Saturday, April 18, 2009


Thanks, River Cities Reader, um, readers. Looks like TCC came in #2 for Best Local Blog in the 2009 annual reader's poll.

Guess that means I should get in the habit of updating more regularly, eh?

Alrighto, then. That's my slightly delayed New Year's Resolution -- to blog it up.

Most recent columns coming soon (I'd upload them now, but they're at work, which is clearly not a place I'd like to be until Monday.)

In the meantime, it's looking like Iowa City for me tomorrow, as DiscoTech (my fave remixers in the world) are spinning at Summit. If you're stuck in the Quad Cities this weekend, I highly recommend the Jason Isbell gig at RIBCO Saturday night...

...and don't forget, Saturday is international RECORD STORE DAY. Remember, that was the place you USED to go to before iTunes. Mp3's are dandy, but will they ever replace the warm satisfaction of removing the cellophane from a new CD? As a former employee and a devout fan & customer of independent record stores, I suggest you swing by one of the two area Co-Op Records on Saturday and show some love. You might enjoy some of the ltd. ed. surprises that await to celebrate the holiday.

Monday, April 06, 2009

COLUMN: Flat Feet

I think I'm pretty good at the art of the unspoken conversation.

You know, that moment when you're wandering down the sidewalk and encounter a total stranger. For a split second, your eyes meet. Words might not be exchanged, but clearly thoughts are expressed. Sometimes it's a bit tricky to make out what Jim or Jane Passerby is thinking, but sometimes it's totally transparent. That happens to me a lot.

And the transparent thought I often read on the faces of others is:

"Aww, lookit the poor little awkward guy so intimidated and unsure of himself. I'd say hello but he's so self-conscious he can barely make eye contact. I feel awful for him. I bet he's even so pathetic that he assumes everyone he meets on the street is passing some kind of short-sighted and cruel judgment upon him. I bet he'd make a good newspaper columnist."

Okay, so maybe I'm prone to the occasional bouts of doubt and neurotic self-loathing. But if you're a regular reader of this nook of newsprint, you know that my total lack of self-confidence did not come about without merit or experience. Just last week, I touched on two recent embarassing moments that sent my self-esteem reeling.

One of those was the time I wandered around in public for an entire morning without realizing I had a big ring of dried toothpaste around my mouth. Ahh, good times. As a result of that day, I can't step foot out of the bathroom now without double-checking my face for lingering trace elements of oral hygiene. And even after such a meticulous inspection, I still find myself licking the corners of my mouth every day on the walk from the parking lot -- you know, just in case I was unknowingly attacked by Colgate Fairies on the drive to work. Truth be told, it's probably a better fate to be Frothy the Rabid Man-Boy than "the weird kid who can't control his tongue."

The other was my recent break-through that I apparantly say the word "cookie" oddly -- based on the fact that every time I ask for cookies at the Hardee's drive-thru, I'm asked to repeat my order. When my co-workers read last week's column, they were quick to put my mind at ease. Kinda.

"You say the word 'cookie' like a normal person," said Chris, my colleague of so many years that she now calls me her 'work husband.' "You have no problems with 'cookie.' It's the word 'October' that you can't ever say right."

Greeeat. So my fear is ungrounded -- unless said cookie transaction happens in October. Apparantly, as I'm told, I say it like "Ack-tober." Which I sure hope isn't the truth, because it seems like it'd be hard to say "Ack-tober" without coating the faces of friends and family in spittle.

But these neuroses have taken a backseat to the newest self-confidence buster in my life -- one that comes courtesy of my dear sweet mother.

Let's get one thing clear: my mother really IS dear and sweet, and I love her to pieces. I especially say this because she reads this column weekly. (And all this time, you thought I didn't write about strippers, beer, and porn because I'm a moral guy and this is a family paper? Yeah, right.)

But I do love my mom like nothing else, and she's been having a rough go of things lately. She's super active, but between osteo-arthritis, bone spurs, and something that sounds like Plant-Yer-Face-In-Ice-is, she's not been the most comfortable of late. So when I found out she'd made a trip to to visit one of those orthopedic shoe-makers, I was happy for her.

The good news was that she got shoes and socks that alleviate a lot of the pain she's been having. The bad news was her choice of words.

"They did some testing and told me that I'm really flat-footed," she explained. "Apparantly it runs in your genes. SO THAT EXPLAINS WHY YOU'VE ALWAYS WALKED SO FLAT-FOOTED AND WEIRD."

Oh, that's niiii -- wait, WHAT? I WALK WEIRD? FLAT-FOOTED? Great news, mom. Perhaps this was a fact best NOT shared with your already self-conscious progeny. This was great, just great. Do I walk like a total spaz? Well, at least I no longer have to worry about dressing up for Halloween -- apparantly I'm already stomping around like a freakshow foaming at the mouth and coating everyone in toothpaste-coated spittle when I say, "Happy Aaacktober, everyone!"

I guess I always knew that my stride wasn't particularly graceful and sort of oaf-ishly clompy -- twinkletoes I certainly ain't, as anyone who's ever seen me in a rare appearance on the dancefloor can attest to. But I had always chalked it up to your standard male clumsiness rather than UNSIGHTLY GENETIC ABNORMALITY.

Laugh all you want, but I set up a mirror in my apartment and paraded down the hallway and back. I haven't noticed anything particularly unsightly, but I'm still obsessing on it every time I stand up. "Okay, Shane, focus. Heel...toe. Heel...toe. Heel...toe."

But I did some research to quell my nerves on the internet. This is NOT recommended for a neurotic hypochondriac like me, as you quickly learn about arthritic flat-footed conditions with treatments like "ankle fusion" and "ultrasound guided needle fasciotomies" and I'd rather not learn those definitions. On the bonus side, I learned that an estimated 30% of the world's population is flat-footed, so take THAT, Mom. I guess it's like I always say, the world IS a mighty weird place.

COLUMN: Toothpaste Cookies

It's no real secret that I'm one of the most awkwardly insecure and self-conscious weirdos in the Quad Cities.

A trained professional would likely equate this to a lingering immaturity, lack of self-confidence, and a horribly shallow need for society's approval and acceptance. To this school of thought, I'd like to say --

-- yep. Pretty much nailed it head on. That's me in a nutshell. But my trepidations in life are not without good reason or precedence.

Let's take the other week for instance. When the alarm clock goes off in the mornings, I am in a near-total state of semi-consciousness. I wake up, I tread into the shower, I throw on some clothes, and -- if I'm lucky -- I eventually wake up without personal injury or property damage behind the wheel somewhere near the Moline/Rock Island border. My co-workers know to not even speak to me until the caffeine kicks in an hour or so after getting to work -- and even then, I usually only answer in mono-syllabic grunts until after lunch.

But the other day, I strangely woke up in a nearly coherent, nearly good mood. Maybe it was because I got to sleep at a decent hour. Maybe it was the blessed arrival of jacket weather. Whatever the reason, I was not my usual self. I caught myself singing in the shower, playing with the cats, and starting the day without the autopilot engaged. I even had enough time to roll through a drive-thru and enjoy some breakfast.

I got to work almost chipper and settled into a productive morning. "Maybe this is it," I thought to myself. "I've turned over a new leaf and become a mature and responsible adult. Finally, this is MY time to shine."

The good mood carried on to the lunch hour. I walked out of the building whistling a happy tune. I found my car, plopped down in the seat and turned the key, put it in reverse, took a glance in the rear-view mirror --

And discovered that I had spent the entire morning running around with a giant unsightly circle of toothpaste residue all over my mouth. Yes, four hours interacting with fast food workers, colleagues, and peers while looking like Crazy Shane the Rabid Boy. I would've expected one of my co-workers to go, "Umm, dude. Toothpaste-zilla," but no. No one said a THING. Maybe they were too embarassed. Maybe they thought it was a good look. Maybe they thought I really WAS rabid.

Either way, it was a new low for me. Apparantly the one thing I didn't think to do in my newfound maturity was to give my oldfound self a quick once-over in the mirror. And if no one has the guts to say something when it looks like I've eaten Casper the Friendly Ghost for breakfast, then who knows HOW many times I've paraded amuck uninformed with my nether regions unzipped or a giant bogey making a prison break from my nose.

So THAT'S why I tend to be a self-conscious loon -- because I know how highly capable and well-trained I am at doing extraordinarily embarassing things.

My newest fear is one that's only recently cropped up: I'm now convinced that I apparantly say the word "cookie" like an idiot. Hear me out. When I say the word "cookie," in my brain it sounds exactly like how the word "cookie" should sound. Yet, whenever I'm in the drive-thru at Hardee's and order one of their delightful Big Cookies, the clerk invariably goes, "Wait, you want a WHAT?!?" as though I've just insulted their grandmother in an obscure dialect of Martian.

The way I see it, it's quite possible. I once knew a girl who would individually pronounce both letters in any word containing double T's. Instead of saying "button," she'd say "but-ton." Instead of "kitten," she'd say "kit-ten." And as you'd suspect, it sounded perfectly goofy. Yet she carried on doing it as though it were as natural as a bale full of cot-ton. And did we, her close friends, ever call her on it and say, "Hey, do you realize that sounds waaaay weird?" Nope.

Ergo, I think that there's a strong possibility that my mind hears "cookie" while my mouth might be saying "kwöquêiÿ" for all I know.

The other night, it took no fewer than FOUR tries at the 3 a.m. drive-thru window for me to successful convey my deepest desire to purchase a Big Cookie. And trust me, if you're already a self-conscious, insecure ninny, see what your mental status is like after having to roll down your window and yell "COOKIE! COOKIE! COOKIE! COOKIE!" into a faceless plastic speaker at neighbor-waking volumes.

But none of those things holds a candle to my newest of new insecurities, and this one comes from none other than my dear sweet mother. Sadly, though, it's going to take more column space than this to delve into, so let's hold that thought until next week, where you'll learn about my latest and greatest neurosis.

Until then, just remember this: If you're out there just minding your own business and some horrifying dude comes at you foaming at the mouth and spouting gibberish, just give him a cookie and he'll probably go away.

COLUMN: Stoplight

You can't see me, but I'm doing the happy dance all around the workplace today.

As I type, crews from MidAmerican Energy and the city of Moline appear to be hard at work a couple blocks away from the office, and (fingers crossed) in a short amount of time, perhaps even before this column makes it to print, the intersection of 19th St. and 6th Ave. will have its stoplight back -- and maybe, just maybe, my biggest whine of 2009 will come to an end.

It was a story that could have been way worse. About a month ago, an automobile and a semi truck decided to have an illicit relationship in the middle of that intersection. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured in the resulting collision -- no one, of course, except an innocent stop light who shall remain nameless. Its sudden departure has turned our downtown paradise into pure, unadulterated vehicular anarchy.

Why it's taken WEEKS to get the repairs done is beyond me -- perhaps there's a backorder at Stoplights R Us, I dunno -- but in the interim, the city put up bright, obvious, and easy-to-read 4-way stop signs. Too bad, then, that society appears totally stumped and perplexed when confronted with red octagonal signs that say "STOP."

On two occasions in the past month, I've left work on my lunch hour, pulled up to the Intersection o' Doom, waited patiently for my turn, and then pulled out only to have some nimrod sail right on through at full barrel and come within inches of testing my Volkswagen's much-touted collision safety rating. I understand that the sudden absence of a dear friend like a stoplight could temporarily create brain confusion, especially if you're like me and drive to work every morning in a sort of groggy autopilot haze. But it's not like the road crews went out of their way to hide the temporary stop sign. It's right there in the center of the intersection, as if to say, perhaps, oh, I dunno, STOP.

But perhaps even more aggravating than the bonebrains who've been ignoring the stop sign altogether are the ones who don't quite know what they're doing at a 4-way stop. It turns out I'm one of them. I get the basic concept, I really do: the first car who stops is the first car to go, right? But the intersection of 19th and 6th is a busy one, especially around lunch. And more often than not, I'm pulling up to the stop at the EXACT same time as someone else in a different direction.

Honestly, I don't know what to do when this happens. I have fuzzy memories of grumpy Mr. Bunch telling our Driver's Ed class that you yield to the driver on your left. Is that right? Or is it your right, right? Wrong? Clearly my confusion is shared by EVERY VEHICLE ON THE ROAD, for at least once a day I'll get caught in the should-I-or-shouldn't-I dance. To go or NOT to go, THAT is the question. Gas. Brake. Gas. Brake. If executed correctly, this manoevre can carry on until both vehicles have timidly crept their way into the middle of the intersection before one makes an overly dramatic acceleration and peels out, pedestrians and opposing cars be darned.

Just today, I was coming back from lunch and pulled to the 4-way stop at the exact same time as a girl in a Toyota. Our eyes locked. The non-verbal dialogue began. There were no words, but I'm pretty sure it went like this:

"Hi, I'm in a car."
"Me, too."
"We pulled up at the same time."
"Yep, we sure did."
"So who goes first? Should I? I am, after all, kinda cute."
"Indeed you are. But I'm late returning to work from lunch."
"Really. Sorry to hear that. Where'd you go?"
"Ahh. Did you try the new Roastburger?"
"No, those look kinda weird."
"Agreed. Okay, so look, I'm think I'm gonna go."
"No, I think I'M gonna go."
"I'll inch out a bit."
"Me, too. I enjoy being difficult. It's part of my quirky charm."

That last comment was actually from the horn of the irate driver behind me, who had the nerve to interrupt our delightful unspoken conversation and send the Toyota nervously scuttling past me.

And, of course, after spending the afternoon internally fuming about idiot drivers, I proceeded to BECOME one that very night. While leaving the newspaper parking lot, I totally misjudged a passing vehicle and totally pulled out right in front of some dude, causing him to screech on the brakes.

Well, I say "him," but truth be told, when I looked in the rearview, all I could see was tires as tall as my car -- for only I would choose to cut off some jacked-up, gun-racked, testosterone-fueled, built-Ram-tough uber-truck with my wee VW Beetle. And, as expected, the guy spent the whole drive to Rock Island road-raging on my bumper, revving his engine maniacally, shining his brights into my the back of my skull, and presumably wanting my head on a stick.

Eventually, he gave up and I managed to live, thrive, and survive at least long enough to scribe this column. Dude, if you're reading this -- if you CAN read -- I'm terribly sorry for cutting you and your machismo off. If I wasn't so distracted thinking about people driving like idiots, I wouldn't be driving like an idiot. All I know is I want my stoplight back.

COLUMN: Depressed

Well, this'll teach me and my big mouth.

So, a few weeks ago I wrote about Shane's Exciting Valentine's Day Extravaganza. It was a fairly amusing evening, as my attempt to woo the latest lucky bachelorette with an at-home dinner ended with a broken-down car, a near fire in my apartment, a brisk winter jog, second-degree burns on my arm, and a tube of Super Glue exploding in my hands. Yes, it was the stuff of romantic legend.

Sadly, though, what the column DIDN'T mention is that by the time the paper went to press, my fledgling relationship had already gone kaput and I was once again flying solo through life. I would've been impressed with myself -- after all, a two week failure is a pretty legendary achievement -- if it wasn't for the fact that I really quite liked this girl and was fairly distraught at her sudden and abrupt departure from my life.

But don't cry for me, Quad Cities -- after a week apart, we're trying to start things over, move ahead slowly and cautiously, and see where the day takes us. I'm just happy in the moment, and that's good enough for now.

The only problem is that I've just spent the last week mired in a funk of despair, self-loathing, and pathos. This, it turns out, is NOT the ideal mindframe to live in when you're the guy in the newspaper who tries to bring the funny every week. Instead of trying to find the laughable foibles in life, I've been the sole attendee of a raging round-the-clock pity party, population: Shane.

But while it wasn't exactly the most entertaining of weeks, I DID learn a few things in the process:

• The problem with being depressed, I've discovered, is that quite often it can be a bit depressing. Yes, I know that there are brave people out there battling clinical depression on a daily basis who probably want my head on a stick for whining over a week-long broken heart, but hey - you weren't on the pity party guest list, and I'm QUITE good at whining.

In a weird way, I was kind of looking forward to the isolation and solitude of a spendidly foul mood. I thought it might be a cathartic growing experience -- you know, maybe the catalyst for me to isolate myself, write the Great American Novel, and someday cry on Oprah. No dice. Instead, I spent most the week staring at an off-white wall bored silly.

Just because you're in a funk shouldn't mean that you can't be entertained. There should be ways of at least amusingly biding your time through misery. For instance, you could watch "The Notebook" and "Sleepless in Seattle" whilst hurling Nerf balls at your TV and keeping score of how many times you smack perfect love upside its miserable head. You could turn an evening of listening to the morbid sounds of The Cure into a drinking game - just do a shot every time Robert Smith sings about how dark (or, in morose UK goth-rock, "daaahk") his life is. Hrrm. Then again, perhaps providing alcohol and projectile weapons to the distraught is a poor choice. Let's move on.

• Being so forlorn that your exceptional musical integrity becomes compromised is entirely unacceptable. A good portion of my life is governed and dictated by the contents of my iTunes folder, and I'm proudly elitist and holier-than-thou when it comes to my pop culture. (The general rule of thumb: If you've ever heard it on the radio, it probably sucks. If it's a challenging and even perhaps atonal sonic maelstrom while someone in the background sings in a language that's quite possibly Icelandic, I probably love it.)

But those well-manicured tastes go right out the window when you're mopey, I've discovered. Last week, I was futzing around with the mp3 player in my car when the radio kicked on for a second -- to "One" by Three Dog Night. Now, this is a song that I would, under normal circumstances, abhor. But in THAT mindset, suddenly I was caught up. "Y'know, man," said the pathetic voice in my head, "these dudes are right on. One IS the loneliest number that I've ever heard." Mere minutes later, I was channel-flipping and almost brought to tears by New Kids on the Block wailing "Please Don't Go Girrrrrl." Again, unacceptable.

• If one wants an audience for one's pity party, all one has to do is add high drama to one's Facebook status. "Shane gives up." "Shane wonders if anything will ever go his way." "Shane is epic fail." "Shane feels dead inside." And to think, I never followed through with that minor in Theatre. My friends all called and e-mailed with worry, but I'm pretty sure they were rolling their eyes, too. I sure would've.

• All it takes is one bad mood to suddenly make you notice how evil the world really is. Last week, I darted into a gas station for provisions and received a few cents back in change. I thought I'd be a Good Samaritan, so I threw my $.02 into the "take-a-penny-leave-a-penny" tray and walked to the door -- only to catch the clerk sweep up the pennies and put them in the cash register. Normally I'd sigh in complacent defeat, but not in this mood. That guy stole my two cents, and then I gave him my two cents. I think I might be banned from there now.

So, yeah, the best part of last week is clearly that it was LAST week. Or maybe it was yelling at a greedy putz at a gas station, 'coz that was pretty sweet. Either way, here's to new beginnings.