Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMN: Space Nookie

You know, you guys should be thankful I'm around.

Don't get me wrong. Our team of journalists around these parts is second to none. Still, occasionally they miss the big story. It's okay - I've got their backs.

Take last week for instance. While our paper was mired in boring blabbity-blah like the Presidential campaign, the collapse of the mortgage industry and the usual handful of tragedies, REAL news was being overlooked. But thanks to my super-training (definition: I took a journalism class once. Grade: B,) I was able to perform meticulous research (definition: pointing browser to Drudgereport.com and left-clicking) to discover a threat to our very way of existence that our paper strangely missed.

The blood drained from my face as I stared at the headline in shock and disbelief (I'm NOT making this up):


One small step for man, one giant skeezy leap for professional journalism. Now folks, don't get alarmed. There's no need to take to the streets or hoard up on supplies. The human race is tough, and we'll find the will to carry on. I know that of all the worries we face in life -- be it political unrife, economic instability, the rising cost of health care, whatever -- the most troubling issue is clearly that of space nookie. Will it happen? Has it happened? Will I one day be able to watch it on Cinemax? Is it, in fact, inevitable?

The answer, according to a recent article on Space.com picked up by eleventy billion newspapers and websites, appears to be yes.

when I was a kid, I remember what the future would be like according to cartoons and bad B-movies. Science fiction assured me that I could look forward to a life of cryogenic sleeping tubes, flying cars, light sabers, and perhaps even a world run by apes. Well, I've got to tell you, thus far the future's been a bit of a let-down. Thirty-seven years of waiting and I've yet to set a phaser to stun, discover that these are not the droids I'm looking for, or eat a can of soylent people. What a bummer.

But perhaps there's hope. The little kid me once dreamt of hitting a home run all the way into orbit. The adult me now wonders if I can get a home run while IN orbit.

I joke, but this was an honest-to-gosh serious article quoting an "expert." If nothing else, this clearly indicates that I chose the wrong major in college. How exactly does one become an expert in space sex? All I know is THAT person gets an automatic invite to any of my future dinner parties.

Apparantly there are a couple of private firms out there that are, as I type, building crafts to take people up on private tourist flights into outer space. And these firms announced this month that, for the low price of $2.3 million dollars, you can have a space wedding. And, the article goes on to reason, it's not much of a leap in evolution to go from space weddings to, well, the zero-g mambo in the universe's most expensive Fanta-suite.

Why this is a pressing matter to anyone other than the firms that stand to make $2.3 million off your ridiculousness is beyond me. If your relationship is such that the only remaining way to spice things up involves sending your partner quite literally to the Moon, perhaps it's time for some counseling. Seeing as how I get queasy on a Tilt-A-Whirl, I'll take my chances on the ground, thanks.

Yet the article infers that there are real scientists looking at this as a real issue worth studying. With manned flights to Mars and places unknown on the horizon, future astronauts could be looking at flights lasting for months and months, and apparantly that's a heck of a long time to chill out in close quarters without someone finally giving up and putting on a Barry White record.

The closest comparison that the experts offer are the research stations on the polar icecaps. At the south pole, 200 researchers are routinely stationed for six-month stretches without daylight or visitors. The article notes that, before this year's isolating Antarctic winter darkness reached the McMurdo Station, the research base received a shipment -- of 16,500 condoms.

Hmm... let's do the math. That's 16,500 divided by 200 people divided by 6 months which -- carry the 1 -- comes out to A WHOLE LOTTA STUFF WE CAN'T TALK ABOUT in a family newspaper. Moral of the story: Apparantly, you can't fight human nature no matter WHERE you are.

So space sex is on its way. Heck, for all we know, it's already been happening. When asked, NASA issued the writer of the article a terse no-comment. So the next time the world's getting you down -- when it seems like the economy and the government and the crime and the hardships can get no worse -- just take a moment, breathe, look up to the stars... and listen for some Barry White.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


In our modern world, you can't go for a day without hearing about the latest and greatest in newfangled weight loss technology. Every day, some schmuck announces the perfect product, device, or diet that we chubs can use to magically shake off the pounds. I'm here today to happily tell you that I've become a schmuck.

That's right, people. I have the answer -- a sure-fire, recently proven way to lose weight. It's not some magical pill. It's not a complicated ab cruncher. It's not a miracle diet. It worked for me last Tuesday, it'll work for you today. The answer to instant weight loss is simple: merely have a dentist pluck those unwanted ounces from your mouth, one tooth at a time. You can thank me later.

I knew there was a problem two weeks ago. I was gnawing on a baguette when something suddenly just didn't feel right. I spent a couple days in denial but had to face the ugly truth -- one of my molars had become loose. It took approximately .2 seconds before panic set in.

Ever heard of trypanophobia? It's the fear of needles, and I'm a card-carrying member. As such, there's not a whole lot that anyone can do to make me voluntarily visit the dentist. As a result, I'm fully aware that my mouth is quite likely a hygienic nightmare of embarassing proportion. Apart from a horrifying wisdom tooth extraction a decade ago, the last time I went for a routine dental appointment was (gulp) the 80's. Ooh, fancy a kiss, ladies?

I know, I know. I should be ashamed. But for a dental scaredy-cat like me, my teeth have held up okay. I brush, I gargle, I, umm, own floss (hey, it's half the battle, right?) Yet despite my horrible track record, I've never had so much as a cavity.

Still, even wussy me couldn't rationalize any advantages to running amok with wobbly teeth, so I braced myself for a diagnosis of terminal mouth rot and made an appointment. As soon as I saw the x-ray pop up on the computer screen, I knew I was in for it. There was my tooth. Well, some of it. And there was the rest of the tooth, under the gum, under the giant newly-formed crevasse. It was NOT a good day.

There's one thing I need to explain. It turns out that the bullies in junior high were right -- I really AM a freak of nature. I was born missing somewhere around 7 permanent teeth. Weirder yet, when you don't have anything to push them out, you don't lose your baby teeth -- ergo, I've still got a few of those resilient suckers hanging out. Nothing to worry about, I vaguely recall a dentist telling me as a kid, but I would likely have problems with them breaking "when I got older." I was just assuming "older" meant a heck of a lot older than 37. No dice.

When my grandfather would have a toothache, he would go out to the garage, grab a pair of pliers, and rip the offending tooth clean out of his head. I know, I know. Archaic, medieval, and bone-chilling, right? Well, thanks to the miracles of modern science, technology, and dentistry, I was now able to sit in an office and have a trained professional examine my teeth, analyze my problem, and then grab a pair of pliers and rip the offending tooth clean out of my head.

The whole thing was a ghoulish nightmare best forgotten. That said, it was a PAINLESS ghoulish nightmare, and I tip my hat and give a free plug to Dr. Richard Herzfeldt for staying true to his advertised "soft touch dentistry." It wasn't much fun for me, but I'm sure dealing with a hyperventilating, babbling ninny wasn't his idea of a picnic either.

Little did I realize that the true terror of having a tooth pulled comes AFTER the procedure, when suddenly every man, woman, and child feels the need to warn you of the horror of DRY SOCKET. "Dry socket" is the polite way of saying "exposed bone," which I'm told rivals childbirth in the pain dept. It can occur when you do anything that might impact the healing process of your gums. That's why, after the tooth was pulled, Doc rattled off a list that pretty much made him a no-fun-nik:

No tobacco. No alcohol. Don't use a straw. Don't drink carbonated anything. Don't eat anything that may possibly have a texture or the potential to taste like anything other than sterile gauze. Don't bend over. Don't lift anything heavy. Don't do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around. Don't have any fun whatsoever. By the time the list was over, I believe my two remaining options for the holiday weekend were: (a) sit, and (b) pray I didn't get dry socket.

And I made it. No dry socket, and my mouth is kinda back to normal, albeit with one much-missed molar. A few more and I'll officially be the creepy, tooth-less, kid-scaring, cat-owning hermit I've aspired to become all my life. The real bummer is that, while he was probing around, Doc found another baby tooth that's a touch loose, so I probably get to endure it all over again soon. But before that, I'll be making an appointment for a proper cleaning. I'm losing my baby teeth, I'm becoming a big boy, and it's time to lose my fear of dentistry.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to call my mom. Cross-referencing inflation trends with the current status of the overseas dollar, by my calculations the Tooth Fairy owes me a couple grand.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

COLUMN: Mosquitos

The soggy season officially appears to be over. Listen carefully -- hear it? That's the sound of a hundred thousand Quad Citizens knocking on wood.

The sun is out, the forecast looks good, and the rivers are receding. Joy. Time, then, for me to seal myself indoors until the first frost.

It's rough being a borderline hypochondriac in our neck of the woods, and even rougher this year. Why? Take a listen again. Can you hear what's happening underneath all the wood knocking? The little "pop," "pop" noise? That's the sound of a hundred thousand mosquitos being born, all with one simple mission: to suck away our vital life fluids and give us all unimaginable cooties.

I'm an equal opportunity bug-hater. They're creepy, they're irritating, and they're the reason why I'm not such a huge fan of the summer months. I can barely make it home from work without encountering swarms of biting gnats or mentally challenged mayflies. The biggest advantage to being a cat owner is that they eat any of the little suckers that dare venture into my apartment, and hopefully do so before I spot them and freak out.

I used to think that my hatred of the insect world was irrational, childish, and immature. Now, thanks to the saturation of modern media, I can finally have just cause to be a full-blown speciesist.

I was driving around with my friend Jason the other day when I suddenly noticed that I'd been absent-mindedly itching my arm for a few miles. I looked down and there it was -- a welt. A little raised hive on my forearm that could only mean one thing: a mosquito had decided to dine at the International House of Shane. My reaction was swift and immediate: I began dictating my last will and testament.

Yes, the mosquitos that haunt our lands during the summer aren't just pests; they're plague-bearing, toxic cootie carriers of doom. I get to spend usually two days out of the year enjoying summer. That's how long it takes before we run our first article of the year reminding us all that the West Nile virus can be buzzing around our heads at any second of any day, all thanks to our friends, the blood-sucking mosquitos.

And because of all the standing water left over from flood-zilla? well, let's just say that if there's a mosquito record store out there, they're fresh out of Al Green and Marvin Gaye, because it's a good time to be a young single mosquito on the prowl.

The internet should be banned to hypochondriacs, at least the ones stupid enough to Google "mosquito." It turns out that when the little blood-suckers land on you, they first inject a small amount of saliva laden with anti-coagulents -- you know, to make you more of a fast food experience than a sit-down dinner. So when you see that little welt on your skin, rest easy -- it's merely a big pile of mosquito spit saying hi to your immune system. Problem is, inside that spit can be everything from West Nile to encephalitis to -- if you're lucky enough to live in an underdeveloped country -- malaria and yellow fever. Yes, nature's little miracle, aren't they?

The only solution? N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide, or as us non-scientific, unable to pronounce "N,N" folk know it: DEET. Just coat yourself from head to toe in the stuff and the skeeters will dine elsewhere. Two problems with DEET, though:

(1) A few years ago, when the West Nile scare was the hip new fad, I had to DJ an outdoor party. I knew I'd be out there at dusk, so I decided to DEET up before driving out to the gig. I was in the car for roughly four minutes -- and that's all the time it took for my DEET-covered arm to strip all the paint from my car's armrest. Call me crazy, but I have a hard time believing that I should lather up in any substance that's toxic to paint and NOT me.

(2) This is the worst. I was on the phone with my mom the other day when the random topic of DEET came up.

"I hate that stuff," I said. "It stinks to high heaven."

"You think so?" she replied. "I kinda like the smell. Sometimes I make your dad wear Deep Woods Off, just, you know, because." (Awkward pause.)

On behalf of all mankind, can I just say: Ewwwwwww. That's right, now every time I smell DEET, I immediately think of MY FOLKS listening to Marvin Gaye and Al Green, and that's a far worse vision than any mosquito nightmare I can muster up.

So I'll take my chances with mosquitos. I simply choose to take those chances indoors, with windows sealed and citronella candles at the ready, thanks much.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


Say hello to Shane, Art Conoisseur.

That's right, I'm one step away from the prententious elite: I have purchased A Work Of Fine Art. I'd better start trying to stomach wine and cheese, as I'm now one turtleneck away from joining the ranks of high society.

I've always struggled with my appreciation of art. As a life-long audiophile, I've always held a deep and substantive appreciation for recorded music. You name the album, I can likely talk your ear off for a half hour as to why it's either (a) an historically under-appreciated yet vital addition to one's record collection (see: a-ha's "Scoundrel Days,") or (b) $13.99 better spent on dog feces (see: Dion, Celine.) My opinions on music are well-reasoned, well-researched, and incredibly elitist.

Visual art, on the other hand, flies over my head on a constant basis and leaves me creatively cold. I've been to a handful of art museums, and I always leave with the same thought in my head: "Hmpf." I can stare at a painting -- even a classic one that's garnered centuries of critical acclaim and fan worship, and not have one iota of appreciation for the thing. As far as I'm concerned, Grant Woods turned pretty Iowa cornfields into ugly, bulbous cartoons. Picasso drew doodles like a child. Andy Warhol photocopied soup cans and colored them in like a Paint-By-Numbers book. The Mona Lisa? That's one ugly chick.

I can understand music. I've been around bands, I know what it takes to play an instrument and write a song. If given enough time, I might be able to do it myself. But even if I were handed the infinite amount of canvas, brushes, and time, I could never paint a realistic (or even surrealistic) bowl of fruit. It's voodoo magic to me.

As a result, my sense of home decor has been lacking throughout history:

THE EARLY YEARS: Ahh, when life was easy and the artistic essence of my soul could best be captured via posters of baby cougars and assorted wee fuzzy nature. This would be evenly tempered by the other side of my room, clad floor to ceiling in Stormtroopers and Imperial Battle Cruisers. Nothing used to rule harder than animals and Star Wars.

THE NERD YEARS: Yes, junior high, when Star Wars was joined by its nerdtastic counterpoint, Dungeons & Dragons. Orcs, wizards, and paladin rangers adorned my walls, while my bookshelf held the latest and greatest in decorative ninja weaponry. And the coup de grace? Over my Apple IIe computer hung a poster... of an Apple IIe computer. It's a wonder how I ever developed ANY social skills whatsoever.

THE ROCK & ROLL YEARS: It didn't take long to realize that, despite it being super sweet, girls just didn't seem to appreciate my replica Scimitar of +2 Undead Resistance. Besides, who needed a warlock on their walls when I had the Gods of Rock to look up to? From then on, my interior decorating skills resembled your average issue of Rolling Stone. Even in college, the first thing to grace the walls of my dorm was a beat-up picture of Pete Townshend, post-gig, looking quite serene while blood drips from his guitar-string-mauled hand. It said it all, really. Rock & roll is pain. Rock & roll is life. Life is pain. And I am one dangerous dude. Ergo, you should date me.

ADULTHOOD: It really kinda stinks that, as a proper adult, you're too old to be hanging up Radiohead posters with well-used gobs of Fun-Tak. Honestly, I'm still that same music geek -- and under my bed, you'll find about 20 rolls of band posters that nowadays serve as little more than Habitrails for dust bunnies. A while back, though, I realized that an autographed CD + a cheap frame makes for an acceptable collectable, which explains the 24 frames hanging in my living room today. I had no eye for anything else -- until two years ago.

I was returning from a vacation in Florida when we rolled in to Charleston, SC in the wee hours of the night. Hoping to scope out some family friendly culture (in the form of cute girls and dance clubs,) my friend and I got out and wandered around the downtown area. That's when we stumbled upon it. A small, unassuming art gallery housing the work of a local Charleston photographer. I peered inside. On the walls hung image after image of what I later discovered to be "landscape abstracts."

For all I know, they could be the easiest photos in the world to take, or perhaps the most difficult. Imagine a sunrise over the ocean, but manipulated and blurred to a point of near-indistinction, where every element -- the ocean, the marsh, the beach, the sky -- becomes little more than a perfect line of nature's perfect colors. The fuzzy pictures match the fuzzy memories of days gone by and fuzzy dreams of days that never were. For the first time in my life, I was transfixed by pieces of art.

I took snapshots of the studio that day so I wouldn't forget the artist's name -- John Duckworth. You can see for yourself at www.jduckworth.com. When I got home, I sent him an e-mail and told him how much I loved his work. He graciously sent me a kind letter of response and a portfolio catalog. After two years, I finally found myself in the possession of some expendable cash, so I did it. I bought one of his pieces. It now hangs in the entryway of my apartment and makes me happy every time I walk in the door.

I still don't know if I appreciate visual art on the level that I should. I don't get anything particularly "deep" out of my new acquisition. I just know I like looking at it, and that's victory enough for me.