Monday, June 25, 2007

COLUMN: Insects

A few weeks ago, my friend Jason and I were driving around aimlessly in the sticks near Galena when he turned to me and said, "Can you pull over for a sec? I think I need to stretch my legs."

"Here?" I asked. We were quite literally in the middle of nowhere, driving on a gravel lane in the hills around the Apple River. The road didn't have ditches so much as canyons, and there really wasn't any place to pull off. Suffice to say, it was not your ideal rest stop locale. "You sure?"

"Yeah, here. Stop the car."

So I did. My friend suffers from occasional back problems, so when he needs to stretch his legs, it's usually not a debateable issue. I pulled over as best I could and stopped the car.

"Let's get out for a second," Jason said.

"Umm, ok," I replied. I mean, I was still on a photography kick from my new camera. Maybe Jason had spotted a good photo op or something. I grabbed the camera and stepped out of the car.

"Okay, don't panic," Jason said. "Stay out there. I just need to get a bee out of the car."

My friends know me too well.

"Sorry, man," he said after shoo-ing the tiny honeybee out of the car. "I didn't mean to lie to you. I just value my life is all."

See, Jason knows my deep, dark secret: I'm TERRIFIED of bees. Irrational, act-like-a-ninny terrified of bees. And he was right, if I had happened to have glanced in the mirror and seen that bee buzzing around my back seat, I probably would have driven us right off a cliff. And, while plummeting in a vertical freefall to our certain doom, my biggest fear would STILL have been getting stung on the way down.

Look, I know I'm not the most macho guy alive, right? I don't hunt or fish or ultimate fight or what-have-you. But I at least strive to be a step above full-fledged weenie status. Any success towards that goal, though, goes out the window if a bee comes in the window. When that happens, you might as well put me in a bonnet and call me Nancy, because I become a Super-Sissy.

In a way, I have full rights to act like a fool when a bee's near. I'm allergic to the things. If I DO get stung, you'd better have directions to the nearest hospital, because I poof out like the Pillsbury Dough-Shane. When I was a kid, I stepped on a bumblebee nest and got stung 3 times before my dad could grab me and run me indoors. Five minutes later, I was gasping for air and en route to the hospital.

So bees are not my friends. I'm in full favor of eliminating them from the world altogether. When the news broke in our paper this spring that bee populations were mysteriously declining across the U.S., I did a happy dance. Let them all die, I say. Who cares if they pollinate the flowers. Let the flowers die, too. It's a small sacrifice towards the noble goal of bee genocide, I say.

Actually, I'd probably be okay with the elimination of most all insect-things altogether. Not that I'm scared of other insects, it's just that other insects frequently put on amazing bee impressions. I've been known to run away from houseflies if they buzz by in a bee-ish manner.

Truth be told, I had NO idea what to write this week's column on until I was standing in the shower this morning. That's when I was greeted by a visitor: a moth flew directly into the shower. But this was no ordinary moth. No, this was Mothra himself. How this pterodactyl of an insect managed its way inside my apartment is beyond me, but obviously it was carnivorous, vorpal, and quite possibly rabid.

So there I was -- birthday suited, face full of shampoo, armed with little more than a loofah -- having to defend my most private of private parts from a deviant moth with the wingspan of a Boeing 747. And all I could think to do was make a noise that might be spelled "Nyaaaahhh!" After several failed attempts at moth wrangling, I did what any macho man would do: I gave up and ran away.

So as I type this at work, Mothra still holds reign somewhere in my apartment. But as I see it, it's okay. Most moths have lifespans that run hours instead of years, so maybe it's dead already. Plus, as I was leaving, my elite security team (i.e. my cats) were already on the case, meowing heartily at my winged intruder. I keep the cats entertained AND they rid me of the moth -- that's 2 birds with one stone... or one moth with two cats, as it were.

In the meantime, I think I'm doing better. The other day, a bumblebee flew into my car and onto my shirt and I just flicked it off. Of course, I thought it was a leaf at the time, and when I realized I had just touched a bumblebee with my bare hand, I may have had a slight aneurysm. But I'm pretty sure it was a macho aneurysm.

COLUMN: Cellular

So last week, I wrote a column about my chosen hobby career as a weekend club DJ. Namely, I provided some rules of thumb to follow when approaching the DJ booth to make a request. You, the club-going consumer, wants to hear a song. Me, the club-dwelling DJ, will most likely play it for you, if (a) it's a good song, and (b) you're not interrupting me in the middle of important DJ stuff like cueing up a song, beat mixing, or scoring phone numbers off cute girls.

Well, it turns out that, silly me, I left one important rule of thumb out of last week's column:


My omission of this rule was kindly pointed out by a girl at the bar this past Saturday, who showed me the err of my ways by -- you guessed it -- attempting to set a full drink on an imaginary shelf in my booth, causing her margarita to pour over the club's mixer, a book of my CD's, my cell phone, and my right shoe. In that order.

Happily, the equipment wasn't too badly damaged. That's because, in a last-ditch kamikaze act of bravery and discipline, my equipment was protected by my cell phone, which jumped into the line of fire and took the blunt force of the tasty beverage head on. It died instantly.

Well, if only it had died instantly. Instead, it kept trying in its death throes to turn on. The happy little Verizon logo would come on, then static, then a bright orange light that refused to shut off. Being an acclaimed master of every nervous habit imaginable, I have stubs for fingernails. So imagine, if you will, neurotic ol' me in the DJ booth, trying to mop up a spill, clean out a mixer, DJ to a packed dancefloor, air out my shoe, and get my non-existent fingernails under the dealy to pop out the phone battery... all at the same time. It was a losing battle, and my cell phone was the innocent victim.

I hoped in desperation that it just needed to dry out... but by the next morning, the flashing words "SERVICE REQUIRED" had sealed the deal. My contact list? Gone. Videos? Pics? Ringtones? Gone. My phone was dead; long live my phone.

Even worse was the discovery the next day that my phone was an outdated model no longer being sold. Not only was I phone-less, I now needed to start over from scratch.

There's hardly anything more evil than a cell phone store. You walk in to signs and banners proclaiming insanely cheap rates, unlimited reception, and an awe-inspiring Network, whatever that's supposed to mean.

What you REALLY discover inside the store is that your phone, and your entire knowledge base of communications, is woefully inadequate. New models of cell phones, each proclaiming some exciting new technological advance, come out roughly every 8.5 minutes, ensuring that whatever phone you buy will be outmoded, obsolete, and irrelevant by the time you get it home.

This is why I'm the proud new owner of a Palm Treo.

Phones are for sissy boys. I now have a pocket telecommunications empire. It's not a phone -- it's a day planner, word processor, broadband modem, web browser, mp3 player, camera, and e-mail hub that also incidentally allows you to make phone calls as an afterthought. I'm just not sure exactly HOW yet.

When I got the thing home, I was excited to see a complimentary phone book included at no extra charge -- until I realized it's not a phone book, it's the INSTRUCTION MANUAL.

But I don't care. I am at the top of my electronic game. I sit at the forefront of technological empowerment. Now I can schedule important appointments with... umm... my cats. Now I can surf the net and write my columns on-the-go. If only I ever went anywhere. Or had waif-like pixie hands, which appear to be the only things small enough to effectively work the World's Smallest Keyboard.

So what if it gives me carpal tunnel and probably emits enough radiation to cook an egg? So what if it has a million features that I guarantee I'll never use? IT PLAYS SOLITAIRE. How cool is THAT? And yes, the monthly charges are so much that I'll soon be evicted and impoverished, sure. But hey, I'll be able to track my descent into bankruptcy with its handy mobile Excel spreadsheet, and with the onboard GPS, it can direct me to the cardboard box of my choice where I can live out my glory days playing Tetris and annoying my friends with endless streams of text messages.

Now if it can just buy me a new right shoe, I'll be a happy guy.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Attention "Serious" QC Bloggers

Okay, I've got a beef.

But it's something I can't write about in the papers, because it'll seem as though I'm entirely biased and a party with a vested interest. So let me air my beef, and if one of you politically-minded bloggers wants to take it from there, that'd be pretty sweet.

See, my beef involves the District of Rock Island. Now, most of you guys know that I DJ at the club 2nd Ave. down in the District, which is why this entire argument might sound like all I'm trying to do is advance the image of MY club at the expense of the others down there. That's not the case, but it's your call whether or not to believe me. But I think I have a valid beef here:

This weekend, a lot of the clubs down in the District united together to put on an outdoor concert. This event did NOT include the clubs I'm affiliated with, 2nd Ave. or the Rock Island Brewing Co. (who have the same owners.)

Having been a member of the RIBCO/2nd Ave. team for several years, I've seen my share of street fests down there. On many Saturdays, we put on shows outside. And time and again, we bend over backwards to ensure that our outdoor events are held within the letter of the law. To wit:

(1) That the sound levels do not pollute to the point of illegality. I believe -- I could be mistaken, but I'm almost positive -- that the max volume allowed by Rock Island law is 95 decibels directly in front of the stage. This is done to ensure that we have fun but don't keep the entire town awake with the music outside. RIBCO owns a decibel meter, and I've seen our crew many times take readings around the plaza to ensure that we're operating at a legal volume.


(2) That the artists onstage do not break open air profanity laws. I know that RIBCO instructs all of their bands to refrain from vulgarities while playing outside; sometimes it's even written into their contracts.

Well, if WE have to abide by these rules, why don't the other clubs?

Saturday night, the band Buckcherry played outside to a healthy crowd in the District... annnnnnnnnd...

(1) It was LOUD. Like, really loud. Like, I actually heard via the gossip of District employees that the sound crew hired for Saturday night's event registered 120 decibels on their meter. It was CRAZY loud. I could, in fact, hear it from my apartment, and I live over by Augie and nowhere near the District. As I was pulling up, it was rattling the windows on my car... and I was parking TWO BLOCKS AWAY. At my club, one block away from the show, you couldn't hold a conversation with someone while standing directly outside our door.

(2) The show was FILLED with profanity. The band took to the stage yelling the F-word. I must have heard the F-word 30+ times in a half hour. The band's big hit single alone says it at least 10 times. The opening band covered Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name Of," which drops the F-bomb repeatedly at the end of the song.

Now, I am no fuddy-duddy, and anyone who knows me knows that I'm capable of and likely to drop the F-bomb myself. And the thought of me complaining about somebody cursing makes me laugh uncomfortably. But I can't deny that there are FAMILIES who live in the District. Families with kids who shouldn't be exposed to non-stop overly amplified swearing. It's the same reason why I watch the lyrical content of the stuff I DJ during festivals where kids might be present.

Yet the show went off without any apparant hitches. So what gives, City of Rock Island? I heard nothing about anyone getting cited for profanity or noise pollution.

I swear to you that I'm not just bitching because it wasn't MY club's festival. In fact, the gig this weekend didn't hurt us one bit; 2nd Ave. was jumping like any other night. And ANY attempts to showcase the District as a great place to come and have fun are welcome in my book.

But for our clubs to go out of their way to abide by Rock Island law while providing a fun night out, shouldn't the other downtown clubs be held subject to the same rules?

Friday, June 15, 2007

COLUMN: Etiquette

Last Saturday, I woke up on the wrong side of life.

The cats came in meowing. I hated their stupid meows. The sun was beaming in through the windows. I hated the stupid sun. Then the sun went away and turned to rain and I decided to hate the rain, too. I turned on the TV. I hated the stupid remote control, the stupid TV, AND the stupid TV show all at the same time.

It was, as they say, a bad day. No reason whatsoever. Just a bad day.

The kind of day to maybe lose yourself in a book. To shut the doors, leave the phone unanswered, pretend you're not home, and wait for the funk to pass. A day to while away by yourself, and to avoid all humanity lest you have to actually interact with it.

The kind of day you CERTAINLY don't want to spend DJ'ing at a packed dance club.

DJ'ing is a hobby and a passion. I don't do it to get rich. Every penny I make at my DJ gig goes right back into music and equipment to do it better the next weekend. It's all about the rush. The moment when you mix into the right song -- at the right moment -- and the crowd goes wild. Talk about a God complex all you want, but in that moment, I am the dancefloor savior, and when the crowd screams, it's the ultimate hobby payoff. Some people collect stamps; I mix records.

Still, it's no fun when you're in an unexplainably cranky mood and it seems like everyone in attendance is there to methodically step on your every last nerve. That's why I decided, standing in that DJ booth at approximately 1:35 a.m. on that Saturday night/Sunday morn, to use my column this week for an education in DJ request etiquette.

• Do not poke the DJ. When the DJ stands in the booth with headphones clearly on and hands clearly doing important DJ-related activities at the mixer, the DJ is busy. Poking the DJ in the leg, arm, or elsewhere will NOT speed up the process. The DJ does not want to chat. He is busy bringing sexy back. Unless you're a cute girl, in which case the DJ will likely figure out a way to make time for you. Still, spare us the poking. We see you there, we're just a tad busy.

• The DJ takes requests. He just might not play 'em. The DJ is there to put as many people on the dancefloor as possible. If the booties do not shake, the DJ does not have a job for long. So it depends on your request. If it's a good song that'll pack a floor, it'll probably happen.

• "Will you play my song NEXT?" Hmm. Let me think. Umm, no. You might think of a club DJ as a guy who gets paid to sit and push "PLAY" all night long. That's not far from the truth, but there really IS science involved. As a DJ, you're constantly building sets, increasing tempos, and strategizing out your dancefloor. At any given time, I've got the next 6-7 songs already in place and ready to go.

• "Hi. It's my birthday/bachelorette party/anniversary/my people's religious and-or cultural holiday, so you need to play [insert the world's most obscure song here.]" Happy birthday, wedding, anniversary, Kwanzaa, etc. I am truly honored that you've chosen to spend it at my club. However, if I play your lame request, everyone will leave. Then so will you, 'coz nobody likes an empty club. Especially the DJ.

• "Will you let me say something into the microphone?" Not if hell freezes while pigs fly. Not even if you walked in with a letter of recommendation from Casey Kasem. Heck, not even if you walked in WITH Casey Kasem. Knowing my luck, if I handed you the microphone, even the most innocent of clubgoer would use that precise moment to utter some woofer-blowing lupine howl and/or racial epithet.

• "Hi, I'm a guy, and..." Next.

• "No, seriously, I brought this CD I burned, it's me and my boy freestyling over the theme from 'Knight Rider,' and if you bump it, it'll be off the chain fo real!" Go away.

• "Me and my friends are leaving, so can you play our song soon so we can split?" Yes, yes, of course. Let me expedite your departure from my club. Because it would sure be awful if you were forced to stick around, buy another drink, support our club, and spend time on my dancefloor. Especially if you and/or your friends are cute girls. Boy, I sure hate that.

• Interpreting Request Responses: If a DJ says, "Let me see what I can do," this is DJ for "No." If a DJ says to you, "Ooh, let me see if I brought that song," this is DJ for "I definitely didn't bring that song."

I'm kidding (mostly). But you get the point. I swear I'm not as jaded and ungrateful as I sound. There's a reason I sacrifice my weekends for the heart and soul of the dancefloor. I love it, and I love and appreciate everybody who comes out on the weekends to support us. Well, except that dude who threatened to kill me when I wouldn't play bagpipe music for him on St. Patty's Day. I hate that dude, seriously. Everyone else has my love... even when I wake up on the wrong side of the bed.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sopranos Finale

Okay, I've been yelled at before for talking about TV shows without giving an official


so if you still haven't watched the last episode of the Sopranos, stop reading.


I havent been to any of the message boards yet, but something tells me they're completely off-the-chain with upset, irate fans wanting a concrete ending to the show.

Instead, I'm SO happy at the ending, and I'm not even that much of a fan of the show, really.

David Chase has spent most of the past decade building Tony into this near-mythological hero. A seriously flawed hero, sure, but still a guy who you bizarrely want to root for.

So what better end than to let his myth live on however his fans want to imagine it? To just *BOOM* stop the show cold turkey like that with no resolution? Genius.

Were the people in the restaurant loyalists to the late Phil who were there to off the whole Sopranos clan? Or were they cops there to finally hand down indictments and arrest Tony? Did Paulie turn sides and rat out his boss? (You gotta admit, those were some troubling looks he was giving at the end of every one of his scenes.) Will Sil pull through? Or did we just watch another Sopranos family dinner that went on without incident?

YOU get to make that call. Does the Sopranos end as a tragedy? Or as hope that the family lives on and prospers, problems and all?

It can be WHATEVER YOU WANT IT TO BE. And the legend of Tony Soprano can carry on however you want it to.

A BRILLIANT move on Chase's part. RIP Sopranos the Show, but maybe not the family?

(I DO want somebody to explain to me the symbolism of the cat, though. What was the deal with the cat & Christopher's pic?)

Thursday, June 07, 2007


What is it that makes a catastrophe so perversely alluring? I mean, there must be a reason why crowds of onlookers gather at every house fire. Why TV shows with absurd titles like "World's Deadliest Animal Attacks" manage to attract viewers. Heck, why NASCAR even exists ("the thrill of competition," my fanny. Most of you are there to watch wrecks and you know it.)

I'm not immune to it, either. When the big flood of '93 broke, the news told us all to stay away. That served as the cue for me and my friends to pile in a car and go gawk at the chaos. In fact, we were the last car to cross Arsenal Island before it was closed for safety. We could have been swept away in that current, but we didn't care. We were high-fiving each other, living in the moment.

So when the news broke that a tornado had worked its way through Louisa & Muscatine counties, my friend and I decided to head out on Saturday to see the damage for ourselves. Besides, what better way to break in the new camera I'd just bought? Maybe I could get some good snapshots of upside-down cars or something. Little did I know we were en route to a life lesson.

We headed into Muscatine on Highway 22 and eagerly drove up to the lookout point by the bridge to Illinois. It looked like... well, downtown Muscatine. Seemingly unscathed. No upside-down cars, no paths of destruction. I'm ashamed to say we thought it was a let-down. Little did we know other parts of Muscatine were in tatters. We started driving south on back roads in search of Fruitland, the town that received the most damage.

I'm happy now that we didn't find it. Instead we got lost and sidetracked on a nice afternoon country drive. That's when we rounded the bend and stumbled into Grandview, IA.

The first thing you see when you drive into Grandview is an old farm school. Well, it SHOULD have been the first thing you see. Instead, we saw a brush pile almost three stories high in the school's parking lot. I didn't even have time to issue a token "what the...?" before we rounded the bend and saw the rest of town.

Well, what was left of it, anyways. This was the town that received the least amount of damage from the tornado. Coulda fooled me. It still looked like a bomb had gone off. I thought it would be exciting to see the aftermath of a tornado. I just never expected it to be so... real. A pile of rubble isn't so cool when you see the family who once lived in that pile, sifting through the remains for whatever possessions they could salvage. I was an idiot to think this would be some kind of pleasure sight-seeing expedition.

You could easily see the tornado's path through town. House on the left? Perfectly fine. House on the right? Rubble. In-between the destroyed homes was a clear trail of downed power lines, uprooted trees, and a stream of debris that I'm guessing stretches to Fruitland and beyond.

We drove by a house that looked like any other split-level home you've ever seen. Oh, except it was missing a roof. It wasn't like the roof had collapsed in on the house, or was lying near the house. It was just GONE, swept to Oz. In their lawn lay two mighty trees that once graced the front yard. Both had been plucked right out of the ground, roots and all, as if props in a model train set. Through the shattered windows, you could still see family photos hanging on the walls.

It was stomach-turning, heart-breaking, and mind-numbing all at once. It looked like a war zone. I didn't have the urge to gawk. I didn't have the urge to whip out my camera and start capturing it all on film. In fact, I didn't even think about the stupid camera. All I thought about was helping these people. This wasn't a tragedy worth remembering; it was a horror worth forgetting.

But therein lies the silver lining. In a tragedy, there's a doomed character destined to fail, you feel super sad, and then it's just over. In a horror, there's a bad guy, sure, but then you know what? They usually have happy endings. Jaws, Jason, Freddy... they all lose in the end. So, too, will this tornado.

In the chaos of Grandview was hope. Already trash was being hauled away, brush was being gathered. The Red Cross and Iowa Disaster Relief were already on hand, setting up tents with water and essentials for one and all. Neighbors whose homes were spared were in the yards of those less fortunate, lending hands of strength and support. As we navigated through the town, you could still hear children playing. You still saw people smiling through their tears. Grandview will recover. Fruitland will recover. Muscatine will recover. And we can help.

Today I called my friend Jamie Lange at the American Red Cross and donated my pay from this month's newspaper columns to the relief fund they've set up for the victims of Friday's tornado. I strongly urge you to give what you can. You can donate to the Red Cross by calling 1-800-HELP-NOW. You can even volunteer to lend a hand in the clean-up by calling 1-888-252-0260.

Iowa 1; Tornado 0. No need for a rematch.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

COLUMN: Graffiti

I love controversy. Well, at least the kind that doesn't directly involve me. But the best controversies that occur are the ones that are, at their core, completely pointless. I'm blessed to have an occupation that offers me a ringside seat to some of these scenarios.

It goes something like this: The media finds a hotbed topic. The media reports on said hotbed topic. Comments pour into the newspaper's message boards from people spitting such vitriolic nonsense that you'd think their entire lives were riding on the outcome. And then, if we're especially lucky, knee-jerk reaction editorials start appearing. Next thing you know, we're in a full-on state of higgeldy-piggeldy. And I just get to sit there in amazement and shake my head at the whole spectacle. Hey, there's worse ways to spend time.

A couple weeks ago, we ran a story that the city of Davenport, having shelled out a million bucks to create a downtown skate park, was shocked and dismayed to discover that kids using the park had vandalized the place from one side to the other in graffiti.

Gasp. Skaters and graffiti. I know, who'd'a thunk it?

Folks, building a skate park and being shocked that kids are tagging it with graffiti is tantamount to building a drive-in movie theatre and being shocked that kids are going there to make out in their cars. Tagging walls with graffiti is as much a part of skate culture as ice cream is to cherry pie. If you're going to cater to skaters, you need to cater to the graffiti they'll produce. It is, in the grand scheme of things, no big deal.

And here's where I give credit to Davenport officials. Rather than spend thousands more taxpayer dollars to constantly police the park for graffiti (which would mean not just clean-up, but also park fencing, regulating the hours, and installing cameras,) Davenport leaders instead brought up the idea of "managed graffiti." The idea here is to basically let the kids tag away to their heart's content while monitoring and cleaning up any offensive or gang-related graffiti.

This is a smart idea. Sad, then, that some people aren't buying into it.

Last week, we ran a guest column in our papers from former Davenport mayor Phil Yerington. This column is NOT an attack on Mr. Yerington. I know he's no stranger to controversy himself, but I kinda like the guy. Agree with him or no, Mayor Yerington made for some colorful TV back in his reign during the big flood. And hey, he even made a cameo appearance as a cop in the classic low-budget movie "Whiteboyz," and heck, from an entertainment columnist's perspective, that's pretty cool.

Odd, then, that a guy willing to participate in a movie glamorizing Midwestern hip-hop culture would write a rather harsh reactionary column assailing the spread of graffiti, an integral part of hip-hop culture. The term "hip-hop," in fact, was coined to signify the unification of urban dancers, rappers, DJ's, and graffiti artists into one massive zeitgeist.

Yerington, though, doesn't appear to grasp the cultural signifigance of graffiti art. He seems to think it's vandalism, pure and simple, and shouldn't be tolerated.

I'm not saying that graffiti ISN'T vandalism. The point of this column isn't to defend breaking the law. If you tag a wall that you don't have permission to, you SHOULD be subject to the law. I'm not condoning illegal graffiti or telling you to let kids spray paint up your neighborhood.

My concern, though, is the inference in Mr. Yerington's column that most urban graffiti is little more than thinly disguised turf markings and war cries for local thugs and gang members. With all due respect to the former mayor, this is a painfully naive and short-sighted way of looking at one of the most exciting and flourishing art forms of this generation.

Sure, gangs DO use graffiti as a way of marking turf and airing beefs. Police those tags, clean them up, and punish the offenders. But most serious graffiti art isn't being made by gang members -- it's being crafted by talented kids with an artistic flair and a rebellious streak for self-expression that you simply can't teach in an art class.

If graffiti is little more than vandalism, why are there art magazines devoted to the appreciation of it? Why are graffiti art exhibits endorsed by the Smithsonian? Why are historians constantly excited by the ancient graffiti found in the ruins of Pompeii?

Whether you like it or not, graffiti will always be around, from bland tags to full wall murals that are days in the making. It's a vibrant snapshot of the urban counter-culture. Sure, some of it's bound to be offensive and unwanted -- and when that happens, we clean it up. If you hate finding graffiti in your neighborhood, why not give the kids somewhere to LEGALLY show off their talents? Give them the managed freedom of the skate park.