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!)