Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Radio Ga-Ga

Yes, to everyone who's been e-mailing and calling and laughing and asking...

That IS me on the radio right now in spots promoting the Leader. The editors asked if I could lend a hand and write some funny radio ads, so I gave it a shot. The ads were produced up at the Rock & Roll Mansion with the assistance of the best radio DJ in town (and one of my good friends in real life,) Jeff James from Star 93.5. There's 4 of 'em on rotation right now on nearly every QC radio station. So feel free to point and laugh at my funny voice.

In all honesty, though, go out of your way to grab a copy of The Leader this week... you won't BELIEVE the paper's new look, new size, new attitude. It's not often I tow the company line mercilessly, but this relaunch really DOES have us all excited.

It's only 2 days away.

Oh, there's also some official kick-off shindig at the River Music Experience soon (next week, maybe?) for the public to come mingle with the Leader staff... and it's looking like I'll be there, so you can even save the pointing and laughing for in person should you wish.

COLUMN: Carpal Tunnel

...otherwise known as the column which will hopefully put a coda onto the seemingly ne'er-ending saga of Shane vs. Guitar Hero.

Regular readers of this nook already know that my life has been uncontrollably revolving around the insipid video game that finally answers the age-old question: "What would Eric Clapton look like if his guitar was tiny, plastic, and adorned with rainbow colored buttons instead of strings?"

(Answer: He would look like a dork. A big, big dork.)

Two weeks ago, I discussed begrudgingly buying Guitar Hero II and watching helplessly as my already-meager social life ground to a complete halt in favor of heavy metal licks and wicked button-pushing solos. Last week, I mentioned how I rocked out SO hard to the game that I, umm, broke it and had to get another copy. Well, now it's week 3, and for a little change of pace, I didn't break the game... the game broke ME.

It happened the other night. I, like many a guitar great before me, was sitting in front of my X-Box trying to perfect the same song over and over again. "Yo, dude," said the sane portion of my brain after some time (and my brain calls me 'dude' a lot, we're close like that,) "put the game down and go to bed."

I shut off the X-Box and noticed something funny: the X-Box was definitely OFF... but my hand didn't feel itself pressing against the power button. In fact, my right hand wasn't feeling much of anything. It was perfectly numb. No pins, no needles, just... nothing, other than a mild tingly sensation running up my wrist.

"That's odd, dude," said my brain.

Happily, all was well the next morning and I chalked it up to a little over-zealous Guitar Hero-ing. Until, that is, I got in the shower and reached with my right hand to turn the faucet on. That's when a white hot pain erupted from my wrist and shot up my arm directly into my brain. The neighbors are still probably wondering what caused the quiet kid in B5 to yell "Nyyyyyyyah!" in the shower that morning.

It didn't stop there. Turning the steering wheel on the way to work? Nyyyah! Trying to right-click my mouse? Nyyyah! Taking out the trash? Oh, who am I kidding, I never take out my trash (but now I have an excuse not to!)

That's right, it appears as if Guitar Hero was the official catalyst to send me into the realm of early carpal tunnel. Frankly, it wasn't much of a surprise. I spend a good portion of my day non-ergonomically tied to a computer, I type using only my index fingers and a thumb, and I'm one of those lefties who holds their pens in the dreaded 'hooked' position, so I've been a candidate for carpal tunnel for some time. Just wasn't expecting it so soon.

At least I think it's carpal tunnel. I won't see a doctor until I've exhausted the catalog of home remedies first (spare me the lectures, it's how I operate.) Which means I just went out to the drugstore and bought one of those super sexy wrist braces.

Which is great, because it's SUCH the fashion statement. Yes, nothing says style like walking around as though I'm perpetually late for bowling league. And as if looking like a bowler isn't bad enough, the brace also begs the question from friends, co-workers, and passersby alike:

"What'd you do to yerself?"

What do I say to that? Certainly not the truth. "I'm a 36-year-old suffering from possible carpal tunnel and mild nerve damage from BANGING ON A FAKE PLASTIC GUITAR VIDEO GAME." No, thanks. Hence I've decided to use my injury to better my improvisational acting skills. Anytime someone asks what I did to myself, I make up a new scenario. To date, I've fought an angry dog, stopped a runaway car, rumbled with a mugger... basically anything to crack a co-worker up and slyly avoid confessing to over-playing a video game.

But the other day, I was walking around at work when a co-worker, one I don't know very well, spotted the brace and asked, "What'd you do to yerself?"

Without hesitation, I replied, "Ultimate fighting. Rough night in the ring."

I expected her to laugh. I expected a funny diversion to the sad truth. What I didn't expect was:

"Ooh, I've heard those can be very rough matches! Who were you fighting?"

Seriously? Okay, stop reading and look up at the picture of me at the top of this column. Look at my dainty little sissy face. Now imagine that face in ANY kind of ultimate fighting scenario. Can't do it, can you? Good, coz neither can I. The closest I ever came to a fight was when Robbie Downard pushed me on the sidewalk in 3rd grade, and before I could even react, my mommy, who had seen the rumble in full swing, came screaming to my aid.

But to actually BELIEVE that I was capable of stepping into an ultimate fighting ring? For THAT, she was the only person I fessed up the embarassing truth to. The good news is that the brace is helping a LOT, and I'm 90% to a full recovery. Until then, though, I think I'll go looking for some bowling shirts - I need to blend in.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

My Belly Hurts...

...from laughing so stinkin' hard.

BIIIIG tournament in town this week, folks. And I'm not talking about some stupid golf classic.

The Comedy Sportz World Championships have been going on this week in Rock Island, and the more eagle-eyed of you may have seen me at nearly every event this week.

Sadly, the championship match is going on RIGHT NOW AS I TYPE THIS, and I can't be there because I'm mere moments from heading off to the DJ gig.

That said, there have been some INCREDIBLY funny teams turn out to this thing. Los Angeles... Minneapolis... Milwaukee... Provo (who'd have thought Utah-ians could be hysterical?) And some key players: Miles from LA, Katie from Richmond, Susannah from Philadelphia, Scott & Matt from Provo, Patrick & Bill from Portland... and of course the great QC team who can hold their own with the best of 'em.

It's been one of the funniest weeks of my life, for real. Good job, Comedy Sportz!

Friday, July 13, 2007

COLUMN: Moral Breakdown

I am SO not destined for a life of crime.

I'm not saying that I'm some namby-pamby do-gooder guy or anything. I mean, I've had my moments of unbridled rebellion. I seem to have this recurring problem where my speedometer OBVIOUSLY goes faulty, causing me to get a few tickets over the years. I'm pretty sure I have some mp3's on my computer that appeared by magic. And heck, I've ripped the tags off mattresses with malice and forethought.

So yeah, I can be a rebel. I just don't do it often, because I also have the worst luck imaginable.

I don't know what it is, but it seems like every time I have the slightest moral breakdown in my life, I end up paying for it big-time. Once in college, my friends talked me into sneaking into a dance club when we were underage. Now, I didn't care about or partake in the illicit booze at all, no joke; I just wanted to hear a proper club DJ. But of course the ONE time I decide to break the law, THAT'S the night that the police show up to do random ID checks. Had a kindly waitress not spirited us out a back door, I probably would have cost my poor mother many a grey hair.

So I've learned over the years that it's best to, for the most part, walk the straight and narrow. But last week? I hit a curve on the road.

If you happened to read last week's column, you'll know that my life has been consumed by the video game Guitar Hero. I'm absolutely inept at it, yet it's still a good way to waste a few hours. Well, what I didn't mention in that column is that something tragic happened to me less than a week after I bought the game.

I had some friends over and we were rocking out. I was attempting a particularly nasty solo on some Rolling Stones song when the rock & roll spirit took over a little too hard. I pulled back on the cheezy little fake guitar to begin a manuver that can only be described as ROCKING THE HECK OUT, when -- *THUD*.

In the midst of my rock-gasm, I pulled a little too hard on the fake guitar and my X-Box took a 90-degree topple onto its side. Now, a mere amp topple wouldn't stop the Rolling Stones, right? Heck no, Keith Richards could probably topple his amp, play a mean guitar lick, AND shoot heroin at the same time -- ergo, I wasn't gonna stop, either. I kept right on rocking (albeit very badly) until the song ended. It was a four-star performance according to the game. Heck, maybe I could turn into a guitar hero after all.

What I didn't realize, though, is that while I was power rocking, my X-Box was carving a scratch the size of the Grand Canyon into my game disc. Turns out it's probably not a good thing to knock your X-Box over, mess up the alignment, and keep on playing. That Stones song would be the last lick that copy of Guitar Hero would ever make.

I took the disc out and looked at it. It was baaaaad. My hot guitar move had just destroyed a $55 game that I had owned for a whopping 4 days. That's a good chunk of change, especially for something as stupid as this game.

That's when the dark side took over. My friends and I hatched a complex, intricate plan to avoid having to re-purchase the game. The plan? walk in to the video game store and go, "I just opened this game and it's, like, broken or something."

For some reason, I honestly expected this to work. As though video game factories are prone to gouging their discs with a chisel before shipping or something. I walked in to the store and faced the manager. If I'm a bit of a geek, this guy was the Geekmaster. I gulped, went up to him, and lied my butt off. "I took it out of the case and it just wouldn't play."

The Geekmaster, without hesitation, turned the disc over, saw the abyss that was once a functioning video game, and said, "Your system did this."

"Nooooooooooo," I somehow try to respond. "I only had the game in for, like, a second. Couldn't be. Factory defect."

"Your system did this," he said again in the same dry voice. I was had. I couldn't keep up the charade. All I wanted to do was grab the disc and run out of the store in shame.

But no, the Geekmaster then told me how the internal whatzit in my X-Box had probably slid off its track, and how I could easily damage all of my discs. He gave me the phone number to call for X-Box support. He told me how to best ship the unit to repair for the fastest results. And then he did the unthinkable.

"I shouldn't do this, but I feel bad you for, man. I'll replace this disc with a used one I just got in."

Not only did the guy catch me bearing false witness, he still replaced the disc -- because he felt bad for me. Bad that I'd been an idiot and destroyed a game I'd owned for 4 days? Bad because I came in with a feeble attempt at lying to cover my own stupidity? Or bad because I'm a 36-year-old who plays Guitar Hero?

It didn't matter. I still felt 2 inches tall. All I know is that the Geekmaster earned my future business that day. Heck, I even felt so worthless that I bought ANOTHER game that day I didn't even really want - I just felt like I owed the guy something.

So lying is bad, kids. You might get away with it, but it does NOT fill one with warm fuzzies. Maybe I AM a namby-pamby do-gooder after all. Either way, lesson learned -- though perhaps they should put a warning on those fake guitars: "Caution - Do Not Over-Rock."

COLUMN: Guitar Hero

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about deflated dreams. Remember when you were a kid and wanted to grow up and play in the NBA or fly to the moon or be a Calvin Klein model? Then you grew up and realized that (a) you're uncoordinated, short, and chubby, (b) you get queasy on the Tilt-A-Whirl, let alone a lunar module, and (c) you're SO good-looking that the sight of you in a Calvin Klein ad could cause pandemonium among the female ranks, the likes of which could tilt the balance of life on Earth forever all because you're just TOO doggone sexy? Or is that just me?

Well, now I can add one OTHER occupation that's officially NOT happening for me: guitar hero.

If you have kids, you're probably well-acquainted with Guitar Hero. It's one of the most popular games out right now for the Playstation and X-Box. As opposed to your standard video games that have complex plots -- you know, save the princess, slay the dragon, whip the Thuggee guards, stop the space invaders, make whoopee with a prostitute to regain your health (you've gotta love Grand Theft Auto) -- Guitar Hero's plot is simple: hit buttons.

As musical notes fly by on the screen, you have to hit the correct color-coded button in order to make your little on-screen dude jam out to a soundtrack of heavy metal and arena rock classics. If that's not dorky enough for you, you have to buy the custom Guitar Hero game controller, which is, of course, a guitar. A cheap, undersized plastic replica of a guitar, that is.

Actually, it's probably not undersized -- if you're 9, which is how old you SHOULD be when you play Guitar Hero. The thing is, though, every time I walk into Best Buy, where they've got a demo of the game set up, it's always some middle-aged dork wailing away on the plastic guitar like they're auditioning for Rush or something. This game aspires to unforeseen new and exciting levels of nerd-dom, and chuckling at the karaoke nightmare every time I walk past it is a newfound favorite hobby of mine.

Until. (You already know what's coming, don't you? All I had to say was "until.") Until my friend Chris showed up. My buddy Chris is a great friend, especially for a time-constrained video gamer such as myself. Chris is a video game junkie -- not only does he play all the X-Box and Playstation games, he's also into MMORPG's. These are the vast online games like World of Warcraft and Everquest where you play online with 1,000 of your closest cyberfriends while the games suck your soul away on a daily basis. The games that require you to play for HOURS every day to get anywhere. The games that have support groups for addicts.

My friend Chris, though, is fairly well-adjusted and not nearly as nerdy as most gamers -- which is why I sat open-mouthed when he showed up the other day and announced, "I bought Guitar Hero 2!"

"Are you KIDDING me?" I respond. "That game is the downfall of humanity! Nothing on Earth looks dorkier."

That's when he said the magic words:

"Duuuuuuude. It's awesome."

Now, I trust my buddy's opinion on all things video game related, and he doesn't issue "duuuuuude"'s too often. Still, I found this particular review hard to swallow. I shrugged it off. I'd still wander through Best Buy, and I'd still stop and grin at the dorks playing the game. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I could still hear those words. "Duuuuuude." "Awesome." You know, what if he was right? I mean, maybe I'm missing out on the most fun video game ever. And sure, the guitar looks utterly lame, but who's gonna see me? My cats?

So I did it. I bought the ridiculous game and the ridiculous fake guitar. On my way home, I stopped to get food and a kid in the drive-thru window saw the box and went, "Duuuuude. That game is so awesome." I made a wise decision.

There's just one tiny problem, though: I SUCK AT IT. I brought the game home, took out my little plastic guitar, tied on the strap, applied the super-cool stickers to personalize my axe, turned it on, and proceeded to suck the night away.

This game isn't fun. It's guitar-shaped torture. The notes whizz by at the speed of sound and I'm supposed to make my fingers play the chords AND strum at the same time? And when you mess up, your guitar makes a wonky noise while the fake audience hurls boo's and catcalls. Swell, I can now reach the pinnacle of embarassment from the comfort of my own home. What's next? A video game where you have to go to the front of the class and read a book report?

When I've watched kids at the store play Guitar Hero, they really get into it and start rocking out. I, meanwhile, sit stoically with a nervously focused look of sheer concentration, which is exactly how you're NOT supposed to look when you're playing along to Kiss. I can't believe Ace Frehley remembers to BREATHE, let alone shoot fire out of his guitar neck.

If this is even remotely what it's like to play a REAL guitar, count me out. Still, though, my buddy was right -- it is pretty awesome, in one of those must-find-a-hiding-place-so-none-of-my-other-friends-can-ever-see-my-secret-shame sorta ways. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some rockin' to do.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

COLUMN: Cats To Work

Okay, so fans of this column -- should any exist -- are likely aware that I'm known for one thing: my relentless crusade against injustice and a never-ending quest for social reform. Or something.

That's right, if you've heard that I'm a humor columnist, you were sadly mistaken. No sirree, I'm a serious journalist-dude type guy, and I use this space to raise awareness towards the many socio-political platforms that deeply concern me. Like, umm, gimme a sec... oh, like, umm, crime. Crime is bad. Yeah. Don't commit crime.

See, I'm all about using my edginess to raise the collective conscience. And lately, a topic has been brewing on MY conscience that's way worse than any piddly little issue like crime or sexism or racism. No, this is a FAR more disturbing -ism altogether: SPECIES-ISM.

I refer, of course, to the shocking travesty otherwise known as "Take Your Dog To Work Day." I read about it in this very publication a week ago. It's taking hold as a national holiday, and recently several of our staff took their dogs to work in order to write about the experience. Take special note, folks, that it's NOT "Take Your PET To Work Day." That's right, rabbit/ferret/pot-belly pig/fish/venomous snake owners, your cuddly pals are apparantly NOT GOOD ENOUGH for this exercise in blatant species-ism masquerading as a holiday. Well, NO MORE, I say! Someone has to stand up for the non-dogs of the world!

Once upon a time, I might have been jealous of this shameful holiday. Once upon a time, I wanted a dog. Sadly, the life of an on-the-go, man-about-town such as myself just isn't fair to a dog. Dogs are needy; they require companionship. They require potty hikes. That's why I became a cat owner. Cats are more my speed. My cats don't so much care whether or not I come home at night, just so long as the litter is reasonably clean and the food bowl is reasonably full.

And yet I don't get to write a heart-warming article about taking MY pets to work. Sniffle. I was mulling over shaving them and trying to pass them off as rare Claw-Footed Himalayan Chihuahuas, but it wasn't worth the effort. Besides, truth be told, they start incessantly meowing the instant they're ten feet away from my apartment door, let alone trapped with me at work all day. Still, I was sick of these smug little dog-owners walking around work with their needy little drool machines in tow.

Then it hit me: I write my column every week from home. That's work. Ergo, I have "Take My Cats to Work Day" all the stinkin' time! (And I do mean stinkin', since the litterbox is so close to my desk.) Regardless, I CAN write a heart-warming article about trying to write my column in the presence of the cats. And if I were to write it, it'd go something like:

7:00 - I walk in the door and my feline roommates -- Bez and Isobel -- pounce at my feet and fall to their sides meowing. This is cat for "hiya." Actually, it's cat for "pet me pet me pet me." This is my cue to drop what I'm doing and rub them until the air runs thick with mounds of cat hair and enough allergens to render all of Rock Island into one giant post-nasal drip. The amount of hair they shed off every night could be used to create up to 5 altogether new cats daily. By my calculations, they should now both be bald.

7:10 - I plop down at my computer to type out this week's column. The cats decide to help by running neurotically in concentric circles around the chair.

7:30 - Isobel wants something. I can't tell what, because she expresses herself via ONE act: Clawing the skin off my legs. I'm-happy = claw. I'm-hungry = claw. I'm-quite-concerned-about-the-situation-in-Darfur = claw. My legs look like I was recently on the losing end of a Weed Whacker. After brushing her off, she looks at me as if to say, "Why don't you understand me? Jeez, I CLAWED you and everything! Do I have to spell it out? Humans are SO stupid."

8:10 - The column is NOT progressing well, but suddenly I realize the cats are nowhere to be found. At last, peace. That is, until I slightly lean back and realize they're both hanging via claws from the back of my leather office chair. Swell.

8:12 - fgpljfgv,mcxcccccccccccdfdg glk;fllll;;fgkcxgmflkjtgreojjjg gfjdl rrrreop 33333 cdmccc. That was Bez, deciding to "help" by walking across the keyboard while I took a bathroom break. Personally I bet it's a profound answer to the mysteries of life. Rrrreop, indeed.

8:15 - We've found a new game. Attack-the-cursor goes something like this: I type a word. Out of nowhere, one of the cats leaps onto my shoulder and jumps head first at the computer monitor. Strangely, this never ends well for the cats.

8:20 - I'm too distracted by the cats for this column to go anywhere, so I scrap it and decide to write a column about being distracted by my cats while writing a column.

8:50 - Success. Column is done except for this last paragraph here. "Take Your Cats to Work Day" is judged a triumph. Isobel leaps onto my lap, looks at the monitor as if to give it a once-over, and responds by immediately going "HEOOOORK" and barfing a hairball onto my stomach. Let's see a dog give THAT kind of a critique.