Friday, February 06, 2009

COLUMN: Hi-Def Shopping

What is the true measure of a man?

According to MLK, it's "where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." Plato once said that "the measure of a man is what he does with power." Ann Landers wrote that "the true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good." And Clay Aiken asks, "Would he stand before you when it's down to the wire? Would he give his life up to be all he can? Is that, is that, ooooh, oooooooh, is that ooh-woh how you measure a man?"

Well, I'm here to tell you they're all wrong.

Clearly, the true measure of a man is whether or not that man has a better collection of toys than his parents. It's a challenge I'm always up for.

Let's look back to a few Christmases ago. My folks -- who are the most awesome parents in the world and who continue to spoil me rotten despite the calendar insisting that I'm an adult -- surprised me with a new computer for Christmas. And it was, as the kids say, totally pimped out.

Me being a part time club DJ, I needed a sound card decent enough to process music files at lightning speed. Instead, I opted for overkill. The card I picked out could process umpteen files at once, record a live band, compose a sonata, and quite possibly make me dinner and tuck me into bed. At the time, you simply couldn't buy a better sound card for a home PC.

A few months later, I was in my hometown visiting my folks. Mom had mentioned that they'd upgraded their computer as well, so I wandered into their computer room -- once known as my bedroom -- to check it out. There sat their new PC -- complete with the identical sound card as mine. My mouth hung open as I looked around the room to see a monster subwoofer and surround sound speakers lining the walls.

This might make sense -- if my mom used her computer for anything other than e-mail, solitaire, and Mahjong. To my knowledge, solitaire is soundless, e-mail occasionally goes "ding," and her Mahjong game plays a looped MIDI tune that surely is the soundtrack to a carnival worker's third layer of hell. But because my parents dig technology, she can now listen to that evil circus diddy in quadrophonic Dolby sensurround. I looked at the subwoofer. It was sad. It said, "Please, Shane, I yearn to play hip-hop. She has me turned all the way down." I'll bet money right now that my parents have yet to play any music with a bassline low enough to even trigger the power to the sub.

Last year, I finally made the move to a hi-def TV. It's a beast about 10" way too big for my tiny apartment. The kind of TV that says, "I am someone." The kind of TV that, if you sit close enough, might just make you sterile. Someday my tombstone will read, "Here lies Shane Brown. Man, he had a big TV." It is my pride and joy.

So I took it in stride when my folks told me that they'd upgraded to hi-def. Surely it could not be more impressive than my glaucoma-inducing monster. And when I went home this Christmas, I was right. I mean, it's a nice TV, don't get me wrong. But its about 14" smaller than mine. I win. Nyah nyah.

Then I turned it on. My folks have a satellite dish, and with their system, they get somewhere around 100 hi-definition channels. I have local Quad Cities cable. I get 12 hi-definition channels. Curses!

I'm talking to YOU, Mediacom. I love you guys and you're my lifeline to the internet and the world, but you're seriously lacking in the hi-def channel line-up dept. This is unacceptable. Don't let my parents win the technology war. Not my father, who I've personally seen sit through a romantic comedy only because he was to proud to admit he didn't know how to change the channel to a war movie.

So you can imagine my excitement the other day when I started channel-flipping and realized that the Mediacom line-up was different. Omigosh, I realized, they've added some more hi-def channels. What could it be, I wondered as I nervously scrolled through the menu. Comedy Central? MTV? National Geographic? I'm pretty sure I was drooling just a little.

That's when I saw it. Yes, thank you, Mediacom, for your latest much-needed hi-definition addition to your line-up: Home Shopping.

Seriously. I now have QVC home-shopping in brilliant hi-definition. I can now see their crummy little studio and crummy little trinkets with brilliant depth and clarity. Yes, nothing brings out the magical lustre of Cubic Zirconium and Diamondique quite like the glory of hi-definition. Folks, it's as if the hand models are right there in my living room.

The way I see it, my desire to enjoy home shopping in hi-def is somewhere between my desires for C-Span in hi-def and my desires to be impaled by rusty spikes. Worst of all, it means my folks are still winning the technology war. Wait, or ARE they? After all, I DID just get an iPhone. Hrrrrm. It's your move, parents.

COLUMN: Texting

I can't believe I'm about to start a column with these words. It's an urge I've resisted for a couple years now, but I don't know how much longer I -- oh, jeez. Hang on just a second. I'll be right back --


-- Sorry, where was I? Oh, yeah. Now that I'm the ripe old age of (gulp) 38, I can officially say it. They may revoke my Immaturity Club membership badge for this, but, seriously,


I've always been fairly equal opportunity when it comes to the age of my friends. I hang out with friends in their 40's, their 30's, their 20's, and -- mostly thanks to my unhealthy obsession with Guitar Hero and Rock Band -- I even hang out with teenagers now and again.

It's never really phased me. I mean, clearly I'm not the most mature looking or acting guy on the planet. When I tell people my real age, jaws often hit floors. Right now, I like to think of it as a gift -- but I know one day it'll just be pathetic. Let's face it, no one wants to see a white-haired dude hobble into a dance club and get jiggy with it. Conversely, though, a white-haired dude who can step into a DJ booth and break off a Lil' Wayne remix on the fly is a guy with the serious potential to ride that novelty train right into cash cow territory (DJ Grandpa is my retirement plan.)

But since I'm the most immature human being I know, I've yet to reach that phase where I feel awkward or out-of-place hanging out with a table of 20-somethings. Well, I never USED to, at least. The other day, though, I was doing just that -- chilling with a group of 20-somethings, and know what? After about 15 minutes, my blood pressure was through the ceiling and I wanted to sit 'em down and give 'em an epic lecture. You know, the kind of lecture that starts with phrases like, "Why, back in MY day" and hopefully involves a story about walking somewhere through a mile of snow.

So what got me all riled up? CELL PHONES. This next generation is officially too phone-happy for my liking.

The entire time that I sat at the 20-something table, there wasn't a single phone-free moment. At any given second, someone was either talking, dialing, or texting someone somewhere. At one point, I'm pretty sure one of them was carrying on four separate conversations AND checking their Facebook account all at once.

Now, this is not to say that I'm immune from hi-tech gadgetry by any means. I recently accomplished my New Year's Resolution and upgraded myself to an iPhone. I won't pretend it's not fun. I can make calls, play games, take photos, and listen to music with just one sweep of a finger. If I wanted to, I could even write and submit this entire column from my iPhone.

But I won't. Why not? Because telephones are for talking, NOT typing. I've never understood the appeal of text messaging. It's silly, it takes five times as long as talking, and anyone over the fetal stage is clearly too large to operate the microscopic keyboards that come on today's phones. Why, back in MY day, if you wanted to send a text message, you wrote it on a piece of paper, folded it down the middle, then folded the top half at an angle, then folded the bottom up, then again, then again, then tucked in the flap and then handed it to Jenny to hand to Tim to hand to Alicia to hand to Jill. Presto, text message sent. And guess what? It was EASIER.

My generation has the fortune to know HOW to text message and the good sense NOT to unless it's important. One look at my cell phone history and you can almost tell the ages of the senders. My older friends text things like addresses, times, and reminders. My younger friends send texts that usually start, "DUDE. IM SO BORED. WHAZZUP WIT U?"

Nothing weirds me out like hanging out with someone who's a habitual texter. Like, when you're in the middle of a conversation and suddenly a phone gets pulled out, what's the correct etiquette? Should party #1 stop talking until party #2 is through typing?

Worse yet is a friend of mine who has their text message alert set to the first four notes of Beethoven's 5th. So whenever he gets a new text? Duh-duh-duh-DUH. At least every five minutes. Duh-duh-duh-DUH. So help me gosh, it's only a matter of time before I duh-duh-duh-destroy his phone to a pulp.

Perhaps the ADD-experienced younger generation have evolved to the point where they can text, talk, watch a movie, and calculate their taxes all at once. As for me, I tried to answer a text the other day while driving to work and darn near collected a utility pole in the process. ("DUDE! GUESS WHT? IM N THE HSPTL! SRY CANT TXT COZ IM IN A COMA! GTG! TTYL!")

Recently there was an article on the news about a teen girl who racked up 14,528 text messages in one month. Insane, right? When I bought my iPhone, the sales guy put me on a plan for 1200 text messages per month and I thought it was ridiculous. Turns out last month I sent out 891 of those bad boys. That makes me 16.31% insane, 74.25% ridiculous, and 100% hypocritical. It seems maturity evades me yet again. Ah well, got to go. Err, I mean, GTG.


Two weeks ago I wrote a column whining about winter. Paragraph after paragraph wasted on how snow and freezing rain and cold weather was bringing me down. Little did I know that Mother Nature must be a regular reader. "You think THAT was bad?" she cackled. "I'll show you some serious winter, dude."

Yes, the weather we'd had up 'til then was just an appetizer. Mere days after that column ran, we were all graced with The Second Coldest Day In Recorded History or whatever it ended up being. I just call it "________ cold" (you can insert your own adjective, but I prefer an obscenity.)

Don't worry, though -- I won't dare whine about it this time. If I DO, by this time NEXT week, we'll officially enter a new ice age. Instead, I'm choosing to look back at the week in a pleasant, nostalgic, hey-remember-when-the-outdoors-was-27- degrees-colder-than-my-refrigerator-freezer kinda way. Let's just say I will never again watch "Ice Road Truckers" with a hint of jealousy. But somehow I survived the nightmare that clipped on down from Alberta -- with a few lessons learned in the process:

(1) SCARVES ARE NOT JUST FOR WUSSIES. I am a habitual weather under-dresser. I have a cheap coat from Old Navy -- one of those things that just looks like a pair of cargo pants slightly reshaped into coat form -- and that's usually the extent of my winterwear. Gloves and stocking caps have never been in my vocabulary. One of the advantages of being a winter weather weenie is that I hardly go outside in it. Ergo, I don't really need head-to-toe thermal protection when my exposure to the elements is seldom more than hustling from my car to a building, right?

But even the most stubborn of under-dressers takes note when the news tells us that "frostbite can occur in seven minutes." It seemed that my coat needed some backup reinforcements, so on Weatherpocalypse Eve, I spent the lunch hour in search of warm winter fashionwear.

Primarily, I was on the lookout for a new pair of gloves, which I found in no time at all. I settled on a fancy leather pair with cashmere lining. Wikipedia defines cashmere as "a fiber obtained from the Cashmere goat," of which, based on the price tag, there must be only ONE -- and he apparantly doesn't work cheap. Still, they're pretty awesome gloves, and toasty, too. They look like the stereotypical "Uh-oh-watch-out-coz-I'm-totally-gonna-kill-you" murderer gloves from any bad 70's detective show. I feel devious just wearing them.

But next to the gloves in the store was a polite little display of scarves. I hadn't even considered buying a scarf, but as I glanced at them, I heard my mom's voice screaming in my head: "KEEP YOUR NECK WARM!" I'm not sure why my mom used to say that, but she did. Never in my life have I complained of a cold neck. Still, the voice in my head sounded urgent, so I bought a scarf and took it home with pride and confidence. Winter could suck it, for I now had protection.

Then I got home, unfolded the scarf, and promptly went, "Ummm, now what?" This was pretty much my first time with a scarf since I learned to dress myself. What the heck do you DO with it? Does it just hang there? Do you wrap it around your neck over and over again until you choke yourself out? I vaguely recall those kids in the Harry Potter movies running about Hogwarts with stylishly-tied scarves. I shook the scarf violently, but alas, no owner's manual fell out.

Thankfully, in times of crises, we have the internet. All it took was ONE Google search to discover that there are, apparantly, no less than 46 known and acceptable ways to tie a scarf. I am now a scarf-tying expert. Need a European Waistsash? Make sure to keep the bow soft. Having problems perfecting your Rosetta Turban? Make sure you begin with a triangle fold.

(2) IT MUST NOT GET COLD IN GERMANY. I say this because when I tried to start my Volkswagen in -26 temps, the Wonder Beetle promptly said, "I don't think so." But in German, so "ich denke nicht." After exhausting all get-to-work possibilities (including a 3 hour ETA from a less-than-lucky cab company,) I had to suck it up and be a man. I had to take control of the situation in a manly way: I had to call my boss to come jumpstart my car. My female boss. Yes, nothing says macho-macho-man quite like standing around useless while your female boss asks you to step aside because you're impeding her roadside assistance. Next day? Same dead battery, same boss, same brute machismo leaving my body never to return again.

(3) Most importantly, I learned that, regardless of the outdoor temperature, we can all take comfort in the knowledge that PEOPLE STILL SUCK. Friday night, mere hours before the end of the cold snap, I somehow managed to get my barely-functioning car down to the District for my weekend DJ gig. I stepped out of the car, shut the door, and turned around -- to a strange drunken girl punching me in the arm as hard as she could.

"SLUG BUG! SLUG BUG! HA HA HA HA!" she yelled as she skipped away. I stood there for a moment, hoping against hope that she'd slip on the ice and do an asphalt faceplant, but alas, no such luck.

So then, lessons learned? Cashmere goats must always be uncomfortably warm. Scarves can be tied in a plethora of exciting ways. Next time I'm buying a car with a battery bigger than a D cell and, while I'm at it, one that doesn't encourage random street violence. And unless I have a face-to-face with the Snow Miser himself, I'm never again writing a column about how much I hate winter. At least not 'til next winter.

COLUMN: Ashley Madison

I am a firm supporter of the First Amendment.

By saying this, I'm trying to make you think that I am a freedom crusader -- a Champion of Human Rights, Defender of Liberty, and a Guy You Might Seriously Want To Date. In honesty, though, I say it simply to justify how much I like crass, off-color entertainment.

Not to say that I'm some kind of sleaze aficionado or anything, but hey. Were it not for the First Amendment, I wouldn't be able to laugh myself silly watching South Park every week. I wouldn't be able to entertain the masses via DJ sets of amusingly vulgar dance music. And I certainly wouldn't be able to enjoy Carol Alt's centerfold spread in last month's Playboy, which I clearly bought just for the articles.

The point is, it's kinda cool that we live in a country where we can, within reason, pretty much say anything we feel like.

For instance, let's say that I was of the opinion that someone out there was a total doodiehead. Let's pick a name at random -- oh, I dunno, how about, umm, Tom Cruise. I could, within the confines of this newspaper column, state with bold authority that I am of the opinion that Tom Cruise is a big ol' doodiehead.

Granted, I have to state it as my OPINION. Were I to state it as fact, it could be construed as libel, thus opening the doors for Tom "Doodiehead" Cruise to sue me blind. Hmm, but then we'd then have to enter a protracted legal battle wherein I can only assume that a team of high-priced lawyers would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt in a public forum that Tom Cruise's head is NOT, in fact, made of doodie -- a scene which COULD be worth losing my job and a few million dollars over.

Of course, there's a down side to everything, even the First Amendment. The fact that I support the rights of the Sopranos to swear like sailors on my TV also means that I have to support the free speech rights of idiots like that hate-spewing Fred Phelps and his crazy redneck relatives when they protest funerals. That I have to put up with supporters of California's inane Proposition 8. That I have to take a deep breath and realize that some people actually enjoy listening to Dr. Laura. Ah well - I can rest high on my laurels and hope that perhaps one day we'll all be judged by a power higher than the FCC. Personally, I prefer to believe that if there IS a supreme being, he/she's got a wicked sense of humor -- how else to explain the platypus?

But recently, I've found another entity worthy of wishing selective freedom on, and it all started on my drive in to work the other day. On the morning commute, my satellite radio is usually turned to Howard Stern. Sure, his show can be juvenile, puerile, and downright tacky, but at 8:45 a.m., my brain's not even up to 33-1/3rd rpm, and that's about the right speed for Stern's mix of flatulence jokes and lowbrow comedy.

But a new sponsor has been advertising on his show. It's a website -- and it's entire essence is so seedy, lecherous, and immoral that even someone like me with a high tolerance of tacky has a hard time stomaching.

I didn't even want to name it for fear of giving the sleazy empire free advertising, but for the sake of the First Amendment, I'll do it - just promise me you won't go there or give them a dime. It's the innocently-named

Here's the basic business premise: You're married but you're a slimeball who wants to cheat on your spouse. Just fill out a profile and Ashley Madison will help you find like-minded scumbags in your area. Presto, instant adultery. The site's proud motto? "Life is short. Have an affair." In fact, if you sign up and DON'T have a successful affair within 90 days, they'll refund your $249 membership fee.

In a word? Eww. In several words? For perhaps the first time in my life, I think I might be morally outraged. I mean, come on. This makes the "Girls Gone Wild" dude seem like an upstanding citizen. I wanted to invoke my First Amendment rights by just printing the names of every loser in our area with a profile, but (a) I didn't have $249 handy, and (b) thankfully, there are 0 profiles in the Quad Cities.

Worse still was the realization that I was sitting at work the other day absent-mindedly humming the site's catchy jingle. "Ashley Madison, find your lovers heere, Ashley Madison, find your lovers heeeere." Sure, I'd heard the ad on the radio a couple times, but there was something about the tune that struck a chord. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'd heard it before someplace. What WAS it?

That's when it dawned on me. Not only is this the creepiest website EVER, but its jingle has the unmitigated gall to rip the tune 100% off of... "Lolly Lolly Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here," the old Saturday morning "Schoolhouse Rock" anthem. The melody that taught my entire generation how to modify a verb now teaches us how to modify our moral compass. Adverbs now seem dirty. I'm not just repulsed -- I'm now rapidly, efficiently, and effectively repulsed here, there, and everywhere.

Most disturbing is the realization that apparantly your neighborhood left-wing liberal hipster newspaper columnist has the occasional conservative tendency (shudder.) Or maybe I've just got common sense. Either way, I hope the old hippie dude who wrote those "Schoolhouse Rock" songs figures it out and sues Ashley Madison's pants off. Just because we have the blessed freedom of speech doesn't mean we should use it to become a country of degenerates.

COLUMN: Cabin Fever

I finally figured it out.

For the past couple of months, I've had a doozy of a time coming up with ideas for columns. Usually I just go about my week and wait for something funny, embarassing, and/or disastrous to happen in my life, events which happily I never seem to run short of. The up side is that even my WORST days now serve SOME semblance of purpose.

I could get hit face-on by a truck today and, should I remain conscious, I'm pretty sure my first thought would be, "Well, at least I've got something to write about this week." Well, okay, the first thought would probably be "Ow." Or, if you believe my mother, "Gee, I hope my underwear doesn't have any holes in it." But the column would run a close second, I'm pretty sure.

But why, then, have I been recently suffering from a total and complete drought of ideas? I was worrying that perhaps my creativity had run its course -- until I recognized the problem: For the past two months, I've been hibernating.

This winter has officially sucked all the life out of me, and it's not even halfway done. Every day we're treated to a menu of rain or freezing rain or frozen rain, not to mention wind chills that officially make the outdoors colder than the interior of my freezer.

My strategy for survival has been to plop down on my couch, ignore the sub-zero nightmare of the outside world, and tick off the days 'til April. My entire life has turned into: Wake up in warm apartment, race to work as fast as I can, sit down at warm desk, race home as fast as I can, rinse, lather, and repeat.

This is simply no way for an aspiring humor columnist to survive. As it turns out, very little happens on my couch. Let's look at this weekend for example. I'm sitting here now at the tail end of a long and well-deserved New Year's / birthday respite. How did I spend it? Well, let's see. I played the video game Fable 2 for, oh, let's have a look-see: 27.2 hours this weekend. (Dear Video Game Designers: PLEASE don't track statistics like this in the future - nerds don't need visual reminders of their sad and pathetic lives.)

TWENTY SEVEN HOURS of my life withered away in front of an X-Box. What do I have to show for it? Well, the townsfolk of Bloodstone seem quite appreciative that I've slayed their Banshee, but otherwise, apart from a blister on my trigger finger, not a whole lot. Happy 38th birthday to me, you immature lifeless piece of couch Jell-o.

The only things keeping me mildly entertained during my long winter slumber are my two cats. Normally, my feline companions seem relatively unconcerned as to my existence. Our symbiotic relationship is simple: they are the landlords and I am the tenant. I pay rent in the form of food, water, and litter, and in return, they let me reside here without a great deal of harassment or permanent claw scars on my face.

But with me home and lounging all winter, they've taken on a slightly new attitude. when I walk in, the look on their faces is quite clear: "You? Again? Really? Okay, fine. If you need us, we'll be in the bedroom, destroying one of your cherished possessions." As I sit here, both of them are perched on my couch, staring at me in a way that distinctly brings to mind "The Shining," and I'm pretty sure the thought process is either (a) "I wonder if he's writing about us," or (b) "I wonder if he's edible."

Oh, and one of my cats has gone insane.

Perhaps it's yet another exciting benefit of the aging process, but this winter, it appears that my body, much like the frozen tundra, is suffering from erosion. Between my flaking skin and parched throat, mornings have been a real joy lately at Castle Shane. To combat this dry-air fun, I went out and bought a humidifier. Or, as one of my cats appears to believe, a Magical Water Dispensing God.

From the second I plugged it in and it started spritzing out its ineffective little mist, one of my cats has established right off the bat that the humidifier is clearly the single most fascinating object in the universe. Day after day, she sits -- often for hours -- directly in front of the mist, mouth hanging open, eyes squinting through the moisture, staring. Well, and occasionally licking. But most of the time, just staring at the thing. Every once in a while, she'll make a noise like "pfeh," as if to say, "This is thoroughly unpleasant." Yet she won't move.

If you've ever thought that cats were furry little cuddle buddies, try having one nuzzle you at 3 a.m. with a gross, cold, sopping head. Yes, she'll sit there until her whole head is drenched with water. I don't think she'll give up until she gets kitty-pneumonia. And I have absolutely no idea what to do about it.

If I move the humidifier up high, she risks life, limb, and my property trying to climb up to it. If I unplug it, she makes little pathetic whiny noises and stares at my longingly. The other day, I woke up in the middle of the night to a soggy cat on my chest going, "Mrow? Mrow?"

"Mm-hmm," I said, groggy but knowingly. "It's out of water, isn't it?"


Meanwhile, my other cat -- the sane one -- just hangs out on the couch disapprovingly, like, "Don't ask me. I don't get it either."

One of my co-workers suggested that perhaps my cat is merely attempting to get a pleasing facial and spa treatment, a notion that would be funny if it wasn't so horrifying girly -- and hey, I'm already risking what's left of my machismo writing about my little kitties in the first place. All I know is that my skin's still dry while the only thing getting moisturized around here is a small and apparantly sub-standard cat brain. So perhaps my new year's resolution is to give up on this winter hermitage, step outside, and write the humidifier off as the priciest cat toy of all time. This sounds real good, and as soon as I defeat Lord Lucien's undead army in the dread Tattered Spire, I'll get right on it.