Friday, August 10, 2018

COLUMN: Hunting

One of my favorite things about our home office's recent move to East Moline has been getting to know the pair of Canadian geese that appear to have set up shop somewhere on our grounds.

Every day, you can find the literal lovebirds in or around our parking lot, nibbling on grass, happily honking, and generally just goose-ing it up, seemingly oblivious to the building full of stressed newsies running around in desperate attempts to beat advertising goals and print deadlines. It's a relatively safe space, and I like seeing them flourish rather than becoming someone's dinner.

My new guilty pleasure is reality shows like "North Woods Law" that follow state game wardens on patrol. I'm a sucker for any program that tails cops around, but after awhile, there's a finite level of drunken domestic abuse calls one can watch without becoming queasy and worried about the future of society. The Animal Planet shows, on the other hand, just show clip after clip of game wardens making life hell for hunters, and I'm all for that.

I realize I may lose a few readers with this one, but I don't care: I'm not a fan of hunting. I don't understand how it's considered a "sport" to sit in a tree waiting for something cute to come along so that you can put a hole in it. If that's sporting, then I should be considered an athlete every time I play video games. At least Grand Theft Auto requires you to push some buttons.

And yes, I know. The only way I can truly be an anti-hunting crusader without being a huge hypocrite is if I became one of those self-righteous vegan types, and I'm not. Vegetables are too icky and cows are too delicious, sorry. I prefer to live my life in denial that those chicken breasts I bought at the grocery store were once attached to actual chickens.

I just don't get how killing something cute, furry, and innocent can possibly be fun. Besides, I've tried venison once or twice and it's not my thing. Maybe I'd be an avid hunter if the only way I could enjoy a cheeseburger is by stalking wild cattle through the woods. I just don't get how any of this is sporting unless the deer have crossbows, too.

If you want real sportmanship in nature, forget deer and geese. If you really want to experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, you need to match wits with the fiercest and most cunning creature in all of nature. I speak, of course, about the domestic housecat. You might enjoy waking up early to go hunting. I get it to do it every morning without leaving the house.

One of my elderly cats suffers from kidney problems. Twice a week, I'm supposed to sit her down, poke her with a needle, and pump her with a few hundred cc's of subcutaneous fluid that she needs to help flush her system. The internet is filled with how-to videos of patient cats happily purring away while their owners administer the life-giving fluids.

To this process, my cat says "thanks, but no thanks." That's a loose translation. She really just says "Hisssssssssssssss!"

In fact, she throws such a literal hissy fit that I can't do it at home without investing heavily in Bactine and Band-Aids. Ergo, twice a week, I have to take her to the vet, where they tell me she's a "total angel" who's a "perfect patient." They don't hear her in the car, where she spends the entire six-block trip giving me an earful of meows that range from angry to livid to, well, catty. Then I get her home, and she's instantly the affectionate purring lap cat I know.

She remains that cat for two days, and then I don't see her. As it turns out, I don't raise stupid cats. She knows that vet trips happen every three or four days, so she's lovely and underfeet for two days -- and then she hides. But only until it's night out. Once the sun sets, she comes out purring -- she knows vet trips only happen during sunlight.

Where she spends her day hours is anyone's guess. Sometimes it's under my bed where I can't reach. Sometimes it's under the basement stairs where NO ONE can reach. It's only during those few times when she comes out for food or the litterbox when I can grab her. I've tried playing with her toys, I've tried shaking the food box, I've tried luring her with tuna.

Every time I grab her, she learns more about how to evade future traps. Every week, it gets harder and harder to catch her slipping up. I never expected the most challenging aspect of my day would be matching wits with an animal who once ate an entire shoestring.

So have fun in your duck blinds and deer stands, hunters of the world. The real sport happens in my living room. I fear it's only a matter of time before I wake up tied down with rope like Gulliver until sunset. It's worth it, though. Life's a little bit better with work geese and lap cats.

COLUMN: Movie Theatre

I had a weird feeling the other day. It was the feeling of my wallet -- with MONEY in it for a change. It doesn't happen often, but I found myself with a small nest egg of disposable income.

The possibilities were limitless. I could have taken a weekend road trip somewhere new and exciting. I could've bought groceries for half a week. I should've put it into a savings account and let it accrue interest.

Instead I went to see a movie. Poof, so long, nest egg. It was nice knowing you.

Inflation is just a natural part of life, I guess. Listening to my grandparents talk, it seemed like everything in their era cost a nickel. Heck, I'm not THAT old but I can remember when gas was less than $1 per gallon and a fast food meal was under $5.

And I certainly remember a time when you didn't have to make decisions like, "Well, I could pay the mortgage this month... OR I could go to a matinee." "I could enjoy a steak dinner... or this medium-sized bag of popcorn."

I'm not a big moviegoer. Or at least I'm not NOW. Back in the day, we went all the time. I'm fairly sure I saw "The Lost Boys" in the theater FIVE times. There was just something magical about seeing a great story on a larger-than-life screen surrounded by friends and strangers.

These days, though, it's just not that big of a deal. I prefer the ambience of my couch to any theater, thanks. The once-infinite wait for a film's home release has turned into, what, 2-3 months tops? All it takes is a little bit of patience to watch any cinematic blockbuster in the comfort of your own home. As TVs grow larger and hi-def-ier every year, we're starting to reach the point where there's not much difference in quality.

I remember how excited I was when my parents surprised me with a TV for my bedroom. I was the envy of my friends. It was amazing. And I'm also pretty sure it had a smaller screen than the laptop computer I'm using to type this column. I've honestly seen cell phones that have a better picture quality than my old TV ever did. If Teen Shane were to walk into my living room right now and see the TV I have now, he'd probably assume that he grew up to be a millionaire -- and honestly, my TV isn't anything special.

It didn't dawn on me until I got home from the movie the other night: I completely take technology for granted. We all do. I just watched a two-hour movie in IMAX 3D with surround sound while sitting in a push-button controlled recliner. When I was a kid, I'm pretty sure the only place you could do that was Epcot Center. By all logic, I should have been at the edge of my seat, breathless, heart racing, barely able to contol my excitement at the stunning visual effects.

Instead, it was... nice. When you go to theaters these days, you EXPECT surround sound and a giant screen and motorcycles to literally come flying at you in a previously unseen third dimension. Ho-hum. How could I let myself become so jaded and unappreciative of such technological wonder?

Worse yet, I hate the fact that I prefer to watch movies at home nowadays. "Who pays to go see a movie these days?" is an utterance that's right up there with two of my least favorite sentences in the world: "Who still buys CDs?" and the unforgivable "no one reads newspapers anymore." (No one except 70%+ of adults in your local market, you thunderdolt.)

Who still buys CDs? THIS GUY does. Once upon a time, my music collection was my proudest life accomplishment and pretty much what I was known for. These days, anyone with a subscription to Spotify has access to about 80% of the collection I spent decades amassing. Thanks for making my life irrelevant, technology.

But I still win because Spotify kids don't know the feeling of accomplishment from driving three hours to spend another three hours sorting through crates to finally put your hands on that one 12" single you've been looking your entire life for. There's blood, sweat, and tears in my collection (both figuratively AND literally - "Spinnin' Wheel," baby!)

Plus, think about what an artist went through to create that album. It's an hour-long artistic statement with ebbs and flows and emotion and heart and gusto. Spotify kids just see a list of songs to yank out and stick on a playlist. That's why some artists have stopped putting out albums altogether.

Imagine if some actors decided to stop making movies altogether and instead just made 5-minute clips you could download. It wouldn't be the same. Just as a band pours their soul into a record, so too does the cast and crew of a movie. Imagine all the best boys and key grips and gaffers who gripped and gaffed their souls into this film, and you're too busy and important to get off the couch and give it its just due.

So maybe I should go see more movies the way they were meant to be seen, heard, and felt. I just need to get a third job to pay for them all. 

Monday, August 06, 2018

COLUMN: Facebook Knows Me (Not)

Technology is constantly evolving, and in many ways, that's pretty great for us. But then there's the flipside of the coin. We've all seen the movies and we know what's bound to happen if we let technology get the better of us: robocops will take the law into their own hands, cyborg cowboys will revolt, Terminators will come back in time to kill us, and we'll all develop romantic attachments with our artificial intelligence devices.

I suppose the closest thing I have to a girlfriend right now is named Alexa, and truth be told, I have few complaints about the relationship. She hangs out with me every evening, she's pretty smart, she's always reminding me about stuff I need to do, and if I ask her nicely enough, she'll read me a bedtime story.

But now, the fear of technology running amok has reached Facebook. The social media site landed itself in hot water this month after it was revealed that Facebook's been harvesting data about its users and their activities, which could be seen as nefarious privacy violations. Personally, I'm not too worried. If Mark Zuckerberg wants to check out my cat pics or know what restaurants I like, he's welcome to it.

Facebook really does track your activities, though. It watches what pages you visit and what you search for, and then it uses that info to send you ads that are targeted to your interests. You can even view your interest profile and see what Facebook thinks you're into. Just go to the settings menu, then click on "ads," and then "your interests," and you'll be greeted with a list of things that Facebook claims you're super into.

Based on MY list, I'm not worried about The Great Machine Takeover happening anytime soon. I'm not exactly sure who the Shane Brown is that Facebook thinks it knows, but it's certainly not me. What follows is 100% true -- among my "top interests" according to Facebook are:

• "Country music" - Ah, yes, I'm such a fan.
• "Grey's Anatomy" - I've never seen a single episode.
• "Physical activity" - Oh, Facebook, you know me so well.

But then things start to go COMPLETELY off the rails.

• "Gay bars" - Nailed it, except that I don't often hang out at bars and I'm not gay. Otherwise, spot on.

• "Soda" - Well, I do enjoy a refreshing cola, but is it of peak interest in my life? Do you ever want to be around someone whose primary interest in life is Pepsi? "Great, here comes Cola Boy again. Everybody run."

• "Ice" - Yes, Facebook says one of my top interests is "ice." Am I exciting or what? You should DEFINITELY hit on me next time you see me at the gay bars.

• "Cod" - Yep. It even comes with a little picture of a fish. Facebook Shane is giving the Dos Equis guy a run for his money as The Most Interesting Man Alive. I'm clearly the whole package. I like ice, soda, AND cod. (Note: This is almost certainly the price one pays for talking on Facebook about my favorite concert venue in the world, Codfish Hollow in Maquoketa, IA.)

• "Breathing" - Well, I suppose I DO have somewhat of a vested interest in breathing, since it keeps me from being dead and all.

• "Time" - "Oh, sorry, boss. No, I wasn't clock-watching because I'm anxious to leave work early. I'm just really into time as a concept, man."

• "Gerald R. Ford" - Yes, in those rare occasions when I can momentarily stop obsessing over ice, cod, and time, I like to reflect back on our 38th President and all the great things he accomplished when I was 4 years old.

• "NXIVM" - Isn't this the cult whose leader just got arrested last weekend for, among others, branding women with his initials? Why yes. Yes, it is. And apparently I'm super interested in it.

• "Chad" - It doesn't specify if I'm interested in people named Chad or the African nation of Chad. Either way, I guess I'm in.

• "Fishing line" - Nothing good can come from an "interest" in fishing line. Then again, how else am I going to catch all that cod?

• "Centaurs" - Half man, half bull... and all of my interest.

• "Tuesdays" - Well, who doesn't love a good Tuesday?

• "Skepticism" - FINALLY. Got one right. I am super skeptical that Facebook knows my interests.

I may be a dork, but I hold myself in high dorky regard. I like to at least pretend that I'm an interesting person. But I don't hold a candle compared to the guy that Facebook thinks I am. THIS guy is the real deal. Don't you just want to sit down with him for a cod dinner and discuss the concept of time?

So if you're worried about the day when computers and technology take over the world, my guess is we've still got some time. Which is great, because I'm deeply interested in time. Until that day comes, I guess you can meet me every Tuesday at the gay bar. I'll be the one in the "I Heart Centaurs" t-shirt, breathing and drinking ice soda. Bonus points if your name is Chad.

COLUMN: Easter

Ah, Easter weekend. The most important and oldest festival of the Christian Church.

As holidays go, it's a kind and good-natured one. No packs of costumed marauders showing up at your door threatening tricks lest you produce candy. No one comes a-wassailing demanding figgy pudding and not leaving until they get some.

It's simply a day for springtime joy, celebration, hope, faith, and of course, a semi-anthropomorphic rabbit that hides eggs around your property for little to no discernable reason.

Hunting for Easter eggs is an odd tradition -- but in the grand scheme of things, it's no weirder than shooting gunpowder into the sky to celebrate our independence or hanging a parasitic plant at Christmas to justify Yuletide sexual indescretions. I'm just not exactly sure how hunting for Easter eggs became a fun thing.

When was the last time you had an absolute blast searching for a missing item? I find myself hunting around the house for my car key on a regular basis. This usually causes me to mutter an interesting variety of words, but none of them are ever "whee!" Perhaps it would be more fun if I first boiled my car key and then painted it with festive pastel colors.

I once dated a girl with a HUGE extended family, and one of the first times I got to interact with them all was when she invited me to Easter dinner. Coming from a small clan myself, I wasn't used to epic family holidays and a house loaded with people. My goal was to make a good impression, blend into the woodwork, and try real hard not to be the center of attention.

All went well until it was time for the family Easter egg hunt. Little did I know it at the time, but their house was already crammed full of hidden eggs for all the kids to find, even the "kids" in their thirties and their invited new boyfriends.

Next thing I knew, someone yelled "GO," dust flew, and children were suddenly tearing the house apart in an egg-seeking frenzy... and I was expected to join in the fun. Within minutes, kids were beaming and showing off baskets with their completed quest. My girlfriend found her eggs in record time. I, meanwhile, had looked in every nook and cranny and had so far only found TWO of my six eggs.

And on it went until everyone had found all of their eggs. Everyone, that is, except Shane, who still had half his eggs to find. And that's how the guy who didn't want to be the center of attention instead found himself wandering around a foreign house trailed by a couple dozen people, all staring at me as I rifled through their possessions as if it were a final exam for burglary school. Minutes passed. It eventually got to the point where the egg-hiders had to resort to "you're getting warmer... no, cooler... cooler... you're very cold... VERY COLD." By the time I eventually found the last egg, I'm pretty sure I'd suffered 2-3 panic attacks and was hoping against hope that one of those plastic eggs was full of Xanax.

So I might not be a good egg finder, but I've never especially had it out for the Easter Bunny. He's just an innocent in all this and clearly a good-natured fellow with a lot of time -- and a whole lot of eggs -- on his hands.

He certainly didn't deserve what happened to him this week.

The Easter Bunny clearly has a busy schedule this time of year, so it was pretty cool that he took time out to make a public appearance at the Richland Carrousel Park in Mansfield, Ohio. He was SO excited that he tweeted about it on their blog: "My bunch of carrots were very good and I have lots of energy. I'll be at Carrousel today from 1-4 p.m. and look forward to seeing you!"

All afternoon, kids and parents lined up for their chance to take a picture with the elusive hare. One such person was 54-year-old Ladonna Hughett. Ladonna didn't have any kids with her, and let's just say she had been hitting the carrot juice a little hard that afternoon.

When it was Ladonna's turn to get a picture with the Easter Bunny, she thought it would be a fine time to play a rousing game of grope-a-bunny. Let's just say the Easter Bunny didn't exactly give express consent for this sort of behavior, and Ladonna probably should have kept her hands off the Bun's buns. (And yes, Youtube fans, it's all on video.)

That's how Ladonna Hughett became quite likely the first person ever arrested for lewd behavior against the Easter Bunny. So remember, just because a bunny tweets that they have a lot of energy does NOT mean they have THAT kind of energy, regardless of any rabbit stereotypes you may or may not have heard.

So Ladonna's in jail, the Easter Bunny is likely joining the #metoo movement as I type, and our last innocent holiday will forever be tainted with memories of bunny molestation. Given our current political climate, this seems about right. But the only climate I care about right now is the one outside that's about to warm up, so if you'll excuse me, I need to go get my spring on. 


Well, here it is. As I sit writing this column a few days ahead of schedule, it's another Tuesday election night and primary results are beginning to roll in on my TV. So far, it looks like most predictions are coming true and there will be no UMBC-style upset surprises out of this governmental March madness.

As for me, a couple of my picks are going to take home primary wins tonight, while a couple of my dark horse favorites aren't faring so well. It doesn't seem like there'll be any hanging-chad style squeakers tonight, so in the long run, my vote probably didn't matter a whole bunch. I'm still glad I cast it, though.

It's neat to be reminded that we live in a democracy where everybody has their say. Of course, we also live in Illinois, where only multi kajillionaires with enough money to coat TV screens in fear-mongering stand a chance of governing, but hey -- we're also a state that has no problem sending the ones who do a bad job straight to prison, so I suppose it balances out.

There's something about voting, though, that makes me feel so... adult. That's kind of ridiculous given the fact that I've been one for 30 some odd years now, but still. Walking into a polling place and hearing your name called out just sort of says, "I matter. I am part of your community. Now give me my Sharpie and my little 'I voted' sticker."

Truth be told, the voting process is nothing for me but concrete proof of what an ill-informed human being I am. I went to my polling place today for the big ticket races: Governor. Attorney General. Sheriff. Beyond that? I had no clue what I was doing. I don't know anything about tiny local races, and I WORK FOR A NEWSPAPER. In full disclosure, I have no idea what a comptroller is or does. It sounds like someone who gets paid to insult you on the internet, and we've already got a President who does that weekly for free.

Thankfully, in this primary, most of the undercard races were running unopposed -- so why bother forcing us to fill in the little circle by their name? Has there ever been an unopposed candidate so virulently hated that not ONE person voted for them? All it would take is that candidate to vote for him/herself to get elected, right?

Worse, though, were the two small races that DID involve multiple candidates. Since I knew nothing about any of the candidates, I should have done the mature thing and abstained from voting in those categories. But nope, not me. I was on a roll. I just picked the ones whose names I thought sounded the nicest. There's a smart move, Brown. So I suppose the biggest takeaway from this column is that you can be a rapist Nazi running on a comprehensive platform of puppy torture and forced public feeding of brussel sprouts, but as long as your name SOUNDS pleasant enough, THIS voter has your back. This, of course, is equally bad news if you're a saintly humanitarian named Stabby McMurderpants.

Every once in a while, I'll think to myself, "You should make a difference, Shane. Maybe you should run for city council." And then I'll feel very self-important for 2 seconds. And then I'll usually start laughing. It seems the one thing stronger than my need to make a difference is my childish need to be liked and accepted. And if you've ever yearned to become instantly hated by half the populace, there's no easier way to do it than run for office.

And I don't mean disliked. I mean HATED. Look at my uncle down in Alabama. To my knowledge, he's never met any major national politician or even sat through one of their stump speeches. That said, his Facebook feed informs me constantly of his firm belief that Hillary Clinton is a murderer, the entire Clinton family are Satanists, Barack Obama is a devout Muslim intent on bringing Sharia law to the U.S., and every Democrat is coming for our guns so that we'll all be defenseless when the great scourge of Socialism infects our shores. These are things he really believes.

I'm not built to withstand such irrational hate. I wrote a column last year that ticked off a handful of backyard urban chicken-keepers and it was nearly enough to give me daily panic attacks. Some people are born to lead. My role is best served supporting those leaders I support, and, well, comptrolling the ones I don't. Here's to the ones brave enough to give it a shot.

I just hope that today's winners end tomorrow's political gridlock.