Sunday, April 24, 2005


They say that the only things certain in life are death and taxes. All I know is that I'm UN-certain about how I did my taxes, and it's got me scared to death.

April 13th might have been a nice spring day. The sun may have been shining, birds may have been chirping, kids may have been laughing, and the woman of my dreams may have been frolicking in a sun dress in a meadow somewhere outside my apartment. I couldn't tell you for certain. I couldn't see through the avalanche of spreadsheets.

Yes, as another step towards my ultimate goal of being named Most Irresponsible Person Alive, I decided that the best time to do my taxes would be two days before they were due.

My friends have had their returns for ages, and are probably off doing responsible, grown-up stuff with their money right now. Well heck, I can be grown up, too. In fact, I've got a great deal of money invested into CD's. I particularly like the ones by Jay-Z.

Once upon a time, taxes were almost fun to do. You fill out a quick little form, drop it in the mail, and presto, a few weeks later some extra money magically appears. Then I had to go and get myself a hobby.

As regular readers of my column know, I spend my weekends DJ'ing at a club in the District. Without doubt, this is the greatest hobby a human could find. I get to sit in an elevated perch at a hip nightclub, choose all the songs that are played, and get paid to spend the whole night watching cute girls dance. I should be paying THEM for the privilege.

DJ'ing for me really IS a hobby. When everything's said and done, I don't make a dime at it. Every cent that I get paid for DJing goes right back into it (music, equipment, computers, etc.) Yet strangely, the IRS still refers to it as one of those "job" thingies, and are strangely insistent that I have to pay taxes. Grr.

I have always been mathematically challenged. I count on my fingers to this day. Ergo, there was no way I could fill out any of these self-employment tax forms on my own. So, as I do every year, I went online and paid to have a company walk me through it. This is why I was confident in waiting until two days before the deadline to file my taxes.

The miracle of modern technology makes it easy to get your refund. You just log on, enter the information off the ol' W-2... add on the info from the self-employment... make a few mouse clicks... and... presto, you owe $1195.

Errr... pardon me? I OWE?? Obviously, my computer had a virus. I've NEVER owed taxes in my life. It couldn't be right, so I re-checked the form meticulously... same result. I erased the entire form and started over. Same results. Suddenly, it's getting hot in my apartment. I'm beginning to realize that they're called the INTERNAL Revenue Service because when they tell you that you owe them $1195, your INTERNAL organs begin to fail.

I'm pulling at my collar as my mind races through a series of troubling questions, such as: 'What is the depreciation value of a record needle?' 'Can I write off headphones?,' and 'How quickly can I flee to Canada?' Finally, cooler heads prevailed, and I did the mature and responsible thing.
I called my mommy.

While my mom isn't a tax guru herself, she DID offer one important suggestion: try another online tax service. So I restarted from scratch at another company, entered all the same stuff, and this service tells me I'm getting a $600 REFUND. Guess which online tax service I chose to go with?

But now I'm sweating. ONE of them is obviously wrong. I'm hoping it's the first service I tried. I'm usually not that lucky. Any minute now, some serious looking dudes in serious looking suits are going to burst through my door and demand their $1195, I know it. When that happens, I trust YOU, my faithful fans, to mount a serious letter-writing and/or fundraising campaign to free me from tax jail. Until that moment, or until my happy little return shows up in my mail, I remain nervously yours.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

COLUMN: Air America

Writing about politics can get a little hairy. The only opinions that I'm usually comfortable with offering in this column are such controversial statements as "I think onions taste icky" or "I think Katie Holmes is super hot." You know, real weighty stuff.

That said, I guess I've never really made a secret of my liberal tendencies when it comes to politics. In fact, When I was first offered the chance to write a weekly column, I even got a friendly reminder from one of the editors not to use this column as a left-wing political soapbox.
I told him the same thing I'll tell you guys now: Even if I wanted to, I wouldn't know how. I stink at arguing about politics; I'll save that for the brainy types over on the Opinion page. Besides, I respect everyone's political point of view.

I'm a firm believer in the two party (if not more!) system of government -- it provides the necessary yin/yang needed to make the best political decisions. I might be a yin and you might be a yang, but that's cool by me. Without a varying opinion to keep our heads in check, our government could spiral out of control -- and the next thing we know, someone will be screaming, "Soylent Green is made of people!" Now while I don't think politics will ever devolve into the realm of bad 70's sci-fi flicks, you've got to admit that the contents of Spam DO raise an eyebrow or two (mostly because when one eats anything called a "processed meat product," odds are good that you're EATING an eyebrow or two.)

So as the self-confessed liberal that I am, my arch-nemesis is, naturally, Rush Limbaugh. Or maybe it's Sean Hannity. They're both evil and need to be destroyed at all costs. The easiest answer to all of this would be, of course, to choose NOT to listen to their radio shows; sadly, I'm a glutton for punishment. I get in the car for lunch, the radio turns to talk, and swiftly my blood boils.

That's why I was beyond excited that last week, local 1270 AM in town became a member of the Air America radio network. Finally, the left-wing cavalry has come to save me from the abyss of the unfair and unbalanced right. Al Franken, Janeane Garofalo, Marc Maron (a comic genius!) -- they may not have radio experience, but they've got the ideals that I share. I was on Cloud 9. Then I actually listened to it.

No longer did I have to suffer through the pig-headed, closed-minded, confrontational voices of conservative talk radio. Now I could listen to the pig-headed, closed-minded, confrontational liberals instead. And you know what? They're BOTH annoying.

The biggest lesson I've learned from political radio is that if you don't tow your chosen party line in all of your beliefs, you're treated like an idiot. For instance, all this week, the shows of Air America have been still going on about the Terry Schiavo thing. The preferred left wing stance is to side with her husband and right to die.

Well, I'm afraid I'm not in that camp. Take away my liberal decoder ring if you must, but I'm enough of a skeptic to value any kind of life more than the uncertainty of death. Simply put, if I were in the same tragic situation, I'd want to be kept alive. Just wheel a TV into my room, flip it to MTV, and I'm set. There are times that passersbys could mistake me for being in a persistent vegetative state already; I call those times "Sundays."

But as I listened to Air America go on and on about the case, I realized that my views were completely unacceptable to them. These guys are supposed to be on MY side, but within minutes of tuning in, I was already feeling like an outcast, as if Al Franken were about to pop out the speaker, slap my nose with a newspaper and scold, "Bad liberal! Baaaad liberal!"

Diversity makes politics work; pure bias just makes for shocking sound bites. I don't need Rush or Al or Sean or Janeane to tell me how I feel. I've got a brain, and that brain is telling me to turn the radio off.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

COLUMN: Trivia

They say the first step is admitting you have a problem. I've been in denial for some time now. Addictions are for the weak, I've told myself. I'm better than that. At least, I thought I was. I DO have a problem. I need to face my demons head on, it's the only way. I need to come clean, right here and right now.

Hi, I'm Shane, and I'm a triviaholic.

Every weekend, when most of you are out living your lives and doing important things, you can usually find me cramped into a room with hundreds of strangers, attempting to prove my pop cultural self-worth at my favorite new fad: a trivia night.

These things are popping up at community centers and rental halls all over the QC. At trivia nights, teams of eight players battle other teams over the course of a 3-hour game. 10 rounds, 10 categories, 100 questions in all. It's usually $10 a person to enter, and the winning team can take home anywhere from $100-$1000 depending on the event. Most of these trivia nights are fund-raisers, with your entry fee usually going to a good cause. And if I keep this up, don't be surprised if one of those good causes will soon be to send me to a trivia rehab facility.

See, I tend to pride myself in knowing a whole lot of completely useless stuff, and very little else. I couldn't change a tire if my life depended on it... but I could likely rattle off Madonna's entire discography, including tracklistings and tempos of all major singles. And I don't even like Madonna. Why do I know this stuff? I couldn't begin to tell you. The other day, one of the questions we had was, "Name all of the letters of the bottom row on a typewriter." The room let out a collective groan; I grabbed our answer sheet and wrote "ZXCVBNM" without hesitation. Again, no idea why that's in my brain; it just IS.

My fear, though, is that one day the useless junk in my head will overtake the important stuff. Someday I'll turn on MTV, learn that Madonna has a new album coming out, suddenly forget how to breathe, and presto, Death By Trivia.

But trivia nights are the one event where knowing useless stupid stuff can come in handy. People of all ages and all walks of life gather together to share food and laughter and be entertained by fun trivia questions all night. It's not about competition; it's about having fun with friends, and all the teams understand that and take the game lightly.

All the teams except one, that is. Oh, don't get me wrong, my team understands that it's all about having fun... and the best way to have fun is to WIN AT ALL COSTS. We are a lean, mean, useless trivia machine. Every member has their own assigned specialties: one's good at sports, another's good at history, another's great at geography, etc. Me? I'm our team's pop culture guy - music and movies are my forte. And we don't stop until we've won.

This, you would think, should definitely make all of the other teams hate us. Strangely, though, no one has flung food at us yet, despite our frequent trips to the judges table to debate the validity of the "official" answers. A few months ago, one of the questions was identify-the-song. The emcee played 15 seconds of the tune -- which was obviously Phil Collins' "Another Day in Paradise." We knew the answer and thought it would give us a clear lead in the round. Then an announcement from the judges: "We will accept either Phil Collins or Genesis" for the answer.
WHAT? They practically had to hold me back. "Another Day in Paradise" was CLEARLY a Phil Collins solo track and not that of his old band. By that logic, if the song had been John Lennon's "Imagine," could we have put down 'The Beatles'? A few questions later, we were faced with a "Name this book of the Bible" question. The answer was Luke; but that didn't stop me from putting on our answer sheet, "But you'll also accept Genesis, right?" I'm also surprised that the judges havent hurled food at us yet, either.

I AM over-exaggerating a bit, though. While our team makes no qualms about coming out to win, it really IS fun just to be there, and I really DO encourage everybody to check area calendars to see when one's coming up in your area. In today's world of who's-got-the-shiniest-dance-club and what-can-entertain-me-the-most-effiently, it really IS nice to shuck all that in favor of a trivia night. There's something unbelievably old-fashioned and genuine to it... and the sense of community you get at one of these nights is priceless. Unless, of course, I don't win. Then it's just lame.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

COLUMN: Ashlee Simpson

They call television "the idiot box." That's ridiculous. Television itself can be quite intelligent; it's me who's the idiot.

I'll prove it. As I write this, it's Easter afternoon. A quick look through TV Week tells me that, right this minute, I could be watching West Side Story... or a special on how religion impacted our early Presidents... or a documentary on the problems facing Chinese commerce. C-Span is currently showing a "Q&A Session with Paul Weyrich." I'm certain this session could prove both informative and insightful, and might even answer important questions, such as "Who is Paul Weyrich?"

The point is, there are hundreds of channels providing a diverse array of culturally and politically stimulating content. I, meanwhile, have been watching an all-day marathon of the Ashlee Simpson Show on MTV. Idiot, thy name is Shane.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you already know about Ashlee Simpson. She's the spunky but reasonably talentless younger sister of pop culture phenom Jessica Simpson. Ashlee's MTV's show chronicles her successful attempt to make a name for herself as a singer. The problem is, she made a name for herself as a singer by getting busted lip-synching on Saturday Night Live, causing every major media outlet around the globe to, for once, stop talking about Paris Hilton for a few fleeting seconds.

In all honesty, though, I feel bad for Ashlee. Does anyone out there truly feel personally let down that Ashlee lip-synched on SNL? If so, PLEASE contact me; I'd like to meet someone lamer than myself, I really would. We live in a country where we recognize varying degrees of murder (murder in the first degree, second degree, etc.) The same rules should apply to scandal. Michael Jackson giving Jesus Juice to a cancer kid? That's Scandal in the First Degree if I've ever heard it. Ashlee Simpson caught lip-synching? That's Scandal in, oh, the 11th Degree or so.

No one should be out there gasping that Ashlee's compromised her artistic integrity. If you thought Ashlee Simpson had artistic integrity in the first place, you're missing the whole plot. Ashlee Simpson is simply a pop star, and pop stars have no "art." They're there to look cute, sound cute, and make you want to get off the couch and do the Awkward Shimmy around your apartment (or is that just MY dance?) And for what it's worth, Ashlee does all that pretty effectively.

None of this, however, is an excuse for me to watch six solid hours of her inane TV show. Yet it's strangely hypnotizing and engaging. I've learned much. Primarily, I've learned that no matter what Ashlee does, she's REALLY EXCITED about it. Her chirpy voiceovers are always like, "Today I have to go meet 800 of my screaming pre-teen fans... and I'm really excited about it!" Or, "today I get to go do 18 radio interviews where they'll ask me the same questions over and over again... and I'm really excited about it!" "Now I'm going to go use the restroom... and I'm really excited about it!"

There should be an Ashlee Simpson drinking game, where you have to take a shot every time she gets "really excited" about something. I'm pretty sure you'd die from alcohol poisoning by the third commercial break. On the plus side, though, you wouldn't have to watch any more episodes of this tripe.

How I let myself get roped into liking this schlock is beyond me. But a couple hours into it, I realize that Ashlee's getting her hair cut and I'M really excited about it! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? I fear I may have an addiction to bad TV. But then it hits me: if a reasonably normal human being like me can get sucked into this abyss, the simple answer for me to succeed in this world... is to HAVE MY OWN REALITY SHOW and suck all of you people into it! They could just film me sitting around on my couch, watching other reality shows and making snarky comments. It'd be genius. And I can assure you that I, for one, would be really excited about it.