Saturday, April 29, 2006

Hey, I Suck TOO, buddy!

So is it weird that I find myself strangely upset that I have yet to be namechecked on the infamous QC Media Review?

I try to stay out of these things, I really do. So I don't know a whole lot about the site. Basically, it's run by a person (or maybe a few people) who obviously have some kind of weird ties to Quad City media - maybe a former employee of a TV station or newspaper.

Anyways, the site basically is nothing but a comprehensive nit-pick of local media out here. Everything from, "Hey, this one paper didn't cover this story well enough" to "Hey, the lighting's sure bad on your TV newscasts."

Personally, I think the site's fabulous. It's nice to know that there's some person out there playing Armchair Media God. I may sound facetious, but I really DO think it's cool. It's probably the sort of thing I'd have started up were I not a member of the Dispatch/Argus Army.

Most of the posts are snarky and negative. Occasionally there's a positive one. Some of the criticism (at least to me) seems pretty needless... but sometimes they hit the nail on the head, even when they're criticizing our own product.

I just think it's fun that there's someone out there willing to point out the times when everything goes to our heads a bit. I'm not overly concerned about the site or anything, and I take everything they say with a grain of salt, but -- let's just be honest -- good or bad, it's an interesting idea for a site and an interesting read.

But the point is: There has yet to be a single comment about ME either good or bad. I know that if they ever DID comment on my lowly weekly humor column, it'd probably be less-than-flattering. But dang it, I still wanna be acknowledged. Even if it's a post calling me an idiot.

Monday, April 24, 2006

COLUMN: Weatherpocalyse!

I've been a tad bit sneaky, Quad Cities. My last two columns were written well in advance of deadline. While you thought I was hard at work, I was actually on a well-deserved roadtrip to Florida and back with my best friend. I returned last week eager to share my tales of ocean-front exploration (and the strange land betwixt here and there which the natives refer to as "Kentucky.") That'll have to wait.

You see, Mother Nature had her own plans for this week's column. I had barely managed to haul my suitcase out of the car when nothing less than Weatherpocalyse (TM) came bearing down on the Cities of Quad.

Now, I won't be so crass as to make light of a serious storm that took one life and caused countless injuries and property damage. And to see The Union Bar -- one of my favorite haunts in Iowa City -- with its roof collapsed made me grimace the next morning. Storms suck. It's one of the many trade-offs we get to deal with in the Midwest. The south gets hurricanes, the west gets earthquakes, and we get stuck with the tornados. To not recognize the dangers and horrifying aftermath of a tornado strike is, well, stupidity incarnate.

That said, they ARE kinda cool, right? Maybe I'm a total idiot, but I've always had a thing for tornados. The fact that the happy little cloud puffs we see every day can occasionally get an attitude and send cows flying through the air makes my blood pump. When I was a kid, I honestly had dreams of one day becoming a meteorologist (until I realized that meterology is a science, and science requires math, and well, that pretty much leaves my mathematically-challenged brain out of the equation.)

Still, extreme weather continues to fascinate me. I'd love to one day see a tornado with my own eyes. Provided, of course, that I was at a safe and secure location, like perhaps at a Tornado Zoo or something. Plus, I'd hate to think that while I'm getting my jollies watching a twister, Farmer Joe's losing his entire life's work.

Regardless, while you and yours were probably doing the smart thing last week and seeking shelter in your basements, me and my tornado fetish were staring out windows and channel-flipping for news coverage. That's when I realized that, when it comes to tornados, there's one animal out there crazier than myself.

I speak, of course, of our local TV weathermen. What we see as an impending disaster, they see as a chance to finally roadtest their new-fangled Super Ultra Deluxe Doppler-o-Matic thingajigs. I was an eager viewer.

I started on KWQC TV-6, where our main man Terry Swails was doing a great job of sending people to shelter. Unfortunately, he was doing this against a background of total and complete neon nonsense. Can ANYONE without a degree in Meterology understand their new radar display? All I saw was a bunch of swirling circles in front of a sea of blinking, psychedelic colors. I couldn't say for certain, but I'm pretty sure the forecast was calling for a 40% chance of grooving to an Electric Prunes record.

Meanwhile, over on WQAD Newschannel 8, Neil Kastor was like a kid in a candy store. While Terry brought gravity to the situation, Neil brought the excitement. There he was, jacket off, tie loosened, head buried in a bank of computer screens, gleefully saying things like "Wow! This is a CLASSIC storm!" and "Look at that rotation!" You can tell that Neil's not just a weather MAN, he's a weather FAN. WQAD recently updated their Doppler thingy, too. And from what I could see, their kajillion-dollar upgrade pretty much consisted of: an arrow. A big, fat arrow on the middle of the radar screen that uses precision science to tell us: "Yep, the storm's movin' that-a-way."

I won't kid the weather guys too badly, though. It's due to their hard work and great coverage that more lives weren't ruined from this sudden storm. And it was good that Neil's SuperDopplerArrow thingy ended up pointing AWAY from the QC metro area, as much of our region got spared the brunt of the storm.

After seeing the news the next day, maybe I didn't want to see the tornado too badly after all. Looking at Iowa City made me yearn for a boring ol' 100 degree sweltering summer day in Rock Island. Actually what it REALLY made me yearn for was to be back on the beach... but more on that next week (barring, say, a typhoon or something.)

Monday, April 17, 2006

COLUMN: Congress

Well, it finally happened. After umpteen years serving our district, Lane Evans is calling it quits.

I've always thought that Lane's done a bang-up job for the area. I grew up in Galesburg (town motto: "If you've got jobs, we know a place in Mexico you can move them to!") We went through the hardships of a near-constant town recession, and we watched as Lane stood up, time and time again, and fought for us underdogs. Sometimes it worked. A lot of times it didn't. But the man was always there and always fighting. I like the guy.

You have no idea where I live, but if you're a Rock Islander, you probably know my apt. - rain or shine, election or no, I've had a Lane Evans for Congress sign in my window. I'd like to tell you it's because I'm politically minded. In all honesty, my late great cat did a number on my blinds the week I moved in and the sign just covered up the evidence from my landlord.

Point is, Lane's stepping down. And that means a myriad of people are stepping up and jockeying for the Democratic nod of the cap. Rock Island mayor Mark Schweibert was crying on the news the other night. Phil Hare was crying in our paper. Mike Boland's preparing to weep any minute now. All these guys and about a dozen more are looking for Lane's job.

The Democrats of the District, meanwhile, aren't even sure of the procedures to go about picking a new guy. Or so they claim. Me, I think they're stalling. The signs are perfectly clear. I'm a smart fella. I've been reading between the lines. They couldn't be more obvious. I wasn't going to... but, gee, since you're all being so pushy...

Okay, Democrats, fine. I'll be your candidate. I'll run for that Congress thingamajig.

And the Shane 2006 Campaign could work. Let me tell you how:

* THE MARKETING. The slogans come so easy, don't they? "Vote for Shane, he's a brain, he ain't no pain, your trust he'll gain, so don't complain, join the campaign!" Quad City Republicans need to face the brutal harsh reality: you can't rhyme a thing with "Andrea" OR "Zinga."

* THE ISSUES. I know how to sternly say words like "education," "health," "economy," and "veterans." I'm also pretty good at impressive-sounding non-sensical outbursts: "The community needs to be in synergy!" Then I can use your campaign funds to hire a staff of those kids we used to cheat off of in poli-sci classes and let THEM fill in the blanks. It's gold, baby!

* THE CHARISMA. I vow as your candidate never to pander to the community. You won't find me kissing babies for votes, no siree. Instead, I vow to ONLY kiss attractive girls. Besides, babies get all kinds of colds and cooties and stuff. I remain cold-free... to better serve the community. And the attractive girls.

* THE EXPERIENCE. I've sat through "Dave," "Bob Roberts," "Air Force One," "The Distinguished Gentleman," and I'm pretty sure I saw "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" one time in Civics class. Thanks to Schoolhouse Rock, I can still sing the Preamble to the Constitution to this day. And, if it means your vote, I might even stop on C-Span for a second or two next time I'm channel flipping.

* THE LESSONS LEARNED. Jobs - yes. Stinky pork processing plants - no. Got it.

If elected, I vow to make an impact on the community. I'll fight for this area every week, then make fun of it every weekend in this column. It's a win-win, right?

"But Shane," you say, "If picked as a candidate, you couldn't keep doing your column, could you?" Well, there IS that thing about equal media space for all candidates and stuff. But I've got a solution: Pick me as your Democratic candidate, and we'll simply tell Ms. Zinga that she's free to write a weekly humor column for the paper as well. Problem solved.

I tell ya, I'm your guy. Unless I'm not, in which case, to the chosen candidate I offer one very important question: Can I have one of your signs before my landlord sees these blinds??

Friday, April 14, 2006

Sorry for the delays...

Sorry it took so long to update... been out of town on vacation. And don't worry, you'll be reading ALLLLLL about it soon enough...

COLUMN: Politically Correct

Everywhere I've gone the past couple of weeks, people keep asking me the same question:

"How can one man be so funny AND so doggone sexy?"

Okay, maybe I'm embellishing a little bit. But honestly, I HAVE been getting pestered lately. Many people really HAVE been coming up to me lately, and everybody wants to know why I haven't written a column on the Virgin Mary's appearance on the I-74 Rock River bridge span.

I went out to Harold's Landing and checked it out when the news broke. I couldn't see it. Not even remotely. It just looked like a bridge to me. Perfect column fodder, right? Wrong.

I've sat and thought about it and I've decided: I'm not going to write a column about Our Lady of the Underpass. Why? Because I am an extremely large chicken.

There is NO way to make fun of a vision of the Virgin Mary without the possibility of horribly offending a large chunk of the population. It's tough being politically correct these days. Yet, society has pushed and pushed until none of us really understand the boundaries before us. I don't even know what the correct term for my own race is these days. Am I white? Caucasian? European-American? Just a plain ol' honky?

I just can't keep up. The last thing I ever want to do is innocently offend someone reading my column (unless it's Tom Cruise.) I'm happy to consider myself a pretty non-biased guy -- I have friends who are black, friends who are gay, friends who are Jewish, etc. I could care less. My buddy Bruce isn't "my GAY friend Bruce." He's just my friend, even if he IS my Friend Most Likely To Break Into a Dolly Parton Song in a Public Place.

But between Howard Stern's mouth and Janet Jackson's nipple, the FCC has turned mass media into a politically correct minefield, and we've all got to watch where we step. Nowhere is this more exemplified than in the tail sections of this very paper.

Classified ads have a surplus of opportunities to offend, and it's up to our staff to meticulously check those suckers for anything remotely offensive. If you want a good read, you should see the Equal Employment Opportunity guidelines for help wanted ads.

Some of the stuff makes sense: of course you can't say "Help Wanted: Latinos Only" or "Women Needed Now!" or anything like that. It's not just patentedly offensive, it's just common sense. But as you read on, you find out just how specific the rules can get. For instance, you can't specify the sexual orientation of a prospective employee. But there's an asterisk next to that rule, and the asterisk says "This rule does not apply to transvestites." Ergo, it's highly illegal to say "No gays" in a help wanted ad, yet it's perfectly legal to say "Transvestites need not apply."

Then you get to the terminology rules. "Waitress" is out; "wait staff" is in. "Handyman" is out; "handyperson" is in. The unions can give apprenticeships for "Journeymen Linemen," yet when the ads run in our paper, they have to say "Journey Level Line Workers." Which brings us to my favorite.

"Janitor" is an offensive word. That's according to Equal Opportunity Employment guidelines. Sorry, I guess I just never considered janitor to be a male-gendered word, but that's apparantly the case. If janitor is a sexist word, shouldn't it follow that there's a female equivalent? If so, what? "Janitette?" (FYI: the book says that "custodian" is the neutered word of choice here.)

Rules are good to have, though; without them, boneheads could get away with anything. One of my favorites was a guy who once called us to place a Roommate Wanted ad. No joke, this is how he wanted it to read: "Middle-aged man seeks young, attractive, blonde female roommate." And the guy seemed genuinely shocked when he found out he couldn't run such an ad with us, or with any other paper in the free world. That guy was probably SO proud of himself when he came up with this novel way to score a girlfriend. Sorry, buddy - keep dreamin'.

So I'm not touching the Virgin Mary with a 10 foot pole. Wait, that's offensive, too. What I MEAN is I'm not going to write about her, not even if she pops up on my cheese sandwich. I'll leave it to someone else to make the snarky comments, and someone else to clean up the mess. Just as long as the person cleaning up the mess is a custodian and NOT a janitor (transvestites need not apply.)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Braaaaains. Me Want Braaaaains!

Remember my column from last week? About how I NEVER take a good picture? How I discussed one being at a sales job where we took a group photo of our "smilin', happy team," only to have me look like a disfigured zombie in the back, ready to kill at the drop of a hat?

I found that picture. NOW tell me I'm lyin'.

Yes, "these are the friendly Classified Telesales team members," AND the gaunt, waif-like creature standing behind them who'll be murdering them in their sleep later that night.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A Couple Quick TV Bits

(1) Katie Couric? ANCHORING THE NEWS??? Are you KIDDING me? This is about as logical as "Meet the Press... with your host, Carrot-Top!" Katie Couric is a weak journalist at best. She's great with fluff pieces and flashing her perfect little smile, and I even think she's probably a really nice person in real life, but this gig is NOT for her. My prediction: she crashes and burns within a year.

(2) Speaking of things crashing and burning, you guys see "Sons and Daughters" on ABC? I finally got to see two episodes of the series tonight. For the longest time, I'd balked just because the incessant ads for the show leading to its premiere were quite possibly the most annoying thing on TV since "Hey man, is that FREEDOM ROCK?!" But I finally saw the show tonight... and... IT'S FRICKIN' BRILLIANT! I was laughing for an hour straight. Too bad it's bound for cancellation. Sigh.

Monday, April 03, 2006


There's a new promotional ad running in one of our papers this week. The ad showcases many of our fine columnists, and I'm proud to be included in the mix. There, in a neat box, are all of our photos, grouped together like mug shots with our names and specialties. I'm listed as "off-beat humor." (Personally, as a moonlighting club DJ, I like to consider myself always ON the beat, thanks.)

Here's my problem: I'm sitting and looking at the faces of my fellow columnists. They're all smiling. They're all vibrant. They all look their best. And then there's me. I'm the only "humor" columnist in the bunch, yet in my official photo, I look like my puppy just died. There's not a trace of humor in my face. In fact, I look downright despondent. If I'm the FUNNY one, I'd hate to see a picture of the person here in charge of obituaries.

What do you guys think of the photo that's used with my column? Sure, I look morose. And, yeah, my friend Tien was right -- the unfortunate tan/black shirt layering of the day DOES make me look a bit like a Jedi in training. But I've always kind of liked that picture, and I'll tell you why: In it, I do not look like a serial killer. That fact alone makes the photo better than 98% of the photos I've ever starred in.

Exactly just what IS it that makes a person photogenic? And, more to the point, where can I buy some? See, I don't just take bad pictures; I take the art of bad-picture-taking to exciting and heretofore unexplored terrain. I have a LEGACY of horrifying photos out there, just waiting to be mocked by friends and family. The camera is not my friend. In fact, I worry that I may have, at one time or another, made a disparaging joke against the camera's mother. The camera, I've discovered, has a grudge against me.

I know what you're thinking: Here he goes again, more self-deprecation. This kid's got the worst self-esteem EVER. But this isn't just me being hard on myself. I have photo after photo as hard proof. I know what I look like in a mirror, and I know what I look like in a photo, and never the twain shall meet.

When captured on film, my face often does things that modern science simply can't explain. My chin grows a double, and yes, occasionally a triple. My right eye becomes jealous of my left and grows to a bigger size, while both of them simultaneously decide to recede into my skull (perfect for that captivating zombie look that's all the rage with the kids.) Zits previously undetected pop out to say hello, as though unseen forces have just claimed my left cheek for the nation of Pimplonia.

Smiling is easy, one would think. The best part about life is that there's ALWAYS something or someone doing something stupid, ergo I tend to smile a lot. Yet, the second someone decides to point a camera at my face, this instinctive skill leaves my repertoire. In its place, I find myself attempting to analytically smile, issuing mental commands like, "Okay, first THIS muscle needs to move up, then THIS muscle..." The end result looks like a cross between The Joker and Bobcat Goldthwait, and appears decidedly evil.

Once, at a sales job, we took a group photo of the team for marketing to use. Our smiling faces adorned a banner that read, "Call our friendly telesales team!" Then there's me in the back, looking like a zombie AND smiling demonically. Call our friendly telesales team... and the guy who's going to follow them home later and eat their brains.

The other nifty trick I've learned is that as soon as I even SEE a camera, my head compulsively tilts to a 20 degree angle. I have NEVER understood this. Regardless, there are scores of family photos out there where everyone looks normal except me, now looking like (a) a zombie, (b) with a deranged smile, and (c) with my head cocked like a curious puppy. Needless to say, I expect the folks at G.Q. to call any day now.

I wasn't always this idiotic. My mom has a slew of pictures of me from my youth, and in all of them, I look shockingly NORMAL. A real smile, no sunken eyes, and no cocked head. So what happened? Your guess is as good as mine. I'm trying to figure out a way to blame the Reagan Administration.

So what do you guys think? Should I make a stab at a new pic to accompany the column, knowing the risk of Cocked & Deranged Zombie Syndrome? Or do I leave well enough alone and keep the Jedi pose? If enough people e-mail and demand it, I'll talk to the bosses about scheduling a new photo session. Otherwise, I'm leaving it alone and you'll have to get your off-beat humor with a slice of despondency.