Sunday, February 27, 2005


Say it ain't so.

It turns out that your humble columnist is not the strapping hulk of intellect and sophistication that you've assumed. It turns out that I am not the upwardly mobile, well-read embodiment of class that I've assumed. It turns out that I'm going to face a snide sneer from the red wine drinking, art appreciating, highly cultured masses.

It turns out that I... (shudder)... like NASCAR. A lot.

So that's it for me, then. No longer shall I be welcomed with open arms into deep philosophical discussions about the essence of human existence. No longer will I need to know that a soft Neufchatel is best served with a medium-bodied Vins de Pays d'Oc. Now I simply need to know that a brat is best served with a can of MGD, or, for the truly exotic moments in life, I need merely unscrew me a bottle of Boone's. Hoo-ey, them's good eatin'.

I am well on my way to true redneck-dom. Somebody hand me a Toby Keith CD and PBR me ASAP, I might as well get it over with now.

As I've mentioned before, I spend my weekend nights DJ'ing at a club in the District. On a good night, I'll make it home by sunup. This means that while you responsible people are off doing whatever responsible people do on a Sunday morning, I'm snoring away until the crack of noon or so. Then I get up, crawl to the living room, and flick on the TV. But what to watch? Meet the Press? C-Span? Educational programming? Noooo, not when I can watch cars drive around an oval for 3 hours.

All it took was a few races last year to get hooked. Now NASCAR is my own weekly crack habit, and I couldn't begin to tell you why. I know nothing about cars, other than where the key goes and who to pay to fix them when they break. I like to consider myself an environmentalist, yet here I am endorsing a sport that wastes gas and rubber while pointlessly polluting the air, the roads, and anyone within earshot.

The only reason I'm addicted to NASCAR is because it's a 180 mph soap opera... with gnarly wrecks. You've got the quintessential good guy (Dale Jr.,) and the quintessential bad guy (Tony Stewart.) You've got the old warhorses at the end of their reign (Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin, both in their final full seasons of racing.) You've got the reckless, hell-raising new guys (Kasey Kahne and Casey Mears) trying to steal the show. You've got smart guys who you want to pummel (2004 cup champ Kurt Busch,) and dumb guys who you equally want to pummel (Elliott Sadler and his stupid Cajun accent.) And, most importantly, you've got your guy to root for (for me, it's the #48 car of Jimmie Johnson, robbed from the 2004 cup and destined to win 2005.)

Until now, only my closest friends knew about my NASCAR fetish. The other night at a trivia contest, my team and I were surprised with a category on NASCAR -- and even more surprised when I nailed all the answers. "Uh, I saw something on SportsCenter," was all I could say.

Whew, that was close.

To me, NASCAR represents everything I hate about beer-swillin', flag-wavin', butt-kickin' America. NASCAR is a red state sport, and I'm a blue state kinda guy. Let's face it - the drivers I root for probably would have beat me up in high school. Yet, none of this can stop the hairs on the back of my neck from rising whenever Darrell Waltrip ("D.W." to us fans) yells "Boogity! Boogity! Boogity!" to kick off my Sunday.

So I guess this is the start of my decline. I'm steppin' out of the closet with my undersized t-shirt and my beer helmet primed. By this time next year, I'll be chewin' my Skoal in a double-wide with a 3-legged dog I'll name "Nugent." Or maybe I'll still be my cynical self who simply disappears from view for a few hours every weekend. All I know is that this Sunday, when the 2005 NASCAR season kicks off in full with the Daytona 500, I will NOT be available for brunch.

Boogity! Boogity! Boogity!

Sunday, February 20, 2005


It's been a harrowing week, dear readers. Since my last missive, I've stared sheer terror in the face, and somehow, with only sheer grit and brute machismo, I have survived.

That's right -- I had to go to the DMV.

It all started off so innocently the other night, getting off work and going out to a club with some friends. Upon getting carded at the door, the bouncer looked at me and said, "You know, your license is expired." Oh, phoo. (But I used vocabulary a bit harsher than "phoo," I'm afraid.) Once again I had retained my crown as The Most Irresponsible Person of Earth. It turns out I had been running amok for almost 30 days on an expired license. (My mom is rolling her eyes as she reads this right now, I know she is. It's not your fault, Mom. You tried.)

The next day, my mission was simple -- make it to the DMV and back in a 60 minute lunch break. What can I say, I'm optimistic.

Over here in Illinois, the DMV used to be at Cityline Plaza, a convenient five minutes from both work and home. But someone at the facility -- realizing that the word "convenient" goes against everything the DMV stands for -- had the good sense to move it to the furthest corner of the QC (a distant land the natives call 'Silvis,') in a complex so confusing it defies description. After a brisk 20 minute drive, I was there. Or was I? Wait, did I just pass the turn? Should I go back...? No, maybe it's up here... oh, PHOO! (Actually, perhaps closer to, "How the phoo do I get into this phooing parking lot, you phooing phoophooers?")

There should no longer be need for people to take a driving test when they get their license; if they can make it inside the DMV parking lot, they've already proven themselves worthy behind the wheel. After taking a quick course in cartography and consulting my Magic 8-Ball ("My sources say NO,") I made it into the parking lot and triumphantly strutted into the DMV...

...for exactly two paces. Then I was in a line. In fact, it was the line to find out which line I needed to stand in next. Ahead of me were two people who I'll just call The Worst Case Scenario. The first was a 16 year old girl who was obviously making her first trip into Hell. As she shuffled awkwardly in line and pulled the Rules of the Road out of her purse for a final once-over, I remembered how hard I'd studied for my first written driving test, only to arrive to find out the questions were like, "A person crosses the street in front of you. Do you: (a) slow down, (b) speed up, (c) honk your horn and proceed as normal, (d) run them down as penance for their insolence."

The other lady in front of me might have been a nice woman... 20 years ago, when she might have still been alive. Now, here she was at the ripe old age of 127, trying and failing to pass her vision test. And getting upset. And demanding a supervisor. And eating up the rest of my lunch hour. (When I'm in a rush, I have NO sympathy, folks, not even for the Little Old Lady From Pasadena.)

Finally, it was my turn. I did the eye test while the DMV worker appeared to be reading a magazine of some kind. She was paying so little attention that I could have just made up stuff: "X, E, Y, Pi, one of the symbols off Led Zeppelin IV, a Volkswagen logo, E..."

Then the coup de grace. The new driver's license photo. Every year, it's cringe-worthy, but this time, it aspired to new levels of bad. Like Nick Nolte mugshot kinda bad. If driver's license photos came with captions, the only two that could apply to my new pic are: (a) "Hey, buddy, got any crack?" or possibly (b) "Hey, buddy, want any crack?" In the mirror, I think I look marginally okay. In my driver's license, I now look like a lazy-eyed, unshaven, double-chinned, messy-haired refugee from Losertown.

It's such a horrible picture that I'm almost looking forward to 1/5/09 when I can go back to the DMV and change it. On second thought, phoo that.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

COLUMN: Internet

It's been a very rough 48 hours.

I got home the other day to find a true emergency. I had no lifeline. My umbilical cord to the world had been severed. I was all alone in the universe, left with only my inner voice and sheer gut instinct to survive. I was Tom Hanks in "Cast Away."

That's right -- my internet service was down for two whole days. This can NEVER happen again.

Suddenly I had no news, no sports, no weather... no porn. My life was thrown into turmoil, and the fact that I lived through the ordeal to talk to you today is sheer testament to the human spirit and mankind's ability to overcome adversity.

After discovering the dilemma and having a good panicked cry, I set about attempting to piece my life together without cyberassistance. I had to re-learn every facet of existence as though I'd awoken from a ten-year coma.

First off, I needed to re-establish contact with my friends. But how would this be possible without being able to access Instant Messenger? I thought about it for a while, and then took action. Thankfully, just as I was on the roof of my apartment with a blanket, some lighter fluid, and a copy of "Smoke Signals for Dummies," I remembered that there was an easier way. It turns out that I possess an antiquated device by which -- get this -- you can push in the correct seven-digit code, and if your friend also owns one of these ancient creations, it will emit a ringing sound on their end. The user can then pick up the device and speak through it, hearing the party on the other end. I believe they call it a "tele-phone." It's just like Instant Messenger, except you have to go to the trouble of speaking, and with complete words, too! (This "speaking" thing became challenging as I didn't know how to pronounce "LOL!" or "ROFL!")

The rest of the weekend followed in the same manner. I had to watch that picture box thing in the living room to find out the news and sports. I had to walk all the way to the window to know the weather. I had to spend two entire days without receiving ANY e-mails alerting me to discount Viagra, cheating housewives, or Nigerian princesses who wanted to give me large sums of money. Worse yet, if I wanted to hear some music, I had to go a store and (gasp) PAY for it! Oh, the horror.

How on Earth did I exist before the internet? I must have functioned at least somewhat well, though I couldn't begin to tell you how. Surfing the net is the first thing I do in the morning, and it's the last thing I do at night. And it's not like I go to weird places -- just the usual news, sports, weather, etc. I mean, you've got to get your news from somewhere, right? I mean, sheesh, it's not like I work for a newspaper or something. Cough.

I suppose I could've had it worse. I remember when I was little and my mom would tell me about the days before television. This just seemed incomprehensible to me at the time. In my 8-year-old brain, my folks were older than dirt (though I'm now older than they were at the time!) And while I pictured them having to pedal their stone cars Flintstones-style while dodging the occasional predatory pterodactyl, even as an 8-year-old I had just assumed that they pedaled into their caves and sat down to some TV.

But no, my folks lived at least for a while in the pre-television age. My mom once told me that when her family complained about wanting a color television set, my grandfather went out and bought colored gels that you affixed to the front of your black and white set, thus turning it into a color TV -- you just had to pick what one color you wanted.

All of this sounds patentedly absurd to me now... but suddenly I had a revelation. Someday, I'm going to have kids and tell them about life before the Internet, and they're going to look at me like I'm 10,000 years old. And then I can tell them about the good ol' days before compact discs... and home computers... and then I'll challenge them to a wicked game of Pong. And I'll win.

So I suppose I shouldn't whine about being net-free for a day or two. My computer didn't mind the break, and I actually got some stuff done around the apartment. Specifically, the thing I got done was to call my cell phone provider and sign up for the internet on my cell phone. You know, for emergencies.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

COLUMN: Wellness

It's certainly a new day for all of the employees here at the paper.

Like many other businesses in the Quad Cities, our company has recently installed a Wellness Program for employees as part of our exceptional health insurance coverage. I'm all for helping people, so this can't be a bad thing, right? Right?

I mean, let's face facts -- we newspaper employees tend not to be known for our physical prowess. The only person who gets a workout around here is Little Timmy who rides his bike delivering your paper every week. At least, I assume we have a Little Timmy. (I couldn't tell you what happens to my column after I press the "send" button. For all I know, our newspapers could be delivered by magical pixies. But I bet those pixies are fit and trim.)

The rest of us sit here in the office watching our midsections get fatter and fatter from these wonderful things called "food days," which we have roughly 5.4 times per week.

Food days around here are nothing shy of inspirational -- all of the four major building blocks of unhealthy journalistic living are always represented: crock pot sausages, cheese cubes, things that are salty, and Krispy Kreme. You see, as we newshounds spend most of our days sitting in front of a computer monitor, a steady diet of fat and carbohydrates is thus needed to replenish our posteriors with the fatty cushioning necessary for an 8 hour type-a-thon.

But the times, they are a-changin'. Here's how our new Wellness Program works as I understand it: A nurse comes by the office, studies us, and then vampirically sucks out a vial of our blood for careful analysis -- only to return at a later date to chastise and berate us all for not existing solely on a diet of wheatgrass and seaweed. Well, maybe not seaweed, because I bet it's salty, and salt is bad for you. Just like sugar is bad for you... and carbs are bad for you... and fat... and cholesterol... and pretty much anything that tastes good.

The other day I had my Wellness screening. Little did I know that "wellness" was a term far, far removed from my current condition. The screening process was a blur for me; frankly, I'm trying to block it out. I havent even had my return visit from the nurse yet, but two words from the initial visit have already stuck in my mind.

The first was the word "OBESE." I don't like this word much, especially when it's directed my way. Chubby, chunky, big-boned... these are words I can live with. "Obese," on the other hand, brings to mind people who need to be cut out and lifted from their houses on a crane. "Obese" is the word that makes Richard Simmons cry. There are many, many things I want to experience in my life; having Richard Simmons cry over me is not one of them.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the other word I heard at my screening was "HYPERTENSION." Man, I'm just falling apart.

Shameful truth time: I'm 6'0" and my weight clocked in at 230 pounds. Even for me, that's ridiculous. In fact, it's dead wrong, and I've got the official identification to prove it. My driver's license states in clear terms that I weigh 155 -- and I'm sticking to it. Really, any number of things could have happened during my weigh-in. Perhaps when no one was looking, an 80 pound child climbed onto my back. And hey, I had my keyring in my pocket at the time, that's got to weigh, what, 20 pounds or so? It's simple science.

Sadly, the even simpler science is to look down at my belly and realize that either I'm in my third trimester... or maybe, just maybe, I've become a tad bit overweight.

I just don't understand how this happened. I mean, I'm not an idiot. I only occasionally splurge on a Big Mac -- the rest of the week, I limit myself to burgers that weigh no more than a quarter pound. And just like the doctors advise, I drink my 8-10 glasses of fluid every day; is it a crime that my fluid preference happens to be Coke? I even pay attention to television messages. The Snickers company for years assured me that "those calories help keep you going," and that remains my mantra to this day.

Sigh. Okay, fine, Wellness Program, you did your job. You've officially guilted me into trying to get healthy. Instead of being care-free, thanks to you, I'm now in a state of constant fear for my physical well-being. Bravo. So farewell, Big Macs, it was good to know you. Goodbye, Coca-Cola, I shall miss your glucose drip of confidence. Adieu, mayonnaise, we've had some good burgers together.

Wish me luck, Quad Cities, as I enter the new terrain of Wellness. Here's hoping it ends with "I feel well" rather than "oh well, I tried." More details as they unfold.