Wednesday, June 24, 2009

COLUMN: Mayflies

Sometimes it's bad to be curious. Heading to the parking lot on my way home from work just now, I glanced over at our loading dock. What's usually a meticulously tidy area was covered in what looked to be piles and piles of sawdust. That's weird, I thought to myself. Did I miss out on some kind of industrial-arts fun time out back? As the investigative journalist that I am, I went over to check it out. Well, okay, as the man-boy that I am, I went over to kick one of the piles, because that's the kind of juvenile fun you just don't grow out of. Smirking like a schoolkid, I charged at one of the piles and sent sawdust flying into the air and all over my pants.

That's when I noticed that the sawdust was squirming.

That's when I realized I had just kicked a heaping pile of dead and dying mayflies. Umm... eww, to put it mildly.

There are times in life that I'm conscious of trying to look relatively cool. This was NOT one of those times. When your clothes are suddenly writhing with the death throes of a kajillion mayflies, one does not think of looking cool. One DOES, in fact: shudder, nearly vomit, hop up and down like a lunatic, wave one's arms like a madman brushing insect corpses off of one's pantlegs maniacally -- and, as it turns out, one might even do all of the above while making a noise that sounds like "blaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!"

After living in the Quad Cities for over two decades, I've gotten used to a LOT of things about life on the river. Mayflies, however, are not one of them. I'm originally from Galesburg, a town thankfully lacking in aquatic breeding grounds for prehistoric creepy water bugs. Never in my life have I encountered insects that live and die in such mass quantities that they actually show up on doppler radar and begin PILING UP upon their demise. It is, without doubt, the grossest part of living in the Quad Cities:

The North American Ephemeroptera. Otherwise known as the common Mayfly, because they're supposed to be prevalent in the month of May even though it's June and they're so stupid they don't even know what month it is. Otherwise known as the Dayfly, because the Day they come out is the Day we should all stay inside. Otherwise known as the Shadfly, because "shaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad!" is the noise you make when you're trying to repress vomit after kicking a pile of them.

If you've ever thought that your life sucked, at least you're not a mayfly. Here's their basic life cycle: First off, you hatch in the water with somewhere around 8000 siblings. You're an incredibly ugly infant called a naiad. You spend anywhere from a few months to a few years crawling around the bottom of the river, spending your days dodging predatory fish and eating algae. You stave off boredom by moulting up to 20-30 times and checking out your fancy new exoskeleton. Eventually, one of those exoskeletons comes complete with a spanky new set of wings. You might also be taken aback by the fact that your mouth stops working and becomes vestigial. This is your cue to float up to the water surface, learn to fly, and have some REAL fun.

At this point, you have but ONE thing to do in life: search for some Barry White records, because it's time for some mayfly lovin'. Humans might just see a streetlight, but to the hordes of mayflies flitting around them, it's the Playboy mansion. In fact, mayflies even -- wait, it's a family paper, how can I say this -- umm, boy mayflies have not one but TWO boy parts, and girl mayflies have TWO girl parts, thus the potential for some serious freaky-deaky. The good news is that you don't even have to take her to breakfast the next day, since you no longer have a functioning mouth. The downside, of course, is that you die.

If you've ever thought that your life sucked, at least you're not the guy who created, the web's #1 fansite for mayflies. There you can find "fun" videos and pictures of the common shadfly, in case the 10,000 of them stuck to the side of your house aren't enough to satisfy your viewing habits. You can read shadfly poetry (example: "shadfly / clinging to the light / it strives to hold / shadfly / clinging / the spirit blows away.") You can learn to dance The Shadfly Shuffle (grind heel, step, rock recover, bird vine, step forward, 1/2-turn, shuffle in place. C'mon, everybody, join in!) You can even buy a fabulous white gold shadfly pin so you can experience the joy of having an insect carcass clinging to your clothes all year long.

All I know is I hate the dumb little buggers and it wouldn't upset me if they disappeared from our little ecosystem altogether. But once again, science scolds and reminds me that mayflies are an important part of our food chain -- they're a tasty little dish for trout and catfish. But last I checked, there weren't too many hungry catfish in our company's loading dock, so I wish they'd stick to the river. Apparantly, though, a healthy mayfly crop means a healthy river, since they can't reproduce well in polluted waters. And while the shallow, insect-hating part of my brain would encourage all of you to start polluting the Mississippi with extreme malice, the wrath of Chad Pregracke is probably worse than the wrath of mayflies, so I'll keep my yap shut (but mostly for fear of inhaling a cloud of insects.)

Just do me a favor -- the next time you see a horde of mayflies swarming around, remind them that they're a month late to seasonal extinction. I'm sure they'd thank you if they had mouths.

Monday, June 15, 2009


Good news. After exhaustive research, countless experiments, and what I can only assume to be gobs and gobs of our money, a team of scientists have finally postulated, theorized, tested, proven, and now, yes, ANSWERED a question that's been plaguing our fragile world for years:

We now know why some people like scary movies.

I know, I know. I heard it on the radio this morning and I still can't believe it. After all these years of wondering, all the hopes and dreams of lost generations, science has prevailed. Unfortunately, I was hard at work all day today and must have missed the ticker-tape parades and victory celebrations that must have assuredly been breaking out across the globe.

It turns out that some people are born with: the scary gene. Well, maybe the gene itself might not be scary -- I honestly have no idea, though experience has taught me that most of the tiny components of our existence are pretty creepy lookin' under a microscope.

But apparantly there really does exist some kind of rogue gene in the fundamental building blocks of certain people that makes them really, really dig "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." I assume that this was discovered by taking a random smattering of people, treating them to a matinee of "Hostel," and then rewarding their terrified state by prodding them with needles (a far scarier proposition than the movie itself, if you ask me.)

As it turns out, the test subjects who enjoyed watching hockey mask-clad psychopaths severing the heads of hapless campers were, in fact, carriers of an extra gene -- or, in layman's terms, "idiots." Those of us who enjoy our movies without the occasional disembowelment (those I like to call "sane folk,") were missing this genetic anomaly.

I am proudly one of the gene-deprived masses. Horror movies are NOT on my agenda, thanks much. I get no kicks from being creeped and/or grossed out. You would have to drag me to Hell to get me to watch "Drag Me To Hell." But that doesn't explain this past Saturday.

As a young(ish) hep and happening couple on the go, my girlfriend and I had ambitious plans for Saturday. A little shopping, a pool party for a friend, an oil change for the Beetle, afternoon church service, a nice dinner. A good plan, indeed. Too bad I decided to channel flip to the start of "Jaws."

124 minutes later, there we sat, still glued to the same positions on the couch, transfixed by a 34-year-old horror movie featuring an animatronic shark and Richard Dreyfuss (I'm not sure which is scarier.) How this happened is beyond me.

Had I seen "Jaws" before? Sure, but I think only the censored network TV version. This was the real deal, in high definition, with gallons of fake blood and severed limbs aplenty. And I was TRANSFIXED. Me, the wussiest man in America, who usually channel flips through horror flicks with eyes closed for fear of seeing an eighth of a second of the bogeyman. And I'm cheering, like, "Yeah, shark! Chomp that leg off!"

What gives? Do I suddenly have a new appreciation for horror flicks? I don't think so. I'm pretty sure that "Jaws" doesn't affect me because I am, how shall we say this, aquatically challenged. Despite my parents paying out the nose for swimming lessons, I never got it. I am, however, quite adept at sinking.

So I have no fear of Jaws. I can watch that shark dismember a legion of movie extras and not be affected. Why? Because I'm up here on dry land. Despite what classic SNL skits might teach you, Jaws will NOT be ringing your doorbell. If you wanna go trapsing out in the ocean, be my guest -- but don't be surprised if you return sans leg. Sharks can have their ocean. You wanna scare me? Pick a land-based fear.

Which is, of course, what happened to me the very next day. We decided to close out the weekend with a relaxing drive through the country, which landed us outside of Maquoketa at a place called the Hurstville Interpretive Center. Now, a normal writer would tell you what a wonderful and educational place it is, and how you can learn all about the colorful history of the Hurstville lime kilns while soaking up some native Iowa animal life.

Instead I will tell you that the Hurstville Interpretive Center is evil. Pure evil. They sucker you in with this wonderful educational experience and then you turn a corner to... a beehive. A live, active indoor beehive filled with tens of thousands of bees.

Okay, sure, they're behind glass and they claim it's an educational display for children, but WHAT KIND OF SICK PUPPY DESIGNS SUCH A CONTRAPTION? Everyone knows that bees are the scariest creatures on Earth. Well, okay, maybe I just think that. But looking at that hive was like making me watch every horror movie on Earth ever all at once. If you don't believe me, my girlfriend was kind enough to snap a photo at the exact second I saw the thing, and I look just like Hapless Camper #2 before Jason attacks them with a hatchet.

The display talked about what an important job bees have in nature blabbity blah blah. All I know is that I held my ear up to the glass and I'm pretty sure I heard 10,000 bees chanting, "STING THE FATTY! STING THE FATTY!" The only education I wanted from this is learning precisely how much Raid is required to commit bee genocide.

If there's a gene out there for dealing with bees rationally, I was tragically born without. Hurstville can have its history and its lime kilns and its (actually quite delightful) Interpretive Center. Just don't mind me as I appreciate it like I appreciate the ocean -- from afar.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

COLUMN: Grilling

As I type this, it's the joyous celebration of My Girlfriend's Birthday Eve. I think it was our first date when she proclaimed to me, "Oh, there's one thing you need to be aware of: my birthday's kind of a big deal." Part of her was kidding. The other part? Not so much.

Now don't get me wrong. By typing this, I'm not suggesting that my girlfriend is high maintenance, because she's not (well, not ALL the time, at least.) In fact, she's the most giving, caring person I've ever met. I just walked into my apartment moments ago to find it meticulously clean and a freshly-cooked pot roast on the stove. I'm not one to get all mushy, because I hate you mushy people with a sincere and deep passion, but I'm still in sticker shock from finding such an amazing person who seems to strangely dig me.

That said, the birthday thing has been causing me night terrors. How big of a deal is her birthday? Well, LAST year she had a shindig with an inflatable BOUNCY CASTLE -- and let's face it, bouncy castles are pretty much the bee's knees. But where does that leave me? In the unenviable position of trying to top that.

My girlfriend knows and/or is close personal friends with roughly 80% of the Quad City metro area. There's a 1-in-10 chance that she's your child's teacher and/or babysitter. Everywhere we go, someone comes bounding up for a power hug. And in the event of a hug-free outing, no worries -- her phone screams "NEW MESSAGE!" three times an hour to make up for it. Once upon a time, I thought I had a lot of friends. Compared to her, I'm a social leper.

The drawback to being acquainted with a majority of the phone book is that it takes otherworldly acts to get these folks to converge en masse for birthday shenanigans. That's why we've arranged for this year to be a series of nightly gatherings to accommodate the varying schedules of her legions of well-wishers.

Saturday was dance party night at the club (a blinding success if I do say so myself -- I've got some pull with the DJ.) Sunday was a fire pit at her house - we'll get to that later. Tonight is (shudder) karaoke night, which I'm far too busy writing this column to attend (aw, drat the luck. Cough.) Tomorrow is birthday proper, and that's MY day to shine. But let's go back to Sunday for a minute.

The weather was decent, and it looked like a nice night to chill out in her backyard, have some friends over, and end the weekend on the sort of mellow note that fits my life perfectly. Then I said it:

"Why don't we get some burgers and stuff?"

Or, in layman's terms:

"Why don't we drop everything we're doing, bolt to Hy-Vee, fill my car to the brim with a cubic ton of groceries, and then have me try to impress everyone by offering to man the grill?"

On the surface, what's not to like about grilling out, right? You get to feel manly, provide meat for your tribe, AND play with fire. But the thing is: meat doesn't exactly come with instruction manuals, and I could count my past grilling experience on one hand, and that hand could even have a couple of severed fingers. Still, as we headed to her house, I felt optimistic.

That's when I pulled into the driveway and gulped. Two guests had arrived early to the party -- her parents. Yikes. Now I REALLY had to bring my A-game. I'M fully aware that I'm pretty much worthless at most things in life, but I like to keep that secret to myself -- and ESPECIALLY from a set of loving parents who surely wanted to see if the weirdo her daughter dates was capable of being The Manly Provider. Gulp.

If there's ONE thing in the kitchen I'm good at, it's creating some decent burgers -- especially when I've got the help of my pal Emeril. At the grocery store, I slyly picked up a shaker of Emeril's BAM! Burger Seasoning. Throw in a little Worchestershire sauce and some garlic pepper sprinkles and it's burger magic.

Too bad the grill didn't magically light itself. I can spice up meat fine and dandy, but I've never ignited a charcoal briquet in my life. As I carried over the bag with brute machismo, hopefully no-one caught me desperately reading the instructions on the back. ("WARNING: FIRE HAZARD.") Happily, my girlfriend's aunt (who had just arrived) volunteered for charcoal duty, which is good because (a) I'm an idiot and (b) I value my arm hair.

It turned out okay. Well, the grill was a little TOO warm at first, as I managed to flash-char the first burger -- but otherwise, I think I proved my worth a tad. I only got scared when the veggie patties came out, as those icky little things are entirely alien and inedible before AND after the grill. But even with me at the helm, the food came out tasty and -- thus far -- none of her family or friends have fallen prey to e.Coli, so yay me.

As for the next couple days? We do things the Shane way. If all goes to plan, tomorrow morning she'll be awakened by the gentle strains of my favorite local band, The Premium Sellouts, who I've arranged to serenade her from her front lawn. Then I'm taking her out for MY kind of meal, where you sit down, get pampered, and let someone ELSE worry about the food. It's no bouncy castle, but I think I'm gonna be just fine.

COLUMN: Camping

I like parties. I mean, who doesn't, right? I am, after all, a nightclub DJ on the side, so I like to think that I know my way around a good time or two. So when my girlfriend told me that an entire group of our more fun and hipster-ish friends were meeting this past weekend to celebrate one of their birthdays, I was more than eager to sign us up for attendance.

But where would such a suaree be held? Someplace called Eden Valley, I was told. Oooer, I thought to myself, what on Earth is that? A hip and trendy nightspot I was shamefully unaware of? A concert venue where cooler-than-thou bands play post-modern experimental art rock? Some sort of elitist and potentially illegal underground gathering spot?

Err, no. As it turns out, Eden Valley is a campground facility in the middle of a dark and creepy woods handily located in the middle of nowhere, Iowa. Just head for Maquoketa, look for the most isolated and backwoods stretch of highway you can find, and hang a left.

Now, I know that there are some people out there who refer to themselves as "camping enthusiasts." I prefer the term "crazy in the head." As far as I'm concerned, at the precise moment that primitive man discovered that he could put a door on his cave, an electric light in his ceiling, and ten different channels of HBO on his wall, camping immediately and forthwith should have lost its lustre.

There are a kajillion ways to have fun in this world -- watching TV, playing video games, reclining on a sofa, surfing the web, etc. Or MY approach: watching TV from the sofa while playing video games on the web. Camping is just like that, except that it's pretty much the exact opposite of that.

I recall camping once as a kid (keyword: once.) It was a weekend trip as part of my junior high's photography club. My dad, excited about the fact that his only son wanted to experience nature WITHOUT a protective pane of glass in the way, volunteered to be a chaperone. Biiig mistake. After getting out there and realizing right away that tents don't just automatically assemble themselves, I immediately abandoned my father amidst a pile of canvas and stakes to search out the kid with enough smarts to bring his ColecoVision Head-To-Head Football and an ample supply of 9-volt batteries.

Happily, my girlfriend shares my opinion on the overall fun-ness of camping, so we decided to raincheck the event. Still, we felt kinda guilty blowing off our friend's birthday, so we decided to drive up in the late afternoon and put in a cameo appearance at Eden Valley on the way to my DJ gig.

Step One, of course, was finding said valley. I didn't have the directions or a map handy, but how hard could it be, right? We set off towards Maquoketa. I assessed the situation and let my vast knowledge of navigation and tracking skill take over.

"Look for a buncha trees," I said.

Well, I can now safely confirm that there's more than one set of woods in Iowa -- and I'm pretty sure we just visited every single one of them. The paintings of Grant Woods have taught us all that the Iowa countryside is full of round little hills with the occasional round little tree, right? Well, Grant Woods lies. The Iowa countryside is full of crummy, low-maintenance, pothole-laden gravel roads, 70% of which dead-end at creepy abandoned farmhouses that inexplicably lean 20 degrees off their foundation while saying, "Please, step right in and get murdered in me."

After winding around these roads for an hour -- at one time having to stop to allow a GOAT to saunter across the road -- my keen ability to drive, shift, and use the GPS function on my iPhone led us to Eden Valley.

Finding our FRIENDS, however, was another matter altogether. Dear Verizon Wireless and/or AT&T, can you hear me now? Well, if you're in Eden Valley, the answer is a clear NO. Our phones were both dead to the world.

So, rather than call our woodland friends, we instead had to drive through the campgrounds reeeeally slowly, staring intently at every passing campsite in a desperate attempt to identify any human forms. Which, based on some of the looks we got, probably came across more like we were shopping for children to abduct. After casing the joint as best we could, we were seconds from giving up when we spied our friends' cars all in a row - at the entrance to a foreboding nature trail.

Based on a handy nearby map, the trail stretched from the parking lot to, oh, I think somewhere in Peru. And there on the map, at the very end of the trail, was a little icon of a teepee -- which either represented the campsite our friends were at or the ancient cliff civilization of Machu Picchu.

We sauntered down the trail for about a half a click (whatever a click is - I just think it sounds cool to say) before discovering that the "nature" part of the "nature trail" was, in fact, hordes of mosquitos -- and I'm pretty sure I could see the West Nile Virus in their tiny little eyes. Add to that the fact that we were now effectively hiking in dress shoes and nightclub-wear while holding our iPhones skyward in desperation for a signal -- let's just say we were NOT the poster children for Gander Mountain.

After looking at each other and realizing how ridiculous we were, we quickly gave up, placed an apologetic note on our friend's car, and made our way back to air-conditioned civilization while congratulating each other on a fine day of camping.

Our friend, meanwhile, just got back in town and updated her Facebook page with a status update of how "incredible" the weekend was, especially the "rafting mud party and getting shocked by the electric fence." Gee, drat my luck for missing out. Happy birthday regardless, Abby. What say we do the next one INSIDE? I know JUST the dance club...

COLUMN: Bandits

I was getting a little scared about this week's column. A whole week had just passed without anything particularly interesting, amusing, and/or column-worthy going down in Shaneland. Inspiration was at an all-time low. Good thing, then, that this weekend I came under attack from bandits.

I spent my Saturday night the same way I have for the past 7 years: moonlighting in the District of Rock Island behind the turntables and CD players of 2nd Ave. That was where I found myself last Saturday, standing in the booth at 2 a.m. before a sea of writhing bodies. It was so packed, I had to have my own security guy up in the booth with me. I'd like you to think that he's there to fend off my groupies and/or prevent attacks from lesser-talented, bitter and jealous rival DJ's -- but really he's mostly just there to make sure caps are on straight and free-range groping is kept to a tasteful minimum.

That's when the bandit struck.

Now, this is a family newspaper, so bear with, because I have to choose my words here verrrry carefully. Hmm, how to best put it politely...? Okay, so, we can agree that human beings are mammals, right? And when our mammalian biology dictates that the byproducts of our consumption creates a mixture of gases in our digestive tract, it creates a scientific, all-natural, and family-friendly need to release those gases in a manoever we can best describe as a "tooter." Science goes on to tell us that the aforementioned necessity for tooting is oft exascerbated by dietary choices, such as, say, beans.

Let us now imagine a human being who has been raised for 21+ years on nothing but beans his or her entire lifetime. Beans for breakfast. Beans for lunch. Beans for dinner. Oh, and perhaps an in-between snack of lentils, onions, rotting cabbage, and the occasional roadside animal carcass. This person, whoever he or she was, was clearly in attendance at the Ave. on Saturday night.

It hit me like a sneak attack. I stand before you now to tell you that, in all honesty, I have never smelled anything worse in my life, not ever. Words cannot describe the pungency, if pungency is even a word. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm not here to gross you all out, but I'm pretty sure I could TASTE it. And just when my olfactory nerve regained its composure, it hit AGAIN. And again and again, with disturbing regularity. Trapped in my DJ booth, all I could do was hunt for my assailant.

Suspect #1 was my friendly security guard. He was clearly within nose-shot and didn't seem to be reacting to this terrorist attack in any way. But what was I to do? Recommend a good gastro-enterologist to this guy? This was a burly dude who could clearly kill me without breaking a sweat, and I was in no hurry to call him out as a closet tooter. After all, there exists a school of thought that says he who smelt it dealt it, and were I the dealer in this scenario, I would not be DJing - I would be SEEKING IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ATTENTION.

Eventually, I couldn't take it any longer. I leaned over to my co-worker and, with tact and grace, politely inquired as to whether or not a large animal may or may not have been decomposing in his large intestine.

"Dude," he replied, "It's not me. I'd gladly own up to it if it was." Mmm hmm.

That leaves Suspect #2: any one of the fifty folks shaking their groove thangs in the vicinity of the DJ booth. Now, I'm no expert when it comes to dating, but I'm pretty sure that one of the key rules is, when trying to woo a member of the opposite sex, one should make a valiant effort to keep one's flatulence to oneself.

No one looked suspicious, and my comrade-in-arms was pleading his innocence non-stop. Apart from breathing through my mouth, there was nothing I could do but suffer and continue bringin' da noise while the stinky bandit kept bringin' da funk. I went home and spent the remainder of the morning resuscitating my sinuses.

The next day, my girlfriend stopped by in the morning with a basket of cookies on her way to church (umm, cough) and was about to leave when she suddenly stormed back into my apartment. "SOMEONE HIT MY CAR!"

Upon inspection, no one hit her car. Someone did, however, attempt to burgle it. Both exterior door handles had been pried off with -- I dunno, some kind of door-handle-prying-off implement. The cops showed up and dusted the car for prints while I reveled in my front row view of CSI: Rock Island.

"No prints," the officer eventually said, "But what IS this stuff all over the windows?"

I hadn't noticed - a Hardy Boy I am not - but on both side windows, almost where you could imagine the perpetrator leaning to gain door-handle-prying-off leverage, were some gross smears.

"It's greasy," the cop said after inspecting it. "Kinda like Vaseline."

"It's greasy," I said after inspecting it. "Eww."

Happily, our newly-found and apparantly overly-lubricated friend didn't get into the car. The bad news is that they got away. Clearly, I must have a new arch-nemesis hell-bent on new and exciting ways to totally gross me out. I beg of you, Quad Cities, if you're perchance at the grocery store and happen upon a comparison shopper in the bean aisle who may or may not be coated in Vaseline, do the right thing and unmask the Stinky Greasy Bandit once and for all. A grateful nation will thank you.

Friday, June 05, 2009

COLUMN: Word Vomit

"I dunno what to say -- YOU'RE the wordsmith around here."

That came out of the mouth of one of my best friends the other day. I don't remember what it was in regards to at all. Maybe I was ordering food or writing in somebody's birthday card. Maybe we were plotting world domination. The scenario was entirely forgettable, but that sentence wasn't. One of my friends thinks that I have a way with words. Translation: One of my friends doesn't know me very well at all.

I suppose it's true that I can coherently string sentences together in this column every Sunday, but I've also had 230-some-odd blessed weeks of practice -- and frankly, that has a lot more to do with luck than skill.

Truth be told, I can be a complete idiot when it comes to expressing myself. For a guy with a degree on his wall that says Speech Communication, you sure wouldn't know it by talking to me. I open my mouth with full intent on the creation of a grand and verbose illumination on life -- but what comes out instead can only be called word vomit.

And I've rapidly discovered the perfect recipe for word vomit: just add a dash of girlfriend.

Case in point: A couple of weeks ago, I'm out on the town with the new girl I'm smitten with. This is the phase of the relationship known as Trying To Make A Good Impression. You're constantly trying to find the happy medium that says, "I might just be the coolest human being you know." The goal here is to be attentive and caring yet confident and at-ease in the moment. I was, as the kids say, bringing my A-game.

At some point in the night, we meet up with one of her friends who needs a ride home.

"Sure," she says, turning to me, "We can give her a lift, right?"

Absolutely. I was about to make the same offer. Then I thought about it.

Barring the occasional blip in the space-time continuum, I've been single for just about... well, ever. And there's one universal truth you need to know about single guys: When we have no-one to impress, we are messy, messy people. And that especially goes for my car.

"Don't worry," my girlfriend tells me, "I'll just sit in the back."

Worrysome. The back seat of my Beetle is, for all purposes of explanation, a level 3 biohazard. I collect stuff. And that includes stuff that's prone to decay. This stuff will then mate with other stuff in my car and bear forth entirely new species of stuff, until finally evolution provides the stuff with legs that it uses to then saunter off to my back seat and a long and prosperous life in a new, exciting, and quite possibly toxic ecosystem of my creation. And now my girlfriend wants to sit on it. Worrysome.

The way I see it, there are countless things I could have said in this moment that would have been appropriate:

"Gee, honey, my car is quite messy. Please allow me to go clean it out real quick."
"Certainly. Carpooling is but one of the ways I care about the environment. Have you seen my composting efforts in the back seat?"
"You know what would be fun? Taking a taxi! Allow me to order one!"

But no. Not Shane, the master of word vomit. I took stock of the situation, analyzed my options, and determined that the best course of action to make a grrrreat impression would be to look at my girlfriend and say the following:

"Umm... are you sure you can FIT in my back seat?"

Word. Vomit. It was the first time I'd actually seen someone's mouth fall open like a cartoon -- and not just HER, but her friend, too. I am soooooo smooth.

And it doesn't stop there. My girlfriend is deeply involved in her church. One of the things her church provides is as-needed counseling with a sort of peer mentor, who helps not just with the spiritual side of things, but with any woes that come along in life (such as dating a guy who vomits words, I'd imagine.)

The other day, she takes me to her church for the first time -- a big deal for her, right? -- when she goes, "Oh, look! That's my counselor!" Now, I had expected to see some rigid, grey-haired woman of great wisdom. Instead, I was surprised to see a girl who was young, fresh-faced, and bubbly.

Again, a million things that could have been said here. But here are the words that I chose to roll out of my mouth:

"Jeez, you're old enough to be her mom!"

Best of intentions, worst of executions. It's a good thing we were in church because otherwise, I might just have gotten punched.

Yet, as the ultimate testament to her awesomeness, she continues inexplicably to date me. In fact, this past weekend was the nerve-wracking Meet-The-Extended-Family Day. Gulp. We all got together over Frank's Pizza, which would have been great -- were it not at 1 in the afternoon and had I not been up until sunrise the night before unwinding from a rather lengthy DJ gig.

Normally it takes me multiple hours and an infusion of caffeine to put me in social mode. This day, I had to make do with 30 minutes and a cold shower before being thrown to the wolves. Happily, though, her family weren't wolves at all. In fact, they were super fun people who put me at ease right away. Hiding in her family were musicians, audiophiles, cat lovers, and closet NASCAR fans -- topics I can dwell on any day of the week sans word vomit. Fingers crossed, I hope I made a good impression, 'cause I like her clan -- even if I DID catch a group of them perusing an entirely incorrect choice of Sunday newspaper. Don't worry, this wordsmith will set 'em straight.


Irresponsibility, thy name is Shane.

You know that one person in your clique of friends? The one who's usually good for a laugh but little else? The one who's your friend but NEVER your best man because you wouldn't trust him to keep hold of your ring for even the minute-and-a-half walk down the aisle? I'm starting to think that's me.

Case in point: Food Days. If there's one thing to be said about the journalism industry, we don't go hungry. If there's an excuse on Earth to eat, our gang will find it. It's your birthday? FOOD DAY! The anniversary of your hiring date? FOOD DAY! It's Cinco De Mayo? TACO BAR! True story. I'm writing this column on, err, Quatro De Mayo, and we're taco-ing it up tomorrow. Too bad it's gonna slip my mind between now and then.

In my office, we are in a near-constant state of Food Day. And I, concidentally, am in a near-constant state of Forgetting About Food Day. Tomorrow I'm expected to bring in taco-tastic ingredients to share with my journalistic brethren, and I'm the clod who'll once again forget, walk in empty-handed, slap my head, say "d'oh," and then spend the rest of the workday sheepishly apologizing while eating my body weight in free food.

I'm fed up with being the forgetful, irresponsible one. But I have NO idea how to fix it. Actually, I've figured out part of it: be lucky enough to score a responsible girlfriend. She just showed up at my apartment bearing chopped tomatoes and black beans. (Isn't she awesome? Everybody say "aww" on three - ready? 1, 2, 3... aww!) Perhaps I'll be lucid enough in the morning to remember to bring it to the food day.

Someday I want people to look at me and go, "Wow. There goes Shane, the most responsible guy I know." Oh, and I forgot, "plus he's got a super sweet booty." Hey, it's MY dream.

Anyways, I'm on a mission to become more responsible, and it started with one simple task. Every May, my license plate sticker renewal comes up. And I usually remember it mid-July or so -- occasionally with the help of a friendly police officer. THIS year, though, Responsible Shane remembered. I even put a note in my calendar. On May 1, I would strut into the DMV a changed man. A responsible man.

I was beaming with pride. No more would I be the poster child of immaturity and irresponsibility. I was turning a new leaf, and May 1st was the day that leaf would flip. Good timing, then, that on April 30th, I just happened to glance at my driver's license and realize in terror that it had expired on my birthday -- all the way back in January.

For the past 4 months, I've been cruising about the QCA with an expired license. Awesome. It's official -- I would forget my brain if it wasn't attached to my spine. Suddenly, my journey to the DMV became a tad more critical.

Our local DMV is a grand and glorious place -- a one-stop for all of your transportation licensing needs. In fact, I can say with certainty that whenever I'm in the mood to spend $78 on a colored sticker, the first place I head to is the DMV -- conveniently located for your shopping pleasure in: the absolute middle of nowhere (I believe the locals call it 'Silvis.')

As I made the drive, I got to thinking. Since I was an idiot and let my license expire, would I have to re-take the tests? The written test was pretty cake as I remembered it, but to do so without first perusing the Rules of the Road might be risky. After all, if I come to a 4-way stop at the same time as another car, I have no idea who to yield to. Usually I yield to the driver with the grumpiest face, and somehow I doubt that'll be one of the multiple choices.

Same goes for parallel parking. If I parallel park on an uphill slope, I'm supposed to turn my wheels (a) towards the curb or (b) away from the curb? As a general rule, I choose (c) go park someplace flat.

After navigating my way into the labyrinthian parking lot (which I still say should count as the driving portion of your licensing exam,) I wandered through the doors into the epicenter of the H1N1 flu virus. At least, you would have thought so from the jumbo jugs of hand sanitizer beside every employee. It even looked as though the employees were quabbling over their ethyl alcohol stockpile -- the gallon bottle in front of me was rudely scrawled with a marker: "CAROL'S!!!!!" Suddenly I began to realize why DMV employees aren't exactly known for their cheeriness.

For what it's worth, it was a relatively painless experience. While no-one there was particularly personable, everyone was efficient and dutiful. And thankfully no testing needed. I just had to stand there while some lady pelted me with bizarre questions: "Are you prone to seizures?" "Do you have any mental health issues?" "Do you occasionally heed the verbal instruction of your cats and/or houseplants?" Etc., etc.

Once officially certified sane, it was just the matter of taking a quick pic. "Look at the smiley face sticker and smile if you want to," which was my cue to tilt my head 15 degrees, make the world's most awkwardly forced half-smile, and realize the fashion complications of wearing a blue jacket over a black shirt. CLICK. Ah yes, a moment I'll be happy to be reminded of every time I reach into my wallet for the next four years.

So once again, I am fully licensed to drive and basking in the glow of at least marginal responsibility in life. I'd dwell on it more, but right now I've got to focus. Don't forget the black beans... don't forget the black beans... wish me luck.