Friday, July 18, 2014

The Odd Couple

So my review of Richmond Hill Players' current production of The Odd Couple got SERIOUSLY chopped down in the paper this week.  Here's the review as I had originally intended it:
Sometimes we reviewers have it easy.

The past few local theater productions I've been tasked with attending were all new plays to the area. Ergo, half of the review space had to be spent introducing readers to the production and giving a synopsis preview of the plot. While such an exposition is necessary with a new play in order to give a balanced review and entice folks to come to the show, half the time I found myself just wanting to shut up and say, "IT'S GOOD! TRUST ME! GO SEE IT!"

Thanks, then, to the Richmond Hill Players for throwing me a slow pitch down the middle with their faithfully executed production of Neil Simon's classic, "The Odd Couple." If you've made it this far in life without becoming familiar with Oscar Madison and Felix Unger, you may as well give up and return to the rock you've been living under all these years.

It's easily the most well-known play from America's most successful playwright. It's spawned a movie, a sequel, a TV series, a cartoon, ANOTHER TV series, a female version, and as we speak, "Friends" star Matthew Perry is developing a third take on the TV series coming to CBS this fall. Beyond that, nearly any show that's ever mined comedy gold from mismatched roommates has its roots wrapped around Oscar and Felix. Think about it: "Laverne & Shirley" is the female Odd Couple. Larry and Balki from "Perfect Strangers" are the Odd Cousins. You can even argue that Leonard, Penny, and Sheldon from "The Big Bang Theory" are an Odd trio.

"The Odd Couple" is a true comedic archetype. When his marriage crumbles, down-on-his-luck Felix has only one place to turn -- his friend and poker buddy Oscar. There's just one problem: Felix is a neat freak who lives an organized and meticulous life, while Oscar is a slob who flies by the seat of his pants and doesn't care that he only has green sandwiches from a busted fridge to serve his poker buddies. Their opposing approaches to life give us boths laughs and insight to the meaning of true friendship through thick and thin.

Don't get me wrong, though -- just because the play is well-known doesn't mean that it's easy to pull off. Without the right lead actors, the entire production could sink in a heartbeat. Through it all, both Oscar and Felix must remain wholly likeable in order for the comedy to work. If Felix is too much of a stuffed shirt or Oscar is too slovenly, you don't root for them. Above all, the actors have to somehow make the audience believe that these two polar opposites are capable of being friends.

QC theatre mainstay Greg Cripple brings a neurotic edge to Felix that propels the laughs while making you wonder if the poor guy's going to snap at any second. More successful is RHP President John VanDeWoestyne, who jumps into the role of Oscar Madison with playful gusto, genuine warmth, and flying linguini aplenty. Sometimes when you watch a play, you just KNOW when the actors relish their roles, and it's more than obvious that these two are in thespian heaven, even carrying the comic hijinks through to the curtain call.

I've seen umpteen versions of "The Odd Couple" over the years, but never before did I realize what a vital role the supporting cast plays. Oscar and Felix's poker buddies (played with enthusiasm and real character by Ray Rogers, Spiro Bruskas, Michael B. Miller, and Glenn Kluge) not only share a huge part of the stage time, they also have some of the best punchlines of the entire play. In the second act, Oscar and Felix go on a predictably disastrous double date with the dim-witted yet lovable Pigeon sisters, played here with comedic glee by Jackie Skiles and Jackie Patterson. Without their fantastic support, Oscar and Felix might just be two behaviorally-disordered weirdos who we'd pity rather than cheer.

Once again, with this production, the Richmond Hill Players prove that they're among the best in local theatre and well worth the quick drive to Geneseo. Director Mike Skiles makes great use of the space, which isn't the easiest task given that most of the "action" takes place around a poker table in a trash-strewn living room. I'd also like to call out the exceptional sound design by Jennifer Kingry. It's refreshing to go to a play where a phone rings and actually have it be an actual phone on stage actually ringing as opposed to a pre-recorded sound effect playing from a speaker hanging somewhere in the great beyond. The excellent set design and stage management makes it seem perfectly natural for Oscar's apartment to have surround seating for 165 strangers.    

It's risky to tamper with a classic -- that's why I await Perry's new TV version of "The Odd Couple" with more trepidation than excitement. That's also why I commend the Richmond Hill Players for presenting a enjoyable production that's true to the original and allows Neil Simon's timeless masterpiece to shine. In other words, it's good. Trust me. Go see it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

COLUMN: Creepy Songs Pt. 2

So last week, I told you guys about my inexplicable life-long fear of the song "Black Water" by the Doobie Brothers. I have no clue why it haunts me, but every time I hear that song, it gives me the willies. I hoped that publically fessing up my heebie-jeebies might make for a fun column and somehow make me feel less crazypants.

Clearly, I didn't think this plan through.

From the moment I sat down and typed the letter "B" last week, "Black Water" started playing in my head. It hasn't stopped for seven days. The old black water has kept on rolling and that Mississippi moon has kept on shining in my head for an entire week now. One morning, I even drove to work blaring dubstep techno at life-threatening decibels, and my brain just starting looping "I'd like to hear some funky Dixieland" over the top of it like it was totally natural.

My only saving grace has been you guys. Last week, I made an open call in my column for you to tell me about the songs that creep YOU out and give you the willies. Frankly, I was a little worried that I might be the only person in the world who gets irrationally skeeved out by otherwise innocent songs on the radio. It turns out I'm definitely not.

Over the past week, I've received over 200 e-mails, letters, and Facebook messages sharing your (least) favorite stomach-churning tunes. I figure we could use this list to make an epic mixtape that we can then burn without playing.

A lot of you shared songs that can be filed under a category I like to call: "Well, Duh." Of course Alice Cooper makes scary music. Of course Marilyn Manson gives you the willies - I'd hate to find the person who finds "Beautiful People" pleasant and relaxing. Same goes for Metallica, any of the many death metal ditties you shared, and pretty much anything from Pink Floyd's "The Wall." Sunshine and roses it ain't, people, so I'm going to gloss over songs that are made to be somewhat horrifying.

The most interesting revelation about the songs you shared is that the real culprit behind your heebie-jeebies is often MTV. Even songs that are relatively tame can be ruined by a creepy video.

For instance, Kelly wrote in and said, "What's that song that had the dead fish flopping around at the end? Totally that one." And she's right. The song in question is "Epic" by Faith No More, a rock radio staple of the late 80's of only moderate creepiness, but whose video pointlessly ends with a slo-mo shot of an asphyxiating fish. All I need to hear is one second of that song and I make the "eww" face because all I can think about is that poor fish.

Erin mentioned "Owner of a Lonely Heart." Good call. The band Yes were one of those prog-rock groups that always operated on a slightly more cerebral plane than your average Top 40 pop-tart, so it's no surprise that the "Owner of a Lonely Heart" video plays like an avant-garde Kakfa nightmare. It stars an average Joe walking to work who's arrested by black suits, put on trial, and imprisoned in what appears to be the set of "Flashdance." In the end, he escapes to a rooftop where the members of Yes transform into lizards, and the video ends with the dude jumping off the roof and turning into a hawk, thus somehow (I guess) damning The Man while making every impressionable child in the Western world believe that Yes are shapeshifting reptiloid suicide advocates from spookytown.

Erin also mentioned another doozy, the epic "Total Eclipse of the Heart," to which she says "no 80's horror film ever approximated the terror of my sister sneaking into my room at night with a flashlight reflecting off her glasses while she whispered, 'Turn Around, Bright Eyes!'"

The era of 70's AM Gold power-pop yielded some truly horrifying songs. My friend Jason NeSmith -- who, incidentally, plays in a great band called Casper & the Cookies, look 'em up -- wrote in to say, "Please explain a way that 'Lightnin' Strikes' by Lou Christie ISN'T about a Jekyll & Hyde date rapist." Listening to the lyrics, he's got a point.

David Baker from KALA mentioned "The Morning After," a song of triumph over adversity -- until you realize it was written for "The Poseidon Adventure," a movie where a ship sinks and nearly everyone dies.

But the most creepiest AM Gold offender was submitted by my Facebook friend Robbie: the 1971 song "Timothy" by the Buoys, the only song to ever break the Top 40 about human cannibalism. "Trapped in a mine what had caved in/And everyone knows the only ones left were Joe and me and Tim/When they broke through to pull us free/The only ones left to tell the tale was Joe... and me."

Incidentally, "Timothy" was written by a young Rupert Holmes, the same guy responsible years later for "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)", which I think makes him the Mozart of creepiness.

Even MORE incidentally, "my Facebook friend Robbie" is none other than Robbie Rist, who you might know better as Cousin Oliver from the Brady Bunch.

And if you think that this entire column is nothing more than a shallow excuse to brag that I'm cyberfriends with a cast member of the Brady Bunch, well, you'd pretty much be right -- but I figure if anyone's qualified to talk about creepiness, it's someone who was actually IN "Sharknado."

My favorite submissions were ones that mentioned truly random songs. Sunnie has always been creeped out by Simply Red's "Holding Back the Years."

Bambi was scared by the "la-da-di, la-di-da" chorus of Crystal Waters' "Homeless."

Scott was "tormented" by "Hocus Pocus" by Focus.

Linn says "White Lines" by Grandmaster Flash "still gives me the shivers."

But far and away, one song rose above all others and was mentioned by at least ten different people: "Hotel California" by the Eagles. The band themselves call it "a journey from innocence to experience." It's clearly an allegorical tale about the greed and excess of the West Coast music industry. But to anyone under the age of symbolism, it's a song about a dude being trapped in a creepy hotel full of warm smells, steely knives, unkillable beasts, and the never-ending horror of pink champagne on ice.

The good news is that "Black Water" is finally out of my head. The bad news is that it's now been replaced with a mashed-up cacophony of cannibalistic lizard-men in hotels full of pina coladas and dying fish. Somehow, it's still better than those dreaded Doobies.

COLUMN: Creepy Songs Pt. 1

A few weeks ago, I devoted a column to "earworms," songs that for better -- but let's be honest, mostly always for worse -- get stuck in your head on an endless loop of torment and awkward shower singalongs. It might be one of your favorite tunes, it might be your most hated. Sometimes it's a song you didn't even realize you KNEW until your brain started belting it out in a never-ending private concert.

One thing's for sure, though: we ALL have them. After that column printed, I was inundated with letters, e-mails and even mp3's full of your earworm pain. You'll be happy to know that many of them instantly wormed their way into MY brain, so thanks for that. But all this talk about earworms got me thinking about another musical phenomenon that I've experienced my whole life, and I'm anxious to get your input to find out if it happens to us all or if I'm just extra crazy.

Are there any songs that just inexplicably creep you out? I'm talking about innocent tunes that give you the heebie-jeebies with rhyme but definitely without reason. Ever since I was a kid, I've encountered songs that plain and simply give me the willies, send shivers up my spine, and make me leap up to change the station immediately. It's not one particular sound, it's not one particular lyric -- it's just a creepy feeling that makes me want to listen to anything else on Earth post haste.

Two immediate offenders come to mind.

The first is a 1980 Dire Straits song called "Skateaway." Down the road, they'd become household names with the iconic "Money for Nothing," but back in the early 80's, not too many Americans were familiar with the musical stylings of Dire Straits. Among those ignorant masses was a 9-year-old me. You'd think it would be impossible to be afraid of this song. At its core, "Skateaway" is a harmless ditty about a carefree girl who rollerskates through the city at night without a care in the world.

But then I saw the video. Back when MTV first fired up, music videos weren't that commonplace. Ergo, the few videos that MTV had, they played incessantly. All I remember about the "Skateaway" video is an exotic girl roller-dancing through claustrophobic, angular, all-white sets. Inexplicably, it terrified me. Time and again, I would have nightmares of being trapped in a weird white dystopia while an evil rollerskating monster stalked me to the strains of bland, forgettable mid-tempo bluespop.

To this day, I still have nightmares of being chased by random faceless bogeymen, and I think it all started with "Skateaway." Well, I just re-watched the video, and and you'll be happy to know the only thing it's guilty of is having been made in 1980. Aside from some truly awful dancing, the only terrifying thing about the video is its rainbow pastel color scheme. Still, I won't be surprised if I go to bed tonight to find the rollergirl waiting in my subconscious -- and she won't be up for a dance.

But that's nothing compared to the evil that is the world's creepiest song ever. I speak, of course, about "Black Water" by the Doobie Brothers.

And no, I have no idea why. At face value, it's a song about rolling down the Mississippi in a raft and not having a care in the world. Lyrically, it's about as threatening as "Don't Worry Be Happy." And the Mississippi is seven blocks away from me as I type this. I should identify with this song and love it with all my heart, which I do. Except that I don't, because it's evil.

Randomly, I have a single snapshot memory of being in the back seat of the family car on the way to see my grandparents. They lived in a little town called Maquon that was about a half-hour twisty country drive from our house. It was night, and "Black Water" came on the radio. My folks were carrying on a conversation about who-knows-what, but in the back seat, I was being flooded with visions of "old black water, keep on rolling, Mississippi moon, won't you keep on shining on me." But this wasn't happy, carefree, Huck Finn imagery.

No, in MY mind, it was water the color of molasses that beckoned you to a watery grave. It was a Mississippi moon that revealed every possible creature that went bump in the night. Basically, it was every horror movie ever made plus a healthy dose of "Deliverance," which I had accidentally channel-flipped into a few days prior and watched at WAY too young an age.

Thirty-some years later, the song still creeps me out. I don't know if it's the languid fiddle playing or the in-your-face production that makes it sound like various Doobies are hanging out harmonizing just behind my left shoulder. I just hate it. I hate it so much that whenever it's on the radio, I force myself to listen because I'm constantly amazed by how much I hate it.

The lyrics even drive me a bit bonkers. "I'd like to hear some funky Dixieland, pretty mama come and take me by the hand"? Don't get me wrong, I'm perfectly okay with pretty mamas. If any of you want to grab my hand, I'm cool with it (unless, as we've established, you're on rollerskates and listening to Dire Straits.)

But living in a river town as we do, I've heard my share of Dixieland over the years. There's a lot of words I can use to describe Dixieland, but "funky" just isn't one of them. I'd even go so far as to say that Dixieland is about the LEAST funky music I can think of this side of Justin Bieber. Maybe I just don't know how to appreciate jazz (which is true,) but until I see footage of Bix Beiderbecke coming down on a mothership connection with Bootsy Collins, I'm sticking to my funky guns.

I wish it just stopped there, but there are others. "Passion" by Rod Stewart. "Nights in White Satin" by the Moody Blues. Whatever the heck's happening in "Emotional Rescue" by the Rolling Stones, which to me sounds a little like Mickey Mouse narrating a date rape. The list goes on and on.

And I guess I just want to make it bigger. That's why I've put an open call out to Facebook -- and now to you, readers -- to find out what songs send shivers up your spine. E-mail me at and tell me about your musical heebie-jeebies and why you think they give you the willies. I'll share the results in my next column. With any luck, by this time next week, we'll be able to assemble a mixtape that no-one will ever want to hear.

COLUMN: The Bachelorette

During the time that I've been fortunate enough to have this little corner of your Monday, I think we've firmly established that I'm a helpless slave to television. Still, I'm trying to justify what compelled me to watch the latest episode of ABC's "The Bachelorette." I'm going with "academic curiosity."

As part of my daily pop culture addiction, I spend at least a few minutes surfing lowbrow websites for celebrity scandal. This allows me to have some truly inane knowledge. For instance, I've never seen a single episode of their presumably ridiculous show, but I can tell you the names of ALL the Kardashians -- though, admittedly, I can't tell you exactly what any of them actually DO, other than keep TMZ in business.

It may have been TMZ where I first read about Eric Hill, one of this year's contestants on "The Bachelorette." Tragically, Hill was killed while paragliding just weeks after filming completed, and I guess the macabre part of me just wanted to see the guy whose fate was unknowingly sealed. I was also curious how ABC would deal with his death. To their credit, it was handled with class, tact, and a dedication at the beginning of the broadcast.

Unfortunately, that's the only time you'll associate the words class and tact with "The Bachelorette." I'm fairly proud to confess that prior to last night, I'd never seen a second of the long-running show. It should have stayed that way. I knew the basic idea. Every season, one lucky bachelorette is thrust into a house full of 25 guys vying for her love. Each week, contestants are eliminated via a kitschy ceremony ("Will you accept... this rose?") until the end, when all that remains is her one true love and they live happily ever after.

Right away, I see problems.

The premise of this show seems to revolve around the notion that if you walk into a room full of 25 people, one of them is destined to be your soulmate. This means every time I go to the grocery store, I've got at least three soulmates in there somewhere. Go to the Pearl Jam concert at the iWi this October and if it sells out, you could have 480 soulmates of varying gender in the crowd. Heck, by that math, there's a 20% chance that your soulmate is IN Pearl Jam.

This season, our bachelorette is Andi. She was a former contestant on "The Bachelor," but she famously dumped Juan Pablo, who was an egotistical jerkface but alright in my book because "Juan Pablo" is fun to say. The episode starts with a montage of Andi's backstory, who is apparantly an important lawyer because we see clips of her looking all important and lawyerish.

This is a great choice. She's a smart cookie, plus she's already dumped a Bachelor, so she knows this show is nonsense. She should bring a level head and some gravitas to the show, right?

Nope. As soon as we learn that she's a successful lawyer who loves her job, she tells us that she's just QUIT her job because she'd rather take her chance on the executives at ABC playing matchmaker. She moves into the mansion, puts on a designer dress, and tells the camera this is her "first step at finding who I'm going to spend the rest of my life with." Then she goes out to the driveway to greet her 25 suitors.

One by one they show up. "Hi, I'm Jason, I'm a doctor." "I'm Rudie, I'm an attorney."

Bullhonky, unless they're doctoring and attorneying on a part time basis during the few brief moments that they leave the gym. Every one of these dudes has an expensive suit, a chiseled jaw, and a flawless physique. Oh, except for the one nerdy guy who we know is nerdy because he has an expensive suit, a chiseled jaw, and a flawless physique, BUT... he's wearing a bow-tie. What a nerd.

They all use pick-up lines that make you cringe to be male. One actually goes, "Hi, I'm Emil -- like 'anal' with an m." Really, dude? You've had 33 years to live with the name Emil and THAT'S your go-to line? Then they all head in the house, have even more awkward small talk about how handsome they all are, and then she has to pick some guys to evict. That's when the roses came out and I finally shut the TV off. I have no idea who got kicked out. I'm hoping it was Anal.

But what would reality be like on this show? What would happen if Andi got all dolled up, walked outside, and I roll up in my Hyundai Elantra and hobble out on my bum ankle in an Oasis t-shirt and wrinkled khakis?

For one, I'm pretty sure I'd trip and fall on my way down that sidewalk. Beautiful girl aside, there's no way I could ignore the camera crew and the knowledge that my every move was being watched by millions. My only thought would be, "You're walking weird. Don't walk weird. Look confident! Wait, how does 'confident' look?" And by then, I'd already be faceplanting and snapping ankles aplenty.

If I was lucky enough to make it down the sidewalk, I certainly wouldn't be able to pull off a pickup line. I'd probably mumble, "Hey I'm Shane" and she'd go, "Lane?" and I'd go "No, Shane" and she'd go "Dwayne?" and I'd probably go, "Close enough. I like video games and cats. Here's a mixtape. Does this house have wi-fi? Oh, and I'm allergic to roses, so I'll be needing Claritin."

MOST importantly, I wouldn't say something like, "I hope you like me." My real thought process would be "I hope I like YOU, because quitting a supposedly successful and fulfilling job to hang out in some phony mansion with a bunch of vapid bo-hunks in hopes of finding some kind of ABC-created love-at-first-sight doesn't say a whole lot about you as a person."

I know, I shouldn't view this show as anything more than ridiculous entertainment. But it's ridiculous entertainment that a LOT of people watch, and that worries me. It's got to be rubbing off on its viewers at least a LITTLE bit. Are shows like this making it THAT much harder for normal schlubs like me to find a date? Are women watching this tripe and starting to equate love with bad pickup lines from Channing Tatum lookalikes?

I might be a romantic at heart, but I'm also a realist. I still believe I've got some soulmates in this crazy world, but I'm not going to find one by grabbing the first 25 girls I see. Still, I'm not going to stop believing in true love. The only thing I'm going to stop doing... is watching this show.


In my world, boredom usually results in one of two things happening. Either I end up spending the next six hours binge-watching something completely ridiculous like "Ice Road Truckers," or I end up in a car driving around with my best friend Jason wondering what the rest of the world does when THEY get bored.

The other night, I graduated to a newfound five-O level of boredom. That's right, I was booooored. Thankfully, there were no episodes of "Ice Road Truckers" to be found. This was a good thing, because the weather was nice and the walls of my house were closing in around me. One phone call and thirty minutes later, Jason and I found ourselves wasting gas on what was likely the 11,000th Quad Cities driving tour of our 20+ year friendship.

"We should shake things up this year," I said. "Do something different."
"Like what?" asked Jason.
"No clue," I admitted.
"We could join a fraternity."

Now there's a sentence I hadn't heard since college.

"I don't think we could pass for sophomores anymore, dude."
"Not THAT kind of fraternity," Jason said, pointing. "THIS kind of fraternity."

I looked out the window and we were passing one of those lodge/club/hall places.

"Ohhh," I said. "Isn't that for grey-hairs who like to sit around all night?"

That was when I caught a glance in the mirror of the sun glistening off the crop of silver hairs that I steadfastly refuse to believe are growing out of MY head.

"And you've pretty much made a career of sitting around all night."

Fair point. But joining one of those fraternal order society thingamajigs? I don't know if that's exactly my style. Then again, it wouldn't be the first time.

Yes, I was a "fraternity man" at college. The late, great Zeta Omega Omega, or ZOO for short. We were proudly the un-frat frat, though. There was no pledging, hazing, or initiation. Basically, it was just an excuse to throw parties. Did I really make a good frat guy? Hardly. I'm pretty sure half the guys never cared for me then or now. No, I think my joining owed a lot more to my desperate and shallow need for acceptance and their need for a DJ who'd work for free.

Still, it was a great experience. Some of the guys in that group I count among my closest friends for life. We've got alumni spread out all the country, and it's nice to know that wherever I roam, someone's got my back. So maybe I shouldn't turn my back on frat life just because I'm a boring, mature adult-type person.

There's just a few kinks in the plan. I'm not Catholic, so I don't think I can be a Knight of Columbus. And I'm pretty sure the Veterans of Foreign Wars (who are somewhat fraternal but not a fraternity) have this pesky rule about needing to be a veteran of a foreign war. As for the rest of them, I'd never survive the vote. I might still be desperate for acceptance, but I don't think the Moose or the Elk are in dire need of a hip-hop DJ, even if I work free (which I wouldn't. Wisdom comes with age.)

Let's face it. If I want to be in a fraternity, I'm probably gonna need to start my own. And that's how Jason and I spent the remainder of our drive: plotting our super cool awesome neat-o frat that everyone will want to join just as soon as we win the lottery and have enough money to found it. Don't worry, we worked out all the details. We need:

• A cool name. Elk and moose and eagles are all fine animals, don't get me wrong. But we need our frat to convey power and mysticism and to strike fear into the hearts of goats worldwide. That's why we've settled on The Royal Order of the Knights of the Chupacabra.

• Sweet hats. All frats have ridiculous headgear, or at least they should. I figure since nobody really knows what a chupacabra looks like, we can just glue some cat hair onto a beanie and call it a thing, right?

• Tiny cars. No offense to you Shriners, but you guys can't have the lock on the awesome red hats AND the tiny cars. It's just not fair. We want in on that action.

• Spooky mysterious symbols everywhere. No one will know what they mean, because they will mean nothing. But we need to constantly pretend as if the Chupacabra secretly run the government, possess the Holy Grail, have ties with the Illuminati, faked the moon landings, and are hiding reptilian humanoids behind our window-less meeting halls. In reality, of course, we'll be inside listening to the Wu-Tang Clan, eating Doritos, and probably binge-watching "Ice Road Truckers."

• GIRLS. A fraternity by definition is an organized society of men dedicated to the intellectual, physical, and social development of its members. But when I was in ZOO, pretty much our only priority was seeing to it that cute girls came to our parties. So the honorable Knights of the Chupacabra will henceforth be a uni-ternity and let women in upon request. I hope they like "Ice Road Truckers."

• An open door policy. The only thing we Chupacabra will discriminate against are jerkwads. If you're really abhorrent and annoying, no way. But if you're a decent person, you're in. If you can DJ for free, you're in faster -- I'm going to be a little busy, what with all the truckers and ice roads and such.

I know absolutely nothing about the fraternal organizations of the Quad Cities, so I plead ignorant. You guys do great things for the community, and I've played trivia and DJed parties in many of your fine rental halls. So please don't think I'm teasing you with this column. Truth is, I'm jealous and curious and desperate for acceptance. You've all been nothing but nice to me, and I hope you'll extend the same courtesy when the Ancient Mystical Benevolent Fraternal Order of the 33rd Rite of the Mighty Chupacabra come to town. Look for us on a parade route near you.

COLUMN: Believe

Do you guys remember the poster that hung in Fox Mulder's office in the background of nearly every episode of "The X-Files"? It was simple and it was perfect: "I WANT TO BELIEVE." It may as well be my official motto.

Like any other card-carrying geek, I'm a huge supporter of the unknown. If it's weird, wacky or left-of-center, odds are pretty good that I'm a fan. I don't care if it flies in the face of reason or requires a moderate suspension of rational thought, I still want to believe. We live in a pretty nifty world, but sometimes life can be just a tad mundane. What's wrong with spicing things up a bit with some unexplained hocum-pocum? Last weekend was the first-ever Quad Cities Psychic & Paranormal Fair at the iWireless center, and you better believe I had it marked on my calendar.

I want to believe in E.T. The universe is just waaaay too big for our tiny rock to be its only lodgers. I've never been on a night drive in the country without at least once glancing towards the heavens and hoping to see some unexplainable light in the sky or a cosmic passerby giving me a thumbs-up.

I want to believe in the spirit world. I've never missed an episode of "Ghost Hunters," even though their only solid evidence of the paranormal usually ends up being a creaky old building that makes creaky weird noises (which I'm pretty sure is the POINT of creaky old buildings in the first place, no?) Sometimes they capture an "EVP" (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) on a recorder. To me, these EVP's come across as muddled noise that kinda sounds like "mfphrargledifoop," yet ask a paranormal investigator and they're bound to hear the same thing and go, "This is concrete evidence of a haunting, as you can clearly hear a disembodied voice saying 'Help me, for I am a ghost, so like 'boo' and stuff.'"

I want to believe in mysticism, pseudoscience, and parapsychology. In some ways, I already do. I've been trained in Transcendental Meditation and I buy into its many benefits. I swear to you all that elderberry syrup cures the common cold. And I yearn to believe in psychics for one sole reason: Once upon a time, my mom went to one and was told in no uncertain terms that her only son (me) might very well be a reincarnation of Christ (true story), which admittedly would go a long way towards my ultimate goal of one day ruling the world with a cold iron fist.

I want to believe in monsters. I want there to be fanged chupacabras lurking in the Southwest, Sasquatches foraging through mountain forests, Devils in Jersey, and Nessies in Lochs. Of course, I probably say this because I don't live near the Southwest, a mountain forest, New Jersey, or Loch Ness. If routine monster avoidance was part of my daily commute, something tells me I wouldn't be so much of a fan. If it can kill somebody else on the other side of the planet, I'm fascinated. If it can kill ME, I'm terrified.

That right there is the flip side of the paranormal coin: If there really ARE things that go bump in the night, it might not be the best of news. Even deep thinkers like Stephen Hawking believe that aliens exist, but it was Hawking himself who recently pointed out that we shouldn't be too keen to make their acquaintance. Take it from Christopher Columbus, intrepid adventurers don't often take long journeys just to say hi and take some pictures.

Odds are pretty high that if any aliens ever were to set foot on Earth, they wouldn't be the smiling claymation stuff of Spielberg movies. They might just want to harvest our brains. Plus, if you believe the stories, the only task aliens seem concerned with is abducting rednecks and shoving things up their nether-regions. I like the fantasy of one day seeing a UFO, but if the reality ends up being an amateur colonoscopy, I'll take an interstellar rain check.

Same goes for ghosts. I've been on a handful of paranormal investigations, and once upon a time I was even the Quad Cities' rep for a major midwest paranormal team. If somebody in town called them and reported a haunting, it was my job to go and interview the family and scout out the location. But if I'd have walked into one of those basements and seen a real ghost with my own eyes, I would've peed myself directly on the spot. Ghosts aren't well-known for their kindness. You don't hear stories like, "Friendly ghost assists local man with housework."

Another true story: I have a friend who works at a Davenport school, and this week, the microwave in her break room started turning itself on and off while displaying "666" on the digital readout. She thinks it's interesting fun. I'd be barricading myself in a church.

More than anything, though, I'm burdened by logic and a pesky natural skepticism. If psychics were real, wouldn't our president consult with them routinely? And even if you could accept that a cunning race of stealthy Bigfeet could have somehow escaped detection for centuries, wouldn't some Grizzly Adams-type have found some Big bones by now? And if I really AM a reincarnation of Christ, wouldn't I have better things to do than lay here on this couch typing on a laptop with a mouth full of Doritos?

I want to believe... but I'm a skeptic, and I never realized quite how much until I stepped into the heart of it all at the iWi last weekend. More than maybe anyone else in town, I was yearning for the event to be a raging success. By all accounts, it was. The parking lot was full when I showed up and the foot traffic was body-to-body. I hope it becomes an annual event, and if it does, I'll be there every year to soak it all in.

Too bad, though, that it was such a tough pill to swallow. I mean, I think crystals are neat and pretty and a wonder of nature. I do not, however, believe that placing them strategically around my chakra points will make my ankle stop aching. I'm not seeing the evidence that an amethyst is going to protect me from "treachery and surprise attacks." I don't believe tumbled rocks have magical powers, and I'm not sure if the shamanic healer I saw was being entirely truthful when I overheard him claim he was being assaulted by an attendee's "pointy aura."

But I still loved it. And just because I'm a skeptic now doesn't mean that one day I won't live in a crystal house and allow tarot cards to make all of my life's decisions. You guys just need to bring it even harder next time. I promise I'll be there. I can't help myself. Just like Fox Mulder, I want to believe.