Tuesday, July 05, 2016

COLUMN: Men in Black

Bad news, folks. We've got trouble, right here in River City. If recent reports are to be believed, our area could be looking at a danger the likes of which we, and quite possibly the entire human race, have never seen. And you know what happens whenever a troubling news story of such grave importance comes to our attention?

That's right, we send in the humor columnist.

Other reporters might be afraid of causing a panic, sensationalizing the truth, or fictionalizing news when there really is none, but that's never stopped me. Let's monger up some fear, what say?

Over the past two weeks, news stories, posts on social media, and calls to 911 have logged multiple sightings of mysterious men in black hanging out along the roadside at various locales in our neighboring Muscatine County. It's been reported that these ominous looking black-suited figures have been seen lurking in the shadows and occasionally trying to make contact with passing vehicles along Route 22.

Some people are assuming that it's just bored teenagers out to scare passersby, but my journalistic intuition says otherwise. Occam's Razor tells us that the simplest explanation for something is usually the correct one, and what explanation for these events is simpler than a FULL SCALE ALIEN INVASION OF MUSCATINE, IOWA?

So-called "men in black" have long been associated with UFO sightings, alien conspiracies, and high-grossing Will Smith movies. The stories are usually all similar: some hapless person witnesses a UFO, but before they can tell anyone, they're visited by mysterious men dressed in black who intimidate and threaten them into silence. Some claim these men in black belong to a secret branch of the government or some kind of shadow organization. Others say the men in black are aliens themselves. Whatever they are, it's clear that Muscatine is rife with 'em, and even the local police have taken note.

"We take this seriously," the Muscatine County Sheriff's Office posted on Facebook. Which is good, because I sure don't. But what's an intrepid reporter to do on a boring Friday night but assemble a crack team of investigators (namely me and my friend Jason) and head down to Muscatine to see these men in black for ourselves. Thankfully, I took notes:

8:45 p.m., Route 22.

"So why would aliens pick Muscatine of all places?"
"If I had to guess? Office furniture."
"Hon DOES make a quality workstation. You think they need file cabinets for their spaceships?"
"Colonizing a planet has got to require a crazy amount of paperwork. They must have an abundance of clerical staff onboard."
"But you're presuming these aliens take humanoid form. What if they're a race of gelatinous blobs?"
"Then they'll definitely need someplace to put their pens."
"I can't argue with that logic."

9:04 p.m., Route 22.

We have yet to see any Men In Black, though we HAVE encountered several Deer In Brown. None seem especially alien in nature, but I can attest they're equally terrifying to encounter by the side of the road.

9:15 p.m., Route 22.

"You know who I feel sorry for right now?"
"Dapper businessmen with car trouble."
"Imagine trying to hitch a ride and instead everyone just screams and calls you an alien."
"Welcome to Trump's America."

9:25 p.m., Muscatine.

We just passed a cop with a radar gun. Happily, we weren't speeding. When a police officer asks what you're doing twenty-five miles away from home in the pitch middle of the night, you probably shouldn't lead with "looking for aliens."

9:32 p.m., Muscatine.

It must be noted that Muscatine mayor Diana Broderson has no comment on the men in black sightings. To be fair, this might be because I never asked her for one. Still, her silence speaks volumes.

9:40 p.m., Muscatine.

Perhaps Muscatine has a long-standing relationship with alien visitors and we need to look deeper to spot any anomalies. Jason decides to see if he can re-arrange the letters in "MUSCATINE" to reveal a clue. After several minutes, the best we can muster is "INSEAM CUT" or "MAN CUTIES." More research may be required.

10:04 p.m., Muscatine.

I know it's a bad stereotype, but it's true: We stop for gas to find no fewer than SIX Muscatine County officers inside buying doughnuts. I ask them if they'd had any MiB sightings this weekend. They roll their eyes at me with a look that suggests we're not the first to ask this question tonight. "No," one sternly responds. "What's the deal with these sightings?" I press on. "Is it just kids playing a dumb prank?" "I HAVE NO IDEA," says the officer in a tone that clearly indicates our conversation is over.

10:20 p.m., downtown.

No MiB to report, but we DID notice that Muscatine's bridge over the Mississippi now has a colorful light show in the evenings. Or perhaps it's a series of coded signals to the alien mothership. We drive to the scenic overlook for a closer look and quickly discover we're not the only ones assessing the bridge for possible alien communications. Our car, however, is the only one NOT fogged up and bouncing, so we decide to back away slowly.

In the end, our search was fruitless, and no bogeypeople jumped out at us as we drove around. Perhaps the men in black have moved on to greener pastures. I'm going to assume that they caught wind of my investigative prowess and buggered off. Or maybe that's what They want us to believe, whoever "They" are. Of course, most good conspiracy theorists also presume some sort of sinister bias on the part of the media, too. So if you believe in MiB, you probably DON'T believe anything I have to say. I could be one of Them. Heck, I could be an alien. (I'm certainly looking more and more like a gelatinous blob these days.)

I promise you, though, I'm NOT a Man in Black -- I don't even OWN a suit. But if any of you aliens ever need a Man in Ill-Fitting Khakis, I can probably make some time.

COLUMN: Cry Little Sister

Sometimes people who don't spend their weekends DJing ask people who DO spend their weekends DJing silly questions about why they spend their weekends DJing. It usually goes something like this:

"You must make pretty good money doing that, huh?"

Yes and no. A good DJ doesn't come cheap -- but nearly every dollar I make spinning records goes right back into getting more music and more equipment in order to do it all over again. I'm the only person I know with a tab at a record store.

"You must meet LOADS of girls, right?"

Kinda, but I'm a realist. Girls don't come up to me because they want my hot DJ bod. Girls come up to me because they want to hear Justin Bieber, and they know if they bat their eyes and smile real pretty, I just might play it. It's fun, sure, but it's not the way to meet my soulmate.

So if it's not the money or the girls, what's the biggest perk of being a DJ then? That's easy. Being a DJ gives me front-row access to that most elusive of creatures, intoxicus moronicus: the drunken moron.

People are, by and large, fairly ridiculous. But when you combine humanity's already preposterous nature with an excess of adult beverages, you enter an all-new dimension of absurdity. Over the years, I've witnessed a man mistake a sink for a urinal. I've witnessed a man mistake a urinal for a pillow. I once watched a couple attempt full-on copulation in the middle of a packed dancefloor. One time, I saw a massive fistfight erupt over who was the "most Irish."

Time and again, I bear witness to the mating rituals of the intoxicus moronicus, and it's always a joy. There's nothing more amusing than watching some drunken yahoo pursue a girl who CLEARLY has no interest. A few weekends ago, I was plagued by a guy who kept begging me to play Latin music. "Girls love dancing with me to Latin music!" Sure enough, the minute I pressed play on "Suavemente," this guy hit up and hit on every girl in the place. As it turned out, though, the girls did NOT love dancing with him to Latin music. As it turned out, the guy couldn't dance to save his life. As it turned out, one of the girls had a boyfriend. As it turned out, the guy got a drink poured on his head before security asked him to leave.

Last weekend, though, I met a true pioneer and visionary in the field of how not to handle your liquor.

The place I usually DJ at gets hopping fairly early, but most of the crowd departs shortly after midnight. For the last hour or so, it thins to a resilient group of friends, regulars, and the professionally intoxicated. I had just announced last call and was packing up my gear when I spotted him. His buddies were at the bar, but this guy had lumbered off to a back corner where he was laboriously scrolling through numbers on his phone.

This could only mean ONE thing: the time-honored booty call. Yes, it's the final, desperate move of the intoxicus moronicus before returning to its lair alone. I've never understood such a maneuver. How you can casually call a girl at 2 a.m. and act like she's NOT your absolute last-ditch chance for some action is beyond me. I don't know how its done. Neither did THIS guy.

I wasn't trying to eavesdrop, but I'm sure glad I did. Otherwise, I wouldn't have heard THIS:

"I think about you all the time. Yeah, baby, I'd love to come over... I mean, unless you're still being a [word I can't say in a family paper]."

I'm no expert at love. I have more failed relationships under my belt than this guy had years on Earth. I'm not the one to give dating advice. But I can tell you with certainty that the fastest way to a woman's heart does NOT involve comparing her to a female dog. He honestly seemed stunned when she hung up on him. The guy then looked at his phone dejectedly, shrugged his shoulders as if to say, 'oh well,' tilted his head back, and at the top of his lungs started singing, "Cryyyyyyy, little sister! Thou shalt not faaaaallllll!"

For the uninitated, "Cry Little Sister" is the theme song to the 1987 Corey/Corey masterwork, "The Lost Boys," a ridiculous movie about teenage vampires that was just about the most awesome thing 1987 had to offer. I saw it in the theatre THREE times that summer. But that was twenty-nine years ago. This guy wasn't even alive in 1987, which makes his choice for an a cappella dejection song just about the most random, inappropriate, and completely bonkers thing I'd ever seen. The fact that he even HAD a dejection song at the ready was nothing less than life-affirming.

All I can presume is that once upon a time, this guy watched "The Lost Boys" (again, a movie released about five years prior to his birth,) and it somehow struck SUCH an emotional chord that any time he experiences disappointment from that moment on, "Cry Little Sister" fires up in his head. This would be exactly like me going to the kitchen for a Pop-Tart, realizing I'm OUT of Pop-Tarts, and suddenly all I can hear is the theme to "Planet of the Apes."

I couldn't NOT say anything.

"Dude," I leaned over and asked, "Are you seriously belting out the theme to 'Lost Boys' at 2 a.m. in an empty bar? I bow before your sheer and utter randomness."

"I WISH I WAS A VAMPIRE!" he said to me with the seriousness of Bob Dole on the '96 campaign trail. "Because then I wouldn't have to pay my bar tab."

That, friends, is how drunken logic saved the night. Don't get me wrong, I do not advocate drinking yourself stupid (and yes, we made sure he got home safe.) But if you feel that you MUST, please oh please let me be the one DJing. It's my favorite job perk.


I'm glad I know my place in the world.

It's my job to hopefully put a smile on your face should you happen to get five minutes to visit my little neck of the newspaper. I feel blessed to lead a light-hearted and mostly inconsequential life that I hope we can laugh about together from time to time. I wouldn't want things any other way, and let's be honest: you people are a LOT cheaper than a therapist.

But it's hard to find joy in life this week. There's no silver linings in the news out of Orlando. I can't write silly nonsense about my cats or whatever while I'm in system shock over evil this brutal. World, you might have gotten the better of me this week.

Trust me as a guy who spends his weekends moonlighting in DJ booths around the area, there's few locales more joyful and life-affirming than a packed dance floor. Our country was founded on the principles of freedom and liberation, and if there's anything more indicative of freedom and liberation than "Latin night at a gay dance club," I'll eat my hat. The shooter's name isn't worth the price of newsprint. With any luck, the only thing he accomplished will be a footnote in history that says, "Once upon a time, some jerk thought he could justify his hate through terror and violence. He was wrong."

How could anyone place such little value on human life? How can irrational hate fuel such evil? We, as rational people, might never be able to understand. I tried to see what others were saying. I should have hung out with friends. I should have embraced the people I love and taken stock in everything great about this big blue marble we're lucky enough to share. Instead, I got on Facebook. Bad move.

There I saw people hurting, sad, and reaching out. But I also saw fear breeding anger breeding hate. I saw people using fear to advocate violence and politicians using fear to gain votes. I saw one of my own family members post that "we are officially at war with Islam." No, we're not. To lay this tragedy at the hands of Islam is the same as blaming Christianity for those nutbags at the Westboro Baptist "Church."

And honestly, it seems a little hypocritical when some of the people I saw demanding "justice for the victims" were the same folks threatening those victims a month ago for wanting to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with. The same people who were telling those victims last year that their right to marry threatened the fabric of American life. I'm glad that you folks now feel compassion.

I get the need for action, though. It's tough to sit idly by, wondering and worrying when the next horrific event will occur. I don't want to walk into every DJ gig taking note of the best escape route should something go down. I prefer a world governed by love instead of fear, compassion instead of retribution. At the very least, I want to go back to writing frivolous columns about cats.

Yes, it's a good thing I know my place... or else I'd use this column to tell you that stricter gun control measures should be a priority in this day and age. I might even tell you that no private citizen needs to own a weapon capable of shooting over 100 people in a matter of minutes.

But then you'd tell me that "guns don't kill people, people do." I'd agree, but the guns certainly help. But then you'd likely respond with something about the 2nd Amendment and our right to bear arms. And then I'd tell you that I'm no Constitutional scholar, but the Second Amendment was created with the intent of establishing the militia we now call the National Guard and was NOT designed for you to stockpile an arsenal of military grade weapons for your pleasure. If you need a rapid-fire assault weapon to protect yourself, you must have a LOT of enemies. If you need to let loose 100 rounds of ammo to hunt Bambi, you're either a really lousy shot or WAY over your venison limit.

"But Shane, if we ban guns, bad guys will just find other ways to attack us!" That might be true, but does that mean all laws are pointless because rulebreakers will just break the rules. If common-sense gun laws could hinder even ONE mass shooting, isn't it worth it? I don't want to come for your guns or tread on you. I just want to make it harder for deranged nutbags to walk into a gun store and come out like Rambo fifteen minutes later. Isn't it just common sense?

It's certainly more sensible than the guy who just said, "Had more of those club kids been armed, fewer deaths would have occurred." I've been DJing longer than some of you have been alive. I've seen what can happen when intoxicated idiots rub each other the wrong way. I've watched dozens of dancefloor scuffles play out. Now imagine if every one of those morons had a GUN. If this cult of fear and hate continues, what's next?

I don't have the answers. I'm the guy who writes silly cat columns. I just don't want to see things escalate to the point where all the bad guys have guns, all the good guys have guns, and I can't go to the grocery store without fear of it turning into the OK Corral.

That's why I shut off Facebook. Let others argue about guns and retribution and blame and fear and hate. Me? I went to the vigil at the Unitarian Church in Davenport where I held hands with folks who were gay, straight, Christian, Muslim, young, and old. I watched as people poured their hearts to an open microphone. I watched as sorrow, sympathy, anger, and pain gave way to healing, strength, and love.

At that time, in that moment, I certainly knew my place.


There are many things in life I'm good for, but acts of valor are usually not high on that list.

If you need a rockin' mixtape, I'm here for you. If you require some quality time with cats, I can provide it. If you'd like to have a discussion about pop culture that goes on WAY longer than you anticipated, I'm your guy.

But if it's brute machismo you're looking for, I'm pretty much the last guy you call. Some of us are cut out to be heroes, and some of us are better suited making fun of heroes in a newspaper column. Coincidentally enough, a funny thing happened to me this week.

I received a call from a geniune damsel in genuine distress. Finally, it was MY shot to play the hero. Move over, Mario and Luigi, there's a new guy here to rescue the princess. If you hear a strange noise, it's just the sound of unbridled testosterone coursing through my body.

The call was from my friend Melissa. Not only does she manage a successful and popular restaurant, but she's also an amazing single mom to two awesome kids. The woman is a rock of strength, and truth be told, she's on MY short list whenever I need a hero.

But this Melissa was neither calm, cool, nor collected. The only words that stuck out were "mouse!" "basement!" and "help!"

THIS was a call to arms I could answer. Mice are one of the few things in nature that don't especially terrify me. In fact, I'm something of an expert, given my numerous run-ins with them, of which there have been precisely THREE:

#1: Back when I lived in my old apartment, I awoke one morning to a cat jumping on my chest and proudly spitting a dead mouse directly onto my neck. This is NOT, as it turns out, the ideal way to start your day, and I almost had to call into work with an advanced case of heebie-jeebies.

#2: In same apartment, back in the pre-mortgage days when I could afford such extravagance, I employed a housekeeper who came by occasionally to ensure that my lifestyle never crossed the fine line between "messy" and "biohazard." It was one such afternoon when I was disturbed from my important video gaming by screams. She had bent over to pick up a cat toy only to discover the toy was, in fact, a long-deceased yet quite real mouse. Don't worry, I handled the situation like a real man, with some rubber gloves, a full roll of paper towels, and a macho mantra that went something like, "Ew! Ew! Ew! Ew!"

#3: A few years ago, I was here at work when a mouse ran across my desk at breakneck speed. Again, I reacted responsibly, which was to make THIS noise: "Bfaaackthpf!" while having what I now presume was a mild heart attack.

But honestly, mice don't scare me unless they actually jump out and scare me. They're cute. How hard could this be? As I got in the car, I fired up Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out For A Hero" to great effect.

Upon arrival, I quickly discovered that my rock of a friend is a serious mouse-o-phobe. Upon discovering her uninvited houseguest earlier that night, she had promptly raced to Wal-mart and returned home with two dozen sticky glue mousetraps, which she had already strategically deployed throughout her basement. It was overkill city, and poor Mickey didn't stand a chance.

I, however, was in a good spot. Let's be honest, if that mouse popped out, I wouldn't have any clue what to do other than go, "Aww! It's so cuuuute!" But with an army of people and death traps every two feet, any self-respecting mouse would be DEEP in hiding, right? All I had to do was walk around the room, look concerned, reassure everyone that the traps would do the trick, and depart as a calm and heroic champion. I just had to pray the mouse wasn't already dead in one of those traps, because I sure didn't wanna touch it. Ew.

As it turned out, having the mouse DEAD in one of those traps would have been ideal.

"Mom, we got him!" her son exclaimed as I tried to stifle the expletive trying to leave my mouth. If you ever take ANYTHING away from any of my columns, let it be this: never use glue traps unless you really REALLY have a grudge against mice. I'll spare you the visuals, but I've seen less gruesome exits on "Game of Thrones," people. Mickey was in the glue trap, but he sure wasn't dead, and he was the only one less pleased about the current situation than myself.

I'm capable of many things, but dispatching a twitching animal to the netherworld just isn't in my repertoire. But it HAD to be, right? I heeded the call for a hero, and this hero needed to man up. I just had to steel myself, take a deep breath, and heroically... let a 9-year-old take it from there. That's right, before I could muster the guts to even ask for a rubber glove, Melissa's 9-year-old son bounded in, grabbed the trap, and went about re-enacting the ending of Old Yeller while the rest of us watched in abject horror. Melissa was crying, her daughter was crying, her son started crying, and then I nearly lost it.

Nice one, Shane. You were summoned to be a hero, and in record time you traumatized an entire family and perhaps even taught a 9-year-old the joys of murder. Well done. But as I stood there looking at an entire family in tears, it dawned on me. There might be manlier heroes out there than me. Maybe even 9-year-old ones. But a REAL hero knows how to play to his strengths -- and if there's one thing I'm good at, it's taking life's problems and ignoring them to the best of my ability. And with that, I shouted the four most heroic words I know:


Ten minutes later, we were all contentedly stuffing our faces and laughing our heads off with nary a flashback of rodenticide. Melissa has no more squatters, her son doesn't appear to be psychologically scarred, and her daughter? Well, as soon as I switched the conversation to music, she asked me to make her a mixtape. That's the kind of heroics I might just be able to pull off.        

COLUMN: Honey Bunches of TV Ads

It took a good deal of kicking and screaming on my part, but I've finally been dragged against my will into the modern age.

I have long held fast to the shallow yet usually accurate belief that you can judge a person's worth by the contents of their media collection. If I were dating a girl and then went to her house and discovered that she owned every Ernest movie on DVD, I can safely predict that it won't be a love connection. If I see a Twin Peaks box set or a Chuck Klosterman book on your shelves, though, we might just be soulmates.

But snap judgements like this are hard to make these days. I can't gawk at your media collection when it's floating aimlessly on some virtual "cloud." If this keeps up, I might have to actually, like, get to know you first. Frankly, I have better things to do.

Still, as technology advances, so too must I, lest I turn into a curmudgeonly fossil who lectures kids about the "good ol' days" of DVDs. I have to admit, streaming media can be pretty cool. Netflix and Hulu are now a constant presence in my life, and there's few activites I enjoy more than falling down the rabbit hole of binge watching. "I guess I've always wondered what this 'Scandal' show is all about," I will invariably think to myself, and then one week and 69 episodes later, I'll have a good enough handle on "Scandal" to join in the watercooler discussions at work, assuming that my co-workers like to talk about dumb TV shows, which they don't.

I'm already getting spoiled, though. Now that I'm in the Netflix age, I have officially lost every shred of patience for commercial breaks. Netflix is commercial-free, and you can pay a little extra to make Hulu ad-free as well. But the other day, I wanted to watch something on good old network TV, but all I could think about was how insufferable the commercial breaks were.

This is a troubling mindframe for me to have, given that my primary occupation involves selling ads for this very paper. Without advertisers, there wouldn't be network TV or a Dispatch/Argus. I wouldn't have a column. I wouldn't have a job. Ads don't just pay my bills, they also perform a vital service to the local economy. Ads help businesses thrive and survive, and they help consumers make informed buying decisions.

There's a huge difference, though, between print and TV ads. When you read an ad in our paper, you're usually doing so because you're interested in the content or something about it that caught your eye. You can re-read them as often as you'd like and digest them at your own pace. But now imagine if all the ads in today's paper erased themselves thirty seconds after you turn each page, because that's what TV ad writers have to deal with.

In order for an ad on TV to work, it needs to be visceral, engaging, and memorable. That's why so many go for broke with big budgets, catchy jingles, and comedic timing. Everybody remembers that crazy "Puppymonkeybaby" ad from last year's Superbowl, but can you remember what it was selling? (It's an ad for Mountain Dew Kickstart, but I bet you forgot.)

The stakes are high for TV ads, because there's a fine line between an ad that's memorable and an ad that's annoying. There's one making the rounds right now that I find SO annoying I instinctively change the channel every time it comes on. The super weird thing is that it's a fairly innocuous ad that shouldn't really bother me, but for some reason I hate it with the intensity of a thousand suns.

It's an ad for Honey Bunches of Oats, the breakfast cereal. It's one in a series of mostly cute ads where they interview the actual workers in their factory. Most of them are charming, like the one ad where an enthusiastic guy tells the audience how to check the cereal boxes for the packing codes. "If the last three letters are P-2-2, I packaged that box!" It's down-home and downright charming.

But then there's the OTHER ad. The one with the woman who proudly says, "I get off work and I go to the store and somebody's smelling around and they go, 'I smell cookies,' and I go 'Oh no, you just smell me! I just got outta work! It's Honey Bunches of Oats!'" WHY DOES THIS CREEP ME OUT SO?

For one, I don't like the idea of being in a store where "somebody" is "smelling around." Unless the store in question is a perfumery, this strikes me as unacceptable olfactory behavior. Keep your nose to yourself, "somebody." For two, if I left work and knew that I reeked of Honey Bunches of Oats, I'd probably stop home and take a quick shower before I went out shopping. I don't care if Honey Bunches of Oats smell like heaven in a box, I don't especially fancy the idea of suffocating strangers with my delicious oat funk. Calvin Klein is not about to release "CK4: Oat Honey."

I think my real problem, though, is that I've smelled an oat factory before, and it does NOT smell like cookies, friends. Have you ever been to Cedar Rapids, Iowa? It's a lovely town full of lovely people who I don't in any way want to offend. But let's be honest, Cedar Rapidians: your town reeks. You see, Cedar Rapids is the storied home of the Quaker Oats cereal mill. When the wind kicks up, the mill's odors waft through the whole of Cedar Rapids like the bubonic nose-plague. But it's not the smell of oatmeal cookies. It's more like the smell of oatmeal cookies if you left them in the oven and then they caught fire and then the fire burned your entire house to the ground. As lovely as the innocent woman in the ad is, in MY mind she reeks like industrially-burnt oats and I just want to give her a hug but I can't because she's so stinky.

In the end, it's all subjective. One person might like Puppymonkeybaby, another might find it horrifying. (I find it horrifying which is WHY I like it so much.) So honey bunches of apologies to you, stinky oat lady. If you enjoy smelling like cookies and that's your thing, have fun with it. Just PLEASE stop talking about it on my TV, I've got more important things to watch... I mean do.

COLUMN: Juicer

Bad things can happen when you're bored and have Netflix. The other day I stumbled upon a documentary I probably should've stayed away from. As documentaries go, "Fat Sick and Nearly Dead" is a fairly inspiring one. It's the story of an Australian guy named Joe Cross, and the film documents Joe's transition from someone who looks like me into someone who looks like a vaguely muscular stick.

This is the kind of motivation I need. I'm sick of being fat. "Chunky" I can live with. "Out of shape" is pretty much my credo. But around a decade ago, my nerdy frame took a dramatic shift from "pudgy" to "morbidly obese," and it doesn't seem to be stopping. For a while, I just ignored it, kept buying baggier clothes, and pretended that the me in the mirror was still the me of my twenties. But let's be honest -- the me of today looks like it ate the me of my twenties.

I'm never going to be the guy who runs marathons. I have neither the will nor desire to become an American Ninja Warrior. But I'd like to be able to climb a flight of stairs without being out of breath. I'd like to be able to sit on the floor without worrying about how I'm going to stand myself back up. I'd like to be able to button the necks of my dress shirts. I'd like to occasionally see my feet.

I've been trying to make small changes for a while now. I've cut way back on sugary cola and I've been trying to make smarter food decisions. My problem really isn't over-eating, but when I DO eat, I make super bad choices. The other day I saw an article on the news about a guy in Oregon whose "life was saved" by his local pizza chain who called 911 when the customer missed his DAILY ORDER. People are calling the pizza staff heroes, but something tells me the guy wouldn't have needed saving had he not ordered pizza every day of his natural life. I'm not QUITE that bad, but I'd reckon there isn't a fast food place in Rock Island that doesn't know my car on sight. Yesterday I went to the gas station at 11:30 p.m. Why? Because I was sitting on my couch and my brain said, "You need a Hershey bar. Right now." THAT'S a bad sign. It's time to make serious changes.

So when I spotted a documentary about a guy who drops 100 lbs. in a year, I was curious enough to watch. As it turns out, the solution to fast weight loss is simple: simply stop eating for two months. Yes, "Fat Sick and Nearly Dead" follows Joe Cross as he goes on a two-month long juice fast. No food whatsoever, just fruits and veggies thrown into a juicer for two months straight. I'm capable of many things, but a juice fast like that is NOT one of them. If I go more than four hours or so without protein, I get shaky and light-headed. I don't really understand how you can survive two months on liquified carrots and spinach.

That said, there's nothing wrong with adding some healthy juices to my diet. Anything's got to be better than a can of soda, and let's face it: the only vegetables I eat regularly are the pickles on my cheeseburgers. Sure, I like fast food because it's delicious, but I mostly eat it because it's FAST. I hate taking time out from life in order to eat. If they came out with a pill that could replace meals, I'd be one of the first to sign up. I mainly don't eat vegetables because I can't order vegetables at the drive-thru. But if I could slug down a few swallows of vegetable juice, I just might be able to add nutrients to my diet after all. I needed a juicer.

Immediately, I learned a few interesting things: (1) Juicers are crazy expensive. Even a lower-end model like the one I bought will easily set you back $150. (2) Juicers are super hard to find. The first two places I went were sold out of most models. Clearly, I'm not the only one who watched that documentary. (3) As is turns out, the documentary is more of an infomercial. Every model of Breville juicer I came across was adorned with a giant "AS SEEN ON FAT SICK AND NEARLY DEAD" sticker. Some even came with a DVD of the movie. Something tells me Joe Cross is doing alright for himself as king of the juicers.

Armed with my new juicer, I immediately went to the store and bought all the ingredients that Joe recommends for his trademark "Mean Green" juice. Then I got home and realized that the cucumbers I purchased were, in fact, zucchini -- so then I went BACK to the store. Eventually, though, I made it home, set up my juicer, and prepared for instant health and magical weight loss.

You can find Joe's recipe just about anywhere: 2 apples, half of a lemon, a cucumber, an inch of ginger, 4 celery stalks, and 8 leaves of kale. Joe says its refreshing. In retrospect, I wonder if perhaps "refreshing" means something different in Australia. The actual juicing was simple yet incredibly violent. It's less a juicer and more like an annihilator. I actually felt bad for the innocent apples as I shoved them down the chute and watched them get obliterated like the wood chipper scene from "Fargo." When an apple went down the chute, it would violently shred the poor thing and then spit out a wee trickle of juice. But when you put the kale down the chute? It was like a veritable sea of "refreshing" green goop.

Kale is considered a "super food." It's called this because you have to be SUPER delusional to believe that it's food. As far as I can tell, kale is a bitter and inedible weed that just happens to be really good for you. This still isn't enough reason to endure the taste of it.

If you like the smell of freshly cut grass, maybe you'll love kale juice, because that's exactly what it tastes like. Maybe my taste buds just need to acclimatize to something other than french fries. For now, I'm scaling back and sticking to tamer fruits and veggies to obliterate. Carrots and apples might not be superfoods, but they're certainly betterfoods than what usually goes down my gullet.

So wish me luck on my juicy new adventure. If you know any good recipes that DON'T taste like the weeds in my back yard, e-mail me. Once I'm all svelte and buff, maybe I'll give you a shout-out. Or maybe I'll tell the world how disgusting your weird juice is. What's to lose, other than a whole lot of weight?

COLUMN: Electric Shock

As a weekend DJ, I'm used to getting song requests. But as a writer, I'm NOT used to getting column requests. But as odd as it may be, I've been swamped with e-mails, Facebook messages, and even one person walking up to me at the grocery store, all asking the same question:

"Are you planning to write about the Heart concert?!"

Err, no, not especially. For one, I didn't go. For two, I'm not a huge Heart fan by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, "Barracuda" and "Magic Man" are classics, but I just can't forgive them for their 80's reinvention as shlocky balladeers responsible for the ruination of many a harmless karaoke night. (Give ANY wannabe singer enough alcohol and they'll inevitably think they're as gifted as Ann Wilson. They never are.)

But perhaps I DO need to write about last week's Heart show at the iWireless Center, because a lot of people I care about are up in arms over it. As I type this, massive firestorms have been raging on social media within the local music scene, and you know it's bad when SOME PEOPLE HAVE TAKEN TO TYPING IN ALL CAPS. Strangely, though, none of it has anything to do with Heart.

There were two opening acts at the show last Tuesday. One was The Lynch Mob, featuring the guy from Dokken (not to be confused with Da Lench Mob, which featured Ice Cube and would have been way more rad.) But before Heart or The Lynch Mob took the stage, there was another opener: the winner of the 97X-Posure Battle of the Bands. Over at Rascals Live, a slew of area bands slugged it out and were whittled down to four finalists. In the end, the winner that got the amazing opportunity to take to the iWireless stage was Electric Shock, a local AC/DC tribute band.

For any area band, playing to a crowd the size of the iWi has to be a dream come true -- and to be offered that chance when you're a tribute band is extraordinary. When those guys were sitting in a basement figuring out Angus Young's guitar licks, they never thought in a million years they'd one day be rocking AC/DC covers on a major stage to thousands of classic rock fans. Well done, boys.

But that's where the controversy swirls. You see, Electric Shock was the only band in the finals that didn't write and perform their own material. I definitely get why some outspoken music geeks in town are a little honked off. Imagine if you were a struggling songwriter trying desperately to gain a following, and you manage to get to the finals of what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity only to lose to a tribute band. That had to be incredibly disheartening. As a result, many fans are asking some tough questions: Why were cover bands and original artists both allowed in the battle? What was the judging criteria? How could judges vote for a tribute band over artists performing original songs?

Please, please, please don't get me wrong, this is not ANY kind of slam on Electric Shock. Those guys rock. I'd rather hear their version of AC/DC over the bastardized Axl Rose howling mess that calls itself the real AC/DC these days. The folks I know who went to the Heart show LOVED Electric Shock, and I'm happy they got an awesome moment in the spotlight.

But I also understand why some musicians are raising a stink. Traditionally, tribute and cover bands are proud warriors of the bar scene. You don't often see them ascend to huge stages like the iWi. If there's a chance that this slot could be a band's big break, it's potentially wasted on a cover band. As good as Electric Shock are, Warner Bros. will never be waiting in the wings to sign an AC/DC tribute band. So I get the indignation. You might even think I agree with it. In this case, though, I don't. I think the judges made the right decision.

My mind flashes back to 1997, when Eric Clapton played here. Touring on the back of a blues record, Clapton eschewed most of his greatest hits that night in favor of a set of blues standards and deep catalog cuts from a legend. And many fans were LIVID. I remember seeing comment after comment on QConline.com from folks who were OUTRAGED that he didn't play "White Room" or "Tears in Heaven." I distinctly recall one guy demanding his money back. While it seems ludicrous to me to insist that a musical genius only play the same tired songs you know and love, that's the mentality of crowds who attend a nostalgia show. And this, folks, was a nostalgia show.

The band that came in 2nd place at the battle was Condor and Jaybird. At risk of sounding like a broken record, those guys rock. They're young, gifted, and seething with potential. If there's a local band that perfectly represents the new Daytrotter-fueled era of QC music, it's them. Their unique blend of raw folky psychedelia is the future. But it's not right for a Heart show. As much as I love them, if Condor and Jaybird had taken the iWi stage, I fear they would have been met with a sigh of indifference from classic rock fans waiting impatiently for "Barracuda." Condor and Jaybird deserve better.

I actually saw someone on Facebook theorize that maybe Heart would have heard Condor and Jaybird and gotten them a record deal. I suppose weirder things have happened, so anything's possible. But the cynic in me firmly believes Heart were probably in their dressing room busily being Heart. And nothing against Heart, but I'm not even sure THEY have a record label in this day and age. Sad as it may be, I don't know if Warner Bros. would take Ann Wilson's call without Beyonce and Taylor Swift being on a party line.

At the end of the day? It was a nostalgia show, it was a nostalgia crowd, and in THIS perfect storm, I guarantee the audience appreciated a handful of AC/DC singalongs more than they would have a left-of-center rock band they've never heard before. My hope here, though, is that maybe this brouhaha will make everyone have second thoughts about Battles of the Bands in the future. Music should be art. Music should be fun. Music shouldn't be a popularity contest or judged by a table of experts.

Unless, of course, that expert is me.

COLUMN: Lemons (Roses)

I've always thought that if I didn't have a career as a columnist or a second career as a media consultant or a third career as a club DJ, I'd probably end up in marketing.

I'm a sucker for a good marketing campaign. If an ad is done well, it can absolutely impact my buying choices. I'm pretty sure I bought my Beetle back in the 90s simply on the strength of the music they used in the initial ads. If the Beetle had launched to a soundtrack of Celine Dion, I wouldn't have looked twice.

It doesn't always work that way. What do you remember about this year's Super Bowl? The great game? Coldplay's halftime show? Distant memories. But there's one thing we all remember: PuppyMonkeyBaby. All it took was 30 seconds of that dancing atrocity to burn its image into my retinas forever. It didn't make me rush out and buy Mountain Dew Kickstart, but every time I'm shopping and see a bottle of that unnatural concoction, I can't help but whisper "PuppyMonkeyBaby! PuppyMonkeyBaby!" under my breath.

I love watching hype build. As I type this, lemons are popping up all around England. The culprit is undoubtedly The Stone Roses, the seminal band from Manchester that defined my favorite era in music. Over the past two days, posters and billboards have been going up all over England featuring the band's iconic logo: a single lemon slice. No words, no band name, and no explanation. Just lemon slices in shop windows and subway walls.

And fans like me are losing their minds. It could be more reunion shows or another re-packaged greatest hits. OR there exists the tiniest of chances, perhaps even by the time this column runs, that we'll be hearing the first new music from The Stone Roses in over twenty years. It's enough of a chance that I've spent the past two days glued to Twitter and listening to the BBC relentlessly. A slice of lemon has thrown my entire week into chaos. That's the power of a good marketing campaign.

I love witnessing a good campaign, but I love bad ones even more -- which is why I might not be cut out for a career in marketing after all. I doubt other execs would be joyously saying, "WOW! What a spectacular failure! That backfired AWESOMELY!" I'd probably be high-fiving strangers all the way to the unemployment line.

In 1984, McDonalds thought they had a great idea. Every time you placed an order, they gave out a little scratch piece that unveiled the name of an Olympic event. If the U.S. won gold that summer, you could redeem the piece for a free Big Mac. If we won silver, free fries. A bronze? Free Coke. Nifty idea... until Russia decided to boycott the Summer Games. With our homefield advantage and our biggest competition sitting out, the U.S. took home a ridiculous 174 medals that year -- and America took home a summer's worth of free food from McDonalds. I was only 13, but I still remember the Summer of Infinite Big Macs. I bet McDonalds does, too.

This week hasn't been just about lemons. I also watched another band lose their entire fanbase in a spectacular marketing misfire. Just outside the mainstream, there exists an indie act called YACHT, a dating couple who've spent the past decade releasing critically-acclaimed, underappreciated dance pop anthems. Last week, they posted a troubling message online. According to the public post, the duo had fallen victim to a horrific privacy invasion: a homemade sex tape was about to leak.

"The video is out there now," it read. "We can't change that. But we can try to take some ownership over what has happened. If you feel like you have to see this tape, we beg of you to download the video directly from us." Within minutes, messages of support started coming in from fans, friends, and fellow musicians applauding the duo's efforts to fight fire with fire.

Then the tape showed up. Sure enough, it was a scandalous night-vision sex tape -- for two minutes. That's when the duo rip each other's faces off and reveal themselves to be slimy aliens. That's right -- the whole thing was a hoax. The clip turned out to be their new music video. They assumed the ruse would be a novel way to get attention. It worked.

"Reprehensible to no end," said one user. "There are ways to not do a stunt," said the L.A. Times, "and this is one." Anna Merlan of the blog Jezebel was even harsher: "What YACHT did is troll people's innate sense of horror, disgust, and compassion when confronted with a terribly violating crime. This is one of the grossest publicity stunts I've ever seen." By day's end, even the band's PR company had disavowed knowledge of the plan and were distancing themselves from the scandal. For their part, YACHT responded with a post first berating their fans for over-reacting, and then another apologizing profusely. It might be too late. Their Facebook page is filled with fans lining up to curse them out.

I have no sympathy. There are many things one might expect to hear when entering one's house after a hard day at the office, but a cacophony of moans isn't one of them. It sounded like an orgy had broken out in my living room... and it was all coming from my laptop. See, I watched the YACHT video when I was home for lunch (perusing even PHONY sex tapes on the office computer didn't seem like a wise move.) Then I went back to work. As it turns out, the YACHT video may be phony, but the porn site hosting it isn't. And, as you'd expect, while I was back at work, it was hard at work, too -- filling my laptop with XXX-rated pop-ups, ads, and videos so disturbing that I might now know how PuppyMonkeyBabies are made.

If my neighbors didn't think I was weird before, they sure do now. Thanks to YACHT, my ten-year-olds are now scarred for life. Well, okay, they're 10-year-old CATS, but I'm still worried. They definitely gave me a look when I came home that said, "We know things. Bad things." If you need me, I'll be washing my computer out with soap, sending my cats to counseling, and obsessively checking the BBC every five minutes for lemon updates.

COLUMN: Glow Party

Uh oh. It's another "Waaah! Poor me! I'm old!" column.

I'm well aware of how ridiculous I sound. I'm only 45, it's not as if I'm being put out to pasture. But maybe this is my last column to whine, because I think I've figured out the problem. I might be a 45 rpm record, but I'm built to be played at 33-1/3. Actually, more like 23-1/3. I have the hobbies and interests of someone half my age. At some point, I think I was supposed to grow up. Whoops.

The best and most obvious example of this is my weekend side gig. Ever since high school, I've spent my weekends DJing at parties and clubs. There's a photo I keep on my phone and my wall at work. It's a picture of my friends and I DJing at a particularly raucous sorority mixer back in college. People might not think anything of it when they see it. It's just an image of me looking stone-faced, bent over a mixer like any other gig. But I look at that picture and see myself at my very happiest. Your paradise might be on a beach with a mai-tai in your hand. My paradise is behind that mixer with a crossfader in my hand.

When I step into a gig, I still feel like the Shane from that picture, even though I haven't been that Shane for some time. I might still be stone-faced and bent over a mixer, but I've got about 100 lbs. and 100 grey hairs on that Shane. That stone face has wrinkles and bags and a double chin. When I wore my trusty Greek fisherman's cap back then, it was quirky. When I put that thing on today, I look like George R.R. Martin.

The other night, I was at the club when a REALLY cute girl came up to request a song. Obviously, one of the prime perks of a career in the turntable arts is the cavalcade of cute girls who line up to flirt their requests in. But hey, maybe this was the one girl turned on by chubby nerds with an encyclopediac knowledge of song tempos. Hey, a guy a dream.

"Excuse me," she said, and then added the one word I never wanted to hear in my life: "Sir?"

SIR. It's official, I'm old. I have graduated beyond the flirt zone. Now, girls think the best way to get their songs heard is via politeness and respect for their elders. I am DJ Grandpa, and those cute girls could be my daughters. The other day I was chatting about music with an up-and-coming DJ who's showing great potential. Then I saw his list of friends on Facebook and noticed a familiar face: his mom. I went to high school with her.

It gets worse. When I'm deep into a gig, I often zone out and stare into oblivion. What I'm really doing is building the next music set in my head, timing beats, cueing mix points, and figuring out the best way to win the crowd over. There's just one problem. At my usual club, if I zone out and stare straight ahead into oblivion, I'm looking directly at the door to the ladies' room. On more than one occasion, I've snapped out of a trance to catch some girl giving me the stink-eye because I'm the deviant old man leering at the restroom door. I promise you, I'm so wrapped up in mixing that I wouldn't notice if a girl came out of that bathroom naked and on fire, but that's not exactly something you can explain away to the girl with the stink-eye. As far as she's concerned, I'm DJ Pervy Grandpa.

Last weekend, though, I couldn't even pretend to be that young guy in the photo. Last weekend, I felt my age. The bar I DJ at decided to try a new event -- their first ever "GLOW PARTY," a new trend in modern nightclubbing. That's when you cover up all the lights and replace them with ultraviolet black lights. Then a guy shows up with glow-in-the-dark body paint and folks line up to get themselves covered in the goo.

And it's entirely ridiculous, I say, fully aware of the fact that I sound like a curmudgeon. But I've hated this kind of stuff since I was a kid. I remember being appalled by fingerpaints, let alone neon body paint. They told everyone to wear white. Instead, I showed up in a black t-shirt, black pants, and my trusty black George R.R. Martin cap. I assumed this would allow me to safely blend into the darkness. And I was right - for a while. Then I discovered that when folks dance around in neon body paint, little flecks of said paint start flying off in any number of directions. One step under a black light proved that I was covered in wee little dots of paint. Worse yet, so was my laptop computer, my DJ controller, and my entire weekend livelihood.

I tried to be the stone-faced professional, but the 45-year-old inside of me was raging. "Stop it!" my inner voice screamed at them. "Control yourselves! You're getting paint EVERYWHERE! WHAT WOULD YOUR PARENTS SAY, YOUNG LADY?!"

Oddly, though, it worked in my favor. As a result of me worrying about paint splooshing willy-nilly on my gear, I was laser-focused on the task at hand and my attention never wavered from that mixer. As a result, I had one of the best nights in recent memory. I don't like to brag -- there are WAY more talented DJs out there -- but on THAT night, in THAT moment, I tore the roof off the place. I might be older than the average tunesmith, but this old DJ has some beats in him yet.

Who knows, perhaps one day it'll be a fun novelty to book the grey-haired DJ who shuffles around the club with a cane. Maybe I'm not that young guy in the photo any more. Maybe I wear a hat that makes me look like the guy who wrote Game of Thrones. But I'll guarantee you that George R.R. Martin's cap doesn't look HALF as cool as mine next time we stand together under a black light. In the meantime, I'll see you (or your kids) on the dancefloor.

COLUMN: Prince

Once upon a Shane, I dated a girl who ran a home daycare. I have zero experience with kids, so every moment at that daycare was a revelation. One time I found myself in an especially awkward conversation with a precocious 7-year-old, and I made the mistake of asking her, "So what do you want to be when you grow up?"

Without blinking, she answered immediately and sincerely: "Famous."

There are worse goals to have, I suppose. In our social hierarchy, there's no level of achievement higher than global fame, right? We're taught from an early age that famous people get to live in mansions, own whatever they want, and date other famous people famously. We're fascinated by famous people, or else they simply wouldn't be famous. There's no show called "Lifestyles of the Fiscally Responsible and Anonymous." We live in a world where it's not good enough to watch a show where we hand famous people awards. No, we need an entirely separate show where we can watch the famous people walk into the building where we hand them awards.

But I'm not here to lecture you about the absurd cult of celebrity. I'm the guy whose walls are adorned with framed autographs of the few famous folks I've been lucky enough to bump elbows with. It's fun to follow celebrities. But it's not so much fun when we lose one that we respect and admire.

Prince is dead, and that's a hard pill to swallow. Even two weeks after his passing, it doesn't seem possible. Prince isn't supposed to die. Prince isn't even supposed to age. I just sort of assumed that Prince lived in a world without time, where he spent his days being incredibly awesome and then occasionally popped his head out to blast us in the face with a much-needed dose of funk before disappearing back into the purple ether from whence he came.

I was in high school when "Purple Rain" came out, and I don't know a soul who hated on that record. That's the best part of Prince's legacy -- I can't think of one person who ever said, "Prince? That dude sucks." His records might not speak to you personally, but there's no denying the massive talent that was somehow stored in that diminutive little body. The guy could play ANY instrument, and he was entirely self-taught. He never went to Julliard to learn how to be Prince. He wrote his first song when he was SEVEN -- and it wasn't a nursery rhyme. No, seven-year-old Prince's first song was called "Funk Machine." He was THAT cool.

No self-respecting music nerd's collection is complete without "Dirty Mind," "Purple Rain," and "Sign o' the Times" at the very least -- and those are but 3 of the 39 studio albums he put out in his too-short life. It doesn't matter if you're a fan of pop, rock, soul, r&b, hip-hop, funk, or jazz, you'll find something worth admiring in his discography. And that's saying nothing about the hours and hours of unreleased music rumored to exist in "the vault" somewhere at Paisley Park.

Why did Prince's passing hit me so hard? I think it's more to do with what he represented. Prince was more than just a super talented musician. He was the last of our generation's truly alien rock stars. A rare breed of artists who were SO enigmatic, so creative, so driven, and so entirely consumed by their own output that they almost seemed dangerous. They certainly didn't seem earthbound. Michael Jackson. Freddie Mercury. David Bowie. Prince. They're all gone -- and that sucks so very much.

Today's celebrities might have the same star power and bank budgets of Prince or Michael, but they sure don't feel like they're in the same league. Sorry, Gaga, but lasting art takes more than a meat dress and a p-p-p-poker face. Today's fans are raised with a phone in their hands and the internet at their fingers, and today's pop stars reflect that. "Celebrity" in 2016 is less about what you create and more about the number of followers you have on social media. Remember when MTV first started up and musicians openly complained that success now meant having to create the perfect song AND the perfect image? Well, nowadays you need the song, the image, the tweets, the Instagrams, the squad, the reputation, and an entirely open-book way of life.

The pressure has to be maddening. If you screw up and say the wrong thing at a concert, 500 people instantly put it on Facebook. Slip and fall at a show? It's on Youtube before you've played your encore. Dare to pick your nose in public? Harvey Levin has a room full of TMZ cronies whose mission in life is to catch you doing it. Cheat on Taylor Swift or Beyonce? They'll put a rhyme on it and make lemonade all the way to the top of the charts.

It's no wonder celebrities today seldom get through their twenties without a major meltdown. Once upon a time, Britney Spears seemed stable. Justin Bieber seemed like a nice kid. Chris Brown seemed like the kind of guy you'd want your daughter to date. If that's what fame does to a person, thanks but no thanks.

Prince seemed beyond all that. In reality, he probably wasn't. He probably wasn't an alien sent from Planet Funktopia to make us all lovesexy. He probably ate normal human food and didn't subside exclusively on red wine and raw oysters served off the naked bodies of his freshly deflowered conquests. He might not have worn frilly blouses and high heels every minute of every day. If Charlie Murphy's to be believed, he played a mean game of basketball.

Like most celebrities who die too early, in the coming weeks we'll probably hear awful stories about just how human Prince really was. You can read those stories all you like. If you need me, I'll be driving my little red Corvette down Alphabet Street in Erotic City remembering Prince the way I want to. There's already talk of Paisley Park turning into a Prince museum, and that's a drive I WILL be making. With any luck, someone caring and respectful will raid that legendary vault and Prince's album count won't stop at 39. Today's celebrities should take notes.

COLUMN: Media Bias

It finally happened. The party's over.

Thanks so much, The Media Insight Project, for revealing the findings of your recent study to the general public. I could spend the next thousand words offering excuses, but due to your sobering dose of reality, all my readers will now see right through it. Since the cat's out of the bag, I suppose we should talk about it. The Media Insight Project made headlines last week when they unveiled their newest study containing a statistic none of us wanted to see:

Only 6% of the American public trust the media.

Great. So if I'm to understand this statistic correctly, for every 100 people that read my column, 6 of you earnestly take to heart what I have to say. The remaining 94 of you, then, must view my column as self-serving propaganda carefully constructed to push through the nefarious and clandestine agenda of my choosing -- an absurd accusation that I can only respond to by saying...

DRAT! FOILED AGAIN! And I would have gotten away with it if it weren't for you meddling kids and your pesky public surveying!

All my hard work down the drain. A decade of deceiving and manipulating you sheeple and for what? NOTHING. The years I've spent trying to make myself likeable? All of my heartstring-tugging sob stories? ("I don't have a girlfriend! Waaah! Poor me!") Clearly all designed to garner your sympathy. I've even had to pretend that I (shudder) like cats. All the effort, all the sacrifices I've had to make in the name of evil... and you people STILL don't trust me. Now that the truth is out there, they'll probably even kick me out of the Illuminati -- and just after I've been named club secretary. I hope you're happy.

In reality, the TRUTHIEST truth is there's no reason for you guys to distrust the media -- well, at least not THIS one. I've worked here for over 20 years now -- and from an insider perspective, I can honestly tell you that I've never seen one single hidden agenda at play, which I guess means we either don't have one or if we do, we're ESPECIALLY good at hiding it.

Then again, I'm only a pretend journalist. I don't even work on the same floor as the folks who report the news. So maybe there ARE secret late-night cabals filled with journalistic intrigue where we covertly conspire to shape the news we report on -- but I kinda doubt it. If there ARE, I can definitely tell you that my invitation keeps getting lost in the inter-office mail.

I know our reporters fairly well. They're mostly young go-getter types who walk the halls with caffeinated purpose and all sort of look like they're one or two bylines away from a collapsing aneurysm. I might not get invited to their conspiratorial bacchanals, but trust me, when you see their harried faces as they struggle against deadline to bring you the news, you quickly realize there are distinct advantages to being the goofy guy who's only responsible for writing about his cats once a week. Our journalists work HARD, and the fruits of their labor can be found throughout every issue we publish. Once upon a time, I reviewed a show at the iWireless Center that went late and I had about fifteen minutes to craft the review. That kind of stress almost gave me a nervous breakdown, and those are the kind of deadlines our writers have to contend with on a daily basis. It took me twenty minutes just to write this paragraph. I don't know how they pull it off.

So why the rampant distrust of the media then? That's an answer you can Google. "I get my news online!" say the youth of America proudly. That's fine and dandy, because I do, too. People constantly want to paint a war between print media and the internet, and that's simply not the case. Every article you read in our paper also runs on our website. I know avid readers of our paper who haven't actually held one of our papers in their hands for years. I like the best of both worlds. If I'm sitting at the breakfast table, I want to casually flip through a paper -- but if I'm at my desk with a monitor nine inches from my eyeball, I'd rather log onto QConline than fidget with a newspaper.

Either way, I know where my news is coming from and I trust it. But there's no quality control on the internet. Anybody with an agenda can build a blog and present their version of "news." My Tea Partier uncle is fond of sharing Facebook memes that attribute false quotes to our founding fathers. I can point out to him a dozen times that Thomas Jefferson never actually spoke out in support of AR-15 assault rifles, but it won't stop him from posting the junk. "I saw it on the internet, so it must be true!" If that's the case, I know some Nigerian princes who owe me a LOT of money.

But if you REALLY want to learn to distrust the media, just turn on the 24-hour cable news networks. It's no secret that one of them leans hard right and another hard to the left, so let's not even go there -- but the one that's amazed me of late is the channel that claims no political agenda: CNN. I don't want to pick on CNN, because I think they mean well. Sure, they trade in spectacle and holograms and declaring every sneeze to be BREAKING NEWS, but I think CNN's more concerned with getting viewers than pushing agendas.

But I keep watching CNN's coverage on primary result nights, and it makes my stomach churn. Please stop telling us how you "expect things to go" in an election prior to the polls closing. Keep your demographic studies to yourself and let the people make an unfiltered choice. For two months straight now, I've heard your pundits say that some candidates have no clear path to victory -- and that's certainly the case now that you've told people that voting for them is pointless.

Is there bias in the media? Sure there is. We just need to develop the right set of skills to discern, recognize, and cope with bias when we encounter it. But I guess it's just easier to just say, "I don't trust the media!" Try living in a world without media and then you'll REALLY know what mistrust means. In the meantime, I'll go back to being the goofy columnist that would never try to influence readers by placing subliminal (CHUBBY GUYS ARE SEXY) messages in his (CATS ARE COOL) weekly drivel (SEND ME MONEY.)

COLUMN: Bourdain

I'm pretty sure there's a tiny part of my brain that's managed to convince itself that I'm a worldly and well-traveled individual. It's incredibly wrong.

If we're sticking to the Midwest, then okay, I'm well-traveled. There are few country lanes and dirt roads in the bi-state area that haven't been touched by the wheels of my car at least once. But get me outside the Midwest, and, well... frankly I don't know what would happen, because I've seldom BEEN outside of the Midwest. In fact, when it comes to the history of my global adventures, here's a comprehensive list of my journeys:

Florida: 3 times. Colorado: twice. Dallas: once. Cleveland: once. NYC: once.

There you have it. That's as far as legs and wheels have ever carried me. I've never left the country, unless you count that trip to Cleveland, when we swung up to Detroit on the way home and, in a pre-9/11 world, hopped the border to Canada for dinner just to say we did. It's no wonder I've made it 45 years without finding my soulmate -- it's a big, big world, and unless she's passing through the greater metropolitan Quad Cities, she's lost to me.

Honestly, there's not too many places left that I really crave to see. Sure, I'd love to get to the West Coast at least once in my life. I wouldn't mind checking out the Grand Canyon and a view of the stars from the desert night. I'd certainly enjoy visiting the branch of my family tree that resides in France, and who wouldn't want to eat their way across Germany and see the Alps? Then there's the Anglophile in me that yearns to one day visit England, but I fear I'd rip up my return ticket the minute I arrived, never to be heard from again.

For the most part, though, I'm peachy right here on the Island of Rock. My parents are mostly hermits who seldom leave the area, and I fear I may have inherited their mindset. Travel isn't cheap, it comes with its own distinct set of challenges, and I am one lousy hotel sleeper. As long as I've got air conditioning, a credit card, and 24/7 access to the internet, I can usually see enough of the world out my living room window to keep my wanderlust satiated.

And for those times that it's not? Well, that's why God made Netflix.

If you look hard enough, you can find a surplus of great travel shows just waiting to be binged. Why climb Everest when you can tag along with a team of professional mountaineers without leaving the couch? That's why that tiny part of my brain is convinced that I'm well-traveled -- that part of my brain HAS traveled the world. It's been to the bottom of the ocean with James Cameron. It's explored the Nazca Lines of Peru with Josh Gates. It's gone to countless diners, drive-ins, and dives with Guy Fieri. Just the other day, it hiked the entire expanse of the Pacific Crest Trail in just six hour-long episodes.

This week, I've been feeling ESPECIALLY worldly, because I've been binge-watching CNN's Parts Unknown, hosted by the ultimate bad boy of travel, Anthony Bourdain. There's no middle ground when it comes to Bourdain -- you either love him or you hate him. With a resume that runs from chef to junkie to author to traveler, Bourdain tours the world with a punk-rock ethos and an uncanny ability to find the real humanity lurking behind every corner of the globe.

Bourdain proves that the easiest way to understand a culture is to sit down with them for dinner. Food is the great equalizer. It brings people together and opens dialogue you never thought possible. Libya might seem like a scary place, but when you watch Bourdain sit down with locals at a KFC knock-off in Tripoli called "Uncle Kentucky's," you realize that our blue marble might not be so big after all. The guy's got a way with words, and it's refreshing to see a foodie put as much importance on a home-cooked meal as a Michelin-star restaurant.

You just couldn't pay me enough to do his job.

In every episode, Bourdain sits down with locals to wolf down generous platefuls of whatever regional cuisine he's found himself immersed in. Invariable, he finds the offerings delicious. I don't buy it.

Everyone has food they simply don't like, right? I hate onions. Always have, always will. Sorry, but onions have a taste that clearly says, "Hi, I'm stinky and slimy and absolutely not for eating." I don't care if it's a rare onion only harvested at midnight on a full moon by Tibetan monks and then painstakingly caramelized by a team of holy caramelizers trained since birth in the ancient art of caramelization, it's still an onion and onions are eww.

But instead of an onion, Bourdain has to deal with plates full of things that look like the aftermath of a particularly grisly agricultural accident. Onions would be the least of my worries when someone lovingly sets before me a plate of donkey intestines or a fish that's been fermenting in a hole in the ground for six months until it reaches that perfect mouth-watering level of putrifaction. Different cultures might find common ground in food, but it doesn't change the fact that some cultures eat really gross food that I wouldn't be able to consume on a normal day, let alone a day when I'm being followed around by a camera crew to bear witness to my every reaction.  

Maybe when you're a trained chef, you develop a culinary appreciation more sophisticated than the average eater. I get that. I'm sure Anthony Bourdain feels about food the same way I feel about music. And yes, there are bands out there that I hate -- but can appreciate. I might detest Lynyrd Skynyrd with nearly every bone in my body, but they're really quite good at what they do. I get that they're a great band -- but I'm still not going to queue up for their concert. No music critic is going to get me to like "Freebird," and no food critic is going to get me to like "blood gravy," whatever that is (except I know what that is. It's gravy... made from blood. And probably onions, too.)

So here's to you, Tony. Keep doing your thing. Travel the world and take me vicariously to exotic lands I will only ever see through your eyes. Show me weird cuisine and regional delicacies that look recently deceased and arrive at your table with an undead eyeball still staring at you while you devour its carcass. Just don't mind me if I appreciate your show while sitting in my living room eating a hot pocket (which, truth be told, is probably more disgusting.)

COLUMN: Database Management

Sometimes I worry that my columns can get a little too esoteric for everyone to enjoy.

If I really want to be a respected writer beloved by one and all, I should probably stick to topics that one and all can relate to. As long as I write about popular subject matter, I should be able to ride that populist wave to Paula Sands-levels of local fame in no time. If I'm a sounding board for the masses, it stands to reason that one day those masses might, I dunno, erect a statue in my honor or something. Or give me a raise. Or introduce me to Katie Holmes. It's a no-brainer.

Good news, then, because this week I'm touching upon a topic near and dear to everyone's hearts:


Yes, who among us doesn't enjoy a spirited discussion on string searches and end-user queries? Nothing unites us together around the dinner table like a family dialogue of ASCII code and inventory control. It's the perfect topic to excite all of my readers and lead us down a path of... what's that? You say NO ONE likes to talk about database management? Even database managers hate talking about database management? Well, phoo.

The truth is, there's nothing else in my life to talk about, because I've somehow allowed database management to take over every aspect of it. Usually I write about fun stuff that I've been up to, but the only thing I've been up to is hanging out in my basement, sitting in front of a laptop until the wee hours with a permanent cringe on my face. The next time I decide to tackle a project, please stop me.

As many of you know, I have a fairly impressive music collection. Except at some point along the way, it mutated from "you have an impressive music collection" to "here's the number of a therapist who can help you with your hoarding problem, Shane." And it's certainly not impressive THESE days, because music is now one of the least impressive things that one can waste a lifetime collecting. With advancing technology, it's almost as if someone came along and said, "Hey, you know that ONE thing in life that you're known for? The hobby that's pretty much defined your entire existence? Yeah, it's void now. Try again."

Once upon a time, at least in nerdy circles, collecting music was cool. I used to judge a person's worth by the contents of their CD racks (oh, okay, I still do) -- and I did everything in my power to be one of the worthiest. I remember saving pennies for international phone calls just so I could stay up 'til 4 a.m. to place orders with record shops in London. I once drove through a blinding blizzard to the Muscatine mall because they were the only place that got their weekly shipment of new releases. No trip to Chicago was complete without voyaging to the suburbs to get to The Turntable in Schaumberg and then Tower Records downtown. There is blood, sweat, and tears in my collection. (No, really, there is. I have their greatest hits. "Spinning Wheel" is the jam, yo.)

But those days are gone, along with The Turntable, Tower Records, and even that store in the Muscatine mall. I used to think that no one could possess a music collection as cool as mine. Want to know how to do it? Log on to spotify.com and hit "Subscribe." There, now you have a collection as cool as mine -- and that royally sucks. CDs are entirely out of fashion these days. After all, who needs those cumbersome pieces of plastic when all the music you could ever desire is now just floating around on a "cloud"? I DO. I need those cumbersome pieces of plastic. They're my life's work.

There was a day when I wouldn't have dreamt of mentioning my music collection in print, for fear that our readership's vast demographic of evildoers might hatch a nefarious plan to rob me blind. (Please don't. I have a comprehensive home security system and very mean cats with fangs.) But honestly, if you waste your time plotting to thieve my CD collection, you're one dumb thief. The market for second-hand CDs has bottomed out so dramatically that you'd be better off recycling cans for profit, especially with the weirdo indie music that I collect. Unless you're in dire need of coasters, there's a lot better things to steal, trust me.

But I don't care. They might not be hip, they might not be worth the plastic they're printed on, but those CDs are mine and I still like keeping my collection organized and at-the-ready. In fact, I recently bought a nifty software package to catalog them all. That's what I've been spending my nights doing. The software comes with a bar code scanner, so it's like having a Hy-Vee cashier on your laptop. You just grab a CD, swipe the bar code, and the software looks up the info on your disc and adds it to the database. In theory, it sounds easy peasy.

There's just one problem. When it looks up a disc that you've scanned, it sources that info from other user entries -- and other users are clearly idiots. The only thing worse than being a diehard music collector is being a diehard music collector with OCD. Their master database is rife with spelling errors, alphabetization errors, and incorrect information -- and I'm just nerdy enough to sit there and fix every single error.

"This'll be a fun winter project," I once thought. Well, winter's over, and I've still got S-Z to enter. While people have been out there enjoying the warmer weather, I've been in my basement arguing with myself about whether "Huey Lewis and the News" gets alphabetized under H or L. While you're cooking dinner, I'm microwaving a Hot Pocket so I can get back to deciding between "and" or "&". And don't ask me what to do about the band named "!!!" -- that's the kind of conundrum that keeps me awake at night. I realize there are worse problems to have. I COULD just set this project aside and resume having a life. But the end is SO CLOSE. I can SEE it. There's only a couple piles of discs left to scan and I'll finally have a comprehensive database to impress the one or two people on Earth who are impressed by comprehensive databases.

I'm just in no hurry to enter the age of subscription-based music and thumb drives full of mp3's. And that's okay, because by the time I get this stupid project done, we'll have entered ANOTHER age where music is just streamed directly into your brain via a modem implanted at birth. And when we reach THAT age, maybe retro will once again be cool and you'll think to yourself, "Remember when CDs were awesome? Remember that one guy who used to write newspaper columns about his CDs? That guy was awesome! We should totally build a statue of him." And then I win.

COLUMN: Allerton

It's about time. Spring has sprung, and with it the whole world (or at least this particular hemisphere) comes to life. It's a magical time for the Quad Cities -- and an equally magical time to get in the car and leave them.

Nothing clears away winter blues quite like a spontaneous daytrip. I call it "aimless driving," and its amongst my favorite pursuits. Just get in the car, grab some friends, crank up the radio, and go. Just kick back and let the road take you where it wants. Quite often, it wants to take you absolutely nowhere, and that's fine by me. Aimless driving isn't about the destination, it's about the journey.

In college, aimless drives were spontaneous affairs that usually followed sentences like, "I'm bored. Wanna blow off class?" Not to say I was a poor student, but hey -- some days you're up for a lecture in Cultural Geography, and other times you learn far more about cultural geography by ending up at a roadside Denny's in rural Missouri.

Umpteen years later, aimless drives are just as fun, but not quite so spontaneous. You can't exactly call your buddies up and go, "I'm bored. Wanna blow off work and your wives and kids?" Being an adult is just SO overrated sometimes. But when you happen upon a combo of high temps AND a holiday weekend? Game on. Easter Eve was the perfect opportunity to get out of Dodge, so I called up my friend Jason and we hatched plans for an all-day excursion of adventure and exploration.

Living in the Midwest is great because we're so centrally located from all kinds of things to see or do. The problem is you have to drive at LEAST 3 hours in any given direction to get to them. Three hours east gets you big cities and great lakes. West gets you rolling hills and zombie burgers. North gets you trees and cheese. And three hours to the south? Well, that gets you about halfway to Kentucky. Can't win 'em all.

Unfortunately for us, Mother Nature was conspiring against us that Saturday. I woke up to a forecast of rain clouds in every direction... except south. Still, we wouldn't let a little thing like no-hope-of-finding-anything-interesting get in the way of the 2016 aimless driving kick-off, so we cranked up the stereo and headed south on the first back road that presented itself.

A couple hours of spelunking down country lanes and we found ourselves on the outskirts of Peoria. There's two important things of note that I can tell you about Peoria:
(1) Nothing in the town makes sense, and (2) I appear to be allergic to every aspect of it. We had barely entered civilization when my nose plugged up and I started a sneezing jag that didn't let up until we eventually found our way out of town. Getting through Peoria is tricky, because all of the main drags run at weird diagonals and twist and turn seemingly at random. At one point, we were downtown, found a main road to get us out of there, and five minutes later turned a corner and found ourselves back downtown again. I'm still not sure how we managed it, I was too busy sneezing at the time. If I had to offer a guess, I'd blame a rift in the space-time continuum.

One thing Peoria has going for it, though, is the existence of a Five Guys franchise, a burger joint MUCH needed in the Quad Cities. Except that it isn't, because I'm unhealthy enough as is, and that place may as well be renamed The Last Temptation of Shane. After unhinging my jaws to squeeze this monstrous burgery goodness into my gullet, we headed off for parts unknown -- except that THIS time, the parts were kinda known.

It hit me betwixt mouthfuls of fries: Allerton Park. One of the holy grails of aimless adventure, one of the Seven Wonders of Illinois according to our state tourism bureau, was within driving distance. I just had no clue how to get there -- so forgive me, Gods of Aimless Driving, but I plugged the address into the car's navigation system and gave our aimless drive clear aim.

My nav system, though, didn't let me cheat so easily. For several minutes, it led us down I-74 towards Bloomington-Normal and parts beyond. But then it ordered us to exit at the small town of Le Roy, where it then guided us to go one block, turn left, go one block, turn left, go one block, turn left, do the hokey-pokey, turn ourselves around, and re-enter the interstate. Either there's some sort of evil global conspiracy to bring the business of all Hyundai drivers to the Casey's General Store in Le Roy, or we just found yet another rift in the space-time continuum. It's the obvious answer, clearly, because Allerton Park is most definitely from a different dimension.

Once upon a time, there was a guy named Robert Allerton who had WAY more money than he knew what to do with. "I know," said Bob, "I'll find the absolute most boring part of Illinois and build a 1500-acre estate there." But Robert wasn't just a millionaire farmer; he was also a big art geek. That's why the estate is chock full of Greek and Oriental statues, European gardens, hedge mazes, reflecting pools, and vast greenhouses. It's an oddly beautiful culture clash and pretty much the closest thing we've got to our very own Downton Abbey. When he died, Allerton gave the estate to the University of Illinois, who now operate it as a public park and retreat center. It's amazing.

Or it WOULD have been amazing, had we visited in July. Note: If you want to visit a place known for its amazing gardens and flower displays, you probably shouldn't pick mid-March to check it out. I wanted elegance, and instead I got crazy statues surrounded by square patches of dirt that will probably look amazing two months from now. Still, we can officially cross Allerton Park off the ol' bucket list.

From there, it was just a matter of finding our way back. We ended up back in Peoria at dinnertime and used Tripadvisor to find a German place called Hofbrau, where I successfully clogged at least one or two important arteries with a giant plate of wienerschnitzel (aka two giant tenderloins covered in sausage gravy, but it sounds far less deadly in German.) The whole scandalous plate led to a most uncomfortable belt-loosened trip home, but if one voyage through the heart of Illinois results in two great meals, one bizarre park, multiple rifts in space and time, and a car full of laughs, I call it a win.

COLUMN: Kitchen Boob

I've said this before, but it bears repeating: My dad is a superstar.

I like to think that I'm good for a lot of things, but common sense has never been one of them. When it comes to basic life skills, I'm still in a growth phase. Truth be told, it really IS a wonder I can dress myself without assistance (and based on the horribly mismatched ensemble I'm wearing today, that might not be a true statement.)

I may be 45, but I'm clearly not an adult. I can't swim. I can't snap my fingers. I can't keep my shoes tied without double knots. I have no earthly idea how to change a tire. There are implements in my kitchen that I can't identify. I've never operated a lawn mower in my life. The last time I tried taking my trash to the curb, I broke my ankle. (A mystery neighbor has been doing it for me ever since, and I have NO idea who. I'm just grateful.)

Thankfully, I also have an amazing dad that I can lean on for help in those areas where I'm somewhat... responsibility-challenged. And I know what you're going to say, so don't. "If your dad's so amazing, why didn't he teach you all these basic life skills, Shane?" It wasn't for lack of trying, trust me. He tried until he was blue in the face, but stupid stubborn prepubescent me wasn't having any of it. I remember nights when my dad would take me to his workshop and try to show me how to build stuff. I'd just stand there exasperated and complaining until I could return to whatever video game was calling my name. The only way I would have learned life skills back then was if Nintendo had released Super Mario Tire Change.

My dad retired at the same time I bought my house, and thus far it's been a great partnership: he's pretty much good at everything and I'm pretty much good for nothing. The guy loves a project, and my life is one huge project. When lightning struck the tree in my front yard, it was my dad who made the fifty mile trek up here with a chainsaw. When a bat got into my house, it was my dad who drove up with a net while my mom and I cowered by the door. He's finished my basement, poured me a driveway, and single-handedly made my house a home. And nowadays, when he shows me stuff, I actually pay attention.

But last week, I may have set a new record in human ineptitude, and once again, it was dad to the rescue. That's right, I made my 70-year-old father drive fifty miles... to change a lightbulb.

Okay, there's a little more to it than that. I love everything about my house, but with one glaring exception: the two light fixtures in my kitchen that hailed straight from Uglytown USA. As God is my witness, they look like... breasts, and dingy outdated breasts at that. For the past three years, I've called them my kitchen boobs, and I've complained about them to anyone who would listen. That anyone was my dad.

"Hey, Ace," the phone call started. "I'm standing in Menard's and they have a sale on light fixtures. I found a couple that could work in your kitchen. Want me to pick them up?"

Yes, yes, a million times, yes! ANYTHING would be better than the kitchen boobs, and it was high time for a double mastectomy. Two days later, I was greeted by two new non-descript light fixtures that blessedly don't resemble any naked body parts. There's just one thing dad didn't tell me -- the new lights are LED.

My house now provides a valuable community service to the entire Quad Cities. The next time it's a foggy night and an incoming plane has trouble finding the airport, no worries -- the light emanating from my kitchen can now easily guide them home. Sure, I may need sunglasses now to make it to the refrigerator, but it's reassuring to know that my kitchen can be seen from space. Once again, it's proof of the greatness of my father. But hey, it's not as if a week prior, paramedics were racing him unconscious to the hospital or anything. Except that they were.

"I don't want you to worry," the call from my mom began, which is always the cue to start worrying, "but your dad's in an ambulance and we're on our way to the hospital." I was already reaching for my shoes. Apparently, the two of them had gone out for dinner (I won't say where,) and everything was fine until later that night, when dad got up, went to the bathroom, and said to my mom, "I think I'm going to..." and before he could get out the word "faint," he took a header right off the toilet and passed out cold.

It was a sobering call to get, which was super fun considering I wasn't especially sober at the time. Remember two weeks ago when I didn't have a column because I was "on vacation"? I lied. Truth be told, I was home sick with an absolute beast of a cold, but I figured "on vacation" sounded better than "is a human phlegm factory." I had JUST taken enough cold meds to down a small mammal and was halfway to la-la-land when mom called.

I can now safely (or, more accurately, UN-safely) attest that Nyquil is NOT the coughing-aching-stuffy-head-fever-so-you-can-get-up-at-1-am-and-drive-to-Galesburg medicine. "Don't operate heavy machinery," but this was an emergency, and I suppose in the grand scheme of things, my Hyundai is fairly lightweight. So yes, I did a really bad thing and half-drove/half-floated to Galesburg in the darkest middle of the night. DON'T try this at home, kids. But I didn't care. This was my dad, my hero, my superstar -- and my only lucid thought was that I needed to get to him.

The good news was that St. Mary's Hospital in Galesburg was in no short supply of surgical masks, which I gladly agreed to wear when they saw me bust into their ER like an oozing refugee from Planet Ebola. The BETTER news was that dad was simply suffering from acute food poisoning and would be fine, despite his telling every nurse within earshot that he was "worth more dead than alive." It was a bad couple of days, but thankfully it was just a couple days.

A few days later, he was fine. If you don't believe me, just look out your window and check out the unholy glow coming from my kitchen. Still, that was way too scary for my tastes. My dad NEVER gets sick, and I prefer he continue that trend. I've got him living to be at least 120 years of age. I need a superstar around to light up my life -- sometimes literally.


Oh, hi. Don't mind me, I'm just sitting here listening to my soul cry and slowly losing my mind. If I'm truly going insane, I may as well document the process.

As I type this, it's Tuesday night and I'm alone on my couch in total darkness draining what's left of the battery on my trusty laptop. The power is out to my entire neighborhood. Darkness falls across the land and the midnight hour is close at hand.

My plan tonight was to throw some dinner in the oven and catch the season finale of "Pretty Little Liars" with occasional flips to CNN for election returns. I have yet to see any of those returns, but if I had to throw together a theory, I reckon that Donald Trump just swept every state and, in accordance with the prophecies of yore, the world is now ending.

There was talk today that the weather could get ugly tonight. I have an app on my phone that tracks storm chasers across the country, and it went off a couple times with alerts that some of the biggest names in chasing -- you know, those deathwish guys with the armored cars who drive straight into tornados -- were heading our way. Local news, however, seemed to downplay things, saying that the worst weather would be tracking to the south of us.

Well, things went south, alright. In a hurry.

Election results had just started coming in when I looked up and noticed something odd. In my living room, it was still daytime -- but in my kitchen, night had fallen. Last I checked, the rooms of my house usually agree upon matters of day vs. night, so this was an alarming development. As it turns out, what I was seeing from my kitchen window were the dark clouds of the approaching Trumpocalypse.

I switched the TV over to local news, and immediately knew something was up. Whenever you see a local meteorologist with his tie loosened, you know you're in for a fun ride. Sure enough, tornados and hailstones were now suddenly on the evening's calendar of events. Swell.

My cat Bez serves as local meteorologist for my house, and watching her stand up, whimper, and slink down to the basement was the catalyst I needed to get off the couch and batten down the hatches. Two years ago, my house took a direct lightning strike that fried pretty much everything in life that I cared about. Ever since that awful storm, I've become my dad. Give me one distant bolt of lightning and I'm suddenly the overly precautious guy running around unplugging everything I can.

The advantage of being overprotective is that my computer and TVs are now safe, but the bad news is that I've now lost all contact with the outside world. For all I know, a line of tornadoes could be queueing up to dance a conga line over my roof this very second. Without TV or internet, I lose my early warning. Or so I thought.

Ten minutes later, two things of note happened. The first was the hailstorm popping round to say hello. The rain had been providing a relaxing soundtrack to the evening, but suddenly it gave way to BAM POP BA-POI POW POP against my skylights. This was not polite wee baby hail, either. These were golf-ball-sized missiles intent on turning my living room into an easy Par-4. As I watched the hail bounce off my neighbor's car, I've never been more thankful to own a garage in my life.

But I had no time to focus on the hail. I was a little more preoccupied with the other development, which would be the alarms suddenly going off EVERYWHERE. Not only had the warning sirens sprung to life throughout Rock Island, but suddenly my cellphone erupted with a noise so ghastly I nearly jumped out of my pants. Apparently my phone has a courtesy alarm that launches whenever there's a tornado warning. That's great and all, but it's not especially courteous when the alarm is so scary that IT kills you before any tornado has a chance to. There's no reason why this alarm couldn't be something like "Ding dong, excuse me, but there's a tornado." Message received, and politely at that. But nooo, this courtesy alarm was a soul-piercing "EHN! EHN! EHN!" in a tone so shrill it should really be reserved only for those special moments when a supervillain escapes a holding cell.

Mere moments later, my home security system decided to start harmonizing with a "REEEE ROOO! REEE ROOO!" The cats were meowing, the alarms were wailing, and all I wanted to do was run out of the house into the serenity and calm of a F4 tornado that could sweep me as far away from that cacophony as possible. Instead, I gathered the cats and headed to the basement. Five minutes later, the power went out... and that pretty much brings us up to speed.

The storm has since passed, and it appears that the fortifications of Castle Shane held up fairly well. My immediate concern, however, is just how eerily dark and quiet and awful it is in this house with no power. When I lived in apartment-land, losing power was no big deal. You could still hear neighbors milling about and there were signs of life everywhere. When the power goes out HERE, there's nothing to do but commune with your own inner psyche, and it's not a great conversationalist.

My house is naturally quiet, but when you take that silence and then subtract the reliable hums of the air conditioner, refrigerator, air purifier, the dehumidifier in the basement, the cooling fans on my tower computer, and the TV that's usually always on, "quiet" takes on a whole new meaning. Every time a cat moves, I jump a foot off the couch. Otherwise, the only noise I hear right now is the banging of dust molecules against my eardrums... and the occasional murmuring voices of passersby on the street who I presume are here to kill me in the most graphic "Walking Dead" style I can imagine.

Of course, it doesn't help that I'm sitting here staring at the white screen of a laptop. As long as I do this, my eyes don't adjust to the dark, so every time I look up, I'm simply staring at the murky black void that nightmares come from. Time to call this column a day -- or a very black night -- and leave my fate and fragile mental state entirely in the hands of MidAmerican Energy Company. Worst of all, I still have no clue who threw Charlotte DiLaurentis' dead body off the church belltower or if Ezra and Aria have finally rekindled their romance.

Please tell me somebody taped "Pretty Little Liars."