Tuesday, October 02, 2012

COLUMN: Collection

Whenever someone asks me about my finances (which, let's be honest, never happens), my go-to joke is to respond that my money's wrapped up in CDs -- just the wrong kind. I never realized how right I was until recently.

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.

COLUMN: Anniversary

Today is Sunday, September 23rd. This means that, as of yesterday, my parents have been married for forty years. That's impressive. Heck, in today's world, it might even be considered beating the odds. Add the fact that they've had to put up with ME for all forty of those years and it MIGHT just be a miracle.

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.


I've had a revelation, Quad Cities.

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!

COLUMN: Political Fundraising

I've long known that I am a very important person of signifigant signifigance to the world. I've always been aware that I'm pretty much awesomesauce, but the rest of the world is finally catching on. I don't mean to brag, but I've recently made some pretty important friends.

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.

COLUMN: Whale Wars

It seems like everyone's vacation-crazy around these parts lately.

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.

COLUMN: Nature Documentary

If bullfrogs could talk, I know one with a doozy of a story to tell.

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.  

COLUMN: Olympic Comedown

Man, I can't believe NBC cancelled that Olympics show, and just when I was starting to get into the plot. It had all the elements of perfect TV entertainment: dramatic tension, thrills, comedy (that dude who dived into a back-flop was pretty hysterical), heartache, tears, triumph -- and, most importantly, girls in minimal clothing playing volleyball.

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...


I'm beginning to worry that my personality is evolving at a slower pace than the average human being. This is a tad bit worrysome. I think I might be... adultally challenged.

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.

COLUMN: Team Handball

I suppose it's bad form to write a column about something you've written about before. Some might think it a sign of laziness or a lack of ideas. But I figure if Hollywood can achieve both profit and acclaim from rebooting "21 Jump Street" and "Spider-Man," I should be able to occasionally recycle a column topic now and again.

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.