Wednesday, July 28, 2010

COLUMN: I Write Like

I've always known that I was an Important Writer of Great Importance. Now I've finally got all the proof I need, without any of the bother of, you know, having to write important stuff.

A fella's got to have priorities in life, and I'm no different: (1) Fame. (2) Fortune. (3) Enough fame and fortune that I can eventually rule the world with an iron-hard fist while you, my epic fanbase of minions, do my (presumably) evil bidding. I'm not quite sure what kind of evil bidding will be on the future agenda, but that's a figure-it-out-as-you-go process, I reckon.

The only problem is convincing you, the editors, and the entire world of my great literative power. But thanks to the internet, I now have all the answers I need.

It's a website that's gaining hits by the tens of thousands every day: I Write Like ( The concept is simple: You, the aspiring author/blogger/journalist, upload the column/story/manifesto of your choice, and the website immediately tells you what famous writer of yore that yore, errr, YOUR writing style most resembles. Could you be the next Sylvia Plath? Ernest Hemingway? Shane Brown? This site holds those answers.

It reaches its conclusion by examining your writing sample and putting it through a battery of tests, isolating your language, meter, and vocabulary choices via a sequential algorithm of synergy thusly maxified and redacted through the cosine of Pi squared and... and...

Okay, heck, I have no idea how it reaches its results. It could be science. It could be magic. It could be a little dude living inside the website who flips a coin. I honestly have no clue. But it's on the internet, so it MUST be a credible and accurate tool by which to judge your writing ability, no?

So tonight I'm going to have proof positive once and for all of my awesomeness. I'm going to enter a few of my most recent columns into the I Write Like site, and then I'll find out which cherished writer you'll be able to compare my future works to as I rise up and eclipse the competition.

My two most recent columns about moving into my new house remind the site of David Foster Wallace. This is kinda cool, as David Foster Wallace was a pretty brilliant guy and a great author. The problem, though, is that David Foster Wallace was also a bag of problems whose declining mental health amounted to a way-too-small handful of genius work before he sadly took his own life at 46. So that's a bum deal - I don't want fame and fortune if it comes with a tragic downward spiral, thanks. Let me try some other columns.

Hmm, here we go. It turns out that the columns I wrote recently about my trip to Missouri remind the site of none other than Beloved American Humorist Mark Twain -- possibly the best comparison that an aspiring humor columnist might want to attain, eh? Clearly, the complex logic of this website was able to see my wit and topical banter and compare it positively to that of a true national treasure. And the fact that those vacation columns repeatedly used the words "Missouri," "Huck Finn," and, yes, even "Mark Twain" -- well, that should be dismissed as pure coincidence.

Then there was the column I wrote a while back about mowing my yard, which the "I Write Like" site just informed me is comparable to the work of Chuck Palahniuk, the American master of transgressive fiction, which the Atlantic Monthly defines as "a literary genre that graphically explores such topics as incest and other aberrant sexual practices, mutilation, urban violence, drug use..." -- and, apparantly, lawn mowing. This proves that I'm so cool, I don't just mow my lawn -- I mow it TRANSGRESSIVELY. Heck yeah. Except that I really, really, really can't stand Palahniuk or his writing style or his annoying books.

This isn't working. I need a definitive answer as to who I Write Like. David Foster Wallace is too fragile, Mark Twain's too folksy, and Chuck Palahniuk is just plain annoying. So that's why I've just fed the last fifty columns that I've written into the website. I need an overall consensus as to the beloved author I best emulate. And I can now proudly proclaim to you all that you're bound to love me if you're a fan of...


Wait, who? I have NO idea who that is. Let me look him up... hmm. I might have just lost some nerd cool points. Cory Doctorow is apparantly a science fiction writer from Canada who contributes loads to nerd culture. He also looks a heck of a lot like the "I'm a PC" guy from those Mac ads. And of my last fifty columns, over half of them remind this dumb website of this guy.

Suddenly I feel not so Important after all. Where's Hemingway? Irving? Fitzgerald? Heck, I'll even settle for John Grisham. But nooooo. I get compared to some nerd savant guy. My dreams of global domination are fading. At best, maybe I could position myself as Ruler of the Nerds with an iron-hard pocket protector, while my epic fanbase of nerd minions do my evil nerd bidding, like destroying your credit rating or only giving my least favorite movies on Netflix one star.

But here's where it gets interesting. I wanted to find out how smart the brain of this website is, so I went online and I found a short story written by none other than Cory Doctorow called "The Things That Make Me Weak & Strange Get Engineered Away" (note to self: with a title like that, maybe I would actually enjoy Cory Doctorow.) But I just took THAT story and fed the entire thing into the I Write Like website. Guess what?

Cory Doctorow writes like... STEPHEN KING. And I write like Cory Doctorow. Ergo, I WRITE LIKE STEPHEN KING! And if there's one simple fact about Stephen King, it is that CLEARLY THE MAN HAS FAME AND FORTUNE.

So you heard it here first, Quad Cities. I am the next Stephen King -- just with a little David Foster Wallace, Mark Twain, Chuck Palahniuk, and Cory Doctorow thrown in for good measure. I think my first novel will be an ironic look at a tennis academy that spawns a kid who rafts down the Mississippi and starts a fight club for nerds... until a possessed car and a rabid St. Bernard kill everyone. The end.

Trust me, you will LOVE it.

Oh, and as for "I Write Like," I now KNOW the site's legit. I just fed it the lyrics from the modern treasure "Pimpin' Ain't EZ," by Snoop Dogg -- and it turns out that Snoop Dogg writes just like... William Shakespeare. I am SO headed for greatness.

COLUMN: Moving the Cats

It is official: I have moved. I'm not just a first-time homeowner, I'm now officially a first-time home liver-inner. All of my stuff is here, too, and appears to have made the journey relatively unscathed. Of course, 80% of it is still in boxes as I type, but hey, that's what the rest of my life is for, because Lord knows I'm NEVER going through this painful process again.

For all the chaos and hoopla that was my life leading up to moving day, the actual event was pretty anti-climatic. The movers I hired were careful and courteous and decent and efficient and I'd recommend them to anyone in a heartbeat, provided that Anyone was someone with lots and lots of money. Good work doesn't come cheap, and I'll be paying these guys off for a loooong time. Still, it was a fantastic decision.

But it made for a slightly awkward day. Their job was to pick up and lift all of my possessions from Apartment A to House B. My job in the affair was to stand there and play traffic cop, announcing "basement," "garage," "living room," etc. every time a bundle of boxes got heaved into the house. Even though I knew I was dishing out gobs and gobs of money for the courtesy, it was still pretty weird to not have to help or lift a thing.

However, there were two other residents of Casa Del Shane who were having a considerably more awkward time of things during the move.

I own two cats. Or maybe they own me. Let's just say we co-habitate together, occasionally willingly, through a mutually beneficial unspoken arrangement. I give them food and water and litter, and they allow me the privilege of occasionally scratching their heads. The problem was, though, I had foolishly made the decision to move without consulting my feline companions. I was hoping it would be a "fun surprise." Well, here's how it played out and you let me know whether it constitutes "fun" or not.

I suppose a good chunk of it was my fault. When the cats were wee kitties, I used to transport them together in the same pet carrier. Note to all: once your cats are fully grown, this is NOT an ideal scenario. My original plan was to take both the cats over to the new house and seal them up in the bathroom with some familiar blankets and toys. That way they'd get introduced to the new house quietly and with some smells of home in the air. Then, once the movers got everything else over, I'd open the bathroom door and the cats would jump out, eager to begin life in their awesome new abode.

So I woke up bright and early on moving day, got everything ready to go, and the minute that those cats heard me pull the pet carrier out of the closet, they were GONE. Cat wrangling is always super fun; imagine trying to do it in a maze of 100+ cardboard boxes. Eventually I managed to get one in the carrier, and she immediately started howling as though I were pulling her claws out one by one. I got ahold of the second one, but when I tried to put her in the carrier with the first, I heard a howl, felt a leap, and before I knew what had happened, both cats were gone and I was bleeding.

The movers were five minutes away, so I had to think on my feet. I decided to corral both cats into the apartment bathroom and then we'd worry about moving them later. I gave them a healthy supply of food, water, and litter, and managed to get them both into the bathroom. For this, I was rewarding with a duet of howls that lasted for the next six hours.

Now, I've had cats a few years, and I know their noises pretty well. Low-volume, high-pitch meow means "please pet me." High-volume, low-pitch meow means "please feed me." THIS noise I had never heard before, but its meaning was perfectly clear: "We are really, really, really less than amused to be in this bathroom, and if you don't let us out of here right this second, we WILL go all Discovery Channel on you, I swear to my cat god."

This non-stop howling went on the entire morning. Did you know that cats could get hoarse? I report it to you all now as fact. By the end of the day, my precious kitties both sounded like Brenda Vaccaro on a bender. It wasn't pretty. Once the apartment was cleared out, I opened the doors and let the cats out into the culture shock of a completely gutted, empty abode. Both of them immediately started hissing at the air, so I'm thinking that didn't go as smooth as possible.

After all my stuff was brought into the new house, the last step was to race over and transport the cats. Miraculously, I got them both into my oversized pet carrier without too much blood loss on my part. Then all I had to do was run the cats and their litterbox out to the car. I went with the litter first...

I had read somewhere that it's best to bring the current used litterbox to the new locale because it gives the cats yet another familiar smell to help them get accustomed to the new digs. I was halfway to the car when Epic Rainstorm o' Doom 2010 erupted over my head. By the time I could get to the car, the litterbox had turned into litter SOUP and things were flowing up and over my hands that I can't even stop typing to think about or else I'm gonna be sick AGAIN. At this point, I made an executive decision to stop on the way to the house and buy a new litterbox.

Which would have worked out fine had I not had a car full of two hissing, howling, hoarse kitties. And had the car not flooded out at the bottom of the first hill I encountered. And had I not been forced to leap out of my car and push it through foot-tall water to safety.

Eventually I got the car started again, but I was a drowned rat by this point. A lot of people that day saw me running into K-Mart, drenched from head to toe, buying cat litter like it was THE most important thing in the world, which at that point it was.

All's well that ends well, I guess. Well, kinda. The cats and I all made it over here safe and sound. They're still highly unamused but starting to get the hang of the place. We're 48 hours here and they're just now starting to explore. Sadly, they're mostly exploring how to hiss at each other and get territorial, but I'll take angry over hiding-under-the-bed-shaking-in-fear any day. Keep your fingers crossed.

COLUMN: The Great Fall

I've been learning one fun thing during my extended move into my first house: when you're the new guy on the block, you are the center of attention. I feel like P.T. Barnum in the center ring of my own socially-awkward nightmare. My new neighbors have been keeping an overly-watchful eye on the happenings at the International House of Shane.

The other night my girlfriend and I arrived at the house with an armful of supplies. After unpacking a couple of boxes and setting some stuff up in the kitchen, I stepped out on the front porch to get some air... and, just for a quick moment, had a flash of sympathy for Justin Bieber. As I glanced around the neighborhood, I realized that no fewer than 14 sets of eyes from houses near and far were trained on me. No one speaking, no one smiling, no one waving -- but everyone staring with curious eyes and blank faces. Was my fly down? I ALMOST did a quick check before realizing that a spontaneous crotch grab would probably NOT be the best way to make a first impression on the neighborhood.

I started thinking deviously. Clearly, as the new arrivals on the block, we had the full and undivided attention of all the neighbors -- so why waste the opportunity? Fame, especially for a reason as lackluster as being a new arrival, is fleeting -- so maybe we should do our best to use our fifteen minutes to really make a splash. As Bonnie Raitt said, let's give 'em something to talk about. My ideas:

(1) Deposit one lawn ornament smack in the middle of the front yard, the tackier the better. Then we step outside and kneel before it as though it were our god of choice. THIS is the kind of stuff good dinner conversations were made for.

(2) Amy and I could stage a verbal argument in the front yard -- speaking only in Klingon. Perhaps we could even hold a mock battle in Klingon garb and make-up, and approach passersby with a hearty, "NuqneH tera' jIl! ghIj qet jaghmeyjaj!" ("Greetings, human neighbor! May your enemies run from you with fear!")

(3) After sundown, obsessively flick the primary lights of the house on and off for 2-3 hours straight. What's happening inside that place? Short circuit? Rave party? Mad scientists attempting to create life? We're the only ones who know for sure!

(4) Live a perfectly normal life, coming and going as we please... but every time we walk INTO the house, we first stop and put a ski mask on. Always leave the house wearing a ski mask and remove it once you're two steps away from the door. That should be enough to leave the neighbors in a constant state of "What the...?" "Are they robbing themselves? Do they have some kind of skin disease? Is their house contaminated?"

Sadly, though, my favorite way of life is to exist silently under the radar and out of gossip circles, so I wouldn't have the guts to do any of that stuff. It's okay, though. Fate took care of it for us.

As I detailed in last week's column, we were leaving the house that night when our escape was thwarted by Boris the Death Spider, who descended on a thin web smack in the middle of the back doorway. Even after giving it a shower in Raid, he was hanging on by a thread, as if to say "Am I gonna stay here and bite you? Or am I gonna freefall right down the collar of your shirt where I will implant my vorpal spider incisors into your jugular? Guess you'll hafta find out!"

By this time, I had already made it outside, but poor Amy was trapped in front of the doorway and the spider. It was up to me to make an action plan. No silly spider was gonna stop me from taking a mature and adult command of the situation. I probably could have shooed it away with a flick of my hand or smooshed it with a shoe. But no. This situation required utmost intelligence and planning. I assessed carefully and intelligently, looked at Amy, and issued my command.

"Run for it!"

And run she did. But did I mention that it had been raining out? Not cool. Here's how it went down: RUN. RUN. SLIP. THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP. There are exactly five steps leading up to my back door, and Amy had just gone down all five butt-first in a magnificent pratfall that was over before I could even blink.

Right after college, Amy got a job teaching elementary students in Egypt, where she lived for two years. During her stay overseas, she and her friends took a holiday to go see the desert and the pyramids and the sphinx and all that, right? At some point, she and her friends decided to take a short tourist-y camel ride into the desert. And somehow during that ride, the camel bucked and she went flying. This is a pretty funny story, and she laughs about it now... except that on landing, she broke her back. Now imagine having to deal with paramedics and an ambulance and a lengthy hospital stay in a foreign country where only a handful of folk speak fluent English, and you can start to see how one could get a complex about falling. At least, I HOPE she had a complex...

Because a complex would be the ONLY acceptable answer for the noise that proceeded to come out of my sweet girlfriend's mouth. Imagine Lucille Ball going "Waaaaaah!" combined with your run-of-the-mill civil defense siren and you'll be close. With a sound like that, I immediately thought her back had SHATTERED.

"Omigod! Omigod! Are you okay?"
"Is anything broken? Can you move?"
"Honey, shh. Shh. It's okay, baby, it's okay."
(I swear, at this point her head spun around like Linda Blair in "The Exorcist.")

She ended up with a seriously bruised tooshie, but was otherwise thankfully alright. And eventually I got the screaming down to a dull cry. This is a good thing, because it was, oh, 11 p.m. and a scream that clearly indicated, "Attention, the entire Longview neighborhood of Rock Island and perhaps even those of you drinking in the District, I am most likely being raped. Please send help immediately."

Happily, no one leapt out to her aid with a baseball bat or anything. Or maybe I'm not happy about all that - I've just learned that if I ever WAS mugged in the back of my house, screaming like a possessed banshee will get you absolutely nowhere. Still, mission accomplished: I think we officially made a splash with the neighbors. I'm now Shane, The Guy Who Makes Girls Shriek In Terror. Welcome to the neighborhood!

There were good bits, though. I'm happy that my girlfriend didn't break anything. I'm happy that Amy's banshee wail apparantly immolated the spider, because it promptly disappeared forever. And best yet, for the past week, I've had a perfectly wholesome reason to stare at my girlfriend's backside all the live-long day... out of concern for the well-being of her coccyx, of course.

COLUMN: Death Spider

Whew! Well, it took a lot of work and a lot of effort, but I'm finally all moved in to my new house.

At least that's what I'd say if I was Bizarro Shane who lived in a world where everything went according to plan. Tragically, I am Real Shane, who can't ever get anything done without a myriad of foibles, follies, and column fodder getting in the way.

Truth be told, I'm still very much un-moved, despite having taken last week off to get the deed done. It turned out, as I was frantically throwing my entire life into a sea of cardboard boxes, that about 80% of what I was packing was destined for the basement of the new house. The basement we plan on finishing. The basement that's currently home to a sea of Fiberglass and insulating foam and one very over-worked father, whose help on Project Basement has gone from "invaluable" to "indescribable" and "perhaps worthy of a commemorative statue."

Everyone on Earth should be as lucky as I to have a newly-retired father in possession of the home-improvement chromosome who was just itching for a new project. Every day, usually while I'm at work, the man has been driving up from Galesburg, slaving away by his lonesome in my new basement, and usually heading home before I'm even off work. I swear to you all in print, he called me at work the other day to ask my permission to eat a SALTINE out of my kitchen. Meanwhile, my job in this entire affair is to walk in to the house every night open-mouthed and go "whoooooa" when I see all the work he's done for me. Yes, it's a difficult life I lead. Trust me, though, I will see to it that the man never runs out of saltines in his life.

Still, the basement is nowhere near ready for habitation, let alone piles and piles of my smelly unsightly stuff. So rather than having to move and then move again and again while playing ring-around-the-remodel (fact: "stuff" is heavy,) I decided at the last minute to postpone the official relocation until we've at least got a floor and some drywall up in my future underground lair. This gives my dad room to work at the house and me room to live at the apartment.

So, even though the move is delayed a few weeks, it's finally starting to sink in: YOWZA, I OWN A HOME. Like a real person. Like a bona fide taxpaying member of society. And it's kind of giving me the willies.

Actually, it's been kinda cool, though it still sort of feels like I'm just playing house -- like it's a really complicated role-playing game that soon I'm gonna tire of and go order some pizza. The other night, my girlfriend and I went shopping for some toiletries and home decor type stuff. As we keyed into the house, arms full of all this normal-people-homeowner-y stuff, I think -- maybe for the first time in my weird little life -- that I felt like a real honest-to-gosh adult (and it only took me 39 years! Yay me!)

Good thing it only lasted for about seven minutes.

I had already made it out the back door and down the steps when I saw it. My girlfriend was trailing me a few paces so I had enough time to yell, "Blaaaa!" Happily, Amy knows by now that "Blaaaa!" is Shane for "hey-there's-something-really-creepy-out-here-and-you-should-probably-not-follow-me-at-this-time," so she stopped in her tracks.

This was a good thing, because her tracks would have led her face-to-face with the hairiest, gnarliest, most disturbing spider I've seen in some time. And at that moment, it had descended from Creepytown USA to hang out on its little web right in the middle of my back doorway, as if to say, "Umm, w'sup people? I don't seem to recall giving you express permission to move into my house."

I don't deny the fact that I'm a huge wuss when it comes to nature. Bees of any nature mortify me, beetles are pretty much disgusting, and don't get me started on snakes and, well, most of the reptile family in general. But I'm usually not a gigantic weenie when it comes to spiders. Some of them are actually pretty cool. This was NOT one of them.

This was, quite clearly, a demon spider sent from hell to cause pain and misery to all those around it. It was not a happy little "ooh-lookit-my-pretty-web" spider. No, this was a tiny-legged, hairy vampire with a HUGE abdomen presumably full of the innards of previous homeowners. It was the kind of spider where the only positive outcome MIGHT just be that you develop superpowers after it bites you with its vorpal snicker-snack. I was having NOTHING to do with this spider.

That was about the point where Amy shouted "Nyaaaaaaaaaaaah," which is Amy for "oh-I-see-it-too." Thus began a tense 30 seconds of silence, where each of us -- man, woman, and spider -- waited to see who would make the first move. It was Amy. "Don't just stand there, kill it!" she yelled to me.

"Ummm, no thanks much. I'm good. I think it's the spider's house now. We should just go." But then I had a brainstorm!

"Hey, there's a can of Raid in the kitchen! Douse that sucker!"

Amy went and got the stuff, which I believe was designed to kill ants and roaches but, hey, surely wouldn't be a picnic for spiders, right? So she comes out with the can and gives our arachnid friend a hosedown in liquid death. But rather than be a good little spider and dropping dead, it just sort of flailed about in a now-I'm-seriously-ticked-off sort of way. This was Rambo the Spider, and now he was looking at me like "You drew first blood!"

This is when Amy pulled her best move. A move that only girls can do. A move that out-wusses even me. I looked at her and she had tears in her eyes.

"Kill it! Quick! It's Charlotte and we just destroyed her web! She wasn't hurting anyone and now she's in pain! Kill it!"

I had a decision to make. Not Shane the fraidy wuss-boy. Shane the Home-Owning mature adult. As you can probably guess, the decision I made was fantastic.

And I'll tell you all about it next week.

COLUMN: Closing Table

The deed is done. I woke up today fully in charge of my life, my finances, my rent, and my world. Twelve hours later, I find myself fully in charge of $84,500 in newfound debt, a lawn I have no idea how to mow, appliances I have no idea how to repair, and what might very well be the onset symptoms of my very first ulcer.

The papers are signed. The keys are in my hand. I am a homeowner.

Moving day is next week, but I'm jumping the gun tonight. I sit here now, bathed in the warm glow of my laptop, typing cross-legged on the empty floor of the living room that is now mine. Hands have been shook, documents have been shuffled, hugs have been hugged -- and now I sit alone in the dark, surrounded on every side by the biggest impulse buy I have ever made and will ever make in my life. And man, it's quiet. Without the friendly, steadfast hum of my apartment's window air conditioner, I feel like I can hear my own thoughts. There's a window halfway across the living room and there's a bug outside recklessly flying into the pane of glass and I can hear it like it's inches away. This is weird.

Just a few hours ago I was sitting at the title company over what's affectionately known as "the closing table." This, for the uninitiated, is where all parties concerned with the buying and selling of a piece of property meet -- and stare at you silently and creepily while you sign a non-stop barrage of documents that, for all intents and purposes, are written in Martian. For all I know, I could have signed my girlfriend away to slave labor and not known it (in which case, umm, sorry, Amy.)

Putting the full weird on the event was a mid-afternoon Midwest monsoon, so every new person who came to the table was soaked with rain, like some kind of demented Buffy rerun where the Scooby Gang was faced with a clan of dripping water monsters intent on robbing an honest, hard-working newspaper columnist of his entire life savings. Well, not exactly -- because I took care of that for them. Let me explain.

The centerpiece of the paperwork barrage is the HUD form. This is the sheet that breaks down all of the buyer's expenses and credits and bottom-lines the necessary down-payment in order for the title company to hand you the keys. Included in the breakdown is the fun of property taxes. Now, buying a house smack in the middle of the year complicates things a bit, because half the taxes of the year have already come due.

Since the taxes owed in 2010 are, in fact, the taxes of 2009, it's not my responsibility to pony up the cash for them. It's the seller who lived there during the 2009 tax season who's stuck with the bill. The taxes are paid in 4 quarterly installments throughout the year, and in my case, they're automatically paid out of the funds in my loan's escrow account. But since the year is half done, the seller's already paid the city for 2 of those 4 quarters. For the remaining two quarters, the seller pays ME that money and then it's pulled from my escrow. Follow? (Don't worry, I only barely do myself.)

So I'm looking at this HUD form, and it shows what I owe, and then it shows my credits, and then it shows the bottom line figure I needed to have for the downpayment (in this case, a lump sum of around $1100.) But as I look at the credits, I notice something odd. There's a line that says "Credit for 2009 property tax" and it indicates a sum of $2700. Well, the property taxes for my house are $2700 for the whole year, but like I explained above, the seller's already paid for two of those four quarters, right?

Ergo, I say something.

"Let me take a look..." says the friendly title company rep.

"Hmm..." says my realtor.

"Hmm..." says the seller's realtor.

"Hmm..." says my loan officer.

"Hmm..." says the seller's attorney.

"YOU'RE RIGHT!" announces the title company rep. "This number IS wrong!"

Suddenly a wave of triumph sweeps over me. I found a math error. Me, who is pretty much legally math-tarded. Me, who scraped by Algebra II in high school with a D average and promptly took "Intro to Computers" for my remaining math credits. Me, who chose Augustana as my alma mater for the primary reason of no required math classes. Me, who still counts on my fingers when doing math in my head. I found a math error that escaped accountants and loan officers combined. "YOU ROCK!" said my brain to myself.

"Thank you SO much for noticing that," said the title company rep. I deserved a cookie.

"With that error cleared up, your credit is only $1350. So instead of owing us $1100 right now, we'll be needing $2500. Go get another cashier's check."

That's right, folks. I'm the only person on Earth bone-headed enough to discover an error saving me $1350 and promptly report it to the whole room. "Umm, excuse me, but I don't believe that I'm paying you enough. Please oh please charge me more."

Still, I've got mild warm fuzzies because I am now a documented do-gooder. And when I one day reach the pearly gates and St. Peter reminds me of the cassette single (or in 80's terms, "cassingle") that I stole when I was 12, I can at least come back with, "Oh, yeah? Well, I think I made up for it when I charged myself an extra $1350 for my house."

And my loan officer told me later that the error probably would have been found somewhere down the road and they would have made me come in and pay the difference at a later date. But still, part of me wonders if I just put the kibash on an accidental $1350 buyer bonus. Even though I felt kinda foolish pointing out a 1-line error that cost me $1350, I did the right thing, and I won't be losing sleep over it.

No, not when there's such a wide menu of OTHER things to lose sleep over. Now that there's no going back, reality's starting to creep in. Like, there's NO good place in my living room for both a wide-screen television AND my sectional. And simply due to the wall setup, there's no way to evenly hang surround sound speakers, so at best I will be enjoying my future cinema in 5.1 slightly-off-center-and-diagonal-sound. And don't get me started on the bad wiring job on the light switches - the living room overhead light appears to only work if the kitchen and living room switches are in the "OFF" position while the upstairs switch is "ON" - my house is like a bad game of Myst.

But the point is, it's MY house. Officially. Mine. I kinda like the sound of that...

(p.s. I'm taking next week off while I spend another fortune moving all of my possessions ten blocks to their new home. Say a prayer and I'll see you all soon.)

Friday, July 09, 2010

COLUMN: iPhone

I've never understood why, but the minute warm weather officially settles upon the Quad Cities, all I can think about doing is getting in a car and driving far, far away. Does this mean I hate the QC or something? Far from it. Even if I lived in the greatest place in the world -- a magical town called Shanetopia where the streets are lined with record stores and paved with chocolate -- I'd still want to hit the road the second the thermometer crests 65. (Come to think of it, it's probably not a bad idea to leave a chocolate-paved town in the summer months. "SUN RISES, HORROR RESUMES IN SHANETOPIA: SCORES DEAD AFTER YET ANOTHER TERRIFYING BUT TASTY CHOCOLATE FLOOD. FILM AT 11."

Ever since someone at the DMV foolishly handed me a license, my favorite hobby has been aimless driving. There is NOTHING better than filling the car up with gas, grabbing any available friends, and hitting the open -- and, occasionally, the closed -- road. No agenda, no destination, no rules. Nothing centers my psyche quite like being pleasantly lost on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere.

But this year seems different. When presented with some perfectly good aimless driving opportunities this spring, I've thus far responded with a resounding "feh." I'm not exactly sure why or how it happened, but a good old fashioned aimless drive seems to have lost its lustre a bit. I've been trying to figure out why the change in heart. Could it be...

• My age? Truth be told, the lure of the aimless drive clearly stemmed from parental independence and the ability to set our own rules and punchclock. My parents told me for years that anyone out in the middle of the night was clearly Up To No Good, and it was high time I learned what that was like. Suddenly mom and dad weren't calling the shots... and when the cat's away, occasionally the mice will take off on a back road and end up in central Wisconsin at 3 a.m. for no good reason whatsoever. These days, I sort of covet 8 hours of sleep and the comforting embrace of late night talk shows. I believe this makes me a fuddy-duddy.

• My car? As much as I love her, the Wonder Beetle is a bit past her prime. Its no fun getting lost in the middle of BFE with the serious risk that the car could break down at any millisecond. And with me currently buying a house and all, I'd like to eke out the last dying embers of Fahrvegnugen that the old girl's got in her. For the time being, I'm a trapped short-run city driver.

• My location? After 20-ish years of driving aimlessly around the area with Friend Jason and a countless cast of others, it takes an awful lot of effort these days to get us pleasantly lost on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere. We pretty much know every back road within a 50-mile radius of the Quad Cities by this point, which takes away some of the excitement off choosing the Roads Less Travelled By.

• Al Gore? As a proud left-leaner, I went to see ol' Al's shock-and-awe global warming disaster epic, "An Inconvenient Truth." But rather than leaving the theatre a satisfied Democrat, I left pretty much ashamed and guilty to be a living and consuming human being. Say what you want about global warming, but every time I stop at a gas station to fill up, I can't help but wince and think that I should be on a bike heading off to invent a car powered exclusively by lettuce and human tears.

But then I realized the truth. There's only one thing that's stopped me from enjoying aimless drives this year:


Him and his stupid technology have single-handedly killed my passion for aimless drives. It's easy to understand why. Getting lost in the country without an agenda is fun and relaxing... but it's not without a captivating spark or two of danger and excitement. I think back on all those college nights when we would go cruising and end up on some uncharted gravel bumpkin road at 1 a.m. If we'd have broken down, careened into a ditch, or smashed into Bambi, we would have been totally and completely HOSED. Even if we had cell phones, which we didn't, it would have been like:

"Help! My car broke down!"
"Sure! Where are you?"
"Ummmmmmm... by some trees. And corn."

And the knowledge that one wrong turn could end us left to our own devices amidst woodland creatures and the extras from "Deliverance" was kind of a rush. But thanks to Mr. Jobs and his magical iPhone, I now understand B.B. King: the thrill is gone.

Now that I've got an iPhone, it's a different world.

"Help! My car broke down!"
"Sure! Where are you?"
"N 41°30.435578951258293', W 90°30.788326263427734'. 3.42 miles from the Lamplighter Inn just past Lewis Fork. User 'CyberCooper' gives their cherry pie four out of five stars. The traffic is light. Radar shows mild cloud cover and a 30% chance of rain. Get a fix on my position with Loopt and I'll see you in an estimated 37.2 minutes."

How I managed to live for 30+ years without an iPhone is beyond me. While it indeed sucks the excitement out of an aimless drive, I can barely cope without it. One day last week I forgot my iPhone at home and it felt like I'd been cut off from all civilization. I barely made it through the day without my apps. My precious, precious apps!

With Maps, I'll never be lost again. With Shazam, I can identify any song that's playing on the radio. With Fandango, I can order movie tickets. With IMDB, I can learn about the movie. With Sporcle, I can take a quiz about the movie after I've seen it. With PocketFlicks, I can update my Netflix queue without moving those cumbersome ten feet from the couch to my computer. With Dragon Dictation, I can compose this entire column just by talking out loud. (Actually, Dragon just repeated that sentence as: "With dragon lactation, I suppose this is tire time just by talking to a cow." Which only makes it MORE interesting!)

And now, the iPhone just fixed my aimless driving doldrums. has long been the bible of aimless driving, and they finally unveiled their app for the iPhone. Now, with the click of a button, no matter where I'm at, I can get info and directions to the nearest array of crazy weird stuff: giant plastic dinosaurs, haunted mansions, animatronic Ben Franklins, you name it. Now get out of my way -- I've got a World's Largest Ketchup Bottle to go see.


(Not really my apartment. This is a still from A&E's "Hoarders.")

Well, it turns out that moving into a new house is a far greater chore than I had ever expected.

For what seemed like hours, my girlfriend and I lugged box after box. By the time it was done, the two of us were a sweaty and exhausted mess. My foot hurt. My back hurt. My tailbone hurt. I couldn't catch my breath. The heat was unbearable. I was pushed to the breaking point of my physical and mental capabilities. The two of us simultaneously collapsed on the couch to bask in the after-pain of a job well done.

There was just one teeny problem: Did I mention the boxes we were lugging into my apartment were empty?

THIS is why, when it comes time to actually make the move in a couple of weeks, I'm hiring a professional moving company. I feel no shame when I tell you that we really DID get completely worn out by bringing in load after load of empty boxes that we'd scored off a recently-moved friend. Well, okay, maybe I feel a little bit of shame. But darn it, ANYTHING's heavy when you're carrying it in mass quantities, up to and including cardboard. A ton of feathers still weighs a ton, people.

The point is, I almost threw out my back lugging a stack of cardboard, so I couldn't possibly imagine doing it again when the cardboard's holding things far weightier. This is not a gig for a chubby nerd like me. This is a gig for a chubby nerd like me to pay a muscle-clad behemoth to do, and I'm pretty much okay with that.

At least, I was -- until I started getting estimates from movers. It turns out that there must be some seriously wealthy muscle-clad behemoths about town, because I had NO idea how much it actually costs to move your possessions. I'm about halfway through gathering estimates and thus far the lowest one has been $770 plus tax. That's a bit steep -- but I'll likely be paying it.

I've just got too much stinkin' stuff. The low-end quote of $770 was for a crew comprised of four movers for a time period of six hours. I find it amazing to think that, in my 39 short years of living, I've amassed enough material goods that it requires four dudes to spend six hours carrying. But as I look around this apartment, the 4 guy/6 hour thing seems pretty realistic.

Long have I been a connoisseur of junk. My apartment is packed to the gills with odds and ends and knicks and knacks and bits and baubles that, when viewed as a collective whole, offer a deep and spiritual glimpse into my inner, umm, Shane-ness. My girlfriend, on the other hand, feels that I am inching more and more precariously close to a starring role on A&E's "Hoarders."

Now, I've seen a few episodes of this "Hoarders" show. Every third friend, relative, and/or co-worker of mine is addicted to it. And I am here, ladies and gentlemen, to announce to you in all certainty that I am no hoarder. If you've been lucky enough to avoid the show, the premise is simple: Each week, a sad sack is profiled who -- through any combination of sloth, neglect, and/or mental illness -- has let their living environment turn into a sea of trash and feces. A typical "Hoarders" home usually has 2-3 feet of decomposing garbage strewn throughout the floors, tended to only by what usually ends up being an army of defecating and fornicating cats. I'd like to think that I'm slightly above this, as would my current landlord, I'm sure.

It's just that, given the size of my small apartment and the amount of junk contained within, occasionally one must get a little creative when it comes to storage. My girlfriend keeps bringing up certain aspects of my current living arrangement that are outside the norm. It's been a bit of a learning experience. For instance, I've learned that the average homeowner does NOT, strangely, have a kitchen cabinet devoted to the storage of a/v cables. My girlfriend gives me unlimited grief over what I call the "cord dungeon." I simply think it's the handiest place for spare cords and cables to go. I told her not to come crying to me the next time she was in the middle of a cookie recipe that calls for brown sugar to be mixed with a 1/4 cup of 30' shielded digital coaxial with dual balanced conductors. Like the Boy Scouts, I am always prepared, especially when it comes to audio/video experimentation in my kitchen.

It's true that she might look around my apartment and see loads of useless junk. I'm simply giving our survival a fighting chance. I've seen enough episodes of "MacGyver" to know that if we were ever trapped in here with an atomic bomb and a 1:00 detonator, that useless junk might just save our lives. Of couse, we'd have to be trapped in here with MacGyver himself because I don't know what to do with any of this useless junk, but still...

And nowhere does junk accumulate more than in the stereotypical household junk drawer... of which I have four. Weeding through these drawers is my current pre-move task, and I honestly just can't bring myself to throw any of this stuff away. There's priceless treasures in here! Among the things staring up at me from my junk drawer right now:

• A pair of work gloves with the HGTV logo on them. Correction: only the right glove. That's a keeper for those right-handed gardening moments for sure. Besides, if I throw it out, I'll find the left glove immediately and then be super sad.

• 3 Slinkys. For fun, they're wonderful toys.

• A lighter in the shape of a woman's bosom. Push one naughty bit, flames shoot out the other one. I'm nothing if not classy.

• A Posh Spice Fantasy Ball Gum Lollipop, unopened, also containing 1 of 24 collectible Spice Girls trading cards. That's going with me to the grave.

• Also unopened: a bottle of Gore/Lieberman drinking water from their Quad City campaign stop. The perfect companion to my bottle of Hillary Clinton hot sauce.

• A plastic baggie containing exactly 9 little plastic whatzits. I have no idea what they are. But they each have hooks and two small holes in them and look horribly important, which is clearly why I can't throw them away.

• "The Best of Foghat" on 8-track.

• A pin that proudly says "TALK HARD!" I believe it's a promo item from that Christian Slater movie, "Pump Up the Volume," which made every college kid believe that their campus radio show would end up changing the world. This one can come out of the junk drawer... and GO STRAIGHT ON MY JACKET! YES!

Everything in these drawers is in there because at one point in my life, I deemed it too important to throw away. So why question my past decision-making skills now? There's some great treasures in here... I just need to move the 342 Taco Bell sauce packets to get to them.

I'm not a hoarder. I'm a refined collector... of junk.