Tuesday, October 02, 2012
I have an extensive music collection. I don't say that to brag, because it's nothing worth bragging about. It's more of a cry for help, really. There reaches a point where a collection crosses the fine line between "wow, that's really impressive" to "wow, you must be a really sad person who doesn't get out much," and I'm pretty sure I crossed that line somewhere in the mid-90's.
I should have seen the warning signs. Such as, oh, when one has to move into a new house because one's music collection has outgrown one's apartment. Or when you start to become fairly sure that your shopping habit is crucial to the week-to-week survival of your favorite record store. Or when you prioritize buying CDs over paying the utility bill that powers your CD players.
I tell people that I keep a large music collection because of my weekend job as a club DJ. Truth be told, I have a weekend job as a club DJ so that I have enough money to keep an even larger music collection. To each their own, I suppose. You might collect stamps or baskets or dolls. I'm a music nerd.
Recently I caught a new TV show called "Collection Intervention." Ever seen it? I'll never forget it because it might just be the most horrifying thing I've ever watched. In each episode, they find someone with an impressive collection -- it's on Syfy, so it's usually some nerd with a house full of Star Wars memorabilia or something. And that nerd usually has a Mrs. Nerd who's reached the breaking point, ergo a counselor-type person comes in, looks around, and tells the person that their collection is out of control.
The end of each episode usually culminates in a good chunk of the collection being auctioned off while the counselor says "good job!" to the nerd, who's usually too busy hyperventilating to notice. I've officially banned myself from watching. This show is BAD for my health, because I'm usually hyperventilating right alongside the guy. If I ever had a signifigant other bring in a counselor about my music collection, they'd find themselves signifigantly hitting the bricks.
But I'll never be on "Collection Intervention." Know why? Because there wouldn't be a payoff at the end of my show where I make $100,000 in an auction. No, I somehow managed to pick a hobby where the resale value is about as close to nil as you can get, and even that value seems to be dropping by the day.
The other day I visited one of those stores that deals in used media - CDs, DVDs, video games, etc. And I was shattered to discover that their normal resale price for used CDs is now $3.99. That means people coming in with used CDs to sell are probably getting a buck apiece, if that. Huzzah.
Let's see. If I were to add up all of my CDs, multiply by an average retail price of $13.99, then divide by the resale value of $1 apiece, it comes out to exactly: ONE WASTED LIFE. Of course, many of my CDs are limited edition collector items, which means they would have a higher resale value. But of course, since most of my favorite artists are obscure UK indie rock bands that no one outside of Great Britain has ever heard of, this higher resale value might only apply were I re-selling it to an equally pathetic music nerd from Barmby-On-The-Moor.
Just as vinyl begat 8-tracks which begat cassettes which begat compact discs, so now have CDs given way to the mp3. I heart technology, I really do. And mp3's are pretty cool -- it's great to have an iPod that I can carry in my pocket with room to hold 10,000 songs. It's fantastic to know that I can own pretty much ANY piece of music with fewer than five clicks of a mouse. But it's not the same.
What's the point of spending money foolishly on material goods if you don't end up with any material? If I spend years of my life looking for a musical rarity, I don't want to hide that accomplishment inside a hard drive. I want to hold it in my hand, tear off the cellophane, fight to get that maddening security sticker off, see the album cover, read the liner notes. I never thought I'd see the day when CDs would be considered "old school," but it's almost there.
And if that's not bad enough, now you don't even need the mp3. You just need a "cloud." With cloud technology, you don't own a physical or digital thing. Instead, your song just floats around the internet and you pay to access it at your leisure on the computer, tablet, or smartphone of your choice. If this is the way of the future, count me out, thanks.
What happens if your hard drive crashes? You lose your mp3s forever. Or, if you're like ME, when my last hard drive crashed, all of the files stayed seemingly intact -- yet all of mp3s began inexplicably playing "Ghostbusters" by Ray Parker, Jr. Worse yet, what would happen if Apple were to go under? Far-fetched, sure, but what if down the road they put all their, well, apples into some new product (the, umm, iStink or something) that was an unmitigated flop? If Apple went bankrupt, I don't think their first priority would be ensuring the immortality of their cloud.
Just as the newspaper industry is evolving to secure its place in the internet age, so too is the music industry. But if that "place" is to turn commercial music into a disposable commodity to be downloaded and forgotten, then don't mind me while I sit some of this age out. If you need me, I'll be in the basement with my musty albums and antiquated CDs. Don't even THINK about intervening. They might not be worth anything these days, but they're still music to my ears.
I wanted to do something special to celebrate 40 years of Clan Brown, but I'm not really sure what it would be. My parents aren't your stereotypical couple. They don't much like to go out. They don't dig fancy dinners or movie theatres or, well, most forms of human interaction. I think my parents are at their happiest in their living room, a war movie on TV for my dad and a freshly loaded Amazon Kindle for my mom.
I did some checking and the traditional gift for a 40th anniversary is... rubies. Umm. Hmm. Don't get me wrong, I've got ZERO complaints about life in the newspaper biz. That said, it's not a career path that really lends itself towards gold card access at Rubies-R-Us if you catch my drift.
Instead, if you'll indulge me, I'd like to dedicate this column to my awesome parents and tell every one of you ten reasons why I'm super thankful I get to call them mom and dad.
#10 - If my parents hadn't gotten married and my dad hadn't adopted me when I was tiny, my name to this day would be Shane Knecht. No offense here to our amazing copy editor Heidi (who shares my former last name but NOT my genes,) but "Knecht" is the noise my cat makes when she hacks up a hairball. In many more ways than one, I'm better off Brown.
#9 - If I'm to believe the stories my dad tells in hushed whispers about evading police while "test-driving" motorcycles back in the 1960's, I'm pretty sure my mom's "ditch-the-bike" ultimatum was the only thing that kept him from kissing a tree at maximum velocity at some point.
#8 - Three days after I finish writing this column, my 66-year-old father and 64-year-old mother are going to make the fifty mile drive from Galesburg to Rock Island for the sole purpose of cleaning out the gutters of my house because I don't know how to do it and mostly because I find it kind of icky. I, meanwhile, will be in an air conditioned office and won't even get to see them while they're up here. 'Nuff said.
#7 - My parents don't just share my twisted sense of humor -- they passed it on to me. I wouldn't find life nearly as funny were it not for the wickedly skewed and delightfully cynical lenses my parents viewed the world through. I like to laugh, but the funniest moments of my life have usually come in the presence of my folks, and usually at the most inappropriate of times. Whether it was my mom and I giggling uncontrollably when the minister kept getting my grandpa's name wrong at his funeral, or my dad's hysterical breakdown after spending an entire day driving us through endless stop-and-go suburban Florida, my parents taught me to find the funny hidden inside the crummy. This column wouldn't exist without them.
#6 - My dad worked as a brakeman for the railroad. On the list of World's Most Thankless Jobs, his was relatively high. With one phone call, he'd have to drop everything he was doing and hop a train to Chicago and back, time and again. Sometimes Christmas would have to come a day late (boo!), but it was okay 'coz sometimes Christmas would have to come a day early (yay!) Did he like his job? Well, at any given time, my father could tell off the top of his head the exact number of days until his retirement. Yet he did it. For years and years. For us.
#5 - Dad could sit in his workshop and take a tree and turn it into a piece of furniture. I could sit in front of my Apple IIe and take a Level 1 Magician and turn him into the Archmage of Skara Brae. Yet my mom was the only one who could yell loud enough to bring us all together for dinner. It was a team effort that worked fairly well.
#4 - Guess how many times I had a babysitter as a kid? Hint: I didn't. My folks took me everywhere. They were never a "couple." Instead, we were a family, and that was simply that. I never really thought about it at the time, but that's one heck of a sacrifice. No R-rated movies, no candlelit dinners, and ME as your primary source of entertainment? I shudder at the thought.
#3 - I'm thankful for the allowance I received as a kid, especially when it was "earned" for the sole chore of emptying the dishwasher every night. And when I told my folks that I wanted to spend my very first allowance on "Ronco Presents: Hit Explosion '78" because I wanted to own the theme song to "Welcome Back Kotter," they didn't blink an eye. And when 90% of the rest of those allowances went to music, it was cool by them. I didn't just grow up hearing that I could be whatever I wanted to be, I grew up BELIEVING it. And while I don't know if that dream "something" was to be a full time sales rep, part time DJ, and weekly columnist, I'm pretty happy how it all ended up. And I still own that Ronco record.
#2 - After 40 years of close quarters cohabitation, they don't just share their life together. They actually still LOVE each other, up to and including playful PDA in front of their slightly skeeved-out son. It's kinda gross. But admirable.
#1 - At 41 years of age, I find myself single -- and this may sound weird, but I'm thankful to my parents for that. I've been in some good relationships, don't get me wrong. I've even been in a couple of great ones. But I'm not settling for good or even great. Why? Because I spent the first 17 years of my life bearing daily witness to a perfect relationship. Freud be darned, but that's where the bar will forever be set. Thanks to my parents, I know real love exists, and if THOSE two weirdos can find each other in life, there's hope for me yet.
Happy anniversary, mom and dad. I love you guys.
The goal of writing this column has always been simple: to one day take over the world and rule it with a cold iron fist while you all do my evil bidding. But I've got to admit, it's sure taking a lot longer than I'd expected.
Don't get me wrong, it's humbling and routinely blows my mind when I get recognized on the street and someone tells me they like this column. But as far as my timeline of global domination goes, I'm clearly behind schedule. By now, I should have amassed a horde of evil minions with enough strength to ensure my victory in the November elections via my three-tiered campaign platform of (a) lower taxes, (b) new jobs, and (c) strengthening our national defense to protect our borders from foreign invaders -- specifically the band Nickelback.
But it's not to be. My minions apparantly just aren't evil enough yet. There's barely enough of you to make a gaggle, let alone a good horde. So where did my diabolical plan go awry? Am I not likeable enough yet? Do I need to write more columns about cats?? Then it hit me.
Heroes have to be awesome -- but they also need to be flawed. If the Mighty Ducks had cruised to the Cup finals with a perfect season, that'd be one boring movie. If Rocky had decked Apollo Creed with one right hook, no one would care. Everybody loves a comeback story, just ask Robert Downey, Jr. If I want to be a truly likeable champion of the masses, I need to be a little LESS awesome.
But I don't have much in the way of sob stories. I didn't have to escape from a lousy upbringing or anything. Curse my misfortune, but I've been blessed with a relatively great life of great friends, a great job, and great luck. There was only one thing I could do to give me the misfortune necessary to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of adversity and straight into your hearts:
I needed an addiction. Little did I know it'd happen so fast.
About a year ago, I got a doozy of a cold. You know, the kind where you go to bed fine and wake up wondering if your soul is made entirely of phlegm. But it was a doozy of a work week that I needed to soldier through, so I stopped by the drug store and picked up a tiny little bottle of nasal spray.
For the record, oxymetazoline is a fantastic drug. I'd love to meet the inventor. And then I'd like to punch him in his nose until it's flat and sealed forever. With just a couple squirts of the stuff, nasal congestion all but disappears. It's truly a wonder drug. I'm a careful medicine user, so I read all the instructions, paying heed to one important part:
"Use twice a day for three days. Do not exceed recommended dosage. Frequent or prolonged use may cause congestion to recur or worsen." It should have been prefaced with, "HEY! STUPID!"
The problem was, my cold didn't lift after three days. It stuck around for a solid week, so what was the harm in using the spray for 7 days instead of 3, right?
A week later, I was feeling back to normal. Well, except for the plugged nose that was inexplicably sticking around. "I know," said the stupid part of my brain, "I'll keep using the nasal spray until it goes away."
Thus began my secret shame of the past year. I've now been going through a bottle of Sinex a week. I use it about every 2-3 hours. If I don't, within an hour my sinuses will be 100% plugged up. I have bottles hidden in my house, car, and my desk at work. Most days I'm unable to taste or smell a thing.
I never honestly thought I'd say this in my life, but I'm a drug addict. And leave it to me to pick the least interesting drug possible. But if I don't use the spray, my nose plugs shut and I sound like a cartoon escapee. If I use the spray, I spend the day with a runny nose and a face buried in Kleenex. And I wonder why I can't keep a girlfriend.
It turns out nasal spray addiction is honestly a real thing. The scientific term is "rhinitis medicamentosa," or rebound congestion. One search online reveals several support groups and websites devoted to it. I read a post from one guy who uses Afrin every fifteen minutes. Another from a lady who's abused nasal sprays for over twenty years.
Thankfully, I speak to you now from the other side of the fence. Somebody get me a chip, because it's been 7 days since my last spray. As a result, it's also been 7 days since I've been able to breathe through my nose. Remember my concern about sounding like a cartoon character? Well, apologies if you called the paper last week and heard a guy say, "Heddo. By nabe ith Thane. How can I heb you?" Supposedly the rebound congestion starts getting better after a week or two, so I'm hobing -- I mean, hoping -- I'm through the worst of it.
Just like nastier drugs, they say the temptation to "use" again is strong, and they weren't kidding. You know a couple ago when I quoted the back of the bottle? I had to do that from memory. I know there's a bottle in my bedroom, and I could have grabbed it and copied the directions verbatim, but I really don't know if I could hold a bottle of Sinex in my hand right now without using it. This might be the most Captain Obvious statement of all time, but not being able to breathe sucks.
I'm well on my way to fine, but for now, I feel like I belong in a PSA going, "Dod't uthe nathal thpray, kidth!" Honestly, they DO work well, provided you're not an over-medicating idiot like your faithful columnist. But I got into this situation thanks to my own stupidity, and hopefully I'm gonna crawl out thanks to my own intelligence. And fortitude. And other equally impressive character traits that will make you realize how cool, awesome, and heroically flawed I am. Vote Shane 2016! Now fly, my minions, fly!
Over the past couple months, I've received countless e-mails from my new pals Joe Biden, Bill Clinton, John Kerry, and a guy whose name might just rhyme with Farack Fobama. I am clearly a member of the elite inner circle Washington powerhouse. All it took was ten bucks.
I am a Democrat. I tell you this simply for the sake of storytelling, NOT argument. I have no interest in receiving hate mail about how much better your guy is than my guy, or how Ron Paul is better than all the other guys combined. If you want to wax poetic about your passionate conservatism, I'm sure there's an open chair just waiting for you at Chick-Fil-A.
The last thing you want is political insight from the guy who usually writes about his cats. But I needed to make note of my political leanings in order to explain why my inbox has come under Democratic cybersiege. A few months back, I got an offer for a nifty Obama bumper sticker if I contributed $10 towards the campaign. One issue I never back down from is the niftiness of bumper stickers, so I went for it. I'm still waiting for that sticker. What I DID get, though, was a Pandora's Box of fundraising hell.
I now receive no fewer than four e-mails per day from the Democratic Party, SuperPACs, and super important Democrats themselves, all wanting one thing: my money, and lots of it. And despite my own political persuasions, I'll be the first to admit that even my own party employs shady methods when it comes rattling their tin cups.
In a perfect world, we should all get an e-mail -- AN e-mail, just one will suffice -- that swiftly spells out each candidate's goals and plans for progress if elected, with an optional way to contribute money to the candidate of our choice. But that's a perfect world. In OUR world, hordes of e-mails arrive daily employing one of 3 different tactics, each more despicable than the last:
(1) NEGATIVITY. If a foreigner were to visit Iowa right now and watch one solid night of primetime TV, the only thing they would take away about our upcoming election is that both candidates are horrible, evil people who need to be stopped at all costs.
(2) GUILT. "If we lose this upcoming election, it will be because we're being outspent by Republicans." So if I don't pony up the cash, the other guy's gonna win, because elections are bought, not fought? Sad.
(3) GREED. These e-mails start with a simple ploy: Make a donation and win a dinner with Obama. Am I the only one who finds this just a tad bit ethically sticky? I would really like to live in a world where merit is the only thing that affords you a private audience with the President of the United States, not money. But I guess that's an absurdly idealistic notion.
But it got worse from there. Soon after, it was an offer to win dinner with the Obamas... and George Clooney. Then a dinner with the Obamas and the Clintons. Then an offer to shoot hoops with Obama and Michael Jordan. All it takes to sign up is a donation of any size.
I don't know who this tactic works on, but it's sure not me. Could you IMAGINE what it would be like at the Obama/Clooney/Shane dinner table? "So, Mr. President, what's the latest outlook on healthcare reform?" "So, Mr. Clooney, how goes the situation in Darfur?" "So, Mr. Shane, you, uh, have cats?"
And color me a wuss, but could there be anything MORE terrifying than this night of basketball? I'm a fan for sure, but I'm also the klutziest guy to walk the earth. I won't play ball outside for fear of ANY other human seeing me. Imagine being forced to showcase my athletic prowess in front of the greatest basketball player to ever live AND the leader of the free world? There should be a separate contest just for me phrased as "Donate now in order to NOT win the contest and risk the chance of embarassment of this magnitude."
All it takes is an ounce of intelligence to realize these contests have to be slightly rigged, and one glance at the fine print proves it. They actually draw some 50 potential winners and then those folks are vetted down presumably to the best PR story available and to avoid the winner being, say, Romney. Or Charles Manson. Or a snarky humor columnist.
But the absolute WORST e-mail was the one I got the other day. I was sitting on the couch enjoying the midseason finale of "Pretty Little Liars" (CAN YOU BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED?!) when I got an e-mail from "Barack Obama" inviting me to donate and win a chance to attend the Democratic convention. I was deep into the show (THE TOBY MOMENT? OMG! WHO'S WITH ME?) so I absent-mindedly clicked the link at the bottom of the e-mail so I wouldn't forget about it. Later, I opened my web browser to get the scoop, and instead saw a message that said, to paraphrase:
"Thank you for your $20 donation. Your credit card which we have on file has been processed."
Ummm. I never recalled agreeing to said donation. But, as it turns out, the text at the bottom was a "Quick Donate" link with no opt-out. You click the link and you've donated. No warnings. No are-you-sure's. Just an immediate withdrawal of funds from a credit card I had no idea they even kept on file. I'm just thankful I clicked on the $20 link and not the $250 one next to it. Who would I have called in THAT scenario? I don't think you can ring up the White House and ask for the Accounts Receivable department.
Moral of the story? Politics can be thrilling, but campaign fundraising is tiresome. I'm beginning to wonder if Obama's plan for economic reform isn't simply to annoy everyone with an inbox until we collectively pay off the nation's debt $10 at a time. I still think he's the right guy for the job, though, even if you don't. But please don't send me hate mail. Remember - I have important friends.
The tail end of summer is the maddening time when everyone I work with looks at their pay stubs, realizes they've got vacation time to burn and precious remaining good weather to do it in, and charges en masse to the calendar to reserve their time. I'm in the same boat -- I've still got two weeks to take before the end of the year. But I always tend to put off vacations until the last minute.
It's not due to poor planning or some wintry event that I like to partake in, and it's certainly not to due to some workaholic nature that I'll never have. No, there's one real reason why I'm hesitant every year to take time off:
I don't want anyone to see my e-mails while I'm gone. It's embarassing.
See, when I go on vacation, someone else has the unpleasant job of checking my e-mail and handling any and all incoming work-related communications. The problem is that it takes hours, extensive patience, and a minor in Library Science to find any work-related communications within the debris and detritus of my in-box.
Let's take this morning for an example. I came in to work to find 79 new e-mails to wade through. Of those 79, the total number of work-related e-mails was... one. The remaining 78 were an assortment of newsletters, spam, and approximately sixty-four kajillion pleas, scams, begs, and offers all wanting one thing: my hard-earned cash.
I'm a sucker for a good cause. If I'm researching something I'm passionate about or a company whose products I like, I will inevitably get to the part of the website that says "Click here to receive our newsletter and stay informed about such-and-such." And, like the sucker I am, I will invariably click it, thinking to myself, "Shane, you are SUCH a progressive human being. Thanks to your diligence and the power of modern technology, you have secured your position as a forward-thinking, ambitious, cutting-edge, informed consumer and philanthropist. Pat yourself on the back, fella."
And then days later my first "newsletter" will arrive, and it will invariably look like this:
"Thanks for subscribing to the such-and-such newsletter. To recap our latest news: MONEY! YOUR MONEY! WE NEED IT! ALL OF IT! NOW!!"
The only "news" I learn from these countless newsletters is that if I don't open my wallet, the t-shirt I want will sell out. Or the other guy will win the election. Or kids in third world countries will go hungry, wolves will go extinct, and public television will go off the air. I will miss my reunion (classmates.com), never find my soulmate (match.com), and not discover that I'm a distant relative of Benjamin Franklin (ancestry.com). Basically, if I'm not independently wealthy -- which, friends, I am not -- my life, not to mention the lives of children and cute animals everywhere, will suck.
One classic example comes from a cause that, if I'm to be perfectly honest, I don't care a whole lot about.
Ever seen the Animal Planet show "Whale Wars"? It's one of those reality shows that's just entertainment heroin. The show follows the exploits of the guerilla marine conservation group Sea Shepherd. Each season spotlights their annual campaign against Japanese whalers in the anything-goes international waters of the Southern Ocean. These ragtag warriors use their small fleet of refurbished ships to intercept whalers with stink bombs, prop foulers, and a wide array of legal and physical gambits to stop whales from being killed. It's nothing shy of enthralling.
There's just one thing: Try as hard as I might, in the grand list of things I feel passionate about, whales just aren't up there. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge proponent of animal rights and I donate what I can to several organizations. That said -- and it's selfish and shallow, I know -- I tend to care a little more about animals that are cute and furry rather than slimy and gigantic.
Yes, I get it. Whales are smart creatures with beautiful songs and dwindling numbers. But they don't purr, they don't have sad eyes, and they don't come when you call. They're the size of school buses and shoot water out of blowholes. Eww. Does that make me an awful person? Probably. But every season of "Whale Wars" contains the obligatory scene where a Sea Shepherd vessel stumbles onto a pack of whales and the crew all come out and weep at the beauty and majesty of these obese eyesores -- and I can't be moved no matter how much I try.
I'm happy, though, that there are people who get moved to tears by the plight of whales -- it keeps one of my favorite shows on the air. I love the intensity of "Whale Wars," so I signed up for their e-mail list to know when the next season starts up. Little did I know this would result in a barrage of guilt-inducing requests for cash. And hey, that's fine -- I know I'm in the wrong for not caring about the fate of whales, so I deserve a little e-guilt. But Sea Shepherd doesn't stop at whales. The other day, I received an urgent donation request for Sea Shepherd's campaign to protect sharks.
If I can't bring myself to love whales, it's gonna be a huge leap to get me to care about sharks. As far as I'm concerned, sharks do a fine job protecting themselves all on their own. Any animal that can kill me with its teeth is NOT high on my list of protecting. If you spent your whole life campaigning for shark rights and then jumped into the ocean, a shark is NOT going to come up to hug you and say thanks. At best, a shark is going to come up and bite your leg off. Let's face it, "Jaws" would be a MUCH less exciting flick had the townsfolk of Amity Island spotted a huge great white and then mounted a riveting campaign of fundraising and public awareness to ensure the shark's welfare needs were met.
If saving sharks is your cup o' humanitarianism -- or sharktarianism, I guess -- then more power to you. I'll sit this one out. But unless I figure out how to unsubscribe from some of these newsletters, I'm gonna need a bigger boat... to store my e-mails. But Sea Shepherd isn't the worst offender of e-mail fundraising overdose. That title goes to a man who just happens to be the leader of the free world. More on him NEXT week.
It was a gorgeous Saturday. With a perfect temperature outside complementing a perfect breeze blowing through the perfect air, this was a day rife with possibilities. I just didn't know those possibilities would come with an NC-17 rating.
The day started off like so many other lazy summer weekends. Bacon & eggs, an open window, and some mindless TV. As the clock struck noon, I decided it was time for action. Specifically, the action of calling Friend Jason and luring him into some afternoon adventure -- in the form of ribs. I'm not much for outdoor festivals, but the combination of Ribfest and River Roots Live is where I make an exception. Although we missed the band I wanted to see (American Dust), the day could still be salvaged, primarily through the application of brisket into my belly.
This year, though, we picked the wrong food vendor. Dreams of succulent smoked meat turned into the reality of a cold pile of tasteless brisket marinating in a sea of grease almost an inch deep. Can't win 'em all, I guess.
we decided to banish the bad food memories and head out in search of alternate adventure. And last Saturday was Floatzilla -- the third annual celebration wherein hordes of canoeists and kayakers assemble en masse in the middle of Lake Potter and presumably battle each other with oars until the last man stands. No? Oh, I guess they just hang out together, form a giant raft, and try to break a world record. I'm also told it does NOT involve brisket in any way, hence it being our backup choice.
But it turns out there's drawbacks to starting your day at the crack of noon and then spending half of it consuming your body weight in grease. By the time we pulled into Credit Island, Floatzilla had been over for an hour and there was hardly a kayak in sight. What we DID notice, though, was a shiny new pedestrian bridge connecting the southern half of the island to the mainland. This was worth checking out, so we pulled over, hiked down a short path, and rounded a corner to... whoa.
Okay, journalists state the facts, and here's the facts as I saw 'em: one guy holding a fancy video camera, one guy holding a fancy still camera, and one girl wrapped in a blanket. In the middle of the afternoon on an 80 degree day. You do the math. As far as I could tell, Friend Jason and I had just walked into the filming of a nature documentary. HUMAN nature, to be precise -- and not the polite stuff Michael Jackson sings about.
What exactly does one do in a scenario like this? Stumbling into an X-rated film shoot isn't exactly in my wheelhouse. We'd seen them, they'd seen us. We couldn't just spin and leave. Instead, we committed to the path and strolled by the aspiring filmmakers with a smile and a "nice weather today" while they tried to look as non-chalant as three people could when one of them has their knickers around their ankles. As soon as we passed, they high-tailed it out of there to our relief.
So the bad news is that I may have caught contact cooties. But the exciting news is that I could very well be coming to a Cinemax near you as "Startled Guy In Woods #1." I always knew I had the chops to make it as a big-league actor. Later that night, I checked the Screen Actors Guild website. It turns out that you have to log THREE days of work as an extra to be considered for membership, so all I need to do is accidentally walk into TWO more pornos -- I mean, nature documentaries -- before I can cross that one off my bucket list.
For what it's worth, the new pedestrian bridge on Credit Island is a work of art. A smelly work of art. It connects the bike path on Concord Ave. with the park, which is nice. But it spits you out onto Concord Ave. directly in front of a sewage plant. The bridge is beautiful, but the smell once you're on it is nothing shy of a level 8 biohazard. Congratulations, Davenport: Not only have you build a downtown Skybridge that connects nothing to nothing, you've now built an out-of-the-way bridge that connects an island of perverts to, well, poo.
"Great," said Friend Jason as we crested the bridge and almost choked out, "Now every time I watch Cinemax, I'm going to think of this smell."
So, if you're keeping score, our exciting day out now consisted of grease, cooties, and doodies, in that order. I needed something wholesome to even things out. That was when we noticed the father and son walking up the other end of the bridge. We watched as the dad looked over the edge and excitedly spotted a bullfrog in the water below -- completely unaware, of course, that moments earlier, this frog just had a front row seat to some XXX action.
"Look, a frog!" he said to his kid. "Frogs are amphibians. That means they can breathe underwater."
Could there BE anything cuter? Just when I had convinced myself that society was collapsing into a world of greasy food, loose morals, and needless bridges, along comes a slice of life that would have done ol' Norman Rockwell proud.
"Cool!" said the kid.
"Let's see who can spit on it first!" said dad with a smile while crushing all hopes I may have had of a brighter tomorrow.
And before I could even look away in horror, thus began a symphony of hocking loogies and frog-spitting that almost made my Ribfest come up for an encore. Friend Jason and I hustled off the bridge and headed back to the relative sanity of my living room. There might not be hope for humanity, but there's still bacon in my fridge, so I'm good for a while -- until Hollywood calls, that is, after my scene-stealing performance as Startled Guy In Woods #1.
Yep, that frog had himself one mighty interesting day.
Is anyone else having a bit of Olympic withdrawal? It was nice for a couple of weeks there to not have to worry about what to watch when you got home from work. Just flick on the TV and have Bob Costas lull you into a relaxing nationalistic fervor while people far more coordinated than you or I do absolutely terrifying things both to and with their impossibly fit bodies -- while we sit on the couch and munch on potato chips.
But now it's over -- and alternate entertainment options are slim, especially when we're in the heart of summer rerun season. I just watched fourteen solid days of the greatest athletes in the world competing under the most stressful of circumstances -- and today I'm supposed to leapfrog out of that into NBC's "Stars Earn Stripes" and somehow be entertained by Nick Lachey and Todd Palin playing army? Dude, I just watched Michael Phelps win more medals than he can CARRY. Gimme a break.
That's why there's only one thing we should do: Take all the world's medal-winning Olympic heroes and force them to compete every night year-round for our chip-munching pleasure. Phelps, Lochte, May & Treanor, Kobe, Lebron, all the gymnast girls, Usain Bolt, the entire French team handball squad -- let's make them stars of the greatest reality show ever made.
Here's what I'm thinking: every week, they have to run, swim, jump, shoot, vault, sing for Cee-Lo, get judged by Simon Cowell, work for Donald Trump, live in the Big Brother house, get verbally abused by Jillian Michaels, cook for Gordon Ramsay, dance the cha-cha, become America's Next Top Model, and date at least one Kardashian.
I miss the Olympics every single time they end, but I think I'm going to miss the London Olympics most of all. Why? Because I'm a recovering Anglophile.
When you're young, you often find solace from adolescence in the cliques you fall into. Some become jocks. Some become metalheads, nerds, goths, punks, ravers, etc. Me? I guess I became British. An early love for the Beatles led me to discover British punk and new wave music at an early age. In high school, I moved on to bands like New Order, Echo & the Bunnymen, and the Smiths. In college, it was the Stone Roses, My Bloody Valentine, and -- the greatest band in the world ever -- Ride.
These groups were big names in Europe, but here in the States I may as well have been listening to tunes from Mars. But like-minded people find one another in life, and it wasn't long before I made lasting friendships with other Brit music obsessives. Soon we'd be car-pooling to Chicago for music runs, staying up til 4 a.m. to call London record shops, and trading coveted copies of import music zines. Some of my friends transitioned from the music to the culture. I had friends who spoke with fake Scouse accents and inserted words like "loo" and "petrol" into daily conversation. I had friends who could name the entire rosters of UK soccer teams despite never having seen them play.
As for me, I'll never understand the appeal of soccer -- but I DID think the jerseys were pretty sweet and I'll own up to driving to weird European-run sporting good stoes in Chicago just to get the latest and greatest Premiere League swag. There's no denying I grew up an Anglophile -- and that part of me wanted to spend the 14 days of the London Olympics immersed in British culture. Only one problem: NBC hardly showed any of it.
The first Olympics I remember watching in earnest were the 1984 Winter Games of Sarajevo. I couldn't tell you anything about the Games themselves, but the one thing I DO remember was suffering through TONS of human interest stories: Yugoslavian culture, Yugoslavian weather, weird Yugoslavian food that looked like pig feet floating in mud. And I hated ALL of it. 13-year-old Shane didn't care about Sarajevo. 13-year-old Shane just wanted to see a figure skater fall on his or her butt.
London, however, I was down with. I wanted stories about Abbey Road, Stonehenge, & Big Ben. I wanted to be told about Manchester United, Sherlock Holmes, and the white cliffs of Dover. A secret part of me screamed for Mary Carillo to give us a primer on Ride and the advent of Brit indie music 1980-present. Instead, we got the usual modern-era truncated and time-delayed NBC coverage -- big on events, light on human interest.
I suppose this is mostly due to the internet. Sarajevo isn't that otherworldly these days. Its population is 311,161, tomorrow's high is 91, and the trick to making a tasty batch of pasulj is to soak the navy beans overnight BEFORE you add the pig's feet. Who needs Mary Carillo when you've got Google?
Still, I couldn't help but feel a little cheated. I just spent 14 days staring at London, but were it not for the occasional Rolling Stone or Royal Family member in the crowd, these Games could have been anywhere. Patience DOES pay off, though. During the closing ceremony, sandwiched somewhere between the Spice Girls and The Who, a little band called Beady Eye rolled through a quick version of "Wonderwall." Beady Eye features a shy guitar player named Andy Bell -- who once upon a time fronted his own band -- called Ride. For those four minutes, my Anglophilia took over and my living room may have just seceded from the Union for a short while.
But now we're back to bad reruns, midseason schlock, and pretending America's Got Talent that doesn't rhyme with Nichael Nhelps. I'm thinking that maybe it's time to suck it up and take my own British vacation. Either that or I've got four years to turn myself into a Brazilophile. Come to think of it, there IS a great band called Os Mutantes...
It's a ritual I perform like clockwork every summer I remain a bachelor. Inevitably, I'll get invited to a wedding. I'll go to that wedding. Then I'll come home, fall into a deep funk, and mutter nonsense about being "hopelessly alone forever" to the cats. This will culminate in the ultimate act of desperation:
I will post a profile on an online dating site.
Over the years, I've sampled the finest in cyber-dating technology, and each site promises good odds that I'll snare myself a soulmate. This time around, I picked a new site (no, I'm not telling you which one,) and went about the sad, pathetic business of trying to make myself look far more interesting than I actually am. All I had to do was fill out a few silly profile questions, then spend an hour or two searching for a photo that didn't make me look like a three-chinned marshmallow from Planet Obesity, and then spend some time on their high-tech personality-matching questionnaire, which asks probing psychological compatibility questions like (I swear these are real:)
"How freqently do you bathe?"
"Should burning your country's flag be illegal?"
"Do you like to cuddle?"
"Which is bigger: The Earth or the Sun?"
Because, like I've always said, I'll date anyone... provided, of course, that they have a basic working knowledge of the Solar System. "Hey, baby, you're the hottest thing ever created -- except for the Sun, which happens to have a circumference of 4,366,813 kilometers." Works every time.
I hit the magic button and waited as the site used the power of cutting edge technology to match me with scientific precision to my soulmate: a "happily married, polyamorous mother of two" looking for a "man or woman plaything for my husband and I to enjoy together." Or, as I like to call it, Fifty Shades of Skeevy... but at least my cooties would apparantly come freshly bathed with lots of cuddles, a rudimentary understanding of planetary physics, and no unnecessary flag-burning.
In other words, it's thus far been another fruitless quest. But I'm starting to understand why.
As I perused the site's eligible bachelorettes, I started to take notes of people's listed interests. And I realized an important thing: No one shares my interests. Or, more specifically, no one over the age of 25 shares my interests. I've started to take stock of the things in life that truly make me happy, and I'm starting to realize that -- as the (gulp) 41-year-old that I've now managed to become -- I shouldn't be enjoying any of them.
Let's take a good, honest look at my favorite pastimes: I like modern music, usually of the uptempo dance or obscure indie rock variety. By most 41-year-old standards, the most avant-garde music I should be enjoying is Bon Jovi. I like to take that music to nightclubs and do my best to fill dancefloors with people nearly half my age. The other day, a guy placed an ad in this very paper for some nice DJ gear and told me, quote, "I'm 32 now, that's a little too old to be DJing," (and yes, I had to employ ALL my people skills to NOT reach through the phone lines and strangle him.) I enjoy watching "The Vampire Diaries" and "Pretty Little Liars." So do 16-year-old girls. I like playing video games. So do 12-year-olds. Seeing a trend here?
So based on what OTHER 40-somethings list on this dating site, what SHOULD my interests be? Well, for most of them, their chief interest is their kids. And I get that -- when you produce offspring, everything changes. But thus far, I've got no pointy-eared music nerd babies to carry on the Shane line and redefine my world. What else? Well, it turns out the most common non-kid-related interest listed by other 40-somethings on this dating site is... "dining."
Do you know when the exact moment is that you become lame and old? When you start describing eating food as a HOBBY. If that's the case, then my favorite hobby henceforth is SLEEPING. I also enjoy breathing, talking, and occasionally scratching myself. And let's not forget that daily bathing hobby of mine.
Is this my future? Will I one day soon wake up and hate video games, yearn to hear some Phil Collins, and get giddy thinking about my lunch hour? Based on the other night, it could happen.
Last weekend, I got to review the new play at Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse. Now, don't get me wrong, I love Circa '21. It's an gorgeous venue with a shining reputation and the Quad Cities is SO lucky to have one of the few thriving dinner theatres in the country. But if you're EVER having a mid-life crisis and need to feel young, Circa's a great place to go. I was definitely one of the younger folks there. In fact, a couple of season ticket-holders were there celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. Even if I got married TOMORROW, I wouldn't be able to see that accolade until 2072, and I think we can all agree that I've had one too many thickburgers to make it that long.
But as the time ticks away, I could see myself becoming a dinner theatre junkie. I've always loved theatre, and apparantly we're all destined to enjoy dining, so what's to not like? But what WILL dinner theatre look like when my generation hits their demographic? Among Circa's upcoming attractions are musical tributes to Hank Williams and Dean Martin. When I hit the era of grey hairs and age spots, what will dinner theatre be? "Gold Digger: A Musical Salute to Kanye West"? "Bangarang: The Story of Dubstep"? The mind reels.
In the meantime, I'll keep plodding along. Maybe it's a good thing that I clearly have yet to grow up. As long as my interests keep on being interesting, consider me interested. And maybe one day I'll find a cuddly, freshly showered soulmate who likes the same juvenile hobbies. We could even have a kid that would make this whole column irrelevant.
After all, I'm gonna need SOMEONE to explain the plot of "Vampire Diaries" to me. It's confusing at my age.
Truth be told, I've got a fairly good reason for this retread. I generally write about the current happenings in my life, and THIS week, there's only ONE thing worthy of my attention. It's a thing that only comes around once every four years, and I'm no closer to figuring it out now than when I first wrote about it four years ago, so indulge my "laziness" if you can.
Once again, the games of the Summer Olympics are in full tilt, and televisions across the globe are showing the very best in human competition. NBC, who catches more grief than they should, is capitalizing on the Games with a myriad of channels and online streams. There's just one tiny problem: I hardly get to witness ANY of it. Basketball, soccer, and tennis are shown mostly during the day, and I'm at work. All the big events that people might enjoy watching are delayed to primetime, and that's when I'm usually DJing, working on projects, getting abused by Jillian Michaels on my exercise bike, or writing this very column.
Good thing, then, that my favorite Olympic sport of all time runs in about the only free time I've got -- the pitch middle of the night. I can come home from a DJ gig at 3 a.m., turn on the TV, and the odds are pretty good that one of the Olympic channels will be airing the greatest game that's ever been invented: TEAM HANDBALL.
I told this to one of my co-workers and she thought I was making it up. But I swear to you, Olympic handball is a real event. If you don't believe me, stay up 'til 3 a.m. and find out for yourself. Not only does it exist, but it's clearly the most awesome game I've ever seen in my life -- I just have absolutely no clue what I'm watching. But trust me, whatever it is, it RULES.
The version of "handball" I grew up on was a sport just slightly more entertaining than staring at a blank wall, where you and your opponent are stuck in a claustrophobic box slapping a rubber ball against a wall like an acoustic unplugged version of Pong. I'm pretty sure some dude went to play racquetball one day and went, "Damn! Forgot my racquet! ... Oh well, I'll just throw the ball instead," and -- voila! -- handball was born. Turns out that's AMERICAN handball. And we've got it ALL wrong.
Team handball has to be seen to be believed. It's sorta like water polo, but without all that pesky water... and WITH a healthy dose of street violence. Each country's team is compromised of seven players, because there are only seven people per country who have ever heard of this crazy sport. Six of the players are outfielders, while the seventh gets the unlucky role of goalkeeper.
I've now watched enough team handball to learn basic gameplay, and the goal appears simple: to decapitate the opponent's goalkeeper via blunt force trauma. This is achieved by hurling a small ball at fastball speed and point blank range. Occasionally the ball misses the goalkeeper and instead flies into a net, scoring what's referred to as a "point," but the violence part is WAY more entertaining.
While all this is going on, the opposing defenders do their best to get in the way of the ball kamikaze-style, offering their own bodies up for severe bruising instead of their goalkeeper's. This is done by chaotic blocking, body checking, and I'm pretty sure one time I saw a knife fight break out. This body-checking is referred to as, I'm not kidding, a "player sandwich." What most sports would recognize as an egregious foul is just run-of-the-mill gameplay in team handball. Says Wikipedia:
"Unlike in basketball where players are allowed to commit only 5 or 6 fouls in a game, handball players are allowed an unlimited number of 'faults,' which are considered good defense and disruptive to the attacking team's rhythm."
"Fault"? More like anarchy. Violent, violent anarchy. In the two matches I've seen this year, I've watched dudes crash into each other at bone-breaking speed. I saw a guy get floored by an elbow to the gut while his teammate got clotheslined flat. I've seen blood flow. Like my friend Jason said, clearly we're dealing with a game invented by a sadistic junior high school gym teacher to pass time on rainy days when dodgeball just isn't painful enough. Sick of that whiny uncoordinated fat kid? Force him to be the goalie and have the jock kids hurl balls at him for an hour straight. (It's good to know I'm not the only one permanently scarred by P.E. class.)
But as long as I'm not the fat kid at goal, consider me a huge fan of team handball. The only problem is that the U.S. doesn't field a team, presumably because the U.S. has no idea the sport exists. Instead, I get to watch handball powerhouse nations like Croatia, Tunisia, and Montenegro. I'm rooting for Team Iceland. Why? Because they've got a guy on their team named Snorri. And another named Ingimundur Ingimundarson -- and if you make fun of his name, he will whip a ball at your head. Seriously, though, apparantly in Iceland, team handball is their national pastime, meaning a lot of Icelandic people have suffered blows to the head -- which pretty much explains Bjork.
At the end of the day, what's more fun to watch -- a person running around a track, some girl somersaulting with ribbons, or fourteen people flying into one another with malice in their eyes and carnage in their hearts? I've found my sport of choice, and if you don't believe me, check this space in 4 years when I tell you about it all over again.
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
I've long been fascinated by man's ability to explore planets, build robots, invent vaccines, and discover the fundamental building blocks of life. Then I learned that it usually involved the extensive use of math and I became substantially less interested.
Still, it's amazing how a little research, experimentation, and I'm going to guess the use of square roots and maybe pi can help us solve the most perplexing questions of our existence, such as:
• How was the universe formed?
• What is the meaning of life?
• How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?
(Answer? On average, 508. See http://gwax.com/content/tootsiepop.html. God bless the internet.)
• What lakes should I definitely avoid swimming in this summer?
(More on that later.)
And, of course, the most important question plaguing mankind for centuries:
• What does outer space smell like?
We now have an answer. According to an investigative piece on the insanely addictive LifesLittleMysteries.com, outer space smells like... metal. More specifically, arc welding. Now you know.
Thanks to science, we're now able to follow Gene Roddenberry's dream of exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations, boldly going where no man has gone before... and taking a big ole whiff of it.
There's just one problem with smelling outer space. If you were to take a cruise up to the great beyond and open your capsule window for a refreshing breath of deep space, the lack of oxygen would kill you dead. Plus I've watched enough bad sci-fi special effects to know that depressurizing your spacesuit turns your body inside out in the grossest of ways. So when your average astronaut goes out on a spacewalk, all they can smell is the comforting plastic-y goodness of a spacesuit interior.
But, says LifesLittleMysteries, when those astronauts hop back aboard the space station, apparantly their suits REEK of outer space -- and it's apparantly NOT sugar, spice, and everything nice. Unless, of course, you're a weirdo astronaut who digs weird smells. The article quotes a blog from NASA astronaut Don Pettit:
"The best description I can come up with is metallic; a rather pleasant sweet metallic sensation. It reminded me of my college summers where I labored for many hours with an arc welding torch repairing heavy equipment for a small logging outfit. It reminded me of pleasant sweet smelling welding fumes. That is the smell of space."
Call me crazy, but I think if you use words like "pleasant" and "sweet" to describe arc welding fumes, perhaps you've logged one too many miles in orbit, Don. That said, if you're trapped onboard a space station for long periods of time, maybe anything that doesn't smell like YOU is enough to be "pleasant." In space, it turns out, you sweat CONSTANTLY. In zero gravity, there's no natural convection. That means your body heat never rises from your skin -- which means your sweat factory turns on and never shuts off 'til splashdown. And since that sweat never evaporates, you're just basically sitting in a gooshy layer of your own filth the whole time (see also: last Monday.)
But on a scale of 1-to-gross, stinky space doesn't hold a candle to our next story, which comes from the world of biology, the cornucopia of grossness. I like to scan news headlines throughout the day; it makes me feel like I've got my fingers on the pulse of the world. But every once in a while, you hit a story that makes that pulse defibrillate a little bit. Such occurred the other day when I stumbled upon THIS gem:
"TESTICLE-EATING FISH FOUND IN ILLINOIS LAKE."
Umm... okay, THAT'S worth clicking on. Things that eat testicles are a scary enough concept as is; but if we live in a world where testicle-eating creatures have to exist, I'd like to hope that they're as far away from ME as possible. Like the rainforests of Papua New Guinea. Or Middle-Earth. Or Narnia.
But no, no. These little miracles of nature have made a home in Lake Lou Yaeger in the town of Litchfield, Illinois. Litchfield has a tourism website that says, and I quote:
"Our 1200+ acre lake offers the best in boating with 45 miles of beautiful shoreline, 8 miles long and 1/2 mile wide. Skiers slash the blue waves, swimmers play in the cool water, and sunbathers enjoy the beach area."
...and, apparantly, evil giant fish lie in wait to nibble on your nether-regions.
I'm not kidding. This is a real news story. The fish is called the pacu. They sport human-like teeth, weigh up to 55 pounds, and in their native (you guessed it) Papua New Guinea, they're lovingly known by another name that I don't even think I can say in a family newspaper. Let's just say that several men have met their maker at the teeth of a pacu. I'll spare the details, but let's just say that when the pacu parties, it really knows how to have a ball. Or two.
So how did this heebie-jeebie monster fish end up in Lake Lou Yaeger? The only possible answer is that some nimrod dumped his aquarium of exotic fish into the local lake. Call me crazy, but I'm a firm believer in not allowing human beings to own any animals that can kill human beings. A good rule of thumb? If there's something in your house that can be prefaced by the word "exotic," it's bad news. Ask Seigfried. Or Roy. Or Tom Cruise in "Risky Business." If you own a tarantula or a snake or a piranha, you're not cool. You're over-compensating for your lack of cool. Suck it up and go get a cat like the rest of us.
The intriguing thing, though, is that all of the articles on the Lake Lou Yaeger pacu ponder how to go about removing them from the lake. Now, I'm no science expert. We've established that. But let's look at the facts. If the fish in the lake feed on testicles, how about, oh, I dunno, removing the testicles from the lake? Sorry to sound all Chief Brody, but GET OUT OF THE WATER, GUYS. No testicles equals no food equals no more pacu, right?
Oh. Maybe not. It turns out that while pacu enjoy them as a tasty snack, human testicles are not exactly a staple of their food diet. Instead, the pacu feeds primarily on nuts. Real ones. Stop snickering. But just as I trust that one day science will provide us with a sweat-free, rose-scented outer space, so too will science allow us to de-pacu Lake Lou Yaeger. I have no idea how they're gonna pull it off -- but it probably involves fractions. And maybe a cosine or two.
(Not pictured: Sweaty Shane playing Rock Band.)
I've been moonlighting as a DJ ever since the glory days of buying my first mixer (Radio Shack - four "D" batteries required) and wiring my friends' home stereos together on a wing and a prayer. If you see me at a party, dance, rave, club, or bar, there's a pretty good chance I'm on my way to or from the DJ booth. But there's ONE place you will seldom see me in control of the music.
I hate DJing weddings. This is dumb, because mobile wedding jocks can make $1000+ in one night, but it's just not my thing. Between lugging heavy PA equipment around, dealing with neurotic brides, and worrying that equipment failure could destroy somebody's special day, I'll take a pass, thanks.
That said, I'm also a sucker for a friend. And when my friend Toni asked me forever ago if I'd DJ her wedding, I said sure. I knew she and her future hubby were on the tightest of budgets, so I told her if she could find a PA system for me, I'd show up and do my best to make it a party. Just one problem: "it" was in Cedar Falls, IA. No worries, though: I could just hop online, get a nice hotel room, maybe something with a hot tub, and make a relaxing mini-cation of the weekend.
That was before I discovered that apparantly, in the greater Waterloo/Cedar Falls area, hotel rooms are an endangered species. Not only were there hardly any rooms available, but the ones I DID find were NOT cheap. Bye bye, hot tub. Ah well, at least I could relax after the gig with a first-run movie or something.
I got there with JUST enough time to check in, throw my travel bag on the bed, and get to the venue. Cue shock #1: Instead of your traditional reception hall, this place was more like a creepy old house, complete with crusty antiques, life-size dolls that peered into your soul, and creaks and groans that would make the Ghost Hunter guys salivate.
Shock #2 was the temperature. I was expecting to walk through the doors into a blast of air conditioned awesomeness. Instead, I walked into a blast of hot yuck. It must have registered, too, because all it took was one raised eyebrow for an employee to apologize and tell me that they'd just fired up the a/c. Nifty, but by the time I'd lugged all the gear in and set up, I was a soaked, sweaty, gross mess of a human being with NO time to change.
When I DJ, a bring a modern digital setup involving laptops and MIDI controllers and mixers aplenty. But the easiest way to handle the dinner portion of a wedding? Make a playlist, plug in the trusty iPod, and hit shuffle. This went smooth. Guests arrived, the bride and groom did their toasts, and dinner was served. Things were perfect. And then it exploded.
Or at least a transformer did. With a polite little bang, suddenly the ballroom and stage were without power. The ladies who ran the house had no clue what was up, so I grabbed a flashlight and checked the circuit breaker boxes - nothing tripped. And since that concluded my electrical expertise, we called the local power company. 30 minutes later, a worker showed up.
"The problem," he told me, "is that no one's touched this stuff since the 1900's. They're gonna need an electrician."
"You guys," he concluded with the grace and poise worthy of the day's blessed event, "are screwed."
I was busy noticing two other issues. The first was that it started to feel like something BAD was going on in my stomach. The second was that it was rapidly getting hotter. The property manager confirmed my worst fear: the air conditioning was out, too.
Some rooms, though, still had power, including a small foyer where they'd set up an X-Box and Rock Band to entertain guests. I grabbed my friends Linn and Harry and forged a plan. Fifteen minutes later, the bride and groom had their first dance as man and wife to "Somebody to Love" by Queen -- as performed rather poorly by the three of us on Rock Band.
As the song started, I leaned over to Harry and asked, "Did you set it to 'no fail' mode?"
Gulp. That meant if one of us screwed up and hit too many bum notes with our fake plastic instruments, the song would stop and the X-Box, along with the 150+ invited guests of the wedding, would boo us. This didn't help the sweating. In the end, we scored three out of five stars, but made it throught the song to a round of applause -- well, maybe they were applauding the bride and groom, but I soaked it up regardless.
Soon after, people starting leaving, the temperature got unbearable, and I packed all my gear up in a sea of sweat and ick. I got to my car, drove two blocks towards the hotel, and got a phone call - "Power's back on." I'm going to guess that a few Cedar Falls residents may still be wondering why they pulled up to an intersection to see a sweaty guy banging his head against his steering wheel in frustration.
Seeing as how most of the guests had left, we decided to just call it a night, and I got back to my hotel room by 8 p.m. -- pretty much the exact moment when the something-bad in my stomach turned into a something-worse. I'll spare you the details, but let's just say the Clarion Inn might still be rueing the day that I ever booked that particular bathroom.
The room was next to the pool and reeked of chlorine. The TV had NO first-run movies as advertised. A wedding in the hotel was sending "oonch-oonch-oonch" beats through the walls. I took the best course of action I could muster up: I grabbed my clothes bag, hopped in the car, and made it back to Rock Island by midnight.
So if you're keeping score, then yes, I drove 148 miles to press play on an iPod, then spent $89.99 + tax in order to assassinate a defenseless toilet.
Thankfully, Toni and her new hubby had a fun night despite the chaos, plus they'll have a heck of a wedding story to tell people for the rest of their lives. Just as I've now got a story to explain beyond a shadow of a doubt why I'm touched by your offer but will NOT be DJing your wedding.
My bike under construction... some assembly required.
In order to ensure a top-notch newspaper column from yours truly, two important events need to occur each and every week.
#1: Go out and do stuff.
#2: Write about it.
Well, as it turns out, #2 is a tad bit difficult to accomplish when #1 consists of little more than sitting around in my climate-controlled house praying that the air conditioner holds up for another week.
I realize this is pretty much THE most Captain Obvious sort of statement I could possibly make, but it's HOT out. We're not talking "hey-it's-a-little-warm" out. We're not talking "pass-me-the-SPF-20." We're not talking "be-sure-to-stay-hydrated."
This is, like, END OF DAYS hot. The kind of hot that makes Al Gore go, "Told ya so." The kind of hot where you don't even want to take your lunch hour because the half-block walk from the office to the car just seems unbearable -- but should that lunch be raw, you can at least rest in the knowledge that you could, in a survivalist situation, just grill it up right there on the sidewalk.
The other night, I came home from work to discover that some schmuck had shattered a bunch of glass in the alley right behind my garage. The time it took to grab a broom and sweep the glass into a dustpan was, oh, I'd guess about eight minutes. By the time I made it in the house, I was drenched in sweat from head to toe. I swear to you, I've taken showers that were less wet. It's official -- this summer is gross.
This is putting a serious crimp on my original plans for the summer, which involved hopping on my bike, starting up a workout plan, shedding around 125 pounds, developing large muscles throughout my body, then going down to the beach to kick sand in the face of wimpy kids. Or at least trying to get enough exercise that I might live to see cooler weather.
But I'm pretty sure that sometime in this past week, I've managed to sweat out ALL of my summer motivation just trying to get home from work every night. In this climate, taking a breath is exercise enough for me. You know those people you still see out jogging even in weather like this? You might look at those nimrods and applaud their dedication and motivation. I look at those nimrods and applaud the fact that I'm not one of them. This is dangerous hot -- sitting around and worrying about the heat is all the cardio I'm willing to risk in these temps, thanks much.
That's why sitting in my basement right now in a kajillion unassembled pieces is the latest addition to Casa Del Shane: a recumbent exercise bike (some assembly required.) And after having owned my very own piece of home workout equipment for approximately 8 hours now, I'm beginning to understand how the exercise regimen works.
Step One: Walk to the basement. Step Two: Take note of the recumbent bike sitting in hundreds of pieces. Step Three: Pick up assembly manual that appears to be written in Swahili with helpful diagrams crafted by the ancient Egyptians. Step Four: Give up in frustration, grab the nearest heavy object, and throw it across the room in anger. Viola -- exercise.
Eventually, though, one day soon -- at the future thanks of my father, a man who can apparantly read both Swahili AND ancient Egyptian yet strangely can't find the power button on your standard remote control -- I will have myself a device that should allow me to get a moderate level of exercise without leaving the air conditioned confines of my house or having to deal with any of that pesky nature stuff whatsoever. Thumbs up.
And I didn't skimp on quality either. You might think an exercise bike should be little more than a pair of pedals and something to hang onto, right? Wrong. That's when you stop having an exercise bike and start having a future fancy clothes hanger. Nope, I wanted to ensure that I actually USED this bike -- that's why I had to buy a model juuust pricey enough to make me feel reeeeally guilty if I let it sit around.
In this case, the extra dough I had to cough up pays for something called "iFit" technology. Since it's still in a billion pieces, I'm not exactly sure how it works yet, but I know it involves the use of Google Maps, which will allow me to plot out a fake route anywhere in the world and thus be treated to images from Google Street View as I fake bike through fake neighborhoods. And seeing as how the bike also changes resistance based on the incline of your map route, and estimating my current level of physical conditioning, I'm going to guess that I'll be doing a lot of biking through fake... Topeka. Or anywhere flat. I hear fake Omaha's lovely this time of year.
If that's not enough, apparantly if I don't bike up to proper workout levels, Jillian Michaels comes on my screen and presumably calls me a wussie or something. THIS is the kind of motivation I need.
Note: This is NOT an encouragement for wayward thieves to rob me, either. The bike may be cool, but it also weighs roughly 150 lbs. Getting it DOWN the basement stairs was challenging enough - if you can get it back UP the stairs, you don't need an exercise machine. You're doing just fine on your own. Leave the bike for wussies like me.
So, Mother Nature, for now I have the upper hand. I'd sure prefer it if you cooled things down a little bit before birds start spontaneously combusting and we discover at what temperature dirt melts... but as long as the air conditioner gods don't let me down, if you need me, I'll be in my basement getting all slim and iFit.
The evil that I speak of is, of course, Tom Cruise.
Always have I hated him, from the moment he slid into frame in his "Risky Business" undies. Who on Earth was this cocky kid with a mouthful of teeth strutting around like he owned Hollywood? Maybe I just despised him because that same scene propelled my absolute least favorite song in the world, Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock & Roll," to the top of the charts.
I wouldn't make the same mistake with Cruise's next star vehicle, "Top Gun." I didn't go see it. In fact, I've never seen it to this day, which I think puts me in the minority of all humans on Earth. But I don't need to see it to envision how annoying he must be in it. And sure enough, it too came with a song -- Berlin's "Take My Breath Away" -- that will clearly be on infinite repeat in my future hell. Now he's in "Rock of Ages," a movie that glamorizes pretty much every song I hated as a teenager. That's how obnoxious Tom cruise is -- even his SOUNDTRACK sucks.
So I've always hated Tom Cruise -- but never did I suspect that this irritating actor was, in fact, my arch-nemesis. Not until he married Katie Holmes, that is. That's when it stopped being annoying and got personal.
For those uninformed, Katie Holmes is the former star of "Dawson's Creek," a well-to-do socialite, a devoted mother, and my eternal soulmate. She just doesn't know it yet.
Ever since I channel-flipped into her smile on an early episode of "Dawson's," I knew I'd found my celebrity crush for life -- and it's a crush I've harbored come hell, high water, or overly-toothy spouses. Being a Katie Holmes fan is not without sacrifice. I'm pretty sure I shattered all my street cred back in the 90's -- there's only so many times you can tell your friends, "Oh, dude, I'd love to hang out... but 'Dawson's Creek' is on" before your masculinity gets called into question. Then there's all the dubious movies I've had to sit through over the years -- she might be my soulmate, but she sure can pick some lousy roles. I bought "First Daughter" on DVD, an act that should merit a date right there.
Then it happened. Just like Lex Luther discovering Kryptonite, the evil Tom Cruise discovered MY weakness. Before I could even curse his rotten name, there he was, jumping on Oprah's couch like a lunatic, pledging his love for my celebrity crush. I watched through clenched teeth as TomKat got married, had a daughter, and looked authentically happy in photo after photo. Eventually, I came to accept that this was my "Empire Strikes Back" -- an awesome fantasy, but in the end Darth Vader chops my hand off and sells my princess into slavery. Eventually, I accepted their (cough) love and even went so far as to find myself a (gasp) real life girlfriend for a while there.
But just as "Empire" birthed a happy ending in "Return of the Jedi," so too do I get a chance at a second act. Last week it was revealed that there IS, in fact, a God -- Katie Holmes has filed for divorce from Tom Cruise and the Evil Empire (legal note: all Evil Empires appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real Evil Empires and/or Churches of Scientology is purely coincidental.) Upon hearing the fateful news last week, I believe that I uttered merely ONE word:
You hear me, world? I CALLED DIBS. Just like the WNBA, I got next. Ummm, soooo, anybody got any ideas on how a chubby geek from the corn belt can land a top-tier socialite actress on the rebound?
My first thought was simple: the internet. All it took was one public plea from a soldier to Justin Timberlake to get him to go with her to the Marine Ball. And just a while back, some nutty girl with an acoustic guitar wrote a song for Jason Segel and within a week, he was whisking her off as his date to some awards show. So it's NOT impossible.
That said, I don't have a lot going for me. I'm not a brave national hero, nor can I play guitar or sing a cute song. And if it's true that a camera adds fifteen pounds, I think I've done a good enough job at pound-adding as is, so I'm probably better off sticking with a NON-visual method of wooing, thanks much.
I guess my best hope is just to put this column out there in the world and pray that it somehow works its way to Katie. Weirder things have happened. Maybe one of you has a friend who has a friend whose cousin is Katie's masseuse or something. Of course, the BEST way to ensure she sees this column is to somehow get picked up by the Associated Press so that it runs in newspapers all over the country. Strangely, though, it turns out that the AP doesn't usually find open love letters to celebrities written by aging losers to be especially newsworthy. Drat.
So I figure the only real chance to get this column found by AP search engines would be to include absolutely statements so false, damaging, and scandalous that they take notice. Of course, doing so would be tantamount to libel and could get me sued in a heartbeat, so I absolutely wouldn't be able to say things like TOM CRUISE KNOWS WHERE JIMMY HOFFA IS BURIED or make any kind of inferences whatsoever that TOM CRUISE IS SECRETLY AN ESCAPED ALIEN FROM AREA 51.
Instead, I'm just gonna say: Katie Holmes, if you read this, you deserve better than Tommy the Tooth. You deserve an overweight middle-aged newspaper columnist who makes JUST enough spare income to afford "First Daughter" on DVD. C'mon, we have so much in common. You like to smile. I like to leer at your smile. YOUR best friend is Posh Spice. MY best friend is a guy named Jason who sometimes likes spicy food. You're gonna be a guest judge on Project Runway. I recently guest judged national anthem singers for the River Bandits.
So just hop on a plane -- you probably own one or two, right? -- and head on out to Rock Island. Suri can play video games and torment my cats, Posh and Becks can take the guest room when they visit, and I promise you there'll be no paparazzi hiding in the bushes -- seeing as how I don't have any bushes, and even if I did, all it takes is 10 minutes in this midwestern heat for the average New York paparazzi to incinerate. Whaddaya say, Katie? Dinner and a movie? I promise it will NOT be "Rock of Ages."
No, my motivator for extra projects is usually jealousy. At some point, I'll go somewhere and witness someone doing something relatively cool. Then I'll witness that person receiving accolades for said task. THAT'S when the little voice in my brain says, to paraphrase:
"Hey, nimrod. You could do that, too, if you set your mind to it. In fact, you probably could do it better. And you know what will happen when you do it better? People will love you MORE than that other guy." Shallow as heck? You betcha -- but for a lazy oaf like me, I'll take ANY kind of motivation.
Of course, many of these projects never get revealed to the rest of the world and never see completion. I'll catch a musical on TV, and there'll be the voice: "You could write a musical." And then, despite the fact that I can't play a note of music or carry a tune on my own, I'll sit around for the next week trying to hum my way to greatness. It never works, but I'll never stop trying.
At the moment, I've been obsessing about two projects that I CAN pull off.
Project No. 1 was a must-complete. About a year and a half ago, one of my best friends packed up and moved to Japan. He told everyone at the time it was because he wanted to challenge himself and explore his love for Asian culture. I secretly suspected it was because he wanted to explore his love for hot Asian girls. Well, he explored one (although the fact is that she's actually from Brazil -- long story), and then he MARRIED her -- and proceeded to make a series of international calls with the sole purpose of guilting me into flying out there for his wedding reception.
Now, my hatred of air travel is known far and wide, but even MORE problematic was the fact that I didn't have $2,000, which was the price of the cheapest flight I could even find -- and that came complete with a half-day layover in Nowheresville, Saskatchewan. So no Japanacation for me.
Instead, I set up all my DJ gear in my basement, recorded a few hours of mixes straight to mp3, and thanks to the mighty power of the internet, I DJ-ed his wedding reception from half a world away. It was the next best thing to actually being there, PLUS I now can brag that in one weekend, I had gigs in East Davenport AND Nagoya. Awesomesauce.
Project No, 2 has been a bit more involved. The District Theatre is, as you're reading this, in the midst of their production of the stage musical version of "Xanadu." Originally conceived as a romantic-fantasy vehicle for Olivia Newton-John, the movie version of "Xanadu" is a living testament to the tacky excesses of 1980, and it pretty much single-handedly sounded the death knell for the disco era. SO bad it was, in fact, that the annual Golden Raspberry Awards were created that year for the sole purpose of publically declaring the awfulness of "Xanadu."
Naturally, it's one of my favorite movies of all time.
And now there's a stage-play version that lampoons and celebrates the kitsch of the original. It is a party unto itself, and when I found out the District Theatre was putting it on this month, I knew I had to be involved. That's why I got ahold of DT founder Tristan Tapscott and offered to handle the music for the preshow and intermission.
Instead of seeing my column last Sunday, you might have caught the words "Shane Brown is on vacation this week." A more apt description would have been, "Shane Brown would really like to write a column this week. Instead he's in his basement, buried up to his armpits in disco records. Don't ask."
I know this isn't going to do much for my coolness or machismo, but hear me, Quad-Cities: Disco music got a bad rap. In the grand pantheon of popular music, disco will forever be the doormat, filed somewhere in cultural relevance between boy bands and hair metal.
But I say disco should be celebrated. In its heyday, I was 9-10 years old. It was the first time I started paying attention to the radio, the first time my mom let me buy records, and the first time I really started liking music. Dare I say it? I might not have become the music geek I am today were it not for the Village People.
Disco has shocking staying power, too. When you listen to the pop of the '80s these days, it sounds like antique music. Most of this can be blamed on the tink-tink-tink sounds of primitive drum machines powered by computers that could barely handle Pac-Man. But when it comes to disco, there's no tink-tink-tink. KC had a Sunshine BAND, and Kool had a GANG. Those were real instruments, and they sound like real instruments today.
Disco music was POSITIVE. I'm sick of turning on the radio and listening to whiny long-hairs get angsty about their suburban lives. Where's the joy? Disco music had JOY. Granted, it was likely joy fueled by cocaine orgies, but joy nonetheless. They were stayin' alive; they were family; they will survive; and that's the way (uh huh, uh huh) they liked it. Nothing bad ever happened in a disco song, unless you count the time that Donna Summer left a cake out in the rain (bummer).
I'm pretty sure I know the REAL reason why disco died: the dancing. The songs might have been boss, but the moves were RIDICULOUS. Did a time really exist when people watched "Saturday Night Fever" and thought Travolta was the essence of cool? Wow. (And if you think THAT'S bad, be sure to watch the awesomely awful sequel, "Staying Alive," in which a spandex-clad Travolta appears to defeat the devil with little more than his crotch.)
Disco dancing sucks, but disco itself rules. And while I probably bit off one project too many this month, I haven't had this much fun in ages.
You have two more weekends to catch "Xanadu" at the District Theatre -- and I promise you will never see a better musical involving leg warmers, roller skates, and bad Australian accents in your life. Until I write one that's better, that is.
My Isobel meets a very pregnant Daryl the Feral
I think it'd be neat, at least once in life, to be a genuine hero. Who among us wouldn't want at least ONE minute of pure unadulterated greatness where people give you medals and Barbara Walters wonders what kind of tree you'd be if you were a tree. The problem is, I just don't know if I'm cut out to be a hero. I don't exactly have the kind of skill set that lends itself easily to heroism. You don't often hear someone yelling, "Omigod! We're all gonna die! If only there were someone around to write about it in a snarky manner!" I'd also like to think that I'm relatively good at my weekend DJ job, but no life has ever been saved with a well-timed Justin Bieber remix. But this week, I'm at least a junior hero.
The whole thing was really my fault to begin with. About six months ago, I noticed a feral cat sneaking around the backyard. I know you're not supposed to feed strays, but this one had the sad-eyes thing down to an artform. I couldn't resist sneaking it a little food. Well, cats aren't exactly dumb, and this one -- Daryl the Feral, I called it -- was no exception. It didn't take long before he was waiting every night when I got home from work. Worse yet, a quick survey of the neighbors revealed that ol' Daryl was running the sad-eye racket up and down the block for multiple meals.
But one day, I noticed Darryl was getting kinda fat -- fatter than Fancy Feast. This cat was less Daryl Strawberry and more Daryl Hannah -- and she was in a family way. Well, how can you turn away a PREGNANT cat with sad eyes? So I -- along with most of my neighbors -- kept right on feeding her. But one day she DIDN'T show up, and I knew we had to have kittens somewhere. This thought made me go "awww" until I happened to look out my front window the other day. There was Daryl, running across the street for her nightly sad-eyed begging, but a few paces behind, FIVE itty bitty kitties were following -- and they were NOT looking both ways before crossing the street. Had it not been for a passing driver to be quick on the brakes, I would have witnessed a kitten holocaust.
There is absolutely NO way I could bear willing witness to kitten carnage in front of my house. It was time for action. That action was to call up my friends, Dispatch/Argus reporters Lindsay Hocker and Anthony Watt. Lindsay & Tony are animal lovers and she's volunteered for years at area shelters, so I knew their expertise would come in handy.
I quickly learned two interesting facts about kitten rescue missions:
(1) Kittens don't exactly WANT to be rescued. In my mind, we'd go over to that porch and kittens would jump into our arms with purrs and cuddles and wordless thanks. Yeah, not so much.
(2) A kitten rescue operation quickly draws an awful lot of unwanted attention. As we baited live traps, we were joined by a surplus of neighbors and passers-by, all of whom thought themselves experts at the task. One neighbor just dove onto the porch in a bare-handed rodeo- style attempt at kitten wrangling, while another good-hearted passerby insisted that kittens only respond to "ocean whitefish, unless they're West End kittens, coz they wouldn't know the difference." (Drum roll.) This same good-natured fellow wandered around the yard while making a noise that can only be described as "wooooooop," because presumably that's how one lures kittens on his home planet.
Instead, we opted to put out some live traps baited with -- well, okay, I went to the store and got some ocean whitefish, because maybe Woop Guy was right, who knew. Anyways, we set out the traps to no luck, other than accidentally catching Daryl herself, who was less than thrilled about the experience. Instead of sad eyes, it was ANGRY eyes, hisses, and claws aplenty. It wasn't our intention to nab mom, but while we had her, we might as well get her spayed and avoid The Great Rock Island Cat Uprising o' 2012.
In the meantime, rodeo guy had corraled ONE kitten. But at the night progressed, that was all we could snag. We were doing a GOOD thing here, right? So why did I feel like the hunter who killed Bambi's mom? Instead of saving five kitties, we rescued ONE but left four without their mom.
One of the 5 kittens now at Moline Animal Aid
The next night, we returned with reinforcements. Within hours, we'd managed to catch three more kittens, along with a hapless neighborhood stray -- a cat I have now named "Durrrr" -- who managed to walk into the same trap TWICE. I'd like to say the kittens were super happy about the situation, but they were more like little whirling dervishes of tiny teeth and claws. For obvious reasons, I named one "Bitey," but Lindsay was set on "Cupcake." We compromised and dubbed him "Biteycakes."
But the unspoken awfulness was that one got away. And when I woke up the next morning to find no kitties and empty traps (well, except for Durrrr again,) all I could do was hope that #5 had been caught by a neighbor. I wandered out one last time across the street, stopped, looked around, and about had a heart attack. Not two feet from my shoes, there sat #5, looking up at me like, "'Sup, dude?" But before I could even breathe, he shot like a rocket into the brush. I raced home, called up the Kitten Posse, and for the first time in my life was able to direct quote the movie "Short Circuit": "NUMBER FIVE IS ALIVE!"
Lots of things happened this past weekend. Gumbo Ya-Ya. Race for the Cure. Fun, excitement, summer weather. I couldn't tell you about ANY of them, because we spent the ENTIRE weekend searching for the world's most elusive kitten. By this time, the mission at hand had superceded such notions as property lines and trespassing, and to ALL of my neighbors, I issue a sincere apology for creeping around your yards. Time and again, we'd spot the kitten, get within an arm's length, and lose it. This was no mere feline -- this was the Golden Snitch of kittens. Time and again, our traps would go off and we'd find no bait and no kitty.
By Sunday night, we were spent. Our trespassing ways had merited our first police call (SORRY!) and earlier that day, I'd already dealt with Animal Control thanks to the accidental catching of a less-than-amused raccoon. But the officer had given me one tip. Rather than bait the traps with wet food, he recommended we use sardines tied to the trap with wire. That way, Houdini Kitty couldn't just reach in for a snack without setting off the trap.
That night, I set out some sardine traps, and within the hour, I heard meows. After SIX days of trying, I caught the Golden Snitch.
I guess I feel kinda heroic in the end, even though most acts of heroism don't involve hissing raccoons or trespass warnings. As you read this, Daryl the Feral is at the shelter recovering from surgery and will soon return to the neighborhood that misses her. One of my friends has decided to adopt the Golden Snitch. And there are now four adorable kitties -- including my pal Biteycakes -- at Animal Aid Humane Society in Moline waiting for a hero like you.