Friday, December 02, 2016


When I was a kid, I read an absurd amount of science fiction, and it was oddly comforting. Growing up in the country miles away from other kids in the 1970's was fine and dandy. Why? Because I knew from the books on my shelves that by the time I turned 40, my robot chauffeur would be piloting my flying car to the teleporter that would take me to my job as President of the United States and Federated Galaxies.

Liar, liar, the future's pants are on fire. I'm in my forties and I see no flying car. All I have is a Hyundai that yells "RECALCULATING!" at me while remaining disappointingly Earthbound. I'm not teleporting anywhere, and don't get me started on my failed ascent to the presidency (although I'm starting to feel like I could do a better job than the fellow we recently installed in the position.)

The future might not be all it was cracked to be in the paperback books of the 1970s, but we DO have one impressive technological achievement going for us: the internet. It's broken new ground in communication and commerce. It's given us everything from cat videos to Justin Bieber. It is simultaneously the world's greatest time-saver and time-waster.

But mostly, I love the internet for its infinite supply of weirdness.

I used to think I was a weird guy. I mean, the evidence is fairly clear: I sleep with my socks on. I have no earthly idea how to snap my fingers. I enjoy the taste of Kaopectate. I'm kind of a freak.

But once you surf the web for long enough, you discover that nearly EVERYONE is off-center a little bit. If you do something quirky that you worry is weird,  you can always find someone on the internet doing things a HECK of a lot quirkier. I might sleep with my socks on, but that doesn't seem so bad when you discover there's a website devoted exclusively to fan-fiction stories exclusively about covering the late musician Roy Orbison in Saran-Wrap.

Enjoy dressing up like a furry animal? There's a whole online subculture out there for you. Harbor a fantasy of hypnotizing strangers? There's a website for that, too. Want to study amateur taxidermy to learn how to sew ten dead rats together to make something called a "ratipede"? That site really exists.
But recently I stumbled into what might be the weirdest online subculture I've ever found on the internet, and I'm a little extra freaked out -- because I might be one of them.

Have you ever been overcome by a tingly sensation in your body when you're happy or relaxed? Kind of a euphoric goosebump-y feeling that starts in your scalp and moves down the back of your neck and upper spine? I'm pretty sure I have. Like when I'm at a concert and the lights go out and I know that I'm seconds away from seeing one of my favorite bands. Or if I'm super relaxed and someone runs their fingers through my hair. Once, I tried one of those head massagers with the little metal talons and I got the tingles so bad I had to set it down and walk away. Until now, I had always just dismissed this as passing goosebumps.

Well, not only is that feeling an actual THING, but there are people and websites devoted to it. It's called ASMR -- autonomous sensory meridian response -- and it's one weird world.

I was about two hours deep in a rabbithole of binge-watching random videos on Youtube when I happened upon my first ASMR video. In it, a young woman sits in front of a camera -- and brushes her hair for seven minutes. All the while, the volume is artificially enhanced so you can hear every brush stroke. Meanwhile, she narrates the process in a voice that's barely a whisper. It was the single silliest thing I'd seen in a long while, and the kind of video where the ONLY possible response is to mutter, "What the...?" Welcome to the world of ASMR.

According to Wikipedia, the "tingly" sensation of ASMR is usually precipitated by some kind of trigger stimulus. And, as it turns out, a majority of folks prone to this sensation claim that it can be triggered by listening to a soft-spoken whispery voice or the quiet repetitive sounds associated with mundane tasks like turning the pages in a book, brushing one's hair, or preparing food.

So, as it turns out, people are watching this whispering woman brushing her hair in hopes of triggering euphoric brain tingles -- and it's but one of HUNDREDS of ASMR videos out there.

It didn't take me long to find Tony Bomboni, an ASMR enthusiast known for his videos where, among other things, he quietly scoops ice cream for twenty minutes while whispering to you. Or another video, where he cleans his ears with a Q-Tip for a full hour. But none of that could prepare me for the popular ASMR video creator who goes by the moniker Kluna Tik. Kluna's videos -- and there are HUNDREDS -- are all first person visuals of someone eating imaginary meals -- except that the biting and chomping sounds are all highly exaggerated, and through the magic of stop-motion animation, his "meals" usually consist of things like bricks, crayons, and yes, dirty Q-Tips (that perhaps he got from Tony Bomboni.)

My instinct is to dismiss this as some kind of wacky perverted fetish, but the ASMR community goes out of their way to insist that there's NOTHING sexual about their hobby. Instead, they swear it's just a way to relax, experience some tingles, and go to sleep. As someone who may have experienced ASMR before, a little part of me was terrified that I might see these videos, start tingling and become an ASMR junkie. With my luck, in ten years we WILL have flying cars and teleporters, but I'll have no time for that because I'll be preoccupied watching some guy clean his ears for an hour straight.

Happily, the only thing these videos triggered in me was laughter, mild revulsion, and the deep satisfaction that comes from knowing you're not as weird as you may think you are. So have at it, friends. If listening to people whisper gives you tingles, then tingle away. The internet's a mighty big place, and we've got room for all kinds of fellow weirdos.

If nothing else, it certainly gives me something to watch until the day my car starts flying.

COLUMN: Trumped

Well. That election sure didn't turn out the way I thought it would.

I don't ever want to get into politics in this column. It's neither my place nor my forte. We have people working here who can authentically be called political experts, and elections are their turf. I'm the guy who got a B in Civics class. I support my candidates, cast my votes, and I most certainly enjoy antagonizing my conservative uncle on Facebook, but that's usually where it stops.

If you want political commentary, you call our editorial staff. If you want fluff pieces about reality TV, you call Shane -- and I'm perfectly fine with that. But this puts me in a sticky situation since reality TV just birthed its first President-elect, and just like everyone else, it's all I want to talk about. I suppose it could be worse -- we could have just elected Ryan Seacrest to lead the free world, although I'm pretty sure Ryan Seacrest would've had the discipline to avoid offending half of America on the campaign trail.

But as shocked as I was by the results of the election, I'm more disheartened by the divisiveness and bickering that's tearing our nation in two. I'm a social media addict, but right now, logging onto Facebook is like being invited to a dinner party where the only other guests are Rachel Maddow and Ann Coulter and the only silverware are knives. Any post that even hints at politics accrues no fewer than three instances of name-calling, at least one fake news story that someone swears is certifiably real, one threat to move to Canada, and someone proudly announcing the number of people they've unfriended over this whole debacle.

For a day or two after the election, I was one of those people. Two weeks later, it's become nauseating, and I find myself yearning for posts about cats, weather, and what we're all eating for dinner. I blame Prince and David Bowie. The two of them were clearly the creative glue necessary to sustain life, liberty, and the pursuit of funkiness throughout the land. Losing them both in the same year has obviously caused the constraints of reality to break down. Now the Cubs are World Series champions and Donald Trump is our President-elect. Mark my words, if we don't continually check on the health and welfare of Beyonce, we could be looking at Pope Honey Boo-Boo the First before everything's said and done.

I suppose it's no real secret that I was NOT a supporter of Candidate Trump. But the guy won, fair-ish and square-ish. That's democracy. Somebody's got to lose, this time it was my side, and I'm trying to keep looking to the future with hope. That's why I haven't been protesting in the streets with my friends. I just didn't see what good it would do other than opening our side up for folks to call us "cry-babies" and tell us to "get over it." When Trump tweeted that protesting the outcome was "unfair," I begrudgingly agreed.

Then I remembered 2012, when Obama won re-election. Citizen Trump jumped on Twitter that night and told people to "march on Washington and stop this travesty... we should have a revolution in this country!" Now THAT is some dangerous rhetoric. I know a LOT of people crazy upset with this election, but I don't know one person who's openly calling for revolution. You can't say "the phoney (sic) electoral college made a laughing stock out of our nation" when things don't go your way, but then call the same result "open and successful" four years later just because you won.

So how did we end up with our first President for whom moving into the White House might actually be "slumming it"? Well, I think we had two flawed candidates whose faults were blown out of proportion by ratings-hungry news networks and a social media adept at turning mountains into molehills. I don't think our former Secretary of State was knowingly posting critical intel to Gmail with gleeful abandon, nor do I think Donald Trump is in secret cahoots with the KKK. I just think he's an egomaniacal blowhard inexperienced at public speaking who learned that nothing motivates the electorate quite like fear.

Sure, I'm worried what a Trump presidency will mean for the values and civil rights I hold dear, but I suppose I wish the guy well. Frankly, he's gonna need it. His will be the most scrutinized presidency of all time, and folks are already queueing up to pick it apart. Maybe this mess of an ugly election is what we need to put future candidates in place who are more concerned with progress than power. Good timing, too, since the 2020 Iowa caucus season starts in, what, two months or so, right?

No matter your vote, we'll all be dealing with the outcome of this election for years. But you'll only deal with me writing about it for the next few words. Instead, I'm taking this holiday week to think about things that DO make me thankful.

Like the super-moon. That was pretty cool, huh? And I'm thankful there's no such thing as a super-Sun, because that wouldn't be half as fun. I'm thankful Canada gets wicked cold in winter, because I don't think any of my friends who are threatening to move there actually will. I'm thankful for punk rock, which always makes a great comeback in a conservative White House. I'm thankful for this column and everyone who reads it, otherwise I'd just be ranting to my cats.

And I'm thankful for my cats, the only creatures I'll ever preside over. I'd like to think I'm a benevolent leader, although my executive orders to date have involved mandatory curfews and forced castration, so maybe I'm a horrible fascist. I might not be super enthused by our President-elect, but if he showed up daily to cook me dinner, clean my toilet, and scratch behind my ear, I might just grow to like the guy. Doubtful, though.

COLUMN: Halloween 2016

Well, hello, November. Once again, I've survived another Halloween, and my love-hate affair with the holiday carries on.

Don't get me wrong, I wholeheartedly approve of things that go bump in the night. I live for tales of mysterious supernatural hocum-pocum. When the air first starts to get chilly, there's nothing better than feeling just a little creeped out. You'd be hard-pressed to find a ghost and/or monster-hunting show on TV that I don't watch and buy into at least 90% of the nonsense they spew out.

I'm in no hurry to shuffle off this mortal coil, but when I do, if someone were to offer up the choice of heading to eternal paradise or sticking around in order to knock pictures off walls and whisper menacing gibberish into the EVP recorders of ghost hunters, that'd be a tough decision to make. I think I'd have to check whether Eternal Paradise had wi-fi before making up my mind.

Give me creepy movies like "The Omen" or "Poltergeist" or "The Exorcist" any old time, and Halloween's usually rife with heebie-jeebie-inducing viewing opportunities. But there's a fine line between creepy and scary, and I'm in no hurry to be scared. I'll watch a flick with ominous overtones any day, unless those ominous overtones lead to a guy in a hockey mask leaping out yelling "BOOGITY BOOGITY!"

It's the same reason I always take a hard pass when my friends want to go to haunted houses. I have no desire to deal with some caffeinated 20-something in monster make-up intent on giving me a heart attack. I'm well aware of just how much fast food I've consumed over the years, and I'm pretty sure all it would take is one well-timed "BOO!" for me to face that Eternal Paradise question a lot sooner than I'd prefer.

But this year didn't really bring anything creepy OR scary. I don't know what it was, but I never got into that delightfully eerie frame of mind this time round. Maybe it's the knowledge that anything Halloween could possibly throw at me couldn't be as terrifying as the potential outcome of this week's election. If I had to sum up this year's Halloween in one word, it'd be "meh."

My weekend, like most, was spent DJing at the club. On Halloween weekend, this is usually an exercise in patience and apprehension. Call me an old fuddy-duddy all you want, but I will never understand the fun in costuming up when you're a grown adult. My social anxiety is bad enough as is -- if you make me talk to you while you're in vampire makeup, my brain might very well implode. Plus, if you're already the sort of person with a tendency to turn into a drunken moron, nothing speeds up the process like some facepaint and a silly outfit. I was ready for anything.

I wasn't ready, though, to be bored. When I walked into the club, I was greeted by a polite crowd of respectful folks glued to the Cubs game. Only about were costumed, and most of those looked a bit slapdash if I'm being truthful. All told, it was a pretty uneventful weekend, other than, of course, the greatest mix of music mankind has ever heard (but I might be a touch biased.)

Next thing I knew, it was Halloween proper and time to buy candy for the kiddies. It never fails: every year that I buy light on candy, I am besieged with trick-or-treaters. Every year I go nuts on candy, it's a Halloween ghost town on my porch. If I were a smart, health-conscious human being, I'd fill my Halloween dish with nothing but Starburst and Nerds and other candy I find disgusting.

Instead, like an idiot, I buy chocolate. GOOD chocolate. Did you know they make Caramel Apple Milky Ways? Neither did I. And now I'm trying my hardest to forget they exist by eating my way through them, because sure enough, I barely had any trick-or-treaters this year. The first hour was a complete bust until the doorbell finally rang, revealing the cutest of cute kids.

"Twick tweet?" they adorably asked, melting hearts from blocks away while I wanted to hand them all the candy in the world. Annnnd... that was it for another hour. I was about to give up on the night when my door rang again and I was greeted by a couple kids as tall as me. And I use "kids" loosely. One of them had facial hair. They worked so hard on their juvenile delinquent costumes that it was almost like they weren't wearing any costumes whatsoever.

"W'sup?" one of them asked. "Trick or treat."

Like I said, I'm no big fan of costumes, but come on. If you're gonna commit to begging for candy door-to-door as a grown adult, the least you could do is rock a cheap mask or some bunny ears. But hey, it's a free society, so if you want to try trick-or-treating sans costume when I'm pretty sure you're old enough to drive to Walgreens and buy your own candy, that's your right. Just as its my right to give you a heaping handful... from my leftover 2015 Halloween candy dish. Enjoy the stale Kit-Kats and crusty peanut butter cups, dude.

And that was it. No tricks, loads of leftover treats, and nothing left to do but watch a marathon of Paranormal Lockdown on TLC and hope to have some creepy dreams. Instead, I inexplicably dreamt that I had driven to Chicago on a whim, auditioned for the Windy City production of "Hamilton," was somehow cast in a decent role, and then forgot to show up for opening night and was promptly fired. I call that a creepy success, because the fastest way I know to make anyone's skin crawl with madness is to subject them to my "singing" voice. I'd better start rehearsing now, Halloween 2017 comes way to soon. Do re miiIIIiiiIIiiiIIIiii!

COLUMN: Lacrosse

(This is totally where the wedding was.)

Sometimes I think about the fact that I'm still single at 45 years of age and it makes me sad. These sharp pains of regret, failure, hopelessness, and loss stab at my self-worth with a fiery intensity... for approximately three seconds. That's how long it takes to remember all the AWESOME parts about being single, and then I have a laugh and get on with my day.

Okay, sure. It'd be swell to find someone to share my life with, and maybe one day that'll happen. But I'm not going to live my life on an aggressive soulmate search as though there's no possible chance of living a fulfilled life without someone by my side. Love and companionship are awesome, but in the meantime, I'll take cats and video games.

Being single might stink, but it DOES have its advantages. If I want to spend half the day binge-watching superhero shows, no one's going to stop me but my conscience. I plan all the menus and mark the social calendars. Right now, I'm laying on my couch writing this column between batters of the World Series. I don't have a bad life, people.

Starting a family is surely a rewarding experience, but NOT starting a family has its own of rewards, too -- not the least of which is avoiding the stress and horrors of a wedding ceremony.

Weddings are a big deal. It's the public proclamation and symbolic manifestation of the commitment that you've entered into, and that should be a cherished occasion. But there's a fine line between cherished occasion and overblown fiasco, and I've had the privilege of witnessing both -- many times over.

I might be hopelessly single, but that doesn't mean my friends share the same fate. I've been invited to my fair share of nuptials over the years. But I've also spent 25 years as a DJ, so I've spun records at more weddings than I care to recall. Normally I stick to club gigs, and I've made the "NO MORE WEDDINGS!" proclamation countless times. But usually all it takes is one friend in need and I'm once again reaching deep in my DJ bag to find the Hokey Pokey and Chicken Dance.

Truth be told, I'd rather be the DJ than NOT be the DJ. When I'm NOT the DJ, I spend the entire reception behaving like the Simon Cowell of matrimony, sitting in smug judgement of whatever sad DJ isn't me. If I ever DO get hitched, I'll have to hire a band, otherwise my beautiful bride might not like it when I fire the DJ and take over myself.

DJing a wedding might be stressful, but the ones looking the MOST stressed are usually the bride and groom themselves. Even if it were my "special day," nothing sounds more dreadful than putting on a penguin suit and making forced pleasantries with my extended family.

This past weekend, I witnessed a wedding that may have set the bar on stress levels -- and I wasn't even invited.

Being single also means that if I wake up on a Saturday and feel like a spontaneous roadtrip, I can take it. Initially, my friend Jason and I decided to head up the Great River Road a bit to see some fall colors, but somehow we just kept heading north until we found ourselves in Lacrosse, Wisconsin.

Lacrosse is surrounded by bluffs, and atop one of them is Grandad Bluff Park that features a stunning overlook of the town. We decided to check it out, and immediately bumped into a hundred other people with the same idea. Parking was limited, and it was almost a half mile uphill hike from the car to the overlook, so I was fairly spent by the time we managed to get our first glimpse of the park -- and the wedding that was overtaking it.

At the top of the bluff, there's a large landing with a shelter and a path that leads out to the overlook, which affords one of the best views of the Mississippi you could ever witness. But on THIS day, the shelter and landing were occupied by a formally-clad family frantically setting up folding chairs and floral arrangements. And this family seemed absolutely gobsmacked that people could dare be approaching the scenic overlook in an attempt to look over the scenery.

"EXCUSE ME!" shouted the father-of-the-bride to anyone within earshot, "WE PAID FOR THIS SPACE! WE ARE HAVING A WEDDING HERE!" Well, once Grandma Ruth and Great-Aunt Edna finished the half-mile hike up there, presumably. The shouting was in vain, though. Dozens of tourists were ignoring his shouts and meandering through the wedding.

Jason asked if I wanted to walk out to the overlook. "No, go ahead," I told him, "I think the real show's gonna happen right here." I was right. The more tourists that approached, the more irrational the guy started getting. When a young couple asked if he'd pose for a photo, he finally snapped.


Now, I'm clearly no expert at matrimony, but I can tell you with some confidence that if you wanted a private wedding, you should probably choose a venue that's NOT your town's #1 tourist attraction on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. This would be like getting married at an Adele concert and being outraged that others showed up to see Adele. Meanwhile, all this time, the poor bride was waiting a few steps down the path in a cloud of perfume and makeup. Just as things were reaching the zero point of chaos, Jason made his way back and insisted that we leave the wedding to those invited. I bet it was a lovely ceremony, even though they probably had a lousy DJ.

On the way home, we stopped for dinner at the only option we could find along the deserted yet still somehow Great River Road: an over-priced buffet at a riverboat casino. As we tried valiantly to consume our money's worth of sub-par food, I looked around and saw nothing but sad couples, sitting around and eating in near-total silence. I don't know if I'll ever find my soulmate, but if I do, I promise we'll never run out of things to talk about.

COILUMN: Walnuts

Well, it's official, Quad Cities: I'm a hypocrite.

Exactly one month ago, I thought it would be a swell idea to write a column about the recent push to legalize backyard chickens within the city limits of Rock Island and other area communities. Since I'm generally not a fan of most non-cat-related elements of nature, I expressed my concerns in writing about the potential ramifications of sharing my neighborhood with wayward poultry.

I had NO idea how many people out there cared so very deeply about chickens. Within MINUTES of my column printing, my inbox was full of messages of support alongside vitriolic e-mails telling me I needed to -- and I quote -- "eat a chicken butt," an act which I believe has some cultural signifigance in certain Asian societies AND provides a healthy dose of protein, iron, and calcium, so thanks for thinking about my physical and spiritual health, people.

Yes, I made swift work angering urban farmers around the area... but the truth is, I can't rail against urban farming when I've been allowing it to happen on my own property for years now.

It's been half a decade now, but I can still recall my realtor talking up the great shade afforded my back yard from my neighbor's tree. The tree may belong to them, but the shade from it is mostly mine. What a luxury! Last year, I (and by I, of course, I refer to paid professionals who actually know how to do things) poured a concrete parking slab out back for friends to park under the cooling shade of my neighbor's majestic tree.

My neighbor's majestic walnut tree. Any guesses where I'm going with this?

Walnut trees are big and splendid and one of nature's finer creations. They also spend half the year pooping out walnuts onto everything you own and care about. Each time the wind gusts, I can look forward to what I call the "clunk and roll," as walnuts land onto my roof and then rrrrroll down and off the edge. This I've learned to cope with.

But this year, for some reason, the tree's been in overdrive. 2-3 times the normal amount of walnuts have been dripping off this thing for the past umpteen weeks. My yard now looks more like the world's most un-fun ball pit at a backwoods Chuck E. Cheese knock-off.

I wanted to trim the tree back, but again, "I" in this equation refers to hiring people skilled in the fine art of tree mauling. Have any of you paid to have a tree professionally trimmed? It's not cheap. The first quotes I received were four digits long and made my eyeballs pop out of my head in cartoon horror. Eventually I found a guy willing to do it within my budget, but I'd have to allow him to drive his bucket truck over my neighbor's lawn, which is a lot to ask considering the tree I want to maim belongs to the neighbor in the first place.

My neighbor consented to the task at hand, but we needed couple of dry weeks without rain to avoid putting ruts in the yard, and I'm pretty sure the last time we went two weeks without rain, we were still laughing about Donald Trump's chances of being the Republican nominee. My only other option was to let my dad have a go at it, which he eagerly campaigned for until I discovered his plan involved a homemade improvisation he was calling "chainsaw-on-a-stick." I'm pretty sure that's not on anybody's recommended list of hobbies for a 70-year-old with a bad back, so I put my foot down before he cut his foot off. With MY track record, I'm gonna need that man able-bodied for decades to come.

So as the days have dropped off the calendar, so too have the walnuts dropped upon my lawn. I suppose I could go out with a few trash bags and toss them all in, but I'm nothing if not committed to my motto of "YARD WORK NEVER!" Besides, that's where the urban farmers I employ come in. For years now, I have let a pair of black squirrels set up shop in my backyard. Mr. and Mrs. Poofytail (the neighbors named them, I swear) have but one job: wrangling those walnuts as fast as the tree drops them. Its supposed to be symbiosis: they live rent free at an all-you-can-eat buffet, and I get my walnuts cleaned up for free.

There's just one problem: Mr. Poofytail HATES me. I can't walk out back without seeing him glaring at me and chirping, "Fk! Thp Pft!" As God is my witness, on multiple occasions I've watched him curse me out, run up the tree, and try his best to drop walnuts onto my head. One afternoon, I was fumbling for my keys when I realized my head was wet. I looked up and there he was, chewing me out with a harsh "thp pft!" Now, I don't know if that squirrel somehow hoisted and spilled bottled water on my head, or maybe he spitefully chucked a water balloon my way. I'll choose ANY story other than the one where a squirrel peed on my head, because that's the kind of humiliation that haunts your nightmares forever.  

That freak storm we had a week ago sent DOZENS more walnuts to the ground. You could now take them from my lawn by the wheelbarrow full (and please do.) Maybe laziness will win and they'll eventually compost and make my lawn lush and beautiful. Happily, I just saw today that the Poofytails appear to have hired a staff of migrant farm squirrels to assist their cause, because no fewer than a dozen of them are out there now going to town on my walnuts. I wish them all the luck in the world, because otherwise I'm forced to Google "things to do with walnuts," where I just discovered that walnuts can be turned into low-grade explosives, which would certainly be an efficient way to rid myself of walnut trees and malicious head-peeing for keepsies.

COLUMN: Drudge

"I don't know what the world's coming to these days."

That's always been one of my mom's favorite phrases. She said it when I was a kid, she still says it today (though more often than not, she opts for a slightly saltier variant involving hell and handbags.) When I was a kid, this was usually the cue to roll my eyes, crank up the Depeche Mode tape on my boombox, and say something like, "Gah, mom, you just don't GET how things work nowadays!"

When I was 13, I thought I had the world figured out. Today, I've sat for the past half-hour staring at a computer screen, and I'm pretty sure I can say with absolute certainty that I don't know what the world's coming to these days.

I was just skimming around some news headlines and suddenly found myself at the conservative crossroads of the internet, that magical news aggregate known as The Drudge Report. Sure, it's a right-leaning site notorious for conspiracy theories and self-righteousness, but I'll be darned if it's not occasionally a barrel of jaw-dropping fun. The site might stand for everything I tend to sit for, but there are times that you can learn more about the state of the world from one page of Matt Drudge's links than you can from a whole day on Google.

If there was ever a pile of evidence to prove just how nutty our society is, it's the headlines I'm staring at right now. My only hope is that a thousand years from now, some future historian doing research on our ancient civilization will find a screenshot of today's Drudge Report and spend a considerable amount of time wondering just what the heck his forefathers were thinking about back in 2016.

Let's look at some of the highlights of today's headlines (which, by the time you read this, will be two week old headlines, but trust me, it's worth it.)

First off, I'm skipping the top stories because they're all about the election. Me telling you that our current presidential election is kooky is about the least breaking news I could possibly offer. I've been beat up over chickens and clowns all month long. You couldn't pay me enough to wade into this political abyss. The only person I like arguing about politics with is my uncle in Alabama, and that's just because it's fun to watch his face turn red.

When it comes to this election, I'd personally like to employ Scrabble rules: When all the remaining moves are lousy, we should be able to lose a turn and draw all new tiles. I'm not a huge fan of anyone left in the running, but let's just say I find one candidate far less insane than the other, and I support that candidate wholeheartedly, whoever she may be.

So I'm skipping all the stories about Bill Clinton's secret love child and Hillary's e-mails and I'm going straight to the stories that matter, like this one: "ROBOT REPLACES BABY." We've spent the past week so concerned over which body parts Donald Trump wants to grab that we've totally overlooked the fact that BABIES ARE BEING REPLACED BY ROBOTS. I would much rather see Anderson Cooper devote time to the Great Robot Takeover than suffer through the on-air staff of CNN chomping at the bit to say a word that rhymes with "wussy."

As it turns out, the headline is a BIT misleading. As much as I was looking forward to my future robot offspring, the real story is that Toyota (yep, the car people) have just introduced Kirobo Mini, a pocket robot programmed to talk and act like a human baby. At a height of four inches, the Kirobo Mini comes with a camera, microphone, and Bluetooth capabilities, presumably for those moments when you want to share on Facebook whenever your battery-powered soul-less pocket abomination does something cute.

Does it have any practical use? "It wobbles a bit," project manager Fuminori Kataoka told Sky News. Well, I'm sold. Sadly, the Kirobo Mini is only available in Japan for now, but I'm sure it won't be too long before crazy cat ladies the world over will instead start filling their homes with unholy legions of wobbly robo-babies.

Was it sexist of me to stereotype crazy cat ladies? Perhaps I need the help of the next story: "UNIVERSITY OFFERS COURSE FOR MEN TO DECONSTRUCT TOXIC MASCULINITIES." It's happening at Duke University, and the Telegraph reports that organizers hope to "explore, dissect, and construct an intersectional understanding of maleness, as well as create destablized spaces for those with privilege." I have absolutely no idea what any of that means, but I'm guessing it involves both beer pong and reruns of "The A-Team."

There's no good segue to my favorite headline on the site: "SEX IN SPACE... STRAPS REQUIRED." Yes, with all the troubles plaguing mankind, it's good to know that our scientists are prioritizing the crises that really matter, like space nookie. According to an article in the Daily Mail that quotes "sex in space expert" Professor Anja Geitmann, there are multiple concerns to zero-gravity whoopie making, such as -- and I quote -- "floating fluids." Consenting adults would need straps to ensure that the horizontal mambo remains horizontal, so it's clearly just a matter of time before E.L. James writes "Fifty Shades of Mars." Most importantly, had I known that "sex in space expert" was a real vocation, I clearly would have chosen a different major in college.

It's a worthwhile endeavor, though. Just this week President Obama recommitted his goal of Man on Mars by 2030. Given current technology, that's a one-year round trip, which makes an awfully long time for a crew to cohabitate without someone putting on an Al Green record.

I was talking to a friend earlier today and mentioned the space-sex article, and he immediately asked, "Didn't you write about that once?" I didn't remember it, but I just checked. Sure enough, seven years ago I wrote a whole column about space nookie -- I even used the same Al Green joke, but back then it was Barry White. And guess how THAT column started? "I just read the craziest thing on Drudge Report..."

So maybe the world isn't coming to anything bad after all. Maybe Matt Drudge is just a space pervert. Either way, I'm staying tuned.

COLUMN: Clowns

Ah, autumn. I love this time of year. Everything smells like pumpkin spice (or so I'm told - with MY seasonal allergies, I anticipate regaining the use of my nose sometime in early December.) The air is crisp, the colors magnificent, and, of course, the streets run rampant with killer clowns intent on murdering us all.

As fads go, this isn't one of my favorites. We first heard about it back in spring, when somebody filmed a menacing looking clown lurking along a suburban roadside and casually strolling through a cemetery at midnight. He/she/It/Pennywise wasn't doing anything illegal other than being super creepy -- but as anyone who's ever read Stephen King's "It" knows, a loitering clown is certainly bad news.

Things escalated in August when kids at a South Carolina apartment complex reported a clown trying to lure them into the woods. Possibly this was a tasteless prank gone awry, but it was just salacious enough to get coverage on about every newscast in the U.S. That prompted creepy clowns to start popping up all over the place, and now the Great Clown Panic of 2016 is now upon us.

There's two surefire ways to know when a controversial fad is past its prime. The first is if "Law & Order: SVU" devotes an episode to it. The second is if it reaches OUR neck of the woods. Thus far, I haven't had the pleasure of witnessing Ice-T interrogate any clowns, but this week, students here at Augustana have reported someone in full clown makeup peering menacingly in dorm windows.

The news is begging people to stop dressing up like clowns to scare people, which of course translates to many teenaged minds as "please dress up like a clown and scare people." It's only a matter of time before some idiot clowns the WRONG family and ends up on the losing end of somebody just itching to try out their concealed carry license. I, for one, would like to avoid any full-on clowntastrophes.

In the meantime, clown panic is reaching fever pitch. The other day, one of our local news channels broadcast an image of what they thought was a Quad City creepy clown, only to be told minutes later that they had started a public witch hunt for an employee of a local haunted house simply walking home in costume. The guy DID look relatively terrifying and was open-carrying a nail-covered prop hammer, so he wasn't ENTIRELY innocent, but still. I think we all need to chill out a bit.

If there's one thing that we as a society are great at, it's a good old-fashioned overblown panic. Quite often, these spring to life during times of social upheaval and stress, and we're deep in the mire right now. Don't believe me? TRUMP. CLINTON. You just bristled a little bit, admit it. We're in a stressful era.

The 80s were a stressful time, too. Remember all the panics we had back then? The gool ol' days when everyone was convinced for a while that if you played Dungeons & Dragons long enough, you'd eventually lose touch with reality and spend your life in a fantasy hellscape. This might have bothered us had we any free will, but our brains were busy being controlled by evil subliminal backmasking in all of our heavy metal albums. And then of course there was the PTA meeting that bravely informed our town of devil worshipping in our midst and that we should watch for warning signs of Satanism like mohawks and anarchy symbols, which naturally caused bored teenagers to go get mohawks and anarchy t-shirts in short order.

Maybe we're panicking over creepy clowns because it's an easier panic to manage than politics or race relations. Creepy clowns are nothing new to me, because I've ALWAYS thought clowns were creepy. WAIT, NO I DON'T. Two weeks ago I bad-mouthed chickens and my house got egged. I do NOT want my house creepy-clowned. I take it all back. Clowns are amazing and valued contributors to society and we shouldn't find them creepy and weird and PLEASE don't creepy-clown my house. Those aren't heebie-jeebies I feel whenever I see a clown. It's just my natural love for clowns manifesting itself in a physical way that only coincidentally feels like my skin is crawling with cooties. Clowns are awesomesauce.

Truth be told, there's actual science behind a clown fear. Its called the "uncanny valley" -- the more something looks human but not QUITE human, the more we're prone to feelings of eerieness or revulsion. It's why we love R2D2 but hate those disturbing Japanese robots that look exactly like people. Wikipedia quotes a psychology professor who says that young children are "very reactive to a familiar body type with an unfamiliar face." So when you see someone that looks like a normal person but with exaggerated features making exaggerated gestures, it's perfectly normal to get a little skeeved-out. I can't think of any other occupation with the same potential to elicit fear. There aren't movies called "Killer Carpenters from Outer Space" or rap groups called the Insane Accountant Posse.

All of this makes me feel bad for those who clown for the power of good. There's a local entertainer who clowns around for sick kids and the elderly and just wants to make people happy. She's on Facebook today saying that "due to recent events, tonight I was told to take my wig off... it is a sad day." It should never be a sad day for a real clown. Worse yet, one of her fellow entertainers just commented that "us real clowns need to wage war on the uneducated individuals doing this."

Look people, I just survived a chicken war. Don't make me live through a clown war, too. Let's stop clowning around before the Creepy Clown Panic becomes the Tiresome Clown Tedium. I don't need another thing to be irrationally afraid of. I've already got CNN.      

Monday, October 03, 2016

COLUMN: Chicken 2: Electric Boogaloo

This just in: I am, apparently, a super-villain.

This is somewhat of an interesting development in my life. I've never thought myself to be especially evil in nature, but hey, who among us hasn't harbored at least ONE fantasy of enslaving the human race to do our evil bidding? My house would look pretty sweet with a pirahna-infested moat and my basement already makes for a fairly pimped-out underground lair. Does anyone know if the Legion of Doom has any openings at the moment? I bet they have a solid 401(k).

The only down side to discovering that I'm evil is that I've already wasted so much of my life trying in vain to be a goody-goody. If I'd only known about my true nature, just imagine how many damsels in distress I could have tied to railroad tracks by now. I don't have one single princess in the tower of my black castle. Heck, I don't even have a black castle yet. I should have been spending my days building a death machine that controls the weather, but instead I've been wasting evil time and evil resources writing this column every week. Thanks, Quad Cities, for finally bringing me to my evil senses.

Last week, I thought it would be fun to write a column about the most innocuous thing I could think of: chickens. There's been some talk at city council meetings in several of our local cities about legalizing backyard chicken coops within city limits. In my ongoing role as Hater of All Things Nature, I figured it was my duty to speak out in light-hearted opposition to the idea.

I thought my reasons were fairly valid. Chickens are animals, and animals are stinky and noisy. I'm already allergic to my own shadow, so I'm sure feathers and coop bedding flying through the air would do wonders for my hay fever. Plus, chickens are kind of mean and aggressive. They are not cuddlers.

So I wrote my little anti-chicken manifesto, complete with a few admittedly cheap shots at the eco-friendly, chicken-loving hipster stereotypes. It wasn't two hours after the column first appeared on Quad Cities Online when the comments started rolling in. "Hey there," said the first. "Just wondering if you're the same Shane who wrote a ridiculously ignorant article? If I ever cross paths with you in public, I will gladly educate you myself, seeing as your (sic) definitely lacking in the brain cells category." Uh-oh.

That was one of the nicer ones. As it turns out, the pro-backyard chicken folks in the Quad Cities are a passionate, well-organized bunch. My column had made its way onto one of their discussion boards, and member after member was queueing up to rip me a new one over my "innocuous" chicken column. It all culminated on Friday, when I came home to find my house had been egged and my back steps covered in chicken poop (which, to prove an earlier point, was indeed stinky.) Clearly, the backyard chicken mafia is not to be toyed with.

I may just be a lowly humor columnist, but I am nothing if not a pretend journalist with pretend ethics who pretends to take his job seriously. It's wrong of me to hate things for no reason (except Tom Cruise, who is just awful.) That's why the other day, I drove out to my new friend Lindsay's house to meet her hens, Lila and Lola. Lindsay is one of the more vocal advocates for backyard chickens in the area. She lives out on Big Island, and as I quickly discovered, her chicken coop isn't hurting a fly. In fact, Lindsay's chicken beef with the city is legitimate and justified.

"No domestic animal, including... chickens... shall be suffered, allowed or permitted to run at large within the corporate limits of the city." That's everything I could find in Rock Island's city code about chickens. Lindsay's hens are not running at large, nor is anyone suffering. Their coop, like many other chicken owners who have sent me pics, is nicer than my old efficiency apartment. But since city code does not expressly condone keeping chickens, Rock Island is now trying to make her get rid of Lila & Lola. I get why she's upset.

We walked out so I could experience Lila and Lola for myself. As our eyes met, I could clearly see the murderous intent in their eyes. Except that I couldn't, because they're chickens and they didn't care about me one bit. Were they stinky? Nope. Lindsay lines their coop with mint and sage to keep any smells down. Were they noisy? Well, they certainly cluck aplenty, but nothing you could hear from more than a few feet away. Were they mean? Well, I wasn't about to stick my hand in to find out, but Lindsay claims they're sweethearts and I didn't see any noticable scarring on her person, so I'll take her word on it.

"Chickens make good pets," she explained to me. "They not only have personalities that you grow fond of, but they give back to your households. They give you fresh eggs, compost your kitchen and garden waste, and provide nitrogen-rich fertilizer that helps enrich our soil."

She sent me home with some fresh eggs that were admittedly tasty, though I must admit it was odd eating eggs after having met the fussy personality whose uterus produced them. But if I had to lay one of those things every day, something tells me I'd be a bit fussy myself.

So I suppose I have to eat a little crow with my chicken. Backyard chickens that are well cared for probably won't ruin my day, especially if they've got yards the size of Lindsay's. The ordinance they're proposing in Rock Island mandates no roosters, no slaughter, a training class and a 6-hen limit. I'm still not exactly Team Chicken when it comes to my close-quarters neighborhood, but even if the city decides to ban the little cluckers, responsible folks like Lindsay with established coops should be grandfathered and exempted.

On Sunday, I opened my back door to find a giant box on my steps. I brought it in and opened it carefully, not knowing whether to expect a bomb, poop, or a live chicken to come rolling out. Instead it contained a frozen case of bacon and a note saying "TEAM BACON FOR THE WIN!" from the girls at my favorite lunch-time hangout. I might not be especially evil, but if I had known that ruffling a few feathers would result in free bacon, I would've become a super-villain long ago.

Friday, September 23, 2016

COLUMN: Chicken

Well, it finally happened. 12 years and 595 weekly columns... and I've FINALLY managed to make a whole ton of enemies in a REALLY short time.  I've gotta hand it to the pro-backyard chicken folks in town -- they're definitely a passionate bunch.  No sooner had this column made its way to our newspaper's website than someone upped it to a local pro-chicken message board and all hell broke loose.  It turns out people who dig chickens do NOT dig being poked fun at.  They're probably too busy being poked by their chickens.

Over the past 24 hours, I've receives dozens of pieces of hate mail (along with a few letters of support), a few threats, and I came home today to discover someone had egged my back door and covered my back steps in chicken poop.  Thanks, by the way, for proof positive that chicken poop DOES, in fact, stink.

Let me use my blog to state some facts that I thought were self-evident and answer some of my favorite pieces of reader mail:

"You write articles to 'get LOLs' and not to educate and inform the public."

Yes. That's exactly what I get paid to do. In my job. As a humor columnist.

"Is this what the news has become?"

No. It is what a humor columnist is and continues to be.

"Whatever happened to: 'Who? What? When? Where? Why?'"

I wouldn't know. Perhaps ask a journalist. I am not one.

"There are no accurate facts in this article."

The only fact I presume to make in this column is that I don't like urban chickens. That's an accurate fact.

"Maybe he should go watch more Game of Thrones."

God, I wish. This wait for the new season is killing me.

"Is your column supposed to be located on the funny pages, cause it's where it's seems headed."

Yes. It is.

"Maybe you need to post on Facebook and other sites to get 5 min of questions answered before you form and share your baseless comments swaying people who are depending on you for there information. Obviously we know who not to trust next time."

If you are depending on a viewpoint humor column for information, you're reeeally going to be sorely disappointed.  And please don't ever trust me now or ever.  I'm just a humor columnist.

"Did you do any research before vomiting out your biased and inaccurate article?"

No, I did not do any research before vomiting out my biased and inaccurate humor column.

"Did you read any details whatsoever about the reasoning behind the fight for backyard hens in Rock Island?"


"Did you bother to check with neighboring communities and cities across the country who allow backyard hens?"


"Did you actually pay for a degree in journalism?"

Nope. Don't have one. Don't want one. NOT a journalist.

 "Are you aware that research generally goes hand in hand with journalism?"

Yes. Are YOU aware that I'm NOT a journalist?

"This was purely a conjecture piece. With the lack of facts and overwhelming opinions it seemed more worthy of a letter to the editor or at best a Facebook post."

Or perhaps a humor column.

"This is not a news article."

FINALLY. Someone who gets it.

Are you guys sensing a theme here?  Chicken people take things WAY too seriously.

Mixed in with all the hate mail were a few messages from other people who share some of my fears, grounded or no.  Look, I'm no expert in chickenry.  But I really DID grow up in the country, I've seen the worst and smelliest of rural farming, and I'm in no hurry to experience its tamer urban equivalent. You might think fresh eggs are worth it.  I don't.  I'm fine with the eggs I get at Hy-Vee, and if I feel like going organic, I go to the farmer's market. Both are within five minutes of my house.

Of COURSE there are people out there who have immaculate chicken coops in their back yard, take really good care of their chickens, and are generally awesome. I have no beef with them. This column isn't about them. But once urban chicken-keeping becomes the rage, the trend will make its way to idiots who WON'T take care of their chickens... and then it'll be up to the city to weed out those bad elements. There's a pit bull in an alley by my house that lives in deplorable conditions.  I know for a fact that at least 3 people have reported that dog's owners and condition to the authorities. So far, they've done NOTHING.  Forgive me if I don't put much faith in Rock Island's ability to police the chicken licenses they hand out.

And chickens really ARE mean.  At least the ones I've met.  

I'm not beyond admitting when I need to learn about stuff, and there's chicken-keepers out there eager to share their stories with me. I might take a couple of them up on it, so stay tuned.  I don't just go around hating things without reason. Except Tom Cruise. F*** that guy.

UPDATE: 9/26/16 -  It turns out the entire Quad Cities does NOT support backyard chickens and/or want to string me from the rafters.  Now that the column ran in print today, I've been steadily receiving messages of support from lots of other residents who, like me, aren't especially keen on urban poultry.  While I always suspected this to be the case, it's reassuring to know that not EVERYONE hates me.  Only, like, a portion of the Quad Cities hates me.  Still, I think that's better than Donald Trump's faring, so I'm good with it.

In the meantime, here's the column -- which was meant to be a good-natured jab at the hipster massive chicken coalition in town -- that started all the hubbub.  This is the original unedited version I submitted, so forgive any typos or run-on sentences or what have you. You'll probably be too busy hating me to notice them anyways.

Oh, this column is NOT going to end well.

In the past, when I've suffered through an especially boring week that's left me mentally muddy and bereft of any good column topics, I've occasionally turned to my friends for advice. I've even posted on Facebook once or twice going, "Hey, anybody have any good ideas for a newspaper column?" In the few times I've tried this, I've usually been greeted by the sound of crickets, question marks, or topic suggestions so indecent I'd be hitting the unemployment line by the end of this sentence.

But a weird thing just happened. Without any prompting from me whatsoever, no fewer than four of my friends have hit me up this week on Facebook saying, "Dude, you HAVE to write a column about this." When so many people I care about come at me so passionately, I've GOT to take them up on it, right?

The problem is, I don't think they're gonna like what I have to say about it.

By and large, a vast majority of my friends are, if you'll allow me to crudely stereotype, artsy-fartsy types. The easiest way to make friends is to find people with shared interests, and my interests have never been especially practical. I don't know too many bankers or businessmen. Instead, my friends tend to be actors and artists, hippies and hipsters, vegans and vagabonds. And if there's one thing that unites this motley crew of miscreants, it's, umm, apparantly now a shared desire to murder chickens.

Until this week, I would've told you with absolute certainty that I didn't know anyone who harbored a secret desire to raise backyard chickens for eggs or meat. But then last week some news stories popped up about many of our local communities, including my own Rock Island, reconsidering their long-standing bans on keeping chickens within city limits. Before I knew it, it was the prime trending topic amongst my friends on social media. For a while, it was kind of refreshing. I'd certainly rather watch people bicker about poultry over politics. But now poultry has BECOME politics. My inbox is full of petition requests: SIGN NOW TO SUPPORT BACKYARD CHICKENS IN ROCK ISLAND!

I get it, I do. Keeping your own chickens is just the next evolutionary step in urban farming. It's steampunk, it's sustainable living, it's organic. In one fowl swoop, you're damning the man, living off the grid, making a difference, saving money, and treating dinner with dignity. It's the perfect hobby for the eco-friendly artsy hipster in all of us.

There's just one problem... I don't want backyard chickens in my neighborhood. And now I'm probably gonna lose my membership card to the Cool Kid's Club. Great.

I like chickens just fine. I like them plucked, skinned, deboned, covered in Saran Wrap, and potentially even shaked and baked -- anything it takes for them to end up on my plate looking as little like the murdered remains of once-cute birds as possible. I'm all for animal rights, and I shiver when I see one of those shameful undercover videos of livestock mistreatment at mega-farms. I'd make a decent vegetarian if chicken wasn't delicious and tofu didn't taste like gelatinous plastic. I deal with my carniverous shame the best I can: by stubbornly turning a blind eye to the more slaughterous aspects of meat-eating.

I grew up in the country, and if I wanted to hang out with poultry, I'd still be out there. There are advantages to city life, and one of them is the ability to go about my day-to-day existence without bearing daily witness to the circle of life. I know what you're gonna say: "Backyard coops are for eggs, not murder!" Fair enough, but let's be honest -- once hens are past their egg-bearing years, they're not put out to pasture as much as put on dinner plates.

If one of my neighbors suddenly set up a chicken coop, I know exactly how it'd play out. Within minutes, I'd be the one going "Aww! Wookit da cute chickins!" It wouldn't take long before I'd feel guilty even looking sideways at a Chik-Fil-A. I eat too much red meat already, people. If I were to develop an affinity for chickens and paired that with my natural aversion to vegetables, all that's left would be an all-burger diet and early death. Congratulations, your backyard chickens just killed me.

Plus, chicken coops stink. That's fact. "But Shane," you say, "my great-aunt Mildred raised chickens all her life and her backyard always smelled springtime fresh!" That's because your great-aunt Mildred probably knew what she was doing. You don't. She raised chickens all her life. You watch "Game of Thrones" and wear ironic t-shirts. The day you decide you'd rather visit a microbrewery than tend to your brood, you're gonna have a funky coop in no time. My hay fever already ensures that I spend half the year in a snot-nosed, Claritin-popping stupor. I'm sure adding feathers and feed dust to the air will just do wonders in that department.

If we green-light urban chickens, please please please at least ban roosters like most other towns. I'm fine with some random clucking. But the minute some wayward rooster starts crowing at 5 a.m., it might be MY turn to try my hand at poultrycide. Sorry, Professor Plum, it was the sleep-deprived neighbor, in the chicken coop, with the candlestick.

I can't speak for everyone's neck of the woods, but on MY block, any potential chicken populace would already be outnumbered by the legions of feral cats and raccoons that roam the streets. You could step out for eggs one morning and instead find yourself in the grisly aftermath of a full-scale poultrycaust. That's no way for Little Timmy to learn about the food cycle.

Besides, chickens are kinda mean. In my limited dealings with them, they're not quite as keen on sacrificing their offspring to us as we'd like them to be. Those beaks are sharp, people. Plant a garden instead. Tomatoes don't poop, cluck, or peck you in the ankles. If you've really got your heart set on fostering some chickens, do it out in the sticks where I can continue to live in ignorant bliss of the sights, smells, and noise of modern chickenry.

Sorry, friends, that I was too chicken to tell you how much I loathe chickens. You wanted me to write about it? Ta-da. Mission accomplished. (Curtsy). See, I told you this column wasn't going to end well.


Oh, great. An existential crisis. This is clearly what my week needed.

I'm feeling something at the moment, but I'm not quite certain as to what. Either I'm (a) mad at myself, (b) sad for myself, or (c) mad at myself about feeling sad for myself. No matter the answer, it's a fairly ridiculous and selfish mindset to be in.

As I type this column, two important things are happening to friends both named Chris. In New York City, it's election day - and one of my closest friends from college is running for New York Democratic State Committee. Meanwhile, across the sea and around the world in Nagoya, Japan, another of my closest friends is mere hours away from fatherhood, as his wife is scheduled for a c-section within the hour.

These are big deal events. Milestones in a person's life. The kind of accomplishments that define someone.

So what's MY biggest accomplishment of late? What's MY milestone? Well, I finally made the move from #35 to #34 on the X-Box Rock Band leaderboards. I'm the 34th best in the world at humming into a plastic microphone on a video game designed for people half my age. AWESOME! YAY ME!

I'm not jealous of my friends. Well, okay, maybe I'm a LITTLE jealous of my friends. But I don't begrudge them their accomplishments. It's always amazing to see people I care about getting married or scoring fantastic jobs or moving to exotic places, especially when my biggest memories of these people involve sitting around living rooms, watching TV, playing video games, and generally not doing a whole lot with our lives.

But sometimes it feels like I'm STILL not doing much with my life. I'm still in that same living room, playing the same video games. (Admittedly, I now have a MUCH better TV, so don't tell me I haven't evolved.) In our clique of friends, I was always the DJ, eagerly playing records at every party and get-together. I'm still moonlighting on the weekends as a DJ, but the clique I'm spinning records for these days could be the CHILDREN of my clique.

People evolve. Life happens. And just like the small panic attack I had during my recent office move, my initial instinct to change is always to greet it with hostility and disdain. Thankfully, though, it's a brief reaction, and then I settle down while two important things happen. (1) I get excited for my friends and their milestones and triumphs over adversity, and then (2) I realize that my own life is going pretty well after all. Don't cry for me, Argentina. The truth is I really like being me.

Let's look at my friend Chris out in New York City. He's spent the past nine months knocking on doors and campaigning non-stop to become a Democratic State Committeeperson. It's an unpaid position, and kind of a thankless one at that. Out there, committeepeople are in charge of determining judicial candidates, representing their districts at state conventions, and are basically the local boots on the ground for other Democratic candidates in need of support.

Chris has made headlines in his campaign because he's running on a shoestring budget without accepting large campaign contributions from donors he might feel beholden to. Instead, he's doing things his way, and he just knocked on his 14,000th door. And his reward if he wins? He gets to start all over again, knocking on doors in support of other Democratic candidates and urging his district to get out and vote come November. Knowing Chris, I'm sure he thinks it's all great fun.

Me? I'll take a pass on the door-knocking, thanks. I know how well I respond when a stranger knocks on MY door, and I'm sure the average resident of Brooklyn has an equally short fuse. Thanks, but no thanks. Campaining one-on-one like that would require internal fortitude and patience that I just don't possess.

Then there's my OTHER friend Chris, who randomly answered an online ad for English tutors in Japan a few years back. He's now been in the Land of the Rising Sun long enough to meet, marry, and procreate with his wife. But no sooner were the couple celebrating the surprise pregnancy when she developed complications that have kept her on hospital bedrest for the past three months, leaving Chris to handle all baby-fication duties on his own. Now imagine that task while living in a country whose language you barely understand.

Had that been ME, you might as well just place me in the adjacent hospital room, because I would've had a nervous breakdown faster than you could look up the Japanese word for "crib." I'm not anti-baby in the slightest. I think kids are awesome and having my own would be the adventure of a lifetime. But let's be honest -- I can't tie my shoes, can't swim, can't snap my fingers, and can barely care for two cats. Putting the life of a tiny human into my hands might not be the best call.

So I might be jealous of my friends from time to time, but I've got a great life. I've got a job I love going to and a house I love coming home to. I might not be running for office or extending the Brown family line in any real hurry, but hey, that gives me time to DJ, play video games,  watch bad TV, and have loads of free time. Heck, my friends might be jealous of ME sometimes.

But best of all, I'm just glad to have friends. Whether they're down the street or continents away, I've got a clique I can lean on and people who make me laugh, and that's all I need in life.

As I typed this column, two important things happened to friends both named Chris. One lost his election bid, but NOT by a landslide, and he's already looking forward to the next one. The other just provided our clique with its newest member, Alana Hatsuko. Mom and baby are doing well, and we've yet to see 4 horsemen riding through the sky, so it appears Chris' spawning did NOT herald the end of days as some feared. Now to get them to move back here, otherwise that's gonna be a long commute to babysit.

COLUMN: Wal-Mart

I'm in no way, shape, or form qualified to discuss city planning. I know this because I'm really bad at Sim City.

In the popular computer simulation game, you become "mayor" of a virtual city that you create from the ground up. The goal is to grow your town into a thriving metropolis while staying within budget and keeping your little sim populace happy. Fiscal solvency is hard, and it's easy to allow your village to become rife with crime, congestion, and unhappy little sims that move away. If you do a bad enough job, you get a message that your Sim-citizens want to recall you out of office.

Usually when I reach this point in the game, I cease being a benevolent ruler and instead create a totalitarian hellscape from which no Sim can escape. If you hate living in my town NOW, just wait 'til I remove all the roads, close all nightlife, and drop minimum wage to $1 a day. An early version of the game had disaster scenarios including the local flood of '93. Your goal was to save downtown Davenport, but I found it much more cathartic to divert the floodwaters directly into the Sim homes of my ex-girlfriends over and over again.

The best I could ever muster in Sim City was turning a desolate dirt field into a barely functioning neighborhood. Still, this seems better than the leaders of Rock Island, whose primary accomplishment over the past four years has been turning a barely functioning neighborhood into a desolate dirt field.

When the mayor announced years ago that Wal-Mart was considering a new location on 11th Street, my initial reaction was, "Pfft. Yeah, THAT'LL happen." We already had the world's loneliest K-Mart on nearby Blackhawk Road, so why would Wal-Mart be any more of a success story? Still, I understood why city leaders got excited. That's a lot of inbound tax dollars to the city, so I never faulted city leaders for cheering the project on.

But I stopped cheering when the city began spending mad amounts of money prepping the space when there was no contract and no firm commitment. They levelled Watchtower Plaza, one of the most unique features of the entire 11th St. corridor. They took out the fire-damaged Town & Country Lanes, my favorite low-rent bowling alley ever. Several tax-paying businesses had to fold or relocate. And now, after umpteen contract extensions and a whole lotta talk, Wal-Mart has backed out, leaving Rock Island with a freshly minted dirt field that we taxpayers had the pleasure of spending an estimated 15 million dollars for. The mayor's blaming Wal-Mart, the aldermen are blaming the mayor, and we're the ones left reaching for the pocketbook.

Don't take what I'm about to say the wrong way. If there's one thing I hate, it's people who stereotype Rock Island as the ugly stepchild of the Quad Cities. I love Rock Island. It's been my home since 1988. Like any city, it has good parts and it has bad parts. There's a lot worse places to find oneself than the 11th St. corridor, but I think we can all admit it's not exactly Rodeo Drive. Once upon a time, when it was the only direct way to the cinemas in Milan, it was a bustling thoroughfare. These days, it's home mostly to shuttered buildings and "cash for gold"-type stores that become prevalent in economically depressed areas. The revitalization of 11th Street is going to need a team of experts, lots of meetings, and a pile of incentives to get off the ground. You can't just solve things by plopping a Wal-Mart in the middle of the mess.

Big box stores aren't a fix-all. They might be tax monsters, but they're also notoriously low wage payers. They're usually no friend of the environment. The Quad Cities is already littered with the shuttered skeletons of former big box retailers who pack up and leave the minute they can open a SUPER-big-box-store elsewhere. They hold all the cards, and that's why they can express interest in opening a new store and sit back while cities like Rock Island ruin themselves just to woo them.

Rock Island's almost as bad at Sim City as I am. When I first moved up here, the casino was supposed to be the big fix that revitalized downtown. But as soon as the casinos fought their way on land, Rock Island's was the first to hightail it out to the interstate, where the flood plain all but ensures no surrounding development. When Farmall closed, we were told that the Quad City Industrial Center would be the future of Rock Island manufacturing, but then no one moved in and it became just another decaying husk.

In the 90s, Rock Island nightlife was second to none. Blocks of thriving clubs, theaters, and eateries made The District THE place to be on any given weekend. But then the city decided to shift their downtown development towards lofts and family living while making it harder and harder for nightlife to flourish. But it was the nightlife that made people want to live in those lofts in the first place, and now The District is a shell of its former self.
So what should the city do with their fifteen million dollar weed-covered empty lot? Don't ask me, I stink at Sim City. If it was me, I'd rebuild the bowling alley, throw in a dance club and a concert venue, toss in a gaming center and a record store and I'd never leave. But if my ideal Shanetown won't work in Sim City, it probably won't here, either. Maybe its time the city went the bohemian route. Heck, lure Whole Foods to that empty lot and watch the entire neighborhood turn granola and hipster.

I don't know the best answers, but I'm not supposed to. This is why we elect officials who are supposed to know a thing or two about urban management. Rock Island leaders should have known better, and they'd better be pro-active at sorting out a new plan pronto. As I said from experience, if you let your Sims down too often, they just might vote you right out of office.

COLUMN: Rock Band Redux

It's been a bad week to be a Shane.

I'm not a huge fan of change or upheaval. There's comfort in the familiar, safety in the status quo. Change, however, is a question mark of excitement. It could be good, but it's often bad, and I prefer not to take the risk. When push comes to shove, I'd rather not be pushed OR shoved, thanks much. My natural resistance to change will try your very last ounce of patience. If it were up to me, I'd probably still be in my mother's womb, holding onto an ovary for dear life.

But against my will, a small amount of change has been injected into my life this week, and I am NOT acclimating well. Plus I'm a horrible writer, because I'm sure you're now bracing for some kind of big exciting news, and I've got nothing to offer. All I'm dealing with are a handful of mundane changes at the office that anyone with a desk job has likely been though a dozen times. But for me, of course, it's nothing less than my entire world torn asunder.

First off, my boss of umpteen years decided to up and leave the cozy confines of Castle Dispatch/Argus for a new husband and new career. Why ANYONE would leave the cherished job of overseeing the likes of ME is beyond comprehension, but leave she did, and that's a bummer because she's a lovely person. I now have a new boss who seems equally as lovely, but it's all just kind of new and different and exciting and I already need an antacid.

The real punch to the gut, though, was finding out that our entire department was moving to a different part of the office. For the past decade, I've been in the most coveted room on the floor, at a desk with a pristine window view and loads of room for my natural tendency to hoard. The room we're moving to is basically a glorified hallway with nary a window in sight and zero room for needless junk. Of course, it took a co-worker to remind me that a decade ago, I was whining just as hard about moving from our cozy little room into that "horribly large drafty room with all that oppressive natural light."

I just hate change because it's change. If we were moving into the Playboy Mansion where I'd have to work surrounded by half-naked centerfolds, I'd be the guy whining about the humidity from the grotto and the weird old guy wandering around in his pajamas. Truth be told, I'm getting along well with the new boss and I like the vibe of the new work space, but still -- it's change.

So I've spent the past week having a series of small panic attacks, going through boxes, and quite literally throwing away my life's work. Okay, so maybe my life doesn't need to hang on to faxes I sent in 1996, but it's still traumatic. How much junk did I have crammed in my desk? When they went to move it this week, it broke in two if that tells you anything. Now I'm dealing with office change, boss change, and yes, desk change.

My only solace has been coming home to a house blessedly free of change. Since I knew I was facing a week of upheaval and stress, I vowed to spend every NON-working moment indulging in that which makes me the happiest, most level-headed person I can be.

That's right -- I've been in the basement, rediscovering my love for Rock Band.

When I first heard about a video game that required you to push buttons rhythmically on a fake plastic guitar, I thought it sounded ridiculous (and it pretty much is.) But then I played it, and an obsession was born. Try as I might, though, I was pretty bad at fake guitars and fake drums. But one fateful day, sitting at home by myself, I thought it would be a laugh to pick up the microphone and learn just how bad I was at fake vocals.

I can't sing to save my life, but that's not really a prerequisite in video game singing. In Rock Band, you're judged vocally by holding the right note on the microphone. I can't sing, but it turns out I can make an "ooo" sound in roughly the correct pitch when required -- but the only way I can do it with any degree of accuracy is to "ooo" in the most embarassing, shrillest falsetto I can muster. Imagine getting kicked in the groin and then attempting to play the kazoo and you'll be close. It's a horrifying noise. It's a noise that makes cats meow in concern and leave the room. It's a noise that few outside of a VERY small group of forgiving friends and housecats have ever heard. I'm not proud of the noise.

But it's also a noise that scores MASSIVE points in the game. Before I knew it, I was racking up high scores on nearly every song, winning tournaments, and wasting an absurd amount of my time and income going "ooo" in my basement. I might sound like a baby goat in distress, but in the world of Rock Band, I'm Freddie Mercury, people.

But, you know, that was back in my carefree youth -- you know, when I was (cough) thirty-five. A 30-something playing Rock Band is only kinda pathetic, but a 40-something sneaking into his basement to go "ooo" is almost guys-in-white-coats worthy. But in a week where work has left me a stressed-out wreck, it's been the best therapy I can muster. I hadn't played in years, but thanks to this week, I'm currently ranked as the #52 vocalist in the world. I plan on stopping -- just as soon as I out-"ooo" 51 strangers. As mid-life crises go, I could do worse.

When I was cleaning out my desk, I discovered my former boss had left me her tin of spare change. On it, she wrote a simple note: "Change: you can't move forward without it." She's right, and work will soon be awesome again, I'm sure. But it's nice to know that while some things change, some things stay the same, even if that thing is a shrill "ooo" coming from a basement somewhere in Rock Island. I still love my job -- just don't ask why I've been showing up hoarse every morning.

COLUMN: Fine Art

It's no secret that our state's in a fiscal pickle right now. Any attempts to fix Illinois' budget woes have been routinely stymied by the political gridlock in Springfield, and there's only so far into the abyss we can fall before we lose grip on the rope to pull ourselves out. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Cook County, where Chicago's already fragile infrastructure is struggling to keep its head above water. As a result, Cook County keeps looking for new and exciting ways to tax its businesses and citizens. Well, they've got a new one -- and it's a doozy.

Ever wonder why concert and theatre tickets in Chicago cost a fortune? One of the main reasons is that 3% of your ticket price goes straight to Cook County's "amusement tax." It's been in place for a long time and large scale venues in the Chicagoland area have learned to live with it.

Thankfully, though, it comes with a loophole. Venues with a capacity of 750 or fewer are exempt from the amusement tax so long as the cover charges or ticket prices are for "in-person, live theatrical, live musical or other live cultural performances." The code goes on to define these live cultural performances as "any of the disciplines commonly regarded as fine art, such as live theater, music, opera, drama, comedy, ballet, modern or traditional dance, and book or poetry readings."

This is a crucial exemption. A 3% amusement tax probably doesn't have much impact on Chicago's huge concert arenas or large downtown theaters, but for a hole-in-the-wall corner bar charging $4 to see a developing band, 3% could be the very difference between success and failure.

Cities NEED small performance venues if they want culture to flourish. The Smashing Pumpkins did not one day wake up, form a band, and headline ampitheaters. Like every other band in the city, they had to make their name playing dive bars and holes-in-the-wall while honing their craft and gaining loyal fans. In fact, I remember going to shows in Chicago in the early 90s and walking out to find the Smashing Pumpkins standing in the rain, handing out flyers, begging kids to come see them play a late show down the street. For culture to thrive, small clubs need to be incentivized, not hit with a 3% tax.

But at a hearing last week, an administrator from the county's Department of Administrative Hearings (if that's not a red flag in and of itself) announced that live music venues in Chicago should not be exempt from the amusement tax because "rap music, country music, and rock 'n' roll do not fall under the purview of fine art."

In other words, Chicago has become "Footloose" as written by George Orwell.

As a result, needless tax dollars will be spent this October when the city goes to court to argue that rock, country, rap, and electronic music do not constitute their definitions of "music" and "culture." They're even trying to collect BACK amusement taxes from previously exempt small clubs, to the tune of around $200,000 per venue -- a fee which would easily bankrupt small clubs that subside from one show to the next.

This is some terrifyingly Draconian Frasier-Crane-style nonsense.

Let's look at the dictionary. Google defines fine art as "creative art, whose products are to be appreciated primarily or solely for their imaginative, aesthetic, or intellectual content." Mirriam-Webster goes simpler: "A type of art that is done to create beautiful things."

So, Hearing Administrator of the Department of Administrative Hearings, who are you to tell me what IS and ISN'T beautiful? Everybody has their own tastes. I can tell you with absolute certainty that I would rather listen to industrial machinery than attend an opera -- industrial machinery might at least have a beat I can groove to. But that's just MY taste -- you might dig an opera or a classical recital, and that's just dandy. But don't for a second try to tell me that Beethoven is somehow intrinsically more beautiful than Brian Wilson.

If rock, country, rap, and electronic music shouldn't be exempt from the amusement tax, then why does the exemption exist in the first place? To benefit Chicago's numerous small corner bars featuring live opera every weekend? Because those don't exist. Where do you draw the culturally "fine" line between a "live poetry reading" and a Lil Wayne show?

They're also going after venues featuring performances by DJs, claiming that the art of mixing records doesn't fall "within any disciplines considered fine art." This makes me want to raise a finger in salute, and I'll leave it up to you to guess which finger. I'm a weekend DJ myself, and I'm not conceited enough to call myself an "artist." But log on to Youtube right now and look up any video of DJ Q-Bert or Cut Chemist in action and tell me that's not art. I remember being at a warehouse in Cedar Rapids at 3 a.m. on a Saturday night as DJ ESP Woody McBride brought me to tears with a DJ set.

Again, that's just me. You might hate rap music or dance beats. That's cool. I think the most beautiful band in the world is the British group My Bloody Valentine. My mom once heard them and truly thought my stereo was broken. To each their own -- that's what art's all about. As long as someone out there finds it beautiful, it's fine art and that's fine by me.

That's why, come October, several small venues will be challenging this ridiculous ruling. According to the Chicago Reader, they're coming to court armed with witnesses that run the gamut from DJs to musicologists, all to make the obvious argument that music is, well, music. Remember when you were a kid rocking out to your favorite record when suddenly some adult started yelling, "Turn that garbage off! You kids today don't know what REAL music is!" Remember how MAD that made you? How your mom and dad had NO business telling you what is and isn't music? Well, the government shouldn't be in that business, either.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go put on some fine art by The Clash and turn the volume to 11. Trust me, it's gonna sound beautiful.

COLUMN: Enter the George

Have you guys been watching "Stranger Things" on Netflix?

The critically acclaimed show about a ragtag team of 8th graders taking on inter-dimensional aliens has been winning the hearts of fans and critics alike. It's a total throwback that conjures "E.T.," "The Goonies," and all those deliciously bad horror flicks from the 80s that remain near and dear to my heart. It's not the best TV show of all time, but it certainly makes you nostalgic for the days when you used to care what the best TV show of all time was.

Any show with nerd heroics is especially satisfying for me since I've been down that path myself. When my parents bought me an Apple IIe in middle school, I'm sure they had the best of intentions. Little did they know, it was the gateway to a world of dungeons, dragons, science fiction, and endless ridicule from the popular kids.

I was nerd before nerd was cool, and I had the requisite pack of nerdy friends that I hung with through middle school and junior high. Chief among them was my friend George. He and I had a long friendship built predominantly on two things: (1) Our shared love of long-winded RPG video games, and (2) George's never-ending attempts to make me a fan of heavy metal. On any given weekend, you could find the two of us gathered in front of a computer screen, busily slaying orcs while Iron Maiden blared in the background.

As time went on, our clique drifted apart. George got accepted into the prestigious Illinois Mathematics & Science Academy, while I discovered dance beats and DJing. We still stayed in touch, but George's post-doctorate work in artificial intelligence and machine learning took him from California to New York, Florida and beyond. I just always assumed that one day, the massive pulsating contents of his brain would either save or enslave all of humanity.

Instead, it brought him to my house last weekend.

George is currently inbetween gigs and holding court at his parents house in Galesburg, in the same bedroom where we once defeated a pirate horde, descended into the Stygian Abyss, fought our way to the Codex of Infinite Wisdom, and heard those words every aspiring nerd dreamed of, "Congratulations, thou hast completed Ultima IV." The other day, George called to see if I wanted a guest for the weekend, and I couldn't have been happier to invite him up.

This was a big deal for me. It's not often that I get to see any of the old nerd clique, let alone have the chance to introduce them to my current friends, who were most eager to meet this King of the Nerds I'd been telling stories of for years on end.

But what exactly does one DO when two worlds collide? I spent four years at college listening to my big-city friends berate the Quad Cities daily. Listening to them, you'd have thought we were all trapped in Hayseed Alley with little to do but watch the river roll by. Truth be told, there's a LOT of stuff to do in the Quad Cities, and this was one of our most option-filled weekends of the year.

We could have gone to the John Deere Classic. We could have gone to Doc's Inn to see the Too White Crew. We could have gone down to the District and had our faces melted off by bass at Patrick Rifley's Digital Circus. We could have driven out to the greatest concert venue in the world, Codfish Hollow, to see legendary indie chanteuse Jenny Lewis. We could have watched the most epic tug-of-war in the USA. We could have gone to any number of theaters, comedy clubs, arcade bars, or dance floors at our disposal.

Instead, we ended up at a hog confinery.

After George arrived, the two of us met up with my friends Jason and Dianna for some outstanding Mongolian barbecue. Dianna surprised us all by showing up in a new car that she'd just bought that day.

"Want to take it around the block?" she asked as we left the restaurant. Aimless drive? Heck yes.

As we hopped in her car, somebody mentioned the meteor shower happening that night. Instantly, Jason had his phone out and was accessing an app that points you towards nearby light-pollution free zones for ideal stargazing.

Driving towards darkness, I mentioned having seen Jupiter hanging out by the Moon a few days prior.

"I'm so out of touch I can't even remember whether Jupiter or Saturn is closer to Earth," Jason said.

"My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas," replied Dianna.

"WHAT?" we all said in unison.

It turns out it's a mnemonic device I'd never heard of. My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas. Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto.

"Shouldn't it be my-very-educated-mother-just-served-us-nothing?" asked George. "Pluto's been uninvited to the party."

"Technically," I said, "the whole thing's poor grammar. Shouldn't it be 'my WELL-educated mother'?"

Jason looked at me with a smirk. "Only if you want a planet named Wenus."

It started with giggles, then soon the whole car was bouncing with laughter. Within minutes, we were pondering if men are from Mars, would women still be from Wenus? Likely not. At some point, I led the car in a sing-along of "I'm your wenus, I'm your fire, what's your desire?"

Eventually, we found our dark sky, which most certainly did NOT involve pulling off and trespassing at some kindly farmer's hog confinery without said kindly farmer's knowledge. Many laughs were shared. George, never one for the outdoors, saw his first ever meteor. It was nothing shy of perfect.

The Quad Cities has a lot to do if you look hard enough. But I'll trade it all for a night of immature laughs with real friends. George and I were outcasts 20 years ago, and maybe my friends and I are still outcasts today. If that means more nights like this, score one for the outcasts.

COLUMN: Olympics

You want me to write a column? NOW? You can't be serious. I'm a little busy -- the Olympics are on (duh.)

Like most of you, I'm a little preoccupied enjoying these two infrequent weeks when we, as a nation, come together and really, truly care about swimming. Days from now, I won't give swimming a second thought until 2020. I don't even know HOW to swim. Yet here I've sat, night after night, cheering on the very sort of intimidating jocks I once feared in high school.

It's easy to enjoy competitive swimming, though, when our country seems preternaturally amazeballs at it. Some of these swimmers look to have more muscle strength in their shoulders than I do in my whole body -- and that's just the GIRLS. I'm pretty sure Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte could pick me up and throw me like a gelatinous shot put if they felt like it.

I don't even understand how one goes about commanding their body to do these tasks. Take gymnastics, for instance. I guarantee I couldn't even stand up straight on a balance beam without tumbling to my near death, let alone jump and twirl and flip and such. Obviously gymnasts are physical powerhouses who've spent years honing their bodies into fat-free balancing machines, whereas I can't seem to take my trash out without risk of ankle breakage.

But let's pretend for a second that I was in peak physical condition. Let's say that instead of this fat gut, I had abs of steel and muscles I didn't even know about. Even I were physically capable of the act, I still don't understand how you can tell your body, "Okay, this time when you jump on the big spring, I'm gonna need you to do two somersaults and something called a half pike twist, 'kay? Oh, yeah, and be sure to stick the landing." My brain would just start laughing at me. Maybe I'm defective.

I've found that it's easy to root for Team USA AND at the same time feel just a little bad for yourself. I've now watched kids half my age wearing newly acquired jewelry as proof that they're the best athletes in the world. I've had twice their time on Earth and I've never been the best of anything (though if they ever introduced the sport of competitive procrastination, I might be in that medal hunt.) It's easy to get depressed watching Olympians be great.

That's when you have to remind yourself that, "Oh, that's right, I decided to have a LIFE instead." No one woke up an excellent gymnast. These kids have trained for hours every day for years on end. Some of them have been born and bred into champions, and it's the only life they've ever known. I'm sure it's pretty awesome to be a gold medalist. But you know what else is awesome? Knowing what happened on "Big Brother" last night. Knowing what a cheeseburger tastes like. Having a cushion of your couch with a perfect indentation of your butt in it. I'll never be an Olympian, but I've also never had the displeasure of getting up before dawn to train for ANYTHING, and that's a win as far as I'm concerned.

It's fun to root for Team USA as they swim, run, and tumble their way to victory, but if you're only paying attention to the popular sports, you're robbing yourself of the best Olympic fun: the weird sports that only make their way to our TV sets at 3 a.m. when normal people have gone to bed.

For instance, there's rugby, the sport for folks who just don't think football's violent enough. Rugby's making its first Olympic appearance since 1924, and I can't get enough of it. I also have NO idea what I'm watching, but who cares. It's kind of like football, in that there's a ball and the players have feet. But it's also kind of like a complicated game of hot potato, because players are constantly making lateral or reverse passes to one another.

But then once you think you know what's going on, the announcer says the word "scrum" and suddenly everybody dogpiles around the ball in a brutal orgy of confusion until the ball shoots out under somebody's legs and play resumes. There's tackles just like football -- except in football, the players wear protective gear and helmets. Rugby equipment appears to involve little more than a t-shirt and socks. Hop online and watch any of the kajillion videos labelled "Awesome rugby hits!" and you'll routinely see dudes bloodied and unconscious. This is not a sport for people who enjoy keeping their teeth.  

But it still doesn't hold a candle to my all-time favorite Olympic event: competitive genital crushing, or as the Olympics call it, team handball. I wrote about it four years ago, and I wrote about it four years before that. I won't stop writing about it every four years until everybody realizes how amazing it is.

When I think of "handball," I think of the game you play on racquetball courts when you forget your racquet. Or perhaps the setting you put your 70's Pong game on when you're playing solo. But no, team handball is a far more satisfying sport, though "ballsball" would be a more appropriate name.

Imagine hockey, but without the sticks or puck. Instead, players run around and toss what looks to be a malnourished soccer ball. Using keep-away style passes, players advance the ball down a small court. Once in range, one player will eventually leap up and whip the ball at lightning speed in the immediate direction of the goalie's nether-regions. Occasionally, the ball will miss their genitals and instead land in the net, earning a point. The winning team is the one with the most points or the goalie still capable of bearing children upon conclusion of the match. I'd say this game is nutty, but that seems way too obvious a joke.

So when you watch these last few days of the Olympics, don't just stick to primetime coverage. Hop onto NBC's website and catch some rugby and handball. Check out the excitement of the dressage competition or the thrill of competitive trampoline. As for me, I'm headed to the basement to do some training. On the off chance that Guitar Hero becomes a recognized sport in 2020, I want to be ready.