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.