Thursday, November 15, 2007

Marla G. Angelo 1953-2007

No updates this week in honor of my friend and co-worker who left us WAY too early.

COLUMN: Strike

"IT'S ABOUT TIME!" I yelled when I heard the news. Immediately I threw down my work and told my boss where he could stick it. I ran home, grabbed a can of paint and made up my protest sign. Then I remembered that I wasn't in the Writer's Guild of America, and I wasn't going on strike. Phooey. Just when I was about to go all Norma Rae on the newspaper and everything.

It's no fair. Even if I wanted in, the Writer's Guild of America is only for broadcast and theatre writers. So we lowly newspaper hacks continue to slave away at the keyboards while TV writers get to kick back and relax in an angry picket line. I want to picket something, doggone it. Unfortunately I don't really care about any of the issues, plus I'm perfectly happy here at the paper. I just want to be in the mix. I want to take a stand.

Problem is, I don't know where to stand. At the core level of the WGA strike, you've got a bunch of scriptwriters trying to make it better for themselves. As an occasional writer, I'm down with that -- especially when it comes to movies. Writing is the most important part of making a good flick. If you don't believe me, go watch "Clerks." Great writing + bad acting + bad directing still equals great movie.

But the Guild's big beef with the major studios is that writers aren't getting paid for online distribution of their work. So if you go to NBC's website and watch an episode of "My Name is Earl," the writers for Earl aren't getting a cut of any profits.

The problem here? To my knowledge, no one's figured out a profitable model for online TV yet. Prices are always fluctuating on iTunes, and the networks can't figure out how to go about selling ad space for the web-surfing community. It's a cluster-coitus. Technology evolved before its accompanying business model, and the networks are still playing catch-up.

So where does that leave us? If the strike ends, we'll be paying more money or suffering through more ads in order to get our internet dose of "30 Rock." If the strike keeps going, the networks will fall back on writer-free reality shows and we can look forward to a future of "Spelunking with the Stars" and "America's Next Top Farmer." It's a no-win. But I've got a plan.

See, there's one thing that the Writer's Guild of America didn't count on: ME! Here's my offer, major television studios of America: hand your show's writing over to me, Shane the Scab. I have all the necessary qualifications: I watch a lot of TV, I have no scruples, and I work cheap. So hire me. I'll write for every show for every network. Ideas just pour out of me. Every show will be a hit, guaranteed. Here's what I'm thinking:

* Tonight, on a very special "ER", tragedy befalls County General when a sudden explosion rips through the hospital, killing every doctor, nurse, and assorted minor character. The end. A grateful nation applauds.

(Let's face it, "ER" is the worst show in the history of shows, plus it's been on the air about ten years too long. It'd be a mercy killing, trust me. Oh, and House? You're next.)

* This week on "Desperate Housewives:" Okay, so there's the one kinda hot housewife, right? Well, she gets into a fight with the OTHER kinda hot housewife. Naturally, the altercation moves to their newly-installed backyard mud wrestling pit. For, like, an hour...

(Okay, fine, I've never seen an episode of this show. Wanna know why? 'Cause I'm a guy -- and this show's made for girls. Advertisers like reaching ALL demographics, right? Well, bring on the mud wrestling and the guys WILL watch.)

* CSI: Davenport. Crime scene investigators are summoned to town when information about a business moving to Iowa gets leaked to the press. Blame falls on an eccentric city council member, who becomes shunned by the town's mayor and city manager and loses his bid for re-election. Our team carefully puts the pieces together and comes to the stunning conclusion: No One Cares. (This story is fictional-ish. Any similarities to persons living or dead is purely coincidental-esque.)

If that's not enough, I've even got a great idea for a new series, loosely titled "Shane's Ultimate Fantasy." Katie Holmes stars as a happy-go-lucky girl finding her way through life. But here's the wacky comic twist: she's completely allergic to clothing! Hilarious hijinks ensue as she tromps around town naked! Oh, and since it's my ultimate fantasy and all, there should also be some ninjas in there someplace. Ninjas with lightsabers. And a talking car. And maybe the A-Team. I'm looking for a two season commitment.

Whether I'm involved or not, I just want the strike to be over so I don't lose the mind-numbing goodness of my boob tube. If the next season of "Lost" gets strike pre-empted by "When Animals Attack 4," I may not be responsible for my actions. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to hop online and watch some TV.


There are times in one's life that occasionally stand out more than others. For me, that time usually happens every Sunday morning at 3:00 a.m.

That's when the club that I DJ at shuts down for the weekend. At 3, we herd the spirited masses out the doors and close up shop. My role in this process is to sit around and wait to get paid, which can't happen until the tills are meticulously counted. That's when it flashes back to junior high.

The bartenders gather at one table to count out and swap stories. The burly security guys sit at another. Me? I usually plop down with one or two of the club's sound engineers, where we debate such things as the merits of speaker wire or the ideal mp3 compression rate. It's the cool kids vs. the jocks vs. the nerds all over again, just with a slightly smaller personal fear of getting a wedgie. I'm cool with it, though -- for the most part, sitting at the nerd table is a time-honored and comfortable position in my book.

This week, though, my ears perked up. The security guys, who incidentally are all great and I'm glad they've got my back every weekend, usually converse on a myriad of topics -- provided those topics include cute girls or not-so-cute football players. This usually excludes me, as I'm (a) woefully lacking when it comes to cute girl stories, and (b) still for the life of me clueless as to just what a "Big Ten" is. Last night, though, the conversation turned in a direction that made my nerd hairs stand on end.

It turns out that one of our security guys recently went shopping and stumbled upon a remote-controlled toy helicopter that you can actually fly around your apartment. And that is, as we nerds say, pretty sweet. Suddenly I wanted the scoop. How is it powered? (Lithium battery.) Can it hover? (Yep, if you're good enough with the controller.) How much? (Only TWENTY BUCKS!!)

Oh, miniature toy helicopter, you WILL soon be mine. Let's hear it for modern technology, for continually coming up with new and exciting ways for me to torture my cats. If my feline friends think a laser pointer is captivating fun, wait 'til they get an aerial fly-by from Chopper Shane. Finally I will have something to guard the perimeter of my entertainment center next time Bez (also known as "Baaaad Kitty, Down Kitty!") decides to jump on the speaker.

But as much as I'm obsessed about picking up one of these bad boys, it really got me thinking as to a part of my adolescence that I just never got into: I was NOT a big toy-lover.

My folks sure bought a lot of 'em for me. I had the Evil Knievel bike that you wound up and sent spiralling across the kitchen floor. I had an armada of Hot Wheels. And thanks to my construction-minded father, I had enough Legos and blocks and bricks to build -- and potentially power -- my own Death Star. But on the whole, toys didn't exactly cut it for me.

I always thought Silly Putty was kinda gross. Stretch Armstrong was, and shall always be, creepy. I lived in perpetual fear of putting a kink in my Slinky. And those dumb plastic action figures? I always thought they were kinda, well, dumb and plastic. I was already into stereos (true fact: I could change a record at 18 months old) and books and computers. And the toys that I DID really enjoy weren't really toys at all.

Case in point: the Green Thing. I don't even know how to describe it. I don't even know what it was. My mom doesn't even know its given purpose to this day. It resembled a tiny green plastic briefcase, handle and all, but with tiny interior egg-shaped compartments. If I had to guess, the Green Thing was created to hold and carry six small eggs. Like possibly for camping or, well, any other reason you may have to stylishly transport six eggs. Why it exists? Beyond me. How it came into my possession? A mystery. All I know is that I loved that thing. I would put marbles in it, Hot Wheels in it, any toy with a general egg-like physiology, I would cart around in the Green Thing.

But not even that holds a candle to my all-time favorite childhood toy: a run-of-the-mill tire pressure gauge. I could play with one of those things for hours. To a kid, it's a multi-purpose fun zone. Stand it on end -- presto, it becomes a satellite dish for my Martian Hot Wheels outpost. And with one swift flick of the wrist? Instant lightsaber. Happily, I just called my mom to find out if she ever discovered the purpose of the Green Thing (no.) But in our conversation, she fessed up to having had a drawer full of contraband tire pressure gauges when SHE was a kid. Therefore, this one I'm writing off to genetics.

That's when it hit me. I like toys, sure, but I equally like non-toy weird things. Which makes me? A cat. I buy my cats every toy under the sun, but invariably they end up far more taken by the boxes and packages that the toys come in. Maybe we should all take a cue from my cats and try to find the fun in everyday living instead of seeking out the toys. Don't get me wrong; I'm still gonna go buy that helicopter. But maybe I'll pick up a tire pressure gauge, too.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Happiness is NOT...

...finding out that the dude who lives next door to me just had his apartment ransacked in a robbery last night. During a time frame that I was sitting next door in front of my computer. I should've heard it. I should've been able to stop it. Instead, I heard *nothing*.

Nothing like a little paranoia to make the evening go so much more smoothly... is MY place next? I'm installing all new locks when I get home tonight.


You're not getting some throwaway, flippant foo-foo humor column outta me this week. Heck, no. I'm a hard-hitting journalist, and we hard-hitting journalist types bring you the facts. Look, here's one now:

FACT: On November 20th of this year, Rhino Records is releasing on CD "The Brit Box: UK Indie, Shoegaze, And Brit-Pop Gems of the Last Millennium."

ANOTHER FACT: This is causing me to have a near-stroke.

Once upon a time in college, I was cool. Okay, scratch that, I was never cool. But my record collection sure was. It's easy to pigeonhole people based on their musical tastes, right? Goth, metal, country, rap, jam bands, polka -- stereotypes aplenty. The music we listen to helps define us as people, and how we're defined as people helps solidify our musical taste. It's a symbiotic relationship: man hand-in-hand with his Best Buy Reward Zone card.

Well, I was certainly definable in my college days. But not as a goth or a metalhead or a hippie. No, I was FAR more evolved. My music? Brit Indie. You might not even know it was a genre, and heck, that's okay -- the music's just probably cooler than you.

While most of my college brethren were caught somewhere between Guns 'n' Roses and Nirvana, we were driving hundreds of miles to see our favorite UK indie bands play rare American appearances. We were staying up until 4 a.m. to call record stores in London to place orders. It was a passion, a way of life, and some of the best tunes to ever grace the inside of a CD player.

And now it's been assembled into a tidy nostalgic box set in stores soon for $50. The music that meant SO much to me, the genre that I was a part of and identified who I was as a person... is now retro chic and bargain-binned up for the masses. The music of yesteryear. Which makes me OLD. Outdated, irrelevant, and most of all? Horribly, horribly uncool. I can't believe it, but a $50 box set has officially triggered a mid-life crisis.

Ever since I read about its release, I've been moping. I'm now at least two generations away from cool. This weekend, I looked around the club I DJ at and realized I was by far the oldest person in the room. I'm not saying I'm cob-webby, but clearly, my days of even pretending ineffectively to be cool have passed right on by without me even realizing it.

I needed a recharge. I needed to do something stupid, to feel young again. I needed the warm, sweet embrace of pop culture. I needed... Guitar Hero III.

That's right, the sequel to the video game that both ruled and ruined my life came out last Sunday. And carpal tunnel or no, it was a must-own. Mature fuddy-duddies my age might wait until their next convenient errand run to pick up such a time-waster. (Actually, mature fuddy-duddies have better things to do than play video games in the first place.) Me? I'm hip. I'm happening. At least I wanna be. Hence, I ran down to a 24-hour supercenter place at 4 a.m. after the club closed.

Supercenters at 4 a.m. are the mecca of humor columnists. Let's see... sketchy drug deal-esque event going on in the corner of the parking lot? Check. Trashy family lugging around sleepy looking 5-year-olds in the pitch middle of the night? Check. Serial-rapist-lookin' dude pacing menacingly and muttering to himself at the front door? Check. Awesome.

Eventually I found an employee with the magic key needed to open the video game display case. Only trouble? He was just shy of a thousand years old. Greeeat. Nothing against the elderly, but this guy looked like his idea of a video game was the glaucoma test at the optometrist.

"I need to purchase the game 'Guitar Hero 3,'" I said in a polite but I-know-you-won't-understand voice.

"Yep, you and the rest of the Quad Cities," said the old guy. "What platform you need? X-Box has been selling out tonight. We're out of wireless controllers, though, so you'll have to settle for the standard model. I've heard the battery life in the wireless units is pretty weak, so you're probably better off."

I couldn't believe it. Here I was, stereotyping this clerk like he was an escapee from Shady Acres, and in one breath, he proved what an idiot I was. And just like I stereotyped him, my biggest fear is that one day I'll be stereotyped by some young punk who thinks I'm the old, lame one. I smiled at the clerk and we talked video games all the way to the front of the store.

That guy doesn't realize it, but he didn't just sell me a video game. At the price of being a little humbled, he sold me my optimism back. I don't need a video game to prove my youth and I don't need a box set proving that I'm out of touch. I just need to be me, period. Now excuse me, I've got a guitar solo to go wail on.