Monday, March 31, 2014

COLUMN: Evolution

As a general rule, I am not what you would call a "deep thinker."

I can't wax poetic about philosophy. I'm not the sort who willingly enters into theological debate. The way I see it, there are some folks out there equipped to handle complex intellectual discussions about the meaning of life, and then there's those of us better suited to tell you what happened on this week's episode of "Pretty Little Liars." I know my place.

That said, a funny thing happened yesterday. I think I just accidentally disproved the theory of evolution. Whoopsie-daisy.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the argument goes something like this: Once upon a time, there was nothing -- and then it exploded. Out of this big bang spewed the basic building blocks of life. Survival of the fittest meant that one-celled organisms eventually gave way to two-celled organisms. Thanks to nature's ability to adapt, we kept on evolving until we grew some legs, crawled out of the muck, and asked for directions to the nearest Arby's.

By this theory, each surviving new generation of us should be a slightly better model than the previous. My genetic line has gone from Shane 95 to Shane 98 to Shane XP to Shane Vista and now I reckon I'm a beta release of Shane 8. Except that it's all a clear load of hooey, and I just figured out why:


Teeth are not evolved. Teeth are not future tech. Teeth are stupid. They're of inferior design, poor planning, substandard materials, and notorious unreliability. This is evolution? Teeth suck. And I should know -- I just had to have one pulled.

The tingle started last week. Within 24 hours, I was completely mental and quite literally driving around town looking for ANY dentist who would see me. When I finally got in, the verdict was swift and brutal: My upper molar, good ol' tooth #15, was being attacked by cavities on both sides. Too late for a filling, too late for a root canal. It had to go, and I walked out with a whole lot of pain pills and an appointment with the oral surgeon.

Now we're getting to the heart of why teeth are just stupid, awful parts of our biology. Surgeons are highly skilled professionals tasked with cutting you open and fixing your innards using the most sophisticated scientific equipment at hand. In the case of oral surgeons and tooth extractions, this equipment often consists of a pair of pliers. Okay, I bet they're sophisticated scientific pliers, but pliers nonetheless.

There are approximately 2.8 kajillion things I would rather do than get a tooth pulled. I don't care how nice and wonderful your dentist is, you're still allowing a near-stranger to grab hold of the hardest part of your body and forcibly rip it out of your head, oftentimes while you're wide awake with a front row seat. I don't think bad of you, oral surgeons of the world. On behalf of all of us with bad teeth, we're super grateful you're around. But it doesn't change the fact that you're basically the tooth fairy as written by Stephen King.

As I sat there in the big red chair waiting for the inevitable torture, I noticed a sign on the wall prominently prohibiting recording devices in the room. If you're the sort of person who wants to record an experience like this as a precious memento to be cherished for all time, you have FAR more problems than a cavity, friend.

Eventually, the door opened and it was showtime. But a weird thing happened. It was... EASY. Pleasant, almost. The oral surgeon was amazing. She was kind and patient and talked me through everything. She knew just the right angles to hold stuff so that I couldn't see any needles or pliers or rogue teeth flying out of my head. It was 100% painless, no joke. Just some pressure and some noise. I'm not saying it's an experience I yearn to repeat, but the whole thing took about five minutes and was nothing I couldn't handle.

"I kinda wanna hug you," I told the doc through a gauze-filled mouth when it was over.

"No need," she replied. "Just don't write about me."

A deal's a deal, so I will NOT mention that Dr. Susan Rector is my new hero or that the staff of Mississippi Valley Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery P.C. of Davenport now has my dental business for life. (Thanks again, doc.)

My favorite part of the whole experience, though, was clearly the myriad of warnings and post-procedure care that followed the terrifying bit. For instance: One doctor, two nurses, and a typed sheet of paper all warned me not to eat any potato chips immediately following the extraction. Is this a common problem? I would really, really like to meet the person who has a tooth pulled and immediately reaches for the Pringles. "I know I have dry socket now, Doc, but once I popped, I just couldn't stop!"

The post-op instruction sheet I was given obviously had warnings for folks who elected sedation over local anaesthesia, and my favorite was THIS line: "Do not make any important decisions. You may change your mind tomorrow." I called my parents and told them the procedure had gone smooth and that I had immediately celebrated by getting a face tattoo and joining the Army.

I made it through okay. The same can't be said for my sad, ugly, stupid molar. For such an important part of our body, teeth sure seem vulnerable. Some come in crooked, others don't come in at all. Some rot away, some get impacted, some hurt like a pain you can't even describe, and the only way to properly care for them involves routine unpleasantries and medical procedures that are nothing less than medieval.

And this is evolution? No way. By now, we should be continually growing teeth. Have a cavity? No worries, your body should sense the bad tooth and just let it painlessly fall out and be replaced by another. If fingernails can do it, why not teeth? Mother Nature and I need to have a chat.

Like I said, I'm not much for deep thought -- especially while I'm still on pain pills. All I know is that I could sure go for some potato chips.

COLUMN: St. Paddy's

Well, it was a harrowing few days there, but we did it. I'm writing this column and you're reading it. That can only mean one thing: we survived St. Patrick's Day weekend. The fact that it now requires an entire weekend to celebrate one day is just the beginning of why St. Pat's is rapidly turning into my least favorite holiday of the year (heads up, Halloween.)

First off, let's get one thing straight. What gives me the right to talk about St. Patrick's Day? Absolutely nothing. There isn't a drop of Irish blood in my body. I have no affinity for the color green, I've never found a four-leaf clover, and I stand by my affirmation that "Lord of the Dance" is the single silliest thing ever to be passed off as entertainment.

I suppose I have a bit of an Irish first name, but that owes more to my mom seeing a movie poster and thinking that the name Shane sounded "neat." I have no ties to the Irish community whatsoever, so I really have no idea what I'm talking about. And where do people who have no idea what they're talking about go to pass themselves off as intellectual? Wikipedia.

Wikipedia informs me that March 17th is the death date of St. Patrick, the most commonly-recognized patron saint of Ireland. When he was 16, St. Patrick (or, as he was known back then, Patrick) was kidnapped by raiders, taken to Gaelic Ireland, and forced to perform slave labor for six years. During this time, St. Patrick found God.

Eventually becoming a priest, St. Patrick returned to Ireland and converted thousands of pagans to Christianity. Then he rolled out some kegs of Guinness and everybody got wasted listening to "Jump Around" by House of Pain until closing time.

Oh, wait, no. That's what happens NOW.

PLEASE note that I'm not remotely slamming the Emerald Isle or anyone of Irish descent. You guys are awesome, and you should be proud that your heritage is embraced and celebrated annually all over the world. Not many cultures get such an accolade. I'm sure the proud peoples of Uzbekistan or Iceland would kill to have such appreciation of their way of life. You're on a mighty short list of globally recognized holidays, Ireland: There's you, Cinco De Mayo, Oktoberfest, Carnival, Mardi Gras... and that's about it.

But therein lies the problem. Look at that list again. What started out as exceptional celebrations have nowadays been reduced to an excuse for idiots to binge drink like morons all the live-long day. I might not be qualified to discuss the Irish way of life, but I sure get to witness the bastardized American version of it year after year.

I've been moonlighting as a DJ at bars and clubs for over 20 years now, and I've had a front-row seat for many a St. Paddy's weekend. I can tell you with absolute certainty that no other holiday fills bar workers with as much simultaneous joy and dread. It's a lucrative weekend, that's for sure -- if you can survive it without bashing your head against a wall.

Let's look at last weekend for example. A long day of revelry, parades, and shenanigans had long been underway before I even took to the DJ booth at a top-notch local watering hole Saturday night. There was dancing, singing, and green liquor a-flowing, whilst yours truly had his eye on a cute girl shimmying on the dancefloor. Okay, so maybe she was young enough to be my daughter -- but hey, there's only so many directions a person can look while DJing, and this particular direction happened to offer the nicest view.

Eventually she headed up to the DJ booth to make a request. Finally, a chance for some harmless flirting. She strolled up, moved just seductively inside my personal space, leaned over, and whispered in my ear:


Not pictured: the sea of Coors-flavored spittle now covering my face, ear, and neck. On the grand list of all things sexy, this fell somewhere between "Bea Arthur" and "naked grandma." Still, I played her song, and true to her word, she shook her booty -- for about 30 seconds before falling flat on it and eventually getting kicked out.

I just can't help but think St. Patrick wouldn't be too excited to know his holiday was being used as an excuse to get sloshed out of your mind. I couldn't help but wonder what the holiday is like in Ireland. Good thing, then, that I have an Irish friend recently relocated to the States. I asked him what he thought of our version of St. Pat's, and he immediately clued me in to a few vital differences. Among them:

• Leprechauns. "We invented them," he told me, "but you Americans just took it and ran with it." The classic Irish leprechauns of lore were more like cranky shoemakers who played mean-spirited practical jokes on the innocent. Oh, and they wore RED outfits. Our modernized version of green-suited beardies with pots of gold and rainbows are usually met with Irish eye-rolls.

• "Pinching someone because they don't wear green is a clear sign of mental illness," he told me with a smile. "I had NEVER heard that one until I came over here."

• "No one in Ireland eats corned beef and cabbage. Ever." This modern tradition blows my friend's mind. "Our people didn't eat corned beef and cabbage because they WANTED to. They ate it because there was a famine and it's all they had. It's not a delicacy, it was a matter of survival."

• But the most offensive thing of all? I saw it a kajillion times last weekend. Guinness + Bailey's + Jameson, chugged like a shot, and never more popular than on St. Pat's. Bartenders know it as an Irish Car Bomb. "There are no words to how offensive that is," my friend says. "It would be along the lines of me walking into your bar and ordering a drink called 'The 9/11' or 'The Twin Towers.'" Point taken.

Look, I'm not a no-fun-nik. I understand the need for occasional revelry. I'm pretty good at it myself. If you're the revelling type, I hope I'm the one providing the soundtrack. But maybe we should stop dumbing down a time-honored and cherished holiday just because we want to drink ourselves stupid. Honor and enjoy St. Patrick's Day for what it is, not what you want it to be. And above all, if you go up to the DJ and drunkenly insist that he kill his flow by playing "Shipping Off To Boston" by the Dropkick Murphys, tip him well for putting up with the likes of you.

COLUMN: Winter Sucks

It's a good thing you people have us professional journalists around to keep you informed of the latest breaking news. Get ready, because I'm about to lay down a cutting edge truth bomb that's likely to win me a Pulitzer while changing the very way that you view life. Are you sitting down? Here we go.

This just in: winter can suck it.

"But Shane," you say, "we are hearty, Illinois-dwelling individuals. As such, we LOVE winter. We live here, so we have to, right? Nothing makes our moods brighter than wind chill warnings and the third snowiest winter in the history of history. It's a beautiful sight and we're happy tonight!"

You would think. But I'm here to tell you that -- shockingly -- the "polar vortex" was neither as cuddly or lovable as its name might suggest. In fact, on the grand list of Winters I Have Lived Through, I've never loathed the season more. Let's reflect:

At the end of fall, I got the bright idea to mire myself in debt by purchasing a new car. More specifically, a car with a sunroof -- a novel concept in Shaneland and something I've never had before. From the moment I signed the paperwork, the only thing I've wanted to do is slide that sucker open, blast some tunes, and hit the open road all summer long. Except for the small matter that summer was over and the open road was about to be covered in a 4-month-long "wintry mix."

For me, winters start the instant that snow touches the ground. This year, that happened in October. As far as I'm concerned, there need to be a few simple laws of good meteorological manners, and somewhere at the top of the list should read, "the ground shall never be white prior to Halloween."

But in the end it didn't matter, because Christmas fired up around October 20th. Leaves had yet to fall from the trees, but Burl Ives was already on the radio and retailers were putting tinsel before turkeys. By the 34th day or so of Christmas, my true love had already given me sub-zero temperatures, dangerous ice on sidewalks, and snow all over my pear tree.

Christmas 2013 was a total washout. One of the coolest things about getting my own house is that I finally have an exterior to Griswold out in tacky yuletide glee. But nobody wants to hang Christmas lights in a -17 wind chill, so the only thing I got to deck with holly this year was the Christmas storage tub in my basement closet. The holiday itself was a nice if uneventful day with family, and New Year's Eve was just another DJ gig for yours truly.

And then January 13th happened. That was the day I decided to take out the trash. Well, most of me did -- my ankle had other plans. Cue one ill-placed patch of ice, and I went west while my ankle went east. Next thing I knew, I was spending the next five weeks on doctor-ordered bedrest.

During that time, I went from an uncomfortable blue cast to an uncomfortable purple cast to an uncomfortable cam walker -- all the while relying on friends and family to feed and entertain me. The only thing worse than a January of constant snowfall was being cooped up and 100% helpless to do anything about it.

After five weeks, I was finally able to return to work -- and to celebrate the day, winter awarded me the largest snowfall of the season that morning, which is SUPER fun when you're wearing a heavy cam walker and hopping around on crutches. If you were in downtown Moline and saw tracks in the snow that looked like one shoe, one rectangle, and two dots, that was me.

Eventually, the cam walker gave way to a simpler ankle brace. Just this week, I got the doctor's okay to try regular shoes again, which so far I'm pulling off with a moderate level of pain and a stylish Quasimodo gait. And hey, just in time for 50 degree weather -- which was, of course, just a 1-day psych-out because winter is a jerk and the next day we had snow advisories yet again.

But me? I'm not letting winter win. I'm an optimist, and despite the comprehensive suckitude of this winter, there was a bit of silver in that lining of white upon white. So today, I celebrate the things that made the winter of 2013-14 great:

• THE FACEBOOK POSTS OF LOCAL METEOROLOGISTS. It's no secret that a certain local weatherman is a self-confessed fan of snow, and his favorite pasttime of late appears to be terrifying the innocent. There was seldom a week that passed without a post informing us that two weeks from next Thursday, all signs were pointing to a 12-18 inch snowfall that would be the death of us all. This usually involved a series of incomprehensible yet colorful maps, something called the "European model," and what I'd reckon to be a crystal ball, some tea leaves, and maybe a well-intentioned coin flip or two.

Then another local meteorologist would warn us not to believe the hype and that he foresaw little to no snow. Usually the reality was a compromise of the two, but the budding rivalry was fun to behold. The only time they agreed was two weeks ago, when pretty much every area meteorologist predicted a "dusting" and we ended up getting almost four inches of snow.

• THE WINTER OLYMPICS. And by "Winter Olympics," I refer exclusively to the pants of the Norweigan curling team -- a fashion statement rivalled only by NBC's skater-turned-commentator Johnny Weir, who single-handedly put the "boy" in flamboyant. His Today show bit where they forced him to go ice fishing with some seriously confused and burly Russians might have been THE highlight of winter.

• MY NEW NEIGHBORS. I barely even met them when they moved in back in December, and I don't even remember the guy's name. But the minute they saw me trying to hobble to the doctor's office in a cast, they made sure that my walks were shoveled and my driveway cleared with nearly every snowfall. That's downright neighborly. I need to bake them cookies or something. Next project: Learn how to bake cookies.

A better piece of breaking news: It's almost over. I can feel it. That sun gleaming down on us last week was a SPRING sun. When I fired my car up at lunch, the auto climate control turned my air conditioning on. Soon winter will be gone and spring will be upon us -- for precisely one week, and then it'll be 102 and humid and gross until October. I, for one, am ready for it.

COLUMN: Tattoo

My Monday had barely begun when a friend bounded up, shoved a smartphone in my face, and exclaimed, "Wanna see what I did this weekend? Check out the picture!"

Now, I've never pretended to bring my A-game to Monday mornings. After a weekend of late nights and moonlight DJ gigs, I usually survive Mondays on little more than a wing, a prayer, and dangerous levels of caffeine. For those first few hours of the work week, I am 33-1/3 in a 45 rpm world.

But I'm also nozy -- so if there's one thing capable of injecting a little adrenaline into a Monday, it's a good "guess what I did this weekend" story. And if that story comes with visual aids, you KNOW it's got to be good, right? I glanced down at her phone, wondering what sights might await me. Hedonism? Debauchery? Felonies?

Nope. It was flowers.

Tulips, in fact. Wait, maybe they were lilies. Heck, I dunno. They were flowers, and they were pretty. And they were clearly drawn by someone with an artistic hand. But they certainly didn't have the makings of a salacious Monday morning story. No one was cavorting naked on the flowers. No one was being pursued by law enforcement through the flowers. They were just... flowers. Pretty enough, sure, but nothing more than a nice drawing on a polite flesh-colored backdrop.

That's when it hit me. This wasn't a drawing. It was a tattoo, and the flowers I was looking at on my friend's smartphone were now permanently embossed on her person someplace. Whoa.

"Uhhh...," I mustered.

"You hate it, and I knew you would," she said way too cheerfully for a Monday. "But that's okay, 'cause I got it for me and I really like it!"

In a way, it was kind of unfair. I didn't have anything to say, but that owed more to my brain being in the "off" position more than my hatred of the tattoo. But she was also kinda right: I sorta hated it.

I like to consider myself fairly progressive when it comes to our modern world. I might not be the coolest guy on the block, but I'm no fuddy-duddy, either. I stay up late, use swear words with alarming frequency, and listen to music that would probably give you a migraine. I'm proud to have friends from many different walks of life, and I'm fairly accepting of just about everyone and their various eccentricities.

But I will never understand tattoos.

That's not to say I don't appreciate the artform. I know a lot of people with really great ink (these flowers among them.) I'm even friends with some tattoo artists, and I'm in constant awe of their talent and skill. I just don't get why anyone would ever want one.

I suppose I'm slightly biased in that I have a crippling fear of needles. When I had my last childhood immunization, I screamed so loud that it broke all the blood vessels in my face and I walked around purple for a week. I'd like to think I'm a TAD bit more mature now, but I recently made the decision to wear orthotics for the rest of my life vs. having surgery on my broken ankle. I don't think I'll ever find myself in a scenario where I would willingly elect to have a needle stuck in me as long as a non-needle option existed -- and getting poked a kajillion times in order to draw a pretty picture is the closest thing to insanity I can think of.

But even if tattoos were painless and needle-free, I'd still take a raincheck. You know when you go to a club or a concert and they stamp your hand? It drives me mental. How can I enjoy a concert when I know that INK IS ON MY HAND? Whenever possible, I beeline for the nearest bathroom and try to scrub that layer of skin clean off. If I were faced with a picture that NEVER scrubbed off, I'd never sleep again. Maybe I'm just weird.

For the life of me, I can't think of one thing that I'd want etched onto my body for, well, the life of me. That's just WAY too much pressure. If I were to get a tattoo today, hopefully I'd have years and years still to stare at that thing. I just don't trust my own taste when it comes to something that permanent. 25 years ago, I was way into Depeche Mode, rayon shirts, and bolo ties. Clearly THAT didn't work out. What if what I'm into NOW holds as much relevance as rayon shirts in the future? That's a risk I'm not willing to take.

Plus, the gods of fate tend to hate me as a rule. I can pretty much guarantee that the minute I scribed something forever onto my body, it'd backfire in a horrible way. Ever heard of the Welsh band Lostprophets? Search Google right now for "Lostprophets tattoo" and you'll find countless people who have their pics, lyrics, and logo permanently adorned on their bodies. Fine and dandy, until earlier this year, when the band's lead singer got 35 years in jail after pleading guilty to a long list of sickeningly depraved acts. Congrats, you've now got a confessed pedophile on your leg to keep you company for the rest of your life.

I'm not trying to bash tattoos, I'm really not. I'm just explaining why my body will always be a freshly shaken Etch-A-Sketch. If it's your thing, go for it. I won't say a thing, unless you get one of those face tattoos -- which, in accordance with the unspoken divine laws of stupidity, gives me the right to point and call you a weirdo. Some tattoos, though, are true works of art. But so's the Mona Lisa, and I'd just rather check her out in the Louvre than on my thigh.

Even I've got to admit that my friend's new tattoo is pretty great. But even BETTER is what I realized moments later: instead of showing me the tattoo on her body, she showed me a pic of it. That can mean only one thing: said tattoo must be lurking on an area that's generally closed to the public. And if there's a better way to greet a Monday morning than seeing some ALMOST-indecent exposure, I'm all ears.    

COLUMN: Strangl(ulat)e

When you're stuck on your sofa for six weeks with a broken ankle, life takes on new meaning.

Sleep schedules get thrown out the window. So do meal times. Priorities get all wonky. Television shows become your most important appointments of the day. Time and temperature lose all meaning. This might have been the coldest, snowiest winter in the history of history, but in MY world, it was 72 degrees and t-shirt weather all January long on Couch Island.

Most of all, though, you find yourself devoting great amounts of time and thought to things you never expected to care one iota about. This is my only explanation as to why I woke up the other day with only one thing on my mind:

"What's the difference between 'strangle' and 'strangulate?'"

If you look up the dictionary definition of the word "strangulate," it tells you that it's a verb that means "strangle." But strangle is a verb in and of itself, right? So do both words mean the same thing? You can strangle someone, but that person would die of strangulation. So are they interchangeable?

Perhaps I should ask someone with a job as a writer. Oh wait, that would be ME. But I'll be totally honest with you guys: I don't know a thing about grammar. I was no English major. I just usually know when something sounds right and sounds wrong -- but on this issue, my grammatical jury is sequestered and locked.

I suppose the more important question at hand is: Why on Earth did I wake up with this strangle/strangulate question in my head? As to that, I'll have to continue my honesty streak: I have ABSOLUTELY no idea. Was it the remnants of a bad dream? Something on TV while I slept? Should I not have eaten that last piece of pizza? I'll never know. But the question was there, it wasn't going away, and I had nothing else on Earth to think about. As stupid as the question was, it gnawed away at my brain until I wanted to strangle someone. Or perhaps strangulate them. I wasn't especially sure.

But there was one other thing I had: the internet. Thankfully Couch Island came with wi-fi, and questions like this are the precise reason why God made Google. And that, friends, is the only reason I can give you as to why I was balancing a laptop computer on my cast at 4:15 a.m. the other morning looking up definitions of the word "strangle" as though my life depended on it.

As we all know, Google is a pretty smart website that prides itself on being intuitive to the needs of its users. That's why if you're using it to search for a particular phrase that it doesn't recognize, Google will try to second-guess your typing skills and offer more common constructive alternatives.

Now, I don't remember exactly what I searched for -- it WAS 4:15 a.m., after all. It was probably something like "DIFFERENCE BETWEEN STRANGLE AND STRANGULATE" or "STRANGLE VS. STRANGULATE GRAMMAR." I honestly don't remember. But whatever I searched for, here's what Google replied with:


Umm, no, Google. That is definitely NOT what I meant. I may watch some pretty bad TV. I may have some fairly weird dreams. But not once, not ever once in my life, have I found myself wondering how to strangle a chicken. In fact, as far as I'm concerned, there should only be two sets of people concerned with the fundamental principles of chicken strangling:

(1) Agricultural professionals, and

(2) Fifteen year old boys, though I believe they're more concerned with choking than outright strangling.

Slightly off-color sentiments aside, though, am I the only one who finds this response SERIOUSLY disturbing? Google only suggests search phrases if they're COMMON. This means that, over the years, LOTS of people have Googled how to strangle chickens. WHY? Is there some underground fetish network of internet-savvy poultry murderers among us? Perhaps there are regions of our great big world where hordes of marauding wild chickens go on routine rampages solveable only through serious hand-to-giblet combat. Heck, I couldn't even tell you how one goes about acquiring chickens, let alone how best to wring their little chicken necks.

So, purely in the interests of science and hard-hitting journalism: YES, Google, I DID mean "How do I strangle a chicken." Please inform me.

(Dear FBI, I'm pretty sure internet searches like this are what get people put onto your 'watchlists.' Please believe me when I tell you that I have no real interest in asphyxiating innocent poultry as either hobby or profession at this time. K thanx. Luv, Shane.)

What I learned is that the internet doesn't really have a clue how to strangle chickens. There must be some seriously disappointed would-be chicken slaughterers out there.

But Google did lead me to a pretty great children's toy called Choke-A-Chicken, which is a cute little stuffed bird whose eyes bulge out Bart Simpson-style when you squeeze its neck. Then, because everyone on the internet hates everyone else, I also found a website belonging to an animal rights group that condemns Choke-A-Chicken as 'grossly irresponsible' and claiming that kids will play with this toy and then immediately rush out to strangle (or perhaps strangulate) their housecats.

Then I found a page on Wikipedia Answers where someone posed the question: "If you strangle a chicken, where does its blood go?" Whoever this person is, I don't think they'd make a good sociopath. Time for a new hobby, guy. Another asks, "Can I legally strangle a chicken in New York City?" to which I respond "WHY DO YOU HAVE A CHICKEN IN NEW YORK CITY?"

I found a wicked blues song called "Chicken Strangle" by Olendrio Chucrobillyman available for $0.89 on Amazon. I discovered that chicken strangulation plays a pivotal role in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller "Rope." And thanks to Biblenet, I even discovered Acts 15:29, which says "you must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from fornication."

So in case you were wondering if I picked up any McNuggets of wisdom during my forced sabbatical, I sure did. And it's this: Strangle all the chickens you like, unless you're irresponsibly influencing children or live in metropolitan New York City where it's of questionable legality. But once you've strang(u)l(at)ed that chicken, don't eat it. And apparantly don't fornicate regardless of your current poultry situation.

And I still don't know the difference between "strangle" and "strangulate." But I know that "Chicken Strangulate" would make a lousy blues jam. I really need to get out of the house.

COLUMN: Game of Thrones

After my recent well-documented scientific experiment to determine conclusively whether or not a human ankle can spin 360 degrees (answer: nope), I've had five weeks to spend on my living room sofa in a prone position with my foot elevated. This was a perfect time to take stock of my life, do some intensive inner soul-searching, and create a comprehensive action plan in order to lead a healthier and happier life from this moment on.

Instead, I watched "Game of Thrones."

And not a little "Game of Thrones" -- a LOT of it. All three seasons of the hit HBO series, in fact. I know, I know... what's a pop culture junkie like me doing waiting four years to get into a show this good? I have no answer. I watched the very first episode way back when it debuted, and I yawned my way through it. It's the same reason I never got into "The Sopranos," "The Wire," "Mad Men," "Breaking Bad," or any of those other critically-acclaimed dramas that are supposedly the best things since sliced bread -- if a show doesn't make me laugh or fall in love with one of the characters right out of the gate, I have limited patience.

But in the case of "Game of Thrones," I clearly messed up. Out of boredom, I re-watched the first episode, and then I let it roll on to the second. By the time I hit episode three, I was hooked. And now, after watching all three seasons in a week? I'm a "Game of Thrones" MEGA-fan. It's all I want to talk about, all I want to think about -- and if you're not into it, there's just no room for you in my life at the present moment.

If you haven't seen it, though, no worries: I can fill you right in. Other than featuring the most complicated plotline that's ever existed on modern television, things are super easy to understand. (Minor spoilers ahead.) It's your standard medieval fantasy world, and at the center of it sits an iron throne clearly stolen from Alice Cooper's prop closet. And every character wants to sit in it -- but who's it going to be?

Maybe the plucky family from the north with hearts of gold. Perhaps it'll be the southern incestuous aristocrats with their masochistic son. It could be the guy from the east who's being controlled by an evil sorceress, or maybe it'll be the dude from the west who just pretty much has bad hair. What about the tribal wildlings from over The Wall, who could all use a good scrubbing? And don't forget the hot babe lurking in lands afar with her army of Conan the Barbarian lookalikes.

Oh, and about that Wall? They built it to keep out the hordes of monstrous White Walkers and their legion of blue-eyed undead minions, all of whom are headed down south to join the party. Everybody hates everybody else, and all they do is fight, fornicate, and stab each other in the back both figuratively and literally. So, essentially, it's just like "Days of our Lives," except with more dragons (which, as we all know, is something "Days of our Lives" has been in dire need of for years now.)

After immersing myself in this world so heavily, I can't help but find myself wondering how I'd fare if I lived in Game-Of-Thronesland. Would it be easy for Lord Shane of House Brown to fit in? All signs point to a resounding no.

For one, there's just a few too many beheadings for my taste. On this show, if you make it to age 30 with your head still attached to your neck, you've pretty much won and can claim a personal victory for leading a long and fully intact life. Talk bad about the government? Off with your head. Leave your post? Off with your head. Look sideways at the King? Off with your head. My only advice to new watchers? Do NOT fall in love with ANYONE on the show, because even the bravest of heroes stands about a 10% chance of his or her head rolling across your TV screen by the end of every episode.

Plus I've paid careful attention to every set on the show. I've looked in the darkest dungeon and the most opulent castle, and I've yet to see a single thermostat on any walls. I don't care if I've got a harem of servants and a legion of knights to cater to my every whim -- if there's no climate control, I'm not having it. In Throneland, they don't even appear to have windows. The best they can muster are square holes cut into walls, presumably allowing any ol' bug, bird, beast, or undead blue-eyed zombie to come a-creepin' at their leisure. If it were MY castle, there would be ZERO window holes. Sunlight, shmunlight. They called it 'The Dark Ages' for a reason. I'm in no hurry to meet medieval mosquitos.

But the worst thing came to me while watching a third season episode. In it, the hero half-son of So-and-so was over The Wall hiking with a posse of wildling warriors. He hooks up with a she-wildling, and -- since it's HBO -- within minutes, they're naked and making medieval whoopee on a cave floor. A few scenes later, she finds a hot spring, and -- since it's HBO -- within minutes, she's naked and having a splash. But then she turns to the guy and is like, "Come, Jon Snow! When was the last time you had a bath?"

Umm, eww. Think about that for a second. During the heavy love scenes, the music swells and love is in the air. But wait -- that's not love that's in the air, it's the ripe funk of two people who haven't bathed in weeks. If medieval science can't invent a window, something tells me they haven't quite come up with Right Guard yet, either. And take it from me, nothing kills the romance quite like a date who smells like a fertilized onion field strewn with sour dishrags.

So I'll stay right here, thanks, in the land of air conditioning, Axe Body Spray, and a justice system free of human heads on spikes. Still, it's a nice place to visit from time to time, provided the blue-eyed zombie things keep their distance. And hey, look -- Season 4 starts up April 6th. It might almost be spring, but winter is coming.

COLUMN: Waffle Week

They say the best trick to being a good writer is to "write what you know." Well, thanks to my broken ankle, the only thing I know right now is my couch. It's been five weeks stuck at home since my tibia and fibula lost a quick and decisive battle with a rogue patch of ice -- and as such, I've really nothing else to talk about. Ergo, some highlights of my sabbatical:

•• My new least favorite phrase on Earth is "now we need to form the cast." I assumed this would involve some kind of high-end precision medical expertise. And it did -- from the dark ages. A nurse poked around until she found THE most painful spot on my ankle and then pushed in on it so hard while the cast set that I almost vomited on the spot -- the spot being her head. "This may be a little uncomfortable," my fanny.

•• Ever seen the TV show "Chuck"? It's pretty awful. And I can feel confident in my opinion having now watched 57 episodes of it in a row. Thanks, Netflix.
•• The only thing worse than having a cast is the process by which they remove it. I don't care how many times the nurses told me it was perfectly safe. I'm still absolutely convinced that their little vibrating circular saw came within millimeters of severing my femoral artery. Plus I'm SUPER ticklish down there and it took two nurses just to hold my foot in place while I simultaneously laughed and cried. Next time the cast just stays on forever.

•• Had someone been around with a video camera when I was trying to get down my front steps for the first time in a cast, I would be the king of Youtube right now. Take someone who's already challenged in the coordination department and cover one of his appendages in fiberglass? I am nothing less than comedy gold right now, people.

•• I'm starting to think I may have to withdraw from the men's slopestyle competition.

•• Rachael Ray just informed me that I can take french fries, cover them in cheese and eggs, throw them in a waffle iron, cover them in bacon gravy, and not be considered a sociopath. What else have I been missing on morning TV all these years?

•• Last week I woke up and went to move my casted leg without realizing there was a cat laying atop it. THAT'S a weird feeling. Thought I was paralyzed for a split second there.

•• I keep watching the finest Olympic athletes in the world and all I can think of are the thousands of poor exposed ankles just a split second from tragedy.

•• You know that soft spot in my living room floor? Yeah, I forgot about it, too... until I wiped out on my knee scooter and took a faceplant to the carpet. When one already has a broken ankle, this is NOT a recommended activity. On the plus side, my cast just passed its structural integrity stress test with flying colors.

•• I really want to leave the house -- but not half as much as my cats want me to. As I type this, they're both on opposite ends of the living room staring me down -- and it's a look that clearly says, "Why won't he leave??" I am, after all, occuping THEIR couch.

•• So let me get this straight: Folks can strap a piece of wood to their feet, throw themselves down a mountain, jump two stories in the air while doing a triple somersault, land on their ankles, and be just fine. I, meanwhile, slip on a sliver of ice, fall two feet to my knees, and my ankle shatters like glass. Yeah, that seems fair.

•• I've now graduated from a blue cast to a purple cast to something called a "cam walker," which is just a giant boot with a series of straps requiring a Master's degree in physics to get on and off. It weighs twice as much as the cast, and it's apparantly designed to efficiently remove ALL of the moisture from one's leg as dramatically as possible. This is TMI, I realize, but I just took the thing off and wondered what the powder was covering my leg. Then I realized that the powder WAS my leg. Eep. Somebody bring me Aveeno, stat.

•• I assumed that getting the cast off meant that my ankle was nearly healed. Then I tried to put a sock on. THAT was a reality check.

•• Nothing against Matthias Mayer of Austria, but I just made it to my bathroom and back with a split time of UNDER ten minutes. Where's MY medal?

The bad news? Two more weeks before I can put weight on my ankle. The good news? It's something called "Waffle Week" on Rachael Ray.  


Finally my theory has been proven: Being responsible and mature is hazardous to your health.

In the grand theatre of adult life, I've been proudly cast in the role of the Clumsy Yet Affable Screw-Up. You know, that ONE friend of yours who still lives by himself, has a mountain of pizza boxes in his kitchen, and is just sure he'll get around to cleaning as soon as he beats Level 75 of Candy Crush.

But I've recently discovered that being the Clumsy Yet Affable Screw-Up isn't all it's cracked up to be. He never gets top billing. He never gets the girl in the end. And the only reason his place is called a "bachelor pad" is because any woman fateful enough to see the squalor lurking inside would instinctively run away in fear.

So ever since I bought my house a few years back, I've been doing my best to put Screw-Up Shane to bed -- at a decent time and with clean sheets, even. I thought I was being grown-up -- it turns out I've been risking life and especially limb.

It was four Sundays ago. The clock was rounding its way to midnight and I was getting ready to call it a day. That's when I glanced in my kitchen and saw the overflowing trash bag. Monday morning was trash day, and I'd forgotten to haul the bin out to the street. Screw-Up Shane would have said "ah well" and maybe gotten in a few rounds of Call of Duty before bed. But noooo -- Mature Shane decided to throw his coat on and haul the trash out at midnight like a responsible lad.

And that is how Mature Shane ended up proudly cast in a cast for the next month. Somewhere between my back steps and the street lay a small patch of black ice, just small enough to avoid with the naked eye and just big enough for me to execute a reverse 360 triple axle. Well, my ANKLE did -- the rest of me, not so much.

I knew from the landing that it was bad. I fell onto one knee with my toes pointed down. That part of the scenario only KINDA sucked. Then the REST of me fell down onto my foot, rolling my ankle in a direction that ankles aren't exactly designed to go. I managed to hop inside before the pain got so bad I collapsed onto the kitchen floor, much to the bewilderment and amusement of my cats.

"It's just a sprain," I told myself as I hopped to the freezer for some ice, of which I had none. Ergo, I opted for a wing, a prayer, and a bag of frozen peas. "It'll all be better in the morning," I reassured myself.

It wasn't. The next morning, it looked like my ankle had sprouted a goiter. Worse yet, the bag had ripped in the middle of the night and my entire living room had transformed into what can only be described as The Great Pea Holocaust. My friend Dianna came over, took one look at my ankle, and whisked me off to the doctor. Following a sexy radioactive photoshoot, the results were in -- and my night-time attempt at freestyle speed skating had left me with a broken tibia AND fibula.

For the past month, January excited the Quad Cities with snowstorms and cold spells and headlines aplenty... or so I read. I couldn't tell you for certain, because I've spent the whole month sitting at home on my couch with my leg elevated and adorned in a stylish purple cast in an ongoing attempt to see just how much Netflix a person can watch without going insane. Couch Island has been my home for the past 4 weeks, interrupted only by the occasional wheeled excursion to the bathroom on my sexy and stylish new knee scooter.

Here's what the knee scooter's website says about its product: "Powerful!" "Agile!" "All-Terrain!"

If "powerful" means that it's capable of supporting my girth with only a minimal amount of sad squeaking, then yes. If "agile" means that it only requires a carefully balanced pre-planned 18-point-turn to get from my living room to my bathroom, then sure. But the person who wrote the word "all-terrain" has clearly never met MY living room carpet. On the tenth day of knee-rolling, I wiped out on the carpet and went flailing to the ground with the knee-roller landing squarely on the ankle it's designed to protect. January has NOT been my month.

In the history of Shane, this has been my first ever cast, my first ever extended leave from work, and the last thing I wanted to deal with. Were it not for the constant doting of my legion of friends, I'd have likely been forced to spend this un-vacation in Galesburg leeching off my parents. So a big public shout-out to Dianna Saelens for the countless food runs, for doing my laundry, my dishes, and basically keeping me alive this past month. Thanks to Friend Jason for the handy and mega-stylish pink basket for my knee scooter and the soap bubble machine that's kept my cats in a month-long state of sheer terror. And thanks to Dr. Shawn Wynn, Mary Jo, and the entire staff of ORA Orthopedics for putting up with my bad jokes and taking awesome care of me.

Maybe I'm officially mature and responsible after all. After all, Clumsy Yet Affable Screw-Up Shane would have yearned for a month-long vacation on the couch. THIS Shane thinks it sucks. One thing's for sure, though: next time, the trash can wait.

COLUMN: Carol the Feral

Grab your hankies, kids. This one's gonna be a weepie.

Since I started columnizing on a weekly basis, I've learned a thing or two. Mostly, I've discovered that I'm a snarky, bitter, jaded, cynical, pathetic excuse for a human being whose only happiness in life comes in 1000-word weekly bursts of self-serving mockery in a feeble attempt to take down the very society that I so desperately crave acceptance from. Comedy gold, right?

But if all I ever did was snark, even I'd start to hate myself after a while. That's why at least a couple times a year, I need to write a tender emotional tear-jerker to remind us all that inside this bitter journalistic lion beats a heart of gold. Well, it's probably about 80% gold and 20% cholesterol, but I digress.

Occasionally I need to come across as sensitive and kindhearted in order to win you all over, and what better way than to cast myself into the role of Good Samaritan? But, as it turns out, being a Good Samaritan is hard work -- especially when the recipient of all this good samariting is an ungrateful little doodiehead.

Two years ago, I moved into my house. Less than a week later, I met Carol. Except back then, she was Daryl -- Daryl the Feral, to be precise. I was making dinner when suddenly my cats started making a ruckus a little more involved than the usual "pet and/or feed me" meows I'd grown accustomed to. I peered around back and that's when I first saw Daryl, sad-eyed and skinny and a clear frontrunner for Cutest Cat of the Year. There was no resisting; I set out a bowl of food that was instantly gobbled up.

Within days, she had my schedule memorized. When I got home from work, Daryl was there on the back steps. Only later did I discover that I'd just opened my yard up to a family of feline grifters. One night, I put food out for Daryl, then looked out the door minutes later to find no fewer than six ragtag cats making quick work of that tuna. Daryl was the cute one; the others were road-hard, torn-eared scuzzebutts -- but I fell in love with the lot of 'em.

A shock came that summer, when Daryl turned out to be a Carol and gave birth to a litter of kittens. My cat gang was street-smart; the kittens not so much. After nearly watching kitten carnage on the street, we spent that summer catching the kittens and finding them good homes through Animal Aid. In the process, we inadvertently trapped Carol herself and used the opportunity to get her neutered and vaccinated.

I wondered about keeping her, but she was none too cooperative and the vet doubted we could ever socialize her enough to make her a housecat. Instead, I brought her home and let her out in my back yard, which admittedly, was pretty much HER back yard. I was just lucky enough to get to live there and feed her.

Since then, Carol's remained a fixture on my back steps. Two years ago, I couldn't come within 20 feet of her. These days, she'll stroll right on inside and lets me pet her until her eyes roll back and she drools like a hapless cat zombie. My cats have even gotten used to having her around. Still, I've only let her just inside the door since I had no idea if she was carrying any kind of cat cooties.

The other night, though, I heard her hoarse meow and cracked the door open like usual to let her in. One look and I dropped everything I was doing. My outdoor fur baby was in a bad way. She hobbled in on three legs with sad eyes that weren't a ruse for once. I got her to eat and purr, but she wouldn't put any weight on that foot. I couldn't risk infecting my indoor cats with anything, but I wasn't about to kick her outside as a feline tripod.

It was Christmas weekend and I couldn't get her into the vet for a couple days, so my friend Dianna agreed to temporarily house Carol in her basement. The next morning, though, Miss Scaredy-Cat had wedged herself into a tiny space behind the basement stairs and would NOT come out, resulting in a rescheduled vet appointment, a lot of pleading, some wasted tuna, and finally the reemergence of a terrified kitty.

All was good, until the morning of the appointment and a frenzied 9 a.m. phone call from Dianna. This time, Carol had managed - on three legs, mind you - to climb to the ceiling of the basement, where she'd sequestered herself above a sewer line in a space juuust too small for us to reach. What followed was a good solid hour of more tuna, broom handles, heavy gloves, some amateur plumbing, at least 35 swear words, a fair amount of minor human blood loss, and an impassioned soliloque from yours truly attempting to explain that the capture and sale of her children, subsequent imprisonment, forced surgery, and repeated imprisonment was me attempting to be a nice guy, dang it.

It wasn't pretty, and poor Dianna's basement may never be the same again, but we eventually got her out. The vet found her to be in good health, other than a nasty abscess on her foot and a fever from the resulting infection. Within minutes, she was patched up, pumped full of antibiotics, and absolutely hated the both of us forever and ever.

Or for about four days. That's how long it took for her to come out of the cat carrier and get familiar with her new surroundings in one of Dianna's extra rooms - this one without crawlspaces or sewer lines. She tested negative for cat cooties, but the vet still wants us to quarantine her for two months to be certain. So far, she's gone from hating us to tolerating us to once again being a drooling cat zombie when you scratch that magic spot behind her ears.

She's still not exactly thrilled by recent developments, but from her window seat in that spare room, I think even she could tell a guest room anywhere was better than a -45 wind chill last week. Every day, she's getting more and more used to life indoors. With any luck, I'm soon to be the owner of THREE cats instead of two. Only fifty-seven more and I'll achieve my goal of becoming the creepy cat guy who scares off the neighbor children.

Seriously, though, if you're the praying type, say a good word for my buddy Carol. I'd love to see her become a part of the family.

COLUMN: Fruitfly

If you ask any of my friends what their general impression of me is, I reckon you'll hear three different responses: (1) Shane is a big dork. (2) Shane can occasionally be funny (I hope). (3) Shane is incapable of independent living and survives from day-to-day thanks only to our constant assistance and a whole lot of luck.

When it comes to responsibility, I was something of a late bloomer. In these irresponsible hands, my first apartment quickly descended to a state borderline unfit for human habitation. If you were one of those lucky enough to have come a-callin' during that time, you likely witnessed mountains of dirty dishes, bags of garbage, and my famous leaning tower of pizza.

I usually never crossed the unspoken line between messy and filthy. I kept my clothes laundered, my body showered, and myself marginally presentable. But beyond that, all bets were off. I'm not saying I was lazy, I'm saying I was the laziest person on Earth. But hey, it was a long walk to the dumpster, plus it was the first time I didn't have my mom yelling at me to clean my room.

At some point, though, I had to grow up. It turns out that, by and large, women in their 30s were NOT especially impressed by the various fast food exhibits in the Interactive Museum of Laziness that I called an apartment. The turning point was when a girl came over, took one look at my apartment, and assumed that I had been robbed. I had to sheepishly explain to her that for me, "ransacked" was more of a lifestyle choice than an actual event.

A couple years ago, I abandoned apartment life and bought a house. I like to think that it's a fairly nice house, and I've been doing my best to keep it such -- or at least keep it from being declared a biohazard. Thus far, things have been going well.

I have a magical machine that washes dishes for me. There's another machine in the basement that launders clothes without having to share the fecal matter of strangers (thanks for THAT science nugget, internet.) Instead of a long walk to the dumpster, I can lean out my back door and slam-dunk the trash bin. I've traded drive-thrus for supermarkets and discovered the Swiffer Wet-Jet. I've (gasp) matured.

Okay, I still need occasional help with the cleaning, especially when the parents are coming up. And there are still moments that I look around, say "whoa," and grab a trash bag. And then there was this week, when my humble abode was invaded by a strike force of unlimited power and ruthlessness.

I was sitting on my couch in a television daze when the first one zipped by my line of sight: drosophila melanogaster, aka the common fruitfly. I noted this as odd for two reasons: (1) Obviously, nothing can survive in this climate except we idiots who are too stupid to move somewhere warm, and (2) my house contains a lot of things, but fruit isn't often one of them.

Within a couple days, one pest became two, and then three, and then a small air force. The trash was out, the dishes done, and all food put away, yet the menace remained. When the cats started attacking the air in defiance of both gravity and safety, I knew it was time to act.

The same internet that informed me of the microscopic horrors of laundromats also taught me how to build an ingenious fruitfly trap. Take a jar, make a teeny funnel for a lid, and fill it with apple cider vinegar. Fruitflies can't resist the yummy fermentation and are too stupid to find the way out. I set up the trap just in time to make the drive home for Christmas.

I returned expecting a yuletide holocaust of belly-up fruitflies. Instead, I had an empty trap and a full scale invasion on my hands. Not cool, ESPECIALLY when I was carrying in Mom-baked Christmas awesomeness (thankfully all Ziploc'ed up - my mom knows me too well.) The day before, I had shamefully fessed up my plight to friends. I was told I had to have something rotting in Denmark to cause such an invasion. No, no, I reassured. Not me. Not responsible, mature, home-owning me. Those days were behind me.

But then I opened my cupboard and looked carefully at what I call the ex-girlfriend shelf. My ex was a huge health nut and occasionally bought groceries. After we split up, the yummier residents of my cupboard were consumed, while inedible horrors like quinoa, rice cakes, and artichoke hearts slowly made their way to the bottom shelf, never to be spoken of again. I decided to move that box of quinoa -- and followed that decision with a jolly holiday retch.

Beyond the quinoa lay a bag containing two potatoes. At least I'm pretty sure they were potatoes when I bought them in mid-2012. They certainly weren't potatoes any longer. And this new wildly-colored lifeform was quite literally eating its way through the bottom shelf. There are no words, people. Imagine the grossest thing you could possibly imagine, and then sprinkle that thing with maggots. Did I mention I'm available for dates, ladies?

I touched it. I'm pretty sure it touched back. That's when the smell released. I ran to my trusty Scentsy burners and fired them up en masse. Within minutes, my kitchen was filled with the lush aroma of a pine forest -- were that pine forest full of dead bodies.

And hey, did I mention I had a GIRL over at the time? My friend Dianna gets the gold star, because while I was figuring out how to assemble a homemade Hazmat suit, she had already grabbed the bleach and gone to work. All I could do was act like a cheerleader and join her in a chorus of Christmas retching. Within minutes -- the most disgusting minutes of my life -- it was done, along with the entire contents of my kitchen cupboard and any remaining dignity I happened to have.

Victory is mine, but at what cost? The fruitflies have been evicted and the safety-sealed holiday treats devoured. My house is back in some semblance of order, and no one except you 100,000+ readers are any the wiser to the horrors that last week held. In a strange way, maybe this was a GOOD thing. You see, yesterday was my birthday. Normally at this time, I'd be sinking into my annual depression about becoming an old complacent fuddy-duddy. But how can I be a fuddy-duddy if I'm still irresponsible and immature enough to make a cute girl nearly barf thanks to my ineptitude at life? I've still got it, people. Party on.

COLUMN: Best of 2013 - TV

As much as I'd like to pretend to be some sort of upper echelon intellectual multi-tasker, the truth is that most of my down time from work is spent slowly molting to my couch, staring catatonically at my television. This highly accomplished skill set allows me to be uniquely qualified at, well, pretty much nothing. Nothing EXCEPT one column per year, where I get to wax poetic about the best and brightest of the boob tube. That's right, it's time for me to justify roughly 70% of my existence by counting down my picks for the year's best TV shows:

#10 - Breaking Bad (AMC) - I need to start with some honesty. I don't watch Breaking Bad. I tried two episodes once, and frankly, I have better things to do than watch a 5-season-long tragedy about horrible people behaving horribly. But I'm pretty sure if I don't include it in a best-of list this year, I stand to lose respect, street cred, and possibly my membership card to TV Critics R Us. So I'd reckon if you're into shows about meth dealers named Walter who rapidly lose their moral compass, you could do no better.

#9 - Sleepy Hollow (Fox) - It's thoroughly ridiculous, I know. From the crazy plot holes ("What's that, you say? You're Ichabod Crane back from the dead 200 years later to fight the four horsemen of the apocalypse? Sure, you can tag along with our police detectives, you don't seem extra super crazy at all!") to the weird casting of funnyman Orlando Jones as a hard-nosed cop boss, nothing about "Sleepy Hollow" should work. Yet, strangely, it's this year's most captivating new show and a must-DVR.

#8 - The Voice (NBC) - 2013 was the year where "reality" TV officially hit the bottom of the barrel. Deadly catches and extreme home makeovers have given way to phony half-scripted nonsense like Honey Boo-Boo, Duck Dynasty, and Finding Bigfoot. Game & talent shows have become stale, while new offerings have ranged from insipid to incomprehensible (did ANYONE understand what was happening on "Million Second Quiz"?) The one exception to reality banality remains "The Voice," an average singing competition made exceptional by the near-perfect casting of its supremely entertaining judges.

#7 - Camp (NBC) - This fast-cancelled mid-season replacement series was doomed from the start, between its all-Australian cast of unknowns and its less-than-favorable summer time slot. It's a shame, really, because NBC wasted the opportunity to build a franchise around this true breath of fresh air. A modern update of the tried and true shenanigans-at-summer-camp plotline, "Camp" ended up being a "Meatballs" for the "Glee" generation. Funny, inspiring, sexy, and sentimental, its short life was something NBC should have taken pride in.

#6 - South Park (Comedy Central) - They say "South Park" jumped the shark a few years ago, but nobody can pinpoint exactly when. That's because it hasn't. While it's true that the show's now outlasted its "Omigod, They Killed Kenny" t-shirts by a decade, it hasn't lost any of the fearless bite that once turned construction paper into a pop culture phenomenon. Quite simply, "South Park" is the greatest social satire on TV now and maybe ever, and it's beyond me how the show can stay so strong when it's basically an afterthought these days for creators Trey Parker & Matt Stone.

#5 - The Vampire Diaries (CW) - I know, I know. Stop watching a show clearly designed for 14-year-old girls, Shane. But have you ever SEEN it? Hiding behind this juvenile blood-stained melodrama lurks one of the most compelling plotlines on television. This year, TVD took the played-out "original vampire" bad guys and spun them off to their own show. Shockingly, the move breathed new life into the undead world of Mystic Falls. Just trust me. Netflix a couple episodes and you'll be secretly binge-watching, too. Compared to "Dracula," "True Blood," and "Twilight," this is high art.

#4 - The Killing (AMC) - Quite thankfully, it's the show that won't die. After two somber seasons, this dark horse of a detective series was put to pasture by AMC earlier this year, only to have the network change their mind with a last-minute renewal. Weeks into the third season, AMC cancelled it AGAIN -- but now Netflix has stepped up for a fourth (and presumably final) season coming in 2014. Any second we get to spend in rainy Seattle with Linden and Holder should be cherished.

#3 - Parks and Recreation (NBC) - It's the funniest sitcom on network TV by a country mile, and anyone who disagrees may challenge me to the Cones of Dunshire. The writing is half the joy; the real payoff is the stellar ensemble cast. We're about to lose Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones this year, but as long as Ron Swanson has a moustache, "Parks and Rec" will be just fine. It is the only show that I'll cancel plans with friends in order to watch.

#2 - House of Cards (Netflix) - Netflix had themselves an interesting year. Their lineup of original programming ran the gamut from great ("Orange is the New Black") to disappointing ("Arrested Development") to ludicrously awful ("Hemlock Grove.") But "House of Cards" officially put Netflix on the map as a major player this year. The deviously corrupt Congressman Frank Underwood is the role Kevin Spacey was born to play, and he chews through every scene with glee. Television is rarely this good.

#1 - Peep Show (Channel Four UK) - And, like all good pretentious critics, I conclude my year-end list with a show you've never heard of. Just trust me. This year, both Hulu & Netflix got their hands on the 8th season of this edgy British sitcom, and it is, minute for minute, the funniest thing I've ever seen on television... EVER. It's an edgy, NSFW update of "The Odd Couple" featuring two lovably reprehensible bachelors getting into loads of trouble, and it is the only time I can think of that a television show has made me laugh to the point of physical pain. There's one final season still to come in 2014, so join the fun now.

Happy New Year, everybody. Now get to binge watching.