as edgy, challenging, and empowering as you'd expect.

#3 - Weezer - Weezer (The White Album) - Who'd have thought that America's favorite nerd rock band of the 90s would still be showing up on Top Ten lists some twenty years later? Weezer arrived in the 90s with the incredible one-two punch of the Blue Album and "Pinkerton," but since then, their output has been maddeningly uneven. For the fans that stuck with, though, 2016 was a big payday. Weezer's tenth album ranks among their best, an epic boy-meets-girl song cycle set to a Californian summer of love, loss, and the amazing hooks that have always kept me a fan. It's a brilliant return to form.

#2 - Frank Ocean - Blonde - Even in a year when Beyonce dropped the groundbreaking "Lemonade," no artist pushed the boundaries of R&B in 2016 quite like Frank Ocean. On "Blonde," Ocean veers into abstract experimental territory more than ever before, and the resulting tracks wash over you with sonic dreamscapes that drift into muted textures and an almost-maddening introversion. If you want pop choruses you can sing along to or beats to make you juju across dancefloors, keep looking. This is a record that owes more to Brian Eno and the Beatles than Usher or Drake. If Marvin Gaye had come up in this era, I guarantee he'd be making records that sound like this.

#1 - Let's Eat Grandma - I, Gemini - Finally an album that answers the age-old question: What would happen if the murdered ghost twins from The Shining hit puberty and dropped a record? Let's Eat Grandma is the British duo of Rosa Walton & Jenny Hollingworth. Best friends since they were four years old, the girls starting dabbling in music as a teenage lark and recorded most of "I, Gemini" when they were 15. Listening to it is like getting a ticket to a haunted playroom. It's a world where child-like handclaps and innocent vocals share space with submerged synths and foreboding walls of gloom. Just when you think you have it figured out, a saxophone wails or a recorder shrieks or someone starts rapping. It's as if someone gave them a dictionary definition of the word "music" and then turned them loose in a recording studio with no instructions as to how music SHOULD sound. It's THAT weird. But it's also achingly beautiful, life-affirmingly impulsive, and the most exciting thing to come out of 2016's speakers.

Next week: The Best of TV in 2016, or, Justification As To Why I Spent A Year On My Couch.

COLUMN: Christmas Lights

I will never give up on Christmas magic.

It really IS the most wonderful time of the year. You can't tell me otherwise. I will fight you on this.

Last month, I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out why I've never been a big fan of Thanksgiving. I should LOVE Thanksgiving. I mean, what's not to like about a big meal and a free Thursday off work? Then it hit me. The adult me has always been blah about Thanksgiving because the kid me was too busy pining for Christmas.

Think about it - what kid doesn't love summer? Months of no school, playing outside, and doing whatever you fancy within parental reason. Then fall comes along, and that's fun because leaves are crunchy, the air gets tingly, and when your parents aren't looking, you might just be able to sneak a SUPER scary movie or two on cable. Then Halloween hits and there's pumpkins to carve, tricks to be pulled, and treats to devour. Halloween is a kid's dream!

And then it happens. The very minute we round the corner past Halloween, the radio stations switch to holiday music, TV ads start to fill with Christmas cheer, and you know that the greatest holiday of the year is just -- it's just -- oh MAN, it's still TWO MONTHS AWAY? And I have to deal with stupid Thanksgiving first? For an impatient kid like me, November was torture. How can you possibly care about pilgrims and turkey when visions of sugar plums were already dancing in my head?

When I was a kid, Christmastime felt electric like it could set the whole world aglow. I wanted it all then, and I want it all now. Pine and poinsettia, sleigh bells and stockings. Cocoa on the stove and Claymation on the TV. I want dazzling lights and yuletide delights. Snow on the ground and presents all around. I want the perfect Christmases I remember from my childhood.

But this is 2016, and holiday perfection's a pretty tall order in a year this awful. Let us not forget, this is the year that's stolen away every beloved hero from David Bowie to Carol Brady. At this point, we should probably just be thankful to pick up the paper and NOT read that Santa Claus has met with some grisly tragic end (that InfoWars would somehow accuse Hillary Clinton of orchestrating.) In 2016, I should be grateful that Santa hasn't been voted out of office by supporters of a Grinch promising to build a wall around the North Pole while replacing the elves with a Christmas cabinet of the Heatmiser, the Snowmiser, Hans Gruber, Ebeneezer Scrooge, and, oddly, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad.

When it comes to Christmas, I like to think of myself as somewhat an expert. I've seen every holiday special, watched every frame of stop-motion animation, and have even landed on the Hallmark Channel's unending barrage of Christmas movies more times than I care to admit. I'm pretty sure I know what perfect Christmas is supposed to look and feel like. But on all those movies and TV shows, the perfect Christmas seems to involve no prep. It just... happens. Except that it doesn't -- at least not without a LOT of work.

I just finished decking my halls. Well, decking my porch. I grew up in the country, in a house you can't even see from the road. We had no need to decorate the outside of our house for Christmas. So when I bought my own home here in Rock Island, I wasted no time buying some Christmas lights for the porch, because, y'know, how cool is that? Answer: Not very.

Here's the funny thing about Christmas lights: As is turns out, they do NOT hang themselves. In the movies, people just walk down the streets and beautiful lights are just everywhere. You don't often see the chubby, freezing guy whose job it is to hang those lights. It wasn't an especially fun task, and all I have are a few measly strings of lights.

Have you guys seen the house in Moline where it looks like Santa just drove by and vomited Christmas all over the front of the thing? It's pretty much tacky as all get out, but I absolutely love it and detour by it as often as possible. I can't imagine the effort it took to create that monstrosity. All I have is something like ten strands of lights that I ran around the porch pillars and handrails, and that was about enough to do me in for one afternoon.

In past years, friends always helped me put up my meager holiday display. This year, I did it on my own. I expected to just drape some lights around some posts real quick, plug 'em in, and go "Aww, pretty!" But fifteen minutes after I started, I realized I was already turning into a micro-manager, cautiously wrapping lights around two rungs of handrail before running out to the yard and studying the scene like an OCD-stricken Ansel Adams.

"No! No!" my brain kept yelling at myself. "There are 37 lights on THIS railing compared to 35 on the other railing. This simply won't do!" Where this previously unknown perfectionist part of my psyche leapt from I may NEVER know. Here's one thing I DID quickly learn, though: If there really is such a thing as a "perfect Christmas," it should NEVER involve math.

Yet there I was, standing in my front yard, counting bulbs and quite possibly employing algebra for the first time since 8th grade. I carried on like this for nearly three hours before finally giving up and heading inside, though i still find myself resisting the urge to go back out there and perfect it even more. If you go driving down my street and suddenly feel livid and nauseous upon discovering that the left column of my house has 3 more twinkly lights than the right, all I can do is humbly beg forgiveness for my shameful and shocking asymmetry.

Some people say that Christmas magic only happens when you're a kid. I think that's poppycock, and clearly so do my friends at the Hallmark Channel. Christmas magic is real, you just have to work for it sometimes. I don't need a perfect Christmas this year. I'll settle for some twinkly lights, the laughter of friends and family, the cocoa I just put on the stove, and the knowledge that I can try for another perfect Christmas in just... in only... THIRTEEN MONTHS?!?! Oh man...

COLUMN: Fictional Towns

Being a pop culture junkie is fun -- until it interrupts my sleep.

Last night, I had a shockingly realistic dream that I had woken up in the breathtaking and entirely fictional land of Westeros. Anyone who's ever watched the HBO series "Game of Thrones" knows that this is NOT an ideal place to call home. Westeros is a scenic and beautiful land of Seven Kingdoms, none of whom are especially fond of one another. This displeasure is most commonly expressed through swordfights, frequent invasions, and more beheadings than you can shake a stick at, mostly because it's tough to shake sticks when you have no head.

My odds of surviving Westeros would be nil. This is a show where even major characters integral to plotlines are lucky to make it through a full episode with their heads still attached to their necks. In my role as an ancillary character at best, I'd be dragon food the first time I even looked at someone sideways. I can't ride a horse, I have no Earthly idea how to wield a sword, and it appears Westeros has little need for newspaper columnists and/or nightclub DJs. Plus there's a horde of undead warriors fixing to invade, and none of them seem to be big fans of hip-hop.

This dream DID, however, leave me with a pretty good idea for a column. Just this morning, I posed this question to Facebook:

"If you could live in any fictional town, city, or place, where would you go?" My geeky friends were eager to answer.

A popular response was Hogwarts, the alma mater of one Harry Potter. Me, I think the only way to fully enjoy Hogwarts is to be a legit witch or wizard. For Muggles like us, Hogwarts is pretty much just a creepy castle full of people who are WAY cooler than you or I. If you're at Hogwarts without magic, you're basically the janitor. You're Filch. Everyone hates Filch. No way.

Others said Mayberry, and I could see that -- but not in the modern age. Let's be real: the Mayberry police force is inept. Sure, Andy's good at spouting some sage wisdom and locking up Otis, but how is he with DNA analysis? How would Barney Fife respond to his first criminal sexual assault? Plus, I'm not letting Gomer anywhere near my Hyundai.

The suggestions kept rolling in.

Destination: Hobbiton
Pros: Hobbits make a mean dinner. Fireworks are superb.
Con: I prefer my vacation locales free of all-seeing evil eyes on the horizon, thanks. Pass.

Destination: The Overlook Hotel (you know, from "The Shining." My friends are weird.)
Pros: Fantastic interior design. Good hallways to ride my Big Wheel down. Potential to meet new friends.
Con: Those new friends are all dead, and 'blood-filled elevators' not my first choice in amenities. Hard pass.

Destination: The Wonka factory
Pros: Two words - chocolate river.
Con: Constant fear of eating wrong thing and turning into blueberry. Any rule violation subject to song-and-dance lecture from overly-moral orange slaves who only know one tune. VERY hard pass.

I've sat long and hard today, though, and I'm pretty sure I know the five fictional locales I wish I WOULD dream about visiting:

#5 - Pawnee, Indiana - The setting for "Parks & Recreation" is the only place you could visit Paunchburger and take home a child-sized soda (which is literally the size of a small child.) I could party with Tom & Jean-Ralphio and then have Ron Swanson scold me about it the next day. Plus give me enough time and I'm pretty sure I could woo April away from Andy. Sign me up.

#4 - The mystery island from "Lost" - I probably wouldn't survive a week on an island filled with smoke monsters and polar bears. That said, SOMEONE needs to explain all the stuff that the writers failed to. Plus, I like cushy jobs, and I think I'd be fairly suited to living in the hatch and pressing a button every 108 minutes to stop the world from ending.

#3 - Twin Peaks, Washington. I love a town with a good air of mystery, and Twin Peaks is pretty much the most mysterious place ever dreamt up. Just give the owls a wide berth and stay away from the woods at night, and I think I'd manage just fine. Coffee and cherry pie are already staples in my diet, so I'm pretty sure I'd fit in just fine.

#2 - Rosewood, Pennsylvania. It's a quaint town where not EVERYone is murdered, just a select few. Ideal for independent high schoolers, since parents seem to leave for months at a time without explanation. Few citizens appear to work, but everyone looks to have unlimited amounts of money, including the sinister villains intent on torturing Pretty Little Liars for no discerable reason. Oh, and if you hang out in town long enough, you WILL end up dating one of them, so there's a plus.

#1 - Stars Hollow, Connecticut. No greater fictional town has ever existed than that which the Gilmore Girls call home. If you've ever idealized small-town living, Stars Hollow is basically your mecca. The town is so picture-perfect that you almost forget how poorly you're treated when you visit. Browse for antiques? Mrs. Kim yells at you. Pull out your cell phone in the diner? Luke yells at you. Stay at the Dragonfly? Michel yells at you. Still, it's all worth it for Sookie's cooking and the town square, which is in a constant state of festival. "Gilmore Girls" is the only TV show to make me feel jealous for not being a fictional character. Thanks, Netflix, for letting us visit again this month. Stars Hollow also easily won the straw poll of my Facebook friends, and I'm queueing up for a cup of joe at Luke's right behind them.

Interestingly enough, my #1 and #2 picks are actually the same place. "Pretty Little Liars" and "Gilmore Girls" are both filmed on the same backlot at Warner Bros., mostly on a set they call Anytown, USA. It's the same place they filmed "The Goonies" and dozens of other movies and TV shows. The only magic in Stars Hollow is that which Hollywood has painstakingly created. So maybe it's time to stop day- (and night-) dreaming about fictional paradise, step outside, and try to make our own.

Friday, December 02, 2016


When I was a kid, I read an absurd amount of science fiction, and it was oddly comforting. Growing up in the country miles away from other kids in the 1970's was fine and dandy. Why? Because I knew from the books on my shelves that by the time I turned 40, my robot chauffeur would be piloting my flying car to the teleporter that would take me to my job as President of the United States and Federated Galaxies.

Liar, liar, the future's pants are on fire. I'm in my forties and I see no flying car. All I have is a Hyundai that yells "RECALCULATING!" at me while remaining disappointingly Earthbound. I'm not teleporting anywhere, and don't get me started on my failed ascent to the presidency (although I'm starting to feel like I could do a better job than the fellow we recently installed in the position.)

The future might not be all it was cracked to be in the paperback books of the 1970s, but we DO have one impressive technological achievement going for us: the internet. It's broken new ground in communication and commerce. It's given us everything from cat videos to Justin Bieber. It is simultaneously the world's greatest time-saver and time-waster.

But mostly, I love the internet for its infinite supply of weirdness.

I used to think I was a weird guy. I mean, the evidence is fairly clear: I sleep with my socks on. I have no earthly idea how to snap my fingers. I enjoy the taste of Kaopectate. I'm kind of a freak.

But once you surf the web for long enough, you discover that nearly EVERYONE is off-center a little bit. If you do something quirky that you worry is weird,  you can always find someone on the internet doing things a HECK of a lot quirkier. I might sleep with my socks on, but that doesn't seem so bad when you discover there's a website devoted exclusively to fan-fiction stories exclusively about covering the late musician Roy Orbison in Saran-Wrap.

Enjoy dressing up like a furry animal? There's a whole online subculture out there for you. Harbor a fantasy of hypnotizing strangers? There's a website for that, too. Want to study amateur taxidermy to learn how to sew ten dead rats together to make something called a "ratipede"? That site really exists.
But recently I stumbled into what might be the weirdest online subculture I've ever found on the internet, and I'm a little extra freaked out -- because I might be one of them.

Have you ever been overcome by a tingly sensation in your body when you're happy or relaxed? Kind of a euphoric goosebump-y feeling that starts in your scalp and moves down the back of your neck and upper spine? I'm pretty sure I have. Like when I'm at a concert and the lights go out and I know that I'm seconds away from seeing one of my favorite bands. Or if I'm super relaxed and someone runs their fingers through my hair. Once, I tried one of those head massagers with the little metal talons and I got the tingles so bad I had to set it down and walk away. Until now, I had always just dismissed this as passing goosebumps.

Well, not only is that feeling an actual THING, but there are people and websites devoted to it. It's called ASMR -- autonomous sensory meridian response -- and it's one weird world.

I was about two hours deep in a rabbithole of binge-watching random videos on Youtube when I happened upon my first ASMR video. In it, a young woman sits in front of a camera -- and brushes her hair for seven minutes. All the while, the volume is artificially enhanced so you can hear every brush stroke. Meanwhile, she narrates the process in a voice that's barely a whisper. It was the single silliest thing I'd seen in a long while, and the kind of video where the ONLY possible response is to mutter, "What the...?" Welcome to the world of ASMR.

According to Wikipedia, the "tingly" sensation of ASMR is usually precipitated by some kind of trigger stimulus. And, as it turns out, a majority of folks prone to this sensation claim that it can be triggered by listening to a soft-spoken whispery voice or the quiet repetitive sounds associated with mundane tasks like turning the pages in a book, brushing one's hair, or preparing food.

So, as it turns out, people are watching this whispering woman brushing her hair in hopes of triggering euphoric brain tingles -- and it's but one of HUNDREDS of ASMR videos out there.

It didn't take me long to find Tony Bomboni, an ASMR enthusiast known for his videos where, among other things, he quietly scoops ice cream for twenty minutes while whispering to you. Or another video, where he cleans his ears with a Q-Tip for a full hour. But none of that could prepare me for the popular ASMR video creator who goes by the moniker Kluna Tik. Kluna's videos -- and there are HUNDREDS -- are all first person visuals of someone eating imaginary meals -- except that the biting and chomping sounds are all highly exaggerated, and through the magic of stop-motion animation, his "meals" usually consist of things like bricks, crayons, and yes, dirty Q-Tips (that perhaps he got from Tony Bomboni.)

My instinct is to dismiss this as some kind of wacky perverted fetish, but the ASMR community goes out of their way to insist that there's NOTHING sexual about their hobby. Instead, they swear it's just a way to relax, experience some tingles, and go to sleep. As someone who may have experienced ASMR before, a little part of me was terrified that I might see these videos, start tingling and become an ASMR junkie. With my luck, in ten years we WILL have flying cars and teleporters, but I'll have no time for that because I'll be preoccupied watching some guy clean his ears for an hour straight.

Happily, the only thing these videos triggered in me was laughter, mild revulsion, and the deep satisfaction that comes from knowing you're not as weird as you may think you are. So have at it, friends. If listening to people whisper gives you tingles, then tingle away. The internet's a mighty big place, and we've got room for all kinds of fellow weirdos.

If nothing else, it certainly gives me something to watch until the day my car starts flying.

COLUMN: Trumped

Well. That election sure didn't turn out the way I thought it would.

I don't ever want to get into politics in this column. It's neither my place nor my forte. We have people working here who can authentically be called political experts, and elections are their turf. I'm the guy who got a B in Civics class. I support my candidates, cast my votes, and I most certainly enjoy antagonizing my conservative uncle on Facebook, but that's usually where it stops.

If you want political commentary, you call our editorial staff. If you want fluff pieces about reality TV, you call Shane -- and I'm perfectly fine with that. But this puts me in a sticky situation since reality TV just birthed its first President-elect, and just like everyone else, it's all I want to talk about. I suppose it could be worse -- we could have just elected Ryan Seacrest to lead the free world, although I'm pretty sure Ryan Seacrest would've had the discipline to avoid offending half of America on the campaign trail.

But as shocked as I was by the results of the election, I'm more disheartened by the divisiveness and bickering that's tearing our nation in two. I'm a social media addict, but right now, logging onto Facebook is like being invited to a dinner party where the only other guests are Rachel Maddow and Ann Coulter and the only silverware are knives. Any post that even hints at politics accrues no fewer than three instances of name-calling, at least one fake news story that someone swears is certifiably real, one threat to move to Canada, and someone proudly announcing the number of people they've unfriended over this whole debacle.

For a day or two after the election, I was one of those people. Two weeks later, it's become nauseating, and I find myself yearning for posts about cats, weather, and what we're all eating for dinner. I blame Prince and David Bowie. The two of them were clearly the creative glue necessary to sustain life, liberty, and the pursuit of funkiness throughout the land. Losing them both in the same year has obviously caused the constraints of reality to break down. Now the Cubs are World Series champions and Donald Trump is our President-elect. Mark my words, if we don't continually check on the health and welfare of Beyonce, we could be looking at Pope Honey Boo-Boo the First before everything's said and done.

I suppose it's no real secret that I was NOT a supporter of Candidate Trump. But the guy won, fair-ish and square-ish. That's democracy. Somebody's got to lose, this time it was my side, and I'm trying to keep looking to the future with hope. That's why I haven't been protesting in the streets with my friends. I just didn't see what good it would do other than opening our side up for folks to call us "cry-babies" and tell us to "get over it." When Trump tweeted that protesting the outcome was "unfair," I begrudgingly agreed.

Then I remembered 2012, when Obama won re-election. Citizen Trump jumped on Twitter that night and told people to "march on Washington and stop this travesty... we should have a revolution in this country!" Now THAT is some dangerous rhetoric. I know a LOT of people crazy upset with this election, but I don't know one person who's openly calling for revolution. You can't say "the phoney (sic) electoral college made a laughing stock out of our nation" when things don't go your way, but then call the same result "open and successful" four years later just because you won.

So how did we end up with our first President for whom moving into the White House might actually be "slumming it"? Well, I think we had two flawed candidates whose faults were blown out of proportion by ratings-hungry news networks and a social media adept at turning mountains into molehills. I don't think our former Secretary of State was knowingly posting critical intel to Gmail with gleeful abandon, nor do I think Donald Trump is in secret cahoots with the KKK. I just think he's an egomaniacal blowhard inexperienced at public speaking who learned that nothing motivates the electorate quite like fear.

Sure, I'm worried what a Trump presidency will mean for the values and civil rights I hold dear, but I suppose I wish the guy well. Frankly, he's gonna need it. His will be the most scrutinized presidency of all time, and folks are already queueing up to pick it apart. Maybe this mess of an ugly election is what we need to put future candidates in place who are more concerned with progress than power. Good timing, too, since the 2020 Iowa caucus season starts in, what, two months or so, right?

No matter your vote, we'll all be dealing with the outcome of this election for years. But you'll only deal with me writing about it for the next few words. Instead, I'm taking this holiday week to think about things that DO make me thankful.

Like the super-moon. That was pretty cool, huh? And I'm thankful there's no such thing as a super-Sun, because that wouldn't be half as fun. I'm thankful Canada gets wicked cold in winter, because I don't think any of my friends who are threatening to move there actually will. I'm thankful for punk rock, which always makes a great comeback in a conservative White House. I'm thankful for this column and everyone who reads it, otherwise I'd just be ranting to my cats.

And I'm thankful for my cats, the only creatures I'll ever preside over. I'd like to think I'm a benevolent leader, although my executive orders to date have involved mandatory curfews and forced castration, so maybe I'm a horrible fascist. I might not be super enthused by our President-elect, but if he showed up daily to cook me dinner, clean my toilet, and scratch behind my ear, I might just grow to like the guy. Doubtful, though.

COLUMN: Halloween 2016

Well, hello, November. Once again, I've survived another Halloween, and my love-hate affair with the holiday carries on.

Don't get me wrong, I wholeheartedly approve of things that go bump in the night. I live for tales of mysterious supernatural hocum-pocum. When the air first starts to get chilly, there's nothing better than feeling just a little creeped out. You'd be hard-pressed to find a ghost and/or monster-hunting show on TV that I don't watch and buy into at least 90% of the nonsense they spew out.

I'm in no hurry to shuffle off this mortal coil, but when I do, if someone were to offer up the choice of heading to eternal paradise or sticking around in order to knock pictures off walls and whisper menacing gibberish into the EVP recorders of ghost hunters, that'd be a tough decision to make. I think I'd have to check whether Eternal Paradise had wi-fi before making up my mind.

Give me creepy movies like "The Omen" or "Poltergeist" or "The Exorcist" any old time, and Halloween's usually rife with heebie-jeebie-inducing viewing opportunities. But there's a fine line between creepy and scary, and I'm in no hurry to be scared. I'll watch a flick with ominous overtones any day, unless those ominous overtones lead to a guy in a hockey mask leaping out yelling "BOOGITY BOOGITY!"

It's the same reason I always take a hard pass when my friends want to go to haunted houses. I have no desire to deal with some caffeinated 20-something in monster make-up intent on giving me a heart attack. I'm well aware of just how much fast food I've consumed over the years, and I'm pretty sure all it would take is one well-timed "BOO!" for me to face that Eternal Paradise question a lot sooner than I'd prefer.

But this year didn't really bring anything creepy OR scary. I don't know what it was, but I never got into that delightfully eerie frame of mind this time round. Maybe it's the knowledge that anything Halloween could possibly throw at me couldn't be as terrifying as the potential outcome of this week's election. If I had to sum up this year's Halloween in one word, it'd be "meh."

My weekend, like most, was spent DJing at the club. On Halloween weekend, this is usually an exercise in patience and apprehension. Call me an old fuddy-duddy all you want, but I will never understand the fun in costuming up when you're a grown adult. My social anxiety is bad enough as is -- if you make me talk to you while you're in vampire makeup, my brain might very well implode. Plus, if you're already the sort of person with a tendency to turn into a drunken moron, nothing speeds up the process like some facepaint and a silly outfit. I was ready for anything.

I wasn't ready, though, to be bored. When I walked into the club, I was greeted by a polite crowd of respectful folks glued to the Cubs game. Only about were costumed, and most of those looked a bit slapdash if I'm being truthful. All told, it was a pretty uneventful weekend, other than, of course, the greatest mix of music mankind has ever heard (but I might be a touch biased.)

Next thing I knew, it was Halloween proper and time to buy candy for the kiddies. It never fails: every year that I buy light on candy, I am besieged with trick-or-treaters. Every year I go nuts on candy, it's a Halloween ghost town on my porch. If I were a smart, health-conscious human being, I'd fill my Halloween dish with nothing but Starburst and Nerds and other candy I find disgusting.

Instead, like an idiot, I buy chocolate. GOOD chocolate. Did you know they make Caramel Apple Milky Ways? Neither did I. And now I'm trying my hardest to forget they exist by eating my way through them, because sure enough, I barely had any trick-or-treaters this year. The first hour was a complete bust until the doorbell finally rang, revealing the cutest of cute kids.

"Twick tweet?" they adorably asked, melting hearts from blocks away while I wanted to hand them all the candy in the world. Annnnd... that was it for another hour. I was about to give up on the night when my door rang again and I was greeted by a couple kids as tall as me. And I use "kids" loosely. One of them had facial hair. They worked so hard on their juvenile delinquent costumes that it was almost like they weren't wearing any costumes whatsoever.

"W'sup?" one of them asked. "Trick or treat."

Like I said, I'm no big fan of costumes, but come on. If you're gonna commit to begging for candy door-to-door as a grown adult, the least you could do is rock a cheap mask or some bunny ears. But hey, it's a free society, so if you want to try trick-or-treating sans costume when I'm pretty sure you're old enough to drive to Walgreens and buy your own candy, that's your right. Just as its my right to give you a heaping handful... from my leftover 2015 Halloween candy dish. Enjoy the stale Kit-Kats and crusty peanut butter cups, dude.

And that was it. No tricks, loads of leftover treats, and nothing left to do but watch a marathon of Paranormal Lockdown on TLC and hope to have some creepy dreams. Instead, I inexplicably dreamt that I had driven to Chicago on a whim, auditioned for the Windy City production of "Hamilton," was somehow cast in a decent role, and then forgot to show up for opening night and was promptly fired. I call that a creepy success, because the fastest way I know to make anyone's skin crawl with madness is to subject them to my "singing" voice. I'd better start rehearsing now, Halloween 2017 comes way to soon. Do re miiIIIiiiIIiiiIIIiii!

COLUMN: Lacrosse

(This is totally where the wedding was.)

Sometimes I think about the fact that I'm still single at 45 years of age and it makes me sad. These sharp pains of regret, failure, hopelessness, and loss stab at my self-worth with a fiery intensity... for approximately three seconds. That's how long it takes to remember all the AWESOME parts about being single, and then I have a laugh and get on with my day.

Okay, sure. It'd be swell to find someone to share my life with, and maybe one day that'll happen. But I'm not going to live my life on an aggressive soulmate search as though there's no possible chance of living a fulfilled life without someone by my side. Love and companionship are awesome, but in the meantime, I'll take cats and video games.

Being single might stink, but it DOES have its advantages. If I want to spend half the day binge-watching superhero shows, no one's going to stop me but my conscience. I plan all the menus and mark the social calendars. Right now, I'm laying on my couch writing this column between batters of the World Series. I don't have a bad life, people.

Starting a family is surely a rewarding experience, but NOT starting a family has its own of rewards, too -- not the least of which is avoiding the stress and horrors of a wedding ceremony.

Weddings are a big deal. It's the public proclamation and symbolic manifestation of the commitment that you've entered into, and that should be a cherished occasion. But there's a fine line between cherished occasion and overblown fiasco, and I've had the privilege of witnessing both -- many times over.

I might be hopelessly single, but that doesn't mean my friends share the same fate. I've been invited to my fair share of nuptials over the years. But I've also spent 25 years as a DJ, so I've spun records at more weddings than I care to recall. Normally I stick to club gigs, and I've made the "NO MORE WEDDINGS!" proclamation countless times. But usually all it takes is one friend in need and I'm once again reaching deep in my DJ bag to find the Hokey Pokey and Chicken Dance.

Truth be told, I'd rather be the DJ than NOT be the DJ. When I'm NOT the DJ, I spend the entire reception behaving like the Simon Cowell of matrimony, sitting in smug judgement of whatever sad DJ isn't me. If I ever DO get hitched, I'll have to hire a band, otherwise my beautiful bride might not like it when I fire the DJ and take over myself.

DJing a wedding might be stressful, but the ones looking the MOST stressed are usually the bride and groom themselves. Even if it were my "special day," nothing sounds more dreadful than putting on a penguin suit and making forced pleasantries with my extended family.

This past weekend, I witnessed a wedding that may have set the bar on stress levels -- and I wasn't even invited.

Being single also means that if I wake up on a Saturday and feel like a spontaneous roadtrip, I can take it. Initially, my friend Jason and I decided to head up the Great River Road a bit to see some fall colors, but somehow we just kept heading north until we found ourselves in Lacrosse, Wisconsin.

Lacrosse is surrounded by bluffs, and atop one of them is Grandad Bluff Park that features a stunning overlook of the town. We decided to check it out, and immediately bumped into a hundred other people with the same idea. Parking was limited, and it was almost a half mile uphill hike from the car to the overlook, so I was fairly spent by the time we managed to get our first glimpse of the park -- and the wedding that was overtaking it.

At the top of the bluff, there's a large landing with a shelter and a path that leads out to the overlook, which affords one of the best views of the Mississippi you could ever witness. But on THIS day, the shelter and landing were occupied by a formally-clad family frantically setting up folding chairs and floral arrangements. And this family seemed absolutely gobsmacked that people could dare be approaching the scenic overlook in an attempt to look over the scenery.

"EXCUSE ME!" shouted the father-of-the-bride to anyone within earshot, "WE PAID FOR THIS SPACE! WE ARE HAVING A WEDDING HERE!" Well, once Grandma Ruth and Great-Aunt Edna finished the half-mile hike up there, presumably. The shouting was in vain, though. Dozens of tourists were ignoring his shouts and meandering through the wedding.

Jason asked if I wanted to walk out to the overlook. "No, go ahead," I told him, "I think the real show's gonna happen right here." I was right. The more tourists that approached, the more irrational the guy started getting. When a young couple asked if he'd pose for a photo, he finally snapped.


Now, I'm clearly no expert at matrimony, but I can tell you with some confidence that if you wanted a private wedding, you should probably choose a venue that's NOT your town's #1 tourist attraction on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. This would be like getting married at an Adele concert and being outraged that others showed up to see Adele. Meanwhile, all this time, the poor bride was waiting a few steps down the path in a cloud of perfume and makeup. Just as things were reaching the zero point of chaos, Jason made his way back and insisted that we leave the wedding to those invited. I bet it was a lovely ceremony, even though they probably had a lousy DJ.

On the way home, we stopped for dinner at the only option we could find along the deserted yet still somehow Great River Road: an over-priced buffet at a riverboat casino. As we tried valiantly to consume our money's worth of sub-par food, I looked around and saw nothing but sad couples, sitting around and eating in near-total silence. I don't know if I'll ever find my soulmate, but if I do, I promise we'll never run out of things to talk about.

COILUMN: Walnuts

Well, it's official, Quad Cities: I'm a hypocrite.

Exactly one month ago, I thought it would be a swell idea to write a column about the recent push to legalize backyard chickens within the city limits of Rock Island and other area communities. Since I'm generally not a fan of most non-cat-related elements of nature, I expressed my concerns in writing about the potential ramifications of sharing my neighborhood with wayward poultry.

I had NO idea how many people out there cared so very deeply about chickens. Within MINUTES of my column printing, my inbox was full of messages of support alongside vitriolic e-mails telling me I needed to -- and I quote -- "eat a chicken butt," an act which I believe has some cultural signifigance in certain Asian societies AND provides a healthy dose of protein, iron, and calcium, so thanks for thinking about my physical and spiritual health, people.

Yes, I made swift work angering urban farmers around the area... but the truth is, I can't rail against urban farming when I've been allowing it to happen on my own property for years now.

It's been half a decade now, but I can still recall my realtor talking up the great shade afforded my back yard from my neighbor's tree. The tree may belong to them, but the shade from it is mostly mine. What a luxury! Last year, I (and by I, of course, I refer to paid professionals who actually know how to do things) poured a concrete parking slab out back for friends to park under the cooling shade of my neighbor's majestic tree.

My neighbor's majestic walnut tree. Any guesses where I'm going with this?

Walnut trees are big and splendid and one of nature's finer creations. They also spend half the year pooping out walnuts onto everything you own and care about. Each time the wind gusts, I can look forward to what I call the "clunk and roll," as walnuts land onto my roof and then rrrrroll down and off the edge. This I've learned to cope with.

But this year, for some reason, the tree's been in overdrive. 2-3 times the normal amount of walnuts have been dripping off this thing for the past umpteen weeks. My yard now looks more like the world's most un-fun ball pit at a backwoods Chuck E. Cheese knock-off.

I wanted to trim the tree back, but again, "I" in this equation refers to hiring people skilled in the fine art of tree mauling. Have any of you paid to have a tree professionally trimmed? It's not cheap. The first quotes I received were four digits long and made my eyeballs pop out of my head in cartoon horror. Eventually I found a guy willing to do it within my budget, but I'd have to allow him to drive his bucket truck over my neighbor's lawn, which is a lot to ask considering the tree I want to maim belongs to the neighbor in the first place.

My neighbor consented to the task at hand, but we needed couple of dry weeks without rain to avoid putting ruts in the yard, and I'm pretty sure the last time we went two weeks without rain, we were still laughing about Donald Trump's chances of being the Republican nominee. My only other option was to let my dad have a go at it, which he eagerly campaigned for until I discovered his plan involved a homemade improvisation he was calling "chainsaw-on-a-stick." I'm pretty sure that's not on anybody's recommended list of hobbies for a 70-year-old with a bad back, so I put my foot down before he cut his foot off. With MY track record, I'm gonna need that man able-bodied for decades to come.

So as the days have dropped off the calendar, so too have the walnuts dropped upon my lawn. I suppose I could go out with a few trash bags and toss them all in, but I'm nothing if not committed to my motto of "YARD WORK NEVER!" Besides, that's where the urban farmers I employ come in. For years now, I have let a pair of black squirrels set up shop in my backyard. Mr. and Mrs. Poofytail (the neighbors named them, I swear) have but one job: wrangling those walnuts as fast as the tree drops them. Its supposed to be symbiosis: they live rent free at an all-you-can-eat buffet, and I get my walnuts cleaned up for free.

There's just one problem: Mr. Poofytail HATES me. I can't walk out back without seeing him glaring at me and chirping, "Fk! Thp Pft!" As God is my witness, on multiple occasions I've watched him curse me out, run up the tree, and try his best to drop walnuts onto my head. One afternoon, I was fumbling for my keys when I realized my head was wet. I looked up and there he was, chewing me out with a harsh "thp pft!" Now, I don't know if that squirrel somehow hoisted and spilled bottled water on my head, or maybe he spitefully chucked a water balloon my way. I'll choose ANY story other than the one where a squirrel peed on my head, because that's the kind of humiliation that haunts your nightmares forever.  

That freak storm we had a week ago sent DOZENS more walnuts to the ground. You could now take them from my lawn by the wheelbarrow full (and please do.) Maybe laziness will win and they'll eventually compost and make my lawn lush and beautiful. Happily, I just saw today that the Poofytails appear to have hired a staff of migrant farm squirrels to assist their cause, because no fewer than a dozen of them are out there now going to town on my walnuts. I wish them all the luck in the world, because otherwise I'm forced to Google "things to do with walnuts," where I just discovered that walnuts can be turned into low-grade explosives, which would certainly be an efficient way to rid myself of walnut trees and malicious head-peeing for keepsies.

COLUMN: Drudge

"I don't know what the world's coming to these days."

That's always been one of my mom's favorite phrases. She said it when I was a kid, she still says it today (though more often than not, she opts for a slightly saltier variant involving hell and handbags.) When I was a kid, this was usually the cue to roll my eyes, crank up the Depeche Mode tape on my boombox, and say something like, "Gah, mom, you just don't GET how things work nowadays!"

When I was 13, I thought I had the world figured out. Today, I've sat for the past half-hour staring at a computer screen, and I'm pretty sure I can say with absolute certainty that I don't know what the world's coming to these days.

I was just skimming around some news headlines and suddenly found myself at the conservative crossroads of the internet, that magical news aggregate known as The Drudge Report. Sure, it's a right-leaning site notorious for conspiracy theories and self-righteousness, but I'll be darned if it's not occasionally a barrel of jaw-dropping fun. The site might stand for everything I tend to sit for, but there are times that you can learn more about the state of the world from one page of Matt Drudge's links than you can from a whole day on Google.

If there was ever a pile of evidence to prove just how nutty our society is, it's the headlines I'm staring at right now. My only hope is that a thousand years from now, some future historian doing research on our ancient civilization will find a screenshot of today's Drudge Report and spend a considerable amount of time wondering just what the heck his forefathers were thinking about back in 2016.

Let's look at some of the highlights of today's headlines (which, by the time you read this, will be two week old headlines, but trust me, it's worth it.)

First off, I'm skipping the top stories because they're all about the election. Me telling you that our current presidential election is kooky is about the least breaking news I could possibly offer. I've been beat up over chickens and clowns all month long. You couldn't pay me enough to wade into this political abyss. The only person I like arguing about politics with is my uncle in Alabama, and that's just because it's fun to watch his face turn red.

When it comes to this election, I'd personally like to employ Scrabble rules: When all the remaining moves are lousy, we should be able to lose a turn and draw all new tiles. I'm not a huge fan of anyone left in the running, but let's just say I find one candidate far less insane than the other, and I support that candidate wholeheartedly, whoever she may be.

So I'm skipping all the stories about Bill Clinton's secret love child and Hillary's e-mails and I'm going straight to the stories that matter, like this one: "ROBOT REPLACES BABY." We've spent the past week so concerned over which body parts Donald Trump wants to grab that we've totally overlooked the fact that BABIES ARE BEING REPLACED BY ROBOTS. I would much rather see Anderson Cooper devote time to the Great Robot Takeover than suffer through the on-air staff of CNN chomping at the bit to say a word that rhymes with "wussy."

As it turns out, the headline is a BIT misleading. As much as I was looking forward to my future robot offspring, the real story is that Toyota (yep, the car people) have just introduced Kirobo Mini, a pocket robot programmed to talk and act like a human baby. At a height of four inches, the Kirobo Mini comes with a camera, microphone, and Bluetooth capabilities, presumably for those moments when you want to share on Facebook whenever your battery-powered soul-less pocket abomination does something cute.

Does it have any practical use? "It wobbles a bit," project manager Fuminori Kataoka told Sky News. Well, I'm sold. Sadly, the Kirobo Mini is only available in Japan for now, but I'm sure it won't be too long before crazy cat ladies the world over will instead start filling their homes with unholy legions of wobbly robo-babies.

Was it sexist of me to stereotype crazy cat ladies? Perhaps I need the help of the next story: "UNIVERSITY OFFERS COURSE FOR MEN TO DECONSTRUCT TOXIC MASCULINITIES." It's happening at Duke University, and the Telegraph reports that organizers hope to "explore, dissect, and construct an intersectional understanding of maleness, as well as create destablized spaces for those with privilege." I have absolutely no idea what any of that means, but I'm guessing it involves both beer pong and reruns of "The A-Team."

There's no good segue to my favorite headline on the site: "SEX IN SPACE... STRAPS REQUIRED." Yes, with all the troubles plaguing mankind, it's good to know that our scientists are prioritizing the crises that really matter, like space nookie. According to an article in the Daily Mail that quotes "sex in space expert" Professor Anja Geitmann, there are multiple concerns to zero-gravity whoopie making, such as -- and I quote -- "floating fluids." Consenting adults would need straps to ensure that the horizontal mambo remains horizontal, so it's clearly just a matter of time before E.L. James writes "Fifty Shades of Mars." Most importantly, had I known that "sex in space expert" was a real vocation, I clearly would have chosen a different major in college.

It's a worthwhile endeavor, though. Just this week President Obama recommitted his goal of Man on Mars by 2030. Given current technology, that's a one-year round trip, which makes an awfully long time for a crew to cohabitate without someone putting on an Al Green record.

I was talking to a friend earlier today and mentioned the space-sex article, and he immediately asked, "Didn't you write about that once?" I didn't remember it, but I just checked. Sure enough, seven years ago I wrote a whole column about space nookie -- I even used the same Al Green joke, but back then it was Barry White. And guess how THAT column started? "I just read the craziest thing on Drudge Report..."

So maybe the world isn't coming to anything bad after all. Maybe Matt Drudge is just a space pervert. Either way, I'm staying tuned.

COLUMN: Clowns

Ah, autumn. I love this time of year. Everything smells like pumpkin spice (or so I'm told - with MY seasonal allergies, I anticipate regaining the use of my nose sometime in early December.) The air is crisp, the colors magnificent, and, of course, the streets run rampant with killer clowns intent on murdering us all.

As fads go, this isn't one of my favorites. We first heard about it back in spring, when somebody filmed a menacing looking clown lurking along a suburban roadside and casually strolling through a cemetery at midnight. He/she/It/Pennywise wasn't doing anything illegal other than being super creepy -- but as anyone who's ever read Stephen King's "It" knows, a loitering clown is certainly bad news.

Things escalated in August when kids at a South Carolina apartment complex reported a clown trying to lure them into the woods. Possibly this was a tasteless prank gone awry, but it was just salacious enough to get coverage on about every newscast in the U.S. That prompted creepy clowns to start popping up all over the place, and now the Great Clown Panic of 2016 is now upon us.

There's two surefire ways to know when a controversial fad is past its prime. The first is if "Law & Order: SVU" devotes an episode to it. The second is if it reaches OUR neck of the woods. Thus far, I haven't had the pleasure of witnessing Ice-T interrogate any clowns, but this week, students here at Augustana have reported someone in full clown makeup peering menacingly in dorm windows.

The news is begging people to stop dressing up like clowns to scare people, which of course translates to many teenaged minds as "please dress up like a clown and scare people." It's only a matter of time before some idiot clowns the WRONG family and ends up on the losing end of somebody just itching to try out their concealed carry license. I, for one, would like to avoid any full-on clowntastrophes.

In the meantime, clown panic is reaching fever pitch. The other day, one of our local news channels broadcast an image of what they thought was a Quad City creepy clown, only to be told minutes later that they had started a public witch hunt for an employee of a local haunted house simply walking home in costume. The guy DID look relatively terrifying and was open-carrying a nail-covered prop hammer, so he wasn't ENTIRELY innocent, but still. I think we all need to chill out a bit.

If there's one thing that we as a society are great at, it's a good old-fashioned overblown panic. Quite often, these spring to life during times of social upheaval and stress, and we're deep in the mire right now. Don't believe me? TRUMP. CLINTON. You just bristled a little bit, admit it. We're in a stressful era.

The 80s were a stressful time, too. Remember all the panics we had back then? The gool ol' days when everyone was convinced for a while that if you played Dungeons & Dragons long enough, you'd eventually lose touch with reality and spend your life in a fantasy hellscape. This might have bothered us had we any free will, but our brains were busy being controlled by evil subliminal backmasking in all of our heavy metal albums. And then of course there was the PTA meeting that bravely informed our town of devil worshipping in our midst and that we should watch for warning signs of Satanism like mohawks and anarchy symbols, which naturally caused bored teenagers to go get mohawks and anarchy t-shirts in short order.

Maybe we're panicking over creepy clowns because it's an easier panic to manage than politics or race relations. Creepy clowns are nothing new to me, because I've ALWAYS thought clowns were creepy. WAIT, NO I DON'T. Two weeks ago I bad-mouthed chickens and my house got egged. I do NOT want my house creepy-clowned. I take it all back. Clowns are amazing and valued contributors to society and we shouldn't find them creepy and weird and PLEASE don't creepy-clown my house. Those aren't heebie-jeebies I feel whenever I see a clown. It's just my natural love for clowns manifesting itself in a physical way that only coincidentally feels like my skin is crawling with cooties. Clowns are awesomesauce.

Truth be told, there's actual science behind a clown fear. Its called the "uncanny valley" -- the more something looks human but not QUITE human, the more we're prone to feelings of eerieness or revulsion. It's why we love R2D2 but hate those disturbing Japanese robots that look exactly like people. Wikipedia quotes a psychology professor who says that young children are "very reactive to a familiar body type with an unfamiliar face." So when you see someone that looks like a normal person but with exaggerated features making exaggerated gestures, it's perfectly normal to get a little skeeved-out. I can't think of any other occupation with the same potential to elicit fear. There aren't movies called "Killer Carpenters from Outer Space" or rap groups called the Insane Accountant Posse.

All of this makes me feel bad for those who clown for the power of good. There's a local entertainer who clowns around for sick kids and the elderly and just wants to make people happy. She's on Facebook today saying that "due to recent events, tonight I was told to take my wig off... it is a sad day." It should never be a sad day for a real clown. Worse yet, one of her fellow entertainers just commented that "us real clowns need to wage war on the uneducated individuals doing this."

Look people, I just survived a chicken war. Don't make me live through a clown war, too. Let's stop clowning around before the Creepy Clown Panic becomes the Tiresome Clown Tedium. I don't need another thing to be irrationally afraid of. I've already got CNN.      

Monday, October 03, 2016

COLUMN: Chicken 2: Electric Boogaloo

This just in: I am, apparently, a super-villain.

This is somewhat of an interesting development in my life. I've never thought myself to be especially evil in nature, but hey, who among us hasn't harbored at least ONE fantasy of enslaving the human race to do our evil bidding? My house would look pretty sweet with a pirahna-infested moat and my basement already makes for a fairly pimped-out underground lair. Does anyone know if the Legion of Doom has any openings at the moment? I bet they have a solid 401(k).

The only down side to discovering that I'm evil is that I've already wasted so much of my life trying in vain to be a goody-goody. If I'd only known about my true nature, just imagine how many damsels in distress I could have tied to railroad tracks by now. I don't have one single princess in the tower of my black castle. Heck, I don't even have a black castle yet. I should have been spending my days building a death machine that controls the weather, but instead I've been wasting evil time and evil resources writing this column every week. Thanks, Quad Cities, for finally bringing me to my evil senses.

Last week, I thought it would be fun to write a column about the most innocuous thing I could think of: chickens. There's been some talk at city council meetings in several of our local cities about legalizing backyard chicken coops within city limits. In my ongoing role as Hater of All Things Nature, I figured it was my duty to speak out in light-hearted opposition to the idea.

I thought my reasons were fairly valid. Chickens are animals, and animals are stinky and noisy. I'm already allergic to my own shadow, so I'm sure feathers and coop bedding flying through the air would do wonders for my hay fever. Plus, chickens are kind of mean and aggressive. They are not cuddlers.

So I wrote my little anti-chicken manifesto, complete with a few admittedly cheap shots at the eco-friendly, chicken-loving hipster stereotypes. It wasn't two hours after the column first appeared on Quad Cities Online when the comments started rolling in. "Hey there," said the first. "Just wondering if you're the same Shane who wrote a ridiculously ignorant article? If I ever cross paths with you in public, I will gladly educate you myself, seeing as your (sic) definitely lacking in the brain cells category." Uh-oh.

That was one of the nicer ones. As it turns out, the pro-backyard chicken folks in the Quad Cities are a passionate, well-organized bunch. My column had made its way onto one of their discussion boards, and member after member was queueing up to rip me a new one over my "innocuous" chicken column. It all culminated on Friday, when I came home to find my house had been egged and my back steps covered in chicken poop (which, to prove an earlier point, was indeed stinky.) Clearly, the backyard chicken mafia is not to be toyed with.

I may just be a lowly humor columnist, but I am nothing if not a pretend journalist with pretend ethics who pretends to take his job seriously. It's wrong of me to hate things for no reason (except Tom Cruise, who is just awful.) That's why the other day, I drove out to my new friend Lindsay's house to meet her hens, Lila and Lola. Lindsay is one of the more vocal advocates for backyard chickens in the area. She lives out on Big Island, and as I quickly discovered, her chicken coop isn't hurting a fly. In fact, Lindsay's chicken beef with the city is legitimate and justified.

"No domestic animal, including... chickens... shall be suffered, allowed or permitted to run at large within the corporate limits of the city." That's everything I could find in Rock Island's city code about chickens. Lindsay's hens are not running at large, nor is anyone suffering. Their coop, like many other chicken owners who have sent me pics, is nicer than my old efficiency apartment. But since city code does not expressly condone keeping chickens, Rock Island is now trying to make her get rid of Lila & Lola. I get why she's upset.

We walked out so I could experience Lila and Lola for myself. As our eyes met, I could clearly see the murderous intent in their eyes. Except that I couldn't, because they're chickens and they didn't care about me one bit. Were they stinky? Nope. Lindsay lines their coop with mint and sage to keep any smells down. Were they noisy? Well, they certainly cluck aplenty, but nothing you could hear from more than a few feet away. Were they mean? Well, I wasn't about to stick my hand in to find out, but Lindsay claims they're sweethearts and I didn't see any noticable scarring on her person, so I'll take her word on it.

"Chickens make good pets," she explained to me. "They not only have personalities that you grow fond of, but they give back to your households. They give you fresh eggs, compost your kitchen and garden waste, and provide nitrogen-rich fertilizer that helps enrich our soil."

She sent me home with some fresh eggs that were admittedly tasty, though I must admit it was odd eating eggs after having met the fussy personality whose uterus produced them. But if I had to lay one of those things every day, something tells me I'd be a bit fussy myself.

So I suppose I have to eat a little crow with my chicken. Backyard chickens that are well cared for probably won't ruin my day, especially if they've got yards the size of Lindsay's. The ordinance they're proposing in Rock Island mandates no roosters, no slaughter, a training class and a 6-hen limit. I'm still not exactly Team Chicken when it comes to my close-quarters neighborhood, but even if the city decides to ban the little cluckers, responsible folks like Lindsay with established coops should be grandfathered and exempted.

On Sunday, I opened my back door to find a giant box on my steps. I brought it in and opened it carefully, not knowing whether to expect a bomb, poop, or a live chicken to come rolling out. Instead it contained a frozen case of bacon and a note saying "TEAM BACON FOR THE WIN!" from the girls at my favorite lunch-time hangout. I might not be especially evil, but if I had known that ruffling a few feathers would result in free bacon, I would've become a super-villain long ago.