Thursday, October 05, 2017

COLUMN: Cricket


I am not a big sports guy. This may come as a shock to those of you who look at my picture and naturally assume that I'm a buff jock.

In this world, there are those who play sports, there are those who watch other people play sports, and there are those who were too busy DJing the post-game dance to even worry about what the game even WAS. When it comes to athletics, I have always been, and shall always be, woefully inept. For me, gym class was little more than legalized child abuse and a daily opportunity to get picked last for any team.

Occasionally, though, sports can be fun to watch, especially if you have no clue what's going on.

Last Saturday, my friends and I were heading out on a much-needed aimless joyride when we stumbled across something I'd never seen before in the Quad Cities: a cricket match. There, in the fields of Jacob Park in East Moline, a handful of guys stood around gleefully cricketing away. None of us had seen a live cricket match before, so we decided to pull in and spectate for a bit. After watching for fifteen minutes, we still had NO clue what was happening.

Cricket is somewhat of a distant cousin to baseball, in that both sports involve batters trying to hit balls that are pitched their way. Instead of a diamond, cricket is played on an oval field with defensemen surrounding the batter on nearly all sides. There's a whole lot of standing around and not doing much. In other words, cricket might just be a sport I could handle.

When I got home later that night, I researched cricket to figure out the rules. It turns out this simple-looking game is a bit more complex than it appears, and comes with its own incomprehensible vocabulary -- such as this, from Wikipedia: "The ball can be bowled so that it bounces on the pitch, is a yorker, or a full toss. A no ball or a wide does not count towards the six balls in the over." Oh, I completely understand now, thanks.

Wikipedia also informs that when it comes to determining whether or not a batter is out, "even though the wicket may have been put down, or the ball caught, the batsman is not actually dismissed until the fielding team appeal to the umpires for a decision, traditionally using the phrase 'How's that' or 'Howzat.'" I was now more than ever convinced that cricket could just be MY sport. I might not make a good ball catcher or a good wicket put-down-er, but I'm pretty sure I could make an exceptional Howzat-man, should any team need my services.

I honestly DID want to learn more about cricket, but had no idea where to turn. Then I had an epiphany. Unfortunately, it may have been a slightly racist epiphany. At the end of my block is a gas station that I frequent daily, and over the years I've become friendly with the Indian family that runs the place. Cricket is HUGE in India, and I had a feeling those guys knew everything about the sport. But would it be an uncool stereotype to just assume so?

Thankfully I'm friendly enough with them to risk it. So yep, yesterday I started a gas station conversation with the phrase, "I apologize if I'm making a bad stereotype here..." which ALWAYS means "I'm definitely making a bad stereotype here," but thankfully my inquiry was met with a smile.

"Sorry, dude," my friend said. "I'm not very sporty," which is probably why we're friends. But he DID know everything about the rules of cricket, and told me all about how it's played. I now know about wickets and outs and yorkers and a really interesting game that's been around since the 16th century.

Even more convinced that I'd finally found a sport I could get along with, I got home that night and decided to check out some cricket videos on Youtube. This wasn't a good decision. Well, for ME, it might have been the BEST decision. As it turns out, right next to all the "How-To-Cricket" videos were dozens of videos with titles like "HORRIBLE CRICKET INJURY!" and my personal favorite, "TOP TEN CRICKET DEATHS ON THE PITCH," inferring that some cricket deaths on the pitch are just not awesome enough to make a top ten list. Whoa.

I'd like to say that I was respectful and classy enough to skip the shock-and-awe videos and focus only on the educational videos. Nope. Instead, I sat there for a half hour watching the sport of cricket maim people. I saw teeth fly out of mouths in slow motion. I saw groins that will never be the same. I saw an Australian pro take a cricket ball to the neck so hard he never got up again.

Over the years, I've learned a few simple Laws of Shane. An important one: If it's possible for something to injure me, it most likely will. Cricket seems fun, but so does keeping all my teeth in my mouth. I've seen all the safety equipment you should be wearing to play cricket, but I didn't see much padding going on at Jacob Park.

Before I discover my inner jock, I want to watch a few more matches. When it comes to cricket, I might make a better spectator than player. If you're an area cricketeer and you're playing soon, shoot me an e-mail and maybe I'll come check it out. Howzat?

COLUMN: Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes


A little bit of change is often a big deal in my world. Change can be exciting, intimidating, scary, and exhilarating. In other words, it's usually not for me. "Exhilarating" just isn't a word that creeps up in my couch-dwelling lifestyle too often. However, a little bit of change has entered our lives this week here in Dispatch-Argusland. That's usually my cue to curl into a fetal ball and commence panicking.

I've always had a natural resistance to change. Admittedly, this is a pretty stupid mindset to have. Without change, there's never any possibility for growth. More often than not, change is a risk worth taking, whether you have to push yourself or accept the occasional push of fate. After all, without a good push or two, I'd be a 250 lb. fetus making my mom SUPER uncomfortable right about now.

This time around, though, I strangely haven't been panicking. I've yet to reach for a fidget spinner or search the internet for coping mechanisms. In fact, this change is giving me a strange new feeling I'm unfamiliar with. I looked it up, and I think it's something called "optimism." Weird, huh?

You're reading this now, which likely means you're a fan of our papers, so you've probably already heard the news: last week, the Small Newspaper Group sold the Dispatch•Argus•QCOnline to the good folks at Lee Enterprises. 

What's this mean? Well, it means we'll be saying goodbye to the Small family, who have been steadfastly sailing this ship since before I was born. We're also saying goodbye to Jerry Taylor, who retires as our publisher after 40-plus years of service. With soft voice and steady hands, Mr. Taylor has been our rock, our captain, our friend, and a man whose only error in judgement may have been letting the weirdo kid from advertising write about his cats every Monday. I couldn't be more grateful.

It also means we'll be saying hello to a company with a proven track record of excellence, who already serve 49 markets in 21 states. This week, they've been meeting our team, and I hope they're discovering they just inherited a scrappy crew of hard workers equally devoted to the noble pursuit of journalistic excellence -- and one columnist who probably uses the word "poop" too many times for their liking.

The ones who should benefit the most from this new partnership are you, the readers. With renewed vigor and newfound resources, we're committed more than ever to serve our community the very best print and online products we can muster every day. The Dispatch•Argus isn't going anywhere.

So if the order of the day ISN'T to panic and curl up into a fetal ball, how did I cope with the spectre of change this time around? Well, with some acoustic folk music, naturally.

The night that news of the sale broke, rather than sit at home and convince myself that change must always be bad, I instead took an invitation from my friend Sean Moeller and headed to downtown Davenport's Raccoon Motel to catch Son Little and singer-songwriter Korey Dane.

"I wrote this one a couple years back when I was hitch-hiking across the U.S.," Dane said at one point, in an instantly successful attempt at proving himself way cooler than I'll ever be. That's when it hit me. Maybe I resist change because I've never had my walkabout moment. I've never thrown caution to the wind or hitchhiked across our great land with Kerouacian passion. I've barely left the corn belt.

Then again, I've also never been axe murdered, and that's what my mom always promised would happen if I ever hitchhiked. The gods of fate are something I seldom toy with, so it WOULD be just my luck to begin my life-affirming spiritual journey by hopping into a car with a blood-thirsty sociopath. Plus, Dane's good looks and natural charm probably scored him rides fairly easy. My aged and tubby silhouette would probably still be on a roadside as we speak, trying to stick out my thumb while balancing an armful of cats.

Just today I read an article about all the free-wheeling travelers that converged on Stonehenge for the summer solstice last week. Dozens of new age hippies weeped at the morning sun while presumably renewing their chakras through the karmic vibrations of the ancient ley lines. Had I been there, I'd have been the guy whining about the mosquitos and asking if anybody knew the password for the Stonehenge wi-fi. The traveler's life is not for me.

No, my place is here, contentedly couch-surfing and waiting for my cats to do something funny enough to write about. I'm no sage philosopher, so all I can tell you is this: I'm excited about the future, and I hope you all are, too.

Here's where I should probably quote REO Speedwagon's "Roll With the Changes," but I just can't bring myself to cite a song so bad it dares to rhyme "brink of" with "drink of." Instead, I will follow the orders of the great David Bowie, turn and face the strange, and see what these ch-ch-ch-ch-changes have to offer.

COLUMN: Catfight


It's normally my goal to try and bring a little levity to your Monday newspaper, but it's tough to be carefree and jovial in times of war.

I refer, of course, to the battle of wits that I'm currently waging against one of my cats.

As you may already know, I recently got some bad news about one of my feline houseguests. After eleven years of companionship and column fodder aplenty, poor Bez's kidneys are starting to give out. There's no magic fix for kidney failure in cats, but there ARE therapies that can slow the process while hopefully giving her continued time for her favorite hobby: testing my patience to its absolute breaking point.

Specifically, this therapy involves subcutaneous fluids to help take some of the load off her kidneys. This means sticking my cat with a IV needle three times a week and somehow getting her to hang out while 100 cc's of fluid drips under her skin.

In theory, it's an easy process. You just grab the cat by the scruff of her neck, make a little tent with the skin, poke the needle in, and just sit there for a few minutes while gravity does all the work. It's so harmless that my vet showed me how to do it using one of their office cats, who strolled in and sat amiably while a vet gave her a few cc's of fluid.

"See?" the vet tech told me. "They don't even feel it."

Clearly, they had never met MY cat.

Back home, I logged onto Youtube and watched countless instructional videos. In each one, happy cats sat around seemingly undisturbed in the slightest by the process. The most common advice was to distract your cat with food. As long as there are delicious nom-nom's, cats don't generally care who's doing what to the scruff of their necks.

Clearly, they had never met MY cat.

I was ready. IV bag in place? Check. Delicious cat treats at the ready? Check. As Bez began to chow down, I lightly grabbed her scruff, made a tent, gently put the needle in, and then watched in horror as my cat turned to me and squealed as if I were trying to kill her. Next thing I knew, claws were sunk in, needles were pulled out, and IV fluid was shooting around my living room willy-nilly. Not good.

Things haven't improved. I did not raise a dumb cat. Now all she has to do is SEE the IV bag and she runs for the hills. I'm doing everything right but she's just being a huge baby. I tried distracting her with food -- and now she's equated food with pain. When I set down dinner for her, now she circles it warily for minutes as if she expects someone to leap out and stab her in the neck the minute she takes a bite.

Happily, my vet's office will do the deed for me as often as needed -- but this creates a whole new set of problems. The minute I put her in a carrier, she howls like the world's ending. My vet's office is only nine blocks away from my house, but the other day she spent those nine blocks howling so loud that she blew out her little cat voice and spent the rest of the day hoarse, meowing at me like a chain-smoking cat reincarnation of Brenda Vaccaro.

Of course, to make me look even crazier, the minute we're inside the vet's office, she shuts up and acts like an angel. Doesn't even make a peep when they put the IV in.

"She's such a sweetheart," they told me the other day. "We can't imagine how she could give you trouble at home." And then the SECOND I take her outside of the office, she starts howling again like I'm the world's worst human.

And now she's catching on. After two times of waking up early to take her to the vet before work, she now hides in the mornings. Last week, I mixed it up and took her on my lunch hour -- and now she hides from me any time I come home mid-day. I was hoping as the sub-Q treatment carried on, eventually she'd get used to it. Instead, she's getting more stubborn. Work is sympathetic to a degree, but I can't exactly call in late because I'm playing hide-and-seek with a scaredy-cat.

Like I said, she's not dumb. When I come home from work at night, she knows the vet's office is closed. There's never any hiding at night. Instead, she comes running for skritches and spends most of the night contentedly purring on my lap. As I type this, I'm laying on my stomach while she's sprawled out on my back, checking out the laptop over my shoulder and probably learning how to read.

I suppose it's all worth it. Despite our ensuing battles, the therapy's working. She's back to her usual self and seems happy (except for the stabbier parts of her week.) I know friends whose cats have lived for years thanks to sub-Q fluids. At this rate, Bez might just outlive ME -- the stress of being continually outsmarted by a cat might just be MY early end. War is hell, friends.

COLUMN: Editor Shane


So I couldn't help but notice the alarming fact that I'm not yet a multi-millionaire. This is kind of a bummer.

I've done everything right. I've played the lottery at least a dozen times. I've provided you all with moderate levels of entertainment every Monday. I've brought beats to as many local dancefloors as my weekend DJ gig allows. But for all this work, I've yet to win a single jackpot. No publisher has handed me a global syndication deal. And even though I'm quite adept at mixing TLC's "No Scrubs" into N*Sync's "Bye Bye Bye," Lollapalooza has yet to invite me to headline their main stage. What gives, people?

I'm a realist. I'm not asking for Bill Gates levels of wealth. I'd be perfectly happy with just a mansion or two and perhaps a modest handful of personal assistants. That's not asking too much, is it?

At this rate, I may be forced to turn to Plan B. I don't really have the time, but I may just have to write the next Great American Novel.

Wait, scratch that. Great American novels might be beloved, but they're not exactly money-makers. People never camped out for days in front of a Barnes & Noble waiting for "Moby Dick." Universal Studios never opened a Grapes-of-Wrath-land theme park. I don't need to write great literature, I just need to write POPULAR literature. I want Dan Brown money. Stephanie Meyer money.

All I need to do is come up with a... what's that thing called? Oh, yes. A plot.

Truth be told, this isn't the first time I've sat down and declared myself a novelist. Each time, it's been nothing less than unmitigated disaster. One time, I thought I could cash in on the Twilight craze by writing a page-turner about a teenager who falls in love with... a leprechaun. Laugh all you want, I still say it could be a romance for the ages. Nobody better steal my idea. It could still happen.

The problem is, I'm just not that good of a writer. I'm horrible at coming up with original ideas, and the few times I've tried, I end up writing dialogue where every character acts, reacts, walks, and talks just like me. If there's a more hellish nightmare than the prospect of a town filled with Shanes, I can't imagine it. And therein seems to lie my biggest problem: I can't imagine.

So there I was last year, banging my head against an empty screen in frustration, when an e-mail from an old friend showed up. Back in junior high, I rolled with a close-knit posse of proud nerds, and they didn't come much nerdier than my good friend George. Some of my fondest memories involve slumber parties at his house, slamming Jolt Cola while watching wonderfully awful horror movies until the wee hours. George has since become Dr. George, working in the field of artificial intelligence and data science while making the rest of us feel very, very stupid.

Why was my old friend e-mailing? Because in his spare time, George decided to try his hand at writing fiction. As opposed to my empty screen of frustration, George wrote a novel -- and it's GOOD. Hundreds of hundreds of jealousy-inducing pages. I won't give anything away, but its a tale of gods and goddesses and a mortal hero who has to descend into the bowels of Hell to rescue his beloved. It's legimitately a great read.

And for some reason, he wanted MY feedback on it. Folks, I may have found my new calling. I'm lousy at writing fiction, but as it turns out, I'm kinda decent at telling people how to write theirs. For the past year, George has been e-mailing me drafts of his book and I've been serving as an amateur editor. It's become a fun hobby. He writes phrases like, "Visions give way to faceless night, crawling infantile in the smothering blind-dark: weary, fog-benumbed traveler on the unlighted Path of the Dead." I write phrases like, "He was asleep." Somewhere in the middle, I think we balance.

As opposed to my motivation of vast riches, George wrote his book pretty much just for fun. So rather than struggle with landing a book deal, he's planning on self-publishing, hopefully later this year. His once epic tome is now shaping up to be a multi-book saga, and I'm happy to lend a hand whenever he needs it. This week, he asked me to edit the book summary for the e-jacket. Here's what I came up with:

"Paul Masterson is a lonely professor of religion and mythology.  As a child, recurring dreams of a suffering woman of divine origin sent him to a psychiatrist. Those dreams are now gone, long since dismissed as a childhood fantasy.  But the arrival of a mysterious letter awakens more than just old memories. Could his dream-goddess be real?  And if so, can anyone ease her suffering? To find out, Paul must come to terms with his past and visit a city he's long avoided. Can a shy loner at life become a true hero of myth?"

What do you guys think? If you saw that description on Amazon, would you read that? If all goes well, you might be able to later this year. If I get thanked somewhere in tiny print, that's reward enough for me. Unless, of course, it becomes the next Harry Potter. THEN I'm politely asking George for a mansion -- you know, so I can edit his next book in comfort.

COLUMN: Blog Stats 4


There are lots of ways to take an effective barometer reading of just how crazy the world is at any given time. You could peruse the news in this very paper. Some believe all you have to do is follow the president on Twitter. Me? I just have to check my blog.

Lurking in an inconspicuous back alley of the internet is http://shanebrown.blogspot.com. For the most part, I just use my blog to house all of my columns in one convenient place, for those times when you absolutely need to binge-read the weekly ramblings of a middle-aged nerd. But there's another reason why I've kept my blog online all these years.

I have a stat tracker attached to my blog. I installed it more than a decade ago just so I could see how many people visit, which columns attract the most readers, etc. I also can see what country my visitors are from. (I'm quite popular in Italy for some reason. Ciao!) I can see which websites referred the most visitors my way.

But most important, I can see what search phrases lured people to my blog. Let's say you hopped on Google and did a search for, I don't know, "POOP COFFEE." At some point, I might have written columns that contain the words "poop" and "coffee." If I had, and if you were to keep scrolling through your Google search results, you might very well reach a link to my blog at some point. And whenever someone gets to my blog via a Google search, my stat tracker tells me what that person was searching for. And seeing what people search for is nothing less than a front-row seat to Crazytown.

Want to guess what the most-searched phrase that's brought people to my blog is? That's right, it's "POOP COFFEE."

I suppose this merits a bit of an explanation. About a decade ago, I wrote a brief column about the culinary delicacy known as kopi luwak. It's a rare and expensive blend of coffee from Sumatra. You see, in Sumatra, there's an animal called a civet (imagine if a cat and a weasel had a clandestine tryst, and you'd be close). Well, some Sumatran civets have a taste for coffee beans. The beans go in; nature takes its course; and the beans come out. Then, locals pick up the droppings, roast them, and sell them to bohemian idiots willing to pay upwards of $200 per bag for what is essentially dried civet poop.

Experts say it tastes amazing, although I'm generally inclined to distrust anyone who is an expert at drinking poop.

The second most-searched phrase that leads folks to my blog is "KATIE HOLMES," and I'm perfectly OK with that, given the fact I'm in love with her. Maybe one day she'll reach a point of insecurity in her career, and in a fit of despondency, she will Google her own name. When that day comes, there my blog will be, where I've professed my undying love for her on multiple occasions.

That's when Katie Holmes will have to make the ultimate decision: Stay in Hollywood with her millions of dollars, Tom Cruise's baby and purported boyfriend, Jamie Foxx? Or pack it all in to experience the love only a middle-aged, fat, newspaper columnist from Illinois can offer? Until then, I'll leave a dresser drawer open for her things.

Beyond those popular searches lies a vast smorgasbord of crazy. These are actual Google searches that have somehow brought people to my blog during the past 12 months:

— "WHAT TO DO FOR ITCHY KIDNEYS": Stepping away from the computer and heading for a doctor might be a good start. My general rule of thumb is that, when your internal organs start to itch, you're probably past the "Hi Google" stage of curiosity.

— "HOW MUCH CHOCOLATE DOES IT TAKE TO KILL YOU?": Based on my annual Halloween intake, I'm going to say a lot. I'm still here, so that says something.

— "BEST NICKELBACK SONGS": Finally, something I can help with. With absolute certainty, the best Nickelback songs are the two seconds of silence between each track on their albums.

— "APPLESAUCE IN MY PANTS": My blog might not be famous. My blog might not generate a ton of traffic. But it's good to know my blog has landed the attention of the coveted applesauce-pervert demographic. Success!

I guess all I can do is keep writing, keep blogging and keep saying "POOP COFFEE" as many times as possible to keep the weirdos coming by for a visit.

COLUMN: Stress


My right eyelid is twitching. Is that a bad thing? I'm a little stressed out... or maybe just a little over-caffeinated. In reality, I think it's a delightful combination of the two.

I wear a lot of hats in life. If you're a regular reader of my column, you know that in addition to writing this weekly confessional, I also spend my weekends DJing at area nightclubs. But if you REALLY know me well, you might also know that this column isn't my only job here at the paper -- the majority of my day is spent in our advertising department, working to bring you the area's best classified section. (We have the awards to prove it, too!) Today, though, I might have tried on one or two hats too many.

My day already started out pretty lousy -- remember a couple weeks back when I revealed that one of my cats was recently prescribed home IV fluids to fight kidney failure? Well, as it turns out, the cat is not a big fan of IV Therapy: The Home Game. Last night, she wouldn't let me come anywhere near her with a needle (possibly because I'm more scared of needles than she is, so we make a great pair.) I had no choice but to get up early today and take her into the vet to have them administer the fluids.

What I didn't know was that my vet sponsors ONE day when a traveling specialist visits to perform some kind of cutting-edge non-invasive doggie tooth cleaning -- and guess which day it was. I walked in to a crowd of over-anxious yip dogs and their over-protective owners, none of which helped the mood of my already displeased cat. By the time I finally got her loaded with fluids and back home, I had precious little time to get to the office -- which, of course, was the cue for every little old lady, rickety semi truck, and slow-moving construction vehicle in town to pull out directly in front of me. I was stressed before I even GOT to work.

Our newspaper office is a hectic and ever-changing world that constantly produces new challenges and keeps us on our toes. On the whole, though, it's a fairly well-oiled machine. We've got a fantastic product to offer the world, and everyone does their part to ensure that our daily miracle makes its way to your doorstep every morning. If one of us goes on vacation, someone else steps up and takes care of their duties for the week. For instance, in my neck of the department, I have two colleagues whose work I cover whenever they're gone.

But this week, thanks to a perfect storm of Memorial Day vacations, they're BOTH gone. For the most part, Team Classifieds this week has consisted of one advertising assistant and yours truly, trying my hardest to bend time and space in an ill-advised attempt to be three people at once.

Some folks enjoy multi-tasking. Not me. I can do it when forced, but the OCD part of my brain greatly prefers when my tasks form a nice, orderly line with no pushing or shoving. But in the fast-paced, hustle-bustle, white knuckle thrill ride of print advertising, one-at-a-time tasks are something of a pipe dream.

After being in this game for half my life now, I'd like to think I know my way around the office a bit. But when you have to cover duties you're not used to, there's nothing worse than feeling your brain downshift into first gear as you work your way through unfamiliar projects at a slow pace. I knew this week would be a challenge, so I came prepped with two important coping tools:

(1) Coffee, and lots of it. Usually I arrive to work with one of those cold cappuccino drinks that's basically coffee-flavored chocolate milk. This week the cappuccino stayed at home. This week called for high-test premium unleaded, folks. Brazilian roast, black as midnight on a moonless night, as venti as they make them. I may as well have just poured pure caffeine into my cat's IV drip and hooked myself up.

(2) Music, and lots of it. To the benefit of my co-workers, I usually keep workplace tunes to a minimum. But since everybody's out vacating, I've been reserving the right to respectfully rock out at my desk. Shh, don't tell, but I've been quietly sneaking in my satellite radio every day. Music helps me focus. Except for the new wave channel, which, as it turns out, makes me rock out a little TOO hard. I needed to find a genre I could enjoy yet ignore. Something familiar yet not so familiar that I start reminiscing, crying, and phoning up old high school girlfriends. This explains why I've been sitting at my desk listening to the 70s disco channel all week. You can laugh all you want, but I will survive and I'm stayin' ali-i-i-i-ive.

If I make it through the week with no worse maladies than a twitchy eyelid and "Y.M.C.A." stuck in my head, I'm calling it a win. Pretty soon it'll be MY turn to go on vacation. Just wait til my co-workers learn their job duties that week will include writing an original column, stabbing a cat in the neck, and spinning records at a dance club til 3 a.m. Mark my words, eyelids will twitch.

COLUMN: Twin Peaks


Well, things were rough going there for a bit, but finally, all the world's problems are fixed. It almost doesn't seem real.

I mean, who'd have thunk that ONE television show would be enough to cut through our petty differences, mend global fences, and unite the world together for a cup of coffee and a slice of perfect cherry pie?

Yes, after 25 years of being away, the greatest television show in the history of history returned to the air last night: Twin Peaks. Less than a day later, world peace and global understanding has been reached.

Or at least I assume it has. Truth be told, my column has an early deadline. As I type this, it's Wednesday night and the Twin Peaks premiere is still four arduous and impatient days away. Ergo, at this time I can only presume that its return has ushered in a new era of world peace and a cultural revolution that will change the course of humanity from this time onwards.

After all, that's kinda how it felt the first time around.

When I was in high school, I pretty much ignored TV. Movies were cool, video games were cooler, music was the coolest, but TV? That was the lame thing my parents watched every night. Let's just admit it -- television in the 1980's was abysmal. Think about what some of the top offerings were at the time:

* a show about a guy and his talking car

* a show about a truck driver and his chimpanzee

* a show about wise-cracking mercenaries who drive around in a van loaded with weapons shooting at a measurable percentage of the population yet never hitting anyone EVER.

* a show about high drama and romance onboard a cruise ship where Charo keeps inexplicably popping up.

* a show about an island CLEARLY run by a supernatural demon and his vertically-challenged minion

The list goes on and on. They didn't call it the "idiot box" for nothing.

And then it happened. By divine providence or complete accident, a network TV executive green-lit a new television series from director David Lynch. The same David Lynch responsible for cult classic movies like "Eraserhead," "Blue Velvet," and "Dune." A guy whose film catalog is equal parts weird, wonderful, disturbing, and deranged. A guy who had no business being a part of the idiot box.

But with the partnership of Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost, Twin Peaks ended up the perfect melange of compelling drama, quirky charm, and Lynch's patented weirdness. Within days, it seemed like the whole world wanted to know who killed Laura Palmer, the high school beauty whose life was filled with dark secrets. My roommates and I watched the premiere from our dorm room and were instantly mega-fans. Back then, TV reception in the dorm was spotty at best, so my poor parents were tasked with taping and mailing us every episode immediately after they aired.

With Twin Peaks, filmmakers learned that television could be art. The infamous dream sequence from the third episode might still be the weirdest thing ever aired on broadcast television. Twin Peaks almost single-handedly paved the way for the concept of TV as an actual artistic medium. Every envelope-pushing show from Lost to Mad Men to Breaking Bad owes a little bit to Twin Peaks for forging the trail.

We may be decades away from the original show, but I've never stopped being a fan. I bought all the books and own the series in multiple formats. I went to a Twin Peaks convention. A few years ago, I had the honor of interviewing David Lynch for this very paper, and it took Olympic levels of self-control to keep me from turning into a stammering fanboy.

And now, 25 years later, Twin Peaks is back for a limited run on Showtime. Most of the original cast jumped at the chance to be onboard for the reboot. My hope is that it's everything I loved about the original and more. Now that it's on a cable network, Lynch and Frost have the freedom to make the show darker, creepier, and sexier than ever. EVERY episode will be directed by Lynch, so anything's possible.

It could also be a spectacular flop. Lynch's most recent offerings have been SO out there that it's often hard to discern a plot. To keep viewers in suspense, no advance screenings, trailers, or previews of the Twin Peaks relaunch have been issued.

My hope, though, is that last night's episode was amazing. I've said it before: 2017 is The Year of Shane. Two of my favorite bands of all time (British shoegazers Ride and Slowdive) have reunited and are producing some of the best music of their careers. And now my favorite TV show is officially back on the air. Last night's episode might not have changed the world, but odds are pretty good that it rocked mine.

COLUMN: Bez


As reliable as the swallows returning to Capistrano, at least a couple times a year, you can count on me to write one of my patented, "Wah! I'm so old! Where did the time go?" columns. I suppose this could be considered one of them, but unfortunately, this column isn't about me.

For years, I've written about my feline furbabies, Bez and Isobel, my twin rescues from Animal Aid. Truth is, though, they're not exactly babies any more. I still picture them as the tiny balls of fluff I brought home from Animal Aid, but that was eleven years ago this month. My kitties are more like grannies these days. Last week, the reality of their age was cemented home.

Last Sunday, Bez came walking up and it was clear something was wrong. Her normal confident gait was reduced to a pained limp. Her head was down, her tail was low. For the first time in her life, she was a sick kitty. I took her to the vet on Monday, and the news wasn't great. My favorite non-human on the planet has bad arthritis. Worse yet, her blood work showed that she was in acute kidney failure.

Last week was pretty much awful. Every morning, I had to take her into the vet, where they've been placing her on an IV to get her rehydrated. They've also been giving her laser treatments to curb the arthritis. On Day 1, the nurses at the vet told me, "She's such a sweetheart." On Day 2, they told me, "She's feeling a little bit sassy today." By Day 3, it had turned to, "Can you help us move her into her carrier? We're kind of afraid to touch her." I was kinda proud. My cat might be down, but she's not going out without a fight.

So where does that leave us? Well, she's home and happy. Her limp has disappeared, her tail's back up in the air, and she's back to her old self. To keep things that way, all I need to do is give my cat subcutaneous IV fluids three times a week at home. Not good. The last time I had to have a vaccination, I screamed so loud it broke all the blood vessels in my face and I walked around purple for a week. I have acute needlephobia, and now I have to basically become my own worst nightmare and stab my cat in the neck multiple times a week for the remainder of her life.

This isn't my first hurrah with cats and needles. I once had a diabetic cat that required daily insulin shots. I've already had to play Freddie Krueger: The Home Game to save a cat's life. But insulin needles are tiny. IV needles are big and awful.

"Don't worry," the vet tech told me. "If you inject her at the scruff of her neck, they barely feel a thing."

"Barely feel a thing," my fanny. The first time I put that needle in her scruff, she yowled in pain and wouldn't stop screeching until I was done. This, of course, made ME start shaking and crying, so together we make a super awesome health care team.

Loads of my friends have experience giving cats fluids, and I've been taking advice from them non-stop. Distract the cat, they say. Give her food and she'll be so preoccupied she won't even notice the IV. Yeah, not MY cat. I went out and got some gourmet cat food, but I didn't raise a dumb cat. When she saw me holding the IV, she started yowling before I'd even touched her.

Food is another challenge at the moment. Some friends have recommended a low protein cat food that's easy on the kidneys. My vet says a high protein cat food won't help the kidneys, but WILL help her keep weight on. The choice is mine. Well, the choice is actually Bez's, because so far, she's not a big fan of the low protein stuff. I even bought an amino acid supplement to sprinkle on her food. She took one whiff of it, looked at me like, "really?" and sauntered off in disgust.

The OTHER cat, meanwhile, wonders what's become of her high-test Cat Chow, and she shouldn't be eating low protein cat food, because she's already a skinny Minnie. But they've spent their entire lives eating out of the same bowl, so now EVERYONE's confused. Like I said, it's been a real banner week.

There's no magic fix for kidney disease. It's not going to get better, and I'm a realist. But if I can get her to cooperate with the fluids and dietary changes, my cat could be around for a good long time still. So for the foreseeable future, I guess I'm the proud owner/operator of the Brown Home for the Aged & Infirm. Wish me luck, keep Bez in your thoughts, and if any of you have any more advice to make this process better, shoot me an e-mail. I'm all ears.

Monday, August 14, 2017

COLUMN: New Pic


I know what you're thinking.

"WHAT HAPPENED TO THAT GUY?!?!"

If you're an online reader of this column, you might have no idea what I'm talking about. But if you're reading this in the actual newspaper, you've probably caught it: They updated my photo that runs alongside this column.

Seemingly overnight, I've gone from youthful exuberance to middle-aged pudge. Fat seeps from every corner of my face. My chin has another chin, and a third one seems to be coming in nicely. My eyes, once gleaming with hope of an exciting future, now peer from dark circles that clearly say I have not managed my mischief well.

So what happened? Did I trip and fall into a vat of butter and forced to eat my way out? How can this healthy prime example of youth suddenly look gelatinous in the span of a week?

Well, the answer comes in the form of two confessions:

CONFESSION #1: This is the first time my photo's changed since starting this column in 2004. That's 13 years of aging overnight. I dare you to find somebody who can go 13 years without looking like they've aged a day. Actually, I take that back. Those people DO exist, and we should all hate them a lot.

CONFESSION #2: My original photo never really looked a whole lot like me. Let's just come clean -- it's been long enough. Over the years, I've made many friends at the paper, and among them was a former newsroom artist. He never wanted me to tell this story, because he was afraid of getting in trouble at the time. But he hasn't worked here for over a decade now, so I think it's safe to admit it now:

That picture was crazy Photoshopped. He went in and fixed me, and fixed me good.

In my old photo, I appeared to be wearing a black turtleneck. Nope. In reality, it was just a black t-shirt. Even thirteen years ago, I was already well on my day to developing the double chin I now wear with pride, but my buddy went in and replaced that secondary chin with a fake turtleneck.

The same goes for the dark circles under my eyes. I've had those my whole life. I come from a long line of zombies: my grandfather had 'em. My great-grandfather had 'em. But after my buddy got ahold of that pic, the circles were gone and I had the complexion of a newborn baby.

I've never been especially worried about my appearance (with the exception of high school years 1986-1988, when it was of absolute importance.) But when my friend showed me the pic AFTER smoothing out my complexion and extricating my double chin, I was like, "Who's THIS sexy fella?"

That's not to say that my old pic wasn't without problems.

For one, it was taken during that ill-advised time in my life when my stylist convinced me to rock blonde highlights in my hair. This experiment ended abruptly when a pack of junior-high kids saw me with foil-wrapped hair under a pink dryer at the salon and then spent a good 20 minutes outside pointing and laughing.

But the biggest problem with that pic was the look on my face. It was NOT the expression of a guy who writes columns about cats and girls and dumb TV shows. It was the expression of a funeral director. If that photo could talk, the only thing it would say is, "I am terribly sorry for your loss."

So why did I pose like the "before" photo in an ad for Zoloft? I'd like to think of myself as a relatively well-adjusted human being. But point a camera at this well-adjusted human being and bad things happen. My head tilts like a confused puppy. My brain will send the command to smile, but my mouth will respond by twisting up like a crazy person. Every picture taken of me trying to smile instead looks like I'm aggressively constipated. I take the WORST pictures ever.

So the fact that my new photo looks somewhat normal is a testament to our expert photography staff. That's a legitimate smile on my face, not a posed one where I look deranged. Someone had to have cracked a pretty good joke to catch me actually enjoying myself at a photo shoot.

Any job where you can take a picture of me and I DON'T look like a murderous bogeyman is worth keeping. I might be a little chubbier and a little saggier. The highlights in my hair might be grey instead of blonde. But I'm in it for the long haul if you'll have me. Hopefully you like the new pic. You're stuck with it for at least the next thirteen years.

COLUMN: Python

(Nnnnope. Not in a million billion kajillion years.)

I love this time of year.

Jackets start to come off, windows start to roll down. It's the Goldilocks time frame of the Midwest -- not too hot, not too cold. Best of all, it's early enough that we're yet to be plagued with mass swarms of water bugs or bees hellbent on pollenating yours truly. This is pretty much the only time of year that I enjoy stepping outside. But ever since I've moved into this house, it's also the time of year that has me most on edge.

It's happened three times now, and always in May. Freshly home from work, I'll be standing by the door fidgeting with the lock and see movement out of the corner of my eye. I'll turn and there it is: a very literal snake in the grass. I will respond by making a noise that sounds like a female toddler going, "Eeeeeeeeeeeeee!"

My neighborhood seems prone to occasional springtime visits from garter snakes, and I'll be having NONE of that, thanks.

According to the internet, garter snakes are the most wide-spread snakes in North America. "They are nearly harmless." Yeah, well, tell that to my palpitating heart, which nearly short-circuits every time I see one of those unholy terrors slithering around in my yard.  I'm well aware of the number of cheeseburgers I've consumed in my life, and I'm pretty sure there's a limited number of times my heart can suffer a full-on adrenaline rush before I'm a goner.

The first year I lived here, I stared out my window one day in abject horror as my neighbor calmly removed a den of garter snakes from his basement window well. He was just sort of absent-mindedly tossing snake after snake behind him, the majority of which were being caught and consumed in mid-air by a friendly neighborhood pit bull. This was NOT the kind of nature documentary I ever cared to witness.

I haven't seen any snakes in two years now, but I know they're out there somewhere, just waiting to slither up and give me a stroke when I'm least expecting it.

"But Shane," you say, "snakes are an important part of our ecosystem."

Yours, maybe. Not mine. My ecosystem involves air conditioning, ice cream, and frozen pizzas. Unless you can come at me with concrete proof that snakes play a vital role in the production of pepperoni, I will NOT accept your ecological arguments.

I think having a profound fear of snakes is perfectly justified. Garter snakes can't kill you, but that doesn't mean they don't have teeth. My cats are non-venomous, too, but that doesn't mean I let them bite me. Plus, cats have the good sense to grow legs and not slither across the ground like terrifying abominations of nature.

But if garter snakes are bad, imagine living someplace where deadly snakes can occasionally pop out for a mid-afternoon greeting.

As it turns out, Florida has a bit of a python problem at the moment. It's estimated that the Sunshine State has anywhere from 15,000 to 150,000 breath-squeezing, rib-crushing pythons in the wild. But don't worry, Floridians. Your government has the answer. Yes, this week the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced a new public outreach program that should put the python infestation to rest. They call it the "Python Pickup Program."

The program is simple: If you're out in the Florida wild and suddenly find yourself in a life-and-death situation with a lethal python, all you need to do is capture and/or kill the little thing, take a selfie with it, send the photo into your nearest FFWCC office, and you will be the proud owner of... a commemorative "Python Pickup" t-shirt.

Wow. Up until now, if I needed a new t-shirt, I had to drive to a store and buy one. Now all I have to do is drive halfway across the country and beat up a snake. Thanks, Florida!

Look, I try not to stereotype. It's wrong to belittle the residents of an entire state based on midguided popular perceptions. But at the same time, I've also sat through exactly one-and-a-half episodes of a TV show called "Swamp People," so I'm clearly somewhat of an expert. And based on what I know about the Everglades, right now there is a guy (probably named Skeeter) turning to his friend (probably named Zeke) and excitedly screaming, "Hoo boy, Zeke! We can get us some t-shirts if we dun go whoop on some snakes! Fire up dat dere swampbuggy!"

I really don't like snakes. But if you're going to head out without training and voluntarily face-off against a deadly reptile that could coil around you and squeeze you dead, and your prime motivation for doing so is a free t-shirt from your local government? Well, in that case, I might just be cheering for Team Python. My only expertise in nature might come from watching Animal Planet, but I'm fairly certain the only people who should be picking fights with pythons are licensed zoologists and/or Australians in safari outfits.

The Midwest might not have majestic oceans or Disney magic, but we also don't have 14' long danger noodles, either. That's a fair trade in my book. Any state that needs to have a "python patrol" is very likely NOT the state for me. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a rainy, breezy, chilly, and relatively nature-free spring day to enjoy.

Monday, April 24, 2017

COLUMN: Mom Clean

S
ince I'm the guy who usually writes about fluffy inconsequential stuff, I try not to ever bring up the secret shame I've lived with my entire life. It's just too somber for this column.

You see, I was born without the neatness gene. (Insert gasp here. I'll wait.) But pity me not, Quad Cities. Don't treat me any differently. I'm just like you -- except that I'm really, really bad at keeping my house clean and tidy. Curse the gods for this unlucky hand I've been dealt!

What's that, you say? There's no such thing as a "neatness gene"? Well, how ELSE can you explain that, despite the best of intentions, I can never seem to keep my house as clean and tidy as I'd like?

Honestly, I've made great strides. I remember having to run at my dorm room door full speed just to push enough debris aside that I could squeeze in. My first apartment was little more than an empty pizza box storage facility.

But when I bought my house, I made a concentrated effort to live like a decent human being in a manner that couldn't legally be declared a biohazard. As far as I'm concerned, it's been a resounding success. But this isn't a story about MY concern. This is a tale of my amateur neatness skills being put to the ultimate test by the ultimate critic. That's right, my MOM was coming up for a visit.

My mother has no shortage of neatness DNA. She acts laid-back and casual, but stick her in a messy house and see how long that lasts. She'll ask for a sponge within minutes. I can't tell you the number of times I've popped home for a visit to have my mom apologize for "such a huge mess," when not ONE thing was out of place and I'm pretty sure you could've performed sterile brain surgery on ANY surface in that house.

I love my parents, and we are a super tight family. I just tend to love them more when I'm the visitor instead of the visitee. But they were coming up so my dad could do some free yard work, so I wasn't about to complain. I was about to clean. There's MY version of clean, and then there's MOM's version of clean -- and I had some serious work to do.

Thankfully, my parents know well enough to give me plenty of lead time. Every day last week, I came home from work only to get to work. But the more I cleaned, the more disgusting things got. Instead of making headway, I was unearthing dust bunnies and cat hair and all sorts of things that go "yuck" in the night.

"I should put this in the junk drawer" gave way to "wow, I need to clean out the junk drawer" which gave way to weird little piles of junk being dispersed throughout the house. Every time I moved something, an undiscovered herd of dust bunnies would make a break for it. And those dust bunnies were nothing compared to the dust manatees lurking above my ceiling fans.

Eventually, and with the help of some friends, the place was clean. Not just clean -- but dare I say it, MOM clean. It even smelled springtime fresh. Two days later, I left work to meet my parents at my house. Thankfully, I beat them by about five minutes, which was just enough time to walk in... and scream.

Here's what I reckon happened. I went to work Monday morning. My cats woke up, took one good look around the immaculately clean house, and decided the best course of action would be to hold an immediate vomit war. My perfectly clean living room floor was covered in hairballs and indescribable nastiness. Instead of smelling springtime fresh, it smelled like recycled Cat Chow. I didn't even have time to be grossed out. I just opened a window, grabbed a can of carpet cleaner, and got to scrubbing.

By the time my folks showed up, I had it all cleaned up. Victory! Perhaps that neatness gene didn't skip a generation after all. My mom stepped in the house, took one look around, and said, "It smells weird. Why is your window open and the a/c on? You weren't born in a barn. Did you let a newspaper sit on your porch all day long? That's just a giant neon sign to thieves that says, 'I'm not home! Please come rob me!'"

Win some, lose some, I guess. She's a tough cookie to impress. I just think I'll always be her little kid and she thinks it's helpful to lecture. Often, it is. And honestly, it doesn't matter. I got to spend time with my parents, I got some free yard work out of the deal, and I'm left with a house that's the cleanest it's been in months. It may not have passed the mom test, but my friends will be speechless.


COLUMN: Walleye


Last week, I wrote about something downright fishy: my newfound love of seafood as a quick dinner. For a kitchen novice like myself, you really can't ask for an easier meal to prepare than throwing some fish into the oven for a bit. *BAM* I'm suddenly one of those fancy chefs who says things like "BAM!"

It was a fun experiment until I accidentally brought home a salmon filet that came with shiny, scaly fish skin still attached to it. That was the end of my brief love affair with seafood. I'm no vegetarian, but I prefer to live my life in awkward denial that the meat I consume was ever once actually part of a living and/or swimming thing.

The responses to last week's column have been fun. As it turns out, I'm not the only one skeeved out by food that looks too alive. One reader told the story of being on a first date at a fancy restaurant and ordering some gourmet fish entree only to have it arrive at the table with fish head still attached and hollow dead fish eyeballs staring up at her. I could never do that. I have few rules when it comes to eating, but having a meal watch you as you eat its corpse? In the words of the legendary Hall and/or Oates, I can't go for that (no can do.)

But then I received an e-mail I was already half-expecting.

"You can't handle one little piece of skin on salmon?" it read. "How did you react the first time your dad took you fishing?"

I guess I'll let you know -- as soon as my dad takes me fishing. I'm expecting it to happen around the 5th of Never.

Sorry, gang. I don't especially want to hurt a worm, let alone any wayward fish that I might dangle it near. I know there's probably a lot of you who hunt and fish and if that's your thing, I guess that's great. Just keep me out of it.

If you hunt and fish for sustenance, I get it. It's the circle of life and all that. But if you fish for "sport," you confuse me. I don't get what's "sporting" about tricking a fish into biting a hook. When I think of "sport," I think about competition with clear winners and losers. To me, fishing should only be considered a sport if every time you reached for a beer, you stood a small chance of running a hook through your hand before being pulled underwater by a couple of fish out enjoying a relaxing day of "sport humaning." At least give the fish sharp teeth or some kind of fighting chance.

But I recently discovered that's already been happening.

My friend Jason and I have but one pact. Every spring, when the first weekend of decent weather arrives, we drop what we're doing, get in the car, and spend a solid day driving around aimlessly in the boonies. There's never a destination or plan in mind -- we just go where the road beckons. This year, we ended up north of the Quad Cities along the banks of the Wapsi.

It was a great drive. The recent rains had left the area a soggy mess, which was fairly bad for people but pretty great for the rest of nature. We spotted everything that day from wild turkeys to herds of deer to a pair of trumpeter swans leisurely floating about the flood plains.

At one point in the drive, we decided to stop at a public access area to better appreciate nature. Well, Jason wanted to appreciate the nature. I mostly needed to heed its call. So I was off doing my thing when I heard Jason yell, "Whoa!" Business sorted, I returned to find him staring at a pile of aquatic carnage. There on the ground lay about a half-dozen dead fish, smelling especially ripe in the spring sun.

That was a grody enough find, but then I looked a little closer. These fish had TEETH. Sharp teeth. Dangerous looking teeth. The kind of teeth I would only expect to find in the moat of a James Bond villain. Instead, these were fish that looked to have been recently plucked from the Wapsi. I'm pretty sure if I ever were to go fishing and catch one of those monsters at the end of my line, I'd let the fish keep the worm, the hook, the pole, AND the rest of the river.

After getting home and doing some research, I'm pretty sure what we saw was a pile of dead walleye, named because their eyes point to the sides (and, presumably, because when you see those teeth with your eye, you run in a panic until you smack headfirst into a wall.) Why someone left this pile of perfectly dead demontoothfish alongside the river is beyond me. I suggested that maybe a carniverous Sasquatch left them as human bait, and then we left in a bit of a hurry.

That episode was enough for me to change my stance on sport fishing. If you want to head along the Wapsi and fish for those prehistoric toothy buggers, have at it. The world needs less teeth like that in nature. I just logged onto the internet and looked for videos of people walleye fishing, and the first one I clicked ended when the fisherman got bit so badly it turned into a "here we are at the emergency room getting stitches" video. That, friends, is the true sporting life. If you want to battle one of those vorpal beasts, you'll get no argument from me.

Just please don't ask me to cook it.    

COLUMN: Fish


Does your brain occasionally replay your worst memories? Mine does, and there's usually no warning when it happens. I could be in a great mood, let my mind wander for a second, and *BAM* there's the day my cat died. Or the day I flunked that test. Or the time I got fired from that one job. Or the time I got dumped. Or the OTHER time I got dumped. Or, of course, the worst memory of all: the time I discovered that Chili's discontinued their Margarita Grilled Tuna.

It was a total fluke the first time I ordered it. I was in one of my "perhaps I shouldn't purposely try to kill myself with every meal" moods where I forego my preferred choice in favor of something marginally healthier. I wanted my baby-back-baby-back, but instead I opted for the Margarita Grilled Tuna. Little did I know I was ordering what would become my favorite meal to date. One bite of that marinated tuna on a bed of Mexican rice with a side of black beans and I was in heaven. They still make it at Chili's with chicken instead of tuna, but it's just not the same.

That was the first time I'd ever had tuna in any form that didn't involve mayonnaise and pickle relish. I did NOT grow up in a seafood-loving home. The only time my mom ever put fish on the menu, it was usually followed by the word "sticks." And let's be honest, fish sticks are seafood in the same way that French fries are vegetables. You're just dunking them in tartar sauce instead of ketchup.

In a way, I'm kind of glad that Chili's discontinued their margarita-grilled tuna, because it made me get familiar with cooking fish at home for the first time in my life. For a while there, I was hellbent on replicating that recipe, and I'm proud to say I've come pretty close. But that wasn't the end of my fishy experiments.

Ever since I learned I could grill tuna with relative ease, I've been trying my hand at other fish. It turns out it's fairly easy to grill salmon or throw a couple pieces of tilapia into the oven. Toss in some lemon pepper or some dill, and suddenly I had the culinary confidence of Gordon Ramsey. Hmm, I thought to myself, perhaps I'm a naturally gifted seafood chef.

This false notion lasted about three weeks. If I'm a gifted seafood chef, it might help my cause if I lived by a sea. In the grand midwest, my fishy experiments are limited by what I can buy at the store, and my best choice that day was a bag of frozen salmon. "Cool," I thought. I took the bag home, filled the sink with water, dropped the bag in, defrosted a half hour, took out the first piece of salmon, and nearly retched all over the kitchen.

I expected to be holding a neatly trimmed salmon filet. Instead, I was holding what was clearly a chunk of dead fish, complete with its dead and scaly fish skin still attached. In an instant, things became way too real. I'm okay with being a naturally gifted seafood chef, provided the seafood comes to me neatly trimmed, deskinned, deboned, and in no way looking like it once led a carefree and song-filled life under the sea with little mermaids.

Why do people prepare fish this way? We don't leave tails on cheeseburgers or beaks on fried chicken. Fish skin is just too carnal. I prefer to live in constant denial that the meat I eat was ever once part of a living thing. This is the down side of seafood. Can't we enjoy the food without seeing its scales or cracking its legs and dipping it in butter so that we can suck out its meaty leg goodness like monsters?

When you think about it, some of our carnivorous habits are straight out of a horror film. As midwest dwellers, what do people from the coast always tell us? "You haven't had seafood until you eaten it fresh!" Eww. Why should fish taste better when its freshly plucked from the ocean? By this logic, fish should taste its very best when still alive and swimming. Have bears had it right all this time when they stand in the middle of the river, devouring salmon as they swim by? Gross.

This would, however, explain sushi -- a delicacy I've never been able to understand. Sorry, but a decorative seaweed wrap and delightfully geometric rice cube doesn't change the fact that you're still consuming raw, slimy fish. I, meanwhile, am the guy who just stood in front of his oven saying, "I hope I'm not undercooking this salmon."

A while back I was at a nice restaurant and ordered the ahi tuna, but the waiter looked at me weird when I asked them to make sure it was cooked through. When the waiter brought out food for our table, he said, "Here's your steak, ma'am, which our chef says is medium rare... and here, sir, is your ahi tuna, which our chef says is ruined."

Ruined or no, it was super tasty. I'm not giving up on my quest to learn about an entire corner of the food pyramid I've never had the pleasure of consuming until now. But if it comes with scales, eyeballs, heads, claws, or shells, I'll take a hard pass, thanks. I'll leave that stuff for the times I let my mind wander and *bam* remember that time I held a dead scaly fish torso in my hand? Ewwwwwwww.

COLUMN: Cursing


Sometimes I wish this wasn't a family newspaper.

It's great that our product appeals to all kinds of readers, and we take care to be inclusive to folks of all ages. It's just that sometimes I wish we could publish an adults-only version. Don't get me wrong, I'm in no hurry to tell you intimate stories of my torrid sex life (mostly because that would require me having a torrid sex life.) And I'm well aware of the fact that nothing would kill our subscriber base faster than a nude pictorial of yours truly.

No, I sometimes want an "adults only" column for one reason and one reason only: I like to swear. I know, I know. It's uncouth. It's awful. It's lowbrow and shameful. But sometimes, I just can't help myself.

We're an advanced society, and yet there are words in our language that are taboo and forbidden to use in polite conversation. That's kind of a ridiculous realization. Outside of saying the name "Voldemort" at Hogwarts, the idea of "forbidden words" seems counter-productive.

After all, what's more exciting than something FORBIDDEN? No one would have cared about the lambada had it been called "the fun dance." Instead, some marketing genius dubbed it "the forbidden dance" and a fad was born. I remember my folks coming home from a PTA meeting and telling me that I couldn't listen to Blondie because their music promoted bad virtues. I left that sit-down knowing only one thing: Blondie was suddenly my favorite band of all time. Forbidden is enticing.

Sometimes it's the only thing capable of adequately expressing an emotion. If you hit your thumb with a hammer, saying "ouch" just doesn't cut it. I was home alone the night I broke my ankle, but that didn't stop me from creatively expressing my feelings on the matter to my empty house, the open air, and two very confused cats.

But the more you curse, the more likely those forbidden words start unnecessarily slipping into conversation. When "I'm going to the store" turns into "I'm going to the [expletive] store," you've got yourself a problem. I'll be the first to admit that sometimes I slip. I was out with friends once and telling a story that I must have peppered with some salty language. I didn't even realize until one of my friends sheepishly pointed it out, but a table of kids was right behind me. I felt like an odious scumbag. Don't curse, kids. It isn't cool.

It is, however, occasionally very funny. The REAL reason I wish this was a 21+ publication is that I recently bore witness to a couple of the greatest instances of public swearing EVER. I wish I could tell you all about it, but I can't, because I'm a respectable member of society. So I'll just have to tell you SOME of it.

I was waiting in line at a gas station last week, and their night clerk is fantastic. He's a scrawny little guy with a thin command of the English language, but that doesn't stop him from going toe-to-toe with any troublemakers who might come through the door. That night, one such hoodlum wandered in. No sooner had the guy stepped foot inside when the clerk bounded out screaming. "You are banned!" he yelled. "Get out of store, you _____________!"

I wish I could tell you the contents of that blank. Let's just say it was funny enough for me to start choking. Like I said, the clerk wasn't great at English. So when he went to swear, he just spewed out every curse word he knew, in the most non-sensical manner you could imagine. Accidentally, he just created my new favorite insult, comprised almost exclusively of random naughty words assembled together randomly. It was ridiculous, magical, and scary enough for the bad guy to beat a hasty retreat.

Days later, I found myself at another gas station, filling my car at the pump. Another customer had gone into the station to prepay for some gas. The clerk told him to pull around to the pump adjacent to mine, but before he could, another car swept in and started putting the prepaid gas into his own car.

"Hey!" said the poor guy. "I paid for that gas. You need to go to another pump. Do you hear me? Now I have to go inside and straighten this out. All because you're a doodie-head."

(Note: He did NOT say doodie-head. It was something far more colorful.)

When he found himself being ignored by the gas thief, the exasperated guy just stood there (not) yelling "doodie-head" over and over.

"Doodie-head! Doodie-head! Do you know what that is?! That's when your head... is made of doodie!! That's you. You're a doodie-head!"

I don't know if I'd ever heard an insult that required immediate definition. I wish I knew how it played out from there, but I beat feet out of that escalating road rage-a-thon wishing I could somehow figure out a way to write a column about it.

Good thing we're a family friendly paper.

COLUMN: Treasure Found


Oh wow, guys. I may have found my true calling. If anyone has an opening for a full time Treasure Hider, my resume is now padded with experience.

If you haven't been reading my column lately, let me get you up to speed. About a month ago, I wrote a column about Oak Island, an unassuming piece of land off the coast of Nova Scotia long-rumored to harbor lost treasure. The island's current owners are employing an arsenal of modern technology in attempts to find the fabled cache once and for all. That's pretty cool, but also kind of sad. A mystery like Oak Island shouldn't be solved with ground-penetrating radar. It should be solved with a whip and a fedora and outrunning giant balls through tunnels.

As technology blossoms, our world loses more of its mystery. I, for one, appreciate a little mystery in my life. Hence, I jokingly proposed that a million of you send me $1. I would then take that million bucks, hide it, and leave clues throughout my columns for future generations of treasure hunters and dreamers to pore over. If I ran the world, the world would be awesome (for a week, until all of society collapses because I don't know the first thing about running a world.)

What I wasn't counting on, though, was a handful of people taking me seriously enough to send me dollar bills. Three of you mailed me $1 with no return address. So, being a man of my word, last week I took those three dollars and hid them somewhere in the Quad Cities. I then offered a series of clues in last week's column and a challenge for anyone of brave heart and mind, or at least anyone really bored, to seek and find The Lost Three Dollar Treasure of Shane Brown.

Grand kudos, then, and a well deserved tip of the fedora to Andy Denton of Moline, who went treasure hunting with his wife Madonna, their children Elena and Eli, sister-in-law Mary Schaecher, and niece Claire. Together, they are now three dollars richer. This is awesome for a number of reasons: (1) My clues must not have been as bad as I feared, (2) I was directly responsible for some springtime family fun, and (3) most importantly, I can now officially brag to people about "that one time I gave three dollars to Madonna." Great job, guys.

As for the clues? I went with what I know best: music geekery.

Clue #1: "Lonnie Donegan, 1956." In 1956, skiffle singer Lonnie Donegan released his biggest hit: a cover of Leadbelly's "Rock Island Line." The treasure was hidden in Rock Island.

Clue #2: "Dookie 1:4." If you grabbed your copy of Green Day's seminal album "Dookie," you might discover that Side 1, Track 4 is the song "Longview." The treasure was hidden at Longview Park.

Clue #3: "Be Mice Elf'ed." In 1969, Sly and the Family Stone released one of their funkiest tunes ever. You can probably sing along to it: "I wanna thank you, for lettin' me, be myself agaaaain." The actual title of that song is "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin.)" But notice the past tense in my clue: "Be Mice Elf'ed." I was trying to get you to put the artist in the past tense, too. Sly'ed. As in, "slide." The treasure was taped to the back of a slide in the playground.

Of course, I'm no real expert at hiding treasure, so my clues unintentionally held some red herrings. I hope nobody got "Rock Island Line" and went to the train tracks. Worse yet, one poor reader e-mailed because he got the Sly Stone reference but then spent the whole day peering under every stone at Longview Park, for which I humbly apologize and at least hope he appreciated the exercise on a beautiful spring day.

I learned some important things about treasure hiding, too -- mostly that there's NO way to act innocent when you're skulking around a playground at dusk with an envelope and a roll of duct tape. I spent less time writing the clues than I did rehearsing how I'd possibly explain all this to a cop.

When I drove through Longview Park that day and spotted a good half dozen people sleuthing about, I felt like a god. Well, for about ten seconds. Then I kinda felt like a pervert. Grown man, cruising slowly around a playground, leering at strangers? Not my best look. "What's the problem, officer? I just want to see if anybody wants my hidden treasure." It's probably a miracle I didn't need the $3 for bail.

Only I knew the location of those three precious dollars, and I tried not to let the power go to my head. I only cackled like a supervillain once, I swear. Okay, maybe twice. The point is, I hope it was as fun for you as it was for me. Based on MY level of glee combined with the e-mails I've received, I'm pretty sure we're going to have to make this an annual event. With more time to prep, we'll have better clues and maybe a better reward. Heck, I'll chip in a fourth dollar myself if need be. It turns out that the one thing more fun than a little mystery... is making some of your own. You have a year to prepare.









COLUMN: Treasure Lost


Earlier this month, I wrote about my growing obsession with the mystery of Canada's Oak Island.

A good number of people firmly believe that the innocuous landmass off the shores of Nova Scotia hides treasure beyond our wildest dreams. Researchers have found evidence to suggest that British troops buried untold amounts of gold on the island as they fled from defeat in the Revolutionary War. Signs and symbols related to the Knights Templar have been found on and around Oak Island, which has some speculating that it could be the hiding place of the Holy Grail or the Ark of the Covenant.

Or Oak Island could be as empty as Al Capone's vault. But maybe there really is something amazing hidden for centuries on an otherwise non-descript piece of coastal real estate. It's like our very own North American Temple of Doom, except it's less a temple and more like a stinky swamp. Still, what's not to love about a mystery this epic? Who among us hasn't dreamt of being Indiana Jones at least once in our lives? I'm all for getting to the bottom of this treasure.

So, too, are the current owners of Oak Island: a pair of treasure-hunting brothers who've turned their treasure-hunting exploits into "The Curse of Oak Island," which just aired its third season on the History Channel. The Lagina brothers are committed to getting to the bottom of the Oak Island mystery -- literally. They've bored holes and hired divers to descend to the lowest depths of the Oak Island netherworld in search of riches. They're attacking every inch of the island with ground-penetrating radar and metal detectors. They're using better and better technology in hopes of putting the Oak Island mystery to rest.

That's kinda cool... but it's also kinda sad. In a way, I don't ever want a definitive answer to the Oak Island mystery. I want to hear every theory and tall tale about pirates and knights that Oak Island has to offer. If the Laginas have their way, Oak Island will soon be another mystery solved before future generations get a crack at it.

A little bit of mystery makes life interesting. But as modern technology answers more and more questions, fewer mysteries abound in our world -- and that's a bummer to the kid in me who still dreams about pirates and treasure. What's to become of our fantasies once they're visited by a dude who can run a radar over them and go, "There's $34.10 and a pop can from 1962 down there." I want future generations to love dreaming about treasure as much as I have.

Earlier this month, I offered a solution. "Everybody send me $1," I wrote. "If a million of you contribute, we've got ourselves a treasure. Then, we hide it for future generations to find. We could construct elaborate clues, maps and ciphers. A hundred years from now, our offspring could be tuning into the History Channel for a new episode of 'The Curse of Shane Brown.'"

A fun idea, sure. What I was not expecting was the four of you who took me seriously. That's right, I have since been mailed $1 by four different readers. One had a return address which I used to refund the money; the other three did not. If I'd have known it was THIS easy to get you to send me free money, I'd have done it long ago. In fact, I tell you what. Everyone send me a new car. If a million of you contribute, we've got ourselves an armada of cars. (Now four of you actually send me new cars please.)

But I am nothing if not true to my word. That's why I'm officially launching THE LOST TREASURE OF SHANE BROWN. This is NOT a joke. At great personal time and expense, I have hidden a treasure trove of the remaining THREE DOLLARS somewhere in the metropolitan Quad Cities. If you can find it based on my clues, the three dollars are yours. Spend it wisely (I recommend 300 gumballs.) If you e-mail me proof of finding it, you'll also enjoy the fame of being mentioned in a future column.

I'm really not kidding. I've hidden the three dollars out there in the wild. You could find it and be three dollars richer today. First, some rules:

(1) If you spend valuable time and personal resources in search of the treasure expecting to find MORE than three dollars, you will be VERY disappointed. I really DID just hide three bucks along with a note.

(2) Hunt at your own risk. This is MY treasure, not the paper's. If you fall into any of the imaginary booby traps that I most certainly did NOT set up, you cannot sue the paper. In searching for the vast $3 treasure, should you get bit by a radioactive spider and develop unwanted superpowers, I would prefer you not sue ME, either, although you're welcome to the $13.65 currently in my savings account.

(3) My vast $3 treasure horde is hidden outdoors on public property. Do not trespass anywhere. This hunt does not give you open permission to dig up your neighbor's lawn.

(4) In fact, you don't need to dig anywhere. There is no need to destroy, deface, dig, and/or disrupt ANYTHING. This is the most earth-conscious, property conscious, and pretty much the lamest treasure hunt EVER.

That said, here are all the clues you need to the exact location of THREE WHOLE DOLLARS:

Clue #1: Lonnie Donegan, 1956.
Clue #2: Dookie 1:4
Clue #3: Be Mice Elf'ed.

That's it. Go find the treasure horde. As long as I'm around, and as long as strangers keep sending me dollar bills with no way of returning them, there will still be some mystery in life. Godspeed, brave adventurer.

COLUMN: Art Institute


I'm not writing this column just to brag that I saw "Hamilton" last week. Well, okay, maybe a little.

"Hamilton" is, of course, the most coveted Broadway ticket of the past couple years, and a friend of mine invited me along with her family to see the Chicago production. There isn't a font large enough to express my thanks.

It had me a little nervous, though. When you spend more than a week's paycheck on a ticket you have to buy almost a full year in advance, you darn well don't want to miss the performance. Ergo, we left for Chicago last Wednesday at 8 a.m. to allow plenty of time to deal with any unexpected hurdles, snafus, or hold-ups that life could have thrown our way. Thankfully, it was a snafu-free trip -- other than we now had hours and hours to kill before the show.

We decided to spend the afternoon coming to terms with a horrible and ugly truth about myself.

I've always considered myself to be a loyal supporter of the arts. It's pretty much all I'm good for, honestly. I'm not especially talented in the arts, nor have I ever considered myself to be an artist. But I'm darn good at appreciating them. I love going to live theater. I watch an unhealthy amount of movies and a downright alarming amount of TV. I read my fair share of novels. My love for music defines my life, my hobbies, and my friends. I'm a lousy entertainer, but I'm nothing if not a great entertainee.

Or so I thought. It turns out my life might be a total lie. Truth be told, there's one aspect of pop culture that's never truly popped for me: the visual arts. Try as I may, I just don't have an eye for paintings or photography or sculptures. I've never been able to appreciate still art the way that others can, and my lack of depth in that arena is my real secret shame.

Nowhere was that on better display than last week, when we decided to spend our pre-Hamilton time at the Art Institute of Chicago.

For hours, we wandered around those hallowed halls amidst one of the most impressive collections of art in the world. There I was, surrounded by definitive masterworks from the greatest artists the world has ever seen: Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, Dali, Warhol. And when my brain was presented with some of the most acclaimed pieces of art ever created, here's what it thought: "That's pretty neat."

"Pretty neat." I'm sure that's the response Jackson Pollock was going for when he was declaring, "I am Nature!" and pouring his tortured alcoholic heart into abstract impressionistic masterpieces. I bet in the back of his head, he was thinking, "Maybe one day, a chubby dude from Illinois will think this is pretty neat." I stared at the canvas and wanted to feel his pain. I wanted to understand the statement he was trying to make. Instead, I thought the paint splatters were pretty. I'm a horrible, horrible person.

I'm sure some of it stems from my total inability to produce art of my own. I can't even draw stick figures that don't look horribly deformed, so don't ask me how Monet can beautifully replicate the Waterloo Bridge on a foggy day. It's magic as far as I'm concerned. And hey, it's pretty neat.

So it continued, from one pretty neat painting to the next. At one point, a guided tour passed us and I eavesdropped as they stopped before some presumably famous painting of steam pipes. "You can really feel the claustrophobic oppression of the industrial revolution, can't you?" remarked the tour guide. Nnnnnnnope. Just looked like a slapdash painting of some pipes to me. I'm horrible.

Finally, we got to the game-changer. "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," by Georges Seurat. Now THIS I know to be a great piece of art. Why? Because Ferris Bueller told me so. It's the central piece in the montage of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" when they go to the Art Institute. Just like Cameron in that movie, I wanted to lose myself in the details of the piece.

It's an example of pointillism, which basically means it's comprised of tiny dots of color that form patterns that become the image. And it's a HUGE painting. "This thing must have taken forever," I thought to myself.

And it did. It took Seurat three years to make. Good deal for Seurat, then, that critics love it. For every acclaimed painter in history, there must be scores of unacclaimed ones. Imagine spending three years on a painting that nobody cared about. In the grand scheme of things, if I were Seurat, I guess I'd rather hear "pretty neat" than have someone say "this sucks."

In the Seurat room, though, I did spot something impressive. At the far end of the room sat a young woman on a bench, staring intently at one of the paintings. It was only then I realized what she was doing. In her hands was the only artist's tool I've ever familiarized myself with -- an Etch-A-Sketch. I moved behind her and it was a near-perfect replication. I may not have any idea what I'm doing with visual art -- but let's see Picasso try THAT. Pretty neat, indeed.

So there's my secret shame. Hours at the Art Institute and the thing that wowed me the most was a $17.99 children's toy. Maybe someday I'll find a painting that moves me as much as a David Lynch film or a Cocteau Twins album. Oh, or "Hamilton." Did I mention I got to see it? And that it's super amazing? Not that I want to brag or anything...

COLUMN: Oak Island


Oh, joy. It seems I've finally caught that cold that everyone's been raving about.

On the plus side, I've been using this down time to make my way through some of the more ridiculous fare in my Tivo queue. You know, secret shame shows where psychics chase ghosts, nerds hunt Bigfoot, survivalists eat bugs, and aliens abduct people willy-nilly.

But my FAVORITE ridiculous reality show of late is the stuff dreams are made of: The History Channel's "Curse of Oak Island."

It's a documentary series, now concluding its fourth season, that follows the exploits of treasure hunters as they search through a small 140-acre island off the coast of Nova Scotia. If you buy into the legends of Oak Island, you can easily understand the lure.

The story goes like this: Back in the 1800s, a group of teenagers on the mainland spotted torch lights on then-uninhabited Oak Island. Curious about what they'd seen, the boys took a boat out to the island the next day, where it's said they discovered evidence of a dig site. The boys tried to dig up the site, and at ten feet, they found a layer of log planks. At twenty, another. This continued until the ninety-foot mark, when excavators found more log planks and a stone tablet with strange symbols carved in it.

Supposedly, when translated, the tablet read, "Forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried." But when the tablet was removed, the pit suddenly filled with water like some ancient Indiana Jones booby-trap. And that's just the tip of the Oak Island weirdness. There's also an oddly-shaped swamp that could be man-made, and all throughout the island, large boulders have been laid out in what seem to be geometric patterns. What it all means, no one knows -- but treasure hunters have spent centuries working on the mystery.

So what even IS this treasure? There's a new theory in every episode. It's the pirate booty of Captain Kidd. It's Spanish gold buried by pirates, or the Spanish, or the British. It's the lost jewels of Marie Antoinette. Some think it's where the Knights Templar buried the Holy Grail and/or the Ark of the Covenant. Some experts think there's clues in literature suggesting the island holds the lost works of Shakespeare. Basically, if you can dream it, it's surely buried on Oak Island.

And now it's a reality show. Every week, we see them digging, diving, and drilling their way to minimal results. This season, they've been boring holes near the original dig site and shoving a hammerclaw down arcade-style to see what they can grab. If you ask me, it's a rather carnal way of going about things. I'm just waiting for the claw to pull up one-fifth of the Ark of the Covenant or the last page of "Romeo & Juliet II: Capulet Hard With A Vengeance," now reduced to rubble by their slapdash drilling.

Instead, they pull up nothing. Well, NEXT to nothing, because they always find juuust enough to merit a future season of the show. This year, they've unearthed buttons, coins, and weird pieces of man-made metal at depths where no man-made metal should naturally be.

Is it cheesy? Sure. Is there a chance that there's nothing on Oak Island but shards of metal and broken dreams? Absolutely. But the kid in me loves it. I'd kill to have been one of those boys, staring out at sea watching torchlights where no people are supposed to be. It's "The Goonies" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "The Da Vinci Code" rolled up into one unassuming Canadian island. I'm all for it.

But this got me thinking. As science blossoms and our global village becomes even closer, what's to become of our tales of legends and treasure? Will future generations ever get the thrill of wondering if Bigfoot is real or buried treasure remains hidden? As our technology grows, our mysteries shrink. That's a bummer, because mysteries make life interesting. I don't know if I believe in ghosts or Bigfoot or legends, but I love the words "what if". Will our children's children ever know that joy?

I say we make sure they do. Here's my plan. Everybody send me $1. If a million of you contribute, we've got ourselves a treasure. Then we hide it for future generations to find. We could construct elaborate clues, maps, and cyphers. If we put our collective heads together, we could make better puzzles and booby traps than those boring old Knights Templar. A hundred years from now, our offspring could be tuning into the History Channel for a new episode of "The Curse of Shane Brown," and a whole new generation of treasure hunters could be poring over my old columns looking for clues. (Which reminds me: "XJ9. 7 degrees north to the square root of X.  U2's third album. Poop emoji. Miss Diana Ross." Clues or nonsense? Who's to say?)

Of course, if a million of you sent me $1 each, I'd have a million dollars -- and the only thing more fun than a treasure hunt is not having to hunt for it. Maybe the REAL treasure of Oak Island is simply giving us something to watch in-between nose blows when we're home sick.

COLUMN: Christy


When I first started as a Telesales Rep here at the Dispatch-Argus -- you know, in the days when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and we chiseled the paper out of granite -- it was essentially my first real job out of college.

Sure, I'd spent a year behind the counter at a record shop, and worked third shift at an answering service for a bit, but the Dispatch was my first time ever stepping into a professional office setting. And it was a little scary.

Salespeople, as a rule, generally have strong personalities. And when you put a room full of strong personalities together, it can be intimidating, especially to a perennial slacker like me. When I first started, sometimes I'd sit at my desk listening to all these Type A personalities milling about and think, "What on EARTH am I doing here?"

And then I met Christy.

Christy Cravens sat at the cubicle across from mine, and was one of the folks tasked with showing me the ropes. By the end of my first week, it felt like I'd known her my entire life. Christy loved to talk, and it didn't take long for me to learn all about her family, her kids, her problems, and her absolutely unfiltered take on life. This was a woman who had one of the biggest hearts I'd ever encountered, and without her encouragement and friendship, I don't know if I'd still be sitting at this desk today.

That big heart gave out last week, and Christy left us all WAY too early. I only worked with her a handful of years, but I hope she knew what an lasting impact she had on those of us lucky enough to know her.

She wasn't always easy to work with. She could be crass, she swore like a sailor, and she often let her emotions get the best of her. In other words, she was human. In fact, she was one of the most human humans I've ever met. I don't know anyone who wore their heart on their sleeve quite like Christy. There wasn't an ounce of fakery to that woman. And if you ever got on her bad side -- and we all did from time to time -- she'd let you know, and in no uncertain terms.

But if you were her friend, she was fiercely loyal. If my car was in the shop, she was always there to lend a ride. If I was having a bad day, she'd call me at home that night to let me vent my frustrations. Some nights when I'd leave work after a snowfall, I'd find my car locks de-iced and my windows brushed clean. One autumn, when one of our co-workers purchased her first home, Christy drove her kids all the way from Rock Island to Colona just to make sure there'd be trick-or-treaters ringing her bell. She was THAT kind of a friend.

She could even be loyal to a fault. One afternoon, I got back from lunch to find Christy passionately defending a co-worker to our manager at the time. Before any of us could react, the discussion escalated into a monologue of highly colorful vocabulary and helpful suggestions as to where certain opinions could be shoved. Then she stood up and marched off, never to return. Our office was never the same.

She never knew it, but Christy taught me more about sales than any seminar or book ever could. She taught me that you don't have to pander or be fake or schmoozy to close a deal. Just be yourself, be a friend, and be honest. I used to listen to her on sales calls, and when she was talking with one of her regular clients, she knew everything about that person and their families, kids, and pets. She wasn't doing it just to close a sale. She was genuinely interested in these people and their lives and just wanted to be their friend.

For Christy, though, nothing was as important as family. Whenever she'd bring them into the office, she was never not smiling. Back then, her kids were grade schoolers. A decade later, I was getting lunch when I saw a familiar face wave to me from a passing car and realized Christy's daughter was now old enough to drive. This summer, I'll be DJing her daughter's wedding reception -- and if I know Christy, she's already negotiated a deal with St. Peter for a front row seat.

Seasons change. People come and go from your life. That's just the way things work. But if you're lucky enough to meet one or two whose memories stay with you forever, you've beat the system. I'll never forget the walking force of nature that was Christy Cravens. She taught me that it's okay to be myself. She showed me that it's okay to stand up for what you believe (except maybe with a few less f-bombs.) She showed me what true friendship is. Christy's heart may have given out too early, but her lessons and legacy will be in ours forever.