Saturday, December 24, 2005

COLUMN: Best o' 2005

Some people listen to music for enjoyment; for others, it's a lot more serious. We hardcore nerds listen to music predominantly for one reason and one reason alone: so that at the end of the year, we can spend countless hours assembling the definitive list of The Greatest Albums of the Year. Then we usually meet in chat rooms or e-mail forums and shred each other's lists to microscopic detail. Don't think otherwise: "What's your favorite album of the year" has a right answer and a wrong answer (i.e. if you agree with me, it's RIGHT; if you don't, it's WRONG.)

That said, I wouldn't be me without investing one column at the end of the year to offer my picks for the year's best albums. Seriously, if you guys get a second, even if you're just a passing fan of music, check some of these records out. You don't know what you might be missing.

#10 - THE MAGIC NUMBERS - "The Magic Numbers" - Sometimes a band comes along who are so stinkin' earnest about their craft that you have to just sit back and enjoy the show. The Magic Numbers defy all current trends. Two sets of brothers and sisters who might be the most unfashionable 4 people alive, the Magic Numbers fill the void between modern rock like Dave Matthews and their more obvious influences, The Mamas & Papas. Nostalgia without being corny.

#9 - MARK GARDENER WITH GOLDRUSH - "These Beautiful Ghosts" - American audiences first knew Mark Gardener when he fronted 90's UK noisemakers Ride. Years later, he's back, but for the most part, he's left his guitars unplugged. The end result is the ultimate night-beside-the-fire record of the year. Full of passion, hooks, and a surprising maturity from a much-missed voice.

#8 - THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS - "Twin Cinema" - NOTHING like the name implies, folks. What began as a lark side project for some of Vancouver's top musicians has turned into a cult supergroup phenomenon. This record will be the new standard-bearer for power pop music. Bright chords, songs that get stuck in your head for days on end, and a sloppy, under-produced modesty that highlights the fun these guys must have when they're together. Who knew Canada could be the New Cool?

#7 - OF MONTREAL - "The Sunlandic Twins" - The band that refuses to release a bad album maintain their track record. Little more than frontman Kevin Barnes and a laptop computer, "Sunlandic Twins" reveals that it's sometimes okay for indie rock bands to put on their boogie shoes and dance like loons. It's impossible to express the wonders of this band in a capsule summary. Just know that they're my favorite group still making music. Here's to another decade.

#6 - JUELZ SANTANA - "What the Game's Been Missing!" - The Diplomats have always been known for great beats and samples, but no one was expecting the monstrous attack of over-looked Dipset Juelz Santana this year. Whether it's the speaker-shredding minimalism of "There It Go (The Whistle Song)" or the unexplainably awesome "Please Mr. Postman" sample that makes the hook of "Oh Yes," this is THE hip-hop record of the year.

#5 - CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH - "Clap Your Hands Say Yeah" - Not for the faint of heart. Kids, this is the one to tick your parents off with this year, as frontman Alec Ounsworth screeches like a cat with its tail under a rocker. But after the shock wears down, you realize these are killer tunes reminiscent of early Talking Heads or Wilco. Fiercely independent, and like little you've ever heard.

#4 - BLOC PARTY - "Silent Alarm" - Easily the most important new band of the year, Bloc Party took over the UK like a storm in 2005 and now need wheelbarrows just to haul around their critical acclaim. When they sing, "Something glorious is about to happen," you know they mean it. Imagine Joy Division and The Cure with the social-political slant of early (i.e. good) U2, and you'll be there. A CD collection without it is lacking. Even if he IS #4.

#3 - GIANT DRAG - "Hearts and Unicorns" - Annie Hardy might be the coolest person alive right now. At least, that's what you think when you listen to her band's first full-length record. What could have been another whiny, self-indulgent teenage post-grunge angst-fest instead brims to life with hints of everything from Hole and My Bloody Valentine to The Breeders and the Beach Boys, all held together by Hardy's shockingly charming realism.

#2 - M.I.A. - "Arular" - I'm not one of those people who falls for the joy of world music. Just because a record came from Djibouti or somewhere does not make it inherently good. Thusly hearing talk this year about "this fantastic Sri Lankan rapper" made me smirk -- until I heard it. It's indescribable, other than you simply will not hear more inventive music this year. Wicked beats that can rip your speakers in half.

#1 - HOT HOT HEAT - "Elevator" - I can't explain it. I generally like artsy music that makes you think. Hot Hot Heat make silly music that makes you dance. How this ended up my #1 I'll never know, but there should be a law against music this infectious. I'm putting it at #1 because it's never left my CD player all year, that's why. It's sheer pop punk brilliance. A little formulaic, a little affected, a little purposely weird, but the best hooks you'll hear all year. Rush out and buy.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

COLUMN: Windy City X-Mas

Well, it finally happened, and at a Bennigan's of all places.

There I was, waiting for my Turkey O'Toole, when out of nowhere I felt it. Maybe it was the garland hanging in the restaurant or Wham!'s "Last Christmas" playing on the delightfully deranged seasonal muzak.

I don't know what caused it, but -- WHAM! -- right then and there, I was struck with the holiday spirit.

Or at least the retailer's version of the holiday spirit. That's the one where Santa brings loads of expensive toys. The one where Rudolph, the Invented-by-Montgomery-Wards-To-Sell-Refrigerators Reindeer, saves the day.

The one that teaches that the amount of holiday joy and laughter one can achieve is in direct proportion to the obscene number of blinking lights adorning their home.

The one where you think of Jesus (but only when you're buying a lighted, animatronic plastic Nativity that's so tacky it frightens small children).

No offense Bennigan's, but the Turkey O'Toole suddenly wasn't cutting it. I wanted to roast chestnuts on open fires, even though I'm not sure what a chestnut IS. I wanted figgy pudding. I wanted Alvin's hula hoop. I wanted nine ladies dancing. (OK, I ALWAYS want nine ladies dancing.) The point is, it was a beautiful sight and I was happy that night.

I thought of my favorite warm, fuzzy Christmas movies. From "Elf" to "Home Alone," from "Miracle on 34th Street" to "Scrooged," my mind was abuzz with tidings of comfort and joy.

Then it hit me, the one common factor in all these flicks: all take place in major cities! It was nothing shy of divine inspiration. I needed to go holiday shopping in Chicago. I took a couple days off work, reserved a hotel, donned me now my quite-heterosexual-thanks-much apparel, and began my pilgrimage.

Note to self: When one decides to have a merry little Christmas in Chicago, one might want to check yon Doppler radar first.

As I left the Quad Cities, a lovely little picturesque snow was falling. By the time I reached Joliet and Interstate 55 into the city, it was full-on winter carnage. Top speeds on the Stevenson Expressway were 5 to 10 mph. Between the snowfall and being mere yards from Midway Airport when that plane tragically hopped the runway, it took 6 hours and 15 minutes to reach my hotel.

I was down, but not defeated. After a good night's sleep (i.e. TWO HOURS thanks to lousy hotel pillows), I headed to the Magnificent Mile. It was time to gather with fellow revelers and celebrate the holiday spirit.

Folks, the movies lie. Downtown Chicago is an evil, evil empire that only wants ONE thing: money, and gobs of it. It seemed as though every store was filled with the most aggressive salespeople imaginable.

My mom wants something called a "Mother's Ring," so I went to a jewelry store, only to be shoved a $599 ring by a saleslady who SURELY was on the naughty list.

"Sir," she implored, "don't walk out of this store without this ring. You'll regret it if you don't buy it right now! Let me get my manager..." Fa la la la la, my fanny.

I ventured into the cologne section at Marshall Field's, only to be assaulted by clerks from all directions, each with stinky cards and unwavering sales pitches. I'm pretty sure I still reek of bizarre sandalwood and citrus combinations.

As if the clerks weren't bad enough, the bell-ringers were worse. I can't believe I'm complaining about charities asking for change. I know that's in horrible taste, but there were at least two or three Salvation Army bell-ringers PER BLOCK of the Magnificent Mile, and every one of them yelling, pointing and asking for money.

Charity is a FINE thing, and we ALL should give as much as we can, but when it's to the point of harassment, that's neither holly nor jolly.

One bell-ringer, though, was fantastic. I'm pretty sure he may have been authentically crazy, but he definitely got the most of my money. As shoppers trooped by, he sang made-up tunes with random lines from Christmas songs.


So, all it took was one lousy trip to sub-zero downtown Chicago to turn my Merry Christmas back to my usual cynical, bah-humbug.

I didn't get a lick of shopping done (except for a few CDs for me.) I froze my jingle bells off, and now I've got a miserable cold. Next time I'm at Bennigan's, I'm eating my turkey and going home to bed.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

COLUMN: Girls Are Still Weird

Last week in these pages, I proffered to you my latest theory, calculated at great expense of both time and manpower (or, at the very least, Shanepower.) It will, I hope, revolutionize society as we know it. The theory goes like this: GIRLS ARE WEIRD. I arrived at this conclusion after careful study of the females that surround me daily in the workplace. More specifically, I'm talking about their tendency to waste hard-earned money on overpriced knick-knacks and what-nots that adorn the many shop-at-work catalogs that circulate around our office.

Guys, it may look like your female co-workers are hard at work, but in actuality, the naked eye is simply not fast enough to see the product catalogs that are whizzing back and forth amongst them at the speed of sound. And employers, this news may come as a shock to you - but don't chastise your employettes for their catalog craze; I'm fairly certain that, once the numbers get added up, they're the glue that holds our fragile economy together in the first place.

Like any good researcher, I've spent the last ten years here at the paper trying to gain the trust of the girl gaggle here at work, in hopes of finally procuring some of these catalogs for myself. Yes, it took time, but men, I have seen of their hidden world and lived to tell this tale. From candles to chocolate, sausages to spatulas, I have seen the catalogs. Yes, guys, it's a scary world.

This is a direct quote from a Partylite catalog I stumbled upon: "I'm thrilled with the new Moroccan Spice Beaded Sconce! It's such an exciting addition to this collection -- beautiful on a wall or a tabletop!" Yes, we all know that when it comes to thrills and excitement, it gets no better than large chunks of smelly, dormant wax. I mean, really, who needs a Steven Seagal movie when you've got a (gasp) CANDLE?!

But one catalog amazes me beyond all others. One catalog that proudly defies nature's ability to make people say "Umm, no" to incredibly overpriced items. One catalog that dares to take a $4 pound of wicker and turn it into a $120.00 work of art. One catalog that goes by the name of...

Wait. I can't say their name. Too many of you out there are reps. The second I start making fun of the company, I'll be deluged by hate mail from freaky basketeers. I know -- I'll make up a fake name so that no one gets mad. Okay, let me just think up a name at random... okay, got it. For the purposes of this article then, let's call the company "Dongaberger." (Any similarities to existing companies should be considered strictly coincidental.)

Dongaberger makes baskets. And not those shoddy, run-of-the-mill baskets that you can find at a sub-standard basket emporium. No, siree. Dongaberger makes high quality, handcrafted baskets that are admired for their craftsmanship. I didn't just make that up; I found this out by going to the website of the world's leading basket authority (which, coincidentally enough, is also Dongaberger.)

Silly me, I just thought baskets were for putting stuff in. How naive of me. Putting stuff in them takes away from the appreciation of the basket's innate basket-ness, I guess. That's why every single Dongaberger basket is hand initialed at the bottom. I don't know which Dongaperson does the initialing, but the girls at my work consider those initials nothing less than a divine blessing of maximum basketosity.

And let's be honest, when you're dropping triple digits worth of cash on a basket, you don't want to sully it up by throwing some tomatoes in there. That's why Dongaberger goes to the trouble of making protective liners for their baskets (sold separately, of course.) And yes, Dongaberger reps, I'm sure that the liners are probably made of a space-age polymer developed by NASA to allow the baskets to breathe while at the same time curing cancer and saving the dolphins. But to the untrained eye (i.e. me and all other men on the planet,) the protective liners appear to be made of the same plastic that one gets when one opens up a container of Cup Cakes. The liners do come in many shapes, allowing your baskets the practicality of holding things like up to 6 CD's, one tasty beverage, or, perhaps, two Cup Cakes.

To each their own, I guess. I suppose that, maybe, if baskets are your thing, then Dongaberger's not overpriced. You waste money on baskets; I waste money on music, and one more basket loving nutbag means one less music nerd I have to fight over new releases with on Tuesdays. I can look at my wall of CD's and find Japanese imports that have cost half my paycheck. To me, that's normal; others may call it weird. So, ladies, I might pick on your shopping tastes, but at the end of the day, we're ALL weird. And us guys are still going to want to date you. And marry you. And adorn our houses with baskets just so you weirdos are happy. Sheesh.

Monday, December 05, 2005

COLUMN: Girls Are Weird

Girls are weird.

That's not speculation or rumor. It's a concrete fact. I have first-hand knowledge.

For the past 10 years, I've sat here in my corner of the newspaper office as a card-carrying member of the male minority. Day in, day out, I am surrounded up here by a gaggle of girls.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you; there are worse ways to spend a day than being in a room full of smart, funny ladies. However, this unlimited access to the girl gaggle has afforded me strange wisdom that many guys lack. I now have more familiarity than a man ever should about such things as episiotomies, Monistat, water retention, PMS, and a host of other feminine maladies that I'll just lump under the word "cooties."

But there's one thing I will never understand about the opposite sex, and that, ladies, is your bizarre network of underground workplace commerce.

It was shortly after I started at the newspaper when I first became aware of this secret world. Sitting at my desk one day, I saw it out of the corner of my eye -- a small booklet being wordlessly passed around the room. Then, when it came close to my desk, the girl who had the booklet stood up, walked right past me, and dropped it silently on the desk of the female co-worker to my right.

If there's one thing I hate, it's a rousing game of Exclude-the-Shane, so I stood up.

"What gives?" I asked. "I want the mystery booklet, too."

"Errr, no, you really don't," came the reply.

"How would you know?" I said bluntly. "Gimme."

"OK. Fine. Sheesh," she replied. But I didn't care. I was "in." As she brought over the booklet, I prepped myself for the exciting world that must lie within. Whatever it was, I HAD to show an interest in it. I needed to fit in. I needed to feel like one of the gang. I needed ...

AVON? Oh, crud.

So there I was, forced to act indignant about being excluded while looking through page after page of lipstick, lip gloss, lip balm, lip liner... So many products for, what, a two-inch body part? I'll say it again, girls are weird. I have never EVER in my life gone, "Wow. What a babe. Now THERE'S a girl who knows how to wear some lip balm. I want to marry a girl with balmy lips."

Lips are lips are lips; you don't need to gussy them up with a thousand different products. Ladies, here's a tip from the guy's perspective: We're going to want to kiss them regardless of your choice of lip goop.

Little did I know that Avon was only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to workplace commerce. Every week, more and more strange little booklets and party invitations go careening around our office. If there's a product capable of being overpriced, there's a company that sells it via a cutesy overpriced catalog. Cooking supplies, Christmas decor, chocolate-covered anythings -- my office is a mail-order Mall of America.

The other day, I saw invitations being passed around to a "candle party." Ladies, honestly, if your idea of a party is to hang out and sniff some candles, you may just need professional help. When the Beastie Boys wrote "Fight for the Right (to Party,)" I don't think they had citronella in mind. Oh, and I even got to check out a candle catalog -- and for those prices, the candles had better be capable of heating your home for the entire winter.

The most notorious of all workplace commerce is the innocent-sounding "surprise party." I don't know the full skinny, but I know it involves the selling of things you can only refer to in the confines of a family newspaper as "marital aids." Men are forbidden from attending, and frankly, that's OK by us, because whatever DOES happen at these events can't hold a candle party to what my imagination pretends happens at them.

There's one other company whose catalogs are proof positive that girls are weird -- but that'll take more space than I've got in one column. And, heck, why put your eggs in one basket when you can put them in eight limited-edition handcrafted ones instead. We're talking baskets next week. Join us, won't you?

Sunday, November 27, 2005


You will absolutely NOT believe what I just heard.

You know how Amanda likes Justin, right? Well, it turns out that they saw each other at Village Inn last night and Justin completely blew her off! I KNOW! But Rico thinks that Justin really DOES like Amanda, but the problem is that Justin hasn't entirely called it off with Emily. And Emily and Kirsten ... well, we ALL know what they're like together, right? It's all going to get CRAZY at Mike Ford's party this weekend!

The Internet is the greatest invention in the world ever, I swear it. I have NO idea who Mike Ford is. I don't know where he lives, what time his party starts, or if I'm supposed to bring a gift. But Mike Ford appears to be a pretty popular guy. I've just spent two hours randomly surfing the Quad-Cities blogosphere, and I've found no more than four references to his party next weekend. Mr. or Mrs. Ford, if you're reading this, you might want to re-think going away for the weekend.

When I was a kid, every girl I knew had a diary. Heck, even a lot of the nerdy guys did, too (but we called them "journals," as though a small rephrasing would be enough to stop us from being picked last in gym class). But why keep a secret diary these days when you can just take your deepest, most horrifying secrets and put them online for hundreds of strangers to peruse at their leisure?

Blogs amuse me to no end. Everybody has one these days. If you're breathing and have an opinion on anything that ever goes on in the world (or, if you just want to rag on your friends) there's a corner of cyberspace just waiting for you and your rants. Free blog services like Xanga, Livejournal, and the oh-so-incestuous are among the most visited sites on the Internet these days. My favorite blog? It's nothing more than two amateur girls who put up photos of celebrities (at and then ruthlessly mock their fashion choices. Is it mean-spirited? Ohhh, yeah. But it's also some of the funniest stuff I've ever seen in print.

But nothing -- and I mean NOTHING -- is as funny as doing a search for blogs written by area high school kids. Remember the days when your biggest and only concern was whether or not you were getting invited to Mike Ford's party this weekend? In the teenaged blogosphere, it's taken to an altogether new artform. In less than an hour, you can learn the social strata of pretty much every high school in the country. The nerds have blogs, the jocks have blogs. I'm even told that the cheerleaders have blogs. (Not that I'd be the kind of middle-aged guy who gets his jollies reading the innermost secrets of cute high school girls. That would be wrong, Shane. Very, very wrong.)

The best part about high school blogs, though, is the NAIVETE. Look, we've all done things in life that we don't EVER want our parents to find about, right? I would think that the No. 1 rule of thumb when attempting to conceal embarassing facts from one's parents should be: DO NOT PUBLISH THEM. But does common sense stop a diehard blogger? Heck, no.

While surfing the Net just the other day, I found a blog entry from a high school girl that basically read, in a nutshell: "I can't believe I smoked pot the other night and had sex with my boyfriend. And now, I think I'm pregnant. GEE, I HOPE MY PARENTS DON'T FIND OUT." The other day I found a blog from a high school kid who snuck into an abandoned building owned by the city -- AND POSTED 25 PICTURES OF HIM DOING IT. Your honor, we the jury find the defendant GUILTY of being a complete moron.

Kids of the world, as a general rule, I'm on your side. For the most part, I'm still one of you. I still let you guys kick my butt at X-Box Live every night. I root for you. EXCEPT WHEN YOU'RE STUPID. "I hope my parents don't find out." THEN DON'T PUT IT ON THE INTERNET, IDIOT. If I can find it, your parents can find it. If you think people over the age of 35 don't know how to use a computer, think again. People over the age of 35 INVENTED computers. My mom reads my blog. Trust me, if my folks can figure out the Internet, so can yours.

Kids are going to do stupid stuff. It's what kids do. But to brag about it on the Internet is lunacy; you might as well just hang a sign around your neck saying, "Mom? Dad? PLEASE ground me." So, kids, if I can offer you ONE word of advice on the matter, it's this: Shhhhhhhh! Now if you'll excuse me, I HAVE to go try to figure out what I'm going to wear to Mike Ford's party this weekend. I have it on good blogging authority that it will be both "wick3d" and "off the chain."

Sunday, November 20, 2005

COLUMN: Cookies

I discovered something pretty nifty this week. I don't know about you, but I've got this one room in my apartment. It seems pretty useless, other than it's the room with the refrigerator in it. And, because it's the room that you step into as you walk into the apartment, it's also the room where all the junk goes.

I've found that I'm naturally gifted in the art of making piles. Ergo, this weird refrigerator room has spent most of its time with me succumbing to many, many stacked piles of random stuff. Mail, magazines, trash in bags, trash NOT in bags, etc. I'm pretty proud of these piles in an archaelogical way. Just as you can count the age of trees by counting the rings, thusly you can also count the age of my apartment by counting the layers of piles. In fact, I'm fairly convinced that, if you dig deep enough through the pile strata, you can find phone bills from the Paleozoic Era.

Recently I took it upon myself to begin the arduous task of de-piling. Just as society tears down to build anew, so must my refrigerator room. Lo and behold, though, I was side-tracked by a discovery of mind-blowing proportions. It turns out that, at the bottom of these piles, I found a strange large metal box that I had previously overlooked. At the top of this box was a series of knobs. Even more shockingly, when you TURNED these knobs, the metal box became extremely HOT in certain places.

I hastily called my friend and asked her if she had ever seen such a box. She explained to me that this box is called - get this - an "oven." Weirder yet, my friend swore up and down to me that there are some people out there - they must be incredibly neanderthal - who exist by eating food that's NOT distributed via a drive-thru window! It sounds crazy, I know, but apparantly, this "oven" can be used to heat and actually (gasp!) MAKE your own food. And this refrigerator room of mine? Apparantly primitive cultures refer to it as a "kitchen." Hrm. Learn somethin' new every day, I guess.

Well, since I had one of these kitchen thingamajigs, I figured that I might as well try to use it. What's the easiest thing for a single guy to make? The answer was easy: chocolate chip cookies. Not only did it seem like an easy prospect, the end result would contain both essential food groups: chocolate AND cookies. For knowledge, I quickly headed to the internet.

It turns out that there are approximately 10 kajillion people on Earth who make chocolate chip cookies. And every one of them puts their recipe on the internet. And every recipe claims to create the absolute, handed-down-through-the-generations, tried-and-true Greatest Cookie On Earth Ever. I found recipes requiring tobasco. I found recipes requiring sour cream. I found recipes requiring things I couldn't even pronounce, let alone procure legally in the United States. Finally, I found it. The recipe for a simple, down-to-Earth chocolate chip cookie. And the best part? I had nearly everything I needed.

Well, except for eggs. And flour. And vanilla. And chocolate chips. And shortening. And sugar. But I had a spatula and a cookie sheet, so I felt prepared. A 15-minute dash to the grocery store, and I was ready to do some serious cookie damage.

Some people like their cookies crispy, like you're biting into a Chips Ahoy or something. Me, I like my cookies chewy, ooey, and gooey. But I didn't know how to make one kind vs. the other. I deferred back to the internet. Making a chewy cookie, one website says, is easy as using more brown sugar than white, more baking soda than you're supposed to, melted butter instead of solid, and three times more vanilla than your recipe calls for. Not a problem, and heck, I even threw in some cocoa powder into the mix for fun.

For the next 4 hours, I was the Cookie Master. I might not be as famous as Amos, but I was rolling out the cookies like they were going out of style. They smelled good, they tasted good, they looked good. I realized that I might very well have a knack for this cooking stuff.

Then I woke up. And checked the cookies that I'd spent the whole night making. They still looked good. They still smelled good. They might have tasted good, were my teeth strong enough to bite through their outer, impenetrable protective layer. Yes, it turns out that I had spent the evening prior baking up a nice batch of great-smelling rocks. I'm quite positive that the recipe didn't call for rubber cement, but the cookies told a different story.

So now I'm scared. I ate several of those things as they came out of the oven. Are they currently lodged in their true rock-like consistency somewhere in my gastrointestinal tract? Where did I go wrong, Quad Cities? Help me make the PERFECT chewy chocolate chip cookie. Send me your recipes via e-mail to I'll try them out, and if I find one that works, I'll put it up on my blog. Either that, or I'm gonna start piling again until I can't see the oven. At least now I've got some great paperweights for my piles.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


So here's a story.

Last night, I needed to do laundry. As in, no-underwear-left needed to do laundry. So I throw a couple loads in the wash, then run downstairs during breaks from "Lost" and put the clothes into our apt. complex's barely-working dryers. Later, after my conniption fit from HOW GOOD OF AN EPISODE LOST WAS LAST NIGHT, I go downstairs to retrieve the laundry.

At which point, I realize that my clothes are a little on the moist side. This is a common occurrance at my place because our dryers suck, so I thought nothing of it. Brought 'em upstairs, hung 'em up to dry, and went to bed.

Got up this morning and rapidly realized that the clothes from last night weren't just moist, they were *wet.* And, in the interests of getting the most bang from my buck when it came to laundry, I had washed *every* pair of pants that I owned. There was no way around it: I was going to work today in damp pants.

So I find the least wet pair I can, put 'em on and head out the door. I was ready for the fact that it's like 10 degrees outside. What I WASN'T ready for, however, was the fact that I could BARELY SEE THE ROAD on the way to work because MY PANTS WERE STEAMING. That's right -- I'm so smokin' hot that my pants were releasing steam ALLLLL THE WAY TO WORK.

About halfway there, I see red lights in the mirror. Luckily, the cop was pulling somebody ELSE over. If it was me, and if Officer Friendly had walked up to the door and seen steam rising viciously from my crotch-al region, I might not be here to write this now.

Some days it's a wonder I can dress myself at all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The OTHER Side of X-Mas...

So my co-workers and I here at the newspaper made an incredible discovery this week. Downtown Moline is in the process of Christmas-ing itself up. As we speak, lights are being flung haphazardly on trees and, in every vacant store window, Christmas drawings and holiday art (obviously done by the under-10 sect) are popping up. Cute little Santas made out of construction paper and cotton balls, that sorta stuff. Yet, stuck in the middle of all of this, we found THE ELF THAT WENT BAD. Some little kid must've come up with this thing when they were told to create something "Christmas-y." Christmas in HELL, perhaps. This thing makes the Grinch look downright huggable. And I, of course, love it. Say hi to downtown Moline's very own CHRISTMAS DEMON!!!!!

Oh, MAN, this sucks.

There's nothing quite like the first snowfall of the year to make you lean back and go "WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING LIVING IN THIS STATE????" It's nasty cold and snowing out, AND I've got a nasty cold to go along with it. This sucks. This whole romantic Tom Sawyer life-along-the-river stuff is peachy swell during the summer, but I don't seem to recall Huck Finn and Politically Correct Person Of Color Jim stopping the raft to chisel through the Mississippi ice. I think I'd like to be in Arizona. And NOW, if you please.

Monday, November 14, 2005

COLUMN: Battlefront!

Let me tell you, it's difficult being a babe magnet like myself.

I apologize on behalf of my raging brute machismo. I know that week after week, so many of you come here to this page to drool over my foxy photo. It's not my fault that I'm this overwhelming. Some people are just lucky, I guess. I don't know if it's my blessing or my curse, but I've long since come to terms with the simple fact that -- sad but true -- sometimes I'm just too sexy for this column.

Well, ladies, today's your lucky day. I'm about to tell you a story that might just set you aquiver with Shane lust. Those of you weak at heart may wish to stop reading. I implore you NOT to throw your undergarments at me as I weave this tale of utter sex appeal.

Last Monday, you were probably doing something NON-sexy around midnight, such as -- oh, I dunno -- sleeping. Too bad for you. Me? I was where the action was. I was hanging out with the hottest of the hot at the most happenin' shindig in town. That's right -- I was at the Star Wars Battlefront II midnight sale at Video Games, Etc.

Sorry, ladies, I didn't mean to turn you on just then. But I know that if there's one thing that drives the women wild, it's a 34-year-old man who knows how to handle an X-Box controller. And yes, it's true -- I play one mean video game.

Okay, before you throw me to the pack of angry nerds outside, let me state for the record that I am NOT a card-carrying member of Lambda Lambda Lambda. Okay, sure, I play video games from time to time. But, in all honesty, I'm kind of a nerd wannabe.

I have friends who are the real deal. I know people who, from the moment they get off work to the moment they sleep, are busy defending some made-up world against the forces of evil (or at least little CGI orcs and trolls and what-not.) I have friends whose idea of a card game isn't blackjack or poker, it's something called Magic: The Gathering. Friends whose idea of a party is to hook their computer up to like 12 OTHER computers.

Me? I'm more of a tourist nerd. Yes, I'm in my thirties and own an X-Box. Yes, I tend to rush out and buy the latest and greatest games. But I've found that I'm lacking in one highly important skill when it comes to nerding out: patience. I simply don't like games that are hard. I strangely get no joy from losing repeatedly. So yeah, I'll buy the shiny new games, but as soon as they get too hard for me, I tend to turn the machine off and look for something better to do.

But one game I really DO like is Star Wars: Battlefront. You log on, pick a side (good or evil,) and then the game transports you into a huge online arena, where your team of 16 dorks is battling another team of 16 dorks, and, well, may the best nerd win.

So I go to the midnight sale to buy the sequel. I get it home, pop that baby in, put on my microphone headset (ladies, how sexy is that?),log on, and it's game time! Suddenly no mere mortal newspaper columnist am I -- no-sir-ee, I'm a freakin' JEDI! In the real world, if somebody ticks me off, I go to a corner and sulk. In the battle arena, if somebody ticks me off, I take their head off with my light saber. I am armed and ready. I race into the arena and prepare to kick some serious...

THWAK! THWAK THWAK! Thud. And, as I watch my character fall having sustained not one but three fatal sniper shots to the skull, out of my headset I hear a high-pitched voice yell, "THAT'S RIGHT, FOOL! YOU GOT OWNED! BOW DOWN!"

Yep. I was just dispatched with extreme prejudice by what I would guess to be a 12-year-old. Time and again, it happened. Death within seconds. I hate little kids. Little kids don't have newspaper columns to write or day jobs to wade through. They just spend their days getting better and better at these video games so they can spend their nights coming up with new and exciting ways to execute me every time I log on.

Life's unfair -- even for a sexy nerd like me.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

COLUMN: Racism Is Just Ignorant

People can be really, really stupid sometimes. In my world, that's usually a good thing.

From a humor writer's perspective, stupid is gold. You might see someone being stupid and turn away in disgust. Me? I'll look at the same person and my eyes will turn into little dollar signs like in the old cartoons. Ladies and gentlemen, stupid is my bread and butter.

The problem is, occasionally people show up on the grid who are SO incomprehensibly stupid that they step over the realm of what I like to call mockability. People who are SO ridiculous that, instead of being able to sum them up in a funny little column, all I can do is stare open-mouthed and wonder why I have to share air with these people. Being stupid is funny; being IGNORANT is just sad.

I hate those news-magazine shows like "20/20" and "Dateline," yet inexplicably the other night I found myself watching "Primetime Live." That's when I saw them: The Most Ignorant People on Earth. Ever. If you happened to catch the show, you probably already know what I'm talking about.

I will NEVER understand racism. I can't thank my parents enough for bringing me up in a world free of that stuff. No, I'm not a fool; racism's around us all every day. It's just that, as a child, it was never part of MY world. The first time I was ever exposed to racism was on the nightly news, and I just couldn't understand it. Here were people just openly HATING other people. For no discernable reason whatsoever. The 10 year old me didn't get it. The 34 year old me STILL doesn't get it.

And no, I'm not some kind of hippie peacenik, either. I'm not going to tell you not to hate people. There are people out there well worth hating, trust me. The guy who stole my girlfriend that one time? I hate that dude. The snitty tech support lady I had to wait 30 minutes on the phone just for the pleasure of hearing her attitude? Oh, I really hate her. Tom Cruise? Heck, we all hate Tom Cruise.

But to hate someone for the color of their skin? Oh, gimme a break. I just don't get it. People have different skin color because their ancestors grew up in different parts of the world. Big whoop. My ancestors are from Sweden and Germany. Your ancestors could be from Zimbabwe or Djibouti. Who cares? Should we hate Iowans because they're from Iowa? Of COURSE not. You and I both know that we should hate Iowans because they're bad drivers. (Just kidding. Kinda.) This brings us to the aforementioned spectacle on "Primetime Live," where we learned all about the butterflies-n-happiness world of Prussian Blue.

Prussian Blue are two sweet little 13-year-old girls. Blonde hair, blue eyes, and smiles that even Hayley Mills would've been jealous for. They're cute as buttons. And oh, yeah, they also wear the "cutest" little Adolf Hitler smiley-face t-shirts and sing songs of white supremacy.

There had better be a special place in Hell for these girls' mother. It became WAY obvious during the segment that these poor kids just don't know any better. They've just listened to their mom espouse ignorant hatred all their lives, and now they're just puppets in this sick show.

There should ALSO be a special place in Hell for the Primetime Live people. By featuring these kids, they're giving these ridiculous white supremacists exactly what they want: attention. And they approached the story from the angle of, "They're cute and loveable. They're the Olsen Twins of hate." The underlying message of the segment appeared to be that these wholesome-looking kids could be invading the pop charts at any day.

What Primetime Live failed to mention is that, while Prussian Blue are alarmingly cute little kids, they're also alarmingly AWFUL. They might look sweet, but they sound like two cats that ventured a little too close to the ol' rocking chair. It's the kind of awful that makes William Hung sound GOOD. Happily, you won't be hearing Casey Kasem say the name Prussian Blue anytime in the near future.

Yet Primetime Live tells us that our kids could fall sway to their demented songs of hate. Okay, check this out. This is an actual line of lyric from one of their songs. Sing along, everybody! "Who will face the end and watch a Valkyrie ride forth/ To join the gods and fallen stormtroopers of the North?" Happily, it turns out that white supremacists aren't so hot with the rhyme meter.

Still, Primetime tells us to be very afraid. And, in fact, I am. I'm really afraid that we live in a world where people are willing to exploit two little kids in the name of hate. Afraid that this is the sad result of our generation's well-intentioned fight for 1st Amendment rights. Afraid that no social service is within legal bounds of stormtrooping their house and rescuing these poor kids from their upbringing. Afraid that Rosa Parks died last week and there are kids out there who don't know what she did for our country. It's not funny. It's not even stupid. It's just ignorant.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Bye-Bye, Aaron Brown

Why am I honestly kind of bummed that CNN got rid of Aaron Brown today? He was the cerebral anchorguy... a voice I could actually trust. Instead of Aaron Brown, CNN is opting for Anderson Cooper? Umm...? Anderson Cooper is a HUGE dork. I can't picture anything but shots of him in his ugly anorak, trying to make gusts of wind into MAJOR EVENTS when he was "on the scene" (read as: 50 miles away) when Katrina was decimating the South. I can't be the only one who finds Anderson Cooper a bit CREEPY, can I? I like CNN, too; of the major news outlets, they're far and away my favorite. (Though, it must be said, I usually only watch the 24 hr. news networks just to watch them make idiots of themselves with breaking news events.) But CNN screwed up on this one.

Anyways, here's to you, Aaron Brown. To be intelligent without being pandering is a trait most television professionals fail at. You are the exception... and I hope you bounce back on another network. I just hope it isn't at Fox News.

Monday, October 31, 2005

COLUMN: Powerball


Despite investing a very hard-earned twenty dollars into last week's Powerball, I am not, it turns out, a kajillionnaire. I don't understand it. With twenty plays at 1-in-120,526,770 odds, I thought I was a lock for the payout. Oh, merciless fate, your cruel hand taunts me so.

No, instead of someone worthy (AHEM!) getting the dough, somebody in Oregon is the proud new owner of $340 million dollars. I have an ex in Oregon. With the way my luck flows, it'll probably be her. $340 million dollars. Stop and think about that for a second. That is, to use the vernacular, a buttnard of money.

ONE million dollars is officially more than I would know what to do with. Multiply that times 340. That makes Regis seem like chump change, doesn't it? "Who Wants To Be a Millionnaire?" Not me. I wanna be a $340-millionnaire now. Thanks, Powerball, for upping the stakes. That kind of payout makes "Survivor"'s meager one million seem completely NOT WORTH IT. Spend a month stranded on a remote island? No thanks, not when I can make 340 times that by just walking into a Kwik Shop and throwing down a buck, eh?

Staggering odds aside, the Powerball jackpot has been the front and center topic of conversation over the past two weeks. It might start as small talk, but it always ends up at the same question, doesn't it? Say it along with me, gang: "So What Would YOU Do With 340 Million Dollars?" You might have your own pipe dreams, but I've got some ideas of my own.

First off, let's skip all the touchy-feely, namby-pamby stuff that we'd all do with a bazillion bucks. YES, my folks would be taken care of for life. YES, I'd give some serious money to charity (or at least to the fine folks at NPR.) YES, my friends would all get new cars. But let's face it, with this kind of jackpot, you could take care of all that stuff and STILL have a vigintillion dollars left over to blow. With that mindset, a few thoughts:

• I would, immediately and without hesitation, buy up every radio station in town, thus allowing me to rule the airwaves from my living room every night. Radio Free Shane: The music that I want you to hear, when I want you to hear it. Hate the song? Change the dial, I dare ya. I'll be on the next frequency, too. And it's nothing against the local DJ's either; in fact, I'll even throw in a free plug and admit that I'm addicted to Jeff & Missy's morning show on B100. But the simple sad truth is that owning the airwaves is the most effective tool I can think of to turn you all into my brainwashed minions so that you all can carry out my evil bidding. Hey, everybody needs a career path, and Evil Ruler of Earth sounds like a good choice for a jillionnaire.

• That kind of dough might finally buy me some leverage with this whole Katie Holmes thing. Or it would have, had she not recently become impregnated with Tom Cruise's devil seed. I might be an aspiring Evil Ruler of Earth, but I'm not about to break up the engagement of an expectant celebrity. Therefore, there's only one obvious option: hire some scientists to build a time machine. Then I just roll back in time and stop the TomKat atrocity before it starts. Easy peasy.

• How much money do you suppose it would take to coerce Britney Spears and her skeevy husband into just going away forever? That's worth at least a zillion dollars in my book.

My co-workers here at the paper chipped into a pool to buy Powerball tickets. However, since I work later hours than they do, they FORGOT TO ASK ME IF I WANTED IN. Now THAT would be just my luck, coming into work to find out I'm the only NON-millionnaire employee left. Then again, if I was the only one still working at the paper, that would mean that every week I could babble on... and on... and on... Hmm, there's more than ONE way to make you all my minions. (Cue evil laugh.) BWAA HA HA HA. Don't worry, none of us won. Sigh. So I'll see ya next week. Have a happy (and, sadly, a fiscally responsible) Halloween

Sunday, October 23, 2005

COLUMN: Homecoming

This past weekend was Homecoming at Augustana College. I know this because the club that I DJ at on the weekends had a big sign up saying "Welcome Augustana Homecoming!" This is clearly a character flaw on my part.

I shouldn't have to rely on signs in dance clubs to know that it's Homecoming at Augustana, especially since I spent four of the best years of my life at Augie. I should be oozing gold and blue this time of year. I should have had my pennants at the ready and been fully prepped for Homecoming madness. Nnnnnope. Why? Because I've NEVER celebrated Homecoming.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I have my own Augie Homecoming on a nightly basis. I get off work and, indeed, Come Home to the same building I've lived in since my senior year at college. I've turned into that breed of person that we so mocked during my four year tour of duty at Augustana. Yes, I've become (gasp) a TOWNIE.

Going back to the ol' Alma Mater loses its lustre a bit when one drives right past it three to four times a day. I've even caught myself cursing under my breath when I have to stop at one of the many crosswalks along 7th Ave. to let some weasly freshman cross the street. 18 years ago, I WAS that weasly freshman, cursing under my breath whenever some jerk townie DIDN'T stop to let me cross the street. Oh, the times, they are a-changin'.

Homecoming at any college is pretty much synonymous with football, the ultimate collegiate battle. Trouble is, I've never been a big fan. I didn't attend one single game when I was a student; why should I bother as an alumni? It's no big secret that I was/am a bit of a nerd. My friends and I in college were the ones who hung out in dark corners, listening to bands like The Cure and Depeche Mode, naively espousing the benefits of socialism and wondering why the jocks ran the school.

During my sophomore year at Augie, I lived in a triple with 2 of my fellow nerd-tastic friends. The triple above ours was inhabited by a trio of jocks. Once, the guys upstairs taped up an ornate drawing of me and my roommates on our dorm room door. It was a grand caricature of the three of us holding hands below a banner that read, keenly, "WE ARE GAY." This is why we hated the jocks.

Of course, we retaliated by pointing all of our stereo speakers at the ceiling, popping in the most irritating CD we could find (Debbie Gibson's "Electric Youth") on repeat, and then leaving -- for the entire weekend. Our hope was that we'd be known as "those guys who drove the jocks crazy." In retrospect, it probably came across as "those guys who really, REALLY liked Debbie Gibson," which probably didn't do much for fighting the whole "we are gay" thing, despite the fact that I spent most of that year attached at the tonsils to my then-girlfriend.

Those days are waaay behind me. If you're pushing middle age and you havent yet come to terms with the whole nerds vs. jocks thing, you're a sad puppy. In fact, I work with some of the members of the current Augie football squad, and they're great guys. A couple years ago, I even decided to throw caution to the wind and (shocker) show school spirit. I had to DJ at Ribco on Homecoming weekend, so I dug through the closet, stretched on my old frat jersey, and took to the stage a portrait of Augustana pride.

And wouldn't you know, that would be the EXACT night that I bump into an old college friend. Once upon a time, he was a huge party guy. Now, he's a high-priced stuffed-shirt attorney, wife and kids, the whole package. And here I was, still DJing on Homecoming weekend, still single, still in my frat jersey. Nice. But know what? Who cares. At the end of the day, I was having fun and he was going bald. So Augie, maybe next time I'll actually REMEMBER Homecoming weekend. You've still got a fan in this townie. Go Vikings!

Friday, October 14, 2005

COLUMN: Shoplifting

Yep, I know. My column's not in the Leader this week. It was accidentally omitted due to a miscommunication by our layout folks. No worries -- here's this week's column as it was intended to run in the Leader (and you folks who read the Dispatch and/or Argus, you get to read the column a couple days early:)

I saw the weirdest thing the other day. Well, maybe it was only weird for me because I'm not a parent.

I had just gotten off work and had made my way to the nearest Walgreens to forage for essential life nutrients (in the form of Pringles) when, all of a sudden, I heard somebody yell.

"You're a thief!" declared the voice down the aisle from me.

First of all, it must be duly noted that, upon hearing this, my first instinct was to immediately pat down my pants pockets. Why I did this I will NEVER know. I've never shoplifted a thing in my life, I swear, but I guess that when you hear someone yell an accusation of thievery, you need to make SURE it's not you.

I mean, maybe this guy had slipped some sort of valuable Wal-good or Wal-service into my pocket. Perhaps I was about to be framed for a crime I did not commit. Imagine the embarassment when the headlines would splash, "Local Hero Columnist Found Filching Fritos -- Film at 11!"

Happily for me, it turns out my pockets were empty. The same, however, couldn't be said for this guy's kid. Turns out Dad had caught Junior trying to pinch a pack of gum, and was now standing there causing a full-on freak out scene.

I'm about the least qualified person on Earth to be offering parental advice, but in this case, I approved of Dad's actions -- a little yelling was the proper course of action here. I would want to make it perfectly clear to Junior that shoplifting is bad and wrong while drawing the eyes of the entire store and causing the kid to die of embarassment. I would want this image to flash into Junior's head each and every time he approached the gum aisle for the rest of his natural life.

The thing is, Dad didn't stop there. Next thing I knew, he grabbed Junior and was parading him to the front of the store. Ooh, I had picked a good day to go to Walgreens. I sprung into action and moved to position myself at the perfect here-I-am-browsing-away-but-really-I'm-just-eavesdropping vantage point.

Unfortunately, that perfect vantage point just happened to be the ladies skin care aisle. So there I was, trying VERY hard to look like I was researching the curative properties of Oil of Olay when all I cared about was the scene erupting in front of me.

Dad had brought Junior to the hapless check-out clerk and was yelling, "This kid was shoplifting! Call the police!"

Whoa. This was getting good. Sadly, my love of drugstore drama was tempered by my embarassment of holding something called "Citrusmelon Body Mist," so I left the scene just as Dad was calling the cops on his cell phone. I figured he was putting on an Oscar-worthy performance until, as I was leaving the store, I saw a squad car pull up.

I'm okay with scaring a kid straight, but to the point of calling the police on your own son just for nicking a pack of gum? I suppose if your kid was the Hubba Bubba Bandit or something and you caught him with a trenchcoat full of Juicy Fruit, then yeah, maybe Junior's got himself a habit that needs the long arm of the law.

But for one lousy pack of gum? The police have a JOB to do, and surely there's more pressing crime to attend to than teaching little Billy a valuable, Bubble Yum-related life lesson. Would you go so far as to put a mark on your own child's record? What if Little Billy, at your expert guidance, grew up to run for President, only for his opponent to pull out a 25-year-old mugshot of wee Billy with a handful of illicit Bazooka Joe?

I told this story to all of my friends, and was surprised to get a mixed reaction. Some agreed with me that calling the cops was a bit over-the-top. Others thought it was a smart move on Dad's part. Strangely, everyone in THIS camp were the folks who had kids (including MY mom! Now I'm glad I never shoplifted!) One of my friends, though, came up with a great idea: we need to have an elected official whose sole purpose is to scare the bejeepers out of our kids. That way the cops can deal with the important crime, while Barney Fife can handle Operation Tough Love.

If I ever have kids, and if I ever catch 'em stealing, I'll make their lives hell, don't worry. I'd just do it without dialing 911. But then again, maybe that wouldn't be enough. So, hey, if I end up with kids, keep your kids away from my kids. Unless, of course, your kids like gum. My kids might have enough to share.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

COLUMN: Grandpa

Note: This column got SERIOUSLY chopped in the papers this week. It's completely MY fault, as I turned it in roughly 250 words OVER my cut-off size. Sometimes when I do that, it's a slow news week and they run the column bigger. This time, not so much. I have separate copy editors for the Leader as well as the Dispatch/Argus, so the column ran considerably differently in each paper. Here's how the whole thing SHOULD have read, in a perfect world where people just hand me as much newspaper space as I want every week(grin).

One of my favorite songs in the world is by a little-known British pop group called The Bluetones. The chorus of the song goes, "There's no heart you can't melt with a certain little smile, and no challenge should be faced without a little charm and a lot of style." It's a credo that I try and live by -- though sometimes things happen that make that mantra all but impossible to follow. Or so I thought.

Two weeks ago, my grandpa died.

He was a good guy -- a simple man of simple means whose immense pride in his 35 years on the line at the Admiral (Maytag) plant in Galesburg was only overshadowed by his love for his two daughters and the families they raised. Retirement had been good to my gramps, and gave him plenty of time to take care of his lawn, play a tune on the old organ, and hang out on the porch swing in hopes of catching a wave from the engineers and conductors aboard the trains that passed just across the street. (One of the trainmen who always made sure to wave back? My dad.) He was a fairly gruff old guy, but if you managed to tickle his sense of humor, the smile you'd get back would light up the whole world.

As sad as I felt when I called home and got the news, I felt even worse for my mom. After losing my grandma a few years back, my mom spent time daily with my grandpa, filling the roles of daughter, friend, and caretaker simultaneously. His health had been declining lately, but no one (including his doctors) expected him to go so quickly. We had all lost a cherished family member... but my mother had lost a dad, a best friend, and a daily lunch date all at once.

The week of the funeral was the sort of somber chaos that you'd expect. My already stressed-out mother had to deal with the arrival of the extended family, many of whom stayed at my folks' place. My mom, the eternal giver, when put in pressure situations ALWAYS rises to the occasion, but often at her own expense. She was as gracious a host as ever, but I was concerned that she wasn't taking enough time to calm down, breathe, and work through her OWN grief.

My grandpa was a simple guy, and as such, requested a simple service - a quick prayer at the funeral home followed by a quick service at the graveside. The pastor at our church is a great guy, but he barely knows any of us. I can't even call it "our" church without a flash of shame - the only times I've been through its doors have usually involved either funerals or weddings. Before we left, our pastor got together with my mom to ensure he had the names right. My grandfather's clan were Fishels; my grandmother's were Coopers. With that, we adjourned to the cemetery.

At the graveside service, my mother was seated in the front row and wanted me beside her, which I gladly did. The rest of the family and friends gathered around. The service was nice, but perfunctory. At one point, the pastor eulogized my grandfather as "the most even-tempered man" he'd encountered. At this point, my cousin leaned into my ear and asked me if we were at the right funeral. My grandpa was a lot of great things, but "even-tempered" sure wasn't one of them. Well, maybe his temper WAS even - evenly GRUFF. I let it slide; like I said, he barely knew the guy.

As the pastor proceeded, my mind wandered a bit, soaking it all in and remembering all the things I loved about my grandfather. Suddenly, I burst back to reality:

"...and we can rest in the knowledge that, right now, he's being embraced by the Fishel family and by the Connor family."

Wait -- what? Did he just say CONNOR family? My grandma's family name is COOPER, not Connor. Wow, that was a really bad flub. And that's when it happened. When yours truly, at the front row of a somber funeral, did the unthinkable: I giggled.

It wasn't a loud giggle, but a giggle nonetheless. I quickly tried to compose myself and pretend that it didn't happen. But I was too late. Suddenly, I felt the shoulders next to mine heave. Oh no. I had become the world's worst son. I had the unmitigated gall to giggle at my grandfather's funeral. And my mom had heard it. And I had made my mom cry.

I leaned over to try and comfort her, to try and whisper an apology through her heaving sobs. But as I looked at her, realization hit. My mom wasn't sobbing; she was LAUGHING. She was sure trying to look like she was sobbing, but the Connor flub had hit home for both of us, and she was CRACKING UP. That was all it took; suddenly MY giggles were back, too.

It was the 'Chuckles the Clown' episode of the Mary Tyler Moore show come to life. For the rest of the ENTIRE SERVICE, my mom and I sat, heads buried in our hands, laughing uncontrollably to the point of exhaustion. The more I thought about it, the funnier it became.

I envisioned my grandfather at the pearly gates, suddenly being embraced by a family of complete Connor strangers. My "even-tempered" grandpa would undoubtedly be going, "Who are you sons-of-&$&@*es? Get the #&$@ away from me!" I couldn't stop laughing. Every time I'd get it together, my mom would lose it again. Every time she'd calm down, I'd start up again. Composure was NOT an option; if God Himself had hopped down seeking atonement, I would have still been cracking up all the way to Purgatory.

Thankfully, most of the family assumed that the two of us were more grief-stricken than funny-bone stricken. My dad knew what was up, and wasn't too amused, but my mom and I didn't care. My grandpa used to say that the last thing he ever wanted was a bunch of people gussed up and crying over his body. He got his wish. And knowing my grandpa, he would've cracked up over the Connor thing, too.

More than anything, though, our little politically incorrect foray allowed my mom to de-stress considerably. By the time we were back in the car, she was no longer the hypertense Family Rock - she was my mom again, full of life and fun and the sense of humor that she so luckily passed on to me. Our shared embarassment made for the greatest mother-son bonding moment we've had in eons.

Like I said, my grandpa was a good guy, and this was the best way I could possibly imagine to say goodbye. We should all be so lucky to go out the same way. I love you, Mom. And Gramps, may you rest in peace and laughter, with a little charm and a lot of style.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Goodbye, beautiful flat stomach.

Hello, creepy Scientology-brainwashed seed-of-Satan baby.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

COLUMN: Rock Star

Whew. I was getting worried there for a bit. It was a long, tense summer, but we rose to the occasion. We persevered through the best of times and through the worst of times, but it was worth it. Yes, we as a people can sleep much easier tonight in the safe, comfortable knowledge that -- finally -- INXS have chosen a new lead singer.

Anybody else get roped in by CBS' "Rock Star: INXS" this summer? I didn't mean to, I really didn't. I watched on a laugh one night... and inadvertently found myself completely and pointlessly hooked. It really WAS compelling television -- the contestants on "Rock Star," while arguably weaker vocalists, were FAR more engaging than anything "American Idol" threw at us last season, and it was refreshing to see a talent show -- ANY talent show -- not involving Ryan Seacrest.

We watched the contestants battle week after week ("we" being the 14 or so of you who actually checked the show out - it was fairly low-rated.) We saw the tense moments, the stumbles, the triumphs, and the bizarre covers of "Bohemian Rhapsody." And, in the end, it was homeless guy and erstwhile Elvis impersonator J.D. Fortune who won the position of fronting INXS, one of the most popular bands of two decades ago.

Umm... congratulations, J.D.! Just yesterday, you were a total nobody. Today, you're the frontman of a group of total nobodies long past their prime. Next stop? Perhaps opening for Foghat at the Oklahoma State Fair. That's right, you've MADE IT, baby!

And THAT'S what makes "Rock Star: INXS" my pick for Most Ridulous Show of the Year. Once upon a time, INXS were a truly great band. The reason for their greatness was simple: Michael Hutchence. Here was a guy who figured out a perfect formula for success: Take the swagger and sex appeal of legendary Doors frontman Jim Morrison and homogenize it down to appeal to the pop masses. Morrison took peyote and wrote songs about doing rather scandalous things to his mother; Hutchence was more concerned with finding words that sounded sexy and rhymed.

For all intents and purposes, Michael Hutchence WAS INXS. Sure, there were some other guys behind him onstage someplace, but you never really paid attention. Those other guys might have even written all the songs, but would you -- even 20 years ago when they were huge -- have recognized anybody in INXS if they were standing next to you in line at McDonalds? Only Hutchence; the rest of the guys were filler.

Tragically, Hutchence died a few years ago. And now, INXS have wrapped up their search for his replacement. The goal is that J.D. will step on stage with the rest of the band and that "INXS magic" will happen all over again.

What nobody informed you of on the show was that the magic had already run out years ago. Quick, name ANY song off one of the last 3 INXS albums. Can't do it, can you? That's because NOBODY BOUGHT THEM. Their career was already toast PRIOR to Hutchence's death. Did you also know that Fortune wasn't the first to replace Hutchence? The band had already recruited a new singer and set off on a failed world tour that netted empty seats and no new record deal.

But now, thanks to "Rock Star," INXS are once again household names (provided, of course, that you're in of one of the 8 or so households that actually WATCHED the show.) And Fortune is ready to try and do the impossible by honoring the memory of Hutchence AND making INXS somehow relevant again. Best of luck, pal.

Amazingly, "Rock Star" producer Mark Burnett has announced that he wants to do future installments of the franchise, where each season another presumably washed-up band seeks a new singer. What's next? Join us next season as the Blowfish seek a new Hootie? The Captain needs a new Tennille? Randy and Tito look for a new Michael? "The Jackson 4 + Some Guy Named Doug," coming to a Wal-Mart opening near you! Run away. Quickly.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Hod Fishel, 1923-2005

Sorry I haven't been around this week. My grandpa died. It wasn't entirely unexpected -- his health had been declining, but we weren't expecting it to end so soon. Death sucks.

I've never been one of those people who can easily wax poetic about death or write flowery prose talking about what a wonderful person he was, and how the world's a sadder place blah blah blah. All that stuff might be true, but it's just outside of my abilities/nature to talk about people that way. I don't like to bum people out or needlessly tug on heartstrings just for the sake of getting a rise out of somebody. I hate reading newspaper columns that are big, long eulogies about people I've never met.

My grandpa was a great guy, he really was. That's all anybody needs to know. And I'll hang on to the memories, the funny faces, the crazy recipes that he'd invent in the years after my grandma died, the incessant organ playing, and the gigantic brandy snifter that he used to drink his Pepsi out of every night. He was a simple man who loved simple things -- there's never been a better honest-to-gosh trainspotter on Earth. He didn't want people to make a big fuss over his death -- it's going to be a blue jeans ceremony at his request. So I'm not going to make a big fuss about it in print, either.

Just know that a pretty good guy's no longer with us... and if your grandparents are still around, give 'em a hug for me this week, 'kay?

Sunday, September 25, 2005


We serious journalist types (cough) are non-stop seekers of the truth. We pour our hearts and minds time and again into the stories we cover to bring you the very finest in news coverage. And when one of these stories hits home, it affects us so deeply that it's seemingly all we can talk about around the office.

That's why it should come as no surprise that, over the past week, the most heated discussions around the water cooler here, naturally, have been about Cable, Ill.

Cable is a small town just to the south of the Quad-Cities. This fact alone is likely newsworthy to most of you, as "small" is a bit of an understatement when it comes to Cable.

I've been to Cable once myself. Back in college, my friends and I needed a late-night study break, so we all piled into my car and took off on an aimless country drive. We got really lost and somehow ended up in Cable.

I remember this because, as we were driving through the town, I had to slam on my brakes to avoid hitting WILD TURKEYS that were amiably strutting through the main street. I'm not making fun of small towns here, so don't write me hate mail -- I come from one myself. I'm just saying that Cable is the sort of town where wild turkeys can feel free to take midnight strolls, OK?

The running joke that none of us knew until last week is that Cable has no cable-television service. Thus enters an enterprising marketing guy from Quad City Satellite with a brainstorm. They went to the residents of Cable with a proposal: 10 years of free Dish Network satellite TV to the entire town -- if the town agreed to change its name from Cable to DISH, Ill.

This is, in my book, a pretty funny idea. It's the kind of funny idea that would give Dish Network AND Cable, Ill., some pretty amusing 15 minutes of fame. It's the kind of story that would run in every newspaper in the country. The kind of story that might even get a mention from Leno or Letterman. A win-win situation, right?

Not so much. The idea backfired. A city-council meeting was held, and Cable residents were, for the most part, outraged. Satellite-dish subscriptions were canceled, residents spoke their minds, and the folks from Dish Network were sent packing.

I'm not so sure I would've done the same thing. I guess I've never really had enough civic pride to honestly care about the name of my town (unless, of course, I was living in "Loserburg" or "Lameville" or something). I like living in Rock Island, but that's only because when my music-nerd friends from out of town ask where I'm from, I can throw up the devil horns and scream, "I'm from the Island of ROCK, dude."

Cable started as a mining and railroad town, and got its name because most of the major stockholders of the railroad had the surname Cable. One news report interviewed a resident of the town who said those stockholders would be "turning in their graves" over the name change.

But how do we know? Maybe those guys would all be big fans of "The Sopranos" and want their town's residents to have access to HBO. It's neat that residents of the town obviously have a great respect for history -- but you know what else can foster a great respect for history? Ten years of The History Channel for free, that's what.

At the end of the day, you have to respect the wishes of the 40 households of Cable. They were offered their 15 minutes of fame, and they wanted no part of it. That's commendable. You folks (and even your wild turkeys) should walk with heads held high.

I, on the other hand, am a complete sellout. Unfortunately, it turns out that, despite my powerful role as a beloved area humor columnist, I surprisingly don't have the authority to change the name of Rock Island. However, I can still accommodate any interested publicity executives reading now.

For the right return, and at great personal expense, I hereby publicly declare that I'm willing to change the name of my apartment from "Apt. No. 5" to "Apt. No. 61-Inch Flatscreen Plasma Hi-Definition TV."

Any takers?

Friday, September 23, 2005

You Know What I Don't Get?

So you see all these horrific pictures of cars on the interstate going like 2 mph trying to get out of the way of Hurricane Rita, right?


Sorry, but just because somebody tells me to get the heck out of Dodge (and/or Houston), that doesn't mean that the interstate is the only mode of transportation out of town?!

Surely there's like a myriad of dirt, gravel, and pavcd country roads that simply CANNOT be congested like this, right? Or am I missing something? Personally, I would be turning my car into an ATB (All Terrain Beetle) and hoofing it through the uncharted territories of Texas before I would set foot on an interstate that's moving slower than a circus parade...

Monday, September 19, 2005

Tell Us Something We DON'T Know...

I don't know how I missed this one on The Daily Kos 2 weeks ago.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


Loser ('lu-z&r): (n.) One who is incompetent; something doomed to fail or disappoint. See also: Shane.

For those of you following my life like a serial during your morning cereal, you may recall that last week found me at the dawn of a vacation week with no decisive plans for vacating. Witness the rantings of my wide-eyed, optimistic self just seven days ago:

"I figure that my nearly condemnable apartment could use a good once-over. So I'm going to spend my week cleaning, organizing, throwing stuff away, tidying, and generally fixing my life up a bit."

Oh, Shane, you idealistic fool.

My game plan was in motion early on. Cleaning supplies had been purchased. Timelines had been drawn. Heck, I admit it, even alarm clocks had been set so as not to waste one precious moment of cleaning time. I was Man On A Mission, and nothing could stop me from turning my apartment from squalor to stateliness. And I would start this project...

... the second I got home from the Tuesday ritual. You see, only we TRUE pop culture junkies know Tuesdays need to be reserved for the most precious weekly event on Earth.

Tuesdays are a time for love, for peace, for infinite harmony to flow across the land; for, you see, Tuesdays are when the new releases go on sale at Borders and Co-Op Records.

And in one glance at the new release wall, the swift and immediate realization hit me that there would be no cleaning in my immediate future. I had forgotten this was the Tuesday that the first season of "Lost" came out on DVD.

Now, I've come to terms long ago with the fact that television does, in fact, rule my life. I love the smart, scathing comedy of "South Park," "The Daily Show," "Family Guy," and so on.

I hate reality TV -- well, I hate that I love reality TV, yet still I race home for "Survivor," "The Amazing Race," and "American Idol" week after week. As much as I love TV, though, it's very rare that I latch onto a show so intensely that it really becomes all I can think about.

"Twin Peaks" was the first. The ground-breaking '90s series co-created by the mad genius David Lynch was the first TV show I would have quite possibly killed not to miss. Between Laura Palmer wrapped in plastic, dancing backwards-talking midgets, and lines like, "This must be where pies go when they die," "Twin Peaks" made life altogether more livable.

If I wasn't such a shallow man, I'd even confess that I once dressed up in costume and went to a Twin Peaks convention; however, since I still harbor the fantasy of dating another girl at some point in my life, I'll keep that nerd-centric story to myself.

It took years for me to get over the cancellation of "Twin Peaks." I vowed never to become wrapped up in another show so deep. Then I saw "Lost." I actually waited about six or seven episodes before I gave in to the taunts of my nerdy friends and watched it. Within an hour, I was calling people up to find copies of the episodes I'd missed.

I figured a TV show about plane crash survivors stranded on a desert island would be atrocious. Knowing network TV as I do, I was expecting a cross between Tom Hanks talking to a volleyball and Gilligan playing island basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters.

What I wasn't expecting from "Lost" was monsters, polar bears, mysterious hatches, potentially evil babies, and enough supernatural, creepy heebie-jeebies to keep one's mind occupied for months.

This long hot summer wait through rerun season has been damaging to the psyche. If I don't find out what's in the stinkin' hatch by the end of the next episode, I'm going postal.

(It'll probably be a key to a door that'll be opened sometime around season five or so. I hate the writers.)

So, yeah, idiot me did NOTHING on vacation except re-watch all 24 episodes of "Lost," then watch all the bonus stuff on the DVD.

Spoiler: It doesn't tell ya one stupid thing about the stupid hatch. But I am now officially SUPER keyed up about the new season (Wed., Sept. 21 on ABC) -- so much so that I'm inviting friends over for the season two debut.

That is, if I can find my television somewhere in all this garbage.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Everybody Pees

...But not everybody has to ask Condoleeza Rice if it's okay first.

This would be our fearless leader, needing to relieve himself in the middle of the United Nations session yesterday.

I'm not kidding. Here's the caption that originally ran with this photo, courtesy of Reuters:

U.S. President George W. Bush writes a note to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a Security Council meeting at the 2005 World Summit and 60th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York September 14, 2005. World leaders are exploring ways to revitalize the United Nations at a summit on Wednesday but their blueprint falls short of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's vision of freedom from want, persecution and war. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Carefully look at the contents of said note.

"I think I may need a bathroom break? Is this possible" is what it says.

Which CLEARLY brings to mind two important points:

(1) What's with the usage of the question mark? "I think I may need a bathroom break?" Mr. President, that shouldn't be a question. You either have to doodie or you don't. It's never a "maybe" kinda issue.

(2) You are (as unbelievable as it sounds to us as it must to you) the elected leader of the free world. As such, you should not have to ask permission to use the pottie. In all due respect, Mr. President, your importance is such that, if you wanted to, you could whip it out right there in the assembly room and take a #1 on the heads of the delegation from Sierra Leone.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

COLUMN: Vacation Week

Hiya, chumps! How's the work week going? Is the 9-to-5 grind particularly challenging? Are you stressing out? Having a fun time wasting your life working for The Man?

I feel for ya. I really do. I will, in fact, feel for you while sitting in my living room recliner. I do this because, while you must soon put your newspaper down to get back to whatever good and/or service you help bring to the world, I will be deep in the heart of a well-deserved vacation week.

The sad truth, though: I'm certain that my brain will ruin it.

There's a horrible question that seems to pop up each and every time I get a week off from work, and the answer to that question can make or (usually) break the entire vacation: WHAT DO I DO WITH A WHOLE WEEK OFF?

Usually there are two answers to this question: I can either do (a) Something, or (b) Nothing. And, invariably, whichever I choose, I'll decide later that I should have done the other.

Let's imagine that I answered (a) and that I'm going to do Something on my vacation. This usually involves a trip someplace. In the past decade, I've taken roadtrips to Colorado, Cleveland, Canada, Memphis, and -- most recently -- Dallas. Loads of times, I've spent a full week in Chicago visiting friends. I might even occasionally make the journey to Galesburg to spend time with my oft-neglected family.

Usually these trips are a whole lot of fun. BUT -- and this is where the mental conundrum comes in -- the fun usually comes at a price. If I'm going on an official, get-the-suitcase-out-of-the-closet kind of trip, I try to make it worth my while -- and I try to do this by moving non-stop for an entire week. A normal vacation trip for me involves so many sights and sounds that, by the time I make my way back to work the next Monday, the only thing I can think about is how badly I need a vacation.

Then there's the other option: do Nothing. I've spent many a vacation week simply hangin' out. Staying in town, not doing anything productive, and just idly watching the world go by for a week. By the time I'm back at work, I'm fairly well-rested, sure, but I also feel like I've completely wasted what little time off I have every year. (And no, that's NOT a slam against the newspaper -- I get three weeks of vacation every year, which is more than a whole lot of people get. But, in the grand scheme of things, if I'm working 49 weeks out of the year, I wanna make those other 3 weeks COUNT!) Besides, who wants to answer the "So, what'd you do on your vacation" question with, "Umm... watched some TV?"

So, invariably, every vacation that I get sucks. If I do Something, I'll regret not doing Nothing. If I do Nothing, I'll be embarassed that I didn't do Something. Ergo, I might as well just stick around at work.

Happily, however, I'm not insane. I'd rather face this dilemma time and again than NOT have a vacation at all. And this time, I may have just found a compromise.

I'm staying in town for most of this vacation. That means I'm choosing Nothing. BUT... I figure that my nearly condemnable apartment could use a good once-over. So I'm going to spend my week cleaning, organizing, throwing stuff away, tidying, and generally fixing my life up a bit. That, by definition, is doing Something. And it just so happens that my favorite band is playing in Dekalb this week, so I'm going to take one day to go see them play.

I'll let you know if the Nothing/Something compromise pans out. In the meantime, though, I reeeeally want to stop writing. No offense, but I've got a vacation to get to.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Help: A Day in the Life

Hey guys.

(First off, sorry for the disappearing act -- I'm on vacation this week!)

Later today marks the release of one of the coolest charity records that's come out in a loooong time. And it might be bad timing, because right now the word "charity" is synonymous with the word "Katrina," I know... sadly, this benefit does NOT support hurricane relief efforts, but it IS a good cause.

War Child is a British-based charity that looks after victims of war worldwide, from the hills of Afghanistan to civil war ravaged Sierra Leone and more. A decade ago, the group released "Help," a legendary charity record that was recorded in one week by a slew of top music talent and in stores the next week.

This time, they're topping themselves. "Help: A Day in the Life" is their new benefit record. Not only have they enlisted new tracks from some of the greatest bands in the world (Coldplay, Bloc Party, Keane, Kaiser Chiefs, Belle & Sebastian, etc.,) but they've pulled it off in ONE DAY. Twenty-four hours ago, all contributing artists went into the studio to record their exclusive tracks. The results will show up TODAY in the form of downloadable mp3's from the War Child site,

An actual CD of the benefit will be in the shops in a month, but the online version should be up for sale later today. A cool project for a cool cause, go buy it.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

COLUMN: Art Appreciation 101

I so desperately want to be pretentious, highbrow, and artistic.

I want to be well-read. I want to be emotionally overcome by a poem. I want to dissect the hidden inner symbolism of a Bergman film. I want to appreciate the beauty of a simple sonata. I want to click my camera and instantly create a piece of art that makes people in tweed jackets go "Oooooh, the textures!" I want to wear black turtlenecks and make controversial statements in coffeeshops.

Sadly, I want all of these things for the wrong reason. I need to come to terms with the fact that I'm just not an artsy kinda guy. As hard as I may try, at the end of the day, I'm pretty shallow, self-serving, and cynical. That's why I'm a humor columnist and not off scribing the Great American Novel. That's why I own movies like "Pauly Shore is Dead" on DVD. That's why half of my favorite books are comic strip collections.

Yet, despite my ineptitude at artistic appreciation, I still routinely try to pass myself off as someone deep and innately artistic. Why? The truth is simple. My appreciation for art matters far less than my appreciation for artsy GIRLS, and I like to put myself where they gather. This is usually an exercise in futility, as artsy girls tend to overlook chubby newspaper columnists in favor of guys who wear leather jackets, read Kerouac, and smoke clove cigarettes while listening to minimalist German bands who favor sledgehammers and trash cans over guitars. Yet I sure keep trying.

That might explain why this past weekend, I found myself strolling through the new Figge Art Museum in Davenport. First thing's first: the Figge is fantastic. The building is a work of art in itself, let alone the impressive collection within. The whole thing's a bit daunting for a non-art person like myself, but the museum does a great job at putting up informative plaques to help folks better appreciate the multitudes of paintings, sculptures, and installations.

Too bad all I can muster in my head are thoughts akin to, "Ooh, that's a pretty picture." The whole time I was there, I was observing other museum-goers. I watched a girl stand in front of a centuries-old painting of Madonna and child (one of many at the Figge) for almost five minutes. I bet she was contemplating the historical signifigance of the piece. Perhaps she was admiring the artist's subtle use of background imagery, their brush stroke, the ornate detail of the presumed masterpiece. Minutes later, I walked up to the same piece, and the best my mind could come up with was, "Man, that is one ugly baby Jesus." Yes, I'm pathetic.

The one piece, however, that I really DID love at the Figge is sadly the one that's already left the museum by the time this column makes print. Friends had been telling me about Janet Cardiff's "40 Part Motet" since the Figge opened, but it didn't do justice until you actually experience it. Cardiff individually recorded all 40 members of a boy's choir singing one of the most intricate choral pieces imaginable. The installation is basically a huge circle of 40 speakers positioned at mouth level playing back the piece. You can walk around the room and hear each individual member of the choir, or you can sit in the middle and be gob-smacked by the coolest surround sound you could imagine.

I spent a lot of time at the piece. I wondered how she was able to record every voice individually. I wondered how they were able to play it back - is there a 40-track mixer hiding behind closed doors? I was amazed at the clarity. I was impressed by the sonic tricks you could get just by walking around the room differently. The whole thing was kind of moving. Then it hit me. I was (gasp) appreciating art.

Or at least I thought I was. Then I got home and Googled the piece. I found a review on an art site: "As the voices rise and merge over us, we are brought to a sense of honesty... We are not only in this room nor only of this world. We are reminded that each of us has a part in the intricate counterpoint of existence." The intricate counterpoint of existence? Sigh... I just thought it was neato.

Part of me wants to ban myself from high art, since I'm apparantly too lame to appreciate it on the level it should be. Then again, let the pretentious posse have their stupid symbolism. It doesn't mean I can't check out all the pretty pictures, too. Well, except for that one baby Jesus. It kinda creeps me out.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

MTV VMA's: Who Cares?

Ah, yes, it's Video Music Awards night on the MTV.

As Diddy (the artist formerly known as sane) puts it, "ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN!" Too bad nothing did, other than Fat Joe probably getting shot later tonight.

A few random comments on the night's boredom:

(1) Clearly, R. Kelly has lost his damn mind.

(2) Clearly, Kelly Clarkson is officially a hottie. "American Idol" really DOES work; that girl's gonna be around for awhile.

(3) The "special secret surprises" were MC Hammer & My Chemical Romance??? Suddenly I find myself yearning for the days of Michael Jackson & Lisa Marie Presley making out.

(4) Favorite moment of the night? The water jets arching over the winner's heads as they walked the aisle to the stage. Or, more to the point, the water jets malfunctioning and arching NOT QUITE over the winner's heads, causing fabulous people in fabulous outfits to either strut through the water spray (Green Day) or crawl on their hands and knees to avoid getting wet (Kelly Clarkson.)

(5) The grand public debut of the Terror Squad / G-Unit rap war. Fat Joe made fun of 50 Cent's massive security posse, then 50 & Tony Yayo called Fat Joe a "--------- pussy --------- ------!!" during their set. I don't know exactly what WAS said thanks to MTV censors. But the point is, somebody's gonna get shot soon.

(6) Paulina Rubio apologizing for the Gorillaz being "unable to attend." Possibly because they're cartoons, mmm?

(7) I'm TOTALLY writing Lil' Kim while she's in jail. Maybe I'll get an autograph back. Hey, it worked for Slick Rick...

(8) The show sucked. But what else is new?

COLUMN: Diary of a Sick Day

8:32 a.m. - Katie Holmes. A hot tub. Some lime Jell-o. It is the dream of all dreams, when suddenly I'm awakened to the blare of my alarm clock. Quick, hit the snooze timer -- Katie, come back!

8:37 a.m. - Katie is gone for good as my alarm goes off again. I shut it off and lay for a moment, enjoying the relaxing sound effects of a distant crackling fire.

8:38 a.m. - Wait a second, that crackling is coming from my LUNGS. This can't be good.

8:40 a.m. - Reality starts to settle in. Apparantly, while I was tending to the Jell-o in my subconscious, an Ebola of a cold has settled into my head and chest. Urgh. There is NO WAY I'm going to work today.

8:45 a.m. - The inability to breathe without coughing means that I MUST call in sick to work. I really hate doing this. Don't get me wrong, I love skipping work -- I just hate having to make that phone call to do so. I say a couple of sentences out loud to the wall. Grr, nope, my voice isn't shot, it sounds fine. They're TOTALLY not going to believe that I'm sick. Ah well, I really DO feel icky, and it must be done.

8:46 a.m. - Whew. Voicemail. Bosses are so less intimidating when they're recorded. Message left, which means it's official. I'm playing hooky.

8:47 a.m. - I do the hooky dance in my PJ's in the living room. But only for a second; then the headache and nausea set in. Grr, I really AM sick.

9:15 a.m. - The battle stations are prepared. I lay down on the couch and examine the table before me. Box of Kleenex, bottle of Robitussin, 2 pieces dry toast, jug of water, remote control. Check, check, check, check, and check. I'm set. Let's get to illin', y'all.

10:05 a.m. - Daytime TV rules. Today, on a special "Maury," Marisol brings in the 14th possible father of her child for paternity testing. Oh, man, do people actually WATCH this garbage every day? There MUST be something better on, I say to myself as I grab the remote control.

10:45 a.m. - It's not #14's baby, either. Ooh, Marisol, you tempestuous vixen, you.

12:00 p.m. - I'm hungry. This presents a problem, as the only inhabitants of my fridge are a can of grape juice, some Grey Poupon, and something that may or may not have been Chinese food sometime in June. I need to go on a food run. The paranoia sets in. What if a co-worker sees me out driving around? I don't want anybody to think I'm faking it. I plan a route to KFC using all side roads.

12:30 p.m. - Having returned with my stealth lunch, it's time for some soaps. Like sands of the hourglass, so are the Days of our Lives. Hasn't this show been on for, like, 100 million years? That's gotta be one slow hourglass.

1:45 p.m. - Two thoughts cross my mind. First, is there anything worse than the taste of Robitussin? I'd rather go on Fear Factor and munch on rotted animals than take another swig of this stuff. Second, what a STUPID name for a drug. Doesn't it sound like a Japanese monster-movie nemesis? "Godzilla vs. Robo-tussin," coming to a Creature Feature near you.

1:55 p.m. - Robo-tussin has declared war on the rest of my coffeetable. The Sudafed box puts up a good fight but is no match for its awesome power. The only thing that can save the peaceful community of Tabletown is... Captain Advil-Bottle! When I realize I've spent 10 minutes playing with a bottle of cough syrup (complete with sound effects and narration,) I decide that maybe I need to ease off the cold meds a bit.

3:10 p.m. - I want my mommy.

3:40 p.m. - If you channel-flip long enough, there is ALWAYS an episode of "Cops" on somewhere. Astoundingly, I've seen them ALL before.

5:00 p.m. - As my sick day winds to a close, and I trapse through the sea of wadded-up Kleenex around my couch, I still feel pretty icky. On the lighter side, however, if I do it juuust right, I might just be able to turn this into a funny column. Time will tell, I guess...

Monday, August 22, 2005

COLUMN: Peter Pan

In short time, I will be 35 years old. Eek. Don't send cards quite yet - it's not for another five months. Still, the fact that it's that far off and I'm already worried about it does NOT bode well. But who can blame me? 35 is officially old.

If I played professional sports, I'd be contemplating retirement about now. Soon, I will no longer be in the "coveted 18-34 market" that advertisers obsess about. No, instead I'll be lumped into the age bracket where advertisers try to reach me via reruns of "Matlock" and "Murder She Wrote." Where looking at college freshman girls becomes -- officially and decidedly -- creepy. Where MTV starts to become "just crazy kids making crazy noise."

I find myself at an interesting crossroads. On the one hand, I don't ever want to be "the old guy." I don't EVER want to be uncool, unhip, or past my prime. I don't EVER want to be called "sir" in my life. Yet, on the other hand, when my hopes and dreams are actually realized, it's just as irritating.

Let me explain. The other day, a co-worker of mine, in an off-hand conversation, made a comment that part of me wanted to take as a compliment, while the other half simply shriveled up in a ball of embarassment. She innocently referred to me as "Peter Pan."

I mean, why should that bother me? Peter Pan exemplifies the essence of eternal youth. Peter Pan should be my ideal! The world populace can become old fogies all it wants to -- ol' Peter Pan here will just laugh and dance about and then go play some X-Box, right? Right?

Then reality starts to nudge its way in. I'm all for youthful exuberance, but Peter Pan doesn't bring to mind youthful exuberance as much as it brings to mind creepy asexual frolicking. I mean, there's a REASON that Peter Pan is usually played by WOMEN. Staying young in spirit is nifty and good, unless the end result is that women of the free world now think of me on the same sexual level as Sandy Duncan. Never in my life have I heard a girl go, "Wow, that Peter Pan is SUCH a hottie."

I've been to class reunions lately, and people I went to school with are starting to look old and balding and wrinkly and such. Meanwhile, the other day a strange girl came up to me at a summer festival and was all, "Shane? Shane BROWN? Is that you?"

I didn't recognize this middle-aged woman one bit. Turns out we went to GRADE SCHOOL together. We hadn't seen each other since we were, oh, 10. I wouldn't have been able to pick her out of a line-up even if she were wearing her "Wataga Warriors" t-shirt. Yet, she pegged me from 50 yards off. Why? Because I still apparantly must look like I'm 10. THIS is a bit distressing for a 34.6 year old.

The other day, it got WORSE. I was having a "feel-bad-for-me" day, so I decided to treat myself to a movie. However, what I was not expecting at the ticket counter? "I'll need to see some ID, please."

That's right: 34-year-old me got carded trying to get into an R-rated movie. Suddenly, I was HAPPY I went by myself. I was so flabbergasted that, for one of the few moments in my life, I became indignant.

"Look," I said to the ticket girl, "you have GOT to be kidding. I could walk into this movie with a beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other, an absentee ballot in my pocket and a porno mag tucked under my arm!"

Note to self: This is NOT the best way to impress a theatre employee. Yes, I had to stand there, holding up the line, while she carefully held my ID to the light, checking to ensure it wasn't a fraud -- and all this to prove that I was of the maturity level necessary to watch "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo." There really IS something wrong with this world.

At the end of the day, I guess I just need to stop worrying about what others think, and just be me. My co-worker says my Peter Pan mentality is both "my charm and my downfall," and hey, I can live with being charming. Perhaps a compromise is in order. I'm not going to start wearing suits and listening to Celine Dion, but maybe it's time to ditch my subscription to "Electronic Gaming Monthly" and start getting "Esquire" instead. After all, in five months' time, the REAL fun can start: that's when this Peter Pan will be old enough to run for President.