Monday, August 31, 2009

COLUMN: Flat Tire

Occasionally there are times in life when it's fun to prove your intellectual worth. For some of you, maybe this means that you secretly write poetry or listen to political radio. In my case, it's more of a trivial pursuit.

If you guys have ever seen me out and about, there's a good chance that it's happened at a local trivia night fundraiser. It's the only place where my shameful lack of life skills is trumped by my even more shameful mastery of pop culture. I can't solve a math problem, answer a history question, or perform most basic life functions, but what's that you say? You need someone to complete the following Bon Jovi lyric? Sadly, I'm your guy.

So I get a kick out of trivia events, and that's where I was Saturday night: bringing home victory at the Leclaire Civic Center. The win put me in such a great mood on the way back to my weekend DJ gig that I almost didn't notice the noise at first.

(Thump.) (Thump.) Clearly it's my heart gloating over our (thump) tremendous victory. (Thump.) That's an odd noise. (Thump.) (Thump.) I'll just turn up the car stereo a notch and try to ignore it...


This was when I noticed that the THUMPITY THUMP was being accompanied by a SHAKITY SHAKE of the steering wheel. I was pretty sure this wasn't normal behavior for a Volkswaaaaaaaaaa!

And that was the precise moment when my left rear tire went ker-blooey along a lonely stretch of Highway 67 at 10:30 p.m. on a Saturday night.

Occasionally there are times in life when it's fun to prove your intellectual worth. Changing a tire is NOT one of them. I took a deep breath, counted my blessings, and formulated a two-part emergency response action plan. Step one was to kick the car. Step two was to hurl enough expletives to officially make this story NC-17.

If only I knew someone in the vicinity with the brawn and the manpower to sort this situation out. Someone macho enough to take control and replace the tire with gusto and brute strength.

It turns out I did. Her name is Tami.

Tami is a fellow trivia player, and she was only a few yards ahead on 67 when the tire blew. I called her up and she turned around to rescue me. In the meantime, I fumbled around and found the phone number to roadside assistance.

"Are you in a safe location?" asked my "friendly" help-line representative.

"Well, as safe as the middle of nowhere can be," I reckoned. Based on the creepy dark nature that surrounded the car, it was anybody's guess. There was a rustle in the nearby bushes. If I had to guess, I was pretty sure it was a were-zombie. "But hurry."

Five minutes later, my phone rang back. It was HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

"hello." said the unemotive robo-voice. "this. is. the. automated. insurance. helpline. roadside. assistance. is. now. being. dispatched. to. your. vehicle. and. should. arrive. in. FIFTY. minutes. thank. you. good. bye."

Fifty minutes at the intersection of Creepy St. & Were-Zombie Avenue? No thank you. Plus I was envisioning a restless group of tipsy 20-somethings milling about on a silent dancefloor. NOT cool.

That's when Tami spoke up. "Do you have a manual for this thing?" We had a look-see.

"Guten tag! Haben sie einen kaput Beetle auf der Autobahn?"

Okay, it wasn't in German. But it might as well have been. Instead, it was diagram after diagram of things that looked like neither my car OR my tire. But it kinda made sense. We pulled the spare out of the trunk and tried to follow along.

"Find wire hook (aka weird loopy thing) and socket wrench (aka were-zombie de-brainer)." Check. "Hook wire clip into wheel cover. Slide wrench through clip and pull cover off." We slid the wrench through the clip and pulled... and said clip straightened out like a wet piece of spaghetti without remotely affecting the wheel cover. So much for German engineering.

Eventually we pried the thing off and went to the next step, which was to loosen the lug nuts. Now, like I said, the manual was full of helpful diagrams, but not one of them showed me standing on top of the socket wrench, jumping up and down, and yelling "ungh" -- but that's what it took to loosen those puppies. Eventually we got the car jacked up and the tire off.

It was about this time when Amy rolled up. Now, Amy's the oft-discussed person in my life who, depending on press time, the current barometric pressure, and the positioning of Jupiter in the evening sky, may or may not be my girlfriend. (It's a loooong story. Suffice to say we break up worse than we date.) I'd called her earlier, and was expecting her to arrive and marvel at my tire-changing ability. The comically shocked look on her face said otherwise.

I was beaming with pride and teamwork and accomplishment at my fortitude and intuitiveness. But when Amy pulled up, there I stood, flashlight in hand, barking out steps from a manual, while Tami was on her hands and knees, covered in grime and lug nuts, effectively doing 90% of the work. I told you I had a shameful lack of life skills. But if she were ever in a crisis situation where she needed an emergency DJ set and/or newspaper column, I'd be there for her in a heartbeat.

Eventually, we got the tire changed and I was able to cancel the roadside assistance with five proud minutes to spare. And those tipsy 20-somethings? They barely noticed that I was 15 minutes late to the gig, and I was able to salvage some of my dignity by keeping the dancefloor hopping til the wee hours.

I can't possibly thank Tami enough, so instead I'll endorse her. She's a massage therapist who owns TEC Bodyworks on Tech Drive in Bettendorf. If she can handle a bad back half as good as she handled a bad tire, you'll be in good hands. As for me? Let's just say next time I'm at a trivia night and a question about tires comes up, I'll be the go-to guy who knows the right go-to girl.


I used to think I had a fairly normal childhood. I had my treehouse. I had my friends. I had a great life. But I've come to realize that I missed out some pretty stereotypical parts of the usual upbringing process. I've recently discovered that, when it comes to Dr. Seuss, I'm a bit of a grinch.

I have no recall of my picture book era whatsoever. Surely I must've had my moment in the sun with the Little Engine That Could, but I sure don't remember it. My mother tells me that I had a somewhat scandalous obsession with "The Poky Little Puppy," but I couldn't give you a synopsis today.

My grandmother used to give me Babar books, but I wasn't having it. After all, as Wikipedia informs, some feel that "although superficially delightful, the Babar stories are politically and morally offensive and can be seen as a justification for colonialism." Clearly this concerned me deeply as a 5-year old. Okay, maybe I just thought Babar looked creepy as heck.

As far as my memory is concerned, here's my childhood in a nutshell: In the beginning, there was nothing. Then Mom said, "Let there be Hardy Boys!" And there were Hardy Boys, and they were good.

I worshipped the Hardy Boys and their keen adventures of, umm, keen-ness. And I'm pretty sure that it was my obsession for collecting the whole series that laid the fundamental groundwork for the OCD-riddled music nerd you know and love today. But by the time I was in grade school, I'd read and re-read the entire series. It was time for a new literary hero.

Naturally, that hero would be: Mack Bolan, The Executioner. Choice reading material for a grade schooler, eh? When I was on the phone asking my mom about the poky puppy just now, she was like, "All I remember are the Hardy Boys and that actiony fellow, what was his name again?"

Here's where you have to learn a little about my dad. My father is one of the most gentle, giving, and harmless people on God's green earth. He wouldn't hurt a fly -- well, unless provoked. But my dad was also a military policeman at Fort Knox for a good long while, and as such, has a bit of a hidden side. A side that subscribes to Soldier of Fortune magazine. A side that's seen every war movie ever made. And a side that apparantly didn't see anything wrong with letting his young son read The Executioner series.

To compare, the Hardy Boys defeat bad guys using their intuition and some wits. Mack Bolan defeats bad guys using his AK-47 and some well-timed head shots. After the Hardy Boys win, they go home and get some pie. After Mack Bolan wins, he goes home and just gets some. (Pie not necessarily included.) If my mother ever knew the contents of those books, my dad might STILL be in the doghouse today.

But the point of this whole literary analysis is that between the innocent mysteries of the Hardy Boys and blood-stained streets of Mack Bolan, I somehow ignored the ultimate childhood rite-of-passage: I was never into Dr. Seuss.

It just wasn't my thing. Odd little amorphous, asexual creatures all talking in rhyme and usually complaining about stuff? Not my scene. Here's how I used to stereotype Dr. Seuss books:

First, have your cat walk across the computer keyboard. Like this (here, kitty!):


This is now your amorphous, asexual main character's name. Now do it again (meow kitty!):


And that's your character's homeland. Then just come up with something bad to happen (you can do that later) and set it to rhyme:

There once was a Prulkinfarg from Ruttving City,
Where (something something really bad) and it was such a pity.

In the end, something something really good happens and everyone learns a lesson. And then when you're in your mid-20's, you learn that your cheezy little children's story of yore is secretly an allegorical condemnation of the horrors of nuclear war and you go "Whoooa, that's deep!"

Me, I just thought they were boring little dumb-named blobs who wore ugly hats and fancied green eggs and one, if not two, fish of the red and/or blue persuasion. So I kinda skipped out on Seuss, and now I feel like I missed the boat. Everyone my age and below reveres Dr. Seuss like a childhood friend. I, meanwhile, was the only person on the planet who recently watched "Horton Hears a Who" and didn't already know the plot.

So it was with some trepidation and reluctance that I accepted my friend Kelly's offer last week to go see Quad City Music Guild's production of "Seussical," the musical that weaves multiple classic Seuss storylines into a magnum opus of cats and hats and Hortons and Whos and Thinks you can think. And for a local production -- heck, for ANY production -- I was blown away.

Between the three fabulous leads (especially fifth-grader Emily Baker stealing the show as Whoville's Jo Jo) and the tight direction of Andy Davis, the entire Seuss canon came to life before my eyes and melted this grinch's heart. The only thing that stunk was that I was watching it WITHOUT the accompaniment of the biggest Seuss fan I know, my girlfriend. (This might be due to the fact that we split up, but that's another topic for another time -- just suffice to say we really suck at breaking up since she's sitting on my couch as I'm writing this.)

I couldn't imagine Seussical without her -- so the very next day, I took her to the matinee and saw the show again. Double the Seuss, double the fun... and now double the incessant songs from the score that are playing in my brain on an infinite loop that could, if they don't soon stop, cause ME to start hearing Whos any minute now. The point is, it only took me 38 years, but I finally realized that I DO like green eggs and ham, Sam I Am. Now I think I need to start work on a musical devoted to Mack Bolan the Executioner -- it's just way hard finding anything that rhymes with "bloody human carcass."

COLUMN: Carnivore

It's not often that my life gets easier -- and that's sad when you think about it. I mean, come on, this IS the 21st Century. We should all have jetpacks and flying cars and teleportation and clothes that self-wash and food that comes in pill form. Instead, it just seems like life piles up more and more complicated crud on us with every passing year. Ergo, it's the little things that count.

My life just got easier. My girlfriend is now a carnivore. Huzzah!

Maybe it's because I hang out with a lot of hipsters and artsy types, but we meat-eaters are an endangered species in my clique of friends. Ever since college, I've always had at least one close friend in my life who recoils in horror at the sight of a Quarter Pounder. Whenever you hear of a PETA protest in town or someone throwing fake blood onto a fur coat, there's a pretty good chance I know 'em.

Now, don't get me wrong, vegans and vegetarians. I have nothing against you, your lifestyle, and your digestive tract. I get the whole vegetarian thing, I really do. I consider myself a cute-itarian: I simply refrain from eating any animal that might one day make me go "awwwwwwww" when featured in a Disney cartoon. Deer are cute -- hence they stay off my plate. Chickens? NOT cute. Turkeys? NOT cute AND mean. Cows are only cute when they're babies, so no veal for me, thanks. Cows are beautiful creatures. They're just slightly more beautiful when served medium well with an ample amount of Heinz 57.

When your friends are vegetarians, eating out can be a real chore. When your GIRLFRIEND is a vegetarian, it's an entirely different ballgame.

I can't tell you the number of dates I've been on the past six months where I sit and tear through a steak while my girlfriend contentedly nibbles on an unappetizing assortment of twigs and berries. Some restaurants are really accommodating to the vegeterian way of life, others not so much. I'm too new at this to know which is which. But wherever we end up, she'll invariably go, "Oh, don't worry, I'll find something!" Sometimes she'll end up with something decent. But sometimes it ends up me devouring Chicken Little while she asks the waiter for some ranch sauce for her parsley sprigs and I'll feel like Glutton McMeateater.

All that changed at the NASCAR race in the Iowa Speedway the other day. I thought nothing of it when she said she wanted food. What I didn't expect was to see her come back with a chicken sandwich in her hand.

"Whaaaa?" said Shane.

"It looked good. I wanted some chicken."

"Wait, this isn't going to be the sort of decision you'll regret later and freak out on me, is it? 'Coz we can get you some nice tofu in a bit..."

"Nnnnnope," she said, taking a big ol' bite of the forbidden carnal treasure. She said something after that which was nearly indescipherable, other than it started with "OMIGODITSSOOOOGOOOOOOOD!" I'm pretty sure it was what scientists refer to as a meatgasm.

I thought maybe it was a one-off dance with the devil until the ride home, when she asked, "Umm, can we stop by Arby's? I think I want a Beef 'n' Cheddar." Gulp. And with that, her lengthy experiment with vegetarianism came to a crashing halt. Now I'm completely open and accepting and supportive of anybody's dietary choices, and I would NEVER pressure any twig-eater into plunging headfirst into a meat pile, but can I just say: HOORAH! Goodbye, guilt. Hello, Jim's Rib Haven!

Of course, the timing couldn't have been worse. Mere days after her epic change of heart, I had an experience that made ME second-guess my carnivorous ways.

There exists in the Quad Cities a fast-food restaurant. I won't say which one, because you might not ever want to eat there again. It's a restaurant whose drive-thru lane I frequent frequently. And just inside that drive-thru window, there's a bulletin board. And hanging on that board are any number of employee memos -- which, if they're written large enough, can be read by any customers who are nozy and/or bored enough to bother with.

It was on that very bulletin board the other day that I saw this note, written in huge letters with what appeared to be an angry, exasperated pen:


ummm... on behalf of the entire Quad Cities at large, can I just say... good? I suppose I appreciate the sentiment of the notice, and that the restaurant now gives a rat's behind about NOT treating their customers to an extra helping of enterotoxins with their poultry. But no, what I'm concerned about here is one word in that notice:


The sign didn't say "there will be no boxing up and selling of expired chicken." No, it said, "there will be no MORE boxing up and selling of expired chicken." One must only assume, prior to this sign's invention, that the boxing up and selling of expired chicken was a frequent pasttime of this establishment, until somebody had to come along and ruin all the fun with a pesky sign.

I suppose it can be forensically argued that ANY chicken who exits a processing plant in the correct manner had better be "expired," but something tells me that wasn't the point of this sign. At a fast-food joint, we're not priviliged to see the sell-by date on our combo meals. I suppose, though, if an e.coli bacterium can survive a ride through a deep-fryer, it's somewhat deserving of a nice intestinal tract to vacation in.

Still, I prefer that intestinal tract to NOT be mine. So, for the time being, chicken from THAT place is off my menu. And maybe chickens as a whole are suddenly much cuter than I once thought. And maybe a diet without red meat might not be the worst decision I could make. And maybe tofu doesn't taste THAT bad. And maybe parsley with ranch sauce sounds kinda appetizing.

ARRRRRGH. Life was supposed to be easier.


There are two Shanes constantly waging war in my head.

The first is Shane the Artsy Hipster. This Shane doesn't really exist, because the real me is far too nerdy to pull it off. I'm too old, too chubby, and the nearest Urban Outfitters is, like, two hours away.

The second is Small Town Redneck Shane. This Shane doesn't really exist, either -- my natural wussiness prefers the air-conditioned comfort of my apartment over a sunburn any day. Still, like John Cougar Mellencamp so aptly said, I was born in a small town and I can breathe in a small town.

And so the war rages on. Let's say, for instance, there was a one-act play in town that portrayed existential nihilism as a poisoning of the human soul. Shane #1 would think it a winning night out. Shane #2 would rather sit in a La-Z-Boy eating hot dogs and watching reruns of "Cops."

That's the kind of dilemma I found myself in last weekend, as two major events had the indecency to occur simultaneously.

On the Shane #1 hand, it was the 30th Anniversary Birthday Bash at the Rock Island Brewing Company, and attendance was all but mandatory. A full weekend's slate of music featuring the reunion of three of the greatest bands the Quad Cities ever produced: Einstein's Sister, Driver of the Year, and Tripmaster Monkey. Speaking as a card-carrying music nerd: Wow.

But Shane #1 wasn't the only one excited about this past weekend. For six months, Shane #2 had been whispering in my ear about an event coming up -- and it was a whisper that I'm pretty sure had a southern drawl. I had to own up to my secret shame: A very big part of me would NOT be happy gallavanting around the Quad Cities with the knowledge that, less than two hours away, a major NASCAR event was occurring.

There. I said it. I like NASCAR. Sue me. As hip and cool as I yearn to be, there will forever be a part of my brain that thinks cars racing in circles for an entire afternoon is super rad. I watch the races, I listen to NASCAR radio in my car, and I'm currently 2nd in my NASCAR fantasy league and stand to make a pretty penny if the season keeps going my way. And by pretty penny, I clearly mean the value of respect and admiration from my fellow racing enthusiasts and in no way, shape, or form am I inferring that any monetary amounts are being wagered because that would be really, really wrong. Cough.

Two measly hours away from the Quad Cities sits the Iowa Speedway and last weekend's Nationwide U.S. Cellular 250. The decision was too much for me. NASCAR or music -- which would it be? That's when Shane #1 and Shane #2 spoke in unison: "BOTH." Not the brightest move, but I sit here at my keyboard as a monument to human fortitude, because I pulled it off. Here's how it went down:

On Friday night, I went to RIBCO and saw Einstein's Sister reunite to an all-Beatles set that lit my world on fire. But it was a fire I had to quickly douse, because it was off to early bed for me. 8 a.m. was harsh. My bones ached, but I didn't care. NASCAR waits for no one but the rain.

After throwing myself together, my girlfriend -- a wonderful sport in all this, by the way, since I'm pretty sure SHE has two voices in her head and neither one of them were asking for guitars or cars -- and I headed west on I-80. Two hours later we were in Newton and the Iowa Speedway was in sight. Then it disappeared from sight because the traffic cops directed us to a fine spot that I'm pretty sure was in Indiana.

After a lovely hike through the infinite gravel parking lot, we got to the gate -- to discover that our seatback chairs weren't allowed inside. So we had to walk allllll the way back to the car. Well, since I blew my knee out about a third of the way back, it was more hobbling than walking.

Dear NASCAR, have you ever SEEN your fans? We are NOT what you would call toned athletes who enjoy a brisk walk. While normal people spend their Sundays getting out and about, we spend them in BarcaLoungers watching cars go in circles. Normal people worry about their weight. We worry whether we've got enough nachos to make it through the caution laps. There are 43 perfectly good cars capable of shuttling us to and from the parking lot. The least you could do is send out Kevin Harvick to gimme a lift.

Eventually we made it through the gate and headed towards much-needed refreshments. Suddenly the guy in front of me looks at my Augie t-shirt and goes, "Aug-us-taaana? We don't allow no Quad City f------ in NASCAR Nation!" Greeeat. I take my girlfriend to her first NASCAR race and get us killed before the green flag even waves. That's when the guy continued. "Har! Har! Just kiddin', brother! NASCAR ruuules! Whooo-yaa!" Maybe I made up the whoo-yaa. I honestly don't remember. But whoo-yaa was definitely going through MY head.

I hate to admit it, though, but NASCAR really does bring out the best in people. Everybody around us was smiling, friendly, and high-fiving strangers. The race was killer. Kyle Busch, the driver that every NASCAR fan is contractually obligated to hate, started in last place but made his way to the lead in under 70 laps. Then it was a battle between good and evil, as Busch fought -- and eventually lost -- to Brad Keselowski, who we have to like because his car is owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is to NASCAR fans what Jesus is to, well, NASCAR fans.

But we didn't see the win. We were too busy hustling our dirt-covered bodies back to the car for a quick getaway to a much-needed shower, a knee brace, and a hasty arrival at RIBCO exactly ten minutes before Driver and Tripmaster took the stage. It was an awesome topper to an awesome weekend. For once, I had my cake and ate it, too. It just kinda tasted like burned rubber, though.

Monday, August 03, 2009

COLUMN: Summit

Grr. It's been one of those weeks where very little column-worthy's been going on in my life. Jeez, and it had such potential, too.

I mean, this weekend was the dreaded Parental Summit, wherein my girlfriend's parents journeyed to Galesburg to meet MY parents. This would be GREAT, right? And my great I mean AWFUL, naturally. After all, these are MY parents, legendary in the art of telling embarassing and cringe-worthy tales. I was prepping for the entire day to be an unholy exercise in patience, luck, and my deft ability to change the subject in mid-conversation.

But, like all potentially awful events in my life, the upswing is that even the worst of days can become the best of newspaper columns. I drove to Galesburg with trepidation in my heart but a sharpened and eager pencil in my pocket. If I was going to take the fall this day, at least I'd have something epic to write about. As I was driving towards my certain embarassing doom, I kept looking to the skies but not once did I see four horsemen. Good sign for me, bad sign for the column.

The sad and boring truth is that the whole day went swimmingly well. Astoundingly and shockingly well, actually. My parents and her parents got along from the first moment.

My dad wanted to show off his newest handiwork -- he just finished screening in the entire patio, an epic project with plans dating back to my childhood. Her dad asked all the right questions and nodded at all the appropriate points in the guided patio tour. Me, I got lost 30 seconds into it. There was something about expanding wood and aluminum reinforcements and suddenly the word "wolmanized" was in there someplace -- if wolmanized is, in fact, a word, which I'm not quite sure about. I was just amused at how my dad said "wolmanized" and then thought about what a weird word it is to pronounce, so I kept doing it in my head over and over - wol-MAN-ized, WOL-man-ized, wol-man-IZED -- and then pondered whether or not one who wolmanizes is referred to as a "wolmanizer," and how THAT is a business card I would kill to have ("Shane Brown, Wolmanizer") and then suddenly it turned into a Britney Spears song ("Wolmanizer, wolma-wolmanizer, oh, you're a wolmanizer, baby") ...and the next thing I knew, our guests were saying "cool" to my beaming father while once again I remain perhaps the most ignorant and inept son to ever live who couldn't build his way out of a paper bag, let alone screen it in with proper wolmanization. Sorry, Pop.

But the point is that the dreaded summit wasn't too particularly dreadful at all. Happily, she and I are both blessed with relatively cool parents (as cool as parents can be, I suppose) who are free of pretention, snobbery, and hang-ups. They got along like gang-busters.

And I only wanted to kill my mother once, but it really wasn't her fault. She only made the misfortune of saying "yes" when asked the following: "OOH! DO YOU HAVE ANY BABY PICTURES?"

Now, here I need to interrupt the story and talk a little bit about my girlfriend. One of things that initially made me go ga-ga for her was her countless photos up on Myspace and her seemingly inate ability to look cute as a button in every single one of them. "My God," I thought, "she's, like, the most photogenic human being in the world. This girl does NOT take a bad picture."

Now I know better. This is not to say that my girlfriend is anything less than wonderful (calm down, honey.) In fact, I'm quite the lucky feller to be with someone so stinkin' cute. But she, like everyone else on planet Earth whose names don't include the words "Iman" or "Schiffer," is not immune to the occasional bad photo. She simply overcompensates for it by taking approximately 11,000 photos of every major event in her life -- events such as, oh, driving in a car.

The other day, in fact, we were driving in a car when she went, "Ooh! This needs a picture!" Naturally. Because three score from now, we'll want to be sitting in our rocking chairs reminiscing fondly, "Ooh, remember that one time when we went driving in a car? Good times..." But, me being the nice guy and all, was like, "Umm, okay." I then learned that it takes upwards of 12 staged photographs to effectively capture the pure spontaneous bliss of driving in a car. By this time, I'm flash-blind and a danger to pedestrians. But at least if I killed a pedestrian, we could provide the police with our own handy photographic evidence.

This doesn't sit well with me, as I detest having my photo taken once, let alone 12 times. I don't need twelve reminders of what an unphotogenic mess of a human being I am. Cameras point at me and my head instinctively turns to an odd angle, my eyes sink into my head, my second chin grows a third, and my mouth forms what my brain thinks is a smile but my brain is sadly mistaken. This is a girl who can take twenty pictures of a dress, and this is a boy who takes less than twenty pictures per decade.

My mother, on the other hand, shares my girlfriend's fondness for capturing those moments of life best lost to the ages. Next thing I knew, photo albums were coming out like the wind. Chubby baby Shane. Christmas morning Shane. Crying Shane in a forced pose with a fake Santa. Shane dressed up as Uncle Sam for the sesquicentennial parade. Shane in his "Welcome Back Kotter" sweatshirt. Acne-ridden pubescent Shane. "Ooh, remember that one time when you had those grotesque zits? Good times..."

But I survived, despite the assorted ohh-ing and aww-ing of the female summit members and the eyerolls of the male contingency. Pizza was had, jokes were told, and hopefully some new friends made. Too bad it wasn't exciting enough to make for a good newspaper column. Or was it...?


If you're just joining the party, my last two columns were devoted to my girlfriend's failed attempts at getting me to dress like a proper and upstanding member of society (or, as I like to refer to it, a preppy loser.) When my girlfriend was on her good-natured "let's-improve-the-boy" kick, she brought up one other concern as to my wardrobe -- and it's something very close to my heart. Well, actually it's something very close to my head.

To understand, we need a flashback to the distant land of 1983, where epic decisions awaited a wee junior-high Shane.

It's about this age that I began to transform into the mature, forward-thinking, career-minded professional that you know and love today. After carefully investigating, analyzing, and researching all of the options laid before me by the world, I decided at age 12 that the most prudent vocation to set my sights and training towards was, clearly, that of ROCK STAR DRUMMER.

Here was an occupation that promised all of the perks of gainful employment that I was concerned about, such as a progressive atmosphere of teamwork fostering professional relationships with colleagues such as the smokin' hot girl in the "Rio" video who dances on the sand just like that river twisting through the dusty land.

After having been evaluated for multiple instruments back in middle school, the band teachers decided that my natural aptitude for melody, harmony, notes and scales made me best suited to bang on noisy objects with sticks. Despite my musical shortcomings, by the time I had reached junior high, I was first chair concert/marching snare with dreams of rock & roll greatness. But the four of us in the percussion section knew that junior high band was small potatoes of "boom-tap-tap, boom-tap-tap" until we reached the big show: high school marching band.

Back in Galesburg in the 80's, our high school band was the stuff of legend. They won awards, they did routines, and their drummers were the coolest people we had ever seen. How cool? So cool that, during football games, instead of wearing foot-tall marching band hats like the rest of the band, they got to wear whatever hats they wanted. One of the dudes wore a fedora, another guy got to wear a leather newsboy cap. They were the rebels of the band, the zenith of cool, and the epicenter of everything my 12-year-old heart wanted to be.

At the same time, I was developing my own tastes in contemporary music. Having been brought up in a very pro-music house, my weekly allowance back then was already being efficiently routed safely to the hands of Musicland, and my growing collection of cassette tapes was my pride and joy. I didn't know much at age 12, but boy, did I know music. I was such an expert, in fact, that I looked at all the artists in the pantheon of rock history, and proudly announced to everyone I knew that The Greatest Rock Band To Ever Walk Upon The Face of the Earth was... the JoBoxers.

In retrospect, probably not the brightest thing to say. This was, after all, a band whose ultimate musical legacy left to the world was the two singles "Just Got Lucky" and "She's Got Sex." At least I know where my 12-year-old mind was at the time. But I promise you, for a 1983 heartbeat, the JoBoxers were pretty rad. As I watched them prance about on MTV (and oh, prance they did) in their suspenders and caps, I wanted to be a JoBoxer with all my heart. I wanted to just get lucky, too, whatever that meant. I wanted the suspenders. I wanted the cap.

Wait a tick... the JoBoxers were cool, and so were the high school drummers. And what was the common thread uniting the two? They all wore HATS. Instantly a plan went into motion. I, too, would get a cool-guy cap. Then I would be the cool rock-&-roll rebel who just got lucky. Only one problem.

I am the proud owner of an elephantine skull of enormous magnitude. I've long bragged that it's to hold my enormous brains, but the truth is that I'm just kind of a freak. Let's just say there was a reason I was born via C-section. Even in junior high, they were already having to custom order my size XXXL marching band hat. Just my luck -- I find the ultimate answer to coolness and can't find one to fit my obscenely huge head.

It's twenty-five years later. The JoBoxers went the way of the dodo, and high school band lost its lustre after discovering they held daily practice at 6 a.m. Still, my obsession with ill-fitting hats remains. There's seldom a time that I pass a cap in a store without flipping it over in hopes that it'll happen to be a XXXL wide. In college, I found one that was. I was broke at the time, but lived off ramen noodles for a week to afford it. And I wore it every day until it honestly starting molting. If you don't believe it, check my closet today - I can't bear to toss it.

But thanks to the internet, I've found my home away from home -- Big Hats for Big Heads. I've been an ardent supporter for years, and now have an arsenal of XXXL caps at the ready: newsboy caps, driving caps, Gatsbys, and my pride and joy: my Greek fisherman's cap. I have two, actually: wool for the winter, cotton for the summer. I wear the heck out of caps.

Naturally, my girlfriend hates them. This time, though, I kinda know why: they're pretty much ugly. I know that my Greek fisherman's cap makes me look less like a JoBoxer and more like a pudgy Captain in desperate search of his Tennille. And it's not like I need them to cover receding hair - that's one thing that genetics has so far blessed me with.

I can't explain why I continue to wear the silly things. They're just my trademark. I like wearing caps, and ptooey on you if you're not onboard. I may look like a giant dork, but somewhere in the back of my brain, there's still that 12-year-old who can finally be the drumming JoBoxer of his dreams.