Monday, November 28, 2011

COLUMN: Slurpee

Arriving in the Quad Cities as an Augie freshman in 1988, I've witnessed the demise of some truly iconic Rock Island businesses. I can't grab a burger at the 7th Ave. Porkie's or bowl a frame at Town & Country. I can't go rent a movie at Hilltop Video... or Hogan's Video for that matter. I can't go talk music with Dave Harrington at the 14th Ave. Co-Op Records, and I can't go back to work for Mike King at Co-Op of the District. If I wanted to relive my days of all-campus parties at the Rock Island F.O.E., I'd be in the parking lot of a funeral home – and if I wanted to nurse all these sad memories over an adult beverage at Lee's, the clerk at Auto Zone would be REALLY confused. As much as I like to fight the good fight, the times continue to a-change.

That's why I bristled at first when I found out yet another local institution was losing its identity. I remember seeing the sign when I came up to tour Augustana as a high-schooler and turning to my mom: “Ha! They have a gas station called Mother Hubbard's Cupboard.” Back then, I had no idea that Ma Hubbard had MANY a Cupboard throughout the Quad Cities -- but that's all changed now. Earlier this year, Old Mother Hubbard handed off the keys to her Cupboards to the big boss daddy of incorporated convenience: 7-Eleven.

When I was a kid, we had a couple of 7-Elevens in my hometown for a while, but they were in what my parents used to call “the bad part of town,” so we never stopped. Still, the non-stop ads for 7-Eleven in print and on TV made the company feel like a distant pen-pal that I've finally been given the chance to meet. With that understanding, though, comes an embarassing admission.

As a result of growing up sheltered from the alluring neon of 24-hour convenience stores, there's one thing I've never tried in all my 40 years... and since it's the product most often associated with the 7-Eleven franchise, I can't very well write this column without giving it a go.

My name's Shane... and I'm a Slurpee virgin. (I swear that sentence didn't sound nearly as Cinemax-y in my head as it does on paper.)

How I managed to make it through forty years without succumbing to the temptation of nearly-frozen sugar-water is beyond me. You don't need science to tell you that cold plus sweet equals awesome. I think I was just intimidated by the big swirling machine that I'd never used before. What if I hit the wrong button and Slurpee nectar went flying about the store willy-nilly? People would point and laugh and go, “Look at the 40-year-old weirdo who's clearly never had a Slurpee in his life.”

Well, a funny thing happens when you tell the local 7-Eleven PR rep that you've never had a Slurpee before. What happens, if you're wondering, is that you're pushed in front of a Slurpee machine while photographers gather around to take images of your first ever Slurpee, which in turn causes people to point and laugh and go, “Look at the 40-year-old weirdo getting his picture taken with Slurpees!” The end result is bad for social anxiety yet heaven for the taste buds.

I have officially Slurped. And, honestly, I even went back later after the photo shoot and Slurped again. These things are GOOD. And the way I figure it, they must be good for you, too. Think about it: If you're suffering from dehydration and go to the hospital, what happens? They hook you up to a glucose drip, which is essentially sugar and water. Slurpees are, essentially, sugar and water. That makes Slurpees MEDICINE in my book, and if you're gonna take medicine, it might as well be wild cherry flavored, no?

Thanks to the folks at 7-Eleven, I've been learning LOTS about Slurpees. Did you know they were accidentally invented by a guy named Omar Knedlik? When the soda fountain broke at his hamburger stand, his only way to serve cold drinks was to stick sodas in his deep freeze. It turns out his customers preferred the slushy, half-frozen sodas to normal fountain pop. 7-Eleven bought into the idea in the mid-60's and the Slurpee was born. Nowadays, those swirly machines keep the Slurpee at exactly 28 degrees – the perfect temperature to maintain its sherbet-like consistency.

Today, the Slurpee is a household name. Thirteen million of the suckers are sold and Slurped every month. While I was standing in the Rock Island store for my photo shoot, customers were literally pushing me out of the way to get to the machine – and I witnessed nothing less than master Slurpee chefs, mixing and matching varieties for triple and quadruple-flavored brainfreezes. 7-Eleven even sells divided cups that let you sample multiple varieties with a straw capable of Slurping two flavors at once.

“It's a brand that connects with people in an emotional way,” explains Laura Gordon. She's 7-Eleven's Senior Director of Proprietary Beverages, which I'm pretty sure means she's built a career around playing with Slurpees. “Slurpee brings out the kid in all of us.”

There's a town in Washington called Kennewick that relishes its fame as the world's leader in Slurpee sales. The local 7-Eleven there claims it was all due to their local high school football team hanging out in the store and downing Slurpees like oxygen. 7-Eleven responded with freebies, t-shirts, and even launching new and exclusive flavors in Kennewick. A newspaper in nearby Winnepeg reported on the claim to fame with the headline, “Kennewick Sucks!”

My proposal, Quad Cities, is this: Let's take Kennewick's crown away. Some towns are best at commerce, other towns are best at tourism. Let's become the town that's best at sucking. It would certainly give THIS writer some good future column fodder.

Times change. People and businesses come and go, and what we're left with are fond memories of the past and hope for the future. It sounds like 7-Eleven's here to stay, and I'm all for it. My hope is that we become the future Slurpee capital of the world. With lots of work, dedication, and a whole lot of brainfreezes, I'm pretty sure that if we all come together, the Quad Cities can officially and definitively suck harder than ever (in a good way.)


Since becoming a homeowner, I've learned to roll with the punches. When the washer backed up and nearly submerged my basement, I rolled with it. When I hit the wrong button on the vacuum cleaner and a gallon of dirt foomp-ed all over the kitchen floor, I rolled with it. When a wind storm came precariously close to depositing half a tree in my living room, I rolled with it. But there's one thing I will NOT put up with:


A month ago, I came home from the store with a load of groceries. Among my purchases? A new bag of cat food, which I placed in the hall closet. A week or so later, I went to open the new bag... to find that mission already accomplished. As I lifted the bag, rogue bits of kibble cascaded from a gash at the bottom of the bag. Several scenarios sprung to mind:

• My cats are NOT dumb. The bag of food was so close to the door that they reached through the crack and clawed open the bag. Bad kitties.

• My cats are capable of premeditation. Clearly they conspired together to jump up, turn the knob, open the door, claw open the cat food, and then shut the door leaving me none the wiser. VERY bad kitties.

• I am the worst cat owner ever and somehow managed to shut one of them in the closet while getting ready for work. Can't blame the cat for clawing open the food bag for survival. Thankfully, she must've escaped when I got home and hung up my coat. Bad human.

• The house is haunted by a ghost with a particular affinity for Cat Chow. All I need to do is set up a series of motion cameras, thermal and electro-magnetic field detectors, and perhaps a grey-haired psychic to croak, “Go into the light! There is peace and serenity in the light!” Bad undead.

Maybe the bag had ripped at the store. Maybe the bags are just cheaply made. It could have been a billion things, so I just ignored it and transferred all the food to a plastic container.

But then I got another new bag of cat food, put it in the same closet, reached for it a week later, and once again got showered in kibble. That's when it hit me:

These bags are being ripped by a non-cat, non-human, and likely non-ghost entity. Dare I say it, methinks I have a mouse In the house.

Mice are cute. I could watch them do their thing all the live-long day... provided that thing occurs safely behind glass. Mice tend to lose their cute when they're free-range walking about your house.

My old apartment complex had mice -- until I got my first cat. Chelsea was a mouser extraordinaire, a skill I discovered one morning at exactly 7:02 a.m. when she jumped on my chest and proudly spit a freshly-dead mouse onto my neck. Coincidentally enough, 7:03 a.m. that same morning was when I first discovered that it's possible to go from a dead sleep to a scream in under a minute.

That wasn't the only time my first cat gifted me with a mouse corpse. All told, there were 4 in total over the years, each more disgusting than the last. But when Chelsea went to that big ball of yarn in the sky, I missed my mouser.

A year later, I took in the sister kitties that I have today. From that day on, I never saw or heard another mouse in that apartment. My neighbors would complain about mice all the time, but with the twins on patrol, it was a non-issue.

That's why I now needed to call a family meeting. My security team is NOT known for slacking. In fact, just last week, I saw them take down Mothra's little cousin with tag team precision, aerial acrobatics, and a hang time Michael Jordan himself couldn't pull off. All they needed was motivation.

“You understand that I allow you to live here rent-free, right?" I began. "I give you food, I clean up your poop, and I scratch under your chins when you come up going 'mrow.' All I ask in return is unconditional love, continued cuteness... and your unwavering diligence in keeping mice out of the house. Step it up a notch, ladies.”

I sensed understanding, but apparantly not. As I type this, they're both dead asleep beside me on the couch while Mickey and Minnie could be turning my hallway closet into mouse-miniums for all their little friends. No good. Time to get pro-active.

That's why I just placed my very first mousetrap. Don't worry, I'm not snapping any necks today. Like I said, mice are cute, albeit just a little terrifying. Ergo, I bought a little mouse apartment from whence there is no escape until I pick up the trap, take it outside, and let the little sucker go. To bait the trap, I bought something called "mouse attractant" that is advertised to be "better than cheese or peanut butter" but looks like purple snot and smells considerably worse.

It's been baited for two hours now, and thus far, no takers. In a way, this makes me happy, because I still don't know if I've got the guts to pick up a mouse-filled trap and take it outside without dying of fear that a legion of angry rodents will spring forth, run up my pant leg, and promptly give me both the black plague AND cooties simultaneously.

Maybe the ghost explanation IS the best. After all, I've yet to hear any mice scurrying about -- and if they ARE making a home in my closet, they're clearly tidy and potty-trained residents, because the only evidence I have to their existence are two holes in two bags. Frankly, if they keep their droppings and Lyme Diseases to themselves, they can turn the cracks and crevices of my house into Mousetopia for all I care. Just back off the Cat Chow, buddies. And if it's something other than mice? I'd rather not know about it and live a blissfully ignorant life where holes in bags can be blamed on ghost cats.

COLUMN: Skrillex

Listening to me whine about growing old is a recurring theme of this column, and based on my inbox, it's a theme that a lot of you have very little patience for.  After all, I'm only 40 -- it's not like the news networks have my obituary on standby or anything (though, based on the number of drive-thrus I've frequented since my girlfriend and I broke up, it might not be a bad idea.)

In many ways, I'm still a young pup.  And to sit here and be all, "Woe is me, for the sands of time hath blown me closer to the tomb!" when my primary audience is likely OLDER than me?  Yeah, that's not gonna fly.  So I've made it my mission to stop complaining about life as a 40-something.

But just because I've stopped complaining about it in print doesn't mean that I've grown any more comfortable to its dread arrival.  What it comes down to is THIS:  In my mind's eye, I still picture myself as a counter-culture college student. Truth be told, when it comes to MOST things in life that I like -- music, DJing, TV, video games -- I'm past my prime. That 18-34 demographic came and went.  I'm supposed to now be stuck in my ways, listening to dated music and watching reruns of "Law and Order" while telling teenagers what life was like before cell phones and mp3's.  I choose to NOT go gracefully into that good night, thanks much.

So I'm coping.  And trying to keep my yap shut so I come across as calm, cool, and still in possession of as much youth and charm as I can muster up.  But this weekend, something really evil dawned on me that truly brought it all home...  

One of my favorite hobbies is playing in trivia nights around the area, but an ever BETTER time is getting asked to emcee one of them. This week, though, I'd bitten off a little more than I could chew: TWO trivia nights in one week. That meant coming up with 100 questions, 100 answers, and a nifty Powerpoint presentation for each of them.  So while you guys were enjoying the last decent weather week of 2011, I was sitting in my living room, unshaven and occasionally unbathed, furiously looking up random facts about random stuff.

Since trivia nights draw crowds of all shapes, sizes, and ages, careful attention must be paid to creating a set of questions wide-ranging enough to keep everybody happy. So when I was working one of our music categories, I was focusing on artists from all eras and genres... and it hit me.

When I was in high school, the primary objective was to be cooler than the next guy. So when everyone I knew was listening to Bon Jovi, I rebelled by discovering the Beatles.  In a time when radio was ruled by new wave bands that sounded like the future, wandering down Penny Lane through Strawberry Fields Forever seemed nothing less than archaic.  It was, and is, wonderful music; but even back then, it sounded like a beautiful remnant from a bygone and distant era.

I've just realized that I'm now on the OTHER side of that coin.  When I was listening to the Beatles in high school, their music was 20 years old. NOW it's the "new" music I listened to in college that's just turned 20.  Nirvana's "Nevermind" just turned 20.  I believe this may even constitute it now as "classic rock."  Does this mean that kids in high school today hear Nirvana the same way I heard the Beatles?  As some of kind of crusty old antique?

In a way, it's a little disappointing.  Back in high school, bands like Duran Duran and the Pet Shop Boys sounded so futuristic they couldve been from Mars.  And I remember thinking, "Wow, in another 20 years, music will be SO cutting-edge, it'll be unrecognizable!"  Umm... future FAIL.

Guitar rock, for the most part, sounds about the same now as it did back in the early 90's, and about the only thing that differentiates Britney Spears from Debbie Gibson is less clothes and a slightly superior synthesizer. The only REAL evolution in music over the past two decades has come from hip-hop, and a good chunk of that just samples beats and loops from my era and before.

The high school me would have assumed that, by now, our Top 40 charts should sound something like the cantina band from Star Wars crossed with power tools. Thus far, future music hasn't been very futuristic.  Then I heard Skrillex.

Every week, I'm getting more and more requests for his music at DJ gigs, and his popularity continues to grow and grow.  There's a genre of music big in Europe right now called "dubstep" - slow-tempo dance music characterized by throbbing basslines and little else. Skrillex, an American producer, takes that blueprint and adds as many abrasive synth noises as possible. It is definitely the music that was in my head when the 1981 version of me wondered what the music of 30 years down the road would sound like. And it's entirely unlistenable.

Every Skrillex song employs the same formula:  A harmless beat kicks in and is usually surrounded by some etheral synths and dreamy vocals.  Then, right as you're about lulled to sleep, someone screams and the song explodes into what sounds like malfunctioning, shrieking robots through the din of a bassline that goes "WUB! WUB WUB WUB!" violently for 6 minutes.  It is impressive in its awfulness.

This is the music that Death Stars should get destroyed to. The music to turn Elroy Jetson into a delinquent.  It is ahead of its time, proof positive that the world is evolving, and God-awful to my 40 year old ears - just as it should be. But when I first heard Skrillex in a CLUB, where every screech and WUB gets pounded into your soul by subwoofers, I understood.  It might be awful but it's AWESOME, too.  

I'm getting older, going grey, and officially hating a form of modern music.  But even though I can't the stuff, I get why kids would like it and appreciate its awesomeness.  Skrillex is the Kurt Cobain of its time, and maybe even the Beatles of THEIR time.  As long as I've got THAT understanding, I'm ok with getting a little older.  Just keep it off the soundtrack of my video games or I'm gonna get irked.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hawaii Five Oh No!

Umm... what the HELL, Hawaii Five-O?

Okay, here's my take on THIS show:  I don't have one.  BUT now I super hate it.

Here's the thing:  Even though I've never really seen an episode of the rebooted show, it's pretty much always on my TV.  My Monday night ritual usually involves turning on the TV, watching "How I Met Your Mother" and "Two & A Half Men," then turning the volume down and working on my newspaper column for the week.

As a result, "Hawaii Five-O" is on my TV a lot, though I've never paid attention to it.  The original was before my time a little bit, but I kinda thought it was a standard run-of-the-mill crime drama, wasn't it?  I assumed it was just like Kojak or whatever, but in Hawaii to create slightly nicer scenery, no?  And maybe I'm wrong there, since I never saw the original.

But every time I glance up at THIS reboot, it looks less like "Kojak" and more like "Apocalypse Now."  There's always someone being tortured or dudes running around with AK's and machine guns or what appear to be wicked Rambo-style jungle fights or huge explosions... this is NOT your parents' Hawaii Five O.

Well, even though I've never really watched the show, I've secretly rooted for it for a number of reasons... primarily the cast.  I was a "Lost" junkie, so it was cool that they cast Daniel Dae Kim as a lead character.  And then there's the show's leader, Alex O'Loughlin, who was really quite great in that-one-vampire-show-that-was-only-on-for-one-season-whose-name-I-can't-remember.  He's another in our current pantheon of British actors who play bad-ass Americans, and I dig that.

Then, THIS season, when they got Terry O'Quinn -- aka John Locke from "Lost" -- on a multi-episode arc, I respected the show even more.

But there was one secret reason why I reeeeeally rooted for Hawaii Five-O -- Larisa Oleynik.  Some of you might remember her from the classic Alex Mack Nickelodeon show... some of you might know her as Julia Stiles' little sister in "10 Things I Hate About You"... or you might remember her as Joseph Gordon-Levitt's girlfriend from "Third Rock from the Sun."

What I remember her from is the HUGE CRUSH I've had on her for years.  Call me pervy if you want, but she was always in that shortlist of girls that make me go "Wuh." (See: Holmes, Katie; Seyfried, Amanda; Birch, Thora; and Mulligan, Carey.)  And I was always kinda sad that she'd all but dropped off the Hollywood map.  But then, lo, there she was on Hawaii Five O, playing some kind of techie specialist person I think (based on my muted TV.)

So tonight I get home, watch sitcoms, and then bang out my column in record time.  "Cool," I thought to myself.  "Enough time to turn up the volume and catch a little of this Hawaii Five O nonsense."

I turn up the volume.  There's O'Loughlin getting tortured, as usual.  And there's the rest of the cast, running through random jungle.  And hey, there's Larisa Oleynik!  Aww, and she's still fairly cute.  It's so good that's she's on.....


And with two point blank shots to the chest, Larisa Oleynik is apparantly no longer a recurring cast member of Hawaii Five-O.  Worse yet, they apparantly turned her character EVIL at the end or something.  Or at least deeply, deeply flawed.  She apparantly was responsible for turning O'Loughlin over to the bad guys in exchange for some dude they'd kidnapped, and, well, he was dead, too, whoever he was.

Can't. Believe. They'd. Kill. Larisa.  It should be a crime to kill someone that cute, even a fictionalized version.  Actually, I think it IS a crime, and one that O'Loughlin will probably spend the next 2 seasons trying to remedy, IF the show goes that long.  I know it sure just lose its hardcore Alex Mack fanbase...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

American Horror Story

Is this NOT the creepiest thing that's been on TV in a looong while?

I'm officially considering myself a passive fan of the show.  I've watched every episode since its launch... and I'm still a little torn on the show.

When I sit down and watch TV, I want to be entertained.  I want to laugh or feel excited or feel compelled or feel like I've learned something.

After every episode of AHS, I just kinda feel icky.  And I don't know yet if that's a bad thing or a good thing.

If you're un-initiated to the world of American Horror Story, here's the scoop without any big spoilers:  Dysfunctional family moves into creepy house where a seemingly infinite number of former residents have died tragically, angrily, and/or murder-ily -- and clearly, they've got a score to settle with the living still.

Ryan Murphy is the brains behind this show -- the same dude who brings us "Glee" every week.  But AHS is clearly the anti-Glee.  There are no morality plays in AHS - every character seems deeply flawed and there's really no rooting to be done for any of them... and that's where I start to have problems with AHS.

For as much as I love the tone of the show (DARK AS HELL), the cinematography (DARK AS HELL), and the slowly unveiling plotlines (DARK AS HELL), I have a reeeally hard time investing in these characters because there's never any kind of redemption at hand.  The creepiness is mad fun, but only if you as a watcher have genuine interest in the survival of the lead characters.

Thus far, it's just been nothing but darkness and death and despair behind every corner.  After a while it stops being compelling and just ends up being torture porn.  We need to FEEL for the family that bought this house... we need to see them occasionally WIN every once in a while.  Let's see them put their heads together and dispatch one or more of the former tenants to the netherworld... we need to understand why on Earth they don't just run from the house screaming and find a nice, safe apartment elsewhere.  

Instead, it's just basically 60 minutes of watching some people we don't care about slowly get tortured, and that's not fun, it's just kinda disturbing in an un-fun way.  If Murphy were to add a little humanity to the family, then we'd feel emotionally invested in the storyline.  Until then, it's little more than curiosity making me watch.

That said, tonight's episode -- focusing on the family's sullen daughter and her on/off love affair (SPOILER ALERT) with one of her dad's patients -- was a step in the right direction... especially when it's revealed (BIGGER SPOILER ALERT) that her boyfriend Tate is actually the ghost of a Columbine-esque school shooter.  The crux of the episode was the daughter (played brilliantly by Taissa Farmiga) grappling with her affections towards someone capable of something so heinous -- let alone someone capable of being, well, dead.

I'm still fascinated by this show, so I'll continue to watch it, ickiness aside... but jeez, I hope they lighten it up at some point just long enough for us to catch our breath and start actually CARING about whether or not (HUGE SPOILER) Mom is really carrying a hoofen-foot devil baby.  

I want to like this show... it's ambience is enchanting and Murphy's crafted an astonishingly creepy world without having to rely on pure scare tactics... but just occasionally give me something TO like, k?

What do you guys think about AHS?

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

An Old Year's Resolution Come True

So about a million billion kajillion years ago, I made a great public proclamation about how I was going to spend more of my time working on this blog.  Then life sorta got in the way.  Well... now I'm back.

My original goal for TCC wasn't just to have a place to archive my old columns.  I wanted it to become a living, breathing beastie, where readers of my newspaper column and the general public could log on, hang out, comment, argue, bicker, and just have some fun.  It's high time we got around to that.

It starts now.  When you click on each story, you should now be able to read it in its entirety, share it on social networks like Facebook, and comment to your heart's delight.

My columns will remain the centerpiece of the site... but I also want to focus on the other things we love.  Music... movies... TV... video games... ANYTHING pop culture.  If there's something YOU want to see on the blog that I don't roll out, PLEASE e-mail me at

Bookmark this blog and keep checking back -- in the coming weeks, I might try new layouts or other fun stuff as things progress.  The only way this thing can grow and become a good place to hang out and debate pop culture and news items is if YOU participate.  So comment on stories... share stories on Facebook... and let's see what we can do with this thing.

Thanks again for caring about what a fat nerd has to say.  You continue to blow my mind.

COLUMN: Biscuit

As I type this column, it's Halloween night. I'm sitting in the corner of my couch waiting for trick-or-treaters. Last year, our house was so popular, it merited an emergency candy run. This year, we're already an hour underway, I've had 0 visitors, and I'm starting to worry that my diet for the next month will be consisting primarily of mini Milky Ways.

It's times like this that I like to reflect on exactly why I've always hated Halloween... and, thanks to the events of this morning, I've finally figured it out: IT NEEDS MORE BISCUITS.

My alarm clock goes off weekdays at 7:15 a.m. This gives me a precise fifteen minute window each morning to wake up, watch Al Roker tell me the weather, and desperately attempt to boot up the central processor of my brain.
At the conclusion of these fifteen minutes, I know that I have EXACTLY enough time to hop in the shower, throw on some clothes, and hit the road with just enough time to swing in to a gas station and get the iced coffee and 2 Cokes required to make it through the work day.

(UPDATE: Still no trick-or-treaters.)

This morning, though, was different. I woke up precisely on cue, turned on the Today show, and was greeted by the sad sight of Bernie Madoff's family trying to get America to feel really really sorry that their husband and father is a Class A scumbag. This was NOT the way I wanted to kick off my day, so I forced myself off the couch and into action. I ended up out the door with just enough extra time for the greatest morning bonus of all: a drive-thru sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit. Life was good. I just first needed to run into the gas station...

Which I found myself strangely unable to do, since it's employees were standing outside blocking the door.

"No power," said one.
"No sales," said the other.
"No calculator?" I asked.
"No power," replied the one.
"No sales," replied the other.

And, apparantly, no basic math skills. That's okay, I won't blame them. I still count on my fingers. If I had to figure out sales tax at 8:08 in the morning, my brain might very well explode. Back to the car.

I knew of another gas station I could get to a few blocks away, and it wouldn't eat up THAT much time. This could still be done, I thought with confidence, as visions of biscuits danced in my head.

(UPDATE: Thought I heard something outside. Nope.)

At the second gas station, I was greeted with lights that proved they had power. Huzzah! However, it turns out that having power might actually be detrimental to this gas station, since I opened up their cooler to grab a Coke to get hit in the face by a gust of HOT air.

Not just "not-cold" air, mind you. No, this was HOT air, blowing all through their cooler for HVAC reasons unknown. The Cokes were literally TOO HOT TO HOLD. This will simply not do, as hot cola sounds about as appealing as cold chili. Some things are just not meant to happen, and heating Coke to the boiling point is one of them.

Clearly, my hatred for Halloween had transported me to some ironic Twilight Zone-esque land where hot is cold, up is down, and, clearly, no one eats biscuits.

Now at this point, you're probably asking yourself, "What's the deal, Shane? Don't they have pop machines at your work?"

That's just what Halloween WANTS you to think. In fact, they DO have Coke machines at my workplace, and they work fine -- except during any time that I crave one, in which case they're usually empty. I'm not one to tempt fate, especially on the least karma-filled day of my year. And I don't often make endorsements in this column, but in Shaneland, Pepsi just doesn't cut it. I have to endure Halloween -- at the very least, let me endure it with a Coke in my hand.
Dejectedly, I walked back to my car... but then it hit me. There exists a third gas station. And if karma, fate, and luck all decided to give me a break en masse, I just might be able to score my coffee, my Coke, and still wheel it into the biscuit drive-thru without being late for work.

I arrived at the third gas station and leapt from the car like a graceful yet bloated gazelle. Inside, I grabbed the necessities and even treated myself to a candy bar en route to the counter. The clerk rang me up with ease... until she hit that candy bar.

"Hey, Cheryl," she yelled to her co-worker with a frown, holding up my candy bar. "Remind me to tell you the story about this."

Umm. Alright, brain, focus. Pay, get out of here, and that biscuit is yours. You can't waste any time whatsoever... but WHAT story? My mind had a light-speed argument with itself. Many scenarios unfolded. Perhaps it was an inocuous story about store inventory. Maybe she wanted to recall the tale of Milton Hershey turning a Philadelphia candy shop into a multi-million dollar empire. Perhaps Hershey bars reminded her of a lost love.

Yet, for every GOOD story my brain could guess at, it quickly wrote a worse one. Like the story about how they found a 10-year-old box of stale chocolate and put it on the shelves. Or the story of how she caught a kid peeing on the candy bars last night. Maybe it was the one story my brain offered that's waaaaaaay too disgusting to retell in print.

I needed that biscuit. I wanted that biscuit. But I had to ask.

"Umm... what's the story with my candy bar?"

She then spent the next several minutes telling, with some skill and grace, the story about how she, as a child, had found a fully-wrapped Hershey bar on the ground. She knew it was wrong, but it was still sealed, so she took it home, ate it, and then became violently ill for several days.

I suppose the story had a good moral. Ground candy is BAD, kids, so leave it be -- but at least MY candy bar was safe. And, as I sat there at work, it was pretty tasty. But it sure wasn't a biscuit. I hate Halloween.
(UPDATE: One kid! Dressed in street clothes with a crudely drawn marker moustache, but still, a kid nonetheless. And I just gave that kid so much candy that he's probably gonna still be awake when this paper hits his front door on Sunday.)

COLUMN: Kadhafi

Ah, yes -- Halloween. Our time-honored and cherished holiday where we celebrate the spooky, the macabre, and the things that go bump in the night. When we can channel-flip through the TV dial and see zombies and vampires and blood and guts and dead bodies aplenty. It's good to see everyone getting into the spirit of things this year -- up to and including CNN.

Last Thursday, the scariest thing on TV wasn't a werewolf or a zombie or Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. No, instead it was the morning newscast just as I was stepping out of the shower.

"...we can now confirm the death of Moammar Gadhafi. We're beginning to receive video. Caution, these images are graphic."

Now, I suppose a person 100% in control of his or her impulses would be able to think to oneself, "This is an intriguing and fascinating news story. That said, there's no need to assault my brain with graphic images of death at 7:50 a.m. in the morning. Therefore, I will choose to turn away." I also suppose that a person 100% in control of his or her reflexes would be able to quickly avert their eyes in the rough .08th of a second that CNN gave us between announcing the graphic video and PLAYING said graphic video.

Instead, I started my day standing statuesquely stark naked and dripping wet, hypnotized by rough video of a freshly dead and extra gross Libyan that I've never especially cared about. I must have stood there with my mouth hanging open for a good 30 seconds before I announced to no one at all: "Ewww!"

Why would the major news networks feel the need to treat us to what's essentially Assassination Porn at breakfast-time? Or heck, ANYtime for that matter? Just because somebody sticks a dead body in front of a camera doesn't mean that you need to broadcast it willy-nilly to an innocent nation. I was relatively creeped out by the images of a dying and subsequently dead Gadhafi -- I wonder how many KIDS got to unwittingly witness that same news coverage? Shame on you, news networks.

And the images carried on and actually got worse and worse as the day progressed. By the time I got off work, it was like an amateur Libyan version of "Weekend at Bernie's." I channel-flipped from one gory video to another. The networks couldn't get enough dead man walking. A week later, I'd like to say that it's stopped. But I kid you not, the lead story on as I write this is:

"Gadhafi Sodomized: Frame By Frame Analysis (GRAPHIC.)"

Really? REALLY? THAT'S what it's come to? We're taking gruesome images of a bad guy's death and having a CSI frame-by-drame dissection in order to fully appreciate and maximize every individual second of torture inflicted on the dude? This is a sick world. I'm not remotely trying to defend Gadhafi, either - he was clearly a scumbag who arguably deserved his grisly end. But that doesn't mean I want to WITNESS said grisly end, and I hope for humanity that most of us feel the same way. I mean, I'd hate to meet the guy who came across that headline and went, "Ooh, sodomy, you say? (CLICK!)"

Our downfall, it seems to me, is two-fold:

(1) We've gradually become desensitized to gore. I first realized it when I played the video game Mortal Kombat. Two characters fighting to the death was intense enough, but no. MK took it to the next level with finishing moves -- if you were REALLY good with the game controller, furiously tapping in the right code at the right time could make your character grab your opponent's head and triumphantly rip out their spinal cord. In short, it was AWESOME.

But violent video games gave birth to TV shows pushing the grossness boundaries to new and exciting levels. You can't say naughty words on TV -- and you certainly can't have a wardrobe malfunction -- but if you'd like to catch a virus that liquifies your body, you'll have a starring role on the next episode of "Bones." Have you guys ever SEEN this show? Every episode goes something like this:

"Hello, Bones."
"Hello, Angel the vampire."
"No, that was my last show. Now I'm just a run-of-the-mill FBI agent despite being so superhumanly attractive that guys like Shane immediately develop inferiority complexes when they watch my show."
"Ah, yes. So I hear Mr. Smith has been murdered and you'd like my help."
"Yes, please."
"So why did you bring me here to this gooey red pile of maggots?"
"This gooey red pile of maggots IS Mr. Smith, Bones."

(2) We've become an untrusting society. Once upon a time, all it took was a stone-faced, chain-smoking newscaster to deliver what we took for granted to be the truth. Nowadays, we question EVERYTHING. The moon landings were fake, the government's poisoning us with jet vapors, 9/11 was an inside job -- there's a cockamamie conspiracy theory out there for everything. I'm not saying that we shouldn't question authority -- the fact that we CAN is what makes our country inherently better than, say, Libya. But if a newscaster comes on my TV and goes, "Gadhafi is dead. We've confirmed it with DNA," I'm good with that. I'm not going to stand there and go, "The hell he is. Until I see townsfolk playing soccer with his severed head, I refuse to believe."

At the end of the day, press coverage of the death of Moammar Gadhafi makes you think. Primarily, it makes me think that you'd have to be out of your dang mind to become a dictator. It just doesn't ever seem to end well, does it? You don't often hear stories like, "He ruled his country with terror and oppression for twenty some odd years… and then had a nice retirement party. He and his wife now have a charming little bungalow up the coast." No, if you dictate for a living, you might have a few years of golden toilets and opulent statues, but the odds are better than decent that you'll eventually end up in a ditch, cave, or on the receiving end of a good NATO strike.

So here's to you, Moammar -- you got what you deserved. I just didn't need to see it first-hand.

COLUMN: Autumn

Fall is my favorite season. This is the statement I've made with confidence for years and years now. I just can't for the life of me figure out WHY.

First off, the concept of favorites eludes me. Well, I suppose there are some things in life that I can easily play favorites with. I have a favorite restaurant (D'alessandro's,) but in saying so I could hurt the feelings of Ross', my favorite DINER. I have a favorite band. In fact, I have ten or twelve of them, depending on the mood, season, time of day, and about 1800 other factors. I tell everyone that my favorite movie is "Dazed and Confused" in order to hide the fact that my REAL favorite movie is "Twister."

But some things just shouldn't have favorites. I have never understood, for instance, how a person could have a favorite color. Colors are just a part of life that I don't feel should be given preferential treatment. I'll accept that certain colors work well together in design, and I'm not so devoid of artistic emotion as to deny that certain colors can be awfully pretty. Still, I've never thought that one color is innately or inherently prettier than another. I've never been able to declare anything like "Ooh, I'm Team Blue!" or "I'm a Red Man, me!" To me, saying you have a favorite color makes as much sense as saying you have a favorite letter of the alphabet. They're just colors, man. Well, maybe except yellow. Yellow kinda sucks.

And to me, seasons are kinda like colors. Especially given the confines of the Midwest, we have to live the highs and lows of all four seasons, and there's pros and cons to each. There's nothing more magical than a snowy winter night… until you wake up the next morning and realize you have to stand in a -23 wind chill scraping an inch and a half of solid ice off your car window. Nothing's as life affirming as the first blossoms of spring… until they start spitting out asphyxiating pollen. The long days of summer are full of fun and excitement… except when the humidity starts making it actually painful to be outdoors.

I guess that's why I've always deferred to fall as my favorite season. There's not much to complain about when it comes to jacket weather and a bright crispness to the air. Still, though, I've been trying to think about all of the things that go hand-in-hand with fall, and as it turns out, I'm not exactly smitten with any of them:

• Pumpkins - They make for decent pies, I suppose -- but on the whole, they're kind of disgusting. Don't believe me? Cut one open and stick your hand inside and tell me I'm wrong. Pumpkins are slimy, sticky, seed-riddled weirdness that just happen to come in an aesthetically pleasing shell. I just wanna know who the first person was to pull out a stringy handful of pumpkin guts and go, "Mmm, I bet this is GOOD eatin'!"

• Haunted Houses - Wandering around in the dark trying not to get fake blood on your shirt while some kid half your age chases you amok with a plastic axe? And I'm paying money for this privilege? No thanks.

• Halloween - I've made my opinions on dressing up in costume time and again in this column, so I'll refrain from standing atop my soapbox yet again. Suffice to say, when you have social anxiety and a hard enough time making awkward small talk with near strangers, please don't complicate matters by dressing the strangers up as Chewbacca. My parent's photo albums are littered with snapshots of the various costumes they forced me into as a child -- and in every one, I look mere seconds from crying. What are you this Halloween, Little Shane? Sad Uncle Sam. Then next year I'll be a sad hobo. Then a sad ghost. The cycle had to stop, and that time was puberty.

• Cornucopia - Now this I might like… if I only knew what the heck it was. Pictures of cornucopia adorn most Thanksgiving decor, but has anyone actually seen a real one? As I recall from pictures, they're basically oversized Bugle chips full of random vegetables and fruits that I hate, right? So I think I'll take a pass…

• Leaves - That pretty much leaves… leaves. The essential symbol of fall. That magical time when trees shrivel up and die for the year and we're supposed to bask in the beauty of their death throes. Actually, I DO bask in their beauty -- fall really IS quite pretty. At least that's what I thought BEFORE I bought a house. As it turns out, leaves quickly lose their lustre when they start landing on YOUR lawn. And I've got a mammoth tree in my front yard that poops down leaves pretty much year-round. My professional raking career came to a halt last fall when I accidentally raked up a snake and almost peed myself, so nowadays I pay for the service, and it's just not cheap to be a lazy wuss these days.

Still, there are some inarguable wonders to fall. You can't beat a glass of apple cider. Indian corn might be the coolest thing I've ever seen. Long-sleeved shirts are comfy. Bonfires are romantic. The whole town has an awesome smell to it (especially now that you can't burn leaves, for which me and my allergies are eternally grateful.)

At the end of the day, I have no idea if fall's my favorite season or not. All I know is that it's a season of change, and forced change is never a bad thing when you need an occasional kick in the pants like me. Now, I'm off to go look at pretty leaves on and off trees. Except for the yellow ones. The yellow ones kinda suck.

COLUMN: Single

Well, Quad Cities, I'm in a bit of a pickle.

Let's say -- hypothetically, of course -- that you're an aspiring humor columnist with humble dreams of global adoration, world conquest, and riches beyond all imagination. And let's say that you've spent the past two and a half years charming the socks off your readers with innocent tales of burgeoning young (or at least middle-aged) love. Let's say that it's to the point, even, when strangers stop you on the street to ask when wedding bells will ring for you and your dream girl.

How, then, should one handle breaking the news that The World's Most Perfect Relationship Ever has gone down the drain like a half bottle of Plumber's Helper?

I suppose the best way to save face would be to paint the newly labeled ex as a She-Devil incarnate, and regale you all with the many ways that she done gone and done me wrong in a charming yet biting Hank Williams kinda way. That the poor hero of the story (that'd be me) went and foolishly gave his heart to the female Vordemort, yet somehow -- with the utmost conviction of personal strength and character -- made it out the other side wiser and world-weary with a little charm and a lot of style.

Too bad that'd be a lie.

It is true that I have sadly parted ways with She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named -- but it wasn't anybody's fault. Truth is, it had been coming for a while. We're just two different people who turned out to be too different of people. And yeah, it's a huge bummer. No one was a hero and no one was a villain. It was just the culmination of a lot of issues and a lot of hard work on both our parts. At the end of the day, I still love her and I hope she still loves me. We're working hard at staying friends, and while a reconciliation down the road is doubtful, I've definitely seen weirder things happen, so who knows.

In the meantime? Bachelorhood, thy name is Shane. It's been a while, and not much has changed. I've had little to do over the past month except weigh the pros and cons of single life, so let's run through the checklist:

PRO: I can eat what I want, when I want.

CON: Except when the refrigerator is empty, which it now always is, because I haven't mastered the basic art of cooking or caring for myself. I've also discovered that when you're in a relationship, you eat out often at moderate to fancy restaurants, and I fear I've developed a taste for the stuff. Problem is, I have a hard enough time eating lunch at a diner by myself -- I couldn't imagine rocking a steakhouse solo. I've tried carry-out a few times, but it's not the same. So if any of my friends are looking for second or third wheels for dinner, call me up. In the meantime, I've been having an awkward and beloved reunion with my true soulmate: the Taco Bell drive-thru.

PRO: I can watch whatever shows I want to watch whenever I want to watch them. (Also related: I will never have to sit through another re-run of Law & Order (her fave show!) ever again.)

CON: An eight-hour marathon of "Storm Chasers" sounded way better in my head than it turned out to be. And TV's boring when you only get to share it with your cats.

PRO: I can decorate this house however I want. Down with the holiday-themed hand towels! Off with the doilies! I now have a fully-finished man-cave basement to go with the rest of my man-house!

CON: I now have a fully-finished man-cave basement that I never go down into because I can't hear if someone's trying to break in upstairs. Having a paradise escape retreat only works if you have something in your life worth escaping. And it always used to smell like flowers in here for reasons I've never been able to figure out. Now it just kinda smells like feet.

PRO: I never have to spend my weekends at one of her extended family get-togethers!

CON: I really like her family -- and Lord knows there's a BUNCH of them. I feel like I just broke up with 27 people at once, most of whom can cook like the dickens, too.

PRO: Whenever I would write a column about the two of us, she'd demand on reading it before-hand, often insisting on changes to anything she disapproved of. No more of that poppycock.

CON: Without her inspiration, I fear lots of columns about cats, crankiness, and the catastrophes of single life in my future.

I'm trying to look at it like the story arc of "Friends." When the show started, everybody loved Ross because he was the lovable hapless loser. Then he hooked up with adorable Rachel and everyone cheered. Then it got kinda stale, so the show broke 'em up. And then they paired Ross up with a hot (albeit kinda bitchy) British chick. Well, just for the record, I'm a sucker for a British accent, so if that's you, get in touch. Of course, then the British girlie left Ross at the altar when he accidentally said Rachel's name during the ceremony, so that's no good.

Who knows what the future holds? For now, I'm just trying to keep my head above water. If I stay lucky enough to keep getting this coveted piece of Sunday newspaper real estate, you're all invited for the ride. Wish me luck.

COLUMN: Teleport

Remember last week when I wrote about the fall TV season? Remember how it was kind of a cop-out column to hide the fact that I really spent the entire week doing nothing but free-form laziness?

Well, apparently, I did ONE thing last week other than create a Shane-shaped indentation on my couch: I somehow managed to get off my butt just long enough to catch a gnarly virulent cold. LAST week, I stayed on the couch for no good reason. THIS week, I've been on the same couch hacking, coughing, sneezing, and generally being a phlegm factory. I was hoping for a change of pace this week, but a riveting round of "Contagion: The Home Game" wasn't exactly what I had in mind.

None of this is particularly conducive to good column-writing. Normally, when I'm bone dry on column ideas, I've always got two topics to fall back on: my girlfriend and my cats. Well, the cats haven't done anything this week other than sleep by my side, and as for the girlfriend…? I'll currently leave that with a terse "no comment," but perhaps one day I'll fill in the details should I ever change jobs from humor columnist to despondent-loser-who'll-forever-be-unlucky-in-love columnist.

In the meantime, though, I needed inspiration. That's why late this weekend, I wadded up a pair of Kleenex, shoved them in my nostrils in the most attractive of fashions, grabbed some orange juice, and hit the road. Perhaps a good old-fashioned aimless drive around the QC would provide some column fodder.

I wondered what to write about as I detoured around the barricades on 15th St. in Rock Island… I wondered what to write about as I merged down to one lane on Moline's 6th Ave… to not be able to use the 7th Ave. on-ramp to I-74… to not be able to use the Airport Rd. off-ramp of I-280… (do you see a pattern developing here?)

Not to get all Seinfeld on you, but what's the deal with all the road construction? At this rate, 2011 will clearly be remembered as The Year You Can't Always Get Where You Want. You simply can't get from Point A to B these days without getting slowed down, re-routed, or stared at menacingly by a guy holding a "SLOW" sign. And don't get me started on Iowa, a state I barely remember thanks to this summer's bridge work.

I should be happy, I suppose, and in a way I am -- a lot of this road work is being done thanks to allocation of federal funds that help keep folks off the unemployment line, and that's never a bad thing. I guess I just never expected all the work to be done SIMULTANEOUSLY -- and I never expected it to drastically impact my morning commute. But the work on Moline's 6th Avenue often causes morning traffic to back up all the way to Rock Island's 7th Avenue, and that's my daily terrain. At this point, I've used up any brownie points I've ever gained at work on habitual road construction-related tardiness, and it's frankly too much drama to be had before I've even had a sip of coffee.

We are supposed to be a technologically evolved society. What happened to the future we were told to expect from a kajillion different sci-fi books? We were promised jetpacks, flying cars, robot maids, food pills, and Mars colonization. Well, ancient books of the past, I'll let those things all slide -- in exchange for ONE of your should-have-happened-by-now advances: I want teleportation. Every day, men of science make countless achievements in countless fields. And I'm pretty sure that, given enough time together in the same room, they could figure out how to zap us across the river to avoid bridge construction.

This notion caused me to fantasize about a world where you could yell, "Beam me up, Scotty" and be swept away to any part of the world you fancied. It sounds absolutely delightful, but when the cold harsh reality sinks in, I can easily imagine some problems with the advent of teleportation:

(1) For one, you can't tell me that it wouldn't HURT. I'm no expert in Trekkian physics, but I believe the basic idea of the teleporter beam is that one's body is converted into a kind of molecular energy and then essentially re-assembled at its destination point. Well, I can tell you that when microscopic portions of my finger lose molecules due to a paper cut, it hurts like a mother. I can't believe that the dis-assembly and re-assembly of my entire body wouldn't produce the kind of pain that would merit years of therapy to get over. Maybe that's why the red-shirted guys were all too happy to join the landing parties and face their certain death -- they'd already lost the will to live from a lifetime of gut-wrenching teleportation pain.

(2) Teleportation would do BAD things for the local economy. I mean, the Quad Cities are neat and all, but when your lunch options are either driving to Hardee's or teleporting to Paris real quick? I don't think the Thickburger would win out.

(3) How would the logistics of a teleporter work? Let's say that you wanted to teleport yourself to the summit of Mt. Everest for a quick look-see. How would you work it so that you weren't teleporting into the exact same quadrant of real estate as 342 other people at the exact same second? Clearly, you'd need some kind of extensive teleportation air-traffic control system manned by incredibly well-trained professionals. No offense if you're one of them, but I've seen some of the folks they hire to man our toll roads, and I'd hate to think that those same people would be my only safeguard against teleporting directly into the spleen of a sherpa.

(4) The teleportation industry had better require extensive manpower, since its inception would be simultaneously sending planes, trains, and automobiles the way of the dodo. The only way to save those other industries would be to make teleportation an incredibly expensive luxury -- and it would be a horrific to drive to work every day in a world where Snooki and The Situation could teleport themselves to the Jersey Shore anytime they wanted. Plus, teleporters would probably be big and cumbersome and take up an entire room of your house -- until Steve Jobs III invents the iPort, and then you'd have to deal with Apple recommending a bunch of destinations to you every time you wanted to take a simple teleport to the grocery store… it'd just be a hassle.

The moral of the story is clear: In the future, I should probably take Nyquil AFTER writing my column. As for teleportation, maybe it's best to deal with road construction and let our children's children's children conquer the space-time continuum -- as soon as they've had their food pills.


Have you ever had one of those certifiably lazy weeks? The kind of week where all you wanna do is plop down in front of the TV and accomplish as little as possible? For the past week, I've been living that dream. I say it's occasionally good for the psyche to kick back and let your muscles atrophy a bit. Good for the psyche, but bad for the newspaper column -- as it turns out, inspiration doesn't come a-knockin' when your highest form of brain stimulus for the week is "Two and a Half Men."

It's good, though, that my week of inactivity just happened to coincide with Fall TV Premiere Week. Now I can officially claim that I did NOT spend a week on the couch in a state of perpetual laziness. No, siree. I spent a week doing RESEARCH for my column on the fall premieres -- which, apparantly, I present to you right now. Here's what I caught and what I've thought:


How I Met Your Mother (CBS) - Once again, another season begins and we still haven't met that mother. Once upon a time, this show was edgy and hip. Now, it's softened with age and all the characters want to get married and have babies. It's the "Friends" curse -- which is understandable, since the two shows are almost interchangeable. We should be heading to a quick finish, though. With Jason Segel and Neil Patrick Harris both bonafide stars now, they won't make it past the next contract negotiation. I only hope that they end the show as anti-climatically as possible, with Ted going, "Oh, and then I went to a gas station to get a Coke, and that's how I met your mother. The end."

Two and a Half Men (CBS) - Charlie Sheen is history, and there's clearly no love lost for the fella, since they announced his death in the first scene and spent the rest of the half hour making jokes about it. Jeez, remind me never to tick off Chuck Lorre. Ashton Kutcher serves as a fine replacement, though, and this show might have some legs still.

2 Broke Girls (CBS) - Kat Dennings is one of my favorite indie hipster actresses, but I'm not sold on her here as a big-haired, trash-talking waitress. Still, it's one of those brainless sitcoms that's just non-stop offensive one-liners, which means it's moderately entertaining and destined to be a huge hit.


New Girl (FOX) - When it comes to playing charming, cute, and awkward, no one does it better than Zooey Deschanel. Here she plays a charming, cute, and awkward girl forced to move in with what appears to be three carbon copies of Joey from "Friends." Hilarity ensues. Actually, I'm still kinda waiting for it to ensue. But Zooey's great, so I've got high hopes.


The X Factor (FOX) - The biggest surprise in the premiere of The X Factor was that Simon Cowell didn't come off as the bad guy. In fact, compared to new judge L.A. Reid, Simon's downright huggable. As for the show, it's the same ol', same ol'. Everybody's got a sob story except for the token crazies paraded out for their 15 minutes of fame. In the premiere, one of them drops trou mid-song and poor Paula has to go be sick. When the highlight of the show is some guy's blurry manhood and a vomiting judge? Not off to a good start.

Revenge (ABC) - Finally, a TV show about incredibly wealthy people living incredibly wealthy lives. Sigh. This time, though, there's a twist: One of the wealthy people is secretly the daughter of some wealthy guy whose life the other wealthy people somehow destroyed in some as-yet-untold wealthy way… and now she wants revenge. Frankly, I don't care what she wants -- but she's seriously cute, so count me in.


The Office (NBC) - History will prove The Office to be one of the greatest sitcoms of all time. With Steve Carell gone, most think that the show's jumped the shark. I'm reticent to write its obituary quite yet, even though the season premiere wasn't that great. Still, I like the addition of James Spader's CEO character.

Parks and Recreation (NBC) - Hands down the funniest show on television. I want Ron Swanson to be my boss, Tom to be my friend, and April to be my girlfriend. Never before has central Indiana come across as a place I'd like to live. I'm voting Leslie Knope in 2012, are you?

Whitney (NBC) - Sandwiched into the middle of what's arguably the greatest comedy line-up in the history of television is this dud of a sitcom that I predict will be out the door by Christmas. Whitney Cummings is a really funny comic when she's allowed to be raunchy and edgy. Here, she's just abrasive and unpleasant, and someone needs to tell her that the definition of "acting" is NOT "talking, but louder." Cummings is also the writer and creator of "2 Broke Girls" on CBS, and she shoulda stuck with that.

Person of Interest (CBS) - Ah, yes. The show where creepy Ben Linus from "Lost" hooks up with Jesus Christ (or at least the guy who played Him in that Mel Gibson snuff film) to stop crimes before they're committed, all thanks to some secret government computer that watches our every move. Everything's so tense that it's silly, but I love Michael Emerson, so I'm sticking with this one for a while.

Prime Suspect (NBC) - I'm told this is based on a fantastic BBC series that starred Helen Mirren -- but as far as I can tell, it's a standard crime drama with Maria Bello as a hardened detective trapped in a world where all men suck. Her entire life is a boy's club that she's not invited into, ergo she spends the entire episode railing against her abusive co-workers, who all appear to hate her for no other reason than she wears a bra. By the end of the episode, I felt like pondscum just because I can pee standing up. Oddly, though, based on the gore and violence, the show appeals to be designed for men. Conundrum.


Fringe (FOX) - And I'll end my Week o' Sloth by telling you that the greatest show on television continues to be a little-known sci-fi epic that airs on the one night hardly anyone watches TV. Fringe is a world of parallel universes, complex characters, mind-bending plots, and a third season cliffhanger that might take this entire year to work out. You REALLY need to start watching. There's just one problem: By now, the storyline has gotten so deep that any new watchers will be hopelessly confused. So hurry out to the video store, rent the first three seasons, have an epic marathon, and then join along in the fun.

COLUMN: Escape From Rock Island

I've now been a Rock Island homeowner for just over a year, and on the whole, I don't regret a thing.

I know Rock Island occasionally suffers from a bad rep, but you don't hear me complaining. We've got a wicked arts and entertainment district, great local businesses to support, and hands down the best winter roads crew in the Quad Cities. I've got a house I adore, neighbors that I like, and a commute to work that's still under 15 minutes. All things considered, it's a great place to live.

Except, of course, for all the damn zombies.

As a humble and devoted employee of the newspaper industry, I know that there are 3 primary issues in life that cause us all untold sleepless nights of anxiety and concern: (1) John Marx's irrational hatred of the Cubs, (2) finding out exactly what they're putting into the water at Cordova city council meetings, and (3) the constant and ever-present threat of one day being overtaken by hordes of the undead roaming the city streets at night in search of delicious brains.

One of these things I may now have an answer to.

As a pop culture junkie, I like to stay ahead of the game by keeping tabs on all upcoming releases for music, movies, TV, etc. And in scanning one of those lists, I stumbled upon the oddest thing. A new video game is coming this fall for your Android cell phone. It's a zombie game of strategy, survival, and what I can only hope to be blissful amounts of video game gore. Zombie games are a dime a dozen these days, but one thing makes this game stand out from all the others: the name.


It's the brainchild and debut release from aspiring developer Mark Dudek and his start-up company, Number Eleven Road Software. It didn't take long before I was able to track down Dudek for an interview.

"'Escape From Rock Island' is an attempt to bring a serious zombie game to the Android platform," he explains. "There are plenty of casual zombie games out there, but I wanted to create something a little deeper that would involve strategy, creative thinking, and decision making."

Dudek, who hails from Pennsylvania, made EFRI all on his own. So why the title? What's it got to do with us?

"Rock Island just kind of popped out of my head," he says. "It's familiar, it rolls off the tongue, and it had the right feel. As a fan of country blues music, maybe I was subconsciously referencing 'Rock Island Line' by Leadbelly."

Dudek has never stepped foot in the Quad Cities, let alone Rock Island -- but his wife has. She works as an executive producer for the TV show "Snapped" airing on the Oxygen Network, and they were in town a while back shooting an episode.

"It's entirely possible that her work on that episode influenced me on some level, but it wasn't intentional," Dudek insists. "I didn't have a specific Rock Island in mind."

Or so he'd have us believe.

Being the intrepid investigative reporter that I am, I visited the website of Dudek's company ( only to find NO references there to Dudek himself -- only a mysterious figure nicknamed The Proprietor. Everywhere I looked, it seemed as if this Proprietor fellow knew a little TOO much about zombies. My guard was raised, my senses tingled. Knowing I had to get to the bottom of this, I pressured Dudek until he granted me access. What follows is the world's first known interview with The Proprietor.

Me: At last we meet, Mr. The Proprietor! Every good zombie story needs an intrepid reporter to break the scandal wide and perhaps earn a Pulitzer. I am that guy. Tell me, how did you really find out about our zombie problem? The government seems to have gone to great lengths to keep it hidden from the press, the public, and well, pretty much everyone.

The Proprietor: Believe it or not, there was one single post about the Rock Island zombie outbreak on Google Plus. When the government locked down all communication to and from Rock Island, I guess they forgot about Google Plus… just like everyone else on the planet. And yes, I did +1 that post.

Me: What started our zombie plague? I always thought those buildings on the Arsenal smelled funny…

The Proprietor: Our sources are currently investigating the cause of the zombie outbreak in Rock Island and will present their findings shortly. To me. Not to you. In the meantime, I advise all residents of Rock Island to stay in their homes and do NOT, under any circumstances, approach the Arsenal. We're also asking that all residents kindly refrain from all that screaming -- it's driving our sources crazy. That's all I can say.

Me: With the District in the center of town, it might be difficult at 3 a.m. to properly discern the difference between a brainless zombie and an over-zealous patron of Rock Island nightlife. How can we tell the difference?

The Proprietor: Excellent question. I refer you to official government publication BR-549, "Zombies vs. Drunks." Here's a short excerpt:

Wants to eat your brain: Zombie
Wants to eat Taco Bell: Drunk

Stumbles over visible object: Zombie
Stumbles over invisible object: Drunk

Chews on cell phone: Zombie
Loses cell phone: Drunk

Is drinking a St. Pauli Girl: Drunk
Is eating a St. Pauli Girl: Zombie

Screams "BLAAAARRRRGGH!" in the street at 3 a.m.: Toss-up.

Me: When I'm playing Escape From Rock Island, will I be able to identify particular zombies as being, say, an irritating ex-girlfriend or sadistic former employer who might just need some "extra" killing?

The Proprietor: It depends on how freshly dead the person is when you run into them. The game starts roughly 3 weeks into Rock Island's zombie outbreak. That's plenty of time for the "early adopters" to get nice and ripe, so they're going to look pretty much the same -- like week-old hamburger left out in the sun. However, should your ex-girlfriend have gotten infected the day before? Well, yeah, you'll recognize her as she's trying to bite off your middle finger, so do what you gotta do.

Me: You say that your (cough) -- I mean, Mr. Dudek's -- wife was in town recently shooting a TV show?

The Proprietor: Yes. In fact, your newspaper was even featured in the episode. I believe her contact there was a Jerry Taylor…

Me: Yes, that's our publisher and highly revered boss-type guy. Can we somehow ensure that he's saved from the forthcoming zombie plague? And if not, as a follow-up question and to the best of your knowledge, can zombies still sign paychecks?

The Proprietor: Sadly, no-one's safety can be guaranteed during a zombie outbreak, not even newspaper publishers who know my wife. On the plus side for your, it's pretty easy to forge a zombie's name -- he's not going to know the difference. He's only concerned with eating your brains; it's doubtful he's care that you forged his name on your paycheck. Heck, while you're at it, give yourself a big bonus. I would.

Me: If we somehow manage to, as the game challenges, escape from Rock Island, will we ever be able to return? Or will our ragtag team of survivors be forced to pick up and start life anew in Iowa? And in your estimation, is that a better fate than getting our brains eaten?

The Proprietor: IF you escape Rock Island, assuming there's somewhere to escape to, and IF society hasn't utterly collapsed and the zombie outbreak is contained, then yes, at some point the survivors can try to reclaim Rock Island. But those are some pretty big if's. You guys won't be hosting any dinner parties for a while. However, I really hope you do manage to escape and come back, because "Return to Rock Island" will make a really good sequel -- much better than "Escape to Iowa: Farm or Die."

Me: I'm pretty sure everything I need to know about dealing with the recently deceased can be found in the classic movie "Weekend at Bernie's." How does Escape From Rock Island differ?

The Proprietor: Escape From Rock Island is a stark, intense survival experience about fighting off zombies, managing meager resources, suffering loss, and making tough and cruel life and death decisions, all in the face of what seems to be a hopeless situation. It's still funnier than "Weekend at Bernie's."

Dear Mr. Pulitzer, you can send my prize - provided I don't get my face chewed off - to the usual address.

Escape from Rock Island will be available to download to your 1.5 or higher Android phone sometime between now and Halloween. Find out more at Happy escaping!