Sunday, December 26, 2004

COLUMN: Albums of the Year

It's something I came to terms with long ago: I'm a music nerd, and proud of it.

Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to learn to play an instrument. Drums, keyboard, guitar... I tried them all. Only problem? As a musician, I suck. But as a music fan, I'm one of the elite. When I'm not working or sleeping, you can usually find me haunting the stacks of every record store in town. It's so bad that sometimes when the employees at Borders can't immediately answer a music question for a customer, they look to see if I'm lurking around... that is, if I haven't already barged in and attempted to help the customer first. Yes, I'm THAT annoying.

My unhealthy obsession with music has led me to become a weekend club DJ (at 2nd Ave. in the District,) run a website for music nerds (, and become an entertainment correspondant for the Dispatch/Argus/Leader. And every year, I've had to sit green with envy because Sean Leary, our entertainment editor, gets to write a year-end column where he gets to unveil his picks for the top records of the year. Me? I just get to tell my cat, and frankly, I don't think she cares as much as she should.

So this year, I can finally throw down my trump card. Ha ha, Sean Leary, you're no longer the only nerd around these parts with a column! So please indulge me as I bid the year adios with a list of the 10 records of 2004 that you really, really ought to own.

10. THE TRASH CAN SINATRAS - Weightlifting - In 1990, the perpetually unknown Trash Can Sinatras put out my favorite album ever. 14 years later, they're back with their fourth, and it rings with the same intelligent austerity that makes this Scottish pop band a mainstay on my favorites list.

9. EMMA - Free Me - Could this really be the same Emma Bunton who five years ago was better known to the free world as Baby Spice? Yep, and her new solo record is a mature throwback to 60's pop that wouldn't sound out of place in an Austin Powers flick.

8. OF MONTREAL - Satanic Panic in the Attic - Ignore the title; as with everything the band does, it's tongue-in-cheek. Easily my favorite band today, these art school kids from Georgia routinely re-create "Sgt. Peppers"-era psychedelia in their lo-fi basements.

7. TEARS FOR FEARS - Everybody Loves a Happy Ending - The duo reunites for a comeback album that's equally as good, if not better, than the records that made them such a powerful force in the 80's. I just hope it's not really an ending.

6. LORETTA LYNN - Van Lear's Rose - If somebody told me five years ago that Loretta Lynn would make my year-end list, I'd have thrown myself off to the dogs. But along comes Jack White of the White Stripes, who wrote and produced most of this record, recreating the Coal Miner's Daughter as a gruff, blues-rock tour de force.

5. KANYE WEST - College Dropout - Wait, a rap album that's not about thug livin' and big pimpin'? Jay-Z's right-hand man comes out with a solo debut of jaw-droppingly honest lyrics on the struggle and triumphs of the common man, without all of the posing and faux glamour of today's rap scene.

4. THE KILLERS - Hot Fuss - While most of today's bands were mired in garage rock and an unhealthy love for the Velvet Underground, the Killers took their love of Duran Duran and 80's new wave and snuck out the year's most confident debut record.

3. BRIAN WILSON - Smile - The most famous album-that-never-was finally gets its due. Intended for a 1968 Beach Boys release, "Smile" was shelved in the haze of Wilson's unsteady mental state. 30 years of therapy later, Wilson (with the help of some talented young musicians) finally gets to exorcise his demons and re-record his lost masterpiece. Had this come out as intended, it would have changed music history.

2. THE LIBERTINES - The Libertines - One of the top bands in England but strangers to the U.S., The Libertines spent 2004 making UK tabloid covers that Britney could only dream of. The group managed to squeak out their 2nd album in 2004 before calling it quits in a maelstorm of drug abuse, legal trouble, and band strife. The record, produced by The Clash's Mick Jones, is the powerful diary of a band on the edge of greatness, then falling wildly off the precipice. A must-own zeitgeist of an album.

1. THE POLYPHONIC SPREE - Together We're Heavy - And the best record of the year goes to a 28-piece, robe-clad group of Texan rockers who sing anthemic orchestral odes to the Sun. Sound crazy? It's borderline, trust me. But the end result is an album that swells with life, optimism, and gives hope to mankind's effort to prevail over adversity. Don't believe me? Go buy it, I dare ya.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

COLUMN: The Letter

My holidays finally are complete. Today, I received The Letter.

My great-aunt and -uncle live in Hollywood. They might be the only ones on my mom's side of the family who ever escaped the Midwest to go live the Bright-Lights-Big-City life.

And we get to read all about it ... in their annual Christmas letter.

Do you have anyone in your family who writes one of these things? My aunt's is always one typed page, photocopied and mass-mailed, summing up their year for friends and family. I suppose the thought is to share with loved ones their highs, lows and in-betweens. Instead, what comes out is like reading a Cliff's Notes version of a really, really, boring book -- all the trappings of a soap opera, just without the intrigue, jealousy, evil twins, Luke, Laura, Bo, Hope, and/or mad tycoons with devices that can control the weather.

I love my great-aunt and -uncle, I truly do. But does that mean I need to know how the shopping was on their road trip to Colorado? I certainly don't need to know that they took a different route to Colorado this time, or that my uncle got a speeding ticket on the way back. Yet they feel the need to share, each and every year, and I soak it in with morbid fascination.

When I first started receiving The Letter, three years ago, I felt as though I were finally a man -- on equal footing, an independent thinker, a fellow adult. I no longer sit at the kids' table and now can finally partake in the good news of my uncle's improving golf game.

This year, The Letter got me thinking. Should I, too, send out a Christmas letter? I guess I'm not traveling on a cross-country shopping spree or even getting a speeding ticket. But still, I live my life regardless, and surely there are tales to be told.

Therefore, this year, I'm sending out my 1st Annual Christmas Letter, and it goes something like this:

MERRY CHRISTMAS 2004! Oh, hello, friends and family, and join with me as I bid adieu to yet another year of blessings and good cheer from the Island of Rock!

Where did the time go? I spent most of January catching up on my television watching. February soon followed, and with it a huge change in my life, as I bravely decided to change my television-watching position from the left side of my couch to the right.

In April it was road-trip time, as I commenced with my annual out-of-state spring shopping trip. I departed Rock Island on the 5th, and after an arduous and trying journey, 15 minutes later I arrived at sunny NorthPark Mall, in the far-off land of Iowa.

Tragedy stuck in May, however, as I lost five of my closest Friends all in one week. While Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica and Phoebe are no longer with us, I still reminisce about them fondly (usually every night around 6:30.)
My other Friend, Joey, moved to California to pursue his acting career, and while I still hear from him once a week or so, he's just not quite as funny as he used to be.

Summer was tough as I bravely fought through rerun season, but August brought unexpected joy and a new addition to the family with the birth of my first kidney stone. I've named the little fella Rock, and while the delivery was every bit as painful as I'd imagined, oh, was it worth it!

The fall season is my favorite time of the year, and 2004 was no exception. Between ``Lost'' and ``Desperate Housewives,'' I barely found time to enjoy my passion for golf. My game appears to be improving this year, however, as I challenged and defeated both Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus in ``Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005'' for Xbox.

In October, I finally figured out a way to earn a little more money. As incredulous as it may be, it seems that a local newspaper out here is willing to pay me to write a weekly column for them on whatever gobbledygook I can spew out! So far it's pretty easy, and they havent caught on to my scam yet! I just babble about my ``wacky family'' and holidays and stuff, and they keep on paying me! The editor must be a real big [editor's note: fantastic individual to work for.]

Well, that about wraps it up for 2004! Many hopes and dreams exist for an exciting 2005 -- starting with a new couch position for me! Love, Your (circle One: Son/Nephew/Cousin/Grandson/Friend/Work Colleague), Shane.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

COLUMN: Christmas Carols

Fa la la la la, la la la la. Please make it stop.

The other day I was out running errands and must have heard no fewer than 2,304 songs of holiday cheer. Yes, it's Christmas, I know, but must I be assaulted by merry Muzak each and every time I walk into a store? I pity you poor cashiers who must by now know every subtle nuance to the Trans Siberian Orchestra.

No other holiday comes complete with a stockpile of tunes, especially tunes that nearly everyone on Earth can sing along to. But does anyone really pay attention to Christmas carols? I sure don't. The words are so stuck on auto-pilot in my brain that I simply sing along festively, regardless of lyric. For all I know, the song could go, "Deck the halls with piles of doodie" and I'd be none the wiser. I just smile, nod, and hum along.

So I decided to take a moment and actually pay attention to the words of some of these songs, and I've come to some pretty shocking conclusions.

Some carols start off fairly innoculously. "We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Good tidings we bring to you and your kin." Aww, that's awfully sweet of you... UNTIL: "Oh, bring us a figgy pudding; we won't go until we get some, so bring some right here!" Well, ho ho ho to you too, buddy. The song's basically saying: "Merry Christmas. Whatever. Make with the pudding!"

And call me dumb, but what exactly even IS a figgy pudding? Can anything other than pudding be 'figgy'? "Why, Mrs. Brown, that dress you've got on is simply FIGGY!" Wrong, play again. I can safely guarantee that the only time I've ever ingested fig is when it's safely tucked inside of contained, sterile, pure Newton-y goodness. I don't even know what a fig looks like. Is it a fruit? A vegetable? Do they make figgy Pudding Pops? These, folks, are the questions that keep me up late.

Meanwhile, the closest cousin to "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" is another tune that makes pretty limited sense: "Here We Come A-Wassailing." Despite considering myself somewhat learned, I fear that I've never come a-wassailing in my life. A wassail is, in short, an old British custom where villagers would show up at a farm, fire off guns to ward off evil spirits, and drink toasts to the farmer's cows in hopes of increasing their yield. Very jolly, indeed. But you must admit, it's a bit catchier than "Here We Come A-Shooting To Get Drunk & Watch Your Cows Do the Nasty."

Other Christmas carols just plain lie. "I saw three ships come sailing in on Christmas day in the morning." Fine, I'm with ya so far. "Pray, whither sailed those ships all three? O, they sailed to Bethlehem." Well, if you saw three ships sailing into Bethlehem, you might want to put down the frankencense every once in a while, kids. Why? Check out a map. Bethlehem's nowhere near water.

But who's to argue? Go ahead and sing "Deck the halls with boughs of holly" (even though doing so is simply a Pagan ritual to keep witches at bay.) Sing of your old pal Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (even those Rudolph was invented by a marketing rep for Montgomery Ward's who hoped his red nose could be used to sell refrigerators.) Sing of the manger and the little town of Bethlehem (though many historians believe that Jesus was born in a house in Nazareth, then taken to a cave in Bethlehem some time later.) And have a Merry Christmas (though the only thing pretty much all historians can agree on when it comes to Jesus is that he wasn't born on Dec. 25th.)

In the end, it's all semantics. You can't change the fact that it truly IS the most wonderful time of the year, and any holiday touting peace on Earth and good will towards men is to be cherished like none other. So be joyous, have a wonderful time with your families, and I wish you all a truly Merry Christmas.

Now gimme some pudding.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

COLUMN: Cleaning

I'm living a lie.

For weeks now, I've presented myself as a fairly normal 30-something bachelor in full control of most if not all of my faculties. It's time to come clean. I've got a shameful secret, and what other time than the holidays to face my demons and share my dark truth. The shocking revelation, dear readers:

I was born without the tidyness gene.

There. It's out in the open. Shun me if you must. I deserve it. I cannot keep a clean apartment, try as hard as I might. If I tried at all. Which I don't.

Let me ask you, friends, how is it capable for one man (and one cat) to generate so much trash in the course of a mere couple of weeks? I will never understand it. I throw out the trash, and -- BAM -- within a day or so, it fills itself again.

My theory is that the cat must be having parties while I'm at work. How else could one possibly explain the pizza boxes that stack up night after night? The dirty dishes that just seem to stay in the sink without ever washing themselves? The pile of clothes on the floor that inexplicably seems to grow larger with every passing day? The piece of decaying fried chicken that's currently in the middle of my living room floor?

Ewww. Really? Decaying fried chicken? Yuck, that one really IS the cat's fault. Hang on a second, let me take care of that...

There, all better. Chicken is back in the trash. See? I really AM capable of cleaning after all... and now I'm beat. That's enough cleaning for one evening.

My rule of thumb is simple: obey logic. And logic tells us that there's no point in tidying up. I mean, it's only going to get messy again, right? Therefore, by simply NOT tidying, I'm saving myself time and energy best spent doing other important stuff. Like watching TV (though I prefer the term 'conducting cultural research.')

So pity me, friends, as I'm destined to live alone and hermit-like in my unkempt apartment for the rest of time. Or at least for the next two weeks, because that's when my parents are coming up for a visit.

Don't get me wrong, I adore my folks... I just tend to adore them more when they're not in my apartment. To the outsider, my mom might seem like your average, mild-mannered homemaker. Don't let her fool ya. Behind closed doors, she becomes Supermom -- faster than a speeding lintball and able to clean tall buildings in a single whisk. My mom is a clean freak, dust is her Kryptonite, and my apartment is her nemesis.

I brought it all on myself. I asked for a DVD rack for Christmas. Rather than venturing out to DVD-Racks-R-Us, my awesome dad -- who I'm convinced could show Bob Vila a thing or two about construction -- is building me one, complete with hinges and doors and quite possibly an icemaker and functioning toilet by the time he's done with it.

But this means they're going to want to come here and install it. I already had to take my apartment's terror alert to Def Con 1 earlier this month when my dad wanted to take some wall measurements. My plan worked flawlessly -- the parents came up, my apartment looked alright, we had a nice visit, my mom said, "See? Your apartment isn't that bad. You worry too much."

In fact, what REALLY happened went something like this. My mom calls (Def Con 4.) "Your father and I are coming up in two days to take measurements." (Def Con 3). "Okay, mom, but my apartment is a real mess (ho ho)." (Def Con 2). I then hang up the phone, go directly to my boss, fall to my knees, and beg for the next day off. Safely on vacation, I then call all of my friends and bribe them with pizza and beer to come help me clean. After a day's hard work, my apartment has moved from "legally condemnable" to "a real mess," and I once again deftly avoid being disowned by my family.

The hard part? They're coming BACK. Which means I have to somehow maintain this state of cleanliness for weeks on end. How have I done so far? Well, I wasn't kidding about the fried chicken on the floor if that gives you a clue.

So... if you're fans of my column, wish me luck. If you're my parents, stop reading this now and laugh at your loving son's colorful and creative way to tell a tall tale. And if you're one of my friends, the pizza should be here at 7, don't be late, and you'd best bring gloves and protective eyewear.

Sunday, November 28, 2004


There are lots of tragic stories in the news. Flip through this very issue and you'll likely find tales of political strife and personal woe. But no story has depressed me more than the one that's been taking center stage in our news pages over the past month: Unfortunately, friends, there is still not enough dead influenza virus available for you to willingly inject into your body, through your skin, by means of a very sharp metal needle. I know, it's awful.


However, before I begin my rant, I need you all to do something for me. I need you to put down this copy of the Leader (after, of course, reading it cover to cover and giving your hard-earned money to our advertisers,) walk promptly to the nearest item made of wood in your home, and then knock on that wood, on my behalf, as loudly as possible.

I say this because I know far too well that the gods of karma never smile upon me, and the second I go making fun of flu shots is the moment that I'll feel that tickle in the back of my throat, and by the time you read this, I'll be stuck in bed unable to eat and/or breathe. So please, knock that wood. The flu sucks.

Gods of karma aside, I do make the conscientious choice to take my chances with the flu. Why? Is it due to my strong religious convictions? Perhaps a paranoid distrust of the medical profession?

Naw, I wish I was that weird. I'm not getting a flu shot for one simple reason: I'm a needle-phobe.

Now I'm not so foolish as to discount you folks who are in that "high risk" category of catching the flu. You guys should all go get flu shots right away, and you have my permission to call me a big whiny baby all the way there and back. You people deserve the lollipop that the doctor gives you afterwards. Or is that only for kids? I wouldn't know, because I've done my best to avoid a shot since I was in junior high.

My needle fear grew at an early age; my mom claims to this day that it all started when she took me to the doctor, I had to get a shot, and some Nurse Ratchet type told me it would be "just like a little bee sting." Well, I'm deathly allergic to bees, and that statement didn't do a whole lot to ease my 6-year-old mind.

It's one thing to be afraid of shots as a kid. It's another altogether to scream so loud at a vaccination that you break all of the blood vessels in your face and you walk around purple for a week -- that's how well I cope with needles. (...and I wonder why I don't get all the girls...)

My folks, bless 'em, did everything in their power to get me through this irrational fear, up to and including bribery. Whenever my mom picked me up from school with a big chocolate milkshake waiting for me, I knew there was trouble. And when she would sit me down and have the Drugs-Are-Bad-Mm'kay lecture, she'd just skip right over heroin -- no need to worry about me succumbing to any kind of peer pressure that involved a syringe.

I'm no longer that much of a wussy. If flu shots were mandatory, I'd do it without more than a whimper. But I just can't bring myself to get a shot voluntarily. Besides, when did the flu suddenly become so menacing and evil an entity that it requires annual vaccination? For years, I accepted that getting the flu sucked and meant you were stuck in bed for the better part of a week. Now, suddenly, the flu's pure evil and can kill in a heartbeat. I don't get it. Did these little flu viruses start working out or something? Last time I checked, Nyquil wasn't the "coughing, aching, stuffy head, fever, so you HOPEFULLY WON'T DIE medicine."

But no, the flu isn't just an annoyance these days, it's downright scary. So get your flu shots if you can -- unless you're a weenie like me, in which case, we'll both catch our well-deserved flu, you can come hang out over here, we'll share a box of Kleenex, and maybe, just maybe, my mom will drive up with milkshakes for us when it's all over. Now don't just sit there -- get to knockin' that wood.

Sunday, November 21, 2004


I really suck at poetry - even when I'm lampooning a classic. THIS is the version that I turned in. The version that made the paper was edited by Dispatch/Argus copy editor Brian Nelson... who not only cleaned up the copy but ALSO rewrote the thing in MUCH better poetic meter and is my HERO for doing so. Sadly, I don't have Brian's version handy -- if you're a subscriber, you should be able to find it in the archives -- so for now, you're stuck with my sloppy original version. Still makes me laugh, though. And rest assured when I tell you this FAR AND AWAY took longer than any other column I've ever written to date.

Twas the month before Christmas, and all through the halls
Not a creature was stirring; they're all at the malls.
The stockings were hung by the chimney last week,
Even though it's November; I sure want to shriek.

Children everywhere are nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of Toys-R-Us dance in their heads;
And I with my checkbook, about to be fleeced,
Had just managed to sit down for my Thanksgiving feast.

See, at cooking I'm still at the level of beginner,
Which explains my Thanksgiving Salisbury steak TV dinner.
In front of the TV, I plopped down like a brute,
grabbed the remote and I took it off 'mute'.

I flipped through the HBO's, Showtimes, CNN's,
before I finally settled in on a rerun of "Friends."
When, what to my wandering eyes should appear,
but ad after ad after ad... oh, dear.

As commercials flew by me so lively and quick,
I thought for a minute I was gonna be sick.
More rapid than eagles the endorsements they came
Filling my head with a thousand brand names:

"Shop Wal-Mart! Shop K-Mart! Shop Bed, Bath, Beyond!
Shop Northpark! Shop Southpark!" Me? I just yawned.
These non-stop ads I can barely believe,
I'd much rather be lazy and not shop til Christmas Eve.

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly
The cash flows from my hands in the blink of an eye.
I need presents for Mom, Dad, and that girl I like, Kerry;
And the gift exchange at work which is always quite scary.

So even though Christmas is really nowhere near,
Let's go buy our trees and our plastic reindeer.
These greedy shopkeepers are likely the reason
Why they made up this month-long phrase, "holiday season."

So go buy your furs and your shoes for your feet,
And the plentiful Christmas candies so sweet,
Buy gift after gift 'til you hurt your bad back,
And wish you took to the mall a mule you could pack.

These ads make me want to just clench my teeth
As under their spell we are all trapped beneath.
We buy all their toys, clothes, and CD's by Nelly
And gift baskets with miniature jars full of jelly.

Christmas time is for families to be jolly and merry
Like on an Afterschool Special or "Little House on the Prairie"
But we don't have time to go play in the snow,
We're too busy giving retailers all of our dough.

See, the networks want us in a shopping mood
So they air holiday specials until we're all screwed.
Our shopping habits are what they constantly try to hasten
It's November and I've already seen Rudolph in Claymation.

I suppose that I really shouldn't complain
About this month-long holiday shopping campaign.
This Christmas bastardization doesn't give me any thrills;
But I work for a newspaper, and hey, those ads pay my bills.

So I'll keep my yap shut and stop this lampoon,
Until one day Christmas sales will start up mid-June.
And I say to you all with just a hint of fright,
"Merry Thanks-mas-O'ween, and to all a good night!"

Sunday, November 14, 2004

COLUMN: The Swan

Attention, women of the world:

You are all very, very ugly.

It came as a shock to me, too. Often, I've been the admirer of what I thought was your beauty. Sadly, I have to admit that I've been misled all these years; you are all, in fact, revoltingly grotesque.

I was made aware of your mass hideousness recently, all thanks to a television program that strives to correct the error of all of our ways.

Ladies and gentlemen, a toast... to "The Swan." Hip, hip, hooray!

"The Swan," if you're unfamiliar, is the Fox network's latest entry in the craze of reality makeover shows. The premise is simple: Find women who appear fairly normal, and then torture them until they look like transvestites. Then, and only then, will we know what true beauty REALLY is.

Welcome to the lowest low. We've finally found it. "The Swan" might just be the worst show in the history of television. Take a seat, "My Mother the Car," you've just been trumped.

According to the Fox website, "The Swan" turns a "fairy tale into reality." Yep, sounds just like a fairy tale to me. In fact, my favorite part of "Cinderella" has always been when the Fairy Godmother straps Cinderella to the gurney, shatters her nose with a chisel and then reshapes it with a molded implant.

(These special 7 p.m. dinnertime plastic surgery moments yield an important question: Why, why, WHY is the liposuction hose always clear? Fuel hoses aren't clear. Water hoses aren't clear. Vacuum hoses aren't clear. Yet somebody somewhere decided that it's always best to have a see-through hose when it comes to sucking bloody fat globules out of your innards. Society is sick.)

From what I've seen of the show, these poor women go through hell. First off, none of them are particularly heinous looking to begin with. I've yet to recoil with horror upon seeing a "before" picture, even though the producers go to great lengths to make the "befores" look as bad as possible -- no makeup, baggy clothes, dirty hair, etc. In reality, they look like 90% of the people you meet on the street. Yet they're painted by this show to look like the shunned outcasts of society, unable to mingle among the masses because their nose isn’t perfectly symmetrical.

So the women go in for extensive plastic surgery and come out looking like they just went ten rounds with Roy Jones, Jr. Bandaged, bruised, and bloodied, the contestants on "The Swan" then submit to a month-long regimen of rice cakes and running (basically anything to occupy their time while the swelling goes down.)

At the end of each show, it's time for the big reveal. The bandages come off, the makeup goes on, and the women (in front of America, mind you) look into a mirror for the first time to discover that they all... kinda sorta look like Cher.

Am I the only one who thinks that a lot of these women look considerably WORSE in their "afters" than their "befores"? They all look sort of -- how can I say it? -- melty. With their newfound puffed-out lips and rigid noses, the overall effect is sort of like looking at a Barbie that's been left in the sun too long. And while it's true that angular cheeks and a striking jawline are considered classically beautiful, to me it comes off a little, well, man-nish. It's all a bit too "Priscilla: Queen of the Desert" for my tastes.

Then comes my favorite part. Once the reveal is over and done with and after the women stop crying at how hideous -- err, BEAUTIFUL they now are, they're then judged against the other contestant of the week. One of them goes on to complete in the grand finale pageant.

Which means that every week, one of the contestants gets told by the judges that, though she's spent the last month attached to a Thighmaster with her face swollen to the size of Jupiter... too bad, because basically, she's still kinda uggers. Thanks for playing, here's your parting gift, and we sure hope your new nose doesn't fall off. That isn't entertainment, it's just plain mean.

True beauty doesn't come from plastic parts; it comes from your real, live, asymmetric, ugly heart. Be a good person and your real beauty will shine so much you'll need Oxy Pads to sop it up. So let's stop watching these ridiculous makeover shows and turn the channel to something more virtuous, more decent, and more worthy. Ooh, gotta go, "Sopranos" is on.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

COLUMN: Ladybugs

"Is there something crawling on me?"

It's a question that will live in infamy.

The other day I had just gotten back from the 'ol lunch hour and plopped down rather unceremoniously at my desk when suddenly I felt an itch on the back of my neck. A co-worker was passing my desk, so I turned to her and asked that innocent question - "Hey, is there something crawling on me?"

I expected a "nope." At the very worst, I expected an "ooh, yeah, there's a little gnat, lemme swat it."

What did I get?


And this was no ordinary "yes, there is." This was a "YES, THERE IS!" complete with widening of the eyes and an all-around look of horror that could ONLY infer, "Why yes, Shane, there's in fact a deadly tarantula mere inches from throttling your jugular. It's been nice working with you. I call dibs on your stapler."

What's a guy to do in a situation like this? We're MEN, we're supposed to be hearty, outdoors-y types -- never the sort to flinch at something as small as a bug.

Ergo, I dug deep into my manliness and let my brute machismo take over. It was time for action. Specifically, the action of leaping out of my seat and yelling, "Ewwww! What? What IS it? Get it off! GET IT OFF!" Macho indeed, my friends.

Yes, there is one thing on this planet that will invariably, regardless of situation or company, make me act like a complete and total ninny. I hate bugs. Spiders, flies, roaches, and especially bees - doesn't matter to me, I hate 'em all. Call me an Equal Opportunity Insect-hater.

"But Shane," you say, "bugs are special, wonderful creatures. They help to pollinate the flowers."

Who cares. Let the flowers die. I'd hose 'em all down in Deep Woods Off if given the opportunity. And don't give me any of that mumbo-jumbo about bugs being an important part of the food chain. Small bugs are eaten by bigger bugs, and bigger bugs need to die, too.

The bug in question that day was my favorite new mistake of nature, one of those Asian beetles.

It's one thing to be a bug. It's another altogether to be a STUPID bug. And I've never come across a bug as stupid as these mutant ladybugs from Hell. And they're EVERYWHERE. I leave work at the end of the day, there's 24 of the things just sitting on my car. I get to my apartment -- my own personal Fortress of Solitude -- and one manages to make its way inside and fly straight at me.

What's the purpose of these bugs? I've sat and watched them. They fly straight forward until they run into something. At that point, their brain runs through its only checklist: (A) Can I eat this? (B) Can I make baby beetles with this? If the answer to both questions is "No," it starts flying randomly again until it runs into something else and the process begins anew.

All I know is they're creepy and stupid and need to be destroyed at all costs. So smart-thinking me hopped onto the Internet to find out more about these microscopic Volkswagens of doom. Turns out that scientists have discovered one fairly good method at stopping the beetle plague: breeding PARASITIC WASPS that happen to think Japanese beetles are a tasty appetizer. (Their main dish? Why, ME, of course.)

Yes, that's right, the miracle of science can quickly replace one stupid, creepy bug with an altogether scarier, stinging, parasitic variety. Thank heavens. One website even had a close-up picture of one of these "helpful" wasps - and yes, it pretty much looks like what I imagined a Cootie to be back in Grade 4. If I think I act like a ninny when one of those beetles is on me, I don't wanna think what I'd act like the day one of these devil-spawned wasp-critters enters my radar.

So if given the choice, I suppose I'll stick with the non-stinging, stupid variety of creepy insect, thanks. Just don't ever tell me one's crawling on me, even if it is. I'd rather live in ignorant, itchy bliss.

Friday, November 05, 2004

COLUMN: Voting

It's over. Finally.

I can once again merrily go about my business without being stymied by
political endorsements. No longer do I have to know that the car in front
of me supports Kerry. No longer do I have to know that the lawn across the
street from me supports Bush. I'm still not sure who my TV set supports -
it did a bit of flip-flopping the past couple weeks.

It's over -- my vote has been counted.

Okay, I'm lying to you. I'm about to do the unthinkable and break the
fourth wall of the Leader, folks. Those guys who write the actual news up
there on the front page think that they're such bigshots because they can
turn in a breaking news story at the drop of a hat. Us non-important (i.e.
"funny") folks have an earlier deadline. We don't have the privilege around
here to yell "STOP THE PRESSES!" (Actually I yell that all the time for
fun; they just ignore me.) I had to turn this column in on Tuesday. In my
world, it's still election day, and as of this writing, I don't know who

Not that it matters, because the way things have been stacking up, there's a
good chance you don't know who won yet either. I'm guessing that as you
read this, chads are probably hanging all over the place, and the future
course of our nation probably hangs on a recount in, oh, let's say, Rhode

But I WILL be sure to have voted before it's all over. Why? Because P. Diddy was
going to kill me if I didn't.

Did you guys catch any of this? P. Diddy was the voice behind the campaign
that's been all over MTV for the last month. It's happy message? "VOTE OR
DIE!" And that's right, kids, this is moral leader P. Diddy, who just a
couple years ago narrowly escaped an attempted murder charge in court. I,
for one, take his threats seriously.

Everywhere I channel flipped, I was being oppressed by stupidity. "VOTE OR
DIE!" "CHOOSE OR LOSE!" I saw an ad the other day that said, (no joke,)
"Vote for something. Anything. Just vote."

Now, I'm completely sympathetic to the problem of voter apathy. It's
ridiculous that a lot of people my age or younger don't feel that voting is
an important civic duty. But let's not counter this problem by yelling in
their face and saying, "DO IT! VOTE, STUPID!"

If we throw any campaign towards the youth of today, it should be for them
to educate themselves on the issues and the candidates, and THEN let them
decide if they want to vote. I'll admit it - I didn't vote in the first
couple of elections after I turned 18. Why? Because I was in college and
didn't know anything about anything. The only issue I took a stance on in
those days was how to best soundproof the frat house so we wouldn't get
busted on Friday night.

These campaigns seem to be saying to 18-year-olds, "Hey! You! You should
vote! What's that? You don't know who to vote for? You don't know anything
about any of the candidates? Oh well, that's not important! You still need
to take a stand and vote!"

Sure, the youth of America needs to make its voice heard... unless it's a
STUPID voice. If you don't know the candidates or the issues, you should've
stayed home. It's that simple. Because what happens when you go to the polls
and you don't know any of the candidates? That's when human nature takes
over, you weigh the information in front of you, and you do the logical

You vote for the guy with the funniest name.

You think I'm wrong? I've got two words for ya: Dick Armey. He spent 18
years in Congress. There's really a Senator from Idaho named Mike Crapo. I rest my case.

Of course, I'm a bit of a hypocrite when I say that you shouldn't have voted
unless you were informed. Sure, I try to know a lot about all of the major
candidates... but then you get to that last page on the ballot. "Shall this
judge be retained in office?" Ummm... Sure? Maybe?

These people could be communists for all I know. The only judge I know
anything about was the one I had to see on the day that we DIDN'T soundproof
the frat house well enough on a Friday night. And, quite frankly, that guy
doesn't get my vote.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

COLUMN: Halloweenie

The weekend approaches... and with it comes a chill in the air. Once again, the pumpkins are lit aglow and our streets are filled with the laughter of little ghosts and ghouls on their annual candy pilgrimage. And, as per usual, I hate it all.

Let's face it... I'm a Hallo-weenie.

Merriam-Webster defines fright as "fear excited by sudden danger." Nowhere in that text does it say, "...and it's a whole lotta fun."

Fear is something deeply rooted in us by instinct, which probably evolved from our cave-dwelling ancestors after one too many attempts at walking up to velociraptors to say hello. Primitive man quickly learned that this was a yabba-dabba-DON'T. Fear is an instinctive means for the body to pump us full of adrenalin so that we can run like sissies from whatever's currently attempting to eat us.

What Fred and Barney didn't realize is that one day, we humans would pay $8.50 for the opportunity to get our adrenalin pumped by a knife-wielding psycho in a hockey mask. For entertainment.

This goes against the grain of logic. When I go to a movie, I want to either laugh or see lots of things blow up. I don't want to have the bejeebies scared out of me. That's not fun at all. I'd much prefer it if my bejeebies kept to themselves, thanks. You people who enjoy scary movies are nuts.

I see one of those flicks and I leave with a complex. Don't go in the water or Jaws will getcha. Don't go to sleep or Freddie will getcha. Don't stay at that motel or Norman Bates will getcha. Don't take your sweetie on a midnight walk around the camp lake or Jason will getcha. And above all, don't go to Neverland or Michael Jackson will getcha.

If I get suckered into seeing a scary movie, later that night I'll be lying in bed and hear a noise. Then the voice pops into my head: "What was that? Was that the cat? It sounded like the cat. It's either the cat... OR CHUCKY, THE DEMONIC DOLL THAT KILLS!"

I simply don't like to be spooked, that's all. Let's look at the facts: I'm a single guy. Ergo, I eat fast food... a lot. It's a clinical fact that roughly 20% of my body weight is comprised of Big Macs. I sweat pure cholesterol. With that knowledge in hand, I know that all it would take is one well-timed "BOOGITY BOOGITY!!" and that'll be it for Shane. Game over. And, quite frankly, I don't want to want to be the name under the headline of "NEW HORROR FLICK SCARES MOVIEGOER... TO DEATH!"

So no TV or movies for me this week, then. No, I've resigned myself to a fate far worse than being fileted by Freddie Krueger. That's right, I'll be at my night job: DJ'ing at a club in the District on Halloween weekend.

Now, when you're a kid, I can understand the appeal of dressing up and going trick-or-treating. Well, I guess I never really liked the costume part -- my mom has plenty of pictures of me from Halloweens of yore, and in every photo I have a facial expression like my puppy just died. But let's face it -- it was worth it because of the treat part. I've never met a piece of chocolate I didn't like.

But am I the only one who thinks dressing up for Halloween is a bit weird once you're over the age of, oh, ten? Yet it seems like everybody my age does it. Because they think it's fun.

Newsflash, Quad Cities: It's not fun. It's stressful. I'm socially awkward enough already -- don't make me try to converse with somebody dressed up like Chewbacca. Is there protocol for such situations? No matter what the person might say to me, my mind just loops, "Chewbacca Chewbacca Chewbacca" until I just start laughing like a nervous loon. Unless you're Mo Mallard (and don't get me started on HIM,) leave the costumes to the kids. People already look funny enough as is.

So if you see me in the District this weekend, stop by and say hi (unless you're dressed like a freak. I will have NO candy for you.) I'll be the one dressed up like a neurotic newspaper columnist - it's a great costume, I've been working on it for years now.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

COLUMN: Speed Dating

I initially wrote this column on speed dating after reading an article in the Dispatch a week prior on the "craze." As per usual, it's a pretty mean-spirited column, because, let's face it, speed dating is pretty silly. What I DIDN'T know, however, is that the woman in charge of the local speed dating night in town (who, incidentally, used to date my old college roommate) had apparantly called the paper absolutely LIVID about the article that had run the week prior. I actually thought it was a well-written and fun article, but she was convinced that the newspaper had painted her in a bad light. It goes without saying, then, that when I tried to turn THIS column in a week later, it was summarily rejected by our editors in fear that the speed dating girl would COMPLETELY blow her stack. I was ticked off at the time, but I took the article, changed it around, and ran it as a piece about my own insecurities when it comes to small talk with strangers. It was a fun column, but not as fun as the original would have been, available to you guys for the first time below. :)

Recently I was channel flipping and landed on the Discovery Channel just in time to watch a program on the mating rituals of deep sea fish -- you know, the nightmarish fish that look like someone's horrible, horrible mistakes? One of these abominations of nature -- let's just call it the Creepyfish -- slogs along the ocean floor until it finds a female Creepyfish to hit on. At this point, the male sucks in a bunch of water and bloats up until a little fin pops up out of its head. If the female is suitably impressed, then you'd best put Nemo to bed 'cause it's time for some hot aquatic nookie.

We humans are beyond this. We ditched the fins long ago, grew some legs, and marched right out of the ocean in search of more advanced, intellectual things to do with our time. Like SPEED DATING.

If you're new to the game, here's how speed dating works. A group of desperates (and I'm not mocking you here, desperates, I'm a card-carrying member myself) assemble in a room, pair off into twos, and have exactly seven minutes to carry on the sort of mating rituals one is only accustomed to seeing whilst flipping past the Discovery Channel. At the end of the seven minutes, a bell dings, and you find someone ELSE to pair up with for seven more minutes. And so on and so on until your head is bitten off -- oh, wait, maybe that's the praying mantis' mating habits. Perhaps I've been watching a bit TOO much Discovery Channel.

But that's how speed dating works -- you get seven minutes to woo your partner, then dosey-do right into another one. The theory, I believe, is that you get to have countless mini-dates, fascinating conversations with a diverse group of interesting and exciting people, and maybe, just maybe, find your soul mate.

At least that's how I assume it works. I've never actually gone to one of these soirees, I'm afraid. Why? Because I choose to occasionally NOT DO STUPID THINGS.

If there's one thing I hate in life, it's small talk with near-to-complete strangers. It seems as though every time I'm amiably en route someplace -- the store, my job, the hospital because I'm seizing up with kidney stones -- that's when a total stranger will use that exact moment to point out just how cold/hot/windy/foggy/flooded it is outside. Which is ever-so-helpful because these conversations usually occur while I'm already standing outside in the cold/heat/wind/fog/flood. Saying "Gee, it's cold out," is really no different than saying, "Gee, your shirt is blue."

I hate carrying on conversations with people I don't know. I'm the guy who stands staring intently at the elevator door, waiting and praying for it to open. The guy who stares at his shoes while he walks along the sidewalk. The other day I went to Video Games Etc. to buy the Star Wars DVD and a guy (dressed in full Stormtrooper regalia, no less) tried to talk to me -- I'm pretty sure I now know what a panic attack feels like. Some people might say I'm just "shy" -- truth is, I'm simply incapable at making up random stuff to say to random people. Some people can spew out small talk at the drop of a hat. Me? I simply vomit out words and hope for the best. I can imagine it now... me at Speed Dating:

DING! "Hi my name is Shane umm let's see I'm 33 years old and live in an apartment with my cat whoa does that make me sound gay because I'm not and oh shoot now that makes me sound homophobic which I'm not in fact I have many gay friends but not THAT many gay friends well you know what I mean and so yeah it's me and my cat do you like cats I don't like cats very much even though I have one but that's a long story that would probably bore you but it really is kind of funny and I'll have to tell you sometime and you'd laugh I know it isn't this awkward ha ha ha ha HA!" DING!

And with that, I send another eligible bachelorette far, far away from me. By the end of the evening, women would be throwing things at the bell to make it DING before my seven minutes were up.

In all seriousness, though, can you REALLY get to know somebody in seven minutes? Of course not. All you can do in seven minutes is make a snap judgement call based on the person's looks, confidence, speech patterns, and propensity for snorting while laughing. In other words, you're exactly like the Creepyfish. You're just there to check out the fins. So if you've got the chutzpah to bloat yourself out and convey a good impression in those seven crucial minutes, then maybe speed dating's for you. As for me, I'll stick with my tried-and-true method: getting shot down in clubs, going home, and living my love life vicariously through The O.C.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

COLUMN: Crackulating

I never thought I'd find myself at a point where I actually feel SORRY for the big tobacco companies, but that's where I'm heading.

It's gotten to the point where I simply can't watch television for more than an hour without some smug public service announcement popping on my screen to brazenly inform me that, no matter where I go or what I do, I'm slowly being killed by second-hand smoke. And its getting so bad that I'm thinking of taking up a 4-pack-a-day habit just to put an early end to my misery of having to sit through these insufferable PSA's day after day after day.

Okay, smoking's bad. I think we can all agree on that. I'm not telling you to go out and puff away heartily (even though you HAVE come a long way, baby.) I'm simply asking for the option to eat my TV dinner and watch my "Seinfeld" rerun without being assualted by images of coughing babies and blackened lungs, that's all.

A while back, I tagged along with Sean Leary, our entertainment editor, to some teeny-bop show at the Mark that we needed to review. At the concert, on each side of the stage, they had two giant projector screens set up.

"Cool," I thought, "this'll give us a better view of the show."

Hmm... if only they used those screens to show us the concert. Instead, those screens were used for the sole purpose of, you guessed it, anti-smoking PSA's. But these weren't just ANY anti-smoking ads, they were the funniest anti-smoking ads of all time.

The genius theme of the campaign?


Well, I'm glad I found THAT out. I'll stop handing out cigarettes to schoolkids immediately. So tobacco's whacko if you're a teen. But if you're an adult, it's hunky dory then? That seems to be the unwritten moral of that tale. Maybe they need to put it in a better rhyme: "If you're a teen, then tobacco is whacko, but if you're an old fool, then smoking's real cool!"

But the BEST part about the "tobacco is whacko" campaign was the pamphlet we were all handed on our way out the door that elaborates on the whacko theme.

You know, I think the only thing slimier than the manipulation of cigarette ads to encourage minors to smoke... is the manipulation of anti-smoking ads to encourage minors NOT to. I can imagine a boardroom wherein some anti-smoking lobbyist is telling his advertising staff, "We need a campaign that'll reach out to the kids. We need to talk to them on THEIR level, not like whining adults!"

Which may be the ONLY explanation for this phrase, which I'm not making up, that was printed on the pamphlet we got:

"It's not crackulating to be a teen smoker!"

I'm sorry, it's not WHAT? Does that piece of paper actually use the word 'crackulating'? You know, folks, I may be pushing 35, but I like to at least pretend that I'm still down with the youth of today. I mean, I watch "The O.C.," okay? That said, I have NEVER heard the word 'crackulating' in conversation EVER in my life. Don't believe me? Go find a teenager right now and say to them "Yo, man, what's crackulating?" and then tell me I'm wrong.

And, is it just me, or does it seem a touch odd to encourage the youth of today to avoid one harmful drug by using a word that's most likely derived from slang for another altogether scarier drug? That's right, tobacco isn't crackulating. And while we're at it, it's not weed-ariffic, meth-tastic, or LSD-lightful either.

It's almost as if a tobacco company's behind the whole campaign, and is trying to make not-smoking sound SO lame that kids have no recourse but TO smoke in order to remain marginally cool and in order to remain as far away from the word "crackulating" as humanly possible.

Oh, wait. I just did a web search to try and find out which group was responsible for the "Tobacco is Whacko... If You're a Teen" campaign. Umm, turns out it actually WAS a tobacco company (Lorillard), and I'm apparantly not the first to accuse them of encouraging teen smoking by making NOT smoking sound ridiculously lame.

Moral of the story? THE WORLD IS EVIL, I guess. Avoid it at all costs, stay indoors, and shut your TV off on commercial breaks.

Personally, I want the anti-smoking pundits to hire ME. I've already got the idea for the greatest anti-smoking PSA in the history of time. I would simply take a camera with me to work and go outside to the back alley sometime in mid-January to film my poor co-workers, huddled together like a pack of homeless refugees in the sub-zero temperatures, teeth chattering, just to pay homage to Lord Nicotine. If there were a less crackulating site to behold on Earth, I'd be amazed.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

COLUMN: Kidney Stones

I thought it was gonna be a normal Sunday.

Waking up by the crack of noon, I made myself a hearty breakfast of Coca-Cola and Advil, and limbered up my channel-flipping finger for a solid day of couch idling.

About an hour later was when I first felt it -- a not-so-pleasant pain of the gastro- intestinal persuasion. A definitive sign that I needed more carbonation in my diet, I thought, so I cracked Coke #2 of the afternoon.

"Well, that's funny," I began to think after another hour, "this pain doesn't seem to be going away." At which point I began going through my checklist of bachelor life tummy pain fix-its, which goes somewhat in this order:

(1) Some manly belching. No luck. Ouch. (2) The other proven way to relieve gastric pressure that I can't mention in the confines of a family newspaper. Also no luck, though it was enough to scare the cat running out of the room. Contined ouch. (3) Jumping up and down in my living room. What the heck, I thought, be creative. Yet more ouch. (4) The Hail Mary of gastric problem-solving and a sure sign of desperation: a tasty chocolate treat of the Ex-Lax variety. Still no luck. Still ouch.

By the end of hour two, I'm starting to think that I may have a serious problem. I'm thinking this because I'm now kneeling on the floor, drenched in sweat, clutching my side, chewing through the pen in my mouth that I'm using to write up my last will and testament. THIS is how badly I hate going to the doctor.

Finally, I give in and drive myself to the emergency room. After a leisurely 30 minute wait enjoying the scenic lobby, I'm whisked back for x-rays and evaluation, and am told that I'm officially old and feeble. Well, actually I'm told that I have kidney stones. But that's close enough.

KIDNEY STONES?! That's something great-great-grandfathers get -- not a fine, physically fit specimen of strapping brute machismo such as myself. But the tests do not lie. The doctor explains to me that kidney stones are usually rocky deposits of whatnot that have chosen, for any variety of reasons, to leave their cushy homes in the kidney in search of the New World.

At this point, the doctor turns into a six-foot pink bunny, tips his top hat at me, and hops amiably out of the emergency room. I think. Did I mention they gave me morphine?

Okay, I say to myself, I'm no dummy. I've seen enough episodes of ER. The advancing technologies of today's medical care means that, at any minute, some nice doctor will come into the room with an honest-to-gosh laser gun and painlessly shoot these kidney stones back to Hell, and all will be well.

"No?" What do you MEAN, "no?!"

Instead, I was sent promptly out with my parting gift, "Kidney Stones: The Home Game." I'll spare you the grisly details, but have you ever seen the things prospectors used to pan for gold? Uh-huh.

Their only advice for me? "Drink a lot of water. Take the pain pills. Have fun!"

So I drank. And drank. And waited. All the while, I'm picturing what these things must look like. Surely, based on the pain, they must be the size of a softball, covered in pointy spikes, quite possibly alive, fanged, and hungry. So when the "moment of truth" occurred, and I looked down to see this innocuous little thing about the size of a ball bearing, I almost felt cheated. "Congratulations, Mr. Brown, it's a BB."

Turns out my little friends, like most kidney stones, were calcium deposits. That's right, calcium. The stuff we've been told since birth that we need in order to build strong bones. Calcium is supposed to be our FRIEND. I don't quite remember any disclaimers in the ads, do you? "IT DOES A BODY GOOD! (*Unless, of course, it's causing you indescribable pain as it rips your body apart from the inside out.)" I'm swearing off milk for a good long while.

From what I've read, though, my kidney stones probably had a lot more to do with my uncanny ability to drink gallons of sugary soft drinks per day. But I simply CAN'T swear off my allegiance to the Coca-Cola empire. After all, breakfast IS the most important meal of the day.

Sunday, October 03, 2004


I stink at introductions.

I guess, this being my first column and all, that I should come up with something warm and witty to say -- the perfect sentence to make you immediately decide that I'm the coolest guy alive, whose column you're going to want to pick up and read each and every week that the Leader gets flopped onto your doorstep.

Trouble is, I'm not too particularly cool. I don't even know how to fake it well.

So how did I end up here on these pages? I'm a Galesburgian by birthright (though I've always preferred "Galesburger with cheese,") who ended up in the Quad Cities thanks to my four year tour of duty at Augustana College.

Most of my friends from the Augie days hate the Quad Cities. I've never really understood why.

Well, maybe I understand why. Somewhere around 99.987% of the student body at Augie comes from the Chicagoland area. Okay, that's not true, but it definitely felt like it during my four years there. All of my college friends hailed from towns with names like Crystal Elm Forest Lake Hills Heights, or, to paraphrase, Suburban Hell USA. And to most of these kids, coming to the Quad Cities was their own personal version of "The Simple Life," yanked from their big city existence and left to somehow survive four seasons in a town with (gasp) only TWO major shopping malls (the horror!)

These are the same friends who now hound me day in, day out with the same question: "Dude, why don't you move to a big city?"

Well, first off, compared to Galesburg, this IS a big city. I was petrified when I first came to the Quad Cities. My parents had instilled a deep fear in me of, well, pretty much everything. It's my mom's constant opinion that in a "big city" such as this, anyone you see on the street is a likely mugger, carjacker, or pervert. Every day my freshman year at Augie, I'd drive around and invariably get lost, usually ending up turning the wrong way down a one-way street (those barely exist in Galesburg.) The only facts I knew about this area were what I could glean from watching fuzzy Quad City television as a kid... but that only left me in the comforting knowledge that (a) Orby was the Super Van Man and (b) at Good's, I could stroll through the park-like atrium and take the glass elevator to the fabolous wine cellar. That didn't help me much as a college freshman. It took me a LONG time to adjust to roads with more than two lanes. So don't tell me this isn't a big city, friends, it's plenty big for me.

"But," my friends say, "in Chicago you could be exposed to more culture!"

Culture? What do MY friends know about culture? These are MY friends we're talking about here - last I checked, the Paris Hilton sex tape was high art to these people. I'll gladly play cultural checkers with these folks. They've got the Field Museum... we've got the Putnam, and you hardly have to wait in line. They've got the House of Blues... we've got the River Music Experience and don't have to deal with Dan Aykroyd. They've got the Sears Tower... we've got the Kone Tower (and let's see 'em try and balance a decked-out Christmas tree on top of THEIR tower every year!) They've got Soldier Field... we've got corn fields. They've got Bloomingdale's... I've got and a cable modem. Life ain't bad here.

So here I stayed. I'm now 33 years old, single (eligible bachelorettes DO take note of my e-mail address), out of shape, and deeply embedded in my usual love/hate relationship with life, much of which you'll likely be reading in these very pages over the coming weeks.

All I can promise is that it won't be boring. Unlike this column. But I don't have to apologize for this one. I told you I stink at introductions. Hi, my name's Shane.