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.