Tuesday, April 02, 2013

COLUMN: Cool Beanz


When you guys read my column every week, and I hope you DO, do you ever picture me writing it? Not that I encourage ANY of you to visualize me in any form -- I'm not especially pretty. But I occasionally wonder if there's a stereotype of the hard-at-work columnist.

I'd like it if you pictured me sitting at an antique mahogany desk in a broad chair with well-worn cushions, looking all the part of the intellectual writer while the smell of stale leather lingers in the air. Or maybe you see me in a noisy florescent-lit newsroom, bags under my eyes, running my hands through my hair, desperately trying to beat deadline while fielding calls from Deep Throat and cranky editors.

I just hope none of you pictured the actual reality of my creative process: me in an ill-fitting t-shirt, laying sideways on my living room couch and shoveling pretzels into my mouth while typing the occasional sentence during commercial breaks of "Big Bang Theory." I'm starting to wonder if I truly am THE least cool human being on planet earth.

I need to get off the couch, wipe off the pretzel crumbs, and make a change to my writing process. I say this with both determination and willpower due to three specific reasons: (1) I have absolutely no idea what to write about this week and a change of scenery could do me some good, (2) I have a wicked backache from laying sideways on the couch last night and a repeat performance could land me in a back brace, and (3) I've totally seen this episode of "Big Bang Theory."

That's why I just packed up my laptop, ventured into the real world, and am typing this from the warm confines of my neighborhood coffeehouse, a place I drive past every day but had yet to walk into, until just now. For the first time in ages, I feel like a real writer.

This place has honest-to-gosh ambience. Stories have happened here, I just know it. The table I'm sitting at has a couple of nice dings in it and my chair has the slight give that says many a butt have come before me. Great works of literature aren't written during commercial breaks. They're written in places like this. Sitting here with my laptop, I feel... Important. Creative. Productive. COOL.

Too bad, then, that I still have no idea what to write about. And it's hard to think of anything while I'm trying so desperately hard to look important, creative, productive, and cool. Oh well, good journalists observe, so let's take a look-see at what's around me...

7:03 PM - There's a girl on a laptop working hard on her Pinterest page. From what I can see, her primary Pinterest appears to be "hot supermodels." Or maybe just the stuff that the hot supermodels are wearing. Still, she looks deeply concerned about what she's doing. And whatever it is, it currently involves pictures of mascara and Beyonce. I don't have a Pinterest page, and if I did, I doubt anyone would find it Pinteresting.

7:10 PM - The waitress -- no, wait, I'm at a coffeehouse, the BARISTA -- just brought me the caramel latte I ordered, and it's arrived at my table in a cup that's roughly the size of your average soup bowl. I seriously have NO idea how one's supposed to drink this without a spoon. It has a tiny handle on it that's either for decoration or the hands of a toddler, and while I don't know much about child-rearing, I'm pretty sure you don't start feeding them caramel lattes until they're at least five years old, right? For now, it's just going to sit beside my laptop and help me look important, creative, productive, and cool. So far, so good.

7:16 PM - The couple next to me is studying for a math class. Their life is my recurring adult nightmare. You know when you're in school and studying pre-calculus and you go, "Omigosh, I will NEVER use this in real life"? YOU'RE RIGHT. YOU NEVER WILL.

7:26 PM - Omigosh, into the coffeeshop has just walked the rarest of rare breeds: an actual, authentic goth kid. Black hair? Check. Ankh necklace? Check. Trenchcoat? Check. Bauhaus sticker on his laptop? Check. Where do you even GO to buy a Bauhaus sticker for your laptop these days? Hot Topic? Goths-R-Us? Once upon a time, we were brethren. I wore black, listened to The Cure, and hung out in coffeeshops trying to look brooding while bemoaning that people misunderstood me. Now I'm one of the people who misunderstands him. Getting old sucks. If this kid knew that I had the entire Bauhaus discography in my iPod, it would shatter his world.

7:37 PM - There's a REALLY cute girl sitting by herself on my left. She's not even studying. Just sitting there, sipping on coffee, and texting on her phone. For all I know, she could be texting "OMG THERE'S A SUPER IMPORTANT CREATIVE PRODUCTIVE & COOL GUY NEXT TO ME. SOOOO DREAMY." I'd better play it safe and act hard-to-get.

7:55 PM - I wonder what's on TV? I miss my couch.

7:58 PM - Whoa. Goth kid just took it to another level. In my day, you'd wear a Joy Division t-shirt to woo cute goth girls. I never thought about Advances in Goth Technology: As I type, this kid is sitting a couple tables away, earphones in, watching a Joy Division concert on his laptop, which is turned juuuust enough for every passerby to see what he's doing and appreciate just how committed to his gothiness he is. Bravo, my technologically adept friend. That said, only one of us was alive when Joy Division was, and it's NOT you, mopey.

8:04 PM - I just realized that in the back corner of the coffeeshop sits a writer for a rival newspaper, also appearing to be hard at work on some important piece of journalism. Or maybe he just wants to look important, creative, productive, and cool, too. Except he's actually typing stuff, though. Hmm. I need to get outta this place.

Okay, so maybe I couldn't figure out how to drink my enormous latte, and maybe the Joy Division kid made me feel like the Gothfather. And I left without talking to the cute girl. And shoot, I guess I never DID come up with anything to write about. The mission may have been a failure -- but it was an important, creative, productive, and cool failure if there ever was one, so it's fine by me. In the meantime, I'm back on the couch, finishing this column the only way I [10 minutes of "Big Bang Theory" later] know [10 more minutes of "Big Bang Theory" later] how.

COLUMN: Rebel


They say that girls like the bad boys. If that's the case, folks, it's time to lock up your daughters -- 'coz THIS cat is one bad mutha (shut yo mouth!)

Sometimes it's tough being a rebel loner without a cause, but it's the cross you have to bear when you're b-b-b-b-bad to the bone like me. Most of you go through life playing by the rules, but some of us just have to throw caution to the wind and tear that rulebook up, man. I make no apologies for who I am. Like Michael Jackson once said, "I'm bad, I'm bad" and then something that sounds like "sha-mow-a!" so you know he's serious. Just like me. I'm bad, I'm bad, I'm really really bad.

I knew it was only a matter of time before Johnny Law would bring the hammer down on my reckless ways. I just had no idea it'd be last Friday.

Like most hard-living bad boys, I spend most of my Friday nights mired in the white-knuckle, cutthroat, seedy underground world of charity trivia fundraisers. In fact, the team I play with usually wins. Our captain, Kim Crandall, is the Lex Luthor of the trivia set. When he walks into an event, people cringe and scowl (I've actually seen it happen.) Kim takes his trivia seriously, and hence hand-picks a team of equal parts super-smart people (like Kim) and super-lame people who watch waaaay too much TV and know far more than they should about Lindsay Lohan and stupid pop culture garbage (cough.) Getting picked for Kim's team is both honor and duty. It doesn't matter the charity, cause, or purpose of the trivia night -- when he calls, you show up.

He called me last week, and that's where my story begins: in my car, on my way to another certain trivia night victory. I had no idea what organization was sponsoring the event, I just knew where it was: on a certain locally-based federal military installation that shall remain nameless. Like always, I pulled up to the guard gate with driver's license in hand to check in. NOT like always, the guard looked at my license and politely asked me to pull over to the side of the road.

Greeeeat, I thought. I must have been randomly selected for some kind of detailed screening or random car search. I wasn't panicked, though, because I had nothing to hide other than an embarassing amount of fast food detritus slowly decaying on the passenger floor. But when a pair of police cars showed up and purposely parked on either end of my car to block me in, that's when I started raising an eyebrow or two.

Was I on some kind of watchlist? Was there an Evil Shane Brown out there somewhere sullying my good name?  Or, as it turns out, maybe just maybe I sullied my OWN name when I turned 42 back in January and failed to notice that my driver's license had expired. It turns out I've been cruising around town on an expired license for just over two months. Smooth move, Brown.

Now, I'm not going to give you a play-by-play of my brush with the law. After all, I was in the wrong and they had a job to do. Just suffice it to say that it must have been one SLOW night on that certain locally-based federal military installation, and I sincerely hope those guys spend as much time securing the homeland as they do harassing helpless idiots in Volkswagen Beetles. But at the end of the day, they treated me like a person AND let me scoot with a warning instead of taking me to the federal pokey, so I'm actually pretty lucky and in their debt. Still, NOT the ideal way to spend a Friday night.

But it was heaven compared to Saturday morning.

I woke up determined to never repeat the previous evening's scenario, so I headed out to the DMV first thing. Here in the Illinois Quad Cities, our local Secretary of State's office is conveniently located on the precise edge of nowhere in a strip mall with no logical or discernable entrance. I believe that this is the driving test portion of the license renewal process: If you can figure out how to get to the DMV, you've proven you know how to drive.

Personally, I've always thought that the DMV gets a bad rap. The popular stereotype is that its a timeless void of bitter and grouchy bureaucratic nightmares. As for me, whenever I've had to visit in the past, I've been met with courteous and knowledgeable staff who provide exceptional service in both a timely and friendly manner.

Clearly this is because I had never been down there on a Saturday. Saturdays are every bad DMV stereotype presented en masse for your viewing pleasure. Saturdays at the DMV is where hope goes to die.

I showed up relatively early and still ended up at the tail end of the waiting line to the information desk.

"Hi," I said upon waiting my way to the front. "I just discovered that my driver license expi--"

"Take a number wait for it to be called step aside," came the atonal interruption. I grabbed my number and saw with disdain that it said "44." That was when I heard them call "3." Uh oh.

I noticed that every one of the laminated numbers also came with a random safe-driving slogan. Mine said, "Keep your cool! Chill the road rage!" Little did I know it would be my mantra to survive the next 2.5 hours. With nothing better to do, I surveyed my fellow waitees. Everyone looked completely unhappy. Exasperated sighs emitted from around the room in 30-second intervals. Old men sat alongside bored teenagers of every race, color, and creed -- an equal opportunity suckfest if ever there was one. To top it off, one careless mom seemed willfully ignorant of the fact that her two sugar-infused offspring were bouncing around the entire office like caffeinated jumping beans. Seriously, it wouldn't surprise me if someone walked out that day with a driver's license photo featuring a blurry 4-year-old in the background.  

Speaking of license photos, I did learn one important thing that day. It turns out that, after the embarassment of nearly being arrested followed by a 2.5 hour extreme test of patience, I take a photo that makes me look like I'm posing for the cover of my new gangsta rap album, complete with scowl and a facial expression that clearly says, "I solemnly swear I am up to no good." If I ever get stopped by the police again, they're going to take one look at that license and assume that I really AM a bad boy. January 5, 2017 cannot arrive fast enough, and THIS time I won't forget about it. I'm serious. Sha-mow-a!

COLUMN: Sim City


In the beginning Maxis created the sim heavens and the sim earth. And Shane said, "Let there be a sim city": and there was a sim city. And Shane saw that it was not at all good. But he didn't care so much.

I'm a fan of video games -- but I am NOT a gamer. A gamer lives and breathes the lifestyle, doesn't care how long it takes to beat a boss, and generally has the patience of a saint. I, meanwhile, peek at all the latest and greatest games, buy a few of them, and play them precisely until the moment they become difficult. Then I either get bored or frustrated and wander away. I'm the kind of guy most gamers hate.

That said, there are a few video games that I've been able to play for hours on end without giving up. What are my favorite video games of all time? Well, there's SimTower, where you rule over a 100-story skyscraper and its inhabitants. There's Civilization: Revolution, where you start by managing a primitive village and win by conquering the globe. I was a big fan of Ultima IV, where you take a simpleton and turn him into the religious leader of Brittania. Then there's Skyrim, where your goal is to take a penniless prisoner and turn him into a sort of dragon-lord scary guy.

Now that I think about it, perhaps I have a bit of a God complex, or at least God envy. I don't much like fighting games or shooting games or racing games or sports games. In fact, pretty much the only video games I do like are the ones where I get to lord over simulated populations with a cold iron fist. It's not all bad -- I'm usually a fairly benevolent ruler, I swear. I only smite those simulated townsfolk who stand in my path to greatness... or look at me funny... or catch me in an especially bad mood.

What can I say? I enjoy ruling the world, sue me. It's a stress reducer. So maybe I didn't hit that big sales goal at work. And so what if I hit every red light on my way home and then got caught behind the little old lady with 17 coupons in the checkout line. No big deal. I'm as cool as a cucumber. Know why? Coz I can head home, turn on my X-Box, and torture fake people until they beg for my simulated mercy.

And never has a game existed with as much potential for torturing innocents as the legendary "Sim City." Last week, game designers Maxis unveiled the sixth and latest installment of the epic Sim City franchise, and like any good aspiring omnipotent ruler, I couldn't resist picking it up right away.

The premise of Sim City is simple: You control the destiny of an entire community. You start the game with an empty parcel of land. Build some roads and sooner or later sim people start showing up and building little sim houses. Zone some of your land as industrial and commercial and watch little sim businesses come to life. Your job is to make sure the little sim people stay happy in their little sim city. You're in charge of water, electricity, transportation, and the basic essentials. If you do the job right, your little sim village will quickly start escalating into skyscrapers and factories and suburbs. Don't forget to build little sim schools for your little sim children or they'll turn to a life of sim crime and you'll have to start building sim police stations. I'm not kidding. There's even a little sim Superman who flies around your town thwarting evil. It's like owning the most complicated Sea Monkeys you could ever imagine.

It's also a brilliant new way to commit sim crimes against sim humanity. Last night, I was furiously working on my paradise sim city of Shane Francisco. I was barely keeping the town out of the red, but we needed more classrooms in the schools and a second fire station to protect my ever-growing population. That's when the sim people started yelling at me that taxes were too high. Great, just what I needed -- Simpublicans.

Alright, little buddies, fine. I'll lower your taxes. Too bad the city's operating in the red now. Looks like there's just one cost-saving measure I can do -- temporarily shut down the sewer system to my 8,400 residents. Did I get a victory parade down Main Street for my low taxes AND second fire station? Perhaps a statue built in my honor somewhere? Nope. Instead, the little needy sims took to city hall and starting protesting the lack of sewers, little sim picket signs and all. Fine, you little sim ingrates. I'll build you a brand new sewage outflow pipe... right in the middle of town square! You want septic? Now you have it, flowing freely down Main St. Enjoy sim typhoid, my friends.

All told, it's a great game, albeit missing a few key elements of real life. For instance, I've yet to see any sim apathy. Every one of these little sim-ians seems overly concerned with finding gainful employment, advancing their station, and picketing city hall any time their feathers get ruffled. Where are the lazy sims? Surely there must be some sim burnouts who'd rather hang out in their parents' sim-basement playing Sim-Simcity and listening to sim-dubstep. Plus the seedy sim-underworld isn't very creative -- thus far the only crimes I've witnessed are robberies committed by little zoot-suit-clad sims who look like they've watched too much Simbonnie & Simclyde. I want sim knife-fights, indecent sim-exposure, and unnecessary repetitive sim-driving. All told, Shane Francisco is pretty boring. Maybe they'll come out with a Sim Weirdos expansion pack.

In the meantime, I can't help but fantasize about how I'd sim-manage the Quad Cities if given the chance. First off, no more four towns and no more arguments about what 4 towns those actually are. In MY world, it would just be Modavendorf Island and everyone can deal with it (besides, how much fun would it be to hear every band at the iWi scream, "Hello, Modavendorf!!"?)

I opened the question to Facebook and discovered I'm not the only one on my friends list with God envy. If my FRIENDS ruled the Quad Cities, we'd have things like bike bridges over the Mississippi, state-run record stores with mandatory attendance, something about making Rock Island "just like Amsterdam" (no comment), and one friend who listed off the four things she wants in the Quad Cities: An aquarium, a large indoor swimming pool, witches, and vampires.

See, I never thought about adding the constant fear of after-dark bloodsuckers to my world. Perhaps I'm more benevolent than I thought. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some sim-lives to ruin.

COLUMN: Canapes


(This really WAS my cheese spread!)


They say everybody needs a hobby. I've got a good one.

My hobby is occasionally pretending that I'm NOT a hopeless manchild barely capable of independent living. Sometimes I like to imagine that I'm... wait for it... mature. That's why last weekend I found myself walking into a grocery store like a big boy.

I eat out -- a lot. Almost every meal, in fact. When I don't eat out, I'm usually bringing it home in a bag or having it delivered to my door on a thin crust with a side of breadsticks. As a general rule, my culinary skills start and stop with the phrase "Peel back plastic film. Stir. Replace film and continue cooking 1 minute on high. Caution: food will be hot." And sometimes I even forget about the hot part. I've got a burn on my hand right now to prove it.

But I've discovered an interesting thing this past year: I kinda enjoy cooking. I just have absolutely no clue what I'm doing.

I suppose it doesn't help that I'm what they call a finicky eater. And by "they," I mean my friends, who call me that all the time. I think I'm a perfectly normal eater. It's just that, after drawing on 42 years of experience, I've established a small shortlist of food items that I don't especially care for. They are as follows:

- Onions.
- Peppers.
- Mushrooms.
- Things that are green.
- Things that are spicy.
- Things that look weird.
- Things I can't pronounce.
- Things that were once things that could be described as "cute."

Basically, if you want to feed me something containing flavor, there's about a 60% chance I won't be having it. I'd love to be one of those food snobs and tell you that my favorite meal is something pan-seared that only French people can pronounce correctly with a such-and-such reduction that only the townsfolk of some village in the Alps know how to prepare correctly.

Truth be told, my favorite meal is probably a Butterburger and fries from Culver's. I am not in possession of a refined palate.

That said, I still find shows on the Food Network fascinating. I like watching chefs take simple ingredients and turn it into art. Of course, they usually ruin it somewhere along the way by the cunning and nefarious placement of onions, but the end result is still pretty even if I wouldn't eat it.

But every once in a while, I come across a recipe that actually sounds edible, so I try to make it. That's what happened last week. I was thumbing through this very paper and came across an article about entertaining for an Oscar party. It just so happened I was hosting an Oscar party of my own, and I hadn't really given any thought towards food. The article suggested serving canapes, which is French for "crackers with stuff on them." This I could handle.

The article contained a couple recipes for spreads -- a garlic-herb one and an orange sweet potato one -- and recommended getting a variety of toppings, such as some good cheese, cherry tomatoes, and crab meat. I had a game plan and stormed into the grocery store on a mission, list in hand. Then it all went to heck.

First thing staring me in the face was the veggie aisle, so I went on a search for a sweet potato. Within a minute, I was bagging up a yam and ready to move on. Then I caught a glimpse down the next row and saw a sign that said "sweet potatoes." Wait, didn't I have a sweet potato already? But mine was more red, these were more yellow. I had a yam. These were sweet potatoes. I thought yams WERE sweet potatoes. Turns out I was wrong. Sweet potatoes are American; yams are tropical. And I know this because I was the weirdo standing in the grocery store researching yams on Wikipedia while trying to balance a handful of taters.

Then I learned that I'm also woefully ignorant when it comes to cheese. I guess in my mind, I expected to walk up and there'd be something labeled "fancy cheese to impress your friends," and I'd be on my way. Instead, there were hundreds of cheeses of all sizes and shapes. I studied the impressive variety, carefully weighed my options, and... bought the ones with the fanciest packaging and the most European-sounding names. So attention, cheese-makers of the Midwest: if you want to see the sales of your homemade Velveeta skyrocket, just give it a nonsense name like "froumayudenachtensich" and write it in Old English font and some nimrod like me WILL come along and buy it.

But enough about cheese, I had crab to buy. Here's everything I know about crabs: (1) They're really ugly, and (2) the only things that look uglier than crabs are the grizzled fishermen who make a living on the Discovery Channel catching them. As I held a pouch o' crab meat in my hand, I wondered if I'd seen this poor fella on "Deadliest Catch." At the very least, I hoped he clawed the heck out of somebody between the ocean and my shopping cart.
 
Things were looking good. After all, nothing says a party quite like cheese, yams, and crab, no? But I needed to go the extra mile. Remember the recipe I found for a garlic spread? I decided to make it with fresh herbs, so I headed back to the produce aisle and starting pilfering through greeneries. That's when the the well-worn piece of gum I was chomping decided to fall out of my mouth and disappear forever. The way I see it, either (a) a hole in the space-time continuum opened up at that precise moment, whisking my gum to another dimension, or (b) it's covertly clinging to some lucky customer's parsley as we speak. I swear to you all, I rifled through those herbs forever looking for that gum -- so much so that I'm sure passersby were wondering just what kind of public relationship I was attempting to forge with parsley on that afternoon -- but no dice, and no gum. If you're lucky enough to find it amongst your fresh produce, I am SO sincerely sorry and I promise I don't have mouth cooties.

I may have lost the gum but I won the day, heading home with food aplenty and crafting one heck of an Oscar spread if I do say so myself. And I do, in fact, say so MYSELF, since most of my invited Oscar party guests cancelled at the last minute. For the past week, I've been surviving on a steady diet of crackers with stuff on them. It might not be nutritious, but it sure is fancy and mature.

COLUMN: Technology



Technology and Shane have a long history together. As part of their never-ending mission to make me perhaps THE most spoiled child in all of west central Illinois, my folks bought me my first computer when I was in fifth grade. Keep in mind that this was 1980, when the majority of IBM computers were wall-sized and Al Gore had yet to invent the internet. I'm not even sure I knew what a computer WAS, but suddenly I had one in my bedroom.

Within weeks, I was a full-on addict. With a lot of patience and some ominously thick manuals, I taught myself the fundamentals of DOS and Applesoft BASIC. In no time at all, I was fighting orcs, levelling up characters, going on magical quests, and slaying evil all over primitive cyberspace.

The consequence, of course, is that I also became a social pariah overnight. I'm pretty sure grade school pre-dates the whole coolness caste system, but by the time I hit middle school, once you combined my already underperforming hand/eye coordination with an unabashed desire to race home every day to master Zork II, I was on a fast-track to Nerd City.

Good thing I didn't care. Killing dragons was fun, baseball was boring, and girls had cooties. I was comfortable with technology then, and I'm comfortable with it now. I might still be a bit of a nerd these days, but I can hook up your stereo, customize your Facebook page, and show you at least ten ways (of varying state, federal, and international legalities) to download new music.

Too bad none of it rubbed off on my parents.

My mom is a smart cookie. She reads more books in a year than I will in my entire life, routinely turns balls of yarn into crocheted art, and can cook eight dishes at once and have them all magically get done right at dinnertime. My dad, meanwhile, built the house I grew up in, can turn a tree into a desk, and single-handedly transformed my ugly concrete slab of a basement into a mancave worthy of a king.

They also own a computer that's fancier than mine, complete with a Blu-Ray burner, Intel processor, surround sound, and 500 gig of memory. My mom uses it to play solitaire. My dad doesn't even know how to turn it on. I just stare at them in horror.

I am my mother's personal tech support line. Whenever she wants to do something on the computer, she calls me up -- and usually with concise concerns, such as: "I can't make the song go," "How do I like your cousin on here?" and "My Google is slow -- is it because I twittered it?" Recently, she got irked that I didn't reply to her message on Facebook -- because it turns out she sent it to a presumably confused Shane Brown of Mora, Minnesota. Worse yet, he accepted her friend request and they now chat regularly.

Last weekend, my folks came up to take me out to dinner. Little did I know that "take me out to dinner" came with an asterisk that said, "(*once you go to Best Buy and help us buy a new iPod.)"

A few years ago, I got my mom an iPod Mini, which she loved and carried around with her always. There was just one problem: she didn't know how to use iTunes and didn't want to learn. Ergo, every family dinner I've attended over the past half decade has involved me arriving, eating, and then spending the next two hours ripping and uploading songs. It's okay, though -- my folks have given me the world over the years, I figure I owe them a little indentured servitude.

But her iPod broke, and it was time for a new one. As we were looking at the new iPod Touch, a thought hit me. My folks still use crummy flip-phones. Why not make the great leap forwards and buy an iPhone that holds just as much music?

"Oh, no," my mom said. "I don't need all that stuff. It's too confusing."

"But you GET all that stuff with the iPod, too," I tried to explain. "The iPhone is just like an iPod you can make calls with!"

They didn't believe me, so I needed backup. I went up to the cell phone counter for some expertise. I just needed the clerk to explain the difference in pricing between their current broadband setup vs. an iPhone used in conjunction with a mobile hotspot. Easy, right? But I opened my mouth and THIS is what came out:

"Hi! Umm, my parents live out in the country, and they have an iPod -- well, they DID, it broke. And I want them to get an iPhone, but I also want that deal where they get, y'know, one of those thingers where they can get internet without any cable dealies, and I don't know how much that dealybob costs compared to the thingy they have now that gets internet with a plug-in thingamajig."

As I watched the poor clerk's face get more and more twisted with every word I said, I realized an ugly truth: I'm becoming my parents. Technology is starting to escape me. We're headed into a world of video phones and 4D TVs and media clouds and I am seriously falling behind in my understanding of it all. Worse yet, I haven't procreated up any offspring of my own to come home on holidays and work this stuff once I stop understanding it all. I'm going to be like the dog on the RCA logo listening to music through a big horn while the rest of the world has it beamed into their brain chips via iConsciousness or whatever.

I'm hoping there's one simple explanation at work: No matter how well you think you understand technology, there's always going to be someone out there to make you feel stupid. For my parents, that person is me. For me, it's the clerk at Best Buy. For that guy, it's probably his boss. And so and so on until you reach Bill Gates, who by divine rights should rule the planet. I'm not so sure he doesn't.

The truth is, my mom probably knows more about technology than most people her age, and maybe I should cut her some slack -- and I'll tell her that as soon as she gets off her chat with Minnesota Shane Brown.

COLUMN: Millionaire



I can't help but feel like I'm slumming it these days, Quad Cities.

Once upon a time, I was content with being a self-appointed spokesman for the middle class, a voice for the struggling everyman, and a sounding board for Joe Q. Public. With this weekly column, I have strived to showcase the fun, fears, and follies of an average life in the Midwest.  That was before I got a taste of the good life and realized that I'm clearly better than all of you lowly plebian commoners.  Or at least I was.

You see, for just over two minutes last week, I was a multi-millionaire.

I'm a fan of technology, but there's a downside to the modernization of our lives: laziness. With every technological advancement comes a new and exciting way for me to shirk responsibility and spend more and more time on my couch watching Hulu.  "Running errands" is a thing of the past -- anything I need these days can generally be accomplished over commercial breaks with a laptop and credit card.  Pay bills? Check. Go shopping? Check. Order pizza? Check. In fact, most of the comings and goings in my bank account these days occur without my interference whatsoever, thanks to the magic of direct deposit and automatic withdrawals.  

As a result, I've become lax at one important responsibility: check depositing.  Every once in a while, I still encounter people and businesses with the unmitigated gall to send me non-electronic, non-auto-depositing paper checks that require (grimace) effort to deposit. I should be a responsible person and take them straight to the bank to irresponsibly spend them. Instead, I tend to forget about paper checks and let them pile up somewhere until I realize I'm overdrawn and desperate.

That's where I found myself last week, depositing a handful of long-overdue, already-spent checks into my empty bank account -- and that's when the magic happened.

The largest of these checks was for around $130.  But when the cashier at the bank scanned the check, it recorded itself in my bank account as a deposit of $3,200,000. That's what I refer to as a healthy, well-deserved bonus, if I do say so myself.  And just like any heroic Scooby-Doo villain, I would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for that meddling cashier.

She caught her error right away, but still refused to listen to reason.  I explained to her that as a time-saver, I'd be gracious enough to compromise and allow her to round the total down to the nearest whole million, but she wasn't having it.  I begged her at the very least to allow me to take home and modestly frame the deposit receipt showing my $3.2 million checking balance, but she told me that banks generally frown on offering their customers proof of funds that don't exist. What a no-fun-nik.

Instead, I had to stand there while she rectified the error and returned my account comfortably back into the red.  This process took just over two minutes -- two minutes in which I was incredibly, disgustingly, mind-bogglingly wealthy.  As it turns out, my brain can think of a LOT of things in two minutes' time.  For instance:

* I spent roughly 26 seconds wondering what it would feel like to withdraw three million dollars from a bank. What format would I like that in? There are no million dollar bills. If I had to carry around three million dollars with me, the only appropriate way to do so would be in the form of a comically large check that requires 2-3 people to transport.

* I spent about 31 seconds fantasizing about taking said check down to the casino, flopping it on the roulette table, and letting it all ride on black.  Or whatever you do when you play roulette.  I honestly wouldn't know since my knowledge of gambling starts and stops at a slot machine lever, which I've pulled a total of maybe four times in my life.  I'm not cut out to be a gambler.  But it's MY fantasy, and in MY fantasy, I throw down the check and, in one hand (or one spin or whatever the heck you do in roulette,) I bankrupt the casino and immediately take it over.

* I spent about 18 seconds wondering what I'd name my new casino.  Shane of Capri would suffice until I came up with something better.

* I spent nine seconds realizing that I could easily parlay my newfound casino empire into a small portfolio of local real estate, which would officially make me the Donald Trump of the Quad Cities, just with better hair and a tad less crazy.

* To fully Trump my life out, I spent 17 more seconds whittling down a shortlist of who I'd want as contestants on my Quad Cities' Celebrity Apprentice.  Imagine a talent pool of A-list local celebrities all vying for my affection on cable access. Who wouldn't watch a show where Paula Sands, Greg Dutra, Red Hot Brian Scott, the Brenny brothers, Suzy Bogguss, Hugo Proulx, Mary from Good's Furniture, and the "Drive 20 Save Plenty" kid all have to work together as a team to, I dunno, make me tacos and clean my house?

* My house! How could I have forgotten!? I spent the next 19 seconds cursing the wind that I'd left my phone in my car. In one quick swipe, I could have opened up my Wells Fargo app and paid off my house while no-one was looking.  Maybe when you're trying to rectify a 3.2 million dollar discrepancy, you don't care so much if a few thousand dollars go missing.  If only...

(Beep.) And that was it. Error rectified and my seven digit bank account went back to the crummy three digits it knows and loves.  I went from owning a casino to being unable to afford a meal in a casino. After all, things don't come cheap at the Shane of Capri.

So I'm not a member of the 1% club and I'll probably be making house payments for the rest of my life.  It's not all bad, though.  The way I see it, I've just made myself a LOT more interesting.  Now I can switch my online dating profile to:  "Columnist.  Media Consultant.  Part Time DJ.  Pop culture enthusiast.  FORMER MILLIONAIRE."  Ladies, the line forms to the left.