Tuesday, February 28, 2006

One Bloomburger With Fries, Coming Up!

So I've received more comments, letters, and e-mails over the Isabel Bloom column than anything I've ever written for the paper. SHOCKINGLY, not a one of them hate mail. I figured that making fun of the concrete critters would cause all sorts of higgeldy-piggeldy among the Isabel Army. Nope.

Instead I've been deluged with letters from like-minded folk, who also find the things repellant.

I did, however, receive one letter today that made me laugh a LOT. Annette of Leclaire writes that one of her friends owns an Isabel Bloom and has found a fantastic practical use for it: she uses it as a HAMBURGER PRESS!

I really like the idea of hamburger patties shaped like little chubby kids and deformed turtles. I'll take mine medium rare.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

COLUMN: Olympics

Ahh, it's that rare time again -- when the entire country becomes transfixed by the thrill of human competition. Night after night, we sit in front of the television to watch it all unfurl. We listen to the human interest stories with heavy hearts. We pick our favorites (and hope that they're not brought down by scandal.) We revel in their victories; we cringe at their defeats. We boo the judges. In the end, there will be heroes and there will be forgotten faces. There will be tears of joy, and there will be tears of those who succumb to the pressures of knowing that the entire country is watching their shining moment.

But enough about the new season of "American Idol." I'd rather talk about these Winter Olympics going on in Torino. More specifically, why -- for the first time that I can remember -- I couldn't care less about 'em.

Usually I find myself glued to the tube every four years. To me, the Winter Games are WAY more exciting than the summer ones. It's the same reason I find myself drawn to NASCAR races -- in the Winter Games, the agony of defeat can be downright dangerous. The way I see it, if you're crazy enough to strap a piece of wood on your feet and go whipping down a mountain at 50 mph, you deserve to be watched. But this year it's different.

It has nothing to do with the fact that Team USA is underperforming this Olympics. Call me unpatriotic if you will, but if we're not going to win, there's nothing wrong with rooting for the underdog. You've got to admit, our nation usually has a heck of an advantage at the Olympics. We've got the money and training facilities to develop some seriously great talent. But how should that stack up against poor Thirdworldistan, one of the random countries to walk in a delegation of, say, 4 to the Olympics? A country whose entire training budget consists of a pair of Nikes, a stopwatch, and a guy to yell "Go!" (Or, in Thirdworldistani, "Geflugenscheide!")

No, this year it's different. The internet has ruined the Olympics.

Fifteen years ago, I couldn't have cared less about what happened around the world. Nowadays, I feel like a complete and total isolationist if I don't have round-the-clock access to CNN.com. It's as though my life would stop without the security of knowing Paris Hilton's whereabouts 24-7. Donne was right -- no man IS an island -- provided, of course, he has broadband access to Myspace.com. The internet OWNS me.

And thanks to the time difference, the internet also owns complete Olympic coverage, some 6-8 hours before we see it on NBC's nightly telecast. I've tried and tried to avoid seeing event results, but it's challenging when Yahoo! sticks it in big print on their main page. In short, the internet has become a huge Olympic spoilsport.

Case in point: I'm writing this Tuesday night. I just hopped onto the internet to confirm that Donne wrote the "no man is an island" line above (I'm really not that smart, people.) On that quest alone, I now inadvertently know who won the ladies figure skating short program that's airing later tonight. This just stinks.

What's the fun in listening to Scott Hamilton's over-the-top whisper-scream commentaries now? "This is simply a beautiful performance, provided of course that he sticks THIS TRIPLE TOE LOOOOOOOP...!" It just loses something if you know the skater in question is five seconds away from a faceplant on the ice.

About the only thing that the internet DIDN'T ruin were the Opening Ceremonies. That's because Italy ruined them for us instead. What some are calling "breathtaking" and "majestic", I'm referring to as "psychedelic monstrosity." Silly me, I thought Italy was just about spaghetti, scooters, and mind-blowingly bad techno music. But between the disturbing masks, the creepy face-balloons, and the Ferrari whipping donuts on center stage, Italy reminded us that they're also about a wide array of tackiness. It was like watching something Fellini hacked up after one too many hallucinogens. Really, all it needed was an inflatable pig and a Pink Floyd jam session to fully set the mood.

But the point remains: thanks mostly to the internet, I officially don't care about the Olympics this time around. There's an easy answer around this problem, though. From now on, we simply need to hold all future Winter Olympiads somewhere in the Central Time Zone. In fact, I suggest Barstow. It'd at least give us something to worry about other than the impending pork plant, and with any luck we'll temporarily stop running pictures of pig carcasses on our front cover. The 2010 Barstow Games might be a bit stinky, but hey, I'd at least watch.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

COLUMN: Isabel Bloom

Okay, so for those few of you outside of the Quad Cities who read my column, a little explanation is due here. Isabel Bloom was a local artist whose big claim to fame is that she once studied under Grant Wood, the guy who painted "American Gothic" (which still strikes me more on the dogs-playing-poker side of art than the Mona Lisa, but hey, that's just me.) Isabel went on to produce weird little concrete statues out of her home studio, which has since grown into Isabel Bloom Co. here in the Quad Cities. Isabel died a few years back, but they still crank out her concrete creations to a thriving small local business. A business which proceeded to systematically p*** off the whole town last week when they declared that they were moving their production to China. Every single columnist in our paper took immediate aim. Quad Citizens galore went up in arms. They were losing their local flavor, and more than one person estimated that Isabel herself would be rolling over in her grave over the decision. It was an official Quad City brouhaha. Me, I was more concerned about why people were worried about these concrete critters in the first place. Hence, my official take:

It's time once again for another chapter of my soon-to-be-written bestseller, "Girls Are Weird." Once again, this is NOT an emotional outburst or irrational statement on my part. No, this is pure science at work here. I've spent a goodly percentage of my 35 years on Earth studying these elusive creatures, and I can safely assert that, quite factually, girls ARE weird.

The proof is always at hand. For instance, if you've ever thought that the two words "candle party" actually make sense together, then you are a girl. And are weird. If you've ever discussed with your friends what you would like to make for dinner before you have even eaten lunch, you are a girl. And are weird.

Which brings me to my latest supportive fact: Isabel Bloom is moving production of their wares to China. If this statement makes you OUTRAGED... you are a girl. And are weird.

Before I delve deeper, let's get one thing out in the open: I firmly believe that Isabel Bloom makes quality products. I don't want to anger anyone that's associated with the place, nor do I want the wrath of Isabel Bloom collectors upon me. I realize and respect that Isabel Bloom is a cherished Quad City artist who will never be forgotten, and I know that many of you adore her artwork. I will even go as far as to make an endorsement: If you're the kind of person who finds innate joy at purchasing rotund hunks of concrete that vaguely resemble butterflies or babies, you will find no better store than Isabel Bloom. And you're a girl. And you're weird.

As a rule, I'm a huge supporter of small businesses that help to define a town. I like Whitey's, I love Country Style. I can't live without Boetje's. I'm a frequent face at Co-op Records & Video Games, Etc. I'm dead serious when I say that one of the primary reasons I didn't leave town after college was Harris Pizza.

Therefore, when approached by a female friend one time to accompany her to the Isabel Bloom shop, I went along. Ms. Bloom's reputation is known far and wide, and I wanted to see the artwork that merited such a vast cult following. When we walked into the store, though, I must say I was a bit disappointed. I looked high and low for some artwork to appreciate, but it seemed as though everywhere I turned, the artwork was being obscured by weird little concrete statues.

Imagine my surprise to discover that the weird concrete statues WERE the art in question. Again, it's nothing against Isabel Bloom. Some people really appreciate the lumpy little things. I, however, was cursed with both testosterone and sanity, which means my admiration of the statues stops at the notable fact that, as a concrete product, they're (a) highly durable, and (b) make fantastic paperweights.

Beyond that, I'm stumped. Why every mantle in town needs to be decorated with little bulbous children hugging is beyond me. To me, the kids all look deformed, as though they're suffering from some sort of lethal Rolypolyitis. Perhaps when one of these bulbous children meets another, all they can do is commiserate their tragically deformed state by crying on one another's shoulders. This would at least explain why they're always hugging.

So I asked some girls that I know to explain the phenomenon to me. What's the appeal of Isabel Bloom statues? All gave the same answer: "Because they're soooooooo cute!" Interestingly enough, these are among the same females who this week have been going, "I hate Isabel Bloom! They're moving production to China! That's ridiculous! I'll never buy another one again!"

Soooo... the Chinese are incapable of producing cute? Worried that they'll have a secret button that starts the statue ranting Communist propaganda? Nope.

Fifty Quad Citians will lose their jobs when Isabel Bloom moves production to China, and that honestly stinks. But the real reason why you're in arms over the move? It's because YOU want those little concrete buggers all to yourselves. You don't like the idea that someone could soon walk into a Truck-o-mat in Oregon and buy an Isabel Bloom. You want your great aunt Edna to go green with envy when she flies in from Fresno and sees that chubby cherub on your endtable. In short, you want to HOARD the cute.

Ladies, if Isabel Bloom statues really bring you some kind of inner peace, tranquility, and comfort, you shouldn't want that just for YOUR curio cabinet. You should want it for the curios of the WHOLE WORLD. I say let Isobel Bloom make as many pudgy concrete children as they want. They'll brighten the homes of the whole planet, and they'll give you something weighty and painful to chuck at us guys when we call you weird.

(And yes, half a week after this column was published, Isabel Bloom changed their minds, are NOT moving production to China, and will remain a Quad City institution. Thank God. Concrete for everyone!)

Monday, February 13, 2006

"Hmm," Says Shane

Well, I can officially no longer say that I haven't ever received an anonymous proposal of marriage (complete with FLOWERS, no less!)

So, I guess this leaves one question for my Mystery Suitor:


COLUMN: The Bachelorhood Martyr

Okay, it's true story time.

I recently received the following public comment on my blog (shanebrown.blogspot.com) signed by one "Steve." It reads in part:

"Shane, I've seen your blog and wonder why you waste so much energy on everyday nonsense. You're bright, and you even write well, but you spend your gift on drivel. Join the war. It's real and it's at your back door, front door, and of course, all over the 'net. You either don't care, are too self-absorbed, or you think that 'small talk' from 'small minds' to just pass some time is all that life is about."

Umm... wow. I know I'm no Nietszche or anything, but "drivel"? "Self-absorbed?" Yikes. Sure, I try to find the funny in everyday life, but I guess I never really considered it all a bunch of nonsense. Gosh -- am I, as Steve says, "wasting my gift?"

Hmm. His words have been resonating around my brain for the past couple of weeks. "Join the war. It's real and it's at your back door." Heavy stuff, man. The war is REAL, it's AT MY BACK DOOR, and what am I doing about it? Writing another column about Katie Holmes? Video games? Another fluff piece about my cat? Just how naive have I been??

You're absolutely right, Steve. Here I've been, all this time, wasting this precious newspaper space with stories to make you laugh. Oh, the shame! And all the while, The Man's been working to stifle us and crush our freedom while I've turned a blind eye. Well, Mr. Man, I say to you, NO MORE!

It's time I used this column not for drivel, but for change. For justice. For love of country. One voice, one writer CAN make a difference. The world has stepped on this paeon for the last time. In fact, thanks to Steve, I'm taking the war to print -- to make YOU, the humble reader, aware of a travesty that could, just maybe, destroy our entire way of life.

I speak, of course, of Valentine's Day.

That's right, February the 14th has plagued our fragile Earth for many years, and it's high time someone took a stand. We as a people must become the iconoclast to rise above the bourgeois masses and overthrow this sham of a holiday. I pledge to you, dear readers, that I will fight this scourge with every step.

That's right, this year I forsake Valentine's Day. In fact, I'll even go one step further: THIS YEAR, FOR THE GOOD OF THE WORLD, I WILL REMAIN SINGLE FOR VALENTINE'S DAY. No romance for me, I'll save that for you small-minded types.

(Note: the fact that I've decided to take my stance has nothing to do with the fact that I'm going to be pathetically and pitiably single for the third Valentine's Day in a row. This should be considered nothing more than an interesting coincidence.)

That's right, there are, umm, real reasons to hate Valentine's Day. Real WARTIME reasons. Lemme just think... OH, here we go! Over the holiday, over 110 million innocent roses will be clipped, trimmed, and sent to their respective Valentinean dooms. That's FLORAL GENOCIDE, people! Those flowers weren't hurting anyone... Oh, and on Valentine's Day, we give our signifigant others boxes and boxes of chocolates. Cocoa powder doesn't even come from AMERICA, you heathens!

You're giving your sweetheart FOREIGN cocoa when scores of decent American cocoa farmers get put out of work. Wait, what's that? You say there ARE no American cocoa farmers? That cocoa can't grow in our climate? Well, suuuuure -- that's exactly what They want you to believe. You're just not tuned into "the war" quite like me and my buddy Steve. We know how the world REALLY works.

That's why I laugh at your Valentine's Day! I don't need the love of a woman to validate my existence. Just give me a roof over my head, three squares a day, and a soapbox to stand on, and I'm set. You people can celebrate your conventional holiday all you want. Me? I'm thinking outside the box.

So thank you, Steve, for showing me the light. For helping me to take a stand. And most of all, for coming up with a fantastic way for me to explain why this is the third year in a row that I'm going to be single and alone for Valentine's Day. No siree, this time I'm not single because I'm a hopeless, chubby, nerdy cynic who can't get a date to save his life. Nope, this year I'm single in the name of truth. I'm single for liberty. I'm single for the American way. I'm the martyr of bachelorhood. Someday you'll thank me for my sacrifice... once you all stop being so self-absorbed and full of drivel.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Radio Radio.

Interesting things are afoot in Quad Cities radio this week:


Then take a look at what's suddenly missing from here:

B-100's Air Staff Page

It doesn't take a genius to figure out what's up. Jeff & Missy are out at B100 apparantly... and if my hunch is correct, say hello to the new B-100 morning team. I don't know it for fact, but it's a pretty good guess.

Monday, February 06, 2006

COLUMN: The Anti-Shane

I think perhaps I've met my arch-nemesis.

I've met many people I honestly can say I've disliked. But it's not often someone comes along who I hate to the point of worrying about my physical health -- as in, "I think this person is causing me to have a stroke. Please point me to the nearest bottle of aspirin."

I'm referring to a retail-store clerk I had the pleasure of dealing with last week.

The story began innocently enough the other day. I walked into Best Buy at the exact moment they were unveiling a new shipment of X-Box 360s. Not only was I staring at THE single hardest-to-find item of the season, but it was making the nerd in me go gooey. Ergo, my field trip to browse DVDs turned into an unexpected $400 hole in my wallet.

That's where it starts to get fun. You see, out of the goodness of Bill Gates' heart -- Time Magazine's Man of the Year Bill Gates lest we forget -- once you've bought the X-Box 360, you need to buy a second official X-Box 360 wireless controller so your friends can play.

And of course you need the official X-Box 360 S-video connector cable so you can see what you're playing. And of course, what's an X-Box 360 without the official X-Box 360 remote control. Rapidly, I'm learning how Bill Gates can afford to be so stinking charitable.

This lack of necessary accessories is what led me to the lair of the nemesis. I won't pony up the name of the store, but it's one of those strip mall video-game places (and it's NOT Video Games Etc. because I like those guys.)

I was on my lunch hour and pressed for time, so I walked in, went straight to the counter, and told the clerk what I needed: controller, cord, remote. Just that simple, right?

"You're in luck," Darth Retailer replied, "We've got several used controllers in right now. They're $10 cheaper!"

I suppose I should appreciate the guy trying to save me a few bucks. But X-Box 360's still are precious commodities. You can't find one without looking high and low.

How does this store come to have a ton of USED controllers? Did they fall off the back of a truck? Am I being offered a black market joystick? Will I get home and notice the brand is spelled "Ex-Bachs?"

"No thanks," I said, "I prefer to buy new."

"No," Darth said, "you should get the used one. We guarantee them. If it breaks, we'll replace it with a brand new one."

OK, let's assume these game controllers are legitimate. That means the game controller in question could have been fondled by a 12-year-old with greasy Cheeto-stained hands and maybe a raging case of pinkeye. The more I thought about it, the happier I was to spend the extra $10.

"No thanks," I said with emphasis, "I appreciate the offer, but I'd like the new one."

"BUT SIR," came the immediate reply with more than a hint of annoyance in his voice, "It's GUARANTEED. I'm going to ring up the used one. Trust me."

Trust him? I wanted to HURT him. Fine. I gave up. I had to get back to work. I bought the used controller and picked out a couple games to test drive my new toy.

"Now, sir," he said. Wasn't this guy done? Not by a mile. "For an extra $4 per game, I'm going to put our lifetime guarantee on these."

No thanks. I'm careful with my games, and after throwing down this much cash, $4 is starting to get precious. "Nope, I'll pass on that."

I looked up just in time to see Darth roll his eyes exasperatedly. "And you realize, SIRRRR, that the first time you jump up and down while you're playing the game, you WILL scratch the CD and you WILL have to replace it and you WILL come in here and have to buy a new one."

That was it. I'm a polite guy. I usually let people walk all over me. But not this guy. I did what I've never done in a public setting before. I snapped.

"And you WILL realize, CLERRRRRRK," I started yelling, "that if you push ONE more thing on me to raise your commissions, I WILL jump up and down on your head. Repeatedly. And if I DO scratch the game and if I DO have to replace it, you can bet your life that I won't come in and do it here!"

I suppose I could have walked out. But that would have required me going to ANOTHER store and wasting even more time on something I should have outgrown circa 1992.

Instead, I let him ring me up while I explained to him the difference between helpful courtesy and obnoxious up-selling. All the while, the guy was totally silent. I don't know what freaked him out more, getting yelled at or getting yelled at by somebody like ME.

Regardless, I'm hoping he tones down the sales pitch on other customers. In the future, I'll take out my aggressions the MATURE way: defeating the Nazi scourge on "Call of Duty 2."

Friday, February 03, 2006

RIP 98.9


I just heard "Red Hot" Brian Scott lose it over the air. It was his final sign-off, and the usually uber-cool jock was reduced to blubbering. Tonight is All Hit 98.9's last day of operations in the Quad Cities. Odds are good that by the time you read this blog, the station will be history.

When I heard the news that the station was being sold, my initial reaction was, "Hmm." I really didn't think much of it. Tonight, I'm kinda sad for the old girl, and I'll be honest, Scott's sign-off tonight left ME with a lump in my throat.

For those not in the know, here's why the station's closing: 98.9 is owned by some random company, but for the past several years has been managed by Clear Channel Communications. Clear Channel, if you don't know, owns something like half the airwaves in the continential United States. Recently, they lost some sort of anti-trust lawsuit or something, or the FCC passed some new law or something, that mandates the # of stations that a company can manage in one market... and it turns out that Clear Channel (who run Q106, Mix 96, etc.) was one over the limit in this market. So, rather than give up a station that they actually OWNED, they bailed on their management duties of 98.9. Rather than deal with another management company, the folks who actually own 98.9 bailed out and sold it off to some Christian group who will be converting it to K-LOVE or some such nonsense next week.

I remember 98.9 well. When I was a kid, it was an adult contemporary station -- your home for Barbra Streisand and like-minded ilk. Back then, if I remember right, the station was based in the studios of TV channel 4 in downtown Rock Island. I was a kid when we took a field trip to channel 4 and they showed us the 98.9 studio. To the 12-year-old me, it was like seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time. Back then, 98.9 was entirely voice-tracked. That means that it was, essentially, RoboStation. No live DJ's and everything was played automatically.

Today, voicetracking is common. If you guys knew how many radio stations you listen to where you hear a DJ and you THINK it's live but in reality was recorded days prior in a separate studio, you'd flip out. Today, an automated station is handled by, like, ONE computer and a bunch of mp3's. Back then, an automated station meant like honest ROBOTICS -- giant machines running these bizarre 8-track looking things. It was more a factory than a radio station.

But something happened when I was in high school. 98.9 was suddenly gone, and in its place was POWER 98.9! Gone was Michael Bolton and his like-minded adult-contemporary schlock, and in its place was an authentic Top 40 station with a pulse and a dance beat.

I have VIVID memories of POWER 98.9's first month, of cruising the strip in Galesburg (McDonalds to McDonalds, doncha know,) while listening to tracks like Herb Alpert & Janet Jackson's "Diamonds" or Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam's "Head to Toe." Back then 98.9 was THE FUTURE.

Well, the future waned, as things do, and somewhere along the way, POWER 98.9 turned into the far-less aggressive All Hit 98.9 we know and kinda-sorta-like-if-there's-nothing-better-on today.

On a personal note, I was kinda happy that the station was closing. Mostly, it's because I think B-100 is a MUCH better Top 40 station, if you're into that kind of music. It also doesn't hurt that B-100 is run by Jeff James, who's one of my closer friends and a former college buddy. Jeff's a GREAT guy, and his station should hopefully pick up a lot of 98.9's fanbase after the station closes, and nobody deserves it more than he does. I actually havent talked to Jeff since the news came about 98.9's closing. A lot of people told me that Jeff should be gloating and happy; something tells me he's actually SAD about it -- you see, he's THAT nice of a guy that his thoughts are probably with the DJ's and staff at 98.9 who are suddenly without jobs. Regardless, I DO hope Jeff picks up some listeners, and I like B-100's playlist better than 98.9's anyway (B-100 gets a little more hip-hop.)

Another reason why I wasn't too upset about the death of 98.9 was -- okay, I'll be perfectly honest here -- I met "Red Hot" Brian Scott once, and he was a total jerk. You guys should know if you read my columns that I've been DJing in clubs in and around the area since the late 80's. When you do that, you come into contact with radio personalities all the time. Clubs book radio guys to show up, do their cheezy live remotes, and bring in the girlies, right? Sometimes the DJ's that do remotes are total pros -- Dwyer & Michaels spring to mind here, as does my friend Jeff James at B100 -- but sometimes they show up with egos the size of mountains. That, to me, was my read on Scott, who basically showed up one time at this one club I was DJing at and proceeded to take over the whole booth like he owned the place and was the "true" professionalism, when in truth I could out-mix him in a heartbeat.

Maybe "Red Hot" was just having a bad night. And I'll admit it, it was a snap judgement. And, more to the point, even though I'm not a fan of the guy, you can't deny that he's not a great DJ, because he IS, and I hope he goes on from 98.9 to bigger and better and brighter things. And I hope that my memories of 98.9 -- the ones from high school, when it was SUCH a powerhouse -- stay strong.

You guys might not know this, but I actually went to school for radio broadcasting. That's what my degree's in. So to hear that ANY station in town is bidding adieu makes me a little misty-eyed. Especially one with such a great history. So rest in peace, 98.9, your snarky over-commercialized butt WILL be missed from time to time. To the 98.9 air staff, good luck in getting new positions (even you, Red Hot.)