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.