Monday, April 30, 2007

Just Some Random Sunday Thoughts...

Okay, so...

(1) I feel absolutely horrible about the wreck on the Centennial Bridge this weekend that, from what I gather, killed two innocents. I hope to God that none of the parties involved were coming to, or leaving from, the club I DJ at on the weekends. PLEASE be careful when you're out on the weekends, all, PLEASE. And not just YOU - watch out for other idiots who might be LESS careful.

(2) So some guy decided to joy-climb the Channel 4 tower in downtown Rock Island earlier today. In a weird, sick way -- I'm jealous. I don't know why, but I've always loved that particular tower. For one, it's old school looking - you don't see too many of those triangular towers any more. Most aerial towers are slender, sleek things held aloft with a bevy of those God-awful support guidewire things (if you don't believe me, go to Bettendorf and check out that housing subdivision due west of the giant KWQC tower -- the big one with the strobe lights. That neighborhood has countless backyards that are totally ruined by the obnoxious support lines to that behemoth.) But I think I like the Channel 4 tower there in Rock Island mostly because of the way that it's lit. I don't know if it's the lights ON the tower, the lights illuminating the tower, or the way that the tower reflects the general light of downtown Rock Island, but the end effect is that the tower looks completely unreal -- almost as if it's made of Legos or some random kid's toy. A lot of weekends in the summer, I hang out on the back patio of 2nd Ave. just staring up at that beast. I don't know why, but it's always been one of my favorite things in the Quad Cities. Part of me wants to be that dude who climbed it today. I'm happy nobody was hurt and the situation was resolved, tho.

(3) Maybe I'm just fascinated by aerial towers as a rule. I try my best to remember the locations of towers in and around the Quad Cities. If you're ever bombing around in the country at night joyriding and get lost, you can fairly easily find your way if you learn to recognize those towers. That monster strobe tower in Bettendorf can be seen 10 miles away on a clear night... outside of Orion, there's a series of towers (also Channel 4 I think?) that are easily identifiable... in Galesburg, the radio stations out there are all bundled together in a 3-tower chain that's easy to spot... Yeah, so maybe I'm a loser. It DOES make you think about just what all's floating through the air, though, doesn't it? Between radio waves, microwaves, cell phone signals, ground-to-air communication... we've come a looong way from two soup cans and a string, eh?

Anyways, have a great week, all -- I'll get my new column up soon.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

COLUMN: Independence

I'm an independent person. Well, either that or it's what I say to defend my long stretches of bachelorhood.

But I AM an only child, and an only child who grew up out in the sticks. There were no kids my age within walking distance to my house. My parents were great companions, but, y'know, they're PARENTS. Parents aren't into D&D or rock music or video games or kid stuff. This meant that from a young age, I had to become fairly adept at keeping myself company.

Nowadays, the independence that I cultivated as a kid still comes in handy. I've got a great set of friends, but they live their own lives. I'm seeing a girl now, but she's all the way up in Chicago and about to leave on a mission to Africa for most of the summer. This kind of relationship would probably make the average mortal's head snap, but I'm kind of okay with it. I mean, I want to see her 24/7, but if I can't, I can deal with it. I'm used to flying solo.

And who better to be my friend than myself? We share the same sense of humor, we always show up places at the same time, and we never quibble over what radio station to listen to. (Actually, I often DO get in fights with myself over radio stations. This will probably prove important in a therapy session one day.)

The point is, most of the time I'm perfectly okay with hanging out by myself. Some folks out there can't seem to exist on their own. I relish it. I've known people too self-conscious to walk into a restaurant by themselves; I eat out almost every day, and usually by myself. To me, it's no big deal. I've gone to clubs by myself, concerts by myself. Heck, once I even went to Colorado by myself.

But there's one thing that freaks even ME out. One place where I have a HUGE problem going by myself: the movies. For some reason, I can't imagine strutting into a cinema with a party of one. But for the sake of journalism -- well, and boredom -- I'm going for it.

As I type this, I'm on vacation from work. By the time you read this, they'll have found me and re-chained me to my desk, but for the time being, I'm a free man.

Problem is, my friends aren't. They didn't have the common courtesy to vacate en masse with me. I'm not at work, but all my friends ARE. Besides, most of my friends are into more highbrow ways to spend the day. In fact, one of my best friends has plans tonight to go see a lecture by a survivor of the Holocaust. That's an admirable event to attend, and certain to be a rare emotional glimpse into one of the most horrific moments of humanity.

I, meanwhile, have opted for flatulence jokes. Sadly, that's MY infantile brain's idea of a well-spent night out. So I'm off to conquer my fear of seeing movies solo by checking out the new Will Ferrell flick, "Blades of Glory." And I'm bringing my notebook to record it all.

- Gulp. Well, I did it. I marched right in the front door of the theatre, went up to the booth, and confidently announced, "One, please." In a swift glance, the ticket girl knew. Her mouth might have said, "There you go, enjoy the show," but I KNOW her brain was pointing and laughing.

- The theatre-plex is nearly empty except for lots of employees and some stragglers, all of whom are likely pointing and laughing at me in their brains. Inspiration hits: I take out my notepad. Now it looks as if I'm a Very Important Movie Critic. I'm not here alone because I'm a loser, I'm here because it's my JOB! Of course, why would a critic be writing in said notepad BEFORE the movie starts? This won't work.

- A better plan is formulated. Before I go to into the movie, I will stand in the lobby and make a big production of looking at my watch, seemingly frustrated. This way I will not appear to be by myself, I will simply be the responsible guy irked at his late slacker buddies. Wait, no. That looks more like the pathetic guy who's getting stood up for a matinee. That's worse than coming in by yourself to begin with.

- Joy! I have slunk into the theatre to find it COMPLETELY EMPTY. Will I have a private screening of the movie? Grrr, no. Just before the movie's scheduled start, a high school couple comes in, heads to the back of the theatre, and giggles. Probably because they're cool and I'm not. I bet they're gonna make out, too. Just two hormonal high schoolers and ME, the de facto lonely pervert. Please let the trailers start soon so I can melt into darkness.

- Trailers. Well, first an ad for Pepsi. And then Hot Pockets. They're not dimming the lights. And then a PSA telling you not to smoke pot, which is pretty pointless in front of a Will Ferrell flick. The lights stay on. And a trailer. And another trailer. Still lights. I bet they're snickering at me. A third trailer. A fourth. Now I'm self-conscious, awkward, AND all I can think about is how badly I want a Hot Pocket.

Finally, the lights dim and the movie starts. Soon, my awkward fears dissipate in a sea of figure skating, bad jokes, and that hot girl from "The Office." I did it. I conquered my Everest. I went to a movie by myself, and I had fun. Granted, I picked an aisle seat 2 steps away from the door, and by the time the closing music swelled, I was already a dust trail making a leap for the exit.

Still, it was one giant leap for Shanekind. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a vacation to attend to.

Friday, April 13, 2007

COLUMN: Angels?

"There's a feelin' in the air that you can't get anywhere except the Quad Cities... where the rivers flow through the hometowns we know/Friends and neighbors building pride."

Unless you live under a rock, you know those lyrics. They're part of the jingle that local station KWQC uses in their ads and the TV news. Yes, it's super cheezy, and yes, the same jingle is probably employed in twenty other markets around the country ("...that you can't get anywhere except [insert town name here].")

But, in a corny way, I've always kinda liked that tune. There really IS a feelin' in the air that you can't get anywhere but here. We're big city enough to have thriving commerce and a fun nightlife, but we're also small-town enough to be able to stop and watch the river float by. We've got industry and big buildings and multi-lane roads, but we're also less than a five minute drive to a cornfield when the need to escape hits.

And it's this occasional small-town mindframe, rare in a city this size, that makes the Quad Cities twinkle. From trivia fundraisers where total strangers come up and share food... to waiting in line at a gas station and sparking up a temporary friendship with the person next to you... to a show at Music Guild where you can experience a community supporting the arts. Folks, it's the closest this columnist ever gets to warm fuzzies.

But those fuzzies shriveled up in a heartbeat a couple weekends ago. I was on my way to one of those trivia nights in Davenport and had just crossed the Arsenal bridge headed to Brady Street. That was when I saw them: the red berets of the Guardian Angels.

This is one of those subjects that drives people to, at the very least, write very nasty things in the forums of QCOnline. The Guardian Angels have come to Davenport. The streets will soon be patrolled by a batallion of volunteers who have submitted to the Angels' intensive training sessions of martial arts, CPR, self-defense, and First Aid. Vigilante justice, right here in River City.

"No-o-o," say the group's members and supporters, "The Guardian Angels are NOT vigilantes."

Vig•i•lan•te (n.) A member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily, as when the processes of law are viewed as inadequate.

That's what Webster's has to say about vigilantes. Sorry, Angels, but what are you if not that?

I remember the first time I ever saw a Guardian Angel. I was fresh out of high school, and a carload of my friends and I decided to drive up and explore Chicago. I've been to the Windy City a jillion times since, but I'll never forget that first trip sans parents. We saw things young Galesburgers hadn't been exposed to outside of cop shows: Projects. Burning cars. Subway rats. And, yes, a Guardian Angel riding in our train.

And what feeling came over me when I first noticed the Angel? A feeling of peace, safety, and security knowing that this guy had our back if something went down? Nope. I thought this: I am in a very, very dangerous place right now. If this subway car needs a beefy dude in a beret to protect its occupants, this is NOT a place for 17-year-old me right now.

Is that the impression we want to make of our communities? What's our new tourism motto to be? "Welcome to the Quad Cities. Don't worry, we have people who can protect you!"

Look, you don't have to tell me that our cities have problems. I work at a newspaper, and I read the headlines for myself. But has it come to THIS? Are our police so ill-prepared and unrespected that we need a volunteer army to wander around and make downtown Davenport look like its under martial law?

The answers shouldn't have to come from the public. They should come from those employed to enforce the law, and THEIR bosses -- our elected officials. We need more police on the streets, we need concentrated social programs to uplift impoverished areas, we need economic development to bring jobs to town. Kids need options OTHER than drugs and guns. It's not an easy road, but it's a road worth walking. As long as we've got brains in our heads, we shouldn't have to fight fire with fire.

I'm not trying to disrespect the guys who have heeded the Angels' call for volunteers. In fact, I applaud them. These are dudes who are SO concerned about their community that they're willing to risk their necks for it. That's commendable. It has to take some serious guts to put one of those berets on. But it shouldn't have to come to this. Not here, not where the rivers flow through the hometowns we know.

I'm not the guy with the answers. I'm just one voice that happens to have a newspaper column that I can occasionally turn into a soapbox. We DO desperately need to curb violent crime, but by turning our problems over to the Angels, we're no longer friends and neighbors building pride, we're just people building anxiety, paranoia, and consternation. And those are some pretty sucky words to have to rhyme a new jingle to.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Music Nerd in Me Requires Your Attention

So if you're a regular fan of my column/blog, you should know that I'm a huge music nerd and often try to push bands on you guys that you've probably never heard of before. You might even recall that my favorite underground band still making music is a poptastic little combo from Athens, GA who go by the name OF MONTREAL.

Well, if you've ever wanted to know more about the crazy world of Shane, you've got your chance. THURSDAY NIGHT -- that's TODAY for most of you -- Of Montreal will be making their national television debut on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

This is a MUST-WATCH EVENT. This band will NOT let this opportunity pass without some sincere weirdness.

Don't believe me? Check out their new video:

COLUMN: Dreams

As the owner of a fairly uneventful and boring life, it's good to have a sub-conscious that keeps things interesting.

I've always been a huge fan of dream analysis. There are some seriously accredited psychologist types out there convinced that dreams can be the key to unlocking one's hidden innermost thoughts and desires. Of course, in order to accomplish said unlocking, you usually need to buy the seriously accredited and seriously overpriced book that can tell you, without hesitation, that the dream you had last week about the giant killer platypus is, actually, a sign that you dwell on your emotions too much.

Think I'm kidding? That really IS what dreaming of a platypus is supposed to mean. I looked it up on the Web. Me, I can barely think of what a platypus LOOKS like, let alone cast one in a starring role in my midnight hallucinations. Like I said, I've always been a huge fan of dream analysis, because it's one of the silliest and most pointless sciences out there.

The same website that tells us of the emotion-dwelling platypus also shares that dreaming of mashed potatoes is simply your subconscious expressing concern over financial matters. Me, I just thought it was my subconscious getting hungry. Apparantly not. Truth be told, I hit that website up because I need answers to the recurring dream I'VE been having for the last week:

In this dream, I still live in my apartment, except it now has a second bedroom, and I find myself with a fictional roommate named Tony. In some of the dreams, Tony is a guy; in others, Tony is a girl. But Tony is always named Tony, and weirder still, Tony is always a contestant on my least favorite TV show EVER, "Dancing With The Stars."

I accompany Tony to a taping of the show, and all goes well until Tony realizes that he/she has left the required costume at home, and I am sent on an errand to retrieve it. And invariably, when I re-enter the apartment, John Ratzenberger is stealing my TV.

Yes, THAT John Ratzenerger -- Cliffy from "Cheers" and one of the stars of this season's "Dancing With the Stars." Stealing my TV. This begs several questions, among them:

• Why John Ratzenberger?

• Doesn't he have a TV of his own?

• If he's ON "Dancing With the Stars," and if I've just left a taping of the show, shouldn't he be there?

• What HAVE I been eating before bed, and isn't it time to stop it?

But those questions can wait, because now I have a robbery to foil. As I enter the apartment and startle John Ratzenberger, he, naturally, drops the TV and engages me in melee combat.

You might have seen John Ratzenberger on "Cheers" or doing the cha-cha on "Dancing With the Stars," but what you might not know is that, at least in MY dreams, he's also quite adept at hand-to-hand combat -- and proceeds to mercilessly pummel me until I invariably wake up in a cold sweat. The end. Analyze THAT.

The first time I had this dream, I laughed. A lot. The SECOND time I had this dream, I was less amused. By the THIRD time, I was questioning my sanity. However, it must be said that my subconscious DOES like to even the odds a little bit. In the third dream, I once again catch him stealing the TV, and he once again rushes at me. HOWEVER this time, I calmly reach into my pocket and pull out a pair of NUNCHUCKS -- as though it's perfectly natural for me to wander around at all times with ninja weaponry in my pockets -- and we proceed to beat EACH OTHER mercilessly until I wake up.

Now, my extensive background training in martial arts consists of exactly: one day in college, when my friend and I decided it would be good fun to waste a gym credit on a Tae Kwon Do class. Or maybe it was Kuk Sool Won. Truth is, it was so long ago, it could have been anything, but from what I recall, it was really called Intro to Vomit 101. We showed up on the first day of class after an ill-advised long night at the frat house. All I remember is the instructor making us do a flip of some kind, me landing Homer Simpson-style (Tae-Kwon-D'oh!), and I was outta there within 5 minutes.

Yet this five minutes of ninja training was enough to at least give Cliff Clavin a taste of his own medicine in my dream, so there's something to be said for those 5 minutes, apparantly. I can now defend myself against subconscious evil-doers.

The whole thing scares me a bit, though. Mostly in the realization that part of my subconscious is SO impacted by "Dancing With the Stars" -- THE worst show on television since the one where people battled each other with giant Q-Tips -- that it's now invading my dreams. If you've got ANY clue how to analyze this one, I'm all ears. Personally, I'm hoping this column will exorcise this dream from my inner psyche. If not, your faithful columnist may seek professional help.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Sucks to be Imus

I never thought I'd feel bad for Don Imus.

If you've been under a rock, here's the story thus far: The other day, Don Imus, one of the true legends of syndicated radio, whose show is not just aired nationwide but also broadcast on MSNBC TV every morning, made a colossal screw up.

During a riff while he and his sportscaster were talking about the Rutgers-Tennessee women's basketball final, Imus was trying to make a point about how -- well, heck, let's just say it -- how butch & bad-a** the Rutgers team looked compared to the more, err, lady-like Tennessee Lady Vols. Imus picked the wrong words to use.

"Those are some nappy-headed ho's."

Famous last words, indeed. LAST words because Imus is presently being crucified by every African-American rights group on planet Earth. LAST words because Imus just got suspended for 2 weeks.

And -- I can't believe I'm saying this, because I really, really, REALLY can't stand Imus -- but I'm taking his side on this one.

I'm taking his side not in saying that there was nothing wrong with his choice of words, because there certainly WAS. There are some things that we pigmentally-challenged of the world simply can't say -- the "n" word obviously being the Big Bad Daddy of them all -- and calling ANYONE "nappy-headed", let alone an innocent girl's basketball team, is pretty offensive.

But now you've got Al Sharpton demanding that Imus be fired for his blatantly racist attack... and that's a joke.

Folks, Imus wasn't being racist, and he wasn't making an attack, other than making fun of how macho and athletic the Rutgers team was. The problem, I think, is simply that Imus is an old, out-of-touch dude.

He was trying to be cute on the air. You could tell. He was trying to adapt street lingo in order to seem a little bit cooler when talking about basketball.

It was a case of simple ignorance, not unlike something I saw on TV the other day. It was the story of some black student who took great offense when one of his white teachers called him THE N-WORD. Whoa. Big no-no on that guy's part.

But then they let the teacher on to defend himself. And this teacher proceeded to attempt to explain that he didn't say the dreaded N-word... but instead said the word "nigga," which the teacher took to be a common colloquialization of less offense, used in the same context as I would if I were to call you "dude" or "brother."

Of course, the teacher looked even more and more like a jackass every time he used the "nigga" variant on the show - it was one of the most cringe-worthy things I had ever seen.

But the point is: the teacher really didn't think he was doing anything wrong. Not because he was racist -- a dictionary doesn't make you racist -- but because he was so chronically un-hip that he didn't even register the offensive context of the word.

Deplorable? Heck yes. Stupid? Arguably. But RACIST? Naw.

I've never understood racism. Not even slightly. And I'm HORRIBLY aghast and offended when a white person within earshot cracks a racist joke. But... at the same time... I'm equally offended when Al Sharpton and his cronies assume that every white guy on the planet is out to oppress the black race.

Mr. Imus works in radio. Radio requires you to think on your feet, and think fast. For years and years, Imus has existed on the air without offending anyone more than your token shock-jock does. But now, after one poor vocabulary choice, you're demanding that his career be ruined? RIDICULOUS.

Look, I feel for Imus. I was once kinda sorta in his shoes. No, I've never said anything (to my knowledge) that someone took to be racist. But one time, I DID speak before thinking on the radio.

It was back in Galesburg, when I used to work for a Top 40 station, Q-93. It was a Saturday morning, the 4th of July in fact. The year prior, Galesburg's 4th of July celebrations were marred by the death of a girl. I can't remember now what even happened - if she drowned or was murdered or her body washed up onshore or what - but it was a Big News Story the year before.

So a year later, I'm on the air and riffing with our morning news girl. "How's your 4th of July, Shane?" she asked.

"Pretty good," I said, "so far, nobody's dead for a change."

Which is probably quite innocent for someone like Imus or Howard Stern. And I thought then (and still do today) that it was kinda funny. But in a small town like Galesburg, and on a cheezy Top 40 station that pretty much everybody in town listened to, it's probably not best to make a flippant comment about tragedy.

The news girl did her job and quickly got us off-topic, and never said anything to me about it. When I got home, my mom (who had been listening) asked if I still had a job. Until that moment, I didn't even realize that what I'd said might have offended some people.

Happily, no one ever said a THING to me about it. I bet my bosses were dead asleep - it WAS a Saturday and it was like 8 a.m. But -- as hokey and innocent as it sounds -- I bet if my bosses WERE listening, or if anyone had called in and complained, I might HAVE been fired.

The point is this: it's easy to slip up and say the wrong thing in radio. And once it's out there, it's out there. It's not like my column where I can hit the backspace key and no one realizes what an idiot I really AM.

Imus wasn't trying to be racist. He was trying to be cool. He failed miserably at both. But he shouldn't be fired, and I bet even ol' Al Sharpton believes that, too. But Sharpton will use ANY vehicle to bring the black struggle to the headlines, and it doesn't matter how many innocents are left in his wake.

You know who I'm starting to gain a newfound respect for? WHITE RAPPERS. Seriously. Imagine how tough it must be for dudes like Paul Wall & Bubba Sparxxx who have to do raps -- a lot of them freestyle and off the top of their heads -- that appeal to black culture WITHOUT accidentally slipping up and offending somebody. Honestly, in this crazy P.C. world, it's gotta be tough.

It's one thing to be racist, and altogether another thing to SCREW UP ROYALLY and say something stupid. THAT'S Imus' crime. Don't slaughter the guy for it. He's apologizing left and right. We need to forgive him and move on.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

COLUMN: Stiff Neck

My life has sadly turned into a routine: Work. Eat. Sleep. Repeat until dead.

Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh. Sometimes I squeeze "play with cats" or "defeat alien menace on PS3" in there. I'm becoming a tad over-complacent with reality lately. I need to spice things up a bit. Kick caution to the wind. Do the Dew.

I decided to start this little rebellious phase with an interesting proposition: What would happen if I were to accidentally fall asleep NOT on the bed (no, no -- beds are for boring, normal people), but instead accidentally fall asleep on my couch with my head tilted at approximately a 90 degree angle to the rest of my body?

Answer: Nothing good.

Yes, it's always a true joy when your first conscious thought of the day is "OW!" I'm pretty sure that while I was asleep, a team of highly skilled ninjas had broken into my apartment and tied every muscle in my neck into a Windsor knot.

You would think that a smart brain would have the sense to wake itself up in the middle of the night and go, "Umm, hey, just so you know, you're doing some serious damage to your neck laying like this." My brain? Zzzzzzzzzzzz. Until, that is, I woke up with the mobility of a statue.

Now, I've had stiff necks in the past, but this one was epic. I tried my usual Shane-tested method: pop a couple Advil and get under a hot shower. But an hour later, I was at work and still stiff as a board, and a painful board at that. I begged a massage out of one of my co-workers, but somehow that just made it worse. I had no choice but to shift into Phase 2 of my coping mechanism:

WHINE. Incessantly. All day long. "Wow, does my neck hurt!" "I'm not kidding, my neck sure does hurt!" "Necks are WEIRD, aren't they?" "Ow!"

By the end of the day, I could at least take comfort in knowing that I wasn't the only one who had to work all day with a pain in the neck. Yet as much as my co-workers wanted to kill me, they also offered a slew of advice. It went a little like this:

"Put ice on it!" "No, use heat!" "No, use ice!" "Heat!" "Ice!" "Less filling!" "Tastes great!"

I wanted an answer, so I called one of those nurse helplines to solve the heat/cold dilemma. "You could try either way and see what works best," the nurse said. Hrm, helpful. Of course, she DID add to the fun of the afternoon by reminding me that stiff necks are often an early sign of meningitis. Now THERE'S something to tell a neurotic like me. Within an hour, I was pretty sure I was developing both sensitivity to light and lockjaw. Were it not for the sanity of my co-workers, I would have talked my way into meningitis within an hour.

Instead, one of my co-workers said the words I knew were coming but dreaded to hear regardless:

"You should go see a chiro."

Gulp. I've gotta be honest on this one, folks: Chiropractors scare the bejeebies out of me.

And yes, I realize that them's fightin' words in the ol' QCA. Chiropractic medicine was INVENTED here, and if you don't believe me, you can drive to downtown Davenport and see the sign on the sidewalk commemorating the spot of the world's first chiropractic adjustment. I know what a fantastic legacy ol' Doc Palmer brought to Davenport, but whenever I see that sign, I can't help but envision a cloak-clad Doc Palmer sneaking up on some hapless pedestrian on that street corner, grabbing them from the back, and -- CRACK! -- science is born.

Thanks to Palmer College, every third person roaming the Quad City streets is a licensed chiropractor. And before each one of you writes in to chew me out, let me be clear: I believe in chiropractic medicine. I really do. I just also happen to believe that it's not for me.

There's just something a little barbaric about the whole process. I don't care if there are X-rays and textbooks and years of science to support it -- at the end of the day, it's still someone grabbing your spine and going CRACK. Well, no thanks. It's just a tad too violent for me. I get nauseous when I accidentally crack a knuckle; if my whole back got popped, it'd be last train to Pukesville for THIS wussyboy.

But the stiff neck I had last week made me finally walk through the doors of the chiro across the street from work. And he was nice, and he understood my terror. He told me what to do (ice, not heat.) He sold me a bottle of Biofreeze, which is basically menthol at a heavenly nuclear dosage. He showed me exercises to do. And he didn't try to sneak up behind me and crack my back, not even once.

Within a couple days, I could move my neck. Within a week, the pain was gone. Finally I could get back to what I do best: Work. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.