Friday, December 29, 2006

COLUMN: Shout-Outs!

Deeeeck the halls with boughs of holly,
Fa la la la laaa, la la l...

Whaa? What are you doing here? It's Christmas weekend, go open a present or something. Leave me alone.

Excuse me? You need a column? THIS week? Forget it, bub, I'm knee-deep in ham and like an hour into "A Christmas Story." For the fifth time today. I can't write a column.

Umm... "not an option?" I "HAVE" to write a column? "Disappoint my fans?" What fans? Jimmy down at the gas station? The girl who sends me the naked Polaroids? Frankly, I've got better thi--

Okay, okay. Fine. Sheesh. I suppose there's one thing I've needed to do. Actually, Christmas IS about more than stuffing your face and opening presents. It's about appreciating those around you who bring you happiness and warm fuzzies. With that in mind, indulge me in some holiday thanks to:

• MOM & DAD, the greatest support staff a guy could ask for. Oh, and since she won't get this mailed to her 'til after the holidays, I can break the surprise from last week's column: I bought my mom an iPod for Christmas. And then I opened it up before I wrapped it and loaded it up with ASTONISHINGLY bad music that my mother somehow finds enjoyable: Michael Buble, Celine Dion, Barbara Streisand, etc. I can't believe any of these terrifying vocalists spent time on my hard drive. Which brings me to:

• MY CO-WORKERS, for also listening to all this unlistenable junk, thereby allowing me to borrow -- ahem, sorry, PURCHASE* (*procure in a perfectly legal, non-copyright violating manner) -- all of this aforementioned terrifying music.

• BILL GATES, for installing a volume control on my computer, thus saving my ears from the evils of Celine Dion. Now give me some money. Please.

• MY BOSSES -- Barb, Kelly, Nick, Mike, & Joe -- for filling my heart with sunshine. And because I'm a huge suck-up.

• CHRIS GREENE, my "work wife," for baking me homemade lasagna and meatloaf and chicken enchiladas in the work Christmas gift exchange. Onion-free, no less. (My onion hatred knows no limits, thereby making it a challenge to eat 80% of Earth's home-cooked meals.)

• MYSPACE.COM, for providing an answer to the epic question, "I'm soooo bored. What can I doooo?" Friend me at

• BRUCE CAULKINS, my best friend from high school. We'd lost contact back in 1993-ish, and found each other on Myspace earlier this year. And it's like we never stopped talking.

• J.J. ABRAMS & DAMON LINDELOF, for creating "Lost" and giving me a reason to make it through the week. Now enough pussy-footing around. Who the heck are the Others? Tell me. TELL ME!

• SEAN LEARY, for being the most creative person I know and the greatest human being to bounce ideas off of. "You should try to submit some columns," he said to me years ago. "But they'll probably turn you down," he also said. It's okay, man, I've learned how to selectively listen.

• JASON SCHLAUTMAN, for being my best friend for 18 years running. It's a tough job, folks, to ENJOY hanging out with someone as inept at basic life skills as I am. I'm pretty sure he's changed more tires on MY car than his own.

• MRS. KATIE HOLMES CRUISE, for giving me WAY too much column fodder this year. Don't worry, someday you'll escape his evil clutches, and when that happens, I'll be right here.

• NATHAN WILLIAMS, the only human being who can go to lunch with me every day and then suffer a bullet wound to the skull every night. Usually from my sniper rifle. Man, I love playing "Call of Duty" on X-Box Live.

• CO-OP RECORDS, for giving me the incentive to get up, drag my sorry butt to work, and earn a living. Were it not for my music addiction, I'd be living in a box somewhere.

• LINNEA CROWTHER. One day, I'll wake up and realize that we ARE soulmates. Until then, our Friday lunches are becoming the stuff of legend. Mark my words, someday soon you'll see her name on the spine of a best-selling children's book. When that moment comes, buy it. Even if you don't have kids.

• HARMONY FOLEY. For being my newfound favorite person in the world. Of course, I have to say "world" because she's been in Beijing, China for the past half year. There's a column and explanation on this one coming, gang. Suffice to say I'm a happy guy for the time being.

• TERRY TILKA, RYAN MCKEE, THE ENTIRE STAFF, & ALL THE REGULARS AT 2nd AVE. in the Rock Island District, for making me feel 9 feet tall every weekend. Of course, that might be due to the DJ booth being 3 feet in the air. Still, there's no better side gig than making you people dance. (But can we pick a different song? I'm starting to grow reeeally tired of bringing sexy back night after night.)

• ALL OF YOU, for strangely giving a rat's posterior about what a geeky, awkward, chubby social misfit has to say week after week. All I've got to say THIS week, though, is have a Merry Christmanukkwanzaafestivus. Have a great holiday, gang.

Monday, December 18, 2006

COLUMN: Fa La La Ho Ho Ho

A Holiday Essay By Shane

• LIES, DECEPTION & TRICKERY. OK, sure, it might not sound like the holliest or jolliest of Christmas tidings, but in MY family, it's an essential part of the holidays.

"So what did you get me for Christmas?" my mom usually begins asking in early December.

"Bwaa ha ha," I reply. "I got you a sumthin'."

"What kind of sumthin'?"

"A sumthin' you'll like."

"So there's just ONE sumthin'?"

"Maybe. Maybe not. Might be a bunch of sumthin's."

"Oh, and I wanted to ask you one other thing," she'll say, deftly changing the subject.

"What's that?"

"What did you get me for Christmas?"

Yes, nothing really brings home the holiday spirit quite like a month of mind games over what we buy one another. Some holidays, I'm not altogether happy with what I find for the parents.

This time, though, I've found the perfect gift for my mom. I'd love to tell you about it, but she has a mail-order subscription to the paper (the woman would pin up every column I write if only she had a refrigerator door big enough,) so I can't divulge. Sorry.

But I will say that it's a sumthin.' That may or may not involve several other sumthin's. And Mom, you'll like it. Bwaa ha ha.

It's not as though I'm the only evil one in the family. One year, every time I'd ask what I was getting for Christmas, my folks would reply, "A box of rocks if you're not careful."

Well, Christmas morning rolls around, and I wake up to find one huge present under the tree. I decimate the wrapping to find ... a box of rocks. Very heavy rocks.

Of course, at the bottom of the box was a gift certificate to feed my ever-growing music habit, but still, I learned from an early age never to underestimate the power of The Parents.

• MENTAL ANGUISH. This involves shopping for my dad, who is, without doubt, the hardest person to buy for in the entire world. Shopping for my dad usually involves walking into stores like Lowe's and Menard's, which for someone like me is like visiting a foreign country.

When I ask my dad what he'd like for Christmas, the response is usually, "Product #XJ792A1" from some bizarre woodworking/handicraft/things-I-know-nothing-about catalog o' the moment. I suppose it's fun to get what you WANT for Christmas, but shouldn't there be some element of surprise?

Not necessarily, as my parents proved to me one year in college. They showed up unexpectedly at my dorm room door and took me on a massive Christmas shopping spree.

We drove from store to store and I was literally like the gulls from "Finding Nemo": "Mine! Mine! Mine!" It was the best time ever ... until the END of the trip, when they dropped me off at the dorm.

I went to open the trunk full o' booty to find my folks going, "Nope. Christmas is two weeks away -- we've got wrapping to do!" And then they drove off, leaving me empty-handed and anxious. Patience is a virtue, my fanny. It's torture.

• FREAKISHLY AWFUL DISCO MUSIC. As a card-carrying music nerd extraordinaire, I'm required to possess an eclectic collection of Christmas music. My all-time favorite dates back to high school.

My friend Bruce and I were thumbing through the bargain bin at Musicland when we found it. An album cover featuring a scantily-clad babe in a Santa hat holding an electric guitar, and no credited performer. The title? "Christmas Party Dancing."

It was an immediate must-own. On the disc was a treasure trove of nightmarishly awful disco versions of your holiday faves. "I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" starts with a "Ho ho ho" before a chorus of disco babes yell, "HO MAMA!"

In short, it's the tackiest thing ever. And for the last decade, I've tortured all of my friends with it annually. My goal is to put it on EVERYONE's list of "What Christmas Means To Me." If you ever see it, buy it at all costs (especially when that cost is probably gonna be less than $5!) Speaking of music:

• THE TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA. Only because they're the SECOND tackiest thing on Earth. What becomes of these poor people once the holidays are done? In December, they can sell out the Mark.

But come Jan. 1, they disappear back into the night, taking their long hair and freaky holiday diddies on the lonely road back to Trans-Siberia, where I imagine they share a house with Mannheim Steamroller and play cards until Thanksgiving when they can be relevant once again.

• WARM FUZZIES. No matter what, Christmas is still the best time of the year. Twinkling lights, warm cookies and smiles on faces.

It's all so corny I have no recourse but to fall into its trap and say things I'd NEVER say in normal circumstances: I wish ALL of you a happy holiday. Give to charity. Watch the smiles on kids' faces. Hug your families. Then figure out what Christmas means to YOU.

COLUMN: Taco Bell

Dear Nobel Prize Committee: I'd like the Peace prize, the Science prize, and the rest on a gift certificate.

That's right, I have made a Discovery of Great Importance. That's in caps because one day it will be in textbooks as the event -- no, the Event -- that changed our way of life.

You see, as a humor columnist, it's my mission to keep track of all things bizarre, surreal and funny. Being the anti-social nerd that I am, I'm more of a human observer than a human, umm, do-er. So while you go about living your happy life, I'm the guy with the notebook making fun of your happy life. Make sense?

Well, my non-stop research has finally paid off. I'm proud to announce that I have officially discovered the epicenter -- the home, the hub, the Big Bad Momma -- of all things hysterically surreal and funny.

I speak, of course, about the Taco Bell drive-thru.

I can tease Taco Bell, I really can. I have that right, since I'm pretty sure that I'm personally responsible for 10 percent of their annual sales. I eat at Taco Bell a LOT. And I'll continue to eat at Taco Bell a lot. But, without fail, I do it with a smile on my face, because Taco Bell invariably makes me laugh.

Let's start with the basic premise: the menu. Taco Bell, as yummy as it is, boils down to seven ingredients: Meat, beans, rice, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese and guacamole. And practically everything on their menu is nothing but those seven ingredients either held, fried, or melted together in new and exciting ways.

I like to imagine the Taco Bell Research and Development Dept. as one guy named Fred who, every time Taco Bell needs a new menu item, spins a wheel telling him what to do with the seven ingredients. "Oookay, we're gonna take some (SPIN) meat and put it in a tortilla with some (SPIN) beans and rice ... then let's deep fry it and wrap it in a pita with some (SPIN) guac ... then we throw it a bowl with (SPIN) lettuce & tomato and then melt (SPIN) cheese over it. We'll call it ... THE GORDLUPARITO! No, wait, let's toss on some sour cream and make it the GORDLUPARITO SUPREME!"

Of course, we true Taco Bell connoisseurs know that it doesn't matter how they put the seven ingredients together, just so long as they fill the bag with packets of that magic sauce. Yes, the taco sauce at the Bell is truly a food group of its own. Heck, one Fourthmeal alone can provide you with your daily recommended allowance of Mild, Hot, AND Fire. And conveniently, each packet contains the perfect amount of sauce for exactly: two-thirds of a taco. This results in the coordination-a-palooza wherein I attempt to hold a half-eaten taco while simultaneously tearing open a new sauce packet AND defending my spicy treasure trove from my taco-smitten cats.

But the greatest part about Taco Bell will always be the drive-thru. Yes, nothing says "Feed My Hunger" quite like rolling down your window to the pre-recorded slurred mumblings of a disgruntled employee: "Thankyouforcrossingtheborderwouldyouliketotryournew cheezygorditaorderwhenyoureready."

But that was then, this is now. Somehow, Taco Bell has managed to make their drive-thru experience even WEIRDER. There's a new corporate directive, and I found out about it when I pulled up the other day to hear THIS:

"Hi. How are you?"

That's the new Taco Bell greeting. Simple, to the point, and incredibly off-putting. Umm, how am I? Impatient, unamused, and hungry is how I am. Do I need to answer? Is Taco Bell now the fast food establishment that CARES? Look, I've seen a LOT of fast-food windows in my day, and never before have any of them asked of my personal welfare. In an appropriately weird way, I was touched.

"Umm," I replied. "Well, let's see. I've got kind of a plugged nose, I'm only tracking at 60 percent of my sales goal at work, and I won't even get into the girlfriend issues. So overall, not so hot. How are YOU?"

Silence. A whole lot of silence. And then?

"Could you repeat your order, sir?"

Sigh. "Number 3 with a Pepsi," I said dejectedly. The Taco Bell didn't REALLY care how I was. The Taco Bell just wanted my money. But, really, that's OK, because I just wanted its tacos.

It's a symbiotic relationship that I'm OK with. Me, give money; you, give tacos. And as long as THAT relationship stays intact, I'll put up with the seven ingredients, the woefully undersized sauce packets, and even the nosy personal inquiries.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a border to run to.

Monday, December 04, 2006

COLUMN: Sickly

Ah, yes. The holiday season is upon us already. Once again, chestnuts roast on open fires while Jack Frost shovels snot out of my nose.

That's right, we're just an eyeblink past Thanksgiving and I've already caught the inaugural holiday cold. Forgive me if I'm not my usual jovial self this week -- I fear I'm a bit brain-addled. Do you see that picture of me that runs with the column? Just imagine that, but with a Vicks inhaler stuck up each nostril. Yes, there's nothing like a little phlegm to really boost the sex appeal.

The other day, I was talking to someone who had a nasty cold. In fact, that's where I probably caught this beastly one from. Anyways, that person -- and you know people like this, you might even be one -- said to me, "I never take any medicine when I get sick."

This person clearly is insane. I, on the other hand, am SO sane that I'm crazy. My bathroom cabinet rivals some of the best medical facilities on Earth. You name the malady: if there's an over-the-counter cure for it, I own it.

Don't believe me? Fact: Among the items in my medicine cabinet, you can find a tube of Preparation H, a bottle of saline solution, and some Primatene Mist. Another fact: I have never had hemmorhoids, contact lenses, or asthsma in my life. But heck, just like the Boy Scouts, always be prepared, I say.

My cold-fighting regimen begins with the dreaded Tickle. The second that the back of my throat itches, I'm off to the health food store. This should be a column of its own, as the sight of me in one of those places is about as natural-looking as me in Victoria's Secret. Shane and health food simply do NOT get along; but Shane and amazing herbal hocum-pocum is a relationship to behold.

I've never been one to fall prey to scams. I'm smart enough to know that I can't make a million dollars overnight in real estate like the infomercials tell me. I know that dialing 1-900-whatever will NOT give me an accurate psychic reading. I know that no pill on Earth will make me lose weight as long as I sit on a couch all day.

That said, I will tell you with the utmost of confidence that most of the colds I start to catch can be warded off by quickly taking a tablespoon of Elderberry Syrup. This probably has as much scientific backing as alien abduction, but it completely works. Trust me.

When I was a kid, my mom had a subscription to Prevention magazine. Prevention is like Scientific American for the hippie herbalist sect. If there's a weed growing in your backyard that has the off-chance of curing leprosy, you'll read about it in Prevention. In fact, I imagine the writing staff of Prevention to be folks who just wander around in the woods, sticking random bits of nature into their mouth to see if suddenly their ills are remedied.

Some of it is proven science - just ask the ladies at Heritage Natural Foods, where a simple question about homeopathic medicine can result in a junior alchemy lesson. Some of it I raise a wary eyebrow to. Beware the logic that runs like this: "I've eaten dog poo every day my entire life, and I've never developed psoriasis. Ergo, eating dog poo prevents psoriasis!" Needless to say, thoughts along this line leave a bad taste in my mouth.

But medicine doesn't just exist to remove my symptoms; it's there to make me feel pro-active. Sucking on a zinc lozenge might not have any effect on my stupid cold, but at least it makes me feel like I'm fighting it. Were it not for herbal whatzits, I'd just sit there and be miserable.

Actually, though, zinc is the ONE thing I won't do; after you take one of those lozenges, everything you eat for the next day tastes decidedly zinc-y. Eww. Instead, this time I'm trying the zinc nasal spray, which you shoot into your plugged nose to make it feel... more plugged, I guess. But at least I'm being pro-active.

This particular illness, however, the herbals didn't cut it. The cold rained down like, umm, cold rain (hey, YOU try to think up similes when you're sick.) So now I'm pulling out the big guns. Advil. Sudafed. Syrups that end in "-tussin." And that stuff tastes so gross, it HAS to work.

Yet right now all I want to do is suck down some chicken-noodle soup and snuggle under a blanket with my cats and some really bad TV. And hey, I called in sick today, so I can do just that.

Ho ho stupid ho.


I'm officially depressed.

Sometimes it's just frustrating to read the newspaper. I mean, I TRY to be your worthy and loyal humor columnist, but it's hard when I'm surrounded in our publications by awful, awful news. In fact, the top story of last week was so unsettling that I'm still a bit shook up. I mean, it's a meeting of two world powers that's bound to impact our society dramatically for years to come.

I speak, of course, about the unholy union of Tom Cruise to my beloved Katie Holmes. Or Kate Cruise. Or whatever abomination she is now. And I can no longer deny the pathetic truth: my odds of hooking up with her are dropping by the minute.

For what it's worth, I thought it was pretty clear that I had called "dibs" on Katie long ago. Did Tom pay his dues? Did Tom sit through all 6 seasons of Dawson's Creek even though it was clearly written for people half our age? Yes, THESE are the kinds of sacrifices that I've made for my obsession.

But it was all for naught; the dream is over. My precious Katie has been driven from me by the one man better at lip-synching to Bob Seger in his underwear than myself. I have no choice but to wish them the best and hope that they live Scientologically ever after.

This DOES mean one thing, though. I have to have at least ONE unhealthy celebrity crush... but I need some help figuring out who gets to be the new recipient of my wanton lust. Let's examine the leading contenders:

• SCARLETT JOHANSSON - Well, she's cute, she's blonde, and she digs Woody Allen. Hmm. I could see this working. Then again, every magazine in the world is dubbing her "Sexiest Woman Alive" or whatever. This means the competition could be fairly high. And the moment I declare my obsession for her will probably be the moment she gets swept off her feet by Jake Gyllenhall or Matthew McConaghey or that kid who plays Harry Potter. I don't know if I could go through the pain again.

• THORA BIRCH - I'll admit it, she was WAY cuter than Scarlett in that "Ghost World" movie. But that might have been the last movie she's made, and that was half a decade ago. I'm starting to fear she's dropped off the planet.

• KATE HUDSON - She just got divorced from the Black Crowes dude. But they were together for a looong time (in celebrity marriage terms,) and that must mean one thing: she has a high tolerance for bad hippie music. I'm sorry, but even if I was dating the hottest girl on the planet, if she tried sticking a Phish disc into my CD player, I'm walkin'.

• HAYDEN PANETTIERE - Otherwise known as Claire The Cheerleader from "Heroes." Cute and blonde: there's a plus. And she's always in the gossip pages because she parties it up with the Lohans and Hiltons of the world, so she might go for a weekend club DJ like me. Just ONE teeny problem: so she's 16. Umm, yeah. Ask me again in 2008.

• TAYLOR SWIFT - I saw her sing the national anthem on TV the other day and I was smitten. There's only one problem with liking a country artist: she's a country artist. Eww. With the proper musical influence, though, I could cure her of that afflication... Wait, sorry, what's that? SHE'S 16, TOO? You've got to be kidding me. Doesn't she sing about dancing all night to Tim McGraw in a little black dress? SIXTEEN? Man, maybe my problem is that I'm just apparantly sleazy.

• BRITNEY SPEARS - Because if there's one person out there who apparantly digs sleazy guys, it's her. And gosh knows, I've been looking for a good way to kickstart my aspiring rap career. If K-Fed can sell 2,800 albums worldwide with songs like "Dance With A Pimp," I'm sure I can move at least 100 copies of "I'll Show You A Humor Column (Baby.)"

• ANGELINA JOLIE - She looks like she could beat me up, and let's be honest, that's kinda sexy. But she also likes to hang out in Africa. Know what? It's HOT in Africa. If I'm going to hook up with a rich celebrity, I'd prefer to go the mansions- and-manservants route, thanks. (Perhaps me and K-Fed have more in common than I thought.) Plus there's the whole Brad Pitt thing. To lose to Tom Cruise and then have to face Brad Pitt would be unthinkable. No, I need someone a little more -- umm, how do I say it? -- DESPERATE. Someone I actually might have a shot with. That's why I've made my decision, and am proud to announce my new celebrity crush:

BEA ARTHUR. That's right. She's golden, mature, and she's MINE. So BACK OFF, Gyllenhall. Hands off, McConaghey. This is one crush you will not steal from me. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some "Golden Girls" reruns to attend to...

Oop, Dang It.

I KNEW there was something I was forgetting last week... and it was to upload my column to the blog! Hopefully I'll get a chance later today.

(I'll be honest. I usually upload my columns from work. I use my first break at work every Tuesday morn to give my column a final once-over before I send it to press, and then I hop onto my blog and upload it. But now my bosses at the day job have asked me to stop accessing my blog on THEIR time. Granted, it's a total process of, oh, about 30 seconds per week, but still... it's a fair request, and I'll abide by their rules, as my column has always been a touchy subject around the ol' workplace. See, too many people are concerned that I'll be writing columns willy-nilly on THEIR dime, when -- no offense -- I couldn't think of a LESS creative place on Earth to write than my crazy, messy desk at the day job. No, in order for me to get column crazy, I need MY home computer. MY desk. MY Slinky that I play with voraciously as I write. Ergo, I just need to change my habits and upload my columns from my apartment before I go in every week. Apologies while my blog runs a little behind - I've always been resistant to change, now's no exception!)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

My Five Minutes of Fame

Okay, so this is kinda cool.

You guys familiar with the band OASIS?

Well, this week they just released a greatest hits album called "Stop the Clocks" or something like that. You can't escape the ads for it on TV right now.

Anyways, there's a limited edition version of the disc that comes with a bonus DVD. And on that DVD, there's a clip of the band doing "Fade Away" live in concert.

And very visible in the front row center is yours truly.

I'll autograph your copies upon request.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

COLUMN: Me = Geek.

I've always been fascinated by the "cult of celebrity." You know, the poor schmucks who wait for hours to get an autograph or say a few meaningless words to another schmuck who just happened to have enough talent or fate to merit 15 minutes in the spotlight.

I'm fascinated because I'm one of those schmucks. (Hint: Not one of the famous ones.)

That's right, your holier-than-thou columnist is one of those types who gets flustered and tongue-tied around celebrities and then goes and brags about it for weeks afterwards. It's something I can't help, even though I realize just how inane it is. I can be bragging about meeting someone famous, leap out of my body, listen to myself talking, and think, "Wow. What a loser." But is that enough to shut me up? Nooooo. I'll keep right on yapping and dropping names willy-nilly.

I spent a great deal of my formative years as a semi-professional band stalker. There wasn't a concert that I went to that didn't involve some kind of effort to meet the group. This was usually always a challenge -- you might find this surprising, but it turns out that a lot of bands DON'T want a backstage visit from a chubby, tongue-tied music nerd of the male persuasion.

Yet, my friends and I tried -- and often succeeded -- at the unannounced meet-n-greet. We knew all the right loading doors to loiter around. We knew the right hotels that booking agents preferred. It was SCIENCE. And it paid off.

Minnie Driver? Met her. Lara Flynn Boyle? Totally. Duran Duran? You know it. The Barenaked Ladies? Twice. Oasis? Got to see their egos first-hand. SEE? I'm totally doing it AGAIN. Stop me, someone, seriously.

And you know what the one thing all these celebrities had in common was? THEY ALL HATED US.

I could have the most eloquent questions imaginable for these people. I could have a game plan in my head to totally WOW these celebrities with my extensive knowledge of music theory and the sort of deep appreciation for their art that no mere mortal fan would possess.

Yet, given the chance to actually speak to them, it usually devolves to something like, "Ummmm. Hi. BIG fan."

Case in point: Flashback 1994-ish. An outdoor music festival hits Chicago featuring, among other bands, The Stone Roses. Now, you might not have even heard of the Stone Roses, but they were THE band to shape my musical development in college. Suffice to say, meeting the Roses for me would be on par with, say, meeting The Beatles might be for you.

So we went to the show with a mission and a gameplan. It was me, my old college roommate, his then-wife Kari, and our friend Stuart.

After the band got done playing, we made our move. Kari went up to the backstage gate, flashed a phony press pass at the guard, and just sauntered right on in, leaving us to wait outside, gobsmacked. Ten minutes pass and Kari emerges with some random roadie, beaming and going, "C'mon, guys, wanna say hi to the Roses?"

Holy jeez. This was it. The gods had smiled upon us, and I was about to meet my favorite musicians.

What we didn't know is that, after sneaking inside and somehow finding the band's dressing room, Kari then told them that her friends were outside and really wanted to meet them. What she FAILED to tell them is that we were a bunch of chubby, nerdy DUDES.

Five minutes later, we're backstage and the look on the band's faces said it all -- namely, "Hey, you're not a bunch of cute girls." There I was, face to face with the band that had seen me through my darkest days of college. I wanted to tell them everything, I wanted to ask them everything.

What I believe I said was, "Ummm... h-hey."

The awkward silence in the room was deafening. It took brave Stuart to break the ice.

"Sooo... did you guys fly in for the show?"

"Uh, yeah," say the Stone Roses. Good start. Conversation. Soon we will be close friends of the band. They will respect us as huge fans, ask us for advice, thank us on liner notes, and possibly write a song about us one day. All we had to do was NOT say something stupid.

"Man," replies Stuart, not NOT saying something stupid, "I'd hate to fly with all those terrorists and bombs and stuff."

Sigh. Maybe there was still hope.

"So what's the best part about America?" asks Ian Brown. THE Ian Brown. Lead singer of THE Stone Roses.

"I dunno," says my old roommate, apparantly feeling threatened. "What's so stinkin' hot about England?"

Five minutes later, we were summarily dispatched from the room. Close personal friends of the Stone Roses we were NOT. In fact, mere weeks later the band split up -- I like to think that they realized that, after meeting fans like us, all hope was lost.

I'm a decade older now but still can't grow up. I still watch E!, I still visit gossip websites, and I still get flustered when I meet somebody's who been on TV. All I know is that, if one day I should write the Great American Novel and become a literary figurehead, I'll be extra nice to any nerdy fans who come up to me all tongue-tied. Well, provided they're cute and female.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Will You Survive?

I'm column-less this week, folks.

It's been a weird month in Shaneland.

(1) My mom could have died from an intestinal blockage and was in the hospital for just over a week.

(2) At the same time, my dad caught that tummy rotovirus thingajig going around.

(3) The family dog developed pancreatitis.

(4) I developed one big, bad mutha of a cold.

So. It was a couple weeks of worry, limited sleep, and multiple voyages to hospitals and what-not in the far-off land of Galesburg. So I needed a week off to recharge. Hope that's cool.

I'll be back next week with a shiny new column, though.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Do Your Civic Doodie

Vote or Die.
Choose or Lose.
Make A Difference.
Other Impressive Catchphrases.

I'll spare the lectures. Just go vote. Unless you're voting for the wrong candidate -- in which case, stay home. ;)

I'm a humor columnist, right? By that argument, it's not my place to bring politics into the forum. We have paid professionals to do that sorta stuff.

Hrrm. Then AGAIN, my column DOES frequently run on the Viewpoints page of the Leader. By THAT argument, I could in fact have the right to tell you to cast your votes today for Hare, Boland, Jacobs, Blagojevich, Braley, Culver, Huff, and Wright.

I'd better play it safe and not say anything at all...

COLUMN: Shaq Ball

Here at the newspapers, our motto is "Always Be Prepared."

Well, it would be if those stinkin' Boy Scouts hadn't laid claim to it first. I think our motto's actually something about customers always being right or first or something. Actually, I have no clue what our motto is. But it SHOULD reference preparedness in some way.

After 9/11, we installed security doors all over the place. When the anthrax scare hit, we opened our mail at a separate location. Point is, by golly, we're just about ready for anything. Just about.

When I opened my newspaper Monday morning, I wasn't expecting to hear about our office being attacked by Bambi of the Damned. If you didn't hear, a deer -- obviously suicidal over the news of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes setting a wedding date -- took a kamikaze dive through the front window of our Moline office and caused mass higgeldy-piggeldy until the poor thing had to be euthanized.

So a moment of silence, please, for the late, dear deer. It gave its life so that we, as a people, could finally unite as one and get new carpeting in our lobby.

The shocking thing is, that's NOT the weirdest thing I've read about this week.

Did you hear about the botched police raid in Virginia last month? Apparently a task force was cracking down on kiddie porn, and the cops had a good lead on some random sleazoid pervert. Armed with a search warrant and posse of crime fighters, they burst through the door of the suspect's house and held the occupants while seizing a truck full of computers, cameras and DVDs.

Mission accomplished, right? Problem was, they got the wrong house. Turns out they'd gotten the IP address of the suspect wrong, so they stormed into a random guy's house and ransacked it. Weird? Sure. Weird enough? Heck no.

Here's the brilliant part: Assisting in the raid was none other than Deputy Shaquille O'Neal. Yes, THAT Shaq.

Turns out Shaq fancies himself a bit of a lawman, and wants to pursue a career in police work after his retirement from the NBA. So the Bedford, Va. police made the Miami Heat center a deputy and took him along on the botched raid.

Now imagine you're sitting down for breakfast with your family when suddenly -- BOOM SHAQ-A-LA-KA! -- a team of uniformed police AND basketball superstar Shaquille O'Neal kick your door down and ransacks your house. This, friends, is one of the few times in life where you would be justified to make a mess in your pants. At the very least, I would be assuming that someone laced my Frosted Flakes.

Sorry, Shaq, but do you really think you'll have a fruitful career in law enforcement? As WHAT exactly? A 7-foot-1, 325 lbs. undercover cop? I get this vision in my head of Shaq running around with a bad wig on, expecting no one to recognize him.

"Sure, man, I'll sell you the heroin, but has anyone ever told you that you look exactly like Shaquille O'Neal?"

"Uhh, nope."

"I tell you what, here's a ball. If you're NOT Shaq, I need you to make at least five of the next 10 free throws."

"Kazaam! Foiled again!"

Or Shaq as a traffic cop? Look, if I knew that Shaquille O'Neal was setting up speed traps, I'd be whipping u-turns and going 100 miles an hour all over town just in hopes of getting pulled over by him.

"I just need to write you this ticket, sir."

"Not a problem, Officer Shaq. Hey, could you make that out 'To Shane'?"

Admittedly, it WOULD be intimidating to look out the driver's window to an officer's KNEE. And having Shaq on patrol would definitely make episodes of "Cops" a lot more fun to watch. After all, this is a guy who sleeps in a 10-foot bed adorned with a giant Superman logo (not to mention the one that's tattooed on his bicep.)

So maybe we should invite Officer O'Neal to join the Q-C boys in blue. After all, we ARE the 87th most dangerous city in the U.S. now. Something tells me having Shaq on guard might make that number drop a tad. At the very least, he would've done one heck of a number on that deer (though, it must be said, the deer probably had a better free throw shot).

COLUMN: Magic 8-Ball

There are many reasons why working here at the newspaper is great. Some of my co-workers like the hours. Others like the sense of community around here. Me? I'm in it for the toys.

Once upon a time, man invented plastic. This was a bad move, because the day before, man invented the Marketing Executive. It's no secret that the brains of Marketing Executives are wired in exciting and altogether different ways than the average citizen. For instance, look around your home and focus on any item -- a clock, a spoon, a piece of lint. The average person thinks something like, "Hey, a spoon. That'll be handy for eating."

A Marketing Executive looks at the same spoon and goes, "Hmm. Not bad. Just add a corporate logo, the words 'limited edition,' and an attached coupon for 20% off an oil change, and now we're talkin'!" Then he orders a demographic survey while bravely eating soup with his hands.

The end result becomes the Useless Promotional Gift. If there's an item that can be made with plastic, there's a dude in Marketing who's already figured out a way to stamp a logo on it and give it away at a trade show. I celebrate this way of thinking, which is why my desk has become a certified museum of Useless Promotional Gifts.

Except for one small portion of my work desk that actually facilitates work (and certain managers here even question that portion's existence,) every square inch of my desk is taken up by some useless piece of plastic junk. Promotional frisbees? Got 'em. Miniature pool table? You betcha. Enough tiny basketballs and hoops to start my own league? You know it. I love useless junk, and the tackier the better.

And happily, one of the area leaders of Useless Promotional Gifts is our very company, which fills me with warm fuzzies just thinking about it. I recall once we gave away Dispatch/Argus/Leader promotional BANDAGE HOLDERS. How genius is that! I mean, I've occasionally associated work with pain, but I didn't know we could actually CELEBRATE it. And now, much to my excitement, we've topped ourselves.

You see, we're kicking off a new campaign here at the papers, and to get all of us excited about it, we had a little employee shindig last week where we officially raised the bar when it comes to Useless Promotional Gifts. That's right, I'm now the proud owner of a commemorative promotional Dispatch/Argus/Leader/ADextra/QCOnline MAGIC 8-BALL!

Because, really, what says "building company pride" quite like an orb of dark magic that foretells the future? Potential heresies aside, though, not only does this Magic 8-Ball build my company pride, it also writes this column for me! That's right, now that I'm in possession of this great power, as a public service to you, I present... THE FUTURE!

Q: Straight to the nitty-gritty - who's gonna win, Hare or Zinga?
MAGIC 8-BALL SAYS: "So it shall be." Crud, that's right. I can only ask yes-no questions. Looks like we have to wait 'til election day.

Q: Okay, then. Will Davenport ever do away with the traffic cameras?
MAGIC 8-BALL SAYS: "Very likely." Yeah! We're on a roll now, might as well risk it all.

Q: Will Katie Holmes ever leave that dorkus Tom Cruise?
MAGIC 8-BALL SAYS: "You can count on it." Magic 8-Ball, you and I are going to be good friends.

Q: Will she then fall for moi?
MAGIC 8-BALL SAYS: "Cannot foretell now." That's okay, I'm sure it's an eventual yes.

Q: Will Earth eventually be overrun by a race of hyper-intelligent, poncho-clad bananas from Neptune, enslaving all of humanity with a cunning combination of telekenesis and strategically placed peels?
MAGIC 8-BALL SAYS: "Definitely yes."

Well, there ya go. Can't win 'em all, I guess. Have fun being mind-melted by plantains with poor fashion taste. Me, I'll be off pursuing Katie. But hey, look on the bright side -- at least when you're fleeing in terror from your potassium-laden destiny, feel free to speed all you want in Davenport.

Monday, October 23, 2006

COLUMN: Negative Ads

My favorite source for the news of the day has got to be newspapers. This may or may not have something to do with the fact that I work for one. It may or may not also involve my editors stringing me from my toes if I were to say something different. Regardless, I think we do a pretty good job bringing you the top stories of the day.

Or so I thought.

See, I've been watching a lot of TV lately. After all, it IS the new fall season, and as much as I love our newspaper, it doesn't routinely feature Evangeline Lilly, or Jenna Fischer, or any of America's Next Top Models...

Or that one girl on "Heroes" who I'd like to mention but know that even though she's been photographed partying with Paris Hilton, in reality she's only 17 and ergo that would be WRONG, Shane. Very, very wrong.

Anyways, thanks to my sad obsession with hot TV celebrities, I learned about a new threat we all must fear. And it's a threat our newspaper sadly seems to overlook. It turns out that there are two very, very dangerous men roaming about the Iowa countryside. And If it wasn't for a helpful barrage of non-stop TV ads, I never would have known about this threat to our way of life.

Funnily enough, both of these apparant harbingers of doom are running for Congress.

NOTHING on Earth so efficiently drives me crazy quite like negative campaign ads -- and this election year, we're setting a new precedent for the things. I'm referring in particular to the race for Iowa's 1st District between Mike Whalen and Bruce Braley.

I should barely care about this race. I don't live in Iowa; these guys don't represent ME. No offense, but the only thing I care about when it comes to Iowa politics is making sure someone's there to tell future viable Presidential candidates that it's not the best idea to yell "Wheeeeargh!" when making their Iowa concession speeches.

Yet, night after night, I have to suffer through the mindless back and forth mudslinging going on by these guys and the random PAC's that support them. I have yet to hear an ad that talks about which candidate is GOOD for Iowa. I only know why they're both BAD. The respective arguments of these ads go something like this:

• Mike Whalen has a whole lot of money. This is apparently a bad thing, as guys with lots of money are apparently greedy and evil. Frankly, I think the fact that Whalen built a restaurant empire out of nothing speaks to his initiative. And hey, Whalen's Heart of America owns Johnny's Italian Steakhouse, and have you guys tried the Filet Trio over there? Anybody responsible for THAT foodgasm going into my mouth is an okay guy in my book.

• Braley, meanwhile, has "been labelled a 'peace candidate' by the Communist Party!" First off, doesn't it take a crowd to have a "party"? Isn't it more like the Communist Brunch these days? No offense to you aspiring socialists out there, but isn't today's Communist Party nothing more than a few overly-idealistic college kids and that same guy who runs for President every 4 years? Who cares who the Communist Party sorta-endorses? And, Commies aside, what's so wrong with being a "peace candidate"? Would you rather be the "Warmonger candidate?"

Is this what today's politics has come to? Hoping that controversial groups DON'T support you? What's next? In two more years, what will we be seeing? "Hi, my name is Larry. I'm a convicted pedophile and arsonist, and I'm here to tell you that Jim Schtick is my choice for Congress. Yes, on behalf of all the arsonistic pedophiles nationwide, I can safely say that Jim Schtick is our man! (Paid for by the League of People Who Think Jim Schtick is a Doodiehead.)"

How about trying something different, folks? How about telling us who TO vote for, rather than who NOT to vote for? Campaigns should be about the issues and concerns of constituents. In fairness, both candidates' websites address and answer these negative ads, but still, this campaign has managed to turn "blue vs. red" into the Greenbacks vs. the Red Menace. It's all pretty silly, but then again, I've never claimed politics weren't funny.

I'm just waiting for one of the OTHER guys in the hunt for that Congressional seat to run an ad claiming that a newspaper column has just linked both Whalen AND Braley to arson and pedophiles. Then my editors probably WILL string me from my toes. And then, heck, nobody wins.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

COLUMN: Renaissance

Ooh, you picked a good week to read my column. That's right, lucky reader, this week you get to gain valuable behind-the-scenes insight. People often ask me (between autographs, of course) how I choose a column topic each week.

Truth be told, it's a highly scientific process involving two important steps:

(1) I sit around for a week, and
(2) Hope that something dumb and funny happens.

This is a proven method for success (I'm just a magnet for stupidity.) Every once in a while, though, the clock starts ticking and the stupid stuff just doesn't happen. Last week, in fact, I went five whole days without anything idiotic going on around me. I was starting to sweat. Would I have nothing to write about this week? Then my prayers were answered:

A renaissance fair was a-comin' to town. The gods were on my side.

After all, what could be funnier than a pack of grown adults putting on fake suits of armor and fake fighting each other with fake swords until one of them fake dies? It's Instant Comedy: Just Add Dorks. This is the humor columnist's Mecca.

Now, no offense to you Renaissance Fair-loving folks. To each their own, I say, and if your idea of fun is wearing tights, using the word "m'lady" as a pickup line, and chugging a mug of Schlitz -- sorry, I mean, MEAD -- then hey, more power to ya.

Me? I'm ENOUGH of a nerd as is -- I don't need to display it publically. Frankly, I believe God created puberty for a reason, and that reason is to give us an exact timeframe in which to pack up our Dungeons & Dragons modules. As difficult as it was to accept back in 8th grade, I had to come to grips with the harsh truth that most girls don't actually care that you're a 12th Level Paladin who successfully defeated the dread Troll King of G'narloff Spire.

So I was pumped. Granted, I didn't want to go on an all-out assault against the Renaissance masses. After all, these people are kindred spirits - we nerds can smell our own. I like my video games and my computer, and yes, I spend my days posting on "Lost" message boards and the like. I'm a dork through-and-through, so I wasn't going to devote an entire column ridiculing the Renaissance folk.

Still, I could poke fun a little, right? Right?

That was the exact moment when technology decided to declare war on me. Let's recap:

• A taillight goes out on my car. Which is courteously pointed out to me by a police officer and a written warning.

• I get home to find my air conditioner going "KA-CHUNK! KA-CHUNK!" I'm no expert, but I'm guessing that's not good.

• My universal remote control goes out -- but that's okay, because so did the TV in my bedroom.

• To top it all off, I turn on my computer to do pre-work on this column... to find out it's hosed. My primary hard drive is toast, along with all of my software and about 175 GB of music for my weekend DJ gig.

Look, I know that random bad things happen from time to time. But never like this. Never all at once. I'd like to play a video game, but I'm afraid to touch any more technology. I'm living in fear of my toaster exploding. This is no mere run of bad luck. Nope, this must be MAGICK.

My guess is an Elf Mage, with a Hex of Mechanical Failure +2, and I missed my saving throw. I thought I could make fun of the Renaissance Fair without harm, but NAY! A seer must have gazed into a mystic crystal to become learned of my plot, and hence crafted a stealth attack to thwart the scribing of thine column.

Thy moral of thy story: Mock ye not the Renaissance Fair, lest ye be cursed. Oh, and if ye happenth to possess a 250GB Western Digital hardeth drive, thou art encouraged to send it hastily my way.

Vengeance, however, is mine. My column may have been thwarted, but I was happy to turn on the news last night and see live coverage from the Renaissance Fair. In the foreground, medieval dorks were frolicking about as you'd expect. But in the background? Cars whizzing by, one of which was clearly blaring a diddy from that minstrel bard of yore, Sir Snoop of Dogg.

STOP THE PRESSES! I can't even make a Snoop Dogg joke without the wrath of the Renaissance warriors! I woke up the morning after writing this column to find my car dead in the parking lot. Won't turn over, won't move. I have mocked the Renaissance Fair and its denizens for the last time. You are all wonderful, powerful human beings and I beseech you to leave me and my technology alone. I shall ne'er speak ill of you again. Just remember: when I call you "dorks," it's with the utmost respect.

Monday, October 09, 2006

COLUMN: Plane-o-phobia

0114420880933852. When your caller ID shows THAT, you pick up the phone. That HAS to be an important call. Or at least an interesting one.

I was hoping it was Harmony, my friend who's spending half a year in Beijing. Instead, it was the voice of an old friend with an interesting proposition.

It was, in fact, the ex-wife of my old college roommate. After their strangely amicable divorce, Kari had followed her dream -- oh, who are we kidding, she followed MY dream -- and moved to England to become a music writer. While we still sent the occasional e-mail, our communications had slowed over the years and the miles, so it was fantastic to hear her voice.

It turns out that her boyfriend of a couple years, a Welshman named Maughan (which, disappointingly, does NOT rhyme with "noggin,") popped the question -- they're getting hitched in February. Not only was Kari calling to tell me the great news, she was calling to see if I'd DJ the wedding.

IN LONDON. On the Tower Bridge, no less.

Wow. I've always wanted to go to England. Between the history, the culture, and the nightlife, it's my dream vacation, honestly. And to get to show off my DJ skills to an entirely different country? That's pretty cool. Plus Kari's in the music business, so the guest list at this little shindig might be pretty impressive. I want to do it. I want to do it BAD.

There's just ONE problem. England is, most decidedly, difficult to drive to.

When I was a kid, our family flew down to Disney World. I don't remember much about the flight, I just remember thinking how cool it was to be in an airplane.

Flash forward some 20 years, and the paper decides to send me out to a conference in Boulder, Colorado. Awesome! I hadn't been on a plane in FOREVER, and to be handed a free trip to Colorado for a week? Shoot, sign me up!

I got to the airport one excited globetrotter. Ticket in hand, I proceeded through the terminal with a spring in my step. Then I boarded the plane.

"That's funny," I thought to myself, "this sure seems small." When I was a kid, I remembered planes being huge on the inside. You know, like the planes you see in the movies. THIS plane, on the other hand, was a winged school bus. It was kinda dirty. It smelled a little funky. People were crammed in like sardines. Then we pulled down the runway.

Ten seconds after liftoff, I thought I was dying. I could see my heartbeat as my shirt fluttered faster and faster. My knuckles were white as snow. Breath came shallow. "Swell," I said to myself, "You really ARE a weenie."

Turns out I have a horrific fear of flying. It was news to me, honestly. I thought flying would be fun. Then I looked DOWN and saw clouds, and about saw my breakfast on my lap. Far below the clouds was Earth, a patchwork of fields and colors... and all I could do was wonder which one of those little squares would be the softest to crash-land in.

We arrived in St. Louis and I barely had time to make my connecting flight to Colorado. By now, I was noticably shaking. The last thing I wanted to do was go up AGAIN -- but then again, being stuck in St. Louis and having to tell my boss that I was too afwaid of da big bad pwane didn't sound like a better fate. So I sucked it up and boarded the connecting flight. And who of course sits down next to me but THE HOTTEST GIRL THAT HAS EVER LIVED.

This was fate. This was karma. This girl was my soulmate. Or at least she was until I reached for the barf bag. Try as hard as I could, there was NO way to be cool. I had to fess up to her that I was terrified, and she did her best to placate me the rest of the way. Air travel is for the deranged and fearless. I am a rational human being, and rational human beings accept that people aren't expected to float at 40,000 feet in the air.

Yeah, I know, cars are far deadlier. But, at least in a car, MY hands are on the wheel. My fate is LITERALLY in my hands. In a plane, my fate is in Capt. Doug's hands. Or Al the engine mechanic. Or Phil the shoe bomber. Too many variables, people, that's all I'm saying.

So instead I've been doing a lot of pacing. I really want to go to England come February, I really do. But can I do it without tossing my Transatlantic cookies? Maybe they can knock me out just like Mr. T in the A-Team and presto, I'm in London. My friends say I should do it, and that movies and music can distract me. Well, unless that movie is "Harry Potter & the Plane That Always Lands Safely," I'm still gonna be a basket case. I've got a couple weeks to decide, and until then, I keep repeating Kari's mantra to me:

"British chicks dig guys with American accents."

Sunday, October 01, 2006

COLUMN: Bedbugs

Okay, so we've all watched shows like "Dateline NBC" and "48 Hours." As a result, we all know that every item in our household is, in fact, a ticking time bomb of danger that could, quite suddenly and without warning, kill us painfully. We all know that every square foot of our kitchens can be put under a microscope to reveal a world of parasites, bacteria, and legions of micro-ickies that could, quite suddenly and without warning, kill us painfully. We all know that every guy who uses the internet, is, in fact, a child predator who could, quite suddenly and without warning, gross us out bigtime.

Not even our own publications are immune to a touch of sensationalism now and again. Thanks squarely to articles in our papers, I am now completely afraid to go outside in the summer. Once upon a time, I lived a blissful life of ignorance -- before discovering that every innocent mosquito buzzing about is, in fact, a carrier of deadly West Nile whatzit that could, quite suddenly and without warning, make me act like a ninny anytime I hear buzzing around my ear.

Now, thanks to four articles that we've run in our papers thus far in 2006, we can welcome a new addition to my closet of paranoid fears and neuroses. Scoot aside, identity theft. Make way, tainted spinach. Don't crowd, contagious anthrax. Say howdy to our newest paranoid fear: THE BEDBUG!

Prior to this year, I didn't even know there WERE such things as bedbugs. I thought it was just a little nursery rhyme fun: "Sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite!" Little did I know this phrase was less happy ode and more fearful prayer. Turns out that bedbugs are quite real, and the little suckers are supposedly making a comeback. Once upon a time, the bedbug menace barely existed thanks to our insecticide buddy, DDT. But, wouldn't ya know, it turned out that DDT can, quite suddenly and without warning, kill us painfully. Sigh. So bye-bye, DDT; hello, bedbugs.

Great. Like I had an easy time going to sleep in the first place. Now I get to lay there and feel phantom bedbugs crawling all over me, causing me at least once a night to leap out of bed, pull the covers back, and REALLY tick off my cats.

Good news, though! The last article I saw said that if you suspect that your home might have bedbugs, "Don't panic!" In fact, all you have to do is look for tell-tale "tiny blood spatters on your sheets!" Neat!

Let me ask you this: If finding tiny blood spatters on your sheets is NOT a good time to panic, WHEN EXACTLY IS? Frankly, any type of living situation that requires one to routinely check for your life essence leaking onto your bedsheets is, decidedly, a panic-able situation in my book. Plus, my sheets are black. When I was shopping for bedding, the ability to see things-that-go-suck-in-the-night wasn't exactly a priority.

And every article basically says the same thing: if you've got bedbugs, it's pretty much game over. The little vampires hide in mattresses and wood cracks and fabric and then wait til you're asleep before coming out to the blood buffet. You can't kill them unless you can find them, and you pretty much can't find them no matter how hard you look. To the bedbug, we're a human Ponderosa, and it apparantly doesn't matter if you slather yourself in Deep Beds Off.

"Do your research!" the article instructs. "Talk to (or hire) a professional pest-control worker." Do my research? Do my research WHERE? 'Cause let me tell you, the day I wake up and see tiny blood spatters on my sheets is the last day I wake up in THAT apartment. And I won't be happy with a pest-control worker, no siree. I would need the entire Orkin Army showing up en masse with enough ammo to suddenly and without warning kill every bedbug painfully within a radius of five square miles.

So, hurrah! Bedbugs are real, and it is our duty as media-watching citizens to be very, very afraid. So what's next? What other seemingly fictitious evils are next in line to spring into reality? Let me guess -- there really ARE boogeymen living in our closets? The Grinch really MIGHT steal Christmas? Eggs & ham might suddenly turn green? If that's the case, let me be the first to go on record: I would be afraid in a box. I would be afraid with a fox. I don't want bedbugs in my house, I freak out enough when I see a mouse. I do not like this paranoid fear, and I wish that it would

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

COLUMN: Cowboys

It's times like this -- the creative, laid-back moments when I sit down to write each week's column -- that my thoughts naturally turn toward one thing: world domination.

I've made no secrets of my eventual goal to conquer and rule you all with my cold, iron heart and rapier wit, so it shouldn't come as a shock to you. The only real shock is in how stinkin' long it seems to be taking. Frankly, I was kind of hoping that you readers would have all become my Horde of Evil Minions by now. I don't get what the hold-up is.

Regardless, it WILL someday happen. So in my position as the future ruler of all mankind, mankind often asks me, "Gee, Shane, if you could change ONE thing in the world, what would it be?"

Hmmm. Would I fix the political climate of the Middle East? Well, I suppose. (I actually have a plan for this. It's a work in progress, but it starts by kicking EVERYONE out of Israel and turning the whole area into a global state park. No one owns it, no one lays claim to it, but everybody can visit as long as you play nice. Park closes at dusk. Camping with permit only.)

Maybe I'd fix global warming. (Again, a solid plan exists, involving the 7-11 Corp. and a Slushee machine the size of Greenland. Soon, Al Gore will have his icebergs back, and this time they'll be a delightful cherry flavor!)

But these issues, critical as they may be, are on the backburner. Because, first and foremost, if I ran the world, I'd need to change one thing straight away -- an issue that has plagued our fragile world for far too long.

I'm speaking, of course, about guys who dress like cowboys.

This month I've been to a fair share of weddings, birthdays and formal dinners. (One of my female co-workers tells me this is because "autumn is the new spring!" I am extraordinarily happy to NOT know what that means.) At every one of these functions, without fail, there's some dude dressed up like a cowboy.

You know the look. Big ol' cowboy hat, a bolo tie (usually in torquoise,) shiny leather boots, and a button-up shirt that has at least a 60 percent chance of incorporating some element of the American flag. This fancy get-up is supposed to blend right into the normal, sane world of suits and dresses. It is supposed to be formal wear. It is in no way, shape, or form supposed to be what it truly is: a poorly timed Halloween costume.

Why is this "cowboyism" socially acceptable? Are there any other occupations that I can play dress-up and go out in public as? Could I show up at a wedding dressed as a pirate? Wander into the Outing Club in a crisp set of medical scrubs? Yet, bizarrely, I can show up in a 10-gallon hat and expect to not get laughed onto the first stagecoach outta Dodge.

Do these people not own mirrors?

The way I see it, there are TWO acceptable scenarios for showing up at a formal party dressed up like Roy Rogers:

1. You are paid to entertain children with lasso tricks and balloon animals.

2. There is an emergency situation at the party involving cattle that need to, in some form or another, be wrangled. Nothing ruins a good wedding reception quite like a stampede. If, as a seasoned and professional cowboy, you sense at least a 75 percent chance of bovine interruption in what otherwise would be a pleasant soiree, then -- and ONLY then -- should you be allowed to step into crisis mode and don the appropriate cattle-handling wardrobe.

Look, I'm no expert in the ways of the cowboy. However, I have seen my fair share of Westerns, so let me tell you one universal truth I've picked up about the cowboy way: Cowboys are, as a general rule, quite dirty people.

The cowboys I'm familiar with have no time to freshly iron their shirts. They don't have the means to glue shiny stuff onto their belt buckles in the shape of Texas. The cowboys I remember don't do brunch. They're a tad bit too busy having gunfights, hitching horses, and taking care of an assortment of "no-good varmints." They are covered in dust and mud, and they most likely smell of horses. What's scary is that there must be a surplus of guys out there who think this is COOL.

This, friends, is the crisis I would handle if I ruled the world.

Hmmm. But honestly, do I want to rule a world that deems it socially acceptable to emulate Brooks and/or Dunn in public settings? Do I want evil minions capable of performing the Boot-Scootin' Boogie?

As much as it hurts my achy-breaky heart, perhaps I need a rethink. Or at least a dress code next time I throw a shindig.

I Started a War...

That's a quote from Belle & Sebastian, one of my favorite bands. This is a post about music.

Specifically, it's a post about a really bad blog that I posted somewhere else.

Like I've mentioned some umpteen times both in my newspaper column and here on this blog, I'm a bit of a music nerd. Before I worked for the Dispatch, I founded a little e-mail discussion for like-minded music nerds. Imagine being part of a group full of pretentious people who each think that their musical taste is the best on the planet, and thusly spend countless hours of back-and-forth e-mails arguing about music.

To some, that must be hell. To me, it's a Tuesday. Our little e-mail discussion list eventually spawned a website, Excellent Online, that remains in play today.

Anyways, as a result of spending the last 15 years of my life professionally arguing about music, sometimes it gets me in trouble. Last week was one of those times.

This past weekend was the River Roots festival in Davenport. It's the second one that the RME has thrown -- and it's an annual fest that's trying to become one of the biggest music draws here in the Quad Cities.

Too bad, then, that I'm so disappointed by it.

The lineup for this year's festival was really strong. Some good acts (The Nadas, Hackensaw Boys, etc.,) some GREAT acts (Junior Brown, ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO, Martin Sexton, etc.,) and a slew of other decent acts.

The problem? It wasn't the right lineup for the Quad Cities.

I'll spare the long-winded argument and stick with the basic premise: Other than headliners The Black Crowes, most people in the Quad Cities wouldn't know any of these artists. And the Black Crowes are hardly the draw they were a decade ago.

We don't live in a huge market. As a result, it takes name recognition to draw in fans. Some people may say, "I don't know any of these bands, but I'm excited to go see 'em!" If only EVERYONE were like that... Without acts people know, most people don't go - that's the ugly truth. And, as perfect and impressive of a lineup that you bring into town, without a sea of fans turning out, it's labeled a disappointment.

So... a lineup that Joe Quad-Citian isn't familiar with... plus a $50 ticket price... isn't exactly what I'd call a good business move.

THIS was the point I was trying to make when I logged onto the River Roots forum and made a post. However, like I said, I'm used to some rather heated language when it comes to arguing music, so I sort of went into their forum with music nerd guns blazing. Words like "sucks" and "yuck" were bandied about. Venomous posts like this are common among MY set of friends. Unfortunately, this wasn't my friends.

As a result of my overly-harsh post, I opened up not just ONE can of worms, but a whole factory of worms on the River Roots forum. Basically, those folks want my head on a stick right now.

And I'm really sorry. I'm sorry that I used such harsh words in their forum. I should've toned it back a bit (or kept my yap shut from the beginning.) I honestly wanted to offer some constructive criticism and support the local music scene; instead, I came off like Joe Buzzkill raining on everybody's parade.

Anyways, I want to let it die. I really do. But there's ONE post that was made on that forum that I need to address. But, rather than feed the flames of the River Roots forum fire, I'm bringing it over here instead.

Here's what someone who posted to the forum said about me:

I attended some of the Raves that Shane (now with the Dispatch) put on in the 90's and I remember paying something like $15 which I thought was outrageous for some DJ's. As I recall shane said to me "We are not making any money, we have a $30,000 light and sound system and thats why it costs so much". I replied that $30,000 sound systems rent for $400 a night, there were at least 300 people in attendance that paid $15, and Danceland rents for $250 bucks and will even do a split on beer sales. I told him that we booked the Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Naked Raygun, and similar bands, usually having 4 bands on the lineup, rented a hall, rented a sound system, promotions and such and usually charged 6 bucks with the same kind of turnout as his $15 DJ events. He still insited that they don't make any money off of the raves with a straight face.

I'm sorry, but I needed to reply to this.

First off, yes, gang, I used to throw raves back in the day. Myself and my close friend Chris brought raves to the Quad Cities under the name of Exstasis Promotions. Hopefully, you made it to one of our parties. If not, you shoulda, 'coz those nights made some of the greatest memories of my life.

If only I could remember as well as this guy who made that post. I wish I could remember verbatim conversations from A DECADE AGO as much as this guy does. But I do remember SOME things about our parties...

(1) $8. That's what we charged for parties. I think we may have had one or two events where we jacked the price up to the $12 range, but that was only when we had a big-name DJ that we needed to cover.

(2) Danceland Ballroom might have rented for $250 back in the Naked Raygun days, but that's less than half of what we paid for it. And Danceland is only one of the places we threw parties at. The Col Ballroom, for example, was $1000.

(3) Our sound and light system (which we rented together) cost a lot more than $400 a night.

For this poster's benefits, and frankly for me to save face, let's look at some of the expenses:

First you had the venue to pay. On top of the rental fees, many venues require the event coordinators to hold insurance, so there's another $500-$1000 right there.

Then you had security to pay. We didn't mess around; we had licensed, uniformed security guards at every event. These guys were approx. $20 an hour per staffer.

Then you had sound and lights. Lasers, intelligent lighting, big stuff... with big price tags.

Then you had talent. Good DJ's don't come cheap, and we took GREAT pride in our DJ lineups. What's a DJ possibly cost, you ask? Let's take Superstar DJ Dmitri from the group Deee-lite for instance. Dmitri charged us $1000 for a 90 minute DJ set. Plus we had to fly him into the Quad Cities AND put him up at a hotel. And he was one of 8 DJ's that night.

Then there were the pre-costs of promotion. Back then, we didn't have a Kinko's in town, so we drove every month to the one in Iowa City to make 3000+ cardstock flyers. Then we took those flyers and put them everywhere from Chicago to St. Louis and everywhere in between. That meant road trips to Peoria... Macomb... Iowa City... Cedar Rapids... Cedar Falls... etc., etc.

Are you getting where I'm coming from? Throwing events isn't cheap.

We weren't in the rave business to make a profit, as much as this guy claims. We were just two bored recent college graduates wanting to try something different and fun. I distinctly remember a party where our greedy profiteering made us exactly $19 apiece. The whole time that Exstasis existed, I held a full time job (and often a DJ gig on the side) just to make ends meet. On the parties that we DID turn a profit on (which were about 50% of them), we just took that money and put it towards our NEXT event.

In other words, don't ever accuse me of putting on events in the Quad Cities for financial gain, because those were the leanest years of my life.

/end rant

Again, folks, sorry to be so harsh in my post on the River Roots board - I can't apologize enough (though I still stand behind WHAT I said... just not HOW I went about it!) The RME is a great addition to the Quad Cities soundscape, and I hope the fest gets better and better each year.

Now back to the funny stuff...

Monday, September 18, 2006

COLUMN: Catholic Wedding

My closest friend here at work got married this past weekend, and I got enlisted to lend a hand with the music at both the wedding and reception. For the most part, it went off without a hitch. (The other part being when a random attendee fainted mid-ceremony. Or when I was given a sound cue too early and accidentally drowned out the minister in a sonic wave of Etta James.)

Otherwise, it went off perfect. My buddy Nathan looked happy, and his new bride looked positively radiant. It was a good wedding, and for once, I didn't feel insanely awkward. You see, me and weddings usually don't get along too well.

My awkwardness and dread of weddings all stems from one particular blessed union I had the pleasure of attending a few years back. I'd been to my share of weddings by then, but this was my first Catholic wedding, complete with full Mass.

And this is nothing against Catholics, I love you guys, but when Catholics call it a "ceremony" -- well, they don't kid around. I have never felt more like a fish out of water in my whole life.

Thankfully, I brought my friend Kelly, who was raised Catholic. Little did I know my date would also turn into my interpreter, as I had NO clue what was going on. It started like any other wedding -- the bride walks down the aisle, a family member gets up and courageously sings a cute almost-in-the-right-key song. The priest comes out and gives a great little affirming sermon.

Except that it wasn't so little. It was, in fact, longer than your average college lecture. I sat there, trying to follow and appreciate the words of the sermon, but after awhile, I was getting confused. There were loads of Bible passages and one too many so-and-so said unto so-and-so's... and before I knew it, I had zoned out.

Here it was, my friends' special day, and I'm in my own little world. Random thoughts cruised through my brain at warp speed.

-- Gee, it's kind of hot in here. I should have worn something cooler. No, it's not hot; I'm just not used to wearing a tie. Did I tie my tie right? I bet it's crooked. Man, that's kind of a pretty stained glass window over there. I wonder how exactly one goes about staining the --


-- Whoa. What just happened? Everyone around me just spoke, all at once. Oh, man, did I miss a cue? Is there a script somewhere? Is it in the wedding program? I totally should have been paying more attention to the --


By now, I was sweating bullets. My friend Kelly leaned over & whispered, "You don't have to say all the stuff back. It's a Catholic thing." Then why did it seem like I was the ONLY one not chiming in? But there WAS no script to follow -- everyone just KNEW when to speak in unison. I felt like it was the 7th inning in a Cubs game and I was the only one in Wrigley Field who didn't know the words to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

That's when the worst bit happened. The priest said something, and out of the blue, the amiable old lady sitting on my left grabs my hand, smiles, and says, "Peace be with you." Well, I figure, that's actually kind of nice. She was right, I was stressing out a little bit, I could use some peace. But the thing is, after she said it, she kept gripping my hand and was looking at me a bit expectantly.

A million possible responses flew through my head. Surely I must have to say something in return. She just wished me some peace, what's the appropriate comeback? I thought about it for exactly 2.4 seconds and settled on a proper response. I looked her square in the eye, smiled, and said it.


At this point, my friend Kelly elbows me in the ribs and whisper-yells, "And also with you!" I was like, wow guys, sentiments of peace from both sides of me? These Catholics are pretty cool. I made sure to thank Kelly, too. She just rolled her eyes.

Obviously, this was a learning experience. As with all strange situations, I turn into a Follower and not a Leader. This would explain why at the same wedding, Kelly later had to physically restrain me from walking up to take Communion. "You're not even Catholic!" she hissed at me under her breath. Well, no, but everybody else was going up, I thought I had to, too. Perhaps this is why its hard finding dates for weddings.


What you're reading right now is the 100th column that I've written for the papers of the Moline Dispatch Publishing Co. I figure it's the right moment to thank the editors for going easy on me, and to thank all you guys for reading and strangely seeming to care about what a 35-year-old loser like me has to say. To all of you, I say from the heart with belated grace:


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

COLUMN: Disco Inferno

I'm hiding. As I type this, it's Saturday night and I've drug my trusty laptop down to the District. As many of you know, I moonlight on the weekends DJ'ing down here at 2nd Ave., and right now, I'm out on the back patio waiting to go on. As I look around, approximately eleventy billion are outside gyrating to the disco inferno of The Travoltas. What I'm trying to figure out is why.

This is no slight against the band. If you're in the Quad Cities and you've never heard of The Travoltas, congratulations: you officially live under a rock. What began as a random booking of a novelty disco band at Ribco has morphed into a mouth-gaping phenomenon. Some five years after their first appearance, the Travs' annual summer shows draw thousands each and every time they take the stage -- all of this despite the fact that their set list never changes. It's always the same disco songs in the same disco order.

That said, they put on a heck of a show. In fact, if your idea of fun is watching a pack of 30-something Canadians in wigs and shiny suits singing "Kung Fu Fighting," I can safely say I've seen none better than the Travoltas.

You might think I'm making fun, but truth be told, I've had a penchant for bad disco ever since I was 8 years ago and my mom let me buy my first K-Tel compilation ("Hot Nights and City Lights!") How can you go wrong with bell bottoms, platform shoes, and stairstep basslines? And even the crunchiest of metalheads has to admit that, in their day, ABBA wrote some hot jams.

I'll say with pride that the first R-rated movie my folks took me to was "Saturday Night Fever." And hey, if not for that movie, we wouldn't have its fantastically kitschy sequel, "Staying Alive," which is responsible for THE greatest ending line in the history of modern cinema:

"You know what I wanna do? STRUT."

Point is, I'm old enough (albeit barely) to appreciate disco. I was a macho man, I was a superfreak, and by golly, I WILL survive.

Ergo, it's appropriate for someone like me to enjoy a band like the Travoltas. But that doesn't explain why this sea of humanity mere feet away from me is comprised of mostly 20-somethings. At least 50% of the Travoltas fanbase are too young to know disco firsthand -- yet they're out there grooving away. Frankly, I don't get it.

Would I enjoy watching a 50's cover band play songs I didn't grow up with? Ick, no. So why would people younger than me enjoy disco? It's a mystery. Sure, tunes like "YMCA" and "Brickhouse" are inescapable -- if you've been to a wedding in the past decade, you've danced to 'em. But what are 20-somethings doing singing along to deeper catalog disco like "Car Wash" or "Hot Stuff"? Is there some weird disco conspiracy afoot to keep these songs alive to future generations? I have issues with all this.

Well, I guess I just have one issue: I'm getting OLD, and that sucks. The other day I was channel hopping on my car radio and it landed on KUUL-FM. "Yuck," my brain thought. No offense to the station, but I can't stomach Bill Haley and Elvis and all that ilk. Yet suddenly I was gobsmacked. Instead of hearing some Bobby Darin or whatever, I was instead greeted with Tommy Tutone's "867-5309 (Jenny.)"

I went comatose with shock, even more so than the other week when my friend Jason said, "Wow, Shane, in the daylight, you can really see your grey hairs." It's official -- MY music has become "oldies." I remember going to Musicland and buying the 45 of "867-5309" when it came out. KUUL-FM has moved from 50's and 60's to 70's and even some 80's.

I guess I just naively expected oldies to stay the same forever, but that's just silly. As radio listeners change generations, stations change their playlists. In other words, 50's music fans, it was nice knowin' ya.

When I was in high school, I remember listening to The Beatles and, though I loved them and still do, I couldn't help thinking how old and dated music from 15 years ago sounded. Well, here's an ugly newsflash: the music I was listening to in college is now 15 years old, and I shudder to think what today's kids would make of it.

I have visions of a small child coming up to me and going, "Jeez, Dad, you listened to Nirvana? You're SO lame." And this is why I'll never reproduce. And why I'll never listen to KUUL-FM in 20 years when they introduce a "golden oldie from Marilyn Manson!" Of course, by then, pop music will be nothing but sounds of power drills over computerized voices screaming obscenities.

Ain't evolution grand? Now if you'll excuse me, I've some disco dancing to attend to.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

COLUMN: Car Window

In the hard-living, acidic, thankless world of semi-professional humor writing, sometimes the only things that keep us going are the fans.

Take this week for instance. Column ideas have been few and far between lately, and I was fully prepped for an ill-advised hardcore night of Starbucks Doubleshots and sensory deprivation -- anything in order to muster my way through this ugly writer's block and fill my Notepad screen with something passable.

I was dangerously close to having no column topic this week. That all changed thanks to one of my fans. Yes, a good samaritan stepped up to bat and figured out the perfect way to break my writer's block:

Throw a huge chunk of concrete through the back window of my car.

Now, why didn't I think of that? Suddenly I've got a perfect column! And it's all thanks to one thoughtful mysterious stranger who hurled a piece of pavement and turned it into comedy gold! GEE, IF ONLY I COULD FIGURE OUT WHO PERFORMED THIS GOOD DEED SO THAT I MIGHT THANK THEM IN PERSON. Or perhaps simply thank their car. With a lead pipe I like to call my "thanking stick."

I approached my car from the front, so I didn't see the seismic hole in the back window until I sat down in the driver's seat and slammed the driver's door shut. That was the moment when the entire back window exploded and rained glass all over my car. Somewhere Connor MacLeod was saying, "There can BE only one" -- it was definitely my own personal end-of-"Highlander" moment.

Interestingly, my first reaction was to presume that someone was shooting at me. Why this was my first thought will probably be one of those unanswered questions that'll finally rear its ugly head when I give up and start seeing a shrink. All I know is that I probably looked really silly when I (a) slammed my door and my window exploded, and (b) responded to it by quickly DUCKING and cowering in fear.

Happily, once I managed enough courage to get out of the car, I found the weapon du jour in my back seat: a hunk of concrete from a pothole in the parking lot. Obviously, some random yahoo decided that it would be a great deal of fun to chuck it at random car windows -- and apparantly I won the victim lottery.

My first phone call was to the police, and to their credit, one of Rock Island's finest was there within minutes. The officer took one look at where the concrete landed and then looked at the impact point on what was left of my window and was able to estimate the position of the evil-doer and the trajectory of the rock.

All of which is kinda neat-o, but frankly, I wanted justice. I wanted CSI: Rock Island to come dust for prints. I wanted the rock bagged up and taken in for evidence. Instead, the officer asked me, "So, do you have any enemies?"

ENEMIES? ME? Wow, that would be cool. I've always wanted an arch-nemesis. It sure would liven up those boring nights at home, having to ward off evil at every turn. That MUST be better than my nightly reruns of "Frasier," right? Alas, I could come up with no suspects.

I took some grief over those global warming columns I wrote a few weeks ago, but vandalism isn't usually the environmentalist style. I ripped on those Isabel Bloom statues a while ago, but those people don't throw concrete; they turn it into ART. That's when it hit me. Maybe it was perpetrated by the one person who's been the victim of ridicule in my column for years. The one person with enough money and manpower to pull off such an elaborate crime. My true arch-nemesis:

TOM CRUISE. Think about it - my column reaches over 100,000 households every week. Odds are good that one of you is a Scientologist. You tipped off Tom. He's had little to do now that his movies flopped and Paramount canned him, so he hatched a nefarious, complex plot to spare no expenses to, well, put a rock through my window.

But the cops weren't buying it. Instead, they gave me a report number and told me to call my insurance company. Owning a Volkswagen, I was terrified that my replacement window would need to be hand-blown by a guy named Jorg in a war-torn bunker in Dusseldorf, but surprisingly, the fine folks at Moline Glass had one in stock, and my car was good as new within hours.

So -- well played, Cruise. You committed the dirty deed and escaped scott free. You win this fight... but the battle wages on. I have now installed a new security system in my car that -- upon shattering a window -- yells, honks, flashes, and shoots poison darts in a 360 degree radius. At least pretend that it does, 'cause that was a pretty lame thing to do, even if it DID give me something to write about this week.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

COLUMN: Chinese Toilets.

I've always considered myself to be somewhat of a "worldly" person. I'm not saying that I know my way around the Louvre or that I'm familiar with the customs of Aboriginal tribesmen. I've never learned a single Japanese character, and I've never climbed the cloudy steps of Machu Picchu.

But I still like to think of myself as being fairly clued in. After all, I watch a whole lot of TV. Between the Travel Channel, BBC America, and Discovery, you can take a vacation from your living room. Every week, the folks at Borders hold the newest British import music magazines for me. I'd die without daily access to and news from around the world. I have e-mail buddies everywhere from London to Sydney to Tokyo.

And yet, other than 2 ill-advised hours in Ontario, I've never left the USA. I've always wished that I had the guts to just pack a bag and fly off to some strange and exciting landscape. But, since me and airplanes don't get along well (there's another column for another day,) I instead play Armchair World Traveler and live vicariously through the travels of my friends.

This is where I've rapidly learned that I've been a bit naive in my "worldliness." A friend of mine just left Illinois for Beijing, where she's going to be teaching conversational English to a Chinese classroom for five months. Since her departure last week, she's been sending near-daily e-mails that have raised my eyebrows on more than a few occasions.

Principally, THIS sentence: "I'm very relieved to find that my apartment has Western toilets." Umm, what? Until the PRECISE moment that I read this statement, I was blissfully unaware that toilets differentiated from one culture to another. Sure, there are those fancy ones that shoot water onto your nether-regions, but I'm talking BASIC toilet construction here.

That's when I made a VERY dumb move. I did a Google image search for "Chinese toilets." Here's a helpful and fun tip to remember: Never, under any circumstances, do a Google image search for "Chinese toilets." Unless, of course, you're an aspiring bulemic and need some good purging incentives. Suffice to say, you'll never turn your nose at a Port-a-potty again. The results, while thoroughly disgusting, were insightful.

I learned about traditional Asian toilets, which most English-speaking folk refer to as "squatters." That's right, you heard me -- squatters. Some appear to be porcelain, others appears to be little more than holes in the ground. But one thing is perfectly clear: One does not sit. One squats.

This is, quite obviously, insane. I've been obsessing on this to all of my friends for the past week, and some have politely reminded me that once upon a time, even here in America, toilets were of the squat variety. As though that makes it acceptable or something. Pshaw.

Common sense dictates that toilets should have seats. In fact, the inventions that our cave-dwelling ancestors should have focused on are, in order: (1) Fire. (2) The wheel. (3) The toilet seat. (4) The X-Box 360.

The question becomes: If push came to shove, could I accomplish aforementioned squat manoeuvre? I'm not so thoroughly convinced. First off, I'm an uncoordinated boob. If I lived in Beijing, I would be voted Most Likely To Fall Into The Squatter. At the very least, I would require some form of safety/balancing handrails, and even then, the results could be iffy. Looking at these photos of squatters, I wasn't quite positive how you even USED them. There had better be a diagram.

Without a toilet seat, there's no lap. And without a lap, there's no place to put the Sports section. Without the Sports section, guys everywhere would be cancelling their newspaper subscriptions and -- BAM! -- suddenly I'm unemployed. So, to sum, if it wasn't for the advent of the Western toilet seat, I would be falling into squatters willy-nilly AND be out of a job. That's not a rosy picture. I've been looking this gift seat in the mouth.

Bathroom visits should be a special time of personal reflection and relaxation. After all, that's why we call them REST-rooms. It should NOT require the balance and poise of a gymnast.

Then I thought about it. Martial arts, a spiritual discipline that requires strength, agility, balance, and grace, originated in Asia. Without perpetuating stereotypes, perhaps this is due to their forced early balance training at the hands of the squatter. Over here in the states, we've all been brought up on toilet seats -- hence all the uncoordinated klutzes you see walking around.

The end trade-off is this -- AMERICA: Smart enough to put seats on our toilets, yet sadly lacking in ninjas.

Personally, it's a sacrifice I can live with.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


Well, here we are again. Another Monday night, another column deadline looming, another blank Notepad screen.

I'd love to tell you that I'm excited about all this. I'd love to tell you that after my vacation two weeks ago, I am now fully recharged and ready to send you into stitches as a lean, mean, humor writing machine. Truth be told, all I really want to do right now -- yawwwwn -- is go to bed.

I try to be okay at the funny stuff, but I am downright pathetic when it comes to time management. I should be grateful -- my twisted schedule allows me to keep the day job, write this column every week, AND spend my weekends DJing down in the District. All told, it's my own slice of heaven. Well, it would be, if it wasn't for this whole pesky "sleeping" thing.

I have ALWAYS hated sleep. If someone were to hand me a pill right now that would let me function normally while never having to sleep again, I'd take it in a heartbeat. Sleep is wasted time. Okay, sure, sometimes it feels awfully good to snuggle under the covers and relax for a bit, but I still can't shake the feeling that I'm missing all kinds of stuff.

Every night, I try to push the envelope. I have to be at the paper at 9:30 every weekday morning. Pretty cushy, right? Most of my co-workers are in by 8:00, while I get to sleep in. I should be loving it, yeah? No dice. Instead, every morning I stagger around in a stupor because I stayed up late like an idiot the night before. If I'm in bed every night by 2:00 a.m., it's a miracle.

Granted, some of that is because I'm up until sunrise on the weekends because of my DJ gig. But a lot of it is just because I'm stubborn and fight sleep like it's Skeletor and I'm He-Man. It can be 1:30 in the morning, I'll be lying in bed, and suddenly a car will drive by my window.

"Lucky SOB," I'll think to myself. That person doesn't have to be in bed. That person doesn't have to play by the rules. That person's probably having fun right now. Of course, the truth of the matter is that the driver of that car is probably (a) on their way to a really uninteresting overnight job, or (b) on their way to tomorrow morning's police blotter. Still, they're living life and I'm sleeping through it.

I could rationalize this if there was a single worthwhile thing to do in the pitch middle of the night. Of course, there's not. So I stay up late and short myself sleep doing little more than channel-flipping from bad late-night show to another. And I'm not talking Late Night With Conan O'Brien kind of late-night; Conan's a matinee as far as I'm concerned.

No, I'm talking laaaate night, where television has but two options. The first of which is, of course, the wide, wonderful world of infomercials. Yes, the land where buying and selling houses can net you hundreds of thousands of dollars in the blink of an eye. The land where every major celebrity was an acne-ridden monster before they used Proactiv. And, of course, the land where, at any given moment, there's a very good chance that the Girls are Going Wild.

Your other television option is to switch to the movie channels. As a pop culture worshipper, I donate heavily to the Church of Mediacom, and they give me salvation in the form of eleventy million different HBO & Starz channels. The problem is, the only time of day I get to take advantage of this is the 1-3 a.m. zone, and that's not exactly your prime movie hours. No, instead that's when you get straight-to-video movies with names like "Cold Vengeance 3." Movies whose TV Guide descriptions invariably start with the phrase, "A renegade biker... on a lone search for justice..."

Of course, there's always Skinem... sorry, Cinemax, where you can almost kinda sorta watch people make whoopie. Yes, the joyous world of cable-friendly adult cinema, where the whoopie-making is kept to a tasteful minimum so that you can really focus on the plots, which are always EXCEPTIONAL in films of this genre. Sorry, Cinemax, but if I wanted to not-watch people making whoopie, I'd look in a mirror.

I've just been pushing this no-sleep thing too much lately. Two weekends ago, I got home from the club and fell asleep at 6:00 a.m. to wake up... at 7:00 P.M.! Sunday, thou hast forsaken me! ONE DAY without a single job, and I was so sleep deprived that I snored through the whole thing. Maybe I need Ambien. Maybe I just need a swift kick in the rump and my mom to yell, "GET TO BED!" Either way, I need to put this column to bed. I'm way too tired, and I need to go... watch some TV.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

One More Reality Show Down the Drain

Those of you that know me know that there is but one motivation in my life:


Okay, so not so much. Truth is, I can barely dress myself, let alone know the difference betwixt good and bad fashion.

That said, this season I am ADDICTED to "Project Runway."

And not because of fashion. In all honesty, I think most of the things that come down that runway at the end of the show are hideous... and 100%, completely and totally, inapplicable to daily life.

No, there was a much more pressing reason to watch "Project Runway" this season.

That reason: ALISON. My GOD, what a hottie. Here's a girl who's trying to be a fashion designer, while in truth, she should be one of the MODELS strutting these bizarre creations down the runway. And, from what limited fashion taste I possess, I thought her designs looked great.

For the past two months, I've been meticulously watching every episode, imagining what it would be like to be Mr. Alison, living the artistic life, going to high profile fashion functions and then perhaps discussing the hidden merits of Sigur Ros b-sides over escargot and Kristal (hey, this is MY fantasy, shut up.)

Anyways, she got booted tonight... and a nation mourns. Well, at least the straight guys who watch "Project Runway" mourn. All 8 of us.

Here's to you, Alison. Let's hope your fashion career blossoms... and that you model your own stuff.