Thursday, August 28, 2014


When I got off work last Monday, I had no idea it would be one of the greatest nights of my life. Not until I got the text.

Once upon a Shane many moons ago, my first serious girlfriend made me a mixtape. It included a quick three-minute jam called "A New England" by the British singer/songwriter Billy Bragg. It's a break-up song, and I recall being somewhat concerned at the time about the message it was sending. Still, there was something compelling about the harsh minimalism of a thickly accented guy violently strumming an electric guitar while wailing, "I don't want to change the world; I'm not looking for a new England; I'm just looking for another girl."

My relationship with that girlfriend fizzled out like a flat soda, but that mixtape forever launched my love affair with the music of Billy Bragg. Is he a folk singer? A pop star? Political activist? Unashamed leftist? Better check "all of the above." Since 1983, Bragg has mixed pop and politics with romance and realism while never shying away from his primary causes of championing the working man and defending basic human rights.

This hasn't won him too many friends in big business and government. Bragg's unapologetic outspokenness has gotten him banned from airwaves and attacked from the right, but as he sings, "Here comes the future and you can't run from it / If you've got a blacklist, I wanna be on it." More recently, he and the band Wilco collaborated on a series of records setting the unrecorded lyrics of Woody Guthrie to music. In short, the guy's a legend and a personal hero of mine.

Which brings me to last Monday, and the simple text I got while on the way to Davenport: "Billy Bragg is at Theo's. Now."

Kids, texting and driving is illegal and wrong and bad. And getting a text like THAT while you're at the midway point on the I-74 bridge is damn near life-threatening. The headline to this article could very well have been, "Local Columnist Plunges Into Mississippi; Ill-Timed Nerdgasm to Blame." I fumbled for the (HANDS-FREE, I SWEAR) phone to reply, but it went straight to voicemail. What the WHAT?

I did the only thing I possibly could, which was to execute a quick turnaround of questionable legality and get Illinois-bound. If you were cut off last Monday by a Hyundai Elantra driven by a fumbling, sweaty mess, all I can do is apologize. I'll guarantee you I wasn't the only one driving like a lunatic to downtown Rock Island at that moment.

I still hadn't heard back from anyone by the time I arrived at the doorstep of Theo's Java Club. When I ran inside, I saw three people enjoying what appeared to be a routine Monday night at the coffeeshop -- except one of those three people was Billy Bragg -- and he was setting up to play. Again, WHAT THE WHAT?

"He came in this afternoon out of the blue," explained owner Theo Grevas. "He asked to see some of the old Rock Island memorabilia we had hanging up. I was showing him some of the pieces, and he saw our stage. Next thing I knew, he asked me if he could play."

One of the other people in the club was my friend Greg Thompson. A proud union man and former mainstay behind the counter at Co-Op Records, Greg was one of the first to find out about the impromptu show and the one responsible for spreading the word.

Within minutes, Theo's was packed with 50 or so lucky music nerds just as confused about what was going on as I was. Well, I was confused until I strolled up to Billy Bragg and sheepishly asked him what on Earth he was doing in the Quad-Cities.

It was due to Aperture magazine. Later this year, it's hosting an event in New York to celebrate the 90th birthday of photographer Robert Frank, famous for his book "The Americans" and his friendship with Jack Kerouac and Abbie Hoffman. The event will be headlined by Bragg and fellow folk singer Joe Purdy. To augment the performance, Aperture sent Bragg, Purdy and a camera crew out on a weeklong road trip of their choice. They chose Rock Island.

"The reason I wanted to come here," Bragg explained later from the stage, "was because of the song 'The Rock Island Line.' Leadbelly made it famous in the 1940s, but in 1956, a British guy named Lonny Donegan covered it. His version became a huge hit in my country and sparked off a musical craze called skiffle. Out of skiffle came all the great bands of the '60s. I've always wanted to come to Rock Island for that reason: to find whatever remnants there are of the Rock Island Line.

"Over the next week, we're going to trace it down to Arkansas. Tomorrow, we're going to the Iowa State Pen down in Fort Madison, and they want us to play a few songs. As Joe and I have never officially performed together, we figured we could rehearse over there in the Holiday Inn, or we could do it here and enjoy ourselves and entertain you lot and have some coffee."

For the next hour, Bragg and Purdy dueted through a spontaneous set that mixed train songs with protest songs and some impromptu greatest hits. When Bragg dedicated George Perkins' "Cryin in the Streets" to the people of Ferguson, Mo., you could've heard a pin drop. When he launched into "There Is Power in a Union," I saw my hulking punk-rock friend Greg reduced to tears. A few minutes later, when I was some 20 feet away from the opening riff to "A New England," I was next.

And when they started to close with a sing-along of "The Rock Island Line," only to discover that a room full of Rock Islanders didn't know the lyrics, it was an embarrassing laugh-fest and proof positive that we didn't deserve such greatness.

Even Purdy was taken aback by the gig. "I just got here today," he told me later. "I got off the plane and called Billy. All we were supposed to do was take some pictures, but he goes, 'Oh, hey, I got us a gig tonight.' I should have expected it."

Billy Bragg was a hero of mine BEFORE this show. Now he's a full-on inspiration. The next day, their travels took them to Galesburg, where Billy jumped out and serenaded the striking teachers of my hometown. Ending up in St. Louis by nightfall, he quickly organized a food drive and benefit concert for the protesters in Ferguson.

"The true enemy of all of us who want to make the world a better place isn't capitalism or conservatism," he told the crowd there. "It's cynicism."

Color me optimistic.

COLUMN: High School Shane

It must be REALLY weird to be a teenager these days.

No other time in life is quite so spectacularly magically awkward. You want to be treated as an adult but you've got the decision-making skills of a lunatic. Your hormones are raging but you're not quite sure what to do with them. You start to (GIRLS!) think about (GIRLS!) what the future (GIRLS!) may hold (GIRLS!) Your life fills with worry -- specifically, the worry of acting lame in front of your friends and peers.

But just as those teenage hormones and emotions reach an unprecedented level, so too does the potential to embarass yourself in any number of ridiculous ways. Simple decisions like picking out what clothes to wear become crucial, high-stakes, potentially life-changing moves on the chess board of high school. And the Fresh Prince was right -- there's no need to argue, parents just don't understand.

That was the 1980's -- imagine what today's kids must feel like in a world where they showcase their lives from dawn til dusk. They can't even hang out without recapping it on Facebook, showing it off on Instagram, tweeting it to the masses, blogging about it on Tumblr, and sending racy pictures of it on Snapchat. The potential for documented drama is at an all-time high.

But when I was a kid, the highs and lows of high school were only ever really posted in one place -- and I just found mine.

When I went off to college, I left every closet, drawer, shelf, nook and cranny of my old room full of stuff -- and apparantly my long-standing gentleman's agreement for rent-free storage just ended. As I write this, my parents just pulled away from my house pulling an empty U-Haul. In my garage now sits the remnants of my entire adolescence in a dozen or so storage tubs. And what do I find in the very first one I open but my senior year memory book.

I've now spent the entire evening re-acquainting myself with High School Shane... and he was one odd fellow.

For one, I cannot believe how earnestly I completed this memory book. It's a fill-in-the-blank affair that asks things like, "My student council president was _________." "My homecoming queen was ________." "Our football team's record was ________."

I didn't care about ANY of that stuff in high school, I swear to you. I was a drama club geek who hung out with misfits and weirdos and punks and goths and we ALL rested in the knowledge that we were smarter and funnier than everyone else. Yet I filled out every one of these blanks with gusto and enthusiasm. And if I was funny in high school, you sure wouldn't know it by this thing.

Okay, talk to me, High School Shane. "My funniest moment was: Doing anything with Mark, Brian, and the gang. We usually ended up doing something insanely stupid yet hilariously funny at the same time." Err... I had a 'gang'? What were we, the Really Lame People Who Write Super Generic Answers In Our Memory Books Gang? And for what it's worth, my insanely stupid yet hilariously funny close friend and fellow gang member Mark signed the autograph section. It reads: "Shane, Leave Me Alone. -Mark."

What's my "Most Embarassing Moment," High School Shane? "Singing a bunch of old songs with the gang [Who ARE these people?!] in the auditorium during play rehearsal when the entire cast suddenly yelled 'SHUT UP SHANE!'" Okay, that sounds more like me.

"My Best Friend Is: Bruce" [TRUE. We've drifted apart but stay in touch and I'll always love him like a brother.] "What Makes Us Friends Is: Our mutual love for Cyndi Lauper's undergarments." [Fair enough.] "Things We Do Together: Make mixtapes." [Yep.] "For Fun We Usually: Make mixtapes." [Yep.] "What I Like Best About My Friend Is: He listens to cool music except for some stuff like Kiss and Lita Ford." [All true. And Bruce adds: "And I still like Lita Ford, so suck it."]

Back then, Bruce signed my memory book as follows: "Shane, We've gotten to be good friends this year which is really weird since we hated each other when we met. I've got one thing to say to you and only one thing: There is only one Debbie and that's Debbie Harry." I had almost forgotten our never-ending war of words as to the superior Debbie, Harry vs. Gibson. I remain defiantly Team Gibson.

Half these "memories" I don't remember at all. Apparantly for what I hope and pray was a very short while, my nickname was "Banger Stanger." As God is my witness, I have no clue what it means or being called that ever, yet I'm addressed as such throughout the book. There's a page devoted to my high school girlfriend: "Our First Date Was: A double with Brian and Jean and then Aaron crashed it, folded his napkin into a paper airplane, and sailed it into some guy's Afro at the salad bar." HOW CAN I NOT REMEMBER COMEDY GOLD LIKE THAT? Score one for Aaron.

Incidentally, that ex-girlfriend writes, and I quote, "I want to thank you for making my year so memberable. Have fun at college. Don't get any girls into trouble you stud. Love ya." Clearly post break-up, as noted by the ever-crucial changing of "love you" to "love ya."

Most every autograph references Rhetoric class, a particular hell of senior year and the only class I ever truly enjoyed working my tail off for. Mr. Diemer was a brutal taskmaster, but funny as all get out and the kind of teacher who replaced the desks in his classroom with sofas and recliners. He was a tough guy to impress, but you sure as heck tried your hardest to do it.

HIS autograph in my book? "Shawn, thanks for the work. Diemer." Sigh.

Visiting High School Shane gives me a lot of respect for the Shane I've become. I used to think that High School Shane was just a tinier version of my current self, but it's clear I've done a lot of growing up since those amazingly awkward 80s. Still, I wouldn't trade those memories (the ones I CAN remember) for the world. And just when I thought High School Shane was an entirely uninspired and uninteresting chap, I turned to the back page and there in the corner, written in teeny tiny print, a long time ago, a Shane far far away once wrote: "Is it just me or is the lamest book ever? People suck." Ahh, memories.

COLUMN: Petitions

We live in a hustle-bustle, take-no-prisoners, faster-than-light world, and sometimes it gets the better of me. Even something as simple as my weekly column moves at a pace slower than the modern world. What I write today won't see the light of print until Monday, but I'm writing this on the Wednesday prior. In my reality, "Sharknado 2" hasn't even premiered yet, but undoubtedly you've already seen it umpteen times by now. The entire way we view the world (or at least the way we view tornados filled with sharks) could have changed by the time you read this.

I like to be plugged in to the happenings of the world, but there just isn't enough time. I like to be on the progressive side of social activism, but sometimes I don't even know which side that IS. As news and events hurl their way through the global village like a sharknado of information, I can spend my entire day well-read, plugged-in, fully networked -- and still feel hopelessly insignifigant and out of the loop.

It's good, then, that we've invented a way for each of us to have our say. A way for us to change the world rather than just respond to it. A way for us to ensure that no matter how loud, fast, and furious things around us may get, our voice can still be heard -- even if that voice happens to be crazy-pants.

I speak, of course, about the magic of online petitions.

You've all seen them, right? "Congress just did such-and-such! This is a very (good/bad) thing! Click here to sign my petition to let Congress know what a (great/terrible) job they're doing!" If there's a cause in the world, there are petitions to support and/or condemn it. And now, thanks to innovative websites like Change.Org, anyone on the planet can log on and create a petition for any cause they want.

Go take a look and check out all the amazing petitions created by social revolutionaries who are truly making a difference. Then ignore ALL of those and go straight to the ones at the end clearly written by insane nutbags. THAT'S where the magic lives.

"Petition To Allow Robbie The Dog To Freely Interact With Daycare Children!" yells one of them, currently wielding 41 signatures. Apparently some lady's home daycare was up for inspection, and when the officials came to visit, kind little Robbie The Dog came out and tried to bite their hands off. For some reason, the officials now frown upon Robbie sharing space with a house full of wee kids. How unfair!

Another petition gathering momentum has a serious message: "Petition To Kick The Ebola Virus Out Of Liberia!" Because the Ebola virus, as we all know, pays careful attention to the world of online petitionry. I confess that I was unaware that the optimal way to deal with the world's scariest virus is to present it with a list of objectioners, look at it sternly, and tell it, "Go on, now! GIT!"

Six people have signed the one labeled, "ABC Family: Put More Jude and Connor Scenes Into 'The Fosters' And Maybe Make Them More Than Friends." 132 people urge Nintendo to build a real-life Nintendoland theme park. 16 people demand that Kellogg's bring back Yogos (whatever they are/were.) 21 people have signed a petition that reads, and I quote, "Keep the old Abercrombie & Fitch dark and sex sizzling!!"

Even the White House has joined in on the craze. Recently they launched their own petition website with a promise from the Oval Office to review and consider any petition that reaches over 100,000 online signatures. Of course, because the internet is the internet, one of the first to reach that benchmark was a petition urging the Obama administration to immediately secure funding for the construction of a fully functioning Death Star to be operational by 2016. And, remaining true to their word, the White House issued an official response written by Paul Shawcross, Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget:

"The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn't on the horizon... The Administration does not support blowing up planets. Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?"

And THAT is single-handedly the most awesome way that my tax dollars have ever been spent.

Another petition making its way up the White House site in a hurry demands that we change our national anthem from "The Star Spangled Banner" to the remix of R. Kelly's "Ignition." Count me in. Let's be honest, our national anthem is a great source of pride -- but it also has a weird melody, heavy lyrics, and is nearly impossible to sing unless you're Whitney Houston.

Or, as the petition states, "America has changed since Francis Scott Key penned our current anthem in 1814. Since then, we have realized that after the show, it's the afterparty; and after the party, it's the hotel lobby; and -- perhaps most importantly -- 'round about four you've got to clear the lobby, at which point it's strongly recommended that you take it to the room and freak somebody." FREEDOM. We could have the only national anthem in the world you can twerk to. If nothing else, We would clearly be the stars of the next Olympics (take THAT, Norweigan men's curling team.)

Why stop there? I say we fill the world with fantastically ridiculous petitions to constantly liven things up. First off, Justin Bieber has plagued our fragile Earth for too long, and it's high time we kicked him back to Canada -- if that petition doesn't hit 100,000, I'll eat my hat. From there, let it be a free-for-all. Let's try to ban the color yellow. Let's ask NBC to launch an All-Hasselhoff Channel (HOFF-TV.) Let's force everyone to use the metric system, but only on even-numbered days when the temperature falls below 40 degrees (I mean, 4.4 degrees Celcius.) Let's demand that N*Sync reunite annually for a 4th of July concert to perform the national anthem OR the remix to "Ignition," whichever ends up being applicable. Let's show this global village who's boss.

...right after I finish this petition demanding "Sharknado 3."

COLUMN: Top Chef

I'm beginning to notice a disturbing trend amongst my friends. Maybe it's because a majority have moved away to larger cities in lands afar. Perhaps their career paths have led them into different social circles. Heck, maybe it's because we're all getting older and our interests are evolving.

One thing's for certain though: An alarming number of my friends are becoming foodies.

A buddy of mine from college recently threw in the towel on a burgeoning IT career to go to culinary school. He's now working his way up the literal food chain of Chicago sous chefs and is happy as a clam (unless you count the clams he now steams for a living.)

Another friend of mine just took to Facebook to debate the superior growing season of 2011 that led to the uncommonly high quality of pinot noir from the Oregon region. This from a guy who I'm pretty sure in college ate nothing BUT Ragu spaghetti and once drove me mental on a road trip by subsiding on little more than bag after bag of Corn Nuts.

Still, I won't knock his newfound love of fine cuisine. Last year, his girlfriend entered Sutter Home's Build-A-Better-Burger contest and walked away with a free trip to California and the grand prize of $25,000. She was even a contestant on an episode of "Chopped" last season. I just want to know where it all came from. It sure wasn't from our formative college years, because those were mostly spent in fast food drive-thru lanes.

The real reason I harp about this, of course, is that I'm a tad bit jealous. I feel like my friends have all joined a club that I don't get to be a member of. The most exciting culinary development that's happened in MY life is Taco Bell's breakfast menu.

I'm the only human being I know capable of ruining a frozen pizza. Once I went hungry because I thought frying an egg was beyond my skill level. On one special occasion, I seriously thought I could impress a girl with my home cooking finesse by pouring a can of chunk ham into some Hamburger Helper (or, knowing my budget back then, Panburger Partner) and covering it with parmesan cheese. The sad truth is that I STILL think Chunk Ham Panburger Parmesan Surprise is a pretty tasty treat to this day.

Along the road of life, somehow my friends managed to evolve beyond "Peel back film. Stir entree. Replace film and continue microwaving for one minute. CAUTION: Contents will be hot." But if there was a class or something, I sure missed the sign-up.

I may not know how to wield a spatula, but I'm pretty good with a TV remote. That's how I discovered that Hulu recently added "Top Chef" to its streaming service. Here was a world of endless possibility. Not only could I entertain myself with a TV show I had yet to binge on, but after a few episodes, I should be a cooking expert, no?


I've now watched 3.5 seasons of "Top Chef," and I love it. Watching a room full of egotistical bitchy chefs snipe at one another while slowly wilting under pressure is top notch entertainment.

What "Top Chef" doesn't teach you, though, is how to cook. At least not human food.

Most of what these chefs come up with barely resembles food. It's more like marginally edible art. You don't hear things like, "Here's some spam I fried up. It's pretty yummy." It's more like, "What we have here is a braised bison quarterling in a reduction of mango bacon chutney compote atop some pureed cauliflower and ginger root gastrique resting upon hearts of palm that I infused with an emulsion of eucalyptus and caviar. Enjoy." Come on, that's not even English, is it?

Some of the food comes out so weird that I wouldn't even know how to EAT it, let alone cook it. What's broccolini? Why do half the recipes involve something called hiccoma which is actually spelled "jicama" and is, apparantly, a Mexican turnip? The judges rave about flavor combinations while I get mad when the corn touches the mashed potatoes in my TV dinners.

How can these competitions be judged with any true accuracy? Aren't there some foods you just like and some foods you just don't? I hate onions and peppers and mushrooms. You could serve me the world's greatest onion, pepper, and mushroom medley ever created and I'd still spit it out because, well, eww.

And maybe there's the problem. Every season, they do one or two challenges where the chefs have to make some complicated dish and then serve it to average Joe schoolkids or firefighters or whatever. And the losing chef always says the same thing: "I can't help it if these people don't have refined enough palates to appreciate my dish."

So that's it, then. It's not that you're a bad chef, it's that all of us common folk are bad EATERS? It's MY fault? Is a refined palate truly what happens after you've grown to appreciate the intricacies of fine cuisine? Or is it what happens when you're SO pretentious that you're able to convince yourself that weird stuff tastes good?

I'm pretty much cool with the palate I was born with, thanks. We need a cooking show for people like me. Just get a bunch of clueless dudes who can't cook, put them in a kitchen, and then the first challenge should be, "Microwave a hot dog!" It's a show people could appreciate AND maybe actually learn something other than "pretentious people are pretentious," which seems to be the takeaway from "Top Chef." Besides, I'd love to know how to microwave a hot dog without the thing splitting apart and having little hot dog innards come oozing out the middle like alien babies.

I may wear many hats in life -- writer, consultant, DJ, music nerd, couch potato -- but it doesn't look like "foodie" is in the cards for this guy. Still, I'm going to keep on watching "Top Chef" because it's fun to watch snobs fight over souffles. And who knows, maybe I'll eventually learn a thing or two. Perhaps some mango bacon chutney compote is exactly what I need to elevate Chunk Ham Panburger Parmesan Surprise to the next level.

COLUMN: Blog Stats 3

It's good that the internet exists.

It serves as an information hub of immense scope and resource. It unites us together as a people in ways we never thought possible. It has revolutionized the way mankind communicates.

But most importantly, it gives us a daily reminder that no matter how weird we might think we are, there's always someone a whole lot weirder out there.

Don't believe me? Do you know that there's an entire website out there devoted to erotic fan-fiction involving the late Roy Orbison covered in Saran Wrap? I kid you not. Wanna see squirrels shooting laser guns? There's a site for that. Dancing anime Arnold Schwarzeneggers in bikinis? There's a site for that. The internet is the perfect place to let your freak flag fly.

Nowhere is this more evident than on the stat tracker page of my blog.

I keep all of my old columns online at, and I've got a little program on there that keeps track of visitors. Let's say you go to Google, search for a particular phrase, and somehow get routed to MY blog. My stat tracker records what you searched for in order to end up in my neck of cyberspace. The results are nothing less than a perfect glimpse at just how strange the rest of the world really is.

For instance, at some point in the 486 columns I've had published, I used the word "sex." Somewhere along the line, I've also innocuously used the word "rabbit" and the word "hot."

As a result, there's a chance you could now get linked to MY blog by Googling the phrase "hot rabbit sex" -- which, in fact, happened this month to some poor innocent pervert who clearly went online for an evening of clandestine XXX bunny action. Imagine his disappointment when he instead landed on the website of a socially awkward newspaper columnist with a penchant for writing about cats and Katie Holmes.

But "hot rabbit sex" is only the start of the cyber weirdness that's at one time or another crossed paths with my site. What follows is a list of actual Google keyword searches that have led folks to my blog at some point or other in the past year:

• "BEAT UP BY OLD LADY" - Great. Write ONE column about getting threatened in the Walgreens checkout lane by a senior citizen and I become an expert in defending oneself against the elderly. I suppose there are worse reputations to be had.

• "SLIGHTLY USED PERFORMANCE HORSE" - The sad thing is that I know why this happened. Through keen research and a naturally inquisitive nature and absolutely NOT because I'm shallow enough to sit around and Google my own name, I know that "" is the commercial web portal for "Shane Brown Performance Horses" (motto: "Delivering on the Promise of Excellence.")

As much as I like to think that I run the entire world, I am NOT the Shane Brown of Shane Brown Performance Horses. That's some OTHER Shane Brown who's clearly using MY name in order to ride these coattails to fame and glory in the equine industry. Still, I'm moderately interested in what makes a horse "performance"-worthy, and I'm especially curious to find out how one becomes "slightly used."

• "SONGS THAT MAKE ME VOMIT" - I'd like to have been privy to this conversation.

"Hey, Ed, what are you up to tonight? Wanna go hit up a club?"
"Naw, sorry, Jasper. I've got plans."
"Oh, you do, eh? What's on your agenda?"
"Well, I was gonna sit here, listen to some music, and regurgitate."
"Good times."
"Good times, indeed, my friend."

Helpful advice: If you go out to a nightclub and end up barfing, it's probably not the song's fault. I'm just sayin'.

• "GREG DWYER UNDERWEAR PREFERENCE" - I've got to admit, a part of me was a little bummed out that it wasn't "Shane Brown Underwear Preference." (Answer: Boxer briefs. Comfort AND security. Not that you care.) Instead, though, someone in cyberspace clearly holds deep concern as to the undergarment situation of 50% of the Quad Cities' most popular DJ duo. Well, I am nothing if not a consummate journalist, so I'll get to the "bottom" of this situation if no-one else will. It just so happens that 97X morning jock Greg Dwyer is a friend, so I just shot him an e-mail to find out, once and for all, what "GREG DWYER UNDERWEAR PREFERENCE" really is. This is his actual response:

From: Dwyer - "Wait, you want to know MY preference for YOUR underwear? I'd have to say zebra thong."

Reply from: Shane - "No, dork. YOUR underwear. A curious public waits with bated breath."

From: Dwyer - "For me? Well, like Bill Murray says, 'I rarely wear underwear, and when I do, it's something unusual...'"

So there you have it. And the best part is that I've now said the words "jock" and "underwear" in close enough proximity to make future keyword searches even more alarming. Huzzah.

• "WHAT DOES MILKY DISCHARGE MEAN?" - I am not a doctor. I don't even play one on TV. But I'm pretty sure it means you need to get off the computer and get yourself to a hospital. I might even suggest running. Seriously, leave now.

• "WHAT IS FINGERS?" - What's worse -- not knowing your own phalanges or not knowing how to conjugate a verb?

• "IS SHANE BROWN A JERK IN REAL LIFE?" - My guess is that they're once again talking about the performance horse guy. I'm not shallow enough to assume that everyone on Google who types "Shane Brown" is looking for me. But for the sake of argument, let's pretend that everyone on Google who types "Shane Brown" is looking for me because I'm super awesome.

And if THAT'S the case, then the answer is entirely contingent on the situation. If you're a stranger and you say hi, I'm not a jerk. If you're a stranger and you say hi by nearly running me over in your car and making me late for work, I might be a jerk. If you're at a dance club, spot me DJing, and come request a song, I'm not a jerk. If you're requesting that song 5 minutes before closing time and your breath smells like Southern Comfort and you rain spittle onto my face while requesting that stupid "Fancy" song even though I've already played it 4 times but you HAVE to hear it one more time because "isss myy frennnnz birrrthdaaay"? Then it's pretty much guaranteed that I'm gonna be a jerk.

But most of the time, you'll just have to settle for me being incredibly shy, socially awkward, and bereft of normal conversation skills. That doesn't make me a jerk. It just makes me weird. But as I've learned today, weird is fine. Weird is normal. As long as it doesn't come with any form of milky discharge.

COLUMN: Vision Pt. 3

When I found out last month that I needed glasses, I never expected to be babbling about it for three columns in a row. Sorry, everybody. But as it turns out, the spectacle of my new spectacles has been pretty spectacular. It's all I can focus on, and it's all I CAN'T focus without. Worse yet, I can't even figure out if they're working properly. All I know is that I hate them.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my eye exam. Last week, I wrote about picking out the frames. I thought that would be the end of all the hard stuff. It turns out it was just the beginning. After settling on a pair of frames and making good on the bill, the glasses were mine -- except that they weren't. This being my first foray into professional eyewear, in my naivety I guess I just assumed they'd pull the finished glasses out of the ether, stick them on my face, and I'd suddenly be a happy and quite literal visionary. Of course it doesn't work that way.

First, the lenses needed to be ordered and made. Then, using high tech precision equipment, the finished lenses are inserted into the frames. Once everything looks ship-shape, only then do I get the phone call to come pick up my geeky new fashion accessory.

The moment the optician put the glasses on my head, I knew what was coming.

"Oh, wow, they're really sitting crooked on you!"

Yep. Tell me something I don't know.

The human body is an amazing machine. Whether you favor evolution or intelligent design, you've got to admit that the end result is nothing less than a genetic masterpiece and the one true wonder of this world. The top part of MY body, though, is more like what happens when the intelligent designers decide to knock off early and play with a Mr. Potato-Head.

My ears are uneven. REALLY uneven. By a noticeable margin, my left ear sits higher on my head than my right. As a result, any pair of glasses that sit naturally on my ears end up going across my face at a 20 degree slant. The only recourse is to radically twist the frames to get them to fit my stubbornly asymmetrical head. This also explains why I usually end each summer with a pile of broken sunglasses, because I'm constantly bending the frames until they snap.

"Now, you may experience a moderate fishbowl effect until you get used to wearing them," she explained to me. "Just give it a few days."

I've now given it a few days, and one thing's for sure: if you have fish in a bowl in your house, KILL THEM NOW. Take Goldie and Mr. Flipper and just launch them down your toilet to a watery grave... because if those poor creatures are seeing what I've been seeing for the past two weeks, death is the only humane solution.

"Fishbowl effect" doesn't begin to describe the weirdness. With the glasses on, I have no depth perception, except when I'm watching TV and it looks like EVERYTHING is in 3D. It feels like the glasses are literally trying to suck my right eye out of its socket. The minute I put them on, I get weird vertigo, which is the very condition that led me to the optometrist in the first place.

Still, everyone told me it'd be weird at first and I'd eventually get over it, so I gave it the old college try -- for about 3 hours. Then I realized something was REALLY off. My phone rang and I went to pick it up, and was a little distracted by the fact that the screen was no longer rectangular. With the glasses on, it was more like a trapezoid - small on the left, big on the right. The more I paid attention, EVERYTHING was trapezoidal. This was more than a "fishbowl effect," this was straight up funhouse-mirror wonkiness. I took the glasses back the next day and they went to run some tests on the lenses.

"Well, first off, one of the lenses is chipped already."

What the...? But she was right. One of the lenses had a tiny chip at the base of the frame, exactly at the spot where the other optician had spent countless minutes bending them the day before. So they took the glasses back and ordered a new pair. This was the start of the fun.

Pair #2 arrived three days later, but before I could pick them up, one of the lenses shattered while the optician was putting it into the frame. Five days later, pair #3 showed up. Those lasted in my hands for about 45 minutes when I noticed that they, too, had a chip in the exact same spot. Pair #4 just showed up yesterday. So far, no chips. This time, the manager installed the lenses herself while I watched, and got to see her use the aforementioned high tech precision installation equipment first-hand -- which turned out to be a thumbtack and some fishing line (wing and a prayer sold separately.)

For now, I'm still living in a trapezoidal wonderland. They want me to give it a full week or two before I consider getting re-checked for a new prescription, so I'm typing this by pushing little trapezoid keys while staring at a trapezoid screen.

Worse yet, I think they're right. I went online to see if others had experienced the same problem. I had only typed "TRAPEZ" into a search engine before it tried to fill it in with "TRAPEZOID EFFECT NEW GLASSES." It appears I'm not the only one. From what I've read, in a case like mine where one eye has bad astigmatism while the other is still fairly decent, your brain has had years of practice at compensating for the bad vision -- and suddenly when that vision is fixed with glasses, your brain is STILL trying to compensate for what it thinks is a weaker eye, and hence it causes the trapezoid thing.

So I'm going to give it some time and spend the coming weeks trying to get used to it. Thanks to my newfound lack of depth perception, I already stepped in a hole this weekend and sprained my ankle. Good times so far. So if you see me out and about walking like a Weeble Wobble, I promise you I'm not drunk. If I bump into you, I swear I'm not trying to cop a feel. And if I stare at you funny, it's only because you look like a trapezoid. If this is what perfect vision is like, I might just prefer the blur.

COLUMN: Vision Pt. 2

If you happened to catch my column last week, you'll know that I was recently given some bad news. Despite widely-held public opinion and my own personal belief system, it turns out that I am (sniffle) NOT perfect.

After a week of working closely here at the paper with our legal notices and their notoriously itty bitty print, I was stricken with headaches, a twitch in my right eye, and even got a bit wobbly when I stopped staring at a computer screen and walked out into the sun. A quick trip to the optometrist confirmed my fears: I needed glasses. Worse yet, the doc told me that, and I quote, "once you get into your forties, most people start having some vision problems."

So that's it, then. I'm not only imperfect, I'm imperfect and OLD. I've gone from having near-perfect vision to being near-sighted, astigmatic, and elderly. Quad Cities, your hero has fallen.

Since I hadn't visited an eye doctor since Reagan was in office, I knew fully well that my impaired vision was likely a long time in the making and had absolutely nothing to do with my week-long assignment at the legals desk. Still, it made for a good scapegoat while I was blurrily looking for something to be mad at. I left the exam room grumbly, agitated, and wondering just how weird bi-focals would be. That's when I looked up (with my one good eye, apparently) and spotted none other than this paper's managing editor waiting in the optometrist's lobby. I was in attack mode before he could even say a friendly hello.

"J'accuse!" I exclaimed. "THIS is what happens when you put me on the legals desk for a week! I'm RUINED!" Much awkward laughter ensued.

Of course, later I realized that our managing editor had absolutely nothing to do with my temporary assignment on the legals desk and probably didn't even have a clue that I'd been covering there for the past week. As far as he was concerned, he was just taking his wife to the eye doctor when I suddenly leapt out of a door babbling like a crazy person.

The good news is that crazy babbling and awkward laughter is my standard go-to behavior, so I don't think he was especially taken aback -- and a week later, I still appear to be gainfully employed, so I must not have been any more idiotic than usual.

But speaking of nervous laughter, my diagnosis was only the START of my problems.

"Ahem," interrupted the patient optician. "You need to pick out some frames."

Uh oh. If there's one thing my friends can attest to, it's that I should never be in charge of my own fashion choices. My oft-worn and cherished Greek fisherman's cap alone is proof of this, not to mention the back corner of my closet known as "the rayon graveyard." Picking out glasses is far too important a task for a fashion amateur such as myself. This was my opportunity to look distinguished, dignified, and add a little bit of class to my daily ensemble. If left in MY hands, I guarantee I'd walk out of that office looking like 1978 Elton John.

"I'm an idiot at this kinda stuff," I fessed. "Not to mention, apparently I'm blind. Are you good at this sorta thing?"

Thankfully, she was -- and I needed the help. We walked over to the display cases where I was greeted by about 1000 different frames that all looked perfectly identical to me. Okay, some were slightly different colors and slightly different widths, but there's only so many things you can do with a pair of glass rectangles, right? I had no idea where to turn first.

So for fun, I turned to the designer wall, full of frames that looked just like all the others, except for the price tags, which were considerably weightier. The good news is that I now know what a $400 pair of frames look like. The bad news is that they look EXACTLY like the $50 ones.

This is what I don't get about high fashion. Argue all you want, but the way I see it, most people wear designer fashion for one reason only: to show the rest of us schlubs that they can afford designer fashion. If I'm going to spend a zillion dollars on a pair of Prada glasses, they'd better glow in the dark with LED lights that say "PRADA" across the lenses. Instead, Prada glasses come with a Prada logo so tiny that you'd need another pair of Prada glasses to be able to see it. No thanks. Besides, spending $400 on a pair of frames is karmic insurance that I'd sit on them by the end of the day.

My optician was awesome. I was afraid that every pair I tried on, she'd go, "WOW! Those are fabulous! You should buy them!" After all, sales IS her job. Instead, I tried on the first pair, looked at her, and she immediately went, "Eww. No. Take those off. Yuck." For once in my life, I appreciated the brutal honesty. My optical fashion show carried on for about thirty more frames that ranged from "eww" to "ehh" to "okay" to "awesome!"

In the end, I chose a fairly innocuous pair of thin brown frames -- so thin, in fact, that you can barely see them. It basically looks like two small lenses just floating on my face. And I like them. They don't exactly make me look like an intellectual genius, but they don't make me look like Dorky McFourEyes either.

It wasn't until later that I realized exactly what I was doing to myself. Glasses? Check. Ugly yet beloved Greek fisherman's cap? Check. Ever-expanding stomach? Check. It's official -- I am one unkempt grey beard away from becoming George RR Martin: novelist, screenwriter, and murderer of beloved characters weekly on "Game of Thrones."

Not exactly the look I was going for. Then again, he's a kajillionaire -- if I have half his luck, maybe I can afford a pair of those Prada frames one day. I might be imperfect, I might be old, I might be well on my way to looking like the nerdiest fantasy writer of our generation -- but at least I'll be better than the rest of the schlubs.

...or maybe not. First, I have to actually get these glasses to work. More on that next week.

COLUMN: Vision Pt. 1

In order to write my column this week, I'm going to need to pull back the curtain a little bit and reveal some of the exciting and magical behind-the-scenes happenings that go on here at Team Dispatch/Argus.

Due to some restructuring and retirements, we've recently found ourselves a little short-handed on our legals desk -- and the short hands that remained were long overdue for a well-earned vacation. That meant one of us had to step up and cover legals for a week. Well, guess who drew the short straw?

Wait, sorry. What I MEANT to say was: Guess who the company entrusted with such an important and pivotal role?

You guys know what our legal notices are, right? We run them six days a week in the classifieds (they're NOT published on Mondays, so I fear you're without examples today.) They're the ads that cover things like public meetings, name changes, estate claims, and that kind of stuff. You may have assumed that I spent last week sitting at my cushy desk dreaming of new and exciting ways to write about my cats, but no such luck. Instead, I've spent the past week learning all about divorces, foreclosures, assumed businesses, whatever "notices of prevailing wage" are, and the epic addictive page-turners that can only be our annual community water quality reports.

After working all week with these things, I've earned the right to make fun of them a little -- but the truth is, legal notices really ARE important, and they're a big deal to run correctly. Publishing them is usually required by law, and making a simple boo-boo could result in court dates being postponed, divorce proceedings being interrupted, and bid notices going, err, un-noticed. It's a high pressure gig and requires a lot of attention to detail. There's just two problems:

(1) Legal notices can be really long, so a majority of them are printed in the smallest font size that we can legibly produce, and

(2) Quite often, they're written in confounding legal-ese understandable only by lawyers and exceptionally smart people. Some still use words like "thence" and "thereof." In a legal notice, you oftentimes can't just say "1720 Fifth Avenue." Instead, you have to say things like "Lot #5 located 3613 square feet from the southeast quarter of the northwest quarter of Lot 26 in Township 18 North, Range 6 West of the Fourth Principal Meridian." Truth be told, I prefer to just point and go, "That house. Over there."

But after one week of entering and processing these legal notices, one thing's for certain: It would be a lot easier to enter and process these legal notices if they all weren't so dang blurry. Uh oh.

By Tuesday, I'd developed a headache. On Wednesday, I caught myself leaning waaaay too close to the computer screen. On Thursday, I started developing a twitch in my right eye. On Friday, I walked outside to go to lunch and almost fell over from some surprise vertigo while trying to adjust to the sunlight.

As an experienced hypochondriac, I knew this could only mean one thing: mad cow disease. Yes, all those cheeseburgers over the years had finally started bovinely encephalopathying my noggin into spongiform. I mean, it had to be something BAD, right? It couldn't just be... no, surely not my vision.

I might have pointy ears, a big nose, and a freeform stomach, but my eyes have always been a bragging point. I've always been able to annoy my co-workers by being able to read their computer screens from half a room away. I can't have bad vision. Still, I decided that if I had mad cow, I'd rather hear it from a friendly optometrist rather than a neurologist with an itchy biopsy finger.

So, on Saturday, I went and experienced what I'm pretty sure was my first eye exam since roughly 1986.

I hate doctors. I avoid them like the plague. Eye exams, though, are kinda fun. The first thing they did was make me look in a machine and tell me to focus on the blinding red light. Now, I'm not precisely sure what happened after that, because I was too busy staring at the aforementioned blinding red light, but I'm pretty sure the doctor proceeded to spit into both of my eyes. Somehow, this means that I don't have glaucoma. Huzzah!

"Do you ever experience any floaters?" she asked me.
"Not until you told me to stare into that blinding red light," I replied.  

Eye doctors have made a career out of telling people NOT to stare directly into bright lights. Then you go in for an eye exam and all they have you do is stare into bright lights. This is my kind of backwards science. The rest of the exam was roughly 18.5 hours of me looking at fuzzy letters while they asked the ever-important question, "Which is better - A or B? B or C? C or D?" Half the time, I couldn't tell. All I could see were floaters from the bright red light.

Still, I found myself alarmed when the doc asked me to cover my right eye and read the bottom line of letters on a chart. "Let's see," I confidently began. "Umm... F? B? G? No, Q? An ampersand? That symbol Prince called himself for awhile?"

The verdict was immediate. "You need glasses." It turns out my right eye was pretty good, but my left eye had checked out. As a result, my right eye has spent the past week being overworked, hence the twitch and the vertigo and the headaches. How could this be? How could my left eye have gone all remedial without informing me?

"Once you turn 40," the doc told me, "your vision usually starts to go."

So there you have it. Somewhere along the line, I found the hill, I climbed it, and now I'm clearly OVER it. There's nothing to look forward to now except for blindness and the slow decay into death. Oh, and my spanky new bifocals which should be here by the end of the week.

Hopefully they'll make me look smart. Maybe even smart enough to understand these legal notices.

COLUMN: Kelly Wedding Pt. 2

Last week, we talked about weddings. Specifically, how much I hate DJing them. The problem is, I've been moonlighting as a DJ on the local club scene for years. As a result, any time one of my friends decides to take the plunge, it isn't long before I get the dreaded phone call begging me to man the tunes. Worse yet, I'm clearly a pushover, because I usually end up doing it.

Two weekends ago, my friend Kelly was getting married in Des Moines -- and after a whole lot of hems and haws on my part, I agreed to DJ the reception. They even offered to put me up with a hotel room for the night. All I had to do was show up with some music and do my best to make the night a party. Easy enough, right?

The night before the blessed day, I decided to hop online and take a look at the hotel they put me up in. I pulled the name up in Google, but rather than clicking on the link to the hotel's website, I accidentally clicked on the hotel's listing on TripAdvisor instead. Full of reviews by the general public, TripAdvisor is a great website to visit whenever you want to discover that every four-star hotel in the world is secretly a festering cesspool of disease-ridden nightmares. Today was no exception.

"NEVER STAY HERE!" read the top review. "BUGS AND MOLD!" The bad comments went on and on. Unclean sheets. Roaches in the bathroom. Weird smells. Mean staff. Broken TVs.

I'm not really a hotel snob. Little Lord Shane-leroy doesn't need a long list of amenities as long as the place is air conditioned and clean. But a broken TV? That's just unspeakable. After a wee bit of soul-searching, I decided to call my friend Kelly and tell her about the bad reviews. There are a lot of hotels in downtown Des Moines, and maybe there was still time to switch me to one that didn't come with courtesy cockroaches.

I told her about the situation and politely asked if I could get a new hotel. She politely became hysterical. It turns out that you can't really back out of a reservation 24 hours in advance, especially not when you've booked an entire wing of said hotel for your whole wedding party, most of whom were already there. Rather than resolving the situation, the only thing I accomplished was informing one of my best friends on the eve of her wedding that she may have just exposed her entire family and loved ones to toxic cooties.

Rather than getting a new hotel room, I found myself talking her off the ledge. "I'm sure it's fiiiine," I said. "You know how online reviewers always over-react. Forget I called! I'm sure the place is great!" And the fact that I was telling her this while packing long-sleeved shirts and a can of Raid will remain our little secret, Quad Cities.

Hours later, I was Des Moines bound and excited to discover that the GPS was navigating me right past the state capitol, which I'd never seen up close. And I still haven't, because in between me and the capitol building was a giant park holding a massive outdoor festival with tents and bands and what I'd reckon to be 20% of the greater Des Moines population. And right in the middle of that festival and its accompanying infinite traffic jam, my GPS proudly announced, "YOU HAVE ARRIVED AT YOUR DESTINATION!"

I was pretty sure I hadn't. Texting and driving is illegal. It's a good thing Screaming-At-Your-GPS-and-driving is still within the confines of the law. It turns out I was at East Whatever-th Street and I needed to be at West Whatever-Th Street. Getting there simply involved an extra 45 minutes of stop-and-go traffic, two detours, and circling downtown Des Moines over-and-over again like a misguided vulture until accidentally stumbling onto the hotel out of the corner of my eye while whizzing past it.

For what it's worth, online reviewers really ARE the worst. The hotel wasn't half as bad as TripAdvisor made it out to be. It was a classic old hotel with a few classic old creaks and groans, but my room was clean, devoid of insects, and most importantly, the TV worked just fine.

Except I couldn't watch it, because I had precious little time to get set up for the reception. The venue was just a block away from the hotel, so I grabbed my gear and leapt out the door -- in absolutely the wrong direction. Two blocks later, I was covered in sweat and standing in the parking lot of a porn shop, trying desperately hard to avoid eye contact with the clientele while furiously trying to work the GPS on my phone and somehow look as if I WASN'T completely lost AND carrying thousands of dollars of audio gear on each shoulder. A block later, I found myself halfway across a bridge on what I can only presume was West Methamphetamine Avenue when my phone dinged. "YOU HAVE ARRIVED AT YOUR DESTINATION!" Sigh.

Fifteen minutes of aimless wandering, heat exhaustion, and heart palpitations later, I finally found the reception hall. By this point, I was 80% sweat, 20% human, and testing the very limits of my preferred body wash's claim of "24 Hour Odor Protection." I can only imagine what I must have looked like walking in. Except I don't have to imagine it, because I'll probably soon see it on TV. I took one step inside the venue and was greeted by floodlights and a professional camera crew filming my every soggy, wilted move.

As it turns out, the reception was held in a building that served as a rental hall/coffee shop/architectural rehab store that's also home to "West End Salvage," seen Thursdays at 8pm/7c on the HGTV Network. Signs everywhere announced that "by remaining in this immediate vicinity, you give express permission to feature you, your likeness, name and voice [and body odor] in our television production." Presumably, you can catch me on an upcoming episode that will likely be entitled, "The Day The Perspiring Smelly Dude Showed Up And Started Playing Music."

Once I got there, cooled down, and determined that I was not, in fact, minutes from death, things turned around. As far as weddings go, it was darn near perfect. Kelly looked amazing, the ceremony included a love poem about zombies and time travel, and the guests were treated to complimentary mix CD's and an assortment of homemade jams. What can I say, my friends are AWESOME. As for me, I think I did a decent job of rolling out the tunes and keeping the crowd happy, even if I did it from the furthest back corner I could find, 'cause I'm pretty sure I spent the majority of that evening bringin' both da noise AND da funk (eww.)

At the end of the day, I love a good wedding. But just once, I'd like to see one in MY preferred manner: As an invited guest, sitting at a table, making fun of the lousy DJ and wondering why on Earth they didn't book me.

COLUMN: Kelly Wedding Pt. 1

Taking a second job can be rough. But the way I see it, if you've got to moonlight, you couldn't do much better than my chosen weekend profession. I've been a part-time DJ for almost as long as I can remember. I'm pretty sure I came out of the womb clutching a crossfader and counting bpm's. I started DJing parties at the ripe old age of 14 and took my first steady club gig at 16. Since then, I've soundtracked frat parties, raves, class reunions, sweet 16's, not-so-sweet 16's, and beyond. I even once DJ'ed a funeral (true story.)

But for the past 20 years, I've worked pretty much exclusively at bars and nightclubs around the Quad Cities. In fact, I've spun the club circuit in town for SO long now that I ALMOST forgot how much I hate DJing weddings. Thanks, then, to last weekend for reminding me.

Okay, I suppose I don't HATE working wedding receptions. It's just a lot of work. For one thing, speakers are heavy, and lugging big ol' PA rigs in and out of venues can be back-breaking. I much prefer walking lazily into a club where everything's all set up and waiting for me to plug in and press play. Weddings can have anything from finicky brides to weird crowds to people wanting to hear (shudder) country music. It's a big ball of pastel-colored stress.

I'm pretty sure I've told this story before, but it's worth another go-around. Several years back, I got hired to DJ a wedding that was held at the tippy-top ballroom of the uber-posh Allerton Hotel in downtown Chicago. The bride's family were rather well-to-do stuffed shirt types who wanted a playlist of jazz and standards and polite ultra-conservative wedding fare. The groom and his friends, on the other hand, were seasoned club kids who came at me all night a stream of requests for hardcore German industrial techno. Now, I like to consider myself fairly good with a crossfader, but no amount of DJ skill on Earth can make Harry Connick Jr. mix into Einsturzende Neubaten. I spent four solid hours that night making half the crowd happy while the other 50% wanted my head on a spike. I don't need that kind of stress in my life.

But for some reason, this year I somehow allowed myself to get conned, suckered, and/or guilt-tripped into DJing THREE weddings. The first of which was last month, and much to my chagrin, it went swimmingly well. Some friends of mine were getting married and begged me to mix the reception. What followed was a DJ's wet dream: a packed dancefloor full of goofy, awesome, appreciative people having the time of their lives, myself included. I don't like to toot my own horn, but people left that reception LIMPING from over-dancing. On my list of all-time favorite gigs, it was a Top 5 kind of night. I walked out of that wedding exhausted yet envigorated and drove home giving considerable thought to taking on more wedding gigs when offered.

I should have known better.

A couple years after graduating college, I met a girl named Kelly. We went out a few times, and it wasn't long before I was envisioning a happily-ever-after life of white picket fences, 2.3 children, and fairy tales aplenty. We had SO many common interests. We laughed at each other's jokes. We watched the same shows and listened to the same music. We both abhorred the outdoors. Neither one of us could turn on an oven without nearly burning the house down. I was a smitten kitten.

Sadly, though, we had one other thing in common: As it turned out, we both liked girls.

Thankfully, I've been reassured time and again that her rather sudden and dramatic self-awakening was NOT due to me being such a lousy boyfriend that I caused her to scratch my entire gender from her scorecard. All I knew was that one day, I had a girlfriend. The next day, I didn't. The day after that, SHE had a girlfriend. A bummer, yes, but better to find this out BEFORE the white picket fences were raised.

It was all good, though, because Kelly's remained one of my closest friends to this day. Even though she packed up and moved to Des Moines a few years ago, we can still get on the phone and happily start gabbing as though no time has ever passed. And when she called to tell me that her girlfriend had gotten down on one knee and popped the question, I couldn't have been happier for her. Until, that is, I realized what her next request would be.

"There's no one else that I would want DJing my reception except you," she said. "You just HAVE to do it!"

I stuck to my guns and politely said no. I was retired from the wedding game and equipment lugging and neurotic brides and from hopefully ever hearing the Hokey Pokey ever again ever. No dice. No way.

I stuck to those guns when she asked a second time. And when she sent an e-mail. And when the save-the-date showed up in my mailbox. But when I called her to RSVP, I opened my big mouth.

"So, who did you find to DJ?"

"No one," she said. "I told you there's no one else I'd want DJing my wedding except you. So I'm just bringing my iPod and hooking it up to a stereo."

Dang it. I can resist peer pressure and I can resist begging -- but I couldn't resist a compliment paired with the threat of leaving the biggest day of her life in the hands of a button marked "random shuffle." She knew exactly what she was doing and I played right into her hands.

"FINE," I said. "I'll do it. Rent me some equipment and get me a hotel room. I'll be there. When is it?"

'THERE' was downtown Des Moines. 'WHEN' was last weekend. And I had NO clue what was in store for me. The rest of the story... next week.