Friday, December 02, 2016
When I was a kid, I read an absurd amount of science fiction, and it was oddly comforting. Growing up in the country miles away from other kids in the 1970's was fine and dandy. Why? Because I knew from the books on my shelves that by the time I turned 40, my robot chauffeur would be piloting my flying car to the teleporter that would take me to my job as President of the United States and Federated Galaxies.
Liar, liar, the future's pants are on fire. I'm in my forties and I see no flying car. All I have is a Hyundai that yells "RECALCULATING!" at me while remaining disappointingly Earthbound. I'm not teleporting anywhere, and don't get me started on my failed ascent to the presidency (although I'm starting to feel like I could do a better job than the fellow we recently installed in the position.)
The future might not be all it was cracked to be in the paperback books of the 1970s, but we DO have one impressive technological achievement going for us: the internet. It's broken new ground in communication and commerce. It's given us everything from cat videos to Justin Bieber. It is simultaneously the world's greatest time-saver and time-waster.
But mostly, I love the internet for its infinite supply of weirdness.
I used to think I was a weird guy. I mean, the evidence is fairly clear: I sleep with my socks on. I have no earthly idea how to snap my fingers. I enjoy the taste of Kaopectate. I'm kind of a freak.
But once you surf the web for long enough, you discover that nearly EVERYONE is off-center a little bit. If you do something quirky that you worry is weird, you can always find someone on the internet doing things a HECK of a lot quirkier. I might sleep with my socks on, but that doesn't seem so bad when you discover there's a website devoted exclusively to fan-fiction stories exclusively about covering the late musician Roy Orbison in Saran-Wrap.
Enjoy dressing up like a furry animal? There's a whole online subculture out there for you. Harbor a fantasy of hypnotizing strangers? There's a website for that, too. Want to study amateur taxidermy to learn how to sew ten dead rats together to make something called a "ratipede"? That site really exists.
But recently I stumbled into what might be the weirdest online subculture I've ever found on the internet, and I'm a little extra freaked out -- because I might be one of them.
Have you ever been overcome by a tingly sensation in your body when you're happy or relaxed? Kind of a euphoric goosebump-y feeling that starts in your scalp and moves down the back of your neck and upper spine? I'm pretty sure I have. Like when I'm at a concert and the lights go out and I know that I'm seconds away from seeing one of my favorite bands. Or if I'm super relaxed and someone runs their fingers through my hair. Once, I tried one of those head massagers with the little metal talons and I got the tingles so bad I had to set it down and walk away. Until now, I had always just dismissed this as passing goosebumps.
Well, not only is that feeling an actual THING, but there are people and websites devoted to it. It's called ASMR -- autonomous sensory meridian response -- and it's one weird world.
I was about two hours deep in a rabbithole of binge-watching random videos on Youtube when I happened upon my first ASMR video. In it, a young woman sits in front of a camera -- and brushes her hair for seven minutes. All the while, the volume is artificially enhanced so you can hear every brush stroke. Meanwhile, she narrates the process in a voice that's barely a whisper. It was the single silliest thing I'd seen in a long while, and the kind of video where the ONLY possible response is to mutter, "What the...?" Welcome to the world of ASMR.
According to Wikipedia, the "tingly" sensation of ASMR is usually precipitated by some kind of trigger stimulus. And, as it turns out, a majority of folks prone to this sensation claim that it can be triggered by listening to a soft-spoken whispery voice or the quiet repetitive sounds associated with mundane tasks like turning the pages in a book, brushing one's hair, or preparing food.
So, as it turns out, people are watching this whispering woman brushing her hair in hopes of triggering euphoric brain tingles -- and it's but one of HUNDREDS of ASMR videos out there.
It didn't take me long to find Tony Bomboni, an ASMR enthusiast known for his videos where, among other things, he quietly scoops ice cream for twenty minutes while whispering to you. Or another video, where he cleans his ears with a Q-Tip for a full hour. But none of that could prepare me for the popular ASMR video creator who goes by the moniker Kluna Tik. Kluna's videos -- and there are HUNDREDS -- are all first person visuals of someone eating imaginary meals -- except that the biting and chomping sounds are all highly exaggerated, and through the magic of stop-motion animation, his "meals" usually consist of things like bricks, crayons, and yes, dirty Q-Tips (that perhaps he got from Tony Bomboni.)
My instinct is to dismiss this as some kind of wacky perverted fetish, but the ASMR community goes out of their way to insist that there's NOTHING sexual about their hobby. Instead, they swear it's just a way to relax, experience some tingles, and go to sleep. As someone who may have experienced ASMR before, a little part of me was terrified that I might see these videos, start tingling and become an ASMR junkie. With my luck, in ten years we WILL have flying cars and teleporters, but I'll have no time for that because I'll be preoccupied watching some guy clean his ears for an hour straight.
Happily, the only thing these videos triggered in me was laughter, mild revulsion, and the deep satisfaction that comes from knowing you're not as weird as you may think you are. So have at it, friends. If listening to people whisper gives you tingles, then tingle away. The internet's a mighty big place, and we've got room for all kinds of fellow weirdos.
If nothing else, it certainly gives me something to watch until the day my car starts flying.
Well. That election sure didn't turn out the way I thought it would.
I don't ever want to get into politics in this column. It's neither my place nor my forte. We have people working here who can authentically be called political experts, and elections are their turf. I'm the guy who got a B in Civics class. I support my candidates, cast my votes, and I most certainly enjoy antagonizing my conservative uncle on Facebook, but that's usually where it stops.
If you want political commentary, you call our editorial staff. If you want fluff pieces about reality TV, you call Shane -- and I'm perfectly fine with that. But this puts me in a sticky situation since reality TV just birthed its first President-elect, and just like everyone else, it's all I want to talk about. I suppose it could be worse -- we could have just elected Ryan Seacrest to lead the free world, although I'm pretty sure Ryan Seacrest would've had the discipline to avoid offending half of America on the campaign trail.
But as shocked as I was by the results of the election, I'm more disheartened by the divisiveness and bickering that's tearing our nation in two. I'm a social media addict, but right now, logging onto Facebook is like being invited to a dinner party where the only other guests are Rachel Maddow and Ann Coulter and the only silverware are knives. Any post that even hints at politics accrues no fewer than three instances of name-calling, at least one fake news story that someone swears is certifiably real, one threat to move to Canada, and someone proudly announcing the number of people they've unfriended over this whole debacle.
For a day or two after the election, I was one of those people. Two weeks later, it's become nauseating, and I find myself yearning for posts about cats, weather, and what we're all eating for dinner. I blame Prince and David Bowie. The two of them were clearly the creative glue necessary to sustain life, liberty, and the pursuit of funkiness throughout the land. Losing them both in the same year has obviously caused the constraints of reality to break down. Now the Cubs are World Series champions and Donald Trump is our President-elect. Mark my words, if we don't continually check on the health and welfare of Beyonce, we could be looking at Pope Honey Boo-Boo the First before everything's said and done.
I suppose it's no real secret that I was NOT a supporter of Candidate Trump. But the guy won, fair-ish and square-ish. That's democracy. Somebody's got to lose, this time it was my side, and I'm trying to keep looking to the future with hope. That's why I haven't been protesting in the streets with my friends. I just didn't see what good it would do other than opening our side up for folks to call us "cry-babies" and tell us to "get over it." When Trump tweeted that protesting the outcome was "unfair," I begrudgingly agreed.
Then I remembered 2012, when Obama won re-election. Citizen Trump jumped on Twitter that night and told people to "march on Washington and stop this travesty... we should have a revolution in this country!" Now THAT is some dangerous rhetoric. I know a LOT of people crazy upset with this election, but I don't know one person who's openly calling for revolution. You can't say "the phoney (sic) electoral college made a laughing stock out of our nation" when things don't go your way, but then call the same result "open and successful" four years later just because you won.
So how did we end up with our first President for whom moving into the White House might actually be "slumming it"? Well, I think we had two flawed candidates whose faults were blown out of proportion by ratings-hungry news networks and a social media adept at turning mountains into molehills. I don't think our former Secretary of State was knowingly posting critical intel to Gmail with gleeful abandon, nor do I think Donald Trump is in secret cahoots with the KKK. I just think he's an egomaniacal blowhard inexperienced at public speaking who learned that nothing motivates the electorate quite like fear.
Sure, I'm worried what a Trump presidency will mean for the values and civil rights I hold dear, but I suppose I wish the guy well. Frankly, he's gonna need it. His will be the most scrutinized presidency of all time, and folks are already queueing up to pick it apart. Maybe this mess of an ugly election is what we need to put future candidates in place who are more concerned with progress than power. Good timing, too, since the 2020 Iowa caucus season starts in, what, two months or so, right?
No matter your vote, we'll all be dealing with the outcome of this election for years. But you'll only deal with me writing about it for the next few words. Instead, I'm taking this holiday week to think about things that DO make me thankful.
Like the super-moon. That was pretty cool, huh? And I'm thankful there's no such thing as a super-Sun, because that wouldn't be half as fun. I'm thankful Canada gets wicked cold in winter, because I don't think any of my friends who are threatening to move there actually will. I'm thankful for punk rock, which always makes a great comeback in a conservative White House. I'm thankful for this column and everyone who reads it, otherwise I'd just be ranting to my cats.
And I'm thankful for my cats, the only creatures I'll ever preside over. I'd like to think I'm a benevolent leader, although my executive orders to date have involved mandatory curfews and forced castration, so maybe I'm a horrible fascist. I might not be super enthused by our President-elect, but if he showed up daily to cook me dinner, clean my toilet, and scratch behind my ear, I might just grow to like the guy. Doubtful, though.
Well, hello, November. Once again, I've survived another Halloween, and my love-hate affair with the holiday carries on.
Don't get me wrong, I wholeheartedly approve of things that go bump in the night. I live for tales of mysterious supernatural hocum-pocum. When the air first starts to get chilly, there's nothing better than feeling just a little creeped out. You'd be hard-pressed to find a ghost and/or monster-hunting show on TV that I don't watch and buy into at least 90% of the nonsense they spew out.
I'm in no hurry to shuffle off this mortal coil, but when I do, if someone were to offer up the choice of heading to eternal paradise or sticking around in order to knock pictures off walls and whisper menacing gibberish into the EVP recorders of ghost hunters, that'd be a tough decision to make. I think I'd have to check whether Eternal Paradise had wi-fi before making up my mind.
Give me creepy movies like "The Omen" or "Poltergeist" or "The Exorcist" any old time, and Halloween's usually rife with heebie-jeebie-inducing viewing opportunities. But there's a fine line between creepy and scary, and I'm in no hurry to be scared. I'll watch a flick with ominous overtones any day, unless those ominous overtones lead to a guy in a hockey mask leaping out yelling "BOOGITY BOOGITY!"
It's the same reason I always take a hard pass when my friends want to go to haunted houses. I have no desire to deal with some caffeinated 20-something in monster make-up intent on giving me a heart attack. I'm well aware of just how much fast food I've consumed over the years, and I'm pretty sure all it would take is one well-timed "BOO!" for me to face that Eternal Paradise question a lot sooner than I'd prefer.
But this year didn't really bring anything creepy OR scary. I don't know what it was, but I never got into that delightfully eerie frame of mind this time round. Maybe it's the knowledge that anything Halloween could possibly throw at me couldn't be as terrifying as the potential outcome of this week's election. If I had to sum up this year's Halloween in one word, it'd be "meh."
My weekend, like most, was spent DJing at the club. On Halloween weekend, this is usually an exercise in patience and apprehension. Call me an old fuddy-duddy all you want, but I will never understand the fun in costuming up when you're a grown adult. My social anxiety is bad enough as is -- if you make me talk to you while you're in vampire makeup, my brain might very well implode. Plus, if you're already the sort of person with a tendency to turn into a drunken moron, nothing speeds up the process like some facepaint and a silly outfit. I was ready for anything.
I wasn't ready, though, to be bored. When I walked into the club, I was greeted by a polite crowd of respectful folks glued to the Cubs game. Only about were costumed, and most of those looked a bit slapdash if I'm being truthful. All told, it was a pretty uneventful weekend, other than, of course, the greatest mix of music mankind has ever heard (but I might be a touch biased.)
Next thing I knew, it was Halloween proper and time to buy candy for the kiddies. It never fails: every year that I buy light on candy, I am besieged with trick-or-treaters. Every year I go nuts on candy, it's a Halloween ghost town on my porch. If I were a smart, health-conscious human being, I'd fill my Halloween dish with nothing but Starburst and Nerds and other candy I find disgusting.
Instead, like an idiot, I buy chocolate. GOOD chocolate. Did you know they make Caramel Apple Milky Ways? Neither did I. And now I'm trying my hardest to forget they exist by eating my way through them, because sure enough, I barely had any trick-or-treaters this year. The first hour was a complete bust until the doorbell finally rang, revealing the cutest of cute kids.
"Twick tweet?" they adorably asked, melting hearts from blocks away while I wanted to hand them all the candy in the world. Annnnd... that was it for another hour. I was about to give up on the night when my door rang again and I was greeted by a couple kids as tall as me. And I use "kids" loosely. One of them had facial hair. They worked so hard on their juvenile delinquent costumes that it was almost like they weren't wearing any costumes whatsoever.
"W'sup?" one of them asked. "Trick or treat."
Like I said, I'm no big fan of costumes, but come on. If you're gonna commit to begging for candy door-to-door as a grown adult, the least you could do is rock a cheap mask or some bunny ears. But hey, it's a free society, so if you want to try trick-or-treating sans costume when I'm pretty sure you're old enough to drive to Walgreens and buy your own candy, that's your right. Just as its my right to give you a heaping handful... from my leftover 2015 Halloween candy dish. Enjoy the stale Kit-Kats and crusty peanut butter cups, dude.
And that was it. No tricks, loads of leftover treats, and nothing left to do but watch a marathon of Paranormal Lockdown on TLC and hope to have some creepy dreams. Instead, I inexplicably dreamt that I had driven to Chicago on a whim, auditioned for the Windy City production of "Hamilton," was somehow cast in a decent role, and then forgot to show up for opening night and was promptly fired. I call that a creepy success, because the fastest way I know to make anyone's skin crawl with madness is to subject them to my "singing" voice. I'd better start rehearsing now, Halloween 2017 comes way to soon. Do re miiIIIiiiIIiiiIIIiii!
(This is totally where the wedding was.)
Sometimes I think about the fact that I'm still single at 45 years of age and it makes me sad. These sharp pains of regret, failure, hopelessness, and loss stab at my self-worth with a fiery intensity... for approximately three seconds. That's how long it takes to remember all the AWESOME parts about being single, and then I have a laugh and get on with my day.
Okay, sure. It'd be swell to find someone to share my life with, and maybe one day that'll happen. But I'm not going to live my life on an aggressive soulmate search as though there's no possible chance of living a fulfilled life without someone by my side. Love and companionship are awesome, but in the meantime, I'll take cats and video games.
Being single might stink, but it DOES have its advantages. If I want to spend half the day binge-watching superhero shows, no one's going to stop me but my conscience. I plan all the menus and mark the social calendars. Right now, I'm laying on my couch writing this column between batters of the World Series. I don't have a bad life, people.
Starting a family is surely a rewarding experience, but NOT starting a family has its own of rewards, too -- not the least of which is avoiding the stress and horrors of a wedding ceremony.
Weddings are a big deal. It's the public proclamation and symbolic manifestation of the commitment that you've entered into, and that should be a cherished occasion. But there's a fine line between cherished occasion and overblown fiasco, and I've had the privilege of witnessing both -- many times over.
I might be hopelessly single, but that doesn't mean my friends share the same fate. I've been invited to my fair share of nuptials over the years. But I've also spent 25 years as a DJ, so I've spun records at more weddings than I care to recall. Normally I stick to club gigs, and I've made the "NO MORE WEDDINGS!" proclamation countless times. But usually all it takes is one friend in need and I'm once again reaching deep in my DJ bag to find the Hokey Pokey and Chicken Dance.
Truth be told, I'd rather be the DJ than NOT be the DJ. When I'm NOT the DJ, I spend the entire reception behaving like the Simon Cowell of matrimony, sitting in smug judgement of whatever sad DJ isn't me. If I ever DO get hitched, I'll have to hire a band, otherwise my beautiful bride might not like it when I fire the DJ and take over myself.
DJing a wedding might be stressful, but the ones looking the MOST stressed are usually the bride and groom themselves. Even if it were my "special day," nothing sounds more dreadful than putting on a penguin suit and making forced pleasantries with my extended family.
This past weekend, I witnessed a wedding that may have set the bar on stress levels -- and I wasn't even invited.
Being single also means that if I wake up on a Saturday and feel like a spontaneous roadtrip, I can take it. Initially, my friend Jason and I decided to head up the Great River Road a bit to see some fall colors, but somehow we just kept heading north until we found ourselves in Lacrosse, Wisconsin.
Lacrosse is surrounded by bluffs, and atop one of them is Grandad Bluff Park that features a stunning overlook of the town. We decided to check it out, and immediately bumped into a hundred other people with the same idea. Parking was limited, and it was almost a half mile uphill hike from the car to the overlook, so I was fairly spent by the time we managed to get our first glimpse of the park -- and the wedding that was overtaking it.
At the top of the bluff, there's a large landing with a shelter and a path that leads out to the overlook, which affords one of the best views of the Mississippi you could ever witness. But on THIS day, the shelter and landing were occupied by a formally-clad family frantically setting up folding chairs and floral arrangements. And this family seemed absolutely gobsmacked that people could dare be approaching the scenic overlook in an attempt to look over the scenery.
"EXCUSE ME!" shouted the father-of-the-bride to anyone within earshot, "WE PAID FOR THIS SPACE! WE ARE HAVING A WEDDING HERE!" Well, once Grandma Ruth and Great-Aunt Edna finished the half-mile hike up there, presumably. The shouting was in vain, though. Dozens of tourists were ignoring his shouts and meandering through the wedding.
Jason asked if I wanted to walk out to the overlook. "No, go ahead," I told him, "I think the real show's gonna happen right here." I was right. The more tourists that approached, the more irrational the guy started getting. When a young couple asked if he'd pose for a photo, he finally snapped.
"YOU NEED TO SHOW US SOME RESPECT!" he yelled at them. "THIS IS A WEDDING!"
Now, I'm clearly no expert at matrimony, but I can tell you with some confidence that if you wanted a private wedding, you should probably choose a venue that's NOT your town's #1 tourist attraction on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. This would be like getting married at an Adele concert and being outraged that others showed up to see Adele. Meanwhile, all this time, the poor bride was waiting a few steps down the path in a cloud of perfume and makeup. Just as things were reaching the zero point of chaos, Jason made his way back and insisted that we leave the wedding to those invited. I bet it was a lovely ceremony, even though they probably had a lousy DJ.
On the way home, we stopped for dinner at the only option we could find along the deserted yet still somehow Great River Road: an over-priced buffet at a riverboat casino. As we tried valiantly to consume our money's worth of sub-par food, I looked around and saw nothing but sad couples, sitting around and eating in near-total silence. I don't know if I'll ever find my soulmate, but if I do, I promise we'll never run out of things to talk about.
Well, it's official, Quad Cities: I'm a hypocrite.
Exactly one month ago, I thought it would be a swell idea to write a column about the recent push to legalize backyard chickens within the city limits of Rock Island and other area communities. Since I'm generally not a fan of most non-cat-related elements of nature, I expressed my concerns in writing about the potential ramifications of sharing my neighborhood with wayward poultry.
I had NO idea how many people out there cared so very deeply about chickens. Within MINUTES of my column printing, my inbox was full of messages of support alongside vitriolic e-mails telling me I needed to -- and I quote -- "eat a chicken butt," an act which I believe has some cultural signifigance in certain Asian societies AND provides a healthy dose of protein, iron, and calcium, so thanks for thinking about my physical and spiritual health, people.
Yes, I made swift work angering urban farmers around the area... but the truth is, I can't rail against urban farming when I've been allowing it to happen on my own property for years now.
It's been half a decade now, but I can still recall my realtor talking up the great shade afforded my back yard from my neighbor's tree. The tree may belong to them, but the shade from it is mostly mine. What a luxury! Last year, I (and by I, of course, I refer to paid professionals who actually know how to do things) poured a concrete parking slab out back for friends to park under the cooling shade of my neighbor's majestic tree.
My neighbor's majestic walnut tree. Any guesses where I'm going with this?
Walnut trees are big and splendid and one of nature's finer creations. They also spend half the year pooping out walnuts onto everything you own and care about. Each time the wind gusts, I can look forward to what I call the "clunk and roll," as walnuts land onto my roof and then rrrrroll down and off the edge. This I've learned to cope with.
But this year, for some reason, the tree's been in overdrive. 2-3 times the normal amount of walnuts have been dripping off this thing for the past umpteen weeks. My yard now looks more like the world's most un-fun ball pit at a backwoods Chuck E. Cheese knock-off.
I wanted to trim the tree back, but again, "I" in this equation refers to hiring people skilled in the fine art of tree mauling. Have any of you paid to have a tree professionally trimmed? It's not cheap. The first quotes I received were four digits long and made my eyeballs pop out of my head in cartoon horror. Eventually I found a guy willing to do it within my budget, but I'd have to allow him to drive his bucket truck over my neighbor's lawn, which is a lot to ask considering the tree I want to maim belongs to the neighbor in the first place.
My neighbor consented to the task at hand, but we needed couple of dry weeks without rain to avoid putting ruts in the yard, and I'm pretty sure the last time we went two weeks without rain, we were still laughing about Donald Trump's chances of being the Republican nominee. My only other option was to let my dad have a go at it, which he eagerly campaigned for until I discovered his plan involved a homemade improvisation he was calling "chainsaw-on-a-stick." I'm pretty sure that's not on anybody's recommended list of hobbies for a 70-year-old with a bad back, so I put my foot down before he cut his foot off. With MY track record, I'm gonna need that man able-bodied for decades to come.
So as the days have dropped off the calendar, so too have the walnuts dropped upon my lawn. I suppose I could go out with a few trash bags and toss them all in, but I'm nothing if not committed to my motto of "YARD WORK NEVER!" Besides, that's where the urban farmers I employ come in. For years now, I have let a pair of black squirrels set up shop in my backyard. Mr. and Mrs. Poofytail (the neighbors named them, I swear) have but one job: wrangling those walnuts as fast as the tree drops them. Its supposed to be symbiosis: they live rent free at an all-you-can-eat buffet, and I get my walnuts cleaned up for free.
There's just one problem: Mr. Poofytail HATES me. I can't walk out back without seeing him glaring at me and chirping, "Fk! Thp Pft!" As God is my witness, on multiple occasions I've watched him curse me out, run up the tree, and try his best to drop walnuts onto my head. One afternoon, I was fumbling for my keys when I realized my head was wet. I looked up and there he was, chewing me out with a harsh "thp pft!" Now, I don't know if that squirrel somehow hoisted and spilled bottled water on my head, or maybe he spitefully chucked a water balloon my way. I'll choose ANY story other than the one where a squirrel peed on my head, because that's the kind of humiliation that haunts your nightmares forever.
That freak storm we had a week ago sent DOZENS more walnuts to the ground. You could now take them from my lawn by the wheelbarrow full (and please do.) Maybe laziness will win and they'll eventually compost and make my lawn lush and beautiful. Happily, I just saw today that the Poofytails appear to have hired a staff of migrant farm squirrels to assist their cause, because no fewer than a dozen of them are out there now going to town on my walnuts. I wish them all the luck in the world, because otherwise I'm forced to Google "things to do with walnuts," where I just discovered that walnuts can be turned into low-grade explosives, which would certainly be an efficient way to rid myself of walnut trees and malicious head-peeing for keepsies.
"I don't know what the world's coming to these days."
That's always been one of my mom's favorite phrases. She said it when I was a kid, she still says it today (though more often than not, she opts for a slightly saltier variant involving hell and handbags.) When I was a kid, this was usually the cue to roll my eyes, crank up the Depeche Mode tape on my boombox, and say something like, "Gah, mom, you just don't GET how things work nowadays!"
When I was 13, I thought I had the world figured out. Today, I've sat for the past half-hour staring at a computer screen, and I'm pretty sure I can say with absolute certainty that I don't know what the world's coming to these days.
I was just skimming around some news headlines and suddenly found myself at the conservative crossroads of the internet, that magical news aggregate known as The Drudge Report. Sure, it's a right-leaning site notorious for conspiracy theories and self-righteousness, but I'll be darned if it's not occasionally a barrel of jaw-dropping fun. The site might stand for everything I tend to sit for, but there are times that you can learn more about the state of the world from one page of Matt Drudge's links than you can from a whole day on Google.
If there was ever a pile of evidence to prove just how nutty our society is, it's the headlines I'm staring at right now. My only hope is that a thousand years from now, some future historian doing research on our ancient civilization will find a screenshot of today's Drudge Report and spend a considerable amount of time wondering just what the heck his forefathers were thinking about back in 2016.
Let's look at some of the highlights of today's headlines (which, by the time you read this, will be two week old headlines, but trust me, it's worth it.)
First off, I'm skipping the top stories because they're all about the election. Me telling you that our current presidential election is kooky is about the least breaking news I could possibly offer. I've been beat up over chickens and clowns all month long. You couldn't pay me enough to wade into this political abyss. The only person I like arguing about politics with is my uncle in Alabama, and that's just because it's fun to watch his face turn red.
When it comes to this election, I'd personally like to employ Scrabble rules: When all the remaining moves are lousy, we should be able to lose a turn and draw all new tiles. I'm not a huge fan of anyone left in the running, but let's just say I find one candidate far less insane than the other, and I support that candidate wholeheartedly, whoever she may be.
So I'm skipping all the stories about Bill Clinton's secret love child and Hillary's e-mails and I'm going straight to the stories that matter, like this one: "ROBOT REPLACES BABY." We've spent the past week so concerned over which body parts Donald Trump wants to grab that we've totally overlooked the fact that BABIES ARE BEING REPLACED BY ROBOTS. I would much rather see Anderson Cooper devote time to the Great Robot Takeover than suffer through the on-air staff of CNN chomping at the bit to say a word that rhymes with "wussy."
As it turns out, the headline is a BIT misleading. As much as I was looking forward to my future robot offspring, the real story is that Toyota (yep, the car people) have just introduced Kirobo Mini, a pocket robot programmed to talk and act like a human baby. At a height of four inches, the Kirobo Mini comes with a camera, microphone, and Bluetooth capabilities, presumably for those moments when you want to share on Facebook whenever your battery-powered soul-less pocket abomination does something cute.
Does it have any practical use? "It wobbles a bit," project manager Fuminori Kataoka told Sky News. Well, I'm sold. Sadly, the Kirobo Mini is only available in Japan for now, but I'm sure it won't be too long before crazy cat ladies the world over will instead start filling their homes with unholy legions of wobbly robo-babies.
Was it sexist of me to stereotype crazy cat ladies? Perhaps I need the help of the next story: "UNIVERSITY OFFERS COURSE FOR MEN TO DECONSTRUCT TOXIC MASCULINITIES." It's happening at Duke University, and the Telegraph reports that organizers hope to "explore, dissect, and construct an intersectional understanding of maleness, as well as create destablized spaces for those with privilege." I have absolutely no idea what any of that means, but I'm guessing it involves both beer pong and reruns of "The A-Team."
There's no good segue to my favorite headline on the site: "SEX IN SPACE... STRAPS REQUIRED." Yes, with all the troubles plaguing mankind, it's good to know that our scientists are prioritizing the crises that really matter, like space nookie. According to an article in the Daily Mail that quotes "sex in space expert" Professor Anja Geitmann, there are multiple concerns to zero-gravity whoopie making, such as -- and I quote -- "floating fluids." Consenting adults would need straps to ensure that the horizontal mambo remains horizontal, so it's clearly just a matter of time before E.L. James writes "Fifty Shades of Mars." Most importantly, had I known that "sex in space expert" was a real vocation, I clearly would have chosen a different major in college.
It's a worthwhile endeavor, though. Just this week President Obama recommitted his goal of Man on Mars by 2030. Given current technology, that's a one-year round trip, which makes an awfully long time for a crew to cohabitate without someone putting on an Al Green record.
I was talking to a friend earlier today and mentioned the space-sex article, and he immediately asked, "Didn't you write about that once?" I didn't remember it, but I just checked. Sure enough, seven years ago I wrote a whole column about space nookie -- I even used the same Al Green joke, but back then it was Barry White. And guess how THAT column started? "I just read the craziest thing on Drudge Report..."
So maybe the world isn't coming to anything bad after all. Maybe Matt Drudge is just a space pervert. Either way, I'm staying tuned.
Ah, autumn. I love this time of year. Everything smells like pumpkin spice (or so I'm told - with MY seasonal allergies, I anticipate regaining the use of my nose sometime in early December.) The air is crisp, the colors magnificent, and, of course, the streets run rampant with killer clowns intent on murdering us all.
As fads go, this isn't one of my favorites. We first heard about it back in spring, when somebody filmed a menacing looking clown lurking along a suburban roadside and casually strolling through a cemetery at midnight. He/she/It/Pennywise wasn't doing anything illegal other than being super creepy -- but as anyone who's ever read Stephen King's "It" knows, a loitering clown is certainly bad news.
Things escalated in August when kids at a South Carolina apartment complex reported a clown trying to lure them into the woods. Possibly this was a tasteless prank gone awry, but it was just salacious enough to get coverage on about every newscast in the U.S. That prompted creepy clowns to start popping up all over the place, and now the Great Clown Panic of 2016 is now upon us.
There's two surefire ways to know when a controversial fad is past its prime. The first is if "Law & Order: SVU" devotes an episode to it. The second is if it reaches OUR neck of the woods. Thus far, I haven't had the pleasure of witnessing Ice-T interrogate any clowns, but this week, students here at Augustana have reported someone in full clown makeup peering menacingly in dorm windows.
The news is begging people to stop dressing up like clowns to scare people, which of course translates to many teenaged minds as "please dress up like a clown and scare people." It's only a matter of time before some idiot clowns the WRONG family and ends up on the losing end of somebody just itching to try out their concealed carry license. I, for one, would like to avoid any full-on clowntastrophes.
In the meantime, clown panic is reaching fever pitch. The other day, one of our local news channels broadcast an image of what they thought was a Quad City creepy clown, only to be told minutes later that they had started a public witch hunt for an employee of a local haunted house simply walking home in costume. The guy DID look relatively terrifying and was open-carrying a nail-covered prop hammer, so he wasn't ENTIRELY innocent, but still. I think we all need to chill out a bit.
If there's one thing that we as a society are great at, it's a good old-fashioned overblown panic. Quite often, these spring to life during times of social upheaval and stress, and we're deep in the mire right now. Don't believe me? TRUMP. CLINTON. You just bristled a little bit, admit it. We're in a stressful era.
The 80s were a stressful time, too. Remember all the panics we had back then? The gool ol' days when everyone was convinced for a while that if you played Dungeons & Dragons long enough, you'd eventually lose touch with reality and spend your life in a fantasy hellscape. This might have bothered us had we any free will, but our brains were busy being controlled by evil subliminal backmasking in all of our heavy metal albums. And then of course there was the PTA meeting that bravely informed our town of devil worshipping in our midst and that we should watch for warning signs of Satanism like mohawks and anarchy symbols, which naturally caused bored teenagers to go get mohawks and anarchy t-shirts in short order.
Maybe we're panicking over creepy clowns because it's an easier panic to manage than politics or race relations. Creepy clowns are nothing new to me, because I've ALWAYS thought clowns were creepy. WAIT, NO I DON'T. Two weeks ago I bad-mouthed chickens and my house got egged. I do NOT want my house creepy-clowned. I take it all back. Clowns are amazing and valued contributors to society and we shouldn't find them creepy and weird and PLEASE don't creepy-clown my house. Those aren't heebie-jeebies I feel whenever I see a clown. It's just my natural love for clowns manifesting itself in a physical way that only coincidentally feels like my skin is crawling with cooties. Clowns are awesomesauce.
Truth be told, there's actual science behind a clown fear. Its called the "uncanny valley" -- the more something looks human but not QUITE human, the more we're prone to feelings of eerieness or revulsion. It's why we love R2D2 but hate those disturbing Japanese robots that look exactly like people. Wikipedia quotes a psychology professor who says that young children are "very reactive to a familiar body type with an unfamiliar face." So when you see someone that looks like a normal person but with exaggerated features making exaggerated gestures, it's perfectly normal to get a little skeeved-out. I can't think of any other occupation with the same potential to elicit fear. There aren't movies called "Killer Carpenters from Outer Space" or rap groups called the Insane Accountant Posse.
All of this makes me feel bad for those who clown for the power of good. There's a local entertainer who clowns around for sick kids and the elderly and just wants to make people happy. She's on Facebook today saying that "due to recent events, tonight I was told to take my wig off... it is a sad day." It should never be a sad day for a real clown. Worse yet, one of her fellow entertainers just commented that "us real clowns need to wage war on the uneducated individuals doing this."
Look people, I just survived a chicken war. Don't make me live through a clown war, too. Let's stop clowning around before the Creepy Clown Panic becomes the Tiresome Clown Tedium. I don't need another thing to be irrationally afraid of. I've already got CNN.